Part 3 out of 8
The marchioness rather puzzled the magistrate the first time he was
admitted to her presence. On his second visit, she amused him very
much; for which reason, he came again. But after a while she no longer
amused him, though he still continued a faithful and constant visitor
to the rose-coloured boudoir wherein she passed the greater part of
Madame d'Arlange conceived a violent friendship for him, and became
eloquent in his praises.
"A most charming young man," she declared, "delicate and sensible!
What a pity he is not born!" (Her ladyship meant born of noble
parentage, but used the phrase as ignoring the fact of the
unfortunates who are not noble having been born at all) "One can
receive him though, all the same; his forefathers were very decent
people, and his mother was a Cottevise who, however, went wrong. I
wish him well, and will do all I can to push him forward."
The strongest proof of friendship he received from her was, that she
condescended to pronounce his name like the rest of the world. She had
preserved that ridiculous affectation of forgetfulness of the names of
people who were not of noble birth, and who in her opinion had no
right to names. She was so confirmed in this habit, that, if by
accident she pronounced such a name correctly, she immediately
repeated it with some ludicrous alteration. During his first visit, M.
Daburon was extremely amused at hearing his name altered every time
she addressed him. Successively she made it Taburon, Dabiron, Maliron,
Laliron, Laridon; but, in three months time, she called him Daburon as
distinctly as if he had been a duke of something, and a lord of
Occasionally she exerted herself to prove to the worthy magistrate
that he was a nobleman, or at least ought to be. She would have been
happy, if she could have persuaded him to adopt some title, and have a
helmet engraved upon his visiting cards.
"How is it possible," said she, "that your ancestors, eminent,
wealthy, and influential, never thought of being raised from the
common herd and securing a title for their descendants? Today you
would possess a presentable pedigree.--"
"My ancestors were wise," responded M. Daburon. "They preferred being
foremost among their fellow-citizens to becoming last among the
Upon which the marchioness explained, and proved to demonstration,
that between the most influential and wealthy citizen and the smallest
scion of nobility, there was an abyss that all the money in the world
could not fill up.
They who were so surprised at the frequency of the magistrate's visits
to this celebrated "relic of the past" did not know that lady's
granddaughter, or, at least, did not recollect her; she went out so
seldom! The old marchioness did not care, so she said, to be bothered
with a young spy who would be in her way when she related some of her
Claire d'Arlange was just seventeen years old. She was extremely
graceful and gentle in manner, and lovely in her natural innocence.
She had a profusion of fine light brown hair, which fell in ringlets
over her well-shaped neck and shoulders. Her figure was still rather
slender; but her features recalled Guide's most celestial faces. Her
blue eyes, shaded by long lashes of a hue darker than her hair, had
above all an adorable expression.
A certain air of antiquity, the result of her association with her
grandmother, added yet another charm to the young girl's manner. She
had more sense, however, than her relative; and, as her education had
not been neglected, she had imbibed pretty correct ideas of the world
in which she lived. This education, these practical ideas, Claire owed
to her governess, upon whose shoulders the marchioness had thrown the
entire responsibility of cultivating her mind.
This governess, Mademoiselle Schmidt, chosen at hazard, happened by
the most fortunate chance to be both well informed and possessed of
principle. She was, what is often met with on the other side of the
Rhine, a woman at once romantic and practical, of the tenderest
sensibility and the severest virtue. This good woman, while she
carried her pupil into the land of sentimental phantasy and poetical
imaginings, gave her at the same time the most practical instruction
in matters relating to actual life. She revealed to Claire all the
peculiarities of thought and manner that rendered her grandmother so
ridiculous, and taught her to avoid them, but without ceasing to
Every evening, on arriving at Madame d'Arlange's, M. Daburon was sure
to find Claire seated beside her grandmother, and it was for that that
he called. Whilst listening with an inattentive ear to the old lady's
rigmaroles and her interminable anecdotes of the emigration, he gazed
upon Claire, as a fanatic upon his idol. Often in his ecstasy he
forgot where he was for the moment and became absolutely oblivious of
the old lady's presence, although her shrill voice was piercing the
tympanum of his ear like a needle. Then he would answer her at cross-
purposes, committing the most singular blunders, which he labored
afterwards to explain. But he need not have taken the trouble. Madame
d'Arlange did not perceive her courtier's absence of mind; her
questions were of such a length, that she did not care about the
answers. Having a listener, she was satisfied, provided that from time
to time he gave signs of life.
When obliged to sit down to play piquet, he cursed below his breath
the game and its detestable inventor. He paid no attention to his
cards. He made mistakes every moment, discarding what he should keep
in and forgetting to cut. The old lady was annoyed by these continual
distractions, but she did scruple to profit by them. She looked at the
discard, changed the cards which did not suit her, while she
audaciously scored points she never made, and pocketed the money thus
won without shame or remorse.
M. Daburon's timidity was extreme, and Claire was unsociable to
excess, they therefore seldom spoke to each other. During the entire
winter, the magistrate did not directly address the young girl ten
times; and, on these rare occasions, he had learned mechanically by
heart the phrase he proposed to repeat to her, well knowing that,
without this precaution, he would most likely be unable to finish what
he had to say.
But at least he saw her, he breathed the same air with her, he heard
her voice, whose pure and harmonious vibrations thrilled his very
By constantly watching her eyes, he learned to understand all their
expressions. He believed he could read in them all her thoughts, and
through them look into her soul like through an open window.
"She is pleased to-day," he would say to himself; and then he would be
happy. At other times, he thought, "She has met with some annoyance
to-day;" and immediately he became sad.
The idea of asking for her hand many times presented itself to his
imagination; but he never dared to entertain it. Knowing, as he did,
the marchioness's prejudices, her devotion to titles, her dread of any
approach to a misalliance, he was convinced she would shut his mouth
at the first word by a very decided "no," which she would maintain. To
attempt the thing would be to risk, without a chance of success, his
present happiness which he thought immense, for love lives upon its
"Once repulsed," thought he, "the house is shut against me; and then
farewell to happiness, for life will end for me." Upon the other hand,
the very rational thought occurred to him that another might see
Mademoiselle d'Arlange, love her, and, in consequence, ask for and
obtain her. In either case, hazarding a proposal, or hesitating still,
he must certainly lose her in the end. By the commencement of spring,
his mind was made up.
One fine afternoon, in the month of April, he bent his steps towards
the residence of Madame d'Arlange, having truly need of more bravery
than a soldier about to face a battery. He, like the soldier,
whispered to himself, "Victory or death!" The marchioness who had gone
out shortly after breakfast had just returned in a terrible rage, and
was uttering screams like an eagle.
This was what had taken place. She had some work done by a neighboring
painter some eight or ten months before; and the workman had presented
himself a hundred times to receive payment, without avail. Tired of
this proceeding, he had summoned the high and mighty Marchioness
d'Arlange before the Justice of the Peace.
This summons had exasperated the marchioness; but she kept the matter
to herself, having decided, in her wisdom, to call upon the judge and
request him to reprimand the insolent painter who had dared to plague
her for a paltry sum of money. The result of this fine project may be
guessed. The judge had been compelled to eject her forcibly from his
office; hence her fury.
M. Daburon found her in the rose-colored boudoir half undressed, her
hair in disorder, red as a peony, and surrounded by the debris of the
glass and china which had fallen under her hands in the first moments
of her passion. Unfortunately, too, Claire and her governess were gone
out. A maid was occupied in inundating the old lady with all sorts of
waters, in the hope of calming her nerves.
She received Daburon as a messenger direct from Providence. In a
little more than half an hour, she told her story, interlarded with
numerous interjections and imprecations.
"Do you comprehend this judge?" cried she. "He must be some frantic
Jacobin,--some son of the furies, who washed their hands in the blood
of their king. Ah! my friend, I read stupor and indignation in your
glance. He listened to the complaint of that impudent scoundrel whom I
enabled to live by employing him! And when I addressed some severe
remonstrances to this judge, as it was my duty to do, he had me turned
out! Do you hear? turned out!"
At this painful recollection, she made a menacing gesture with her
arm. In her sudden movement, she struck a handsome scent bottle that
her maid held in her hand. The force of the blow sent it to the other
end of the room, where it broke into pieces.
"Stupid, awkward fool!" cried the marchioness, venting her anger upon
the frightened girl.
M. Daburon, bewildered at first, now endeavored to calm her
exasperation. She did not allow him to pronounce three words.
"Happily you are here," she continued; "you are always willing to
serve me, I know. I count upon you! you will exercise your influence,
your powerful friends, your credit, to have this pitiful painter and
this miscreant of a judge flung into some deep ditch, to teach them
the respect due to a woman of my rank."
The magistrate did not permit himself even to smile at this imperative
demand. He had heard many speeches as absurd issue from her lips
without ever making fun of them. Was she not Claire's grandmother? for
that alone he loved and venerated her. He blessed her for her
granddaughter, as an admirer of nature blesses heaven for the wild
flower that delights him with its perfume.
The fury of the old lady was terrible; nor was it of short duration.
At the end of an hour, however, she was, or appeared to be, pacified.
They replaced her head-dress, repaired the disorder of her toilette,
and picked up the fragments of broken glass and china. Vanquished by
her own violence, the reaction was immediate and complete. She fell
back helpless and exhausted into an arm-chair.
This magnificent result was due to the magistrate. To accomplish it,
he had had to use all his ability, to exercise the most angelic
patience, the greatest tact. His triumph was the more meritorious,
because he came completely unprepared for this adventure, which
interfered with his intended proposal. The first time that he had felt
sufficient courage to speak, fortune seemed to declare against him,
for this untoward event had quite upset his plans.
Arming himself, however, with his professional eloquence, he talked
the old lady into calmness. He was not so foolish as to contradict
her. On the contrary, he caressed her hobby. He was humorous and
pathetic by turns. He attacked the authors of the revolution, cursed
its errors, deplored its crimes, and almost wept over its disastrous
results. Commencing with the infamous Marat he eventually reached the
rascal of a judge who had offended her. He abused his scandalous
conduct in good set terms, and was exceedingly severe upon the
dishonest scamp of a painter. However, he thought it best to let them
off the punishment they so richly deserved; and ended by suggesting
that it would perhaps be prudent, wise, noble even to pay.
