Part 3 out of 3
make some conquests."
The lawyer returned: Derues was made to pass before him, to sit at a
table, sign a paper, in fact to repeat everything it was imagined he
might have said or done in the lawyer's office. This second attempt
at identification succeeded no better than the first. The lawyer
hesitated; then, understanding all the importance of his deposition,
he refused to swear to anything, and finally declared that this was
not the person who had come to him at Lyons.
"I am sorry, sir," said Derues, as they removed him, "that you should
have been troubled by having to witness this absurd comedy. Do not
blame me for it; but ask Heaven to enlighten those who do not fear to
accuse me. As for me, knowing that my innocence will shortly be made
clear, I pardon them henceforth."
Although justice at this period was generally expeditious, and the
lives of accused persons were by no means safe-guarded as they now
are, it was impossible to condemn Derues in the absence of any
positive proofs of guilt. He knew this, and waited patiently in his
prison for the moment when he should triumph over the capital
accusation which weighed against him. The storm no longer thundered
over his head, the most terrible trials were passed, the examinations
became less frequent, and there were no more surprises to dread. The
lamentations of Monsieur de Lamotte went to the hearts of the
magistrates, but his certainty could not establish theirs, and they
pitied, but could not avenge him. In certain minds a sort of
reaction favourable to the prisoner began to set in. Among the dupes
of Derues' seeming piety, many who at first held their peace under
these crushing accusations returned to their former opinion. The
bigots and devotees, all who made a profession of kneeling in the
churches, of publicly crossing themselves and dipping their fingers
in the holy water, and who lived on cant and repetitions of "Amen"
and "Alleluia," talked of persecution, of martyrdom, until Derues
nearly became a saint destined by the Almighty to find canonisation
in a dungeon. Hence arose quarrels and arguments; and this abortive
trial, this unproved accusation, kept the public imagination in a
To the greater part of those who talk of the "Supreme Being," and who
expect His intervention in human affairs, "Providence" is only a
word, solemn and sonorous, a sort of theatrical machine which sets
all right in the end, and which they glorify with a few banalities
proceeding from the lips, but not from the heart. It is true that
this unknown and mysterious Cause which we call "God" or "Chance"
often appears so exceedingly blind and deaf that one may be permitted
to wonder whether certain crimes are really set apart for punishment,
when so many others apparently go scot-free. How many murders remain
buried in the night of the tomb! how many outrageous and avowed
crimes have slept peacefully in an insolent and audacious prosperity!
We know the names of many criminals, but who can tell the number of
unknown and forgotten victims? The history of humanity is twofold,
and like that of the invisible world, which contains marvels
unexplored by the science of the visible one, the history recounted
in books is by no means the most curious and strange. But without
delaying over questions such as these, without protesting here
against sophistries which cloud the conscience and hide the presence
of an avenging Deity, we leave the facts to the general judgment, and
have now to relate the last episode in this long and terrible drama.
Of all the populous quarters of Paris which commented on the "affaire
Derues," none showed more excitement than that of the Greve, and
amongst all the surrounding streets none could boast more numerous
crowds than the rue de la Mortellerie. Not that a secret instinct
magnetised the crowd in the very place where the proof lay buried,
but that each day its attention was aroused by a painful spectacle.
A pale and grief-stricken man, whose eyes seemed quenched in tears,
passed often down the street, hardly able to drag himself along; it
was Monsieur de Lamotte, who lodged, as we have said, in the rue de
la Mortellerie, and who seemed like a spectre wandering round a tomb.
The crowd made way and uncovered before him, everybody respected such
terrible misfortune, and when he had passed, the groups formed up
again, and continued discussing the mystery until nightfall.
On April 17th, about four in the afternoon, a score of workmen and
gossiping women had collected in front of a shop. A stout woman,
standing on the lowest step, like an orator in the tribune, held
forth and related for the twentieth time what she knew, or rather,
did not know. There were listening ears and gaping mouths, even a
slight shudder ran through the group; for the widow Masson,
discovering a gift of eloquence at the age of sixty, contrived to
mingle great warmth and much indignation in her recital. All at once
silence fell on the crowd, and a passage was made for Monsieur de
Lamotte. One man ventured to ask--
"Is there anything fresh to-day?"
A sad shake of the head was the only answer, and the unhappy man
continued his way.
