Part 10 out of 12
Jacques Collin. Hence, also, certain compromises between Bibi-Lupin
and his old companions, which the magistrates were beginning to take
So in his desire for vengeance, to which the examining judge had given
play under the necessity of identifying Jacques Collin, the chief of
the "Safety" had very skilfully chosen his allies by setting la
Pouraille, Fil-de-Soie, and le Biffon on the sham Spaniard--for la
Pouraille and Fil-de-Soie both belonged to the "Ten-thousand," and le
Biffon was a "Great Pal."
La Biffe, le Biffon's formidable trip, who to this day evades all the
pursuit of the police by her skill in disguising herself as a lady,
was at liberty. This woman, who successfully apes a marquise, a
countess, a baroness, keeps a carriage and men-servants. This Jacques
Collin in petticoats is the only woman who can compare with Asie,
Jacques Collin's right hand. And, in fact, every hero of the hulks is
backed up by a devoted woman. Prison records and the secret papers of
the law courts will tell you this; no honest woman's love, not even
that of the bigot for her spiritual director, has ever been greater
than the attachment of a mistress who shares the dangers of a great
With these men a passion is almost always the first cause of their
daring enterprises and murders. The excessive love which--
constitutionally, as the doctors say--makes woman irresistible to
them, calls every moral and physical force of these powerful natures
into action. Hence the idleness which consumes their days, for
excesses of passion necessitate sleep and restorative food. Hence
their loathing of all work, driving these creatures to have recourse
to rapid ways of getting money. And yet, the need of a living, and of
high living, violent as it is, is but a trifle in comparison with the
extravagance to which these generous Medors are prompted by the
mistress to whom they want to give jewels and dress, and who--always
greedy--love rich food. The baggage wants a shawl, the lover steals
it, and the woman sees in this a proof of love.
This is how robbery begins; and robbery, if we examine the human soul
through a lens, will be seen to be an almost natural instinct in man.
Robbery leads to murder, and murder leads the lover step by step to
Ill-regulated physical desire is therefore, in these men, if we may
believe the medical faculty, at the root of seven-tenths of the crimes
committed. And, indeed, the proof is always found, evident, palpable
at the post-mortem examination of the criminal after his execution.
And these monstrous lovers, the scarecrows of society, are adored by
their mistresses. It is this female devotion, squatting faithfully at
the prison gate, always eagerly balking the cunning of the examiner,
and incorruptibly keeping the darkest secrets which make so many
trials impenetrable mysteries.
In this, again, lies the strength as well as the weakness of the
accused. In the vocabulary of a prostitute, to be honest means to
break none of the laws of this attachment, to give all her money to
the man who is nabbed, to look after his comforts, to be faithful to
him in every way, to undertake anything for his sake. The bitterest
insult one of these women can fling in the teeth of another wretched
creature is to accuse her of infidelity to a lover in quod (in
prison). In that case such a woman is considered to have no heart.
La Pouraille was passionately in love with a woman, as will be seen.
Fil-de-Soie, an egotistical philosopher, who thieved to provide for
the future, was a good deal like Paccard, Jacques Collin's satellite,
who had fled with Prudence Servien and the seven hundred and fifty
thousand francs between them. He had no attachment, he condemned
women, and loved no one but Fil-de-Soie.
As to le Biffon, he derived his nickname from his connection with la
Biffe. (La Biffe is scavenging, rag-picking.) And these three
distinguished members of la haute pegre, the aristocracy of roguery,
had a reckoning to demand of Jacques Collin, accounts that were
somewhat hard to bring to book.
No one but the cashier could know how many of his clients were still
alive, and what each man's share would be. The mortality to which the
depositors were peculiarly liable had formed a basis for Trompe-la-
Mort's calculations when he resolved to embezzle the funds for
Lucien's benefit. By keeping himself out of the way of the police and
of his pals for nine years, Jacques Collin was almost certain to have
fallen heir, by the terms of the agreement among the associates, to
two-thirds of the depositors. Besides, could he not plead that he had
repaid the pals who had been scragged? In fact, no one had any hold
over these Great Pals. His comrades trusted him by compulsion, for the
hunted life led by convicts necessitates the most delicate confidence
between the gentry of this crew of savages. So Jacques Collin, a
defaulter for a hundred thousand crowns, might now possibly be quit
for a hundred thousand francs. At this moment, as we see, la
Pouraille, one of Jacques Collin's creditors, had but ninety days to
live. And la Pouraille, the possessor of a sum vastly greater, no
doubt, than that placed in his pal's keeping, would probably prove
easy to deal with.
One of the infallible signs by which prison governors and their
agents, the police and warders, recognize old stagers (chevaux de
retour), that is to say, men who have already eaten beans (les
gourganes, a kind of haricots provided for prison fare), is their
familiarity with prison ways; those who have been IN before, of
course, know the manners and customs; they are at home, and nothing
And Jacques Collin, thoroughly on his guard, had, until now, played
his part to admiration as an innocent man and stranger, both at La
Force and at the Conciergerie. But now, broken by grief, and by two
deaths--for he had died twice over during that dreadful night--he was
Jacques Collin once more. The warder was astounded to find that the
Spanish priest needed no telling as to the way to the prison-yard. The
perfect actor forgot his part; he went down the corkscrew stairs in
the Tour Bonbec as one who knew the Conciergerie.
"Bibi-Lupin is right," said the turnkey to himself; "he is an old
stager; he is Jacques Collin."
At the moment when Trompe-la-Mort appeared in the sort of frame to his
figure made by the door into the tower, the prisoners, having made
their purchases at the stone table called after Saint-Louis, were
scattered about the yard, always too small for their number. So the
newcomer was seen by all of them at once, and all the more promptly,
because nothing can compare for keenness with the eye of a prisoner,
who in a prison-yard feels like a spider watching in its web. And this
comparison is mathematically exact; for the range of vision being
limited on all sides by high dark walls, the prisoners can always see,
even without looking at them, the doors through which the warders come
and go, the windows of the parlor, and the stairs of the Tour Bonbec--
the only exits from the yard. In this utter isolation every trivial
incident is an event, everything is interesting; the tedium--a tedium
like that of a tiger in a cage--increases their alertness tenfold.
It is necessary to note that Jacques Collin, dressed like a priest who
is not strict as to costume, wore black knee breeches, black
stockings, shoes with silver buckles, a black waistcoat, and a long
coat of dark-brown cloth of a certain cut that betrays the priest
whatever he may do, especially when these details are completed by a
characteristic style of haircutting. Jacques Collin's wig was
eminently ecclesiastical, and wonderfully natural.
"Hallo!" said la Pouraille to le Biffon, "that's a bad sign! A rook!
(sanglier, a priest). How did he come here?"
"He is one of their 'narks' " (trucs, spies) "of a new make," replied
Fil-de-Soie, "some runner with the bracelets" (marchand de lacets--
equivalent to a Bow Street runner) "looking out for his man."
The gendarme boasts of many names in French slang; when he is after a
thief, he is "the man with the bracelets" (marchand de lacets); when
he has him in charge, he is a bird of ill-omen (hirondelle de la
Greve); when he escorts him to the scaffold, he is "groom to the
guillotine" (hussard de la guillotine).
To complete our study of the prison-yard, two more of the prisoners
must be hastily sketched in. Selerier, alias l'Auvergnat, alias le
Pere Ralleau, called le Rouleur, alias Fil-de-Soie--he had thirty
names, and as many passports--will henceforth be spoken of by this
name only, as he was called by no other among the swell-mob. This
profound philosopher, who saw a spy in the sham priest, was a brawny
fellow of about five feet eight, whose muscles were all marked by
strange bosses. He had an enormous head in which a pair of half-closed
eyes sparkled like fire--the eyes of a bird of prey, with gray, dull,
skinny eyelids. At first glance his face resembled that of a wolf, his
jaws were so broad, powerful, and prominent; but the cruelty and even
ferocity suggested by this likeness were counterbalanced by the
cunning and eagerness of his face, though it was scarred by the
smallpox. The margin of each scar being sharply cut, gave a sort of
wit to his expression; it was seamed with ironies. The life of a
criminal--a life of danger and thirst, of nights spent bivouacking on
the quays and river banks, on bridges and streets, and the orgies of
strong drink by which successes are celebrated--had laid, as it were,
a varnish over these features. Fil-de-Soie, if seen in his undisguised
person, would have been marked by any constable or gendarme as his
prey; but he was a match for Jacques Collin in the arts of make-up and
dress. Just now Fil-de-Soie, in undress, like a great actor who is
well got up only on the stage, wore a sort of shooting jacket bereft
of buttons, and whose ripped button-holes showed the white lining,
squalid green slippers, nankin trousers now a dingy gray, and on his
head a cap without a peak, under which an old bandana was tied,
streaky with rents, and washed out.
Le Biffon was a complete contrast to Fil-de-Soie. This famous robber,
short, burly, and fat, but active, with a livid complexion, and deep-
set black eyes, dressed like a cook, standing squarely on very bandy
legs, was alarming to behold, for in his countenance all the features
predominated that are most typical of the carnivorous beast.
Fil-de-Soie and le Biffon were always wheedling la Pouraille, who had
lost all hope. The murderer knew that he would be tried, sentenced,
and executed within four months. Indeed, Fil-de-Soie and le Biffon, la
Pouraille's chums, never called him anything but le Chanoine de
l'Abbaye de Monte-a-Regret (a grim paraphrase for a man condemned to
the guillotine). It is easy to understand why Fil-de-Soie and le
Biffon should fawn on la Pouraille. The man had somewhere hidden two
hundred and fifty thousand francs in gold, his share of the spoil
found in the house of the Crottats, the "victims," in newspaper
phrase. What a splendid fortune to leave to two pals, though the two
old stagers would be sent back to the galleys within a few days! Le
Biffon and Fil-de-Soie would be sentenced for a term of fifteen years
for robbery with violence, without prejudice to the ten years' penal
servitude on a former sentence, which they had taken the liberty of
cutting short. So, though one had twenty-two and the other twenty-six
years of imprisonment to look forward to, they both hoped to escape,
and come back to find la Pouraille's mine of gold.
But the "Ten-thousand man" kept his secret; he did not see the use of
telling it before he was sentenced. He belonged to the "upper ten" of
the hulks, and had never betrayed his accomplices. His temper was well
known; Monsieur Popinot, who had examined him, had not been able to
get anything out of him.
