Within an Inch of His Life
By Emile Gaboriau
Public Domain Books
“The hospital in Sauveterre,” says the guide book, “is, in spite of its limited size, one of the best institutions of the kind in the department. The chapel and the new additions were built at the expense of the Countess de Maupaison, the widow of one of the ministers of Louis Philippe.”
But what the guide book does not say is, that the hospital was endowed with three free beds for pregnant women, by Mrs. Seneschal, or that the two wings on both sides of the great entrance-gate have also been built by her liberality. One of these wings, the one on the right, is used by the janitor, a fine-looking old man, who formerly was beadle at the cathedral, and who loves to think of the happy days when he added to the splendor of the church by his magnificent presence, his red uniform, his gold bandelaire, his halbert, and his gold-headed cane.
This janitor was, on Sunday morning, a little before eight o’clock, smoking his pipe in the yard, when he saw Dr. Seignebos coming in. The doctor was walking faster than usual, his hat over his face, and his hands thrust deep into his pockets, evident signs of a storm. Instead of coming, as he did every day before making the rounds, into the office of the sister-druggist, he went straight up to the room of the lady superior. There, after the usual salutations, he said,–
“They have no doubt brought you, my sister, last night, a patient, an idiot, called Cocoleu?”
“Where has he been put?”
“The mayor saw him himself put into the little room opposite the linen room.”
“And how did he behave?”
“Perfectly well: the sister who kept the watch did not hear him stir.”
“Thanks, my sister!” said Dr. Seignebos.
He was already in the door, when the lady superior recalled him.
“Are you going to see the poor man, doctor?” she asked.
“Yes, my sister; why?”
“Because you cannot see him.”
“No. The commonwealth attorney has sent us orders not to let any one, except the sister who nurses him, come near Cocoleu,–no one, doctor, not even the physician, a case of urgency, of course, excepted.”
Dr. Seignebos smiled ironically. Then he said, laughing scornfully,–
“Ah, these are your orders, are they? Well, I tell you that I do not mind them in the least. Who can prevent me from seeing my patient? Tell me that! Let the commonwealth attorney give his orders in his court-house as much as he chooses: that is all right. But in my hospital! My sister, I am going to Cocoleu’s room.”
“Doctor, you cannot go there. There is a gendarme at the door.”
“Yes, he came this morning with the strictest orders.”
For a moment the doctor was overcome. Then he suddenly broke out with unusual violence, and a voice that made the windows shake,–
“This is unheard of! This is an abominable abuse of power! I’ll have my rights, and justice shall be done me, if I have to go to Thiers!”
Then he rushed out without ceremony, crossed the yard, and disappeared like an arrow, in the direction of the court-house. At that very moment M. Daubigeon was getting up, feeling badly because he had had a bad, sleepless night, thanks to this unfortunate affair of M. de Boiscoran, which troubled him sorely; for he was almost of M. Galpin’s opinion. In vain he recalled Jacques’s noble character, his well-known uprightness, his keen sense of honor, the evidence was so strong, so overwhelming! He wanted to doubt; but experience told him that a man’s past is no guarantee for his future. And, besides, like many great criminal lawyers, he thought, what he would never have ventured to say openly, that some great criminals act while they are under the influence of a kind of vertigo, and that this explains the stupidity of certain crimes committed by men of superior intelligence.
Since his return from Boiscoran, he had kept close in his house; and he had just made up his mind not to leave the house that day, when some one rang his bell furiously. A moment later Dr. Seignebos fell into the room like a bombshell.
“I know what brings you, doctor,” said M. Daubigeon. “You come about that order I have given concerning Cocoleu.”
“Yes, indeed, sir! That order is an insult.”
“I have been asked to give it as a matter of necessity, by M. Galpin.”
“And why did you not refuse? You alone are responsible for it in my eyes. You are commonwealth attorney, consequently the head of the bar, and superior to M. Galpin.”
