Part 4 out of 8
"Every line, sir, and with an attention that you may well understand.
The last letter shown me simply announced to Madame Gerdy the arrival
of Claudine Lerouge, the nurse who was charged with accomplishing the
substitution. I know nothing beyond that."
"These proofs amount to nothing," muttered the count. "A man may form
a plan, cherish it for a long time, and at the last moment abandon it;
it often happens so."
He reproached himself for having answered so hastily. Albert had had
only serious suspicions, and he had changed them to certainty. What
"There can be no possible doubt," he said to himself; "Valerie has
destroyed the most conclusive letters, those which appeared to her the
most dangerous, those I wrote after the substitution. But why has she
preserved these others, compromising enough in themselves? and why,
after having preserved them, has she let them go out of her
Without moving, Albert awaited a word from the count. What would it
be? No doubt, the old nobleman was at that moment deciding what he
"Perhaps she is dead!" said M. de Commarin aloud.
And at the thought that Valerie was dead, without his having again
seen her, he started painfully. His heart, after more than twenty
years of voluntary separation, still suffered, so deeply rooted was
this first love of his youth. He had cursed her; at this moment he
pardoned her. True, she had deceived him; but did he not owe to her
the only years of happiness he had ever known? Had she not formed all
the poetry of his youth? Had he experienced, since leaving her, one
single hour of joy or forgetfulness? In his present frame of mind, his
heart retained only happy memories, like a vase which, once filled
with precious perfumes, retains the odour until it is destroyed.
"Poor woman!" he murmured.
He sighed deeply. Three or four times his eyelids trembled, as if a
tear were about to fall. Albert watched him with anxious curiosity.
This was the first time since the viscount had grown to man's estate
that he had surprised in his father's countenance other emotion than
ambition or pride, triumphant or defeated. But M. de Commarin was not
the man to yield long to sentiment.
"You have not told me, viscount," he said, "who sent you that
messenger of misfortune."
"He came in person, sir, not wishing, he told me to mix any others up
in this sad affair. The young man was no other than he whose place I
have occupied,--your legitimate son, M. Noel Gerdy himself."
"Yes," said the count in a low tone, "Noel, that is his name, I
remember." And then, with evident hesitation, he added: "Did he speak
to you of his--of your mother?"
"Scarcely, sir. He only told me that he came unknown to her; that he
had accidentally discovered the secret which he revealed to me."
M. de Commarin asked nothing further. There was more for him to learn.
He remained for some time deep in thought. The decisive moment had
come; and he saw but one way to escape.
"Come, viscount," he said, in a tone so affectionate that Albert was
astonished, "do not stand; sit down here by me, and let us discuss
this matter. Let us unite our efforts to shun, if possible, this great
misfortune. Confide in me, as a son should in his father. Have you
thought of what is to be done? have you formed any determination?"
"It seems to me, sir, that hesitation is impossible."
"In what way?"
"My duty, father, is very plain. Before your legitimate son, I ought
to give way without a murmur, if not without regret. Let him come. I
am ready to yield to him everything that I have so long kept from him
without a suspicion of the truth--his father's love, his fortune and
At this most praiseworthy reply, the old nobleman could scarcely
preserve the calmness he had recommended to his son in the earlier
part of the interview. His face grew purple; and he struck the table
with his fist more furiously than he had ever done in his life. He,
usually so guarded, so decorous on all occasions, uttered a volley of
oaths that would not have done discredit to an old cavalry officer.
"And I tell you, sir, that this dream of yours shall never take place.
No; that it sha'n't. I swear it. I promise you, whatever happens,
understand, that things shall remain as they are; because it is my
will. You are Viscount de Commarin, and Viscount de Commarin you shall
remain, in spite of yourself, if necessary. You shall retain the title
to your death, or at least to mine; for never, while I live, shall
your absurd idea be carried out."
"But, sir," began Albert, timidly.
"You are very daring to interrupt me while I am speaking, sir,"
exclaimed the count. "Do I not know all your objections beforehand?
You are going to tell me that it is a revolting injustice, a wicked
robbery. I confess it, and grieve over it more than you possibly can.
Do you think that I now for the first time repent of my youthful
folly? For twenty years, sir, I have lamented my true son; for twenty
years I have cursed the wickedness of which he is the victim. And yet
I learnt how to keep silence, and to hide the sorrow and remorse which
have covered my pillow with thorns. In a single instant, your
senseless yielding would render my long sufferings of no avail. No, I
will never permit it!"
The count read a reply on his son's lips: he stopped him with a
"Do you think," he continued, "that I have never wept over the thought
of my legitimate son passing his life struggling for a competence? Do
you think that I have never felt a burning desire to repair the wrong
done him? There have been times, sir, when I would have given half of
my fortune simply to embrace that child of a wife too tardily
appreciated. The fear of casting a shadow of suspicion upon your birth
prevented me. I have sacrificed myself to the great name I bear. I
received it from my ancestors without a stain. May you hand it down to
your children equally spotless! Your first impulse was a worthy one,
generous and noble; but you must forget it. Think of the scandal, if
our secret should be disclosed to the public gaze. Can you not foresee
the joy of our enemies, of that herd of upstarts which surrounds us? I
shudder at the thought of the odium and the ridicule which would cling
to our name. Too many families already have stains upon their
escutcheons; I will have none on mine."
M. de Commarin remained silent for several minutes, during which
Albert did not dare say a word, so much had he been accustomed since
infancy to respect the least wish of the terrible old gentleman.
"There is no possible way out of it," continued the count. "Can I
discard you to-morrow, and present this Noel as my son, saying,
'Excuse me, but there has been a slight mistake; this one is the
viscount?' And then the tribunals will get hold of it. What does it
matter who is named Benoit, Durand, or Bernard? But, when one is
called Commarin, even but for a single day, one must retain that name
through life. The same moral does not do for everyone; because we have
not the same duties to perform. In our position, errors are
irreparable. Take courage, then, and show yourself worthy of the name
you bear. The storm is upon you; raise your head to meet it."
Albert's impassibility contributed not a little to increase M. de
Commarin's irritation. Firm in an unchangeable resolution, the
viscount listened like one fulfilling a duty: and his face reflected
no emotion. The count saw that he was not shaken.
"What have you to reply?" he asked.
"It seems to me sir, that you have no idea of all the dangers which I
foresee. It is difficult to master the revolts of conscience."
"Indeed!" interrupted the count contemptuously; "your conscience
revolts, does it? It has chosen its time badly. Your scruples come too
late. So long as you saw that your inheritance consisted of an
illustrious title and a dozen or so of millions, it pleased you.
To-day the name appears to you laden with a heavy fault, a crime, if
you will; and your conscience revolts. Renounce this folly. Children,
sir, are accountable to their fathers; and they should obey them.
Willing or unwilling, you must be my accomplice; willing or unwilling,
you must bear the burden, as I have borne it. And, however much you
may suffer, be assured your sufferings can never approach what I have
endured for so many years."
"Ah, sir!" cried Albert, "is it then I, the dispossessor, who has made
this trouble? is it not, on the contrary, the dispossessed! It is not
I who you have to convince, it is M. Noel Gerdy."
"Noel!" repeated the count.
"Your legitimate son, yes, sir. You act as if the issue of this
unhappy affair depended solely upon my will. Do you then, imagine that
M. Gerdy will be so easily disposed of, so easily silenced? And, if he
should raise his voice, do you hope to move him by the considerations
you have just mentioned?"
"I do not fear him."
"Then you are wrong, sir, permit me to tell you. Suppose for a moment
that this young man has a soul sufficiently noble to relinquish his
claim upon your rank and your fortune. Is there not now the
accumulated rancour of years to urge him to oppose you? He cannot help
feeling a fierce resentment for the horrible injustice of which he has
been the victim. He must passionately long for vengeance, or rather
"He has no proofs."
"He has your letters, sir."
"They are not decisive, you yourself have told me so."
"That is true, sir; and yet they convinced me, who have an interest in
not being convinced. Besides, if he needs witnesses, he will find
"Who? Yourself, viscount?"
"Yourself, sir. The day when he wishes it, you will betray us. Suppose
you were summoned before a tribunal, and that there, under oath, you
should be required to speak the truth, what answer would you make?"
M. de Commarin's face darkened at this very natural supposition. He
hesitated, he whose honour was usually so great.
"I would save the name of my ancestors," he said at last.
Albert shook his head doubtfully. "At the price of a lie, my father,"
he said. "I never will believe it. But let us suppose even that. He
will then call Madame Gerdy."
"Oh, I will answer for her!" cried the count, "her interests are the
same as ours. If necessary, I will see her. Yes," he added with an
effort, "I will call on her, I will speak to her; and I will guarantee
that she will not betray us."
"And Claudine," continued the young man; "will she be silent, too?"
"For money, yes; and I will give her whatever she asks."
"And you would trust, father, to a paid silence, as if one could ever
be sure of a purchased conscience? What is sold to you may be sold to
another. A certain sum may close her mouth; a larger will open it."
"I will frighten her."
"You forget, father, that Claudine Lerouge was Noel Gerdy's nurse,
that she takes an interest in his happiness, that she loves him. How
do you know that he has not already secured her aid? She lives at
Bougival. I went there, I remember, with you. No doubt, he sees her
often; perhaps it is she who put him on the track of this
correspondence. He spoke to me of her, as though he were sure of her
testimony. He almost proposed my going to her for information."
"Alas!" cried the count, "why is not Claudine dead instead of my
"You see, sir," concluded Albert, "Claudine Lerouge would alone render
all your efforts useless."
"Ah, no!" cried the count; "I shall find some expedient."
The obstinate old gentleman was not willing to give in to this
argument, the very clearness of which blinded him. The pride of his
blood paralyzed his usual practical good sense. To acknowledge that he
was conquered humiliated him, and seemed to him unworthy of himself.
He did not remember to have met during his long career an invincible
resistance or an absolute impediment. He was like all men of
imagination, who fall in love with their projects, and who expect them
to succeed on all occasions, as if wishing hard was all that was
necessary to change their dreams into realities.
Albert this time broke the silence, which threatened to be prolonged.
