“Sir, it is to the lady that I have the honor of addressing myself,” replied M. de Gernande, sternly; “and I am the sole judge of the propriety of my questions.”
Adrienne was about to answer affirmatively to the magistrate, when an expressive took from Dr. Baleinier reminded her that she would perhaps expose Dagobert and his son to cruel dangers. It was no base and vulgar feeling of vengeance by which Adrienne was animated, but a legitimate indignation, inspired by odious hypocrisy. She would have thought it cowardly not to unmask the criminals; but wishing to avoid compromising others, she said to the magistrate, with an accent full of mildness and dignity: “Permit me, sir, in my turn, rather to ask you a question.”
“Will the answer I make be considered a formal accusation?”
“I have come hither, madame, to ascertain the truth, and no consideration should induce you to dissemble it.”
“So be it, sir,” resumed Adrienne; “but suppose, having just causes of complaint, I lay them before you, in order to be allowed to leave this house, shall I afterwards be at liberty not to press the accusations I have made?”
“You may abandon proceedings, madame, but the law will take up your case in the name of society, if its rights have been inured in your person.”
“Shall I then not be allowed to pardon? Should I not be sufficiently avenged by a contemptuous forgetfulness of the wrongs I have suffered?”
“Personally, madame, you may forgive and forget; but I have the honor to repeat to you, that society cannot show the same indulgence, if it should turn out that you have been the victim of a criminal machination—and I have every reason to fear it is so. The manner in which you express yourself, the generosity of your sentiments, the calmness and dignity of your attitude, convince me that I have been well informed.”
“I hope, sir,” said Dr. Baleinier, recovering his coolness, “that you will at least communicate the declaration that has been made to you.”
“It has been declared to me, sir,” said the magistrate, in a stern voice, “that Mdlle. de Cardoville was brought here by stratagem.”
“It is true. The lady was brought here by stratagem,” answered the Jesuit of the short robe, after a moment’s silence.
“You confess it, then?” said M. de Gernande.
“Certainly I do, sir. I admit that I had recourse to means which we are unfortunately too often obliged to employ, when persons who most need our assistance are unconscious of their own sad state.”
“But, sir,” replied the magistrate, “it has also been declared to me, that Mdlle. de Cardoville never required such aid.”
“That, sir, is a question of medical jurisprudence, which has to be examined and discussed,” said M. Baleinier, recovering his assurance.
“It will, indeed, sir, be seriously discussed; for you are accused of confining Mdlle. De Cardoville, while in the full possession of all her faculties.”