Within an Inch of His Life
By Emile Gaboriau
Public Domain Books
The great lawyer of Sauveterre had been far more astonished at the unexpected and extraordinary meeting than M. Folgat. As soon as the wandering minstrel had left them, he asked his young colleague,–
“You know that individual?”
“That individual,” replied M. Folgat, “is none other than the agent whose services I have engaged, and whom I mentioned to you.”
“And did you not recognize him?”
The young advocate smiled.
“Not until he spoke,” he replied. “The Goudar whom I know is tall, thin, beardless, and wears his hair cut like a brush. This street- musician is low, bearded, and has long, smooth hair falling down his back. How could I recognize my man in that vagabond costume, with a violin in his hand, and a provincial song set to music?”
M. Magloire smiled too, as he said,–
“What are, after all, professional actors in comparison with these men! Here is one who pretends having reached Sauveterre only this morning, and who knows the country as well as Trumence himself. He has not been here twelve hours, and he speaks already of M. de Chandore’s little garden-gate.”
“Oh! I can explain that circumstance now, although, at first, it surprised me very much. When I told Goudar the whole story, I no doubt mentioned the little gate in connection with Mechinet.”
Whilst they were chatting thus, they had reached the upper end of National Street. Here they stopped; and M. Magloire said,–
“One word before we part. Are you quite resolved to see the Countess Claudieuse?”
“I have promised.”
“What do you propose telling her?”
“I do not know. That depends upon how she receives me.”
“As far as I know her, she will, upon looking at the note, merely order you out.”
“Who knows! At all events, I shall not have to reproach myself for having shrunk from a step which in my heart I thought it my duty to take.”
“Whatever may happen, be prudent, and do not allow yourself to get angry. Remember that a scene with her would compel us to change our whole line of defence, and that that is the only one which promises any success.”
“Oh, do not fear!”
Thereupon, shaking hands once more, they parted, M. Magloire returning to his house, and M. Folgat going up the street. It struck half-past five, and the young advocate hurried on for fear of being too late. He found them waiting for him to go to dinner; but, as he entered the room, he forgot all his excuses in his painful surprise at the mournful and dejected appearance of the prisoner’s friends and relatives.
“Have we any bad news?” he asked with a hesitating voice.
“The worst we had to fear,” replied the Marquis de Boiscoran. “We had all foreseen it; and still, as you see, it has surprised us all, like a clap of thunder.”
The young lawyer beat his forehead, and cried,–
“The court has ordered the trial!”
The marquis only bent his head, as if his voice, had failed him to answer the question.
“It is still a great secret,” said Dionysia; “and we only know it, thanks to the indiscretion of our kind, our devoted Mechinet. Jacques will have to appear before the Assizes.”
She was interrupted by a servant, who entered to announce that dinner was on the table.
They all went into the dining-room; but the last event made it well- nigh impossible for them to eat. Dionysia alone, deriving from feverish excitement an amazing energy, aided M. Folgat in keeping up the conversation. From her the young advocate learned that Count Claudieuse was decidedly worse, and that he would have received, in the day, the last sacrament, but for the decided opposition of Dr. Seignebos, who had declared that the slightest excitement might kill his patient.
“And if he dies,” said M. de Chandore, “that is the finishing stroke. Public opinion, already incensed against Jacques, will become implacable.”
However, the meal came to an end; and M. Folgat went up to Dionysia, saying,–
“I must beg of you, madam, to trust me with the key to the little garden-gate.”
She looked at him quite astonished.
“I have to see a detective secretly, who has promised me his assistance.”
“Is he here?”
“He came this morning.”
When Dionysia had handed him the key, M. Folgat hastened to reach the end of the garden; and, at the third stroke of nine o’clock, the minstrel of the New-Market Square, Goudar, pushed the little gate, and, his violin under his arm, slipped into the garden.
“A day lost!” he exclaimed, without thinking of saluting the young lawyer,–"a whole day; for I could do nothing till I had seen you.”
He seemed to be so angry, that M. Folgat tried to soothe him.
“Let me first of all compliment you on your disguise,” he said. But Goudar did not seem to be open to praise.
