by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Monsieur le Comte Georges Mniszech:
Some envious being may think on seeing this page illustrated by
one of the most illustrious of Sarmatian names, that I am
striving, as the goldsmiths do, to enhance a modern work with an
ancient jewel,--a fancy of the fashions of the day,--but you and a
few others, dear count, will know that I am only seeking to pay my
debt to Talent, Memory, and Friendship.
CHAPTER I. A CHURCH SCENE OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY
In 1479, on All Saints' day, the moment at which this history begins,
vespers were ending in the cathedral of Tours. The archbishop Helie de
Bourdeilles was rising from his seat to give the benediction himself
to the faithful. The sermon had been long; darkness had fallen during
the service, and in certain parts of the noble church (the towers of
which were not yet finished) the deepest obscurity prevailed.
Nevertheless a goodly number of tapers were burning in honor of the
saints on the triangular candle-trays destined to receive such pious
offerings, the merit and signification of which have never been
sufficiently explained. The lights on each altar and all the
candelabra in the choir were burning. Irregularly shed among a forest
of columns and arcades which supported the three naves of the
cathedral, the gleam of these masses of candles barely lighted the
immense building, because the strong shadows of the columns, projected
among the galleries, produced fantastic forms which increased the
darkness that already wrapped in gloom the arches, the vaulted
ceilings, and the lateral chapels, always sombre, even at mid-day.
The crowd presented effects that were no less picturesque. Certain
figures were so vaguely defined in the "chiaroscuro" that they seemed
like phantoms; whereas others, standing in a full gleam of the
scattered light, attracted attention like the principal heads in a
picture. Some statues seemed animated, some men seemed petrified. Here
and there eyes shone in the flutings of the columns, the floor
reflected looks, the marbles spoke, the vaults re-echoed sighs, the
edifice itself seemed endowed with life.
The existence of Peoples has no more solemn scenes, no moments more
majestic. To mankind in the mass, movement is needed to make it
poetical; but in these hours of religious thought, when human riches
unite themselves with celestial grandeur, incredible sublimities are
felt in the silence; there is fear in the bended knee, hope in the
clasping hands. The concert of feelings in which all souls are rising
heavenward produces an inexplicable phenomenon of spirituality. The
mystical exaltation of the faithful reacts upon each of them; the
feebler are no doubt borne upward by the waves of this ocean of faith
and love. Prayer, a power electrical, draws our nature above itself.
This involuntary union of all wills, equally prostrate on the earth,
equally risen into heaven, contains, no doubt, the secret of the magic
influences wielded by the chants of the priests, the harmonies of the
organ, the perfumes and the pomps of the altar, the voices of the
crowd and its silent contemplations. Consequently, we need not be
surprised to see in the middle-ages so many tender passions begun in
churches after long ecstasies,--passions ending often in little
sanctity, and for which women, as usual, were the ones to do penance.
Religious sentiment certainly had, in those days, an affinity with
love; it was either the motive or the end of it. Love was still a
religion, with its fine fanaticism, its naive superstitions, its
sublime devotions, which sympathized with those of Christianity.
The manners of that period will also serve to explain this alliance
between religion and love. In the first place society had no meeting-
place except before the altar. Lords and vassals, men and women were
equals nowhere else. There alone could lovers see each other and
communicate. The festivals of the Church were the theatre of former
times; the soul of woman was more keenly stirred in a cathedral than
it is at a ball or the opera in our day; and do not strong emotions
invariably bring women back to love? By dint of mingling with life and
grasping it in all its acts and interests, religion had made itself a
sharer of all virtues, the accomplice of all vices. Religion had
passed into science, into politics, into eloquence, into crimes, into
the flesh of the sick man and the poor man; it mounted thrones; it was
everywhere. These semi-learned observations will serve, perhaps, to
vindicate the truth of this study, certain details of which may
frighten the perfected morals of our age, which are, as everybody
knows, a trifle straitlaced.
At the moment when the chanting ceased and the last notes of the
organ, mingling with the vibrations of the loud "A-men" as it issued
from the strong chests of the intoning clergy, sent a murmuring echo
through the distant arches, and the hushed assembly were awaiting the
beneficent words of the archbishop, a burgher, impatient to get home,
or fearing for his purse in the tumult of the crowd when the
worshippers dispersed, slipped quietly away, at the risk of being
called a bad Catholic. On which, a nobleman, leaning against one of
the enormous columns that surround the choir, hastened to take
possession of the seat abandoned by the worthy Tourainean. Having done
so, he quickly hid his face among the plumes of his tall gray cap,
kneeling upon the chair with an air of contrition that even an
inquisitor would have trusted.
Observing the new-comer attentively, his immediate neighbors seemed to
recognize him; after which they returned to their prayers with a
certain gesture by which they all expressed the same thought,--a
caustic, jeering thought, a silent slander. Two old women shook their
heads, and gave each other a glance that seemed to dive into futurity.
The chair into which the young man had slipped was close to a chapel
placed between two columns and closed by an iron railing. It was
customary for the chapter to lease at a handsome price to seignorial
families, and even to rich burghers, the right to be present at the
services, themselves and their servants exclusively, in the various
lateral chapels of the long side-aisles of the cathedral. This simony
is in practice to the present day. A woman had her chapel as she now
has her opera-box. The families who hired these privileged places were
required to decorate the altar of the chapel thus conceded to them,
and each made it their pride to adorn their own sumptuously,--a vanity
which the Church did not rebuke. In this particular chapel a lady was
kneeling close to the railing on a handsome rug of red velvet with
gold tassels, precisely opposite to the seat vacated of the burgher. A
silver-gilt lamp, hanging from the vaulted ceiling of the chapel
before an altar magnificently decorated, cast its pale light upon a
prayer-book held by the lady. The book trembled violently in her hand
when the young man approached her.
To that response, sung in a sweet low voice which was painfully
agitated, though happily lost in the general clamor, she added rapidly
in a whisper:--
"You will ruin me."
The words were said in a tone of innocence which a man of any delicacy
ought to have obeyed; they went to the heart and pierced it. But the
stranger, carried away, no doubt, by one of those paroxysms of passion
which stifle conscience, remained in his chair and raised his head
slightly that he might look into the chapel.
"He sleeps!" he replied, in so low a voice that the words could be
heard by the young woman only, as sound is heard in its echo.
The lady turned pale; her furtive glance left for a moment the vellum
page of the prayer-book and turned to the old man whom the young man
had designated. What terrible complicity was in that glance? When the
young woman had cautiously examined the old seigneur, she drew a long
breath and raised her forehead, adorned with a precious jewel, toward
a picture of the Virgin; that simple movement, that attitude, the
moistened glance, revealed her life with imprudent naivete; had she
been wicked, she would certainly have dissimulated. The personage who
thus alarmed the lovers was a little old man, hunchbacked, nearly
bald, savage in expression, and wearing a long and discolored white
beard cut in a fan-tail. The cross of Saint-Michel glittered on his
breast; his coarse, strong hands, covered with gray hairs, which had
been clasped, had now dropped slightly apart in the slumber to which
he had imprudently yielded. The right hand seemed about to fall upon
his dagger, the hilt of which was in the form of an iron shell. By the
manner in which he had placed the weapon, this hilt was directly under
his hand; if, unfortunately, the hand touched the iron, he would wake,
no doubt, instantly, and glance at his wife. His sardonic lips, his
pointed chin aggressively pushed forward, presented the characteristic
signs of a malignant spirit, a sagacity coldly cruel, that would
surely enable him to divine all because he suspected everything. His
yellow forehead was wrinkled like those of men whose habit it is to
believe nothing, to weigh all things, and who, like misers chinking
their gold, search out the meaning and the value of human actions. His
bodily frame, though deformed, was bony and solid, and seemed both
vigorous and excitable; in short, you might have thought him a stunted
ogre. Consequently, an inevitable danger awaited the young lady
whenever this terrible seigneur woke. That jealous husband would
surely not fail to see the difference between a worthy old burgher who
gave him no umbrage, and the new-comer, young, slender, and elegant.
"Libera nos a malo," she said, endeavoring to make the young man
comprehend her fears.
The latter raised his head and looked at her. Tears were in his eyes;
tears of love and of despair. At sight of them the lady trembled and
betrayed herself. Both had, no doubt, long resisted and could resist
no longer a love increasing day by day through invincible obstacles,
nurtured by terror, strengthened by youth. The lady was moderately
handsome; but her pallid skin told of secret sufferings that made her
interesting. She had, moreover, an elegant figure, and the finest hair
in the world. Guarded by a tiger, she risked her life in whispering a
word, accepting a look, and permitting a mere pressure of the hand.
Love may never have been more deeply felt than in those hearts, never
more delightfully enjoyed, but certainly no passion was ever more
perilous. It was easy to divine that to these two beings air, sound,
foot-falls, etc., things indifferent to other men, presented hidden
qualities, peculiar properties which they distinguished. Perhaps their
love made them find faithful interpreters in the icy hands of the old
priest to whom they confessed their sins, and from whom they received
the Host at the holy table. Love profound! love gashed into the soul
like a scar upon the body which we carry through life! When these two
young people looked at each other, the woman seemed to say to her
lover, "Let us love each other and die!" To which the young knight
answered, "Let us love each other and not die." In reply, she showed
him a sign her old duenna and two pages. The duenna slept; the pages
were young and seemingly careless of what might happen, either of good
or evil, to their masters.
"Do not be frightened as you leave the church; let yourself be
The young nobleman had scarcely said these words in a low voice, when
the hand of the old seigneur dropped upon the hilt of his dagger.
Feeling the cold iron he woke, and his yellow eyes fixed themselves
instantly on his wife. By a privilege seldom granted even to men of
genius, he awoke with his mind as clear, his ideas as lucid as though
he had not slept at all. The man had the mania of jealousy. The lover,
with one eye on his mistress, had watched the husband with the other,
and he now rose quickly, effacing himself behind a column at the
moment when the hand of the old man fell; after which he disappeared,
swiftly as a bird. The lady lowered her eyes to her book and tried to
seem calm; but she could not prevent her face from blushing and her
heart from beating with unnatural violence. The old lord saw the
unusual crimson on the cheeks, forehead, even the eyelids of his wife.
He looked about him cautiously, but seeing no one to distrust, he said
to his wife:--
"What are you thinking of, my dear?"
"The smell of the incense turns me sick," she replied.
"It is particularly bad to-day?" he asked.
In spite of this sarcastic query, the wily old man pretended to
believe in this excuse; but he suspected some treachery and he
resolved to watch his treasure more carefully than before.
The benediction was given. Without waiting for the end of the "Soecula
soeculorum," the crowd rushed like a torrent to the doors of the
church. Following his usual custom, the old seigneur waited till the
general hurry was over; after which he left his chapel, placing the
duenna and the youngest page, carrying a lantern, before him; then he
gave his arm to his wife and told the other page to follow them.
As he made his way to the lateral door which opened on the west side
of the cloister, through which it was his custom to pass, a stream of
persons detached itself from the flood which obstructed the great
portals, and poured through the side aisle around the old lord and his
party. The mass was too compact to allow him to retrace his steps, and
he and his wife were therefore pushed onward to the door by the
pressure of the multitude behind them. The husband tried to pass out
first, dragging the lady by the arm, but at that instant he was pulled
vigorously into the street, and his wife was torn from him by a
stranger. The terrible hunchback saw at once that he had fallen into a
trap that was cleverly prepared. Repenting himself for having slept,
he collected his whole strength, seized his wife once more by the
sleeve of her gown, and strove with his other hand to cling to the
gate of the church; but the ardor of love carried the day against
jealous fury. The young man took his mistress round the waist, and
carried her off so rapidly, with the strength of despair, that the
brocaded stuff of silk and gold tore noisily apart, and the sleeve
alone remained in the hand of the old man. A roar like that of a lion
rose louder than the shouts of the multitude, and a terrible voice
howled out the words:--
"To me, Poitiers! Servants of the Comte de Saint-Vallier, here! Help!
And the Comte Aymar de Poitiers, sire de Saint-Vallier, attempted to
draw his sword and clear a space around him. But he found himself
surrounded and pressed upon by forty or fifty gentlemen whom it would
be dangerous to wound. Several among them, especially those of the
highest rank, answered him with jests as they dragged him along the
With the rapidity of lightning the abductor carried the countess into
an open chapel and seated her behind the confessional on a wooden
bench. By the light of the tapers burning before the saint to whom the
chapel was dedicated, they looked at each other for a moment in
silence, clasping hands, and amazed at their own audacity. The
countess had not the cruel courage to reproach the young man for the
boldness to which they owed this perilous and only instant of
"Will you fly with me into the adjoining States?" said the young man,
eagerly. "Two English horses are awaiting us close by, able to do
thirty leagues at a stretch."
