Chapter III




The judge of instruction of the tribunal at Corbeil, was M. Antoine Domini, a remarkable man, since called to higher functions. He was forty years of age, of a prepossessing person, and endowed with a very expressive, but too grave physiognomy. In him seemed typified the somewhat stiff solemnity of the magistracy. Penetrated with the dignity of his office, he sacrificed his life to it, rejecting the most simple distractions, and the most innocent pleasures.

He lived alone, seldom showing himself abroad; rarely received his friends, not wishing, as he said, that the weaknesses of the man should derogate from the sacred character of the judge. This latter reason had deterred him from marrying, though he felt the need of a domestic sphere.

Always and everywhere he was the magistrate - that is, the representative, even to fanaticism, of what he thought the most august institution on the earth. Naturally gay, he would double-lock himself in when he wished to laugh. He was witty; but if a bright sally escaped him, you may be sure he repented of it. Body and soul he gave to his vocation; and no one could bring more conscientiousness to the discharge of what he thought to be his duty. He was also inflexible. It was monstrous, in his eyes, to discuss an article of the code. The law spoke; it was enough; he shut his eyes, covered his ears, and obeyed.

>From the day when a legal investigation commenced, he did not sleep, and he employed every means to discover the truth. Yet he was not regarded as a good judge of instruction; to contend by tricks with a prisoner was repugnant to him; to lay a snare for a rogue he thought debasing; in short, he was obstinate - obstinate to foolishness, sometimes to absurdity; even to denying the existence of the sun at mid-day.

The mayor and Papa Plantat hastened to meet M. Domini. He bowed to them gravely, as if he had not known them, and presenting to them a man of some sixty years who accompanied him:

Messieurs," said he, "this is Doctor Gendron."

Papa Plantat shook hands with the doctor; the mayor smiled graciously at him, for Dr. Gendron was well-known in those parts; he was even celebrated, despite the nearness of Paris. Loving his art and exercising it with a passionate energy, he yet owed his renown less to his science than his manners. People said: "He is an original;" they admired his affectation of independence, of scepticism, and rudeness. He made his visits from five to nine in the morning - all the worse for those for whom these hours were inconvenient. After nine o'clock the doctor was not to be had. The doctor was working for himself, the doctor was in his laboratory, the doctor was inspecting his cellar. It was rumored that he sought for secrets of practical chemistry, to augment still more his twenty thousand livres of income. And he did not deny it; for in truth he was engaged on poisons, and was perfecting an invention by which could be discovered traces of all the alkaloids which up to that time had escaped analysis. If his friends reproached him, even jokingly, on sending away sick people in the afternoon, he grew red with rage.

"Parbleu!" he answered, "I find you superb! I am a doctor four hours in the day. I am paid by hardly a quarter of my patients - that's three hours I give daily to humanity, which I despise. Let each of you do as much, and we shall see."

The mayor conducted the new-comers into the drawing-room, where he installed himself to write down the results of his examination.

"What a misfortune for my town, this crime!" said he to M. Domini. "What shame! Orcival has lost its reputation."

"I know nothing of the affair," returned the judge. "The gendarme who went for me knew little about it."

M. Courtois recounted at length what his investigation had discovered, not forgetting the minutest detail, dwelling especially on the excellent precautions which he had had the sagacity to take. He told how the conduct of the Bertauds had at first awakened his suspicions; how he had detected them, at least in a pointblank lie; how, finally, he had determined to arrest them. He spoke standing, his head thrown back, with wordy emphasis. The pleasure of speaking partially rewarded him for his recent distress.

"And now," he concluded, "I have just ordered the most exact search, so that doubtless we shall find the count's body. Five men, detailed by me, and all the people of the house, are searching the park. If their efforts are not crowned with success, I have here some fishermen who will drag the river."

M. Domini held his tongue, only nodding his head from time to time, as a sign of approbation. He was studying, weighing the details told him, building up in his mind a plan of proceeding.

"You have acted wisely," said he, at last. "The misfortune is a great one, but I agree with you that we are on the track of the criminals. These poachers, or the gardener who has disappeared, have something, perhaps, to do with this abominable crime."

Already, for some minutes, M. Plantat had rather awkwardly concealed some signs of impatience.

"The misfortune is," said he, "that if Guespin is guilty, he will not be such a fool as to show himself here."

"Oh, we'll find him," returned M. Domini. "Before leaving Corbeil, I sent a despatch to the prefecture of police at Paris, to ask for a police agent, who will doubtless be here shortly."

