Part 18 out of 33
saddened solitude. Only towards evening the waves of the sea,
compassionating such great misfortunes, come to murmur plaintive
notes upon the beach.
Gabriel has been condemned. The news of the high-born Prince of
Brancaleone's death, so young, so handsome, and so universally
adored, not only fluttered the aristocracy of Naples, but excited
profound indignation in all classes of people. He was mourned by
everybody, and a unanimous cry for vengeance was raised against the
The authorities opened the inquiry with alarming promptness. The
magistrates whom their office called to judge this deplorable affair
displayed, however, the most irreproachable integrity. No
consideration outside their duty, no deference due to so noble and
powerful a family, could shake the convictions of their conscience.
History has kept a record of this memorable trial; and has, no
reproach to make to men which does not apply equally to the
imperfection of human laws. The appearance of things, that fatal
contradiction which the genius of evil so often here on earth gives
to truth, overwhelmed the poor fisherman with the most evident
Trespolo, in whom fear had destroyed all scruples, being first
examined, as having been the young prince's confidant, declared with
cool impudence that, his master having shown a wish to escape for a
few days from the importunities of a young married lady whose passion
was beginning to tire him, had followed him to the island with three
or four of his most faithful servants, and that he himself had
adopted the disguise of a pilgrim, not wishing to betray his
excellency's incognito to the fisher-people, who would certainly have
tormented so powerful a person by all sorts of petitions. Two local
watch men, who had happened to be on the hillside at the moment of
the crime, gave evidence that confirmed the valet's lengthy
statement; hidden by some under wood, they had seen Gabriel rush upon
the prince, and had distinctly heard the last words of the dying man;
calling "Murder!" All the witnesses, even those summoned at the
request of the prisoner, made his case worse by their statements,
which they tried to make favourable. Thus the court, with its usual
perspicacity and its infallible certainty, succeeded in establishing
the fact that Prince Eligi of Brancaleone, having taken a temporary
dislike to town life, had retired to the little island of Nisida,
there to give himself up peaceably to the pleasure of fishing, for
which he had at all times had a particular predilection (a proof
appeared among the documents of the case that the prince had
regularly been present every other year at the tunny-fishing on his
property at Palermo); that when once he was thus hidden in the
island, Gabriel might have recognised him, having gone with his
sister to the procession, a few days before, and had, no doubt,
planned to murder him. On the day before the night of the crime, the
absence of Gabriel and the discomposure of his father and sister had
been remarked. Towards evening the prince had dismissed his servant,
and gone out alone, as his custom was, to walk by the seashore.
Surprised by the storm and not knowing the byways of the island, he
had wandered round the fisherman's house, seeking a shelter; then
Gabriel, encouraged by the darkness and by the noise of the tempest,
which seemed likely to cover the cries of his victim, had, after
prolonged hesitation, resolved to commit his crime, and having fired
two shots at the unfortunate young man without succeeding in wounding
him, had put an end to him by blows of the axe; lastly, at the moment
when, with Solomon's assistance, he was about to throw the body into
the sea, the prince's servants having appeared, they had gone up to
the girl's room, and, inventing their absurd tale, had cast
themselves on their knees before the Virgin, in order to mislead the
authorities. All the circumstances that poor Solomon cited in his
son's favour turned against him: the ladder at Nisida's window
belonged to the fisherman; the dagger which young Brancaleone always
carried upon him to defend himself had evidently been taken from him
after his death, and Gabriel had hastened to break it, so as to
destroy, to the best of his power, the traces of his crime.
Bastiano's evidence did not receive a minute's consideration: he, to
destroy the idea of premeditation, declared that the young fisherman
had left him only at the moment when the storm broke over the island;
but, in the first place, the young diver was known to be Gabriel's
most devoted friend and his sister's warmest admirer, and, in the
second, he had been seen to land at Torre during the same hour in
which he had affirmed that he was near to Nisida. As for the
prince's passion for the poor peasant girl, the magistrates simply
shrugged their shoulders at the ridiculous assertion of that, and
especially at the young girl's alleged resistance and the extreme
measures to which the prince was supposed to have resorted to conquer
the virtue of Nisida. Eligi of Brancaleone was so young, so
handsome, so seductive, and at the same time so cool amid his
successes, that he had never been suspected of violence, except in
getting rid of his mistresses. Finally, an overwhelming and
unanswerable proof overthrew all the arguments for the defence: under
the fisherman's bed had been found a purse with the Brancaleone arms,
full of gold, the purse which, if our readers remember, the prince
had flung as a last insult at Gabriel's feet.
The old man did not lose heart at this fabric of lies; after the
pleadings of the advocates whose ruinous eloquence he had bought with
heavy gold, he defended his son himself, and put so much truth, so
much passion, and so many tears into his speech, that the whole
audience was moved, and three of the judges voted for an acquittal;
but the majority was against it, and the fatal verdict was
The news at once spread throughout the little island, and caused the
deepest dejection there. The fishers who, at the first irruption of
force, had risen as one man to defend their comrade's cause, bowed
their heads without a murmur before the unquestioned authority of a
legal judgment. Solomon received unflinchingly the stab that pierced
his heart. No sigh escaped his breast; no tear came to his eyes; his
wound did not bleed. Since his son's arrest he had sold all he
possessed in the world, even the little silver cross left by his wife
at her death, even the pearl necklace that flattered his fatherly
pride by losing its whiteness against his dear Nisida's throat; the
pieces of gold gained by the sale of these things he had sewn into
his coarse woollen cap, and had established himself in the city. He
ate nothing but the bread thrown to him by the pity of passers-by,
and slept on the steps of churches or at the magistrates' door.
To estimate at its full value the heroic courage of this unhappy
father, one must take a general view of the whole extent of his
misfortune. Overwhelmed by age and grief, he looked forward with
solemn calmness to the terrible moment which would bear his son, a
few days before him, to the grave. His sharpest agony was the
thought of the shame that would envelop his family. The first
scaffold erected in that gently mannered island would arise for
Gabriel, and that ignominious punishment tarnish the whole population
and imprint upon it the first brand of disgrace. By a sad
transition, which yet comes so easily in the destiny of man, the poor
father grew to long for those moments of danger at which he had
formerly trembled, those moments in which his son might have died
nobly. And now all was lost: a long life of work, of abnegation, and
of good deeds, a pure and stainless reputation that had extended
beyond the gulf into distant countries, and the traditional
admiration, rising almost to worship, of several generations; all
these things only served to deepen the pit into which the fisherman
had fallen, at one blow, from his kingly height. Good fame, that
divine halo without which nothing here on earth is sacred, had
disappeared. Men no longer dared to defend the poor wretch, they
pitied him. His name would soon carry horror with it, and Nisida,
poor orphan, would be nothing to anyone but the sister of a man who
had been condemned to death. Even Bastiano turned away his face and
wept. Thus, when every respite was over, when poor Solomon's every
attempt had failed, people in the town who saw him smile strangely,
as though under the obsession of some fixed idea, said to one another
that the old man had lost his reason.
Gabriel saw his last day dawn, serenely and calmly. His sleep had
been deep; he awoke full of unknown joy; a cheerful ray of sunlight,
falling through the loophole, wavered over the fine golden straw in
his cell; an autumn breeze playing around him, brought an agreeable
coolness to his brow, and stirred in his long hair. The gaoler, who
while he had had him in his charge had always behaved humanely,
struck by his happy looks, hesitated to announce the priest's visit,
in fear of calling the poor prisoner from his dream. Gabriel
received the news with pleasure; he conversed for two hours with the
good priest, and shed sweet tears on receiving the last absolution.
The priest left the prison with tears in his eyes, declaring aloud
that he had never in his life met with a more beautiful, pure,
resigned, and courageous spirit.
The fisherman was still under the influence of this consoling emotion
when his sister entered. Since the day when she had been carried,
fainting, from the room where her brother had just been arrested, the
poor girl, sheltered under the roof of an aunt, and accusing herself
of all the evil that had befallen, had done nothing but weep at the
feet of her holy protectress. Bowed by grief like a young lily
before the storm, she would spend whole hours, pale, motionless,
detached from earthly things, her tears flowing silently upon her
beautiful clasped hands. When the moment came to go and embrace her
brother for the last time, Nisida arose with the courage of a saint.
She wiped away the traces of her tears, smoothed her beautiful black
hair, and put on her best white dress. Poor child, she tried to hide
her grief by an angelic deception. She had the strength to smile!
At the sight of her alarming pallor Gabriel felt his heart wrung, a
cloud passed over his eyes; he would have run to meet her, but, held
back by the chain which fettered him to a pillar of his prison,
stepped back sharply and stumbled. Nisida flew to her brother and
upheld him in her arms. The young girl had understood him; she
assured him that she was well. Fearing to remind him of his terrible
position, she spoke volubly of all manner of things--her aunt, the
weather, the Madonna. Then she stopped suddenly, frightened at her
own words, frightened at her own silence; she fixed her burning gaze
upon her brother's brow as though to fascinate him. Little by little
animation returned to her; a faint colour tinted her hollowed cheeks,
and Gabriel, deceived by the maiden's super human efforts, thought
her still beautiful, and thanked God in his heart for having spared
this tender creature. Nisida, as though she had followed her
brother's secret thoughts, came close to him, pressed his hand with
an air of understanding, and murmured low in his ear, "Fortunately
our father has been away for two days; he sent me word that he would
be detained in town. For us, it is different; we are young, we have
The poor young girl was trembling like a leaf.
"What will become of you, my poor Nisida?"
"Bah! I will pray to the Madonna. Does she not watch over us?" The
girl stopped, struck by the sound of her own words, which the
circumstances so cruelly contradicted. But looking at her brother,
she went on in a low tone: "Assuredly she does watch over us. She
appeared to me last night in a dream. She held her child Jesus on
her arm, and looked at me with a mother's tenderness. She wishes to
make saints of us, for she loves us; and to be a saint, you see,
Gabriel, one must suffer."
"Well, go and pray for me, my kind sister; go away from the view of
this sad place, which will eventually shake your firmness, and
perhaps mine. Go; we shall see each other again in heaven above,
where our mother is waiting for us--our mother whom you have not
known, and to whom I shall often speak of you. Farewell, my sister,
until we meet again!"
And he kissed her on the forehead.
The young girl called up all her strength into her heart for this
supreme moment; she walked with a firm step; having reached the
threshold, she turned round and waved him a farewell, preventing
herself by a nervous contraction from bursting into tears, but as
soon as she was in the corridor, a sob broke from her bosom, and
Gabriel, who heard it echo from the vaulted roof, thought that his
heart would break.
Then he threw himself on his knees, and, lifting his hands to heaven,
cried, "I have finished suffering; I have nothing more that holds me
to life. I thank Thee, my God! Thou hast kept my father away, and
hast been willing to spare the poor old man a grief that would have
been beyond his strength."
