Part 5 out of 12
"Well, then, I must see M. de Boiscoran: I must speak to him."
She expected the clerk to start, to cry out, to protest. Far from it:
he said in the quietest tone,--
"To be sure; but how?"
"Blangin the keeper, and his wife, keep their places only because they
give them a support. Why might I not offer them, in return for an
interview with M. de Boiscoran, the means to go and live in the
"Why not?" said the clerk.
And in a lower voice, replying to the voice of his conscience, he went
"The jail in Sauveterre is not at all like the police-stations and
prisons of larger towns. The prisoners are few in number; they are
hardly guarded. When the doors are shut, Blangin is master within."
"I will go and see him to-morrow," declared Dionysia.
There are certain slopes on which you must glide down. Having once
yielded to Dionysia's suggestions, Mechinet had, unconsciously, bound
himself to her forever.
"No: do not go there, madam," he said. "You could not make Blangin
believe that he runs no danger; nor could you sufficiently arouse his
cupidity. I will speak to him myself."
"O sir!" exclaimed Dionysia, "how can I ever?"--
"How much may I offer him?" asked the clerk.
"Whatever you think proper--any thing."
"Then, madam, I will bring you an answer to-morrow, here, and at the
And he went away, leaving Dionysia so buoyed up by hope, that all the
evening, and the next day, the two aunts and the marchioness, neither
of whom was in the secret, asked each other incessantly,--
"What is the matter with the child?"
She was thinking, that, if the answer was favorable, ere twenty-four
hours had gone by, she would see Jacques; and she kept saying to
"If only Mechinet is punctual!"
He was so. At ten o'clock precisely, he pushed open the little gate,
just as the night before, and said at once,--
"It is all right!"
Dionysia was so terribly excited, that she had to lean against a tree.
"Blangin agrees," the clerk went on. "I promised him sixteen thousand
francs. Perhaps that is rather much?"
"It is very little."
"He insists upon having them in gold."
"He shall have it."
"Finally, he makes certain conditions with regard to the interview,
which will appear rather hard to you."
The young girl had quite recovered by this time.
"What are they?"
"Blangin is taking all possible precautions against detection,
although he is quite prepared for the worst. He has arranged it this
way: To-morrow evening, at six o'clock, you will pass by the jail. The
door will stand open, and Blangin's wife, whom you know very well, as
she has formerly been in your service, will be standing in the door.
If she does not speak to you, you keep on: something has happened. If
she does speak to you, go up to her, you, quite alone, and she will
show you into a small room which adjoins her own. There you will stay
till Blangin, perhaps at a late hour, thinks he can safely take you to
M. de Boiscoran's cell. When the interview is over, you come back into
the little room, where a bed will be ready for you, and you spend the
night there; for this is the hardest part of it: you cannot leave the
prison till next day."
This was certainly terrible; still, after a moment's reflection,
"Never mind! I accept. Tell Blangin, M. Mechinet, that it is all
That Dionysia should accept all the conditions of Blangin the jailer
was perfectly natural; but to obtain M. de Chandore's consent was a
much more difficult task. The poor girl understood this so well, that,
for the first time in her life, she felt embarrassed in her
grandfather's presence. She hesitated, she prepared her little speech,
and she selected carefully her words. But in spite of all her skill,
in spite of all the art with which she managed to present her strange
request, M. de Chandore had no sooner understood her project than he
"Never, never, never!"
Perhaps in his whole life the old gentleman had never expressed
himself in so positive a manner. His brow had never looked so dark.
Usually, when his granddaughter had a petition, his lips might say,
"No;" but his eyes always said, "Yes."
"Impossible!" he repeated, and in a tone of voice which seemed to
admit of no reply.
Surely, in all these painful events, he had not spared himself, and he
had so far done for Dionysia all that she could possibly expect of
him. Her will had been his will. As she had prompted, he had said,
"Yes," or "No." What more could he have said or done?
Without telling him what she was going to do with it, Dionysia had
asked him for twenty thousand francs, and he had given them to her,
however big the sum might be everywhere, however immense in a small
town like Sauveterre. He was quite ready to give her as much again, or
twice as much, without asking any more questions.
But for Dionysia to leave her home one evening at six o'clock, and not
to return to it till the next morning--
"That I cannot permit," he repeated.
But for Dionysia to spend a night in the Sauveterre jail, in order to
have an interview with her betrothed, who was accused of incendiarism
and murder; to remain there all night, alone, absolutely at the mercy
of the jailer, a hard, coarse, covetous man--
"That I will never permit," exclaimed the old gentleman once more.
Dionysia remained calm, and let the storm pass. When her grandfather
became silent, she said,--
"But if I must?"
M. de Chandore shrugged his shoulders. She repeated in a louder
"If I must, in order to decide Jacques to abandon this system that
will ruin him, to induce him to speak before the investigation is
"That is not your business, my child," said the old gentleman.
"That is the business of his mother, the Marchioness of Boiscoran.
Whatever Blangin agrees to venture for your sake, he will do as well
for her sake. Let the marchioness go and spend the night at the jail.
I agree to that. Let her see her son. That is her duty."
"But surely she will never shake Jacques's resolution."
"And you think you have more influence over him than his mother?"
"It is not the same thing, dear papa."
This "never mind" of Grandpapa Chandore was as positive as his
"impossible;" but he had begun to discuss the question, and to discuss
means to listen to arguments on the other side.
"Do not insist, my dear child," he said again. "My mind is made up;
and I assure you"--
"Don't say so, papa," said the young girl.
And her attitude was so determined, and her voice so firm, that the
old gentleman was quite overwhelmed for a moment.
"But, if I am not willing," he said.
"You will consent, dear papa, you will certainly not force your little
granddaughter, who loves you so dearly, to the painful necessity of
disobeying you for the first time in her life."
"Because, for the first time in her life I am not doing what my
granddaughter wants me to do?"
"Dear papa, let me tell you."
"Rather listen to me, poor child, and let me show you to what dangers,
to what misfortunes, you expose yourself. To go and spend a night at
this prison would be risking, understand me well, your honor,--that
tender, delicate honor which is tarnished by a breath, which involves
the happiness and the peace of your whole life."
"But Jacques's honor and life are at stake."
"Poor imprudent girl! How do you know but he would be the very first
to blame you cruelly for such a step?"
"Men are made so: the most perfect devotion irritates them at times."
"Be it so. I would rather endure Jacques's unjust reproaches than the
idea of not having done my duty."
M. de Chandore began to despair.
"And if I were to beg you, Dionysia, instead of commanding. If your
old grandfather were to beseech you on his knees to abandon your fatal
"You would cause me fearful pain, dear papa: but it would be all in
vain; for I must resist your prayers, as I must resist your orders."
"Inexorable!" cried the old gentleman. "She is immovable!" And
suddenly changing his tone, he cried,--
"But, after all, I am master here."
"Dear papa, pray!"
"And since nothing can move you, I will speak to Mechinet, I will let
Blangin know my will."
Dionysia, turning as pale as death, but with burning eyes, drew back a
step, and said,--
"If you do that, grandpapa, if you destroy my last hope"--
"I swear to you by the sacred memory of my mother, I will be in a
convent to-morrow, and you will never see me again in your life, not
even if I should die, which would certainly soon"--
M. de Chandore, raising his hands to heaven, and with an accent of
genuine despair, exclaimed,--
"Ah, my God! Are these our children? And is this what is in store for
us old people? We have spent a lifetime in watching over them; we have
submissively gratified all their fancies; they have been our greatest
anxiety, and our sweetest hope; we have given them our life day by
day, and we would not hesitate to give them our life's blood drop by
drop; they are every thing to us, and we imagine they love us--poor
fools that we are! One fine day, a man goes by, a careless,
thoughtless man, with a bright eye and a ready tongue, and it is all
over. Our child is no longer our own; our child no longer knows us.
Go, old man, and die in your corner."
Overwhelmed by his grief, the old man staggered and sank into a chair,
as an old oak, cut by the woodman's axe, trembles and falls.
"Ah, this is fearful!" murmured Dionysia. "What you say, grandpapa, is
too fearful. How can you doubt me?"
She had knelt down. She was weeping; and her hot tears fell upon the
old gentleman's hands. He started up as he felt them on his icy-cold
hand; and, making one more effort, he said,--
"Poor, poor child! And suppose Jacques is guilty, and, when he sees
you, confesses his crime, what then?"
Dionysia shook her head.
"That is impossible," she said; "and still, even if it were so, I
ought to be punished as much as he is; for I know, if he had asked me,
I should have acted in concert with him."
"She is mad!" exclaimed M. de Chandore, falling back into his chair.
"She is mad!"
But he was overcome; and the next day, at five in the afternoon, his
heart torn by unspeakable grief, he went down the steep street with
his daughter on his arm. Dionysia had chosen her simplest and plainest
dress; and the little bag she carried on her arm contained not sixteen
but twenty thousand francs. As a matter of course, it had been
necessary to take the marchioness into their confidence; but neither
she, nor the Misses Lavarande, nor M. Folgat, had raised an objection.
