Part 6 out of 8
the old man was more obstinate than a mule. To the excess of despair
to which he succumbed in the passage outside the magistrate's office,
there soon succeeded that firm resolution which is the enthusiasm
called forth by danger. The feeling of duty got the upper hand. Was it
a time to yield to unworthy despair, when the life of a fellow-man
depended on each minute? Inaction would be unpardonable. He had
plunged an innocent man into the abyss; and he must draw him out, he
alone, if no one would help him. Old Tabaret, as well as the
magistrate, was greatly fatigued. On reaching the open air, he
perceived that he, too, was in want of food. The emotions of the day
had prevented him from feeling hungry; and, since the previous
evening, he had not even taken a glass of water. He entered a
restaurant on the Boulevard, and ordered dinner.
While eating, not only his courage, but also his confidence came
insensibly back to him. It was with him, as with the rest of mankind;
who knows how much one's ideas may change, from the beginning to the
end of a repast, be it ever so modest! A philosopher has plainly
demonstrated that heroism is but an affair of the stomach.
The old fellow looked at the situation in a much less sombre light. He
had plenty of time before him! A clever man could accomplish a great
deal in a month! Would his usual penetration fail him now? Certainly
not. His great regret was, his inability to let Albert know that some
one was working for him.
He was entirely another man, as he rose from the table; and it was
with a sprightly step that he walked towards the Rue St. Lazare. Nine
o'clock struck as the concierge opened the door for him. He went at
once up to the fourth floor to inquire after the health of his former
friend, her whom he used to call the excellent, the worthy Madame
It was Noel who let him in, Noel, who had doubtless been thinking of
the past, for he looked as sad as though the dying woman was really
In consequence of this unexpected circumstance, old Tabaret could not
avoid going in for a few minutes, though he would much have preferred
not doing so. He knew very well, that, being with the advocate, he
would be unavoidably led to speak of the Lerouge case; and how could
he do this, knowing, as he did, the particulars much better than his
young friend himself, without betraying his secret? A single imprudent
word might reveal the part he was playing in this sad drama. It was,
above all others, from his dear Noel, now Viscount de Commarin, that
he wished entirely to conceal his connection with the police.
But, on the other hand, he thirsted to know what had passed between
the advocate and the count. His ignorance on this single point aroused
his curiosity. However, as he could not withdraw he resolved to keep
close watch upon his language and remain constantly on his guard.
The advocate ushered the old man into Madame Gerdy's room. Her
condition, since the afternoon, had changed a little; though it was
impossible to say whether for the better or the worse. One thing was
evident, her prostration was not so great. Her eyes still remained
closed; but a slight quivering of the lids was evident. She constantly
moved on her pillow, and moaned feebly.
"What does the doctor say?" asked old Tabaret, in that low voice one
unconsciously employs in a sick room.
"He has just gone," replied Noel; "before long all will be over."
The old man advanced on tip-toe, and looked at the dying woman with
"Poor creature!" he murmured; "God is merciful in taking her. She
perhaps suffers much; but what is this pain compared to what she would
feel if she knew that her son, her true son, was in prison, accused of
"That is what I keep thinking," said Noel, "to console myself for this
sight. For I still love her, my old friend; I shall always regard her
as a mother. You have heard me curse her, have you not? I have twice
treated her very harshly. I thought I hated her; but now, at the
moment of losing her, I forget every wrong she has done me, only to
remember her tenderness. Yes, for her, death is far preferable! And
yet I do not think, no, I cannot think her son guilty."
"No! what, you too?"
Old Tabaret put so much warmth and vivacity into this exclamation,
that Noel looked at him with astonishment. He felt his face grow red,
and he hastened to explain himself. "I said, 'you too,'" he continued,
"because I, thanks perhaps to my inexperience, am persuaded also of
this young man's innocence. I cannot in the least imagine a man of his
rank meditating and accomplishing so cowardly a crime. I have spoken
with many persons on this matter which has made so much noise; and
everybody is of my opinion. He has public opinion in his favor; that
is already something."
Seated near the bed, sufficiently far from the lamp to be in the
shade, the nun hastily knitted stockings destined for the poor. It was
a purely mechanical work, during which she usually prayed. But, since
old Tabaret entered the room, she forgot her everlasting prayers
whilst listening to the conversation. What did it all mean? Who could
this woman be? And this young man who was not her son, and who yet
called her mother, and at the same time spoke of a true son accused of
being an assassin? Before this she had overheard mysterious remarks
pass between Noel and the doctor. Into what strange house had she
entered? She was a little afraid; and her conscience was sorely
troubled. Was she not sinning? She resolved to tell all to the priest,
when he returned.
"No," said Noel, "no, M. Tabaret; Albert has not public opinion for
him. We are sharper than that in France, as you know. When a poor
devil is arrested, entirely innocent, perhaps, of the crime charged
against him, we are always ready to throw stones at him. We keep all
our pity for him, who, without doubt guilty, appears before the court
of assize. As long as the justice hesitates, we side with the
prosecution against the prisoner. The moment it is proved that the man
is a villain, all our sympathies are in his favour. That is public
opinion. You understand, however, that it affects me but little. I
despise it to such an extent, that if, as I dare still hope, Albert is
not released, I will defend him. Yes, I have told the Count de
Commarin, my father, as much. I will be his counsel, and I will save
Gladly would the old man have thrown himself on Noel's neck. He longed
to say to him: "We will save him together." But he restrained himself.
Would not the advocate despise him, if he told him his secret! He
resolved, however, to reveal all should it become necessary, or should
Albert's position become worse. For the time being, he contented
himself with strongly approving his young friend.
"Bravo! my boy," said he; "you have a noble heart. I feared to see you
spoiled by wealth and rank; pardon me. You will remain, I see, what
you have always been in your more humble position. But, tell me, you
have, then, seen your father, the count?"
Now, for the first time, Noel seemed to notice the nun's eyes, which,
lighted by eager curiosity, glittered in the shadow like carbuncles.
With a look, he drew the old man's attention to her, and said: "I have
seen him; and everything is arranged to my satisfaction. I will tell
you all, in detail, by-and-by, when we are more at ease. By this
bedside, I am almost ashamed of my happiness."
M. Tabaret was obliged to content himself with this reply and this
promise. Seeing that he would learn nothing that evening, he spoke of
going to bed, declaring himself tired out by what he had had to do
during the day. Noel did not ask him to stop. He was expecting, he
said, Madame Gerdy's brother, who had been sent for several times, but
who was not at home. He hardly knew how he could again meet this
brother, he added: he did not yet know what conduct he ought to
pursue. Should he tell him all? It would only increase his grief. On
the other hand, silence would oblige him to play a difficult part. The
old man advised him to say nothing; he could explain all later on.
"What a fine fellow Noel is!" murmured old Tabaret, as he regained his
apartments as quietly as possible. He had been absent from home
twenty-four hours; and he fully expected a formidable scene with his
housekeeper. Mannette was decidedly out of temper, and declared once
for all, that she would certainly seek a new place if her master did
not change his conduct.
She had remained up all night, in a terrible fright, listening to the
least sound on the stairs, expecting every moment to see her master
brought home on a litter, assassinated. There had been great commotion
in the house. M. Gerdy had gone down a short time after her master,
and she had seen him return two hours later. After that, they had sent
for the doctor. Such goings on would be the death of her, without
counting that her constitution was too weak to allow her to sit up so
late. But Mannette forgot that she did not sit up on her master's
account nor on Noel's but was expecting one of her old friends, one of
those handsome Gardes de Paris who had promised to marry her, and for
whom she had waited in vain, the rascal!
She burst forth in reproaches, while she prepared her master's bed,
too sincere, she declared, to keep anything on her mind, or to keep
her mouth closed, when it was a question of his health and reputation.
M. Tabaret made no reply, not being in the mood for argument. He bent
his head to the storm, and turned his back to the hail. But, as soon
as Mannette had finished what she was about, he put her out of the
room, and double locked the door.
He busied himself in forming a new line of battle, and in deciding
upon prompt and active measures. He rapidly examined the situation.
Had he been deceived in his investigations? No. Were his calculations
of probabilities erroneous? No. He had started with a positive fact,
the murder. He had discovered the particulars; his inferences were
correct, and the criminal was evidently such as he had described him.
The man M. Daburon had had arrested could not be the criminal. His
confidence in a judicial axiom had led him astray, when he pointed to
"That," thought he, "is the result of following accepted opinions and
those absurd phrases, all ready to hand, which are like mile-stones
along a fool's road! Left free to my own inspirations, I should have
examined this case more thoroughly, I would have left nothing to
chance. The formula, 'Seek out the one whom the crime benefits' may
often be as absurd as true. The heirs of a man assassinated are in
reality all benefited by the murder; while the assassin obtains at
most the victim's watch and purse. Three persons were interested in
Widow Lerouge's death:--Albert, Madame Gerdy, and the Count de
Commarin. It is plain to me that Albert is not the criminal. It is not
Madame Gerdy, who is dying from the shock caused by the unexpected
announcement of the crime. There remains, then, the Count. Can it be
he? If so, he certainly did not do it himself. He must have hired some
wretch, a wretch of good position, if you please, wearing patent
leather boots of a good make, and smoking trabucos cigars with an
amber mouth-piece. These well-dressed villains ordinarily lack nerve.
They cheat, they forge; but they don't assassinate. Supposing, though,
that the count did get hold of some dare-devil fellow. He would simply
have replaced one accomplice by another still more dangerous. That
would be idiotic, and the count is a sensible man. He, therefore, had
nothing whatever to do with the matter. To be quite sure though, I
will make some inquiries about him. Another thing, Widow Lerouge, who
so readily exchanged the children while nursing them, would be very
likely to undertake a number of other dangerous commissions. Who can
say that she has not obliged other persons who had an equal interest
in getting rid of her? There is a secret, I am getting at it, but I do
not hold it yet. One thing is certain though, she was not assassinated
to prevent Noel recovering his rights. She must have been suppressed
for some analogous reason, by a bold and experienced scoundrel,
prompted by similar motives to those of which I suspected Albert. It
is, then, in that direction that I must follow up the case now. And,
above all, I must obtain the past history of this obliging widow, and
I will have it too, for in all probability the particulars which have
been written for from her birthplace will arrive tomorrow."
