Within an Inch of His Life
By Emile Gaboriau
Public Domain Books
During all this time, they were suffering intense anxiety at M. de Chandore’s house. Ever since eight o’clock in the morning the two aunts, the old gentleman, the marchioness, and M. Folgat had been assembled in the dining-room, and were there waiting for the result of the interview. Dionysia had only come down later; and her grandfather could not help noticing that she had dressed more carefully than usual.
“Are we not going to see Jacques again?” she replied with a smile full of confidence and joy.
She had actually persuaded herself that one word from Jacques would suffice to convince the celebrated lawyer, and that he would reappear triumphant on M. Magloire’s arm. The others did not share these expectations. The two aunts, looking as yellow as their old laces, sat immovable in a corner. The marchioness was trying to hide her tears; and M. Folgat endeavored to look absorbed in a volume of engravings. M. de Chandore, who possessed less self-control, walked up and down in the room, repeating every ten minutes,–
“It is wonderful how long time seems when you are waiting!”
At ten o’clock no news had come.
“Could M. Magloire have forgotten his promise?” said Dionysia, becoming anxious.
“No, he has not forgotten it,” replied a newcomer, M. Seneschal. It was really the excellent mayor, who had met M. Magloire about an hour before, and who now came to hear the news, for his own sake, as he said, but especially for his wife’s sake, who was actually ill with anxiety.
Eleven o’clock, and no news. The marchioness got up, and said,–
“I cannot stand this uncertainty a minute longer. I am going to the prison.”
“And I will go with you, dear mother,” declared Dionysia.
But such a proceeding was hardly suitable. M. de Chandore opposed it, and was supported by M. Folgat, as well as by M. Seneschal.
“We might at least send somebody,” suggested the two aunts timidly.
“That is a good idea,” replied M. de Chandore.
He rang the bell; and old Anthony came in. He had established himself the evening before in Sauveterre, having heard that the preliminary investigation was finished.
As soon as he had been told what they wanted him to do, he said,–
“I shall be back in half an hour.”
He nearly ran down the steep street, hastened along National Street, and then climbed up more slowly Castle Street. When M. Blangin, the keeper, saw him appear, he turned very pale; for M. Blangin had not slept since Dionysia had given him the seventeen thousand francs. He, once upon a time the special friend of all gendarmes, now trembled when one of them entered the jail. Not that he felt any remorse about having betrayed his duty; oh, no! but he feared discovery.
More than ten times he had changed the hiding-place of his precious stocking; but, wherever he put it, he always fancied that the eyes of his visitors were riveted upon that very spot. He recovered, however, from his fright when Anthony told him his errand, and replied in the most civil manner,–
“M. Magloire came here at nine o’clock precisely. I took him immediately to M. de Boiscoran’s cell; and ever since they have been talking, talking.”
“Are you quite sure?”
“Of course I am. Must I not know every thing that happens in my jail? I went and listened. You can hear nothing from the passage: they have shut the wicket, and the door is massive.”
“That is strange,” murmured the old servant.
“Yes, and a bad sign,” declared the keeper with a knowing air. “I have noticed that the prisoners who take so long to state their case to their advocate always catch the maximum of punishment.”
Anthony, of course, did not report to his masters the jailer’s mournful anticipations; but what he told them about the length of the interview did not tend to relieve their anxiety.
Gradually the color had faded from Dionysia’s cheeks; and the clear ring of her voice was half drowned in tears, when she said, that it would have been better, perhaps, if she had put on mourning, and that seeing the whole family assembled thus reminded her of a funeral.
The sudden arrival of Dr. Seignebos cut short her remarks. He was in a great passion, as usual; and as soon as he entered, he cried,–
“What a stupid town Sauveterre is! Nothing but gossip and idle reports! The people are all of them old women. I feel like running away, and hiding myself. On my way here, twenty curious people have stopped me to ask me what M. de Boiscoran is going to do now. For the town is full of rumors. They know that Magloire is at the jail now; and everybody wants to be the first to hear Jacques’s story.”
He had put his immense broad brimmed hat on the table, and, looking around the room at all the sad faces he asked,–
“And you have no news yet?”