The unfortunate word "pay" brought Madame d'Arlange to her feet in the
"Pay!" she screamed. "In order that these scoundrels may persist in
their obduracy! Encourage them by a culpable weakness! Never! Besides
to pay one must have money! and I have none!"
"Why!" said M. Daburon, "it amounts to but eighty-seven francs!"
"And is that nothing?" asked the marchioness; "you talk very
foolishly, my dear sir. It is easy to see that you have money; your
ancestors were people of no rank; and the revolution passed a hundred
feet above their heads. Who can tell whether they may not have been
the gainers by it? It took all from the d'Arlanges. What will they do
to me, if I do not pay?"
"Well, madame, they can do many things; almost ruin you, in costs.
They may seize your furniture."
"Alas!" cried the old lady, "the revolution is not ended yet. We shall
all be swallowed up by it, my poor Daburon! Ah! you are happy, you who
belong to the people! I see plainly that I must pay this man without
delay, and it is frightfully sad for me, for I have nothing, and am
forced to make such sacrifices for the sake of my grandchild!"
This statement surprised the magistrate so strongly that involuntarily
he repeated half-aloud, "Sacrifices?"
"Certainly!" resumed Madame d'Arlange. "Without her, would I have to
live as I am doing, refusing myself everything to make both ends meet?
Not a bit of it! I would invest my fortune in a life annuity. But I
know, thank heaven, the duties of a mother; and I economise all I can
for my little Claire."
This devotion appeared so admirable to M. Daburon, that he could not
utter a word.
"Ah! I am terribly anxious about this dear child," continued the
marchioness. "I confess M. Daburon, it makes me giddy when I wonder
how I am to marry her."
The magistrate reddened with pleasure. At last his opportunity had
arrived; he must take advantage of it at once.
"It seems to me," stammered he, "that to find Mademoiselle Claire a
husband ought not to be difficult."
"Unfortunately, it is. She is pretty enough, I admit, although rather
thin, but, now-a-days, beauty goes for nothing. Men are so mercenary
they think only of money. I do not know of one who has the manhood to
take a d'Arlange with her bright eyes for a dowry."
"I believe that you exaggerate," remarked M. Daburon, timidly.
"By no means. Trust to my experience which is far greater than yours.
Besides, when I find a son-in-law, he will cause me a thousand
troubles. Of this, I am assured by my lawyer. I shall be compelled, it
seems, to render an account of Claire's patrimony. As if ever I kept
accounts! It is shameful! Ah! if Claire had any sense of filial duty,
she would quietly take the veil in some convent. I would use every
effort to pay the necessary dower; but she has no affection for me."
M. Daburon felt that now was the time to speak. He collected his
courage, as a good horseman pulls his horse together when going to
leap a hedge, and in a voice, which he tried to render firm, he said:
"Well! Madame, I believe I know a party who would suit Mademoiselle
Claire,--an honest man, who loves her, and who will do everything in
the world to make her happy."
"That," said Madame d'Arlange, "is always understood."
"The man of whom I speak," continued the magistrate, "is still young,
and is rich. He will be only too happy to receive Mademoiselle Claire
without a dowry. Not only will he decline an examination of your
accounts of guardianship, but he will beg you to invest your fortune
as you think fit."
"Really! Daburon, my friend, you are by no means a fool!" exclaimed
the old lady.
"If you prefer not to invest your fortune in a life-annuity, your son-
in-law will allow you sufficient to make up what you now find
"Ah! really I am stifling," interrupted the marchioness. "What! you
know such a man, and have never yet mentioned him to me! You ought to
have introduced him long ago."
"I did not dare, madame, I was afraid--"
"Quick! tell me who is this admirable son-in-law, this white
blackbird? where does he nestle?"
The magistrate felt a strange fluttering of the heart; he was going to
stake his happiness on a word. At length he stammered, "It is I,
His voice, his look, his gesture were beseeching. He was surprised at
his own audacity, frightened at having vanquished his timidity, and
was on the point of falling at the old lady's feet. She, however,
laughed until the tears came into her eyes, then shrugging her
shoulders, she said: "Really, dear Daburon is too ridiculous, he will
make me die of laughing! He is so amusing!" After which she burst out
laughing again. But suddenly she stopped, in the very height of her
merriment, and assumed her most dignified air. "Are you perfectly
serious in all you have told me, M. Daburon?" she asked.
"I have stated the truth," murmured the magistrate.
"You are then very rich?"
"I inherited, madame, from my mother, about twenty thousand francs a
year. One of my uncles, who died last year, bequeathed me over a
hundred thousand crowns. My father is worth about a million. Were I to
ask him for the half to-morrow, he would give it to me; he would give
me all his fortune, if it were necessary to my happiness, and be but
too well contented, should I leave him the administration of it."
Madame d'Arlange signed to him to be silent; and, for five good
minutes at least, she remained plunged in reflection, her forehead
resting in her hands. At length she raised her head.
"Listen," said she. "Had you been so bold as to make this proposal to
Claire's father, he would have called his servants to show you the
door. For the sake of our name I ought to do the same; but I cannot do
so. I am old and desolate; I am poor; my grandchild's prospects
disquiet me; that is my excuse. I cannot, however, consent to speak to
Claire of this horrible misalliance. What I can promise you, and that
is too much, is that I will not be against you. Take your own
measures; pay your addresses to Mademoiselle d'Arlange, and try to
persuade her. If she says 'yes,' of her own free will, I shall not say
M. Daburon, transported with happiness, could almost have embraced the
old lady. He thought her the best, the most excellent of women, not
noticing the facility with which this proud spirit had been brought to
yield. He was delirious, almost mad.
"Wait!" said the old lady; "your cause is not yet gained. Your mother,
it is true, was a Cottevise, and I must excuse her for marrying so
wretchedly; but your father is simple M. Daburon. This name, my dear
friend, is simply ridiculous. Do you think it will be easy to make a
Daburon of a young girl who for nearly eighteen years has been called
This objection did not seem to trouble the magistrate.
"After all," continued the old lady, "your father gained a Cottevise,
so you may win a d'Arlange. On the strength of marrying into noble
families, the Daburons may perhaps end by ennobling themselves. One
last piece of advice; you believe Claire to be just as she looks,--
timid, sweet, obedient. Undeceive yourself, my friend. Despite her
innocent air, she is hardy, fierce, and obstinate as the marquis her
father, who was worse than an Auvergne mule. Now you are warned. Our
conditions are agreed to, are they not? Let us say no more on the
subject. I almost wish you to succeed."
This scene was so present to the magistrate's mind, that as he sat at
home in his arm-chair, though many months had passed since these
events, he still seemed to hear the old lady's voice, and the word
"success" still sounded in his ears.
He departed in triumph from the d'Arlange abode, which he had entered
with a heart swelling with anxiety. He walked with his head erect, his
chest dilated, and breathing the fresh air with the full strength of
his lungs. He was so happy! The sky appeared to him more blue, the sun
more brilliant. This grave magistrate felt a mad desire to stop the
passers-by, to press them in his arms, to cry to them,--"Have you
heard? The marchioness consents!"
He walked, and the earth seemed to him to give way beneath his
footsteps; it was either too small to carry so much happiness, or else
he had become so light that he was going to fly away towards the
What castles in the air he built upon what Madame d'Arlange had said
to him! He would tender his resignation. He would build on the banks
of the Loire, not far from Tours, an enchanting little villa. He
already saw it, with its facade to the rising sun, nestling in the
midst of flowers, and shaded with wide-spreading trees. He furnished
this dwelling in the most luxuriant style. He wished to provide a
marvellous casket, worthy the pearl he was about to possess. For he
had not a doubt; not a cloud obscured the horizon made radiant by his
hopes, no voice at the bottom of his heart raised itself to cry,
From that day, his visits to the marchioness became more frequent. He
might almost be said to live at her house. While he preserved his
respectful and reserved demeanour towards Claire, he strove
assiduously to be something in her life. True love is ingenious. He
learnt to overcome his timidity, to speak to the well-beloved of his
soul, to encourage her to converse with him, to interest her. He went
in quest of all the news, to amuse her. He read all the new books, and
brought to her all that were fit for her to read.
Little by little he succeeded, thanks to the most delicate
persistence, in taming this shy young girl. He began to perceive that
her fear of him had almost disappeared, that she no longer received
him with the cold and haughty air which had previously kept him at a
distance. He felt that he was insensibly gaining her confidence. She
still blushed when she spoke to him; but she no longer hesitated to
address the first word. She even ventured at times to ask him a
question. If she had heard a play well spoken of and wished to know
the subject, M. Daburon would at once go to see it, and commit a
complete account of it to writing, which he would send her through the
post. At times she intrusted him with trifling commissions, the
execution of which he would not have exchanged for the Russian
Once he ventured to send her a magnificent bouquet. She accepted it
with an air of uneasy surprise, but begged him not to repeat the
The tears came to his eyes; he left her presence broken-hearted, and
the unhappiest of men. "She does not love me," thought he, "she will
never love me." But, three days after, as he looked very sad, she
begged him to procure her certain flowers, then very much in fashion,
which she wished to place on her flower-stand. He sent enough to fill
the house from the garret to the cellar. "She will love me," he
whispered to himself in his joy.
These events, so trifling but yet so great, had not interrupted the
games of piquet; only the young girl now appeared to interest herself
in the play, nearly always taking the magistrate's side against the
marchioness. She did not understand the game very well; but, when the
old gambler cheated too openly, she would notice it, and say,
laughingly,--"She is robbing you, M. Daburon,--she is robbing you!" He
would willingly have been robbed of his entire fortune, to hear that
sweet voice raised on his behalf.
It was summer time. Often in the evening she accepted his arm, and,
while the marchioness remained at the window, seated in her arm-chair,
they walked around the lawn, treading lightly upon the paths spread
with gravel sifted so fine that the trailing of her light dress
effaced the traces of their footsteps. She chatted gaily with him, as
with a beloved brother, while he was obliged to do violence to his
feelings, to refrain from imprinting a kiss upon the little blonde
head, from which the light breeze lifted the curls and scattered them
like fleecy clouds. At such moments, he seemed to tread an enchanted
path strewn with flowers, at the end of which appeared happiness.
