Part 9 out of 12
objections rather than to M. Folgat, he said,--
"Certainly, I attend Count Claudieuse, whose illness, by the way,
upsets all my theories, and defies all my experience: but for that
very reason I can do nothing. Our profession has certain rules which
cannot be infringed upon without compromising the whole medical
"But it is a question of life and death with Jacques, sir, with a
"And a fellow Republican, to be sure. But I cannot help you without
abusing the confidence of the Countess Claudieuse."
"Ah, sir! Has not that woman committed a crime for which M. de
Boiscoran, though innocent, will be arraigned in court?"
"I think so; but still"--
He reflected a moment, and then suddenly snatched up his broad-brimmed
hat, drew it over his head, and cried,--
"In fact, so much the worse for her! There are sacred interests which
override every thing. Come!"
Count Claudieuse and his wife had installed themselves, the day after
the fire, in Mautrec Street. The house which the mayor had taken for
them had been for more than a century in the possession of the great
Julias family, and is still considered one of the finest and most
magnificent mansions in Sauveterre.
In less than ten minutes Dr. Seignebos and M. Folgat had reached the
house. From the street, nothing was visible but a tall wall, as old as
the castle, according to the claims of archaeologists, and covered all
over with a mass of wild flowers. In this wall there is a huge
entrance-gate with folding-doors. During the day one-half is opened,
and a light, low open-work railing put in, which rings a bell as soon
as it is pushed open.
You then cross a large garden, in which a dozen statues, covered with
green moss, are falling to pieces on their pedestals, overshadowed by
magnificent old linden-trees. The house has only two stories. A large
hall extends from end to end of the lower story; and at the end a wide
staircase with stone steps and a superb iron railing leads up stairs.
When they entered the hall, Dr. Seignebos opened a door on the right
"Step in here and wait," he said to M. Folgat. "I will go up stairs
and see the count, whose room is in the second story, and I will send
you the countess."
The young advocate did as he was bid, and found himself in a large
room, brilliantly lighted up by three tall windows that went down to
the ground, and looked out upon the garden. This room must have been
superb formerly. The walls were wainscoted with arabesques and lines
in gold. The ceiling was painted, and represented a number of fat
little angels sporting in a sky full of golden stars.
But time had passed its destroying hand over all this splendor of the
past age, had half effaced the paintings, tarnished the gold of the
arabesques, and faded the blue of the ceiling and the rosy little
loves. Nor was the furniture calculated to make compensation for this
decay. The windows had no curtains. On the mantelpiece stood a worn-
out clock and half-broken candelabra; then, here and there, pieces of
furniture that would not match, such as had been rescued from the fire
at Valpinson,--chairs, sofas, arm-chairs, and a round table, all
battered and blackened by the flames.
But M. Folgat paid little attention to these details. He only thought
of the grave step on which he was venturing, and which he now only
looked at in its full strangeness and extreme boldness. Perhaps he
would have fled at the last moment if he could have done so; and he
was only able by a supreme effort to control his excitement.
At last he heard a rapid, light step in the hall; and almost
immediately the Countess Claudieuse appeared. He recognized her at
once, such as Jacques had described her to him, calm, serious, and
serene, as if her soul were soaring high above all human passions. Far
from diminishing her exquisite beauty, the terrible events of the last
months had only surrounded her, as it were, with a divine halo. She
had fallen off a little, however. And the dark semicircle under her
eyes, and the disorder of her hair, betrayed the fatigue and the
anxiety of the long nights which she had spent by her husband's
As M. Folgat was bowing, she asked,--
"You are M. de Boiscoran's counsel?"
"Yes, madam," replied the young advocate.
"The doctor tells me you wish to speak to me."
With a queenly air, she pointed to a chair, and, sitting down herself,
"I hear, sir."
M. Folgat began with beating heart, but a firm voice,--
"I ought, first of all, madam, to state to you my client's true
"That is useless, sir. I know."
"You know, madam, that he has been summoned to trial, and that he may
She shook her head with a painful movement, and said very softly,--
"I know, sir, that Count Claudieuse has been the victim of a most
infamous attempt at murder; that he is still in danger, and that,
unless God works a miracle, I shall soon be without a husband, and my
children without a father."
"But M. de Boiscoran is innocent, madam."
The features of the countess assumed an expression of profound
surprise; and, looking fixedly at M. Folgat, she said,--
"And who, then, is the murderer?"
Ah! It cost the young advocate no small effort to prevent his lips
from uttering the fatal word, "You," prompted by his indignant
conscience. But he thought of the success of his mission; and, instead
of replying, he said,--
"To a prisoner, madam, to an unfortunate man on the eve of judgment,
an advocate is a confessor, to whom he tells every thing. I must add
that the counsel of the accused is like a priest: he must forget the
secrets which have been confided to him."
"I do not understand, sir."
"My client, madam, had a very simple means to prove his innocence. He
had only to tell the truth. He has preferred risking his own honor
rather than to betray the honor of another person."
The countess looked impatient, and broke in, saying,--
"My moments are counted, sir. May I beg you will be more explicit?"
But M. Folgat had gone as far as he well could go.
"I am desired by M. de Boiscoran, madam, to hand you a letter."
The Countess Claudieuse seemed to be overwhelmed with surprise.
"To me?" she said. "On what ground?"
Without saying a word, M. Folgat drew Jacques's letter from his
portfolio, and handed it to her.
"Here it is!" he said.
She took it with a perfectly steady hand, and opened it slowly. But,
as soon as she had run her eye over it, she rose, turned crimson in
her face, and said with flaming eyes,--
"Do you know, sir, what this letter contains?"
"Do you know that M. de Boiscoran dares call me by my first name,
Genevieve, as my husband does, and my father?"
The decisive moment had come, and M. Folgat had all his self-
"M. de Boiscoran, madame, claims that he used to call you so in former
days,--in Vine Street,--in days when you called him Jacques."
The countess seemed to be utterly bewildered.
"But that is sheer infamy, sir," she stammered. "What! M. de Boiscoran
should have dared tell you that I, the countess Claudieuse, have been
"He certainly said so, madam; and he affirms, that a few moments
before the fire broke out, he was near you, and that, if his hands
were blackened, it was because he had burned your letters and his."
She rose at these words, and said in a penetrating voice,--
"And you could believe that,--you? Ah! M. de Boiscoran's other crimes
are nothing in comparison with this! He is not satisfied with having
burnt our house, and ruined us: he means to dishonor us. He is not
satisfied with having murdered my husband: he must ruin the honor of
his wife also."
She spoke so loud, that her voice must have been distinctly heard in
"Lower, madam, I pray you speak lower," said M. Folgat.
She cast upon him a crushing glance; and, raising her voice still
higher, she went on,--
"Yes, I understand very well that you are afraid of being heard. But I
--what have I to fear? I could wish the whole world to hear us, and to
judge between us. Lower, you say? Why should I speak less loud? Do you
think that if Count Claudieuse were not on his death-bed, this letter
would not have long since been in his hands? Ah, he would soon have
satisfaction for such an infamous letter, he! But I, a poor woman! I
have never seen so clearly that the world thinks my husband is lost
already, and that I am alone in this world, without a protector,
"But, madam, M. de Boiscoran pledges himself to the most perfect
"Secrecy in what? In your cowardly insults, your abominable plots, of
which this, no doubt, is but a beginning?"
M. Folgat turned livid under this insult.
"Ah, take care, madam," he said in a hoarse voice: "we have proof,
absolute, overwhelming proof."
The countess stopped him by an imperious gesture, and with the
haughtiest disdain, grief, and wrath, she said,--
"Well, then, produce your proof. Go, hasten, act as you like. We shall
see if the vile calumnies of an incendiary can stain the pure
reputation of an honest woman. We shall see if a single speck of this
mud in which you wallow can reach up to me."
And, throwing Jacques's letter at M. Folgat's feet, she went to the
"Madam," said M. Folgat once more,--"madam!"
She did not even condescend to turn round: she disappeared, leaving
him standing in the middle of the room, so overcome with amazement,
that he could not collect his thoughts. Fortunately Dr. Seignebos came
"Upon my word!" he said, "I never thought the countess would take my
treachery so coolly. When she came out from you just now, she asked
me, in the same tone as every day, how I had found her husband, and
what was to be done. I told her"--
But the rest of the sentence remained unspoken: the doctor had become
aware of M. Folgat's utter consternation.
