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Within an Inch of His Life by Emile Gaboriau

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Dionysia de Chandore. She returns his love; and the day before
yesterday the wedding-day was fixed on the 20th of the next month."

In the meantime the hours had sped on. It was half-past three by the
clock of the church in Brechy. Day was breaking; and the light of the
lamps was turning pale. The morning mists began to disappear; and the
sunlight fell upon the window-panes. But no one noticed this: all
these men gathered around the bed of the wounded man were too deeply
excited. M. Galpin had listened to the objection made by the others,
without a word or a gesture. He had so far recovered his self-control,
that it would have been difficult to see what impressions they made
upon his mind. At last, shaking his head gravely, he said,--

"More than you, gentlemen, I feel a desire to believe M. de Boiscoran
innocent. M. Daubigeon, who knows what I mean, will tell you so. In my
heart I pleaded his cause long before you. But I am the representative
of the law; and my duty is above my affections. Does it depend on me
to set aside Cocoleu's accusation, however stupid, however absurd, it
may be? Can I undo the three statements made by the witnesses, and
confirming so strongly the suspicions aroused by the first charge?"

Count Claudieuse was distressed beyond expression. At last he said,--

"The worst thing about it is, that M. de Boiscoran thinks I am his
enemy. I should not wonder if he went and imagined that these charges
and vile suspicions have been suggested by my wife or by myself. If I
could only get up! At least, let M. de Boiscoran know distinctly that
I am ready to answer for him, as I would answer for myself. Cocoleu,
the wretched idiot! Ah, Genevieve, my darling wife! Why did you induce
him to talk? If you had not insisted, he would have kept silent

The countess succumbed at last to the anxieties of this terrible
night. At first she had been supported by that exaltation which is apt
to accompany a great crisis; but latterly she had felt exhausted. She
had sunk upon a stool, near the bed on which her two daughters were
lying; and, her head hid in the pillow, she seemed to sleep. But she
was not asleep. When her husband reproached her thus, she rose, pale,
with swollen eyes and distorted features, and said in a piercing

"What? They have tried to kill my Trivulce; our children have been
near unto death in the flames; and I should have allowed any means to
be unused by which the guilty one may be found out? No! I have only
done what it was my duty to do. Whatever may come of it, I regret

"But, Genevieve, M. de Boiscoran is not guilty: he cannot possibly be
guilty. How could a man who has the happiness of being loved by
Dionysia de Chandore, and who counts the days to his wedding,--how
could he devise such a hideous crime?"

"Let him prove his innocence," replied the countess mercilessly.

The doctor smacked his lips in the most impertinent manner.

"There is a woman's logic for you," he murmured.

"Certainly," said M. Seneschal, "M. de Boiscoran's innocence will be
promptly established. Nevertheless, the suspicion will remain. And our
people are so constituted, that this suspicion will overshadow his
whole life. Twenty years hence, they will meet him, and they will say,
'Oh, yes! the man who set Valpinson on fire!' "

It was not M. Galpin this time who replied, but the commonwealth
attorney. He said sadly,--

"I cannot share your views; but that does not matter. After what has
passed, our friend, M. Galpin cannot retrace his steps: his duty makes
that impossible, and, even more so, what is due to the accused. What
would all these people say, who have heard Cocoleu's deposition, and
the evidence given by the witnesses, if the inquiry were stopped? They
would certainly say M. de Boiscoran was guilty, but that he was not
help responsible because he was rich and noble. Upon my honor I
believe him to be innocent. But precisely because this is my
conviction, I maintain that his innocence must be clearly established.
No doubt he has the means of doing so. When he met Ribot, he told him
he was on his way to see somebody at Brechy."

"But suppose he never went there?" objected M. Seneschal. "Suppose he
did not see anybody there? Suppose it was only a pretext to satisfy
Ribot's impertinent curiosity?"

"Well, then, he would only have to tell the truth in court. And look!
Here's an important proof which almost by itself relieves M. de
Boiscoran. Would he not have loaded his gun with a ball, if he should
ever have really thought of murdering the count? But it was loaded
with nothing but small-shot."

"And he would never have missed me at ten yards' distance," said the

Suddenly somebody was heard knocking furiously at the door.

"Come in!" cried M. Seneschal.

The door opened and three peasants appeared, looking bewildered, but
evidently well pleased.

"We have just," said one of them, "found something curious."

"What?" asked M. Galpin.

"It looks very much like a case; but Pitard says it is the paper of a

Count Claudieuse raised himself on his pillows, and said eagerly,--

"Let me see! I have during these last days fired several times quite
near to the house to frighten the birds away that eat my fruit. I want
to see if the paper is mine."

The peasant gave it to him.

It was a very thin lead form, such as contain the cartridges used in
American breech-loading guns. What was singular was that it was
blackened by burnt powder; but it had not been torn, nor had it blazed
up in the discharge. It was so perfectly uninjured, that one could
read the embossed letters of the name of the manufacturer, Clebb.

"That cartridge never belonged to me," said the count.

But as he uttered these words he turned deadly pale, so pale, that his
wife came close to him, and looked at him with a glance full of
terrible anguish.


He made no reply.

But at that moment such silence was so eloquent, that the countess
felt sickened, and whispered to him,--

"Then Cocoleu was right, after all!"

Not one feature of this dramatic scene had escaped M. Galpin's eye. He
had seen on every face signs of a kind of terror; still he made no
remark. He took the metal case from the count's hands, knowing that it
might become an important piece of evidence; and for nearly a minute
he turned it round and round, looking at it from all sides, and
examining it in the light with the utmost attention.

Then turning to the peasants, who were standing respectfully and
uncovered close by the door, he asked them,--

"Where did you find this cartridge, my friends?"

"Close by the old tower, where they keep the tools, and where the ivy
is growing all over the old castle."

M. Seneschal had in the meantime succeeded in recovering his self-
control, and said now,--

"Surely the murderer cannot have fired from there. You cannot even see
the door of the house from the old tower."

"That may be," replied the magistrate; "but the cartridge-case does
not necessarily fall to the ground at the place where the gun is
discharged. It falls as soon as the gun is cocked to reload."

This was so true, that even Dr. Seignebos had nothing to say.

"Now, my friends," said M. Galpin, "which of you has found the

"We were all together when we saw it, and picked it up."

"Well, then, all three of you must give me your names and your
domicile, so that I can send for you when you are wanted."

This was done; and, when all formalities were attended to, they went
off with numberless bows and doffings of hats. Just at that moment the
furious gallop of a horse was heard approaching the house; the next
moment the man who had been sent to Sauveterre for medicines came in.
He was furious.

"That rascal of a druggist!" he said. "I thought he would never open
his shop!"

Dr. Seignebos had eagerly seized the things that were sent him, then,
bowing with mock respect to the magistrate, he said,--

"I know very well, sir, how pressing the necessity is to have the head
of the culprit cut off; but I think it is almost as pressing to save
the life of the murdered man. I have probably delayed the binding up
of the count's wounds longer than I ought to have done; and I beg you
will now leave me alone, so as to enable me to do my duty to him."


There was nothing more to be done for the magistrate, the commonwealth
attorney, or the mayor. The doctor might assuredly have used more
polite language; but people were accustomed to his brutal ways; for it
is surprising with what readiness men are tolerated in France, under
the pretext that they are as they are, and that they must be taken as
they are. The three gentlemen, therefore, left the room, after having
bid farewell to the countess, and after having promised to send the
count news of all that might be discovered.

The fire was going out for want of fuel. A few hours had sufficed to
destroy all that the hard work and incessant cares of many years had
accomplished. This charming and much envied estate presented now
nothing but a few half calcined walls, heaps of black and gray ashes,
and still glowing timbers, from which columns of smoke were slowly
rising upward. Thanks to Capt. Parenteau, all that they had been able
to save had been carried to a distance, and safely stored away under
the shelter of the ruins of the old castle. There, furniture and other
articles were piled up pell-mell. There, carts and agricultural
machines were standing about, empty casks, and sacks of oats and rye.
There, also, the cattle were gathered, that had been drawn from their
stalls with infinite labor, and at great risk of life,--horses, oxen,
some sheep, and a dozen cows, who lowed piteously. Few of the people
had left as yet. With greater zeal than ever the firemen, aided by the
peasants, deluged the remains of the dwelling-house with water. They
had nothing to fear from the fire; but they desired to keep the bodies
of their unfortunate companions from being entirely consumed.