When he attempted to speak of his hopes to the marchioness, she would
say: "You know what we agreed upon. Not a word. Already does the voice
of conscience reproach me for lending my countenance to such an
abomination. To think that I may one day have a granddaughter calling
herself Madame Daburon! You must petition the king, my friend, to
change your name."
If instead of intoxicating himself with dreams of happiness, this
acute observer had studied the character of his idol, the effect might
have been to put him upon his guard. In the meanwhile, he noticed
singular alterations in her humour. On certain days, she was gay and
careless as a child. Then, for a week, she would remain melancholy and
dejected. Seeing her in this state the day following a ball, to which
her grandmother had made a point of taking her, he dared to ask her
the reason of her sadness.
"Oh! that," answered she, heaving a deep sigh, "is my secret,--a
secret of which even my grandmother knows nothing."
M. Daburon looked at her. He thought he saw a tear between her long
"One day," continued she, "I may confide in you: it will perhaps be
The magistrate was blind and deaf. "I also," answered he, "have a
secret, which I wish to confide to you in return."
When he retired towards midnight, he said to himself, "To-morrow I
will confess everything to her." Then passed a little more than fifty
days, during which he kept repeating to himself,--"To-morrow!"
It happened at last one evening in the month of August; the heat all
day had been overpowering; towards dusk a breeze had risen, the leaves
rustled; there were signs of a storm in the atmosphere.
They were seated together at the bottom of the garden, under the
arbour, adorned with exotic plants, and, through the branches, they
perceived the fluttering gown of the marchioness, who was taking a
turn after her dinner. They had remained a long time without speaking,
enjoying the perfume of the flowers, the calm beauty of the evening.
M. Daburon ventured to take the young girl's hand. It was the first
time, and the touch of her fine skin thrilled through every fibre of
his frame, and drove the blood surging to his brain.
"Mademoiselle," stammered he, "Claire--"
She turned towards him her beautiful eyes, filled with astonishment.
"Forgive me," continued he, "forgive me. I have spoken to your
grandmother, before daring to raise my eyes to you. Do you not
understand me? A word from your lips will decide my future happiness
or misery. Claire, mademoiselle, do not spurn me: I love you!"
While the magistrate was speaking, Mademoiselle d'Arlange looked at
him as though doubtful of the evidence of her senses; but at the
words, "I love you!" pronounced with the trembling accents of the most
devoted passion, she disengaged her hand sharply, and uttered a
"You," murmured she, "is this really you?"
M. Daburon, at this the most critical moment of his life was powerless
to utter a word. The presentiment of an immense misfortune oppressed
his heart. What were then his feelings, when he saw Claire burst into
tears. She hid her face in her hands, and kept repeating,--
"I am very unhappy, very unhappy!"
"You unhappy?" exclaimed the magistrate at length, "and through me?
Claire, you are cruel! In heaven's name, what have I done? What is the
matter? Speak! Anything rather then this anxiety which is killing me."
He knelt before her on the gravelled walk, and again made an attempt
to take her hand. She repulsed him with an imploring gesture.
"Let me weep," said she: "I suffer so much, you are going to hate me,
I feel it. Who knows! you will, perhaps, despise me, and yet I swear
before heaven that I never expected what you have just said to me,
that I had not even a suspicion of it!"
M. Daburon remained upon his knees, awaiting his doom.
"Yes," continued Claire, "you will think you have been the victim of a
detestable coquetry. I see it now! I comprehend everything! It is not
possible, that, without a profound love, a man can be all that you
have been to me. Alas! I was but a child. I gave myself up to the
great happiness of having a friend! Am I not alone in the world, and
as if lost in a desert? Silly and imprudent, I thoughtlessly confided
in you, as in the best, the most indulgent of fathers."
These words revealed to the unfortunate magistrate the extent of his
error. The same as a heavy hammer, they smashed into a thousand
fragments the fragile edifice of his hopes. He raised himself slowly,
and, in a tone of involuntary reproach, he repeated,--"Your father!"
Mademoiselle d'Arlange felt how deeply she had wounded this man whose
intense love she dare not even fathom. "Yes," she resumed, "I love you
as a father! Seeing you, usually so grave and austere, become for me
so good, so indulgent, I thanked heaven for sending me a protector to
replace those who are dead."
M. Daburon could not restrain a sob; his heart was breaking.
"One word," continued Claire,--"one single word, would have
enlightened me. Why did you not pronounce it! It was with such
happiness that I leant on you as a child on its mother; and with what
inward joy I said to myself, 'I am sure of one friend, of one heart
into which runs the overflow of mine!' Ah! why was not my confidence
greater? Why did I withhold my secret from you? I might have avoided
this fearful calamity. I ought to have told you long since. I no
longer belong to myself freely and with happiness, I have given my
life to another."
To hover in the clouds, and suddenly to fall rudely to the earth, such
was M. Daburon's fate; his sufferings are not to be described.
"Far better to have spoken," answered he; "yet no. I owe to your
silence, Claire, six months of delicious illusions, six months of
enchanting dreams. This shall be my share of life's happiness."
The last beams of closing day still enabled the magistrate to see
Mademoiselle d'Arlange. Her beautiful face had the whiteness and the
immobility of marble. Heavy tears rolled silently down her cheeks. It
seemed to M. Daburon that he was beholding the frightful spectacle of
a weeping statue.
"You love another," said he at length, "another! And your grandmother
does not know it. Claire, you can only have chosen a man worthy of
your love. How is it the marchioness does not receive him?"
"There are certain obstacles," murmured Claire, "obstacles which
perhaps we may never be able to remove; but a girl like me can love
but once. She marries him she loves, or she belongs to heaven!"
"Certain obstacles!" said M. Daburon in a hollow voice. "You love a
man, he knows it, and he is stopped by obstacles?"
"I am poor," answered Mademoiselle d'Arlange, "and his family is
immensely rich. His father is cruel, inexorable."
"His father," cried the magistrate, with a bitterness he did not dream
of hiding, "his father, his family, and that withholds him! You are
poor, he is rich, and that stops him! And yet he knows you love him!
Ah! why am I not in his place? and why have I not the entire universe
against me? What sacrifice can compare with love? such as I understand
it. Nay, would it be a sacrifice? That which appears most so, is it
not really an immense joy? To suffer, to struggle, to wait, to hope
always, to devote oneself entirely to another; that is my idea of
"It is thus I love," said Claire with simplicity.
This answer crushed the magistrate. He could understand it. He knew
that for him there was no hope; but he felt a terrible enjoyment in
torturing himself, and proving his misfortune by intense suffering.
"But," insisted he, "how have you known him, spoken to him? Where?
When? Madame d'Arlange receives no one."
"I ought now to tell you everything, sir," answered Claire proudly. "I
have known him for a long time. It was at the house of one of my
grandmother's friends, who is a cousin of his,--old Mademoiselle
Goello, that I saw him for the first time. There we spoke to each
other; there we meet each other now."
"Ah!" exclaimed M. Daburon, whose eyes were suddenly opened, "I
remember now. A few days before your visit to Mademoiselle Goello, you
are gayer than usual; and, when you return, you are often sad."
"That is because I see how much he is pained by the obstacles he
"Is his family, then, so illustrious," asked the magistrate harshly,
"that it disdains alliance with yours?"
"I should have told you everything, without waiting to be questioned,
sir," answered Mademoiselle d'Arlange, "even his name. He is called
Albert de Commarin."
The marchioness at this moment, thinking she had walked enough, was
preparing to return to her rose-coloured boudoir. She therefore
approached the arbour, and exclaimed in her loud voice:--
"Worthy magistrate, piquet awaits you."
Mechanically the magistrate arose, stammering, "I am coming."
Claire held him back. "I have not asked you to keep my secret, sir,"
"O mademoiselle!" said M. Daburon, wounded by this appearance of
"I know," resumed Claire, "that I can count upon you; but, come what
will, my tranquillity is gone."
M. Daburon looked at her with an air of surprise; his eyes questioned
"It is certain," continued she, "that what I, a young and
inexperienced girl, have failed to see, has not passed unnoticed by my
grandmother. That she has continued to receive you is a tacit
encouragement of your addresses; which I consider, permit me to say,
as very honourable to myself."
"I have already mentioned, mademoiselle," replied the magistrate,
"that the marchioness has deigned to authorise my hopes."
And briefly he related his interview with Madame d'Arlange, having the
delicacy, however, to omit absolutely the question of money, which had
so strongly influenced the old lady.
"I see very plainly what effect this will have on my peace," said
Claire sadly. "When my grandmother learns that I have not received
your homage, she will be very angry."
"You misjudge me, mademoiselle," interrupted M. Daburon. "I have
nothing to say to the marchioness. I will retire, and all will be
concluded. No doubt she will think that I have altered my mind!"
"Oh! you are good and generous, I know!"
"I will go away," pursued M. Daburon; "and soon you will have
forgotten even the name of the unfortunate whose life's hopes have
just been shattered."
"You do not mean what you say," said the young girl quickly.
"Well, no. I cherish this last illusion, that later on you will
remember me with pleasure. Sometimes you will say, 'He loved me,' I
wish all the same to remain your friend, yes, your most devoted
Claire, in her turn, clasped M. Daburon's hands, and said with great
emotion:--"Yes, you are right, you must remain my friend. Let us
forget what has happened, what you have said to-night, and remain to
me, as in the past, the best, the most indulgent of brothers."
Darkness had come, and she could not see him; but she knew he was
weeping, for he was slow to answer.
"Is it possible," murmured he at length, "what you ask of me? What! is
it you who talk to me of forgetting? Do you feel the power to forget?
Do you not see that I love you a thousand times more than you love--"
He stopped, unable to pronounce the name of Commarin; and then, with
an effort he added: "And I shall love you always."
They had left the arbour, and were now standing not far from the steps
leading to the house.
"And now, mademoiselle," resumed M. Daburon, "permit me to say, adieu!
You will see me again but seldom. I shall only return often enough to
avoid the appearance of a rupture."
His voice trembled, so that it was with difficulty he made it
"Whatever may happen," he added, "remember that there is one
unfortunate being in the world who belongs to you absolutely. If ever
you have need of a friend's devotion, come to me, come to your friend.
Now it is over . . . I have courage. Claire, mademoiselle, for the
last time, adieu!"
