by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
One September afternoon in 1751, towards half-past five, about a
score of small boys, chattering, pushing, and tumbling over one
another like a covey of partridges, issued from one of the religious
schools of Chartres. The joy of the little troop just escaped from a
long and wearisome captivity was doubly great: a slight accident to
one of the teachers had caused the class to be dismissed half an hour
earlier than usual, and in consequence of the extra work thrown on
the teaching staff the brother whose duty it was to see all the
scholars safe home was compelled to omit that part of his daily task.
Therefore not only thirty or forty minutes were stolen from work, but
there was also unexpected, uncontrolled liberty, free from the
surveillance of that black-cassocked overseer who kept order in their
ranks. Thirty minutes! at that age it is a century, of laughter and
prospective games! Each had promised solemnly, under pain of severe
punishment, to return straight to his paternal nest without delay,
but the air was so fresh and pure, the country smiled all around!
The school, or preferably the cage, which had just opened, lay at the
extreme edge of one of the suburbs, and it only required a few steps
to slip under a cluster of trees by a sparkling brook beyond which
rose undulating ground, breaking the monotony of a vast and fertile
plain. Was it possible to be obedient, to refrain from the desire to
spread one's wings? The scent of the meadows mounted to the heads of
the steadiest among them, and intoxicated even the most timid. It
was resolved to betray the confidence of the reverend fathers, even
at the risk of disgrace and punishment next morning, supposing the
escapade were discovered.
A flock of sparrows suddenly released from a cage could not have
flown more wildly into the little wood. They were all about the same
age, the eldest might be nine. They flung off coats and waistcoats,
and the grass became strewn with baskets, copy-books, dictionaries,
and catechisms. While the crowd of fair-haired heads, of fresh and
smiling faces, noisily consulted as to which game should be chosen, a
boy who had taken no part in the general gaiety, and who had been
carried away by the rush without being able to escape sooner, glided
slyly away among the trees, and, thinking himself unseen, was beating
a hasty retreat, when one of his comrades cried out--
"Antoine is running away!"
Two of the best runners immediately started in pursuit, and the
fugitive, notwithstanding his start, was speedily overtaken, seized
by his collar, and brought back as a deserter.
"Where were you going?" the others demanded.
"Home to my cousins," replied the boy; "there is no harm in that."
"You canting sneak!" said another boy, putting his fist under the
captive's chin; "you were going to the master to tell of us."
"Pierre," responded Antoine, "you know quite well I never tell lies."
"Indeed!--only this morning you pretended I had taken a book you had
lost, and you did it because I kicked you yesterday, and you didn't
dare to kick me back again."
Antoine lifted his eyes to heaven, and folding his arms on his
Dear Buttel," he said, "you are mistaken; I have always been taught
to forgive injuries."
"Listen, listen! he might be saying his prayers!" cried the other
boys; and a volley of offensive epithets, enforced by cuffs, was
hurled at the culprit.
Pierre Buttel, whose influence was great, put a stop to this
"Look here, Antoine, you are a bad lot, that we all know; you are a
sneak and a hypocrite. It's time we put a stop to it. Take off your
coat and fight it out. If you like, we will fight every morning and
evening till the end of the month."
The proposition was loudly applauded, and Pierre, turning up his
sleeves as far as his elbows, prepared to suit actions to words.
The challenger assuredly did not realise the full meaning, of his
words; had he done so, this chivalrous defiance would simply have
been an act of cowardice on his part, for there could be no doubt as
to the victor in such a conflict. The one was a boy of alert and
gallant bearing, strong upon his legs, supple and muscular, a
vigorous man in embryo; while the other, not quite so old, small,
thin, of a sickly leaden complexion, seemed as if he might be blown
away by a strong puff of wind. His skinny arms and legs hung on to
his body like the claws of a spider, his fair hair inclined to red,
his white skin appeared nearly bloodless, and the consciousness of
weakness made him timid, and gave a shifty, uneasy look to his eyes.
His whole expression was uncertain, and looking only at his face it
was difficult at first sight to decide to which sex he belonged.
This confusion of two natures, this indefinable mixture of feminine
weakness without grace, and of abortive boyhood, seemed to stamp him
as something exceptional, unclassable, and once observed, it was
difficult to take one's eyes from him. Had he been endowed with
physical strength he would have been a terror to his comrades,
exercising by fear the ascendancy which Pierre owed to his joyous
temper and unwearied gaiety, for this mean exterior concealed
extraordinary powers of will and dissimulation. Guided by instinct,
the other children hung about Pierre and willingly accepted his
leadership; by instinct also they avoided Antoine, repelled by a
feeling of chill, as if from the neighbourhood of a reptile, and
shunning him unless to profit in some way by their superior strength.
Never would he join their games without compulsion; his thin,
colourless lips seldom parted for a laugh, and even at that tender
age his smile had an unpleasantly sinister expression.,
"Will you fight?" again demanded Pierre.
Antoine glanced hastily round; there was no chance of escape, a
double ring enclosed him. To accept or refuse seemed about equally
risky; he ran a good chance of a thrashing whichever way he decided.
Although his heart beat loudly, no trace of emotion appeared on his
pallid cheek; an unforeseen danger would have made him shriek, but he
had had time to collect himself, time to shelter behind hypocrisy.
As soon as he could lie and cheat he recovered courage, and the
instinct of cunning, once roused, prevailed over everything else.
Instead of answering this second challenge, he knelt down and said to
"You are much stronger than I am."
This submission disarmed his antagonist. "Get up," he replied;
"I won't touch you, if you can't defend yourself.
"Pierre," continued Antoine, still on his knees, "I assure you, by
God and the Holy Virgin, I was not going to tell. I was going home
to my cousins to learn my lessons for to-morrow; you know how slow I
am. If you think I have done you any harm, I ask your forgiveness."
Pierre held out his hand and made him get up.
"Will you be a good fellow, Antoine, and play with us?"
"Yes, I will."
"All right, then; let us forget all about it."
"What are we to play at?" asked Antoine, taking off his coat.
"Thieves and archers," cried one of the boys....
"Splendid!" said Pierre; and using his acknowledged authority, he
divided them into two sides--ten highwaymen, whom he was to command,
and ten archers of the guard, who were to pursue them; Antoine was
among the latter.
The highwaymen, armed with swords and guns obtained from the willows
which grew along the brook, moved off first, and gained the valleys
between the little hills beyond the wood. The fight was to be
serious, and any prisoner on either side was to be tried immediately.
The robbers divided into twos and threes, and hid themselves in the
A few minutes later the archers started in pursuit. There were
encounters, surprises, skirmishes; but whenever it came to close
quarters, Pierre's men, skilfully distributed, united on hearing his
whistle, and the Army of justice had to retreat. But there came a
time when this magic signal was no longer heard, and the robbers
became uneasy, and remained crouching in their hiding-places.
Pierre, over-daring, had undertaken to defend alone the entrance of a
dangerous passage and to stop the whole hostile troop there. Whilst
he kept them engaged, half of his men, concealed on the left, were to
come round the foot of the hill and make a rush on hearing his
whistle; the other half, also stationed at some, little distance,
were to execute the same manoeuvre from above. The archers would be
caught in a trap, and attacked both in front and rear, would be
obliged to surrender at discretion. Chance, which not unfrequently
decides the fate of a battle, defeated this excellent stratagem.
Watching intently; Pierre failed to perceive that while his whole
attention was given to the ground in front, the archers had taken an
entirely different road from the one they ought to have followed if
his combination were to succeed. They suddenly fell upon him from
behind, and before he could blow his whistle, they gagged him with a
handkerchief and tied his hands. Six remained to keep the field of
battle and disperse the hostile band, now deprived of its chief; the
remaining four conveyed Pierre to the little wood, while the robbers,
hearing no signal, did not venture to stir. According to agreement,
Pierre Buttel was tried by the archers, who promptly transformed
themselves into a court of justice, and as he had been taken
red-handed, and did not condescend to defend himself, the trial was
not a long affair. He was unanimously sentenced to be hung, and the
execution was then and there carried out, at the request of the
criminal himself, who wanted the game to be properly played to the
end, and who actually selected a suitable tree for his own execution.
"But, Pierre," said one of the judges, "how can you be held up
"How stupid you are!" returned the captive. "I shall only pretend to
be hung, of course. See here!" and he fastened together several
pieces strong string which had tied some of the other boys' books,
piled the latter together, and standing on tiptoe on this very
insecure basis, fastened one end of the cord to a horizontal bough,
and put his neck into a running knot at the other end, endeavouring
to imitate the contortions of an actual sufferer. Shouts of laughter
greeted him, and the victim laughed loudest of all. Three archers
went to call the rest to behold this amusing spectacle; one, tired
out, remained with the prisoner.
"Ah, Hangman," said Pierre, putting out his tongue at him, "are the
books firm? I thought I felt them give way."
"No," replied Antoine; it was he who remained. "Don't be afraid,
"It is a good thing; for if they fell I don't think the cord is long
"Don't you really think so?"
A horrible thought showed itself like a flash on the child's face.
He resembled a young hyena scenting blood for the first time. He
glanced at the pile of books Pierre was standing on, and compared it
with the length of the cord between the branch and his neck. It was
already nearly dark, the shadows were deepening in the wood, gleams
of pale light penetrated between the trees, the leaves had become
black and rustled in the wind. Antoine stood silent and motionless,
listening if any sound could be heard near them.
It would be a curious study for the moralist to observe how the first
thought of crime develops itself in the recesses of the human heart,
and how this poisoned germ grows and stifles all other sentiments; an
impressive lesson might be gathered from this struggle of two
opposing principles, however weak it may be, in perverted natures.
In cases where judgment can discern, where there is power to choose
between good and evil, the guilty person has only himself to blame,
and the most heinous crime is only the action of its perpetrator. It
is a human action, the result of passions which might have been
controlled, and one's mind is not uncertain, nor one's conscience
doubtful, as to the guilt. But how can one conceive this taste for
murder in a young child, how imagine it, without being tempted to
exchange the idea of eternal sovereign justice for that of blind
-fatality? How can one judge without hesitation between the moral
sense which has given way and the instinct which displays itself?
how not exclaim that the designs of a Creator who retains the one and
impels the other are sometimes mysterious and inexplicable, and that
one must submit without understanding?
"Do you hear them coming?"asked Pierre.
"I hear nothing," replied Antoine, and a nervous shiver ran through
all his members.
"So much the worse. I am tired of being dead; I shall come to life
and run after them. Hold the books, and I will undo the noose."
"If you move, the books will separate; wait, I will hold them."
And he knelt down, and collecting all his strength, gave the pile a
Pierre endeavoured to raise his hands to his throat. "What are you
doing?" he cried in a suffocating voice.
"I am paying you out;" replied Antoine, folding his arms.
Pierre's feet were only a few inches from the ground, and the weight
of his body at first bent the bough for a moment; but it rose again,
and the unfortunate boy exhausted himself in useless efforts. At
every movement the knot grew tighter, his legs struggled, his arms
sought vainly something to lay hold of; then his movements slackened,
his limbs stiffened, and his hands sank down. Of so much life and
vigour nothing remained but the movement of an inert mass turning
round and round upon itself.
Not till then did Antoine cry for help, and when the other boys
hastened up they found him crying and tearing his hair. So violent
indeed were his sobs and his despair that he could hardly be
understood as he tried to explain how the books had given way under
Pierre, and how he had vainly endeavoured to support him in his arms.
This boy, left an orphan at three years old, had been brought up at
first by a relation who turned him out for theft; afterwards by two
sisters, his cousins, who were already beginning to take alarm at his
abnormal perversity. This pale and fragile being, an incorrigible
thief, a consummate hypocrite, and a cold-blooded assassin, was
predestined to an immortality of crime, and was to find a place among
the most execrable monsters for whom humanity has ever had to blush;
his name was Antoine-Francois Derues.
Twenty years had gone by since this horrible and mysterious event,
which no one sought to unravel at the time it occurred. One June
evening, 1771, four persons were sitting in one of the rooms of a
modestly furnished, dwelling on the third floor of a house in the rue
Saint-Victor. The party consisted of three women and an
ecclesiastic, who boarded, for meals only, with the woman who
tenanted the dwelling; the other two were near neighbours. They were
all friends, and often met thus in the evening to play cards. They
were sitting round the card-table, but although it was nearly ten
o'clock the cards had not yet been touched. They spoke in low tones,
and a half-interrupted confidence had, this evening, put a check on
the usual gaiety.
Someone knocked gently at the door, although no sound of steps on the
creaking wooden staircase had been heard, and a wheedling voice asked
for admittance. The occupier of the room, Madame Legrand, rose, and
admitted a man of about six-and-twenty, at whose appearance the four
friends exchanged glances, at once observed by the new-comer, who
affected, however, not to see them. He bowed successively to the
three women, and several times with the utmost respect to the abbe,
making signs of apology for the interruption caused by his
appearance; then, coughing several times, he turned to Madame
Legrand, and said in a feeble voice, which seemed to betoken much
"My kind mistress, will you and these other ladies excuse my
presenting myself at such an hour and in such a costume? I am ill,
and I was obliged to get up."
His costume was certainly singular enough: he was wrapped in a large
dressing-gown of flowered chintz; his head was adorned by a nightcap
drawn up at the top and surmounted by a muslin frill. His appearance
did not contradict his complaint of illness; he was barely four feet
six in height, his limbs were bony, his face sharp, thin, and pale.
Thus attired, coughing incessantly, dragging his feet as if he had no
strength to lift them, holding a lighted candle in one hand and an
egg in the other, he suggested a caricature-some imaginary invalid
just escaped from M. Purgon. Nevertheless, no one ventured to smile,
notwithstanding his valetudinarian appearance and his air of affected
humility. The perpetual blinking of the yellow eyelids which fell
over the round and hollow eyes, shining with a sombre fire which he
could never entirely suppress, reminded one of a bird of prey unable
to face the light, and the lines of his face, the hooked nose, and
the thin, constantly quivering, drawn-in lips suggested a mixture of
boldness and baseness, of cunning and sincerity. But there is no
book which can instruct one to read the human countenance correctly;
and some special circumstance must have roused the suspicions of
these four persons so much as to cause them to make these
observations, and they were not as usual deceived by the humbug of
this skilled actor, a past master in the art of deception.
He continued after a moment's silence, as if he did not wish to
interrupt their mute observation--
"Will you oblige me by a neighbourly kindness?"
"What is it, Derues?" asked Madame Legrand. A violent cough, which
appeared to rend his chest, prevented him from answering immediately.
When it ceased, he looked at the abbe, and said, with a melancholy
"What I ought to ask in my present state of health is your blessing,
my father, and your intercession for the pardon of my sins. But
everyone clings to the life which God has given him. We do not
easily abandon hope; moreover, I have always considered it wrong to
neglect such means of preserving our lives as are in our power, since
life is for us only a time of trial, and the longer and harder the
trial the greater our recompense in a better world. Whatever befalls
us, our answer should be that of the Virgin Mary to the angel who
announced the mystery of the Incarnation: 'Behold the handmaid of the
Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.'"
"You are right," said the abbe, with a severe and inquisitorial look,
under which Derues remained quite untroubled; "it is an attribute of
God to reward and to punish, and the Almighty is not deceived by him
who deceives men. The Psalmist has said, 'Righteous art Thou, O
Lord, and upright are Thy judgments.'"
"He has said also, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and ,
righteous altogether,'" Derues promptly replied. This exchange of
quotations from Scripture might have lasted for hours without his
being at a loss, had the abbe thought fit to continue in this strain;
but such a style of conversation, garnished with grave and solemn
words, seemed almost sacrilegious in the mouth of a man of such
ridiculous appearance--a profanation at once sad and grotesque.
Derues seemed to comprehend the impression it produced, and tuning
again to Madame Legrand, he said--
"We have got a long way from what I came to ask you, my kind friend.
I was so ill that I went early to bed, but I cannot sleep, and I have
no fire. Would you have the kindness to have this egg mulled for
"Cannot your servant do that for you?" asked Madame Legrand.
"I gave her leave to go out this evening, and though it is late she
has not yet returned. If I had a fire, I would not give you so much
trouble, but I do not care to light one at this hour. You know I am
always afraid of accidents, and they so easily happen!"
"Very well, then," replied Madame Legrand; "go back to your room, and
my servant will bring it to you."
"Thank you," said Derues, bowing,--"many thanks."
As he turned to depart, Madame Legrand spoke again.
"This day week, Derues, you have to pay me half the twelve hundred
livres due for the purchase of my business."
"So soon as that?"
"Certainly, and I want the money. Have you forgotten the date,
"Oh dear, I have never looked at the agreement since it was drawn up.
I did not think the time was so near, it is the fault of my bad
memory; but I will contrive to pay you, although trade is very bad,
and in three days I shall have to pay more than fifteen thousand
livres to different people."
He bowed again and departed, apparently exhausted by the effort of
sustaining so long a conversation.
As soon as they were alone, the abbe exclaimed--
"That man is assuredly an utter rascal! May God forgive him his
hypocrisy! How is it possible we could allow him to deceive us for
"But, my father," interposed one of the visitors, "are you really
sure of what you have just said?"
"I am not now speaking of the seventy-nine Louis d'or which have been
stolen from me, although I never mentioned to anyone but you, and he
was then present, that I possessed such a sum, and although that very
day he made a false excuse for coming to my rooms when I was out.
Theft is indeed infamous, but slander is not less so, and he has
slandered you disgracefully. Yes, he has spread a report that you,
Madame Legrand, you, his former mistress and benefactress, have put
temptation in his way, and desired to commit carnal sin with him.
This is now whispered the neighbourhood all round us, it will soon be
said aloud, and we have been so completely his dupes, we have helped
him so much to acquire a reputation for uprightness, that it would
now be impossible to destroy our own work; if I were to accuse him of
theft, and you charged him with lying, probably neither of us would
be believed. Beware, these odious tales have not been spread without
a reason. Now that your eyes are open, beware of him."
"Yes," replied Madame Legrand, "my brother-in-law warned me three
years ago. One day Derues said to my sister-in-law,--I remember the
words. perfectly,--'I should like to be a druggist, because one
would always be able to punish an enemy; and if one has a quarrel
with anyone it would be easy to get rid of him by means of a poisoned
draught.' I neglected these warnings. I surmounted the feeling of
repugnance I first felt at the sight of him; I have responded to his
advances, and I greatly fear I may have cause to repent it. But you
know him as well as I do, who would not have thought his piety
sincere?--who would not still think so? And notwithstanding all you
have said, I still hesitate to feel serious alarm; I am unwilling to
believe in such utter depravity."
The conversation continued in this strain for some time, and then, as
it was getting late, the party separated.
Next morning early, a large and noisy crowd was assembled in the rue
Saint-Victor before Derues' shop of drugs and groceries. There was a
confusion of cross questions, of inquiries which obtained no answer,
of answers not addressed to the inquiry, a medley of sound, a
pell-mell of unconnected words, of affirmations, contradictions, and
interrupted narrations. Here, a group listened to an orator who held
forth in his shirt sleeves, a little farther there were disputes,
quarrels, exclamations of "Poor man!" "Such a good fellow!" "My
poor gossip Derues!" "Good heavens! what will he do now?" "Alas!
he is quite done for; it is to be hoped his creditors will give him
time! "Above all this uproar was heard a voice, sharp and piercing
like a cat's, lamenting, and relating with sobs the terrible
misfortune of last night. At about three in the morning the
inhabitants of the rue St. Victor had been startled out of their
sleep by the cry of "Fire, fire!" A conflagration had burst forth in
Derues' cellar, and though its progress had been arrested and the
house saved from destruction, all the goods stored therein had
perished. It apparently meant a considerable loss in barrels of oil,
casks of brandy, boxes of soap, etc., which Derues estimated at not
less than nine thousand livres.
By what unlucky chance the fire had been caused he had no idea. He
recounted his visit to Madame Legrand, and pale, trembling, hardly
able to sustain himself, he cried--
"I shall die of grief! A poor man as ill as I am! I am lost! I am
A harsh voice interrupted his lamentations, and drew the attention of
the crowd to a woman carrying printed broadsides, and who forced a
passage through the crowd up to the shop door. She unfolded one of
her sheets, and cried as loudly and distinctly as her husky voice
"Sentence pronounced by the Parliament of Paris against John Robert
Cassel, accused and convicted of Fraudulent Bankruptcy!"
Derues looked up and saw a street-hawker who used to come to his shop
for a drink, and with whom he had had a violent quarrel about a month
previously, she having detected him in a piece of knavery, and abused
him roundly in her own style, which was not lacking in energy. He
had not seen her since. The crowd generally, and all the gossips of
the quarter, who held Derues in great veneration, thought that the
woman's cry was intended as an indirect insult, and threatened to
punish her for this irreverence. But, placing one hand on her hip,
and with the other warning off the most pressing by a significant
"Are you still befooled by his tricks, fools that you are? Yes, no
doubt there was a fire in the cellar last night, no doubt his
creditors will be geese enough to let him off paying his debts! But
what you don't know is, that he didn't really lose by it at all!"
"He lost all his goods!" the crowd cried on all sides. "More than
nine thousand livres! Oil and brandy, do you think those won't burn?
The old witch, she drinks enough to know! If one put a candle near
her she would take fire, fast enough!"
"Perhaps," replied the woman, with renewed gesticulations, "perhaps;
but I don't advise any of you to try. Anyhow, this fellow here is a
rogue; he has been emptying his cellar for the last three nights;
there were only old empty casks in it and empty packing-cases! Oh
yes! I have swallowed his daily lies like everybody else, but I know
the truth by now. He got his liquor taken away by Michael
Lambourne's son, the cobbler in the rue de la Parcheminerie. How do
I know? Why, because the young man came and told me!"
"I turned that woman out of my shop a month ago, for stealing," said
Notwithstanding this retaliatory accusation, the woman's bold
assertion might have changed the attitude of the crowd and chilled
the enthusiasm, but at that moment a stout man pressed forward, and
seizing the hawker by the arm, said--
"Go, and hold your tongue, backbiting woman!"
To this man, the honour of Derues was an article of faith; he had not
yet ceased to wonder at the probity of this sainted person, and to
doubt it in the least was as good as suspecting his own.
"My dear friend," he said, "we all know what to think of you. I know
you well. Send to me tomorrow, and you shall have what goods you
want, on credit, for as long as is necessary. Now, evil tongue, what
do you say to that?"
"I say that you are as great a fool as the rest. Adieu, friend
Derues; go on as you have begun, and I shall be selling your
'sentence' some day"; and dispersing the crowd with a few twirls of
her right arm, she passed on, crying--
"Sentence pronounced by the Parliament of Paris against John Robert
Cassel, accused and convicted of Fraudulent Bankruptcy!"
This accusation emanated from too insignificant a quarter to have any
effect on Derues' reputation. However resentful he may have been at
the time, he got over it in consequence of the reiterated marks of
interest shown by his neighbours and all the quarter on account of
his supposed ruin, and the hawker's attack passed out of his mind, or
probably she might have paid for her boldness with her life.
But this drunken woman had none the less uttered a prophetic word; it
was the grain of sand on which, later, he was to be shipwrecked.
"All passions," says La Bruyere,--"all passions are deceitful; they
disguise themselves as much as possible from the public eye; they
hide from themselves. There is no vice which has not a counterfeit
resemblance to some virtue, and which does not profit by it."
The whole life of Derues bears testimony to the truth of this
observation. An avaricious poisoner, he attracted his victims by the
pretence of fervent and devoted piety, and drew them into the snare
where he silently destroyed them. His terrible celebrity only began
in 1777, caused by the double murder of Madame de Lamotte and her
son, and his name, unlike those of some other great criminals, does
not at first recall a long series of crimes, but when one examines
this low, crooked, and obscure life, one finds a fresh stain at every
step, and perhaps no one has ever surpassed him in dissimulation, in
profound hypocrisy, in indefatigable depravity. Derues was executed
at thirty-two, and his whole life was steeped in vice; though happily
so short, it is full of horror, and is only a tissue of criminal
thoughts and deeds, a very essence of evil. He had no hesitation, no
remorse, no repose, no relaxation; he seemed compelled to lie, to
steal, to poison! Occasionally suspicion is aroused, the public has
its doubts, and vague rumours hover round him; but he burrows under
new impostures, and punishment passes by. When he falls into the
hands of human justice his reputation protects him, and for a few
days more the legal sword is turned aside. Hypocrisy is so
completely a part of his nature, that even when there is no longer
any hope, when he is irrevocably sentenced, and he knows that he can
no longer deceive anyone, neither mankind nor Him whose name he
profanes by this last sacrilege, he yet exclaims, "O Christ! I shall
suffer even as Thou." It is only by the light of his funeral pyre
that the dark places of his life can be examined, that this bloody
plot is unravelled, and that other victims, forgotten and lost in the
shadows, arise like spectres at the foot of the scaffold, and escort
the assassin to his doom.
Let us trace rapidly the history of Derues' early years, effaced and
forgotten in the notoriety of his death. These few pages are not
written for the glorification of crime, and if in our own days, as a
result of the corruption of our manners, and of a deplorable
confusion of all notions of right and wrong, it has been sought to
make him an object; of public interest, we, on our part, only wish to
bring him into notice, and place him momentarily on a pedestal, in
order to cast him still lower, that his fall may be yet greater.
What has been permitted by God may be related by man. Decaying and
satiated communities need not be treated as children; they require
neither diplomatic handling nor precaution, and it may be good that
they should see and touch the putrescent sores which canker them.
Why fear to mention that which everyone knows? Why dread to sound
the abyss which can be measured by everyone? Why fear to bring into
the light of day unmasked wickedness, even though it confronts the
public gaze unblushingly? Extreme turpitude and extreme excellence
are both in the schemes of Providence; and the poet has summed up
eternal morality for all ages and nations in this sublime
"Abstulit hunc tandem Rufini poem tumultum."
Besides, and we cannot insist too earnestly that our intention must
not be mistaken, if we had wished to inspire any other sentiment than
that of horror, we should have chosen a more imposing personage from
the annals of crime. There have been deeds which required audacity,
a sort of grandeur, a false heroism; there have been criminals who
held in check all the regular and legitimate forces of society, and
whom one regarded with a mixture of terror and pity. There is
nothing of that in Derues, not even a trace of courage; nothing but a
shameless cupidity, exercising itself at first in the theft of a few
pence filched from the poor; nothing but the illicit gains and
rascalities of a cheating shopkeeper and vile money-lender, a
depraved cowardice which dared not strike openly, but slew in the
dark. It is the story of an unclean reptile which drags itself
underground, leaving everywhere the trail of its poisonous saliva.
Such was the man whose life we have undertaken to narrate, a man who
represents a complete type of wickedness, and who corresponds to the
most hideous sketch ever devised by poet or romance-writer: Facts
without importance of their own, which would be childish if recorded
of anyone else, obtain a sombre reflection from other facts which
precede them, and thenceforth cannot be passed over in silence. The
historian is obliged to collect and note them, as showing the logical
development of this degraded being: he unites them in sequence, and
counts the successive steps of the ladder mounted by the criminal.
We have seen the early exploit of this assassin by instinct; we find
him, twenty years later, an incendiary and a fraudulent bankrupt.
What had happened in the interval? With how much treachery and crime
had he filled this space of twenty years? Let us return to his
His unconquerable taste for theft caused him to be expelled by the
relations who had taken charge of him. An anecdote is told which
shows his impudence and incurable perversity. One day he was caught
taking some money, and was soundly whipped by his cousins. When this
was over, the child, instead of showing any sorrow or asking
forgiveness, ran away with a sneer, and seeing they were out of
"You are tired, are you? Well, I am not!"
Despairing of any control over this evil disposition, the relations
refused to keep him, and sent him to Chartres, where two other
cousins agreed to have him, out of charity. They were simpleminded
women, of great and sincere piety, who imagined that good example and
religious teaching might have a happy influence on their young
relation. The result was contrary to their expectation: the sole
fruit of their teaching was that Derues learnt to be a cheat and a
hypocrite, and to assume the mask of respectability.
Here also repeated thefts insured him sound corrections. Knowing his
cousins' extreme economy, not to say avarice, he mocked them when
they broke a lath over his shoulders: "There now, I am so glad; that
will cost you two farthings!"
His benefactresses' patience becoming exhausted, he left their house,
and was apprenticed to a tinman at Chartres. His master died, and an
ironmonger of the same town took him as shop-boy, and from this he
passed on to a druggist and grocer. Until now, although fifteen
years old, he had shown no preference for one trade more than
another, but it was now necessary he should choose some profession,
and his share in the family property amounted to the modest sum of
three thousand five hundred livres. His residence with this last
master revealed a decided taste, but it was only another evil
instinct developing itself: the poisoner had scented poison, being
always surrounded with drugs which were health-giving or hurtful,
according to the use made of them. Derues would probably have
settled at Chartres, but repeated thefts obliged him to leave the
town. The profession of druggist and grocer being one which
presented most chances of fortune, and being, moreover, adapted to
his tastes, his family apprenticed him to a grocer in the rue
Comtesse d'Artois, paying a specified premium for him.
Derues arrived in Paris in 1760. It was a new horizon, where he was
unknown; no suspicion attached to him, and he felt much at his ease.
Lost in the noise and the crowd of this immense receptacle for every
vice, he had time to found on hypocrisy his reputation as an honest
man. When his apprenticeship expired, his master proposed to place
him with his sister-in-law, who kept a similar establishment in the
rue St. Victor, and who had been a widow for several years. He
recommended Derues as a young man whose zeal and intelligence might
be useful in her business, being ignorant of various embezzlements
committed by his late apprentice, who was always clever enough to
cast suspicion on others. But the negotiation nearly fell through,
because, one day, Derues so far forgot his usual prudence and
dissimulation as to allow himself to make the observation recorded
above to his mistress. She, horrified, ordered him to be silent, and
threatened to ask her husband to dismiss him. It required a double
amount of hypocrisy to remove this unfavourable impression; but he
spared no pains to obtain the confidence of the sister-in-law, who
was much influenced in his favour. Every day he inquired what could
be done for her, every evening he took a basket-load of the goods she
required from the rue Comtesse d'Artois; and it excited the pity of
all beholders to see this weakly young man, panting and sweating
under his heavy burden, refusing any reward, and labouring merely for
the pleasure of obliging, and from natural kindness of heart! The
poor widow, whose spoils he was already coveting, was completely
duped. She rejected the advice of her brother-in-law, and only
listened to the concert of praises sung by neighbours much edified by
Derues' conduct, and touched by the interest he appeared to show her.
Often he found occasion to speak of her, always with the liveliest
expressions of boundless devotion. These remarks were repeated to
the good woman, and seemed all the more sincere to her as they
appeared to have been made quite casually, and she never suspected
they were carefully calculated and thought out long before.
Derues carried dishonesty as far as possible, but he knew how to stop
when suspicion was likely to be aroused, and though always planning
either to deceive or to hurt, he was never taken by surprise. Like
the spider which spreads the threads of her web all round her, he
concealed himself in a net of falsehood which one had to traverse
before arriving at his real nature. The evil destiny of this poor
woman, mother of four children, caused her to engage him as her
shopman in the year 1767, thereby signing the warrant for her own
Derues began life under his new mistress with a master-stroke. His
exemplary piety was the talk of the whole quarter, and his first care
had been to request Madame Legrand to recommend him a confessor. She
sent him to the director of her late husband, Pere Cartault, of the
Carmelite order, who, astonished at the devotion of his penitent,
never failed, if he passed the shop, to enter and congratulate Madame
Legrand on the excellent acquisition she had made in securing this
young man, who would certainly bring her a blessing along with him.
Derues affected the greatest modesty, and blushed at these praises,
and often, when he saw the good father approaching, appeared not to
see him, and found something to do elsewhere; whereby the field was
left clear for his too credulous panegyrists.
But Pere Cartault appeared too indulgent, and Derues feared that his
sins were too easily pardoned; and he dared not find peace in an
absolution which was never refused. Therefore, before the year was
out, he chose a second confessor, Pere Denys, a Franciscan,
consulting both alternately, and confiding his conscientious scruples
to them. Every penance appeared too easy, and he added to those
enjoined by his directors continual mortifications of his own
devising, so that even Tartufe himself would have owned his
He wore about him two shrouds, to which were fastened relics of
Madame de Chantal, also a medal of St. Francois de Saps, and
occasionally scourged himself. His mistress related that he had
begged her to take a sitting at the church of St. Nicholas, in order
that he might more easily attend service when he had a day out, and
had brought her a small sum which he had saved, to pay half the
Moreover, he had slept upon straw during the whole of Lent, and took
care that Madame Legrand heard of this through the servant,
pretending at first to hide it as if it were something wrong. He
tried to prevent the maid from going into his room, and when she
found out the straw he forbade her to mention it--which naturally
made her more anxious to relate her discovery. Such a piece of
piety, combined with such meritorious humility, such dread of
publicity, could only increase the excellent opinion which everyone
already had of him.
Every day was marked by some fresh hypocrisy. One of his sisters, a
novice in the convent of the Ladies of the Visitation of the Virgin,
was to take the veil at Easter. Derues obtained permission to be
present at the ceremony, and was to start on foot on Good Friday.
When he departed, the shop happened to be full of people, and the
gossips of the neighbourhood inquired where he was going. Madame
Legrand desired him to have a glass of liqueur (wine he never
touched) and something to eat before starting.
"Oh, madame!" he exclaimed, "do you think I could eat on a day like
this, the day on which Christ was crucified! I will take a piece of
bread with me, but I shall only eat it at the inn where I intend to
sleep: I mean to fast the whole way."
But this kind of thing was not sufficient. He wanted an opportunity
to establish a reputation for honesty on a firm basis. Chance
provided one, and he seized it immediately, although at the expense
of a member of his own family.
One of his brothers, who kept a public-house at Chartres, came to see
him. Derues, under pretence of showing him the sights of Paris,
which he did not know, asked his mistress to allow him to take in the
brother for a few days, which she granted. The last evening of his
stay, Derues went up to his room, broke open the box which contained
his clothes, turned over everything it contained, examined the
clothes, and discovering two new cotton nightcaps, raised a cry which
brought up the household. His brother just then returned, and Derues
called him an infamous thief, declaring that he had stolen the money
for these new articles out of the shop the evening before. His
brother defended himself, protesting his innocence, and, indignant at
such incomprehensible treachery, endeavoured to turn the tables by
relating some of Antoine's early misdeeds. The latter, however,
stopped him, by declaring on his honour that he had seen his brother
the evening before go to the till, slip his hand in, and take out
some money. The brother was confounded and silenced by so audacious
a lie; he hesitated, stammered, and was turned out of the house.
Derues worthily crowned this piece of iniquity by obliging his
mistress to accept the restitution of the stolen money. It cost him
three livres, twelve sons, but the interest it brought him was the
power of stealing unsuspected. That evening he spent in prayer for
the pardon of his brother's supposed guilt.
All these schemes had succeeded, and brought him nearer to the
desired goal, for not a soul in the quarter ventured to doubt the
word of this saintly individual. His fawning manners and insinuating
language varied according to the people addressed. He adapted
himself to all, contradicting no one, and, while austere himself, he
flattered the tastes of others. In the various houses where he
visited his conversation was serious, grave, and sententious; and, as
we have seen, he could quote Scripture with the readiness of a
theologian. In the shop, when he had to deal with the lower classes,
he showed himself acquainted with their modes of expression, and
spoke the Billingsgate of the market-women, which he had acquired in
the rue Comtesse d'Artois, treating them familiarly, and they
generally addressed him as "gossip Denies." By his own account he
easily judged the characters of the various people with whom he came
However, Pere Cartault's prophecy was not fulfilled: the blessing of
Heaven did not descend on the Legrand establishment. There seemed to
be a succession of misfortunes which all Derues' zeal and care as
shopman could neither prevent nor repair. He by no means contented
himself with parading an idle and fruitless hypocrisy, and his most
abominable deceptions were not those displayed in the light of day.
He watched by night: his singular organisation, outside the ordinary
laws of nature, appeared able to dispense with sleep. Gliding about
on tiptoe, opening doors noiselessly, with all the skill of an
accomplished thief, he pillaged shop and cellar, and sold his plunder
in remote parts of the town under assumed names. It is difficult to
understand how his strength supported the fatigue of this double
existence; he had barely arrived at puberty, and art had been obliged
to assist the retarded development of nature. But he lived only for
evil, and the Spirit of Evil supplied the physical vigour which was
wanting. An insane love of money (the only passion he knew) brought
him by degrees back to his starting-point of crime; he concealed it
in hiding-places wrought in the thick walls, in holes dug out by his
nails. As soon as he got any, he brought it exactly as a wild beast
brings a piece of bleeding flesh to his lair; and often, by the
glimmer of a dark lantern, kneeling in adoration before this shameful
idol, his eyes sparkling with ferocious joy, with a smile which
suggested a hyena's delight over its prey, he would contemplate his
money, counting and kissing it.
These continual thefts brought trouble into the Legrand affairs,
cancelled all profits, and slowly brought on ruin. The widow had no
suspicion of Derues' disgraceful dealings, and he carefully referred
the damage to other causes, quite worthy of himself. Sometimes it
was a bottle of oil, or of brandy, or some other commodity, which was
found spilt, broken, or damaged, which accidents he attributed to the
enormous quantity of rats which infested the cellar and the house.
At length, unable to meet her engagements, Madame Legrand made the
business over to him in February, 1770. He was then twenty-five
years and six months old, and was accepted as a merchant grocer in
August the same year. By an agreement drawn up between them, Derues
undertook to pay twelve hundred livres for the goodwill, and to lodge
her rent free during the remainder of her lease, which had still nine
years to run. Being thus obliged to give up business to escape
bankruptcy, Madame Legrand surrendered to her creditors any goods
remaining in her warehouse; and Derues easily made arrangements to
take them over very cheaply. The first step thus made, he was now
able to enrich himself safely and to defraud with impunity under the
cover of his stolen reputation.
One of his uncles, a flour merchant at Chartres, came habitually
twice a year to Paris to settle accounts with his correspondents. A
sum of twelve hundred francs, locked up in a drawer, was stolen from
him, and, accompanied by his nephew, he went to inform the police.
On investigation being made, it was found that the chest of drawers
had been broken at the top. As at the time of the theft of the
seventy-nine Louis from the abbe, Derues was the only person known to
have entered his uncle's room. The innkeeper swore to this, but the
uncle took pains to justify his nephew, and showed his confidence
shortly after by becoming surety for him to the extent of five
thousand livres. Derues failed to pay when the time expired, and the
holder of the note was obliged to sue the surety for it.