"What a terrible scourge fire is!" said M. Seneschal.

Neither M. Galpin nor the mayor made any answer. They also felt their
hearts oppressed by the sad sight before them, in spite of all the
intense excitement before; for a fire is nothing as long as the
feverish excitement, and the hope of saving something, continue to
keep us up, and as long as the red flames illumine the horizon; but
the next day, when all is over, then we realize the extent of the

The firemen recognized the mayor, and greeted him with cheers. He went
rapidly towards them; and, for the first time since the alarm had been
raised, the magistrate and the attorney were alone. They were standing
close by each other, and for a moment kept silent, while each one
tried to read in the other's eyes the secret of his thoughts. At last
M. Daubigeon asked,--


M. Galpin trembled.

"This is a fearful calamity," he said.

"What is your opinion?"

"Ah! do I know it myself? I have lost my head: the whole thing looks
to me like a nightmare."

"You cannot really believe that M. de Boiscoran is guilty?"

"I believe nothing. My reason tells me he is innocent. I feel he must
be innocent; and yet I see terrible evidence rising against him."

The attorney was overwhelmed.

"Alas!" he said, "why did you, contrary to everybody's opinion, insist
upon examining Cocoleu, a poor idiotic wretch?"

But the magistrate remonstrated--

"You do not mean to reproach me, sir, for having followed the impulses
of my conscience?"

"I reproach you for nothing."

"A horrible crime has been committed; and my duty compelled me to do
all that lies in the power of man to discover the culprit."

"Yes; and the man who is accused of the crime is your friend, and only
yesterday you spoke of his friendship as your best chance of success
in life."


"Are you surprised to find me so well informed? Ah, you do not know
that nothing escapes the idle curiosity of a village. I know that your
dearest hope was to become a member of M. de Boiscoran's family, and
that you counted upon him to back you in your efforts to obtain the
hand of one of his cousins."

"I do not deny that."

"Unfortunately, you have been tempted by the prestige you might gain
in a great and famous trial. You have laid aside all prudence; and
your projects are forgotten. Whether M. de Boiscoran is innocent or
guilty, his family will never forgive you your interference. If he is
guilty, they will blame you for having handed him over to justice: if
he is innocent, they will blame you even more for having suspected

M. Galpin hung his head as if to conceal his trouble. Then he asked,--

"And what would you do in my place?"

"I would withdraw from the case, although it is rather late."

"If I did so, I should risk my career."

"Even that would be better for you than to engage in an affair in
which you cannot feel the calmness nor the impartiality which are the
first and indispensable virtues of an upright magistrate."

The latter was becoming impatient. He exclaimed,--

"Sir, do you think I am a man to be turned aside from my duty by
considerations of friendship or personal interest?"

"I said nothing of the kind."

"Did you not see just now how I carried on the inquiry? Did you see me
start when Cocoleu first mentioned M. de Boiscoran's name? If he had
denounced any one else, I should probably have let the matter rest
there. But precisely because M. de Boiscoran is a friend of mine, and
because I have great expectations from him, I have insisted and
persisted, and I do so still."

The commonwealth attorney shrugged his shoulders.

"That is it exactly," he said. "Because M. de Boiscoran is a friend of
yours, you are afraid of being accused of weakness; and you are going
to be hard, pitiless, unjust even, against him. Because you had great
expectations from him, you will insist upon finding him guilty. And
you call yourself impartial?"

M. Galpin assumed all his usual rigidity, and said solemnly,--

"I am sure of myself!"

"Have a care!"

"My mind is made up, sir."

It was time for M. Seneschal to join them again: he returned,
accompanied by Capt. Parenteau.

"Well, gentlemen," he asked, "what have you resolved?"

"We are going to Boiscoran," replied the magistrate.

"What! Immediately?"

"Yes: I wish to find M. de Boiscoran in bed. I am so anxious about it,
that I shall do without my clerk."

Capt. Parenteau bowed, and said,--

"Your clerk is here, sir: he was but just inquiring for you."
Thereupon he called out as loud as he could,--

"Mechinet, Mechinet!"

A small gray-haired man, jovial and cheerful, came running up, and at
once proceeded to tell at full length how a neighbor had told him what
had happened, and how the magistrate had left town, whereupon he,
also, had started on foot, and come after him as fast as he could.

"Now will you go to Boiscoran?" asked the mayor.

"I do not know yet. Mechinet will have to look for some conveyance."

Quick like lightning, the clerk was starting off, when M. Seneschal
held him back, saying,--

"Don't go. I place my horse and my carriage at your disposal. Any one
of these peasants can drive you. Capt. Parenteau and I will get into
some farmer's wagon, and thus get back to Sauveterre; for we ought to
be back as soon as possible. I have just heard alarming news. There
may be some disorder. The peasant-women who attend the market have
brought in most exciting reports, and exaggerated the calamities of
last night. They have started reports that ten or twelve men have been
killed, and that the incendiary, M. de Boiscoran, has been arrested.
The crowd has gone to poor Guillebault's widow; and there have been
demonstrations before the houses of several of the principal
inhabitants of Sauveterre."

In ordinary times, M. Seneschal would not have intrusted his famous
horse, Caraby, for any thing in the world, to the hands of a stranger.
He considered it the best horse in the province. But he was evidently
terribly upset, and betrayed it in his manner, and by the very efforts
he made to regain his official dignity and self-possession.

He made a sign, and his carriage was brought up, all ready. But, when
he asked for somebody to drive, no one came forward. All these good
people who had spent the night abroad were in great haste to return
home, where their cattle required their presence. When young Ribot saw
the others hesitate, he said,--

"Well, I'll drive the justice."

And, taking hold of the whip and the reins, he took his seat on the
front-bench, while the magistrate, the commonwealth attorney, and the
clerk filled the vehicle.

"Above all, take care of Caraby," begged M. Seneschal, who at the last
moment felt almost overcome with anxiety for his favorite.

"Don't be afraid, sir," replied the young man, as he started the
horse. "If I strike too hard, M. Mechinet will stop me."

This Mechinet, the magistrate's clerk, was almost a power in
Sauveterre; and the greatest personages there paid their court to him.
His official duties were of very humble nature, and ill paid; but he
knew how to eke out his income by other occupations, of which the
court took no notice; and these added largely both to his importance
in the community and to his modest income.

As he was a skilful lithographer, he printed all the visiting-cards
which the people of Sauveterre ordered at the principal printing-
office of Sauveterre, where "The Independent" was published. An able
accountant, he kept books and made up accounts for some of the
principal merchants in town. Some of the country people who were fond
of litigation came to him for legal advice; and he drew up all kinds
of law papers. For many years now, he had been director of the
firemen's band, and manager of the Orpheon. He was a correspondent of
certain Paris societies, and thus obtained free admission to the
theatre not only, but also to the sacred precincts behind the scenes.
Finally he was always ready to give writing-lessons, French lessons to
little girls, or music-lessons on the flute and the horn, to amateurs.

These varied talents had drawn upon him the hostility of all the other
teachers and public servants of the community, especially that of the
mayor's clerk, and the clerks of the bank and great institutions of
Sauveterre. But all these enemies he had gradually conquered by the
unmistakable superiority of his ability; so that they fell in with the
universal habit, and, when any thing special happened, said to each

"Let us go and consult Mechinet."

He himself concealed, under an appearance of imperturbable good
nature, the ambition by which he was devoured: he wanted to become
rich, and to rise in the world. In fact, Mechinet was a diplomat,
working in secret, but as cunning as Talleyrand. He had succeeded
already in making himself the one great personage of Sauveterre. The
town was full of him; nothing was done without him; and yet he had not
an enemy in the place.

The fact is, people were afraid of him, and dreaded his terrible
tongue. Not that he had ever injured anybody, he was too wise for
that; but they knew the harm he might do, if he chose, as he was
master of every important secret in Sauveterre, and the best informed
man in town as regarded all their little intrigues, their private
foibles, and their dark antecedents.

This gave him quite an exceptional position. As he was unmarried, he
lived with his sisters, the Misses Mechinet, who were the best
dressmakers in town, and, moreover, devout members of all kinds of
religious societies. Through them he heard all that was going on in
society, and was able to compare the current gossip with what he heard
in court, or at the newspaper office. Thus he could say pleasantly,--

"How could any thing escape me, when I have the church and the press,
the court and the theatre, to keep me informed?"

