AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY
(The Gondreville Mystery)
By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Monsieur de Margone.
In grateful remembrance, from his guest at the Chateau de Sache.
AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY
AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY
CHAPTER I. JUDAS
The autumn of the year 1803 was one of the finest in the early part of
that period of the present century which we now call "Empire." Rain had
refreshed the earth during the month of October, so that the trees were
still green and leafy in November. The French people were beginning to
put faith in a secret understanding between the skies and Bonaparte,
then declared Consul for life,—a belief in which that man owes part of
his prestige; strange to say, on the day the sun failed him, in 1812,
his luck ceased!
About four in the afternoon on the fifteenth of November, 1803, the sun
was casting what looked like scarlet dust upon the venerable tops of
four rows of elms in a long baronial avenue, and sparkling on the sand
and grassy places of an immense rond-point, such as we often see in
the country where land is cheap enough to be sacrificed to ornament. The
air was so pure, the atmosphere so tempered that a family was sitting
out of doors as if it were summer. A man dressed in a hunting-jacket of
green drilling with green buttons, and breeches of the same stuff, and
wearing shoes with thin soles and gaiters to the knee, was cleaning a
gun with the minute care a skilful huntsman gives to the work in his
leisure hours. This man had neither game nor game-bag, nor any of the
accoutrements which denote either departure for a hunt or the return
from it; and two women sitting near were looking at him as though beset
by a terror they could ill-conceal. Any one observing the scene taking
place in this leafy nook would have shuddered, as the old mother-in-law
and the wife of the man we speak of were now shuddering. A huntsman does
not take such minute precautions with his weapon to kill small game,
neither does he use, in the department of the Aube, a heavy rifled
"Shall you kill a roe-buck, Michu?" said his handsome young wife, trying
to assume a laughing air.
Before replying, Michu looked at his dog, which had been lying in the
sun, its paws stretched out and its nose on its paws, in the charming
attitude of a trained hunter. The animal had just raised its head and
was snuffing the air, first down the avenue nearly a mile long which
stretched before them, and then up the cross road where it entered the
rond-point to the left.
"No," answered Michu, "but a brute I do not wish to miss, a lynx."
The dog, a magnificent spaniel, white with brown spots, growled.
"Hah!" said Michu, talking to himself, "spies! the country swarms with
Madame Michu looked appealingly to heaven. A beautiful fair woman
with blue eyes, composed and thoughtful in expression and made like an
antique statue, she seemed to be a prey to some dark and bitter grief.
The husband's appearance may explain to a certain extent the evident
fear of the two women. The laws of physiognomy are precise, not only in
their application to character, but also in relation to the destinies
of life. There is such a thing as prophetic physiognomy. If it were
possible (and such a vital statistic would be of value to society) to
obtain exact likenesses of those who perish on the scaffold, the science
of Lavatar and also that of Gall would prove unmistakably that the heads
of all such persons, even those who are innocent, show prophetic signs.
Yes, fate sets its mark on the faces of those who are doomed to die a
violent death of any kind. Now, this sign, this seal, visible to the eye
of an observer, was imprinted on the expressive face of the man with the
rifled carbine. Short and stout, abrupt and active in his motions as a
monkey, though calm in temperament, Michu had a white face injected
with blood, and features set close together like those of a Tartar,—a
likeness to which his crinkled red hair conveyed a sinister expression.
His eyes, clear and yellow as those of a tiger, showed depths behind
them in which the glance of whoever examined the man might lose itself
and never find either warmth or motion. Fixed, luminous, and rigid,
those eyes terrified whoever gazed into them. The singular contrast
between the immobility of the eyes and the activity of the body
increased the chilling impression conveyed by a first sight of Michu.
Action, always prompt in this man, was the outcome of a single thought;
just as the life of animals is, without reflection, the outcome of
instinct. Since 1793 he had trimmed his red beard to the shape of a fan.
Even if he had not been (as he was during the Terror) president of a
club of Jacobins, this peculiarity of his head would in itself have
made him terrible to behold. His Socratic face with its blunt nose was
surmounted by a fine forehead, so projecting, however, that it overhung
the rest of the features. The ears, well detached from the head, had the
sort of mobility which we find in those of wild animals, which are ever
on the qui-vive. The mouth, half-open, as the custom usually is among
country-people, showed teeth that were strong and white as almonds, but
irregular. Gleaming red whiskers framed this face, which was white and
yet mottled in spots. The hair, cropped close in front and allowed to
grow long at the sides and on the back of the head, brought into relief,
by its savage redness, all the strange and fateful peculiarities of this
singular face. The neck which was short and thick, seemed to tempt the
At this moment the sunbeams, falling in long lines athwart the group,
lighted up the three heads at which the dog from time to time glanced
up. The spot on which this scene took place was magnificently fine. The
rond-point is at the entrance of the park of Gondreville, one of the
finest estates in France, and by far the finest in the departments of
the Aube; it boasts of long avenues of elms, a castle built from designs
by Mansart, a park of fifteen hundred acres enclosed by a stone wall,
nine large farms, a forest, mills, and meadows. This almost regal
property belonged before the Revolution to the family of Simeuse.
Ximeuse was a feudal estate in Lorraine; the name was pronounced
Simeuse, and in course of time it came to be written as pronounced.
The great fortune of the Simeuse family, adherents of the House of
Burgundy, dates from the time when the Guises were in conflict with
the Valois. Richelieu first, and afterwards Louis XIV. remembered their
devotion to the factious house of Lorraine, and rebuffed them. Then
the Marquis de Simeuse, an old Burgundian, old Guiser, old leaguer, old
frondeur (he inherited the four great rancors of the nobility against
royalty), came to live at Cinq-Cygne. The former courtier, rejected at
the Louvre, married the widow of the Comte de Cinq-Cygne, younger branch
of the famous family of Chargeboeuf, one of the most illustrious names
in Champagne, and now as celebrated and opulent as the elder. The
marquis, among the richest men of his day, instead of wasting his
substance at court, built the chateau of Gondreville, enlarged the
estate by the purchase of others, and united the several domains, solely
for the purposes of a hunting-ground. He also built the Simeuse mansion
at Troyes, not far from that of the Cinq-Cygnes. These two old houses
and the bishop's palace were long the only stone mansions at Troyes. The
marquis sold Simeuse to the Duc de Lorraine. His son wasted the father's
savings and some part of his great fortune under the reign of Louis
XV., but he subsequently entered the navy, became a vice-admiral, and
redeemed the follies of his youth by brilliant services. The Marquis
de Simeuse, son of this naval worthy, perished with his wife on the
scaffold at Troyes, leaving twin sons, who emigrated and were, at the
time our history opens, still in foreign parts following the fortunes of
the house of Conde.
The rond-point was the scene of the meet in the time of the
"Grand Marquis"—a name given in the family to the Simeuse who built
Gondreville. Since 1789 Michu lived in the hunting lodge at the entrance
to the park, built in the reign of Louis XIV., and called the pavilion
of Cinq-Cygne. The village of Cinq-Cygne is at the end of the forest of
Nodesme (a corruption of Notre-Dame) which was reached through the fine
avenue of four rows of elms where Michu's dog was now suspecting spies.
After the death of the Grand Marquis this pavilion fell into disuse. The
vice-admiral preferred the court and the sea to Champagne, and his son
gave the dilapidated building to Michu for a dwelling.
This noble structure is of brick, with vermiculated stone-work at the
angles and on the casings of the doors and windows. On either side is
a gateway of finely wrought iron, eaten with rust and connected by a
railing, beyond which is a wide and deep ha-ha, full of vigorous trees,
its parapets bristling with iron arabesques, the innumerable sharp
points of which are a warning to evil-doers.
The park walls begin on each side of the circumference of the
rond-point; on the one hand the fine semi-circle is defined by slopes
planted with elms; on the other, within the park, a corresponding
half-circle is formed by groups of rare trees. The pavilion, therefore,
stands at the centre of this round open space, which extends before it
and behind it in the shape of two horseshoes. Michu had turned the rooms
on the lower floor into a stable, a kitchen, and a wood-shed. The only
trace remaining of their ancient splendor was an antechamber paved with
marble in squares of black and white, which was entered on the park side
through a door with small leaded panes, such as might still be seen at
Versailles before Louis-Philippe turned that Chateau into an asylum
for the glories of France. The pavilion is divided inside by an old
staircase of worm-eaten wood, full of character, which leads to the
first story. Above that is an immense garret. This venerable edifice
is covered by one of those vast roofs with four sides, a ridgepole
decorated with leaden ornaments, and a round projecting window on each
side, such as Mansart very justly delighted in; for in France, the
Italian attics and flat roofs are a folly against which our climate
protests. Michu kept his fodder in this garret. That portion of the park
which surrounds the old pavilion is English in style. A hundred feet
from the house a former lake, now a mere pond well stocked with fish,
makes known its vicinity as much by a thin mist rising above the
tree-tops as by the croaking of a thousand frogs, toads, and other
amphibious gossips who discourse at sunset. The time-worn look of
everything, the deep silence of the woods, the long perspective of the
avenue, the forest in the distance, the rusty iron-work, the masses of
stone draped with velvet mosses, all made poetry of this old structure,
which still exists.
At the moment when our history begins Michu was leaning against a
mossy parapet on which he had laid his powder-horn, cap, handkerchief,
screw-driver, and rags,—in fact, all the utensils needed for his
suspicious occupation. His wife's chair was against the wall beside the
outer door of the house, above which could still be seen the arms of the
Simeuse family, richly carved, with their noble motto, "Cy meurs." The
old mother, in peasant dress, had moved her chair in front of Madame
Michu, so that the latter might put her feet upon the rungs and keep
them from dampness.
"Where's the boy?" said Michu to his wife.
"Round the pond; he is crazy about the frogs and the insects," answered
Michu whistled in a way that made his hearers tremble. The rapidity with
which his son ran up to him proved plainly enough the despotic power of
the bailiff of Gondreville. Since 1789, but more especially since 1793,
Michu had been well-nigh master of the property. The terror he inspired
in his wife, his mother-in-law, a servant-lad named Gaucher, and the
cook named Marianne, was shared throughout a neighborhood of twenty
miles in circumference. It may be well to give, without further delay,
the reasons for this fear,—all the more because an account of them will
complete the moral portrait of the man.
The old Marquis de Simeuse transferred the greater part of his property
in 1790; but, overtaken by circumstances, he had not been able to put
the estate of Gondreville into sure hands. Accused of corresponding with
the Duke of Brunswick and the Prince of Cobourg, the marquis and his
wife were thrust into prison and condemned to death by the revolutionary
tribunal of Troyes, of which Madame Michu's father was then president.
The fine domain of Gondreville was sold as national property. The
head-keeper, to the horror of many, was present at the execution of
the marquis and his wife in his capacity as president of the club of
Jacobins at Arcis. Michu, the orphan son of a peasant, showered with
benefactions by the marquise, who brought him up in her own home and
gave him his place as keeper, was regarded as a Brutus by excited
demagogues; but the people of the neighborhood ceased to recognize him
after this act of base ingratitude. The purchaser of the estate was a
man from Arcis named Marion, grandson of a former bailiff in the Simeuse
family. This man, a lawyer before and after the Revolution, was afraid
of the keeper; he made him his bailiff with a salary of three thousand
francs, and gave him an interest in the sales of timber; Michu, who was
thought to have some ten thousand francs of his own laid by, married
the daughter of a tanner at Troyes, an apostle of the Revolution in that
town, where he was president of the revolutionary tribunal. This tanner,
a man of profound convictions, who resembled Saint-Just as to character,
was afterwards mixed up in Baboeuf's conspiracy and killed himself to
escape execution. Marthe was the handsomest girl in Troyes. In spite of
her shrinking modesty she had been forced by her formidable father to
play the part of Goddess of Liberty in some republican ceremony.
The new proprietor came only three times to Gondreville in the course
of seven years. His grandfather had been bailiff of the estate under the
Simeuse family, and all Arcis took for granted that the citizen Marion
was the secret representative of the present Marquis and his twin
brother. As long as the Terror lasted, Michu, still bailiff of
Gondreville, a devoted patriot, son-in-law of the president of the
revolutionary tribunal of Troyes and flattered by Malin, representative
from the department of the Aube, was the object of a certain sort
of respect. But when the Mountain was overthrown and after his
father-in-law committed suicide, he found himself a scape-goat;
everybody hastened to accuse him, in common with his father-in-law, of
acts to which, so far as he was concerned, he was a total stranger. The
bailiff resented the injustice of the community; he stiffened his back
and took an attitude of hostility. He talked boldly. But after the
18th Brumaire he maintained an unbroken silence, the philosophy of the
strong; he struggled no longer against public opinion, and contented
himself with attending to his own affairs,—wise conduct, which led his
neighbors to pronounce him sly, for he owned, it was said, a fortune of
not less than a hundred thousand francs in landed property. In the first
place, he spent nothing; next, this property was legitimately acquired,
partly from the inheritance of his father-in-law's estate, and partly
from the savings of six-thousand francs a year, the salary he derived
from his place with its profits and emoluments. He had been bailiff of
Gondreville for the last twelve years and every one had estimated the
probable amount of his savings, so that when, after the Consulate was
proclaimed, he bought a farm for fifty thousand francs, the suspicions
attaching to his former opinions lessened, and the community of Arcis
gave him credit for intending to recover himself in public estimation.
Unfortunately, at the very moment when public opinion was condoning
his past a foolish affair, envenomed by the gossip of the country-side,
revived the latent and very general belief in the ferocity of his
One evening, coming away from Troyes in company with several peasants,
among whom was the farmer at Cinq-Cygne, he let fall a paper on the main
road; the farmer, who was walking behind him, stooped and picked it up.
Michu turned round, saw the paper in the man's hands, pulled a pistol
from his belt and threatened the farmer (who knew how to read) to blow
his brains out if he opened the paper. Michu's action was so sudden and
violent, the tone of his voice so alarming, his eyes blazed so savagely,
that the men about him turned cold with fear. The farmer of Cinq-Cygne
was already his enemy. Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, the man's employer,
was a cousin of the Simeuse brothers; she had only one farm left for her
maintenance and was now residing at her chateau of Cinq-Cygne. She lived
for her cousins the twins, with whom she had played in childhood at
Troyes and at Gondreville. Her only brother, Jules de Cinq-Cygne, who
emigrated before the twins, died at Mayence, but by a privilege which
was somewhat rare and will be mentioned later, the name of Cinq-Cygne
was not to perish through lack of male heirs.
This affair between Michu and the farmer made a great noise in the
arrondissement and darkened the already mysterious shadows which seemed
to veil him. Nor was it the only circumstance which made him feared.
A few months after this scene the citizen Marion, present owner of the
Gondreville estate, came to inspect it with the citizen Malin. Rumor
said that Marion was about to sell the property to his companion, who
had profited by political events and had just been appointed on the
Council of State by the First Consul, in return for his services on
the 18th Brumaire. The shrewd heads of the little town of Arcis now
perceived that Marion had been the agent of Malin in the purchase of the
property, and not of the brothers Simeuse, as was first supposed. The
all-powerful Councillor of State was the most important personage in
Arcis. He had obtained for one of his political friends the prefecture
of Troyes, and for a farmer at Gondreville the exemption of his son from
the draft; in fact, he had done services to many. Consequently, the sale
met with no opposition in the neighborhood where Malin then reigned, and
where he still reigns supreme.
