“You lie! there is no dead body in the river!” exclaimed Bergenheim, in a thundering voice, as he seized the magistrate by the collar in a bewildered way.
The magistrate was incapable of making the least resistance when held by such a vigorous hand and he received two or three shakings. Suddenly the Baron stopped, and struck his forehead with a gesture common to persons who feel that their reason has given way under a paroxysm of rage.
“I am crazy,” said he, with much emotion. “Monsieur,” he added, “I am very sorry. We really have all taken too much wine. I beg your pardon, gentlemen. I will leave you a moment—I need some fresh air.”
He hurriedly left the room, almost running against the persons who were carrying Marillac to his room. The public prosecutor, whose ideas had been somewhat mixed before, was now completely muddled by this unheard-of attack upon his dignity, and fell back exhausted in his chair.
“All poor drinkers!” said the notary to Monsieur de Carrier who was left alone with him, for the prosecutor, half suffocated with indignation and intoxication, could no longer be counted as one of them. “Here they are, all drunk, from just a few glasses of wine.”
The notary shook his head with a mysterious air.
“These things, though, are plain enough to me,” said he at last; “first, this Monsieur Marillac has not a very strong head and tells pretty tedious stories when drunk; then his friend has a way of taking kirsch for water which I can understand only in extreme cases; but the Baron is the one who astonished me most. Did you notice how he shook our friend who has just fallen on the floor? As to the Baron pretending that he was drunk and thus excusing himself, I do not believe one word of it; he drank nothing but water. There were times this evening when he appeared very strange indeed! There is some deviltry underneath all this; Monsieur de Carrier, rest assured there is some deviltry underneath it all.”
“I am the public prosecutor—they can not remove the body without me,” stammered the weak voice of the magistrate, who, after trying in vain to recover his equilibrium, lay flat upon the floor.
Instead of joining the persons who were carrying Marillac away, Christian went into the garden after leaving the dining-room, in quest of the fresh air which he gave as an excuse for leaving his guests. In fact, he felt oppressed almost to suffocation by the emotions he had undergone during the last few hours. The dissimulation which prudence made a necessity and honor a duty had aggravated the suffering by protracted concealment.