Within an Inch of His Life
By Emile Gaboriau
Public Domain Books
“What scene? What witness? That is what I wanted to hear from you, and why I was waiting so impatiently for you,” said Dr. Seignebos to M. Folgat. “I have seen and stated the results: now it is for you to give me the cause.”
Nevertheless, he did not seem to be in the least surprised by what the young advocate told him of Jacques’s desperate enterprise, and of the tragic result. As soon as he had heard it all, he exclaimed,–
“I thought so: yes, upon my word! By racking my brains all night long, I had very nearly guessed the whole story. And who, in Jacques’s place, would not have been desirous to make one last effort? But certainly fate is against him.”
“Who knows?” said M. Folgat. And, without giving the doctor time to reply, he went on,–
“In what are our chances worse than they were before? In no way. We can to-day, just as well as we could yesterday, lay our hands upon those proofs which we know do exist, and which would save us. Who tells us that at this moment Sir Francis Burnett and Suky Wood may not have been found? Is your confidence in Goudar shaken?”
“Oh, as to that, not at all! I saw him this morning at the hospital, when I paid my usual visit; and he found an opportunity to tell me that he was almost certain of success.”
“I am persuaded Cocoleu will speak. But will he speak in time? That is the question. Ah, if we had but a month’s time, I should say Jacques is safe. But our hours are counted, you know. The court will be held next week. I am told the presiding judge has already arrived, and M. Gransiere has engaged rooms at the hotel. What do you mean to do if nothing new occurs in the meantime?”
“M. Magloire and I will obstinately adhere to our plan of defence.”
“And if Count Claudieuse keeps his promise, and declares that he recognized Jacques in the act of firing at him?”
“We shall say he is mistaken.”
“And Jacques will be condemned.”
“Well,” said the young advocate.
And lowering his voice, as if he did not wish to be overheard, he added,–
“Only the sentence will not be a fatal sentence. Ah, do not interrupt me, doctor, and upon your life, upon Jacques’s life, do not say a word of what I am going to tell you. A suspicion which should cross M. Galpin’s mind would destroy my last hope; for it would give him an opportunity of correcting a blunder which he has committed, and which justifies me in saying to you, ’Even if the count should give evidence, even if sentence should be passed, nothing would be lost yet.’ “
He had become animated; and his accent and his gestures made you feel that he was sure of himself.
“No,” he repeated, “nothing would be lost; and then we should have time before us, while waiting for a second trial, to hunt up our witnesses, and to force Cocoleu to tell the truth. Let the count say what he chooses, I like it all the better: I shall thus be relieved of my last scruples. It seemed to me odious to betray the countess, because I thought the most cruelly punished would be the count. But, if the count attacks us, we are on the defence; and public opinion will be on our side. More than that, they will admire us for having sacrificed our honor to a woman’s honor, and for having allowed ourselves to be condemned rather than to give up the name of her who has given herself to us.”
The physician did not seem to be convinced; but the young advocate paid no attention. He went on,–
“No, our success in a second trial would be almost certain. The scene in Mautrec Street has been seen by a witness: his iron-shod shoes have left, as you say, their marks under the linden-trees nearest to the parlor-window, and little Martha has watched his movements. Who can this witness be unless it is Trumence? Well, we shall lay hands upon him. He was standing so that he could see every thing, and hear every word. He will tell what he saw and what he heard. He will tell how Count Claudieuse called out to M. de Boiscoran, ’No, I do not want to kill you! I have a surer vengeance than that: you shall go to the galleys.’ “
Dr. Seignebos sadly shook his head as he said,–
“I hope your expectations may be realized, my dear sir.”
But they came again for the doctor the third time to-day. Shaking hands with the young advocate, he parted with his young friend, who after a short visit to M. Magloire, whom he thought it his duty to keep well informed of all that was going on, hastened to the house of M. de Chandore. As soon as he looked into Dionysia’s face, he knew that he had nothing to tell her; that she knew all the facts, and how unjust her suspicions had been.
“What did I tell you, madam?” he said very modestly.
She blushed, ashamed at having let him see the secret doubts which had troubled her so sorely, and, instead of replying, she said,–
“There are some letters for you, M. Folgat. They have carried them up stairs to your room.”
He found two letters,–one from Mrs. Goudar, the other from the agent who had been sent to England.
The former was of no importance. Mrs. Goudar only asked him to send a note, which she enclosed, to her husband.
The second, on the other hand, was of the very greatest interest. The agent wrote,–
“Not without great difficulties, and especially not without a heavy outlay of money, I have at length discovered Sir Francis Burnett’s brother in London, the former cashier of the house of Gilmour and Benson.
