Part 6 out of 12
chair, his eyes wide open, like a man who asks himself whether he is
asleep or awake, he murmured,--
"That is incomprehensible! That is unheard of!"
Jacques was becoming gradually excited. He went on,--
"This is, at least, what the countess told me in her first hours of
enthusiasm. But she told it to me calmly, coldly, like a thing that
was perfectly natural. 'Certainly,' she said, 'Count Claudieuse has
never had to regret the bargain he made. If he has been generous, I
have been faithful. My father owes his life to him; but I have given
him years of happiness to which he was not entitled. If he has
received no love, he has had all the appearance of it, and an
appearance far more pleasant than the reality.'
"When I could not conceal my astonishment, she added, laughing
" 'Only I brought to the bargain a mental reservation. I reserved to
myself the right to claim my share of earthly happiness whenever it
should come within my reach. That share is yours, Jacques; and do not
fancy that I am troubled by remorse. As long as my husband thinks he
is happy, I am within the terms of the contract.'
"That was the way she spoke at that time, Magloire; and a man of more
experience would have been frightened. But I was a child; I loved her
with all my heart. I admired her genius; I was overcome by her
"A letter from Count Claudieuse aroused us from our dreams.
"The countess had committed the only and the last imprudence of her
whole life: she had remained three weeks longer in Paris than was
agreed upon; and her impatient husband threatened to come for her.
" 'I must go back to Valpinson,' she said; 'for there is nothing I
would not do to keep up the reputation I have managed to make for
myself. My life, your life, my daughter's life--I would give them all,
without hesitation, to protect my reputation."
"This happened--ah! the dates have remained fixed in my mind as if
engraven on bronze--on the 12th October.
" 'I cannot remain longer than a month,' she said to me, 'without
seeing you. A month from to-day, that is to say, on 12th November, at
three o'clock precisely, you must be in the forest of Rochepommier, at
the Red Men's Cross-roads. I will be there.'
"And she left Paris. I was in such a state of depression, that I
scarcely felt the pain of parting. The thought of being loved by such
a woman filled me with extreme pride, and, no doubt, saved me from
many an excess. Ambition was rising within me whenever I thought of
her. I wanted to work, to distinguish myself, to become eminent in
" 'I want her to be proud of me,' I said to myself, ashamed at being
nothing at my age but the son of a rich father."
Ten times, at least, M. Magloire had risen from his chair, and moved
his lips, as if about to make some objection. But he had pledged
himself, in his own mind, not to interrupt Jacques, and he did his
best to keep his pledge.
"In the meantime," Jacques went on, "the day fixed by the countess was
drawing near. I went down to Boiscoran; and on the appointed day, at
the precise hour, I was in the forest at the Red Men's Cross-roads. I
was somewhat behind time, and I was extremely sorry for it: but I did
not know the forest very well, and the place chosen by the countess
for the rendezvous is in the very thickest part of the old wood. The
weather was unusually severe for the season. The night before, a heavy
snow had fallen: the paths were all white; and a sharp wind blew the
flakes from the heavily-loaded branches. From afar off, I
distinguished the countess, as she was walking, up and down in a kind
of feverish excitement, confining herself to a narrow space, where the
ground was dry, and where she was sheltered from the wind by enormous
masses of stone. She wore a dress of dark-red silk, very long, a cloak
trimmed with fur, and a velvet hat to match her dress. In three
minutes I was by her side. But she did not draw her hand from her muff
to offer it to me; and, without giving me time to apologize for the
delay, she said in a dry tone,--
" 'When did you reach Boiscoran?'
" 'Last night.'
" 'How childish you are!' she exclaimed, stamping her foot. 'Last
night! And on what pretext?'
" 'I need no pretext to visit my uncle.'
" 'And was he not surprised to see you drop from the clouds at this
time of the year?'
" 'Why, yes, a little,' I answered foolishly, incapable as I was of
concealing the truth.
"Her dissatisfaction increased visibly.
" 'And how did you get here?' she commenced again. 'Did you know this
" 'No, I inquired about it.'
" 'From whom?'
" 'From one of my uncle's servants; but his information was so
imperfect, that I lost my way.'
"She looked at me with such a bitter, ironical smile, that I stopped.
" 'And all that, you think, is very simple,' she broke in. 'Do you
really imagine people will think it very natural that you should thus
fall like a bombshell upon Boiscoran, and immediately set out for the
Red Men's Cross-roads in the forest? Who knows but you have been
followed? Who knows but behind one of these trees there may be eyes
even now watching us?'
"And as she looked around with all the signs of genuine fear, I
" 'And what do you fear? Am I not here?'
"I think I can even now see the look in her eyes as she said,--
" 'I fear nothing in the world--do you hear me? nothing in the world,
except being suspected; for I cannot be compromised. I like to do as I
do; I like to have a lover. But I do not want it to be known; because,
if it became known, there would be mischief. Between my reputation and
my life I have no choice. If I were to be surprised here by any one, I
would rather it should be my husband than a stranger. I have no love
for the count, and I shall never forgive him for having married me;
but he has saved my father's honor, and I owe it to him to keep his
honor unimpaired. He is my husband, besides, and the father of my
child: I bear his name, and I want it to be respected. I should die
with grief and shame and rage, if I had to give my arm to a man at
whom people might look and smile. Wives are absurdly stupid when they
do not feel that all the scorn with which their unfortunate husbands
are received in the great world falls back upon them. No. I do not
love the count, Jacques, and I love you. But remember, that, between
him and you, I should not hesitate a moment, and that I should
sacrifice your life and your honor, with a smile on my lips, even
though my heart should break, if I could, by doing so, spare him the
shadow of a suspicion.'
"I was about to reply; but she said,--
" 'No more! Every minute we stay here increases the danger. What
pretext will you plead for your sudden appearance at Boiscoran?'
" 'I do no know,' I replied.
" 'You must borrow some money from your uncle, a considerable sum, to
pay your debts. He will be angry, perhaps; but that will explain your
sudden fancy for travelling in the month of November. Good-by, good-
"All amazed, I cried,--
" 'What! You will not let me see you again, at least from afar?'
" 'During this visit that would be the height of imprudence. But,
stop! Stay at Boiscoran till Sunday. Your uncle never stays away from
high mass: go with him to church. But be careful, control yourself. A
single imprudence, one blunder, and I should despise you. Now we must
part. You will find in Paris a letter from me.' "
Jacques paused here, looking to read in M. Magloire's face what
impression his recital had produced so far. But the famous lawyer
remained impassive. He sighed, and continued,--
"I have entered into all these details, Magloire, because I want you
to know what kind of a woman the countess is, so that you may
understand her conduct. You see that she did not treat me like a
traitor: she had given me fair warning, and shown me the abyss into
which I was going to fall. Alas! so far from being terrified, these
dark sides of her character only attracted me the more. I admired her
imperious air, her courage, and her prudence, even her total lack of
principle, which contrasted so strangely with her fear of public
opinion. I said to myself with foolish pride,--
" 'She certainly is a superior woman!'
"She must have been pleased with my obedience at church; for I managed
to check even a slight trembling which seized me when I saw her and
bowed to her as she passed so close to me that my hand touched her
dress. I obeyed her in other ways also. I asked my uncle for six
thousand francs, and he gave them to me, laughing; for he was the most
generous man on earth: but he said at the same time,--
" 'I thought you had not come to Boiscoran merely for the purpose of
exploring the forest of Rochepommier.'
"This trifling circumstance increased my admiration for the Countess
Claudieuse. How well she had foreseen my uncle's astonishment, when I
had not even dreamed of it!
" 'She has a genius for prudence,' I thought.
"Yes, indeed she had a genius for it, and a genius for calculation
also, as I soon found out. When I reached Paris, I found a letter from
her waiting for me; but it was nothing more than a repetition of all
she had told me at our meeting. This letter was followed by several
others, which she begged me to keep for her sake, and which all had a
number in the upper corner.
"The first time I saw her again, I asked her,--
" 'What are these numbers?'
" 'My dear Jacques,' she replied, 'a woman ought always to know how
many letters she has written to her lover. Up to now, you must have
"This occurred in May, 1867, at Rochefort, where she had gone to be
present at the launching of a frigate, and where I had followed her,
at her suggestion, with a view to spending a few hours in each other's
company. Like a fool, I laughed at the idea of this epistolary
responsibility, and then I thought no more of it. I was at that time
too busy otherwise. She had recalled to me the fact that time was
passing, in spite of the sadness of our separation, and that the month
of September, the month of her freedom, was drawing near. Should we be
compelled again, like the year before, to resort to these perilous
trips to Fontainebleau? Why not get a house in a remote quarter of
"Every wish of hers was an order for me. My uncle's liberality knew no
end. I bought a house."
At last in the midst of all of Jacques's perplexities, there appeared
a circumstance which might furnish tangible evidence.
M. Magloire started, and asked eagerly,--
"Ah, you bought a house?"
"Yes, a nice house with a large garden, in Vine Street, Passy."
"And you own it still?"
"Of course you have the title-papers?"
Jacques looked in despair.
