At last he was now able to convince someone that he, Fanferlot, was a man of wonderful perspicacity.
As to acknowledging that he was about to obtain a triumph with the ideas of another man, he never thought of it. It is generally in perfect good faith that the jackdaw struts in the peacock’s feathers.
His hopes were not deceived. If the judge was not absolutely and fully convinced, he admired the ingenuity and shrewdness of the whole proceeding, and complimented the proud jackdaw upon his brilliancy.
“This decides me,” he said, as he dismissed Fanferlot. “I will make out a favorable report to-day; and it is highly probable that the accused will be released to-morrow.”
He began at once to write out one of these terrible decisions of “Not proven,” which restores liberty, but not honor, to the accused man; which says that he is not guilty, but does not say he is innocent.
“Whereas there do not exist sufficient charges against the accused, Prosper Bertomy, in pursuance of Article 128 of the Criminal Code, we hereby declare that we find no grounds for prosecution against the aforesaid prisoner at this present time; and we order that he shall be released from the prison where he is confined, and set at liberty by the jailer,” etc.
“Well,” he said to the clerk, “here is another one of those crimes which justice cannot clear up. The mystery remains to be solved. This is another file to be stowed away among the archives of the record-office.”
And with his own hand he wrote on the cover of the bundle of papers relating to Prosper’s case, the number of the package, File No. 113.
Prosper had been languishing in his private cell for nine days, when on Thursday morning the jailer came to inform him of the judge’s decision. He was conducted before the officer who had searched him when he was arrested; and the contents of his pocket, his watch, penknife, and several little pieces of jewelry, were restored to him; then he was told to sign a large sheet of paper, which he did.
He was next led across a dark passage, and almost pushed through a door, which was abruptly shut upon him.
He found himself on the quay: he was alone; he was free.
Free! Justice had confessed her inability to convict him of the crime of which he was accused.
Free! He could walk about, he could breathe the pure air; but every door would be closed against him.
Only acquittal after due trial would restore him to his former position among men.
A decision of “Not proven” had left him covered with suspicion.
The torments inflicted by public opinion are more fearful than those suffered in a prison cell.
At the moment of his restoration to liberty, Prosper so cruelly suffered from the horror of his situation, that he could not repress a cry of rage and despair.