Part 1 out of 5
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Bonnie Sala
AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY
(The Gondreville Mystery)
by HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Monsieur de Margone.
In grateful remembrance, from his guest at the Chateau de Sache.
AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY
The autumn of the year 1803 was one of the finest in the early part of
that period of the present century which we now call "Empire." Rain
had refreshed the earth during the month of October, so that the trees
were still green and leafy in November. The French people were
beginning to put faith in a secret understanding between the skies and
Bonaparte, then declared Consul for life,--a belief in which that man
owes part of his prestige; strange to say, on the day the sun failed
him, in 1812, his luck ceased!
About four in the afternoon on the fifteenth of November, 1803, the
sun was casting what looked like scarlet dust upon the venerable tops
of four rows of elms in a long baronial avenue, and sparkling on the
sand and grassy places of an immense /rond-point/, such as we often
see in the country where land is cheap enough to be sacrificed to
ornament. The air was so pure, the atmosphere so tempered that a
family was sitting out of doors as if it were summer. A man dressed in
a hunting-jacket of green drilling with green buttons, and breeches of
the same stuff, and wearing shoes with thin soles and gaiters to the
knee, was cleaning a gun with the minute care a skilful huntsman gives
to the work in his leisure hours. This man had neither game nor game-
bag, nor any of the accoutrements which denote either departure for a
hunt or the return from it; and two women sitting near were looking at
him as though beset by a terror they could ill-conceal. Any one
observing the scene taking place in this leafy nook would have
shuddered, as the old mother-in-law and the wife of the man we speak
of were now shuddering. A huntsman does not take such minute
precautions with his weapon to kill small game, neither does he use,
in the department of the Aube, a heavy rifled carbine.
"Shall you kill a roe-buck, Michu?" said his handsome young wife,
trying to assume a laughing air.
Before replying, Michu looked at his dog, which had been lying in the
sun, its paws stretched out and its nose on its paws, in the charming
attitude of a trained hunter. The animal had just raised its head and
was snuffing the air, first down the avenue nearly a mile long which
stretched before them, and then up the cross road where it entered the
/rond-point/ to the left.
"No," answered Michu, "but a brute I do not wish to miss, a lynx."
The dog, a magnificent spaniel, white with brown spots, growled.
"Hah!" said Michu, talking to himself, "spies! the country swarms with
Madame Michu looked appealingly to heaven. A beautiful fair woman with
blue eyes, composed and thoughtful in expression and made like an
antique statue, she seemed to be a prey to some dark and bitter grief.
The husband's appearance may explain to a certain extent the evident
fear of the two women. The laws of physiognomy are precise, not only
in their application to character, but also in relation to the
destinies of life. There is such a thing as prophetic physiognomy. If
it were possible (and such a vital statistic would be of value to
society) to obtain exact likenesses of those who perish on the
scaffold, the science of Lavatar and also that of Gall would prove
unmistakably that the heads of all such persons, even those who are
innocent, show prophetic signs. Yes, fate sets its mark on the faces
of those who are doomed to die a violent death of any kind. Now, this
sign, this seal, visible to the eye of an observer, was imprinted on
the expressive face of the man with the rifled carbine. Short and
stout, abrupt and active in his motions as a monkey, though calm in
temperament, Michu had a white face injected with blood, and features
set close together like those of a Tartar,--a likeness to which his
crinkled red hair conveyed a sinister expression. His eyes, clear and
yellow as those of a tiger, showed depths behind them in which the
glance of whoever examined the man might lose itself and never find
either warmth or motion. Fixed, luminous, and rigid, those eyes
terrified whoever gazed into them. The singular contrast between the
immobility of the eyes and the activity of the body increased the
chilling impression conveyed by a first sight of Michu. Action, always
prompt in this man, was the outcome of a single thought; just as the
life of animals is, without reflection, the outcome of instinct. Since
1793 he had trimmed his red beard to the shape of a fan. Even if he
had not been (as he was during the Terror) president of a club of
Jacobins, this peculiarity of his head would in itself have made him
terrible to behold. His Socratic face with its blunt nose was
surmounted by a fine forehead, so projecting, however, that it
overhung the rest of the features. The ears, well detached from the
head, had the sort of mobility which we find in those of wild animals,
which are ever on the qui-vive. The mouth, half-open, as the custom
usually is among country-people, showed teeth that were strong and
white as almonds, but irregular. Gleaming red whiskers framed this
face, which was white and yet mottled in spots. The hair, cropped
close in front and allowed to grow long at the sides and on the back
of the head, brought into relief, by its savage redness, all the
strange and fateful peculiarities of this singular face. The neck
which was short and thick, seemed to tempt the axe.
At this moment the sunbeams, falling in long lines athwart the group,
lighted up the three heads at which the dog from time to time glanced
up. The spot on which this scene took place was magnificently fine.
The /rond-point/ is at the entrance of the park of Gondreville, one of
the finest estates in France, and by far the finest in the departments
of the Aube; it boasts of long avenues of elms, a castle built from
designs by Mansart, a park of fifteen hundred acres enclosed by a
stone wall, nine large farms, a forest, mills, and meadows. This
almost regal property belonged before the Revolution to the family of
Simeuse. Ximeuse was a feudal estate in Lorraine; the name was
pronounced Simeuse, and in course of time it came to be written as
The great fortune of the Simeuse family, adherents of the House of
Burgundy, dates from the time when the Guises were in conflict with
the Valois. Richelieu first, and afterwards Louis XIV. remembered
their devotion to the factious house of Lorraine, and rebuffed them.
Then the Marquis de Simeuse, an old Burgundian, old Guiser, old
leaguer, old /frondeur/ (he inherited the four great rancors of the
nobility against royalty), came to live at Cinq-Cygne. The former
courtier, rejected at the Louvre, married the widow of the Comte de
Cinq-Cygne, younger branch of the famous family of Chargeboeuf, one of
the most illustrious names in Champagne, and now as celebrated and
opulent as the elder. The marquis, among the richest men of his day,
instead of wasting his substance at court, built the chateau of
Gondreville, enlarged the estate by the purchase of others, and united
the several domains, solely for the purposes of a hunting-ground. He
also built the Simeuse mansion at Troyes, not far from that of the
Cinq-Cygnes. These two old houses and the bishop's palace were long
the only stone mansions at Troyes. The marquis sold Simeuse to the Duc
de Lorraine. His son wasted the father's savings and some part of his
great fortune under the reign of Louis XV., but he subsequently
entered the navy, became a vice-admiral, and redeemed the follies of
his youth by brilliant services. The Marquis de Simeuse, son of this
naval worthy, perished with his wife on the scaffold at Troyes,
leaving twin sons, who emigrated and were, at the time our history
opens, still in foreign parts following the fortunes of the house of
The /rond-point/ was the scene of the meet in the time of the "Grand
Marquis"--a name given in the family to the Simeuse who built
Gondreville. Since 1789 Michu lived in the hunting lodge at the
entrance to the park, built in the reign of Louis XIV., and called the
pavilion of Cinq-Cygne. The village of Cinq-Cygne is at the end of the
forest of Nodesme (a corruption of Notre-Dame) which was reached
through the fine avenue of four rows of elms where Michu's dog was now
suspecting spies. After the death of the Grand Marquis this pavilion
fell into disuse. The vice-admiral preferred the court and the sea to
Champagne, and his son gave the dilapidated building to Michu for a
This noble structure is of brick, with vermiculated stone-work at the
angles and on the casings of the doors and windows. On either side is
a gateway of finely wrought iron, eaten with rust and connected by a
railing, beyond which is a wide and deep ha-ha, full of vigorous
trees, its parapets bristling with iron arabesques, the innumerable
sharp points of which are a warning to evil-doers.
The park walls begin on each side of the circumference of the /rond-
point/; on the one hand the fine semi-circle is defined by slopes
planted with elms; on the other, within the park, a corresponding
half-circle is formed by groups of rare trees. The pavilion,
therefore, stands at the centre of this round open space, which
extends before it and behind it in the shape of two horseshoes. Michu
had turned the rooms on the lower floor into a stable, a kitchen, and
a wood-shed. The only trace remaining of their ancient splendor was an
antechamber paved with marble in squares of black and white, which was
entered on the park side through a door with small leaded panes, such
as might still be seen at Versailles before Louis-Philippe turned that
Chateau into an asylum for the glories of France. The pavilion is
divided inside by an old staircase of worm-eaten wood, full of
character, which leads to the first story. Above that is an immense
garret. This venerable edifice is covered by one of those vast roofs
with four sides, a ridgepole decorated with leaden ornaments, and a
round projecting window on each side, such as Mansart very justly
delighted in; for in France, the Italian attics and flat roofs are a
folly against which our climate protests. Michu kept his fodder in
this garret. That portion of the park which surrounds the old pavilion
is English in style. A hundred feet from the house a former lake, now
a mere pond well stocked with fish, makes known its vicinity as much
by a thin mist rising above the tree-tops as by the croaking of a
thousand frogs, toads, and other amphibious gossips who discourse at
sunset. The time-worn look of everything, the deep silence of the
woods, the long perspective of the avenue, the forest in the distance,
the rusty iron-work, the masses of stone draped with velvet mosses,
all made poetry of this old structure, which still exists.
At the moment when our history begins Michu was leaning against a
mossy parapet on which he had laid his powder-horn, cap, handkerchief,
screw-driver, and rags,--in fact, all the utensils needed for his
suspicious occupation. His wife's chair was against the wall beside
the outer door of the house, above which could still be seen the arms
of the Simeuse family, richly carved, with their noble motto, "Cy
meurs." The old mother, in peasant dress, had moved her chair in front
of Madame Michu, so that the latter might put her feet upon the rungs
and keep them from dampness.
"Where's the boy?" said Michu to his wife.
"Round the pond; he is crazy about the frogs and the insects,"
answered the mother.
Michu whistled in a way that made his hearers tremble. The rapidity
with which his son ran up to him proved plainly enough the despotic
power of the bailiff of Gondreville. Since 1789, but more especially
since 1793, Michu had been well-nigh master of the property. The
terror he inspired in his wife, his mother-in-law, a servant-lad named
Gaucher, and the cook named Marianne, was shared throughout a
neighborhood of twenty miles in circumference. It may be well to give,
without further delay, the reasons for this fear,--all the more
because an account of them will complete the moral portrait of the
The old Marquis de Simeuse transferred the greater part of his
property in 1790; but, overtaken by circumstances, he had not been
able to put the estate of Gondreville into sure hands. Accused of
corresponding with the Duke of Brunswick and the Prince of Cobourg,
the marquis and his wife were thrust into prison and condemned to
death by the revolutionary tribunal of Troyes, of which Madame Michu's
father was then president. The fine domain of Gondreville was sold as
national property. The head-keeper, to the horror of many, was present
at the execution of the marquis and his wife in his capacity as
president of the club of Jacobins at Arcis. Michu, the orphan son of a
peasant, showered with benefactions by the marquise, who brought him
up in her own home and gave him his place as keeper, was regarded as a
Brutus by excited demagogues; but the people of the neighborhood
ceased to recognize him after this act of base ingratitude. The
purchaser of the estate was a man from Arcis named Marion, grandson of
a former bailiff in the Simeuse family. This man, a lawyer before and
after the Revolution, was afraid of the keeper; he made him his
bailiff with a salary of three thousand francs, and gave him an
interest in the sales of timber; Michu, who was thought to have some
ten thousand francs of his own laid by, married the daughter of a
tanner at Troyes, an apostle of the Revolution in that town, where he
was president of the revolutionary tribunal. This tanner, a man of
profound convictions, who resembled Saint-Just as to character, was
afterwards mixed up in Baboeuf's conspiracy and killed himself to
escape execution. Marthe was the handsomest girl in Troyes. In spite
of her shrinking modesty she had been forced by her formidable father
to play the part of Goddess of Liberty in some republican ceremony.
