Part 8 out of 12
She paid the driver, and went up to her room, nodding to Madame
Nourrisson in a way to make her understand that she had not time to
say two words to her.
As soon as she was safe from observation, Asie unwrapped the papers
with the care of a savant unrolling a palimpsest. After reading the
instructions, she thought it wise to copy the lines intended for
Lucien on a sheet of letter-paper; then she went down to Madame
Nourrisson, to whom she talked while a little shop-girl went to fetch
a cab from the Boulevard des Italiens. She thus extracted the
addresses of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse and of Madame de Serizy,
which were known to Madame Nourrisson by her dealings with their
All this running about and elaborate business took up more than two
hours. Madame la Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, who lived at the top of the
Faubourg Saint-Honore, kept Madame de Saint-Esteve waiting an hour,
although the lady's-maid, after knocking at the boudoir door, had
handed in to her mistress a card with Madame de Saint-Esteve's name,
on which Asie had written, "Called about pressing business concerning
Her first glance at the Duchess' face showed her how till-timed her
visit must be; she apologized for disturbing Madame la Duchesse when
she was resting, on the plea of the danger in which Lucien stood.
"Who are you?" asked the Duchess, without any pretence at politeness,
as she looked at Asie from head to foot; for Asie, though she might be
taken for a Baroness by Maitre Massol in the Salle des Pas-Perdus,
when she stood on the carpet in the boudoir of the Hotel de Cadignan,
looked like a splash of mud on a white satin gown.
"I am a dealer in cast-off clothes, Madame la Duchesse; for in such
matters every lady applies to women whose business rests on a basis of
perfect secrecy. I have never betrayed anybody, though God knows how
many great ladies have intrusted their diamonds to me by the month
while wearing false jewels made to imitate them exactly."
"You have some other name?" said the Duchess, smiling at a
reminiscence recalled to her by this reply.
"Yes, Madame la Duchesse, I am Madame de Saint-Esteve on great
occasions, but in the trade I am Madame Nourrisson."
"Well, well," said the Duchess in an altered tone.
"I am able to be of great service," Asie went on, "for we hear the
husbands' secrets as well as the wives'. I have done many little jobs
for Monsieur de Marsay, whom Madame la Duchesse----"
"That will do, that will do!" cried the Duchess. "What about Lucien?"
"If you wish to save him, madame, you must have courage enough to lose
no time in dressing. But, indeed, Madame la Duchesse, you could not
look more charming than you do at this moment. You are sweet enough to
charm anybody, take an old woman's word for it! In short, madame, do
not wait for your carriage, but get into my hackney coach. Come to
Madame de Serizy's if you hope to avert worse misfortunes than the
death of that cherub----"
"Go on, I will follow you," said the Duchess after a moment's
hesitation. "Between us we may give Leontine some courage . . ."
Notwithstanding the really demoniacal activity of this Dorine of the
hulks, the clock was striking two when she and the Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse went into the Comtesse de Serizy's house in the Rue de la
Chaussee-d'Antin. Once there, thanks to the Duchess, not an instant
was lost. The two women were at once shown up to the Countess, whom
they found reclining on a couch in a miniature chalet, surrounded by a
garden fragrant with the rarest flowers.
"That is well," said Asie, looking about her. "No one can overhear
"Oh! my dear, I am half dead! Tell me, Diane, what have you done?"
cried the Duchess, starting up like a fawn, and, seizing the Duchess
by the shoulders, she melted into tears.
"Come, come, Leontine; there are occasions when women like us must not
cry, but act," said the Duchess, forcing the Countess to sit down on
the sofa by her side.
Asie studied the Countess' face with the scrutiny peculiar to those
old hands, which pierces to the soul of a woman as certainly as a
surgeon's instrument probes a wound!--the sorrow that engraves
ineradicable lines on the heart and on the features. She was dressed
without the least touch of vanity. She was now forty-five, and her
printed muslin wrapper, tumbled and untidy, showed her bosom without
any art or even stays! Her eyes were set in dark circles, and her
mottled cheeks showed the traces of bitter tears. She wore no sash
round her waist; the embroidery on her petticoat and shift was all
crumpled. Her hair, knotted up under a lace cap, had not been combed
for four-and-twenty hours, and showed as a thin, short plait and
ragged little curls. Leontine had forgotten to put on her false hair.
"You are in love for the first time in your life?" said Asie
Leontine then saw the woman and started with horror.
"Who is that, my dear Diane?" she asked of the Duchesse de
"Whom should I bring with me but a woman who is devoted to Lucien and
willing to help us?"
Asie had hit the truth. Madame de Serizy, who was regarded as one of
the most fickle of fashionable women, had had an attachment of ten
years' standing for the Marquis d'Aiglemont. Since the Marquis'
departure for the colonies, she had gone wild about Lucien, and had
won him from the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, knowing nothing--like the
Paris world generally--of Lucien's passion for Esther. In the world of
fashion a recognized attachment does more to ruin a woman's reputation
than ten unconfessed liaisons; how much more then two such
attachments? However, as no one thought of Madame de Serizy as a
responsible person, the historian cannot undertake to speak for her
virtue thus doubly dog's-eared.
She was fair, of medium height, and well preserved, as a fair woman
can be who is well preserved at all; that is to say, she did not look
more than thirty, being slender, but not lean, with a white skin and
flaxen hair; she had hands, feet, and a shape of aristocratic
elegance, and was as witty as all the Ronquerolles, spiteful,
therefore, to women, and good-natured to men. Her large fortune, her
husband's fine position, and that of her brother, the Marquis de
Ronquerolles, had protected her from the mortifications with which any
other woman would have been overwhelmed. She had this great merit--
that she was honest in her depravity, and confessed her worship of the
manners and customs of the Regency.
Now, at forty-two this woman--who had hitherto regarded men as no more
than pleasing playthings, to whom, indeed, she had, strange to say,
granted much, regarding love as merely a matter of sacrifice to gain
the upper hand,--this woman, on first seeing Lucien, had been seized
with such a passion as the Baron de Nucingen's for Esther. She had
loved, as Asie had just told her, for the first time in her life.
This postponement of youth is more common with Parisian women than
might be supposed, and causes the ruin of some virtuous souls just as
they are reaching the haven of forty. The Duchesse de Maufrigneuse was
the only person in the secret of the vehement and absorbing passion,
of which the joys, from the girlish suspicion of first love to the
preposterous follies of fulfilment, had made Leontine half crazy and
True love, as we know, is merciless. The discovery of Esther's
existence had been followed by one of those outbursts of rage which in
a woman rise even to the pitch of murder; then came the phase of
meanness, to which a sincere affection humbles itself so gladly.
Indeed, for the last month the Countess would have given ten years of
her life to have Lucien again for one week. At last she had even
resigned herself to accept Esther as her rival, just when the news of
her lover's arrest had come like the last trump on this paroxysm of
The Countess had nearly died of it. Her husband had himself nursed her
in bed, fearing the betrayal of delirium, and for twenty-four hours
she had been living with a knife in her heart. She said to her husband
in her fever:
"Save Lucien, and I will live henceforth for you alone."
"Indeed, as Madame la Duchesse tells you, it is of no use to make your
eyes like boiled gooseberries," cried the dreadful Asie, shaking the
Countess by the arm. "If you want to save him, there is not a minute
to lose. He is innocent--I swear it by my mother's bones!"
"Yes, yes, of course he is!" cried the Countess, looking quite kindly
at the dreadful old woman.
"But," Asie went on, "if Monsieur Camusot questions him the wrong way,
he can make a guilty man of him with two sentences; so, if it is in
your power to get the Conciergerie opened to you, and to say a few
words to him, go at once, and give him this paper.--He will be
released to-morrow; I will answer for it. Now, get him out of the
scrape, for you got him into it."
"Yes, you!--You fine ladies never have a son even when you own
millions. When I allowed myself the luxury of keeping boys, they
always had their pockets full of gold! Their amusements amused me. It
is delightful to be mother and mistress in one. Now, you--you let the
men you love die of hunger without asking any questions. Esther, now,
made no speeches; she gave, at the cost of perdition, soul and body,
the million your Lucien was required to show, and that is what has
brought him to this pass----"
"Poor girl! Did she do that! I love her!" said Leontine.
"Yes--now!" said Asie, with freezing irony.
"She was a real beauty; but now, my angel, you are better looking than
she is.--And Lucien's marriage is so effectually broken off, that
nothing can mend it," said the Duchess in a whisper to Leontine.
The effect of this revelation and forecast was so great on the
Countess that she was well again. She passed her hand over her brow;
she was young once more.
"Now, my lady, hot foot, and make haste!" said Asie, seeing the
change, and guessing what had caused it.
"But," said Madame de Maufrigneuse, "if the first thing is to prevent
Lucien's being examined by Monsieur Camusot, we can do that by writing
two words to the judge and sending your man with it to the Palais,
"Then come into my room," said Madame de Serizy.
This is what was taking place at the Palais while Lucien's
protectresses were obeying the orders issued by Jacques Collin. The
gendarmes placed the moribund prisoner on a chair facing the window in
Monsieur Camusot's room; he was sitting in his place in front of his
table. Coquart, pen in hand, had a little table to himself a few yards
The aspect of a magistrate's chambers is not a matter of indifference;
and if this room had not been chosen intentionally, it must be owned
that chance had favored justice. An examining judge, like a painter,
requires the clear equable light of a north window, for the criminal's
face is a picture which he must constantly study. Hence most
magistrates place their table, as this of Camusot's was arranged, so
as to sit with their back to the window and leave the face of the
examinee in broad daylight. Not one of them all but, by the end of six
months, has assumed an absent-minded and indifferent expression, if he
does not wear spectacles, and maintains it throughout the examination.