“Nothing,” replied M. Seneschal and M. Folgat at the same breath.
“And we are frightened by this delay,” added Dionysia.
“And why?” asked the physician.
Then taking down his spectacles, and wiping them diligently, he said,–
“Did you think, my dear young lady, that Jacques de Boiscoran’s affair could be settled in five minutes? If they let you believe that, they did wrong. I, who despise all concealment, I will tell you the truth. At the bottom of all these occurrences at Valpinson, there lies, I am perfectly sure, some dark intrigue. Most assuredly we shall put Jacques out of his trouble; but I fear it will be hard work.”
“M. Magloire!” announced old Anthony.
The eminent advocate of Sauveterre entered. He looked so undone, and bore so evidently the traces of his excitement, that all had the same terrible thought which Dionysia expressed.
“Jacques is lost!”
M. Magloire did not say no.
“I believe he is in danger.”
“Jacques,” murmured the old marchioness,–"my son!”
“I said in danger,” repeated the advocate; “but I ought to have said, he is in a strange, almost incredible, unnatural position.”
“Let us hear,” said the marchioness.
The lawyer was evidently very much embarrassed; and he looked with unmistakable distress, first at Dionysia, and then at the two old aunts. But nobody noticed this, and so he said,–
“I must ask to be left alone with these gentlemen.”
In the most docile manner the Misses Lavarande rose, and took their niece and Jacques’s mother with them: the latter was evidently near fainting. As soon as the door was shut, Grandpapa Chandore, half mad with grief, exclaimed,–
“Thanks, M. Magloire, thanks for having given me time to prepare my poor child for the terrible blow. I see but too well what you are going to say. Jacques is guilty.”
“Stop,” said the advocate: “I have said nothing of the kind. M. de Boiscoran still protests energetically that he is innocent; but he states in his defence a fact which is so entirely improbable, so utterly inadmissible"–
“But what does he say?” asked M. Seneschal.
“He says that the Countess Claudieuse has been his mistress.”
Dr. Seignebos started, and, readjusting his spectacles, he cried triumphantly,–
“I said so! I have guessed it!”
M. Folgat had, on this occasion, very naturally, no deliberative voice. He came from Paris, with Paris ideas; and, whatever he might have been told, the name of the Countess Claudieuse revealed to him nothing. But, from the effect which it produced upon the others, he could judge what Jacques’s accusation meant. Far from being of the doctor’s opinion M. de Chandore and M. Seneschal both seemed to be as much shocked as M. Magloire.
“That is incredible,” said one.
“That is impossible,” added the other.
M. Magloire shook his head, and said,–
“That is exactly what I told Jacques.”
But the doctor was not the man to be surprised at what public opinion said, much less to fear it. He exclaimed,–
“Don’t you hear what I say? Don’t you understand me? The proof that the thing is neither so incredible nor so impossible is, that I had suspected it. And there were signs of it, I should think. Why on earth should a man like Jacques, young, rich, well made, in love with a charming girl, and beloved by her, why should he amuse himself with setting houses on fire, and killing people? You tell me he did not like Count Claudieuse. Upon my word! If everybody who does not like Dr. Seignebos were to come and fire at him forthwith, do you know my body would look like a sieve! Among you all, M. Folgat is the only one who has not been struck with blindness.”
The young lawyer tried modestly to protest.
But the other cut him short, and went on,–
“Yes, sir, you saw it all; and the proof of it is, that you at once went to work in search of the real motive, the heart,–in fine, the woman at the bottom of the riddle. The proof of it is, that you went and asked everybody,–Anthony, M. de Chandore, M. Seneschal, and myself,–if M. de Boiscoran had not now, or had not had, some love- affair in the country. They all said No, being far from suspecting the truth. I alone, without giving you a positive answer, told you that I thought as you did, and told you so in M. de Chandore’s presence.”
“That is so!” replied the old gentleman and M. Folgat.