He made use of any means, even the most impudent, which enabled him
to appropriate other people's property. A provincial grocer on one
occasion sent him a thousand-weight of honey in barrels to be sold on
commission. Two or three months passed, and he asked for an account
of the sale. Derues replied that he had not yet been able to dispose
of it advantageously, and there ensued a fresh delay, followed by the
same question and the same reply. At length, when more than a year
had passed, the grocer came to Paris, examined his barrels, and found
that five hundred pounds were missing. He claimed damages from
Derues, who declared he had never received any more, and as the honey
had been sent in confidence, and there was no contract and no receipt
to show, the provincial tradesman could not obtain compensation.
As though having risen by the ruin of Madame Legrand and her four
children was not enough, Derues grudged even the morsel of bread he
had been obliged to leave her. A few days after the fire in the
cellar, which enabled him to go through a second bankruptcy, Madame
Legrand, now undeceived and not believing his lamentations, demanded
the money due to her, according to their agreement. Derues pretended
to look for his copy of the contract, and could not find it. "Give
me yours, madame," said he; "we will write the receipt upon it. Here
is the money."
The widow opened her purse and took out her copy; Derues snatched it,
and tore it up. "Now," he exclaimed, "you are paid; I owe you
nothing now. If you like, I will declare it on oath in court, and no
one will disbelieve my word."
"Wretched man," said the unfortunate widow, "may God forgive your
soul; but your body will assuredly end on the gallows!"
It was in vain that she complained, and told of this abominable
swindle; Derues had been beforehand with her, and the slander he had
disseminated bore its fruits. It was said that his old mistress was
endeavouring by an odious falsehood to destroy the reputation of a
man who had refused to be her lover. Although reduced to poverty,
she left the house where she had a right to remain rent free,
preferring the hardest and dreariest life to the torture of remaining
under the same roof with the man who had caused her ruin.
We might relate a hundred other pieces of knavery, but it must not be
supposed that having begun by murder, Derues would draw back and
remain contented with theft. Two fraudulent bankruptcies would have
sufficed for most people; for him they were merely a harmless
pastime. Here we must place two dark and obscure stories, two crimes
of which he is accused, two victims whose death groans no one heard.
The hypocrite's excellent reputation had crossed the Parisian bounds.
A young man from the country, intending to start as a grocer in the
capital, applied to Derues for the necessary information and begged
for advice. He arrived at the latter's house with a sum of eight
thousand livres, which he placed in Derues' hands, asking him for
assistance in finding a business. The sight of gold was enough to
rouse the instinct of crime in Derues, and the witches who hailed
Macbeth with the promise of royalty did not rouse the latter's
ambitious desires to a greater height than the chance of wealth did
the greed of the assassin; whose hands, once closed over the eight
thousand livres, were never again relaxed. He received them as a
deposit, and hid them along with his previous plunder, vowing never
to return them. Several days had elapsed, when one afternoon Derues
returned home with an air of such unusual cheerfulness that the young
man questioned him. "Have you heard some good news for me?" he
asked, "or have you had some luck yourself?"
"My young friend," answered Derues, "as for me, success depends on my
own efforts, and fortune smiles on me. But I have promised to be
useful to you, your parents have trusted me, and I must prove that
their confidence is well founded. I have heard to-day of a business
for disposal in one of the best parts of Paris. You can have it for
twelve thousand livres, and I wish I could lend you the amount you
want. But you must write to your father, persuade him, reason with
him; do not lose so good a chance. He must make a little sacrifice,
and he will be grateful to me later."
In accordance with their son's request, the young man's parents
despatched a sum of four thousand livres, requesting Derues to lose
no time in concluding the purchase.
Three weeks later, the father, very uneasy, arrived in Paris. He
came to inquire about his son, having heard nothing from him. Derues
received him with the utmost astonishment, appearing convinced that
the young man had returned home. One day, he said, the youth
informed him that he had heard from his father, who had given up all
idea of establishing him in Paris, having arranged an advantageous
marriage for him near home; and he had taken his twelve thousand
livres, for which Derues produced a receipt, and started on his
One evening, when nearly dark, Derues had gone out with his guest,
who complained of headache and internal pains. Where did they go?
No one knew; but Denies only returned at daybreak, alone, weary and
exhausted, and the young man was never again heard of.
One of his apprentices was the constant object of reproof. The boy
was accused of negligence, wasting his time, of spending three hours
over a task which might have been done in less than one. When Derues
had convinced the father, a Parisian bourgeois, that his son was a
bad boy and a good-for-nothing, he came to this man one day in a
state of wild excitement.
"Your son," he said, "ran away yesterday with six hundred livres,
with which I had to meet a bill to-day. He knew where I kept this
money, and has taken it."
He threatened to go before a magistrate and denounce the thief, and
was only appeased by being paid the sum he claimed to have lost. But
he had gone out with the lad the evening before, and returned alone
in the early hours of the morning.
However, the veil which concealed the truth was becoming more and
more transparent every day. Three bankruptcies had diminished the
consideration he enjoyed, and people began to listen to complaints
and accusations which till now had been considered mere inventions
designed to injure him. Another attempt at trickery made him feel it
desirable to leave the neighbourhood.
He had rented a house close to his own, the shop of which had been
tenanted for seven or eight years by a wine merchant. He required
from this man, if he wished to remain where he was, a sum of six
hundred livres as a payment for goodwill. Although the wine merchant
considered it an exorbitant charge, yet on reflection he decided to
pay it rather than go, having established a good business on these
premises, as was well known. Before long a still mare arrant piece
of dishonesty gave him an opportunity for revenge. A young man of
good family, who was boarding with him in order to gain some business
experience, having gone into Derues' shop to make some purchases,
amused himself while waiting by idly writing his name on a piece of
blank paper lying on the counter; which he left there without
thinking more about it. Derues, knowing the young man had means, as
soon as he had gone, converted the signed paper into a promissory
note for two thousand livres, to his order, payable at the majority
of the signer. The bill, negotiated in trade, arrived when due at
the wine merchant's, who, much surprised, called his young boarder
and showed him the paper adorned with his signature. The youth was
utterly confounded, having no knowledge of the bill whatever, but
nevertheless could not deny his signature. On examining the paper
carefully, the handwriting was recognised as Derues'. The wine
merchant sent for him, and when he arrived, made him enter a room,
and having locked the door, produced the promissory note. Derues
acknowledged having written it, and tried various falsehoods to
excuse himself. No one listened to him, and the merchant threatened
to place the matter in the hands of the police. Then Derues wept,
implored, fell on his knees, acknowledged his guilt, and begged for
mercy. He agreed to restore the six hundred livres exacted from the
wine merchant, on condition that he should see the note destroyed and
that the matter should end there. He was then about to be married,
and dreaded a scandal.
Shortly after, he married Marie-Louise Nicolais; daughter of a
harness-maker at Melun.
One's first impression in considering this marriage is one of
profound sorrow and utmost pity for the young girl whose destiny was
linked with that of this monster. One thinks of the horrible future;
of youth and innocence blighted by the tainting breath of the
homicide; of candour united to hypocrisy; of virtue to wickedness; of
legitimate desires linked to disgraceful passions; of purity mixed
with corruption. The thought of these contrasts is revolting, and
one pities such a dreadful fate. But we must not decide hastily.
Madame Denies has not been convicted of any active part in her
husband's later crimes, but her history, combined with his, shows no
trace of suffering, nor of any revolt against a terrible complicity.
In her case the evidence is doubtful, and public opinion must decide
In 1773, Derues relinquished retail business, and left the Saint
Victor neighbourhood, having taken an apartment in the rue des Deux
Boules, near the rue Bertin-Poiree, in the parish of St. Germain
1'Auxerrois, where he had been married. He first acted on commission
for the Benedictine-Camalduian fathers of the forest of Senart, who
had heard of him as a man wholly given to piety; then, giving himself
up to usury, he undertook what is known as "business affairs," a
profession which, in such hands, could not fail to be lucrative,
being aided by his exemplary morals and honest appearance. It was
the more easy for him to impose on others, as he could not be accused
of any of the deadly vices which so often end in ruin--gaming, wine,
and women. Until now he had displayed only one passion, that of
avarice, but now another developed itself, that of ambition. He
bought houses and land, and when the money was due, allowed himself
to be sued for it; he bought even lawsuits, which he muddled with all
the skill of a rascally attorney. Experienced in bankruptcy, he
undertook the management of failures, contriving to make dishonesty
appear in the light of unfortunate virtue. When this demon was not
occupied with poison, his hands were busy with every social iniquity;
he could only live and breathe in an atmosphere of corruption.
His wife, who had already presented him with a daughter, gave birth
to a son in February 1774. Derues, in order to better support the
airs of grandeur and the territorial title which he had assumed,
invited persons of distinction to act as sponsors. The child was
baptized Tuesday, February 15th. We give the text of the baptismal
register, as a curiosity:--
"Antoine-Maximilian-Joseph, son of Antoine-Francois Derues,
gentleman, seigneur of Gendeville, Herchies, Viquemont, and other
places, formerly merchant grocer; and of Madame Marie-Louise
Nicolais, his wife. Godfathers, T. H. and T. P., lords of, etc.
etc. Godmothers, Madame M. Fr. C. D. V., etc. etc.
(Signed) A. F. DERUES, Senior."
But all this dignity did not exclude the sheriff's officers, whom, as
befitted so great a man, he treated with the utmost insolence,
overwhelming them with abuse when they came to enforce an execution.
Such scandals had several times aroused the curiosity of his
neighbours, and did not redound to his credit. His landlord, wearied
of all this clamour, and most especially weary of never getting any
rent without a fight for it, gave him notice to quit. Derues removed
to the rue Beaubourg, where he continued to act as commission agent
under the name of Cyrano Derues de Bury.
And now we will concern ourselves no more with the unravelling of
this tissue of imposition; we will wander no longer in this labyrinth
of fraud, of low and vile intrigue, of dark crime of which the clue
disappears in the night, and of which the trace is lost in a doubtful
mixture of blood and mire; we will listen no longer to the cry of the
widow and her four children reduced to beggary, to the groans of
obscure victims, to the cries of terror and the death-groan which
echoed one night through the vaults of a country house near Beauvais.
Behold other victims whose cries are yet louder, behold yet other
crimes and a punishment which equals them in terror! Let these
nameless ghosts, these silent spectres, lose themselves in the clear
daylight which now appears, and make room for other phantoms which
rend their shrouds and issue from the tomb demanding vengeance.
Derues was now soon to have a chance of obtaining immortality.
Hitherto his blows had been struck by chance, henceforth he uses all
the resources of his infernal imagination; he concentrates all his
strength on one point--conceives and executes his crowning piece of
wickedness. He employs for two years all his science as cheat,
forger, and poisoner in extending the net which was to entangle a
whole family; and, taken in his own snare, he struggles in vain; in
vain does he seek to gnaw through the meshes which confine him. The
foot placed on the last rung of this ladder of crime, stands also on
the first step by which he mounts the scaffold.
About a mile from Villeneuve-le-Roi-les-Sens, there stood in 1775 a
handsome house, overlooking the windings of the Yonne on one side,
and on the other a garden and park belonging to the estate of
Buisson-Souef. It was a large property, admirably situated, and
containing productive fields, wood, and water; but not everywhere
kept in good order, and showing something of the embarrassed fortune
of its owner. During some years the only repairs had been those
necessary in the house itself and its immediate vicinity. Here and
there pieces of dilapidated wall threatened to fall altogether, and
enormous stems of ivy had invaded and stifled vigorous trees; in the
remoter portions of the park briers barred the road and made walking
almost impossible. This disorder was not destitute of charm, and at
an epoch when landscape gardening consisted chiefly in straight
alleys, and in giving to nature a cold and monotonous symmetry, one's
eye rested with pleasure on these neglected clumps, on these waters
which had taken a different course to that which art had assigned to
them, on these unexpected and picturesque scenes.
A wide terrace, overlooking the winding river, extended along the
front of the house. Three men were walking on it-two priests, and
the owner of Buisson-Souef, Monsieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte. One
priest was the cure of Villeneuve-le-Roi-lez-Sens, the other was a
Camaldulian monk, who had come to see the cure about a clerical
matter, and who was spending some days at the presbytery. The
conversation did not appear to be lively. Every now and then
Monsieur de Lamotte stood still, and, shading his eyes with his hand
from the brilliant sunlight which flooded the plain, and was strongly
reflected from the water, endeavoured to see if some new object had
not appeared on the horizon, then slowly resumed his walk with a
movement of uneasy impatience. The tower clock struck with a noisy
"Six o'clock already!" he exclaimed. "They will assuredly not arrive
"Why despair?" said the cure. "Your servant has gone to meet them;
we might see their boat any moment."
"But, my father," returned Monsieur de Lamotte, "the long days are
already past. In another hour the mist will rise, and then they
would not venture on the river."
"Well, if that happens, we shall have to be patient; they will stay
all night at some little distance, and you will see them to-morrow
"My brother is right," said the other priest. "Come, monsieur; do
not be anxious."
"You both speak with the indifference of persons to whom family
troubles are unknown."
"What!" said the cure, "do you really think that because our sacred
profession condemns us both to celibacy, we are therefore unable to
comprehend an affection such as yours, on which I myself pronounced
the hallowing benediction of the Church--if you remember--nearly
fifteen years ago?"
"Is it perhaps intentionally, my father, that you recall the date of
my marriage? I readily admit that the love of one's neighbour may
enlighten you as to another love to which you have yourself been a
stranger. I daresay it seems odd to you that a man of my age should
be anxious about so little, as though he were a love-sick youth; but
for some time past I have had presentiments of evil, and I am really
He again stood still, gazing up the river, and, seeing nothing,
resumed his place between the two priests, who had continued their
"Yes," he continued, "I have presentiments which refuse to be shaken
off. I am not so old that age can have weakened my powers and
reduced me to childishness, I cannot even say what I am afraid of,
but separation is painful and causes an involuntary terror. Strange,
is it not? Formerly, I used to leave my wife for months together,
when she was young and my son only, an infant; I loved her
passionately, yet I could go with pleasure. Why, I wonder, is it so
different now? Why should a journey to Paris on business, and a few
hours' delay, make, me so terribly uneasy? Do you remember, my
father," he resumed, after a pause, turning to the cure," do you
remember how lovely Marie looked on our wedding-day? Do you remember
her dazzling complexion and the innocent candour of her expression?-
-the sure token of the most truthful and purest of minds! That is
why I love her so much now; we do not now sigh for one another, but
the second love is stronger than the first, for it is founded on
recollection, and is tranquil and confident in friendship . . . .
It is strange that they have not returned; something must have
happened! If they do not return this evening, and I do not now think
it possible, I shall go to Paris myself to-morrow."
"I think;" said the other priest, "that at twenty you must indeed
have been excitable, a veritable tinder-box, to have retained so much
energy! Come, monsieur, try to calm yourself and have patience: you
yourself admit it can only be a few hours' delay."
"But my son accompanied his mother, and he is our only one, and so
delicate! He alone remains of our three children, and you do not
realise how the affection of parents who feel age approaching is
concentrated on an only child! If I lost Edouard I should die!"
"I suppose, then, as you let him go, his presence at Paris was
"No; his mother went to obtain a loan which is needed for the
improvements required on the estate."
"Why, then, did you let him go?"
"I would willingly have kept him here, but his mother wished to take
him. A separation is as trying to her as to me, and we all but
quarrelled over it. I gave way."
"There was one way of satisfying all three--you might have gone
"Yes, but Monsieur le cure will tell you that a fortnight ago I was
chained to my arm-chair, swearing under my breath like a pagan, and
cursing the follies of my youth!--Forgive me, my father; I mean that
I had the gout, and I forgot that I am not the only sufferer, and
that it racks the old age of the philosopher quite as much as that of
The fresh wind which often rises just at sunset was already rustling
in the leaves; long shadows darkened the course of the Yonne and
stretched across the plain; the water, slightly troubled, reflected a
confused outline of its banks and the clouded blue of the sky. The
three gentlemen stopped at the end of the terrace and gazed into the
already fading distance. A black spot, which they had just observed
in the middle of the river, caught a gleam of light in passing a low
meadow between two hills, and for a moment took shape as a barge,
then was lost again, and could not be distinguished from the water.
Another moment, and it reappeared more distinctly; it was indeed a
barge, and now the horse could be seen towing it against the current.
Again it was lost at a bend of the river shaded by willows, and they
had to resign themselves to incertitude for several minutes. Then a
white handkerchief was waved on the prow of the boat, and Monsieur de
Lamotte uttered a joyful exclamation.
"It is indeed they!" he cried. "Do you see them, Monsieur le cure?
I see my boy; he is waving the handkerchief, and his mother is with
him. But I think there is a third person--yes, there is a man, is
there not? Look well."
"Indeed," said the cure, "if my bad sight does not deceive me, I
should say there was someone seated near the rudder; but it looks
like a child."
"Probably someone from the neighbourhood, who has profited by the
chance of a lift home."
The boat was advancing rapidly; they could now hear the cracking of
the whip with which the servant urged on the tow-horse. And now it
stopped, at an easy landing-place, barely fifty paces from the
terrace. Madame de Lamotte landed with her son and the stranger, and
her husband descended from the terrace to meet her. Long before he
arrived at the garden gate, his son's arms were around his neck.
"Are you quite well, Edouard ?"
"Oh yes, perfectly."
"And your mother?"
"Quite well too. She is behind, in as great a hurry to meet you as I
am. But she can't run as I do, and you must go half-way."
"Whom have you brought with you?"
"A gentleman from Paris."
"Yes, a Monsieur Derues. But mamma will tell you all about that.
Here she is."
The cure and the monk arrived just as Monsieur de Lamotte folded his
wife in his arms. Although she had passed her fortieth year, she was
still beautiful enough to justify her husband's eulogism. A moderate
plumpness had preserved the freshness and softness of her skin; her
smile was charming, and her large blue eyes expressed both gentleness
and goodness. Seen beside this smiling and serene countenance, the
appearance of the stranger was downright repulsive, and Monsieur de
Lamotte could hardly repress a start of disagreeable surprise at the
pitiful and sordid aspect of this diminutive person, who stood apart,
looking overwhelmed by conscious inferiority. He was still more
astonished when he saw his son take him by the hand with friendly
kindness, and heard him say--
"Will you come with me, my friend? We will follow my father and
Madame de Lamotte, having greeted the cure, looked at the monk, who
was a stranger to her. A word or two explained matters, and she took
her husband's arm, declining to answer any questions until she
reached the louse, and laughing at his curiosity.
Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, one of the king's
equerries, seigneur of Grange-Flandre, Valperfond, etc., had married
Marie-Francoise Perier in 1760. Their fortune resembled many others
of that period: it was more nominal than actual, more showy than
solid. Not that the husband and wife had any cause for
self-reproach, or that their estates had suffered from dissipation;
unstained by the corrupt manners of the period, their union had been
a model of sincere affection, of domestic virtue and mutual
confidence. Marie-Francoise was quite beautiful enough to have made
a sensation in society, but she renounced it of her own accord, in
order to devote herself to the duties of a wife and mother. The only
serious grief she and her husband had experienced was the loss of
two young children. Edouard, though delicate from his birth, had
nevertheless passed the trying years of infancy and early
adolescence; he was them nearly fourteen. With a sweet and rather
effeminate expression, blue eyes and a pleasant smile, he was a
striking likeness of his mother. His father's affection exaggerated
the dangers which threatened the boy, and in his eyes the slightest
indisposition became a serious malady; his mother shared these fears,
and in consequence of this anxiety Edouard's education had been much
neglected. He had been brought up at Buisson-Souef, and allowed to
run wild from morning till night, like a young fawn, exercising the
vigour and activity of its limbs. He had still the simplicity and
general ignorance of a child of nine or ten.
The necessity of appearing at court and suitably defraying the
expenses of his office had made great inroads on Monsieur de
Lamotte's fortune. He had of late lived at Buisson-Souef in the most
complete retirement; but notwithstanding this too long deferred
attention to his affairs, his property was ruining him, for the place
required a large expenditure, and absorbed a large amount of his
income without making any tangible return. He had always hesitated
to dispose of the estate on account of its associations; it was there
he had met, courted, and married his beloved wife; there that the
happy days of their youth had been spent; there that they both wished
to grow old together.
Such was the family to which accident had now introduced Derues. The
unfavourable impression made on Monsieur de Lamotte had not passed
unperceived by him; but, being quite accustomed to the instinctive
repugnance which his first appearance generally inspired, Derues had
made a successful study of how to combat and efface this antagonistic
feeling, and replace it by confidence, using different means
according to the persons he had to deal with. He understood at once
that vulgar methods would be useless with Monsieur de Lamotte, whose
appearance and manners indicated both the man of the world and the
man of intelligence, and also he had to consider the two priests, who
were both observing him attentively. Fearing a false step, he
assumed the most simple and insignificant deportment he could,
knowing that sooner or later a third person would rehabilitate him in
the opinion of those present. Nor did he wait long.
Arrived at the drawing-room, Monsieur de Lamotte requested the
company to be seated. Derues acknowledged the courtesy by a bow, and
there was a moment of silence, while Edouard and his mother looked at
each other and smiled. The silence was broken by Madame de Lamotte.
"Dear Pierre," she said, " you are surprised to see us accompanied by
a stranger, but when you hear what he has done for us you will thank
me for having induced him to return here with us."
"Allow me," interrupted Derues, "allow me to tell you what happened.
The gratitude which madame imagines she owes me causes her to
exaggerate a small service which anybody would have been delighted to
"No, monsieur; let me tell it."
"Let mamma tell the story," said Edouard.
"What is it, then? What happened?" said Monsieur de Lamotte.
"I am quite ashamed," answered Derues ; " but I obey your wishes,
"Yes," replied Madame de Lamotte, "keep your seat, I wish it.
Imagine, Pierre, just six days ago, an accident happened to Edouard
and me which might have had serious consequences."
"And you never wrote to me, Marie?"
"I should only have made you anxious, and to no purpose. I had some
business in one of the most crowded parts of Paris; I took a chair,
and Edouard walked beside me. In the rue Beaubourg we were suddenly
surrounded by a mob of low people, who were quarrelling. Carriages
stopped the way, and the horses of one of these took fright in the
confusion and uproar, and bolted, in spite of the coachman's
endeavours to keep them in hand. It was a horrible tumult, and I
tried to get out of the chair, but at that moment the chairmen were
both knocked down, and I fell. It is a miracle I was not crushed. I
was dragged insensible from under the horses' feet and carried into
the house before which all this took place. There, sheltered in a
shop and safe from the crowd which encumbered the doorway, I
recovered my senses, thanks to the assistance of Monsieur Derues, who
lives there. But that is not all: when I recovered I could not walk,
I had been so shaken by the fright, the fall, and the danger I had
incurred, and I had to accept his offer of finding me another chair
when the crowd should disperse, and meanwhile to take shelter in his
rooms with his wife, who showed me the kindest attention."
"Monsieur--" said Monsieur de Lamotte, rising. But his wife stopped
"Wait a moment; I have not finished yet. Monsieur Derues came back
in an hour, and I was then feeling better; but before, I left I was
stupid enough to say that I had been robbed in the confusion; my
diamond earrings, which had belonged to my mother, were gone. You
cannot imagine the trouble Monsieur Derues took to discover the
thief, and all the appeals he made to the police--I was really
Although Monsieur de Lamotte did not yet understand what motive,
other than gratitude, had induced his wife to bring this stranger
home with her, he again rose from his seat, and going to Derues, held
out his hand.
"I understand now the attachment my son shows for you. You are wrong
in trying to lessen your good deed in order to escape from our
gratitude, Monsieur Derues."
"Monsieur Derues?" inquired the monk.
"Do you know the name, my father?" asked Madame de Lamotte eagerly.
"Edouard had already told me," said the monk, approaching Derues.
"You live in the, rue Beaubourg, and you are Monsieur Derues,
formerly a retail grocer?"
"The same, my brother."
"Should you require a reference, I can give it. Chance, madame, has
made you acquainted with a man whose, reputation for piety and honour
is well established; he will permit me to add my praises to yours."
"Indeed, I do not know how I deserve so much honour."
"I am, Brother Marchois, of the Camaldulian order. You see that I
know you well."
The monk then proceeded to explain that his community had confided
their affairs to Derues' honesty, he undertaking to dispose of the
articles manufactured by the monks in their retreat. He then
recounted a number of good actions and of marks of piety, which were
heard with pleasure and admiration by those present. Derues received
this cloud of incense with an appearance of sincere modesty and
humility, which would have deceived the most skilful physiognomist.
When the eulogistic warmth of the good brother began to slacken it
was already nearly dark, and the two priests had barely time to
regain the presbytery without incurring the risk of breaking their
necks in the rough road which led to it. They departed at once, and
a room was got ready for Derues.
"To-morrow," said Madame de Lamotte as they separated, " you can
discuss with my husband the business on which you came: to-morrow, or
another day, for I beg that you will make yourself at home here, and
the longer you will stay the better it will please us."
The night was a sleepless one for Derues, whose brain was occupied by
a confusion of criminal plans. The chance which had caused his
acquaintance with Madame de Lamotte, and even more the accident of
Brother Marchois appearing in the nick of time, to enlarge upon the
praises which gave him so excellent a character, seemed like
favourable omens not to be neglected. He began to imagine fresh
villanies, to outline an unheard-of crime, which as yet he could not
definitely trace out; but anyhow there would be plunder to seize and
blood to spill, and the spirit of murder excited and kept him awake,
just as remorse might have troubled the repose of another.
Meanwhile Madame de Lamotte, having retired with her husband, was
saying to the latter--
"Well, now! what do you think of my protege, or rather, of the
protector which Heaven sent me?"
"I think that physiognomy is often very deceptive, for I should have
been quite willing to hang him on the strength of his."
"It is true that his appearance is not attractive, and it led me into
a foolish mistake which I quickly regretted. When I recovered
consciousness, and saw him attending on me, much worse and more
carelessly dressed than he is to-day "
"You were frightened?"
"No, not exactly; but I thought I must be indebted to a man of the
lowest class, to some poor fellow who was really starving, and my
first effort at gratitude was to offer him a piece of gold."
"Did he refuse it?"
"No; he accepted it for the poor of the parish. Then he told me his
name, Cyrano Derues de Bury, and told me that the shop and the goods
it contained were his own property, and that he occupied an apartment
in the house. I floundered in excuses, but he replied that he
blessed the mistake, inasmuch as it would enable him to relieve some
unfortunate people. I was so touched with his goodness that I
offered him a second piece of gold."
"You were quite right, my dear; but what induced you to bring him to
Buisson ? I should have gone to see and thank him the first time I
went to Paris, and meanwhile a letter would have been sufficient.
Did he carry his complaisance and interest so far as to offer you his
"Ah! I see you cannot get over your first impression--honestly, is it
"Indeed," exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte, laughing heartily, "it is
truly unlucky for a decent man to have such a face as that! He ought
to give Providence no rest until he obtains the gift of another
"Always these prejudices! It is not the poor man's fault that he was
born like that."
"Well, you said something about business we were to discuss together
--what is it?"
"I believe he can help us to obtain the money we are in want of."
"And who told him that we wanted any?"
"You! Come, it certainly seems that this gentleman is to be a family
friend. And pray what induced you to confide in him to this extent?"
"You would have known by now, if you did not interrupt. Let me tell
you all in order. The day after my accident I went out with Edouard
about midday, and I went to again express my gratitude for his
kindness. I was received by Madame Derues, who told me her husband
was out, and that he had gone to my hotel to inquire after me and my
son, and also to see if anything had been heard of my stolen
earrings. She appeared a simple and very ordinary sort of person,
and she begged me to sit down and wait for her husband. I thought it
would be uncivil not to do so, and Monsieur Derues appeared in about
two hours. The first thing he did, after having saluted me and
inquired most particularly after my health, was to ask for his
children, two charming little things, fresh and rosy, whom he covered
with kisses. We talked about indifferent matters, then he offered me
his services, placed himself at my disposal, and begged me to spare
neither his time nor his trouble. I then told him what had brought
me to Paris, and also the disappointments I had encountered, for of
all the people I had seen not one had given me a favourable answer.
He said that he might possibly be of some use to me, and the very
next day told 'me that he had seen a capitalist, but could do nothing
without more precise information. Then I thought it might be better
to bring him here, so that he might talk matters over with you. When
I first asked him, he refused altogether, and only yielded to my
earnest entreaties and Edouard's. This is the history, dear, of the
circumstances under which I made Monsieur Derues' acquaintance. I
hope you do not think I have acted foolishly?"
"Very well," said Monsieur de Lamotte, " I will talk to him
to-morrow, and in any case I promise you I will be civil to him. I
will not forget that he has been useful to you." With which promise
the conversation came to a close.
Skilled in assuming any kind of mask and in playing every sort of
part, Derues did not find it difficult to overcome Monsieur de
Lamotte's prejudices, and in order to obtain the goodwill of the
father he made a skilful use of the friendship which the, son had
formed with him. One can hardly think that he already meditated the
crime which he carried out later; one prefers to believe that these
atrocious plots were not invented so long beforehand. But he was
already a prey to the idea, and nothing henceforth could turn him
from it. By what route he should arrive at the distant goal which
his greed foresaw, he knew not as yet, but he had said to himself,
"One day this property shall be mine." It was the death-warrant of
those who owned it.
We have no details, no information as to Derues' first visit to
Buisson-Souef, but when he departed he had obtained the complete
confidence of the family, and a regular correspondence was carried on
between him and the Lamottes. It was thus that he was able to
exercise his talent of forgery, and succeeded in imitating the
writing of this unfortunate lady so as to be able even to deceive her
husband. Several months passed, and none of the hopes which Derues
had inspired were realised; a loan was always on the point of being
arranged, and regularly failed because of some unforeseen
circumstance. These pretended negotiations were managed by Derues
with so much skill and cunning that instead of being suspected, he
was pitied for having so much useless trouble. Meanwhile, Monsieur
de Lamotte's money difficulties increased, and the sale of
Buisson-Souef became inevitable. Derues offered himself as a
purchaser, and actually acquired the property by private contract,
dated December aa, 1775. It was agreed between the parties that the
purchase-money of one hundred and thirty thousand livres should not
be paid until 1776, in order to allow Derues to collect the various
sums at his disposal. It was an important purchase, which, he said,
he only made on account of his interest in Monsieur de Lamotte, and
his wish to put an end to the latter's difficulties.
But when the period agreed on arrived, towards the middle of 1776,
Derues found it impossible to pay. It is certain that he never meant
to do so; and a special peculiarity of this dismal story is the
avarice of the man, the passion for money which overruled all his
actions, and occasionally caused him to neglect necessary prudence.
Enriched by three bankruptcies, by continual thefts, by usury, the
gold he acquired promptly seemed to disappear. He stuck at nothing
to obtain it, and once in his grasp, he never let it go again.
Frequently he risked the loss of his character for honest dealing
rather than relinquish a fraction of his wealth. According to many
credible people, it was generally believed by his contemporaries that
this monster possessed treasures which he had buried in the ground,
the hiding-place of which no one knew, not even his wife. Perhaps it
is only a vague and unfounded rumour, which should be rejected; or is
it; perhaps, a truth which failed to reveal itself ? It would be
strange if after the lapse of half a century the hiding-place were to
open and give up the fruit of his rapine. Who knows whether some of
this treasure, accidentally discovered, may not have founded fortunes
whose origin is unknown, even to their possessors?
Although it was of the utmost importance not to arouse Monsieur de
Lamotte's suspicions just at the moment when he ought to be paying
him so large a sum, Derues was actually at this time being sued by
his creditors. But in those days ordinary lawsuits had no publicity;
they struggled and died between the magistrates and advocates without
causing any sound. In order to escape the arrest and detention with
which he was threatened, he took refuge at Buisson-Souef with his
family, and remained there from Whitsuntide till the end of November.
After being treated all this time as a friend, Derues departed for
Paris, in order, he said, to receive an inheritance which would
enable him to pay the required purchase-money.
This pretended inheritance was that of one of his wife's relations,
Monsieur Despeignes-Duplessis, who had been murdered in his country
house, near Beauvais. It has been strongly suspected that Derues was
guilty of this crime. There are, however, no positive proofs, and we
prefer only to class it as a simple possibility.
Derues had made formal promises to Monsieur de Lamotte, and it was no
longer possible for him to elude them. Either the payment must now
be made, or the contract annulled. A new correspondence began
between the creditors and the debtor; friendly letters were
exchanged, full of protestations on one side and confidence on the
other. But all Derues' skill could only obtain a delay of a few
months. At length Monsieur de Lamotte, unable to leave Buisson-Souef
himself, on account of important business which required his
presence, gave his wife a power of attorney, consented to another
separation, and sent her to Paris, accompanied by Edouard, and as if
to hasten their misfortunes, sent notice of their coming to the
We have passed quickly over the interval between the first meeting of
Monsieur de Lamotte and Derues, and the moment when the victims fell
into the trap: we might easily have invented long conversations, and
episodes which would have brought Derues' profound hypocrisy into
greater relief; but the reader now knows all that we care to show
him. We have purposely lingered in our narration in the endeavour to
explain the perversities of this mysterious organisation; we have
over-loaded it with all the facts which seem to throw any light upon
this sombre character. But now, after these long preparations, the
drama opens, the scenes become rapid and lifelike; events, long
impeded, accumulate and pass quickly before us, the action is
connected and hastens to an end. We shall see Derues like an
unwearied Proteus, changing names, costumes, language, multiplying
himself in many forms, scattering deceptions and lies from one end of
France to the other; and finally, after so many efforts, such
prodigies of calculation and activity, end by wrecking himself
against a corpse.
The letter written at Buisson-Souef arrived at Paris the morning of
the 14th of December. In the course of the day an unknown man
presented himself at the hotel where Madame de Lamotte and her son
had stayed before, and inquired what rooms were vacant. There were
four, and he engaged them for a certain Dumoulin, who had arrived
that morning from Bordeaux, and who had passed through Paris in order
to meet, at some little distance, relations who would return with
him. A part of the rent was paid in advance, and it was expressly
stipulated that until his return the rooms should not be let to
anyone, as the aforesaid Dumoulin might return with his family and
require them at any moment. The same person went to other hotels in
the neighbourhood and engaged vacant rooms, sometimes for a stranger
he expected, sometimes for friends whom he could not accommodate
At about three o'clock, the Place de Greve was full of people,
thousands of heads crowded the windows of the surrounding houses. A
parricide was to pay the penalty of his crime--a crime committed
under atrocious circumstances, with an unheard-of refinement of
barbarity. The punishment corresponded to the crime: the wretched
man was broken on the wheel. The most complete and terrible silence
prevailed in the multitude eager for ghastly emotions. Three times
already had been heard the heavy thud of the instrument which broke
the victim's limbs, and a loud cry escaped the sufferer which made
all who heard it shudder with horror, One man only, who, in spite of
all his efforts, could not get through the crowd and cross the
square, remained unmoved, and looking contemptuously towards the
criminal, muttered, "Idiot! he was unable to deceive anyone!"
A few moments later the flames began to rise from the funeral pile,
the crowd began to move, and the than was able to make his way
through and reach one of the streets leading out of the square.
The sky was overcast, and the grey daylight hardly penetrated the
narrow lane, hideous and gloomy as the name it bore, and which; only
a few years ago, still wound like a long serpent through the mire of
this quarter. Just then it was deserted, owing to the attraction of
the execution close by. The man who had just left the square
proceeded slowly, attentively reading all the inscriptions on the
doors. He stopped at Number 75, where on the threshold of a shop sat
a stout woman busily knitting, over whom one read in big yellow
letters, "Widow Masson." He saluted the woman, and asked--
"Is there not a cellar to let in this house?"
"There is, master," answered the widow.
"Can I speak to the owner?"
"And that is myself, by your leave."
"Will you show me the cellar? I am a provincial wine merchant, my
business often brings me to Paris, and I want a cellar where I could
deposit wine which I sell on commission."
They went down together. After examining the place, and ascertaining
that it was not too damp for the expensive wine which he wished to
leave there, the man agreed about the rent, paid the first term in
advance, and was entered on the widow Masson's books under the name
of Ducoudray. It is hardly necessary to remark that it should have
When he returned home in the evening, his wife told him that a large
box had arrived.
"It is all right," he said, "the carpenter from whom I ordered it is
a man of his word." Then he supped, and caressed his children. The
next day being Sunday, he received the communion, to the great
edification of the devout people of the neighbourhood.
On Monday the 16th Madame de Lamotte and Edouard, descending from the
Montereau stagecoach, were met by Derues and his wife.
"Did my husband write to you, Monsieur Derues?" inquired Madame de
"Yes, madame, two days ago; and I have arranged our dwelling for your
"What! but did not Monsieur de Lamotte ask you to engage the rooms I
have had before at the Hotel de France?"
"He did not say so, and if that was your idea I trust you will change
it. Do not deprive me of the pleasure of offering you the
hospitality which for so long I have accepted from you. Your room is
quite ready, also one for this dear boy," and so saying he took
Edouard's hand; "and I am sure if you ask his opinion, he will say
you had better be content to stay with me."
"Undoubtedly," said the boy; "and I do not see why there need be any
hesitation between friends."
Whether by accident, or secret presentiment, or because she foresaw a
possibility of business discussions between them, Madame de Lamotte
objected to this arrangement. Derues having a business appointment
which he was bound to keep, desired his wife to accompany the
Lamottes to the Hotel de France, and in case of their not being able
to find rooms there, mentioned three others as the only ones in the
quarter where they could be comfortably accommodated. Two hours
later Madame de Lamotte and her son returned to his house in the rue
The house which Derues occupied stood opposite the rue des Menoriers,
and was pulled down quite lately to make way for the rue Rambuteau.
In 1776 it was one of the finest houses of the rue Beaubourg, and it
required a certain income to be able to live there, the rents being
tolerably high. A large arched doorway gave admittance to a passage,
lighted at the other end by a small court, on the far side of which
was the shop into which Madame de Lamotte had been taken on the
occasion of the accident. The house staircase was to the right of
the passage; and the Derues' dwelling on the entresol. The first
room, lighted by a window looking into the court, was used as a
dining room, and led into a simply furnished sitting-room, such as
was generally found among the bourgeois and tradespeople of this
period. To the right of the sitting-room was a large closet, which
could serve as a small study or could hold a bed; to the left was a
door opening into the Derues' bedroom, which had been prepared for
Madame de Lamotte. Madame Derues would occupy one of the two beds
which stood in the alcove. Derues had a bed made up in the
sitting-room, and Edouard was accommodated in the little study.
Nothing particular happened during the first few days which followed
the Lamottes' arrival. They had not come to Paris only on account of
the Buisson-Souef affairs. Edouard was nearly sixteen, and after
much hesitation his parents had decided on placing him in some school
where his hitherto neglected education might receive more attention.
Derues undertook to find a capable tutor, in whose house the boy
would be brought up in the religious feeling which the cure of
Buisson and his own exhortations had already tended to develop.