"I see, sir," he said, "that you fear, above all things, the publicity
of this sad history; the possible scandal renders you desperate. But,
unless we yield, the scandal will be terrible. There will be a trial
which will be the talk of all Europe. The newspapers will print the
facts, accompanied by heavens knows what comments of their own. Our
name, however the trial results, will appear in all the papers of the
world. This might be borne, if we were sure of succeeding; but we are
bound to lose, my father, we shall lose. Then think of the exposure!
think of the dishonour branded upon us by public opinion."
"I think," said the count, "that you can have neither respect nor
affection for me, when you speak in that way."
"It is my duty, sir, to point out to you the evils I see threatening,
and which there is yet time to shun. M. Noel Gerdy is your legitimate
son, recognize him, acknowledge his just pretensions, and receive him.
We can make the change very quietly. It is easy to account for it,
through a mistake of the nurse, Claudine Lerouge, for instance. All
parties being agreeable, there can be no trouble about it. What is to
prevent the new Viscount de Commarin from quitting Paris, and
disappearing for a time? He might travel about Europe for four or five
years; by the end of that time, all will be forgotten, and no one will
M. de Commarin was not listening; he was deep in thought.
"But instead of contesting, viscount," he cried, "we might compromise.
We may be able to purchase these letters. What does this young fellow
want? A position and a fortune? I will give him both. I will make him
as rich as he can wish. I will give him a million; if need be, two,
three,--half of all I possess. With money, you see, much money--"
"Spare him, sir; he is your son."
"Unfortunately! and I wish him to the devil! I will see him, and he
will agree to what I wish. I will prove to him the bad policy of the
earthen pot struggling with the iron kettle; and, if he is not a fool,
he will understand.
The count rubbed his hands while speaking. He was delighted with this
brilliant plan of negotiation. It could not fail to result favorably.
A crowd of arguments occurred to his mind in support of it. He would
buy back again his lost rest.
But Albert did not seem to share his father's hopes, "You will perhaps
think it unkind in me, sir," said he, sadly, "to dispel this last
illusion of yours; but I must. Do not delude yourself with the idea of
an amicable arrangement; the awakening will only be the more painful.
I have seen M. Gerdy, my father, and he is not one, I assure you, to
be intimidated. If there is an energetic will in the world, it is his.
He is truly your son; and his expression, like yours, shows an iron
resolution, that may be broken but never bent. I can still hear his
voice trembling with resentment, while he spoke to me. I can still see
the dark fire of his eyes. No, he will never accept a compromise. He
will have all or nothing; and I cannot say that he is wrong. If you
resist, he will attack you without the slightest consideration. Strong
in his rights, he will cling to you with stubborn animosity. He will
drag you from court to court; he will not stop short of utter defeat
or complete triumph."
Accustomed to absolute obedience from his son, the old nobleman was
astounded at this unexpected obstinacy.
"What is your object in saying all this?" he asked.
"It is this, sir. I should utterly despise myself, if I did not spare
your old age this greatest of calamities. Your name does not belong to
me; I will take my own. I am your natural son; I will give up my place
to your legitimate son. Permit me to withdraw with at least the honour
of having freely done my duty. Do not force me to wait till I am
driven out in disgrace."
"What!" cried the count, stunned, "you will abandon me? You refuse to
help me, you turn against me, you recognize the rights of this man in
spite of my wishes?"
Albert bowed his head. He was much moved, but still remained firm.
"My resolution is irrevocably taken," he replied. "I can never consent
to despoil your son."
"Cruel, ungrateful boy!" cried M. de Commarin. His wrath was such,
that, when he found he could do nothing by abuse, he passed at once to
jeering. "But no," he continued, "you are great, you are noble, you
are generous; you are acting after the most approved pattern of
chivalry, viscount, I should say, my dear M. Gerdy; after the fashion
of Plutarch's time! So you give up my name and my fortune, and you
leave me. You will shake the dust from your shoes upon the threshold
of my house; and you will go out into the world. I see only one
difficulty in your way. How do you expect to live, my stoic
philosopher? Have you a trade at your fingers' ends, like Jean Jacques
Rousseau's Emile? Or, worthy M. Gerdy, have you learned economy from
the four thousand francs a month I allow you for waxing your
moustache? Perhaps you have made money on the Bourse! Then my name
must have seemed very burdensome to you to bear, since you so eagerly
introduced it into such a place! Has dirt, then, so great an
attraction for you that you must jump from your carriage so quickly?
Say, rather, that the company of my friends embarrasses you, and that
you are anxious to go where you will be among your equals."
"I am very wretched, sir," replied Albert to this avalanche of
insults, "and you would crush me!"
"You wretched! Well, whose fault is it? But let us get back to my
question. How and on what will you live?"
"I am not so romantic as you are pleased to say, sir. I must confess
that, as regards the future, I have counted upon your kindness. You
are so rich, that five hundred thousand francs would not materially
affect your fortune; and, on the interest of that sum, I could live
quietly, if not happily."
"And suppose I refuse you this money?"
"I know you well enough, sir, to feel sure that you will not do so.
You are too just to wish that I alone should expiate wrongs that are
not of my making. Left to myself, I should at my present age have
achieved a position. It is late for me to try and make one now; but I
will do my best."
"Superb!" interrupted the count; "you are really superb! One never
heard of such a hero of romance. What a character! But tell me, what
do you expect from all this astonishing disinterestedness?"
The count shrugged his shoulders, looked sarcastically at his son, and
observed: "The compensation is very slight. And you expect me to
believe all this! No, sir, mankind is not in the habit of indulging in
such fine actions for its pleasure alone. You must have some reason
for acting so grandly; some reason which I fail to see."
"None but what I have already told you."
"Therefore it is understood you intend to relinquish everything; you
will even abandon your proposed union with Mademoiselle Claire
d'Arlange? You forget that for two years I have in vain constantly
expressed my disappointment of this marriage."
"No, sir. I have seen Mademoiselle Claire; I have explained my unhappy
position to her. Whatever happens, she has sworn to be my wife."
"And do you think that Madame d'Arlange will give her granddaughter to
"We hope so, sir. The marchioness is sufficiently infected with
aristocratic ideas to prefer a nobleman's bastard to the son of some
honest tradesman; but should she refuse, we would await her death,
though without desiring it."
The calm manner in which Albert said this enraged the count.
"Can this be my son?" he cried. "Never! What blood have you then in
your veins, sir? Your worthy mother alone might tell us, provided,
however, she herself knows."
"Sir," cried Albert menacingly, "think well before you speak! She is
my mother, and that is sufficient. I am her son, not her judge. No one
shall insult her in my presence, I will not permit it, sir; and I will
suffer it least of all from you."
The count made great efforts to keep his anger within bounds, but
Albert's behavior thoroughly enraged him. What, his son rebelled, he
dared to brave him to his face, he threatened him! The old fellow
jumped from his chair, and moved towards the young man as if he would
"Leave the room," he cried, in a voice choking with rage, "leave the
room instantly! Retire to your apartments, and take care not to leave
them without my orders. To-morrow I will let you know my decision."
Albert bowed respectfully, but without lowering his eyes and walked
slowly to the door. He had already opened it, when M. de Commarin
experienced one of those revulsions of feeling, so frequent in violent
"Albert," said he, "come here and listen to me."
The young man turned back, much affected by this change.
"Do not go," continued the count, "until I have told you what I think.
You are worthy of being the heir of a great house, sir. I may be angry
with you; but I can never lose my esteem for you. You are a noble man,
Albert. Give me your hand."
It was a happy moment for these two men, and such a one as they had
scarcely ever experienced in their lives, restrained as they had been
by cold etiquette. The count felt proud of his son, and recognised in
him himself at that age. For a long time their hands remained clasped,
without either being able to utter a word.
At last, M. de Commarin resumed his seat.
"I must ask you to leave me, Albert," he said kindly. "I must be alone
to reflect, to try and accustom myself to this terrible blow."
And, as the young man closed the door, he added, as if giving vent to
his inmost thoughts, "If he, in whom I have placed all my hope,
deserts me, what will become of me? And what will the other one be
Albert's features, when he left the count's study, bore traces of the
violent emotions he had felt during the interview. The servants whom
he met noticed it the more, as they had heard something of the
"Well," said an old footman who had been in the family thirty years,
"the count has had another unhappy scene with his son. The old fellow
has been in a dreadful passion."
"I got wind of it at dinner," spoke up a valet de chambre: "the count
restrained himself enough not to burst out before me; but he rolled
his eyes fiercely."
"What can be the matter?"
"Pshaw! that's more than they know themselves. Why, Denis, before whom
they always speak freely, says that they often wrangle for hours
together, like dogs, about things which he can never see through."
"Ah," cried out a young fellow, who was being trained to service, "if
I were in the viscount's place, I'd settle the old gent pretty
"Joseph, my friend," said the footman pointedly, "you are a fool. You
might give your father his walking ticket very properly, because you
never expect five sous from him; and you have already learned how to
earn your living without doing any work at all. But the viscount, pray
tell me what he is good for, what he knows how to do? Put him in the
centre of Paris, with only his fine hands for capital, and you will
"Yes, but he has his mother's property in Normandy," replied Joseph.
"I can't for the life of me," said the valet de chambre, "see what the
count finds to complain of; for his son is a perfect model, and I
shouldn't be sorry to have one like him. There was a very different
pair, when I was in the Marquis de Courtivois's service. He was one
who made it a point never to be in good humor. His eldest son, who is
a friend of the viscount's, and who comes here occasionally, is a pit
without a bottom, as far as money is concerned. He will fritter away a
thousand-franc note quicker than Joseph can smoke a pipe."
"But the marquis is not rich," said a little old man, who himself had
perhaps the enormous wages of fifteen francs; "he can't have more than
sixty thousand francs' income at the most."
"That's why he gets angry. Every day there is some new story about his
son. He had an apartment in the house; he went in and out when he
pleased; he passed his nights in gaming and drinking; he cut up so
with the actresses that the police had to interfere. Besides all this,
I have many a time had to help him up to his room, and put him to bed,
when the waiters from the restaurants brought him home in a carriage,
so drunk that he could scarcely say a word."
"Ha!" exclaimed Joseph enthusiastically, "this fellow's service must
be mighty profitable."