This terrible trio were at the further end of the prison-yard, that is
to say, near the better class of cells. Fil-de-Soie was giving a
lecture to a young man who was IN for his first offence, and who,
being certain of ten years' penal servitude, was gaining information
as to the various convict establishments.
"Well, my boy," Fil-de-Soie was saying sententiously as Jacques Collin
appeared on the scene, "the difference between Brest, Toulon, and
"Well, old cock?" said the lad, with the curiosity of a novice.
This prisoner, a man of good family, accused of forgery, had come down
from the cell next to that where Lucien had been.
"My son," Fil-de-Soie went on, "at Brest you are sure to get some
beans at the third turn if you dip your spoon in the bowl; at Toulon
you never get any till the fifth; and at Rochefort you get none at
all, unless you are an old hand."
Having spoken, the philosopher joined le Biffon and la Pouraille, and
all three, greatly puzzled by the priest, walked down the yard, while
Jacques Collin, lost in grief, came up it. Trompe-la-Mort, absorbed in
terrible meditations, the meditations of a fallen emperor, did not
think of himself as the centre of observation, the object of general
attention, and he walked slowly, gazing at the fatal window where
Lucien had hanged himself. None of the prisoners knew of this
catastrophe, since, for reasons to be presently explained, the young
forger had not mentioned the subject. The three pals agreed to cross
the priest's path.
"He is no priest," said Fil-de-Soie; "he is an old stager. Look how he
drags his right foot."
It is needful to explain here--for not every reader has had a fancy to
visit the galleys--that each convict is chained to another, an old one
and a young one always as a couple; the weight of this chain riveted
to a ring above the ankle is so great as to induce a limp, which the
convict never loses. Being obliged to exert one leg much more than the
other to drag this fetter (manicle is the slang name for such irons),
the prisoner inevitably gets into the habit of making the effort.
Afterwards, though he no longer wears the chain, it acts upon him
still; as a man still feels an amputated leg, the convict is always
conscious of the anklet, and can never get over that trick of walking.
In police slang, he "drags his right." And this sign, as well known to
convicts among themselves as it is to the police, even if it does not
help to identify a comrade, at any rate confirms recognition.
In Trompe-la Mort, who had escaped eight years since, this trick had
to a great extent worn off; but just now, lost in reflections, he
walked at such a slow and solemn pace that, slight as the limp was, it
was strikingly evident to so practiced an eye as la Pouraille's. And
it is quite intelligible that convicts, always thrown together, as
they must be, and never having any one else to study, will so
thoroughly have watched each other's faces and appearance, that
certain tricks will have impressed them which may escape their
systematic foes--spies, gendarmes, and police-inspectors.
Thus it was a peculiar twitch of the maxillary muscles of the left
cheek, recognized by a convict who was sent to a review of the Legion
of the Seine, which led to the arrest of the lieutenant-colonel of
that corps, the famous Coignard; for, in spite of Bibi-Lupin's
confidence, the police could not dare believe that the Comte Pontis de
Sainte-Helene and Coignard were one and the same man.
"He is our boss" (dab or master) said Fil-de-Soie, seeing in Jacques
Collin's eyes the vague glance a man sunk in despair casts on all his
"By Jingo! Yes, it is Trompe-la-Mort," said le Biffon, rubbing his
hands. "Yes, it is his cut, his build; but what has he done to
himself? He looks quite different."
"I know what he is up to!" cried Fil-de-Soie; "he has some plan in his
head. He wants to see the boy" (sa tante) "who is to be executed
The persons known in prison as tantes or aunts may be best described
in the ingenious words of the governor of one of the great prisons to
the late Lord Durham, who, during his stay in Paris, visited every
prison. So curious was he to see every detail of French justice, that
he even persuaded Sanson, at that time the executioner, to erect the
scaffold and decapitate a living calf, that he might thoroughly
understand the working of the machine made famous by the Revolution.
The governor having shown him everything--the yards, the workshops,
and the underground cells--pointed to a part of the building, and
said, "I need not take your Lordship there; it is the quartier des
tantes."--"Oh," said Lord Durham, "what are they!"--"The third sex, my
"And they are going to scrag Theodore!" said la Pouraille, "such a
pretty boy! And such a light hand! such cheek! What a loss to
"Yes, Theodore Calvi is yamming his last meal," said le Biffon. "His
trips will pipe their eyes, for the little beggar was a great pet."
"So you're here, old chap?" said la Pouraille to Jacques Collin. And,
arm-in-arm with his two acolytes, he barred the way to the new
arrival. "Why, Boss, have you got yourself japanned?" he went on.
"I hear you have nobbled our pile" (stolen our money), le Biffon
added, in a threatening tone.
"You have just got to stump up the tin!" said Fil-de-Soie.
The three questions were fired at him like three pistol-shots.
"Do not make game of an unhappy priest sent here by mistake," Jacques
Collin replied mechanically, recognizing his three comrades.
"That is the sound of his pipe, if it is not quite the cut of his
mug," said la Pouraille, laying his hand on Jacques Collin's shoulder.
This action, and the sight of his three chums, startled the "Boss" out
of his dejection, and brought him back to a consciousness of reality;
for during that dreadful night he had lost himself in the infinite
spiritual world of feeling, seeking some new road.
"Do not blow the gaff on your Boss!" said Jacques Collin in a hollow
threatening tone, not unlike the low growl of a lion. "The reelers are
here; let them make fools of themselves. I am faking to help a pal who
is awfully down on his luck."
He spoke with the unction of a priest trying to convert the wretched,
and a look which flashed round the yard, took in the warders under the
archways, and pointed them out with a wink to his three companions.
"Are there not narks about? Keep your peepers open and a sharp
lookout. Don't know me, Nanty parnarly, and soap me down for a priest,
or I will do for you all, you and your molls and your blunt."
"What, do you funk our blabbing?" said Fil-de-Soie. "Have you come to
help your boy to guy?"
"Madeleine is getting ready to be turned off in the Square" (the Place
de Greve), said la Pouraille.
"Theodore!" said Jacques Collin, repressing a start and a cry.
"They will have his nut off," la Pouraille went on; "he was booked for
the scaffold two months ago."
Jacques Collin felt sick, his knees almost failed him; but his three
comrades held him up, and he had the presence of mind to clasp his
hands with an expression of contrition. La Pouraille and le Biffon
respectfully supported the sacrilegious Trompe-la-Mort, while Fil-de-
Soie ran to a warder on guard at the gate leading to the parlor.
"That venerable priest wants to sit down; send out a chair for him,"
And so Bibi-Lupin's plot had failed.
Trompe-la-Mort, like a Napoleon recognized by his soldiers, had won
the submission and respect of the three felons. Two words had done it.
Your molls and your blunt--your women and your money--epitomizing
every true affection of man. This threat was to the three convicts an
indication of supreme power. The Boss still had their fortune in his
hands. Still omnipotent outside the prison, their Boss had not
betrayed them, as the false pals said.
Their chief's immense reputation for skill and inventiveness
stimulated their curiosity; for, in prison, curiosity is the only goad
of these blighted spirits. And Jacques Collin's daring disguise, kept
up even under the bolts and locks of the Conciergerie, dazzled the
"I have been in close confinement for four days and did not know that
Theodore was so near the Abbaye," said Jacques Collin. "I came in to
save a poor little chap who scragged himself here yesterday at four
o'clock, and now here is another misfortune. I have not an ace in my
"Poor old boy!" said Fil-de-Soie.
"Old Scratch has cut me!" cried Jacques Collin, tearing himself free
from his supporters, and drawing himself up with a fierce look. "There
comes a time when the world is too many for us! The beaks gobble us up
The governor of the Conciergerie, informed of the Spanish priest's
weak state, came himself to the prison-yard to observe him; he made
him sit down on a chair in the sun, studying him with the keen acumen
which increases day by day in the practise of such functions, though
hidden under an appearance of indifference.
"Oh! Heaven!" cried Jacques Collin. "To be mixed up with such
creatures, the dregs of society--felons and murders!--But God will not
desert His servant! My dear sir, my stay here shall be marked by deeds
of charity which shall live in men's memories. I will convert these
unhappy creatures, they shall learn they have souls, that life eternal
awaits them, and that though they have lost all on earth, they still
may win heaven--Heaven which they may purchase by true and genuine
Twenty or thirty prisoners had gathered in a group behind the three
terrible convicts, whose ferocious looks had kept a space of three
feet between them and their inquisitive companions, and they heard
this address, spoken with evangelical unction.
"Ay, Monsieur Gault," said the formidable la Pouraille, "we will
listen to what this one may say----"
"I have been told," Jacques Collin went on, "that there is in this
prison a man condemned to death."
"The rejection of his appeal is at this moment being read to him,"
said Monsieur Gault.
"I do not know what that means," said Jacques Collin, artlessly
looking about him.
"Golly, what a flat!" said the young fellow, who, a few minutes since,
had asked Fil-de-Soie about the beans on the hulks.
"Why, it means that he is to be scragged to-day or to-morrow."
"Scragged?" asked Jacques Collin, whose air of innocence and ignorance
filled his three pals with admiration.
"In their slang," said the governor, "that means that he will suffer
the penalty of death. If the clerk is reading the appeal, the
executioner will no doubt have orders for the execution. The unhappy
man has persistently refused the offices of the chaplain."
"Ah! Monsieur le Directeaur, this is a soul to save!" cried Jacques
Collin, and the sacrilegious wretch clasped his hands with the
expression of a despairing lover, which to the watchful governor
seemed nothing less than divine fervor. "Ah, monsieur," Trompe-la-Mort
went on, "let me prove to you what I am, and how much I can do, by
allowing me to incite that hardened heart to repentance. God has given
me a power of speech which produces great changes. I crush men's
hearts; I open them.--What are you afraid of? Send me with an escort
of gendarmes, of turnkeys--whom you will."
"I will inquire whether the prison chaplain will allow you to take his
place," said Monsieur Gault.
And the governor withdrew, struck by the expression, perfectly
indifferent, though inquisitive, with which the convicts and the
prisoners on remand stared at this priest, whose unctuous tones lent a
charm to his half-French, half-Spanish lingo.
