The Widow Lerouge by Emile Gaboriau
M. Daburon did not return home on leaving Mademoiselle d'Arlange. All through the night he wandered about at random, seeking to cool his heated brow, and to allay his excessive weariness.
"Fool that I was!" said he to himself, "thousand times fool to have hoped, to have believed, that she would ever love me. Madman! how could I have dared to dream of possessing so much grace, nobleness, and beauty! How charming she was this evening, when her face was bathed in tears! Could anything be more angelic? What a sublime expression her eyes had in speaking of him! How she must love him! And I? She loves me as a father, she told me so,--as a father! And could it be otherwise? Is it not justice? Could she see a lover in a sombre and severe-looking magistrate, always as sad as his black coat? Was it not a crime to dream of uniting that virginal simplicity to my detestable knowledge of the world? For her, the future is yet the land of smiling chimeras; and long since experience has dissipated all my illusions. She is as young as innocence, and I am as old as vice."
The unfortunate magistrate felt thoroughly ashamed of himself. He understood Claire, and excused her. He reproached himself for having shown her how he suffered; for having cast a shadow upon her life. He could not forgive himself for having spoken of his love. Ought he not to have foreseen what had happened?--that she would refuse him, that he would thus deprive himself of the happiness of seeing her, of hearing her, and of silently adoring her?
"A young and romantic girl," pursued he, "must have a lover she can dream of,--whom she can caress in imagination, as an ideal, gratifying herself by seeing in him every great and brilliant quality, imagining him full of nobleness, of bravery, of heroism. What would she see, if, in my absence, she dreamed of me? Her imagination would present me dressed in a funeral robe, in the depth of a gloomy dungeon, engaged with some vile criminal. Is it not my trade to descend into all moral sinks, to stir up the foulness of crime? Am I not compelled to wash in secrecy and darkness the dirty linen of the most corrupt members of society? Ah! some professions are fatal. Ought not the magistrate, like the priest, to condemn himself to solitude and celibacy? Both know all, they hear all, their costumes are nearly the same; but, while the priest carries consolation in the folds of his black robe, the magistrate conveys terror. One is mercy, the other chastisement. Such are the images a thought of me would awaken; while the other,-- the other--"
The wretched man continued his headlong course along the deserted quays. He went with his head bare, his eyes haggard. To breathe more freely, he had torn off his cravat and thrown it to the winds.
Sometimes, unconsciously, he crossed the path of a solitary wayfarer, who would pause, touched with pity, and turn to watch the retreating figure of the unfortunate wretch he thought deprived of reason. In a by-road, near Grenelle, some police officers stopped him, and tried to question him. He mechanically tendered them his card. They read it, and permitted him to pass, convinced that he was drunk.
Anger,--a furious anger, began to replace his first feeling of resignation. In his heart arose a hate, stronger and more violent than even his love for Claire. That other, that preferred one, that haughty viscount, who could not overcome those paltry obstacles, oh, that he had him there, under his knee!
At that moment, this noble and proud man, this severe and grave magistrate experienced an irresistible longing for vengeance. He began to understand the hate that arms itself with a knife, and lays in ambush in out-of-the-way places; which strikes in the dark, whether in front or from behind matters little, but which strikes, which kills, whose vengeance blood alone can satisfy.
At that very hour he was supposed to be occupied with an inquiry into the case of an unfortunate, accused of having stabbed one of her wretched companions. She was jealous of the woman, who had tried to take her lover from her. He was a soldier, coarse in manners, and always drunk.
M. Daburon felt himself seized with pity for this miserable creature, whom he had commenced to examine the day before. She was very ugly, in fact truly repulsive; but the expression of the eyes, when speaking of her soldier, returned to the magistrate's memory.
"She loves him sincerely," thought he. "If each one of the jurors had suffered what I am suffering now, she would be acquitted. But how many men in this world have loved passionately? Perhaps not one in twenty."
He resolved to recommend this girl to the indulgence of the tribunal, and to extenuate as much as possible her guilt.
