But it is my fate to empty the cup of humiliation and degradation to the dregs. Have I not been made to appear before a Juge d’Instruction—I, Passajon, former apparitor of the faculty, with thirty years of faithful service, and the ribbon of Officer of the Academy? Oh! when I saw myself going up that staircase of the Palace of Justice, so big, so conspicuous, without a rail to hold by, I felt my head turning and my legs sinking under me. I was forced to reflect there, crossing these halls, black with lawyers and judges, studded with great green doors behind which one heard the imposing noise of the hearings; and up higher, in the corridor of the Juges d’Instruction, during my hour’s waiting on a bench, where the prison vermin crawled on my legs, while I listened to a lot of thieves, pickpockets, and loose women talking and laughing with the gendarmes, and the butts of the rifles echo in the passages, and the dull roll of prison vans. I understood then the danger of “combinations,” and that it was not always good to ridicule M. Gogo.
What reassured me, however, was that never having taken any part in the deliberations of the Territorial, I had no share in their dealings and intrigues. But explain this to me: Once in the judge’s office, before that man in a velvet cap looking at me across his table with his little eyes like hooks, I felt so pierced through, searched, turned over to the very depth of my being, that, in spite of my innocence, I wanted to confess. Confess what? I don’t know. But that is the effect which the law had. This devil of a man spent five minutes looking at me without speaking, all the while turning over a book filled with writing not unknown to me, and suddenly he said, in a mocking and severe tone:
“Well, M. Passajon, how long is it since the affair of the drayman?”
The memory of a certain little misdeed, in which I had taken part in my days of distress, was already so distant that I did not understand at once; but some words of the judge showed me how completely he knew the history of our bank. This terrible man knew everything, down to the least details, the most secret things. Who could have informed him so thoroughly?