“In a moment, almost finished, particularly as I’m afraid I must be trying Monsieur de Saint-Hilaire’s patience. Let’s go back to the scene of the crime, as they say, do you mind?”
When they got there, he said suddenly:
“You have seen Émile Gallet alive… What I am going to say may perhaps make you laugh… Yes. Do put on the light; with this foul weather it gets dark an hour earlier than usual… Well, I didn’t see him, and I have spent all my time since the crime trying to imagine him alive.…
“To do that, I want to breathe the air he breathed… rub shoulders with the people he lived with… Look at this picture… I bet you’ll say the same as I did: ‘Poor fellow!’ Especially when you know that the doctors gave him only three more years to live. A rotten liver… And a tired heart just waiting for an excuse to stop… I want to picture this man as a living being, not only in space but in time… Unfortunately I could only go as far back as his marriage; he wouldn’t ever tell even his wife what happened before that.…All that she knows is that he was born in Nantes and that he lived several years in Indo-China. But he didn’t bring back a photograph or a souvenir. He never spoke about it…“
He was a little commercial traveller, with some thirty thousand francs… Even at the age of thirty he was skinny, awkward, with a melancholy disposition.“
He met Aurore Préjean and decided to marry her… The Préjeans are social climbers… The father was hard pressed and no longer had enough money to keep his paper alive… But he had been the private secretary to a pretender to the throne! He had corresponded with dukes and princes!“
His eldest girl married a master tanner.“
Gallet cut a miserable figure in that society, and if he was accepted at all it was only because he agreed to put his little bit of capital into the Soleil business… They didn’t put up with him easily. For the Préjeans it’s a come-down that a son-in-law should sell silver-plate articles for cheap presents.
“They try to give him a bit more ambition… He resists. He’s not made for a great career. His liver is far from good at that time… He dreams of a peaceful life in the country with his wife, of whom he is very fond.