Dr. Seignebos was triumphant. Gesticulating, and continually handling his spectacles, he added,–
“You see I have learnt to mistrust appearances; and hence I had my misgivings from the beginning. I watched the Countess Claudieuse the night of the fire; and I saw that she looked embarrassed, troubled, suspicious. I wondered at her readiness to yield to M. Galpin’s whim, and to allow Cocoleu to be examined; for I knew that she was the only one who could ever make that so-called idiot talk. You see I have good eyes, gentlemen, in spite of my spectacles. Well, I swear by all I hold most sacred, on my Republican faith, I am ready to affirm upon oath, that, when Cocoleu uttered Jacques de Boiscoran’s name, the countess exhibited no sign of surprise.”
Never before, in their life, had the mayor of Sauveterre and Dr. Seignebos been able to agree on any subject. This question was not likely to produce such an effect all of a sudden: hence M. Seneschal said,–
“I was present at Cocoleu’s examination, and I noticed, on the contrary, the amazement of the countess.”
The doctor raised his shoulders, and said,–
“Certainly she said, ’Ah!’ But that is no proof. I, also, could very easily say, ’Ah!’ if anybody should come and tell me that the mayor of Sauveterre was in the wrong; and still I should not be surprised.”
“Doctor!” said M. de Chandore, anxious to conciliate,–"doctor!”
But Dr. Seignebos had already turned to M. Magloire, whom he was anxious to convert, and went on,–
“Yes, the face of the Countess Claudieuse, expressed amazement; but her eyes spoke of bitter, fierce hatred, of joy, and of vengeance. And that is not all. Will you please tell me, Mr. Mayor, when Count Claudieuse was roused by the fire, was the countess by him? No, she was nursing her youngest daughter, who had the measles. Hm! What do you think of measles which make sitting up at night necessary? And when the two shots were fired, where was the countess then? Still with her daughter, and on the other side of the house from where the fire was.”
The mayor of Sauveterre was no less obstinate than the doctor. He at once objected,–
“I beg you will notice, doctor, that Count Claudieuse himself deposed how, when he ran to the fire, he found the door shut from within, just as he had left it a few hours before.”
Dr. Seignebos returned a most ironical bow, and then asked,–
“Is there really only one door in the chateau at Valpinson?”
“To my knowledge,” said M. de Chandore, “there are at least three.”
“And I must say,” added M. Magloire, “that according to M. de Boiscoran’s statement, the countess, on that evening, had gone out by the laundry-door when she came to meet him.”
“What did I say?” exclaimed the doctor.
And, wiping his glasses in a perfect rage, he added,–
“And the children! Does Mr. Mayor think it natural that the Countess Claudieuse, this incomparable mother in his estimation, should forget her children in the height of the fire?”
“What! The poor woman is called out by the discharge of fire-arms; she sees her house on fire; she stumbles over the lifeless body of her husband: and you blame her for not having preserved all her presence of mind.”
“That is one view of it; but it is not the one I take. I rather think that the countess, having been delayed out of doors, was prevented by the fire from getting in again. I think, also, that Cocoleu came very opportunely; and that it was very lucky Providence should inspire his mind with that sublime idea of saving the children at the risk of his life.”
This time M. Seneschal made no reply.
“Supported by all these facts,” continued the doctor, “my suspicions became so strong that I determined to ascertain the truth, if I could. The next day I questioned the countess, and, I must confess, rather treacherously. Her replies and her looks were not such as to modify my views. When I asked her, looking straight into her eyes, what she thought of Cocoleu’s mental condition, she nearly fainted; and she could hardly make me hear her when she said that she occasionally caught glimpses of intelligence in him. When I asked her if Cocoleu was fond of her, she said, in a most embarrassed manner, that his devotion was that of an animal which is grateful for the care taken of him. What do you think of that, gentlemen? To me it appeared that Cocoleu was at the bottom of the whole affair; that he knew the truth; and that I should be able to save Jacques, if I could prove Cocoleu’s imbecility to be assumed, and his speechlessness to be an imposture. And I would have proved it, if they had associated with me any one else but this ass and this jackanapes from Paris.”