The Empire was just dawning. Those who in these days read the histories
of the French Revolution can form no conception of the vast spaces which
public thought traversed between events which now seem to have been so
near together. The strong need of peace and tranquillity which every
one felt after the violent tumults of the Revolution brought about a
complete forgetfulness of important anterior facts. History matured
rapidly under the advance of new and eager interests. No one, therefore,
except Michu, looked into the past of this affair, which the community
accepted as a simple matter. Marion, who had bought Gondreville for six
hundred thousand francs in assignats, sold it for the value of a couple
of million in coin; but the only payments actually made by Malin were
for the costs of registration. Grevin, a seminary comrade of Malin,
assisted the transaction, and the Councillor rewarded his help with
the office of notary at Arcis. When the news of the sale reached the
pavilion, brought there by a farmer whose farm, at Grouage, was situated
between the forest and the park on the left of the noble avenue, Michu
turned pale and left the house. He lay in wait for Marion, and finally
met him alone in one of the shrubberies of the park.
"Is monsieur about to sell Gondreville?" asked the bailiff.
"Yes, Michu, yes. You will have a man of powerful influence for your
master. He is the friend of the First Consul, and very intimate with all
the ministers; he will protect you."
"Then you were holding the estate for him?"
"I don't say that," replied Marion. "At the time I bought it I was
looking for a place to put my money, and I invested in national property
as the best security. But it doesn't suit me to keep an estate once
belonging to a family in which my father was—"
"—a servant," said Michu, violently. "But you shall not sell it! I want
it; and I can pay for it."
"Yes, I; seriously, in good gold,—eight hundred thousand francs."
"Eight hundred thousand francs!" exclaimed Marion. "Where did you get
"That's none of your business," replied Michu; then, softening his
tone, he added in a low voice: "My father-in-law saved the lives of many
"You are too late, Michu; the sale is made."
"You must put it off, monsieur!" cried the bailiff, seizing his master
by the hand which he held as in a vice. "I am hated, but I choose to be
rich and powerful, and I must have Gondreville. Listen to me; I don't
cling to life; sell me that place or I'll blow your brains out!—"
"But do give me time to get off my bargain with Malin; he's troublesome
to deal with."
"I'll give you twenty-four hours. If you say a word about this matter
I'll chop your head off as I would chop a turnip."
Marion and Malin left the chateau in the course of the night. Marion was
frightened; he told Malin of the meeting and begged him to keep an eye
on the bailiff. It was impossible for Marion to avoid delivering the
property to the man who had been the real purchaser, and Michu did not
seem likely to admit any such reason. Moreover, this service done by
Marion to Malin was to be, and in fact ended by being, the origin of the
former's political fortune, and also that of his brother. In 1806 Malin
had him appointed chief justice of an imperial court, and after
the creation of tax-collectors his brother obtained the post of
receiver-general for the department of the Aube. The State Councillor
told Marion to stay in Paris, and he warned the minister of police, who
gave orders that Michu should be secretly watched. Not wishing to push
the man to extremes, Malin kept him on as bailiff, under the iron rule
of Grevin the notary of Arcis.
From that moment Michu became more absorbed and taciturn than ever, and
obtained the reputation of a man who was capable of committing a crime.
Malin, the Councillor of State (a function which the First Consul raised
to the level of a ministry), and a maker of the Code, played a great
part in Paris, where he bought one of the finest mansions in the
Faubuorg Saint-Germain after marrying the only daughter of a rich
contractor named Sibuelle. He never came to Gondreville; leaving all
matters concerning the property to the management of Grevin, the Arcis
notary. After all, what had he to fear?—he, a former representative of
the Aube, and president of a club of Jacobins. And yet, the unfavorable
opinion of Michu held by the lower classes was shared by the
bourgeoisie, and Marion, Grevin, and Malin, without giving any reason or
compromising themselves on the subject, showed that they regarded him as
an extremely dangerous man. The authorities, who were under instructions
from the minister of police to watch the bailiff, did not of course
lessen this belief. The neighborhood wondered that he kept his place,
but supposed it was in consequence of the terror he inspired. It is easy
now, after these explanations, to understand the anxiety and sadness
expressed in the face of Michu's wife.
In the first place, Marthe had been piously brought up by her mother.
Both, being good Catholics, had suffered much from the opinions and
behavior of the tanner. Marthe could never think without a blush of
having marched through the street of Troyes in the garb of a goddess.
Her father had forced her to marry Michu, whose bad reputation was
then increasing, and she feared him too much to be able to judge him.
Nevertheless, she knew that he loved her, and at the bottom of her heart
lay the truest affection for this awe-inspiring man; she had never known
him to do anything that was not just; never did he say a brutal word,
to her at least; in fact, he endeavored to forestall her every wish. The
poor pariah, believing himself disagreeable to his wife, spent most
of his time out of doors. Marthe and Michu, distrustful of each other,
lived in what is called in these days an "armed peace." Marthe, who
saw no one, suffered keenly from the ostracism which for the last seven
years had surrounded her as the daughter of a revolutionary butcher, and
the wife of a so-called traitor. More than once she had overheard the
laborers of the adjoining farm (held by a man named Beauvisage, greatly
attached to the Simeuse family) say as they passed the pavilion, "That's
where Judas lives!" The singular resemblance between the bailiff's head
and that of the thirteenth apostle, which his conduct appeared to carry
out, won him that odious nickname throughout the neighborhood. It was
this distress of mind, added to vague but constant fears for the future,
which gave Marthe her thoughtful and subdued air. Nothing saddens so
deeply as unmerited degradation from which there seems no escape. A
painter could have made a fine picture of this family of pariahs in
the bosom of their pretty nook in Champagne, where the landscape is
"Francois!" called the bailiff, to hasten his son.
Francois Michu, a child of ten, played in the park and forest, and
levied his little tithes like a master; he ate the fruits; he chased
the game; he at least had neither cares nor troubles. Of all the family,
Francois alone was happy in a home thus isolated from the neighborhood
by its position between the park and the forest, and by the still
greater moral solitude of universal repulsion.
"Pick up these things," said his father, pointing to the parapet, "and
put them away. Look at me! You love your father and your mother, don't
you?" The child flung himself on his father as if to kiss him, but Michu
made a movement to shift the gun and pushed him back. "Very good. You
have sometimes chattered about things that are done here," continued the
father, fixing his eyes, dangerous as those of a wild-cat, on the boy.
"Now remember this; if you tell the least little thing that happens here
to Gaucher, or to the Grouage and Bellache people, or even to Marianne
who loves us, you will kill your father. Never tattle again, and I will
forgive what you said yesterday." The child began to cry. "Don't cry;
but when any one questions you, say, as the peasants do, 'I don't know.'
There are persons roaming about whom I distrust. Run along! As for you
two," he added, turning to the women, "you have heard what I said. Keep
a close mouth, both of you."
"Husband, what are you going to do?"
Michu, who was carefully measuring a charge of powder, poured it into
the barrel of his gun, rested the weapon against the parapet and said to
"No one knows I own that gun. Stand in front of it."
Couraut, who had sprung to his feet, was barking furiously.
"Good, intelligent fellow!" cried Michu. "I am certain there are spies
Man and beast feel a spy. Couraut and Michu, who seemed to have one and
the same soul, lived together as the Arab and his horse in the desert.
The bailiff knew the modulations of the dog's voice, just as the dog
read his master's meaning in his eyes, or felt it exhaling in the air
from his body.
"What do you say to that?" said Michu, in a low voice, calling his
wife's attention to two strangers who appeared in a by-path making for
"What can it mean?" cried the old mother. "They are Parisians."
"Here they come!" said Michu. "Hide my gun," he whispered to his wife.
The two men who now crossed the wide open space of the rond-point were
typical enough for a painter. One, who appeared to be the subaltern,
wore top-boots, turned down rather low, showing well-made calves, and
colored silk stockings of doubtful cleanliness. The breeches, of ribbed
cloth, apricot color with metal buttons, were too large; they were baggy
about the body, and the lines of their creases seemed to indicate a
sedentary man. A marseilles waistcoat, overloaded with embroidery, open,
and held together by one button only just above the stomach, gave to the
wearer a dissipated look,—all the more so, because his jet black hair,
in corkscrew curls, hid his forehead and hung down his cheeks. Two steel
watch-chains were festooned upon his breeches. The shirt was adorned
with a cameo in white and blue. The coat, cinnamon-colored, was a
treasure to caricaturists by reason of its long tails, which, when seen
from behind, bore so perfect a resemblance to a cod that the name of
that fish was given to them. The fashion of codfish tails lasted ten
years; almost the whole period of the empire of Napoleon. The cravat,
loosely fastened, and with numerous small folds, allowed the wearer
to bury his face in it up to the nostrils. His pimpled skin, his long,
thick, brick-dust colored nose, his high cheek-bones, his mouth, lacking
half its teeth but greedy for all that and menacing, his ears adorned
with huge gold rings, his low forehead,—all these personal details,
which might have seemed grotesque in many men, were rendered terrible in
him by two small eyes set in his head like those of a pig, expressive
of insatiable covetousness, and of insolent, half-jovial cruelty. These
ferreting and perspicacious blue eyes, glassy and glacial, might be
taken for the model of that famous Eye, the formidable emblem of the
police, invented during the Revolution. Black silk gloves were on his
hands and he carried a switch. He was certainly some official personage,
for he showed in his bearing, in his way of taking snuff and ramming it
into his nose, the bureaucratic importance of an office subordinate,
one who signs for his superiors and acquires a passing sovereignty by
enforcing their orders.
The other man, whose dress was in the same style, but elegant and
elegantly put on and careful in its smallest detail, wore boots a la
Suwaroff which came high upon the leg above a pair of tight trousers,
and creaked as he walked. Above his coat he wore a spencer, an
aristocratic garment adopted by the Clichiens and the young bloods of
Paris, which survived both the Clichiens and the fashionable youths. In
those days fashions sometimes lasted longer than parties,—a symptom of
anarchy which the year of our Lord 1830 has again presented to us. This
accomplished dandy seemed to be thirty years of age. His manners were
those of good society; he wore jewels of value; the collar of his shirt
came to the tops of his ears. His conceited and even impertinent air
betrayed a consciousness of hidden superiority. His pallid face seemed
bloodless, his thin flat nose had the sardonic expression which we see
in a death's head, and his green eyes were inscrutable; their glance was
discreet in meaning just as the thin closed mouth was discreet in words.
The first man seemed on the whole a good fellow compared with this
younger man, who was slashing the air with a cane, the top of which,
made of gold, glittered in the sunshine. The first man might have cut
off a head with his own hand, but the second was capable of entangling
innocence, virtue, and beauty in the nets of calumny and intrigue, and
then poisoning them or drowning them. The rubicund stranger would have
comforted his victim with a jest; the other was incapable of a smile.
The first was forty-five years old, and he loved, undoubtedly, both
women and good cheer. Such men have passions which keep them slaves
to their calling. But the young man was plainly without passions and
without vices. If he was a spy he belonged to diplomacy, and did such
work from a pure love of art. He conceived, the other executed; he was
the idea, the other was the form.
"This must be Gondreville, is it not, my good woman?" said the young
"We don't say 'my good woman' here," said Michu. "We are still simple
enough to say 'citizen' and 'citizeness' in these parts."
"Ah!" exclaimed the young man, in a natural way, and without seeming at
Players of ecarte often have a sense of inward disaster when some
unknown person sits down at the same table with them, whose manners,
look, voice, and method of shuffling the cards, all, to their fancy,
foretell defeat. The instant Michu looked at the young man he felt an
inward and prophetic collapse. He was struck by a fatal presentiment; he
had a sudden confused foreboding of the scaffold. A voice told him that
that dandy would destroy him, although there was nothing whatever in
common between them. For this reason his answer was rude; he was and he
wished to be forbidding.
"Don't you belong to the Councillor of State, Malin?" said the younger
"I am my own master," answered Malin.
"Mesdames," said the young man, assuming a most polite air, "are we not
at Gondreville? We are expected there by Monsieur Malin."
"There's the park," said Michu, pointing to the open gate.
"Why are you hiding that gun, my fine girl?" said the elder, catching
sight of the carbine as he passed through the gate.
"You never let a chance escape you, even in the country!" cried his
They both turned back with a sense of distrust which the bailiff
understood at once in spite of their impassible faces. Marthe let them
look at the gun, to the tune of Couraut's bark; she was so convinced
that her husband was meditating some evil deed that she was thankful for
the curiosity of the strangers.
Michu flung a look at his wife which made her tremble; he took the
gun and began to load it, accepting quietly the fatal ill-luck of this
encounter and the discovery of the weapon. He seemed no longer to care
for life, and his wife fathomed his inward feeling.
"So you have wolves in these parts?" said the young man, watching him.
"There are always wolves where there are sheep. You are in Champagne,
and there's a forest; we have wild-boars, large and small game both, a
little of everything," replied Michu, in a truculent manner.
"I'll bet, Corentin," said the elder of the two men, after exchanging a
glance with his companion, "that this is my friend Michu—"
"We never kept pigs together that I know of," said the bailiff.
"No, but we both presided over Jacobins, citizen," replied the old
cynic,—"you at Arcis, I elsewhere. I see you've kept your Carmagnole
civility, but it's no longer in fashion, my good fellow."
"The park strikes me as rather large; we might lose our way. If you are
really the bailiff show us the path to the chateau," said Corentin, in a
Michu whistled to his son and continued to load his gun. Corentin looked
at Marthe with indifference, while his companion seemed charmed by
her; but the young man noticed the signs of her inward distress, which
escaped the old libertine, who had, however, noticed and feared the gun.
The natures of the two men were disclosed in this trifling yet important
"I've an appointment the other side of the forest," said the bailiff. "I
can't go with you, but my son here will take you to the chateau. How did
you get to Gondreville? did you come by Cinq-Cygne?"
"We had, like yourself, business in the forest," said Corentin, without
"Francois," cried Michu, "take these gentlemen to the chateau by the
wood path, so that no one sees them; they don't follow the beaten
tracks. Come here," he added, as the strangers turned to walk away,
talking together as they did so in a low voice. Michu caught the boy
in his arms, and kissed him almost solemnly with an expression which
confirmed his wife's fears; cold chills ran down her back; she glanced
at her mother with haggard eyes, for she could not weep.
"Go," said Michu; and he watched the boy until he was entirely out
of sight. Couraut was barking on the other side of the road in the
direction of Grouage. "Oh, that's Violette," remarked Michu. "This is
the third time that old fellow has passed here to-day. What's in the
wind? Hush, Couraut!"
A few moments later the trot of a pony was heard approaching.
CHAPTER II. A CRIME RELINQUISHED
Violette, mounted on one of those little nags which the farmers in the
neighborhood of Paris use so much, soon appeared, wearing a round hat
with a broad brim, beneath which his wood-colored face, deeply wrinkled,
appeared in shadow. His gray eyes, mischievous and lively, concealed
in a measure the treachery of his nature. His skinny legs, covered with
gaiters of white linen which came to the knee, hung rather than rested
in the stirrups, seemingly held in place by the weight of his hob-nailed
shoes. Above his jacket of blue cloth he wore a cloak of some coarse
woollen stuff woven in black and white stripes. His gray hair fell in
curls behind his ears. This dress, the gray horse with its short legs,
the manner in which Violette sat him, stomach projecting and shoulders
thrown back, the big chapped hands which held the shabby bridle, all
depicted him plainly as the grasping, ambitious peasant who desires
to own land and buys it at any price. His mouth, with its bluish lips
parted as if a surgeon had pried them open with a scalpel, and the
innumerable wrinkles of his face and forehead hindered the play of
features which were expressive only in their outlines. Those hard, fixed
lines seemed menacing, in spite of the humility which country-folks
assume and beneath which they conceal their emotions and schemes, as
savages and Easterns hide theirs behind an imperturbable gravity. First
a mere laborer, then the farmer of Grouage through a long course of
persistent ill-doing, he continued his evil practices after conquering a
position which surpassed his early hopes. He wished harm to all men
and wished it vehemently. When he could assist in doing harm he did it
eagerly. He was openly envious; but, no matter how malignant he might
be, he kept within the limits of the law,—neither beyond it nor behind
it, like a parliamentary opposition. He believed his prosperity depended
on the ruin of others, and that whoever was above him was an enemy
against whom all weapons were good. A character like this is very common
among the peasantry.