These proceedings, added to Madame de Lamotte's endeavours to collect
various sums due to her husband, took some time. Perhaps, when on
the point of executing a terrible crime, Derues tried to postpone the
fatal moment, although, considering his character, this seems
unlikely, for one cannot do him the honour of crediting him with a
single moment of remorse, doubt, or pity. Far from it, it appears
from all the information which can be gathered, that Derues, faithful
to his own traditions, was simply experimenting on his unfortunate
guests, for no sooner were they in his house than both began to
complain of constant nausea, which they had never suffered from
before. While he thus ascertained the strength of their
constitution, he was able, knowing the cause of the malady, to give
them relief, so that Madame de Lamotte, although she grew daily
weaker, had so much confidence in him as to think it unnecessary to
call in a doctor. Fearing to alarm her husband, she never mentioned
her sufferings, and her letters only spoke of the care and kind
attention which she received.
On the 15th of January, 1777, Edouard was placed in a school in the
rue de 1'Homme Arme. His mother never saw him again. She went out
once more to place her husband's power of attorney with a lawyer in
the rue de Paon. On her return she felt so weak and broken-down that
she was obliged to go to bed and remain there for several days. On
January 29th the unfortunate lady had risen, and was sitting near the
window which overlooked the deserted rue des Menetriers, where clouds
of snow were drifting before the wind. Who can guess the sad
thoughts which may have possessed her?--all around dark, cold, and
silent, tending to produce painful depression and involuntary dread.
To escape the gloomy ideas which besieged her, her mind went back to
the smiling times of her youth and marriage. She recalled the time
when, alone at Buisson during her husband's enforced absences, she
wandered with her child in the cool and shaded walks of the park, and
sat out in the evening, inhaling the scent of the flowers, and
listening to the murmur of the water, or the sound of the whispering
breeze in the leaves. Then, coming back from these sweet
recollections to reality, she shed tears, and called on her husband
and son. So deep was her reverie that she did not hear the room door
open, did not perceive that darkness had come on. The light of a
candle, dispersing the shadows, made her start; she turned her head,
and saw Derues coming towards her. He smiled, and she made an effort
to keep back the tears which were shining in her eyes, and to appear
"I am afraid I disturb you," he said. "I came to ask a favour,
"What is it, Monsieur Derues?" she inquired.
"Will you allow me to have a large chest brought into this room? I
ought to pack some valuable things in it which are in my charge, and
are now in this cupboard. I am afraid it will be in your way."
"Is it not your own house, and is it not rather I who am in the way
and a cause of trouble? Pray have it brought in, and try to forget
that I am here. You are most kind to me, but I wish I could spare
you all this trouble and that I were fit to go back to Buisson. I
had a letter from my husband yesterday----"
"We will talk about that presently, if you wish it," said Derues.
"I will go and fetch the servant to help me to carry in this chest.
I have put it off hitherto, but it really must be sent in three
He went away, and returned in a few minutes. The chest was carried
in, and placed before the cupboard at the foot of the bed. Alas!
the poor lady little thought it was her own coffin which stood before
The maid withdrew, and Derues assisted Madame de Lamotte to a seat
near the fire, which he revived with more fuel. He sat down opposite
to her, and by the feeble light of the candle placed on a small table
between them could contemplate at leisure the ravages wrought by
poison on her wasted features.
"I saw your son to-day," he said: " he complains that you neglect
him, and have not seen him for twelve days. He does not know you
have been ill, nor did I tell him. The dear boy! he loves you so
"And I also long to see him. My friend, I cannot tell you what
terrible presentiments beset me; it seems as if I were threatened
with some great misfortune; and just now, when you came in, I could
think only of death. What is the cause of this languor and weakness?
It is surely no temporary ailment. Tell me the truth: am I not
dreadfully altered? and do you not think my husband will be shocked
when he sees me like this?"
"You are unnecessarily anxious," replied Derues; "it is rather a
failing of yours. Did I not see you last year tormenting yourself
about Edouard's health, when he was not even thinking of being ill?
I am not so soon alarmed. My own old profession, and that of
chemistry, which I studied in my youth, have given me some
acquaintance with medicine. I have frequently been consulted, and
have prescribed for patients whose condition was supposed to be
desperate, and I can assure you I have never seen a better and
stronger constitution than yours. Try to calm yourself, and do not
call up chimeras; because a mind at ease is the greatest enemy of
illness. This depression will pass, and then you will regain your
"May God grant it! for I feel weaker every day."
"We have still some business to transact together. The notary at
Beauvais writes that the difficulties which prevented his paying over
the inheritance of my wife's relation, Monsieur Duplessis, have
mostly disappeared. I have a hundred thousand livres at my
disposal,--that is to say, at yours,--and in a month at latest I
shall be able to pay off my debt. You ask me to be sincere," he
continued, with a tinge of reproachful irony; "be sincere in your
turn, madame, and acknowledge that you and your husband have both
felt uneasy, and that the delays I have been obliged to ask for have
not seemed very encouraging to you?"
"It is true," she replied; " but we never questioned your good
"And you were right. One is not always able to carry out one's
intentions; events can always upset our calculations; but what really
is in our power is the desire to do right--to be honest; and I can
say that I never intentionally wronged anyone. And now. I am happy
in being able to fulfil my promises to you. I trust when I am the
owner of Buisson-Souef you will not feel obliged to leave it."
"Thank you; I should like to come occasionally, for all my happy
recollections are connected with it. Is it necessary for me to
accompany you to Beauvais?"
"Why should you not? The change would do you good."
She looked up at him and smiled sadly. "I am not in a fit state to
"Not if you imagine that you are unable, certainly. Come, have you
any confidence in me?"
"The most complete confidence, as you know."
"Very well, then: trust to my care. This very evening I will prepare
a draught for you to take to-morrow morning, and I will even now fix
the duration of this terrible malady which frightens you so much. In
two days I shall fetch Edouard from his school to celebrate the
beginning of your convalescence, and we will start, at latest, on
February 1st. You are astonished at what I say, but you shall see if
I am not a good doctor, and much cleverer than many who pass for such
merely because the have obtained a diploma."
"Then, doctor, I will place myself in your hands."
"Remember what I say. You will leave this on February 1st."
"To begin this cure, can you ensure my sleeping to-night?"
"Certainly. I will go now, and send my wife to you. She will bring
a draught, which you must promise to take."
"I will exactly follow your prescriptions. Goodnight, my friend."
"Good-night, madame; and take courage"; and bowing low, he left the
The rest of the evening was spent in preparing the fatal medicine.
The next morning, an hour or two after Madame de Lamotte had
swallowed it, the maid who had given it to her came and told Derues
the invalid was sleeping very heavily and snoring, and asked if she
ought to be awoke. He went into the room, and, opening the curtains,
approached the bed. He listened for some time, and recognised that
the supposed snoring was really he death-rattle. He sent the servant
off into the country with a letter to one of his friends, telling her
not to return until the Monday following, February 3rd. He also sent
away his wife, on some unknown pretext, and remained alone with his
So terrible a situation ought to have troubled the mind of the most
hardened criminal. A man familiar with murder and accustomed to shed
blood might have felt his heart sink, and, in the absence of pity,
might have experienced disgust at the sight of this prolonged and
useless torture; but Derues, calm and easy, as if unconscious of
evil, sat coolly beside the bed, as any doctor might have done. From
time to time he felt the slackening pulse, and looked at the glassy
and sightless eyes which turned in their orbits, and he saw without
terror the approach of night, which rendered this awful 'tete-a-tete'
even more horrible. The most profound silence reigned in the house,
the street was deserted, and the only sound heard was caused by an
icy rain mixed with snow driven against the glass, and occasionally
the howl of the wind, which penetrated the chimney and scattered the
ashes. A single candle placed behind the curtains lighted this
dismal scene, and the irregular flicker of its flame cast weird
reflections and dancing shadows an the walls of the alcove. There
came a lull in the wind, the rain ceased, and during this instant of
calm someone knocked, at first gently, and then sharply, at the outer
door. Derues dropped the dying woman's hand and bent forward to
listen. The knock was repeated, and he grew pale. He threw the
sheet, as if it were a shroud, over his victim's head drew the
curtains of the alcove, and went to the door. "Who is there?" he
"Open, Monsieur Derues," said a voice which he recognised as that of
a woman of Chartres whose affairs he managed, and who had entrusted
him with sundry deeds in order that he might receive the money due to
her. This woman had begun to entertain doubts as to Derues' honesty,
and as she was leaving Paris the next day, had resolved to get the
papers out of his hands.
"Open the door," she repeated. "Don't you know my voice?"
"I am sorry I cannot let you in. My servant is out: she has taken
the key and locked the door outside."
"You must let me in," the woman continued; "it is absolutely
necessary I should speak to you."
"I leave Paris to-morrow, and I must have those papers to-night."
He again refused, but she spoke firmly and decidedly. "I must come
in. The porter said you were all out, but, from the rue des
Menetriers I could see the light in your room. My brother is with
me, and I left him below. I shall call him if you don't open the
"Come in, then," said Derues; "your papers are in the sitting-room.
Wait here, and I will fetch them." The woman looked at him and took
his hand. "Heavens! how pale you are! What is the matter?"
"Nothing is the matter: will you wait here? "But she would not
release his arm, and followed him into the sitting-room, where Derues
began to seek hurriedly among the various papers which covered a
table. "Here they are," he said; "now you can go."
"Really," said the woman, examining her deeds carefully, "never yet
did I see you in such a hurry to give up things which don't belong to
you. But do hold that candle steadily; your hand is shaking so that
I cannot see to read."
At that moment the silence which prevailed all round was broken by a
cry of anguish, a long groan proceeding from the chamber to the right
of the sitting-room.
"What is that?" cried the woman. "Surely it is a dying person!"
The sense of the danger which threatened made Derues pull himself
together. "Do not be alarmed," he said. "My wife has been seized
with a violent fever; she is quite delirious now, and that is why I
told the porter to let no one come up."
But the groans in the next room continued, and the unwelcome visitor,
overcome by terror which she could neither surmount nor explain, took
a hasty leave, and descended the staircase with all possible
rapidity. As soon as he could close the door, Derues returned to the
Nature frequently collects all her expiring strength at the last
moment of existence. The unhappy lady struggled beneath her
coverings; the agony she suffered had given her a convulsive energy,
and inarticulate sounds proceeded from her mouth. Derues approached
and held her on the bed. She sank back on the pillow, shuddering
convulsively, her hands plucking and twisting the sheets, her teeth
chattering and biting the loose hair which fell over her face and
shoulders. "Water! water!" she cried; and then, "Edouard,--my
husband!--Edouard!--is it you?" Then rising with a last effort, she
seized her murderer by the arm, repeating, "Edouard!--oh!" and then
fell heavily, dragging Derues down with her. His face was against
hers; he raised his head, but the dying hand, clenched in agony, had
closed upon him like a vise. The icy fingers seemed made of iron and
could not be opened, as though the victim had seized on her assassin
as a prey, and clung to the proof of his crime.
Derues at last freed himself, and putting his hand on her heart, "It
is over," he remarked; "she has been a long time about it. What
o'clock is it? Nine! She has struggled against death for twelve
While the limbs still retained a little warmth, he drew the feet
together, crossed the hands on the breast, and placed the body in the
chest. When he had locked it up, he remade the bed, undressed
himself, and slept comfortably in the other one.
The next day, February 1st, the day he had fixed for the "going out"
of Madame de Lamotte, he caused the chest to be placed on a hand-cart
and carried at about ten o'clock in the morning to the workshop of a
carpenter of his acquaintance called Mouchy, who dwelt near the
Louvre. The two commissionaires employed had been selected in
distant quarters, and did not know each other. They were well paid,
and each presented with a bottle of wine. These men could never be
traced. Derues requested the carpenter's wife to allow the chest to
remain in the large workshop, saying he had forgotten something at
his own house, and would return to fetch it in three hours. But,
instead of a few hours, he left it for two whole days--why, one does
not know, but it may be supposed that he wanted the time to dig a
trench in a sort of vault under the staircase leading to the cellar
in the rue de la Mortellerie. Whatever the cause, the delay might
have been fatal, and did occasion an unforeseen encounter which
nearly betrayed him. But of all the actors in this scene he alone
knew the real danger he incurred, and his coolness never deserted him
for a moment.
The third day, as he walked alongside the handcart on which the chest
was being conveyed, he was accosted at Saint Germain 1'Auxerrois by a
creditor who had obtained a writ of execution against him, and at the
imperative sign made by this man the porter stopped. The creditor
attacked Derues violently, reproaching him for his bad faith in
language which was both energetic and uncomplimentary; to which the
latter replied in as conciliatory a manner as he could assume. But
it was impossible to silence the enemy, and an increasing crowd of
idlers began to assemble round them.
"When will you pay me?" demanded the creditor. "I have an execution
against you. What is there in that box? Valuables which you cart
away secretly, in order to laugh at my just claims, as you did two
Derues shuddered all over; he exhausted himself in protestations; but
the other, almost beside himself, continued to shout.
"Oh!" he said, turning to the crowd, "all these tricks and grimaces
and signs of the cross are no good. I must have my money, and as I
know what his promises are worth, I will pay myself! Come, you
knave, make haste. Tell me what there is in that box; open it, or I
will fetch the police."
The crowd was divided between the creditor and debtor, and possibly a
free fight would have begun, but the general attention was distracted
by the arrival of another spectator. A voice heard above all the
tumult caused a score of heads to turn, it was the voice of a woman
"The abominable history of Leroi de Valine, condemned to death at the
age of sixteen for having poisoned his entire family!"
Continually crying her wares, the drunken, staggering woman
approached the crowd, and striking out right and left with fists and
elbows, forced her way to Derues.
"Ah! ah!" said she, after looking him well over, "is it you, my
gossip Derues! Have you again a little affair on hand like the one
when you set fire to your shop in the rue Saint-Victor?"
Derues recognised the hawker who had abused him on the threshold of
his shop some years previously, and whom he had never seen since.
"Yes, yes," she continued, "you had better look at me with your
little round cat's eyes. Are you going to say you don't know me?"
Derues appealed to his creditor. "You see," he said, "to what
insults you are exposing me. I do not know this woman who abuses
"What!--you don't know me! You who accused me of being a thief! But
luckily the Maniffets have been known in Paris as honest people for
generations, while as for you----"
"Sir," said Derues, "this case contains valuable wine which I am
commissioned to sell. To-morrow I shall receive the money for it;
to-morrow, in the course of the day, I will pay what I owe you. But
I am waited for now, do not in Heaven's name detain me longer, and
thus deprive me of the means of paying at all."
"Don't believe him, my good man," said the hawker; "lying comes
natural to him always."
"Sir, I promise on my oath you shall be paid tomorrow; you had better
trust the word of an honest man rather than the ravings of a drunken
The creditor still hesitated, but, another person now spoke in
Derues' favour; it was the carpenter Mouchy, who had inquired the
cause of the quarrel.
"For God's sake," he exclaimed, "let the gentleman go on. That chest
came from my workshop, and I know there is wine inside it; he told my
wife so two days ago."
"Will you be surety for me, my friend?" asked Derues.
"Certainly I will; I have not known you for ten years in order to
leave you in trouble and refuse to answer for you. What the devil
are respectable people to be stopped like this in a public place?
Come, sir, believe his word, as I do."
After some more discussion, the porter was at last allowed to proceed
with his hand-cart. The hawker wanted to interfere, but Mouchy
warned her off and ordered her to be silent. "Ah! ah!" she cried,
"what does it matter to me? Let him sell his wine if he can; I shall
not drink any on his premises. This is the second time he has found
a surety to my knowledge; the beggar must have some special secret
for encouraging the growth of fools. Good-bye, gossip Derues; you
know I shall be selling your history some day. Meanwhile----
"The abominable history of Leroi de Valine, condemned to death at the
age of sixteen for having poisoned his entire family!"
Whilst she amused the people by her grimaces and grotesque gestures,
and while Mouchy held forth to some of them, Derues made his escape.
Several times between Saint-Germain 1'Auxerrois and the rue de la
Mortellerie he nearly fainted, and was obliged to stop. While the
danger lasted, he had had sufficient self-control to confront it
coolly, but now that he calculated the depth of the abyss which for a
moment had opened beneath his feet, dizziness laid hold on him.
Other precautions now became necessary. His real name had been
mentioned before the commissionaire, and the widow Masson, who owned
the cellar, only knew him as Ducoudray. He went on in front, asked
for the keys, which till then had been left with her, and the chest
was got downstairs without any awkward questions. Only the porter
seemed astonished that this supposed wine, which was to be sold
immediately, should be put in such a place, and asked if he might
come the next day and move it again. Derues replied that someone was
coming for it that very day. This question, and the disgraceful
scene which the man had witnessed, made it necessary to get rid of
him without letting him see the pit dug under the staircase. Derues
tried to drag the chest towards the hole, but all his strength was
insufficient to move it. He uttered terrible imprecations when he
recognised his own weakness, and saw that he would be obliged to
bring another stranger, an informer perhaps, into this charnel-house,
where; as yet, nothing betrayed his crimes. No sooner escaped from
one peril than he encountered another, and already he had to struggle
against his own deeds. He measured the length of the trench, it was
too short. Derues went out and repaired to the place where he had
hired the labourer who had dug it out, but he could not find the man,
whom he had only seen once, and whose name he did not know. Two
whole days were spent in this fruitless search, but on the third, as
he was wandering on one of the quays at the time labourers were to be
found there, a mason, thinking he was looking for someone, inquired
what he wanted. Derues looked well at the man, and concluding from
his appearance that he was probably rather simpleminded, asked--
"Would you like to earn a crown of three livres by an easy job?"
"What a question, master!" answered the mason. "Work is so scarce
that I am going back into the country this very evening."
"Very well! Bring your tools, spade, and pickaxe, and follow me."
They both went down to the cellar, and the mason was ordered to dig
out the pit till it was five and a half feet deep. While the man
worked, Derues sat beside the chest and read. When it was half done,
the mason stopped for breath, and leaning on his spade, inquired why
he wanted a trench of such a depth. Derues, who had probably
foreseen the question, answered at once, without being disconcerted--
"I want to bury some bottled wine which is contained in this case."
"Wine!" said the other. "Ah! you are laughing at me, because you
think I look a fool! I never yet heard of such a recipe for
"Where do you come from?"
"Cider drinker! You were brought up in Normandy, that is clear.
Well, you can learn from me, Jean-Baptiste Ducoudray, a wine grower
of Tours, and a wine merchant for the last ten years, that new wine
thus buried for a year acquires the quality and characteristics of
the oldest brands."
"It is possible," said the mason, again taking his spade, "but all
the same it seems a little odd to me."
When he had finished, Derues asked him to help to drag the chest
alongside the trench, so that it might be easier to take out the
bottles and arrange them: The mason agreed, but when he moved the
chest the foetid odour which proceeded from it made him draw back,
declaring that a smell such as that could not possibly proceed from
wine. Derues tried to persuade him that the smell came from drains
under the cellar, the pipe of which could be seen. It appeared to
satisfy him, and he again took hold of the chest, but immediately let
it go again, and said positively that he could not execute Derues'
orders, being convinced that the chest must contain a decomposing
corpse. Then Derues threw himself at the man's feet and acknowledged
that it was the dead body of a woman who had unfortunately lodged in
his house, and who had died there suddenly from an unknown malady,
and that, dreading lest he should be accused of having murdered her,
he had decided to conceal the death and bury her here.
The mason listened, alarmed at this confidence, and not knowing
whether to believe it or not. Derues sobbed and wept at his feet,
beat his breast and tore out his hair, calling on God and the saints
as witnesses of his good faith and his innocence. He showed the book
he was reading while the mason excavated: it was the Seven
Penitential Psalms. "How unfortunate I am!" he cried. "This woman
died in my house, I assure you--died suddenly, before I could call a
doctor. I was alone; I might have been accused, imprisoned, perhaps
condemned for a crime I did not commit. Do not ruin me! You leave
Paris to-night, you need not be uneasy; no one would know that I
employed you, if this unhappy affair should ever be discovered. I do
not know your name, I do not wish to know it, and I tell you mine, it
is Ducoudray. I give myself up to you, but have some pity!--if not
for me, yet for my wife and my two little children--for these poor
creatures whose only support I am!"
Seeing that the mason was touched, Derues opened the chest.
"Look," he said, "examine the body of this woman, does it show any
mark of violent death? My God!" he continued, joining his hands and
in tones of despairing agony,--"my God, Thou who readest all hearts,
and who knowest my innocence, canst Thou not ordain a miracle to save
an honest man? Wilt Thou not command this dead body to bear witness
The mason was stupefied by this flow of language. Unable to restrain
his tears, he promised to keep silence, persuaded that Derues was
innocent, and that appearances only were against him. The latter,
moreover, did not neglect other means of persuasion; he handed the
mason two gold pieces, and between them they buried the body of
Madame de Lamotte.
However extraordinary this fact, which might easily be supposed
imaginary, may appear, it certainly happened. In the examination at
his trial. Derues himself revealed it, repeating the story which had
satisfied the mason. He believed that this man had denounced him: he
was mistaken, for this confidant of his crime, who might have been
the first to put justice on his track, never reappeared, and but for
Derues' acknowledgment his existence would have remained unknown.
This first deed accomplished, another victim was already appointed.
Trembling at first as to the consequences of his forced confession,
Derues waited some days, paying, however, his creditor as promised.
He redoubles his demonstrations of piety, he casts a furtive glance
on everyone he meets, seeking for some expression of distrust. But
no one avoids him, or points him out with a raised finger, or
whispers on seeing him; everywhere he encounters the customary
expression of goodwill. Nothing has changed; suspicion passes over
his head without alighting there. He is reassured, and resumes his
work. Moreover, had he wished to remain passive, he could not have
done so; he was now compelled to follow that fatal law of crime which
demands that blood must be effaced with blood, and which is compelled
to appeal again to death in order to stifle the accusing voice
already issuing from the tomb.
Edouard de Lamotte, loving his mother as much as she loved him,
became uneasy at receiving no visits, and was astonished at this
sudden indifference. Derues wrote to him as follows:
"I have at length some good news for you, my dear boy, but you must
not tell your mother I have betrayed her secret; she would scold me,
because she is planning a surprise for you, and the various steps and
care necessary in arranging this important matter have caused her
absence. You were to know nothing until the 11th or 12th of this
month, but now that all is settled, I should blame myself if I
prolonged the uncertainty in which you have been left, only you must
promise me to look as much astonished as possible. Your mother, who
only lives for you, is going to present you with the greatest gift a
youth of your age can receive--that of liberty. Yes, dear boy, we
thought we had discovered that you have no very keen taste for study,
and that a secluded life will suit neither your character nor your
health. In saying this I utter no reproach, for every man is born
with his own decided tastes, and the way to success and happiness
is-often-to allow him to follow these instincts. We have had long
discussions on this subject--your mother and I--and we have thought
much about your future; she has at last come to a decision, and for
the last ten days has been at Versailles, endeavouring to obtain your
admission as a royal page. Here is the mystery, this is the reason
which has kept her from you, and as she knew you would hear it with
delight, she wished to have the pleasure of telling you herself.
Therefore, once again, when you see her, which will be very soon, do
not let her see I have told you; appear to be greatly surprised. It
is true that I am asking you to tell a lie, but it is a very innocent
one, and its good intention will counteract its sinfulness--may God
grant we never have worse upon our consciences! Thus, instead of
lessons and the solemn precepts of your tutors, instead of a
monotonous school-life, you are going to enjoy your liberty; also the
pleasures of the court and the world. All that rather alarms me, and
I ought to confess that I at first opposed this plan. I begged your
mother to reflect, to consider that in this new existence you would
run great risk of losing the religious feeling which inspires you,
and which I have had the happiness, during my sojourn at Buisson-
Souef, of further developing in your mind. I still recall with
emotion your fervid and sincere aspirations towards the Creator when
you approached the Sacred Table for the first time, and when,
kneeling beside you, and envying the purity of heart and innocence of
soul which appeared to animate your countenance as with a divine
radiance, I besought God that, in default of my own virtue, the love
for heavenly Truth with which I have inspired you might be reckoned
to my account. Your piety is my work, Edouard, and I defended it
against your mother's plans; but she replied that in every career a
man is master of his own good or evil actions; and as I have no
authority over you, and friendship only gives me the right to advise,
I must give way. If this be your vocation, then follow it.
"My occupations are so numerous (I have to collect from different
sources this hundred thousand livres intended to defray the greater
part of the Buisson purchase) that I have not a moment in which to
come and see you this week. Spend the time in reflection, and write
to me fully what you think about this plan. If, like me, you feel
any scruples, you must tell them to your mother, who decidedly wants
only to make you happy. Speak to me freely, openly. It is arranged
that I am to fetch you on the 11th of this month, and escort you to
Versailles, where Madame de Lamotte will be waiting to receive you
with the utmost tenderness. Adieu, dear boy; write to me. Your
father knows nothing as yet; his consent will be asked after your
The answer to this letter did not have to be waited for: it was such
as Derues expected; the lad accepted joyfully. The answer was, for
the murderer, an arranged plea of defence, a proof which, in a given
case, might link the present with the past.
On the morning of February 11th, Shrove Tuesday, he went to fetch the
young de Lamotte from his school, telling the master that he was
desired by the youth's mother to conduct him to Versailles. But,
instead, he took him to his own house, saying that he had a letter
from Madame de Lamotte asking them not to come till the next day; so
they started on Ash Wednesday, Edouard having breakfasted on
chocolate. Arrived at Versailles, they stopped at the Fleur-de-lys
inn, but there the sickness which the boy had complained of during
the journey became very serious, and the innkeeper, having young
children, and believing that he recognised symptoms of smallpox,
which just then was ravaging Versailles, refused to receive them,
saying he had no vacant room. This might have disconcerted anyone
but Derues, but his audacity, activity, and resource seemed to
increase with each fresh obstacle. Leaving Edouard in a room on the
ground floor which had no communication with the rest of the inn, he
went at once to look for lodgings, and hastily explored the town.
After a fruitless search, he found at last, at the junction of the
rue Saint-Honore with that of the Orangerie, a cooper named Martin,
who had a furnished room to spare. This he hired at thirty sous per
day for himself and his nephew, who had been taken suddenly ill,
under the name of Beaupre. To avoid being questioned later, he
informed the cooper in a few words that he was a doctor; that he had
come to Versailles in order to place his nephew in one of the offices
of the town; that in a few days the latter's mother would arrive to
join him in seeing and making application to influential persons
about the court, to whom he had letters of introduction. As soon as
he had delivered this fable with all the appearance of truth with
which he knew so well how to disguise his falsehoods, he went back to
the young de Lamotte, who was already so exhausted that he was hardly
able to drag himself as far as the cooper's house. He fainted on
arrival, and was carried into the hired room, where Derues begged to
be left alone with him, and only asked for certain beverages which he
told the people how to prepare.
Whether it was that the strength of youth fought against the poison,
or that Derues took pleasure in watching the sufferings of his
victim, the agony of the poor lad was prolonged until the fourth day.
The sickness continuing incessantly, he sent the cooper's wife for a
medicine which he prepared and administered himself. It produced
terrible pain, and Edouard's cries brought the cooper and his wife
upstairs. They represented to Derues that he ought to call in a
doctor and consult with him, but he refused decidedly, saying that a
doctor hastily fetched might prove to be an ignorant person with whom
he could not agree, and that he could not allow one so dear to him to
be prescribed for and nursed by anyone but himself.
"I know what the malady is," he continued, raising his eyes to
heaven; "it is one that has to be concealed rather than acknowledged.
Poor youth! whom I love as my own son, if God, touched by my tears
and thy suffering, permits me to save thee, thy whole life will be
too short for thy blessings and thy gratitude!" And as Madame Martin
asked what this malady might be, he answered with hypocritical
"Do not ask, madame; there are things of which you do not know even
At another time, Martin expressed his surprise that the young man's
mother had not yet appeared, who, according to Derues, was to have
met him at Versailles. He asked how she could know that they were
lodging in his house, and if he should send to meet her at any place
where she was likely to arrive.
"His mother," said Derues, looking compassionately at Edouard, who
lay pale, motionless, and as if insensible,--"his mother! He calls
for her incessantly. Ah! monsieur, some families are greatly to be
pitied! My entreaties prevailed on her to decide on coming hither,
but will she keep her promise? Do not ask me to tell you more; it is
too painful to have to accuse a mother of having forgotten her duties
in the presence of her son . . . there are secrets which ought not
to be told--unhappy woman!"
Edouard moved, extended his arms, and repeated, "Mother! . . .
Derues hastened to his side and took his hands in his, as if to warm
"My mother!" the youth repeated. "Why have I not seen her? She was
to have met me."
You shall soon see her, dear boy; only keep quiet."
"But just now I thought she was dead."
"Dead!" cried Derues. "Drive away these sad thoughts. They are
caused by the fever only."
"No! oh no! . . . I heard a secret voice which said, 'Thy mother
is dead!' . . . And then I beheld a livid corpse before me . . .
It was she! . . . I knew her well! and she seemed to have suffered
"Dear boy, your mother is not dead . . . . My God! what terrible
chimeras you conjure up! You will see her again, I assure you; she
has arrived already. Is it not so, madame?" he asked, turning
towards the Martins, who were both leaning against the foot of the
bed, and signing to them to support this pious falsehood, in order to
calm the young man. "Did she not arrive and come to his bedside and
kiss him while he slept, and she will soon come again?"
"Yes, yes," said Madame Martin, wiping her eyes; "and she begged my
husband and me to help your uncle to take great care of you--"
The youth moved again, and looking round him with a dazed expression,
said, "My uncle--?"
"You had better go," said Derues in a whisper to the Martins. "I am
afraid he is delirious again; I will prepare a draught, which will
give him a little rest and sleep."
"Adieu, then, adieu," answered Madame Martin; "and may Heaven bless
you for the care you bestow on this poor young man!"
On Friday evening violent vomiting appeared to have benefited the
sufferer. He had rejected most of the poison, and had a fairly quiet
night. But on the Saturday morning Derues sent the cooper's little
girl to buy more medicine, which he prepared, himself, like the
first. The day was horrible, and about six in the evening, seeing
his victim was at the last gasp, he opened a little window
overlooking the shop and summoned the cooper, requesting him to go at
once for a priest. When the latter arrived he found Derues in tears,
kneeling at the dying boy's bedside. And now, by the light of two
tapers placed on a table, flanking the holy water-stoup, there began
what on one side was an abominable and sacrilegious comedy, a
disgraceful parody of that which Christians consider most sacred and
most dear; on the other, a pious and consoling ceremony. The cooper
and his wife, their eyes bathed in tears, knelt in the middle of the
room, murmuring such prayers as they could remember.
Derues gave up his place to the priest, but as Edouard did not answer
the latter's questions, he approached the bed, and bending over the
sufferer, exhorted him to confession.
"Dear boy," he said, "take courage; your sufferings here will be
counted to you above: God will weigh ahem in the scales of His
infinite mercy. Listen to the words of His holy minister, cast your
sins into His bosom, and obtain from Him forgiveness for your
"I am in such terrible pain!" cried Edouard. "Water! water!
Extinguish the fire which consumes me!"
A violent fit came on, succeeded by exhaustion and the death-rattle.
Derues fell on his knees, and the priest administered extreme
unction. There was then a moment of absolute silence, more
impressive than cries and sobs. The priest collected himself for a
moment, crossed himself, and began to pray. Derues also crossed
himself, and repeated in a low voice, apparently choked by grief
"Go forth, O Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the
Father Almighty, who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ, the
Son of the living God, who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy
Ghost, who was poured out upon thee."
The youth struggled in his bed, and a convulsive movement agitated
his limbs. Derues continued--
"When thy soul departs from this body may it be admitted to the holy
Mountain of Sion, to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to the numerous company
of Angels, and to the Church of the First-born, whose names are
written in Heaven----"
"Mother! . . . My mother!" cried Edouard. Derues resumed--
"Let God arise, and let the Powers of Darkness be dispersed! let the
Spirits of Evil, who reign over the air, be put to flight; let them
not dare to attack a soul redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus
"Amen," responded the priest and the Martins.
There was another silence, broken only by the stifled sobs of Derues.
The priest again crossed himself and took up the prayer.
"We beseech Thee, O beloved and only Son of God, by the merits of Thy
sacred Passion, Thy Cross and Thy Death, to deliver this Thy servant
from the pains of Hell, and to lead him to that happy place whither
Thou didst vouchsafe to lead the thief, who, with Thee, was bound
upon the Cross: Thou, who art God, living and reigning with the
Father and the Holy Ghost."
"Amen," repeated those present. Derues now took up the prayer, and
his voice mingled with the dying gasps of the sufferer.
"And there was a darkness over all the earth----
"To Thee, O Lord, we commend the soul of this Thy servant, that,
being dead to the world, he may, live to Thee: and the sins he hath
committed through the frailty of his mortal nature, do Thou in Thy
most merciful goodness, forgive and wash away. Amen."
After which all present sprinkled holy water on the body....
When the priest had retired, shown out by Madame Martin, Derues said
to her husband--
"This unfortunate young man has died without the consolation of
beholding his mother.... His last thought was for her.... There now
remains the last duty, a very painful one to accomplish, but my poor
nephew imposed it on me. A few hours ago, feeling that his end was
near, he asked me, as a last mark of friendship, not to entrust these
final duties to the hands of strangers."
While he applied himself to the necessary work in presence of the
cooper, who was much affected by the sight of such sincere and
profound affliction, Derues added, sighing--
"I shall always grieve for this dear boy. Alas! that evil living
should have caused his early death!
When he had finished laying out the body, he threw some little
packets into the fire which he professed to have found in the youth's
pockets, telling Martin, in order to support this assertion, that
they contained drugs suitable to this disgraceful malady.
He spent the night in the room with the corpse, as he had done in the
case of Madame de Lamotte, and the next day, Sunday, he sent Martin
to the parish church of St. Louis, to arrange for a funeral of the
simplest kind; telling him to fill up the certificate in the name of
Beaupre, born at Commercy, in Lorraine. He declined himself either
to go to the church or to appear at the funeral, saying that his
grief was too great. Martin, returning from the funeral, found him
engaged in prayer. Derues gave him the dead youth's clothes and
departed, leaving some money to be given to the poor of the parish,
and for masses to be said for the repose of the soul of the dead.
He arrived at home in the evening, found his wife entertaining some
friends; and told them he had just come from Chartres, where he had
been summoned on business. Everyone noticed his unusual air of
satisfaction, and he sang several songs during supper.
Having accomplished these two crimes, Derues did not remain idle.
When the murderer's part of his nature was at rest, the thief
reappeared. His extreme avarice now made him regret the expense'
caused by the deaths of Madame de Lamotte and her son, and he wished
to recoup himself. Two days after his return from Versailles, he
ventured to present himself at Edouard's school. He told the master
that he had received a letter from Madame de Lamotte, saying that she
wished to keep her son, and asking him to obtain Edouard's
belongings. The schoolmaster's wife, who was present, replied that
that could not be; that Monsieur de Lamotte would have known of his
wife's intention; that she would not have taken such a step without
consulting him; and that only the evening before, they had received a
present of game from Buisson-Souef, with a letter in which Monsieur
de Lamotte entreated them to take great, care of his son.
"If what you say is true," she continued, "Madame de Lamotte is no
doubt acting on your advice in taking away her son. But I will write
"You had better not do anything in the matter;" said Derues, turning
to the schoolmaster. " It is quite possible that Monsieur de Lamotte
does not know. I am aware that his wife does not always consult him.
She is at Versailles, where I took Edouard to her, and I will inform
her of your objection."
To insure impunity for these murders, Derues had resolved on the
death of Monsieur de Lamotte; but before executing this last crime,
he wished for some proof of the recent pretended agreements between
himself and Madame de Lamotte. He would not wait for the
disappearance of the whole family before presenting himself as the
lawful proprietor, of Buisson-Souef. Prudence required him to
shelter himself behind a deed which should have been executed by that
lady. On February 27th he appeared at the office of Madame de
Lamotte's lawyer in the rue du Paon, and, with all the persuasion of
an artful tongue, demanded the power of attorney on that lady's
behalf, saying that he had, by private contract, just paid a hundred
thousand livres on the total amount of purchase, which money was now
deposited with a notary. The lawyer, much astonished that an affair
of such importance should have been arranged without any reference to
himself, refused to give up the deed to anyone but Monsieur or Madame
de Lamotte, and inquired why the latter did not appear herself.
Derues replied that she was at Versailles, and that he was to send
the deed to her there. He repeated his request and the lawyer his
refusal, until Derues retired, saying he would find means to compel
him to give up the deed. He actually did, the same day, present a
petition to the civil authority, in which Cyrano Derues de Bury sets
forth arrangements, made with Madame de Lamotte, founded on the deed
given by her husband, and requires permission to seize and withdraw
said deed from the custody in which it remains at present. The
petition is granted. The lawyer objects that he can only give up the
deed to either Monsieur or Madame de Lamotte, unless he be otherwise
ordered. Derues has the effrontery to again appeal to the civil
authority, but, for the reasons given by that public officer, the
affair is adjourned.
These two futile efforts might have compromised Derues had they been
heard of at Buisson-Souef; but everything seemed to conspire in the
criminal's favour: neither the schoolmaster's wife nor the lawyer
thought of writing to Monsieur de Lamotte. The latter, as yet
unsuspecting, was tormented by other anxieties, and kept at home by
In these days, distance is shortened, and one can travel from
Villeneuve-le-Roi-les-Sens to Paris in a few hours. This was not the
case in 1777, when private industry and activity, stifled by routine
and privilege, had not yet experienced the need of providing the
means for rapid communication. Half a day was required to go from
the capital to Versailles; a journey of twenty leagues required at
least two days and a night, and bristled with obstacles ind delays of
all kinds. These difficulties of transport, still greater during bad
weather, and a long and serious attack of gout, explain why Monsieur
ale Lamotte, who was so ready to take alarm, had remained separated
from his wife from the middle of December to the end of February. He
had received reassuring letters from her, written at first with
freedom and simplicity; but he thought he noticed a gradual change in
the later ones, which appeared to proceed more from the mind than the
heart. A style which aimed at being natural was interspersed with
unnecessary expressions of affection, unusual between married people
well assured of their mutual love. Monsieur de Lamotte observed and
exaggerated these peculiarities, and though endeavouring to persuade
himself that he was mistaken, he could not forget them, or regain his
usual tranquility. Being somewhat ashamed of his anxiety, he kept
his fears to himself.
One morning, as he was sunk in a large armchair by the fire, his
sitting-room door opened, and the cure entered, who was surprised by
his despondent, sad, and pale appearance. "What is the matter?" he
inquired " Have you had an extra bad night?"
"Yes," answered Monsieur de Lamotte.