Down to the prison, grandfather and grandchild had not exchanged a
word; but, when they reached it, Dionysia said,--
"I see Mrs. Blangin at the door: let us be careful."
They came nearer. Mrs. Blangin saluted them.
"Come, it is time," said the young girl. "Till to-morrow, dear papa!
Go home quickly, and be not troubled about me."
Then joining the keeper's wife, she disappeared inside the prison.
The prison of Sauveterre is in the castle at the upper end of town, in
a poor and almost deserted suburb. This castle, once upon a time of
great importance, had been dismantled at the time of the siege of
Rochelle; and all that remains are a few badly-repaired ruins,
ramparts with fosses that have been filled up, a gate surmounted by a
small belfry, a chapel converted into a magazine, and finally two huge
towers connected by an immense building, the lower rooms in which are
Nothing can be more mournful than these ruins, enclosed within an ivy-
covered wall; and nothing would indicate the use that is made of them,
except the sentinel which stands day and night at the gate. Ancient
elm-trees overshadow the vast courts; and on the old walls, as well as
in every crevice, there grow and bloom enough flowers to rejoice a
hundred prisoners. But this romantic prison is without prisoners.
"It is a cage without birds," says the jailer often in his most
He takes advantage of this to raise his vegetables all along the
slopes; and the exposure is so excellent, that he is always the first
in Sauveterre who had young peas. He has also taken advantage of this
--with leave granted by the authorities--to fit up very comfortable
lodgings for himself in one of the towers. He has two rooms below, and
a chamber up stairs, which you reach by a narrow staircase in the
thickness of the wall. It was to this chamber that the keeper's wife
took Dionysia with all the promptness of fear. The poor girl was out
of breath. Her heart was beating violently; and, as soon as she was in
the room, she sank into a chair.
"Great God!" cried the woman. "You are not sick, my dear young lady?
Wait, I'll run for some vinegar."
"Never mind," replied Dionysia in a feeble voice. "Stay here, my dear
Colette: don't go away!"
For Colette was her name, though she was as dark as gingerbread,
nearly forty-five years old, and boasted of a decided mustache on her
"Poor young lady!" she said. "You feel badly at being here."
"Yes," replied Dionysia. "But where is your husband?"
"Down stairs, on the lookout, madam. He will come up directly." Very
soon afterwards, a heavy step was heard on the stairs; and Blangin
came in, looking pale and anxious, like a man who feels that he is
running a great risk.
"Neither seen nor known," he cried. "No one is aware of your presence
here. I was only afraid of that dog of a sentinel; and, just as you
came by, I had managed to get him round the corner, offering him a
drop of something to drink. I begin to hope I shall not lose my
Dionysia accepted these words as a summons to speak out.
"Ah!" she said, "don't mind your place: don't you know I have promised
you a better one?"
And, with a gayety which was very far from being real, she opened her
little bag, and put upon the table the rolls which it contained.
"Ah, that is gold!" said Blangin with eager eyes.
"Yes. Each one of these rolls contains a thousand francs; and here are
An irresistible temptation seized the jailer.
"May I see?" he asked.
"Certainly!" replied the young girl. "Look for yourself and count."
She was mistaken. Blangin did not think of counting, not he. What he
wanted was only to gratify his eye by the sight of the gold, to hear
its sound, to handle it.
With feverish eagerness he tore open the wrappings, and let the pieces
fall in cascades upon the table; and, as the heap increased, his lips
turned white, and perspiration broke out on his temples.
"And all that is for me?" he said with a stupid laugh.
"Yes, it is yours," replied Dionysia.
"I did not know how sixteen thousand francs would look. How beautiful
gold is! Just look, wife."
But Colette turned her head away. She was quite as covetous as her
husband, and perhaps even more excited; but she was a woman, and she
knew how to dissemble.
"Ah, my dear young lady!" she said, "never would my old man and myself
have asked you for money, if we had only ourselves to think of. But we
"Your duty is to think of your children," replied Dionysia.
"I know sixteen thousand francs is a big sum. Perhaps you will be
sorry to give us so much money."
"I am not sorry at all: I would even add to it willingly." And she
showed them one of the other four rolls in her bag.
"Then, to be sure, what do I care for my place!" cried Blangin. And,
intoxicated by the sight and the touch of the gold, he added,--
"You are at home here, madam; and the jail and the jailer are at your
disposal. What do you desire? Just speak. I have nine prisoners, not
counting M. de Boiscoran and Trumence. Do you want me to set them all
"Blangin!" said his wife reprovingly.
"What? Am I not free to let the prisoners go?"
"Before you play the master, wait, at least, till you have rendered
our young lady the service which she expects from you."
"Then go and conceal this money," said the prudent woman; "or it might
And, drawing from her cupboard a woollen stocking, she handed it to
her husband, who slipped the sixteen thousand francs into it,
retaining about a dozen gold-pieces, which he kept in his pocket so as
always to have in his hands some tangible evidence of his new fortune.
When this was done, and the stocking, full to overflowing, had been
put back in the cupboard under a pile of linen, she ordered her
"Now, you go down. Somebody might be coming; and, if you were not
there to open when they knock, that might look suspicious."
Like a well-trained husband, Blangin obeyed without saying a word; and
then his wife bethought herself how to entertain Dionysia. She hoped,
she said, her dear young lady would do her the honor to take
something. That would strengthen her, and, besides, help her to pass
the time; for it was only seven o'clock, and Blangin could not take
her to M. de Boiscoran's cell before ten, without great danger.
"But I have dined," Dionysia objected. "I do not want any thing."
The woman insisted only the more. She remembered (God be thanked!) her
dear young lady's taste; and she had made her an admirable broth, and
some beautiful dessert. And, while thus talking, she set the table,
having made up her mind that Dionysia must eat at all hazards; at
least, so says the tradition of the place.
The eager zeal of the woman had, at least, this advantage,--that it
prevented Dionysia from giving way to her painful thoughts.
Night had come. It was nine o'clock; then it struck ten. At last, the
watch came round to relieve the sentinels. A quarter of an hour after
that, Blangin reappeared, holding a lantern and an enormous bunch of
keys in his hands.
"I have seen Trumence to bed," he said. "You can come now, madam."
Dionysia was all ready.
"Let us go," she said simply.
Then she followed the jailer along interminable passages, through a
vast vaulted hall, in which their steps resounded as in a church, then
through a long gallery. At last, pointing at a massive door, through
the cracks of which the light was piercing, he said,--
"Here we are."
But Dionysia seized his arm, and said in an almost inaudible voice,--
"Wait a moment."
She was almost overcome by so many successive emotions. She felt her
legs give way under her, and her eyes become dim. In her heart she
preserved all her usual energy; but the flesh escaped from her will
and failed her at the last moment.
"Are you sick?" asked the jailer. "What is the matter?"
She prayed to God for courage and strength: when her prayer was
finished, she said,--
"Now, let us go in."
And, making a great noise with the keys and the bolts, Blangin opened
the door to Jacques de Boiscoran's cell.
Jacques counted no longer the days, but the hours. He had been
imprisoned on Friday morning, June 23, and this was Wednesday night,
June 28, He had been a hundred and thirty-two hours, according to the
graphic description of a great writer, "living, but struck from the
roll of the living, and buried alive."
Each one of these hundred and thirty-two hours had weighed upon him
like a month. Seeing him pale and haggard, with his hair and beard in
disorder, and his eyes shining brightly with fever, like half-
extinguished coals, one would hardly have recognized in him the happy
lord of Boiscoran, free from care and trouble, upon whom fortune had
ever smiled,--that haughty sceptical young man, who from the height of
the past defied the future.
The fact is, that society, obliged to defend itself against criminals,
has invented no more fearful suffering than what is called "close
confinement." There is nothing that will sooner demoralize a man,
crush his will, and utterly conquer the most powerful energy. There is
no struggle more distressing than the struggle between an innocent man
accused of some crime, and the magistrate,--a helpless being in the
hands of a man armed with unlimited power.
If great sorrow was not sacred, to a certain degree, Dionysia might
have heard all about Jacques. Nothing would have been easier. She
would have been told by Blangin, who was watching M. de Boiscoran like
a spy, and by his wife, who prepared his meals, through what anguish
he had passed since his imprisonment.
Stunned at first, he had soon recovered; and on Friday and Saturday he
had been quiet and confident, talkative, and almost cheerful. But
Sunday had been a fatal day. Two gendarmes had carried him to
Boiscoran to take off the seals; and on his way out he had been
overwhelmed with insults and curses by the people who had recognized
him. He had come back terribly distressed.