Violette's present business was to obtain from Malin an extension of the
lease of his farm, which had only six years longer to run. Jealous of
the bailiff's means, he watched him narrowly. The neighbors reproached
him for his intimacy with "Judas"; but the sly old farmer, wishing
to obtain a twelve years' lease, was really lying in wait for an
opportunity to serve either the government or Malin, who distrusted
Michu. Violette, by the help of the game-keeper of Gondreville and
others belonging to the estate, kept Malin informed of all Michu's
actions. Malin had endeavored, fruitlessly, to win over Marianne, the
Michus' servant-woman; but Violette and his satellites heard everything
from Gaucher,—a lad on whose fidelity Michu relied, but who betrayed
him for cast-off clothing, waistcoats, buckles, cotton socks and
sugar-plums. The boy had no suspicion of the importance of his gossip.
Violette in his reports blackened all Michu's actions and gave them
a criminal aspect by absurd suggestions,—unknown, of course, to the
bailiff, who was aware, however, of the base part played by the farmer,
and took delight in mystifying him.
"You must have a deal of business at Bellache to be here again," said
"Again! is that meant as a reproach, Monsieur Michu?—Hey! I did not
know you had that gun. You are not going to whistle for the sparrows on
that pipe, I suppose—"
"It grew in a field of mine which bears guns," replied Michu. "Look!
this is how I sow them."
The bailiff took aim at a viper thirty feet away and cut it in two.
"Have you got that bandit's weapon to protect your master?" said
Violette. "Perhaps he gave it to you."
"He came from Paris expressly to bring it to me," replied Michu.
"People are talking all round the neighborhood of this journey of his;
some say he is in disgrace and has to retire from office; others that he
wants to see things for himself down here. But anyway, why does he
come, like the First Consul, without giving warning? Did you know he was
"I am not on such terms with him as to be in his confidence."
"Then you have not seen him?"
"I did not know he was here till I got back from my rounds in the
forest," said Michu, reloading his gun.
"He has sent to Arcis for Monsieur Grevin," said Violette; "they are
"If you are going round by Cinq-Cygne, take me up behind you," said the
bailiff. "I'm going there."
Violette was too timid to have a man of Michu's strength on his crupper,
and he spurred his beast. Judas slung his gun over his shoulder and
walked rapidly up the avenue.
"Who can it be that Michu is angry with?" said Marthe to her mother.
"Ever since he heard of Monsieur Malin's arrival he has been gloomy,"
replied the old woman. "But it is getting damp here, let us go in."
After the two women had settled themselves in the chimney corner they
heard Couraut's bark.
"There's my husband returning!" cried Marthe.
Michu passed up the stairs; his wife, uneasy, followed him to their
"See if any one is about," he said to her, in a voice of some emotion.
"No one," she replied. "Marianne is in the field with the cow, and
"Where is Gaucher?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"I distrust that little scamp. Go up in the garret, look in the
hay-loft, look everywhere for him."
Marthe left the room to obey the order. When she returned she found
Michu on his knees, praying.
"What is the matter?" she said, frightened.
The bailiff took his wife round the waist and drew her to him, saying in
a voice of deep feeling: "If we never see each other again remember, my
poor wife, that I loved you well. Follow minutely the instructions which
you will find in a letter buried at the foot of the larch in that copse.
It is enclosed in a tin tube. Do not touch it until after my death.
And remember, Marthe, whatever happens to me, that in spite of man's
injustice, my arm has been the instrument of the justice of God."
Marthe, who turned pale by degrees, became white as her own linen; she
looked at her husband with fixed eyes widened by fear; she tried to
speak, but her throat was dry. Michu disappeared like a shadow, having
tied Couraut to the foot of his bed where the dog, after the manner of
all dogs, howled in despair.
Michu's anger against Monsieur Marion had serious grounds, but it was
now concentrated on another man, far more criminal in his eyes,—on
Malin, whose secrets were known to the bailiff, he being in a better
position than others to understand the conduct of the State Councillor.
Michu's father-in-law had had, politically speaking, the confidence of
the former representative to the Convention, through Grevin.
Perhaps it would be well here to relate the circumstances which
brought the Simeuse and the Cinq-Cygne families into connection with
Malin,—circumstances which weighed heavily on the fate of Mademoiselle
de Cinq-Cygne's twin cousins, but still more heavily on that of Marthe
The Cinq-Cygne mansion at Troyes stands opposite to that of Simeuse.
When the populace, incited by minds that were as shrewd as they were
cautious, pillaged the hotel Simeuse, discovered the marquis and
marchioness, who were accused of corresponding with the nation's
enemies, and delivered them to the national guards who took them to
prison, the crowd shouted, "Now for the Cinq-Cygnes!" To their minds the
Cinq-Cygnes were as guilty as other aristocrats. The brave and worthy
Monsieur de Simeuse in the endeavor to save his two sons, then eighteen
years of age, whose courage was likely to compromise them, had confided
them, a few hours before the storm broke, to their aunt, the Comtesse de
Cinq-Cygne. Two servants attached to the Simeuse family accompanied the
young men to her house. The old marquis, who was anxious that his name
should not die out, requested that what was happening might be concealed
from his sons, even in the event of dire disaster. Laurence, the only
daughter of the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, was then twelve years of age;
her cousins both loved her and she loved them equally. Like other twins
the Simeuse brothers were so alike that for a long while their mother
dressed them in different colors to know them apart. The first comer,
the eldest, was named Paul-Marie, the other Marie-Paul. Laurence de
Cinq-Cygne, to whom their danger was revealed, played her woman's part
well though still a mere child. She coaxed and petted her cousins and
kept them occupied until the very moment when the populace surrounded
the Cinq-Cygne mansion. The two brothers then knew their danger for the
first time, and looked at each other. Their resolution was instantly
taken; they armed their own servants and those of the Comtesse de
Cinq-Cygne, barricaded the doors, and stood guard at the windows, after
closing the wooden blinds, with the five men-servants and the Abbe
d'Hauteserre, a relative of the Cinq-Cygnes. These eight courageous
champions poured a deadly fire into the crowd. Every shot killed or
wounded an assailant. Laurence, instead of wringing her hands, loaded
the guns with extraordinary coolness, and passed the balls and powder to
those who needed them. The Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne was on her knees.
"What are you doing, mother?" said Laurence.
"I am praying," she answered, "for them and for you."
Sublime words,—said also by the mother of Godoy, prince of the Peace,
in Spain, under similar circumstances.
In a moment eleven persons were killed and lying on the ground among a
number of wounded. Such results either cool or excite a populace; either
it grows savage at the work or discontinues it. On the present occasion
those in advance recoiled; but the crowd behind them were there to kill
and rob, and when they saw their own dead, they cried out: "Murder!
Murder! Revenge!" The wiser heads went in search of the representative
to the Convention, Malin. The twins, by this time aware of the
disastrous events of the day, suspected Malin of desiring the ruin
of their family, and of causing the arrest of their parents, and the
suspicion soon became a certainty. They posted themselves beneath the
porte-cochere, gun in hand, intending to kill Malin as soon as he made
his appearance; but the countess lost her head; she imagined her house
in ashes and her daughter assassinated, and she blamed the young men for
their heroic defence and compelled them to desist. It was Laurence who
opened the door slightly when Malin summoned the household to admit
him. Seeing her, the representative relied upon the awe he expected to
inspire in a mere child, and he entered the house. To his first words
of inquiry as to why the family were making such a resistance, the girl
replied: "If you really desire to give liberty to France how is it that
you do not protect us in our homes? They are trying to tear down this
house, monsieur, to murder us, and you say we have no right to oppose
force to force!"
Malin stood rooted to the ground.
"You, the son of a mason employed by the Grand Marquis to build his
castle!" exclaimed Marie-Paul, "you have let them drag our father to
prison—you have believed calumnies!"
"He shall be released at once," said Malin, who thought himself lost
when he saw each youth clutch his weapon convulsively.
"You owe your life to that promise," said Marie-Paul, solemnly. "If it
is not fulfilled to-night we shall find you again."
"As to that howling populace," said Laurence, "If you do not send them
away, the next blood will be yours. Now, Monsieur Malin, leave this
The Conventionalist did leave it, and he harangued the crowd, dwelling
on the sacred rights of the domestic hearth, the habeas corpus and
the English "home." He told them that the law and the people were
sovereigns, that the law was the people, and that the people could
only act through the law, and that power was vested in the law. The
particular law of personal necessity made him eloquent, and he managed
to disperse the crowd. But he never forgot the contemptuous expression
of the two brothers, nor the "Leave this house!" of Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne. Therefore, when it was a question of selling the estates of
the Comte de Cinq-Cygne, Laurence's brother, as national property, the
sale was rigorously made. The agents left nothing for Laurence but the
chateau, the park and gardens, and one farm called that of Cinq-Cygne.
Malin instructed the appraisers that Laurence had no rights beyond her
legal share,—the nation taking possession of all that belonged to her
brother, who had emigrated and, above all, had borne arms against the
The evening after this terrible tumult, Laurence so entreated her
cousins to leave the country, fearing treachery on the part of Malin,
or some trap into which they might fall, that they took horse that night
and gained the Prussian outposts. They had scarcely reached the forest
of Gondreville before the hotel Cinq-Cygne was surrounded; Malin came
himself to arrest the heirs of the house of Simeuse. He dared not lay
hands on the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, who was in bed with a nervous
fever, nor on Laurence, a child of twelve. The servants, fearing the
severity of the Republic, had disappeared. The next day the news of the
resistance of the brothers and their flight to Prussia was known to the
neighborhood. A crowd of three thousand persons assembled before the
hotel de Cinq-Cygne, which was demolished with incredible rapidity.
Madame de Cinq-Cygne, carried to the hotel Simeuse, died there from the
effects of the fever aggravated by terror.
Michu did not appear in the political arena until after these events,
for the marquis and his wife remained in prison over five months. During
this time Malin was away on a mission. But when Monsieur Marion sold
Gondreville to the Councillor of State, Michu understood the latter's
game,—or rather, he thought he did; for Malin was, like Fouche, one of
those personages who are of such depth in all their different aspects
that they are impenetrable when they play a part, and are never
understood until long after their drama is ended.
In all the chief circumstances of Malin's life he had never failed to
consult his faithful friend Grevin, the notary of Arcis, whose judgment
on men and things was, at a distance, clear-cut and precise. This
faculty is the wisdom and makes the strength of second-rate men. Now, in
November, 1803, a combination of events (already related in the "Depute
d'Arcis") made matters so serious for the Councillor of State that a
letter might have compromised the two friends. Malin, who hoped to be
appointed senator, was afraid to offer his explanations in Paris. He
came to Gondreville, giving the First Consul only one of the reasons
that made him wish to be there; that reason gave him an appearance of
zeal in the eyes of Bonaparte; whereas his journey, far from concerning
the interests of the State, related to his own interests only. On this
particular day, as Michu was watching the park and expecting, after
the manner of a red Indian, a propitious moment for his vengeance,
the astute Malin, accustomed to turn all events to his own profit, was
leading his friend Grevin to a little field in the English garden,
a lonely spot in the park, favorable for a secret conference. There,
standing in the centre of the grass plot and speaking low, the friends
were at too great a distance to be overheard if any one were lurking
near enough to listen to them; they were also sure of time to change the
conversation if others unwarily approached.
"Why couldn't we have stayed in a room in the chateau?" asked Grevin.
"Didn't you take notice of those two men whom the prefect of police has
sent here to me?"
Though Fouche made himself in the matter of the Pichegru, Georges,
Moreau, and Polignac conspiracy the soul of the Consular cabinet, he
did not at this time control the ministry of police, but was merely a
councillor of State like Malin.
"Those men," continued Malin, "are Fouche's two arms. One, that dandy
Corentin, whose face is like a glass of lemonade, vinegar on his lips
and verjuice in his eyes, put an end to the insurrection at the West
in the year VII. in less than fifteen days. The other is a disciple of
Lenoir; he is the only one who preserves the great traditions of the
police. I had asked for an agent of no great account, backed by some
official personage, and they send me those past-masters of the business!
Ah, Grevin, Fouche wants to pry into my game. That's why I left those
fellows dining at the chateau; they may look into everything for all I
care; they won't find Louis XVIII. nor any sign of him."
"But see here, my dear fellow, what game are you playing?" cried Grevin.
"Ha, my friend, a double game is a dangerous one, but this, taking
Fouche into account, is a triple one. He may have nosed the fact that I
am in the secrets of the house of Bourbon."
"I," replied Malin.
"Have you forgotten Favras?"
The words made an impression on the councillor.
"Since when?" asked Grevin, after a pause.
"Since the Consulate for life."
"I hope there's no proof of it?"
"Not that!" said Malin, clicking his thumb-nail against his teeth.
In few words the Councillor of State gave a clear and succinct account
of the critical position in which Bonaparte was about to hold England,
by threatening her with invasion from the camp at Boulogne; he explained
to Grevin the bearings of that project, which was unobserved by France
and Europe but suspected by Pitt; also the critical position in which
England was about to put Bonaparte. A powerful coalition, Prussia,
Austria, and Russia, paid by English gold, was pledged to furnish
seven hundred thousand men under arms. At the same time a formidable
conspiracy was throwing a network over the whole of France, including
among its members montagnards, chouans, royalists, and their princes.
"Louis XVIII. held that as long as there were three Consuls anarchy was
certain, and that he could at some opportune moment take his revenge
for the 13th Vendemiaire and the 18th Fructidor," said Malin, "but the
Consulate for life has unmasked Bonaparte's intentions—he will soon be
emperor. The late sub-lieutenant means to create a dynasty! This time
his life is in actual danger; and the plot is far better laid than that
of the Rue Saint-Nicaise. Pichegru, Georges, Moreau, the Duc d'Enghien,
Polignac and Riviere, the two friends of the Comte d'Artois are in it."
"What an amalgamation!" cried Grevin.
"France is being silently invaded; no stone is left unturned; the thing
will be carried with a rush. A hundred picked men, commanded by Georges,
are to attack the Consular guard and the Consul hand to hand."
"Well then, denounce them."
"For the last two months the Consul, his minister of police, the prefect
and Fouche, hold some of the clues of this vast conspiracy; but they
don't know its full extent, and at this particular moment they are
leaving nearly all the conspirators free, so as to discover more about
"As to rights," said the notary, "the Bourbons have much more right to
conceive, plan, and execute a scheme against Bonaparte, than Bonaparte
had on the 18th Brumaire against the Republic, whose product he was. He
murdered his mother on that occasion, but these royalists only seek to
recover what was theirs. I can understand that the princes and
their adherents, seeing the lists of the emigres closed, mortgages
suppressed, the Catholic faith restored, anti-revolutionary decrees
accumulating, should begin to see that their return is becoming
difficult, not to say impossible. Bonaparte being the sole obstacle now
in their way, they want to get rid of him—nothing simpler. Conspirators
if defeated are brigands, if successful, heroes; and your perplexity
seems to me very natural."