"That was according to circumstances. When he was at play, he was
lavish with his money; but he always lost: and, when he was drunk, he
had a quick temper, and didn't spare the blows. I must do him the
justice to say, though, that his cigars were splendid. But he was a
ruffian; while the viscount here is a true child of wisdom. He is
severe upon our faults, it is true; but he is never harsh nor brutal
to his servants. Then he is uniformly generous; which in the long run
pays us best. I must say that he is better than the majority, and that
the count is very unreasonable."
Such was the judgment of the servants. That of society was perhaps
The Viscount de Commarin was not one of those who possess the rather
questionable and at times unenviable accomplishment of pleasing every
one. He was wise enough to distrust those astonishing personages who
are always praising everybody. In looking about us, we often see men
of success and reputation, who are simply dolts, without any merit
except their perfect insignificance. That stupid propriety which
offends no one, that uniform politeness which shocks no one's vanity,
have peculiarly the gift of pleasing and of succeeding.
One cannot meet certain persons without saying, "I know that face; I
have seen it somewhere, before;" because it has no individuality, but
simply resembles faces seen in a common crowd. It is precisely so with
the minds of certain other people. When they speak, you know exactly
what they are going to say; you have heard the same thing so many
times already from them, you know all their ideas by heart. These
people are welcomed everywhere: because they have nothing peculiar
about them; and peculiarity, especially in the upper classes, is
always irritating and offensive; they detest all innovations.
Albert was peculiar; consequently much discussed, and very differently
estimated. He was charged with sins of the most opposite character,
with faults so contradictory that they were their own defence. Some
accused him, for instance, of entertaining ideas entirely too liberal
for one of his rank; and, at the same time, others complained of his
excessive arrogance. He was charged with treating with insulting
levity the most serious questions, and was then blamed for his
affectation of gravity. People knew him scarcely well enough to love
him, while they were jealous of him and feared him.
He wore a bored look in all fashionable reunions, which was considered
very bad taste. Forced by his relations, by his father, to go into
society a great deal, he was bored, and committed the unpardonable sin
of letting it be seen. Perhaps he had been disgusted by the constant
court made to him, by the rather coarse attentions which were never
spared the noble heir of one of the richest families in France. Having
all the necessary qualities for shining, he despised them. Dreadful
sin! He did not abuse his advantages; and no one ever heard of his
getting into a scrape.
He had had once, it was said, a very decided liking for Madame Prosny,
perhaps the naughtiest, certainly the most mischievous woman in Paris;
but that was all. Mothers who had daughters to dispose of upheld him;
but, for the last two years, they had turned against him, when his
love for Mademoiselle d'Arlange became well known.
At the club they rallied him on his prudence. He had had, like others,
his run of follies; but he had soon got disgusted with what it is the
fashion to call pleasure. The noble profession of bon vivant appeared
to him very tame and tiresome. He did not enjoy passing his nights at
cards; nor did he appreciate the society of those frail sisters, who
in Paris give notoriety to their lovers. He affirmed that a gentleman
was not necessarily an object of ridicule because he would not expose
himself in the theatre with these women. Finally, none of his friends
could ever inoculate him with a passion for the turf.
As doing nothing wearied him, he attempted, like the parvenu, to give
some meaning to life by work. He purposed, after a while, to take part
in public affairs; and, as he had often been struck with the gross
ignorance of many men in power, he wished to avoid their example. He
busied himself with politics; and this was the cause of all his
quarrels with his father. The one word of "liberal" was enough to
throw the count into convulsions; and he suspected his son of
liberalism, ever since reading an article by the viscount, published
in the "Revue des Deux Mondes."
His ideas, however, did not prevent his fully sustaining his rank. He
spent most nobly on the world the revenue which placed his father and
himself a little above it. His establishment, distinct from the
count's, was arranged as that of a wealthy young gentleman's ought to
be. His liveries left nothing to be desired; and his horses and
equipages were celebrated. Letters of invitation were eagerly sought
for to the grand hunting parties, which he formed every year towards
the end of October at Commarin,--an admirable piece of property,
covered with immense woods.
Albert's love for Claire--a deep, well-considered love--had
contributed not a little to keep him from the habits and life of the
pleasant and elegant idleness indulged in by his friends. A noble
attachment is always a great safeguard. In contending against it, M.
de Commarin had only succeeded in increasing its intensity and
insuring its continuance. This passion, so annoying to the count, was
the source of the most vivid, the most powerful emotions in the
viscount. Ennui was banished from his existence.
All his thoughts took the same direction; all his actions had but one
aim. Could he look to the right or the left, when, at the end of his
journey, he perceived the reward so ardently desired? He resolved that
he would never have any wife but Claire; his father absolutely refused
his consent. The effort to change this refusal had long been the
business of his life. Finally, after three years of perseverance, he
had triumphed; the count had given his consent. And now, just as he
was reaping the happiness of success, Noel had arrived, implacable as
fate, with his cursed letters.
On leaving M. de Commarin, and while slowly mounting the stairs which
led to his apartments, Albert's thoughts reverted to Claire. What was
she doing at that moment? Thinking of him no doubt. She knew that the
crisis would come that very evening, or the next day at the latest.
She was probably praying. Albert was thoroughly exhausted; his head
felt dizzy, and seemed ready to burst. He rang for his servant, and
ordered some tea.
"You do wrong in not sending for the doctor, sir," said Lubin, his
valet. "I ought to disobey you, and send for him myself."
"It would be useless," replied Albert sadly; "he could do nothing for
As the valet was leaving the room, he added,--"Say nothing about my
being unwell to any one, Lubin; it is nothing at all. If I should feel
worse, I will ring."
At that moment, to see any one, to hear a voice, to have to reply, was
more than he could bear. He longed to be left entirely to himself.
After the painful emotions arising from his explanations with the
count, he could not sleep. He opened one of the library windows, and
looked out. It was a beautiful night: and there was a lovely moon.
Seen at this hour, by the mild, tremulous evening light, the gardens
attached to the mansion seemed twice their usual size. The moving tops
of the great trees stretched away like an immense plain, hiding the
neighbouring houses; the flower-beds, set off by the green shrubs,
looked like great black patches, while particles of shell, tiny pieces
of glass, and shining pebbles sparkled in the carefully kept walks.
The horses stamped in the stable and the rattling of their halter
chains against the bars of the manger could be distinctly heard. In
the coach-house the men were putting away for the night the carriage,
always kept ready throughout the evening, in case the count should
wish to go out.
Albert was reminded by these surroundings, of the magnificence of his
past life. He sighed deeply.
"Must I, then, lose all this?" he murmured. "I can scarcely, even for
myself, abandon so much splendour without regret; and thinking of
Claire makes it hard indeed. Have I not dreamed of a life of
exceptional happiness for her, a result almost impossible to realise
Midnight sounded from the neighbouring church of St. Clotilde, and as
the night was chilly, he closed the window, and sat down near the
fire, which he stirred. In the hope of obtaining a respite from his
thoughts, he took up the evening paper, in which was an account of the
assassination at La Jonchere; but he found it impossible to read: the
lines danced before his eyes. Then he thought of writing to Claire. He
sat down at his desk, and wrote, "My dearly loved Claire," but he
could go no further; his distracted brain could not furnish him with a
At last, at break of day, he threw himself on to a sofa, and fell into
a heavy sleep peopled with phantoms.
At half-past nine in the morning, he was suddenly awakened, by the
noise of the door being hastily opened. A servant entered, with a
scared look on his face, and so out of breath from having come up the
stairs four at a time, that he could scarcely speak.
"Sir," said he, "viscount, be quick, fly and hide, save yourself, they
are here, it is the--"
A commissary of police, wearing his sash, appeared at the door. He was
followed by a number of men, among whom M. Tabaret could be seen,
keeping as much out of sight as possible.
The commissary approached Albert.
"You are," he asked, "Guy Louis Marie Albert de Rheteau de Commarin?"
The commissary placed his hand upon him, while pronouncing the usual
formula: "M. de Commarin, in the name of the law I arrest you."
"Me, sir? me?"
Albert, aroused suddenly from his painful dreams, seemed hardly to
comprehend what was taking place, seemed to ask himself,--"Am I really
awake? Is not this some hideous nightmare?"
He threw a stupid, astonished look upon the commissary of police, his
men, and M. Tabaret, who had not taken his eyes off him.
"Here is the warrant," added the commissary, unfolding the paper.
Mechanically Albert glanced over it.
"Claudine assassinated!" he cried.
Then very low, but distinct enough to be heard by the commissary, by
one of his officers, and by old Tabaret, he added,--"I am lost!"
While the commissary was making inquiries, which immediately follow
all arrests, the police officers spread through the apartments, and
proceeded to a searching examination of them. They had received orders
to obey M. Tabaret, and the old fellow guided them in their search,
made them ransack drawers and closets, and move the furniture to look
underneath or behind. They seized a number of articles belonging to
the viscount,--documents, manuscripts, and a very voluminous
correspondence; but it was with especial delight that M. Tabaret put
his hands on certain articles, which were carefully described in their
proper order in the official report:
1. In the ante-room, hung with all sorts of weapons, a broken foil was
found behind a sofa. This foil has a peculiar handle, and is unlike
those commonly sold. It is ornamented with the count's coronet, and
the initials A. C. It has been broken at about the middle; and the end
cannot be found. When questioned, the viscount declared that he did
not know what had become of the missing end.
2. In the dressing-room, a pair of black cloth trousers was discovered
still damp, and bearing stains of mud or rather of mould. All one side
is smeared with greenish moss, like that which grows on walls. On the
front are numerous rents; and one near the knee is about four inches
long. These trousers had not been hung up with the other clothes; but
appear to have been hidden between two large trunks full of clothing.
3. In the pocket of the above mentioned trousers was found a pair of
lavender kid gloves. The palm of the right hand glove bears a large
greenish stain, produced by grass or moss. The tips of the fingers
have been worn as if by rubbing. Upon the backs of both gloves are
some scratches, apparently made by finger-nails.
4. There were also found in the dressing-room two pairs of boots, one
of which, though clean and polished, was still very damp; and an
umbrella recently wetted, the end of which was still covered with a
light coloured mud.
5. In a large room, called the library, were found a box of cigars of
the trabucos brand, and on the mantel-shelf a number of cigar-holders
in amber and meerschaum.
