THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE by Edgar Allan Poe


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1841
THE MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE
by Edgar Allan Poe

What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid
himself among women, although puzzling questions are not beyond all
conjecture. –SIR THOMAS BROWNE, Urn-Burial.

THE mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in
themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them
only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that
they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a
source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his
physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call his muscles
into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which
disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial
occupations bringing his talents into play. He is fond of enigmas,
of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a
degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension
preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence
of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition. The faculty
of re-solution is possibly much invigorated by mathematical study, and
especially by that highest branch of it which, unjustly, and merely on
account of its retrograde operations, has been called, as if par
excellence, analysis. Yet to calculate is not in itself to analyze.
A chess-player, for example, does the one without effort at the other.
It follows that the game of chess, in its effects upon mental
character, is greatly misunderstood. I am not now writing a
treatise, but simply prefacing a somewhat peculiar narrative by
observations very much at random; I will, therefore, take occasion
to assert that the higher powers of the reflective intellect are
more decidedly and more usefully tasked by the unostentatious game
of draughts than by all the elaborate frivolity of chess. In this
latter, where the pieces have different and bizarre motions, with
various and variable values, what is only complex is mistaken (a not
unusual error) for what is profound. The attention is here called
powerfully into play. If it flag for an instant, an oversight is
committed, resulting in injury or defeat. The possible moves being not
only manifold but involute, the chances of such oversights are
multiplied; and in nine cases out of ten it is the more
concentrative rather than the more acute player who conquers. In
draughts, on the contrary, where the moves are unique and have but
little variation, the probabilities of inadvertence are diminished,
and the mere attention being left comparatively what advantages are
obtained by either party are obtained by superior acumen. To be less
abstract –Let us suppose a game of draughts where the pieces are
reduced to four kings, and where, of course, no oversight is to be
expected. It is obvious that here the victory can be decided (the
players being at all equal) only by some recherche movement, the
result of some strong exertion of the intellect. Deprived of
ordinary resources, the analyst throws himself into the spirit of
his opponent, identifies himself therewith, and not unfrequently
sees thus, at a glance, the sole methods (sometimes indeed absurdly
simple ones) by which he may seduce into error or hurry into
miscalculation.
Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed
the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect
have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it,
while eschewing chess as frivolous. Beyond doubt there is nothing of a
similar nature so greatly tasking the faculty of analysis. The best
chess-player in Christendom may be little more than the best player of
chess; but proficiency in whist implies capacity for success in all
these more important undertakings where mind struggles with mind. When
I say proficiency, I mean that perfection in the game which includes a
comprehension of all the sources whence legitimate advantage may be
derived. These are not only manifold but multiform, and lie frequently
among recesses of thought altogether inaccessible to the ordinary
understanding. To observe attentively is to remember distinctly;
and, so far, the concentrative chess-player will do very well at
whist; while the rules of Hoyle (themselves based upon the mere
mechanism of the game) are sufficiently and generally
comprehensible. Thus to have a retentive memory, and to proceed by
“the book,” are points commonly regarded as the sum total of good
playing. But it is in matters beyond the limits of mere rule that
the skill of the analyst is evinced. He makes, in silence, a host of
observations and inferences. So, perhaps, do his companions; and the
difference in the extent of the information obtained, lies not so much
in the validity of the inference as in the quality of the observation.
The necessary knowledge is that of what to observe. Our player
confines himself not at all; nor, because the game is the object, does
he reject deductions from things external to the game. He examines the
countenance of his partner, comparing it carefully with that of each
of his opponents. He considers the mode of assorting the cards in each
hand; often counting trump by trump, and honor by honor, through the
glances bestowed by their holders upon each. He notes every
variation of face as the play progresses, gathering a fund of
thought from the differences in the expression of certainty, of
surprise, of triumph, or chagrin. From the manner of gathering up a
trick he judges whether the person taking it can make another in the
suit. He recognizes what is played through feint, by the air with
which it is thrown upon the table. A casual or inadvertent word; the
accidental dropping or turning of a card, with the accompanying
anxiety or carelessness in regard to its concealment; the counting
of the tricks, with the order of their arrangement; embarrassment,
hesitation, eagerness or trepidation –all afford, to his apparently
intuitive perception, indications of the true state of affairs. The
first two or three rounds having been played, he is in full possession
of the contents of each hand, and thenceforward puts down his cards
with as absolute a precision of purpose as if the rest of the party
had turned outward the faces of their own.
The analytical power should not be confounded with simple ingenuity;
for while the analyst is necessarily ingenious, the ingenious man
often remarkably incapable of analysis. The constructive or
combining power, by which ingenuity is usually manifested, and which
the phrenologists (I believe erroneously) have assigned a separate
organ, supposing it a primitive faculty, has been so frequently seen
in those whose intellect bordered otherwise upon idiocy, as to have
attracted general observation among writers on morals. Between
ingenuity and the analytic ability there exists a difference far
greater, indeed, than that between the fancy and the imagination,
but of a character very strictly analogous. It will found, in fact,
that the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative
never otherwise than analytic.
The narrative which follows will appear to the reader somewhat in
the light of a commentary upon the propositions just advanced.
Residing in Paris during the spring and part of the summer of
18–, I there became acquainted with a Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin. This
young gentleman was of an excellent –indeed of an illustrious family,
but, by a variety of untoward events, had been reduced to such poverty
that the energy of his character succumbed beneath it, and he ceased
to bestir himself in the world, or to care for the retrieval of his
fortunes. By courtesy of his creditors, there still remained in his
possession a small remnant of his patrimony; and, upon the income
arising from this, he managed, by means of a rigorous economy, to
procure the necessaries of life, without troubling himself about its
superfluities. Books, indeed, were his sole luxuries, and in Paris
these are easily obtained.
Our first meeting was at an obscure library in the Rue Montmartre,
where the accident of our both being in search of the same very rare
and very remarkable volume, brought us into closer communion. We saw
each other again and again. I was deeply interested in the little
family history which he detailed to me with all that candor which a
Frenchman indulges whenever mere self is the theme. I was
astonished, too, at the vast extent of his reading; and, above all,
I felt my soul enkindled within me by the wild fervor, and the vivid
freshness of his imagination. Seeking in Paris the objects I then
sought, I felt that the society of such a man would be to me a
treasure beyond price; and this feeling I frankly confided to him.
It was at length arranged that we should live together during my
stay in the city; and as my worldly circumstances were somewhat less
embarrassed than his own, I was permitted to be at the expense of
renting, and furnishing in a style which suited the rather fantastic
gloom of our common temper, a time-eaten and grotesque mansion, long
deserted through superstitions into which we did not inquire, and
tottering to its fall in a retired and desolate portion of the
Faubourg St. Germain.
Had the routine of our life at this place been known to the world,
we should have been regarded as madmen –although, perhaps, as
madmen of a harmless nature. Our seclusion was perfect. We admitted no
visitors. Indeed the locality of our retirement had been carefully
kept a secret from my own former associates; and it had been many
years since Dupin had ceased to know or be known in Paris. We
existed within ourselves alone.
It was a freak of fancy in my friend (for what else shall I call
it?) to be enamored of the Night for her own sake; and into this
bizarrerie, as into all his others, I quietly fell; giving myself up
to his wild whims with a perfect abandon. The sable divinity would not
herself dwell with us always; but we could counterfeit her presence.
At the first dawn of the morning we closed all the massy shutters of
our old building; lighted a couple of tapers which, strongly perfumed,
threw out only the ghastliest and feeblest of rays. By the aid of
these we then busied our souls in dreams –reading, writing, or
conversing, until warned by the clock of the advent of the true
Darkness. Then we sallied forth into the streets, arm and arm,
continuing the topics of the day, or roaming far and wide until a late
hour, seeking, amid the wild lights and shadows of the populous
city, that infinity of mental excitement which quiet observation can
afford.