It was at the hour of noon, after having exhausted every possible
means, poured out his gold to the last piece, and embraced the knees
of the lowest serving man, that Solomon the fisherman took his way to
his son's prison. His brow was so woebegone that the guards drew
back, seized with pity, and the gaoler wept as he closed the door of
the cell upon him. The old man remained some moments without
advancing a step, absorbed in contemplation of his son. By the tawny
gleam of his eye might be divined that the soul of the man was moved
at that instant by some dark project. He seemed nevertheless struck
by the-beauty of Gabriel's face. Three months in prison had restored
to his skin the whiteness that the sun had turned brown; his fine
dark hair fell in curls around his neck, his eyes rested on his
father with a liquid and brilliant gaze. Never had this head been so
beautiful as now, when it was to fall.
"Alas, my poor son!" said the old man, "there is no hope left; you
"I know it," answered Gabriel in a tone of tender reproach, "and it
is not that which most afflicts me at this moment. But you, too, why
do you wish to give me pain, at your age? Why did you not stay in
"In the town," the old man returned, "they have no pity; I cast
myself at the king's feet, at everybody's feet; there is no pardon,
no mercy for us."
"Well, in God's name, what is death to me? I meet it daily on the
sea. My greatest, my only torment is the pain that they are causing
"And I, do you think, my Gabriel, that I only suffer in seeing you
die? Oh, it is but a parting for a few days; I shall soon go to join
you. But a darker sorrow weighs upon me. I am strong, I am a man".
He stopped, fearing that he had said too much; then drawing near to
his son, he said in a tearful voice, "Forgive me, my Gabriel; I am
the cause of your death. I ought to have killed the prince with my
own hand. In our country, children and old men are not condemned to
death. I am over eighty years old; I should have been pardoned; they
told me that when, with tears, I asked pardon for you; once more,
forgive me, Gabriel; I thought my daughter was dead; I thought of
nothing else; and besides, I did not know the law."
"Father, father!" cried Gabriel, touched, "what are you saying? I
would have given my life a thousand times over to purchase one day of
yours. Since you are strong enough to be present at my last hour,
fear not; you will not see me turn pale; your son will be worthy of
"And he is to die, to die!" cried Solomon, striking his forehead in
despair, and casting on the walls of the dungeon a look of fire that
would fain have pierced them.
"I am resigned, father," said Gabriel gently; did not Christ ascend
"Yes," murmured the old man in a muffled voice, "but He did not leave
behind a sister dishonoured by His death."
These words, which escaped the old fisherman in spite of himself,
threw a sudden and terrible light into the soul of Gabriel. For the
first time he perceived all the infamous manner of his death: the
shameless populace crowding round the scaffold, the hateful hand of
the executioner taking him by the Hair, and the drops of his blood
besprinkling the white raiment of his sister and covering her with
"Oh, if I could get a weapon!" cried Gabriel, his haggard eyes
"It is not the weapon that is lacking," answered Solomon, carrying
his hand to the hilt of a dagger that he had hidden in his breast.
"Then kill me, father," said Gabriel in a low tone, but with an
irresistible accent of persuasion and entreaty; "oh yes, I confess it
now, the executioner's hand frightens me. My Nisida, my poor Nisida,
I have seen her; she was here just now, as beautiful and as pale as
the Madonna Dolorosa; she smiled to hide from me her sufferings. She
was happy, poor girl, because she believed you away. Oh, how sweet
it will be to me to die by your hand! You gave me life; take it
back, father, since God will have it so. And Nisida will be saved.
Oh, do not hesitate! It would be a cowardice on the part of both of
us; she is my sister, she is your daughter."
And seeing that his powerful will had subjugated the old man, he
said, "Help! help, father!" and offered his breast to the blow. The
poor father lifted his hand to strike; but a mortal convulsion ran
through all his limbs; he fell into his son's arms, and both burst
"Poor father!" said Gabriel. "I ought to have foreseen that. Give
me that dagger and turn away; I am young and my arm will not
"Oh no !" returned Solomon solemnly, "no, my son, for then you would
be a suicide! Let your soul ascend to heaven pure! God will give me
His strength. Moreover, we have time yet."
And a last ray of hope shone in the eyes of the fisherman.
Then there passed in that dungeon one of those scenes that words can
never reproduce. The poor father sat down on the straw at his son's
side and laid his head gently upon his knees. He smiled to him
through his tears, as one smiles to a sick child; he passed his hand
slowly through the silky curls of his hair, and asked him countless
questions, intermingled with caresses. In order to give him a
distaste for this world he kept on talking to him of the other.
Then, with a sudden change, he questioned him minutely about all
sorts of past matters. Sometimes he stopped in alarm, and counted
the beatings of his heart, which were hurriedly marking the passage
"Tell me everything, my child; have you any desire, any wish that
could be satisfied before you die? Are you leaving any woman whom
you loved secretly? Everything we have left shall be hers."
"I regret nothing on earth but you and my sister. You are the only
persons whom I have loved since my mother's death."
"Well, be comforted. Your sister will be saved."
"Oh, yes! I shall die happy."
"Do you forgive our enemies?"
"With all the strength of my heart. I pray God to have mercy on the
witnesses who accused me. May He forgive me my sins!"
"How old is it that you will soon be?" the old man asked suddenly,
for his reason was beginning to totter, and his memory had failed
"I was twenty-five on All Hallows' Day."
"True; it was a sad day, this year; you were in prison."
"Do you remember how, five years ago, on that same day I got the
prize in the regatta at Venice?"
"Tell me about that, my child."
And he listened, his neck stretched forward, his mouth half open, his
hands in his son's. A sound of steps came in from the corridor, and
a dull knock was struck upon the door. It was the fatal hour. The
poor father had forgotten it.
The priests had already begun to sing the death hymn; the executioner
was ready, the procession had set out, when Solomon the fisherman
appeared suddenly on the threshold of the prison, his eyes aflame and
his brow radiant with the halo of the patriarchs. The old man drew
himself up to his full height, and raising in one hand the reddened
knife, said in a sublime voice, "The sacrifice is fulfilled. God did
not send His angel to stay the hand of Abraham."
The crowd carried him in triumph!
[The details of this case are recorded in the archives of the
Criminal Court at Naples. We have changed nothing in the age or
position of the persons who appear in this narrative. One of the
most celebrated advocates at the Neapolitan bar secured the acquittal
of the old man.]
CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 5 (of 8), Part 1
By Alexandre Dumas, Pere
One September afternoon in 1751, towards half-past five, about a
score of small boys, chattering, pushing, and tumbling over one
another like a covey of partridges, issued from one of the religious
schools of Chartres. The joy of the little troop just escaped from a
long and wearisome captivity was doubly great: a slight accident to
one of the teachers had caused the class to be dismissed half an hour
earlier than usual, and in consequence of the extra work thrown on
the teaching staff the brother whose duty it was to see all the
scholars safe home was compelled to omit that part of his daily task.
Therefore not only thirty or forty minutes were stolen from work, but
there was also unexpected, uncontrolled liberty, free from the
surveillance of that black-cassocked overseer who kept order in their
ranks. Thirty minutes! at that age it is a century, of laughter and
prospective games! Each had promised solemnly, under pain of severe
punishment, to return straight to his paternal nest without delay,
but the air was so fresh and pure, the country smiled all around!
The school, or preferably the cage, which had just opened, lay at the
extreme edge of one of the suburbs, and it only required a few steps
to slip under a cluster of trees by a sparkling brook beyond which
rose undulating ground, breaking the monotony of a vast and fertile
plain. Was it possible to be obedient, to refrain from the desire to
spread one's wings? The scent of the meadows mounted to the heads of
the steadiest among them, and intoxicated even the most timid. It
was resolved to betray the confidence of the reverend fathers, even
at the risk of disgrace and punishment next morning, supposing the
escapade were discovered.
A flock of sparrows suddenly released from a cage could not have
flown more wildly into the little wood. They were all about the same
age, the eldest might be nine. They flung off coats and waistcoats,
and the grass became strewn with baskets, copy-books, dictionaries,
and catechisms. While the crowd of fair-haired heads, of fresh and
smiling faces, noisily consulted as to which game should be chosen, a
boy who had taken no part in the general gaiety, and who had been
carried away by the rush without being able to escape sooner, glided
slyly away among the trees, and, thinking himself unseen, was beating
a hasty retreat, when one of his comrades cried out--
"Antoine is running away!"
Two of the best runners immediately started in pursuit, and the
fugitive, notwithstanding his start, was speedily overtaken, seized
by his collar, and brought back as a deserter.
"Where were you going?" the others demanded.
"Home to my cousins," replied the boy; "there is no harm in that."
"You canting sneak!" said another boy, putting his fist under the
captive's chin; "you were going to the master to tell of us."
"Pierre," responded Antoine, "you know quite well I never tell lies."
"Indeed!--only this morning you pretended I had taken a book you had
lost, and you did it because I kicked you yesterday, and you didn't
dare to kick me back again."
Antoine lifted his eyes to heaven, and folding his arms on his
Dear Buttel," he said, "you are mistaken; I have always been taught
to forgive injuries."
"Listen, listen! he might be saying his prayers!" cried the other
boys; and a volley of offensive epithets, enforced by cuffs, was
hurled at the culprit.
Pierre Buttel, whose influence was great, put a stop to this
"Look here, Antoine, you are a bad lot, that we all know; you are a
sneak and a hypocrite. It's time we put a stop to it. Take off your
coat and fight it out. If you like, we will fight every morning and
evening till the end of the month."
The proposition was loudly applauded, and Pierre, turning up his
sleeves as far as his elbows, prepared to suit actions to words.
The challenger assuredly did not realise the full meaning, of his
words; had he done so, this chivalrous defiance would simply have
been an act of cowardice on his part, for there could be no doubt as
to the victor in such a conflict. The one was a boy of alert and
gallant bearing, strong upon his legs, supple and muscular, a
vigorous man in embryo; while the other, not quite so old, small,
thin, of a sickly leaden complexion, seemed as if he might be blown
away by a strong puff of wind. His skinny arms and legs hung on to
his body like the claws of a spider, his fair hair inclined to red,
his white skin appeared nearly bloodless, and the consciousness of
weakness made him timid, and gave a shifty, uneasy look to his eyes.
His whole expression was uncertain, and looking only at his face it
was difficult at first sight to decide to which sex he belonged.
This confusion of two natures, this indefinable mixture of feminine
weakness without grace, and of abortive boyhood, seemed to stamp him
as something exceptional, unclassable, and once observed, it was
difficult to take one's eyes from him. Had he been endowed with
physical strength he would have been a terror to his comrades,
exercising by fear the ascendancy which Pierre owed to his joyous
temper and unwearied gaiety, for this mean exterior concealed
extraordinary powers of will and dissimulation. Guided by instinct,
the other children hung about Pierre and willingly accepted his
leadership; by instinct also they avoided Antoine, repelled by a
feeling of chill, as if from the neighbourhood of a reptile, and
shunning him unless to profit in some way by their superior strength.