On Tuesday, he had received Dionysia's letter, and answered it. This
had excited him fearfully, and, during a part of the night, Trumence
had seen him walk up and down in his cell with all the gestures and
incoherent imprecations of a madman.
He had hoped for a letter on Wednesday. When none came, he had sunk
into a kind of stupor, during which M. Galpin had been unable to draw
a word from him. He had taken nothing all day long but a little broth
and a cup of coffee. When the magistrate left him, he had sat down,
leaning his head on his elbows, facing the window; and there he had
remained, never moving, and so deeply absorbed in his reveries, that
he had taken no notice when they brought him light. He was still in
this state, when, a little after ten o'clock, he heard the grating of
the bolts of his cell. He had become so well acquainted with the
prison that he knew all its regulations. He knew at what hours his
meals were brought, at what time Trumence came to clean up his room,
and when he might expect the magistrate. After night, he knew he was
his own master till next morning. So late a visit therefore, must
needs bring him some unexpected news, his liberty, perhaps,--that
visitor for whom all prisoners look so anxiously.
He started up. As soon as he distinguished in the darkness the
jailer's rugged face, he asked eagerly,--
"Who wants me?"
Blangin bowed. He was a polite jailer. Then he replied,--
"Sir, I bring you a visitor."
And, moving aside, he made way for Dionysia, or, rather, he pushed her
into the room; for she seemed to have lost all power to move.
"A visitor?" repeated M. de Boiscoran.
But the jailer had raised his lantern, and the poor man could
recognize his betrothed.
"You," he cried, "you here!"
And he drew back, afraid of being deceived by a dream, or one of those
fearful hallucinations which announce the coming of insanity, and take
hold of the brains of sick people in times of over-excitement.
"Dionysia!" he barely whispered, "Dionysia!"
If not her own life (for she cared nothing for that), but Jacques's
life, had at that moment depended on a single word, Dionysia could not
have uttered it. Her throat was parched, and her lips refused to move.
The jailer took it upon himself to answer,--
"Yes," he said, "Miss Chandore."
"At this hour, in my prison!"
"She had something important to communicate to you. She came to me"--
"O Dionysia!" stammered Jacques, "what a precious friend"--
"And I agreed," said Blangin in a paternal tone of voice, "to bring
her in secretly. It is a great sin I commit; and if it ever should
become known-- But one may be ever so much a jailer, one has a heart,
after all. I tell you so merely because the young lady might not think
of it. If the secret is not kept carefully, I should lose my place,
and I am a poor man, with wife and children."
"You are the best of men!" exclaimed M. de Boiscoran, far from
suspecting the price that had been paid for Blangin's sympathy, "and,
on the day on which I regain my liberty, I will prove to you that we
whom you have obliged are not ungrateful."
"Quite at your service," replied the jailer modestly.
Gradually, however, Dionysia had recovered her self-possession. She
said gently to Blangin,--
"Leave us now, my good friend."
As soon as he had disappeared, and without allowing M. de Boiscoran to
say a word, she said, speaking very low,--
"Jacques, grandpapa has told me, that by coming thus to you at night,
alone, and in secret, I run the risk of losing your affection, and of
diminishing your respect."
"Ah, you did not think so!"
"Grandpapa has more experience than I have, Jacques. Still I did not
hesitate. Here I am; and I should have run much greater risks; for
your honor is at stake, and your honor is my honor, as your life is my
life. Your future is at stake, /our/ future, our happiness, all our
hopes here below."
Inexpressible joy had illumined the prisoner's face.
"O God!" he cried, "one such moment pays for years of torture."
But Dionysia had sworn to herself, as she came, that nothing should
turn her aside from her purpose. So she went on,--
"By the sacred memory of my mother, I assure you, Jacques, that I have
never for a moment doubted your innocence."
The unhappy man looked distressed.
"You," he said; "but the others? But M. de Chandore?"
"Do you think I would be here, if he thought you were guilty? My aunts
and your mother are as sure of it as I am."
"And my father? You said nothing about him in your letter."
"Your father remained in Paris in case some influence in high quarters
should have to be appealed to."
Jacque shook his head, and said,--
"I am in prison at Sauveterre, accused of a fearful crime, and my
father remains in Paris! It must be true that he never really loved
me. And yet I have always been a good son to him down to this terrible
catastrophe. He has never had to complain of me. No, my father does
not love me."
Dionysia could not allow him to go off in this way.
"Listen to me, Jacques," she said: "let me tell you why I ran the risk
of taking this serious step, that may cost me so dear. I come to you
in the name of all your friends, in the name of M. Folgat, the great
advocate whom your mother has brought down from Paris and in the name
of M. Magloire, in whom you put so much confidence. They all agree you
have adopted an abominable system. By refusing obstinately to speak,
you rush voluntarily into the gravest danger. Listen well to what I
tell you. If you wait till the examination is over, you are lost. If
you are once handed over to the court, it is too late for you to
speak. You will only, innocent as you are, make one more on the list
of judicial murders."
Jacques de Boiscoran had listened to Dionysia in silence, his head
bowed to the ground, as if to conceal its pallor from her. As soon as
she stopped, all out of breath, he murmured,--
"Alas! Every thing you tell me I have told myself more than once."
"And you did not speak?"
"I did not."
"Ah, Jacques, you are not aware of the danger you run! You do not
"I know," he said, interrupting her in a harsh, hoarse voice,--"I know
that the scaffold, or the galleys, are at the end."
Dionysia was petrified with horror.
Poor girl! She had imagined that she would only have to show herself
to triumph over Jacques's obstinacy, and that, as soon as she had
heard what he had to say, she would feel reassured. And instead of
"What a misfortune!" she cried. "You have taken up these fearful
notions, and you will not abandon them!"
"I must keep silent."
"You cannot. You have not considered!--"
"Not considered," he repeated.
And in a lower tone he added,--
"And what do you think I have been doing these hundred and thirty
mortal hours since I have been alone in this prison,--alone to
confront a terrible accusation, and a still more terrible emergency?"
"That is the difficulty, Jacques: you are the victim of your own
imagination. And who could help it in your place? M. Folgat said so
only yesterday. There is no man living, who, after four days' close
confinement, can keep his mind cool. Grief and solitude are bad
counsellors. Jacques, come to yourself; listen to your dearest friends
who speak to you through me. Jacques, your Dionysia beseeches you.
She waited for some seconds; and, as he did not reply, she said, not
without a slight accent of bitterness in her voice,--
"Is it not the first duty of an innocent man to establish his
The prisoner, with a movement of despair, clasped his hands over his
brow. Then bending over Dionysia, so that she felt his breath in her
hair, he said,--
"And when he cannot, when he cannot, establish his innocence?"
She drew back, pale unto death, tottering so that she had to lean
against the wall, and cast upon Jacques de Boiscoran glances in which
the whole horror of her soul was clearly expressed.
"What do you say?" she stammered. "O God!"
He laughed, the wretched man! with that laugh which is the last
utterance of despair. And then he replied,--
"I say that there are circumstances which upset our reason; unheard-of
circumstances, which could make one doubt of one's self. I say that
every thing accuses me, that every thing overwhelms me, that every
thing turns against me. I say, that if I were in M. Galpin's place,
and if he were in mine, I should act just as he does."
"That is insanity!" cried Dionysia.
But Jacques de Boiscoran did not hear her. All the bitterness of the
last days rose within him: he turned red, and became excited. At last,
with gasping vice, he broke forth,--
"Establish my innocence! Ah! that is easily said. But how? No, I am
not guilty: but a crime has been committed; and for this crime justice
will have a culprit. If it is not I who fired at Count Claudieuse, and
set Valpinson on fire, who is it? 'Where were you,' they ask me, 'at
the time of the murder?' Where was I? Can I tell it? To clear myself
is to accuse others. And if I should be mistaken? Or if, not being
mistaken, I should be unable to prove the truthfulness of my
accusation? The murderer and the incendiary, of course, took all
possible precautions to escape detection, and to let the punishment
fall upon me. I was warned beforehand. Ah, if we could always foresee,
could know beforehand! How can I defend myself? On the first day I
said, 'Such a charge cannot reach me: it is a cloud that a breath will
scatter.' Madman that I was! The cloud has become an avalanche, and I
may be crushed. I am neither a child nor a coward; and I have always
met phantoms face to face. I have measured the danger, and I know it
Dionysia shuddered. She cried,--
"What will become of us?"
This time M. de Boiscoran heard her, and was ashamed of his weakness.
But, before he could master his feelings, the young girl went on,
"But never mind. These are idle thoughts. Truth soars invincible,
unchangeable, high above all the ablest calculations and the most
skilful combinations. Jacques, you must tell the truth, the whole
truth, without subterfuge or concealment."
"I can do so no longer," murmured he.
"Is it such a terrible secret?"
"It is improbable."
Dionysia looked at him almost with fear. She did not recognize his old
face, nor his eye, nor the tone of his voice. She drew nearer to him,
and taking his hand between her own small white hands, she said,--
"But you can tell it to me, your friend, your"--
He trembled, and, drawing back, he said,--
"To you less than anybody else."