M. Daubigeon shook his head and said,–
“There you are mistaken, doctor. The magistrate in such a case is independent of myself and of the court. He is not even bound to obey the attorney-general, who can make suggestions to him, but cannot give him orders. M. Galpin, in his capacity as examining magistrate, has his independent jurisdiction, and is armed with almost unlimited power. No one in the world can say so well as an examining magistrate what the poet calls,–
’Such is my will, such are my orders, and my will is sufficient.’ ’Hoc volo, hoc jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas.’ “
For once Dr. Seignebos seemed to be convinced by M. Daubigeon’s words. He said,–
“Then, M. Galpin has even the right to deprive a sick man of his physician’s assistance.”
“If he assumes the responsibility, yes. But he does not mean to go so far. He was, on the contrary, about to ask you, although it is Sunday, to come and be present at a second examination of Cocoleu. I am surprised that you have not received his note, and that you did not meet him at the hospital.”
“Well, I am going at once.”
And he went back hurriedly, and was glad he had done so; for at the door of the hospital he came face to face against M. Galpin, who was just coming in, accompanied by his faithful clerk, Mechinet.
“You came just in time, doctor,” began the magistrate, with his usual solemnity.
But, short and rapid as the doctor’s walk had been, it had given him time to reflect, and to grow cool. Instead of breaking out into recriminations, he replied in a tone of mock politeness,–
“Yes, I know. It is that poor devil to whom you have given a gendarme for a nurse. Let us go up: I am at your service.”
The room in which Cocoleu had been put was large, whitewashed, and empty, except that a bed, a table and two chairs, stood about. The bed was no doubt a good one; but the idiot had taken off the mattress and the blankets, and lain down in his clothes on the straw bed. Thus the magistrate and the physician found him as they entered. He rose at their appearance; but, when he saw the gendarme, he uttered a cry, and tried to hide under the bed. M. Galpin ordered the gendarme to pull him out again. Then he walked up to him, and said,–
“Don’t be afraid, Cocoleu. We want to do you no harm; only you must answer our questions. Do you recollect what happened the other night at Valpinson?”
Cocoleu laughed,–the laugh of an idiot,–but he made no reply. And then, for a whole hour, begging, threatening, and promising by turns, the magistrate tried in vain to obtain one word from him. Not even the name of the Countess Claudieuse had the slightest effect. At last, utterly out of patience, he said,–
“Let us go. The wretch is worse than a brute.”
“Was he any better,” asked the doctor, “when he denounced M. de Boiscoran?”
But the magistrate pretended not to hear; and, when they were about to leave the room, he said to the doctor,–
“You know that I expect your report, doctor?”
“In forty-eight hours I shall have the honor to hand it to you," replied the latter.
But as he went off, he said half aloud,–
“And that report is going to give you some trouble, my good man.”
The report was ready then, and his reason for not giving it in, was that he thought, the longer he could delay it, the more chance he would probably have to defeat the plan of the prosecution.
“As I mean to keep it two days longer,” he thought on his way home, “why should I not show it to this Paris lawyer who has dome down with the marchioness? Nothing can prevent me, as far as I see, since that poor Galpin, in his utter confusion, has forgotten to put me under oath.”
But he paused. According to the laws of medical jurisprudence, had he the right, or not, to communicate a paper belonging to the case to the counsel of the accused? This question troubled him; for, although he boasted that he did not believe in God, he believed firmly in professional duty, and would have allowed himself to be cut in pieces rather than break its laws.
“But I have clearly the right to do so,” he growled. “I can only be bound by my oath. The authorities are clear on that subject. I have in my favor the decisions of the Court of Appeals of 27 November, and 27 December, 1828; those of the 13th June, 1835; of the 3d May, 1844; of the 26th June, 1866.”
The result of this mediation was, that, as soon as he had breakfasted, he put his report in his pocket, and went by side streets to M. de Chandore’s house. The marchioness and the two aunts were still at church, where they had thought it best to show themselves; and there was no one in the sitting-room but Dionysia, the old baron, and M. Folgat. The old gentleman was very much surprised to see the doctor. The latter was his family physician, it is true; but, except in cases of sickness, the two never saw each other, their political opinions were so very different.