Never would he join their games without compulsion; his thin,
colourless lips seldom parted for a laugh, and even at that tender
age his smile had an unpleasantly sinister expression.
"Will you fight?" again demanded Pierre.
Antoine glanced hastily round; there was no chance of escape, a
double ring enclosed him. To accept or refuse seemed about equally
risky; he ran a good chance of a thrashing whichever way he decided.
Although his heart beat loudly, no trace of emotion appeared on his
pallid cheek; an unforeseen danger would have made him shriek, but he
had had time to collect himself, time to shelter behind hypocrisy.
As soon as he could lie and cheat he recovered courage, and the
instinct of cunning, once roused, prevailed over everything else.
Instead of answering this second challenge, he knelt down and said to
"You are much stronger than I am."
This submission disarmed his antagonist. "Get up," he replied;
"I won't touch you, if you can't defend yourself.
"Pierre," continued Antoine, still on his knees, "I assure you, by
God and the Holy Virgin, I was not going to tell. I was going home
to my cousins to learn my lessons for to-morrow; you know how slow I
am. If you think I have done you any harm, I ask your forgiveness."
Pierre held out his hand and made him get up.
"Will you be a good fellow, Antoine, and play with us?"
"Yes, I will."
"All right, then; let us forget all about it."
"What are we to play at?" asked Antoine, taking off his coat.
"Thieves and archers," cried one of the boys....
"Splendid!" said Pierre; and using his acknowledged authority, he
divided them into two sides--ten highwaymen, whom he was to command,
and ten archers of the guard, who were to pursue them; Antoine was
among the latter.
The highwaymen, armed with swords and guns obtained from the willows
which grew along the brook, moved off first, and gained the valleys
between the little hills beyond the wood. The fight was to be
serious, and any prisoner on either side was to be tried immediately.
The robbers divided into twos and threes, and hid themselves in the
A few minutes later the archers started in pursuit. There were
encounters, surprises, skirmishes; but whenever it came to close
quarters, Pierre's men, skilfully distributed, united on hearing his
whistle, and the Army of justice had to retreat. But there came a
time when this magic signal was no longer heard, and the robbers
became uneasy, and remained crouching in their hiding-places.
Pierre, over-daring, had undertaken to defend alone the entrance of a
dangerous passage and to stop the whole hostile troop there. Whilst
he kept them engaged, half of his men, concealed on the left, were to
come round the foot of the hill and make a rush on hearing his
whistle; the other half, also stationed at some, little distance,
were to execute the same manoeuvre from above. The archers would be
caught in a trap, and attacked both in front and rear, would be
obliged to surrender at discretion. Chance, which not unfrequently
decides the fate of a battle, defeated this excellent stratagem.
Watching intently; Pierre failed to perceive that while his whole
attention was given to the ground in front, the archers had taken an
entirely different road from the one they ought to have followed if
his combination were to succeed. They suddenly fell upon him from
behind, and before he could blow his whistle, they gagged him with a
handkerchief and tied his hands. Six remained to keep the field of
battle and disperse the hostile band, now deprived of its chief; the
remaining four conveyed Pierre to the little wood, while the robbers,
hearing no signal, did not venture to stir. According to agreement,
Pierre Buttel was tried by the archers, who promptly transformed
themselves into a court of justice, and as he had been taken
red-handed, and did not condescend to defend himself, the trial was
not a long affair. He was unanimously sentenced to be hung, and the
execution was then and there carried out, at the request of the
criminal himself, who wanted the game to be properly played to the
end, and who actually selected a suitable tree for his own execution.
"But, Pierre," said one of the judges, "how can you be held up
"How stupid you are!" returned the captive. "I shall only pretend to
be hung, of course. See here!" and he fastened together several
pieces strong string which had tied some of the other boys' books,
piled the latter together, and standing on tiptoe on this very
insecure basis, fastened one end of the cord to a horizontal bough,
and put his neck into a running knot at the other end, endeavouring
to imitate the contortions of an actual sufferer. Shouts of laughter
greeted him, and the victim laughed loudest of all. Three archers
went to call the rest to behold this amusing spectacle; one, tired
out, remained with the prisoner.
"Ah, Hangman," said Pierre, putting out his tongue at him, "are the
books firm? I thought I felt them give way."
"No," replied Antoine; it was he who remained. "Don't be afraid,
"It is a good thing; for if they fell I don't think the cord is long
"Don't you really think so?"
A horrible thought showed itself like a flash on the child's face.
He resembled a young hyena scenting blood for the first time. He
glanced at the pile of books Pierre was standing on, and compared it
with the length of the cord between the branch and his neck. It was
already nearly dark, the shadows were deepening in the wood, gleams
of pale light penetrated between the trees, the leaves had become
black and rustled in the wind. Antoine stood silent and motionless,
listening if any sound could be heard near them.
It would be a curious study for the moralist to observe how the first
thought of crime develops itself in the recesses of the human heart,
and how this poisoned germ grows and stifles all other sentiments; an
impressive lesson might be gathered from this struggle of two
opposing principles, however weak it may be, in perverted natures.
In cases where judgment can discern, where there is power to choose
between good and evil, the guilty person has only himself to blame,
and the most heinous crime is only the action of its perpetrator. It
is a human action, the result of passions which might have been
controlled, and one's mind is not uncertain, nor one's conscience
doubtful, as to the guilt. But how can one conceive this taste for
murder in a young child, how imagine it, without being tempted to
exchange the idea of eternal sovereign justice for that of blind
-fatality? How can one judge without hesitation between the moral
sense which has given way and the instinct which displays itself?
how not exclaim that the designs of a Creator who retains the one and
impels the other are sometimes mysterious and inexplicable, and that
one must submit without understanding?
"Do you hear them coming?" asked Pierre.
"I hear nothing," replied Antoine, and a nervous shiver ran through
all his members.
"So much the worse. I am tired of being dead; I shall come to life
and run after them. Hold the books, and I will undo the noose."
"If you move, the books will separate; wait, I will hold them."
And he knelt down, and collecting all his strength, gave the pile a
Pierre endeavoured to raise his hands to his throat. "What are you
doing?" he cried in a suffocating voice.
"I am paying you out;" replied Antoine, folding his arms.
Pierre's feet were only a few inches from the ground, and the weight
of his body at first bent the bough for a moment; but it rose again,
and the unfortunate boy exhausted himself in useless efforts. At
every movement the knot grew tighter, his legs struggled, his arms
sought vainly something to lay hold of; then his movements slackened,
his limbs stiffened, and his hands sank down. Of so much life and
vigour nothing remained but the movement of an inert mass turning
round and round upon itself.
Not till then did Antoine cry for help, and when the other boys
hastened up they found him crying and tearing his hair. So violent
indeed were his sobs and his despair that he could hardly be
understood as he tried to explain how the books had given way under
Pierre, and how he had vainly endeavoured to support him in his arms.
This boy, left an orphan at three years old, had been brought up at
first by a relation who turned him out for theft; afterwards by two
sisters, his cousins, who were already beginning to take alarm at his
abnormal perversity. This pale and fragile being, an incorrigible
thief, a consummate hypocrite, and a cold-blooded assassin, was
predestined to an immortality of crime, and was to find a place among
the most execrable monsters for whom humanity has ever had to blush;
his name was Antoine-Francois Derues.
Twenty years had gone by since this horrible and mysterious event,
which no one sought to unravel at the time it occurred. One June
evening, 1771, four persons were sitting in one of the rooms of a
modestly furnished, dwelling on the third floor of a house in the rue
Saint-Victor. The party consisted of three women and an
ecclesiastic, who boarded, for meals only, with the woman who
tenanted the dwelling; the other two were near neighbours. They were
all friends, and often met thus in the evening to play cards. They
were sitting round the card-table, but although it was nearly ten
o'clock the cards had not yet been touched. They spoke in low tones,
and a half-interrupted confidence had, this evening, put a check on
the usual gaiety.
Someone knocked gently at the door, although no sound of steps on the
creaking wooden staircase had been heard, and a wheedling voice asked
for admittance. The occupier of the room, Madame Legrand, rose, and
admitted a man of about six-and-twenty, at whose appearance the four
friends exchanged glances, at once observed by the new-comer, who
affected, however, not to see them. He bowed successively to the
three women, and several times with the utmost respect to the abbe,
making signs of apology for the interruption caused by his
appearance; then, coughing several times, he turned to Madame
Legrand, and said in a feeble voice, which seemed to betoken much
"My kind mistress, will you and these other ladies excuse my
presenting myself at such an hour and in such a costume? I am ill,
and I was obliged to get up."
His costume was certainly singular enough: he was wrapped in a large
dressing-gown of flowered chintz; his head was adorned by a nightcap
drawn up at the top and surmounted by a muslin frill. His appearance
did not contradict his complaint of illness; he was barely four feet
six in height, his limbs were bony, his face sharp, thin, and pale.
Thus attired, coughing incessantly, dragging his feet as if he had no
strength to lift them, holding a lighted candle in one hand and an
egg in the other, he suggested a caricature-some imaginary invalid
just escaped from M. Purgon. Nevertheless, no one ventured to smile,
notwithstanding his valetudinarian appearance and his air of affected
humility. The perpetual blinking of the yellow eyelids which fell
over the round and hollow eyes, shining with a sombre fire which he
could never entirely suppress, reminded one of a bird of prey unable
to face the light, and the lines of his face, the hooked nose, and
the thin, constantly quivering, drawn-in lips suggested a mixture of
boldness and baseness, of cunning and sincerity. But there is no
book which can instruct one to read the human countenance correctly;
and some special circumstance must have roused the suspicions of
these four persons so much as to cause them to make these
observations, and they were not as usual deceived by the humbug of
this skilled actor, a past master in the art of deception.
He continued after a moment's silence, as if he did not wish to
interrupt their mute observation--
"Will you oblige me by a neighbourly kindness?"
"What is it, Derues?" asked Madame Legrand. A violent cough, which
appeared to rend his chest, prevented him from answering immediately.
When it ceased, he looked at the abbe, and said, with a melancholy
"What I ought to ask in my present state of health is your blessing,
my father, and your intercession for the pardon of my sins. But
everyone clings to the life which God has given him. We do not
easily abandon hope; moreover, I have always considered it wrong to
neglect such means of preserving our lives as are in our power, since
life is for us only a time of trial, and the longer and harder the
trial the greater our recompense in a better world. Whatever befalls
us, our answer should be that of the Virgin Mary to the angel who
announced the mystery of the Incarnation: 'Behold the handmaid of the
Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.'"
