The Widow Lerouge, by Émile Gaboriau

Chapter XI.

It was indeed the Count de Commarin, though more like his shadow. His head, usually carried so high, leant upon his chest; his figure was bent; his eyes had no longer their accustomed fire; his hands trembled. The extreme disorder of his dress rendered more striking still the change which had come over him. In one night, he had grown twenty years older. This man, yesterday so proud of never having bent to a storm, was now completely shattered. The pride of his name had constituted his entire strength; that humbled, he seemed utterly overwhelmed. Everything in him gave way at once; all his supports failed him at the same time. His cold, lifeless gaze revealed the dull stupor of his thoughts. He presented such a picture of utter despair that the investigating magistrate slightly shuddered at the sight. M. Tabaret looked frightened, and even the clerk seemed moved.

“Constant,” said M. Daburon quickly, “go with M. Tabaret, and see if there’s any news at the Prefecture.”

The clerk left the room, followed by the detective, who went away regretfully. The count had not noticed their presence; he paid no attention to their departure.

M. Daburon offered him a seat, which he accepted with a sad smile. “I feel so weak,” said he, “you must excuse my sitting.”

Apologies to an investigating magistrate! What an advance in civilisation, when the nobles consider themselves subject to the law, and bow to its decrees! Every one respects justice now-a-days, and fears it a little, even when only represented by a simple and conscientious investigating magistrate.

“You are, perhaps, too unwell, count,” said the magistrate, “to give me the explanations I had hoped for.”

“I am better, thank you,” replied M. de Commarin, “I am as well as could be expected after the shock I have received. When I heard of the crime of which my son is accused, and of his arrest, I was thunderstruck. I believed myself a strong man; but I rolled in the dust. My servants thought me dead. Why was it not so? The strength of my constitution, my physician tells me, was all that saved me; but I believe that heaven wishes me to live, that I may drink to the bitter dregs my cup of humiliation.”

He stopped suddenly, nearly choked by a flow of blood that rose to his mouth.

The investigating magistrate remained standing near the table, almost afraid to move.

After a few moments’ rest, the count found relief, and continued — “Unhappy man that I am! ought I not to have expected it? Everything comes to light sooner or later. I am punished for my great sin — pride. I thought myself out of reach of the thunderbolt; and I have been the means of drawing down the storm upon my house. Albert an assassin! A Viscount de Commarin arraigned before a court of assize! Ah, sir, punish me, also; for I alone and long ago, laid the foundation of this crime. Fifteen centuries of spotless fame end with me in infamy.”

M. Daburon considered Count de Commarin’s conduct unpardonable, and had determined not to spare him.

He had expected to meet a proud, haughty noble, almost unmanageable; and he had resolved to humble his arrogance.

Perhaps the harsh treatment he had received of old from the Marchioness d’Arlange had given him, unconsciously, a slight grudge against the aristocracy.

He had vaguely thought of certain rather severe remarks, which were to overcome the old nobleman, and bring him to a sense of his position.

But when he found himself in the presence of such a sincere repentance, his indignation changed to profound pity; and he began to wonder how he could assuage the count’s grief.

“Write, sir,” continued M. de Commarin with an exaltation of which he did not seem capable ten minutes before — “write my avowal and suppress nothing. I have no longer need of mercy nor of tenderness. What have I to fear now? Is not my disgrace public? Must not I, Count Rheteau de Commarin appear before the tribunal, to proclaim the infamy of our house? Ah! all is lost now, even honour itself. Write, sir; for I wish that all the world shall know that I am the most deserving of blame. But they shall also know that the punishment has been already terrible, and that there was no need for this last and awful trial.”

The count stopped for a moment, to concentrate and arrange his memory.