“What would a detective be worth if he could not disguise himself! A great merit, forsooth! And I tell you, I hate it! But I could not think of coming to Sauveterre in my own person, a detective. Ugh! Everybody would have run away; and what a pack of lies they would have told me! So I had to assume that hideous masquerade. To think that I once took six months’ lessons from a music-teacher merely to fit myself for that character! A wandering musician, you see, can go anywhere, and nobody is surprised; he goes about the streets, or he travels along the high-road; he enters into yards, and slips into houses; he asks alms: and in so doing, he accosts everybody, speaks to them, follows them. And as to my precious dialect, you must know I have been down here once for half a year, hunting up counterfeiters; and, if you don’t catch a provincial accent in six months, you don’t deserve belonging to the police. And I do belong to it, to the great distress of my wife, and to my own disgust.”
“If your ambition is really what you say, my dear, Goudar,” said M. Folgat, interrupting him, “you may be able to leave your profession very soon–if you succeed in saving M. de Boiscoran.”
“He would give me his house in Vine Street?”
“With all his heart!”
The detective looked up, and repeated slowly,–
“The house in Vine Street, the paradise of this world. An immense garden, a soil of marvellous beauty. And what an exposure! There are walls there on which I could raise finer peaches than they have at Montreuil, and richer Chasselas than those of Fontainebleau!”
“Did you find any thing there?” asked M. Folgat.
Goudar, thus recalled to business, looked angry again.
“Nothing at all,” he replied. “Nor did I learn any thing from the tradesmen. I am no further advanced than I was the first day.”
“Let us hope you will have more luck here.”
“I hope so; but I need your assistance to commence operations. I must see Dr. Seignebos, and Mechinet the clerk. Ask them to meet me at the place I shall assign in a note which I will send them.”
“I will tell them.”
“Now, if you want my /incognito/ to be respected, you must get me a permit from the mayor, for Goudar, street-musician. I keep my name, because here nobody knows me. But I must have the permit this evening. Wherever I might present myself, asking for a bed, they would call for my papers.”
“Wait here for a quarter of an hour, there is a bench,” said M. Folgat, “and I’ll go at once to the mayor.”
A quarter of an hour later, Goudar had his permit in his pocket, and went to take lodgings at the Red Lamb, the worst tavern in all Sauveterre.
When a painful and inevitable duty is to be performed, the true character of a man is apt to appear in its true light. Some people postpone it as long as they can, and delay, like those pious persons who keep the biggest sin for the end of their confession: others, on the contrary, are in a hurry to be relieved of their anxiety, and make an end of it as soon as they can. M. Folgat belonged to this latter class.
Next morning he woke up at daylight, and said to himself,–
“I will call upon the Countess Claudieuse this morning.”
At eight o’clock, he left the house, dressed more carefully than usual, and told the servant that he did not wish to be waited for if he should not be back for breakfast.
He went first to the court-house, hoping to meet the clerk there. He was not disappointed. The waiting-rooms were quite deserted yet; but Mechinet was already at work in his office, writing with the feverish haste of a man who has to pay for a piece of property that he wants to call his own.
When he saw Folgat enter, he rose, and said at once,–
“You have heard the decision of the court?”
“Yes, thanks to your kindness; and I must confess it has not surprised me. What do they think of it here?”
“Everybody expects a condemnation.”
“Well, we shall see!” said the young advocate.
And, lowering his voice, he added,–
“But I came for another purpose. The agent whom I expected has come, and he wishes to see you. He will write to you to make an appointment, and I hope you will consent.”
“Certainly, with all my heart,” replied the clerk. “And God grant that he may succeed in extricating M. de Boiscoran from his difficulties, even if it were only to take the conceit out of my master.”
“Ah! is M. Galpin so triumphant?”
“Without the slightest reserve. He sees his old friend already at the galleys. He has received another letter of congratulation from the attorney general, and came here yesterday, when the court had adjourned, to read it to any one who would listen. Everybody, of course, complimented him, except the president, who turned his back upon him, and the commonwealth attorney, who told him in Latin that he was selling the bear’s skin before he had killed him.”
In the meantime steps were heard coming down the passages; and M. Folgat said hurriedly,–
“One more suggestion. Goudar desires to remain unknown. Do not speak of him to any living soul, and especially show no surprise at the costume in which you see him.”
