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- Within an Inch of His Life - 20/111 -

"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.


The railway which connects Sauveterre with the Orleans line enjoys a certain celebrity on account of a series of utterly useless curves, which defy all common sense, and which would undoubtedly be the source of countless accidents, if the trains were not prohibited from going faster than eight or ten miles an hour.

The depot has been built--no doubt for the greater convenience of travellers--at a distance of two miles from town, on a place where formerly the first banker of Sauveterre had his beautiful gardens. The pretty road which leads to it is lined on both sides with inns and taverns, on market-days full of peasants, who try to rob each other, glass in hand, and lips overflowing with protestations of honesty. On ordinary days even, the road is quite lively; for the walk to the railway has become a favorite promenade. People go out to see the trains start or come in, to examine the new arrivals, or to exchange confidences as to the reasons why Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so have made up their mind to travel.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when the train which brought the marchioness and Manuel Folgat at last reached Sauveterre. The former was overcome by fatigue and anxiety, having spent the whole night in discussing the chances for her son's safety, and was all the more exhausted as the lawyer had taken care not to encourage her hopes.

For he also shared, in secret at least, M. Chapelain's doubts. He, also, had said to himself, that a man like M. de Boiscoran is not apt to be arrested, unless there are strong reasons, and almost overwhelming proofs of his guilt in the hands of the authorities.

The train was slackening speed.

"If only Dionysia and her father," sighed the marchioness, "have thought of sending a carriage to meet us."

"Why so?" asked Manuel Folgat.

"Because I do not want all the world to see my grief and my tears."

The young lawyer shook his head, and said,--

"You will certainly not do that, madame, if you are disposed to follow my advice."

She looked at him quite amazed; but he insisted.

"I mean you must not look as if you wished not to be seen: that would be a great, almost irreparable mistake. What would they think if they saw you in tears and great distress? They would say you were sure of your son's guilt; and the few who may still doubt will doubt no longer. You must control public opinion from the beginning; for it is absolute in these small communities, where everybody is under somebody else's immediate influence. Public opinion is all powerful; and say what you will, it controls even the jurymen in their deliberations."

"That is true," said the marchioness: "that is but too true."

"Therefore, madame, you must summon all your energy, conceal your maternal anxiety in your innermost heart, dry your tears, and show nothing but the most perfect confidence. Let everybody say, as he sees you, 'No mother could look so who thinks her son guilty.' "

The marchioness straightened herself, and said,--

"You are right, sir; and I thank you. I must try to impress public opinion as you say; and, so far from wishing to find the station deserted, I shall be delighted to see it full of people. I will show you what a woman can do who thinks of her son's life."

The Marchioness of Boiscoran was a woman of rare power.

Drawing her comb from her dressing-case, she repaired the disorder of her coiffure; with a few skilful strokes she smoothed her dress; her features, by a supreme effort of will, resumed their usual serenity; she forced her lips to smile without betraying the effort it cost her; and then she said in a clear, firm voice,--

"Look at me, sir. Can I show myself now?"

The train stopped at the station. Manuel Folgat jumped out lightly; and, offering the marchioness his hand to assist her, he said,--

"You will be pleased with yourself, madam. Your courage will not be useless. All Sauveterre seems to be here.

This was more than half true. Ever since the night before, a report had been current,--no one knew how it had started,--that the "murderer's mother," as they charitably called her, would arrive by the nine o'clock train; and everybody had determined to happen to be at the station at that hour. In a place where gossip lives for three days upon the last new dress from Paris, such an opportunity for a little excitement was not to be neglected. No one thought for a moment of what the poor old lady would probably feel upon being compelled thus to face a whole town; for at Sauveterre curiosity has at least the merit, that it is not hypocritical. Everybody is openly indiscreet, and by no means ashamed of it. They place themselves right in front of you, and look at you, and try to find out the secret of your joy or your grief.

It must be borne in mind, however, that public opinion was running strongly against M. de Boiscoran. If there had been nothing against him but the fire at Valpinson, and the attempts upon Count Claudieuse, that would have been a small matter. But the fire had had terrible consequences. Two men had perished in it; and two others had been so severely wounded as to put their lives in jeopardy. Only the evening before, a sad procession had passed through the streets of Sauveterre. In a cart covered with a cloth, and followed by two priests, the almost carbonized remains of Bolton the drummer, and of poor Guillebault, had been brought home. The whole city had seen the widow go to the mayor's office, holding in her arms her youngest child, while the four others clung to her dress.

All these misfortunes were traced back to Jacques, who was loaded with curses; and the people now thought of receiving his mother, the marchioness, with fierce hootings.

"There she is, there she is!" they said in the crowd, when she appeared in the station, leaning upon M. Folgat's arm.

But they did not say another word, so great was their surprise at her appearance. Immediately two parties were formed. "She puts a bold face on it," said some; while others declared, "She is quite sure of her son's innocence."

At all events, she had presence of mind enough to see what an impression she produced, and how well she had done to follow M. Folgat's advice. It gave her additional strength. As she distinguished in the crowd some people whom she knew, she went up to them, and,

Within an Inch of His Life - 20/111

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