The new proprietor came only three times to Gondreville in the course
of seven years. His grandfather had been bailiff of the estate under
the Simeuse family, and all Arcis took for granted that the citizen
Marion was the secret representative of the present Marquis and his
twin brother. As long as the Terror lasted, Michu, still bailiff of
Gondreville, a devoted patriot, son-in-law of the president of the
revolutionary tribunal of Troyes and flattered by Malin,
representative from the department of the Aube, was the object of a
certain sort of respect. But when the Mountain was overthrown and
after his father-in-law committed suicide, he found himself a scape-
goat; everybody hastened to accuse him, in common with his father-in-
law, of acts to which, so far as he was concerned, he was a total
stranger. The bailiff resented the injustice of the community; he
stiffened his back and took an attitude of hostility. He talked
boldly. But after the 18th Brumaire he maintained an unbroken silence,
the philosophy of the strong; he struggled no longer against public
opinion, and contented himself with attending to his own affairs,--
wise conduct, which led his neighbors to pronounce him sly, for he
owned, it was said, a fortune of not less than a hundred thousand
francs in landed property. In the first place, he spent nothing; next,
this property was legitimately acquired, partly from the inheritance
of his father-in-law's estate, and partly from the savings of six-
thousand francs a year, the salary he derived from his place with its
profits and emoluments. He had been bailiff of Gondreville for the
last twelve years and every one had estimated the probable amount of
his savings, so that when, after the Consulate was proclaimed, he
bought a farm for fifty thousand francs, the suspicions attaching to
his former opinions lessened, and the community of Arcis gave him
credit for intending to recover himself in public estimation.
Unfortunately, at the very moment when public opinion was condoning
his past a foolish affair, envenomed by the gossip of the country-
side, revived the latent and very general belief in the ferocity of
One evening, coming away from Troyes in company with several peasants,
among whom was the farmer at Cinq-Cygne, he let fall a paper on the
main road; the farmer, who was walking behind him, stooped and picked
it up. Michu turned round, saw the paper in the man's hands, pulled a
pistol from his belt and threatened the farmer (who knew how to read)
to blow his brains out if he opened the paper. Michu's action was so
sudden and violent, the tone of his voice so alarming, his eyes blazed
so savagely, that the men about him turned cold with fear. The farmer
of Cinq-Cygne was already his enemy. Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, the
man's employer, was a cousin of the Simeuse brothers; she had only one
farm left for her maintenance and was now residing at her chateau of
Cinq-Cygne. She lived for her cousins the twins, with whom she had
played in childhood at Troyes and at Gondreville. Her only brother,
Jules de Cinq-Cygne, who emigrated before the twins, died at Mayence,
but by a privilege which was somewhat rare and will be mentioned
later, the name of Cinq-Cygne was not to perish through lack of male
This affair between Michu and the farmer made a great noise in the
arrondissement and darkened the already mysterious shadows which
seemed to veil him. Nor was it the only circumstance which made him
feared. A few months after this scene the citizen Marion, present
owner of the Gondreville estate, came to inspect it with the citizen
Malin. Rumor said that Marion was about to sell the property to his
companion, who had profited by political events and had just been
appointed on the Council of State by the First Consul, in return for
his services on the 18th Brumaire. The shrewd heads of the little town
of Arcis now perceived that Marion had been the agent of Malin in the
purchase of the property, and not of the brothers Simeuse, as was
first supposed. The all-powerful Councillor of State was the most
important personage in Arcis. He had obtained for one of his political
friends the prefecture of Troyes, and for a farmer at Gondreville the
exemption of his son from the draft; in fact, he had done services to
many. Consequently, the sale met with no opposition in the
neighborhood where Malin then reigned, and where he still reigns
The Empire was just dawning. Those who in these days read the
histories of the French Revolution can form no conception of the vast
spaces which public thought traversed between events which now seem to
have been so near together. The strong need of peace and tranquillity
which every one felt after the violent tumults of the Revolution
brought about a complete forgetfulness of important anterior facts.
History matured rapidly under the advance of new and eager interests.
No one, therefore, except Michu, looked into the past of this affair,
which the community accepted as a simple matter. Marion, who had
bought Gondreville for six hundred thousand francs in assignats, sold
it for the value of a couple of million in coin; but the only payments
actually made by Malin were for the costs of registration. Grevin, a
seminary comrade of Malin, assisted the transaction, and the
Councillor rewarded his help with the office of notary at Arcis. When
the news of the sale reached the pavilion, brought there by a farmer
whose farm, at Grouage, was situated between the forest and the park
on the left of the noble avenue, Michu turned pale and left the house.
He lay in wait for Marion, and finally met him alone in one of the
shrubberies of the park.
"Is monsieur about to sell Gondreville?" asked the bailiff.
"Yes, Michu, yes. You will have a man of powerful influence for your
master. He is the friend of the First Consul, and very intimate with
all the ministers; he will protect you."
"Then you were holding the estate for him?"
"I don't say that," replied Marion. "At the time I bought it I was
looking for a place to put my money, and I invested in national
property as the best security. But it doesn't suit me to keep an
estate once belonging to a family in which my father was--"
"--a servant," said Michu, violently. "But you shall not sell it! I
want it; and I can pay for it."
"Yes, I; seriously, in good gold,--eight hundred thousand francs."
"Eight hundred thousand francs!" exclaimed Marion. "Where did you get
"That's none of your business," replied Michu; then, softening his
tone, he added in a low voice: "My father-in-law saved the lives of
"You are too late, Michu; the sale is made."
"You must put it off, monsieur!" cried the bailiff, seizing his master
by the hand which he held as in a vice. "I am hated, but I choose to
be rich and powerful, and I must have Gondreville. Listen to me; I
don't cling to life; sell me that place or I'll blow your brains
"But do give me time to get off my bargain with Malin; he's
troublesome to deal with."
"I'll give you twenty-four hours. If you say a word about this matter
I'll chop your head off as I would chop a turnip."
Marion and Malin left the chateau in the course of the night. Marion
was frightened; he told Malin of the meeting and begged him to keep an
eye on the bailiff. It was impossible for Marion to avoid delivering
the property to the man who had been the real purchaser, and Michu did
not seem likely to admit any such reason. Moreover, this service done
by Marion to Malin was to be, and in fact ended by being, the origin
of the former's political fortune, and also that of his brother. In
1806 Malin had him appointed chief justice of an imperial court, and
after the creation of tax-collectors his brother obtained the post of
receiver-general for the department of the Aube. The State Councillor
told Marion to stay in Paris, and he warned the minister of police,
who gave orders that Michu should be secretly watched. Not wishing to
push the man to extremes, Malin kept him on as bailiff, under the iron
rule of Grevin the notary of Arcis.
From that moment Michu became more absorbed and taciturn than ever,
and obtained the reputation of a man who was capable of committing a
crime. Malin, the Councillor of State (a function which the First
Consul raised to the level of a ministry), and a maker of the Code,
played a great part in Paris, where he bought one of the finest
mansions in the Faubuorg Saint-Germain after marrying the only
daughter of a rich contractor named Sibuelle. He never came to
Gondreville; leaving all matters concerning the property to the
management of Grevin, the Arcis notary. After all, what had he to
fear?--he, a former representative of the Aube, and president of a
club of Jacobins. And yet, the unfavorable opinion of Michu held by
the lower classes was shared by the bourgeoisie, and Marion, Grevin,
and Malin, without giving any reason or compromising themselves on the
subject, showed that they regarded him as an extremely dangerous man.
The authorities, who were under instructions from the minister of
police to watch the bailiff, did not of course lessen this belief. The
neighborhood wondered that he kept his place, but supposed it was in
consequence of the terror he inspired. It is easy now, after these
explanations, to understand the anxiety and sadness expressed in the
face of Michu's wife.
In the first place, Marthe had been piously brought up by her mother.
Both, being good Catholics, had suffered much from the opinions and
behavior of the tanner. Marthe could never think without a blush of
having marched through the street of Troyes in the garb of a goddess.
Her father had forced her to marry Michu, whose bad reputation was
then increasing, and she feared him too much to be able to judge him.
Nevertheless, she knew that he loved her, and at the bottom of her
heart lay the truest affection for this awe-inspiring man; she had
never known him to do anything that was not just; never did he say a
brutal word, to her at least; in fact, he endeavored to forestall her
every wish. The poor pariah, believing himself disagreeable to his
wife, spent most of his time out of doors. Marthe and Michu,
distrustful of each other, lived in what is called in these days an
"armed peace." Marthe, who saw no one, suffered keenly from the
ostracism which for the last seven years had surrounded her as the
daughter of a revolutionary butcher, and the wife of a so-called
traitor. More than once she had overheard the laborers of the
adjoining farm (held by a man named Beauvisage, greatly attached to
the Simeuse family) say as they passed the pavilion, "That's where
Judas lives!" The singular resemblance between the bailiff's head and
that of the thirteenth apostle, which his conduct appeared to carry
out, won him that odious nickname throughout the neighborhood. It was
this distress of mind, added to vague but constant fears for the
future, which gave Marthe her thoughtful and subdued air. Nothing
saddens so deeply as unmerited degradation from which there seems no
escape. A painter could have made a fine picture of this family of
pariahs in the bosom of their pretty nook in Champagne, where the
landscape is generally sad.
"Francois!" called the bailiff, to hasten his son.
Francois Michu, a child of ten, played in the park and forest, and
levied his little tithes like a master; he ate the fruits; he chased
the game; he at least had neither cares nor troubles. Of all the
family, Francois alone was happy in a home thus isolated from the
neighborhood by its position between the park and the forest, and by
the still greater moral solitude of universal repulsion.
"Pick up these things," said his father, pointing to the parapet, "and
put them away. Look at me! You love your father and your mother, don't
you?" The child flung himself on his father as if to kiss him, but
Michu made a movement to shift the gun and pushed him back. "Very
good. You have sometimes chattered about things that are done here,"
continued the father, fixing his eyes, dangerous as those of a wild-
cat, on the boy. "Now remember this; if you tell the least little
thing that happens here to Gaucher, or to the Grouage and Bellache
people, or even to Marianne who loves us, you will kill your father.
Never tattle again, and I will forgive what you said yesterday." The
child began to cry. "Don't cry; but when any one questions you, say,
as the peasants do, 'I don't know.' There are persons roaming about
whom I distrust. Run along! As for you two," he added, turning to the
women, "you have heard what I said. Keep a close mouth, both of you."
"Husband, what are you going to do?"
Michu, who was carefully measuring a charge of powder, poured it into
the barrel of his gun, rested the weapon against the parapet and said
"No one knows I own that gun. Stand in front of it."
Couraut, who had sprung to his feet, was barking furiously.
