My Nephew Joseph by Ludovic Halevy

(Scene passes at Versailles; two old gentlemen are conversing, seated on a bench in the King’s garden.)

Journalism, my dear Monsieur, is the evil of the times. I tell you what, if I had a son, I would hesitate a long while before giving him a literary education. I would have him learn chemistry, mathematics, fencing, cosmography, swimming, drawing, but not composition—no, not composition. Then, at least, he would be prevented from becoming a journalist. It is so easy, so tempting. They take pen and paper and write, it doesn’t matter what, apropos to it doesn’t matter what, and you have a newspaper article. In order to become a watchmaker, a lawyer, an upholsterer, in short, all the liberal arts, study, application, and a special kind of knowledge are necessary; but nothing like that is required for a journalist.”

“You are perfectly right, my dear Monsieur, the profession of journalism should be restricted by examinations, the issuing of warrants, the granting of licenses—”

“And they could pay well for their licenses, these gentlemen. Do you know that journalism is become very profitable? There are some young men in it who, all at once, without a fixed salary, and no capital whatever, make from ten, twenty to thirty thousand francs a year.”

“Now, that is strange! But how do they become journalists?”

“Ah! It appears they generally commence by being reporters. Reporters slip in everywhere, in official gatherings, and theatres, never missing a first night, nor a fire, nor a great ball, nor a murder.”

“How well acquainted you are with all this!”

“Yes, very well acquainted. Ah! Mon Dieu! You are my friend, you will keep my secret, and if you will not repeat this in Versailles—I will tell you how it is—we have one in the family.”

“One what?”

“A reporter.”

“A reporter in your family, which always seemed so united! How can that be?”

“One can almost say that the devil was at the bottom of it. You know my nephew Joseph—”

“Little Joseph! Is he a reporter?”


“Little Joseph, I can see him in the park now, rolling a hoop, bare-legged, with a broad white collar, not more than six or seven years ago—and now he writes for newspapers!”

“Yes, newspapers! You know my brother keeps a pharmacy in the Rue Montorgueil, an old and reliable firm, and naturally my brother said to himself, ‘After me, my son.’ Joseph worked hard at chemistry, followed the course of study, and had already passed an examination. The boy was steady and industrious, and had a taste for the business. On Sundays for recreation he made tinctures, prepared prescriptions, pasted the labels and rolled pills. When, as misfortune would have it, a murder was committed about twenty feet from my brother’s pharmacy—”

“The murder of the Rue Montorgueil—that clerk who killed his sweetheart, a little brewery maid?”

“The very same. Joseph was attracted by the cries, saw the murderer arrested, and after the police were gone stayed there in the street, talking and jabbering. The Saturday before, Joseph had a game of billiards with the murderer.”

“With the murderer!”

“Oh! accidentally—he knew him by sight, went to the same café, that’s all, and they had played at pool together, Joseph and the murderer—a man named Nicot. Joseph told this to the crowd, and you may well imagine how important that made him, when suddenly a little blond man seized him. ‘You know the murderer?’ ‘A little, not much; I played pool with him.’ ‘And do you know the motive of the crime?’ ‘It was love, Monsieur, love; Nicot had met a girl, named Eugénie—’ ‘You knew the victim, too?’ ‘Only by sight, she was there in the café the night we played.’ ‘Very well; but don’t tell that to anybody; come, come, quick.’ He took possession of Joseph and made him get into a cab, which went rolling off at great speed down the Boulevard des Italiens. Ten minutes after, Joseph found himself in a hall where there was a big table, around which five or six young men were writing. ‘Here is a fine sensation,’ said the little blond on entering. ‘The best kind of a murder! a murder for love, in the Rue Montorgueil, and I have here the murderer’s most intimate friend.’ ‘No, not at all,’ cried Joseph, ‘I scarcely know him.’ ‘Be still,’ whispered the little blond to Joseph; then he continued, ‘Yes, his most intimate friend. They were brought up together, and a quarter of an hour before the crime was committed were playing billiards. The murderer won, he was perfectly calm——’ ‘That’s not it, it was last Saturday that I played with——’ ‘Be still, will you! A quarter of an hour, it is more to the point. Let’s go. Come, come.’ He took Joseph into a small room where they were alone, and said to him: ‘That affair ought to make about a hundred lines—you talk—I’ll write—there will be twenty francs for you.’ ‘Twenty francs!’ ‘Yes, and here they are in advance; but be quick, to business!’ Joseph told all he knew to the gentleman—how an old and retired Colonel, who lived in the house where the murder was committed, was the first to hear the victim’s cries; but he was paralyzed in both limbs, this old Colonel, and could only ring for the servant, an old cuirassier, who arrested the assassin. In short, with all the information concerning the game of billiards, Eugénie and the paralytic old Colonel, the man composed his little article, and sent Joseph away with twenty francs. Do you think it ended there?”