"Ah!" she cried, softly, "in what corner of the world could you hide a
daughter of King Louis XI.?"
"True," replied the young man, silenced by a difficulty he had not
"Why did you tear me from my husband?" she asked in a sort of terror.
"Alas!" said her lover, "I did not reckon on the trouble I should feel
in being near you, in hearing you speak to me. I have made plans,--two
or three plans,--and now that I see you all seems accomplished."
"But I am lost!" said the countess.
"We are saved!" the young man cried in the blind enthusiasm of his
love. "Listen to me carefully!"
"This will cost me my life!" she said, letting the tears that rolled
in her eyes flow down her cheeks. "The count will kill me,--to-night,
perhaps! But go to the king; tell him the tortures that his daughter
has endured these five years. He loved me well when I was little; he
called me 'Marie-full-of-grace,' because I was ugly. Ah! if he knew
the man to whom he gave me, his anger would be terrible. I have not
dared complain, out of pity for the count. Besides, how could I reach
the king? My confessor himself is a spy of Saint-Vallier. That is why
I have consented to this guilty meeting, to obtain a defender,--some
one to tell the truth to the king. Can I rely on-- Oh!" she cried,
turning pale and interrupting herself, "here comes the page!"
The poor countess put her hands before her face as if to veil it.
"Fear nothing," said the young seigneur, "he is won! You can safely
trust him; he belongs to me. When the count contrives to return for
you he will warn us of his coming. In the confessional," he added, in
a low voice, "is a priest, a friend of mine, who will tell him that he
drew you for safety out of the crowd, and placed you under his own
protection in this chapel. Therefore, everything is arranged to
At these words the tears of the poor woman stopped, but an expression
of sadness settled down on her face.
"No one can deceive him," she said. "To-night he will know all. Save
me from his blows! Go to Plessis, see the king, tell him--" she
hesitated; then, some dreadful recollection giving her courage to
confess the secrets of her marriage, she added: "Yes, tell him that to
master me the count bleeds me in both arms--to exhaust me. Tell him
that my husband drags me about by the hair of my head. Say that I am a
Her heart swelled, sobs choked her throat, tears fell from her eyes.
In her agitation she allowed the young man, who was muttering broken
words, to kiss her hands.
"Poor darling! no one can speak to the king. Though my uncle is grand-
master of his archers, I could not gain admission to Plessis. My dear
lady! my beautiful sovereign! oh, how she has suffered! Marie, let
yourself say but two words, or we are lost!"
"What will become of us?" she murmured. Then, seeing on the dark wall
a picture of the Virgin, on which the light from the lamp was falling,
she cried out:--
"Holy Mother of God, give us counsel!"
"To-night," said the young man, "I shall be with you in your room."
"How?" she asked naively.
They were in such great peril that their tenderest words were devoid
"This evening," he replied, "I shall offer myself as apprentice to
Maitre Cornelius, the king's silversmith. I have obtained a letter of
recommendation to him which will make him receive me. His house is
next to yours. Once under the roof of that old thief, I can soon find
my way to your apartment by the help of a silken ladder."
"Oh!" she said, petrified with horror, "if you love me don't go to
"Ah!" he cried, pressing her to his heart with all the force of his
youth, "you do indeed love me!"
"Yes," she said; "are you not my hope? You are a gentleman, and I
confide to you my honor. Besides," she added, looking at him with
dignity, "I am so unhappy that you would never betray my trust. But
what is the good of all this? Go, let me die, sooner than that you
should enter that house of Maitre Cornelius. Do you not know that all
"Have been hanged," said the young man, laughing.
"Oh, don't go; you will be made the victim of some sorcery."
"I cannot pay too dearly for the joy of serving you," he said, with a
look that made her drop her eyes.
"But my husband?" she said.
"Here is something to put him to sleep," replied her lover, drawing
from his belt a little vial.
"Not for always?" said the countess, trembling.
For all answer the young seigneur made a gesture of horror.
"I would long ago have defied him to mortal combat if he were not so
old," he said. "God preserve me from ridding you of him in any other
"Forgive me," said the countess, blushing. "I am cruelly punished for
my sins. In a moment of despair I thought of killing him, and I feared
you might have the same desire. My sorrow is great that I have never
yet been able to confess that wicked thought; but I fear it would be
repeated to him and he would avenge it. I have shamed you," she
continued, distressed by his silence, "I deserve your blame."
And she broke the vial by flinging it on the floor violently.
"Do not come," she said, "my husband sleeps lightly; my duty is to
wait for the help of Heaven--that will I do!"
She tried to leave the chapel.
"Ah!" cried the young man, "order me to do so and I will kill him. You
will see me to-night."
"I was wise to destroy that drug," she said in a voice that was faint
with the pleasure of finding herself so loved. "The fear of awakening
my husband will save us from ourselves."
"I pledge you my life," said the young man, pressing her hand.
"If the king is willing, the pope can annul my marriage. We will then
be united," she said, giving him a look that was full of delightful
"Monseigneur comes!" cried the page, rushing in.
Instantly the young nobleman, surprised at the short time he had
gained with his mistress and wondering at the celerity of the count,
snatched a kiss, which was not refused.
"To-night!" he said, slipping hastily from the chapel.
Thanks to the darkness, he reached the great portal safely, gliding
from column to column in the long shadows which they cast athwart the
nave. An old canon suddenly issued from the confessional, came to the
side of the countess and closed the iron railing before which the page
was marching gravely up and down with the air of a watchman.
A strong light now announced the coming of the count. Accompanied by
several friends and by servants bearing torches, he hurried forward, a
naked sword in hand. His gloomy eyes seemed to pierce the shadows and
to rake even the darkest corners of the cathedral.
"Monseigneur, madame is there," said the page, going forward to meet
The Comte de Saint-Vallier found his wife kneeling on the steps of the
alter, the old priest standing beside her and reading his breviary. At
that sight the count shook the iron railing violently as if to give
vent to his rage.
"What do you want here, with a drawn sword in a church?" asked the
"Father, that is my husband," said the countess.
The priest took a key from his sleeve, and unlocked the railed door of
the chapel. The count, almost in spite of himself, cast a look into
the confessional, then he entered the chapel, and seemed to be
listening attentively to the sounds in the cathedral.
"Monsieur," said his wife, "you owe many thanks to this venerable
canon, who gave me a refuge here."
The count turned pale with anger; he dared not look at his friends,
who had come there more to laugh at him than to help him. Then he
"Thank God, father, I shall find some way to repay you."
He took his wife by the arm and, without allowing her to finish her
curtsey to the canon, he signed to his servants and left the church
without a word to the others who had accompanied him. His silence had
something savage and sullen about it. Impatient to reach his home and
preoccupied in searching for means to discover the truth, he took his
way through the tortuous streets which at that time separated the
cathedral from the Chancellerie, a fine building recently erected by
the Chancellor Juvenal des Ursins, on the site of an old fortification
given by Charles VII. to that faithful servant as a reward for his
The count reached at last the rue du Murier, in which his dwelling,
called the hotel de Poitiers, was situated. When his escort of
servants had entered the courtyard and the heavy gates were closed, a
deep silence fell on the narrow street, where other great seigneurs
had their houses, for this new quarter of the town was near to
Plessis, the usual residence of the king, to whom the courtiers, if
sent for, could go in a moment. The last house in this street was also
the last in the town. It belonged to Maitre Cornelius Hoogworst, an
old Brabantian merchant, to whom King Louis XI. gave his utmost
confidence in those financial transactions which his crafty policy
induced him to undertake outside of his own kingdom.
Observing the outline of the houses occupied respectively by Maitre
Cornelius and by the Comte de Poitiers, it was easy to believe that
the same architect had built them both and destined them for the use
of tyrants. Each was sinister in aspect, resembling a small fortress,
and both could be well defended against an angry populace. Their
corners were upheld by towers like those which lovers of antiquities
remark in towns where the hammer of the iconoclast has not yet
prevailed. The bays, which had little depth, gave a great power of
resistance to the iron shutters of the windows and doors. The riots
and the civil wars so frequent in those tumultuous times were ample
justification for these precautions.
As six o'clock was striking from the great tower of the Abbey Saint-
Martin, the lover of the hapless countess passed in front of the hotel
de Poitiers and paused for a moment to listen to the sounds made in
the lower hall by the servants of the count, who were supping. Casting
a glance at the window of the room where he supposed his love to be,
he continued his way to the adjoining house. All along his way, the
young man had heard the joyous uproar of many feasts given throughout
the town in honor of the day. The ill-joined shutters sent out streaks
of light, the chimneys smoked, and the comforting odor of roasted
meats pervaded the town. After the conclusion of the church services,
the inhabitants were regaling themselves, with murmurs of satisfaction
which fancy can picture better than words can paint. But at this
particular spot a deep silence reigned, because in these two houses
lived two passions which never rejoiced. Beyond them stretched the
silent country. Beneath the shadow of the steeples of Saint-Martin,
these two mute dwellings, separated from the others in the same street
and standing at the crooked end of it, seemed afflicted with leprosy.
The building opposite to them, the home of the criminals of the State,
was also under a ban. A young man would be readily impressed by this
sudden contrast. About to fling himself into an enterprise that was
horribly hazardous, it is no wonder that the daring young seigneur
stopped short before the house of the silversmith, and called to mind
the many tales furnished by the life of Maitre Cornelius,--tales which
caused such singular horror to the countess. At this period a man of
war, and even a lover, trembled at the mere word "magic." Few indeed
were the minds and the imaginations which disbelieved in occult facts
and tales of the marvellous. The lover of the Comtesse de Saint-
Vallier, one of the daughters whom Louis XI. had in Dauphine by Madame
de Sassenage, however bold he might be in other respects, was likely
to think twice before he finally entered the house of a so-called
The history of Maitre Cornelius Hoogworst will fully explain the
security which the silversmith inspired in the Comte de Saint-Vallier,
the terror of the countess, and the hesitation that now took
possession of the lover. But, in order to make the readers of this
nineteenth century understand how such commonplace events could be
turned into anything supernatural, and to make them share the alarms
of that olden time, it is necessary to interrupt the course of this
narrative and cast a rapid glance on the preceding life and adventures
of Maitre Cornelius.
CHAPTER II. THE TORCONNIER
Cornelius Hoogworst, one of the richest merchants in Ghent, having
drawn upon himself the enmity of Charles, Duke of Burgundy, found
refuge and protection at the court of Louis XI. The king was conscious
of the advantages he could gain from a man connected with all the
principal commercial houses of Flanders, Venice, and the Levant; he
naturalized, ennobled, and flattered Maitre Cornelius; all of which
was rarely done by Louis XI. The monarch pleased the Fleming as much
as the Fleming pleased the monarch. Wily, distrustful, and miserly;
equally politic, equally learned; superior, both of them, to their
epoch; understanding each other marvellously; they discarded and
resumed with equal facility, the one his conscience, the other his
religion; they loved the same Virgin, one by conviction, the other by
policy; in short, if we may believe the jealous tales of Olivier de
Daim and Tristan, the king went to the house of the Fleming for those
diversions with which King Louis XI. diverted himself. History has
taken care to transmit to our knowledge the licentious tastes of a
monarch who was not averse to debauchery. The old Fleming found, no
doubt, both pleasure and profit in lending himself to the capricious
pleasures of his royal client.
Cornelius had now lived nine years in the city of Tours. During those
years extraordinary events had happened in his house, which had made
him the object of general execration. On his first arrival, he had
spent considerable sums in order to put the treasures he brought with
him in safety. The strange inventions made for him secretly by the
locksmiths of the town, the curious precautions taken in bringing
those locksmiths to his house in a way to compel their silence, were
long the subject of countless tales which enlivened the evening
gatherings of the city. These singular artifices on the part of the
old man made every one suppose him the possessor of Oriental riches.
Consequently the NARRATORS of that region--the home of the tale in
France--built rooms full of gold and precious tones in the Fleming's
house, not omitting to attribute all this fabulous wealth to compacts
Maitre Cornelius had brought with him from Ghent two Flemish valets,
an old woman, and a young apprentice; the latter, a youth with a
gentle, pleasing face, served him as secretary, cashier, factotum, and
courier. During the first year of his settlement in Tours, a robbery
of considerable amount took place in his house, and judicial inquiry
showed that the crime must have been committed by one of its inmates.
The old miser had his two valets and the secretary put in prison. The
young man was feeble and he died under the sufferings of the
"question" protesting his innocence. The valets confessed the crime to
escape torture; but when the judge required them to say where the
stolen property could be found, they kept silence, were again put to
the torture, judged, condemned, and hanged. On their way to the
scaffold they declared themselves innocent, according to the custom
of all persons about to be executed.