It was a sudden change of expression in the prisoner's face, detected
by these means, and caused by a sudden point-blank question, that led
to the discovery of the crime committed by Castaing at the very moment
when, after a long consultation with the public prosecutor, the
magistrate was about to let the criminal loose on society for lack of
evidence. This detail will show the least intelligent person how
living, interesting, curious, and dramatically terrible is the
conflict of an examination--a conflict without witnesses, but always
recorded. God knows what remains on the paper of the scenes at white
heat in which a look, a tone, a quiver of the features, the faintest
touch of color lent by some emotion, has been fraught with danger, as
though the adversaries were savages watching each other to plant a
fatal stroke. A report is no more than the ashes of the fire.
"What is your real name?" Camusot asked Jacques Collin.
"Don Carlos Herrera, canon of the Royal Chapter of Toledo, and secret
envoy of His Majesty Ferdinand VII."
It must here be observed that Jacques Collin spoke French like a
Spanish trollop, blundering over it in such a way as to make his
answers almost unintelligible, and to require them to be repeated. But
Monsieur de Nucingen's German barbarisms have already weighted this
Scene too much to allow of the introduction of other sentences no less
difficult to read, and hindering the rapid progress of the tale.
"Then you have papers to prove your right to the dignities of which
you speak?" asked Camusot.
"Yes, monsieur--my passport, a letter from his Catholic Majesty
authorizing my mission.--In short, if you will but send at once to the
Spanish Embassy two lines, which I will write in your presence, I
shall be identified. Then, if you wish for further evidence, I will
write to His Eminence the High Almoner of France, and he will
immediately send his private secretary."
"And do you still pretend that you are dying?" asked the magistrate.
"If you have really gone through all the sufferings you have
complained of since your arrest, you ought to be dead by this time,"
said Camusot ironically.
"You are simply trying the courage of an innocent man and the strength
of his constitution," said the prisoner mildly.
"Coquart, ring. Send for the prison doctor and an infirmary attendant.
--We shall be obliged to remove your coat and proceed to verify the
marks on your shoulder," Camusot went on.
"I am in your hands, monsieur."
The prisoner then inquired whether the magistrate would be kind enough
to explain to him what he meant by "the marks," and why they should be
sought on his shoulder. The judge was prepared for this question.
"You are suspected of being Jacques Collin, an escaped convict, whose
daring shrinks at nothing, not even at sacrilege!" said Camusot
promptly, his eyes fixed on those of the prisoner.
Jacques Collin gave no sign, and did not color; he remained quite
calm, and assumed an air of guileless curiosity as he gazed at
"I, monsieur? A convict? May the Order I belong to and God above
forgive you for such an error. Tell me what I can do to prevent your
continuing to offer such an insult to the rights of free men, to the
Church, and to the King my master."
The judge made no reply to this, but explained to the Abbe that if he
had been branded, a penalty at that time inflicted by law on all
convicts sent to the hulks, the letters could be made to show by
giving him a slap on the shoulder.
"Oh, monsieur," said Jacques Collin, "it would indeed be unfortunate
if my devotion to the Royal cause should prove fatal to me."
"Explain yourself," said the judge, "that is what you are here for."
"Well, monsieur, I must have a great many scars on my back, for I was
shot in the back as a traitor to my country while I was faithful to my
King, by constitutionalists who left me for dead."
"You were shot, and you are alive!" said Camusot.
"I had made friends with some of the soldiers, to whom certain pious
persons had sent money, so they placed me so far off that only spent
balls reached me, and the men aimed at my back. This is a fact that
His Excellency the Ambassador can bear witness to----"
"This devil of a man has an answer for everything! However, so much
the better," thought Camusot, who assumed so much severity only to
satisfy the demands of justice and of the police. "How is it that a
man of your character," he went on, addressing the convict, "should
have been found in the house of the Baron de Nucingen's mistress--and
such a mistress, a girl who had been a common prostitute!"
"This is why I was found in a courtesan's house, monsieur," replied
Jacques Collin. "But before telling you the reasons for my being
there, I ought to mention that at the moment when I was just going
upstairs I was seized with the first attack of my illness, and I had
no time to speak to the girl. I knew of Mademoiselle Esther's
intention of killing herself; and as young Lucien de Rubempre's
interests were involved, and I have a particular affection for him for
sacredly secret reasons, I was going to try to persuade the poor
creature to give up the idea, suggested to her by despair. I meant to
tell her that Lucien must certainly fail in his last attempt to win
Mademoiselle Clotilde de Grandlieu; and I hoped that by telling her
she had inherited seven millions of francs, I might give her courage
"I am convinced, Monsieur le Juge, that I am a martyr to the secrets
confided to me. By the suddenness of my illness I believe that I had
been poisoned that very morning, but my strong constitution has saved
me. I know that a certain agent of the political police is dogging me,
and trying to entangle me in some discreditable business.
"If, at my request, you had sent for a doctor on my arrival here, you
would have had ample proof of what I am telling you as to the state of
my health. Believe me, monsieur, some persons far above our heads have
some strong interest in getting me mistaken for some villain, so as to
have a right to get rid of me. It is not all profit to serve a king;
they have their meannesses. The Church alone is faultless."
It is impossible to do justice to the play of Jacques Collin's
countenance as he carefully spun out his speech, sentence by sentence,
for ten minutes; and it was all so plausible, especially the mention
of Corentin, that the lawyer was shaken.
"Will you confide to me the reasons of your affection for Monsieur
Lucien de Rubempre?"
"Can you not guess them? I am sixty years of age, monsieur--I implore
you do not write it.--It is because--must I say it?"
"It will be to your own advantage, and more particularly to Monsieur
Lucien de Rubempre's, if you tell everything," replied the judge.
"Because he is--Oh, God! he is my son," he gasped out with an effort.
And he fainted away.
"Do not write that down, Coquart," said Camusot in an undertone.
Coquart rose to fetch a little phial of "Four thieves' Vinegar."
"If he is Jacques Collin, he is a splendid actor!" thought Camusot.
Coquart held the phial under the convict's nose, while the judge
examined him with the keen eye of a lynx--and a magistrate.
"Take his wig off," said Camusot, after waiting till the man recovered
Jacques Collin heard, and quaked with terror, for he knew how vile an
expression his face would assume.
"If you have not strength enough to take your wig off yourself----
Yes, Coquart, remove it," said Camusot to his clerk.
Jacques Collin bent his head to the clerk with admirable resignation;
but then his head, bereft of that adornment, was hideous to behold in
its natural aspect.
The sight of it left Camusot in the greatest uncertainty. While
waiting for the doctor and the man from the infirmary, he set to work
to classify and examine the various papers and the objects seized in
Lucien's rooms. After carrying out their functions in the Rue Saint-
Georges at Mademoiselle Esther's house, the police had searched the
rooms at the Quai Malaquais.
"You have your hand on some letters from the Comtesse de Serizy," said
Carlos Herrera. "But I cannot imagine why you should have almost all
Lucien's papers," he added, with a smile of overwhelming irony at the
Camusot, as he saw the smile, understood the bearing of the word
"Lucien de Rubempre is in custody under suspicion of being your
accomplice," said he, watching to see the effect of this news on his
"You have brought about a great misfortune, for he is as innocent as I
am," replied the sham Spaniard, without betraying the smallest
"We shall see. We have not as yet established your identity," Camusot
observed, surprised at the prisoner's indifference. "If you are really
Don Carlos Herrera, the position of Lucien Chardon will at once be
"To be sure, she became Madame Chardon--Mademoiselle de Rubempre!"
murmured Carlos. "Ah! that was one of the greatest sins of my life."
He raised his eyes to heaven, and by the movement of his lips seemed
to be uttering a fervent prayer.
"But if you are Jacques Collin, and if he was, and knew that he was,
the companion of an escaped convict, a sacrilegious wretch, all the
crimes of which he is suspected by the law are more than probably
Carlos Herrera sat like bronze as he heard this speech, very cleverly
delivered by the judge, and his only reply to the words "KNEW THAT HE
WAS" and "ESCAPED CONVICT" was to lift his hands to heaven with a
gesture of noble and dignified sorrow.
"Monsieur l'Abbe," Camusot went on, with the greatest politeness, "if
you are Don Carlos Herrera, you will forgive us for what we are
obliged to do in the interests of justice and truth."
Jacques Collin detected a snare in the lawyer's very voice as he spoke
the words "Monsieur l'Abbe." The man's face never changed; Camusot had
looked for a gleam of joy, which might have been the first indication
of his being a convict, betraying the exquisite satisfaction of a
criminal deceiving his judge; but this hero of the hulks was strong in
"I am accustomed to diplomacy, and I belong to an Order of very
austere discipline," replied Jacques Collin, with apostolic mildness.
"I understand everything, and am inured to suffering. I should be free
by this time if you had discovered in my room the hiding-place where I
keep my papers--for I see you have none but unimportant documents."
This was a finishing stroke to Camusot: Jacques Collin by his air of
ease and simplicity had counteracted all the suspicions to which his
appearance, unwigged, had given rise.
"Where are these papers?"
"I will tell you exactly if you will get a secretary from the Spanish
Embassy to accompany your messenger. He will take them and be
answerable to you for the documents, for it is to me a matter of
confidential duty--diplomatic secrets which would compromise his late
Majesty Louis XVIII--Indeed, monsieur, it would be better---- However,
you are a magistrate--and, after all, the Ambassador, to whom I refer
the whole question, must decide."
At this juncture the usher announced the arrival of the doctor and the
infirmary attendant, who came in.
"Good-morning, Monsieur Lebrun," said Camusot to the doctor. "I have
sent for you to examine the state of health of this prisoner under
suspicion. He says he had been poisoned and at the point of death
since the day before yesterday; see if there is any risk in undressing
him to look for the brand."
Doctor Lebrun took Jacques Collin's hand, felt his pulse, asked to
look at his tongue, and scrutinized him steadily. This inspection
lasted about ten minutes.
"The prisoner has been suffering severely," said the medical officer,
"but at this moment he is amazingly strong----"
"That spurious energy, monsieur, is due to nervous excitement caused
by my strange position," said Jacques Collin, with the dignity of a
"That is possible," said Monsieur Lebrun.