"Is that Monsieur de Lamotte?" inquired a particularly dirty woman,
whose cap, stuck on the side of her, head, allowed locks of grey hair
to straggle from under it. "Ah! is that Monsieur de Lamotte?"
"Dear me!" said a neighbour, "don't you know him by this time? He
passes every day."
"Excuse me! I don't belong to this quarter, and--no offence--but it
is not so beautiful as to bring one out of curiosity! Nothing
personal--but it is rather dirty."
Madame is probably accustomed to use a carriage."
"That would suit you better than me, my dear, and would save your
having to buy shoes to keep your feet off the ground!"
The crowd seemed inclined to hustle the speaker,--
"Wait a moment!" she continued, "I didn't mean to offend anyone. I
am a poor woman, but there's no disgrace in that, and I can afford a
glass of liqueur. Eh, good gossip, you understand, don't you? A
drop of the best for Mother Maniffret, and if my fine friend there
will drink with me to settle our difference, I will stand her a
The example set by the old hawker was contagious, and instead of
filling two little glasses only, widow Masson dispensed a bottleful.
"Come, you have done well," cried Mother Maniffret; "my idea has
brought you luck."
"Faith! not before it was wanted, either!"
"What! are you complaining of trade too?"
"Ah! don't mention it; it is miserable!"
"There's no trade at all. I scream myself hoarse all day, and choke
myself for twopence halfpenny. I don't know what's to come of it
all. But you seem to have a nice little custom."
"What's the good of that, with a whole house on one's hands? It's
just my luck; the old tenants go, and the new ones don't come."
"What's the matter, then?"
"I think the devil's in it. There was a nice man on the first
floor-gone; a decent family on the third, all right except that the
man beat his wife every night, and made such a row that no one could
sleep--gone also. I put up notices--no one even looks at them! A
few months ago--it was the middle of December, the day of the last
"The 15th, then," said the hawker. "I cried it, so I know; it's my
"Very well, then, the 15th," resumed widow Masson. "On that day,
then, I let the cellar to a man who said he was a wine merchant, and
who paid a term in advance, seeing that I didn't know him, and
wouldn't have lent him a farthing on the strength of his good looks.
He was a little bit of a man, no taller than that,"--contemptuously
holding out her hand,--"and he had two round eyes which I didn't like
at, all. He certainly paid, he did that, but we are more than half
through the second term and I have no news of my tenant."
"And have you never seen him since?"
"Yes, once--no, twice. Let's see--three times, I am sure. He came
with a hand-cart and a commissionaire, and had a big chest taken
downstairs--a case which he said contained wine in bottles....
"No, he came before that, with a workman I think.
"Really, I don't know if it was before or after--doesn't matter.
Anyhow, it was bottled wine. The third time he brought a mason, and
I am sure they quarreled. I heard their voices. He carried off the
key, and I have seen neither him nor his wine again. I have another
key, and I went down one day; perhaps the rats have drunk the wine
and eaten the chest, for there certainly is nothing there any more
than there is in my hand now. Nevertheless, I saw what I saw. A big
chest, very big, quite new, and corded all round with strong rope."
"Now, what day was that? "asked the hawker.
"What day? Well, it was--no, I can't remember."
"Nor I either; I am getting stupid. Let's have another little
glass-shall we? just to clear our memories!"
The expedient was not crowned with success, the memories failed to
recover themselves. The crowd waited, attentive, as may be supposed.
Suddenly the hawker exclaimed:
"What a fool I am! I am going to find that, if only I have still got
She felt eagerly in the pocket of her underskirt, and produced
several pieces of dirty, crumpled paper. As she unfolded one after
another, she asked:
"A big chest, wasn't it?"
"Yes, very big."
"And quite new?"
"Yes, I can see it now."
"So can I, good gracious! It was the day when I sold the history of
Leroi de Valines, the 1st of February."
"Yes, it was a Saturday; the next day was Sunday."
"That's it, that's it!--Saturday, February 1st. Well, I know that
chest too! I met your wine merchant on the Place du Louvre, and he
wasn't precisely enjoying himself: one of his creditors wanted to
seize the chest, the wine, the whole kettle of fish! A little man,
isn't he?--a scarecrow?"
"And has red hair?"
"That's the man."
"And looks a hypocrite?"
"You've hit it exactly."
