Part 4 out of 5
character, frequently complaining of stomach pains and
formications in the head''--in spite of this doctor's hints of
monomania in the accused, the jury, with every chance allowed
them to find her irresponsible, still saw nothing in her
extenuation. And very properly, since the law held the extreme
penalty for such as she, Helene went to the scaffold. Her judges
might have taken the sentimental view that she was abnormal,
though not mad in the common acceptation of the word. Appalled
by the secret menace to human life that she had been scared to
think of the ease and the safety in which she had been allowed
over twenty odd years to carry agonizing death to so many of her
kind, and convinced from the inhuman nature of her practices that
she was a lusus naturae, her judges, following sentimental
Anglo-Saxon example, might have given her asylum and let her live
for years at public expense. But possibly they saw no social or
Civic advantage in preserving her, so anti-social as she was.
They are a frugal nation, the French.
Having made you sup on horror a la Bretonne, or Continental
fashion, I am now to give you a savoury from England. This lest
you imagine that France, or the Continent, has a monopoly in
wholesale poison. Let me introduce you, as promised earlier, to
Mary Ann Cotton aged forty-one, found guilty of and sentenced to
death for the murder of a child, Charles Edward Cotton, by giving
Rainton, in Durham, was the place where, in 1832 Mary Ann found
mortal existence. At the age of fifteen or sixteen she began to
earn her own living as a nursemaid, an occupation which may
appear to have given her a distaste for infantile society. At
the age of nineteen and at Newcastle she married William Mowbray,
a collier, and went with him to live in Cornwall. Here the
couple remained for some years.
It was a fruitful marriage. Mary bore William five children in
Cornwall, but, unfortunately, four of the children
died--suddenly. With the remaining child the pair moved to
Mary's native county. They had hardly settled down in their new
home when the fifth child also died. It died, curiously enough,
of the ailment which had supposedly carried off the other four
Not long after the death of this daughter the Mowbrays removed to
Hendon, Sunderland, and here a sixth child was born. It proved
to be of as vulnerable a constitution as its brothers and
sisters, for it lasted merely a year. Four months later, while
suffering from an injured foot, which kept him at home, William
Mowbray fell ill, and died with a suddenness comparable to that
which had characterized the deaths of his progeny. His widow
found a job at the local infirmary, and there she met George
Ward. She married Mr Ward, but not for long. In a few months
after the nuptials George Ward followed his predecessor, Mowbray,
from an illness that in symptoms and speed of fatality closely
We next hear of Mary as housekeeper to a widower named Robinson,
whose wife she soon became. Robinson had five children by his
former wife. They all died in the year that followed his
marriage with Mary Ann, and all of `gastric fever.'
The second Mrs Robinson had two children by this third husband.
Both of these perished within a few weeks of their birth.
Mary Ann's mother fell ill, though not seriously. Mary Ann
volunteered to nurse the old lady. It must now be evident that
Mary Ann was a `carrier' of an obscure sort of intestinal fever,
because soon after her appearance in her mother's place the old
lady died of that complaint.
On her return to her own home, or soon after it, Mary was accused
by her husband of robbing him. She thought it wise to disappear
out of Robinson's life, a deprivation which probably served to
Under her old name of Mowbray, and by means of testimonials which
on later investigation proved spurious, Mary Ann got herself a
housekeeping job with a doctor in practice at Spennymore.
Falling into error regarding what was the doctor's and what was
her own, and her errors being too patent, she was dismissed.
Wallbottle is the scene of Mary Ann's next activities. Here she
made the acquaintance of a married man with a sick wife. His
name was Frederick Cotton. Soon after he had met Mary Ann his
wife died. She died of consumption, with no more trace of
gastric fever than is usual in her disease. But two of Cotton's
children died of intestinal inflammation not long after their
mother, and their aunt, Cotton's sister, who kept house for him,
was not long in her turn to sicken and die in a like manner.
The marriage which Mary Ann brought off with Frederick Cotton at
Newcastle anticipated the birth of a son by a mere three months.
With two of Cotton's children by his former marriage, and with
the infant son, the pair went to live at West Auckland. Here
Cotton died--and the three children--and a lodger by the curious
name of Natrass.
Altogether Mary Ann, in the twenty years during which she had
been moving in Cornwall and about the northeastern counties, had,
as it ultimately transpired, done away with twenty-four persons.
Nine of these were the fruit of her own loins. One of them was
the mother who gave her birth. Retribution fell upon her through
her twenty-fourth victim, Charles Edward Cotton, her infant
child. His death created suspicion. The child, it was shown,
was an obstacle to the marriage which she was already
contemplating--her fifth marriage, and, most likely, bigamous at
that. The doctor who had attended the child refused a death
certificate. In post-mortem examination arsenic was found in the
child's body. Cotton was arrested.
She was brought to trial in the early part of 1873 at Durham
Assizes. As said already, she was found guilty and sentenced to
death, the sentence being executed upon her in Durham Gaol in
March of that year. Before she died she made the following
remarkable statement: ``I have been a poisoner, but not
It is believed that she secured the poison from a vermicide in
which arsenic was mixed with soft soap. One finds it hard to
believe that she extracted the arsenic from the preparation (as
she must have done before administering it, or otherwise it must
have been its own emetic) unintentionally.
What advantage Mary Ann Cotton derived from her poisonings can
have been but small, almost as small as that gained by Helene
Jegado. Was it for social advancement that she murdered husbands
and children? Was she a `climber' in that sphere of society in
which she moved? One hesitates to think that passion swayed her
in being rid of the infant obstacle to the fifth marriage of her
contemplation. With her ``all o'er-teeming loins,'' this woman,
Hecuba in no other particular, must have been a very sow were
this her motive.
But I have come almost by accident on the word I need to compare
Mary Ann Cotton with Jegado. The Bretonne, creeping about her
native province leaving death in her track, with her piety, her
hypocrisy, her enjoyment of her own cruelty, is sinister and
repellent. But Mary Ann, moving from mate to mate and farrowing
from each, then savaging both them and the litter, has a musty
sowishness that the Bretonne misses. Both foul, yes. But we
needn't, we islanders, do any Jingo business in setting Mary Ann
VII: THE MERRY WIDOWS
Twenty years separate the cases of these two women, the length of
France lies between the scenes in which they are placed: Mme
Boursier, Paris, 1823; Mme Lacoste, Riguepeu, a small town in
Gascony, 1844. I tie their cases together for reasons which
cannot be apparent until both their stories are told--and which
may not be so apparent even then. That is not to say I claim
those reasons to be profound, recondite, or settled in the deeps
of psychology. The matter is, I would not have you believe that
I join their cases because of similarities that are superficial.
My hope is that you will find, as I do, a linking which, while
neither profound nor superficial, is curious at least. As I
cannot see that the one case transcends the other in drama or
interest, I take them chronologically, and begin with the Veuve
At the corner of Rue de la Paix and Rue Neuve Saint-Augustine in
1823 there stood a boutique d'epiceries. It was a flourishing
establishment, typical of the Paris of that time, and its
proprietors were people of decent standing among their
neighbours. More than the prosperous condition of their
business, which was said to yield a profit of over 11,000 francs
per annum, it was the happy and cheerful relationship existing
between les epoux Boursier that made them of such good
consideration in the district. The pair had been married for
thirteen years, and their union had been blessed by five
Boursier, a middle-aged man of average height, but very stout of
build and asthmatically short of neck, was recognized as a keen
trader. He did most of his trading away from the house in the
Rue de la Paix, and paid frequent visits, sometimes entire months
in duration, to Le Havre and Bordeaux. It is nowhere suggested
that those visits were made on any occasion other than that
of business. M. Boursier spent his days away from the house, and
his evenings with friends.
It does not anywhere appear that Mme Boursier objected to her
husband's absenteeism. She was a capable woman, rather younger
than her husband, and of somewhat better birth and education.
She seems to have been content with, if she did not exclusively
enjoy, having full charge of the business in the shop. Dark,
white of tooth, not particularly pretty, this woman of thirty-six
was, for her size, almost as stout as her husband. It is said
that her manner was a trifle imperious, but that no doubt
resulted from knowledge of her own capability, proved by the
successful way in which she handled her business and family
The household, apart from Mme and M. Boursier, and counting those
employed in the epicerie, consisted of the five children, Mme
Boursier's aunt (the Veuve Flamand), two porters (Delonges and
Beranger), Mlle Reine (the clerk), Halbout (the book-keeper), and
the cook (Josephine Blin).
On the morning of the 28th of June, which would be a Sunday,
Boursier was called by the cook to take his usual dejeuner,
consisting of chicken broth with rice. He did not like the taste
of it, but ate it. Within a little time he was violently sick,
and became so ill that he had to go to bed. The doctor, who was
called almost immediately, saw no cause for alarm, but prescribed
mild remedies. As the day went on, however, the sickness
increased in violence. Dr Bordot became anxious when he saw the
patient again in the evening. He applied leeches and mustard
poultices. Those ministrations failing to alleviate the
sufferings ofthe invalid, Dr Bordot brought a colleague into
consultation, but neither the new-comer, Dr Partra, nor
himself could be positive in diagnosis. Something gastric, it
was evident. They did what they could, though working, as it
were, in the dark.
The patient was no better next day. As night came on he was
worse than ever. A medical student named Toupie was enlisted as
nurse and watcher, and sat with the sufferer through the
night--but to no purpose. At four o'clock in the morning of the
Tuesday, the 30th, there came a crisis in the illness of
Boursier, and he died.
The grief exhibited by Mme Boursier, so suddenly widowed, was
just what might have been expected in the circumstances from a
woman of her station. She had lost a good-humoured companion,
the father of her five children, and the man whose genius in
trading had done so much to support her own activities for their
mutual profit. The Veuve Boursier grieved in adequate fashion
for the loss of her husband, but, being a capable woman and
responsible for the direction of affairs, did not allow her grief
to overwhelm her. The dead epicier was buried without much
delay--the weather was hot, and he had been of gross habit--and
the business at the corner of Rue de la Paix went on as near to
usual as the loss of the `outside' partner would allow.