At a sign from Camusot the prisoner was stripped of everything but his
trousers, even of his shirt, and the spectators might admire the hairy
torso of a Cyclops. It was that of the Farnese Hercules at Naples in
its colossal exaggeration.
"For what does nature intend a man of this build?" said Lebrun to the
The usher brought in the ebony staff, which from time immemorial has
been the insignia of his office, and is called his rod; he struck it
several times over the place where the executioner had branded the
fatal letters. Seventeen spots appeared, irregularly distributed, but
the most careful scrutiny could not recognize the shape of any
letters. The usher indeed pointed out that the top bar of the letter T
was shown by two spots, with an interval between of the length of that
bar between the two points at each end of it, and there was another
spot where the bottom of the T should be.
"Still that is quite uncertain," said Camusot, seeing doubt in the
expression of the prison doctor's countenance.
Carlos begged them to make the same experiment on the other shoulder
and the middle of his back. About fifteen more such scars appeared,
which, at the Spaniard's request, the doctor made a note of; and he
pronounced that the man's back had been so extensively seamed by
wounds that the brand would not show even if it had been made by the
An office-clerk now came in from the Prefecture, and handed a note to
Monsieur Camusot, requesting an answer. After reading it the lawyer
went to speak to Coquart, but in such a low voice that no one could
catch a word. Only, by a glance from Camusot, Jacques Collin could
guess that some information concerning him had been sent by the Prefet
"That friend of Peyrade's is still at my heels," thought Jacques
Collin. "If only I knew him, I would get rid of him as I did of
Contenson. If only I could see Asie once more!"
After signing a paper written by Coquart, the judge put it into an
envelope and handed it to the clerk of the Delegate's office.
This is an indispensable auxiliary to justice. It is under the
direction of a police commissioner, and consists of peace-officers
who, with the assistance of the police commissioners of each district,
carry into effect orders for searching the houses or apprehending the
persons of those who are suspected of complicity in crimes and
felonies. These functionaries in authority save the examining
magistrates a great deal of very precious time.
At a sign from the judge the prisoner was dressed by Monsieur Lebrun
and the attendant, who then withdrew with the usher. Camusot sat down
at his table and played with his pen.
"You have an aunt," he suddenly said to Jacques Collin.
"An aunt?" echoed Don Carlos Herrera with amazement. "Why, monsieur, I
have no relations. I am the unacknowledged son of the late Duke of
But to himself he said, "They are burning"--an allusion to the game of
hot cockles, which is indeed a childlike symbol of the dreadful
struggle between justice and the criminal.
"Pooh!" said Camusot. "You still have an aunt living, Mademoiselle
Jacqueline Collin, whom you placed in Esther's service under the
eccentric name of Asie."
Jacques Collin shrugged his shoulders with an indifference that was in
perfect harmony with the cool curiosity he gave throughout to the
judge's words, while Camusot studied him with cunning attention.
"Take care," said Camusot; "listen to me."
"I am listening, sir."
"You aunt is a wardrobe dealer at the Temple; her business is managed
by a demoiselle Paccard, the sister of a convict--herself a very good
girl, known as la Romette. Justice is on the traces of your aunt, and
in a few hours we shall have decisive evidence. The woman is wholly
devoted to you----"
"Pray go on, Monsieur le Juge," said Collin coolly, in answer to a
pause; "I am listening to you."
"Your aunt, who is about five years older than you are, was formerly
Marat's mistress--of odious memory. From that blood-stained source she
derived the little fortune she possesses.
"From information I have received she must be a very clever receiver
of stolen goods, for no proofs have yet been found to commit her on.
After Marat's death she seems, from the notes I have here, to have
lived with a chemist who was condemned to death in the year XII. for
issuing false coin. She was called as witness in the case. It was from
this intimacy that she derived her knowledge of poisons.
"In 1812 and in 1816 she spent two years in prison for placing girls
under age upon the streets.
"You were already convicted of forgery; you had left the banking house
where your aunt had been able to place you as clerk, thanks to the
education you had had, and the favor enjoyed by your aunt with certain
persons for whose debaucheries she supplied victims.
"All this, prisoner, is not much like the dignity of the Dukes
"Do you persist in your denial?"
Jacques Collin sat listening to Monsieur Camusot, and thinking of his
happy childhood at the College of the Oratorians, where he had been
brought up, a meditation which lent him a truly amazed look. And in
spite of his skill as a practised examiner, Camusot could bring no
sort of expression to those placid features.
"If you have accurately recorded the account of myself I gave you at
first," said Jacques Collin, "you can read it through again. I cannot
alter the facts. I never went to the woman's house; how should I know
who her cook was? The persons of whom you speak are utterly unknown to
"Notwithstanding your denial, we shall proceed to confront you with
persons who may succeed in diminishing your assurance"
"A man who has been three times shot is used to anything," replied
Jacques Collin meekly.
Camusot proceeded to examine the seized papers while awaiting the
return of the famous Bibi-Lupin, whose expedition was amazing; for at
half-past eleven, the inquiry having begun at ten o'clock, the usher
came in to inform the judge in an undertone of Bibi-Lupin's arrival.
"Show him in," replied M. Camusot.
Bibi-Lupin, who had been expected to exclaim, "It is he," as he came
in, stood puzzled. He did not recognize his man in a face pitted with
smallpox. This hesitancy startled the magistrate.
"It is his build, his height," said the agent. "Oh! yes, it is you,
Jacques Collin!" he went on, as he examined his eyes, forehead, and
ears. "There are some things which no disguise can alter. . . .
Certainly it is he, Monsieur Camusot. Jacques has the scar of a cut on
his left arm. Take off his coat, and you will see . . ."
Jacques Collin was again obliged to take off his coat; Bibi-Lupin
turned up his sleeve and showed the scar he had spoken of.
"It is the scar of a bullet," replied Don Carlos Herrera. "Here are
"Ah! It is certainly his voice," cried Bibi-Lupin.
"Your certainty," said Camusot, "is merely an opinion; it is not
"I know that," said Bibi-Lupin with deference. "But I will bring
witnesses. One of the boarders from the Maison Vauquer is here
already," said he, with an eye on Collin.
But the prisoner's set, calm face did not move a muscle.
"Show the person in," said Camusot roughly, his dissatisfaction
betraying itself in spite of his seeming indifference.
This irritation was not lost on Jacques Collin, who had not counted on
the judge's sympathy, and sat lost in apathy, produced by his deep
meditations in the effort to guess what the cause could be.
The usher now showed in Madame Poiret. At this unexpected appearance
the prisoner had a slight shiver, but his trepidation was not remarked
by Camusot, who seemed to have made up his mind.
"What is your name?" asked he, proceeding to carry out the formalities
introductory to all depositions and examinations.
Madame Poiret, a little old woman as white and wrinkled as a
sweetbread, dressed in a dark-blue silk gown, gave her name as
Christine Michelle Michonneau, wife of one Poiret, and her age as
fifty-one years, said that she was born in Paris, lived in the Rue des
Poules at the corner of the Rue des Postes, and that her business was
that of lodging-house keeper.
"In 1818 and 1819," said the judge, "you lived, madame, in a boarding-
house kept by a Madame Vauquer?"
"Yes, monsieur; it was there that I met Monsieur Poiret, a retired
official, who became my husband, and whom I have nursed in his bed
this twelvemonth past. Poor man! he is very bad; and I cannot be long
away from him."
"There was a certain Vautrin in the house at the time?" asked Camusot.
"Oh, monsieur, that is quite a long story; he was a horrible man, from
"You helped to get him arrested?"
"That is not true sir."
"You are in the presence of the Law; be careful," said Monsieur
Madame Poiret was silent.
"Try to remember," Camusot went on. "Do you recollect the man? Would
you know him again?"
"I think so."
"Is this the man?"
Madame Poiret put on her "eye-preservers," and looked at the Abbe
"It is his build, his height; and yet--no--if--Monsieur le Juge," she
said, "if I could see his chest I should recognize him at once."
The magistrate and his clerk could not help laughing, notwithstanding
the gravity of their office; Jacques Collin joined in their hilarity,
but discreetly. The prisoner had not put on his coat after Bibi-Lupin
had removed it, and at a sign from the judge he obligingly opened his
"Yes, that is his fur trimming, sure enough!--But it has worn gray,
Monsieur Vautrin," cried Madame Poiret.
"What have you to say to that?" asked the judge of the prisoner.
"That she is mad," replied Jacques Collin.
"Bless me! If I had a doubt--for his face is altered--that voice would
be enough. He is the man who threatened me. Ah! and those are his
"The police agent and this woman," said Camusot, speaking to Jacques
Collin, "cannot possibly have conspired to say the same thing, for
neither of them had seen you till now. How do you account for that?"
"Justice has blundered more conspicuously even than it does now in
accepting the evidence of a woman who recognizes a man by the hair on
his chest and the suspicions of a police agent," replied Jacques
Collin. "I am said to resemble a great criminal in voice, eyes, and
build; that seems a little vague. As to the memory which would prove
certain relations between Madame and my Sosie--which she does not
blush to own--you yourself laughed at. Allow me, monsieur, in the
interests of truth, which I am far more anxious to establish for my
own sake than you can be for the sake of justice, to ask this lady--
"Poret--excuse me, I am a Spaniard--whether she remembers the other
persons who lived in this--what did you call the house?"
"A boarding-house," said Madame Poiret.
"I do not know what that is."
"A house where you can dine and breakfast by subscription."
"You are right," said Camusot, with a favorable nod to Jacques Collin,
whose apparent good faith in suggesting means to arrive at some
conclusion struck him greatly. "Try to remember the boarders who were
in the house when Jacques Collin was apprehended."
"There were Monsieur de Rastignac, Doctor Bianchon, Pere Goriot,
"That will do," said Camusot, steadily watching Jacques Collin, whose
expression did not change. "Well, about this Pere Goriot?"
"He is dead," said Madame Poiret.