“If you see me here,” said the physician, still in the door, “it is simply because, upon my honor and my conscience, I believe M. Boiscoran is innocent.”
Dionysia would have liked to embrace the doctor for these words of his; and with the greatest eagerness she pushed a large easy-chair towards him, and said in her sweetest voice,–
“Pray sit down, my dear doctor.”
“Thanks,” he answered bruskly. “I am very much obliged to you.” Then turning to M. Folgat, he said, according to his odd notion,–
“I am convinced that M. Boiscoran is the victim of his republican opinions which he has so boldly professed; for, baron, your future son-in-law is a republican.”
Grandpapa Chandore did not move. If they had come and told him Jacques had been a member of the Commune, he would not have been any more moved. Dionysia loved Jacques. That was enough for him.
“Well,” the doctor went on, “I am a Radical, I, M."–
“Folgat,” supplied the young lawyer.
“Yes, M. Folgat, I am a Radical; and it is my duty to defend a man whose political opinions so closely resemble mine. I come, therefore, to show you my medical report, if you can make any use of it in your defence of M. Boiscoran, or suggest to me any ideas.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the young man. “That is a very valuable service.”
“But let us understand each other,” said the physician earnestly. “If I speak of listening to your suggestions, I take it for granted that they are based upon facts. If I had a son, and he was to die on the scaffold I would not use the slightest falsehood to save him.”
He had, meanwhile, drawn the report from a pocket in his long coat, and now put in on the table with these words,–
“I shall call for it again to-morrow morning. In the meantime you can think it over. I should like, however, to point out to you the main point, the culminating point, if I may say so.”
At all events he was “saying so” with much hesitation, and looking fixedly at Dionysia as if to make her understand that he would like her to leave the room. Seeing that she did not take the hint, he added,–
“A medical and legal discussion would hardly interest the young lady.”
“Why, sir, why, should I not be deeply, passionately, interested in any thing that regards the man who is to be my husband?”
“Because ladies are generally very sensational,” said the doctor uncivilly, “very sensitive.”
“Don’t think so, doctor. For Jacques’s sake, I promise you I will show you quite masculine energy.”
The doctor knew Dionysia well enough to see that she did not mean to go: so he growled,–
“As you like it.”
Then, turning again to M. Folgat, he said,–
“You know there were two shots fired at Count Claudieuse. One, which hit him in the side, nearly missed him; the other, which struck his shoulder and his neck, hit well.”
“I know,” said the advocate.
“The difference in the effect shows that the two shots were fired from different distances, the second much nearer than the first.”
“I know, I know!”
“Excuse me. If I refer to these details, it is because they are important. When I was sent for in the middle of the night to come and see Count Claudieuse, I at once set to work extracting the particles of lead that had lodged in his flesh. While I was thus busy, M. Galpin arrived. I expected he would ask me to show him the shot: but no, he did not think of it; he was too full of his own ideas. He thought only of the culprit, of /his/ culprit. I did not recall to him the A B C of his profession: that was none of my business. The physician has to obey the directions of justice, but not to anticipate them.”
“Then M. Galpin went off to Boiscoran, and I completed my work. I have extracted fifty-seven shot from the count’s wound in the side, and a hundred and nine from the wound on the shoulder and the neck; and, when I had done that, do you know what I found out?”
He paused, waiting to see the effect of his words; and, when everybody’s attention seemed to him fully roused, he went on,–
“I found out that the shot in the two wounds was not alike.”
M. de Chandore and M. Folgat exclaimed at one time,–
“The shot that was first fired,” continued Dr. Seignebos, “and which has touched the side, is the very smallest sized ’dust.’ That in the shoulder, on the other hand, is quite large sized, such as I think is used in shooting hares. However, I have some samples.”