He soon continued, in a firmer voice, and adapting his tone to what he had to say, “When I was of Albert’s age, sir, my parents made me marry, in spite of my protestations, the noblest and purest of young girls. I made her the most unhappy of women. I could not love her. I cherished a most passionate love for a mistress, who had trusted herself to me, and whom I had loved for a long time. I found her rich in beauty, purity and mind. Her name was Valerie. My heart is, so to say, dead and cold in me, sir, but, ah! when I pronounce that name, it still has a great effect upon me. In spite of my marriage, I could not induce myself to part from her, though she wished me to. The idea of sharing my love with another was revolting to her. No doubt she loved me then. Our relations continued. My wife and my mistress became mothers at nearly the same time. This coincidence suggested to me the fatal idea of sacrificing my legitimate son to his less fortunate brother. I communicated this project to Valerie. To my great surprise, she refused it with horror. Already the maternal instinct was aroused within her; she would not be separated from her child. I have preserved, as a monument of my folly, the letters which she wrote to me at that time. I re-read them only last night. Ah! why did I not listen to both her arguments and her prayers? It was because I was mad. She had a sort of presentiment of the evil which overwhelms me today. But I came to Paris; — I had absolute control over her. I threatened to leave her, never to see her again. She yielded; and my valet and Claudine Lerouge were charged with this wicked substitution. It is, therefore, the son of my mistress who bears the title of Viscount de Commarin, and who was arrested but a short time ago.”

M. Daburon had not hoped for a declaration so clear, and above all so prompt. He secretly rejoiced for the young advocate whose noble sentiments had quite captivated him.

“So, count,” said he, “you acknowledge that M. Noel Gerdy is the issue of your legitimate marriage, and that he alone is entitled to bear your name?”

“Yes, sir. Alas! I was then more delighted at the success of my project than I should have been over the most brilliant victory. I was so intoxicated with the joy of having my Valerie’s child there, near me, that I forgot everything else. I had transferred to him a part of my love for his mother; or, rather, I loved him still more, if that be possible. The thought that he would bear my name, that he would inherit all my wealth, to the detriment of the other, transported me with delight. The other, I hated; I could not even look upon him. I do not recollect having kissed him twice. On this point Valerie, who was very good, reproached me severely. One thing alone interfered with my happiness. The Countess de Commarin adored him whom she believed to be her son, and always wished to have him on her knees. I cannot express what I suffered at seeing my wife cover with kisses and caresses the child of my mistress. But I kept him from her as much as I could; and she, poor woman! not understanding what was passing within me, imagined that I was doing everything to prevent her son loving her. She died, sir, with this idea, which poisoned her last days. She died of sorrow; but saint-like, without a complaint, without a murmur, pardon upon her lips and in her heart.”

Though greatly pressed for time, M. Daburon did not venture to interrupt the count, to ask him briefly for the immediate facts of the case. He knew that fever alone gave him this unnatural energy, to which at any moment might succeed the most complete prostration. He feared, if he stopped him for an instant, that he would not have strength enough to resume.

“I did not shed a single tear,” continued the count. “What had she been in my life? A cause of sorrow and remorse. But God’s justice, in advance of man’s was about to take a terrible revenge. One day, I was warned that Valerie was deceiving me, and had done so for a long time. I could not believe it at first; it seemed to me impossible, absurd. I would have sooner doubted myself than her. I had taken her from a garret, where she was working sixteen hours a day to earn a few pence; she owed all to me. I had made her so much a part of myself that I could not credit her being false. I could not induce myself to feel jealous. However, I inquired into the matter; I had her watched; I even acted the spy upon her myself. I had been told the truth. This unhappy woman had another lover, and had had him for more than ten years. He was a cavalry officer. In coming to her house he took every precaution. He usually left about midnight; but sometimes he came to pass the night, and in that case went away in the early morning. Being stationed near Paris, he frequently obtained leave of absence and came to visit her; and he would remain shut up in her apartments until his time expired. One evening, my spies brought me word that he was there. I hastened to the house. My presence did not embarrass her. She received me as usual, throwing her arms about my neck. I thought that my spies had deceived me; and I was going to tell her all, when I saw upon the piano a buckskin glove, such as are worn by soldiers. Not wishing a scene, and not knowing to what excess my anger might carry me, I rushed out of the place without saying a word. I have never seen her since. She wrote to me. I did not open her letters. She attempted to force her way into my presence, but in vain; my servants had orders that they dared not ignore.”