“I don’t think anything—I am amazed! Little Joseph a reporter!”

“Hardly had Joseph stepped outside, when another man seized him—a tall, dark fellow. ‘I’ve been watching for you,’ he said to Joseph. ‘You were present when the murder was committed in the Rue Montorgueil!’ ‘Why, no, I was not present——’ ‘That will do. I am well informed, come.’ ‘Where to?’ ‘To my newspaper office.’ ‘What for?’ ‘To tell me about the murder.’ ‘But I’ve already told all I know, there, in that house.’ ‘Come, you will still remember a few more little incidents—and I will give you twenty francs.’ ‘Twenty francs!’ ‘Come, come.’ Another hall, another table, more young men writing, and again Joseph was interrogated. He recommenced the history of the old Colonel. ‘Is that what you told them down there?’ inquired the tall, dark man of Joseph. ‘Yes, Monsieur.’ ‘That needs some revision, then.’ And the tall, dark man made up a long story. How this old Colonel had been paralyzed for fourteen years, but on hearing the victim’s heartrending screams, received such a shock that all at once, as if by a miracle, had recovered the use of his legs; and it was he who had started out in pursuit of the murderer and had him arrested.

“While dashing this off with one stroke of his pen, the man exclaimed: ‘Good! this is perfect! a hundred times better than the other account.’ ‘Yes,’ said Joseph, ‘but it is not true.’ ‘Not true for you, because you are acquainted with the affair; but for our hundred thousand readers, who do not know about it, it will be true enough. They were not there, those hundred thousand readers. What do they want? A striking account—well! they shall have it!’ And thereupon he discharged Joseph, who went home with his forty francs, and who naturally did not boast of his escapade. It is only of late that he has acknowledged it. However, from that day Joseph has shown less interest in the pharmacy. He bought a number of penny papers, and shut himself up in his room to write—no one knows what. At last he wore a business-like aspect, which was very funny. About six months ago I went to Paris to collect the dividends on my Northern stock.”

“The Northern is doing very well; it went up this week——”

“Oh! it’s good stock. Well, I had collected my dividends and had left the Northern Railway Station. It was beautiful weather, so I walked slowly down the Rue Lafayette. (I have a habit of strolling a little in Paris after I have collected my dividends.) When at the corner of the Faubourg Montmartre, whom should I see but my nephew, Joseph, all alone in a victoria, playing the fine gentleman. I saw very well that he turned his head away, the vagabond! But I overtook the carriage and stopped the driver. ‘What are you doing there?’ ‘A little drive, uncle.’ ‘Wait, I will go with you,’ and in I climbed. ‘Hurry up,’ said the driver, ‘or I’ll lose the trail.’ ‘What trail?’ ‘Why, the two cabs we are following.’ The man drove at a furious rate, and I asked Joseph why he was there in that victoria, following two cabs. ‘Mon Dieu, uncle,’ he replied, ‘there was a foreigner, a Spaniard, who came to our place in the Rue Montorgueil and bought a large amount of drugs, and has not paid us, so I am going after him to find out if he has not given us a wrong address.’ ‘And that Spaniard is in both the cabs?’ ‘No, uncle, he is only in one, the first.’ ‘And who is in the second?’ ‘I don’t know, probably another creditor, like myself, in pursuit of the Spaniard.’ ‘Well, I am going to stay with you; I have two hours to myself before the train leaves at five o’clock and I adore this sort of thing, riding around Paris in an open carriage. Let’s follow the Spaniard!’ And then the chase commenced, down the boulevards, across the squares, through the streets, the three drivers cracking their whips and urging their horses on. This man-hunt began to get exciting. It recalled to my mind the romances in the Petit Journal. Finally, in a little street, belonging to the Temple Quarter, the first cab stopped.”

