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."
"Ah, he's a man of wonderful power!" observed Lecoq.