Within an Inch of His Life
Part 4 out of 12
"To be sure, it would be a sacrilege to break the slumbers of these
good sisters, these dear sisters, as you say. Ah, my dear mayor! When
shall we have laymen for our hospitals? And when will you put good
stout nurses in the place of these holy damsels?"
M. Seneschal had too often discussed that subject with the doctor, to
open it anew. He kept silent, and that was wise; for Dr. Seignebos sat
"Well, I must wait till to-morrow."
"The hospital in Sauveterre," says the guide book, "is, in spite of
its limited size, one of the best institutions of the kind in the
department. The chapel and the new additions were built at the expense
of the Countess de Maupaison, the widow of one of the ministers of
But what the guide book does not say is, that the hospital was endowed
with three free beds for pregnant women, by Mrs. Seneschal, or that
the two wings on both sides of the great entrance-gate have also been
built by her liberality. One of these wings, the one on the right, is
used by the janitor, a fine-looking old man, who formerly was beadle
at the cathedral, and who loves to think of the happy days when he
added to the splendor of the church by his magnificent presence, his
red uniform, his gold bandelaire, his halbert, and his gold-headed
This janitor was, on Sunday morning, a little before eight o'clock,
smoking his pipe in the yard, when he saw Dr. Seignebos coming in. The
doctor was walking faster than usual, his hat over his face, and his
hands thrust deep into his pockets, evident signs of a storm. Instead
of coming, as he did every day before making the rounds, into the
office of the sister-druggist, he went straight up to the room of the
lady superior. There, after the usual salutations, he said,--
"They have no doubt brought you, my sister, last night, a patient, an
idiot, called Cocoleu?"
"Where has he been put?"
"The mayor saw him himself put into the little room opposite the linen
"And how did he behave?"
"Perfectly well: the sister who kept the watch did not hear him stir."
"Thanks, my sister!" said Dr. Seignebos.
He was already in the door, when the lady superior recalled him.
"Are you going to see the poor man, doctor?" she asked.
"Yes, my sister; why?"
"Because you cannot see him."
"No. The commonwealth attorney has sent us orders not to let any one,
except the sister who nurses him, come near Cocoleu,--no one, doctor,
not even the physician, a case of urgency, of course, excepted."
Dr. Seignebos smiled ironically. Then he said, laughing scornfully,--
"Ah, these are your orders, are they? Well, I tell you that I do not
mind them in the least. Who can prevent me from seeing my patient?
Tell me that! Let the commonwealth attorney give his orders in his
court-house as much as he chooses: that is all right. But in my
hospital! My sister, I am going to Cocoleu's room."
"Doctor, you cannot go there. There is a gendarme at the door."
"Yes, he came this morning with the strictest orders."
For a moment the doctor was overcome. Then he suddenly broke out with
unusual violence, and a voice that made the windows shake,--
"This is unheard of! This is an abominable abuse of power! I'll have
my rights, and justice shall be done me, if I have to go to Thiers!"
Then he rushed out without ceremony, crossed the yard, and disappeared
like an arrow, in the direction of the court-house. At that very
moment M. Daubigeon was getting up, feeling badly because he had had a
bad, sleepless night, thanks to this unfortunate affair of M. de
Boiscoran, which troubled him sorely; for he was almost of M. Galpin's
opinion. In vain he recalled Jacques's noble character, his well-known
uprightness, his keen sense of honor, the evidence was so strong, so
overwhelming! He wanted to doubt; but experience told him that a man's
past is no guarantee for his future. And, besides, like many great
criminal lawyers, he thought, what he would never have ventured to say
openly, that some great criminals act while they are under the
influence of a kind of vertigo, and that this explains the stupidity
of certain crimes committed by men of superior intelligence.
Since his return from Boiscoran, he had kept close in his house; and
he had just made up his mind not to leave the house that day, when
some one rang his bell furiously. A moment later Dr. Seignebos fell
into the room like a bombshell.
"I know what brings you, doctor," said M. Daubigeon. "You come about
that order I have given concerning Cocoleu."
"Yes, indeed, sir! That order is an insult."
"I have been asked to give it as a matter of necessity, by M. Galpin."
"And why did you not refuse? You alone are responsible for it in my
eyes. You are commonwealth attorney, consequently the head of the bar,
and superior to M. Galpin."
M. Daubigeon shook his head and said,--
"There you are mistaken, doctor. The magistrate in such a case is
independent of myself and of the court. He is not even bound to obey
the attorney-general, who can make suggestions to him, but cannot give
him orders. M. Galpin, in his capacity as examining magistrate, has
his independent jurisdiction, and is armed with almost unlimited
power. No one in the world can say so well as an examining magistrate
what the poet calls,--
'Such is my will, such are my orders, and my will is sufficient.'
'Hoc volo, hoc jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas.' "
For once Dr. Seignebos seemed to be convinced by M. Daubigeon's words.
"Then, M. Galpin has even the right to deprive a sick man of his
"If he assumes the responsibility, yes. But he does not mean to go so
far. He was, on the contrary, about to ask you, although it is Sunday,
to come and be present at a second examination of Cocoleu. I am
surprised that you have not received his note, and that you did not
meet him at the hospital."
"Well, I am going at once."
And he went back hurriedly, and was glad he had done so; for at the
door of the hospital he came face to face against M. Galpin, who was
just coming in, accompanied by his faithful clerk, Mechinet.
"You came just in time, doctor," began the magistrate, with his usual
But, short and rapid as the doctor's walk had been, it had given him
time to reflect, and to grow cool. Instead of breaking out into
recriminations, he replied in a tone of mock politeness,--
"Yes, I know. It is that poor devil to whom you have given a gendarme
for a nurse. Let us go up: I am at your service."
The room in which Cocoleu had been put was large, whitewashed, and
empty, except that a bed, a table and two chairs, stood about. The bed
was no doubt a good one; but the idiot had taken off the mattress and
the blankets, and lain down in his clothes on the straw bed. Thus the
magistrate and the physician found him as they entered. He rose at
their appearance; but, when he saw the gendarme, he uttered a cry, and
tried to hide under the bed. M. Galpin ordered the gendarme to pull
him out again. Then he walked up to him, and said,--
"Don't be afraid, Cocoleu. We want to do you no harm; only you must
answer our questions. Do you recollect what happened the other night
Cocoleu laughed,--the laugh of an idiot,--but he made no reply. And
then, for a whole hour, begging, threatening, and promising by turns,
the magistrate tried in vain to obtain one word from him. Not even the
name of the Countess Claudieuse had the slightest effect. At last,
utterly out of patience, he said,--
"Let us go. The wretch is worse than a brute."
"Was he any better," asked the doctor, "when he denounced M. de
But the magistrate pretended not to hear; and, when they were about to
leave the room, he said to the doctor,--
"You know that I expect your report, doctor?"
"In forty-eight hours I shall have the honor to hand it to you,"
replied the latter.
But as he went off, he said half aloud,--
"And that report is going to give you some trouble, my good man."
The report was ready then, and his reason for not giving it in, was
that he thought, the longer he could delay it, the more chance he
would probably have to defeat the plan of the prosecution.
"As I mean to keep it two days longer," he thought on his way home,
"why should I not show it to this Paris lawyer who has dome down with
the marchioness? Nothing can prevent me, as far as I see, since that
poor Galpin, in his utter confusion, has forgotten to put me under
But he paused. According to the laws of medical jurisprudence, had he
the right, or not, to communicate a paper belonging to the case to the
counsel of the accused? This question troubled him; for, although he
boasted that he did not believe in God, he believed firmly in
professional duty, and would have allowed himself to be cut in pieces
rather than break its laws.
"But I have clearly the right to do so," he growled. "I can only be
bound by my oath. The authorities are clear on that subject. I have in
my favor the decisions of the Court of Appeals of 27 November, and 27
December, 1828; those of the 13th June, 1835; of the 3d May, 1844; of
the 26th June, 1866."
The result of this mediation was, that, as soon as he had breakfasted,
he put his report in his pocket, and went by side streets to M. de
Chandore's house. The marchioness and the two aunts were still at
church, where they had thought it best to show themselves; and there
was no one in the sitting-room but Dionysia, the old baron, and M.
Folgat. The old gentleman was very much surprised to see the doctor.
The latter was his family physician, it is true; but, except in cases
of sickness, the two never saw each other, their political opinions
were so very different.
"If you see me here," said the physician, still in the door, "it is
simply because, upon my honor and my conscience, I believe M.
Boiscoran is innocent."