"Here, again, fate is against me. There is quite a tale connected with
The features of the Sauveterre lawyer grew dark again, much quicker
than they had brightened up just now.
"Ah!" he said,--"a tale, ah!"
"I was scarcely of age," resumed Jacques, "when I wanted to purchase
this house. I dreaded difficulties. I was afraid my father might hear
of it; in fine, I wanted to be as prudent as the countess was. I
asked, therefore, one of my English friends, Sir Francis Burnett, to
purchase it in his name. He agreed; and he handed me, with the
necessary bills of sale, also a paper in which he acknowledged my
right as proprietor."
"Oh! wait a moment. I did not take these papers to my rooms in my
father's house. I put them into a drawer of a bureau in my house at
Passy. When the war broke out, I forgot them. I had left Paris before
the siege began, you know, being in command of a company of volunteers
from this department. During the two sieges, my house was successively
occupied by the National Guards, the soldiers of the Commune, and the
regular troops. When I got back there, I found the four walls pierced
with holes by the shells; but all the furniture had disappeared, and
with it the papers."
"And Sir Francis Burnett?"
"He left France at the beginning of the invasion; and I do not know
what has become of him. Two friends of his in England, to whom I
wrote, replied,--the one that he was probably in Australia; the other
that he was dead."
"And you have taken no other steps to secure your rights to a piece of
property which legally belongs to you?"
"No, not till now."
"You mean to say virtually that there is in Paris a house which has no
owner, is forgotten by everybody, and unknown even to the tax-
"I beg your pardon! The taxes have always been regularly paid; and the
whole neighborhood knows that I am the owner. But the individuality is
not the same. I have unceremoniously assumed the identity of my
friend. In the eyes of the neighbors, the small dealers near by, the
workmen and contractors whom I have employed, for the servants and the
gardener, I am Sir Francis Burnett. Ask them about Jacques de
Boiscoran, and they will tell you, 'Don't know.' Ask them about Sir
Francis Burnett, and they will answer, 'Oh, very well!' and they will
give you my portrait."
M. Magloire shook his head as if he were not fully convinced.
"Then," he asked again, "you declare that the Countess Claudieuse has
been at this house?"
"More than fifty times in three years."
"If that is so, she must be known there."
"Paris is not like Sauveterre, my dear friend; and people are not
solely occupied with their neighbors' doings. Vine Street is quite a
deserted street; and the countess took the greatest precautions in
coming and going."
"Well, granted, as far as the outside world is concerned. But within?
You must have had somebody to stay in the house and keep it in order
when you were away, and to wait upon you when you were there?"
"I had an English maid-servant."
"Well, this girl must know the countess?"
"She has never caught a glimpse of her even."
"When the countess was coming down, or when she was going away, or
when we wanted to walk in the garden, I sent the girl on some errand.
I have sent her as far as Orleans to get rid of her for twenty-four
hours. The rest of the time we staid up stairs, and waited upon
Evidently M. Magloire was suffering. He said,--
"You must be under a mistake. Servants are curious, and to hide from
them is only to make them mad with curiosity. That girl has watched
you. That girl has found means to see the countess when she came
there. She must be examined. Is she still in your service?"
"No, she left me when the war broke out."
"She wanted to return to England."
"Then we cannot hope to find her again?"
"I believe not."
"We must give it up, then. But your man-servant? Old Anthony was in
your confidence. Did you never tell him any thing about it?"
"Never. Only once I sent for him to come to Vine Street when I had
sprained my foot in coming down stairs."
"So that it is impossible for you to prove that the Countess
Claudieuse ever came to your house in Passy? You have no evidence of
it, and no eye-witness?"
"I used to have evidence. She had brought a number of small articles
for her private use; but they have disappeared during the war."
"Ah, yes!" said M. Magloire, "always the war! It has to answer for
Never had any of M. Galpin's examinations been half as painful to
Jacques de Boiscoran as this series of quick questions, which betrayed
such distressing incredulity.
"Did I not tell you, Magloire," he resumed, "that the countess had a
genius for prudence? You can easily conceal yourself when you can
spend money without counting it. Would you blame me for not having any
proofs to furnish? Is it not the duty of every man of honor to do all
he can to keep even a shadow of suspicion from her who has confided
herself to his hands? I have done my duty, and whatever may come of
it, I shall not regret it. Could I foresee such unheard-of
emergencies? Could I foresee that a day might come when I, Jacques de
Boiscoran, should have to denounce the Countess Claudieuse, and should
be compelled to look for evidence and witnesses against her?"
The eminent advocate of Sauveterre looked aside; and, instead of
replying, he said in a somewhat changed voice,--
"Go on, Jacques, go on!"
Jacques de Boiscoran tried to overcome the discouragement which well-
nigh mastered him, and said,--
"It was on the 2d September, 1867, that the Countess Claudieuse for
the first time entered this house in Passy, which I had purchased and
furnished for her; and during the five weeks which she spent in Paris,
she came almost every day, and spent several hours there.
"At her father's house she enjoyed absolute and almost uncontrolled
independence. She left her daughter--for she had at that time but one
child--with her mother, the Marchioness de Tassar; and she was free to
go and to come as she liked.
"When she wanted still greater freedom, she went to see her friend in
Fontainebleau; and every time she did this she secured twenty-four or
forty-eight hours over and above the time for the journey. I, for my
part, was as perfectly free from all control. Ostensibly, I had gone
to Ireland; in reality, I lived in Vine Street.
"These five weeks passed like a dream; and yet I must confess, the
parting was not as painful as might have been supposed. Not that the
bright prism was broken; but I always felt humiliated by the necessity
of being concealed. I began to be tired of these incessant
precautions; and I was quite ready to give up being Sir Francis
Burnett, and to resume my identity.
"We had, besides, promised each other never to remain a month without
seeing each other, at least for a few hours; and she had invented a
number of expedients by which we could meet without danger.
"A family misfortune came just then to our assistance. My father's
eldest brother, that kind uncle who had furnished me the means to
purchase my house in Passy, died, and left me his entire fortune. As
owner of Boiscoran, I could, henceforth, live as much as I chose in
the province; and at all events come there whenever I liked, without
anybody's inquiring for my reasons."
Jacques de Boiscoran was evidently anxious to have done with his
recital, to come to that night of the fire at Valpinson, and to learn
at last from the eminent advocate of Sauveterre what he had to fear or
to hope. After a moment's silence, for his breath was giving out, and
after a few steps across his cell, he went on in a bitter tone of
"But why trouble you with all these details, Magloire? Would you
believe me any more than you do now, if I were to enumerate to you all
my meetings with the Countess Claudieuse, or if I were to repeat all
her most trifling words?
"We had gradually learnt to calculate all our movements, and made our
preparations so accurately, that we met constantly, and feared no
danger. We said to each other at parting, or she wrote to me, 'On such
a day, at such an hour, at such a place;' and however distant the day,
or the hour, or the place, we were sure to meet. I had soon learned to
know the country as well as the cleverest of poachers; and nothing was
so useful to us as this familiarity with all the unknown hiding-
places. The countess, on her side, never let three months pass by
without discovering some urgent motive which carried her to Rochelle,
to Angouleme, or to Paris; and I was there to meet her. Nothing kept
her from these excursions; even when indisposed, she braved the
fatigues of the journey. It is true, my life was well-nigh spent in
travelling; and at any moment, when least expected, I disappeared for
whole weeks. This will explain to you that restlessness at which my
father sneered, and for which you, yourself, Magloire, used to blame
"That is true," replied the latter. "I remember."
Jacques de Boiscoran did not seem to notice the encouragement.
"I should not tell the truth if I were to say that this kind of life
was unpleasant to me. Mystery and danger always add to the charms of
love. The difficulties only increased my passion. I saw something
sublime in this success with which two superior beings devoted all
their intelligence and cleverness to the carrying-on of a secret
intrigue. The more fully I became aware of the veneration with which
the countess was looked up to by the whole country, the more I learned
to appreciate her ability in dissembling and her profound perversity;
and I was all the more proud of her. I felt the pride setting my
cheeks aglow when I saw her at Brechy; for I came there every Sunday
for her sake alone, to see her pass calm and serene in the imposing
security of her lofty reputation. I laughed at the simplicity of all
these honest, good people, who bowed so low to her, thinking they
saluted a saint; and I congratulated myself with idiotic delight at
being the only one who knew the true Countess Claudieuse,--she who
took her revenge so bravely in our house in Passy!
"But such delights never last long.
"It had not taken me long to find out that I had given myself a
master, and the most imperious and exacting master that ever lived. I
had almost ceased to belong to myself. I had become her property; and
I lived and breathed and thought and acted for her alone. She did not
mind my tastes and my dislikes. She wished a thing, and that was
enough. She wrote to me, 'Come!' and I had to be instantly on the
spot: she said to me, 'Go!' an I had to leave at once. At first I
accepted these evidences of her despotism with joy; but gradually I
became tired of this perpetual abdication of my own will. I disliked
to have no control over myself, to be unable to dispose of twenty-four
hours in advance. I began to feel the pressure of the halter around my
neck. I thought of flight. One of my friends was to set out on a
voyage around the world, which was to last eighteen months or two
years, and I had an idea of accompanying him. There was nothing to
retain me. I was, by fortune and position, perfectly independent. Why
should I not carry out my plan?