"And he is a hypocrite! enough to make one shudder! No doubt he
can't pay his rent! A thief, my dears, a beggarly thief, who set
fire to his own cellar, and who accused me of trying to steal from
him, while it was he who cheated me, the villain, out of a piece of
twenty-four sous. It's lucky I turned up here! Well, well, we shall
have some fun! Here's another little business on your hands, and you
will have to say where that wine has got to, my dear gossip Derues."
"Derues!" cried twenty voices all at once.
"What! Derues who is in Prison?"
"Why, that's Monsieur de Lamotte's man."
"The man who killed Madame de Lamotte?"
"The man who made away with her son?"
"A scoundrel, my dears, who accused me of stealing, an absolute
"It is just a little unfortunate," said widow Masson, "that it isn't
the man. My tenant calls himself Ducoudray. There's his name on the
"Confound it, that doesn't look like it at all," said the hawker:
"now that's a bore! Oh yes, I have a grudge against that thief, who
accused me of stealing. I told him I should sell his history some
day. When that happens, I'll treat you all round."
As a foretaste of the fulfilment of this promise, the company
disposed of a second bottle of liqueur, and, becoming excited, they
chattered at random for some time, but at length slowly dispersed,
and the street relapsed into the silence of night. But, a few hours
later, the inhabitants were surprised to see the two ends occupied by
unknown people, while other sinister-looking persons patrolled it all
night, as if keeping guard. The next morning a carriage escorted by
police stopped at the widow Masson's door. An officer of police got
out and entered a neighbouring house, whence he emerged a quarter of
an hour later with Monsieur de Lamotte leaning on his arm. The
officer demanded the key of the cellar which last December had been
hired from the widow Masson by a person named Ducoudray, and went
down to it with Monsieur de Lamotte and one of his subordinates.
The carriage standing at the door, the presence of the commissioner
Mutel, the chatter of the previous evening, had naturally roused
everybody's imagination. But this excitement had to be kept for home
use: the whole street was under arrest, and its inhabitants were
forbidden to leave their houses. The windows, crammed with anxious
faces, questioning each other, in the expectation of something
wonderful, were a curious sight; and the ignorance in which they
remained, these mysterious preparations, these orders silently
executed, doubled the curiosity, and added a sort of terror: no one
could see the persons who had accompanied the police officer; three
men remained in the carriage, one guarded by the two others. When
the heavy coach turned into the rue de la Mortellerie, this man had
bent towards the closed window and asked--
"Where are we?"
And when they answered him, he said--
"I do not know this street; I was never in it."
After saying this quite quietly, he asked--
"Why am I brought here?"
As no one replied, he resumed his look of indifference, and betrayed
no emotion, neither when the carriage stopped nor when he saw
Monsieur de Lamotte enter the widow Masson's house.
The officer reappeared on the threshold, and ordered Derues to be
The previous evening, detectives, mingling with the crowd, had
listened to the hawker's story of having met Derues near the Louvre
escorting a large chest. The police magistrate was informed in the
course of the evening. It was an indication, a ray of light, perhaps
the actual truth, detached from obscurity by chance gossip; and
measures were instantly taken to prevent anyone either entering or
leaving the street without being followed and examined. Mutel
thought he was on the track, but the criminal might have accomplices
also on the watch, who, warned in time, might be able to remove the
proofs of the crime, if any existed.
Derues was placed between two men who each held an arm. A third went
before, holding a torch. The commissioner, followed by men also
carrying torches, and provided with spades and pickaxes, came behind,
and in this order they descended to the vault. It was a dismal and
terrifying procession; anyone beholding these dark and sad
countenances, this pale and resigned man, passing thus into these
damp vaults illuminated by the flickering glare of torches, might
well have thought himself the victim of illusion and watching some
gloomy execution in a dream. But all was real and when light
penetrated this dismal charnel-house it seemed at once to illuminate
its secret depths, so that the light of truth might at length
penetrate these dark shadows, and that the voice of the dead would
speak from the earth and the walls.
"Wretch!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte, when he saw Derues appear,
"is it here that you murdered my wife and my son?"
Derues looked calmly at him, and replied--
"I beg you, sir, not to add insult to the misfortunes you have
already caused. If you stood in my place and I were in yours, I
should feel some pity and respect for so terrible a position. What
do you want me? and why am I brought here?"
He did not know the events of last evening, and could only mentally
accuse the mason who had helped to bury the chest. He felt that he
was lost, but his audacity never forsook him.
"You are here, in the first place, to be confronted with this woman,"
said the officer, causing the widow Masson to stand opposite to him.