Dionysia would have liked to embrace the doctor for these words of
his; and with the greatest eagerness she pushed a large easy-chair
towards him, and said in her sweetest voice,--
"Pray sit down, my dear doctor."
"Thanks," he answered bruskly. "I am very much obliged to you." Then
turning to M. Folgat, he said, according to his odd notion,--
"I am convinced that M. Boiscoran is the victim of his republican
opinions which he has so boldly professed; for, baron, your future
son-in-law is a republican."
Grandpapa Chandore did not move. If they had come and told him Jacques
had been a member of the Commune, he would not have been any more
moved. Dionysia loved Jacques. That was enough for him.
"Well," the doctor went on, "I am a Radical, I, M."--
"Folgat," supplied the young lawyer.
"Yes, M. Folgat, I am a Radical; and it is my duty to defend a man
whose political opinions so closely resemble mine. I come, therefore,
to show you my medical report, if you can make any use of it in your
defence of M. Boiscoran, or suggest to me any ideas."
"Ah!" exclaimed the young man. "That is a very valuable service."
"But let us understand each other," said the physician earnestly. "If
I speak of listening to your suggestions, I take it for granted that
they are based upon facts. If I had a son, and he was to die on the
scaffold I would not use the slightest falsehood to save him."
He had, meanwhile, drawn the report from a pocket in his long coat,
and now put in on the table with these words,--
"I shall call for it again to-morrow morning. In the meantime you can
think it over. I should like, however, to point out to you the main
point, the culminating point, if I may say so."
At all events he was "saying so" with much hesitation, and looking
fixedly at Dionysia as if to make her understand that he would like
her to leave the room. Seeing that she did not take the hint, he
"A medical and legal discussion would hardly interest the young lady."
"Why, sir, why, should I not be deeply, passionately, interested in
any thing that regards the man who is to be my husband?"
"Because ladies are generally very sensational," said the doctor
uncivilly, "very sensitive."
"Don't think so, doctor. For Jacques's sake, I promise you I will show
you quite masculine energy."
The doctor knew Dionysia well enough to see that she did not mean to
go: so he growled,--
"As you like it."
Then, turning again to M. Folgat, he said,--
"You know there were two shots fired at Count Claudieuse. One, which
hit him in the side, nearly missed him; the other, which struck his
shoulder and his neck, hit well."
"I know," said the advocate.
"The difference in the effect shows that the two shots were fired from
different distances, the second much nearer than the first."
"I know, I know!"
"Excuse me. If I refer to these details, it is because they are
important. When I was sent for in the middle of the night to come and
see Count Claudieuse, I at once set to work extracting the particles
of lead that had lodged in his flesh. While I was thus busy, M. Galpin
arrived. I expected he would ask me to show him the shot: but no, he
did not think of it; he was too full of his own ideas. He thought only
of the culprit, of /his/ culprit. I did not recall to him the A B C of
his profession: that was none of my business. The physician has to
obey the directions of justice, but not to anticipate them."
"Then M. Galpin went off to Boiscoran, and I completed my work. I have
extracted fifty-seven shot from the count's wound in the side, and a
hundred and nine from the wound on the shoulder and the neck; and,
when I had done that, do you know what I found out?"
He paused, waiting to see the effect of his words; and, when
everybody's attention seemed to him fully roused, he went on,--
"I found out that the shot in the two wounds was not alike."
M. de Chandore and M. Folgat exclaimed at one time,--
"The shot that was first fired," continued Dr. Seignebos, "and which
has touched the side, is the very smallest sized 'dust.' That in the
shoulder, on the other hand, is quite large sized, such as I think is
used in shooting hares. However, I have some samples."
And with these words, he opened a piece of white paper, in which were
ten or twelve pieces of lead, stained with coagulated blood, and
showing at once a considerable difference in size. M. Folgat looked
"Could there have been two murderers?" he asked half aloud.
"I rather think," said M. de Chandore, "that the murderer had, like
many sportsmen, one barrel ready for birds, and another for hares or
"At all events, this fact puts all premeditation out of question. A
man does not load his gun with small-shot in order to commit murder."
Dr. Seignebos thought he had said enough about it, and was rising to
take leave, when M. de Chandore asked him how Count Claudieuse was
"He is not doing well," replied the doctor. "The removal, in spite of
all possible precautions, has worn him out completely; for he is here
in Sauveterre since yesterday, in a house which M. Seneschal has
rented for him provisionally. He has been delirious all night through;
and, when I came to see him this morning, I do not think he knew me."
"And the countess?" asked Dionysia.
"The countess, madam, is quite as sick as her husband, and, if she had
listened to me, she would have gone to bed, too. But she is a woman of
uncommon energy, who derives from her affection for her husband an
almost incomprehensible power of resistance. As to Cocoleu," he added,
standing already near the door, "an examination of his mental
condition might produce results which no one seems to expect now. But
we will talk of that hereafter. And now, I must bid you all good-by."
"Well?" asked Dionysia and M. de Chandore, as soon as they had heard
the street door close behind Dr. Seignebos.
But M. Folgat's enthusiasm had cooled off very rapidly.
"Before giving an opinion," he said cautiously, "I must study the
report of this estimable doctor."
Unfortunately, the report contained nothing that the doctor had not
mentioned. In vain did the young advocate try all the afternoon to
find something in it that might be useful for the defence. There were
arguments in it, to be sure, which might be very valuable when the
trial should come on, but nothing that could be used to make the
prosecution give up the case.
The whole house was, therefore, cruelly disappointed and dejected,
when, about five o'clock, old Anthony came in from Boiscoran. He
looked very sad, and said,--
"I have been relieved of my duties. At two o'clock M. Galpin came to
take off the seals. He was accompanied by his clerk Mechinet, and
brought Master Jacques with him, who was guarded by two gendarmes in
citizen's clothes. When the room was opened, that unlucky man Galpin
asked Master Jacques if those were the clothes which he wore the night
of the fire, his boots, his gun, and the water in which he washed his
hands. When he had acknowledged every thing, the water was carefully
poured into a bottle, which they sealed, and handed to one of the
gendarmes. Then they put master's clothes in a large trunk, his gun,
several parcels of cartridge, and some other articles, which the
magistrate said were needed for the trial. That trunk was sealed like
the bottle, and put on the carriage; then that man Galpin went off,
and told me that I was free."
"And Jacques," Dionysia asked eagerly,--"how did he look?"
"Master, madam, laughed contemptuously."
"Did you speak to him?" asked M. Folgat.
"Oh, no, sir! M. Galpin would not allow me."
"And did you have time to look at the gun?"
"I could but just glance at the lock."
"And what did you see?"
The brow of the old servant grew still darker, as he replied sadly,--
"I saw that I had done well to keep silent. The lock is black. Master
must have used his gun since I cleaned it."
Grandpapa Chandore and M. Folgat exchanged looks of distress. One more
hope was lost.
"Now," said the young lawyer, "tell me how M. de Boiscoran usually
charged his gun."
"He used cartridges, sir, of course. They sent him, I think, two
thousand with the gun,--some for balls, some with large shot, and
others with shot of every size. At this season, when hunting is
prohibited, master could shoot nothing but rabbits, or those little
birds, you know, which come to our marshes: so he always loaded one
barrel with tolerably large shot, and the other with small-shot."
But he stopped suddenly, shocked at the impression which his statement
seemed to produce. Dionysia cried,--
"That is terrible! Every thing is against us!"
M. Folgat did not give her time to say any more. He asked,--
"My dear Anthony, did M. Galpin take all of your master's cartridges
away with him?"
"Oh, no! certainly not."
"Well, you must instantly go back to Boiscoran, and bring me three or
four cartridges of every number of shot."
"All right," said the old man. "I'll be back in a short time."
He started immediately; and, thanks to his great promptness, he
reappeared at seven o'clock, at the moment when the family got up from
dinner, and put a large package of cartridges on the table.
M. de Chandore and M. Folgat had quickly opened some of them; and,
after a few failures, they found two numbers of shot which seemed to
correspond exactly to the samples left them by the doctor.
"There is an incomprehensible fatality in all this," said the old
gentleman in an undertone.
The young lawyer, also, looked discouraged.
"It is madness," he said, "to try to establish M. de Boiscoran's
innocence without having first communicated with him."
"And if you could do so to-morrow?" asked Dionysia.
"Then, madam, he might give us the key to this mystery, which we are
in vain trying to solve; or, at least, he might tell us the way to
find it all out. But that is not to be thought of. M. de Boiscoran is
held in close confinement, and you may rest assured M. Galpin will see
to it that no communication is held with his prisoner."