“The Spaniard?”

“Yes. A man got out of it—he had a large hat drawn down over his eyes and a big muffler wrapped about his neck. Presently three gentlemen, who had jumped from the second cab, rushed upon that man. I wanted to do the same, but Joseph tried to prevent me. ‘Don’t stir, uncle!’ ‘Why not? But they are going to deprive us of the Spaniard!’ And I dashed forward. ‘Take care, uncle, don’t be mixed up in that affair.’ But I was already gone. When I arrived they were putting the handcuffs on the Spaniard. I broke through the crowd which had collected, and cried, ‘Wait, Messieurs, wait; I also demand a settlement with this man.’ They made way for me. ‘You know this man?’ asked one of the gentlemen from the second cab, a short, stout fellow. ‘Perfectly; he is a Spaniard.’ ‘I a Spaniard!’ ‘Yes, a Spaniard.’ ‘Good,’ said the short, stout man, ‘Here’s the witness!’ and, addressing himself to one of the men, ‘Take Monsieur to the Prefecture immediately.’ ‘But I have not the time; I live in Versailles; my wife expects me by the five o’clock train, and we have company to dinner, and I must take home a pie. I will come back to-morrow at any hour you wish.’ ‘No remarks,’ said the short, stout man, ‘but be off; I am the Police Commissioner.’ ‘But, Monsieur the Commissioner, I know nothing about it; it is my nephew Joseph who will tell you,’ and I called ‘Joseph! Joseph!’ but no Joseph came.”

“He had decamped?”

“With the victoria. They packed me in one of the two cabs with the detective, a charming man and very distinguished. Arriving at the Prefecture, they deposited me in a small apartment filled with vagabonds, criminals, and low, ignorant people. An hour after they came for me in order to bring me up for examination.”

“You were brought up for examination?”

“Yes, my dear Monsieur, I was. A policeman conducted me through the Palais de Justice, before the magistrate, a lean man, who asked me my name and address. I replied that I lived in Versailles, and that I had company to dinner; he interrupted me, ‘You know the prisoner?’ pointing to the man with the muffler, ‘Speak up.’ But he questioned me so threateningly that I became disconcerted, for I felt that he was passing judgment upon me. Then in my embarrassment the words did not come quickly. I finished, moreover, by telling him that I knew the man without knowing him; then he became furious: ‘What’s that you say? You know a man without knowing him! At least explain yourself!’ I was all of a tremble, and said that I knew he was a Spaniard, but the man replied that he was not a Spaniard. ‘Well, well,’ said the Judge. ‘Denial, always denial; it is your way.’ ‘I tell you that my name is Rigaud, and that I was born in Josey, in Josas; they are not Spaniards that are born in Josey, in Josas.’ ‘Always contradiction; very good, very good!’ And the Judge addressed himself to me. ‘Then this man is a Spaniard?’ ‘Yes, Monsieur the Judge, so I have been told.’ ‘Do you know anything more about him?’ ‘I know he made purchases at my brother’s pharmacy in the Rue Montorgueil.’ ‘At a pharmacy! and he bought, did he not, some chlorate of potash, azotite of potash, and sulphur powder; in a word, materials to manufacture explosives.’ ‘I don’t know what he bought. I only know that he did not pay, that’s all.’ ‘Parbleau! Anarchists never pay—’ ‘I did not need to pay. I never bought chlorate of potash in the Rue Montorgueil,’ cried the man; but the Judge exclaimed, louder still, ‘Yes, it is your audacious habit of lying, but I will sift this matter to the bottom; sift it, do you understand. And now why is that muffler on in the month of May?’ ‘I have a cold,’ replied the other. ‘Haven’t I the right to have a cold?’ ‘That is very suspicious, very suspicious. I am going to send for the druggist in the Rue Montorgueil!’”