"The matter now is," said Malin, "to make Bonaparte fling the head of
the Duc d'Enghien at the Bourbons, just as the Convention flung the head
of Louis XVI. at the kings, so as to commit him as fully as we are to
the Revolution; or else, we must upset the idol of the French people
and their future emperor, and seat the true throne upon his ruins. I am
at the mercy of some event, some fortunate pistol-shot, some infernal
machine which does its work. Even I don't know the whole conspiracy;
they don't tell me all; but they have asked me to call the Council
of State at the critical moment and direct its action towards the
restoration of the Bourbons."
"Wait," said the notary.
"Impossible! I am compelled to make my decision at once."
"Well, the Simeuse brothers are in the conspiracy; they are here in
the neighborhood; I must either have them watched, let them compromise
themselves, and so be rid of them, or else I must privately protect
them. I asked the prefect for underlings and he has sent me lynxes, who
came through Troyes and have got the gendarmerie to support them."
"Gondreville is your real object," said Grevin, "and this conspiracy
your best chance of keeping it. Fouche, Talleyrand, and those two
fellows have nothing to do with that. Therefore play fair with
them. What nonsense! those who cut Louis XVI.'s head off are in the
government; France is full of men who have bought national property,
and yet you talk of bringing back those who would require you to give up
Gondreville! If the Bourbons were not imbeciles they would pass a sponge
over all we have done. Warn Bonaparte, that's my advice."
"A man of my rank can't denounce," said Malin, quickly.
"Your rank!" exclaimed Grevin, smiling.
"They have offered to make me Keeper of the Seals."
"Ah! Now I understand your bewilderment, and it is for me to see clear
in this political darkness and find a way out for you. Now, it is quite
impossible to foresee what events may happen to bring back the Bourbons
when a General Bonaparte is in possession of eighty line of battle
ships and four hundred thousand men. The most difficult thing of all in
expectant politics is to know when a power that totters will fall; but,
my old man, Bonaparte's power is not tottering, it is in the ascendant.
Don't you think that Fouche may be sounding you so as to get to the
bottom of your mind, and then get rid of you?"
"No; I am sure of my go-between. Besides, Fouche would never, under
those circumstances, send me such fellows as these; he would know they
would make me suspicious."
"They alarm me," said Grevin. "If Fouche does not distrust you, and is
not seeking to probe you, why does he send them? Fouche doesn't play
such a trick as that without a motive; what is it?"
"What decides me," said Malin, "is that I should never be easy with
those two Simeuse brothers in France. Perhaps Fouche, who knows how I am
placed towards them, wants to make sure they don't escape him, and hopes
through them to reach the Condes."
"That's right, old fellow; it is not under Bonaparte that the present
possessor of Gondreville can be ousted."
Just then Malin, happening to look up, saw the muzzle of a gun through
the foliage of a tall linden.
"I was not mistaken, I thought I heard the click of a trigger," he said
to Grevin, after getting behind the trunk of a large tree, where the
notary, uneasy at his friend's sudden movement, followed him.
"It is Michu," said Grevin; "I see his red beard."
"Don't let us seem afraid," said Malin, who walked slowly away, saying
at intervals: "Why is that man so bitter against the owners of this
property? It was not you he was covering. If he overheard us he had
better ask the prayers of the congregation! Who the devil would have
thought of looking up into the trees!"
"There's always something to learn," said the notary. "But he was a good
distance off, and we spoke low."
"I shall tell Corentin about it," replied Malin.
CHAPTER III. THE MASK THROWN OFF
A few moments later Michu returned home, his face pale, his features
"What is the matter?" said his wife, frightened.
"Nothing," he replied, seeing Violette whose presence silenced him.
Michu took a chair and sat down quietly before the fire, into which
he threw a letter which he drew from a tin tube such as are given to
soldiers to hold their papers. This act, which enabled Marthe to draw
a long breath like one relieved of a great burden, greatly puzzled
Violette. The bailiff laid his gun on the mantel-shelf with admirable
composure. Marianne the servant, and Marthe's mother were spinning by
the light of a lamp.
"Come, Francois," said the father, presently, "it is time to go to bed."
He lifted the boy roughly by the middle of his body and carried him off.
"Run down to the cellar," he whispered, when they reached the stairs.
"Empty one third out of two bottles of the Macon wine, and fill them up
with the Cognac brandy which is on the shelf. Then mix a bottle of white
wine with one half brandy. Do it neatly, and put the three bottles on
the empty cask which stands by the cellar door. When you hear me open
the window in the kitchen come out of the cellar, run to the
stable, saddle my horse, mount it, and go and wait for me at
Poteaudes-Gueux—That little scamp hates to go to bed," said Michu,
returning; "he likes to do as grown people do, see all, hear all, and
know all. You spoil my people, pere Violette."
"Goodness!" cried Violette, "what has loosened your tongue? I never
heard you say as much before."
"Do you suppose I let myself be spied upon without taking notice of it?
You are on the wrong side, pere Violette. If, instead of serving those
who hate me, you were on my side I could do better for you than renew
that lease of yours."
"How?" said the peasant, opening wide his avaricious eyes.
"I'll sell you my property cheap."
"Nothing is cheap when we have to pay," said Violette, sententiously.
"I want to leave the neighborhood, and I'll let you have my farm of
Mousseau, the buildings, granary, and cattle for fifty thousand francs."
"Does that suit you?"
"Hang it! I must think—"
"We'll talk about it—I shall want earnest money."
"I have no money."
"Well, a note."
"Can't give it."
"Tell me who sent you here to-day."
"I am on my way back from where I spent this afternoon, and I only
stopped in to say good-evening."
"Back without your horse? What a fool you must take me for! You are
lying, and you shall not have my farm."
"Well, to tell you the truth, it was monsieur Grevin who sent me. He
said 'Violette, we want Michu; do you go and get him; if he isn't at
home, wait for him.' I saw I should have to stay here all this evening."
"Are those sharks from Paris still at the chateau?"
"Ah! that I don't know; but there were people in the salon."
"You shall have my farm; we'll settle the terms now. Wife, go and get
some wine to wash down the contract. Take the best Roussillon, the wine
of the ex-marquis,—we are not babes. You'll find a couple of bottles on
the empty cask near the door, and a bottle of white wine."
"Very good," said Violette, who never got drunk. "Let us drink."
"You have fifty thousand francs beneath the floor of your bedroom under
your bed, pere Violette; you will give them to me two weeks after we
sign the deed of sale before Grevin—" Violette stared at Michu and grew
livid. "Ah! you came here to spy upon a Jacobin who had the honor to be
president of the club at Arcis, and you imagine he will let you get the
better of him! I have eyes, I saw where your tiles have been freshly
cemented, and I concluded that you did not pry them up to plant wheat
there. Come, drink."
Violette, much troubled, drank a large glass of wine without noticing
the quality; terror had put a hot iron in his stomach, the brandy was
not hotter than his cupidity. He would have given many things to be
safely home and able to change the hiding-place of his treasure. The
three women smiled.
"Do you like that wine?" said Michu, refilling his glass.
"Yes, I do."
After a good half-hour's decision on the time when the buyer might take
possession, and on the various punctilios which the peasantry bring
forward when concluding a bargain,—in the midst of assertions and
counter-assertions, the filling and emptying of glasses, the giving of
promises and denials, Violette suddenly fell forward with his head on
the table, not tipsy, but dead-drunk. The instant that Michu saw his
eyes blur he opened the window.
"Where's that scamp, Gaucher?" he said to his wife.
"You, Marianne," said the bailiff to his faithful servant, "stand in
front of his door and watch him. You, mother, stay down here, and keep
an eye on this spy; keep your eyes and ears open and don't unfasten the
door to any one but Francois. It is a question of life or death," he
added, in a deep voice. "Every creature beneath my roof must remember
that I have not quitted it this night; all of you must assert that—even
though your heads were on the block. Come," he said to Marthe,
"come, wife, put on your shoes, take your coat, and let us be off! No
questions—I go with you."
For the last three quarters of an hour the man's demeanor and glance
were of despotic authority, all-powerful, irresistible, drawn from the
same mysterious source from which great generals on fields of battle who
inflame an army, great orators inspiring vast audiences, and (it must be
said) great criminals perpetrating bold crimes derive their inspiration.
At such times invincible influence seems to exhale from the head and
issue from the tongue; the gesture even can inject the will of the one
man into others. The three women knew that some dreadful crisis was at
hand; without warning of its nature they felt it in the rapid actions of
the man, whose countenance shone, whose forehead spoke, whose brilliant
eyes glittered like stars; they saw it in the sweat that covered his
brow to the roots of his hair, while more than once his voice vibrated
with impatience and fury. Marthe obeyed passively. Armed to the teeth
and with his gun over his shoulder Michu dashed into the avenue,
followed by his wife. They soon reached the cross-roads where Francois
was in waiting hidden among the bushes.
"The boy is intelligent," said Michu, when he caught sight of him.
These were his first words. His wife had rushed after him, unable to
"Go back to the house, hide in a thick tree, and watch the country
and the park," he said to his son. "We have all gone to bed, no one is
stirring. Your grandmother will not open the door until you ask her to
let you in. Remember every word I say to you. The life of your father
and mother depends on it. No one must know we did not sleep at home."
After whispering these words to the boy, who instantly disappeared in
the forest like an eel in the mud, Michu turned to his wife.
"Mount behind me," he said, "and pray that God be with us. Sit firm,
the beast may die of it." So saying he kicked the horse with both heels,
pressing him with his powerful knees, and the animal sprang forward with
the rapidity of a hunter, seeming to understand what his master wanted
of him, and crossed the forest in fifteen minutes. Then Michu, who had
not swerved from the shortest way, pulled up, found a spot at the
edge of the woods from which he could see the roofs of the chateau of
Cinq-Cygne lighted by the moon, tied his horse to a tree, and followed
by his wife, gained a little eminence which overlooked the valley.
The chateau, which Marthe and Michu looked at together for a moment,
makes a charming effect in the landscape. Though it has little extent
and is of no importance whatever as architecture, yet archaeologically
it is not without a certain interest. This old edifice of the fifteenth
century, placed on an eminence, surrounded on all sides by a moat,
or rather by deep, wide ditches always full of water, is built in
cobble-stones buried in cement, the walls being seven feet thick.
Its simplicity recalls the rough and warlike life of feudal days. The
chateau, plain and unadorned, has two large reddish towers at either
end, connected by a long main building with casement windows, the
stone mullions of which, being roughly carved, bear some resemblance to
vine-shoots. The stairway is outside the house, at the middle, in a sort
of pentagonal tower entered through a small arched door. The interior
of the ground-floor together with the rooms on the first storey
were modernized in the time of Louis XIV., and the whole building is
surmounted by an immense roof broken by casement windows with carved
triangular pediments. Before the castle lies a vast green sward the
trees of which had recently been cut down. On either side of the
entrance bridge are two small dwellings where the gardeners live,
connected across the road by a paltry iron railing without character,
evidently modern. To right and left of the lawn, which is divided in
two by a paved road-way, are the stables, cow-sheds, barns, wood-house,
bakery, poultry-yard, and the offices, placed in what were doubtless
the remains of two wings of the old building similar to those that were
still standing. The two large towers, with their pepper-pot roofs which
had not been rased, and the belfry of the middle tower, gave an air of
distinction to the village. The church, also very old, showed near by
its pointed steeple, which harmonized well with the solid masses of the
castle. The moon brought out in full relief the various roofs and towers
on which it played and sparkled.
Michu gazed at this baronial structure in a manner that upset all his
wife's ideas about him; his face, now calm, wore a look of hope and also
a sort of pride. His eyes scanned the horizon with a glance of defiance;
he listened for sounds in the air. It was now nine o'clock; the moon
was beginning to cast its light upon the margin of the forest and to
illumine the little bluff on which they stood. The position struck him
as dangerous and he left it, fearful of being seen. But no suspicious
noise troubled the peace of the beautiful valley encircled on this side
by the forest of Nodesme. Marthe, exhausted and trembling, was awaiting
some explanation of their hurried ride. What was she engaged in? Was she
to aid in a good deed or an evil one? At that instant Michu bent to his
wife's ear and whispered:—
"Go the house and ask to speak to the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne; when you
see her beg her to speak to you alone. If no one can overhear you, say
to her: 'Mademoiselle, the lives of your two cousins are in danger, and
he who can explain the how and why is waiting to speak to you.' If
she seems afraid, if she distrusts you, add these words: 'They are
conspiring against the First Consul and the conspiracy is discovered.'
Don't give your name; they distrust us too much."
Marthe raised her face towards her husband and said:—
"Can it be that you serve them?"
"What if I do?" he said, frowning, taking her words as a reproach.
"You don't understand me," cried Marthe, seizing his large hand and
falling on her knees beside him as she kissed it and covered it with her
"Go, go, you shall cry later," he said, kissing her vehemently.
When he no longer heard her step his eyes filled with tears. He had
distrusted Marthe on account of her father's opinions; he had hidden the
secrets of his life from her; but the beauty of her simple nature had
suddenly appeared to him, just as the grandeur of his had, as suddenly,
revealed itself to her. Marthe had passed in a moment from the deep
humiliation caused by the degradation of the man whose name she bore,
to the exaltation given by a sense of his nobleness. The change was
instantaneous, without transition; it was enough to make her tremble.
She told him later that she went, as it were, through blood from the
pavilion to the edge of the forest, and there was lifted to heaven, in
a moment, among the angels. Michu, who had known he was not appreciated,
and who mistook his wife's grieved and melancholy manner for lack of
affection, and had left her to herself, living chiefly out of doors
and reserving all his tenderness for his boy, instantly understood the
meaning of her tears. She had cursed the part which her beauty and her
father's will had forced her to take; but now happiness, in the midst of
this great storm, played, with a beautiful flame like a vivid lightning
about them. And it was lightning! Each thought of the last ten years of
misconception, and they blamed themselves only. Michu stood motionless,
his elbow on his gun, his chin on his hand, lost in deep reverie. Such
a moment in a man's life makes him willing to accept the saddest moments
of a painful past.
Marthe, agitated by the same thoughts as those of her husband, was also
troubled in heart by the danger of the Simeuse brothers; for she now
understood all, even the faces of the two Parisians, though she still
could not explain to herself her husband's gun. She darted forward like
a doe, and soon reached the road to the chateau. There she was surprised
by the steps of a man following behind her; she turned, with a cry, and
her husband's large hand closed her mouth.
"From the hill up there I saw the silver lace of the gendarmes' hats.
Go in by the breach in the moat between Mademoiselle's tower and the
stables. The dogs won't bark at you. Go through the garden and call the
countess by the window; order them to saddle her horse, and ask her to
come out through the breach. I'll be there, after discovering what the
Parisians are planning, and how to escape them."
Danger, which seemed to be rolling like an avalanche upon them, gave
wings to Marthe's feet.
CHAPTER IV. LAURENCE DE CINQ-CYGNE
The old Frank name of the Cinq-Cygnes and the Chargeboeufs was Duineff.