The last article noted down, M. Tabaret approached the commissary of
"I have everything I could desire," he whispered.
"And I have finished," replied the commissary. "Our prisoner does not
appear to know exactly how to act. You heard what he said. He gave in
at once. I suppose YOU will call it lack of experience."
"In the middle of the day," replied the amateur detective in a
whisper, "he would not have been quite so crestfallen. But early in
the morning, suddenly awakened, you know-- Always arrest a person
early in the morning, when he's hungry, and only half awake."
"I have questioned some of the servants. Their evidence is rather
"Very well; we shall see. But I must hurry off and find the
investigating magistrate, who is impatiently expecting me."
Albert was beginning to recover a little from the stupor into which he
had been plunged by the entrance of the commissary of police.
"Sir," he asked, "will you permit me to say a few words in your
presence to the Count de Commarin? I am the victim of some mistake,
which will be very soon discovered."
"It's always a mistake," muttered old Tabaret.
"What you ask is impossible," replied the commissary. "I have special
orders of the strictest sort. You must not henceforth communicate with
a living soul. A cab is in waiting below. Have the goodness to
accompany me to it."
In crossing the vestibule, Albert noticed a great stir among the
servants; they all seemed to have lost their senses. M. Denis gave
some orders in a sharp, imperative tone. Then he thought he heard that
the Count de Commarin had been struck down with apoplexy. After that,
he remembered nothing. They almost carried him to the cab which drove
off as fast as the two little horses could go. M. Tabaret had just
hastened away in a more rapid vehicle.
The visitor who risks himself in the labyrinth of galleries and
stairways in the Palais de Justice, and mounts to the third story in
the left wing, will find himself in a long, low-studded gallery, badly
lighted by narrow windows, and pierced at short intervals by little
doors, like a hall at the ministry or at a lodging-house.
It is a place difficult to view calmly, the imagination makes it
appear so dark and dismal.
It needs a Dante to compose an inscription to place above the doors
which lead from it. From morning to night, the flagstones resound
under the heavy tread of the gendarmes, who accompany the prisoners.
You can scarcely recall anything but sad figures there. There are the
parents or friends of the accused, the witnesses, the detectives. In
this gallery, far from the sight of men, the judicial curriculum is
gone through with.
Each one of the little doors, which has its number painted over it in
black, opens into the office of a judge of inquiry. All the rooms are
just alike: if you see one, you have seen them all. They have nothing
terrible nor sad in themselves; and yet it is difficult to enter one
of them without a shudder. They are cold. The walls all seem moist
with the tears which have been shed there. You shudder, at thinking of
the avowals wrested from the criminals, of the confessions broken with
sobs murmured there.
In the office of the judge of inquiry, Justice clothes herself in none
of that apparel which she afterwards dons in order to strike fear into
the masses. She is still simple, and almost disposed to kindness. She
says to the prisoner,--
"I have strong reasons for thinking you guilty; but prove to me your
innocence, and I will release you."
On entering one of these rooms, a stranger would imagine that he got
into a cheap shop by mistake. The furniture is of the most primitive
sort, as is the case in all places where important matters are
transacted. Of what consequence are surroundings to the judge hunting
down the author of a crime, or to the accused who is defending his
A desk full of documents for the judge, a table for the clerk, an arm-
chair, and one or two chairs besides comprise the entire furniture of
the antechamber of the court of assize. The walls are hung with green
paper; the curtains are green, and the floors are carpeted in the same
color. Monsieur Daburon's office bore the number fifteen.
M. Daburon had arrived at his office in the Palais de Justice at nine
o'clock in the morning, and was waiting. His course resolved upon, he
had not lost an instant, understanding as well as old Tabaret the
necessity for rapid action. He had already had an interview with the
public prosecutor, and had arranged everything with the police.
Besides issuing the warrant against Albert, he had summoned the Count
de Commarin, Madame Gerdy, Noel, and some of Albert's servants, to
appear before him with as little delay as possible.
He thought it essential to question all these persons before examining
the prisoner. Several detectives had started off to execute his
orders, and he himself sat in his office, like a general commanding an
army, who sends off his aide-de-camp to begin the battle, and who
hopes that victory will crown his combinations.
Often, at this same hour, he had sat in this office, under
circumstances almost identical. A crime had been committed, and,
believing he had discovered the criminal, he had given orders for his
arrest. Was not that his duty? But he had never before experienced the
anxiety of mind which disturbed him now. Many a time had he issued
warrants of arrest, without possessing even half the proofs which
guided him in the present case. He kept repeating this to himself; and
yet he could not quiet his dreadful anxiety, which would not allow him
a moment's rest.
He wondered why his people were so long in making their appearance. He
walked up and down the room, counting the minutes, drawing out his
watch three times within a quarter of an hour, to compare it with the
clock. Every time he heard a step in the passage, almost deserted at
that hour, he moved near the door, stopped and listened. At length
some one knocked. It was his clerk, whom he had sent for. There was
nothing particular in this man; he was tall rather than big, and very
slim. His gait was precise, his gestures were methodical, and his face
was as impassive as if it had been cut out of a piece of yellow wood.
He was thirty-four years of age and during fifteen years had acted as
clerk to four investigating magistrates in succession. He could hear
the most astonishing things without moving a muscle. His name was
He bowed to the magistrate, and excused himself for his tardiness. He
had been busy with some book-keeping, which he did every morning; and
his wife had had to send after him.
"You are still in good time," said M. Daburon: "but we shall soon have
plenty of work: so you had better get your paper ready."
Five minutes later, the usher introduced M. Noel Gerdy. He entered
with an easy manner, like an advocate who was well acquainted with the
Palais, and who knew its winding ways. He in no wise resembled, this
morning, old Tabaret's friend; still less could he have been
recognized as Madame Juliette's lover. He was entirely another being,
or rather he had resumed his every-day bearing. From his firm step,
his placid face, one would never imagine that, after an evening of
emotion and excitement, after a secret visit to his mistress, he had
passed the night by the pillow of a dying woman, and that woman his
mother, or at least one who had filled his mother's place.
What a contrast between him and the magistrate!
M. Daburon had not slept either: but one could easily see that in his
feebleness, in his anxious look, in the dark, circles about his eyes.
His shirt-front was all rumpled, and his cuffs were far from clean.
Carried away by the course of events, the mind had forgotten the body.
Noel's well-shaved chin, on the contrary, rested upon an
irreproachably white cravat; his collar did not show a crease; his
hair and his whiskers had been most carefully brushed. He bowed to M.
Daburon, and held out the summons he had received.
"You summoned me, sir," he said; "and I am here awaiting your orders."
The investigating magistrate had met the young advocate several times
in the lobbies of the Palais; and he knew him well by sight. He
remembered having heard M. Gerdy spoken of as a man of talent and
promise, whose reputation was fast rising. He therefore welcomed him
as a fellow-workman, and invited him to be seated.
The preliminaries common in the examinations of all witnesses ended;
the name, surname, age, place of business, and so on having been
written down, the magistrate, who had followed his clerk with his eyes
while he was writing, turned towards Noel.
"I presume you know, M. Gerdy," he began, "the matters in connection
with which you are troubled with appearing before me?"
"Yes, sir, the murder of that poor old woman at La Jonchere."
"Precisely," replied M. Daburon. Then, calling to mind his promise to
old Tabaret, he added, "If justice has summoned you so promptly, it is
because we have found your name often mentioned in Widow Lerouge's
"I am not surprised at that," replied the advocate: "we were greatly
interested in that poor woman, who was my nurse; and I know that
Madame Gerdy wrote to her frequently."
"Very well; then you can give me some information about her."
"I fear, sir, that it will be very incomplete. I know very little
about this poor old Madame Lerouge. I was taken from her at a very
early age; and, since I have been a man, I have thought but little
about her, except to send her occasionally a little aid."
"You never went to visit her?"
"Excuse me. I have gone there to see her many times, but I remained
only a few minutes. Madame Gerdy, who has often seen her, and to whom
she talked of all her affairs, could have enlightened you much better
"But," said the magistrate, "I expect shortly to see Madame Gerdy
here; she, too, must have received a summons."
"I know it, sir, but it is impossible for her to appear. She is ill in
"So seriously that you will be obliged, I think, to give up all hope
of her testimony. She is attacked with a disease which, in the words
of my friend, Dr. Herve, never forgives. It is something like
inflammation of the brain, if I am not mistaken. It may be that her
life will be saved, but she will never recover her reason. If she does
not die, she will be insane."
M. Daburon appeared greatly vexed. "This is very annoying," he
muttered. "And you think, my dear sir, that it will be impossible to
obtain any information from her?"
"It is useless even to hope for it. She has completely lost her
reason. She was, when I left her, in such a state of utter prostration
that I fear she can not live through the day."
"And when was she attacked by this illness?"
"Yes, sir; at least, apparently so, though I myself think she has been
unwell for the last three weeks at least. Yesterday, however, on
rising from dinner, after having eaten but little, she took up a
newspaper; and, by a most unfortunate hazard, her eyes fell exactly
upon the lines which gave an account of this crime. She at once
uttered a loud cry, fell back in her chair, and thence slipped to the
floor, murmuring, 'Oh, the unhappy man, the unhappy man!'"
"The unhappy woman, you mean."
"No, sir. She uttered the words I have just repeated. Evidently the
exclamation did not refer to my poor nurse."
Upon this reply, so important and yet made in the most unconscious
tone, M. Daburon raised his eyes to the witness. The advocate lowered
"And then?" asked the magistrate, after a moment's silence, during
which he had taken a few notes.
"Those words, sir, were the last spoken by Madame Gerdy. Assisted by
our servant, I carried her to her bed. The doctor was sent for; and,
since then, she has not recovered consciousness. The doctor--"
"It is well," interrupted M. Daburon. "Let us leave that for the
present. Do you know, sir, whether Widow Lerouge had any enemies?"
"None that I know of, sir."
"She had no enemies? Well, now tell me, does there exist to your
knowledge any one having the least interest in the death of this poor
As he asked this question the investigating magistrate kept his eyes
fixed on Noel's, not wishing him to turn or lower his head.
The advocate started, and seemed deeply moved. He was disconcerted; he
hesitated, as if a struggle was going on within him.