"Ah, why? The prism was not broken yet. I cursed the tyranny of the
countess; but I still trembled when I heard her name mentioned. I
thought of escaping from her; but a single glance moved me to the
bottom of my heart. I was bound to her by the thousand tender threads
of habit and of complicity,--those threads which seem to be more
delicate than gossamer, but which are harder to break than a ship's
"Still, this idea which had occurred to me brought it about that I
uttered for the first time the word 'separation' in her presence,
asking her what she would do if I should leave her. She looked at me
with a strange air and asked me, after a moment's hesitation,--
" 'Are you serious? Is it a warning?'
"I dared not carry matters any farther, and, making an effort to
smile, I said,--
" 'It is only a joke.'
" 'Then,' she said, 'let us not say any thing more about it. If you
should ever come to that, you would soon see what I would do.'
"I did not insist; but that look remained long in my memory, and made
me feel that I was far more closely bound than I had thought. From
that day it became my fixed idea to break with her."
"Well, you ought to have made an end of it," said Magloire.
Jacques de Boiscoran shook his head.
"That is easily said," he replied. "I tried it; but I could not do it.
Ten times I went to her, determined to say, 'Let us part;' and ten
times, at the last moment, my courage failed me. She irritated me. I
almost began to hate her; but I could not forget how much I had loved
her, and how much she had risked for my sake. Then--why should I not
confess it?--I was afraid of her.
"This inflexible character, which I had so much admired, terrified me;
and I shuddered, seized with vague and sombre apprehensions, when I
thought what she was capable of doing. I was thus in the utmost
perplexity, when my mother spoke to me of a match which she had long
hoped for. This might be the pretext which I had so far failed to
find. At all events, I asked for time to consider; and, the first time
I saw the countess again, I gathered all my courage, and said to
" 'Do you know what has happened? My mother wants me to marry.'
"She turned as pale as death; and looking me fixedly in the eyes, as
if wanting to read my innermost thoughts, she asked,--
" 'And you, what do you want?'
" 'I,' I replied with a forced laugh,--'I want nothing just now. But
the thing will have to be done sooner or later. A man must have a
home, affections which the world acknowledges'--
" 'And I,' she broke in; 'what am I to you?'
" 'You,' I exclaimed, 'you, Genevieve! I love you with all the
strength of my heart. But we are separated by a gulf: you are
"She was still looking at me fixedly.
" 'In other words,' she said, 'you have loved me as a pastime. I have
been the amusement of your youth, the poetry of twenty years, that
love-romance which every man wants to have. But you are becoming
serious; you want sober affections, and you leave me. Well, be it so.
But what is to become of me when you are married?'
"I was suffering terribly.
" 'You have your husband,' I stammered, 'your children'--
"She stopped me.
" 'Yes,' she said. 'I shall go back go live at Valpinson, in that
country full of associations, where every place recalls a rendezvous.
I shall live with my husband, whom I have betrayed; with daughters,
one of whom-- That cannot be, Jacques.'
"I had a fit of courage.
" 'Still,' I said, 'I may have to marry. What would you do?'
" 'Oh! very little,' she replied. 'I should hand all your letters to
Count Claudieuse.' "
During the thirty years which he had spent at the bar, M. Magloire had
heard many a strange confession; but never in his life had all his
ideas been overthrown as in this case.
"That is utterly confounding," he murmured.
But Jacques went on,--
"Was this threat of the countess meant in earnest? I did not doubt it;
but affecting great composure, I said,--
" 'You would not do that.'
" 'By all that I hold dear and sacred in this world,' she replied, 'I
would do it.'
"Many months have passed by since that scene, Magloire, many events
have happened; and still I feel as if it had taken place yesterday. I
see the countess still, whiter than a ghost. I still hear her
trembling voice; and I can repeat to you her words almost literally,--
" 'Ah! you are surprised at my determination, Jacques. I understand
that. Wives who have betrayed their husbands have not accustomed their
lovers to be held responsible by them. When they are betrayed, they
dare not cry out; when they are abandoned, they submit; when they are
sacrificed, they hide their tears, for to cry would be to avow their
wrong. Who would pity them, besides? Have they not received their
well-known punishment? Hence it is that all men agree, and there are
some of them cynical enough to confess it, that a married woman is a
convenient lady-love, because she can never be jealous, and she may be
abandoned at any time. Ah! we women are great cowards. If we had more
courage, you men would look twice before you would dare speak of love
to a married woman. But what no one dares I will dare. It shall not be
said that in our common fault there are two parts, and that you shall
have had all the benefit of it, and that I must bear all the
punishment. What? You might be free to-morrow to console yourself with
a new love; and I--I should have to sink under my shame and remorse.
No, no! Such bonds as those that bind us, riveted by long years of
complicity, are not broken so easily.
" 'You belong to me; you are mine; and I shall defend you against all
and every one, with such arms as I possess. I told you that I valued
my reputation more than my life; but I never told you that I valued
life. On the eve of your wedding-day, my husband shall know all. I
shall not survive the loss of my honor; but at least I shall have my
revenge. If you escape the hatred of Count Claudieuse, your name will
be bound up with such a tragic affair that your life will be ruined
"That was the way she spoke, Magloire, and with a passion of which I
can give you no idea. It was absurd, it was insane, I admit. But is
not all passion absurd and insane? Besides, it was by no means a
sudden inspiration of her pride, which made her threaten me with such
vengeance. The precision of her phrases, the accuracy of her words,
all made me feel that she had long meditated such a blow, and
carefully calculated the effect of every word.
"I was thunderstruck.
"And as I kept silence for some time, she asked me coldly,--
"I had to gain time, first of all.
" 'Well,' I said, 'I cannot understand your passion. This marriage
which I mentioned has never existed as yet, except in my mother's
" 'True?' she asked.
" 'I assure you.'
"She examined me with suspicious eyes. At last she said,--
" 'Well, I believe you. But now you are warned: let us think no more
of such horrors.'
"She might think no more of them, but I could not.
"I left her with fury in my heart.
"She had evidently settled it all. I had for lifetime this halter
around my neck, which held me tighter day by day and, at the slightest
effort to free myself, I must be prepared for a terrible scandal; for
one of those overwhelming adventures which destroy a man's whole life.
Could I ever hope to make her listen to reason? No, I was quite sure I
"I knew but too well that I should lose my time, if I were to recall
to her that I was not quite as guilty as she would make me out; if I
were to show her that her vengeance would fall less upon myself than
upon her husband and her children; and that, although she might blame
the count for the conditions of their marriage, her daughters, at
least, were innocent.
"I looked in vain for an opening out of this horrible difficulty. Upon
my honor, Magloire, there were moments when I thought I would pretend
getting married, for the purpose of inducing the countess to act, and
of bringing upon myself these threats which were hanging over me. I
fear no danger; but I cannot bear to know it to exist, and to wait for
it with folded hands: I must go forth and meet it.
"The thought that the countess should use her husband for the purpose
of keeping me bound shocked me. It seemed to me ridiculous and ignoble
that she should make her husband the guardian of her love. Did she
think I was afraid of her?
"In the meantime, my mother had asked me what was the result of my
reflections on the subject of marriage; and I blushed with shame as I
told her that I was not disposed to marry as yet, as I felt too young
to accept the responsibility of a family. It was so; but, under other
circumstances, I should hardly have put in that plea. I was thus
hesitating, and thinking how and when I should be able to make an end
of it, when the war broke out. I felt naturally bound to offer my
services. I hastened to Boiscoran. They had just organized the
volunteers of the district; and they made me their captain. With them
I joined the army of the Loire. In my state of mind, war had nothing
fearful for me: every excitement was welcome that made me forget the
past. There was, consequently, no merit in my courage. Nevertheless,
as the weeks passed, and then the months, without my hearing a word
about the Countess Claudieuse, I began secretly to hope that she had
forgotten me; and that, time and absence doing their work, she was
giving me up.
"When peace was made, I returned to Boiscoran; and the countess gave
no more signs of life now than before. I began to feel reassured, and
to recover possession of myself, when one day M. de Chandore invited
me to dinner. I went. I saw Miss Dionysia.
"I had known her already for some time; and the recollection of her
had, perhaps, had its influence upon my desire to quit the countess.
Still I had always had self-control enough to avoid her lest I should
draw some fatal vengeance upon her. When I was brought in contact with
her by her grandfather, I had no longer the heart to avoid her; and,
on the day on which I thought I read in her eyes that she loved me I
made up my mind, and I resolved to risk every thing.
"But how shall I tell you what I suffered, Magloire, and with what
anxiety I asked every evening when I returned to Boiscoran,--
" 'No letter yet?'
"None came; and still it was impossible that the Countess Claudieuse
should not have heard of my marriage. My father had called on M. de
Chandore, and asked him for the hand of his grand-daughter for me. I
had been publicly acknowledged as her betrothed; and nothing was now
to be done but to fix the wedding-day.
"This silence frightened me."
