“But by whom, poor fool? By whom?”
“By all that is sacred, I swear that it was not by me.”
The banker’s face turned crimson. “Miserable wretch!” cried he, “do you mean to say that I took the money?”
Prosper bowed his head, and did not answer.
“Ah! it is thus, then,” said M. Fauvel, unable to contain himself any longer. “And you dare—. Then, between you and me, M. Prosper Bertomy, justice shall decide. God is my witness that I have done all I could to save you. You will have yourself to thank for what follows. I have sent for the commissary of police: he must be waiting in my study. Shall I call him down?”
Prosper, with the fearful resignation of a man who abandons himself, replied, in a stifled voice:
“Do as you will.”
The banker was near the door, which he opened, and, after giving the cashier a last searching look, said to an office-boy:
“Anselme, ask the commissary of police to step down.”
If there is one man in the world whom no event can move or surprise, who is always on his guard against deceptive appearances, and is capable of admitting everything and explaining everything, it certainly is a Parisian commissary of police.
While the judge, from his lofty place, applies the code to the facts submitted to him, the commissary of police observes and watches all the odious circumstances that the law cannot reach. He is perforce the confidant of disgraceful details, domestic crimes, and tolerated vices.
If, when he entered upon his office, he had any illusions, before the end of a year they were all dissipated.
If he does not absolutely despise the human race, it is because often, side by side with abominations indulged in with impunity, he discovers sublime generosities which remain unrewarded.
He sees impudent scoundrels filching public respect; and he consoles himself by thinking of the modest, obscure heroes whom he has also encountered.
So often have his previsions been deceived, that he has reached a state of complete scepticism. He believes in nothing, neither in evil nor in absolute good; not more in virtue than in vice.
His experience has forced him to come to the sad conclusion that not men, but events, are worth considering.
The commissary sent for by M. Fauvel soon made his appearance.
It was with a calm air, if not one of perfect indifference, that he entered the office.
He was followed by a short man dressed in a full suit of black, which was slightly relieved by a crumpled collar.
The banker, scarcely bowing to him, said:
“Doubtless, monsieur, you have been apprised of the painful circumstance which compels me to have recourse to your assistance?”
“It is about a robbery, I believe.”
“Yes; an infamous and mysterious robbery committed in this office, from the safe you see open there, of which my cashier” (he pointed to Prosper) “alone possesses the key and the word.”