And, feeling how mortifying such an answer must be, he added,--
"Your mind is too pure for such wretched intrigues. I do not want your
wedding-dress to be stained by a speck of that mud into which they
have thrown me."
Was she deceived? No; but she had the courage to seem to be deceived.
She went on quietly,--
"Very well, then. But the truth will have to be told sooner or later."
"Yes, to M. Magloire."
"Well, then, Jacques, write down at once what you mean to tell him.
Here are pen and ink: I will carry it to him faithfully."
"There are things, Dionysia, which cannot be written."
She felt she was beaten; she understood that nothing would ever bend
that iron will, and yet she said once more,--
"But if I were to beseech you, Jacques, by our past and our future, by
that great and eternal love which you have sworn?"
"Do you really wish to make my prison hours a thousand times harder
than they are? Do you want to deprive me of my last remnant of
strength and of courage? Have you really no confidence in me any
longer? Could you not believe me a few days more?"
He paused. Somebody knocked at the door; and almost at the same time
Blangin the jailer called out through the wicket,--
"Time is passing. I want to be down stairs when they relieve guard. I
am running a great risk. I am a father of a family."
"Go home now, Dionysia," said Jacques eagerly, "go home. I cannot
think of your being seen here."
Dionysia had paid dear enough to know that she was quite safe; still
she did not object. She offered her brow to Jacques, who touched it
with his lips; and half dead, holding on to the walls, she went back
to the jailer's little room. They had made up a bed for her, and she
threw herself on it, dressed as she was, and remained there,
immovable, as if she had been dead, overcome by a kind of stupor which
deprived her even of the faculty of suffering.
It was bright daylight, it was eight o'clock, when she felt somebody
pulling her sleeve. The jailer's wife said to her,--
"My dear young lady, this would be a good time for you to slip away.
Perhaps they will wonder to see you alone in the street; but they will
think you are coming home from seven o'clock mass."
Without saying a word, Dionysia jumped down, and in a moment she had
arranged her hair and her dress. Then Blangin came, rather troubled at
not seeing her leave the house; and she said to him, giving him one of
the thousand-franc rolls that were still in her bag,--
"This is for you: I want you to remember me, if I should need you
And, dropping her veil over her face, she went away.
Baron Chandore had had one terrible night in his life, every minute of
which he had counted by the ebbing pulse of his only son.
The evening before, the physicians had said,--
"If he lives this night, he may be saved."
At daybreak he had expired.
Well, the old gentleman had hardly suffered more during that fatal
night than he did this night, during which Dionysia was away from the
house. He knew very well that Blangin and his wife were honest people,
in spite of their avarice and their covetousness; he knew that Jacques
de Boiscoran was an honourable man.
But still, during the whole night, his old servant heard him walk up
and down his room; and at seven o'clock in the morning he was at the
door, looking anxiously up and down the street. Towards half-past
seven, M. Folgat came up; but he hardly wished him good-morning, and
he certainly did not hear a word of what the lawyer told him to
reassure him. At last, however, the old man cried,--
"Ah, there she is!"
He was not mistaken. Dionysia was coming round the corner. She came up
to the house in feverish haste, as if she had known that her strength
was at an end, and would barely suffice to carry her to the door.
Grandpapa Chandore met her with a kind of fierce joy, pressed her in
his arms, and said over and over again,--
"O Dionysia! Oh, my darling child, how I have suffered! How long you
have been! But it is all over now. Come, come, come!"
And he almost carried her into the parlor, and put her down tenderly
into a large easy-chair. He knelt down by her, smiling with happiness;
but, when he had taken her hands in his, he said,--
"Your hands are burning. You have a fever!"
He looked at her: she had raised her veil.
"You are pale as death!" he went on. "Your eyes are red and swollen!"
"I have cried, dear papa," she replied gently.
"Alas, I have failed!"
As if moved by a sudden shock, M. de Chandore started up, and cried,--
"By God's holy name the like has not been heard since the world was
made! What! you went, you Dionysia de Chandore, to him in his prison;
you begged him"--
"And he remained inflexible. Yes, dear papa. He will say nothing till
after the preliminary investigation is over."
"We were mistaken in the man: he has no courage and no feeling."
Dionysia had risen painfully, and said feebly,--
"Ah, dear papa! Do not blame him, do not accuse him! he is so
"But what reasons does he give?"
"He says the facts are so very improbable that he should certainly not
be believed; and that he should ruin himself if he were to speak as
long as he is kept in close confinement, and has no advocate. He says
his position is the result of a wicked conspiracy. He says he thinks
he knows the guilty one, and that he will denounce the person, since
he is forced to do so in self-defence."
M. Folgat, who had until now remained a silent witness of the scene,
came up, and asked,--
"Are you quite sure, madam, that that was what M. de Boiscoran said?"
"Oh, quite sure, sir! And, if I lived a thousand years, I should never
forget the look of his eyes, or the tone of his voice."
M. de Chandore did not allow her to be interrupted again.
"But surely, my dear child, Jacques told you--you--something more
"You did not ask him even what those improbable facts were?"
"He said that I was the very last person who could be told."
"That man ought to be burnt over a slow fire," said M. de Chandore to
himself. Then he added in a louder voice,--
"And you do not think all this very strange, very extraordinary?"
"It seems to me horrible!"
"I understand. But what do you think of Jacques?"
"I think, dear papa, that he cannot act otherwise, or he would not do
it. Jacques is too intelligent and too courageous to deceive himself
easily. As he alone knows every thing, he alone can judge. I, of
course, am bound to respect his will more than anybody else."
But the old gentleman did not think himself bound to respect it; and,
exasperated as he was by this resignation of his grandchild, he was on
the point of telling her his mind fully, when she got up with some
effort, and said, in an almost inaudible voice,--
"I am broken to pieces! Excuse me, grandpapa, if I go to my room." She
left the parlor. M. de Chandore accompanied her to the door, remained
there till he had seen her get up stairs, where her maid was waiting
for her, and then came back to M. Folgat.
"They are going to kill me, sir!" he cried, with an explosion of wrath
and despair which was almost frightful in a man of his age. "She had
in her eyes the same look that her mother had when she told me, after
her husband's death, 'I shall not survive him.' And she did not
survive my poor son. And then I, old man, was left alone with that
child; and who knows but she may have in her the germ of the same
disease which killed her mother? Alone! And for these twenty years I
have held my breath to listen if she is still breathing as naturally
"You are needlessly alarmed," began the advocate.
But Grandpapa Chandore shook his head, and said,--
"No, no. I fear my child has been hurt in her heart's heart. Did you
not see how white she looked, and how faint her voice was? Great God!
wilt thou leave me all alone here upon earth? O God! for which of my
sins dost thou punish me in my children? For mercy's sake, call me
home before she also leaves me, who is the joy of my life. And I can
do nothing to turn aside this fatality--stupid inane old man that I
am! And this Jacques de Boiscoran--if he were guilty, after all? Ah
the wretch! I would hang him with my own hands!"
Deeply moved, M. Folgat had watched the old gentleman's grief. Now he
"Do not blame M. de Boiscoran, sir, now that every thing is against
him! Of all of us, he suffers, after all, most; for he is innocent."
"Do you still think so?"
"More than ever. Little as he has said, he has told Miss Dionysia
enough to confirm me in my conjecture, and to prove to me that I have
"The day we went to Boiscoran."
The baron tried to remember.
"I do not recollect," he said.
"Don't you remember," said the lawyer, "that you left us, so as to
permit Anthony to answer my questions more freely?"
"To be sure!" cried M. de Chandore, "to be sure! And then you
"I thought I had guessed right, yes, sir; but I am not going to do any
thing now. M. de Boiscoran tells us that the facts are improbable. I
should, therefore, in all probability, soon be astray; but, since we
are now bound to be passive till the investigation is completed, I
shall employ the time in examining the country people, who will,
probably, tell me more than Anthony did. You have, no doubt, among
your friends, some who must be well informed,--M. Seneschal, Dr.
The latter did not keep M. Folgat waiting long; for his name had
hardly been mentioned, when he himself repeated it in the passage,
telling a servant,--
"Say it is I, Dr. Seignebos, Dr. Seignebos."
He fell like a bombshell into the room. It was four days now since he
had last presented himself there; for he had not come himself for his
report and the shot he had left in M. Folgat's hands. He had sent for
them, excusing himself on the score of his many engagements. The fact
was, however, that he had spent nearly the whole of these four days at
the hospital, in company with one of his brother-practitioners, who
had been sent for by the court to proceed, "jointly with Dr.
Seignebos," to an examination of Cocoleu's mental condition.
"And this is what brings me here," he cried, still in the door; "for
this opinion, if it is not put into proper order, will deprive M. de
Boiscoran of his best and surest chance of escape."