"You are right," said the abbe, with a severe and inquisitorial look,
under which Derues remained quite untroubled; "it is an attribute of
God to reward and to punish, and the Almighty is not deceived by him
who deceives men. The Psalmist has said, 'Righteous art Thou, O
Lord, and upright are Thy judgments.'"
"He has said also, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and
righteous altogether,'" Derues promptly replied. This exchange of
quotations from Scripture might have lasted for hours without his
being at a loss, had the abbe thought fit to continue in this strain;
but such a style of conversation, garnished with grave and solemn
words, seemed almost sacrilegious in the mouth of a man of such
ridiculous appearance--a profanation at once sad and grotesque.
Derues seemed to comprehend the impression it produced, and tuning
again to Madame Legrand, he said--
"We have got a long way from what I came to ask you, my kind friend.
I was so ill that I went early to bed, but I cannot sleep, and I have
no fire. Would you have the kindness to have this egg mulled for
"Cannot your servant do that for you?" asked Madame Legrand.
"I gave her leave to go out this evening, and though it is late she
has not yet returned. If I had a fire, I would not give you so much
trouble, but I do not care to light one at this hour. You know I am
always afraid of accidents, and they so easily happen!"
"Very well, then," replied Madame Legrand; "go back to your room, and
my servant will bring it to you."
"Thank you," said Derues, bowing,--"many thanks."
As he turned to depart, Madame Legrand spoke again.
"This day week, Derues, you have to pay me half the twelve hundred
livres due for the purchase of my business."
"So soon as that?"
"Certainly, and I want the money. Have you forgotten the date,
"Oh dear, I have never looked at the agreement since it was drawn up.
I did not think the time was so near, it is the fault of my bad
memory; but I will contrive to pay you, although trade is very bad,
and in three days I shall have to pay more than fifteen thousand
livres to different people."
He bowed again and departed, apparently exhausted by the effort of
sustaining so long a conversation.
As soon as they were alone, the abbe exclaimed--
"That man is assuredly an utter rascal! May God forgive him his
hypocrisy! How is it possible we could allow him to deceive us for
"But, my father," interposed one of the visitors, "are you really
sure of what you have just said?"
"I am not now speaking of the seventy-nine Louis d'or which have been
stolen from me, although I never mentioned to anyone but you, and he
was then present, that I possessed such a sum, and although that very
day he made a false excuse for coming to my rooms when I was out.
Theft is indeed infamous, but slander is not less so, and he has
slandered you disgracefully. Yes, he has spread a report that you,
Madame Legrand, you, his former mistress and benefactress, have put
temptation in his way, and desired to commit carnal sin with him.
This is now whispered the neighbourhood all round us, it will soon be
said aloud, and we have been so completely his dupes, we have helped
him so much to acquire a reputation for uprightness, that it would
now be impossible to destroy our own work; if I were to accuse him of
theft, and you charged him with lying, probably neither of us would
be believed. Beware, these odious tales have not been spread without
a reason. Now that your eyes are open, beware of him."
"Yes," replied Madame Legrand, "my brother-in-law warned me three
years ago. One day Derues said to my sister-in-law,--I remember the
words. perfectly,--'I should like to be a druggist, because one
would always be able to punish an enemy; and if one has a quarrel
with anyone it would be easy to get rid of him by means of a poisoned
draught.' I neglected these warnings. I surmounted the feeling of
repugnance I first felt at the sight of him; I have responded to his
advances, and I greatly fear I may have cause to repent it. But you
know him as well as I do, who would not have thought his piety
sincere?--who would not still think so? And notwithstanding all you
have said, I still hesitate to feel serious alarm; I am unwilling to
believe in such utter depravity."
The conversation continued in this strain for some time, and then, as
it was getting late, the party separated.
Next morning early, a large and noisy crowd was assembled in the rue
Saint-Victor before Derues' shop of drugs and groceries. There was a
confusion of cross questions, of inquiries which obtained no answer,
of answers not addressed to the inquiry, a medley of sound, a
pell-mell of unconnected words, of affirmations, contradictions, and
interrupted narrations. Here, a group listened to an orator who held
forth in his shirt sleeves, a little farther there were disputes,
quarrels, exclamations of "Poor man!" "Such a good fellow!" "My
poor gossip Derues!" "Good heavens! what will he do now?" "Alas!
he is quite done for; it is to be hoped his creditors will give him
time! "Above all this uproar was heard a voice, sharp and piercing
like a cat's, lamenting, and relating with sobs the terrible
misfortune of last night. At about three in the morning the
inhabitants of the rue St. Victor had been startled out of their
sleep by the cry of "Fire, fire!" A conflagration had burst forth in
Derues' cellar, and though its progress had been arrested and the
house saved from destruction, all the goods stored therein had
perished. It apparently meant a considerable loss in barrels of oil,
casks of brandy, boxes of soap, etc., which Derues estimated at not
less than nine thousand livres.
By what unlucky chance the fire had been caused he had no idea. He
recounted his visit to Madame Legrand, and pale, trembling, hardly
able to sustain himself, he cried--
"I shall die of grief! A poor man as ill as I am! I am lost! I am
A harsh voice interrupted his lamentations, and drew the attention of
the crowd to a woman carrying printed broadsides, and who forced a
passage through the crowd up to the shop door. She unfolded one of
her sheets, and cried as loudly and distinctly as her husky voice
"Sentence pronounced by the Parliament of Paris against John Robert
Cassel, accused and convicted of Fraudulent Bankruptcy!"
Derues looked up and saw a street-hawker who used to come to his shop
for a drink, and with whom he had had a violent quarrel about a month
previously, she having detected him in a piece of knavery, and abused
him roundly in her own style, which was not lacking in energy. He
had not seen her since. The crowd generally, and all the gossips of
the quarter, who held Derues in great veneration, thought that the
woman's cry was intended as an indirect insult, and threatened to
punish her for this irreverence. But, placing one hand on her hip,
and with the other warning off the most pressing by a significant
"Are you still befooled by his tricks, fools that you are? Yes, no
doubt there was a fire in the cellar last night, no doubt his
creditors will be geese enough to let him off paying his debts! But
what you don't know is, that he didn't really lose by it at all!"
"He lost all his goods!" the crowd cried on all sides. "More than
nine thousand livres! Oil and brandy, do you think those won't burn?
The old witch, she drinks enough to know! If one put a candle near
her she would take fire, fast enough!"
"Perhaps," replied the woman, with renewed gesticulations, "perhaps;
but I don't advise any of you to try. Anyhow, this fellow here is a
rogue; he has been emptying his cellar for the last three nights;
there were only old empty casks in it and empty packing-cases! Oh
yes! I have swallowed his daily lies like everybody else, but I know
the truth by now. He got his liquor taken away by Michael
Lambourne's son, the cobbler in the rue de la Parcheminerie. How do
I know? Why, because the young man came and told me!"
"I turned that woman out of my shop a month ago, for stealing," said
Notwithstanding this retaliatory accusation, the woman's bold
assertion might have changed the attitude of the crowd and chilled
the enthusiasm, but at that moment a stout man pressed forward, and
seizing the hawker by the arm, said--
"Go, and hold your tongue, backbiting woman!"
To this man, the honour of Derues was an article of faith; he had not
yet ceased to wonder at the probity of this sainted person, and to
doubt it in the least was as good as suspecting his own.
"My dear friend," he said, "we all know what to think of you. I know
you well. Send to me tomorrow, and you shall have what goods you
want, on credit, for as long as is necessary. Now, evil tongue, what
do you say to that?"
"I say that you are as great a fool as the rest. Adieu, friend
Derues; go on as you have begun, and I shall be selling your
'sentence' some day"; and dispersing the crowd with a few twirls of
her right arm, she passed on, crying--
"Sentence pronounced by the Parliament of Paris against John Robert
Cassel, accused and convicted of Fraudulent Bankruptcy!"
This accusation emanated from too insignificant a quarter to have any
effect on Derues' reputation. However resentful he may have been at
the time, he got over it in consequence of the reiterated marks of
interest shown by his neighbours and all the quarter on account of
his supposed ruin, and the hawker's attack passed out of his mind, or
probably she might have paid for her boldness with her life.
But this drunken woman had none the less uttered a prophetic word; it
was the grain of sand on which, later, he was to be shipwrecked.
"All passions," says La Bruyere,--"all passions are deceitful; they
disguise themselves as much as possible from the public eye; they
hide from themselves. There is no vice which has not a counterfeit
resemblance to some virtue, and which does not profit by it."
The whole life of Derues bears testimony to the truth of this
observation. An avaricious poisoner, he attracted his victims by the
pretence of fervent and devoted piety, and drew them into the snare
where he silently destroyed them. His terrible celebrity only began
in 1777, caused by the double murder of Madame de Lamotte and her
son, and his name, unlike those of some other great criminals, does
not at first recall a long series of crimes, but when one examines
this low, crooked, and obscure life, one finds a fresh stain at every
step, and perhaps no one has ever surpassed him in dissimulation, in
profound hypocrisy, in indefatigable depravity. Derues was executed
at thirty-two, and his whole life was steeped in vice; though happily
so short, it is full of horror, and is only a tissue of criminal
thoughts and deeds, a very essence of evil. He had no hesitation, no
remorse, no repose, no relaxation; he seemed compelled to lie, to
steal, to poison! Occasionally suspicion is aroused, the public has
its doubts, and vague rumours hover round him; but he burrows under
new impostures, and punishment passes by. When he falls into the
hands of human justice his reputation protects him, and for a few
days more the legal sword is turned aside. Hypocrisy is so
completely a part of his nature, that even when there is no longer
any hope, when he is irrevocably sentenced, and he knows that he can
no longer deceive anyone, neither mankind nor Him whose name he
profanes by this last sacrilege, he yet exclaims, "O Christ! I shall
suffer even as Thou." It is only by the light of his funeral pyre
that the dark places of his life can be examined, that this bloody
plot is unravelled, and that other victims, forgotten and lost in the
shadows, arise like spectres at the foot of the scaffold, and escort
the assassin to his doom.
Let us trace rapidly the history of Derues' early years, effaced and
forgotten in the notoriety of his death. These few pages are not
written for the glorification of crime, and if in our own days, as a
result of the corruption of our manners, and of a deplorable
confusion of all notions of right and wrong, it has been sought to
make him an object; of public interest, we, on our part, only wish to
bring him into notice, and place him momentarily on a pedestal, in
order to cast him still lower, that his fall may be yet greater.
What has been permitted by God may be related by man. Decaying and
satiated communities need not be treated as children; they require
neither diplomatic handling nor precaution, and it may be good that
they should see and touch the putrescent sores which canker them.
Why fear to mention that which everyone knows? Why dread to sound
the abyss which can be measured by everyone? Why fear to bring into
the light of day unmasked wickedness, even though it confronts the
public gaze unblushingly? Extreme turpitude and extreme excellence
are both in the schemes of Providence; and the poet has summed up
eternal morality for all ages and nations in this sublime
"Abstulit hunc tandem Rufini poem tumultum."
