Part 20 out of 33
"'I am lost! I see you guess everything, and will tell my husband.
I am an unhappy woman, and a sin once committed can never be erased
from the pages of a woman's life! Listen, Monsieur Derues, listen, I
implore you! You see this man, I shall not tell you who he is, I
shall not give his name . . . but I loved him long ago; I should
have been his wife, and had he not been compelled to leave France, I
should have married no one else.'"
Monsieur de Lamotte started, and grew pale.
"What is the matter?" the magistrate inquired.
"Oh! this dastardly wretch is profiting by his knowledge of secrets
which a long intimacy has enabled him to discover. Do not believe
him, I entreat you, do not believe him!"
Derues resumed. "Madame de Lamotte continued: 'I saw him again
sixteen years ago, always in hiding, always proscribed. To-day he
reappears under a name which is not his own: he wishes to link my
fate with his; he has insisted on seeing Edouard. But I shall escape
him. I have invented this fiction of placing my son among the, royal
pages to account for my stay here. Do not contradict me, but help
me; for a little time ago I met one of Monsieur de Lamotte's friends,
I am afraid he suspected something. Say you have seen me several
times; as you have come, let it be known that you brought Edouard
here. I shall return to Buisson as soon as possible, but will you go
first, see my husband, satisfy him if he is anxious? I am in your
hands; my honour, my reputation, my very life, are at your mercy; you
can either ruin or help to save me. I may be guilty, but I am not
corrupt. I have wept for my sin day after day, and I have already
cruelly expiated it.'"
This execrable calumny was not related without frequent interruptions
on the part of Monsieur de Lamotte. He was, however, obliged to own
to himself that it was quite true that Marie Perier had really been
promised to a man whom an unlucky affair had driven into exile, and
whom he had supposed to be dead. This revelation, coming from
Derues, who had the strongest interest in lying, by no means
convinced him of his wife's dishonour, nor destroyed the feelings of
a husband and father; but Derues was not speaking for him lone, and
what appeared incredible to Monsieur de Lamotte might easily seem
less improbable to the colder and less interested judgment of the
"I was wrong," Derues continued, "in allowing myself to be touched by
her tears, wrong in believing in her repentance, more wrong still in
going to Buisson to satisfy her husband. But I only consented on
conditions: Madame de Lamotte promised me to return shortly to Paris,
vowing that her son should never know the truth, and that the rest of
her life should be devoted to atoning for her sin by a boundless
devotion. She then begged me to leave her, and told me she would
write to me at Paris to fix the day of her return. This is what
happened, and this is why I went to Buissan and gave my support to a
lying fiction. With one word I might have destroyed the happiness of
seventeen years. I did not wish to do so. I believed in the
remorse; I believe in it still, in spite of all appearances; I have
refused to speak this very day, and made every effort to prolong an
illusion which I know it will be terrible to lose."
There was a moment of silence. This fable, so atrociously ingenious,
was simply and impressively narrated, and with an air of candour well
contrived to impose on the magistrate, or, at least, to suggest grave
doubts to his mind. Derues, with his usual cunning, had conformed
his language to the quality of his listener. Any tricks, profession
of piety, quotations from sacred books, so largely indulged in when
he wished to bamboozle people of a lower class, would here have told
against him. He knew when to abstain, and carried the art of
deception far enough to be able to lay aside the appearance of
hypocrisy. He had described all the circumstances without
affectation, and if this unexpected accusation was wholly unproved,
it yet rested on a possible fact, and did not appear absolutely
incredible. The magistrate went through it all again, and made him
repeat every detail, without being able to make him contradict
himself or show the smallest embarrassment. While interrogating
Derues, he kept his eyes fixed upon him; and this double examination
being quite fruitless, only increased his perplexity. However, he
never relaxed the incredulous severity of his demeanour, nor the
imperative and threatening tone of his voice.
"You acknowledge having been at Lyons?" he asked.
"I have been there."
"At the beginning of this examination you said you would explain the
reason of this journey later."
"I am ready to do so, for the journey is connected with the facts I
have just narrated; it was caused by them."
"I again ask permission to relate fully. I did not hear from
Versailles: I began to fear Monsieur de Lamotte's anxiety would bring
him to Paris. Bound by the promise I had made to his wife to avert
all suspicion and to satisfy any doubts he might conceive, and, must
I add, also remembering that it was important for me to inform him of
our new arrangements, and of this payment of a hundred thousand
"That payment is assuredly fictitious," interrupted Monsieur de
Lamotte; "we must have some proof of it."
"I will prove it presently," answered Derues. "So I went to Buisson,
as I have already told you. On my return I found a letter from
Madame de Lamotte, a letter with a Paris stamp, which had arrived
that morning. I was surprised that she should write, when actually
in Paris; I opened the letter, and was still more surprised. I have
not the letter with me, but I recollect the sense of it perfectly, if
not the wording, and I can produce it if necessary. Madame de
Lamotte was at Lyons with her son and this person whose name I do not
know, and whom I do not care to mention before her husband. She had
confided this letter to a person who was coming to Paris, and who was
to bring it me; but this individual, whose name was Marquis,
regretted that having to start again immediately, he was obliged to
entrust it to the post. This is the sense of its contents. Madame
de Lamotte wrote that she found herself obliged to follow this
nameless person to Lyons; and she begged me to send her news of her
husband and of the state of his affairs, but said not one single word
of any probable return. I became very uneasy at the news of this
clandestine departure. I had no security except a private contract
annulling our first agreement on the payment of one hundred thousand
livres, and that this was not a sufficient and regular receipt I
knew, because the lawyer had already refused to surrender Monsieur de
Lamotte's power of attorney. I thought over all the difficulties
which this flight, which would have to be kept secret, was likely to
produce, and I started for Lyons without writing or giving any notice
of my intention. I had no information, I did not even know whether
Madame de Lamotte was passing by another name, as at Versailles, but
chance decreed that I met her the very day of my arrival. She was
alone, and complained bitterly of her fate, saying she had been
compelled to follow this individual to Lyons, but that very soon she
would be free and would return to Paris. But I was struck by the
uncertainty of her manner, and said I should not leave her without
obtaining a deed in proof of our recent arrangements. She refused at
first, saying it was unnecessary, as she would so soon return; but I
insisted strongly. I told her I had already com promised myself by
telling Monsieur de Lamotte that she was at Versailles, endeavouring
to procure an appointment for her son; that since she had been
compelled to come to Lyons, the same person might take her elsewhere,
so that she might disappear any day, might leave France without
leaving any trace, without any written acknowledgment of her own
dishonour; and that when all these falsehoods were discovered, I
should appear in the light of an accomplice. I said also that, as
she had unfortunately lodged in my house in Paris, and had requested
me to remove her son from his school, explanations would be required
from me, and perhaps I should be accused of this double
disappearance. Finally, I declared that if she did not give me some
proofs of her existence, willingly or unwillingly, I would go at once
to a magistrate. My firmness made her reflect. 'My good Monsieur
Derues,' she said, 'I ask your forgiveness for all the trouble I have
caused you. I will give you this deed to-morrow, to-day it is too
late; but come to this same place to-morrow, and you shall see me
again.' I hesitated, I confess, to let her go. 'Ah,' she said,
grasping my hands, 'do not suspect me of intending to deceive you! I
swear that I will meet you here at four o'clock. It is enough that I
have ruined myself, and perhaps my son, without also entangling you
in my unhappy fate. Yes, you are right; this deed is important,
necessary for you, and you shall have it. But do not show yourself
here; if you were seen, I might not be able to do what I ought to do.
To-morrow you shall see me again, I swear it.' She then left me.
The next day, the 12th, of March, I was exact at the rendezvous, and
Madame de Lamotte arrived a moment later. She gave me a deed,
authorising her husband to receive the arrears of thirty thousand
livres remaining from the purchase-money of Buisson-Souef. I
endeavoured again to express my opinion of her conduct; she listened
in silence, as if my words affected her deeply. We were walking
together, when she told me she had some business in a house we were
passing, and asked me to wait for her. I waited more than an hour,
and then discovered that this house, like many others in Lyons, had
an exit in another street; and I understood that Madame de Lamotte
had escaped by this passage, and that I might wait in vain.
Concluding that trying to follow her would be useless, and seeing
also that any remonstrance would be made in vain, I returned to
Paris, deciding to say nothing as yet, and to conceal the truth as
long as possible. I still had hopes, and I did not count on being so
soon called on to defend myself: I thought that when I had to speak,
it would be as a friend, and not as an accused person. This, sir, is
the explanation of my conduct, and I regret that this justification,
so easy for myself, should be so cruelly painful for another. You
have seen the efforts which I made to defer it."
Monsieur de Lamotte had heard this second part of Derues' recital
with a more silent indignation, not that he admitted its probability,
but he was confounded by this monstrous imposture, and, as it were,
terror-stricken by such profound hypocrisy. His mind revolted at the
idea of his wife being accused of adultery; but while he repelled
this charge with decision, he saw the confirmation of his secret
terrors and presentiments, and his heart sank within him at the
prospect of exploring this abyss of iniquity. He was pale, gasping
for breath, as though he himself had been the criminal, while
scorching tears furrowed his cheeks. He tried to speak, but his
voice failed; he wanted to fling back at Derues the names of traitor
and assassin, and he was obliged to bear in silence the look of
mingled grief and pity which the latter bestowed upon him.
The magistrate, calmer, and master of his emotions, but tolerably
bewildered in this labyrinth of cleverly connected lies, thought it
desirable to ask some further questions.
"How," said he, "did you obtain this sum of a hundred thousand livres
which you say you paid over to Madame de Lamotte?"
"I have been engaged in business for several years, and have acquired
"Nevertheless, you have postponed the obligation of making this
payment several times, so that Monsieur de Lamotte had begun to feel
uneasiness on the subject. This was the chief reason of his wife's
coming to Paris."
"One sometimes experiences momentary difficulties, which presently
"You say you have a deed given you at Lyons by Madame de Lamotte,
which you were to give to her husband?"
"It is here."
The magistrate examined the deed carefully, and noted the name of the
lawyer in whose office it had been drawn up.
"You may go," he said at last.