Such a man would have considered himself disgraced if he had not known
every detail of M. de Boiscoran's private affairs. He did not
hesitate, therefore, while the carriage was rolling along on an
excellent road, in the fresh spring morning, to explain to his
companions the "case," as he called it, of the accused nobleman.

M. de Boiscoran, called Jacques by his friends, was rarely on his
estate, and then only staid a month or so there. He was living in
Paris, where his family owned a comfortable house in University
Street. His parents were still alive.

His father, the Marquis de Boiscoran, the owner of a large landed
estate, a deputy under Louis Philippe, a representative in 1848, had
withdrawn from public life when the Second Empire was established, and
spent, since that time, all his money, and all his energies, in
collecting rare old books, and especially costly porcelain, on which
he had written a monograph.

His mother, a Chalusse by birth, had enjoyed the reputation of being
one of the most beautiful and most gifted ladies at the court of the
Citizen King. At a certain period in her life, unfortunately, slander
had attacked her; and about 1845 or 1846, it was reported that she had
had a remarkable affair with a young lawyer of distinction, who had
since become one of the austerest and most renowned judges. As she
grew old, the marchioness devoted herself more and more to politics,
as other women become pious. While her husband boasted that he had not
read a newspaper for ten years, she had made her /salon/ a kind of
parliamentary centre, which had its influence on political affairs.

Although Jacques de Boiscoran's parents were still alive, he possessed
a considerable fortune of his own--five or six thousand dollars a
year. This fortune, which consisted of the Chateau of Boiscoran, the
farms, meadows, and forests belonging to it, had been left to him by
one of his uncles, the oldest brother of his father, who had died a
widower, and childless, in 1868. M. de Boiscoran was at this moment
about twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, dark complexion, tall,
strong, well made, not exactly a handsome man, but having, what was
worth more, one of those frank, intelligent faces which prepossess one
at first sight.

His character was less well known at Sauveterre than his person. Those
who had had any business with him described him as an honorable,
upright man: his companions spoke of him as cheerful and gay, fond of
pleasure, and always in good humor. At the time of the Prussian
invasion, he had been made a captain of one of the volunteer companies
of the district. He had led his men bravely under fire, and conducted
himself so well on the battlefield, that Gen. Chanzy had rewarded him,
when wounded, with the cross of the legion of honor.

"And such a man should have committed such a crime at Valpinson," said
M. Daubigeon to the magistrate. "No, it is impossible! And no doubt he
will very easily scatter all our doubts to the four winds."

"And that will be done at once," said young Ribot; "for here we are."

In many of the provinces of France the name of /chateau/ is given to
almost any little country-house with a weathercock on its pointed
roof. But Boiscoran was a real chateau. It had been built towards the
end of the seventeenth century, in wretched taste, but massively, like
a fortress. Its position is superb. It is surrounded on all sides by
woods and forests; and at the foot of the sloping garden flows a
little river, merrily splashing over its pebbly bed, and called the
Magpie on account of its perpetual babbling.


It was seven o'clock when the carriage containing the justice drove
into the courtyard at Boiscoran,--a vast court, planted with lime-
trees, and surrounded by farm buildings. The chateau was wide awake.
Before her house-door, the farmer's wife was cleaning the huge caldron
in which she had prepared the morning soup; the maids were going and
coming; and at the stable a groom was rubbing down with great energy a
thorough-bred horse.

On the front-steps stood Master Anthony, M. de Boiscoran's own man,
smoking his cigar in the bright sunlight, and overlooking the farm
operations. He was a man of nearly fifty, still very active, who had
been bequeathed to his new master by his uncle, together with his
possessions. He was a widower now; and his daughter was in the
marchioness' service.

As he had been born in the family, and never left it afterwards, he
looked upon himself as one of them, and saw no difference between his
own interests and those of his master. In fact, he was treated less
like a servant than like a friend; and he fancied he knew every thing
about M. de Boiscoran's affairs.

When he saw the magistrate and the commonwealth attorney come up to
the door, he threw away his cigar, came down quickly, and, bowing
deeply, said to them with his most engaging smile,--

"Ah, gentlemen! What a pleasant surprise! My master will be

With strangers, Anthony would not have allowed himself such
familiarity, for he was very formal; but he had seen M. Daubigeon more
than once at the chateau; and he knew the plans that had been
discussed between M. Galpin and his master. Hence he was not a little
amazed at the embarrassed stiffness of the two gentlemen, and at the
tone of voice in which the magistrate asked him,--

"Has M. de Boiscoran gotten up yet?"

"Not yet," he replied; "and I have orders not to wake him. He came
home late last night, and wanted to make up this morning."

Instinctively the magistrate and the attorney looked away, each
fearing to meet the other's eyes.

"Ah! M. de Boiscoran came home late last night?" repeated M. Galpin.

"Towards midnight, rather after midnight than before."

"And when had he gone out?"

"He left here about eight."

"How was he dressed?"

"As usually. He had light gray trousers, a shooting-jacket of brown
velveteen, and a large straw hat."

"Did he take his gun?"

"Yes, sir."

"Do you know where he went?"

But for the respect which he felt for his master's friends, Anthony
would not have answered these questions, which he thought were
extremely impertinent. But this last question seemed to him to go
beyond all fair limits. He replied, therefore, in a tone of injured

"I am not in the habit of asking my master where he goes when he
leaves the house, nor where he has been when he comes back."

M. Daubigeon understood perfectly well the honorable feelings which
actuated the faithful servant. He said to him with an air of
unmistakable kindness,--

"Do not imagine, my friend, that I ask you these questions from idle
curiosity. Tell me what you know; for your frankness may be more
useful to your master than you imagine."

Anthony looked with an air of perfect stupefaction, by turns at the
magistrate and the commonwealth attorney, at Mechinet, and finally at
Ribot, who had taken the lines, and tied Caraby to a tree.

"I assure you, gentlemen, I do not know where M. de Boiscoran has
spent the evening."

"You have no suspicion?"


"Perhaps he went to Brechy to see a friend?"

"I do not know that he has any friends in Brechy."

"What did he do after he came home?"

The old servant showed evident signs of embarrassment.

"Let me think," he said. "My master went up to his bedroom, and
remained there four or five minutes. Then he came down, ate a piece of
a pie, and drank a glass of wine. Then he lit a cigar, and told me to
go to bed, adding that he would take a little walk, and undress
without my help."

"And then you went to bed?"

"Of course."

"So that you do not know what your master may have done?"

"I beg your pardon. I heard him open the garden door."

"He did not appear to you different from usual?"

"No: he was as he always is,--quite cheerful: he was singing."

"Can you show me the gun he took with him?"

"No. My master probably took it to his room."

M. Daubigeon was about to make a remark, when the magistrate stopped
him by a gesture, and eagerly asked,--

"How long is it since your master and Count Claudieuse have ceased
seeing each other?"

Anthony trembled, as if a dark presentiment had entered his mind. He

"A long time: at least I think so."

"You are aware that they are on bad terms?"


"They have had great difficulties between them?"

"Something unpleasant has happened, I know; but it was not much. As
they do not visit each other, they cannot well hate each other.
Besides, I have heard master say a hundred times, that he looked upon
Count Claudieuse as one of the best and most honorable men; that he
respected him highly, and"--

For a minute or so M. Galpin kept silent, thinking whether he had
forgotten any thing. Then he asked suddenly,--

"How far is it from here to Valpinson?"

"Three miles, sir," replied Anthony.

"If you were going there, what road would you take?"

"The high road which passes Brechy."

"You would not go across the marsh?"

"Certainly not."

"Why not?"

"Because the Seille is out of its banks, and the ditches are full of

"Is not the way much shorter through the forest?"

"Yes, the way is shorter; but it would take more time. The paths are
very indistinct, and overgrown with briers."

The commonwealth attorney could hardly conceal his disappointment.
Anthony's answers seemed to become worse and worse.

"Now," said the magistrate again, "if fire should break out at
Valpinson, would you see it from here?"

"I think not, sir. There are hills and tall woods between."

"Can you hear the Brechy bells from here?"

"When the wind is north, yes, sir."

"And last night, how was it?"

"The wind was from the west, as it always is when we have a storm."

"So that you have heard nothing? You do not know what a terrible

"A calamity? I do not understand you, sir."

This conversation had taken place in the court-yard: and at this
moment there appeared two gendarmes on horseback, whom M. Galpin had
sent for just before he left Valpinson.