For he himself had just determined upon the commission of a crime. He was resolved to kill Albert de Commarin.
During the rest of the night he became all the more determined in this resolution, demonstrating to himself by a thousand mad reasons, which he found solid and inscrutable, the necessity for and the justifiableness of this vengeance.
At seven o'clock in the morning, he found himself in an avenue of the Bois de Boulogne, not far from the lake. He made at once for the Porte Maillot, procured a cab, and was driven to his house.
The delirium of the night continued, but without suffering. He was conscious of no fatigue. Calm and cool, he acted under the power of an hallucination, almost like a somnambulist.
He reflected and reasoned, but without his reason. As soon as he arrived home he dressed himself with care, as was his custom formerly when visiting the Marchioness d'Arlange, and went out. He first called at an armourer's and bought a small revolver, which he caused to be carefully loaded under his own eyes, and put it into his pocket. He then called on the different persons he supposed capable of informing him to what club the viscount belonged. No one noticed the strange state of his mind, so natural were his manners and conversations.
It was not until the afternoon that a young friend of his gave him the name of Albert de Commarin's club, and offered to conduct him thither, as he too was a member.
M. Daburon accepted warmly, and accompanied his friend. While passing along, he grasped with frenzy the handle of the revolver which he kept concealed, thinking only of the murder he was determined to commit, and the means of insuring the accuracy of his aim.
"This will make a terrible scandal," thought he, "above all if I do not succeed in blowing my own brains out. I shall be arrested, thrown into prison, and placed upon my trial at the assizes. My name will be dishonoured! Bah! what does that signify? Claire does not love me, so what care I for all the rest? My father no doubt will die of grief, but I must have my revenge!"
On arriving at the club, his friend pointed out a very dark young man, with a haughty air, or what appeared so to him, who, seated at a table, was reading a review. It was the viscount.
M. Daburon walked up to him without drawing his revolver. But when within two paces, his heart failed him; he turned suddenly and fled, leaving his friend astonished at a scene, to him, utterly inexplicable.
Only once again will Albert de Commarin be as near death.
On reaching the street, it seemed to M. Daburon that the ground was receding from beneath him, that everything was turning around him. He tried to cry out, but could not utter a sound; he struck at the air with his hands, reeled for an instant, and then fell all of a heap on the pavement.
The passers-by ran and assisted the police to raise him. In one of his pockets they found his address, and carried him home. When he recovered his senses, he was in his bed, at the foot of which he perceived his father.
"What has happened?" he asked. With much caution they told him, that for six weeks he had wavered between life and death. The doctors had declared his life saved; and, now that reason was restored, all would go well.
Five minutes' conversation exhausted him. He shut his eyes, and tried to collect his ideas; but they whirled hither and thither wildly, as autumn leaves in the wind. The past seemed shrouded in a dark mist; yet, in the midst of the darkness and confusion, all that concerned Mademoiselle d'Arlange stood out clear and luminous. All his actions from the moment when he embraced Claire appeared before him. He shuddered, and his hair was in a moment soaking with perspiration.
He had almost become an assassin. The proof that he was restored to full possession of his faculties was, that a question of criminal law crossed his brain.
"The crime committed," said he to himself, "should I have been condemned? Yes. Was I responsible? No. Is crime merely the result of mental alienation? Was I mad? Or was I in that peculiar state of mind which usually precedes an illegal attempt? Who can say? Why have not all judges passed through an incomprehensible crisis such as mine? But who would believe me, were I to recount my experience?"
Some days later, he was sufficiently recovered to tell his father all. The old gentleman shrugged his shoulders, and assured him it was but a reminiscence of his delirium.
The good old man was moved at the story of his son's luckless wooing, without seeing therein, however, an irreparable misfortune. He advised him to think of something else, placed at his disposal his entire fortune, and recommended him to marry a stout Poitevine heiress, very gay and healthy, who would bear him some fine children. Then, as his estate was suffering by his absence, he returned home. Two months later, the investigating magistrate had resumed his ordinary avocations. But try as he would, he only went through his duties like a body without a soul. He felt that something was broken.