"Good, intelligent fellow!" cried Michu. "I am certain there are spies
Man and beast feel a spy. Couraut and Michu, who seemed to have one
and the same soul, lived together as the Arab and his horse in the
desert. The bailiff knew the modulations of the dog's voice, just as
the dog read his master's meaning in his eyes, or felt it exhaling in
the air from his body.
"What do you say to that?" said Michu, in a low voice, calling his
wife's attention to two strangers who appeared in a by-path making for
"What can it mean?" cried the old mother. "They are Parisians."
"Here they come!" said Michu. "Hide my gun," he whispered to his wife.
The two men who now crossed the wide open space of the /rond-point/
were typical enough for a painter. One, who appeared to be the
subaltern, wore top-boots, turned down rather low, showing well-made
calves, and colored silk stockings of doubtful cleanliness. The
breeches, of ribbed cloth, apricot color with metal buttons, were too
large; they were baggy about the body, and the lines of their creases
seemed to indicate a sedentary man. A marseilles waistcoat, overloaded
with embroidery, open, and held together by one button only just above
the stomach, gave to the wearer a dissipated look,--all the more so,
because his jet black hair, in corkscrew curls, hid his forehead and
hung down his cheeks. Two steel watch-chains were festooned upon his
breeches. The shirt was adorned with a cameo in white and blue. The
coat, cinnamon-colored, was a treasure to caricaturists by reason of
its long tails, which, when seen from behind, bore so perfect a
resemblance to a cod that the name of that fish was given to them. The
fashion of codfish tails lasted ten years; almost the whole period of
the empire of Napoleon. The cravat, loosely fastened, and with
numerous small folds, allowed the wearer to bury his face in it up to
the nostrils. His pimpled skin, his long, thick, brick-dust colored
nose, his high cheek-bones, his mouth, lacking half its teeth but
greedy for all that and menacing, his ears adorned with huge gold
rings, his low forehead,--all these personal details, which might have
seemed grotesque in many men, were rendered terrible in him by two
small eyes set in his head like those of a pig, expressive of
insatiable covetousness, and of insolent, half-jovial cruelty. These
ferreting and perspicacious blue eyes, glassy and glacial, might be
taken for the model of that famous Eye, the formidable emblem of the
police, invented during the Revolution. Black silk gloves were on his
hands and he carried a switch. He was certainly some official
personage, for he showed in his bearing, in his way of taking snuff
and ramming it into his nose, the bureaucratic importance of an office
subordinate, one who signs for his superiors and acquires a passing
sovereignty by enforcing their orders.
The other man, whose dress was in the same style, but elegant and
elegantly put on and careful in its smallest detail, wore boots /a la/
Suwaroff which came high upon the leg above a pair of tight trousers,
and creaked as he walked. Above his coat he wore a spencer, an
aristocratic garment adopted by the Clichiens and the young bloods of
Paris, which survived both the Clichiens and the fashionable youths.
In those days fashions sometimes lasted longer than parties,--a
symptom of anarchy which the year of our Lord 1830 has again presented
to us. This accomplished dandy seemed to be thirty years of age. His
manners were those of good society; he wore jewels of value; the
collar of his shirt came to the tops of his ears. His conceited and
even impertinent air betrayed a consciousness of hidden superiority.
His pallid face seemed bloodless, his thin flat nose had the sardonic
expression which we see in a death's head, and his green eyes were
inscrutable; their glance was discreet in meaning just as the thin
closed mouth was discreet in words. The first man seemed on the whole
a good fellow compared with this younger man, who was slashing the air
with a cane, the top of which, made of gold, glittered in the
sunshine. The first man might have cut off a head with his own hand,
but the second was capable of entangling innocence, virtue, and beauty
in the nets of calumny and intrigue, and then poisoning them or
drowning them. The rubicund stranger would have comforted his victim
with a jest; the other was incapable of a smile. The first was forty-
five years old, and he loved, undoubtedly, both women and good cheer.
Such men have passions which keep them slaves to their calling. But
the young man was plainly without passions and without vices. If he
was a spy he belonged to diplomacy, and did such work from a pure love
of art. He conceived, the other executed; he was the idea, the other
was the form.
"This must be Gondreville, is it not, my good woman?" said the young
"We don't say 'my good woman' here," said Michu. "We are still simple
enough to say 'citizen' and 'citizeness' in these parts."
"Ah!" exclaimed the young man, in a natural way, and without seeming
at all annoyed.
Players of ecarte often have a sense of inward disaster when some
unknown person sits down at the same table with them, whose manners,
look, voice, and method of shuffling the cards, all, to their fancy,
foretell defeat. The instant Michu looked at the young man he felt an
inward and prophetic collapse. He was struck by a fatal presentiment;
he had a sudden confused foreboding of the scaffold. A voice told him
that that dandy would destroy him, although there was nothing whatever
in common between them. For this reason his answer was rude; he was
and he wished to be forbidding.
"Don't you belong to the Councillor of State, Malin?" said the younger
"I am my own master," answered Malin.
"Mesdames," said the young man, assuming a most polite air, "are we
not at Gondreville? We are expected there by Monsieur Malin."
"There's the park," said Michu, pointing to the open gate.
"Why are you hiding that gun, my fine girl?" said the elder, catching
sight of the carbine as he passed through the gate.
"You never let a chance escape you, even in the country!" cried his
They both turned back with a sense of distrust which the bailiff
understood at once in spite of their impassible faces. Marthe let them
look at the gun, to the tune of Couraut's bark; she was so convinced
that her husband was meditating some evil deed that she was thankful
for the curiosity of the strangers.
Michu flung a look at his wife which made her tremble; he took the gun
and began to load it, accepting quietly the fatal ill-luck of this
encounter and the discovery of the weapon. He seemed no longer to care
for life, and his wife fathomed his inward feeling.
"So you have wolves in these parts?" said the young man, watching him.
"There are always wolves where there are sheep. You are in Champagne,
and there's a forest; we have wild-boars, large and small game both, a
little of everything," replied Michu, in a truculent manner.
"I'll bet, Corentin," said the elder of the two men, after exchanging
a glance with his companion, "that this is my friend Michu--"
"We never kept pigs together that I know of," said the bailiff.
"No, but we both presided over Jacobins, citizen," replied the old
cynic,--"you at Arcis, I elsewhere. I see you've kept your Carmagnole
civility, but it's no longer in fashion, my good fellow."
"The park strikes me as rather large; we might lose our way. If you
are really the bailiff show us the path to the chateau," said
Corentin, in a peremptory tone.
Michu whistled to his son and continued to load his gun. Corentin
looked at Marthe with indifference, while his companion seemed charmed
by her; but the young man noticed the signs of her inward distress,
which escaped the old libertine, who had, however, noticed and feared
the gun. The natures of the two men were disclosed in this trifling
yet important circumstance.
"I've an appointment the other side of the forest," said the bailiff.
"I can't go with you, but my son here will take you to the chateau.
How did you get to Gondreville? did you come by Cinq-Cygne?"
"We had, like yourself, business in the forest," said Corentin,
without apparent sarcasm.
"Francois," cried Michu, "take these gentlemen to the chateau by the
wood path, so that no one sees them; they don't follow the beaten
tracks. Come here," he added, as the strangers turned to walk away,
talking together as they did so in a low voice. Michu caught the boy
in his arms, and kissed him almost solemnly with an expression which
confirmed his wife's fears; cold chills ran down her back; she glanced
at her mother with haggard eyes, for she could not weep.
"Go," said Michu; and he watched the boy until he was entirely out of
sight. Couraut was barking on the other side of the road in the
direction of Grouage. "Oh, that's Violette," remarked Michu. "This is
the third time that old fellow has passed here to-day. What's in the
wind? Hush, Couraut!"
A few moments later the trot of a pony was heard approaching.
A CRIME RELINQUISHED
Violette, mounted on one of those little nags which the farmers in the
neighborhood of Paris use so much, soon appeared, wearing a round hat
with a broad brim, beneath which his wood-colored face, deeply
wrinkled, appeared in shadow. His gray eyes, mischievous and lively,
concealed in a measure the treachery of his nature. His skinny legs,
covered with gaiters of white linen which came to the knee, hung
rather than rested in the stirrups, seemingly held in place by the
weight of his hob-nailed shoes. Above his jacket of blue cloth he wore
a cloak of some coarse woollen stuff woven in black and white stripes.
His gray hair fell in curls behind his ears. This dress, the gray
horse with its short legs, the manner in which Violette sat him,
stomach projecting and shoulders thrown back, the big chapped hands
which held the shabby bridle, all depicted him plainly as the
grasping, ambitious peasant who desires to own land and buys it at any
price. His mouth, with its bluish lips parted as if a surgeon had
pried them open with a scalpel, and the innumerable wrinkles of his
face and forehead hindered the play of features which were expressive
only in their outlines. Those hard, fixed lines seemed menacing, in
spite of the humility which country-folks assume and beneath which
they conceal their emotions and schemes, as savages and Easterns hide
theirs behind an imperturbable gravity. First a mere laborer, then the
farmer of Grouage through a long course of persistent ill-doing, he
continued his evil practices after conquering a position which
surpassed his early hopes. He wished harm to all men and wished it
vehemently. When he could assist in doing harm he did it eagerly. He
was openly envious; but, no matter how malignant he might be, he kept
within the limits of the law,--neither beyond it nor behind it, like a
parliamentary opposition. He believed his prosperity depended on the
ruin of others, and that whoever was above him was an enemy against
whom all weapons were good. A character like this is very common among
Violette's present business was to obtain from Malin an extension of
the lease of his farm, which had only six years longer to run. Jealous
of the bailiff's means, he watched him narrowly. The neighbors
reproached him for his intimacy with "Judas"; but the sly old farmer,
wishing to obtain a twelve years' lease, was really lying in wait for
an opportunity to serve either the government or Malin, who distrusted
Michu. Violette, by the help of the game-keeper of Gondreville and
others belonging to the estate, kept Malin informed of all Michu's
actions. Malin had endeavored, fruitlessly, to win over Marianne, the
Michus' servant-woman; but Violette and his satellites heard
everything from Gaucher,--a lad on whose fidelity Michu relied, but
who betrayed him for cast-off clothing, waistcoats, buckles, cotton
socks and sugar-plums. The boy had no suspicion of the importance of
his gossip. Violette in his reports blackened all Michu's actions and
gave them a criminal aspect by absurd suggestions,--unknown, of
course, to the bailiff, who was aware, however, of the base part
played by the farmer, and took delight in mystifying him.
"You must have a deal of business at Bellache to be here again," said
"Again! is that meant as a reproach, Monsieur Michu?--Hey! I did not
know you had that gun. You are not going to whistle for the sparrows
on that pipe, I suppose--"
"It grew in a field of mine which bears guns," replied Michu. "Look!
this is how I sow them."
The bailiff took aim at a viper thirty feet away and cut it in two.
"Have you got that bandit's weapon to protect your master?" said
Violette. "Perhaps he gave it to you."
"He came from Paris expressly to bring it to me," replied Michu.
"People are talking all round the neighborhood of this journey of his;
some say he is in disgrace and has to retire from office; others that
he wants to see things for himself down here. But anyway, why does he
come, like the First Consul, without giving warning? Did you know he
"I am not on such terms with him as to be in his confidence."