"How did you come in here, Monsieur l'Abbe?" asked the youth who had
"Oh, by a mistake!" replied Jacques Collin, eyeing the young gentleman
from head to foot. "I was found in the house of a courtesan who had
died, and was immediately robbed. It was proved that she had killed
herself, and the thieves--probably the servants--have not yet been
"And it was for that theft that your young man hanged himself?"
"The poor boy, no doubt, could not endure the thought of being
blighted by his unjust imprisonment," said Trompe-la-Mort, raising his
eyes to heaven.
"Ay," said the young man; "they were coming to set him free just when
he had killed himself. What bad luck!"
"Only innocent souls can be thus worked on by their imagination," said
Jacques Collin. "For, observe, he was the loser by the theft."
"How much money was it?" asked Fil-de-Soie, the deep and cunning.
"Seven hundred and fifty thousand francs," said Jacques Collin
The three convicts looked at each other and withdrew from the group
that had gathered round the sham priest.
"He screwed the moll's place himself!" said Fil-de-Soie in a whisper
to le Biffon, "and they want to put us in a blue funk for our
cartwheels" (thunes de balles, five-franc pieces).
"He will always be the boss of the swells," replied la Pouraille. "Our
pieces are safe enough."
La Pouraille, wishing to find some man he could trust, had an interest
in considering Jacques Collin an honest man. And in prison, of all
places, a man believes what he hopes.
"I lay you anything, he will come round the big Boss and save his
chum!" said Fil-de-Soie.
"If he does that," said le Biffon, "though I don't believe he is
really God, he must certainly have smoked a pipe with old Scratch, as
"Didn't you hear him say, 'Old Scratch has cut me'?" said Fil-de-
"Oh!" cried la Pouraille, "if only he would save my nut, what a time I
would have with my whack of the shiners and the yellow boys I have
"Do what he bids you!" said Fil-de Soie.
"You don't say so?" retorted la Pouraille, looking at his pal.
"What a flat you are! You will be booked for the Abbaye!" said le
Biffon. "You have no other door to budge, if you want to keep on your
pins, to yam, wet your whistle, and fake to the end; you must take his
"That's all right," said la Pouraille. "There is not one of us that
will blow the gaff, or if he does, I will take him where I am
"And he'll do it too," cried Fil-de-Soie.
The least sympathetic reader, who has no pity for this strange race,
may conceive of the state of mind of Jacques Collin, finding himself
between the dead body of the idol whom he had been bewailing during
five hours that night, and the imminent end of his former comrade--the
dead body of Theodore, the young Corsican. Only to see the boy would
demand extraordinary cleverness; to save him would need a miracle; but
he was thinking of it.
For the better comprehension of what Jacques Collin proposed to
attempt, it must be remarked that murderers and thieves, all the men
who people the galleys, are not so formidable as is generally
supposed. With a few rare exceptions these creatures are all cowards,
in consequence no doubt, of the constant alarms which weigh on their
spirit. The faculties being perpetually on the stretch in thieving,
and the success of a stroke of business depending on the exertion of
every vital force, with a readiness of wit to match their dexterity of
hand, and an alertness which exhausts the nervous system; these
violent exertions of will once over, they become stupid, just as a
singer or a dancer drops quite exhausted after a fatiguing pas seul,
or one of those tremendous duets which modern composers inflict on the
Malefactors are, in fact, so entirely bereft of common sense, or so
much oppressed by fear, that they become absolutely childish.
Credulous to the last degree, they are caught by the bird-lime of the
simplest snare. When they have done a successful JOB, they are in such
a state of prostration that they immediately rush into the
debaucheries they crave for; they get drunk on wine and spirits, and
throw themselves madly into the arms of their women to recover
composure by dint of exhausting their strength, and to forget their
crime by forgetting their reason.
Then they are at the mercy of the police. When once they are in
custody they lose their head, and long for hope so blindly that they
believe anything; indeed, there is nothing too absurd for them to
accept it. An instance will suffice to show how far the simplicity of
a criminal who has been NABBED will carry him. Bibi-Lupin, not long
before, had extracted a confession from a murderer of nineteen by
making him believe that no one under age was ever executed. When this
lad was transferred to the Conciergerie to be sentenced after the
rejection of his appeal, this terrible man came to see him.
"Are you sure you are not yet twenty?" said he.
"Yes, I am only nineteen and a half."
"Well, then," replied Bibi-Lupin, "you may be quite sure of one thing
--you will never see twenty."
"Because you will be scragged within three days," replied the police
The murderer, who had believed, even after sentence was passed, that a
minor would never be executed, collapsed like an omelette soufflee.
Such men, cruel only from the necessity for suppressive evidence, for
they murder only to get rid of witnesses (and this is one of the
arguments adduced by those who desire the abrogation of capital
punishment),--these giants of dexterity and skill, whose sleight of
hand, whose rapid sight, whose every sense is as alert as that of a
savage, are heroes of evil only on the stage of their exploits. Not
only do their difficulties begin as soon as the crime is committed,
for they are as much bewildered by the need for concealing the stolen
goods as they were depressed by necessity--but they are as weak as a
woman in childbed. The vehemence of their schemes is terrific; in
success they become like children. In a word, their nature is that of
the wild beast--easy to kill when it is full fed. In prison these
strange beings are men in dissimulation and in secretiveness, which
never yields till the last moment, when they are crushed and broken by
the tedium of imprisonment.
It may hence be understood how it was that the three convicts, instead
of betraying their chief, were eager to serve him; and as they
suspected he was now the owner of the stolen seven hundred and fifty
thousand francs, they admired him for his calm resignation, under bolt
and bar of the Conciergerie, believing him capable of protecting them
When Monsieur Gault left the sham priest, he returned through the
parlor to his office, and went in search of Bibi-Lupin, who for twenty
minutes, since Jacques Collin had gone downstairs, had been on the
watch with his eye at a peephole in a window looking out on the
"Not one of them recognized him," said Monsieur Gault, "and Napolitas,
who is on duty, did not hear a word. The poor priest all through the
night, in his deep distress, did not say a word which could imply that
his gown covers Jacques Collin."
"That shows that he is used to prison life," said the police agent.
Napolitas, Bibi-Lupin's secretary, being unknown to the criminals then
in the Conciergerie, was playing the part of the young gentlemen
imprisoned for forgery.
"Well, but he wishes to be allowed to hear the confession of the young
fellow who is sentenced to death," said the governor.
"To be sure! That is our last chance," cried Bibi-Lupin. "I had
forgotten that. Theodore Calvi, the young Corsican, was the man
chained to Jacques Collin; they say that on the hulks Jacques Collin
made him famous pads----"
The convicts on the galleys contrive a kind of pad to slip between
their skin and the fetters to deaden the pressure of the iron ring on
their ankles and instep; these pads, made of tow and rags, are known
"Who is warder over the man?" asked Bibi-Lupin.
"Coeur la Virole."
"Very well, I will go and make up as a gendarme, and be on the watch;
I shall hear what they say. I will be even with them."
"But if it should be Jacques Collin are you not afraid of his
recognizing you and throttling you?" said the governor to Bibi-Lupin.
"As a gendarme I shall have my sword," replied the other; "and,
besides, if he is Jacques Collin, he will never do anything that will
risk his neck; and if he is a priest, I shall be safe."
"Then you have no time to lose," said Monsieur Gault; "it is half-past
eight. Father Sauteloup has just read the reply to his appeal, and
Monsieur Sanson is waiting in the order room."
"Yes, it is to-day's job, the 'widow's huzzars' " (les hussards de la
veuve, another horrible name for the functionaries of the guillotine)
"are ordered out," replied Bibi-Lupin. "Still, I cannot wonder that
the prosecutor-general should hesitate; the boy has always declared
that he is innocent, and there is, in my opinion, no conclusive
evidence against him."
"He is a thorough Corsican," said Monsieur Gault; "he has not said a
word, and has held firm all through."
The last words of the governor of the prison summed up the dismal tale
of a man condemned to die. A man cut off from among the living by law
belongs to the Bench. The Bench is paramount; it is answerable to
nobody, it obeys its own conscience. The prison belongs to the Bench,
which controls it absolutely. Poetry has taken possession of this
social theme, "the man condemned to death"--a subject truly apt to
strike the imagination! And poetry has been sublime on it. Prose has
no resource but fact; still, the fact is appalling enough to hold its
own against verse. The existence of a condemned man who has not
confessed his crime, or betrayed his accomplices, is one of fearful
torment. This is no case of iron boots, of water poured into the
stomach, or of limbs racked by hideous machinery; it is hidden and, so
to speak, negative torture. The condemned wretch is given over to
himself with a companion whom he cannot but trust.
The amiability of modern philanthropy fancies it has understood the
dreadful torment of isolation, but this is a mistake. Since the
abolition of torture, the Bench, in a natural anxiety to reassure the
too sensitive consciences of the jury, had guessed what a terrible
auxiliary isolation would prove to justice in seconding remorse.
Solitude is void; and nature has as great a horror of a moral void as
she has of a physical vacuum. Solitude is habitable only to a man of
genius who can people it with ideas, the children of the spiritual
world; or to one who contemplates the works of the Creator, to whom it
is bright with the light of heaven, alive with the breath and voice of
God. Excepting for these two beings--so near to Paradise--solitude is
to the mind what torture is to the body. Between solitude and the
torture-chamber there is all the difference that there is between a
nervous malady and a surgical disease. It is suffering multiplied by
infinitude. The body borders on the infinite through its nerves, as
the spirit does through thought. And, in fact, in the annals of the
Paris law courts the criminals who do not confess can be easily
This terrible situation, which in some cases assumes appalling
importance--in politics, for instance, when a dynasty or a state is
involved--will find a place in the HUMAN COMEDY. But here a
description of the stone box in which after the Restoration, the law
shut up a man condemned to death in Paris, may serve to give an idea
of the terrors of a felon's last day on earth.
Before the Revolution of July there was in the Conciergerie, and
indeed there still is, a condemned cell. This room, backing on the
governor's office, is divided from it by a thick wall in strong
masonry, and the other side of it is formed by a wall seven or eight
feet thick, which supports one end of the immense Salle des Pas-
Perdus. It is entered through the first door in the long dark passage
in which the eye loses itself when looking from the middle of the
vaulted gateway. This ill-omened room is lighted by a funnel, barred
by a formidable grating, and hardly perceptible on going into the
Conciergerie yard, for it has been pierced in the narrow space between
the office window close to the railing of the gateway, and the place
where the office clerk sits--a den like a cupboard contrived by the
architect at the end of the entrance court.
