Within an Inch of His Life by Emile Gaboriau
Second Part. The Boiscoran Trial
"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 eternal gratitude."
"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 Chandore.
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 disinterestedness.
"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 aunts."
"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 bribed."
"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 instructions."
"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 danger."
"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 been caught."
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 visits.
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 for!"
He boldly tore it open. Alas! It was useless. The note within the envelope ran thus,--
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 maidens.
"Does the woman think Jacques is guilty?" thought Dionysia, and felt almost angry.
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 sweetheart."
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 profound despair.
"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.
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 meant.
"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 native."
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 the table.
"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 said instantly,--
"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 preliminary examination."
"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 myself clearly?"
"Oh, very clearly!" said M. de Chandore. "Only, since Jacques wishes it"--
"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 young advocate,--
"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 speak?"
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 easily approached."
"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 surprised.
"Have Boiscoran and M. de Margeril had any difficulty?" asked M. de Chandore.
"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 imprudence.
"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 myself."
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 be consulted."
"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 guilty.
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 him."
"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 surgeon's knife.
"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 innocent"--
"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 only."
"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 growing pale.
"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 sympathy"--
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 it."
M. Magloire did not rely; but, after having read Jacques's letter, he said,--
"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:--
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!"