“Ah! heavens!” cried the old fellow, “what is that you say? Dying? Noel will be distracted; but no: since she is not his mother, how can it affect him? Dying! I thought so much of her before this discovery. Poor humanity! It seems as though all the accomplices are passing away at the same time; for I forgot to tell you, that, just as I was leaving the Commarin mansion, I heard a servant tell another that the count had fallen down in a fit on learning the news of his son’s arrest.”
“That will be a great misfortune for M. Gerdy.”
“I had counted upon M. de Commarin’s testimony to recover for him all that he so well deserves. The count dead, Widow Lerouge dead, Madame Gerdy dying, or in any event insane, who then can tell us whether the substitution alluded to in the letters was ever carried into execution?”
“True,” murmured old Tabaret; “it is true! And I did not think of it. What fatality! For I am not deceived; I am certain that—”
He did not finish. The door of M. Daburon’s office opened, and the Count de Commarin himself appeared on the threshold, as rigid as one of those old portraits which look as though they were frozen in their gilded frames. The nobleman motioned with his hand, and the two servants who had helped him up as far as the door, retired.
It was indeed the Count de Commarin, though more like his shadow. His head, usually carried so high, leant upon his chest; his figure was bent; his eyes had no longer their accustomed fire; his hands trembled. The extreme disorder of his dress rendered more striking still the change which had come over him. In one night, he had grown twenty years older. This man, yesterday so proud of never having bent to a storm, was now completely shattered. The pride of his name had constituted his entire strength; that humbled, he seemed utterly overwhelmed. Everything in him gave way at once; all his supports failed him at the same time. His cold, lifeless gaze revealed the dull stupor of his thoughts. He presented such a picture of utter despair that the investigating magistrate slightly shuddered at the sight. M. Tabaret looked frightened, and even the clerk seemed moved.
“Constant,” said M. Daburon quickly, “go with M. Tabaret, and see if there’s any news at the Prefecture.”
The clerk left the room, followed by the detective, who went away regretfully. The count had not noticed their presence; he paid no attention to their departure.
M. Daburon offered him a seat, which he accepted with a sad smile. “I feel so weak,” said he, “you must excuse my sitting.”
Apologies to an investigating magistrate! What an advance in civilisation, when the nobles consider themselves subject to the law, and bow to its decrees! Every one respects justice now-a-days, and fears it a little, even when only represented by a simple and conscientious investigating magistrate.