When old Anthony saw them, he exclaimed,--

"Great God! what is the meaning of this? I must wake master."

The magistrate stopped him, saying harshly,--

"Not a step! Don't say a word!"

And pointing out Ribot to the gendarmes, he said,--

"Keep that lad under your eyes, and let him have no communication with

Then, turning again to Anthony, he said,--

"Now show us to M. de Boiscoran's bedroom."


In spite of its grand feudal air, the chateau at Boiscoran was, after
all, little more than a bachelor's modest home, and in a very bad
state of preservation. Of the eighty or a hundred rooms which it
contained, hardly more than eight or ten were furnished, and this only
in the simplest possible manner,--a sitting-room, a dining-room, a few
guest-chambers: this was all M. de Boiscoran required during his rare
visits to the place. He himself used in the second story a small room,
the door of which opened upon the great staircase.

When they reached this door, guided by old Anthony, the magistrate
said to the servant,--


The man obeyed: and immediately a youthful, hearty voice replied from

"Who is there?"

"It is I," said the faithful servant. "I should like"--

"Go to the devil!" broke in the voice.

"But, sir"--

"Let me sleep, rascal. I have not been able to close an eye till now."
The magistrate, becoming impatient, pushed the servant aside, and,
seizing the door-knob tried to open it; it was locked inside. But he
lost no time in saying,--

"It is I, M. de Boiscoran: open, if you please!"

"Ah, dear M. Galpin!" replied the voice cheerfully.

"I must speak to you."

"And I am at your service, illustrious jurist. Just give me time to
veil my Apollonian form in a pair of trousers, and I appear."

Almost immediately, the door opened; and M. de Boiscoran presented
himself, his hair dishevelled, his eyes heavy with sleep, but looking
bright in his youth and full health, with smiling lips and open hands.

"Upon my word!" he said. "That was a happy inspiration you had, my
dear Galpin. You come to join me at breakfast?"

And, bowing to M. Daubigeon, he added,--

"Not to say how much I thank you for bringing our excellent
commonwealth attorney with you. This is a veritable judicial visit"--

But he paused, chilled as he was by M. Daubigeon's icy face, and
amazed at M. Galpin's refusal to take his proffered hand.

"Why," he said, "what is the matter, my dear friend?"

The magistrate had never been stiffer in his life, when he replied,--

"We shall have to forget our relations, sir. It is not as a friend I
come to-day, but as a magistrate."

M. de Boiscoran looked confounded; but not a shadow of trouble
appeared on his frank and open face.

"I'll be hanged," he said, "if I understand"--

"Let us go in," said M. Galpin.

They went in; and, as they passed the door, Mechinet whispered into
the attorney's ear,--

"Sir, that man is certainly innocent. A guilty man would never have
received us thus."

"Silence, sir!" said the commonwealth attorney, however much he was
probably of his clerk's opinion. "Silence!"

And grave and sad he went and stood in one of the window embrasures.
M. Galpin remained standing in the centre of the room, trying to see
every thing in it, and to fix it in his memory, down to the smallest
details. The prevailing disorder showed clearly how hastily M. de
Boiscoran had gone to bed the night before. His clothes, his boots,
his shirt, his waistcoat, and his straw hat lay scattered about on the
chairs and on the floor. He wore those light gray trousers, which had
been succcessively seen and recognized by Cocoleu, by Ribot, by
Gaudry, and by Mrs. Courtois.

"Now, sir," began M. de Boiscoran, with that slight angry tone of
voice which shows that a man thinks a joke has been carried far
enough, "will you please tell me what procures for me the honor of
this early visit?"

Not a muscle in M. Galpin's face was moving. As if the question had
been addressed to some one else, he said coldly,--

"Will you please show us your hands, sir?"

M. de Boiscoran's cheeks turned crimson; and his eyes assumed an
expression of strange perplexity.

"If this is a joke," he said, "it has perhaps lasted long enough."

He was evidently getting angry. M. Daubigeon thought it better to
interfere, and thus he said,--

"Unfortunately, sir, the question is a most serious one. Do what the
magistrate desires."

More and more amazed, M. de Boiscoran looked rapidly around him. In
the door stood Anthony, his faithful old servant, with anguish on his
face. Near the fireplace, the clerk had improvised a table, and put
his paper, his pens, and his horn inkstand in readiness. Then with a
shrug of his shoulders, which showed that he failed to understand, M.
de Boiscoran showed his hands.

They were perfectly clean and white: the long nails were carefully
cleaned also.

"When did you last wash your hands?" asked M. Galpin, after having
examined them minutely.

At this question, M. de Boiscoran's face brightened up; and, breaking
out into a hearty laugh, he said,--

"Upon my word! I confess you nearly caught me. I was on the point of
getting angry. I almost feared"--

"And there was good reason for fear," said M. Galpin; "for a terrible
charge has been brought against you. And it may be, that on your
answer to my question, ridiculous as it seems to you, your honor may
depend, and perhaps your liberty."

This time there was no mistake possible. M. de Boiscoran felt that
kind of terror which the law inspires even in the best of men, when
they find themselves suddenly accused of a crime. He turned pale, and
then he said in a troubled voice,--

"What! A charge has been brought against me, and you, M. Galpin, come
to my house to examine me?"

"I am a magistrate, sir."

"But you were also my friend. If anyone should have dared in my
presence to accuse you of a crime, of a mean act, of something
infamous, I should have defended you, sir, with all my energy, without
hesitation, and without a doubt. I should have defended you till
absolute, undeniable evidence should have been brought forward of your
culpability; and even then I should have pitied you, remembering that
I had esteemed you so highly as to favor your alliance with my family.
But you--I am accused, I do not know of what, falsely, wrongly; and at
once you hasten hither, you believe the charge, and consent to become
my judge. Well, let it be so! I washed my hands last night after
coming home."

M. Galpin had not boasted too much in praising his self-possession and
his perfect control over himself. He did not move when the terrible
words fell upon his ear; and he asked again in the same calm tone,--

"What has become of the water you used for that purpose?"

"It is probably still there, in my dressing-room."

The magistrate at once went in. On the marble table stood a basin full
of water. That water was black and dirty. At the bottom lay particles
of charcoal. On the top, mixed with the soapsuds, were swimming some
extremely slight but unmistakable fragments of charred paper. With
infinite care the magistrate carried the basin to the table at which
Mechinet had taken a sea; and, pointing at it, he asked M. de

"Is that the water in which you washed your hands last night after
coming home?"

"Yes," replied the other with an air of careless indifference.

"You had been handling charcoal, or some inflammable material."

"Don't you see?"

Standing face to face, the commonwealth attorney and clerk exchanged
rapid glances. They had had the same feeling at that moment. If M. de
Boiscoran was innocent, he was certainly a marvellously cool and
energetic man, or he was carrying out a long-premeditated plan of
action; for every one of his answers seemed to tighten the net in
which he was taken. The magistrate himself seemed to be struck by
this; but it was only for a moment, and then, turning to the clerk, he

"Write that down!"

He dictated to him the whole evidence, most minutely and accurately,
correcting himself every now and then to substitute a better word, or
to improve his style. When he had read it over he said,--

"Let us go on, sir. You were out last night?"

"Yes, sir."

"Having left the house at eight, you returned only around midnight."

"After midnight."

"You took your gun?"

"Yes, sir."

"Where is it?"

With an air of indifference, M. de Boiscoran pointed at it in the
corner of the fireplace, and said,--

"There it is!"

M. Galpin took it up quickly. It was a superb weapon, double-
barrelled, of unusually fine make, and very elegant. On the
beautifully carved woodwork the manufacturer's name, Clebb, was

"When did you last fire this gun?" asked the magistrate.

"Some four or five days ago."

"What for?"

"To shoot some rabbits who infested my woods."

M. Galpin raised and lowered the cock with all possible care: he
noticed that it was the Remington patent. Then he opened the chamber,
and found that the gun was loaded. Each barrel had a cartridge in it.
Then he put the gun back in its place, and, pulling from his pocket
the leaden cartridge-case which Pitard had found, he showed it to M.
de Boiscoran, and asked him,--

"Do you recognize this?"

"Perfectly!" replied the other. "It is a case of one of the cartridges
which I have probably thrown away as useless."

"Do you think you are the only one in this country who has a gun by
this maker?"

"I do not think it: I am quite sure of it."