He paused for a few seconds; but, without giving anybody time to reply, he went on,–
“Now, let us go back to our point of departure, and draw our conclusions. Why do you think it so improbable and impossible that the countess Claudieuse should have betrayed her duties? Because she has a world-wide reputation for purity and prudence. Well. But was not Jacques de Boiscoran’s reputation as a man of honor also above all doubt? According to your views, it is absurd to suspect the countess of having had a lover. According to my notions, it is absurd that Jacques should, overnight, have become a scoundrel.”
“Oh! that is not the same thing,” said M. Seneschal.
“Certainly not!” replied the doctor; “and there you are right, for once. If M. de Boiscoran had committed this crime, it would be one of those absurd crimes which are revolting to us; but, if committed by the countess, it is only the catastrophe prepared by Count Claudieuse on the day when he married a woman thirty years younger than he was.”
The great wrath of Dr. Seignebos was not always as formidable as it looked. Even when he appeared to be almost beside himself, he never said more than he intended to say, possessed as he was of that admirable southern quality, which enabled him to pour forth fire and flames, and to remain as cold as ice within, But in this case he showed what he thought fully. He had said quite enough, too, and had presented the whole affair under such a new aspect, that his friends became very thoughtful.
“You would have converted me, doctor,” said M. Folgat, “if I had not been of your opinion before.”
“I am sure,” added M. de Chandore, after hearing the doctor, “the thing no longer looks impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible,” said M. Seneschal, like a philosopher.
The eminent advocate of Sauveterre alone remained unmoved.
“Well,” said he, “I had rather admit one hour of utter insanity even than five years of such monstrous hypocrisy. Jacques may have committed the crime, and be nothing but a madman; but, if the countess is guilty, one might despair of mankind, and renounce all faith in this world. I have seen her, gentlemen, with her husband and her children. No one can feign such looks of tenderness and affection.”
“He will never give her up!” growled Dr. Seignebos,–
And touching his friend on the shoulder,–for M. Magloire had been his friend for many years, and they were quite intimate,–he said,–
“Ah! There I recognize my friend, the strange lawyer, who judges others by himself, and refuses to believe any thing bad. Oh, do not protest! For we love and honor you for that very faith, and are proud to see you among us Republicans. But I must confess you are not the man to bring light into such a dark intrigue. At twenty-eight you married a girl whom you loved dearly: you lost her, and ever since you have remained faithful to her memory, and lived so far from all passions that you no longer believe in their existence. Happy man! Your heart is still at twenty; and with your grey hair you still believe in the smiles and looks of woman.”
There was much truth in this; but there are certain truths which we are not overfond of hearing.
“My simplicity has nothing to do with the matter,” said M. Magloire. “I affirm and maintain that a man who has been for five years the lover of a woman must have some proof of it.”
“Well, there you are mistaken, master,” said the physician, arranging his spectacles with an air of self-conceit, which, under other circumstances, would have been irresistibly ludicrous.
“When women determine to be prudent and suspicious,” remarked M. de Chandore, “they never are so by halves.”
“It is evident, besides,” added M. Folgat, “that the Countess Claudieuse would never have determined upon so bold a crime, if she had not been quite sure, that after the burning of her letters, no proof could be brought against her.”
“That is it!” cried the doctor.
M. Magloire did not conceal his impatience. He said dryly,–
“Unfortunately, gentlemen, it does not depend on you to acquit or condemn M. de Boiscoran. I am not here to convince you, or to be convinced: I came to discuss with M. de Boiscoran’s friends our line of conduct, and the basis of or defence.”
And M. Magloire was evidently right in this estimate of his duty. He went and leaned against the mantelpiece; and, when the others had taken their seats around him, he began,–
“In the first place, I will admit the allegations made by M. de Boiscoran. He is innocent. He has been the lover of Countess Claudieuse; but he has no proof. This being granted, what is to be done? Shall I advise him to send for the magistrate, and to confess it all?”
No one replied at first. It was only after a long silence that Dr. Seignebos said,–
“That would be very serious.”
“Very serious, indeed,” repeated the famous lawyer. “Our own feelings give us the measure of what M. Galpin will think. First of all, he, also, will ask for proof, the evidence of a witness, any thing, in fact. And, when Jacques tells him that he has nothing to give but his word, M. Galpin will tell him that he does not speak the truth.”
