Part 5 out of 8
Such was the substance of twenty large pages, which the tall clerk had
covered with writing, without once turning his head to look at the
witnesses who passed by in their fine livery.
M. Daburon managed to obtain this evidence in less than two hours.
Though well aware of the importance of their testimony, all these
servants were very voluble. The difficulty was, to stop them when they
had once started. From all they said, it appeared that Albert was a
very good master,--easily served, kind and polite to his servants.
Wonderful to relate! there were found only three among them who did
not appear perfectly delighted at the misfortune which had befallen
the family. Two were greatly distressed. M. Lubin, although he had
been an object of especial kindness, was not one of these.
The turn of the commissary of police had now come. In a few words, he
gave an account of the arrest, already described by old Tabaret. He
did not forget to mention the one word "Lost," which had escaped
Albert; to his mind, it was a confession. He then delivered all the
articles seized in the Viscount de Commarin's apartments.
The magistrate carefully examined these things, and compared them
closely with the scraps of evidence gathered at La Jonchere. He soon
appeared, more than ever, satisfied with the course he had taken.
He then placed all these material proofs upon his table, and covered
them over with three or four large sheets of paper.
The day was far advanced; and M. Daburon had no more than sufficient
time to examine the prisoner before night. He now remembered that he
had tasted nothing since morning; and he sent hastily for a bottle of
wine and some biscuits. It was not strength, however, that the
magistrate needed; it was courage. All the while that he was eating
and drinking, his thoughts kept repeating this strange sentence, "I am
about to appear before the Viscount de Commarin." At any other time,
he would have laughed at the absurdity of the idea, but, at this
moment, it seemed to him like the will of Providence.
"So be it," said he to himself; "this is my punishment."
And immediately he gave the necessary orders for Viscount Albert to be
brought before him.
Albert scarcely noticed his removal from home to the seclusion of the
prison. Snatched away from his painful thoughts by the harsh voice of
the commissary, saying. "In the name of the law I arrest you," his
mind, completely upset, was a long time in recovering its equilibrium,
Everything that followed appeared to him to float indistinctly in a
thick mist, like those dream-scenes represented on the stage behind a
quadruple curtain of gauze.
To the questions put to him he replied, without knowing what he said.
Two police agents took hold of his arms, and helped him down the
stairs. He could not have walked down alone. His limbs, which bent
beneath him, refused their support. The only thing he understood of
all that was said around him was that the count had been struck with
apoplexy; but even that he soon forgot.
They lifted him into the cab, which was waiting in the court-yard at
the foot of the steps, rather ashamed at finding itself in such a
place; and they placed him on the back seat. Two police agents
installed themselves in front of him while a third mounted the box by
the side of the driver. During the drive, he did not at all realize
his situation. He lay perfectly motionless in the dirty, greasy
vehicle. His body, which followed every jolt, scarcely allayed by the
worn-out springs, rolled from one side to the other and his head
oscillated on his shoulders, as if the muse of his neck were broken.
He thought of Widow Lerouge. He recalled her as she was when he went
with his father to La Jonchere. It was in the spring-time; and the
hawthorn blossoms scented the air. The old woman, in a white cap,
stood at her garden gate: she spoke beseechingly. The count looked
sternly at her as he listened, then, taking some gold from his purse,
he gave it to her.
On arriving at their destination they lifted him out of the cab, the
same way as they had lifted him in at starting.
During the formality of entering his name in the jail-book in the
dingy, stinking record office, and whilst replying mechanically to
everything, he gave himself up with delight to recollections of
Claire. He went back to the time of the early days of their love, when
he doubted whether he would ever have the happiness of being loved by
her in return; when they used to meet at Mademoiselle Goello's.
This old maid had a house on the left bank of the Seine furnished in
the most eccentric manner. On all the dining-room furniture, and on
the mantel-piece, were placed a dozen or fifteen stuffed dogs, of
various breeds, which together or successively had helped to cheer the
maiden's lonely hours. She loved to relate stories of these pets whose
affection had never failed her. Some were grotesque, others horrible.
One especially, outrageously stuffed seemed ready to burst. How many
times he and Claire had laughed at it until the tears came!
The officials next began to search him. This crowning humiliation,
these rough hands passing all over his body brought him somewhat to
himself, and roused his anger. But it was already over; and they at
once dragged him along the dark corridors, over the filthy, slippery
floor. They opened a door, and pushed him into a small cell. He then
heard them lock and bolt the door.
He was a prisoner, and, in accordance with special orders, in solitary
confinement. He immediately felt a marked sensation of comfort. He was
No more stifled whispers, harsh voices, implacable questions, sounded
in his ears. A profound silence reigned around. It seemed to him that
he had forever escaped from society; and he rejoiced at it. He would
have felt relieved, had this even been the silence of the grave. His
body, as well as his mind, was weighed down with weariness. He wanted
to sit down, when he perceived a small bed, to the right, in front of
the grated window, which let in the little light there was. This bed
was as welcome to him as a plank would be to a drowning man. He threw
himself upon it, and lay down with delight; but he felt cold, so he
unfolded the coarse woollen coverlid, and wrapping it about him, was
soon sound asleep.
In the corridor, two detectives, one still young, the other rather
old, applied alternately their eyes and ears to the peep-hole in the
door, watching every movement of the prisoner; "What a fellow he is!"
murmured the younger officer. "If a man has no more nerve than that,
he ought to remain honest. He won't care much about his looks the
morning of his execution, eh, M. Balan?"
"That depends," replied the other. "We must wait and see. Lecoq told
me that he was a terrible rascal."
"Ah! look he arranges his bed, and lies down. Can he be going to
sleep? That's good! It's the first time I ever saw such a thing."
"It is because, comrade, you have only had dealings with the smaller
rogues. All rascals of position--and I have had to do with more than
one--are this sort. At the moment of arrest, they are incapable of
anything; their heart fails them; but they recover themselves next
"Upon my word, one would say he has gone to sleep! What a joke!"
"I tell you, my friend," added the old man, pointedly, "that nothing
is more natural. I am sure that, since the blow was struck, this young
fellow has hardly lived: his body has been all on fire. Now he knows
that his secret is out; and that quiets him."
"Ha, ha! M. Balan, you are joking: you say that that quiets him?"
"Certainly. There is no greater punishment, remember, than anxiety;
everything is preferable. If you only possessed an income of ten
thousand francs, I would show you a way to prove this. I would tell
you to go to Hamburg and risk your entire fortune on one chance at
rouge et noir. You could relate to me, afterwards, what your feelings
were while the ball was rolling. It is, my boy, as though your brain
was being torn with pincers, as though molten lead was being poured
into your bones, in place of marrow. This anxiety is so strong, that
one feels relieved, one breathes again, even when one has lost. It is
ruin; but then the anxiety is over."
"Really, M. Balan, one would think that you yourself had had just such
"Alas! sighed the old detective, "it is to my love for the queen of
spades, my unhappy love, that you owe the honour of looking through
this peephole in my company. But this fellow will sleep for a couple
of hours, do not lose sight of him; I am going to smoke a cigarette in
Albert slept four hours. On awaking his head seemed clearer than it
had been ever since his interview with Noel. It was a terrible moment
for him, when, for the first time he became fully aware of his
"Now, indeed," said he, "I require all my courage."
He longed to see some one, to speak, to be questioned, to explain. He
felt a desire to call out.
"But what good would that be?" he asked himself. "Some one will be
coming soon." He looked for his watch, to see what time it was, and
found that they had taken it away. He felt this deeply; they were
treating him like the most abandoned of villains. He felt in his
pockets: they had all been carefully emptied. He thought now of his
personal appearance; and, getting up, he repaired as much as possible
the disorder of his toilet. He put his clothes in order, and dusted
them; he straightened his collar, and re-tied his cravat. Then pouring
a little water on his handkerchief, he passed it over his face,
bathing his eyes which were greatly inflamed. Then he endeavoured to
smooth his beard and hair. He had no idea that four lynx eyes were
fixed upon him all the while.
"Good!" murmured the young detective: "see how our cock sticks up his
comb, and smooths his feathers!
"I told you," put in Balan, "that he was only staggered. Hush! he is
speaking, I believe."
But they neither surprised one of those disordered gestures nor one of
those incoherent speeches, which almost always escape from the feeble
when excited by fear, or from the imprudent ones who believe in the
discretion of their cells. One word alone, "honour," reached the ears
of the two spies.
"These rascals of rank," grumbled Balan, "always have this word in
their mouths. That which they most fear is the opinion of some dozen
friends, and several thousand strangers, who read the 'Gazette des
Tribunaux.' They only think of their own heads later on."
When the gendarmes came to conduct Albert before the investigating
magistrate, they found him seated on the side of his bed, his feet
pressed upon the iron rail, his elbows on his knees, and his head
buried in his hands. He rose, as they entered, and took a few steps
towards them; but his throat was so dry that he was scarcely able to
speak. He asked for a moment, and, turning towards the little table,
he filled and drank two large glassfuls of water in succession.
"I am ready!" he then said. And, with a firm step, he followed the
gendarmes along the passage which led to the Palais de Justice.
M. Daburon was just then in great anguish. He walked furiously up and
down his office, awaiting the prisoner. Again, and for the twentieth
time since morning, he regretted having engaged in the business.
"Curse this absurd point of honour, which I have obeyed," he inwardly
exclaimed. "I have in vain attempted to reassure myself by the aid of
sophisms. I was wrong in not withdrawing. Nothing in the world can
change my feelings towards this young man. I hate him. I am his judge;
and it is no less true, that at one time I longed to assassinate him.