Could this be the Count de Commarin, celebrated for his haughty coldness, for his reserve so full of disdain, who spoke thus, who opened his whole life without restrictions, without reserve? And to whom? To a stranger.

But he was in one of those desperate states, allied to madness, when all reflection leaves us, when we must find some outlet for a too powerful emotion. What mattered to him this secret, so courageously borne for so many years? He disburdened himself of it, like the poor man, who, weighed down by a too heavy burden, casts it to the earth without caring where it falls, nor how much it may tempt the cupidity of the passers-by.

“Nothing,” continued he, “no, nothing, can approach to what I then endured. My very heartstrings were bound up in that woman. She was like a part of myself. In separating from her, it seemed to me that I was tearing away a part of my own flesh. I cannot describe the furious passions her memory stirred within me. I scorned her and longed for her with equal vehemence. I hated her, and I loved her. And, to this day, her detestable image has been ever present to my imagination. Nothing can make me forget her. I have never consoled myself for her loss. And that is not all, terrible doubts about Albert occurred to me. Was I really his father? Can you understand what my punishment was, when I thought to myself, ‘I have perhaps sacrificed my own son to the child of an utter stranger.’ This thought made me hate the bastard who called himself Commarin. To my great affection for him succeeded an unconquerable aversion. How often, in those days I struggled against an insane desire to kill him! Since then, I have learned to subdue my aversion; but I have never completely mastered it. Albert, sir, has been the best of sons. Nevertheless, there has always been an icy barrier between us, which he was unable to explain. I have often been on the point of appealing to the tribunals, of avowing all, of reclaiming my legitimate heir; but regard for my rank has prevented me. I recoiled before the scandal. I feared the ridicule or disgrace that would attach to my name; and yet I have not been able to save it from infamy.”

The old nobleman remained silent, after pronouncing these words. In a fit of despair, he buried his face in his hands, and two great tears rolled silently down his wrinkled cheeks.

In the meantime, the door of the room opened slightly, and the tall clerk’s head appeared.

M. Daburon signed to him to enter, and then addressing M. de Commarin, he said in a voice rendered more gentle by compassion: “Sir, in the eyes of heaven, as in the eyes of society, you have committed a great sin; and the results, as you see, are most disastrous. It is your duty to repair the evil consequences of your sin as much as lies in your power.”

“Such is my intention, sir, and, may I say so? my dearest wish.”

“You doubtless understand me,” continued M. Daburon.

“Yes, sir,” replied the old man, “yes, I understand you.”

“It will be a consolation to you,” added the magistrate, “to learn that M. Noel Gerdy is worthy in all respects of the high position that you are about to restore to him. He is a man of great talent, better and worthier than any one I know. You will have a son worthy of his ancestors. And finally, no one of your family has disgraced it, sir, for Viscount Albert is not a Commarin.”

“No,” rejoined the count quickly, “a Commarin would be dead at this hour; and blood washes all away.”

The old nobleman’s remark set the investigating magistrate thinking profoundly.

“Are you then sure,” said he, “of the viscount’s guilt?”

M. de Commarin gave the magistrate a look of intense surprise.

“I only arrived in Paris yesterday evening,” he replied; “and I am entirely ignorant of all that has occurred. I only know that justice would not proceed without good cause against a man of Albert’s rank. If you have arrested him, it is quite evident that you have something more than suspicion against him — that you possess positive proofs.”

M. Daburon bit his lips, and, for a moment, could not conceal a feeling of displeasure. He had neglected his usual prudence, had moved too quickly. He had believed the count’s mind entirely upset; and now he had aroused his distrust. All the skill in the world could not repair such an unfortunate mistake. A witness on his guard is no longer a witness to be depended upon; he trembles for fear of compromising himself, measures the weight of the questions, and hesitates as to his answers.

