Old Tabaret was puzzled. What connection could possibly exist between Noel’s honour and the assassination at La Jonchere? His brain was in a whirl. A thousand troubled and confused ideas jostled one another in inextricable confusion.
“Come, come, Noel,” said he, “compose yourself. Who would believe any calumny uttered about you? Take courage, have you not friends? am I not here? Have confidence, tell me what troubles you, and it will be strange, indeed if between us two—”
The advocate started to his feet, impressed by a sudden resolution.
“Well! yes,” interrupted he, “yes, you shall know all. In fact, I am tired of carrying all alone a secret that is stifling me. The part I have been playing irritates and wearies me. I have need of a friend to console me. I require a counsellor whose voice will encourage me, for one is a bad judge of his own cause, and this crime has plunged me into an abyss of hesitations.”
“You know,” replied M. Tabaret kindly, “that I regard you as my own son. Do not scruple to let me serve you.”
“Know then,” commenced the advocate,—“but no, not here: what I have to say must not be overheard. Let us go into my study.”
When Noel and old Tabaret were seated face to face in Noel’s study, and the door had been carefully shut, the old fellow felt uneasy, and said: “What if your mother should require anything.”
“If Madame Gerdy rings,” replied the young man drily, “the servant will attend to her.”
This indifference, this cold disdain, amazed old Tabaret, accustomed as he was to the affectionate relations always existing between mother and son.
“For heaven’s sake, Noel,” said he, “calm yourself. Do not allow yourself to be overcome by a feeling of irritation. You have, I see, some little pique against your mother, which you will have forgotten to-morrow. Don’t speak of her in this icy tone; but tell me what you mean by calling her Madame Gerdy?”
“What I mean?” rejoined the advocate in a hollow tone,—“what I mean?”
Then rising from his arm-chair, he took several strides about the room, and, returning to his place near the old fellow, said,—
“Because, M. Tabaret, Madame Gerdy is not my mother!”
This sentence fell like a heavy blow on the head of the amateur detective.
“Oh!” he said, in the tone one assumes when rejecting an absurd proposition, “do you really know what you are saying, Noel? Is it credible? Is it probable?”
“It is improbable,” replied Noel with a peculiar emphasis which was habitual to him: “it is incredible, if you will; but yet it is true. That is to say, for thirty-three years, ever since my birth, this woman has played a most marvellous and unworthy comedy, to ennoble and enrich her son,—for she has a son,—at my expense!”
“My friend,” commenced old Tabaret, who in the background of the picture presented by this singular revelation saw again the phantom of the murdered Widow Lerouge.