Rumour, meantime, had got to work. There were circumstances
about the sudden death of Boursier which the busybodies of the
environs felt they might regard as suspicious. For some time
before the death of the epicier there had been hanging about the
establishment a Greek called Kostolo. He was a manservant out of
employ, and not, even on the surface, quite the sort of fellow
that a respectable couple like the Boursiers might be expected to
accept as a family friend. But such, no less, had been the
Greek's position with the household. So much so that, although
Kostolo had no money and apparently no prospects, Boursier
himself had asked him to be godfather to a niece. The epicier
found the Greek amusing, and, on falling so suddenly ill, made no
objection when Kostolo took it on himself to act as nurse, and to
help in the preparing of drinks and medicines that were prescribed.
It is perhaps to the rather loud-mouthed habits of this Kostolo
that the birth of suspicion among the neighbours may be
attributed. On the death of Boursier he had remarked that the
nails of the corpse were blue a colour, he said, which was almost
a certain indication of poisoning. Now, the two doctors who had
attended Boursier, having failed to account for his illness, were
inclined to suspect poisoning as the cause of his death. For
this reason they had suggested an autopsy, a suggestion rejected
by the widow. Her rejection of the idea aroused no immediate
suspicion of her in the minds of the doctors.
Kostolo, in addition to repeating outside the house his opinion
regarding the blueness of the dead Boursier's nails, began,
several days after the funeral, to brag to neighbours and friends
of the warm relationship existing between himself and the widow.
He dropped hints of a projected marriage. Upon this the
neighbours took to remembering how quickly Kostolo's friendship
with the Boursier family had sprung up, and how frequently he had
visited the establishment. His nursing activities were
remembered also. And it was noticed that his visits to the
Boursier house still went on; it was whispered that he visited
the Veuve Boursier in her bedroom.
The circumstances in which Boursier had fallen ill were well
known. Nobody, least of all Mme Boursier or Kostolo, had taken
any trouble to conceal them. Anybody who liked to ask either Mme
Boursier or the Greek about the soup could have a detailed story
at once. All the neighbourhood knew it. And since the Veuve
Boursier's story is substantially the same as other versions it may
as well be dealt with here and now.
M. Boursier, said his widow, tasted his soup that Sunday morning.
``What a taste!'' he said to the cook, Josephine. ``This rice is
poisoned.'' ``But, monsieur,'' Josephine protested, ``that's
amazing! The potage ought to be better than usual this morning,
because I made a liaison for it with three egg-yolks!''
M. Boursier called his wife, and told her he couldn't eat his
potage au riz. It was poisoned. Mme Boursier took a spoonful of
it herself, she said, and saw nothing the matter with it.
Whereupon her husband, saying that if it was all right he ought
to eat it, took several spoonfuls more.
``The poor man,'' said his widow, ``always had a bad taste in his
mouth, and he could not face his soup.'' Then, she explained, he
became very sick, and brought up what little of the soup he had
taken, together with flots de bile.
All this chatter of poison, particularly by Kostolo and the
widow, together with the persistent rumours of an adulterous
association between the pair, gave colour to suspicions of a
criminal complicity, and these in process of time came to the
ears of the officers of justice. The two doctors were summoned
by the Procureur-General, who questioned them closely regarding
Boursier's illness. To the mind of the official everything
pointed to suspicion of the widow. Word of the growing suspicion
against her reached Mme Boursier, and she now hastened to ask the
magistrates for an exhumation and a post-mortem examination.
This did not avert proceedings by the Procureur. It was already
known that she had refused the autopsy suggested by the two
doctors, and it was stated that she had hurried on the burial.
Kostolo and the Widow Boursier were called before the Juge
There is about the Greek Kostolo so much gaudy impudence and
barefaced roguery that, in spite of the fact that the main
concern of these pages is with women, I am constrained to add his
portrait to the sketches I have made in illustration. He is of
the gallery in which are Jingle and Montague Tigg, with this
difference--that he is rather more sordid than either.
Brought before the Procureur du Roi, he impudently confessed that
he had been, and still was, Mme Boursier's lover. He told the
judge that in the lifetime of her husband Mme Boursier had
visited him in his rooms several times, and that she had given
him money unknown to her husband.
Mme Boursier at first denied the adulterous intimacy with
Kostolo, but the evidence in the hands of the Procureur was too
much for her. She had partially to confess the truth of
Kostolo's statement in this regard. She emphatically denied,
however, that she had ever even thought of, let alone agreed to,
marriage with the Greek. She swore that she had been intimate
with Kostolo only once, and that, as far as giving him money was
concerned, she had advanced him but one small sum on his IOU.
These confessions, together with the information which had come
to him from other investigations, served to increase the feeling
of the Procureur that Boursier's death called for probing. He
issued an exhumation order, and on the 31st of July an autopsy on
the body of Boursier was carried out by MM. Orfila and Gardy,
doctors and professors of the Paris faculty of medicine. Their
finding was that no trace existed of any disorders to which the
death of Boursier might be attributed--such, for example, as
cerebral congestion, rupture of the heart or of a larger
vessel--but that, on the other hand, they had come upon a
sufficiency of arsenic in the intestines to have caused death.
On the 2nd of August the same two professors, aided by a third,
M. Barruel, carried out a further examination of the body. Their
testimony is highly technical. It is also rather revolting. I
am conscious that, dealing, as I have had to, with so much
arsenical poisoning (the favourite weapon of the woman murderer),
a gastric odour has been unavoidable in many of my pages--perhaps
too many. For that reason I shall refrain from quoting either in
the original French or in translation more than a small part of
the professors' report. I shall, however, make a lay shot on the
evidence it supplies. Boursier's interior generally was in foul
condition, which is not to be explained by any ingestion of
arsenic, but which suggests chronic and morbid pituitousness.
The marvel is that the man's digestion functioned at all. This
insanitary condition, however, was taken by the professors, as it
were, in their stride. They concentrated on some slight traces
of intestinal inflammation.
`` One observed,'' their report went on,
about the end of the ileum some grains of a whitish appearance
and rather stubbornly attached. These grains, being removed,
showed all the characteristics of white arsenic oxide. Put upon
glowing charcoal they volatilized, giving off white smoke and a
garlic odour. Treated with water, they dissolved, and the
solution, when brought into contact with liquid hydrosulphuric
acid, precipitated yellow sulphur of arsenic, particularly when
one heated it and added a few drops of hydrochloric acid.
These facts (including, I suppose, the conditions I have hinted
at) allowed them to conclude (a) that the stomach showed
traces of inflammation, and (b) that the intestinal canal yielded
a quantity of arsenic oxide sufficient to have produced that
inflammation and to have caused death.
The question now was forward as to where the arsenic found in the
body had come from. Inquiry established the fact that on the
15th of May, 1823--that is to say, several weeks before his
death--Boursier had bought half a pound of arsenic for the
purpose of destroying the rats in his shop cellars. In addition,
he had bought prepared rat-poison. Only a part of those
substances had been used. The remaining portions could not be
found about the shop, nor could Mme Boursier make any suggestions
for helping the search. She declared she had never seen any
arsenic about the house at all.
There was, however, sufficient gravity in the evidences on hand
to justify a definite indictment of Mme Boursier and Nicolas
Kostolo, the first of having poisoned her husband, and the second
of being accessory to the deed.
The pair were brought to trial on the 27th of November, 1823,
before the Seine Assize Court, M. Hardouin presiding. The
prosecution was conducted by the AvocatGeneral, M. de Broe.
Maitre Couture defended Mme Boursier. Maitre Theo. Perrin
appeared for Kostolo.
The case created great excitement, not only in Paris, but
throughout the country. Another poisoning case had not long
before this occupied the minds of the public very greatly--that
of the hypocritical Castaing for the murder of Auguste Ballet.
Indeed, there had been a lot of poisoning going on in French
society about this period. Political and religious controversy,
moreover, was rife. The populace were in a mood either to praise
extravagantly or just as extravagantly to condemn. It happened
that rumour convinced them of the guilt of the Veuve Boursier
and Kostolo, and the couple were condemned in advance. Such
was the popular spite against Mme Boursier and Kostolo that, it
is said, Maitre Couture at first refused the brief for the
widow's defence. He had already made a success of his defence of
a Mme Lavaillaut, accused of poisoning, and was much in demand in
cases where women sought judicial separation from their husbands.
People were calling him ``Providence for women.'' He did not
want to be nicknamed ``Providence for poisoners.'' But Mme
Boursier's case being more clearly presented to him he took up
The accused were brought into court.
Kostolo was about thirty years of age. He was tall, distinctly
good-looking in an exotic sort of way, with his dark hair,
complexion, and flashing eyes. He carried himself grandly, and
was elegandy clad in a frac noir. Not quite, as Army men were
supposed once to say, ``the clean potato, it was easy enough to
see that women of a kind would be his ready victims. It was
plain, in the court, that Master Nicolas thought himself the hero
of the occasion.
There was none of this flamboyance about the Widow Boursier. She
was dressed in complete mourning, and covered her face with a
handkerchief. It was manifest that, in the phrase of the crime
reporters, ``she felt her position keenly.'' The usual questions
as to her name and condition she answered almost inaudibly, her
voice choked with sobs.
Kostolo, on the contrary, replied in organ tones. He said that
he was born in Constantinople, and that he had no estate.
The acte d'accusation was read. It set forth the facts of the
adulterous association of the two accused, of the money lent by
Mme Boursier to Kostolo, of their meetings, and all the
suspicious circumstances previous to the death of the epicier.
The cook-girl, Josephine Blin, had prepared the potage au riz in
the kitchen, using the small iron pan that it was her wont to
employ. Having made the soup, she conveyed it in its terrine to
a small secretaire in the dining-room. This secretaire stood
within the stretch of an arm from the door of the comptoir in
which Mme Boursier usually worked. According to custom,
Josephine had divided the potage in two portions--one for
Boursier and the other for the youngest child. The youngster and
she had eaten the second portion between them, and neither had
experienced any ill-effects.
Josephine told her master that the soup was ready. He came at
her call, but did not eat the soup at once, being otherwise
occupied. The soup stood on the secretaire for about fifteen
minutes before Boursier started to eat it.