"Monsieur," said Jacques Collin, "I have several times met Monsieur de
Rastignac, a friend, I believe, of Madame de Nucingen's; and if it is
the same, he certainly never supposed me to be the convict with whom
these persons try to identify me."
"Monsieur de Rastignac and Doctor Bianchon," said the magistrate,
"both hold such a social position that their evidence, if it is in
your favor, will be enough to procure your release.--Coquart, fill up
a summons for each of them."
The formalities attending Madame Poiret's examination were over in a
few minutes; Coquart read aloud to her the notes he had made of the
little scene, and she signed the paper; but the prisoner refused to
sign, alleging his ignorance of the forms of French law.
"That is enough for to-day," said Monsieur Camusot. "You must be
wanting food. I will have you taken back to the Conciergerie."
"Alas! I am suffering too much to be able to eat," said Jacques
Camusot was anxious to time Jacques Collin's return to coincide with
the prisoners' hour of exercise in the prison yard; but he needed a
reply from the Governor of the Conciergerie to the order he had given
him in the morning, and he rang for the usher. The usher appeared, and
told him that the porter's wife, from the house on the Quai Malaquais,
had an important document to communicate with reference to Monsieur
Lucien de Rubempre. This was so serious a matter that it put Camusot's
intentions out of his head.
"Show her in," said he.
"Beg your pardon; pray excuse me, gentlemen all," said the woman,
courtesying to the judge and the Abbe Carlos by turns. "We were so
worried by the Law--my husband and me--the twice when it has marched
into our house, that we had forgotten a letter that was lying, for
Monsieur Lucien, in our chest of drawers, which we paid ten sous for
it, though it was posted in Paris, for it is very heavy, sir. Would
you please to pay me back the postage? For God knows when we shall see
our lodgers again!"
"Was this letter handed to you by the postman?" asked Camusot, after
carefully examining the envelope.
"Coquart, write full notes of this deposition.--Go on, my good woman;
tell us your name and your business." Camusot made the woman take the
oath, and then he dictated the document.
While these formalities were being carried out, he was scrutinizing
the postmark, which showed the hours of posting and delivery, as well
at the date of the day. And this letter, left for Lucien the day after
Esther's death, had beyond a doubt been written and posted on the day
of the catastrophe. Monsieur Camusot's amazement may therefore be
imagined when he read this letter written and signed by her whom the
law believed to have been the victim of a crime:--
"ESTHER TO LUCIEN.
MONDAY, May 13th, 1830.
"My last day; ten in the morning.
"MY LUCIEN,--I have not an hour to live. At eleven o'clock I shall
be dead, and I shall die without a pang. I have paid fifty
thousand francs for a neat little black currant, containing a
poison that will kill me with the swiftness of lightning. And so,
my darling, you may tell yourself, 'My little Esther had no
suffering.'--and yet I shall suffer in writing these pages.
"The monster who has paid so dear for me, knowing that the day
when I should know myself to be his would have no morrow--Nucingen
has just left me, as drunk as a bear with his skin full of wind.
For the first and last time in my life I have had the opportunity
of comparing my old trade as a street hussy with the life of true
love, of placing the tenderness which unfolds in the infinite
above the horrors of a duty which longs to destroy itself and
leave no room even for a kiss. Only such loathing could make death
"I have taken a bath; I should have liked to send for the father
confessor of the convent where I was baptized, to have confessed
and washed my soul. But I have had enough of prostitution; it
would be profaning a sacrament; and besides, I feel myself
cleansed in the waters of sincere repentance. God must do what He
will with me.
"But enough of all this maudlin; for you I want to be your Esther
to the last moment, not to bore you with my death, or the future,
or God, who is good, and who would not be good if He were to
torture me in the next world when I have endured so much misery in
"I have before me your beautiful portrait, painted by Madame de
Mirbel. That sheet of ivory used to comfort me in your absence, I
look at it with rapture as I write you my last thoughts, and tell
you of the last throbbing of my heart. I shall enclose the
miniature in this letter, for I cannot bear that it should be
stolen or sold. The mere thought that what has been my great joy
may lie behind a shop window, mixed up with the ladies and
officers of the Empire, or a parcel of Chinese absurdities, is a
small death to me. Destroy that picture, my sweetheart, wipe it
out, never give it to any one--unless, indeed, the gift might win
back the heart of that walking, well-dressed maypole, that
Clotilde de Grandlieu, who will make you black and blue in her
sleep, her bones are so sharp.--Yes, to that I consent, and then I
shall still be of some use to you, as when I was alive. Oh! to
give you pleasure, or only to make you laugh, I would have stood
over a brazier with an apple in my mouth to cook it for you.--So
my death even will be of service to you.--I should have marred
"Oh! that Clotilde! I cannot understand her.--She might have been
your wife, have borne your name, have never left you day or night,
have belonged to you--and she could make difficulties! Only the
Faubourg Saint-Germain can do that! and yet she has not ten pounds
of flesh on her bones!
"Poor Lucien! Dear ambitious failure! I am thinking of your future
life. Well, well! you will more than once regret your poor
faithful dog, the good girl who would fly to serve you, who would
have been dragged into a police court to secure your happiness,
whose only occupation was to think of your pleasures and invent
new ones, who was so full of love for you--in her hair, her feet,
her ears--your ballerina, in short, whose every look was a
benediction; who for six years has thought of nothing but you, who
was so entirely your chattel that I have never been anything but
an effluence of your soul, as light is that of the sun. However,
for lack of money and of honor, I can never be your wife. I have
at any rate provided for your future by giving you all I have.
"Come as soon as you get this letter and take what you find under
my pillow, for I do not trust the people about me. Understand that
I mean to look beautiful when I am dead. I shall go to bed, and
lay myself flat in an attitude--why not? Then I shall break the
little pill against the roof of my mouth, and shall not be
disfigured by any convulsion or by a ridiculous position.
"Madame de Serizy has quarreled with you, I know, because of me;
but when she hears that I am dead, you see, dear pet, she will
forgive. Make it up with her, and she will find you a suitable
wife if the Grandlieus persist in their refusal.
"My dear, I do not want you to grieve too much when you hear of my
death. To begin with, I must tell you that the hour of eleven on
Monday morning, the thirteenth of May, is only the end of a long
illness, which began on the day when, on the Terrace of Saint-
Germain, you threw me back on my former line of life. The soul may
be sick, as the body is. But the soul cannot submit stupidly to
suffering like the body; the body does not uphold the soul as the
soul upholds the body, and the soul sees a means of cure in the
reflection which leads to the needlewoman's resource--the bushel
of charcoal. You gave me a whole life the day before yesterday,
when you said that if Clotilde still refused you, you would marry
me. It would have been a great misfortune for us both; I should
have been still more dead, so to speak--for there are more and
less bitter deaths. The world would never have recognized us.
"For two months past I have been thinking of many things, I can
tell you. A poor girl is in the mire, as I was before I went into
the convent; men think her handsome, they make her serve their
pleasure without thinking any consideration necessary; they pack
her off on foot after fetching her in a carriage; if they do not
spit in her face, it is only because her beauty preserves her from
such indignity; but, morally speaking they do worse. Well, and if
this despised creature were to inherit five or six millions of
francs, she would be courted by princes, bowed to with respect as
she went past in her carriage, and might choose among the oldest
names in France and Navarre. That world which would have cried
Raca to us, on seeing two handsome creatures united and happy,
always did honor to Madame de Stael, in spite of her 'romances in
real life,' because she had two hundred thousand francs a year.
The world, which grovels before money or glory, will not bow down
before happiness or virtue--for I could have done good. Oh! how
many tears I would have dried--as many as I have shed--I believe!
Yes, I would have lived only for you and for charity.
"These are the thoughts that make death beautiful. So do not
lament, my dear. Say often to yourself, 'There were two good
creatures, two beautiful creatures, who both died for me
ungrudgingly, and who adored me.' Keep a memory in your heart of
Coralie and Esther, and go your way and prosper. Do you recollect
the day when you pointed out to me a shriveled old woman, in a
melon-green bonnet and a puce wrapper, all over black grease-
spots, the mistress of a poet before the Revolution, hardly thawed
by the sun though she was sitting against the wall of the
Tuileries and fussing over a pug--the vilest of pugs? She had had
footmen and carriages, you know, and a fine house! And I said to
you then, 'How much better to be dead at thirty!'--Well, you
thought I was melancholy, and you played all sorts of pranks to
amuse me, and between two kisses I said, 'Every day some pretty
woman leaves the play before it is over!'--And I do not want to
see the last piece; that is all.
"You must think me a great chatterbox; but this is my last
effusion. I write as if I were talking to you, and I like to talk
cheerfully. I have always had a horror of a dressmaker pitying
herself. You know I knew how to die decently once before, on my
return from that fatal opera-ball where the men said I had been a
"No, no, my dear love, never give this portrait to any one! If you
could know with what a gush of love I have sat losing myself in
your eyes, looking at them with rapture during a pause I allowed
myself, you would feel as you gathered up the affection with which
I have tried to overlay the ivory, that the soul of your little
pet is indeed there.
"A dead woman craving alms! That is a funny idea.--Come, I must
learn to lie quiet in my grave.
"You have no idea how heroic my death would seem to some fools if
they could know Nucingen last night offered me two millions of
francs if I would love him as I love you. He will be handsomely
robbed when he hears that I have kept my word and died of him. I
tried all I could still to breathe the air you breathe. I said to
the fat scoundrel, 'Do you want me to love you as you wish? To
promise even that I will never see Lucien again?'--'What must I
do?' he asked.--'Give me the two millions for him.'--You should
have seen his face! I could have laughed, if it had not been so
tragical for me.
" 'Spare yourself the trouble of refusing,' said I; 'I see you
care more for your two millions than for me. A woman is always
glad to know at what she is valued!' and I turned my back on him.
"In a few hours the old rascal will know that I was not in jest.