"What!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte.
Derues stopped, but the magistrate signed to him to go, intimating,
however, that he was on no account to leave Paris.
"But," said Monsieur de Lamotte, when they were alone, "this man is
indeed guilty. My wife has not betrayed me! She!--forget her duties
as a wife! she was virtue incarnate! Ah! I assure you these terrible
calumnies are invented to conceal double crime! I throw myself at
your feet,--I implore your justice!"
"Rise, monsieur. This is only a preliminary examination, and I
confess that, so far, he comes well out of it, for imagination can
hardly understand such a depth of deceit. I watched him closely the
whole time, and I could discover no sign of alarm, no contradiction,
in either face or language; if guilty, he must be the greatest
hypocrite that ever existed. But I shall neglect nothing: if a
criminal is allowed to flatter himself with impunity, he frequently
forgets to be prudent, and I have seen many betray themselves when
they thought they had nothing to fear. Patience, and trust to the
justice of both God and man."
Several days passed, and Derues flattered him self the danger was
over: his every action mean while was most carefully watched, but so
that he remained unaware of the surveillance. A police officer named
Mutel, distinguished for activity and intelligence beyond his
fellows, was charged with collecting information and following any
trail. All his bloodhounds were in action, and hunted Paris
thoroughly, but could trace nothing bearing on the fate of Madame de
Lamotte and her son. Mutel, however, soon discovered that in the rue
Saint Victor, Derues had failed--three successive times, that he had
been pursued by numerous creditors, and been often near imprisonment
for debt, and that in 1771 he had been publicly accused of
incendiarism. He reported on these various circumstances, and then
went himself to Derues' abode, where he obtained no results. Madame
Derues declared that she knew nothing whatever, and the police,
having vainly searched the whole house, had to retire. Derues
himself was absent; when he returned he found another order to appear
before the magistrate.
His first success had encouraged him. He appeared before the
magistrate accompanied by a lawyer and full of confidence,
complaining loudly that the police, in searching during his absence,
had offended against the rights of a domiciled burgess, and ought to
have awaited his return. Affecting a just indignation at Monsieur de
Lamotte's conduct towards him, he presented a demand that the latter
should be declared a calumniator, and should pay damages for the
injury caused to his reputation. But this time his effrontery and
audacity were of little avail, the magistrate easily detected him in
flagrant lies. He declared at first that he had paid the hundred
thousand livres with his own money but when reminded of his various
bankruptcies, the claims of his creditors, and the judgments obtained
against him as an insolvent debtor, he made a complete volte-face,
and declared he had borrowed the money from an advocate named Duclos,
to whom he had given a bond in presence of a notary. In spite of all
his protestations, the magistrate committed him to solitary
confinement at Fort l'Eveque.
As yet, nothing was publicly known; but vague reports and gossip,
carried from shop to shop, circulated among the people, and began to
reach the higher classes of society. The infallible instinct which
is aroused among the masses is truly marvellous; a great crime is
committed, which seems at first likely to defeat justice, and the
public conscience is aroused. Long before the tortuous folds which
envelop the mystery can be penetrated, while it is still sunk in
profound obscurity, the voice of the nation, like an excited hive,
buzzes around the secret; though the magistrates doubt, the public
curiosity fixes itself, and never leaves go; if the criminal's
hiding-place is changed, it follows the track, points it out,
descries it in the gloom. This is what happened on the news of
Derues' arrest. The affair was everywhere discussed, although the
information was incomplete, reports inexact, and no real publicity to
be obtained. The romance which Derues had invented by way of
defence, and which became known as well as Monsieur de Lamotte's
accusation, obtained no credence whatever; on the contrary, all the
reports to his discredit were eagerly adopted. As yet, no crime
could be traced, but the public presentiment divined an atrocious
one. Have we not often seen similar agitations? The names of
Bastide, of Castaing, of Papavoine, had hardly been pronounced before
they completely absorbed all the public attention, and this had to be
satisfied, light had to be thrown on the darkness: society demanded
Derues felt some alarm in his dungeon, but his presence of mind and
his dissimulation in no wise deserted him, and he swore afresh every
day to the truth of his statements. But his last false assertion
turned against him: the bond for a hundred thousand livres which he
professed to have given to Duclos was a counterfeit which Duclos had
annulled by a sort of counter declaration made the same day. Another
circumstance, intended to ensure his safety, only redoubled
suspicion. On April 8th, notes payable to order to the amount of
seventy-eight thousand livres, were received by Monsieur de Lamotte's
lawyer, as if coming from Madame de Lamotte. It appeared
extraordinary that these notes, which arrived in an ordinary stamped
envelope, should not be accompanied by any letter of advice, and
suspicion attached to Madame Derues, who hitherto had remained
unnoticed. An inquiry as to where the packet had been posted soon
revealed the office, distinguished by a letter of the alphabet, and
the postmaster described a servant-maid who had brought the letter
and paid for it. The description resembled the Derues' servant; and
this girl, much alarmed, acknowledged, after a great deal of
hesitation, that she had posted the letter in obedience to her
mistress's orders. Whereupon Madame Derues was sent as a prisoner to
Fort l'Eveque, and her husband transferred to the Grand-Chatelet. On
being interrogated, she at length owned that she had sent these notes
to Monsieur de Lamotte's lawyer, and that her husband had given them
her in an envelope hidden in the soiled linen for which she had
brought him clean in exchange.
All this certainly amounted to serious presumptive evidence of guilt,
and if Derues had shown himself to the multitude, which followed
every phase of the investigation with increasing anxiety, a thousand
arms would have willingly usurped the office of the executioner; but
the distance thence to actual proof of murder was enormous for the
magistracy. Derues maintained his tranquillity, always asserting
that Madame de Lamotte and her son were alive, and would clear him by
their reappearance. Neither threats nor stratagems succeeded in
making him contradict himself, and his assurance shook the strongest
conviction. A new difficulty was added to so much uncertainty.
A messenger had been sent off secretly with all haste to Lyons; his
return was awaited for a test which it was thought would be decisive.
One morning Derues was fetched from his prison and taken to a lower
hall of the Conciergerie. He received no answers to the questions
addressed to his escort, and this silence showed him the necessity of
being on his guard and preserving his imperturbable demeanour
whatever might happen. On arriving, he found the commissioner of
police, Mutel, and some other persons. The hall being very dark, had
been illuminated with several torches, and Derues was so placed that
the light fell strongly on his face, and was then ordered to look
towards a particular part of the hall. As he did so, a door opened,
and a man entered. Derues beheld him with indifference, and seeing
that the stranger was observing him attentively, he bowed to him as
one might bow to an unknown person whose curiosity seems rather
It was impossible to detect the slightest trace of emotion, a hand
placed on his heart would not have felt an increased pulsation, yet
this stranger's recognition would be fatal!
Mutel approached the new-comer and whispered--
"Do you recognise him?"
"No, I do not."
"Have the kindness to leave the room for a moment; we will ask you to
This individual was the lawyer in whose office at Lyons the deed had
been drawn up which Derues had signed, disguised as a woman, and
under the name of Marie-Francoise Perier, wife of the Sieur de
A woman's garments were brought in, and Derues was ordered to put
them on, which he did readily, affecting much amusement. As he was
assisted to disguise himself, he laughed, stroked his chin and
assumed mincing airs, carrying effrontery so far as to ask for a
"I should like to see if it is becoming," he said; "perhaps I might
make some conquests."
The lawyer returned: Derues was made to pass before him, to sit at a
table, sign a paper, in fact to repeat everything it was imagined he
might have said or done in the lawyer's office. This second attempt
at identification succeeded no better than the first. The lawyer
hesitated; then, understanding all the importance of his deposition,
he refused to swear to anything, and finally declared that this was
not the person who had come to him at Lyons.
"I am sorry, sir," said Derues, as they removed him, "that you should
have been troubled by having to witness this absurd comedy. Do not
blame me for it; but ask Heaven to enlighten those who do not fear to
accuse me. As for me, knowing that my innocence will shortly be made
clear, I pardon them henceforth."
Although justice at this period was generally expeditious, and the
lives of accused persons were by no means safe-guarded as they now
are, it was impossible to condemn Derues in the absence of any
positive proofs of guilt. He knew this, and waited patiently in his
prison for the moment when he should triumph over the capital
accusation which weighed against him. The storm no longer thundered
over his head, the most terrible trials were passed, the examinations
became less frequent, and there were no more surprises to dread. The
lamentations of Monsieur de Lamotte went to the hearts of the
magistrates, but his certainty could not establish theirs, and they
pitied, but could not avenge him. In certain minds a sort of
reaction favourable to the prisoner began to set in. Among the dupes
of Derues' seeming piety, many who at first held their peace under
these crushing accusations returned to their former opinion. The
bigots and devotees, all who made a profession of kneeling in the
churches, of publicly crossing themselves and dipping their fingers
in the holy water, and who lived on cant and repetitions of "Amen"
and "Alleluia," talked of persecution, of martyrdom, until Derues
nearly became a saint destined by the Almighty to find canonisation
in a dungeon. Hence arose quarrels and arguments; and this abortive
trial, this unproved accusation, kept the public imagination in a
To the greater part of those who talk of the "Supreme Being," and who
expect His intervention in human affairs, "Providence" is only a
word, solemn and sonorous, a sort of theatrical machine which sets
all right in the end, and which they glorify with a few banalities
proceeding from the lips, but not from the heart. It is true that
this unknown and mysterious Cause which we call "God" or "Chance"
often appears so exceedingly blind and deaf that one may be permitted
to wonder whether certain crimes are really set apart for punishment,
when so many others apparently go scot-free. How many murders remain
buried in the night of the tomb! how many outrageous and avowed
crimes have slept peacefully in an insolent and audacious prosperity!
We know the names of many criminals, but who can tell the number of
unknown and forgotten victims? The history of humanity is twofold,
and like that of the invisible world, which contains marvels
unexplored by the science of the visible one, the history recounted
in books is by no means the most curious and strange. But without
delaying over questions such as these, without protesting here
against sophistries which cloud the conscience and hide the presence
of an avenging Deity, we leave the facts to the general judgment, and
have now to relate the last episode in this long and terrible drama.