"I do not know her."
"But I know you, and know you well. It was you who hired this cellar
under the name of Ducoudray."
Derues shrugged his shoulders and answered bitterly--
"I can understand a man being condemned to the torture if he is
guilty, but that in order to accomplish one's mission as accuser, and
to discover a criminal, false witnesses who can give no evidence
should be brought a hundred leagues, that the rabble should be roused
up, that divers faces and imaginary names should be bestowed on an
innocent man, in order to turn a movement of surprise or an indignant
gesture to his disadvantage, all this is iniquitous, and goes beyond
the right of judgment bestowed upon men by God. I do not know this
woman, and no matter what she says or does, I shall say no more."
Neither the skill nor threats of the police officer could shake this
resolution. It was to no purpose that the widow Masson repeated and
asseverated that she recognised him as her tenant Ducoudray, and that
he had had a large case of wine taken down into the cellar; Derues
folded his arms, and remained as motionless as if he had been blind
The walls were sounded, the stones composing them carefully examined,
the floor pierced in several places, but nothing unusual was
Would they have to give it up? Already the officer was making signs
to this effect, when the man who had remained at first below with
Monsieur de Lamotte, and who, standing in shadow, had carefully
watched Derues when he was brought down, came forward, and pointing
to the recess under the stairs, said--
"Examine this corner. The prisoner glanced involuntarily in this
direction when he came down; I have watched him, and it is the only
sign he has given. I was the only person who could see him, and he
did not see me. He is very clever, but one can't be for ever on
one's guard, and may the devil take me if I haven't scented the
"Wretch!" said Derues to himself, "then you have had your hand on me
for a whole hour, and amused yourself by prolonging my agony! Oh! I
ought to have known it; I have found my master. Never mind, you
shall learn nothing from my face, nor yet from the decaying body you
will find; worms and poison can only have left an unrecognisable
An iron rod sunk into the ground, encountered a hard substance some
four feet below. Two men set to work, and dug with energy. Every
eye was fixed upon this trench increasing in depth with every
shovelful of earth which the two labourers cast aside. Monsieur de
Lamotte was nearly fainting, and his emotion impressed everyone
except Derues. At length the silence was broken by the spades
striking heavily on wood, and the noise made everyone shudder. The
chest was uncovered and hoisted out of the trench; it was opened, and
the body of a woman was seen, clad only in a chemise, with a red and
white headband, face downwards. The body was turned over, and
Monsieur de Lamotte recognised his wife, not yet disfigured.
The feeling of horror was so great that no one spoke or uttered a
sound. Derues, occupied in considering the few chances which
remained to him, had not observed that, by the officer's order, one
of the guards had left the cellar before the men began to dig.
Everybody had drawn back both from the corpse and the murderer, who
alone had not moved, and who was repeating prayers. The flame of the
torches placed on the ground cast a reddish light on this silent and
Derues started and turned round on hearing a terrified cry behind
him. His wife had just been brought to the cellar. The commissioner
seized her with one hand, and taking a torch in the other, compelled
her to look down on the body.
"It is Madame de Lamotte!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, yes," she answered, overwhelmed with terror,--" yes, I
Unable to support the sight any longer, she grew pale and fainted
away. She and her husband were removed separately. One would have
supposed the discovery was already known outside, for the people
showered curses and cries of "Assassin!" and "Poisoner!" on the
carriage which conveyed Derues. He remained silent during the drive,
but before re-entering his dungeon, he said--
"I must have been mad when I sought to hide the death and burial of
Madame de Lamotte from public knowledge. It is the only sin I have
committed, and, innocent of aught else, I resign myself as a
Christian to the judgment of God."
It was the only line of defence which remained open to him, and he
clung to it, with the hope of imposing on the magistrates by
redoubled hypocrisy and pious observances. But all this laboriously
constructed scaffolding of lies was shaken to its base and fell away
piece by piece. Every moment brought fresh and overwhelming
revelations. He professed that Madame de Lamotte had died suddenly
in his house, and that, fearing suspicion, he had buried her
secretly. But the doctors called on to examine the body declared
that she had been poisoned with corrosive sublimate and opium. The
pretended payment was clearly an odious imposture, the receipt a
forgery! Then, like a threatening spectre, arose another question,
to which he found no reply, and his own invention turned against him.
Why, knowing his mother was no more, had he taken young de Lamotte to
Versailles? What had become of the youth? What had befallen, him?