At such times I could not help remarking and admiring (although from
his rich ideality I had been prepared to expect it) a peculiar
analytic ability in Dupin. He seemed, too, to take an eager delight in
its exercise –if not exactly in its display –and did not hesitate to
confess the pleasure thus derived. He boasted to me, with a low
chuckling laugh, that most men, in respect to himself, wore windows in
their bosoms, and was wont to follow up such assertions by direct
and very startling proofs of his intimate knowledge of my own. His
manner at these moments was frigid and abstract; his eyes were
vacant in expression; while his voice, usually a rich tenor, rose into
a treble which would have sounded petulantly but for the
deliberateness and entire distinctness of the enunciation. Observing
him in these moods, I often dwelt meditatively upon the old philosophy
of the Bi-Part Soul, and amused myself with the fancy of a double
Dupin –the creative and the resolvent.
Let it not be supposed, from what I have just said, that I am
detailing any mystery, or penning any romance. What I have described
in the Frenchman, was merely the result of an excited, or perhaps of a
diseased intelligence. But of the character of his remarks at the
periods in question an example will best convey the idea.
We were strolling one night down a long dirty street, in the
vicinity of the Palais Royal. Being both, apparently, occupied with
thought, neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen minutes at
least. All at once Dupin broke forth with these words:-
“He is a very little fellow, that’s true, and would do better for
the Theatre des Varietes.”
“There can be no doubt of that,” I replied unwittingly, and not at
first observing (so much had I been absorbed in reflection) the
extraordinary manner in which the speaker had chimed in with my
meditations. In an instant afterward I recollected myself, and my
astonishment was profound.
“Dupin,” said I, gravely, “this is beyond my comprehension. I do not
hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses.
How was it possible you should know I was thinking of –?” Here I
paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I
thought.
–“of Chantilly,” said he, “why do you pause? You were remarking
to yourself that his diminutive figure unfitted him for tragedy.”
This was precisely what had formed the subject of my reflections.
Chantilly was a quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis, who, becoming
stage-mad, had attempted the role of Xerxes, in Crebillon’s tragedy so
called, and been notoriously Pasquinaded for his pains.
“Tell me, for Heaven’s sake,” I exclaimed, “the method –if method
there is –by which you have been enabled to fathom my soul in this
matter.” In fact I was even more startled than I would have been
willing to express.
“It was the fruiterer,” replied my friend, “who brought you to the
conclusion that the mender of soles was not of sufficient height for
Xerxes et id genus omne.”
“The fruiterer! –you astonish me –I know no fruiterer
whomsoever.”
“The man who ran up against you as we entered the street –it may
have been fifteen minutes ago.”
I now remembered that, in fact, a fruiterer, carrying upon his
head a large basket of apples, had nearly thrown me down, by accident,
as we passed from the Rue C– into the thoroughfare where we stood; but
what this had to do with Chantilly I could not possibly understand.
There was not a particle of charlatanerie about Dupin. “I will
explain,” he said, “and that you may comprehend all clearly, we will
explain,” he said, “and that you may comprehend all clearly, we will
first retrace the course of your meditations, from the moment in which
I spoke to you until that of the rencontre with the fruiterer in
question. The larger links of the chain run thus –Chantilly, Orion,
Dr. Nichols, Epicurus, Stereotomy, the street stones, the fruiterer.”
There are few persons who have not, at some period of their lives,
amused themselves in retracing the steps by which particular
conclusions of their own minds have been attained. The occupation is
often full of interest; and he who attempts it for the first time is
astonished by the apparently illimitable distance and incoherence
between the starting-point and the goal. What, then, must have been my
amazement when I heard the Frenchman speak what he had just spoken,
and when I could not help acknowledging that he had spoken the
truth. He continued:
“We had been talking of horses, if I remember aright, just before
leaving the Rue C–. This was the last subject we discussed. As we
crossed into this street, a fruiterer, with a large basket upon his
head, brushing quickly past us, thrust you upon a pile of
paving-stones collected at a spot where the causeway is undergoing
repair. You stepped upon one of the loose fragments) slipped, slightly
strained your ankle, appeared vexed or sulky, muttered a few words,
turned to look at the pile, and then proceeded in silence. I was not
particularly attentive to what you did; but observation has become
with me, of late, a species of necessity.
“You kept your eyes upon the ground –glancing, with a petulant
expression, at the holes and ruts in the pavement, (so that I saw
you were still thinking of the stones,) until we reached the little
alley called Lamartine, which has been paved, by way of experiment,
with the overlapping and riveted blocks. Here your countenance
brightened up, and, perceiving your lips move, I could not doubt
that you murmured the word ‘stereotomy,’ a term very affectedly
applied to this species of pavement. I knew that you could not say
to yourself ‘stereotomy’ without being brought to think of atomies,
and thus of the theories of Epicurus; and since, when we discussed
this subject not very long ago, I mentioned to you how singularly, yet
with how little notice, the vague guesses of that noble Greek had
met with confirmation in the late nebular cosmogony, I felt that you
could not avoid casting your eyes upward to the great nebula in Orion,
and I certainly expected that you would do so. You did look up; and
I was now assured that I had correctly followed your steps. But in
that bitter tirade upon Chantilly, which appeared in yesterday’s
‘Musee,’ the satirist, making some disgraceful allusions to the
cobbler’s change of name upon assuming the buskin, quoted a Latin line
about which we have often conversed. I mean the line

Perdidit antiquum litera prima sonum.

I had told you that this was in reference to Orion, formerly written
Urion; and, from certain pungencies connected with this explanation, I
was aware that you could not have forgotten it. It was clear,
therefore, that you would not fall to combine the ideas of Orion and
Chantilly. That you did combine them I say by the character of the
smile which passed over your lips. You thought of the poor cobbler’s
immolation. So far, you had been stooping in your gait; but now I
saw you draw yourself up to your full height. I was then sure that you
reflected upon the diminutive figure of Chantilly. At this point I
interrupted your meditations to remark that as, in fact, he was a very
little fellow –that Chantilly –he would do better at the Theatre des
Varietes.”
Not long after this, we were looking over an evening edition of
the “Gazette des Tribunaux,” when the following paragraphs arrested
our attention.

“Extraordinary Murders. –This morning, about three o’clock, the
inhabitants of the Quartier St. Roch were aroused from sleep by a
succession of terrific shrieks, issuing, apparently, from the fourth
story of a house in the Rue Morgue, known to be in the sole
occupancy of one Madame L’Espanaye, and her daughter, Mademoiselle
Camille L’Espanaye. After some delay, occasioned by a fruitless
attempt to procure admission in the usual manner, the gateway was
broken in with a crowbar, and eight or ten of the neighbors entered,
accompanied by two gendarmes. By this time the cries had ceased;
but, as the party rushed up the first flight of stairs, two or more
rough voices, in angry contention, were distinguished, and seemed to
proceed from the upper part of the house. As the second landing was
reached, these sounds, also, had ceased, and everything remained
perfectly quiet. The party spread themselves, and hurried from room to
room. Upon arriving at a large back chamber in the fourth story,
(the door of which, being found locked, with the key inside, was
forced open,) a spectacle presented itself which struck every one
present not less with horror than with astonishment.
“The apartment was in the wildest disorder –the furniture broken
and thrown about in all directions. There was only one bedstead; and
from this the bed had been removed, and thrown into the middle of
the floor. On a chair lay a razor, besmeared with blood. On the hearth
were two or three long and thick tresses of grey human hair, also
dabbled in blood, and seeming to have been pulled out by the roots.
Upon the floor were found four Napoleons, an ear-ring of topaz,
three large silver spoons, three smaller of metal d’Alger, and two
bags, containing nearly four thousand francs in gold. The drawers of a
bureau, which stood in one corner, were open, and had been,
apparently, rifled, although many articles still remained in them. A
small iron safe was discovered under the bed (not under the bedstead).
It was open, with the key still in the door. It had no contents beyond
a few old letters, and other papers of little consequence.