Of all the populous quarters of Paris which commented on the "affaire
Derues," none showed more excitement than that of the Greve, and
amongst all the surrounding streets none could boast more numerous
crowds than the rue de la Mortellerie. Not that a secret instinct
magnetised the crowd in the very place where the proof lay buried,
but that each day its attention was aroused by a painful spectacle.
A pale and grief-stricken man, whose eyes seemed quenched in tears,
passed often down the street, hardly able to drag himself along; it
was Monsieur de Lamotte, who lodged, as we have said, in the rue de
la Mortellerie, and who seemed like a spectre wandering round a tomb.
The crowd made way and uncovered before him, everybody respected such
terrible misfortune, and when he had passed, the groups formed up
again, and continued discussing the mystery until nightfall.
On April 17th, about four in the afternoon, a score of workmen and
gossiping women had collected in front of a shop. A stout woman,
standing on the lowest step, like an orator in the tribune, held
forth and related for the twentieth time what she knew, or rather,
did not know. There were listening ears and gaping mouths, even a
slight shudder ran through the group; for the widow Masson,
discovering a gift of eloquence at the age of sixty, contrived to
mingle great warmth and much indignation in her recital. All at once
silence fell on the crowd, and a passage was made for Monsieur de
Lamotte. One man ventured to ask--
"Is there anything fresh to-day?"
A sad shake of the head was the only answer, and the unhappy man
continued his way.
"Is that Monsieur de Lamotte?" inquired a particularly dirty woman,
whose cap, stuck on the side of her, head, allowed locks of grey hair
to straggle from under it. "Ah! is that Monsieur de Lamotte?"
"Dear me!" said a neighbour, "don't you know him by this time? He
passes every day."
"Excuse me! I don't belong to this quarter, and--no offence--but it
is not so beautiful as to bring one out of curiosity! Nothing
personal--but it is rather dirty."
Madame is probably accustomed to use a carriage."
"That would suit you better than me, my dear, and would save your
having to buy shoes to keep your feet off the ground!"
The crowd seemed inclined to hustle the speaker,--
"Wait a moment!" she continued, "I didn't mean to offend anyone. I
am a poor woman, but there's no disgrace in that, and I can afford a
glass of liqueur. Eh, good gossip, you understand, don't you? A
drop of the best for Mother Maniffret, and if my fine friend there
will drink with me to settle our difference, I will stand her a
The example set by the old hawker was contagious, and instead of
filling two little glasses only, widow Masson dispensed a bottleful.
"Come, you have done well," cried Mother Maniffret; "my idea has
brought you luck."
"Faith! not before it was wanted, either!"
"What! are you complaining of trade too?"
"Ah! don't mention it; it is miserable!"
"There's no trade at all. I scream myself hoarse all day, and choke
myself for twopence halfpenny. I don't know what's to come of it
all. But you seem to have a nice little custom."
"What's the good of that, with a whole house on one's hands? It's
just my luck; the old tenants go, and the new ones don't come."
"What's the matter, then?"
"I think the devil's in it. There was a nice man on the first
floor-gone; a decent family on the third, all right except that the
man beat his wife every night, and made such a row that no one could
sleep--gone also. I put up notices--no one even looks at them! A
few months ago--it was the middle of December, the day of the last
"The 15th, then," said the hawker. "I cried it, so I know; it's my
"Very well, then, the 15th," resumed widow Masson. "On that day,
then, I let the cellar to a man who said he was a wine merchant, and
who paid a term in advance, seeing that I didn't know him, and
wouldn't have lent him a farthing on the strength of his good looks.
He was a little bit of a man, no taller than that,"--contemptuously
holding out her hand,--"and he had two round eyes which I didn't like
at, all. He certainly paid, he did that, but we are more than half
through the second term and I have no news of my tenant."
"And have you never seen him since?"
"Yes, once--no, twice. Let's see--three times, I am sure. He came
with a hand-cart and a commissionaire, and had a big chest taken
downstairs--a case which he said contained wine in bottles....
"No, he came before that, with a workman I think.
"Really, I don't know if it was before or after--doesn't matter.
Anyhow, it was bottled wine. The third time he brought a mason, and
I am sure they quarreled. I heard their voices. He carried off the
key, and I have seen neither him nor his wine again. I have another
key, and I went down one day; perhaps the rats have drunk the wine
and eaten the chest, for there certainly is nothing there any more
than there is in my hand now. Nevertheless, I saw what I saw. A big
chest, very big, quite new, and corded all round with strong rope."
"Now, what day was that? "asked the hawker.
"What day? Well, it was--no, I can't remember."
"Nor I either; I am getting stupid. Let's have another little
glass-shall we? just to clear our memories!"
The expedient was not crowned with success, the memories failed to
recover themselves. The crowd waited, attentive, as may be supposed.
Suddenly the hawker exclaimed:
"What a fool I am! I am going to find that, if only I have still got
She felt eagerly in the pocket of her underskirt, and produced
several pieces of dirty, crumpled paper. As she unfolded one after
another, she asked:
"A big chest, wasn't it?"
"Yes, very big."
"And quite new?"
"Yes, I can see it now."
"So can I, good gracious! It was the day when I sold the history of
Leroi de Valines, the 1st of February."
"Yes, it was a Saturday; the next day was Sunday."
"That's it, that's it!--Saturday, February 1st. Well, I know that
chest too! I met your wine merchant on the Place du Louvre, and he
wasn't precisely enjoying himself: one of his creditors wanted to
seize the chest, the wine, the whole kettle of fish! A little man,
isn't he?--a scarecrow?"
"And has red hair?"
"That's the man."
"And looks a hypocrite?"
"You've hit it exactly."
"And he is a hypocrite! enough to make one shudder! No doubt he
can't pay his rent! A thief, my dears, a beggarly thief, who set
fire to his own cellar, and who accused me of trying to steal from
him, while it was he who cheated me, the villain, out of a piece of
twenty-four sous. It's lucky I turned up here! Well, well, we shall
have some fun! Here's another little business on your hands, and you
will have to say where that wine has got to, my dear gossip Derues."
"Derues!" cried twenty voices all at once.
"What! Derues who is in Prison?"
"Why, that's Monsieur de Lamotte's man."
"The man who killed Madame de Lamotte?"
"The man who made away with her son?"
"A scoundrel, my dears, who accused me of stealing, an absolute
"It is just a little unfortunate," said widow Masson, "that it isn't
the man. My tenant calls himself Ducoudray. There's his name on the
"Confound it, that doesn't look like it at all," said the hawker:
"now that's a bore! Oh yes, I have a grudge against that thief, who
accused me of stealing. I told him I should sell his history some
day. When that happens, I'll treat you all round."
As a foretaste of the fulfilment of this promise, the company
disposed of a second bottle of liqueur, and, becoming excited, they
chattered at random for some time, but at length slowly dispersed,
and the street relapsed into the silence of night. But, a few hours
later, the inhabitants were surprised to see the two ends occupied by
unknown people, while other sinister-looking persons patrolled it all
night, as if keeping guard. The next morning a carriage escorted by
police stopped at the widow Masson's door. An officer of police got
out and entered a neighbouring house, whence he emerged a quarter of
an hour later with Monsieur de Lamotte leaning on his arm. The
officer demanded the key of the cellar which last December had been
hired from the widow Masson by a person named Ducoudray, and went
down to it with Monsieur de Lamotte and one of his subordinates.
The carriage standing at the door, the presence of the commissioner
Mutel, the chatter of the previous evening, had naturally roused
everybody's imagination. But this excitement had to be kept for home
use: the whole street was under arrest, and its inhabitants were
forbidden to leave their houses. The windows, crammed with anxious
faces, questioning each other, in the expectation of something
wonderful, were a curious sight; and the ignorance in which they
remained, these mysterious preparations, these orders silently
executed, doubled the curiosity, and added a sort of terror: no one
could see the persons who had accompanied the police officer; three
men remained in the carriage, one guarded by the two others. When
the heavy coach turned into the rue de la Mortellerie, this man had
bent towards the closed window and asked--
"Where are we?"
And when they answered him, he said--
"I do not know this street; I was never in it."
After saying this quite quietly, he asked--
"Why am I brought here?"
As no one replied, he resumed his look of indifference, and betrayed
no emotion, neither when the carriage stopped nor when he saw
Monsieur de Lamotte enter the widow Masson's house.
The officer reappeared on the threshold, and ordered Derues to be
The previous evening, detectives, mingling with the crowd, had
listened to the hawker's story of having met Derues near the Louvre
escorting a large chest. The police magistrate was informed in the
course of the evening. It was an indication, a ray of light, perhaps
the actual truth, detached from obscurity by chance gossip; and
measures were instantly taken to prevent anyone either entering or
leaving the street without being followed and examined. Mutel
thought he was on the track, but the criminal might have accomplices
also on the watch, who, warned in time, might be able to remove the
proofs of the crime, if any existed.
Derues was placed between two men who each held an arm. A third went
before, holding a torch. The commissioner, followed by men also
carrying torches, and provided with spades and pickaxes, came behind,
and in this order they descended to the vault. It was a dismal and
terrifying procession; anyone beholding these dark and sad
countenances, this pale and resigned man, passing thus into these
damp vaults illuminated by the flickering glare of torches, might
well have thought himself the victim of illusion and watching some
gloomy execution in a dream. But all was real and when light
penetrated this dismal charnel-house it seemed at once to illuminate
its secret depths, so that the light of truth might at length
penetrate these dark shadows, and that the voice of the dead would
speak from the earth and the walls.
"Wretch!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte, when he saw Derues appear,
"is it here that you murdered my wife and my son?"
Derues looked calmly at him, and replied--
"I beg you, sir, not to add insult to the misfortunes you have
already caused. If you stood in my place and I were in yours, I
should feel some pity and respect for so terrible a position. What
do you want me? and why am I brought here?"
He did not know the events of last evening, and could only mentally
accuse the mason who had helped to bury the chest. He felt that he
was lost, but his audacity never forsook him.
"You are here, in the first place, to be confronted with this woman,"
said the officer, causing the widow Masson to stand opposite to him.
"I do not know her."
