He reflected for a moment, then lingering over each word, he added: “Only do not then expect from me the consideration I have shown you to-day. Justice is human; that is, she is indulgent toward certain crimes. She has fathomed the depth of the abyss into which blind passion may hurl even an honest man. To-day I freely offer you any assistance that will not conflict with my duty. Speak, shall I send this officer of police away? Would you like me to send my clerk out of the room, on an errand?” He said no more, but waited to see the effect of this last effort.
The prisoner darted upon him one of those searching glances that seem to pierce an adversary through. His lips moved; one might have supposed that he was about to make a revelation. But no; suddenly he crossed his arms over his chest, and murmured: “You are very frank, sir. Unfortunately for me, I’m only a poor devil, as I’ve already told you. My name is May, and I earn my living by speaking to the public and turning a compliment.”
“I am forced to yield to your decision,” said the magistrate sadly. “The clerk will now read the minutes of your examination—listen.”
While Goguet read the evidence aloud, the prisoner listened without making any remark, but when asked to sign the document, he obstinately refused to do so, fearing, he said, “some hidden treachery.”
A moment afterward the soldiers who had escorted him to the magistrate’s room conducted him back to the Depot.
When the prisoner had gone, M. Segmuller sank back in his armchair, literally exhausted. He was in that state of nervous prostration which so often follows protracted but fruitless efforts. He had scarcely strength enough to bathe his burning forehead and gleaming eyes with cool, refreshing water.
This frightful examination had lasted no less than seven consecutive hours.
The smiling clerk, who had kept his place at his desk busily writing the whole while, now rose to his feet, glad of an opportunity to stretch his limbs and snap his fingers, cramped by holding the pen. Still, he was not in the least degree bored. He invariably took a semi-theatrical interest in the dramas that were daily enacted in his presence; his excitement being all the greater owing to the uncertainty that shrouded the finish of the final act—a finish that only too often belied the ordinary rules and deductions of writers for the stage.
“What a knave!” he exclaimed after vainly waiting for the magistrate or the detective to express an opinion, “what a rascal!”
M. Segmuller ordinarily put considerable confidence in his clerk’s long experience. He sometimes even went so far as to consult him, doubtless somewhat in the same style that Moliere consulted his servant. But, on this occasion he did not accept his opinion.
“No,” said he in a thoughtful tone, “that man is not a knave. When I spoke to him kindly he was really touched; he wept, he hesitated. I could have sworn that he was about to tell me everything.”