"Why, what on earth is the matter?" he asked.
The young advocate looked at him with an utterly bewildered air.
"This is the matter: I ask myself whether I am awake or dreaming. This
is the matter: that, if this woman is guilty, she possesses an
audacity beyond all belief."
"How, if? Have you changed your mind about her guilt?"
M. Folgat looked altogether disheartened.
"Ah!" he said, "I hardly know myself. Do you not see that I have lost
my head, that I do not know what to think, and what to believe?"
"Yes, indeed! And yet, doctor, I am not a simpleton. I have now been
pleading five years in criminal courts: I have had to dive down into
the lowest depths of society; I have seen strange things, and met with
exceptional specimens, and heard fabulous stories"--
It was the doctor's turn, now, to be amazed; and he actually forgot to
trouble his gold spectacles.
"Why? What did the countess say?" he asked.
"I might tell you every word," replied M. Folgat, "and you would be
none the wiser. You ought to have been here, and seen her, and heard
her! What a woman! Not a muscle in her face was moving; her eye
remained limpid and clear; no emotion was felt in her voice. And with
what an air she defied me! But come, doctor, let us be gone!"
They went out, and had already gone about a third down the long avenue
in the garden, when they saw the oldest daughter of the countess
coming towards them, on her way to the house, accompanied by her
governess. Dr. Seignebos stopped, and pressing the arm of the young
advocate, and bending over to him, he whispered into his ear,--
"Mind!" he said. "You know the truth is in the lips of children."
"What do you expect?" murmured M. Folgat.
"To settle a doubtful point. Hush! Let me manage it."
By this time the little girl had come up to them. It was a very
graceful girl of eight or nine years, light haired, with large blue
eyes, tall for her age, and displaying all the intelligence of a young
girl, without her timidity.
"How are you, little Martha?" said the doctor to her in his gentlest
voice, which was very soft when he chose.
"Good-morning, gentlemen!" she replied with a nice little courtesy.
Dr. Seignebos bent down to kiss her rosy cheeks, and them, looking at
her, he said,--
"You look sad, Martha?"
"Yes, because papa and little sister are sick," she replied with a
"And also because you miss Valpinson?"
"Still it is very pretty here, and you have a large garden to play
She shook her head, and, lowering her voice, she said,--
"It is certainly very pretty here; but--I am afraid."
"And of what, little one?"
She pointed to the statues, and all shuddering, she said,--
"In the evening, when it grows dark, I fancy they are moving. I think
I see people hiding behind the trees, like the man who wanted to kill
"You ought to drive away those ugly notions, Miss Martha," said M.
But Dr. Seignebos did not allow him to go on.
"What, Martha? I did not know you were so timid. I thought, on the
contrary, you were very brave. Your papa told me the night of the fire
you were not afraid of any thing."
"Papa was right."
"And yet, when you were aroused by the flames, it must have been
"Oh! it was not the flames which waked me, doctor."
"Still the fire had broken out."
"I was not asleep at that time, doctor. I had been roused by the
slamming of the door, which mamma had closed very noisily when she
One and the same presentiment made M. Folgat tremble and the doctor.
"You must be mistaken, Martha," the doctor went on. "Your mamma had
not come back at the time of the fire."
"Oh, yes, sir!"
"No, you are mistaken."
The little girl drew herself up with that solemn air which children
are apt to assume when their statements are doubted. She said,--
"I am quite sure of what I say, and I remember every thing perfectly.
I had been put to bed at the usual hour, and, as I was very tired with
playing, I had fallen asleep at once. While I was asleep, mamma had
gone out; but her coming back waked me up. As soon as she came in, she
bent over little sister's bed, and looked at her for a moment so
sadly, that I thought I should cry. Then she went, and sat down by the
window; and from my bed, where I lay silently watching her, I saw the
tears running down her cheeks, when all of a sudden a shot was fired."
M. Folgat and Dr. Seignebos looked anxiously at each other.
"Then, my little one," insisted Dr. Seignebos, "you are quite sure
your mamma was in your room when the first shot was fired?"
"Certainly, doctor. And mamma, when she heard it, rose up straight,
and lowered her head, like one who listens. Almost immediately, the
second shot was fired. Mamma raised her hands to heaven, and cried
out, 'Great God!' And then she went out, running fast."
Never was a smile more false than that which Dr. Seignebos forced
himself to retain on his lips while the little girl was telling her
"You have dreamed all that, Martha," he said.
The governess here interposed, saying,--
"The young lady has not dreamed it, sir. I, also, heard the shots
fired; and I had just opened the door of my room to hear what was
going on, when I saw madame cross the landing swiftly, and rush down
"Oh! I do not doubt it," said the doctor, in the most indifferent tone
he could command: "the circumstance is very trifling."
But the little girl was bent on finishing her story.
"When mamma had left," she went on, "I became frightened, and raised
myself on my bed to listen. Soon I heard a noise which I did not know,
--cracking and snapping of wood, and then cries at a distance. I got
more frightened, jumped down, and ran to open the door. But I nearly
fell down, there was such a cloud of smoke and sparks. Still I did not
lose my head. I waked my little sister, and tried to get on the
staircase, when Cocoleu rushed in like a madman, and took us both
"Martha," called a voice from the house, "Martha!"
The child cut short her story, and said,--
"Mamma is calling me."
And, dropping again her nice little courtesy, she said,--
Martha had disappeared; and Dr. Seignebos and M. Folgat, still
standing on the same spot, looked at each other in utter distress.
"We have nothing more to do here," said M. Folgat.
"No, indeed! Let us go back and make haste; for perhaps they are
waiting for me. You must breakfast with me."
They went away very much disheartened, and so absorbed in their
defeat, that they forgot to return the salutations with which they
were greeted in the street,--a circumstance carefully noticed by
several watchful observers.
When the doctor reached home, he said to his servant,--
"This gentleman will breakfast with me. Give us a bottle of medis."
And, when he had shown the advocate into his study, he asked,--
"And now what do you think of your adventure?"
M. Folgat looked completely undone.
"I cannot understand it," he murmured.
"Could it be possible that the countess should have tutored the child
to say what she told us?"
"And her governess?"
"Still less. A woman of that character trusts nobody. She struggles;
she triumphs or succumbs alone."
"Then the child and the governess have told us the truth?"
"I am convinced of that."
"So am I. Then she had no share in the murder of her husband?"
M. Folgat did not notice that his "Alas!" was received by Dr.
Seignebos with an air of triumph. He had taken off his spectacles,
and, wiping them vigorously, he said,--
"If the countess is innocent, Jacques must be guilty, you think?
Jacques must have deceived us all, then?"
M. Folgat shook his head.
"I pray you, doctor, do not press me just now. Give me time to collect
my thoughts. I am bewildered by all these conjectures. No, I am sure
M. de Boiscoran has not told a falsehood, and the countess has been
his mistress. No, he has not deceived us; and on the night of the
crime he really had an interview with the countess. Did not Martha
tell us that her mother had gone out? And where could she have gone,
except to meet M. de Boiscoran?"
He paused a moment.
"Oh, come, come!" said the physician, "you need not be afraid of me."
"Well, it might possibly be, that, after the countess had left M. de
Boiscoran, Fate might have stepped in. Jacques has told us how the
letters which he was burning had suddenly blazed up, and with such
violence that he was frightened. Who can tell whether some burning
fragments may not have set a straw-rick on fire? You can judge
yourself. On the point of leaving the place, M. de Boiscoran sees this
beginning of a fire. He hastens to put it out. His efforts are
unsuccessful. The fire increases step by step: it lights up the whole
front of the chateau. At that moment Count Claudieuse comes out.
Jacques thinks he has been watched and detected; he sees his marriage
broken off, his life ruined, his happiness destroyed; he loses his
head, aims, fires, and flees instantly. And thus you explain his
missing the count, and also this fact which seemed to preclude the
idea of premeditated murder, that the gun was loaded with small-shot."
"Great God!" cried the doctor.
"What, what have I said?"