Finally, in a voice which was by no means firm, he replied, "No, no
"Is that really true?" asked the magistrate, looking at him more
searchingly. "You know no one whom this crime benefits, or whom it
might benefit,--absolutely no one?"
"I know only one thing, sir," replied Noel; "and that is, that, as far
as I am concerned, it has caused me an irreparable injury."
"At last," thought M. Daburon, "we have got at the letters; and I have
not betrayed poor old Tabaret. It would be too bad to cause the least
trouble to that zealous and invaluable man." He then added aloud: "An
injury to you, my dear sir? You will, I hope, explain yourself."
Noel's embarrassment, of which he had already given some signs,
appeared much more marked.
"I am aware, sir," he replied, "that I owe justice not merely the
truth, but the whole truth; but there are circumstances involved so
delicate that the conscience of a man of honour sees danger in them.
Besides, it is very hard to be obliged to unveil such sad secrets, the
revelation of which may sometimes--"
M. Daburon interrupted with a gesture. Noel's sad tone impressed him.
Knowing, beforehand, what he was about to hear, he felt for the young
advocate. He turned to his clerk.
"Constant!" said he in a peculiar tone. This was evidently a signal;
for the tall clerk rose methodically, put his pen behind his ear, and
went out in his measured tread.
Noel appeared sensible of this kindness. His face expressed the
strongest gratitude; his look returned thanks.
"I am very much obliged to you, sir," he said with suppressed warmth,
"for your considerateness. What I have to say is very painful; but it
will be scarcely an effort to speak before you now."
"Fear nothing," replied the magistrate; "I will only retain of your
deposition, my dear sir, what seems to me absolutely indispensable."
"I feel scarcely master of myself, sir," began Noel; "so pray pardon
my emotion. If any words escape me that seem charged with bitterness,
excuse them; they will be involuntary. Up to the past few days, I
always believed that I was the offspring of illicit love. My history
is short. I have been honourably ambitious; I have worked hard. He who
has no name must make one, you know. I have passed a quiet life,
retired and austere, as people must, who, starting at the foot of the
ladder, wish to reach the top. I worshipped her whom I believed to be
my mother; and I felt convinced that she loved me in return. The stain
of my birth had some humiliations attached to it; but I despised them.
Comparing my lot with that of so many others, I felt that I had more
than common advantages. One day, Providence placed in my hands all the
letters which my father, the Count de Commarin, had written to Madame
Gerdy during the time she was his mistress. On reading these letters,
I was convinced that I was not what I had hitherto believed myself to
be,--that Madame Gerdy was not my mother!"
And, without giving M. Daburon time to reply, he laid before him the
facts which, twelve hours before, he had related to M. Tabaret. It was
the same story, with the same circumstances, the same abundance of
precise and conclusive details; but the tone in which it was told was
entirely changed. When speaking to the old detective, the young
advocate had been emphatic and violent; but now, in the presence of
the investigating magistrate, he restrained his vehement emotions.
One might imagine that he adapted his style to his auditors, wishing
to produce the same effect on both, and using the method which would
best accomplish his purpose.
To an ordinary mind like M. Tabaret's he used the exaggeration of
anger; but to a man of superior intelligence like M. Daburon, he
employed the exaggeration of restraint. With the detective he had
rebelled against his unjust lot; but with the magistrate he seemed to
bow, full of resignation, before a blind fatality.
With genuine eloquence and rare facility of expression, he related his
feelings on the day following the discovery,--his grief, his
perplexity, his doubts.
To support this moral certainty, some positive testimony was needed.
Could he hope for this from the count or from Madame Gerdy, both
interested in concealing the truth? No. But he had counted upon that
of his nurse,--the poor old woman who loved him, and who, near the
close of her life, would be glad to free her conscience from this
heavy load. She was dead now; and the letters became mere waste paper
in his hands.
Then he passed on to his explanation with Madame Gerdy, and he gave
the magistrate even fuller details than he had given his old
She had, he said, at first utterly denied the substitution, but he
insinuated that, plied with questions, and overcome by the evidence,
she had, in a moment of despair, confessed all, declaring, soon after,
that she would retract and deny this confession, being resolved at all
hazards that her son should preserve his position.
From this scene, in the advocate's judgment, might be dated the first
attacks of the illness, to which she was now succumbing.
Noel then described his interview with the Viscount de Commarin. A few
inaccuracies occurred in his narrative, but so slight that it would
have been difficult to charge him with them. Besides, there was
nothing in them at all unfavourable to Albert.
He insisted, on the contrary, upon the excellent impression which that
young man had made on him. Albert had received the revelation with a
certain distrust, it is true, but with a noble firmness at the same
time, and, like a brave heart, was ready to bow before the
justification of right.
In fact, he drew an almost enthusiastic portrait of this rival, who
had not been spoiled by prosperity, who had left him without a look of
hatred, towards whom he felt himself drawn, and who after all was his
M. Daburon listened to Noel with the most unremitting attention,
without allowing a word, a movement, or a frown, to betray his
"How, sir," observed the magistrate when the young man ceased
speaking, "could you have told me that, in your opinion, no one was
interested in Widow Lerouge's death?"
The advocate made no reply.
"It seems to me," continued M. Daburon, "that the Viscount de
Commarin's position has thereby become almost impregnable. Madame
Gerdy is insane; the count will deny all; your letters prove nothing.
It is evident that the crime is of the greatest service to this young
man, and that it was committed at a singularly favourable moment."
"Oh sir!" cried Noel, protesting with all his energy, "this
insinuation is dreadful."
The magistrate watched the advocate's face narrowly. Was he speaking
frankly, or was he but playing at being generous? Could it really be
that he had never had any suspicion of this?
Noel did not flinch under the gaze, but almost immediately continued,
--"What reason could this young man have for trembling, or fearing for
his position? I did not utter one threatening word, even indirectly. I
did not present myself like a man who, furious at being robbed,
demands that everything which had been taken from him should be
restored on the spot. I merely presented the facts to Albert, saying,
'Here is the truth? what do you think we ought to do? Be the judge.'"
"And he asked you for time?"
"Yes. I had suggested his accompanying me to see Widow Lerouge, whose
testimony might dispel all doubts; he did not seem to understand me.
But he was well acquainted with her, having visited her with the
count, who supplied her, I have since learned, liberally with money."
"Did not this generosity appear to you very singular?"
"Can you explain why the viscount did not appear disposed to accompany
"Certainly. He had just said that he wished, before all, to have an
explanation with his father, who was then absent, but who would return
in a few days."
The truth, as all the world knows, and delights in proclaiming, has an
accent which no one can mistake. M. Daburon had not the slightest
doubt of his witness's good faith. Noel continued with the ingenuous
candour of an honest heart which suspicion has never touched with its
bat's wing: "The idea of treating at once with my father pleased me
exceedingly. I thought it so much better to wash all one's dirty linen
at home, I had never desired anything but an amicable arrangement.
With my hands full of proofs, I should still recoil from a public
"Would you not have brought an action?"
"Never, sir, not at any price. Could I," he added proudly, "to regain
my rightful name, begin by dishonouring it?"
This time M. Daburon could not conceal his sincere admiration.
"A most praiseworthy feeling, sir," he said.
"I think," replied Noel, "that it is but natural. If things came to
the worst, I had determined to leave my title with Albert. No doubt
the name of Commarin is an illustrious one; but I hope that, in ten
years time, mine will be more known. I would, however, have demanded a
large pecuniary compensation. I possess nothing: and I have often been
hampered in my career by the want of money. That which Madame Gerdy
owed to the generosity of my father was almost entirely spent. My
education had absorbed a great part of it; and it was long before my
profession covered my expenses. Madame Gerdy and I live very quietly;
but, unfortunately, though simple in her tastes, she lacks economy and
system; and no one can imagine how great our expenses have been. But I
have nothing to reproach myself with, whatever happens. At the
commencement, I could not keep my anger well under control; but now I
bear no ill-will. On learning of the death of my nurse, though, I cast
all my hopes into the sea."
"You were wrong, my dear sir," said the magistrate. "I advise you to
still hope. Perhaps, before the end of the day, you will enter into
possession of your rights. Justice, I will not conceal from you,
thinks she has found Widow Lerouge's assassin. At this moment,
Viscount Albert is doubtless under arrest."
"What!" exclaimed Noel, with a sort of stupor: "I was not, then,
mistaken, sir, in the meaning of your words. I dreaded to understand
"You have not mistaken me, sir," said M. Daburon. "I thank you for
your sincere straightforward explanations; they have eased my task
materially. To-morrow,--for today my time is all taken up,--we will
write down your deposition together if you like. I have nothing more
to say, I believe, except to ask you for the letters in your
possession, and which are indispensable to me."
"Within an hour, sir, you shall have them," replied Noel. And he
retired, after having warmly expressed his gratitude to the
Had he been less preoccupied, the advocate might have perceived at the
end of the gallery old Tabaret, who had just arrived, eager and happy,
like a bearer of great news as he was.
His cab had scarcely stopped at the gate of the Palais de Justice
before he was in the courtyard and rushing towards the porch. To see
him jumping more nimbly than a fifth-rate lawyer's clerk up the steep
flight of stairs leading to the magistrate's office, one would never
have believed that he was many years on the shady side of fifty. Even
he himself had forgotten it. He did not remember how he had passed the
night; he had never before felt so fresh, so agile, in such spirits;
he seemed to have springs of steel in his limbs.
He burst like a cannon-shot into the magistrate's office, knocking up
against the methodical clerk in the rudest of ways, without even
asking his pardon.
"Caught!" he cried, while yet on the threshold, "caught, nipped,
squeezed, strung, trapped, locked! We have got the man."
Old Tabaret, more Tirauclair than ever, gesticulated with such comical
vehemence and such remarkable contortions that even the tall clerk
smiled, for which, however, he took himself severely to task on going
to bed that night.
But M. Daburon, still under the influence of Noel's deposition, was
shocked at this apparently unseasonable joy; although he felt the
safer for it. He looked severely at old Tabaret, saying,--"Hush, sir;
be decent, compose yourself."
At any other time, the old fellow would have felt ashamed at having
deserved such a reprimand. Now, it made no impression on him.