“Of Madame L’Espanaye no traces were here seen; but an unusual
quantity of soot being observed in the fire-place, a search was made
in the chimney, and (horrible to relate!) the corpse of the
daughter, head downward, was dragged therefrom; it having been thus
forced up the narrow aperture for a considerable distance. The body
was quite warm. Upon examining it, many excoriations were perceived,
no doubt occasioned by the violence with which it had been thrust up
and disengaged. Upon the face were many severe scratches, and, upon
the throat, dark bruises, and deep indentations of finger nails, as if
the deceased had been throttled to death.
“After a thorough investigation of every portion of the house,
without farther discovery, the party made its way into a small paved
yard in the rear of the building, where lay the corpse of the old
lady, with her throat so entirely cut that, upon an attempt to raise
her, the head fell off. The body, as well as the head, was fearfully
mutilated –the former so much so as scarcely to retain any
semblance of humanity.
“To this horrible mystery there is not as yet, we believe, the
slightest clew.”

The next day’s paper had these additional particulars.

“The Tragedy in the Rue Morgue. Many individuals have been
examined in relation to this most extraordinary and frightful affair,”
[The word ‘affaire’ has not yet, in France, that levity of import
which it conveys with us] “but nothing whatever has transpired to
throw light upon We give below all the material testimony elicited.
“Pauline Dubourg, laundress, deposes that she has known both the
deceased for three years, having washed for them during that period.
The old lady and her daughter seemed on good terms-very affectionate
towards each other. They were excellent pay. Could not speak in regard
to their mode or means of living. Believed that Madame L. told
fortunes for a living. Was reputed to have money put by. Never met any
persons in the house when she called for the clothes or took them
home. Was sure that they had no servant in employ. There appeared to
be no furniture in any part of the building except in the fourth
story.
“Pierre Moreau, tobacconist, deposes that he has been in the habit
of selling small quantities of tobacco and snuff to Madame
L’Espanaye for nearly four years. Was born in the neighborhood, and
has always resided there. The deceased and her daughter had occupied
the house in which the corpses were found, for more than six years. It
was formerly occupied by a jeweller, who under-let the upper rooms
to various persons. The house was the property of Madame L. She became
dissatisfied with the abuse of the premises by her tenant, and moved
into them herself, refusing to let any portion. The old lady was
childish. Witness had seen the daughter some five or six times
during the six years. The two lived an exceedingly retired life –were
reputed to have money. Had heard it said among the neighbors that
Madame L. told fortunes –did not believe it. Had never seen any
person enter the door except the old lady and her daughter, a porter
once or twice, and a physician some eight or ten times.
“Many other persons, neighbors, gave evidence to the same effect. No
one was spoken of as frequenting the house. It was not known whether
there were any living connexions of Madame L. and her daughter. The
shutters of the front windows were seldom opened. Those in the rear
were always closed, with the exception of the large back room,
fourth story. The house was a good house –not very old.
“Isidore Muset, gendarme, deposes that he was called to the house
about three o’clock in the morning, and found some twenty or thirty
persons at the gateway, endeavoring to gain admittance. Forced it
open, at length, with a bayonet –not with a crowbar. Had but little
difficulty in getting it open, on account of its being a double or
folding gate, and bolted neither at bottom nor top. The shrieks were
continued until the gate was forced –and then suddenly ceased. They
seemed to be screams of some person (or persons) in great agony –were
loud and drawn out, not short and quick. Witness led the way up
stairs. Upon reaching the first landing, heard two voices in loud
and angry contention-the one a gruff voice, the other much shriller
–a very strange voice. Could distinguish some words of the former,
which was that of a Frenchman. Was positive that it was not a
woman’s voice. Could distinguish the words ‘sacre’ and ‘diable.’ The
shrill voice was that of a foreigner. Could not be sure whether it was
the voice of a man or of a woman. Could not make out what was said,
but believed the language to be Spanish. The state of the room and
of the bodies was described by this witness as we described them
yesterday.
“Henri Duval, a neighbor, and by trade a silversmith, deposes that
he was one of the party who first entered the house. Corroborates
the testimony of Muset in general. As soon as they forced an entrance,
they reclosed the door, to keep out the crowd, which collected very
fast, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour. The shrill voice,
the witness thinks, was that of an Italian. Was certain it was not
French. Could not be sure that it was a man’s voice. It might have
been a woman’s. Was not acquainted with the Italian language. Could
not distinguish the words, but was convinced by the intonation that
the speaker was an Italian. Knew Madame L. and her daughter. Had
conversed with both frequently. Was sure that the shrill voice was not
that of either of the deceased.
“–Odenheimer, restaurateur. This witness volunteered his testimony.
Not speaking French, was examined through an interpreter. Is a
native of Amsterdam. Was passing the house at the time of the shrieks.
They lasted for several minutes –probably ten. They were long and
loud –very awful and distressing. Was one of those who entered the
building. Corroborated the previous evidence in every respect but one.
Was sure that the shrill voice was that of a man –of a Frenchman.
Could not distinguish the words uttered. They were loud and quick
–unequal –spoken apparently in fear as well as in anger. The voice
was harsh –not so much shrill as harsh. Could not call it a shrill
voice. The gruff voice said repeatedly ‘sacre,’ ‘diable’ and once ‘mon
Dieu.’
“Jules Mignaud, banker, of the firm of Mignaud et Fils, Rue
Deloraine. Is the elder Mignaud. Madame L’Espanaye had some
property. Had opened an account with his baking house in the spring of
the year –(eight years previously). Made frequent deposits in small
sums. Had checked for nothing until the third day before her death,
when she took out in person the sum of 4000 francs. This sum was
paid in gold, and a clerk sent home with the money.
“Adolphe Le Bon, clerk to Mignaud et Fils, deposes that on the day
in question, about noon, he accompanied Madame L’Espanaye to her
residence with the 4000 francs, put up in two bags. Upon the door
being opened, Mademoiselle L. appeared and took from his hands one
of the bags, while the old lady relieved him of the other. He then
bowed and departed. Did not see any person in the street at the
time. It is a bye-street –very lonely.
William Bird, tailor, deposes that he was one of the party who
entered the house. Is an Englishman. Has lived in Paris two years. Was
one of the first to ascend the stairs. Heard the voices in contention.
The gruff voice was that of a Frenchman. Could make out several words,
but cannot now remember all. Heard distinctly ‘sacre’ and ‘mon
Dieu.’ There was a sound at the moment as if of several persons
struggling –a scraping and scuffling sound. The shrill voice was very
loud –louder than the gruff one. Is sure that it was not the voice of
an Englishman. Appeared to be that of a German. Might have been a
woman’s voice. Does not understand German.
“Four of the above-named witnesses, being recalled, deposed that the
door of the chamber in which was found the body of Mademoiselle L. was
locked on the inside when the party reached it. Every thing was
perfectly silent –no groans or noises of any kind. Upon forcing the
door no person was seen. The windows, both of the back and front room,
were down and firmly fastened from within. A door between the two
rooms was closed, but not locked. The door leading from the front room
into the passage was locked, with the key on the inside. A small
room in the front of the house, on the fourth story, at the head of
the passage, was open, the door being ajar. This room was crowded with
old beds, boxes, and so forth. These were carefully removed and
searched. There was not an inch of any portion of the house which
was not carefully searched. Sweeps were sent up and down the chimneys.
The house was a four story one, with garrets (mansardes). A
trap-door on the roof was nailed down very securely –did not appear
to have been opened for years. The time elapsing between the hearing
of the voices in contention and the breaking open of the room door,
was variously stated by the witnesses. Some made it as short as
three minutes –some as long as five. The door was opened with
difficulty.
“Alfonzo Garcio, undertaker, deposes that he resides in the Rue
Morgue. Is a native of Spain. Was one of the party who entered the
house. Did not proceed up stairs. Is nervous, and was apprehensive
of the consequences of agitation. Heard the voices in contention.
The gruff voice was that of a Frenchman. Could not distinguish what
was said. The shrill voice was that of an Englishman –is sure of
this. Does not understand the English language, but judges by the
intonation.
“Alberto Montani, confectioner, deposes that he was among the
first to ascend the stairs. Heard the voices in question. The gruff
voice was that of a Frenchman. Distinguished several words. The
speaker appeared to be expostulating. Could not make out the words
of the shrill voice. Spoke quick and unevenly. Thinks it the voice
of a Russian. Corroborates the general testimony. Is an Italian. Never
conversed with a native of Russia.