"Well, have you any news from Paris?"
"Nothing for a whole week: it is odd, is it not?"
"I am always hoping that this sale may fall through; it drags on for
so very long; and I believe that Monsieur Derues, in spite of what
your wife wrote a month ago, has not as much money as he pretends to
have. Do you know that it is said that Monsieur Despeignes-
Duplessis, Madame Derues' relative, whose money they inherited, was
"Where did you hear that?"
"It is a common report in the country, and was brought here by a man
who came recently from Beauvais."
"Have the murderers been discovered?"
"Apparently not; justice seems unable to discover anything at all."
Monsieur de Lamotte hung his head, and his countenance assumed an
expression of painful thought, as though this news affected him
"Frankly," resumed the cure, "I believe you will remain Seigneur du
Buisson-Souef, and that I shall be spared the pain of writing another
name over your seat in the church of Villeneuve."
"The affair must be settled in a few days, for I can wait no longer;
if the purchaser be not Monsieur Derues, it will have to be someone
else. "What makes you think he is short of money?"
"Oh! oh!" said the cure, "a man who has money either pays his debts,
or is a cheat. Now Heaven preserve me from suspecting Monsieur
"What do you know about him?"
"Do you remember Brother Marchois of the Camaldulians, who came to
see me last spring, and who was here the day Monsieur Derues arrived,
with your wife and Edouard?"
"Well, I happened to tell him in one of my letters that Monsieur
Derues had become the purchaser of Buisson-Souef, and that I believed
the arrangements were concluded. Thereupon Brother Marchois wrote
asking me to remind him that he owes them a sum of eight hundred
livres, and that, so far, they have not seen a penny of it."
"Ah!" said Monsieur de Lamotte, "perhaps I should have done better
not to let myself be deluded by his fine promises. He certainly has
money on his tongue, and when once one begins to listen to him, one
can't help doing what he wants. All the same, I had rather have had
to deal with someone else."
"And is it this which worries you, and makes you seem so anxious?"
"This and other things."
"I am really ashamed to own it, but I am a credulous and timid as any
old woman. Now do not laugh at me too much. Do you believe in
"Monsieur," said the cure, smiling, "you should never ask a coward
whether he is afraid, you only risk his telling a lie. He will say
'No,' but he means 'Yes.'"
"And are you a coward, my father?"
"A little. I don't precisely believe all the nursery, tales, or in
the favourable or unfavourable meaning of some object seen during our
A sound of steps interrupted them, a servant entered, announcing
On hearing the name, Monsieur de Lamotte felt troubled in spite of
himself, but, overcoming the impression, he rose to meet the visitor.
"You had better stay," he said to the cure, who was also rising to
take leave. "Stay; we have probably nothing to say which cannot be
said before you."
Derues entered the room, and, after the usual compliments, sat down
by the fire, opposite Monsieur de Lamotte.
"You did not expect me," he said, "and I ought to apologise for
surprising you thus."
Give me some news of my wife," asked Monsieur de Lamotte anxiously.
"She has never been better. Your son is also to perfect health."
"But why are you alone? Why does not Marie accompany you? It is ten
weeks since she went to Paris."
"She has not yet quite finished the business with which you entrusted
her. Perhaps I am partly the cause of this long absence, but one
cannot transact business as quickly as one would wish. But, you have
no doubt heard from her, that all is finished, or nearly so, between
us. We have drawn up a second private contract, which annuls the
former agreement, and I have paid over a sum of one hundred thousand
"I do not comprehend," said Monsieur de Lamotte. "What can induce my
wife not to inform me of this?"
"You did not know?"
"I know nothing. I was wondering just now with Monsieur le cure why
I did not hear from her."
"Madame de Lamotte was going to write to you, and I do not know what
can have hindered her."
"When did you leave her?"
"Several days ago. I have not been at Paris; I am returning from
Chartres. I believed you were informed of everything."
Monsieur de Lamotte remained silent for some moments. Then, fixing
his eyes upon Derues' immovable countenance, he said, with some
"You are a husband and father, sir; in the name of this double and
sacred affection which is, not unknown to you, do not hide anything
from me: I fear some misfortune has happened to my wife which you are
Derues' physiognomy expressed nothing but a perfectly natural
"What can have suggested such ideas to you; dear sir?" In saying
this he glanced at the cure; wishing to ascertain if this distrust
was Monsieur de Lamotte's own idea, or had been suggested to him.
The movement was so rapid that neither of the others observed it.
Like all knaves, obliged by their actions to be continually on the
watch, Derues possessed to a remarkable extent the art of seeing all
round him without appearing to observe anything in particular. He
decided that as yet he had only to combat a suspicion unfounded on
proof, and he waited till he should be attacked more seriously.
"I do not know," he said, "what may have happened during my absence;
pray explain yourself, for you are making me share your disquietude."
"Yes, I am exceedingly anxious; I entreat you, tell me the whole
truth. Explain this silence, and this absence prolonged beyond all
expectation. You finished your business with Madame de Lamotte
several days ago: once again, why did she not write? There is no
letter, either from her or my son! To-morrow I shall send someone to
"Good heavens!" answered Derues, "is there nothing but an accident
which could cause this delay? . . . Well, then," he continued,
with the embarrassed look of a man compelled to betray a confidence,-
-"well, then, I see that in order to reassure you, I shall have to
give up a secret entrusted to me."
He then told Monsieur de Lamotte that his wife was no longer at
Paris, but at Versailles, where she was endeavouring to obtain an
important and lucrative appointment, and that, if she had left him in
ignorance of her efforts in this direction; it was only to give him
an agreeable surprise. He added that she had removed her son from
the school, and hoped to place him either in the riding school or
amongst the royal pages. To prove his words, he opened his
paper-case, and produced the letter written by Edouard in answer to
the one quoted above.
All this was related so simply, and with such an appearance of good
faith, that the cure was quite convinced. And to Monsieur de Lamotte
the plans attributed to his wife were not entirely improbably.
Derues had learnt indirectly that such a career for Edouard had been
actually under consideration. However, though Monsieur de Lamotte's
entire ignorance prevented him from making any serious objection, his
fears were not entirely at rest, but for the present he appeared
satisfied with the explanation.
The cure resumed the conversation. "What you tell us ought to drive
away gloomy ideas. Just now, when you were announced, Monsieur de
Lamotte was confiding his troubles to me. I was as concerned as he
was, and I could say nothing to help him; never did visitor arrive
more apropos. Well, my friend, what now remains of your vain
terrors? What was it you were saying just as Monsieur Derues
arrived? . . . Ah! we were discussing dreams, you asked if I
believed in them."
Monsieur, de Lamotte, who had sunk back in his easy-chair and seemed
lost in his reflections, started on hearing these words. He raised
his head and looked again at Derues. But the latter had had time to
note the impression produced by the cure's remark, and this renewed
examination did not disturb him.
"Yes," said Monsieur de Lamotte, "I had asked that question."
"And I was going to answer that there are certain secret warnings
which can be received by the soul long before they are intelligible
to the bodily senses-revelations not understood at first, but which
later connect themselves with realities of which they are in some way
the precursors. Do you agree with me, Monsieur Derues?"
"I have no opinion on such a subject, and must leave the discussion
to more learned people than myself. I do not know whether such
apparitions really mean anything or not, and I have not sought to
fathom these mysteries, thinking them outside the realm of human
"Nevertheless," said the cure, "we are obliged to recognise their
"Yes, but without either understanding or explaining them, like many
other eternal truths. I follow the rule given in the Imitation o f
Jesus Christ: 'Beware, my son, of considering too curiously the
things beyond thine intelligence.'"
"And I also submit, and avoid too curious consideration. But has not
the soul knowledge of many wondrous things which we can yet neither
see nor touch? I repeat, there are things which cannot be denied."
Derues listened attentively, continually on his guard; and afraid, he
knew not why, of becoming entangled in this conversation, as in a
trap. He carefully watched Monsieur de Lamotte, whose eyes never
left him. The cure resumed--
"Here is an instance which I was bound to accept, seeing it happened
to myself. I was then twenty, and my mother lived in the
neighbourhood of Tours, whilst I was at the seminary of Montpellier.
After several years of separation, I had obtained permission to go
and see her. I wrote, telling her of this good news, and I received
her answer--full of joy and tenderness. My brother and sister were
to be informed, it was to be a family meeting, a real festivity; and
I started with a light and joyous heart. My impatience was so great,
that, having stopped for supper at a village inn some ten leagues
from Tours, I would not wait till the next morning for the coach
which went that way, but continued the journey on foot and walked all
night. It was a long and difficult road, but happiness redoubled my
strength. About an hour after sunrise I saw distinctly the smoke and
the village roofs, and I hurried on to surprise my family a little
sooner. I never felt more active, more light-hearted and gay;
everything seemed to smile before and around me. Turning a corner of
the hedge, I met a peasant whom I recognised. All at once it seemed
as if a veil spread over my sight, all my hopes and joy suddenly
vanished, a funereal idea took possession of me, and I said, taking
the hand of the man, who had not yet spoken--
"'My mother is dead, I am convinced my mother is dead!'
"He hung down his head and answered--
"'She is to be buried this morning!'
"Now whence came this revelation? I had seen no one, spoken to no
one; a moment before I had no idea of it!"
Derues made a gesture of surprise. Monsieur de Lamotte put his hand
to his eyes, and said to the cure--
"Your presentiments were true; mine, happily, are unfounded. But
listen, and tell me if in the state of anxiety which oppressed me I
had not good reason for alarm and for fearing some fatal misfortune."
His eyes again sought Derues. "Towards the middle of last night I at
length fell asleep, but, interrupted every moment, this sleep was
more a fatigue than a rest; I seemed to hear confused noises all
round me. I saw brilliant lights which dazzled me, and then sank
back into silence and darkness. Sometimes I heard someone weeping
near my bed; again plaintive voices called to me out of the darkness.
I stretched out my arms, but nothing met them, I fought with
phantoms; at length a cold hand grasped mine and led me rapidly
forward. Under a dark and damp vault a woman lay on the ground,
bleeding, inanimate--it was my wife! At the same moment, a groan
made me look round, and I beheld a man striking my son with a dagger.
I cried out and awoke, bathed in cold perspiration, panting under
this terrible vision. I was obliged to get up, walk about, and speak
aloud, in order to convince myself it was only a dream. I tried to
go to sleep again, but the same visions still pursued me. I saw
always the same man armed with two daggers streaming with blood; I
heard always the cries of his two victims. When day came, I felt
utterly broken, worn-out; and this morning, you, my father, could see
by my despondency what an impression this awful night had made upon
During this recital Derues' calmness never gave way for a single
moment, and the most skilful physiognomist could only have discovered
an expression of incredulous curiosity on his countenance.
"Monsieur le cure's story," said he, "impressed me much; yours only
brings back my uncertainty. It is less possible than ever to deliver
any opinion on this serious question of dreams, since the second
instance contradicts the first."
"It is true," answered the cure, "no possible conclusion can be drawn
from two facts which contradict each other, and the best thing we can
do is to choose a less dismal subject of conversation."
"Monsieur Derues;" asked Monsieur de Lamatte, "if you are not too
tired with your journey, shall we go and look at the last
improvements I have made? It is now your affair to decide upon them,
since I shall shortly be only your guest here."
"Just as I have been yours for long enough, and I trust you will
often give me the opportunity of exercising hospitality in my turn.
But you are ill, the day is cold and damp; if you do not care to go
out, do not let me disturb you. Had you not better stay by the fire
with Monsieur le cure? For me, Heaven be thanked! I require no
assistance. I will look round the park, and come back presently to
tell you what I think. Besides, we shall have plenty of time to talk
about it. With your permission, I should like to stay two or three
"I shall be pleased if you will do so."
Derues went out, sufficiently uneasy in his mind, both on account of
his reception of Monsieur de Lamotte's fears and of the manner in
which the latter had watched him during the conversation. He walked
quickly up and down the park--
"I have been foolish, perhaps; I have lost twelve or fifteen days,
and delayed stupidly from fear of not foreseeing everything. But
then, how was I to imagine that this simple, easily deceived man
would all at once become suspicious? What a strange dream! If I had
not been on my guard, I might have been disconcerted. Come, come, I
must try to disperse these ideas and give him something else to think
He stopped, and after a few minutes consideration turned back towards
As soon as he had left the room, Monsieur de Lamotte had bent over
towards the cure, and had said--
"He did not show any emotion, did--he?"
"He did not start when I spoke of the man armed with those two
"No. But put aside these ideas; you must see they are mistaken."
"I did not tell everything, my father: this murderer whom I saw in my
dream--was Derues himself! I know as well as you that it must be a
delusion, I saw as well as you did that he remained quite calm, but,
in spite of myself, this terrible dream haunts me . . . .There, do
not listen to me, do not let me talk about it; it only makes me blush
Whilst Derues remained at Buisson-Souef, Monsieur de Lamotte received
several letters from his wife, some from Paris, some from Versailles.
She remarked that her son and herself were perfectly well.... The
writing was so well imitated that no one could doubt their
genuineness. However, Monsieur de Lamotte's suspicions continually
increased and he ended by making the cure share his fears. He also
refused to go with Derues to Paris, in spite of the latter's
entreaties. Derues, alarmed at the coldness shown him, left
Buisson-Souef, saying that he intended to take possession about the
middle of spring.
Monsieur de Lamotte was, in spite of himself, still detained by
ill-health. But a new and inexplicable circumstance made him resolve
to go to Paris and endeavour to clear up the mystery which appeared
to surround his wife and son. He received an unsigned letter in
unknown handwriting, and in which Madame de Lamotte's reputation was
attacked with a kind of would-be reticence, which hinted that she was
an unfaithful wife and that in this lay the cause of her long
absence. Her husband did not believe this anonymous denunciation,
but the fate of the two beings dearest to him seemed shrouded in so
much obscurity that he could delay no longer, and started for Paris.
His resolution not to accompany Derues had saved his life. The
latter could not carry out his culminating crime at Buisson-Souef; it
was only in Paris that his victims would disappear without his being
called to account. Obliged to leave hold of his prey, he endeavoured
to bewilder him in a labyrinth where all trace of truth might be
lost. Already, as he had arranged beforehand, he had called calumny
to his help, and prepared the audacious lie which was to vindicate
himself should an accusation fall upon his head. He had hoped that
Monsieur de Lamotte would fall defenceless into his hands; but now a
careful examination of his position, showing the impossibility of
avoiding an explanation had become inevitable, made him change all
his plans, and compelled him to devise an infernal plot, so skilfully
laid that it bid fair to defeat all human sagacity.
Monsieur de Lamotte arrived in Paris early in March. Chance decided
that he should lodge in the rue de la Mortellerie, in a house not far
from the one where his wife's body lay buried. He went to see
Derues, hoping to surprise him, and determined to make him speak, but
found he was not at home. Madame Derues, whether acting with the
discretion of an accomplice or really ignorant of her husband's
proceedings, could not say where he was likely to be found. She said
that he told her nothing about his actions, and that Monsieur de
Lamotte must have observed during their stay at Buisson (which was
true) that she never questioned him, but obeyed his wishes in
everything; and that he had now gone away without saying where he was
going. She acknowledged that Madame de Lamotte had lodged with them
for six weeks, and that she knew that lady had been at Versailles,
but since then she had heard nothing. All Monsieur de Lamotte's
questions, his entreaties, prayers, or threats, obtained no other
answer. He went to the lawyer in the rue de Paon, to the
schoolmaster, and found the same uncertainty, the same ignorance.
His wife and his son had gone to Versailles, there the clue ended
which ought to guide his investigations. He went to this town; no
one could give him any information, the very name of Lamotte was
unknown. He returned to Paris, questioned and examined the people of
the quarter, the proprietor of the Hotel de France, where his wife
had stayed on her former visit; at length, wearied with useless
efforts, he implored help from justice. Then his complaints ceased;
he was advised to maintain a prudent silence, and to await Derues'
The latter thoroughly understood that, having failed to dissipate
Monsieur de Lamotte's fears, there was no longer an instant to lose,
and that the pretended private contract of February 12th would not of
itself prove the existence of Madame de Lamotte. This is how he
employed the time spent by the unhappy husband in fruitless
On March 12th, a woman, her face hidden in the hood of her cloak, or
"Therese," as it was then called, appeared in the office of Maitre
N-----, a notary at Lyons. She gave her name as Marie Francoise
Perffier, wife of Monsieur Saint-Faust de Lamotte, but separated, as
to goods and estate, from him. She caused a deed to be drawn up,
authorising her husband to receive the arrears of thirty thousand
livres remaining from the price of the estate of Buisson-Souef,
situated near Villeneuve-le-Roi-lez-Sens. The deed was drawn up and
signed by Madame de Lamotte, by the notary, and one of his
This woman was Derues. If we remember that he only arrived at
Buisson February 28th, and remained there for some days, it becomes
difficult to understand how at that period so long a journey as that
from Paris to Lyons could have been accomplished with such rapidity.
Fear must have given him wings. We will now explain what use he
intended to make of it, and what fable, a masterpiece of cunning and
of lies, he had invented.
On his arrival in Paris he found a summons to appear before the
magistrate of police. He expected this, and appeared quite tranquil,
ready to answer any questions. Monsieur de Lamotte was present. It
was a formal examination, and the magistrate first asked why he had
"Monsieur," replied Derues, "I have nothing to hide, and none of my
actions need fear the daylight, but before replying, I should like to
understand my position. As a domiciled citizen I have a right to
require this. Will you kindly inform me why I have been summoned to
appear before you, whether on account of anything personal to myself,
or simply to give information as to something which may be within my
"You are acquainted with this gentleman, and cannot therefore be
ignorant of the cause of the present inquiry."
"I am, nevertheless, quite in ignorance of it."
"Be good enough to answer my question. Why did you leave Paris? And
where have you been?"
"I was absent for business reasons."
"I shall say no more."
"Take care! you have incurred serious suspicions, and silence will
not tend to clear you."
Derues hung down his head with an air of resignation; and Monsieur de
Lamotte, seeing in this attitude a silent confession of crime,
exclaimed, "Wretched man! what have you done with my wife and my
"Your son!--" said Derues slowly and with peculiar emphasis. He
again cast down his eyes.
The magistrate conducting the inquiry was struck by the expression of
Derues' countenance and by this half answer, which appeared to hide a
mystery and to aim at diverting attention by offering a bait to
curiosity. He might have stopped Derues at the moment when he sought
to plunge into a tortuous argument, and compelled him to answer with
the same clearness and decision which distinguished Monsieur de
Lamotte's question; but he reflected that the latter's inquiries,
unforeseen, hasty, and passionate, were perhaps more likely to
disconcert a prepared defence than cooler and more skilful tactics.
He therefore changed his plans, contenting "himself for the moment
with the part of an observer only, and watching a duel between two
fairly matched antagonists.
"I require: you to tell me what has become of them," repeated
Monsieur de Lamotte. "I have been to Versailles, you assured me they
"And I told you the truth, monsieur."
"No one has seen them, no one knows them; every trace is lost. Your
Honour, this man must be compelled to answer, he must say what has
become of my wife and son!"
"I excuse your anxiety, I understand your trouble, but why appeal to
me? Why am I supposed to know what may have happened to them?"
"Because I confided them to your care."
"As a friend, yes, I agree. Yes, it is quite true that last December
I received a letter from you informing me of the impending arrival of
your wife and son. I received them in my own house, and showed them
the same hospitality which I had received from you. I saw them both,
your son often, your wife every day, until the day she left me to go
to Versailles. Yes, I also took Edouard to his mother, who was
negotiating an appointment for him. I have already told you all
this, and I repeat it because it is the truth. You believed me then:
why do you not believe me now? Why has what I say become strange and
incredible? If your wife and your son have disappeared, am I
responsible? Did you transmit your authority to me? And now, in
what manner are you thus calling me to account? Is it to the friend
who might have pitied, who might have aided your search, that you
thus address yourself ? Have you come to confide in me, to ask for
advice, for consolation? No, you accuse me; very well! then I refuse
to speak, because, having no proofs, you yet accuse an honest man;
because your fears, whether real or imaginary, do not excuse you for
casting, I know not what odious suspicions, on a blameless
reputation, because I have the right to be offended. Monsieur" he
continued, turning to the magistrate, " I believe you will appreciate
my moderation, and will allow me to retire. If charges are brought
against me, I am quite ready to meet them, and to show what they are
really worth. I shall remain in Paris, I have now no business which
requires my presence elsewhere."
He emphasised these last words, evidently intending to draw attention
to them. It did not escape the magistrate, who inquired--
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing beyond my words, your Honour, Have I your permission to
"No, remain; you are pretending not to understand."
"I do not understand these insinuations so covertly made."
Monsieur de Lamotte rose, exclaiming--
"Insinuations! What more can I say to compel you to answer? My wife
and son have disappeared. It is untrue that, as you pretend, they
have been at Versailles. You deceived me at Buisson-Souef, just as
you are deceiving me now, as you are endeavouring to deceive justice
by inventing fresh lies. Where are they? What has become of them?
I am tormented by all the fears possible to a husband and father; I
imagine all the most terrible misfortunes, and I accuse you to your
face of having caused their death! Is this sufficient, or do you
still accuse me of covert insinuations?"
Derues turned to the magistrate. "Is this charge enough to place me
in the position of a criminal if I do not give a satisfactory
"Certainly; you should have thought of that sooner."
"Then," he continued, addressing Monsieur de Lamotte, "I understand
you persist in this odious accusation?"
"I certainly persist in it."
"You have forgotten our friendship, broken all bonds between us: I am
in your eyes only a miserable assassin? You consider my silence as
guilty, you will ruin me if I do not speak?"
"It is true."
" There is still time for reflection; consider what you are doing; I
will forget your insults and your anger. Your trouble is great
enough without my reproaches being added to it. But you desire that
I should speak, you desire it absolutely?"
"I do desire it."
"Very well, then; it shall be as you wish."
Derues surveyed Monsieur de Lamotte with a look which seemed to say,
"I pity you." He then added, with a sigh--
"I am now ready to answer. Your Honour, will you have the kindness
to resume my examination?"
Derues had succeeded in taking up an advantageous position. If he
had begun narrating the extraordinary romance he had invented, the
least penetrating eye must have perceived its improbability, and one
would have felt it required some support at every turn. But since he
had resisted being forced to tell it, and apparently only ceded to
Monsieur de Lamotte's violent persistency, the situation was changed;
and this refusal to speak, coming from a man who thereby compromised
his personal safety, took the semblance of generosity, and was likely
to arouse the magistrate's curiosity and prepare his mind for unusual
and mysterious revelations. This was exactly what Derues wanted, and
he awaited the interrogation with calm and tranquillity.
"Why did you leave Paris?" the magistrate demanded a second time.
"I have already had the honour to inform you that important business
necessitated my absence."
"But you refused to explain the nature of this business. Do you
still persist in this refusal?"
"For the moment, yes. I will explain it later."
"Where have you been? Whence do you return?"
"I have been to Lyons, and have returned thence."
"What took you there?
"I will tell you later."
"In the month of December last, Madame de Lamotte and her son came to
"That is so."
"They both lodged in your house?"
"I have no reason to deny it."
"But neither she herself, nor Monsieur de Lamotte, had at first
intended that she should accept a lodging in the house which you
"That is quite true. We had important accounts to settle, and Madame
de Lamotte told me afterwards that she feared some dispute on the
question of money might arise between us--at least, that is the
reason she gave me. She was mistaken, as the event proved, since I
always intended to pay, and I have paid. But she may have had
another reason which she preferred not to give."
"It was the distrust of this man which she felt," exclaimed Monsieur
de Lamotte. Derues answered only with a melancholy smile.
"Silence, monsieur," said the magistrate, "silence; do not
interrupt." Then addressing Derues--
"Another motive? What motive do you suppose?"
"Possibly she preferred to be more free, and able to receive any
visitor she wished."
"What do you mean?"
"It is only supposition on my part, I do not insist upon it."
"But the supposition appears to contain a hint injurious to Madame de
"No, oh no!" replied Derues, after a moment's silence.
This sort of insinuation appeared strange to the magistrate, who
resolved to try and force Derues to abandon these treacherous
reticences behind which he sheltered himself. Again recommending
silence to Monsieur de Lamotte, he continued to question Derues, not
perceiving that he was only following the lead skilfully given by the
latter, who drew him gradually on by withdrawing himself, and that
all the time thus gained was an advantage to the accused.
"Well," said the magistrate, "whatever Madame de Lamotte's motives
may have been, it ended in her coming to stay with you. How did you
persuade her to take this step?"
"My wife accompanied her first to the Hotel de France, and then to
other hotels. I said no more than might be deemed allowable in a
friend; I could not presume to persuade her against her will. When I
returned home, I was surprised to find her there with her son. She
could not find a disengaged room in any of the hotels she tried, and
she then accepted my offer."
"What date was this?"
"Monday, the 16th of last December."
"And when did she leave your house?"
"On the 1st of February."
"The porter cannot remember having seen her go out on that day."
"That is possible. Madame de Lamotte went and came as her affairs
required. She was known, and no more attention would be paid to her
than to any other inmate."
"The porter also says that for several days before this date she was
ill, and obliged to keep her room?"
"Yes, it was a slight indisposition, which had no results, so slight
that it seemed unnecessary to call in a doctor. Madame de Lamotte
appeared preoccupied and anxious. I think her mental attitude
influenced her health."
"Did you escort her to Versailles?"
"No; I went there to see her later."
"What proof can you give of her having actually stayed there?"
"None whatever, unless it be a letter which I received from her."
"You told Monsieur de, Lamotte that she was exerting herself to
procure her son's admission either as a king's page or into the
riding school. Now, no one at Versailles has seen this lady, or even
heard of her."
"I only repeated what she told me."
"Where was she staying?"
"I do not know."
"What! she wrote to you, you went to see her, and yet you do not
know where she was lodging?"
"That is so."
"But it is impossible."
"There are many things which would appear impossible if I were to
relate them, but which are true, nevertheless."
"I only received one letter from Madame de Lamotte, in which she
spoke of her plans for Edouard, requesting me to send her her son on
a day she fixed, and I told Edouard of her projects. Not being able
to go to the school to see him, I wrote, asking if he would like to
give up his studies and become a royal page. When I was last at
Buisson-Souef, I showed his answer to Monsieur de Lamotte; it is
And he handed over a letter to the magistrate, who read it, and
passing it on to Monsieur de Lamotte, inquired--
"Did you then, and do you now, recognise your son's handwriting?"
"You took Edouard to Versailles?"
"On what day?"
"February 11th, Shrove Tuesday. It is the only time I have been to
Versailles. The contrary might be supposed; for I have allowed it to
be understood that I have often seen Madame de Lamotte since she left
my house, and was acquainted with all her actions, and that the
former confidence and friendship still existed between us. In
allowing this, I have acted a lie, and transgressed the habitual
sincerity of my whole life."
This assertion produced a bad impression on the magistrate. Derues
perceived it, and to avert evil consequences, hastened to add--
"My conduct can only be appreciated when it is known in entirety. I
misunderstood the meaning of Madame de Lamotte's letter. She asked
me to send her her son, I thought to oblige her by accompanying him,
and not leaving him to go alone. So we travelled together, and
arrived at Versailles about midday. As I got down from the coach I
saw Madame de Lamotte at the palace gate, and observed, to my
astonishment, that my presence displeased her. She was not alone."
He stopped, although he had evidently reached the most interesting
point of his story.
"Go on," said the magistrate; "why do you stop now?"
"Because what I have to say is so painful--not to me, who have to
justify myself, but for others, that I hesitate."
"Will you then interrogate me, please?"
"Well, what happened in this interview?"
Derues appeared to collect himself for a moment, and then said with
the air of a man who has decide on speaking out at last--
"Madame de Lamotte was not alone; she was attended by a gentleman
whom I did not know, whom I never saw either at Buisson-Souef or in
Paris, and whom I have never seen again since. I will ask you to
allow me to recount everything; even to the smallest details. This
man's face struck me at once, on account of a singular resemblance;
he paid no attention to me at first, and I was able to examine him at
leisure. His manners were those of a man belonging to the highest
classes of society, and his dress indicated wealth. On seeing
Edouard, he said to Madame de Lamotte--
"'So this is he?' and he then kissed him tenderly. This and the
marks of undisguised pleasure which he evinced surprised me, and I
looked at Madame de Lamotte, who then remarked with some asperity--
"'I did not expect to see you, Monsieur Derues. I had not asked you
to accompany my son.'
"Edouard seemed quite as much surprised as I was. The stranger gave
me a look of haughty annoyance, but seeing I did not avoid his glance
his countenance assumed a more gentle expression, and Madame de
Lamotte introduced him as a person who took great interest in
"It is a whole tissue of imposture!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte.
"Allow me to finish," answered Derues. "I understand your doubts,
and that you are not anxious to believe what I say, but I have been
brought here by legal summons to tell the truth, and I am going to
tell it. You can then weigh the two accusations in the balance, and
choose between them. The reputation of an honourable man is as
sacred, as important, as worthy of credit as the reputation of a
woman, and I never heard that the virtue of the one was more fragile
than that of the other."
Monsieur de Lamotte, thunderstruck by such a revelation, could not
contain his impatience and indignation.
"This, then," he said, "is the explanation of an anonymous letter
which I received, and of the injurious suggestions' concerning my
wife's honour which it contained; it was written to give an
appearance of probability to this infamous legend. The whole thing
is a disgraceful plot, and no doubt Monsieur Derues wrote the letter
"I know nothing about it," said Derues unconcernedly, "and the
explanation which you profess to find in it I should rather refer to
something else I am going to mention. I did not know a secret
warning had been sent to you: I now learn it from you, and I
understand perfectly that such a letter, may have been written. But
that you have received such a warning ought surely to be a reason for
listening patiently and not denouncing all I say as imposture."
While saying this Derues mentally constructed the fresh falsehood
necessitated by the interruption, but no variation of countenance
betrayed his thought. He had an air of dignity natural to his
position. He saw that, in spite of clear-headedness and long
practice in studying the most deceptive countenances, the magistrate
so far had not scented any of his falsehoods, and was getting
bewildered in the windings of this long narrative, through which
Derues led him as he chose; and he resumed with confidence--
"You know that I made Monsieur de Lamotte's acquaintance more than a
year ago, and I had reason to believe his friendship as sincere as my
own. As a friend, I could not calmly accept the suspicion which then
entered my mind, nor could I conceal my surprise. Madame de Lamotte
saw this, and understood from my looks that I was not satisfied with
the explanation she wished me to accept. A glance of intelligence
passed between her and her friend, who was still holding Edouard's
hand. The day, though cold, was fine, and she proposed a walk in the
park. I offered her my arm, and the stranger walked in front with
Edouard. We had a short conversation, which has remained indelibly
fixed in my memory.
"'Why did you come?' she inquired.
"I did not answer, but looked sternly at her, in order to discompose
her. At length I said--
"'You should have written, madame, and warned me that my coming would
"She seemed much disconcerted, and exclaimed--
"'I am lost! I see you guess everything, and will tell my husband.
I am an unhappy woman, and a sin once committed can never be erased
from the pages of a woman's life! Listen, Monsieur Derues, listen, I
implore you! You see this man, I shall not tell you who he is, I
shall not give his name . . . but I loved him long ago; I should
have been his wife, and had he not been compelled to leave France, I
should have married no one else.'"
Monsieur de Lamotte started, and grew pale.
"What is the matter?" the magistrate inquired.
"Oh! this dastardly wretch is profiting by his knowledge of secrets
which a long intimacy has enabled him to discover. Do not believe
him, I entreat you, do not believe him!"
Derues resumed. "Madame de Lamotte continued : 'I saw him again
sixteen years ago, always in hiding, always proscribed. To-day he
reappears under a name which is not his own: he wishes to link my
fate with his; he has insisted on seeing Edouard. But I shall escape
him. I have invented this fiction of placing my son among the, royal
pages to account for my stay here. Do not contradict me, but help
me; for a little time ago I met one of Monsieur de Lamotte's friends,
I am afraid he suspected something. Say you have seen me several
times; as you have come, let it be known that you brought Edouard
here. I shall return to Buisson as soon as possible, but will you go
first, see my husband, satisfy him if he is anxious? I am in your
hands; my honour, my reputation, my very life, are at your mercy; you
can either ruin or help to save me. I may be guilty, but I am not
corrupt. I have wept for my sin day after day, and I have already
cruelly expiated it.'"
This execrable calumny was not related without frequent interruptions
on the part of Monsieur de Lamotte. He was, however, obliged to own
to himself that it was quite true that Marie Perier had really been
promised to a man whom an unlucky affair had driven into exile, and
whom he had supposed to be dead. This revelation, coming from
Derues, who had the strongest interest in lying, by no means
convinced him of his wife's dishonour, nor destroyed the feelings of
a husband and father; but Derues was not speaking for him lone, and
what appeared incredible to Monsieur de Lamotte might easily seem
less improbable to the colder and less interested judgment of the
"I was wrong," Derues continued, "in allowing myself to be touched by
her tears, wrong in believing in her repentance, more wrong still in
going to Buisson to satisfy her husband. But I only consented on
conditions: Madame de Lamotte promised me to return shortly to Paris,
vowing that her son should never know the truth, and that the rest of
her life should be devoted to atoning for her sin by a boundless
devotion. She then begged me to leave her, and told me she would
write to me at Paris to fix the day of her return. This is what
happened, and this is why I went to Buissan and gave my support to a
lying fiction. With one word I might have destroyed the happiness of
seventeen years. I did not wish to do so. I believed in the
remorse; I believe in it still, in spite of all appearances; I have
refused to speak this very day, and made every effort to prolong an
illusion which I know it will be terrible to lose."
There was a moment of silence. This fable, so atrociously ingenious,
was simply and impressively narrated, and with an air of candour well
contrived to impose on the magistrate, or, at least, to suggest grave
doubts to his mind. Derues, with his usual cunning, had conformed
his language to the quality of his listener. Any tricks, profession
of piety, quotations from sacred books, so largely indulged in when
he wished to bamboozle people of a lower class, would here have told
against him. He knew when to abstain, and carried the art of
deception far enough to be able to lay aside the appearance of
hypocrisy. He had described all the circumstances without
affectation, and if this unexpected accusation was wholly unproved,
it yet rested on a possible fact, and did not appear absolutely
incredible. The magistrate went through it all again, and made him
repeat every detail, without being able to make him contradict
himself or show the smallest embarrassment. While interrogating
Derues, he kept his eyes fixed upon him; and this double examination
being quite fruitless, only increased his perplexity. However, he
never relaxed the incredulous severity of his demeanour, nor the
imperative and threatening tone of his voice.
"You acknowledge having been at Lyons?" he asked.
"I have been there."
"At the beginning of this examination you said you would explain the
reason of this journey later."
"I am ready to do so, for the journey is connected with the facts I
have just narrated; it was caused by them."
"I again ask permission to relate fully. I did not hear from
Versailles: I began to fear Monsieur de Lamotte's anxiety would bring
him to Paris. Bound by the promise I had made to his wife to avert
all suspicion and to satisfy any doubts he might conceive, and, must
I add, also remembering that it was important for me to inform him of
our new arrangements, and of this payment of a hundred thousand
"That payment is assuredly fictitious," interrupted Monsieur de
Lamotte; "we must have some proof of it."
"I will prove it presently," answered Derues. "So I went to Buisson,
as I have already told you. On my return I found a letter from
Madame de Lamotte, a letter with a Paris stamp, which had arrived
that morning. I was surprised that she should write, when actually
in Paris; I opened the letter, and was still more surprised. I have
not the letter with me, but I recollect the sense of it perfectly, if
not the wording, and I can produce it if necessary. Madame de
Lamotte was at Lyons with her son and this person whose name I do not
know, and whom I do not care to mention before her husband. She had
confided this letter to a person who was coming to Paris, and who was
to bring it me; but this individual, whose name was Marquis,
regretted that having to start again immediately, he was obliged to
entrust it to the post. This is the sense of its contents. Madame
de Lamotte wrote that she found herself obliged to follow this
nameless person to Lyons; and she begged me to send her news of her
husband and of the state of his affairs, but said not one single word
of any probable return. I became very uneasy at the news of this
clandestine departure. I had no security except a private contract
annulling our first agreement on the payment of one hundred thousand
livres, and that this was not a sufficient and regular receipt I
knew, because the lawyer had already refused to surrender Monsieur de
Lamotte's power of attorney. I thought over all the difficulties
which this flight, which would have to be kept secret, was likely to
produce, and I started for Lyons without writing or giving any notice
of my intention. I had no information, I did not even know whether
Madame de Lamotte was passing by another name, as at Versailles, but
chance decreed that I met her the very day of my arrival. She was
alone, and complained bitterly of her fate, saying she had been
compelled to follow this individual to Lyons, but that very soon she
would be free and would return to Paris. But I was struck by the
uncertainty of her manner, and said I should not leave her without
obtaining a deed in proof of our recent arrangements. She refused at
first, saying it was unnecessary, as she would so soon return; but I
insisted strongly. I told her I had already com promised myself by
telling Monsieur de Lamotte that she was at Versailles, endeavouring
to procure an appointment for her son; that since she had been
compelled to come to Lyons, the same person might take her elsewhere,
so that she might disappear any day, might leave France without
leaving any trace, without any written acknowledgment of her own
dishonour; and that when all these falsehoods were discovered, I
should appear in the light of an accomplice. I said also that, as
she had unfortunately lodged in my house in Paris, and had requested
me to remove her son from his school, explanations would be required
from me, and perhaps I should be accused of this double
disappearance. Finally, I declared that if she did not give me some
proofs of her existence, willingly or unwillingly, I would go at once
to a magistrate. My firmness made her reflect. 'My good Monsieur
Derues,' she said, 'I ask your forgiveness for all the trouble I have
caused you. I will give you this deed to-morrow, to-day it is too
late; but come to this same place to-morrow, and you shall see me
again.' I hesitated, I confess, to let her go. 'Ah,' she said,
grasping my hands, 'do not suspect me of intending to deceive you! I
swear that I will meet you here at four o'clock. It is enough that I
have ruined myself, and perhaps my son, without also entangling you
in my unhappy fate. Yes, you are right; this deed is important,
necessary for you, and you shall have it. But do not show yourself
here; if you were seen, I might not be able to do what I ought to do.
To-morrow you shall see me again, I swear it.' She then left me.
The next day, the 12th, of March, I was exact at the rendezvous, and
Madame de Lamotte arrived a moment later. She gave me a deed,
authorising her husband to receive the arrears of thirty thousand
livres remaining from the purchase-money of Buisson-Souef. I
endeavoured again to express my opinion of her conduct; she listened
in silence, as if my words affected her deeply. We were walking
together, when she told me she had some business in a house we were
passing, and asked me to wait for her. I waited more than an hour,
and then discovered that this house, like many others in Lyons, had
an exit in another street; and I understood that Madame de Lamotte
had escaped by this passage, and that I might wait in vain.