"Take care never to repeat that! The suggestion you make is so
fearfully plausible, that, if it becomes known, no one will ever
believe you when you tell the real truth."
"The truth? Then you think I am mistaken?"
Then fixing his spectacles on his nose, Dr. Seignebos added,--
"I never could admit that the countess should have fired at her
husband. I now see that I was right. She has not committed the crime
directly; but she has done it indirectly."
"She would not be the first woman who has done so. What I imagine is
this: the countess had made up her mind, and arranged her plan, before
meeting Jacques. The murderer was already at his post. If she had
succeeded in winning Jacques back, her accomplice would have put away
his gun, and quietly gone to bed. As she could not induce Jacques to
give up his marriage, she made a sign, and the fire was lighted, and
the count was shot."
The young advocate did not seem to be fully convinced.
"In that case, there would have been premeditation," he objected; "and
how, then, came the gun to be loaded with small-shot?"
"The accomplice had not sense enough to know better."
Although he saw very well the doctor's drift, M. Folgat started up,--
"What?" he said, "always Cocoleu?"
Dr. Seignebos tapped his forehead with the end of his finger, and
"When an idea has once made its way in there, it remains fixed. Yes,
the countess has an accomplice; and that accomplice is Cocoleu; and,
if he has no sense, you see the wretched idiot at least carries his
devotion and his discretion very far."
"If what you say is true, doctor, we shall never get the key of this
affair; for Cocoleu will never confess."
"Don't swear to that. There is a way."
He was interrupted by the sudden entrance of his servant.
"Sir," said the latter, "there is a gendarme below who brings you a
man who has to be sent to the hospital at once."
"Show them up," said the doctor.
"And, while the servant was gone to do his bidding, the doctor said,--
"And here is the way. Now mind!"
A heavy step was heard shaking the stairs; and almost immediately a
gendarme appeared, who in one hand held a violin, and with the other
aided a poor creature, who seemed unable to walk alone.
"Goudar!" was on M. Folgat's lips.
It was Goudar, really, but in what a state! His clothes muddy, and
torn, pale, with haggard eyes, his beard and his lips covered with a
"The story is this," said the gendarme. "This individual was playing
the fiddle in the court of the barrack, and we were looking out of the
window, when all of a sudden he fell on the ground, rolled about,
twisted and writhed, while he uttered fearful howls, and foamed like a
mad dog. We picked him up; and I bring him to you."
"Leave us alone with him," said the physician.
The gendarme went out; and, as soon as the door was shut, Goudar cried
with a voice full of intense disgust,--
"What a profession! Just look at me! What a disgrace if my wife should
see me in this state! Phew!"
And, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his face, and
drew from his mouth a small piece of soap.
"But the point is," said the doctor, "that you have played the
epileptic so well, that the gendarmes have been taken in."
"A fine trick indeed, and very creditable."
"An excellent trick, since you can now quite safely go to the
hospital. They will put you in the same ward with Cocoleu, and I shall
come and see you every morning. You are free to act now."
"Never mind me," said the detective. "I have my plan."
Then turning to M. Folgat, he added,--
"I am a prisoner now; but I have taken my precautions. The agent whom
I have sent to England will report to you. I have, besides, to ask a
favor at your hands. I have written to my wife to send her letters to
you: you can send them to me by the doctor. And now I am ready to
become Cocoleu's companion, and I mean to earn the house in Vine
Dr. Seignebos signed an order of admission. He recalled the gendarme;
and, after having praised his kindness, he asked him to take "that
poor devil" to the hospital. When he was alone once more with M.
Folgat, he said,--
"Now, my dear friend, let us consult. Shall we speak of what Martha
has told us and of Goudar's plan. I think not; for M. Galpin is
watching us; and, if a mere suspicion of what is going on reaches the
prosecution, all is lost. Let us content ourselves, then, with
reporting to Jacques your interview with the countess; and as to the
Like all very clever men, Dr. Seignebos made the mistake of thinking
other people as cunning as he was himself. M. Galpin was, of course,
watching him, but by no means with the energy which one would have
expected from so ambitious a man. He had, of course, been the first to
be notified that the case was to be tried in open court, and from that
moment he felt relieved of all anxiety.
As to remorse, he had none. He did not even regret any thing. He did
not think of it, that the prisoner who was thus to be tried had once
been his friend,--a friend of whom he was proud, whose hospitality he
had enjoyed, and whose favor he had eagerly sought in his matrimonial
aspirations. No. He only saw one thing,--that he had engaged in a
dangerous affair, on which his whole future was depending, and that he
was going to win triumphantly.
Evidently his responsibility was by no means gone; but his zeal in
preparing the case for trial was no longer required. He need not
appear at the trial. Whatever must be the result, he thought he should
escape the blame, which he should surely have incurred if no true bill
had been found. He did not disguise it from himself that he should be
looked at askance by all Sauveterre, that his social relations were
well-nigh broken off, and that no one would henceforth heartily shake
hands with him. But that gave him no concern. Sauveterre, a miserable
little town of five thousand inhabitants! He hoped with certainty he
would not remain there long; and a brilliant preferment would amply
repay him for his courage, and relieve him from all foolish
Besides, once in the large city to which he would be promoted, he
could hope that distance would aid in attenuating and even effacing
the impression made by his conduct. All that would be remembered after
a time would be his reputation as one of those famous judges, who,
according to the stereotyped phrase, "sacrifice every thing to the
sacred interests of justice, who put inflexible duty high above all
the considerations that trouble and disturb the vulgar mind, and whose
heart is like a rock, against which all human passions are helplessly
broken to pieces."
With such a reputation, with his knowledge of the world, and his
eagerness to succeed, opportunities would not be wanting to put
himself forward, to make himself known, to become useful,
indispensable even. He saw himself already on the highest rungs of the
official ladder. He was a judge in Bordeaux, in Lyons, in Paris
With such rose-colored dreams he fell asleep at night. The next
morning, as he crossed the streets, his carriage haughtier and stiffer
than ever, his firmly-closed lips, and the cold and severe look of his
eyes, told the curious observers that there must be something new.
"M. de Boiscoran's case must be very bad indeed," they said, "or M.
Galpin would not look so very proud."
He went first to the commonwealth attorney. The truth is, he was still
smarting under the severe reproaches of M. Daubigeon, and he thought
he would enjoy his revenge now. He found the old book-worm, as usual,
among his beloved books, and in worse humor than ever. He ignored it,
handed him a number of papers to sign; and when his business was over,
and while he was carefully replacing the documents in his bag with his
monogram on the outside, he added with an air of indifference,--
"Well, my dear sir, you have heard the decision of the court? Which of
us was right?"
M. Daubigeon shrugged his shoulders, and said angrily,--
"Of course I am nothing but an old fool, a maniac: I give it up; and I
say, like Horace's man,--
'Stultum me fateor, liceat concedere vires
Atque etiam insanum.' "
"You are joking. But what would have happened if I had listened to
"I don't care to know."
"M. de Boiscoran would none the less have been sent to a jury."
"Anybody else would have collected the proofs of his guilt just as
well as I."
"That is a question."
"And I should have injured my reputation very seriously; for they
would have called me one of those timid magistrates who are frightened
at a nothing."
"That is as good a reputation as some others," broke in the
He had vowed he would answer only in monosyllables; but his anger made
him forget his oath. He added in a very severe tone,--
"Another man would not have been bent exclusively upon proving that M.
de Boiscoran was guilty."
"I certainly have proved it."
"Another man would have tried to solve the mystery."
"But I have solved it, I should think."
M. Daubigeon bowed ironically, and said,--
"I congratulate you. It must be delightful to know the secret of all
things, only you may be mistaken. You are an excellent hand at such
investigations; but I am an older man than you in the profession. The
more I think in this case, the less I understand it. If you know every
thing so perfectly well, I wish you would tell me what could have been
the motive for the crime, for, after all, we do not run the risk of
losing our head without some very powerful and tangible purpose. Where
was Jacques's interest? You will tell me he hated Count Claudieuse.
But is that an answer. Come, go for a moment to your own conscience.
But stop! No one likes to do that."
M. Galpin was beginning to regret that he had ever come. He had hoped
to find M. Daubigeon quite penitent, and here he was worse than ever.
"The Court of Inquiry has felt no such scruples," he said dryly.