Once he ventured to pay a visit to his old friend, the marchioness. On seeing him, she uttered a cry of terror. She took him for a spectre, so much was he changed in appearance.
As she dreaded dismal faces, she ever after shut her door to him.
Claire was ill for a week after seeing him. "How he loved me," thought she! "It has almost killed him! Can Albert love me as much?" She did not dare to answer herself. She felt a desire to console him, to speak to him, attempt something; but he came no more.
M. Daburon was not, however, a man to give way without a struggle. He tried, as his father advised him, to distract his thoughts. He sought for pleasure, and found disgust, but not forgetfulness. Often he went so far as the threshold of debauchery; but the pure figure of Claire, dressed in white garments, always barred the doors against him.
Then he took refuge in work, as in a sanctuary; condemned himself to the most incessant labour, and forbade himself to think of Claire, as the consumptive forbids himself to meditate upon his malady.
His eagerness, his feverish activity, earned him the reputation of an ambitious man, who would go far; but he cared for nothing in the world.
At length, he found, not rest, but that painless benumbing which commonly follows a great catastrophe. The convalescence of oblivion was commencing.
These were the events, recalled to M. Daburon's mind when old Tabaret pronounced the name of Commarin. He believed them buried under the ashes of time; and behold they reappeared, just the same as those characters traced in sympathetic ink when held before a fire. In an instant they unrolled themselves before his memory, with the instantaneousness of a dream annihilating time and space.
During some minutes, he assisted at the representation of his own life. At once actor and spectator, he was there seated in his arm- chair, and at the same time he appeared on the stage. He acted, and he judged himself.
His first thought, it must be confessed, was one of hate, followed by a detestable feeling of satisfaction. Chance had, so to say, delivered into his hands this man preferred by Claire, this man, now no longer a haughty nobleman, illustrious by his fortune and his ancestors, but the illegitimate offspring of a courtesan. To retain a stolen name, he had committed a most cowardly assassination. And he, the magistrate, was about to experience the infinite gratification of striking his enemy with the sword of justice.
But this was only a passing thought. The man's upright conscience revolted against it, and made its powerful voice heard.
"Is anything," it cried, "more monstrous than the association of these two ideas,--hatred and justice? Can a magistrate, without despising himself more than he despises the vile beings he condemns, recollect that a criminal, whose fate is in his hands, has been his enemy? Has an investigating magistrate the right to make use of his exceptional powers in dealing with a prisoner; so long as he harbours the least resentment against him?"
M. Daburon repeated to himself what he had so frequently thought during the year, when commencing a fresh investigation: "And I also, I almost stained myself with a vile murder!"
And now it was his duty to cause to be arrested, to interrogate, and hand over to the assizes the man he had once resolved to kill.
All the world, it is true, ignored this crime of thought and intention; but could he himself forget it? Was not this, of all others, a case in which he should decline to be mixed up? Ought he not to withdraw, and wash his hands of the blood that had been shed, leaving to another the task of avenging him in the name of society?
"No," said he, "it would be a cowardice unworthy of me."
A project of mad generosity occurred to the bewildered man. "If I save him," murmured he, "if for Claire's sake I leave him his honour and his life. But how can I save him? To do so I shall be obliged to suppress old Tabaret's discoveries, and make an accomplice of him by ensuring his silence. We shall have to follow a wrong track, join Gevrol in running after some imaginary murderer. Is this practicable? Besides, to spare Albert is to defame Noel; it is to assure impunity to the most odious of crimes. In short, it is still sacrificing justice to my feelings."
The magistrate suffered greatly. How choose a path in the midst of so many perplexities! Impelled by different interests, he wavered, undecided between the most opposite decisions, his mind oscillating from one extreme to the other.
What could he do? His reason after this new and unforeseen shock vainly sought to regain its equilibrium.
"Resign?" said he to himself. "Where, then, would be my courage? Ought I not rather to remain the representative of the law, incapable of emotion, insensible to prejudice? am I so weak that, in assuming my office, I am unable to divest myself of my personality? Can I not, for the present, make abstraction of the past? My duty is to pursue this investigation. Claire herself would desire me to act thus. Would she wed a man suspected of a crime? Never. If he is innocent, he will be saved; if guilty, let him perish!"