Exhausted and out of breath, Jacque de Boiscoran paused here, pressing
both of his hands on his chest, as if to check the irregular beating
of his heart.
He was approaching the catastrophe.
And yet he looked in vain to the advocate for a word or a sign of
encouragement. M. Magloire remained impenetrable: his face remained as
impassive as an iron mask.
At last, with a great effort, Jacques resumed,--
"Yes, this calm frightened me more than a storm would have done. To
win Dionysia's love was too great happiness. I expected a catastrophe,
something terrible. I expected it with such absolute certainty, that I
had actually made up my mind to confess every thing to M. de Chandore.
You know him, Magloire. The old gentleman is the purest and brightest
type of honor itself. I could intrust my secrets to him with as
perfect safety as I formerly intrusted Genevieve's name to the night
"Alas! why did I hesitate? why did I delay?
"One word might have saved me; and I should not be here, charged with
an atrocious crime, innocent, and yet condemned to see how you doubt
the truth of my words.
"But fate was against me.
"After having for a week postponed my confession every day to the
next, one evening, after Dionysia and I had been talking of
presentiments, I said to myself, 'To-morrow it shall be done.'
"The next morning, I went to Boiscoran much earlier than usual, and on
foot, because I wanted to give some orders to a dozen workmen whom I
employed in my vineyards. I took a short cut through the fields. Alas!
not a single detail has escaped from my memory. When I had given my
orders, I returned to the high road, and there met the priest from
Brechy, who is a friend of mine.
" 'You must,' he said, 'keep me company for a little distance. As you
are on your way to Sauveterre, it will not delay you much to take the
cross-road which passes by Valpinson and the forest of Rochepommier.'
"On what trifles our fate depends!
"I accompanied the priest, and only left him at the point where the
high-road and the cross-road intersect. As soon as I was alone, I
hastened on; and I was almost through the wood, when, all of a sudden,
some twenty yards before me, I saw the Countess Claudieuse coming
towards me. In spite of my emotion, I kept on my way, determined to
bow to her, but to pass her without speaking. I did so, and had gone
on a little distance, when I heard her call me,--
"I stopped; or, rather, I was nailed to the spot by that voice which
for a long time had held such entire control over my heart. She came
up to me, looking even more excited than I was. Her lips trembled, and
her eyes wandered to and fro.
" 'Well,' she said, 'it is no longer a fancy: this time you marry Miss
"The time for half-measures had passed.
" 'Yes,' I replied.
" 'Then it is really true,' she said again. 'It is all over now. I
suppose it would be in vain to remind you of those vows of eternal
love which you used to repeat over and over again. Look down there
under that old oak. They are the same trees, this is the same
landscape, and I am still the same woman; but your heart has changed.'
"I made no reply.
" 'You love her very much, do you?' she asked me.
"I kept obstinately silent.
" 'I understand,' she said, 'I understand you but too well. And
Dionysia? She loves you so much she cannot keep it to herself. She
stops her friends to tell them all about her marriage, and to assure
them of her happiness. Oh, yes, indeed, very happy! That love which
was my disgrace is her honor. I was forced to conceal it like a crime:
she can display it as a virtue. Social forms are, after all, very
absurd and unjust; but a fool is he who tries to defy them.'
"Tears, the very first tears I had ever seen her shed, glittered in
her long silky eyelashes.
" 'And to be nothing more to you,--nothing at all! Ah, I was too
cautious! Do you recollect the morning after your uncle's death, when
you, now a rich man, proposed that we should flee? I refused; I clung
to my reputation. I wanted to be respected. I thought it possible to
divide life into two parts,--one to be devoted to pleasure; the other,
to the hypocrisy of duty. Poor fool that I was! And still I discovered
long ago that you were weary of me. I knew you so well! Your heart was
like an open book to me, in which I read your most secret thoughts.
Then I might have retained you. I ought to have been humble, obliging,
submissive. Instead of that, I tried to command.
" 'And you,' she said after a short pause,--'are you happy?'
" 'I cannot be completely happy as long as I know that you are
unhappy. But there is no sorrow which time does not heal. You will
" 'Never!' she cried.
"And, lowering her voice, she added,--
" 'Can I forget you? Alas! my crime is fearful; but the punishment is
still more so.'
"People were coming down the road.
" 'Compose yourself,' I said.
"She made an effort to control her emotion. The people passed us,
saluting politely. And after a moment she said again,--
" 'Well, and when is the wedding?'
"I trembled. She herself insisted upon an explanation.
" 'No day has as yet been fixed,' I replied. 'Had I not to see you
first? You uttered once grave threats.'
" 'And you were afraid?'
" 'No: I was sure I knew you too well to fear that you would punish me
for having loved you, as if that had been a crime. So many things have
happened since the day when you made those threats!'
" 'Yes,' she replied, 'many things indeed! My poor father is
incorrigible. Once more he has committed himself fearfully; and once
more my husband has been compelled to sacrifice a large sum to save
him. Ah, Count Claudieuse has a noble heart; and it is a great pity I
should be the only one towards whom he has failed to show generosity.
Every kindness which he shows me is a new grievance for me; but,
having accepted them all, I have forfeited the right to strike him, as
I had intended to do. You may marry Dionysia, Jacques; you have
nothing to fear from me.'
"Ah! I had not hoped for so much, Magloire. Overcome with joy, I
seized her hand, and raising it to my lips, I said,--
" 'You are the kindest of friends.'
"But promptly, as if my lips had burnt her hand, she drew it back, and
said, turning very pale,--
" 'No, don't do that!'
"Then, overcoming her emotion to a certain degree, she added,--
" 'But we must meet once more. You have my letters, I dare say.'
" 'I have them all.'
" 'Well, you must bring them to me. But where? And how? I can hardly
absent myself at this time. My youngest daughter--our daughter,
Jacques--is very ill. Still, an end must be made. Let us see, on
Thursday--are you free then? Yes. Very well, then come on Thursday
evening, towards nine o'clock, to Valpinson. You will find me at the
edge of the wood, near the towers of the old castle, which my husband
" 'Is that quite prudent?' I asked.
" 'Have I ever left any thing to chance?' she replied, 'and would I be
apt, at this time, to be imprudent? Rely on me. Come, we must part,
Jacques. Thursday, and be punctual!'
"Was I really free? Was the chain really broken? And had I become once
more my own master?
"I thought so, and in my almost delirious joy I forgave the countess
all the anxieties of the last year. What do I say? I began to accuse
myself of injustice and cruelty. I admired her for sacrificing herself
to my happiness. I felt, in the fulness of my gratitude, like kneeling
down, and kissing the hem of her dress.
"It had become useless now to confide my secret to M. de Chandore. I
might have gone back to Boiscoran. But I was more than half-way; I
kept on; and, when I reached Sauveterre, my face bore such evident
trances of my relief, that Dionysia said to me,--
" 'Something very pleasant must have happened to you, Jacques.'
"Oh, yes, very pleasant! For the first time, I breathed freely as I
sat by her side. I could love her now, without fearing that my love
might be fatal to her.
"This security did not last long. As I considered the matter, I
thought it very singular that the countess should have chosen such a
place for our meeting.
" 'Can it be a trap?' I asked, as the day drew nearer.
"All day long on Thursday I had the most painful presentiments. If I
had known how to let the countess know, I should certainly not have
gone. But I had no means to send her word; and I knew her well enough
to be sure that breaking my word would expose me to her full
vengeance. I dined at the usual hour; and, when I had finished, I went
up to my room, where I wrote to Dionysia not to expect me that
evening, as I should be detained by a matter of the utmost importance.
"I handed the note to Michael, the son of one of my tenants, and told
him to carry it to town without losing a minute. Then I tied up all of
the countess's letters in a parcel, put it in my pocket, took my gun,
and went out. It might have been eight o'clock; but it was still broad
Whether M. Magloire accepted every thing that the prisoner said as
truth, or not, he was evidently deeply interested. He had drawn up his
chair, and at every statement he uttered half-loud exclamations.
"Under any other circumstances," said Jacques, "I should have taken
one of the two public roads in going to Valpinson. But troubled, as I
was, by vague suspicions, I thought only of concealing myself and cut
across the marshes. They were partly overflowed; but I counted upon my
intimate familiarity with the ground, and my agility. I thought,
moreover, that here I should certainly not be seen, and should meet no
one. In this I was mistaken. When I reached the Seille Canal, and was
just about to cross it, I found myself face to face with young Ribot,
the son of a farmer at Brechy. He looked so very much surprised at
seeing me in such a place, that I thought to give him some
explanation; and, rendered stupid by my troubles, I told him I had
business at Brechy, and was crossing the marshes to shoot some birds.
" 'If that is so,' he replied, laughing, 'we are not after the same
kind of game.'
"He went his way; but this accident annoyed me seriously. I continued
on my way, swearing, I fear, at young Ribot, and found that the path
became more and more dangerous. It was long past nine when I reached
Valpinson at last. But the night was clear, and I became more cautious
"The place which the countess had chosen for our meeting was about two
hundred yards from the house and the farm buildings, sheltered by
other buildings, and quite close to the wood. I approached it through
"Hid among the trees, I was examining the ground, when I noticed the
countess standing near one of the old towers: she wore a simple
costume of light muslin, which could be seen at a distance. Finding
every thing quiet, I went up to her; and, as soon as she saw me, she
" 'I have been waiting for you nearly an hour.'