“Then they sent for your brother?”

“Yes; I wanted to leave, tried to explain to the Judge that my wife was expecting me in Versailles, that I had already missed the five o’clock train, that I had company to dinner, and must bring home a pie. ‘You shall not go,’ replied the Judge, ‘and cease to annoy me with your dinner and your pie; I will need you for a second examination. The affair is of the gravest sort.’ I tried to resist, but they led me away somewhat roughly, and thrust me again into the little apartment with the criminals. After waiting an hour I was brought up for another examination. My brother was there. But we could not exchange two words, for he entered the courtroom by one door and I by another. All this was arranged perfectly. The man with the muffler was again brought out. The Judge addressed my brother. ‘Do you recognize the prisoner?’ ‘No.’ ‘Ah! you see he does not know me!’ ‘Be silent!’ said the Judge, and he continued talking excitedly: ‘You know the man?’ ‘Certainly not.’ ‘Think well; you ought to know him.’ ‘I tell you, no.’ ‘I tell you, yes, and that he bought some chlorate of potash from you.’ ‘No!’ ‘Ah!’ cried the Judge, in a passion. ‘Take care, weigh well your words; you are treading on dangerous ground.’ ‘I!’ exclaimed my brother. ‘Yes, for there is your brother; you recognize him, I think.’ ‘Yes, I recognize him.’ ‘That is fortunate. Well, your brother there says that man owes you money for having bought at your establishment—I specify—materials to manufacture explosives.’ ‘But you did not say that.’ ‘No, I wish to re-establish the facts.’ But that Judge would give no one a chance to speak. ‘Don’t interrupt me. Who is conducting this examination, you or I?’ ‘You, Monsieur the Judge?’ ‘Well, at all events, you said the prisoner owed your brother some money.’ ‘That I acknowledge.’ ‘But who told you all this?’ asked my brother. ‘Your son, Joseph!’ ‘Joseph!’ ‘He followed the man for the sake of the money, which he owed you for the drugs.’ ‘I understand nothing of all this,’ said my brother; ‘Neither do I,’ said the man with the muffler; ‘Neither do I,’ I repeated in my turn; ‘Neither do I any more,’ cried the Judge; ‘Or rather, yes, there is something that I understand very well; we have captured a gang, all these men understand one another, and side with one another; they are a band of Anarchists!’ ‘That is putting it too strong,’ I protested to the Judge, ‘I, a landowner, an Anarchist! Can a man be an Anarchist when he owns a house on the Boulevard de la Reine at Versailles and a cottage at Houlgate, Calvados? These are facts.’”

“That was well answered.”

“But this Judge would not listen to anything. He said to my brother, ‘Where does your son live?’ ‘With me in the Rue Montorgueil.’ ‘Well, he must be sent for; and in the meanwhile, these two brothers are to be placed in separate cells.’ Then, losing patience, I cried that this was infamy! But I felt myself seized and dragged through the corridors and locked in a little box four feet square. In there I passed three hours.”

“Didn’t they find your nephew Joseph?”