I faced him with a revolver in my hand: why did I not present it and
fire? Do I know why? What power held my finger, when an almost
insensible pressure would have sufficed to kill him? I cannot say. Why
is not he the judge, I the assassin? If the intention was as
punishable as the deed, I ought to be guillotined. And it is under
such conditions that I dare examine him!"
Passing before the door he heard the heavy footsteps of the gendarmes
in the passage.
"It is he," he said aloud and then hastily seated himself at his
table, bending over his portfolios, as though striving to hide
himself. If the tall clerk had used his eyes, he would have noticed
the singular spectacle of an investigating magistrate more agitated
than the prisoner he was about to examine. But he was blind to all
around him; and, at this moment, he was only aware of an error of
fifteen centimes, which had slipped into his accounts, and which he
was unable to rectify.
Albert entered the magistrate's office with his head erect. His
features bore traces of great fatigue and of sleepless nights. He was
very pale; but his eyes were clear and sparkling.
The usual questions which open such examinations gave M. Daburon an
opportunity to recover himself. Fortunately, he had found time in the
morning to prepare a plan, which he had now simply to follow.
"You are aware, sir," he commenced in a tone of perfect politeness,
"that you have no right to the name you bear?"
"I know, sir," replied Albert, "that I am the natural son of M. de
Commarin. I know further that my father would be unable to recognise
me, even if he wished to, since I was born during his married life."
"What were your feelings upon learning this?"
"I should speak falsely, sir, if I said I did not feel very bitterly.
When one is in the high position I occupied, the fall is terrible.
However, I never for a moment entertained the thought of contesting M.
Noel Gerdy's rights. I always purposed, and still purpose, to yield, I
have so informed M. de Commarin."
M. Daburon expected just such a reply; and it only strengthened his
suspicions. Did it not enter into the line of defence which he had
foreseen? It was now his duty to seek some way of demolishing this
defence, in which the prisoner evidently meant to shut himself up like
a tortoise in its shell.
"You could not oppose M. Gerdy," continued the magistrate, "with any
chance of success. You had, indeed on your side, the count, and your
mother; but M. Gerdy was in possession of evidence that was certain to
win his cause, that of Widow Lerouge."
"I have never doubted that, sir."
"Now," continued the magistrate, seeking to hide the look which he
fastened upon Albert, "justice supposes that, to do away with the only
existing proof, you have assassinated Widow Lerouge."
This terrible accusation, terribly emphasised, caused no change in
Albert's features. He preserved the same firm bearing, without
"Before God," he answered, "and by all that is most sacred on earth, I
swear to you, sir, that I am innocent! I am at this moment a close
prisoner, without communication with the outer world, reduced
consequently to the most absolute helplessness. It is through your
probity that I hope to demonstrate my innocence."
"What an actor!" thought the magistrate. "Can crime be so strong as
He glanced over his papers, reading certain passages of the preceding
depositions, turning down the corners of certain pages which contained
important information. Then suddenly he resumed, "When you were
arrested, you cried out, 'I am lost,' what did you mean by that?"
"Sir," replied Albert, "I remember having uttered those words. When I
knew of what crime I was accused, I was overwhelmed with
consternation. My mind was, as it were, enlightened by a glimpse of
the future. In a moment, I perceived all the horror of my situation. I
understood the weight of the accusation, its probability, and the
difficulties I should have in defending myself. A voice cried out to
me, 'Who was most interested in Claudine's death?' And the knowledge
of my imminent peril forced from me the exclamation you speak of."
His explanation was more than plausible, was possible, and even
likely. It had the advantage, too, of anticipating the axiom, "Search
out the one whom the crime will benefit!" Tabaret had spoken truly,
when he said that they would not easily make the prisoner confess.
M. Daburon admired Albert's presence of mind, and the resources of his
"You do indeed," continued the magistrate, "appear to have had the
greatest interest in this death. Moreover, I will inform you that
robbery was not the object of the crime. The things thrown into the
Seine have been recovered. We know, also, that all the widow's papers
were burnt. Could they compromise any one but yourself? If you know of
any one, speak."
"What can I answer, sir? Nothing."
"Have you often gone to see this woman?"
"Three or four times with my father."
"One of your coachmen pretends to have driven you there at least ten
"The man is mistaken. But what matters the number of visits?"
"Do you recollect the arrangements of the rooms? Can you describe
"Perfectly, sir: there were two. Claudine slept in the back room."
"You were in no way a stranger to Widow Lerouge. If you had knocked
one evening at her window-shutter, do you think she would have let you
"Certainly, sir, and eagerly."
"You have been unwell these last few days?"
"Very unwell, to say the least, sir. My body bent under the weight of
a burden too great for my strength. It was not, however, for want of
"Why did you forbid your valet, Lubin, to call in the doctor?"
"Ah, sir, how could the doctor cure my disease? All his science could
not make me the legitimate son of the Count de Commarin."
"Some very singular remarks made by you were overheard. You seemed to
be no longer interested in anything concerning your home. You
destroyed a large number of papers and letters."
"I had decided to leave the count, sir. My resolution explains my
Albert replied promptly to the magistrate's questions, without the
least embarrassment, and in a confident tone. His voice, which was
very pleasant to the ear, did not tremble. It concealed no emotion; it
retained its pure and vibrating sound.
M. Daburon deemed it wise to suspend the examination for a short time.
With so cunning an adversary, he was evidently pursuing a false
course. To proceed in detail was folly, he neither intimidated the
prisoner, nor made him break through his reserve. It was necessary to
take him unawares.
"Sir," resumed the magistrate, abruptly, "tell me exactly how you
passed your time last Tuesday evening, from six o'clock until
For the first time, Albert seemed disconcerted. His glance, which had,
till then, been fixed upon the magistrate, wavered.
"During Tuesday evening," he stammered, repeating the phrase to gain
"I have him," thought the magistrate, starting with joy, and then
added aloud, "yes, from six o'clock until midnight."
"I am afraid, sir," answered Albert, "it will be difficult for me to
satisfy you. I haven't a very good memory."
"Oh, don't tell me that!" interrupted the magistrate. "If I had asked
what you were doing three months ago, on a certain evening, and at a
certain hour, I could understand your hesitation; but this is about
Tuesday, and it is now Friday. Moreover, this day, so close, was the
last of the carnival; it was Shrove Tuesday. That circumstance ought
to help your memory."
"That evening, I went out walking," murmured Albert.
"Now," continued the magistrate, "where did you dine?"
"At home, as usual."
"No, not as usual. At the end of your meal, you asked for a bottle of
Bordeaux, of which you drank the whole. You doubtless had need of some
extra excitement for your subsequent plans."
"I had no plans," replied the prisoner with very evident uneasiness.
"You make a mistake. Two friends came to seek you. You replied to
them, before sitting down to dinner, that you had a very important
engagement to keep,"
"That was only a polite way of getting rid of them."
"Can you not understand, sir? I was resigned, but not comforted. I was
learning to get accustomed to the terrible blow. Would not one seek
solitude in the great crisis of one's life?"
"The prosecution pretends that you wished to be left alone, that you
might go to La Jonchere. During the day, you said, 'She can not resist
me.' Of whom were you speaking?"
"Of some one to whom I had written the evening before, and who had
replied to me. I spoke the words, with her letter still in my hands."
"This letter was, then, from a woman?"
"What have you done with it?"
"I have burnt it."
"This precaution leads one to suppose that you considered the letter
"Not at all, sir; it treated entirely of private matters."
M. Daburon was sure that this letter came from Mademoiselle d'Arlange.
Should he nevertheless ask the question, and again hear pronounced the
name of Claire, which always aroused such painful emotions within him?
He ventured to do so, leaning over his papers, so that the prisoner
could not detect his emotion.
"From whom did this letter come?" he asked.
"From one whom I can not name."
"Sir," said the magistrate severely, "I will not conceal from you that
your position is greatly compromised. Do not aggravate it by this
culpable reticence. You are here to tell everything, sir."
"My own affairs, yes, not those of others."
Albert gave this last answer in a dry tone. He was giddy, flurried,
exasperated, by the prying and irritating mode of the examination,
which scarcely gave him time to breathe. The magistrate's questions
fell upon him more thickly than the blows of the blacksmith's hammer
upon the red-hot iron which he is anxious to beat into shape before it
The apparent rebellion of his prisoner troubled M. Daburon a great
deal. He was further extremely surprised to find the discernment of
the old detective at fault; just as though Tabaret were infallible.
Tabaret had predicted an unexceptionable /alibi/; and this /alibi/ was
not forthcoming. Why? Had this subtle villain something better than
that? What artful defence had he to fall back upon? Doubtless he kept
in reserve some unforeseen stroke, perhaps irresistible.
"Gently," thought the magistrate. "I have not got him yet." Then he
quickly added aloud: "Continue. After dinner what did you do?"
"I went out for a walk."
"Not immediately. The bottle emptied, you smoked a cigar in the
dining-room, which was so unusual as to be noticed. What kind of
cigars do you usually smoke?"
"Do you not use a cigar-holder, to keep your lips from contact with
"Yes, sir," replied Albert, much surprised at this series of
"At what time did you go out?"
"About eight o'clock."
"Did you carry an umbrella?"
"Where did you go?"
"I walked about."
"Alone, without any object, all the evening?"
"Now trace out your wanderings for me very carefully."
"Ah, sir, that is very difficult to do! I went out simply to walk
about, for the sake of exercise, to drive away the torpor which had
depressed me for three days. I don't know whether you can picture to
yourself my exact condition. I was half out of my mind. I walked about
at hazard along the quays. I wandered through the streets,--"
"All that is very improbable," interrupted the magistrate. M. Daburon,
however, knew that it was at least possible. Had not he himself, one
night, in a similar condition, traversed all Paris? What reply could
he have made, had some one asked him next morning where he had been,
except that he had not paid attention, and did not know? But he had
forgotten this; and his previous hesitations, too, had all vanished.