And with these words, he opened a piece of white paper, in which were ten or twelve pieces of lead, stained with coagulated blood, and showing at once a considerable difference in size. M. Folgat looked puzzled.
“Could there have been two murderers?” he asked half aloud.
“I rather think,” said M. de Chandore, “that the murderer had, like many sportsmen, one barrel ready for birds, and another for hares or rabbits.”
“At all events, this fact puts all premeditation out of question. A man does not load his gun with small-shot in order to commit murder.”
Dr. Seignebos thought he had said enough about it, and was rising to take leave, when M. de Chandore asked him how Count Claudieuse was doing.
“He is not doing well,” replied the doctor. “The removal, in spite of all possible precautions, has worn him out completely; for he is here in Sauveterre since yesterday, in a house which M. Seneschal has rented for him provisionally. He has been delirious all night through; and, when I came to see him this morning, I do not think he knew me.”
“And the countess?” asked Dionysia.
“The countess, madam, is quite as sick as her husband, and, if she had listened to me, she would have gone to bed, too. But she is a woman of uncommon energy, who derives from her affection for her husband an almost incomprehensible power of resistance. As to Cocoleu,” he added, standing already near the door, “an examination of his mental condition might produce results which no one seems to expect now. But we will talk of that hereafter. And now, I must bid you all good-by.”
“Well?” asked Dionysia and M. de Chandore, as soon as they had heard the street door close behind Dr. Seignebos.
But M. Folgat’s enthusiasm had cooled off very rapidly.
“Before giving an opinion,” he said cautiously, “I must study the report of this estimable doctor.”
Unfortunately, the report contained nothing that the doctor had not mentioned. In vain did the young advocate try all the afternoon to find something in it that might be useful for the defence. There were arguments in it, to be sure, which might be very valuable when the trial should come on, but nothing that could be used to make the prosecution give up the case.
The whole house was, therefore, cruelly disappointed and dejected, when, about five o’clock, old Anthony came in from Boiscoran. He looked very sad, and said,–
“I have been relieved of my duties. At two o’clock M. Galpin came to take off the seals. He was accompanied by his clerk Mechinet, and brought Master Jacques with him, who was guarded by two gendarmes in citizen’s clothes. When the room was opened, that unlucky man Galpin asked Master Jacques if those were the clothes which he wore the night of the fire, his boots, his gun, and the water in which he washed his hands. When he had acknowledged every thing, the water was carefully poured into a bottle, which they sealed, and handed to one of the gendarmes. Then they put master’s clothes in a large trunk, his gun, several parcels of cartridge, and some other articles, which the magistrate said were needed for the trial. That trunk was sealed like the bottle, and put on the carriage; then that man Galpin went off, and told me that I was free.”
“And Jacques,” Dionysia asked eagerly,–"how did he look?”
“Master, madam, laughed contemptuously.”
“Did you speak to him?” asked M. Folgat.
“Oh, no, sir! M. Galpin would not allow me.”
“And did you have time to look at the gun?”
“I could but just glance at the lock.”
“And what did you see?”
The brow of the old servant grew still darker, as he replied sadly,–
“I saw that I had done well to keep silent. The lock is black. Master must have used his gun since I cleaned it.”
Grandpapa Chandore and M. Folgat exchanged looks of distress. One more hope was lost.
“Now,” said the young lawyer, “tell me how M. de Boiscoran usually charged his gun.”
“He used cartridges, sir, of course. They sent him, I think, two thousand with the gun,–some for balls, some with large shot, and others with shot of every size. At this season, when hunting is prohibited, master could shoot nothing but rabbits, or those little birds, you know, which come to our marshes: so he always loaded one barrel with tolerably large shot, and the other with small-shot.”
But he stopped suddenly, shocked at the impression which his statement seemed to produce. Dionysia cried,–
“That is terrible! Every thing is against us!”
M. Folgat did not give her time to say any more. He asked,–
“My dear Anthony, did M. Galpin take all of your master’s cartridges away with him?”
“Oh, no! certainly not.”