The city of Tours talked much of this singular affair; but the
criminals were Flemish, and the interest felt in their unhappy fate
soon evaporated. In those days wars and seditions furnished endless
excitements, and the drama of each day eclipsed that of the night
before. More grieved by the loss he had met with than by the death of
his three servants, Maitre Cornelius lived alone in his house with the
old Flemish woman, his sister. He obtained permission from the king to
use state couriers for his private affairs, sold his mules to a
muleteer of the neighborhood, and lived from that moment in the
deepest solitude, seeing no one but the king, doing his business by
means of Jews, who, shrewd calculators, served him well in order to
gain his all-powerful protection.
Some time after this affair, the king himself procured for his old
"torconnier" a young orphan in whom he took an interest. Louis XI.
called Maitre Cornelius familiarly by that obsolete term, which, under
the reign of Saint-Louis, meant a usurer, a collector of imposts, a
man who pressed others by violent means. The epithet, "tortionnaire,"
which remains to this day in our legal phraseology, explains the old
word torconnier, which we often find spelt "tortionneur." The poor
young orphan devoted himself carefully to the affairs of the old
Fleming, pleased him much, and was soon high in his good graces.
During a winter's night, certain diamonds deposited with Maitre
Cornelius by the King of England as security for a sum of a hundred
thousand crowns were stolen, and suspicion, of course, fell on the
orphan. Louis XI. was all the more severe because he had answered for
the youth's fidelity. After a very brief and summary examination by
the grand provost, the unfortunate secretary was hanged. After that no
one dared for a long time to learn the arts of banking and exchange
from Maitre Cornelius.
In course of time, however, two young men of the town, Touraineans,--
men of honor, and eager to make their fortunes,--took service with the
silversmith. Robberies coincided with the admission of the two young
men into the house. The circumstances of these crimes, the manner in
which they were perpetrated, showed plainly that the robbers had
secret communication with its inmates. Become by this time more than
ever suspicious and vindictive, the old Fleming laid the matter before
Louis XI., who placed it in the hands of his grand provost. A trial
was promptly had and promptly ended. The inhabitants of Tours blamed
Tristan l'Hermite secretly for unseemly haste. Guilty or not guilty,
the young Touraineans were looked upon as victims, and Cornelius as an
executioner. The two families thus thrown into mourning were much
respected; their complaints obtained a hearing, and little by little
it came to be believed that all the victims whom the king's
silversmith had sent to the scaffold were innocent. Some persons
declared that the cruel miser imitated the king, and sought to put
terror and gibbets between himself and his fellow-men; others said
that he had never been robbed at all,--that these melancholy
executions were the result of cool calculations, and that their real
object was to relieve him of all fear for his treasure.
The first effect of these rumors was to isolate Maitre Cornelius. The
Touraineans treated him like a leper, called him the "tortionnaire,"
and named his house Malemaison. If the Fleming had found strangers to
the town bold enough to enter it, the inhabitants would have warned
them against doing so. The most favorable opinion of Maitre Cornelius
was that of persons who thought him merely baneful. Some he inspired
with instinctive terror; others he impressed with the deep respect
that most men feel for limitless power and money, while to a few he
certainly possessed the attraction of mystery. His way of life, his
countenance, and the favor of the king, justified all the tales of
which he had now become the subject.
Cornelius travelled much in foreign lands after the death of his
persecutor, the Duke of Burgundy; and during his absence the king
caused his premises to be guarded by a detachment of his own Scottish
guard. Such royal solicitude made the courtiers believe that the old
miser had bequeathed his property to Louis XI. When at home, the
torconnier went out but little; but the lords of the court paid him
frequent visits. He lent them money rather liberally, though
capricious in his manner of doing so. On certain days he refused to
give them a penny; the next day he would offer them large
sums,--always at high interest and on good security. A good Catholic,
he went regularly to the services, always attending the earliest mass
at Saint-Martin; and as he had purchased there, as elsewhere, a chapel
in perpetuity, he was separated even in church from other Christians.
A popular proverb of that day, long remembered in Tours, was the
saying: "You passed in front of the Fleming; ill-luck will happen to
you." Passing in front of the Fleming explained all sudden pains and
evils, involuntary sadness, ill-turns of fortune among the
Touraineans. Even at court most persons attributed to Cornelius that
fatal influence which Italian, Spanish, and Asiatic superstition has
called the "evil eye." Without the terrible power of Louis XI., which
was stretched like a mantle over that house, the populace, on the
slightest opportunity, would have demolished La Malemaison, that "evil
house" in the rue du Murier. And yet Cornelius had been the first to
plant mulberries in Tours, and the Touraineans at that time regarded
him as their good genius. Who shall reckon on popular favor!
A few seigneurs having met Maitre Cornelius on his journeys out of
France were surprised at his friendliness and good-humor. At Tours he
was gloomy and absorbed, yet always he returned there. Some
inexplicable power brought him back to his dismal house in the rue du
Murier. Like a snail, whose life is so firmly attached to its shell,
he admitted to the king that he was never at ease except under the
bolts and behind the vermiculated stones of his little bastille; yet
he knew very well that whenever Louis XI. died, the place would be the
most dangerous spot on earth for him.
"The devil is amusing himself at the expense of our crony, the
torconnier," said Louis XI. to his barber, a few days before the
festival of All-Saints. "He says he has been robbed again, but he
can't hang anybody this time unless he hangs himself. The old vagabond
came and asked me if, by chance, I had carried off a string of rubies
he wanted to sell me. 'Pasques-Dieu! I don't steal what I can take,' I
said to him."
"Was he frightened?" asked the barber.
"Misers are afraid of only one thing," replied the king. "My crony the
torconnier knows very well that I shall not plunder him unless for
good reason; otherwise I should be unjust, and I have never done
anything but what is just and necessary."
"And yet that old brigand overcharges you," said the barber.
"You wish he did, don't you?" replied the king, with the malicious
look at his barber.
"Ventre-Mahom, sire, the inheritance would be a fine one between you
and the devil!"
"There, there!" said the king, "don't put bad ideas into my head. My
crony is a more faithful man than those whose fortunes I have made--
perhaps because he owes me nothing."
For the last two years Maitre Cornelius had lived entirely alone with
his aged sister, who was thought a witch. A tailor in the neighborhood
declared that he had often seen her at night, on the roof of the
house, waiting for the hour of the witches' sabbath. This fact seemed
the more extraordinary because it was known to be the miser's custom
to lock up his sister at night in a bedroom with iron-barred windows.
As he grew older, Cornelius, constantly robbed, and always fearful of
being duped by men, came to hate mankind, with the one exception of
the king, whom he greatly respected. He fell into extreme misanthropy,
but, like most misers, his passion for gold, the assimilation, as it
were, of that metal with his own substance, became closer and closer,
and age intensified it. His sister herself excited his suspicions,
though she was perhaps more miserly, more rapacious than her brother
whom she actually surpassed in penurious inventions. Their daily
existence had something mysterious and problematical about it. The old
woman rarely took bread from the baker; she appeared so seldom in the
market, that the least credulous of the townspeople ended by
attributing to these strange beings the knowledge of some secret for
the maintenance of life. Those who dabbled in alchemy declared that
Maitre Cornelius had the power of making gold. Men of science averred
that he had found the Universal Panacea. According to many of the
country-people to whom the townsfolk talked of him, Cornelius was a
chimerical being, and many of them came into the town to look at his
house out of mere curiosity.
The young seigneur whom we left in front of that house looked about
him, first at the hotel de Poitiers, the home of his mistress, and
then at the evil house. The moonbeams were creeping round their
angles, and tinting with a mixture of light and shade the hollows and
reliefs of the carvings. The caprices of this white light gave a
sinister expression to both edifices; it seemed as if Nature herself
encouraged the superstitions that hung about the miser's dwelling. The
young man called to mind the many traditions which made Cornelius a
personage both curious and formidable. Though quite decided through
the violence of his love to enter that house, and stay there long
enough to accomplish his design, he hesitated to take the final step,
all the while aware that he should certainly take it. But where is the
man who, in a crisis of his life, does not willingly listen to
presentiments as he hangs above the precipice? A lover worthy of being
loved, the young man feared to die before he had been received for
love's sake by the countess.
This mental deliberation was so painfully interesting that he did not
feel the cold wind as it whistled round the corner of the building,
and chilled his legs. On entering that house, he must lay aside his
name, as already he had laid aside the handsome garments of nobility.
In case of mishap, he could not claim the privileges of his rank nor
the protection of his friends without bringing hopeless ruin on the
Comtesse de Saint-Vallier. If her husband suspected the nocturnal
visit of a lover, he was capable of roasting her alive in an iron
cage, or of killing her by degrees in the dungeons of a fortified
castle. Looking down at the shabby clothing in which he had disguised
himself, the young nobleman felt ashamed. His black leather belt, his
stout shoes, his ribbed socks, his linsey-woolsey breeches, and his
gray woollen doublet made him look like the clerk of some poverty-
stricken justice. To a noble of the fifteenth century it was like
death itself to play the part of a beggarly burgher, and renounce the
privileges of his rank. But--to climb the roof of the house where his
mistress wept; to descend the chimney, or creep along from gutter to
gutter to the window of her room; to risk his life to kneel beside her
on a silken cushion before a glowing fire, during the sleep of a
dangerous husband, whose snores would double their joy; to defy both
heaven and earth in snatching the boldest of all kisses; to say no
word that would not lead to death or at least to sanguinary combat if
overheard,--all these voluptuous images and romantic dangers decided
the young man. However slight might be the guerdon of his enterprise,
could he only kiss once more the hand of his lady, he still resolved
to venture all, impelled by the chivalrous and passionate spirit of
those days. He never supposed for a moment that the countess would
refuse him the soft happiness of love in the midst of such mortal
danger. The adventure was too perilous, too impossible not to be
attempted and carried out.
Suddenly all the bells in the town rang out the curfew,--a custom
fallen elsewhere into desuetude, but still observed in the provinces,
where venerable habits are abolished slowly. Though the lights were
not put out, the watchmen of each quarter stretched the chains across
the streets. Many doors were locked; the steps of a few belated
burghers, attended by their servants, armed to the teeth and bearing
lanterns, echoed in the distance. Soon the town, garroted as it were,
seemed to be asleep, and safe from robbers and evil-doers, except
through the roofs. In those days the roofs of houses were much
frequented after dark. The streets were so narrow in the provincial
towns, and even in Paris, that robbers could jump from the roofs on
one side to those on the other. This perilous occupation was long the
amusement of King Charles IX. in his youth, if we may believe the
memoirs of his day.
Fearing to present himself too late to the old silversmith, the young
nobleman now went up to the door of the Malemaison intending to knock,
when, on looking at it, his attention was excited by a sort of vision,
which the writers of those days would have called "cornue,"--perhaps
with reference to horns and hoofs. He rubbed his eyes to clear his
sight, and a thousand diverse sentiments passed through his mind at
the spectacle before him. On each side of the door was a face framed
in a species of loophole. At first he took these two faces for
grotesque masks carved in stone, so angular, distorted, projecting,
motionless, discolored were they; but the cold air and the moonlight
presently enabled him to distinguish the faint white mist which living
breath sent from two purplish noses; then he saw in each hollow face,
beneath the shadow of the eyebrows, two eyes of porcelain blue casting
clear fire, like those of a wolf crouching in the brushwood as it
hears the baying of the hounds. The uneasy gleam of those eyes was
turned on him so fixedly that, after receiving it for fully a minute,
during which he examined the singular sight, he felt like a bird at
which a setter points; a feverish tumult rose in his soul, but he
quickly repressed it. The two faces, strained and suspicious, were
doubtless those of Cornelius and his sister.
The young man feigned to be looking about him to see where he was, and
whether this were the house named on a card which he drew from his
pocket and pretended to read in the moonlight; then he walked straight
to the door and struck three blows upon it, which echoed within the
house as if it were the entrance to a cave. A faint light crept
beneath the threshold, and an eye appeared at a small and very strong
"Who is there?"
"A friend, sent by Oosterlinck, of Brussels."
"What do you want?"
"Have you brought credentials?"
"Here they are."
"Pass them through the box."
"Where is it?"
"To your left."
Philippe Goulenoire put the letter through the slit of an iron box
above which was a loophole.
"The devil!" thought he, "plainly the king comes here, as they say he
does; he couldn't take more precautions at Plessis."
He waited for more than a quarter of an hour in the street. After that
lapse of time, he heard Cornelius saying to his sister, "Close the
traps of the door."
A clinking of chains resounded from within. Philippe heard the bolts
run, the locks creak, and presently a small low door, iron-bound,
opened to the slightest distance through which a man could pass. At
the risk of tearing off his clothing, Philippe squeezed himself rather
than walked into La Malemaison. A toothless old woman with a hatchet
face, the eyebrows projecting like the handles of a cauldron, the nose
and chin so near together that a nut could scarcely pass between them,
--a pallid, haggard creature, her hollow temples composed apparently
of only bones and nerves,--guided the "soi-disant" foreigner silently
into a lower room, while Cornelius followed prudently behind him.