According to the accused, the accusation went on, after
Boursier's death the two doctors asked that they might be allowed
to perform an autopsy, since they were at a loss to explain the
sudden illness. This Mme Boursier refused, in spite of the
insistence of the doctors. She refused, she said, in the
interest of her children. She insisted, indeed, on a quick
burial, maintaining that, as her husband had been tres replet,
the body would rapidly putrefy, owing to the prevailing heat, and
that thus harm would be done to the delicate contents of the
Led by rumours of the bluish stains--almost certain indications
of a violent death--the authorities, said the accusation, ordered
an exhumation and autopsy. Arsenic was found in the body. It
was clear that Boursier, ignorant, as he was, of his wife's bad
conduct, had not killed himself. This was a point that the widow
had vainly attempted, during the process of instruction, to
maintain. She declared that one Clap, a friend of her late
husband, had come to her one day to say that a certain Charles, a
manservant, had remarked to him, ``Boursier poisoned himself
because he was tired of living.'' Called before the Juge
d'instruction, Henri Clap and Charles had concurred in denying
The accusation maintained that the whole attitude of Mme Boursier
proved her a poisoner. As soon as her husband became sick she
had taken the dish containing the remains of the rice soup,
emptied it into a dirty vessel, and passed water through the
dish. Then she had ordered Blin to clean it, which the latter
did, scrubbing it out with sand and ashes.
Questioned about arsenic in the house, Mme Boursier said, to
begin with, that Boursier had never spoken to her about arsenic,
but later admitted that her husband had mentioned both arsenic
and mort aux rats to her.
Asked regarding the people who frequented the house she had
mentioned all the friends of Boursier, but neglected to speak of
Kostolo. Later she had said she never had been intimate with the
Greek. But Kostolo, `` barefaced enough for anything,'' had
openly declared the nature of his relations with her. Then Mme
Boursier, after maintaining that she had been no more than
interested in Kostolo, finding pleasure in his company, had been
constrained to confess that she had misconducted herself with the
Greek in the dead man's room. She had given Kostolo the run of
her purse, the accusation declared, though she denied the fact,
insisting that what she had given him had been against his note.
There was only one conclusion, however. Mme Boursier, knowing
the poverty of her paramour, had paid him as her cicisbeo,
squandering upon him her children's patrimony.
The accusation then dealt with the supposed project of marriage,
and declared that in it there was sufficient motive for the
crime. Kostolo was Mme Boursier's accomplice beyond any doubt.
He had acted as nurse to the invalid, administering drinks and
medicines to him. He had had full opportunity for poisoning the
grocer. Penniless, out of work, it would be a good thing for him
if Boursier was eliminated. He had been blatant in his visits to
Mme Boursier after the death of the husband.
Then followed the first questioning of the accused.
Mme Boursier said she had kept tryst with Kostolo in the
Champs-Elysees. She admitted having been to his lodgings once.
On the mention of the name of Mlle Riene, a mistress of
Kostolo's, she said that the woman was partly in their
confidence. She had gone with Mlle Riene twice to Kostolo's
rooms. Once, she admitted, she had paid a visit to Versailles
with Kostolo unknown to her husband.
Asked if her husband had had any enemies, Mme Boursier said she
knew of none.
The questioning of Kostolo drew from him the admission that he
had had a number of mistresses all at one time. He made no bones
about his relations with them, nor about his relations with Mme
Boursier. He was quite blatant about it, and seemed to enjoy the
show he was putting up. Having airily answered a question in a
way that left him without any reputation, he would sweep the
court with his eyes, preening himself like a peacock.
He was asked about a journey Boursier had proposed making. At
what time had Boursier intended making the trip?
``Before his death,'' Kostolo replied.
The answer was unintentionally funny, but the Greek took credit
for the amusement it created in court. He conceived himself
a humorist, and the fact coloured all his subsequent answers.
Kostolo said that he had called to see Boursier on the first day
of his illness at three in the afternoon. He himself had
insisted on helping to nurse the invalid. Mme Boursier had
brought water, and he had given it to the sick man.
After Boursier's death he had remarked on the blueness of the
fingernails. It was a condition he had seen before in his own
country, on the body of a prince who had died of poison, and the
symptoms of whose illness had been very like those in Boursier's.
He had then suspected that Boursier had died of poisoning.
The loud murmurs that arose in court upon his blunt confession of
having misconducted himself with Mme Boursier fifteen days after
her husband's death seemed to evoke nothing but surprise in
Kostolo. He was then asked if he had proposed marriage to Mme
Boursier after Boursier's death.
``What!'' he exclaimed, with a grin. ``Ask a woman with five
children to marry me--a woman I don't love?''
Upon this answer Kostolo was taken to task by the President of
the court. M. Hardouin pointed out that Kostolo lived with a
woman who kept and fed him, giving him money, but that at the
same time he was taking money from Mme Boursier as her lover,
protesting the while that he loved her. What could the Greek say
in justification of such conduct?
``Excuse me, please, everybody,'' Kostolo replied, unabashed.
``I don't know quite how to express myself, but surely what I
have done is quite the common thing? I had no means of living
but from what Mme Boursier gave me.''
The murmurs evoked by the reply Kostolo treated with lofty
disdain. He seemed to find his audience somewhat prudish.
To further questioning he answered that he had never proposed
marriage to the Veuve Boursier. Possibly something might have
been said in fun. He knew, of course, that the late Boursier had
made a lot of money.
The cook, Josephine Blin, was called. At one time she had been
suspect. Her version of the potage incidents, though generally
in agreement with that of the accused widow, differed from it in
two essential points. When she took Boursier's soup into the
dining-room, she said, Mme Boursier was in the comptoir, three or
four paces away from the desk on which she put the terrine. This
Mme Boursier denied. She said she had been in the same comptoir
as her husband. Josephine declared that Mme Boursier had ordered
her to clean the soup-dish out with sand, but her mistress
maintained she had bade the girl do no more than clean it. For
the rest, Josephine thought about fifteen minutes elapsed before
Boursier came to take the soup. During that time she had seen
Mme Boursier writing and making up accounts.
Toupie, the medical student, said he had nursed Boursier during
the previous year. Boursier was then suffering much in the same
way as he had appeared to suffer during his fatal illness. He
had heard Mme Boursier consulting with friends about an autopsy,
and her refusal had been on their advice.
The doctors called were far from agreeing on the value of the
experiments they had made. Orfila, afterwards to intervene in
the much more universally notorious case of Mme Lafarge, stuck to
his opinion of death by arsenic. If his evidence in the Lafarge
case is read it will be seen that in the twenty years that had
passed from the Boursier trial his notions regarding the proper
routine of analysis for arsenic in a supposedly poisoned body had
undergone quite a change. But by then the Marsh technique had
been evolved. Here, however, he based his opinion on experiments
properly described as ``very equivocal;'' and stuck to it. He
was supported by a colleague named Lesieur.
M. Gardy said he had observed that the greater part of the grains
about the ileum, noted on the 1st of August, had disappeared next
day. The analysis had been made with quantities too small. He
now doubted greatly if the substance taken to be arsenic oxide
would account for death.
M. Barruel declared that from the glareous matter removed from
the body only a grain of the supposed arsenic had been extracted,
and that with difficulty. He had put the substance on glowing
charcoal, but, in his opinion, the experiment was VERY EQUIVOCAL.
It was at first believed that there was a big amount of arsenic,
but he felt impelled to say that the substance noted was nothing
other than small clusters of fat. The witness now refused to
conclude, as he had concluded on the 1st of August, that enough
poison had been in the body to cause death.
It would almost seem that the medical evidence should have been
enough to destroy the case for the prosecution, but other
witnesses were called.
Bailli, at one time a clerk to Boursier, said he had helped his
patron to distribute arsenic and rat-poison in the shop cellars.
He was well aware that the whole of the poison had not been used,
but in the course of his interrogation he had failed to remember
where the residue of the poisons had been put. He now
recollected. The unused portion of the arsenic had been put in a
niche of a bottle-rack.
In view of evidence given by a subsequent witness Bailli's rather
sudden recovery of memory might have been thought odd if a friend
of his had not been able to corroborate his statement. The
friend was one Rousselot, another grocer. He testified that he
and Bailli had searched together. Bailli had then cudgelled that
dull ass, his brain, to some effect, for they had ultimately come
upon the residue of the arsenic bought by Boursier lying with the
remainder of the mort aux rats. Both the poisons had been placed
at the bottom of a bottle-rack, and a plank had been nailed over
Rousselot, asked why he had not mentioned this fact before,
answered stupidly, ``I thought you knew it!''
The subsequent witness above referred to was an employee in the
Ministere du Roi, a man named Donzelle. In a stammering and
rather confused fashion he attempted to explain that the
vacillations of the witness Bailli had aroused his suspicions.
He said that Bailli, who at first had been vociferous in his
condemnation of the Widow Boursier, had later been rather more
vociferous in her defence. The witness (Donzelle) had it from a
third party that Mme Boursier's sister-in-law had corrupted other
witnesses with gifts of money. Bailli, for example, could have
been seen carrying bags of ecus under his arm, coming out of the
house of the advocate briefed to defend Mme Boursier.
Bailli, recalled, offered to prove that if he had been to Maitre
Couture's house he had come out of it in the same fashion as he
had gone in--that was, with a bag of bay salt under each arm.
Maitre Couture, highly indignant, rose to protest against the
insinuation of the witness Donzelle, but the President of the
court and the Avocat-General hastened to say that the eminent and
honourable advocate was at no need to justify himself. The
President sternly reprimanded Donzelle and sent him back to his
The Avocat-General, M. de Broe, stated the case for the
prosecution. He made, as probably was his duty, as much as he
could of the arsenic said to have been found in the body (that
precipitated as yellow sulphur of arsenic), and of the adultery
of Mme Boursier with Kostolo. He dwelt on the cleaning of the
soup-dish, and pointed out that while the soup stood on the desk
Mme Boursier had been here and there near it, never out of arm's
reach. In regard to Kostolo, the Greek was a low scallywag, but
The prosecution, you observe, rested on the poison's being
administered in the soup.
In his speech for the defence the eloquent Maitre Couture began
by condemning the gossip and the popular rumour on which the case
had been begun. He denounced the action of the magistrates in
instituting proceedings as deplorably unconsidered and hasty.
Mme Boursier, he pointed out, had everything to lose through the
loss of her husband. Why should she murder a fine merchant like
Boursier for a doubtful quantity like Kostolo? He spoke of the
happy relationship that had existed between husband and wife,
and, in proof of their kindness for each other, told of a comedy
interlude which had taken place on the Sunday morning.
Boursier, he said, had to get up before his wife that morning,
rising at six o'clock. His rising did not wake his wife, and,
perhaps humorously resenting her lazy torpor, he found a piece of
charcoal and decorated her countenance with a black moustache.