"I explained to her the difficulties I had met with on my way there;
and then I asked her,--
" 'But where is your husband?'
" 'He is laid up with rheumatism,' she replied.
" 'Will he not wonder at your absence?'
" 'No: he knows I am sitting up with my youngest daughter. I left the
house through the little door of the laundry.'
"And, without giving me time to reply, she asked,--
" 'Where are my letters?'
" 'Here they are,' I said, handing them to her.
"She took them with feverish haste, saying in an undertone,--
" 'There ought to be twenty-four.'
"And, without thinking of the insult, she went to work counting them.
" 'They are all here,' she said when she had finished.
"Then, drawing a little package from her bosom, she added,--
" 'And here are yours.'
"But she did not give them to me.
" 'We'll burn them,' she said.
"I started with surprise.
" 'You cannot think of it,' I cried, 'here, and at this hour. The fire
would certainly be seen.'
" 'What? Are you afraid? However, we can go into the wood. Come, give
me some matches.'
"I felt in my pockets; but I had none.
" 'I have no matches,' I said.
" 'Oh, come!--you who smoke all day long,--you who, even in my
presence, could never give up your cigars.'
" 'I left my match-box, yesterday, at M. de Chandore's.'
"She stamped her foot vehemently.
" 'Since that is so, I'll go in and get some.'
"This would have delayed us, and thus would have been an additional
imprudence. I saw that I must do what she wanted, and so I said,--
" 'That is not necessary. Wait!'
"All sportsmen know that there is a way to replace matches. I employed
the usual means. I took a cartridge out of my gun, emptied it and its
shot, and put in, instead a piece of paper. Then, resting my gun on
the ground, so as to prevent a loud explosion, I made the powder flash
"We had fire, and put the letters to the flame.
"A few minutes later, and nothing was left of them but a few blackened
fragments, which I crumbled in my hands, and scattered to the winds.
Immovable, like a statue, the Countess Claudieuse had watched my
" 'And that is all,' she said, 'that remains of five years of our
life, of our love, and of your vows,--ashes.'
"I replied by a commonplace remark. I was in a hurry to be gone.
"She felt this, and cried with great vehemence,--
" 'Ah! I inspire you with horror.'
" 'We have just committed a marvellous imprudence,' I said.
" 'Ah! what does it matter?'
"Then, in a hoarse voice, she added,--
" 'Happiness awaits you, and a new life full of intoxicating hopes: it
is quite natural that you should tremble. I, whose life is ended, and
who have nothing to look for,--I, in whom you have killed every
hope,--I am not afraid.'
"I saw her anger rising within her, and said very quietly,--
" 'I hope you do not repent of your generosity, Genevieve.'
" 'Perhaps I do,' she replied, in an accent which made me tremble.
'How you must laugh at me! What a wretched thing a woman is who is
abandoned, who resigns, and sheds tears!'
"Then she went on fiercely,--
" 'Confess that you have never loved me really!'
" 'Ah, you know very well the contrary!'
" 'Still you abandon me for another,--for that Dionysia!'
" 'You are married: you cannot be mine.'
" 'Then if I were free--if I had been a widow'--
" 'You would be my wife you know very well.'
"She raised her arms to heaven, like a drowning person; and, in a
voice which I thought they could hear at the house, she cried,--
" 'His wife! If I were a widow, I would be his wife! O God! Luckily,
that thought, that terrible thought, never occurred to me before.' "
All of a sudden, at these words, the eminent advocate of Sauveterre
rose from his chair, and, placing himself before Jacques de Boiscoran,
he asked, looking at him with one of those glances which seem to
pierce our innermost heart,--
Jacques had to summon all the energy that was left him to be able to
continue with a semblance of calmness, at least,--
"Then I tried every thing in the world to quiet the countess, to move
her, and bring her back to the generous feelings of former days. I was
so completely upset that I hardly knew what I was saying. I hated her
bitterly, and still I could not help pitying her. I am a man; and
there is no man living who would not feel deeply moved at seeing
himself the object of such bitter regrets and such terrible despair.
Besides, my happiness and Dionysia's honor were at stake. How do I
know what I said? I am not a hero of romance. No doubt I was mean. I
humbled myself, I besought her, I told falsehoods, I vowed to her that
it was my family, mainly, who made me marry. I hoped I should be able,
by great kindness and caressing words, to soften the bitterness of the
parting. She listened to me, remaining as impassive as a block of ice;
and, when I paused, she said with a sinister laugh,--
" 'And you tell me all that! Your Dionysia! Ah! if I were a woman like
other women, I would say nothing to-day, and, before the year was
over, you would again be at my feet.'
"She must have been thinking of our meeting at the cross-roads. Or was
this the last outburst of passion at the moment when the last ties
were broken off? I was going to speak again; but she interrupted me
" 'Oh, that is enough! Spare me, at least, the insult of your pity!
I'll see. I promise nothing. Good-by!'
"And she escaped toward the house, while I remained rooted to the
spot, almost stupefied, and asking myself if she was not, perhaps at
that moment, telling Count Claudieuse every thing. It was at that
moment that I drew from my gun, almost mechanically, the burnt
cartridge and put in a fresh one. Then, as nothing stirred, I went off
with rapid strides."
"What time was it?" asked M. Magloire.
"I could not tell you precisely. My state of mind was such, that I had
lost all idea of time. I went back through the forest of
"And you saw nothing?"
"Still, from your statement, you could not have been far from
Valpinson when the fire broke out."
"That is true, and, in the open country, I should certainly have seen
the fire; but I was in a dense wood: the trees cut off all view."
"And these same trees prevented the sound of the two shots fired at
Count Claudieuse from reaching your ear?"
"They might have helped to prevent it; but there was no need for that.
I was walking against the wind, which was very high; and it is an
established fact, that, under such circumstances, the sound of a gun
is not heard beyond fifty yards."
M. Magloire once more could hardly restrain his impatience; and,
utterly unconscious that he was even harsher than the magistrate, he
"And you think your statement explains every thing?"
"I believe that my statement, which is founded upon the most exact
truth, explains the charges brought against me by M. Galpin. It
explains how I tried to keep my visit to Valpinson secret; how I was
met in going and in coming back, and at hours which correspond with
the time of the fire. It explains, finally, how I came at first to
deny. It explains how one of my cartridge-cases was found near the
ruins, and why I had to wash my hands when I reached home."
Nothing seemed to be able to shake the lawyer's conviction. He
"And the day after, when they came to arrest you, what was your first
"I thought at once of Valpinson."
"And when you were told that a crime had been committed?"
"I said to myself, 'The countess wants to be a widow.' "
All of M. Magloire's blood seemed to rise in his face. He cried,--
"Unhappy man! How can you dare accuse the Countess Claudieuse of such
Indignation gave Jacques strength to reply,--
"Whom else should I accuse? A crime has been committed, and under such
circumstances that it cannot have been committed by any one except by
her or by myself. I am innocent: consequently she is guilty."
"Why did you not say so at once?"
Jacques shrugged his shoulders, and replied in a tone of bitter
"How many times, and in how many ways, do you want me to give you my
reasons? I kept silent the first day, because I did not then know the
circumstances of the crime, and because I was reluctant to accuse a
woman who had given me her love, and who had become criminal from
passion; because, in fine, I did not think at that time that I was in
danger. After that I kept silent because I hoped justice would be able
to discover the truth, or the countess would be unable to bear the
idea that I, the innocent one, should be accused. Still later, when I
saw my danger, I was afraid."
The advocates' feelings seemed to be revolted. He broke in,--
"You do not tell the truth, Jacques; and I will tell you why you kept
silent. It is very difficult to make up a story which is to account
for every thing. But you are a clever man: you thought it over, and
you made out a story. There is nothing lacking in it, except
probability. You might tell me that the Countess Claudieuse has
unfairly enjoyed the reputation of a saint, and that she has given you
her love; perhaps I might be willing to believe it. But when you say
she has set her own house on fire, and taken up a gun to shoot her
husband, that I can never, never admit."
"Still it is the truth."
"No; for the evidence of Count Claudieuse is precise. He has seen his
murderer; it was a man who fired at him."
"And who tells you that Count Claudieuse does not know all, and wants
to save his wife, and ruin me? There would be a vengeance for him."
The objection took the advocate by surprise; but he rejected it at
once, and said,--
"Ah! be silent, or prove."
"All the letters are burned."
"When one has been a woman's lover for five years, there are always
"But you see there are none."
"Do not insist," repeated M. Magloire.
And, in a voice full of pity and emotion, he added,--
"Unhappy man! Do you not feel, that, in order to escape from one
crime, you are committing another which is a thousand times worse?"
Jacques stood wringing his hand, and said--
"It is enough to drive me mad."