As the inquiry advanced, the fever of investigation took possession of
him. He enjoyed the emotions of the struggle, his passion for his
calling became stronger than ever.
He was again an investigating magistrate, like the fencing master,
who, once practising with his dearest friend, became excited by the
clash of the weapons, and, forgetting himself, killed him.
"So," resumed M. Daburon, "you met absolutely no one who can affirm
that he saw you? You did not speak to a living soul? You entered no
place, not even a cafe or a theatre, or a tobacconist's to light one
of your favourite trabucos?"
"Well, it is a great misfortune for you, yes, a very great misfortune;
for I must inform you, that it was precisely during this Tuesday
evening, between eight o'clock and midnight, that Widow Lerouge was
assassinated. Justice can point out the exact hour. Again, sir, in
your own interest, I recommend you to reflect,--to make a strong
appeal to your memory."
This pointing out of the exact day and hour of the murder seemed to
astound Albert. He raised his hand to his forehead with a despairing
gesture. However he replied in a calm voice,--"I am very unfortunate,
sir: but I can recollect nothing."
M. Daburon's surprise was immense. What, not an /alibi/? Nothing? This
could be no snare nor system of defence. Was, then, this man as
cunning as he had imagined? Doubtless. Only he had been taken
unawares. He had never imagined it possible for the accusation to fall
upon him; and it was almost by a miracle it had done so.
The magistrate slowly raised, one by one, the large pieces of paper
that covered the articles seized in Albert's rooms.
"We will pass," he continued, "to the examination of the charges which
weigh against you. Will you please come nearer? Do you recognize these
articles as belonging to yourself?"
"Yes, sir, they are all mine."
"Well, take this foil. Who broke it?"
"I, sir, in fencing with M. de Courtivois, who can bear witness to
"He will be heard. Where is the broken end?"
"I do not know. You must ask Lubin, my valet."
"Exactly. He declares that he has hunted for it, and cannot find it. I
must tell you that the victim received the fatal blow from the
sharpened end of a broken foil. This piece of stuff, on which the
assassin wiped his weapon, is a proof of what I state."
"I beseech you, sir, to order a most minute search to be made. It is
impossible that the other half of the foil is not to be found."
"Orders shall be given to that effect. Look, here is the exact imprint
of the murderer's foot traced on this sheet of paper. I will place one
of your boots upon it and the sole, as you perceive, fits the tracing
with the utmost precision. This plaster was poured into the hollow
left by the heel: you observe that it is, in all respects, similar in
shape to the heels of your own boots. I perceive, too, the mark of a
peg, which appears in both."
Albert followed with marked anxiety every movement of the magistrate.
It was plain that he was struggling against a growing terror. Was he
attacked by that fright which overpowers the guilty when they see
themselves on the point of being confounded. To all the magistrate's
remarks, he answered in a low voice,--"It is true--perfectly true."
"That is so," continued M. Daburon; "yet listen further, before
attempting to defend yourself. The criminal had an umbrella. The end
of this umbrella sank in the clayey soil; the round of wood which is
placed at the end of the silk, was found moulded in the clay. Look at
this clod of clay, raised with the utmost care; and now look at your
umbrella. Compare the rounds. Are they alike, or not?"
"These things, sir," attempted Albert, "are manufactured in large
"Well, we will pass over that proof. Look at this cigar end, found on
the scene of the crime, and tell me of what brand it is, and how it
"It is a trabucos, and was smoked in a cigar-holder."
"Like these?" persisted the magistrate, pointing to the cigars and the
amber and meerschaum-holders found in the viscount's library.
"Yes!" murmured Albert, "it is a fatality--a strange coincidence."
"Patience, that is nothing, as yet. The assassin wore gloves. The
victim, in the death struggle, seized his hands; and some pieces of
kid remained in her nails. These have been preserved, and are here.
They are of a lavender colour, are they not? Now, here are the gloves
which you wore on Tuesday. They, too, are lavender, and they are
frayed. Compare these pieces of kid with your own gloves. Do they not
correspond? Are they not of the same colour, the same skin?"
It was useless to deny it, equivocate, or seek subterfuges. The
evidence was there, and it was irrefutable. While appearing to occupy
himself solely with the objects lying upon his table, M. Daburon did
not lose sight of the prisoner. Albert was terrified. A cold
perspiration bathed his temples, and glided drop by drop down his
cheeks. His hands trembled so much that they were of no use to him. In
a chilling voice he kept repeating: "It is horrible, horrible!"
"Finally," pursued the inexorable magistrate, "here are the trousers
you wore on the evening of the murder. It is plain that not long ago
they were very wet; and, besides the mud on them, there are traces of
earth. Besides that they are torn at the knees. We will admit, for the
moment that you might not remember where you went on that evening; but
who would believe that you do not know when you tore your trousers and
how you frayed your gloves?"
What courage could resist such assaults? Albert's firmness and energy
were at an end. His brain whirled. He fell heavily into a chair,
exclaiming,--"It is enough to drive me mad!"
"Do you admit," insisted the magistrate, whose gaze had become firmly
fixed upon the prisoner, "do you admit that Widow Lerouge could only
have been stabbed by you?"
"I admit," protested Albert, "that I am the victim of one of those
terrible fatalities which make men doubt the evidence of their reason.
I am innocent."
"Then tell me where you passed Tuesday evening."
"Ah, sir!" cried the prisoner, "I should have to--" But, restraining
himself, he added in a faint voice, "I have made the only answer that
I can make."
M. Daburon rose, having now reached his grand stroke.
"It is, then, my duty," said he, with a shade of irony, "to supply
your failure of memory. I am going to remind you of where you went and
what you did. On Tuesday evening at eight o'clock, after having
obtained from the wine you drank, the dreadful energy you needed, you
left your home. At thirty-five minutes past eight, you took the train
at the St. Lazare station. At nine o'clock, you alighted at the
station at Rueil."
And, not disdaining to employ Tabaret's ideas, the investigating
magistrate repeated nearly word for word the tirade improvised the
night before by the amateur detective.
He had every reason, while speaking, to admire the old fellow's
penetration. In all his life, his eloquence had never produced so
striking an effect. Every sentence, every word, told. The prisoner's
assurance, already shaken, fell little by little, just like the outer
coating of a wall when riddled with bullets.
Albert was, as the magistrate perceived, like a man, who, rolling to
the bottom of a precipice, sees every branch and every projecture
which might retard his fall fail him, and who feels a new and more
painful bruise each time his body comes in contact with them.
"And now," concluded the investigating magistrate, "listen to good
advice: do not persist in a system of denying, impossible to sustain.
Give in. Justice, rest assured, is ignorant of nothing which it is
important to know. Believe me; seek to deserve the indulgence of your
judges, confess your guilt."
M. Daburon did not believe that his prisoner would still persist in
asserting his innocence. He imagined he would be overwhelmed and
confounded, that he would throw himself at his feet, begging for
mercy. But he was mistaken.
Albert, in spite of his great prostration, found, in one last effort
of his will, sufficient strength to recover himself and again protest,
--"You are right, sir," he said in a sad, but firm voice; "everything
seems to prove me guilty. In your place, I should have spoken as you
have done; yet all the same, I swear to you that I am innocent."
"Come now, do you really--" began the magistrate.
"I am innocent," interrupted Albert; "and I repeat it, without the
least hope of changing in any way your conviction. Yes, everything
speaks against me, everything, even my own bearing before you. It is
true, my courage has been shaken by these incredible, miraculous,
overwhelming coincidences. I am overcome, because I feel the
impossibility of proving my innocence. But I do not despair. My honour
and my life are in the hands of God. At this very hour when to you I
appear lost,--for I in no way deceive myself, sir,--I do not despair
of a complete justification. I await confidently."
"What do you mean?" asked the magistrate.
"Nothing but what I say, sir."
"So you persist in denying your guilt?"
"I am innocent."
"But this is folly--"
"I am innocent."
"Very well," said M. Daburon; "that is enough for to-day. You will
hear the official report of your examination read, and will then be
taken back to solitary confinement. I exhort you to reflect. Night
will perhaps bring on a better feeling; if you wish at any time to
speak to me, send word, and I will come to you. I will give orders to
that effect. You may read now, Constant."
When Albert had departed under the escort of the gendarmes, the
magistrate muttered in a low tone, "There's an obstinate fellow for
you." He certainly no longer entertained the shadow of a doubt. To
him, Albert was as surely the murderer as if he had admitted his guilt
Even if he should persist in his system of denial to the end of the
investigation, it was impossible, that, with the proofs already in the
possession of the police, a true bill should not be found against him.
He was therefore certain of being committed for trial at the assizes.
It was a hundred to one, that the jury would bring in a verdict of
Left to himself, however, M. Daburon did not experience that intense
satisfaction, mixed with vanity, which he ordinarily felt after he had
successfully conducted an examination, and had succeeded in getting
his prisoner into the same position as Albert. Something disturbed and
shocked him. At the bottom of his heart, he felt ill at ease. He had
triumphed; but his victory gave him only uneasiness, pain, and
vexation. A reflection so simple that he could hardly understand why
it had not occurred to him at first, increased his discontent, and
made him angry with himself.
"Something told me," he muttered, "that I was wrong to undertake this
business. I am punished for not having obeyed that inner voice. I
ought to have declined to proceed with the investigation. The Viscount
de Commarin, was, all the same, certain to be arrested, imprisoned,
examined, confounded, tried, and probably condemned. Then, being in no
way connected with the trial, I could have reappeared before Claire.
