Within an Inch of His Life
By Emile Gaboriau
Public Domain Books
M. Daubigeon, the commonwealth attorney, learned that morning from his chief clerk what had happened, and how the proceedings in the Boiscoran case were necessarily null and void on account of a fatal error in form. The counsel of the defence had lost no time, and, after spending the whole night in consultation, had early that morning presented their application for a new trial to the court.
The commonwealth attorney took no pains to conceal his satisfaction.
“Now,” he cried, “this will worry my friend Galpin, and clip his wings considerably; and yet I had called his attention to the lines of Horace, in which he speaks of Phaeton’s sad fate, and says,–
’Terret ambustus Phaeton avaras Spes.’
But he would not listen to me, forgetting, that, without prudence, force is a danger. And there he is now, in great difficulty, I am sure.”
And at once he made haste to dress, and to go and see M. Galpin in order to hear all the details accurately, as he told his clerk, but, in reality, in order to enjoy to his heart’s content the discomfiture of the ambitious magistrate.
He found him furious, and ready to tear his hair.
“I am disgraced,” he repeated: “I am ruined; I am lost. All my prospects, all my hopes, are gone. I shall never be forgiven for such an oversight.”
To look at M. Daubigeon, you would have thought he was sincerely distressed.
“Is it really true,” he said with an air of assumed pity,–"is it really true, what they tell me, that this unlucky mistake was made by you?”
“By me? Yes, indeed! I forgot those wretched details which a scholar knows by heart. Can you understand that? And to say that no one noticed my inconceivable blindness! Neither the first court of inquiry, nor the attorney-general himself, nor the presiding judge, ever said a word about it. It is my fate. And that is to be the result of my labors. Everybody, no doubt, said, ’Oh! M. Galpin has the case in hand; he knows all about it: no need to look after the matter when such a man has taken hold of it.’ And here I am. Oh! I might kill myself.”
“It is all the more fortunate,” replied M. Daubigeon, “that yesterday the case was hanging on a thread.”
The magistrate gnashed his teeth, and replied,–
“Yes, on a thread, thanks to M. Domini! whose weakness I cannot comprehend, and who did not know at all, or who was not willing to know, how to make the most of the evidence. But it was M. Gransiere’s fault quite as much. What had he to do with politics to drag them into the affair? And whom did he want to hit? No one else but M. Magloire, the man whom everybody respects in the whole district, and who had three warm personal friends among the jurymen. I foresaw it, and I told him where he would get into trouble. But there are people who will not listen. M. Gransiere wants to be elected himself. It is a fancy, a monomania of our day: everybody wants to be a deputy. I wish Heaven would confound all ambitious men!”
For the first time in his life, and no doubt for the last time also, the commonwealth attorney rejoiced at the misfortune of others. Taking savage pleasure in turning the dagger in his poor friend’s wounds, he said,–
“No doubt M. Folgat’s speech had something to do with it.”
“Nothing at all.”
“He was brilliantly successful.”
“He took them by surprise. It was nothing but a big voice, and grand, rolling sentences.”
“And what did he say, after all? That the prosecution did not know the real secret of the case. That is absurd!”
“The new judges may not think so, however.”
“We shall see.”
“This time M. de Boiscoran’s defence will be very different. He will spare nobody. He is down now, and cannot fall any lower.”
“That may be. But he also risks having a less indulgent jury, and not getting off with twenty years.”
“What do his counsel say?”
“I do not know. But I have just sent my clerk to find out; and, if you choose to wait"–
M. Daubigeon did wait, and he did well; for M. Mechinet came in very soon after, with a long face for the world, but inwardly delighted.
“Well?” asked M. Galpin eagerly.
He shook his head, and said in a melancholy tone of voice,–
“I have never seen any thing like this. How fickle public opinion is, after all! Day before yesterday M. de Boiscoran could not have passed through the town without being mobbed. If he should show himself to-day, they would carry him in triumph. He has been condemned, and now he is a martyr. It is known already that the sentence is void, and they are delighted. My sisters have just told me that the ladies in good society propose to give to the Marchioness de Boiscoran and to Miss Chandore some public evidence of their sympathy. The members of the bar will give M. Folgat a public dinner.”