"So that you must, as a matter of course, have been at a spot where
such a cartridge-case as this has been found?"

"Not necessarily. I have often seen children pick up these things, and
play with them."

The clerk, while he made his pen fly across his paper, could not
resist the temptation of making all kinds of faces. He was too well
acquainted with lawyers' tactics not to understand M. Galpin's policy
perfectly well, and to see how cunningly it was devised to make every
fact strengthen the suspicion against M. de Boiscoran.

"It is a close game," he said to himself.

The magistrate had taken a seat.

"If that is so," he began again, "I beg you will give me an account of
how you spent the evening after eight o'clock: do not hurry, consider,
take your time; for your answers are of the utmost importance."

M. de Boiscoran had so far remained quite cool; but his calmness
betrayed one of those terrible storms within, which may break forth,
no one knows when. This warning, and, even more so, the tone in which
it was given, revolted him as a most hideous hypocrisy. And, breaking
out all of a sudden, he cried,--

"After all, sir, what do you want of me? What am I accused of?"

M. Galpin did not stir. He replied,--

"You will hear it at the proper time. First answer my question, and
believe me in your own interest. Answer frankly. What did you do last

"How do I know? I walked about."

"That is no answer."

"Still it is so. I went out with no specific purpose: I walked at

"Your gun on your shoulder?"

"I always take my gun: my servant can tell you so."

"Did you cross the Seille marshes?"


The magistrate shook his head gravely. He said,--

"You are not telling the truth."


"Your boots there at the foot of the bed speak against you. Where does
the mud come from with which they are covered?"

"The meadows around Boiscoran are very wet."

"Do not attempt to deny it. You have been seen there."


"Young Ribot met you at the moment when you were crossing the canal."

M. de Boiscoran made no reply.

"Where were you going?" asked the magistrate.

For the first time a real embarrassment appeared in the features of
the accused,--the embarrassment of a man who suddenly sees an abyss
opening before him. He hesitated; and, seeing that it was useless to
deny, he said,--

"I was going to Brechy."

"To whom?"

"To my wood-merchant, who has bought all this year's wood. I did not
find him at home, and came back on the high road."

M. Galpin stopped him by a gesture.

"That is not so," he said severely.


"You never went to Brechy."

"I beg your pardon."

"And the proof is, that, about eleven o'clock, you were hurriedly
crossing the forest of Rochepommier."


"Yes, you! And do not say No; for there are your trousers torn to
pieces by the thorns and briers through which you must have made your

"There are briers elsewhere as well as in the forest."

"To be sure; but you were seen there."

"By whom?"

"By Gaudry the poacher. And he saw so much of you, that he could tell
us in what a bad humor you were. You were very angry. You were talking
loud, and pulling the leaves from the trees."

As he said so, the magistrate got up and took the shooting-jacket,
which was lying on a chair not far from him. He searched the pockets,
and pulled out of one a handful of leaves.

"Look here! you see, Gaudry has told the truth."

"There are leaves everywhere," said M. de Boiscoran half aloud.

"Yes; but a woman, Mrs. Courtois, saw you come out of the forest of
Rochepommier. You helped her to put a sack of flour on her ass, which
she could not lift alone. Do you deny it? No, you are right; for, look
here! on the sleeve of your coat I see something white, which, no
doubt, is flour from her bag."

M. de Boiscoran hung his head. The magistrate went on,--

"You confess, then, that last night, between ten and eleven you were
at Valpinson?"

"No, sir, I do not."

"But this cartridge-case which I have just shown you was picked up at
Valpinson, close by the ruins of the old castle."

"Well, sir, have I not told you before that I have seen a hundred
times children pick up these cases to play with? Besides, if I had
really been at Valpinson, why should I deny it?"

M. Galpin rose to his full height, and said in the most solemn

"I am going to tell you why! Last night, between ten and eleven,
Valpinson was set on fire; and it has been burnt to the ground."


"Last night Count Claudieuse was fired at twice."

"Great God!"

"And it is thought, in fact there are strong reasons to think, that
you, Jacques de Boiscoran, are the incendiary and the assassin."


M. de Boiscoran looked around him like a man who has suddenly been
seized with vertigo, pale, as if all his blood had rushed to his

He saw nothing but mournful, dismayed faces.

Anthony, his old trusted servant, was leaning against the doorpost, as
if he feared to fall. The clerk was mending his pen in the air,
overcome with amazement. M. Daubigeon hung his head.

"This is horrible!" he murmured: "this is horrible!"

He fell heavily into a chair, pressing his hands on his heart, as if
to keep down the sobs that threatened to rise. M. Galpin alone seemed
to remain perfectly cool. The law, which he imagined he was
representing in all its dignity, knows nothing of emotions. His thin
lips even trembled a little, as if a slight smile was about to burst
forth: it was the cold smile of the ambitious man, who thinks he has
played his little part well.

Did not every thing tend to prove that Jacques de Boiscoran was the
guilty man, and that, in the alternative between a friend, and an
opportunity of gaining high distinction, he had chosen well? After the
silence of a minute, which seemed to be a century, he went and stood,
with arms crossed on his chest, before the accused, and asked him,--

"Do you confess?"

M. de Boiscoran sprang up as if moved by a spring, and said,--

"What? What do you want me to confess?"

"That you have committed the crime at Valpinson."

The young man pressed his hands convulsively on his brow, and cried

"But I am mad! I should have committed such a fearful, cowardly crime?
Is that possible? Is that likely? I might confess, and you would not
believe me. No! I am sure you would not believe my own words."

He would have moved the marble on his mantelpiece sooner than M.
Galpin. The latter replied in icy tones,--

"I am not part of the question here. Why will you refer to relations
which must be forgotten? It is no longer the friend who speaks to you,
not even the man, but simply the magistrate. You were seen"--

"Who is the wretch?"


M. de Boiscoran seemed to be overwhelmed. He stammered,--

"Cocoleu? That poor epileptic idiot whom the Countess Claudieuse has
picked up?"

"The same."

"And upon the strength of the senseless words of a poor imbecile I am
charged with incendiarism, with murder?"

Never had the magistrate made such efforts to assume an air of
impassive dignity and icy solemnity, as when he replied,--

"For an hour, at least, poor Cocoleu has been in the full enjoyment of
his faculties. The ways of Providence are inscrutable."

"But sir"--

"And what does Cocoleu depose? He says he saw you kindle the fire with
your own hands, then conceal yourself behind a pile of wood, and fire
twice at Count Claudieuse."

"And all that appears quite natural to you?"

"No! At first it shocked me as it shocked everybody. You seem to be
far above all suspicion. But a moment afterwards they pick up the
cartridge-case, which can only have belonged to you. Then, upon my
arrival here, I surprise you in bed, and find the water in which you
have washed your hands black with coal, and little pieces of charred
paper swimming on top of it."

"Yes," said M. de Boiscoran in an undertone: "it is fate."

"And that is not all," continued the magistrate, raising his voice, "I
examine you, and you admit having been out from eight o'clock till
after midnight. I ask what you have been doing, and you refuse to tell
me. I insist, and you tell a falsehood. In order to overwhelm you, I
am forced to quote the evidence of young Ribot, of Gaudry, and Mrs.
Courtois, who have seen you at the very places where you deny having
been. That circumstance alone condemns you. Why should you not be
willing to tell me what you have been doing during those four hours?
You claim to be innocent. Help me, then, to establish your innocence.
Speak, tell me what you were doing between eight and midnight."

M. de Boiscoran had no time to answer.

For some time already, half-suppressed cries, and the sound of a large
crowd, had come up from the courtyard. A gendarme came in quite
excited; and, turning to the magistrate and the commonwealth attorney,
he said,--

"Gentlemen, there are several hundred peasants, men and women, in the
yard, who clamor for M. de Boiscoran. They threaten to drag him down
to the river. Some of the men are armed with pitchforks; but the women
are the maddest. My comrade and I have done our best to keep them

And just then, as if to confirm what he said, the cries came nearer,
growing louder and louder; and one could distinctly hear,--

"Drown Boiscoran! Let us drown the incendiary!"

The attorney rose, and told the gendarme,--

"Go down and tell these people that the authorities are this moment
examining the accused; that they interrupt us; and that, if they keep
on, they will have to do with me."

The gendarme obeyed his orders. M. de Boiscoran had turned deadly
pale. He said to himself,--

"These unfortunate people believe my guilt!"