This was very sound reasoning; but, at the bottom of his heart, a thousand disquietudes darted their thorns. He wanted to reassure himself.
"Do I still hate this young man?" he continued. "No, certainly. If Claire has preferred him to me, it is to Claire and not to him I owe my suffering. My rage was no more than a passing fit of delirium. I will prove it, by letting him find me as much a counsellor as a magistrate. If he is not guilty, he shall make use of all the means in my power to establish his innocence. Yes, I am worthy to be his judge. Heaven, who reads all my thoughts, sees that I love Claire enough to desire with all my heart the innocence of her lover."
Only then did M. Daburon seem to be vaguely aware of the lapse of time. It was nearly three o'clock in the morning.
"Goodness!" cried he; "why, old Tabaret is waiting for me. I shall probably find him asleep."
But M. Tabaret was not asleep. He had noticed the passage of time no more than the magistrate.
Ten minutes had sufficed him to take an inventory of the contents of M. Daburon's study, which was large, and handsomely furnished in accordance with his position and fortune. Taking up a lamp, he first admired six very valuable pictures, which ornamented the walls; he then examined with considerable curiosity some rare bronzes placed about the room, and bestowed on the bookcase the glance of a connoisseur.
After which, taking an evening paper from the table, he approached the hearth, and seated himself in a vast armchair.
He had not read a third of the leading article, which, like all leading articles of the time, was exclusively occupied with the Roman question, when, letting the paper drop from his hands, he became absorbed in meditation. The fixed idea, stronger than one's will, and more interesting to him than politics, brought him forcibly back to La Jonchere, where lay the murdered Widow Lerouge. Like the child who again and again builds up and demolishes his house of cards, he arranged and entangled alternately his chain of inductions and arguments.
In his own mind there was certainly no longer a doubt as regards this sad affair, and it seemed to him that M. Daburon shared his opinions. But yet, what difficulties there still remained to encounter!
There exists between the investigating magistrate and the accused a supreme tribunal, an admirable institution which is a guarantee for all, a powerful moderator, the jury.
And the jury, thank heaven! do not content themselves with a moral conviction. The strongest probabilities cannot induce them to give an affirmative verdict.
Placed upon a neutral ground, between the prosecution and the defence, it demands material and tangible proofs. Where the magistrate would condemn twenty times for one, in all security of conscience, the jury acquit for lack of satisfying evidence.
The deplorable execution of Lesurques has certainly assured impunity to many criminals; but, it is necessary to say it justifies hesitation in receiving circumstantial evidence in capital crimes.
In short, save where a criminal is taken in the very act, or confesses his guilt, it is not certain that the minister of justice can secure a conviction. Sometimes the judge of inquiry is as anxious as the accused himself. Nearly all crimes are in some particular point mysterious, perhaps impenetrable to justice and the police; and the duty of the advocate is, to discover this weak point, and thereon establish his client's defence. By pointing out this doubt to the jury, he insinuates in their minds a distrust of the entire evidence; and frequently the detection of a distorted induction, cleverly exposed, can change the face of a prosecution, and make a strong case appear to the jury a weak one. This uncertainty explains the character of passion which is so often perceptible in criminal trials.
And, in proportion to the march of civilisation, juries in important trials will become more timid and hesitating. The weight of responsibility oppresses the man of conscientious scruple. Already numbers recoil from the idea of capital punishment; and, whenever a jury can find a peg to hang a doubt on, they will wash their hands of the responsibility of condemnation. We have seen numbers of persons signing appeals for mercy to a condemned malefactor, condemned for what crime? Parricide! Every juror, from the moment he is sworn, weighs infinitely less the evidence he has come to listen to than the risk he runs of incurring the pangs of remorse. Rather than risk the condemnation of one innocent man, he will allow twenty scoundrels to go unpunished.