Besides, and we cannot insist too earnestly that our intention must
not be mistaken, if we had wished to inspire any other sentiment than
that of horror, we should have chosen a more imposing personage from
the annals of crime. There have been deeds which required audacity,
a sort of grandeur, a false heroism; there have been criminals who
held in check all the regular and legitimate forces of society, and
whom one regarded with a mixture of terror and pity. There is
nothing of that in Derues, not even a trace of courage; nothing but a
shameless cupidity, exercising itself at first in the theft of a few
pence filched from the poor; nothing but the illicit gains and
rascalities of a cheating shopkeeper and vile money-lender, a
depraved cowardice which dared not strike openly, but slew in the
dark. It is the story of an unclean reptile which drags itself
underground, leaving everywhere the trail of its poisonous saliva.
Such was the man whose life we have undertaken to narrate, a man who
represents a complete type of wickedness, and who corresponds to the
most hideous sketch ever devised by poet or romance-writer: Facts
without importance of their own, which would be childish if recorded
of anyone else, obtain a sombre reflection from other facts which
precede them, and thenceforth cannot be passed over in silence. The
historian is obliged to collect and note them, as showing the logical
development of this degraded being: he unites them in sequence, and
counts the successive steps of the ladder mounted by the criminal.
We have seen the early exploit of this assassin by instinct; we find
him, twenty years later, an incendiary and a fraudulent bankrupt.
What had happened in the interval? With how much treachery and crime
had he filled this space of twenty years? Let us return to his
His unconquerable taste for theft caused him to be expelled by the
relations who had taken charge of him. An anecdote is told which
shows his impudence and incurable perversity. One day he was caught
taking some money, and was soundly whipped by his cousins. When this
was over, the child, instead of showing any sorrow or asking
forgiveness, ran away with a sneer, and seeing they were out of
"You are tired, are you? Well, I am not!"
Despairing of any control over this evil disposition, the relations
refused to keep him, and sent him to Chartres, where two other
cousins agreed to have him, out of charity. They were simpleminded
women, of great and sincere piety, who imagined that good example and
religious teaching might have a happy influence on their young
relation. The result was contrary to their expectation: the sole
fruit of their teaching was that Derues learnt to be a cheat and a
hypocrite, and to assume the mask of respectability.
Here also repeated thefts insured him sound corrections. Knowing his
cousins' extreme economy, not to say avarice, he mocked them when
they broke a lath over his shoulders: "There now, I am so glad; that
will cost you two farthings!"
His benefactresses' patience becoming exhausted, he left their house,
and was apprenticed to a tinman at Chartres. His master died, and an
ironmonger of the same town took him as shop-boy, and from this he
passed on to a druggist and grocer. Until now, although fifteen
years old, he had shown no preference for one trade more than
another, but it was now necessary he should choose some profession,
and his share in the family property amounted to the modest sum of
three thousand five hundred livres. His residence with this last
master revealed a decided taste, but it was only another evil
instinct developing itself: the poisoner had scented poison, being
always surrounded with drugs which were health-giving or hurtful,
according to the use made of them. Derues would probably have
settled at Chartres, but repeated thefts obliged him to leave the
town. The profession of druggist and grocer being one which
presented most chances of fortune, and being, moreover, adapted to
his tastes, his family apprenticed him to a grocer in the rue
Comtesse d'Artois, paying a specified premium for him.
Derues arrived in Paris in 1760. It was a new horizon, where he was
unknown; no suspicion attached to him, and he felt much at his ease.
Lost in the noise and the crowd of this immense receptacle for every
vice, he had time to found on hypocrisy his reputation as an honest
man. When his apprenticeship expired, his master proposed to place
him with his sister-in-law, who kept a similar establishment in the
rue St. Victor, and who had been a widow for several years. He
recommended Derues as a young man whose zeal and intelligence might
be useful in her business, being ignorant of various embezzlements
committed by his late apprentice, who was always clever enough to
cast suspicion on others. But the negotiation nearly fell through,
because, one day, Derues so far forgot his usual prudence and
dissimulation as to allow himself to make the observation recorded
above to his mistress. She, horrified, ordered him to be silent, and
threatened to ask her husband to dismiss him. It required a double
amount of hypocrisy to remove this unfavourable impression; but he
spared no pains to obtain the confidence of the sister-in-law, who
was much influenced in his favour. Every day he inquired what could
be done for her, every evening he took a basket-load of the goods she
required from the rue Comtesse d'Artois; and it excited the pity of
all beholders to see this weakly young man, panting and sweating
under his heavy burden, refusing any reward, and labouring merely for
the pleasure of obliging, and from natural kindness of heart! The
poor widow, whose spoils he was already coveting, was completely
duped. She rejected the advice of her brother-in-law, and only
listened to the concert of praises sung by neighbours much edified by
Derues' conduct, and touched by the interest he appeared to show her.
Often he found occasion to speak of her, always with the liveliest
expressions of boundless devotion. These remarks were repeated to
the good woman, and seemed all the more sincere to her as they
appeared to have been made quite casually, and she never suspected
they were carefully calculated and thought out long before.
Derues carried dishonesty as far as possible, but he knew how to stop
when suspicion was likely to be aroused, and though always planning
either to deceive or to hurt, he was never taken by surprise. Like
the spider which spreads the threads of her web all round her, he
concealed himself in a net of falsehood which one had to traverse
before arriving at his real nature. The evil destiny of this poor
woman, mother of four children, caused her to engage him as her
shopman in the year 1767, thereby signing the warrant for her own
Derues began life under his new mistress with a master-stroke. His
exemplary piety was the talk of the whole quarter, and his first care
had been to request Madame Legrand to recommend him a confessor. She
sent him to the director of her late husband, Pere Cartault, of the
Carmelite order, who, astonished at the devotion of his penitent,
never failed, if he passed the shop, to enter and congratulate Madame
Legrand on the excellent acquisition she had made in securing this
young man, who would certainly bring her a blessing along with him.
Derues affected the greatest modesty, and blushed at these praises,
and often, when he saw the good father approaching, appeared not to
see him, and found something to do elsewhere; whereby the field was
left clear for his too credulous panegyrists.
But Pere Cartault appeared too indulgent, and Derues feared that his
sins were too easily pardoned; and he dared not find peace in an
absolution which was never refused. Therefore, before the year was
out, he chose a second confessor, Pere Denys, a Franciscan,
consulting both alternately, and confiding his conscientious scruples
to them. Every penance appeared too easy, and he added to those
enjoined by his directors continual mortifications of his own
devising, so that even Tartufe himself would have owned his
He wore about him two shrouds, to which were fastened relics of
Madame de Chantal, also a medal of St. Francois de Saps, and
occasionally scourged himself. His mistress related that he had
begged her to take a sitting at the church of St. Nicholas, in order
that he might more easily attend service when he had a day out, and
had brought her a small sum which he had saved, to pay half the
Moreover, he had slept upon straw during the whole of Lent, and took
care that Madame Legrand heard of this through the servant,
pretending at first to hide it as if it were something wrong. He
tried to prevent the maid from going into his room, and when she
found out the straw he forbade her to mention it--which naturally
made her more anxious to relate her discovery. Such a piece of
piety, combined with such meritorious humility, such dread of
publicity, could only increase the excellent opinion which everyone
already had of him.
Every day was marked by some fresh hypocrisy. One of his sisters, a
novice in the convent of the Ladies of the Visitation of the Virgin,
was to take the veil at Easter. Derues obtained permission to be
present at the ceremony, and was to start on foot on Good Friday.
When he departed, the shop happened to be full of people, and the
gossips of the neighbourhood inquired where he was going. Madame
Legrand desired him to have a glass of liqueur (wine he never
touched) and something to eat before starting.
"Oh, madame!" he exclaimed, "do you think I could eat on a day like
this, the day on which Christ was crucified! I will take a piece of
bread with me, but I shall only eat it at the inn where I intend to
sleep: I mean to fast the whole way."
But this kind of thing was not sufficient. He wanted an opportunity
to establish a reputation for honesty on a firm basis. Chance
provided one, and he seized it immediately, although at the expense
of a member of his own family.
One of his brothers, who kept a public-house at Chartres, came to see
him. Derues, under pretence of showing him the sights of Paris,
which he did not know, asked his mistress to allow him to take in the
brother for a few days, which she granted. The last evening of his
stay, Derues went up to his room, broke open the box which contained
his clothes, turned over everything it contained, examined the
clothes, and discovering two new cotton nightcaps, raised a cry which
brought up the household. His brother just then returned, and Derues
called him an infamous thief, declaring that he had stolen the money
for these new articles out of the shop the evening before. His
brother defended himself, protesting his innocence, and, indignant at
such incomprehensible treachery, endeavoured to turn the tables by
relating some of Antoine's early misdeeds. The latter, however,
stopped him, by declaring on his honour that he had seen his brother
the evening before go to the till, slip his hand in, and take out
some money. The brother was confounded and silenced by so audacious
a lie; he hesitated, stammered, and was turned out of the house.
Derues worthily crowned this piece of iniquity by obliging his
mistress to accept the restitution of the stolen money. It cost him
three livres, twelve sons, but the interest it brought him was the
power of stealing unsuspected. That evening he spent in prayer for
the pardon of his brother's supposed guilt.
All these schemes had succeeded, and brought him nearer to the
desired goal, for not a soul in the quarter ventured to doubt the
word of this saintly individual. His fawning manners and insinuating
language varied according to the people addressed. He adapted
himself to all, contradicting no one, and, while austere himself, he
flattered the tastes of others. In the various houses where he
visited his conversation was serious, grave, and sententious; and, as
we have seen, he could quote Scripture with the readiness of a
theologian. In the shop, when he had to deal with the lower classes,
he showed himself acquainted with their modes of expression, and
spoke the Billingsgate of the market-women, which he had acquired in
the rue Comtesse d'Artois, treating them familiarly, and they
generally addressed him as "gossip Denies." By his own account he
easily judged the characters of the various people with whom he came
However, Pere Cartault's prophecy was not fulfilled: the blessing of
Heaven did not descend on the Legrand establishment. There seemed to
be a succession of misfortunes which all Derues' zeal and care as
shopman could neither prevent nor repair. He by no means contented
himself with parading an idle and fruitless hypocrisy, and his most
abominable deceptions were not those displayed in the light of day.