"Who knows?" said the young girl.
And immediately she drew M. de Chandore aside into one of the little
card-rooms adjoining the parlor, and asked him,--
"Grandpapa, am I rich?"
Never in her life had she thought of that, and she was to a certain
extent utterly ignorant of the value of money.
"Yes, you are rich, my child," replied the old gentleman.
"How much do I have?"
"You have in your own right, as coming to you from your poor father
and from your mother, twenty-five thousand francs a year, or a capital
of about five hundred and fifty thousand francs."
"And is that a good deal?"
"It is so much, that you are one of the richest heiresses of the
district; but you have, besides, considerable expectations."
Dionysia was so preoccupied, that she did not even protest. She went
"What do they call here to be well off?"
"That depends, my child. If you will tell me"--
She interrupted him, putting down her foot impatiently, saying,--
"Nothing. Please answer me!"
"Well, in our little town, an income of eight hundred or a thousand
francs makes anybody very well off."
"Let us say a thousand."
"Well, a thousand would make a man very comfortable."
"And what capital would produce such an income?"
"At five per cent, it would take twenty thousand francs."
"That is to say, about the income of a year."
"Never mind. I presume that is quite a large sum, and it would be
rather difficult for you, grandpapa, to get it together by to-morrow
"Not at all. I have that much in railway coupon-bonds; and they are
just as good as current money."
"Ah! Do you mean to say, that, if I gave anybody twenty thousand
francs in such bonds, it would be just the same to him as if I gave
him twenty thousand francs in bank-notes?"
Dionysia smiled. She thought she saw light. Then she went on,--
"If that is so, I must beg you, grandpapa, to give me twenty thousand
francs in coupon-bonds."
The old gentleman started.
"You are joking," he said. "What do you want with so much money? You
are surely joking."
"Not at all. I have never in my life been more serious," replied the
young girl in a tone of voice which could not be mistaken. "I beseech
you, grandpapa, if you love me, give me these twenty thousand francs
this evening, right now. You hesitate? O God! You may kill me if you
No, M. de Chandore was hesitating no longer.
"Since you will have it so," he said, "I am going up stairs to get
She clapped her hands with joy.
"That's it," she said. "Make haste and dress; for I have to go out,
and you must go with me."
Then going up to her aunts and the marchioness, she said to them,--
"I hope you will excuse me, if I leave you; but I must go out."
"At this hour?" cried Aunt Elizabeth. "Where are you going?"
"To my dressmakers, the Misses Mechinet. I want a dress."
"Great God!" cried Aunt Adelaide, "the child is losing her mind!"
"I assure you I am not, aunt."
"Then let me go with you."
"Thank you, no. I shall go alone; that is to say, alone with dear
And as M. de Chandore came back, his pockets full of bonds, his hat on
his head, and his cane in his hand, she carried him off, saying,--
"Come, quick, dear grandpapa, we are in a great hurry."
Although M. de Chandore was literally worshipping his grandchild on
his knees, and had transferred all his hopes and his affections to her
who alone survived of his large family, he had still had his thoughts
when he went up stairs to take from his money-box so large a sum of
money. As soon, therefore, as they were outside of the house, he
"Now that we are alone, my dear child, will you tell me what you mean
to do with all this money?"
"That is my secret," she replied.
"And you have not confidence enough in your old grandfather to tell
him what it is, darling?"
He stopped a moment; but she drew him on, saying,--
"You shall know it all, and in less than an hour. But, oh! You must
not be angry, grandpapa. I have a plan, which is no doubt very
foolish. If I told you, I am afraid you would stop me; and if you
succeeded, and then something happened to Jacques, I should not
survive the misery. And think of it, what you would feel, if you were
to think afterwards, 'If I had only let her have her way!' "
"Dionysia, you are cruel!"
"On the other hand, if you did not induce me to give up my project,
you would certainly take away all my courage; and I need it all, I
tell you, grandpapa, for what I am going to risk."
"You see, my dear child, and you must pardon me for repeating it once
more, twenty thousand francs are a big sum of money; and there are
many excellent and clever people who work hard, and deny themselves
every thing, a whole life long, without laying up that much."
"Ah, so much the better!" cried the young girl. "So much the better. I
do hope there will be enough so as to meet with no refusal!"
Grandpapa Chandore began to comprehend.
"After all," he said, "you have not told me where we are going."
"To my dressmakers."
"To the Misses Mechinet?"
M. de Chandore was sure now.
"We shall not find them at home," he said. "This is Sunday; and they
are no doubt at church."
"We shall find them, grandpapa; for they always take tea at half-past
seven, for their brother's, the clerk's sake. But we must make haste."
The old gentleman did make haste; but it is a long way from the New-
Market Place to Hill Street; for the sisters Mechinet lived on the
Square, and, if you please, in a house of their own,--a house which
was to be the delight of their days, and which had become the trouble
of their nights.
They bought the house the year before the war, upon their brother's
advice, and going halves with him, paying a sum of forty-seven
thousand francs, every thing included. It was a capital bargain; for
they rented out the basement and the first story to the first grocer
in Sauveterre. The sisters did not think they were imprudent in paying
down ten thousand francs in cash, and in binding themselves to pay the
rest in three yearly instalments. The first year all went well; but
then came the war and numerous disasters. The income of the sisters
and of the brother was much reduced, and they had nothing to live upon
but his pay as clerk; so that they had to use the utmost economy, and
even contract some debts, in order to pay the second instalment. When
peace came, their income increased again, and no one doubted in
Sauveterre but that they would manage to get out of their
difficulties, as the brother was one of the hardest working men, and
the sisters were patronized by "the most distinguished" ladies of the
"Grandpapa, they are at home," said Dionysia, when they reached the
"Do you think so?"
"I am sure. I see light in their windows."
M. de Chandore stopped.
"What am I to do next?" he asked.
"You are going to give me the bonds, grandpapa, and to wait for me
here, walking up and down, whilst I am going to the Misses Mechinet. I
would ask you to come up too; but they would be frightened at seeing
you. Moreover, if my enterprise does not succeed, it would not matter
much as long as it concerned only a little girl."
The old gentleman's last doubts began to vanish.
"You won't succeed, my poor girl," he said.
"O God!" she replied, checking her tears with difficulty, "why will
you discourage me?"
He said nothing. Suppressing a sigh, he pulled the papers out of his
pockets, and helped Dionysia to stuff them, as well as she could, into
her pocket and a little bag she had in her hand. When she had done,
"Well, good-bye, grandpapa. I won't be long."
And lightly, like a bird, she crossed the street, and ran up to her
dressmakers. The old ladies and their brother were just finishing
their supper, which consisted of a small piece of port and a light
salad, with an abundance of vinegar. At the unexpected entrance of
Miss Chandore they all started up.
"You, miss," cried the elder of the two,--"you!"
Dionysia understood perfectly well what that simple "you" meant. It
meant, with the help of the tone of voice, "What? your betrothed is
charged with an abominable crime; there is overwhelming evidence
against him; he is in jail, in close confinement; everybody knows he
will be tried at the assizes, and he will be condemned--and you are
But Dionysia kept on smiling, as she had entered.
"Yes," she replied, "it is I. I must have two dresses for next week;
and I come to ask you to show me some samples."
The Misses Mechinet, always acting upon their brother's advice, had
made an arrangement with a large house in Bordeaux, by which they
received samples of all their goods, and were allowed a discount on
whatever they sold.
"I will do so with pleasure," said the older sister. "Just allow me to
light a lamp. It is almost dark."
While she was wiping the chimney, and trimming the wick, she asked her
"Are you not going to the Orpheon?"
"Not to-night," he replied.
"Are you not expected to be there?"
"No: I sent them word I would not come. I have to lithograph two
plates for the printer, and some very urgent copying to do for the
While he was thus replying, he had folded up his napkin, and lighted a
"Good-night!" he said to his sisters. "I won't see you again
to-night," and, bowing deeply to Miss Chandore, he went out, his
candle in his hand.
"Where is your brother going?" Dionysia asked eagerly.
"To his room, madam. His room is just opposite on the other side of
Dionysia was as red as fire. Was she thus to let her opportunity slip,
--an opportunity such as she had never dared hope for? Gathering up
all her courage, she said,--
"But, now I think of it, I want to say a few words to your brother, my
dear ladies. Wait for me a moment. I shall be back in a moment." And
she rushed out, leaving the dressmakers stupefied, gazing after her
with open mouths, and asking themselves if the grand calamity had
bereft the poor lady of reason.
The clerk was still on the landing, fumbling in his pocket for the key
of his room.
