The doctor had rendered Cocoleu a sad service. The poor idiot had lost the habit of privation: he had forgotten how to go from door to door, asking for alms; and he would have perished, if his good fortune had not led him to knock at the door of the house at Valpinson.
Count Claudieuse and his wife were touched by his wretchedness, and determined to take charge of him. They gave him a room and a bed at one of the farmhouses; but they could never induce him to stay there. He was by nature a vagabond; and the instinct was too strong for him. In winter, frost and snow kept him in for a little while; but as soon as the first leaves came out, he went wandering again through forest and field, remaining absent often for weeks altogether.
At last, however, something seemed to have been aroused in him, which looked like the instinct of a domesticated animal. His attachment to the countess resembled that of a dog, even in the capers and cries with which he greeted her whenever he saw her. Often, when she went out, he accompanied her, running and frolicking around her just like a dog. He was also very fond of little girls, and seemed to resent it when he was kept from them: for people were afraid his nervous attacks might affect the children.
With time he had also become capable of performing some simple service. He could be intrusted with certain messages: he could water the flowers, summon a servant, or even carry a letter to the post-office at Brechy. His progress in this respect was so marked, that some of the more cunning peasants began to suspect that Cocoleu was not so “innocent,” after all, as he looked, and that he was cleverly playing the fool in order to enjoy life easily.
“We have him at last,” cried several voices at once. “Here he is; here he is!”
The crowd made way promptly; and almost immediately a young man appeared, led and pushed forward by several persons. Cocoleu’s clothes, all in disorder, showed clearly that he had offered a stout resistance. He was a youth of about eighteen years, very tall, quite beardless, excessively thin, and so loosely jointed, that he looked like a hunchback. A mass of reddish hair came down his low, retreating forehead. His small eyes, his enormous mouth bristling with sharp teeth, his broad flat nose, and his immense ears, gave to his face a strange idiotic expression, and to his whole appearance a most painful brutish air.
“What must we do with him?” asked the peasants of the mayor.
“We must take him before the magistrate, my friends,” replied M. Seneschal,—“down there in that cottage, where you have carried the count.”
“And we’ll make him talk,” threatened his captors. “You hear! Go on, quick!”