"No; but the jury may feel some. They are, occasionally, men of
"The jury will condemn M. de Boiscoran without hesitation."
"I would not swear to that."
"You would if you knew who will plead."
"The prosecution will employ M. Gransiere!"
"You will not deny that he is a first-class man?"
The magistrate was evidently becoming angry; his ears reddened up; and
in the same proportion M. Daubigeon regained his calmness.
"God forbid that I should deny M. Gransiere's eloquence. He is a
powerful speaker, and rarely misses his man. But then, you know, cases
are like books: they have their luck or ill luck. Jacques will be well
"I am not afraid of M. Magloire."
"But Mr. Folgat?"
"A young man with no weight. I should be far more afraid of M.
"Do you know the plan of the defence?"
This was evidently the place where the shoe pinched; but M. Galpin
took care not to let it be seen, and replied,--
"I do not. But that does not matter. M. de Boiscoran's friends at
first thought of making capital out of Cocoleu; but they have given
that up. I am sure of that! The police-agent whom I have charged to
keep his eyes on the idiot tells me that Dr. Seignebos does not
trouble himself about the man any more."
M. Daubigeon smiled sarcastically, and said, much more for the purpose
of teasing his visitor than because he believed it himself,--
"Take care! do not trust appearances. You have to do with very clever
people. I always told you Cocoleu is probably the mainspring of the
whole case. The very fact that M. Gransiere will speak ought to make
you tremble. If he should not succeed, he would, of course, blame you,
and never forgive you in all his life. Now, you know he may fail.
'There is many a slip between the cup and the lip.'
"And I am disposed to think with Villon,--
'Nothing is so certain as uncertain things.' "
M. Galpin could tell very well that he should gain nothing by
prolonging the discussion, and so he said,--
"Happen what may, I shall always know that my conscience supports me."
Then he made great haste to take leave, lest an answer should come
from M. Daubigeon. He went out; and as he descended the stairs, he
said to himself,--
"It is losing time to reason with that old fogy who sees in the events
of the day only so many opportunities for quotations."
But he struggled in vain against his own feelings; he had lost his
self-confidence. M. Daubigeon had revealed to him a new danger which
he had not foreseen. And what a danger!--the resentment of one of the
most eminent men of the French bar, one of those bitter, bilious men
who never forgive. M. Galpin had, no doubt, thought of the possibility
of failure, that is to say, of an acquittal; but he had never
considered the consequences of such a check.
Who would have to pay for it? The prosecuting attorney first and
foremost, because, in France, the prosecuting attorney makes the
accusation a personal matter, and considers himself insulted and
humiliated, if he misses his man.
Now, what would happen in such a case?
M. Gransiere, no doubt, would hold him responsible. He would say,--
"I had to draw my arguments from your part of the work. I did not
obtain a condemnation, because your work was imperfect. A man like
myself ought not to be exposed to such an humiliation, and, least of
all, in a case which is sure to create an immense sensation. You do
not understand your business."
Such words were a public disgrace. Instead of the hoped-for promotion,
they would bring him an order to go into exile, to Corsica, or to
M. Galpin shuddered at the idea. He saw himself buried under the ruins
of his castles in Spain. And, unluckily, he went once more over all
the papers of the investigation, analyzing the evidence he had, like a
soldier, who, on the eve of a battle, furbishes up his arms. However,
he only found one objection, the same which M. Daubigeon had made,--
what interest could Jacques have had in committing so great a crime?
"There," he said, "is evidently the weak part of the armor; and I
would do well to point it out to M. Gransiere. Jacques's counsel are
capable of making that the turning-point of their plea."
And, in spite of all he had said to M. Daubigeon, he was very much
afraid of the counsel for the defence. He knew perfectly well the
prestige which M. Magloire derived from his integrity and
disinterestedness. It was no secret to him, that a cause which M.
Magloire espoused was at once considered a good cause. They said of
"He may be mistaken; but whatever he says he believes." He could not
but have a powerful influence, therefore, not on judges who came into
court with well-established opinions, but with jurymen who are under
the influence of the moment, and may be carried off by the eloquence
of a speech. It is true, M. Magloire did not possess that burning
eloquence which thrills a crowd, but M. Folgat had it, and in an
uncommon degree. M. Galpin had made inquiries; and one of his Paris
friends had written to him,--
"Mistrust Folgat. He is a far more dangerous logician than Lachant,
and possesses the same skill in troubling the consciences of
jurymen, in moving them, drawing tears from them, and forcing them
into an acquittal. Mind, especially, any incidents that may happen
during the trial; for he has always some kind of surprise in
"These are my adversaries," thought M. Galpin. "What surprise, I
wonder, is there in store for me? Have they really given up all idea
of using Cocoleu?"
He had no reason for mistrusting his agent; and yet his apprehensions
became so serious, that he went out of his way to look in at the
hospital. The lady superior received him, as a matter of course, with
all the signs of profound respect; and, when he inquired about
Cocoleu, she added,--
"Would you like to see him?"
"I confess I should be very glad to do so."
"Come with me, then."
She took him into the garden, and there asked a gardener,--
"Where is the idiot?"
The man put his spade into the ground; and, with that affected
reverence which characterizes all persons employed in a convent, he
"The idiot is down there in the middle avenue, mother, in his usual
place, you know, which nothing will induce him to leave."
M. Galpin and the lady superior found him there. They had taken off
the rags which he wore when he was admitted, and put him into the
hospital-dress, which was a large gray coat and a cotton cap. He did
not look any more intelligent for that; but he was less repulsive. He
was seated on the ground, playing with the gravel.
"Well, my boy," asked M. Galpin, "how do you like this?"
He raised his inane face, and fixed his dull eye on the lady superior;
but he made no reply.
"Would you like to go back to Valpinson?" asked the lawyer again. He
shuddered, but did not open his lips.
"Look here," said M. Galpin, "answer me, and I'll give you a ten-cent
No: Cocoleu was at his play again.
"That is the way he is always," declared the lady superior. "Since he
is here, no one has ever gotten a word out of him. Promises, threats,
nothing has any effect. One day I thought I would try an experiment;
and, instead of letting him have his breakfast, I said to him, 'You
shall have nothing to eat till you say, "I am hungry." ' At the end of
twenty-four hours I had to let him have his pittance; for he would
have starved himself sooner than utter a word."
"What does Dr. Seignebos think of him?"
"The doctor does not want to hear his name mentioned," replied the
And, raising her eyes to heaven, she added,--
"And that is a clear proof, that, but for the direct intervention of
Providence, the poor creature would never have denounced the crime
which he had witnessed."
Immediately, however, she returned to earthly things, and asked,--
"But will you not relieve us soon of this poor idiot, who is a heavy
charge on our hospital? Why not send him back to his village, where he
found his support before? We have quite a number of sick and poor, and
very little room."
"We must wait, sister, till M. de Boiscoran's trial is finished,"
replied the magistrate.
The lady superior looked resigned, and said,--
"That is what the mayor told me, and it is very provoking, I must say:
however, they have allowed me to turn him out of the room which they
had given him at first. I have sent him to the Insane Ward. That is
the name we give to a few little rooms, enclosed by a wall, where we
keep the poor insane, who are sent to us provisionally."
Here she was interrupted by the janitor of the hospital, who came up,
"What do you want?" she asked.
Vaudevin, the janitor, handed her a note.
"A man brought by a gendarme," he replied. "Immediately to be
The lady superior read the note, signed by Dr. Seignebos.
"Epileptic," she said, "and somewhat idiotic: as if we wanted any
more! And a stranger into the bargain! Really Dr. Seignebos is too
yielding. Why does he not send all these people to their own parish to
be taken care of?"
And, with a very elastic step for her age, she went to the parlor,
followed by M. Galpin and the janitor. They had put the new patient in
there, and, sunk upon a bench, he looked the picture of utter idiocy.
After having looked at him for a minute, she said,--
"Put him in the Insane Ward: he can keep Cocoleu company. And let the
sister know at the drug-room. But no, I will go myself. You will
excuse me, sir."
And then she left the room. M. Galpin was much comforted.
"There is no danger here," he said to himself. "And if M. Folgat
counts upon any incident during the trial, Cocoleu, at all events,
will not furnish it to him."