“Our Sir Francis is not dead. He was sent by his father to Madras, to attend to very important financial matters, and is expected back by the next mail steamer. We shall be informed of his arrival on the very day on which he lands.
“I have had less trouble in discovering Suky Wood’s family. They are people very well off, who keep a sailor’s tavern in Folkstone. They had news from their daughter about three weeks ago; but, although they profess to be very much attached to her, they could not tell me accurately where she was just now. All they know is, that she has gone to Jersey to act as barmaid in a public house.
“But that is enough for me. The island is not very large; and I know it quite well, having once before followed a notary public there, who had run off with the money of his clients. You may consider Suky as safe.
“When you receive this letter, I shall be on my way to Jersey.
“Send me money there to the Golden Apple Hotel, where I propose to lodge. Life is amazingly dear in London; and I have very little left of the sum you gave me on parting.”
Thus, in this direction, at least, every thing was going well.
Quite elated by this first success, M. Folgat put a thousand-franc note into an envelope, directed it as desired, and sent it at once to the post-office. Then he asked M. de Chandore to lend him his carriage, and went out to Boiscoran.
He wanted to see Michael, the tenant’s son, who had been so prompt in finding Cocoleu, and in bringing him into town. He found him, fortunately, just coming home, bringing in a cart loaded with straw; and, taking him aside, he asked him,–
“Will you render M. de Boiscoran a great service?”
“What must I do?” replied the young man in a tone of voice which said, better than all protestations could have done, that he was ready to do any thing.
“Do you know Trumence?”
“The former basket-weaver of Tremblade?”
“Upon my word, don’t I know him? He has stolen apples enough from me, the scamp! But I don’t blame him so much, after all; for he is a good fellow, in spite of that.”
“He was in prison at Sauveterre.”
“Yes, I know; he had broken down a gate near Brechy and"–
“Well, he has escaped.”
“Ah, the scamp!”
“And we must find him again. They have put the gendarmes on his track; but will they catch him?”
Michael burst out laughing.
“Never in his life!” he said. “Trumence will make his way to Oleron, where he has friends; the gendarmes will be after him in vain.”
M. Folgat slapped Michael amicably on the shoulder, and said,–
“But you, if you choose? Oh! do not look angry at me. We do not want to have him arrested. All I want you to do is to hand him a letter from me, and to bring me back his answer.”
“If that is all, then I am your man. Just give me time to change my clothes, and to let father know, and I am off.”
Thus M. Folgat began, as far as in him lay, to prepare for future action, trying to counteract all the cunning measures of the prosecution by such combinations as were suggested to him by his experience and his genius.
Did it follow from this, that his faith in ultimate success was strong enough to make him speak of it to his most reliable friends, even, say to Dr. Seignebos, to M. Magloire, or to good M. Mechinet?
No; for, bearing all the responsibility on his own shoulders, he had carefully weighed the contrary chances of the terrible game in which he proposed to engage, and in which the stakes were the honor and the life of a man. He knew, better than anybody else, that a mere nothing might destroy all his plans, and that Jacques’s fate was dependent on the most trivial accident.
Like a great general on the eve of a battle, he managed to control his feelings, affecting, for the benefit of others, a confidence which he did not really feel, and allowing no feature of his face to betray the great anxiety which generally kept him awake more than half the night.
And certainly it required a character of marvellous strength to remain impassive and resolute under such circumstances.
Everybody around him was in despair, and gave up all hope.
The house of M. de Chandore, once so full of life and merriment, had become as silent and sombre as a tomb.
The last two months had made of M. de Chandore an old man in good earnest. His tall figure had begun to stoop, and he looked bent and broken. He walked with difficulty, and his hands began to tremble.
The Marquis de Boiscoran had been hit even harder. He, who only a few weeks before looked robust and hearty, now appeared almost decrepit. He did not eat, so to say, and did not sleep. He became frightfully thin. It gave him pain to utter a word.
As to the marchioness, the very sources of life seemed to have been sapped within her. She had had to hear M. Magloire say that Jacques’s safety would have been put beyond all doubt if they had succeeded in obtaining a change of venue, or an adjournment of the trial. And it was her fault that such a change had not been applied for. That thought was death to her. She had hardly strength enough left to drag herself every day as far as the jail to see her son.
The two Misses Lavarande had to bear all the practical difficulties arising from this sore trial: they went and came, looking as pale as ghosts, whispering in a low voice, and walking on tiptoe, as if there had been a death in the house.
Dionysia alone showed greater energy as the troubles increased. She did not indulge in much hope.
“I know Jacques will be condemned,” she said to M. Folgat. But she said, also, that despair belonged to criminals only, and that the fatal mistake for which Jacques was likely to suffer ought to inspire his friends with nothing but indignation and thirst for vengeance.