“Several witnesses, recalled, here testified that the chimneys of
all the rooms on the fourth story were too narrow to admit the passage
of a human being. By ‘sweeps’ were meant cylindrical sweeping-brushes,
such as are employed by those who clean chimneys. These brushes were
passed up and down every flue in the house. There is no back passage
by which any one could have descended while the party proceeded up
stairs. The body of Mademoiselle L’Espanaye was so firmly wedged in
the chimney that it could not be got down until four or five of the
party united their strength.
“Paul Dumas, physician, deposes that he was called to view the
bodies about day-break. They were both then lying on the sacking of
the bedstead in the chamber where Mademoiselle L. was found. The
corpse of the young lady was much bruised and excoriated. The fact
that it had been thrust up the chimney would sufficiently account
for these appearances. The throat was greatly chafed. There were
several deep scratches just below the chin, together with a series
of livid spots which were evidently the impression of fingers. The
face was fearfully discolored, and the eye-balls protruded. The tongue
had been partially bitten through. A large bruise was discovered
upon the pit of the stomach, produced, apparently, by the pressure
of a knee. In the opinion of M. Dumas, Mademoiselle L’Espanaye had
been throttled to death by some person or persons unknown. The
corpse of the mother was horribly mutilated. All the bones of the
right leg and arm were more or less shattered. The left tibia much
splintered, as well as all the ribs of the left side. Whole body
dreadfully bruised and discolored. It was not possible to say how
the injuries had been inflicted. A heavy club of wood, or a broad
bar of iron –a chair –any large, heavy, and obtuse weapon have
produced such results, if wielded by the hands of a very powerful man.
No woman could have inflicted the blows with any weapon. The head of
the deceased, when seen by witness, was entirely separated from the
body, and was also greatly shattered. The throat had evidently been
cut with some very sharp instrument –probably with a razor.
“Alexandre Etienne, surgeon, was called with M. Dumas to view the
bodies. Corroborated the testimony, and the opinions of M. Dumas.
“Nothing farther of importance was elicited, although several
other persons were examined. A murder so mysterious, and so perplexing
in all its particulars, was never before committed in Paris –if
indeed a murder has been committed at all. The police are entirely
at fault –an unusual occurrence in affairs of this nature. There is
not, however, the shadow of a clew apparent.”

The evening edition of the paper stated that the greatest excitement
continued in the Quartier St. Roch –that the premises in question had
been carefully re-searched, and fresh examinations of witnesses
instituted, but all to no purpose. A postscript, however mentioned
that Adolphe Le Bon had been arrested and imprisoned –although
nothing appeared to criminate him, beyond the facts already detailed.
Dupin seemed singularly interested in the progress of this affair
–at least so I judged from his manner, for he made no comments. It
was only after the announcement that Le Bon had been imprisoned,
that he asked me my opinion respecting the murders.
I could merely agree with all Paris in considering them an insoluble
mystery. I saw no means by which it would be possible to trace the
murderer.
“We must not judge of the means,” said Dupin, “by this shell of an
examination. The Parisian police, so much extolled for acumen, are
cunning, but no more. There is no method in their proceedings,
beyond the method of the moment. They make a vast parade of
measures; but, not unfrequently, these are so ill adapted to the
objects proposed, as to put us in mind of Monsieur Jourdain’s
calling for his robe-de-chambre –pour mieux entendre la musique.
The results attained by them are not unfrequently surprising, but, for
the most part, are brought about by simple diligence and activity.
When these qualities are unavailing, their schemes fall. Vidocq, for
example, was a good guesser, and a persevering man. But, without
educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his
investigations. He impaired his vision by holding the object too
close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual
clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter
as a whole. Thus there is such a thing as being too profound. Truth is
not always in a well. In fact, as regards the more important
knowledge, I do believe that she is invariably superficial. The
depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the
mountain-tops where she is found. The modes and sources of this kind
of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly
bodies. To look at a star by glances –to view it in a side-long
way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more
susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to
behold the star distinctly –is to have the best appreciation of its
lustre –a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our
vision fully upon it. A greater number of rays actually fall upon
the eye in the latter case, but, in the former, there is the more
refined capacity for comprehension. By undue profundity we perplex and
enfeeble thought; and it is possible to make even Venus herself vanish
from the firmament by a scrutiny too sustained, too concentrated, or
too direct.
“As for these murders, let us enter into some examinations for
ourselves, before we make up an opinion respecting them. An inquiry
will afford us amusement,” (I thought this an odd term, so applied,
but said nothing) “and, besides, Le Bon once rendered me a service for
which I am not ungrateful. We will go and see the premises with our
own eyes. I know G–, the Prefect of Police, and shall have no
difficulty in obtaining the necessary permission.”
The permission was obtained, and we proceeded at once to the Rue
Morgue. This is one of those miserable thoroughfares which intervene
between the Rue Richelieu and the Rue St. Roch. It was late in the
afternoon when we reached it; as this quarter is at a great distance
from that in which we resided. The house was readily found; for
there were still many persons gazing up at the closed shutters, with
an objectless curiosity, from the opposite side of the way. It was
an ordinary Parisian house, with a gateway, on one side of which was a
glazed watch-box, with a sliding way, on one si panel in the window,
indicating a loge de concierge. Before going in we walked up the
street, turned down an alley, and then, again turning, passed in the
rear of the building-Dupin, meanwhile, examining the whole
neighborhood, as well as the house, with a minuteness of attention for
which I could see no possible object.
Retracing our steps, we came again to the front of the dwelling,
rang, and, having shown our credentials, were admitted by the agents
in charge. We went up stairs –into the chamber where the body of
Mademoiselle L’Espanaye had been found, and where both the deceased
still lay. The disorders of the room had, as usual, been suffered to
exist. I saw nothing beyond what had been stated in the “Gazette des
Tribunaux.” Dupin scrutinized every thing-not excepting the bodies
of the victims. We then went into the other rooms, and into the
yard; a gendarme accompanying us throughout. The examination
occupied us until dark, when we took our departure. On our way home my
companion stopped in for a moment at the office of one of the dally
papers.
I have said that the whims of my friend were manifold, and that Fe
les menageais: –for this phrase there is no English equivalent. It
was his humor, now, to decline all conversation on the subject of
the murder, until about noon the next day. He then asked me, suddenly,
if I had observed any thing peculiar at the scene of the atrocity.
There was something in his manner of emphasizing the word
“peculiar,” which caused me to shudder, without knowing why.
“No, nothing peculiar,” I said; “nothing more, at least, than we
both saw stated in the paper.”
“The ‘Gazette,'” he replied, “has not entered, I fear, into the
unusual horror of the thing. But dismiss the idle opinions of this
print. It appears to me that this mystery is considered insoluble, for
the very reason which should cause it to be regarded as easy of
solution –I mean for the outre character of its features. The
police are confounded by the seeming absence of motive –not for the
murder itself –but for the atrocity of the murder. They are
puzzled, too, by the seeming impossibility of reconciling the voices
heard in contention, with the facts that no one was discovered up
stairs but the assassinated Mademoiselle L’Espanaye, and that there
were no means of egress without the notice of the party ascending. The
wild disorder of the room; the corpse thrust, with the head
downward, up the chimney; the frightful mutilation of the body of
the old lady; these considerations with those just mentioned, and
others which I need not mention, have sufficed to paralyze the powers,
by putting completely at fault the boasted acumen, of the government
agents. They have fallen into the gross but common error of
confounding the unusual with the abstruse. But it is by these
deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its
way, if at all, in its search for the true. In investigations such
as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked ‘what has
occurred,’ as ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’ In
fact, the facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at
the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ratio of its apparent
insolubility in the eyes of the police.”
I stared at the speaker in mute astonishment.