On the other hand, justice, in the form of a magistrate, is disposed to doubt everything, to imagine everything, and to suspect everybody. How far was the count a stranger to the crime at La Jonchere? Although doubting Albert’s paternity, he would certainly have made great efforts to save him. His story showed that he thought his honour in peril just as much as his son. Was he not the man to suppress, by every means, an inconvenient witness? Thus reasoned M. Daburon. And yet he could not clearly see how the Count de Commarin’s interests were concerned in the matter. This uncertainty made him very uneasy.

“Sir,” he asked, more sternly, “when were you informed of the discovery of your secret?”

“Last evening, by Albert himself. He spoke to me of this sad story, in a way which I now seek in vain to explain, unless —”

The count stopped short, as if his reason had been struck by the improbability of the supposition which he had formed.

“Unless! —” inquired the magistrate eagerly.

“Sir,” said the count, without replying directly, “Albert is a hero, if he is not guilty.”

“Ah!” said the magistrate quickly, “have you, then, reason to think him innocent?”

M. Daburon’s spite was so plainly visible in the tone of his words that M. de Commarin could and ought to have seen the semblance of an insult. He started, evidently offended, and rising, said: “I am now no more a witness for, than I was a moment ago a witness against. I desire only to render what assistance I can to justice, in accordance with my duty.”

“Confound it,” said M. Daburon to himself, “here I have offended him now! Is this the way to do things, making mistake after mistake?”

“The facts are these,” resumed the count. “Yesterday, after having spoken to me of these cursed letters, Albert began to set a trap to discover the truth — for he still had doubts, Noel Gerdy not having obtained the complete correspondence. An animated discussion arose between us. He declared his resolution to give way to Noel. I, on the other hand, was resolved to compromise the matter, cost what it might. Albert dared to oppose me. All my efforts to convert him to my views were useless. Vainly I tried to touch those chords in his breast which I supposed the most sensitive. He firmly repeated his intention to retire in spite of me, declaring himself satisfied, if I would consent to allow him a modest competence. I again attempted to shake him, by showing him that his marriage, so ardently looked forward to for two years, would be broken off by this blow. He replied that he felt sure of the constancy of his betrothed, Mademoiselle d’Arlange.”

This name fell like a thunderbolt upon the ears of the investigating magistrate. He jumped in his chair. Feeling that his face was turning crimson, he took up a large bundle of papers from his table, and, to hide his emotion, he raised them to his face, as though trying to decipher an illegible word. He began to understand the difficult duty with which he was charged. He knew that he was troubled like a child, having neither his usual calmness nor foresight. He felt that he might commit the most serious blunders. Why had he undertaken this investigation? Could he preserve himself quite free from bias? Did he think his will would be perfectly impartial? Gladly would he put off to another time the further examination of the count; but could he? His conscience told him that this would be another blunder. He renewed, then, the painful examination.

“Sir,” said he, “the sentiments expressed by the viscount are very fine, without doubt; but did he not mention Widow Lerouge?”

“Yes,” replied the count, who appeared suddenly to brighten, as by the remembrance of some unnoticed circumstances — “yes, certainly.”

“He must have shown you that this woman’s testimony rendered a struggle with M. Gerdy impossible.”

“Precisely; sir; and, aside from the question of duty, it was upon that that he based his refusal to follow my wishes.”

“It will be necessary, count, for you to repeat to me very exactly all that passed between the viscount and yourself. Appeal, then, I beseech you, to your memory, and try to repeat his own words as nearly as possible.”

M. de Commarin could do so without much difficulty. For some little time, a salutary reaction had taken place within him. His blood, excited by the persistence of the examination, moved in its accustomed course. His brain cleared itself.

