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- Within an Inch of His Life - 30/111 -


"And to think," he said, "that, upon the testimony of such a thing, a capital charge has been made!"

Grandpapa Chandore seemed to be seriously embarrassed. He said,--

"But now, what in the world are we to do with the idiot?"

"I am going to take him," said M. Seneschal, "to the hospital. I will go with him myself, and let Dr. Seignebos know, and the commonwealth attorney."

Dr. Seignebos was an eccentric man, beyond doubt; and the absurd stories which his enemies attributed to him were not all unfounded. But he had, at all events, the rare quality of professing for his art, as he called it, a respect very nearly akin to enthusiasm. According to his views, the faculty were infallible, as much so as the pope, whom he denied. He would, to be sure, in confidence, admit that some of his colleagues were amazing donkeys; but he would never have allowed any one else to say so in his presence. From the moment that a man possessed the famous diploma which gives him the right over life and death, that man became in his eyes an august personage for the world at large. It was a crime, he thought, not to submit blindly to the decision of a physician. Hence his obstinacy in opposing M. Galpin, hence the bitterness of his contradictions, and the rudeness with which he had requested the "gentlemen of the law" to leave the room in which /his/ patient was lying.

"For these devils," he said, "would kill one man in order to get the means of cutting off another man's head."

And thereupon, resuming his probes and his sponge, he had gone to work once more, with the aid of the countess, digging out grain by grain the lead which had honeycombed the flesh of the count. At nine o'clock the work was done.

"Not that I fancy I have gotten them all out," he said modestly, "but, if there is any thing left, it is out of reach, and I shall have to wait for certain symptoms which will tell me where they are."

As he had foreseen, the count had grown rather worse. His first excitement had given way to perfect prostration; and he seemed to be insensible to what was going on around him. Fever began to show itself; and, considering the count's constitution, it was easily to be foreseen that delirium would set in before the day was out.

"Nevertheless, I think there is hardly any danger," said the doctor to the countess, after having pointed out to her all the probable symptoms, so as to keep her from being alarmed. Then he recommended to her to let no one approach her husband's bed, and M. Galpin least of all.

This recommendation was not useless; for almost at the same moment a peasant came in to say that there was a man from Sauveterre at the door who wished to see the count.

"Show him in," said the doctor; "I'll speak to him."

It was a man called Tetard, a former constable, who had given up his place, and become a dealer in stones. But besides being a former officer of justice and a merchant, as his cards told the world, he was also the agent of a fire insurance company. It was in this capacity that he presumed, as he told the countess, to present himself in person. He had been informed that the farm buildings at Valpinson, which were insured in his company, had been destroyed by fire; that they had been purposely set on fire by M. de Boiscoran; and that he wished to confer with Count Claudieuse on the subject. Far from him, he added, to decline the responsibility of his company: he only wished to establish the facts which would enable him to fall back upon M. de Boiscoran, who was a man of fortune, and would certainly be condemned to make compensation for the injury done. For this purpose, certain formalities had to be attended to; and he had come to arrange with Count Claudieuse the necessary measures."

"And I," said Dr. Seignebos,--"I request you to take to your heels." He added with a thundering voice,--

"I think you are very bold to dare to speak in that way of M. de Boiscoran."

M. Tetard disappeared without saying another word; and the doctor, very much excited by this scene, turned to the youngest daughter of the countess, the one with whom she was sitting up when the fire broke out, and who was now decidedly better: after that nothing could keep him at Valpinson. He carefully pocketed the pieces of lead which he had taken from the count's wounds, and then, drawing the countess out to the door, he said,--

"Before I go away, madam, I should like to know what you think of these events."

The poor lady, who looked as pale as death itself, could hardly hold up any longer. There seemed to be nothing alive in her but her eyes, which were lighted up with unusual brilliancy.

"Ah! I do not know, sir," she replied in a feeble voice. "How can I collect my thoughts after such terrible shocks?"

"Still you questioned Cocoleu."

"Who would not have done so, when the truth was at stake?"

"And you were not surprised at the name he mentioned?"

"You must have seen, sir."

"I saw; and that is exactly why I ask you, and why I want to know what you really think of the state of mind of the poor creature."

"Don't you know that he is idiotic?"

"I know; and that is why I was so surprised to see you insist upon making him talk. Do you really think, that, in spite of his habitual imbecility, he may have glimpses of sense?"

"He had, a few moments before, saved my children from death."

"That proves his devotion for you."

"He is very much attached to me indeed, just like a poor animal that I might have picked up and cared for."

"Perhaps so. And still he showed more than mere animal instinct."

"That may well be so. I have more than once noticed flashes of intelligence in Cocoleu."

The doctor had taken off his spectacles, and was wiping them furiously.

"It is a great pity that one of these flashes of intelligence did not enlighten him when he saw M. de Boiscoran make a fire and get ready to murder Count Claudieuse."

The countess leaned against the door-posts, as if about to faint.

"But it is exactly to his excitement at the sight of the flames, and at hearing the shots fired, that I ascribe Cocoleu's return to reason."

"May be," said the doctor, "may be."

Then putting on his spectacles again, he added,--

"That is a question to be decided by the professional men who will have to examine the poor imbecile creature."

"What! Is he going to be examined?"

"Yes, and very thoroughly, madam, I tell you. And now I have the honor of wishing you good-bye. However, I shall come back to-night, unless you should succeed during the day in finding lodgings in Sauveterre,-- an arrangement which would be very desirable for myself, in the first place, and not less so for your husband and your daughter. They are not comfortable in this cottage."

Thereupon he lifted his hat, returned to town, and immediately asked M. Seneschal in the most imperious manner to have Cocoleu arrested. Unfortunately the gendarmes had been unsuccessful; and Dr. Seignebos, who saw how unfortunate all this was for Jacques, began to get terribly impatient, when on Saturday night, towards ten o'clock, M. Seneschal came in, and said,--

"Cocoleu is found."

The doctor jumped up, and in a moment his hat on his head, and stick in hand, asked,--

"Where is he?"

"At the hospital. I have seen him myself put into a separate room."

"I am going there."

"What, at this hour?"

"Am I not one of the hospital physicians? And is it not open to me by night and by day?"

"The sisters will be in bed."

The doctor shrugged his shoulders furiously; then he said,--

"To be sure, it would be a sacrilege to break the slumbers of these good sisters, these dear sisters, as you say. Ah, my dear mayor! When shall we have laymen for our hospitals? And when will you put good stout nurses in the place of these holy damsels?"

M. Seneschal had too often discussed that subject with the doctor, to open it anew. He kept silent, and that was wise; for Dr. Seignebos sat down, saying,--

"Well, I must wait till to-morrow."

VI.

"The hospital in Sauveterre," says the guide book, "is, in spite of its limited size, one of the best institutions of the kind in the department. The chapel and the new additions were built at the expense


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