At the same hour when the magistrate left the hospital, Dr. Seignebos
and M. Folgat parted, after a frugal breakfast,--the one to visit his
patients, the other to go to the prison. The young advocate was very
much troubled. He hung his head as he went down the street; and the
diplomatic citizens who compared his dejected appearance with the
victorious air of M. Galpin came to the conclusion that Jacques de
Boiscoran was irrevocably lost.
At that moment M. Folgat was almost of their opinion. He had to pass
through one of those attacks of discouragement, to which the most
energetic men succumb at times, when they are bent upon pursuing an
uncertain end which they ardently desire.
The declarations made by little Martha and the governess had literally
overwhelmed him. Just when he thought he had the end of the thread in
his hand, the tangle had become worse than ever. And so it had been
from the commencement. At every step he took, the problem had become
more complicated than ever. At every effort he made, the darkness,
instead of being dispelled, had become deeper. Not that he as yet
doubted Jacques's innocence. No! The suspicion which for a moment had
flashed through his mind had passed away instantly. He admitted, with
Dr. Seignebos, the possibility that there was an accomplice, and that
it was Cocoleu, in all probability, who had been charged with the
execution of the crime. But how could that fact be made useful to the
defence? He saw no way.
Goudar was an able man; and the manner in which he had introduced
himself into the hospital and Cocoleu's company indicated a master.
But however cunning he was, however experienced in all the tricks of
his profession, how could he ever hope to make a man confess who
intrenched himself behind the rampart of feigned imbecility? If he had
only had an abundance of time before him! But the days were counted,
and he would have to hurry his measures.
"I feel like giving it up," thought the young lawyer.
In the meantime he had reached the prison. He felt the necessity of
concealing his anxiety. While Blangin went before him through the long
passages, rattling his keys, he endeavored to give to his features an
expression of hopeful confidence.
"At last you come!" cried Jacques.
He had evidently suffered terribly since the day before. A feverish
restlessness had disordered his features, and reddened his eyes. He
was shaking with nervous tremor. Still he waited till the jailer had
shut the door; and then he asked hoarsely,--
"What did she say?"
M. Folgat gave him a minute account of his mission, quoting the words
of the countess almost literally.
"That is just like her!" exclaimed the prisoner. "I think I can hear
her! What a woman! To defy me in this way!"
And in his anger he wrung his hands till they nearly bled.
"You see," said the young advocate, "there is no use in trying to get
outside of our circle of defence. Any new effort would be useless."
"No!" replied Jacques. "No, I shall not stop there!"
And after a few moments' reflection,--if he can be said to have been
able to reflect,--he said,--
"I hope you will pardon me, my dear sir, for having exposed you to
such insults. I ought to have foreseen it, or, rather, I did foresee
it. I knew that was not the way to begin the battle. But I was a
coward, I was afraid, I drew back, fool that I was! As if I had not
known that we shall at any rate have to come to the last extremity!
Well, I am ready now, and I shall do it!"
"What do you mean to do?"
"I shall go and see the Countess Claudieuse. I shall tell her"--
"You do not think she will deny it to my face? When I once have her
under my eye, I shall make her confess the crime of which I am
M. Folgat had promised Dr. Seignebos not to mention what Martha and
her governess had said; but he felt no longer bound to conceal it.
"And if the countess should not be guilty?" he asked.
"Who, then, could be guilty?"
"If she had an accomplice?"
"Well, she will tell me who it is. I will insist upon it, I will make
her tell. I will not be disgraced. I am innocent, I will not go to the
To try and make Jacques listen to reason would have been madness just
"Have a care," said the young lawyer. "Our defence is difficult enough
already; do not make it still more so."
"I shall be careful."
"A scene might ruin us irrevocably."
"Be not afraid!"
M. Folgat said nothing more. He thought he could guess by what means
Jacques would try to get out of prison. But he did not ask him about
the details, because his position as his counsel made it his duty not
to know, or, at least, to seem not to know, certain things.
'Now, my dear sir," said the prisoner, "you will render me a service,
will you not?"
"What is it?"
"I want to know as accurately as possible how the house in which the
countess lives is arranged."
Without saying a word, M. Folgat took out a sheet of paper, and drew
on it a plan of the house, as far as he knew,--of the garden, the
entrance-hall, and the sitting-room.
"And the count's room," asked Jacques, "where is that?"
"In the upper story."
"You are sure he cannot get up?"
"Dr. Seignebos told me so."
The prisoner seemed to be delighted.
"Then all is right," he said, "and I have only to ask you, my dear
counsel, to tell Miss Dionysia that I must see her to-day, as soon as
possible. I wish her to come accompanied by one of her aunts only.
And, I beseech you, make haste."
M. Folgat did hasten; so that, twenty minutes later, he was at the
young lady's house. She was in her chamber. He sent word to her that
he wished to see her; and, as soon as she heard that Jacques wanted
her, she said simply,--
"I am ready to go."
And, calling one of the Misses Lavarande, she told her,--
"Come, Aunt Elizabeth, be quick. Take your hat and your shawl. I am
going out, and you are going with me."
The prisoner counted so fully upon the promptness of his betrothed,
that he had already gone down into the parlor when she arrived at the
prison, quite out of breath from having walked so fast. He took her
hands, and, pressing them to his lips, he said,--
"Oh, my darling! how shall I ever thank you for your sublime fidelity
in my misfortune? If I escape, my whole life will not suffice to prove
But he tried to master his emotion, and turning to Aunt Elizabeth, he
"Will you pardon me if I beg you to render me once more the service
you have done me before? It is all important that no one should hear
what I am going to say to Dionysia. I know I am watched."
Accustomed to passive obedience, the good lady left the room without
daring to make the slightest remark, and went to keep watch in the
passage. Dionysia was very much surprised; but Jacques did not give
her time to utter a word. He said at once,--
"You told me in this very place, that, if I wished to escape, Blangin
would furnish me the means, did you not?"
The young girl drew back, and stammered with an air of utter
"You do not want to flee?"
"Never! Under no circumstances! But you ought to remember, that, while
resisting all your arguments, I told you, that perhaps, some day or
other, I might require a few hours of liberty."
"I begged you to sound the jailer on that point."
"I did so. For money he will always be ready to do your bidding."
Jacques seemed to breathe more freely.
"Well, then," he said again, "the time has come. To-morrow I shall
have to be away all the evening. I shall like to leave about nine; and
I shall be back at midnight."
Dionysia stopped him.
"Wait," she said; "I want to call Blangin's wife."
The household of the jailer of Sauveterre was like many others. The
husband was brutal, imperious, and tyrannical: he talked loud and
positively, and thus made it appear that he was the master. The wife
was humble, submissive, apparently resigned, and always ready to obey;
but in reality she ruled by intelligence, as he ruled by main force.
When the husband had promised any thing, the consent of the wife had
still to be obtained; but, when the wife undertook to do any thing,
the husband was bound through her. Dionysia, therefore, knew very well
that she would have first to win over the wife. Mrs. Blangin came up
in haste, her mouth full of hypocritical assurances of good will,
vowing that she was heart and soul at her dear mistress's command,
recalling with delight the happy days when she was in M. de Chandore's
service, and regretting forevermore.
"I know," the young girl cut her short, "you are attached to me. But
And then she promptly explained to her what she wanted; while Jacques,
standing a little aside in the shade, watched the impression on the
woman's face. Gradually she raised her head; and, when Dionysia had
finished, she said in a very different tone,--
"I understand perfectly, and, if I were the master, I should say, 'All
right!' But Blangin is master of the jail. Well, he is not bad; but he
insists upon doing his duty. We have nothing but our place to live
"Have I not paid you as much as your place is worth?"
"Oh, I know you do not mind paying."
"You had promised me to speak to your husband about this matter."
"I have done so; but"--
"I would give as much as I did before."
"Well, be it so, in gold."
A flash of covetousness broke forth from under the thick brows of the
jailer's wife; but, quite self-possessed, she went on,--
"In that case, my man will probably consent. I will go and put him
right, and then you can talk to him."
She went out hastily, and, as soon as she had disappeared, Jacques
"How much have you paid Blangin so far?"
"Seventeen thousand francs."
"These people are robbing you outrageously."