"I can't be quiet," he replied. "Never has anything like this been
known before. All that I mentioned has been found. Broken foil,
lavender kid gloves slightly frayed, cigar-holder; nothing is wanting.
You shall have them, sir, and many other things besides. I have a
little system of my own, which appears by no means a bad one. Just see
the triumph of my method of induction, which Gevrol ridiculed so much.
I'd give a hundred francs if he were only here now. But no; my Gevrol
wants to nab the man with the earrings; he is just capable of doing
that. He is a fine fellow, this Gevrol, a famous fellow! How much do
you give him a year for his skill?"
"Come, my dear M. Tabaret," said the magistrate, as soon as he could
get in a word, "be serious, if you can, and let us proceed in order."
"Pooh!" replied the old fellow, "what good will that do? It is a clear
case now. When they bring the fellow before you, merely show him the
particles of kid taken from behind the nails of the victim, side by
side with his torn gloves, and you will overwhelm him. I wager that he
will confess all, hic et nunc,--yes, I wager my head against his;
although that's pretty risky; for he may get off yet! Those milk-sops
on the jury are just capable of according him extenuating
circumstances. Ah! all those delays are fatal to justice! Why if all
the world were of my mind, the punishment of rascals wouldn't take
such a time. They should be hanged as soon as caught. That's my
M. Daburon resigned himself to this shower of words. As soon as the
old fellow's excitement had cooled down a little, he began questioning
him. He even then had great trouble in obtaining the exact details of
the arrest; details which later on were confirmed by the commissary's
The magistrate appeared very surprised when he heard that Albert had
exclaimed, "I am lost!" at sight of the warrant. "That," muttered he,
"is a terrible proof against him."
"I should think so," replied old Tabaret. "In his ordinary state, he
would never have allowed himself to utter such words; for they in fact
destroy him. We arrested him when he was scarcely awake. He hadn't
been in bed, but was lying in a troubled sleep, upon a sofa, when we
arrived. I took good care to let a frightened servant ran in advance,
and to follow closely upon him myself, to see the effect. All my
arrangements were made. But, never fear, he will find a plausible
excuse for this fatal exclamation. By the way, I should add that we
found on the floor, near by, a crumpled copy of last evening's
'Gazette de France,' which contained an account of the assassination.
This is the first time that a piece of news in the papers ever helped
to nab a criminal."
"Yes," murmured the magistrate, deep in thought, "yes, you are a
valuable man, M. Tabaret." Then, louder, he added, "I am thoroughly
convinced; for M. Gerdy has just this moment left me."
"You have seen Noel!" cried the old fellow. On the instant all his
proud self-satisfaction disappeared. A cloud of anxiety spread itself
like a veil over his beaming countenance. "Noel here," he repeated.
Then he timidly added: "And does he know?"
"Nothing," replied M. Daburon. "I had no need of mentioning your name.
Besides, had I not promised absolute secrecy?"
"Ah, that's all right," cried old Tabaret. "And what do you think sir,
"His is, I am sure, a noble, worthy heart," said the magistrate; "a
nature both strong and tender. The sentiments which I heard him
express here, and the genuineness of which it is impossible to doubt,
manifested an elevation of soul, unhappily, very rare. Seldom in my
life have I met with a man who so won my sympathy from the first. I
can well understand one's pride in being among his friends."
"Just what I said; he has precisely the same effect upon every one. I
love him as though he were my own child; and, whatever happens, he
will inherit almost the whole of my fortune: yes, I intend leaving him
everything. My will is made, and is in the hands of M. Baron, my
notary. There is a small legacy, too, for Madame Gerdy; but I am going
to have the paragraph that relates to that taken out at once."
"Madame Gerdy, M. Tabaret, will soon be beyond all need of worldly
"How, what do you mean? Has the count--"
"She is dying, and is not likely to live through the day; M. Gerdy
told me so himself."
"Ah! heavens!" cried the old fellow, "what is that you say? Dying?
Noel will be distracted; but no: since she is not his mother, how can
it affect him? Dying! I thought so much of her before this discovery.
Poor humanity! It seems as though all the accomplices are passing away
at the same time; for I forgot to tell you, that, just as I was
leaving the Commarin mansion, I heard a servant tell another that the
count had fallen down in a fit on learning the news of his son's
"That will be a great misfortune for M. Gerdy."
"I had counted upon M. de Commarin's testimony to recover for him all
that he so well deserves. The count dead, Widow Lerouge dead, Madame
Gerdy dying, or in any event insane, who then can tell us whether the
substitution alluded to in the letters was ever carried into
"True," murmured old Tabaret; "it is true! And I did not think of it.
What fatality! For I am not deceived; I am certain that--"
He did not finish. The door of M. Daburon's office opened, and the
Count de Commarin himself appeared on the threshold, as rigid as one
of those old portraits which look as though they were frozen in their
gilded frames. The nobleman motioned with his hand, and the two
servants who had helped him up as far as the door, retired.
It was indeed the Count de Commarin, though more like his shadow. His
head, usually carried so high, leant upon his chest; his figure was
bent; his eyes had no longer their accustomed fire; his hands
trembled. The extreme disorder of his dress rendered more striking
still the change which had come over him. In one night, he had grown
twenty years older. This man, yesterday so proud of never having bent
to a storm, was now completely shattered. The pride of his name had
constituted his entire strength; that humbled, he seemed utterly
overwhelmed. Everything in him gave way at once; all his supports
failed him at the same time. His cold, lifeless gaze revealed the dull
stupor of his thoughts. He presented such a picture of utter despair
that the investigating magistrate slightly shuddered at the sight. M.
Tabaret looked frightened, and even the clerk seemed moved.
"Constant," said M. Daburon quickly, "go with M. Tabaret, and see if
there's any news at the Prefecture."
The clerk left the room, followed by the detective, who went away
regretfully. The count had not noticed their presence; he paid no
attention to their departure.
M. Daburon offered him a seat, which he accepted with a sad smile. "I
feel so weak," said he, "you must excuse my sitting."
Apologies to an investigating magistrate! What an advance in
civilisation, when the nobles consider themselves subject to the law,
and bow to its decrees! Every one respects justice now-a-days, and
fears it a little, even when only represented by a simple and
conscientious investigating magistrate.
"You are, perhaps, too unwell, count," said the magistrate, "to give
me the explanations I had hoped for."
"I am better, thank you," replied M. de Commarin, "I am as well as
could be expected after the shock I have received. When I heard of the
crime of which my son is accused, and of his arrest, I was
thunderstruck. I believed myself a strong man; but I rolled in the
dust. My servants thought me dead. Why was it not so? The strength of
my constitution, my physician tells me, was all that saved me; but I
believe that heaven wishes me to live, that I may drink to the bitter
dregs my cup of humiliation."
He stopped suddenly, nearly choked by a flow of blood that rose to his
The investigating magistrate remained standing near the table, almost
afraid to move.
After a few moments' rest, the count found relief, and continued,--
"Unhappy man that I am! ought I not to have expected it? Everything
comes to light sooner or later. I am punished for my great sin,--
pride. I thought myself out of reach of the thunderbolt; and I have
been the means of drawing down the storm upon my house. Albert an
assassin! A Viscount de Commarin arraigned before a court of assize!
Ah, sir, punish me, also; for I alone and long ago, laid the
foundation of this crime. Fifteen centuries of spotless fame end with
me in infamy."
M. Daburon considered Count de Commarin's conduct unpardonable, and
had determined not to spare him.
He had expected to meet a proud, haughty noble, almost unmanageable;
and he had resolved to humble his arrogance.
Perhaps the harsh treatment he had received of old from the
Marchioness d'Arlange had given him, unconsciously, a slight grudge
against the aristocracy.
He had vaguely thought of certain rather severe remarks, which were to
overcome the old nobleman, and bring him to a sense of his position.
But when he found himself in the presence of such a sincere
repentance, his indignation changed to profound pity; and he began to
wonder how he could assuage the count's grief.
"Write, sir," continued M. de Commarin with an exaltation of which he
did not seem capable ten minutes before,--"write my avowal and
suppress nothing. I have no longer need of mercy nor of tenderness.
What have I to fear now? Is not my disgrace public? Must not I, Count
Rheteau de Commarin appear before the tribunal, to proclaim the infamy
of our house? Ah! all is lost now, even honour itself. Write, sir; for
I wish that all the world shall know that I am the most deserving of
blame. But they shall also know that the punishment has been already
terrible, and that there was no need for this last and awful trial."
The count stopped for a moment, to concentrate and arrange his memory.
He soon continued, in a firmer voice, and adapting his tone to what he
had to say, "When I was of Albert's age, sir, my parents made me
marry, in spite of my protestations, the noblest and purest of young
girls. I made her the most unhappy of women. I could not love her. I
cherished a most passionate love for a mistress, who had trusted
herself to me, and whom I had loved for a long time. I found her rich
in beauty, purity and mind. Her name was Valerie. My heart is, so to
say, dead and cold in me, sir, but, ah! when I pronounce that name, it
still has a great effect upon me. In spite of my marriage, I could not
induce myself to part from her, though she wished me to. The idea of
sharing my love with another was revolting to her. No doubt she loved
me then. Our relations continued. My wife and my mistress became
mothers at nearly the same time. This coincidence suggested to me the
fatal idea of sacrificing my legitimate son to his less fortunate
brother. I communicated this project to Valerie. To my great surprise,
she refused it with horror. Already the maternal instinct was aroused
within her; she would not be separated from her child. I have
preserved, as a monument of my folly, the letters which she wrote to
me at that time. I re-read them only last night. Ah! why did I not
listen to both her arguments and her prayers? It was because I was
mad. She had a sort of presentiment of the evil which overwhelms me
to-day. But I came to Paris;--I had absolute control over her. I
threatened to leave her, never to see her again. She yielded; and my
valet and Claudine Lerouge were charged with this wicked substitution.
It is, therefore, the son of my mistress who bears the title of
Viscount de Commarin, and who was arrested but a short time ago."
M. Daburon had not hoped for a declaration so clear, and above all so
prompt. He secretly rejoiced for the young advocate whose noble
sentiments had quite captivated him.