Once on the track, the cooper with whom he had lodged on the 12th of
February was soon discovered, and an Act of Parliament ordered the
exhumation of the corpse buried under the name of Beaupre, which the
cooper identified by a shirt which he had given for the burial.
Derues, confounded by the evidence, asserted that the youth died of
indigestion and venereal disease. But the doctors again declared the
presence of corrosive sublimate and opium. All this evidence of
guilt he met with assumed resignation, lamenting incessantly for
Edouard, whom he declared he had loved as his own son. "Alas!" he
said, "I see that poor boy every night! But it softens my grief to
know that he was not deprived of the last consolations of religion!
God, who sees me, and who knows my innocence, will enlighten the
magistrates, and my honour will be vindicated."
The evidence being complete, Derues was condemned by sentence of the
Chatelet, pronounced April 30th, and confirmed by Parliament, May
5th. We give the decree as it is found in the archives:
"This Court having considered the trial held before the Provost of
Paris, or his Deputy-Lieutenant at the Chatelet, for the satisfaction
of the aforesaid Deputy at the aforesaid Chatelet, at the request of
the Deputy of the King's Attorney General at the aforesaid Court,
summoner and plaintiff, against Antoine-Francois Derues, and
Marie-Louise Nicolais, his wife, defendants and accused, prisoners in
the prisons of the Conciergerie of the Palace at Paris, who have
appealed from the sentence given at the aforesaid trial, the
thirtieth day of April 1777, by which the aforesaid Antoine-Francois
Derues has been declared duly attainted and convicted of attempting
unlawfully to appropriate without payment, the estate of Buissony
Souef, belonging to the Sieur and Dame de Saint Faust de Lamotte,
from whom he had bought the said estate by private contract on the
twenty-second day of December 1775, and also of having unworthily
abused the hospitality shown by him since the sixteenth day of
December last towards the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, who arrived in
Paris on the aforesaid day in order to conclude with him the bargain
agreed on in December 1775, and who, for this purpose, and at his
request, lodged with her son in the house of the said Derues, who of
premeditated design poisoned the said Dame de Lamotte, whether by a
medicine composed and prepared by him on the thirtieth day of January
last, or by the beverages and drinks administered by him after the
aforesaid medicine (he having taken the precaution to send his
servant into the country for two or three days), and to keep away
strangers from the room where the said Dame de Lamotte was lying),
from the effects of which poison the said Dame de Lamotte died on the
night of the said thirty-first day of January last; also of having
kept her demise secret, and of having himself enclosed in a chest the
body of the said Dame de Lamotte, which he then caused to be secretly
transported to a cellar in the rue de la Mortellerie hired by him for
this purpose, under the assumed name of Ducoudray, wherein he buried
it himself, or caused it to be buried; also of having persuaded the
son of the above Dame de Lamotte (who, with his mother, had lodged in
his house from the time of their arrival in Paris until the fifteenth
day of January, last,--and who had then been placed in a school that
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte was at Versailles and desired him to
join her there, and, under this pretence, of having conducted the
said younger Sieur de Lamotte, the twelfth day of February (after
having given him some chocolate), to the aforesaid town of
Versailles, to a lodging hired at a cooper's, and of having there
wilfully poisoned him, either in the chocolate taken by the said
younger Sieur de Lamotte before starting, or in beverages and
medicaments which the said Derues himself prepared, mixed, and
administered to the aforesaid Sieur de Lamotte the younger, during
the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth days of February
last, having kept him lying ill in the aforesaid hired room, and
having refused to call in physicians or surgeons, notwithstanding the
progress of the malady, and the representations made to him on the
subject, saying that he himself was a physician and surgeon; from
which poison the said Sieur de Lamotte the younger died on the
fifteenth day of February last, at nine o'clock in the evening, in
the arms of the aforesaid Derues, who, affecting the deepest grief,
and shedding tears, actually exhorted the aforesaid Sieur de Lamotte
to confession, and repeated the prayers for the dying; after which he
himself laid out the body for burial, saying that the deceased had
begged him to do so, and telling the people of the house that he had
died of venereal disease; also of having caused him to be buried the
