“Pardon!” she repeated fiercely; “he has no need of pardon. Why am I only a woman? Can I not find one man who will help me? Yes,” she said after a moment’s reflection, “there is one man who owes himself to Albert; since he it was who put him in this position,—the Count de Commarin. He is his father, and yet he has abandoned him. Ah, well! I will remind him that he still has a son.”
The magistrate rose to see her to the door; but she had already disappeared, taking the kind-hearted Schmidt with her.
M. Daburon, more dead than alive, sank back again in his chair. His eyes filled with tears.
“And that is what she is!” he murmured. “Ah! I made no vulgar choice! I had divined and understood all her good qualities.”
He had never loved her so much; and he felt that he would never be consoled for not having won her love in return. But, in the midst of his meditations, a sudden thought passed like a flash across his brain.
Had Claire spoken the truth? Had she not been playing a part previously prepared? No, most decidedly no! But she might have been herself deceived, might have been the dupe of some skillful trick.
In that case old Tabaret’s prediction was now realised.
Tabaret had said: “Look out for an indisputable alibi.”
How could he show the falsity of this one, planned in advance, affirmed by Claire, who was herself deceived?
How could he expose a plan, so well laid that the prisoner had been able without danger to await certain results, with his arms folded, and without himself moving in the matter?
And yet, if Claire’s story were true, and Albert innocent!
The magistrate struggled in the midst of inextricable difficulties, without a plan, without an idea.
“Oh!” he said in a loud voice, as though encouraging himself, “at the Palais, all will be unravelled.”
M. Daburon had been surprised at Claire’s visit.
M. de Commarin was still more so, when his valet whispered to him that Mademoiselle d’Arlange desired a moment’s conversation with him.
M. Daburon had broken a handsome card-plate; M. de Commarin, who was at breakfast, dropped his knife on his plate.
Like the magistrate he exclaimed, “Claire!”
He hesitated to receive her, fearing a painful and disagreeable scene. She could only have, as he knew, a very slight affection for him, who had for so long repulsed her with such obstinacy. What could she want with him? To inquire about Albert, of course. And what could he reply?
She would probably have some nervous attack or other; and he would be thoroughly upset. However, he thought of how much she must have suffered; and he pitied her.
He felt that it would be cruel, as well as unworthy of him, to keep away from her who was to have been his daughter-in-law, the Viscountess de Commarin.