Returning to Albert, old Tabaret weighed the charges which were
brought against the young man, and reckoned the chances which he still
had in favour of his release.
"From the look of things," he murmured, "I see only luck and myself,
that is to say absolutely nothing, in his favor at present. As to the
charges, they are countless. However, it is no use going over them. It
is I who amassed them; and I know what they are worth! At once
everything and nothing. What do signs prove, however striking they may
be, in cases where one ought to disbelieve even the evidence of one's
own senses? Albert is a victim of the most remarkable coincidences;
but one word might explain them. There have been many such cases. It
was even worse in the matter of the little tailor. At five o'clock, he
bought a knife, which he showed to ten of his friends, saying, 'This
is for my wife, who is an idle jade, and plays me false with my
workmen.' In the evening, the neighbours heard a terrible quarrel
between the couple, cries, threats, stampings, blows; then suddenly
all was quiet. The next day, the tailor had disappeared from his home,
and the wife was discovered dead, with the very same knife buried to
the hilt between her shoulders. Ah, well! it turned out it was not the
husband who had stuck it there; it was a jealous lover. After that,
what is to be believed? Albert, it is true, will not give an account
of how he passed Tuesday evening. That does not affect me. The
question for me is not to prove where he was, but that he was not at
La Jonchere. Perhaps, after all, Gevrol is on the right track. I hope
so, from the bottom of my heart. Yes; God grant that he may be
successful. My vanity and my mad presumption will deserve the slight
punishment of his triumph over me. What would I not give to establish
this man's innocence? Half of my fortune would be but a small
sacrifice. If I should not succeed! If, after having caused the evil,
I should find myself powerless to undo it!"
Old Tabaret went to bed, shuddering at this last thought. He fell
asleep, and had a terrible nightmare. Lost in that vulgar crowd,
which, on the days when society revenges itself, presses about the
Place de la Rouquette and watches the last convulsions of one
condemned to death, he attended Albert's execution. He saw the unhappy
man, his hands bound behind his back, his collar turned down, ascend,
supported by a priest, the steep flight of steps leading on to the
scaffold. He saw him standing upon the fatal platform, turning his
proud gaze upon the terrified assembly beneath him. Soon the eyes of
the condemned man met his own; and, bursting his cords, he pointed
him, Tabaret, out to the crowd, crying, in a loud voice: "That man is
my assassin." Then a great clamour arose to curse the detective. He
wished to escape; but his feet seemed fixed to the ground. He tried at
least to close his eyes; he could not. A power unknown and
irresistible compelled him to look. Then Albert again cried out: "I am
innocent; the guilty one is----" He pronounced a name; the crowd
repeated this name, and he alone did not catch what it was. At last
the head of the condemned man fell.
M. Tabaret uttered a loud cry, and awoke in a cold perspiration. It
took him some time to convince himself that nothing was real of what
he had just heard and seen, and that he was actually in his own house,
in his own bed. It was only a dream! But dreams sometimes are, they
say, warnings from heaven. His imagination was so struck with what had
just happened that he made unheard of efforts to recall the name
pronounced by Albert. Not succeeding, he got up and lighted his
candle. The darkness made him afraid, the night was full of phantoms.
It was no longer with him a question of sleep. Beset with these
anxieties, he accused himself most severely, and harshly reproached
himself for the occupation he had until then so delighted in. Poor
He was evidently stark mad the day when he first had the idea of
seeking employment in the Rue de Jerusalem. A noble hobby, truly, for
a man of his age, a good quiet citizen of Paris, rich, and esteemed by
all! And to think that he had been proud of his exploits, that he had
boasted of his cunning, that he had plumed himself on his keenness of
scent, that he had been flattered by that ridiculous sobriquet,
"Tirauclair." Old fool! What could he hope to gain from that
bloodhound calling? All sorts of annoyance, the contempt of the world,
without counting the danger of contributing to the conviction of an
innocent man. Why had he not taken warning by the little tailor's
Recalling his few satisfactions of the past, and comparing them with
his present anguish, he resolved that he would have no more to do with
it. Albert once saved, he would seek some less dangerous amusement,
and one more generally appreciated. He would break the connection of
which he was ashamed, and the police and justice might get on the best
they could without him.
At last the day, which he had awaited with feverish impatience,
dawned. To pass the time, he dressed himself slowly, with much care,
trying to occupy his mind with needless details, and to deceive
himself as to the time by looking constantly at the clock, to see if
it had not stopped. In spite of all this delay, it was not eight
o'clock when he presented himself at the magistrate's house, begging
him to excuse, on account of the importance of his business, a visit
too early not to be indiscreet.
Excuses were superfluous. M. Daburon was never disturbed by a call at
eight o'clock in the morning. He was already at work. He received the
old amateur detective with his usual kindness, and even joked with him
a little about his excitement of the previous evening. Who would have
thought his nerves were so sensitive? Doubtless the night had brought
deliberation. Had he recovered his reason? or had he put his hand on
the true criminal?
This trifling tone in a magistrate, who was accused of being grave
even to a fault, troubled the old man. Did not this quizzing hide a
determination not to be influenced by anything that he could say? He
believed it did; and it was without the least deception that he
commenced his pleading.
He put the case more calmly this time, but with all the energy of a
well-digested conviction. He had appealed to the heart, he now
appealed to reason; but, although doubt is essentially contagious, he
neither succeeded in convincing the magistrate, nor in shaking his
opinion. His strongest arguments were of no more avail against M.
Daburon's absolute conviction than bullets made of bread crumbs would
be against a breastplate. And there was nothing very surprising in
Old Tabaret had on his side only a subtle theory, mere words; M.
Daburon possessed palpable testimony, facts. And such was the
peculiarity of the case, that all the reasons brought forward by the
old man to justify Albert simply reacted against him, and confirmed
A repulse at the magistrate's hands had entered too much into M.
Tabaret's anticipations for him to appear troubled or discouraged. He
declared that, for the present, he would insist no more; he had full
confidence in the magistrate's wisdom and impartiality. All he wished
was to put him on his guard against the presumptions which he himself
unfortunately had taken such pains to inspire.
He was going, he added, to busy himself with obtaining more
information. They were only at the beginning of the investigation; and
they were still ignorant of very many things, even of Widow Lerouge's
past life. More facts might come to light. Who knew what testimony the
man with the earrings, who was being pursued by Gevrol, might give?
Though in a great rage internally, and longing to insult and chastise
he whom he inwardly styled a "fool of a magistrate," old Tabaret
forced himself to be humble and polite. He wished, he said, to keep
well posted up in the different phases of the investigation, and to be
informed of the result of future interrogations. He ended by asking
permission to communicate with Albert, He thought his services
deserved this slight favour. He desired an interview of only ten
minutes without witnesses.
M. Daburon refused this request. He declared, that, for the present,
the prisoner must continue to remain strictly in solitary confinement.
By way of consolation, he added that, in three or four days, he might
perhaps be able to reconsider this decision, as the motives which
prompted it would then no longer exist.
"Your refusal is cruel, sir," said M. Tabaret; "but I understand it,
That was his only complaint: and he withdrew almost immediately,
fearing that he could no longer master his indignation. He felt that,
besides the great happiness of saving an innocent man, compromised by
his imprudence, he would experience unspeakable delight in avenging
himself for the magistrate's obstinacy.
"Three or four days," he muttered, "that is the same as three or four
years to the unfortunate prisoner. He takes things quite at his ease,
this charming magistrate. But I must find out the real truth of the
case between now and then."
Yes, M. Daburon only required three or four days to wring a confession
from Albert, or at least to make him abandon his system of defence.
The difficulty of the prosecution was not being able to produce any
witness who had seen the prisoner during the evening of Shrove
One deposition alone to that effect would have such great weight, that
M. Daburon, as soon as Tabaret had left him, turned all his attention
in that direction. He could still hope for a great deal. It was only
Saturday, the day of the murder was remarkable enough to fix people's
memories, and up till then there had not been time to start a proper
He arranged for five of the most experienced detectives in the secret
service to be sent to Bougival, supplied with photographs of the
prisoner. They were to scour the entire country between Rueil and La
Jonchere, to inquire everywhere, and make the most minute
investigations. The photographs would greatly aid their efforts. They
had orders to show them everywhere and to everybody and even to leave
a dozen about the neighbourhood, as they were furnished with a
sufficient number to do so. It was impossible, that, on an evening
when so many people were about, no one had noticed the original of the
portrait either at the railway station at Rueil or upon one of the
roads which lead to La Jonchere, the high road, and the path by the
These arrangements made, the investigating magistrate proceeded to the
Palais de Justice, and sent for Albert. He had already in the morning
received a report, informing him hour by hour of the acts, gestures,
and utterances of the prisoner, who had been carefully watched.
Nothing in him, the report said, betrayed the criminal. He seemed very
sad, but not despairing. He had not cried out, nor threatened, nor
cursed justice, nor even spoken of a fatal error. After eating
lightly, he had gone to the window of his cell, and had there remained
standing for more than an hour. Then he laid down, and had quietly
gone to sleep.
"What an iron constitution!" thought M. Daburon, when the prisoner
entered his office.
Albert was no longer the despairing man who, the night before,
bewildered with the multiplicity of charges, surprised by the rapidity
with which they were brought against him, had writhed beneath the
magistrate's gaze, and appeared ready to succumb. Innocent or guilty,
he had made up his mind how to act; his face left no doubt of that.