"And even if I, your friend," continued M. Magloire, "should believe
you, how would that help you? Would any one else believe it? Look here
I will tell you exactly what I think. Even if I were perfectly sure of
all the facts you mention, I should never plead them in my defence,
unless I had proofs. To plead them, understand me well, would be to
ruin yourself inevitably."
"Still they must be pleaded; for they are the truth."
"Then," said M. Magloire, "you must look for another advocate."
And he went toward the door. He was on the point of leaving, when
Jacques cried out, almost in agony,--
"Great God, he forsakes me!"
"No," replied the advocate; "but I cannot discuss matters with you in
the state of excitement in which you now are. You will think it over,
and I will come again to-morrow."
He left; and Jacques de Boiscoran fell, utterly undone, on one of the
"It is all over," he stammered: "I am lost."
During all this time, they were suffering intense anxiety at M. de
Chandore's house. Ever since eight o'clock in the morning the two
aunts, the old gentleman, the marchioness, and M. Folgat had been
assembled in the dining-room, and were there waiting for the result of
the interview. Dionysia had only come down later; and her grandfather
could not help noticing that she had dressed more carefully than
"Are we not going to see Jacques again?" she replied with a smile full
of confidence and joy.
She had actually persuaded herself that one word from Jacques would
suffice to convince the celebrated lawyer, and that he would reappear
triumphant on M. Magloire's arm. The others did not share these
expectations. The two aunts, looking as yellow as their old laces, sat
immovable in a corner. The marchioness was trying to hide her tears;
and M. Folgat endeavored to look absorbed in a volume of engravings.
M. de Chandore, who possessed less self-control, walked up and down in
the room, repeating every ten minutes,--
"It is wonderful how long time seems when you are waiting!"
At ten o'clock no news had come.
"Could M. Magloire have forgotten his promise?" said Dionysia,
"No, he has not forgotten it," replied a newcomer, M. Seneschal. It
was really the excellent mayor, who had met M. Magloire about an hour
before, and who now came to hear the news, for his own sake, as he
said, but especially for his wife's sake, who was actually ill with
Eleven o'clock, and no news. The marchioness got up, and said,--
"I cannot stand this uncertainty a minute longer. I am going to the
"And I will go with you, dear mother," declared Dionysia.
But such a proceeding was hardly suitable. M. de Chandore opposed it,
and was supported by M. Folgat, as well as by M. Seneschal.
"We might at least send somebody," suggested the two aunts timidly.
"That is a good idea," replied M. de Chandore.
He rang the bell; and old Anthony came in. He had established himself
the evening before in Sauveterre, having heard that the preliminary
investigation was finished.
As soon as he had been told what they wanted him to do, he said,--
"I shall be back in half an hour."
He nearly ran down the steep street, hastened along National Street,
and then climbed up more slowly Castle Street. When M. Blangin, the
keeper, saw him appear, he turned very pale; for M. Blangin had not
slept since Dionysia had given him the seventeen thousand francs. He,
once upon a time the special friend of all gendarmes, now trembled
when one of them entered the jail. Not that he felt any remorse about
having betrayed his duty; oh, no! but he feared discovery.
More than ten times he had changed the hiding-place of his precious
stocking; but, wherever he put it, he always fancied that the eyes of
his visitors were riveted upon that very spot. He recovered, however,
from his fright when Anthony told him his errand, and replied in the
most civil manner,--
"M. Magloire came here at nine o'clock precisely. I took him
immediately to M. de Boiscoran's cell; and ever since they have been
"Are you quite sure?"
"Of course I am. Must I not know every thing that happens in my jail?
I went and listened. You can hear nothing from the passage: they have
shut the wicket, and the door is massive."
"That is strange," murmured the old servant.
"Yes, and a bad sign," declared the keeper with a knowing air. "I have
noticed that the prisoners who take so long to state their case to
their advocate always catch the maximum of punishment."
Anthony, of course, did not report to his masters the jailer's
mournful anticipations; but what he told them about the length of the
interview did not tend to relieve their anxiety.
Gradually the color had faded from Dionysia's cheeks; and the clear
ring of her voice was half drowned in tears, when she said, that it
would have been better, perhaps, if she had put on mourning, and that
seeing the whole family assembled thus reminded her of a funeral.
The sudden arrival of Dr. Seignebos cut short her remarks. He was in a
great passion, as usual; and as soon as he entered, he cried,--
"What a stupid town Sauveterre is! Nothing but gossip and idle
reports! The people are all of them old women. I feel like running
away, and hiding myself. On my way here, twenty curious people have
stopped me to ask me what M. de Boiscoran is going to do now. For the
town is full of rumors. They know that Magloire is at the jail now;
and everybody wants to be the first to hear Jacques's story."
He had put his immense broad brimmed hat on the table, and, looking
around the room at all the sad faces he asked,--
"And you have no news yet?"
"Nothing," replied M. Seneschal and M. Folgat at the same breath.
"And we are frightened by this delay," added Dionysia.
"And why?" asked the physician.
Then taking down his spectacles, and wiping them diligently, he
"Did you think, my dear young lady, that Jacques de Boiscoran's affair
could be settled in five minutes? If they let you believe that, they
did wrong. I, who despise all concealment, I will tell you the truth.
At the bottom of all these occurrences at Valpinson, there lies, I am
perfectly sure, some dark intrigue. Most assuredly we shall put
Jacques out of his trouble; but I fear it will be hard work."
"M. Magloire!" announced old Anthony.
The eminent advocate of Sauveterre entered. He looked so undone, and
bore so evidently the traces of his excitement, that all had the same
terrible thought which Dionysia expressed.
"Jacques is lost!"
M. Magloire did not say no.
"I believe he is in danger."
"Jacques," murmured the old marchioness,--"my son!"
"I said in danger," repeated the advocate; "but I ought to have said,
he is in a strange, almost incredible, unnatural position."
"Let us hear," said the marchioness.
The lawyer was evidently very much embarrassed; and he looked with
unmistakable distress, first at Dionysia, and then at the two old
aunts. But nobody noticed this, and so he said,--
"I must ask to be left alone with these gentlemen."
In the most docile manner the Misses Lavarande rose, and took their
niece and Jacques's mother with them: the latter was evidently near
fainting. As soon as the door was shut, Grandpapa Chandore, half mad
with grief, exclaimed,--
"Thanks, M. Magloire, thanks for having given me time to prepare my
poor child for the terrible blow. I see but too well what you are
going to say. Jacques is guilty."
"Stop," said the advocate: "I have said nothing of the kind. M. de
Boiscoran still protests energetically that he is innocent; but he
states in his defence a fact which is so entirely improbable, so
"But what does he say?" asked M. Seneschal.
"He says that the Countess Claudieuse has been his mistress."
Dr. Seignebos started, and, readjusting his spectacles, he cried
"I said so! I have guessed it!"
M. Folgat had, on this occasion, very naturally, no deliberative
voice. He came from Paris, with Paris ideas; and, whatever he might
have been told, the name of the Countess Claudieuse revealed to him
nothing. But, from the effect which it produced upon the others, he
could judge what Jacques's accusation meant. Far from being of the
doctor's opinion M. de Chandore and M. Seneschal both seemed to be as
much shocked as M. Magloire.
"That is incredible," said one.
"That is impossible," added the other.
M. Magloire shook his head, and said,--
"That is exactly what I told Jacques."
But the doctor was not the man to be surprised at what public opinion
said, much less to fear it. He exclaimed,--
"Don't you hear what I say? Don't you understand me? The proof that
the thing is neither so incredible nor so impossible is, that I had
suspected it. And there were signs of it, I should think. Why on earth
should a man like Jacques, young, rich, well made, in love with a
charming girl, and beloved by her, why should he amuse himself with
setting houses on fire, and killing people? You tell me he did not
like Count Claudieuse. Upon my word! If everybody who does not like
Dr. Seignebos were to come and fire at him forthwith, do you know my
body would look like a sieve! Among you all, M. Folgat is the only one
who has not been struck with blindness."
The young lawyer tried modestly to protest.
But the other cut him short, and went on,--
"Yes, sir, you saw it all; and the proof of it is, that you at once
went to work in search of the real motive, the heart,--in fine, the
woman at the bottom of the riddle. The proof of it is, that you went
and asked everybody,--Anthony, M. de Chandore, M. Seneschal, and
myself,--if M. de Boiscoran had not now, or had not had, some love-
affair in the country. They all said No, being far from suspecting the
truth. I alone, without giving you a positive answer, told you that I
thought as you did, and told you so in M. de Chandore's presence."
"That is so!" replied the old gentleman and M. Folgat.
Dr. Seignebos was triumphant. Gesticulating, and continually handling
his spectacles, he added,--
"You see I have learnt to mistrust appearances; and hence I had my
misgivings from the beginning. I watched the Countess Claudieuse the
night of the fire; and I saw that she looked embarrassed, troubled,
suspicious. I wondered at her readiness to yield to M. Galpin's whim,
and to allow Cocoleu to be examined; for I knew that she was the only
one who could ever make that so-called idiot talk. You see I have good
eyes, gentlemen, in spite of my spectacles. Well, I swear by all I
hold most sacred, on my Republican faith, I am ready to affirm upon
oath, that, when Cocoleu uttered Jacques de Boiscoran's name, the
countess exhibited no sign of surprise."