"But I know you, and know you well. It was you who hired this cellar
under the name of Ducoudray."
Derues shrugged his shoulders and answered bitterly--
"I can understand a man being condemned to the torture if he is
guilty, but that in order to accomplish one's mission as accuser, and
to discover a criminal, false witnesses who can give no evidence
should be brought a hundred leagues, that the rabble should be roused
up, that divers faces and imaginary names should be bestowed on an
innocent man, in order to turn a movement of surprise or an indignant
gesture to his disadvantage, all this is iniquitous, and goes beyond
the right of judgment bestowed upon men by God. I do not know this
woman, and no matter what she says or does, I shall say no more."
Neither the skill nor threats of the police officer could shake this
resolution. It was to no purpose that the widow Masson repeated and
asseverated that she recognised him as her tenant Ducoudray, and that
he had had a large case of wine taken down into the cellar; Derues
folded his arms, and remained as motionless as if he had been blind
The walls were sounded, the stones composing them carefully examined,
the floor pierced in several places, but nothing unusual was
Would they have to give it up? Already the officer was making signs
to this effect, when the man who had remained at first below with
Monsieur de Lamotte, and who, standing in shadow, had carefully
watched Derues when he was brought down, came forward, and pointing
to the recess under the stairs, said--
"Examine this corner. The prisoner glanced involuntarily in this
direction when he came down; I have watched him, and it is the only
sign he has given. I was the only person who could see him, and he
did not see me. He is very clever, but one can't be for ever on
one's guard, and may the devil take me if I haven't scented the
"Wretch!" said Derues to himself, "then you have had your hand on me
for a whole hour, and amused yourself by prolonging my agony! Oh! I
ought to have known it; I have found my master. Never mind, you
shall learn nothing from my face, nor yet from the decaying body you
will find; worms and poison can only have left an unrecognisable
An iron rod sunk into the ground, encountered a hard substance some
four feet below. Two men set to work, and dug with energy. Every
eye was fixed upon this trench increasing in depth with every
shovelful of earth which the two labourers cast aside. Monsieur de
Lamotte was nearly fainting, and his emotion impressed everyone
except Derues. At length the silence was broken by the spades
striking heavily on wood, and the noise made everyone shudder. The
chest was uncovered and hoisted out of the trench; it was opened, and
the body of a woman was seen, clad only in a chemise, with a red and
white headband, face downwards. The body was turned over, and
Monsieur de Lamotte recognised his wife, not yet disfigured.
The feeling of horror was so great that no one spoke or uttered a
sound. Derues, occupied in considering the few chances which
remained to him, had not observed that, by the officer's order, one
of the guards had left the cellar before the men began to dig.
Everybody had drawn back both from the corpse and the murderer, who
alone had not moved, and who was repeating prayers. The flame of the
torches placed on the ground cast a reddish light on this silent and
Derues started and turned round on hearing a terrified cry behind
him. His wife had just been brought to the cellar. The commissioner
seized her with one hand, and taking a torch in the other, compelled
her to look down on the body.
"It is Madame de Lamotte!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, yes," she answered, overwhelmed with terror,--" yes, I
Unable to support the sight any longer, she grew pale and fainted
away. She and her husband were removed separately. One would have
supposed the discovery was already known outside, for the people
showered curses and cries of "Assassin!" and "Poisoner!" on the
carriage which conveyed Derues. He remained silent during the drive,
but before re-entering his dungeon, he said--
"I must have been mad when I sought to hide the death and burial of
Madame de Lamotte from public knowledge. It is the only sin I have
committed, and, innocent of aught else, I resign myself as a
Christian to the judgment of God."
It was the only line of defence which remained open to him, and he
clung to it, with the hope of imposing on the magistrates by
redoubled hypocrisy and pious observances. But all this laboriously
constructed scaffolding of lies was shaken to its base and fell away
piece by piece. Every moment brought fresh and overwhelming
revelations. He professed that Madame de Lamotte had died suddenly
in his house, and that, fearing suspicion, he had buried her
secretly. But the doctors called on to examine the body declared
that she had been poisoned with corrosive sublimate and opium. The
pretended payment was clearly an odious imposture, the receipt a
forgery! Then, like a threatening spectre, arose another question,
to which he found no reply, and his own invention turned against him.
Why, knowing his mother was no more, had he taken young de Lamotte to
Versailles? What had become of the youth? What had befallen, him?
Once on the track, the cooper with whom he had lodged on the 12th of
February was soon discovered, and an Act of Parliament ordered the
exhumation of the corpse buried under the name of Beaupre, which the
cooper identified by a shirt which he had given for the burial.
Derues, confounded by the evidence, asserted that the youth died of
indigestion and venereal disease. But the doctors again declared the
presence of corrosive sublimate and opium. All this evidence of
guilt he met with assumed resignation, lamenting incessantly for
Edouard, whom he declared he had loved as his own son. "Alas!" he
said, "I see that poor boy every night! But it softens my grief to
know that he was not deprived of the last consolations of religion!
God, who sees me, and who knows my innocence, will enlighten the
magistrates, and my honour will be vindicated."
The evidence being complete, Derues was condemned by sentence of the
Chatelet, pronounced April 30th, and confirmed by Parliament, May
5th. We give the decree as it is found in the archives:
"This Court having considered the trial held before the Provost of
Paris, or his Deputy-Lieutenant at the Chatelet, for the satisfaction
of the aforesaid Deputy at the aforesaid Chatelet, at the request of
the Deputy of the King's Attorney General at the aforesaid Court,
summoner and plaintiff, against Antoine-Francois Derues, and
Marie-Louise Nicolais, his wife, defendants and accused, prisoners in
the prisons of the Conciergerie of the Palace at Paris, who have
appealed from the sentence given at the aforesaid trial, the
thirtieth day of April 1777, by which the aforesaid Antoine-Francois
Derues has been declared duly attainted and convicted of attempting
unlawfully to appropriate without payment, the estate of Buissony
Souef, belonging to the Sieur and Dame de Saint Faust de Lamotte,
from whom he had bought the said estate by private contract on the
twenty-second day of December 1775, and also of having unworthily
abused the hospitality shown by him since the sixteenth day of
December last towards the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, who arrived in
Paris on the aforesaid day in order to conclude with him the bargain
agreed on in December 1775, and who, for this purpose, and at his
request, lodged with her son in the house of the said Derues, who of
premeditated design poisoned the said Dame de Lamotte, whether by a
medicine composed and prepared by him on the thirtieth day of January
last, or by the beverages and drinks administered by him after the
aforesaid medicine (he having taken the precaution to send his
servant into the country for two or three days), and to keep away
strangers from the room where the said Dame de Lamotte was lying),
from the effects of which poison the said Dame de Lamotte died on the
night of the said thirty-first day of January last; also of having
kept her demise secret, and of having himself enclosed in a chest the
body of the said Dame de Lamotte, which he then caused to be secretly
transported to a cellar in the rue de la Mortellerie hired by him for
this purpose, under the assumed name of Ducoudray, wherein he buried
it himself, or caused it to be buried; also of having persuaded the
son of the above Dame de Lamotte (who, with his mother, had lodged in
his house from the time of their arrival in Paris until the fifteenth
day of January, last,--and who had then been placed in a school that
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte was at Versailles and desired him to
join her there, and, under this pretence, of having conducted the
said younger Sieur de Lamotte, the twelfth day of February (after
having given him some chocolate), to the aforesaid town of
Versailles, to a lodging hired at a cooper's, and of having there
wilfully poisoned him, either in the chocolate taken by the said
younger Sieur de Lamotte before starting, or in beverages and
medicaments which the said Derues himself prepared, mixed, and
administered to the aforesaid Sieur de Lamotte the younger, during
the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth days of February
last, having kept him lying ill in the aforesaid hired room, and
having refused to call in physicians or surgeons, notwithstanding the
progress of the malady, and the representations made to him on the
subject, saying that he himself was a physician and surgeon; from
which poison the said Sieur de Lamotte the younger died on the
fifteenth day of February last, at nine o'clock in the evening, in
the arms of the aforesaid Derues, who, affecting the deepest grief,
and shedding tears, actually exhorted the aforesaid Sieur de Lamotte
to confession, and repeated the prayers for the dying; after which he
himself laid out the body for burial, saying that the deceased had
begged him to do so, and telling the people of the house that he had
died of venereal disease; also of having caused him to be buried the
next day in the churchyard of the parish church of Saint Louis at the
aforesaid Versailles, and of having entered the deceased in the
register of the said parish under a false birthplace, and the false
name of Beaupre, which name the said Derues had himself assumed on
arriving at the said lodging, and had given to the said Sieur de
Lamotte the younger, whom he declared to be his nephew. Also, to
cover these atrocities, and in order to appropriate to himself the
aforesaid estate of Buisson-Souef, he is convicted of having
calumniated the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, and of having used various
manoeuvres and practised several deceptions, to wit--
"First, in signing, or causing to be signed, the names of the above
Dame de Lamotte to a deed of private contract between the said Derues
and his wife on one side and the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte by right
of a power of attorney given by her husband on the other (the which
deed is dated the twelfth day of February, and was therefore written
after the decease of the said Dame de Lamotte); by which deed the
said Dame de Lamotte appears to change the previous conventions
agreed on in the first deed of the twenty-second of December in the
year 1775, and acknowledges receipt from the said Derues of a sum of
one hundred thousand livres, as being the price of the estate of
"Secondly, in signing before a notary, the ninth day of February
last, a feigned acknowledgment for a third part of a hundred thousand
livres, in order to give credence to the pretended payment made by
"Thirdly, in announcing and publishing, and attesting even by oath at
the time of an examination before the commissioner Mutel, that he had
really paid in cash to the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte the aforesaid
hundred thousand livres, and that she, being provided with this
money, had fled with her son and a certain person unknown;
"Fourthly, in depositing with a notary the deed of private contract
bearing the pretended receipt for the above sum of one hundred
thousand livres, end pursuing at law the execution of this deed and
of his claim to the possession of the said estate;
"Fifthly, in signing or causing to be signed by another person,
before the notaries of the town of Lyons, whither he had gone for
this purpose, a deed dated the twelfth day of March, by which the
supposed Dame de Lamotte appeared to accept the payment of the
hundred thousand livres, and to give authority to the Sieur de
Lamotte, her husband, to receive the arrears of the remainder of the
price of the said estate, the which deed he produced as a proof of
the existence of the said Dame de Lamotte;
"Sixthly, in causing to be sent, by other hands, under the name of
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, to a lawyer, on the eighth day o f
April 1777 (at a time when he was in prison, and had been compelled
to abandon the fable that he had paid the aforesaid sum of one
hundred thousand livres in hard cash, and had substituted a pretended
payment made in notes), the notes pretended to have been given by him
in payment to the said Dame de Lamotte
"Seventh, and finally, in maintaining constantly, until the discovery
of the body of the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte, that the said Dame was
still alive, and that he had seen her at the town of Lyons, as has
been stated above.