This position accounts for the fact that the room thus enclosed
between four immensely thick walls should have been devoted, when the
Conciergerie was reconstituted, to this terrible and funereal service.
Escape is impossible. The passage, leading to the cells for solitary
confinement and to the women's quarters, faces the stove where
gendarmes and warders are always collected together. The air-hole, the
only outlet to the open air, is nine feet above the floor, and looks
out on the first court, which is guarded by sentries at the outer
gate. No human power can make any impression on the walls. Besides, a
man sentenced to death is at once secured in a straitwaistcoat, a
garment which precludes all use of the hands; he is chained by one
foot to his camp bed, and he has a fellow prisoner to watch and attend
on him. The room is paved with thick flags, and the light is so dim
that it is hard to see anything.
It is impossible not to feel chilled to the marrow on going in, even
now, though for sixteen years the cell has never been used, in
consequence of the changes effected in Paris in the treatment of
criminals under sentence. Imagine the guilty man there with his
remorse for company, in silence and darkness, two elements of horror,
and you will wonder how he ever failed to go mad. What a nature must
that be whose temper can resist such treatment, with the added misery
of enforced idleness and inaction.
And yet Theodore Calvi, a Corsican, now twenty-seven years of age,
muffled, as it were, in a shroud of absolute reserve, had for two
months held out against the effects of this dungeon and the insidious
chatter of the prisoner placed to entrap him.
These were the strange circumstances under which the Corsican had been
condemned to death. Though the case is a very curious one, our account
of it must be brief. It is impossible to introduce a long digression
at the climax of a narrative already so much prolonged, since its only
interest is in so far as it concerns Jacques Collin, the vertebral
column, so to speak, which, by its sinister persistency, connects Le
Pere Goriot with Illusions perdues, and Illusions perdues with this
Study. And, indeed, the reader's imagination will be able to work out
the obscure case which at this moment was causing great uneasiness to
the jury of the sessions, before whom Theodore Calvi had been tried.
For a whole week, since the criminal's appeal had been rejected by the
Supreme Court, Monsieur de Granville had been worrying himself over
the case, and postponing from day to day the order for carrying out
the sentence, so anxious was he to reassure the jury by announcing
that on the threshold of death the accused had confessed the crime.
A poor widow of Nanterre, whose dwelling stood apart from the
township, which is situated in the midst of the infertile plain lying
between Mount-Valerian, Saint-Germain, the hills of Sartrouville, and
Argenteuil, had been murdered and robbed a few days after coming into
her share of an unexpected inheritance. This windfall amounted to
three thousand francs, a dozen silver spoons and forks, a gold watch
and chain and some linen. Instead of depositing the three thousand
francs in Paris, as she was advised by the notary of the wine-merchant
who had left it her, the old woman insisted on keeping it by her. In
the first place, she had never seen so much money of her own, and then
she distrusted everybody in every kind of affairs, as most common and
country folk do. After long discussion with a wine-merchant of
Nanterre, a relation of her own and of the wine-merchant who had left
her the money, the widow decided on buying an annuity, on selling her
house at Nanterre, and living in the town of Saint-Germain.
The house she was living in, with a good-sized garden enclosed by a
slight wooden fence, was the poor sort of dwelling usually built by
small landowners in the neighborhood of Paris. It had been hastily
constructed, with no architectural design, of cement and rubble, the
materials commonly used near Paris, where, as at Nanterre, they are
extremely abundant, the ground being everywhere broken by quarries
open to the sky. This is the ordinary hut of the civilized savage. The
house consisted of a ground floor and one floor above, with garrets in
The quarryman, her deceased husband, and the builder of this dwelling,
had put strong iron bars to all the windows; the front door was
remarkably thick. The man knew that he was alone there in the open
country--and what a country! His customers were the principal master-
masons in Paris, so the more important materials for his house, which
stood within five hundred yards of his quarry, had been brought out in
his own carts returning empty. He could choose such as suited him
where houses were pulled down, and got them very cheap. Thus the
window frames, the iron-work, the doors, shutters, and wooden fittings
were all derived from sanctioned pilfering, presents from his
customers, and good ones, carefully chosen. Of two window-frames, he
could take the better.
The house, entered from a large stable-yard, was screened from the
road by a wall; the gate was of strong iron-railing. Watch-dogs were
kept in the stables, and a little dog indoors at night. There was a
garden of more than two acres behind.
His widow, without children, lived here with only a woman servant. The
sale of the quarry had paid off the owner's debts; he had been dead
about two years. This isolated house was the widow's sole possession,
and she kept fowls and cows, selling the eggs and milk at Nanterre.
Having no stableboy or carter or quarryman--her husband had made them
do every kind of work--she no longer kept up the garden; she only
gathered the few greens and roots that the stony ground allowed to
The price of the house, with the money she had inherited, would amount
to seven or eight thousand francs, and she could fancy herself living
very happily at Saint-Germain on seven or eight hundred francs a year,
which she thought she could buy with her eight thousand francs. She
had had many discussions over this with the notary at Saint-Germain,
for she refused to hand her money over for an annuity to the wine-
merchant at Nanterre, who was anxious to have it.
Under these circumstances, then, after a certain day the widow Pigeau
and her servant were seen no more. The front gate, the house door, the
shutters, all were closed. At the end of three days, the police, being
informed, made inquisition. Monsieur Popinot, the examining judge, and
the public prosecutor arrived from Paris, and this was what they
Neither the outer gate nor the front door showed any marks of
violence. The key was in the lock of the door, inside. Not a single
bar had been wretched; the locks, shutters, and bolts were all
untampered with. The walls showed no traces that could betray the
passage of the criminals. The chimney-posts, of red clay, afforded no
opportunity for ingress or escape, and the roofing was sound and
unbroken, showing no damage by violence.
On entering the first-floor rooms, the magistrates, the gendarmes, and
Bibi-Lupin found the widow Pigeau strangled in her bed and the woman
strangled in hers, each by means of the bandana she wore as a
nightcap. The three thousand francs were gone, with the silver-plate
and the trinkets. The two bodies were decomposing, as were those of
the little dog and of a large yard-dog.
The wooden palings of the garden were examined; none were broken. The
garden paths showed no trace of footsteps. The magistrate thought it
probable that the robber had walked on the grass to leave no foot-
prints if he had come that way; but how could he have got into the
house? The back door to the garden had an outer guard of three iron
bars, uninjured; and there, too, the key was in the lock inside, as in
the front door.
All these impossibilities having been duly noted by Monsieur Popinot,
by Bibi-Lupin, who stayed there a day to examine every detail, by the
public prosecutor himself, and by the sergeant of the gendarmerie at
Nanterre, this murder became an agitating mystery, in which the Law
and the Police were nonplussed.
This drama, published in the Gazette des Tribunaux, took place in the
winter of 1828-29. God alone knows what excitement this puzzling crime
occasioned in Paris! But Paris has a new drama to watch every morning,
and forgets everything. The police, on the contrary, forgets nothing.
Three months after this fruitless inquiry, a girl of the town, whose
extravagance had invited the attention of Bibi-Lupin's agents, who
watched her as being the ally of several thieves, tried to persuade a
woman she knew to pledge twelve silver spoons and forks and a gold
watch and chain. The friend refused. This came to Bibi-Lupin's ears,
and he remembered the plate and the watch and chain stolen at
Nanterre. The commissioners of the Mont-de-Piete, and all the
receivers of stolen goods, were warned, while Manon la Blonde was
subjected to unremitting scrutiny.
It was very soon discovered that Manon la Blonde was madly in love
with a young man who was never to be seen, and was supposed to be deaf
to all the fair Manon's proofs of devotion. Mystery on mystery.
However, this youth, under the diligent attentions of police spies,
was soon seen and identified as an escaped convict, the famous hero of
the Corsican vendetta, the handsome Theodore Calvi, known as
A man was turned on to entrap Calvi, one of those double-dealing
buyers of stolen goods who serve the thieves and the police both at
once; he promised to purchase the silver and the watch and chain. At
the moment when the dealer of the Cour Saint-Guillaume was counting
out the cash to Theodore, dressed as a woman, at half-past six in the
evening, the police came in and seized Theodore and the property.
The inquiry was at once begun. On such thin evidence it was impossible
to pass a sentence of death. Calvi never swerved, he never
contradicted himself. He said that a country woman had sold him these
objects at Argenteuil; that after buying them, the excitement over the
murder committed at Nanterre had shown him the danger of keeping this
plate and watch and chain in his possession, since, in fact, they were
proved by the inventory made after the death of the wine merchant, the
widow Pigeau's uncle, to be those that were stolen from her. Compelled
at last by poverty to sell them, he said he wished to dispose of them
by the intervention of a person to whom no suspicion could attach.
And nothing else could be extracted from the convict, who, by his
taciturnity and firmness, contrived to insinuate that the wine-
merchant at Nanterre had committed the crime, and that the woman of
whom he, Theodore, had bought them was the wine-merchant's wife. The
unhappy man and his wife were both taken into custody; but, after a
week's imprisonment, it was amply proved that neither the husband nor
the wife had been out of their house at the time. Also, Calvi failed
to recognize in the wife the woman who, as he declared, had sold him
As it was shown that Calvi's mistress, implicated in the case, had
spent about a thousand francs since the date of the crime and the day
when Calvi tried to pledge the plate and trinkets, the evidence seemed
strong enough to commit Calvi and the girl for trial. This murder
being the eighteenth which Theodore had committed, he was condemned to
death for he seemed certainly to be guilty of this skilfully contrived
crime. Though he did not recognize the wine-merchant's wife, both she
and her husband recognized him. The inquiry had proved, by the
evidence of several witnesses, that Theodore had been living at
Nanterre for about a month; he had worked at a mason's, his face
whitened with plaster, and his clothes very shabby. At Nanterre the
lad was supposed to be about eighteen years old, for the whole month
he must have been nursing that brat (nourri ce poupon, i.e. hatching
The lawyers thought he must have had accomplices. The chimney-pots
were measured and compared with the size of Manon la Blonde's body to
see if she could have got in that way; but a child of six could not
have passed up or down those red-clay pipes, which, in modern
buildings, take the place of the vast chimneys of old-fashioned
houses. But for this singular and annoying difficulty, Theodore would
have been executed within a week. The prison chaplain, it has been
seen, could make nothing of him.