Concluding that trying to follow her would be useless, and seeing
also that any remonstrance would be made in vain, I returned to
Paris, deciding to say nothing as yet, and to conceal the truth as
long as possible. I still had hopes, and I did not count on being so
soon called on to defend myself: I thought that when I had to speak,
it would be as a friend, and not as an accused person. This, sir, is
the explanation of my conduct, and I regret that this justification,
so easy for myself, should be so cruelly painful for another. You
have seen the efforts which I made to defer it."
Monsieur de Lamotte had heard this second part of Derues' recital
with a more silent indignation, not that he admitted its probability,
but he was confounded by this monstrous imposture, and, as it were,
terror-stricken by such profound hypocrisy. His mind revolted at the
idea of his wife being accused of adultery; but while he repelled
this charge with decision, he saw the confirmation of his secret
terrors and presentiments, and his heart sank within him at the
prospect of exploring this abyss of iniquity. He was pale, gasping
for breath, as though he himself had been the criminal, while
scorching tears furrowed his cheeks. He tried to speak, but his
voice failed; he wanted to fling back at Derues the names of traitor
and assassin, and he was obliged to bear in silence the look of
mingled grief and pity which the latter bestowed upon him.
The magistrate, calmer, and master of his emotions, but tolerably
bewildered in this labyrinth of cleverly connected lies, thought it
desirable to ask some further questions.
"How," said he, "did you obtain this sum of a hundred thousand livres
which you say you paid over to Madame de Lamotte?"
"I have been engaged in business for several years, and have acquired
"Nevertheless, you have postponed the obligation of making this
payment several times, so that Monsieur de Lamotte had begun to feel
uneasiness on the subject. This was the chief reason of his wife's
coming to Paris."
"One sometimes experiences momentary difficulties, which presently
"You say you have a deed given you at Lyons by Madame de Lamotte,
which you were to give to her husband?"
"It is here."
The magistrate examined the deed carefully, and noted the name of the
lawyer in whose office it had been drawn up.
"You may go," he said at last.
"What!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte.
Derues stopped, but the magistrate signed to him to go, intimating,
however, that he was on no account to leave Paris.
"But," said Monsieur de Lamotte, when they were alone, "this man is
indeed guilty. My wife has not betrayed me! She!--forget her duties
as a wife! she was virtue incarnate! Ah! I assure you these terrible
calumnies are invented to conceal double crime! I throw myself at
your feet,--I implore your justice!"
"Rise, monsieur. This is only a preliminary examination, and I
confess that, so far, he comes well out of it, for imagination can
hardly understand such a depth of deceit. I watched him closely the
whole time, and I could discover no sign of alarm, no contradiction,
in either face or language; if guilty, he must be the greatest
hypocrite that ever existed. But I shall neglect nothing: if a
criminal is allowed to flatter himself with impunity, he frequently
forgets to be prudent, and I have seen many betray themselves when
they thought they had nothing to fear. Patience, and trust to the
justice of both God and man."
Several days passed, and Derues flattered him self the danger was
over: his every action mean while was most carefully watched, but so
that he remained unaware of the surveillance. A police officer named
Mutel, distinguished for activity and intelligence beyond his
fellows, was charged with collecting information and following any
trail. All his bloodhounds were in action, and hunted Paris
thoroughly, but could trace nothing bearing on the fate of Madame de
Lamotte and her son. Mutel, however, soon discovered that in the rue
Saint Victor, Derues had failed--three successive times, that he had
been pursued by numerous creditors, and been often near imprisonment
for debt, and that in 1771 he had been publicly accused of
incendiarism. He reported on these various circumstances, and then
went himself to Derues' abode, where he obtained no results. Madame
Derues declared that she knew nothing whatever, and the police,
having vainly searched the whole house, had to retire. Derues
himself was absent; when he returned he found another order to appear
before the magistrate.
His first success had encouraged him. He appeared before the
magistrate accompanied by a lawyer and full of confidence,
complaining loudly that the police, in searching during his absence,
had offended against the rights of a domiciled burgess, and ought to
have awaited his return. Affecting a just indignation at Monsieur de
Lamotte's conduct towards him, he presented a demand that the latter
should be declared a calumniator, and should pay damages for the
injury caused to his reputation. But this time his effrontery and
audacity were of little avail, the magistrate easily detected him in
flagrant lies. He declared at first that he had paid the hundred
thousand livres with his own money but when reminded of his various
bankruptcies, the claims of his creditors, and the judgments obtained
against him as an insolvent debtor, he made a complete volte-face,
and declared he had borrowed the money from an advocate named Duclos,
to whom he had given a bond in presence of a notary. In spite of all
his protestations, the magistrate committed him to solitary
confinement at Fort l'Eveque.
As yet, nothing was publicly known; but vague reports and gossip,
carried from shop to shop, circulated among the people, and began to
reach the higher classes of society. The infallible instinct which
is aroused among the masses is truly marvellous; a great crime is
committed, which seems at first likely to defeat justice, and the
public conscience is aroused. Long before the tortuous folds which
envelop the mystery can be penetrated, while it is still sunk in
profound obscurity, the voice of the nation, like an excited hive,
buzzes around the secret; though the magistrates doubt, the public
curiosity fixes itself, and never leaves go; if the criminal's
hiding-place is changed, it follows the track, points it out,
descries it in the gloom. This is what happened on the news of
Derues' arrest. The affair was everywhere discussed, although the
information was incomplete, reports inexact, and no real publicity to
be obtained. The romance which Derues had invented by way of
defence, and which became known as well as Monsieur de Lamotte's
accusation, obtained no credence whatever; on the contrary, all the
reports to his discredit were eagerly adopted. As yet, no crime
could be traced, but the public presentiment divined an atrocious
one. Have we not often seen similar agitations? The names of
Bastide, of Castaing, of Papavoine, had hardly been pronounced before
they completely absorbed all the public attention, and this had to be
satisfied, light had to be thrown on the darkness: society demanded
Derues felt some alarm in his dungeon, but his presence of mind and
his dissimulation in no wise deserted him, and he swore afresh every
day to the truth of his statements. But his last false assertion
turned against him: the bond for a hundred thousand livres which he
professed to have given to Duclos was a counterfeit which Duclos had
annulled by a sort of counter declaration made the same day. Another
circumstance, intended to ensure his safety, only redoubled
suspicion. On April 8th, notes payable to order to the amount of
seventy-eight thousand livres, were received by Monsieur de Lamotte's
lawyer, as if coming from Madame de Lamotte. It appeared
extraordinary that these notes, which arrived in an ordinary stamped
envelope, should not be accompanied by any letter of advice, and
suspicion attached to Madame Derues, who hitherto had remained
unnoticed. An inquiry as to where the packet had been posted soon
revealed the office, distinguished by a letter of the alphabet, and
the postmaster described a servant-maid who had brought the letter
and paid for it. The description resembled the Derues' servant; and
this girl, much alarmed, acknowledged, after a great deal of
hesitation, that she had posted the letter in obedience to her
mistress's orders. Whereupon Madame Derues was sent as a prisoner to
Fort l'Eveque, and her husband transferred to the Grand-Chatelet. On
being interrogated, she at length owned that she had sent these notes
to Monsieur de Lamotte's lawyer, and that her husband had given them
her in an envelope hidden in the soiled linen for which she had
brought him clean in exchange.
All this certainly amounted to serious presumptive evidence of guilt,
and if Derues had shown himself to the multitude, which followed
every phase of the investigation with increasing anxiety, a thousand
arms would have willingly usurped the office of the executioner; but
the distance thence to actual proof of murder was enormous for the
magistracy. Derues maintained his tranquillity, always asserting
that Madame de Lamotte and her son were alive, and would clear him by
their reappearance. Neither threats nor stratagems succeeded in
making him contradict himself, and his assurance shook the strongest
conviction. A new difficulty was added to so much uncertainty.
A messenger had been sent off secretly with all haste to Lyons; his
return was awaited for a test which it was thought would be decisive.
One morning Derues was fetched from his prison and taken to a lower
hall of the Conciergerie. He received no answers to the questions
addressed to his escort, and this silence showed him the necessity of
being on his guard and preserving his imperturbable demeanour
whatever might happen. On arriving, he found the commissioner of
police, Mutel, and some other persons. The hall being very dark, had
been illuminated with several torches, and Derues was so placed that
the light fell strongly on his face, and was then ordered to look
towards a particular part of the hall. As he did so, a door opened,
and a man entered. Derues beheld him with indifference, and seeing
that the stranger was observing him attentively, he bowed to him as
one might bow to an unknown person whose curiosity seems rather
It was impossible to detect the slightest trace of emotion, a hand
placed on his heart would not have felt an increased pulsation, yet
this stranger's recognition would be fatal!
Mutel approached the new-comer and whispered--
"Do you recognise him?"
No, I do not."
Have the kindness to leave the room for a moment; we will ask you to
This individual was the lawyer in whose office at Lyons the deed had
been drawn up which Derues had signed, disguised as a woman, and
under the name of Marie-Francoise Perier, wife of the Sieur de
A woman's garments were brought in, and Derues was ordered to put
them on, which he did readily, affecting much amusement. As he was
assisted to disguise himself, he laughed, stroked his chin and
assumed mincing airs, carrying effrontery so far as to ask for a
"I should like to see if it is becoming," he said; "perhaps I might
make some conquests."
The lawyer returned: Derues was made to pass before him, to sit at a
table, sign a paper, in fact to repeat everything it was imagined he
might have aid or done in the lawyer's office. This second attempt
at identification succeeded no better than the first. The lawyer
hesitated; then, understanding all the importance of his deposition,
he refused to swear to anything, and finally declared that this was
not the person who had come to him at Lyons.
I am sorry, sir," said Derues, as they removed him, "that you should
have been troubled by having to witness this absurd comedy. Do not
blame me for it; but ask Heaven to enlighten those who do not fear to
accuse me. As for me, knowing that my innocence will shortly be made
clear, I pardon them henceforth."
Although justice at this period was generally expeditious, and the
lives of accused persons were by no means safe-guarded as they now
are, it was impossible to condemn Derues in the absence of any
positive proofs of guilt. He knew this, and waited patiently in his
prison for the moment when he should triumph over the capital
accusation which weighed against him. The storm no longer thundered
over his head, the most terrible trials were passed, the examinations
became less frequent, and there were no more surprises to dread. The
lamentations of Monsieur de Lamotte went to the hearts of the
magistrates, but his certainty could not establish theirs, and they
pitied, but could not avenge him. In certain minds a sort of
reaction favourable to the prisoner began to set in. Among the dupes
of Derues' seeming piety, many who at first held their peace under
these crushing accusations returned to their former opinion. The
bigots and devotees, all who made a profession of kneeling in the
churches, of publicly crossing themselves and dipping their fingers
in the holy water, and who lived on cant and repetitions of "Amen"
and "Alleluia," talked of persecution, of martyrdom, until Derues
nearly became a saint destined by the Almighty to find canonisation
in a dungeon. Hence arose quarrels and arguments; and this abortive
trial, this unproved accusation, kept the public imagination in a
To the greater part of those who talk of the "Supreme Being," and who
expect His intervention in human affairs, "Providence" is only a
word, solemn and sonorous, a sort of theatrical machine which sets
all right in the end, and which they glorify with a few banalities
proceeding from the lips, but not from the heart. It is true that
this unknown and mysterious Cause which we call "God" or "Chance"
often appears so exceedingly blind and deaf that one may be permitted
to wonder whether certain crimes are really set apart for punishment,
when so many others apparently go scot-free. How many murders remain
buried in the night of the tomb! how many outrageous and avowed
crimes have slept peacefully in an insolent and audacious prosperity!
We know the names of many criminals, but who can tell the number of
unknown and forgotten victims? The history of humanity is twofold,
and like that of the invisible world, which contains marvels
unexplored by the science of the visible one, the history recounted
in books is by no means the most curious and strange. But without
delaying over questions such as these, without protesting here
against sophistries which cloud the conscience and hide the presence
of an avenging Deity, we leave the facts to the general judgment, and
have now to relate the last episode in this long and terrible drama.
Of all the populous quarters of Paris which commented on the "affaire
Derues," none showed more excitement than that of the Greve, and
amongst all the surrounding streets none could boast more numerous
crowds than the rue de la Mortellerie. Not that a secret instinct
magnetised the crowd in the very place where the proof lay buried,
but that each day its attention was aroused by a painful spectacle.
A pale and grief-stricken man, whose eyes seemed quenched in tears,
passed often down the street, hardly able to drag himself along; it
was Monsieur de Lamotte, who lodged, as we have said, in the rue de
la Mortellerie, and who seemed like a spectre wandering round a tomb.
The crowd made way and uncovered before him, everybody respected such
terrible misfortune, and when he had passed, the groups formed up
again, and continued discussing the mystery until nightfall.
On April 17th, about four in the afternoon, a score of workmen and
gossiping women had collected in front of a shop. A stout woman,
standing on the lowest step, like an orator in the tribune, held
forth and related for the twentieth time what she knew, or rather,
did not know. There were listening ears and gaping mouths, even a
slight shudder ran through the group; for the widow Masson,
discovering a gift of eloquence at the age of sixty, contrived to
mingle great warmth and much indignation in her recital. All at once
silence fell on the crowd, and a passage was made for Monsieur de
Lamotte. One man ventured to ask--
"Is there anything fresh to-day?"
A sad shake of the head was the only answer, and the unhappy man
continued his way.
"Is that Monsieur de Lamotte?" inquired a particularly dirty woman,
whose cap, stuck on the side of her, head, allowed locks of grey hair
to straggle from under it. "Ah! is that Monsieur de Lamotte?"
"Dear me!" said a neighbour, "don't you know him by this time? He
passes every day."
"Excuse me! I don't belong to this quarter, and--no offence--but it
is not so beautiful as to bring one out of curiosity! Nothing
personal--but it is rather dirty."
Madame is probably accustomed to use a carriage."
"That would suit you better than me, my dear, and would save your
having to buy shoes to keep your feet off the ground!"
The crowd seemed inclined to hustle the speaker,--
"Wait a moment!" she continued, "I didn't mean to offend anyone. I
am a poor woman, but there's no disgrace in that, and I can afford a
glass of liqueur. Eh, good gossip, you understand, don't you? A
drop of the best for Mother Maniffret, and if my fine friend there
will drink with me to settle our difference, I will stand her a
The example set by the old hawker was contagious, and instead of
filling two little glasses only, widow Masson dispensed a bottleful.
"Come, you have done well," cried Mother Maniffret; "my idea has
brought you luck."
"Faith! not before it was wanted, either!"
"What! are you complaining of trade too?"
"Ah! don't mention it; it is miserable!"
"There's no trade at all. I scream myself hoarse all day, and choke
myself for twopence halfpenny. I don't know what's to come of it
all. But you seem to have a nice little custom."
"What's the good of that, with a whole house on one's hands? It's
just my luck; the old tenants go, and the new ones don't come."
"What's the matter, then?"
"I think the devil's in it. There was a nice man on the first
floor-gone; a decent family on the third, all right except that the
man beat his wife every night, and made such a row that no one could
sleep--gone also. I put up notices--no one even looks at them! A
few months ago--it was the middle of December, the day of the last
"The 15th, then," said the hawker. "I cried it, so I know; it's my
"Very well, then, the 15th," resumed widow Masson. "On that day,
then, I let the cellar to a man who said he was a wine merchant, and
who paid a term in advance, seeing that I didn't know him, and
wouldn't have lent him a farthing on the strength of his good looks.
He was a little bit of a man, no taller than that,"--contemptuously
holding out her hand,--"and he had two round eyes which I didn't like
at, all. He certainly paid, he did that, but we are more than half
through the second term and I have no news of my tenant."
"And have you never seen him since?"
"Yes, once--no, twice. Let's see--three times, I am sure. He came
with a hand-cart and a commissionaire, and had a big chest taken
downstairs--a case which he said contained wine in bottles....
No, he came before that, with a workman I think.
Really, I don't know if it was before or after--doesn't matter.
Anyhow, it was bottled wine. The third time he brought a mason, and
I am sure they quarreled. I heard their voices. He carried off the
key, and I have seen neither him nor his wine again. I have another
key, and I went down one day; perhaps the rats have drunk the wine
and eaten the chest, for there certainly is nothing there any more
than there is in my hand now. Nevertheless, I saw what I saw. A big
chest, very big, quite new, and corded all round with strong rope."
"Now, what day was that? "asked the hawker.
"What day? Well, it was--no, I can't remember."
"Nor I either; I am getting stupid. Let's have another little
glass-shall we? just to clear our memories!"
The expedient was not crowned with success, the memories failed to
recover themselves. The crowd waited, attentive, as may be supposed.
Suddenly the hawker exclaimed:
"What a fool I am! I am going to find that, if only I have still got
She felt eagerly in the pocket of her underskirt, and produced
several pieces of dirty, crumpled paper. As she unfolded one after
another, she asked:
"A big chest, wasn't it?"
"Yes, very big."
"And quite new?"
"Yes, I can see it now."
"So can I, good gracious! It was the day when I sold the history of
Leroi de Valines, the 1st of February."
"Yes, it was a Saturday; the next day was Sunday."
"That's it, that's it!--Saturday, February 1st. Well, I know that
chest too! I met your wine merchant on the Place du Louvre, and he
wasn't precisely enjoying himself: one of his creditors wanted to
seize the chest, the wine, the whole kettle of fish! A little man,
isn't he?--a scarecrow?"
"And has red hair?"
"That's the man."
"And looks a hypocrite?"
"You've hit it exactly."
"And he is a hypocrite! enough to make one shudder! No doubt he
can't pay his rent! A thief, my dears, a beggarly thief, who set
fire to his own cellar, and who accused me of trying to steal from
him, while it was he who cheated me, the villain, out of a piece of
twenty-four sous. It's lucky I turned up here! Well, well, we shall
have some fun! Here's another little business on your hands, and you
will have to say where that wine has got to, my dear gossip Derues."
"Derues!" cried twenty voices all at once.
"What! Derues who is in Prison?"
"Why, that's Monsieur de Lamotte's man."
"The man who killed Madame de Lamotte?"
"The man who made away with her son?"
"A scoundrel, my dears, who accused me of stealing, an absolute
"It is just a little unfortunate," said widow Masson, "that it isn't
the man. My tenant calls himself Ducoudray. There's his name on the
"Confound it, that doesn't look like it at all," said the hawker: "
now that's a bore! Oh yes, I have a grudge against that thief, who
accused me of stealing. I told him I should sell his history some
day. When that happens, I'll treat you all round."
As a foretaste of the fulfilment of this promise, the company
disposed of a second bottle of liqueur, and, becoming excited, they
chattered at random for some time, but at length slowly dispersed,
and the street relapsed into the silence of night. But, a few hours
later, the inhabitants were surprised to see the two ends occupied by
unknown people, while other sinister-looking persons patrolled it all
night, as if keeping guard. The next morning a carriage escorted by
police stopped at the widow Masson's door. An officer of police got
out and entered a neighbouring house, whence he emerged a quarter of
an hour later with Monsieur de Lamotte leaning on his arm. The
officer demanded the key of the cellar which last December had been
hired from the widow Masson by a person named Ducoudray, and went
down to it with Monsieur de Lamotte and one of his subordinates.
The carriage standing at the door, the presence of the commissioner
Mutel, the chatter of the previous evening, had naturally roused
everybody's imagination. But this excitement had to be kept for home
use: the whole street was under arrest, and its inhabitants were
forbidden to leave their houses. The windows, crammed with anxious
faces, questioning each other, in the expectation of something
wonderful, were a curious sight; and the ignorance in which they
remained, these mysterious preparations, these orders silently
executed, doubled the curiosity, and added a sort of terror: no one
could see the persons who had accompanied the police officer; three
men remained in the carriage, one guarded by the two others. When
the heavy coach turned into the rue de la Mortellerie, this man had
bent towards the closed window and asked--
"Where are we?"
And when they answered him, he said--
"I do not know this street; I was never in it."
After saying this quite quietly, he asked--
"Why am I brought here?"
As no one replied, he resumed his look of indifference, and betrayed
no emotion, neither when the carriage stopped nor when he saw
Monsieur de Lamotte enter the widow Masson's house.
The officer reappeared on the threshold, and ordered Derues to be
The previous evening, detectives, mingling with the crowd, had
listened to the hawker's story of having met Derues near the Louvre
escorting a large chest. The police magistrate was informed in the
course of the evening. It was an indication, a ray of light, perhaps
the actual truth, detached from obscurity by chance gossip; and
measures were instantly taken to prevent anyone either entering or
leaving the street without being followed and examined. Mutel
thought he was on the track, but the criminal might have accomplices
also on the watch, who, warned in time, might be able to remove the
proofs of the crime, if any existed.
Derues was placed between two men who each held an arm. A third went
before, holding a torch. The commissioner, followed by men also
carrying torches, and provided with spades and pickaxes, came behind,
and in this order they descended to the vault. It was a dismal and
terrifying procession; anyone beholding these dark and sad
countenances, this pale and resigned man, passing thus into these
damp vaults illuminated by the flickering glare of torches, might
well have thought himself the victim of illusion and watching some
gloomy execution in a dream. But all was real and when light
penetrated this dismal charnel-house it seemed at once to illuminate
its secret depths, so that the light of truth might at length
penetrate these dark shadows, and that the voice of the dead would
speak from the earth and the walls.
"Wretch!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte, when he saw Derues appear,
"is it here that you murdered my wife and my son?"
Derues looked calmly at him, and replied--
"I beg you, sir, not to add insult to the misfortunes you have
already caused. If you stood in my place and I were in yours, I
should feel some pity and respect for so terrible a position. What
do you want me? and why am I brought here?"
He did not know the events of last evening, and could only mentally
accuse the mason who had helped to bury the chest. He felt that he
was lost, but his audacity never forsook him.
"You are here, in the first place, to be confronted with this woman,"
said the officer, causing the widow Masson to stand opposite to him.
"I do not know her."
"But I know you, and know you well. It was you who hired this cellar
under the name of Ducoudray."
Derues shrugged his shoulders and answered bitterly--
"I can understand a man being condemned to the torture if he is
guilty, but that in order to accomplish one's mission as accuser, and
to discover a criminal, false witnesses who can give no evidence
should be brought a hundred leagues, that the rabble should be roused
up, that divers faces and imaginary names should be bestowed on an
innocent man, in order to turn a movement of surprise or an indignant
gesture to his disadvantage, all this is iniquitous, and goes beyond
the right of judgment bestowed upon men by God. I do not know this
woman, and no matter what she says or does, I shall say no more."
Neither the skill nor threats of the police officer could shake this
resolution. It was to no purpose that the widow Masson repeated and
asseverated that she recognised him as her tenant Ducoudray, and that
he had had a large case of wine taken down into the cellar; Derues
folded his arms, and remained as motionless as if he had been blind
The walls were sounded, the stones composing them carefully examined,
the floor pierced in several places, but nothing unusual was
Would they have to give it up? Already the officer was making signs
to this effect, when the man who had remained at first below with
Monsieur de Lamotte, and who, standing in shadow, had carefully
watched Derues when he was brought down, came forward, and pointing
to the recess under the stairs, said--
"Examine this corner. The prisoner glanced involuntarily in this
direction when he came down; I have watched him, and it is the only
sign he has given. I was the only person who could see him, and he
did not see me. He is very clever, but one can't be for ever on
one's guard, and may the devil take me if I haven't scented the
"Wretch!" said Derues to himself, "then you have had your hand on me
for a whole hour, and amused yourself by prolonging my agony! Oh! I
ought to have known it; I have found my master. Never mind, you
shall learn nothing from my face, nor yet from the decaying body you
will find; worms and poison can only have left an unrecognisable
An iron rod sunk into the ground, encountered a hard substance some
four feet below. Two men set to work, and dug with energy. Every
eye was fixed upon this trench increasing in depth with every
shovelful of earth which the two labourers cast aside. Monsieur de
Lamotte was nearly fainting, and his emotion impressed everyone
except Derues. At length the silence was broken by the spades
striking heavily on wood, and the noise made everyone shudder. The
chest was uncovered and hoisted out of the trench; it was opened, and
the body of a woman was seen, clad only in a chemise, with a red and
white headband, face downwards. The body was turned over, and
Monsieur de Lamotte recognised his wife, not yet disfigured.
The feeling of horror was so great that no one spoke or uttered a
sound. Derues, occupied in considering the few chances which
remained to him, had not observed that, by the officer's order, one
of the guards had left the cellar before the men began to dig.
Everybody had drawn back both from the corpse and the murderer, who
alone had not moved, and who was repeating prayers. The flame of the
torches placed on the ground cast a reddish light on this silent and
Derues started and turned round on hearing a terrified cry behind
him. His wife had just been brought to the cellar. The commissioner
seized her with one hand, and taking a torch in the other, compelled
her to look down on the body.
"It is Madame de Lamotte!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, yes," she answered, overwhelmed with terror,--" yes, I
Unable to support the sight any longer, she grew pale and fainted
away. She and her husband were removed separately. One would have
supposed the discovery was already known outside, for the people
showered curses and cries of "Assassin!" and "Poisoner!" on the
carriage which conveyed Derues. He remained silent during the drive,
but before re-entering his dungeon, he said--
"I must have been mad when I sought to hide the death and burial of
Madame de Lamotte from public knowledge. It is the only sin I have
committed, and, innocent of aught else, I resign myself as a
Christian to the judgment of God."
It was the only line of defence which remained open to him, and he
clung to it, with the hope of imposing on the magistrates by
redoubled hypocrisy and pious observances. But all this laboriously
constructed scaffolding of lies was shaken to its base and fell away
piece by piece. Every moment brought fresh and overwhelming
revelations. He professed that Madame de Lamotte had died suddenly
in his house, and that, fearing suspicion, he had buried her
secretly. But the doctors called on to examine the body declared
that she had been poisoned with corrosive sublimate and opium. The
pretended payment was clearly an odious imposture, the receipt a
forgery! Then, like a threatening spectre, arose another question,
to which he found no reply, and his own invention turned against him.
Why, knowing his mother was no more, had he taken young de Lamotte to
Versailles? What had become of the youth? What had befallen, him?
Once on the track, the cooper with whom he had lodged on the 12th of
February was soon discovered, and an Act of Parliament ordered the
exhumation of the corpse buried under the name of Beaupre, which the
cooper identified by a shirt which he had given for the burial.
Derues, confounded by the evidence, asserted that the youth died of
indigestion and venereal disease. But the doctors again declared the
presence of corrosive sublimate and opium. All this evidence of
guilt he met with assumed resignation, lamenting incessantly for
Edouard, whom he declared he had loved as his own son. "Alas!" he
said, "I see that poor boy every night! But it softens my grief to
know that he was not deprived of the last consolations of religion!
God, who sees me, and who knows my innocence, will enlighten the
magistrates, and my honour will be vindicated."
The evidence being complete, Derues was condemned by sentence of the
Chatelet, pronounced April 30th, and confirmed by Parliament, May
5th. We give the decree as it is found in the archives:
"This Court having considered the trial held before the Provost of
Paris, or his Deputy-Lieutenant at the Chatelet, for the satisfaction
of the aforesaid Deputy at the aforesaid Chatelet, at the request of
the Deputy of the King's Attorney General at the aforesaid Court,
summoner and plaintiff, against Antoine-Francois Derues, and
Marie-Louise Nicolais, his wife, defendants and accused, prisoners in
the prisons of the Conciergerie of the Palace at Paris, who have
appealed from the sentence given at the aforesaid trial, the
thirtieth day of April 1777, by which the aforesaid Antoine-Francois
Derues has been declared duly attainted and convicted of attempting
unlawfully to appropriate without payment, the estate of Buissony
Souef, belonging to the Sieur and Dame de Saint Faust de Lamotte,
from whom he had bought the said estate by private contract on the
twenty-second day of December 1775, and also of having unworthily
abused the hospitality shown by him since the sixteenth day of
December last towards the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, who arrived in
Paris on the aforesaid day in order to conclude with him the bargain
agreed on in December 1775, and who, for this purpose, and at his
request, lodged with her son in the house of the said Derues, who of
premeditated design poisoned the said Dame de Lamotte, whether by a
medicine composed and prepared by him on the thirtieth day of January
last, or by the beverages and drinks administered by him after the
aforesaid medicine (he having taken the precaution to send his
servant into the country for two or three days, and to keep away
strangers from the room where the said Dame de Lamotte was lying),
from the effects of which poison the said Dame de Lamotte died on the
night of the said thirty-first day of January last; also of having
kept her demise secret, and of having himself enclosed in a chest the
body of the said Dame de Lamotte, which he then caused to be secretly
transported to a cellar in the rue de la Mortellerie hired by him for
this purpose, under the assumed name of Ducoudray, wherein he buried
it himself, or caused it to be buried; also of having persuaded the
son of the above Dame de Lamotte (who, with his mother, had lodged in
his house from the time of their arrival in Paris until the fifteenth
day of January, last,--and who had then been placed in a school that
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte was at Versailles and desired him to
join her there, and, under this pretence, of having conducted the
said younger Sieur de Lamotte, the twelfth day of February (after
having given him some chocolate), to the aforesaid town of
Versailles, to a lodging hired at a cooper's, and of having there
wilfully poisoned him, either in the chocolate taken by the said
younger Sieur de Lamotte before starting, or in beverages and
medicaments which the said Derues himself prepared, mixed, and
administered to the aforesaid Sieur de Lamotte the younger, during
the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth days of February
last, having kept him lying ill in the aforesaid hired room, and
having refused to call in physicians or surgeons, notwithstanding the
progress of the malady, and the representations made to him on the
subject, saying that he himself was a physician and surgeon; from
which poison the said Sieur de Lamotte the younger died on the
fifteenth day of February last, at nine o'clock in the evening, in
the arms of the aforesaid Derues, who, affecting the deepest grief,
and shedding tears, actually exhorted the aforesaid Sieur de Lamotte
to confession, and repeated the prayers for the dying; after which he
himself laid out the body for burial, saying that the deceased had
begged him to do so, and telling the people of the house that he had
died of venereal disease; also of having caused him to be buried the
next day in the churchyard of the parish church of Saint Louis at the
aforesaid Versailles, and of having entered the deceased in the
register of the said parish under a false birthplace, and the false
name of Beaupre, which name the said Derues had himself assumed on
arriving at the said lodging, and had given to the said Sieur de
Lamotte the younger, whom he declared to be his nephew. Also, to
cover these atrocities, and in order to appropriate to himself the
aforesaid estate of Buisson-Souef, he is convicted of having
calumniated the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, and of having used various
manoeuvres and practised several deceptions, to wit--
"First, in signing, or causing to be signed, the names of the above
Dame de Lamotte to a deed of private contract between the said Derues
and his wife on one side and the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte by right
of a power of attorney given by her husband on the other (the which
deed is dated the twelfth day of February, and was therefore written
after the decease of the said Dame de Lamotte); by which deed the
said Dame de Lamotte appears to change the previous conventions
agreed on in the first deed of the twenty-second of December in the
year 1775, and acknowledges receipt from the said Derues of a sum of
one hundred thousand livres, as being the price of the estate of
"Secondly, in signing before a notary, the ninth day of February
last, a feigned acknowledgment for a third part of a hundred thousand
livres, in order to give credence to the pretended payment made by
"Thirdly, in announcing and publishing, and attesting even by oath at
the time of an examination before the commissioner Mutel, that he had
really paid in cash to the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte the aforesaid
hundred thousand livres, and that she, being provided with this
money, had fled with her son and a certain person unknown;
"Fourthly, in depositing with a notary the deed of private contract
bearing the pretended receipt for the above sum of one hundred
thousand livres, end pursuing at law the execution of this deed and
of his claim to the possession of the said estate;
"Fifthly, in signing or causing to be signed by another person,
before the notaries of the town of Lyons, whither he had gone for
this purpose, a deed dated the twelfth day of March, by which the
supposed Dame de Lamotte appeared to accept the payment of the
hundred thousand livres, and to give authority to the Sieur de
Lamotte, her husband, to receive the arrears of the remainder of the
price of the said estate, the which deed he produced as a proof of
the existence of the said Dame de Lamotte;
"Sixthly, in causing to be sent, by other hands, under the name of
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, to a lawyer, on the eighth day o f
April 1777 (at a time when he was in prison, and had been compelled
to abandon the fable that he had paid the aforesaid sum of one
hundred thousand livres in hard cash, and had substituted a pretended
payment made in notes), the notes pretended to have been given by him
in payment to the said Dame de Lamotte
"Seventh, and finally, in maintaining constantly, until the discovery
of the body of the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, that the said Dame was
still alive, and that he had seen her at the town of Lyons, as has
been stated above.
"In atonement has been condemned, etc. etc. etc.
"His goods are hereby declared acquired and confiscated to the King,
or to whomsoever His Majesty shall appoint, first deducting the sum
of two hundred livres as fine for the King, in case the confiscation
is not to the sole profit of His Majesty; and also the sum of six
hundred livres for masses to be said for the repose of the souls of
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte and her son. And, before being
executed, the said Antoine-Francois Derues shall suffer the question
ordinary and extraordinary, in order that from his mouth may be
learned the truth of these facts, and also the names of his
accomplices. And the decision of the judges in the proceedings with
regard to the above-mentioned Marie-Louise Nicolais, wife of Derues,
is delayed until after the execution of the above sentence. It is
also decreed that the mortuary act of the aforesaid de Lamotte the
younger, dated the sixteenth day of February last, in the register of
deaths belonging to the parish church of Saint-Louis at Versailles,
be amended, and his correct names be substituted, in order that the
said Sieur de Lamotte, the father, and other persons interested, may
produce said names before the magistrates if required. And it is
also decreed that this sentence be printed and published by the
deputy of the Attorney-General at the Chatelet, and affixed to the
walls in the usual places and cross roads of the town, provostship
and viscounty of Paris, and wherever else requisite.
"With regard to the petition of Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de
Lamotte, a Royal Equerry, Sieur de Grange-Flandre, Buisson-Souef,
Valperfond, and other places, widower and inheritor of Marie Francois
Perier, his wife, according to their marriage contract signed before
Baron and partner, notaries at Paris, the fifth day of September
1762, whereby he desires to intervene in the action brought against
Derues and his accomplices, concerning the assassination and
poisoning committed on the persons of the wife and son of the said
Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, on the accusation made by him to the
Deputy Attorney-General of the King at the Chatelet at present
pending in the Court, on the report of the final judgment given in
the said action the 3oth of April last, and which allowed the
intervention; it is decreed that there shall be levied on the goods
left by the condemned, before the rights of the Treasury, and
separate from them, the sum of six thousand livres, or such other sum
as it shall please the Court to award; from which sum the said
Saint-Faust de Lamotte shall consent to deduct the sum of two
thousand seven hundred and forty-eight livres, which he acknowledges
has been sent or remitted to him by the said Derues and his wife at
different times; which first sum of six thousand livres, or such
other, shall be employed by the said Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte,
who is authorised to found therewith, in the parish church of Saint
Nicholas de Villeneuve-le-Roy, in which parish the estate of
Buisson-Souef is situate, and which is mentioned in the action, an
annual and perpetual service for the repose of the souls of the wife
and son of the said Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, of which an act
shall be inserted in the decree of intervention, and a copy of this
act or decree shall be inscribed upon a stone which shall be set in
the wall of the said church of Saint Nicholas de Villeneuve-le-Roy,
in such place as is expedient. And the deed of contract for private
sale, made between the late spouse of the said Sieur de Saint-Faust
de Lamotte and the above-named Derues and his wife, is hereby
declared null and void, as having had no value in absence of any
payment or realisation of contract before a notary; and the pretended
agreement of the twelfth day of February last, as also all other
deeds fabricated by the said Derues or others, named in the above
action, as also any which may hereafter be presented, are hereby
declared to be null and void.
"The Court declares the judgment pronounced by the magistrates of the
Chatelet against the above named Derues to be good and right, and his
appeal against the same to be bad and ill-founded.
"It is decreed that the sentence shall lose its full and entire
effect with regard to Marie-Louise Nicolais, who is condemned to the
ordinary fine of twelve livres. The necessary relief granted on the
petition of Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, the second day
of May this present month, and delay accorded until after the
suspended judgment pronounced with regard to the said Marie-Louise
(Signed) De Gourgues, President.
Derues' assurance and calmness never deserted him for one moment.
For three-quarters of an hour he harangued the Parliament, and his
defence was remarkable both for its presence of mind and the art with
which he made the most of any circumstances likely to suggest doubts
to the magistrates and soften the severity of the first sentence.
Found guilty on every point, he yet protested that he was innocent of
poisoning. Remorse, which often merely means fear of punishment, had
no place in his soul, and torture he seemed not to dread. As strong
in will as he was weak in body, he desired to die like a martyr in
the faith of his religion, which was hypocrisy, and the God whom he
gloried on the scaffold was the god of lies.
On May 6th, at seven in the morning, the sentence of execution was
read to him. He listened calmly, and when it was finished, remarked:
"I had not anticipated so severe a sentence."
A few hours later the instruments of torture were got ready. He was
told that this part of his punishment would be remitted if he would
confess his crimes and the names of his accomplices. He replied:
"I have no more to say. I know what terrible torture awaits me, I
know I must die to-day, but I have nothing to confess."
He made no resistance when his knees and legs were bound, and endured
the torture courageously. Only, in a moment of agony, he exclaimed:
"Accursed money! has thou reduced me to this?"
Thinking that pain would overcome his resolution, the presiding
magistrate bent towards him, and said:
"Unhappy man! confess thy crime, since death is near at hand."
He recovered his firmness, and, looking at the magistrate, replied:
"I know it, monseigneur; I have perhaps not three hours to live."
Thinking that his apparently feeble frame could not endure the last
wedges, the executioner was ordered to stop. He was unbound and laid
on a mattress, and a glass of wine was brought, of which he only
drank a few drops; after this, he made his confession to the priest.
For, dinner, they brought him soup and stew, which he ate eagerly,
and inquiring of the gaoler if he could have something more, an
entree was brought in addition. One might have thought that this
final repast heralded, not death but deliverance. At length three
o'clock struck the hour appointed for leaving the prison.