He watched by night: his singular organisation, outside the ordinary
laws of nature, appeared able to dispense with sleep. Gliding about
on tiptoe, opening doors noiselessly, with all the skill of an
accomplished thief, he pillaged shop and cellar, and sold his plunder
in remote parts of the town under assumed names. It is difficult to
understand how his strength supported the fatigue of this double
existence; he had barely arrived at puberty, and art had been obliged
to assist the retarded development of nature. But he lived only for
evil, and the Spirit of Evil supplied the physical vigour which was
wanting. An insane love of money (the only passion he knew) brought
him by degrees back to his starting-point of crime; he concealed it
in hiding-places wrought in the thick walls, in holes dug out by his
nails. As soon as he got any, he brought it exactly as a wild beast
brings a piece of bleeding flesh to his lair; and often, by the
glimmer of a dark lantern, kneeling in adoration before this shameful
idol, his eyes sparkling with ferocious joy, with a smile which
suggested a hyena's delight over its prey, he would contemplate his
money, counting and kissing it.
These continual thefts brought trouble into the Legrand affairs,
cancelled all profits, and slowly brought on ruin. The widow had no
suspicion of Derues' disgraceful dealings, and he carefully referred
the damage to other causes, quite worthy of himself. Sometimes it
was a bottle of oil, or of brandy, or some other commodity, which was
found spilt, broken, or damaged, which accidents he attributed to the
enormous quantity of rats which infested the cellar and the house.
At length, unable to meet her engagements, Madame Legrand made the
business over to him in February, 1770. He was then twenty-five
years and six months old, and was accepted as a merchant grocer in
August the same year. By an agreement drawn up between them, Derues
undertook to pay twelve hundred livres for the goodwill, and to lodge
her rent free during the remainder of her lease, which had still nine
years to run. Being thus obliged to give up business to escape
bankruptcy, Madame Legrand surrendered to her creditors any goods
remaining in her warehouse; and Derues easily made arrangements to
take them over very cheaply. The first step thus made, he was now
able to enrich himself safely and to defraud with impunity under the
cover of his stolen reputation.
One of his uncles, a flour merchant at Chartres, came habitually
twice a year to Paris to settle accounts with his correspondents. A
sum of twelve hundred francs, locked up in a drawer, was stolen from
him, and, accompanied by his nephew, he went to inform the police.
On investigation being made, it was found that the chest of drawers
had been broken at the top. As at the time of the theft of the
seventy-nine Louis from the abbe, Derues was the only person known to
have entered his uncle's room. The innkeeper swore to this, but the
uncle took pains to justify his nephew, and showed his confidence
shortly after by becoming surety for him to the extent of five
thousand livres. Derues failed to pay when the time expired, and the
holder of the note was obliged to sue the surety for it.
He made use of any means, even the most impudent, which enabled him
to appropriate other people's property. A provincial grocer on one
occasion sent him a thousand-weight of honey in barrels to be sold on
commission. Two or three months passed, and he asked for an account
of the sale. Derues replied that he had not yet been able to dispose
of it advantageously, and there ensued a fresh delay, followed by the
same question and the same reply. At length, when more than a year
had passed, the grocer came to Paris, examined his barrels, and found
that five hundred pounds were missing. He claimed damages from
Derues, who declared he had never received any more, and as the honey
had been sent in confidence, and there was no contract and no receipt
to show, the provincial tradesman could not obtain compensation.
As though having risen by the ruin of Madame Legrand and her four
children was not enough, Derues grudged even the morsel of bread he
had been obliged to leave her. A few days after the fire in the
cellar, which enabled him to go through a second bankruptcy, Madame
Legrand, now undeceived and not believing his lamentations, demanded
the money due to her, according to their agreement. Derues pretended
to look for his copy of the contract, and could not find it. "Give
me yours, madame," said he; "we will write the receipt upon it. Here
is the money."
The widow opened her purse and took out her copy; Derues snatched it,
and tore it up. "Now," he exclaimed, "you are paid; I owe you
nothing now. If you like, I will declare it on oath in court, and no
one will disbelieve my word."
"Wretched man," said the unfortunate widow, "may God forgive your
soul; but your body will assuredly end on the gallows!"
It was in vain that she complained, and told of this abominable
swindle; Derues had been beforehand with her, and the slander he had
disseminated bore its fruits. It was said that his old mistress was
endeavouring by an odious falsehood to destroy the reputation of a
man who had refused to be her lover. Although reduced to poverty,
she left the house where she had a right to remain rent free,
preferring the hardest and dreariest life to the torture of remaining
under the same roof with the man who had caused her ruin.
We might relate a hundred other pieces of knavery, but it must not be
supposed that having begun by murder, Derues would draw back and
remain contented with theft. Two fraudulent bankruptcies would have
sufficed for most people; for him they were merely a harmless
pastime. Here we must place two dark and obscure stories, two crimes
of which he is accused, two victims whose death groans no one heard.
The hypocrite's excellent reputation had crossed the Parisian bounds.
A young man from the country, intending to start as a grocer in the
capital, applied to Derues for the necessary information and begged
for advice. He arrived at the latter's house with a sum of eight
thousand livres, which he placed in Derues' hands, asking him for
assistance in finding a business. The sight of gold was enough to
rouse the instinct of crime in Derues, and the witches who hailed
Macbeth with the promise of royalty did not rouse the latter's
ambitious desires to a greater height than the chance of wealth did
the greed of the assassin; whose hands, once closed over the eight
thousand livres, were never again relaxed. He received them as a
deposit, and hid them along with his previous plunder, vowing never
to return them. Several days had elapsed, when one afternoon Derues
returned home with an air of such unusual cheerfulness that the young
man questioned him. "Have you heard some good news for me?" he
asked, "or have you had some luck yourself?"
"My young friend," answered Derues, "as for me, success depends on my
own efforts, and fortune smiles on me. But I have promised to be
useful to you, your parents have trusted me, and I must prove that
their confidence is well founded. I have heard to-day of a business
for disposal in one of the best parts of Paris. You can have it for
twelve thousand livres, and I wish I could lend you the amount you
want. But you must write to your father, persuade him, reason with
him; do not lose so good a chance. He must make a little sacrifice,
and he will be grateful to me later."
In accordance with their son's request, the young man's parents
despatched a sum of four thousand livres, requesting Derues to lose
no time in concluding the purchase.
Three weeks later, the father, very uneasy, arrived in Paris. He
came to inquire about his son, having heard nothing from him. Derues
received him with the utmost astonishment, appearing convinced that
the young man had returned home. One day, he said, the youth
informed him that he had heard from his father, who had given up all
idea of establishing him in Paris, having arranged an advantageous
marriage for him near home; and he had taken his twelve thousand
livres, for which Derues produced a receipt, and started on his
One evening, when nearly dark, Derues had gone out with his guest,
who complained of headache and internal pains. Where did they go?
No one knew; but Denies only returned at daybreak, alone, weary and
exhausted, and the young man was never again heard of.
One of his apprentices was the constant object of reproof. The boy
was accused of negligence, wasting his time, of spending three hours
over a task which might have been done in less than one. When Derues
had convinced the father, a Parisian bourgeois, that his son was a
bad boy and a good-for-nothing, he came to this man one day in a
state of wild excitement.
"Your son," he said, "ran away yesterday with six hundred livres,
with which I had to meet a bill to-day. He knew where I kept this
money, and has taken it."
He threatened to go before a magistrate and denounce the thief, and
was only appeased by being paid the sum he claimed to have lost. But
he had gone out with the lad the evening before, and returned alone
in the early hours of the morning.
However, the veil which concealed the truth was becoming more and
more transparent every day. Three bankruptcies had diminished the
consideration he enjoyed, and people began to listen to complaints
and accusations which till now had been considered mere inventions
designed to injure him. Another attempt at trickery made him feel it
desirable to leave the neighbourhood.
He had rented a house close to his own, the shop of which had been
tenanted for seven or eight years by a wine merchant. He required
from this man, if he wished to remain where he was, a sum of six
hundred livres as a payment for goodwill. Although the wine merchant
considered it an exorbitant charge, yet on reflection he decided to
pay it rather than go, having established a good business on these
premises, as was well known. Before long a still mare arrant piece
of dishonesty gave him an opportunity for revenge. A young man of
good family, who was boarding with him in order to gain some business
experience, having gone into Derues' shop to make some purchases,
amused himself while waiting by idly writing his name on a piece of
blank paper lying on the counter; which he left there without
thinking more about it. Derues, knowing the young man had means, as
soon as he had gone, converted the signed paper into a promissory
note for two thousand livres, to his order, payable at the majority
of the signer. The bill, negotiated in trade, arrived when due at
the wine merchant's, who, much surprised, called his young boarder
and showed him the paper adorned with his signature. The youth was
utterly confounded, having no knowledge of the bill whatever, but
nevertheless could not deny his signature. On examining the paper
carefully, the handwriting was recognised as Derues'. The wine
merchant sent for him, and when he arrived, made him enter a room,
and having locked the door, produced the promissory note. Derues
acknowledged having written it, and tried various falsehoods to
excuse himself. No one listened to him, and the merchant threatened
to place the matter in the hands of the police. Then Derues wept,
implored, fell on his knees, acknowledged his guilt, and begged for
mercy. He agreed to restore the six hundred livres exacted from the
wine merchant, on condition that he should see the note destroyed and
that the matter should end there. He was then about to be married,
and dreaded a scandal.
Shortly after, he married Marie-Louise Nicolais; daughter of a
harness-maker at Melun.
One's first impression in considering this marriage is one of
profound sorrow and utmost pity for the young girl whose destiny was
linked with that of this monster. One thinks of the horrible future;
of youth and innocence blighted by the tainting breath of the
homicide; of candour united to hypocrisy; of virtue to wickedness; of
legitimate desires linked to disgraceful passions; of purity mixed
with corruption. The thought of these contrasts is revolting, and
one pities such a dreadful fate. But we must not decide hastily.
Madame Denies has not been convicted of any active part in her
husband's later crimes, but her history, combined with his, shows no
trace of suffering, nor of any revolt against a terrible complicity.
In her case the evidence is doubtful, and public opinion must decide
In 1773, Derues relinquished retail business, and left the Saint
Victor neighbourhood, having taken an apartment in the rue des Deux
Boules, near the rue Bertin-Poiree, in the parish of St. Germain
l'Auxerrois, where he had been married. He first acted on commission
for the Benedictine-Camalduian fathers of the forest of Senart, who
had heard of him as a man wholly given to piety; then, giving himself
up to usury, he undertook what is known as "business affairs," a
profession which, in such hands, could not fail to be lucrative,
being aided by his exemplary morals and honest appearance. It was
the more easy for him to impose on others, as he could not be accused
of any of the deadly vices which so often end in ruin--gaming, wine,
and women. Until now he had displayed only one passion, that of
avarice, but now another developed itself, that of ambition. He
bought houses and land, and when the money was due, allowed himself
to be sued for it; he bought even lawsuits, which he muddled with all
the skill of a rascally attorney. Experienced in bankruptcy, he
undertook the management of failures, contriving to make dishonesty
appear in the light of unfortunate virtue. When this demon was not
occupied with poison, his hands were busy with every social iniquity;
he could only live and breathe in an atmosphere of corruption.
