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- There are Crimes and Crimes - 10/18 -
think of the poor after having heard good news.
ADOLPHE. It was neither fine nor anything else: it was something I did because I couldn't help myself. But something more occurred while I was in the church. I saw Maurice's girl friend, Jeanne, and her child. Struck down, crushed by his triumphal chariot, they seemed aware of the full extent of their misfortune.
MME. CATHERINE. Well, children, I don't know in what kind of shape you keep your consciences. But how a decent fellow, a careful and considerate man like Monsieur Maurice, can all of a sudden desert a woman and her child, that is something I cannot explain.
ADOLPHE. Nor can I explain it, and he doesn't seem to understand it himself. I met them this morning, and everything appeared quite natural to them, quite proper, as if they couldn't imagine anything else. It was as if they had been enjoying the satisfaction of a good deed or the fulfilment of a sacred duty. There are things, Madame Catherine, that we cannot explain, and for this reason it is not for us to judge. And besides, you saw how it happened. Maurice felt the danger in the air. I foresaw it and tried to prevent their meeting. Maurice wanted to run away from it, but nothing helped. Why, it was as if a plot had been laid by some invisible power, and as if they had been driven by guile into each other's arms. Of course, I am disqualified in this case, but I wouldn't hesitate to pronounce a verdict of "not guilty."
MME. CATHERINE. Well, now, to be able to forgive as you do, that's what I call religion,
ADOLPHE. Heavens, could it be that I am religious without knowing it.
MME. CATHERINE. But then, to LET oneself be driven or tempted into evil, as Monsieur Maurice has done, means weakness or bad character. And if you feel your strength failing you, then you ask for help, and then you get it. But he was too conceited to do that--Who is this coming? The Abbe, I think.
ADOLPHE. What does he want here?
ABBE. [Enters] Good evening, madame. Good evening, Monsieur.
MME. CATHERINE. Can I be of any service?
ABBE. Has Monsieur Maurice, the author, been here to-day?
MME. CATHERINE. Not to-day. His play has just been put on, and that is probably keeping him busy.
ABBE. I have--sad news to bring him. Sad in several respects.
MME. CATHERINE. May I ask of what kind?
ABBE. Yes, it's no secret. The daughter he had with that girl, Jeanne, is dead.
MME. CATHERINE. Dead!
ADOLPHE. Marion dead!
ABBE. Yes, she died suddenly this morning without any previous illness.
MME. CATHERINE. O Lord, who can tell Thy ways!
ABBE. The mother's grief makes it necessary that Monsieur Maurice look after her, so we must try to find him. But first a question in confidence: do you know whether Monsieur Maurice was fond of the child, or was indifferent to it?
MME. CATHERINE. If he was fond of Marion? Why, all of us know how he loved her.
ADOLPHE. There's no doubt about that.
ABBE. I am glad to hear it, and it settles the matter so far as I am concerned.
MME. CATHERINE. Has there been any doubt about it?
ABBE. Yes, unfortunately. It has even been rumoured in the neighbourhood that he had abandoned the child and its mother in order to go away with a strange woman. In a few hours this rumour has grown into definite accusations, and at the same time the feeling against him has risen to such a point that his life is threatened and he is being called a murderer.
MME. CATHERINE. Good God, what is THIS? What does it mean?
ABBE. Now I'll tell you my opinion--I am convinced that the man is innocent on this score, and the mother feels as certain about it as I do. But appearances are against Monsieur Maurice, and I think he will find it rather hard to clear himself when the police come to question him.
ADOLPHE. Have the police got hold of the matter?
ABBE. Yea, the police have had to step in to protect him against all those ugly rumours and the rage of the people. Probably the Commissaire will be here soon.
MME. CATHERINE. [To ADOLPHE] There you see what happens when a man cannot tell the difference between good and evil, and when he trifles with vice. God will punish!
ADOLPHE. Then he is more merciless than man.
ABBE. What do you know about that?
ADOLPHE. Not very much, but I keep an eye on what happens--
ABBE. And you understand it also?
ADOLPHE. Not yet perhaps.
ABBE. Let us look more closely at the matter--Oh, here comes the Commissaire.
COMMISSAIRE. [Enters] Gentlemen--Madame Catherine--I have to trouble you for a moment with a few questions concerning Monsieur Maurice. As you have probably heard, he has become the object of a hideous rumour, which, by the by, I don't believe in.
MME. CATHERINE. None of us believes in it either.
COMMISSAIRE. That strengthens my own opinion, but for his own sake I must give him a chance to defend himself.
ABBE. That's right, and I guess he will find justice, although it may come hard.
COMMISSAIRE. Appearances are very much against him, but I have seen guiltless people reach the scaffold before their innocence was discovered. Let me tell you what there is against him. The little girl, Marion, being left alone by her mother, was secretly visited by the father, who seems to have made sure of the time when the child was to be found alone. Fifteen minutes after his visit the mother returned home and found the child dead. All this makes the position of the accused man very unpleasant--The post- mortem examination brought out no signs of violence or of poison, but the physicians admit the existence of new poisons that leave no traces behind them. To me all this is mere coincidence of the kind I frequently come across. But here's something that looks worse. Last night Monsieur Maurice was seen at the Auberge des Adrets in company with a strange lady. According to the waiter, they were talking about crimes. The Place de Roquette and the scaffold were both mentioned. A queer topic of conversation for a pair of lovers of good breeding and good social position! But even this may be passed over, as we know by experience that people who have been drinking and losing a lot of sleep seem inclined to dig up all the worst that lies at the bottom of their souls. Far more serious is the evidence given by the head waiter as to their champagne breakfast in the Bois de Boulogne this morning. He says that he heard them wish the life out of a child. The man is said to have remarked that, "It would be better if it had never existed." To which the woman replied: "Indeed! But now it does exist." And as they went on talking, these words occurred: "This will kill this!" And the answer was: "Kill! What kind of word is that?" And also: "The five-spot of diamonds, the scaffold, the Place de Roquette." All this, you see, will be hard to get out of, and so will the foreign journey planned for this evening. These are serious matters.
ADOLPHE. He is lost!
MME. CATHERINE. That's a dreadful story. One doesn't know what to believe.
ABBE. This is not the work of man. God have mercy on him!
ADOLPHE. He is in the net, and he will never get out of it.
MME. CATHERINE. He had no business to get in.
ADOLPHE. Do you begin to suspect him also, Madame Catherine?
MME. CATHERINE. Yes and no. I have got beyond having an opinion in this matter. Have you not seen angels turn into devils just as you turn your hand, and then become angels again?
COMMISSAIRE. It certainly does look queer. However, we'll have to wait and hear what explanations he can give. No one will be judged unheard. Good evening, gentlemen. Good evening, Madame Catherine. [Goes out.]
ABBE. This is not the work of man.
ADOLPHE. No, it looks as if demons had been at work for the undoing of man.
ABBE. It is either a punishment for secret misdeeds, or it is a terrible test.
JEANNE. [Enters, dressed in mourning] Good evening. Pardon me for asking, but have you seen Monsieur Maurice?
MME. CATHERINE. No, madame, but I think he may be here any minute. You haven't met him then since--
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