"Ah, what does the money matter? I wish we were both of us ruined, if
you were but free."
But it had not taken the wife long to persuade the husband. Blangin's
heavy steps were heard in the passage; and almost immediately, he
entered, cap in hand, looking obsequious and restless.
"My wife has told me every thing," he said, "and I consent. Only we
must understand each other. This is no trifle you are asking for."
Jacques interrupted him, and said,--
"Let us not exaggerate the matter. I do not meant to escape: I only
want to leave for a time. I shall come back, I give you my word of
"Upon my life, that is not what troubles me. If the question was only
to let you run off altogether, I should open the doors wide, and say,
'Good-by!' A prisoner who runs away--that happens every day; but a
prisoner who leaves for a few hours, and comes back again-- Suppose
anybody were to see you in town? Or if any one came and wanted to see
you while you are gone? Or if they saw you come back again? What
should I say? I am quite ready to be turned off for negligence. I have
been paid for that. But to be tried as an accomplice, and to be put
into jail myself. Stop! That is not what I mean to do."
This was evidently but a preface.
"Oh! why lose so many words? asked Dionysia. "Explain yourself
"Well, M. de Boiscoran cannot leave by the gate. At tattoo, at eight
o'clock, the soldiers on guard at this season of the year go inside
the prison, and until /reveille/ in the morning, or, in others words,
till five o'clock, I can neither open nor shut the gates without
calling the sergeant in command of the post."
Did he want to extort more money? Did he make the difficulties out
greater than they really were?"
"After all," said Jacques, "if you consent, there must be a way."
The jailer could dissemble no longer: he came out with it bluntly.
"If the thing is to be done, you must get out as if you were escaping
in good earnest. The wall between the two towers is, to my knowledge,
at one place not over two feet thick; and on the other side, where
there are nothing but bare grounds and the old ramparts, they never
put a sentinel. I will get you a crowbar and a pickaxe, and you make a
hole in the wall."
Jacques shrugged his shoulders.
"And the next day," he said, "when I am back, how will you explain
"Be sure," he replied, "I won't say the rats did it. I have thought of
that too. At the same time with you, another prisoner will run off,
who will not come back."
"Trumence, to be sure. He will be delighted to get away, and he will
help you in making the hole in the wall. You must make your bargain
with him, but, of course, without letting him know that I know any
thing. In this way, happen what may, I shall not be in danger."
The plan was really a good one; only Blangin ought not to have claimed
the honor of inventing it: the idea came from his wife.
"Well," replied Jacques, "that is settled. Get me the pickaxe and the
crowbar, show me the place where we must make the hole, and I will
take charge of Trumence. To-morrow you shall have the money."
He was on the point of following the jailer, when Dionysia held him
back; and, lifting up her beautiful eyes to him, she said in a
"You see, Jacques, I have not hesitated to dare every thing in order
to procure you a few house of liberty. May I not know what you are
going to do in that time?"
And, as he made no reply, she repeated,--
"Where are you going?"
A rush of blood colored the face of the unfortunate man; and he said
in an embarrassed voice,--
"I beseech you, Dionysia, do not insist upon my telling you. Permit me
to keep this secret, the only one I have ever kept from you."
Two tears trembled for a moment in the long lashes of the young girl,
and then silently rolled down her cheeks.
"I understand you," she stammered. "I understand but too well.
Although I know so little of life, I had a presentiment, as soon as I
saw that they were hiding something from me. Now I cannot doubt any
longer. You will go to see a woman to-morrow"--
"Dionysia," Jacques said with folded hands,--"Dionysia, I beseech
She did not hear him. Gently shaking her heard, she went on,--
"A woman whom you have loved, or whom you love still, at whose feet
you have probably murmured the same words which you whispered at my
feet. How could you think of her in the midst of all your anxieties?
She cannot love you, I am sure. Why did she not come to you when she
found that you were in prison, and falsely accused of an abominable
Jacques cold bear it no longer.
"Great God!" he cried, "I would a thousand times rather tell you every
thing than allow such a suspicion to remain in your heart! Listen, and
But she stopped him, putting her hand on his lips, and saying, all in
"No, I do not wish to know any thing,--nothing at all. I believe in
you. Only you must remember that you are every thing to me,--hope,
life, happiness. If you should have deceived me, I know but too well--
poor me!--that I would not cease loving you; but I should not have
long to suffer."
Overcome with grief and affection, Jacques repeated,--
"Dionysia, Dionysia, my darling, let me confess to you who this woman
is, and why I must see her."
"No," she interrupted him, "no! Do what your conscience bids you do. I
believe in you."
And instead of offering to let him kiss her forehead, as usual, she
hurried off with her Aunt Elizabeth, and that so quickly, that, when
he rushed after her, he only saw, as it were, a shadow at the end of
the long passage.
Never until this moment had Jacques found it in his heart really to
hate the Countess Claudieuse with that blind and furious hatred which
dreams of nothing but vengeance. Many a time, no doubt, he had cursed
her in the solitude of his prison; but even when he was most furious
against her, a feeling of pity had risen in his heart for her whom he
had once loved so dearly; for he did not disguise it to himself, he
had once loved her to distraction. Even in his prison he trembled, as
he thought of some of his first meetings with her, as he saw before
his mind's eye her features swimming in voluptuous languor, as he
heard the silvery ring of her voice, or inhaled the perfume she loved
ever to have about her. She had exposed him to the danger of losing
his position, his future, his honor even; and he still felt inclined
to forgive her. But now she threatened him with the loss of his
betrothed, the loss of that pure and chaste love which burnt in
Dionysia's heart, and he could not endure that.
"I will spare her no longer," he cried, mad with wrath. "I will
hesitate no longer. I have not the right to do so; for I am bound to
He was more than ever determined to risk that adventure on the next
day, feeling quite sure now that his courage would not fail him.
It was Trumence to-night--perhaps by the jailer's skilful management--
who was ordered to take the prisoner back to his cell, and, according
to the jail-dictionary, to "curl him up" there. He called him in, and
at once plainly told him what he expected him to do. Upon Blangin's
assurance, he expected the vagabond would jump at the mere idea of
escaping from jail. But by no means. Trumence's smiling features grew
dark; and, scratching himself behind the ear furiously, he replied,--
"You see--excuse me, I don't want to run away at all."
Jacques was amazed. If Trumence refused his cooperation he could not
go out, or, at least, he would have to wait.
"Are you in earnest, Trumence?" he asked.
"Certainly I am, my dear sir. Here, you see, I am not so badly off: I
have a good bed, I have two meals a day, I have nothing to do, and I
pick up now and then, from one man or another, a few cents to buy me a
pinch of tobacco or a glass of wine."
"But your liberty?"
"Well, I shall get that too. I have committed no crime. I may have
gotten over a wall into an orchard; but people are not hanged for
that. I have consulted M. Magloire, and he told me precisely how I
stand. They will try me in a police-court, and they will give me three
or four months. Well, that is not so very bad. But, if I run away,
they put the gendarmes on my track; they bring me back here; and then
I know how they will treat me. Besides, to break jail is a grave
How could he overcome such wise conclusions and such excellent
reasons? Jacques was very much troubled.
"Why should the gendarmes take you again?" he asked.
"Because they are gendarmes, my dear sir. And then, that is not all.
If it were spring, I should say at once, 'I am your man.' But we have
autumn now; we are going to have bad weather; work will be scarce."
Although an incurable idler, Trumence had always a good deal to say
"You won't help them in the vintage?" asked Jacques.
The vagabond looked almost repenting.
"To be sure, the vintage must have commenced," he said.
"But that only lasts a fortnight, and then comes winter. And winter is
no man's friend: it's my enemy. I know I have been without a place to
lie down when it has been freezing to split stones, and the snow was a
foot deep. Oh! here they have stoves, and the Board gives very warm
"Yes; but there are no merry evenings here, Trumence, eh? None of
those merry evenings, when the hot wine goes round, and you tell the
girls all sorts of stories, while you are shelling peas, or shucking
"Oh! I know. I do enjoy those evenings. But the cold! Where should I
go when I have not a cent?"
That was exactly where Jacques wanted to lead him.
"I have money," he said.
"I know you have."
"You do not think I would let you go off with empty pockets? I would
give you any thing you may ask."