His wife, who had already presented him with a daughter, gave birth
to a son in February 1774. Derues, in order to better support the
airs of grandeur and the territorial title which he had assumed,
invited persons of distinction to act as sponsors. The child was
baptized Tuesday, February 15th. We give the text of the baptismal
register, as a curiosity:--
"Antoine-Maximilian-Joseph, son of Antoine-Francois Derues,
gentleman, seigneur of Gendeville, Herchies, Viquemont, and other
places, formerly merchant grocer; and of Madame Marie-Louise
Nicolais, his wife. Godfathers, T. H. and T. P., lords of, etc.
etc. Godmothers, Madame M. Fr. C. D. V., etc. etc.
"(Signed) A. F. DERUES, Senior."
But all this dignity did not exclude the sheriff's officers, whom, as
befitted so great a man, he treated with the utmost insolence,
overwhelming them with abuse when they came to enforce an execution.
Such scandals had several times aroused the curiosity of his
neighbours, and did not redound to his credit. His landlord, wearied
of all this clamour, and most especially weary of never getting any
rent without a fight for it, gave him notice to quit. Derues removed
to the rue Beaubourg, where he continued to act as commission agent
under the name of Cyrano Derues de Bury.
And now we will concern ourselves no more with the unravelling of
this tissue of imposition; we will wander no longer in this labyrinth
of fraud, of low and vile intrigue, of dark crime of which the clue
disappears in the night, and of which the trace is lost in a doubtful
mixture of blood and mire; we will listen no longer to the cry of the
widow and her four children reduced to beggary, to the groans of
obscure victims, to the cries of terror and the death-groan which
echoed one night through the vaults of a country house near Beauvais.
Behold other victims whose cries are yet louder, behold yet other
crimes and a punishment which equals them in terror! Let these
nameless ghosts, these silent spectres, lose themselves in the clear
daylight which now appears, and make room for other phantoms which
rend their shrouds and issue from the tomb demanding vengeance.
Derues was now soon to have a chance of obtaining immortality.
Hitherto his blows had been struck by chance, henceforth he uses all
the resources of his infernal imagination; he concentrates all his
strength on one point--conceives and executes his crowning piece of
wickedness. He employs for two years all his science as cheat,
forger, and poisoner in extending the net which was to entangle a
whole family; and, taken in his own snare, he struggles in vain; in
vain does he seek to gnaw through the meshes which confine him. The
foot placed on the last rung of this ladder of crime, stands also on
the first step by which he mounts the scaffold.
About a mile from Villeneuve-le-Roi-les-Sens, there stood in 1775 a
handsome house, overlooking the windings of the Yonne on one side,
and on the other a garden and park belonging to the estate of
Buisson-Souef. It was a large property, admirably situated, and
containing productive fields, wood, and water; but not everywhere
kept in good order, and showing something of the embarrassed fortune
of its owner. During some years the only repairs had been those
necessary in the house itself and its immediate vicinity. Here and
there pieces of dilapidated wall threatened to fall altogether, and
enormous stems of ivy had invaded and stifled vigorous trees; in the
remoter portions of the park briers barred the road and made walking
almost impossible. This disorder was not destitute of charm, and at
an epoch when landscape gardening consisted chiefly in straight
alleys, and in giving to nature a cold and monotonous symmetry, one's
eye rested with pleasure on these neglected clumps, on these waters
which had taken a different course to that which art had assigned to
them, on these unexpected and picturesque scenes.
A wide terrace, overlooking the winding river, extended along the
front of the house. Three men were walking on it-two priests, and
the owner of Buisson-Souef, Monsieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte. One
priest was the cure of Villeneuve-le-Roi-lez-Sens, the other was a
Camaldulian monk, who had come to see the cure about a clerical
matter, and who was spending some days at the presbytery. The
conversation did not appear to be lively. Every now and then
Monsieur de Lamotte stood still, and, shading his eyes with his hand
from the brilliant sunlight which flooded the plain, and was strongly
reflected from the water, endeavoured to see if some new object had
not appeared on the horizon, then slowly resumed his walk with a
movement of uneasy impatience. The tower clock struck with a noisy
"Six o'clock already!" he exclaimed. "They will assuredly not arrive
"Why despair?" said the cure. "Your servant has gone to meet them;
we might see their boat any moment."
"But, my father," returned Monsieur de Lamotte, "the long days are
already past. In another hour the mist will rise, and then they
would not venture on the river."
"Well, if that happens, we shall have to be patient; they will stay
all night at some little distance, and you will see them to-morrow
"My brother is right," said the other priest. "Come, monsieur; do
not be anxious."
"You both speak with the indifference of persons to whom family
troubles are unknown."
"What!" said the cure, "do you really think that because our sacred
profession condemns us both to celibacy, we are therefore unable to
comprehend an affection such as yours, on which I myself pronounced
the hallowing benediction of the Church--if you remember--nearly
fifteen years ago?"
"Is it perhaps intentionally, my father, that you recall the date of
my marriage? I readily admit that the love of one's neighbour may
enlighten you as to another love to which you have yourself been a
stranger. I daresay it seems odd to you that a man of my age should
be anxious about so little, as though he were a love-sick youth; but
for some time past I have had presentiments of evil, and I am really
He again stood still, gazing up the river, and, seeing nothing,
resumed his place between the two priests, who had continued their
"Yes," he continued, "I have presentiments which refuse to be shaken
off. I am not so old that age can have weakened my powers and
reduced me to childishness, I cannot even say what I am afraid of,
but separation is painful and causes an involuntary terror. Strange,
is it not? Formerly, I used to leave my wife for months together,
when she was young and my son only, an infant; I loved her
passionately, yet I could go with pleasure. Why, I wonder, is it so
different now? Why should a journey to Paris on business, and a few
hours' delay, make, me so terribly uneasy? Do you remember, my
father," he resumed, after a pause, turning to the cure," do you
remember how lovely Marie looked on our wedding-day? Do you remember
her dazzling complexion and the innocent candour of her expression?-
-the sure token of the most truthful and purest of minds! That is
why I love her so much now; we do not now sigh for one another, but
the second love is stronger than the first, for it is founded on
recollection, and is tranquil and confident in friendship . . . .
It is strange that they have not returned; something must have
happened! If they do not return this evening, and I do not now think
it possible, I shall go to Paris myself to-morrow."
"I think;" said the other priest, "that at twenty you must indeed
have been excitable, a veritable tinder-box, to have retained so much
energy! Come, monsieur, try to calm yourself and have patience: you
yourself admit it can only be a few hours' delay."
"But my son accompanied his mother, and he is our only one, and so
delicate! He alone remains of our three children, and you do not
realise how the affection of parents who feel age approaching is
concentrated on an only child! If I lost Edouard I should die!"
"I suppose, then, as you let him go, his presence at Paris was
"No; his mother went to obtain a loan which is needed for the
improvements required on the estate."
"Why, then, did you let him go?"
"I would willingly have kept him here, but his mother wished to take
him. A separation is as trying to her as to me, and we all but
quarrelled over it. I gave way."
"There was one way of satisfying all three--you might have gone
"Yes, but Monsieur le cure will tell you that a fortnight ago I was
chained to my arm-chair, swearing under my breath like a pagan, and
cursing the follies of my youth!--Forgive me, my father; I mean that
I had the gout, and I forgot that I am not the only sufferer, and
that it racks the old age of the philosopher quite as much as that of
The fresh wind which often rises just at sunset was already rustling
in the leaves; long shadows darkened the course of the Yonne and
stretched across the plain; the water, slightly troubled, reflected a
confused outline of its banks and the clouded blue of the sky. The
three gentlemen stopped at the end of the terrace and gazed into the
already fading distance. A black spot, which they had just observed
in the middle of the river, caught a gleam of light in passing a low
meadow between two hills, and for a moment took shape as a barge,
then was lost again, and could not be distinguished from the water.
Another moment, and it reappeared more distinctly; it was indeed a
barge, and now the horse could be seen towing it against the current.
Again it was lost at a bend of the river shaded by willows, and they
had to resign themselves to incertitude for several minutes. Then a
white handkerchief was waved on the prow of the boat, and Monsieur de
Lamotte uttered a joyful exclamation.
"It is indeed they!" he cried. "Do you see them, Monsieur le cure?
I see my boy; he is waving the handkerchief, and his mother is with
him. But I think there is a third person--yes, there is a man, is
there not? Look well."
"Indeed," said the cure, "if my bad sight does not deceive me, I
should say there was someone seated near the rudder; but it looks
like a child."
"Probably someone from the neighbourhood, who has profited by the
chance of a lift home."
The boat was advancing rapidly; they could now hear the cracking of
the whip with which the servant urged on the tow-horse. And now it
stopped, at an easy landing-place, barely fifty paces from the
terrace. Madame de Lamotte landed with her son and the stranger, and
her husband descended from the terrace to meet her. Long before he
arrived at the garden gate, his son's arms were around his neck.
"Are you quite well, Edouard ?"
"Oh yes, perfectly."
"And your mother?"
"Quite well too. She is behind, in as great a hurry to meet you as I
am. But she can't run as I do, and you must go half-way."
"Whom have you brought with you?"
"A gentleman from Paris."
"Yes, a Monsieur Derues. But mamma will tell you all about that.
Here she is."
The cure and the monk arrived just as Monsieur de Lamotte folded his
wife in his arms. Although she had passed her fortieth year, she was
still beautiful enough to justify her husband's eulogism. A moderate
plumpness had preserved the freshness and softness of her skin; her
smile was charming, and her large blue eyes expressed both gentleness
and goodness. Seen beside this smiling and serene countenance, the
appearance of the stranger was downright repulsive, and Monsieur de
Lamotte could hardly repress a start of disagreeable surprise at the
pitiful and sordid aspect of this diminutive person, who stood apart,
looking overwhelmed by conscious inferiority. He was still more
astonished when he saw his son take him by the hand with friendly
kindness, and heard him say--
"Will you come with me, my friend? We will follow my father and
Madame de Lamotte, having greeted the cure, looked at the monk, who
was a stranger to her. A word or two explained matters, and she took
her husband's arm, declining to answer any questions until she
reached the louse, and laughing at his curiosity.
Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, one of the king's
equerries, seigneur of Grange-Flandre, Valperfond, etc., had married
Marie-Francoise Perier in 1760. Their fortune resembled many others
of that period: it was more nominal than actual, more showy than
solid. Not that the husband and wife had any cause for
self-reproach, or that their estates had suffered from dissipation;
unstained by the corrupt manners of the period, their union had been
a model of sincere affection, of domestic virtue and mutual
confidence. Marie-Francoise was quite beautiful enough to have made
a sensation in society, but she renounced it of her own accord, in
order to devote herself to the duties of a wife and mother. The only
serious grief she and her husband had experienced was the loss of
two young children. Edouard, though delicate from his birth, had
nevertheless passed the trying years of infancy and early
adolescence; he was them nearly fourteen. With a sweet and rather
effeminate expression, blue eyes and a pleasant smile, he was a
striking likeness of his mother. His father's affection exaggerated
the dangers which threatened the boy, and in his eyes the slightest
indisposition became a serious malady; his mother shared these fears,
and in consequence of this anxiety Edouard's education had been much
neglected. He had been brought up at Buisson-Souef, and allowed to
run wild from morning till night, like a young fawn, exercising the
vigour and activity of its limbs. He had still the simplicity and
general ignorance of a child of nine or ten.
