Of all the witnesses summoned, only two failed to appear.
One was the office-boy sent by Prosper to bring the money from the city bank; he was ill from a fall.
The other was M. Raoul de Lagors.
But their absence did not prevent the file of papers relating to Prosper’s case from daily increasing; and on the ensuing Monday, five days after the robbery, M. Patrigent thought he held in his hands enough moral proof to crush the accused.
While his whole past was the object of the most minute investigations, Prosper was in prison, in a secret cell.
The two first days had not appeared very long.
He had requested, and been granted, some sheets of paper, numbered, which he was obliged to account for; and he wrote, with a sort of rage, plans of defence and a narrative of justification.
The third day he began to be uneasy at not seeing anyone except the condemned prisoners who were employed to serve those confined in secret cells, and the jailer who brought him his food.
“Am I not to be examined again?” he would ask.
“Your turn is coming,” the jailer invariably answered.
Time passed; and the wretched man, tortured by the sufferings of solitary confinement which quickly breaks the spirit, sank into the depths of despair.
“Am I to stay here forever?” he moaned.
No, he was not forgotten; for on Monday morning, at one o’clock, an hour when the jailer never came, he heard the heavy bolt of his cell pushed back.
He ran toward the door.
But the sight of a gray-headed man standing on the sill rooted him to the spot.
“Father,” he gasped, “father!”
“Your father, yes!”
Prosper’s astonishment at seeing his father was instantly succeeded by a feeling of great joy.
A father is one friend upon whom we can always rely. In the hour of need, when all else fails, we remember this man upon whose knees we sat when children, and who soothed our sorrows; and although he can in no way assist us, his presence alone comforts and strengthens.
Without reflecting, Prosper, impelled by tender feeling, was about to throw himself on his father’s bosom.
M. Bertomy harshly repulsed him.
“Do not approach me!” he exclaimed.
He then advanced into the cell, and closed the door. The father and son were alone together, Prosper heart-broken, crushed; M. Bertomy angry, almost threatening.
Cast off by this last friend, by his father, the miserable young man seemed to be stupefied with pain and disappointment.
“You too!” he bitterly cried. “You, you believe me guilty? Oh, father!”
“Spare yourself this shameful comedy,” interrupted M. Bertomy: “I know all.”
“But I am innocent, father; I swear it by the sacred memory of my mother.”