"In atonement has been condemned, etc. etc. etc.
"His goods are hereby declared acquired and confiscated to the King,
or to whomsoever His Majesty shall appoint, first deducting the sum
of two hundred livres as fine for the King, in case the confiscation
is not to the sole profit of His Majesty; and also the sum of six
hundred livres for masses to be said for the repose of the souls of
the aforesaid Dame de Lamotte and her son. And, before being
executed, the said Antoine-Francois Derues shall suffer the question
ordinary and extraordinary, in order that from his mouth may be
learned the truth of these facts, and also the names of his
accomplices. And the decision of the judges in the proceedings with
regard to the above-mentioned Marie-Louise Nicolais, wife of Derues,
is delayed until after the execution of the above sentence. It is
also decreed that the mortuary act of the aforesaid de Lamotte the
younger, dated the sixteenth day of February last, in the register of
deaths belonging to the parish church of Saint-Louis at Versailles,
be amended, and his correct names be substituted, in order that the
said Sieur de Lamotte, the father, and other persons interested, may
produce said names before the magistrates if required. And it is
also decreed that this sentence be printed and published by the
deputy of the Attorney-General at the Chatelet, and affixed to the
walls in the usual places and cross roads of the town, provostship
and viscounty of Paris, and wherever else requisite.
"With regard to the petition of Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de
Lamotte, a Royal Equerry, Sieur de Grange-Flandre, Buisson-Souef,
Valperfond, and other places, widower and inheritor of Marie Francois
Perier, his wife, according to their marriage contract signed before
Baron and partner, notaries at Paris, the fifth day of September
1762, whereby he desires to intervene in the action brought against
Derues and his accomplices, concerning the assassination and
poisoning committed on the persons of the wife and son of the said
Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, on the accusation made by him to the
Deputy Attorney-General of the King at the Chatelet at present
pending in the Court, on the report of the final judgment given in
the said action the 3oth of April last, and which allowed the
intervention; it is decreed that there shall be levied on the goods
left by the condemned, before the rights of the Treasury, and
separate from them, the sum of six thousand livres, or such other sum
as it shall please the Court to award; from which sum the said
Saint-Faust de Lamotte shall consent to deduct the sum of two
thousand seven hundred and forty-eight livres, which he acknowledges
has been sent or remitted to him by the said Derues and his wife at
different times; which first sum of six thousand livres, or such
other, shall be employed by the said Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte,
who is authorised to found therewith, in the parish church of Saint
Nicholas de Villeneuve-le-Roy, in which parish the estate of
Buisson-Souef is situate, and which is mentioned in the action, an
annual and perpetual service for the repose of the souls of the wife
and son of the said Sieur de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, of which an act
shall be inserted in the decree of intervention, and a copy of this
act or decree shall be inscribed upon a stone which shall be set in
the wall of the said church of Saint Nicholas de Villeneuve-le-Roy,
in such place as is expedient. And the deed of contract for private
sale, made between the late spouse of the said Sieur de Saint-Faust
de Lamotte and the above-named Derues and his wife, is hereby
declared null and void, as having had no value in absence of any
payment or realisation of contract before a notary; and the pretended
agreement of the twelfth day of February last, as also all other
deeds fabricated by the said Derues or others, named in the above
action, as also any which may hereafter be presented, are hereby
declared to be null and void.
"The Court declares the judgment pronounced by the magistrates of the
Chatelet against the above named Derues to be good and right, and his
appeal against the same to be bad and ill-founded.
"It is decreed that the sentence shall lose its full and entire
effect with regard to Marie-Louise Nicolais, who is condemned to the
ordinary fine of twelve livres. The necessary relief granted on the
petition of Pierre-Etienne de Saint-Faust de Lamotte, the second day
of May this present month, and delay accorded until after the
suspended judgment pronounced with regard to the said Marie-Louise
"(Signed) De Gourgues, President.
Derues' assurance and calmness never deserted him for one moment.
For three-quarters of an hour he harangued the Parliament, and his
defence was remarkable both for its presence of mind and the art with
which he made the most of any circumstances likely to suggest doubts
to the magistrates and soften the severity of the first sentence.
Found guilty on every point, he yet protested that he was innocent of
poisoning. Remorse, which often merely means fear of punishment, had
no place in his soul, and torture he seemed not to dread. As strong
in will as he was weak in body, he desired to die like a martyr in
the faith of his religion, which was hypocrisy, and the God whom he
gloried on the scaffold was the god of lies.
On May 6th, at seven in the morning, the sentence of execution was
read to him. He listened calmly, and when it was finished, remarked:
"I had not anticipated so severe a sentence."
A few hours later the instruments of torture were got ready. He was
told that this part of his punishment would be remitted if he would
confess his crimes and the names of his accomplices. He replied:
"I have no more to say. I know what terrible torture awaits me, I
know I must die to-day, but I have nothing to confess."
He made no resistance when his knees and legs were bound, and endured
the torture courageously. Only, in a moment of agony, he exclaimed:
"Accursed money! has thou reduced me to this?"
Thinking that pain would overcome his resolution, the presiding
magistrate bent towards him, and said:
"Unhappy man! confess thy crime, since death is near at hand."
He recovered his firmness, and, looking at the magistrate, replied:
"I know it, monseigneur; I have perhaps not three hours to live."
Thinking that his apparently feeble frame could not endure the last
wedges, the executioner was ordered to stop. He was unbound and laid
on a mattress, and a glass of wine was brought, of which he only
drank a few drops; after this, he made his confession to the priest.
For, dinner, they brought him soup and stew, which he ate eagerly,
and inquiring of the gaoler if he could have something more, an
entree was brought in addition. One might have thought that this
final repast heralded, not death but deliverance. At length three
o'clock struck the hour appointed for leaving the prison.
According to the report of credible persons whom we have consulted,
Paris on this occasion presented a remarkable appearance, which those
who saw it were never able to forget. The great anthill was troubled
to its very lowest depth. Whether by accident or design, the same
day had been fixed for a function which ought to have proved a
considerable counter attraction. A great festival in honour of a
German prince was given on the Plaine de Grenelle, at which all the
court was present; and probably more than one great lady regretted
missing the emotions of the Place de Greve, abandoned to the rabble
and the bourgeoisie. The rest of the city was deserted, the streets
silent, the houses closed. A stranger transported suddenly into such
a solitude might have reasonably thought that during the night the
town had been smitten by the Angel of Death, and that only a
labyrinth of vacant buildings remained, testifying to the life and
turmoil of the preceding day. A dark and dense atmosphere hung over
the abandoned town; lightning furrowed the heavy motionless clouds;
in the distance the occasional rumble of thunder was heard, answered
by the cannon of the royal fete. The crowd was divided between the
powers of heaven and earth: the terrible majesty of the Eternal on
one side, on the other the frivolous pomp of royalty--eternal
punishment and transient grandeur in opposition. Like the waters of
a flood leaving dry the fields which they have covered, so the waves
of the multitude forsook their usual course. Thousands of men and
women crowded together along the route which the death-cart would
take; an ocean of heads undulated like the ears in a wheatfield. The
old houses, hired at high rates, quivered under the weight of eager
spectators, and the window sashes had been removed to afford a better
Attired in the shirt worn by condemned criminals, and bearing a
placard both in front and behind, with the words "Wilful Poisoner,"
Derues descended the great staircase of the Chatelet with a firm
step. It was at this moment, on seeing the crucifix, that he
exclaimed, "O Christ, I shall suffer like Thee!" He mounted the
tumbril, looking right and left amongst the crowd. During the
progress he recognised and bowed to several of his old associates,
and bade adieu in a clear voice to the former mistress of his
'prentice days, who has recorded that she never saw him look so
pleasant. Arrived at the door of Notre Dame, where the clerk was
awaiting him, he descended from the tumbril without assistance, took
a lighted wax taper weighing two pounds in his hand, and did penance,
kneeling, bareheaded and barefooted, a rope round his neck, repeating
the words of the death-warrant. He then reascended the cart in the
midst of the cries and execrations of the populace, to which he
appeared quite insensible. One voice only, endeavouring to dominate
the tumult, caused him to turn his head: it was that of the hawker
who was crying his sentence, and who broke off now and then to say--
"Well! my poor gossip Derues, how do you like that fine carriage
you're in? Oh yes, mutter your prayers and look up to heaven as much
as you like, you won't take us in now. Ah! thief who said I stole
from you! Wasn't I right when I said I should be selling your
sentence some day?"
Then, adding her own wrongs to the list of crimes, she declared that
the Parliament had condemned him as much for having falsely accused
her of theft as for having poisoned Madame de Lamotte and her son!
When arrived at the scaffold, he gazed around him, and a sort of
shiver of impatience ran through the crowd. He smiled, and as if
anxious to trick mankind for the last time, asked to be taken to the
Hotel de Ville, which was granted, in the hope that he would at last
make some confession; but he only persisted in saying that he was
guiltless of poisoning. He had an interview with his wife, who
nearly fainted on seeing him, and remained for more than a quarter of
an hour unable to say a word. He lavished tender names upon her, and
professed much affliction at seeing her in so miserable a condition.
When she was taken away, he asked permission to embrace her, and took
a most touching farewell. His last words have been preserved.