"Sit there," she said to Philippe, showing him a three-legged stool
placed at the corner of a carved stone fireplace, where there was no
On the other side of the chimney-piece was a walnut table with twisted
legs, on which was an egg in a plate and ten or a dozen little bread-
sops, hard and dry and cut with studied parsimony. Two stools placed
beside the table, on one of which the old woman sat down, showed that
the miserly pair were eating their suppers. Cornelius went to the door
and pushed two iron shutters into their place, closing, no doubt, the
loopholes through which they had been gazing into the street; then he
returned to his seat. Philippe Goulenoire (so called) next beheld the
brother and sister dipping their sops into the egg in turn, and with
the utmost gravity and the same precision with which soldiers dip
their spoons in regular rotation into the mess-pot. This performance
was done in silence. But as he ate, Cornelius examined the false
apprentice with as much care and scrutiny as if he were weighing an
Philippe, feeling that an icy mantle had descended on his shoulders,
was tempted to look about him; but, with the circumspection dictated
by all amorous enterprises, he was careful not to glance, even
furtively, at the walls; for he fully understood that if Cornelius
detected him, he would not allow so inquisitive a person to remain in
his house. He contented himself, therefore, by looking first at the
egg and then at the old woman, occasionally contemplating his future
Louis XI.'s silversmith resembled that monarch. He had even acquired
the same gestures, as often happens where persons dwell together in a
sort of intimacy. The thick eyebrows of the Fleming almost covered his
eyes; but by raising them a little he could flash out a lucid,
penetrating, powerful glance, the glance of men habituated to silence,
and to whom the phenomenon of the concentration of inward forces has
become familiar. His thin lips, vertically wrinkled, gave him an air
of indescribable craftiness. The lower part of his face bore a vague
resemblance to the muzzle of a fox, but his lofty, projecting
forehead, with many lines, showed great and splendid qualities and a
nobility of soul, the springs of which had been lowered by experience
until the cruel teachings of life had driven it back into the farthest
recesses of this most singular human being. He was certainly not an
ordinary miser; and his passion covered, no doubt, extreme enjoyments
and secret conceptions.
"What is the present rate of Venetian sequins?" he said abruptly to
his future apprentice.
"Three-quarters at Brussels; one in Ghent."
"What is the freight on the Scheldt?"
"Three sous parisis."
"Any news at Ghent?"
"The brother of Lieven d'Herde is ruined."
After giving vent to that exclamation, the old man covered his knee
with the skirt of his dalmatian, a species of robe made of black
velvet, open in front, with large sleeves and no collar, the sumptuous
material being defaced and shiny. These remains of a magnificent
costume, formerly worn by him as president of the tribunal of the
Parchons, functions which had won him the enmity of the Duke of
Burgundy, was now a mere rag.
Philippe was not cold; he perspired in his harness, dreading further
questions. Until then the brief information obtained that morning from
a Jew whose life he had formerly saved, had sufficed him, thanks to
his good memory and the perfect knowledge the Jew possessed of the
manners and habits of Maitre Cornelius. But the young man who, in the
first flush of his enterprise, had feared nothing was beginning to
perceive the difficulties it presented. The solemn gravity of the
terrible Fleming reacted upon him. He felt himself under lock and key,
and remembered how the grand provost Tristan and his rope were at the
orders of Maitre Cornelius.
"Have you supped?" asked the silversmith, in a tone which signified,
"You are not to sup."
The old maid trembled in spite of her brother's tone; she looked at
the new inmate as if to gauge the capacity of the stomach she might
have to fill, and said with a specious smile:--
"You have not stolen your name; your hair and moustache are as black
as the devil's tail."
"I have supped," he said.
"Well then," replied the miser, "you can come back and see me to-
morrow. I have done without an apprentice for some years. Besides, I
wish to sleep upon the matter."
"Hey! by Saint-Bavon, monsieur, I am a Fleming; I don't know a soul in
this place; the chains are up in the streets, and I shall be put in
prison. However," he added, frightened at the eagerness he was showing
in his words, "if it is your good pleasure, of course I will go."
The oath seemed to affect the old man singularly.
"Come, come, by Saint-Bavon indeed, you shall sleep here."
"But--" said his sister, alarmed.
"Silence," replied Cornelius. "In his letter Oosterlinck tells me he
will answer for this young man. You know," he whispered in his
sister's ear, "we have a hundred thousand francs belonging to
Oosterlinck? That's a hostage, hey!"
"And suppose he steals those Bavarian jewels? Tiens, he looks more
like a thief than a Fleming."
"Hush!" exclaimed the old man, listening attentively to some sound.
Both misers listened. A moment after the "Hush!" uttered by Cornelius,
a noise produced by the steps of several men echoed in the distance on
the other side of the moat of the town.
"It is the Plessis guard on their rounds," said the sister.
"Give me the key of the apprentice's room," said Cornelius.
The old woman made a gesture as if to take the lamp.
"Do you mean to leave us alone, without light?" cried Cornelius, in a
meaning tone of voice. "At your age can't you see in the dark? It
isn't difficult to find a key."
The sister understood the meaning hidden beneath these words and left
the room. Looking at this singular creature as she walked towards the
door, Philippe Goulenoire was able to hide from Cornelius the glance
which he hastily cast about the room. It was wainscoted in oak to the
chair-strip, and the walls above were hung with yellow leather stamped
with black arabesques; but what struck the young man most was a match-
lock pistol with its formidable trigger. This new and terrible weapon
lay close to Cornelius.
"How do you expect to earn your living with me?" said the latter.
"I have but little money," replied Philippe, "but I know good tricks
in business. If you will pay me a sou on every mark I earn for you,
that will satisfy me."
"A sou! a sou!" echoed the miser; "why, that's a good deal!"
At this moment the old sibyl returned with the key.
"Come," said Cornelius to Philippe.
The pair went out beneath the portico and mounted a spiral stone
staircase, the round well of which rose through a high turret, beside
the hall in which they had been sitting. At the first floor up the
young man paused.
"No, no," said Cornelius. "The devil! this nook is the place where the
king takes his ease."
The architect had constructed the room given to the apprentice under
the pointed roof of the tower in which the staircase wound. It was a
little room, all of stone, cold and without ornament of any kind. The
tower stood in the middle of the facade on the courtyard, which, like
the courtyards of all provincial houses, was narrow and dark. At the
farther end, through an iron railing, could be seen a wretched garden
in which nothing grew but the mulberries which Cornelius had
introduced. The young nobleman took note of all this through the
loopholes on the spiral staircase, the moon casting, fortunately, a
brilliant light. A cot, a stool, a mismatched pitcher and basin formed
the entire furniture of the room. The light could enter only through
square openings, placed at intervals in the outside wall of the tower,
according, no doubt, to the exterior ornamentation.
"Here is your lodging," said Cornelius; "it is plain and solid and
contains all that is needed for sleep. Good night! Do not leave this
room as THE OTHERS did."
After giving his apprentice a last look full of many meanings,
Cornelius double-locked the door, took away the key and descended the
staircase, leaving the young nobleman as much befooled as a bell-
founder when on opening his mould he finds nothing. Alone, without
light, seated on a stool, in a little garret from which so many of his
predecessors had gone to the scaffold, the young fellow felt like a
wild beast caught in a trap. He jumped upon the stool and raised
himself to his full height in order to reach one of the little
openings through which a faint light shone. Thence he saw the Loire,
the beautiful slopes of Saint-Cyr, the gloomy marvels of Plessis,
where lights were gleaming in the deep recesses of a few windows. Far
in the distance lay the beautiful meadows of Touraine and the silvery
stream of her river. Every point of this lovely nature had, at that
moment, a mysterious grace; the windows, the waters, the roofs of the
houses shone like diamonds in the trembling light of the moon. The
soul of the young seigneur could not repress a sad and tender emotion.
"Suppose it is my last farewell!" he said to himself.
He stood there, feeling already the terrible emotions his adventure
offered him, and yielding to the fears of a prisoner who,
nevertheless, retains some glimmer of hope. His mistress illumined
each difficulty. To him she was no longer a woman, but a supernatural
being seen through the incense of his desires. A feeble cry, which he
fancied came from the hotel de Poitiers, restored him to himself and
to a sense of his true situation. Throwing himself on his pallet to
reflect on his course, he heard a slight movement which echoed faintly
from the spiral staircase. He listened attentively, and the whispered
words, "He has gone to bed," said by the old woman, reached his ear.
By an accident unknown probably to the architect, the slightest noise
on the staircase sounded in the room of the apprentices, so that
Philippe did not lose a single movement of the miser and his sister
who were watching him. He undressed, lay down, pretended to sleep, and
employed the time during which the pair remained on the staircase, in
seeking means to get from his prison to the hotel de Poitiers.
About ten o'clock Cornelius and his sister, convinced that their new
inmate was sleeping, retired to their rooms. The young man studied
carefully the sounds they made in doing so, and thought he could
recognize the position of their apartments; they must, he believed,
occupy the whole second floor. Like all the houses of that period,
this floor was next below the roof, from which its windows projected,
adorned with spandrel tops that were richly sculptured. The roof
itself was edged with a sort of balustrade, concealing the gutters for
the rain water which gargoyles in the form of crocodile's heads
discharged into the street. The young seigneur, after studying this
topography as carefully as a cat, believed he could make his way from
the tower to the roof, and thence to Madame de Vallier's by the
gutters and the help of a gargoyle. But he did not count on the
narrowness of the loopholes of the tower; it was impossible to pass
through them. He then resolved to get out upon the roof of the house
through the window of the staircase on the second floor. To accomplish
this daring project he must leave his room, and Cornelius had carried
off the key.
By way of precaution, the young man had brought with him, concealed
under his clothes, one of those poignards formerly used to give the
"coup de grace" in a duel when the vanquished adversary begged the
victor to despatch him. This horrible weapon had on one side a blade
sharpened like a razor, and on the other a blade that was toothed like
a saw, but toothed in the reverse direction from that by which it
would enter the body. The young man determined to use this latter
blade to saw through the wood around the lock. Happily for him the
staple of the lock was put on to the outside of the door by four stout
screws. By the help of his dagger he managed, not without great
difficulty, to unscrew and remove it altogether, carefully laying it
aside and the four screws with it. By midnight he was free, and he
went down the stairs without his shoes to reconnoitre the localities.
He was not a little astonished to find a door wide open which led down
a corridor to several chambers, at the end of which corridor was a
window opening on a depression caused by the junction of the roofs of
the hotel de Poitiers and that of the Malemaison which met there.
Nothing could express his joy, unless it be the vow which he instantly
made to the Blessed Virgin to found a mass in her honor in the
celebrated parish church of the Escrignoles at Tours. After examining
the tall broad chimneys of the hotel de Poitiers he returned upon his
steps to fetch his dagger, when to his horror, he beheld a vivid light
on the staircase and saw Maitre Cornelius himself in his dalmatian,
carrying a lamp, his eyes open to their fullest extent and fixed upon
the corridor, at the entrance of which he stood like a spectre.
"If I open the window and jump upon the roofs, he will hear me,"
thought the young man.
The terrible old miser advanced, like the hour of death to a criminal.
In this extremity Philippe, instigated by love, recovered his presence
of mind; he slipped into a doorway, pressing himself back into the
angle of it, and awaited the old man. When Cornelius, holding his lamp
in advance of him, came into line with the current of air which the
young man could send from his lungs, the lamp was blown out. Cornelius
muttered vague words and swore a Dutch oath; but he turned and
retraced his steps. The young man then rushed to his room, caught up
his dagger and returned to the blessed window, opened it softly and
jumped upon the roof.
Once at liberty under the open sky, he felt weak, so happy was he.
Perhaps the extreme agitation of his danger of the boldness of the
enterprise caused his emotion; victory is often as perilous as battle.
He leaned against the balustrade, quivering with joy and saying to
"By which chimney can I get to her?"
He looked at them all. With the instinct given by love, he went to all
and felt them to discover in which there had been a fire. Having made
up his mind on that point, the daring young fellow stuck his dagger
securely in a joint between two stones, fastened a silken ladder to
it, threw the ladder down the chimney and risked himself upon it,
trusting to his good blade, and to the chance of not having mistaken
his mistress's room. He knew not whether Saint-Vallier was asleep or
awake, but one thing he was resolved upon, he would hold the countess
in his arms if it cost the life of two men.
Presently his feet gently touched the warm embers; he bent more gently
still and saw the countess seated in an armchair; and she saw him.
Pale with joy and palpitating, the timid creature showed him, by the
light of the lamp, Saint-Vallier lying in a bed about ten feet from
her. We may well believe their burning silent kisses echoed only in
CHAPTER III. THE ROBBERY OF THE JEWELS OF THE DUKE OF BAVARIA
The next day, about nine in the morning, as Louis XI. was leaving his
chapel after hearing mass, he found Maitre Cornelius on his path.
