The Red Collar

The Red Collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin, Adriana Hunter Read Free Book Online

Book: The Red Collar by Jean-Christophe Rufin, Adriana Hunter Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jean-Christophe Rufin, Adriana Hunter
mean?”
    â€œHe needs to apologize, to minimize the incident, to say he was drunk or find some other explanation.”
    â€œIs he refusing to?”
    â€œNot only is he refusing but he’s aggravating his case with irresponsible comments. You’d think he
wants
to be condemned.”
    Valentine sat with unseeing eyes and gave a strange smile. Then she jerked her arm abruptly, as if wiping something off the table with the back of her hand. In the process she knocked over the bottle of cordial, which fell to the ground. This unleashed a flurry of activity. She stood up and Lantier did too. She went to fetch a floor cloth from under a cupboard, and gathered up the pieces of glass with a broom. The officer wanted to make himself useful but couldn’t think how to. In the end, he let her get on with it and, because he was on his feet, took the opportunity to go and look at the books lined up on the shelves on wall brackets.
    He read a few titles at random, on the larger volumes. There were several Zola novels. He also spotted Rousseau’s
La Nouvelle Héloïse
and, on another book, although he couldn’t be sure, he thought he saw the name Jules Vallès.
    â€œThere we are,” Valentine said. “I’m so sorry. Everything’s fine. Now, what were we saying?”
    She was edging him toward the table and seemed particularly keen to get him away from the bookshelves. He went and sat back down and thought at some length before speaking again.
    â€œThe fact is,” he eventually began, “the case involving Morlac is very likely one of the last I will handle. I’m planning to leave the army and go into civilian life. I’d like to end on an uplifting note, to have good memories of my position, so to speak. If I could succeed in stopping this defendant from going to his death, it would give me tremendous satisfaction and I could leave less heavy-hearted. As you can see, it’s very selfish.”
    He was ashamed to admit he had a personal interest in the case. But she’d already more than grasped the fact.
    â€œMorlac is indeed a hero,” he went on. “We owe our victory to men like him. I’d like to save him. But that can only be done against his will, because he’s determined to be condemned to death, and I don’t understand why. That’s why I’m here.”
    She looked at him steadily, unblinking, waiting to hear what would come next.
    â€œCould I ask you a rather prying question but one I believe to be of key importance?”
    She didn’t reply and, as she’d expected, he didn’t wait for an answer.
    â€œIs your child his?”
    She knew he would come to this.
    â€œJules is his son.”
    â€œFor him to be three years old, he must have been conceived . . . during the war.”
    â€œJacques came home on leave and, while he was here, we made love almost continuously.”
    Lantier felt himself flushing but he was too driven by the subject to falter at this obstacle of propriety.
    â€œHas he recognized him as such on the local register?”
    â€œNo.”
    â€œHe could have done.”
    â€œYes.”
    â€œBut he didn’t.”
    â€œNo.”
    Lantier sprang to his feet and walked to the door. He hovered on the doorstep for a moment, his eyes wide and scorched by the sun. The child was back. It was a little boy dressed in mud-colored scraps of cloth stitched together. He’d caught a mole and was prodding it with a stick, without any spite but without any mercy either.
    â€œHave you seen him since he came back?” Lantier asked.
    â€œNo.”
    â€œBut he came back here for you.”
    â€œI don’t think so. If he came home, it must be for his farm.”
    â€œExcept he hasn’t set foot on the place. He was lodging in a furnished room in town.”
    This was one of the pieces of information that featured in the policemen’s report. Morlac’s land had been

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