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


"Poor man!" murmured M. Folgat.

The priest at once went on,--

"You see, gentlemen, Count Claudieuse withdraws his charge unconditionally. He asks for nothing in return: he only wants the truth to be established. And yet I beg leave to express the last wishes of a dying man. I beseech you, in the new trial, to make no mention of the name of the countess."

Tears were seen in all eyes.

"You may rest assured, reverend father," said M. Daubigeon, "that Count Claudieuse's last wishes shall be attended to. The name of the countess shall not appear. There will be no need for it. The secret of her wrongs shall be religiously kept by those who know it."

It was four o'clock now.

An hour later there arrived at the court-house a gendarme and Michael, the son of the Boiscoran tenant, who had been sent out to ascertain if Cocoleu's statement was true. They brought back the gun which the wretch had used, and which he had concealed in that den which he had dug out for himself in the forest of Rochepommier, and where Michael had discovered him the day after the crime.

Henceforth Jacques's innocence was as clear as daylight; and although he had to bear the burden of his sentence till the judgment was declared void, it was decided, with the consent of the president of the court, M. Domini, and the active cooperation of M. Gransiere, that he should be set free that same evening.

M. Folgat and M. Magloire were charged with the pleasant duty of informing the prisoner of this happy news. They found him walking up and down in his cell like a madman, devoured by unspeakable anguish, and not knowing what to make of the words of hope which M. Daubigeon had spoken to him in the morning.

He was hopeful, it is true; and yet when he was told that he was safe, that he was free, he sank, an inert mass, into a chair, being less able to bear joy than sorrow.

But such emotions are not apt to last long. A few moments later, and Jacques de Boiscoran, arm in arm with his counsel, left his prison, in which he had for several months suffered all that an honest man can suffer. He had paid a fearful penalty for what, in the eyes of so many men, is but a trifling wrong.

When they reached the street in which the Chandores lived, M. Folgat said to his client,--

"They do not expect you, I am sure. Go slowly, while I go ahead to prepare them."

He found Jacques's parents and friends assembled in the parlor, suffering great anxiety; for they had not been able to ascertain if there were any truth in the vague rumors which had reached them.

The young advocate employed the utmost caution in preparing them for the truth; but at the first words Dionysia asked,--

"Where is Jacques?"

Jacques was kneeling at her feet, overcome with gratitude and love.

V.

The next day the funeral of Count Claudieuse took place. His youngest daughter was buried at the same time; and in the evening the Countess left Sauveterre, to make her home henceforth with her father in Paris.

In the proper course of the law, the sentence which condemned Jacques was declared null and void; and Cocoleu, found guilty of having committed the crime at Valpinson, was sentenced to hard labor for life.

A month later Jacques de Boiscoran was married at the church in Brechy to Dionysia de Chandore. The witnesses for the bridegroom were M. Magloire and Dr. Seignebos; the witnesses for the bride, M. Folgat and M. Daubigeon.

Even the excellent commonwealth attorney laid aside on that day some of his usual gravity. He continually repeated,--

"Nunc est bibendum, nunc pede libero Pulsanda tellus."

And he really did drink his glass of wine, and opened the ball with the bride.

M. Galpin, who was sent to Algiers, was not present at the wedding. But M. Mechinet was there, quite brilliant, and, thanks to Jacques, free from all pecuniary troubles.

The two Blangins, husband and wife, have well-nigh spent the whole of the large sums of money which they extorted from Dionysia. Trumence, private bailiff at Boiscoran, is the terror of all vagrants.

And Goudar, in his garden and nursery, sells the finest peaches in Paris.


Within an Inch of His Life - 111/111

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