"I want to speak to you instantly," said Dionysia.
Mechinet was so utterly amazed, that he could not utter a word. He
made a movement as if he wanted to go back to his sisters; but the
young girl said,--
"No, in your room. We must not be overheard. Open sir, please. Open,
somebody might come."
The fact is, he was so completely overcome, that it took him half a
minute to find the keyhole, and put the key in. At last, when the door
was opened, he moved aside to let Dionysia pass: but she said, "No, go
He obeyed. She followed him, and, as soon as she was in the room, she
shut the door again, pushing even a bolt which she had noticed.
Mechinet the clerk was famous in Sauveterre for his coolness. Dionysia
was timidity personified, and blushed for the smallest trifle,
remaining speechless for some time. At this moment, however, it was
certainly not the young girl who was embarrassed.
"Sit down, M. Mechinet," she said, "and listen to me."
He put his candlestick on a table, and sat down.
"You know me, don't you?" asked Dionysia.
"Certainly I do, madam."
"You have surely heard that I am to be married to M. de Boiscoran?"
The clerk started up, as if he had been moved by a spring, beat his
forehead furiously with his hand, and said,--
"Ah, what a fool I was! Now I see."
"Yes, you are right," replied the girl. "I come to talk to you abut M.
de Boiscoran, my betrothed, my husband."
She paused; and for a minute Mechinet and the young girl remained
there face to face, silent and immovable, looking at each other, he
asking himself what she could want of him, and she trying to guess how
far she might venture.
"You can no doubt imagine, M. Mechinet, what I have suffered, since M.
de Boiscoran has been sent to prison, charged with the meanest of all
"Oh, surely, I do!" replied Mechinet.
And, carried away by his emotion, he added,--
"But I can assure you, madam, that I, who have been present at all the
examinations, and who have no small experience in criminal matters,--
that I believe M. de Boiscoran innocent. I know M. Galpin does not
think so, nor M. Daubigeon, nor any of the gentlemen of the bar, nor
the town; but, nevertheless, that is my conviction. You see, I was
there when they fell upon M. de Boiscoran, asleep in his bed. Well,
the very tone of his voice, as he cried out, 'Oh, my dear Galpin!'
told me that the man is not guilty."
"Oh, sir," stammered Dionysia, "thanks, thanks!"
"There is nothing to thank me for, madam; for time has only confirmed
my conviction. As if a guilty man ever bore himself as M. de Boiscoran
does! You ought to have seen him just now, when we had gone to remove
the seals, calm, dignified, answering coldly all the questions that
were asked. I could not help telling M. Galpin what I thought. He said
I was a fool. Well, I maintain, on the contrary, that he is. Ah! I beg
your pardon, I mean that he is mistaken. The more I see of M. de
Boiscoran, the more he gives me the impression that he has only a word
to say to clear up the whole matter."
Dionysia listened to him with such absorbing interest, that she well-
nigh forgot why she had come.
"Then," she asked, "you think M. de Boiscoran is not much overcome?"
"I should lie if I said he did not look sad, madam," was the reply.
"But he is not overcome. After the first astonishment, his presence of
mind returned; and M. Galpin has in vain tried these three days by all
his ingenuity and his cleverness"--
Here he stopped suddenly, like a drunken man who recovers his
consciousness for a moment, and becomes aware that he has said too
much in his cups. He exclaimed,--
"Great God! what am I talking about? For Heaven's sake, madam, do not
let anybody hear what I was led by my respectful sympathy to tell you
Dionysia felt that the decisive moment had come. She said,--
"If you knew me better, sir, you would know that you can rely upon my
discretion. You need not regret having given me by your confidence
some little comfort in my great sorrow. You need not; for"--
Her voice nearly failed her, and it was only with a great effort she
"For I come to ask you to do even more than that for me, oh! yes, much
Mechinet had turned painfully pale. He broke in vehemently,--
"Not another word, madam: your hope already is an insult to me. You
ought surely to know that by my profession, as well as by my oath, I
am bound to be as silent as the very cell in which the prisoners are
kept. If I, the clerk, were to betray the secret of a criminal
Dionysia trembled like an aspen-leaf; but her mind remained clear and
decided. She said,--
"You would rather let an innocent man perish."
"You would let an innocent man be condemned, when by a single word you
could remove the mistake of which he is the victim? You would say to
yourself, 'It is unlucky; but I have sworn not to speak'? And you
would see him with quiet conscience mount the scaffold? No, I cannot
believe that! No, that cannot be true!"
"I told you, madam, I believe in M. de Boiscoran's innocence."
"And you refuse to aid me in establishing his innocence? O God! what
ideas men form of their duty! How can I move you? How can I convince
you? Must I remind you of the torture this man suffers, whom they
charge with being an assassin? Must I tell you what horrible anguish
we suffer, we, his friends, his relatives?--how his mother weeps, how
I weep, I, his betrothed! We know he is innocent; and yet we cannot
establish his innocence for want of a friend who would aid us, who
would pity us!"
In all his life the clerk had not heard such burning words. He was
moved to the bottom of his heart. At last he asked, trembling,--
"What do you want me to do, madam?"
"Oh! very little, sir, very little,--just to send M. de Boiscoran ten
lines, and to bring us his reply."
The boldness of the request seemed to stun the clerk. He said,--
"You will not have pity?"
"I should forfeit my honor."
"And, if you let an innocent one be condemned, what would that be?"
Mechinet was evidently suffering anguish. Amazed, overcome, he did not
know what to say, what to do. At last he thought of one reason for
refusing, and stammered out,--
"And if I were found out? I should lose my place, ruin my sisters,
destroy my career for life."
With trembling hands, Dionysia drew from her pocket the bonds which
her grandfather had given her, and threw them in a heap on the table.
"There are twenty thousand francs."
The clerk drew back frightened. He cried,--
"Money! You offer me money!"
"Oh, don't be offended!" began the young girl again, with a voice that
would have moved a stone. "How could I want to offend you, when I ask
of you more than my life? There are services which can never be paid.
But, if the enemies of M. de Boiscoran should find out that you have
aided us, their rage might turn against you."
Instinctively the clerk unloosed his cravat. The struggle within him,
no doubt, was terrible. He was stifled.
"Twenty thousand francs!" he said in a hoarse voice.
"Is it not enough?" asked the young girl. "Yes, you are right: it is
very little. But I have as much again for you, twice as much."
With haggard eyes, Mechinet had approached the table, and was
convulsively handling the pile of papers, while he repeated,--
"Twenty thousand francs! A thousand a year!"
"No, double that much, and moreover, our gratitude, our devoted
friendship, all the influence of the two families of Boiscoran and
Chandore; in a word, fortune, position, respect."
But by this time, thanks to a supreme effort of will, the clerk had
recovered his self-control.
"No more, madam, say no more!"
And with a determined, though still trembling voice, he went on,--
"Take your money back again, madam. If I were to do what you want me
to do, if I were to betray my duty for money, I should be the meanest
of men. If, on the other hand, I am actuated only by a sincere
conviction and an interest in the truth, I may be looked upon as a
fool; but I shall always be worthy of the esteem of honorable men.
Take back that fortune, madam, which has made an honest man waver for
a moment in his conscience. I will do what you ask, but for nothing."
If grandpapa was getting tired of walking up and down in the Square,
the sisters of Mechinet found time pass still more slowly in their
workroom. They asked each other,--
"What can Miss Dionysia have to say to brother?"
At the end of ten minutes, their curiosity, stimulated by the most
absurd suppositions, had become such martyrdom to them, that they made
up their minds to knock at the clerk's door.
"Ah, leave me alone!" he cried out, angry at being thus interrupted.
But then he considered a moment, opened hastily, and said quite
"Go back to your room, my dear sisters, and, if you wish to spare me a
very serious embarrassment, never tell anybody in this world that Miss
Chandore has had a conversation with me."
Trained to obey, the two sisters went back, but not so promptly that
they should have not seen the bonds which Dionysia had thrown upon the
table, and which were quite familiar in their appearance to them, as
they had once owned some of them themselves. Their burning desire to
know was thus combined with vague terror; and, when they got back to
their room, the younger asked,--
"Did you see?"
"Yes, those bonds," replied the other.
"There must have been five or six hundred."
"Even more, perhaps."
"That is to say, a very big sum of money."
"An enormous one."
"What can that mean, Holy Virgin! And what have we to expect?"
"And brother asking us to keep his secret!"
"He looked as pale as his shirt, and terribly distressed."
"Miss Dionysia was crying like a Magdalen."