"Then you have not seen him?"
"I did not know he was here till I got back from my rounds in the
forest," said Michu, reloading his gun.
"He has sent to Arcis for Monsieur Grevin," said Violette; "they are
"If you are going round by Cinq-Cygne, take me up behind you," said
the bailiff. "I'm going there."
Violette was too timid to have a man of Michu's strength on his
crupper, and he spurred his beast. Judas slung his gun over his
shoulder and walked rapidly up the avenue.
"Who can it be that Michu is angry with?" said Marthe to her mother.
"Ever since he heard of Monsieur Malin's arrival he has been gloomy,"
replied the old woman. "But it is getting damp here, let us go in."
After the two women had settled themselves in the chimney corner they
heard Couraut's bark.
"There's my husband returning!" cried Marthe.
Michu passed up the stairs; his wife, uneasy, followed him to their
"See if any one is about," he said to her, in a voice of some emotion.
"No one," she replied. "Marianne is in the field with the cow, and
"Where is Gaucher?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"I distrust that little scamp. Go up in the garret, look in the hay-
loft, look everywhere for him."
Marthe left the room to obey the order. When she returned she found
Michu on his knees, praying.
"What is the matter?" she said, frightened.
The bailiff took his wife round the waist and drew her to him, saying
in a voice of deep feeling: "If we never see each other again
remember, my poor wife, that I loved you well. Follow minutely the
instructions which you will find in a letter buried at the foot of the
larch in that copse. It is enclosed in a tin tube. Do not touch it
until after my death. And remember, Marthe, whatever happens to me,
that in spite of man's injustice, my arm has been the instrument of
the justice of God."
Marthe, who turned pale by degrees, became white as her own linen; she
looked at her husband with fixed eyes widened by fear; she tried to
speak, but her throat was dry. Michu disappeared like a shadow, having
tied Couraut to the foot of his bed where the dog, after the manner of
all dogs, howled in despair.
Michu's anger against Monsieur Marion had serious grounds, but it was
now concentrated on another man, far more criminal in his eyes,--on
Malin, whose secrets were known to the bailiff, he being in a better
position than others to understand the conduct of the State
Councillor. Michu's father-in-law had had, politically speaking, the
confidence of the former representative to the Convention, through
Perhaps it would be well here to relate the circumstances which
brought the Simeuse and the Cinq-Cygne families into connection with
Malin,--circumstances which weighed heavily on the fate of
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne's twin cousins, but still more heavily on
that of Marthe and Michu.
The Cinq-Cygne mansion at Troyes stands opposite to that of Simeuse.
When the populace, incited by minds that were as shrewd as they were
cautious, pillaged the hotel Simeuse, discovered the marquis and
marchioness, who were accused of corresponding with the nation's
enemies, and delivered them to the national guards who took them to
prison, the crowd shouted, "Now for the Cinq-Cygnes!" To their minds
the Cinq-Cygnes were as guilty as other aristocrats. The brave and
worthy Monsieur de Simeuse in the endeavor to save his two sons, then
eighteen years of age, whose courage was likely to compromise them,
had confided them, a few hours before the storm broke, to their aunt,
the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne. Two servants attached to the Simeuse
family accompanied the young men to her house. The old marquis, who
was anxious that his name should not die out, requested that what was
happening might be concealed from his sons, even in the event of dire
disaster. Laurence, the only daughter of the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne,
was then twelve years of age; her cousins both loved her and she loved
them equally. Like other twins the Simeuse brothers were so alike that
for a long while their mother dressed them in different colors to know
them apart. The first comer, the eldest, was named Paul-Marie, the
other Marie-Paul. Laurence de Cinq-Cygne, to whom their danger was
revealed, played her woman's part well though still a mere child. She
coaxed and petted her cousins and kept them occupied until the very
moment when the populace surrounded the Cinq-Cygne mansion. The two
brothers then knew their danger for the first time, and looked at each
other. Their resolution was instantly taken; they armed their own
servants and those of the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, barricaded the
doors, and stood guard at the windows, after closing the wooden
blinds, with the five men-servants and the Abbe d'Hauteserre, a
relative of the Cinq-Cygnes. These eight courageous champions poured a
deadly fire into the crowd. Every shot killed or wounded an assailant.
Laurence, instead of wringing her hands, loaded the guns with
extraordinary coolness, and passed the balls and powder to those who
needed them. The Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne was on her knees.
"What are you doing, mother?" said Laurence.
"I am praying," she answered, "for them and for you."
Sublime words,--said also by the mother of Godoy, prince of the Peace,
in Spain, under similar circumstances.
In a moment eleven persons were killed and lying on the ground among a
number of wounded. Such results either cool or excite a populace;
either it grows savage at the work or discontinues it. On the present
occasion those in advance recoiled; but the crowd behind them were
there to kill and rob, and when they saw their own dead, they cried
out: "Murder! Murder! Revenge!" The wiser heads went in search of the
representative to the Convention, Malin. The twins, by this time aware
of the disastrous events of the day, suspected Malin of desiring the
ruin of their family, and of causing the arrest of their parents, and
the suspicion soon became a certainty. They posted themselves beneath
the porte-cochere, gun in hand, intending to kill Malin as soon as he
made his appearance; but the countess lost her head; she imagined her
house in ashes and her daughter assassinated, and she blamed the young
men for their heroic defence and compelled them to desist. It was
Laurence who opened the door slightly when Malin summoned the
household to admit him. Seeing her, the representative relied upon the
awe he expected to inspire in a mere child, and he entered the house.
To his first words of inquiry as to why the family were making such a
resistance, the girl replied: "If you really desire to give liberty to
France how is it that you do not protect us in our homes? They are
trying to tear down this house, monsieur, to murder us, and you say we
have no right to oppose force to force!"
Malin stood rooted to the ground.
"You, the son of a mason employed by the Grand Marquis to build his
castle!" exclaimed Marie-Paul, "you have let them drag our father to
prison--you have believed calumnies!"
"He shall be released at once," said Malin, who thought himself lost
when he saw each youth clutch his weapon convulsively.
"You owe your life to that promise," said Marie-Paul, solemnly. "If it
is not fulfilled to-night we shall find you again."
"As to that howling populace," said Laurence, "If you do not send them
away, the next blood will be yours. Now, Monsieur Malin, leave this
The Conventionalist did leave it, and he harangued the crowd, dwelling
on the sacred rights of the domestic hearth, the habeas corpus and the
English "home." He told them that the law and the people were
sovereigns, that the law /was/ the people, and that the people could
only act through the law, and that power was vested in the law. The
particular law of personal necessity made him eloquent, and he managed
to disperse the crowd. But he never forgot the contemptuous expression
of the two brothers, nor the "Leave this house!" of Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne. Therefore, when it was a question of selling the estates
of the Comte de Cinq-Cygne, Laurence's brother, as national property,
the sale was rigorously made. The agents left nothing for Laurence but
the chateau, the park and gardens, and one farm called that of Cinq-
Cygne. Malin instructed the appraisers that Laurence had no rights
beyond her legal share,--the nation taking possession of all that
belonged to her brother, who had emigrated and, above all, had borne
arms against the Republic.
The evening after this terrible tumult, Laurence so entreated her
cousins to leave the country, fearing treachery on the part of Malin,
or some trap into which they might fall, that they took horse that
night and gained the Prussian outposts. They had scarcely reached the
forest of Gondreville before the hotel Cinq-Cygne was surrounded;
Malin came himself to arrest the heirs of the house of Simeuse. He
dared not lay hands on the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, who was in bed with
a nervous fever, nor on Laurence, a child of twelve. The servants,
fearing the severity of the Republic, had disappeared. The next day
the news of the resistance of the brothers and their flight to Prussia
was known to the neighborhood. A crowd of three thousand persons
assembled before the hotel de Cinq-Cygne, which was demolished with
incredible rapidity. Madame de Cinq-Cygne, carried to the hotel
Simeuse, died there from the effects of the fever aggravated by
Michu did not appear in the political arena until after these events,
for the marquis and his wife remained in prison over five months.
During this time Malin was away on a mission. But when Monsieur Marion
sold Gondreville to the Councillor of State, Michu understood the
latter's game,--or rather, he thought he did; for Malin was, like
Fouche, one of those personages who are of such depth in all their
different aspects that they are impenetrable when they play a part,
and are never understood until long after their drama is ended.
In all the chief circumstances of Malin's life he had never failed to
consult his faithful friend Grevin, the notary of Arcis, whose
judgment on men and things was, at a distance, clear-cut and precise.
This faculty is the wisdom and makes the strength of second-rate men.
Now, in November, 1803, a combination of events (already related in
the "Depute d'Arcis") made matters so serious for the Councillor of
State that a letter might have compromised the two friends. Malin, who
hoped to be appointed senator, was afraid to offer his explanations in
Paris. He came to Gondreville, giving the First Consul only one of the
reasons that made him wish to be there; that reason gave him an
appearance of zeal in the eyes of Bonaparte; whereas his journey, far
from concerning the interests of the State, related to his own
interests only. On this particular day, as Michu was watching the park
and expecting, after the manner of a red Indian, a propitious moment
for his vengeance, the astute Malin, accustomed to turn all events to
his own profit, was leading his friend Grevin to a little field in the
English garden, a lonely spot in the park, favorable for a secret
conference. There, standing in the centre of the grass plot and
speaking low, the friends were at too great a distance to be overheard
if any one were lurking near enough to listen to them; they were also
sure of time to change the conversation if others unwarily approached.
"Why couldn't we have stayed in a room in the chateau?" asked Grevin.
"Didn't you take notice of those two men whom the prefect of police
has sent here to me?"
Though Fouche made himself in the matter of the Pichegru, Georges,
Moreau, and Polignac conspiracy the soul of the Consular cabinet, he
did not at this time control the ministry of police, but was merely a
councillor of State like Malin.
"Those men," continued Malin, "are Fouche's two arms. One, that dandy
Corentin, whose face is like a glass of lemonade, vinegar on his lips
and verjuice in his eyes, put an end to the insurrection at the West
in the year VII. in less than fifteen days. The other is a disciple of
Lenoir; he is the only one who preserves the great traditions of the
police. I had asked for an agent of no great account, backed by some
official personage, and they send me those past-masters of the
business! Ah, Grevin, Fouche wants to pry into my game. That's why I
left those fellows dining at the chateau; they may look into
everything for all I care; they won't find Louis XVIII. nor any sign
"But see here, my dear fellow, what game are you playing?" cried
"Ha, my friend, a double game is a dangerous one, but this, taking
Fouche into account, is a triple one. He may have nosed the fact that
I am in the secrets of the house of Bourbon."
"I," replied Malin.
"Have you forgotten Favras?"
The words made an impression on the councillor.
"Since when?" asked Grevin, after a pause.
"Since the Consulate for life."
"I hope there's no proof of it?"
"Not that!" said Malin, clicking his thumb-nail against his teeth.