"Good luck to you, crony," he said, shoving up his cap in his hasty
"Sire, I would willingly pay a thousand gold crowns if I could have a
moment's talk with you; I have found the thief who stole the rubies
and all the jewels of the Duke of--"
"Let us hear about that," said Louis XI., going out into the courtyard
of Plessis, followed by his silversmith, Coyctier his physician,
Olivier de Daim, and the captain of his Scottish guard. "Tell me about
it. Another man to hang for you! Hola, Tristan!"
The grand provost, who was walking up and down the courtyard, came
with slow steps, like a dog who exhibits his fidelity. The group
paused under a tree. The king sat down on a bench and the courtiers
made a circle about him.
"Sire, a man who pretended to be a Fleming has got the better of me--"
"He must be crafty indeed, that fellow!" exclaimed Louis, wagging his
"Oh, yes!" replied the silversmith, bitterly. "But methinks he'd have
snared you yourself. How could I distrust a beggar recommended to me
by Oosterlinck, one hundred thousand francs of whose money I hold in
my hands. I will wager the Jew's letter and seal were forged! In
short, sire, I found myself this morning robbed of those jewels you
admired so much. They have been ravished from me, sire! To steal the
jewels of the Elector of Bavaria! those scoundrels respect nothing!
they'll steal your kingdom if you don't take care. As soon as I missed
the jewels I went up to the room of that apprentice, who is,
assuredly, a past-master in thieving. This time we don't lack proof.
He had forced the lock of his door. But when he got back to his room,
the moon was down and he couldn't find all the screws. Happily, I felt
one under my feet when I entered the room. He was sound asleep, the
beggar, tired out. Just fancy, gentlemen, he got down into my strong-
room by the chimney. To-morrow, or to-night, rather, I'll roast him
alive. He had a silk ladder, and his clothes were covered with marks
of his clambering over the roof and down the chimney. He meant to stay
with me, and ruin me, night after night, the bold wretch! But where
are the jewels? The country-folks coming into town early saw him on
the roof. He must have had accomplices, who waited for him by that
embankment you have been making. Ah, sire, you are the accomplice of
fellows who come in boats; crack! they get off with everything, and
leave no traces! But we hold this fellow as a key, the bold scoundrel!
ah! a fine morsel he'll be for the gallows. With a little bit of
QUESTIONING beforehand, we shall know all. Why, the glory of your
reign is concerned in it! there ought not to be robbers in the land
under so great a king."
The king was not listening. He had fallen into one of those gloomy
meditations which became so frequent during the last years of his
life. A deep silence reigned.
"This is your business," he said at length to Tristan; "take you hold
He rose, walked a few steps away, and the courtiers left him alone.
Presently he saw Cornelius, mounted on his mule, riding away in
company with the grand provost.
"Where are those thousand gold crowns?" he called to him.
"Ah! sire, you are too great a king! there is no sum that can pay for
Louis XI. smiled. The courtiers envied the frank speech and privileges
of the old silversmith, who promptly disappeared down the avenue of
young mulberries which led from Tours to Plessis.
Exhausted with fatigue, the young seigneur had indeed fallen soundly
asleep. Returning from his gallant adventure, he no longer felt the
same ardor and courage to defend himself against distant or imaginary
dangers with which he had rushed into the perils of the night. He had
even postponed till the morrow the cleaning of his soiled garments; a
great blunder, in which all else conspired. It was true that, lacking
the moonlight, he had missed finding all the screws of that cursed
lock; he had no patience to look for them. With the "laisser-aller" of
a tired man, he trusted to his luck, which had so far served him well.
He did, however, make a sort of compact with himself to awake at
daybreak, but the events of the day and the agitations of the night
did not allow him to keep faith with himself. Happiness is forgetful.
Cornelius no longer seemed formidable to the young man when he threw
himself on the pallet where so many poor wretches had wakened to their
doom; and this light-hearted heedlessness proved his ruin. While the
king's silversmith rode back from Plessis, accompanied by the grand
provost and his redoubtable archers. The false Goulenoire was being
watched by the old sister, seated on the corkscrew staircase oblivious
of the cold, and knitting socks for Cornelius.
The young man continued to dream of the secret delights of that
charming night, ignorant of the danger that was galloping towards him.
He saw himself on a cushion at the feet of the countess, his head on
her knees in the ardor of his love; he listened to the story of her
persecutions and the details of the count's tyranny; he grew pitiful
over the poor lady, who was, in truth, the best-loved natural daughter
of Louis XI. He promised her to go on the morrow and reveal her wrongs
to that terrible father; everything, he assured her, should be settled
as they wished, the marriage broken off, the husband banished,--and
all this within reach of that husband's sword, of which they might
both be the victims if the slightest noise awakened him. But in the
young man's dream the gleam of the lamp, the flame of their eyes, the
colors of the stuffs and the tapestries were more vivid, more of love
was in the air, more fire about them, than there had been in the
actual scene. The Marie of his sleep resisted far less than the living
Marie those adoring looks, those tender entreaties, those adroit
silences, those voluptuous solicitations, those false generosities,
which render the first moments of a passion so completely ardent, and
shed into the soul a fresh delirium at each new step in love.
Following the amorous jurisprudence of the period, Marie de Saint-
Vallier granted to her lover all the superficial rights of the tender
passion. She willingly allowed him to kiss her foot, her robe, her
hands, her throat; she avowed her love, she accepted the devotion and
life of her lover; she permitted him to die for her; she yielded to an
intoxication which the sternness of her semi-chastity increased; but
farther than that she would not go; and she made her deliverance the
price of the highest rewards of his love. In those days, in order to
dissolve a marriage it was necessary to go to Rome; to obtain the help
of certain cardinals, and to appear before the sovereign pontiff in
person armed with the approval of the king. Marie was firm in
maintaining her liberty to love, that she might sacrifice it to him
later. Nearly every woman in those days had sufficient power to
establish her empire over the heart of a man in a way to make that
passion the history of his whole life, the spring and principle of his
highest resolutions. Women were a power in France; they were so many
sovereigns; they had forms of noble pride; their lovers belonged to
them far more than they gave themselves to their lovers; often their
love cost blood, and to be their lover it was necessary to incur great
dangers. But the Marie of his dream made small defence against the
young seigneur's ardent entreaties. Which of the two was the reality?
Did the false apprentice in his dream see the true woman? Had he seen
in the hotel de Poitiers a lady masked in virtue? The question is
difficult to decide; and the honor of women demands that it be left,
as it were, in litigation.
At the moment when the Marie of the dream may have been about to
forget her high dignity as mistress, the lover felt himself seized by
an iron hand, and the sour voice of the grand provost said to him:--
"Come, midnight Christian, who seeks God on the roofs, wake up!"
The young man saw the black face of Tristan l'Hermite above him, and
recognized his sardonic smile; then, on the steps of the corkscrew
staircase, he saw Cornelius, his sister, and behind them the provost
guard. At that sight, and observing the diabolical faces expressing
either hatred or curiosity of persons whose business it was to hang
others, the so-called Philippe Goulenoire sat up on his pallet and
rubbed his eyes.
"Mort-Dieu!" he cried, seizing his dagger, which was under the pillow.
"Now is the time to play our knives."
"Ho, ho!" cried Tristan, "that's the speech of a noble. Methinks I see
Georges d'Estouteville, the nephew of the grand master of the archers.
Hearing his real name uttered by Tristan, young d'Estouteville thought
less of himself than of the dangers his recognition would bring upon
his unfortunate mistress. To avert suspicion he cried out:--
"Ventre-Mahom! help, help to me, comrades!"
After that outcry, made by a man who was really in despair, the young
courtier gave a bound, dagger in hand, and reached the landing. But
the myrmidons of the grand provost were accustomed to such
proceedings. When Georges d'Estouteville reached the stairs they
seized him dexterously, not surprised by the vigorous thrust he made
at them with his dagger, the blade of which fortunately slipped on the
corselet of a guard; then, having disarmed him, they bound his hands,
and threw him on the pallet before their leader, who stood motionless
Tristan looked silently at the prisoner's hands, then he said to
Cornelius, pointing to them:--
"Those are not the hands of a beggar, nor of an apprentice. He is a
"Say a thief!" cried the torconnier. "My good Tristan, noble or serf,
he has ruined me, the villain! I want to see his feet warmed in your
pretty boots. He is, I don't doubt it, the leader of that gang of
devils, visible and invisible, who know all my secrets, open my locks,
rob me, murder me! They have grown rich out of me, Tristan. Ha! this
time we shall get back the treasure, for the fellow has the face of
the king of Egypt. I shall recover my dear rubies, and all the sums I
have lost; and our worthy king shall have his share in the harvest."
"Oh, our hiding-places are much more secure than yours!" said Georges,
"Ha! the damned thief, he confesses!" cried the miser.
The grand provost was engaged in attentively examining Georges
d'Estouteville's clothes and the lock of the door.
"How did you get out those screws?"
Georges kept silence.
"Oh, very good, be silent if you choose. You will soon confess on the
holy rack," said Tristan.
"That's what I call business!" cried Cornelius.
"Take him off," said the grand provost to the guards.
Georges d'Estouteville asked permission to dress himself. On a sign
from their chief, the men put on his clothing with the clever rapidity
of a nurse who profits by the momentary tranquillity of her nursling.
An immense crowd cumbered the rue du Murier. The growls of the
populace kept increasing, and seemed the precursors of a riot. From
early morning the news of the robbery had spread through the town. On
all sides the "apprentice," said to be young and handsome, had
awakened public sympathy, and revived the hatred felt against
Cornelius; so that there was not a young man in the town, nor a young
woman with a fresh face and pretty feet to exhibit, who was not
determined to see the victim. When Georges issued from the house, led
by one of the provost's guard, who, after he had mounted his horse,
kept the strong leathern thong that bound the prisoner tightly twisted
round his arm, a horrible uproar arose. Whether the populace merely
wished to see this new victim, or whether it intended to rescue him,
certain it is that those behind pressed those in front upon the little
squad of cavalry posted around the Malemaison. At this moment,
Cornelius, aided by his sister, closed the door, and slammed the iron
shutters with the violence of panic terror. Tristan, who was not
accustomed to respect the populace of those days (inasmuch as they
were not yet the sovereign people), cared little for a probable riot.
"Push on! push on!" he said to his men.
At the voice of their leader the archers spurred their horses towards
the end of the street. The crowd, seeing one or two of their number
knocked down by the horses and trampled on, and some others pressed
against the sides of the horses and nearly suffocated, took the wiser
course of retreating to their homes.
"Make room for the king's justice!" cried Tristan. "What are you doing
here? Do you want to be hanged too? Go home, my friends, go home; your
dinner is getting burnt. Hey! my good woman, go and darn your
husband's stockings; get back to your needles."
Though such speeches showed that the grand provost was in good humor,
they made the most obstreperous fly as if he were flinging the plague
At the moment when the first movement of the crowd took place, Georges
d'Estouteville was stupefied at seeing, at one of the windows of the
hotel de Poitiers, his dear Marie de Saint-Vallier, laughing with the
count. She was mocking at HIM, poor devoted lover, who was going to
his death for her. But perhaps she was only amused at seeing the caps
of the populace carried off on the spears of the archers. We must be
twenty-three years old, rich in illusions, able to believe in a
woman's love, loving ourselves with all the forces of our being,
risking our life with delight on the faith of a kiss, and then
betrayed, to understand the fury of hatred and despair which took
possession of Georges d'Estouteville's heart at the sight of his
laughing mistress, from whom he received a cold and indifferent
glance. No doubt she had been there some time; she was leaning from
the window with her arms on a cushion; she was at her ease, and her
old man seemed content. He, too, was laughing, the cursed hunchback! A
few tears escaped the eyes of the young man; but when Marie de Saint-
Vallier saw them she turned hastily away. Those tears were suddenly
dried, however, when Georges beheld the red and white plumes of the
page who was devoted to his interests. The count took no notice of
this servitor, who advanced to his mistress on tiptoe. After the page
had said a few words in her ear, Marie returned to the window.
Escaping for a moment the perpetual watchfulness of her tyrant, she
cast one glance upon Georges that was brilliant with the fires of love
and hope, seeming to say:--
"I am watching over you."
Had she cried the words aloud, she could not have expressed their
meaning more plainly than in that glance, full of a thousand thoughts,
in which terror, hope, pleasure, the dangers of their mutual situation
all took part. He had passed, in that one moment, from heaven to
martyrdom and from martyrdom back to heaven! So then, the brave young
seigneur, light-hearted and content, walked gaily to his doom;
thinking that the horrors of the "question" were not sufficient
payment for the delights of his love.
As Tristan was about leaving the rue du Murier, his people stopped
him, seeing an officer of the Scottish guard riding towards them at
"What is it?" asked the provost.