“He might, perhaps, consent to extend the investigation,” said M. Seneschal. “He might possibly summon the countess.”
M. Magloire nodded, and said,–
“He would certainly summon her. But, then, would she confess? It would be madness to expect that. If she is guilty, she is far too strong- minded to let the truth escape her. She would deny every thing, haughtily, magnificently, and in such a manner as not to leave a shadow of doubt.”
“That is only too probable,” growled the doctor. “That poor Galpin is not the strongest of men.”
“What would be the result of such a step?” asked M. Magloire. “M. de Boiscoran’s case would be a hundred times worse; for to his crime would now be added the odium of the meanest, vilest calumny.”
M. Folgat was following with the utmost attention. He said,–
“I am very glad to hear my honorable colleague give utterance to that opinion. We must give up all hope of delaying the proceedings, and let M. de Boiscoran go into court at once.”
M. de Chandore raised his hands to heaven, as if in sheer despair.
“But Dionysia will die of grief and shame,” he exclaimed.
M. Magloire, absorbed in his own views, went on,–
“Well, here we are now before the court at Sauveterre, before a jury composed of people from this district, incapable of prevarication, I am sure, but, unfortunately, under the influence of that public opinion which has long since condemned M. de Boiscoran. The proceedings begin; the judge questions the accused. Will he say what he told me,–that, after having been the lover of the Countess Claudieuse, he had gone to Valpinson to carry her back her letters, and to get his own, and that they are all burnt? Suppose he says so. Immediately then there will arise a storm of indignation; and he will be overwhelmed with curses and with contempt. Well, thereupon, the president of the court uses his discretionary powers, suspends the trial, and sends for the Countess Claudieuse. Since we look upon her as guilty, we must needs endow her with supernatural energy. She had foreseen what is coming, and has read over her part. When summoned, she appears, pale, dressed in black; and a murmur of respectful sympathy greets her at her entrance. You see her before you, don’t you? The president explains to her why she has been sent for, and she does not comprehend. She cannot possibly comprehend such an abominable calumny. But when she has comprehended it? Do you see the lofty look by which she crushes Jacques, and the grandeur with which she replies, ’When this man had failed in trying to murder my husband, he tried to disgrace his wife. I intrust to you my honor as a mother and a wife, gentlemen. I shall not answer the infamous charges of this abject calumniator.’ “
“But that means the galleys for Jacques,” exclaimed M. de Chandore, “or even the scaffold!”
“That would be the maximum, at all events,” replied the advocate of Sauveterre. “But the trial goes on; the prosecuting attorney demands an overwhelming punishment; and at last the prisoner’s council is called upon to speak. Gentlemen, you were impatient at my persistence. I do not credit, I confess, the statement made by M. de Boiscoran. But my young colleague here does credit it. Well, let him tell us candidly. Would he dare to plead this statement, and assert that the Countess Claudieuse had been Jacques’s mistress?”
M. Folgat looked annoyed.
“I don’t know,” he said in an undertone.
“Well, I know you would not,” exclaimed M. Magloire; “and you would be right, for you would risk your reputation without the slightest chance of saving Jacques. Yes, no chance whatever! For after all, let us suppose, what can hardly be even supposed, you should prove that Jacques has told the truth, that he has been the lover of the countess. What would happen then? They arrest the countess. Do they release M. de Boiscoran on that account? Certainly not! They keep him in prison, and say to him. ’This woman has attempted her husband’s life; but she had been your mistress, and you are her accomplice.’
“That is the situation, gentlemen!”
M. Magloire had stripped it of all unnecessary comments, of idle conjecture, and all sentimental phraseology, and placed it before them as it had to be looked at, in all its fearful simplicity.
Grandpapa Chandore was terrified. He rose, and said in an almost inaudible voice,–
“Ah, all is over indeed! Innocent, or guilty, Jacques de Boiscoran will be condemned.”
M. Magloire made no reply.
“And that is,” continued the old gentleman, “what you call justice!”
“Alas!” sighed M. Seneschal, “it is useless to deny it: trials by jury are a lottery.”