Never before, in their life, had the mayor of Sauveterre and Dr.
Seignebos been able to agree on any subject. This question was not
likely to produce such an effect all of a sudden: hence M. Seneschal
"I was present at Cocoleu's examination, and I noticed, on the
contrary, the amazement of the countess."
The doctor raised his shoulders, and said,--
"Certainly she said, 'Ah!' But that is no proof. I, also, could very
easily say, 'Ah!' if anybody should come and tell me that the mayor of
Sauveterre was in the wrong; and still I should not be surprised."
"Doctor!" said M. de Chandore, anxious to conciliate,--"doctor!"
But Dr. Seignebos had already turned to M. Magloire, whom he was
anxious to convert, and went on,--
"Yes, the face of the Countess Claudieuse, expressed amazement; but
her eyes spoke of bitter, fierce hatred, of joy, and of vengeance. And
that is not all. Will you please tell me, Mr. Mayor, when Count
Claudieuse was roused by the fire, was the countess by him? No, she
was nursing her youngest daughter, who had the measles. Hm! What do
you think of measles which make sitting up at night necessary? And
when the two shots were fired, where was the countess then? Still with
her daughter, and on the other side of the house from where the fire
The mayor of Sauveterre was no less obstinate than the doctor. He at
"I beg you will notice, doctor, that Count Claudieuse himself deposed
how, when he ran to the fire, he found the door shut from within, just
as he had left it a few hours before."
Dr. Seignebos returned a most ironical bow, and then asked,--
"Is there really only one door in the chateau at Valpinson?"
"To my knowledge," said M. de Chandore, "there are at least three."
"And I must say," added M. Magloire, "that according to M. de
Boiscoran's statement, the countess, on that evening, had gone out by
the laundry-door when she came to meet him."
"What did I say?" exclaimed the doctor.
And, wiping his glasses in a perfect rage, he added,--
"And the children! Does Mr. Mayor think it natural that the Countess
Claudieuse, this incomparable mother in his estimation, should forget
her children in the height of the fire?"
"What! The poor woman is called out by the discharge of fire-arms; she
sees her house on fire; she stumbles over the lifeless body of her
husband: and you blame her for not having preserved all her presence
"That is one view of it; but it is not the one I take. I rather think
that the countess, having been delayed out of doors, was prevented by
the fire from getting in again. I think, also, that Cocoleu came very
opportunely; and that it was very lucky Providence should inspire his
mind with that sublime idea of saving the children at the risk of his
This time M. Seneschal made no reply.
"Supported by all these facts," continued the doctor, "my suspicions
became so strong that I determined to ascertain the truth, if I could.
The next day I questioned the countess, and, I must confess, rather
treacherously. Her replies and her looks were not such as to modify my
views. When I asked her, looking straight into her eyes, what she
thought of Cocoleu's mental condition, she nearly fainted; and she
could hardly make me hear her when she said that she occasionally
caught glimpses of intelligence in him. When I asked her if Cocoleu
was fond of her, she said, in a most embarrassed manner, that his
devotion was that of an animal which is grateful for the care taken of
him. What do you think of that, gentlemen? To me it appeared that
Cocoleu was at the bottom of the whole affair; that he knew the truth;
and that I should be able to save Jacques, if I could prove Cocoleu's
imbecility to be assumed, and his speechlessness to be an imposture.
And I would have proved it, if they had associated with me any one
else but this ass and this jackanapes from Paris."
He paused for a few seconds; but, without giving anybody time to
reply, he went on,--
"Now, let us go back to our point of departure, and draw our
conclusions. Why do you think it so improbable and impossible that the
countess Claudieuse should have betrayed her duties? Because she has a
world-wide reputation for purity and prudence. Well. But was not
Jacques de Boiscoran's reputation as a man of honor also above all
doubt? According to your views, it is absurd to suspect the countess
of having had a lover. According to my notions, it is absurd that
Jacques should, overnight, have become a scoundrel."
"Oh! that is not the same thing," said M. Seneschal.
"Certainly not!" replied the doctor; "and there you are right, for
once. If M. de Boiscoran had committed this crime, it would be one of
those absurd crimes which are revolting to us; but, if committed by
the countess, it is only the catastrophe prepared by Count Claudieuse
on the day when he married a woman thirty years younger than he was."
The great wrath of Dr. Seignebos was not always as formidable as it
looked. Even when he appeared to be almost beside himself, he never
said more than he intended to say, possessed as he was of that
admirable southern quality, which enabled him to pour forth fire and
flames, and to remain as cold as ice within, But in this case he
showed what he thought fully. He had said quite enough, too, and had
presented the whole affair under such a new aspect, that his friends
became very thoughtful.
"You would have converted me, doctor," said M. Folgat, "if I had not
been of your opinion before."
"I am sure," added M. de Chandore, after hearing the doctor, "the
thing no longer looks impossible."
"Nothing is impossible," said M. Seneschal, like a philosopher.
The eminent advocate of Sauveterre alone remained unmoved.
"Well," said he, "I had rather admit one hour of utter insanity even
than five years of such monstrous hypocrisy. Jacques may have
committed the crime, and be nothing but a madman; but, if the countess
is guilty, one might despair of mankind, and renounce all faith in
this world. I have seen her, gentlemen, with her husband and her
children. No one can feign such looks of tenderness and affection."
"He will never give her up!" growled Dr. Seignebos,--
And touching his friend on the shoulder,--for M. Magloire had been his
friend for many years, and they were quite intimate,--he said,--
"Ah! There I recognize my friend, the strange lawyer, who judges
others by himself, and refuses to believe any thing bad. Oh, do not
protest! For we love and honor you for that very faith, and are proud
to see you among us Republicans. But I must confess you are not the
man to bring light into such a dark intrigue. At twenty-eight you
married a girl whom you loved dearly: you lost her, and ever since you
have remained faithful to her memory, and lived so far from all
passions that you no longer believe in their existence. Happy man!
Your heart is still at twenty; and with your grey hair you still
believe in the smiles and looks of woman."
There was much truth in this; but there are certain truths which we
are not overfond of hearing.
"My simplicity has nothing to do with the matter," said M. Magloire.
"I affirm and maintain that a man who has been for five years the
lover of a woman must have some proof of it."
"Well, there you are mistaken, master," said the physician, arranging
his spectacles with an air of self-conceit, which, under other
circumstances, would have been irresistibly ludicrous.
"When women determine to be prudent and suspicious," remarked M. de
Chandore, "they never are so by halves."
"It is evident, besides," added M. Folgat, "that the Countess
Claudieuse would never have determined upon so bold a crime, if she
had not been quite sure, that after the burning of her letters, no
proof could be brought against her."
"That is it!" cried the doctor.
M. Magloire did not conceal his impatience. He said dryly,--
"Unfortunately, gentlemen, it does not depend on you to acquit or
condemn M. de Boiscoran. I am not here to convince you, or to be
convinced: I came to discuss with M. de Boiscoran's friends our line
of conduct, and the basis of or defence."
And M. Magloire was evidently right in this estimate of his duty. He
went and leaned against the mantelpiece; and, when the others had
taken their seats around him, he began,--
"In the first place, I will admit the allegations made by M. de
Boiscoran. He is innocent. He has been the lover of Countess
Claudieuse; but he has no proof. This being granted, what is to be
done? Shall I advise him to send for the magistrate, and to confess it
No one replied at first. It was only after a long silence that Dr.
"That would be very serious."
"Very serious, indeed," repeated the famous lawyer. "Our own feelings
give us the measure of what M. Galpin will think. First of all, he,
also, will ask for proof, the evidence of a witness, any thing, in
fact. And, when Jacques tells him that he has nothing to give but his
word, M. Galpin will tell him that he does not speak the truth."
"He might, perhaps, consent to extend the investigation," said M.
Seneschal. "He might possibly summon the countess."
M. Magloire nodded, and said,--
"He would certainly summon her. But, then, would she confess? It would
be madness to expect that. If she is guilty, she is far too strong-
minded to let the truth escape her. She would deny every thing,
haughtily, magnificently, and in such a manner as not to leave a
shadow of doubt."
"That is only too probable," growled the doctor. "That poor Galpin is
not the strongest of men."
"What would be the result of such a step?" asked M. Magloire. "M. de
Boiscoran's case would be a hundred times worse; for to his crime
would now be added the odium of the meanest, vilest calumny."
M. Folgat was following with the utmost attention. He said,--
"I am very glad to hear my honorable colleague give utterance to that
opinion. We must give up all hope of delaying the proceedings, and let
M. de Boiscoran go into court at once."
M. de Chandore raised his hands to heaven, as if in sheer despair.
"But Dionysia will die of grief and shame," he exclaimed.
M. Magloire, absorbed in his own views, went on,--
"Well, here we are now before the court at Sauveterre, before a jury
composed of people from this district, incapable of prevarication, I
am sure, but, unfortunately, under the influence of that public
opinion which has long since condemned M. de Boiscoran. The
proceedings begin; the judge questions the accused. Will he say what
he told me,--that, after having been the lover of the Countess
Claudieuse, he had gone to Valpinson to carry her back her letters,
and to get his own, and that they are all burnt? Suppose he says so.
