This reply, so embarrassing for M. Baleinier, uttered in a tone of aggression, and with an air of icy coldness, plunged the doctor into such new and deep amazement, that he remained for some moments without answering. No doubt the magistrate was struck with this incident, and with the silence which followed it, for he cast a look of great severity on the doctor. Mdlle. de Cardoville, who had expected to have seen M. de Montbron, was also singularly surprised.
Baleinier, disconcerted for a moment by the unexpected presence of a magistrate, and by Rodin’s inexplicable attitude, soon recovered his presence of mind, and addressing his colleague of the longer robe, said to him: “If I make signs to you, sir, it was that, while I wished to respect the silence which this gentleman”—glancing at the magistrate—“has preserved since his entrance, I desired to express my surprise at the unexpected honor of this visit.”
“It is to the lady that I will explain the reason for my silence, and beg her to excuse it,” replied the magistrate, as he made a half-bow to Adrienne, whom he thus continued to address: “I have just received so serious a declaration with regard to you, madame, that I could not forbear looking at you for a moment in silence, to see if I could read in your countenance or in your attitude, the truth or falsehood of the accusation that has been placed in my hands; and I have every reason to believe that it is but too well founded.”
“May I at length be informed, sir,” said Dr. Baleinier, in a polite but firm tone, “to whom I have the honor of speaking?”
“Sir, I am juge d’instruction, and I have come to inform myself as to a fact which has been pointed out to me—”
“Will you do me the honor to explain yourself, sir?” said the doctor, bowing.
“Sir,” resumed the magistrate, M. de Gernande, a man of about fifty years of age, full of firmness and straightforwardness, and knowing how to unite the austere duties of his position with benevolent politeness, “you are accused of having committed—a very great error, not to use a harsher expression. As for the nature of that error, I prefer believing, sir, that you (a first rate man of science) may have been deceived in the calculation of a medical case, rather than suspect you of having forgotten all that is sacred in the exercise of a profession that is almost a priesthood.”
“When you specify the facts, sir,” answered the Jesuit of the short robe, with a degree of haughtiness, “it will be easy for me to prove that my reputation as a man of science is no less free from reproach, than my conscience as a man of honor.”
“Madame,” said M. de Gernande, addressing Adrienne, “is it true that you were conveyed to this house by stratagem?”
“Sir,” cried M. Baleinier, “permit me to observe, that the manner in which you open this question is an insult to me.”