Part 19 out of 33
circumstance. These pretended negotiations were managed by Derues
with so much skill and cunning that instead of being suspected, he
was pitied for having so much useless trouble. Meanwhile, Monsieur
de Lamotte's money difficulties increased, and the sale of
Buisson-Souef became inevitable. Derues offered himself as a
purchaser, and actually acquired the property by private contract,
dated December, 1775. It was agreed between the parties that the
purchase-money of one hundred and thirty thousand livres should not
be paid until 1776, in order to allow Derues to collect the various
sums at his disposal. It was an important purchase, which, he said,
he only made on account of his interest in Monsieur de Lamotte, and
his wish to put an end to the latter's difficulties.
But when the period agreed on arrived, towards the middle of 1776,
Derues found it impossible to pay. It is certain that he never meant
to do so; and a special peculiarity of this dismal story is the
avarice of the man, the passion for money which overruled all his
actions, and occasionally caused him to neglect necessary prudence.
Enriched by three bankruptcies, by continual thefts, by usury, the
gold he acquired promptly seemed to disappear. He stuck at nothing
to obtain it, and once in his grasp, he never let it go again.
Frequently he risked the loss of his character for honest dealing
rather than relinquish a fraction of his wealth. According to many
credible people, it was generally believed by his contemporaries that
this monster possessed treasures which he had buried in the ground,
the hiding-place of which no one knew, not even his wife. Perhaps it
is only a vague and unfounded rumour, which should be rejected; or is
it; perhaps, a truth which failed to reveal itself? It would be
strange if after the lapse of half a century the hiding-place were to
open and give up the fruit of his rapine. Who knows whether some of
this treasure, accidentally discovered, may not have founded fortunes
whose origin is unknown, even to their possessors?
Although it was of the utmost importance not to arouse Monsieur de
Lamotte's suspicions just at the moment when he ought to be paying
him so large a sum, Derues was actually at this time being sued by
his creditors. But in those days ordinary lawsuits had no publicity;
they struggled and died between the magistrates and advocates without
causing any sound. In order to escape the arrest and detention with
which he was threatened, he took refuge at Buisson-Souef with his
family, and remained there from Whitsuntide till the end of November.
After being treated all this time as a friend, Derues departed for
Paris, in order, he said, to receive an inheritance which would
enable him to pay the required purchase-money.
This pretended inheritance was that of one of his wife's relations,
Monsieur Despeignes-Duplessis, who had been murdered in his country
house, near Beauvais. It has been strongly suspected that Derues was
guilty of this crime. There are, however, no positive proofs, and we
prefer only to class it as a simple possibility.
Derues had made formal promises to Monsieur de Lamotte, and it was no
longer possible for him to elude them. Either the payment must now
be made, or the contract annulled. A new correspondence began
between the creditors and the debtor; friendly letters were
exchanged, full of protestations on one side and confidence on the
other. But all Derues' skill could only obtain a delay of a few
months. At length Monsieur de Lamotte, unable to leave Buisson-Souef
himself, on account of important business which required his
presence, gave his wife a power of attorney, consented to another
separation, and sent her to Paris, accompanied by Edouard, and as if
to hasten their misfortunes, sent notice of their coming to the
We have passed quickly over the interval between the first meeting of
Monsieur de Lamotte and Derues, and the moment when the victims fell
into the trap: we might easily have invented long conversations, and
episodes which would have brought Derues' profound hypocrisy into
greater relief; but the reader now knows all that we care to show
him. We have purposely lingered in our narration in the endeavour to
explain the perversities of this mysterious organisation; we have
over-loaded it with all the facts which seem to throw any light upon
this sombre character. But now, after these long preparations, the
drama opens, the scenes become rapid and lifelike; events, long
impeded, accumulate and pass quickly before us, the action is
connected and hastens to an end. We shall see Derues like an
unwearied Proteus, changing names, costumes, language, multiplying
himself in many forms, scattering deceptions and lies from one end of
France to the other; and finally, after so many efforts, such
prodigies of calculation and activity, end by wrecking himself
against a corpse.
The letter written at Buisson-Souef arrived at Paris the morning of
the 14th of December. In the course of the day an unknown man
presented himself at the hotel where Madame de Lamotte and her son
had stayed before, and inquired what rooms were vacant. There were
four, and he engaged them for a certain Dumoulin, who had arrived
that morning from Bordeaux, and who had passed through Paris in order
to meet, at some little distance, relations who would return with
him. A part of the rent was paid in advance, and it was expressly
stipulated that until his return the rooms should not be let to
anyone, as the aforesaid Dumoulin might return with his family and
require them at any moment. The same person went to other hotels in
the neighbourhood and engaged vacant rooms, sometimes for a stranger
he expected, sometimes for friends whom he could not accommodate
At about three o'clock, the Place de Greve was full of people,
thousands of heads crowded the windows of the surrounding houses. A
parricide was to pay the penalty of his crime--a crime committed
under atrocious circumstances, with an unheard-of refinement of
barbarity. The punishment corresponded to the crime: the wretched
man was broken on the wheel. The most complete and terrible silence
prevailed in the multitude eager for ghastly emotions. Three times
already had been heard the heavy thud of the instrument which broke
the victim's limbs, and a loud cry escaped the sufferer which made
all who heard it shudder with horror, One man only, who, in spite of
all his efforts, could not get through the crowd and cross the
square, remained unmoved, and looking contemptuously towards the
criminal, muttered, "Idiot! he was unable to deceive anyone!"
A few moments later the flames began to rise from the funeral pile,
the crowd began to move, and the than was able to make his way
through and reach one of the streets leading out of the square.
The sky was overcast, and the grey daylight hardly penetrated the
narrow lane, hideous and gloomy as the name it bore, and which; only
a few years ago, still wound like a long serpent through the mire of
this quarter. Just then it was deserted, owing to the attraction of
the execution close by. The man who had just left the square
proceeded slowly, attentively reading all the inscriptions on the
doors. He stopped at Number 75, where on the threshold of a shop sat
a stout woman busily knitting, over whom one read in big yellow
letters, "Widow Masson." He saluted the woman, and asked--
"Is there not a cellar to let in this house?"
"There is, master," answered the widow.
"Can I speak to the owner?"
"And that is myself, by your leave."
"Will you show me the cellar? I am a provincial wine merchant, my
business often brings me to Paris, and I want a cellar where I could
deposit wine which I sell on commission."
They went down together. After examining the place, and ascertaining
that it was not too damp for the expensive wine which he wished to
leave there, the man agreed about the rent, paid the first term in
advance, and was entered on the widow Masson's books under the name
of Ducoudray. It is hardly necessary to remark that it should have
When he returned home in the evening, his wife told him that a large
box had arrived.
"It is all right," he said, "the carpenter from whom I ordered it is
a man of his word." Then he supped, and caressed his children. The
next day being Sunday, he received the communion, to the great
edification of the devout people of the neighbourhood.
On Monday the 16th Madame de Lamotte and Edouard, descending from the
Montereau stagecoach, were met by Derues and his wife.
"Did my husband write to you, Monsieur Derues?" inquired Madame de
"Yes, madame, two days ago; and I have arranged our dwelling for your
"What! but did not Monsieur de Lamotte ask you to engage the rooms I
have had before at the Hotel de France?"
"He did not say so, and if that was your idea I trust you will change
it. Do not deprive me of the pleasure of offering you the
hospitality which for so long I have accepted from you. Your room is
quite ready, also one for this dear boy," and so saying he took
Edouard's hand; "and I am sure if you ask his opinion, he will say
you had better be content to stay with me."
"Undoubtedly," said the boy; "and I do not see why there need be any
hesitation between friends."
Whether by accident, or secret presentiment, or because she foresaw a
possibility of business discussions between them, Madame de Lamotte
objected to this arrangement. Derues having a business appointment
which he was bound to keep, desired his wife to accompany the
Lamottes to the Hotel de France, and in case of their not being able
to find rooms there, mentioned three others as the only ones in the
quarter where they could be comfortably accommodated. Two hours
later Madame de Lamotte and her son returned to his house in the rue
The house which Derues occupied stood opposite the rue des Menoriers,
and was pulled down quite lately to make way for the rue Rambuteau.
In 1776 it was one of the finest houses of the rue Beaubourg, and it
required a certain income to be able to live there, the rents being
tolerably high. A large arched doorway gave admittance to a passage,
lighted at the other end by a small court, on the far side of which
was the shop into which Madame de Lamotte had been taken on the
occasion of the accident. The house staircase was to the right of
the passage; and the Derues' dwelling on the entresol. The first
room, lighted by a window looking into the court, was used as a
dining room, and led into a simply furnished sitting-room, such as
was generally found among the bourgeois and tradespeople of this
period. To the right of the sitting-room was a large closet, which
could serve as a small study or could hold a bed; to the left was a
door opening into the Derues' bedroom, which had been prepared for
Madame de Lamotte. Madame Derues would occupy one of the two beds
which stood in the alcove. Derues had a bed made up in the
sitting-room, and Edouard was accommodated in the little study.
Nothing particular happened during the first few days which followed
the Lamottes' arrival. They had not come to Paris only on account of
the Buisson-Souef affairs. Edouard was nearly sixteen, and after
much hesitation his parents had decided on placing him in some school
where his hitherto neglected education might receive more attention.
Derues undertook to find a capable tutor, in whose house the boy
would be brought up in the religious feeling which the cure of
Buisson and his own exhortations had already tended to develop.
These proceedings, added to Madame de Lamotte's endeavours to collect
various sums due to her husband, took some time. Perhaps, when on
the point of executing a terrible crime, Derues tried to postpone the
fatal moment, although, considering his character, this seems
unlikely, for one cannot do him the honour of crediting him with a
single moment of remorse, doubt, or pity. Far from it, it appears
from all the information which can be gathered, that Derues, faithful
to his own traditions, was simply experimenting on his unfortunate
guests, for no sooner were they in his house than both began to
complain of constant nausea, which they had never suffered from
before. While he thus ascertained the strength of their
constitution, he was able, knowing the cause of the malady, to give
them relief, so that Madame de Lamotte, although she grew daily
weaker, had so much confidence in him as to think it unnecessary to
call in a doctor. Fearing to alarm her husband, she never mentioned
her sufferings, and her letters only spoke of the care and kind
attention which she received.