“I am now awaiting,” continued he, looking toward the door of our
apartment –“I am now awaiting a person who, although perhaps not
the perpetrator of these butcheries, must have been in some measure
implicated in their perpetration. Of the worst portion of the crimes
committed, it is probable that he is innocent. I hope that I am
right in this supposition; for upon it I build my expectation of
reading the entire riddle. I look for the man here –in this room
–every moment. It is true that he may not arrive; but the probability
is that he will. Should he come, it will be necessary to detain him.
Here are pistols; and we both know how to use them when occasion
demands their use.”
I took the pistols, scarcely knowing what I did, or believing what I
heard, while Dupin went on, very much as if in a soliloquy. I have
already spoken of his abstract manner at such times. His discourse was
addressed to myself; but his voice, although by no means loud, had
that intonation which is commonly employed in speaking to some one
at a great distance. His eyes, vacant in expression, regarded only the
wall.
“That the voices heard in contention,” he said, “by the party upon
the stairs, were not the voices of the women themselves, was fully
proved by the evidence. This relieves us of all doubt upon the
question whether the old lady could have first destroyed the daughter,
and afterward have committed suicide. I speak of this point chiefly
for the sake of method; for the strength of Madame L’Espanaye would
have been utterly unequal to the task of thrusting her daughter’s
corpse up the chimney as it was found; and the nature of the wounds
upon her own person entirely preclude the idea of self-destruction.
Murder, then, has been committed by some third party; and the voices
of this third party were those heard in contention. Let me now
advert –not to the whole testimony respecting these voices –but to
what was peculiar in that testimony. Did you observe anything peculiar
about it?”
I remarked that, while all the witnesses agreed in supposing the
gruff voice to be that of a Frenchman, there was much disagreement
in regard to the shrill, or, as one individual termed it, the harsh
voice.
“That was the evidence itself,” said Dupin, “but it was not the
peculiarity of the evidence. You have observed nothing distinctive.
Yet there was something to be observed. The witnesses, as you
remark, agreed about the gruff voice; they were here unanimous. But in
regard to the shrill voice, the peculiarity is not that they disagreed
–but that, while an Italian, an Englishman, a Spaniard, a
Hollander, and a Frenchman attempted to describe it, each one spoke of
it as that of a foreigner. Each is sure that it was not the voice of
one of his own countrymen. Each likens it –not to the voice of an
individual of any nation with whose language he is conversant –but
the converse. The Frenchman supposes it the voice of a Spaniard, and
‘might have distinguished some words had he been acquainted with the
Spanish.’ The Dutchman maintains it to have been that of a
Frenchman; but we find it stated that ‘not understanding French this
witness was examined through an interpreter.’ The Englishman thinks it
the voice of a German, and ‘does not understand German.’ The
Spaniard ‘is sure’ that it was that of an Englishman, but ‘judges by
the intonation’ altogether, ‘as he has no knowledge of the English.’
The Italian believes it the voice of a Russian, but ‘has never
conversed with a native of Russia.’ A second Frenchman differs,
moreover, with the first, and is positive that the voice was that of
an Italian; but, not being cognizant of that tongue, is, like the
Spaniard, ‘convinced by the intonation.’ Now, how strangely unusual
must that voice have really been, about which such testimony as this
could have been elicited! –in whose tones, even, denizens of the five
great divisions of Europe could recognise nothing familiar! You will
say that it might have been the voice of an Asiatic –of an African.
Neither Asiatics nor Africans abound in Paris; but, without denying
the inference, I will now merely call your attention to three
points. The voice is termed by one witness ‘harsh rather than shrill.’
It is represented by two others to have been ‘quick and unequal’ No
words –no sounds resembling words –were by any witness mentioned
as distinguishable.
“I know not,” continued Dupin, “what impression I may have made,
so far, upon your own understanding; but I do not hesitate to say that
legitimate deductions even from this portion of the testimony –the
portion respecting the gruff and shrill voices –are in themselves
sufficient to engender a suspicion which should give direction to
all farther progress in the investigation of the mystery. I said
‘legitimate deductions;’ but my meaning is not thus fully expressed. I
designed to imply that the deductions are the sole proper ones, and
that the suspicion arises inevitably from them as the single result.
What the suspicion is, however, I will not say just yet. I merely wish
you to bear in mind that, with myself, it was sufficiently forcible to
give a definite form –a certain tendency –to my inquiries in the
chamber.
“Let us now transport ourselves, in fancy, to this chamber. What
shall we first seek here? The means of egress employed by the
murderers. It is not too much to say that neither of us believe in
praeternatural events. Madame and Mademoiselle L’Espanaye were not
destroyed by spirits. The doers of the deed were material, and escaped
materially. Then how? Fortunately, there is but one mode of
reasoning upon the point, and that mode must lead us to a definite
decision. –Let us examine, each by each, the possible means of
egress. It is clear that the assassins were in the room where
Mademoiselle L’Espanaye was found, or at least in the room
adjoining, when the party ascended the stairs. It is then only from
these two apartments that we have to seek issues. The police have laid
bare the floors, the ceilings, and the masonry of the walls, in
every direction. No secret issues could have escaped their
vigilance. But, not trusting to their eyes, I examined with my own.
There were, then, no secret issues. Both doors leading from the
rooms into the passage were securely locked, with the keys inside. Let
us turn to the chimneys. These, although of ordinary width for some
eight or ten feet above the hearths, will not admit, throughout
their extent, the body of a large cat. The impossibility of egress, by
means already stated, being thus absolute, we are reduced to the
windows. Through those of the front room no one could have escaped
without notice from the crowd in the street. The murderers must have
passed, then, through those of the back room. Now, brought to this
conclusion in so unequivocal a manner as we are, it is not our part,
as reasoners, to reject it on account of apparent impossibilities.
It is only left for us to prove that these apparent
‘impossibilities’ are, in reality, not such.
“There are two windows in the chamber. One of them is unobstructed
by furniture, and is wholly visible. The lower portion of the other is
hidden from view by the head of the unwieldy bedstead which is
thrust close up against it. The former was found securely fastened
from within. It resisted the utmost force of those who endeavored to
raise it. A large gimlet-hole had been pierced in its frame to the
left, and a very stout nail was found fitted therein, nearly to the
head. Upon examining the other window, a similar nail was seen
similarly fitted in it; and a vigorous attempt to raise this sash,
failed also. The police were now entirely satisfied that egress had
not been in these directions. And, therefore, it was thought a
matter of supererogation to withdraw the nails and open the windows.
“My own examination was somewhat more particular, and was so for the
reason I have just given –because here it was, I knew, that all
apparent impossibilities must be proved to be not such in reality.
“I proceeded to think thus –a posteriori. The murderers did
escape from one of these windows. This being so, they could not have
re-fastened the sashes from the inside, as they were found fastened;
–the consideration which put a stop, through its obviousness, to
the scrutiny of the police in this quarter. Yet the sashes were
fastened. They must, then, have the power of fastening themselves.
There was no escape from this conclusion. I stepped to the
unobstructed casement, withdrew the nail with some difficulty, and
attempted to raise the sash. It resisted all my efforts, as I had
anticipated. A concealed spring must, I now knew, exist; and this
corroboration of my idea convinced me that my premises, at least, were
correct, however mysterious still appeared the circumstances attending
the nails. A careful search soon brought to light the hidden spring. I
pressed it, and, satisfied with the discovery, forebore to upraise the
sash.
“I now replaced the nail and regarded it attentively. A person
passing out through this window might have reclosed it, and the spring
would have caught –but the nail could not have been replaced. The
conclusion was plain, and again narrowed in the field of my
investigations. The assassins must have escaped through the other
window. Supposing, then, the springs upon each sash to be the same, as
was probable, there must be found a difference between the nails, or
at least between the modes of their fixture. Getting upon the
sacking of the bedstead, I looked over the headboard minutely at the
second casement. Passing my hand down behind the board, I readily
discovered and pressed the spring, which was, as I had supposed,
identical in character with its neighbor. I now looked at the nail. It
was as stout as the other, and apparently fitted in the same manner
–driven in nearly up to the head.