"While waiting," proposed the mayor, "perhaps you would like to see the scene of the crime?"

M. Domini made a motion as if to rise; then sat down again.

"In fact, no," said he; "we will see nothing till the agent arrives. But I must have some information concerning the Count and Countess de Tremorel."

The worthy mayor again triumphed.

"Oh, I can give it to you," answered he quickly, "better than anybody. Ever since their advent here, I may say, I have been one of their best friends. Ah, sir, what charming people! excellent, and affable, and devoted - "

And at the remembrance of all his friends' good qualities, M. Courtois choked in his utterance.

"The Count de Trernorel," he resumed, "was a man of thirty-four years, handsome, witty to the tips of his nails. He had sometimes, however, periods of melancholy, during which he did not wish to see anybody; but he was ordinarily so affable, so polite, so obliging; he knew so well how to be noble without haughtiness, that everybody here esteemed and loved him."

"And the countess? "asked the judge of instruction.

"An angel, Monsieur, an angel on earth! Poor lady! You will soon see her remains, and surely you would not guess that she has been the queen of the country, by reason of her beauty."

"Were they rich?"

"Yes; they must have had, together, more than a hundred thousand francs income - oh, yes, much more; for within five or six months the count, who had not the bucolic tastes of poor Sauvresy, sold some lands to buy consols."

"Have they been married long?"

M. Courtois scratched his head; it was his appeal to memory.

"Faith," he answered, "it was in September of last year; just six months ago. I married them myself. Poor Sauvresy had been dead a year."

The judge of instruction looked up from his notes with a surprised air.

"Who is this Sauvresy," he inquired, "of whom you speak?"

Papa Plantat, who was furiously biting his nails in a corner, apparently a stranger to what was passing, rose abruptly.

"Monsieur Sauvresy," said he, "was the first husband of Madame de Tremorel. My friend Courtois has omitted this fact."

"Oh!" said the mayor, in a wounded tone, "it seems to me that under present circumstances - "

"Pardon me," interrupted the judge. "It is a detail such as may well become valuable, though apparently foreign to the case, and at the first view, insignificant."

"Hum!" grunted Papa Plantat. "Insignificant - foreign to it!"

His tone was so singular, his air so strange, that M. Domini was struck by it.

"Do you share," he asked, "the opinion of the mayor regarding the Tremorels?"

Plantat shrugged his shoulders.

"I haven't any opinions," he answered: "I live alone - see nobody; don't disturb myself about anything. But - "

"It seems to me," said M. Courtois, "that nobody should be better acquainted with people who were my friends than I myself."

"Then, you are telling the story clumsily," said M. Plantat, dryly.

The judge of instruction pressed him to explain himself. So M. Plantat, without more ado, to the great scandal of the mayor, who was thus put into the background, proceeded to dilate upon the main features of the count's and countess's biography.

"The Countess de Tremorel, nee Bertha Lechaillu, was the daughter of a poor village school-master. At eighteen, her beauty was famous for three leagues around, but as she only had for dowry her great blue eyes and blond ringlets, but few serious lovers presented themselves. Already Bertha, by advice of her family, had resigned herself to take a place as a governess - a sad position for so beautiful a maid - when the heir of one of the richest domains in the neighborhood happened to see her, and fell in love with her.

"Clement Sauvresy was just thirty; he had no longer any family, and possessed nearly a hundred thousand livres income from lands absolutely free of incumbrance. Clearly, he had the best right in the world to choose a wife to his taste. He did not hesitate. He asked for Bertha's hand, won it, and, a month after, wedded her at mid-day, to the great scandal of the neighboring aristocracy, who went about saying: 'What folly! what good is there in being rich, if it is not to double one's fortune by a good marriage!'

"Nearly a month before the marriage, Sauvresy set the laborers to work at Valfeuillu, and in no long time had spent, in repairs and furniture, a trifle of thirty thousand crowns. The newly married pair chose this beautiful spot in which to spend their honeymoon. They were so well-contented there that they established themselves permanently at Valfeuillu, to the great satisfaction of the neighborhood.

"Bertha was one of those persons, it seemed, who are born especially to marry millionnaires. Without awkwardness or embarrassment, she passed easily from the humble school-room, where she had assisted her father, to the splendid drawing-room of Valfeuillu. And when she did the honors of her chateau to all the neighboring aristocracy, it seemed as though she had never done anything else. She knew how to remain simple, approachable, modest, all the while that she took the tone of the highest society. She was beloved."

