By this single phrase M. Galpin made himself master of the situation, and reduced the doctor to an inferior position, in which, it is true, he had the mayor and the commonwealth attorney to bear him company. There was nothing now to be thought of, but the crime that had been committed, and the judge who was to punish the author. But he tried in vain to assume all the rigidity of his official air and that contempt for human feelings which has made justice so hateful to thousands. His whole being was impregnated with intense satisfaction, up to his beard, cut and trimmed like the box-hedges of an old-fashioned garden.
“Well, doctor,” he asked, “first of all, have you any objection to my questioning your patient?”
“It would certainly be better for him to be left alone,” growled Dr. Seignebos. “I have made him suffer enough this last hour; and I shall directly begin again cutting out the small pieces of lead which have honeycombed his flesh. But if it must be”—
“It must be.”
“Well, then, make haste; for the fever will set in presently.”
M. Daubigeon could not conceal his annoyance. He called out,—
The other man paid no attention. Having taken a note-book and a pencil from his pocket, he drew up close to the sick man’s bed, and asked him in an undertone,—
“Are you strong enough, count, to answer my questions?”
“Then, pray tell me all you know of the sad events of to-night.”
With the aid of his wife and Dr. Seignebos, the count raised himself on his pillows, and began thus,—
“Unfortunately, the little I know will be of no use in aiding justice to discover the guilty man. It may have been eleven o’clock, for I am not even quite sure of the hour, when I had gone to bed, and just blown out my candle: suddenly a bright light fell upon the window. I was amazed, and utterly confused; for I was in that state of sleepiness which is not yet sleep, but very much like it. I said to myself, ‘What can this be?’ but I did not get up: I only was roused by a great noise, like the crash of a falling wall; and then I jumped out of bed, and said to myself, ‘The house is on fire!’ What increased my anxiety was the fact, which I at once recollected, that there were in the courtyard, and all around the house, some sixteen thousand bundles of dry wood, which had been cut last year. Half dressed, I rushed downstairs. I was very much bewildered, I confess, and could hardly succeed in opening the outer door: still I did open it at last. But I had barely put my foot on the threshold, when I felt in my right side, a little above the hip, a fierce pain, and heard at the same time, quite close to me, a shot.”
The magistrate interrupted him by a gesture.
“Your statement, count, is certainly remarkably clear. But there is one point we must try to establish. Were you really fired at the moment you showed yourself at the door?”