The scene of the previous evening was admirably presented to his memory, even to the most insignificant details. The sound of Albert’s voice was still in his ears; he saw again his expressive gestures. As his story advanced, alive with clearness and precision, M. Daburon’s conviction became more confirmed.

The magistrate turned against Albert precisely that which the day before had won the count’s admiration.

“What wonderful acting!” thought he. “Tabaret is decidedly possessed of second sight. To his inconceivable boldness, this young man joins an infernal cleverness. The genius of crime itself inspires him. It is a miracle that we are able to unmask him. How well everything was foreseen and arranged? How marvellously this scene with his father was brought about, in order to procure doubt in case of discovery? There is not a sentence which lacks a purpose, which does not tend to ward off suspicion. What refinement of execution! What excessive care for details! Nothing is wanting, not even the great devotion of his betrothed. Has he really informed Claire? Probably I might find out; but I should have to see her again, to speak to her. Poor child! to love such a man! But his plan is now fully exposed. His discussion with the count was his plank of safety. It committed him to nothing, and gained time. He would of course raise objections, since they would only end by binding him the more firmly in his father’s heart. He could thus make a merit of his compliance, and would ask a reward for his weakness. And, when Noel returned to the charge, he would find himself in presence of the count, who would boldly deny everything, politely refuse to have anything to do with him and would possibly have him driven out of the house, as an impostor and forger.”

It was a strange coincidence, but yet easily explained, that M. de Commarin, while telling his story, arrived at the same ideas as the magistrate, and at conclusions almost identical. In fact, why that persistence with respect to Claudine? He remembered plainly, that, in his anger, he had said to his son, “Mankind is not in the habit of doing such fine actions for its own satisfaction.” That great disinterestedness was now explained.

When the count had ceased speaking, M. Daburon said: “I thank you, sir. I can say nothing positive; but justice has weighty reasons to believe that, in the scene which you have just related to me, Viscount Albert played a part previously arranged.”

“And well arranged,” murmured the count; “for he deceived me!”

He was interrupted by the entrance of Noel, who carried under his arm a black shagreen portfolio, ornamented with his monogram.

The advocate bowed to the old gentleman, who in his turn rose and retired politely to the end of the room.

“Sir,” said Noel, in an undertone to the magistrate, “you will find all the letters in this portfolio. I must ask permission to leave you at once, as Madame Gerdy’s condition grows hourly more alarming.”

Noel had raised his voice a little, in pronouncing these last words; and the count heard them. He started, and made a great effort to restrain the question which leaped from his heart to his lips.

“You must however give me a moment, my dear sir,” replied the magistrate.

M. Daburon then quitted his chair, and, taking the advocate by the hand, led him to the count.

“M. de Commarin,” said he, “I have the honour of presenting to you M. Noel Gerdy.”

M. de Commarin was probably expecting some scene of this kind: for not a muscle of his face moved: he remained perfectly calm. Noel, on his side, was like a man who had received a blow on the head; he staggered, and was obliged to seek support from the back of a chair.

Then these two, father and son, stood face to face, apparently deep in thought, but in reality examining one another with mutual distrust, each striving to gather something of the other’s thoughts.

M. Daburon had augured better results from this meeting, which he had been awaiting ever since the count’s arrival. He had expected that this abrupt presentation would bring about an intensely pathetic scene, which would not give his two witnesses time for reflection. The count would open his arms: Noel would throw himself into them; and this reconciliation would only await the sanction of the tribunals, to be complete.

The coldness of the one, the embarrassment of the other, disconcerted his plans. He therefore thought it necessary to intervene.

“Count,” said he reproachfully, “remember that it was only a few minutes ago that you admitted that M. Gerdy was your legitimate son.”

M. de Commarin made no reply; to judge from his lack of emotion, he could not have heard.

So Noel, summoning all his courage, ventured to speak first — “Sir,” he stammered, “I entertain no —”

“You may call me father,” interrupted the haughty old man, in a tone which was by no means affectionate. Then addressing the magistrate he said: “Can I be of any further use to you, sir?”