On the 15th of January, 1777, Edouard was placed in a school in the
rue de l'Homme Arme. His mother never saw him again. She went out
once more to place her husband's power of attorney with a lawyer in
the rue de Paon. On her return she felt so weak and broken-down that
she was obliged to go to bed and remain there for several days. On
January 29th the unfortunate lady had risen, and was sitting near the
window which overlooked the deserted rue des Menetriers, where clouds
of snow were drifting before the wind. Who can guess the sad
thoughts which may have possessed her?--all around dark, cold, and
silent, tending to produce painful depression and involuntary dread.
To escape the gloomy ideas which besieged her, her mind went back to
the smiling times of her youth and marriage. She recalled the time
when, alone at Buisson during her husband's enforced absences, she
wandered with her child in the cool and shaded walks of the park, and
sat out in the evening, inhaling the scent of the flowers, and
listening to the murmur of the water, or the sound of the whispering
breeze in the leaves. Then, coming back from these sweet
recollections to reality, she shed tears, and called on her husband
and son. So deep was her reverie that she did not hear the room door
open, did not perceive that darkness had come on. The light of a
candle, dispersing the shadows, made her start; she turned her head,
and saw Derues coming towards her. He smiled, and she made an effort
to keep back the tears which were shining in her eyes, and to appear
"I am afraid I disturb you," he said. "I came to ask a favour,
"What is it, Monsieur Derues?" she inquired.
"Will you allow me to have a large chest brought into this room? I
ought to pack some valuable things in it which are in my charge, and
are now in this cupboard. I am afraid it will be in your way."
"Is it not your own house, and is it not rather I who am in the way
and a cause of trouble? Pray have it brought in, and try to forget
that I am here. You are most kind to me, but I wish I could spare
you all this trouble and that I were fit to go back to Buisson. I
had a letter from my husband yesterday----"
"We will talk about that presently, if you wish it," said Derues.
"I will go and fetch the servant to help me to carry in this chest.
I have put it off hitherto, but it really must be sent in three
He went away, and returned in a few minutes. The chest was carried
in, and placed before the cupboard at the foot of the bed. Alas!
the poor lady little thought it was her own coffin which stood before
The maid withdrew, and Derues assisted Madame de Lamotte to a seat
near the fire, which he revived with more fuel. He sat down opposite
to her, and by the feeble light of the candle placed on a small table
between them could contemplate at leisure the ravages wrought by
poison on her wasted features.
"I saw your son to-day," he said: "he complains that you neglect
him, and have not seen him for twelve days. He does not know you
have been ill, nor did I tell him. The dear boy! he loves you so
"And I also long to see him. My friend, I cannot tell you what
terrible presentiments beset me; it seems as if I were threatened
with some great misfortune; and just now, when you came in, I could
think only of death. What is the cause of this languor and weakness?
It is surely no temporary ailment. Tell me the truth: am I not
dreadfully altered? and do you not think my husband will be shocked
when he sees me like this?"
"You are unnecessarily anxious," replied Derues; "it is rather a
failing of yours. Did I not see you last year tormenting yourself
about Edouard's health, when he was not even thinking of being ill?
I am not so soon alarmed. My own old profession, and that of
chemistry, which I studied in my youth, have given me some
acquaintance with medicine. I have frequently been consulted, and
have prescribed for patients whose condition was supposed to be
desperate, and I can assure you I have never seen a better and
stronger constitution than yours. Try to calm yourself, and do not
call up chimeras; because a mind at ease is the greatest enemy of
illness. This depression will pass, and then you will regain your
"May God grant it! for I feel weaker every day."
"We have still some business to transact together. The notary at
Beauvais writes that the difficulties which prevented his paying over
the inheritance of my wife's relation, Monsieur Duplessis, have
mostly disappeared. I have a hundred thousand livres at my
disposal,--that is to say, at yours,--and in a month at latest I
shall be able to pay off my debt. You ask me to be sincere," he
continued, with a tinge of reproachful irony; "be sincere in your
turn, madame, and acknowledge that you and your husband have both
felt uneasy, and that the delays I have been obliged to ask for have
not seemed very encouraging to you?"
"It is true," she replied; "but we never questioned your good
"And you were right. One is not always able to carry out one's
intentions; events can always upset our calculations; but what really
is in our power is the desire to do right--to be honest; and I can
say that I never intentionally wronged anyone. And now. I am happy
in being able to fulfil my promises to you. I trust when I am the
owner of Buisson-Souef you will not feel obliged to leave it."
"Thank you; I should like to come occasionally, for all my happy
recollections are connected with it. Is it necessary for me to
accompany you to Beauvais?"
"Why should you not? The change would do you good."
She looked up at him and smiled sadly. "I am not in a fit state to
"Not if you imagine that you are unable, certainly. Come, have you
any confidence in me?"
"The most complete confidence, as you know."
"Very well, then: trust to my care. This very evening I will prepare
a draught for you to take to-morrow morning, and I will even now fix
the duration of this terrible malady which frightens you so much. In
two days I shall fetch Edouard from his school to celebrate the
beginning of your convalescence, and we will start, at latest, on
February 1st. You are astonished at what I say, but you shall see if
I am not a good doctor, and much cleverer than many who pass for such
merely because the have obtained a diploma."
"Then, doctor, I will place myself in your hands."
"Remember what I say. You will leave this on February 1st."
"To begin this cure, can you ensure my sleeping to-night?"
"Certainly. I will go now, and send my wife to you. She will bring
a draught, which you must promise to take."
"I will exactly follow your prescriptions. Goodnight, my friend."
"Good-night, madame; and take courage"; and bowing low, he left the
The rest of the evening was spent in preparing the fatal medicine.
The next morning, an hour or two after Madame de Lamotte had
swallowed it, the maid who had given it to her came and told Derues
the invalid was sleeping very heavily and snoring, and asked if she
ought to be awoke. He went into the room, and, opening the curtains,
approached the bed. He listened for some time, and recognised that
the supposed snoring was really he death-rattle. He sent the servant
off into the country with a letter to one of his friends, telling her
not to return until the Monday following, February 3rd. He also sent
away his wife, on some unknown pretext, and remained alone with his
So terrible a situation ought to have troubled the mind of the most
hardened criminal. A man familiar with murder and accustomed to shed
blood might have felt his heart sink, and, in the absence of pity,
might have experienced disgust at the sight of this prolonged and
useless torture; but Derues, calm and easy, as if unconscious of
evil, sat coolly beside the bed, as any doctor might have done. From
time to time he felt the slackening pulse, and looked at the glassy
and sightless eyes which turned in their orbits, and he saw without
terror the approach of night, which rendered this awful 'tete-a-tete'
even more horrible. The most profound silence reigned in the house,
the street was deserted, and the only sound heard was caused by an
icy rain mixed with snow driven against the glass, and occasionally
the howl of the wind, which penetrated the chimney and scattered the
ashes. A single candle placed behind the curtains lighted this
dismal scene, and the irregular flicker of its flame cast weird
reflections and dancing shadows an the walls of the alcove. There
came a lull in the wind, the rain ceased, and during this instant of
calm someone knocked, at first gently, and then sharply, at the outer
door. Derues dropped the dying woman's hand and bent forward to
listen. The knock was repeated, and he grew pale. He threw the
sheet, as if it were a shroud, over his victim's head drew the
curtains of the alcove, and went to the door. "Who is there?" he
"Open, Monsieur Derues," said a voice which he recognised as that of
a woman of Chartres whose affairs he managed, and who had entrusted
him with sundry deeds in order that he might receive the money due to
her. This woman had begun to entertain doubts as to Derues' honesty,
and as she was leaving Paris the next day, had resolved to get the
papers out of his hands.
"Open the door," she repeated. "Don't you know my voice?"
"I am sorry I cannot let you in. My servant is out: she has taken
the key and locked the door outside."
"You must let me in," the woman continued; "it is absolutely
necessary I should speak to you."
"I leave Paris to-morrow, and I must have those papers to-night."
He again refused, but she spoke firmly and decidedly. "I must come
in. The porter said you were all out, but, from the rue des
Menetriers I could see the light in your room. My brother is with
me, and I left him below. I shall call him if you don't open the
"Come in, then," said Derues; "your papers are in the sitting-room.
Wait here, and I will fetch them." The woman looked at him and took
his hand. "Heavens! how pale you are! What is the matter?"
"Nothing is the matter: will you wait here? "But she would not
release his arm, and followed him into the sitting-room, where Derues
began to seek hurriedly among the various papers which covered a
table. "Here they are," he said; "now you can go."
"Really," said the woman, examining her deeds carefully, "never yet
did I see you in such a hurry to give up things which don't belong to
you. But do hold that candle steadily; your hand is shaking so that
I cannot see to read."
At that moment the silence which prevailed all round was broken by a
cry of anguish, a long groan proceeding from the chamber to the right
of the sitting-room.
"What is that?" cried the woman. "Surely it is a dying person!"
The sense of the danger which threatened made Derues pull himself
together. "Do not be alarmed," he said. "My wife has been seized
with a violent fever; she is quite delirious now, and that is why I
told the porter to let no one come up."
But the groans in the next room continued, and the unwelcome visitor,
overcome by terror which she could neither surmount nor explain, took
a hasty leave, and descended the staircase with all possible
rapidity. As soon as he could close the door, Derues returned to the
Nature frequently collects all her expiring strength at the last
moment of existence. The unhappy lady struggled beneath her
coverings; the agony she suffered had given her a convulsive energy,
and inarticulate sounds proceeded from her mouth. Derues approached
and held her on the bed. She sank back on the pillow, shuddering
convulsively, her hands plucking and twisting the sheets, her teeth
chattering and biting the loose hair which fell over her face and
shoulders. "Water! water!" she cried; and then, "Edouard,--my
husband!--Edouard!--is it you?" Then rising with a last effort, she
seized her murderer by the arm, repeating, "Edouard!--oh!" and then
fell heavily, dragging Derues down with her. His face was against
hers; he raised his head, but the dying hand, clenched in agony, had
closed upon him like a vise. The icy fingers seemed made of iron and
could not be opened, as though the victim had seized on her assassin
as a prey, and clung to the proof of his crime.