“Why that is monstrous!” cried M. Galpin.
“Well,” said M. Daubigeon, “ ’the opinions of men are more fickle and changeable than the waves of the sea.’ “
But, interrupting the quotation, M. Galpin asked his clerk,–
“Well, what else?”
“I went to hand M. Gransiere the letter which you gave me for him"–
“What did he say?”
“I found him in consultation with the president, M. Domini. He took the letter, glanced at it rapidly, and told me in his most icy tone, ’Very well!’ To tell the truth, I thought, that, in spite of his stiff and grand air, he was in reality furious.”
The magistrate looked utterly in despair.
“I can’t stand it,” he said sighing. “These men whose veins have no blood in them, but poison, never forgive.”
“Day before yesterday you thought very highly of him.”
“Day before yesterday he did not look upon me as the cause of a great misfortune for him.”
M. Mechinet went on quite eagerly,–
“After leaving M. Gransiere, I went to the court-house, and there I head the great piece of news which has set all the town agog. Count Claudieuse is dead.”
M. Daubigeon and M. Galpin looked at each other, and exclaimed in the same breath,–
“Great God! Is that so?”
“He breathed his last this morning, at two or three minutes before six o’clock. I saw his body in the private room of the attorney-general. The priest from Brechy was there, and two other priests from his parish. They were waiting for a bier to have him carried to his house.”
“Poor man!” murmured M. Daubigeon.
“But I heard a great deal more,” Mechinet said, “from the watchman who was on guard last night. He told me that when the trial was over, and it became known that Count Claudieuse was likely to die, the priest from Brechy came there, and asked to be allowed to offer him the last consolations of his church. The countess refused to let him come to the bedside of her husband. The watchman was amazed at this; and just then Miss Chandore suddenly appeared, and sent word to the countess that she wanted to speak to her.”
“Is it possible?”
“Quite certain. They remained together for more than a quarter of an hour. What did they say? The watchman told me he was dying with curiosity to know; but he could hear nothing, because there was the priest from Brechy, all the while, kneeling before the door, and praying. When they parted, they looked terribly excited. Then the countess immediately called in the priest, and he stayed with the count till he died.”
M. Daubigeon and M. Galpin had not yet recovered from their amazement at this account, when somebody knocked timidly at the door.
“Come in!” cried Mechinet.
The door opened, and the sergeant of gendarmes appeared.
“I have been sent here by the attorney-general,” he said; “and the servant told me you were up here. We have just caught Trumence.”
“That man who had escaped from jail?”
“Yes. We were about to carry him back there, when he told us that he had a secret to reveal, a very important, urgent secret, concerning the condemned prisoner, Boiscoran.”
“Yes. Then we carried him to the court-house, and I came for orders.”
“Run and say that I am coming to see him!” cried M. Daubigeon. “Make haste! I am coming after you.”
But the gendarme, a model of obedience, had not waited so long: he was already down stairs.
“I must leave you, Galpin,” said M. Daubigeon, very much excited. “You heard what the man said. We must know what that means at once.”
But the magistrate was not less excited.
“You permit me to accompany you, I hope?” he asked.
He had a right to do so.
“Certainly,” replied the commonwealth attorney. “But make haste!”
The recommendation was not needed. M. Galpin had already put on his boots. He now slipped his overcoat over his home dress, as he was; and off they went.
Mechinet followed the two gentlemen as they hastened down the street; and the good people of Sauveterre, always on the lookout, were not a little scandalized at seeing their well-known magistrate, M. Galpin, in his home costume,–he who generally was most scrupulously precise in his dress.
Standing on their door-steps, they said to each other,–
“Something very important must have happened. Just look at these gentlemen!”
The fact was, they were walking so fast, that people might well wonder; and they did not say a word all the way.
