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- Within an Inch of His Life - 40/111 -


by men. There is clear, public, and absolute evidence of his guilt on hand. What evidence has he to offer of his innocence? Moral evidence only."

"O God!" murmured Dionysia.

"I think, therefore, with my honorable brother"--

And M. Magloire bowed to M. Folgat.

"I think, that, if M. de Boiscoran is innocent, he has adopted an unfortunate system. Ah! if luckily there should be an /alibi/. He ought to make haste, great haste, to establish it. He ought not to allow matters to go on till he is sent up into court. Once there, an accused is three-fourths condemned already."

For once it looked as if the crimson in M. de Chandore's cheeks was growing pale.

"And yet," he exclaimed, "Jacques will not change his system: any one who knows his mulish obstinacy might be quite sure of that."

"And unfortunately he has made up his mind," said Dionysia, "as M. Magloire, who knows him so well, will see from this letter of his."

Until now nothing had been said to let the Sauveterre lawyer suspect that communications had been opened with the prisoner. Now that the letter had been alluded to, it became necessary to take him into confidence. At first he was astonished, then he looked displeased; and, when he had been told every thing, he said,--

"This is great imprudence! This is too daring!"

Then looking at M. Folgat, he added,--

"Our profession has certain rules which cannot be broken without causing trouble. To bribe a clerk, to profit by his weakness and his sympathy"--

The Paris lawyer had blushed imperceptibly. He said,--

"I should never have advised such imprudence; but, when it was once committed, I did not feel bound to insist upon its being abandoned: and even if I should be blamed for it, or more, I mean to profit by it."

M. Magloire did not rely; but, after having read Jacques's letter, he said,--

"I am at M. de Boiscoran's disposal; and I shall go to him as soon as he is no longer in close confinement. I think, as Miss Dionysia does, that he will insist upon saying nothing. However, as we have the means of reaching him by letter,--well, here I am myself ready to profit by the imprudence that has been committed!--beseech him, in the name of his own interest, in the name of all that is dear to him, to speak, to explain, to prove his innocence."

Thereupon M. Magloire bowed, and withdrew suddenly, leaving his audience in consternation, so very evident was it, that he left so suddenly in order to conceal the painful impression which Jacques's letter had produced upon him.

"Certainly," said M. de Chandore, "we will write to him; but we might just as well whistle. He will wait for the end of the investigation."

"Who knows?" murmured Dionysia.

And, after a moment's reflection, she added,--

"We can try, however."

And, without vouchsafing any further explanation, she left the room, and hastened to her chamber to write the following letter:--

"I must speak to you. There is a little gate in our garden which opens upon Charity Lane, I will wait for you there. However late it may be when you get these lines, come!

"DIONYSIA."

Then having put the note into an envelope, she called the old nurse, who had brought her up, and, with all the recommendations which extreme prudence could suggest, she said to her,--

"You must see to it that M. Mechinet the clerk gets this note to-night. Go! make haste!"

IX.

During the last twenty-four hours, Mechinet had changed so much, that his sisters recognized him no longer. Immediately after Dionysia's departure, they had come to him, hoping to hear at last what was meant by that mysterious interview; but at the first word he had cried out with a tone of voice which frightened his sisters to death,--

"That is none of your business! That is nobody's business!" and he had remained alone, quite overcome by his adventure, and dreaming of the means to make good his promise without ruining himself. That was no easy matter.

When the decisive moment arrived, he discovered that he would never be able to get the note into M. de Boiscoran's hands, without being caught by that lynx-eyed M. Galpin: as the letter was burning in his pocket, he saw himself compelled, after long hesitation, to appeal for help to the man who waited on Jacques,--to Trumence, in fine. The latter was, after all, a good enough fellow; his only besetting sin being unconquerable laziness, and his only crime in the eyes of the law perpetual vagrancy. He was attached to Mechinet, who upon former occasions, when he was in jail, had given him some tobacco, or a little money to buy a glass of wine. He made therefore no objection, when the clerk asked him to give a letter to M. de Boiscoran, and to bring back an answer. He acquitted himself, moreover, faithfully and honestly of his commission. But, because every thing had gone well once, it did not follow that Mechinet felt quite at peace. Besides being tormented by the thought that he had betrayed his duty, he felt wretched in being at the mercy of an accomplice. How easily might he not be betrayed! A slight indiscretion, an awkward blunder, an unlucky accident, might do it. What would become of him then?

He would lose his place and all his other employments, one by one. He would lose confidence and consideration. Farewell to all ambitious dreams, all hopes of wealth, all dreams of an advantageous marriage. And still, by an odd contradiction, Mechinet did not repent what he had done, and felt quite ready to do it over again. He was in this state of mind when the old nurse brought him Dionysia's letter.

"What, again?" he exclaimed.

And when he had read the few lines, he replied,--

"Tell your mistress I will be there!" But in his heart he thought some untoward event must have happened.

The little garden-gate was half-open: he had only to push it to enter. There was no moon; but the night was clear, and at a short distance from him, under the trees, he recognized Dionysia, and went towards her.

"Pardon me, sir," she said, "for having dared to send for you."

Mechinet's anxiety vanished instantly. He thought no longer of his strange position. His vanity was flattered by the confidence which this young lady put in him, whom he knew very well as the noblest, the most beautiful, and the richest heiress in the whole country.

"You were quite right to send for me, madam," he replied, "if I can be of any service to you."

In a few words she had told him all; and, when she asked his advice, he replied,--

"I am entirely of M. Folgat's opinion, and think that grief and isolation begin to have their effect upon M. de Boiscoran's mind."

"Oh, that thought is maddening!" murmured the poor girl.

"I think, as M. Magloire does, that M. de Boiscoran, by his silence, only makes his situation much worse. I have a proof of that. M. Galpin, who, at first, was all doubt and anxiety, is now quite reassured. The attorney-general has written him a letter, in which he compliments his energy."

"And then."

"Then we must induce M. de Boiscoran to speak. I know very well that he is firmly resolved not to speak; but if you were to write to him, since you can write to him"--

"A letter would be useless."

"But"--

"Useless, I tell you. But I know a means."

"You must use it promptly, madam: don't lose a moment. There is no time."

The night was clear, but not clear enough for the clerk to see how very pale Dionysia was.

"Well, then, I must see M. de Boiscoran: I must speak to him."

She expected the clerk to start, to cry out, to protest. Far from it: he said in the quietest tone,--

"To be sure; but how?"

"Blangin the keeper, and his wife, keep their places only because they give them a support. Why might I not offer them, in return for an interview with M. de Boiscoran, the means to go and live in the country?"

"Why not?" said the clerk.

And in a lower voice, replying to the voice of his conscience, he went on,--

"The jail in Sauveterre is not at all like the police-stations and


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