Her grief will be great. As her friend, I could have soothed her,
mingled my tears with hers, calmed her regrets. With time, she might
have been consoled, and perhaps have forgotten him. She could not have
helped feeling grateful to me, and then who knows--? While now,
whatever may happen, I shall be an object of loathing to her: she will
never be able to endure the sight of me. In her eyes I shall always be
her lover's assassin. I have with my own hands opened an abyss! I have
lost her a second time, and by my own fault."
The unhappy man heaped the bitterest reproaches upon himself. He was
in despair. He had never so hated Albert,--that wretch, who, stained
with a crime, stood in the way of his happiness. Then too he cursed
old Tabaret! Alone, he would not have decided so quickly. He would
have waited, thought over the matter, matured his decision, and
certainly have perceived the inconveniences, which now occurred to
him. The old fellow, always carried away like a badly trained
bloodhound, and full of stupid enthusiasm, had confused him, and led
him to do what he now so much regretted.
It was precisely this unfavorable moment that M. Tabaret chose for
reappearing before the magistrate. He had just been informed of the
termination of the inquiry; and he arrived, impatient to know what had
passed, swelling with curiosity, and full of the sweet hope of hearing
of the fulfilment of his predictions.
"What answers did he make?" he asked even before he had closed the
"He is evidently guilty," replied the magistrate, with a harshness
very different to his usual manner.
Old Tabaret, who expected to receive praises by the basketful, was
astounded at this tone! It was therefore, with great hesitancy that he
offered his further services.
"I have come," he said modestly, "to know if any investigations are
necessary to demolish the /alibi/ pleaded by the prisoner."
"He pleaded no /alibi/," replied the magistrate, dryly.
"How," cried the detective, "no /alibi/? Pshaw! I ask pardon: he has
of course then confessed everything."
"No," said the magistrate impatiently, "he has confessed nothing. He
acknowledges that the proofs are decisive: he cannot give an account
of how he spent his time; but he protests his innocence."
In the centre of the room, M. Tabaret stood with his mouth wide open,
and his eyes staring wildly, and altogether in the most grotesque
attitude his astonishment could effect. He was literally
thunderstruck. In spite of his anger, M. Daburon could not help
smiling; and even Constant gave a grin, which on his lips was
equivalent to a paroxysm of laughter.
"Not an /alibi/, nothing?" murmured the old fellow. "No explanations?
The idea! It is inconceivable! Not an /alibi/? We must then be
mistaken: he cannot be the criminal. That is certain!"
The investigating magistrate felt that the old amateur must have been
waiting the result of the examination at the wine shop round the
corner, or else that he had gone mad.
"Unfortunately," said he, "we are not mistaken. It is but too clearly
shown that M. de Commarin is the murderer. However, if you like, you
can ask Constant for his report of the examination, and read it over
while I put these papers in order."
"Very well," said the old fellow with feverish anxiety.
He sat down in Constant's chair, and, leaning his elbows on the table,
thrusting his hands in his hair, he in less than no time read the
report through. When he had finished, he arose with pale and distorted
"Sir," said he to the magistrate in a strange voice, "I have been the
involuntary cause of a terrible mistake. This man is innocent."
"Come, come," said M. Daburon, without stopping his preparations for
departure, "you are going out of your mind, my dear M. Tabaret. How,
after all that you have read there, can--"
"Yes, sir, yes: it is because I have read this that I entreat you to
pause, or we shall add one more mistake to the sad list of judicial
errors. Read this examination over carefully; there is not a reply but
which declares this unfortunate man innocent, not a word but which
throws out a ray of light. And he is still in prison, still in
"He is; and there he will remain, if you please," interrupted the
magistrate. "It becomes you well to talk in this manner, after the way
you spoke last night, when I hesitated so much."
"But, sir," cried the old detective, "I still say precisely the same.
Ah, wretched Tabaret! all is lost; no one understands you. Pardon me,
sir, if I lack the respect due to you; but you have not grasped my
method. It is, however, very simple. Given a crime, with all the
circumstances and details, I construct, bit by bit, a plan of
accusation, which I do not guarantee until it is entire and perfect.
If a man is found to whom this plan applies exactly in every
particular the author of the crime is found: otherwise, one has laid
hands upon an innocent person. It is not sufficient that such and such
particulars seem to point to him; it must be all or nothing. This is
infallible. Now, in this case, how have I reached the culprit? Through
proceeding by inference from the known to the unknown. I have examined
his work; and I have formed an idea of the worker. Reason and logic
lead us to what? To a villain, determined, audacious, and prudent,
versed in the business. And do you think that such a man would neglect
a precaution that would not be omitted by the stupidest tyro? It is
inconceivable. What! this man is so skillful as to leave such feeble
traces that they escape Gevrol's practised eye, and you think he would
risk his safety by leaving an entire night unaccounted for? It's
impossible! I am as sure of my system as of a sum that has been
proved. The assassin has an /alibi/. Albert has pleaded none; then he
M. Daburon surveyed the detective pityingly, much as he would have
looked at a remarkable monomaniac. When the old fellow had finished,--
"My worthy M. Tabaret," the magistrate said to him: "you have but one
fault. You err through an excess of subtlety, you accord too freely to
others the wonderful sagacity with which you yourself are endowed. Our
man has failed in prudence, simply because he believed his rank would
place him above suspicion."
"No, sir, no, a thousand times no. My culprit,--the true one,--he whom
we have missed catching, feared everything. Besides, does Albert
defend himself? No. He is overwhelmed because he perceives
coincidences so fatal that they appear to condemn him, without a
chance of escape. Does he try to excuse himself? No. He simply
replies, 'It is terrible.' And yet all through his examination I feel
reticence that I cannot explain."
"I can explain it very easily; and I am as confident as though he had
confessed everything. I have more than sufficient proofs for that."
"Ah, sir, proofs! There are always enough of those against an arrested
man. They existed against every innocent man who was ever condemned.
Proofs! Why, I had them in quantities against Kaiser, the poor little
"Well," interrupted the magistrate, hastily, "if it is not he, the
most interested one, who committed the crime, who then is it? His
father, the Count de Commarin?"
"No: the true assassin is a young man."
M. Daburon had arranged his papers, and finished his preparations. He
took up his hat, and, as he prepared to leave, replied: "You must then
see that I am right. Come and see me by-and-by, M. Tabaret, and make
haste and get rid of all your foolish ideas. To-morrow we will talk
the whole matter over again. I am rather tired to-night." Then he
added, addressing his clerk, "Constant, look in at the record office,
in case the prisoner Commarin should wish to speak to me."
He moved towards the door; but M. Tabaret barred his exit.
"Sir," said the old man, "in the name of heaven listen to me! He is
innocent, I swear to you. Help me, then, to find the real culprit.
Sir, think of your remorse should you cause an--"
But the magistrate would not hear more. He pushed old Tabaret quickly
aside, and hurried out.
The old man now turned to Constant. He wished to convince him. Lost
trouble: the tall clerk hastened to put his things away, thinking of
his soup, which was getting cold.
So that M. Tabaret soon found himself locked out of the room and alone
in the dark passage. All the usual sounds of the Palais had ceased:
the place was silent as the tomb. The old detective desperately tore
his hair with both hands.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "Albert is innocent; and it is I who have cast
suspicion upon him. It is I, fool that I am, who have infused into the
obstinate spirit of this magistrate a conviction that I can no longer
destroy. He is innocent and is yet enduring the most horrible anguish.
Suppose he should commit suicide! There have been instances of
wretched men, who in despair at being falsely accused have killed
themselves in their cells. Poor boy! But I will not abandon him. I
have ruined him: I will save him! I must, I will find the culprit; and
he shall pay dearly for my mistake, the scoundrel!"
After seeing the Count de Commarin safely in his carriage at the
entrance of the Palais de Justice, Noel Gerdy seemed inclined to leave
him. Resting one hand against the half-opened carriage door, he bowed
respectfully, and said: "When, sir, shall I have the honour of paying
my respects to you?"
"Come with me now," said the old nobleman.
The advocate, still leaning forward, muttered some excuses. He had, he
said, important business: he must positively return home at once.
"Come," repeated the count, in a tone which admitted no reply.
"You have found your father," said M. de Commarin in a low tone; "but
I must warn you, that at the same time you lose your independence."
The carriage started; and only then did the count notice that Noel had
very modestly seated himself opposite him. This humility seemed to
displease him greatly.
"Sit here by my side, sir," he exclaimed; "are you not my son?"
The advocate, without replying, took his seat by the side of the
terrible old man, but occupied as little room as possible.
He had been very much upset by his interview with M. Daburon; for he
retained none of his usual assurance, none of that exterior coolness
by which he was accustomed to conceal his feelings. Fortunately, the
ride gave him time to breathe, and to recover himself a little.
On the way from the Palais de Justice to the De Commarin mansion, not
a word passed between the father and son. When the carriage stopped
before the steps leading to the principal entrance, and the count got
out with Noel's assistance, there was great commotion among the
There were, it is true, few of them present, nearly all having been
summoned to the Palais; but the count and the advocate had scarcely
disappeared, when, as if by enchantment, they were all assembled in
the hall. They came from the garden, the stables, the cellar, and the
kitchen. Nearly all bore marks of their calling. A young groom
appeared with his wooden shoes filled with straw, shuffling about on
the marble floor like a mangy dog on a Gobelin tapestry. One of them
recognised Noel as the visitor of the previous Sunday; and that was
enough to set fire to all these gossip-mongers, thirsting for scandal.