The accusation must then come before the jury, armed at all points, with abundant proofs. A task often tedious to the investigating magistrate, and bristling with difficulties, is the arrangement and condensation of this evidence, particularly when the accused is a cool hand, certain of having left no traces of his guilt. Then from the depths of his dungeon he defies the assault of justice, and laughs at the judge of inquiry. It is a terrible struggle, enough to make one tremble at the responsibility of the magistrate, when he remembers, that after all, this man imprisoned, without consolation or advice, may be innocent. How hard is it, then for the judge to resist his moral convictions!
Even when presumptive evidence points clearly to the criminal, and common sense recognises him, justice is at times compelled to acknowledge her defeat, for lack of what the jury consider sufficient proof of guilt. Thus, unhappily, many crimes escape punishment. An old advocate-general said one day that he knew as many as three assassins, living rich, happy, and respected, who would probably end by dying in their beds, surrounded by their families, and being followed to the grave with lamentations, and praised for their virtues in their epitaphs.
At the idea that a murderer might escape the penalty of his crime, and steal away from the assize court, old Tabaret's blood fairly boiled in his veins, as at the recollection of some deadly insult.
Such a monstrous event, in his opinion, could only proceed from the incapacity of those charged with the preliminary inquiry, the clumsiness of the police, or the stupidity of the investigating magistrate.
"It is not I," he muttered, with the satisfied vanity of success, "who would ever let my prey escape. No crime can be committed, of which the author cannot be found, unless, indeed, he happens to be a madman, whose motive it would be difficult to understand. I would pass my life in pursuit of a criminal, before avowing myself vanquished, as Gevrol has done so many times."
Assisted by chance, he had again succeeded, so he kept repeating to himself, but what proofs could he furnish to the accusation, to that confounded jury, so difficult to convince, so precise and so cowardly? What could he imagine to force so cunning a culprit to betray himself? What trap could he prepare? To what new and infallible stratagem could he have recourse?
The amateur detective exhausted himself in subtle but impracticable combinations, always stopped by that exacting jury, so obnoxious to the agents of the Rue de Jerusalem. He was so deeply absorbed in his thoughts that he did not hear the door open, and was utterly unconscious of the magistrate's presence.
M. Daburon's voice aroused him from his reverie.
"You will excuse me, M. Tabaret, for having left you so long alone."
The old fellow rose and bowed respectfully.
"By my faith, sir," replied he, "I have not had the leisure to perceive my solitude."
M. Daburon crossed the room, and seated himself, facing his agent before a small table encumbered with papers and documents relating to the crime. He appeared very much fatigued.
"I have reflected a good deal," he commenced, "about this affair--"
"And I," interrupted old Tabaret, "was just asking myself what was likely to be the attitude assumed by the viscount at the moment of his arrest. Nothing is more important, according to my idea, than his manner of conducting himself then. Will he fly into a passion? Will he attempt to intimidate the agents? Will he threaten to turn them out of the house? These are generally the tactics of titled criminals. My opinion, however, is, that he will remain perfectly cool. He will declare himself the victim of a misunderstanding, and insist upon an immediate interview with the investigating magistrate. Once that is accorded him, he will explain everything very quickly."
The old fellow spoke of matters of speculation in such a tone of assurance that M. Daburon was unable to repress a smile.
"We have not got as far as that yet," said he.
"But we shall, in a few hours," replied M. Tabaret quickly. "I presume you will order young M. de Commarin's arrest at daybreak."
The magistrate trembled, like the patient who sees the surgeon deposit his case of instruments upon the table on entering the room.
The moment for action had come. He felt now what a distance lies between a mental decision and the physical action required to execute it.
"You are prompt, M. Tabaret," said he; "you recognize no obstacles."
"None, having ascertained the criminal. Who else can have committed this assassination? Who but he had an interest in silencing Widow Lerouge, in suppressing her testimony, in destroying her papers? He, and only he. Poor Noel! who is as dull as honesty, warned him, and he acted. Should we fail to establish his guilt, he will remain de Commarin more than ever; and my young advocate will be Noel Gerdy to the grave."