His eyes expressed that cold resolution of a sacrifice freely made,
and a certain haughtiness which might be taken for disdain, but which
expressed the noble resentment of an injured man. In him could be seen
the self-reliant man, who might be shaken but never overcome by
On beholding him, the magistrate understood that he would have to
change his mode of attack. He recognized one of those natures which
are provoked to resistance when assailed, and strengthened when
menaced. He therefore gave up his former tactics, and attempted to
move him by kindness. It was a hackneyed trick, but almost always
successful, like certain pathetic scenes at theatres. The criminal who
has girt up his energy to sustain the shock of intimidation, finds
himself without defence against the wheedling of kindness, the greater
in proportion to its lack of sincerity. Now M. Daburon excelled in
producing affecting scenes. What confessions he had obtained with a
few tears! No one knew so well as he how to touch those old chords
which vibrate still even in the most corrupt hearts: honour, love, and
With Albert, he became kind and friendly, and full of the liveliest
compassion. Unfortunate man! how greatly he must suffer, he whose
whole life had been like one long enchantment. How at a single blow
everything about him had fallen in ruins. Who could have foreseen all
this at the time when he was the one hope of a wealthy and illustrious
house! Recalling the past, the magistrate pictured to him the most
touching reminiscences of his early youth, and stirred up the ashes of
all his extinct affections. Taking advantage of all that he knew of
the prisoner's life, he tortured him by the most mournful allusions to
Claire. Why did he persist in bearing alone his great misfortune? Had
he no one in the world who would deem it happiness to share his
sufferings? Why this morose silence? Should he not rather hasten to
reassure her whose very life depended upon his? What was necessary for
that? A single word. Then he would be, if not free, at least returned
to the world. His prison would become a habitable abode, no more
solitary confinement; his friends would visit him, he might receive
whomsoever he wished to see.
It was no longer the magistrate who spoke; it was a father, who, no
matter what happens, always keeps in the recesses of his heart, the
greatest indulgence for his child.
M. Daburon did even more. For a moment he imagined himself in Albert's
position. What would he have done after the terrible revelation? He
scarcely dared ask himself. He understood the motive which prompted
the murder of Widow Lerouge; he could explain it to himself; he could
almost excuse it. (Another trap.) It was certainly a great crime, but
in no way revolting to conscience or to reason. It was one of those
crimes which society might, if not forget, at least forgive up to a
certain point, because the motive was not a shameful one. What
tribunal would fail to find extenuating circumstances for a moment of
frenzy so excusable. Besides was not the Count de Commarin the more
guilty of the two? Was it not his folly that prepared the way for this
terrible event? His son was the victim of fatality, and was in the
highest degree to be pitied.
M. Daburon spoke for a long time upon this text, seeking those things
most suitable in his opinion to soften the hardened heart of an
assassin. And he arrived always at the same conclusion,--the wisdom of
confessing. But he wasted his eloquence precisely as M. Tabaret had
wasted his. Albert appeared in no way affected. His answers were of
the shortest. He began and ended as on the first occasion, by
protesting his innocence.
One test, which has often given the desired result, still remained to
On this same day, Saturday, Albert was confronted with the corpse of
Widow Lerouge. He appeared impressed by the sad sight, but no more
than anyone would be, if forced to look at the victim of an
assassination four days after the crime. One of the bystanders having
exclaimed: "Ah, if she could but speak!" he replied: "That would be
very fortunate for me."
Since morning, M. Daburon had not gained the least advantage. He had
had to acknowledge the failure of his manoeuvres; and now this last
attempt had not succeeded either. The prisoner's continued calmness
filled to overflowing the exasperation of this man so sure of his
guilt. His spite was evident to all, when, suddenly ceasing his
wheedling, he harshly gave the order to re-conduct the prisoner to his
"I will compel him to confess!" he muttered between his teeth.
Perhaps he regretted those gentle instruments of investigation of the
middle ages, which compelled the prisoner to say whatever one wished
to hear. Never, thought he, did any one ever meet a culprit like this.
What could he reasonably hope for from his system of persistent
denial? This obstinacy, absurd in the presence of such absolute
proofs, drove the magistrate into a rage. Had Albert confessed his
guilt, he would have found M. Daburon disposed to pity him; but as he
denied it, he opposed himself to an implacable enemy.
It was the very falseness of the situation which misled and blinded
this magistrate, naturally so kind and generous. Having previously
wished Albert innocent, he now absolutely longed to prove him guilty,
and that for a hundred reasons which he was unable to analyze. He
remembered, too well, his having had the Viscount de Commarin for a
rival, and his having nearly assassinated him. Had he not repented
even to remorse his having signed the warrant of arrest, and his
having accepted the duty of investigating the case. Old Tabaret's
incomprehensible change of opinion troubled him, too.
All these feelings combined, inspired M. Daburon with a feverish
hatred, and urged him on in the path which he had chosen. It was now
less the proofs of Albert's guilt which he sought for than the
justification of his own conduct as magistrate. The investigation
became embittered like a personal matter.
In fact, were the prisoner innocent, he would become inexcusable in
his own eyes; and, in proportion as he reproached himself the more
severely, and as the knowledge of his own failings grew, he felt the
more disposed to try everything to conquer his former rival, even to
abusing his own power. The logic of events urged him on. It seemed as
though his honour itself was at stake; and he displayed a passionate
activity, such as he had never before been known to show in any
M. Daburon passed all Sunday in listening to the reports of the
detectives he had sent to Bougival.
They had spared no trouble, they stated, but they could report nothing
They had heard many people speak of a woman, who pretended, they said,
to have seen the assassin leave Widow Lerouge's cottage; but no one
had been able to point this woman out to them, or even to give them
They all thought it their duty, however, to inform the magistrate that
another inquiry was going on at the same time as theirs. It was
directed by M. Tabaret, who personally scoured the country round about
in a cabriolet drawn by a very swift horse. He must have acted with
great promptness; for, no matter where they went, he had been there
before them. He appeared to have under his orders a dozen men, four of
whom at least certainly belonged to the Rue de Jerusalem. All the
detectives had met him; and he had spoken to them. To one, he had
said: "What the deuce are you showing this photograph for? In less
than no time you will have a crowd of witnesses, who, to earn three
francs, will describe some one more like the portrait than the
He had met another on the high-road, and had laughed at him.
"You are a simple fellow," he cried out, "to hunt for a hiding man on
the high-way; look a little aside, and you may find him."
Again he had accosted two who were together in a cafe at Bougival, and
had taken them aside.
"I have him," he said to them. "He is a smart fellow; he came by
Chatois. Three people have seen him--two railway porters and a third
person whose testimony will be decisive, for she spoke to him. He was
M. Daburon became so angry with old Tabaret, that he immediately
started for Bougival, firmly resolved to bring the too zealous man
back to Paris, and to report his conduct in the proper quarter. The
journey, however, was useless. M. Tabaret, the cabriolet, the swift
horse, and the twelve men had all disappeared, or at least were not to
On returning home, greatly fatigued, and very much out of temper, the
investigating magistrate found the following telegram from the chief
of the detective force awaiting him; it was brief, but to the point:
"The man is found. This evening we start for Paris. The most
valuable testimony. GEVROL."
On the Monday morning, at nine o'clock, M. Daburon was preparing to
start for the Palais de Justice, where he expected to find Gevrol and
his man, and perhaps old Tabaret. His preparations were nearly made,
when his servant announced that a young lady, accompanied by another
considerably older, asked to speak with him. She declined giving her
name, saying, however, that she would not refuse it, if it was
absolutely necessary in order to be received.
"Show them in," said the magistrate.
He thought it must be a relation of one or other of the prisoners,
whose case he had had in hand when this fresh crime occurred. He
determined to send her away quickly. He was standing before the
fireplace, seeking for an address in a small china plate filled with
visiting cards. At the sound of the opening of the door, at the
rustling of a silk dress gliding by the window, he did not take the
trouble to move, nor deign even to turn his head. He contented himself
with merely casting a careless glance into the mirror.
But he immediately started with a movement of dismay, as if he had
seen a ghost. In his confusion, he dropped the card-plate, which fell
noisily on to the hearth, and broke into a thousand pieces.
"Claire!" he stammered, "Claire!"
And as if he feared equally either being deceived by an illusion or
actually seeing her whose name he had uttered, he turned slowly round.
It was truly Mademoiselle d'Arlange. This young girl, usually so proud
and reserved, had had the courage to come to his house alone, or
almost so, for her governess, whom she had left in the ante-room,
could hardly count. She was evidently obeying some powerful emotion,
since it made her forget her habitual timidity.
Never, even in the time when a sight of her was his greatest
happiness, had she appeared to him more fascinating. Her beauty,
ordinarily veiled by a sweet sadness, was bright and shining. Her
features had an animation which he had never seen in them before. In
her eyes, rendered more brilliant by recent tears but partly wiped
away, shone the noblest resolution. One could see that she was
conscious of performing a great duty, and that she performed it, if
not with pleasure, at least with that simplicity which in itself is
She advanced calm and dignified, and held out her hand to the
magistrate in that English style that some ladies can render so
"We are always friends, are we not?" asked she, with a sad smile.
The magistrate did not dare take the ungloved hand she held out to
him. He scarcely touched it with the tips of his fingers, as though he
feared too great an emotion.
"Yes," he replied indistinctly, "I am always devoted to you."
Mademoiselle d'Arlange sat down in the large armchair, where, two
nights previously, old Tabaret had planned Albert's arrest. M. Daburon
remained standing leaning against his writing-table.
"You know why I have come?" asked the young girl.
With a nod, he replied in the affirmative.
He divined her object only too easily; and he was asking himself
whether he would be able to resist prayers from such a mouth. What was
she about to ask of him? What could he refuse her? Ah, if he had but
foreseen this? He had not yet got over his surprise.
"I only knew of this dreadful event yesterday," pursued Claire; "my
grandmother considered it best to hide it from me, and, but for my
devoted Schmidt, I should still be ignorant of it all. What a night I
have passed! At first I was terrified; but, when they told me that all
depended upon you, my fears were dispelled. It is for my sake, is it
not, that you have undertaken this investigation? Oh, you are good, I
know it! How can I ever express my gratitude?"
What humiliation for the worthy magistrate were these heartfelt
thanks! Yes, he had at first thought of Mademoiselle d'Arlange, but
since-- He bowed his head to avoid Claire's glance, so pure and so
"Do not thank me, mademoiselle," he stammered, "I have not the claim
that you think upon your gratitude."