"Who will part your hair as nicely as I do? Pooh!--I will think no
more of anything in life; I have but five minutes, I give them to
God. Do not be jealous of Him, dear heart; I shall speak to Him of
you, beseeching Him for your happiness as the price of my death,
and my punishment in the next world. I am vexed enough at having
to go to hell. I should have liked to see the angels, to know if
they are like you.
"Good-bye, my darling, good-bye! I give you all the blessing of my
woes. Even in the grave I am your Esther.
"It is striking eleven. I have said my last prayers. I am going to
bed to die. Once more, farewell! I wish that the warmth of my hand
could leave my soul there where I press a last kiss--and once more
I must call you my dearest love, though you are the cause of the
death of your Esther."
A vague feeling of jealousy tightened on the magistrate's heart as he
read this letter, the only letter from a suicide he had ever found
written with such lightness, though it was a feverish lightness, and
the last effort of a blind affection.
"What is there in the man that he should be loved so well?" thought
he, saying what every man says who has not the gift of attracting
"If you can prove not merely that you are not Jacques Collin and an
escaped convict, but that you are in fact Don Carlos Herrera, canon of
Toledo, and secret envoy of this Majesty Ferdinand VII.," said he,
addressing the prisoner "you will be released; for the impartiality
demanded by my office requires me to tell you that I have this moment
received a letter, written by Mademoiselle Esther Gobseck, in which
she declares her intention of killing herself, and expresses
suspicions as to her servants, which would seem to point to them as
the thieves who have made off with the seven hundred and fifty
As he spoke Monsieur Camusot was comparing the writing of the letter
with that of the will; and it seemed to him self-evident that the same
person had written both
"Monsieur, you were in too great a hurry to believe in a murder; do
not be too hasty in believing in a theft."
"Heh!" said Camusot, scrutinizing the prisoner with a piercing eye.
"Do not suppose that I am compromising myself by telling you that the
sum may possibly be recovered," said Jacques Collin, making the judge
understand that he saw his suspicions. "That poor girl was much loved
by those about her; and if I were free, I would undertake to search
for this money, which no doubt belongs to the being I love best in the
world--to Lucien!--Will you allow me to read that letter; it will not
take long? It is evidence of my dear boy's innocence--you cannot fear
that I shall destroy it--nor that I shall talk about it; I am in
"In confinement! You will be so no longer," cried the magistrate. "It
is I who must beg you to get well as soon as possible. Refer to your
ambassador if you choose----"
And he handed the letter to Jacques Collin. Camusot was glad to be out
of a difficulty, to be able to satisfy the public prosecutor, Mesdames
de Maufrigneuse and de Serizy. Nevertheless, he studied his prisoner's
face with cold curiosity while Collin read Esther's letter; in spite
of the apparent genuineness of the feelings it expressed, he said to
"But it is a face worthy of the hulks, all the same!"
"That is the way to love!" said Jacques Collin, returning the letter.
And he showed Camusot a face bathed in tears.
"If only you knew him," he went on, "so youthful, so innocent a soul,
so splendidly handsome, a child, a poet!--The impulse to sacrifice
oneself to him is irresistible, to satisfy his lightest wish. That
dear boy is so fascinating when he chooses----"
"And so," said the magistrate, making a final effort to discover the
truth, "you cannot possibly be Jacques Collin----"
"No, monsieur," replied the convict.
And Jacques Collin was more entirely Don Carlos Herrera than ever. In
his anxiety to complete his work he went up to the judge, led him to
the window, and gave himself the airs of a prince of the Church,
assuming a confidential tone:
"I am so fond of that boy, monsieur, that if it were needful, to spare
that idol of my heart a mere discomfort even, that I should be the
criminal you take me for, I would surrender," said he in an undertone.
"I would follow the example of the poor girl who has killed herself
for his benefit. And I beg you, monsieur, to grant me a favor--namely,
to set Lucien at liberty forthwith."
"My duty forbids it," said Camusot very good-naturedly; "but if a
sinner may make a compromise with heaven, justice too has its softer
side, and if you can give me sufficient reasons--speak; your words
will not be taken down."
"Well, then," Jacques Collin went on, taken in by Camusot's apparent
goodwill, "I know what that poor boy is suffering at this moment; he
is capable of trying to kill himself when he finds himself a
"Oh! as to that!" said Camusot with a shrug.
"You do not know whom you will oblige by obliging me," added Jacques
Collin, trying to harp on another string. "You will be doing a service
to others more powerful than any Comtesse de Serizy or Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse, who will never forgive you for having had their letters
in your chambers----" and he pointed to two packets of perfumed
papers. "My Order has a good memory."
"Monsieur," said Camusot, "that is enough. You must find better
reasons to give me. I am as much interested in the prisoner as in
"Believe me, then, I know Lucien; he has a soul of a woman, of a poet,
and a southerner, without persistency or will," said Jacques Collin,
who fancied that he saw that he had won the judge over. "You are
convinced of the young man's innocence, do not torture him, do not
question him. Give him that letter, tell him that he is Esther's heir,
and restore him to freedom. If you act otherwise, you will bring
despair on yourself; whereas, if you simply release him, I will
explain to you--keep me still in solitary confinement--to-morrow or
this evening, everything that may strike you as mysterious in the
case, and the reasons for the persecution of which I am the object.
But it will be at the risk of my life, a price has been set on my head
these six years past. . . . Lucien free, rich, and married to Clotilde
de Grandlieu, and my task on earth will be done; I shall no longer try
to save my skin.--My persecutor was a spy under your late King."
"Ah! Is his name Corentin? Thank you, monsieur. Well, will you promise
to do as I ask you?"
"A magistrate can make no promises.--Coquart, tell the usher and the
gendarmes to take the prisoner back to the Conciergerie.--I will give
orders that you are to have a private room," he added pleasantly, with
a slight nod to the convict.
Struck by Jacques Collin's request, and remembering how he had
insisted that he wished to be examined first as a privilege to his
state of health, Camusot's suspicions were aroused once more. Allowing
his vague doubts to make themselves heard, he noticed that the self-
styled dying man was walking off with the strength of a Hercules,
having abandoned all the tricks he had aped so well on appearing
before the magistrate.
Jacques Collin turned round.
"Notwithstanding your refusal to sign the document, my clerk will read
you the minutes of your examination."
The prisoner was evidently in excellent health; the readiness with
which he came back, and sat down by the clerk, was a fresh light to
the magistrate's mind.
"You have got well very suddenly!" said Camusot.
"Caught!" thought Jacques Collin; and he replied:
"Joy, monsieur, is the only panacea.--That letter, the proof of
innocence of which I had no doubt--these are the grand remedy."
The judge kept a meditative eye on the prisoner when the usher and the
gendarmes again took him in charge. Then, with a start like a waking
man, he tossed Esther's letter across to the table where his clerk
"Coquart, copy that letter."
If it is natural to man to be suspicious as to some favor required of
him when it is antagonistic to his interests or his duty, and
sometimes even when it is a matter of indifference, this feeling is
law to an examining magistrate. The more this prisoner--whose identity
was not yet ascertained--pointed to clouds on the horizon in the event
of Lucien's being examined, the more necessary did the interrogatory
seem to Camusot. Even if this formality had not been required by the
Code and by common practice, it was indispensable as bearing on the
identification of the Abbe Carlos. There is in every walk of life the
business conscience. In default of curiosity Camusot would have
examined Lucien as he had examined Jacques Collin, with all the
cunning which the most honest magistrate allows himself to use in such
cases. The services he might render and his own promotion were
secondary in Camusot's mind to his anxiety to know or guess the truth,
even if he should never tell it.
He stood drumming on the window-pane while following the river-like
current of his conjectures, for in these moods thought is like a
stream flowing through many countries. Magistrates, in love with
truth, are like jealous women; they give way to a thousand hypotheses,
and probe them with the dagger-point of suspicion, as the sacrificing
priest of old eviscerated his victims; thus they arrive, not perhaps
at truth, but at probability, and at last see the truth beyond. A
woman cross-questions the man she loves as the judge cross-questions a
criminal. In such a frame of mind, a glance, a word, a tone of voice,
the slightest hesitation is enough to certify the hidden fact--treason
"The style in which he depicted his devotion to his son--if he is his
son--is enough to make me think that he was in the girl's house to
keep an eye on the plunder; and never suspecting that the dead woman's
pillow covered a will, he no doubt annexed, for his son, the seven
hundred and fifty thousand francs as a precaution. That is why he can
promise to recover the money.
"M. de Rubempre owes it to himself and to justice to account for his
father's position in the world----
"And he offers me the protection of his Order--His Order!--if I do not
As has been seen, a magistrate conducts an examination exactly as he
thinks proper. He is at liberty to display his acumen or be absolutely
blunt. An examination may be everything or nothing. Therein lies the
Camusot rang. The usher had returned. He was sent to fetch Monsieur
Lucien de Rubempre with an injunction to prohibit his speaking to
anybody on his way up. It was by this time two in the afternoon.
"There is some secret," said the judge to himself, "and that secret
must be very important. My amphibious friend--since he is neither
priest, nor secular, nor convict, nor Spaniard, though he wants to
hinder his protege from letting out something dreadful--argues thus:
'The poet is weak and effeminate; he is not like me, a Hercules in
diplomacy, and you will easily wring our secret from him.'--Well, we
will get everything out of this innocent."
And he sat tapping the edge of his table with the ivory paper-knife,
while Coquart copied Esther's letter.
How whimsical is the action of our faculties! Camusot conceived of
every crime as possible, and overlooked the only one that the prisoner
had now committed--the forgery of the will for Lucien's advantage. Let
those whose envy vents itself on magistrates think for a moment of
their life spent in perpetual suspicion, of the torments these men
must inflict on their minds, for civil cases are not less tortuous
than criminal examinations, and it will occur to them perhaps that the
priest and the lawyer wear an equally heavy coat of mail, equally
furnished with spikes in the lining. However, every profession has its
hair shirt and its Chinese puzzles.