It was so. Dionysia, as long as she had been uncertain of the result,
had felt in her heart that Jacques's safety depended on her courage
and her presence of mind. But now, assured of success, she could no
longer control her excitement; and, overcome by the effort, she had
sunk down on a chair and burst out into tears.
The clerk shut the door, and looked at her for some time; then, having
overcome his own emotions, he said to her,--
But, as she heard his voice, she jumped up, and taking his hands into
hers, she broke out,--
"O sir! How can I thank you! How can I ever make you aware of the
depth of my gratitude!"
"Don't speak of that," he said almost rudely, trying to conceal his
"I will say nothing more," she replied very gently; "but I must tell
you that none of us will ever forget the debt of gratitude which we
owe you from this day. You say the great service which you are about
to render us is not free from danger. Whatever may happen, you must
remember, that, from this moment, you have in us devoted friends."
The interruption caused by his sisters had had the good effect of
restoring to Mechinet a good portion of his habitual self-possession.
"I hope no harm will come of it; and yet I cannot conceal from you,
madam, that the service which I am going to try to render you presents
more difficulties than I thought."
"Great God!" murmured Dionysia.
"M. Galpin," the clerk went on saying, "is, perhaps, not exactly a
superior man; but he understands his profession; he is cunning, and
exceedingly suspicious. Only yesterday he told me that he knew the
Boiscoran family would try every thing in the world to save M. de
Boiscoran from justice. Hence he is all the time on the watch, and
takes all kinds of precautions. If he dared to it, he would have his
bed put across his cell in the prison."
"That man hates me, M. Mechinet!"
"Oh, no, madam! But he is ambitious: he thinks his success in his
profession depends upon his success in this case; and he is afraid the
accused might escape or be carried off."
Mechinet was evidently in great perplexity, and scratched his ear.
Then he added,--
"How am I to go about to let M. de Boiscoran have your note? If he
knew beforehand, it would be easy. But he is unprepared. And then he
is just as suspicious as M. Galpin. He is always afraid lest they
prepare him a trap; and he is on the lookout. If I make him a sign, I
fear he will not understand me; and, if I make him a sign, will not M.
Galpin see it? That man is lynx-eyed."
"Are you never alone with M. de Boiscoran?"
"Never for an instant, madam. I only go in with the magistrate, and I
come out with him. You will say, perhaps, that in leaving, as I am
behind, I might drop the note cleverly. But, when we leave, the jailer
is there, and he has good eyes. I should have to dread, besides, M. de
Boiscoran's own suspicions. If he saw a letter coming to him in that
way, from me, he is quite capable of handing it at once to M. Galpin."
He paused, and after a moment's meditation he went on,--
"The safest way would probably be to win the confidence of M. Blangin,
the keeper of the jail, or of some prisoner, whose duty it is to wait
on M. de Boiscoran, and to watch him."
"Trumence!" exclaimed Dionysia.
The clerk's face expressed the most startled surprise. He said,--
"What! You know his name?"
"Yes, I do; for Blangin mentioned him to me; and the name struck me
the day when M. de Boiscoran's mother and I went to the jail, not
knowing what was meant by 'close confinement.' "
The clerk was disappointed.
"Ah!" he said, "now I understand M. Galpin's great trouble. He has, no
doubt, heard of your visit, and imagined that you wanted to rob him of
He murmured some words, which Dionysia could not hear; and then,
coming to some decision, apparently, he said,--
"Well, never mind! I'll see what can be done. Write your letter,
madam: here are pens and ink."
The young girl made no reply, but sat down at Mechinet's table; but,
at the moment when she was putting pen to paper she asked,--
"Has M. de Boiscoran any books in his prison?"
"Yes, madam. At his request M. Galpin himself went and selected, in M.
Daubigeon's library, some books of travels and some of Cooper's novels
Dionysia uttered a cry of delight.
"O Jacques!" she said, "how glad I am you counted upon me!" and,
without noticing how utterly Mechinet seemed to be surprised, she
"We are sure of your innocence, Jacques, and still we are in
despair. Your mother is here, with a Paris lawyer, a M. Folgat,
who is devoted to your interests. What must we do? Give us your
instructions. You can reply without fear, as you have /our/ book.
"Read this," she said to the clerk, when she had finished. But he did
not avail himself of the permission. He folded the paper, and slipped
it into an envelope, which he sealed.
"Oh, you are very kind!" said the young girl, touched by his delicacy.
"Not at all, madam. I only try to do a dishonest thing in the most
honest way. To-morrow, madam, you shall have your answer."
"I will call for it."
"Take care not to do so," he said. "The good people of Sauveterre are
too cunning not to know that just now you are not thinking much of
dress; and your calls here would look suspicious. Leave it to me to
see to it that you get M. de Boiscoran's answer."
While Dionysia was writing, the clerk had made a parcel of the bonds
which she had brought. He handed it to her, and said,--
"Take it, madam. If I want money for Blangin, or for Trumence, I will
ask you for it. And now you must go: you need not go in to my sisters.
I will explain your visit to them."
"What can have happened to Dionysia, that she does not come back?"
murmured Grandpapa Chandore, as he walked up and down the Square, and
looked, for the twentieth time, at his watch. For some time the fear
of displeasing his grandchild, and of receiving a scolding, kept him
at the place where she had told him to wait for her; but at last it
was too much for him, and he said,--
"Upon my word, this is too much! I'll risk it."
And, crossing the road which separates the Square from the houses, he
entered the long, narrow passage in the house of the sisters Mechinet.
He was just putting his foot on the first step of the stairs, when he
saw a light above. He distinguished the voice of his granddaughter,
and then her light step.
"At last!" he thought.
And swiftly, like a schoolboy who hears his teacher coming, and fears
to be caught in the act, he slipped back into the Square. Dionysia was
there almost at the same moment, and fell on his neck, saying,--
"Dear grandpapa, I bring you back your bonds," and then she rained a
shower of kisses upon the old gentleman's furrowed cheeks.
If any thing could astonish M. de Chandore, it was the idea that there
should exist in this world a man with a heart hard, cruel, and
barbarous enough, to resist his Dionysia's prayers and tears,
especially if they were backed by twenty thousand francs.
Nevertheless, he said mournfully,--
"Ah! I told you, my dear child, you would not succeed."
"And you were mistaken, dear grandpapa, and you are still mistaken;
for I have succeeded!"
"But--you bring back the money?"
"Because I have found an honest man, dearest grandpapa,--a most
honorable man. Poor fellow, how I must have tempted his honesty! For
he is very much embarrassed, I know it from good authority, ever since
he and his sisters bought that house. It was more than comfort, it was
a real fortune, I offered him. Ah! you ought to have seen how his eyes
brightened up, and how his hands trembled, when he took up the bonds!
Well, he refused to take them, after all; and the only reward he asks
for the very good service which he is going to render us"--
M. de Chandore expressed his assent by a gesture, and then said,--
"You are right, darling: that clerk is a good man, and he has won our
"I ought to add," continued Dionysia, "that I was ever so brave. I
should never have thought that I could be so bold. I wish you had been
hid in some corner, grandpapa, to see me and hear me. You would not
have recognized your grandchild. I cried a little, it is true, when I
had carried my point."
"Oh, dear, dear child!" murmured the old gentleman, deeply moved.
"You see, grandpapa, I thought of nothing but of Jacques's danger, and
of the glory of proving myself worthy of him, who is so brave himself.
I hope he will be satisfied with me."
"He would be hard to please, indeed, if he were not!" exclaimed M. de
The grandfather and his child were standing all the while under the
trees in the great Square while they were thus talking to each other;
and already a number of people had taken the opportunity of passing
close by them, with ears wide open, and all eagerness, to find out
what was going on: it is a way people have in small towns. Dionysia
remembered the clerk's kindly warnings; and, as soon as she became
aware of it, she said to her grandfather,--
"Come, grandpapa. People are listening. I will tell you the rest as we
are going home."
And so, on their way, she told him all the little details of her
interview; and the old gentleman declared, in all earnest, that he did
not know which to admire most,--her presence of mind, or Mechinet's
"All the more reason," said the young girl, "why we should not add to
the dangers which the good man is going to run for us. I promised him
to tell nobody, and I mean to keep my promise. If you believe me, dear
grandpapa, we had better not speak of it to anybody, not even to my
"You might just as well declare at once, little scamp, that you want
to save Jacques quite alone, without anybody's help."
"Ah, if I could do that! Unfortunately, we must take M. Folgat into
our confidence; for we cannot do without his advice."