"My dear wife," he said, "I recommend our beloved children to your
care: bring them up in the fear of God. You must go to Chartres, you
will there see the bishop, on whom I had the honour of waiting when I
was there last, and who has always been kind to me; I believe he has
thought well of me, and that I may hope he will take pity on you and
on our children."
It was now seven in the evening, and the crowd began to murmur at the
long delay. At length the criminal reappeared. An onlooker who saw
him go to the Hotel de Ville, and who was carried by the movement of
the crowd to the foot of the scaffold, says that when handed over to
the executioner he took off his clothes himself. He kissed the
instrument of punishment with devotion, then extended himself on the
St. Andrew's cross, asking with a resigned smile that they would make
his sufferings as short as possible. As soon as his head was
covered, the executioner gave the signal. One would have thought a
very few blows would have finished so frail a being, but he seemed as
hard to kill as the venomous reptiles which must be crushed and cut
to pieces before life is extinct, and the coup de grace was found
necessary. The executioner uncovered his head and showed the
confessor that the eyes were closed and that the heart had ceased to
beat. The body was then removed from the cross, the hands and feet
fastened together, and it was thrown on the funeral pile.
While the execution was proceeding the people applauded. On the
morrow they bought up the fragments of bone, and hastened to buy
lottery tickets, in the firm conviction that these precious relics
would bring luck to the fortunate possessors!
In 1777, Madame Derues was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment, and
confined at the Salpetriere. She was one of the first victims who
perished in the prison massacres.
CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 5 (of 8), Part 2
By Alexandre Dumas, Pere
Before beginning our story, we must warn the reader that it will not
be worth his while to make researches among contemporary or other
records as to the personage whose name it bears. For in truth
neither Marie Leroux, widow of Jacques Constantin, nor her
accomplice, Claude Perregaud, was of sufficient importance to find a
place on any list of great criminals, although it is certain that
they were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged. It may
seem strange that what follows is more a history of the retribution
which overtook the criminals than a circumstantial description of the
deeds for which they were punished; but the crimes were so revolting,
and so unsuitable for discussion, that it was impossible for us to
enter into any details on the subject, so that what we offer in these
pages is, we confess quite openly, not a full, true, and particular
account of a certain series of events leading up to a certain result;
it is not even a picture wherein that result is depicted with
artistic completeness, it is only an imperfect narrative imperfectly
rounded off. We feel sure, however, that the healthy-minded reader
will be grateful for our reticence and total disregard of proportion.
In spite of the disadvantage which such a theme imposes on any writer
with a deep sense of responsibility, we have resolved to let in some
light on these obscure figures; for we can imagine no more effective
way of throwing into high relief the low morals and deep corruption
into which all classes of society had sunk at the termination of the
factious dissensions of the Fronde, which formed such a fitting
prelude to the licence of the reign of the grand roi.
After this explanation, we shall, without further preamble, introduce
the reader to a little tavern in Paris, situated in the rue
Saint-Andre-des-Arts, on an evening in November 1658.
It was about seven o'clock. Three gentlemen were seated at one of
the tables in a low, smoky room. They had already emptied several
bottles, and one of them seemed to have just suggested some madcap
scheme to the others, the thought of which sent them off into shouts
"Pardu!" said one of them, who was the first to recover his breath,
"I must say it would be an excellent trick."
"Splendid!" said another; "and if you like, Commander de Jars, we can
try it this very evening."
"All right, my worthy king's treasurer, provided my pretty nephew
here won't be too much shocked," and as he spoke de Jars gave to the
youngest of the three a caressing touch on the cheek with the back of
"That reminds me, de Jars!" said the treasurer, "that word you have
just said piques my curiosity. For some months now this little
fellow here, Chevalier de Moranges, follows you about everywhere like
your shadow. You never told us you had a nephew. Where the devil
did you get him?"
The commander touched the chevalier's knee under the table, and he,
as if to avoid speaking, slowly filled and emptied his glass.
"Look here," said the treasurer, "do you want to hear a few plain
words, such as I shall rap out when God takes me to task about the
peccadilloes of my past life? I don't believe a word about the
relationship. A nephew must be the son of either a brother or a
sister. Now, your only sister is an abbess, and your late brother's
marriage was childless. There is only one way of proving the
relationship, and that is to confess that when your brother was young
and wild he and Love met, or else Madame l'Abbesse----."
"Take care, Treasurer Jeannin! no slander against my sister!"
" Well, then, explain; you can't fool me! May I be hanged if I leave
this place before I have dragged the secret out of you! Either we
are friends or we are not. What you tell no one else you ought to
tell me. What! would you make use of my purse and my sword on
occasion and yet have secrets from me? It's too bad: speak, or our
friendship is at an end! I give you fair warning that I shall find
out everything and publish it abroad to court and city: when I strike
a trail there's no turning me aside. It will be best for you to
whisper your secret voluntarily into my ear, where it will be as safe
as in the grave."
"How full of curiosity you are, my good friend!" said de Jars,
leaning one elbow on the table, and twirling the points of his
moustache with his hand; "but if I were to wrap my secret round the
point of a dagger would you not be too much afraid of pricking your
fingers to pull it off?"
"Not I," said the king's treasurer, beginning to twirl his moustache
also: "the doctors have always told me that I am of too full a
complexion and that it would do me all the good in the world to be
bled now and then. But what would be an advantage to me would be
dangerous to you. It's easy to see from your jaundiced phiz that for
you blood-letting is no cure."
"And you would really go that length? You would risk a duel if I
refused to let you get to the bottom of my mystery?"
"Yes, on my honour! Well, how is it to be?"
"My dear boy," said de Jars to the youth, "we are caught, and may as
well yield gracefully. You don't know this big fellow as well as I
do. He's obstinacy itself. You can make the most obstinate donkey
go on by pulling its tail hard enough, but when Jeannin gets a notion
into his pate, not all the legions of hell can get it out again.
Besides that, he's a skilful fencer, so there's nothing for it but to
"Just as you like," said the young man; "you know all my
circumstances and how important it is that my secret should be kept."
"Oh! among Jeannin's many vices there are a few virtues, and of these
discretion is the greatest, so that his curiosity is harmless. A
quarter of an hour hence he will let himself be killed rather than
reveal what just now he is ready to risk his skin to find out,
whether we will or no."
Jeannin nodded approvingly, refilled the glasses, and raising his to
his lips, said in a tone of triumph--
"I am listening, commander."
"Well, if it must be, it must. First of all, learn that my nephew is
not my nephew at all."
"That his name is not Moranges."
"And the next?"
"I am not going to reveal his real name to you."
"Because I don't know ft myself, and no more does the chevalier."
"No nonsense at all, but the sober truth. A few months ago the
chevalier carne to Paris, bringing me a letter of introduction from a
German whom I used to know years ago. This letter requested me to
look after the bearer and help him in his investigations. As you
said just now, Love and someone once met somewhere, and that was
about all was known as to his origin. Naturally the young man wants
to cut a figure in the world, and would like to discover the author
of his existence, that he may have someone at hand to pay the debts
he is going to incur. We have brought together every scrap of
information we could collect as to this person, hoping to find
therein a clue that we could follow up. To be quite open with you,
and convince you at the same time how extremely prudent and discreet
we must be, I must tell you that we think we have found one, and that
it leads to no less a dignitary than a Prince of the Church. But if
he should get wind of our researches too soon everything would be at
an end, don't you see? So keep your tongue between your teeth."
"Never fear," said Jeannin.
"Now, that's what I call speaking out as a friend should. I wish you
luck, my gallant Chevalier de Moranges, and until you unearth your
father, if you want a little money, my purse is at your service. On
my word, de Jars, you must have been born with a caul. There never
was your equal for wonderful adventures. This one promises
well-spicy intrigues, scandalous revelations, and you'll be in the
thick of it all. You're a lucky fellow! It's only a few months
since you had the most splendid piece of good fortune sent you
straight from heaven. A fair lady falls in love with you and makes
you carry her off from the convent of La Raquette. But why do you
never let anyone catch a glimpse of her? Are you jealous? Or is it
that she is no such beauty, after all, but old and wrinkled, like
that knave of a Mazarin?"
"I know what I'm about," answered de Jars, smiling; "I have my very
good reasons. The elopement caused a great deal of indignation, and
it's not easy to get fanatics to listen to common sense. No, I am
not in the least jealous; she is madly in love with me. Ask my
"Does he know her?"
"We have no secrets from each other; the confidence between us is
without a flaw. The fair one, believe me, is good to look on, and is
worth all the ogling, fan-flirting baggages put together that one
sees at court or on the balconies of the Palais Roy: ah! I'll answer
for that. Isn't she, Moranges?"
"I'm quite of your opinion," said the youth; exchanging with de jars
a singularly significant look; "and you had better treat her well,
uncle, or I shall play you some trick."
"Ah! ah!" cried Jeannin. "You poor fellow! I very much fear that
you are warming a little serpent in your bosom. Have an eye to this
dandy with the beardless chin! But joking apart, my boy, are you
really on good terms with the fair lady?"
"Certainly I am."
"And you are not uneasy, commander?"
" Not the least little bit."
"He is quite right. I answer for her as for my self, you know; as
long as he loves her she will love him; as long as he is faithful she
will be faithful. Do you imagine that a woman who insists on her
lover carrying her off can so easily turn away from the man of her
choice? I know her well; I have had long talks with her, she and I
alone: she is feather-brained, given to pleasure, entirely without
prejudices and those stupid scruples which spoil the lives of other
women; but a good sort on the whole; devoted to my uncle, with no
deception about her; but at the same time extremely jealous, and has
no notion of letting herself be sacrificed to a rival. If ever she
finds herself deceived, good-bye to prudence and reserve, and then--"
A look and a touch of the commander's knee cut this panegyric short,
to which the treasurer was listening with open-eyed astonishment.
"What enthusiasm!" he exclaimed. "Well, and then----"
"Why, then," went on the young man, with a laugh, "if my uncle
behaves badly, I, his nephew, will try to make up for his
wrong-doing: he can't blame me then. But until then he may be quite
easy, as he well knows."
"Oh yes, and in proof of that I am going to take Moranges with me
to-night. He is young and inexperienced, and it will be a good
lesson for him to see how a gallant whose amorous intrigues did not
begin yesterday sets about getting even with a coquette. He can turn
it to account later on.