"Nothing that concerns you," replied the officer, disdainfully. "The
king has sent me to fetch the Comte and Comtesse de Saint-Vallier,
whom he invites to dinner."
The grand provost had scarcely reached the embankment leading to
Plessis, when the count and his wife, both mounted, she on her white
mule, he on his horse, and followed by two pages, joined the archers,
in order to enter Plessis-lez-Tours in company. All were moving
slowly. Georges was on foot, between two guards on horseback, one of
whom held him still by the leathern thong. Tristan, the count, and his
wife were naturally in advance; the criminal followed them. Mingling
with the archers, the young page questioned them, speaking sometimes
to the prisoner, so that he adroitly managed to say to him in a low
"I jumped the garden wall and took a letter to Plessis from madame to
the king. She came near dying when she heard of the accusation against
you. Take courage. She is going now to speak to the king about you."
Love had already given strength and wiliness to the countess. Her
laughter was part of the heroism which women display in the great
crises of life.
In spite of the singular fancy which possessed the author of "Quentin
Durward" to place the royal castle of Plessis-lez-Tours upon a height,
we must content ourselves by leaving it where it really was, namely on
low land, protected on either side by the Cher and the Loire; also by
the canal Sainte-Anne, so named by Louis XI. in honor of his beloved
daughter, Madame de Beaujeu. By uniting the two rivers between the
city of Tours and Plessis this canal not only served as a formidable
protection to the castle, but it offered a most precious road to
commerce. On the side towards Brehemont, a vast and fertile plain, the
park was defended by a moat, the remains of which still show its
enormous breadth and depth. At a period when the power of artillery
was still in embryo, the position of Plessis, long since chosen by
Louis XI. for his favorite retreat, might be considered impregnable.
The castle, built of brick and stone, had nothing remarkable about it;
but it was surrounded by noble trees, and from its windows could be
seen, through vistas cut in the park (plexitium), the finest points of
view in the world. No rival mansion rose near this solitary castle,
standing in the very centre of the little plain reserved for the king
and guarded by four streams of water.
If we may believe tradition, Louis XI. occupied the west wing, and
from his chamber he could see, at a glance the course of the Loire,
the opposite bank of the river, the pretty valley which the Croisille
waters, and part of the slopes of Saint-Cyr. Also, from the windows
that opened on the courtyard, he saw the entrance to his fortress and
the embankment by which he had connected his favorite residence with
the city of Tours. If Louis XI. had bestowed upon the building of his
castle the luxury of architecture which Francois I. displayed
afterwards at Chambord, the dwelling of the kings of France would ever
have remained in Touraine. It is enough to see this splendid position
and its magical effects to be convinced of its superiority over the
sites of all other royal residences.
Louis XI., now in the fifty-seventh year of his age, had scarcely more
than three years longer to live; already he felt the coming on of
death in the attacks of his mortal malady. Delivered from his enemies;
on the point of increasing the territory of France by the possessions
of the Dukes of Burgundy through the marriage of the Dauphin with
Marguerite, heiress of Burgundy (brought about by means of Desquerdes,
commander of his troops in Flanders); having established his authority
everywhere, and now meditating ameliorations in his kingdom of all
kinds, he saw time slipping past him rapidly with no further troubles
than those of old age. Deceived by every one, even by the minions
about him, experience had intensified his natural distrust. The desire
to live became in him the egotism of a king who has incarnated himself
in his people; he wished to prolong his life in order to carry out his
All that the common-sense of publicists and the genius of revolutions
has since introduced of change in the character of monarchy, Louis XI.
had thought of and devised. Unity of taxation, equality of subjects
before the law (the prince being then the law) were the objects of his
bold endeavors. On All-Saints' eve he had gathered together the
learned goldsmiths of his kingdom for the purpose of establishing in
France a unity of weights and measures, as he had already established
the unity of power. Thus, his vast spirit hovered like an eagle over
his empire, joining in a singular manner the prudence of a king to the
natural idiosyncracies of a man of lofty aims. At no period in our
history has the great figure of Monarchy been finer or more poetic.
Amazing assemblages of contrasts! a great power in a feeble body; a
spirit unbelieving as to all things here below, devoutly believing in
the practices of religion; a man struggling with two powers greater
than his own--the present and the future; the future in which he
feared eternal punishment, a fear which led him to make so many
sacrifices to the Church; the present, namely his life itself, for the
saving of which he blindly obeyed Coyctier. This king, who crushed
down all about him, was himself crushed down by remorse, and by
disease in the midst of the great poem of defiant monarchy in which
all power was concentrated. It was once more the gigantic and ever
magnificent combat of Man in the highest manifestation of his forces
tilting against Nature.
While awaiting his dinner, a repast which was taken in those days
between eleven o'clock and mid-day, Louis XI., returning from a short
promenade, sat down in a huge tapestried chair near the fireplace in
his chamber. Olivier de Daim, and his doctor, Coyctier, looked at each
other without a word, standing in the recess of a window and watching
their master, who presently seemed asleep. The only sound that was
heard were the steps of the two chamberlains on service, the Sire de
Montresor, and Jean Dufou, Sire de Montbazon, who were walking up and
down the adjoining hall. These two Tourainean seigneurs looked at the
captain of the Scottish guard, who was sleeping in his chair,
according to his usual custom. The king himself appeared to be dozing.
His head had drooped upon his breast; his cap, pulled forward on his
forehead, hid his eyes. Thus seated in his high chair, surmounted by
the royal crown, he seemed crouched together like a man who had fallen
asleep in the midst of some deep meditation.
At this moment Tristan and his cortege crossed the canal by the bridge
of Sainte-Anne, about two hundred feet from the entrance to Plessis.
"Who is that?" said the king.
The two courtiers questioned each other with a look of surprise.
"He is dreaming," said Coyctier, in a low voice.
"Pasques-Dieu!" cried Louis XI., "do you think me mad? People are
crossing the bridge. It is true I am near the chimney, and I may hear
sounds more easily than you. That effect of nature might be utilized,"
he added thoughtfully.
"What a man!" said de Daim.
Louis XI. rose and went toward one of the windows that looked on the
town. He saw the grand provost, and exclaimed:--
"Ha, ha! here's my crony and his thief. And here comes my little Marie
de Saint-Vallier; I'd forgotten all about it. Olivier," he said,
addressing the barber, "go and tell Monsieur de Montbazon to serve
some good Bourgeuil wine at dinner, and see that the cook doesn't
forget the lampreys; Madame le comtesse likes both those things. Can I
eat lampreys?" he added, after a pause, looking anxiously at Coyctier.
For all answer the physician began to examine his master's face. The
two men were a picture in themselves.
History and romance-writers have consecrated the brown camlet coat,
and the breeches of the same stuff, worn by Louis XI. His cap,
decorated with leaden medallions, and his collar of the order of
Saint-Michel, are not less celebrated; but no writer, no painter has
represented the face of that terrible monarch in his last years,--a
sickly, hollow, yellow and brown face, all the features of which
expressed a sour craftiness, a cold sarcasm. In that mask was the
forehead of a great man, a brow furrowed with wrinkles, and weighty
with high thoughts; but in his cheeks and on his lips there was
something indescribably vulgar and common. Looking at certain details
of that countenance you would have thought him a debauched husbandman,
or a miserly pedler; and yet, above these vague resemblances and the
decrepitude of a dying old man, the king, the man of power, rose
supreme. His eyes, of a light yellow, seemed at first sight extinct;
but a spark of courage and of anger lurked there, and at the slightest
touch it could burst into flames and cast fire about him. The doctor
was a stout burgher, with a florid face, dressed in black, peremptory,
greedy of gain, and self-important. These two personages were framed,
as it were, in that panelled chamber, hung with high-warped tapestries
of Flanders, the ceiling of which, made of carved beams, was blackened
by smoke. The furniture, the bed, all inlaid with arabesques in
pewter, would seem to-day more precious than they were at that period
when the arts were beginning to produce their choicest masterpieces.
"Lampreys are not good for you," replied the physician.
That title, recently substituted for the former term of "myrrh-
master," is still applied to the faculty in England. The name was at
this period given to doctors everywhere.
"Then what may I eat?" asked the king, humbly.
"Salt mackerel. Otherwise, you have so much bile in motion that you
may die on All-Souls' Day."
"To-day!" cried the king in terror.
"Compose yourself, sire," replied Coyctier. "I am here. Try not to
fret your mind; find some way to amuse yourself."
"Ah!" said the king, "my daughter Marie used to succeed in that
As he spoke, Imbert de Bastarnay, sire of Montresor and Bridore,
rapped softly on the royal door. On receiving the king's permission he
entered and announced the Comte and Comtesse de Saint-Vallier. Louis
XI. made a sign. Marie appeared, followed by her old husband, who
allowed her to pass in first.
"Good-day, my children," said the king.
"Sire," replied his daughter in a low voice, as she embraced him, "I
want to speak to you in secret."
Louis XI. appeared not to have heard her. He turned to the door and
called out in a hollow voice, "Hola, Dufou!"
Dufou, seigneur of Montbazon and grand cup-bearer of France, entered
"Go to the maitre d'hotel, and tell him I must have salt mackerel for
dinner. And go to Madame de Beaujeu, and let her know that I wish to
dine alone to-day. Do you know, madame," continued the king,
pretending to be slightly angry, "that you neglect me? It is almost
three years since I have seen you. Come, come here, my pretty," he
added, sitting down and holding out his arms to her. "How thin you
have grown! Why have you let her grow so thin?" said the king,
roughly, addressing the Comte de Poitiers.
The jealous husband cast so frightened a look at his wife that she
almost pitied him.
"Happiness, sire!" he stammered.
"Ah! you love each other too much,--is that it?" said the king,
holding his daughter between his knees. "I did right to call you Mary-
full-of-grace. Coyctier, leave us! Now, then, what do you want of me?"
he said to his daughter the moment the doctor had gone. "After sending
In this danger, Marie boldly put her hand on the king's lips and said
in his ear,--
"I always thought you cautious and penetrating."
"Saint-Vallier," said the king, laughing, "I think that Bridore has
something to say to you."
The count left the room; but he made a gesture with his shoulders well
known to his wife, who could guess the thoughts of the jealous man,
and knew she must forestall his cruel designs.
"Tell me, my child, how do you think I am,--hey? Do I seem changed to
"Sire, do you want me to tell you the real truth, or would you rather
I deceived you?"
"No," he said, in a low voice, "I want to know truly what to expect."
"In that case, I think you look very ill to-day; but you will not let
my truthfulness injure the success of my cause, will you?"
"What is your cause?" asked the king, frowning and passing a hand
across his forehead.
"Ah, sire," she replied, "the young man you have had arrested for
robbing your silversmith Cornelius, and who is now in the hands of the
grand provost, is innocent of the robbery."
"How do you know that?" asked the king. Marie lowered her head and
"I need not ask if there is love in this business," said the king,
raising his daughter's head gently and stroking her chin. "If you
don't confess every morning, my daughter, you will go to hell."
"Cannot you oblige me without forcing me to tell my secret thoughts?"
"Where would be the pleasure?" cried the king, seeing only an
amusement in this affair.
"Ah! do you want your pleasure to cost me grief?"
"Oh! you sly little girl, haven't you any confidence in me?"
"Then, sire, set the young nobleman at liberty."
"So! he is a nobleman, is he?" cried the king. "Then he is not an
"He is certainly innocent," she said.
"I don't see it so," said the king, coldly. "I am the law and justice
of my kingdom, and I must punish evil-doers."
"Come, don't put on that solemn face of yours! Give me the life of
that young man."
"Is it yours already?"
"Sire," she said, "I am pure and virtuous. You are jesting at--"
"Then," said Louis XI., interrupting her, "as I am not to know the
truth, I think Tristan had better clear it up."
Marie turned pale, but she made a violent effort and cried out:--
"Sire, I assure you, you will regret all this. The so-called thief
stole nothing. If you will grant me his pardon, I will tell you
everything, even though you may punish me."
"Ho, ho! this is getting serious," cried the king, shoving up his cap.
"Speak out, my daughter."
"Well," she said, in a low voice, putting her lips to her father's
ear, "he was in my room all night."
"He could be there, and yet rob Cornelius. Two robberies!"
"I have your blood in my veins, and I was not born to love a
scoundrel. That young seigneur is the nephew of the captain-general of
"Well, well!" cried the king; "you are hard to confess."
With the words the king pushed his daughter from his knee, and hurried
to the door of the room, but softly on tiptoe, making no noise. For
the last moment or two, the light from a window in the adjoining hall,
shining through a space below the door, had shown him the shadow of a
listener's foot projected on the floor of his chamber. He opened the
door abruptly, and surprised the Comte de Saint-Vallier eavesdropping.