Thus it was done. The poor aunts, and even the marchioness, had to be
content with Dionysia's not very plausible explanation of her visit.
And a few hours afterwards M. de Chandore, the young girl, and M.
Folgat held a council in the baron's study. The young lawyer was even
more surprised by Dionysia's idea, and her bold proceedings, then her
grandfather; he would never have imagined that she was capable of such
a step, she looked so timid and innocent, like a mere child. He was
about to compliment her; but she interrupted him eagerly, saying,--
"There is nothing to boast of. I ran no risk."
"A very substantial risk, madam, I assure you."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed M. de Chandore.
"To bribe an official," continued M. Folgat, "is a very grave offence.
The Criminal Code has a certain paragraph, No. 179, which does not
trifle, and punishes the man who bribes, as well as the man who is
"Well, so much the better!" cried Dionysia. "If poor M. Mechinet has
to go to prison, I'll go with him!"
And, without noticing the dissatisfaction expressed in her
grandfather's features, she added, turning to M. Folgat,--
"After all, sir, you see that your wishes have been fulfilled. We
shall be able to communicate with M. de Boiscoran: he will give us his
"Perhaps so, madam."
"How? Perhaps? You said yourself"--
"I told you, madam, it would be useless, perhaps even imprudent, to
take any steps before we know the truth. But will we know it? Do you
think that M. de Boiscoran, who has good reasons for being suspicious
of every thing, will at once tell us all in a letter which must needs
pass through several hands before it can reach us?"
"He will tell us all, sir, without reserve, without fear, and without
"I have taken my precautions. You will see."
"Then we have only to wait."
Alas, yes! They had to wait, and that was what distressed Dionysia.
She hardly slept that night. The next day was one unbroken torment. At
each ringing of the bell, she trembled, and ran to see.
At last, towards five o'clock, when nothing had come, she said,--
"It is not to be to-day, provided, O God! that poor Mechinet has not
And, perhaps in order to escape for a time the anguish of her fears,
she agreed to accompany Jacques's mother, who wanted to pay some
Ah, if she had but known! She had not left the house ten minutes, when
one of those street-boys, who abound at all hours of the day on the
great Square, appeared, bringing a letter to her address. They took it
to M. de Chandore, who, while waiting for dinner, was walking in the
garden with M. Folgat.
"A letter for Dionysia!" exclaimed the old gentleman, as soon as the
servant had disappeared. "Here is the answer we have been waiting
He boldly tore it open. Alas! It was useless. The note within the
envelope ran thus,--
"31:9, 17, 19, 23, 25, 28, 32, 101, 102, 129, 137, 504, 515--37:2,
3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14, 24, 27, 52, 54, 118, 119, 120, 200,
201--41:7, 9, 17, 21, 22, 44, 45, 46"--
And so on, for two pages.
"Look at this, and try to make it out," said M. de Chandore, handing
the letter to M. Folgat.
The young man actually tried it; but, after five minutes' useless
efforts, he said,--
"I understand now why Miss Chandore promised us that we should know
the truth. M. de Boiscoran and she have formerly corresponded with
each other in cipher."
Grandpapa Chandore raised his hands to heaven.
"Just think of these little girls! Here we are utterly helpless
without her, as she alone can translate those hieroglyphics for you."
If Dionysia had hoped, by accompanying the marchioness on her visits,
to escape from the sad presentiments that oppressed her, she was
cruelly disappointed. They went to M. Seneschal's house first; but the
mayor's wife was by no means calculated to give courage to others in
an hour of peril. She could do nothing but embrace alternately
Jacques's mother and Dionysia, and, amid a thousand sobs, tell them
over and over again, that she looked upon one as the most unfortunate
of mothers, and upon the other as the most unfortunate of betrothed
"Does the woman think Jacques is guilty?" thought Dionysia, and felt
And that was not all. As they returned home, and passed the house
which had been provisionally taken for Count Claudieuse and his
family, they heard a little boy calling out,--
"O mamma, come quick! Here are the murderer's mother and his
Thus the poor girl came home more downcast than before. Immediately,
however, her maid, who had evidently been on the lookout for her
return, told her that her grandfather and the lawyer from Paris were
waiting for her in the baron's study. She hastened there without
stopping to take off her bonnet; and, as soon as she came in, M. de
Chandore handed her Jacques's letter, saying,--
"Here is your answer."
She could not repress a little cry of delight, and rapidly touched the
letter with her lips, repeating,--
"Now we are safe, we are safe!"
M. de Chandore smiled at the happiness of his granddaughter.
"But, Miss Hypocrite," he said, "it seems you had great secrets to
communicate to M. de Boiscoran, since you resorted to cipher, like
arch conspirators. M. Folgat and I tried to read it; but it was all
Greek to us."
Now only the young lady remembered M. Folgat's presence, and, blushing
deeply, she said,--
"Latterly Jacques and I had been discussing the various methods to
which people resort who wish to carry on a secret correspondence: this
led him to teach me one of the ways. Two correspondents choose any
book they like, and each takes a copy of the same edition. The writer
looks in his volume for the words he wants, and numbers them; his
correspondent finds them by the aid of these numbers. Thus, in
Jacques's letters, the numbers followed by a colon refer to the pages,
and the others to the order in which the words come."
"Ah, ah!" said Grandpapa Chandore, "I might have looked a long time."
"It is a very simple method," replied Dionysia, "very well known, and
still quite safe. How could an outsider guess what book the
correspondents have chosen? Then there are other means to mislead
indiscreet people. It may be agreed upon, for instance, that the
numbers shall never have their apparent value, or that they shall vary
according to the day of the month or the week. Thus, to-day is Monday,
the second day of the week. Well, I have to deduct one from each
number of a page, and add one to each number of a word."
"And you will be able to make it all out?" asked M. de Chandore.
"Certainly, dear grandpapa. Ever since Jacques explained it to me, I
have tried to learn it as a matter of course. We have chose a book
which I am very fond of, Cooper's 'Spy;' and we amused ourselves by
writing endless letters. Oh! it is very amusing, and it takes time,
because one does not always find the words that are needed, and then
they have to be spelled letter by letter."
"And M. de Boiscoran has a copy of Cooper's novels in his prison?"
asked M. Folgat.
"Yes, sir. M. Mechinet told me so. As soon as Jacques found he was to
be kept in close confinement, he asked for some of Cooper's novels,
and M. Galpin, who is so cunning, so smart, and so suspicious, went
himself and got them for him. Jacques was counting upon me."
"Then, dear child, go and read your letter, and solve the riddle,"
said M. de Chandore.
When she had left, he said to his companion,--
"How she loves him! How she loves this man Jacques! Sir, if any thing
should happen to him, she would die."
M. Folgat made no reply; and nearly an hour passed, before Dionysia,
shut up in her room, had succeeded in finding all the words of which
Jacques's letter was composed. But when she had finished, and came
back to her grandfather's study, her youthful face expressed the most
"This is horrible!" she said.
The same idea crossed, like a sharp arrow, the minds of M. de Chandore
and M. Folgat. Had Jacques confessed?
"Look, read yourself!" said Dionysia, handing them the translation.
"Thanks for your letter, my darling. A presentiment had warned me,
and I had asked for a copy of Cooper.
"I understand but too well how grieved you must be at seeing me
kept in prison without my making an effort to establish my
innocence. I kept silence, because I hoped the proof of my
innocence would come from outside. I see that it would be madness
to hope so any longer, and that I must speak. I shall speak. But
what I have to say is so very serious, that I shall keep silence
until I shall have had an opportunity of consulting with some one
in whom I can feel perfect confidence. Prudence alone is not
enough now: skill also is required. Until now I felt secure,
relying on my innocence. But the last examination has opened my
eyes, and I now see the danger to which I am exposed.
"I shall suffer terribly until the day when I can see a lawyer.
Thank my mother for having brought one. I hope he will pardon me,
if I address myself first to another man. I want a man who knows
the country and its customs.
"That is why I have chosen M. Magloire; and I beg you will tell him
to hold himself ready for the day on which, the examination being
completed, I shall be relieved from close confinement.
"Until then, nothing can be done, nothing, unless you can obtain
that the case be taken out of M. G-----'s hands, and be given to
some one else. That man acts infamously. He wants me to be guilty.
He would himself commit a crime in order to charge me with it, and
there is no kind of trap he does not lay for me. I have the
greatest difficulty in controlling myself every time I see this
man enter my cell, who was my friend, and now is my accuser.
"Ah, my dear ones! I pay a heavy price for a fault of which I have
been, until now, almost unconscious.