She was but little less moved than he was. Instinctively she
approached him, and for the first and last time he touched lightly
with his cold lips the forehead of her he loved so well. They mounted
the steps, she leaning on his arm, and entered the rose-coloured
boudoir where the marchioness was seated, impatiently shuffling the
cards, while awaiting her victim.
"Now, then, incorruptible magistrate," cried she.
But M. Daburon felt sick at heart. He could not have held the cards.
He stammered some absurd excuses, spoke of pressing affairs, of duties
to be attended to, of feeling suddenly unwell, and went out, clinging
to the walls.
His departure made the old card-player highly indignant. She turned to
her grand-daughter, who had gone to hide her confusion away from the
candles of the card table, and asked, "What is the matter with Daburon
"I do not know, madame," stammered Claire.
"It appears to me," continued the marchioness, "that the little
magistrate permits himself to take singular liberties. He must be
reminded of his proper place, or he will end by believing himself our
Claire tried to explain the magistrate's conduct: "He has been
complaining all the evening, grandmamma; perhaps he is unwell."
"And what if he is?" exclaimed the old lady. "Is it not his duty to
exercise some self-denial, in return for the honour of our company? I
think I have already related to you the story of your granduncle, the
Duke de St Hurluge, who, having been chosen to join the king's card
party on their return from the chase, played all through the evening
and lost with the best grace in the world two hundred and twenty
pistoles. All the assembly remarked his gaiety and his good humour. On
the following day only it was learned, that, during the hunt, he had
fallen from his horse, and had sat at his majesty's card table with a
broken rib. Nobody made any remark, so perfectly natural did this act
of ordinary politeness appear in those days. This little Daburon, if
he is unwell, would have given proof of his breeding by saying nothing
about it, and remaining for my piquet. But he is as well as I am. Who
can tell what games he has gone to play elsewhere!"
M. Daburon did not return home on leaving Mademoiselle d'Arlange. All
through the night he wandered about at random, seeking to cool his
heated brow, and to allay his excessive weariness.
"Fool that I was!" said he to himself, "thousand times fool to have
hoped, to have believed, that she would ever love me. Madman! how
could I have dared to dream of possessing so much grace, nobleness,
and beauty! How charming she was this evening, when her face was
bathed in tears! Could anything be more angelic? What a sublime
expression her eyes had in speaking of him! How she must love him! And
I? She loves me as a father, she told me so,--as a father! And could
it be otherwise? Is it not justice? Could she see a lover in a sombre
and severe-looking magistrate, always as sad as his black coat? Was it
not a crime to dream of uniting that virginal simplicity to my
detestable knowledge of the world? For her, the future is yet the land
of smiling chimeras; and long since experience has dissipated all my
illusions. She is as young as innocence, and I am as old as vice."
The unfortunate magistrate felt thoroughly ashamed of himself. He
understood Claire, and excused her. He reproached himself for having
shown her how he suffered; for having cast a shadow upon her life. He
could not forgive himself for having spoken of his love. Ought he not
to have foreseen what had happened?--that she would refuse him, that
he would thus deprive himself of the happiness of seeing her, of
hearing her, and of silently adoring her?
"A young and romantic girl," pursued he, "must have a lover she can
dream of,--whom she can caress in imagination, as an ideal, gratifying
herself by seeing in him every great and brilliant quality, imagining
him full of nobleness, of bravery, of heroism. What would she see, if,
in my absence, she dreamed of me? Her imagination would present me
dressed in a funeral robe, in the depth of a gloomy dungeon, engaged
with some vile criminal. Is it not my trade to descend into all moral
sinks, to stir up the foulness of crime? Am I not compelled to wash in
secrecy and darkness the dirty linen of the most corrupt members of
society? Ah! some professions are fatal. Ought not the magistrate,
like the priest, to condemn himself to solitude and celibacy? Both
know all, they hear all, their costumes are nearly the same; but,
while the priest carries consolation in the folds of his black robe,
the magistrate conveys terror. One is mercy, the other chastisement.
Such are the images a thought of me would awaken; while the other,--
The wretched man continued his headlong course along the deserted
quays. He went with his head bare, his eyes haggard. To breathe more
freely, he had torn off his cravat and thrown it to the winds.
Sometimes, unconsciously, he crossed the path of a solitary wayfarer,
who would pause, touched with pity, and turn to watch the retreating
figure of the unfortunate wretch he thought deprived of reason. In a
by-road, near Grenelle, some police officers stopped him, and tried to
question him. He mechanically tendered them his card. They read it,
and permitted him to pass, convinced that he was drunk.
Anger,--a furious anger, began to replace his first feeling of
resignation. In his heart arose a hate, stronger and more violent than
even his love for Claire. That other, that preferred one, that haughty
viscount, who could not overcome those paltry obstacles, oh, that he
had him there, under his knee!
At that moment, this noble and proud man, this severe and grave
magistrate experienced an irresistible longing for vengeance. He began
to understand the hate that arms itself with a knife, and lays in
ambush in out-of-the-way places; which strikes in the dark, whether in
front or from behind matters little, but which strikes, which kills,
whose vengeance blood alone can satisfy.
At that very hour he was supposed to be occupied with an inquiry into
the case of an unfortunate, accused of having stabbed one of her
wretched companions. She was jealous of the woman, who had tried to
take her lover from her. He was a soldier, coarse in manners, and
M. Daburon felt himself seized with pity for this miserable creature,
whom he had commenced to examine the day before. She was very ugly, in
fact truly repulsive; but the expression of the eyes, when speaking of
her soldier, returned to the magistrate's memory.
"She loves him sincerely," thought he. "If each one of the jurors had
suffered what I am suffering now, she would be acquitted. But how many
men in this world have loved passionately? Perhaps not one in twenty."
He resolved to recommend this girl to the indulgence of the tribunal,
and to extenuate as much as possible her guilt.
For he himself had just determined upon the commission of a crime. He
was resolved to kill Albert de Commarin.
During the rest of the night he became all the more determined in this
resolution, demonstrating to himself by a thousand mad reasons, which
he found solid and inscrutable, the necessity for and the
justifiableness of this vengeance.
At seven o'clock in the morning, he found himself in an avenue of the
Bois de Boulogne, not far from the lake. He made at once for the Porte
Maillot, procured a cab, and was driven to his house.
The delirium of the night continued, but without suffering. He was
conscious of no fatigue. Calm and cool, he acted under the power of an
hallucination, almost like a somnambulist.
He reflected and reasoned, but without his reason. As soon as he
arrived home he dressed himself with care, as was his custom formerly
when visiting the Marchioness d'Arlange, and went out. He first called
at an armourer's and bought a small revolver, which he caused to be
carefully loaded under his own eyes, and put it into his pocket. He
then called on the different persons he supposed capable of informing
him to what club the viscount belonged. No one noticed the strange
state of his mind, so natural were his manners and conversations.
It was not until the afternoon that a young friend of his gave him the
name of Albert de Commarin's club, and offered to conduct him thither,
as he too was a member.
M. Daburon accepted warmly, and accompanied his friend. While passing
along, he grasped with frenzy the handle of the revolver which he kept
concealed, thinking only of the murder he was determined to commit,
and the means of insuring the accuracy of his aim.
"This will make a terrible scandal," thought he, "above all if I do
not succeed in blowing my own brains out. I shall be arrested, thrown
into prison, and placed upon my trial at the assizes. My name will be
dishonoured! Bah! what does that signify? Claire does not love me, so
what care I for all the rest? My father no doubt will die of grief,
but I must have my revenge!"
On arriving at the club, his friend pointed out a very dark young man,
with a haughty air, or what appeared so to him, who, seated at a
table, was reading a review. It was the viscount.
M. Daburon walked up to him without drawing his revolver. But when
within two paces, his heart failed him; he turned suddenly and fled,
leaving his friend astonished at a scene, to him, utterly
Only once again will Albert de Commarin be as near death.
On reaching the street, it seemed to M. Daburon that the ground was
receding from beneath him, that everything was turning around him. He
tried to cry out, but could not utter a sound; he struck at the air
with his hands, reeled for an instant, and then fell all of a heap on
The passers-by ran and assisted the police to raise him. In one of his
pockets they found his address, and carried him home. When he
recovered his senses, he was in his bed, at the foot of which he
perceived his father.
"What has happened?" he asked. With much caution they told him, that
for six weeks he had wavered between life and death. The doctors had
declared his life saved; and, now that reason was restored, all would
Five minutes' conversation exhausted him. He shut his eyes, and tried
to collect his ideas; but they whirled hither and thither wildly, as
autumn leaves in the wind. The past seemed shrouded in a dark mist;
yet, in the midst of the darkness and confusion, all that concerned
Mademoiselle d'Arlange stood out clear and luminous. All his actions
from the moment when he embraced Claire appeared before him. He
shuddered, and his hair was in a moment soaking with perspiration.
He had almost become an assassin. The proof that he was restored to
full possession of his faculties was, that a question of criminal law
crossed his brain.
"The crime committed," said he to himself, "should I have been
condemned? Yes. Was I responsible? No. Is crime merely the result of
mental alienation? Was I mad? Or was I in that peculiar state of mind
which usually precedes an illegal attempt? Who can say? Why have not
all judges passed through an incomprehensible crisis such as mine? But
who would believe me, were I to recount my experience?"
Some days later, he was sufficiently recovered to tell his father all.
The old gentleman shrugged his shoulders, and assured him it was but a
reminiscence of his delirium.
The good old man was moved at the story of his son's luckless wooing,
without seeing therein, however, an irreparable misfortune. He advised
him to think of something else, placed at his disposal his entire
fortune, and recommended him to marry a stout Poitevine heiress, very
gay and healthy, who would bear him some fine children. Then, as his
estate was suffering by his absence, he returned home. Two months
later, the investigating magistrate had resumed his ordinary
avocations. But try as he would, he only went through his duties like
a body without a soul. He felt that something was broken.
Once he ventured to pay a visit to his old friend, the marchioness. On
seeing him, she uttered a cry of terror. She took him for a spectre,
so much was he changed in appearance.
As she dreaded dismal faces, she ever after shut her door to him.
Claire was ill for a week after seeing him. "How he loved me," thought
she! "It has almost killed him! Can Albert love me as much?" She did
not dare to answer herself. She felt a desire to console him, to speak
to him, attempt something; but he came no more.