The old man fixed his eyes upon the magistrate with a look of astonishment.
"You see, then, some difficulties, sir?" he asked.
"Most decidedly!" replied M. Daburon. "This is a matter demanding the utmost circumspection. In cases like the present, one must not strike until the blow is sure, and we have but presumptions. Suppose we are mistaken. Justice, unhappily, cannot repair her errors. Her hand once unjustly placed upon a man, leaves an imprint of dishonour that can never be effaced. She may perceive her error, and proclaim it aloud, but in vain! Public opinion, absurd and idiotic, will not pardon the man guilty of being suspected."
It was with a sinking heart that the old fellow listened to these remarks. He would not be withheld by such paltry considerations.
"Our suspicions are well grounded," continued the magistrate. "But, should they lead us into error, our precipitation would be a terrible misfortune for this young man, to say nothing of the effect it would have in abridging the authority and dignity of justice, of weakening the respect which constitutes her power. Such a mistake would call for discussion, provoke examination, and awaken distrust, at an epoch in our history when all minds are but too much disposed to defy the constituted authorities."
He leaned upon the table, and appeared to reflect profoundly.
"I have no luck," thought old Tabaret. "I have to do with a trembler. When he should act, he makes speeches; instead of signing warrants, he propounds theories. He is astounded at my discovery, and is not equal to the situation. Instead of being delighted by my appearance with the news of our success, he would have given a twenty-franc piece, I dare say, to have been left undisturbed. Ah! he would very willingly have the little fishes in his net, but the big ones frighten him. The big fishes are dangerous, and he prefers to let them swim away."
"Perhaps," said M. Daburon, aloud, "it will suffice to issue a search- warrant, and a summons for the appearance of the accused."
"Then all is lost!" cried old Tabaret.
"And why, pray?"
"Because we are opposed by a criminal of marked ability. A most providential accident has placed us upon his track. If we give him time to breathe, he will escape."
The only answer was an inclination of the head, which M. Daburon may have intended for a sign of assent.
"It is evident," continued the old fellow, "that our adversary has foreseen everything, absolutely everything, even the possibility of suspicion attaching to one in his high position. Oh! his precautions are all taken. If you are satisfied with demanding his appearance, he is saved. He will appear before you as tranquilly as your clerk, as unconcerned as if he came to arrange the preliminaries of a duel. He will present you with a magnificent alibi, an alibi that can not be gainsayed. He will show you that he passed the evening and the night of Tuesday with personages of the highest rank. In short, his little machine will be so cleverly constructed, so nicely arranged, all its little wheels will play so well, that there will be nothing left for you but to open the door and usher him out with the most humble apologies. The only means of securing conviction is to surprise the miscreant by a rapidity against which it is impossible he can be on his guard. Fall upon him like a thunder-clap, arrest him as he wakes, drag him hither while yet pale with astonishment, and interrogate him at once. Ah! I wish I were an investigating magistrate."
Old Tabaret stopped short, frightened at the idea that he had been wanting in respect; but M. Daburon showed no sign of being offended.
"Proceed," said he, in a tone of encouragement, "proceed."