"Really?" cried the vagrant.
And looking at Jacques with a mingled expression of hope, surprise,
and delight, he added,--
"You see I should want a good deal. Winter is long. I should want--let
me see, I should want fifty Napoleons!"
"You shall have a hundred," said Jacques.
Trumence's eyes began to dance. He probably had a vision of those
irresistible taverns at Rochefort, where he had led such a merry life.
But he could not believe such happiness to be real.
"You are not making fun of me?" he asked timidly.
"Do you want the whole sum at once?" replied Jacques. "Wait."
He drew from the drawer in his table a thousand-franc note. But, at
the sight of the note, the vagrant drew back the hand which he had
promptly stretched out to take the money.
"Oh! that kind? No! I know what that paper is worth: I have had some
of them myself. But what could I do with one of them now? It would not
be worth more to me than a leaf of a tree; for, at the first place I
should want it changed, they would arrest me."
"That is easily remedied. By to-morrow I shall have gold, or small
notes, so you can have your choice."
This time Trumence clapped his hands in great joy.
"Give me some of one kind, and some of the other," he said, "and I am
your man! Hurrah for liberty! Where is that wall that we are to go
"I will show you to-morrow; and till them, Trumence, silence."
It was only the next day that Blangin showed Jacques the place where
the wall had least thickness. It was in a kind of cellar, where nobody
ever came, and where cast-off tools were stored away.
"In order that you may not be interrupted," said the jailer, "I will
ask two of my comrades to dine with me, and I shall invite the
sergeant on duty. They will enjoy themselves, and never think of the
prisoners. My wife will keep a sharp lookout; and, if any of the
rounds should come this way, she would warn you, and quick, quick, you
would be back in your room."
All was settled; and, as soon as night came, Jacques and Trumence,
taking a candle with them, slipped down into the cellar, and went to
work. It was a hard task to get through this old wall, and Jacques
would never have been able to accomplish it alone. The thickness was
even less than what Blangin had stated it to be; but the hardness was
far beyond expectation. Our fathers built well. In course of time the
cement had become one with the stone, and acquired the same hardness.
It was as if they had attacked a block of granite. The vagrant had,
fortunately, a strong arm; and, in spite of the precautions which they
had to take to prevent being heard, he had, in less than an hour, made
a hole through which a man could pass. He put his head in; and, after
a moment's examination, he said,--
"All right! The night is dark, and the place is deserted. Upon my
word, I will risk it!"
He went through; Jacques followed; and instinctively they hastened
towards a place where several trees made a dark shadow. Once there,
Jacques handed Trumence a package of five-franc notes, and said,--
"Add this to the hundred Napoleons I have given you before. Thank you:
you are a good fellow, and, if I get out of my trouble, I will not
forget you. And now let us part. Make haste, be careful, and good
After these words he went off rapidly. But Trumence did not march off
in the opposite direction, as had been agreed upon.
"Anyhow," said the poor vagrant to himself, "this is a curious story
about the poor gentleman. Where on earth can he be going?"
And, curiosity getting the better of prudence, he followed him.
Jacques de Boiscoran went straight to Mautrec Street. But he knew with
what horror he was looked upon by the population; and in order to
avoid being recognized, and perhaps arrested, he did not take the most
direct route, nor did he choose the more frequented streets. He went a
long way around, and well-nigh lost himself in the winding, dark lanes
of the old town. He walked along in Feverish haste, turning aside from
the rare passers-by, pulling his felt hat down over his eyes, and, for
still greater safety, holding his handkerchief over his face. It was
nearly half-past nine when he at last reached the house inhabited by
Count and Countess Claudieuse. The little gate had been taken out, and
the great doors were closed.
Never mind! Jacques had his plan. He rang the bell.
A maid, who did not know him, came to the door.
"Is the Countess Claudieuse in?" he asked.
"The countess does not see anybody," replied the girl. "She is sitting
up with the count, who is very ill to-night."
"But I must see her."
"Tell her that a gentleman who has been sent by M. Galpin desires to
see her for a moment. It is the Boiscoran affair."
"Why did you not say so at once?" said the servant. "Come in." And
forgetting, in her hurry, to close the gates again, she went before
Jacques through the garden, showed him into the vestibule, and then
opened the parlor-door, saying,--
"Will you please go in here and sit down, while I go to tell the
After lighting one of the candles on the mantelpiece, she went out. So
far, every thing had gone well for Jacques, and even better than he
could have expected. Nothing remained now to be done, except to
prevent the countess from going back and escaping, as soon as she
should have recognized Jacques. Fortunately the parlor-door opened
into the room. He went and put himself behind the open half, and
For twenty-four hours he had prepared himself for this interview, and
arranged in his head the very words he would use. But now, at the last
moment, all his ideas flew away, like dry leaves under the breath of a
tempest. His heart was beating with such violence, that he thought it
filled the whole room with the noise. He imagined he was cool, and, in
fact, he possessed that lucidity which gives to certain acts of madmen
an appearance of sense.
He was surprised at being kept waiting so long, when, at last, light
steps, and the rustling of a dress, warned him that the countess was
She came in, dressed in a long, dark, undress robe, and took a few
steps into the room, astonished at not seeing the person who was
waiting for her.
It was exactly as Jacques had foreseen.
He pushed to, violently, the open half of the door; and, placing
himself before her, he said,--
"We are alone!"
She turned round at the noise, and cried,--
And terrified, as if she had seen a ghost, she looked all around,
hoping to see a way out. One of the tall windows of the room, which
went down to the ground, was half open, and she rushed towards it; but
Jacques anticipated her, and said,--
"Do not attempt to escape; for I swear I should pursue you into your
husband's room, to the foot of his bed."
She looked at him as if she did not comprehend.
"You," she stammered,--"you here!"
"Yes," he replied, "I am here. You are astonished, are you? You said
to yourself, 'He is in prison, well kept under lock and key: I can
sleep in peace. No evidence can be found. He will not speak. I have
committed the crime, and he will be punished for it. I am guilty; but
I shall escape. He is innocent, and he is lost.' You thought it was
all settled? Well, no, it is not. I am here!"
An expression of unspeakable horror contracted the beautiful features
of the countess. She said,--
"This is monstrous!"
He burst out laughing, a strident, convulsive, terrible laughter.
"And you," he said, "you call me so?"
By one great effort the Countess Claudieuse recovered her energy.
"Yes," she replied, "yes, I do! You cannot deny your crime to me. I
know, I know the motives which the judges do not even guess. You
thought I would carry out my threats, and you were frightened. When I
left you in such haste, you said to yourself, 'It is all over: she
will tell her husband.' And then you kindled that fire in order to
draw my husband out of the house, you incendiary! And then you fired
at my husband, you murderer!"
He was still laughing.
"And that is your plan?" he broke in. "Who do you think will believe
such an absurd story? Our letters were burnt; and, if you deny having
been my mistress, I can just as well deny having been your lover. And,
besides, would the exposure do me any harm? You know very well it
would not. You are perfectly aware, that, as society is with us, the
same thing which disgraces a woman rather raises a man in the estimate
of the world. And as to my being afraid of Count Claudieuse, it is
well known that I am afraid of nobody. At the time when we were
concealing our love in the house in Vine Street, yes, at that time, I
might have been afraid of your husband; for he might have surprised us
there, the code in one hand, a revolver in the other, and have availed
himself of that stupid and savage law which makes the husband the
judge of his own case, and the executor of the sentence which he
himself pronounces. But setting aside such a case, the case of being
taken in the act, which allows a man to kill like a dog another man,
who can not or will not defend himself, what did I care for Count
Claudieuse? What did I care for your threats or for his hatred?" He
said these words with perfect calmness, but with that cold, cutting
tone which is as sharp as a sword, and with that positiveness which
enters irresistibly into the mind. The countess was tottering, and
stammered almost inaudibly,--
"Who would imagine such a thing? Is it possible?
Then, suddenly raising her head, she said,--
"But I am losing my senses. If you are innocent, who, then, could be
the guilty man?"
Jacques seized her hands almost madly, and pressing them painfully,
and bending over her so closely that she felt his hot breath like a
flame touching her face, he hissed into her ear,--
"You, wretched creature, you!"