Cinq-Cygne became that of the younger branch of the Chargeboeufs after
the defence of a castle made, during their father's absence, by five
daughters of that race, all remarkably fair, and of whom no one expected
such heroism. One of the first Comtes de Champagne wished, by bestowing
this pretty name, to perpetuate the memory of their deed as long as the
family existed. Laurence, the last of her race, was, contrary to Salic
law, heiress of the name, the arms, and the manor. She was therefore
Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne in her own right; her husband would have to take
both her name and her blazon, which bore for device the glorious answer
made by the elder of the five sisters when summoned to surrender the
castle, "We die singing." Worthy descendant of these noble heroines,
Laurence was fair and lily-white as though nature had made her for a
wager. The lines of her blue veins could be seen through the delicate
close texture of her skin. Her beautiful golden hair harmonized
delightfully with eyes of the deepest blue. Everything about her
belonged to the type of delicacy. Within that fragile though active
body, and in defiance as it were of its pearly whiteness, lived a
soul like that of a man of noble nature; but no one, not even a close
observer, would have suspected it from the gentle countenance and
rounded features which, when seen in profile, bore some slight
resemblance to those of a lamb. This extreme gentleness, though noble,
had something of the stupidity of the little animal. "I look like a
dreamy sheep," she would say, smiling. Laurence, who talked little,
seemed not so much dreamy as dormant. But, did any important
circumstance arise, the hidden Judith was revealed, sublime; and
circumstances had, unfortunately, not been wanting.
At thirteen years of age, Laurence, after the events already related,
was an orphan living in a house opposite to the empty space where
so recently had stood one of the most curious specimens in France
of sixteenth-century architecture, the hotel Cinq-Cygne. Monsieur
d'Hauteserre, her relation, now her guardian, took the young heiress to
live in the country at her chateau of Cinq-Cygne. That brave provincial
gentleman, alarmed at the death of his brother, the Abbe d'Hauteserre,
who was shot in the open square as he was about to escape in the dress
of a peasant, was not in a position to defend the interests of his
ward. He had two sons in the army of the princes, and every day, at the
slightest unusual sound, he believed that the municipals of Arcis were
coming to arrest him. Laurence, proud of having sustained a siege and of
possessing the historic whiteness of her swan-like ancestors, despised
the prudent cowardice of the old man who bent to the storm, and dreamed
only of distinguishing herself. So, she boldly hung the portrait of
Charlotte Corday on the walls of her poor salon at Cinq-Cygne, and
crowned it with oak-leaves. She corresponded by messenger with her
twin cousins, in defiance of the law, which punished the act, when
discovered, with death. The messenger, who risked his life, brought back
the answers. Laurence lived only, after the catastrophes at Troyes,
for the triumph of the royal cause. After soberly judging Monsieur and
Madame d'Hauteserre (who lived with her at the chateau de Cinq-Cygne),
and recognizing their honest, but stolid natures, she put them outside
the lines of her own life. She had, moreover, too good a mind and too
sound a judgment to complain of their natures; always kind, amiable,
and affectionate towards them, she nevertheless told them none of her
secrets. Nothing forms a character so much as the practice of constant
concealment in the bosom of a family.
After she attained her majority Laurence allowed Monsieur d'Hauteserre
to manage her affairs as in the past. So long as her favorite mare was
well-groomed, her maid Catherine dressed to please her, and Gothard
the little page was suitably clothed, she cared for nothing else. Her
thoughts were aimed too high to come down to occupations and interests
which in other times than these would doubtless have pleased her. Dress
was a small matter to her mind; moreover her cousins were not there to
see her. She wore a dark-green habit when she rode, and a gown of some
common woollen stuff with a cape trimmed with braid when she walked;
in the house she was always seen in a silk wrapper. Gothard, the little
groom, a brave and clever lad of fifteen, attended her wherever she
went, and she was nearly always out of doors, riding or hunting over the
farms of Gondreville, without objection being made by either Michu or
the farmers. She rode admirably well, and her cleverness in hunting was
thought miraculous. In the country she was never called anything but
"Mademoiselle" even during the Revolution.
Whoever has read the fine romance of "Rob Roy" will remember that
rare woman for whose making Walter Scott's imagination abandoned its
customary coldness,—Diana Vernon. The recollection will serve to make
Laurence understood if, to the noble qualities of the Scottish huntress
you add the restrained exaltation of Charlotte Corday, surpassing,
however, the charming vivacity which rendered Diana so attractive. The
young countess had seen her mother die, the Abbe d'Hauteserre shot down,
the Marquis de Simeuse and his wife executed; her only brother had died
of his wounds; her two cousins serving in Conde's army might be killed
at any moment; and, finally, the fortunes of the Simeuse and the
Cinq-Cygne families had been seized and wasted by the Republic without
being of any benefit to the nation. Her grave demeanor, now lapsing into
apparent stolidity, can be readily understood.
Monsieur d'Hauteserre proved an upright and most careful guardian. Under
his administration Cinq-Cygne became a sort of farm. The good man, who
was far more of a close manager than a knight of the old nobility, had
turned the park and gardens to profit, and used their two hundred acres
of grass and woodland as pasturage for horses and fuel for the family.
Thanks to his severe economy the countess, on coming of age, had
recovered by his investments in the State funds a competent fortune.
In 1798 she possessed about twenty thousand francs a year from those
sources, on which, in fact, some dividends were still due, and twelve
thousand francs a year from the rentals at Cinq-Cygne, which had lately
been renewed at a notable increase. Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre
had provided for their old age by the purchase of an annuity of three
thousand francs in the Tontines Lafarge. That fragment of their former
means did not enable them to live elsewhere than at Cinq-Cygne, and
Laurence's first act on coming to her majority was to give them the use
for life of the wing of the chateau which they occupied.
The Hauteserres, as niggardly for their ward as they were for
themselves, laid up every year nearly the whole of their annuity for the
benefit of their sons, and kept the young heiress on miserable fare.
The whole cost of the Cinq-Cygne household never exceeded five thousand
francs a year. But Laurence, who condescended to no details, was
satisfied. Her guardian and his wife, unconsciously ruled by the
imperceptible influence of her strong character, which was felt even in
little things, had ended by admiring her whom they had known and treated
as a child,—a sufficiently rare feeling. But in her manner, her deep
voice, her commanding eye, Laurence held that inexplicable power which
rules all men,—even when its strength is mere appearance. To vulgar
minds real depth is incomprehensible; it is perhaps for that reason that
the populace is so prone to admire what it cannot understand. Monsieur
and Madame d'Hauteserre, impressed by the habitual silence and erratic
habits of the young girl, were constantly expecting some extraordinary
thing of her.
Laurence, who did good intelligently and never allowed herself to be
deceived, was held in the utmost respect by the peasantry although
she was an aristocrat. Her sex, name, and great misfortunes, also the
originality of her present life, contributed to give her authority over
the inhabitants of the valley of Cinq-Cygne. She was sometimes absent
for two days, attended by Gothard, but neither Monsieur nor Madame
d'Hauteserre questioned her, on her return, as to the reasons of
her absence. Please observe, however, that there was nothing odd or
eccentric about Laurence. What she was and what she did was masked, as
it were, by a feminine and even fragile appearance. Her heart was full
of extreme sensibility, though her head contained a stoical firmness
and the virile gift of resolution. Her clear-seeing eyes knew not how to
weep; but no one would have imagined that the delicate white wrist with
its tracery of blue veins could defy that of the boldest horseman. Her
hand, so noble, so flexible, could handle gun or pistol with the ease of
a practised marksman. She always wore when out of doors the coquettish
little cap with visor and green veil which women wear on horseback. Her
delicate fair face, thus protected, and her white throat tied with a
black cravat, were never injured by her long rides in all weathers.
Under the Directory and at the beginning of the Consulate, Laurence had
been able to escape the observation of others; but since the government
had become a more settled thing, the new authorities, the prefect of the
Aube, Malin's friends, and Malin himself had endeavored to undermine
her in the community. Her preoccupying thought was the overthrow of
Bonaparte, whose ambition and its triumphs excited the anger of her
soul,—a cold, deliberate anger. The obscure and hidden enemy of a man
at the pinnacle of glory, she kept her gaze upon him from the depths
of her valley and her forests, with relentless fixity; there were
times when she thought of killing him in the roads about Malmaison or
Saint-Cloud. Plans for the execution of this idea may have been the
cause of many of her past actions, but having been initiated, after the
peace of Amiens, into the conspiracy of the men who expected to make
the 18th Brumaire recoil upon the First Consul, she had thenceforth
subordinated her faculties and her hatred to their vast and well
laid scheme, which was to strike at Bonaparte externally by the vast
coalition of Russia, Austria, and Prussia (vanquished at Austerlitz) and
internally by the coalition of men politically opposed to each other,
but united by their common hatred of a man whose death some of them
were meditating, like Laurence herself, without shrinking from the word
assassination. This young girl, so fragile to the eye, so powerful to
those who knew her well, was at the present moment the faithful guide
and assistant of the exiled gentlemen who came from England to take part
in this deadly enterprise.
Fouche relied on the co-operation of the emigres everywhere beyond
the Rhine to lure the Duc d'Enghien into the plot. The presence of that
prince in the Baden territory, not far from Strasburg, gave much weight
later to the accusation. The great question of whether the prince really
knew of the enterprise, and was waiting on the frontier to enter France
on its success, is one of those secrets about which, as about several
others, the house of Bourbon has maintained an unbroken silence. As the
history of that period recedes into the past, impartial historians
will declare the imprudence, to say the least, of the Duc d'Enghien in
placing himself close to the frontier at a time when a vast conspiracy
was about to break forth, the secret of which was undoubtedly known to
every member of the Bourbon family.
The caution which Malin displayed in talking with Grevin in the open
air, Laurence applied to her every action. She met the emissaries and
conferred with them either at various points in the Nodesme forest, or
beyond the valley of the Cinq-Cygne, between the villages of Sezanne
and Brienne. Often she rode forty miles on a stretch with Gothard,
and returned to Cinq-Cygne without the least sign of weariness or
pre-occupation on her fair young face.
Some years earlier, Laurence had seen in the eyes of a little cow-boy,
then nine years old, the artless admiration which children feel for
everything that is out of the common way. She made him her page, and
taught him to groom a horse with the nicety and care of an Englishman.
She saw in the lad a desire to do well, a bright intelligence, and a
total absence of sly motives; she tested his devotion and found he had
not only mind but nobility of character; he never dreamed of reward. The
young girl trained this soul that was still so young; she was good to
him, good with dignity; she attached him to her by attaching herself
to him, and by herself polishing a nature that was half wild, without
destroying its freshness or its simplicity. When she had sufficiently
tested the almost canine fidelity she had nurtured, Gothard became her
intelligent and ingenuous accomplice. The little peasant, whom no one
could suspect, went from Cinq-Cygne to Nancy, and often returned before
any one had missed him from the neighborhood. He knew how to practise
all the tricks of a spy. The extreme distrust and caution his mistress
had taught him did not change his natural self. Gothard, who possessed
all the craft of a woman, the candor of a child, and the ceaseless
observation of a conspirator, hid every one of these admirable qualities
beneath the torpor and dull ignorance of a country lad. The little
fellow had a silly, weak, and clumsy appearance; but once at work he was
active as a fish; he escaped like an eel; he understood, as the dogs do,
the merest glance; he nosed a thought. His good fat face, both round and
red, his sleepy brown eyes, his hair, cut in the peasant fashion, his
clothes, and his slow growth gave him the appearance of a child of ten.
The two young d'Hauteserres and the twin brothers Simeuse, under the
guidance of their cousin Laurence, who had been watching over their
safety and that of the other emigres who accompanied them from
Strasburg to Bar-sur-Aube, had just passed through Alsace and Lorraine,
and were now in Champagne while other conspirators, not less bold,
were entering France by the cliffs of Normandy. Dressed as workmen the
d'Hauteserres and the Simeuse twins had walked from forest to forest,
guided on their way by relays of persons, chosen by Laurence during
the last three months from among the least suspected of the Bourbon
adherents living in each neighborhood. The emigres slept by day and
travelled by night. Each brought with him two faithful soldiers; one
of whom went before to warn of danger, the other behind to protect a
retreat. Thanks to these military precautions, this valuable detachment
had at last reached, without accident, the forest of Nodesme, which
was chosen as the rendezvous. Twenty-seven other gentlemen had entered
France from Switzerland and crossed Burgundy, guided towards Paris with
the same caution.
Monsieur de Riviere counted on collecting five hundred men, one hundred
of whom were young nobles, the officers of this sacred legion. Monsieur
de Polignac and Monsieur de Riviere, whose conduct as chiefs of this
advance was most remarkable, afterwards preserved an impenetrable
secrecy as to the names of those of their accomplices who were not
discovered. It may be said, therefore, now that the Restoration has made
matters clearer, that Bonaparte never knew the extent of the danger he
then ran, any more than England knew the peril she had escaped from
the camp at Boulogne; and yet the police of France was never more
intelligently or ably managed.
At the period when this history begins, a coward—for cowards are always
to be found in conspiracies which are not confined to a small number
of equally strong men—a sworn confederate, brought face to face with
death, gave certain information, happily insufficient to cover the
extent of the conspiracy, but precise enough to show the object of the
enterprise. The police had therefore, as Malin told Grevin, left the
conspirators at liberty, though all the while watching them, hoping to
discover the ramifications of the plot. Nevertheless, the government
found its hand to a certain extent forced by Georges Cadoudal, a man
of action who took counsel of himself only, and who was hiding in
Paris with twenty-five chouans for the purpose of attacking the First
Laurence combined both hatred and love within her breast. To destroy
Bonaparte and bring back the Bourbons was to recover Gondreville and
make the fortune of her cousins. The two sentiments, one the counterpart
of the other, were sufficient, more especially at twenty-three years of
age, to excite all the faculties of her soul and all the powers of her
being. So, for the last two months, she had seemed to the inhabitants
of Cinq-Cygne more beautiful than at any other period of her life.
Her cheeks became rosy; hope gave pride to her brow; but when old
d'Hauteserre read the Gazette at night and discussed the conservative
course of the First Consul she lowered her eyes to conceal her
passionate hopes of the coming fall of that enemy of the Bourbons.
No one at the chateau had the faintest idea that the young countess had
met her cousins the night before. The two sons of Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre had passed the preceding night in Laurence's own room,
under the same roof with their father and mother; and Laurence, after
knowing them safely in bed had gone between one and two o'clock in the
morning to a rendezvous with her cousins in the forest, where she hid
them in the deserted hut of a wood-dealer's agent. The following day,
certain of seeing them again, she showed no signs of her joy; nothing
about her betrayed emotion; she was able to efface all traces of
pleasure at having met them again; in fact, she was impassible.
Catherine, her pretty maid, daughter of her former nurse, and Gothard,
both in the secret, modelled their behavior upon hers. Catherine was
nineteen years old. At that age a girl is a fanatic and would let
her throat be cut before betraying a thought of one she loves. As for
Gothard, merely to inhale the perfume which the countess used in her
hair and among her clothes he would have born the rack without a word.
CHAPTER V. ROYALIST HOMES AND PORTRAITS UNDER THE CONSULATE
At the moment when Marthe, driven by the imminence of the peril, was
gliding with the rapidity of a shadow towards the breach of which
Michu had told her, the salon of the chateau of Cinq-Cygne presented a
peaceful sight. Its occupants were so far from suspecting the storm that
was about to burst upon them that their quiet aspect would have roused
the compassion of any one who knew their situation. In the large
fireplace, the mantel of which was adorned with a mirror with
shepherdesses in paniers painted on its frame, burned a fire such as
can be seen only in chateaus bordering on forests. At the corner of
this fireplace, on a large square sofa of gilded wood with a magnificent
brocaded cover, the young countess lay as it were extended, in an
attitude of utter weariness. Returning at six o'clock from the confines
of Brie, having played the part of scout to the four gentlemen whom she
guided safely to their last halting-place before they entered Paris, she
had found Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre just finishing their dinner.