After what Dionysia had told them, neither M. de Chandore nor M.
Folgat attached much importance to the state of Cocoleu's mind: still
this word "escape" attracted their attention. There is nothing
unimportant in a criminal trial.
"Is there any thing new?" asked the advocate.
The doctor first went to close the doors carefully, and then, putting
his cane and broad-brimmed hat upon the table, he said,--
"No, there is nothing new. They still insist, as before, upon ruining
M. de Boiscoran; and, in order to do that, they shrink from nothing."
"They! Who are they?" asked M. de Chandore.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.
"Are you really in doubt, sir?" he replied. "And yet the facts speak
clearly enough. In this department, there is a certain number of
physicians who are not very keenly alive to the honor of their
profession, and who are, to tell the truth, consummate apes."
Grave as the situation was, M. Folgat could hardly suppress a smile,
the doctor's manner was so very extraordinary.
"But there is one of these apes," he went on, "who, in length of ears
and thickness of skin, surpasses all the others. Well, he is the very
one whom the court has chosen and associated with me."
Upon this subject it was desirable to put a check upon the doctor. M.
de Chandore therefore interrupted him, saying,--
"In fine, my learned brother is fully persuaded that his mission as a
physician employed by a court of justice is to say 'Amen' to all the
stories of the prosecution. 'Cocoleu is an idiot,' says M. Galpin
peremptorily. 'He is an idiot, or ought to be one,' reechoes my
learned brother. 'He spoke on the occasion of the crime by an
inspiration from on high,' the magistrate goes on to say. 'Evidently,'
adds the brother, 'there was an inspiration from on high.' For this is
the conclusion at which my learned brother arrives in his report:
'Cocoleu is an idiot who had been providentially inspired by a flash
of reason.' He does not say it in these words; but it amounts to the
He had taken off his spectacles, and was wiping them industriously.
"But what do you think, doctor?" asked M. Folgat.
Dr. Seignebos solemnly put on again his spectacles, and replied
"My opinion, which I have fully developed in my report, is, that
Cocoleu is not idiotic at all."
M. Chandore started: the proposition seemed to him monstrous. He knew
Cocoleu very well; he had seen him wander through the streets of
Sauveterre during the eighteen months which the poor creature had
spent under the doctor's treatment.
"What! Cocoleu not idiotic?" he repeated.
"No!" Dr. Seignebos declared peremptorily; "and you have only to look
at him to be convinced. Has he a large flat face, disproportionate
mouth, a yellow, tanned complexion, thick lips, defective teeth, and
squinting eyes? Does his deformed head sway from side to side, being
too heavy to be supported by his neck? Is his body deformed, and his
spine crooked? Do you find that his stomach is big and pendent, that
his hands drop upon his thighs, that his legs are awkward, and the
joints unusually large? These are the symptoms of idiocy, gentleman,
and you do not find them in Cocoleu. I, for my part, see in him a
scamp, who has an iron constitution, who uses his hands very cleverly,
climbs trees like a monkey, and leaps ditches ten feet wide. To be
sure, I do not pretend that his intellect is normal; but I maintain
that he is one of those imbeciles who have certain faculties very
fully developed, while others, more essential, are missing."
While M. Folgat listened with the most intense interest, M. de
Chandore became impatient, and said,--
"The difference between an idiot and an imbecile"--
"There is a world between them," cried the doctor.
And at once he went on with overwhelming volubility,--
"The imbecile preserves some fragments of intelligence. He can speak,
make known his wants, and express his feelings. He associates ideas,
compares impressions, remembers things, and acquires experience. He is
capable of cunning and dissimulation. He hates and likes and fears. If
he is not always sociable, he is susceptible of being influenced by
others. You can easily obtain perfect control over him. His
inconsistency is remarkable; and still he shows, at times, invincible
obstinacy. Finally, imbeciles are, on account of this semi-lucidity,
often very dangerous. You find among them almost all those monomaniacs
whom society is compelled to shut up in asylums, because they cannot
master their instincts."
"Very well said," repeated M. Folgat, who found here some elements of
a plea,--"very well said,"
The doctor bowed.
"Such a creature is Cocoleu. Does it follow that I hold him
responsible for his actions? By no means! But it follows that I look
upon him as a false witness brought forth to ruin an honest man."
It was evident that such views did not please M. de Chandore.
"Formerly," he said, "you did not think so."
"No, I even said the contrary," replied Dr. Seignebos, not without
dignity. "I had not studied Cocoleu sufficiently, and I was taken in
by him: I confess it openly. But this avowal of mine is an evidence of
the cunning and the astute obstinacy of these wretched creatures, and
of their capacity to carry out a design. After a year's experience, I
sent Cocoleu away, declaring, and certainly believing, that he was
incurable. The fact is, he did not want to be cured. The country-
people, who observe carefully and shrewdly, were not taken in; they
will tell you, almost to a man, that Cocoleu is bad, but not an idiot.
That is the truth. He has found out, that, by exaggerating his
imbecility, he could live without work; and he has done it. When he
was taken in by Count Claudieuse, he was clever enough to show just so
much intelligence as was necessary to make him endurable, without
being compelled to do any work."
"In a word," said M. de Chandore incredulously, "Cocoleu is a great
"Great enough to have deceived me," replied the doctor: "yes, sir."
Then turning to M. Folgat, he went on,--
"All this I had told my learned brother, before taking him to the
hospital. There we found Cocoleu more obstinate than ever in his
silence, which even M. Galpin had not induced him to break. All our
efforts to obtain a word from him were fruitless, although it was very
evident to me that he understood very well. I proposed to resort to
quite legitimate means, which are employed to discover feigned defects
and diseases; but my learned brother refused and was encouraged in his
resistance by M. Galpin: I do not know upon what ground. Then I asked
that the Countess Claudieuse should be sent for, as she has a talent
of making him talk. M. Galpin would not permit it--and there we are."
It happens almost daily, that two physicians employed as experts
differ in their opinions. The courts would have a great deal to do, if
they had to force them to agree. They appoint simply a third expert,
whose opinion is decisive. This was necessarily to be done in
"And as necessarily," continued Dr. Seignebos, "the court, having
appointed a first ass, will associate with me a second ass. They will
agree with each other, and I shall be accused and convicted of
ignorance and presumption."
He came, therefore, as he now said, to ask M. de Chandore to render
him a little service. He wanted the two families, Chandore and
Boiscoran, to employ all their influence to obtain that a commission
of physicians from outside--if possible, from Paris--should be
appointed to examine Cocoleu, and to report on his mental condition.
"I undertake," he said, "to prove to really enlightened men, that this
poor creature is partly pretending to be imbecile, and that his
obstinate speechlessness is only adopted in order to avoid answers
which would compromise him."
At first, however, neither M. de Chandore nor M. Folgat gave any
answer. They were considering the question.
"Mind," said the doctor again, shocked at their silence, "mind, I
pray, that if my view is adopted, as I have every reason to hope, a
new turn will be given to the whole case."
Why yes! The ground of the accusation might be taken from under the
prosecution; and that was what kept M. Folgat thinking.
"And that is exactly," he commenced at last, "what makes me ask myself
whether the discovery of Cocoleu's rascality would not be rather
injurious than beneficial to M. de Boiscoran."
The doctor was furious. He cried,--
"I should like to know"--
"Nothing can be more simple," replied the advocate. "Cocoleu's idiocy
is, perhaps the most serious difficulty in the way of the prosecution,
and the most powerful argument for the defence. What can M. Galpin
say, if M. de Boiscoran charges him with basing a capital charge upon
the incoherent words of a creature void of intelligence, and,
"Ah! permit me," said Dr. Seignebos.
But M. de Chandore heard every syllable.
"Permit yourself, doctor," he said. "This argument of Cocoleu's
imbecility is one which you have pleaded from the beginning, and which
appeared to you, you said, so conclusive, that there was no need of
looking for any other."
Before the doctor could find an answer, M. Folgat went on,--
"Let it be, on the contrary, established that Cocoleu really knows
what he says, and all is changed. The prosecution is justified, by an
opinion of the faculty, in saying to M. de Boiscoran, 'You need not
deny any longer. You have been seen; here is a witness.' "
These arguments must have struck Dr. Seignebos very forcibly; for he
remained silent for at least ten long seconds, wiping his gold
spectacles with a pensive air. Had he really done harm to Jacques de
Boiscoran, while he meant to help him? But he was not the man to be
long in doubt. He replied in a dry tone,--
"I will not discuss that, gentlemen. I will ask you, only one
question: 'Yes or no, do you believe in M. de Boiscoran's
"We believe in it fully," replied the two men.
"Then, gentlemen, it seems to me we are running no risk in trying to
unmask an impostor."
That was not the young lawyer's opinion.