“You will say that I was puzzled; but, if you think so, you must
have misunderstood the nature of the inductions. To use a sporting
phrase, I had not been once ‘at fault.’ The scent had never for an
instant been lost. There was no flaw in any link of the chain. I had
traced the secret to its ultimate result, –and that result was the
nail. It had, I say, in every respect, the appearance of its fellow in
the other window; but this fact was an absolute nullity (conclusive as
it might seem to be) when compared with the consideration that here,
at this point, terminated the clew. ‘There must be something wrong,’ I
said, ‘about the nail.’ I touched it; and the head, with about a
quarter of an inch of the shank, came off in my fingers. The rest of
the shank was in the gimlet-hole, where it had been broken off. The
fracture was an old one (for its edges were incrusted with rust),
and had apparently been accomplished by the blow of a hammer, which
had partially imbedded, in the top of the bottom sash, the head
portion of the nail. now carefully replaced this head portion in the
indentation whence I had taken it, and the resemblance to a perfect
nail was complete-the fissure was invisible. Pressing the spring, I
gently raised the sash for a few inches; the head went up with it,
remaining firm in its bed. I closed the window, and the semblance of
the whole nail was again perfect.
“The riddle, so far, was now unriddled. The assassin had escaped
through the window which looked upon the bed. Dropping of its own
accord upon his exit (or perhaps purposely closed) it had become
fastened by the spring; and it was the retention of this spring
which had been mistaken by the police for that of the nail,
–farther inquiry being thus considered unnecessary.
“The next question is that of the mode of descent. Upon this point I
had been satisfied in my walk with you around the building. About five
feet and a half from the casement in question there runs a
lightning-rod. From this rod it would have been impossible for any one
to reach the window itself, to say nothing of entering it. I observed,
however, that shutters of the fourth story were of the peculiar kind
called by Parisian carpenters ferrades –a kind rarely employed at the
present day, but frequently seen upon very old mansions at Lyons and
Bordeaux. They are in the form of an ordinary door, (a single, not a
folding door) except that the upper half is latticed or worked in open
trellis –thus affording an excellent hold for the hands. In the
present instance these shutters are fully three feet and a half broad.
When we saw them from the rear of the house, they were both about half
open –that is to say, they stood off at right angles from the wall.
It is probable that the police, as well as myself, examined the back
of the tenement; but, if so, in looking at these ferrades in the
line of their breadth (as they must have done), they did not
perceive this great breadth itself, or, at all events, failed to
take it into due consideration. In fact, having once satisfied
themselves that no egress could have been made in this quarter, they
would naturally bestow here a very cursory examination. It was clear
to me, however, that the shutter belonging to the window at the head
of the bed, would, if swung fully back to the wall, reach to within
two feet of the lightning-rod. It was also evident that, by exertion
of a very unusual degree of activity and courage, an entrance into the
window, from the rod, might have been thus effected. –By reaching
to the distance of two feet and a half (we now suppose the shutter
open to its whole extent) a robber might have taken a firm grasp
upon the trellis-work. Letting go, then, his hold upon the rod,
placing his feet securely against the wall, and springing boldly
from it, he might have swung the shutter so as to close it, and, if we
imagine the window open at the time, might have swung himself into the
room.
“I wish you to bear especially in mind that I have spoken of a
very unusual degree of activity as requisite to success in so
hazardous and so difficult a feat. It is my design to show you, first,
that the thing might possibly have been accomplished: –but,
secondly and chiefly, I wish to impress upon your understanding the
very extraordinary –the almost praeternatural character of that
agility which could have accomplished it.
“You will say, no doubt, using the language of the law, that ‘to
make out my case’ I should rather undervalue, than insist upon a
full estimation of the activity required in this matter. This may be
the practice in law, but it is not the usage of reason. My ultimate
object is only the truth. My immediate purpose is to lead you to place
in juxta-position that very unusual activity of which I have just
spoken, with that very peculiar shrill (or harsh) and unequal voice,
about whose nationality no two persons could be found to agree, and in
whose utterance no syllabification could be detected.”
At these words a vague and half-formed conception of the meaning
of Dupin flitted over my mind. I seemed to be upon the verge of
comprehension, without power to comprehend –as men, at times, find
themselves upon the brink of remembrance, without being able, in the
end, to remember. My friend went on with his discourse.
“You will see,” he said, “that I have shifted the question from
the mode of egress to that of ingress. It was my design to suggest
that both were effected in the same manner, at the same point. Let
us now revert to the interior of the room. Let us survey the
appearances here. The drawers of the bureau, it is said, had been
rifled, although many articles of apparel still remained within
them. The conclusion here is absurd. It is a mere guess –a very silly
one –and no more. How are we to know that the articles found in the
drawers were not all these drawers had originally contained? Madame
L’Espanaye and her daughter lived an exceedingly retired life –saw no
company –seldom went out –had little use for numerous changes of
habiliment. Those found were at least of as good quality as any likely
to be possessed by these ladies. If a thief had taken any, why did
he not take the best –why did he not take all? In a word, why did
he abandon four thousand francs in gold to encumber himself with a
bundle of linen? The gold was abandoned. Nearly the whole sum
mentioned by Monsieur Mignaud, the banker, was discovered, in bags,
upon the floor. I wish you, therefore, to discard from your thoughts
the blundering idea of motive, engendered in the brains of the
police by that portion of the evidence which speaks of money delivered
at the door of the house. Coincidences ten times as remarkable as this
(the delivery of the money, and murder committed within three days
upon the party receiving it), happen to all of us every hour of our
lives, without attracting even momentary notice. Coincidences, in
general, are great stumbling-blocks in the way of that class of
thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of
probabilities –that theory to which the most glorious objects of
human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration.
In the present instance, had the gold been gone, the fact of its
delivery three days before would have formed something more than a
coincidence. It would have been corroborative of this idea of
motive. But, under the real circumstances of the case, if we are to
suppose gold the motive of this outrage, we must also imagine the
perpetrator so vacillating an idiot as to have abandoned his gold
and his motive together.
“Keeping now steadily in mind the points to which I have drawn
your attention –that peculiar voice, that unusual agility, and that
startling absence of motive in a murder so singularly atrocious as
this –let us glance at the butchery itself. Here is a woman strangled
to death by manual strength, and thrust up a chimney, head downward.
Ordinary assassins employ no such modes of murder as this. Least of
all, do they thus dispose of the murdered. In the manner of
thrusting the corpse up the chimney, you will that there was something
excessively outre –something altogether irreconcilable with our
common notions of human action, even when we suppose the actors the
most depraved of men. Think, too, how great must have been that
strength which could have thrust the body up such an aperture so
forcibly that the united vigor of several persons was found barely
sufficient to drag it down!
“Turn, now, to other indications of the employment of a vigor most
marvellous. On the hearth were thick tresses –very thick tresses –of
grey human hair. These had been torn out by the roots. You are aware
of the great force necessary in tearing thus from the head even twenty
or thirty hairs together. You saw the locks in question as well as
myself. Their roots (a hideous sight!) were clotted with fragments
of the flesh of the scalp –sure token of the prodigious power which
had been exerted in uprooting perhaps half a million of hairs at a
time. The throat of the old lady was not merely cut, but the head
absolutely severed from the body: the instrument was a mere razor. I
wish you also to look at the brutal ferocity of these deeds. Of the
bruises upon the body of Madame L’Espanaye I do not speak. Monsieur
Dumas, and his worthy coadjutor Monsieur Etienne, have pronounced that
they were inflicted by some obtuse instrument; and so far these
gentlemen are very correct. The obtuse instrument was clearly the
stone pavement in the yard, upon which the victim had fallen from
the window which looked in upon the bed. This idea, however simple
it may now seem, escaped the police for the same reason that the
breadth of the shutters escaped them –because, by the affair of the
nails, their perceptions had been hermetically sealed against the
possibility of the windows have ever been opened at all.
If now, in addition to all these things, you have properly reflected
upon the odd disorder of the chamber, we have gone so far as to
combine the ideas of an agility astounding, a strength superhuman, a
ferocity brutal, a butchery without motive, a grotesquerie in horror
absolutely alien from humanity, and a voice foreign in tone to the
ears of men of many nations, and devoid of all distinct or
intelligible syllabification. What result, then, has ensued? What
impression have I made upon your fancy?”