In few words the Councillor of State gave a clear and succinct account
of the critical position in which Bonaparte was about to hold England,
by threatening her with invasion from the camp at Boulogne; he
explained to Grevin the bearings of that project, which was unobserved
by France and Europe but suspected by Pitt; also the critical position
in which England was about to put Bonaparte. A powerful coalition,
Prussia, Austria, and Russia, paid by English gold, was pledged to
furnish seven hundred thousand men under arms. At the same time a
formidable conspiracy was throwing a network over the whole of France,
including among its members montagnards, chouans, royalists, and their
"Louis XVIII. held that as long as there were three Consuls anarchy
was certain, and that he could at some opportune moment take his
revenge for the 13th Vendemiaire and the 18th Fructidor," said Malin,
"but the Consulate for life has unmasked Bonaparte's intentions--he
will soon be emperor. The late sub-lieutenant means to create a
dynasty! This time his life is in actual danger; and the plot is far
better laid than that of the Rue Saint-Nicaise. Pichegru, Georges,
Moreau, the Duc d'Enghien, Polignac and Riviere, the two friends of
the Comte d'Artois are in it."
"What an amalgamation!" cried Grevin.
"France is being silently invaded; no stone is left unturned; the
thing will be carried with a rush. A hundred picked men, commanded by
Georges, are to attack the Consular guard and the Consul hand to
"Well then, denounce them."
"For the last two months the Consul, his minister of police, the
prefect and Fouche, hold some of the clues of this vast conspiracy;
but they don't know its full extent, and at this particular moment
they are leaving nearly all the conspirators free, so as to discover
more about it."
"As to rights," said the notary, "the Bourbons have much more right to
conceive, plan, and execute a scheme against Bonaparte, than Bonaparte
had on the 18th Brumaire against the Republic, whose product he was.
He murdered his mother on that occasion, but these royalists only seek
to recover what was theirs. I can understand that the princes and
their adherents, seeing the lists of the /emigres/ closed, mortgages
suppressed, the Catholic faith restored, anti-revolutionary decrees
accumulating, should begin to see that their return is becoming
difficult, not to say impossible. Bonaparte being the sole obstacle
now in their way, they want to get rid of him--nothing simpler.
Conspirators if defeated are brigands, if successful, heroes; and your
perplexity seems to me very natural."
"The matter now is," said Malin, "to make Bonaparte fling the head of
the Duc d'Enghien at the Bourbons, just as the Convention flung the
head of Louis XVI. at the kings, so as to commit him as fully as we
are to the Revolution; /or else/, we must upset the idol of the French
people and their future emperor, and seat the true throne upon his
ruins. I am at the mercy of some event, some fortunate pistol-shot,
some infernal machine which does its work. Even I don't know the whole
conspiracy; they don't tell me all; but they have asked me to call the
Council of State at the critical moment and direct its action towards
the restoration of the Bourbons."
"Wait," said the notary.
"Impossible! I am compelled to make my decision at once."
"Well, the Simeuse brothers are in the conspiracy; they are here in
the neighborhood; I must either have them watched, let them compromise
themselves, and so be rid of them, or else I must privately protect
them. I asked the prefect for underlings and he has sent me lynxes,
who came through Troyes and have got the gendarmerie to support them."
"Gondreville is your real object," said Grevin, "and this conspiracy
your best chance of keeping it. Fouche, Talleyrand, and those two
fellows have nothing to do with that. Therefore play fair with them.
What nonsense! those who cut Louis XVI.'s head off are in the
government; France is full of men who have bought national property,
and yet you talk of bringing back those who would require you to give
up Gondreville! If the Bourbons were not imbeciles they would pass a
sponge over all we have done. Warn Bonaparte, that's my advice."
"A man of my rank can't denounce," said Malin, quickly.
"Your rank!" exclaimed Grevin, smiling.
"They have offered to make me Keeper of the Seals."
"Ah! Now I understand your bewilderment, and it is for me to see clear
in this political darkness and find a way out for you. Now, it is
quite impossible to foresee what events may happen to bring back the
Bourbons when a General Bonaparte is in possession of eighty line of
battle ships and four hundred thousand men. The most difficult thing
of all in expectant politics is to know when a power that totters will
fall; but, my old man, Bonaparte's power is not tottering, it is in
the ascendant. Don't you think that Fouche may be sounding you so as
to get to the bottom of your mind, and then get rid of you?"
"No; I am sure of my go-between. Besides, Fouche would never, under
those circumstances, send me such fellows as these; he would know they
would make me suspicious."
"They alarm me," said Grevin. "If Fouche does not distrust you, and is
not seeking to probe you, why does he send them? Fouche doesn't play
such a trick as that without a motive; what is it?"
"What decides me," said Malin, "is that I should never be easy with
those two Simeuse brothers in France. Perhaps Fouche, who knows how I
am placed towards them, wants to make sure they don't escape him, and
hopes through them to reach the Condes."
"That's right, old fellow; it is not under Bonaparte that the present
possessor of Gondreville can be ousted."
Just then Malin, happening to look up, saw the muzzle of a gun through
the foliage of a tall linden.
"I was not mistaken, I thought I heard the click of a trigger," he
said to Grevin, after getting behind the trunk of a large tree, where
the notary, uneasy at his friend's sudden movement, followed him.
"It is Michu," said Grevin; "I see his red beard."
"Don't let us seem afraid," said Malin, who walked slowly away, saying
at intervals: "Why is that man so bitter against the owners of this
property? It was not you he was covering. If he overheard us he had
better ask the prayers of the congregation! Who the devil would have
thought of looking up into the trees!"
"There's always something to learn," said the notary. "But he was a
good distance off, and we spoke low."
"I shall tell Corentin about it," replied Malin.
THE MASK THROWN OFF
A few moments later Michu returned home, his face pale, his features
"What is the matter?" said his wife, frightened.
"Nothing," he replied, seeing Violette whose presence silenced him.
Michu took a chair and sat down quietly before the fire, into which he
threw a letter which he drew from a tin tube such as are given to
soldiers to hold their papers. This act, which enabled Marthe to draw
a long breath like one relieved of a great burden, greatly puzzled
Violette. The bailiff laid his gun on the mantel-shelf with admirable
composure. Marianne the servant, and Marthe's mother were spinning by
the light of a lamp.
"Come, Francois," said the father, presently, "it is time to go to
He lifted the boy roughly by the middle of his body and carried him
"Run down to the cellar," he whispered, when they reached the stairs.
"Empty one third out of two bottles of the Macon wine, and fill them
up with the Cognac brandy which is on the shelf. Then mix a bottle of
white wine with one half brandy. Do it neatly, and put the three
bottles on the empty cask which stands by the cellar door. When you
hear me open the window in the kitchen come out of the cellar, run to
the stable, saddle my horse, mount it, and go and wait for me at
Poteaudes-Gueux--That little scamp hates to go to bed," said Michu,
returning; "he likes to do as grown people do, see all, hear all, and
know all. You spoil my people, pere Violette."
"Goodness!" cried Violette, "what has loosened your tongue? I never
heard you say as much before."
"Do you suppose I let myself be spied upon without taking notice of
it? You are on the wrong side, pere Violette. If, instead of serving
those who hate me, you were on my side I could do better for you than
renew that lease of yours."
"How?" said the peasant, opening wide his avaricious eyes.
"I'll sell you my property cheap."
"Nothing is cheap when we have to pay," said Violette, sententiously.
"I want to leave the neighborhood, and I'll let you have my farm of
Mousseau, the buildings, granary, and cattle for fifty thousand
"Does that suit you?"
"Hang it! I must think--"
"We'll talk about it--I shall want earnest money."
"I have no money."
"Well, a note."
"Can't give it."
"Tell me who sent you here to-day."
"I am on my way back from where I spent this afternoon, and I only
stopped in to say good-evening."
"Back without your horse? What a fool you must take me for! You are
lying, and you shall not have my farm."
"Well, to tell you the truth, it was monsieur Grevin who sent me. He
said 'Violette, we want Michu; do you go and get him; if he isn't at
home, wait for him.' I saw I should have to stay here all this
"Are those sharks from Paris still at the chateau?"
"Ah! that I don't know; but there were people in the salon."
"You shall have my farm; we'll settle the terms now. Wife, go and get
some wine to wash down the contract. Take the best Roussillon, the
wine of the ex-marquis,--we are not babes. You'll find a couple of
bottles on the empty cask near the door, and a bottle of white wine."
"Very good," said Violette, who never got drunk. "Let us drink."
"You have fifty thousand francs beneath the floor of your bedroom
under your bed, pere Violette; you will give them to me two weeks
after we sign the deed of sale before Grevin--" Violette stared at
Michu and grew livid. "Ah! you came here to spy upon a Jacobin who had
the honor to be president of the club at Arcis, and you imagine he
will let you get the better of him! I have eyes, I saw where your
tiles have been freshly cemented, and I concluded that you did not pry
them up to plant wheat there. Come, drink."
Violette, much troubled, drank a large glass of wine without noticing
the quality; terror had put a hot iron in his stomach, the brandy was
not hotter than his cupidity. He would have given many things to be
safely home and able to change the hiding-place of his treasure. The
three women smiled.
"Do you like that wine?" said Michu, refilling his glass.
"Yes, I do."
After a good half-hour's decision on the time when the buyer might
take possession, and on the various punctilios which the peasantry
bring forward when concluding a bargain,--in the midst of assertions
and counter-assertions, the filling and emptying of glasses, the
giving of promises and denials, Violette suddenly fell forward with
his head on the table, not tipsy, but dead-drunk. The instant that
Michu saw his eyes blur he opened the window.
"Where's that scamp, Gaucher?" he said to his wife.
"You, Marianne," said the bailiff to his faithful servant, "stand in
front of his door and watch him. You, mother, stay down here, and keep
an eye on this spy; keep your eyes and ears open and don't unfasten
the door to any one but Francois. It is a question of life or death,"
he added, in a deep voice. "Every creature beneath my roof must
remember that I have not quitted it this night; all of you must assert
that--even though your heads were on the block. Come," he said to
Marthe, "come, wife, put on your shoes, take your coat, and let us be
off! No questions--I go with you."
For the last three quarters of an hour the man's demeanor and glance
were of despotic authority, all-powerful, irresistible, drawn from the
same mysterious source from which great generals on fields of battle
who inflame an army, great orators inspiring vast audiences, and (it
must be said) great criminals perpetrating bold crimes derive their
inspiration. At such times invincible influence seems to exhale from
the head and issue from the tongue; the gesture even can inject the
will of the one man into others. The three women knew that some
dreadful crisis was at hand; without warning of its nature they felt
it in the rapid actions of the man, whose countenance shone, whose
forehead spoke, whose brilliant eyes glittered like stars; they saw it
in the sweat that covered his brow to the roots of his hair, while
more than once his voice vibrated with impatience and fury. Marthe
obeyed passively. Armed to the teeth and with his gun over his
shoulder Michu dashed into the avenue, followed by his wife. They soon
reached the cross-roads where Francois was in waiting hidden among the
"The boy is intelligent," said Michu, when he caught sight of him.
These were his first words. His wife had rushed after him, unable to
"Go back to the house, hide in a thick tree, and watch the country and
the park," he said to his son. "We have all gone to bed, no one is
stirring. Your grandmother will not open the door until you ask her to
let you in. Remember every word I say to you. The life of your father
and mother depends on it. No one must know we did not sleep at home."
After whispering these words to the boy, who instantly disappeared in
the forest like an eel in the mud, Michu turned to his wife.