But, ere they reached the court-house, they were forced to stop; for some four or five hundred people were filling the court, crowding on the steps, and actually pressing against the doors.
Immediately all became silent; hats were raised; the crowd parted; and a passage was opened.
On the porch appeared the priest from Brechy, and two other priests.
Behind them came attendants from the hospital, who bore a bier covered with black cloth; and beneath the cloth the outlines of a human body could be seen.
The women began to cry; and those who had room enough knelt down.
“Poor countess!” murmured one of them. “Here is her husband dead, and they say one of her daughters is dying at home.”
But M. Daubigeon, the magistrate, and Mechinet were too preoccupied with their own interests to think of stopping for more reliable news. The way was open: they went in, and hastened to the clerk’s office, where the gendarmes had taken Trumence, and now were guarding him.
He rose as soon as he recognized the gentlemen, and respectfully took off his cap. It was really Trumence; but the good-for-nothing vagrant did not present his usual careless appearance. He looked pale, and was evidently very much excited.
“Well,” said M. Daubigeon, “so you have allowed yourself to be retaken?”
“Beg pardon, judge,” replied the poor fellow, “I was not retaken. I came of my own accord.”
“Involuntarily, you mean?”
“Quite by my own free will! Just ask the sergeant.”
The sergeant stepped forward, touched his cap, and reported,–
“That is the naked truth. Trumence came himself to our barrack, and said, ’I surrender as a prisoner. I wish to speak to the commonwealth attorney, and give importance evidence.’ “
The vagabond drew himself up proudly,–
“You see, sir, that I did not lie. While these gentlemen were galloping all over the country in search of me, I was snugly ensconced in a garret at the Red Lamb, and did not think of coming out from there till I should be entirely forgotten.”
“Yes; but people who lodge at the Red Lamb have to pay, and you had no money.”
Trumence very quietly drew from his pocket a handful of Napoleons, and of five-and-twenty-franc notes, and showed them.
“You see that I had the wherewithal to pay for my room,” he said. “But I surrendered, because, after all, I am an honest man, and I would rather suffer some trouble myself than see an innocent gentleman go to the galleys.”
“M. de Boiscoran?”
“Yes. He is innocent! I know it; I am sure of it; and I can prove it. And, if he will not tell, I will tell,–tell every thing!”
M. Daubigeon and M. Galpin were utterly astounded.
“Explain yourself,” they both said in the same breath.
But the vagrant shook his head, pointing at the gendarmes; and, as a man who is quite cognizant of all the formalities of the law, he replied,–
“But it is a great secret; and, when one confesses, one does not like anybody else to hear it but the priest. Besides, I should like my deposition to be taken down in writing.”
Upon a sign made by M. Galpin, the gendarmes withdrew; and Mechinet took his seat at a table, with a blank sheet of paper before him.
“Now we can talk,” said Trumence: “that’s the way I like it. I was not thinking myself of running away. I was pretty well off in jail; winter is coming, I had not a cent; and I knew, that, if I were retaken, I should fare rather badly. But M. Jacques de Boiscoran had a notion to spend a night outside.”
“Mind what you are saying,” M. Galpin broke in severely. “You cannot play with the law, and go off unpunished.”
“May I die if I do not tell the truth!” cried Trumence. “M. Jacques has spent a whole night out of jail.”
The magistrate trembled.
“What a story that is!” he said again.
“I have my proof,” replied Trumence coldly, “and you shall hear. Well, as he wanted to leave, M. Jacques came to me, and we agreed, that in consideration of a certain sum of money which he has paid me, and of which you have seen just now all that is left, I should make a hole in the wall, and that I should run off altogether, while he was to come back when he had done his business.”
“And the jailer?” asked M. Daubigeon.
Like a true peasant of his promise, Trumence was far too cunning to expose Blangin unnecessarily. Assuming, therefore, the whole responsibility of the evasion, he replied,–
“The jailer saw nothing. We had no use for him. Was not I, so to say, under-jailer? Had not I been charged by you yourself, M. Galpin, with keeping watch over M. Jacques? Was it not I who opened and locked his door, who took him to the parlor, and brought him back again?”
