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- Within an Inch of His Life - 100/111 -

The next witness is a constable from Brechy. He deposes that once Count Claudieuse, by stopping up the waters of the little stream, the Seille, had caused M. de Boiscoran a loss of twenty thousand weight of first-rate hay. He confesses that such a bad neighbor would certainly have exasperated him.

The prosecuting attorney does not deny the fact, but adds, that Count Claudieuse offered to pay damages. M. de Boiscoran had refused with insulting haughtiness.

The accused replies, that he had refused upon the advice of his lawyer, but that he had not used insulting words.

Next appeared the witnesses summoned by the defence.

The first is the excellent priest from Brechy. He confirms the statement of the accused. He was dining, the evening of the crime, at the house of M. de Besson; his servant had come for him; and the parsonage was deserted. He states that he had really arranged with M. de Boiscoran that the latter should come some evening of that week to fulfil the religious duties which the church requires before it allows a marriage to be consecrated. He has known Jacques de Boiscoran from a child, and knows no better and no more honorable man. In his opinion, that hatred, of which so much has been said, never had any existence. He cannot believe, and does not believe, that the accused is guilty.

The second witness is the priest of an adjoining parish. He states, that, between nine and ten o'clock, he was on the road, near the Marshalls' Cross-roads. The night was quite dark. He is of the same size as the priest at Brechy; and the little girl might very well have taken him for the latter, thus misleading M. de Boiscoran.

Three other witnesses are introduced; and then, as neither the accused nor his counsel have any thing to add, the prosecuting attorney begins his speech.

[The Charge.]

M. Gransiere's eloquence is so widely known, and so justly appreciated, that we need not refer to it here. We will only say that he surpassed himself in this charge, which, for more than an hour, held the large assembly in anxious and breathless suspense, and caused all hearts to vibrate with the most intense excitement.

He commences with a description of Valpinson, "this poetic and charming residence, where the noble old trees of Rochepommier are mirrored in the crystal waves of the Seille.

"There," he went on to say,--"there lived the Count and the Countess Claudieuse,--he one of those noblemen of a past age who worshipped honor, and were devoted to duty; she one of those women who are the glory of their sex, and the perfect model of all domestic virtues.

"Heaven had blessed their union, and given them two children, to whom they were tenderly attached. Fortune smiled upon their wise efforts. Esteemed by all, cherished, and revered, they lived happy, and might have counted upon long years of prosperity.

"But no. Hate was hovering over them.

"One evening, a fatal glare arouses the count. He rushes out; he hears the report of a gun. He hears it a second time, and he sinks down, bathed in his blood. The countess also is alarmed by the explosion, and hastens to the spot: she stumbles; she sees the lifeless body of her husband, and sinks unconscious to the ground.

"Are the children also to perish? No. Providence watches. A flash of intelligence pierces the night of an insane man, who rushes through the flames, and snatches the children from the fire that was already threatening their couch.

"Their lives are saved; but the fire continues its destructive march.

"At the sound of the terrible fire-bell, all the inhabitants of the neighboring villages hurry to the spot. But there is no one to direct their efforts; there are no engines; and they can do nothing.

"But all of a sudden a distant rumbling sound revives hope in their hearts. They know the fire-engines are coming. They come; they reach the spot; and whatever men can do is done at once.

"But great God! What mean those cries of horror which suddenly rise on all sides? The roof of the house is falling, and buries under its ruins two men, the most zealous and most courageous of all the zealous and courageous men,--Bolton the drummer, who had just now summoned his neighbors to come to the rescue, and Guillebault, a father with five children.

"High above the crash and the hissing of flames rise their heart- rending cries. They call for help. Will they be allowed to perish? A gendarme rushes forward, and with him a farmer from Brechy. But their heroism is useless: the monster keeps its prey. The two men also are apparently doomed; and only by unheard-of efforts, and at great peril of life, can they be rescued from the furnace. But they are so grievously wounded, that they will remain infirm for the rest of their lives, compelled to appeal to public charity for their subsistence."

Then the prosecuting attorney proceeds to paint the whole of the disaster at Valpinson in the sombrest colors, and with all the resources of his well-known eloquence. He describes the Countess Claudieuse as she kneels by the side of her dying husband, while the crowd is eagerly pressing around the wounded man and struggling with the flames for the charred remains of the unfortunate firemen. With increasing vehemence, he says next,--

"And during all this time what becomes of the author of these fearful misdeeds? When his hatred is gratified, he flees through the wood, and returns to his home. Remorse, there is none. As soon as he reaches the house, he eats, drinks, smokes his cigar. His position in the country is such, and the precautionary measures he had taken appear to him so well chosen, that he thinks he is above suspicion. He is calm. He feels so perfectly safe, that he neglects the commonest precautions, and does not even take the trouble of pouring out the water in which he has washed his hands, blackened as they are by the fire he has just kindled.

"He forgets that Providence whose torch on great occasions illumines and guides human justice.

"And how, indeed, could the law ever have expected to find the guilty man in one of the most magnificent chateaux of the country but for a direct intervention of Providence?

"For the incendiary, the assassin, was actually there, at the Chateau Boiscoran.

"And let no one come and tell us that the past life of Jacques de Boiscoran is such as to protect him against the formidable charges that are brought against him. We know his past life.

"A perfect model of those idle young men who spend in riotous living a fortune painfully amassed by their fathers, Jacques de Boiscoran had not even a profession. Useless to society, a burden to himself, he passed through life like a ship without rudder and without compass, indulging in all kinds of unhealthy fashions in order to spend the hours that were weighing heavily upon him.

"And yet he was ambitious; but his ambition lay in the direction of those dangerous and wicked intrigues which inevitably lead men to crime.

"Hence we see him mixed up with all those sterile and wanton party movements which discredit our days, uttering over and over again hollow phrases in condemnation of all that is noble and sacred, appealing to the most execrable passions of the multitude"--

M. MAGLOIRE.--If this is a political affair, we ought to be informed beforehand.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL.--There is no question of politics here. We speak of the life of a man who has been an apostle of strife.

M. MAGLOIRE.--Does the attorney-general fancy he is preaching peace?

PRESIDENT.--I request counsel for the defence not to interrupt.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL.--And it is in this ambition of the accused that we must look for a key to that terrible hatred which has led him to commit such crimes. That lawsuit about a stream of water is a matter of comparatively little importance. But Jacques de Boiscoran was preparing to become a candidate for election.

A.--I never dreamed of it.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL.--(Not noticing the interruption.) He did not say so; but his friends said it for him, and went about everywhere, repeating that by his position, his wealth, and his opinions, he was the man best worthy of the votes of Republicans. And he would have had an excellent chance, if there had not stood between him and the object of his desires Count Claudieuse, who had already more than once succeeded in defeating similar plots.

M. MAGLOIRE.--(Warmly.) Do you refer to me?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL.--I allude to no one.

M. MAGLOIRE.--You might just as well say at once, that my friends as well as myself are all M. de Boiscoran's accomplices; and that we have employed him to rid us of a formidable adversary.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL.--(Continues.) Gentlemen, this is the real motive of the crime. Hence that hatred which the accused soon is unable to conceal any longer, which overflows in invectives, which breaks forth in threats of death, and which actually carries him so far that he points his gun at Count Claudieuse.

The attorney-general next passes on to examine the charges, which, he declares, are overwhelming and irrefutable. Then he goes on,--

"But what need is there of such questions after the crushing evidence of Count Claudieuse? You have heard it,--on the point of

Within an Inch of His Life - 100/111

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