All this business, and the name of Calvi, must have escaped the notice
of Jacques Collin, who, at the time, was absorbed in his single-handed
struggle with Contenson, Corentin, and Peyrade. It had indeed been a
point with Trompe-la-Mort to forget as far as possible his chums and
all that had to do with the law courts; he dreaded a meeting which
should bring him face to face with a pal who might demand an account
of his boss which Collin could not possibly render.
The governor of the prison went forthwith to the public prosecutor's
court, where he found the Attorney-General in conversation with
Monsieur de Granville, who had spent the whole night at the Hotel de
Serizy, was, in consequence of this important case, obliged to give a
few hours to his duties, though overwhelmed with fatigue and grief;
for the physicians could not yet promise that the Countess would
recover her sanity.
After speaking a few words to the governor, Monsieur de Granville took
the warrant from the attorney and placed it in Gault's hands.
"Let the matter proceed," said he, "unless some extraordinary
circumstances should arise. Of this you must judge. I trust to your
judgment. The scaffold need not be erected till half-past ten, so you
still have an hour. On such an occasion hours are centuries, and many
things may happen in a century. Do not allow him to think he is
reprieved; prepare the man for execution if necessary; and if nothing
comes of that, give Sanson the warrant at half-past nine. Let him
As the governor of the prison left the public prosecutor's room, under
the archway of the passage into the hall he met Monsieur Camusot, who
was going there. He exchanged a few hurried words with the examining
judge; and after telling him what had been done at the Conciergerie
with regard to Jacques Collin, he went on to witness the meeting of
Trompe-la-Mort and Madeleine; and he did not allow the so-called
priest to see the condemned criminal till Bibi-Lupin, admirably
disguised as a gendarme, had taken the place of the prisoner left in
charge of the young Corsican.
No words can describe the amazement of the three convicts when a
warder came to fetch Jacques Collin and led him to the condemned cell!
With one consent they rushed up to the chair on which Jacques Collin
"To-day, isn't it, monsieur?" asked Fil-de-Soie of the warder.
"Yes, Jack Ketch is waiting," said the man with perfect indifference.
Charlot is the name by which the executioner is known to the populace
and the prison world in Paris. The nickname dates from the Revolution
The words produced a great sensation. The prisoners looked at each
"It is all over with him," the warder went on; "the warrant has been
delivered to Monsieur Gault, and the sentence has just been read to
"And so the fair Madeleine has received the last sacraments?" said la
Pouraille, and he swallowed a deep mouthful of air.
"Poor little Theodore!" cried le Biffon; "he is a pretty chap too.
What a pity to drop your nut" (eternuer dans le son) "so young."
The warder went towards the gate, thinking that Jacques Collin was at
his heels. But the Spaniard walked very slowly, and when he was
getting near to Julien he tottered and signed to la Pouraille to give
him his arm.
"He is a murderer," said Napolitas to the priest, pointing to la
Pouraille, and offering his own arm.
"No, to me he is an unhappy wretch!" replied Jacques Collin, with the
presence of mind and the unction of the Archbishop of Cambrai. And he
drew away from Napolitas, of whom he had been very suspicious from the
first. Then he said to his pals in an undertone:
"He is on the bottom step of the Abbaye de Monte-a-Regret, but I am
the Prior! I will show you how well I know how to come round the
beaks. I mean to snatch this boy's nut from their jaws."
"For the sake of his breeches!" said Fil-de-Soie with a smile.
"I mean to win his soul to heaven!" replied Jacques Collin fervently,
seeing some other prisoners about him. And he joined the warder at the
"He got in to save Madeleine," said Fil-de-Soie. "We guessed rightly.
What a boss he is!"
"But how can he? Jack Ketch's men are waiting. He will not even see
the kid," objected le Biffon.
"The devil is on his side!" cried la Pouraille. "He claim our blunt!
Never! He is too fond of his old chums! We are too useful to him! They
wanted to make us blow the gaff, but we are not such flats! If he
saves his Madeleine, I will tell him all my secrets."
The effect of this speech was to increase the devotion of the three
convicts to their boss; for at this moment he was all their hope.
Jacques Collin, in spite of Madeleine's peril, did not forget to play
his part. Though he knew the Conciergerie as well as he knew the hulks
in the three ports, he blundered so naturally that the warder had to
tell him, "This way, that way," till they reached the office. There,
at a glance, Jacques Collin recognized a tall, stout man leaning on
the stove, with a long, red face not without distinction: it was
"Monsieur is the chaplain?" said he, going towards him with simple
The mistake was so shocking that it froze the bystanders.
"No, monsieur," said Sanson; "I have other functions."
Sanson, the father of the last executioner of that name--for he has
recently been dismissed--was the son of the man who beheaded Louis
XVI. After four centuries of hereditary office, this descendant of so
many executioners had tried to repudiate the traditional burden. The
Sansons were for two hundred years executioners at Rouen before being
promoted to the first rank in the kingdom, and had carried out the
decrees of justice from father to son since the thirteenth century.
Few families can boast of an office or of nobility handed down in a
direct line during six centuries.
This young man had been captain in a cavalry regiment, and was looking
forward to a brilliant military career, when his father insisted on
his help in decapitating the king. Then he made his son his deputy
when, in 1793, two guillotines were in constant work--one at the
Barriere du Trone, and the other in the Place de Greve. This terrible
functionary, now a man of about sixty, was remarkable for his
dignified air, his gentle and deliberate manners, and his entire
contempt for Bibi-Lupin and his acolytes who fed the machine. The only
detail which betrayed the blood of the mediaeval executioner was the
formidable breadth and thickness of his hands. Well informed too,
caring greatly for his position as a citizen and an elector, and an
enthusiastic florist, this tall, brawny man with his low voice, his
calm reserve, his few words, and a high bald forehead, was like an
English nobleman rather than an executioner. And a Spanish priest
would certainly have fallen into the mistake which Jacques Collin had
"He is no convict!" said the head warder to the governor.
"I begin to think so too," replied Monsieur Gault, with a nod to that
Jacques Collin was led to the cellar-like room where Theodore Calvi,
in a straitwaistcoat, was sitting on the edge of the wretched camp
bed. Trompe-la-Mort, under a transient gleam of light from the
passage, at once recognized Bibi-Lupin in the gendarme who stood
leaning on his sword.
"Io sono Gaba-Morto. Parla nostro Italiano," said Jacques Collin very
rapidly. "Vengo ti salvar."
"I am Trompe-la-Mort. Talk our Italian. I have come to save you."
All the two chums wanted to say had, of course, to be incomprehensible
to the pretended gendarme; and as Bibi-Lupin was left in charge of the
prisoner, he could not leave his post. The man's fury was quite
Theodore Calvi, a young man with a pale olive complexion, light hair,
and hollow, dull, blue eyes, well built, hiding prodigious strength
under the lymphatic appearance that is not uncommon in Southerners,
would have had a charming face but for the strongly-arched eyebrows
and low forehead that gave him a sinister expression, scarlet lips of
savage cruelty, and a twitching of the muscles peculiar to Corsicans,
denoting that excessive irritability which makes them so prompt to
kill in any sudden squabble.
Theodore, startled at the sound of that voice, raised his head, and at
first thought himself the victim of a delusion; but as the experience
of two months had accustomed him to the darkness of this stone box, he
looked at the sham priest, and sighed deeply. He did not recognize
Jacques Collin, whose face, scarred by the application of sulphuric
acid, was not that of his old boss.
"It is really your Jacques; I am your confessor, and have come to get
you off. Do not be such a ninny as to know me; and speak as if you
were making a confession." He spoke with the utmost rapidity. "This
young fellow is very much depressed; he is afraid to die, he will
confess everything," said Jacques Collin, addressing the gendarme.
Bibi-Lupin dared not say a word for fear of being recognized.
"Say something to show me that you are he; you have nothing but his
voice," said Theodore.
"You see, poor boy, he assures me that he is innocent," said Jacques
Collin to Bibi-Lupin, who dared not speak for fear of being
"Sempre mi," said Jacques, returning close to Theodore, and speaking
the word in his ear.
"Sempre ti," replied Theodore, giving the countersign. "Yes, you are
"Did you do the trick?"
"Tell me the whole story, that I may see what can be done to save you;
make haste, Jack Ketch is waiting."
The Corsican at once knelt down and pretended to be about to confess.
Bibi-Lupin did not know what to do, for the conversation was so rapid
that it hardly took as much time as it does to read it. Theodore
hastily told all the details of the crime, of which Jacques Collin
"The jury gave their verdict without proof," he said finally.
"Child! you want to argue when they are waiting to cut off your
"But I might have been sent to spout the wedge.--And that is the way
they judge you!--and in Paris too!"
"But how did you do the job?" asked Trompe-la-Mort.
"Ah! there you are.--Since I saw you I made acquaintance with a girl,
a Corsican, I met when I came to Paris."
"Men who are such fools as to love a woman," cried Jacques Collin,
"always come to grief that way. They are tigers on the loose, tigers
who blab and look at themselves in the glass.--You were a gaby."
"Well, what good did she do you--that curse of a moll?"
"That duck of a girl--no taller than a bundle of firewood, as slippery
as an eel, and as nimble as a monkey--got in at the top of the oven,
and opened the front door. The dogs were well crammed with balls, and
as dead as herrings. I settled the two women. Then when I got the
swag, Ginetta locked the door and got out again by the oven."
"Such a clever dodge deserves life," said Jacques Collin, admiring the
execution of the crime as a sculptor admires the modeling of a figure.
"And I was fool enough to waste all that cleverness for a thousand
"No, for a woman," replied Jacques Collin. "I tell you, they deprive
us of all our wits," and Jacques Collin eyed Theodore with a flashing
glance of contempt.
"But you were not there!" said the Corsican; "I was all alone----"
"And do you love the slut?" asked Jacques Collin, feeling that the
reproach was a just one.
"Oh! I want to live, but it is for you now rather than for her."