Since morning, moreover, the unusual events at the De Commarin mansion
had caused a great stir in society. A thousand stories were
circulated, talked over, corrected, and added to by the ill-natured
and malicious,--some abominably absurd, others simply idiotic. Twenty
people, very noble and still more proud, had not been above sending
their most intelligent servants to pay a little visit among the
count's retainers, for the sole purpose of learning something
positive. As it was, nobody knew anything; and yet everybody pretended
to be fully informed.
Let any one explain who can this very common phenomenon: A crime is
committed; justice arrives, wrapped in mystery; the police are still
ignorant of almost everything; and yet details of the most minute
character are already circulated about the streets.
"So," said a cook, "that tall dark fellow with the whiskers is the
count's true son!"
"You are right," said one of the footmen who had accompanied M. de
Commarin; "as for the other, he is no more his son than Jean here;
who, by the way, will be kicked out of doors, if he is caught in this
part of the house with his dirty working-shoes on."
"What a romance," exclaimed Jean, supremely indifferent to the danger
which threatened him.
"Such things constantly occur in great families," said the cook.
"How ever did it happen?"
"Well, you see, one day, long ago, when the countess who is now dead
was out walking with her little son, who was about six months old, the
child was stolen by gypsies. The poor lady was full of grief; but
above all, was greatly afraid of her husband, who was not over kind.
What did she do? She purchased a brat from a woman, who happened to be
passing; and, never having noticed his child, the count has never
known the difference."
"But the assassination!"
"That's very simple. When the woman saw her brat in such a nice berth,
she bled him finely, and has kept up a system of blackmailing all
along. The viscount had nothing left for himself. So he resolved at
last to put an end to it, and come to a final settling with her."
"And the other, who is up there, the dark fellow?"
The orator would have gone on, without doubt, giving the most
satisfactory explanations of everything, if he had not been
interrupted by the entrance of M. Lubin, who came from the Palais in
company of young Joseph. His success, so brilliant up to this time,
was cut short, just like that of a second-rate singer when the star of
the evening comes on the stage. The entire assembly turned towards
Albert's valet, all eyes questioning him. He of course knew all, he
was the man they wanted. He did not take advantage of his position,
and keep them waiting.
"What a rascal!" he exclaimed at first. "What a villainous fellow is
He entirely did away with the "Mr." and the "Viscount," and met with
general approval for doing so.
"However," he added, "I always had my doubts. The fellow didn't please
me by half. You see now to what we are exposed every day in our
profession, and it is dreadfully disagreeable. The magistrate did not
conceal it from me. 'M. Lubin,' said he, 'it is very sad for a man
like you to have waited on such a scoundrel.' For you must know, that,
besides an old woman over eighty years old, he also assassinated a
young girl of twelve. The little child, the magistrate told me, was
chopped into bits."
"Ah!" put in Joseph; "he must have been a great fool. Do people do
those sort of things themselves when they are rich, and when there are
so many poor devils who only ask to gain their living?"
"Pshaw!" said M. Lubin in a knowing tone; "you will see him come out
of it as white as snow. These rich men can do anything."
"Anyhow," said the cook, "I'd willingly give a month's wages to be a
mouse, and to listen to what the count and the tall dark fellow are
talking about. Suppose some one went up and tried to find out what is
This proposition did not meet with the least favour. The servants knew
by experience that, on important occasions, spying was worse than
M. de Commarin knew all about servants from infancy. His study was,
therefore, a shelter from all indiscretion. The sharpest ear placed at
the keyhole could hear nothing of what was going on within, even when
the master was in a passion, and his voice loudest. One alone, Denis,
the count's valet, had the opportunity of gathering information; but
he was well paid to be discreet, and he was so.
At this moment, M. de Commarin was sitting in the same arm-chair on
which the evening before he had bestowed such furious blows while
listening to Albert.
As soon as he left his carriage, the old nobleman recovered his
haughtiness. He became even more arrogant in his manner, than he had
been humble when before the magistrate, as though he were ashamed of
what he now considered an unpardonable weakness.
He wondered how he could have yielded to a momentary impulse, how his
grief could have so basely betrayed him.
At the remembrance of the avowals wrested from him by a sort of
delirium, he blushed, and reproached himself bitterly. The same as
Albert, the night before, Noel, having fully recovered himself, stood
erect, cold as marble, respectful, but no longer humble.
The father and son exchanged glances which had nothing of sympathy nor
They examined one another, they almost measured each other, much as
two adversaries feel their way with their eyes before encountering
with their weapons.
"Sir," said the count at length in a harsh voice, "henceforth this
house is yours. From this moment you are the Viscount de Commarin; you
regain possession of all the rights of which you were deprived.
Listen, before you thank me. I wish, at once, to relieve you of all
misunderstanding. Remember this well, sir; had I been master of the
situation, I would never have recognised you: Albert should have
remained in the position in which I placed him."
"I understand you, sir," replied Noel. "I don't think that I could
ever bring myself to do an act like that by which you deprived me of
my birthright; but I declare that, if I had the misfortune to do so, I
should afterwards have acted as you have. Your rank was too
conspicuous to permit a voluntary acknowledgment. It was a thousand
times better to suffer an injustice to continue in secret, than to
expose the name to the comments of the malicious."
This answer surprised the count, and very agreeably too. But he
wouldn't let his satisfaction be seen, and it was in a still harsher
voice that he resumed.
"I have no claim, sir, upon your affection; I do not ask for it, but I
insist at all times upon the utmost deference. It is traditional in
our house, that a son shall never interrupt his father when he is
speaking; that, you have just been guilty of. Neither do children
judge their parents; that also you have just done. When I was forty
years of age my father was in his second childhood; but I do not
remember ever having raised my voice above his. This said, I continue.
I provided the necessary funds for the expenses of Albert's household
completely, distinct from my own, for he had his own servants, horses,
and carriages; and besides that I allowed the unhappy boy four
thousand francs a month. I have decided in order to put a stop to all
foolish gossip, and to make your position the easier, that you should
live on a grander scale; this matter concerns myself. Further, I will
increase your monthly allowance to six thousand francs; which I trust
you will spend as nobly as possible, giving the least possible cause
for ridicule. I cannot too strongly exhort you to the utmost caution.
Keep close watch over yourself. Weigh your words well. Study your
slightest actions. You will be the point of observation of the
thousands of impertinent idlers who compose our world; your blunders
will be their delight. Do you fence?"
"That will do! Do you ride?"
"No; but in six months I will be a good horseman, or break my neck."
"You must become a horseman, and not break anything. Let us proceed.
You will, of course, not occupy Albert's apartments. They will be
walled off, as soon as I am free of the police. Thank heaven! the
house is large. You will occupy the other wing; and there will be a
separate entrance to your apartments, by another staircase. Servants,
horses, carriages, furniture, such as become a viscount, will be at
your service, cost what it may, within forty-eight hours. On the day
of your taking possession, you must look as though you had been
installed there for years. There will be a great scandal; but that
cannot be avoided. A prudent father might send you away for a few
months to the Austrian or Russian courts; but, in this instance, such
prudence would be absurd. Much better a dreadful outcry, which ends
quickly, than low murmurs which last forever. Dare public opinion;
and, in eight days, it will have exhausted its comments, and the story
will have become old. So, to work! This very evening the workmen shall
be here; and, in the first place, I must present you to my servants."
To put his purpose into execution, the count moved to touch the bell-
rope. Noel stopped him.
Since the commencement of this interview, the advocate had wandered in
the regions of the thousand and one nights, the wonderful lamp in his
hand. The fairy reality cast into the shade his wildest dreams. He was
dazzled by the count's words, and had need of all his reason to
struggle against the giddiness which came over him, on realising his
great good fortune. Touched by a magic wand, he seemed to awake to a
thousand novel and unknown sensations. He rolled in purple, and bathed
But he knew how to appear unmoved. His face had contracted the habit
of guarding the secret of the most violent internal excitement. While
all his passions vibrated within him, he appeared to listen with a sad
and almost indifferent coldness.
"Permit me, sir," he said to the count "without overstepping the
bounds of the utmost respect, to say a few words. I am touched more
than I can express by your goodness; and yet I beseech you, to delay
its manifestation. The proposition I am about to suggest may perhaps
appear to you worthy of consideration. It seems to me that the
situation demands the greatest delicacy on my part. It is well to
despise public opinion, but not to defy it. I am certain to be judged
with the utmost severity. If I install myself so suddenly in your
house, what will be said? I shall have the appearance of a conqueror,
who thinks little, so long as he succeeds, of passing over the body of
the conquered. They will reproach me with occupying the bed still warm
from Albert's body. They will jest bitterly at my haste in taking
possession. They will certainly compare me to Albert, and the
comparison will be to my disadvantage, since I should appear to
triumph at a time when a great disaster has fallen upon our house."
The count listened without showing any signs of disapprobation, struck
perhaps by the justice of these reasons. Noel imagined that his
harshness was much more feigned than real; and this idea encouraged
"I beseech you then, sir," he continued, "to permit me for the present
in no way to change my mode of living, By not showing myself, I leave
all malicious remarks to waste themselves in air,--I let public
opinion the better familiarise itself with the idea of a coming
change. There is a great deal in not taking the world by surprise.
Being expected, I shall not have the air of an intruder on presenting
myself. Absent, I shall have the advantages which the unknown always
possess; I shall obtain the good opinion of all those who have envied
Albert; and I shall secure as champions all those who would to-morrow
assail me, if my elevation came suddenly upon them. Besides, by this
delay, I shall accustom myself to my abrupt change of fortune. I ought
not to bring into your world, which is now mine, the manners of a
parvenu. My name ought not to inconvenience me, like a badly fitting
"Perhaps it would be wisest," murmured the count.
