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- Within an Inch of His Life - 110/111 -
By long study and a great effort of will, Goudar had succeeded in giving to his face a most perfect expression of stupidity: even the people belonging to the hospital thought he was more idiotic than the other.
He held in his hand his violin, which the doctor had ordered to be left to him; and he accompanied himself with a few notes, as he repeated the same familiar song which he had sung on the New-Market Square when he first accosted M. Folgat.
Cocoleu, a large piece of bread-and-butter in one hand, and a big clasp-knife in the other, was finishing his meal.
But this music delighted him so intensely, that he actually forgot to eat, and, with hanging lip and half-closed eyes, rocked himself to and fro, keeping time with the measure.
"They look hideous!" M. Folgat could not keep from whispering. In the meantime Goudar, warned by the preconcerted signal, had finished his song. He bent over, and drew from under the bench an enormous bottle, from which he seemed to draw a considerable quantity of something pleasant.
Then he passed it to Cocoleu, who likewise began to pull, eagerly and long, and with an expression of idiotic beatitude. Then patting his stomach with his hands, he said,--
M. Daubigeon whispered into Dr. Seignebos's ear,--
"Ah, I begin to see! I notice from Cocoleu's eyes, that this practice with the bottle must have been going on for some time already. Cocoleu is drunk."
Goudar again took up his violin and repeated his song.
"I--I--want--want to--to drink!" stammered Cocoleu.
Goudar kept him waiting a little while, and then handed him the bottle. The idiot threw back his head, and drank till he had lost his breath. Then Goudar asked,--
"Ah! you did not have such good wine to drink at Valpinson?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Cocoleu.
"But as much as you wanted?"
And, laughing with some difficulty, he stammered, and stuttered out,--
"I got--got into the cellar through one of the windows; and I drank-- drank through--through a--a straw."
"You must be sorry you are no longer there?"
"But, if you were so well off at Valpinson, why did you set it on fire?"
The witnesses of the strange scene crowded to the little window of the cell, and held their breath with eager expectation.
"I wanted to burn some fagots only, to make the count come out. It was not my fault, if the whole house got on fire."
"And why did you want to kill the count?"
"Because I wanted the great lady to marry M. de Boiscoran."
"Ah! She told you to do it, did she?"
"Oh, no! But she cried so much; and then she told me she would be so happy if her husband were dead. And she was always good to Cocoleu; and the count was always bad; and so I shot him."
"Well! But why, then, did you say it was M. de Boiscoran who shot the count?"
"They said at first it was me. I did not like that. I would rather they should cut off his head than mine."
He shuddered as he said this, so that Goudar, afraid of having gone rather too fast, took up his violin, and gave him a verse of his song to quiet him. Then accompanying his words still now and then with a few notes, and after having allowed Cocoleu to caress his bottle once more, he asked again,--
"Where did you get a gun?"
"I--I had taken it from the count to shoot birds: and I--I have it still--still. It is hid in the hole where Michael found me."
Poor Dr. Seignebos could not stand it any longer. He suddenly pushed open the door, and, rushing into the court, he cried,--
"Bravo, Goudar! Well done!"
At the noise, Cocoleu had started up. He evidently understood it all; for terror drove the fumes of the wine out of his mind in an instant, and he looked frightened to death.
"Ah, you scoundrel!" he howled.
And, throwing himself upon Goudar, he plunged his knife twice into him.
The movement was so rapid and so sudden, that it had been impossible to prevent it. Pushing M. Folgat violently back as he tried to disarm him, Cocoleu leaped into a corner of the court, and there, looking like a wild beast driven to bay, his eyes bloodshot, his mouth foaming, he threatened with his formidable knife to kill any one who should come near him.
At the cries of M. Daubigeon and M. Galpin, the assistants in the hospital came rushing in. The struggle, however, would probably have been a long one, notwithstanding their numbers, if one of the keepers had not, with great presence of mind, climbed up to the top of the wall, and caught the arm of the wretch in a noose. By these means he was thrown down in a moment, disarmed, and rendered harmless.
"You--you may--may do--do what you--you choose; I--I won't say--say another w-w-word!"
In the meantime, poor Dr. Seignebos, who had unwillingly caused the catastrophe, was distressed beyond measure; still he hastened to the assistance of Goudar, who lay insensible on the sand of the court. The two wounds which the detective had received were quite serious, but not fatal, or even very dangerous, as the knife had been turned aside by the ribs. He was at once carried into one of the private rooms of the hospital, and soon recovered his consciousness.
When he saw all four of the gentlemen bending anxiously over his bed, he murmured with a mournful smile,--
"Well, was I not right when I said that my profession is a rascally profession?"
"But you are at liberty now to give it up," replied M. Folgat, "provided always a certain house in Vine Street should not prove too small for your ambition."
The pale face of the detective recovered its color for a moment.
"Will they really give it to me?" he asked.
"Since you have discovered the real criminal, and handed him over to justice."
"Well, then, I will bless these wounds: I feel that I shall be up again in a fortnight. Give me quick pen and ink, that I may write my resignation immediately, and tell my wife the good news."
He was interrupted by the entrance of one of the officers of the court, who, walking up to the commonwealth attorney, said to him respectfully,--
"Sir, the priest from Brechy is waiting for you at your office."
"I am coming directly," replied M. Daubigeon.
And, turning to his companions, he said,--
"Let us go, gentlemen."
The priest was waiting, and rose quickly from his chair when he saw M. Daubigeon enter, accompanied by M. Galpin, M. Folgat, and Dr. Seignebos.
"Perhaps you wish to speak to me alone, sir?" asked M. Daubigeon.
"No, sir," replied the old priest, "no! The words of reparation which have been intrusted to me must be uttered publicly." And handing him a letter, he added,--
"Read this. Please read it aloud."
The commonwealth attorney tore the envelope with a tremulous hand, an then read,--
"Being about to die as a Christian, as I have lived as a Christian, I owe it to myself, I owe it to God whom I have offended, and I owe it to those men whom I have deceived, to declare the truth.
"Actuated by hatred, I have been guilty of giving false evidence in court, and of stating wrongfully that M. de Boiscoran is the man who shot at me, and that I recognized him in the act.
"I did not only not recognize him, but I know that he is innocent. I am sure of it; and I swear it by all I hold sacred in this world which I am about to leave, and in that world in which I must appear before my sovereign Judge.
"May M. de Boiscoran pardon me as I pardon myself.
"TRIVULCE COUNT CLAUDIEUSE."
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