Claire had been too troubled herself, at first, to notice the
magistrate's agitation. The trembling of his voice attracted her
attention; but she did not suspect the cause. She thought that her
presence recalled sad memories, that he doubtless still loved her, and
that he suffered. This idea saddened her, and filled her with self-
"And yet, sir," she continued, "I thank you all the same. I might
never have dared go to another magistrate, to speak to a stranger!
Besides, what value would another attach to my words, not knowing me?
While you, so generous, will re-assure me, will tell me by what awful
mistake he has been arrested like a villain and thrown into prison."
"Alas!" sighed the magistrate, so low that Claire scarcely heard him,
and did not understand the terrible meaning of the exclamation.
"With you," she continued, "I am not afraid. You are my friend, you
told me so; you will not refuse my prayers. Give him his liberty
quickly. I do not know exactly of what he is accused, but I swear to
you that he is innocent."
Claire spoke in the positive manner of one who saw no obstacle in the
way of the very simple and natural desire which she had expressed. A
formal assurance given by her ought to be amply sufficient; with a
word, M. Daburon would repair everything. The magistrate was silent.
He admired that saint-like ignorance of everything, that artless and
frank confidence which doubted nothing. She had commenced by wounding
him, unconsciously, it is true, but he had quite forgotten that.
He was really an upright man, as good as the best, as is proved from
the fact that he trembled at the moment of unveiling the fatal truth.
He hesitated to pronounce the words which, like a whirlwind, would
overturn the fragile edifice of this young girl's happiness. He who
had been so humiliated, so despised, he was going to have his revenge;
and yet he did not experience the least feeling of a shameful, though
easily understood, satisfaction.
"And if I should tell you, mademoiselle," he commenced, "that M.
Albert is not innocent?"
She half-raised herself with a protesting gesture.
He continued, "If I should tell you that he is guilty?"
"Oh, sir!" interrupted Claire, "you cannot think so!"
"I do think so, mademoiselle," exclaimed the magistrate in a sad
voice, "and I must add that I am morally certain of it."
Claire looked at the investigating magistrate with profound amazement.
Could it be really he who was speaking thus. Had she heard him aright?
Did she understand? She was far from sure. Had he answered seriously?
Was he not deluding her by a cruel unworthy jest? She asked herself
this scarcely knowing what she did: for to her everything appeared
possible, probable, rather than that which he had said.
Not daring to raise his eyes, he continued in a tone, expressive of
the sincerest pity, "I suffer cruelly for you at this moment,
mademoiselle; but I have the sad courage to tell you the truth, and
you must summon yours to hear it. It is far better that you should
know everything from the mouth of a friend. Summon, then, all your
fortitude; strengthen your noble soul against a most dreadful
misfortune. No, there is no mistake. Justice has not been deceived.
The Viscount de Commarin is accused of an assassination; and
everything, you understand me, proves that he committed it."
Like a doctor, who pours out drop by drop a dangerous medicine, M.
Daburon pronounced this last sentence slowly, word by word. He watched
carefully the result, ready to cease speaking, if the shock was too
great. He did not suppose that this young girl, timid to excess, with
a sensitiveness almost a disease, would be able to hear without
flinching such a terrible revelation. He expected a burst of despair,
tears, distressing cries. She might perhaps faint away; and he stood
ready to call in the worthy Schmidt.
He was mistaken. Claire drew herself up full of energy and courage.
The flame of indignation flushed her cheeks, and dried her tears.
"It is false," she cried, "and those who say it are liars! He cannot
be--no, he cannot be an assassin. If he were here, sir, and should
himself say, 'It is true,' I would refuse to believe it; I would still
cry out, 'It is false!'"
"He has not yet admitted it," continued the magistrate, "but he will
confess. Even if he should not, there are more proofs than are needed
to convict him. The charges against him are as impossible to deny as
is the sun which shines upon us."
"Ah! well," interrupted Mademoiselle d'Arlange, in a voice filled with
emotion, "I assert, I repeat, that justice is deceived. Yes," she
persisted, in answer to the magistrate's gesture of denial, "yes, he
is innocent. I am sure of it; and I would proclaim it, even were the
whole world to join with you in accusing him. Do you not see that I
know him better even than he can know himself, that my faith in him is
absolute, as is my faith in God, that I would doubt myself before
The investigating magistrate attempted timidly to make an objection;
Claire quickly interrupted him.
"Must I then, sir," said she, "in order to convince you, forget that I
am a young girl, and that I am not talking to my mother, but to a man!
For his sake I will do so. It is four years, sir, since we first loved
each other. Since that time, I have not kept a single one of my
thoughts from him, nor has he hid one of his from me. For four years,
there has never been a secret between us; he lived in me, as I lived
in him. I alone can say how worthy he is to be loved; I alone know all
that grandeur of soul, nobleness of thought, generosity of feelings,
out of which you have so easily made an assassin. And I have seen him,
oh! so unhappy, while all the world envied his lot. He is, like me,
alone in the world; his father never loved him. Sustained one by the
other, we have passed through many unhappy days; and it is at the very
moment our trials are ending that he has become a criminal? Why? tell
"Neither the name nor the fortune of the Count de Commarin would
descend to him, mademoiselle; and the knowledge of it came upon him
with a sudden shock. One old woman alone was able to prove this. To
maintain his position, he killed her."
"What infamy," cried the young girl, "what a shameful, wicked,
calumny! I know, sir, that story of fallen greatness; he himself told
me of it. It is true, that for three days this misfortune unmanned
him; but, if he was dismayed, it was on my account more than his own.
He was distressed at thinking that perhaps I should be grieved, when
he confessed to me that he could no longer give me all that his love
dreamed of. I grieved? Ah! what to me are that great name, that
immense wealth? I owe to them the only unhappiness I have ever known.
Was it, then, for such things that I loved him? It was thus that I
replied to him; and he, so sad, immediately recovered his gaiety. He
thanked me, saying, 'You love me; the rest is of no consequence.' I
chided him, then, for having doubted me; and after that, you pretend
that he cowardly assassinated an old woman? You would not dare repeat
Mademoiselle d'Arlange ceased speaking, a smile of victory on her
lips. That smile meant, "At last I have attained my end: you are
conquered; what can you reply to all that I have said?"
The investigating magistrate did not long leave this smiling illusion
to the unhappy child. He did not perceive how cruel and offensive was
his persistence. Always the same predominant idea! In persuading
Claire, he would justify his own conduct to himself.
"You do not know, mademoiselle," he resumed, "how a sudden calamity
may effect a good man's reason. It is only at the time a thing escapes
us that we feel the greatness of the loss. God preserve me from
doubting all that you have said; but picture to yourself the immensity
of the blow which struck M. de Commarin. Can you say that on leaving
you he did not give way to despair? Think of the extremities to which
it may have led him. He may have been for a time bewildered, and have
acted unconsciously. Perhaps this is the way the crime should be
Mademoiselle d'Arlange's face grew deathly pale, and betrayed the
utmost terror. The magistrate thought that at last doubt had begun to
effect her pure and noble belief.
"He must, then, have been mad," she murmured.
"Possibly," replied the magistrate; "and yet the circumstances of the
crime denote a well-laid plan. Believe me, then, mademoiselle, and do
not be too confident. Pray, and wait patiently for the issue of this
terrible trial. Listen to my voice, it is that of a friend. You used
to have in me the confidence a daughter gives to her father, you told
me so; do not, then, refuse my advice. Remain silent and wait. Hide
your grief to all; you might hereafter regret having exposed it.
Young, inexperienced, without a guide, without a mother, alas! you
sadly misplaced your first affections."
"No, sir, no," stammered Claire. "Ah!" she added, "you talk like the
rest of the world, that prudent and egotistical world, which I despise
"Poor child," continued M. Daburon, pitiless even in his compassion,
"unhappy young girl! This is your first deception! Nothing more
terrible could be imagined; few women would know how to bear it. But
you are young; you are brave; your life will not be ruined. Hereafter
you will feel horrified at this crime. There is no wound, I know by
experience, which time does not heal."
Claire tried to grasp what the magistrate was saying, but his words
reached her only as confused sounds, their meaning entirely escaped
"I do not understand you, sir," she said. "What advice, then, do you
"The only advice that reason dictates, and that my affection for you
can suggest, mademoiselle. I speak to you as a kind and devoted
brother. I say to you: 'Courage, Claire, resign yourself to the
saddest, the greatest sacrifice which honour can ask of a young girl.
Weep, yes, weep for your deceived love; but forget it. Pray heaven to
help you do so. He whom you have loved is no longer worthy of you.'"
The magistrate stopped slightly frightened. Mademoiselle d'Arlange had
But though the body was weak, the soul still remained firm.
"You said, just now," she murmured, "that he could only have committed
this crime in a moment of distraction, in a fit of madness?"
"Yes, it is possible."
"Then, sir, not knowing what he did, he can not be guilty."
The investigating magistrate forgot a certain troublesome question
which he put to himself one morning in bed after his illness.
"Neither justice nor society, mademoiselle," he replied, "can take
that into account. God alone, who sees into the depths of our hearts,
can judge, can decide those questions which human justice must pass
by. In our eyes, M. de Commarin is a criminal. There may be certain
extenuating circumstances to soften the punishment; but the moral
effect will be the same. Even if he were acquitted, and I wish he may
be, but without hope, he will not be less unworthy. He will always
carry the dishonour, the stain of blood cowardly shed. Therefore,
Mademoiselle d'Arlange stopped the magistrate with a look in which
flashed the strongest resentment.
"That is to say," she exclaimed, "that you counsel me to abandon him
in his misfortune. All the world deserts him; and your prudence
advises me to act with the world. Men behave thus, I have heard, when
one of their friends is down; but women never do. Look about you;
however humiliated, however wretched, however low, a man may be, you
will always find a woman near to sustain and console him. When the
last friend has boldly taken to flight, when the last relation has
abandoned him, woman remains."
The magistrate regretted having been carried away perhaps a little too
far. Claire's excitement frightened him. He tried, but in vain, to
"I may be timid," she continued with increasing energy, "but I am no
coward. I chose Albert voluntarily from amongst all. Whatever happens,
I will never desert him. No, I will never say, 'I do not know this
man.' He would have given me half of his prosperity, and of his glory.