"To prove that Cocoleu knows what he says," he replied, "would be
fatal, unless we can prove at the same time that he has told a
falsehood, and that his evidence has been prompted by others. Can we
prove that? Have we any means to prove that his obstinacy in not
replying to any questions arises from his fear that his answers might
convict him of perjury?"
The doctor would hear nothing more. He said rather uncourteously,--
"Lawyer's quibbles! I know only one thing; and that is truth."
"It will not always do to tell it," murmured the lawyer.
"Yes, sir, always," replied the physician,--"always, and at all
hazards, and whatever may happen. I am M. de Boiscoran's friend; but I
am still more the friend of truth. If Cocoleu is a wretched impostor,
as I am firmly convinced, our duty is to unmask him."
Dr. Seignebos did not say--and he probably did not confess it to
himself--that it was a personal matter between Cocoleu and himself. He
thought Cocoleu had taken him in, and been the cause of a host of
small witticisms, under which he had suffered cruelly, though he had
allowed no one to see it. To unmask Cocoleu would have given him his
revenge, and return upon his enemies the ridicule with which they had
"I have made up my mind," he said, "and, whatever you may resolve, I
mean to go to work at once, and try to obtain the appointment of a
"It might be prudent," M. Folgat said, "to consider before doing any
thing, to consult with M. Magloire."
"I do not want to consult with Magloire when duty calls."
"You will grant us twenty-four hours, I hope."
Dr. Seignebos frowned till he looked formidable.
"Not an hour," he replied; "and I go from here to M. Daubigeon, the
Thereupon, taking his hat and cane, he bowed and left, as dissatisfied
as possible, without stopping even to answer M. de Chandore, who asked
him how Count Claudieuse was, who was, according to reports in town,
getting worse and worse.
"Hang the old original!" cried M. de Chandore before the doctor had
left the passage.
Then turning to M. Folgat, he added,--
"I must, however, confess that you received the great news which he
brought rather coldly."
"The very fact of the news being so very grave," replied the advocate,
"made me wish for time to consider. If Cocoleu pretends to be
imbecile, or, at least, exaggerates his incapacity, then we have a
confirmation of what M. de Boiscoran last night told Miss Dionysia. It
would be the proof of an odious trap of a long-premeditated vengeance.
Here is the turning-point of the affair evidently."
M. de Chandore was bitterly undeceived.
"What!" he said, "you think so, and you refuse to support Dr.
Seignebos, who is certainly an honest man?"
The young lawyer shook his head.
"I wanted to have twenty-four hours' delay, because we must absolutely
consult M. de Boiscoran. Could I tell the doctor so? Had I a right to
take him into Miss Dionysia's secret?"
"You are right," murmured M. de Chandore, "you are right."
But, in order to write to M. de Boiscoran, Dionysia's assistance was
necessary; and she did not reappear till the afternoon, looking very
pale, but evidently armed with new courage.
M. Folgat dictated to her certain questions to ask the prisoner.
She hastened to write them in cipher; and about four o'clock the
letter was sent to Mechinet, the clerk.
The next evening the answer came.
"Dr. Seignebos is no doubt right, my dear friends," wrote Jacques.
"I have but too good reasons to be sure that Cocoleu's imbecility
is partly assumed, and that his evidence has been prompted by
others. Still I must beg you will take no steps that would lead
to another medical investigation. The slightest imprudence may
ruin me. For Heaven's sake wait till the end of the preliminary
investigation, which is now near at hand, from what M. Galpin
The letter was read in the family circle; and the poor mother uttered
a cry of despair as she heard those words of resignation.
"Are we going to obey him," she said, "when we all know that he is
ruining himself by his obstinacy?"
Dionysia rose, and said,--
"Jacques alone can judge his situation, and he alone, therefore, has
the right to command. Our duty is to obey. I appeal to M. Folgat."
The young advocate nodded his head.
"Every thing has been done that could be done," he said. "Now we can
The famous night of the fire at Valpinson had been a godsend to the
good people of Sauveterre. They had henceforth an inexhaustible topic
of discussion, ever new and ever rich in unexpected conjectures,--the
Boiscoran case. When people met in the streets, they simply asked,--
"What are they doing now?"
Whenever, therefore, M. Galpin went from the court-house to the
prison, or came striding up National Street with his stiff, slow step,
twenty good housewives peeped from behind their curtains to read in
his face some of the secrets of the trial. They saw, however, nothing
there but traces of intense anxiety, and a pallor which became daily
more marked. They said to each other,--
"You will see poor M. Galpin will catch the jaundice from it."
The expression was commonplace; but it conveyed exactly the feelings
of the ambitious lawyer. This Boiscoran case had become like a
festering wound to him, which irritated him incessantly and
"I have lost my sleep by it," he told the commonwealth attorney.
Excellent M. Daubigeon, who had great trouble in moderating his zeal,
did not pity him particularly. He would say in reply,--
"Whose fault is it? But you want to rise in the world; and increasing
fortune is always followed by increasing care.
"Ah!" said the magistrate. "I have only done my duty, and, if I had to
begin again, I would do just the same."
Still every day he saw more clearly that he was in a false position.
Public opinion, strongly arrayed against M. de Boiscoran, was not, on
that account, very favorable to him. Everybody believed Jacques
guilty, and wanted him to be punished with all the rigor of the law;
but, on the other hand, everybody was astonished that M. Galpin should
choose to act as magistrate in such a case. There was a touch of
treachery in this proceeding against a former friend, in looking
everywhere for evidence against him, in driving him into court, that
is to say, towards the galleys or the scaffold; and this revolted
The very way in which people returned his greeting, or avoided him
altogether, made the magistrate aware of the feelings they entertained
for him. This only increased his wrath against Jacques, and, with it
his trouble. He had been congratulated, it is true, by the attorney-
general; but there is no certainty in a trial, as long as the accused
refuses to confess. The charges against Jacques, to be sure, were so
overwhelming, that his being sent before the court was out of
question. But by the side of the court there is still the jury.
"And in fine, my dear," said the commonwealth attorney, "you have not
a single eye-witness. And from time immemorial an eye-witness has been
looked upon as worth a hundred hearsays."
"I have Cocoleu," said M. Galpin, who was rather impatient of all
"Have the doctors decided that he is not an idiot?"
"No: Dr. Seignebos alone maintains that doctrine."
"Well, at least Cocoleu is willing to repeat his evidence?"
"Why, then you have virtually no witness!"
Yes, M. Galpin understood it but too well, and hence his anxiety. The
more he studied /his/ accused, the more he found him in an enigmatic
and threatening position, which was ominous of evil.
"Can he have an /alibi/?" he thought. "Or does he hold in reserve one
of those unforeseen revelations, which at the last moment destroy the
whole edifice of the prosecution, and cover the prosecuting attorney
Whenever these thoughts occurred to him, they made big drops of
perspiration run down his temples; and then he treated his poor clerk
Mechinet like a slave. And that was not all. Although he lived more
retired than ever, since this case had begun, many a report reached
him from the Chandore family.
To be sure, he was a thousand miles from imagining that they had
actually opened communications with the prisoner, and, what is more,
that this intercourse was carried on by Mechinet, his own clerk. He
would have laughed if one had come and told him that Dionysia had
spent a night in prison, and paid Jacques a visit. But he heard
continually of the hopes and the plans of the friends and relations of
his prisoner; and he remembered, not without secret fear and trembling
that they were rich and powerful, supported by relations in high
places, beloved and esteemed by everybody. He knew that Dionysia was
surrounded by devoted and intelligent men, by M. de Chandore, M.
Seneschal, Dr. Seignebos, M. Magloire, and, finally, that advocate
whom the Marchioness de Boiscoran had brought down with her from
Paris, M. Folgat.
"And Heaven knows what they would not try," he thought, "to rescue the
guilty man from the hands of justice!"
It may well be said, therefore, that never was prosecution carried on
with as much passionate zeal or as much minute assiduity. Every one of
the points upon which the prosecution relied became, for M. Galpin, a
subject of special study. In less than a fortnight he examined sixty-
seven witnesses in his office. He summoned the fourth part of the
population of Brechy. He would have summoned the whole country, if he
But all his efforts were fruitless. After weeks of furious
investigations, the inquiry was still at the same point, the mystery
was still impenetrable. The prisoner had not refuted any of the
charges made against him; but the magistrate had, also, not obtained a
single additional piece of evidence after those he had secured on the
There must be an end of this, however.
One warm afternoon in July, the good ladies in National Street thought
they noticed that M. Galpin looked even more anxious than usual. They
were right. After a long conference with the commonwealth attorney and
the presiding judge, the magistrate had made up his mind. When he
reached the prison, he went to Jacques's cell and there, concealing
his embarrassment under the greatest stiffness, he said,--
"My painful duty draws to an end, sir: the inquiry with which I have
been charged will be closed. To-morrow the papers, with a list of the
objects to be used as evidence, will be sent to the attorney-general,
to be submitted to the court."