next day in the churchyard of the parish church of Saint Louis at the
aforesaid Versailles, and of having entered the deceased in the
register of the said parish under a false birthplace, and the false
name of Beaupre, which name the said Derues had himself assumed on
arriving at the said lodging, and had given to the said Sieur de
Lamotte the younger, whom he declared to be his nephew. Also, to
cover these atrocities, and in order to appropriate to himself the
aforesaid estate of Buisson-Souef, he is convicted of having
calumniated the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, and of having used various
manoeuvres and practised several deceptions, to wit--
"First, in signing, or causing to be signed, the names of the above
Dame de Lamotte to a deed of private contract between the said Derues
and his wife on one side and the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte by right
of a power of attorney given by her husband on the other (the which
deed is dated the twelfth day of February, and was therefore written
after the decease of the said Dame de Lamotte); by which deed the
said Dame de Lamotte appears to change the previous conventions
agreed on in the first deed of the twenty-second of December in the
year 1775, and acknowledges receipt from the said Derues of a sum of
one hundred thousand livres, as being the price of the estate of
"Secondly, in signing before a notary, the ninth day of February
last, a feigned acknowledgment for a third part of a hundred thousand
livres, in order to give credence to the pretended payment made by
"Thirdly, in announcing and publishing, and attesting even by oath at
the time of an examination before the commissioner Mutel, that he had
really paid in cash to the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte the aforesaid
hundred thousand livres, and that she, being provided with this
money, had fled with her son and a certain person unknown;
"Fourthly, in depositing with a notary the deed of private contract
bearing the pretended receipt for the above sum of one hundred
thousand livres, end pursuing at law the execution of this deed and
of his claim to the possession of the said estate;
"Fifthly, in signing or causing to be signed by another person,
before the notaries of the town of Lyons, whither he had gone for
this purpose, a deed dated the twelfth day of March, by which the
supposed Dame de Lamotte appeared to accept the payment of the
hundred thousand livres, and to give authority to the Sieur de
Lamotte, her husband, to receive the arrears of the remainder of the
price of the said estate, the which deed he produced as a proof of
the existence of the said Dame de Lamotte;
"Sixthly, in causing to be sent, by other hands, under the name of
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, to a lawyer, on the eighth day o f
April 1777 (at a time when he was in prison, and had been compelled
to abandon the fable that he had paid the aforesaid sum of one
hundred thousand livres in hard cash, and had substituted a pretended
payment made in notes), the notes pretended to have been given by him
in payment to the said Dame de Lamotte
"Seventh, and finally, in maintaining constantly, until the discovery
of the body of the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, that the said Dame was
still alive, and that he had seen her at the town of Lyons, as has
been stated above.
"In atonement has been condemned, etc. etc. etc.
"His goods are hereby declared acquired and confiscated to the King,
or to whomsoever His Majesty shall appoint, first deducting the sum
of two hundred livres as fine for the King, in case the confiscation
is not to the sole profit of His Majesty; and also the sum of six
hundred livres for masses to be said for the repose of the souls of
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte and her son. And, before being
executed, the said Antoine-Francois Derues shall suffer the question
ordinary and extraordinary, in order that from his mouth may be
learned the truth of these facts, and also the names of his
accomplices. And the decision of the judges in the proceedings with
regard to the above-mentioned Marie-Louise Nicolais, wife of Derues,
is delayed until after the execution of the above sentence. It is
also decreed that the mortuary act of the aforesaid de Lamotte the
younger, dated the sixteenth day of February last, in the register of
deaths belonging to the parish church of Saint-Louis at Versailles,
be amended, and his correct names be substituted, in order that the
said Sieur de Lamotte, the father, and other persons interested, may
produce said names before the magistrates if required. And it is
also decreed that this sentence be printed and published by the
deputy of the Attorney-General at the Chatelet, and affixed to the
walls in the usual places and cross roads of the town, provostship
and viscounty of Paris, and wherever else requisite.