I will share, whether he wishes it or not, half of his shame and of
his misfortune. Between two, the burden will be less heavy to bear.
Strike! I will cling so closely to him that no blow shall touch him
without reaching me, too. You counsel me to forget him. Teach me,
then, how to. I forget him? Could I, even if I wished? But I do not
wish it. I love him. It is no more in my power to cease loving him
than it is to arrest, by the sole effort of my will, the beating of my
heart. He is a prisoner, accused of murder. So be it. I love him. He
is guilty! What of that? I love him. You will condemn him, you will
dishonour him. Condemned and dishonoured, I shall love him still. You
will send him to a convict prison. I will follow him; and in the
prison, under the convict's dress, I will yet love him. If he falls to
the bottom of the abyss, I will fall with him. My life is his, let him
dispose of it. No, nothing will separate me from him, nothing short of
death! And, if he must mount the scaffold, I shall die, I know it,
from the blow which kills him."
M. Daburon had buried his face in his hands. He did not wish Claire to
perceive a trace of the emotion which affected him.
"How she loves him!" he thought, "how she loves him!"
His mind was sunk in the darkest thoughts. All the stings of jealousy
were rending him. What would not be his delight, if he were the object
of so irresistible a passion as that which burst forth before him!
What would he not give in return! He had, too, a young and ardent
soul, a burning thirst for love. But who had ever thought of that? He
had been esteemed, respected, perhaps feared, but not loved; and he
never would be. Was he, then, unworthy of it? Why do so many men pass
through life dispossessed of love, while others, the vilest beings
sometimes, seem to possess a mysterious power, which charms and
seduces, and inspires those blind and impetuous feelings which to
assert themselves rush to the sacrifice all the while longing for it?
Have women, then, no reason, no discernment?
Mademoiselle d'Arlange's silence brought the magistrate back to the
reality. He raised his eyes to her. Overcome by the violence of her
emotion, she lay back in her chair, and breathed with such difficulty
that M. Daburon feared she was about to faint. He moved quickly
towards the bell, to summon aid; but Claire noticed the movement, and
"What would you do?" she asked.
"You seemed suffering so," he stammered, "that I----"
"It is nothing, sir," replied she. "I may seem weak; but I am not so.
I am strong, believe me, very strong. It is true that I suffer, as I
never believed that one could suffer. It is cruel for a young girl to
have to do violence to all her feelings. You ought to be satisfied,
sir. I have torn aside all veils; and you have read even the inmost
recesses of my heart. But I do not regret it; it was for his sake.
That which I do regret is my having lowered my self so far as to
defend him; but he will forgive me that one doubt. Your assurance took
me unawares. A man like him does not need defence; his innocence must
be proved; and, God helping me, I will prove it."
As Claire was half-rising to depart, M. Daburon detained her by a
gesture. In his blindness, he thought he would be doing wrong to leave
this poor young girl in the slightest way deceived. Having gone so far
as to begin, he persuaded himself that his duty bade him go on to the
end. He said to himself, in all good faith, that he would thus
preserve Claire from herself, and spare her in the future many bitter
regrets. The surgeon who has commenced a painful operation does not
leave it half-finished because the patient struggles, suffers, and
"It is painful, Mademoiselle,--" he began.
Claire did not let him finish.
"Enough, sir," said she; "all that you can say will be of no avail. I
respect your unhappy conviction. I ask, in return, the same regard for
mine. If you were truly my friend, I would ask you to aid me in the
task of saving him, to which I am about to devote myself. But,
doubtless, you would not do so."
"If you knew the proofs which I possess, mademoiselle," he said in a
cold tone, which expressed his determination not to give way to anger,
"if I detailed them to you, you would no longer hope."
"Speak, sir," cried Claire imperiously.
"You wish it, mademoiselle? Very well; I will give you in detail all
the evidence we have collected. I am entirely yours, as you are aware.
But yet, why should I harass you with all these proofs? There is one
which alone is decisive. The murder was committed on the evening of
Shrove Tuesday; and the prisoner cannot give an account of what he did
on that evening. He went out, however, and only returned home about
two o'clock in the morning, his clothes soiled and torn, and his
"Oh! enough, sir, enough!" interrupted Claire, whose eyes beamed once
more with happiness. "You say it was on Shrove Tuesday evening?"
"Ah! I was sure," she cried triumphantly. "I told you truly that he
could not be guilty."
She clasped her hands, and, from the movement of her lips, it was
evident that she was praying. The expression of the most perfect faith
represented by some of the Italian painters illuminated her beautiful
face while she rendered thanks to God in the effusion of her
The magistrate was so disconcerted, that he forgot to admire her. He
awaited an explanation.
"Well?" he asked impatiently.
"Sir," replied Claire, "if that is your strongest proof, it exists no
longer. Albert passed the entire evening you speak of with me."
"With you?" stammered the magistrate.
"Yes, with me, at my home."
M. Daburon was astounded. Was he dreaming? He hardly knew.
"What!" he exclaimed, "the viscount was at your house? Your
grandmother, your companion, your servants, they all saw him and spoke
"No, sir; he came and left in secret. He wished no one to see him; he
desired to be alone with me."
"Ah!" said the magistrate with a sigh of relief. The sigh signified:
"It's all clear--only too evident. She is determined to save him, at
the risk even of compromising her reputation. Poor girl! But has this
idea only just occurred to her?"
The "Ah!" was interpreted very differently by Mademoiselle d'Arlange.
She thought that M. Daburon was astonished at her consenting to
"Your surprise is an insult, sir," said she.
"A daughter of my family, sir, may receive her betrothed without
danger of anything occurring for which she would have to blush."
She spoke thus, and at the same time was red with shame, grief, and
anger. She began to hate M. Daburon.
"I had no such insulting thought as you imagine, mademoiselle," said
the magistrate. "I was only wondering why M. de Commarin went secretly
to your house, when his approaching marriage gave him the right to
present himself openly at all hours. I still wonder, how, on such a
visit, he could get his clothes in the condition in which we found
"That is to say, sir," replied Claire bitterly, "that you doubt my
"The circumstances are such, mademoiselle,--"
"You accuse me, then, of falsehood, sir. Know that, were we criminals,
we should not descend to justifying ourselves; we should never pray
nor ask for pardon."
Mademoiselle d'Arlange's haughty, contemptuous tone could only anger
the magistrate. How harshly she treated him! And simply because he
would not consent to be her dupe.
"Above all, mademoiselle," he answered severely, "I am a magistrate;
and I have a duty to perform. A crime has been committed. Everything
points to M. Albert de Commarin as the guilty man. I arrest him; I
examine him; and I find overwhelming proofs against him. You come and
tell me that they are false; that is not enough. So long as you
addressed me as a friend, you found me kind and gentle. Now it is the
magistrate to whom you speak: and it is the magistrate who answers,
"My word, sir,--"
Mademoiselle d'Arlange rose slowly, casting upon the magistrate a look
full of astonishment and suspicion.
"Would you, then, be glad, sir," she asked, "to find Albert guilty?
Would it give you such great pleasure to have him convicted? Do you
then hate this prisoner, whose fate is in your hands? One would almost
think so. Can you answer for your impartiality? Do not certain
memories weigh heavily in the scale? Are you sure that you are not,
armed with the law, revenging yourself upon a rival?"
"This is too much," murmured the magistrate, "this is too much!"
"Do you know the unusual, the dangerous position we are in at this
moment? One day, I remember, you declared your love for me. It
appeared to me sincere and honest; it touched me. I was obliged to
refuse you, because I loved another; and I pitied you. Now that other
is accused of murder, and you are his judge; and I find myself between
you two, praying to you for him. In undertaking the investigation you
acquired an opportunity to help him; and yet you seem to be against
Every word Claire uttered fell upon M. Daburon's heart like a slap on
his face. Was it really she who was speaking? Whence came this sudden
boldness, which made her choose all those words which found an echo in
"Mademoiselle," said he, "your grief has been too much for you. From
you alone could I pardon what you have just said. Your ignorance of
things makes you unjust. If you think that Albert's fate depends upon
my pleasure, you are mistaken. To convince me is nothing; it is
necessary to convince others. That I should believe you is all very
natural, I know you. But what weight will others attach to your
testimony, when you go to them with a true story--most true, I
believe, but yet highly improbable?"
Tears came into Claire's eyes.
"If I have unjustly offended you, sir," said she, "pardon me; my
unhappiness makes me forget myself."
"You cannot offend me, mademoiselle," replied the magistrate. "I have
already told you that I am devoted to your service."
"Then sir, help me to prove the truth of what I have said. I will tell
M. Daburon was fully convinced that Claire was seeking to deceive him;
but her confidence astonished him. He wondered what fable she was
about to concoct.
"Sir," began Claire, "you know what obstacles have stood in the way of
my marriage with Albert. The Count de Commarin would not accept me for
a daughter-in-law, because I am poor, I possess nothing. It took
Albert five years to triumph over his father's objections. Twice the
count yielded; twice he recalled his consent, which he said had been
extorted from him. At last, about a month ago, he gave his consent of
his own accord. But these hesitations, delays, refusals, had deeply
hurt my grandmother. You know her sensitive nature; and, in this case,
I must confess she was right. Though the wedding day had been fixed,
the marchioness declared that we should not be compromised nor laughed
at again for any apparent haste to contract a marriage so
advantageous, that we had often before been accused of ambition. She
decided, therefore, that, until the publication of the banns, Albert
should only be admitted into the house every other day, for two hours
in the afternoon, and in her presence. We could not get her to alter
this determination. Such was the state of affairs, when, on Sunday
morning, a note came to me from Albert. He told me that pressing
business would prevent his coming, although it was his regular day.