Pressed by hunger she sat down to table without changing either her
muddy habit or her boots. Instead of doing so at once after dinner,
she was suddenly overcome with fatigue and allowed her head with its
beautiful fair curls to drop on the back of the sofa, her feet being
supported in front of her by a stool. The warmth of the fire had dried
the mud on her habit and on her boots. Her doeskin gloves and the little
peaked cap with its green veil and a whip lay on the table where she had
flung them. She looked sometimes at the old Boule clock which stood on
the mantelshelf between the candelabra, perhaps to judge if her four
conspirators were asleep, and sometimes at the card-table in front of
the fire where Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, the cure of Cinq-Cygne,
and his sister were playing a game of boston.
Even if these personages were not embedded in this drama, their
portraits would have the merit of representing one of the aspects of
the aristocracy after its overthrow in 1793. From this point of view,
a sketch of the salon at Cinq-Cygne has the raciness of history seen in
Monsieur d'Hauteserre, then fifty-two years of age, tall, spare,
high-colored, and robust in health, would have seemed the embodiment of
vigor if it were not for a pair of porcelain blue eyes, the glance of
which denoted the most absolute simplicity. In his face, which ended
in a long pointed chin, there was, judging by the rules of design,
an unnatural distance between his nose and mouth which gave him a
submissive air, wholly in keeping with his character, which harmonized,
in fact, with other details of his appearance. His gray hair, flattened
by his hat, which he wore nearly all day, looked much like a skull-cap
on his head, and defined its pear-shaped outline. His forehead, much
wrinkled by life in the open air and by constant anxieties, was flat and
expressionless. His aquiline nose redeemed the face somewhat; but the
sole indication of any strength of character lay in the bushy eyebrows
which retained their blackness, and in the brilliant coloring of his
skin. These signs were in some respects not misleading, for the worthy
gentlemen, though simple and very gentle, was Catholic and monarchical
in faith, and no consideration on earth could make him change his views.
Nevertheless he would have let himself be arrested without an effort
at defence, and would have gone to the scaffold quietly. His annuity of
three thousand francs kept him from emigrating. He therefore obeyed the
government de facto without ceasing to love the royal family and to
pray for their return, though he would firmly have refused to compromise
himself by any effort in their favor. He belonged to that class of
royalists who ceaselessly remembered that they were beaten and robbed;
and who remained thenceforth dumb, economical, rancorous, without
energy; incapable of abjuring the past, but equally incapable of
sacrifice; waiting to greet triumphant royalty; true to religion and
true to the priesthood, but firmly resolved to bear in silence
the shocks of fate. Such an attitude cannot be considered that of
maintaining opinions, it becomes sheer obstinacy. Action is the essence
of party. Without intelligence, but loyal, miserly as a peasant yet
noble in demeanor, bold in his wishes but discreet in word and
action, turning all things to profit, willing even to be made mayor of
Cinq-Cygne, Monsieur d'Hauteserre was an admirable representative of
those honorable gentlemen on whose brow God Himself has written the
word mites,—Frenchmen who burrowed in their country homes and let the
storms of the Revolution pass above their heads; who came once more to
the surface under the Restoration, rich with their hidden savings,
proud of their discreet attachment to the monarchy, and who, after 1830,
recovered their estates.
Monsieur d'Hauteserre's costume, expressive envelope of his distinctive
character, described to the eye both the man and his period. He always
wore one of those nut-colored great-coats with small collars which the
Duc d'Orleans made the fashion after his return from England, and which
were, during the Revolution, a sort of compromise between the hideous
popular garments and the elegant surtouts of the aristocracy. His velvet
waistcoat with flowered stripes, the style of which recalled those of
Robespierre and Saint-Just, showed the upper part of a shirt-frill in
fine plaits. He still wore breeches; but his were of coarse blue cloth,
with burnished steel buckles. His stockings of black spun-silk defined
his deer-like legs, the feet of which were shod in thick shoes, held
in place by gaiters of black cloth. He retained the former fashion of
a muslin cravat in innumerable folds fastened by a gold buckle at the
throat. The worthy man had not intended an act of political eclecticism
in adopting this costume, which combined the styles of peasant,
revolutionist, and aristocrat; he simply and innocently obeyed the
dictates of circumstances.
Madame d'Hauteserre, forty years of age and wasted by emotions, had a
faded face which seemed to be always posing for its portrait. A lace
cap, trimmed with bows of white satin, contributed singularly to give
her a solemn air. She still wore powder, in spite of a white kerchief,
and a gown of puce-colored silk with tight sleeves and full skirt, the
sad last garments of Marie-Antoinette. Her nose was pinched, her chin
sharp, the whole face nearly triangular, the eyes worn-out with weeping;
but she now wore a touch of rouge which brightened their grayness. She
took snuff, and each time that she did so she employed all the pretty
precautions of the fashionable women of her early days; the details of
this snuff-taking constituted a ceremony which could be explained by one
fact—she had very pretty hands.
For the last two years the former tutor of the Simeuse twins, a friend
of the late Abbe d'Hauteserre, named Goujet, Abbe des Minimes, had
taken charge of the parish of Cinq-Cygne out of friendship for the
d'Hauteserres and the young countess. His sister, Mademoiselle Goujet,
who possessed a little income of seven hundred francs, added that sum to
the meagre salary of her brother and kept his house. Neither church nor
parsonage had been sold during the Revolution on account of their small
value. The abbe and his sister lived close to the chateau, for the wall
of the parsonage garden and that of the park were the same in places.
Twice a week the pair dined at the chateau, but they came every evening
to play boston with the d'Hauteserres; for Laurence, unable to play a
game, did not even know one card from another.
The Abbe Goujet, an old man with white hair and a face as white as that
of an old woman, endowed with a kindly smile and a gentle and persuasive
voice, redeemed the insipidity of his rather mincing face by a fine
intellectual brow and a pair of keen eyes. Of medium height, and
very well made, he still wore the old-fashioned black coat, silver
shoe-buckles, breeches, black silk stockings, and a black waistcoat
on which lay his clerical bands, giving him a distinguished air which
detracted nothing from his dignity. This abbe, who became bishop of
Troyes after the Restoration, had long made a study of young people
and fully understood the noble character of the young countess; he
appreciated her at her full value, and had shown her, from the first,
a respectful deference which contributed much to her independence at
Cinq-Cygne, for it led the austere old lady and the kind old gentleman
to yield to the young girl, who by rights should have yielded to them.
For the last six months the abbe had watched Laurence with the intuition
peculiar to priests, the most sagacious of men; and although he did
not know that this girl of twenty-three was thinking of overturning
Bonaparte as she lay there twisting with slender fingers the frogged
lacing of her riding-habit, he was well aware that she was agitated by
some great project.
Mademoiselle Goujet was one of those unmarried women whose portrait can
be drawn in one word which will enable the least imaginative mind to
picture her; she was ungainly. She knew her own ugliness and was the
first to laugh at it, showing her long teeth, yellow as her complexion
and her bony hands. She was gay and hearty. She wore the famous short
gown of former days, a very full skirt with pockets full of keys, a cap
with ribbons and a false front. She was forty years of age very early,
but had, so she said, caught up with herself by keeping at that age for
twenty years. She revered the nobility; and knew well how to preserve
her own dignity by giving to persons of noble birth the respect and
deference that were due to them.
This little company was a god-send to Madame d'Hauteserre, who had not,
like her husband, rural occupations, nor, like Laurence, the tonic of
hatred, to enable her to bear the dulness of a retired life. Many things
had happened to ameliorate that life within the last six years. The
restoration of Catholic worship allowed the faithful to fulfil their
religious duties, which play more of a part in country life than
elsewhere. Protected by the conservative edicts of the First Consul,
Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre had been able to correspond with their
sons, and no longer in dread of what might happen to them could even
hope for the erasure of their names from the lists of the proscribed and
their consequent return to France. The Treasury had lately made up
the arrearages and now paid its dividends promptly; so that the
d'Hauteserres received, over and above their annuity, about eight
thousand francs a year. The old man congratulated himself on the
sagacity of his foresight in having put all his savings, amounting to
twenty thousand francs, together with those of his ward, in the public
Funds before the 18th Brumaire, which, as we all know, sent those stocks
up from twelve to eighteen francs.
The chateau of Cinq-Cygne had long been empty and denuded of furniture.
The prudent guardian was careful not to alter its aspect during the
revolutionary troubles; but after the peace of Amiens he made a journey
to Troyes and brought back various relics of the pillaged mansions which
he obtained from the dealers in second-hand furniture. The salon was
furnished for the first time since their occupation of the house.
Handsome curtains of white brocade with green flowers, from the hotel de
Simeuse, draped the six windows of the salon, in which the family were
now assembled. The walls of this vast room were entirely of wood, with
panels encased in beaded mouldings with masks at the angles; the whole
painted in two shades of gray. The spaces over the four doors were
filled with those designs, painted in cameo of two colors, which were
so much in vogue under Louis XV. Monsieur d'Hauteserre had picked up
at Troyes certain gilded pier-tables, a sofa in green damask, a crystal
chandelier, a card-table of marquetry, among other things that served
him to restore the chateau. In 1792 all the furniture of the house had
been taken or destroyed, for the pillage of the mansions in town was
imitated in the valley. Each time that the old man went to Troyes he
returned with some relic of the former splendor, sometimes a fine carpet
for the floor of the salon, at other times part of a dinner service, or
a bit of rare old porcelain of either Sevres or Dresden. During the last
six months he had ventured to dig up the family silver, which the cook
had buried in the cellar of a little house belonging to him at the end
of one of the long faubourgs in Troyes.
That faithful servant, named Durieu, and his wife had followed the
fortunes of their young mistress. Durieu was the factotum of the
chateau, and his wife was the housekeeper. He was helped in the cooking
by the sister of Catherine, Laurence's maid, to whom he was teaching his
art and who gave promise of becoming an excellent cook. An old gardener,
his wife, a son paid by the day, and a daughter who served as a
dairy-woman, made up the household. Madame Durieu had lately and
secretly had the Cinq-Cygne liveries made for the gardener's son and for
Gothard. Though blamed for this imprudence by Monsieur d'Hauteserre,
the housekeeper took great pleasure in seeing the dinner served on the
festival of Saint-Laurence, the countess's fete-day, with almost as much
style as in former times.
This slow and difficult restoration of departed things was the delight
of Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and the Durieus. Laurence smiled
at what she thought nonsense. But the worthy old d'Hauteserre did not
forget the more solid matters; he repaired the buildings, put up the
walls, planted trees wherever there was a chance to make them grow, and
did not leave an inch of unproductive land. The whole valley regarded
him as an oracle in the matter of agriculture. He had managed to recover
a hundred acres of contested land, not sold as national property, being
in some way confounded with that of the township. This land he had
turned into fields which afforded good pasturage for his horses and
cattle, and he planted them round with poplars, which now, at the end
of six years, were making a fine growth. He intended to buy back some of
the lost estate, and to utilize all the out-buildings of the chateau by
making a second farm and managing it himself.
Life at the chateau had thus become during the last two years prosperous
and almost happy. Monsieur d'Hauteserre was off at daybreaks to overlook
his laborers, for he employed them in all weathers. He came home to
breakfast, mounted his farm pony as soon as the meal was over, and
made his rounds of the estate like a bailiff,—getting home in time for
dinner, and finishing the day with a game of boston. All the inhabitants
of the chateau had their stated occupations; life was as closely
regulated there as in a convent. Laurence alone disturbed its even
tenor by her sudden journeys, her uncertain returns, and by what Madame
d'Hauteserre called her pranks. But with all this peacefulness there
existed at Cinq-Cygne conflicting interests and certain causes of
dissension. In the first place Durieu and his wife were jealous of
Catherine and Gothard, who lived in greater intimacy with their young
mistress, the idol of the household, than they did. Then the two
d'Hauteserres, encouraged by Mademoiselle Goujet and the abbe, wanted
their sons as well as the Simeuse brothers to take the oath and return
to this quiet life, instead of living miserably in foreign countries.
Laurence scouted the odious compromise and stood firmly for the
monarchy, militant and implacable. The four old people, anxious that
their present peaceful existence should not be risked, nor their spot
of refuge, saved from the furious waters of the revolutionary torrent,
lost, did their best to convert Laurence to their cautious views,
believing that her influence counted for much in the unwillingness of
their sons and the Simeuse twins to return to France. The superb disdain
with which she met the project frightened these poor people, who were
not mistaken in their fears that she was meditating what they called
knight-errantry. This jarring of opinion came to the surface after the
explosion of the infernal machine in the rue Saint-Nicaise, the first
royalist attempt against the conqueror of Marengo after his refusal
to treat with the house of Bourbon. The d'Hauteserres considered
it fortunate that Bonaparte escaped that danger, believing that the
republicans had instigated it. But Laurence wept with rage when she
heard he was safe. Her despair overcame her usual reticence, and she
vehemently complained that God had deserted the sons of Saint-Louis.
"I," she exclaimed, "I could have succeeded! Have we no right," she
added, seeing the stupefaction her words produced on the faces about
her, and addressing the abbe, "no right to attack the usurper by every
means in our power?"
"My child," replied the abbe, "the Church has been greatly blamed by
philosophers for declaring in former times that the same weapons might
be employed against usurpers which the usurpers themselves had employed
to succeed; but in these days the Church owes far too much to the First
Consul not to protect him against that maxim,—which, by the by, was due
to the Jesuits."
"So the Church abandons us!" she answered, gloomily.
From that day forth whenever the four old people talked of submitting
to the decrees of Providence, Laurence left the room. Of late, the abbe,
shrewder than Monsieur d'Hauteserre, instead of discussing principles,
drew pictures of the material advantages of the consular rule, less to
convert the countess than to detect in her eyes some expression
which might enlighten him as to her projects. Gothard's frequent
disappearances, the long rides of his mistress, and her evident
preoccupation, which, for the last few days, had appeared in her face,
together with other little signs not to be hidden in the silence and
tranquillity of such a life, had roused the fears of these submissive
royalists. Still, as no event happened, and perfect quiet appeared to
reign in the political atmosphere, the minds of the little household
were soothed into peace, and the countess's long rides were one more
attributed to her passion for hunting.
It is easy to imagine the deep silence which reigned at nine o'clock in
the evening in the park, courtyards, and gardens of Cinq-Cygne, where at
that particular moment the persons we have described were harmoniously
grouped, where perfect peace pervaded all things, where comfort and
abundance were again enjoyed, and where the worthy and judicious old
gentleman was still hoping to convert his late ward to his system of
obedience to the ruling powers by the argument of what we may call the
continuity of prosperous results.
These royalists continued to play their boston, a game which spread
ideas of independence under a frivolous form over the whole of France;
for it was first invented in honor of the American insurgents, its very
terms applying to the struggle which Louis XVI. encouraged. While making
their "independences" and "poverties," the players kept an eye on the
countess, who had fallen asleep, overcome by fatigue, with a singular
smile on her lips, her last waking thought having been of the terror two
words could inspire in the minds of the peaceful company by informing
the d'Hauteserres that their sons had passed the preceding night under
that roof. What young girl of twenty-three would not have been, as
Laurence was, proud to play the part of Destiny? and who would not have
felt, as she did, a sense of compassion for those whom she felt to be so
far below her in loyalty?
"She sleeps," said the abbe. "I have never seen her so wearied."