M. de Chandore, driven nearly to madness by his despair, interrupted him,–
“In other words, Jacques’s honor and life depend at this hour on a chance,–on the weather on the day of the trial, or the health of a juror. And if Jacques was the only one! But there is Dionysia’s life, gentlemen, my child’s life, also at stake. If you strike Jacques, you strike Dionysia!”
M. Folgat could hardly restrain a tear. M. Seneschal, and even the doctor, shuddered at such grief in an old man, who was threatened in all that was dearest to him,–in his one great love upon earth. He had taken the hand of the great advocate of Sauveterre, and, pressing it convulsively, he went on,–
“You will save him, Magloire, won’t you? What does it matter whether he be innocent or guilty, since Dionysia loves him? You have saved so many in your life! It is well known the judges cannot resist the weight of your words. You will find means to save a poor, unhappy man who once was your friend.”
The eminent lawyer looked cast-down, as if he had been guilty himself. When Dr. Seignebos saw this, he exclaimed,–
“What do you mean, friend Magloire? Are you no longer the man whose marvellous eloquence is the pride of our country? Hold your head up: for shame! Never was a nobler cause intrusted to you.”
But he shook his head, and murmured,–
“I have no faith in it; and I cannot plead when my conscience does not furnish the arguments.”
And becoming more and more embarrassed, he added,–
“Seignebos was right in saying just now, I am not the man for such a cause. Here all my experience would be of no use. It will be better to intrust it to my young brother here.”
For the first time in his life, M. Folgat came here upon a case such as enables a man to rise to eminence, and to open a great future before him. For the first time, he came upon a case in which were united all the elements of supreme interest,–greatness of crime, eminence of victim, character of the accused, mystery, variety of opinions, difficulty of defence, and uncertainty of issue,–one of those causes for which an advocate is filled with enthusiasm, which he seizes upon with all his energies, and in which he shares all the anxiety and all the hopes with his client.
He would readily have given five years’ income to be offered the management of this case; but he was, above all, an honest man. He said, therefore,–
“You would not think of abandoning M. de Boiscoran, M. Magloire?”
“You will be more useful to him than I can be,” was the reply.
Perhaps M. Folgat was inwardly of the same opinion. Still he said,–
“You have not considered what an effect this would have.”
“What would the public think if they heard all of a sudden that you had withdrawn? ’This affair of M. de Boiscoran must be a very bad one indeed,’ they would say, ’that M. Magloire should refuse to plead in it.’ And that would be an additional burden laid upon the unfortunate man.”
The doctor gave his friend no time to reply.
“Magloire is not at liberty to withdraw,” he said, “but he has the right to associate a brother-lawyer with himself. He must remain the advocate and counsel of M. de Boiscoran; but M. Folgat can lend him the assistance of his advice, the support of his youth and his activity, and even of his eloquence.”
A passing blush colored the cheeks of the young lawyer.
“I am entirely at M. Magloire’s service,” he said.
The famous advocate of Sauveterre considered a while. After a few moments he turned to his young colleague, and asked him,–
“Have you any plan? Any idea? What would you do?”
To the astonishment of all, M. Folgat now revealed his true character to some extent. He looked taller, his face brightened up, his eyes shone brightly, and he said in a full, sonorous voice,–a voice which by its metallic ring made all hearts vibrate,–
“First of all, I should go and see M. de Boiscoran. He alone should determine my final decision. But my plan is formed now. I, gentlemen, I have faith, as I told you before. The man whom Miss Dionysia loves cannot be a criminal. What would I do? I would prove the truth of M. de Boiscoran’s statement. Can that be done? I hope so. He tells us that there are no proofs or witnesses of his intimacy with the Countess Claudieuse. I am sure he is mistaken. She has shown, he says, extraordinary care and prudence. That may be. But mistrust challenges suspicion; and, when you take the greatest precautions, you are most likely to be watched. You want to hide, and you are discovered. You see nobody; but they see you.