Derues at last freed himself, and putting his hand on her heart, "It
is over," he remarked; "she has been a long time about it. What
o'clock is it? Nine! She has struggled against death for twelve
While the limbs still retained a little warmth, he drew the feet
together, crossed the hands on the breast, and placed the body in the
chest. When he had locked it up, he remade the bed, undressed
himself, and slept comfortably in the other one.
The next day, February 1st, the day he had fixed for the "going out"
of Madame de Lamotte, he caused the chest to be placed on a hand-cart
and carried at about ten o'clock in the morning to the workshop of a
carpenter of his acquaintance called Mouchy, who dwelt near the
Louvre. The two commissionaires employed had been selected in
distant quarters, and did not know each other. They were well paid,
and each presented with a bottle of wine. These men could never be
traced. Derues requested the carpenter's wife to allow the chest to
remain in the large workshop, saying he had forgotten something at
his own house, and would return to fetch it in three hours. But,
instead of a few hours, he left it for two whole days--why, one does
not know, but it may be supposed that he wanted the time to dig a
trench in a sort of vault under the staircase leading to the cellar
in the rue de la Mortellerie. Whatever the cause, the delay might
have been fatal, and did occasion an unforeseen encounter which
nearly betrayed him. But of all the actors in this scene he alone
knew the real danger he incurred, and his coolness never deserted him
for a moment.
The third day, as he walked alongside the handcart on which the chest
was being conveyed, he was accosted at Saint Germain l'Auxerrois by a
creditor who had obtained a writ of execution against him, and at the
imperative sign made by this man the porter stopped. The creditor
attacked Derues violently, reproaching him for his bad faith in
language which was both energetic and uncomplimentary; to which the
latter replied in as conciliatory a manner as he could assume. But
it was impossible to silence the enemy, and an increasing crowd of
idlers began to assemble round them.
"When will you pay me?" demanded the creditor. "I have an execution
against you. What is there in that box? Valuables which you cart
away secretly, in order to laugh at my just claims, as you did two
Derues shuddered all over; he exhausted himself in protestations; but
the other, almost beside himself, continued to shout.
"Oh!" he said, turning to the crowd, "all these tricks and grimaces
and signs of the cross are no good. I must have my money, and as I
know what his promises are worth, I will pay myself! Come, you
knave, make haste. Tell me what there is in that box; open it, or I
will fetch the police."
The crowd was divided between the creditor and debtor, and possibly a
free fight would have begun, but the general attention was distracted
by the arrival of another spectator. A voice heard above all the
tumult caused a score of heads to turn, it was the voice of a woman
"The abominable history of Leroi de Valine, condemned to death at the
age of sixteen for having poisoned his entire family!"
Continually crying her wares, the drunken, staggering woman
approached the crowd, and striking out right and left with fists and
elbows, forced her way to Derues.
"Ah! ah!" said she, after looking him well over, "is it you, my
gossip Derues! Have you again a little affair on hand like the one
when you set fire to your shop in the rue Saint-Victor?"
Derues recognised the hawker who had abused him on the threshold of
his shop some years previously, and whom he had never seen since.
"Yes, yes," she continued, "you had better look at me with your
little round cat's eyes. Are you going to say you don't know me?"
Derues appealed to his creditor. "You see," he said, "to what
insults you are exposing me. I do not know this woman who abuses
"What!--you don't know me! You who accused me of being a thief! But
luckily the Maniffets have been known in Paris as honest people for
generations, while as for you----"
"Sir," said Derues, "this case contains valuable wine which I am
commissioned to sell. To-morrow I shall receive the money for it;
to-morrow, in the course of the day, I will pay what I owe you. But
I am waited for now, do not in Heaven's name detain me longer, and
thus deprive me of the means of paying at all."
"Don't believe him, my good man," said the hawker; "lying comes
natural to him always."
"Sir, I promise on my oath you shall be paid tomorrow; you had better
trust the word of an honest man rather than the ravings of a drunken
The creditor still hesitated, but, another person now spoke in
Derues' favour; it was the carpenter Mouchy, who had inquired the
cause of the quarrel.
"For God's sake," he exclaimed, "let the gentleman go on. That chest
came from my workshop, and I know there is wine inside it; he told my
wife so two days ago."
"Will you be surety for me, my friend?" asked Derues.
"Certainly I will; I have not known you for ten years in order to
leave you in trouble and refuse to answer for you. What the devil
are respectable people to be stopped like this in a public place?
Come, sir, believe his word, as I do."
After some more discussion, the porter was at last allowed to proceed
with his hand-cart. The hawker wanted to interfere, but Mouchy
warned her off and ordered her to be silent. "Ah! ah!" she cried,
"what does it matter to me? Let him sell his wine if he can; I shall
not drink any on his premises. This is the second time he has found
a surety to my knowledge; the beggar must have some special secret
for encouraging the growth of fools. Good-bye, gossip Derues; you
know I shall be selling your history some day. Meanwhile----
"The abominable history of Leroi de Valine, condemned to death at the
age of sixteen for having poisoned his entire family!"
Whilst she amused the people by her grimaces and grotesque gestures,
and while Mouchy held forth to some of them, Derues made his escape.
Several times between Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois and the rue de la
Mortellerie he nearly fainted, and was obliged to stop. While the
danger lasted, he had had sufficient self-control to confront it
coolly, but now that he calculated the depth of the abyss which for a
moment had opened beneath his feet, dizziness laid hold on him.
Other precautions now became necessary. His real name had been
mentioned before the commissionaire, and the widow Masson, who owned
the cellar, only knew him as Ducoudray. He went on in front, asked
for the keys, which till then had been left with her, and the chest
was got downstairs without any awkward questions. Only the porter
seemed astonished that this supposed wine, which was to be sold
immediately, should be put in such a place, and asked if he might
come the next day and move it again. Derues replied that someone was
coming for it that very day. This question, and the disgraceful
scene which the man had witnessed, made it necessary to get rid of
him without letting him see the pit dug under the staircase. Derues
tried to drag the chest towards the hole, but all his strength was
insufficient to move it. He uttered terrible imprecations when he
recognised his own weakness, and saw that he would be obliged to
bring another stranger, an informer perhaps, into this charnel-house,
where; as yet, nothing betrayed his crimes. No sooner escaped from
one peril than he encountered another, and already he had to struggle
against his own deeds. He measured the length of the trench, it was
too short. Derues went out and repaired to the place where he had
hired the labourer who had dug it out, but he could not find the man,
whom he had only seen once, and whose name he did not know. Two
whole days were spent in this fruitless search, but on the third, as
he was wandering on one of the quays at the time labourers were to be
found there, a mason, thinking he was looking for someone, inquired
what he wanted. Derues looked well at the man, and concluding from
his appearance that he was probably rather simpleminded, asked--
"Would you like to earn a crown of three livres by an easy job?"
"What a question, master!" answered the mason. "Work is so scarce
that I am going back into the country this very evening."
"Very well! Bring your tools, spade, and pickaxe, and follow me."
They both went down to the cellar, and the mason was ordered to dig
out the pit till it was five and a half feet deep. While the man
worked, Derues sat beside the chest and read. When it was half done,
the mason stopped for breath, and leaning on his spade, inquired why
he wanted a trench of such a depth. Derues, who had probably
foreseen the question, answered at once, without being disconcerted--
"I want to bury some bottled wine which is contained in this case."
"Wine!" said the other. "Ah! you are laughing at me, because you
think I look a fool! I never yet heard of such a recipe for
"Where do you come from?"
"Cider drinker! You were brought up in Normandy, that is clear.
Well, you can learn from me, Jean-Baptiste Ducoudray, a wine grower
of Tours, and a wine merchant for the last ten years, that new wine
thus buried for a year acquires the quality and characteristics of
the oldest brands."
"It is possible," said the mason, again taking his spade, "but all
the same it seems a little odd to me."
When he had finished, Derues asked him to help to drag the chest
alongside the trench, so that it might be easier to take out the
bottles and arrange them: The mason agreed, but when he moved the
chest the foetid odour which proceeded from it made him draw back,
declaring that a smell such as that could not possibly proceed from
wine. Derues tried to persuade him that the smell came from drains
under the cellar, the pipe of which could be seen. It appeared to
satisfy him, and he again took hold of the chest, but immediately let
it go again, and said positively that he could not execute Derues'
orders, being convinced that the chest must contain a decomposing
corpse. Then Derues threw himself at the man's feet and acknowledged
that it was the dead body of a woman who had unfortunately lodged in
his house, and who had died there suddenly from an unknown malady,
and that, dreading lest he should be accused of having murdered her,
he had decided to conceal the death and bury her here.
The mason listened, alarmed at this confidence, and not knowing
whether to believe it or not. Derues sobbed and wept at his feet,
beat his breast and tore out his hair, calling on God and the saints
as witnesses of his good faith and his innocence. He showed the book
he was reading while the mason excavated: it was the Seven
Penitential Psalms. "How unfortunate I am!" he cried. "This woman
died in my house, I assure you--died suddenly, before I could call a
doctor. I was alone; I might have been accused, imprisoned, perhaps
condemned for a crime I did not commit. Do not ruin me! You leave
Paris to-night, you need not be uneasy; no one would know that I
employed you, if this unhappy affair should ever be discovered. I do
not know your name, I do not wish to know it, and I tell you mine, it
is Ducoudray. I give myself up to you, but have some pity!--if not
for me, yet for my wife and my two little children--for these poor
creatures whose only support I am!"
Seeing that the mason was touched, Derues opened the chest.