And, while her grandfather and the Marquis de Boiscoran went out as little as possible, she took pains to show herself in town, astonishing the ladies “in good society” by the way in which she received their false expressions of sympathy. But it was evident that she was only held up by a kind of feverish excitement, which gave to her cheeks their bright color, to her eyes their brilliancy, and to her voice its clear, silvery ring. Ah! for her sake mainly, M. Folgat longed to end this uncertainty which is so much more painful than the greatest misfortune.
The time was drawing near.
As Dr. Seignebos had announced, the president of the tribunal, M. Domini, had already arrived in Sauveterre.
He was one of those men whose character is an honor to the bench, full of the dignity of his profession, but not thinking himself infallible, firm without useless rigor, cold and still kind-hearted, having no other mistress but Justice, and knowing no other ambition but that of establishing the truth.
He had examined Jacques, as he was bound to do; but the examination had been, as it always is, a mere formality, and had led to no result.
The next step was the selection of a jury.
The jurymen had already begun to arrive from all parts of the department. They lodged at the Hotel de France, where they took their meals in common in the large back dining-room, which is always specially reserved for their use.
In the afternoon one might see them, looking grave and thoughtful, take a walk on the New-Market Square, or on the old ramparts.
M. Gransiere, also, had arrived. But he kept strictly in retirement in his room at the Hotel de la Poste, where M. Galpin every day spent several hours in close conference with him.
“It seems,” said Mechinet in confidence to M. Folgat,–"it seems they are preparing an overwhelming charge.”
The day after, Dionysia opened “The Sauveterre Independent,” and found in it an announcement of the cases set down for each day,–
MONDAY.–Fraudulent bankruptcy, defalcation, forgery. TUESDAY.–Murder, theft. WEDNESDAY.–Infanticide, domestic theft. THURSDAY.–Incendiarism, and attempted assassination (case of M. de Boiscoran).
This was, therefore, the great day on which the good people of Sauveterre expected to enjoy the most delightful emotions. Hence there was an immense pressure brought to bear upon all the principal members of the court to obtain tickets of admission. People who, the night before, had refused to speak to M. Galpin, would stop him the next day in the street, and beg him to give them a ticket, not for themselves, but for “their lady.” Finally, the unheard-of fact became known, that tickets were openly sold for money! One family had actually the incomprehensible courage to write to the Marquis de Boiscoran for three tickets, promising, in return, “by their attitude in court” to contribute to the acquittal of the accused.
In the midst of all these rumors, the city was suddenly startled by a list of subscriptions in behalf of the families of the unfortunate firemen who had perished in the fire at Valpinson.
Who had started this paper? M. Seneschal tried in vain to discover the hand that had struck this blow. The secret of this treacherous trick was well kept. But it was a most atrocious trick to revive thus, on the eve of the trial, such mournful memories and such bitter hatred.
“That man Galpin had a hand in it,” said Dr. Seignebos, grinding his teeth. “And to think that he may, after all, be triumphant! Ah, why did not Goudar commence his experiment a little sooner?”
For Goudar, while assuring everybody of certain success, asked for time. To disarm the mistrust of an idiot like Cocoleu was not the work of a day or a week. He declared, that, if he should be overhasty, he would most assuredly ruin every thing.
Otherwise, nothing new occurred.
Count Claudieuse was getting rather better.
The agent in Jersey had telegraphed that he was on Suky’s track; that he would certainly catch her, but that he could not say when.
Michael, finally, had in vain searched the whole district, and been all over Oleron; no one had been able to give him any news of Trumence.
Thus, on the day when the session began, a council was held, in which all of Jacques’s friends took part; and here it was resolved that his counsel would not mention the name of the Countess Claudieuse, and would, even if the count should offer to give evidence, adhere to the plan of defence suggested by M. Folgat.
Alas! the chances of success seemed hourly to diminish; for the jury, very much against the usual experience, appeared to be excessively severe. The bankrupt was sentenced to twenty years’ hard labor. The man accused of murder could not even obtain the plea of “extenuating circumstances,” and was sentenced to death.
This was on Wednesday.
It was decided that M. de Chandore and the Marquis and the Marchioness de Boiscoran should attend the trial. They wanted to spare Dionysia the terrible excitement; but she declared that, in that case, she should go alone to the court-house; and thus they were forced to submit to her will.
Thanks to an order from M. Domini, M. Folgat and M. Magloire could spend the evening with Jacques in order to determine all the details, and to agree upon certain replies to be given.
Jacques looked excessively pale, but was quite composed. And when his counsel left him, saying,–
“Keep up your courage and hope,” he replied,–
“Hope I have none; but courage–I assure you, I have courage!”