What could have happened to keep him away? I feared some evil. The
next day I awaited him impatiently and distracted, when his valet
brought Schmidt a note for me. In that letter, sir, Albert entreated
me to grant him an interview. It was necessary, he wrote, that he
should have a long conversation with me, alone, and without delay. Our
whole future, he added, depended upon this interview. He left me to
fix the day and hour, urging me to confide in no one. I did not
hesitate. I sent him word to meet me on the Tuesday evening, at the
little garden gate, which opens into an unfrequented street. To inform
me of his presence, he was to knock just as nine o'clock chimed at the
Invalides. I knew that my grandmother had invited a number of her
friends for that evening; and I thought that, by pretending a
headache, I might retire early, and so be free. I expected, also, that
Madame d'Arlange would keep Schmidt with her."
"Excuse me, mademoiselle," interrupted M. Daburon, "what day did you
write to M. Albert?"
"Can you fix the hour?"
"I must have sent the letter between two and three o'clock."
"Thanks, mademoiselle. Continue, I pray."
"All my anticipations," continued Claire, "were realised. I retired
during the evening, and I went into the garden a little before the
appointed time. I had procured the key of the little door; and I at
once tried it. Unfortunately, I could not make it turn, the lock was
so rusty. I exerted all my strength in vain. I was in despair, when
nine o'clock struck. At the third stroke, Albert knocked. I told him
of the accident; and I threw him the key, that he might try and unlock
the door. He tried, but without success. I then begged him to postpone
our interview. He replied that it was impossible, that what he had to
say admitted of no delay; that, during three days he had hesitated
about confiding in me, and had suffered martyrdom, and that he could
endure it no longer. We were speaking, you must understand, through
the door. At last, he declared that he would climb over the wall. I
begged him not to do so, fearing an accident. The wall is very high,
as you know; the top is covered with pieces of broken glass, and the
acacia branches stretch out above like a hedge. But he laughed at my
fears, and said that, unless I absolutely forbade him to do so, he was
going to attempt to scale the wall. I dared not say no; and he risked
it. I was very frightened, and trembled like a leaf. Fortunately, he
is very active, and got over without hurting himself. He had come,
sir, to tell me of the misfortune which had befallen him. We first of
all sat down upon the little seat you know of, in front of the grove;
then, as the rain was falling, we took shelter in the summer house. It
was past midnight when Albert left me, quieted and almost gay. He went
back in the same manner, only with less danger, because I made him use
the gardener's ladder, which I laid down alongside the wall when he
had reached the other side."
This account, given in the simplest and most natural manner, puzzled
M. Daburon. What was he to think?
"Mademoiselle," he asked, "had the rain commenced to fall when M.
Albert climbed over the wall?"
"No, sir, the first drops fell when we were on the seat. I recollect
it very well, because he opened his umbrella, and I thought of Paul
"Excuse me a minute, mademoiselle," said the magistrate.
He sat down at his desk, and rapidly wrote two letters. In the first,
he gave orders for Albert to be brought at once to his office in the
Palais de Justice. In the second, he directed a detective to go
immediately to the Faubourg St. Germain to the d'Arlange house, and
examine the wall at the bottom of the garden, and make a note of any
marks of its having been scaled, if any such existed. He explained
that the wall had been climbed twice, both before and during the rain;
consequently the marks of the going and returning would be different
from each other.
He enjoined upon the detective to proceed with the utmost caution, and
to invent a plausible pretext which would explain his investigations.
Having finished writing, the magistrate rang for his servant, who soon
"Here," said he, "are two letters, which you must take to my clerk,
Constant. Tell him to read them, and to have the orders they contain
executed at once,--at once, you understand. Run, take a cab, and be
quick! Ah! one word. If Constant is not in my office, have him sought
for; he will not be far off, as he is waiting for me. Go quickly!"
M. Daburon then turned and said to Claire: "Have you kept the letter,
mademoiselle, in which M. Albert asked for this interview?"
"Yes, sir, I even think I have it with me."
She arose, felt in her pocket, and drew out a much crumpled piece of
"Here it is!"
The investigating magistrate took it. A suspicion crossed his mind.
This compromising letter happened to be very conveniently in Claire's
pocket; and yet young girls do not usually carry about with them
requests for secret interviews. At a glance, he read the ten lines of
"No date," he murmured, "no stamp, nothing at all."
Claire did not hear him; she was racking her brain to find other
proofs of the interview.
"Sir," said she suddenly, "it often happens, that when we wish to be,
and believe ourselves alone, we are nevertheless observed. Summon, I
beseech you, all of my grandmother's servants, and inquire if any of
them saw Albert that night."
"Inquire of your servants! Can you dream of such a thing,
"What, sir? You fear that I shall be compromised. What of that, if he
is only freed?"
M. Daburon could not help admiring her. What sublime devotion in this
young girl, whether she spoke the truth or not! He could understand
the violence she had been doing to her feelings during the past hour,
he who knew her character so well.
"That is not all," she added; "the key which I threw to Albert, he did
not return it to me; he must have forgotten to do so. If it is found
in his possession, it will well prove that he was in the garden."
"I will give orders respecting it, mademoiselle."
"There is still another thing," continued Claire; "while I am here,
send some one to examine the wall."
She seemed to think of everything.
"That is already done, mademoiselle," replied M. Daburon. "I will not
hide from you that one of the letters which I have just sent off
ordered an examination of your grandmother's wall, a secret
examination, though, be assured."
Claire rose joyfully, and for the second time held out her hand to the
"Oh, thanks!" she said, "a thousand thanks! Now I can well see that
you are with me. But I have still another idea: Albert ought to have
the note I wrote on Tuesday."
"No, mademoiselle, he burnt it."
Claire drew back. She imagined she felt a touch of irony in the
magistrate's reply. There was none, however. M. Daburon remembered the
letter thrown into the fire by Albert on the Tuesday afternoon. It
could only been the one Claire had sent him. It was to her, then, that
the words, "She cannot resist me," applied. He understood, now, the
action and the remark.
"Can you understand, mademoiselle," he next asked, "how M. de Commarin
could lead justice astray, and expose me to committing a most
deplorable error, when it would have been so easy to have told me all
"It seems to me, sir, that an honourable man cannot confess that he
has obtained a secret interview from a lady, until he has full
permission from her to do so. He ought to risk his life sooner than
the honour of her who has trusted in him; but be assured Albert relied
There was nothing to reply to this; and the sentiments expressed by
Mademoiselle d'Arlange gave a meaning to one of Albert's replies in
"This is not all yet, mademoiselle," continued the magistrate; "all
that you have told me here, you must repeat in my office, at the
Palais de Justice. My clerk will take down your testimony, and you
must sign it. This proceeding will be painful to you; but it is a
"Ah, sir, I will do so with pleasure. What can I refuse, when I know
that he is in prison? I was determined to do everything. If he had
been tried at the assizes, I would have gone there. Yes, I would have
presented myself, and there before all I would have told the truth.
Doubtless," she added sadly, "I should have been greatly compromised.
I should have been looked upon as a heroine of romance; but what
matters public opinion, the blame or approval of the world, since I am
sure of his love?"
She rose from her seat, readjusting her cloak and the strings of her
"Is it necessary," she asked, "that I should await the return of the
police agents who are examining the wall?"
"It is needless, mademoiselle."
"Then," she continued in a sweet voice, "I can only beseech you," she
clasped her hands, "conjure you," her eyes implored, "to let Albert
out of prison."
"He shall be liberated as soon as possible; I give you my word."
"Oh, to-day, dear M. Daburon, to-day, I beg of you, now, at once!
Since he is innocent, be kind, for you are our friend. Do you wish me
to go down on my knees?"
The magistrate had only just time to extend his arms, and prevent her.
He was choking with emotion, the unhappy man! Ah! how much he envied
the prisoner's lot!
"That which you ask of me is impossible, mademoiselle," said he in an
almost inaudible voice, "impracticable, upon my honour. Ah! if it
depended upon me alone, I could not, even were he guilty, see you
weep, and resist."
Mademoiselle d'Arlange, hitherto so firm, could no longer restrain her
"Miserable girl that I am!" she cried, "he is suffering, he is in
prison; I am free, and yet I can do nothing for him! Great heaven!
inspire me with accents to touch the hearts of men! At whose feet must
I cast myself to obtain his pardon?"
She suddenly stopped, surprised at having uttered such a word.
"Pardon!" she repeated fiercely; "he has no need of pardon. Why am I
only a woman? Can I not find one man who will help me? Yes," she said
after a moment's reflection, "there is one man who owes himself to
Albert; since he it was who put him in this position,--the Count de
Commarin. He is his father, and yet he has abandoned him. Ah, well! I
will remind him that he still has a son."
The magistrate rose to see her to the door; but she had already
disappeared, taking the kind-hearted Schmidt with her.
M. Daburon, more dead than alive, sank back again in his chair. His
eyes filled with tears.
"And that is what she is!" he murmured. "Ah! I made no vulgar choice!
I had divined and understood all her good qualities."
He had never loved her so much; and he felt that he would never be
consoled for not having won her love in return. But, in the midst of
his meditations, a sudden thought passed like a flash across his
Had Claire spoken the truth? Had she not been playing a part
previously prepared? No, most decidedly no! But she might have been
herself deceived, might have been the dupe of some skillful trick.
In that case old Tabaret's prediction was now realised.
Tabaret had said: "Look out for an indisputable /alibi/."
How could he show the falsity of this one, planned in advance,
affirmed by Claire, who was herself deceived?
How could he expose a plan, so well laid that the prisoner had been
able without danger to await certain results, with his arms folded,
and without himself moving in the matter?
And yet, if Claire's story were true, and Albert innocent!
The magistrate struggled in the midst of inextricable difficulties,
without a plan, without an idea.
"Oh!" he said in a loud voice, as though encouraging himself, "at the
Palais, all will be unravelled."
M. Daburon had been surprised at Claire's visit.
M. de Commarin was still more so, when his valet whispered to him that
Mademoiselle d'Arlange desired a moment's conversation with him.
M. Daburon had broken a handsome card-plate; M. de Commarin, who was
at breakfast, dropped his knife on his plate.
Like the magistrate he exclaimed, "Claire!"
He hesitated to receive her, fearing a painful and disagreeable scene.