That was the exact truth.
“Go on!” said M. Galpin harshly.
“Well,” said Trumence, “every thing was done as agreed upon. One evening, about nine o’clock, I make my hole in the wall, and here we are, M. Jacques and I, on the ramparts. There he slips a package of banknotes into my hand, and tells me to run for it, while he goes about his business. I thought he was innocent then; but you see I should not exactly have gone through the fire for him as yet. I said to myself, that perhaps he was making fun of me, and that, once on the wing, he would not be such a fool as to go back into the cage. This made me curious, as he was going off, to see which way he was going,– and there I was, following him close upon his heels!”
The magistrate and the commonwealth attorney, accustomed as they both were, by the nature of their profession, to conceal their feelings, could hardly restrain now,–one, the hope trembling within him, and the other, the vague apprehensions which began to fill his heart.
Mechinet, who knew already all that was coming, laughed in his sleeve while his pen was flying rapidly over the paper.
“He was afraid he might be recognized,” continued the vagrant, “and so M. Jacques had been running ever so fast, keeping close to the wall, and choosing the narrowest lanes. Fortunately, I have a pair of very good legs. He goes through Sauveterre like a race-horse; and, when he reaches Mautrec Street, he begins to ring the bell at a large gate.”
“At Count Claudieuse’s house!”
“I know now what house it was; but I did not know then. Well, he rings. A servant comes and opens. He speaks to her, and immediately she invites him in, and that so eagerly, that she forgets to close the gate again.”
M. Daubigeon stopped him by a gesture.
“Wait!” he said.
And, taking up a blank form, he filled it up, rang the bell, and said to an usher of the court who had hastened in, giving him the printed paper,–
“I want this to be taken immediately. Make haste; and not a word!”
Then Trumence was directed to go on; and he said,–
“There I was, standing in the middle of the street, feeling like a fool. I thought I had nothing left me but to go and use my legs: that was safest for me. But that wretched, half-open gate attracted me. I said to myself, ’If you go in, and they catch you, they will think you have come to steal, and you’ll have to pay for it.’ That was true; but the temptation was too strong for me. My curiosity broke my heart, so to say, and, ’Come what may, I’ll risk it,’ I said. I push the huge gate just wide enough to let me in, and here I am in a large garden. It was pitch dark; but, quite at the bottom of the garden, three windows in the lower story of the house were lighted up. I had ventured too far now to go back. So I went on, creeping along stealthily, until I reached a tree, against which I pressed closely, about the length of my arm from one of the windows, which belonged to a beautiful parlor. I look–and I see whom? M. de Boiscoran. As there were no curtains to the windows, I could see as well as I can see you. His face looked terrible. I was asking myself for whom he could be waiting there, when I saw him hiding behind the open door of the room, like a man who is lying in wait for somebody, with evil intentions. This troubled me very much; but the next moment a lady came in. Instantly M. Jacques shuts the door behind her; the lady turns round, sees him, and wants to run, uttering at the same time a loud cry. That lady was the Countess Claudieuse!”
He looked as if he wished to pause to watch the effect of his revelation. But Mechinet was so impatient, that he forgot the modest character of his duty, and said hastily,–
“Go on; go on!”
“One of the windows was half open,” continued the vagrant, “and thus I could hear almost as well as I saw. I crouched down on all-fours and kept my head on a level with the ground, so as not to lose a word. Oh, it was fearful! At the first word I understood it all: M. Jacques and the Countess Claudieuse had been lovers.”
“This is madness!” cried M. Galpin.
“Well, I tell you I was amazed. The Countess Claudieuse–such a pious lady! But I have ears; don’t you think I have? M. Jacques reminded her of the night of the crime, how they had been together a few minutes before the fire broke out, as they had agreed some days before to meet near Valpinson at that very time. At this meeting they had burnt their love-letters, and M. Jacques had blackened his fingers badly in burning them.”
“Did you really hear that?” asked M. Daubigeon.