M. Daburon was not, however, a man to give way without a struggle. He
tried, as his father advised him, to distract his thoughts. He sought
for pleasure, and found disgust, but not forgetfulness. Often he went
so far as the threshold of debauchery; but the pure figure of Claire,
dressed in white garments, always barred the doors against him.
Then he took refuge in work, as in a sanctuary; condemned himself to
the most incessant labour, and forbade himself to think of Claire, as
the consumptive forbids himself to meditate upon his malady.
His eagerness, his feverish activity, earned him the reputation of an
ambitious man, who would go far; but he cared for nothing in the
At length, he found, not rest, but that painless benumbing which
commonly follows a great catastrophe. The convalescence of oblivion
These were the events, recalled to M. Daburon's mind when old Tabaret
pronounced the name of Commarin. He believed them buried under the
ashes of time; and behold they reappeared, just the same as those
characters traced in sympathetic ink when held before a fire. In an
instant they unrolled themselves before his memory, with the
instantaneousness of a dream annihilating time and space.
During some minutes, he assisted at the representation of his own
life. At once actor and spectator, he was there seated in his arm-
chair, and at the same time he appeared on the stage. He acted, and he
His first thought, it must be confessed, was one of hate, followed by
a detestable feeling of satisfaction. Chance had, so to say, delivered
into his hands this man preferred by Claire, this man, now no longer a
haughty nobleman, illustrious by his fortune and his ancestors, but
the illegitimate offspring of a courtesan. To retain a stolen name, he
had committed a most cowardly assassination. And he, the magistrate,
was about to experience the infinite gratification of striking his
enemy with the sword of justice.
But this was only a passing thought. The man's upright conscience
revolted against it, and made its powerful voice heard.
"Is anything," it cried, "more monstrous than the association of these
two ideas,--hatred and justice? Can a magistrate, without despising
himself more than he despises the vile beings he condemns, recollect
that a criminal, whose fate is in his hands, has been his enemy? Has
an investigating magistrate the right to make use of his exceptional
powers in dealing with a prisoner; so long as he harbours the least
resentment against him?"
M. Daburon repeated to himself what he had so frequently thought
during the year, when commencing a fresh investigation: "And I also, I
almost stained myself with a vile murder!"
And now it was his duty to cause to be arrested, to interrogate, and
hand over to the assizes the man he had once resolved to kill.
All the world, it is true, ignored this crime of thought and
intention; but could he himself forget it? Was not this, of all
others, a case in which he should decline to be mixed up? Ought he not
to withdraw, and wash his hands of the blood that had been shed,
leaving to another the task of avenging him in the name of society?
"No," said he, "it would be a cowardice unworthy of me."
A project of mad generosity occurred to the bewildered man. "If I save
him," murmured he, "if for Claire's sake I leave him his honour and
his life. But how can I save him? To do so I shall be obliged to
suppress old Tabaret's discoveries, and make an accomplice of him by
ensuring his silence. We shall have to follow a wrong track, join
Gevrol in running after some imaginary murderer. Is this practicable?
Besides, to spare Albert is to defame Noel; it is to assure impunity
to the most odious of crimes. In short, it is still sacrificing
justice to my feelings."
The magistrate suffered greatly. How choose a path in the midst of so
many perplexities! Impelled by different interests, he wavered,
undecided between the most opposite decisions, his mind oscillating
from one extreme to the other.
What could he do? His reason after this new and unforeseen shock
vainly sought to regain its equilibrium.
"Resign?" said he to himself. "Where, then, would be my courage? Ought
I not rather to remain the representative of the law, incapable of
emotion, insensible to prejudice? am I so weak that, in assuming my
office, I am unable to divest myself of my personality? Can I not, for
the present, make abstraction of the past? My duty is to pursue this
investigation. Claire herself would desire me to act thus. Would she
wed a man suspected of a crime? Never. If he is innocent, he will be
saved; if guilty, let him perish!"
This was very sound reasoning; but, at the bottom of his heart, a
thousand disquietudes darted their thorns. He wanted to reassure
"Do I still hate this young man?" he continued. "No, certainly. If
Claire has preferred him to me, it is to Claire and not to him I owe
my suffering. My rage was no more than a passing fit of delirium. I
will prove it, by letting him find me as much a counsellor as a
magistrate. If he is not guilty, he shall make use of all the means in
my power to establish his innocence. Yes, I am worthy to be his judge.
Heaven, who reads all my thoughts, sees that I love Claire enough to
desire with all my heart the innocence of her lover."
Only then did M. Daburon seem to be vaguely aware of the lapse of
time. It was nearly three o'clock in the morning.
"Goodness!" cried he; "why, old Tabaret is waiting for me. I shall
probably find him asleep."
But M. Tabaret was not asleep. He had noticed the passage of time no
more than the magistrate.
Ten minutes had sufficed him to take an inventory of the contents of
M. Daburon's study, which was large, and handsomely furnished in
accordance with his position and fortune. Taking up a lamp, he first
admired six very valuable pictures, which ornamented the walls; he
then examined with considerable curiosity some rare bronzes placed
about the room, and bestowed on the bookcase the glance of a
After which, taking an evening paper from the table, he approached the
hearth, and seated himself in a vast armchair.
He had not read a third of the leading article, which, like all
leading articles of the time, was exclusively occupied with the Roman
question, when, letting the paper drop from his hands, he became
absorbed in meditation. The fixed idea, stronger than one's will, and
more interesting to him than politics, brought him forcibly back to La
Jonchere, where lay the murdered Widow Lerouge. Like the child who
again and again builds up and demolishes his house of cards, he
arranged and entangled alternately his chain of inductions and
In his own mind there was certainly no longer a doubt as regards this
sad affair, and it seemed to him that M. Daburon shared his opinions.
But yet, what difficulties there still remained to encounter!
There exists between the investigating magistrate and the accused a
supreme tribunal, an admirable institution which is a guarantee for
all, a powerful moderator, the jury.
And the jury, thank heaven! do not content themselves with a moral
conviction. The strongest probabilities cannot induce them to give an
Placed upon a neutral ground, between the prosecution and the defence,
it demands material and tangible proofs. Where the magistrate would
condemn twenty times for one, in all security of conscience, the jury
acquit for lack of satisfying evidence.
The deplorable execution of Lesurques has certainly assured impunity
to many criminals; but, it is necessary to say it justifies hesitation
in receiving circumstantial evidence in capital crimes.
In short, save where a criminal is taken in the very act, or confesses
his guilt, it is not certain that the minister of justice can secure a
conviction. Sometimes the judge of inquiry is as anxious as the
accused himself. Nearly all crimes are in some particular point
mysterious, perhaps impenetrable to justice and the police; and the
duty of the advocate is, to discover this weak point, and thereon
establish his client's defence. By pointing out this doubt to the
jury, he insinuates in their minds a distrust of the entire evidence;
and frequently the detection of a distorted induction, cleverly
exposed, can change the face of a prosecution, and make a strong case
appear to the jury a weak one. This uncertainty explains the character
of passion which is so often perceptible in criminal trials.
And, in proportion to the march of civilisation, juries in important
trials will become more timid and hesitating. The weight of
responsibility oppresses the man of conscientious scruple. Already
numbers recoil from the idea of capital punishment; and, whenever a
jury can find a peg to hang a doubt on, they will wash their hands of
the responsibility of condemnation. We have seen numbers of persons
signing appeals for mercy to a condemned malefactor, condemned for
what crime? Parricide! Every juror, from the moment he is sworn,
weighs infinitely less the evidence he has come to listen to than the
risk he runs of incurring the pangs of remorse. Rather than risk the
condemnation of one innocent man, he will allow twenty scoundrels to
The accusation must then come before the jury, armed at all points,
with abundant proofs. A task often tedious to the investigating
magistrate, and bristling with difficulties, is the arrangement and
condensation of this evidence, particularly when the accused is a cool
hand, certain of having left no traces of his guilt. Then from the
depths of his dungeon he defies the assault of justice, and laughs at
the judge of inquiry. It is a terrible struggle, enough to make one
tremble at the responsibility of the magistrate, when he remembers,
that after all, this man imprisoned, without consolation or advice,
may be innocent. How hard is it, then for the judge to resist his
Even when presumptive evidence points clearly to the criminal, and
common sense recognises him, justice is at times compelled to
acknowledge her defeat, for lack of what the jury consider sufficient
proof of guilt. Thus, unhappily, many crimes escape punishment. An old
advocate-general said one day that he knew as many as three assassins,
living rich, happy, and respected, who would probably end by dying in
their beds, surrounded by their families, and being followed to the
grave with lamentations, and praised for their virtues in their
At the idea that a murderer might escape the penalty of his crime, and
steal away from the assize court, old Tabaret's blood fairly boiled in
his veins, as at the recollection of some deadly insult.
Such a monstrous event, in his opinion, could only proceed from the
incapacity of those charged with the preliminary inquiry, the
clumsiness of the police, or the stupidity of the investigating
"It is not I," he muttered, with the satisfied vanity of success, "who
would ever let my prey escape. No crime can be committed, of which the
author cannot be found, unless, indeed, he happens to be a madman,
whose motive it would be difficult to understand. I would pass my life
in pursuit of a criminal, before avowing myself vanquished, as Gevrol
has done so many times."
Assisted by chance, he had again succeeded, so he kept repeating to
himself, but what proofs could he furnish to the accusation, to that
confounded jury, so difficult to convince, so precise and so cowardly?
What could he imagine to force so cunning a culprit to betray himself?
What trap could he prepare? To what new and infallible stratagem could
he have recourse?
The amateur detective exhausted himself in subtle but impracticable
combinations, always stopped by that exacting jury, so obnoxious to
the agents of the Rue de Jerusalem. He was so deeply absorbed in his
thoughts that he did not hear the door open, and was utterly
unconscious of the magistrate's presence.
M. Daburon's voice aroused him from his reverie.
"You will excuse me, M. Tabaret, for having left you so long alone."
The old fellow rose and bowed respectfully.
"By my faith, sir," replied he, "I have not had the leisure to
perceive my solitude."
M. Daburon crossed the room, and seated himself, facing his agent
before a small table encumbered with papers and documents relating to
the crime. He appeared very much fatigued.