"Durieu tells me her mare is almost foundered," remarked Madame
d'Hauteserre. "Her gun has not been fired; the breech is clean; she has
evidently not hunted."
"Oh! that's neither here nor there," said the abbe.
"Bah?" cried Mademoiselle Goujet; "when I was twenty-three and saw I
should be an old maid all my life, I rushed about and fatigued myself
in a dozen ways. I understand how the countess can scour the country for
hours without thinking of the game. It is nearly twelve years now since
she has seen her cousins, and you know she loves them. Well, if I
were she, if I were as young and pretty, I'd make a straight line for
Germany! Poor darling, perhaps she is thinking of the frontier, and that
may be the reason why she rides so far towards it."
"You are rather giddy, Mademoiselle Goujet," said the abbe, smiling.
"Not at all," she replied. "I see you all uneasy about the goings on of
a young girl, and I am explaining them to you."
"Her cousins will submit and return soon; they will all be rich, and she
will end by calming down," said old d'Hauteserre.
"God grant it!" said his wife, taking out a gold snuff-box which had
again seen the light under the Consulate.
"There is something stirring in the neighborhood," remarked Monsieur
d'Hauteserre to the abbe. "Malin has been two days at Gondreville."
"Malin!" cried Laurence, roused by the name, though her sleep was sound.
"Yes," replied the abbe, "but he leaves to-night; everybody is
conjecturing the motive of this hasty visit."
"That man," said Laurence, "is the evil genius of our two houses."
The countess had been dreaming of her cousins and the young Hauteserres;
she saw them in peril. Her beautiful eyes grew fixed and glassy as her
mind thus warned dwelled on the dangers they were about to incur in
Paris. She rose suddenly and went to her bedroom without speaking. Her
bedroom was the best in the house; next came a dressing-room and an
oratory, in the tower which faced towards the forest. Soon after she
had left the salon the dogs barked, the bell of the small gate rang,
and Durieu rushed into the salon with a frightened face. "Here is the
mayor!" he said. "Something is the matter."
CHAPTER VI. A DOMICILIARY VISIT
The mayor, a former huntsman of the house of Simeuse, came occasionally
to the chateau, where the d'Hauteserres showed him out of policy, a
deference to which he attached great value. His name was Goulard; he had
married a rich woman of Troyes, whose property, which was in the commune
of Cinq-Cygne, he had further increased by the purchase of a fine abbey
and its lands, in which he invested all his savings. The vast abbey of
Val-des-Preux, standing about a mile from the chateau, he had turned
into a dwelling that was almost as splendid as Gondreville; in it his
wife and he were now living like rats in a cathedral. "Ah! Goulard, you
have been greedy," Mademoiselle had said to him with a laugh the first
time she received him at Cinq-Cygne. Though greatly attached to the
Revolution and coldly received by the countess, the mayor always felt
himself bound by ties of respect to the Cinq-Cygne and Simeuse families.
He therefore shut his eyes to what went on at the chateau. He called
shutting his eyes not seeing the portraits of Louis XVI., Marie
Antoinette, and the royal children, and those of Monsieur, the Comte
d'Artois, Cazales and Charlotte Corday, which filled the various panels
of the salon; not resenting either the wishes freely expressed in his
presence for the ruin of the Republic, or the ridicule flung at the five
directors and all the other governmental combinations of that time.
The position of this man, who, like many parvenus, having once made his
fortune, reverted to his early faith in the old families, and sought to
attach himself to them, was now being made use of by the two members of
the Paris police whose profession had been so quickly guessed by Michu,
and who, before going to Gondreville had reconnoitred the neighborhood.
The worthy described as the depositary of the best traditions of the old
police, and Corentin phoenix of spies, were in fact employed on a secret
mission. Malin was not mistaken in attributing a double purpose to those
stars of tragic farces. But, before seeing them at work, it is advisable
to show the head of which they were the arms. When Bonaparte became
First Consul he found Fouche at the head of the police. The Revolution
had frankly and with good reason made the management of the police into
a special ministry. But after his return from Marengo, Bonaparte created
the prefecture of police, placed Dubois in charge of it, and called
Fouche to the Council of State, naming as his successor in the ministry
a conventional named Cochon, since known as Comte de Lapparent. Fouche,
who considered the ministry of police as by far the most important in a
government of broad ideas and fixed policy, saw disgrace or at any
rate distrust in the change. After Napoleon became aware of the immense
superiority of this great statesman, as evidenced in the affair of the
infernal machine and in the conspiracy with which we are now concerned,
he returned him to the ministry of police. Later still, becoming alarmed
at the powers Fouche displayed during his absence at the time of the
affair at Walcheren, the Emperor gave that ministry to the Duc de
Rovigo, and sent Fouche (Duc d'Otrante) as governor to the Illyrian
provinces,—an appointment which was in fact an exile.
The singular genius of this man, Fouche, which had the power of
inspiring Napoleon with a sort of fear, did not reveal itself all at
once. This obscure conventional, one of the most extraordinary men
of our time, and the most misjudged, was moulded, as it were, by the
whirlwind of events. He raised himself under the Directory to the height
from which men of genius could see the future and judge the past, and
then, like certain commonplace actors who suddenly become admirable
through the light of some vivid perception, he gave proofs of his
dexterity during the rapid revolution of the 18th Brumaire. This man
with the pallid face, educated to monastic dissimulation, possessing
the secrets of the montagnards to whom he belonged, and those of the
royalists to whom he ended by belonging, had slowly and silently studied
the men, the events, and the interests on the political stage; he
penetrated Napoleon's secrets, he gave him useful counsel and precious
information. Satisfied with having proven his capacity and his
usefulness, Fouche was careful not to disclose himself completely. He
wished to remain at the head of affairs, but the Emperor's restless
uneasiness about him cost him his place.
The ingratitude or rather the distrust shown by Napoleon after the
affair at Walcheren, gives the key-note to the character of a man who,
unfortunately for himself, was not a great seigneur, and whose conduct
was modelled on that of Talleyrand. At that time neither his former
colleagues nor his present ones had suspected the amplitude of his
genius, which was purely ministerial, essentially governmental, just
in its forecasts and incredibly sagacious. To-day, every impartial
historian perceives that Napoleon's inordinate self-love was among
the chief causes of his fall, a punishment which cruelly expiated his
wrong-doing. In the mind of that distrustful sovereign lurked a constant
jealousy for his own rising power, which influenced all his actions, and
caused his secret hatred for men of talent, the precious legacy of the
Revolution, with whom he might have made himself a cabinet capable of
being a true repository for his thoughts. Talleyrand and Fouche were not
the only ones who gave him umbrage. The misfortune of usurpers is that
those who have given them a crown are as much their enemies as those
from whom they snatch it. Napoleon's sovereignty was never convincingly
felt by those who were once his superiors or his equals, nor by those
who still held to the doctrine of rights; none of them regarded their
oath of allegiance to him as binding.
Malin, an inferior man, incapable of comprehending Fouche's hidden
genius, or of distrusting his own perceptions, burned himself, like
a moth in a candle, by asking him confidentially to send agents to
Gondreville, where, he said, he hoped to obtain certain clues to the
conspiracy. Fouche, without alarming his friend by any questions,
asked himself why Malin was going to Gondreville, and why he did not
immediately and without loss of time, give the information he already
possessed. The ex-Oratorian, fed from his youth up on trickery, and well
aware of the double part played by a good many of the conventionals,
said to himself: "From whom is Malin likely to obtain information when
we ourselves know little or nothing?" Fouche concluded therefore that
there was some either latent or prospective collusion, and took care to
say nothing about it to the First Consul. He preferred to make Malin
his instrument rather than destroy him. It was Fouche's habit to keep to
himself a good part of the secrets he detected, and he thus obtained
for his own purposes a power over those concerned which was even greater
than that of Bonaparte. This duplicity was one of the Emperor's charges
against his minister.
Fouche knew of the swindling transaction by which Malin became possessed
of Gondreville and which led him to keep his eyes so anxiously on the
Simeuse brothers. These gentlemen were now serving in the army of Conde;
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne was their cousin; possibly they were in
her neighborhood, and were sharers in the conspiracy; if so, it would
implicate the house of Conde to which they were devoted. Talleyrand
and Fouche were bent on casting light into this dark corner of the
conspiracy of 1803. All these considerations Fouche saw at a glance,
rapidly and with great clearness. But between Malin, Talleyrand,
and himself there were strong ties which forced him to the utmost
circumspection, and made him anxious to know the exact state of things
within the walls of Gondreville. Corentin was unreservedly attached to
Fouche, just as Monsieur de la Besnardiere was to Talleyrand, Gentz to
Monsieur de Metternich, Dundas to Pitt, Duroc to Napoleon, Chavigny to
Cardinal Richelieu. Corentin was not the counsellor of his master, but
his instrument, the Tristan to this Louis XI. of low estate. Fouche had
kept him in the ministry of the police when he himself left it, so as to
still keep an eye and a finger in it. It was said that Corentin belonged
to Fouche by some unavowed relationship, for he rewarded him lavishly
after every service. Corentin had a friend in Peyrade, the old pupil of
the last lieutenant of police; but he kept a good many of his secrets
from him. Fouche gave Corentin an order to explore the chateau of
Gondreville, to get the plan of it into his memory, and to know every
hiding-place within its walls.
"We may be obliged to return there," said the ex-minister, precisely
as Napoleon told his lieutenants to explore the field of Austerlitz on
which he intended to fall back.
Corentin was also to study Malin's conduct, discover what influence
he had in the neighborhood, and observe the men he employed. Fouche
regarded it as certain that the Simeuse brothers were in that part of
the country. By cautiously watching the two officers, who were closely
allied with the Prince de Conde, Peyrade and Corentin could obtain
precious light on the ramifications of the conspiracy beyond the Rhine.
In any case, however, Corentin received the means, the orders, and
the agents, to surround the chateau of Cinq-Cygne and watch the whole
region, from the forest of Nodesme into Paris. Fouche insisted on the
utmost caution, and would only allow a domiciliary visit to Cinq-Cygne
in case Malin gave them positive information which made it necessary. By
way of instructions he explained to Corentin the otherwise inexplicable
personality of Michu, who had been watched by the police for the last
three years. Corentin's idea was that of his master: "Malin knows all
about the conspiracy—But," he added to himself, "perhaps Fouche does,
too; who knows?"
Corentin, having started for Troyes before Malin, had made arrangements
with the commandant of the gendarmerie in that town, who picked out a
number of his most intelligent men and placed them under orders of an
able captain. Corentin chose Gondreville as the place of rendezvous,
and directed the captain to send some of his men at night in four
detachments to different points of the valley of Cinq-Cygne at
sufficient distance from each other to cause no alarm. These four
pickets were to form a square and close in around the chateau of
Cinq-Cygne. By leaving Corentin alone at Gondreville during his
consultation in the fields with Grevin, Malin had enabled him to fulfil
part of Fouche's orders and explore the house. When the Councillor of
State returned home he told Corentin so positively that the d'Hauteserre
and Simeuse brothers were in the neighborhood and probably at Cinq-Cygne
that the two agents despatched the captain with the rest of his company,
who, fortunately for the four gentlemen, crossed the forest on their
way to the chateau during the time when Michu was making Violette drunk.
Malin had told Corentin and Peyrade of the escape he had from lying in
wait for him. The two agents related the incident of the gun they
had seen the bailiff load, and Grevin had sent Violette to obtain
information as to what was going on at Michu's house. Corentin advised
the notary to take Malin to his own house in the little town of Arcis,
and let him sleep there as a measure of precaution. At the moment when
Michu and his wife were rushing through the forest on their way to
Cinq-Cygne, Peyrade and Corentin were starting from Gondreville for
Cinq-Cygne in a shabby wicker carriage, drawn by one post-horse driven
by the corporal of Arcis, one of the shrewdest men in the Legion, whom
the commandant at Troyes advised them to employ.
"The surest way to seize them all is to warn them," said Peyrade to
Corentin. "At the moment when they are well frightened and are trying to
save their papers or to escape we'll fall upon them like a thunderbolt.
The gendarmes surround the chateau now and are as good as a net. We
sha'n't lose one of them!"
"You had better send the mayor to warn them," said the corporal. "He
is friendly to them and wouldn't like to see them harmed; they won't
Just as Goulard was preparing to go to bed, Corentin, who stopped
the vehicle in a little wood, went to his house and told him,
confidentially, that in a few moments an emissary from the government
would require him to enter the chateau of Cinq-Cygne and arrest
the brothers d'Hauteserre and Simeuse; and in case they had already
disappeared he would have to ascertain if they had slept there the
night before, search Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne's papers, and, possibly,
arrest both the masters and servants of the household.
"Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne," said Corentin, "is undoubtedly protected
by some great personages, for I have received private orders to warn
her of this visit, and to do all I can to save her without compromising
myself. Once on the ground, I shall no longer be able to do so, for I am
not alone; go to the chateau yourself and warn them."
The mayor's visit at that time of night was all the more bewildering to
the card-players when they saw the agitation of his face.
"Where is the countess?" were his first words.
"She has gone to bed," said Madame d'Hauteserre.
The mayor, incredulous, listened to noises that were heard on the upper
"What is the matter with you, Goulard?" said Monsieur d'Hauteserre.
Goulard was dumb with surprise as he noted the tranquil ease of the
faces about him. Observing the peaceful and innocent game of cards which
he had thus interrupted, he was unable to imagine what the Parisian
police meant by their suspicions.
At that moment Laurence, kneeling in her oratory, was praying fervently
for the success of the conspiracy. She prayed to God to send help and
succor to the murderers of Bonaparte. She implored Him ardently to
destroy that fatal being. The fanaticism of Harmodius, Judith, Jacques
Clement, Ankarstroem, of Charlotte Corday and Limoelan, inspired this
pure and virgin spirit. Catherine was preparing the bed, Gothard was
closing the blinds, when Marthe Michu coming under the windows flung a
pebble on the glass and was seen at once.
"Mademoiselle, here's some one," said Gothard, seeing a woman.
"Hush!" said Marthe, in a low voice. "Come down and speak to me."
Gothard was in the garden in less time than a bird would have taken to
fly down from a tree.
"In a minute the chateau will be surrounded by the gendarmerie. Saddle
mademoiselle's horse without making any noise and take it down through
the breach in the moat between the stables and this tower."
Marthe quivered when she saw Laurence, who had followed Gothard,
standing beside her.
"What is it?" asked Laurence, quietly.
"The conspiracy against the First Consul is discovered," replied Marthe,
in a whisper. "My husband, who seeks to save your two cousins, sends me
to ask you to come and speak to him."
Laurence drew back and looked at Marthe. "Who are you?" she said.
"I do not know what you want of me," replied the countess, coldly.
"Take care, you will kill them. Come with me, I implore you in the
Simeuse name," said Marthe, clasping her hands and stretching them
towards Laurence. "Have you papers here which may compromise you? If so,
destroy them. From the heights over there my husband has just seen the
silver-laced hats and the muskets of the gendarmerie."
Gothard had already clambered to the hay-loft and seen the same sight;
he heard in the stillness of the evening the sound of their horses'
hoofs. Down he slipped into the stable and saddled his mistress's mare,
whose feet Catherine, at a word from the lad, muffled in linen.
"Where am I to go?" said Laurence to Marthe, whose look and language
bore the unmistakable signs of sincerity.
"Through the breach," she replied; "my noble husband is there. You shall
learn the value of a 'Judas'!"