"Look," he said, "examine the body of this woman, does it show any
mark of violent death? My God!" he continued, joining his hands and
in tones of despairing agony,--"my God, Thou who readest all hearts,
and who knowest my innocence, canst Thou not ordain a miracle to save
an honest man? Wilt Thou not command this dead body to bear witness
The mason was stupefied by this flow of language. Unable to restrain
his tears, he promised to keep silence, persuaded that Derues was
innocent, and that appearances only were against him. The latter,
moreover, did not neglect other means of persuasion; he handed the
mason two gold pieces, and between them they buried the body of
Madame de Lamotte.
However extraordinary this fact, which might easily be supposed
imaginary, may appear, it certainly happened. In the examination at
his trial. Derues himself revealed it, repeating the story which had
satisfied the mason. He believed that this man had denounced him: he
was mistaken, for this confidant of his crime, who might have been
the first to put justice on his track, never reappeared, and but for
Derues' acknowledgment his existence would have remained unknown.
This first deed accomplished, another victim was already appointed.
Trembling at first as to the consequences of his forced confession,
Derues waited some days, paying, however, his creditor as promised.
He redoubles his demonstrations of piety, he casts a furtive glance
on everyone he meets, seeking for some expression of distrust. But
no one avoids him, or points him out with a raised finger, or
whispers on seeing him; everywhere he encounters the customary
expression of goodwill. Nothing has changed; suspicion passes over
his head without alighting there. He is reassured, and resumes his
work. Moreover, had he wished to remain passive, he could not have
done so; he was now compelled to follow that fatal law of crime which
demands that blood must be effaced with blood, and which is compelled
to appeal again to death in order to stifle the accusing voice
already issuing from the tomb.
Edouard de Lamotte, loving his mother as much as she loved him,
became uneasy at receiving no visits, and was astonished at this
sudden indifference. Derues wrote to him as follows:
"I have at length some good news for you, my dear boy, but you must
not tell your mother I have betrayed her secret; she would scold me,
because she is planning a surprise for you, and the various steps and
care necessary in arranging this important matter have caused her
absence. You were to know nothing until the 11th or 12th of this
month, but now that all is settled, I should blame myself if I
prolonged the uncertainty in which you have been left, only you must
promise me to look as much astonished as possible. Your mother, who
only lives for you, is going to present you with the greatest gift a
youth of your age can receive--that of liberty. Yes, dear boy, we
thought we had discovered that you have no very keen taste for study,
and that a secluded life will suit neither your character nor your
health. In saying this I utter no reproach, for every man is born
with his own decided tastes, and the way to success and happiness
is-often-to allow him to follow these instincts. We have had long
discussions on this subject--your mother and I--and we have thought
much about your future; she has at last come to a decision, and for
the last ten days has been at Versailles, endeavouring to obtain your
admission as a royal page. Here is the mystery, this is the reason
which has kept her from you, and as she knew you would hear it with
delight, she wished to have the pleasure of telling you herself.
Therefore, once again, when you see her, which will be very soon, do
not let her see I have told you; appear to be greatly surprised. It
is true that I am asking you to tell a lie, but it is a very innocent
one, and its good intention will counteract its sinfulness--may God
grant we never have worse upon our consciences! Thus, instead of
lessons and the solemn precepts of your tutors, instead of a
monotonous school-life, you are going to enjoy your liberty; also the
pleasures of the court and the world. All that rather alarms me, and
I ought to confess that I at first opposed this plan. I begged your
mother to reflect, to consider that in this new existence you would
run great risk of losing the religious feeling which inspires you,
and which I have had the happiness, during my sojourn at Buisson-
Souef, of further developing in your mind. I still recall with
emotion your fervid and sincere aspirations towards the Creator when
you approached the Sacred Table for the first time, and when,
kneeling beside you, and envying the purity of heart and innocence of
soul which appeared to animate your countenance as with a divine
radiance, I besought God that, in default of my own virtue, the love
for heavenly Truth with which I have inspired you might be reckoned
to my account. Your piety is my work, Edouard, and I defended it
against your mother's plans; but she replied that in every career a
man is master of his own good or evil actions; and as I have no
authority over you, and friendship only gives me the right to advise,
I must give way. If this be your vocation, then follow it.
"My occupations are so numerous (I have to collect from different
sources this hundred thousand livres intended to defray the greater
part of the Buisson purchase) that I have not a moment in which to
come and see you this week. Spend the time in reflection, and write
to me fully what you think about this plan. If, like me, you feel
any scruples, you must tell them to your mother, who decidedly wants
only to make you happy. Speak to me freely, openly. It is arranged
that I am to fetch you on the 11th of this month, and escort you to
Versailles, where Madame de Lamotte will be waiting to receive you
with the utmost tenderness. Adieu, dear boy; write to me. Your
father knows nothing as yet; his consent will be asked after your
The answer to this letter did not have to be waited for: it was such
as Derues expected; the lad accepted joyfully. The answer was, for
the murderer, an arranged plea of defence, a proof which, in a given
case, might link the present with the past.
On the morning of February 11th, Shrove Tuesday, he went to fetch the
young de Lamotte from his school, telling the master that he was
desired by the youth's mother to conduct him to Versailles. But,
instead, he took him to his own house, saying that he had a letter
from Madame de Lamotte asking them not to come till the next day; so
they started on Ash Wednesday, Edouard having breakfasted on
chocolate. Arrived at Versailles, they stopped at the Fleur-de-lys
inn, but there the sickness which the boy had complained of during
the journey became very serious, and the innkeeper, having young
children, and believing that he recognised symptoms of smallpox,
which just then was ravaging Versailles, refused to receive them,
saying he had no vacant room. This might have disconcerted anyone
but Derues, but his audacity, activity, and resource seemed to
increase with each fresh obstacle. Leaving Edouard in a room on the
ground floor which had no communication with the rest of the inn, he
went at once to look for lodgings, and hastily explored the town.
After a fruitless search, he found at last, at the junction of the
rue Saint-Honore with that of the Orangerie, a cooper named Martin,
who had a furnished room to spare. This he hired at thirty sous per
day for himself and his nephew, who had been taken suddenly ill,
under the name of Beaupre. To avoid being questioned later, he
informed the cooper in a few words that he was a doctor; that he had
come to Versailles in order to place his nephew in one of the offices
of the town; that in a few days the latter's mother would arrive to
join him in seeing and making application to influential persons
about the court, to whom he had letters of introduction. As soon as
he had delivered this fable with all the appearance of truth with
which he knew so well how to disguise his falsehoods, he went back to
the young de Lamotte, who was already so exhausted that he was hardly
able to drag himself as far as the cooper's house. He fainted on
arrival, and was carried into the hired room, where Derues begged to
be left alone with him, and only asked for certain beverages which he
told the people how to prepare.
Whether it was that the strength of youth fought against the poison,
or that Derues took pleasure in watching the sufferings of his
victim, the agony of the poor lad was prolonged until the fourth day.
The sickness continuing incessantly, he sent the cooper's wife for a
medicine which he prepared and administered himself. It produced
terrible pain, and Edouard's cries brought the cooper and his wife
upstairs. They represented to Derues that he ought to call in a
doctor and consult with him, but he refused decidedly, saying that a
doctor hastily fetched might prove to be an ignorant person with whom
he could not agree, and that he could not allow one so dear to him to
be prescribed for and nursed by anyone but himself.
"I know what the malady is," he continued, raising his eyes to
heaven; "it is one that has to be concealed rather than acknowledged.
Poor youth! whom I love as my own son, if God, touched by my tears
and thy suffering, permits me to save thee, thy whole life will be
too short for thy blessings and thy gratitude!" And as Madame Martin
asked what this malady might be, he answered with hypocritical
"Do not ask, madame; there are things of which you do not know even
At another time, Martin expressed his surprise that the young man's
mother had not yet appeared, who, according to Derues, was to have
met him at Versailles. He asked how she could know that they were
lodging in his house, and if he should send to meet her at any place
where she was likely to arrive.
"His mother," said Derues, looking compassionately at Edouard, who
lay pale, motionless, and as if insensible,--"his mother! He calls
for her incessantly. Ah! monsieur, some families are greatly to be
pitied! My entreaties prevailed on her to decide on coming hither,
but will she keep her promise? Do not ask me to tell you more; it is
too painful to have to accuse a mother of having forgotten her duties
in the presence of her son . . . there are secrets which ought not
to be told--unhappy woman!"
Edouard moved, extended his arms, and repeated, "Mother! . . .
Derues hastened to his side and took his hands in his, as if to warm
"My mother!" the youth repeated. "Why have I not seen her? She was
to have met me."
You shall soon see her, dear boy; only keep quiet."
"But just now I thought she was dead."
"Dead!" cried Derues. "Drive away these sad thoughts. They are
caused by the fever only."
"No! oh no! . . . I heard a secret voice which said, 'Thy mother
is dead!' . . . And then I beheld a livid corpse before me . . .
It was she! . . . I knew her well! and she seemed to have suffered
"Dear boy, your mother is not dead . . . . My God! what terrible
chimeras you conjure up! You will see her again, I assure you; she
has arrived already. Is it not so, madame?" he asked, turning
towards the Martins, who were both leaning against the foot of the
bed, and signing to them to support this pious falsehood, in order to
calm the young man. "Did she not arrive and come to his bedside and
kiss him while he slept, and she will soon come again?"
"Yes, yes," said Madame Martin, wiping her eyes; "and she begged my
husband and me to help your uncle to take great care of you--"
The youth moved again, and looking round him with a dazed expression,
said, "My uncle--?"
"You had better go," said Derues in a whisper to the Martins. "I am
afraid he is delirious again; I will prepare a draught, which will
give him a little rest and sleep."
"Adieu, then, adieu," answered Madame Martin; "and may Heaven bless
you for the care you bestow on this poor young man!"
On Friday evening violent vomiting appeared to have benefited the
sufferer. He had rejected most of the poison, and had a fairly quiet
night. But on the Saturday morning Derues sent the cooper's little
girl to buy more medicine, which he prepared, himself, like the
first. The day was horrible, and about six in the evening, seeing
his victim was at the last gasp, he opened a little window
overlooking the shop and summoned the cooper, requesting him to go at
once for a priest. When the latter arrived he found Derues in tears,
kneeling at the dying boy's bedside. And now, by the light of two
tapers placed on a table, flanking the holy water-stoup, there began
what on one side was an abominable and sacrilegious comedy, a
disgraceful parody of that which Christians consider most sacred and
most dear; on the other, a pious and consoling ceremony. The cooper
and his wife, their eyes bathed in tears, knelt in the middle of the
room, murmuring such prayers as they could remember.