"Be quite easy, I am not called Trompe-la-Mort for nothing. I
undertake the case."
"What! life?" cried the lad, lifting his swaddled hands towards the
damp vault of the cell.
"My little Madeleine, prepare to be lagged for life (penal
servitude)," replied Jacques Collin. "You can expect no less; they
won't crown you with roses like a fatted ox. When they first set us
down for Rochefort, it was because they wanted to be rid of us! But if
I can get you ticketed for Toulon, you can get out and come back to
Pantin (Paris), where I will find you a tidy way of living."
A sigh such as had rarely been heard under that inexorable roof struck
the stones, which sent back the sound that has no fellow in music, to
the ear of the astounded Bibi-Lupin.
"It is the effect of the absolution I promised him in return for his
revelations," said Jacques Collin to the gendarme. "These Corsicans,
monsieur, are full of faith! But he is as innocent as the Immaculate
Babe, and I mean to try to save him."
"God bless you, Monsieur l'Abbe!" said Theodore in French.
Trompe-la-Mort, more Carlos Herrera, more the canon than ever, left
the condemned cell, rushed back to the hall, and appeared before
Monsieur Gault in affected horror.
"Indeed, sir, the young man is innocent; he has told me who the guilty
person is! He was ready to die for a false point of honor--he is a
Corsican! Go and beg the public prosecutor to grant me five minutes'
interview. Monsieur de Granville cannot refuse to listen at once to a
Spanish priest who is suffering so cruelly from the blunders of the
"I will go," said Monsieur Gault, to the extreme astonishment of all
the witnesses of this extraordinary scene.
"And meanwhile," said Jacques, "send me back to the prison-yard where
I may finish the conversion of a criminal whose heart I have touched
already--they have hearts, these people!"
This speech produced a sensation in all who heard it. The gendarmes,
the registry clerk, Sanson, the warders, the executioner's assistant--
all awaiting orders to go and get the scaffold ready--to rig up the
machine, in prison slang--all these people, usually so indifferent,
were agitated by very natural curiosity.
Just then the rattle of a carriage with high-stepping horses was
heard; it stopped very suggestively at the gate of the Conciergerie on
the quay. The door was opened, and the step let down in such haste,
that every one supposed that some great personage had arrived.
Presently a lady waving a sheet of blue paper came forward to the
outer gate of the prison, followed by a footman and a chasseur.
Dressed very handsomely, and all in black, with a veil over her
bonnet, she was wiping her eyes with a floridly embroidered
Jacques Collin at once recognized Asie, or, to give the woman her true
name, Jacqueline Collin, his aunt. This horrible old woman--worthy of
her nephew--whose thoughts were all centered in the prisoner, and who
was defending him with intelligence and mother-wit that were a match
for the powers of the law, had a permit made out the evening before in
the name of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse's waiting-maid by the request
of Monsieur de Serizy, allowing her to see Lucien de Rubempre, and the
Abbe Carlos Herrera so soon as he should be brought out of the secret
cells. On this the Colonel, who was the Governor-in-Chief of all the
prisons had written a few words, and the mere color of the paper
revealed powerful influences; for these permits, like theatre-tickets,
differ in shape and appearance.
So the turnkey hastened to open the gate, especially when he saw the
chasseur with his plumes and an uniform of green and gold as dazzling
as a Russian General's, proclaiming a lady of aristocratic rank and
almost royal birth.
"Oh, my dear Abbe!" exclaimed this fine lady, shedding a torrent of
tears at the sight of the priest, "how could any one ever think of
putting such a saintly man in here, even by mistake?"
The Governor took the permit and read, "Introduced by His Excellency
the Comte de Serizy."
"Ah! Madame de San-Esteban, Madame la Marquise," cried Carlos Herrera,
"what admirable devotion!"
"But, madame, such interviews are against the rules," said the good
old Governor. And he intercepted the advance of this bale of black
watered-silk and lace.
"But at such a distance!" said Jacques Collin, "and in your
presence----" and he looked round at the group.
His aunt, whose dress might well dazzle the clerk, the Governor, the
warders, and the gendarmes, stank of musk. She had on, besides a
thousand crowns of lace, a black India cashmere shawl, worth six
thousand francs. And her chasseur was marching up and down outside
with the insolence of a lackey who knows that he is essential to an
exacting princess. He spoke never a word to the footman, who stood by
the gate on the quay, which is always open by day.
"What do you wish? What can I do?" said Madame de San-Esteban in the
lingo agreed upon by this aunt and nephew.
This dialect consisted in adding terminations in ar or in or, or in al
or in i to every word, whether French or slang, so as to disguise it
by lengthening it. It was a diplomatic cipher adapted to speech.
"Put all the letters in some safe place; take out those that are most
likely to compromise the ladies; come back, dressed very poorly, to
the Salle des Pas-Perdus, and wait for my orders."
Asie, otherwise Jacqueline, knelt as if to receive his blessing, and
the sham priest blessed his aunt with evengelical unction.
"Addio, Marchesa," said he aloud. "And," he added in their private
language, "find Europe and Paccard with the seven hundred and fifty
thousand francs they bagged. We must have them."
"Paccard is out there," said the pious Marquise, pointing to the
chasseur, her eyes full of tears.
This intuitive comprehension brought not merely a smile to the man's
lips, but a gesture of surprise; no one could astonish him but his
aunt. The sham Marquise turned to the bystanders with the air of a
woman accustomed to give herself airs.
"He is in despair at being unable to attend his son's funeral," said
she in broken French, "for this monstrous miscarriage of justice has
betrayed the saintly man's secret.--I am going to the funeral mass.--
Here, monsieur," she added to the Governor, handing him a purse of
gold, "this is to give your poor prisoners some comforts."
"What slap-up style!" her nephew whispered in approval.
Jacques Collin then followed the warder, who led him back to the yard.
Bibi-Lupin, quite desperate, had at last caught the eye of a real
gendarme, to whom, since Jacques Collin had gone, he had been
addressing significant "Ahems," and who took his place on guard in the
condemned cell. But Trompe-la-Mort's sworn foe was released too late
to see the great lady, who drove off in her dashing turn-out, and
whose voice, though disguised, fell on his ear with a vicious twang.
"Three hundred shiners for the boarders," said the head warder,
showing Bibi-Lupin the purse, which Monsieur Gault had handed over to
"Let's see, Monsieur Jacomety," said Bibi-Lupin.
The police agent took the purse, poured out the money into his hand,
and examined it curiously.
"Yes, it is gold, sure enough!" said he, "and a coat-of-arms on the
purse! The scoundrel! How clever he is! What an all-round villain! He
does us all brown----and all the time! He ought to be shot down like a
"Why, what's the matter?" asked the clerk, taking back the money.
"The matter! Why, the hussy stole it!" cried Bibi-Lupin, stamping with
rage on the flags of the gateway.
The words produced a great sensation among the spectators, who were
standing at a little distance from Monsieur Sanson. He, too, was still
standing, his back against the large stove in the middle of the
vaulted hall, awaiting the order to crop the felon's hair and erect
the scaffold on the Place de Greve.
On re-entering the yard, Jacques Collin went towards his chums at a
pace suited to a frequenter of the galleys.
"What have you on your mind?" said he to la Pouraille.
"My game is up," said the man, whom Jacques Collin led into a corner.
"What I want now is a pal I can trust."
La Pouraille, after telling the tale of all his crimes, but in
thieves' slang, gave an account of the murder and robbery of the two
"You have my respect," said Jacques Collin. "The job was well done;
but you seem to me to have blundered afterwards."
"In what say?"
"Well, having done the trick, you ought to have had a Russian
passport, have made up as a Russian prince, bought a fine coach with a
coat-of-arms on it, have boldly deposited your money in a bank, have
got a letter of credit on Hamburg, and then have set out posting to
Hamburg with a valet, a ladies' maid, and your mistress disguised as a
Russian princess. At Hamburg you should have sailed for Mexico. A chap
of spirit, with two hundred and eighty thousand francs in gold, ought
to be able to do what he pleases and go where he pleases, flathead!"
"Oh yes, you have such notions because you are the boss. Your nut is
always square on your shoulders--but I----"
"In short, a word of good advice in your position is like broth to a
dead man," said Jacques Collin, with a serpentlike gaze at his old
"True enough!" said la Pouraille, looking dubious. "But give me the
broth, all the same. If it does not suit my stomach, I can warm my
feet in it----"
"Here you are nabbed by the Justice, with five robberies and three
murders, the latest of them those of two rich and respectable
folks. . . . Now, juries do not like to see respectable folks killed.
You will be put through the machine, and there is not a chance for
"I have heard all that," said la Pouraille lamentably.
"My aunt Jacqueline, with whom I have just exchanged a few words in
the office, and who is, as you know, a mother to the pals, told me
that the authorities mean to be quit of you; they are so much afraid
"But I am rich now," said La Pouraille, with a simplicity which showed
how convinced a thief is of his natural right to steal. "What are they
"We have no time for philosophizing," said Jacques Collin. "To come
back to you----"
"What do you want with me?" said la Pouraille, interrupting his boss.
"You shall see. A dead dog is still worth something."
"To other people," said la Pouraille.
"I take you into my game!" said Jacques Collin.
"Well, that is something," said the murderer. "What next?"
"I do not ask you where your money is, but what you mean to do with
La Pouraille looked into the convict's impenetrable eye, and Jacques
coldly went on: "Have you a trip you are sweet upon, or a child, or a
pal to be helped? I shall be outside within an hour, and I can do much
for any one you want to be good-natured to."
La Pouraille still hesitated; he was delaying with indecision. Jacques
Collin produced a clinching argument.
"Your whack of our money would be thirty thousand francs. Do you leave
it to the pals? Do you bequeath it to anybody? Your share is safe; I
can give it this evening to any one you leave it to."
The murderer gave a little start of satisfaction.
"I have him!" said Jacques Collin to himself. "But we have no time to
play. Consider," he went on in la Pouraille's ear, "we have not ten
minutes to spare, old chap; the public prosecutor is to send for me,
and I am to have a talk with him. I have him safe, and can ring the
old boss' neck. I am certain I shall save Madeleine."
"If you save Madeleine, my good boss, you can just as easily----"
"Don't waste your spittle," said Jacques Collin shortly. "Make your
"Well, then--I want to leave the money to la Gonore," replied la
"What! Are you living with Moses' widow--the Jew who led the swindling
gang in the South?" asked Jacques Collin.