According to the report of credible persons whom we have consulted,
Paris on this occasion presented a remarkable appearance, which those
who saw it were never able to forget. The great anthill was troubled
to its very lowest depth. Whether by accident or design, the same
day had been fixed for a function which ought to have proved a
considerable counter attraction. A great festival in honour of a
German prince was given on the Plaine de Grenelle, at which all the
court was present; and probably more than one great lady regretted
missing the emotions of the Place de Greve, abandoned to the rabble
and the bourgeoisie. The rest of the city was deserted, the streets
silent, the houses closed. A stranger transported suddenly into such
a solitude might have reasonably thought that during the night the
town had been smitten by the Angel of Death, and that only a
labyrinth of vacant buildings remained, testifying to the life and
turmoil of the preceding day. A dark and dense atmosphere hung over
the abandoned town; lightning furrowed the heavy motionless clouds;
in the distance the occasional rumble of thunder was heard, answered
by the cannon of the royal fete. The crowd was divided between the
powers of heaven and earth: the terrible majesty of the Eternal on
one side, on the other the frivolous pomp of royalty--eternal
punishment and transient grandeur in opposition. Like the waters of
a flood leaving dry the fields which they have covered, so the waves
of the multitude forsook their usual course. Thousands of men and
women crowded together along the route which the death-cart would
take; an ocean of heads undulated like the ears in a wheatfield. The
old houses, hired at high rates, quivered under the weight of eager
spectators, and the window sashes had been removed to afford a better
Attired in the shirt worn by condemned criminals, and bearing a
placard both in front and behind, with the words "Wilful Poisoner,"
Derues descended the great staircase of the Chatelet with a firm
step. It was at this moment, on seeing the crucifix, that he
exclaimed, "O Christ, I shall suffer like Thee!" He mounted the
tumbril, looking right and left amongst the crowd. During the
progress he recognised and bowed to several of his old associates,
and bade adieu in a clear voice to the former mistress of his
'prentice days, who has recorded that she never saw him look so
pleasant. Arrived at the door of Notre Dame, where the clerk was
awaiting him, he descended from the tumbril without assistance, took
a lighted wax taper weighing two pounds in his hand, and did penance,
kneeling, bareheaded and barefooted, a rope round his neck, repeating
the words of the death-warrant. He then reascended the cart in the
midst of the cries and execrations of the populace, to which he
appeared quite insensible. One voice only, endeavouring to dominate
the tumult, caused him to turn his head:, it was that of the hawker
who was crying his sentence, and who broke off now and then to say--
"Well! my poor gossip Derues, how do you like that fine carriage
you're in? Oh yes, mutter your prayers and look up to heaven as much
as you like, you won't take us in now. Ah! thief who said I stole
from you! Wasn't I right when I said I should be selling your
sentence some day?"
Then, adding her own wrongs to the list of crimes, she declared that
the Parliament had condemned him as much for having falsely accused
her of theft as for having poisoned Madame de Lamotte and her son!
When arrived at the scaffold, he gazed around him, and a sort of
shiver of impatience ran through the crowd. He smiled, and as if
anxious to trick mankind for the last time, asked to be taken to the
Hotel de Ville, which was granted, in the hope that he would at last
make some confession; but he only persisted in saying that he was
guiltless of poisoning. He had an interview with his wife, who
nearly fainted on seeing him, and remained for more than a quarter of
an hour unable to say a word. He lavished tender names upon her, and
professed much affliction at seeing her in so miserable a condition.
When she was taken away, he asked permission to embrace her, and took
a most touching farewell. His last words have been preserved.
"My dear wife," he said, "I recommend our beloved children to your
care: bring them up in the fear of God. You must go to Chartres, you
will there see the bishop, on whom I had the honour of waiting when I
was there last, and who has always been kind to me; I believe he has
thought well of me, and that I may hope he will take pity on you and
on our children."
It was now seven in the evening, and the crowd began to murmur at the
long delay. At length the criminal reappeared. An onlooker who saw
him go to the Hotel de Ville, and who was carried by the movement of
the crowd to the foot of the scaffold, says that when handed over to
the executioner he took off his clothes himself. He kissed the
instrument of punishment with devotion, then extended himself on the
St. Andrew's cross, asking with a resigned smile that they would make
his sufferings as short as possible. As soon as his head was
covered, the executioner gave the signal. One would have thought a
very few blows would have finished so frail a being, but he seemed as
hard to kill as the venomous reptiles which must be crushed and cut
to pieces before life is extinct, and the coup de grace was found
necessary. The executioner uncovered his head and showed the
confessor that the eyes were closed and that the heart had ceased to
beat. The body was then removed from the cross, the hands and feet
fastened together, and it was thrown on the funeral pile.
While the execution was proceeding the people applauded. On the
morrow they bought up the fragments of bone, and hastened to buy
lottery tickets, in the firm conviction that these precious relics
would bring luck to the fortunate possessors!
"In 1777, Madame Derues was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, and
confined at the Salpetriere. She was one of the first victims who
perished in the prison massacres.
Before beginning our story, we must warn the reader that it will not
be worth his while to make researches among contemporary or other
records as to the personage whose name it bears. For in truth
neither Marie Leroux, widow of Jacques Constantin, nor her
accomplice, Claude Perregaud, was of sufficient importance to find a
place on any list of great criminals, although it is certain that
they were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged. It may
seem strange that what follows is more a history of the retribution
which overtook the criminals than a circumstantial description of the
deeds for which they were punished; but the crimes were so revolting,
and so unsuitable for discussion, that it was impossible for us to
enter into any details on the subject, so that what we offer in these
pages is, we confess quite openly, not a full, true, and particular
account of a certain series of events leading up to a certain result;
it is not even a picture wherein that result is depicted with
artistic completeness, it is only an imperfect narrative imperfectly
rounded off. We feel sure, however, that the healthy-minded reader
will be grateful for our reticence and total disregard of proportion.
In spite of the disadvantage which such a theme imposes on any writer
with a deep sense of responsibility, we have resolved to let in some
light on these obscure figures; for we can imagine no more effective
way of throwing into high relief the low morals and deep corruption
into which all classes of society had sunk at the termination of the
factious dissensions of the Fronde, which formed such a fitting
prelude to the licence of the reign of the grand roi.
After this explanation, we shall, without further preamble, introduce
the reader to a little tavern in Paris, situated in the rue
Saint-Andre-des-Arts, on an evening in November 1658.
It was about seven o'clock. Three gentlemen were seated at one of
the tables in a low, smoky room. They had already emptied several
bottles, and one of them seemed to have just suggested some madcap
scheme to the others, the thought of which sent them off into shouts
"Pardu!" said one of them, who was the first to recover his breath, "
I must say it would be an excellent trick."
"Splendid!" said another; "and if you like, Commander de Jars, we can
try it this very evening."
"All right, my worthy king's treasurer, provided my pretty nephew
here won't be too much shocked," and as he spoke de Jars gave to the
youngest of the three a caressing touch on the cheek with the back of
"That reminds me, de Jars!" said the treasurer, "that word you have
just said piques my curiosity. For some months now this little
fellow here, Chevalier de Moranges, follows you about everywhere like
your shadow. You never told us you had a nephew. Where the devil
did you get him?"
The commander touched the chevalier's knee under the table, and he,
as if to avoid speaking, slowly filled and emptied his glass.
"Look here," said the treasurer, "do you want to hear a few plain
words, such as I shall rap out when God takes me to task about the
peccadilloes of my past life? I don't believe a word about the
relationship. A nephew must be the son of either a brother or a
sister. Now, your only sister is an abbess, and your late brother's
marriage was childless. There is only one way of proving the
relationship, and that is to confess that when your brother was young
and wild he and Love met, or else Madame l'Abbesse----."
"Take care, Treasurer Jeannin! no slander against my sister!"
" Well, then, explain; you can't fool me! May I be hanged if I leave
this place before I have dragged the secret out of you! Either we
are friends or we are not. What you tell no one else you ought to
tell me. What! would you make use of my purse and my sword on
occasion and yet have secrets from me? It's too bad: speak, or our
friendship is at an end! I give you fair warning that I shall find
out everything and publish it abroad to court and city: when I strike
a trail there's no turning me aside. It will be best for you to
whisper your secret voluntarily into my ear, where it will be as safe
as in the grave."
"How full of curiosity you are, my good friend!" said de Jars,
leaning one elbow on the table, and twirling the points of his
moustache with his hand; "but if I were to wrap my secret round the
point of a dagger would you not be too much afraid of pricking your
fingers to pull it off?"
"Not I," said the king's treasurer, beginning to twirl his moustache
also: "the doctors have always told me that I am of too full a
complexion and that it would do me all the good in the world to be
bled now and then. But what would be an advantage to me would be
dangerous to you. It's easy to see from your jaundiced phiz that for
you blood-letting is no cure."
"And you would really go that length? You would risk a duel if I
refused to let you get to the bottom of my mystery?"
"Yes, on my honour! Well, how is it to be?"
"My dear boy," said de Jars to the youth, "we are caught, and may as
well yield gracefully. You don't know this big fellow as well as I
do. He's obstinacy itself. You can make the most obstinate donkey
go on by pulling its tail hard enough, but when Jeannin gets a notion
into his pate, not all the legions of hell can get it out again.
Besides that, he's a skilful fencer, so there's nothing for it but to
"Just as you like," said the young man; "you know all my
circumstances and how important it is that my secret should be kept."
"Oh! among Jeannin's many vices there are a few virtues, and of these
discretion is the greatest, so that his curiosity is harmless. A
quarter of an hour hence he will let himself be killed rather than
reveal what just now he is ready to risk his skin to find out,
whether we will or no."
Jeannin nodded approvingly, refilled the glasses, and raising his to
his lips, said in a tone of triumph--
"I am listening, commander."
"Well, if it must be, it must. First of all, learn that my nephew is
not my nephew at all."
"That his name is not Moranges."
"And the next?"
"I am not going to reveal his real name to you."
"Because I don't know ft myself, and no more does the chevalier."
"No nonsense at all, but the sober truth. A few months ago the
chevalier carne to Paris, bringing me a letter of introduction from a
German whom I used to know years ago. This letter requested me to
look after the bearer and help him in his investigations. As you
said just now, Love and someone once met somewhere, and that was
about all was known as to his origin. Naturally the young man wants
to cut a figure in the world, and would like to discover the author
of his existence, that he may have someone at hand to pay the debts
he is going to incur. We have brought together every scrap of
information we could collect as to this person, hoping to find
therein a clue that we could follow up. To be quite open with you,
and convince you at the same time how extremely prudent and discreet
we must be, I must tell you that we think we have found one, and that
it leads to no less a dignitary than a Prince of the Church. But if
he should get wind of our researches too soon everything would be at
an end, don't you see? So keep your tongue between your teeth."
"Never fear," said Jeannin.
"Now, that's what I call speaking out as a friend should. I wish you
luck, my gallant Chevalier de Moranges, and until you unearth your
father, if you want a little money, my purse is at your service. On
my word, de Jars, you must have been born with a caul. There never
was your equal for wonderful adventures. This one promises
well-spicy intrigues, scandalous revelations, and you'll be in the
thick of it all. You're a lucky fellow! It's only a few months
since you had the most splendid piece of good fortune sent you
straight from heaven. A fair lady falls in love with you and makes
you carry her off from the convent of La Raquette. But why do you
never let anyone catch a glimpse of her? Are you jealous? Or is it
that she is no such beauty, after all, but old and wrinkled, like
that knave of a Mazarin?"
"I know what I'm about," answered de jars, smiling; " I have my very
good reasons. The elopement caused a great deal of indignation, and
it's not easy to get fanatics to listen to common sense. No, I am
not in the least jealous; she is madly in love with me. Ask my
"Does he know her? "
"We have no secrets from each other; the confidence between us is
without a flaw. The fair one, believe me, is good to look on, and is
worth all the ogling, fan-flirting baggages put together that one
sees at court or on the balconies of the Palais Roy: ah! I'll answer
for that. Isn't she, Moranges?"
"I'm quite of your opinion," said the youth; exchanging with de jars
a singularly significant look; "and you had better treat her well,
uncle, or I shall play you some trick."
"Ah! ah!" cried Jeannin. "You poor fellow! I very much fear that
you are warming a little serpent in your bosom. Have an eye to this
dandy with the beardless chin! But joking apart, my boy, are you
really on good terms with the fair lady?"
"Certainly I am."
"And you are not uneasy, commander?"
" Not the least little bit."
"He is quite right. I answer for her as for my self, you know; as
long as he loves her she will love him; as long as he is faithful she
will be faithful. Do you imagine that a woman who insists on her
lover carrying her off can so easily turn away from the man of her
choice? I know her well; I have had long talks with her, she and I
alone: she is feather-brained, given to pleasure, entirely without
prejudices and those stupid scruples which spoil the lives of other
women; but a good sort on the whole; devoted to my uncle, with no
deception about her; but at the same time extremely jealous, and has
no notion of letting herself be sacrificed to a rival. If ever she
finds herself deceived, good-bye to prudence and reserve, and then--"
A look and a touch of the commander's knee cut this panegyric short,
to which the treasurer was listening with open-eyed astonishment.
"What enthusiasm!" he exclaimed. "Well, and then----"
"Why, then," went on the young man, with a laugh, "if my uncle
behaves badly, I, his nephew, will try to make up for his
wrong-doing: he can't blame me then. But until then he may be quite
easy, as he well knows."
"Oh yes, and in proof of that I am going to take Moranges with me
to-night. He is young and inexperienced, and it will be a good
lesson for him to see how a gallant whose amorous intrigues did not
begin yesterday sets about getting even with a coquette. He can turn
it to account later on.
"On my word," said Jeannin, "my notion is that he is in no great need
of a teacher; however, that's your business, not mine. Let us return
to what we were talking about just now. Are we agreed; and shall we
amuse ourselves by paying out the lady in, her own coin?"
"If you like."
"Which of us is to begin?"
De Jars struck the table with the handle of his dagger.
"More wine, gentlemen?" said the drawer, running up.
"No, dice; and be quick about it."
"Three casts each and the highest wins," said Jeannin. "You begin."
"I throw for myself and nephew." The dice rolled on the table.
"Ace and three."
"It's my turn now. Six and five."
"Pass it over. Five and two."
"We're equal. Four and two."
"Now let me. Ace and blank."
"You have won."
"And I'm off at once, said Jeannin, rising, and muffling himself in
his mantle, " It's now half-past seven. We shall see each other
again at eight, so I won't say good-bye."
"Good luck to you!"
Leaving the tavern and turning into the rue Pavee, he took the
direction of the river.
In 1658, at the corner of the streets Git-le-Coeur and Le Hurepoix
(the site of the latter being now occupied by the Quai des Augustins
as far as Pont Saint-Michel), stood the great mansion which Francis I
had bought and fitted up for the Duchesse d'Etampes. It was at this
period if not in ruins at least beginning to show the ravages of
time. Its rich interior decorations had lost their splendour and
become antiquated. Fashion had taken up its abode in the Marais,
near the Place Royale, and it was thither that profligate women and
celebrated beauties now enticed the humming swarm of old rakes and
young libertines. Not one of them all would have thought of residing
in the mansion, or even in the quarter, wherein the king's mistress
had once dwelt. It would have been a step downward in the social
scale, and equivalent to a confession that their charms were falling
in the public estimation. Still, the old palace was not empty; it
had, on the contrary, several tenants. Like the provinces of
Alexander's empire, its vast suites of rooms had been subdivided; and
so neglected was it by the gay world that people of the commonest
description strutted about with impunity where once the proudest
nobles had been glad to gain admittance. There in semi-isolation and
despoiled of her greatness lived Angelique-Louise de Guerchi,
formerly companion to Mademoiselle de Pons and then maid of honour to
Anne of Austria. Her love intrigues and the scandals they gave rise
to had led to her dismissal from court. Not that she was a greater
sinner than many who remained behind, only she was unlucky enough or
stupid enough to be found out. Her admirers were so indiscreet that
they had not left her a shred of reputation, and in a court where a
cardinal is the lover of a queen, a hypocritical appearance of
decorum is indispensable to success. So Angelique had to suffer for
the faults she was not clever enough to hide. Unfortunately for her,
her income went up and down with the number and wealth of her
admirers, so when she left the court all her possessions consisted of
a few articles she had gathered together out of the wreck of her
former luxury, and these she was now selling one by one to procure
the necessaries of life, while she looked back from afar with an
envious eye at the brilliant world from which she had been exiled,
and longed for better days. All hope was not at an end for her. By
a strange law which does not speak well for human nature, vice finds
success easier to attain than virtue. There is no courtesan, no
matter how low she has fallen, who cannot find a dupe ready to defend
against the world an honour of which no vestige remains. A man who
doubts the virtue of the most virtuous woman, who shows himself
inexorably severe when he discovers the lightest inclination to
falter in one whose conduct has hitherto been above reproach, will
stoop and pick up out of the gutter a blighted and tarnished
reputation and protect and defend it against all slights, and devote
his life to the attempt to restore lustre to the unclean thing dulled
by the touch of many fingers. In her days of prosperity Commander de
Jars and the king's treasurer had both fluttered round Mademoiselle
de Guerchi, and neither had fluttered in vain. Short as was the
period necessary to overcome her scruples, in as short a period it
dawned on the two candidates for her favour that each had a
successful rival in the other, and that however potent as a reason
for surrender the doubloons of the treasurer had been, the personal
appearance of the commander had proved equally cogent. As both had
felt for her only a passing fancy and not a serious passion, their
explanations with each other led to no quarrel between them; silently
and simultaneously they withdrew from her circle, without even
letting her know they had found her out, but quite determined to
revenge, themselves on her should a chance ever offer. However,
other affairs of a similar nature had intervened to prevent their
carrying out this laudable intention; Jeannin had laid siege to a
more inaccessible beauty, who had refused to listen to his sighs for
less than 30 crowns, paid in advance, and de Jars had become quite
absorbed by his adventure with the convent boarder at La Raquette,
and the business of that young stranger whom he passed off as his
nephew. Mademoiselle de Guerchi had never seen them again; and with
her it was out of sight out of mind. At the moment when she comes
into our story she was weaving her toils round a certain Duc de
Vitry, whom she had seen at court, but whose acquaintance she had
never made, and who had been absent when the scandalous occurrence
which led to her disgrace came to light. He was a man of from
twenty-five to twenty-six years of age, who idled his life away: his
courage was undoubted, and being as credulous as an old libertine, he
was ready to draw his sword at any moment to defend the lady whose
cause he had espoused, should any insolent slanderer dare to hint
there was a smirch on her virtue. Being deaf to all reports, he
seemed one of those men expressly framed by heaven to be the
consolation of fallen women; such a man as in our times a retired
opera-dancer or a superannuated professional beauty would welcome
with open arms. He had only one fault--he was married. It is true
he neglected his wife, according to the custom of the time, and it is
probably also true that his wife cared very little about his
infidelities. But still she was an insurmountable obstacle to the
fulfilment of Mademoiselle de Guerchi's hopes, who but for her might
have looked forward to one day becoming a duchess.
For about three weeks, however, at the time we are speaking of, the
duke had neither crossed her threshold nor written. He had told her
he was going for a few days to Normandy, where he had large estates,
but had remained absent so long after the date he had fixed for his
return that she began to feel uneasy. What could be keeping him?
Some new flame, perhaps. The anxiety of the lady was all the more
keen, that until now nothing had passed between them but looks of
languor and words of love. The duke had laid himself and all he
possessed at the feet of Angelique, and Angelique had refused his
offer. A too prompt surrender would have justified the reports so
wickedly spread against her; and, made wise by experience, she was
resolved not to compromise her future as she had compromised her
past. But while playing at virtue she had also to play at
disinterestedness, and her pecuniary resources were consequently
almost exhausted. She had proportioned the length of her resistance
to the length of her purse, and now the prolonged absence of her
lover threatened to disturb the equilibrium which she had established
between her virtue and her money. So it happened that the cause of
the lovelorn Duc de Vitry was in great peril just at the moment when
de Jars and Jeannin resolved to approach the fair one anew. She was
sitting lost in thought, pondering in all good faith on the small
profit it was to a woman to be virtuous, when she heard voices in the
antechamber. Then her door opened, and the king's treasurer walked
As this interview and those which follow took place in the presence
of witnesses, we are obliged to ask the reader to accompany us for a
time to another part of the same house.
We have said there were several tenants: now the person who occupied
the rooms next to those in which Mademoiselle de Guerchi lived was a
shopkeeper's widow called Rapally, who was owner of one of the
thirty-two houses which then occupied the bridge Saint-Michel. They
had all been constructed at the owner's cost, in return for a lease
for ever. The widow Rapally's avowed age was forty, but those who
knew her longest added another ten years to that: so, to avoid error,
let us say she was forty-five. She was a solid little body, rather
stouter than was necessary for beauty; her hair was black, her
complexion brown, her eyes prominent and always moving; lively,
active, and if one once yielded to her whims, exacting beyond
measure; but until then buxom and soft, and inclined to pet and spoil
whoever, for the moment, had arrested her volatile fancy. Just as we
make her acquaintance this happy individual was a certain Maitre
Quennebert, a notary of Saint Denis, and the comedy played between
him and the widow was an exact counterpart of the one going on in the
rooms of Mademoiselle de Guerchi, except that the roles were
inverted; for while the lady was as much in love as the Duc de Vitry,
the answering devotion professed by the notary was as insincere as
the disinterested attachment to her lover displayed by the whilom
maid of honour.
Maitre Quennebert was still young and of attractive appearance, but
his business affairs were in a bad way. For long he had been
pretending not to understand the marked advances of the widow, and he
treated her with a reserve and respect she would fain have dispensed
with, and which sometimes made her doubt of his love. But it was
impossible for her as a woman to complain, so she was forced to
accept with resignation the persistent and unwelcome consideration
with which he surrounded her. Maitre Quennebert was a man of common
sense and much experience, and had formed a scheme which he was
prevented from carrying out by an obstacle which he had no power to
remove. He wanted, therefore, to gain time, for he knew that the day
he gave the susceptible widow a legal right over him he would lose
his independence. A lover to whose prayers the adored one remains
deaf too long is apt to draw back in discouragement, but a woman
whose part is restricted to awaiting those prayers, and answering
with a yes or no, necessarily learns patience. Maitre Quennebert
would therefore have felt no anxiety as to the effect of his
dilatoriness on the widow, were it not for the existence of a distant
cousin of the late Monsieur Rapally, who was also paying court to
her, and that with a warmth much greater than had hitherto been
displayed by himself. This fact, in view of the state of the
notary's affairs, forced him at last to display more energy. To make
up lost ground and to outdistance his rival once more, he now began
to dazzle the widow with fine phrases and delight her with
compliments; but to tell the truth all this trouble was superfluous;
he was beloved, and with one fond look he might have won pardon for
far greater neglect.
An hour before the treasurer's arrival there had been a knock at the
door of the old house, and Maitre Quennebert, curled, pomaded, and
prepared for conquest, had presented himself at the widow's. She
received him with a more languishing air than usual, and shot such
arrows at him froth her eyes that to escape a fatal wound he
pretended to give way by degrees to deep sadness. The widow,
becoming alarmed, asked with tenderness--
"What ails you this evening?"
He rose, feeling he had nothing to fear from his rival, and, being
master of the field, might henceforth advance or recede as seemed
best for his interests.
"What ails me?" he repeated, with a deep sigh. "I might deceive you,
might give you a misleading answer, but to you I cannot lie. I am in
great trouble, and how to get out of it I don't know."
"But tell me what it is," said the widow, standing up in her turn.
Maitre Quennebert took three long strides, which brought him to the
far end of the room, and asked--
"Why do you want to know? You can't help me. My trouble is of a
kind a man does not generally confide to women."
"What is it? An affair of honour?
"Good God! You are going to fight!" she exclaimed, trying to seize
him by the arm. "You are going to fight!"
"Ah! if it were nothing worse than that!" said Quennebert, pacing up
and down the room: "but you need not be alarmed; it is only a money
trouble. I lent a large sum, a few months ago, to a friend, but the
knave has run away and left me in the lurch. It was trust money, and
must be replaced within three days. But where am I to get two
"Yes, that is a large sum, and not easy to raise at such short
"I shall be obliged to have recourse to some Jew, who will drain me
dry. But I must save my good name at all costs."
Madame Rapally gazed at him in consternation. Maitre Quennebert,
divining her thought, hastened to add--
"I have just one-third of what is needed."
"With great care, and by scraping together all I possess, I can make
up eight hundred livres. But may I be damned in the next world, or
punished as a swindler in this, and one's as bad as the other to me,
if I can raise one farthing more."
"But suppose someone should lend you the twelve hundred francs, what
"Pardieu! I should accept them," cried the notary as if he had not
the least suspicion whom she could mean. "Do you happen to know
anyone, my dear Madame Rapally?"
The widow nodded affirmatively, at the same time giving him a
"Tell me quick the name of this delightful person, and I shall go to
him to-morrow morning. You don't know what a service you are
rendering me. And I was so near not telling you of the fix I was in,
lest you should torment yourself uselessly. Tell me his name."
"Can you not guess it?"
"How should I guess it?"
"Think well. Does no one occur to you?"
"No, no one," said Quennebert, with the utmost innocence.
"Have you no friends?"
"One or two."
"Would they not be glad to help you?"
"They might. But I have mentioned the matter to no one."
"To no one?"
"Well, Madame Rapally--I hope I don't understand you; it's not
possible; you would not humiliate me. Come, come, it's a riddle, and
I am too stupid to solve it. I give it up. Don't tantalise me any
longer; tell me the name."
The widow, somewhat abashed by this exhibition of delicacy on the
part of Maitre Quennebert, blushed, cast down her eyes, and did not
venture to speak.
As the silence lasted some time, it occurred to the notary that he
had been perhaps too hasty in his supposition, and he began to cast
round for the best means of retrieving his blunder.
"You do not speak," he said; "I see it was all a joke."
"No," said the widow at last in a timid voice, "it was no joke; I was
quite in earnest. But the way you take things is not very
"What do you mean?"
"Pray, do you imagine that I can go on while you glare at me with
that angry frown puckering your forehead, as if you had someone
before you who had tried to insult you?"
A sweet smile chased the frown from the notary's brow. Encouraged by
the suspension of hostilities, Madame Rapally with sudden boldness
approached him, and, pressing one of his hands in both her own,
" It is I who am going to lend you the money."
He repulsed her gently, but with an air of great dignity, and said--
"Madame, I thank you, but I cannot accept."
"Why can't you?"
At this he began to walk round and round the room, while the widow,
who stood in the middle, turned as upon a pivot, keeping him always
in view. This circus-ring performance lasted some minutes before
Quennebert stood still and said--
"I cannot be angry with you, Madame Rapally, I know your offer was
made out of the kindness of your heart,--but I must repeat that it is
impossible for me to accept it."
"There you go again! I don't understand you at all! Why can't you
accept? What harm would it do?"
"If there were no other reason, because people might suspect that I
confided my difficulties to you in the hope of help."
"And supposing you did, what then? People speak hoping to be
understood. You wouldn't have minded asking anyone else."
"So you really think I did come in that hope?"
"Mon Dieu! I don't think anything at all that you don't want. It
was I who dragged the confidence from you by my questions, I know
that very well. But now that you have told me your secret, how can
you hinder me from sympathising with you, from desiring to aid you?
When I learned your difficulty, ought I to have been amused, and gone
into fits of laughter? What! it's an insult to be in a position to
render you a service! That's a strange kind of delicacy!"
"Are you astonished that I should feel so strongly about it?"
"Nonsense! Do you still think I meant to offend you? I look on you
as the most honourable man in the world. If anyone were to tell me
that he had seen you commit a base action, I should reply that it was
a lie. Does that satisfy you?"
"But suppose they got hold of it in the city, suppose it were
reported that Maitre Quennebert had taken money from Madame de
Rapally, would it be the same as if they said Maitre Quennebert had
borrowed twelve hundred livres from Monsieur Robert or some other
"I don't see what difference it could make."
"But I do."
"It's not easy to express, but----"
"But you exaggerate both the service and the gratitude you ought to
feel. I think I know why you refuse. You're ashamed to take it as a
gift, aren't you."
"Yes, I am."
"Well, I'm not going to make you a gift. Borrow twelve hundred
livres from me. For how long do you want the money?"
"I really don't know how soon I can repay you."
"Let's say a year, and reckon the interest. Sit down there, you
baby, and write out a promissory note."
Maitre Quennebert made some further show of resistance, but at last
yielded to the widow's importunity. It is needless to say that the
whole thing was a comedy on his part, except that he really needed
the money. But he did not need it to replace a sum of which a
faithless friend had robbed him, but to satisfy his own creditors,
who, out of all patience with him, were threatening to sue him, and
his only reason for seeking out Madame de Rapally was to take
advantage of her generous disposition towards himself. His feigned
delicacy was intended to induce her to insist so urgently, that in
accepting he should not fall too much in her esteem, but should seem
to yield to force. And his plan met with complete success, for at
the end of the transaction he stood higher than ever in the opinion
of his fair creditor, on account of the noble sentiments he had
expressed. The note was written out in legal form and the money
counted down on the spot.
"How glad I am!" said she then, while Quennebert still kept up some
pretence of delicate embarrassment, although he could not resist
casting a stolen look at the bag of crowns lying on the table beside
his cloak. "Do you intend to go back to Saint Denis to-night?"
Even had such been his intention, the notary would have taken very
good care not to say so; for he foresaw the accusations of imprudence
that would follow, the enumeration of the dangers by the way; and it
was quite on the cards even that, having thus aroused his fears, his
fair hostess should in deference to them offer him hospitality for
the night, and he did not feel inclined for an indefinitely prolonged
"No;" he said, "I am going to sleep at Maitre Terrasson's, rue des
Poitevins; I have sent him word to expect me. But although his house
is only a few yards distant, I must leave you earlier than I could
have wished, on account of this money."
"Will you think of me?"
"How can you ask?" replied Quennebert, with a sentimental expression.
"You have compelled me to accept the money, but--I shall not be happy
till I have repaid you. Suppose this loan should make us fall out?"
"You may be quite sure that if you don't pay when the bill falls due,
I shall have recourse to the law."
"Oh, I know that very well."
"I shall enforce all my rights as a creditor."
"I expect nothing else."
"I shall show no pity."
And the widow gave a saucy laugh and shook her finger at him.
"Madame Rapally," said the notary, who was most anxious to bring this
conversation to an end, dreading every moment that it would take a
languishing tone,-"Madame Rapally, will you add to your goodness by
granting me one more favour?"
"What is it?"
The gratitude that is simulated is not difficult to bear, but
genuine, sincere gratitude, such as I feel, is a heavy burden, as I
can assure you. It is much easier to give than to receive. Promise
me, then, that from now till the year is up there shall be no more
reference between us to this money, and that we shall go on being
good friends as before. Leave it to me to make arrangements to
acquit myself honourably of my obligations towards you. I need say
no more; till a year's up, mum's the word."
It shall be as you desire, Maitre Quennebert," answered Madame
Rapally, her eyes shining with delight. "It was never my intention
to lay you under embarrassing obligations, and I leave it all to you.
Do you know that I am beginning to believe in presentiments?"
"You becoming superstitious! Why, may I ask?"
"I refused to do a nice little piece of ready-money business this
"Yes, because I had a sort of feeling that made me resist all
temptation to leave myself without cash. Imagine! I received a
visit to-day from a great lady who lives in this house--in the suite
of apartments next to mine."
"What is her name?"
"Mademoiselle de Guerchi."
"And what did she want with you?"
"She called in order to ask me to buy, for four hundred livres, some
of her jewels which are well worth six hundred, for I understand such
things; or should I prefer it to lend her that sum and keep the
jewels as security? It appears that mademoiselle is in great
straits. De Guerchi--do you know the name?"
"I think I have heard it."
"They say she has had a stormy past, and has been greatly talked of;
but then half of what one hears is lies. Since she came to live here
she has been very quiet. No visitors except one--a nobleman, a duke-
-wait a moment! What's his name? The Duc-Duc de Vitry; and for over
three weeks even he hasn't been near her. I imagine from this
absence that they have fallen out, and that she is beginning to feel
the want of money."
"You seem to be intimately acquainted with this young woman's
"Indeed I am, and yet I never spoke to her till this morning."
"How did you get your information, then?"
"By chance. The room adjoining this and one of those she occupies
were formerly one large room, which is now divided into two by a
partition wall covered with tapestry; but in the two corners the
plaster has crumbled away with time, and one can see into the room
through slits in the tapestry without being seen oneself. Are you
"Not more than you, Madame Rapally."
"Come with me. Someone knocked at the street door a few moments ago;
there's no one else in the douse likely to have visitors at this
hour. Perhaps her admirer has come back."
"If so, we are going to witness a scene of recrimination or
reconciliation. How delightful!"
Although he was not leaving the widow's lodgings, Maitre Quennebert
took up his hat and cloak and the blessed bag of crown pieces, and
followed Madame Rapally on tiptoe, who on her side moved as slowly as
a tortoise and as lightly as she could. They succeeded in turning
the handle of the door into the next room without making much noise.
"'Sh!" breathed the widow softly; "listen, they are speaking."
She pointed to the place where he would find a peep-hole in one
corner of the room, and crept herself towards the corresponding
corner. Quennebert, who was by no means anxious to have her at his
side, motioned to her to blow out the light. This being done, he
felt secure, for he knew that in the intense darkness which now
enveloped them she could not move from her place without knocking
against the furniture between them, so he glued his face to the
partition. An opening just large enough for one eye allowed him to
see everything that was going on in the next room. Just as he began
his observations, the treasurer at Mademoiselle de Guerchi's
invitation was about to take a seat near her, but not too near for
perfect respect. Both of them were silent, and appeared to labour
under great embarrassment at finding themselves together, and
explanations did not readily begin. The lady had not an idea of the
motive of the visit, and her quondam lover feigned the emotion
necessary to the success of his undertaking. Thus Maitre Quennebert
had full time to examine both, and especially Angelique. The reader
will doubtless desire to know what was the result of the notary's
ANGELIQUE-LOUISE DE GUERCHI was a woman of about twenty-eight years
of age, tall, dark, and well made. The loose life she had led had,
it is true, somewhat staled her beauty, marred the delicacy of her
complexion, and coarsened the naturally elegant curves of her figure;
but it is such women who from time immemorial have had the strongest
attraction for profligate men. It seems as if dissipation destroyed
the power to perceive true beauty, and the man of pleasure must be
aroused to admiration by a bold glance and a meaning smile, and will
only seek satisfaction along the trail left by vice. Louise-
Angelique was admirably adapted for her way of life; not that her
features wore an expression of shameless effrontery, or that the
words that passed her lips bore habitual testimony to the disorders
of her existence, but that under a calm and sedate demeanour there
lurked a secret and indefinable charm. Many other women possessed
more regular features, but none of them had a greater power of
seduction. We must add that she owed that power entirely to her
physical perfections, for except in regard to the devices necessary
to her calling, she showed no cleverness, being ignorant, dull and
without inner resources of any kind. As her temperament led her to
share the desires she excited, she was really incapable of resisting
an attack conducted with skill and ardour, and if the Duc de Vitry
had not been so madly in love, which is the same as saying that he
was hopelessly blind, silly, and dense to everything around him, he
might have found a score of opportunities to overcome her resistance.
We have already seen that she was so straitened in money matters that
she had been driven to try to sell her jewels that very, morning.
Jeannin was the first to 'break silence.
"You are astonished at my visit, I know, my charming Angelique. But
you must excuse my thus appearing so unexpectedly before you. The
truth is, I found it impossible to leave Paris without seeing you
"Thank you for your kind remembrance," said she, "but I did not at
all expect it."
"Come, come, you are offended with me."
She gave him a glance of mingled disdain and resentment; but he went
on, in a timid, wistful tone--
"I know that my conduct must have seemed strange to you, and I
acknowledge that nothing can justify a man for suddenly leaving the
woman he loves--I do not dare to say the woman who loves him--without
a word of explanation. But, dear Angelique, I was jealous."
"Jealous!" she repeated incredulously.
"I tried my best to overcome the feeling, and I hid my suspicions
from you. Twenty times I came to see you bursting with anger and
determined to overwhelm you with reproaches, but at the sight of your
beauty I forgot everything but that I loved you. My suspicions
dissolved before a smile; one word from your lips charmed me into
happiness. But when I was again alone my terrors revived, I saw my
rivals at your feet, and rage possessed me once more. Ah! you never
knew how devotedly I loved you."
She let him speak without interruption; perhaps the same thought was
in her mind as in Quennebert's, who, himself a past master in the art
of lying; was thinking--
"The man does not believe a word of what he is saying."
But the treasurer went on--
"I can see that even now you doubt my sincerity."
"Does my lord desire that his handmaiden should be blunt? Well, I
know that there is no truth in what you say."
"Oh! I can see that you imagine that among the distractions of the
world I have kept no memory of you, and have found consolation in the
love of less obdurate fair ones. I have not broken in on your
retirement; I have not shadowed your steps; I have not kept watch on
your actions; I have not surrounded you with spies who would perhaps
have brought me the assurance, 'If she quitted the world which
outraged her, she was not driven forth by an impulse of wounded pride
or noble indignation; she did not even seek to punish those who
misunderstood her by her absence; she buried herself where she was
unknown, that she might indulge in stolen loves.' Such were the
thoughts that came to me, and yet I respected your hiding-place; and
to-day I am ready to believe you true, if you will merely say, 'I
love no one else!'"
Jeannin, who was as fat as a stage financier, paused here to gasp;
for the utterance of this string of banalities, this rigmarole of
commonplaces, had left him breathless. He was very much dissatisfied
with his performance; and ready to curse his barren imagination. He
longed to hit upon swelling phrases and natural and touching
gestures, but in vain. He could only look at Mademoiselle de Guerchi
with a miserable, heart-broken air. She remained quietly seated,
with the same expression of incredulity on her features.
So there was nothing for it but to go on once more.
"But this one assurance that I ask you will not give. So what I
have--been told is true: you have given your love to him."
She could not check a startled movement.
"You see it is only when I speak of him that I can overcome in you
the insensibility which is killing me. My suspicions were true after
all: you deceived me for his sake. Oh! the instinctive feeling of
jealousy was right which forced me to quarrel with that man, to
reject the perfidious friendship which he tried to force upon me. He
has returned to town, and we shall meet! But why do I say
'returned'? Perhaps he only pretended to go away, and safe in this
retreat has flouted with impunity, my despair and braved my
Up to this the lady had played a waiting game, but now she grew quite
confused, trying to discover the thread of the treasurer's thoughts.
To whom did he refer? The Duc de Vitry? That had been her first
impression. But the duke had only been acquainted with her for a few
months--since she had--left Court. He could not therefore have
excited the jealousy of her whilom lover; and if it were not he, to
whom did the words about rejecting "perfidious friendship," and
"returned to town," and so on, apply? Jeannin divined her
embarrassment, and was not a little proud of the tactics which would,
he was almost sure; force her to expose herself. For there are
certain women who can be thrown into cruel perplexity by speaking to
them of their love-passages without affixing a proper name label to
each. They are placed as it were on the edge of an abyss, and forced
to feel their way in darkness. To say "You have loved" almost
obliges them to ask "Whom?"