"Yes," said M. Galpin, who had overheard the words; "and you would
comprehend their rage, for which there is good reason, if you knew all
that has happened."

"What else?"

"Two Sauveterre firemen, one the father of five children, have
perished in the flames. Two other men, a farmer from Brechy, and a
gendarme who tried to rescue them, have been so seriously burned that
their lives are in danger."

M. de Boiscoran said nothing.

"And it is you," continued the magistrate, "who is charged with all
these calamities. You see how important it is for you to exculpate

"Ah! how can I?"

"If you are innocent, nothing is easier. Tell us how you employed
yourself last night."

"I have told you all I can say."

The magistrate seemed to reflect for a full minute; then he said,--

"Take care, M. de Boiscoran: I shall have to have you arrested."

"Do so."

"I shall be obliged to order your arrest at once, and to send you to
jail in Sauveterre."

"Very well."

"Then you confess?"

"I confess that I am the victim of an unheard-of combination of
circumstances; I confess that you are right, and that certain
fatalities can only be explained by the belief in Providence: but I
swear by all that is holy in the world, I am innocent."

"Prove it."

"Ah! would I not do it if I could?"

"Be good enough, then, to dress, sir, and to follow the gendarmes."

Without a word, M. de Boiscoran went into his dressing-room, followed
by his servant, who carried him his clothes. M. Galpin was so busy
dictating to the clerk the latter part of the examination, that he
seemed to forget his prisoner. Old Anthony availed himself of this

"Sir," he whispered into his master's ear while helping him to put on
his clothes.


"Hush! Don't speak so loud! The other window is open. It is only about
twenty feet to the ground: the ground is soft. Close by is one of the
cellar openings; and in there, you know, there is the old hiding-
place. It is only five miles to the coast, and I will have a good
horse ready for you to-night, at the park-gate."

A bitter smile rose on M. de Boiscoran's lips, as he said,--

"And you too, my old friend: you think I am guilty?"

"I conjure you," said Anthony, "I answer for any thing. It is barely
twenty feet. In your mother's name"--

But, instead of answering him, M. de Boiscoran turned round, and
called M. Galpin. When he had come in, he said to him, "Look at that
window, sir! I have money, fast horses; and the sea is only five miles
off. A guilty man would have escaped. I stay here; for I am innocent."

In one point, at least, M. de Boiscoran had been right. Nothing would
have been easier for him than to escape, to get into the garden, and
to reach the hiding-place which his servant had suggested to him. But
after that? He had, to be sure, with old Anthony's assistance, some
chance of escaping altogether. But, after all, he might have been
found out in his hiding-place, or he might have been overtaken in his
ride to the coast. Even if he had succeeded, what would have become of
him? His flight would necessarily have been looked upon as a
confession of his guilt.

Under such circumstances, to resist the temptation to escape, and to
make this resistance well known, was in fact not so much an evidence
of innocence as a proof of great cleverness. M. Galpin, at all events,
looked upon it in that light; for he judged others by himself.
Carefully and cunningly calculating every step he took in life, he did
not believe in sudden inspirations. He said, therefore, with an
ironical smile, which was to show that he was not so easily taken

"Very well, sir. This circumstance shall be mentioned, as well as the
others, at the trial."

Very differently thought the commonwealth attorney and the clerk. If
the magistrate had been too much engaged in his dictation to notice
any thing, they had been perfectly able to notice the great excitement
under which the accused had naturally labored. Perfectly amazed at
first, and thinking, for a moment, that the whole was a joke, he had
next become furiously angry; then fear and utter dejection had
followed one another. But in precise proportion as the charges had
accumulated, and the evidence had become overwhelming, he had, so far
from becoming demoralized, seemed to recover his assurance.

"There is something curious about it," growled Mechinet. M. Daubigeon,
on the other hand, said nothing; but when M. de Boiscoran came out of
his dressing-room, fully dressed and ready, he said,--

"One more question, sir."

The poor man bowed. He was pale, but calm and self-possessed.

"I am ready to reply," he said.

"I'll be brief. You seemed to be surprised and indignant at any one's
daring to accuse you. That was weakness. Justice is but the work of
man, and must needs judge by appearances. If you reflect, you will see
that the appearances are all against you."

"I see it but too clearly."

"If you were on a jury, you would not hesitate to pronounce a man
guilty upon such evidence."

"No, sir, no!"

The commonwealth attorney bounded from his chair. He said,--

"You are not sincere!"

M. de Boiscoran sadly shook his head, and replied,--

"I speak to you without the slightest hope of convincing you, but in
all sincerity. No, I should not condemn a man, as you say, if he
asserted his innocence, and if I did not see any reason for his crime.
For, after all, unless a man is mad, he does not commit a crime for
nothing. Now I ask you, how could I, upon whom fortune has always
smiled; I who am on the eve of marrying one whom I love passionately,
--how could I have set Valpinson on fire, and tried to murder Count

M. Galpin had scarcely been able to disguise his impatience, when he
saw the attorney take part in the affair. Seizing, therefore, the
opportunity to interfere, he said,--

"Your reason, sir, was hatred. You hated the count and the countess
mortally. Do not protest: it is of no use. Everybody knows it; and you
yourself have told me so."

M. de Boiscoran looked as if he were growing still more pale, and then
replied in a tone of crushing disdain,--

"Even if that were so, I do not see what right you have to abuse the
confidence of a friend, after having declared, upon your arrival here,
that all friendship between us had ceased. But that is not so. I never
told you any such thing. As my feelings have never changed, I can
repeat literally what I have said. I have told you that the count was
a troublesome neighbor, a stickler for his rights, and almost absurdly
attached to his preserves. I have also told you, that, if he declared
my public opinions to be abominable, I looked upon his as ridiculous
and dangerous. As for the countess, I have simply said, half in jest,
that so perfect a person was not to my taste; and that I should be
very unhappy if my wife were a Madonna, who hardly ever deigned to put
her foot upon the ground."

"And that was the only reason why you once pointed your gun at Count
Claudieuse? A little more blood rushing to your head would have made
you a murderer on that day."

A terrible spasm betrayed M. de Boiscoran's fury; but he checked
himself, and said,--

"My passion was less fiery than it may have looked. I have the most
profound respect for the count's character. It is an additional grief
to me that he should have accused me."

"But he has not accused you!" broke in M. Daubigeon. "On the contrary,
he was the first and the most eager to defend you."

And, in spite of the signs which M. Galpin made, he continued,--

"Unfortunately that has nothing to do with the force of the evidence
against you. If you persist in keeping silence, you must look for a
criminal trial for the galleys. If you are innocent, why not explain
the matter? What do you wait for? What do you hope?"


Mechinet had, in the meantime, completed the official report.

"We must go," said M. Galpin

"Am I at liberty," asked M. de Boiscoran, "to write a few lines to my
father and my mother? They are old: such an event may kill them."

"Impossible!" said the magistrate.

Then, turning to Anthony, he said,--

"I am going to put the seals on this room, and I shall leave it in the
meanwhile in your keeping. You know your duty, and the penalties to
which you would be subject, if, at the proper time, every thing is not
found in the same condition in which it is left now. Now, how shall we
get back to Sauveterre?"

After mature deliberation it was decided that M. de Boiscoran should
go in one of his own carriages, accompanied by one of the gendarmes.
M. Daubigeon, the magistrate, and the clerk would return in the
mayor's carriage, driven by Ribot, who was furious at being kept under

"Let us be off," said the magistrate, when the last formalities had
been fulfilled.

M. de Boiscoran came down slowly. He knew the court was full of
furious peasants; and he expected to be received with hootings. It was
not so. The gendarme whom the attorney had sent down had done his duty
so well, that not a cry was heard. But when he had taken his seat in
the carriage, and the horse went off at a trot, fierce curses arose,
and a shower of stones fell, one of which wounded a gendarme.

"Upon my word, you bring ill luck, prisoner," said the man, a friend
of the other gendarme who had been so much injured at the fire.

M. de Boiscoran made no reply. He sank back into the corner, and
seemed to fall into a kind of stupor, from which he did not rouse
himself till the carriage drove into the yard of the prison at
Sauveterre. On the threshold stood Master Blangin, the jailer, smiling
with delight at the idea of receiving so distinguished a prisoner.