"Suppose, then," continued the detective, "I am the investigating magistrate. I cause my man to be arrested, and, twenty minutes later, he is standing before me. I do not amuse myself by putting questions to him, more or less subtle. No, I go straight to the mark. I overwhelm him at once by the weight of my certainty, prove to him so clearly that I know everything, that he must surrender, seeing no chance of escape. I should say to him, 'My good man, you bring me an alibi; it is very well; but I am acquainted with that system of defence. It will not do with me. I know all about the clocks that don't keep proper time, and all the people who never lost sight of you. In the meantime, this is what you did. At twenty minutes past eight, you slipped away adroitly; at thirty-five minutes past eight, you took the train at the St Lazare station; at nine o'clock, you alighted at the station at Rueil, and took the road to La Jonchere; at a quarter past nine, you knocked at the window-shutter of Widow Lerouge's cottage. You were admitted. You asked for something to eat, and, above all, something to drink. At twenty minutes past nine, you planted the well-sharpened end of a foil between her shoulders. You killed her! You then overturned everything in the house, and burned certain documents of importance; after which, you tied up in a napkin all the valuables you could find, and carried them off, to lead the police to believe the murder was the work of a robber. You locked the door, and threw away the key. Arrived at the Seine, you threw the bundle into the water, then hurried off to the railway station on foot, and at eleven o'clock you reappeared amongst your friends. Your game was well played; but you omitted to provide against two adversaries, a detective, not easily deceived, named Tirauclair, and another still more clever, named chance. Between them, they have got the better of you. Moreover, you were foolish to wear such small boots, and to keep on your lavender kid gloves, besides embarrassing yourself with a silk hat and an umbrella. Now confess your guilt, for it is the only thing left you to do, and I will give you permission to smoke in your dungeon some of those excellent trabucos you are so fond of, and which you always smoke with an amber mouthpiece.'"
During this speech, M. Tabaret had gained at least a couple of inches in height, so great was his enthusiasm. He looked at the magistrate, as if expecting a smile of approbation.
"Yes," continued he, after taking breath, "I would say that, and nothing else; and, unless this man is a hundred times stronger than I suppose him to be, unless he is made of bronze, of marble, or of steel, he would fall at my feet and avow his guilt."
"But supposing he were of bronze," said M. Daburon, "and did not fall at your feet, what would you do next?"
The question evidently embarrassed the old fellow.
"Pshaw!" stammered he; "I don't know; I would see; I would search; but he would confess."
After a prolonged silence, M. Daburon took a pen, and hurriedly wrote a few lines.
"I surrender," said he. "M. Albert de Commarin shall be arrested; that is settled. The different formalities to be gone through and the perquisitions will occupy some time, which I wish to employ in interrogating the Count de Commarin, the young man's father, and your friend M. Noel Gerdy, the young advocate. The letters he possesses are indispensable to me."
At the name of Gerdy, M. Tabaret's face assumed a most comical expression of uneasiness.
"Confound it," cried he, "the very thing I most dreaded."
"What?" asked M. Daburon.
"The necessity for the examination of those letters. Noel will discover my interference. He will despise me: he will fly from me, when he knows that Tabaret and Tirauclair sleep in the same nightcap. Before eight days are past, my oldest friends will refuse to shake hands with me, as if it were not an honour to serve justice. I shall be obliged to change my residence, and assume a false name."
He almost wept, so great was his annoyance. M. Daburon was touched.
"Reassure yourself, my dear M. Tabaret," said he. "I will manage that your adopted son, your Benjamin, shall know nothing. I will lead him to believe I have reached him by means of the widow's papers."
The old fellow seized the magistrate's hand in a transport of gratitude, and carried it to his lips. Oh! thanks, sir, a thousand thanks! I should like to be permitted to witness the arrest; and I shall be glad to assist at the perquisitions."
"I intended to ask you to do so, M. Tabaret," answered the magistrate.
The lamps paled in the gray dawn of the morning; already the rumbling of vehicles was heard; Paris was awaking.
"I have no time to lose," continued M. Daburon, "if I would have all my measures well taken. I must at once see the public prosecutor, whether he is up or not. I shall go direct from his house to the Palais de Justice, and be there before eight o'clock; and I desire, M. Tabaret, that you will there await my orders."
The old fellow bowed his thanks and was about to leave, when the magistrate's servant appeared.
"Here is a note, sir," said he, "which a gendarme has just brought from Bougival. He waits an answer."
"Very well," replied M. Daburon. "Ask the man to have some refreshment; at least offer him a glass of wine."
He opened the envelope. "Ah!" he cried, "a letter from Gevrol;" and he read:
"Poor Gevrol!" cried old Tabaret, bursting with laughter. "He sharpens his sabre, and the battle is over. Are you not going to put a stop to his inquiries, sir?"
"No; certainly not," answered M. Daburon; "to neglect the slightest clue often leads one into error. Who can tell what light we may receive from this mariner?"