Jacques de Boiscoran did not move.
"Well," he said simply.
"Have you nothing to add, sir?" asked M. Galpin.
"Nothing, except that I am innocent."
M. Galpin found it difficult to repress his impatience. He said,--
"Well, then, prove it. Refute the charges which have been brought
against you, which overwhelm you, which induce me, the court, and
everybody else, to consider you guilty. Speak, and explain your
Jacques kept obstinately silent.
"Your resolution is fixed," said the magistrate once more, "you refuse
to say any thing?"
"I am innocent."
M. Galpin saw clearly that it was useless to insist any longer.
"From this moment," he said, "you are no longer in close confinement.
You can receive the visits of your family in the prison parlor. The
advocate whom you will choose will be admitted to your cell to consult
"At last!" exclaimed Jacques with explosive delight; and then he
"Am I at liberty to write to M. de Chandore?"
"Yes," replied M. Galpin, "and, if you choose to write at once, my
clerk will be happy to carry your letter this evening to its
Jacques de Boiscoran availed himself on the spot of this permission;
and he had done very soon, for the note which he wrote, and handed to
M. Mechinet, contained only the few words,--
"I shall expect M. Magloire to-morrow morning at nine.
Ever since the day on which they had come to the conclusion that a
false step might have the most fatal consequences, Jacques de
Boiscoran's friends had abstained from doing anything. Besides, what
would have been the use of any efforts? Dr. Seignebos's request,
though unsupported, had been at least partially granted; and the court
had summoned a physician from Paris, a great authority on insanity, to
determine Cocoleu's mental condition. It was on a Saturday that Dr.
Seignebos came triumphantly to announce the good news. It was the
following Tuesday that he had to report his discomfiture. In a furious
passion he said,--
"There are asses in Paris as well as elsewhere! Or, rather, in these
days of trembling egotism and eager servility, an independent man is
as difficult to find in Paris as in the provinces. I was looking for a
/savant/ who would be inaccessible to petty considerations; and they
send me a trifling fellow, who does not dare to be disagreeable to the
gentlemen of the bar. Ah, it was a cruel disappointment!"
And all the time worrying his spectacles, he went on,--
"I had been informed of the arrival of my learned brother; and I went
to receive him myself at the railway station. The train comes in; and
at once I make out my man in the crowd: a fine head, well set in
grizzly hair, a noble eye, eloquent lips. 'There he is!' I say to
myself. 'Hm!' He looked rather dandyish, to be sure, a lot of
decorations in his buttonhole, whiskers trimmed as carefully as the
box in my garden, and, instead of honest spectacles, a pair of eye-
glasses. But no man is perfect. I go up to him, I give him my name, we
shake hands, I ask him to breakfast, he accepts; and here we are at
table, he doing justice to my Bordeaux, and I explaining to him the
case systematically. When we have done, he wishes to see Cocoleu. We
go to the hospital; and there, after merely glancing at the creature,
he says, 'That man is simply the most complete idiot I have ever seen
in my life!' I was a little taken aback, and tried to explain the
matter to him; but he refuses to listen to me. I beseech him to see
Cocoleu once more: he laughs at me. I feel hurt, and ask him how he
explains the evidence which this idiot gave on the night of the fire.
He laughs again, and replies that he does not explain it. I begin to
discuss the question; and he marches off to court. And do you know
where he dined that day? At the hotel with my other learned brother of
the commission; and there they drew up a report which makes of Cocoleu
the most perfect imbecile that was ever dreamed of."
He was walking up and down in the room with long strides, and,
unwilling to listen, he went on,--
"But Master Galpin need not think of crowing over us yet. The end is
not yet; they will not get rid of Dr. Seignebos so easily. I have said
that Cocoleu was a wretched cheat, a miserable impostor, a false
witness, and I shall prove it. Boiscoran can count upon me."
He broke off here, and, placing himself before M. Folgat, he added,--
"And I say M. de Boiscoran may count upon me, because I have my
reasons. I have formed very singular suspicions, sir,--very singular."
M. Folgat, Dionysia, and the marchioness urged him to explain; but he
declared that the moment had not come yet, that he was not perfectly
And he left again, vowing that he was overworked, that he had forsaken
his patients for forty-eight hours, and that the Countess Claudieuse
was waiting for him, as her husband was getting worse and worse.
"What can the old man suspect?" Grandpapa Chandore asked again, an
hour after the doctor had left.
M. Folgat might have replied that these probable suspicions were no
doubt his own suspicions, only better founded, and more fully
developed. But why should he say so, since all inquiry was prohibited,
and a single imprudent word might ruin every thing? Why, also, should
he excite new hopes, when they must needs wait patiently till it
should seem good to M. Galpin to make an end to this melancholy
They heard very little nowadays of Jacques de Boiscoran. The
examinations took place only at long intervals; and it was sometimes
four or five days before Mechinet brought another letter.
"This is intolerable agony," repeated the marchioness over and over
The end was, however, approaching.
Dionysia was alone one afternoon in the sitting-room, when she thought
she heard the clerk's voice in the hall. She went out at once and
found him there.
"Ah!" she cried, "the investigation is ended!" For she knew very well
that nothing less would have emboldened Mechinet to show himself
openly at their house.
"Yes, indeed, madam!" replied the good man; "and upon M. Galpin's own
order I bring you this letter from M. de Boiscoran."
She took it, read it at a single glance, and forgetting every thing,
half delirious with joy, she ran to her grandfather and M. Folgat,
calling upon a servant at the same time to run and fetch M. Magloire.
In less than an hour, the eminent advocate of Sauveterre arrived; and
when Jacques's letter had been handed to him, he said with some
"I have promised M. de Boiscoran my assistance, and he shall certainly
have it. I shall be at the prison to-morrow morning as soon as the
doors open, and I will tell you the result of our interview."
He would say nothing more. It was very evident that he did not believe
in the innocence of his client, and, as soon as he had left, M. de
"Jacques is mad to intrust his defence to a man who doubts him."
"M. Magloire is an honorable man, papa," said Dionysia; "and, if he
thought he could compromise Jacques, he would resign."
Yes, indeed, M. Magloire was an honorable man, and quite accessible to
tender sentiments; for he felt very reluctant to go and see the
prisoner, charged as he was with an odious crime, and, as he thought,
justly charged,--a man who had been his friend, and whom, in spite of
all, he could not help loving still.
He could not sleep for it that night; and noticed his anxious air as
he crossed the street next morning on his way to the jail. Blangin the
keeper was on the lookout for him, and cried,--
"Ah, come quick, sir! The accused is devoured with impatience."
Slowly, and his heart beating furiously, the famous advocate went up
the narrow stairs. He crossed the long passage; Blangin opened a door;
he was in Jacques de Boiscoran's cell.
"At last you are coming," exclaimed the unhappy young man, throwing
himself on the lawyer's neck. "At last I see an honest face, and hold
a trusty hand. Ah! I have suffered cruelly, so cruelly, that I am
surprised my mind has not given way. But now you are here, you are by
my side, I am safe."
The lawyer could not speak. He was terrified by the havoc which grief
had made of the noble and intelligent face of his friend. He was
shocked at the distortion of his features, the unnatural brilliancy of
his eyes, and the convulsive laugh on his lips.
"Poor man!" he murmured at last.
Jacques misunderstood him: he stepped back, as white as the walls of
"You do not think me guilty?" he exclaimed.
An inexpressibly sad expression convulsed his features.
"To be sure," he went on with his terrible convulsive laughter, "the
charges must be overwhelming indeed, if they have convinced my best
friends. Alas! why did I refuse to speak that first day? My honor!--
what a phantom! And still, victimized as I am by an infamous
conspiracy, I should still refuse to speak, if my life alone were at
stake. But my honor is at stake. Dionysia's honor, the honor of the
Boiscorans. I shall speak. You, M. Magloire, shall know the truth, you
shall see my innocence in a word."
And, seizing M. Magloire's hand, he pressed it almost painfully, as he
added in a hoarse voice,--
"One word will explain the whole thing to you: I was the lover of the
If he had been less distressed, Jacques de Boiscoran would have seen
how wisely had had acted in choosing for his defender the great
advocate of Sauveterre. A stranger, M. Folgat, for instance, would
have heard him silently, and would have seen in the revelation nothing
but the fact without giving it a personal value. In M. Magloire, on
the contrary, he saw what the whole country would feel. And M.
Magloire, when he heard him declare that the Countess Claudieuse had
been his mistress, looked indignant, and exclaimed,--
"That is impossible."
At least Jacques was not surprised. He had been the first to say that
they would refuse to believe him when he should speak; and this
conviction had largely influenced him in keeping silence so long.
"It is impossible, I know," he said; "and still it is so."
"Give me proofs!" said M. Magloire.
"I have no proofs."
The melancholy and sympathizing expression of the great lawyer changed
instantly. He sternly glanced at the prisoner, and his eye spoke of
amazement and indignation.