“As I hear you, sir.”
“Write it down, Mechinet,” said the commonwealth attorney with great eagerness,–"write that down carefully.”
The clerk was sure to do it.
“What surprised me most,” continued Trumence, “was, that the countess seemed to consider M. Jacques guilty, and he thought she was. Each accused the other of the crime. She said, ’You attempted the life of my husband, because you were afraid of him!’ And he said, ’You wanted to kill him, so as to be free, and to prevent my marriage!’ “
M. Galpin had sunk into a chair: he stammered,–
“Did anybody ever hear such a thing?”
“However, they explained; and at last they found out that they were both of them innocent. Then M. Jacques entreated the countess to save him; and she replied that she would certainly not save him at the expense of her reputation, and so enable him, as soon as he was free once more, to marry Miss Chandore. Then he said to her, ’Well, then I must tell all;’ and she, ’You will not be believed. I shall deny it all, and you have no proof!’ In his despair, he reproached her bitterly, and said she had never loved him at all. Then she swore she loved him more than ever; and that, as he was free now, she was ready to abandon every thing, and to escape with him to some foreign country. And she conjured him to flee, in a voice which moved my heart, with loving words such as I have never heard before in my life, and with looks which seemed to be burning fire. What a woman! I did not think he could possibly resist. And yet he did resist; and, perfectly beside himself with anger, he cried, ’Rather the galleys!’ Then she laughed, mocking him, and saying, ’Very well, you shall go to the galleys!’ “
Although Trumence entered into many details, it was quite evident that he kept back many things.
Still M. Daubigeon did not dare question him, for fear of breaking the thread of his account.
“But that was nothing at all,” said the vagrant. “While M. Jacques and the countess were quarrelling in this way, I saw the door of the parlor suddenly open as if by itself, and a phantom appear in it, dressed in a funeral pall. It was Count Claudieuse himself. His face looked terrible; and he had a revolver in his hand. He was leaning against the side of the door; and he listened while his wife and M. Jacques were talking of their former love-affairs. At certain words, he would raise his pistol as if to fire; then he would lower it again, and go on listening. It was so awful, I had not a dry thread on my body. It was very hard not to cry out to M. Jacques and the countess, ’You poor people, don’t you see that the count is there?’ But they saw nothing; for they were both beside themselves with rage and despair: and at last M. Jacques actually raised his hand to strike the countess. ’Do not strike that woman!’ suddenly said the count. They turn round; they see him, and utter a fearful cry. The countess fell on a chair as if she were dead. I was thunderstruck. I never in my life saw a man behave so beautifully as M. Jacques did at that moment. Instead of trying to escape, he opened his coat, and baring his breast, he said to the husband, ’Fire! You are in your right!’ The count, however, laughed contemptuously, and said, ’The court will avenge me!’–’You know very well that I am innocent.’–’All the better.’–’It would be infamous to let me be condemned.’–’I shall do more than that. To make your condemnation sure, I shall say that I recognized you.’ The count was going to step forward, as he said this; but he was dying. Great God, what a man! He fell forward, lying at full-length on the floor. Then I got frightened, and ran away.”
By a very great effort only could the commonwealth attorney control his intense excitement. His voice, however, betrayed him as he asked Trumence, after a solemn pause,–
“Why did you not come and tell us all that at once?”
The vagabond shook his head, and said,–
“I meant to do so; but I was afraid. You ought to understand what I mean. I was afraid I might be punished very severely for having run off.”
“Your silence has led the court to commit a grievous mistake.”
“I had no idea M. Jacques would be found guilty. Big people like him, who can pay great lawyers, always get out of trouble. Besides, I did not think Count Claudieuse would carry out his threat. To be betrayed by one’s wife is hard; but to send an innocent man to the galleys"–
“Still you see"–
“Ah, if I could have foreseen! My intentions were good; and I assure you, although I did not come at once to denounce the whole thing, I was firmly resolved to make a clean breast of it if M. Jacques should get into trouble. And the proof of it is, that instead of running off, and going far away, I very quietly lay concealed at the Red Lamb, waiting for the sentence to be published. As soon as I heard what was done last night, I did not lose an hour, and surrendered at once to the gendarmes.”