"On my word," said Jeannin, "my notion is that he is in no great need
of a teacher; however, that's your business, not mine. Let us return
to what we were talking about just now. Are we agreed; and shall we
amuse ourselves by paying out the lady in, her own coin?"
"If you like."
"Which of us is to begin?"
De Jars struck the table with the handle of his dagger.
"More wine, gentlemen?" said the drawer, running up.
"No, dice; and be quick about it."
"Three casts each and the highest wins," said Jeannin. "You begin."
"I throw for myself and nephew." The dice rolled on the table.
"Ace and three."
"It's my turn now. Six and five."
"Pass it over. Five and two."
"We're equal. Four and two."
"Now let me. Ace and blank."
"You have won."
"And I'm off at once, said Jeannin, rising, and muffling himself in
his mantle, "It's now half-past seven. We shall see each other
again at eight, so I won't say good-bye."
"Good luck to you!"
Leaving the tavern and turning into the rue Pavee, he took the
direction of the river.
In 1658, at the corner of the streets Git-le-Coeur and Le Hurepoix
(the site of the latter being now occupied by the Quai des Augustins
as far as Pont Saint-Michel), stood the great mansion which Francis I
had bought and fitted up for the Duchesse d'Etampes. It was at this
period if not in ruins at least beginning to show the ravages of
time. Its rich interior decorations had lost their splendour and
become antiquated. Fashion had taken up its abode in the Marais,
near the Place Royale, and it was thither that profligate women and
celebrated beauties now enticed the humming swarm of old rakes and
young libertines. Not one of them all would have thought of residing
in the mansion, or even in the quarter, wherein the king's mistress
had once dwelt. It would have been a step downward in the social
scale, and equivalent to a confession that their charms were falling
in the public estimation. Still, the old palace was not empty; it
had, on the contrary, several tenants. Like the provinces of
Alexander's empire, its vast suites of rooms had been subdivided; and
so neglected was it by the gay world that people of the commonest
description strutted about with impunity where once the proudest
nobles had been glad to gain admittance. There in semi-isolation and
despoiled of her greatness lived Angelique-Louise de Guerchi,
formerly companion to Mademoiselle de Pons and then maid of honour to
Anne of Austria. Her love intrigues and the scandals they gave rise
to had led to her dismissal from court. Not that she was a greater
sinner than many who remained behind, only she was unlucky enough or
stupid enough to be found out. Her admirers were so indiscreet that
they had not left her a shred of reputation, and in a court where a
cardinal is the lover of a queen, a hypocritical appearance of
decorum is indispensable to success. So Angelique had to suffer for
the faults she was not clever enough to hide. Unfortunately for her,
her income went up and down with the number and wealth of her
admirers, so when she left the court all her possessions consisted of
a few articles she had gathered together out of the wreck of her
former luxury, and these she was now selling one by one to procure
the necessaries of life, while she looked back from afar with an
envious eye at the brilliant world from which she had been exiled,
and longed for better days. All hope was not at an end for her. By
a strange law which does not speak well for human nature, vice finds
success easier to attain than virtue. There is no courtesan, no
matter how low she has fallen, who cannot find a dupe ready to defend
against the world an honour of which no vestige remains. A man who
doubts the virtue of the most virtuous woman, who shows himself
inexorably severe when he discovers the lightest inclination to
falter in one whose conduct has hitherto been above reproach, will
stoop and pick up out of the gutter a blighted and tarnished
reputation and protect and defend it against all slights, and devote
his life to the attempt to restore lustre to the unclean thing dulled
by the touch of many fingers. In her days of prosperity Commander de
Jars and the king's treasurer had both fluttered round Mademoiselle
de Guerchi, and neither had fluttered in vain. Short as was the
period necessary to overcome her scruples, in as short a period it
dawned on the two candidates for her favour that each had a
successful rival in the other, and that however potent as a reason
for surrender the doubloons of the treasurer had been, the personal
appearance of the commander had proved equally cogent. As both had
felt for her only a passing fancy and not a serious passion, their
explanations with each other led to no quarrel between them; silently
and simultaneously they withdrew from her circle, without even
letting her know they had found her out, but quite determined to
revenge, themselves on her should a chance ever offer. However,
other affairs of a similar nature had intervened to prevent their
carrying out this laudable intention; Jeannin had laid siege to a
more inaccessible beauty, who had refused to listen to his sighs for
less than 30 crowns, paid in advance, and de Jars had become quite
absorbed by his adventure with the convent boarder at La Raquette,
and the business of that young stranger whom he passed off as his
nephew. Mademoiselle de Guerchi had never seen them again; and with
her it was out of sight out of mind. At the moment when she comes
into our story she was weaving her toils round a certain Duc de
Vitry, whom she had seen at court, but whose acquaintance she had
never made, and who had been absent when the scandalous occurrence
which led to her disgrace came to light. He was a man of from
twenty-five to twenty-six years of age, who idled his life away: his
courage was undoubted, and being as credulous as an old libertine, he
was ready to draw his sword at any moment to defend the lady whose
cause he had espoused, should any insolent slanderer dare to hint
there was a smirch on her virtue. Being deaf to all reports, he
seemed one of those men expressly framed by heaven to be the
consolation of fallen women; such a man as in our times a retired
opera-dancer or a superannuated professional beauty would welcome
with open arms. He had only one fault--he was married. It is true
he neglected his wife, according to the custom of the time, and it is
probably also true that his wife cared very little about his
infidelities. But still she was an insurmountable obstacle to the
fulfilment of Mademoiselle de Guerchi's hopes, who but for her might
have looked forward to one day becoming a duchess.
For about three weeks, however, at the time we are speaking of, the
duke had neither crossed her threshold nor written. He had told her
he was going for a few days to Normandy, where he had large estates,
but had remained absent so long after the date he had fixed for his
return that she began to feel uneasy. What could be keeping him?
Some new flame, perhaps. The anxiety of the lady was all the more
keen, that until now nothing had passed between them but looks of
languor and words of love. The duke had laid himself and all he
possessed at the feet of Angelique, and Angelique had refused his
offer. A too prompt surrender would have justified the reports so
wickedly spread against her; and, made wise by experience, she was
resolved not to compromise her future as she had compromised her
past. But while playing at virtue she had also to play at
disinterestedness, and her pecuniary resources were consequently
almost exhausted. She had proportioned the length of her resistance
to the length of her purse, and now the prolonged absence of her
lover threatened to disturb the equilibrium which she had established
between her virtue and her money. So it happened that the cause of
the lovelorn Duc de Vitry was in great peril just at the moment when
de Jars and Jeannin resolved to approach the fair one anew. She was
sitting lost in thought, pondering in all good faith on the small
profit it was to a woman to be virtuous, when she heard voices in the
antechamber. Then her door opened, and the king's treasurer walked
As this interview and those which follow took place in the presence
of witnesses, we are obliged to ask the reader to accompany us for a
time to another part of the same house.
We have said there were several tenants: now the person who occupied
the rooms next to those in which Mademoiselle de Guerchi lived was a
shopkeeper's widow called Rapally, who was owner of one of the
thirty-two houses which then occupied the bridge Saint-Michel. They
had all been constructed at the owner's cost, in return for a lease
for ever. The widow Rapally's avowed age was forty, but those who
knew her longest added another ten years to that: so, to avoid error,
let us say she was forty-five. She was a solid little body, rather
stouter than was necessary for beauty; her hair was black, her
complexion brown, her eyes prominent and always moving; lively,
active, and if one once yielded to her whims, exacting beyond
measure; but until then buxom and soft, and inclined to pet and spoil
whoever, for the moment, had arrested her volatile fancy. Just as we
make her acquaintance this happy individual was a certain Maitre
Quennebert, a notary of Saint Denis, and the comedy played between
him and the widow was an exact counterpart of the one going on in the
rooms of Mademoiselle de Guerchi, except that the roles were
inverted; for while the lady was as much in love as the Duc de Vitry,
the answering devotion professed by the notary was as insincere as
the disinterested attachment to her lover displayed by the whilom
maid of honour.
Maitre Quennebert was still young and of attractive appearance, but
his business affairs were in a bad way. For long he had been
pretending not to understand the marked advances of the widow, and he
treated her with a reserve and respect she would fain have dispensed
with, and which sometimes made her doubt of his love. But it was
impossible for her as a woman to complain, so she was forced to
accept with resignation the persistent and unwelcome consideration
with which he surrounded her. Maitre Quennebert was a man of common
sense and much experience, and had formed a scheme which he was
prevented from carrying out by an obstacle which he had no power to
remove. He wanted, therefore, to gain time, for he knew that the day
he gave the susceptible widow a legal right over him he would lose
his independence. A lover to whose prayers the adored one remains
deaf too long is apt to draw back in discouragement, but a woman
whose part is restricted to awaiting those prayers, and answering
with a yes or no, necessarily learns patience. Maitre Quennebert
would therefore have felt no anxiety as to the effect of his
dilatoriness on the widow, were it not for the existence of a distant
cousin of the late Monsieur Rapally, who was also paying court to
her, and that with a warmth much greater than had hitherto been
displayed by himself. This fact, in view of the state of the
notary's affairs, forced him at last to display more energy. To make
up lost ground and to outdistance his rival once more, he now began
to dazzle the widow with fine phrases and delight her with
compliments; but to tell the truth all this trouble was superfluous;
he was beloved, and with one fond look he might have won pardon for
far greater neglect.
An hour before the treasurer's arrival there had been a knock at the
door of the old house, and Maitre Quennebert, curled, pomaded, and
prepared for conquest, had presented himself at the widow's. She
received him with a more languishing air than usual, and shot such
arrows at him froth her eyes that to escape a fatal wound he
pretended to give way by degrees to deep sadness. The widow,
becoming alarmed, asked with tenderness--
"What ails you this evening?"
He rose, feeling he had nothing to fear from his rival, and, being
master of the field, might henceforth advance or recede as seemed
best for his interests.
"What ails me?" he repeated, with a deep sigh. "I might deceive you,
might give you a misleading answer, but to you I cannot lie. I am in
great trouble, and how to get out of it I don't know."
