I wanted to draw an explanation from him, at all costs. I restrained my feelings; I even humbled myself so far as to say that I should be ready to accept advice, if he would consent to tell me the words that Edmee had uttered immediately after the event, and those which she had repeated in her hours of delirium.
"That I will not," replied Patience sternly; "you are not worthy to hear any words from that mouth, and I shall certainly never repeat them to you. Why do you want to know them? Do you hope to hide anything from men hereafter? God saw you; for Him there are no secrets. Leave this place; stay at Roche-Mauprat; keep quiet there; and when your uncle is dead and your affairs are settled, leave this part of the country. If you take my advice, you will leave it this very day. I do not want to put the law on your track, unless your actions force me. But others besides myself, if they are not certain of the truth, have at least a suspicion of it. Before two days have passed a chance word said in public, the indiscretion of some servant, may awaken the attention of justice, and from that point to the scaffold, when a man is guilty, is but a single step. I used not to hate you; I even had a liking for you; take this advice, then, which you say you are ready to follow. Go away at once, or remain in hiding and ready for flight. I do not desire your ruin; Edmee would not desire it either--so--do you understand?"
"You must be insane to think that I could listen to such advice. I, hide myself! or flee like a murderer! You can't dream of that! Come on! come on! I defy the whole of you! I know not what fury and hatred are fretting you and uniting you all against me; I know not why you want to keep me from seeing my uncle and cousin; but I despise your follies. My place is here; I shall not quit it except by order of my cousin or uncle; and this order, too, I must take from their own lips; I cannot allow sentence to be brought me by any outsider. So, thanks for your wisdom, Monsieur Patience; in this case my own will suffice. I am your humble servant, sir."
I was preparing to leave the cottage when he rushed in front of me, and for a moment I saw that he was ready to use force to detain me. In spite of his advanced age, in spite of my height and strength, he might still have been a match, perhaps more than a match, for me in a struggle of this kind. Short, bent, broad-shouldered, he was a Hercules.
He stopped, however, just as he was about to lay hands on me, and, seized with one of those fits of deep tenderness to which he was subject in his moments of greatest passion, he gazed at me with eyes of pity, and said, in a gentle tone:
"My poor boy! you whom I loved as a son (for I looked upon you as Edmee's brother), do not hasten to your ruin. I beseech you in the name of her whom you have murdered, and whom you still love--I can see it--but whom you may never behold again. Believe me, but yesterday your family was a proud vessel, whose helm was in your hands; to-day it is a drifting wreck, without either sail or pilot--left to be handled by cabinboys, as friend Marcasse says. Well, my poor mariner, do not persist in drowning yourself; I am throwing you a rope; take it --a day more, and it may be too late. Remember that if the law gets hold of you, the man who is trying to save you to-day, to-morrow will be obliged to appear against you and condemn you. Do not compel me to do a thing the very thought of which brings tears to my eyes. Bernard, you have been loved, my lad; even to-day you may live on the past."
I burst into tears, and the sergeant, who returned at this moment, began to weep also; he implored me to go back to Roche-Mauprat; but I soon recovered and, thrusting them both away, said:
"I know that both of you are excellent men, and both most generous; you must have some love for me too, since, though you believe me blackened with a hideous crime, you can still think of saving my life. But have no fears on my account, good friends; I am innocent of this crime, and my one wish is that the matter may be fully investigated, so that I may be acquitted--yes, this is inevitable, I owe it to my family to live until my honour has been freed from stain. Then, if I am condemned to see my cousin die, as I have no one in the world to love but her, I will blow my brains out. Why, then, should I be downcast? I set little store by my life. May God make the last hours of her whom I shall certainly not survive painless and peaceful--that is all I ask of Him."