“Only to hear your evidence read over,” replied M. Daburon, “and to sign it if you find everything correct. You can proceed, Constant,” he added.

The tall clerk turned half round on his chair and commenced. He had a peculiar way of jabbering over what he had scrawled. He read very quickly, all at a stretch, without paying the least attention to either full stops or commas, questions or replies; but went on reading as long as his breath lasted. When he could go on no longer, he took a breath, and then continued as before. Unconsciously, he reminded one of a diver, who every now and then raises his head above water, obtains a supply of air, and disappears again. Noel was the only one to listen attentively to the reading, which to unpractised ears was unintelligible. It apprised him of many things which it was important for him to know. At last Constant pronounced the words, “In testimony whereof,” etc., which end all official reports in France.

He handed the pen to the count, who signed without hesitation. The old nobleman then turned towards Noel.

“I am not very strong,” he said; “you must therefore, my son,” emphasizing the word, “help your father to his carriage.”

The young advocate advanced eagerly. His face brightened, as he passed the count’s arm through his own. When they were gone, M. Daburon could not resist a impulse of curiosity. He hastened to the door, which he opened slightly; and, keeping his body in the background that he might not himself be seen, he looked out into the passage. The count and Noel had not yet reached the end. They were going slowly. The count seemed to drag heavily and painfully along; the advocate took short steps, bending slightly towards his father; and all his movements were marked with the greatest solicitude. The magistrate remained watching them until they passed out of sight at the end of the gallery. Then he returned to his seat, heaving a deep sigh.

“At least,” thought he, “I have helped to make one person happy. The day will not be entirely a bad one.”

But he had no time to give way to his thoughts, the hours flew by so quickly. He wished to interrogate Albert as soon as possible; and he had still to receive the evidence of several of the count’s servants, and the report of the commissary of police charged with the arrest. The servants who had been waiting their turn a long while were now brought in without delay, and examined separately. They had but little information to give; but the testimony of each was so to say a fresh accusation. It was easy to see that all believed their master guilty.

Albert’s conduct since the beginning of the fatal week, his least words, his most insignificant movements, were reported, commented upon, and explained.

The man who lives in the midst of thirty servants is like an insect in a glass box under the magnifying glass of a naturalist. Not one of his acts escapes their notice: he can scarcely have a secret of his own; and, if they cannot divine what it is, they at least know that he has one. From morn till night he is the point of observation for thirty pairs of eyes, interested in studying the slightest changes in his countenance.

The magistrate obtained, therefore, an abundance of those frivolous details which seem nothing at first; but the slightest of which may, at the trial, become a question of life or death.

By combining these depositions, reconciling them and putting them in order, M. Daburon was able to follow his prisoner hour by hour from the Sunday morning.

Directly Noel left, the viscount gave orders that all visitors should be informed that he had gone into the country. From that moment, the whole household perceived that something had gone wrong with him, that he was very much annoyed, or very unwell.

He did not leave his study on that day, but had his dinner brought up to him. He ate very little — only some soup, and a very thin fillet of sole with white wine. While eating, he said to M. Contois, the butler: “Remind the cook to spice the sauce a little more, in future,” and then added in a low tone, “Ah! to what purpose?” In the evening he dismissed his servants from all duties, saying, “Go, and amuse yourselves.” He expressly warned them not to disturb him unless he rang.

On the Monday, he did not get up until noon, although usually an early riser. He complained of a violent headache, and of feeling sick. He took, however a cup of tea. He ordered his brougham, but almost immediately countermanded the order. Lubin, his valet, heard him say: “I am hesitating too much;” and a few moments later, “I must make up my mind.” Shortly afterwards he began writing.

He then gave Lubin a letter to carry to Mademoiselle Claire d’Arlange, with orders to deliver it only to herself or to Mademoiselle Schmidt, the governess. A second letter, containing two thousand franc notes, was intrusted to Joseph, to be taken to the viscount’s club. Joseph no longer remembered the name of the person to whom the letter was addressed; but it was not a person of title. That evening, Albert only took a little soup, and remained shut up in his room.