"With regard to the petition of Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de
Lamotte, a Royal Equerry, Sieur de Grange-Flandre, Buisson-Souef,
Valperfond, and other places, widower and inheritor of Marie Francois
Perier, his wife, according to their marriage contract signed before
Baron and partner, notaries at Paris, the fifth day of September
1762, whereby he desires to intervene in the action brought against
Derues and his accomplices, concerning the assassination and
poisoning committed on the persons of the wife and son of the said
Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, on the accusation made by him to the
Deputy Attorney-General of the King at the Chatelet at present
pending in the Court, on the report of the final judgment given in
the said action the 3oth of April last, and which allowed the
intervention; it is decreed that there shall be levied on the goods
left by the condemned, before the rights of the Treasury, and
separate from them, the sum of six thousand livres, or such other sum
as it shall please the Court to award; from which sum the said
Saint-Faust de Lamotte shall consent to deduct the sum of two
thousand seven hundred and forty-eight livres, which he acknowledges
has been sent or remitted to him by the said Derues and his wife at
different times; which first sum of six thousand livres, or such
other, shall be employed by the said Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte,
who is authorised to found therewith, in the parish church of Saint
Nicholas de Villeneuve-le-Roy, in which parish the estate of
Buisson-Souef is situate, and which is mentioned in the action, an
annual and perpetual service for the repose of the souls of the wife
and son of the said Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, of which an act
shall be inserted in the decree of intervention, and a copy of this
act or decree shall be inscribed upon a stone which shall be set in
the wall of the said church of Saint Nicholas de Villeneuve-le-Roy,
in such place as is expedient. And the deed of contract for private
sale, made between the late spouse of the said Sieur de Saint-Faust
de Lamotte and the above-named Derues and his wife, is hereby
declared null and void, as having had no value in absence of any
payment or realisation of contract before a notary; and the pretended
agreement of the twelfth day of February last, as also all other
deeds fabricated by the said Derues or others, named in the above
action, as also any which may hereafter be presented, are hereby
declared to be null and void.
"The Court declares the judgment pronounced by the magistrates of the
Chatelet against the above named Derues to be good and right, and his
appeal against the same to be bad and ill-founded.
"It is decreed that the sentence shall lose its full and entire
effect with regard to Marie-Louise Nicolais, who is condemned to the
ordinary fine of twelve livres. The necessary relief granted on the
petition of Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, the second day
of May this present month, and delay accorded until after the
suspended judgment pronounced with regard to the said Marie-Louise
"(Signed) De Gourgues, President.
Derues' assurance and calmness never deserted him for one moment.
For three-quarters of an hour he harangued the Parliament, and his
defence was remarkable both for its presence of mind and the art with
which he made the most of any circumstances likely to suggest doubts
to the magistrates and soften the severity of the first sentence.
Found guilty on every point, he yet protested that he was innocent of
poisoning. Remorse, which often merely means fear of punishment, had
no place in his soul, and torture he seemed not to dread. As strong
in will as he was weak in body, he desired to die like a martyr in
the faith of his religion, which was hypocrisy, and the God whom he
gloried on the scaffold was the god of lies.
On May 6th, at seven in the morning, the sentence of execution was
read to him. He listened calmly, and when it was finished, remarked:
"I had not anticipated so severe a sentence."
A few hours later the instruments of torture were got ready. He was
told that this part of his punishment would be remitted if he would
confess his crimes and the names of his accomplices. He replied:
"I have no more to say. I know what terrible torture awaits me, I
know I must die to-day, but I have nothing to confess."
He made no resistance when his knees and legs were bound, and endured
the torture courageously. Only, in a moment of agony, he exclaimed:
"Accursed money! has thou reduced me to this?"
Thinking that pain would overcome his resolution, the presiding
magistrate bent towards him, and said:
"Unhappy man! confess thy crime, since death is near at hand."
He recovered his firmness, and, looking at the magistrate, replied:
"I know it, monseigneur; I have perhaps not three hours to live."
Thinking that his apparently feeble frame could not endure the last
wedges, the executioner was ordered to stop. He was unbound and laid
on a mattress, and a glass of wine was brought, of which he only
drank a few drops; after this, he made his confession to the priest.
For, dinner, they brought him soup and stew, which he ate eagerly,
and inquiring of the gaoler if he could have something more, an
entree was brought in addition. One might have thought that this
final repast heralded, not death but deliverance. At length three
o'clock struck the hour appointed for leaving the prison.
