They proceeded to take up the body of the countess. The mayor sent for two planks, which, with a thousand precautions, they placed on the ground, being able thus to move the countess without effacing the imprints necessary for the legal examination. Alas! it was indeed she who had been the beautiful, the charming Countess de Tremorel! Here were her smiling face, her lovely, speaking eyes, her fine, sensitive mouth.
There remained nothing of her former self. The face was unrecognizable, so soiled and wounded was it. Her clothes were in tatters. Surely a furious frenzy had moved the monsters who had slain the poor lady! She had received more than twenty knife-wounds, and must have been struck with a stick, or rather with a hammer; she had been dragged by her feet and by her hair!
In her left hand she grasped a strip of common cloth, torn, doubtless, from the clothes of one of the assassins. The mayor, in viewing the spectacle, felt his legs fail him, and supported himself on the arm of the impassible Plantat.
“Let us carry her to the house,” said the justice, “and then we will search for the count.”
The valet and brigadier (who had now returned) called on the domestics for assistance. The women rushed into the garden. There was then a terrible concert of cries, lamentations, and imprecations.
“The wretches! So noble a mistress! So good a lady!”
M. and Mme. de Tremorel, one could see, were adored by their people.
The countess had just been laid upon the billiard-table, on the ground-floor, when the judge of instruction and a physician were announced.
“At last!” sighed the worthy mayor; and in a lower tone he added, “the finest medals have their reverse.”
For the first time in his life, he seriously cursed his ambition, and regretted being the most important personage in Orcival.
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.