Immediately then there will arise a storm of indignation; and he will
be overwhelmed with curses and with contempt. Well, thereupon, the
president of the court uses his discretionary powers, suspends the
trial, and sends for the Countess Claudieuse. Since we look upon her
as guilty, we must needs endow her with supernatural energy. She had
foreseen what is coming, and has read over her part. When summoned,
she appears, pale, dressed in black; and a murmur of respectful
sympathy greets her at her entrance. You see her before you, don't
you? The president explains to her why she has been sent for, and she
does not comprehend. She cannot possibly comprehend such an abominable
calumny. But when she has comprehended it? Do you see the lofty look
by which she crushes Jacques, and the grandeur with which she replies,
'When this man had failed in trying to murder my husband, he tried to
disgrace his wife. I intrust to you my honor as a mother and a wife,
gentlemen. I shall not answer the infamous charges of this abject
"But that means the galleys for Jacques," exclaimed M. de Chandore,
"or even the scaffold!"
"That would be the maximum, at all events," replied the advocate of
Sauveterre. "But the trial goes on; the prosecuting attorney demands
an overwhelming punishment; and at last the prisoner's council is
called upon to speak. Gentlemen, you were impatient at my persistence.
I do not credit, I confess, the statement made by M. de Boiscoran. But
my young colleague here does credit it. Well, let him tell us
candidly. Would he dare to plead this statement, and assert that the
Countess Claudieuse had been Jacques's mistress?"
M. Folgat looked annoyed.
"I don't know," he said in an undertone.
"Well, I know you would not," exclaimed M. Magloire; "and you would be
right, for you would risk your reputation without the slightest chance
of saving Jacques. Yes, no chance whatever! For after all, let us
suppose, what can hardly be even supposed, you should prove that
Jacques has told the truth, that he has been the lover of the
countess. What would happen then? They arrest the countess. Do they
release M. de Boiscoran on that account? Certainly not! They keep him
in prison, and say to him. 'This woman has attempted her husband's
life; but she had been your mistress, and you are her accomplice.'
"That is the situation, gentlemen!"
M. Magloire had stripped it of all unnecessary comments, of idle
conjecture, and all sentimental phraseology, and placed it before them
as it had to be looked at, in all its fearful simplicity.
Grandpapa Chandore was terrified. He rose, and said in an almost
"Ah, all is over indeed! Innocent, or guilty, Jacques de Boiscoran
will be condemned."
M. Magloire made no reply.
"And that is," continued the old gentleman, "what you call justice!"
"Alas!" sighed M. Seneschal, "it is useless to deny it: trials by jury
are a lottery."
M. de Chandore, driven nearly to madness by his despair, interrupted
"In other words, Jacques's honor and life depend at this hour on a
chance,--on the weather on the day of the trial, or the health of a
juror. And if Jacques was the only one! But there is Dionysia's life,
gentlemen, my child's life, also at stake. If you strike Jacques, you
M. Folgat could hardly restrain a tear. M. Seneschal, and even the
doctor, shuddered at such grief in an old man, who was threatened in
all that was dearest to him,--in his one great love upon earth. He had
taken the hand of the great advocate of Sauveterre, and, pressing it
convulsively, he went on,--
"You will save him, Magloire, won't you? What does it matter whether
he be innocent or guilty, since Dionysia loves him? You have saved so
many in your life! It is well known the judges cannot resist the
weight of your words. You will find means to save a poor, unhappy man
who once was your friend."
The eminent lawyer looked cast-down, as if he had been guilty himself.
When Dr. Seignebos saw this, he exclaimed,--
"What do you mean, friend Magloire? Are you no longer the man whose
marvellous eloquence is the pride of our country? Hold your head up:
for shame! Never was a nobler cause intrusted to you."
But he shook his head, and murmured,--
"I have no faith in it; and I cannot plead when my conscience does not
furnish the arguments."
And becoming more and more embarrassed, he added,--
"Seignebos was right in saying just now, I am not the man for such a
cause. Here all my experience would be of no use. It will be better to
intrust it to my young brother here."
For the first time in his life, M. Folgat came here upon a case such
as enables a man to rise to eminence, and to open a great future
before him. For the first time, he came upon a case in which were
united all the elements of supreme interest,--greatness of crime,
eminence of victim, character of the accused, mystery, variety of
opinions, difficulty of defence, and uncertainty of issue,--one of
those causes for which an advocate is filled with enthusiasm, which he
seizes upon with all his energies, and in which he shares all the
anxiety and all the hopes with his client.
He would readily have given five years' income to be offered the
management of this case; but he was, above all, an honest man. He
"You would not think of abandoning M. de Boiscoran, M. Magloire?"
"You will be more useful to him than I can be," was the reply.
Perhaps M. Folgat was inwardly of the same opinion. Still he said,--
"You have not considered what an effect this would have."
"What would the public think if they heard all of a sudden that you
had withdrawn? 'This affair of M. de Boiscoran must be a very bad one
indeed,' they would say, 'that M. Magloire should refuse to plead in
it.' And that would be an additional burden laid upon the unfortunate
The doctor gave his friend no time to reply.
"Magloire is not at liberty to withdraw," he said, "but he has the
right to associate a brother-lawyer with himself. He must remain the
advocate and counsel of M. de Boiscoran; but M. Folgat can lend him
the assistance of his advice, the support of his youth and his
activity, and even of his eloquence."
A passing blush colored the cheeks of the young lawyer.
"I am entirely at M. Magloire's service," he said.
The famous advocate of Sauveterre considered a while. After a few
moments he turned to his young colleague, and asked him,--
"Have you any plan? Any idea? What would you do?"
To the astonishment of all, M. Folgat now revealed his true character
to some extent. He looked taller, his face brightened up, his eyes
shone brightly, and he said in a full, sonorous voice,--a voice which
by its metallic ring made all hearts vibrate,--
"First of all, I should go and see M. de Boiscoran. He alone should
determine my final decision. But my plan is formed now. I, gentlemen,
I have faith, as I told you before. The man whom Miss Dionysia loves
cannot be a criminal. What would I do? I would prove the truth of M.
de Boiscoran's statement. Can that be done? I hope so. He tells us
that there are no proofs or witnesses of his intimacy with the
Countess Claudieuse. I am sure he is mistaken. She has shown, he says,
extraordinary care and prudence. That may be. But mistrust challenges
suspicion; and, when you take the greatest precautions, you are most
likely to be watched. You want to hide, and you are discovered. You
see nobody; but they see you.
"If I were charged with the defence, I should commence to-morrow a
counter-investigation. We have money, the Marquis de Boiscoran has
influential connections; and we should have help everywhere. Before
forty-eight hours are gone, I should have experienced agents at work.
I know Vine Street in Passy: it is a lonely street; but it has eyes,
as all streets have. Why should not some of these eyes have noticed
the mysterious visits of the countess? My agents would inquire from
house to house. Nor would it be necessary to mention names. They would
not be charged with a search after the Countess Claudieuse, but after
an unknown lady, dressed so and so; and, if they should discover any
one who had seen her, and who could identify her, that man would be
our first witness.
"In the meantime, I should go in search of this friend of M. de
Boiscoran's, this Englishman, whose name he assumed; and the London
police would aid me in my efforts. If that Englishman is dead, we
would hear of it, and it would be a misfortune. If he is only at the
other end of the world, the transatlantic cable enables us to question
him, and to be answered in a week.
"I should, at the same time, have sent detectives after that English
maid-servant who attended to the house in Vine Street. M. de Boiscoran
declares that she has never even caught a glimpse of the countess. I
do not believe it. It is out of question that a servant should not
wish for the means, and find them, of seeing the face of the woman who
comes to see her master.
"And that is not all. There were other people who came to the house in
Vine Street. I should examine them one by one,--the gardener and his
help, the water-carrier, the upholsterer, the errand-boys of all the
merchants. Who can say whether one of them is not in possession of
this truth which we are seeking?
"Finally, when a woman has spent so many days in a house, it is almost
impossible that she should not have left some traces of her passage
behind her. Since then, you will say, there has been the war, and then
the commune. Nevertheless, I should examine the ruins, every tree in
the garden, every pane in the windows: I should compel the very
mirrors that have escaped destruction to give me back the image which
they have so often reflected."
"Ah, I call that speaking!" cried the doctor, full of enthusiasm.
The others trembled with excitement. They felt that the struggle was
commencing. But, unmindful of the impression he had produced, M.
Folgat went on,--
"Here in Sauveterre, the task would be more difficult; but, in case of
success, the result, also, would be more decided. I should bring down
from Paris one of those keen, subtle detectives who have made an art
of their profession, and I should know how to stimulate his vanity.
He, of course, would have to know every thing, even the names; but
there would be no danger in that. His desire to succeed, the splendor
of the reward, even his professional habits, would be our security. He
would come down secretly, concealed under whatever disguise would
appear to him most useful for his purpose; and he would begin once
more, for the benefit of the defence, the investigation carried on by