And then pushing her from him with such violence that she fell into a
chair, he continued,--
"You, who wanted to be a widow in order to prevent me from breaking
the chains in which you held me. At our last meeting, when I thought
you were crushed by grief, and felt overcome by your hypocritical
tears, I was weak enough, I was stupid enough, to say that I married
Dionysia only because you were not free. Then you cried, 'O God, how
happy I am that that idea did not occur to me before!' What idea was
that, Genevieve? Come, answer me and confess, that it occurred to you
too soon after all, since you have carried it out?"
And repeating with crushing irony the words just uttered by the
countess, he said,--
"If you are innocent, who, then, would be the guilty man?"
Quite beside herself, she sprang up from her chair, and casting at
Jacques one of those glances which seem to enter through our eyes into
the very heart of our hearts, she asked,--
"Is it really possible that you have not committed this abominable
He shrugged his shoulders.
"But then," she repeated, almost panting, "is it true, can it really
be true, that you think I have committed it?"
"Perhaps you have only ordered it to be committed."
With a wild gesture she raised her arms to heaven, and cried in a
"O God, O God! He believes it! he really believes it!"
There followed great silence, dismal, formidable silence, such as in
nature follows the crash of the thunderbolt.
Standing face to face, Jacques and the Countess Claudieuse looked at
each other madly, feeling that the fatal hour in their lives had come
Each felt a growing, a sure conviction of the other. There was no need
of explanations. They had been misled by appearances: they
acknowledged it; they were sure of it.
And this discovery was so fearful, so overwhelming, that neither
thought of who the real guilty one might be.
"What is to be done?" asked the countess.
"The truth must be told," replied Jacques.
"That I have been your lover; that I went to Valpinson by appointment
with you; that the cartridge-case which was found there was used by me
to get fire; that my blackened hands were soiled by the half-burnt
fragment of our letters, which I had tried to scatter."
"Never!" cried the countess.
Jacques's face turned crimson, as he said with an accent of merciless
"It shall be told! I will have it so, and it must be done!"
The countess seemed to be furious.
"Never!" she cried again, "never!"
And with convulsive haste she added,--
"Do you not see that the truth cannot possibly be told. They would
never believe in our innocence. They would only look upon us as
"Never mind. I am not willing to die."
"Say that you will not die alone."
"Be it so."
"To confess every thing would never save you, but would most assuredly
ruin me. Is that what you want? Would your fate appear less cruel to
you, if there were two victims instead of one?"
He stopped her by a threatening gesture, and cried,--
"Are you always the same? I am sinking, I am drowning; and she
calculates, she bargains! And she said she loved me!"
"Jacques!" broke in the countess.
And drawing close up to him, she said,--
"Ah! I calculate, I bargain? Well, listen. Yes, it is true. I did
value my reputation as an honest woman more highly, a thousand times
more, than my life; but, above my life and my reputation, I valued
you. You are drowning, you say. Well, then, let us flee. One word from
you, and I leave all,--honor, country, family, husband, children. Say
one word, and I follow you without turning my head, without a regret,
without a remorse."
Her whole body was shivering from head to foot; her bosom rose and
fell; her eyes shone with unbearable brilliancy.
Thanks to the violence of her action, her dress, put on in great
haste, had opened, and her dishevelled hair flowed in golden masses
over her bosom and her shoulders, which matched the purest marble in
their dazzling whiteness.
And in a voice trembling with pent-up passion, now sweet and soft like
a tender caress, and now deep and sonorous like a bell, she went on,--
"What keeps us? Since you have escaped from prison, the greatest
difficulty is overcome. I thought at first of taking our girl, your
girl, Jacques; but she is very ill; and besides a child might betray
us. If we go alone, they will never overtake us. We will have money
enough, I am sure, Jacques. We will flee to those distant countries
which appear in books of travels in such fairy-like beauty. There,
unknown, forgotten, unnoticed, our life will be one unbroken
enjoyment. You will never again say that I bargain. I will be yours,
entirely, and solely yours, body and soul, your wife, your slave."
She threw her head back, and with half-closed eyes, bending with her
whole person toward him, she said in melting tones,--
"Say, Jacques, will you? Jacques!"
He pushed her aside with a fierce gesture. It seemed to him almost a
sacrilege that she also, like Dionysia, should propose to him to flee.
"Rather the galleys!" he cried.
She turned deadly pale; a spasm of rage convulsed her features; and
drawing back, stiff and stern, she said,--
"What else do you want?"
"Your help to save me," he replied.
"At the risk of ruining myself?"
He made no reply.
Then she, who had just now been all humility, raised herself to her
full height, and in a tone of bitterest sarcasm said slowly,--
"In other words, you want me to sacrifice myself, and at the same time
all my family. For your sake? Yes, but even more for Miss Chandore's
sake. And you think that it is quite a simple thing. I am the past to
you, satiety, disgust: she is the future to you, desire, happiness.
And you think it quite natural that the old love should make a
footstool of her love and her honor for the new love? You think little
of my being disgraced, provided she be honored; of my weeping
bitterly, if she but smile? Well, no, no! it is madness in you to come
and ask me to save you, so that you may throw yourself into the arms
of another. It is madness, when in order to tear you from Dionysia, I
am ready to ruin myself, provided only that you be lost to her
"Wretch!" cried Jacques.
She looked at him with a mocking air, and her eyes beamed with
"You do not know me yet," she cried. "Go, speak, denounce me! M.
Folgat no doubt has told you how I can deny and defend myself."
Maddened by indignation, and excited to a point where reason loses its
power over us, Jacques de Boiscoran moved with uplifted hand towards
the countess, when suddenly a voice said,--
"Do not strike that woman!"
Jacques and the countess turned round, and uttered, both at the same
instant, the same kind of sharp, terrible cry, which must have been
heard a great distance.
In the frame of the door stood Count Claudieuse, a revolver in his
hand, and ready to fire.
He looked as pale as a ghost; and the white flannel dressing-gown
which he had hastily thrown around him hung like a pall around his
lean limbs. The first cry uttered by the countess had been heard by
him on the bed on which he lay apparently dying. A terrible
presentiment had seized him. He had risen from his bed, and, dragging
himself slowly along, holding painfully to the balusters, he had come
"I have heard all," he said, casting crushing looks at both the guilty
The countess uttered a deep, hoarse sigh, and sank into a chair. But
Jacques drew himself up, and said,--
"I have insulted you terribly, sir. Avenge yourself."
The count shrugged his shoulders.
"Great God! You would allow me to be condemned for a crime which I
have not committed. Ah, that would be the meanest cowardice."
The count was so feeble that he had to lean against the door-post.
"Would it be cowardly?" he asked. "Then, what do you call the act of
that miserable man who meanly, disgracefully robs another man of his
wife, and palms off his own children upon him? It is true you are
neither an incendiary nor an assassin. But what is fire in my house in
comparison with the ruin of all my faith? What are the wounds in my
body in comparison with that wound in my heart, which never can heal?
I leave you to the court, sir."
Jacques was terrified; he saw the abyss opening before him that was to
swallow him up.
"Rather death," he cried,--"death."
And, baring his breast, he said,--
"But why do you not fire, sir? Why do you not fire? Are you afraid of
blood? Shoot! I have been the lover of your wife: your youngest
daughter is my child."
The count lowered his weapon.
"The courts of justice are more certain," he said. "You have robbed me
of my honor: now I want yours. And, if you cannot be condemned without
it, I shall say, I shall swear, that I recognized you. You shall go to
the galleys, M. de Boiscoran."
He was on the point of coming forward; but his strength was exhausted,
and he fell forward, face downward, and arms outstretched.
Overcome with horror, half mad, Jacques fled.
M. Folgat had just risen. Standing before his mirror, hung up to one
of the windows in his room, he had just finished shaving himself, when
the door was thrown open violently, and old Anthony appeared quite
"Ah, sir, what a terrible thing!"
"Run away, disappeared!"
The surprise was so great, that M. Folgat nearly let his razor drop:
he said, however, peremptorily,--
"That is false!"
"Alas, sir," replied the old servant, "everybody is full of it in
town. All the details are known. I have just seen a man who says he
met master last night, about eleven o'clock, running like a madman
down National Street."
"That is absurd."