It was about two o'clock when Monsieur Camusot saw Lucien de Rubempre
come in, pale, worn, his eyes red and swollen, in short, in a state of
dejection which enabled the magistrate to compare nature with art, the
really dying man with the stage performance. His walk from the
Conciergerie to the judge's chambers, between two gendarmes, and
preceded by the usher, had put the crowning touch to Lucien's despair.
It is the poet's nature to prefer execution to condemnation.
As he saw this being, so completely bereft of the moral courage which
is the essence of a judge, and which the last prisoner had so strongly
manifested, Monsieur Camusot disdained the easy victory; and this
scorn enabled him to strike a decisive blow, since it left him, on the
ground, that horrible clearness of mind which the marksman feels when
he is firing at a puppet.
"Collect yourself, Monsieur de Rubempre; you are in the presence of a
magistrate who is eager to repair the mischief done involuntarily by
the law when a man is taken into custody on suspicion that has no
foundation. I believe you to be innocent, and you will soon be at
liberty.--Here is the evidence of your innocence; it is a letter kept
for you during your absence by your porter's wife; she has just
brought it here. In the commotion caused by the visitation of justice
and the news of your arrest at Fontainebleau, the woman forgot the
letter which was written by Mademoiselle Esther Gobseck.--Read it!"
Lucien took the letter, read it, and melted into tears. He sobbed, and
could not say a single word. At the end of a quarter of an hour,
during which Lucien with great difficulty recovered his self-command,
the clerk laid before him the copy of the letter and begged him to
sign a footnote certifying that the copy was faithful to the original,
and might be used in its stead "on all occasions in the course of this
preliminary inquiry," giving him the option of comparing the two; but
Lucien, of course, took Coquart's word for its accuracy.
"Monsieur," said the lawyer, with friendly good nature, "it is
nevertheless impossible that I should release you without carrying out
the legal formalities, and asking you some questions.--It is almost as
a witness that I require you to answer. To such a man as you I think
it is almost unnecessary to point out that the oath to tell the whole
truth is not in this case a mere appeal to your conscience, but a
necessity for your own sake, your position having been for a time
somewhat ambiguous. The truth can do you no harm, be it what it may;
falsehood will send you to trial, and compel me to send you back to
the Conciergerie; whereas if you answer fully to my questions, you
will sleep to-night in your own house, and be rehabilitated by this
paragraph in the papers: 'Monsieur de Rubempre, who was arrested
yesterday at Fontainebleau, was set at liberty after a very brief
This speech made a deep impression on Lucien; and the judge, seeing
the temper of his prisoner, added:
"I may repeat to you that you were suspected of being accessory to the
murder by poison of this Demoiselle Esther. Her suicide is clearly
proved, and there is an end of that; but a sum of seven hundred and
fifty thousand francs has been stolen, which she had disposed of by
will, and you are the legatee. This is a felony. The crime was
perpetrated before the discovery of the will.
"Now there is reason to suppose that a person who loves you as much as
you loved Mademoiselle Esther committed the theft for your benefit.--
Do not interrupt me," Camusot went on, seeing that Lucien was about to
speak, and commanding silence by a gesture; "I am asking you nothing
so far. I am anxious to make you understand how deeply your honor is
concerned in this question. Give up the false and contemptible notion
of the honor binding two accomplices, and tell the whole truth."
The reader must already have observed the extreme disproportion of the
weapons in this conflict between the prisoner under suspicion and the
examining judge. Absolute denial when skilfully used has in its favor
its positive simplicity, and sufficiently defends the criminal; but it
is, in a way, a coat of mail which becomes crushing as soon as the
stiletto of cross-examination finds a joint to it. As soon as mere
denial is ineffectual in face of certain proven facts, the examinee is
entirely at the judge's mercy.
Now, supposing that a sort of half-criminal, like Lucien, might, if he
were saved from the first shipwreck of his honesty, amend his ways,
and become a useful member of society, he will be lost in the pitfalls
of his examination.
The judge has the driest possible record drawn up of the proceedings,
a faithful analysis of the questions and answers; but no trace remains
of his insidiously paternal addresses or his captious remonstrances,
such as this speech. The judges of the superior courts see the
results, but see nothing of the means. Hence, as some experienced
persons have thought, it would be a good plan that, as in England, a
jury should hear the examination. For a short while France enjoyed the
benefit of this system. Under the Code of Brumaire of the year IV.,
this body was known as the examining jury, as distinguished from the
trying jury. As to the final trial, if we should restore the examining
jury, it would have to be the function of the superior courts without
the aid of a jury.
"And now," said Camusot, after a pause, "what is your name?--
Attention, Monsieur Coquart!" said he to the clerk.
"Lucien Chardon de Rubempre."
"And you were born----?"
"At Angouleme." And Lucien named the day, month, and year.
"You inherited no fortune?"
"And yet, during your first residence in Paris, you spent a great
deal, as compared with your small income?"
"Yes, monsieur; but at that time I had a most devoted friend in
Mademoiselle Coralie, and I was so unhappy as to lose her. It was my
grief at her death that made me return to my country home."
"That is right, monsieur," said Camusot; "I commend your frankness; it
will be thoroughly appreciated."
Lucien, it will be seen, was prepared to make a clean breast of it.
"On your return to Paris you lived even more expensively than before,"
Camusot went on. "You lived like a man who might have about sixty
thousand francs a year."
"Who supplied you with the money?"
"My protector, the Abbe Carlos Herrera."
"Where did you meet him?"
"We met when traveling, just as I was about to be quit of life by
"You never heard him spoken of by your family--by your mother?"
"Can you remember the year and the month when you first became
connected with Mademoiselle Esther?"
"Towards the end of 1823, at a small theatre on the Boulevard."
"At first she was an expense to you?"
"Lately, in the hope of marrying Mademoiselle de Grandlieu, you
purchased the ruins of the Chateau de Rubempre, you added land to the
value of a million francs, and you told the family of Grandlieu that
your sister and your brother-in-law had just come into a considerable
fortune, and that their liberality had supplied you with the money.--
Did you tell the Grandlieus this, monsieur?"
"You do not know the reason why the marriage was broken off?"
"Not in the least, monsieur."
"Well, the Grandlieus sent one of the most respectable attorneys in
Paris to see your brother-in-law and inquire into the facts. At
Angouleme this lawyer, from the statements of your sister and brother-
in-law, learned that they not only had hardly lent you any money, but
also that their inheritance consisted of land, of some extent no
doubt, but that the whole amount of invested capital was not more than
about two hundred thousand francs.--Now you cannot wonder that such
people as the Grandlieus should reject a fortune of which the source
is more than doubtful. This, monsieur, is what a lie has led to----"
Lucien was petrified by this revelation, and the little presence of
mind he had preserved deserted him.
"Remember," said Camusot, "that the police and the law know all they
want to know.--And now," he went on, recollecting Jacques Collin's
assumed paternity, "do you know who this pretended Carlos Herrera is?"
"Yes, monsieur; but I knew it too late."
"Too late! How? Explain yourself."
"He is not a priest, not a Spaniard, he is----"
"An escaped convict?" said the judge eagerly.
"Yes," replied Lucien, "when he told me the fatal secret, I was
already under obligations to him; I had fancied I was befriended by a
"Jacques Collin----" said Monsieur Camusot, beginning a sentence.
"Yes, said Lucien, "his name is Jacques Collin."
"Very good. Jacques Collin has just now been identified by another
person, and though he denies it, he does so, I believe, in your
interest. But I asked whether you knew who the man is in order to
prove another of Jacques Collin's impostures."
Lucien felt as though he had hot iron in his inside as he heard this
"Do you not know," Camusot went on, "that in order to give color to
the extraordinary affection he has for you, he declares that he is
"He! My father?--Oh, monsieur, did he tell you that?"
"Have you any suspicion of where the money came from that he used to
give you? For, if I am to believe the evidence of the letter you have
in your hand, that poor girl, Mademoiselle Esther, must have done you
lately the same services as Coralie formerly rendered you. Still, for
some years, as you have just admitted, you lived very handsomely
without receiving anything from her."
"It is I who should ask you, monsieur, whence convicts get their
money! Jacques Collin my father!--Oh, my poor mother!" and Lucien
burst into tears.
"Coquart, read out to the prisoner that part of Carlos Herrera's
examination in which he said that Lucien de Rubempre was his son."
The poet listened in silence, and with a look that was terrible to
"I am done for!" he cried.
"A man is not done for who is faithful to the path of honor and
truth," said the judge.
"But you will commit Jacques Collin for trial?" said Lucien.
"Undoubtedly," said Camusot, who aimed at making Lucien talk. "Speak
But in spite of all his persuasion and remonstrances, Lucien would say
no more. Reflection had come too late, as it does to all men who are
the slaves of impulse. There lies the difference between the poet and
the man of action; one gives way to feeling to reproduce it in living
images, his judgement comes in after; the other feels and judges both
Lucien remained pale and gloomy; he saw himself at the bottom of the
precipice, down which the examining judge had rolled him by the
apparent candor which had entrapped his poet's soul. He had betrayed,
not his benefactor, but an accomplice who had defended their position
with the courage of a lion, and a skill that showed no flaw. Where
Jacques Collin had saved everything by his daring, Lucien, the man of
brains, had lost all by his lack of intelligence and reflection. This
infamous lie against which he revolted had screened a yet more
Utterly confounded by the judge's skill, overpowered by his cruel
dexterity, by the swiftness of the blows he had dealt him while making
use of the errors of a life laid bare as probes to search his
conscience, Lucien sat like an animal which the butcher's pole-axe had
failed to kill. Free and innocent when he came before the judge, in a
moment his own avowal had made him feel criminal.
To crown all, as a final grave irony, Camusot, cold and calm, pointed
out to Lucien that his self-betrayal was the result of a
misapprehension. Camusot was thinking of Jacques Collin's announcing
himself as Lucien's father; while Lucien, wholly absorbed by his fear
of seeing his confederacy with an escaped convict made public, had
imitated the famous inadvertency of the murderers of Ibycus.