I felt a creeping of the flesh as Dupin asked me the question. “A
madman,” I said, “has done this deed –some raving maniac, escaped
from a neighboring Maison de Sante.”
“In some respects,” he replied, “your idea is not irrelevant. But
the voices of madmen, even in their wildest paroxysms, are never found
to tally with that peculiar voice heard upon the stairs. Madmen are of
some nation, and their language, however incoherent in its words,
has always the coherence of syllabification. Besides, the hair of a
madman is not such as I now hold in my hand. I disentangled this
little tuft from the rigidly clutched fingers of Madame L’Espanaye.
Tell me what you can make of it.”
“Dupin!” I said, completely unnerved; “this hair is most unusual
–this is no human hair.”
“I have not asserted that it is,” said he; “but, before we decide
this point, I wish you to glance at the little sketch I have here
traced upon this paper. It is a fac-simile drawing of what has been
described in one portion of the testimony as ‘dark bruises, and deep
indentations of finger nails,’ upon the throat of Mademoiselle
L’Espanaye, and in another, (by Messrs. Dumas and Etienne,) as a
‘series of livid spots, evidently the impression of fingers.’
“You will perceive,” continued my friend, spreading out the paper
upon the table before us, “that this drawing gives the idea of a
firm and fixed hold. There is no slipping apparent. Each finger has
retained –possibly until the death of the victim –the fearful
grasp by which it originally imbedded itself. Attempt, now, to place
all your fingers, at the same time, in the respective impressions as
you see them.”
I made the attempt in vain.
“We are possibly not giving this matter a fair trial,” he said. “The
paper is spread out upon a plane surface; but the human throat is
cylindrical. Here is a billet of wood, the circumference of which is
about that of the throat. Wrap the drawing around it, and try the
experiment again.”
I did so; but the difficulty was even more obvious than before.
“This,” I said, “is the mark of no human hand.”
“Read now,” replied Dupin, “this passage from Cuvier.” It was a
minute anatomical and generally descriptive account of the large
fulvous Ourang-Outang of the East Indian Islands. The gigantic
stature, the prodigious strength and activity, the wild ferocity,
and the imitative propensities of these mammalia are sufficiently well
known to all. I understood the full horrors of the murder at once.
“The description of the digits,” said I, as I made an end of
reading, “is in exact accordance with this drawing, I see that no
animal but an Ourang-Outang, of the species here mentioned, could have
impressed the indentations as you have traced them. This tuft of tawny
hair, too, is identical in character with that of the beast of Cuvier.
But I cannot possibly comprehend the particulars of this frightful
mystery. Besides, there were two voices heard in contention, and one
of them was unquestionably the voice of a Frenchman.”
True; and you will remember an expression attributed almost
unanimously, by the evidence, to this voice, –the expression, ‘mon
Dieu!’ This, under the circumstances, has been justly characterized by
one of the witnesses (Montani, the confectioner,) as an expression
of remonstrance or expostulation. Upon these two words, therefore, I
have mainly built my hopes of a full solution of the riddle. A
Frenchman was cognizant of the murder. It is possible –indeed it is
far more than probable –that he was innocent of all participation
in the bloody transactions which took place. The Ourang-Outang may
have escaped from him. He may have traced it to the chamber; but,
under the agitating circumstances which ensued, he could never have
re-captured it. It is still at large. I will not pursue these
guesses-for I have no right to call them more –since the shades of
reflection upon which they are based are scarcely of sufficient
depth to be appreciable by my own intellect, and since I could not
pretend to make them intelligible to the understanding of another.
We will call them guesses then, and speak of them as such. If the
Frenchman in question is indeed, as I suppose, innocent of this
atrocity, this advertisement, which I left last night, upon our return
home, at the office of ‘Le Monde,’ (a paper devoted to the shipping
interest, and much sought by sailors,) will bring him to our
residence.”
He handed me a paper, and I read thus:

Caught –In the Bois de Boulogne, early in the morning of the –inst.,
(the morning of the murder,) a very large, tawny Ourang-Outang of
the Bornese species. The owner, (who is ascertained to be a sailor,
belonging to a Maltese vessel,) may have the animal again, upon
identifying it satisfactorily, and paying a few charges arising from
its capture and keeping. Call at No.–, Rue –, Faubourg St. Germain
–au troisieme.

“How was it possible,” I asked, “that you should know the man to
be a sailor, and belonging to a Maltese vessel?”
“I do not know it,” said Dupin. “I am not sure of it. Here, however,
is a small piece of ribbon, which from its form, and from its greasy
appearance, has evidently been used in tying the hair in one of
those long queues of which sailors are so fond. Moreover, this knot is
one which few besides sailors can tie, and is peculiar to the Maltese.
I picked the ribbon up at the foot of the lightning-rod. It could
not have belonged to either of the deceased. Now if, after all, I am
wrong in my induction from this ribbon, that the Frenchman was a
sailor belonging to a Maltese vessel, still I can have done no harm in
saying what I did in the advertisement. If I am in error, he will
merely suppose that I have been misled by some circumstance into which
he will not take the trouble to inquire. But if I am right, a great
point is gained. Cognizant although innocent of the murder, the
Frenchman will naturally hesitate about replying to the
advertisement –about demanding the Ourang-Outang. He will reason
thus: –‘I am innocent; I am poor; my Ourang-Outang is of great
value –to one in my circumstances a fortune of itself –why should
I lose it through idle apprehensions of danger? Here it is, within
my grasp. It was found in the Bois de Boulogne –at a vast distance
from the scene of that butchery. How can it ever be suspected that a
brute beast should have done the deed? The police are at fault
–they have failed to procure the slightest clew. Should they even
trace the animal, it would be impossible to prove me cognizant of
the murder, or to implicate me in guilt on account of that cognizance.
Above all, I am known. The advertiser designates me as the possessor
of the beast. I am not sure to what limit his knowledge may extend.
Should I avoid claiming a property of so great value, which it is
known that I possess, I will render the animal, at least, liable to
suspicion. It is not my policy to attract attention either to myself
or to the beast. I will answer the advertisement, get the
Ourang-Outang, and keep it close until this matter has blown over.
At this moment we heard a step upon the stairs.
“Be ready,” said Dupin, “with your pistols, but neither use them nor
show them until at a signal from myself.”
The front door of the house had been left open, and the visitor
had entered, without ringing, and advanced several steps upon the
staircase. Now, however, he seemed to hesitate. Presently we heard him
descending. Dupin was moving quickly to the door, when we again
heard him coming up. He did not turn back a second time, but stepped
up with decision and rapped at the door of our chamber.
“Come in,” said Dupin, in a cheerful and hearty tone.
A man entered. He was a sailor, evidently, –a tall, stout, and
muscular-looking person, with a certain dare-devil expression of
countenance, not altogether unprepossessing. His face, greatly
sunburnt, was more than half hidden by whisker and mustachio. He had
with him a huge oaken cudgel, but appeared to be otherwise unarmed. He
bowed awkwardly, and bade us “good evening,” in French accents, which,
although somewhat Neufchatelish, were still sufficiently indicative of
a Parisian origin.
Sit down, my friend,” said Dupin. “I suppose you have called about
the Ourang-Outang. Upon my word, I almost envy you the possession of
him; a remarkably fine, and no doubt a very valuable animal. How old
do you suppose him to be?”
The sailor drew a long breath, with the air of a man relieved of
some intolerable burden, and then replied, in an assured tone:
“I have no way of telling –but he can’t be more than four or five
years old. Have you got him here?”
“Oh no; we had no conveniences for keeping him here. He is at a
livery stable in the Rue Dubourg, just by. You can get him in the
morning. Of course you are prepared to identify the property?”
“To be sure I am, sir.”
“I shall be sorry to part with him,” said Dupin.
“I don’t mean that you should be at all this trouble for nothing,
sir,” said the man. “Couldn’t expect it. Am very willing to pay a
reward for the finding of the animal –that is to say, any thing in
reason.”