"I am going to give you my best room," he said, "but first I have to
give a receipt to the gendarme, and to enter you in my book."
Thereupon he took down his huge, greasy register, and wrote the name
of Jacques de Boiscoran beneath that of Trumence Cheminot, a vagabond
who had just been arrested for having broken into a garden.

It was all over. Jacques de Boiscoran was a prisoner, to be kept in
close confinement.




The Paris house of the Boiscoran family, No. 216 University Street, is
a house of modest appearance. The yard in front is small; and the few
square yards of damp soil in the rear hardly deserve the name of a
garden. But appearances are deceptive. The inside is marvellously
comfortable; careful and painstaking hands have made every provision
for ease; and the rooms display that solid splendor for which our age
has lost the taste. The vestibule contains a superb mosaic, brought
home from Venice, in 1798, by one of the Boiscorans, who had
degenerated, and followed the fortunes of Napoleon. The balusters of
the great staircase are a masterpiece of iron work; and the
wainscoting in the dining-room has no rival in Paris.

All this, however, is a mere nothing in comparison with the marquis's
cabinet of curiosities. It fills the whole depth, and half the width,
of the upper story; is lighted from above like a huge /atelier/; and
would fill the heart of an artist with delight. Immense glass cases,
which stand all around against the walls, hold the treasures of the
marquis,--priceless collections of enamels, ivories, bronzes, unique
manuscripts, matchless porcelains, and, above all, his /faiences/, his
dear /faiences/, the pride and the torment of his old age.

The owner was well worthy of such a setting.

Though sixty-one years old at that time, the marquis was as straight
as ever, and most aristocratically lean. He had a perfectly
magnificent nose, which absorbed immense quantities of snuff; his
mouth was large, but well furnished; and his brilliant eyes shone with
that restless cunning which betrayed the amateur, who has continually
to deal with sharp and eager dealers in curiosities and second-hand
articles of /vertu/.

In the year 1845 he had reached the summit of his renown by a great
speech on the question of public meetings; but at that hour his watch
seemed to have stopped. All his ideas were those of an Orleanist. His
appearance, his costume, his high cravat, his whiskers, and the way he
brushed his hair, all betrayed the admirer and friend of the citizen
king. But for all that, he did not trouble himself about politics; in
fact, he troubled himself about nothing at all. With the only
condition that his inoffensive passion should be respected, the
marchioness was allowed to rule supreme in the house, administering
her large fortune, ruling her only son, and deciding all questions
without the right of appeal. It was perfectly useless to ask the
marquis any thing: his answer was invariably,--

"Ask my wife."

The good man had, the evening before, purchased a little at haphazard,
a large lot of /faiences/, representing scenes of the Revolution; and
at about three o'clock, he was busy, magnifying-glass in hand,
examining his dishes and plates, when the door was suddenly opened.

The marchioness came in, holding a blue paper in her hand. Six or
seven years younger than her husband, she was the very companion for
such an idle, indolent man. In her walk, in her manner, and in her
voice, she showed at once the woman who stands at the wheel, and means
to be obeyed. Her once celebrated beauty had left remarkable traces
enough to justify her pretensions. She denied having any claims to
being considered handsome, since it was impossible to deny or conceal
the ravages of time, and hence by far her best policy was to accept
old age with good grace. Still, if the marchioness did not grow
younger, she pretended to be older than she really was. She had her
gray hair puffed out with considerable affectation, so as to contrast
all the more forcibly with her ruddy, blooming cheeks, which a girl
might have envied and she often thought of powdering her hair.

She was so painfully excited, and almost undone, when she came into
her husband's cabinet, that even he, who for many a year had made it a
rule of his life to show no emotion, was seriously troubled. Laying
aside the dish which he was examining, he said with an anxious

"What is the matter? What has happened?"

"A terrible misfortune."

"Is Jacques dead?" cried the old collector.

The marchioness shook her head.

"No! It is something worse, perhaps"--

The old man, who has risen at the sight of his wife, sank slowly back
into his chair.

"Tell me," he stammered out,--"tell me. I have courage."

She handed him the blue paper which she had brought in, and said

"Here. A telegram which I have just received from old Anthony, our
son's valet."

With trembling hands the old marquis unfolded the paper, and read,--

"Terrible misfortune! Master Jacques accused of having set the chateau
at Valpinson on fire, and murdered Count Claudieuse. Terrible evidence
against him. When examined, hardly any defence. Just arrested and
carried to jail. In despair. What must I do?"

The marchioness had feared lest the marquis should have been crushed
by this despatch, which in its laconic terms betrayed Anthony's abject
terror. But it was not so. He put it back on the table in the calmest
manner, and said, shrugging his shoulders,--

"It is absurd!"

His wife did not understand it. She began again,--

"You have not read it carefully, my friend"--

"I understand," he broke in, "that our son is accused of a crime which
he has not and can not have committed. You surely do not doubt his
innocence? What a mother you would be! On my part, I assure you I am
perfectly tranquil. Jacques an incendiary! Jacques a murderer! That is

"Ah! you did not read the telegram," exclaimed the marchioness.

"I beg your pardon."

"You did not see that there was evidence against him."

"If there had been none, he could not have been arrested. Of course,
the thing is disagreeable: it is painful."

"But he did not defend himself."

"Upon my word! Do you think that if to-morrow somebody accused me of
having robbed the till of some shopkeeper, I would take the trouble to
defend myself?"

"But do you not see that Anthony evidently thinks our son is guilty?"

"Anthony is an old fool!" declared the marquis.

Then pulling out his snuffbox, and stuffing his nose full of snuff, he

"Besides, let us consider. Did you not tell me that Jacques is in love
with that little Dionysia Chandore?"

"Desperately. Like a real child."

"And she?"

"She adores Jacques."

"Well. And did you not also tell me that the wedding-day was fixed?"

"Yes, three days ago."

"Has Jacques written to you about the matter?"

"An excellent letter."

"In which he tells you he is coming up?"

"Yes: he wanted to purchase the wedding-presents himself." With a
gesture of magnificent indifference the marquis tapped the top of his
snuffbox, and said,--

"And you think a boy like our Jacques, a Boiscoran, in love, and
beloved, who is about to be married, and has his head full of wedding-
presents, could have committed such a horrible crime? Such things are
not worth discussing, and, with your leave, I shall return to my

If doubt is contagious, confidence is still more so. Gradually the
marchioness felt reassured by the perfect assurance of her husband.
The blood came back to her cheeks; and smiles reappeared on pale lips.
She said in a stronger voice,--

"In fact, I may have been too easily frightened."

The marquis assented by a gesture.

"Yes, much too easily, my dear. And, between us, I would not say much
about it. How could the officers help accusing our Jacques if his own
mother suspects him?"

The marchioness had taken up the telegram, and was reading it over
once more.

"And yet," she said, answering her own objections, "who in my place
would not have been frightened? This name of Claudieuse especially"--

"Why? It is the name of an excellent and most honorable gentleman,--
the best man in the world, in spite of his sea-dog manners."

"Jacques hates him, my dear."

"Jacques does not mind him any more than that."

"They have repeatedly quarrelled."

"Of course. Claudieuse is a furious legitimist; and as such he always
talks with the utmost contempt of all of us who have been attached to
the Orleans family."

"Jacques has been at law with him."

"And he has done right, only he ought to have carried the matter
through. Claudieuse has claims on the Magpie, which divides our lands,
--absurd claims. He wants at all seasons, and according as he may
desire, to direct the waters of the little stream into his own
channels, and thus drown the meadows at Boiscoran, which are lower
than his own. Even my brother, who was an angel in patience and
gentleness, had his troubles with this tyrant."

But the marchioness was not convinced yet.

"There was another trouble," she said.


"Ah! I should like to know myself."

"Has Jacques hinted at any thing?"

"No. I only know this. Last year, at the Duchess of Champdoce's, I met
by chance the Countess Claudieuse and her children. The young woman is
perfectly charming; and, as we were going to give a ball the week
after, it occurred to me to invite her at once. She refused, and did
so in such an icy, formal manner, that I did not insist."

"She probably does not like dancing," growled the marquis.

"That same evening I mentioned the matter to Jacques. He seemed to be
very angry, and told me, in a manner that was hardly compatible with
respect, that I had been very wrong, and that he had his reasons for
not desiring to come in contact with those people."

The marquis felt so secure, that he only listened with partial
attention, looking all the time aside at his precious /faiences/.

"Well," he said at last, "Jacques detests the Claudieuses. What does
that prove? God be thanked, we do not murder all the people we

His wife did not insist any longer. She only asked,--

"Well, what must we do?"