The necessity of appearing at court and suitably defraying the
expenses of his office had made great inroads on Monsieur de
Lamotte's fortune. He had of late lived at Buisson-Souef in the most
complete retirement; but notwithstanding this too long deferred
attention to his affairs, his property was ruining him, for the place
required a large expenditure, and absorbed a large amount of his
income without making any tangible return. He had always hesitated
to dispose of the estate on account of its associations; it was there
he had met, courted, and married his beloved wife; there that the
happy days of their youth had been spent; there that they both wished
to grow old together.
Such was the family to which accident had now introduced Derues. The
unfavourable impression made on Monsieur de Lamotte had not passed
unperceived by him; but, being quite accustomed to the instinctive
repugnance which his first appearance generally inspired, Derues had
made a successful study of how to combat and efface this antagonistic
feeling, and replace it by confidence, using different means
according to the persons he had to deal with. He understood at once
that vulgar methods would be useless with Monsieur de Lamotte, whose
appearance and manners indicated both the man of the world and the
man of intelligence, and also he had to consider the two priests, who
were both observing him attentively. Fearing a false step, he
assumed the most simple and insignificant deportment he could,
knowing that sooner or later a third person would rehabilitate him in
the opinion of those present. Nor did he wait long.
Arrived at the drawing-room, Monsieur de Lamotte requested the
company to be seated. Derues acknowledged the courtesy by a bow, and
there was a moment of silence, while Edouard and his mother looked at
each other and smiled. The silence was broken by Madame de Lamotte.
"Dear Pierre," she said, "you are surprised to see us accompanied by
a stranger, but when you hear what he has done for us you will thank
me for having induced him to return here with us."
"Allow me," interrupted Derues, "allow me to tell you what happened.
The gratitude which madame imagines she owes me causes her to
exaggerate a small service which anybody would have been delighted to
"No, monsieur; let me tell it."
"Let mamma tell the story," said Edouard.
"What is it, then? What happened?" said Monsieur de Lamotte.
"I am quite ashamed," answered Derues; "but I obey your wishes,
"Yes," replied Madame de Lamotte, "keep your seat, I wish it.
Imagine, Pierre, just six days ago, an accident happened to Edouard
and me which might have had serious consequences."
"And you never wrote to me, Marie?"
"I should only have made you anxious, and to no purpose. I had some
business in one of the most crowded parts of Paris; I took a chair,
and Edouard walked beside me. In the rue Beaubourg we were suddenly
surrounded by a mob of low people, who were quarrelling. Carriages
stopped the way, and the horses of one of these took fright in the
confusion and uproar, and bolted, in spite of the coachman's
endeavours to keep them in hand. It was a horrible tumult, and I
tried to get out of the chair, but at that moment the chairmen were
both knocked down, and I fell. It is a miracle I was not crushed. I
was dragged insensible from under the horses' feet and carried into
the house before which all this took place. There, sheltered in a
shop and safe from the crowd which encumbered the doorway, I
recovered my senses, thanks to the assistance of Monsieur Derues, who
lives there. But that is not all: when I recovered I could not walk,
I had been so shaken by the fright, the fall, and the danger I had
incurred, and I had to accept his offer of finding me another chair
when the crowd should disperse, and meanwhile to take shelter in his
rooms with his wife, who showed me the kindest attention."
"Monsieur--" said Monsieur de Lamotte, rising. But his wife stopped
"Wait a moment; I have not finished yet. Monsieur Derues came back
in an hour, and I was then feeling better; but before, I left I was
stupid enough to say that I had been robbed in the confusion; my
diamond earrings, which had belonged to my mother, were gone. You
cannot imagine the trouble Monsieur Derues took to discover the
thief, and all the appeals he made to the police--I was really
Although Monsieur de Lamotte did not yet understand what motive,
other than gratitude, had induced his wife to bring this stranger
home with her, he again rose from his seat, and going to Derues, held
out his hand.
"I understand now the attachment my son shows for you. You are wrong
in trying to lessen your good deed in order to escape from our
gratitude, Monsieur Derues."
"Monsieur Derues?" inquired the monk.
"Do you know the name, my father?" asked Madame de Lamotte eagerly.
"Edouard had already told me," said the monk, approaching Derues.
"You live in the, rue Beaubourg, and you are Monsieur Derues,
formerly a retail grocer?"
"The same, my brother."
"Should you require a reference, I can give it. Chance, madame, has
made you acquainted with a man whose, reputation for piety and honour
is well established; he will permit me to add my praises to yours."
"Indeed, I do not know how I deserve so much honour."
"I am, Brother Marchois, of the Camaldulian order. You see that I
know you well."
The monk then proceeded to explain that his community had confided
their affairs to Derues' honesty, he undertaking to dispose of the
articles manufactured by the monks in their retreat. He then
recounted a number of good actions and of marks of piety, which were
heard with pleasure and admiration by those present. Derues received
this cloud of incense with an appearance of sincere modesty and
humility, which would have deceived the most skilful physiognomist.
When the eulogistic warmth of the good brother began to slacken it
was already nearly dark, and the two priests had barely time to
regain the presbytery without incurring the risk of breaking their
necks in the rough road which led to it. They departed at once, and
a room was got ready for Derues.
"To-morrow," said Madame de Lamotte as they separated, "you can
discuss with my husband the business on which you came: to-morrow, or
another day, for I beg that you will make yourself at home here, and
the longer you will stay the better it will please us."
The night was a sleepless one for Derues, whose brain was occupied by
a confusion of criminal plans. The chance which had caused his
acquaintance with Madame de Lamotte, and even more the accident of
Brother Marchois appearing in the nick of time, to enlarge upon the
praises which gave him so excellent a character, seemed like
favourable omens not to be neglected. He began to imagine fresh
villanies, to outline an unheard-of crime, which as yet he could not
definitely trace out; but anyhow there would be plunder to seize and
blood to spill, and the spirit of murder excited and kept him awake,
just as remorse might have troubled the repose of another.
Meanwhile Madame de Lamotte, having retired with her husband, was
saying to the latter--
"Well, now! what do you think of my protege, or rather, of the
protector which Heaven sent me?"
"I think that physiognomy is often very deceptive, for I should have
been quite willing to hang him on the strength of his."
"It is true that his appearance is not attractive, and it led me into
a foolish mistake which I quickly regretted. When I recovered
consciousness, and saw him attending on me, much worse and more
carelessly dressed than he is to-day."
"You were frightened?"
"No, not exactly; but I thought I must be indebted to a man of the
lowest class, to some poor fellow who was really starving, and my
first effort at gratitude was to offer him a piece of gold."
"Did he refuse it?"
"No; he accepted it for the poor of the parish. Then he told me his
name, Cyrano Derues de Bury, and told me that the shop and the goods
it contained were his own property, and that he occupied an apartment
in the house. I floundered in excuses, but he replied that he
blessed the mistake, inasmuch as it would enable him to relieve some
unfortunate people. I was so touched with his goodness that I
offered him a second piece of gold."
"You were quite right, my dear; but what induced you to bring him to
Buisson? I should have gone to see and thank him the first time I
went to Paris, and meanwhile a letter would have been sufficient.
Did he carry his complaisance and interest so far as to offer you his
"Ah! I see you cannot get over your first impression--honestly, is it
"Indeed," exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte, laughing heartily, "it is
truly unlucky for a decent man to have such a face as that! He ought
to give Providence no rest until he obtains the gift of another
"Always these prejudices! It is not the poor man's fault that he was
born like that."
"Well, you said something about business we were to discuss together
--what is it?"
"I believe he can help us to obtain the money we are in want of."
"And who told him that we wanted any?"
"You! Come, it certainly seems that this gentleman is to be a family
friend. And pray what induced you to confide in him to this extent?"
"You would have known by now, if you did not interrupt. Let me tell
you all in order. The day after my accident I went out with Edouard
about midday, and I went to again express my gratitude for his
kindness. I was received by Madame Derues, who told me her husband
was out, and that he had gone to my hotel to inquire after me and my
son, and also to see if anything had been heard of my stolen
earrings. She appeared a simple and very ordinary sort of person,
and she begged me to sit down and wait for her husband. I thought it
would be uncivil not to do so, and Monsieur Derues appeared in about
two hours. The first thing he did, after having saluted me and
inquired most particularly after my health, was to ask for his
children, two charming little things, fresh and rosy, whom he covered
with kisses. We talked about indifferent matters, then he offered me
his services, placed himself at my disposal, and begged me to spare
neither his time nor his trouble. I then told him what had brought
me to Paris, and also the disappointments I had encountered, for of
all the people I had seen not one had given me a favourable answer.
He said that he might possibly be of some use to me, and the very
next day told 'me that he had seen a capitalist, but could do nothing
without more precise information. Then I thought it might be better
to bring him here, so that he might talk matters over with you. When
I first asked him, he refused altogether, and only yielded to my
earnest entreaties and Edouard's. This is the history, dear, of the
circumstances under which I made Monsieur Derues' acquaintance. I
hope you do not think I have acted foolishly?"
"Very well," said Monsieur de Lamotte, "I will talk to him
to-morrow, and in any case I promise you I will be civil to him. I
will not forget that he has been useful to you." With which promise
the conversation came to a close.
Skilled in assuming any kind of mask and in playing every sort of
part, Derues did not find it difficult to overcome Monsieur de
Lamotte's prejudices, and in order to obtain the goodwill of the
father he made a skilful use of the friendship which the, son had
formed with him. One can hardly think that he already meditated the
crime which he carried out later; one prefers to believe that these
atrocious plots were not invented so long beforehand. But he was
already a prey to the idea, and nothing henceforth could turn him
from it. By what route he should arrive at the distant goal which
his greed foresaw, he knew not as yet, but he had said to himself,
"One day this property shall be mine." It was the death-warrant of
those who owned it.
We have no details, no information as to Derues' first visit to
Buisson-Souef, but when he departed he had obtained the complete
confidence of the family, and a regular correspondence was carried on
between him and the Lamottes. It was thus that he was able to
exercise his talent of forgery, and succeeded in imitating the
writing of this unfortunate lady so as to be able even to deceive her
husband. Several months passed, and none of the hopes which Derues
had inspired were realised; a loan was always on the point of being
arranged, and regularly failed because of some unforeseen