"So, count," said he, "you acknowledge that M. Noel Gerdy is the issue
of your legitimate marriage, and that he alone is entitled to bear
"Yes, sir. Alas! I was then more delighted at the success of my
project than I should have been over the most brilliant victory. I was
so intoxicated with the joy of having my Valerie's child there, near
me, that I forgot everything else. I had transferred to him a part of
my love for his mother; or, rather, I loved him still more, if that be
possible. The thought that he would bear my name, that he would
inherit all my wealth, to the detriment of the other, transported me
with delight. The other, I hated; I could not even look upon him. I do
not recollect having kissed him twice. On this point Valerie, who was
very good, reproached me severely. One thing alone interfered with my
happiness. The Countess de Commarin adored him whom she believed to be
her son, and always wished to have him on her knees. I cannot express
what I suffered at seeing my wife cover with kisses and caresses the
child of my mistress. But I kept him from her as much as I could; and
she, poor woman! not understanding what was passing within me,
imagined that I was doing everything to prevent her son loving her.
She died, sir, with this idea, which poisoned her last days. She died
of sorrow; but saint-like, without a complaint, without a murmur,
pardon upon her lips and in her heart."
Though greatly pressed for time, M. Daburon did not venture to
interrupt the count, to ask him briefly for the immediate facts of the
case. He knew that fever alone gave him this unnatural energy, to
which at any moment might succeed the most complete prostration. He
feared, if he stopped him for an instant, that he would not have
strength enough to resume.
"I did not shed a single tear," continued the count. "What had she
been in my life? A cause of sorrow and remorse. But God's justice, in
advance of man's was about to take a terrible revenge. One day, I was
warned that Valerie was deceiving me, and had done so for a long time.
I could not believe it at first; it seemed to me impossible, absurd. I
would have sooner doubted myself than her. I had taken her from a
garret, where she was working sixteen hours a day to earn a few pence;
she owed all to me. I had made her so much a part of myself that I
could not credit her being false. I could not induce myself to feel
jealous. However, I inquired into the matter; I had her watched; I
even acted the spy upon her myself. I had been told the truth. This
unhappy woman had another lover, and had had him for more than ten
years. He was a cavalry officer. In coming to her house he took every
precaution. He usually left about midnight; but sometimes he came to
pass the night, and in that case went away in the early morning. Being
stationed near Paris, he frequently obtained leave of absence and came
to visit her; and he would remain shut up in her apartments until his
time expired. One evening, my spies brought me word that he was there.
I hastened to the house. My presence did not embarrass her. She
received me as usual, throwing her arms about my neck. I thought that
my spies had deceived me; and I was going to tell her all, when I saw
upon the piano a buckskin glove, such as are worn by soldiers. Not
wishing a scene, and not knowing to what excess my anger might carry
me, I rushed out of the place without saying a word. I have never seen
her since. She wrote to me. I did not open her letters. She attempted
to force her way into my presence, but in vain; my servants had orders
that they dared not ignore."
Could this be the Count de Commarin, celebrated for his haughty
coldness, for his reserve so full of disdain, who spoke thus, who
opened his whole life without restrictions, without reserve? And to
whom? To a stranger.
But he was in one of those desperate states, allied to madness, when
all reflection leaves us, when we must find some outlet for a too
powerful emotion. What mattered to him this secret, so courageously
borne for so many years? He disburdened himself of it, like the poor
man, who, weighed down by a too heavy burden, casts it to the earth
without caring where it falls, nor how much it may tempt the cupidity
of the passers-by.
"Nothing," continued he, "no, nothing, can approach to what I then
endured. My very heartstrings were bound up in that woman. She was
like a part of myself. In separating from her, it seemed to me that I
was tearing away a part of my own flesh. I cannot describe the furious
passions her memory stirred within me. I scorned her and longed for
her with equal vehemence. I hated her, and I loved her. And, to this
day, her detestable image has been ever present to my imagination.
Nothing can make me forget her. I have never consoled myself for her
loss. And that is not all, terrible doubts about Albert occurred to
me. Was I really his father? Can you understand what my punishment
was, when I thought to myself, 'I have perhaps sacrificed my own son
to the child of an utter stranger.' This thought made me hate the
bastard who called himself Commarin. To my great affection for him
succeeded an unconquerable aversion. How often, in those days I
struggled against an insane desire to kill him! Since then, I have
learned to subdue my aversion; but I have never completely mastered
it. Albert, sir, has been the best of sons. Nevertheless, there has
always been an icy barrier between us, which he was unable to explain.
I have often been on the point of appealing to the tribunals, of
avowing all, of reclaiming my legitimate heir; but regard for my rank
has prevented me. I recoiled before the scandal. I feared the ridicule
or disgrace that would attach to my name; and yet I have not been able
to save it from infamy."
The old nobleman remained silent, after pronouncing these words. In a
fit of despair, he buried his face in his hands, and two great tears
rolled silently down his wrinkled cheeks.
In the meantime, the door of the room opened slightly, and the tall
clerk's head appeared.
M. Daburon signed to him to enter, and then addressing M. de Commarin,
he said in a voice rendered more gentle by compassion: "Sir, in the
eyes of heaven, as in the eyes of society, you have committed a great
sin; and the results, as you see, are most disastrous. It is your duty
to repair the evil consequences of your sin as much as lies in your
"Such is my intention, sir, and, may I say so? my dearest wish."
"You doubtless understand me," continued M. Daburon.
"Yes, sir," replied the old man, "yes, I understand you."
"It will be a consolation to you," added the magistrate, "to learn
that M. Noel Gerdy is worthy in all respects of the high position that
you are about to restore to him. He is a man of great talent, better
and worthier than any one I know. You will have a son worthy of his
ancestors. And finally, no one of your family has disgraced it, sir,
for Viscount Albert is not a Commarin."
"No," rejoined the count quickly, "a Commarin would be dead at this
hour; and blood washes all away."
The old nobleman's remark set the investigating magistrate thinking
"Are you then sure," said he, "of the viscount's guilt?"
M. de Commarin gave the magistrate a look of intense surprise.
"I only arrived in Paris yesterday evening," he replied; "and I am
entirely ignorant of all that has occurred. I only know that justice
would not proceed without good cause against a man of Albert's rank.
If you have arrested him, it is quite evident that you have something
more than suspicion against him,--that you possess positive proofs."
M. Daburon bit his lips, and, for a moment, could not conceal a
feeling of displeasure. He had neglected his usual prudence, had moved
too quickly. He had believed the count's mind entirely upset; and now
he had aroused his distrust. All the skill in the world could not
repair such an unfortunate mistake. A witness on his guard is no
longer a witness to be depended upon; he trembles for fear of
compromising himself, measures the weight of the questions, and
hesitates as to his answers.
On the other hand, justice, in the form of a magistrate, is disposed
to doubt everything, to imagine everything, and to suspect everybody.
How far was the count a stranger to the crime at La Jonchere? Although
doubting Albert's paternity, he would certainly have made great
efforts to save him. His story showed that he thought his honour in
peril just as much as his son. Was he not the man to suppress, by
every means, an inconvenient witness? Thus reasoned M. Daburon. And
yet he could not clearly see how the Count de Commarin's interests
were concerned in the matter. This uncertainty made him very uneasy.
"Sir," he asked, more sternly, "when were you informed of the
discovery of your secret?"
"Last evening, by Albert himself. He spoke to me of this sad story, in
a way which I now seek in vain to explain, unless--"
The count stopped short, as if his reason had been struck by the
improbability of the supposition which he had formed.
"Unless!--" inquired the magistrate eagerly.
"Sir," said the count, without replying directly, "Albert is a hero,
if he is not guilty."
"Ah!" said the magistrate quickly, "have you, then, reason to think
M. Daburon's spite was so plainly visible in the tone of his words
that M. de Commarin could and ought to have seen the semblance of an
insult. He started, evidently offended, and rising, said: "I am now no
more a witness for, than I was a moment ago a witness against. I
desire only to render what assistance I can to justice, in accordance
with my duty."
"Confound it," said M. Daburon to himself, "here I have offended him
now! Is this the way to do things, making mistake after mistake?"
"The facts are these," resumed the count. "Yesterday, after having
spoken to me of these cursed letters, Albert began to set a trap to
discover the truth,--for he still had doubts, Noel Gerdy not having
obtained the complete correspondence. An animated discussion arose
between us. He declared his resolution to give way to Noel. I, on the
other hand, was resolved to compromise the matter, cost what it might.
Albert dared to oppose me. All my efforts to convert him to my views
were useless. Vainly I tried to touch those chords in his breast which
I supposed the most sensitive. He firmly repeated his intention to
retire in spite of me, declaring himself satisfied, if I would consent
to allow him a modest competence. I again attempted to shake him, by
showing him that his marriage, so ardently looked forward to for two
years, would be broken off by this blow. He replied that he felt sure
of the constancy of his betrothed, Mademoiselle d'Arlange."
This name fell like a thunderbolt upon the ears of the investigating
magistrate. He jumped in his chair. Feeling that his face was turning
crimson, he took up a large bundle of papers from his table, and, to
hide his emotion, he raised them to his face, as though trying to
decipher an illegible word. He began to understand the difficult duty
with which he was charged. He knew that he was troubled like a child,
having neither his usual calmness nor foresight. He felt that he might
commit the most serious blunders. Why had he undertaken this
investigation? Could he preserve himself quite free from bias? Did he
think his will would be perfectly impartial? Gladly would he put off
to another time the further examination of the count; but could he?
His conscience told him that this would be another blunder. He
renewed, then, the painful examination.
"Sir," said he, "the sentiments expressed by the viscount are very
fine, without doubt; but did he not mention Widow Lerouge?"
"Yes," replied the count, who appeared suddenly to brighten, as by the
remembrance of some unnoticed circumstances,--"yes, certainly."
"He must have shown you that this woman's testimony rendered a
struggle with M. Gerdy impossible."
"Precisely; sir; and, aside from the question of duty, it was upon
that that he based his refusal to follow my wishes."
"It will be necessary, count, for you to repeat to me very exactly all
that passed between the viscount and yourself. Appeal, then, I beseech
you, to your memory, and try to repeat his own words as nearly as
M. de Commarin could do so without much difficulty. For some little
time, a salutary reaction had taken place within him. His blood,
excited by the persistence of the examination, moved in its accustomed
course. His brain cleared itself.
