He did not even deign to defend himself.
“Go on,” he uttered, “go on. When a poor dog, carried away by the current, is drowning, men of heart cast stones at him from the bank. Go on!”
“You should have told us that you speculated,” screamed M. Desclavettes.
On hearing these words, he straightened himself up, and with a gesture so terrible that the others stepped back frightened.
“What!” said he, in a tone of crushing irony, “it is this evening only, that you discover that I speculated? Kind friends! Where, then, and in whose pockets, did you suppose I was getting the enormous interests I have been paying you for years? Where have you ever seen honest money, the money of labor, yield twelve or fourteen per cent? The money that yields thus is the money of the gaming table, the money of the bourse. Why did you bring me your funds? Because you were fully satisfied that I knew how to handle the cards. Ah! If I was to tell you that I had doubled your capital, you would not ask how I did it, nor whether I had stocked the cards. You would virtuously pocket the money. But I have lost: I am a thief. Well, so be it. But, then, you are all my accomplices. It is the avidity of the dupes which induces the trickery of the sharpers.”
Here he was interrupted by the servant coming in. “Sir,” she exclaimed excitedly, “O sir! the courtyard is full of police agents. They are speaking to the concierge. They are coming up stairs: I hear them!”
According to the time and place where they are uttered, there are words which acquire a terrible significance. In this disordered room, in the midst of these excited people, that word, the “police,” sounded like a thunderclap.
“Do not open,” Maxence ordered; “do not open, however they may ring or knock. Let them burst the door first.”
The very excess of her fright restored to Mme. Favoral a portion of her energy. Throwing herself before her husband as if to protect him, as if to defend him,
“They are coming to arrest you, Vincent,” she exclaimed. “They are coming; don’t you hear them?”
He remained motionless, his feet seemingly riveted to the floor.
“That is as I expected,” he said.
And with the accent of the wretch who sees all hope vanish, and who utterly gives up all struggle,
“Be it so,” he said. “Let them arrest me, and let all be over at once. I have had enough anxiety, enough unbearable alternatives. I am tired always to feign, to deceive, and to lie. Let them arrest me! Any misfortune will be smaller in reality than the horrors of uncertainty. I have nothing more to fear now. For the first time in many years I shall sleep to-night.”
He did not notice the sinister expression of his guests. “You think I am a thief,” he added: “well, be satisfied, justice shall be done.”