"But it appears to me," interrupted the mayor, "that I said the same thing, and it was really not worth while - "

A gesture from M. Domini closed his mouth, and M. Plantat continued:

"Sauvresy was also liked, for he was one of those golden hearts which know not how to suspect evil. He was one of those men with a robust faith, with obstinate illusions, whom doubts never disturb. He was one of those who thoroughly confide in the sincerity of their friends, in the love of their mistresses. This new domestic household ought to be happy; it was so. Bertha adored her husband - that frank man, who, before speaking to her a word of love, offered her his hand. Sauvresy professed for his wife a worship which few thought foolish. They lived in great style at Valfeuillu. They received a great deal. When autumn came all the numerous spare chambers were filled. The turnouts were magnificent.

"Sauvresy had been married two years, when one evening he brought from Paris one of his old and intimate friends, a college comrade of whom he had often spoken, Count Hector de Tremorel. The count intended to remain but a short time at Valfeuillu; but weeks passed and then months, and he still remained. It was not surprising. Hector had passed a very stormy youth, full of debauchery, of clubs, of gambling, and of amours. He had thrown to the winds of his caprices an immense fortune; the relatively calm life of Valfeuillu was a relief. At first people said to him, 'You will soon have enough of the country." He smiled, but said nothing. It was then thought, and rightly, perhaps, that having become poor, he cared little to display his ruin before those who had obscured his splendor. He absented himself rarely, and then only to go to Corbeil, almost always on foot. There he frequented the Belle Image hotel, the best in the town, and met, as if by chance, a young lady from Paris. They spent the afternoon together, and separated when the last train left."

"Peste!" growled the mayor, "for a man who lives alone, who sees nobody, who would not for the world have anything to do with other people's business, it seems to me our dear Monsieur Plantat is pretty well informed."

Evidently M. Courtois was jealous. How was it that he, the first personage in the place, had been absolutely ignorant of these meetings? His ill-humor was increasing, when Dr. Gendron answered:

"Pah! all Corbeil prated about that at the time."

M. Plantat made a movement with his lips as if to say," I know other things besides." He went on, however, with his story.

"The visit of Count Hector made no change in the habits at the chateau. Monsieur and Madame Sauvresy had a brother; that was all. Sauvresy at this time made several journeys to Paris, where, as everybody knew, he was engaged in arranging his friend's affairs.

"This charming existence lasted a year. Happiness seemed to be fixed forever beneath the delightful shades of Valfeuillu. But alas! one evening on returning from the hunt, Sauvresy became so ill that he was forced to take to his bed. A doctor was called; inflammation of the chest had set in. Sauvresy was young, vigorous as an oak; his state did not at first cause anxiety. A fortnight afterward, in fact, he was up and about. But he was imprudent and had a relapse. He again nearly recovered; a week afterward there was another relapse, and this time so serious, that a fatal end of his illness was foreseen. During this long sickness, the love of Bertha and the affection of Tremorel for Sauvresy were tenderly shown. Never was an invalid tended with such solicitude - surrounded with so many proofs of the purest devotion. His wife and his friend were always at his couch, night and day. He had hours of suffering, but never a second of weariness. He repeated to all who went to see him, that he had come to bless his illness. He said to himself, 'If I had not fallen ill, I should never have known how much I was beloved.'"

"He said the same thing to me," interrupted the mayor, more than a hundred times. He also said so to Madame Courtois, to Laurence, my eldest daughter - "

"Naturally," continued M. Plantat. "But Sauvresy's distemper was one against which the science of the most skilful physicians and the most constant care contend in vain.

"He said that he did not suffer much, but he faded perceptibly, and was no more than the shadow of his former self. At last, one night, toward two or three o'clock, he died in the arms of his wife and his friend. Up to the last moment, he had preserved the full force of his faculties. Less than an hour before expiring, he wished everyone to be awakened, and that all the servants of the castle should be summoned. When they were all gathered about the bedside, he took his wife's hand, placed it in that of the Count de Tremorel, and made them swear to marry each other when he was no more. Bertha and Hector began to protest, but he insisted in such a manner as to compel assent, praying and adjuring them, and declaring that their refusal would embitter his last moments. This idea of the marriage between his widow and his friend seems, besides, to have singularly possessed his thoughts toward the close of his life. In the preamble of his will, dictated the night before his death, to M. Bury, notary of Orcival, he says formally that their union is his dearest wish, certain as he is of their happiness, and knowing well that his memory will be piously kept."

"Had Monsieur and Madame Sauvresy no children?" asked the judge of instruction.

"No," answered the mayor.