The scene of the previous evening was admirably presented to his
memory, even to the most insignificant details. The sound of Albert's
voice was still in his ears; he saw again his expressive gestures. As
his story advanced, alive with clearness and precision, M. Daburon's
conviction became more confirmed.
The magistrate turned against Albert precisely that which the day
before had won the count's admiration.
"What wonderful acting!" thought he. "Tabaret is decidedly possessed
of second sight. To his inconceivable boldness, this young man joins
an infernal cleverness. The genius of crime itself inspires him. It is
a miracle that we are able to unmask him. How well everything was
foreseen and arranged? How marvellously this scene with his father was
brought about, in order to procure doubt in case of discovery? There
is not a sentence which lacks a purpose, which does not tend to ward
off suspicion. What refinement of execution! What excessive care for
details! Nothing is wanting, not even the great devotion of his
betrothed. Has he really informed Claire? Probably I might find out;
but I should have to see her again, to speak to her. Poor child! to
love such a man! But his plan is now fully exposed. His discussion
with the count was his plank of safety. It committed him to nothing,
and gained time. He would of course raise objections, since they would
only end by binding him the more firmly in his father's heart. He
could thus make a merit of his compliance, and would ask a reward for
his weakness. And, when Noel returned to the charge, he would find
himself in presence of the count, who would boldly deny everything,
politely refuse to have anything to do with him and would possibly
have him driven out of the house, as an impostor and forger."
It was a strange coincidence, but yet easily explained, that M. de
Commarin, while telling his story, arrived at the same ideas as the
magistrate, and at conclusions almost identical. In fact, why that
persistence with respect to Claudine? He remembered plainly, that, in
his anger, he had said to his son, "Mankind is not in the habit of
doing such fine actions for its own satisfaction." That great
disinterestedness was now explained.
When the count had ceased speaking, M. Daburon said: "I thank you,
sir. I can say nothing positive; but justice has weighty reasons to
believe that, in the scene which you have just related to me, Viscount
Albert played a part previously arranged."
"And well arranged," murmured the count; "for he deceived me!"
He was interrupted by the entrance of Noel, who carried under his arm
a black shagreen portfolio, ornamented with his monogram.
The advocate bowed to the old gentleman, who in his turn rose and
retired politely to the end of the room.
"Sir," said Noel, in an undertone to the magistrate, "you will find
all the letters in this portfolio. I must ask permission to leave you
at once, as Madame Gerdy's condition grows hourly more alarming."
Noel had raised his voice a little, in pronouncing these last words;
and the count heard them. He started, and made a great effort to
restrain the question which leaped from his heart to his lips.
"You must however give me a moment, my dear sir," replied the
M. Daburon then quitted his chair, and, taking the advocate by the
hand, led him to the count.
"M. de Commarin," said he, "I have the honour of presenting to you M.
M. de Commarin was probably expecting some scene of this kind: for not
a muscle of his face moved: he remained perfectly calm. Noel, on his
side, was like a man who had received a blow on the head; he
staggered, and was obliged to seek support from the back of a chair.
Then these two, father and son, stood face to face, apparently deep in
thought, but in reality examining one another with mutual distrust,
each striving to gather something of the other's thoughts.
M. Daburon had augured better results from this meeting, which he had
been awaiting ever since the count's arrival. He had expected that
this abrupt presentation would bring about an intensely pathetic
scene, which would not give his two witnesses time for reflection. The
count would open his arms: Noel would throw himself into them; and
this reconciliation would only await the sanction of the tribunals, to
The coldness of the one, the embarrassment of the other, disconcerted
his plans. He therefore thought it necessary to intervene.
"Count," said he reproachfully, "remember that it was only a few
minutes ago that you admitted that M. Gerdy was your legitimate son."
M. de Commarin made no reply; to judge from his lack of emotion, he
could not have heard.
So Noel, summoning all his courage, ventured to speak first,--" Sir,"
he stammered, "I entertain no--"
"You may call me father," interrupted the haughty old man, in a tone
which was by no means affectionate. Then addressing the magistrate he
said: "Can I be of any further use to you, sir?"
"Only to hear your evidence read over," replied M. Daburon, "and to
sign it if you find everything correct. You can proceed, Constant," he
The tall clerk turned half round on his chair and commenced. He had a
peculiar way of jabbering over what he had scrawled. He read very
quickly, all at a stretch, without paying the least attention to
either full stops or commas, questions or replies; but went on reading
as long as his breath lasted. When he could go on no longer, he took a
breath, and then continued as before. Unconsciously, he reminded one
of a diver, who every now and then raises his head above water,
obtains a supply of air, and disappears again. Noel was the only one
to listen attentively to the reading, which to unpractised ears was
unintelligible. It apprised him of many things which it was important
for him to know. At last Constant pronounced the words, "In testimony
whereof," etc., which end all official reports in France.
He handed the pen to the count, who signed without hesitation. The old
nobleman then turned towards Noel.
"I am not very strong," he said; "you must therefore, my son,"
emphasizing the word, "help your father to his carriage."
The young advocate advanced eagerly. His face brightened, as he passed
the count's arm through his own. When they were gone, M. Daburon could
not resist a impulse of curiosity. He hastened to the door, which he
opened slightly; and, keeping his body in the background that he might
not himself be seen, he looked out into the passage. The count and
Noel had not yet reached the end. They were going slowly. The count
seemed to drag heavily and painfully along; the advocate took short
steps, bending slightly towards his father; and all his movements were
marked with the greatest solicitude. The magistrate remained watching
them until they passed out of sight at the end of the gallery. Then he
returned to his seat, heaving a deep sigh.
"At least," thought he, "I have helped to make one person happy. The
day will not be entirely a bad one."
But he had no time to give way to his thoughts, the hours flew by so
quickly. He wished to interrogate Albert as soon as possible; and he
had still to receive the evidence of several of the count's servants,
and the report of the commissary of police charged with the arrest.
The servants who had been waiting their turn a long while were now
brought in without delay, and examined separately. They had but little
information to give; but the testimony of each was so to say a fresh
accusation. It was easy to see that all believed their master guilty.
Albert's conduct since the beginning of the fatal week, his least
words, his most insignificant movements, were reported, commented
upon, and explained.
The man who lives in the midst of thirty servants is like an insect in
a glass box under the magnifying glass of a naturalist. Not one of his
acts escapes their notice: he can scarcely have a secret of his own;
and, if they cannot divine what it is, they at least know that he has
one. From morn till night he is the point of observation for thirty
pairs of eyes, interested in studying the slightest changes in his
The magistrate obtained, therefore, an abundance of those frivolous
details which seem nothing at first; but the slightest of which may,
at the trial, become a question of life or death.
By combining these depositions, reconciling them and putting them in
order, M. Daburon was able to follow his prisoner hour by hour from
the Sunday morning.
Directly Noel left, the viscount gave orders that all visitors should
be informed that he had gone into the country. From that moment, the
whole household perceived that something had gone wrong with him, that
he was very much annoyed, or very unwell.
He did not leave his study on that day, but had his dinner brought up
to him. He ate very little,--only some soup, and a very thin fillet of
sole with white wine. While eating, he said to M. Contois, the butler:
"Remind the cook to spice the sauce a little more, in future," and
then added in a low tone, "Ah! to what purpose?" In the evening he
dismissed his servants from all duties, saying, "Go, and amuse
yourselves." He expressly warned them not to disturb him unless he
On the Monday, he did not get up until noon, although usually an early
riser. He complained of a violent headache, and of feeling sick. He
took, however a cup of tea. He ordered his brougham, but almost
immediately countermanded the order. Lubin, his valet, heard him say:
"I am hesitating too much;" and a few moments later, "I must make up
my mind." Shortly afterwards he began writing.
He then gave Lubin a letter to carry to Mademoiselle Claire d'Arlange,
with orders to deliver it only to herself or to Mademoiselle Schmidt,
the governess. A second letter, containing two thousand franc notes,
was intrusted to Joseph, to be taken to the viscount's club. Joseph no
longer remembered the name of the person to whom the letter was
addressed; but it was not a person of title. That evening, Albert only
took a little soup, and remained shut up in his room.
He rose early on the Tuesday. He wandered about the house, as though
he were in great trouble, or impatiently awaiting something which did
not arrive. On his going into the garden, the gardener asked his
advice concerning a lawn. He replied, "You had better consult the
count upon his return."
He did not breakfast any more than the day before. About one o'clock,
he went down to stables, and caressed, with an air of sadness, his
favorite mare, Norma. Stroking her neck, he said, "Poor creature! poor
At three o'clock, a messenger arrived with a letter. The viscount took
it, and opened it hastily. He was then near the flower-garden. Two
footmen distinctly heard him say, "She cannot resist." He returned to
the house, and burnt the letter in the large stove in the hall.
As he was sitting down to dinner, at six o'clock, two of his friends,
M. de Courtivois and the Marquis de Chouze, insisted upon seeing him,
in spite of all orders. They would not be refused. These gentlemen
were anxious for him to join them in some pleasure party, but he
declined, saying that he had a very important appointment.
At dinner he ate a little more than on the previous days. He even
asked the butler for a bottle of Chateau-Lafitte, the whole of which
he drank himself. While taking his coffee, he smoked a cigar in the
dining room, contrary to the rules of the house. At half-past seven,
according to Joseph and two footmen, or at eight according to the
Swiss porter and Lubin, the viscount went out on foot, taking an
umbrella with him. He returned home at two o'clock in the morning, and
at once dismissed his valet, who had waited up for him.
On entering the viscount's room on the Wednesday, the valet was struck
with the condition in which he found his master's clothes. They were
wet, and stained with mud; the trousers were torn. He ventured to make
a remark about them. Albert replied, in a furious manner, "Throw the
old things in a corner, ready to be given away."
He appeared to be much better all that day. He breakfasted with a good
appetite; and the butler noticed that he was in excellent spirits. He
passed the afternoon in the library, and burnt a pile of papers.
On the Thursday, he again seemed very unwell. He was scarcely able to
go and meet the count. That evening, after his interview with his
father, he went to his room looking extremely ill. Lubin wanted to run
for the doctor: he forbade him to do so, or to mention to any one that
he was not well.