It was true that Mme Boursier showed some petulance over her
husband's prank when she got down at eight o'clock, but her
ill-humour did not last long. Her husband caressed and petted
her, and before long the wife joined her merry-minded husband in
laughing over the joke against her. That, said Maitre Couture,
that mutual laughter and kindness, seemed a strange preliminary
to the supposed poisoning episode of two hours or so later.
The truth of the matter was that Boursier carried the germ of
death in his own body. What enemy had he made? What vengeance
had he incurred? Maitre Couture reminded the jury of Boursier's
poor physical condition, of his stoutness, of the shortness of
his neck. He brought forward Toupie's evidence of Boursier's
illness of the previous year, alike in symptoms and in the
sufferings of the invalid to that which proved fatal on Tuesday
the 30th of June. Then Maitre Couture proceeded to tear the
medical evidence to pieces, and returned to the point that Mme
Boursier had been sleeping so profoundly, so serenely, on the
morning of her supposed contemplated murder that the prank played
on her by her intended victim had not disturbed her.
The President's address then followed. The jury retired, and
returned with a verdict of ``Not guilty.''
On this M. Hardouin discharged the accused, improving the
occasion with a homily which, considering the ordeal that Mme
Boursier had had to endure through so many months, and that might
have been considered punishment enough, may be quoted merely as a
fine specimen of salting the wound:
``Veuve Boursier,'' said he, ``you are about to recover that
liberty which suspicions of the gravest nature have caused you to
lose. The jury declares you not guilty of the crime imputed to
you. It is to be hoped that you will find a like absolution in
the court of your own conscience. But do not ever forget that
the cause of your unhappiness and of the dishonour which, it may
be, covers your name was the disorder of your ways and the
violation of the most sacred obligations. It is to be hoped that
your conduct to come may efface the shame of your conduct in the
past, and that repentance may restore the honour you have lost.''
Now we come, as the gentleman with the crimson handkerchief coyly
showing between dress waistcoat and shirt might have said, waving
his pointer as the canvas of the diorama rumbled on its rollers,
Some twenty years have elapsed since the Veuve Boursier stumbled
from the stand of the accused in the Assize Court of the Seine,
acquitted of the poisoning of her grocer husband, but convicted
of a moral flaw which may (or may not) have rather diminished
thereafter the turnover of the epicerie in the Rue de la Paix.
One hopes that her punishment finished with her acquittal, and
that the mood of the mob, as apt as a flying straw to veer for a
zephyr as for a whirlwind, swung to her favour from mere
revulsion on her escape from the scaffold. The one thing is as
likely as the other. Didn't the heavy man of the fit-up show,
eighteen months after his conviction for rape (the lapse of time
being occupied in paying the penalty), return as an actor to the
scene of his delinquency to find himself, not, as he expected,
pelted with dead cats and decaying vegetables, but cheered to the
echo? So may it have been with the Veuve Boursier.
Though in 1844, the year in which the poison trial at Auch was
opened, four years had passed since the conviction of Mme Lafarge
at Tulle, controversy on the latter case still was rife
throughout France. The two cases were linked, not only in the
minds of the lay public, but through close analogy in the idea of
lawyers and experts in medical jurisprudence. From her
prison cell Marie Lafarge watched the progress of the trial in
Gascony. And when its result was published one may be sure she
shed a tear or two.
But to Riguepeu . . .
You will not find it on anything but the biggest-scale maps. It
is an inconsiderable town a few miles from Vic-Fezensac, a town
not much bigger than itself and some twenty kilometres from Auch,
which is the capital of the department of Gers. You may take it
that Riguepeu lies in the heart of the Armagnac district.
Some little distance from Riguepeu itself, on the top of a rise,
stood the Chateau Philibert, a one-floored house with red tiles
and green shutters. Not much of a chateau, it was also called
locally La Maison de Madame. It belonged in 1843 to Henri
Lacoste, together with considerable land about it. It was
reckoned that Lacoste, with the land and other belongings, was
worth anything between 600,000 and 700,000 francs.
Henri had become rich late in life. The house and the domain had
been left him by his brother Philibert, and another brother's
death had also been of some benefit to him. Becoming rich, Henri
Lacoste thought it his duty to marry, and in 1839, though already
sixty-six years of age, picked on a girl young enough to have
been his granddaughter.
Euphemie Verges was, in fact, his grand-niece. She lived with
her parents at Mazeyrolles, a small village in the foothills of
the Pyrenees. Compared with Lacoste, the Verges were said to be
poor. Lacoste took it on himself to look after the girl's
education, having her sent at his charges to.a convent at Tarbes.
In 1841, on the 2nd of May, the marriage took place.
If this marriage of youth with crabbed age resulted in any
unhappiness the neighbours saw little of it. Though it was
rumoured that for her old and rich husband Euphemie had given up
a young man of her fancy in Tarbes, her conduct during the two
years she lived with Lacoste seemed to be irreproachable.
Lacoste was rather a nasty old fellow from all accounts. He was
niggardly, coarse, and a womanizer. Euphemie's position in the
house was little better than that of head domestic servant, but
in this her lot was the common one for wives of her station in
this part of France. She appeared to be contented enough with
About two years after the marriage, on the 16th of May, 1843, to
be exact, after a trip with his wife to the fair at Riguepeu, old
Lacoste was taken suddenly ill, ultimately becoming violently
sick. Eight days later he died.
By a will which Henri had made two months after his marriage his
wife was his sole beneficiary, and this will was no sooner proved
than the widow betook herself to Tarbes, where she speedily began
to make full use of her fortune. Milliners and dressmakers were
called into service, and the widow blossomed forth as a lady of
fashion. She next set up her own carriage. If these proceedings
had not been enough to excite envy among her female neighbours
the frequent visits paid to her in her genteel apartments by a
young man did the trick. The young man came on the scene less
than two months after the death of the old man. It was said that
his visits to the widow were prolonged until midnight. Scandal
resulted, and out of the scandal rumour regarding the death of
Henri Lacoste. It began to be said that the old man had died of
It was in December, six months after the death of Lacoste, that
the rumours came to the ears of the magistrates. Nor was there
lack of anonymous letters. It was the Widow Lacoste herself,
however, who demanded an exhumation and autopsy on the body of her
late husband--this as a preliminary to suing her traducers. Note,
in passing, how her action matches that of Veuve Boursier.
On the orders of the Juge d'instruction an autopsy was begun on
the 18th of December. The body of Lacoste was exhumed, the
internal organs were extracted, and these, with portions of the
muscular tissue, were submitted to analysis by a doctor of Auch,
M. Bouton, and two chemists of the same city, MM. Lidange and
Pons, who at the same time examined samples of the soil in which
the body had been interred. The finding was that the body of
Lacoste contained some arsenical preparation.
The matter now appearing to be grave, additional scientific
assurance was sought. Three of the most distinguished chemists
in Paris were called into service for a further analysis. They
were MM. Devergie, Pelouze, and Flandin. Their report ran in
The portion of the liver on which we have experimented proved to
contain a notable quantity of arsenic, amounting to more than
five milligrammes; the portions of the intestines and tissue
examined also contained appreciable traces which, though in
smaller proportion than contained by the liver, accord with the
known features of arsenical poisoning. There is no appearance of
the toxic element in the earth taken from the grave or in the
material of the coffin.
As soon as Mme Lacoste was apprised of the findings of the
autopsy she got into her carriage and was driven to Auch, where
she visited a friend of her late husband and of herself. To him
she announced her intention of surrendering herself to the
Procureur du Roi. The friend strongly advised her against
doing any such thing, advice which Mme Lacoste accepted with
On the 5th of January a summons to appear was issued for Mme
Lacoste. She was seen that day in Auch, walking the streets on
the arm of a friend. She even went to the post-office, but the
police agents failed to find her. She stopped the night in the
town. Next day she was at Riguepeu. She was getting out of her
carriage when a servant pointed out gendarmes coming up the hill
with the Mayor. When those officials arrived Euphemie was well
away. Search was made through the house and outbuildings, but
without result. ``Don't bother yourself looking any further,
Monsieur le Maire,'' said one of the servants. ``The mistress
isn't far away, but she's in a place where I could hide a couple
of oxen without you finding them.
From then on Mme Lacoste was hunted for everywhere. The roads to
Tarbes, Toulouse, and Vic-Fezensac were patrolled by brigades of
gendarmes day and night, but there was no sign of the fugitive.
It was rumoured that she had got away to Spain, that she was
cached in a barrel at Riguepeu, that she was in the fields
disguised as a shepherd, that she had taken the veil.
In the meantime the process against her went forward. Evidence
was to hand which seemed to inculpate with Mme Lacoste a poor and
old schoolmaster of Riguepeu named Joseph Meilhan. The latter,
arrested, stoutly denied not only his own part in the supposed
crime, but also the guilt of Mme Lacoste. ``Why doesn't she come
forward?'' he asked. ``She knows perfectly well she has nothing
to fear--no more than I have.''
From the `information' laid by the court of first instance at
Auch a warrant was issued for the appearance of Mme Lacoste and
Meilhan before the Assize of Gers. Mme Lacoste was apparently well
instructed by her friends. She did not come into the open until
the last possible moment. She gave herself up at the Auch prison
on the 4th of July.
Her health seemed to have suffered little from the vicissitudes
of her flight. It was noticed that her hair was short, a fact
which seemed to point to her having disguised herself. But, it
is said, she exhibited a serenity of mind which consorted ill
with the idea of guilt. She faced an interrogation lasting three
hours without faltering.
On the 10th of July she appeared before the Gers Assize Court,
held at Auch. The President was M. Donnoderie. Counsel for the
prosecution, as it were, was the Procureur du Roi, M. Cassagnol.
Mme Lacoste was defended by Maitre Alem-Rousseau, leader of the
bar of Auch.
The case aroused the liveliest interest, people flocking to the
town from as far away as Paris itself--so much so that at 6.30 in
the morning the one-time palace of the Archbishops of Auch, in
the hall of which the court was held, was packed.
The accused were called. First to appear was Joseph Meilhan. He
was a stout little old boy of sixty-six, rosy and bright-eyed,
with short white hair and heavy black eyebrows. He was calm and
smiling, completely master of himself.
Mme Lacoste then appeared on the arm of her advocate. She was
dressed in full widow's weeds. A little creature, slender but
not rounded of figure, she is described as more agreeable-looking
than actually pretty.
