’Sit down, Maud, there. You have not been very happy with Madame de la Rougierre. It is time you were relieved. This occurrence decides it.’
He rang the bell.
’Tell Madame de la Rougierre that I request the honour of seeing her for a few minutes here.’
My father’s communications to her were always equally ceremonious. In a few minutes there was a knock at the door, and the same figure, smiling, courtesying, that had scared me on the threshold last night, like the spirit of evil, presented itself.
My father rose, and Madame having at his request taken a chair opposite, looking, as usual in his presence, all amiability, he proceeded at once to the point.
’Madame de la Rougierre, I have to request you that you will give me the key now in your possession, which unlocks this desk of mine.’
With which termination he tapped his gold pencil-case suddenly on it.
Madame, who had expected something very different, became instantly so pale, with a dull purplish hue upon her forehead, that, especially when she had twice essayed with her white lips, in vain, to answer, I expected to see her fall in a fit.
She was not looking in his face; her eyes were fixed lower, and her mouth and cheek sucked in, with a strange distortion at one side.
She stood up suddenly, and staring straight in his face, she succeeded in saying, after twice clearing her throat—
‘I cannot comprehend, Monsieur Ruthyn, unless you intend to insult me.’
’It won’t do, Madame; I must have that false key. I give you the opportunity of surrendering it quietly here and now.’
‘But who dares to say I possess such thing?’ demanded Madame, who, having rallied from her momentary paralysis, was now fierce and voluble as I had often seen her before.
’You know, Madame, that you can rely on what I say, and I tell you that you were seen last night visiting this room, and with a key in your possession, opening this desk, and reading my letters and papers contained in it. Unless you forthwith give me that key, and any other false keys in your possession—in which case I shall rest content with dismissing you summarily—I will take a different course. You know I am a magistrate;—and I shall have you, your boxes, and places up-stairs, searched forthwith, and I will prosecute you criminally. The thing is clear; you aggravate by denying; you must give me that key, if you please, instantly, otherwise I ring this bell, and you shall see that I mean what I say.’
There was a little pause. He rose and extended his hand towards the bell-rope. Madame glided round the table, extended her hand to arrest his.
‘I will do everything, Monsieur Ruthyn—whatever you wish.’
And with these words Madame de la Rougierre broke down altogether. She sobbed, she wept, she gabbled piteously, all manner of incomprehensible roulades of lamentation and entreaty; coyly, penitently, in a most interesting agitation, she produced the very key from her breast, with a string tied to it. My father was little moved by this piteous tempest. He coolly took the key and tried it in the desk, which it locked and unlocked quite freely, though the wards were complicated. He shook his head and looked her in the face.