One of Royer-Collard's most famous achievements was proclaiming the
constant triumph of natural feeling over engrafted sentiments, and
defending the cause of anterior oaths by asserting that the law of
hospitality, for instance, ought to be regarded as binding to the
point of negativing the obligation of a judicial oath. He promulgated
this theory, in the face of the world, from the French tribune; he
boldly upheld conspirators, showing that it was human to be true to
friendship rather than to the tyrannical laws brought out of the
social arsenal to be adjusted to circumstances. And, indeed, natural
rights have laws which have never been codified, but which are more
effectual and better known than those laid down by society. Lucien had
misapprehended, to his cost, the law of cohesion, which required him
to be silent and leave Jacques Collin to protect himself; nay, more,
he had accused him. In his own interests the man ought always to be,
to him, Carlos Herrera.
Monsieur Camusot was rejoicing in his triumph; he had secured two
criminals. He had crushed with the hand of justice one of the
favorites of fashion, and he had found the undiscoverable Jacques
Collin. He would be regarded as one of the cleverest of examining
judges. So he left his prisoner in peace; but he was studying this
speechless consternation, and he saw drops of sweat collect on the
miserable face, swell and fall, mingled with two streams of tears.
"Why should you weep, Monsieur de Rubempre? You are, as I have told
you, Mademoiselle Esther's legatee, she having no heirs nor near
relations, and her property amounts to nearly eight millions of francs
if the lost seven hundred and fifty thousand francs are recovered."
This was the last blow to the poor wretch. "If you do not lose your
head for ten minutes," Jacques Collin had said in his note, and Lucien
by keeping cool would have gained all his desire. He might have paid
his debt to Jacques Collin and have cut him adrift, have been rich,
and have married Mademoiselle de Grandlieu. Nothing could more
eloquently demonstrate the power with which the examining judge is
armed, as a consequence of the isolation or separation of persons
under suspicion, or the value of such a communication as Asie had
conveyed to Jacques Collin.
"Ah, monsieur!" replied Lucien, with the satirical bitterness of a man
who makes a pedestal of his utter overthrow, "how appropriate is the
phrase in legal slang 'to UNDERGO examination.' For my part, if I had
to choose between the physical torture of past ages and the moral
torture of our day, I would not hesitate to prefer the sufferings
inflicted of old by the executioner.--What more do you want of me?" he
"In this place, monsieur," said the magistrate, answering the poet's
pride with mocking arrogance, "I alone have a right to ask questions."
"I had the right to refuse to answer them," muttered the hapless
Lucien, whose wits had come back to him with perfect lucidity.
"Coquart, read the minutes to the prisoner."
"I am the prisoner once more," said Lucien to himself.
While the clerk was reading, Lucien came to a determination which
compelled him to smooth down Monsieur Camusot. When Coquart's drone
ceased, the poet started like a man who has slept through a noise to
which his ears are accustomed, and who is roused by its cessation.
"You have to sign the report of your examination," said the judge.
"And am I at liberty?" asked Lucien, ironical in his turn.
"Not yet," said Camusot; "but to-morrow, after being confronted with
Jacques Collin, you will no doubt be free. Justice must now ascertain
whether or no you are accessory to the crimes this man may have
committed since his escape so long ago as 1820. However, you are no
longer in the secret cells. I will write to the Governor to give you a
"Shall I find writing materials?"
"You can have anything supplied to you that you ask for; I will give
orders to that effect by the usher who will take you back."
Lucien mechanically signed the minutes and initialed the notes in
obedience to Coquart's indications with the meekness of a resigned
victim. A single fact will show what a state he was in better than the
minutest description. The announcement that he would be confronted
with Jacques Collin had at once dried the drops of sweat from his
brow, and his dry eyes glittered with a terrible light. In short, he
became, in an instant as brief as a lightning flash, what Jacques
Collin was--a man of iron.
In men whose nature is like Lucien's, a nature which Jacques Collin
had so thoroughly fathomed, these sudden transitions from a state of
absolute demoralization to one that is, so to speak, metallic,--so
extreme is the tension of every vital force,--are the most startling
phenomena of mental vitality. The will surges up like the lost waters
of a spring; it diffuses itself throughout the machinery that lies
ready for the action of the unknown matter that constitutes it; and
then the corpse is a man again, and the man rushes on full of energy
for a supreme struggle.
Lucien laid Esther's letter next his heart, with the miniature she had
returned to him. Then he haughtily bowed to Monsieur Camusot, and went
off with a firm step down the corridors, between two gendarmes.
"That is a deep scoundrel!" said the judge to his clerk, to avenge
himself for the crushing scorn the poet had displayed. "He thought he
might save himself by betraying his accomplice."
"Of the two," said Coquart timidly, "the convict is the most thorough-
"You are free for the rest of the day, Coquart," said the lawyer. "We
have done enough. Send away any case that is waiting, to be called
to-morrow.--Ah! and you must go at once to the public prosecutor's
chambers and ask if he is still there; if so, ask him if he can give
me a few minutes. Yes; he will not be gone," he added, looking at a
common clock in a wooden case painted green with gilt lines. "It is
but a quarter-past three."
These examinations, which are so quickly read, being written down at
full length, questions and answers alike, take up an enormous amount
of time. This is one of the reasons of the slowness of these
preliminaries to a trial and of these imprisonments "on suspicion." To
the poor this is ruin, to the rich it is disgrace; to them only
immediate release can in any degree repair, so far as possible, the
disaster of an arrest.
This is why the two scenes here related had taken up the whole of the
time spent by Asie in deciphering her master's orders, in getting a
Duchess out of her boudoir, and putting some energy into Madame de
At this moment Camusot, who was anxious to get the full benefit of his
cleverness, took the two documents, read them through, and promised
himself that he would show them to the public prosecutor and take his
opinion on them. During this meditation, his usher came back to tell
him that Madame la Comtesse de Serizy's man-servant insisted on
speaking with him. At a nod from Camusot, a servant out of livery came
in, looked first at the usher, and then at the magistrate, and said,
"I have the honor of speaking to Monsieur Camusot?"
"Yes," replied the lawyer and his clerk.
Camusot took a note which the servant offered him, and read as
"For the sake of many interests which will be obvious to you, my
dear Camusot, do not examine Monsieur de Rubempre. We have brought
ample proofs of his innocence that he may be released forthwith.
"D. DE MAUFRIGNEUSE.
"L. DE SERIZY.
"P. S.--Burn this note."
Camusot understood at once that he had blundered preposterously in
laying snares for Lucien, and he began by obeying the two fine ladies
--he lighted a taper, and burned the letter written by the Duchess.
The man bowed respectfully.
"Then Madame de Serizy is coming here?" asked Camusot.
"The carriage is being brought round."
At this moment Coquart came in to tell Monsieur Camusot that the
public prosecutor expected him.
Oppressed by the blunder he had committed, in view of his ambitions,
though to the better ends of justice, the lawyer, in whom seven years'
experience had perfected the sharpness that comes to a man who in his
practice has had to measure his wits against the grisettes of Paris,
was anxious to have some shield against the resentment of two women of
fashion. The taper in which he had burned the note was still alight,
and he used it to seal up the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse's notes to
Lucien--about thirty in all--and Madame de Serizy's somewhat
Then he waited on the public prosecutor.
The Palais de Justice is a perplexing maze of buildings piled one
above another, some fine and dignified, others very mean, the whole
disfigured by its lack of unity. The Salle des Pas-Perdus is the
largest known hall, but its nakedness is hideous, and distresses the
eye. This vast Cathedral of the Law crushes the Supreme Court. The
Galerie Marchande ends in two drain-like passages. From this corridor
there is a double staircase, a little larger than that of the Criminal
Courts, and under it a large double door. The stairs lead down to one
of the Assize Courts, and the doors open into another. In some years
the number of crimes committed in the circuit of the Seine is great
enough to necessitate the sitting of two Benches.
Close by are the public prosecutor's offices, the attorney's room and
library, the chambers of the attorney-general, and those of the public
prosecutor's deputies. All these purlieus, to use a generic term,
communicate by narrow spiral stairs and the dark passages, which are a
disgrace to the architecture not of Paris only, but of all France. The
interior arrangement of the sovereign court of justice outdoes our
prisons in all that is most hideous. The writer describing our manners
and customs would shrink from the necessity of depicting the squalid
corridor of about a metre in width, in which the witnesses wait in the
Superior Criminal Court. As to the stove which warms the court itself,
it would disgrace a cafe on the Boulevard Mont-Parnasse.
The public prosecutor's private room forms part of an octagon wing
flanking the Galerie Marchande, built out recently in regard to the
age of the structure, over the prison yard, outside the women's
quarters. All this part of the Palais is overshadowed by the lofty and
noble edifice of the Sainte-Chapelle. And all is solemn and silent.
Monsieur de Granville, a worthy successor of the great magistrates of
the ancient Parlement, would not leave Paris without coming to some
conclusion in the matter of Lucien. He expected to hear from Camusot,
and the judge's message had plunged him into the involuntary suspense
which waiting produces on even the strongest minds. He had been
sitting in the window-bay of his private room; he rose, and walked up
and down, for having lingered in the morning to intercept Camusot, he
had found him dull of apprehension; he was vaguely uneasy and worried.
And this was why.
The dignity of his high functions forbade his attempting to fetter the
perfect independence of the inferior judge, and yet this trial nearly
touched the honor and good name of his best friend and warmest
supporter, the Comte de Serizy, Minister of State, member of the Privy
Council, Vice-President of the State Council, and prospective
Chancellor of the Realm, in the event of the death of the noble old
man who held that august office. It was Monsieur de Serizy's
misfortune to adore his wife "through fire and water," and he always
shielded her with his protection. Now the public prosecutor fully
understood the terrible fuss that would be made in the world and at
court if a crime should be proved against a man whose name had been so
often and so malignantly linked with that of the Countess.
"Ah!" he sighed, folding his arms, "formerly the supreme authority
could take refuge in an appeal. Nowadays our mania for equality"--he
dared not say FOR LEGALITY, as a poetic orator in the Chamber
courageously admitted a short while since--"is the death of us."
