Within an Inch of His LifeWithin an Inch of His Life
There was not a person in the whole district who did not know of what a fearful disease
poor Cocoleu was suffering; and everybody knew, also, that it was perfectly useless to try
and help him. The two men who had taken him out had therefore laid him simply on a
pile of wet straw, and then they had left him to himself, eager as they were to see and
hear what was going on.
It must be said, in justice to the several hundred peasants who were crowding around the
smoking ruins of Valpinson, that they treated the madman who had accused M. de
Boiscoran of such a crime, neither with cruel jokes nor with fierce curses. Unfortunately,
first impulses, which are apt to be good impulses, do not last long. One of those idle
good-for-nothings, drunkards, envious scamps who are found in every community, in the
country as well as in the city, cried out,--
"And why not?"
These few words opened at once a door to all kinds of bold guesses.
Everybody had heard something about the quarrel between Count Claudieuse and M. de
Boiscoran. It was well known, moreover, that the provocation had always come from the
count, and that the latter had invariably given way in the end. Why, therefore, might not
M. de Boiscoran, impatient at last, have resorted to such means in order to avenge
himself on a man whom they thought he must needs hate, and whom he probably feared
at the same time?
"Perhaps he would not do it, because he is a nobleman, and because he is rich?" they
The next step was, of course, to look out for circumstances which might support such a
theory; and the opportunity was not lacking. Groups were formed; and soon two men and
a woman declared aloud that they could astonish the world if they chose to talk. They
were urged to tell what they knew; and, of course, they refused. But they had said too
much already. Willing or not willing, they were carried up to the house, where, at that
very moment, M. Galpin was examining Count Claudieuse. The excited crowd made
such a disturbance, that M. Seneschal, trembling at the idea of a new accident, rushed out
to the door.
"What is it now?" he asked.
"More witnesses," replied the peasants. "Here are some more witnesses."
The mayor turned round, and, after having exchanged glances with M. Daubigeon, he
said to the magistrate,--