Within an Inch of His Life by Emile Gaboriau
Second Part. The Boiscoran Trial
The Paris house of the Boiscoran family, No. 216 University Street, is a house of modest appearance. The yard in front is small; and the few square yards of damp soil in the rear hardly deserve the name of a garden. But appearances are deceptive. The inside is marvellously comfortable; careful and painstaking hands have made every provision for ease; and the rooms display that solid splendor for which our age has lost the taste. The vestibule contains a superb mosaic, brought home from Venice, in 1798, by one of the Boiscorans, who had degenerated, and followed the fortunes of Napoleon. The balusters of the great staircase are a masterpiece of iron work; and the wainscoting in the dining-room has no rival in Paris.
All this, however, is a mere nothing in comparison with the marquis's cabinet of curiosities. It fills the whole depth, and half the width, of the upper story; is lighted from above like a huge atelier; and would fill the heart of an artist with delight. Immense glass cases, which stand all around against the walls, hold the treasures of the marquis,--priceless collections of enamels, ivories, bronzes, unique manuscripts, matchless porcelains, and, above all, his faiences, his dear faiences, the pride and the torment of his old age.
The owner was well worthy of such a setting.
Though sixty-one years old at that time, the marquis was as straight as ever, and most aristocratically lean. He had a perfectly magnificent nose, which absorbed immense quantities of snuff; his mouth was large, but well furnished; and his brilliant eyes shone with that restless cunning which betrayed the amateur, who has continually to deal with sharp and eager dealers in curiosities and second-hand articles of vertu.
In the year 1845 he had reached the summit of his renown by a great speech on the question of public meetings; but at that hour his watch seemed to have stopped. All his ideas were those of an Orleanist. His appearance, his costume, his high cravat, his whiskers, and the way he brushed his hair, all betrayed the admirer and friend of the citizen king. But for all that, he did not trouble himself about politics; in fact, he troubled himself about nothing at all. With the only condition that his inoffensive passion should be respected, the marchioness was allowed to rule supreme in the house, administering her large fortune, ruling her only son, and deciding all questions without the right of appeal. It was perfectly useless to ask the marquis any thing: his answer was invariably,--
"Ask my wife."
The good man had, the evening before, purchased a little at haphazard, a large lot of faiences, representing scenes of the Revolution; and at about three o'clock, he was busy, magnifying-glass in hand, examining his dishes and plates, when the door was suddenly opened.
The marchioness came in, holding a blue paper in her hand. Six or seven years younger than her husband, she was the very companion for such an idle, indolent man. In her walk, in her manner, and in her voice, she showed at once the woman who stands at the wheel, and means to be obeyed. Her once celebrated beauty had left remarkable traces enough to justify her pretensions. She denied having any claims to being considered handsome, since it was impossible to deny or conceal the ravages of time, and hence by far her best policy was to accept old age with good grace. Still, if the marchioness did not grow younger, she pretended to be older than she really was. She had her gray hair puffed out with considerable affectation, so as to contrast all the more forcibly with her ruddy, blooming cheeks, which a girl might have envied and she often thought of powdering her hair.
She was so painfully excited, and almost undone, when she came into her husband's cabinet, that even he, who for many a year had made it a rule of his life to show no emotion, was seriously troubled. Laying aside the dish which he was examining, he said with an anxious voice,--
"What is the matter? What has happened?"
"A terrible misfortune."
"Is Jacques dead?" cried the old collector.
The marchioness shook her head.
"No! It is something worse, perhaps"--
The old man, who has risen at the sight of his wife, sank slowly back into his chair.
"Tell me," he stammered out,--"tell me. I have courage."
She handed him the blue paper which she had brought in, and said slowly,--
"Here. A telegram which I have just received from old Anthony, our son's valet."