She could only have, as he knew, a very slight affection for him, who
had for so long repulsed her with such obstinacy. What could she want
with him? To inquire about Albert, of course. And what could he reply?
She would probably have some nervous attack or other; and he would be
thoroughly upset. However, he thought of how much she must have
suffered; and he pitied her.
He felt that it would be cruel, as well as unworthy of him, to keep
away from her who was to have been his daughter-in-law, the
Viscountess de Commarin.
He sent a message, asking her to wait a few minutes in one of the
little drawing-rooms on the ground floor.
He did not keep her waiting long, his appetite having been destroyed
by the mere announcement of her visit. He was fully prepared for
As soon as he appeared, Claire saluted him with one of those graceful,
yet highly dignified bows, which distinguished the Marchioness
"Sir--," she began.
"You come, do you not, my poor child, to obtain news of the unhappy
boy?" asked M. de Commarin.
He interrupted Claire, and went straight to the point, in order to get
the disagreeable business more quickly over.
"No sir," replied the young girl, "I come, on the contrary, to bring
you news. Albert is innocent."
The count looked at her most attentively, persuaded that grief had
affected her reason; but in that case her madness was very quiet.
"I never doubted it," continued Claire; "but now I have the most
"Are you quite sure of what you are saying?" inquired the count, whose
eyes betrayed his doubt.
Mademoiselle d'Arlange understood his thoughts; her interview with M.
Daburon had given her experience.
"I state nothing which is not of the utmost accuracy," she replied,
"and easily proved. I have just come from M. Daburon, the
investigating magistrate, who is one of my grandmother's friends; and,
after what I told him, he is convinced that Albert is innocent."
"He told you that, Claire!" exclaimed the count. "My child, are you
sure, are you not mistaken?"
"No, sir. I told him something, of which every one was ignorant, and
of which Albert, who is a gentleman, could not speak. I told him that
Albert passed with me, in my grandmother's garden, all that evening on
which the crime was committed. He had asked to see me--"
"But your word will not be sufficient."
"There are proofs, and justice has them by this time."
"Heavens! Is it really possible?" cried the count, who was beside
"Ah, sir!" said Mademoiselle d'Arlange bitterly, "you are like the
magistrate; you believed in the impossible. You are his father, and
you suspected him! You do not know him, then. You were abandoning him,
without trying to defend him. Ah, I did not hesitate one moment!"
One is easily induced to believe true that which one is anxiously
longing for. M. de Commarin was not difficult to convince. Without
thinking, without discussion, he put faith in Claire's assertions. He
shared her convictions, without asking himself whether it were wise or
prudent to do so.
Yes, he had been overcome by the magistrate's certitude, he had told
himself that what was most unlikely was true; and he had bowed his
head. One word from a young girl had upset this conviction. Albert
innocent! The thought descended upon his heart like heavenly dew.
Claire appeared to him like a bearer of happiness and hope.
During the last three days, he had discovered how great was his
affection for Albert. He had loved him tenderly, for he had never been
able to discard him, in spite of his frightful suspicions as to his
For three days, the knowledge of the crime imputed to his unhappy son,
the thought of the punishment which awaited him, had nearly killed the
father. And after all he was innocent!
No more shame, no more scandalous trial, no more stains upon the
escutcheon; the name of Commarin would not be heard at the assizes.
"But, then, mademoiselle," asked the count, "are they going to release
"Alas! sir, I demanded that they should at once set him at liberty. It
is just, is it not, since he is not guilty? But the magistrate replied
that it was not possible; that he was not the master; that Albert's
fate depended on many others. It was then that I resolved to come to
you for aid."
"Can I then do something?"
"I at least hope so. I am only a poor girl, very ignorant; and I know
no one in the world. I do not know what can be done to get him
released from prison. There ought, however, to be some means for
obtaining justice. Will you not try all that can be done, sir, you,
who are his father?"
"Yes," replied M. de Commarin quickly, "yes, and without losing a
Since Albert's arrest, the count had been plunged in a dull stupor. In
his profound grief, seeing only ruin and disaster about him, he had
done nothing to shake off this mental paralysis. Ordinarily very
active, he now sat all day long without moving. He seemed to enjoy a
condition which prevented his feeling the immensity of his misfortune.
Claire's voice sounded in his ear like the resurrection trumpet. The
frightful darkness was dispelled; he saw a glimmering in the horizon;
he recovered the energy of his youth.
"Let us go," he said.
Suddenly the radiance in his face changed to sadness, mixed with
"But where," he asked. "At what door shall we knock with any hope of
success? In the olden times, I would have sought the king. But to-day!
Even the emperor himself cannot interfere with the law. He will tell
me to await the decision of the tribunals, that he can do nothing.
Wait! And Albert is counting the minutes in mortal agony! We shall
certainly have justice; but to obtain it promptly is an art taught in
schools that I have not frequented."
"Let us try, at least, sir," persisted Claire. "Let us seek out
judges, generals, ministers, any one. Only lead me to them. I will
speak; and you shall see if we do not succeed."
The count took Claire's little hands between his own, and held them a
moment pressing them with paternal tenderness.
"Brave girl!" he cried, "you are a noble, courageous woman, Claire!
Good blood never fails. I did not know you. Yes, you shall be my
daughter; and you shall be happy together, Albert and you. But we must
not rush about everywhere, like wild geese. We need some one to tell
us whom we should address,--some guide, lawyer, advocate. Ah!" he
cried, "I have it,--Noel!"
Claire raised her eyes to the count's in surprise.
"He is my son," replied M. de Commarin, evidently embarrassed, "my
other son, Albert's brother. The best and worthiest of men," he added,
repeating quite appropriately a phrase already uttered by M. Daburon.
"He is a advocate; he knows all about the Palais; he will tell us what
Noel's name, thus thrown into the midst of this conversation so full
of hope, oppressed Claire's heart.
The count perceived her affright.
"Do not feel anxious, dear child," he said. "Noel is good; and I will
tell you more, he loves Albert. Do not shake your head so; Noel told
me himself, on this very spot, that he did not believe Albert guilty.
He declared that he intended doing everything to dispel the fatal
mistake, and that he would be his advocate."
These assertions did not seem to reassure the young girl. She thought
to herself, "What then has this Noel done for Albert?" But she made no
"I will send for him," continued M. de Commarin; "he is now with
Albert's mother, who brought him up, and who is now on her deathbed."
"Yes, my child. Albert will explain to you what may perhaps seem to
you an enigma. Now time presses. But I think--"
He stopped suddenly. He thought, that, instead of sending for Noel at
Madame Gerdy's, he might go there himself. He would thus see Valerie!
and he had longed to see her again so much!
It was one of those actions which the heart urges, but which one does
not dare risk, because a thousand subtle reasons and interests are
One wishes, desires, and even longs for it; and yet one struggles,
combats, and resists. But, if an opportunity occurs, one is only too
happy to seize it; then one has an excuse with which to silence one's
In thus yielding to the impulse of one's feelings, one can say: "It
was not I who willed it, it was fate."
"It will be quicker, perhaps," observed the count, "to go to Noel."
"Let us start then, sir."
"I hardly know though, my child," said the old gentleman, hesitating,
"whether I may, whether I ought to take you with me. Propriety--"
"Ah, sir, propriety has nothing to do with it!" replied Claire
impetuously. "With you, and for his sake, I can go anywhere. Is it not
indispensable that I should give some explanations? Only send word to
my grandmother by Schmidt, who will come back here and await my
return. I am ready, sir."
"Very well, then," said the count.
Then, ringing the bell violently, he called to the servant, "My
In descending the steps, he insisted upon Claire's taking his arm. The
gallant and elegant politeness of the friend of the Count d'Artois
"You have taken twenty years from my age," he said; "it is but right
that I should devote to you the youth you have restored to me."
As soon as Claire had entered the carriage, he said to the footman:
"Rue St. Lazare, quick!"
Whenever the count said "quick," on entering his carriage, the
pedestrians had to get out of the way. But the coachman was a skillful
driver, and arrived without accident.
Aided by the concierge's directions, the count and the young girl went
towards Madame Gerdy's apartments. The count mounted slowly, holding
tightly to the balustrade, stopping at every landing to recover his
breath. He was, then, about to see her again! His emotion pressed his
heart like a vice.
"M. Noel Gerdy?" he asked of the servant.
The advocate had just that moment gone out. She did not know where he
had gone; but he had said he should not be out more than half an hour.
"We will wait for him, then," said the count.
He advanced; and the servant drew back to let them pass. Noel had
strictly forbidden her to admit any visitors; but the Count de
Commarin was one of those whose appearance makes servants forget all
Three persons were in the room into which the servant introduced the
count and Mademoiselle d'Arlange.
They were the parish priest, the doctor, and a tall man, an officer of
the Legion of Honour, whose figure and bearing indicated the old
They were conversing near the fireplace, and the arrival of strangers
appeared to astonish them exceedingly.
In bowing, in response to M. de Commarin's and Claire's salutations,
they seemed to inquire their business: but this hesitation was brief,
for the soldier almost immediately offered Mademoiselle d'Arlange a
The count considered that his presence was inopportune; and he thought
that he was called upon to introduce himself, and explain his visit.
"You will excuse me, gentlemen," said he, "if I am indiscreet. I did
not think of being so when I asked to wait for Noel, whom I have the
most pressing need of seeing. I am the Count de Commarin."
At this name, the old soldier let go the back of the chair which he
was still holding and haughtily raised his head. An angry light
flashed in his eyes, and he made a threatening gesture. His lips
moved, as if he were about to speak; but he restrained himself, and
retired, bowing his head, to the window.
Neither the count nor the two other men noticed his strange behaviour;
but it did not escape Claire.
While Mademoiselle d'Arlange sat down rather surprised, the count,
much embarrassed at his position, went up to the priest, and asked in
a low voice, "What is, I pray, M. l'Abbe; Madame Gerdy's condition?"
The doctor, who had a sharp ear, heard the question, and approached
He was very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to a person as
celebrated as the Count de Commarin, and to become acquainted with
"I fear, sir," he said, "that she cannot live throughout the day."
The count pressed his hand against his forehead, as though he had felt
a sudden pain there. He hesitated to inquire further.