This assent, so easily obtained, surprised Noel. He got the idea that
the count had only wished to prove him, to tempt him. In any case,
whether he had triumphed by his eloquence, or whether he had simply
shunned a trap, he had succeeded. His confidence increased; he
recovered all his former assurance.
"I must add, sir," he continued, "that there are a few matters
concerning myself which demand my attention. Before entering upon my
new life, I must think of those I am leaving behind me. I have friends
and clients. This event has surprised me, just as I am beginning to
reap the reward of ten years of hard work and perseverance. I have as
yet only sown; I am on the point of reaping. My name is already known;
I have obtained some little influence. I confess, without shame, that
I have heretofore professed ideas and opinions that would not be
suited to this house; and it is impossible in the space of a day--"
"Ah!" interrupted the count in a bantering tone, "you are a liberal.
It is a fashionable disease. Albert also was a great liberal."
"My ideas, sir," said Noel quickly, "were those of every intelligent
man who wishes to succeed. Besides, have not all parties one and the
same aim--power? They merely take different means of reaching it. I
will not enlarge upon this subject. Be assured, sir, that I shall know
how to bear my name, and think and act as a man of my rank should."
"I trust so," said M. de Commarin; "and I hope that you will never
make me regret Albert."
"At least, sir, it will not be my fault. But, since you have mentioned
the name of that unfortunate young man, let us occupy ourselves about
The count cast a look of distrust upon Noel.
"What can now be done for Albert?" he asked.
"What, sir!" cried Noel with ardour, "would you abandon him, when he
has not a friend left in the world? He is still your son, sir, he is
my brother; for thirty years he has borne the name of Commarin. All
the members of a family are jointly liable. Innocent, or guilty, he
has a right to count upon us; and we owe him our assistance."
"What do you then hope for, sir?" asked the count.
"To save him, if he is innocent; and I love to believe that he is. I
am an advocate, sir, and I wish to defend him. I have been told that I
have some talent; in such a cause I must have. Yes, however strong the
charges against him may be, I will overthrow them. I will dispel all
doubts. The truth shall burst forth at the sound of my voice. I will
find new accents to imbue the judges with my own conviction. I will
save him, and this shall be my last cause."
"And if he should confess," said the count, "if he has already
"Then, sir," replied Noel with a dark look, "I will render him the
last service, which in such a misfortune I should ask of a brother, I
will procure him the means of avoiding judgment."
"That is well spoken, sir," said the count, "very well, my son!"
And he held out his hand to Noel, who pressed it, bowing a respectful
acknowledgment. The advocate took a long breath. At last he had found
the way to this haughty noble's heart; he had conquered, he had
"Let us return to yourself, sir," continued the count. "I yield to the
reasons which you have suggested. All shall be done as you desire. But
do not consider this a precedent. I never change my plans, even though
they are proved to be bad, and contrary to my interests. But at least
nothing prevents your remaining here from to-day, and taking your
meals with me. We will, first of all, see where you can be lodged,
until you formally take possession of the apartments which are to be
prepared for you."
Noel had the hardihood to again interrupt the old nobleman.
"Sir," said he, "when you bade me follow you here, I obeyed you, as
was my duty. Now another and a sacred duty calls me away. Madame Gerdy
is at this moment dying. Ought I to leave the deathbed of her who
filled my mother's place?"
"Valerie!" murmured the count. He leaned upon the arm of his chair,
his face buried in his hands; in one moment the whole past rose up
"She has done me great harm," he murmured, as if answering his
thoughts. "She has ruined my whole life; but ought I to be implacable?
She is dying from the accusation which is hanging over Albert our son.
It was I who was the cause of it all. Doubtless, in this last hour, a
word from me would be a great consolation to her. I will accompany
Noel started at this unexpected proposal.
"O sir!" said he hastily, "spare yourself, pray, a heart-rending
sight. Your going would be useless. Madame Gerdy exists probably
still; but her mind is dead. Her brain was unable to resist so violent
a shock. The unfortunate woman would neither recognise nor understand
"Go then alone," sighed the count, "go, my son!"
The words "my son," pronounced with a marked emphasis, sounded like a
note of victory in Noel's ears.
He bowed to take his leave. The count motioned him to wait.
"In any case," he said, "a place at table will be set for you here. I
dine at half-past six precisely. I shall be glad to see you."
He rang. His valet appeared.
"Denis," said he, "none of the orders I may give will affect this
gentleman. You will tell this to all the servants. This gentleman is
at home here."
The advocate took his leave; and the count felt great comfort in being
once more alone. Since morning, events had followed one another with
such bewildering rapidity that his thoughts could scarcely keep pace
with them. At last, he was able to reflect.
"That, then," said he to himself, "is my legitimate son. I am sure of
his birth, at any rate. Besides I should be foolish to disown him, for
I find him the exact picture of myself at thirty. He is a handsome
fellow, Noel, very handsome. His features are decidedly in his favour.
He is intelligent and acute. He knows how to be humble without
lowering himself, and firm without arrogance. His unexpected good
fortune does not turn his head. I augur well of a man who knows how to
bear himself in prosperity. He thinks well; he will carry his title
proudly. And yet I feel no sympathy with him; it seems to me that I
shall always regret my poor Albert. I never knew how to appreciate
him. Unhappy boy! To commit such a vile crime! He must have lost his
reason. I do not like the look of this one's eye. They say that he is
perfect. He expresses, at least, the noblest and most appropriate
sentiments. He is gentle and strong, magnanimous, generous, heroic. He
is without malice, and is ready to sacrifice himself to repay me for
what I have done for him. He forgives Madame Gerdy; he loves Albert.
It is enough to make one distrust him. But all young men now-a-days
are so. Ah! we live in a happy age. Our children are born free from
all human shortcomings. They have neither the vices, the passions, nor
the tempers of their fathers; and these precocious philosophers,
models of sagacity and virtue, are incapable of committing the least
folly. Alas! Albert, too, was perfect; and he has assassinated
Claudine! What will this one do?--All the same," he added, half-aloud,
"I ought to have accompanied him to see Valerie!"
And, although the advocate had been gone at least a good ten minutes,
M. de Commarin, not realising how the time had passed, hastened to the
window, in the hope of seeing Noel in the court-yard, and calling him
But Noel was already far away. On leaving the house, he took a cab and
was quickly driven to the Rue St. Lazare.
On reaching his own door, he threw rather than gave five francs to the
driver, and ran rapidly up the four flights of stairs.
"Who has called to see me?" he asked of the servant.
"No one, sir."
He seemed relieved from a great anxiety, and continued in a calmer
tone, "And the doctor?"
"He came this morning, sir," replied the girl, "while you were out;
and he did not seem at all hopeful. He came again just now, and is
"Very well. I will go and speak to him. If any one calls, show them
into my study, and let me know."
On entering Madame Gerdy's chamber, Noel saw at a glance that no
change for the better had taken place during his absence. With fixed
eyes and convulsed features, the sick woman lay extended upon her
back. She seemed dead, save for the sudden starts, which shook her at
intervals, and disarranged the bedclothes.
Above her head was placed a little vessel, filled with ice water,
which fell drop by drop upon her forehead, covered with large bluish
spots. The table and mantel-piece were covered with little pots,
medicine bottles, and half-emptied glasses. At the foot of the bed, a
piece of rag stained with blood showed that the doctor had just had
recourse to leeches.
Near the fireplace, where was blazing a large fire, a nun of the order
of St. Vincent de Paul was kneeling, watching a saucepan. She was a
young woman, with a face whiter than her cap. Her immovably placid
features, her mournful look, betokened the renunciation of the flesh,
and the abdication of all independence of thought.
Her heavy grey costume hung about her in large ungraceful folds. Every
time she moved, her long chaplet of beads of coloured box-wood, loaded
with crosses and copper medals, shook and trailed along the floor with
a noise like a jingling of chains.
Dr. Herve was seated on a chair opposite the bed, watching, apparently
with close attention, the nun's preparations. He jumped up as Noel
"At last you are here," he said, giving his friend a strong grasp of
"I was detained at the Palais," said the advocate, as if he felt the
necessity of explaining his absence; "and I have been, as you may well
imagine, dreadfully anxious."
He leant towards the doctor's ear, and in a trembling voice asked:
"Well, is she at all better?"
The doctor shook his head with an air of deep discouragement.
"She is much worse," he replied: "since morning bad symptoms have
succeeded each other with frightful rapidity."
He checked himself. The advocate had seized his arm and was pressing
it with all his might. Madame Gerdy stirred a little, and a feeble
groan escaped her.
"She heard you," murmured Noel.
"I wish it were so," said the doctor; "It would be most encouraging.
But I fear you are mistaken. However, we will see." He went up to
Madame Gerdy, and, whilst feeling her pulse, examined her carefully;
then, with the tip of his finger, he lightly raised her eyelid.
The eye appeared dull, glassy, lifeless.
"Come, judge for yourself; take her hand, speak to her."
Noel, trembling all over, did as his friend wished. He drew near, and,
leaning over the bed, so that his mouth almost touched the sick
woman's ear, he murmured: "Mother, it is I, Noel, your own Noel. Speak
to me, make some sign, do you hear me, mother?"
It was in vain; she retained her frightful immobility. Not a sign of
intelligence crossed her features.
"You see," said the doctor, "I told you the truth."
"Poor woman!" sighed Noel, "does she suffer?"
"Not at present."
The nun now rose; and she too came beside the bed.
"Doctor," said she: "all is ready."