With trembling hands the old marquis unfolded the paper, and read,--
"Terrible misfortune! Master Jacques accused of having set the chateau at Valpinson on fire, and murdered Count Claudieuse. Terrible evidence against him. When examined, hardly any defence. Just arrested and carried to jail. In despair. What must I do?"
The marchioness had feared lest the marquis should have been crushed by this despatch, which in its laconic terms betrayed Anthony's abject terror. But it was not so. He put it back on the table in the calmest manner, and said, shrugging his shoulders,--
"It is absurd!"
His wife did not understand it. She began again,--
"You have not read it carefully, my friend"--
"I understand," he broke in, "that our son is accused of a crime which he has not and can not have committed. You surely do not doubt his innocence? What a mother you would be! On my part, I assure you I am perfectly tranquil. Jacques an incendiary! Jacques a murderer! That is nonsense!"
"Ah! you did not read the telegram," exclaimed the marchioness.
"I beg your pardon."
"You did not see that there was evidence against him."
"If there had been none, he could not have been arrested. Of course, the thing is disagreeable: it is painful."
"But he did not defend himself."
"Upon my word! Do you think that if to-morrow somebody accused me of having robbed the till of some shopkeeper, I would take the trouble to defend myself?"
"But do you not see that Anthony evidently thinks our son is guilty?"
"Anthony is an old fool!" declared the marquis.
Then pulling out his snuffbox, and stuffing his nose full of snuff, he said,--
"Besides, let us consider. Did you not tell me that Jacques is in love with that little Dionysia Chandore?"
"Desperately. Like a real child."
"She adores Jacques."
"Well. And did you not also tell me that the wedding-day was fixed?"
"Yes, three days ago."
"Has Jacques written to you about the matter?"
"An excellent letter."
"In which he tells you he is coming up?"
"Yes: he wanted to purchase the wedding-presents himself." With a gesture of magnificent indifference the marquis tapped the top of his snuffbox, and said,--
"And you think a boy like our Jacques, a Boiscoran, in love, and beloved, who is about to be married, and has his head full of wedding- presents, could have committed such a horrible crime? Such things are not worth discussing, and, with your leave, I shall return to my occupation."
If doubt is contagious, confidence is still more so. Gradually the marchioness felt reassured by the perfect assurance of her husband. The blood came back to her cheeks; and smiles reappeared on pale lips. She said in a stronger voice,--
"In fact, I may have been too easily frightened."
The marquis assented by a gesture.
"Yes, much too easily, my dear. And, between us, I would not say much about it. How could the officers help accusing our Jacques if his own mother suspects him?"
The marchioness had taken up the telegram, and was reading it over once more.
"And yet," she said, answering her own objections, "who in my place would not have been frightened? This name of Claudieuse especially"--
"Why? It is the name of an excellent and most honorable gentleman,-- the best man in the world, in spite of his sea-dog manners."
"Jacques hates him, my dear."
"Jacques does not mind him any more than that."
"They have repeatedly quarrelled."
"Of course. Claudieuse is a furious legitimist; and as such he always talks with the utmost contempt of all of us who have been attached to the Orleans family."
"Jacques has been at law with him."
"And he has done right, only he ought to have carried the matter through. Claudieuse has claims on the Magpie, which divides our lands, --absurd claims. He wants at all seasons, and according as he may desire, to direct the waters of the little stream into his own channels, and thus drown the meadows at Boiscoran, which are lower than his own. Even my brother, who was an angel in patience and gentleness, had his troubles with this tyrant."
But the marchioness was not convinced yet.
"There was another trouble," she said.
"Ah! I should like to know myself."
"Has Jacques hinted at any thing?"
"No. I only know this. Last year, at the Duchess of Champdoce's, I met by chance the Countess Claudieuse and her children. The young woman is perfectly charming; and, as we were going to give a ball the week after, it occurred to me to invite her at once. She refused, and did so in such an icy, formal manner, that I did not insist."
"She probably does not like dancing," growled the marquis.