After the accused had answered with their names and descriptions
the acte d'accusation was read. It was a long document. It
recalled the circumstances of the Lacoste marriage and of the
death of the old man, with the autopsy and the finding of traces
of arsenic. It spoke of the lowly household tasks that Mme
Lacoste had performed with such goodwill from the beginning, and
of the reward for her diligence which came to her by the making
of a holograph will in which her husband made her his sole heir.
But the understanding between husband and wife did not last long,
the acte went on. Lacoste ardently desired a son and heir, and
his wife appeared to be barren. He confided his grief to an old
friend, one Lespere. Lespere pointed out that Euphemie was not
only Lacoste's wife, but his kinswoman as well. To this Lacoste
replied that the fact did not content him. ``I tell you on the
quiet,'' he said to his friend, ``I've made my arrangements. If
SHE knew--she's capable of poisoning me to get herself a younger
man.'' Lespere told him not to talk rubbish, in effect, but
Lacoste was stubborn on his notion.
This was but a year after the marriage. It seemed that Lacoste
had a melancholy presentiment of the fate which was to be his.
It was made out that Euphemie suffered from the avarice and
jealousy of her old husband. She was given no money, was hardly
allowed out of the house, and was not permitted even to go to
Vespers alone. And then, said the accusation, she discovered
that her husband wanted an heir. She had reason to fear that he
would go about getting one by an illicit association.
In the middle of 1842 she overheard her husband bargaining with
one of the domestics. The girl was asking for 100 pistoles (say,
L85), while her husband did not want to give more than 600 francs
(say, L24). ``Euphemie Verges had no doubt,'' ran the
accusation, ``that this was the price of an adulterous contract,
and she insisted on Marie Dupuys' being sent from the house.
This was the cause of disagreement between the married pair,
which did not conclude with the departure of the servant.''
Later another servant, named Jacquette Larrieux, told Mme Lacoste
in confidence that the master was trying to seduce her by the
offer of a pension of 2000 francs or a lump sum of 20,000.
Euphemie Verges, said the accusation, thus thought herself
exposed daily, by the infidelity of her husband, to the loss of
all her hopes. Also, talking to a Mme Bordes about the two
servants some days after Lacoste's death, she said, ``I had a bad
time with those two girls! If my husband had lived longer I
might have had nothing, because he wanted a child that he could
leave everything to.''
The acte d'accusation enlarged on the situation, then went on to
bring in Joseph Meilhan as Euphemie's accomplice. It made him
out to be a bad old man indeed. He had seduced, it was said, a
young girl named Lescure, who became enceinte, afterwards dying
from an abortion which Meilhan was accused of having procured.
It might be thought that the society of such a bad old man would
have disgusted a young woman, but Euphemie Verges admitted him to
intimacy. He was, it was said, the confidant for her domestic
troubles, and it was further rumoured that he acted as intermediary
in a secret correspondence that she kept up with a
young man of Tarbes who had been courting her before her
marriage. The counsels of such a man were not calculated to help
Mme Lacoste in her quarrels with her unfaithful and unlovable
Meanwhile M. Lacoste was letting new complaints be heard
regarding his wife. Again Lespere was his confidant. His wife
was bad and sulky. He was very inclined to undo what he had done
for her. This was in March of 1843.
Towards the end of April he made a like complaint to another old
friend, one Dupouy, who accused him of neglecting old friends
through uxoriousness. Lacoste said he found little pleasure
in his young wife. He was, on the contrary, a martyr. He was on
the point of disinheriting her.
And so, with the usual amount of on dit and disait-on, the acte
d'accusation came to the point of Lacoste at the Riguepeu fair.
He set out in his usual health, but, several hours later, said to
one Laffon, ``I have the shivers, cramps in the stomach. After
being made to drink by that ---Meilhan I felt ill.''
Departing from the fair alone, he met up with Jean Durieux, to
whom he said, ``That ---of a Meilhan asked me to have a drink, and
afterwards I had colic, and wanted to vomit.''
Arrived home, Lacoste said to Pierre Cournet that he had been
seized by a colic which made him ill all over, plaguing him,
giving him a desire to vomit which he could not satisfy. Cournet
noticed that Lacoste was as white as a sheet. He advised going
to bed and taking hot water. Lacoste took the advice. During
the night he was copiously sick. The old man was in bed in an
alcove near the kitchen, but next night he was put into a room
out of the way of noise.
Euphemie looked after her husband alone, preparing his drinks and
admitting nobody to see him. She let three days pass without
calling a doctor. Lacoste, it was true, had said he did not want
a doctor, but, said the accusation, ``there is no proof that he
persisted in that wish.''
On the fourth day she sent a summary of the illness to Dr Boubee,
asking for written advice. On the fifth day a surgeon was
called, M. Lasmolles, who was told that Lacoste had eaten a meal
of onions, garlic stems, and beans. But the story of this meal
was a lie, a premeditated lie. On the eve of the fair Mme
Lacoste was already speaking of such a meal, saying that that
sort of thing always made her husband ill.
According to the accusation, the considerable amount of poison
found in the body established that the arsenic had been
administered on several occasions, on the first by Meilhan and on
the others by Mme Lacoste.
When Henri Lacoste had drawn his last breath his wife shed a few
tears. But presently her grief gave place to other preoccupations.
She herself looked out the sheet for wrapping
the corpse, and thereafter she began to search in the desk for
the will which made her her husband's sole heir.
Next day Meilhan, who had not once looked in on Lacoste during
his illness, hastened to visit the widow. The widow invited him
to dinner. The day after that he dined with her again, and they
were seen walking together. Their intimacy seemed to grow daily.
But the friendship of Mme Lacoste for Meilhan did not end there.
Not very many days after the death of Lacoste Meilhan met the
Mayor of Riguepeu, M. Sabazan, and conducted him in a mysterious
manner into his schoolroom. Telling the Mayor that he knew him
to be a man of discretion, he confided in him that the Veuve
Lacoste intended giving him (Meilhan) a bill on one Castera. Did
the Mayor know Castera to be all right? The Mayor replied that a
bill on Castera was as good as gold itself. Meilhan said that
Mme Lacoste had assured him this was but the beginning of what
she meant to do for him.
Meilhan wrote to Castera, who called on him. The schoolmaster
told Castera that in return for 2000 francs which she had
borrowed from him Mme Lacoste had given him a note for 1772
francs, which was due from Castera to Henri Lacoste as part
inheritance from a brother. Meilhan showed Castera the original
note, which was to be renewed in Meilhan's favour. The accusation
dwelt on the different versions regarding his
possession of the note given by Meilhan to the Mayor and to
Castera. Meilhan was demonstrably lying to conceal Mme Lacoste's
Some little time after this Meilhan invited the Mayor a second
time into the schoolroom, and told him that Mme Lacoste meant to
assure him of a life annuity of 400 francs, and had asked him to
prepare the necessary document for her to sign. But there was
another proposition. If Meilhan would return the note for 1772
francs owing by Castera she would make the annuity up to 500.
What, asked Meilhan, would M. le Maire do in his place? The
Mayor replied that in Meilhan's place he would keep the Castera
note and be content with the 400 annuity. Then Meilhan asked the
Mayor to draw up for him a specimen of the document necessary for
creating the annuity. This M. Sabazan did at once, and gave the
draft to Meilhan.
Some days later still Meilhan told M. Sabazan that Mme Lacoste
did not wish to use the form of document suggested by the Mayor,
but had written one herself. Meilhan showed the Mayor the
widow's document, and begged him to read it to see if it was in
proper form. Sabazan read the document. It created an annuity
of 400 francs, payable yearly in the month of August. The Mayor
did not know actually if the deed was in the writing of Mme
Lacoste. He did not know her fist. But he could be certain that
it was not in Meilhan's hand.
This deed was later shown by Meilhan to the cure of Riguepeu, who
saw at least that the deed was not in Meilhan's writing. He
noticed that it showed some mistakes, and that the signature of
the Widow Lacoste began with the word ``Euphemie.''
In the month of August Meilhan was met coming out of Mme
Lacoste's by the Mayor. Jingling money in his pocket, the
schoolmaster told the Mayor he had just drawn the first payment
of his annuity. Later Meilhan bragged to the cure of Basais that
he was made for life. He took a handful of louis from his
pocket, and told the priest that this was his daily allowance.
``Whence,'' demanded the acte d'accusation, ``came all those
riches, if they were not the price of his share in the crime?''
But the good offices of Mme Lacoste towards Meilhan did not end
with the giving of money. In the month of August Meilhan was
chased from his lodgings by his landlord, Lescure, on suspicion
of having had intimate relations with the landlord's wife. The
intervention of the Mayor was ineffective in bringing about a
reconciliation between Meilhan and Lescure. Meilhan begged Mme
Lacoste to intercede, and where the Mayor had failed she
While Mme Lacoste was thus smothering Meilhan with kindnesses she
was longing herself to make the most of the fortune which had
come to her. From the first days of her widowhood she was
constantly writing letters which Mme Lescure carried for her.
Euphemie had already begun to talk of remarriage. Her choice was
already made. ``If I marry again,'' she said, a few days after
the death of Lacoste, ``I won't take anybody but M. Henri Berens,
of Tarbes. He was my first love.''
The accusation told of Euphemie's departure for Tarbes, where
almost her first caller was this M. Henri Berens. The next day
she gave up the lodgings rented by her late husband, to establish
herself in rich apartments owned by one Fourcade, which she
furnished sumptuously. The accusation dwelt on her purchase of
horses and a carriage and on her luxurious way of living. It
also brought forward some small incidents illustrative of her
distaste for the memory of her late husband. It dealt with
information supplied by her landlord which indicated that her
conscience was troubled. Twice M. Fourcade found her trembling, as
with fear. On his asking her what was the matter she replied, ``I
was thinking of my husband--if he saw me in a place furnished like
(It need hardly be pointed out, considering the sour and
avaricious ways of her late husband, that Euphemie need not have
been conscience-stricken with his murder to have trembled over
her lavish expenditure of his fortune. But the point is typical
of the trivialities with which the acte d'accusation was padded
The accusation claimed that a young man had several times been
seen leaving Euphemie's apartments at midnight, and spoke of
protests made by Mme Fourcade. Euphemie declared herself
indifferent to public opinion.