“No, it was not that. It was the Judge. He went off to his dinner, and took his time about it! Finally, at midnight, they had another examination. Behold all four of us before the Judge! The man with the muffler, myself, my brother and Joseph. The Judge began, addressing my nephew: ‘This man is indeed your father?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘This man is indeed your uncle?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And that man is indeed the Spaniard who purchased some chlorate of potash from you?’ ‘No.’ ‘What! No?’ ‘There,’ exclaimed the fellow with the muffler. ‘You can see now that these men do not know me.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ answered the Judge, not at all disconcerted. ‘Denial again! Let’s see, young man, did you not say to your uncle——’ ‘Yes, Monsieur the Judge, that is true.’ ‘Ah! the truth! Here is the truth!’ exclaimed the Judge, triumphantly. ‘Yes, I told my uncle that the man purchased drugs from us, but that is not so.’ ‘Why isn’t it?’ ‘Wait, I will tell you. Unknown to my family I am a journalist.’ ‘Journalist! My son a journalist! Don’t believe that, Monsieur the Judge, my son is an apprentice in a pharmacy.’ ‘Yes, my nephew is an apprentice in a pharmacy,’ I echoed. ‘These men contradict themselves; this is a gang, decidedly a gang—are you a journalist, young man, or an apprentice in a pharmacy?’ ‘I am both.’ ‘That is a lie!’ cried my brother, now thoroughly angry. ‘And for what newspaper do you write?’ ‘For no paper at all,’ replied my brother, ‘I know that, for he is not capable.’ ‘I do not exactly write, Monsieur the Judge; I procure information; I am a reporter.’ ‘Reporter! My son a reporter? What’s that he says?’ ‘Will you be still!’ cried the Judge. For what newspaper are you a reporter?’ Joseph told the name of the paper. ‘Well,’ resumed the Judge, ‘we must send for the chief editor immediately—immediately, he must be awakened and brought here. I will pass the night at court. I’ve discovered a great conspiracy. Lead these men away and keep them apart.’ The Judge beamed, for he already saw himself Court Counsellor. They brought us back, and I assure you I no longer knew where I was. I came and went up and down the staircases and through the corridors. If anyone had asked me at the time if I were an accomplice of Ravachol, I would have answered, ‘Probably.’”

“When did all this take place?”

“One o’clock in the morning; and the fourth examination did not take place until two. But, thank Heaven! in five minutes it was all made clear. The editor of the newspaper arrived, and burst into a hearty laugh when he learned of the condition of affairs; and this is what he told the Judge. My nephew had given them the particulars of a murder, and had been recompensed for it, and then the young man had acquired a taste for that occupation, and had come to apply for the situation. They had found him clear-headed, bold, and intelligent, and had sent him to take notes at the executions, at fires, etc., and the morning after the editor had a good idea. ‘The detectives were on the lookout for Anarchists, so I sent my reporters on the heels of each detective, and in this way I would be the first to hear of all the arrests. Now, you see, it all explains itself; the detective followed an Anarchist.’”

“And your nephew Joseph followed the detective?”

“Yes, but he dared not tell the truth, so he told me he was one of papa’s debtors.’ The man with the muffler was triumphant. ‘Am I still a Spaniard?’ ‘No, well and good,’ replied the Judge. ‘But an Anarchist is another thing.’ And in truth he was; but he only held one, that Judge, and was so vexed because he believed he had caught a whole gang, and was obliged to discharge us at four o’clock in the morning. I had to take a carriage to return to Versailles—got one for thirty francs. But found my poor wife in such a state!”

“And your nephew still clings to journalism?”

“Yes, and makes money for nothing but to ride about Paris that way in a cab, and to the country in the railway trains. The newspaper men are satisfied with him.”

“What does your brother say to all this?”

“He began by turning him out of doors. But when he knew that some months he made two and three hundred francs, he softened; and then Joseph is as cute as a monkey. You know my brother invented a cough lozenge, ‘Dervishes’ lozenges’?”

“Yes, you gave me a box of them.”

“Ah! so I did. Well, Joseph found means to introduce into the account of a murderer’s arrest an advertisement of his father’s lozenges.”—“How did he do it?”

“He told how the murderer was hidden in a panel, and that he could not be found. But having the influenza, had sneezed, and that had been the means of his capture. And Joseph added that this would not have happened to him had he taken the Dervishes Lozenges. You see that pleased my brother so much that he forgave him. Ah! there is my wife coming to look for me. Not a word of all this! It is not necessary to repeat that there is a reporter in the family, and there is another reason for not telling it. When I want to sell off to the people of Versailles, I go and find Joseph and tell him of my little plan. He arranges everything for me as it should be, puts it in the paper quietly, and they don’t know how it comes there!”

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