This noble magistrate knew all the fascination and the miseries of an
illicit attachment. Esther and Lucien, as we have seen, had taken the
rooms where the Comte de Granville had lived secretly on connubial
terms with Mademoiselle de Bellefeuille, and whence she had fled one
day, lured away by a villain. (See A Double Marriage.)
At the very moment when the public prosecutor was saying to himself,
"Camusot is sure to have done something silly," the examining
magistrate knocked twice at the door of his room.
"Well, my dear Camusot, how is that case going on that I spoke of this
"Badly, Monsieur le Comte; read and judge for yourself."
He held out the minutes of the two examinations to Monsieur de
Granville, who took up his eyeglass and went to the window to read
them. He had soon run through them.
"You have done your duty," said the Count in an agitated voice. "It is
all over. The law must take its course. You have shown so much skill,
that you need never fear being deprived of your appointment as
If Monsieur de Granville had said to Camusot, "You will remain an
examining judge to your dying day," he could not have been more
explicit than in making this polite speech. Camusot was cold in the
"Madame la Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, to whom I owe much, had desired
me . . ."
"Oh yes, the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse is Madame de Serizy's friend,"
said Granville, interrupting him. "To be sure.--You have allowed
nothing to influence you, I perceive. And you did well, sir; you will
be a great magistrate."
At this instant the Comte Octave de Bauvan opened the door without
knocking, and said to the Comte de Granville:
"I have brought you a fair lady, my dear fellow, who did not know
which way to turn; she was on the point of losing herself in our
And Comte Octave led in by the hand the Comtesse de Serizy, who had
been wandering about the place for the last quarter of an hour.
"What, you here, madame!" exclaimed the public prosecutor, pushing
forward his own armchair, "and at this moment! This, madame, is
Monsieur Camusot," he added, introducing the judge.--"Bauvan," said he
to the distinguished ministerial orator of the Restoration, "wait for
me in the president's chambers; he is still there, and I will join
Comte Octave de Bauvan understood that not merely was he in the way,
but that Monsieur de Granville wanted an excuse for leaving his room.
Madame de Serizy had not made the mistake of coming to the Palais de
Justice in her handsome carriage with a blue hammer-cloth and coats-
of-arms, her coachman in gold lace, and two footmen in breeches and
silk stockings. Just as they were starting Asie impressed on the two
great ladies the need for taking the hackney coach in which she and
the Duchess had arrived, and she had likewise insisted on Lucien's
mistress adopting the costume which is to women what a gray cloak was
of yore to men. The Countess wore a plain brown dress, an old black
shawl, and a velvet bonnet from which the flowers had been removed,
and the whole covered up under a thick lace veil.
"You received our note?" said she to Camusot, whose dismay she mistook
for respectful admiration.
"Alas! but too late, Madame la Comtesse," replied the lawyer, whose
tact and wit failed him excepting in his chambers and in presence of a
"Too late! How?"
She looked at Monsieur de Granville, and saw consternation written in
his face. "It cannot be, it must not be too late!" she added, in the
tone of a despot.
Women, pretty women, in the position of Madame de Serizy, are the
spoiled children of French civilization. If the women of other
countries knew what a woman of fashion is in Paris, a woman of wealth
and rank, they would all want to come and enjoy that splendid royalty.
The women who recognize no bonds but those of propriety, no law but
the petty charter which has been more than once alluded to in this
Comedie Humaine as the ladies' Code, laugh at the statutes framed by
men. They say everything, they do not shrink from any blunder or
hesitate at any folly, for they all accept the fact that they are
irresponsible beings, answerable for nothing on earth but their good
repute and their children. They say the most preposterous things with
a laugh, and are ready on every occasion to repeat the speech made in
the early days of her married life by pretty Madame de Bauvan to her
husband, whom she came to fetch away from the Palais: "Make haste and
pass sentence, and come away."
"Madame," said the public prosecutor, "Monsieur Lucien de Rubempre is
not guilty either of robbery or of poisoning; but Monsieur Camusot has
led him to confess a still greater crime."
"What is that?" she asked.
"He acknowledged," said Monsieur Camusot in her ear, "that he is the
friend and pupil of an escaped convict. The Abbe Carlos Herrera, the
Spaniard with whom he has been living for the last seven years, is the
notorious Jacques Collin."
Madame de Serizy felt as if it were a blow from an iron rod at each
word spoken by the judge, but this name was the finishing stroke.
"And the upshot of all this?" she said, in a voice that was no more
than a breath.
"Is," Monsieur de Granville went on, finishing the Countess' sentence
in an undertone, "that the convict will be committed for trial, and
that if Lucien is not committed with him as having profited as an
accessory to the man's crimes, he must appear as a witness very
"Oh! never, never!" she cried aloud, with amazing firmness. "For my
part, I should not hesitate between death and the disaster of seeing a
man whom the world has known to be my dearest friend declared by the
bench to be the accomplice of a convict.--The King has a great regard
for my husband----"
"Madame," said the public prosecutor, also aloud, and with a smile,
"the King has not the smallest power over the humblest examining judge
in his kingdom, nor over the proceedings in any court of justice. That
is the grand feature of our new code of laws. I myself have just
congratulated M. Camusot on his skill----"
"On his clumsiness," said the Countess sharply, though Lucien's
intimacy with a scoundrel really disturbed her far less than his
attachment to Esther.
"If you will read the minutes of the examination of the two prisoners
by Monsieur Camusot, you will see that everything is in his hands----"
After this speech, the only thing the public prosecutor could venture
to say, and a flash of feminine--or, if you will, lawyer-like--
cunning, he went to the door; then, turning round on the threshold, he
"Excuse me, madame; I have two words to say to Bauvan." Which,
translated by the worldly wise, conveyed to the Countess: "I do not
want to witness the scene between you and Camusot."
"What is this examination business?" said Leontine very blandly to
Camusot, who stood downcast in the presence of the wife of one of the
most important personages in the realm.
"Madame," said Camusot, "a clerk writes down all the magistrate's
questions and the prisoner's replies. This document is signed by the
clerk, by the judge, and by the prisoner. This evidence is the raw
material of the subsequent proceedings; on it the accused are
committed for trial, and remanded to appear before the Criminal
"Well, then," said she, "if the evidence were suppressed----?"
"Oh, madame, that is a crime which no magistrate could possibly commit
--a crime against society."
"It is a far worse crime against me to have ever allowed it to be
recorded; still, at this moment it is the only evidence against
Lucien. Come, read me the minutes of his examination that I may see if
there is still a way of salvation for us all, monsieur. I do not speak
for myself alone--I should quite calmly kill myself--but Monsieur de
Serizy's happiness is also at stake."
"Pray, madame, do not suppose that I have forgotten the respect due
you," said Camusot. "If Monsieur Popinot, for instance, had undertaken
this case, you would have had worse luck than you have found with me;
for he would not have come to consult Monsieur de Granville; no one
would have heard anything about it. I tell you, madame, everything has
been seized in Monsieur Lucien's lodging, even your letters----"
"What! my letters!"
"Here they are, madame, in a sealed packet."
The Countess in her agitation rang as if she had been at home, and the
office-boy came in.
"A light," said she.
The boy lighted a taper and placed it on the chimney-piece, while the
Countess looked through the letters, counted them, crushed them in her
hand, and flung them on the hearth. In a few minutes she set the whole
mass in a blaze, twisting up the last note to serve as a torch.
Camusot stood, looking rather foolish as he watched the papers burn,
holding the legal documents in his hand. The Countess, who seemed
absorbed in the work of destroying the proofs of her passion, studied
him out of the corner of her eye. She took her time, she calculated
her distance; with the spring of a cat she seized the two documents
and threw them on the flames. But Camusot saved them; the Countess
rushed on him and snatched back the burning papers. A struggle ensued,
Camusot calling out: "Madame, but madame! This is contempt--madame!"
A man hurried into the room, and the Countess could not repress a
scream as she beheld the Comte de Serizy, followed by Monsieur de
Granville and the Comte de Bauvan. Leontine, however, determined to
save Lucien at any cost, would not let go of the terrible stamped
documents, which she clutched with the tenacity of a vise, though the
flame had already burnt her delicate skin like a moxa.
At last Camusot, whose fingers also were smarting from the fire,
seemed to be ashamed of the position; he let the papers go; there was
nothing left of them but the portions so tightly held by the
antagonists that the flame could not touch them. The whole scene had
taken less time than is needed to read this account of it.
"What discussion can have arisen between you and Madame de Serizy?"
the husband asked of Camusot.
Before the lawyer could reply, the Countess held the fragments in the
candle and threw them on the remains of her letters, which were not
"I shall be compelled," said Camusot, "to lay a complaint against
Madame la Comtesse----"
"Heh! What has she done?" asked the public prosecutor, looking
alternately at the lady and the magistrate.
"I have burned the record of the examinations," said the lady of
fashion with a laugh, so pleased at her high-handed conduct that she
did not yet feel the pain of the burns, "If that is a crime--well,
monsieur must get his odious scrawl written out again."
"Very true," said Camusot, trying to recover his dignity.
"Well, well, 'All's well that ends well,' " said Monsieur de
Granville. "But, my dear Countess, you must not often take such
liberties with the Law; it might fail to discern who and what you
"Monsieur Camusot valiantly resisted a woman whom none can resist; the
Honor of the Robe is safe!" said the Comte de Bauvan, laughing.
"Indeed! Monsieur Camusot was resisting?" said the public prosecutor,
laughing too. "He is a brave man indeed; I should not dare resist the
And thus for the moment this serious affair was no more than a pretty
woman's jest, at which Camusot himself must laugh.
But Monsieur de Granville saw one man who was not amused. Not a little
alarmed by the Comte de Serizy's attitude and expression, his friend
led him aside.
"My dear fellow," said he in a whisper, "your distress persuades me
for the first and only time in my life to compromise with my duty."