"Mount behind me," he said, "and pray that God be with us. Sit firm,
the beast may die of it." So saying he kicked the horse with both
heels, pressing him with his powerful knees, and the animal sprang
forward with the rapidity of a hunter, seeming to understand what his
master wanted of him, and crossed the forest in fifteen minutes. Then
Michu, who had not swerved from the shortest way, pulled up, found a
spot at the edge of the woods from which he could see the roofs of the
chateau of Cinq-Cygne lighted by the moon, tied his horse to a tree,
and followed by his wife, gained a little eminence which overlooked
The chateau, which Marthe and Michu looked at together for a moment,
makes a charming effect in the landscape. Though it has little extent
and is of no importance whatever as architecture, yet archaeologically
it is not without a certain interest. This old edifice of the
fifteenth century, placed on an eminence, surrounded on all sides by a
moat, or rather by deep, wide ditches always full of water, is built
in cobble-stones buried in cement, the walls being seven feet thick.
Its simplicity recalls the rough and warlike life of feudal days. The
chateau, plain and unadorned, has two large reddish towers at either
end, connected by a long main building with casement windows, the
stone mullions of which, being roughly carved, bear some resemblance
to vine-shoots. The stairway is outside the house, at the middle, in a
sort of pentagonal tower entered through a small arched door. The
interior of the ground-floor together with the rooms on the first
storey were modernized in the time of Louis XIV., and the whole
building is surmounted by an immense roof broken by casement windows
with carved triangular pediments. Before the castle lies a vast green
sward the trees of which had recently been cut down. On either side of
the entrance bridge are two small dwellings where the gardeners live,
connected across the road by a paltry iron railing without character,
evidently modern. To right and left of the lawn, which is divided in
two by a paved road-way, are the stables, cow-sheds, barns, wood-
house, bakery, poultry-yard, and the offices, placed in what were
doubtless the remains of two wings of the old building similar to
those that were still standing. The two large towers, with their
pepper-pot roofs which had not been rased, and the belfry of the
middle tower, gave an air of distinction to the village. The church,
also very old, showed near by its pointed steeple, which harmonized
well with the solid masses of the castle. The moon brought out in full
relief the various roofs and towers on which it played and sparkled.
Michu gazed at this baronial structure in a manner that upset all his
wife's ideas about him; his face, now calm, wore a look of hope and
also a sort of pride. His eyes scanned the horizon with a glance of
defiance; he listened for sounds in the air. It was now nine o'clock;
the moon was beginning to cast its light upon the margin of the forest
and to illumine the little bluff on which they stood. The position
struck him as dangerous and he left it, fearful of being seen. But no
suspicious noise troubled the peace of the beautiful valley encircled
on this side by the forest of Nodesme. Marthe, exhausted and
trembling, was awaiting some explanation of their hurried ride. What
was she engaged in? Was she to aid in a good deed or an evil one? At
that instant Michu bent to his wife's ear and whispered:--
"Go the house and ask to speak to the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne; when you
see her beg her to speak to you alone. If no one can overhear you, say
to her: 'Mademoiselle, the lives of your two cousins are in danger,
and he who can explain the how and why is waiting to speak to you.' If
she seems afraid, if she distrusts you, add these words: 'They are
conspiring against the First Consul and the conspiracy is discovered.'
Don't give your name; they distrust us too much."
Marthe raised her face towards her husband and said:--
"Can it be that you serve them?"
"What if I do?" he said, frowning, taking her words as a reproach.
"You don't understand me," cried Marthe, seizing his large hand and
falling on her knees beside him as she kissed it and covered it with
"Go, go, you shall cry later," he said, kissing her vehemently.
When he no longer heard her step his eyes filled with tears. He had
distrusted Marthe on account of her father's opinions; he had hidden
the secrets of his life from her; but the beauty of her simple nature
had suddenly appeared to him, just as the grandeur of his had, as
suddenly, revealed itself to her. Marthe had passed in a moment from
the deep humiliation caused by the degradation of the man whose name
she bore, to the exaltation given by a sense of his nobleness. The
change was instantaneous, without transition; it was enough to make
her tremble. She told him later that she went, as it were, through
blood from the pavilion to the edge of the forest, and there was
lifted to heaven, in a moment, among the angels. Michu, who had known
he was not appreciated, and who mistook his wife's grieved and
melancholy manner for lack of affection, and had left her to herself,
living chiefly out of doors and reserving all his tenderness for his
boy, instantly understood the meaning of her tears. She had cursed the
part which her beauty and her father's will had forced her to take;
but now happiness, in the midst of this great storm, played, with a
beautiful flame like a vivid lightning about them. And it was
lightning! Each thought of the last ten years of misconception, and
they blamed themselves only. Michu stood motionless, his elbow on his
gun, his chin on his hand, lost in deep reverie. Such a moment in a
man's life makes him willing to accept the saddest moments of a
Marthe, agitated by the same thoughts as those of her husband, was
also troubled in heart by the danger of the Simeuse brothers; for she
now understood all, even the faces of the two Parisians, though she
still could not explain to herself her husband's gun. She darted
forward like a doe, and soon reached the road to the chateau. There
she was surprised by the steps of a man following behind her; she
turned, with a cry, and her husband's large hand closed her mouth.
"From the hill up there I saw the silver lace of the gendarmes' hats.
Go in by the breach in the moat between Mademoiselle's tower and the
stables. The dogs won't bark at you. Go through the garden and call
the countess by the window; order them to saddle her horse, and ask
her to come out through the breach. I'll be there, after discovering
what the Parisians are planning, and how to escape them."
Danger, which seemed to be rolling like an avalanche upon them, gave
wings to Marthe's feet.
LAURENCE DE CINQ-CYGNE
The old Frank name of the Cinq-Cygnes and the Chargeboeufs was
Duineff. Cinq-Cygne became that of the younger branch of the
Chargeboeufs after the defence of a castle made, during their father's
absence, by five daughters of that race, all remarkably fair, and of
whom no one expected such heroism. One of the first Comtes de
Champagne wished, by bestowing this pretty name, to perpetuate the
memory of their deed as long as the family existed. Laurence, the last
of her race, was, contrary to Salic law, heiress of the name, the
arms, and the manor. She was therefore Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne in her
own right; her husband would have to take both her name and her
blazon, which bore for device the glorious answer made by the elder of
the five sisters when summoned to surrender the castle, "We die
singing." Worthy descendant of these noble heroines, Laurence was fair
and lily-white as though nature had made her for a wager. The lines of
her blue veins could be seen through the delicate close texture of her
skin. Her beautiful golden hair harmonized delightfully with eyes of
the deepest blue. Everything about her belonged to the type of
delicacy. Within that fragile though active body, and in defiance as
it were of its pearly whiteness, lived a soul like that of a man of
noble nature; but no one, not even a close observer, would have
suspected it from the gentle countenance and rounded features which,
when seen in profile, bore some slight resemblance to those of a lamb.
This extreme gentleness, though noble, had something of the stupidity
of the little animal. "I look like a dreamy sheep," she would say,
smiling. Laurence, who talked little, seemed not so much dreamy as
dormant. But, did any important circumstance arise, the hidden Judith
was revealed, sublime; and circumstances had, unfortunately, not been
At thirteen years of age, Laurence, after the events already related,
was an orphan living in a house opposite to the empty space where so
recently had stood one of the most curious specimens in France of
sixteenth-century architecture, the hotel Cinq-Cygne. Monsieur
d'Hauteserre, her relation, now her guardian, took the young heiress
to live in the country at her chateau of Cinq-Cygne. That brave
provincial gentleman, alarmed at the death of his brother, the Abbe
d'Hauteserre, who was shot in the open square as he was about to
escape in the dress of a peasant, was not in a position to defend the
interests of his ward. He had two sons in the army of the princes, and
every day, at the slightest unusual sound, he believed that the
municipals of Arcis were coming to arrest him. Laurence, proud of
having sustained a siege and of possessing the historic whiteness of
her swan-like ancestors, despised the prudent cowardice of the old man
who bent to the storm, and dreamed only of distinguishing herself. So,
she boldly hung the portrait of Charlotte Corday on the walls of her
poor salon at Cinq-Cygne, and crowned it with oak-leaves. She
corresponded by messenger with her twin cousins, in defiance of the
law, which punished the act, when discovered, with death. The
messenger, who risked his life, brought back the answers. Laurence
lived only, after the catastrophes at Troyes, for the triumph of the
royal cause. After soberly judging Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre
(who lived with her at the chateau de Cinq-Cygne), and recognizing
their honest, but stolid natures, she put them outside the lines of
her own life. She had, moreover, too good a mind and too sound a
judgment to complain of their natures; always kind, amiable, and
affectionate towards them, she nevertheless told them none of her
secrets. Nothing forms a character so much as the practice of constant
concealment in the bosom of a family.
After she attained her majority Laurence allowed Monsieur d'Hauteserre
to manage her affairs as in the past. So long as her favorite mare was
well-groomed, her maid Catherine dressed to please her, and Gothard
the little page was suitably clothed, she cared for nothing else. Her
thoughts were aimed too high to come down to occupations and interests
which in other times than these would doubtless have pleased her.
Dress was a small matter to her mind; moreover her cousins were not
there to see her. She wore a dark-green habit when she rode, and a
gown of some common woollen stuff with a cape trimmed with braid when
she walked; in the house she was always seen in a silk wrapper.
Gothard, the little groom, a brave and clever lad of fifteen, attended
her wherever she went, and she was nearly always out of doors, riding
or hunting over the farms of Gondreville, without objection being made
by either Michu or the farmers. She rode admirably well, and her
cleverness in hunting was thought miraculous. In the country she was
never called anything but "Mademoiselle" even during the Revolution.
Whoever has read the fine romance of "Rob Roy" will remember that rare
woman for whose making Walter Scott's imagination abandoned its
customary coldness,--Diana Vernon. The recollection will serve to make
Laurence understood if, to the noble qualities of the Scottish
huntress you add the restrained exaltation of Charlotte Corday,
surpassing, however, the charming vivacity which rendered Diana so
attractive. The young countess had seen her mother die, the Abbe
d'Hauteserre shot down, the Marquis de Simeuse and his wife executed;
her only brother had died of his wounds; her two cousins serving in
Conde's army might be killed at any moment; and, finally, the fortunes
of the Simeuse and the Cinq-Cygne families had been seized and wasted
by the Republic without being of any benefit to the nation. Her grave
demeanor, now lapsing into apparent stolidity, can be readily
Monsieur d'Hauteserre proved an upright and most careful guardian.
Under his administration Cinq-Cygne became a sort of farm. The good
man, who was far more of a close manager than a knight of the old
nobility, had turned the park and gardens to profit, and used their
two hundred acres of grass and woodland as pasturage for horses and
fuel for the family. Thanks to his severe economy the countess, on
coming of age, had recovered by his investments in the State funds a
competent fortune. In 1798 she possessed about twenty thousand francs
a year from those sources, on which, in fact, some dividends were
still due, and twelve thousand francs a year from the rentals at Cinq-
Cygne, which had lately been renewed at a notable increase. Monsieur
and Madame d'Hauteserre had provided for their old age by the purchase
of an annuity of three thousand francs in the Tontines Lafarge. That
fragment of their former means did not enable them to live elsewhere
than at Cinq-Cygne, and Laurence's first act on coming to her majority
was to give them the use for life of the wing of the chateau which
The Hauteserres, as niggardly for their ward as they were for
themselves, laid up every year nearly the whole of their annuity for
the benefit of their sons, and kept the young heiress on miserable
fare. The whole cost of the Cinq-Cygne household never exceeded five
thousand francs a year. But Laurence, who condescended to no details,
was satisfied. Her guardian and his wife, unconsciously ruled by the
imperceptible influence of her strong character, which was felt even
in little things, had ended by admiring her whom they had known and
treated as a child,--a sufficiently rare feeling. But in her manner,
her deep voice, her commanding eye, Laurence held that inexplicable
power which rules all men,--even when its strength is mere appearance.