Nevertheless, this was not the word uttered by Mademoiselle de
Guerchi while she ran through in her head a list of possibilities.
Her answer was--
"Your language astonishes me; I don't understand what you mean."
The ice was broken, and the treasurer made a plunge. Seizing one of
Angelique's hands, he asked--
"Have you never seen Commander de Jars since then?"
"Commander de Jars!" exclaimed Angelique.
"Can you swear to me, Angelique, that you love him not?"
"Mon Dieu! What put it into your head that I ever cared for him?
It's over four months since I saw him last, and I hadn't an idea
whether he was alive or dead. So he has been out of town? That's
the first I heard of it."
"My fortune is yours, Angelique! Oh! assure me once again that you
do not love him--that you never loved him!" he pleaded in a faltering
voice, fixing a look of painful anxiety upon her.
He had no intention of putting her out of countenance by the course
he took; he knew quite well that a woman like Angelique is never more
at her ease than when she has a chance of telling an untruth of this
nature. Besides, he had prefaced this appeal by the magic words, "My
fortune' is yours!" and the hope thus aroused was well worth a
perjury. So she answered boldly and in a steady voice, while she
looked straight into his eyes--
"I believe you!" exclaimed Jeannin, going down on his knees and
covering with his kisses the hand he still held. "I can taste
happiness again. Listen, Angelique. I am leaving Paris; my mother
is dead, and I am going back to Spain. Will you follow me thither?"
"I hesitated long before finding you out, so much did I fear a
repulse. I set out to-morrow. Quit Paris, leave the world which has
slandered you, and come with me. In a fortnight we shall be man and
"You are not in earnest!"
"May I expire at your feet if I am not! Do you want me to sign the
oath with my blood?"
"Rise," she said in a broken voice. "Have I at last found a man to
love me and compensate me for all the abuse that has been showered on
my head? A thousand times I thank you, not for what you are doing
for me, but for the balm you pour on my wounded spirit. Even if you
were to say to me now, 'After all, I am obliged to give you up' the
pleasure of knowing you esteem me would make up for all the rest. It
would be another happy memory to treasure along with my memory of our
love, which was ineffaceable, although you so ungratefully suspected
me of having deceived you."
The treasurer appeared fairly intoxicated with joy. He indulged in a
thousand ridiculous extravagances and exaggerations, and declared
himself the happiest of men. Mademoiselle de Guerchi, who was
desirous of being prepared for every peril, asked him in a coaxing
"Who can have put it into your head to be jealous of the commander?
Has he been base enough to boast that I ever gave him my love?"
"No, he never said anything about you; but someway I was afraid."
She renewed her assurances. The conversation continued some time in
a sentimental tone. A thousand oaths, a thousand protestations of
love were, exchanged. Jeannin feared that the suddenness of their
journey would inconvenience his mistress, and offered to put it off
for some days; but to this she would not consent, and it was arranged
that the next day at noon a carriage should call at the house and
take Angelique out of town to- an appointed place at which the
treasurer was to join her.
Maitre Quennebert, eye and ear on the alert, had not lost a word of
this conversation, and the last proposition of the treasurer changed
"Pardieu!" he said to himself, "it looks as if this good man were
really going to let himself be taken in and done for. It is singular
how very clear-sighted we can be about things that don't touch us.
This poor fly is going to let himself be caught by a very clever
spider, or I'm much mistaken. Very likely my widow is quite of my
opinion, and yet in what concerns herself she will remain
stone-blind. Well, such is life! We have only two parts to choose
between: we must be either knave or fool. What's Madame Rapally
doing, I wonder?"
At this moment he heard a stifled whisper from the opposite corner of
the room, but, protected by the distance and the darkness, he let the
widow murmur on, and applied his eye once more to his peephole. What
he saw confirmed his opinion. The damsel was springing up and down,
laughing, gesticulating, and congratulating herself on her unexpected
"Just imagine! He loves me like that!" she was saying to herself.
"Poor Jeannin! When I remember how I used to hesitate. How
fortunate that Commander de Jars, one of the most vain and indiscreet
of men, never babbled about me! Yes, we must leave town to-morrow
without fail. I must not give him time to be enlightened by a chance
word. But the Duc de Vitry? I am really sorry for him. However,
why did he go away, and send no word? And then, he's a married man.
Ah! if I could only get back again to court some day!... Who would
ever have expected such a thing? Good God! I must keep talking to
myself, to be sure I'm not dreaming. Yes, he was there, just now, at
my feet, saying to me, 'Angelique, you are going to become my wife.'
One thing is sure, he may safely entrust his honour to my care. It
would be infamous to betray a man who loves me as he does, who will
give me his name. Never, no, never will I give him cause to reproach
me! I would rather ----
A loud and confused noise on the stairs interrupted this soliloquy.
At one moment bursts of laughter were heard, and the next angry
voices. Then a loud exclamation, followed by a short silence. Being
alarmed at this disturbance in a house which was usually so quiet,
Mademoiselle de Guerchi approached the door of her room, intending
either to call for protection or to lock herself in, when suddenly it
was violently pushed open. She recoiled with fright, exclaiming--
"Commander de Jars!"
"On my word!" said Quennebert behind the arras, "'tis as amusing as a
play! Is the commander also going to offer to make an honest woman
of her? But what do I see?"
He had just caught sight of the young man on whom de Jars had
bestowed the title and name of Chevalier de Moranges, and whose
acquaintance the reader has already made at the tavern in the rue
Saint-Andre-des-Arts. His appearance had as great an effect on the
notary as a thunderbolt. He stood motionless, trembling, breathless;
his knees ready to give way beneath him; everything black before his
eyes. However, he soon pulled himself together, and succeeded in
overcoming the effects of his surprise and terror. He looked once
more through the hole in the partition, and became so absorbed that
no one in the whole world could have got a word from him just then;
the devil himself might have shrieked into his ears unheeded, and a
naked sword suspended over his head would not have induced him to
change his place.
Before Mademoiselle de Guerchi had recovered from her fright the
"As I am a gentleman, my beauty, if you were the Abbess of
Montmartre, you could not be more difficult of access. I met a
blackguard on the stairs who tried to stop me, and whom I was obliged
to thrash soundly. Is what they told me on my return true? Are you
really doing penance, and do you intend to take the veil?"
"Sir," answered Angelique, with great dignity, "whatever may be my
plans, I have a right to be surprised at your violence and at your
intrusion at such an hour."
"Before we go any farther," said de Jars, twirling round on his
heels, "allow me to present to you my nephew, the Chevalier de
"Chevalier de Moranges!" muttered Quennebert, on whose memory in that
instant the name became indelibly engraven.
"A young man," continued the commander, "who has come back with me
from abroad. Good style, as you see, charming appearance. Now, you
young innocent, lift up your great black eyes and kiss madame's hand;
I allow it."
"Monsieur le commandeur, leave my room; begone, or I shall call----"
"Whom, then? Your lackeys? But I have beaten the only one you keep,
as I told you, and it will be some time before he'll be in a
condition to light me downstairs: 'Begone,' indeed! Is that the way
you receive an old friend? Pray be seated, chevalier."
He approached Mademoiselle de Guerchi, and, despite her resistance,
seized hold of one of her hands, and forcing her to sit down, seated
himself beside her.
"That's right, my girl," said he; "now let us talk sense. I
understand that before a stranger you consider yourself obliged to
appear astonished at my ways of going on. But he knows all about us,
and nothing he may see or hear will surprise him. So a truce to
prudery! I came back yesterday, but I could not make out your
hiding-place till to-day. Now I'm not going to ask you to tell me
how you have gone on in my absence. God and you alone know, and
while He will tell me nothing, you would only tell me fibs, and I
want to save you from that venial sin at least. But here I am, in as
good spirits as ever, more in love than ever, and quite ready to
resume my old habits."
Meantime the lady, quite subdued by his noisy entrance and ruffianly
conduct, and seeing that an assumption of dignity would only draw
down on her some fresh impertinence, appeared to resign herself to
her position. All this time Quennebert never took his eyes from the
chevalier, who sat with his face towards the partition. His
elegantly cut costume accentuated his personal advantages. His jet
black hair brought into relief the whiteness of his forehead; his
large dark eyes with their veined lids and silky lashes had a
penetrating and peculiar expression--a mixture of audacity and
weakness; his thin and somewhat pale lips were apt to curl in an
ironical smile; his hands were of perfect beauty, his feet of dainty
smallness, and he showed with an affectation of complaisance a
well-turned leg above his ample boots, the turned down tops of which,
garnished with lace, fell in irregular folds aver his ankles in the
latest fashion. He did not appear to be more than eighteen years of
age, and nature had denied his charming face the distinctive sign of
his sex for not the slightest down was visible on his chin, though a
little delicate pencilling darkened his upper lip: His slightly
effeminate style of beauty, the graceful curves of his figure, his
expression, sometimes coaxing, sometimes saucy, reminding one of a
page, gave him the appearance of a charming young scapegrace destined
to inspire sudden passions and wayward fancies. While his pretended
uncle was making himself at home most unceremoniously, Quennebert
remarked that the chevalier at once began to lay siege to his fair
hostess, bestowing tender and love-laden glances on her behind that
uncle's back. This redoubled his curiosity.
"My dear girl," said the commander, "since I saw you last I have come
into a fortune of one hundred thousand livres, neither more nor less.
One of my dear aunts took it into her head to depart this life, and
her temper being crotchety and spiteful she made me her sole heir, in
order to enrage those of her relatives who had nursed her in her
illness. One hundred thousand livres! It's a round sum--enough to
cut a great figure with for two years. If you like, we shall
squander it together, capital and interest. Why do you not speak?
Has anyone else robbed me by any chance of your heart? If that were
so, I should be in despair, upon my word-for the sake of the
fortunate individual who had won your favour; for I will brook no
rivals, I give you fair warning."
"Monsieur le commandeur," answered Angelique, "you forget, in
speaking to me in that manner, I have never given you any right to
control my actions."
"Have we severed our connection?"
At this singular question Angelique started, but de Jars continued--
"When last we parted we were on the best of terms, were we not? I
know that some months have elapsed since then, but I have explained
to you the reason of my absence. Before filling up the blank left by
the departed we must give ourselves space to mourn. Well, was I
right in my guess? Have you given me a successor?"
Mademoiselle de Guerchi had hitherto succeeded in controlling her
indignation, and had tried to force herself to drink the bitter cup
of humiliation to the dregs; but now she could bear it no longer.
Having thrown a look expressive of her suffering at the young
chevalier, who continued to ogle her with great pertinacity, she
decided on bursting into tears, and in a voice broken by sobs she
exclaimed that she was miserable at being treated in this manner,
that she did not deserve it, and that Heaven was punishing her for
her error in yielding to the entreaties of the commander. One would
have sworn she was sincere and that the words came from her heart.
If Maitre Quennebert had not witnessed the scene with Jeannin, if he
had not known how frail was the virtue of the weeping damsel, he
might have been affected by her touching plaint. The chevalier
appeared to be deeply moved by Angelique's grief, and while his,
uncle was striding up and down the room and swearing like a trooper,
he gradually approached her and expressed by signs the compassion he
Meantime the notary was in a strange state of mind. He had not yet
made up his mind whether the whole thing was a joke arranged between
de Jars and Jeannin or not, but of one thing he was quite convinced,
the sympathy which Chevalier de Moranges was expressing by passionate
sighs and glances was the merest hypocrisy. Had he been alone,
nothing would have prevented his dashing head foremost into this
imbroglio, in scorn of consequence, convinced that his appearance
would be as terrible in its effect as the head of Medusa. But the
presence of the widow restrained him. Why ruin his future and dry up
the golden spring which had just begun to gush before his eyes, for
the sake of taking part in a melodrama? Prudence and self-interest
kept him in the side scenes.
The tears of the fair one and the glances of the chevalier awoke no
repentance in the breast of the commander; on the contrary, he began
to vent his anger in terms still more energetic. He strode up and
down the oaken floor till it shook under his spurred heels; he stuck
his plumed hat on the side of his head, and displayed the manners of
a bully in a Spanish comedy. Suddenly he seemed to have come to a
swift resolution: the expression of his face changed from rage to icy
coldness, and walking up to Angelique, he said, with a composure more
terrible than the wildest fury--
"My rival's name?"
"You shall never learn it from me!"
"Madame, his name?"
"Never! I have borne your insults too long. I am not responsible to
you for my actions."
"Well, I shall learn it, in spite of you, and I know to whom to
apply. Do you think you can play fast and loose with me and my love?
No, no! I used to believe in you; I turned, a deaf ear to your
traducers. My mad passion for you became known; I was the jest and
the butt of the town. But you have opened my eyes, and at last I see
clearly on whom my vengeance ought to fall. He was formerly my
friend, and I would believe nothing against him; although I was often
warned, I took no notice. But now I will seek him out, and say to
him, 'You have stolen what was mine; you are a scoundrel! It must be
your life, or mine!' And if, there is justice in heaven, I shall
kill him! Well, madame, you don't ask me the name of this man! You
well know whom I mean!"
This threat brought home to Mademoiselle de Guerchi how imminent was
her danger. At first she had thought the commander's visit might be
a snare laid to test her, but the coarseness of his expressions, the
cynicism of his overtures in the presence of a third person, had
convinced her she was wrong. No man could have imagined that the
revolting method of seduction employed could meet with success, and
if the commander had desired to convict her of perfidy he would have
come alone and made use of more persuasive weapons. No, he believed
he still had claims on her, but even if he had, by his manner of
enforcing them he had rendered them void. However, the moment he
threatened to seek out a rival whose identity he designated quite
clearly, and reveal to him the secret it was so necessary to her
interests to keep hidden, the poor girl lost her head. She looked at
de Jars with a frightened expression, and said in a trembling voice--
"I don't know whom you mean."
"You don't know? Well, I shall commission the king's treasurer,
Jeannin de Castille, to come here to-morrow and tell you, an hour
before our duel."
"Oh no! no! Promise me you will not do that!" cried she, clasping
"Do not leave me thus! I cannot let you go till you give me your
She threw herself on her knees and clung with both her hands to de
Jars' cloak, and appealing to Chevalier de Moranges, said--
"You are young, monsieur; I have never done you any harm; protect me,
have pity on me, help me to soften him!"
"Uncle," said the chevalier in a pleading tone, "be generous, and
don't drive this woman to despair."
"Prayers are useless!" answered the commander.
"What do you want me to do?" said Angelique. "Shall I go into a
convent to atone?, I am ready to go. Shall I promise never to see
him again? For God's sake, give me a little time; put off your
vengeance for one single day! To-morrow evening, I swear to you, you
will have nothing more to fear from me. I thought myself forgotten
by you and abandoned; and how should I think otherwise? You left me
without a word of farewell, you stayed away and never sent me a line!
And how do you know that I did not weep when you deserted me, leaving
me to pass my days in monotonous solitude? How do you know that I
did not make every effort to find out why you were so long absent
from my side? You say you had left town but how was I to know that?
Oh! promise me, if you love me, to give up this duel! Promise me
not to seek that man out to-morrow!"
The poor creature hoped to work wonders with her eloquence, her
tears, her pleading glances. On hearing her prayer for a reprieve of
twenty-four hours, swearing that after that she would never see
Jeannin again, the commander and the chevalier were obliged to bite
their lips to keep from laughing outright. But the former soon
regained his self-possession, and while Angelique, still on her knees
before him, pressed his hands to her bosom, he forced her to raise
her head, and looking straight into her eyes, said--
"To-morrow, madame, if not this evening, he shall know everything,
and a meeting shall take place."
Then pushing her away, he strode towards the door.
"Oh! how unhappy I am!" exclaimed Angelique.
She tried to rise and rush after him, but whether she was really
overcome by her feelings, or whether she felt the one chance of
prevailing left her was to faint, she uttered a heartrending cry, and
the chevalier had no choice but to support her sinking form.
De Jars, on seeing his nephew staggering under this burden, gave a
loud laugh, and hurried away. Two minutes later he was once more at
the tavern in the rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts.
"How's this? Alone?" said Jeannin.
"What have you done with the chevalier?"
"I left him with our charmer, who was unconscious, overcome with
grief, exhausted Ha! ha! ha! She fell fainting into his arms! Ha!
"It's quite possible that the young rogue, being left with her in
such a condition, may cut me out."
"Do you think so?--Ha! ha! ha!"
And de Jars laughed so heartily and so infectiously that his worthy
friend was obliged to join in, and laughed till he choked.
In the short silence which followed the departure of the commander,
Maitre Quennebert could hear the widow still murmuring something, but
he was less disposed than ever to attend to her.
"On my word," said he, "the scene now going on is more curious than
all that went before. I don't think that a man has ever found
himself in such a position as mine. Although my interests demand
that I remain here and listen, yet my fingers are itching to box the
ears of that Chevalier de Moranges. If there were only some way of
getting at a proof of all this! Ah! now we shall hear something; the
hussy is coming to herself."
And indeed Angelique had opened her eyes and was casting wild looks
around her; she put her hand to her brow several times, as if trying
to recall clearly what had happened.
"Is he gone?" she exclaimed at last. "Oh, why did you let him go?
You should not have minded me, but kept him here."
"Be calm," answered the chevalier, "be calm, for heaven's sake. I
shall speak to my uncle and prevent his ruining your prospects. Only
don't weep any more, your tears break my heart. Ah, my God! how
cruel it is to distress you so! I should never be able to withstand
your tears; no matter what reason I had for anger, a look from you
would make me forgive you everything."
"Noble young man!" said Angelique.
"Idiot!" muttered Maitre Quennebert; "swallow the honey of his words,
do But how the deuce is it going to end? Not Satan himself ever
invented such a situation."
"But then I could never believe you guilty without proof, irrefutable
proof; and even then a word from you would fill my mind with doubt
and uncertainty again. Yes, were the whole world to accuse you and
swear to your guilt, I should still believe your simple word. I am
young, madam, I have never known love as yet--until an instant ago I
had no idea that more quickly than an image can excite the admiration
of the eye, a thought can enter the heart and stir it to its depths,
and features that one may never again behold leave a lifelong memory
behind. But even if a woman of whom I knew absolutely nothing were
to appeal to me, exclaiming, 'I implore your help, your protection!'
I should, without stopping to consider, place my sword and my arm at
her disposal, and devote myself to her service. How much more
eagerly would I die for you, madam, whose beauty has ravished my
heart! What do you demand of me? Tell me what you desire me to do."
"Prevent this duel; don't allow an interview to take place between
your uncle and the man whom he mentioned. Tell me you will do this,
and I shall be safe; for you have never learned to lie; I know."
"Of course he hasn't, you may be sure of that, you simpleton!"
muttered Maitre Quennebert in his corner. "If you only knew what a
mere novice you are at that game compared with the chevalier! If you
only knew whom you had before you!"
"At your age," went on Angelique, "one cannot feign--the heart is not
yet hardened, and is capable of compassion. But a dreadful idea
occurs to me--a horrible suspicion! Is it all a devilish trick--a
snare arranged in joke? Tell me that it is not all a pretence! A
poor woman encounters so much perfidy. Men amuse themselves by
troubling her heart and confusing her mind; they excite her vanity,
they compass her round with homage, with flattery, with temptation,
and when they grow tired of fooling her, they despise and insult her.
Tell me, was this all a preconcerted plan? This love, this jealousy,
were they only acted?"
"Oh, madame," broke in the chevalier, with an expression of the
deepest indignation, "how can you for an instant imagine that a human
heart could be so perverted? I am not acquainted with the man whom
the commander accused you of loving, but whoever he may be I feel
sure that he is worthy of your love, and that he would never have
consented to such a dastardly joke. Neither would my uncle; his
jealousy mastered him and drove him mad
But I am not dependent on him; I am my own master, and can do as I
please. I will hinder this duel; I will not allow the illusion and
ignorance of him who loves you and, alas that I must say it, whom you
love, to be dispelled, for it is in them he finds his happiness. Be
happy with him! As for me, I shall never see you again; but the
recollection of this meeting, the joy of having served you, will be
Angelique raised her beautiful eyes, and gave the chevalier a long
look which expressed her gratitude more eloquently than words.
"May I be hanged!" thought Maitre Quennebert, "if the baggage isn't
making eyes at him already! But one who is drowning clutches at a
"Enough, madam," said the chevalier; "I understand all you would say.
You thank me in his name, and ask me to leave you: I obey-yes,
madame, I am going; at the risk of my life I will prevent this
meeting, I will stifle this fatal revelation. But grant me one last
prayer-permit me to look forward to seeing you once more before I
leave this city, to which I wish I had never come. But I shall quit
it in a day or two, to-morrow perhaps--as soon as I know that your
happiness is assured. Oh! do not refuse my last request; let the
light of your eyes shine on me for the last time; after that I shall
depart--I shall fly far away for ever. But if perchance, in spite of
every effort, I fail, if the commander's jealousy should make him
impervious to my entreaties--to my tears, if he whom you love should
come and overwhelm you with reproaches and then abandon you, would
you drive me from your presence if I should then say, 'I love you'?
Answer me, I beseech you."
"Go!" said she, "and prove worthy of my gratitude--or my love."
Seizing one of her hands, the chevalier covered it with passionate
"Such barefaced impudence surpasses everything I could have
imagined!" murmured Quennebert: "fortunately, the play is over for
to-night; if it had gone on any longer, I should have done something
foolish. The lady hardly imagines what the end of the comedy will
Neither did Quennebert. It was an evening of adventures. It was
written that in the space of two hours Angelique was to run the gamut
of all the emotions, experience all the vicissitudes to which a life
such as she led is exposed: hope, fear, happiness, mortification,
falsehood, love that was no love, intrigue within intrigue, and, to
crown all, a totally unexpected conclusion.
The chevalier was still holding Angelique's hand when a step
resounded outside, and a voice was heard.
"Can it be that he has come back?" exclaimed the damsel, hastily
freeing herself from the passionate embrace of the chevalier. "It's
not possible! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! it's his voice!"
She grew pale to the lips, and stood staring at the door with
outstretched arms, unable to advance or recede.
The chevalier listened, but felt sure the approaching voice belonged
neither to the commander nor to the treasurer.
"'His voice'?" thought Quennebert to himself. "Can this be yet
another aspirant to her favour?"
The sound came nearer.
"Hide yourself!" said Angelique, pointing to a door opposite to the
partition behind which the widow and the notary were ensconced.
"Hide yourself there!--there's a secret staircase--you can get out
"I hide myself!" exclaimed Moranges, with a swaggering air. "What
are you thinking of? I remain."
It would have been better for him to have followed her advice, as may
very well have occurred to the youth two minutes later, as a tall,
muscular young man entered in a state of intense excitement.
Angelique rushed to meet him, crying--
"Ah! Monsieur le duc, is it you?"
"What is this I hear, Angelique?" said the Duc de Vitry. "I was told
below that three men had visited you this evening; but only two have
gone out--where is the third ? Ha! I do not need long to find him,"
he added, as he caught sight of the chevalier, who stood his ground
"In Heaven's name!" cried Angelique,--"in Heaven's name, listen to
"No, no, not a word. Just now I am not questioning you. Who are
The chevalier's teasing and bantering disposition made him even at
that critical moment insensible to fear, so he retorted insolently
"Whoever I please to be, sir; and on my word I find the tone in which
you put your question delightfully amusing."
The duke sprang forward in a rage, laying his hand on his sword.
Angelique tried in vain to restrain him.
"You want to screen him from my vengeance, you false one!" said he,
retreating a few steps, so as to guard the door. "Defend your life,
"Do you defend yours!"
Both drew at the same moment.
Two shrieks followed, one in the room, the other behind the tapestry,
for neither Angelique nor the widow had been able to restrain her
alarm as the two swords flashed in air. In fact the latter had been
so frightened that she fell heavily to the floor in a faint.
This incident probably saved the young man's life; his blood had
already begun to run cold at the sight of his adversary foaming with
rage and standing between him and the door, when the noise of the
fall distracted the duke's attention.
"What was that?" he cried. "Are there other enemies concealed here
too? "And forgetting that he was leaving a way of escape free, he
rushed in the direction from which the sound came, and lunged at the
tapestry-covered partition with his sword. Meantime the chevalier,
dropping all his airs of bravado, sprang from one end of the room to
the other like a cat pursued by a dog; but rapid as were his
movements, the duke perceived his flight, and dashed after him at the
risk of breaking both his own neck and the chevalier's by a chase
through unfamiliar rooms and down stairs which were plunged in
All this took place in a few seconds, like a flash of lightning.
Twice, with hardly any interval, the street door opened and shut
noisily, and the two enemies were in the street, one pursued and the
"My God! Just to think of all that has happened is enough to make
one die of fright!" said Mademoiselle de Guerchi. "What will come
next, I should like to know? And what shall I say to the duke when
he comes back?"
Just at this instant a loud cracking sound was heard in the room.
Angelique stood still, once more struck with terror, and recollecting
the cry she had heard. Her hair, which was already loosened, escaped
entirely from its bonds, and she felt it rise on her head as the
figures on the tapestry moved and bent towards her. Falling on her
knees and closing her eyes, she began to invoke the aid of God and
all the saints. But she soon felt herself raised by strong arms, and
looking round, she found herself in the presence of an unknown man,
who seemed to have issued from the ground or the walls, and who,
seizing the only light left unextinguished in the scuffle, dragged
her more dead than alive into the next room.
This man was, as the reader will have already guessed, Maitre
Quennebert. As soon as the chevalier and the duke had disappeared,
the notary had run towards the corner where the widow lay, and having
made sure that she was really unconscious, and unable to see or hear
anything, so that it would be quite safe to tell her any story he
pleased next day, he returned to his former position, and applying
his shoulder to the partition, easily succeeded in freeing the ends
of the rotten laths from the nails which held there, and, pushing
them before him, made an aperture large enough to allow of his
passing through into the next apartment. He applied himself to this
task with such vigour, and became so absorbed in its accomplishment,
that he entirely forgot the bag of twelve hundred livres which the
widow had given him.
"Who are you? What do you want with me?" cried Mademoiselle de
Guerchi, struggling to free herself.
"Silence!" was Quennebert's answer.
"Don't kill me, for pity's sake!"
"Who wants to kill you? But be silent; I don't want your shrieks to
call people here. I must be alone with you for a few moments. Once
more I tell you to be quiet, unless you want me to use violence. If
you do what I tell you, no harm shall happen to you."
"But who are you, monsieur?"
"I am neither a burglar nor a murderer; that's all you need to know;
the rest is no concern of yours. Have you writing materials at
"Yes, monsieur; there they are, on that table."
"Very well. Now sit down at the table."
"Sit down, and answer my questions."
"The first man who visited you this evening was M. Jeannin, was he
"Yes, M. Jeannin de Castille."
"The king's treasurer?"
"All right. The second was Commander de Jars, and the young man he
brought with him was his nephew, the Chevalier de Moranges. The last
comer was a duke; am I not right?"
"The Duc de Vitry."
"Now write from my dictation."
He spoke very slowly, and Mademoiselle de Guerchi, obeying his
commands, took up her pen.
"'To-day,'" dictated Quennebert,--"'to-day, this twentieth day of the
month of November, in the year of the Lord 1658, I--
"What is your full name?"
"Angelique-Louise de Guerchi."
"Go on! 'I, Angelique-Louise de Guerchi, was visited, in the rooms
which--I occupy, in the mansion of the Duchesse d'Etampes, corner of
the streets Git-le-Coeur and du Hurepoix, about half-past seven
o'clock in the evening, in the first place, by Messire Jeannin de
Castille, King's Treasurer; in the second place, by Commander de
Jars, who was accompanied by a young man, his nephew, the Chevalier
de Moranges ; in the third place, after the departure of Commander de
Jars, and while I was alone with the Chevalier de Moranges, by the
Duc de Vitry, who drew his sword upon the said chevalier and forced
him to take flight.'
"Now put in a line by itself, and use capitals
"'DESCRIPTION OF THE CHEVALIER DE MORANGES."
"But I only saw him for an instant," said Angelique, "and I can't
"Write, and don't talk. I can recall everything, and that is all
that is wanted."
"'Height about five feet.' The chevalier," said Quennebert,
interrupting himself, "is four feet eleven inches three lines and a
half, but I don't need absolute exactness." Angelique gazed at him
in utter stupefaction.
"Do you know him, then?" she asked.
"I saw him this evening for the first time, but my eye is very
"'Height about five feet; hair black, eyes ditto, nose aquiline,
mouth large, lips compressed, forehead high, face oval, complexion
pale, no beard.'
" Now another line, and in capitals
"'A small mole on the neck behind the right ear, a smaller mole on
the left hand.'
"Have you written that? Now sign it with your full name."
"What use are you going to make of this paper?"
"I should have told you before, if I had desired you to know. Any
questions are quite useless. I don't enjoin secrecy on you,
however," added the notary, as he folded the paper and put it into
his doublet pocket. " You are quite free to tell anyone you like
that you have written the description of the Chevalier de Moranges at
the dictation of an unknown man, who got into your room you don't
know how, by the chimney or through the ceiling perhaps, but who was
determined to leave it by a more convenient road. Is there not a
secret staircase? Show me where it is. I don't want to meet anyone
on my way out."
Angelique pointed out a door to him hidden by a damask curtain, and
Quennebert saluting her, opened it and disappeared, leaving Angelique
convinced that she had seen the devil in person. Not until the next
day did the sight of the displaced partition explain the apparition,
but even then so great was her fright, so deep was the terror which
the recollection of the mysterious man inspired, that despite the
permission to tell what had happened she mentioned her adventure to
no one, and did not even complain to her neighbour, Madame Rapally,
of the inquisitiveness which had led the widow to spy on her actions.
We left de Jars and Jeannin, roaring with laughter, in the tavern in
the rue Saint Andre-des-Arts.
"What!" said the treasurer, "do you really think that Angelique
thought I was in earnest in my offer?--that she believes in all good
faith I intend to marry her?"
"You may take my word for it. If it were not so, do you imagine she
would have been in such desperation? Would she have fainted at my
threat to tell you that I had claims on her as well as you? To get
married! Why, that is the goal of all such creatures, and there is
not one of them who can understand why a man of honour should blush
to give her his name. If you had only seen her terror, her tears!
They would have either broken your heart or killed you with
"Well," said Jeannin, "it is getting late. Are we going to wait for
"Let us call, for him."
"Very well. Perhaps he has made up his mind to stay. If so, we
shall make a horrible scene, cry treachery and perjury, and trounce
your nephew well. Let's settle our score and be off."
They left the wine-shop, both rather the worse for the wine they had
so largely indulged in. They felt the need of the cool night air, so
instead of going down the rue Pavee they resolved to follow the rue
Saint-Andre-des-Arts as far as the Pont Saint-Michel, so as to reach
the mansion by a longer route.
At the very moment the commander got up to leave the tavern the
chevalier had run out of the mansion at the top of his speed. It was
not that he had entirely lost his courage, for had he found it
impossible to avoid his assailant it is probable that he would have
regained the audacity which had led him to draw his sword. But he
was a novice in the use of arms, had not reached full physical
development, and felt that the chances were so much against him that
he would only have faced the encounter if there were no possible way
of escape. On leaving the house he had turned quickly into the rue
Git-le-Coeur; but on hearing the door close behind his pursuer he
disappeared down the narrow and crooked rue de l'Hirondelle, hoping
to throw the Duc de Vitry off the scent. The duke, however, though
for a moment in doubt, was guided by the sound of the flying
footsteps. The chevalier, still trying to send him off on a false
trail, turned to the right, and so regained the upper end of the rue
Saint-Andre, and ran along it as far as the church, the site of which
is occupied by the square of the same name to-day. Here he thought
he would be safe, for, as the church was being restored and enlarged,
heaps of stone stood all round the old pile. He glided in among
these, and twice heard Vitry searching quite close to him, and each
time stood on guard expecting an onslaught. This marching and
counter-marching lasted for some minutes; the chevalier began to hope
he had escaped the danger, and eagerly waited for the moment when the
moon which had broken through the clouds should again withdraw behind
them, in order to steal into some of the adjacent streets under cover
of the darkness. Suddenly a shadow rose before him and a threatening
" Have I caught you at last, you coward?"
The danger in which the chevalier stood awoke in him a flickering
energy, a feverish courage, and he crossed blades with his assailant.
A strange combat ensued, of which the result was quite uncertain,
depending entirely on chance; for no science was of any avail on a
ground so rough that the combatants stumbled at every step, or struck
against immovable masses, which were one moment clearly lit up, and
the next in shadow. Steel clashed on steel, the feet of the
adversaries touched each other, several times the cloak of one was
pierced by the sword of the other, more than once the words "Die
then!" rang out. But each time the seemingly vanquished combatant
sprang up unwounded, as agile and as lithe and as quick as ever,
while he in his turn pressed the enemy home. There was neither truce
nor pause, no clever feints nor fencer's tricks could be employed on
either side; it was a mortal combat, but chance, not skill, would
deal the death-blow. Sometimes a rapid pass encountered only empty
air; sometimes blade crossed blade above the wielders' heads;
sometimes the fencers lunged at each other's breast, and yet the
blows glanced aside at the last moment and the blades met in air once
more. At last, however, one of the two, making a pass to the right
which left his breast unguarded, received a deep wound. Uttering a
loud cry, he recoiled a step or two, but, exhausted by the effort,
tripped arid fell backward over a large stone, and lay there
motionless, his arms extended in the form of a cross.
The other turned and fled.
"Hark, de Jars!" said Jeannin, stopping, "There's fighting going on
hereabouts; I hear the clash of swords."
Both listened intently.
"I hear nothing now."
"Hush! there it goes again. It's by the church."
"What a dreadful cry!"
They ran at full speed towards the place whence it seemed to come,
but found only solitude, darkness, and silence. They looked in every
"I can't see a living soul," said Jeannin, "and I very much fear that
the poor devil who gave that yell has mumbled his last prayer,"
"I don't know why I tremble so," replied de Jars; "that heart-rending
cry made me shiver from head to foot. Was it not something like the
"The chevalier is with La Guerchi, and even if he had left her this
would not have been his way to rejoin us. Let us go on and leave the
dead in peace."
"Look, Jeannin! what is that in front of us?"
"On that stone? A man who has fallen!"
"Yes, and bathed in blood," exclaimed de Jars, who had darted to his
side. "Ah! it's he! it's he! Look, his eyes are closed, his hands
cold! My child he does not hear me! Oh, who has murdered him?"
He fell on his knees, and threw himself on the body with every mark
of the most violent despair.
"Come, come," said Jeannin, surprised at such an explosion of grief
from a man accustomed to duels, and who on several similar occasions
had been far from displaying much tenderness of heart, "collect
yourself, and don't give way like a woman. Perhaps the wound is not
mortal. Let us try to stop the bleeding and call for help."
"Are you mad?"
"Don't call, for Heaven's sake! The wound is here, near the heart.
Your handkerchief, Jeannin, to arrest the flow of blood. There--now
help me to lift him."
"What does that mean?" cried Jeannin, who had just laid his hand on
the chevalier. "I don't know whether I'm awake or asleep! Why, it's
"Be silent, on your life! I shall explain everything--but now be
silent; there is someone looking at us."
There was indeed a man wrapped in a mantle standing motionless some
"What are you doing here?" asked de Jars.
"May I ask what you are doing, gentlemen?" retorted Maitre
Quennebert, in a calm and steady voice.
"Your curiosity may cost you dear, monsieur; we are not in the habit
of allowing our actions to be spied on."
"And I am not in the habit of running useless risks, most noble
cavaliers. You are, it is true, two against one; but," he added,
throwing back his cloak and grasping the hilts of a pair of pistols
tucked in his belt, "these will make us equal. You are mistaken as
to my intentions. I had no thought of playing the spy; it was chance
alone that led me here; and you must acknowledge that finding you in
this lonely spot, engaged as you are at this hour of the night, was
quite enough to awake the curiosity of a man as little disposed to
provoke a quarrel as to submit to threats."
"It was chance also that brought us here. We were crossing the
square, my friend and I, when we heard groans. We followed the
sound, and found this young gallant, who is a stranger to us, lying
here, with a wound in his breast."
As the moon at that moment gleamed doubtfully forth, Maitre
Quennebert bent for an instant over the body of the wounded man, and
"I know him more than you. But supposing someone were to come upon
us here, we might easily be taken for three assassins holding a
consultation over the corpse of our victim. What were you going to
"Take him to a doctor. It would be inhuman to leave him here, and
while we are talking precious time is being lost."
"Do you belong to this neighbourhood?"
"No," said the treasurer.
"Neither do I," said Quennebert. "but I believe I have heard the
name of a surgeon who lives close by, in the rue Hauteville."
"I also know of one," interposed de Jars, "a very skilful man."
"You may command me."
"Gladly, monsieur; for he lives some distance from here."
"I am at your service."
De Jars and Jeannin raised the chevalier's shoulders, and the
stranger supported his legs, and carrying their burden in this order,
they set off.
They walked slowly, looking about them carefully, a precaution
rendered necessary by the fact that the moon now rode in a cloudless
sky. They glided over the Pont Saint-Michel between the houses that
lined both sides, and, turning to the right, entered one of the
narrow streets of the Cite, and after many turnings, during which
they met no one, they stopped at the door of a house situated behind
"Many thanks, monsieur," said de Jars,--"many thanks; we need no
As the commander spoke, Maitre Quennebert let the feet of the
chevalier fall abruptly on the pavement, while de Jars and the
treasurer still supported his body, and, stepping back two paces, he
drew his pistols from his belt, and placing a finger on each trigger,
"Do not stir, messieurs, or you are dead men." Both, although
encumbered by their burden, laid their hands upon their swords.
"Not a movement, not a sound, or I shoot."
There was no reply to this argument, it being a convincing one even
for two duellists. The bravest man turns pale when he finds himself
face to face with sudden inevitable death, and he who threatened
seemed to be one who would, without hesitation, carry out his
threats. There was nothing for it but obedience, or a ball through
them as they stood.
"What do you want with us, sir?" asked Jeannin.
Quennebert, without changing hiS attitude, replied--
"Commander de Jars, and you, Messire Jeannin de Castille, king's
treasurer,--you see, my gentles, that besides the advantage of arms
which strike swiftly and surely, I have the further advantage of
knowing who you are, whilst I am myself unknown,--you will carry the
wounded man into this house, into which I will not enter, for I have
nothing to do within; but I shall remain here; to await your return.
After you have handed over the patient to the doctor, you will
procure paper and write---now pay great attention--that on November
20th, 1658, about midnight, you, aided by an unknown man, carried to
this house, the address of which you will give, a young man whom you
call the Chevalier de Moranges, and pass off as your nephew--"
"As he really is."
"But who told you--?"
"Let me go on: who had been wounded in a fight with swords on the
same night behind the church of Saint-Andre-des-Arts by the Duc de
"The Duc de Vitry!--How do you know that?"