"And you, my only friend, will you ever be able to forgive me the
terrible anxiety I cause you?
"I should like to say much more; but the prisoner who has handed me
your note says I must be quick, and it takes so much time to pick
out the words!
When the letter had been read, M. Folgat and M. de Chandore sadly
turned their heads aside, fearing lest Dionysia should read in their
eyes the secret of their thoughts. But she felt only too well what it
"You cannot doubt Jacques, grandpapa!" she cried.
"No," murmured the old gentleman feebly, "no."
"And you, M. Folgat--are you so much hurt by Jacques's desire to
consult another lawyer?"
"I should have been the first, madam, to advise him to consult a
Dionysia had to summon all her energy to check her tears.
"Yes," she said, "this letter is terrible; but how can it be
otherwise? Don't you see that Jacques is in despair, that his mind
wanders after all these fearful shocks?"
Somebody knocked gently at the door.
"It is I," said the marchioness.
Grandpapa Chandore, M. Folgat, and Dionysia looked at each other for a
moment; and then the advocate said,--
"The situation is too serious: we must consult the marchioness." He
rose to open the door. Since the three friends had been holding the
council in the baron's study, a servant had come five times in
succession to knock at the door, and tell them that the soup was on
"Very well," they had replied each time.
At last, as they did not come down yet, Jacques's mother had come to
the conclusion that something extraordinary had occurred.
"Now, what could this be, that they should keep it from her?" she
thought. If it were something good, they would not have concealed it
from her. She had come up stairs, therefore, with the firm resolution
to force them to let her come in. When M. Folgat opened the door, she
"I mean to know all!"
Dionysia replied to her,--
"Whatever you may hear, my dear mother, pray remember, that if you
allow a single word to be torn from you, by joy or by sorrow, you
cause the ruin of an honest man, who has put us all under such
obligations as can never be fully discharged. I have been fortunate
enough to establish a correspondence between Jacques and us."
"I have written to him, and I have received his answer. Here it is."
The marchioness was almost beside herself, and eagerly snatched at the
letter. But, as she read on, it was fearful to see how the blood
receded from her face, how her eyes grew dim, her lips turned pale,
and at last her breath failed to come. The letter slipped from her
trembling hands; she sank into a chair, and said, stammering,--
"It is no use to struggle any longer: we are lost!"
There was something grand in Dionysia's gesture and the admirable
accent of her voice, as she said,--
"Why don't you say at once, my mother, that Jacques is an incendiary
and an assassin?"
Raising her head with an air of dauntless energy, with trembling lips,
and fierce glances full of wrath and disdain, she added,--
"And do I really remain the only one to defend him,--him, who, in his
days of prosperity, had so many friends? Well, so be it!"
Naturally, M. Folgat had been less deeply moved than either the
marchioness or M. de Chandore; and hence he was also the first to
recover his calmness.
"We shall be two, madam, at all events," he said; "for I should never
forgive myself, if I allowed myself to be influenced by that letter.
It would be inexcusable, since I know by experience what your heart
has told you instinctively. Imprisonment has horrors which affect the
strongest and stoutest of minds. The days in prison are interminable,
and the nights have nameless terrors. The innocent man in his lonely
cell feels as if he were becoming guilty, as the man of soundest
intellect would begin to doubt himself in a madhouse"--
Dionysia did not let him conclude. She cried,--
"That is exactly what I felt, sir; but I could not express it as
clearly as you do."
Ashamed at their lack of courage, M. de Chandore and the marchioness
made an effort to recover from the doubts which, for a moment, had
well-nigh overcome them.
"But what is to be done?" asked the old lady.
"Your son tells us, madam, we have only to wait for the end of the
"I beg your pardon," said M. de Chandore, "we have to try to get the
case handed over to another magistrate."
M. Folgat shook his head.
"Unfortunately, that is not to be dreamt of. A magistrate acting in
his official capacity cannot be rejected like a simple juryman."
"Article 542 of the Criminal Code is positive on the subject."
"Ah! What does it say?" asked Dionysia.
"It says, in substance, madam, that a demand for a change of
magistrate, on the score of well-founded suspicion, can only be
entertained by a court of appeals, because the magistrate, within his
legitimate sphere, is a court in himself. I do not know if I express
"Oh, very clearly!" said M. de Chandore. "Only, since Jacques wishes
"To be sure; but M. de Boiscoran does not know"--
"I beg your pardon. He knows that the magistrate is his mortal enemy."
"Be it so. But how would that help us? Do you think that a demand for
a change of venue would prevent M. Galpin from carrying on the
proceedings? Not at all. He would go on until the decision comes from
the Court of Appeals. He could, it is true, issue no final order; but
that is the very thing M. de Boiscoran ought to desire, since such an
order would make an end to his close confinement, and enable him to
see an advocate."
"That is atrocious!" murmured M. de Chandore.
"It is atrocious, indeed; but such are the laws of France."
In the meantime Dionysia had been meditating; and now she said to the
"I have understood you perfectly, and to-morrow your objections shall
be known to M. de Boiscoran."
"Above all," said the lawyer, "explain to him clearly that any such
steps as he proposes to take will turn to his disadvantage. M. Galpin
is our enemy; but we can make no specific charge against him. They
would always reply, "If M. de Boiscoran is innocent, why does he not
This is what Grandpapa Chandore would not admit.
"Still," he said, "if we could bring influential men to help us?"
"Certainly. Boiscoran has old friends, who, no doubt, are all-powerful
still under the present government. He was, in former years, very
intimate with M. de Margeril."
M. Folgat's expression was very encouraging.
"Ah!" he said, "if M. de Margeril could give us a lift! But he is not
"We might send Boiscoran to see him, at least. Since he remained in
Paris for the purpose of assisting us there, now he will have an
opportunity. I will write to him to-night."
Since the name of Margeril had been mentioned, the marchioness had
become, if possible, paler than ever. At the old gentleman's last
words she rose, and said anxiously,--
"Do not write, sir: it would be useless. I do not wish it."
Her embarrassment was so evident, that the others were quite
"Have Boiscoran and M. de Margeril had any difficulty?" asked M. de
"But," cried Dionysia, "it is a matter of life and death for Jacques."
Alas! The poor woman could not speak of the suspicions which had
darkened the whole life of the Marquis de Boiscoran, nor of the cruel
penalty which the wife was now called upon to pay for a slight
"If it is absolutely necessary," she said with a half-stifled voice,
"if that is our very last hope, then I will go and see M. de Margeril
M. Folgat was the only one who suspected what painful antecedents
there might be in the life of the marchioness, and how she was
harassed by their memory now. He interposed, therefore, saying,--
"At all events, my advice is to await the end of the preliminary
investigation. I may be mistaken, however, and, before any answer is
sent to M. Jacques, I desire that the lawyer to whom he alludes should
"That is certainly the wisest plan," said M. de Chandore. And, ringing
for a servant, he sent him at once to M. Magloire, to ask him to call
after dinner. Jacques de Boiscoran had chosen wisely. M. Magloire was
looked upon in Sauveterre as the most eloquent and most skilful
lawyer, not only of the district, but of the whole province. And what
is rarer still, and far more glorious, he had, besides, the reputation
of being unsurpassed in integrity and a high sense of honor. It was
well known that he would never had consented to plead a doubtful
cause; and they told of him a number of heroic stories, in which he
had thrown clients out of the window, who had been so ill-advised to
come to him, money in hand, to ask him to undertake an unclean case.
He was naturally not a rich man, and preserved, at fifty-four or five,
all the habits of a frugal and thrifty young man.
After having married quite young, M. Magloire had lost his wife after
a few months, and had never recovered from the loss. Although thirty
years old, the wound had never healed; and regularly, on certain days,
he was seen wending his way to the cemetery, to place flowers on a
modest grave there. Any other man would have been laughed at for such
a thing at Sauveterre; but with him they dared not do so, for they all
respected him highly. Young and old knew and reverenced the tall man
with the calm, serene face, the clear, bright eyes, and the eloquent
lips, which, in their well-cut, delicate lines, by turns glowed with
scorn, with tenderness, or with disdain.
Like Dr. Seignebos, M. Magloire also was a Republican; and, at the
last Imperial elections, the Bonapartists had had the greatest
trouble, aided though they were by the whole influence of the
government, and shrinking from no unfair means, to keep him out of the
Chamber. Nor would they have been successful after all, but for the
influence of Count Claudieuse, who had prevailed upon a number of
electors to abstain from voting.