In the meantime, M. Galpin had overcome his first amazement, and now broke out furiously,–
“This man is an impostor. The money he showed us was paid him to bear false witness. How can we credit his story?”
“We must investigate the matter,” replied M. Daubigeon. He rang the bell; and, when the usher came in, he asked,–
“Have you done what I told you?”
“Yes, sir,” replied the man. “M. de Boiscoran and the servant of Count Claudieuse are here.”
“Bring in the woman: when I ring, show M. de Boiscoran in.”
This woman was a big country-girl, plain of face, and square of figure. She seemed to be very much excited, and looked crimson in her face.
“Do you remember,” asked M. Daubigeon, “that one night last week a man came to your house, and asked to see your mistress?”
“Oh, yes!” replied the honest girl. “I did not want to let him in at first; but he said he came from the court, and then I let him in.”
“Would you recognize him?”
The commonwealth attorney rang again; the door opened, and Jacques came in, his face full of amazement and wonder.
“That is the man!” cried the servant.
“May I know?” asked the unfortunate man.
“Not yet!” replied M. Daubigeon. “Go back, and be of good hope!”
But Jacques remained standing where he was, like a man who has suddenly been overcome, looking all around with amazed eyes, and evidently unable to comprehend.
How could he have comprehended what was going on?
They had taken him out of his cell without warning; they had carried him to the court-house; and here he was confronted with Trumence, whom he thought he should never see again, and with the servant of the Countess Claudieuse.
M. Galpin looked the picture of consternation; and M. Daubigeon, radiant with delight, bade him be of good hope.
Hopeful of what? How? To what purpose?
And Mechinet made him all kinds of signs.
The usher who had brought him in had actually to take him out.
Immediately the commonwealth attorney turned again to the servant-girl and said,–
“Now, my good girl, can you tell me if any thing special happened in connection with this gentleman’s visit at your house?”
“There was a great quarrel between him and master and mistress.”
“Were you present?”
“No. But I am quite certain of what I say.”
“Well, I will tell you. When I went up stairs to tell the countess that there was a gentleman below who came from the courts, she was in a great hurry to go down, and told me to stay with the count, my master. Of course, I did what she said. But no sooner was she down than I heard a loud cry. Master, who had looked all in a stupor, heard it too: he raised himself on his pillow, and asked me where my mistress was. I told him, and he was just settling down to try and fall asleep again, when the sound of loud voices came up to us. ’That is very singular,’ said master. I offered to go down and see what was the matter: but he told me sharply not to stir an inch. And, when the voices became louder and louder, he said, ’I will go down myself. Give me my dressing-gown.’
“Sick as he was, exhausted, and almost on his deathbed, it was very imprudent in him, and might easily have cost him his life. I ventured to speak to him; but he swore at me, and told me to hush, and to do what he ordered me to do.
“The count–God be merciful to his soul!–was a very good man, certainly; but he was a terrible man also, and when he got angry, and talked in a certain way, everybody in the house began to tremble, even mistress.
“I obeyed, therefore, and did what he wanted. Poor man! He was so weak he could hardly stand up, and had to hold on to a chair while I helped him just to hang his dressing-gown over his shoulders.
“Then I asked him if he would not let me help him down. But looking at me with awful eyes, he said, ’You will do me the favor to stay here, and, whatever may happen, if you dare so much as open the door while I am away, you shall not stay another hour in my service.’
“Then he went out, holding on to the wall; and I remained alone in the chamber, all trembling, and feeling as sick as if I had known that a great misfortune was coming upon us.
“However, I heard nothing more for a time; and as the minutes passed away, I was just beginning to reproach myself for having been so foolishly alarmed, when I heard two cries; but, O sir! two such fearful, sharp cries, that I felt cold shivers running all over me.