To vulgar minds real depth is incomprehensible; it is perhaps for that
reason that the populace is so prone to admire what it cannot
understand. Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, impressed by the
habitual silence and erratic habits of the young girl, were constantly
expecting some extraordinary thing of her.
Laurence, who did good intelligently and never allowed herself to be
deceived, was held in the utmost respect by the peasantry although she
was an aristocrat. Her sex, name, and great misfortunes, also the
originality of her present life, contributed to give her authority
over the inhabitants of the valley of Cinq-Cygne. She was sometimes
absent for two days, attended by Gothard, but neither Monsieur nor
Madame d'Hauteserre questioned her, on her return, as to the reasons
of her absence. Please observe, however, that there was nothing odd or
eccentric about Laurence. What she was and what she did was masked, as
it were, by a feminine and even fragile appearance. Her heart was full
of extreme sensibility, though her head contained a stoical firmness
and the virile gift of resolution. Her clear-seeing eyes knew not how
to weep; but no one would have imagined that the delicate white wrist
with its tracery of blue veins could defy that of the boldest
horseman. Her hand, so noble, so flexible, could handle gun or pistol
with the ease of a practised marksman. She always wore when out of
doors the coquettish little cap with visor and green veil which women
wear on horseback. Her delicate fair face, thus protected, and her
white throat tied with a black cravat, were never injured by her long
rides in all weathers.
Under the Directory and at the beginning of the Consulate, Laurence
had been able to escape the observation of others; but since the
government had become a more settled thing, the new authorities, the
prefect of the Aube, Malin's friends, and Malin himself had endeavored
to undermine her in the community. Her preoccupying thought was the
overthrow of Bonaparte, whose ambition and its triumphs excited the
anger of her soul,--a cold, deliberate anger. The obscure and hidden
enemy of a man at the pinnacle of glory, she kept her gaze upon him
from the depths of her valley and her forests, with relentless fixity;
there were times when she thought of killing him in the roads about
Malmaison or Saint-Cloud. Plans for the execution of this idea may
have been the cause of many of her past actions, but having been
initiated, after the peace of Amiens, into the conspiracy of the men
who expected to make the 18th Brumaire recoil upon the First Consul,
she had thenceforth subordinated her faculties and her hatred to their
vast and well laid scheme, which was to strike at Bonaparte externally
by the vast coalition of Russia, Austria, and Prussia (vanquished at
Austerlitz) and internally by the coalition of men politically opposed
to each other, but united by their common hatred of a man whose death
some of them were meditating, like Laurence herself, without shrinking
from the word assassination. This young girl, so fragile to the eye,
so powerful to those who knew her well, was at the present moment the
faithful guide and assistant of the exiled gentlemen who came from
England to take part in this deadly enterprise.
Fouche relied on the co-operation of the /emigres/ everywhere beyond
the Rhine to lure the Duc d'Enghien into the plot. The presence of
that prince in the Baden territory, not far from Strasburg, gave much
weight later to the accusation. The great question of whether the
prince really knew of the enterprise, and was waiting on the frontier
to enter France on its success, is one of those secrets about which,
as about several others, the house of Bourbon has maintained an
unbroken silence. As the history of that period recedes into the past,
impartial historians will declare the imprudence, to say the least, of
the Duc d'Enghien in placing himself close to the frontier at a time
when a vast conspiracy was about to break forth, the secret of which
was undoubtedly known to every member of the Bourbon family.
The caution which Malin displayed in talking with Grevin in the open
air, Laurence applied to her every action. She met the emissaries and
conferred with them either at various points in the Nodesme forest, or
beyond the valley of the Cinq-Cygne, between the villages of Sezanne
and Brienne. Often she rode forty miles on a stretch with Gothard, and
returned to Cinq-Cygne without the least sign of weariness or
pre-occupation on her fair young face.
Some years earlier, Laurence had seen in the eyes of a little cow-boy,
then nine years old, the artless admiration which children feel for
everything that is out of the common way. She made him her page, and
taught him to groom a horse with the nicety and care of an Englishman.
She saw in the lad a desire to do well, a bright intelligence, and a
total absence of sly motives; she tested his devotion and found he had
not only mind but nobility of character; he never dreamed of reward.
The young girl trained this soul that was still so young; she was good
to him, good with dignity; she attached him to her by attaching
herself to him, and by herself polishing a nature that was half wild,
without destroying its freshness or its simplicity. When she had
sufficiently tested the almost canine fidelity she had nurtured,
Gothard became her intelligent and ingenuous accomplice. The little
peasant, whom no one could suspect, went from Cinq-Cygne to Nancy, and
often returned before any one had missed him from the neighborhood. He
knew how to practise all the tricks of a spy. The extreme distrust and
caution his mistress had taught him did not change his natural self.
Gothard, who possessed all the craft of a woman, the candor of a
child, and the ceaseless observation of a conspirator, hid every one
of these admirable qualities beneath the torpor and dull ignorance of
a country lad. The little fellow had a silly, weak, and clumsy
appearance; but once at work he was active as a fish; he escaped like
an eel; he understood, as the dogs do, the merest glance; he nosed a
thought. His good fat face, both round and red, his sleepy brown eyes,
his hair, cut in the peasant fashion, his clothes, and his slow growth
gave him the appearance of a child of ten.
The two young d'Hauteserres and the twin brothers Simeuse, under the
guidance of their cousin Laurence, who had been watching over their
safety and that of the other /emigres/ who accompanied them from
Strasburg to Bar-sur-Aube, had just passed through Alsace and
Lorraine, and were now in Champagne while other conspirators, not less
bold, were entering France by the cliffs of Normandy. Dressed as
workmen the d'Hauteserres and the Simeuse twins had walked from forest
to forest, guided on their way by relays of persons, chosen by
Laurence during the last three months from among the least suspected
of the Bourbon adherents living in each neighborhood. The /emigres/
slept by day and travelled by night. Each brought with him two
faithful soldiers; one of whom went before to warn of danger, the
other behind to protect a retreat. Thanks to these military
precautions, this valuable detachment had at last reached, without
accident, the forest of Nodesme, which was chosen as the rendezvous.
Twenty-seven other gentlemen had entered France from Switzerland and
crossed Burgundy, guided towards Paris with the same caution.
Monsieur de Riviere counted on collecting five hundred men, one
hundred of whom were young nobles, the officers of this sacred legion.
Monsieur de Polignac and Monsieur de Riviere, whose conduct as chiefs
of this advance was most remarkable, afterwards preserved an
impenetrable secrecy as to the names of those of their accomplices who
were not discovered. It may be said, therefore, now that the
Restoration has made matters clearer, that Bonaparte never knew the
extent of the danger he then ran, any more than England knew the peril
she had escaped from the camp at Boulogne; and yet the police of
France was never more intelligently or ably managed.
At the period when this history begins, a coward--for cowards are
always to be found in conspiracies which are not confined to a small
number of equally strong men--a sworn confederate, brought face to
face with death, gave certain information, happily insufficient to
cover the extent of the conspiracy, but precise enough to show the
object of the enterprise. The police had therefore, as Malin told
Grevin, left the conspirators at liberty, though all the while
watching them, hoping to discover the ramifications of the plot.
Nevertheless, the government found its hand to a certain extent forced
by Georges Cadoudal, a man of action who took counsel of himself only,
and who was hiding in Paris with twenty-five /chouans/ for the purpose
of attacking the First Consul.
Laurence combined both hatred and love within her breast. To destroy
Bonaparte and bring back the Bourbons was to recover Gondreville and
make the fortune of her cousins. The two sentiments, one the
counterpart of the other, were sufficient, more especially at twenty-
three years of age, to excite all the faculties of her soul and all
the powers of her being. So, for the last two months, she had seemed
to the inhabitants of Cinq-Cygne more beautiful than at any other
period of her life. Her cheeks became rosy; hope gave pride to her
brow; but when old d'Hauteserre read the Gazette at night and
discussed the conservative course of the First Consul she lowered her
eyes to conceal her passionate hopes of the coming fall of that enemy
of the Bourbons.
No one at the chateau had the faintest idea that the young countess
had met her cousins the night before. The two sons of Monsieur and
Madame d'Hauteserre had passed the preceding night in Laurence's own
room, under the same roof with their father and mother; and Laurence,
after knowing them safely in bed had gone between one and two o'clock
in the morning to a rendezvous with her cousins in the forest, where
she hid them in the deserted hut of a wood-dealer's agent. The
following day, certain of seeing them again, she showed no signs of
her joy; nothing about her betrayed emotion; she was able to efface
all traces of pleasure at having met them again; in fact, she was
impassible. Catherine, her pretty maid, daughter of her former nurse,
and Gothard, both in the secret, modelled their behavior upon hers.
Catherine was nineteen years old. At that age a girl is a fanatic and
would let her throat be cut before betraying a thought of one she
loves. As for Gothard, merely to inhale the perfume which the countess
used in her hair and among her clothes he would have born the rack
without a word.
ROYALIST HOMES AND PORTRAITS UNDER THE CONSULATE
At the moment when Marthe, driven by the imminence of the peril, was
gliding with the rapidity of a shadow towards the breach of which
Michu had told her, the salon of the chateau of Cinq-Cygne presented a
peaceful sight. Its occupants were so far from suspecting the storm
that was about to burst upon them that their quiet aspect would have
roused the compassion of any one who knew their situation. In the
large fireplace, the mantel of which was adorned with a mirror with
shepherdesses in paniers painted on its frame, burned a fire such as
can be seen only in chateaus bordering on forests. At the corner of
this fireplace, on a large square sofa of gilded wood with a
magnificent brocaded cover, the young countess lay as it were
extended, in an attitude of utter weariness. Returning at six o'clock
from the confines of Brie, having played the part of scout to the four
gentlemen whom she guided safely to their last halting-place before
they entered Paris, she had found Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre
just finishing their dinner. Pressed by hunger she sat down to table
without changing either her muddy habit or her boots. Instead of doing
so at once after dinner, she was suddenly overcome with fatigue and
allowed her head with its beautiful fair curls to drop on the back of
the sofa, her feet being supported in front of her by a stool. The
warmth of the fire had dried the mud on her habit and on her boots.
Her doeskin gloves and the little peaked cap with its green veil and a
whip lay on the table where she had flung them. She looked sometimes
at the old Boule clock which stood on the mantelshelf between the
candelabra, perhaps to judge if her four conspirators were asleep, and
sometimes at the card-table in front of the fire where Monsieur and
Madame d'Hauteserre, the cure of Cinq-Cygne, and his sister were
playing a game of boston.