"Then call the servant, sister, to help us. We are going to apply a
The servant hastened in. In the arms of the two women, Madame Gerdy
was like a corpse, whom they were dressing for the last time. She was
as rigid as though she were dead. She must have suffered much and
long, poor woman, for it was pitiable to see how thin she was. The nun
herself was affected, although she had become habituated to the sight
of suffering. How many invalids had breathed their last in her arms
during the fifteen years that she had gone from pillow to pillow!
Noel, during this time, had retired into the window recess, and
pressed his burning brow against the panes.
Of what was he thinking, while she who had given him so many proofs of
maternal tenderness and devotion was dying a few paces from him? Did
he regret her? was he not thinking rather of the grand and magnificent
existence which awaited him on the other side of the river, at the
Faubourg St. Germain? He turned abruptly round on hearing his friend's
"It is done," said the doctor; "we have only now to wait the effect of
the mustard. If she feels it, it will be a good sign; if it has no
effect, we will try cupping."
"And if that does not succeed?"
The doctor answered only with a shrug of the shoulders, which showed
his inability to do more.
"I understand your silence, Herve," murmured Noel. "Alas! you told me
last night she was lost."
"Scientifically, yes; but I do not yet despair. It is hardly a year
ago that the father-in-law of one of our comrades recovered from an
almost identical attack; and I saw him when he was much worse than
this; suppuration had set in."
"It breaks my heart to see her in this state," resumed Noel. "Must she
die without recovering her reason even for one moment? Will she not
recognise me, speak one word to me?"
"Who knows? This disease, my poor friend, baffles all foresight. Each
moment, the aspect may change, according as the inflammation affects
such or such a part of the brain. She is now in a state of utter
insensibility, of complete prostration of all her intellectual
faculties, of coma, of paralysis so to say; to-morrow, she may be
seized with convulsions, accompanied with a fierce delirium."
"And will she speak then?"
"Certainly; but that will neither modify the nature nor the gravity of
"And will she recover her reason?"
"Perhaps," answered the doctor, looking fixedly at his friend; "but
why do you ask that?"
"Ah, my dear Herve, one word from Madame Gerdy, only one, would be of
such use to me!"
"For your affair, eh! Well, I can tell you nothing, can promise you
nothing. You have as many chances in your favour as against you; only,
do not leave her. If her intelligence returns, it will be only
momentary, try and profit by it. But I must go," added the doctor; "I
have still three calls to make."
Noel followed his friend. When they reached the landing, he asked:
"You will return?"
"This evening, at nine. There will be no need of me till then. All
depends upon the watcher. But I have chosen a pearl. I know her well."
"It was you, then, who brought this nun?"
"Yes, and without your permission. Are you displeased?"
"Not the least in the world. Only I confess--"
"What! you make a grimace. Do your political opinions forbid your
having your mother, I should say Madame Gerdy, nursed by a nun of St.
"My dear Herve, you--"
"Ah! I know what you are going to say. They are adroit, insinuating,
dangerous, all that is quite true. If I had a rich old uncle whose
heir I expected to be, I shouldn't introduce one of them into his
house. These good creatures are sometimes charged with strange
commissions. But, what have you to fear from this one? Never mind what
fools say. Money aside, these worthy sisters are the best nurses in
the world. I hope you will have one when your end comes. But good-bye;
I am in a hurry."
And, regardless of his professional dignity, the doctor hurried down
the stairs; while Noel, full of thought, his countenance displaying
the greatest anxiety, returned to Madame Gerdy.
At the door of the sick-room, the nun awaited the advocate's return.
"Sir," said she, "sir."
"You want something of me, sister?"
"Sir, the servant bade me come to you for money; she has no more, and
had to get credit at the chemist's."
"Excuse me, sister," interrupted Noel, seemingly very much vexed;
"excuse me for not having anticipated your request; but you see I am
And, taking a hundred-franc note out of his pocket-book, he laid it on
the mantel piece.
"Thanks, sir," said the nun; "I will keep an account of what I spend.
We always do that," she added; "it is more convenient for the family.
One is so troubled at seeing those one loves laid low by illness. You
have perhaps not thought of giving this poor lady the sweet aid of our
holy religion! In your place, sir, I should send without delay for a
"What, now, sister? Do you not see the condition she is in? She is the
same as dead; you saw that she did not hear my voice."
"That is of little consequence, sir," replied the nun; "you will
always have done your duty. She did not answer you; but are you sure
that she will not answer the priest? Ah, you do not know all the power
of the last sacraments! I have seen the dying recover their
intelligence and sufficient strength to confess, and to receive the
sacred body of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have often heard families say
that they do not wish to alarm the invalid, that the sight of the
minister of our Lord might inspire a terror that would hasten the
final end. It is a fatal error. The priest does not terrify; he
reassures the soul, at the beginning of its long journey. He speaks in
the name of the God of mercy, who comes to save, not to destroy. I
could cite to you many cases of dying people who have been cured
simply by contact with the sacred balm."
The nun spoke in a tone as mournful as her look. Her heart was
evidently not in the words which she uttered. Without doubt, she had
learned them when she first entered the convent. Then they expressed
something she really felt, she spoke her own thoughts; but, since
then, she had repeated the words over and over again to the friends of
every sick person that she attended, until they lost all meaning so
far as she was concerned. To utter them became simply a part of her
duties as nurse, the same as the preparation of draughts, and the
making of poultices.
Noel was not listening to her; his thoughts were far away.
"Your dear mother," continued the nun, "this good lady that you love
so much, no doubt trusted in her religion. Do you wish to endanger her
salvation? If she could speak in the midst of her cruel sufferings--"
The advocate was on the point of replying, when the servant announced
that a gentleman, who would not give his name, wished to speak with
him on business.
"I will come," he said quickly.
"What do you decide, sir?" persisted the nun.
"I leave you free, sister, to do as you may judge best."
The worthy woman began to recite her lesson of thanks, but to no
purpose. Noel had disappeared with a displeased look; and almost
immediately she heard his voice in the next room, saying: "At last you
have come, M. Clergeot, I had almost given you up!"
The visitor, whom the advocate had been expecting, is a person well
known in the Rue St. Lazare, round about the Rue de Provence, the
neighbourhood of Notre Dame de Lorette, and all along the exterior
Boulevards, from the Chaussee des Martyrs to the Rond-Point of the old
Barriere de Clichy.
M. Clergeot is no more a usurer than M. Jourdin's father was a
shopkeeper. Only, as he has lots of money, and is very obliging, he
lends it to his friends; and, in return for this kindness, he consents
to receive interest, which varies from fifteen to five hundred per
The excellent man positively loves his clients, and his honesty is
generally appreciated. He has never been known to seize a debtor's
goods; he prefers to follow him up without respite for ten years, and
tear from him bit by bit what is his due.
He lives near the top of the Rue de la Victoire. He has no shop, and
yet he sells everything saleable, and some other things, too, that the
law scarcely considers merchandise. Anything to be useful or
neighbourly. He often asserts that he is not very rich. It is possibly
true. He is whimsical more than covetous, and fearfully bold. Free
with his money when one pleases him, he would not lend five francs,
even with a mortgage on the Chateau of Ferrieres as guarantee, to
whosoever does not meet with his approval. However, he often risks his
all on the most unlucky cards.
His preferred customers consist of women of doubtful morality,
actresses, artists, and those venturesome fellows who enter upon
professions which depend solely upon those who practice them, such as
lawyers and doctors.
He lends to women upon their present beauty, to men upon their future
talent. Slight pledges! His discernment, it should be said, however,
enjoys a great reputation. It is rarely at fault. A pretty girl
furnished by Clergeot is sure to go far. For an artist to be in
Clergeot's debt was a recommendation preferable to the warmest
Madame Juliette had procured this useful and honourable acquaintance
for her lover.
Noel, who well knew how sensitive this worthy man was to kind
attentions, and how pleased by politeness, began by offering him a
seat, and asking after his health. Clergeot went into details. His
teeth were still good; but his sight was beginning to fail. His legs
were no longer so steady, and his hearing was not all that could be
desired. The chapter of complaints ended--"You know," said he, "why I
have called. Your bills fall due to-day; and I am devilishly in need
of money. I have one of ten, one of seven, and a third of five
thousand francs, total, twenty-two thousand francs."
"Come, M. Clergeot," replied Noel, "do not let us have any joking."
"Excuse me," said the usurer; "I am not joking at all."
"I rather think you are though. Why, it's just eight days ago to-day
that I wrote to tell you that I was not prepared to meet the bills,
and asked for a renewal!"
"I recollect very well receiving your letter."
"What do you say to it, then?"
"By my not answering the note, I supposed that you would understand
that I could not comply with your request; I hoped that you would
exert yourself to find the amount for me."
Noel allowed a gesture of impatience to escape him.
"I have not done so," he said; "so take your own course. I haven't a
"The devil. Do you know that I have renewed these bills four times
"I know that the interest has been fully and promptly paid, and at a
rate which cannot make you regret the investment."
Clergeot never likes talking about the interest he received. He
pretends that it is humiliating.
"I do not complain; I only say that you take things too easily with
me. If I had put your signature in circulation all would have been
paid by now."
"Not at all."
"Yes, you would have found means to escape being sued. But you say to
yourself: 'Old Clergeot is a good fellow.' And that is true. But I am
so only when it can do me no harm. Now, to-day, I am absolutely in
great need of my money. Ab--so--lute--ly," he added, emphasising each
The old fellow's decided tone seemed to disturb the advocate.
"Must I repeat it?" he said; "I am completely drained, com--plete--
"Indeed?" said the usurer; "well, I am sorry for you; but I shall have
to sue you."