"There are things," he said, "which it is rash to affirm when one is
not able to support them with proof. Consider"--
"My situation forces me to tell all."
"Why, then, did you wait so long?"
"I hoped I should be spared such a fearful extremity."
"By the countess."
M. Magloire's face became darker and darker.
"I am not often accused of partiality," he said. "Count Claudieuse is,
perhaps, the only enemy I have in this country; but he is a bitter,
fierce enemy. To keep me out of the chamber, and to prevent my
obtaining many votes, he stooped to acts unworthy of a gentleman. I do
not like him. But in justice I must say that I look upon the countess
as the loftiest, the purest, and noblest type of the woman, the wife,
and the mother."
A bitter smile played on Jacques's lips.
"And still I have been her lover," he said.
"When? How? The countess lived at Valpinson: you lived in Paris."
"Yes; but every year the countess came and spent the month of
September in Paris; and I came occasionally to Boiscoran."
"It is very singular that such an intrigue should never have been
"We managed to take our precautions."
"And no one ever suspected any thing?"
But Jacques was at last becoming impatient at the attitude assumed by
M. Magloire. He forgot that he had foreseen all the suspicions to
which he found now he was exposed.
"Why do you ask all these questions?" he said. "You do not believe me.
Well, be it so! Let me at least try to convince you. Will you listen
M. Magloire drew up a chair, and sitting down, not as usually, but
across the chair, and resting his arms on the back, he said,--
Jacques de Boiscoran, who had been almost livid, became crimson with
anger. His eyes flashed wrath. That he, he should be treated thus!
Never had all the haughtiness of M. Galpin offended him half as much
as this cool, disdainful condescension on the part of M. Magloire. It
occurred to him to order him out of his room. But what then? He was
condemned to drain the bitter cup to the very dregs: for he must save
himself; he must get out of this abyss.
"You are cruel, Magloire," he said in a voice of ill-suppressed
indignation, "and you make me feel all the horrors of my situation to
the full. Ah, do not apologize! It does not matter. Let me speak."
He walked up and down a few times in his cell, passing his hand
repeatedly over his brow, as if to recall his memory. Then he began,
in a calmer tone of voice,--
"It was in the first days of the month of August, in 1866, and at
Boiscoran, where I was on a visit to my uncle, that I saw the Countess
Claudieuse for the first time. Count Claudieuse and my uncle were, at
that time, on very bad terms with each other, thanks to that unlucky
little stream which crosses our estates; and a common friend, M. de
Besson, had undertaken to reconcile them at a dinner to which he had
invited both. My uncle had taken me with him. The countess had come
with her husband. I was just twenty years old; she was twenty-six.
When I saw her, I was overcome. It seemed to me that I had never in
all my life met a woman so perfectly beautiful and graceful; that I
had never seen so charming a face, such beautiful eyes, and such a
"She did not seem to notice me. I did not speak to her; and still I
felt within me a kind of presentiment that this woman would play a
great, a fatal part in my life.
"This impression was so strong, that, as we left the house, I could
not keep from mentioning it to my uncle. He only laughed, and said
that I was a fool, and that, if my existence should ever be troubled
by a woman, it would certainly not be by the Countess Claudieuse.
"He was apparently right. It was hard to imagine that any thing should
ever again bring me in contact with the countess. M. de Besson's
attempt at reconciliation had utterly failed; the countess lived at
Valpinson; and I went back to Paris.
"Still I was unable to shake off the impression; and the memory of the
dinner at M. de Besson's house was still in my mind, when a month
later, at a party at my mother's brother's, M. de Chalusse, I thought
I recognized the Countess Claudieuse. It was she. I bowed, and, seeing
that she recognized me, I went up to her, trembling, and she allowed
me to sit down by her.
"She told me then that she had come up to Paris for a month, as she
did every year, and that she was staying at her father's, the Marquis
de Tassar. She had come to this party much against her inclination, as
she disliked going out. She did not dance; and thus I talked to her
till the moment when she left.
"I was madly in love when we parted; and still I made no effort to see
her again. It was mere chance again which brought us together.
"One day I had business at Melun, and, reaching the station rather
late, I had but just time to jump into the nearest car. In the
compartment was the countess. She told me--and that is all I ever
recollected of the conversation--that she was on her way to
Fontainebleau to see a friend, with whom she spent every Tuesday and
Saturday. Usually she took the nine o'clock train.
"This was on a Tuesday; and during the next three days a great
struggle went on in my heart. I was desperately in love with the
countess, and still I was afraid of her. But my evil star conquered;
and the next Saturday, at nine o'clock, I was at the station again.
"The countess has since confessed to me that she expected me. When she
saw me, she made a sign; and, when they opened the doors, I managed to
find a place by her side."
M. Magloire had for some minutes given signs of great impatience; now
he broke forth,--
"This is too improbable!"
At first Jacques de Boiscoran made no reply. It was no easy task for a
man, tried as he had been of late, to stir up thus the ashes of the
past; and it made him shudder. He was amazed at seeing on his lips
this secret which he had so long buried in his innermost heart.
Besides, he had loved, loved in good earnest; and his love had been
returned. And there are certain sensations which come to us only once
in life, and which can never again be effaced. He was moved to tears.
But as the eminent advocate of Sauveterre repeated his words, and even
"No, it is not credible!"
"I do not ask you to believe me," he said gently: "I only ask you to
And, overcoming with all his energy the kind of torpor which was
mastering him, he continued,--
"This trip to Fontainebleau decided our fate. Other trips followed.
The countess spent her days with her friend, and I passed the long
hours in roaming through the woods. But in the evening we met again at
the station. We took a /coupe/, which I had engaged beforehand, and I
accompanied her in a carriage to her father's house.
"Finally, one evening, she left her friend's house at the usual hour;
but she did not return to her father's house till the day after."
"Jacques!" broke in M. Magloire, shocked, as if he had heard a curse,
M. de Boiscoran remained unmoved.
"Oh!" he said, "I know you must think it strange. You fancy that there
is no excuse for the man who betrays the confidence of a woman who has
once given herself to him. Wait, before you judge me."
And he went on, in a firmer tone of voice,--
"At that time I thought I was the happiest man on earth; and my heart
was full of the most absurd vanity at the thought that she was mine,
this beautiful woman, whose purity was high above all calumny. I had
tied around my neck one of those fatal ropes which death alone can
sever, and, fool that I was, I considered myself happy.
"Perhaps she really loved me at that time. At least she did not
hesitate, and, overcome by the only real great passion of her life,
she told me all that was in her innermost heart. At that time she did
not think yet of protecting herself against me, and of making me her
slave. She told me the secret of her marriage, which had at one time
created such a sensation in the whole country.
"When her father, the Marquis de Brissac, had given up his place, he
had soon begun to feel his inactivity weigh upon him, and at the same
time he had become impatient at the narrowness of his means. He had
ventured upon hazardous speculations. He had lost every thing he had;
and even his honor was at stake. In his despair he was thinking of
suicide, when chance brought to his house a former comrade, Count
Claudieuse. In a moment of confidence, the marquis confessed every
thing; and the other had promised to rescue him, and save him from
disgrace. That was noble and grand. It must have cost an immense sum.
And the friends of our youth who are capable of rendering us such
services are rare in our day. Unfortunately, Count Claudieuse could
not all the time be the hero he had been at first. He saw Genevieve de
Tassar. He was struck with her beauty; and overcome by a sudden
passion--forgetting that she was twenty, while he was nearly fifty--he
made his friend aware that he was still willing to render him all the
services in his power, but that he desired to obtain Genevieve's hand
"That very evening the ruined nobleman entered his daughter's room,
and, with tears in his eyes, explained to her his terrible situation.
She did not hesitate a moment.
" 'Above all,' she said to her father, 'let us save our honor, which
even your death would not restore. Count Claudieuse is cruel to forget
that he is thirty years older than I am. From this moment I hate and
despise him. Tell him I am willing to be his wife.'
"And when her father, overcome with grief, told her that the count
would never accept her hand in this form, she replied,--
" 'Oh, do not trouble yourself about that! I shall do the thing
handsomely, and your friend shall have no right to complain. But I
know what I am worth; and you must remember hereafter, that, whatever
service he may render you, you owe him nothing.'
"Less than a fortnight after this scene, Genevieve had allowed the
count to perceive that he was not indifferent to her and a month later
she became his wife.
"The count, on his side, had acted with the utmost delicacy and tact;
so that no one suspected the cruel position of the Marquis de Tassar.
He had placed two hundred thousand francs in his hands to settle his
most pressing debts. In his marriage-contract he had acknowledged
having received with his wife a dower of the same amount; and finally,
he had bound himself to pay to his father-in-law and his wife an
annual income of ten thousand francs. This had absorbed more than half
of all he possessed."
M. Magloire no longer thought of protesting. Sitting stiffly on his