"That same evening I mentioned the matter to Jacques. He seemed to be very angry, and told me, in a manner that was hardly compatible with respect, that I had been very wrong, and that he had his reasons for not desiring to come in contact with those people."
The marquis felt so secure, that he only listened with partial attention, looking all the time aside at his precious faiences.
"Well," he said at last, "Jacques detests the Claudieuses. What does that prove? God be thanked, we do not murder all the people we detest!"
His wife did not insist any longer. She only asked,--
"Well, what must we do?"
She was so little in the habit of consulting her husband, that he was quite surprised.
"The first thing is to get Jacques out of jail. We must see--we ought to ask for advice."
At this moment a light knock was heard at the door.
"Come in!" he said.
A servant came in, bringing a large envelope, marked "Telegraphic Despatch. Private."
"Upon my word!" cried the marquis. "I thought so. Now we shall be all right again."
The servant had left the room. He tore open the envelope; but at the first glance at the contents the smile vanished, he turned pale, and just said,--
Quick as lightning, the marchioness seized the fatal paper. She read at a glance,--
"Ah, my son is lost!" cried the marchioness with tears in her eyes. The marquis, however, had recovered already from the shock.
"And I--I say more than ever, with Dionysia, who is a brave girl, Jacques is innocent. But I see he is in danger. A criminal prosecution is always an ugly affair. A man in close confinement may be made to say any thing."
"We must do something," said the mother, nearly mad with grief.
"Yes, and without losing a minute. We have friends: let us see who among them can help us."
"I might write to M. Margeril."
The marquis, who had turned quite pale, became livid.
"What!" he cried. "You dare utter that name in my presence?"
"He is all powerful; and my son is in danger."
The marquis stopped her with a threatening gesture, and cried with an accent of bitter hatred,--
"I would a thousand times rather my son should die innocent on the scaffold than owe his safety to that man!"
His wife seemed to be on the point of fainting.
"Great God! And yet you know very well that I was only a little indiscreet."
"No more!" said the marquis harshly.
Then, recovering his self-control by a powerful effort, he went on,--
"Before we attempt any thing, we must know how the matter stands. You will leave for Sauveterre this evening."
"No. I will find some able lawyer,--a reliable jurist, who is not a politician,--if such a one can be found nowadays. He will tell you what to do, and will write to me, so that I can do here whatever may be best. Dionysia is right. Jacques must be the victim of some abominable intrigue. Nevertheless, we shall save him; but we must keep cool, perfectly cool."
And as he said this he rang the bell so violently, that a number of servants came rushing in at once.
"Quick," he said; "send for my lawyer, Mr. Chapelain. Take a carriage."
The servant who took the order was so expeditious, that, in less than twenty minutes, M. Chapelain arrived.
"Ah! we want all your experience, my friend," said the marquis to him. "Look here. Read these telegrams."
Fortunately, the lawyer had such control over himself, that he did not betray what he felt; for he believed Jacques guilty, knowing as he did how reluctant courts generally are to order the arrest of a suspected person.
"I know the man for the marchioness," he said at last.
"A young man whose modesty alone has kept him from distinguishing himself so far, although I know he is one of the best jurists at the bar, and an admirable speaker."
"What is his name?"
"Manuel Folgat. I shall send him to you at once."
Two hours later, M. Chapelain's protégé appeared at the house of the Boiscorans. He was a man of thirty-one or thirty-two, with large, wide-open eyes, whose whole appearance was breathing intelligence and energy.
The marquis was pleased with him, and after having told him all he knew about Jacques's position, endeavored to inform him as to the people down at Sauveterre,--who would be likely to be friends, and who enemies, recommending to him, above all, to trust M. Seneschal, an old friend of the family, and a most influential man in that community.
"Whatever is humanly possible shall be done, sir," said the lawyer.
That same evening, at fifteen minutes past eight, the Marchioness of Boiscoran and Manuel Folgat took their seats in the train for Orleans.