He paused, compelled by his suppressed emotion; then:
“My father is dead, Maitre Le Merquier, but my mother still lives, and it is for her sake, for her peace, that I have held back, that I hold back still, before the scandal of my justification. Up to now, in fact, the mud thrown at me has not touched her; it only comes from a certain class, in a special press, a thousand leagues away from the poor woman. But law courts, a trial—it would be proclaiming our misfortune from one end of France to the other, the articles of the official paper reproduced by all the journals, even those of the little district where my mother lives. The calumny, my defence, her two children covered with shame by the one stroke, the name—the only pride of the old peasant—forever disgraced. It would be too much for her. It would be enough to kill her. And truly, I find it enough, too. That is why I have had the courage to be silent, to weary, if I could, my enemies by silence. But I need some one to answer for me in the Chamber. It must not have the right to expel me for reasons which would dishonour me, and since it has chosen you as the chairman of the committee, I am come to tell you everything, as to a confessor, to a priest, begging you not to divulge anything of this conversation, even in the interests of my case. I only ask you, my dear colleague, absolute silence; for the rest, I rely on your justice and your loyalty.”
He rose, ready to go, and Le Merquier did not move, still asking the green curtain in front of him, as if seeking inspiration for his answer there. At last he said:
“It shall be as you desire, my dear colleague. This confidence shall remain between us. You have told me nothing, I have heard nothing.”
The Nabob, still heated with his burst of confidence, which demanded, it seemed to him, a cordial response, a pressure of the hand, was seized with a strange uneasiness. This coolness, this absent look, so unnerved him that he was at the door with the awkward bow of one who feels himself importunate, when the other stopped him.
“Wait, then, my dear colleague. What a hurry you are in to leave me! A few moments, I beg of you. I am too happy to have a chat with a man like you. Besides, we have more than one common bond. Our friend Hemerlingue has told me that you, too, are much interested in pictures.”
Jansoulet trembled. The two words—“Hemerlingue,” “pictures”—meeting in the same phrase so unexpectedly, restored all his doubts, all his perplexities. He did not give himself away yet, however, and let Le Merquier advance, word by word, testing the ground for his stumbling advances. People had told him often of the collection of his honourable colleague. “Would it be indiscreet to ask the favour of being admitted, to—”
“On the contrary, I should feel much honoured,” said the Nabob, tickled in the most sensible—since the most costly—point of his vanity; and looking round him at the walls of the room, he added with the tone of a connoisseur, “You have some fine things, too.”