M. Plantat continued:

"The grief of the count and the young widow was intense. M. de Tremorel, especially, seemed absolutely desperate, and acted like a madman. The countess shut herself up, forbidding even those whom she loved best from entering her chamber - even Madame Courtois. When the count and Madame Bertha reappeared, they were scarcely to be recognized, so much had both changed. Monsieur Hector seemed to have grown twenty years older. Would they keep the oath made at the death-bed of Sauvresy, of which everyone was apprised? This was asked with all the more curiosity, because their profound sorrow for a man who well merited it, was admired."

The judge of instruction stopped M. Plantat with a motion of his hand.

"Do you know," asked he, "whether the rendezvous at the Hotel Belle Image had ceased?"

"I suppose so, sir; I think so."

"I am almost sure of it," said Dr. Gendron. "I have often heard it said - they know everything at Corbeil - that there was a heated explanation between M. de Tremorel and the pretty Parisian lady. After this quarrel, they were no longer seen at the Belle Image."

The old justice of the peace smiled.

"Melun is not at the end of the world," said he, "and there are hotels at Melun. With a good horse, one is soon at Fontainebleau, at Versailles, even at Paris. Madame de Tremorel might have been jealous; her husband had some first-rate trotters in his stables."

Did M. Plantat give an absolutely disinterested opinion, or did he make an insinuation? The judge of instruction looked at him attentively, to reassure himself, but his visage expressed nothing but a profound serenity. He told the story as he would any other, no matter what.

"Please go on, Monsieur," resumed M. Domini.

"Alas!" said M. Plantat, "nothing here below is eternal, not even grief. I know it better than anybody. Soon, to the tears of the first days, to violent despair, there succeeded, in the count and Madame Bertha, a reasonable sadness, then a soft melancholy. And in one year after Sauvresy's death Monsieur de Tremorel espoused his widow."

During this long narrative the mayor had several times exhibited marks of impatience. At the end, being able to hold in no longer, he exclaimed:

"There, those are surely exact details; but I question whether they have advanced us a step in this grave matter which occupies us all - to find the murderers of the count and countess."

M. Plantat, at these words, bent on the judge of instruction his clear and deep look, as if to search his conscience to the bottom.

"These details were indispensable," returned M. Domini, "and they are very clear. Those rendezvous at the hotel struck me; one knows not to what extremities jealousy might lead a woman - "

He stopped abruptly, seeking, no doubt, some connection between the pretty Parisian and the murderers; then resumed:

"Now that I know the Tremorels as if I had lived with them intimately, let us proceed to the actual facts."

The brilliant eye of M. Plantat immediately grew dim; he opened his lips as if to speak; but kept his peace. The doctor alone, who had not ceased to study the old justice of the peace, remarked the sudden change of his features.

"It only remains," said M. Domini, "to know how the new couple lived."

M. Courtois thought it due to his dignity to anticipate M. Plantat.

"You ask how the new couple lived," said he hastily; "they lived in perfect concord; nobody knows better about it than I, who was most intimate with them. The memory of poor Sauvresy was a bond of happiness between them; if they liked me so well, it was because I often talked of him. Never a cloud, never a cross word. Hector - I called him so, familiarly, this poor, dear count - gave his wife the tender attentions of a lover; those delicate cares, which I fear most married people soon dispense with."

"And the countess?" asked M. Plantat, in a tone too marked not to be ironical.

"Bertha?" replied the worthy mayor - "she permitted me to call her thus, paternally - I have cited her many and many a time as an example and model, to Madame Courtois. She was worthy of Hector and of Sauvresy, the two most worthy men I have ever met!

Then, perceiving that his enthusiasm somewhat surprised his hearers, he added, more softly:

"I have my reasons for expressing myself thus; and I do not hesitate to do so before men whose profession and character will justify my discretion. Sauvresy, when living, did me a great service - when I was forced to take the mayoralty. As for Hector, I knew well that he had departed - from the dissipations of his youth, and thought I discerned that he was not indifferent to my eldest daughter, Laurence; and I dreamed of a marriage all the more proper, as, if the Count Hector had a great name, I would give to my daughter a dowry large enough to gild any escutcheon. Only events modified my projects."

The mayor would have gone on singing the praises of the Tremorels, and his own family, if the judge of instruction had not interposed.

"Here I am fixed," he commenced, "now, it seems to me - "

He was interrupted by a loud noise in the vestibule. It seemed like a struggle, and cries and shouts reached the drawing-room. Everybody rose.

"I know what it is," said the mayor, "only too well. They have just found the body of the Count de Tremorel."



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