After a moment of chilling silence, he resolved to go on.
"Does she recognise her friends?" he murmured.
"No, sir. Since last evening, however, there has been a great change.
She was very uneasy all last night: she had moments of fierce
delirium. About an hour ago, we thought she was recovering her senses,
and we sent for M. l'Abbe."
"Very needlessly, though," put in the priest, "and it is a sad
misfortune. Her reason is quite gone. Poor woman! I have known her ten
years. I have been to see her nearly every week; I never knew a more
"She must suffer dreadfully," said the doctor.
Almost at the same instant, and as if to bear out the doctor's words,
they heard stifled cries from the next room, the door of which was
"Do you hear?" exclaimed the count, trembling from head to foot.
Claire understood nothing of this strange scene. Dark presentiments
oppressed her; she felt as though she were enveloped in an atmosphere
of evil. She grew frightened, rose from her chair, and drew near the
"She is, I presume, in there?" asked M. de Commarin.
"Yes, sir," harshly answered the old soldier, who had also drawn near.
At any other time, the count would have noticed the soldier's tone,
and have resented it. Now, he did not even raise his eyes. He remained
insensible to everything. Was she not there, close to him? His
thoughts were in the past; it seemed to him but yesterday that he had
quitted her for the last time.
"I should very much like to see her," he said timidly.
"That is impossible." replied the old soldier.
"Why?" stammered the count.
"At least, M. de Commarin," replied the soldier, "let her die in
The count started, as if he had been struck. His eyes encountered the
officer's; he lowered them like a criminal before his judge.
"Nothing need prevent the count's entering Madame Gerdy's room," put
in the doctor, who purposely saw nothing of all this. "She would
probably not notice his presence; and if--"
"Oh, she would perceive nothing!" said the priest. "I have just spoken
to her, taken her hand, she remained quite insensible."
The old soldier reflected deeply.
"Enter," said he at last to the count; "perhaps it is God's will."
The count tottered so that the doctor offered to assist him. He gently
motioned him away.
The doctor and the priest entered with him; Claire and the old soldier
remained at the threshold of the door, facing the bed.
The count took three or four steps, and was obliged to stop. He wished
to, but could not go further.
Could this dying woman really be Valerie?
He taxed his memory severely; nothing in those withered features,
nothing in that distorted face, recalled the beautiful, the adored
Valerie of his youth. He did not recognise her.
But she knew him, or rather divined his presence. With supernatural
strength, she raised herself, exposing her shoulders and emaciated
arms; then pushing away the ice from her forehead, and throwing back
her still plentiful hair, bathed with water and perspiration, she
cried, "Guy! Guy!"
The count trembled all over.
He did not perceive that which immediately struck all the other
persons present--the transformation in the sick woman. Her contracted
features relaxed, a celestial joy spread over her face, and her eyes,
sunken by disease, assumed an expression of infinite tenderness.
"Guy," said she in a voice heartrending by its sweetness, "you have
come at last! How long, O my God! I have waited for you! You cannot
think what I have suffered by your absence. I should have died of
grief, had it not been for the hope of seeing you again. Who kept you
from me? Your parents again? How cruel of them! Did you not tell them
that no one could love you here below as I do? No, that is not it; I
remember. You were angry when you left me. Your friends wished to
separate us; they said that I was deceiving you with another. Who have
I injured that I should have so many enemies! They envied my
happiness; and we were so happy! But you did not believe the wicked
calumny, you scorned it, for are you not here?"
The nun, who had risen on seeing so many persons enter the sick room,
opened her eyes with astonishment.
"I deceive you?" continued the dying woman; "only a madman would
believe it. Am I not yours, your very own, heart and soul? To me you
are everything: and there is nothing I could expect or hope for from
another which you have not already given me. Was I not yours, alone,
from the very first? I never hesitated to give myself entirely to you;
I felt that I was born for you, Guy, do you remember? I was working
for a lace maker, and was barely earning a living. You told me you
were a poor student; I thought you were depriving yourself for me. You
insisted on having our little apartment on the Quai Saint-Michel done
up. It was lovely, with the new paper all covered with flowers, which
we hung ourselves. How delightful it was! From the window, we could
see the great trees of the Tuileries gardens; and by leaning out a
little we could see the sun set through the arches of the bridges. Oh,
those happy days! The first time that we went into the country
together, one Sunday, you brought me a more beautiful dress than I had
ever dreamed of, and such darling little boots, that it was a shame to
walk out in them! But you had deceived me! You were not a poor
student. One day, when taking my work home, I met you in an elegant
carriage, with tall footmen, dressed in liveries covered with gold
lace, behind. I could not believe my eyes. That evening you told me
the truth, that you were a nobleman and immensely rich. O my darling,
why did you tell me?"
Had she her reason, or was this a mere delirium?
Great tears rolled down the Count de Commarin's wrinkled face, and the
doctor and the priest were touched by the sad spectacle of an old man
weeping like a child.
Only the previous evening, the count had thought his heart dead; and
now this penetrating voice was sufficient to regain the fresh and
powerful feelings of his youth. Yet, how many years had passed away
"After that," continued Madame Gerdy, "we left the Quai Saint-Michel.
You wished it; and I obeyed, in spite of my apprehensions. You told
me, that, to please you, I ought to look like a great lady. You
provided teachers for me, for I was so ignorant that I scarcely knew
how to sign my name. Do you remember the queer spelling in my first
letter? Ah, Guy, if you had really only been a poor student! When I
knew that you were so rich, I lost my simplicity, my thoughtlessness,
my gaiety. I feared that you would think me covetous, that you would
imagine that your fortune influenced my love. Men who, like you, have
millions, must be unhappy! They must be always doubting and full of
suspicions, they can never be sure whether it is themselves or their
gold which is loved, and this awful doubt makes them mistrustful,
jealous, and cruel. Oh my dearest, why did we leave our dear little
room? There, we were happy. Why did you not leave me always where you
first found me? Did you not know that the sight of happiness irritates
mankind? If we had been wise, we would have hid ours like a crime. You
thought to raise me, but you only sunk me lower. You were proud of our
love; you published it abroad. Vainly I asked you in mercy to leave me
in obscurity, and unknown. Soon the whole town knew that I was your
mistress. Every one was talking of the money you spent on me. How I
blushed at the flaunting luxury you thrust upon me! You were
satisfied, because my beauty became celebrated; I wept, because my
shame became so too. People talked about me, as those women who make
their lovers commit the greatest follies. Was not my name in the
papers? And it was through the same papers that I heard of your
approaching marriage. Unhappy woman! I should have fled from you, but
I had not the courage. I resigned myself, without an effort, to the
most humiliating, the most shameful of positions. You were married;
and I remained your mistress. Oh, what anguish I suffered during that
terrible evening. I was alone in my own home, in that room so
associated with you; and you were marrying another! I said to myself,
'At this moment, a pure, noble young girl is giving herself to him.' I
said again, 'What oaths is that mouth, which has so often pressed my
lips, now taking?' Often since that dreadful misfortune, I have asked
heaven what crime I had committed that I should be so terribly
punished? This was the crime. I remained your mistress, and your wife
died. I only saw her once, and then scarcely for a minute, but she
looked at you, and I knew that she loved you as only I could. Ah, Guy,
it was our love that killed her!"
She stopped exhausted, but none of the bystanders moved. They listened
breathlessly, and waited with feverish emotion for her to resume.
Mademoiselle d'Arlange had not the strength to remain standing; she
had fallen upon her knees, and was pressing her handkerchief to her
mouth to keep back her sobs. Was not this woman Albert's mother?
The worthy nun was alone unmoved; she had seen, she said to herself,
many such deliriums before. She understood absolutely nothing of what
"These people are very foolish," she muttered, "to pay so much
attention to the ramblings of a person out of her mind."
She thought she had more sense than the others, so, approaching the
bed, she began to cover up the sick woman.
"Come, madame," said she, "cover yourself, or you will catch cold."
"Sister!" remonstrated the doctor and priest at the same moment.
"For God's sake!" exclaimed the soldier, "let her speak."
"Who," continued the sick woman, unconscious of all that was passing
about her, "who told you I was deceiving you? Oh, the wretches! They
set spies upon me; they discovered that an officer came frequently to
see me. But that officer was my brother, my dear Louis! When he was
eighteen years old, and being unable to obtain work, he enlisted,
saying to my mother, that there would then be one mouth the less in
the family. He was a good soldier, and his officers always liked him.
He worked whilst with his regiment; he taught himself, and he quickly
rose in rank. He was promoted a lieutenant, then captain, and finally
became major. Louis always loved me; had he remained in Paris I should
not have fallen. But our mother died, and I was left all alone in this
great city. He was a non-commissioned officer when he first knew that
I had a lover; and he was so enraged that I feared he would never
forgive me. But he did forgive me, saying that my constancy in my
error was its only excuse. Ah, my friend, he was more jealous of your
honour than you yourself! He came to see me in secret, because I
placed him in the unhappy position of blushing for his sister. I had
condemned myself never to speak of him, never to mention his name.
Could a brave soldier confess that his sister was the mistress of a
count? That it might not be known, I took the utmost precautions, but
alas! only to make you doubt me. When Louis knew what was said, he
wished in his blind rage to challenge you; and then I was obliged to
make him think that he had no right to defend me. What misery! Ah, I
have paid dearly for my years of stolen happiness! But you are here,
and all is forgotten. For you do believe me, do you not, Guy? I will
write to Louis; he will come, he will tell you that I do not lie, and
you cannot doubt his, a soldier's word."
"Yes, on my honour," said the old soldier, "what my sister says is the
The dying woman did not hear him; she continued in a voice panting
from weariness: "How your presence revives me. I feel that I am
growing stronger. I have nearly been very ill. I am afraid I am not
very pretty today; but never mind, kiss me!"
She opened her arms, and thrust out her lips as if to kiss him.
"But it is on one condition, Guy, that you will leave me my child? Oh!
I beg of you, I entreat you not to take him from me; leave him to me.
What is a mother without her child? You are anxious to give him an