Derues gave up his place to the priest, but as Edouard did not answer
the latter's questions, he approached the bed, and bending over the
sufferer, exhorted him to confession.
"Dear boy," he said, "take courage; your sufferings here will be
counted to you above: God will weigh ahem in the scales of His
infinite mercy. Listen to the words of His holy minister, cast your
sins into His bosom, and obtain from Him forgiveness for your
"I am in such terrible pain!" cried Edouard. "Water! water!
Extinguish the fire which consumes me!"
A violent fit came on, succeeded by exhaustion and the death-rattle.
Derues fell on his knees, and the priest administered extreme
unction. There was then a moment of absolute silence, more
impressive than cries and sobs. The priest collected himself for a
moment, crossed himself, and began to pray. Derues also crossed
himself, and repeated in a low voice, apparently choked by grief
"Go forth, O Christian soul, from this world, in the name of God the
Father Almighty, who created thee; in the name of Jesus Christ, the
Son of the living God, who suffered for thee; in the name of the Holy
Ghost, who was poured out upon thee."
The youth struggled in his bed, and a convulsive movement agitated
his limbs. Derues continued--
"When thy soul departs from this body may it be admitted to the holy
Mountain of Sion, to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to the numerous company
of Angels, and to the Church of the First-born, whose names are
written in Heaven----"
"Mother! . . . My mother!" cried Edouard. Derues resumed--
"Let God arise, and let the Powers of Darkness be dispersed! let the
Spirits of Evil, who reign over the air, be put to flight; let them
not dare to attack a soul redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus
"Amen," responded the priest and the Martins.
There was another silence, broken only by the stifled sobs of Derues.
The priest again crossed himself and took up the prayer.
"We beseech Thee, O beloved and only Son of God, by the merits of Thy
sacred Passion, Thy Cross and Thy Death, to deliver this Thy servant
from the pains of Hell, and to lead him to that happy place whither
Thou didst vouchsafe to lead the thief, who, with Thee, was bound
upon the Cross: Thou, who art God, living and reigning with the
Father and the Holy Ghost."
"Amen," repeated those present. Derues now took up the prayer, and
his voice mingled with the dying gasps of the sufferer.
"And there was a darkness over all the earth----
"To Thee, O Lord, we commend the soul of this Thy servant, that,
being dead to the world, he may, live to Thee: and the sins he hath
committed through the frailty of his mortal nature, do Thou in Thy
most merciful goodness, forgive and wash away. Amen."
After which all present sprinkled holy water on the body....
When the priest had retired, shown out by Madame Martin, Derues said
to her husband--
"This unfortunate young man has died without the consolation of
beholding his mother.... His last thought was for her.... There now
remains the last duty, a very painful one to accomplish, but my poor
nephew imposed it on me. A few hours ago, feeling that his end was
near, he asked me, as a last mark of friendship, not to entrust these
final duties to the hands of strangers."
While he applied himself to the necessary work in presence of the
cooper, who was much affected by the sight of such sincere and
profound affliction, Derues added, sighing--
"I shall always grieve for this dear boy. Alas! that evil living
should have caused his early death!"
When he had finished laying out the body, he threw some little
packets into the fire which he professed to have found in the youth's
pockets, telling Martin, in order to support this assertion, that
they contained drugs suitable to this disgraceful malady.
He spent the night in the room with the corpse, as he had done in the
case of Madame de Lamotte, and the next day, Sunday, he sent Martin
to the parish church of St. Louis, to arrange for a funeral of the
simplest kind; telling him to fill up the certificate in the name of
Beaupre, born at Commercy, in Lorraine. He declined himself either
to go to the church or to appear at the funeral, saying that his
grief was too great. Martin, returning from the funeral, found him
engaged in prayer. Derues gave him the dead youth's clothes and
departed, leaving some money to be given to the poor of the parish,
and for masses to be said for the repose of the soul of the dead.
He arrived at home in the evening, found his wife entertaining some
friends; and told them he had just come from Chartres, where he had
been summoned on business. Everyone noticed his unusual air of
satisfaction, and he sang several songs during supper.
Having accomplished these two crimes, Derues did not remain idle.
When the murderer's part of his nature was at rest, the thief
reappeared. His extreme avarice now made him regret the expense'
caused by the deaths of Madame de Lamotte and her son, and he wished
to recoup himself. Two days after his return from Versailles, he
ventured to present himself at Edouard's school. He told the master
that he had received a letter from Madame de Lamotte, saying that she
wished to keep her son, and asking him to obtain Edouard's
belongings. The schoolmaster's wife, who was present, replied that
that could not be; that Monsieur de Lamotte would have known of his
wife's intention; that she would not have taken such a step without
consulting him; and that only the evening before, they had received a
present of game from Buisson-Souef, with a letter in which Monsieur
de Lamotte entreated them to take great, care of his son.
"If what you say is true," she continued, "Madame de Lamotte is no
doubt acting on your advice in taking away her son. But I will write
"You had better not do anything in the matter;" said Derues, turning
to the schoolmaster. "It is quite possible that Monsieur de Lamotte
does not know. I am aware that his wife does not always consult him.
She is at Versailles, where I took Edouard to her, and I will inform
her of your objection."
To insure impunity for these murders, Derues had resolved on the
death of Monsieur de Lamotte; but before executing this last crime,
he wished for some proof of the recent pretended agreements between
himself and Madame de Lamotte. He would not wait for the
disappearance of the whole family before presenting himself as the
lawful proprietor, of Buisson-Souef. Prudence required him to
shelter himself behind a deed which should have been executed by that
lady. On February 27th he appeared at the office of Madame de
Lamotte's lawyer in the rue du Paon, and, with all the persuasion of
an artful tongue, demanded the power of attorney on that lady's
behalf, saying that he had, by private contract, just paid a hundred
thousand livres on the total amount of purchase, which money was now
deposited with a notary. The lawyer, much astonished that an affair
of such importance should have been arranged without any reference to
himself, refused to give up the deed to anyone but Monsieur or Madame
de Lamotte, and inquired why the latter did not appear herself.
Derues replied that she was at Versailles, and that he was to send
the deed to her there. He repeated his request and the lawyer his
refusal, until Derues retired, saying he would find means to compel
him to give up the deed. He actually did, the same day, present a
petition to the civil authority, in which Cyrano Derues de Bury sets
forth arrangements, made with Madame de Lamotte, founded on the deed
given by her husband, and requires permission to seize and withdraw
said deed from the custody in which it remains at present. The
petition is granted. The lawyer objects that he can only give up the
deed to either Monsieur or Madame de Lamotte, unless he be otherwise
ordered. Derues has the effrontery to again appeal to the civil
authority, but, for the reasons given by that public officer, the
affair is adjourned.
These two futile efforts might have compromised Derues had they been
heard of at Buisson-Souef; but everything seemed to conspire in the
criminal's favour: neither the schoolmaster's wife nor the lawyer
thought of writing to Monsieur de Lamotte. The latter, as yet
unsuspecting, was tormented by other anxieties, and kept at home by
In these days, distance is shortened, and one can travel from
Villeneuve-le-Roi-les-Sens to Paris in a few hours. This was not the
case in 1777, when private industry and activity, stifled by routine
and privilege, had not yet experienced the need of providing the
means for rapid communication. Half a day was required to go from
the capital to Versailles; a journey of twenty leagues required at
least two days and a night, and bristled with obstacles ind delays of
all kinds. These difficulties of transport, still greater during bad
weather, and a long and serious attack of gout, explain why Monsieur
ale Lamotte, who was so ready to take alarm, had remained separated
from his wife from the middle of December to the end of February. He
had received reassuring letters from her, written at first with
freedom and simplicity; but he thought he noticed a gradual change in
the later ones, which appeared to proceed more from the mind than the
heart. A style which aimed at being natural was interspersed with
unnecessary expressions of affection, unusual between married people
well assured of their mutual love. Monsieur de Lamotte observed and
exaggerated these peculiarities, and though endeavouring to persuade
himself that he was mistaken, he could not forget them, or regain his
usual tranquility. Being somewhat ashamed of his anxiety, he kept
his fears to himself.
One morning, as he was sunk in a large armchair by the fire, his
sitting-room door opened, and the cure entered, who was surprised by
his despondent, sad, and pale appearance. "What is the matter?" he
inquired, "Have you had an extra bad night?"
"Yes," answered Monsieur de Lamotte.
"Well, have you any news from Paris?"
"Nothing for a whole week: it is odd, is it not?"
"I am always hoping that this sale may fall through; it drags on for
so very long; and I believe that Monsieur Derues, in spite of what
your wife wrote a month ago, has not as much money as he pretends to
have. Do you know that it is said that Monsieur Despeignes-
Duplessis, Madame Derues' relative, whose money they inherited, was
"Where did you hear that?"
"It is a common report in the country, and was brought here by a man
who came recently from Beauvais."
"Have the murderers been discovered?"
"Apparently not; justice seems unable to discover anything at all."
Monsieur de Lamotte hung his head, and his countenance assumed an
expression of painful thought, as though this news affected him
"Frankly," resumed the cure, "I believe you will remain Seigneur du
Buisson-Souef, and that I shall be spared the pain of writing another
name over your seat in the church of Villeneuve."
"The affair must be settled in a few days, for I can wait no longer;
if the purchaser be not Monsieur Derues, it will have to be someone
else. "What makes you think he is short of money?"
"Oh! oh!" said the cure, "a man who has money either pays his debts,
or is a cheat. Now Heaven preserve me from suspecting Monsieur
"What do you know about him?"
"Do you remember Brother Marchois of the Camaldulians, who came to
see me last spring, and who was here the day Monsieur Derues arrived,
with your wife and Edouard?"