"But tell me what it is," said the widow, standing up in her turn.
Maitre Quennebert took three long strides, which brought him to the
far end of the room, and asked--
"Why do you want to know? You can't help me. My trouble is of a
kind a man does not generally confide to women."
"What is it? An affair of honour?
"Good God! You are going to fight!" she exclaimed, trying to seize
him by the arm. "You are going to fight!"
"Ah! if it were nothing worse than that!" said Quennebert, pacing up
and down the room: "but you need not be alarmed; it is only a money
trouble. I lent a large sum, a few months ago, to a friend, but the
knave has run away and left me in the lurch. It was trust money, and
must be replaced within three days. But where am I to get two
"Yes, that is a large sum, and not easy to raise at such short
"I shall be obliged to have recourse to some Jew, who will drain me
dry. But I must save my good name at all costs."
Madame Rapally gazed at him in consternation. Maitre Quennebert,
divining her thought, hastened to add--
"I have just one-third of what is needed."
"With great care, and by scraping together all I possess, I can make
up eight hundred livres. But may I be damned in the next world, or
punished as a swindler in this, and one's as bad as the other to me,
if I can raise one farthing more."
"But suppose someone should lend you the twelve hundred francs, what
"Pardieu! I should accept them," cried the notary as if he had not
the least suspicion whom she could mean. "Do you happen to know
anyone, my dear Madame Rapally?"
The widow nodded affirmatively, at the same time giving him a
"Tell me quick the name of this delightful person, and I shall go to
him to-morrow morning. You don't know what a service you are
rendering me. And I was so near not telling you of the fix I was in,
lest you should torment yourself uselessly. Tell me his name."
"Can you not guess it?"
"How should I guess it?"
"Think well. Does no one occur to you?"
"No, no one," said Quennebert, with the utmost innocence.
"Have you no friends?"
"One or two."
"Would they not be glad to help you?"
"They might. But I have mentioned the matter to no one."
"To no one?"
"Well, Madame Rapally--I hope I don't understand you; it's not
possible; you would not humiliate me. Come, come, it's a riddle, and
I am too stupid to solve it. I give it up. Don't tantalise me any
longer; tell me the name."
The widow, somewhat abashed by this exhibition of delicacy on the
part of Maitre Quennebert, blushed, cast down her eyes, and did not
venture to speak.
As the silence lasted some time, it occurred to the notary that he
had been perhaps too hasty in his supposition, and he began to cast
round for the best means of retrieving his blunder.
"You do not speak," he said; "I see it was all a joke."
"No," said the widow at last in a timid voice, "it was no joke; I was
quite in earnest. But the way you take things is not very
"What do you mean?"
"Pray, do you imagine that I can go on while you glare at me with
that angry frown puckering your forehead, as if you had someone
before you who had tried to insult you?"
A sweet smile chased the frown from the notary's brow. Encouraged by
the suspension of hostilities, Madame Rapally with sudden boldness
approached him, and, pressing one of his hands in both her own,
" It is I who am going to lend you the money."
He repulsed her gently, but with an air of great dignity, and said--
"Madame, I thank you, but I cannot accept."
"Why can't you?"
At this he began to walk round and round the room, while the widow,
who stood in the middle, turned as upon a pivot, keeping him always
in view. This circus-ring performance lasted some minutes before
Quennebert stood still and said--
"I cannot be angry with you, Madame Rapally, I know your offer was
made out of the kindness of your heart,--but I must repeat that it is
impossible for me to accept it."
"There you go again! I don't understand you at all! Why can't you
accept? What harm would it do?"
"If there were no other reason, because people might suspect that I
confided my difficulties to you in the hope of help."
"And supposing you did, what then? People speak hoping to be
understood. You wouldn't have minded asking anyone else."
"So you really think I did come in that hope?"
"Mon Dieu! I don't think anything at all that you don't want. It
was I who dragged the confidence from you by my questions, I know
that very well. But now that you have told me your secret, how can
you hinder me from sympathising with you, from desiring to aid you?
When I learned your difficulty, ought I to have been amused, and gone
into fits of laughter? What! it's an insult to be in a position to
render you a service! That's a strange kind of delicacy!"
"Are you astonished that I should feel so strongly about it?"
"Nonsense! Do you still think I meant to offend you? I look on you
as the most honourable man in the world. If anyone were to tell me
that he had seen you commit a base action, I should reply that it was
a lie. Does that satisfy you?"
"But suppose they got hold of it in the city, suppose it were
reported that Maitre Quennebert had taken money from Madame de
Rapally, would it be the same as if they said Maitre Quennebert had
borrowed twelve hundred livres from Monsieur Robert or some other
"I don't see what difference it could make."
"But I do."
"It's not easy to express, but----"
"But you exaggerate both the service and the gratitude you ought to
feel. I think I know why you refuse. You're ashamed to take it as a
gift, aren't you."
"Yes, I am."
"Well, I'm not going to make you a gift. Borrow twelve hundred
livres from me. For how long do you want the money?"
"I really don't know how soon I can repay you."
"Let's say a year, and reckon the interest. Sit down there, you
baby, and write out a promissory note."
Maitre Quennebert made some further show of resistance, but at last
yielded to the widow's importunity. It is needless to say that the
whole thing was a comedy on his part, except that he really needed
the money. But he did not need it to replace a sum of which a
faithless friend had robbed him, but to satisfy his own creditors,
who, out of all patience with him, were threatening to sue him, and
his only reason for seeking out Madame de Rapally was to take
advantage of her generous disposition towards himself. His feigned
delicacy was intended to induce her to insist so urgently, that in
accepting he should not fall too much in her esteem, but should seem
to yield to force. And his plan met with complete success, for at
the end of the transaction he stood higher than ever in the opinion
of his fair creditor, on account of the noble sentiments he had
expressed. The note was written out in legal form and the money
counted down on the spot.
"How glad I am!" said she then, while Quennebert still kept up some
pretence of delicate embarrassment, although he could not resist
casting a stolen look at the bag of crowns lying on the table beside
his cloak. "Do you intend to go back to Saint Denis to-night?"
Even had such been his intention, the notary would have taken very
good care not to say so; for he foresaw the accusations of imprudence
that would follow, the enumeration of the dangers by the way; and it
was quite on the cards even that, having thus aroused his fears, his
fair hostess should in deference to them offer him hospitality for
the night, and he did not feel inclined for an indefinitely prolonged
"No;" he said, "I am going to sleep at Maitre Terrasson's, rue des
Poitevins; I have sent him word to expect me. But although his house
is only a few yards distant, I must leave you earlier than I could
have wished, on account of this money."
"Will you think of me?"
"How can you ask?" replied Quennebert, with a sentimental expression.
"You have compelled me to accept the money, but--I shall not be happy
till I have repaid you. Suppose this loan should make us fall out?"
"You may be quite sure that if you don't pay when the bill falls due,
I shall have recourse to the law."
"Oh, I know that very well."
"I shall enforce all my rights as a creditor."
"I expect nothing else."
"I shall show no pity."
And the widow gave a saucy laugh and shook her finger at him.
"Madame Rapally," said the notary, who was most anxious to bring this
conversation to an end, dreading every moment that it would take a
languishing tone,-"Madame Rapally, will you add to your goodness by
granting me one more favour?"
"What is it?"
"The gratitude that is simulated is not difficult to bear, but
genuine, sincere gratitude, such as I feel, is a heavy burden, as I
can assure you. It is much easier to give than to receive. Promise
me, then, that from now till the year is up there shall be no more
reference between us to this money, and that we shall go on being
good friends as before. Leave it to me to make arrangements to
acquit myself honourably of my obligations towards you. I need say
no more; till a year's up, mum's the word."
"It shall be as you desire, Maitre Quennebert," answered Madame
Rapally, her eyes shining with delight. "It was never my intention
to lay you under embarrassing obligations, and I leave it all to you.
Do you know that I am beginning to believe in presentiments?"
"You becoming superstitious! Why, may I ask?"
"I refused to do a nice little piece of ready-money business this
"Yes, because I had a sort of feeling that made me resist all
temptation to leave myself without cash. Imagine! I received a
visit to-day from a great lady who lives in this house--in the suite
of apartments next to mine."
"What is her name?"
"Mademoiselle de Guerchi."
"And what did she want with you?"
"She called in order to ask me to buy, for four hundred livres, some
of her jewels which are well worth six hundred, for I understand such
things; or should I prefer it to lend her that sum and keep the
jewels as security? It appears that mademoiselle is in great
straits. De Guerchi--do you know the name?"
"I think I have heard it."
"They say she has had a stormy past, and has been greatly talked of;
but then half of what one hears is lies. Since she came to live here
she has been very quiet. No visitors except one--a nobleman, a duke-
-wait a moment! What's his name? The Duc-Duc de Vitry; and for over
three weeks even he hasn't been near her. I imagine from this
absence that they have fallen out, and that she is beginning to feel
the want of money."
"You seem to be intimately acquainted with this young woman's
"Indeed I am, and yet I never spoke to her till this morning."
"How did you get your information, then?"
"By chance. The room adjoining this and one of those she occupies
were formerly one large room, which is now divided into two by a
partition wall covered with tapestry; but in the two corners the
plaster has crumbled away with time, and one can see into the room
through slits in the tapestry without being seen oneself. Are you
"Not more than you, Madame Rapally."
"Come with me. Someone knocked at the street door a few moments ago;
there's no one else in the douse likely to have visitors at this
hour. Perhaps her admirer has come back."
"If so, we are going to witness a scene of recrimination or
reconciliation. How delightful!"
Although he was not leaving the widow's lodgings, Maitre Quennebert
took up his hat and cloak and the blessed bag of crown pieces, and
followed Madame Rapally on tiptoe, who on her side moved as slowly as
a tortoise and as lightly as she could. They succeeded in turning
the handle of the door into the next room without making much noise.
"'Sh!" breathed the widow softly; "listen, they are speaking."
She pointed to the place where he would find a peep-hole in one
corner of the room, and crept herself towards the corresponding
corner. Quennebert, who was by no means anxious to have her at his
side, motioned to her to blow out the light. This being done, he