Public opinion, however, beginning to rise against her, Euphemie
had need to resort to lying in order to explain her husband's
death. To some she repeated the story of the
onion-garlic-and-beans meal, adding that, in spite of his
indigestion, he had eaten gluttonously later in the day. To
others she attributed his illness to two indigestible repasts
made at the fair. To others again she said Lacoste had died of a
hernia, forced out by his efforts to vomit. She was even accused
of saying that the doctor had attributed the death to this cause.
This, said the indictment, was a lie. Dr Lasmolles declared that
he had questioned Lacoste about the supposed hernia, and that the
old man denied having any such thing.
What had brought about Lacoste's fatal illness was the wine
Meilhan had made him drink at Rigeupeu fair.
With the rise of suspicion against her and her accomplice, Mme
Lacoste put up a brave front. She wrote to the Procureur du Roi,
demanding an exhumation, with the belief, no doubt, that time
would have effaced the poison. At the same time she sent the
bailiff Labadie to Riguepeu, to find out the names of those who
were traducing her, and to say that she intended to prosecute her
calumniators with the utmost rigour of the law. This, said the
accusation, was nothing but a move to frighten the witnesses
against her into silence. Instead of making good her threats the
Widow Lacoste disappeared.
On the arrest of Meilhan search of his lodgings resulted in the
finding of the note on Castera for 1772 francs, and of a sum of
800 francs in gold and silver. But of the deed creating the
annuity of 400 francs there was no trace.
Meilhan denied everything. In respect of the wine he was said to
have given Lacoste he said he had passed the whole of the 16th of
May in the company of a friend called Mothe, and that Mothe could
therefore prove Meilhan had never had a drink with Lacoste.
Mothe, however, declared he had left Meilhan that day at three
o'clock in the afternoon, and it was just at this time that
Meilhan had taken Lacoste into the auberge where he lived to give
him the poisoned drink. It was between three and four that
Lacoste first showed signs of being ill.
Asked to explain the note for 1772 francs, Meilhan said that,
about two months after Lacoste's death, the widow complained of
not having any ready money. She had the Castera note, and he
offered to discount it for her. This was a palpable lie, said
the accusation. It was only a few days after Lacoste's death
that Meilhan spoke to the Mayor about the Castera note.
Meilhan's statement was full of discrepancies. He told Castera
that he held the note against 2000 francs previously lent to the
widow. He now said that he had discounted the note on sight.
But the fact was that since Meilhan had come to live in Riguepeu
he had been without resources. He had stripped himself in order
to establish his son in a pharmacy at Vic-Fezensac. His profession
of schoolmaster scarcely brought him in enough for
living expenses. How, then, could he possibly be in a position
to lend Mme Lacoste 2000 francs? And how had he managed to
collect the 800 odd francs that were found in his lodgings? The
real explanation lay in the story he had twice given to the
Mayor, M. Sabazan: he was in possession of the Castera note
through the generosity of his accomplice.
Meilhan was in still greater difficulty to explain the document
which had settled on him an annuity of 400 francs, and which had
been seen in his hands. Denial was useless, since he had asked
the Mayor to make a draft for him, and since he had shown that
functionary the deed signed by Mme Lacoste. Here, word for word,
is the explanation given by the rubicund Joseph:
``My son,'' he said, ``kept asking me to contribute to the upkeep
of one of his boys who is in the seminary of Vic-Fezensac. I
consistently refused to do so, because I wanted to save what
little I might against the time when I should be unable to work
any longer. Six months ago my son wrote to the cure, begging him
to speak to me. The cure, not wishing to do so, sent on the
letter to the Mayor, who communicated with me. I replied that I
did not wish to do anything, adding that I intended investing my
savings in a life annuity. At the same time I begged M. Sabazan
to make me a draft in the name of Mme Lacoste. She knew nothing
about it. M. Sabazan sent me on the draft. It seemed to me well
drawn up. I rewrote it, and showed it to M. Sabazan. At the
foot of the deed I put the words `Veuve Lacoste,' but I had been
at pains to disguise my handwriting. I did all this with the
intention of making my son believe, when my infirmities obliged
me to retire to his household, that my income came from a life
annuity some one had given me; and to hide from him where I had put
my capital I wanted to persuade M. Sabazan that the deed
actually existed, so that he could bear witness to the fact to my
son.'' Here, said the accusation, Meilhan was trying to make
out that it was on the occasion of a letter from his son that he
had spoken to the Mayor of the annuity.
The cure of Riguepeu, however, while admitting that he had
received such a letter from Meilhan's son, declared that this was
long before the death of Henri Lacoste. The Mayor also said that
he had spoken to Meilhan of his son's letter well before the time
when the accused mentioned the annuity to him and asked for a
draft of the assignment.
The accusation ridiculed Meilhan's explanation, dubbing it just
another of the schoolmaster's lies. It brought forward a
contradictory explanation given by Meilhan to one Thener, a
surgeon, whom he knew to be in frequent contact with the son whom
the document was intended to deceive. Meilhan informed Thener
that he had fabricated the deed, and had shown it round, in order
to inspire such confidence in him as would secure him refuge when
he had to give up schoolmastering.
These contradictory and unbelievable explanations were the fruit
of Meilhan's efforts to cover the fact that the annuity was the
price paid him by the Widow Lacoste for his part in the murder of
her husband. It was to be remembered that M. Sabazan, whose
testimony was impeccable, had seen Meilhan come from the house of
Mme Lacoste, and that Meilhan had jingled money, saying he had
just drawn the first payment of his annuity.
The accusation, in sum, concentrated on the suspicious
relationship between Meilhan and the Widow Lacoste. It was a
long document, but something lacking in weight of proof--proof of
the actual murder, that is, if not of circumstance.
The process in a French criminal court was--and still
is--somewhat long-winded. The Procureur du Roi had to go over
the accusation in detail, making the most of Mme Lacoste's
intimacy with the ill-reputed old fellow. That parishioner, far
from being made indignant by the animadversions of M. Cassagnol,
listened to the recital of his misdeeds with a faint smile. He
was perhaps a little astonished at some of the points made
against him, but, it is said, contented himself with a gesture of
denial to the jury, and listened generally as if with pleasure at
hearing himself so well spoken of.
He was the first of the accused to be questioned.
It was brought out that he had been a soldier under the Republic,
and then for a time had studied pharmacy. He had been a
corn-merchant in a small way, and then had started schoolmaster.
Endeavour was made to get him to admit guilty knowledge of the
death of the Lescure girl. He had never even heard of an
abortion. The girl had a stomach-ache. This line failing, he
was interrogated on the matter of being chased from his lodgings
by the landlord-father, it would seem, of the aforementioned
girl. (It may be noted that Meilhan lived on in the auberge
after her death.) Meilhan had an innocent explanation of the
incident. It was all a mistake on the part of Lescure. And he
hadn't been chased out of the auberge. He had simply gone out
with his coat slung about his shoulders. Mme Lacoste went with
him to patch the matter up.
He had not given Lacoste a drink, hadn't even spoken with him, at
the Riguepeu fair, but had passed the day with M. Mothe. Cournet
had told him of Lacoste's having a headache, but had said nothing
of vomitings. He had not seen Lacoste during the latter's
illness, because Lacoste was seeing nobody.
This business of the annuity had got rather entangled, but he
would explain. He had lodged 1772 francs with Mme Lacoste, and
she had given him a bill on Castera. Whether he had given the
money before or after getting the bill he could not be sure. He
thought afterwards. He had forgotten the circumstances while in
Meilhan stuck pretty firmly to his story that it was to deceive
his son that he had fabricated the deed of annuity. He couldn't
help it if the story sounded thin. It was the fact.
How had he contrived to save, as he said, 3000 francs? His
yearly income during his six years at Riguepeu had been only 500
francs. The court had reason to be surprised.
``Ah! You're surprised!'' exclaimed Meilhan, rather put out.
But at Breuzeville, where he was before Riguepeu, he had bed and
board free. In Riguepeu he had nothing off the spit for days on
end. He spent only 130 francs a year, he said, giving details.
And then he did a little trade in corn.
He had destroyed the annuity deed only because it was worthless.
As for what he had said to the Mayor about drawing his first
payment of the pension, he had done it because he was a bit
conscience-stricken over fabricating the deed. He had been
bragging--that was all.
The President, having already chidden Meilhan for being prolix in
his answers, now scolded him for anticipating the questions. But
the fact was that Meilhan was not to be pinned down.
The first questions put to Mme Lacoste were with regard to her
marriage and her relations with her husband. She admitted,
incidentally, having begun to receive a young man some six weeks
after her husband's death, but she had not known him before
marriage. Meilhan had carried no letters between them. She had
married Lacoste of her own free will. Lacoste had not asked any
attentions from her that were not ordinarily sought by a husband,
and her care of him had been spontaneous. It was true he was
jealous, but he had not formally forbidden her pleasures. She
had renounced them, knowing he was easily upset. It was true
that she had seldom gone out, but she had never wanted to.
Lacoste was no more avaricious than most, and it was untrue that
he had denied her any necessaries.
Taken to the events of the fair day, Tuesday, the 16th of May,
Mme Lacoste maintained that her husband, on his return,
complained only of a headache. He had gone to bed early, but he
usually did. That night he slept in the same alcove as herself,
but next night they separated. In spite of the contrary evidence
of witnesses, of which the President reminded her, Mme Lacoste
firmly maintained that it was not until the Wednesday-Thursday
night that Lacoste started to vomit. It was not until that night
that she began to attend to him. She had given him lemonade,
washed him, and so on.
The President was saying that nobody had been allowed near him,
and that a doctor was not called, when the accused broke in with
a lively denial. Anybody who wanted to could see him, and a
doctor was called. This was towards the last, the President
pointed out. Mme Lacoste's advocate intervened here, saying that
it was the husband who did not wish a doctor called, for reasons
of his own. The President begged to be allowed to hear the
accused's own answers. He pointed out that the ministrations of
the accused had effected no betterment, but that the illness had
rapidly got worse. The delay in calling a doctor seemed to lend
a strange significance to the events.
Mme Lacoste answered in lively fashion, accenting her phrases
with the use of her hands: ``But, monsieur, you do not take into
account that it was not until the night of Wednesday and the
Thursday that my husband began to vomit, and that it was two days
after that he--he succumbed.''
The President said a way remained of fixing the dates and
clearing up the point. He had a letter written by M. Lacoste to
the doctor in which he himself explained the state of his
illness. It was pointed out to him that the letter had been
written by Mme Lacoste at her husband's dictation.