"Well, I happened to tell him in one of my letters that Monsieur
Derues had become the purchaser of Buisson-Souef, and that I believed
the arrangements were concluded. Thereupon Brother Marchois wrote
asking me to remind him that he owes them a sum of eight hundred
livres, and that, so far, they have not seen a penny of it."
"Ah!" said Monsieur de Lamotte, "perhaps I should have done better
not to let myself be deluded by his fine promises. He certainly has
money on his tongue, and when once one begins to listen to him, one
can't help doing what he wants. All the same, I had rather have had
to deal with someone else."
"And is it this which worries you, and makes you seem so anxious?"
"This and other things."
"I am really ashamed to own it, but I am a credulous and timid as any
old woman. Now do not laugh at me too much. Do you believe in
"Monsieur," said the cure, smiling, "you should never ask a coward
whether he is afraid, you only risk his telling a lie. He will say
'No,' but he means 'Yes.'"
"And are you a coward, my father?"
"A little. I don't precisely believe all the nursery, tales, or in
the favourable or unfavourable meaning of some object seen during our
A sound of steps interrupted them, a servant entered, announcing
On hearing the name, Monsieur de Lamotte felt troubled in spite of
himself, but, overcoming the impression, he rose to meet the visitor.
"You had better stay," he said to the cure, who was also rising to
take leave. "Stay; we have probably nothing to say which cannot be
said before you."
Derues entered the room, and, after the usual compliments, sat down
by the fire, opposite Monsieur de Lamotte.
"You did not expect me," he said, "and I ought to apologise for
surprising you thus."
Give me some news of my wife," asked Monsieur de Lamotte anxiously.
"She has never been better. Your son is also to perfect health."
"But why are you alone? Why does not Marie accompany you? It is ten
weeks since she went to Paris."
"She has not yet quite finished the business with which you entrusted
her. Perhaps I am partly the cause of this long absence, but one
cannot transact business as quickly as one would wish. But, you have
no doubt heard from her, that all is finished, or nearly so, between
us. We have drawn up a second private contract, which annuls the
former agreement, and I have paid over a sum of one hundred thousand
"I do not comprehend," said Monsieur de Lamotte. "What can induce my
wife not to inform me of this?"
"You did not know?"
"I know nothing. I was wondering just now with Monsieur le cure why
I did not hear from her."
"Madame de Lamotte was going to write to you, and I do not know what
can have hindered her."
"When did you leave her?"
"Several days ago. I have not been at Paris; I am returning from
Chartres. I believed you were informed of everything."
Monsieur de Lamotte remained silent for some moments. Then, fixing
his eyes upon Derues' immovable countenance, he said, with some
"You are a husband and father, sir; in the name of this double and
sacred affection which is, not unknown to you, do not hide anything
from me: I fear some misfortune has happened to my wife which you are
Derues' physiognomy expressed nothing but a perfectly natural
"What can have suggested such ideas to you; dear sir?" In saying
this he glanced at the cure; wishing to ascertain if this distrust
was Monsieur de Lamotte's own idea, or had been suggested to him.
The movement was so rapid that neither of the others observed it.
Like all knaves, obliged by their actions to be continually on the
watch, Derues possessed to a remarkable extent the art of seeing all
round him without appearing to observe anything in particular. He
decided that as yet he had only to combat a suspicion unfounded on
proof, and he waited till he should be attacked more seriously.
"I do not know," he said, "what may have happened during my absence;
pray explain yourself, for you are making me share your disquietude."
"Yes, I am exceedingly anxious; I entreat you, tell me the whole
truth. Explain this silence, and this absence prolonged beyond all
expectation. You finished your business with Madame de Lamotte
several days ago: once again, why did she not write? There is no
letter, either from her or my son! To-morrow I shall send someone to
"Good heavens!" answered Derues, "is there nothing but an accident
which could cause this delay? . . . Well, then," he continued,
with the embarrassed look of a man compelled to betray a confidence,-
-"well, then, I see that in order to reassure you, I shall have to
give up a secret entrusted to me."
He then told Monsieur de Lamotte that his wife was no longer at
Paris, but at Versailles, where she was endeavouring to obtain an
important and lucrative appointment, and that, if she had left him in
ignorance of her efforts in this direction; it was only to give him
an agreeable surprise. He added that she had removed her son from
the school, and hoped to place him either in the riding school or
amongst the royal pages. To prove his words, he opened his
paper-case, and produced the letter written by Edouard in answer to
the one quoted above.
All this was related so simply, and with such an appearance of good
faith, that the cure was quite convinced. And to Monsieur de Lamotte
the plans attributed to his wife were not entirely improbably.
Derues had learnt indirectly that such a career for Edouard had been
actually under consideration. However, though Monsieur de Lamotte's
entire ignorance prevented him from making any serious objection, his
fears were not entirely at rest, but for the present he appeared
satisfied with the explanation.
The cure resumed the conversation. "What you tell us ought to drive
away gloomy ideas. Just now, when you were announced, Monsieur de
Lamotte was confiding his troubles to me. I was as concerned as he
was, and I could say nothing to help him; never did visitor arrive
more apropos. Well, my friend, what now remains of your vain
terrors? What was it you were saying just as Monsieur Derues
arrived? . . . Ah! we were discussing dreams, you asked if I
believed in them."
Monsieur, de Lamotte, who had sunk back in his easy-chair and seemed
lost in his reflections, started on hearing these words. He raised
his head and looked again at Derues. But the latter had had time to
note the impression produced by the cure's remark, and this renewed
examination did not disturb him.
"Yes," said Monsieur de Lamotte, "I had asked that question."
"And I was going to answer that there are certain secret warnings
which can be received by the soul long before they are intelligible
to the bodily senses-revelations not understood at first, but which
later connect themselves with realities of which they are in some way
the precursors. Do you agree with me, Monsieur Derues?"
"I have no opinion on such a subject, and must leave the discussion
to more learned people than myself. I do not know whether such
apparitions really mean anything or not, and I have not sought to
fathom these mysteries, thinking them outside the realm of human
"Nevertheless," said the cure, "we are obliged to recognise their
"Yes, but without either understanding or explaining them, like many
other eternal truths. I follow the rule given in the Imitation o f
Jesus Christ: 'Beware, my son, of considering too curiously the
things beyond thine intelligence.'"
"And I also submit, and avoid too curious consideration. But has not
the soul knowledge of many wondrous things which we can yet neither
see nor touch? I repeat, there are things which cannot be denied."
Derues listened attentively, continually on his guard; and afraid, he
knew not why, of becoming entangled in this conversation, as in a
trap. He carefully watched Monsieur de Lamotte, whose eyes never
left him. The cure resumed--
"Here is an instance which I was bound to accept, seeing it happened
to myself. I was then twenty, and my mother lived in the
neighbourhood of Tours, whilst I was at the seminary of Montpellier.
After several years of separation, I had obtained permission to go
and see her. I wrote, telling her of this good news, and I received
her answer--full of joy and tenderness. My brother and sister were
to be informed, it was to be a family meeting, a real festivity; and
I started with a light and joyous heart. My impatience was so great,
that, having stopped for supper at a village inn some ten leagues
from Tours, I would not wait till the next morning for the coach
which went that way, but continued the journey on foot and walked all
night. It was a long and difficult road, but happiness redoubled my
strength. About an hour after sunrise I saw distinctly the smoke and
the village roofs, and I hurried on to surprise my family a little
sooner. I never felt more active, more light-hearted and gay;
everything seemed to smile before and around me. Turning a corner of
the hedge, I met a peasant whom I recognised. All at once it seemed
as if a veil spread over my sight, all my hopes and joy suddenly
vanished, a funereal idea took possession of me, and I said, taking
the hand of the man, who had not yet spoken--
"'My mother is dead, I am convinced my mother is dead!'
"He hung down his head and answered--
"'She is to be buried this morning!'
"Now whence came this revelation? I had seen no one, spoken to no
one; a moment before I had no idea of it!"
Derues made a gesture of surprise. Monsieur de Lamotte put his hand
to his eyes, and said to the cure--
"Your presentiments were true; mine, happily, are unfounded. But
listen, and tell me if in the state of anxiety which oppressed me I
had not good reason for alarm and for fearing some fatal misfortune."
His eyes again sought Derues. "Towards the middle of last night I at
length fell asleep, but, interrupted every moment, this sleep was
more a fatigue than a rest; I seemed to hear confused noises all
round me. I saw brilliant lights which dazzled me, and then sank
back into silence and darkness. Sometimes I heard someone weeping
near my bed; again plaintive voices called to me out of the darkness.
I stretched out my arms, but nothing met them, I fought with
phantoms; at length a cold hand grasped mine and led me rapidly
forward. Under a dark and damp vault a woman lay on the ground,
bleeding, inanimate--it was my wife! At the same moment, a groan
made me look round, and I beheld a man striking my son with a dagger.
I cried out and awoke, bathed in cold perspiration, panting under
this terrible vision. I was obliged to get up, walk about, and speak
aloud, in order to convince myself it was only a dream. I tried to
go to sleep again, but the same visions still pursued me. I saw
always the same man armed with two daggers streaming with blood; I
heard always the cries of his two victims. When day came, I felt
utterly broken, worn-out; and this morning, you, my father, could see
by my despondency what an impression this awful night had made upon
During this recital Derues' calmness never gave way for a single
moment, and the most skilful physiognomist could only have discovered
an expression of incredulous curiosity on his countenance.
"Monsieur le cure's story," said he, "impressed me much; yours only
brings back my uncertainty. It is less possible than ever to deliver
any opinion on this serious question of dreams, since the second
instance contradicts the first."
"It is true," answered the cure, "no possible conclusion can be drawn
from two facts which contradict each other, and the best thing we can
do is to choose a less dismal subject of conversation."
"Monsieur Derues;" asked Monsieur de Lamatte, "if you are not too
tired with your journey, shall we go and look at the last
improvements I have made? It is now your affair to decide upon them,
since I shall shortly be only your guest here."
"Just as I have been yours for long enough, and I trust you will
often give me the opportunity of exercising hospitality in my turn.
