“The commissary!” cried Dagobert, who recognized him by his official scarf. “Ah! so much the better—he could not have come at a fitter moment.”
“Mistress Frances Baudoin?” asked the magistrate.
“Yes, sir—it is I,” said Frances. Then, perceiving the pale and trembling sewing-girl, who did not dare to come forward, she stretched out her arms to her. “Oh, my poor child!” she exclaimed, bursting into tears; “forgive—forgive us—since it is for our sake you have suffered this humiliation!”
When Dagobert’s wife had tenderly embraced the young sempstress, the latter, turning towards the commissary, said to him with an expression of sad and touching dignity: ’You see, sir, that I am not a thief.”
“Madame,” said the magistrate, addressing Frances, “am I to understand that the silver mug, the shawl, the sheets contained in this bundle—”
“Belong to me, sir. It was to render me a service that this dear girl, who is the best and most honest creature in the world, undertook to carry these articles to the pawnbroker’s.”
“Sir,” said the magistrate sternly to the policeman, “you have committed a deplorable error. I shall take care to report you, and see that you are punished. You may go, sir.” Then, addressing Mother Bunch, with an air of real regret, he added: “I can only express my sorrow for what has happened. Believe me, I deeply feel for the cruel position in which you have been placed.”
“I believe it, sir,” said Mother Bunch, “and I thank you.” Overcome by so many emotions, she sank upon a chair.
The magistrate was about to retire, when Dagobert, who had been seriously reflecting for some minutes, said to him in a firm voice: “Please to hear me, Sir; I have a deposition to make.”
“What I am about to say is very important; it is to you, in your quality of a magistrate, that I make this declaration.”
“And as a magistrate I will hear you, sir.”
“I arrived here two days ago, bringing with me from Russia two girls who had been entrusted to me by their mother—the wife of Marshal Simon.”
“Of Marshal Simon, Duke de Ligny?” said the commissary, very much surprised.
“Yes, Sir. Well, I left them here, being obliged to get out on pressing business. This morning, during my absence, they disappeared—and I am certain I know the man who has been the cause of it.”
“Now, my dear,” said Frances, much alarmed.
“Sir,” said the magistrate, “your declaration is a very serious one. Disappearance of persons—sequestration, perhaps. But are you quite sure?”
“These young ladies were here an hour ago; I repeat, sir, that during my absence, they have been taken away.”
“I do not doubt the sincerity of your declaration, sir; but still it is difficult to explain so strange an abduction. Who tells you that these young girls will not return? Besides, whom do you suspect? One word, before you make your accusation. Remember, it is the magistrate who hears you. On leaving this place, the law will take its course in this affair.”