“Well, you must instantly go back to Boiscoran, and bring me three or four cartridges of every number of shot.”
“All right,” said the old man. “I’ll be back in a short time.”
He started immediately; and, thanks to his great promptness, he reappeared at seven o’clock, at the moment when the family got up from dinner, and put a large package of cartridges on the table.
M. de Chandore and M. Folgat had quickly opened some of them; and, after a few failures, they found two numbers of shot which seemed to correspond exactly to the samples left them by the doctor.
“There is an incomprehensible fatality in all this,” said the old gentleman in an undertone.
The young lawyer, also, looked discouraged.
“It is madness,” he said, “to try to establish M. de Boiscoran’s innocence without having first communicated with him.”
“And if you could do so to-morrow?” asked Dionysia.
“Then, madam, he might give us the key to this mystery, which we are in vain trying to solve; or, at least, he might tell us the way to find it all out. But that is not to be thought of. M. de Boiscoran is held in close confinement, and you may rest assured M. Galpin will see to it that no communication is held with his prisoner.”
“Who knows?” said the young girl.
And immediately she drew M. de Chandore aside into one of the little card-rooms adjoining the parlor, and asked him,–
“Grandpapa, am I rich?”
Never in her life had she thought of that, and she was to a certain extent utterly ignorant of the value of money.
“Yes, you are rich, my child,” replied the old gentleman.
“How much do I have?”
“You have in your own right, as coming to you from your poor father and from your mother, twenty-five thousand francs a year, or a capital of about five hundred and fifty thousand francs.”
“And is that a good deal?”
“It is so much, that you are one of the richest heiresses of the district; but you have, besides, considerable expectations.”
Dionysia was so preoccupied, that she did not even protest. She went on asking,–
“What do they call here to be well off?”
“That depends, my child. If you will tell me"–
She interrupted him, putting down her foot impatiently, saying,–
“Nothing. Please answer me!”
“Well, in our little town, an income of eight hundred or a thousand francs makes anybody very well off.”
“Let us say a thousand.”
“Well, a thousand would make a man very comfortable.”
“And what capital would produce such an income?”
“At five per cent, it would take twenty thousand francs.”
“That is to say, about the income of a year.”
“Never mind. I presume that is quite a large sum, and it would be rather difficult for you, grandpapa, to get it together by to-morrow morning?”
“Not at all. I have that much in railway coupon-bonds; and they are just as good as current money.”
“Ah! Do you mean to say, that, if I gave anybody twenty thousand francs in such bonds, it would be just the same to him as if I gave him twenty thousand francs in bank-notes?”
Dionysia smiled. She thought she saw light. Then she went on,–
“If that is so, I must beg you, grandpapa, to give me twenty thousand francs in coupon-bonds.”
The old gentleman started.
“You are joking,” he said. “What do you want with so much money? You are surely joking.”
“Not at all. I have never in my life been more serious,” replied the young girl in a tone of voice which could not be mistaken. “I beseech you, grandpapa, if you love me, give me these twenty thousand francs this evening, right now. You hesitate? O God! You may kill me if you refuse.”
No, M. de Chandore was hesitating no longer.
“Since you will have it so,” he said, “I am going up stairs to get it.”
She clapped her hands with joy.
“That’s it,” she said. “Make haste and dress; for I have to go out, and you must go with me.”
Then going up to her aunts and the marchioness, she said to them,–
“I hope you will excuse me, if I leave you; but I must go out.”
“At this hour?” cried Aunt Elizabeth. “Where are you going?”
“To my dressmakers, the Misses Mechinet. I want a dress.”
“Great God!” cried Aunt Adelaide, “the child is losing her mind!”
“I assure you I am not, aunt.”
“Then let me go with you.”
“Thank you, no. I shall go alone; that is to say, alone with dear grandpapa.”
And as M. de Chandore came back, his pockets full of bonds, his hat on his head, and his cane in his hand, she carried him off, saying,–
“Come, quick, dear grandpapa, we are in a great hurry.”