"Pasques-Dieu!" he cried; "here's an audacity that deserves the axe."
"Sire," replied Saint-Vallier, haughtily, "I would prefer an axe at my
throat to the ornament of marriage on my head."
"You may have both," said Louis XI. "None of you are safe from such
infirmities, messieurs. Go into the farther hall. Conyngham,"
continued the king, addressing the captain of the guard, "you are
asleep! Where is Monsieur de Bridore? Why do you let me be approached
in this way? Pasques-Dieu! the lowest burgher in Tours is better
served than I am."
After scolding thus, Louis re-entered his room; but he took care to
draw the tapestried curtain, which made a second door, intended more
to stifle the words of the king than the whistling of the harsh north
"So, my daughter," he said, liking to play with her as a cat plays
with a mouse, "Georges d'Estouteville was your lover last night?"
"Oh, no, sire!"
"No! Ah! by Saint-Carpion, he deserves to die. Did the scamp not think
my daughter beautiful?"
"Oh! that is not it," she said. "He kissed my feet and hands with an
ardor that might have touched the most virtuous of women. He loves me
truly in all honor."
"Do you take me for Saint-Louis, and suppose I should believe such
nonsense? A young fellow, made like him, to have risked his life just
to kiss your little slippers or your sleeves! Tell that to others."
"But, sire, it is true. And he came for another purpose."
Having said these words, Marie felt that she had risked the life of
her husband, for Louis instantly demanded:
The adventure amused him immensely. But he did not expect the strange
confidences his daughter now made to him after stipulating for the
pardon of her husband.
"Ho, ho, Monsieur de Saint-Vallier! So you dare to shed the royal
blood!" cried the king, his eyes lighting with anger.
At this moment the bell of Plessis sounded the hour of the king's
dinner. Leaning on the arm of his daughter, Louis XI. appeared with
contracted brows on the threshold of his chamber, and found all his
servitors in waiting. He cast an ambiguous look on the Comte de Saint-
Vallier, thinking of the sentence he meant to pronounce upon him. The
deep silence which reigned was presently broken by the steps of
Tristan l'Hermite as he mounted the grand staircase. The grand provost
entered the hall, and, advancing toward the king, said:--
"Sire, the affair is settled."
"What! is it all over?" said the king.
"Our man is in the hands of the monks. He confessed the theft after a
touch of the 'question.'"
The countess gave a sign, and turned pale; she could not speak, but
looked at the king. That look was observed by Saint-Vallier, who
muttered in a low tone: "I am betrayed; that thief is an acquaintance
of my wife."
"Silence!" cried the king. "Some one is here who will wear out my
patience. Go at once and put a stop to the execution," he continued,
addressing the grand provost. "You will answer with your own body for
that of the criminal, my friend. This affair must be better sifted,
and I reserve to myself the doing of it. Set the prisoner at liberty
provisionally; I can always recover him; these robbers have retreats
they frequent, lairs where they lurk. Let Cornelius know that I shall
be at his house to-night to begin the inquiry myself. Monsieur de
Saint-Vallier," said the king, looking fixedly at the count, "I know
about you. All your blood could not pay for one drop of mine; do you
hear me? By our Lady of Clery! you have committed crimes of lese-
majesty. Did I give you such a pretty wife to make her pale and
weakly? Go back to your own house, and make your preparations for a
The king stopped at these words from a habit of cruelty; then he
"You will leave to-night to attend to my affairs with the government
of Venice. You need be under no anxiety about your wife; I shall take
charge of her at Plessis; she will certainly be safe here. Henceforth
I shall watch over her with greater care than I have done since I
married her to you."
Hearing these words, Marie silently pressed her father's arm as if to
thank him for his mercy and goodness. As for Louis XI., he was
laughing to himself in his sleeve.
CHAPTER IV. THE HIDDEN TREASURE
Louis XI. was fond of intervening in the affairs of his subjects, and
he was always ready to mingle his royal majesty with the burgher life.
This taste, severely blamed by some historians, was really only a
passion for the "incognito," one of the greatest pleasures of princes,
--a sort of momentary abdication, which enables them to put a little
real life into their existence, made insipid by the lack of
opposition. Louis XI., however, played the incognito openly. On these
occasions he was always the good fellow, endeavoring to please the
people of the middle classes, whom he made his allies against
feudality. For some time past he had found no opportunity to "make
himself populace" and espouse the domestic interests of some man
"engarrie" (an old word still used in Tours, meaning engaged) in
litigious affairs, so that he shouldered the anxieties of Maitre
Cornelius eagerly, and also the secret sorrows of the Comtesse de
Saint-Vallier. Several times during dinner he said to his daughter:--
"Who, think you, could have robbed my silversmith? The robberies now
amount to over twelve hundred thousand crowns in eight years. Twelve
hundred thousand crowns, messieurs!" he continued, looking at the
seigneurs who were serving him. "Notre Dame! with a sum like that what
absolutions could be bought in Rome! And I might, Pasques-Dieu! bank
the Loire, or, better still, conquer Piedmont, a fine fortification
ready-made for this kingdom."
When dinner was over, Louis XI. took his daughter, his doctor, and the
grand provost, with an escort of soldiers, and rode to the hotel de
Poitiers in Tours, where he found, as he expected, the Comte de Saint-
Vallier awaiting his wife, perhaps to make away with her life.
"Monsieur," said the king, "I told you to start at once. Say farewell
to your wife now, and go to the frontier; you will be accompanied by
an escort of honor. As for your instructions and credentials, they
will be in Venice before you get there."
Louis then gave the order--not without adding certain secret
instructions--to a lieutenant of the Scottish guard to take a squad of
men and accompany the ambassador to Venice. Saint-Vallier departed in
haste, after giving his wife a cold kiss which he would fain have made
deadly. Louis XI. then crossed over to the Malemaison, eager to begin
the unravelling of the melancholy comedy, lasting now for eight years,
in the house of his silversmith; flattering himself that, in his
quality of king, he had enough penetration to discover the secret of
the robberies. Cornelius did not see the arrival of the escort of his
royal master without uneasiness.
"Are all those persons to take part in the inquiry?" he said to the
Louis XI. could not help smiling as he saw the fright of the miser and
"No, my old crony," he said; "don't worry yourself. They will sup at
Plessis, and you and I alone will make the investigation. I am so good
in detecting criminals, that I will wager you ten thousand crowns I
shall do so now."
"Find him, sire, and make no wager."
They went at once into the strong room, where the Fleming kept his
treasure. There Louis, who asked to see, in the first place, the
casket from which the jewels of the Duke of Burgundy had been taken,
then the chimney down which the robber was supposed to have descended,
easily convinced his silversmith of the falsity of the latter
supposition, inasmuch as there was no soot on the hearth,--where, in
truth, a fire was seldom made,--and no sign that any one had passed
down the flue; and moreover that the chimney issued at a part of the
roof which was almost inaccessible. At last, after two hours of close
investigation, marked with that sagacity which distinguished the
suspicious mind of Louis XI., it was clear to him, beyond all doubt,
that no one had forced an entrance into the strong-room of his
silversmith. No marks of violence were on the locks, nor on the iron
coffers which contained the gold, silver, and jewels deposited as
securities by wealthy debtors.
"If the robber opened this box," said the king, why did he take
nothing out of it but the jewels of the Duke of Bavaria? What reason
had he for leaving that pearl necklace which lay beside them? A queer
At that remark the unhappy miser turned pale: he and the king looked
at each other for a moment.
"Then, sire, what did that robber whom you have taken under your
protection come to do here, and why did he prowl about at night?"
"If you have not guessed why, my crony, I order you to remain in
ignorance. That is one of my secrets."
"Then the devil is in my house!" cried the miser, piteously.
In any other circumstances the king would have laughed at his
silversmith's cry; but he had suddenly become thoughtful, and was
casting on the Fleming those glances peculiar to men of talent and
power which seem to penetrate the brain. Cornelius was frightened,
thinking he had in some way offended his dangerous master.
"Devil or angel, I have him, the guilty man!" cried Louis XI.
abruptly. "If you are robbed again to-night, I shall know to-morrow
who did it. Make that old hag you call your sister come here," he
Cornelius almost hesitated to leave the king alone in the room with
his hoards; but the bitter smile on Louis's withered lips determined
him. Nevertheless he hurried back, followed by the old woman.
"Have you any flour?" demanded the king.
"Oh yes; we have laid in our stock for the winter," she answered.
"Well, go and fetch some," said the king.
"What do you want to do with our flour, sire?" she cried, not the
least impressed by his royal majesty.
"Old fool!" said Cornelius, "go and execute the orders of our gracious
master. Shall the king lack flour?"
"Our good flour!" she grumbled, as she went downstairs. "Ah! my
Then she returned, and said to the king:--
"Sire, is it only a royal notion to examine my flour?"
At last she reappeared, bearing one of those stout linen bags which,
from time immemorial, have been used in Touraine to carry or bring, to
and from market, nuts, fruits, or wheat. The bag was half full of
flour. The housekeeper opened it and showed it to the king, on whom
she cast the rapid, savage look with which old maids appear to squirt
venom upon men.
"It costs six sous the 'septeree,'" she said.
"What does that matter?" said the king. "Spread it on the floor; but
be careful to make an even layer of it--as if it had fallen like
The old maid did not comprehend. This proposal astonished her as
though the end of the world had come.
"My flour, sire! on the ground! But--"
Maitre Cornelius, who was beginning to understand, though vaguely, the
intentions of the king, seized the bag and gently poured its contents
on the floor. The old woman quivered, but she held out her hand for
the empty bag, and when her brother gave it back to her she
disappeared with a heavy sigh.
Cornelius then took a feather broom and gently smoothed the flour till
it looked like a fall of snow, retreating step by step as he did so,
followed by the king, who seemed much amused by the operation. When
they reached the door Louis XI. said to his silversmith, "Are there
two keys to the lock?"
The king then examined the structure of the door, which was braced
with large plates and bars of iron, all of which converged to a secret
lock, the key of which was kept by Cornelius.
After examining everything, the king sent for Tristan, and ordered him
to post several of his men for the night, and with the greatest
secrecy, in the mulberry trees on the embankment and on the roofs of
the adjoining houses, and to assemble at once the rest of his men and
escort him back to Plessis, so as to give the idea in the town that he
himself would not sup with Cornelius. Next, he told the miser to close
his windows with the utmost care, that no single ray of light should
escape from the house, and then he departed with much pomp for Plessis
along the embankment; but there he secretly left his escort, and
returned by a door in the ramparts to the house of the torconnier. All
these precautions were so well taken that the people of Tours really
thought the king had returned to Plessis, and would sup on the morrow
Towards eight o'clock that evening, as the king was supping with his
physician, Cornelius, and the captain of his guard, and holding much
jovial converse, forgetting for the time being that he was ill and in
danger of death, the deepest silence reigned without, and all passers,
even the wariest robber, would have believed that the Malemaison was
occupied as usual.
"I hope," said the king, laughing, "that my silversmith shall be
robbed to-night, so that my curiosity may be satisfied. Therefore,
messieurs, no one is to leave his chamber to-morrow morning without my
order, under pain of grievous punishment."
Thereupon, all went to bed. The next morning, Louis XI. was the first
to leave his apartment, and he went at once to the door of the strong-
room. He was not a little astonished to see, as he went along, the
marks of a large foot along the stairways and corridors of the house.
Carefully avoiding those precious footprints, he followed them to the
door of the treasure-room, which he found locked without a sign of
fracture or defacement. Then he studied the direction of the steps;
but as they grew gradually fainter, they finally left not the
slightest trace, and it was impossible for him to discover where the
robber had fled.
"Ho, crony!" called out the king, "you have been finely robbed this
At these words the old Fleming hurried out of his chamber, visibly
terrified. Louis XI. made him look at the foot-prints on the stairs
and corridors, and while examining them himself for the second time,
the king chanced to observe the miser's slippers and recognized the
type of sole that was printed in flour on the corridors. He said not a
word, and checked his laughter, remembering the innocent men who had
been hanged for the crime. The miser now hurried to his treasure. Once
in the room the king ordered him to make a new mark with his foot
beside those already existing, and easily convinced him that the
robber of his treasure was no other than himself.
"The pearl necklace is gone!" cried Cornelius. "There is sorcery in
this. I never left my room."
"We'll know all about it now," said the king; the evident truthfulness
of his silversmith making him still more thoughtful.
He immediately sent for the men he had stationed on the watch and
"What did you see during the night?"
"Oh, sire!" said the lieutenant, "an amazing sight! Your silversmith
crept down the side of the wall like a cat; so lightly that he seemed
to be a shadow."
"I!" exclaimed Cornelius; after that one word, he remained silent, and
stood stock-still like a man who has lost the use of his limbs.