"I have reflected a good deal," he commenced, "about this affair--"
"And I," interrupted old Tabaret, "was just asking myself what was
likely to be the attitude assumed by the viscount at the moment of his
arrest. Nothing is more important, according to my idea, than his
manner of conducting himself then. Will he fly into a passion? Will he
attempt to intimidate the agents? Will he threaten to turn them out of
the house? These are generally the tactics of titled criminals. My
opinion, however, is, that he will remain perfectly cool. He will
declare himself the victim of a misunderstanding, and insist upon an
immediate interview with the investigating magistrate. Once that is
accorded him, he will explain everything very quickly."
The old fellow spoke of matters of speculation in such a tone of
assurance that M. Daburon was unable to repress a smile.
"We have not got as far as that yet," said he.
"But we shall, in a few hours," replied M. Tabaret quickly. "I presume
you will order young M. de Commarin's arrest at daybreak."
The magistrate trembled, like the patient who sees the surgeon deposit
his case of instruments upon the table on entering the room.
The moment for action had come. He felt now what a distance lies
between a mental decision and the physical action required to execute
"You are prompt, M. Tabaret," said he; "you recognize no obstacles."
"None, having ascertained the criminal. Who else can have committed
this assassination? Who but he had an interest in silencing Widow
Lerouge, in suppressing her testimony, in destroying her papers? He,
and only he. Poor Noel! who is as dull as honesty, warned him, and he
acted. Should we fail to establish his guilt, he will remain de
Commarin more than ever; and my young advocate will be Noel Gerdy to
The old man fixed his eyes upon the magistrate with a look of
"You see, then, some difficulties, sir?" he asked.
"Most decidedly!" replied M. Daburon. "This is a matter demanding the
utmost circumspection. In cases like the present, one must not strike
until the blow is sure, and we have but presumptions. Suppose we are
mistaken. Justice, unhappily, cannot repair her errors. Her hand once
unjustly placed upon a man, leaves an imprint of dishonour that can
never be effaced. She may perceive her error, and proclaim it aloud,
but in vain! Public opinion, absurd and idiotic, will not pardon the
man guilty of being suspected."
It was with a sinking heart that the old fellow listened to these
remarks. He would not be withheld by such paltry considerations.
"Our suspicions are well grounded," continued the magistrate. "But,
should they lead us into error, our precipitation would be a terrible
misfortune for this young man, to say nothing of the effect it would
have in abridging the authority and dignity of justice, of weakening
the respect which constitutes her power. Such a mistake would call for
discussion, provoke examination, and awaken distrust, at an epoch in
our history when all minds are but too much disposed to defy the
He leaned upon the table, and appeared to reflect profoundly.
"I have no luck," thought old Tabaret. "I have to do with a trembler.
When he should act, he makes speeches; instead of signing warrants, he
propounds theories. He is astounded at my discovery, and is not equal
to the situation. Instead of being delighted by my appearance with the
news of our success, he would have given a twenty-franc piece, I dare
say, to have been left undisturbed. Ah! he would very willingly have
the little fishes in his net, but the big ones frighten him. The big
fishes are dangerous, and he prefers to let them swim away."
"Perhaps," said M. Daburon, aloud, "it will suffice to issue a search-
warrant, and a summons for the appearance of the accused."
"Then all is lost!" cried old Tabaret.
"And why, pray?"
"Because we are opposed by a criminal of marked ability. A most
providential accident has placed us upon his track. If we give him
time to breathe, he will escape."
The only answer was an inclination of the head, which M. Daburon may
have intended for a sign of assent.
"It is evident," continued the old fellow, "that our adversary has
foreseen everything, absolutely everything, even the possibility of
suspicion attaching to one in his high position. Oh! his precautions
are all taken. If you are satisfied with demanding his appearance, he
is saved. He will appear before you as tranquilly as your clerk, as
unconcerned as if he came to arrange the preliminaries of a duel. He
will present you with a magnificent /alibi/, an /alibi/ that can not
be gainsayed. He will show you that he passed the evening and the
night of Tuesday with personages of the highest rank. In short, his
little machine will be so cleverly constructed, so nicely arranged,
all its little wheels will play so well, that there will be nothing
left for you but to open the door and usher him out with the most
humble apologies. The only means of securing conviction is to surprise
the miscreant by a rapidity against which it is impossible he can be
on his guard. Fall upon him like a thunder-clap, arrest him as he
wakes, drag him hither while yet pale with astonishment, and
interrogate him at once. Ah! I wish I were an investigating
Old Tabaret stopped short, frightened at the idea that he had been
wanting in respect; but M. Daburon showed no sign of being offended.
"Proceed," said he, in a tone of encouragement, "proceed."
"Suppose, then," continued the detective, "I am the investigating
magistrate. I cause my man to be arrested, and, twenty minutes later,
he is standing before me. I do not amuse myself by putting questions
to him, more or less subtle. No, I go straight to the mark. I
overwhelm him at once by the weight of my certainty, prove to him so
clearly that I know everything, that he must surrender, seeing no
chance of escape. I should say to him, 'My good man, you bring me an
/alibi/; it is very well; but I am acquainted with that system of
defence. It will not do with me. I know all about the clocks that
don't keep proper time, and all the people who never lost sight of
you. In the meantime, this is what you did. At twenty minutes past
eight, you slipped away adroitly; at thirty-five minutes past eight,
you took the train at the St Lazare station; at nine o'clock, you
alighted at the station at Rueil, and took the road to La Jonchere; at
a quarter past nine, you knocked at the window-shutter of Widow
Lerouge's cottage. You were admitted. You asked for something to eat,
and, above all, something to drink. At twenty minutes past nine, you
planted the well-sharpened end of a foil between her shoulders. You
killed her! You then overturned everything in the house, and burned
certain documents of importance; after which, you tied up in a napkin
all the valuables you could find, and carried them off, to lead the
police to believe the murder was the work of a robber. You locked the
door, and threw away the key. Arrived at the Seine, you threw the
bundle into the water, then hurried off to the railway station on
foot, and at eleven o'clock you reappeared amongst your friends. Your
game was well played; but you omitted to provide against two
adversaries, a detective, not easily deceived, named Tirauclair, and
another still more clever, named chance. Between them, they have got
the better of you. Moreover, you were foolish to wear such small
boots, and to keep on your lavender kid gloves, besides embarrassing
yourself with a silk hat and an umbrella. Now confess your guilt, for
it is the only thing left you to do, and I will give you permission to
smoke in your dungeon some of those excellent trabucos you are so fond
of, and which you always smoke with an amber mouthpiece.'"
During this speech, M. Tabaret had gained at least a couple of inches
in height, so great was his enthusiasm. He looked at the magistrate,
as if expecting a smile of approbation.
"Yes," continued he, after taking breath, "I would say that, and
nothing else; and, unless this man is a hundred times stronger than I
suppose him to be, unless he is made of bronze, of marble, or of
steel, he would fall at my feet and avow his guilt."
"But supposing he were of bronze," said M. Daburon, "and did not fall
at your feet, what would you do next?"
The question evidently embarrassed the old fellow.
"Pshaw!" stammered he; "I don't know; I would see; I would search; but
he would confess."
After a prolonged silence, M. Daburon took a pen, and hurriedly wrote
a few lines.
"I surrender," said he. "M. Albert de Commarin shall be arrested; that
is settled. The different formalities to be gone through and the
perquisitions will occupy some time, which I wish to employ in
interrogating the Count de Commarin, the young man's father, and your
friend M. Noel Gerdy, the young advocate. The letters he possesses are
indispensable to me."
At the name of Gerdy, M. Tabaret's face assumed a most comical
expression of uneasiness.
"Confound it," cried he, "the very thing I most dreaded."
"What?" asked M. Daburon.
"The necessity for the examination of those letters. Noel will
discover my interference. He will despise me: he will fly from me,
when he knows that Tabaret and Tirauclair sleep in the same nightcap.
Before eight days are past, my oldest friends will refuse to shake
hands with me, as if it were not an honour to serve justice. I shall
be obliged to change my residence, and assume a false name."
He almost wept, so great was his annoyance. M. Daburon was touched.
"Reassure yourself, my dear M. Tabaret," said he. "I will manage that
your adopted son, your Benjamin, shall know nothing. I will lead him
to believe I have reached him by means of the widow's papers."
The old fellow seized the magistrate's hand in a transport of
gratitude, and carried it to his lips. Oh! thanks, sir, a thousand
thanks! I should like to be permitted to witness the arrest; and I
shall be glad to assist at the perquisitions."
"I intended to ask you to do so, M. Tabaret," answered the magistrate.
The lamps paled in the gray dawn of the morning; already the rumbling
of vehicles was heard; Paris was awaking.
"I have no time to lose," continued M. Daburon, "if I would have all
my measures well taken. I must at once see the public prosecutor,
whether he is up or not. I shall go direct from his house to the
Palais de Justice, and be there before eight o'clock; and I desire, M.
Tabaret, that you will there await my orders."
The old fellow bowed his thanks and was about to leave, when the
magistrate's servant appeared.
"Here is a note, sir," said he, "which a gendarme has just brought
from Bougival. He waits an answer."
"Very well," replied M. Daburon. "Ask the man to have some
refreshment; at least offer him a glass of wine."
He opened the envelope. "Ah!" he cried, "a letter from Gevrol;" and he
"'To the investigating magistrate. Sir, I have the honour to inform
you, that I am on the track of the man with the earrings. I heard
of him at a wine shop, which he entered on Sunday morning, before
going to Widow Lerouge's cottage. He bought, and paid for two
litres of wine; then, suddenly striking his forehead, he cried,
"Old fool! to forget that to-morrow is the boat's fete day!" and
immediately called for three more litres. According to the almanac
the boat must be called the Saint-Martin. I have also learned that
she was laden with grain. I write to the Prefecture at the same
time as I write to you, that inquiries may be made at Paris and
Rouen. He will be found at one of those places. I am in waiting,
"Poor Gevrol!" cried old Tabaret, bursting with laughter. "He sharpens
his sabre, and the battle is over. Are you not going to put a stop to
his inquiries, sir?"
"No; certainly not," answered M. Daburon; "to neglect the slightest
clue often leads one into error. Who can tell what light we may
receive from this mariner?"