He rose early on the Tuesday. He wandered about the house, as though he were in great trouble, or impatiently awaiting something which did not arrive. On his going into the garden, the gardener asked his advice concerning a lawn. He replied, “You had better consult the count upon his return.”

He did not breakfast any more than the day before. About one o’clock, he went down to stables, and caressed, with an air of sadness, his favorite mare, Norma. Stroking her neck, he said, “Poor creature! poor old girl!”

At three o’clock, a messenger arrived with a letter. The viscount took it, and opened it hastily. He was then near the flower-garden. Two footmen distinctly heard him say, “She cannot resist.” He returned to the house, and burnt the letter in the large stove in the hall.

As he was sitting down to dinner, at six o’clock, two of his friends, M. de Courtivois and the Marquis de Chouze, insisted upon seeing him, in spite of all orders. They would not be refused. These gentlemen were anxious for him to join them in some pleasure party, but he declined, saying that he had a very important appointment.

At dinner he ate a little more than on the previous days. He even asked the butler for a bottle of Chateau–Lafitte, the whole of which he drank himself. While taking his coffee, he smoked a cigar in the dining room, contrary to the rules of the house. At half-past seven, according to Joseph and two footmen, or at eight according to the Swiss porter and Lubin, the viscount went out on foot, taking an umbrella with him. He returned home at two o’clock in the morning, and at once dismissed his valet, who had waited up for him.

On entering the viscount’s room on the Wednesday, the valet was struck with the condition in which he found his master’s clothes. They were wet, and stained with mud; the trousers were torn. He ventured to make a remark about them. Albert replied, in a furious manner, “Throw the old things in a corner, ready to be given away.”

He appeared to be much better all that day. He breakfasted with a good appetite; and the butler noticed that he was in excellent spirits. He passed the afternoon in the library, and burnt a pile of papers.

On the Thursday, he again seemed very unwell. He was scarcely able to go and meet the count. That evening, after his interview with his father, he went to his room looking extremely ill. Lubin wanted to run for the doctor: he forbade him to do so, or to mention to any one that he was not well.

Such was the substance of twenty large pages, which the tall clerk had covered with writing, without once turning his head to look at the witnesses who passed by in their fine livery.

M. Daburon managed to obtain this evidence in less than two hours. Though well aware of the importance of their testimony, all these servants were very voluble. The difficulty was, to stop them when they had once started. From all they said, it appeared that Albert was a very good master — easily served, kind and polite to his servants. Wonderful to relate! there were found only three among them who did not appear perfectly delighted at the misfortune which had befallen the family. Two were greatly distressed. M. Lubin, although he had been an object of especial kindness, was not one of these.

The turn of the commissary of police had now come. In a few words, he gave an account of the arrest, already described by old Tabaret. He did not forget to mention the one word “Lost,” which had escaped Albert; to his mind, it was a confession. He then delivered all the articles seized in the Viscount de Commarin’s apartments.

The magistrate carefully examined these things, and compared them closely with the scraps of evidence gathered at La Jonchere. He soon appeared, more than ever, satisfied with the course he had taken.

He then placed all these material proofs upon his table, and covered them over with three or four large sheets of paper.

The day was far advanced; and M. Daburon had no more than sufficient time to examine the prisoner before night. He now remembered that he had tasted nothing since morning; and he sent hastily for a bottle of wine and some biscuits. It was not strength, however, that the magistrate needed; it was courage. All the while that he was eating and drinking, his thoughts kept repeating this strange sentence, “I am about to appear before the Viscount de Commarin.” At any other time, he would have laughed at the absurdity of the idea, but, at this moment, it seemed to him like the will of Providence.

“So be it,” said he to himself; “this is my punishment.”

And immediately he gave the necessary orders for Viscount Albert to be brought before him.

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38