"No matter how, I know it for a fact. Having made this declaration,
you will add that the said Chevalier de Moranges is no other than
Josephine-Charlotte Boullenois, whom you, commander, abducted four
months ago from the convent of La Raquette, whom you have made your
mistress, and whom you conceal disguised as a man; then you will add
your signature. Is my information correct?"
De Jars and Jeannin were speechless with surprise for a few instants;
then the former stammered--
"Will you tell us who you are?"
"The devil in person, if you like. Well, will you do as I order?
Supposing that I am awkward enough not to kill you at two paces, do
you want me to ask you in broad daylight and aloud what I now ask at
night and in a whisper? And don't think to put me off with a false
declaration, relying on my not being able to read it by the light of
the moon; don't think either that you can take me by surprise when
you hand it me: you will bring it to me with your swords sheathed as
now. If this condition is not observed, I shall fire, and the noise
will bring a crowd about us. To-morrow I shall speak differently
from to-day: I shall proclaim the truth at all the street corners, in
the squares, and under the windows of the Louvre. It is hard, I
know, for men of spirit to yield to threats, but recollect that you
are in my power and that there is no disgrace in paying a ransom for
a life that one cannot defend. What do you say?"
In spite of his natural courage, Jeannin, who found himself involved
in an affair from which he had nothing to gain, and who was not at
all desirous of being suspected of having helped in an abduction,
whispered to the commander--
"Faith! I think our wisest course is to consent."
De Jars, however, before replying, wished to try if he could by any
chance throw his enemy off his guard for an instant, so as to take
him unawares. His hand still rested on the hilt of his sword,
motionless, but ready to draw.
"There is someone coming over yonder," he cried,--"do you hear?"
"You can't catch me in that way," said Quennebert. "Even were there
anyone coming, I should not look round, and if you move your hand all
is over with you."
"Well," said Jeannin, "I surrender at discretion--not on my own
account, but out of regard for my friend and this woman. However, we
are entitle to some pledge of your silence. This statement that you
demand, once written,--you can ruin us tomorrow by its means."
"I don't yet know what use I shall make of it, gentlemen. Make up
your minds, or you will have nothing but a dead body to place--in the
doctor's hands. There is no escape for you."
For the first time the wounded man faintly groaned.
"I must save her!" cried de Jars,--"I yield."
"And I swear upon my honour that I will never try to get this woman
out of your hands, and that I will never interfere with your
conquest. Knock, gentlemen, and remain as long as may be necessary.
I am patient. Pray to God, if you will, that she may recover; my one
desire is that she may die."
They entered the house, and Quennebert, wrapping himself once more in
his mantle, walked up and down before it, stopping to listen from
time to time. In about two hours the commander and the treasurer
came out again, and handed him a written paper in the manner agreed
"I greatly fear that it will be a certificate of death," said de
"Heaven grant it, commander! Adieu, messieurs."
He then withdrew, walking backwards, keeping the two friends covered
with his pistols until he had placed a sufficient distance between
himself and them to be out of danger of an attack.
The two gentlemen on their part walked rapidly away, looking round
from time to time, and keeping their ears open. They were very much
mortified at having been forced to let a mere boor dictate to them,
and anxious, especially de Jars, as to the result of the wound.
On the day following this extraordinary series of adventures,
explanations between those who were mixed up in them, whether as
actors or spectators, were the order of the day. It was not till
Maitre Quennebert reached the house of the friend who had offered to
put him up for the night that it first dawned on him, that the
interest which the Chevalier de Moranges had awakened in his mind had
made him utterly forget the bag containing the twelve hundred livres
which he owed to the generosity of the widow. This money being
necessary to him, he went back to her early next morning. He found
her hardly recovered from her terrible fright. Her swoon had lasted
far beyond the time when the notary had left the house; and as
Angelique, not daring to enter the bewitched room, had taken refuge
in the most distant corner of her apartments, the feeble call of the
widow was heard by no one. Receiving no answer, Madame Rapally
groped her way into the next room, and finding that empty, buried
herself beneath the bedclothes, and passed the rest of the night
dreaming of drawn swords, duels, and murders. As soon as it was
light she ventured into the mysterious room once more; without
calling her servants, and found the bag of crowns lying open on the
floor, with the coins scattered all around, the partition broken, and
the tapestry hanging from it in shreds. The widow was near fainting
again: she imagined at first she saw stains of blood everywhere, but
a closer inspection having somewhat reassured her, she began to pick
up the coins that had rolled to right and left, and was agreeably
surprised to find the tale complete. But how and why had Maitre
Quennebert abandoned them? What had become of him? She had got lost
in the most absurd suppositions and conjectures when the notary
appeared. Discovering from the first words she uttered that she was
in complete ignorance of all that had taken place, he explained to
her that when the interview between the chevalier and Mademoiselle
de Guerchi had just at the most interesting moment been so
unceremoniously interrupted by the arrival of the duke, he had become
so absorbed in watching them that he had not noticed that the
partition was bending before the pressure of his body, and that just
as the duke drew his sword it suddenly gave way, and he, Quennebert,
being thus left without support, tumbled head foremost into the next
room, among a perfect chaos of overturned furniture and lamps; that
almost before he could rise he was forced to draw in self-defence,
and had to make his escape, defending himself against both the duke
and the chevalier; that they had pursued him so hotly, that when he
found himself free he was too far from the house and the hour was too
advanced to admit of his returning, Quennebert added innumerable
protestations of friendship, devotion, and gratitude, and, furnished
with his twelve hundred crowns, went away, leaving the widow
reassured as to his safety, but still shaken from her fright.
While the notary was thus soothing the widow, Angelique was
exhausting all the expedients her trade had taught her in the attempt
to remove the duke's suspicions. She asserted she was the victim of
an unforeseen attack which nothing in her conduct had ever
authorised. The young Chevalier de Moranges had, gained admittance,
she declared, under the pretext that he brought her news from the
duke, the one man who occupied her thoughts, the sole object of her
love. The chevalier had seen her lover, he said, a few days before,
and by cleverly appealing to things back, he had led her to fear that
the duke had grown tired of her, and that a new conquest was the
cause of his absence. She had not believed these insinuations,
although his long silence would have justified the most mortifying
suppositions, the most cruel doubts. At length the chevalier had
grown bolder, and had declared his passion for her; whereupon she had
risen and ordered him to leave her. Just at that moment the duke had
entered, and had taken the natural agitation and confusion of the
chevalier as signs of her guilt. Some explanation was also necessary
to account for the presence of the two other visitors of whom he had
been told below stairs. As he knew nothing at all about them, the
servant who admitted them never having seen either of them before,
she acknowledged that two gentlemen had called earlier in the
evening; that they had refused to send in their names, but as they
had said they had come to inquire about the duke, she suspected them
of having been in league with the chevalier in the attempt to ruin
her reputation, perhaps they had even promised to help him to carry
her off, but she knew nothing positive about them or their plans.
The duke, contrary to his wont, did not allow himself to be easily
convinced by these lame explanations, but unfortunately for him the
lady knew how to assume an attitude favourable to her purpose. She
had been induced, she said, with the simple confidence born of love,
to listen to people who had led her to suppose they could give her
news of one so dear to her as the duke. From this falsehood she
proceeded to bitter reproaches: instead of defending herself, she
accused him of having left her a prey to anxiety; she went so far as
to imply that there must be some foundation for the hints of the
chevalier, until at last the duke, although he was not guilty of the
slightest infidelity, and had excellent reasons to give in
justification of his silence, was soon reduced to a penitent mood,
and changed his threats into entreaties for forgiveness. As to the
shriek he had heard, and which he was sure had been uttered by the
stranger who had forced his way into her room after the departure of
the others, she asserted that his ears must have deceived him.
Feeling that therein lay her best chance of making things smooth, she
exerted herself to convince him that there was no need for other
information than she could give, and did all she could to blot the
whole affair from his memory; and her success was such that at the
end of the interview the duke was more enamoured and more credulous
than ever, and believing he had done her wrong, he delivered himself
up to her, bound hand and foot. Two days later he installed his
mistress in another dwelling....
Madame Rapally also resolved to give up her rooms, and removed to a
house that belonged to her, on the Pont Saint-Michel.
The commander took the condition of Charlotte Boullenois very much to
heart. The physician under whose care he had placed her, after
examining her wounds, had not given much hope of her recovery. It
was not that de Jars was capable of a lasting love, but Charlotte was
young and possessed great beauty, and the romance and mystery
surrounding their connection gave it piquancy. Charlotte's disguise,
too, which enabled de Jars to conceal his success and yet flaunt it
in the face, as it were, of public morality and curiosity, charmed
him by its audacity, and above all he was carried away by the bold
and uncommon character of the girl, who, not content with a prosaic
intrigue, had trampled underfoot all social prejudices and
proprieties, and plunged at once into unmeasured and unrestrained
dissipation; the singular mingling in her nature of the vices of both
sexes; the unbridled licentiousness of the courtesan coupled with the
devotion of a man for horses, wine, and fencing; in short, her
eccentric character, as it would now be called, kept a passion alive
which would else have quickly died away in his blase heart. Nothing
would induce him to follow Jeannin's advice to leave Paris for at
least a few weeks, although he shared Jeannin's fear that the
statement they had been forced to give the stranger would bring them
into trouble. The treasurer, who had no love affair on hand, went
off; but the commander bravely held his ground, and at the end of
five or six days, during which no one disturbed him, began to think
the only result of the incident would be the anxiety it had caused
Every evening as soon as it was dark he betook himself to the
doctor's, wrapped in his cloak, armed to the teeth, and his hat
pulled down over his eyes. For two days and nights, Charlotte, whom
to avoid confusion we shall continue to call the Chevalier de
Moranges, hovered between life and death. Her youth and the strength
of her constitution enabled her at last to overcome the fever, in
spite of the want of skill of the surgeon Perregaud.
Although de Jars was the only person who visited the chevalier, he
was not the only one who was anxious about the patient's health.
Maitre Quennebert, or men engaged by him to watch, for he did not
want to attract attention, were always prowling about the
neighbourhood, so that he was kept well informed of everything that
went on: The instructions he gave to these agents were, that if a
funeral should leave the house, they were to find out the name of the
deceased, and then to let him know without delay. But all these
precautions seemed quite useless: he always received the same answer
to all his questions, "We know nothing." So at last he determined to
address himself directly to the man who could give him information on
which he could rely.
One night the commander left the surgeon's feeling more cheerful than
usual, for the chevalier had passed a good day, and there was every
hope that he was on the road to complete recovery. Hardly had de
Jars gone twenty paces when someone laid a hand on his shoulder. He
turned and saw a man whom, in the darkness, he did not recognise.
"Excuse me for detaining you, Commander de Jars," said Quennebert,
"but I have a word to say to you."
"Ali! so it's you, sir," replied the commander. "Are you going at
last to give me the opportunity I was so anxious for?"
"I don't understand."
"We are on more equal terms this time; to-day you don't catch me
unprepared, almost without weapons, and if you are a man of honour
you will measure swords with me."
"Fight a duel with you! why, may I ask? You have never insulted me."
"A truce to pleasantry, sir; don't make me regret that I have shown
myself more generous than you. I might have killed you just now had
I wished. I could have put my pistol to your breast and fired, or
said to you, 'Surrender at discretion!' as you so lately said to me."
"And what use would that have been?"
"It would have made a secret safe that you ought never to have
"It would have been the most unfortunate thing for you that could
have happened, for if you had killed me the paper would have spoken.
So! you think that if you were to assassinate me you would only have
to stoop over my dead body and search my pockets, and, having found
the incriminating document, destroy it. You seem to have formed no
very high opinion of my intelligence and common sense. You of the
upper classes don't need these qualities, the law is on, your side.
But when a humble individual like myself, a mere nobody, undertakes
to investigate a piece of business about which those in authority are
not anxious to be enlightened, precautions are necessary. It's not
enough for him to have right on his side, he must, in order to secure
his own safety, make good use of his skill, courage, and knowledge.
I have no desire to humiliate you a second time, so I will say no
more. The paper is in the hands of my notary, and if a single day
passes without his seeing me he has orders to break the seal and make
the contents public. So you see chance is still on my side. But now
that you are warned there is no need for me to bluster. I am quite
prepared to acknowledge your superior rank, and if you insist upon
it, to speak to you uncovered."
"What do you desire to know, sir?"
"How is the Chevalier de Moranges getting on?"
"Very badly, very badly."
"Take care, commander; don't deceive me. One is so easily tempted to
believe what one hopes, and I hope so strongly that I dare not
believe what you say. I saw you coming out of the house, not at all
with the air of a man who had just heard bad news, (quite the
contrary: you looked at the sky, and rubbed your hands, and walked
with a light, quick step, that did not speak of grief."
"You're a sharp observer, sir."
"I have already explained to you, sir, that when one of us belonging
to a class hardly better than serfs succeeds by chance or force of
character in getting out of the narrow bounds in which he was born,
he must keep both eyes and ears open. If I had doubted your word as
you have doubted mine on the merest suspicion, you would have said to
your servants, 'Chastise this rascal.' But I am obliged to prove to
you that you did not tell me the truth. Now I am sure that the
chevalier is out of danger."
"If you were so well informed why did you ask me?"
"I only knew it by your asserting the contrary."
"What do you mean?" cried de Jars, who was growing restive under this
cold, satirical politeness.
"Do me justice, commander. The bit chafes, but yet you must
acknowledge that I have a light hand. For a full week you have been
in my power. Have I disturbed your quiet? Have I betrayed your
secret? You know I have not. And I shall continue to act in the
same manner. I hope with all my heart, however great would be your
grief; that the chevalier may die of his wound. I have not the same
reasons for loving him that you have, so much you can readily
understand, even if I do not explain the cause of my interest in his
fate. But in such a matter hopes count for nothing; they cannot make
his temperature either rise or fall. I have told you I have no wish
to force the chevalier to resume his real name. I may make use of
the document and I may not, but if I am obliged to use it I shall
give you warning. Will you, in return, swear to me upon your honour
that you will keep me informed as to the fate of the chevalier,
whether you remain in Paris or whether you leave? But let this
agreement be a secret between us, and do not mention it to the
"I have your oath, monsieur, that you will give me notice before you
use the document I have given you against me, have I? But what
guarantee have I that you will keep your word?"
"My course of action till to-day, and the fact that I have pledged
you my word of my own free will."
"I see, you hope not to have long to wait for the end."
"I hope not; but meantime a premature disclosure would do me as much
harm as you. I have not the slightest rancour against you,
commander; you have robbed me of no treasure; I have therefore no
compensation to demand. What you place such value on would be only a
burden to me, as it will be to you later on. All I want is, to know
as soon as it is no longer in your possession, whether it has been
removed by the will of God or by your own, I am right in thinking
that to-day there is some hope of the chevalier's recovery, am I
"Do you give me your promise that if ever he leave this house safe
and sound you will let me know?"
"I give you my promise,"
"And if the result should be different, you will also send me word?"
"Certainly. But to whom shall I address my message?"
"I should have thought that since our first meeting you would have
found out all about me, and that to tell you my name would be
superfluous. But I have no reason to hide it: Maitre Quennebert,
notary, Saint-Denis. I will not detain you any longer now,
commander; excuse a simple citizen for dictating conditions to a
noble such as you. For once chance has been on my side although a
score of times it has gone against me.
De Jars made no reply except a nod, and walked away quickly,
muttering words of suppressed anger between his teeth at all the--
humiliations to which he had been obliged to submit so meekly.
"He's as insolent as a varlet who has no fear of a larruping before
his eyes: how the rapscallion gloried in taking advantage of his
position! Taking-off his hat while putting his foot on my neck! If
ever I can be even with you, my worthy scrivener, you'll pass a very
bad quarter of an hour, I can tell you."
Everyone has his own idea of what constitutes perfect honour. De
Jars, for instance, would have allowed himself to be cut up into
little pieces rather than have broken the promise he had given
Quennebert a week ago, because it was given in exchange for his life,
and the slightest paltering with his word under those circumstances
would have been dastardly. But the engagement into which he had just
entered had in his eyes no such moral sanction; he had not been
forced into it by threats, he had escaped by its means no serious
danger, and therefore in regard to it his conscience was much more
accommodating. What he should best have liked to do, would have been
to have sought out the notary and provoked him by insults to send him
That a clown such as that could have any chance of leaving the ground
alive never entered his head. But willingly as he would have
encompassed his death in this manner, the knowledge that his secret
would not die with Quennebert restrained him, for when everything
came out he felt that the notary's death would be regarded as an
aggravation of his original offence, and in spite of his rank he was
not at all certain that if he were put on his trial even now he would
escape scot free, much less if a new offence were added to the
indictment. So, however much he might chafe against the bit, he felt
he must submit to the bridle.
"By God!" said he, "I know what the clodhopper is after; and even if
I must suffer in consequence, I shall take good care that he cannot
shake off his bonds. Wait a bit! I can play the detective too, and
be down on him without letting him see the hand that deals the blows.
It'll be a wonder if I can't find a naked sword to suspend above his
However, while thus brooding over projects of vengeance, Commander de
Jars kept his word, and about a month after the interview above
related he sent word to Quennebert that the Chevalier de Moranges had
left Perregaud's completely recovered from his wound. But the nearly
fatal result of the chevalier's last prank seemed to have subdued his
adventurous spirit; he was no longer seen in public, and was soon
forgotten by all his acquaintances with the exception of Mademoiselle
de Guerchi. She faithfully treasured up the memory of his words of
passion, his looks of love, the warmth of his caresses, although at
first she struggled hard to chase his image from her heart. But as
the Due de Vitry assured her that he had killed him on the spot, she
considered it no breach of faith to think lovingly of the dead, and
while she took the goods so bounteously provided by her living lover,
her gentlest thoughts, her most enduring regrets, were given to one
whom she never hoped to see again.
With the reader's permission, we must now jump over an interval of
rather more than a year, and bring upon the stage a person who,
though only of secondary importance, can no longer be left behind the
We have already said that the loves of Quennebert and Madame Rapally
were regarded with a jealous eye by a distant cousin of the lady's
late husband. The love of this rejected suitor, whose name was
Trumeau, was no more sincere than the notary's, nor were his motives
more honourable. Although his personal appearance was not such as to
lead him to expect that his path would be strewn with conquests, he
considered that his charms at least equalled those of his defunct
relative; and it may be said that in thus estimating them he did not
lay himself--open to the charge of overweening vanity. But however
persistently he preened him self before the widow, she vouchsafed him
not one glance. Her heart was filled with the love of his rival, and
it is no easy thing to tear a rooted passion out of a widow's heart
when that widow's age is forty-six, and she is silly enough to
believe that the admiration she feels is equalled by the admiration
she inspires, as the unfortunate Trumeau found to his cost. All his
carefully prepared declarations of love, all his skilful insinuations
against Quennebert, brought him nothing but scornful rebuffs. But
Trumeau was nothing if not persevering, and he could not habituate
himself to the idea of seeing the widow's fortune pass into other
hands than his own, so that every baffled move only increased his
determination to spoil his competitor's game. He was always on the
watch for a chance to carry tales to the widow, and so absorbed did
he become in this fruitless pursuit, that he grew yellower and more
dried up from day to day, and to his jaundiced eye the man who was at
first simply his rival became his mortal enemy and the object of his
implacable hate, so that at length merely to get the better of him,
to outwit him, would, after so long-continued and obstinate a
struggle and so many defeats, have seemed to him too mild a
vengeance, too incomplete a victory.
Quennebert was well aware of the zeal with which the indefatigable
Trumeau sought to injure him. But he regarded the manoeuvres of his
rival with supreme unconcern, for he knew that he could at any time
sweep away the network of cunning machinations, underhand
insinuations, and malicious hints, which was spread around him, by
allowing the widow to confer on him the advantages she was so anxious
to bestow. The goal, he knew, was within his reach, but the problem
he had to solve was how to linger on the way thither, how to defer
the triumphal moment, how to keep hope alive in the fair one's breast
and yet delay its fruition. His affairs were in a bad way. Day by
day full possession of the fortune thus dangled before his eyes, and
fragments of which came to him occasionally by way of loan, was
becoming more and more indispensable, and tantalising though it was,
yet he dared not put out his hand to seize it. His creditors dunned
him relentlessly: one final reprieve had been granted him, but that
at an end, if he could not meet their demands, it was all up with his
career and reputation.
One morning in the beginning of February 1660, Trumeau called to see
his cousin. He had not been there for nearly a month, and Quennebert
and the widow had begun to think that, hopeless of success, he had
retired from the contest. But, far from that, his hatred had grown
more intense than ever, and having come upon the traces of an event
in the past life of his rival which if proved would be the ruin of
that rival's hopes, he set himself to gather evidence. He now made
his appearance with beaming looks, which expressed a joy too great
for words. He held in one hand a small scroll tied with a ribbon.
He found the widow alone, sitting in a large easy-chair before the
fire. She was reading for the twentieth time a letter which
Quenriebert had written her the evening before. To judge by the
happy and contented expression of the widow's face, it must have been
couched in glowing terms. Trumeau guessed at once from whom the
missive came, but the sight of it, instead of irritating him, called
forth a smile.
"Ah! so it's you, cousin?" said the widow, folding the precious
paper and slipping it into the bosom of her dress. "How do you do?
It's a long time since I saw you, more than a fortnight, I think.
Have you been ill?"
"So you remarked my absence! That is very flattering, my dear
cousin; you do not often spoil me by such attentions. No, I have not
been ill, thank God, but I thought it better not to intrude upon you
so often. A friendly call now and then such as to-day's is what you
like, is it not? By the way, tell me about your handsome suitor,
Maitre Quennebert; how is he getting along?"
"You look very knowing, Trumeau : have you heard of anything
happening to him?"
"No, and I should be exceedingly sorry to hear that anything
unpleasant had happened to him."
Now you are not saying what you think, you know you can't bear him."
"Well, to speak the truth, I have no great reason to like him. If it
were not for him, I should perhaps have been happy to-day; my love
might have moved your heart. However, I have become resigned to my
loss, and since your choice has fallen on him,--and here he.
sighed,--"well, all I can say is, I hope you may never regret it."
"Many thanks for your goodwill, cousin; I am delighted to find you in
such a benevolent mood. You must not be vexed because I could not
give you the kind of love you wanted; the heart, you know, is not
amenable to reason."
"There is only one thing I should like to ask."
"What is it?"
"I mention it for your good more than for my own. If you want to be
happy, don't let this handsome quill-driver get you entirely into his
hands. You are saying to yourself that because of my ill-success
with you I am trying to injure him; but what if I could prove that he
does not love you as much as he pretends--?"
"Come, come, control your naughty tongue! Are you going to begin
backbiting again? You are playing a mean part, Trumeau. I have
never hinted to Maitre Quennebert all the nasty little ways in which
you have tried to put a spoke in his wheel, for if he knew he would
ask you to prove your words, and then you would look very foolish.".
"Not at all, I swear to you. On the contrary, if I were to tell all
I know in his presence, it is not I who would be disconcerted. Oh!
I am weary of meeting with nothing from you but snubs, scorn, and
abuse. You think me a slanderer when I say, 'This gallant wooer of
widows does not love you for yourself but for your money-bags. He
fools you by fine promises, but as to marrying you--never, never!'"
"May I ask you to repeat that?" broke in Madame Rapally,
"Oh! I know what I am saying. You will never be Madame Quennebert."
"Jealousy has eaten away whatever brains you used to possess,
Trumeau. Since I saw you last, cousin, important changes have taken
place: I was just going to send you to-day an invitation to my
"To your wedding?"
"Yes; I am to be married to-morrow."
"To-morrow? To Quennebert?" stammered Trumeau.
"To Quennebert," repeated the widow in a tone of triumph.
"It's not possible!" exclaimed Trumeau.
"It is so possible that you will see us united tomorrow. And for the
future I must beg of you to regard Quennebert no longer as a rival
but as my husband, whom to offend will be to offend me."
The tone in which these words were spoken no longer left room for
doubt as to the truth of the news. Trumeau looked down for a few
moments, as if reflecting deeply before definitely making up his
mind. He twisted the little roll of papers between his fingers, and
seemed to be in doubt whether to open it and give it to Madame
Rapally to read or not. In the end, however, he put it in his
pocket, rose, and approaching his cousin, said--
"I beg your pardon, this news completely changes my opinion. From
the moment Maitre Quennebert becomes your husband I shall not have a
word to say against him. My suspicions were unjust, I confess it
frankly, and I hope that in consideration of the motives which
prompted me you will forget the warmth of my attacks. I shall make
no protestations, but shall let the future show how sincere is my
devotion to your interests."
Madame Rapally was too happy, too certain of being loved, not to
pardon easily. With the self-complacency and factitious generosity
of a woman who feels herself the object of two violent passions, she
was so good as to feel pity for the lover who was left out in the
cold, and offered him her hand. Trumeau kissed it with every outward
mark of respect, while his lips curled unseen in a smite of mockery.
The cousins parted, apparently the best of friends, and on the
understanding that Trumeau would be present at the nuptial
benediction, which was to be given in a church beyond the town hall,
near the house in which the newly-married couple were to live; the
house on the Pont Saint-Michel having lately been sold to great
"On my word," said Trumeau, as he went off, "it would have been a
great mistake to have spoken. I have got that wretch of a Quennebert
into my clutches at last; and there is nobody but himself to blame.
He is taking the plunge of his own free will, there is no need for me
to shove him off the precipice."
The ceremony took place next day. Quennebert conducted his
interesting bride to the altar, she hung with ornaments like the
shrine of a saint, and, beaming all over with smiles, looked so
ridiculous that the handsome bridegroom reddened to the roots of his
hair with shame. Just as they entered the church, a coffin, on which
lay a sword, and which was followed by a single mourner, who from his
manners and dress seemed to belong to the class of nobles, was
carried in by the same door. The wedding guests drew back to let the
funeral pass on, the living giving precedence to the dead. The
solitary mourner glanced by chance at Quennebert, and started as if
the sight of him was painful.
"What an unlucky meeting!" murmured Madame Rapally; "it is sure to be
a bad omen."
"It's sure to be the exact opposite," said Quennebert smiling.
The two ceremonies took place simultaneously in two adjoining
chapels; the funeral dirges which fell on the widow's ear full of
sinister prediction seemed to have quite another meaning for
Quennebert, for his features lost their look of care, his wrinkles
smoothed themselves out, till the guests, among whom was Trumeau, who
did not suspect the secret of his relief from suspense, began to
believe, despite their surprise, that he was really rejoiced at
obtaining legal possession of the charming Madame Rapally.
As for her, she fleeted the daylight hours by anticipating the joyful
moment when she would have her husband all to herself. When night
came, hardly had she entered the nuptial chamber than she uttered a
piercing shriek. She had just found and read a paper left on the bed
by Trumeau, who before leaving had contrived to glide into the room
unseen. Its contents were of terrible import, so terrible that the
new-made wife fell unconscious to the ground.
Quennebert, who, without a smile, was absorbed in reflections on the
happiness at last within his grasp, heard the noise from the next
room, and rushing in, picked up his wife. Catching sight of the
paper, he also uttered a cry of anger and astonishment, but in
whatever circumstances he found himself he was never long uncertain
how to act. Placing Madame Quennebert, still unconscious, on the
bed, he called her maid, and, having impressed on her that she was to
take every care of her mistress, and above all to tell her from him
as soon as she came to herself that there was no cause for alarm, he
left the house at once. An hour later, in spite of the efforts of
the servants, he forced his way into the presence of Commander de
Jars. Holding out the fateful document to him, he said:
"Speak openly, commander! Is it you who in revenge for your long
constraint have done this? I can hardly think so, for after what has
happened you know that I have nothing to fear any longer. Still,
knowing my secret and unable to do it in any other way, have you
perchance taken your revenge by an attempt to destroy my future
happiness by sowing dissension and disunion between me ,and my wife?"
The commander solemnly assured him that he had had no hand in
bringing about the discovery.
'Then if it's not you, it must be a worthless being called Trumeau,
who, with the unerring instinct of jealousy, has run the truth to
earth. But he knows only half: I have never been either so much in
love or so stupid as to allow myself to be trapped. I have given you
my promise to be discreet and not to misuse my power, and as long as
was compatible with my own safety I have kept my word. But now you
must see that I am bound to defend myself, and to do that I shall be
obliged to summon you as a witness. So leave Paris tonight and seek
out some safe retreat where no one can find you, for to-morrow I
shall speak. Of course if I am quit for a woman's tears, if no more
difficult task lies before me than to soothe a weeping wife, you can
return immediately; but if, as is too probable, the blow has been
struck by the hand of a rival furious at having been defeated, the
matter will not so easily be cut short; the arm of the law will be
invoked, and then I must get my head out of the noose which some
fingers I know of are itching to draw tight."
"You are quite right, sir," answered the commander; "I fear that my
influence at court is not strong enough to enable me to brave the
matter out. Well, my success has cost me dear, but it has cured me
for ever of seeking out similar adventures. My preparations will not
take long, and to-morrow's dawn will find me far from Paris."
Quennebert bowed and withdrew, returning home to console his Ariadne.
The accusation hanging over the head of Maitre Quennebert was a very
serious one, threatening his life, if proved. But he was not uneasy;
he knew himself in possession of facts which would enable him to
refute it triumphantly.
The platonic love of Angelique de Guerchi for the handsome Chevalier
de Moranges had resulted, as we have seen, in no practical wrong to
the Duc de Vitry. After her reconciliation with her lover, brought
about by the eminently satisfactory explanations she was able to give
of her conduct, which we have already laid before our readers, she
did not consider it advisable to shut her heart to his pleadings much
longer, and the consequence was that at the end of a year she found
herself in a condition which it was necessary to conceal from
everyone. To Angelique herself, it is true, the position was not
new, and she felt neither grief nor shame, regarding the coming event
as a means of making her future more secure by forging a new link in
the chain which bound the duke to her. But he, sure that but for
himself Angelique would never have strayed from virtue's path, could
not endure the thought of her losing her reputation and becoming an
object for scandal to point her finger at; so that Angelique, who
could not well seem less careful of her good name than he, was
obliged to turn his song of woe into a duet, and consent to certain
measures being taken.
One evening, therefore, shortly before Maitre Quennebert's marriage,
the fair lady set out, ostensibly on a journey which was to last a
fortnight or three weeks. In reality she only made a circle in a
post-chaise round Paris, which she re-entered at one of the barriers,
where the duke awaited her with a sedan-chair. In this she was
carried to the very house to which de Jars had brought his pretended
nephew after the duel. Angelique, who had to pay dearly for her
errors, remained there only twenty-four hours, and then left in her
coffin, which was hidden in a cellar under the palace of the Prince
de Conde, the body being covered with quicklime. Two days after this
dreadful death, Commander de Jars presented himself at the fatal
house, and engaged a room in which he installed the chevalier.
This house, which we are about to ask the reader to enter with us,
stood at the corner of the rue de la Tixeranderie and the rue
Deux-Portes. There was nothing in the exterior of it to distinguish
it from any other, unless perhaps two brass plates, one of
which bore the words MARIE LEROUX-CONSTANTIN, WIDOW, CERTIFIED
MIDWIFE, and the other CLAUDE PERREGAUD, SURGEON. These plates were
affixed to the blank wall in the rue de la Tixeranderie, the windows
of the rooms on that side looking into the courtyard. The house
door, which opened directly on the first steps of a narrow winding
stair, was on the other side, just beyond the low arcade under whose
vaulted roof access was gained to that end of the rue des
Deux-Portes. This house, though dirty, mean, and out of repair,
received many wealthy visitors, whose brilliant equipages waited for
them in the neighbouring streets. Often in the night great ladies
crossed its threshold under assumed names and remained there for
several days, during which La Constantin and Claude Perregaud, by an
infamous use of their professional knowledge, restored their clients
to an outward appearance of honour, and enabled them to maintain
their reputation for virtue. The first and second floors contained a
dozen rooms in which these abominable mysteries were practised. The
large apartment, which served as waiting and consultation room, was
oddly furnished, being crowded with objects of strange and unfamiliar
form. It resembled at once the operating-room of a surgeon, the
laboratory of a chemist and alchemist, and the den of a sorcerer.
There, mixed up together in the greatest confusion, lay instruments
of all sorts, caldrons and retorts, as well as books containing the
most absurd ravings of the human mind. There were the twenty folio
volumes of Albertus Magnus; the works of his disciple, Thomas de
Cantopre, of Alchindus, of Averroes, of Avicenna, of Alchabitius, of
David de Plaine-Campy, called L'Edelphe, surgeon to Louis XIII and
author of the celebrated book The Morbific Hydra Exterminated by the
Chemical Hercules. Beside a bronze head, such as the monk Roger
Bacon possessed, which answered all the questions that were addressed
to it and foretold the future by means of a magic mirror and the
combination of the rules of perspective, lay an eggshell, the same
which had been used by Caret, as d'Aubigne tells us, when making men
out of germs, mandrakes, and crimson silk, over a slow fire. In the
presses, which had sliding-doors fastening with secret springs, stood
Jars filled with noxious drugs, the power of which was but too
efficacious; in prominent positions, facing each other, hung two
portraits, one representing Hierophilos, a Greek physician, and the
other Agnodice his pupil, the first Athenian midwife.
For several years already La Constantin and Claude Perregaud had
carried on their criminal practices without interference. A number
of persons were of course in the secret, but their interests kept
them silent, and the two accomplices had at last persuaded themselves
that they were perfectly safe. One evening, however, Perregaud came
home, his face distorted by terror and trembling in every limb. He
had been warned while out that the suspicions of the authorities had
been aroused in regard to him and La Constantin. It seemed that some
little time ago, the Vicars-General had sent a deputation to the
president of the chief court of justice, having heard from their
priests that in one year alone six hundred women had avowed in the
confessional that they had taken drugs to prevent their having
children. This had been sufficient to arouse the vigilance of the
police, who had set a watch on Perregaud's house, with the result
that that very night a raid was to be made on it. The two criminals
took hasty counsel together, but, as usual under such circumstances,
arrived at no practical conclusions. It was only when the danger was
upon them that they recovered their presence of mind. In the dead of
night loud knocking at the street door was heard, followed by the
command to open in the name of the king.
"We can yet save ourselves!" exclaimed surgeon, with a sudden flash
Rushing into the room where the pretended chevalier was lying, he
"The police are coming up! If they discover your sex you are lost,
and so am I. Do as I tell you."
At a sign from him, La Constantin went down and opened the door.
While the rooms on the first floor were being searched, Perregaud
made with a lancet a superficial incision in the chevalier's right
arm, which gave very little pain, and bore a close resemblance to a
sword-cut. Surgery and medicine were at that time so inextricably
involved, required such apparatus, and bristled with such scientific
absurdities, that no astonishment was excited by the extraordinary
collection of instruments which loaded the tables and covered the
floors below: even the titles of certain treatises which there had
been no time to destroy, awoke no suspicion.
Fortunately for the surgeon and his accomplice, they had only one
patient--the chevalier--in their house when the descent was made.
When the chevalier's room was reached, the first thing which the
officers of the law remarked were the hat, spurred boots, and sword
of the patient. Claude Perregaud hardly looked up as the room was
invaded; he only made a sign to those--who came in to be quiet, and
went on dressing the wound. Completely taken in, the officer in
command merely asked the name of the patient and the cause of the
wound. La Constantin replied that it' was the young Chevalier de
Moranges, nephew of Commander de Jars, who had had an affair of
honour that same night, and being sightly wounded had been brought
thither by his uncle hardly an hour before. These questions and the
apparently trustworthy replies elicited by them being duly taken
down, the uninvited visitors retired, having discovered nothing to
justify their visit.
All might have been well had there been nothing the matter but the
wound on the chevalier's sword-arm. But at the moment when Perregaud
gave it to him the poisonous nostrums employed by La Constantin were
already working in his blood. Violent fever ensued, and in three
days the chevalier was dead. It was his funeral which had met
Quennebert's wedding party at the church door.
Everything turned out as Quennebert had anticipated. Madame
Quennebert, furious at the deceit which had been practised on her,
refused to listen to her husband's justification, and Trumeau, not
letting the grass grow under his feet, hastened the next day to
launch an accusation of bigamy against the notary; for the paper
which had been found in the nuptial camber was nothing less than an
attested copy of a contract of marriage concluded between Quennebert
and Josephine-Charlotte Boullenois. It was by the merest chance that
Trumeau had come on the record of the marriage, and he now challenged
his rival to produce a certificate of the death of his first wife.
Charlotte Boullenois, after two years of marriage, had demanded a
deed of separation, which demand Quennebert had opposed. While the
case was going on she had retired to the convent of La Raquette,
where her intrigue with de Jars began. The commander easily induced
her to let herself be carried off by force. He then concealed his
conquest by causing her to adopt male attire, a mode of dress which
accorded marvellously well with her peculiar tastes and rather
masculine frame. At first Quennebert had instituted an active but
fruitless search for his missing wife, but soon became habituated to
his state of enforced single blessedness, enjoying to the full the
liberty it brought with it. But his business had thereby suffered,
and once having made the acquaintance of Madame Rapally, he
cultivated it assiduously, knowing her fortune would be sufficient to
set him straight again with the world, though he was obliged to
exercise the utmost caution and reserve in has intercourse with her,
as she on her side displayed none of these qualities. At last,
however, matters came to such a pass that he must either go to prison
or run the risk of a second marriage. So he reluctantly named a day
for the ceremony, resolving to leave Paris with Madame Rapally as
soon as he had settled with his creditors.
In the short interval which ensued, and while Trumeau was hugging the
knowledge of the discovery he had made, a stroke of luck had brought
the pretended chevalier to La Constantin. As Quennebert had kept an
eye on de Jars and was acquainted with all his movements, he was
aware of everything that happened at Perregaud's, and as Charlotte's
death preceded his second marriage by one day, he knew that no
serious consequences would ensue from the legal proceedings taken
against him. He produced the declarations made by Mademoiselle de
Guerchi and the commander, and had the body exhumed. Extraordinary
and improbable as his defence appeared at first to be, the exhumation
proved the truth of his assertions. These revelations, however, drew
the eye of justice again on Perregaud and his partner in crime, and
this time their guilt was brought home to them. They were condemned
by parliamentary decree to "be hanged by the neck till they were
dead, on a gallows erected for that purpose at the cross roads of the
Croix-du-Trahoir; their bodies to remain there for twenty-four hours,
then to be cut down and brought back to Paris, where they were to be
exposed an a gibbet," etc., etc.
It was proved that they had amassed immense fortunes in the exercise
of their infamous calling. The entries in the books seized at their
house, though sparse, would have led, if made public, to scandals,
involving many in high places; it was therefore judged best to limit
the accusation to the two deaths by blood-poisoning of Angelique de
Querchi and Charlotte Boullenois.