On the same day that the crime of La Jonchere was discovered, and
precisely at the hour that M. Tabaret made his memorable examination
in the victim's chamber, the Viscount Albert de Commarin entered his
carriage, and proceeded to the Northern railway station, to meet his
The young man was very pale: his pinched features, his dull eyes, his
blanched lips, in fact his whole appearance denoted either
overwhelming fatigue or unusual sorrow. All the servants had observed,
that, during the past five days, their young master had not been in
his ordinary condition: he spoke but little, ate almost nothing, and
refused to see any visitors. His valet noticed that this singular
change dated from the visit, on Sunday morning, of a certain M. Noel
Gerdy, who had been closeted with him for three hours in the library.
The Viscount, gay as a lark until the arrival of this person, had,
from the moment of his departure, the appearance of a man at the point
of death. When setting forth to meet his father, the viscount appeared
to suffer so acutely that M. Lubin, his valet, entreated him not to go
out; suggesting that it would be more prudent to retire to his room,
and call in the doctor.
But the Count de Commarin was exacting on the score of filial duty,
and would overlook the worst of youthful indiscretions sooner than
what he termed a want of reverence. He had announced his intended
arrival by telegraph, twenty-four hours in advance; therefore the
house was expected to be in perfect readiness to receive him, and the
absence of Albert at the railway station would have been resented as a
flagrant omission of duty.
The viscount had been but five minutes in the waiting-room, when the
bell announced the arrival of the train. Soon the doors leading on to
the platform were opened, and the travelers crowded in. The throng
beginning to thin a little, the count appeared, followed by a servant,
who carried a travelling pelisse lined with rare and valuable fur.
The Count de Commarin looked a good ten years less than his age. His
beard and hair, yet abundant, were scarcely gray. He was tall and
muscular, held himself upright, and carried his head high. His
appearance was noble, his movements easy. His regular features
presented a study to the physiognomist, all expressing easy, careless
good nature, even to the handsome, smiling mouth; but in his eyes
flashed the fiercest and the most arrogant pride. This contrast
revealed the secret of his character. Imbued quite as deeply with
aristocratic prejudice as the Marchioness d'Arlange, he had progressed
with his century or at least appeared to have done so. As fully as the
marchioness, he held in contempt all who were not noble; but his
disdain expressed itself in a different fashion. The marchioness
proclaimed her contempt loudly and coarsely; the count had kept eyes
and ears open and had seen and heard a good deal. She was stupid, and
without a shade of common sense. He was witty and sensible, and
possessed enlarged views of life and politics. She dreamed of the
return of the absurd traditions of a former age; he hoped for things
within the power of events to bring forth. He was sincerely persuaded
that the nobles of France would yet recover slowly and silently, but
surely, all their lost power, with its prestige and influence.
In a word, the count was the flattered portrait of his class; the
marchioness its caricature. It should be added, that M. de Commarin
knew how to divest himself of his crushing urbanity in the company of
his equals. There he recovered his true character, haughty, self-
sufficient, and intractable, enduring contradiction pretty much as a
wild horse the application of the spur. In his own house, he was a
Perceiving his father, Albert advanced towards him. They shook hands
and embraced with an air as noble as ceremonious, and, in less than a
minute, had exchanged all the news that had transpired during the
count's absence. Then only did M. de Commarin perceive the alteration
in his son's face.
"You are unwell, viscount," said he.
"Oh, no, sir," answered Albert, laconically.
The count uttered "Ah!" accompanied by a certain movement of the head,
which, with him, expressed perfect incredulity; then, turning to his
servant, he gave him some orders briefly.
"Now," resumed he, "let us go quickly to the house. I am in haste to
feel at home; and I am hungry, having had nothing to-day, but some
detestable broth, at I know not what way station."
M. de Commarin had returned to Paris in a very bad temper, his journey
to Austria had not brought the results he had hoped for. To crown his
dissatisfaction, he had rested, on his homeward way, at the chateau of
an old friend, with whom he had had so violent a discussion that they
had parted without shaking hands. The count was hardly seated in his
carriage before he entered upon the subject of this disagreement.
"I have quarrelled with the Duke de Sairmeuse," said he to his son.
"That seems to me to happen whenever you meet," answered Albert,
without intending any raillery.
"True," said the count: "but this is serious. I passed four days at
his country-seat, in a state of inconceivable exasperation. He has
entirely forfeited my esteem. Sairmeuse has sold his estate of
Gondresy, one of the finest in the north of France. He has cut down
the timber, and put up to auction the old chateau, a princely
dwelling, which is to be converted into a sugar refinery; all this for
the purpose, as he says, of raising money to increase his income!"
"And was that the cause of your rupture?" inquired Albert, without
"Certainly it was! Do you not think it a sufficient one?"
"But, sir, you know the duke has a large family, and is far from
"What of that? A French noble who sells his land commits an unworthy
act. He is guilty of treason against his order!"
"Oh, sir," said Albert, deprecatingly.
"I said treason!" continued the count. "I maintain the word. Remember
well, viscount, power has been, and always will be, on the side of
wealth, especially on the side of those who hold the soil. The men of
'93 well understood this principle, and acted upon it. By
impoverishing the nobles, they destroyed their prestige more
effectually than by abolishing their titles. A prince dismounted, and
without footmen, is no more than any one else. The Minister of July,
who said to the people, 'Make yourselves rich,' was not a fool. He
gave them the magic formula for power. But they have not the sense to
understand it. They want to go too fast. They launch into
speculations, and become rich, it is true; but in what? Stocks, bonds,
paper,--rags, in short. It is smoke they are locking in their coffers.
They prefer to invest in merchandise, which pays eight or ten per
cent, to investing in vines or corn which will return but three. The
peasant is not so foolish. From the moment he owns a piece of ground
the size of a handkerchief, he wants to make it as large as a
tablecloth. He is slow as the oxen he ploughs with, but as patient, as
tenacious, and as obstinate. He goes directly to his object, pressing
firmly against the yoke; and nothing can stop or turn him aside. He
knows that stocks may rise or fall, fortunes be won or lost on
'change; but the land always remains,--the real standard of wealth. To
become landholders, the peasant starves himself, wears sabots in
winter; and the imbeciles who laugh at him will be astonished by and
by when he makes his '93, and the peasant becomes a baron in power if
not in name."
"I do not understand the application," said the viscount.
"You do not understand? Why, what the peasant is doing is what the
nobles ought to have done! Ruined, their duty was to reconstruct their
fortunes. Commerce is interdicted to us; be it so: agriculture
remains. Instead of grumbling uselessly during the half-century,
instead of running themselves into debt, in the ridiculous attempt to
support an appearance of grandeur, they ought to have retreated to
their provinces, shut themselves up in their chateaux; there worked,
economised, denied themselves, as the peasant is doing, purchased the
land piece by piece. Had they taken this course, they would to-day
possess France. Their wealth would be enormous; for the value of land
rises year after year. I have, without effort, doubled my fortune in
thirty years. Blauville, which cost my father a hundred crowns in
1817, is worth to-day more than a million: so that, when I hear the
nobles complain, I shrug the shoulder. Who but they are to blame? They
impoverish themselves from year to year. They sell their land to the
peasants. Soon they will be reduced to beggary, and their escutcheons.
What consoles me is, that the peasant, having become the proprietor of
our domains will then be all-powerful, and will yoke to his chariot
wheels these traders in scrip and stocks, whom he hates as much as I
execrate them myself."
The carriage at this moment stopped in the court-yard of the de
Commarin mansion, after having described that perfect half-circle, the
glory of coachmen who preserve the old tradition.
The count alighted first, and leaning upon his son's arm, ascended the
steps of the grand entrance. In the immense vestibule, nearly all the
servants, dressed in rich liveries, stood in a line. The count gave
them a glance, in passing, as an officer might his soldiers on parade,
and proceeded to his apartment on the first floor, above the reception
Never was there a better regulated household than that of the Count de
Commarin. He possessed in a high degree the art, more rare than is
generally supposed, of commanding an army of servants. The number of
his domestics caused him neither inconvenience nor embarrassment. They
were necessary to him. So perfect was the organisation of this
household, that its functions were performed like those of a machine,
--without noise, variation, or effort.
Thus when the count returned from his journey, the sleeping hotel was
awakened as if by the spell of an enchanter. Each servant was at his
post; and the occupations, interrupted during the past six weeks,
resumed without confusion. As the count was known to have passed the
day on the road, the dinner was served in advance of the usual hour.
All the establishment, even to the lowest scullion, represented the
spirit of the first article of the rules of the house, "Servants are
not to execute orders, but anticipate them."
M. de Commarin had hardly removed the traces of his journey, and
changed his dress, when his butler announced that the dinner was
He went down at once; and father and son met upon the threshold of the
dining-room. This was a large apartment, with a very high ceiling, as
were all the rooms of the ground floor, and was most magnificently
furnished. The count was not only a great eater, but was vain of his
enormous appetite. He was fond of recalling the names of great men,
noted for their capacity of stomach. Charles V. devoured mountains of
viands. Louis XIV. swallowed at each repast as much as six ordinary
men would eat at a meal. He pretended that one can almost judge of
men's qualities by their digestive capacities; he compared them to
lamps, whose power of giving light is in proportion to the oil they
During the first half hour, the count and his son both remained
silent. M. de Commarin ate conscientiously, not perceiving or not
caring to notice that Albert ate nothing, but merely sat at the table
as if to countenance him. The old nobleman's ill-humour and volubility
returned with the dessert, apparently increased by a Burgundy of which
he was particularly fond, and of which he drank freely.
He was partial, moreover, to an after dinner argument, professing a
theory that moderate discussion is a perfect digestive. A letter which
had been delivered to him on his arrival, and which he had found time
to glance over, gave him at once a subject and a point of departure.
"I arrived home but an hour ago;" said he, "and I have already
received a homily from Broisfresnay."
"He writes a great deal," observed Albert.
"Too much; he consumes himself in ink. He mentions a lot more of his
ridiculous projects and vain hopes, and he mentions a dozen names of
men of his own stamp who are his associates. On my word of honour,
they seem to have lost their senses! They talk of lifting the world,
only they want a lever and something to rest it on. It makes me die
For ten minutes the count continued to discharge a volley of abuse and
sarcasm against his best friends, without seeming to see that a great
many of their foibles which he ridiculed were also a little his own.