"And what good will that do? Let us play above board, M. Clergeot. Do
you care to increase the lawyers' fees? You don't do you? Even though,
you may put me to great expense, will that procure you even a centime?
You will obtain judgment against me. Well, what then? Do you think of
putting in an execution? This is not my home; the lease is in Madame
"I know all that. Besides, the sale of everything here would not cover
"Then you intend to put me in prison, at Clichy! Bad speculation, I
warn you, my practice will be lost, and, you know, no practice, no
"Good!" cried the worthy money-lender. "Now you are talking nonsense!
You call that being frank. Pshaw! If you supposed me capable of half
the cruel things you have said, my money would be there in your
drawer, ready for me."
"A mistake! I should not know where to get it, unless by asking Madame
Gerdy, a thing I would never do."
A sarcastic and most irritating little laugh, peculiar to old
Clergeot, interrupted Noel.
"It would be no good doing that," said the usurer; "mamma's purse has
long been empty; and if the dear creature should die now,--they tell
me she is very ill,--I would not give two hundred napoleons for the
The advocate turned red with passion, his eyes glittered; but he
dissembled, and protested with some spirit.
"We know what we know," continued Clergeot quietly. "Before a man
risks his money, he takes care to make some inquiries. Mamma's
remaining bonds were sold last October. Ah! the Rue de Provence is an
expensive place! I have made an estimate, which is at home. Juliette
is a charming woman, to be sure; she has not her equal, I am
convinced; but she is expensive, devilish expensive."
Noel was enraged at hearing his Juliette thus spoke of by this
honourable personage. But what reply could he make? Besides, none of
us are perfect; and M. Clergeot possessed the fault of not properly
appreciating women, which doubtless arises from the business
transactions he has had with them. He is charming in his business with
the fair sex, complimenting and flattering them; but the coarsest
insults would be less revolting than his disgusting familiarity.
"You have gone too fast," he continued, without deigning to notice his
client's ill looks; "and I have told you so before. But, you would not
listen; you are mad about the girl. You can never refuse her anything.
Fool! When a pretty girl wants anything, you should let her long for
it for a while; she has then something to occupy her mind and keep her
from thinking of a quantity of other follies. Four good strong wishes,
well managed, ought to last a year. You don't know how to look after
your own interests. I know that her glance would turn the head of a
stone saint; but you should reason with yourself, hang it! Why, there
are not ten girls in Paris who live in such style! And do you think
she loves you any the more for it? Not a bit. When she has ruined you,
she'll leave you in the lurch."
Noel accepted the eloquence of his prudent banker like a man without
an umbrella accepts a shower.
"What is the meaning of all this!" he asked.
"Simply that I will not renew your bills. You understand? Just now, if
you try very hard, you will be able to hand me the twenty-two thousand
francs in question. You need not frown: you will find means to do so
to prevent my seizing your goods,--not here, for that would be absurd,
but at your little woman's apartments. She would not be at all
pleased, and would not hesitate to tell you so."
"But everything there belongs to her; and you have no right--"
"What of that? She will oppose the seizure, no doubt, and I expect her
to do so; but she will make you find the requisite sum. Believe me,
you had best parry the blow. I insist on being paid now. I won't give
you any further delay; because, in three months' time, you will have
used your last resources. It is no use saying 'No,' like that. You are
in one of those conditions that must be continued at any price. You
would burn the wood from your dying mother's bed to warm this
creature's feet. Where did you obtain the ten thousand francs that you
left with her the other evening? Who knows what you will next attempt
to procure money? The idea of keeping her fifteen days, three days, a
single day more, may lead you far. Open your eyes. I know the game
well. If you do not leave Juliette, you are lost. Listen to a little
good advice, gratis. You must give her up, sooner or later, mustn't
you? Do it to-day, then."
As you see, our worthy Clergeot never minces the truth to his
customers, when they do not keep their engagements. If they are
displeased, so much the worse for them! His conscience is at rest. He
would never join in any foolish business.
Noel could bear it no longer: and his anger burst forth.
"Enough," he cried decidedly. "Do as you please, M. Clergeot, but have
done with your advice. I prefer the lawyer's plain prose. If I have
committed follies, I can repair them, and in a way that would surprise
you. Yes, M. Clergeot, I can procure twenty-two thousand francs; I
could have a hundred thousand to-morrow morning, if I saw fit. They
would only cost me the trouble of asking for them. But that I will not
do. My extravagance, with all due deference to you, will remain a
secret as heretofore. I do not choose that my present embarrassed
circumstances should be even suspected. I will not relinquish, for
your sake, that at which I have been aiming, the very day it is within
"He resists," thought the usurer; "he is less deeply involved than I
"So," continued the advocate, "put your bills in the hands of your
lawyer. Let him sue me. In eight days, I shall be summoned to appear
before the Tribunal de Commerce, and I shall ask for the twenty-five
days' delay, which the judges always grant to an embarrassed debtor.
Twenty-five and eight, all the world over, make just thirty-three
days. That is precisely the respite I need. You have two alternatives:
either accept from me at once a new bill for twenty-four thousand
francs payable in six weeks, or else, as I have an appointment, go off
to your lawyer."
"And in six weeks," replied the usurer, "you will be in precisely the
same condition you are to-day. And forty-five days more of Juliette
"M. Clergeot," interrupted Noel, "long before that time, my position
will be completely changed. But I have finished," he added rising;
"and my time is valuable."
"One moment, you impatient fellow!" exclaimed the good-natured banker,
"you said twenty-four thousand francs at forty-five days?"
"Yes. That is about seventy-five per cent,--pretty fair interest."
"I never cavil about interest," said M. Clergeot; "only--" He looked
slyly at Noel scratching his chin violently, a movement which in him
indicated how insensibly his brain was at work. "Only," he continued,
"I should very much like to know what you are counting upon."
"That I will not tell you. You will know it ere long, in common with
all the world."
"I have it!" cried M. Clergeot, "I have it! You are going to marry!
You have found an heiress, of course, your little Juliette told me
something of the sort this morning. Ah! you are going to marry! Is she
pretty? But no matter. She has a full purse, eh? You wouldn't take her
without that. So you are going to start a home of your own?"
"I did not say so."
"That's right. Be discreet. But I can take a hint. One word more.
Beware of the storm; your little woman has a suspicion of the truth.
You are right; it wouldn't do to be seeking money now. The slightest
inquiry would be sufficient to enlighten your father-in-law as to your
financial position, and you would lose the damsel. Marry and settle
down. But get rid of Juliette, or I won't give five francs for the
fortune. So it is settled: prepare a new bill for twenty-four thousand
francs, and I will call for it when I bring you the old ones on
"You haven't them with you, then?"
"No. And to be frank, I confess that, knowing well I should get
nothing from you, I left them with others at my lawyer's. However, you
may rest easy: you have my word."
M. Clergeot made a pretence of retiring; but just as he was going out,
he returned quickly.
"I had almost forgotten," said he; "while you are about it, you can
make the bill for twenty-six thousand francs. Your little woman
ordered some dresses, which I shall deliver to-morrow; in this way
they will be paid for."
The advocate began to remonstrate. He certainly did not refuse to pay,
only he thought he ought to be consulted when any purchases were made.
He didn't like this way of disposing of his money.
"What a fellow!" said the usurer, shrugging his shoulders; "do you
want to make the girl unhappy for nothing at all? She won't let you
off yet, my friend. You may be quite sure she will eat up your new
fortune also. And you know, if you need any money for the wedding, you
have but to give me some guarantee. Procure me an introduction to the
notary, and everything shall be arranged. But I must go. On Monday
Noel listened, to make sure that the usurer had actually gone. When he
heard him descending the staircase, "Scoundrel!" he cried, "miserable
thieving old skinflint! Didn't he need a lot of persuading? He had
quite made up his mind to sue me. It would have been a pleasant thing
had the count come to hear of it. Vile usurer! I was afraid, one
moment, of being obliged to tell him all."
While inveighing thus against the money-lender, the advocate looked at
"Half-past five already," he said.
His indecision was great. Ought he to go and dine with his father?
Could he leave Madame Gerdy? He longed to dine at the de Commarin
mansion; yet, on the other hand, to leave a dying woman!
"Decidedly," he murmured, "I can't go."
He sat down at his desk, and with all haste wrote a letter of apology
to his father. Madame Gerdy, he said, might die at any moment; he must
remain with her. As he bade the servant give the note to a messenger,
to carry it to the count, a sudden thought seemed to strike him.
"Does madame's brother," he asked, "know that she is dangerously ill?"
"I do not know, sir," replied the servant, "at any rate, I have not
"What, did you not think to send him word? Run to his house quickly.
Have him sought for, if he is not at home; he must come."
Considerably more at ease, Noel went and sat in the sick-room. The
lamp was lighted; and the nun was moving about the room as though
quite at home, dusting and arranging everything, and putting it in its
place. She wore an air of satisfaction, that Noel did not fail to
"Have we any gleam of hope, sister?" he asked.
"Perhaps," replied the nun. "The priest has been here, sir; your dear
mother did not notice his presence; but he is coming back. That is not
all. Since the priest was here, the poultice has taken admirably. The
skin is quite reddened. I am sure she feels it."
"God grant that she does, sister!"
"Oh, I have already been praying! But it is important not to leave her
alone a minute. I have arranged all with the servant. After the doctor
has been, I shall lie down, and she will watch until one in the
morning. I will then take her place and--"
"You shall both go to bed, sister," interrupted Noel, sadly. "It is I,
who could not sleep a wink, who will watch through this night."
Old Tabaret did not consider himself defeated, because he had been
repulsed by the investigating magistrate, already irritated by a long
day's examination. You may call it a fault, or an accomplishment; but