This was the man, who, towards nine o'clock, presented himself, upon
the invitation of M. de Chandore, at his house, where he was anxiously
expected by all the inmates. His greeting was affectionate, but at the
same time so sad, that it touched Dionysia's heart most painfully. She
thought she saw that M. Magloire was not far from believing Jacques
And she was not mistaken; for M. Magloire let them see it clearly, in
the most delicate manner, to be sure, but still so as to leave no
doubt. He had spent the day in court, and there had heard the opinions
of the members of the court, which was by no means favorable to the
accused. Under such circumstances, it would have evidently been a
grave blunder to yield to Jacques's wishes, and to apply for a change
of venue from M. Galpin to some other magistrate.
"The investigation will last a year," cried Dionysia, "since M. Galpin
is determined to obtain from Jacques the confession of a crime which
he has not committed."
M. Magloire shook his head, and replied,--
"I believe, on the contrary, madam, that the investigation will be
very soon concluded."
"But if Jacques keeps silent?"
"Neither the silence of an accused, nor any other caprice or obstinacy
of his, can interfere with the regular process. Called upon to produce
his justification, if he refuses to do so, the law proceeds without
"Still, sir, if an accused person has reasons"--
"There are no reasons which can force a man to let himself be accused
unjustly. But even that case has been foreseen. The accused is at
liberty not to answer a question which may inculpate him. /Nemo
tenetur prodere se ipsum/. But you must admit that such a refusal to
answer justifies a judge in believing that the charges are true which
the accused does not refute."
The great calmness of the distinguished lawyer of Sauveterre terrified
his listeners more and more, except M. Folgat. When they heard him use
all those technical terms, they felt chilled through and through like
the friends of a wounded man who hear the grating noise of the
"My son's situation appears to you very serious, sir?" asked the
marchioness in a feeble voice.
"I said it was dangerous, madam."
"You think, as M. Folgat does, that every day adds to the danger to
which he is exposed?"
"I am but too sure of that. And if M. de Boiscoran is really
"Ah, M. Magloire!" broke in Dionysia, "how can you, who are a friend
of Jacques's, say so?"
M. Magloire looked at the young girl with an air of deep and sincere
pity, and then said,--
"It is precisely because I am his friend, madam, that I am bound to
tell you the truth. Yes, I know and I appreciate all the noble
qualities which distinguish M. de Boiscoran. I have loved him, and I
love him still. But this is a matter which we have to look at with the
mind, and not with the heart. Jacques is a man; and he will be judged
by men. There is clear, public, and absolute evidence of his guilt on
hand. What evidence has he to offer of his innocence? Moral evidence
"O God!" murmured Dionysia.
"I think, therefore, with my honorable brother"--
And M. Magloire bowed to M. Folgat.
"I think, that, if M. de Boiscoran is innocent, he has adopted an
unfortunate system. Ah! if luckily there should be an /alibi/. He
ought to make haste, great haste, to establish it. He ought not to
allow matters to go on till he is sent up into court. Once there, an
accused is three-fourths condemned already."
For once it looked as if the crimson in M. de Chandore's cheeks was
"And yet," he exclaimed, "Jacques will not change his system: any one
who knows his mulish obstinacy might be quite sure of that."
"And unfortunately he has made up his mind," said Dionysia, "as M.
Magloire, who knows him so well, will see from this letter of his."
Until now nothing had been said to let the Sauveterre lawyer suspect
that communications had been opened with the prisoner. Now that the
letter had been alluded to, it became necessary to take him into
confidence. At first he was astonished, then he looked displeased;
and, when he had been told every thing, he said,--
"This is great imprudence! This is too daring!"
Then looking at M. Folgat, he added,--
"Our profession has certain rules which cannot be broken without
causing trouble. To bribe a clerk, to profit by his weakness and his
The Paris lawyer had blushed imperceptibly. He said,--
"I should never have advised such imprudence; but, when it was once
committed, I did not feel bound to insist upon its being abandoned:
and even if I should be blamed for it, or more, I mean to profit by
M. Magloire did not rely; but, after having read Jacques's letter, he
"I am at M. de Boiscoran's disposal; and I shall go to him as soon as
he is no longer in close confinement. I think, as Miss Dionysia does,
that he will insist upon saying nothing. However, as we have the means
of reaching him by letter,--well, here I am myself ready to profit by
the imprudence that has been committed!--beseech him, in the name of
his own interest, in the name of all that is dear to him, to speak, to
explain, to prove his innocence."
Thereupon M. Magloire bowed, and withdrew suddenly, leaving his
audience in consternation, so very evident was it, that he left so
suddenly in order to conceal the painful impression which Jacques's
letter had produced upon him.
"Certainly," said M. de Chandore, "we will write to him; but we might
just as well whistle. He will wait for the end of the investigation."
"Who knows?" murmured Dionysia.
And, after a moment's reflection, she added,--
"We can try, however."
And, without vouchsafing any further explanation, she left the room,
and hastened to her chamber to write the following letter:--
"I must speak to you. There is a little gate in our garden which
opens upon Charity Lane, I will wait for you there. However late
it may be when you get these lines, come!
Then having put the note into an envelope, she called the old nurse,
who had brought her up, and, with all the recommendations which
extreme prudence could suggest, she said to her,--
"You must see to it that M. Mechinet the clerk gets this note
to-night. Go! make haste!"
During the last twenty-four hours, Mechinet had changed so much, that
his sisters recognized him no longer. Immediately after Dionysia's
departure, they had come to him, hoping to hear at last what was meant
by that mysterious interview; but at the first word he had cried out
with a tone of voice which frightened his sisters to death,--
"That is none of your business! That is nobody's business!" and he had
remained alone, quite overcome by his adventure, and dreaming of the
means to make good his promise without ruining himself. That was no
When the decisive moment arrived, he discovered that he would never be
able to get the note into M. de Boiscoran's hands, without being
caught by that lynx-eyed M. Galpin: as the letter was burning in his
pocket, he saw himself compelled, after long hesitation, to appeal for
help to the man who waited on Jacques,--to Trumence, in fine. The
latter was, after all, a good enough fellow; his only besetting sin
being unconquerable laziness, and his only crime in the eyes of the
law perpetual vagrancy. He was attached to Mechinet, who upon former
occasions, when he was in jail, had given him some tobacco, or a
little money to buy a glass of wine. He made therefore no objection,
when the clerk asked him to give a letter to M. de Boiscoran, and to
bring back an answer. He acquitted himself, moreover, faithfully and
honestly of his commission. But, because every thing had gone well
once, it did not follow that Mechinet felt quite at peace. Besides
being tormented by the thought that he had betrayed his duty, he felt
wretched in being at the mercy of an accomplice. How easily might he
not be betrayed! A slight indiscretion, an awkward blunder, an unlucky
accident, might do it. What would become of him then?
He would lose his place and all his other employments, one by one. He
would lose confidence and consideration. Farewell to all ambitious
dreams, all hopes of wealth, all dreams of an advantageous marriage.
And still, by an odd contradiction, Mechinet did not repent what he
had done, and felt quite ready to do it over again. He was in this
state of mind when the old nurse brought him Dionysia's letter.
"What, again?" he exclaimed.
And when he had read the few lines, he replied,--
"Tell your mistress I will be there!" But in his heart he thought some
untoward event must have happened.
The little garden-gate was half-open: he had only to push it to enter.
There was no moon; but the night was clear, and at a short distance
from him, under the trees, he recognized Dionysia, and went towards
"Pardon me, sir," she said, "for having dared to send for you."
Mechinet's anxiety vanished instantly. He thought no longer of his
strange position. His vanity was flattered by the confidence which
this young lady put in him, whom he knew very well as the noblest, the
most beautiful, and the richest heiress in the whole country.
"You were quite right to send for me, madam," he replied, "if I can be
of any service to you."
In a few words she had told him all; and, when she asked his advice,
"I am entirely of M. Folgat's opinion, and think that grief and
isolation begin to have their effect upon M. de Boiscoran's mind."
"Oh, that thought is maddening!" murmured the poor girl.
"I think, as M. Magloire does, that M. de Boiscoran, by his silence,
only makes his situation much worse. I have a proof of that. M.
Galpin, who, at first, was all doubt and anxiety, is now quite
reassured. The attorney-general has written him a letter, in which he
compliments his energy."
"Then we must induce M. de Boiscoran to speak. I know very well that
he is firmly resolved not to speak; but if you were to write to him,
since you can write to him"--
"A letter would be useless."
"Useless, I tell you. But I know a means."
"You must use it promptly, madam: don't lose a moment. There is no
The night was clear, but not clear enough for the clerk to see how
very pale Dionysia was.
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