"Go away, all of you," said the king, addressing the archers, "and
tell Messieurs Conyngham, Coyctier, Bridore, and also Tristan, to
leave their rooms and come here to mine.--You have incurred the
penalty of death," he said to Cornelius, who, happily, did not hear
him. "You have ten murders on your conscience!"
Thereupon Louis XI. gave a silent laugh, and made a pause. Presently,
remarking the strange pallor on the Fleming's face, he added:--
"You need not be uneasy; you are more valuable to bleed than to kill.
You can get out of the claws of MY justice by payment of a good round
sum to my treasury, but if you don't build at least one chapel in
honor of the Virgin, you are likely to find things hot for you
"Twelve hundred and thirty, and eighty-seven thousand crowns, make
thirteen hundred and seventeen thousand crowns," replied Cornelius
mechanically, absorbed in his calculations. "Thirteen hundred and
seventeen thousand crowns hidden somewhere!"
"He must have buried them in some hiding-place," muttered the king,
beginning to think the sum royally magnificent. "That was the magnet
that invariably brought him back to Tours. He felt his treasure."
Coyctier entered at this moment. Noticing the attitude of Maitre
Cornelius, he watched him narrowly while the king related the
"Sire," replied the physician, "there is nothing supernatural in that.
Your silversmith has the faculty of walking in his sleep. This is the
third case I have seen of that singular malady. If you would give
yourself the amusement of watching him at such times, you would see
that old man stepping without danger at the very edge of the roof. I
noticed in the two other cases I have already observed, a curious
connection between the actions of that nocturnal existence and the
interests and occupations of their daily life."
"Ah! Maitre Coyctier, you are a wise man."
"I am your physician," replied the other, insolently.
At this answer, Louis XI. made the gesture which was customary with
him when a good idea was presented to his mind; he shoved up his cap
with a hasty motion.
"At such times," continued Coyctier, "persons attend to their business
while asleep. As this man is fond of hoarding, he has simply pursued
his dearest habit. No doubt each of these attacks have come on after a
day in which he has felt some fears about the safety of his treasure."
"Pasques-Dieu! and such treasure!" cried the king.
"Where is it?" asked Cornelius, who, by a singular provision of
nature, heard the remarks of the king and his physician, while
continuing himself almost torpid with thought and the shock of this
"Ha!" cried Coyctier, bursting into a diabolical, coarse laugh,
"somnambulists never remember on their waking what they have done when
"Leave us," said the king.
When Louis XI. was alone with his silversmith, he looked at him and
"Messire Hoogworst," he said, with a nod, "all treasures buried in
France belong to the king."
"Yes, sire, all is yours; you are the absolute master of our lives and
fortunes; but, up to this moment, you have only taken what you need."
"Listen to me, old crony; if I help you to recover this treasure, you
can surely, and without fear, agree to divide it with me."
"No, sire, I will not divide it; I will give it all to you, at my
death. But what scheme have you for finding it?"
"I shall watch you myself when you are taking your nocturnal tramps.
You might fear any one but me."
"Ah, sire!" cried Cornelius, flinging himself at the king's feet, "you
are the only man in the kingdom whom I would trust for such a service;
and I will try to prove my gratitude for your goodness, by doing my
utmost to promote the marriage of the Burgundian heiress with
Monseigneur. She will bring you a noble treasure, not of money, but of
lands, which will round out the glory of your crown."
"There, there, Dutchman, you are trying to hoodwink me," said the
king, with frowning brows, "or else you have already done so."
"Sire! can you doubt my devotion? you, who are the only man I love!"
"All that is talk," returned the king, looking the other in the eyes.
"You need not have waited till this moment to do me that service. You
are selling me your influence--Pasques-Dieu! to me, Louis XI.! Are you
the master, and am I your servant?"
"Ah, sire," said the old man, "I was waiting to surprise you agreeably
with news of the arrangements I had made for you in Ghent; I was
awaiting confirmation from Oosterlinck through that apprentice. What
has become of that young man?"
"Enough!" said the king; "this is only one more blunder you have
committed. I do not like persons to meddle in my affairs without my
knowledge. Enough! leave me; I wish to reflect upon all this."
Maitre Cornelius found the agility of youth to run downstairs to the
lower rooms where he was certain to find his sister.
"Ah! Jeanne, my dearest soul, a hoard is hidden in this house; I have
put thirteen hundred thousand crowns and all the jewels somewhere. I,
I, I am the robber!"
Jeanne Hoogworst rose from her stool and stood erect as if the seat
she quitted were of red-hot iron. This shock was so violent for an old
maid accustomed for years to reduce herself by voluntary fasts, that
she trembled in every limb, and horrible pains were in her back. She
turned pale by degrees, and her face,--the changes in which were
difficult to decipher among its wrinkles,--became distorted while her
brother explained to her the malady of which he was the victim, and
the extraordinary situation in which he found himself.
"Louis XI. and I," he said in conclusion, "have just been lying to
each other like two pedlers of coconuts. You understand, my girl, that
if he follows me, he will get the secret of the hiding-place. The king
alone can watch my wanderings at night. I don't feel sure that his
conscience, near as he is to death, can resist thirteen hundred
thousand crowns. We MUST be beforehand with him; we must find the
hidden treasure and send it to Ghent, and you alone--"
Cornelius stopped suddenly, and seemed to be weighing the heart of the
sovereign who had had thoughts of parricide at twenty-two years of
age. When his judgment of Louis XI. was concluded, he rose abruptly
like a man in haste to escape a pressing danger. At this instant, his
sister, too feeble or too strong for such a crisis, fell stark; she
was dead. Maitre Cornelius seized her, and shook her violently, crying
"You cannot die now. There is time enough later--Oh! it is all over.
The old hag never could do anything at the right time."
He closed her eyes and laid her on the floor. Then the good and noble
feelings which lay at the bottom of his soul came back to him, and,
half forgetting his hidden treasure, he cried out mournfully:--
"Oh! my poor companion, have I lost you?--you who understood me so
well! Oh! you were my real treasure. There it lies, my treasure! With
you, my peace of mind, my affections, all, are gone. If you had only
known what good it would have done me to live two nights longer, you
would have lived, solely to please me, my poor sister! Ah, Jeanne!
thirteen hundred thousand crowns! Won't that wake you?--No, she is
Thereupon, he sat down, and said no more; but two great tears issued
from his eyes and rolled down his hollow cheeks; then, with strange
exclamations of grief, he locked up the room and returned to the king.
Louis XI. was struck with the expression of sorrow on the moistened
features of his old friend.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Ah! sire, misfortunes never come singly. My sister is dead. She
precedes me there below," he said, pointing to the floor with a
"Enough!" cried Louis XI., who did not like to hear of death.
"I make you my heir. I care for nothing now. Here are my keys. Hang
me, if that's your good pleasure. Take all, ransack the house; it is
full of gold. I give up all to you--"
"Come, come, crony," replied Louis XI., who was partly touched by the
sight of this strange suffering, "we shall find your treasure some
fine night, and the sight of such riches will give you heart to live.
I will come back in the course of this week--"
"As you please, sire."
At that answer the king, who had made a few steps toward the door of
the chamber, turned round abruptly. The two men looked at each other
with an expression that neither pen nor pencil can reproduce.
"Adieu, my crony," said Louis XI. at last in a curt voice, pushing up
"May God and the Virgin keep you in their good graces!" replied the
silversmith humbly, conducting the king to the door of the house.
After so long a friendship, the two men found a barrier raised between
them by suspicion and gold; though they had always been like one man
on the two points of gold and suspicion. But they knew each other so
well, they had so completely the habit, one may say, of each other,
that the king could divine, from the tone in which Cornelius uttered
the words, "As you please, sire," the repugnance that his visits would
henceforth cause to the silversmith, just as the latter recognized a
declaration of war in the "Adieu, my crony," of the king.
Thus Louis XI. and his torconnier parted much in doubt as to the
conduct they ought in future to hold to each other. The monarch
possessed the secret of the Fleming; but on the other hand, the latter
could, by his connections, bring about one of the finest acquisitions
that any king of France had ever made; namely, that of the domains of
the house of Burgundy, which the sovereigns of Europe were then
coveting. The marriage of the celebrated Marguerite depended on the
people of Ghent and the Flemings who surrounded her. The gold and the
influence of Cornelius could powerfully support the negotiations now
begun by Desquerdes, the general to whom Louis XI. had given the
command of the army encamped on the frontiers of Belgium. These two
master-foxes were, therefore, like two duellists, whose arms are
paralyzed by chance.
So, whether it were that from that day the king's health failed and
went from bad to worse, or that Cornelius did assist in bringing into
France Marguerite of Burgundy--who arrived at Ambroise in July, 1438,
to marry the Dauphin to whom she was betrothed in the chapel of the
castle--certain it is that the king took no steps in the matter of the
hidden treasure; he levied no tribute from his silversmith, and the
pair remained in the cautious condition of an armed friendship.
Happily for Cornelius a rumor was spread about Tours that his sister
was the actual robber, and that she had been secretly put to death by
Tristan. Otherwise, if the true history had been known, the whole town
would have risen as one man to destroy the Malemaison before the king
could have taken measures to protect it.
But, although these historical conjectures have some foundation so far
as the inaction of Louis XI. is concerned, it is not so as regards
Cornelius Hoogworst. There was no inaction there. The silversmith
spent the first days which succeeded that fatal night in ceaseless
occupation. Like carnivorous animals confined in cages, he went and
came, smelling for gold in every corner of his house; he studied the
cracks and crevices, he sounded the walls, he besought the trees of
the garden, the foundations of the house, the roofs of the turrets,
the earth and the heavens, to give him back his treasure. Often he
stood motionless for hours, casting his eyes on all sides, plunging
them into the void. Striving for the miracles of ecstasy and the
powers of sorcery, he tried to see his riches through space and
obstacles. He was constantly absorbed in one overwhelming thought,
consumed with a single desire that burned his entrails, gnawed more
cruelly still by the ever-increasing agony of the duel he was fighting
with himself since his passion for gold had turned to his own injury,
--a species of uncompleted suicide which kept him at once in the
miseries of life and in those of death.
Never was a Vice more punished by itself. A miser, locked by accident
into the subterranean strong-room that contains his treasures, has,
like Sardanapalus, the happiness of dying in the midst of his wealth.
But Cornelius, the robber and the robbed, knowing the secret of
neither the one nor the other, possessed and did not possess his
treasure,--a novel, fantastic, but continually terrible torture.
Sometimes, becoming forgetful, he would leave the little gratings of
his door wide open, and then the passers in the street could see that
already wizened man, planted on his two legs in the midst of his
untilled garden, absolutely motionless, and casting on those who
watched him a fixed gaze, the insupportable light of which froze them
with terror. If, by chance, he walked through the streets of Tours, he
seemed like a stranger in them; he knew not where he was, nor whether
the sun or the moon were shining. Often he would ask his way of those
who passed him, believing that he was still in Ghent, and seeming to
be in search of something lost.
The most perennial and the best materialized of human ideas, the idea
by which man reproduces himself by creating outside of himself the
fictitious being called Property, that mental demon, drove its steel
claws perpetually into his heart. Then, in the midst of this torture,
Fear arose, with all its accompanying sentiments. Two men had his
secret, the secret he did not know himself. Louis XI. or Coyctier
could post men to watch him during his sleep and discover the unknown
gulf into which he had cast his riches,--those riches he had watered
with the blood of so many innocent men. And then, beside his fear,
In order to prevent during his lifetime the abduction of his hidden
treasure, he took the most cruel precautions against sleep; besides
which, his commercial relations put him in the way of obtaining
powerful anti-narcotics. His struggles to keep awake were awful--alone
with night, silence, Remorse, and Fear, with all the thoughts that
man, instinctively perhaps, has best embodied--obedient thus to a
moral truth as yet devoid of actual proof.
At last this man so powerful, this heart so hardened by political and
commercial life, this genius, obscure in history, succumbed to the
horrors of the torture he had himself created. Maddened by certain
thoughts more agonizing than those he had as yet resisted, he cut his
throat with a razor.
This death coincided, almost, with that of Louis XI. Nothing then
restrained the populace, and Malemaison, that Evil House, was
pillaged. A tradition exists among the older inhabitants of Touraine
that a contractor of public works, named Bohier, found the miser's
treasure and used it in the construction of Chenonceaux, that
marvellous chateau which, in spite of the wealth of several kings and
the taste of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de' Medici for building,
remains unfinished to the present day.
Happily for Marie de Sassenage, the Comte de Saint-Vallier died, as we
know, in his embassy. The family did not become extinct. After the
departure of the count, the countess gave birth to a son, whose career
was famous in the history of France under the reign of Francois I. He
was saved by his daughter, the celebrated Diane de Poitiers, the
illegitimate great-granddaughter of Louis XI., who became the
illegitimate wife, the beloved mistress of Henri II.--for bastardy and
love were hereditary in that family of nobles.