Even if these personages were not embedded in this drama, their
portraits would have the merit of representing one of the aspects of
the aristocracy after its overthrow in 1793. From this point of view,
a sketch of the salon at Cinq-Cygne has the raciness of history seen
Monsieur d'Hauteserre, then fifty-two years of age, tall, spare, high-
colored, and robust in health, would have seemed the embodiment of
vigor if it were not for a pair of porcelain blue eyes, the glance of
which denoted the most absolute simplicity. In his face, which ended
in a long pointed chin, there was, judging by the rules of design, an
unnatural distance between his nose and mouth which gave him a
submissive air, wholly in keeping with his character, which
harmonized, in fact, with other details of his appearance. His gray
hair, flattened by his hat, which he wore nearly all day, looked much
like a skull-cap on his head, and defined its pear-shaped outline. His
forehead, much wrinkled by life in the open air and by constant
anxieties, was flat and expressionless. His aquiline nose redeemed the
face somewhat; but the sole indication of any strength of character
lay in the bushy eyebrows which retained their blackness, and in the
brilliant coloring of his skin. These signs were in some respects not
misleading, for the worthy gentlemen, though simple and very gentle,
was Catholic and monarchical in faith, and no consideration on earth
could make him change his views. Nevertheless he would have let
himself be arrested without an effort at defence, and would have gone
to the scaffold quietly. His annuity of three thousand francs kept him
from emigrating. He therefore obeyed the government /de facto/ without
ceasing to love the royal family and to pray for their return, though
he would firmly have refused to compromise himself by any effort in
their favor. He belonged to that class of royalists who ceaselessly
remembered that they were beaten and robbed; and who remained
thenceforth dumb, economical, rancorous, without energy; incapable of
abjuring the past, but equally incapable of sacrifice; waiting to
greet triumphant royalty; true to religion and true to the priesthood,
but firmly resolved to bear in silence the shocks of fate. Such an
attitude cannot be considered that of maintaining opinions, it becomes
sheer obstinacy. Action is the essence of party. Without intelligence,
but loyal, miserly as a peasant yet noble in demeanor, bold in his
wishes but discreet in word and action, turning all things to profit,
willing even to be made mayor of Cinq-Cygne, Monsieur d'Hauteserre was
an admirable representative of those honorable gentlemen on whose brow
God Himself has written the word /mites/,--Frenchmen who burrowed in
their country homes and let the storms of the Revolution pass above
their heads; who came once more to the surface under the Restoration,
rich with their hidden savings, proud of their discreet attachment to
the monarchy, and who, after 1830, recovered their estates.
Monsieur d'Hauteserre's costume, expressive envelope of his
distinctive character, described to the eye both the man and his
period. He always wore one of those nut-colored great-coats with small
collars which the Duc d'Orleans made the fashion after his return from
England, and which were, during the Revolution, a sort of compromise
between the hideous popular garments and the elegant surtouts of the
aristocracy. His velvet waistcoat with flowered stripes, the style of
which recalled those of Robespierre and Saint-Just, showed the upper
part of a shirt-frill in fine plaits. He still wore breeches; but his
were of coarse blue cloth, with burnished steel buckles. His stockings
of black spun-silk defined his deer-like legs, the feet of which were
shod in thick shoes, held in place by gaiters of black cloth. He
retained the former fashion of a muslin cravat in innumerable folds
fastened by a gold buckle at the throat. The worthy man had not
intended an act of political eclecticism in adopting this costume,
which combined the styles of peasant, revolutionist, and aristocrat;
he simply and innocently obeyed the dictates of circumstances.
Madame d'Hauteserre, forty years of age and wasted by emotions, had a
faded face which seemed to be always posing for its portrait. A lace
cap, trimmed with bows of white satin, contributed singularly to give
her a solemn air. She still wore powder, in spite of a white kerchief,
and a gown of puce-colored silk with tight sleeves and full skirt, the
sad last garments of Marie-Antoinette. Her nose was pinched, her chin
sharp, the whole face nearly triangular, the eyes worn-out with
weeping; but she now wore a touch of rouge which brightened their
grayness. She took snuff, and each time that she did so she employed
all the pretty precautions of the fashionable women of her early days;
the details of this snuff-taking constituted a ceremony which could be
explained by one fact--she had very pretty hands.
For the last two years the former tutor of the Simeuse twins, a friend
of the late Abbe d'Hauteserre, named Goujet, Abbe des Minimes, had
taken charge of the parish of Cinq-Cygne out of friendship for the
d'Hauteserres and the young countess. His sister, Mademoiselle Goujet,
who possessed a little income of seven hundred francs, added that sum
to the meagre salary of her brother and kept his house. Neither church
nor parsonage had been sold during the Revolution on account of their
small value. The abbe and his sister lived close to the chateau, for
the wall of the parsonage garden and that of the park were the same in
places. Twice a week the pair dined at the chateau, but they came
every evening to play boston with the d'Hauteserres; for Laurence,
unable to play a game, did not even know one card from another.
The Abbe Goujet, an old man with white hair and a face as white as
that of an old woman, endowed with a kindly smile and a gentle and
persuasive voice, redeemed the insipidity of his rather mincing face
by a fine intellectual brow and a pair of keen eyes. Of medium height,
and very well made, he still wore the old-fashioned black coat, silver
shoe-buckles, breeches, black silk stockings, and a black waistcoat on
which lay his clerical bands, giving him a distinguished air which
detracted nothing from his dignity. This abbe, who became bishop of
Troyes after the Restoration, had long made a study of young people
and fully understood the noble character of the young countess; he
appreciated her at her full value, and had shown her, from the first,
a respectful deference which contributed much to her independence at
Cinq-Cygne, for it led the austere old lady and the kind old gentleman
to yield to the young girl, who by rights should have yielded to them.
For the last six months the abbe had watched Laurence with the
intuition peculiar to priests, the most sagacious of men; and although
he did not know that this girl of twenty-three was thinking of
overturning Bonaparte as she lay there twisting with slender fingers
the frogged lacing of her riding-habit, he was well aware that she was
agitated by some great project.
Mademoiselle Goujet was one of those unmarried women whose portrait
can be drawn in one word which will enable the least imaginative mind
to picture her; she was ungainly. She knew her own ugliness and was
the first to laugh at it, showing her long teeth, yellow as her
complexion and her bony hands. She was gay and hearty. She wore the
famous short gown of former days, a very full skirt with pockets full
of keys, a cap with ribbons and a false front. She was forty years of
age very early, but had, so she said, caught up with herself by
keeping at that age for twenty years. She revered the nobility; and
knew well how to preserve her own dignity by giving to persons of
noble birth the respect and deference that were due to them.
This little company was a god-send to Madame d'Hauteserre, who had
not, like her husband, rural occupations, nor, like Laurence, the
tonic of hatred, to enable her to bear the dulness of a retired life.
Many things had happened to ameliorate that life within the last six
years. The restoration of Catholic worship allowed the faithful to
fulfil their religious duties, which play more of a part in country
life than elsewhere. Protected by the conservative edicts of the First
Consul, Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre had been able to correspond
with their sons, and no longer in dread of what might happen to them
could even hope for the erasure of their names from the lists of the
proscribed and their consequent return to France. The Treasury had
lately made up the arrearages and now paid its dividends promptly; so
that the d'Hauteserres received, over and above their annuity, about
eight thousand francs a year. The old man congratulated himself on the
sagacity of his foresight in having put all his savings, amounting to
twenty thousand francs, together with those of his ward, in the public
Funds before the 18th Brumaire, which, as we all know, sent those
stocks up from twelve to eighteen francs.
The chateau of Cinq-Cygne had long been empty and denuded of
furniture. The prudent guardian was careful not to alter its aspect
during the revolutionary troubles; but after the peace of Amiens he
made a journey to Troyes and brought back various relics of the
pillaged mansions which he obtained from the dealers in second-hand
furniture. The salon was furnished for the first time since their
occupation of the house. Handsome curtains of white brocade with green
flowers, from the hotel de Simeuse, draped the six windows of the
salon, in which the family were now assembled. The walls of this vast
room were entirely of wood, with panels encased in beaded mouldings
with masks at the angles; the whole painted in two shades of gray. The
spaces over the four doors were filled with those designs, painted in
cameo of two colors, which were so much in vogue under Louis XV.
Monsieur d'Hauteserre had picked up at Troyes certain gilded pier-
tables, a sofa in green damask, a crystal chandelier, a card-table of
marquetry, among other things that served him to restore the chateau.
In 1792 all the furniture of the house had been taken or destroyed,
for the pillage of the mansions in town was imitated in the valley.
Each time that the old man went to Troyes he returned with some relic
of the former splendor, sometimes a fine carpet for the floor of the
salon, at other times part of a dinner service, or a bit of rare old
porcelain of either Sevres or Dresden. During the last six months he
had ventured to dig up the family silver, which the cook had buried in
the cellar of a little house belonging to him at the end of one of the
long faubourgs in Troyes.
That faithful servant, named Durieu, and his wife had followed the
fortunes of their young mistress. Durieu was the factotum of the
chateau, and his wife was the housekeeper. He was helped in the
cooking by the sister of Catherine, Laurence's maid, to whom he was
teaching his art and who gave promise of becoming an excellent cook.
An old gardener, his wife, a son paid by the day, and a daughter who
served as a dairy-woman, made up the household. Madame Durieu had
lately and secretly had the Cinq-Cygne liveries made for the
gardener's son and for Gothard. Though blamed for this imprudence by
Monsieur d'Hauteserre, the housekeeper took great pleasure in seeing
the dinner served on the festival of Saint-Laurence, the countess's
fete-day, with almost as much style as in former times.
This slow and difficult restoration of departed things was the delight
of Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and the Durieus. Laurence smiled
at what she thought nonsense. But the worthy old d'Hauteserre did not
forget the more solid matters; he repaired the buildings, put up the
walls, planted trees wherever there was a chance to make them grow,
and did not leave an inch of unproductive land. The whole valley
regarded him as an oracle in the matter of agriculture. He had managed
to recover a hundred acres of contested land, not sold as national
property, being in some way confounded with that of the township. This
land he had turned into fields which afforded good pasturage for his
horses and cattle, and he planted them round with poplars, which now,
at the end of six years, were making a fine growth. He intended to buy
back some of the lost estate, and to utilize all the out-buildings of
the chateau by making a second farm and managing it himself.
Life at the chateau had thus become during the last two years
prosperous and almost happy. Monsieur d'Hauteserre was off at
daybreaks to overlook his laborers, for he employed them in all
weathers. He came home to breakfast, mounted his farm pony as soon as
the meal was over, and made his rounds of the estate like a bailiff,--
getting home in time for dinner, and finishing the day with a game of
boston. All the inhabitants of the chateau had their stated
occupations; life was as closely regulated there as in a convent.
Laurence alone disturbed its even tenor by her sudden journeys, her
uncertain returns, and by what Madame d'Hauteserre called her pranks.
But with all this peacefulness there existed at Cinq-Cygne conflicting
interests and certain causes of dissension. In the first place Durieu
and his wife were jealous of Catherine and Gothard, who lived in
greater intimacy with their young mistress, the idol of the household,
than they did. Then the two d'Hauteserres, encouraged by Mademoiselle
Goujet and the abbe, wanted their sons as well as the Simeuse brothers
to take the oath and return to this quiet life, instead of living
miserably in foreign countries. Laurence scouted the odious compromise