She was so little in the habit of consulting her husband, that he was
quite surprised.

"The first thing is to get Jacques out of jail. We must see--we ought
to ask for advice."

At this moment a light knock was heard at the door.

"Come in!" he said.

A servant came in, bringing a large envelope, marked "Telegraphic
Despatch. Private."

"Upon my word!" cried the marquis. "I thought so. Now we shall be all
right again."

The servant had left the room. He tore open the envelope; but at the
first glance at the contents the smile vanished, he turned pale, and
just said,--

"Great God!"

Quick as lightning, the marchioness seized the fatal paper. She read
at a glance,--

"Come quick. Jacques in prison; close confinement; accused of
horrible crime. The whole town says he is guilty, and that he has
confessed. Infamous calumny! His judge is his former friend,
Galpin, who was to marry his cousin Lavarande. Know nothing except
that Jacques is innocent. Abominable intrigue! Grandpa Chandore
and I will do what can be done. Your help indispensable. Come,


"Ah, my son is lost!" cried the marchioness with tears in her eyes.
The marquis, however, had recovered already from the shock.

"And I--I say more than ever, with Dionysia, who is a brave girl,
Jacques is innocent. But I see he is in danger. A criminal prosecution
is always an ugly affair. A man in close confinement may be made to
say any thing."

"We must do something," said the mother, nearly mad with grief.

"Yes, and without losing a minute. We have friends: let us see who
among them can help us."

"I might write to M. Margeril."

The marquis, who had turned quite pale, became livid.

"What!" he cried. "You dare utter that name in my presence?"

"He is all powerful; and my son is in danger."

The marquis stopped her with a threatening gesture, and cried with an
accent of bitter hatred,--

"I would a thousand times rather my son should die innocent on the
scaffold than owe his safety to that man!"

His wife seemed to be on the point of fainting.

"Great God! And yet you know very well that I was only a little

"No more!" said the marquis harshly.

Then, recovering his self-control by a powerful effort, he went on,--

"Before we attempt any thing, we must know how the matter stands. You
will leave for Sauveterre this evening."


"No. I will find some able lawyer,--a reliable jurist, who is not a
politician,--if such a one can be found nowadays. He will tell you
what to do, and will write to me, so that I can do here whatever may
be best. Dionysia is right. Jacques must be the victim of some
abominable intrigue. Nevertheless, we shall save him; but we must keep
cool, perfectly cool."

And as he said this he rang the bell so violently, that a number of
servants came rushing in at once.

"Quick," he said; "send for my lawyer, Mr. Chapelain. Take a

The servant who took the order was so expeditious, that, in less than
twenty minutes, M. Chapelain arrived.

"Ah! we want all your experience, my friend," said the marquis to him.
"Look here. Read these telegrams."

Fortunately, the lawyer had such control over himself, that he did not
betray what he felt; for he believed Jacques guilty, knowing as he did
how reluctant courts generally are to order the arrest of a suspected

"I know the man for the marchioness," he said at last.


"A young man whose modesty alone has kept him from distinguishing
himself so far, although I know he is one of the best jurists at the
bar, and an admirable speaker."

"What is his name?"

"Manuel Folgat. I shall send him to you at once."

Two hours later, M. Chapelain's /protg/ appeared at the house of the
Boiscorans. He was a man of thirty-one or thirty-two, with large,
wide-open eyes, whose whole appearance was breathing intelligence and

The marquis was pleased with him, and after having told him all he
knew about Jacques's position, endeavored to inform him as to the
people down at Sauveterre,--who would be likely to be friends, and who
enemies, recommending to him, above all, to trust M. Seneschal, an old
friend of the family, and a most influential man in that community.

"Whatever is humanly possible shall be done, sir," said the lawyer.

That same evening, at fifteen minutes past eight, the Marchioness of
Boiscoran and Manuel Folgat took their seats in the train for Orleans.


The railway which connects Sauveterre with the Orleans line enjoys a
certain celebrity on account of a series of utterly useless curves,
which defy all common sense, and which would undoubtedly be the source
of countless accidents, if the trains were not prohibited from going
faster than eight or ten miles an hour.

The depot has been built--no doubt for the greater convenience of
travellers--at a distance of two miles from town, on a place where
formerly the first banker of Sauveterre had his beautiful gardens. The
pretty road which leads to it is lined on both sides with inns and
taverns, on market-days full of peasants, who try to rob each other,
glass in hand, and lips overflowing with protestations of honesty. On
ordinary days even, the road is quite lively; for the walk to the
railway has become a favorite promenade. People go out to see the
trains start or come in, to examine the new arrivals, or to exchange
confidences as to the reasons why Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so have made up
their mind to travel.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when the train which brought the
marchioness and Manuel Folgat at last reached Sauveterre. The former
was overcome by fatigue and anxiety, having spent the whole night in
discussing the chances for her son's safety, and was all the more
exhausted as the lawyer had taken care not to encourage her hopes.

For he also shared, in secret at least, M. Chapelain's doubts. He,
also, had said to himself, that a man like M. de Boiscoran is not apt
to be arrested, unless there are strong reasons, and almost
overwhelming proofs of his guilt in the hands of the authorities.

The train was slackening speed.

"If only Dionysia and her father," sighed the marchioness, "have
thought of sending a carriage to meet us."

"Why so?" asked Manuel Folgat.

"Because I do not want all the world to see my grief and my tears."

The young lawyer shook his head, and said,--

"You will certainly not do that, madame, if you are disposed to follow
my advice."

She looked at him quite amazed; but he insisted.

"I mean you must not look as if you wished not to be seen: that would
be a great, almost irreparable mistake. What would they think if they
saw you in tears and great distress? They would say you were sure of
your son's guilt; and the few who may still doubt will doubt no
longer. You must control public opinion from the beginning; for it is
absolute in these small communities, where everybody is under somebody
else's immediate influence. Public opinion is all powerful; and say
what you will, it controls even the jurymen in their deliberations."

"That is true," said the marchioness: "that is but too true."

"Therefore, madame, you must summon all your energy, conceal your
maternal anxiety in your innermost heart, dry your tears, and show
nothing but the most perfect confidence. Let everybody say, as he sees
you, 'No mother could look so who thinks her son guilty.' "

The marchioness straightened herself, and said,--

"You are right, sir; and I thank you. I must try to impress public
opinion as you say; and, so far from wishing to find the station
deserted, I shall be delighted to see it full of people. I will show
you what a woman can do who thinks of her son's life."

The Marchioness of Boiscoran was a woman of rare power.

Drawing her comb from her dressing-case, she repaired the disorder of
her coiffure; with a few skilful strokes she smoothed her dress; her
features, by a supreme effort of will, resumed their usual serenity;
she forced her lips to smile without betraying the effort it cost her;
and then she said in a clear, firm voice,--

"Look at me, sir. Can I show myself now?"

The train stopped at the station. Manuel Folgat jumped out lightly;
and, offering the marchioness his hand to assist her, he said,--

"You will be pleased with yourself, madam. Your courage will not be
useless. All Sauveterre seems to be here.

This was more than half true. Ever since the night before, a report
had been current,--no one knew how it had started,--that the
"murderer's mother," as they charitably called her, would arrive by
the nine o'clock train; and everybody had determined to happen to be
at the station at that hour. In a place where gossip lives for three
days upon the last new dress from Paris, such an opportunity for a
little excitement was not to be neglected. No one thought for a moment
of what the poor old lady would probably feel upon being compelled
thus to face a whole town; for at Sauveterre curiosity has at least
the merit, that it is not hypocritical. Everybody is openly
indiscreet, and by no means ashamed of it. They place themselves right
in front of you, and look at you, and try to find out the secret of
your joy or your grief.

It must be borne in mind, however, that public opinion was running
strongly against M. de Boiscoran. If there had been nothing against
him but the fire at Valpinson, and the attempts upon Count Claudieuse,
that would have been a small matter. But the fire had had terrible
consequences. Two men had perished in it; and two others had been so
severely wounded as to put their lives in jeopardy. Only the evening
before, a sad procession had passed through the streets of Sauveterre.
In a cart covered with a cloth, and followed by two priests, the
almost carbonized remains of Bolton the drummer, and of poor
Guillebault, had been brought home. The whole city had seen the widow
go to the mayor's office, holding in her arms her youngest child,

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