"If," continued he more seriously,--"if they only possessed a little
confidence in themselves, if they showed the least audacity! But no!
they count upon others to do for them what they ought to do for
themselves. In short, their proceedings are a series of confessions of
helplessness, of premature declarations of failure."
The coffee having been served, the count made a sign, and the servants
left the room.
"No," continued he, "I see but one hope for the French aristocracy,
but one plank of salvation, one good little law, establishing the
right of primogeniture."
"You will never obtain it."
"You think not? Would you then oppose such a measure, viscount?"
Albert knew by experience what dangerous ground his father was
approaching, and remained silent.
"Let us put it, then, that I dream of the impossible!" resumed the
count. "Then let the nobles do their duty. Let all the younger sons
and the daughters of our great families forego their rights, by giving
up the entire patrimony to the first-born for five generations,
contenting themselves each with a couple of thousand francs a year. By
that means great fortunes can be reconstructed, and families, instead
of being divided by a variety of interests, become united by one
"Unfortunately," objected the viscount, "the time is not favorable to
"I know it, sir," replied the count quickly; "and in my own house I
have the proof of it. I, your father, have conjured you to give up all
idea of marrying the granddaughter of that old fool, the Marchioness
d'Arlange. And all to no purpose; for I have at last been obliged to
yield to your wishes."
"Father--" Albert commenced.
"It is well," interrupted the count. "You have my word; but remember
my prediction: you will strike a fatal blow at our house. You will be
one of the largest proprietors in France; but have half a dozen
children, and they will be hardly rich. If they also have as many, you
will probably see your grandchildren in poverty!"
"You put all at the worst, father."
"Without doubt: it is the only means of pointing out the danger, and
averting the evil. You talk of your life's happiness. What is that? A
true noble thinks of his name above all. Mademoiselle d'Arlange is
very pretty, and very attractive; but she is penniless. I had found an
heiress for you."
"Whom I should never love!"
"And what of that? She would have brought you four millions in her
apron,--more than the kings of to-day give their daughters. Besides
which she had great expectations."
The discussion upon this subject would have been interminable, had
Albert taken an active share in it; but his thoughts were far away. He
answered from time to time so as not to appear absolutely dumb, and
then only a few syllables. This absence of opposition was more
irritating to the count than the most obstinate contradiction. He
therefore directed his utmost efforts to excite his son to argue.
However he was vainly prodigal of words, and unsparing in unpleasant
allusions, so that at last he fairly lost his temper, and, on
receiving a laconic reply, he burst forth: "Upon my word, the butler's
son would say the same as you! What blood have you in your veins? You
are more like one of the people than a Viscount de Commarin!"
There are certain conditions of mind in which the least conversation
jars upon the nerves. During the last hour, Albert had suffered an
intolerable punishment. The patience with which he had armed himself
at last escaped him.
"Well, sir," he answered, "if I resemble one of the people, there are
perhaps good reasons for it."
The glance with which the viscount accompanied his speech was so
expressive that the count experienced a sudden shock. All his
animation forsook him, and in a hesitating voice, he asked: "What is
that you say, viscount?"
Albert had no sooner uttered the sentence than he regretted his
precipitation, but he had gone too far to stop.
"Sir," he replied with some embarrassment, "I have to acquaint you
with some important matters. My honour, yours, the honour of our
house, are involved. I intended postponing this conversation till
to-morrow, not desiring to trouble you on the evening of your return.
However, as you wish me to explain, I will do so."
The count listened with ill-concealed anxiety. He seemed to have
divined what his son was about to say, and was terrified at himself
for having divined it.
"Believe me. sir," continued Albert slowly, "whatever may have been
your acts, my voice will never be raised to reproach you. Your
constant kindness to me--"
M. de Commarin held up his hand. "A truce to preambles; let me have
the facts without phrases," said he sternly.
Albert was some time without answering, he hesitated how to commence.
"Sir," said he at length, "during your absence, I have read all your
correspondence with Madame Gerdy. All!" added he, emphasising the
word, already so significant.
The count, as though stung by a serpent, started up with such violence
that he overturned his chair.
"Not another word!" cried he in a terrible voice. "I forbid you to
speak!" But he no doubt soon felt ashamed of his violence, for he
quietly raised his chair, and resumed in a tone which he strove to
render light and rallying: "Who will hereafter refuse to believe in
presentiments? A couple of hours ago, on seeing your pale face at the
railway station, I felt that you had learned more or less of this
affair. I was sure of it."
There was a long silence. With one accord, father and son avoided
letting their eyes meet, lest they might encounter glances too
eloquent to bear at so painful a moment.
"You were right, sir," continued the count, "our honour is involved.
It is important that we should decide on our future conduct without
delay. Will you follow me to my room?"
He rang the bell, and a footman appeared almost immediately.
"Neither the viscount nor I am at home to any one," said M. de
Commarin, "no matter whom."
The revelation which had just taken place, irritated much more than it
surprised the Count de Commarin. For twenty years, he had been
constantly expecting to see the truth brought to light. He knew that
there can be no secret so carefully guarded that it may not by some
chance escape; and his had been known to four people, three of whom
were still living.
He had not forgotten that he had been imprudent enough to trust it to
paper, knowing all the while that it ought never to have been written.
How was it that he, a prudent diplomat, a statesman, full of
precaution, had been so foolish? How was it that he had allowed this
fatal correspondence to remain in existence! Why had he not destroyed,
at no matter what cost, these overwhelming proofs, which sooner or
later might be used against him? Such imprudence could only have
arisen from an absurd passion, blind and insensible, even to madness.
So long as he was Valerie's lover, the count never thought of asking
the return of his letters from his beloved accomplice. If the idea had
occurred to him, he would have repelled it as an insult to the
character of his angel. What reason could he have had to suspect her
discretion? None. He would have been much more likely to have supposed
her desirous of removing every trace, even the slightest, of what had
taken place. Was it not her son who had received the benefits of the
deed, who had usurped another's name and fortune?
When eight years after, believing her to be unfaithful, the count had
put an end to the connection which had given him so much happiness he
thought of obtaining possession of this unhappy correspondence. But he
knew not how to do so. A thousand reasons prevented his moving in the
The principal one was, that he did not wish to see this woman, once so
dearly loved. He did not feel sufficiently sure either of his anger or
of his firmness. Could he, without yielding, resist the tearful
pleading of those eyes, which had so long held complete sway over him?
To look again upon this mistress of his youth would, he feared, result
in his forgiving her; and he had been too cruelly wounded in his pride
and in his affection to admit the idea of a reconciliation.
On the other hand, to obtain the letters though a third party was
entirely out of the question. He abstained, then, from all action,
postponing it indefinitely. "I will go to her," said he to himself;
"but not until I have so torn her from my heart that she will have
become indifferent to me. I will not gratify her with the sight of my
So months and years passed on; and finally he began to say and believe
that it was too late. And for now more than twenty years, he had never
passed a day without cursing his inexcusable folly. Never had he been
able to forget that above his head a danger more terrible than the
sword of Damocles hung, suspended by a thread, which the slightest
accident might break.
And now that thread had broken. Often, when considering the
possibility of such a catastrophe, he had asked himself how he should
avert it? He had formed and rejected many plans: he had deluded
himself, like all men of imagination, with innumerable chimerical
projects, and now he found himself quite unprepared.
Albert stood respectfully, while his father sat in his great armorial
chair, just beneath the large frame in which the genealogical tree of
the illustrious family of Rheteau de Commarin spread its luxuriant
branches. The old gentleman completely concealed the cruel
apprehensions which oppressed him. He seemed neither irritated nor
dejected; but his eyes expressed a haughtiness more than usually
disdainful, and a self-reliance full of contempt.
"Now viscount," he began in a firm voice, "explain yourself. I need
say nothing to you of the position of a father, obliged to blush
before his son; you understand it, and will feel for me. Let us spare
each other, and try to be calm. Tell me, how did you obtain your
knowledge of this correspondence?"
Albert had had time to recover himself, and prepare for the present
struggle, as he had impatiently waited four days for this interview.
The difficulty he experienced in uttering the first words had now
given place to a dignified and proud demeanor. He expressed himself
clearly and forcibly, without losing himself in those details which in
serious matters needlessly defer the real point at issue.
"Sir," he replied, "on Sunday morning, a young man called here,
stating that he had business with me of the utmost importance. I
received him. He then revealed to me that I, alas! am only your
natural son, substituted through your affection, for the legitimate
child borne you by Madame de Commarin."
"And did you not have this man kicked out of doors?" exclaimed the
"No, sir. I was about to answer him very sharply, of course; but,
presenting me with a packet of letters, he begged me to read them
"Ah!" cried M. de Commarin, "you should have thrown them into the
fire, for there was a fire, I suppose? You held them in your hands;
and they still exist! Why was I not there?"
"Sir!" said Albert, reproachfully. And, recalling the position Noel
had occupied against the mantelpiece, and the manner in which he
stood, he added,--"Even if the thought had occurred to me, it was
impracticable. Besides, at the first glance, I recognised your
handwriting. I therefore took the letters, and read them."
"And then, sir, I returned the correspondence to the young man, and
asked for a delay of eight days; not to think over it myself--there
was no need of that,--but because I judged an interview with you
indispensable. Now, therefore, I beseech you, tell me whether this
substitution really did take place.
"Certainly it did," replied the count violently, "yes, certainly. You
know that it did, for you have read what I wrote to Madame Gerdy, your
Albert had foreseen, had expected this reply; but it crushed him
There are misfortunes so great, that one must constantly think of them
to believe in their existence. This flinching, however, lasted but an
"Pardon me, sir," he replied. "I was almost convinced; but I had not
received a formal assurance of it. All the letters that I read spoke
distinctly of your purpose, detailed your plan minutely; but not one
pointed to, or in any way confirmed, the execution of your project."
The count gazed at his son with a look of intense surprise. He
recollected distinctly all the letters; and he could remember, that,
in writing to Valerie, he had over and over again rejoiced at their
success, thanking her for having acted in accordance with his wishes.
"You did not go to the end of them, then, viscount," he said, "you did
not read them all?"