His mother, a Chalusse by birth, had enjoyed the reputation of being one of the most beautiful and most gifted ladies at the court of the Citizen King. At a certain period in her life, unfortunately, slander had attacked her; and about 1845 or 1846, it was reported that she had had a remarkable affair with a young lawyer of distinction, who had since become one of the austerest and most renowned judges. As she grew old, the marchioness devoted herself more and more to politics, as other women become pious. While her husband boasted that he had not read a newspaper for ten years, she had made her salon a kind of parliamentary centre, which had its influence on political affairs.
Although Jacques de Boiscoran’s parents were still alive, he possessed a considerable fortune of his own—five or six thousand dollars a year. This fortune, which consisted of the Chateau of Boiscoran, the farms, meadows, and forests belonging to it, had been left to him by one of his uncles, the oldest brother of his father, who had died a widower, and childless, in 1868. M. de Boiscoran was at this moment about twenty-six or twenty-seven years old, dark complexion, tall, strong, well made, not exactly a handsome man, but having, what was worth more, one of those frank, intelligent faces which prepossess one at first sight.
His character was less well known at Sauveterre than his person. Those who had had any business with him described him as an honorable, upright man: his companions spoke of him as cheerful and gay, fond of pleasure, and always in good humor. At the time of the Prussian invasion, he had been made a captain of one of the volunteer companies of the district. He had led his men bravely under fire, and conducted himself so well on the battlefield, that Gen. Chanzy had rewarded him, when wounded, with the cross of the legion of honor.
“And such a man should have committed such a crime at Valpinson,” said M. Daubigeon to the magistrate. “No, it is impossible! And no doubt he will very easily scatter all our doubts to the four winds.”
“And that will be done at once,” said young Ribot; “for here we are.”
In many of the provinces of France the name of chateau is given to almost any little country-house with a weathercock on its pointed roof. But Boiscoran was a real chateau. It had been built towards the end of the seventeenth century, in wretched taste, but massively, like a fortress. Its position is superb. It is surrounded on all sides by woods and forests; and at the foot of the sloping garden flows a little river, merrily splashing over its pebbly bed, and called the Magpie on account of its perpetual babbling.
It was seven o’clock when the carriage containing the justice drove into the courtyard at Boiscoran,—a vast court, planted with lime-trees, and surrounded by farm buildings. The chateau was wide awake. Before her house-door, the farmer’s wife was cleaning the huge caldron in which she had prepared the morning soup; the maids were going and coming; and at the stable a groom was rubbing down with great energy a thorough-bred horse.