“If I were charged with the defence, I should commence to-morrow a counter-investigation. We have money, the Marquis de Boiscoran has influential connections; and we should have help everywhere. Before forty-eight hours are gone, I should have experienced agents at work. I know Vine Street in Passy: it is a lonely street; but it has eyes, as all streets have. Why should not some of these eyes have noticed the mysterious visits of the countess? My agents would inquire from house to house. Nor would it be necessary to mention names. They would not be charged with a search after the Countess Claudieuse, but after an unknown lady, dressed so and so; and, if they should discover any one who had seen her, and who could identify her, that man would be our first witness.
“In the meantime, I should go in search of this friend of M. de Boiscoran’s, this Englishman, whose name he assumed; and the London police would aid me in my efforts. If that Englishman is dead, we would hear of it, and it would be a misfortune. If he is only at the other end of the world, the transatlantic cable enables us to question him, and to be answered in a week.
“I should, at the same time, have sent detectives after that English maid-servant who attended to the house in Vine Street. M. de Boiscoran declares that she has never even caught a glimpse of the countess. I do not believe it. It is out of question that a servant should not wish for the means, and find them, of seeing the face of the woman who comes to see her master.
“And that is not all. There were other people who came to the house in Vine Street. I should examine them one by one,–the gardener and his help, the water-carrier, the upholsterer, the errand-boys of all the merchants. Who can say whether one of them is not in possession of this truth which we are seeking?
“Finally, when a woman has spent so many days in a house, it is almost impossible that she should not have left some traces of her passage behind her. Since then, you will say, there has been the war, and then the commune. Nevertheless, I should examine the ruins, every tree in the garden, every pane in the windows: I should compel the very mirrors that have escaped destruction to give me back the image which they have so often reflected.”
“Ah, I call that speaking!” cried the doctor, full of enthusiasm.
The others trembled with excitement. They felt that the struggle was commencing. But, unmindful of the impression he had produced, M. Folgat went on,–
“Here in Sauveterre, the task would be more difficult; but, in case of success, the result, also, would be more decided. I should bring down from Paris one of those keen, subtle detectives who have made an art of their profession, and I should know how to stimulate his vanity. He, of course, would have to know every thing, even the names; but there would be no danger in that. His desire to succeed, the splendor of the reward, even his professional habits, would be our security. He would come down secretly, concealed under whatever disguise would appear to him most useful for his purpose; and he would begin once more, for the benefit of the defence, the investigation carried on by M. Galpin for the benefit of the prosecution. Would he find out any thing? We can but hope so. I know detectives, who, by the aid of smaller material, have unravelled far deeper mysteries.”
Grandpapa Chandore, excellent M. Seneschal, Dr. Seignebos, and even M. Magloire, were literally drinking in the words of the Paris lawyer.
“Is that all, gentlemen?” he continued. “By no means! Thanks to his great experience, Dr. Seignebos had, on the very first day, instinctively guessed who was the most important personage of this mysterious drama.”
“Exactly, Cocoleu. Whether he be actor, confident, or eye-witness, Cocoleu has evidently the key to this mystery. This key we must make every effort to obtain from him. Medical experts have just declared him idiotic; nevertheless, we protest. We claim that the imbecility of this wretch is partly assumed. We maintain that his obstinate silence is a vile imposture. What! he should have intelligence enough to testify against us, and yet not have left enough of it now to explain, or even to repeat his evidence? That is inadmissible. We maintain that he keeps silent now just as he spoke that night,–by order. If his silence was less profitable for the prosecution, they would soon find means to break it. We demand that such means should be employed. We demand that the person who has before been able to loosen his tongue should be sent for, and ordered to try the experiment over again. We call for a new examination by experts: we cannot judge all of a sudden, and in forty-eight hours, what is the true mental condition of a man, especially when that man is suspected of being an impostor. And we require, above all, that these new experts should be qualified by knowledge and experience.”
Dr. Seignebos was quivering with excitement. He heard all his own ideas repeated in a concise, energetic manner.
“Yes,” he cried, “that is the way to do it! Let me have full power, and in less than a fortnight Cocoleu is unmasked.”
Less expansive, the eminent advocate of Sauveterre simply shook hands with M. Folgat, and said,–
“You see, M. de Boiscoran’s case ought to be put in your hands.”
The young lawyer made no effort to protest. When he began to speak, his determination was already formed.