But you are ill, the day is cold and damp; if you do not care to go
out, do not let me disturb you. Had you not better stay by the fire
with Monsieur le cure? For me, Heaven be thanked! I require no
assistance. I will look round the park, and come back presently to
tell you what I think. Besides, we shall have plenty of time to talk
about it. With your permission, I should like to stay two or three
"I shall be pleased if you will do so."
Derues went out, sufficiently uneasy in his mind, both on account of
his reception of Monsieur de Lamotte's fears and of the manner in
which the latter had watched him during the conversation. He walked
quickly up and down the park--
"I have been foolish, perhaps; I have lost twelve or fifteen days,
and delayed stupidly from fear of not foreseeing everything. But
then, how was I to imagine that this simple, easily deceived man
would all at once become suspicious? What a strange dream! If I had
not been on my guard, I might have been disconcerted. Come, come, I
must try to disperse these ideas and give him something else to think
He stopped, and after a few minutes consideration turned back towards
As soon as he had left the room, Monsieur de Lamotte had bent over
towards the cure, and had said--
"He did not show any emotion, did--he?"
"He did not start when I spoke of the man armed with those two
"No. But put aside these ideas; you must see they are mistaken."
"I did not tell everything, my father: this murderer whom I saw in my
dream--was Derues himself! I know as well as you that it must be a
delusion, I saw as well as you did that he remained quite calm, but,
in spite of myself, this terrible dream haunts me . . . .There, do
not listen to me, do not let me talk about it; it only makes me blush
Whilst Derues remained at Buisson-Souef, Monsieur de Lamotte received
several letters from his wife, some from Paris, some from Versailles.
She remarked that her son and herself were perfectly well.... The
writing was so well imitated that no one could doubt their
genuineness. However, Monsieur de Lamotte's suspicions continually
increased and he ended by making the cure share his fears. He also
refused to go with Derues to Paris, in spite of the latter's
entreaties. Derues, alarmed at the coldness shown him, left
Buisson-Souef, saying that he intended to take possession about the
middle of spring.
Monsieur de Lamotte was, in spite of himself, still detained by
ill-health. But a new and inexplicable circumstance made him resolve
to go to Paris and endeavour to clear up the mystery which appeared
to surround his wife and son. He received an unsigned letter in
unknown handwriting, and in which Madame de Lamotte's reputation was
attacked with a kind of would-be reticence, which hinted that she was
an unfaithful wife and that in this lay the cause of her long
absence. Her husband did not believe this anonymous denunciation,
but the fate of the two beings dearest to him seemed shrouded in so
much obscurity that he could delay no longer, and started for Paris.
His resolution not to accompany Derues had saved his life. The
latter could not carry out his culminating crime at Buisson-Souef; it
was only in Paris that his victims would disappear without his being
called to account. Obliged to leave hold of his prey, he endeavoured
to bewilder him in a labyrinth where all trace of truth might be
lost. Already, as he had arranged beforehand, he had called calumny
to his help, and prepared the audacious lie which was to vindicate
himself should an accusation fall upon his head. He had hoped that
Monsieur de Lamotte would fall defenceless into his hands; but now a
careful examination of his position, showing the impossibility of
avoiding an explanation had become inevitable, made him change all
his plans, and compelled him to devise an infernal plot, so skilfully
laid that it bid fair to defeat all human sagacity.
Monsieur de Lamotte arrived in Paris early in March. Chance decided
that he should lodge in the rue de la Mortellerie, in a house not far
from the one where his wife's body lay buried. He went to see
Derues, hoping to surprise him, and determined to make him speak, but
found he was not at home. Madame Derues, whether acting with the
discretion of an accomplice or really ignorant of her husband's
proceedings, could not say where he was likely to be found. She said
that he told her nothing about his actions, and that Monsieur de
Lamotte must have observed during their stay at Buisson (which was
true) that she never questioned him, but obeyed his wishes in
everything; and that he had now gone away without saying where he was
going. She acknowledged that Madame de Lamotte had lodged with them
for six weeks, and that she knew that lady had been at Versailles,
but since then she had heard nothing. All Monsieur de Lamotte's
questions, his entreaties, prayers, or threats, obtained no other
answer. He went to the lawyer in the rue de Paon, to the
schoolmaster, and found the same uncertainty, the same ignorance.
His wife and his son had gone to Versailles, there the clue ended
which ought to guide his investigations. He went to this town; no
one could give him any information, the very name of Lamotte was
unknown. He returned to Paris, questioned and examined the people of
the quarter, the proprietor of the Hotel de France, where his wife
had stayed on her former visit; at length, wearied with useless
efforts, he implored help from justice. Then his complaints ceased;
he was advised to maintain a prudent silence, and to await Derues'
The latter thoroughly understood that, having failed to dissipate
Monsieur de Lamotte's fears, there was no longer an instant to lose,
and that the pretended private contract of February 12th would not of
itself prove the existence of Madame de Lamotte. This is how he
employed the time spent by the unhappy husband in fruitless
On March 12th, a woman, her face hidden in the hood of her cloak, or
"Therese," as it was then called, appeared in the office of Maitre
N-----, a notary at Lyons. She gave her name as Marie Francoise
Perffier, wife of Monsieur Saint-Faust de Lamotte, but separated, as
to goods and estate, from him. She caused a deed to be drawn up,
authorising her husband to receive the arrears of thirty thousand
livres remaining from the price of the estate of Buisson-Souef,
situated near Villeneuve-le-Roi-lez-Sens. The deed was drawn up and
signed by Madame de Lamotte, by the notary, and one of his
This woman was Derues. If we remember that he only arrived at
Buisson February 28th, and remained there for some days, it becomes
difficult to understand how at that period so long a journey as that
from Paris to Lyons could have been accomplished with such rapidity.
Fear must have given him wings. We will now explain what use he
intended to make of it, and what fable, a masterpiece of cunning and
of lies, he had invented.
On his arrival in Paris he found a summons to appear before the
magistrate of police. He expected this, and appeared quite tranquil,
ready to answer any questions. Monsieur de Lamotte was present. It
was a formal examination, and the magistrate first asked why he had
"Monsieur," replied Derues, "I have nothing to hide, and none of my
actions need fear the daylight, but before replying, I should like to
understand my position. As a domiciled citizen I have a right to
require this. Will you kindly inform me why I have been summoned to
appear before you, whether on account of anything personal to myself,
or simply to give information as to something which may be within my
"You are acquainted with this gentleman, and cannot therefore be
ignorant of the cause of the present inquiry."
"I am, nevertheless, quite in ignorance of it."
"Be good enough to answer my question. Why did you leave Paris? And
where have you been?"
"I was absent for business reasons."
"I shall say no more."
"Take care! you have incurred serious suspicions, and silence will
not tend to clear you."
Derues hung down his head with an air of resignation; and Monsieur de
Lamotte, seeing in this attitude a silent confession of crime,
exclaimed, "Wretched man! what have you done with my wife and my
"Your son!--" said Derues slowly and with peculiar emphasis. He
again cast down his eyes.
The magistrate conducting the inquiry was struck by the expression of
Derues' countenance and by this half answer, which appeared to hide a
mystery and to aim at diverting attention by offering a bait to
curiosity. He might have stopped Derues at the moment when he sought
to plunge into a tortuous argument, and compelled him to answer with
the same clearness and decision which distinguished Monsieur de
Lamotte's question; but he reflected that the latter's inquiries,
unforeseen, hasty, and passionate, were perhaps more likely to
disconcert a prepared defence than cooler and more skilful tactics.
He therefore changed his plans, contenting "himself for the moment
with the part of an observer only, and watching a duel between two
fairly matched antagonists.
"I require: you to tell me what has become of them," repeated
Monsieur de Lamotte. "I have been to Versailles, you assured me they
"And I told you the truth, monsieur."
"No one has seen them, no one knows them; every trace is lost. Your
Honour, this man must be compelled to answer, he must say what has
become of my wife and son!"
"I excuse your anxiety, I understand your trouble, but why appeal to
me? Why am I supposed to know what may have happened to them?"
"Because I confided them to your care."
"As a friend, yes, I agree. Yes, it is quite true that last December
I received a letter from you informing me of the impending arrival of
your wife and son. I received them in my own house, and showed them
the same hospitality which I had received from you. I saw them both,
your son often, your wife every day, until the day she left me to go
to Versailles. Yes, I also took Edouard to his mother, who was
negotiating an appointment for him. I have already told you all
this, and I repeat it because it is the truth. You believed me then:
why do you not believe me now? Why has what I say become strange and
incredible? If your wife and your son have disappeared, am I
responsible? Did you transmit your authority to me? And now, in
what manner are you thus calling me to account? Is it to the friend
who might have pitied, who might have aided your search, that you
thus address yourself? Have you come to confide in me, to ask for
advice, for consolation? No, you accuse me; very well! then I refuse
to speak, because, having no proofs, you yet accuse an honest man;
because your fears, whether real or imaginary, do not excuse you for
casting, I know not what odious suspicions, on a blameless
reputation, because I have the right to be offended. Monsieur" he
continued, turning to the magistrate, "I believe you will appreciate
my moderation, and will allow me to retire. If charges are brought
against me, I am quite ready to meet them, and to show what they are
really worth. I shall remain in Paris, I have now no business which
requires my presence elsewhere."
He emphasised these last words, evidently intending to draw attention
to them. It did not escape the magistrate, who inquired--
"What do you mean by that?"
"Nothing beyond my words, your Honour, Have I your permission to
"No, remain; you are pretending not to understand."
"I do not understand these insinuations so covertly made."
Monsieur de Lamotte rose, exclaiming--
"Insinuations! What more can I say to compel you to answer? My wife
and son have disappeared. It is untrue that, as you pretend, they
have been at Versailles. You deceived me at Buisson-Souef, just as
you are deceiving me now, as you are endeavouring to deceive justice
by inventing fresh lies. Where are they? What has become of them?
I am tormented by all the fears possible to a husband and father; I
imagine all the most terrible misfortunes, and I accuse you to your
face of having caused their death! Is this sufficient, or do you
still accuse me of covert insinuations?"