The letter was dated the 19th (Friday). It was directed to M.
Boubee, doctor of medicine, in Vic-Fezensac. Perhaps it would be
better to give it in the original language. It is something
frank in detail:
Depuis quelque temps j'avais perdu l'appetit et m'endormais de
suite quand j'etais assis. Mercredi il me vint un secours de
nature par un vomissement extraordinaire. Ces vomissements m'ont
dure pendant un jour et une nuit; je ne rendais que de la bile.
La nuit passee, je n'en ai pas rendu; dans ce moment, j'en rends
encore. Vous sentez combien ces efforts reiteres m'ont fatigue;
ces grands efforts m'ont fait partir de la bile par en bas; je
vous demanderai, monsieur, si vous ne trouveriez pas a propos que
je prisse une medecine d'huile de ricin ou autre, celle que vous
jugerez a propos. Je vous demanderai aussi si je pourrais
prendre quelques bains. [signe]
Je rends beaucoup de vents par en bas. Pour la boisson, je ne
bois que de l'eau chaude et de l'eau sucree. (Il n'y a pas eu de
The Procureur du Roi maintained that this letter showed the
invalid had already been taken with vomiting before it was
considered necessary to call in a doctor. But Mme Lacoste's
advocate pointed out that the letter was written by her, when she
had overcome Lacoste's distaste for doctors.
The President made much of the fact that Mme Lacoste had
undertaken even the lowliest of the attentions necessary in a
sick-room, when other, more mercenary, hands could have been
engaged in them. The accusation from this was that she did these
things from a desire to destroy incriminating evidences. Mme
Lacoste replied that she had done everything out of affection for
Asked by the court why she had not thought to give Dr Boubee any
explanations of the illness, she replied that she knew her
husband was always ill, but that he hid his maladies and was
ashamed of them. He had, it appeared, hernias, tetters, and
other maladies besides. It was easy for her to gather as much,
in spite of the mystery Lacoste made of them; she had seen him
rubbing his limbs at times with medicaments, and at others she
had seen him taking medicines internally. He was always vexed
when she found him at it. She did not know what doctor
prescribed the medicaments, nor the pharmacist who supplied them.
Her husband thought he knew more than the doctors, and usually
dealt with quacks.
Mme Lacoste was questioned regarding her husband's will, and on
his longing to have an heir of his own blood. She knew of the
will, but did not hear any word of his desire to alter it until
after his death. With regard to Lacoste's attempts to seduce the
servants, she declared this was a vague affair, and she had found
the first girl in question a place elsewhere.
Her letter to the Procureur du Roi demanding an exhumation and
justice against her slanderers was read. Then a second one, in
which she excused her absence, saying that she would give
herself up for judgment at the right time, and begged him to add
her letter to the papers of the process.
The President then returned to the question of her husband's
attempts to seduce the servants. She denied that this was the
cause of quarrels. There had been no quarrels. She did not know
that her husband was complaining outside about her.
She denied all knowledge of the arsenic found in Lacoste's body,
but suggested that it might have come from one or other of the
medicines he took.
Questioned with regard to her intimacy with Meilhan, she declared
that she knew nothing of his morals. She had intervened in the
Lescure affair at the request of Mme Lescure, who came to deny
the accusation made by Lescure. This woman had never acted as
intermediary between herself and Meilhan. Meilhan had not been
her confidant. She looked after her late husband's affairs
herself. She had handed over the Castera note to Meilhan against
his loan of 2000 francs, but she had never given him money as a
present. Nor had she ever spoken to Meilhan of an annuity. But
Meilhan, it was objected, had been showing a deed signed
``Euphemie Lacoste.'' The accused quickly replied that she never
signed herself ``Euphemie,'' but as ``Veuve Lacoste.'' Upon this
the President called for several letters written by the accused.
It was found that they were all signed ``Veuve Lacoste.''
The evidence of the Fourcades regarding her conduct in their
house at Tarbes was biased, she said. She had refused to take up
some people recommended by her landlady. The young man who had
visited her never remained longer than after ten o'clock or
half-past, and she saw nothing singular in that.
The examination-in-chief of Mme Lacoste ended with her firm
declaration that she knew nothing of the poisoning of her
husband, and that she had spoken the truth through all her
interrogations. Some supplementary questions were answered by
her to the effect that she knew, during her marriage, that her
husband had at one time suffered from venereal disease; and that
latterly there had been recrudescences of the affection, together
with the hernia already mentioned, for which her husband took
Throughout this long examination Mme Lacoste showed complete
self-possession, save that at times she exhibited a Gascon
impatience in answering what she conceived to be stupid
The experts responsible for the analysis of Lacoste's remains
were now called. All three of those gentlemen from Paris, MM.
Pelouze, Devergie, and Flandin, agreed in their findings. Two
vessels were exhibited, on which there glittered blobs of some
metallic substance. This substance, the experts deposed, was
arsenic obtained by the Marsh technique from the entrails and the
muscular tissue from Lacoste's body. They could be sure that the
substances used as reagents in the experiments were pure, and
that the earth about the body was free from arsenic.
M. Devergie said that science did not admit the presence of
arsenic as a normal thing in the human body. What was not made
clear by the expert was whether the amount of arsenic found in the
body of Lacoste was consistent with the drug's having been taken in
small doses, or whether it had been given in one dose.
Devergie's confrere Flandin later declared his conviction that
the death of Lacoste was due to one dose of the poison, but, from
a verbatim report, it appears that he did not give any reason for
At this point Mme Lacoste was recalled, and repeated her
statement that she had seen her husband rubbing himself with an
ointment and drinking some white liquid on the return of a
Dr Lasmolles testified that Lacoste, though very close-mouthed,
had told him of a skin affection that troubled him greatly. The
deceased dosed himself, and did not obey the doctors' orders. It
was only from a farmer that he understood Lacoste to have a
hernia, and Lacoste himself did not admit it. The doctor did not
believe the man poisoned. He had been impressed by the way Mme
Lacoste looked after her husband, and the latter did not complain
about anyone. M. Lasmolles had heard no mention from Lacoste of
the glass of wine given him by Meilhan.
After M. Devergie had said that he had heard of arsenical
remedies used externally for skin diseases, but never of any
taken internally, M. Plandin expressed his opinion as before
The next witness was one Dupouy, of whom some mention has already
been made. Five days before his death Lacoste told him that,
annoyed with his wife, he definitely intended to disinherit her.
Dupouy admitted, however, that shortly before this the deceased
had spoken of taking a pleasure trip with Mme Lacoste.
Lespere then repeated his story of the complaints made to him by
Lacoste of his wife's conduct, of his intention of altering his
will, and of his belief that Euphemie was capable of poisoning
him in order to get a younger man. It was plain that this
witness, a friend of Lacoste's for forty-six years, was not ready
to make any admissions in her favour. He swore that Lacoste had
told him his wife did not know she was his sole heir. He was
allowed to say that on the death of Lacoste he had immediately
assumed that the poisoning feared by Lacoste had been brought
about. He had heard nothing from Lacoste of secret maladies or
secret remedies, but had been so deep in Lacoste's confidence
that he felt sure his old friend would have mentioned them. He
had heard of such things only at the beginning of the case.
The Procureur du Roi remarked here that reliance on the secret
remedies was the `system' of the defence.
That seemed to be the case. The `system' of the prosecution, on
the other hand, was to snatch at anything likely to appear as
evidence against the two accused. The points mainly at issue
were as follows:
(1) Did Meilhan have a chance of giving Lacoste a drink at the
(2) Did Lacoste become violently sick immediately on his return
from the fair?
(3) Did Lacoste suffer from the ailments attributed to him by his
wife, and was he in the habit of dosing himself?
(4) Did Meilhan receive money from Mme Lacoste, and,
particularly, did she propose to allow him the supposed annuity?
With regard to (1), several witnesses declared that Lacoste had
complained to them of feeling ill after drinking with Meilhan,
but none could speak of seeing the two men together. M. Mothe,
the friend cited by Meilhan, less positive in his evidence in
court than the acte d'accusation made him out to be, could not
remember if it was on the 16th of May that he had spent the whole
afternoon with Meilhan. It was so much his habit to be with
Meilhan during the days of the fair that he had no distinct
recollection of any of them. Another witness, having business
with Lacoste, declared that on the day in question it was
impossible for Meilhan to have been alone with Lacoste during the
time that the latter was supposed to have taken the poisoned
drink. Lescure, in whose auberge Lacoste was supposed to have
had the drink, failed to remember such an incident. The evidence
that Meilhan had given Lacoste the drink was all second-hand;
that to the contrary was definite.
For the most part the evidence with regard to (2), that Lacoste
became very ill immediately on his return from the fair, was
hearsay. The servants belonging to the Lacoste household all
maintained that the vomiting did not seize the old man until the
night of Wednesday-Thursday. Indeed, two witnesses testified that
the old man, in spite of his supposed headache, essayed to show
them how well he could dance. This was on his return from the fair
where he was supposed to have been given a poisoned drink at three
o'clock. The evidence regarding the seclusion of Lacoste by his
wife was contradictory, but the most direct of it
maintained that it was the old man himself, if anyone, who wanted
to be left alone. On this point arises the question of the delay
in calling the doctor. Witness after witness testified to
Lacoste's hatred of the medical faculty and to his preference for
dosing himself. He declared his faith in a local vet.
On (3), the bulk of the evidence against Lacoste's having the
suggested afflictions came simply from witnesses who had not
heard of them. There was, on the contrary, quite a number of
witnesses to declare that Lacoste did suffer from a skin disease,
and that he was in the habit of using quack remedies, the
stronger the better. It was also testified that Lacoste was in
the habit of prescribing his remedies for other people. A
witness declared that a woman to whom Lacoste had given medicine
for an indisposition had become crippled, and still was crippled.
With regard to (4), the Mayor merely repeated the evidence given
in his first statement, but the cure', who also saw the deed
assigning an annuity to Meilhan, said that it was not in Mme
Lacoste's writing, and that it was signed with the unusual
``Euphemie.'' This last witness added that Mme Lacoste's
reputation was irreproachable, and that her relations with her
husband were happy.