“Well,” replied my friend, “that is all very fair, to be sure. Let
me think! –what should I have? Oh! I will tell you. My reward shall
be this. You shall give me all the information in your power about
these murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Dupin said the last words in a very low tone, and very quietly. Just
as quietly, too, he walked toward the door, locked it, and put the key
in his pocket. He then drew a pistol from his bosom and placed it,
without the least flurry, upon the table.
The sailor’s face flushed up as if he were struggling with
suffocation. He started to his feet and grasped his cudgel; but the
next moment he fell back into his seat, trembling violently, and
with the countenance of death itself. He spoke not a word. I pitied
him from the bottom of my heart.
“My friend,” said Dupin, in a kind tone, “you are alarming
yourself unnecessarily –you are indeed. We mean you no harm whatever.
I pledge you the honor of a gentleman, and of a Frenchman, that we
intend you no injury. I perfectly well know that you are innocent of
the atrocities in the Rue Morgue. It will not do, however, to deny
that you are in some measure implicated in them. From what I have
already said, you must know that I have had means of information about
this matter –means of which you could never have dreamed. Now the
thing stands thus. You have done nothing which you could have
avoided –nothing, certainly, which renders you culpable. You were not
even guilty of robbery, when you might have robbed with impunity.
You have nothing to conceal. You have no reason for concealment. On
the other hand, you are bound by every principle of honor to confess
all you know. An innocent man is now imprisoned, charged with that
crime of which you can point out the perpetrator.”
The sailor had recovered his presence of mind, in a great measure,
while Dupin uttered these words; but his original boldness of
bearing was all gone.
“So help me God,” said he, after a brief pause, “I will tell you all
I know about this affair; –but I do not expect you to believe one
half I say –I would be a fool indeed if I did. Still, I am
innocent, and I will make a clean breast if I die for it.”
What he stated was, in substance, this. He had lately made a
voyage to the Indian Archipelago. A party, of which he formed one,
landed at Borneo, and passed into the interior on an excursion of
pleasure. Himself and a companion had captured the Ourang-Outang. This
companion dying, the animal fell into his own exclusive possession.
After great trouble, occasioned by the intractable ferocity of his
captive during the home voyage, he at length succeeded in lodging it
safely at his own residence in Paris, where, not to attract toward
himself the unpleasant curiosity of his neighbors, he kept it
carefully secluded, until such time as it should recover from a
wound in the foot, received from a splinter on board ship. His
ultimate design was to sell it.
Returning home from some sailors’ frolic on the night, or rather
in the morning of the murder, he found the beast occupying his own
bed-room, into which it had broken from a closet adjoining, where it
had been, as was thought, securely confined. Razor in hand, and
fully lathered, it was sitting before a looking-glass, attempting
the operation of shaving, in which it had no doubt previously
watched its master through the key-hole of the closet. Terrified at
the sight of so dangerous a weapon in the possession of an animal so
ferocious, and so well able to use it, the man, for some moments,
was at a loss what to do. He had been accustomed, however, to quiet
the creature, even in its fiercest moods, by the use of a whip, and to
this he now resorted. Upon sight of it, the Ourang-Outang sprang at
once through the door of the chamber, down the stairs, and thence,
through a window, unfortunately open, into the street.
The Frenchman followed in despair; the ape, razor still in hand,
occasionally stopping to look back and gesticulate at its pursuer,
until the latter had nearly come up with it. It then again made off.
In this manner the chase continued for a long time. The streets were
profoundly quiet, as it was nearly three o’clock in the morning. In
passing down an alley in the rear of the Rue Morgue, the fugitive’s
attention was arrested by a light gleaming from the open window of
Madame L’Espanaye’s chamber, in the fourth story of her house. Rushing
to the building, it perceived the lightning-rod, clambered up with
inconceivable agility, grasped the shutter, which was thrown fully
back against the wall, and, by its means, swung itself directly upon
the headboard of the bed. The whole feat did not occupy a minute.
The shutter was kicked open again by the Ourang-Outang as it entered
the room.
The sailor, in the meantime, was both rejoiced and perplexed. He had
strong hopes of now recapturing the brute, as it could scarcely escape
from the trap into which it had ventured, except by the rod, where
it might be intercepted as it came down. On the other hand, there
was much cause for anxiety as to what it might do in the house. This
latter reflection urged the man still to follow the fugitive. A
lightning-rod is ascended without difficulty, especially by a
sailor; but, when he had arrived as high as the window, which lay
far to his left, his career was stopped; the most that he could
accomplish was to reach over so as to obtain a glimpse of the interior
of the room. At this glimpse he nearly fell from his hold through
excess of horror. Now it was that those hideous shrieks arose upon the
night, which had startled from slumber the inmates of the Rue
Morgue. Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter, habited in their night
clothes, had apparently been arranging some papers in the iron chest
already mentioned, which had been wheeled into the middle of the room.
It was open, and its contents lay beside it on the floor. The
victims must have been sitting with their backs toward the window;
and, from the time elapsing between the ingress of the beast and the
screams, it seems probable that it was not immediately perceived.
The flapping-to of the shutter would naturally have been attributed to
the wind.
As the sailor looked in, the gigantic animal had seized Madame
L’Espanaye by the hair, (which was loose, as she had been combing it,)
and was flourishing the razor about her face, in imitation of the
motions of a barber. The daughter lay prostrate and motionless; she
had swooned. The screams and struggles of the old lady (during which
the hair was torn from her head) had the effect of changing the
probably pacific purposes of the Ourang-Outang into those of wrath.
With one determined sweep of its muscular arm it nearly severed her
head from her body. The sight of blood inflamed its anger into
phrenzy. Gnashing its teeth, and flashing fire from its eves, it
flew upon the body of the girl, and imbedded its fearful talons in her
throat, retaining its grasp until she expired. Its wandering and
wild glances fell at this moment upon the head of the bed, over
which the face of its master, rigid with horror, was just discernible.
The fury of the beast, who no doubt bore still in mind the dreaded
whip, was instantly converted into fear. Conscious of having
deserved punishment, it seemed desirous of concealing its bloody
deeds, and skipped about the chamber in an agony of nervous agitation;
throwing down and breaking the furniture as it moved, and dragging the
bed from the bedstead. In conclusion, it seized first the corpse of
the daughter, and thrust it up the chimney, as it was found; then that
of the old lady, which it immediately hurled through the window
headlong.
As the ape approached the casement with its mutilated burden, the
sailor shrank aghast to the rod, and, rather gliding than clambering
down it, hurried at once home –dreading the consequences of the
butchery, and gladly abandoning, in his terror, all solicitude about
the fate of the Ourang-Outang. The words heard by the party upon the
staircase were the Frenchman’s exclamations of horror and affright,
commingled with the fiendish jabberings of the brute.
I have scarcely anything to add. The Ourang-Outang must have escaped
from the chamber, by the rod, just before the breaking of the door. It
must have closed the window as it passed through it. It was
subsequently caught by the owner himself, who obtained for it a very
large sum at the Jardin des Plantes. Le Bon was instantly released,
upon our narration of the circumstances (with some comments from
Dupin) at the bureau of the Prefect of Police. This functionary,
however well disposed to my friend, could not altogether conceal his
chagrin at the turn which affairs had taken, and was fain to indulge
in a sarcasm or two, about the propriety of every person minding his
own business.
“Let them talk,” said Dupin, who had not thought it necessary to
reply. “Let him discourse; it will ease his conscience. I am satisfied
with having defeated him in his own castle. Nevertheless, that he
failed in the solution of this mystery, is by no means that matter for
wonder which he supposes it; for, in truth, our friend the Prefect
is somewhat too cunning to be profound. In his wisdom is no stamen. It
is all head and no body, like the pictures of the Goddess Laverna,
–or, at best, all head and shoulders, like a codfish. But he is a
good creature after all. I like him especially for one master stroke
of cant, by which he has attained his reputation for ingenuity. I mean
the way he has ‘de nier ce qui est, et d’expliquer ce qui n’est
pas.'”*

* Rousseau, Nouvelle Heloise.
-THE END-

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