For Trompe-la-Mort, like a great general, knew the person of every one
of his army.
"That's the woman," said la Pouraille, much flattered.
"A pretty woman," said Jacques Collin, who knew exactly how to manage
his dreadful tools. "The moll is a beauty; she is well informed, and
stands by her mates, and a first-rate hand. Yes, la Gonore has made a
new man of you! What a flat you must be to risk your nut when you have
a trip like her at home! You noodle; you should have set up some
respectable little shop and lived quietly.--And what does she do?"
"She is settled in the Rue Sainte-Barbe, managing a house----"
"And she is to be your legatee? Ah, my dear boy, this is what such
sluts bring us to when we are such fools as to love them."
"Yes, but don't you give her anything till I am done for."
"It is a sacred trust," said Jacques Collin very seriously.
"And nothing to the pals?"
"Nothing! They blowed the gaff for me," answered la Pouraille
"Who did? Shall I serve 'em out?" asked Jacques Collin eagerly, trying
to rouse the last sentiment that survives in these souls till the last
hour. "Who knows, old pal, but I might at the same time do them a bad
turn and serve you with the public prosecutor?"
The murderer looked at his boss with amazed satisfaction.
"At this moment," the boss replied to this expressive look, "I am
playing the game only for Theodore. When this farce is played out, old
boy, I might do wonders for a chum--for you are a chum of mine."
"If I see that you really can put off the engagement for that poor
little Theodore, I will do anything you choose--there!"
"But the trick is done. I am sure to save his head. If you want to get
out of the scrape, you see, la Pouraille, you must be ready to do a
good turn--we can do nothing single-handed----"
"That's true," said the felon.
His confidence was so strong, and his faith in the boss so fanatical,
that he no longer hesitated. La Pouraille revealed the names of his
accomplices, a secret hitherto well kept. This was all Jacques needed
"That is the whole story. Ruffard was the third in the job with me and
"Arrache-Laine?" cried Jacques Collin, giving Ruffard his nickname
among the gang.
"That's the man.--And the blackguards peached because I knew where
they had hidden their whack, and they did not know where mine was."
"You are making it all easy, my cherub!" said Jacques Collin.
"Well," replied the master, "you see how wise it is to trust me
entirely. Your revenge is now part of the hand I am playing.--I do not
ask you to tell me where the dibs are, you can tell me at the last
moment; but tell me all about Ruffard and Godet."
"You are, and you always will be, our boss; I have no secrets from
you," replied la Pouraille. "My money is in the cellar at la
"And you are not afraid of her telling?"
"Why, get along! She knows nothing about my little game!" replied la
Pouraille. "I make her drunk, though she is of the sort that would
never blab even with her head under the knife.--But such a lot of
"Yes, that turns the milk of the purest conscience," replied Jacques
"So I could do the job with no peepers to spy me. All the chickens
were gone to roost. The shiners are three feet underground behind some
wine-bottles. And I spread some stones and mortar over them."
"Good," said Jacques Collin. "And the others?"
"Ruffard's pieces are with la Gonore in the poor woman's bedroom, and
he has her tight by that, for she might be nabbed as accessory after
the fact, and end her days in Saint-Lazare."
"The villain! The reelers teach a thief what's what," said Jacques.
"Godet left his pieces at his sister's, a washerwoman; honest girl,
she may be caught for five years in La Force without dreaming of it.
The pal raised the tiles of the floor, put them back again, and
"Now do you know what I want you to do?" said Jacques Collin, with a
magnetizing gaze at la Pouraille.
"I want you to take Madeleine's job on your shoulders."
La Pouraille started queerly; but he at once recovered himself and
stood at attention under the boss' eye.
"So you shy at that? You dare to spoil my game? Come, now! Four
murders or three. Does it not come to the same thing?"
"By the God of good-fellowship, there is no blood in your veins! And I
was thinking of saving you!"
"Idiot, if we promise to give the money back to the family, you will
only be lagged for life. I would not give a piece for your nut if we
keep the blunt, but at this moment you are worth seven hundred
thousand francs, you flat."
"Good for you, boss!" cried la Pouraille in great glee.
"And then," said Jacques Collin, "besides casting all the murders on
Ruffard--Bibi-Lupin will be finely cold. I have him this time."
La Pouraille was speechless at this suggestion; his eyes grew round,
and he stood like an image.
He had been three months in custody, and was committed for trial, and
his chums at La Force, to whom he had never mentioned his accomplices,
had given him such small comfort, that he was entirely hopeless after
his examination, and this simple expedient had been quite overlooked
by these prison-ridden minds. This semblance of a hope almost
stupefied his brain.
"Have Ruffard and Godet had their spree yet? Have they forked out any
of the yellow boys?" asked Jacques Collin.
"They dare not," replied la Pouraille. "The wretches are waiting till
I am turned off. That is what my moll sent me word by la Biffe when
she came to see le Biffon."
"Very well; we will have their whack of money in twenty-four hours,"
said Jacques Collin. "Then the blackguards cannot pay up, as you will;
you will come out as white as snow, and they will be red with all that
blood! By my kind offices you will seem a good sort of fellow led away
by them. I shall have money enough of yours to prove alibis on the
other counts, and when you are back on the hulks--for you are bound to
go there--you must see about escaping. It is a dog's life, still it is
La Pouraille's eyes glittered with suppressed delirium.
"With seven hundred thousand francs you can get a good many drinks,"
said Jacques Collin, making his pal quite drunk with hope.
"Ay, ay, boss!"
"I can bamboozle the Minister of Justice.--Ah, ha! Ruffard will shell
out to do for a reeler. Bibi-Lupin is fairly gulled!"
"Very good, it is a bargain," said la Pouraille with savage glee. "You
order, and I obey."
And he hugged Jacques Collin in his arms, while tears of joy stood in
his eyes, so hopeful did he feel of saving his head.
"That is not all," said Jacques Collin; "the public prosecutor does
not swallow everything, you know, especially when a new count is
entered against you. The next thing is to bring a moll into the case
by blowing the gaff."
"But how, and what for?"
"Do as I bid you; you will see." And Trompe-la-Mort briefly told the
secret of the Nanterre murders, showing him how necessary it was to
find a woman who would pretend to be Ginetta. Then he and la
Pouraille, now in good spirits, went across to le Biffon.
"I know how sweet you are on la Biffe," said Jacques Collin to this
The expression in le Biffon's eyes was a horrible poem.
"What will she do while you are on the hulks?"
A tear sparkled in le Biffon's fierce eyes.
"Well, suppose I were to get her lodgings in the Lorcefe des Largues"
(the women's La Force, i. e. les Madelonnettes or Saint-Lazare) "for a
stretch, allowing that time for you to be sentenced and sent there, to
arrive and to escape?"
"Even you cannot work such a miracle. She took no part in the job,"
replied la Biffe's partner.
"Oh, my good Biffon," said la Pouraille, "our boss is more powerful
than God Almighty."
"What is your password for her?" asked Jacques Collin, with the
assurance of a master to whom nothing can be refused.
"Sorgue a Pantin (night in Paris). If you say that she knows you have
come from me, and if you want her to do as you bid her, show her a
five-franc piece and say Tondif."
"She will be involved in the sentence on la Pouraille, and let off
with a year in quod for snitching," said Jacques Collin, looking at la
La Pouraille understood his boss' scheme, and by a single look
promised to persuade le Biffon to promote it by inducing la Biffe to
take upon herself this complicity in the crime la Pouraille was
prepared to confess.
"Farewell, my children. You will presently hear that I have saved my
boy from Jack Ketch," said Trompe-la-Mort. "Yes, Jack Ketch and his
hairdresser were waiting in the office to get Madeleine ready.--
There," he added, "they have come to fetch me to go to the public
And, in fact, a warder came out of the gate and beckoned to this
extraordinary man, who, in face of the young Corsican's danger, had
recovered his own against his own society.
It is worthy of note that at the moment when Lucien's body was taken
away from him, Jacques Collin had, with a crowning effort, made up his
mind to attempt a last incarnation, not as a human being, but as a
THING. He had at last taken the fateful step that Napoleon took on
board the boat which conveyed him to the Bellerophon. And a strange
concurrence of events aided this genius of evil and corruption in his
But though the unlooked-for conclusion of this life of crime may
perhaps be deprived of some of the marvelous effect which, in our day,
can be given to a narrative only by incredible improbabilities, it is
necessary, before we accompany Jacques Collin to the public
prosecutor's room, that we should follow Madame Camusot in her visits
during the time we have spent in the Conciergerie.
One of the obligations which the historian of manners must unfailingly
observe is that of never marring the truth for the sake of dramatic
arrangement, especially when the truth is so kind as to be in itself
romantic. Social nature, particularly in Paris, allows of such freaks
of chance, such complications of whimsical entanglements, that it
constantly outdoes the most inventive imagination. The audacity of
facts, by sheer improbability or indecorum, rises to heights of
"situation" forbidden to art, unless they are softened, cleansed, and
purified by the writer.
Madame Camusot did her utmost to dress herself for the morning almost
in good taste--a difficult task for the wife of a judge who for six
years has lived in a provincial town. Her object was to give no hold
for criticism to the Marquise d'Espard or the Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse, in a call so early as between eight and nine in the
morning. Amelie Cecile Camusot, nee Thirion, it must be said, only
half succeeded; and in a matter of dress is this not a twofold
Few people can imagine how useful the women of Paris are to ambitious
men of every class; they are equally necessary in the world of fashion
and the world of thieves, where, as we have seen, they fill a most
important part. For instance, suppose that a man, not to find himself
left in the lurch, must absolutely get speech within a given time with
the high functionary who was of such immense importance under the
Restoration, and who is to this day called the Keeper of the Seals--a
man, let us say, in the most favorable position, a judge, that is to
say, a man familiar with the way of things. He is compelled to seek
out the presiding judge of a circuit, or some private or official
secretary, and prove to him his need of an immediate interview. But is
a Keeper of the Seals ever visible "that very minute"? In the middle
of the day, if he is not at the Chamber, he is at the Privy Council,
or signing papers, or hearing a case. In the early morning he is out,
no one knows where. In the evening he has public and private
engagements. If every magistrate could claim a moment's interview
under any pretext that might occur to him, the Supreme Judge would be
The purpose of a private and immediate interview is therefore
submitted to the judgment of one of those mediatory potentates who are
but an obstacle to be removed, a door that can be unlocked, so long as
it is not held by a rival. A woman at once goes to another woman; she
can get straight into her bedroom if she can arouse the curiosity of
mistress or maid, especially if the mistress is under the stress of a
strong interest or pressing necessity.