“Whatever can humanly be done,” he replied, “I will do. If I accept the task, I shall devote myself body and soul to it. But I insist upon it, it is understood, and must be publicly announced, that M. Magloire does not withdraw from the case, and that I act only as his junior.”
“Agreed,” said the old advocate.
“Well. When shall we go and see M. de Boiscoran?”
“I can, of course, take no steps till I have seen him.”
“Yes, but you cannot be admitted, except by a special permission from M. Galpin; and I doubt if we can procure that to-day.”
“That is provoking.”
“No, since we have our work all cut out for to-day. We have to go over all the papers of the proceedings, which the magistrate has placed in my hands.”
Dr. Seignebos was boiling over with impatience. He broke in,–
“Oh, what words! Go to work, Mr. Advocate, to work, I say. Come, shall we go?”
They were leaving the room when M. de Chandore called them back by a gesture. He said,–
“So far, gentlemen, we have thought of Jacques alone. And Dionysia?”
The others looked at him, full of surprise.
“What am I to day if she asks me what the result of M. Magloire’s interview with Jacques has been, and why you would say nothing in her presence?”
Dr. Seignebos had confessed it more than once: he was no friend of concealment.
’You will tell her the truth,” was his advice.
“What? How can I tell her that Jacques has been the lover of the Countess Claudieuse?”
“She will hear of it sooner or later. Miss Dionysia is a sensible, energetic girl.”
“Yes; but Miss Dionysia is as ignorant as a holy angel,” broke in M. Folgat eagerly, “and she loves M. de Boiscoran. Why should we trouble the purity of her thoughts and her happiness? Is she not unhappy enough? M. de Boiscoran is no longer kept in close confinement. He will see his betrothed, and, if he thinks proper, he can tell her. He alone has the right to do so. I shall, however, dissuade him. From what I know of Miss Chandore’s character, it would be impossible for her to control herself, if she should meet the Countess Claudieuse.”
“M. de Chandore ought not to say any thing,” said M. Magloire decisively. “It is too much already, to have to intrust the marchioness with the secret; for you must not forget, gentlemen, that the slightest indiscretion would certainly ruin all of M. Folgat’s delicate plans.”
Thereupon all went out; and M. de Chandore, left alone, said to himself,–
“Yes, they are right; but what am I to say?”
He was thinking it over almost painfully, when a maid came in, and told him that Miss Dionysia wanted to see him.
“I am coming,” he said.
And he followed her with heavy steps, and trying to compose his features so as to efface all traces of the terrible emotions through which he had passed. The two aunts had taken Dionysia and the marchioness to the parlor in the upper story. Here M. de Chandore found them all assembled,–the marchioness, pale and overcome, extended in an easy-chair; but Dionysia, walking up and down with burning cheeks and blazing eyes. As soon as he entered, she asked him in a sharp, sad voice,–
“Well? There is no hope, I suppose.”
“More hope than ever, on the contrary,” he replied, trying to smile.
“Then why did M. De Magloire send us all out?”
The old gentleman had had time to prepare a fib.
“Because M. Magloire had to tell us a piece of bad news. There is no chance of no true bill being found. Jacques will have to appear in court.”
The marchioness jumped up like a piece of mechanism, and cried,–
“What! Jacques before the assizes? My son? A Boiscoran?” And she fell back into her chair. Not a muscle in Dionysia’s face had moved. She said in a strange tone of voice,–
“I was prepared for something worse. One may avoid the court.”
With these words she left the room, shutting the door so violently, that both the Misses Lavarande hastened after her. Now M. de Chandore thought he might speak freely. He stood up before the marchioness, and gave vent to that fearful wrath which had been rising within him for a long time.
“Your son,” he cried, “your Jacques, I wish he were dead a thousand times! The wretch who is killing my child, for you see he is killing her.”
And, without pity, he told her the whole story of Jacques and the Countess Claudieuse. The marchioness was overcome. She had even ceased to sob, and had not strength enough left to ask him to have pity on her. And, when he had ended, she whispered to herself with an expression of unspeakable suffering,–
“Adultery! Oh, my God! what punishment!”