The noise of a door which was opened interrupted him. One of the judges entered, who, after having bowed very civilly, asked the clerk a number of questions about a case which was to come on the same day.
“Good-bye, M. Mechinet,” said the young advocate.
And his next visit was to Dr. Seignebos. When he rang the bell, a servant came to the door, and said,–
“The doctor is gone out; but he will be back directly, and has told me to beg you to wait for him in his study.”
Such an evidence of perfect trust was unheard of. No one was ever allowed to remain alone in his sanctuary. It was an immense room, quite full of most varied objects, which at a glance revealed the opinions, tastes, and predilections of the owner. The first thing to strike the visitor as he entered was an admirable bust of Bichat, flanked on either side by smaller busts of Robespierre and Rousseau. A clock of the time of Louis XIV. stood between the windows, and marked the seconds with a noise which sounded like the rattling of old iron. One whole side was filled with books of all kinds, unbound or bound, in a way which would have set M. Daubigeon laughing very heartily. A huge cupboard adapted for collections of plants bespoke a passing fancy for botany; while an electric machine recalled the time when the doctor believed in cures by electricity.
On the table in the centre of the room vast piles of books betrayed the doctor’s recent studies. All the authors who have spoken of insanity or idiocy were there, from Apostolides to Tardien. M. Folgat was still looking around when Dr. Seignebos entered, always like a bombshell, but far more cheerful than usual.
“I knew I should find you here!” he cried still in the door. “You come to ask me to meet Goudar.”
The young advocate started, and said, all amazed,–
“Who can have told you?”
“Goudar himself. I like that man. I am sure no one will suspect me of having a fancy for any thing that is connected with the police. I have had too much to do all my life with spies and that ilk. But your man might almost reconcile me with that department.”
“When did you see him?”
“This morning at seven. He was so prodigiously tired of losing his time in his garret at the Red Lamb, that it occurred to him to pretend illness, and to send for me. I went, and found a kind of street- minstrel, who seemed to me to be perfectly well. But, as soon as we were alone, he told me all about it, asking me my opinion, and telling me his ideas. M. Folgat, that man Goudar is very clever: I tell you so; and we understand each other perfectly.”
“Has he told you what he proposes to do?”
“Nearly so. But he has not authorized me to speak of it. Have patience; let him go to work, wait, and you will see if old Seignebos has a keen scent.”
Saying this with an air of sublime conceit, he took off his spectacles, and set to work wiping them industriously.
“Well, I will wait,” said the young advocate. “And, since that makes an end to my business here, I beg you will let me speak to you of another matter. M. de Boiscoran has charged me with a message to the Countess Claudieuse.”
“And to try to obtain from her the means for our discharge.”
“Do you expect she will do it?”
M. Folgat could hardly retain an impatient gesture.
“I have accepted the mission,” he said dryly, “and I mean to carry it out.”
“I understand, my dear sir. But you will not see the countess. The count is very ill. She does not leave his bedside, and does not even receive her most intimate friends.”
“And still I must see her. I must at any hazard place a note which my client has confided to me, in her own hands. And look here, doctor, I mean to be frank with you. It was exactly because I foresaw there would be difficulties, that I came to you to ask your assistance in overcoming or avoiding them.”
“Are you not the count’s physician?”
“Ten thousand devils!” cried Dr. Seignebos. “You do not mince matters, you lawyers!”
And then speaking in a lower tone, and replying apparently to his own objections rather than to M. Folgat, he said,–
“Certainly, I attend Count Claudieuse, whose illness, by the way, upsets all my theories, and defies all my experience: but for that very reason I can do nothing. Our profession has certain rules which cannot be infringed upon without compromising the whole medical profession.”
“But it is a question of life and death with Jacques, sir, with a friend.”
“And a fellow Republican, to be sure. But I cannot help you without abusing the confidence of the Countess Claudieuse.”
“Ah, sir! Has not that woman committed a crime for which M. de Boiscoran, though innocent, will be arraigned in court?”
“I think so; but still"–
He reflected a moment, and then suddenly snatched up his broad-brimmed hat, drew it over his head, and cried,–
“In fact, so much the worse for her! There are sacred interests which override every thing. Come!”