According to the report of credible persons whom we have consulted,
Paris on this occasion presented a remarkable appearance, which those
who saw it were never able to forget. The great anthill was troubled
to its very lowest depth. Whether by accident or design, the same
day had been fixed for a function which ought to have proved a
considerable counter attraction. A great festival in honour of a
German prince was given on the Plaine de Grenelle, at which all the
court was present; and probably more than one great lady regretted
missing the emotions of the Place de Greve, abandoned to the rabble
and the bourgeoisie. The rest of the city was deserted, the streets
silent, the houses closed. A stranger transported suddenly into such
a solitude might have reasonably thought that during the night the
town had been smitten by the Angel of Death, and that only a
labyrinth of vacant buildings remained, testifying to the life and
turmoil of the preceding day. A dark and dense atmosphere hung over
the abandoned town; lightning furrowed the heavy motionless clouds;
in the distance the occasional rumble of thunder was heard, answered
by the cannon of the royal fete. The crowd was divided between the
powers of heaven and earth: the terrible majesty of the Eternal on
one side, on the other the frivolous pomp of royalty--eternal
punishment and transient grandeur in opposition. Like the waters of
a flood leaving dry the fields which they have covered, so the waves
of the multitude forsook their usual course. Thousands of men and
women crowded together along the route which the death-cart would
take; an ocean of heads undulated like the ears in a wheatfield. The
old houses, hired at high rates, quivered under the weight of eager
spectators, and the window sashes had been removed to afford a better
Attired in the shirt worn by condemned criminals, and bearing a
placard both in front and behind, with the words "Wilful Poisoner,"
Derues descended the great staircase of the Chatelet with a firm
step. It was at this moment, on seeing the crucifix, that he
exclaimed, "O Christ, I shall suffer like Thee!" He mounted the
tumbril, looking right and left amongst the crowd. During the
progress he recognised and bowed to several of his old associates,
and bade adieu in a clear voice to the former mistress of his
'prentice days, who has recorded that she never saw him look so
pleasant. Arrived at the door of Notre Dame, where the clerk was
awaiting him, he descended from the tumbril without assistance, took
a lighted wax taper weighing two pounds in his hand, and did penance,
kneeling, bareheaded and barefooted, a rope round his neck, repeating
the words of the death-warrant. He then reascended the cart in the
midst of the cries and execrations of the populace, to which he
appeared quite insensible. One voice only, endeavouring to dominate
the tumult, caused him to turn his head: it was that of the hawker
who was crying his sentence, and who broke off now and then to say--
"Well! my poor gossip Derues, how do you like that fine carriage
you're in? Oh yes, mutter your prayers and look up to heaven as much
as you like, you won't take us in now. Ah! thief who said I stole
from you! Wasn't I right when I said I should be selling your
sentence some day?"
Then, adding her own wrongs to the list of crimes, she declared that
the Parliament had condemned him as much for having falsely accused
her of theft as for having poisoned Madame de Lamotte and her son!
When arrived at the scaffold, he gazed around him, and a sort of
shiver of impatience ran through the crowd. He smiled, and as if
anxious to trick mankind for the last time, asked to be taken to the
Hotel de Ville, which was granted, in the hope that he would at last
make some confession; but he only persisted in saying that he was
guiltless of poisoning. He had an interview with his wife, who
nearly fainted on seeing him, and remained for more than a quarter of
an hour unable to say a word. He lavished tender names upon her, and
professed much affliction at seeing her in so miserable a condition.
When she was taken away, he asked permission to embrace her, and took
a most touching farewell. His last words have been preserved.
"My dear wife," he said, "I recommend our beloved children to your
care: bring them up in the fear of God. You must go to Chartres, you
will there see the bishop, on whom I had the honour of waiting when I
was there last, and who has always been kind to me; I believe he has
thought well of me, and that I may hope he will take pity on you and
on our children."
It was now seven in the evening, and the crowd began to murmur at the
long delay. At length the criminal reappeared. An onlooker who saw
him go to the Hotel de Ville, and who was carried by the movement of
the crowd to the foot of the scaffold, says that when handed over to
the executioner he took off his clothes himself. He kissed the
instrument of punishment with devotion, then extended himself on the
St. Andrew's cross, asking with a resigned smile that they would make
his sufferings as short as possible. As soon as his head was
covered, the executioner gave the signal. One would have thought a
very few blows would have finished so frail a being, but he seemed as
hard to kill as the venomous reptiles which must be crushed and cut
to pieces before life is extinct, and the coup de grace was found
necessary. The executioner uncovered his head and showed the
confessor that the eyes were closed and that the heart had ceased to
beat. The body was then removed from the cross, the hands and feet
fastened together, and it was thrown on the funeral pile.
While the execution was proceeding the people applauded. On the
morrow they bought up the fragments of bone, and hastened to buy
lottery tickets, in the firm conviction that these precious relics
would bring luck to the fortunate possessors!
In 1777, Madame Derues was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, and
confined at the Salpetriere. She was one of the first victims who
perished in the prison massacres.