Evidence from a business-man in Tarbes showed that Mme Lacoste's
handling of her fortune was careful to a degree, her expenditure
being well within her income. This witness also proved that the
Fourcades' evidence of Euphemie's misbehaviour could have been
dictated from spite. Fourcade had been found out in what looked
like a swindle over money which he owed to the Lacoste estate.
The court then went more deeply into the medico-legal evidence.
It were tedious to follow the course of this long argument.
After a lengthy dissertation on the progress of an acute
indigestion and the effects of a strangulated hernia M. Devergie
said that, as the poison existed in the body, from the symptoms
shown in the illness it could be assumed that death had resulted
from arsenic. The duration of the illness was in accord with the
amount of arsenic found.
M. Flandin agreed with this, but M. Pelouze abstained from
expressing an opinion. He, however, rather gave the show away,
by saying that if he was a doctor he would take care to forbid
any arsenical preparations. ``These preparations,'' he said
moodily, ``can introduce a melancholy obscurity into the
investigations of criminal justice.''
Some sense was brought into the discussion by Dr Molas, of Auch.
He put forward the then accepted idea of the accumulation of
arsenic taken in small doses, and the power of this accumulation,
on the least accident, of determining death.
This was rather like chucking a monkey-wrench into the
cerebration machinery of the Paris experts. They admitted that
the absorption and elimination of arsenic varied with the
individual, and generally handed the case over to the defence.
M. Devergie was the only one who stuck out, but only partially
even then. ``I persist in believing,'' he said, `` that M.
Lacoste succumbed to poisoning by arsenic; but I use the word
`poisoning' only from the point of view of science: arsenic
The speech of the Procureur du Roi was another resume of the acte
d'accusation, with consideration of that part of the evidence
which suited him best.
This was followed by the speech of Maitre Canteloup in defence of
Meilhan. The speech was a good effort which demonstrated that,
whatever rumour might accuse the schoolmaster of, there were
plenty of people of standing who had found him upright and free
from stain through a long life. It reproached the accusation
with jugglery over dates and so forth in support of its case, and
confidently predicted the acquittal of Meilhan.
Then followed the speech of Maitre Alem-Rousseau on behalf of the
Veuve Lacoste. Among other things the advocate brought forward
the fact that Euphemie was not so poorly born as the prosecution
had made out, but that she had every chance of inheriting some
20,000 francs from her parents. It was notorious that when Henri
Lacoste first broached the subject of marriage with Euphemie he
was not so rich as he afterwards became, but, in fact, believed he
had lost the inheritance from his brother Philibert, this last
having made a will in favour of a young man of whom popular rumour
made him the father. This was in 1839. The marriage was
celebrated in May of 1841. Henri Lacoste, it is true, had hidden
his intentions, but when news of the marriage reached the ears of
brother Philibert that brother was so delighted that he destroyed
the will which disinherited Henri. It was thus right to say that
Euphemie became the benefactor of her husband. Where was the
speculative marriage on the part of Euphemie that the prosecution
Maitre Alem-Rousseau made short work of the medico-legal evidence
(he had little bother with the facts of the illness). Poison was
found in the body. The question was, how had it got there? Was
it quite certain that arsenic could not get into the human body
save by ingestion, that it could not exist in the human body
normally? The science of the day said no, he knew, but the
science of yesterday had said yes. Who knew what the science of
to-morrow would say?
The advocate made use of the evidence of a witness whose
testimony I have failed to find in the accounts of the trial.
This witness spoke of Lacoste's having asked, in Bordeaux, for a
certain liquor of ``Saint-Louis,'' a liquor which Mme Lacoste
took to be an anisette. ``No,'' said Lacoste, ``women don't take
it.'' Maitre Alem-Rousseau had tried to discover what this
liquor of Saint-Louis was. During the trial he had come upon the
fact that the arsenical preparation known as Fowler's solution
had been administered for the first time in the hospital of
Saint-Louis, in Paris. He showed an issue of the Hospital
Gazette in which the advertisement could be read: ``Solution de
Fowler telle qu'on l'administre a SAINT-LOUIS!'' The jury could
make what they liked of that fact.
The advocate now produced documents to prove that the marriage of
Euphemie with her grand-uncle had not been so much to her
advantage, but had been--it must have been--a marriage of
affection. At the time when the marriage was arranged, he
proved, Lacoste had no more than 35,000 francs to his name.
Euphemie had 15,000 francs on her marriage and the hope of 20,000
francs more. The pretence of the prosecution, that her
contentment with the abject duties which she had to perform in
the house was dictated by interest, fell to the ground with the
preliminary assumption that she had married for her husband's
Maitre Alem, defending the widow's gayish conduct after her
husband's death, declared it to be natural enough. It had been
shown to be innocent. He trounced the Press for helping to
exaggerate the rumours which envy of Mme Lacoste's good fortune
had created. He asked the jury to acquit Mme Lacoste.
The Procureur du Roi had another say. It was again an attempt to
destroy the `system' of the defence, but by making a mystery of
the fact that the Lacoste-Verges marriage had not taken place in
a church he gave the wily Maitre Alem an opportunity for
The summing-up of the President on the third day of the trial
was, it is said, a model of clarity and impartiality. The jury
returned on all the points put to them a verdict of ``Not
guilty'' for both the accused.
Another verdict may now seem to have been hardly possible. The
accusation was built up on the jealousy of neighbours, on chance
circumstances, on testimonies founded on petty spite. But,
combined with the medico-legal evidence, the weight of
circumstance might easily have hoisted the accused in the
It will be seen, then, how much on foot the case of the Veuve
Lacoste was with that of the Veuve Boursier, twenty years before.
It is on the experience of cases such as these two that the
technique of investigation into arsenical poison has been
evolved. In the case of Veuve Boursier you find M. Orfila
discovering oxide of arsenic where M. Barruel saw only grains of
fat. Four years previous to the case of the Veuve Lacoste that
same Orfila came into the trial of Mme Lafarge with the first use
in medical jurisprudence of the Marsh test, and based on the
experiment a cocksure opinion which had much to do with the
condemnation of that unfortunate woman. In the Lacoste trial you
find the Parisian experts giving an opinion of no greater value
than that of Orfila's in the Lafarge case, but find also an
element of doubt introduced by the country practitioner, with his
common sense on the then moot question of the accumulation, the
absorption, and elimination of the drug.
Nowadays we are quite certain that our experts in medical
jurisprudence know all there is to know about arsenical
poisoning. What are the chances, however, in spite of our
apparently well-founded faith, that some bristle-headed local
chemist with a fighting chin will not spring up at an
arsenic-poisoning trial and, with new facts about the substance,
blow to pieces the cocksure evidence of the leading expert in
pathology? It may seem impossible that such a thing can ever
happen again--a mistake regarding the action of arsenic on the
human body. But when we discover it becoming a commonplace of
science that one human may be poisoned by an everyday substance
which thousands of his fellows eat with enjoyment as well as
impunity--a substance, for instance, as everyday as
porridge--who will dare say even now that the last word has been
said and written of arsenic?
But that, as the late George Moore so doted on saying, is
quelconque. M. Orfila, sure about the grocer of the Rue de la
Paix, was defeated by M. Barruel. M. Orfila, sure about the
death of Charles Lafarge, is declared by to-day's experts in
criminal jurisprudence and pathology to have been talking through
his hat. According to the present experts, says ``Philip
Curtin,'' Lafarge was not poisoned at all, but died a natural
death. Because of M. Devergie it was for the Veuve Lacoste as
much `touch and go' as it was for the Veuve Boursier twenty years
before. Well might Marie-Fortunee Lafarge, hearing in prison of
the verdict in the Lacoste trial, say, ``Ma condamnation a sauve
In all this there's a moral lesson somewhere, but I'm blessed if
I can put my finger on it.
Abbot, George, Archbishop of Canterbury
Alem-Rousseau, Maitre; on arsenic
Amos (Great Oyer of Poisoning)
Aqua fortis--see Poisons
Artois, Comte d'--see Charles X
Aumale, Duc d'
Bacon, Sir Francis
Balfour, Rev. James
Barry, Philip Beaufroy
Berry, Duchesse de
Bidard, Professor; evidence against Helene Jegado
Black, Mrs (Armagh)
Bordeaux, Duc de
Borgia, Rodrigo, Pope Alexander VI
Bourbon, Louis-Henri-Joseph, Duc de, afterwards Prince de Conde
Bourbon, Louise-Marie-Therese-Mathilde d'Orleans, Duchesse de
Boursier, Veuve; case compared with Veuve Lacoste's
Broe, M. de, Avocat-General
Bruce, Rev. Robert
Burke and Hare
Burning at the stake
Carew, Edith Mary
Cassagnol, M., Procureur du Roi, Auch
Cecil, Robert, Lord Salisbury
Chabannes de la Palice, Marquise de
Charles X, King of France; flight from France
Coke, Sir Edward, Lord Chief Justice
Conde, Louis-Henri-Joseph, Prince de--see Bourbon, Duc de Conde,
Louis-Joseph, Prince de
Cotton, Mary Ann
Couture, Maitre; speech in defence of Mme Boursier
Dawes, James, made Baron de Flassans
Devergie, M., chemist
Diamond powder--see Poisons
Donnoderie, M., Assize President, Auch
Dorange, Maitre; defence of Helene Jegado
Dubois, Dr, his account of the Prince de Conde's death
Dunnipace, Laird of--see Livingstone, John
``Egalite''--see Orleans, Louis-Philippe
Elwes, Sir Gervase
Enghien, Duc d'
Essex, Countess of--see Howard, Frances
Essex, Robert Devereux, third Earl of
Feucheres, Adrien-Victor, Baron de; marriage with Sophie Dawes;
Feucheres, Baronne de--see Dawes, Sophie
Flanagan, Mrs. poisoner
Flandin, M., chemist
Flassans, Baronde--see Dawes, James
Fly-papers, for arsenic
Gribble, Leonard R.
Hardouin, M., Assize President, Seine
Henry, Prince of Wales, son of James VI and I
Higgins, Mrs, poisoner
Holroyd, Susannah, poisoner
Howard, Frances, Countess of
Essex, Countess of Somerset; early marriage; attracted to Robert
Carr; begs Essex to agree to annul marriage; administers poison to
husband; annulment petition presented; nullity suit succeeds;
enmity to Overbury inexplicable; arrest and trial; death; portrait
Howard, Thomas, Earl of Suffolk
Jack the Ripper
James VI and I, cruelty and inclemency of; double dealing
of; share in Overbury's murder