“As I did not dare leave the room, I put my ear to the door, and I heard distinctly the count’s voice, as he was quarrelling with another gentleman. But I could not catch a single word, and only made out that they were angry about a very serious matter.
“All of a sudden, a great but dull noise, like that of the fall of a heavy body, then another awful cry, I had not a drop of blood left in my veins at that moment.
“Fortunately, the other servants, who had gone to bed, had heard something. They had gotten up, and were now coming down the passage.
“I left the room at all hazards, and went down stairs with the others, and there we found my mistress fainting in an armchair, and my master stretched out at full-length, lying on the floor like a dead man.”
“What did I say?” cried Trumence.
But the commonwealth attorney made him a sign to keep quiet; and, turning again to the girl, he asked,–
“And the visitor?”
“He was gone, sir. He had vanished.”
“What did you do then?”
“We raised up the count: we carried him up stairs and laid him on his bed. Then we brought mistress round again; and the valet went in haste to fetch Dr. Seignebos.”
“What said the countess when she recovered her consciousness?”
“Nothing. Mistress looked like a person who has been knocked in the head.”
“Was there any thing else?”
“Oh, yes, sir!”
“The oldest of the young ladies, Miss Martha, was seized with terrible convulsions.”
“How was that?”
“Why, I only know what miss told us herself.”
“Let us hear what she said.”
“Ah! It is a very singular story. When this gentleman whom I have just seen here rang the bell at our gate, Miss Martha, who had already gone to bed, got up again, and went to the window to see who it was. She saw me go and open, with a candle in my hand, and come back again with the gentleman behind me. She was just going to bed again, when she thought she saw one of the statues in the garden move, and walk right off. We told her it could not be so; but she did not mind us. She told us over and over again that she was quite sure that she saw that statue come up the avenue, and take a place behind the tree which is nearest to the parlor-window.”
Trumence looked triumphant.
“That was I!” he cried.
The girl looked at him, and said, only moderately surprised,–
“That may very well be.”
“What do you know about it?” asked M. Daubigeon.
“I know it must have been a man who had stolen into the garden, and who had frightened Miss Martha so terribly, because Dr. Seignebos dropped, in going out, a five-franc piece just at the foot of that tree, where miss said she had seen the man standing. The valet who showed the doctor out helped him look for his money; and, as they sought with the candle, they saw the footprints of a man who wore iron-shod shoes.”
“The marks of my shoes!” broke in Trumence again; and sitting down, and raising his legs, he said to the magistrate,–
“Just look at my shoes, and you will see there is no lack of iron nails!”
But there was no need for such evidence; and he was told,–
“Never mind that! We believe you.”
“And you, my good girl,” said M. Daubigeon again, “can you tell us, if, after these occurrences, Count Claudieuse had any explanation with your mistress?”
“No, I do not know. Only I saw that the count and the countess were no longer as they used to be with each other.”
That was all she knew. She was asked to sign her deposition; and then M. Daubigeon told her she might go.
Then, turning to Trumence, he said,–
“You will be taken to jail now. But you are an honest man, and you need not give yourself any trouble. Go now.”
The magistrate and the commonwealth attorney remained alone now, since, of course, a clerk counts for nothing.
“Well,” said M. Daubigeon, “what do you think of that?”
M. Galpin was dumfounded.
“It is enough to make one mad,” he murmured.
“Do you begin to see how that M. Folgat was right when he said the case was far from being so clear as you pretended?”
“Ah! who would not have been deceived as I was? You yourself, at one time at least, were of my opinion. And yet, if the Countess Claudieuse and M. de Boiscoran are both innocent, who is the guilty one?”
“That is what we shall know very soon; for I am determined I will not allow myself a moment’s rest till I have found out the truth of the whole matter. How fortunate it was that this fatal error in form should have made the sentence null and void!”
He was so much excited, that he forgot his never-failing quotations. Turning to the clerk, he said,–
“But we must not lose a minute. Put your legs into active motion, my dear Mechinet, and run and ask M. Folgat to come here. I will wait for him here.”