Call this female potentate Madame la Marquise d'Espard, with whom a
Minister has to come to terms; this woman writes a little scented
note, which her man-servant carries to the Minister's man-servant. The
note greets the Minister on his waking, and he reads it at once.
Though the Minister has business to attend to, the man is enchanted to
have a reason for calling on one of the Queens of Paris, one of the
Powers of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, one of the favorites of the
Dauphiness, of MADAME, or of the King. Casimir Perier, the only real
statesman of the Revolution of July, would leave anything to call on a
retired Gentleman of the bed-chamber to King Charles X.
This theory accounts for the magical effect of the words:
"Madame,--Madame Camusot, on very important business, which she says
you know of," spoken in Madame d'Espard's ear by her maid, who thought
she was awake.
And the Marquise desired that Amelie should be shown in at once.
The magistrate's wife was attentively heard when she began with these
"Madame la Marquise, we have ruined ourselves by trying to avenge
"How is that, my dear?" replied the Marquise, looking at Madame
Camusot in the dim light that fell through the half-open door. "You
are vastly sweet this morning in that little bonnet. Where do you get
"You are very kind, madame.--Well, you know that Camusot's way of
examining Lucien de Rubempre drove the young man to despair, and he
hanged himself in prison."
"Oh, what will become of Madame de Serizy?" cried the Marquise,
affecting ignorance, that she might hear the whole story once more.
"Alas! they say she is quite mad," said Amelie. "If you could persuade
the Lord Keeper to send for my husband this minute, by special
messenger, to meet him at the Palais, the Minister would hear some
strange mysteries, and report them, no doubt, to the King. . . . Then
Camusot's enemies would be reduced to silence."
"But who are Camusot's enemies?" asked Madame d'Espard.
"The public prosecutor, and now Monsieur de Serizy."
"Very good, my dear," replied Madame d'Espard, who owed to Monsieur de
Granville and the Comte de Serizy her defeat in the disgraceful
proceedings by which she had tried to have her husband treated as a
lunatic, "I will protect you; I never forget either my foes or my
She rang; the maid drew open the curtains, and daylight flooded the
room; she asked for her desk, and the maid brought it in. The Marquise
hastily scrawled a few lines.
"Tell Godard to go on horseback, and carry this note to the
Chancellor's office.--There is no reply," said she to the maid.
The woman went out of the room quickly, but, in spite of the order,
remained at the door for some minutes.
"There are great mysteries going forward then?" asked Madame d'Espard.
"Tell me all about it, dear child. Has Clotilde de Grandlieu put a
finger in the pie?"
"You will know everything from the Lord Keeper, for my husband has
told me nothing. He only told me he was in danger. It would be better
for us that Madame de Serizy should die than that she should remain
"Poor woman!" said the Marquise. "But was she not mad already?"
Women of the world, by a hundred ways of pronouncing the same phrase,
illustrate to attentive hearers the infinite variety of musical modes.
The soul goes out into the voice as it does into the eyes; it vibrates
in light and in air--the elements acted on by the eyes and the voice.
By the tone she gave to the two words, "Poor woman!" the Marquise
betrayed the joy of satisfied hatred, the pleasure of triumph. Oh!
what woes did she not wish to befall Lucien's protectress. Revenge,
which nothing can assuage, which can survive the person hated, fills
us with dark terrors. And Madame Camusot, though harsh herself,
vindictive, and quarrelsome, was overwhelmed. She could find nothing
to say, and was silent.
"Diane told me that Leontine went to the prison," Madame d'Espard went
on. "The dear Duchess is in despair at such a scandal, for she is so
foolish as to be very fond of Madame de Serizy; however, it is
comprehensible: they both adored that little fool Lucien at about the
same time, and nothing so effectually binds or severs two women as
worshiping at the same altar. And our dear friend spent two hours
yesterday in Leontine's room. The poor Countess, it seems, says
dreadful things! I heard that it was disgusting! A woman of rank ought
not to give way to such attacks.--Bah! A purely physical passion.--The
Duchess came to see me as pale as death; she really was very brave.
There are monstrous things connected with this business."
"My husband will tell the Keeper of the Seals all he knows for his own
justification, for they wanted to save Lucien, and he, Madame la
Marquise, did his duty. An examining judge always has to question
people in private at the time fixed by law! He had to ask the poor
little wretch something, if only for form's sake, and the young fellow
did not understand, and confessed things----"
"He was an impertinent fool!" said Madame d'Espard in a hard tone.
The judge's wife kept silence on hearing this sentence.
"Though we failed in the matter of the Commission in Lunacy, it was
not Camusot's fault, I shall never forget that," said the Marquise
after a pause. "It was Lucien, Monsieur de Serizy, Monsieur de Bauvan,
and Monsieur de Granville who overthrew us. With time God will be on
my side; all those people will come to grief.--Be quite easy, I will
send the Chevalier d'Espard to the Keeper of the Seals that he may
desire your husbands's presence immediately, if that is of any use."
"Listen," said the Marquise. "I promise you the ribbon of the Legion
of Honor at once--to-morrow. It will be a conspicuous testimonial of
satisfaction with your conduct in this affair. Yes, it implies further
blame on Lucien; it will prove him guilty. Men do not commonly hang
themselves for the pleasure of it.--Now, good-bye, my pretty dear----"
Ten minutes later Madame Camusot was in the bedroom of the beautiful
Diane de Maufrigneuse, who had not gone to bed till one, and at nine
o'clock had not yet slept.
However insensible duchesses may be, even these women, whose hearts
are of stone, cannot see a friend a victim to madness without being
painfully impressed by it.
And besides, the connection between Diane and Lucien, though at an end
now eighteen months since, had left such memories with the Duchess
that the poor boy's disastrous end had been to her also a fearful
blow. All night Diane had seen visions of the beautiful youth, so
charming, so poetical, who had been so delightful a lover--painted as
Leontine depicted him, with the vividness of wild delirium. She had
letters from Lucien that she had kept, intoxicating letters worthy to
compare with Mirabeau's to Sophie, but more literary, more elaborate,
for Lucien's letters had been dictated by the most powerful of
passions--Vanity. Having the most bewitching of duchesses for his
mistress, and seeing her commit any folly for him--secret follies, of
course--had turned Lucien's head with happiness. The lover's pride had
inspired the poet. And the Duchess had treasured these touching
letters, as some old men keep indecent prints, for the sake of their
extravagant praise of all that was least duchess-like in her nature.
"And he died in a squalid prison!" cried she to herself, putting the
letters away in a panic when she heard her maid knocking gently at her
"Madame Camusot," said the woman, "on business of the greatest
importance to you, Madame la Duchesse."
Diane sprang to her feet in terror.
"Oh!" cried she, looking at Amelie, who had assumed a duly condoling
air, "I guess it all--my letters! It is about my letters. Oh, my
letters, my letters!"
She sank on to a couch. She remembered now how, in the extravagance of
her passion, she had answered Lucien in the same vein, had lauded the
man's poetry as he has sung the charms of the woman, and in what a
"Alas, yes, madame, I have come to save what is dearer to you than
life--your honor. Compose yourself and get dressed, we must go to the
Duchesse de Grandlieu; happily for you, you are not the only person
"But at the Palais, yesterday, Leontine burned, I am told, all the
letters found at poor Lucien's."
"But, madame, behind Lucien there was Jacques Collin!" cried the
magistrate's wife. "You always forget that horrible companionship
which beyond question led to that charming and lamented young man's
end. That Machiavelli of the galleys never loses his head! Monsieur
Camusot is convinced that the wretch has in some safe hiding-place all
the most compromising letters written by you ladies to his----"
"His friend," the Duchess hastily put in. "You are right, my child. We
must hold council at the Grandlieus'. We are all concerned in this
matter, and Serizy happily will lend us his aid."
Extreme peril--as we have observed in the scenes in the Conciergerie--
has a hold over the soul not less terrible than that of powerful
reagents over the body. It is a mental Voltaic battery. The day,
perhaps, is not far off when the process shall be discovered by which
feeling is chemically converted into a fluid not unlike the electric
The phenomena were the same in the convict and the Duchess. This
crushed, half-dying woman, who had not slept, who was so particular
over her dressing, had recovered the strength of a lioness at bay, and
the presence of mind of a general under fire. Diane chose her gown and
got through her dressing with the alacrity of a grisette who is her
own waiting-woman. It was so astounding, that the lady's-maid stood
for a moment stock-still, so greatly was she surprised to see her
mistress in her shift, not ill pleased perhaps to let the judge's wife
discern through the thin cloud of lawn a form as white and as perfect
as that of Canova's Venus. It was like a gem in a fold of tissue
paper. Diane suddenly remembered where a pair of stays had been put
that fastened in front, sparing a woman in a hurry the ill-spent time
and fatigue of being laced. She had arranged the lace trimming of her
shift and the fulness of the bosom by the time the maid had fetched
her petticoat, and crowned the work by putting on her gown. While
Amelie, at a sign from the maid, hooked the bodice behind, the woman
brought out a pair of thread stockings, velvet boots, a shawl, and a
bonnet. Amelie and the maid each drew on a stocking.
"You are the loveliest creature I ever saw!" said Amelie, insidiously
kissing Diane's elegant and polished knee with an eager impulse.
"Madame has not her match!" cried the maid.
"There, there, Josette, hold your tongue," replied the Duchess.--"Have
you a carriage?" she went on, to Madame Camusot. "Then come along, my
dear, we can talk on the road."
And the Duchess ran down the great stairs of the Hotel de Cadignan,
putting on her gloves as she went--a thing she had never been known to
"To the Hotel de Grandlieu, and drive fast," said she to one of her
men, signing to him to get up behind.
The footman hesitated--it was a hackney coach.
"Ah! Madame la Duchesse, you never told me that the young man had
letters of yours. Otherwise Camusot would have proceeded
differently . . ."