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1\. Some Early Detective Portraits

  • M. Dupin is not described physically, as Poe's marvelous economy of attention made him omit every possible bit of material extraneous to his actual story.
  • But, beginning let us say, with Lecoq, all seem to be diametrically opposed to the conventional detective.
  • To quote from "The Crime of Orcival":
  • > M. Lecoq, whom none of them had ever met before, in no wise resembled the conventional French detective. The latter is commonly depicted as a tall fellow, with heavy moustaches and "imperial," wearing a military stock collar, a greasy silk hat, and a threadbare frock-coat buttoned up to the throat so as to conceal either the complete absence of linen or at all events the extreme dirtiness of a calico shirt. Such an individual will have immense feet incaged in heavy Wellingtons and will carry in his right hand a powerful sword-stick or bludgeon. Now M. Lecoq, as he appeared in the dining-room at Valfeuillu, had nothing whatever in common with this familiar type. It is true, however, that he can assume whatever air he pleases. Although his friends declare that he has features of his own which he retains at home when sitting by his own fire-side, with his slippers on, this is by no means certain. At all events, his mobile face lends itself to strange transformations, and he modifies his features according to his will just as the sculptor moulds his modelling clay.
  • He changes everything, even the expression of his eyes. On this occasion M.
  • Lecoq had assumed a handsome wig of lank hair, neither fair nor dark, but rather pretentiously parted on one side. Whiskers of the same vague colour puffed out with bad pomade, encircled his pallid face. His eyelids were very red; his eyes seemed weak and watery, and an open smile rested on his thick lips, which, in parting, disclosed a range of long yellow teeth. Timidity, self-sufficiency, and contentment were equally blended in the expression of his features. No one would ever have credited the possessor of such a head with even average intelligence. He looked the picture of some dull-minded, money-grubbing haberdasher, who after cheating his customers for thirty years, had retired on a large income. His coat was like all other coats, his trousers like all other trousers. A hair-chain, of the same colour as his whiskers, spanned his stomach, and a large silver watch could be seen bulging out of his left waistcoat pocket. While he spoke he fumbled with a horn box full of tiny square lozenges, and adorned on the cover with the portrait of a homely well- dressed woman, "the dear defunct," no doubt. As the conversation proceeded, according as he was satisfied or disturbed, M. Lecoq munched one of these lozenges or gave the portrait a glance which was quite a poem in itself.
  • To be sure, this was Lecoq in disguise. But the natural man, though seldom seen, was also unlike the regulation French detective. At his very first appearance on Gaboriau's pages he is described thus:
  • > … he was about twenty-five years old, with a pale face, red lips and an abundance of curly black hair, but with scarcely a sign of beard or mustache.
  • He was short but well-made, and his whole manner denoted energy of extraordinary character. With the exception of his eyes, there was nothing very remarkable in his appearance, but these either shone brilliantly or else grew dull, according to the disposition of the moment. His nose, which was rather wide, possessed an amount of flexibility that was extraordinary.
  • Nor is old Father Tabaret, except on close inspection, apparently possessed of detective insight. Here is his picture:
  • > In a large, heavily curtained bed, covered up almost to the nose, lay the oracle of the Rue de Jerusalem. It was almost impossible to believe that such great intelligence could exist in that figure, the face of which showed nothing but the appearance of the greatest stupidity; a retreating forehead, huge ears, a little snub nose, small eyes, and thick lips, made M. Tabaret look more like a half-witted citizen than the sagacious citizen that he was.
  • It is true that when he was closely examined there was something in him resembling a sleuth-hound, the habits and instincts of which he possessed to such a great extent. In the street the impudent young urchins would shout after him, "Oh! what a guy," but he laughed at all this, and even took a pleasure in putting on an extra appearance of folly and simplicity.
  • Vidocq, though not declared to be uncommon in his appearance, is sufficiently so to give him the necessary prestige. We are told that "he was a strong, well-built man with square shoulders and shambling gait. He had gray hair, a thick nose, blue eyes, a smooth face and a perpetual smile."
  • Although Vidocq really lived, yet his "Memoirs" are believed to be largely fiction, and so we may class him, in part at least, among our story-book friends.
  • Wilkie Collins deliberately draws his picture of the official detective thus:
  • > For a family in our situation, the Superintendent of the Frizinghall police was the most comforting officer you could wish to see. Mr. Seegrave was tall and portly, and military in his manners. He had a fine, commanding voice, and a mighty resolute eye, and a grand frock coat which buttoned beautifully up to his leather stock. "I'm the man you want," was written all over his face; and he ordered his two inferior policemen about with a severity which convinced us all that there was no trifling with him.
  • And then, in every respect a vivid contrast, he gives us a picture of the engaging Sergeant Cuff, for after all, the beauty of a detective is largely in the eye of the beholder.
  • > When the time came for the Sergeant's arrival I went down to the gate to look out for him.
  • >
  • > A fly from the railway drove up as I reached the lodge; and out got a grizzled, elderly man, so miserably lean that he looked as if he had not got an ounce of flesh on his bones in any part of him. He was dressed all in decent black, with a white cravat round his neck.
  • >
  • > His face was as sharp as a hatchet, and the skin of it was as yellow and dry and withered as an autumn leaf. His eyes, of a steely light gray, had a disconcerting trick, when they encountered your eyes, of looking as if they expected something more from you than you were aware of yourself. His walk was soft; his voice was melancholy; his long, lanky fingers were hooked like claws. He might have been a parson, or an undertaker, or anything else you like, except what he really was. A more complete opposite to Superintendent Seegrave than Sergeant Cuff, and a less comforting officer to look at for a family in distress, I defy you to discover, search where you may.