Derues turned to the magistrate. "Is this charge enough to place me
in the position of a criminal if I do not give a satisfactory
"Certainly; you should have thought of that sooner."
"Then," he continued, addressing Monsieur de Lamotte, "I understand
you persist in this odious accusation?"
"I certainly persist in it."
"You have forgotten our friendship, broken all bonds between us: I am
in your eyes only a miserable assassin? You consider my silence as
guilty, you will ruin me if I do not speak?"
"It is true."
" There is still time for reflection; consider what you are doing; I
will forget your insults and your anger. Your trouble is great
enough without my reproaches being added to it. But you desire that
I should speak, you desire it absolutely?"
"I do desire it."
"Very well, then; it shall be as you wish."
Derues surveyed Monsieur de Lamotte with a look which seemed to say,
"I pity you." He then added, with a sigh--
"I am now ready to answer. Your Honour, will you have the kindness
to resume my examination?"
Derues had succeeded in taking up an advantageous position. If he
had begun narrating the extraordinary romance he had invented, the
least penetrating eye must have perceived its improbability, and one
would have felt it required some support at every turn. But since he
had resisted being forced to tell it, and apparently only ceded to
Monsieur de Lamotte's violent persistency, the situation was changed;
and this refusal to speak, coming from a man who thereby compromised
his personal safety, took the semblance of generosity, and was likely
to arouse the magistrate's curiosity and prepare his mind for unusual
and mysterious revelations. This was exactly what Derues wanted, and
he awaited the interrogation with calm and tranquillity.
"Why did you leave Paris?" the magistrate demanded a second time.
"I have already had the honour to inform you that important business
necessitated my absence."
"But you refused to explain the nature of this business. Do you
still persist in this refusal?"
"For the moment, yes. I will explain it later."
"Where have you been? Whence do you return?"
"I have been to Lyons, and have returned thence."
"What took you there?
"I will tell you later."
"In the month of December last, Madame de Lamotte and her son came to
"That is so."
"They both lodged in your house?"
"I have no reason to deny it."
"But neither she herself, nor Monsieur de Lamotte, had at first
intended that she should accept a lodging in the house which you
"That is quite true. We had important accounts to settle, and Madame
de Lamotte told me afterwards that she feared some dispute on the
question of money might arise between us--at least, that is the
reason she gave me. She was mistaken, as the event proved, since I
always intended to pay, and I have paid. But she may have had
another reason which she preferred not to give."
"It was the distrust of this man which she felt," exclaimed Monsieur
de Lamotte. Derues answered only with a melancholy smile.
"Silence, monsieur," said the magistrate, "silence; do not
interrupt." Then addressing Derues--
"Another motive? What motive do you suppose?"
"Possibly she preferred to be more free, and able to receive any
visitor she wished."
"What do you mean?"
"It is only supposition on my part, I do not insist upon it."
"But the supposition appears to contain a hint injurious to Madame de
"No, oh no!" replied Derues, after a moment's silence.
This sort of insinuation appeared strange to the magistrate, who
resolved to try and force Derues to abandon these treacherous
reticences behind which he sheltered himself. Again recommending
silence to Monsieur de Lamotte, he continued to question Derues, not
perceiving that he was only following the lead skilfully given by the
latter, who drew him gradually on by withdrawing himself, and that
all the time thus gained was an advantage to the accused.
"Well," said the magistrate, "whatever Madame de Lamotte's motives
may have been, it ended in her coming to stay with you. How did you
persuade her to take this step?"
"My wife accompanied her first to the Hotel de France, and then to
other hotels. I said no more than might be deemed allowable in a
friend; I could not presume to persuade her against her will. When I
returned home, I was surprised to find her there with her son. She
could not find a disengaged room in any of the hotels she tried, and
she then accepted my offer."
"What date was this?"
"Monday, the 16th of last December."
"And when did she leave your house?"
"On the 1st of February."
"The porter cannot remember having seen her go out on that day."
"That is possible. Madame de Lamotte went and came as her affairs
required. She was known, and no more attention would be paid to her
than to any other inmate."
"The porter also says that for several days before this date she was
ill, and obliged to keep her room?"
"Yes, it was a slight indisposition, which had no results, so slight
that it seemed unnecessary to call in a doctor. Madame de Lamotte
appeared preoccupied and anxious. I think her mental attitude
influenced her health."
"Did you escort her to Versailles?"
"No; I went there to see her later."
"What proof can you give of her having actually stayed there?"
"None whatever, unless it be a letter which I received from her."
"You told Monsieur de, Lamotte that she was exerting herself to
procure her son's admission either as a king's page or into the
riding school. Now, no one at Versailles has seen this lady, or even
heard of her."
"I only repeated what she told me."
"Where was she staying?"
"I do not know."
"What! she wrote to you, you went to see her, and yet you do not
know where she was lodging?"
"That is so."
"But it is impossible."
"There are many things which would appear impossible if I were to
relate them, but which are true, nevertheless."
"I only received one letter from Madame de Lamotte, in which she
spoke of her plans for Edouard, requesting me to send her her son on
a day she fixed, and I told Edouard of her projects. Not being able
to go to the school to see him, I wrote, asking if he would like to
give up his studies and become a royal page. When I was last at
Buisson-Souef, I showed his answer to Monsieur de Lamotte; it is
And he handed over a letter to the magistrate, who read it, and
passing it on to Monsieur de Lamotte, inquired--
"Did you then, and do you now, recognise your son's handwriting?"
"You took Edouard to Versailles?"
"On what day?"
"February 11th, Shrove Tuesday. It is the only time I have been to
Versailles. The contrary might be supposed; for I have allowed it to
be understood that I have often seen Madame de Lamotte since she left
my house, and was acquainted with all her actions, and that the
former confidence and friendship still existed between us. In
allowing this, I have acted a lie, and transgressed the habitual
sincerity of my whole life."
This assertion produced a bad impression on the magistrate. Derues
perceived it, and to avert evil consequences, hastened to add--
"My conduct can only be appreciated when it is known in entirety. I
misunderstood the meaning of Madame de Lamotte's letter. She asked
me to send her her son, I thought to oblige her by accompanying him,
and not leaving him to go alone. So we travelled together, and
arrived at Versailles about midday. As I got down from the coach I
saw Madame de Lamotte at the palace gate, and observed, to my
astonishment, that my presence displeased her. She was not alone."
He stopped, although he had evidently reached the most interesting
point of his story.
"Go on," said the magistrate; "why do you stop now?"
"Because what I have to say is so painful--not to me, who have to
justify myself, but for others, that I hesitate."
"Will you then interrogate me, please?"
"Well, what happened in this interview?"
Derues appeared to collect himself for a moment, and then said with
the air of a man who has decide on speaking out at last--
"Madame de Lamotte was not alone; she was attended by a gentleman
whom I did not know, whom I never saw either at Buisson-Souef or in
Paris, and whom I have never seen again since. I will ask you to
allow me to recount everything; even to the smallest details. This
man's face struck me at once, on account of a singular resemblance;
he paid no attention to me at first, and I was able to examine him at
leisure. His manners were those of a man belonging to the highest
classes of society, and his dress indicated wealth. On seeing
Edouard, he said to Madame de Lamotte--
"'So this is he?' and he then kissed him tenderly. This and the
marks of undisguised pleasure which he evinced surprised me, and I
looked at Madame de Lamotte, who then remarked with some asperity--
"'I did not expect to see you, Monsieur Derues. I had not asked you
to accompany my son.'
"Edouard seemed quite as much surprised as I was. The stranger gave
me a look of haughty annoyance, but seeing I did not avoid his glance
his countenance assumed a more gentle expression, and Madame de
Lamotte introduced him as a person who took great interest in
"It is a whole tissue of imposture!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte.
"Allow me to finish," answered Derues. "I understand your doubts,
and that you are not anxious to believe what I say, but I have been
brought here by legal summons to tell the truth, and I am going to
tell it. You can then weigh the two accusations in the balance, and
choose between them. The reputation of an honourable man is as
sacred, as important, as worthy of credit as the reputation of a
woman, and I never heard that the virtue of the one was more fragile
than that of the other."
Monsieur de Lamotte, thunderstruck by such a revelation, could not
contain his impatience and indignation.
"This, then," he said, "is the explanation of an anonymous letter
which I received, and of the injurious suggestions' concerning my
wife's honour which it contained; it was written to give an
appearance of probability to this infamous legend. The whole thing
is a disgraceful plot, and no doubt Monsieur Derues wrote the letter
"I know nothing about it," said Derues unconcernedly, "and the
explanation which you profess to find in it I should rather refer to
something else I am going to mention. I did not know a secret
warning had been sent to you: I now learn it from you, and I
understand perfectly that such a letter, may have been written. But
that you have received such a warning ought surely to be a reason for
listening patiently and not denouncing all I say as imposture."
While saying this Derues mentally constructed the fresh falsehood
necessitated by the interruption, but no variation of countenance
betrayed his thought. He had an air of dignity natural to his
position. He saw that, in spite of clear-headedness and long
practice in studying the most deceptive countenances, the magistrate
so far had not scented any of his falsehoods, and was getting
bewildered in the windings of this long narrative, through which
Derues led him as he chose; and he resumed with confidence--
"You know that I made Monsieur de Lamotte's acquaintance more than a
year ago, and I had reason to believe his friendship as sincere as my
own. As a friend, I could not calmly accept the suspicion which then
entered my mind, nor could I conceal my surprise. Madame de Lamotte
saw this, and understood from my looks that I was not satisfied with
the explanation she wished me to accept. A glance of intelligence
passed between her and her friend, who was still holding Edouard's
hand. The day, though cold, was fine, and she proposed a walk in the
park. I offered her my arm, and the stranger walked in front with
Edouard. We had a short conversation, which has remained indelibly
fixed in my memory.
"'Why did you come?' she inquired.
"I did not answer, but looked sternly at her, in order to discompose
her. At length I said--
"'You should have written, madame, and warned me that my coming would
"She seemed much disconcerted, and exclaimed--