"This letter was so far from being a threatening letter," she said, "and the impression it left on me was so far from filling me with fear or aversion, that it was found on my heart, where I had been carrying it for a week, though I had not even let Bernard know that I had received it."
"But you have not yet explained," said the president, "how it was that seven years ago, when your cousin first came to live in your house, you armed yourself with a knife which you used to put under your pillow every night, after having it sharpened as if to defend yourself in case of need."
"In my family," she answered with a blush, "we have a somewhat romantic temperament and a very proud spirit. It is true that I frequently thought of killing myself, because I felt an unconquerable affection for my cousin springing up in me. Believing myself bound by indissoluble ties to M. de la Marche. I would have died rather than break my word, or marry any other than Bernard. Subsequently M. de la Marche freed me from my promise with much delicacy and loyalty, and I no longer thought of dying."
Edmee now withdrew, followed by all eyes and by a murmur of approbation. No sooner had she passed out of the hall than she fainted again; but this attack was without any grave consequences, and left no traces after a few days.
I was so bewildered, so intoxicated by what she had just said, that henceforth I could scarcely see what was taking place around me. Wholly wrapped up in thoughts of my love, I nevertheless could not cast aside all doubts; for, if Edmee had been silent about some of my actions, it was also possible that she had exaggerated her affection for me in the hope of extenuating my faults. I could not bring myself to think that she had loved me before my departure for America, and, above all, from the very beginning of my stay at Sainte-Severe. This was the one thought that filled my mind; I did not even remember anything further about the case or the object of my trial. It seemed to me that the sole question at issue in this chill Areopagus was this: Is he loved, or is he not? For me, victory or defeat, life or death, hung on that, and that alone.
I was roused from these reveries by the voice of Abbe Aubert. He was thin and wasted, but seemed perfectly calm; he had been kept in solitary confinement and had suffered all the hardships of prison life with the resignation of a martyr. In spite, however, of all precautions, the clever Marcasse, who could work his way anywhere like a ferret, had managed to convey to him a letter from Arthur, to which Edmee had added a few words. Authorized by this letter to say everything, he made a statement similar to that made by Patience, and owned that Edmee's first words after the occurrence had made him believe me guilty; but that subsequently, seeing the patient's mental condition, and remembering my irreproachable behaviour for more than six years, and obtaining a little new light from the preceding trial and the public rumours about the possible existence of Antony Mauprat, he had felt too convinced of my innocence to be willing to give evidence which might injure me. If he gave his evidence now, it was because he thought that further investigations might have enlightened the court, and that his words would not have the serious consequences they might have had a month before.
Questioned as to Edmee's feelings for me, he completely destroyed all Mademoiselle Leblanc's inventions, and declared that not only did Edmee love me ardently, but that she had felt an affection for me from the very first day we met. This he affirmed on oath, though emphasizing my past misdeeds somewhat more than Edmee had done. He owned that at first he had frequently feared that my cousin would be foolish enough to marry me, but that he had never had any fear for her life, since he had always seen her reduce me to submission by a single word or a mere look, even in my most boorish days.
The continuation of the trial was postponed to await the results of the warrants issued for the arrest of the assassin. People compared my trial to that of Calas, and the comparison had no sooner become a general topic of conversation than my judges, finding themselves exposed to a thousand shafts, realized very vividly that hatred and prejudice are bad counsellors and dangerous guides. The sheriff of the province declared himself the champion of my cause and Edmee's knight, and he himself escorted her back to her father. He set all the police agog. They acted with vigour and arrested John Mauprat. When he found himself a prisoner and threatened, he betrayed his brother, and declared that they might find him any night at Roche-Mauprat, hiding in a secret chamber which the tenant's wife helped him to reach, without her husband's knowledge.