Catherine went quickly into the salon, picked up the hat, veil, whip,
and gloves of her mistress, and disappeared. This sudden apparition and
action were so striking a commentary on the mayor's inquiry that
Madame d'Hauteserre and the abbe exchanged glances which contained the
melancholy thought: "Farewell to all our peace! Laurence is conspiring;
she will be the death of her cousins."
"But what do you really mean?" said Monsieur d'Hauteserre to the mayor.
"The chateau is surrounded. You are about to receive a domiciliary
visit. If your sons are here tell them to escape, and the Simeuse
brothers too, if they are with them."
"My sons!" exclaimed Madame d'Hauteserre, stupefied.
"We have seen no one," said Monsieur d'Hauteserre.
"So much the better," said Goulard; "but I care too much for the
Cinq-Cygne and Simeuse families to let any harm come to them. Listen to
me. If you have any compromising papers—"
"Papers!" repeated the old gentleman.
"Yes, if you have any, burn them at once," said the mayor. "I'll go and
amuse the police agents."
Goulard, whose object was to run with the royalist hare and hold with
the republican hounds, left the room; at that moment the dogs barked
"There is no longer time," said the abbe, "here they come! But who is to
warn the countess? Where is she?"
"Catherine didn't come for her hat and whip to make relics of them,"
remarked Mademoiselle Goujet.
Goulard tried to detain the two agents for a few moments, assuring them
of the perfect ignorance of the family at Cinq-Cygne.
"You don't know these people!" said Peyrade, laughing at him.
The two agents, insinuatingly dangerous, entered the house at once,
followed by the corporal from Arcis and one gendarme. The sight of them
paralyzed the peaceful card-players, who kept their seats at the table,
terrified by such a display of force. The noise produced by a dozen
gendarmes whose horses were stamping on the terrace, was heard without.
"I do not see Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne," said Corentin.
"She is probably asleep in her bedroom," said Monsieur d'Hauteserre.
"Come with me, ladies," said Corentin, turning to pass through the
ante-chamber and up the staircase, followed by Mademoiselle Goujet and
Madame d'Hauteserre. "Rely upon me," he whispered to the old lady. "I am
in your interests. I sent the mayor to warn you. Distrust my colleague
and look to me. I can save every one of you."
"But what is it all about?" said Mademoiselle Goujet.
"A matter of life and death; you must know that," replied Corentin.
Madame d'Hauteserre fainted. To Mademoiselle Goujet's great astonishment
and Corentin's disappointment, Laurence's room was empty. Certain that
no one could have escaped from the park or the chateau, for all the
issues were guarded, Corentin stationed a gendarme in every room and
ordered others to search the farm buildings, stables, and sheds. Then he
returned to the salon, where Durieu and his wife and the other servants
had rushed in the wildest excitement. Peyrade was studying their faces
with his little blue eye, cold and calm in the midst of the uproar. Just
as Corentin reappeared alone (Mademoiselle Goujet remaining behind to
take care of Madame d'Hauteserre) the tramp of horses was heard, and
presently the sound of a child's weeping. The horses entered by the
small gate; and the general suspense was put an end to by a corporal
appearing at the door of the salon pushing Gothard, whose hands were
tied, and Catherine whom he led to the agents.
"Here are some prisoners," he said; "that little scamp was escaping on
"Fool!" said Corentin, in his ear, "why didn't you let him alone? You
could have found out something by following him."
Gothard had chosen to burst into tears and behave like an idiot.
Catherine took an attitude of artless innocence which made the old agent
reflective. The pupil of Lenoir, after considering the two prisoners
carefully, and noting the vacant air of the old gentleman whom he took
to be sly, the intelligent eye of the abbe who was still fingering the
cards, and the utter stupefaction of the servants and Durieu, approached
Corentin and whispered in his ear, "We are not dealing with ninnies."
Corentin answered with a look at the card-table; then he added, "They
were playing at boston! Mademoiselle's bed was just being made for the
night; she escaped in a hurry; it is a regular surprise; we shall catch
CHAPTER VII. A FOREST NOOK
A breach has always a cause and a purpose. Here is the explanation of
how the one which led from the tower called that of Mademoiselle and the
stables came to be made. After his installation as Laurence's guardian
at Cinq-Cygne old d'Hauteserre converted a long ravine, through which
the water of the forest flowed into the moat, into a roadway between two
tracts of uncultivated land belonging to the chateau, by merely planting
out in it about a hundred walnut trees which he found ready in the
nursery. In eleven years these trees had grown and branched so as to
nearly cover the road, hidden already by steep banks, which ran into a
little wood of thirty acres recently purchased. When the chateau had its
full complement of inhabitants they all preferred to take this covered
way through the breach to the main road which skirted the park walls and
led to the farm, rather than go round by the entrance. By dint of thus
using it the breach in the sides of the moat had gradually been widened
on both sides, with all the less scruple because in this nineteenth
century of ours moats are no longer of the slightest use, and Laurence's
guardian had often talked of putting this one to some other purpose. The
constant crumbling away of the earth and stones and gravel had ended by
filling up the ditch, so that only after heavy rains was the causeway
thus constructed covered. But the bank was still so steep that it was
difficult to make a horse descend it, and even more difficult to get him
up upon the main road. Horses, however, seem in times of peril to share
their masters' thought.
While the young countess was hesitating to follow Marthe, and asking
explanations, Michu, from his vantage-ground watched the closing in of
the gendarmes and understood their plan. He grew desperate as time
went by and the countess did not come to him. A squad of gendarmes were
marching along the park wall and stationing themselves as sentinels,
each man being near enough to communicate with those on either side of
them, by voice and eye. Michu, lying flat on his stomach, his ear to
earth, gauged, like a red Indian, by the strength of the sounds the time
that remained to him.
"I came too late!" he said to himself. "Violette shall pay dear for
this! what a time it took to make him drunk! What can be done?"
He heard the detachment that was coming through the forest reach the
iron gates and turn into the main road, where before long it would meet
the squad coming up from the other direction.
"Still five or six minutes!" he said.
At that instant the countess appeared. Michu took her with a firm hand
and pushed her into the covered way.
"Keep straight before you! Lead her to where my horse is," he said to
his wife, "and remember that gendarmes have ears."
Seeing Catherine, who carried the hat and whip, and Gothard leading the
mare, the man, keen-witted in presence of danger, bethought himself of
playing the gendarmes a trick as useful as the one he had just played
Violette. Gothard had forced the mare to mount the bank.
"Her feet muffled! I thank thee, boy," exclaimed the bailiff.
Michu let the mare follow her mistress and took the hat, gloves, and
whip from Catherine.
"You have sense, boy, you'll understand me," he said. "Force your own
horse up here, jump on him, and draw the gendarmes after you across the
fields towards the farm; get the whole squad to follow you—And you,"
he added to Catherine, "there are other gendarmes coming up on the road
from Cinq-Cygne to Gondreville; run in the opposite direction to the one
Gothard takes, and draw them towards the forest. Manage so that we shall
not be interfered with in the covered way."
Catherine and the boy, who were destined to give in this affair such
remarkable proofs of intelligence, executed the manoeuvre in a way to
make both detachments of gendarmes believe that they held the game. The
dim light of the moon prevented the pursuers from distinguishing the
figure, clothing, sex, or number of those they followed. The pursuit was
based on the maxim, "Always arrest those who are escaping,"—the folly
of which saying was, as we have seen, energetically declared by Corentin
to the corporal in command. Michu, counting on this instinct of
the gendarmes, was able to reach the forest a few moments after the
countess, whom Marthe had guided to the appointed place.
"Go home now," he said to Marthe. "The forest is watched and it is
dangerous to remain here. We need all our freedom."
Michu unfastened his horse and asked the countess to follow him.
"I shall not go a step further," said Laurence, "unless you give me some
proof of the interest you seem to have in us—for, after all, you are
"Mademoiselle," he answered, in a gentle voice; "the part I am playing
can be explained to you in two words. I am, unknown to the Marquis de
Simeuse and his brother, the guardian of their property. On this subject
I received the last instructions of their late father and their dear
mother, my protectress. I have played the part of a virulent Jacobin to
serve my dear young masters. Unhappily, I began this course too late;
I could not save their parents." Here, Michu's voice broke down. "Since
the young men emigrated I have sent them regularly the sums they needed
to live upon."
"Through the house of Breintmayer of Strasburg?" asked the countess.
"Yes, mademoiselle; the correspondents of Monsieur Girel of Troyes, a
royalist who, like me, made himself for good reasons, a Jacobin. The
paper which your farmer picked up one evening and which I forced him
to surrender, related to the affair and would have compromised your
cousins. My life no longer belongs to me, but to them, you understand. I
could not buy in Gondreville. In my position, I should have lost my head
had the authorities known I had the money. I preferred to wait and
buy it later. But that scoundrel of a Marion was the slave of another
scoundrel, Malin. All the same, Gondreville shall once more belong
to its rightful masters. That's my affair. Four hours ago I had Malin
sighted by my gun; ha! he was almost gone then! Were he dead, the
property would be sold and you could have bought it. In case of my death
my wife would have brought you a letter which would have given you the
means of buying it. But I overheard that villain telling his accomplice
Grevin—another scoundrel like himself—that the Marquis and his brother
were conspiring against the First Consul, that they were here in the
neighborhood, and that he meant to give them up and get rid of them so
as to keep Gondreville in peace. I myself saw the police spies; I laid
aside my gun, and I have lost no time in coming here, thinking that you
must be the one to know best how to warn the young men. That's the whole
"You are worthy to be a noble," said Laurence, offering her hand to
Michu, who tried to kneel and kiss it. She saw his motion and prevented
it, saying: "Stand up!" in a tone of voice and with a look which made
him amends for all the scorn of the last twelve years.
"You reward me as though I had done all that remains for me to do," he
said. "But don't you hear them, those huzzars of the guillotine? Let us
He took the mare's bridle, and led her a little distance.
"Think only of sitting firm," he said, "and of saving your head from the
branches of the trees which might strike you in the face."
Then he mounted his own horse and guided the young girl for half an
hour at full gallop; making turns and half turns, and striking into
wood-paths, so as to confuse their traces, until they reached a spot
where he pulled up.
"I don't know where I am," said the countess looking about her,—"I, who
know the forest as well as you do."
"We are in the heart of it," he replied. "Two gendarmes are after us,
but we are quite safe."
The picturesque spot to which the bailiff had guided Laurence was
destined to be so fatal to the principal personages of this drama, and
to Michu himself, that it becomes our duty, as an historian, to describe
it. The scene became, as we shall see hereafter, one of noted interest
in the judiciary annals of the Empire.
The forest of Nodesme belonged to the monastery of Notre-Dame. That
monastery, seized, sacked, and demolished, had disappeared entirely,
monks and property. The forest, an object of much cupidity, was taken
into the domain of the Comtes de Champagne, who mortgaged it later and
allowed it to be sold. In the course of six centuries nature covered
its ruins with her rich and vigorous green mantle, and effaced them
so thoroughly that the existence of one of the finest convents was no
longer even indicated except by a slight eminence shaded by noble trees
and circled by thick, impenetrable shrubbery, which, since 1794, Michu
had taken great pains to make still more impenetrable by planting the
thorny acacia in all the slight openings between the bushes. A pond was
at the foot of the eminence and showed the existence of a hidden stream
which no doubt determined in former days the site of the monastery.
The late owner of the title to the forest of Nodesme was the first
to recognize the etymology of the name, which dated back for eight
centuries, and to discover that at one time a monastery had existed in
the heart of the forest. When the first rumblings of the thunder of the
Revolution were heard, the Marquis de Simeuse, who had been forced to
look into his title by a lawsuit and so learned the above facts as
it were by chance, began, with a secret intention not difficult to
conceive, to search for some remains of the former monastery. The
keeper, Michu, to whom the forest was well known, helped his master
in the search, and it was his sagacity as a forester which led to the
discovery of the site. Observing the trend of the five chief roads of
the forest, some of which were now effaced, he saw that they all ended
either at the little eminence or by the pond at the foot of it, to which
points travellers from Troyes, from the valley of Arcis and that of
Cinq-Cygne, and from Bar-sur-Aube doubtless came. The marquis wished
to excavate the hillock but he dared not employ the people of the
neighborhood. Pressed by circumstances, he abandoned the intention,
leaving in Michu's mind a strong conviction that the eminence had either
the treasure or the foundations of the former abbey. He continued,
all alone, this archaeological enterprise; he sounded the earth and
discovered a hollowness on the level of the pond between two trees, at
the foot of the only craggy part of the hillock.
One fine night he came to the place armed with a pickaxe, and by the
sweat of his brow uncovered a succession of cellars, which were entered
by a flight of stone steps. The pond, which was three feet deep in the
middle, formed a sort of dipper, the handle of which seemed to come from
the little eminence, and went far to prove that a spring had once issued
from the crags, and was now lost by infiltration through the forest. The
marshy shores of the pond, covered with aquatic trees, alders, willow,
and ash, were the terminus of all the wood-paths, the remains of former
roads and forest by-ways, now abandoned. The water, flowing from a
spring, though apparently stagnant, was covered with large-leaved
plants and cresses, which gave it a perfectly green surface almost
indistinguishable from the shores, which were covered with fine close
herbage. The place is too far from human habitations for any animal,
unless a wild one, to come there. Convinced that no game was in the
marsh and repelled by the craggy sides of the hills, keepers and hunters
had never explored or visited this nook, which belonged to a part of the
forest where the timber had not been cut for many years and which Michu
meant to keep in its full growth when the time came round to fell it.
At the further end of the first cellar was a vaulted chamber, clean
and dry, built with hewn stone, a sort of convent dungeon, such as they
called in monastic days the in pace. The salubrity of the chamber and
the preservation of this part of the staircase and of the vaults were
explained by the presence of the spring, which had been enclosed at some
time by a wall of extraordinary thickness built in brick and cement
like those of the Romans, and received all the waters. Michu closed the
entrance to this retreat with large stones; then, to keep the secret of
it to himself and make it impenetrable to others, he made a rule never
to enter it except from the wooded height above, by clambering down the
crag instead of approaching it from the pond.
Just as the fugitives arrived, the moon was casting her beautiful
silvery light on the aged tree-tops above the crag, and flickering on
the splendid foliage at the corners of the several paths, all of which
ended here, some with one tree, some with a group of trees. On all
sides the eye was irresistibly led along their vanishing perspectives,
following the curve of a wood-path or the solemn stretch of a forest
glade flanked by a wall of verdure that was nearly black. The moonlight,
filtering through the branches of the crossways, made the lonely,
tranquil waters, where they peeped between the crosses and the
lily-pads, sparkle like diamonds. The croaking of the frogs broke the
deep silence of this beautiful forest-nook, the wild odors of which
incited the soul to thoughts of liberty.
"Are we safe?" said the countess to Michu.
"Yes, mademoiselle. But we have each some work to do. Do you go and
fasten our horses to the trees at the top of the little hill; tie a
handkerchief round the mouth of each of them," he said, giving her his
cravat; "your beast and mine are both intelligent, they will understand
they are not to neigh. When you have done that, come down the crag
directly above the pond; but don't let your habit catch anywhere. You
will find me below."
While the countess hid the horses and tied and gagged them, Michu
removed the stones and opened the entrance to the caverns. The countess,
who thought she knew the forest by heart, was amazed when she descended
into the vaulted chambers. Michu replaced the stones above them with the
dexterity of a mason. As he finished, the sound of horses' feet and the
voices of the gendarmes echoed in the darkness; but he quietly struck
a match, lighted a resinous bit of wood and led the countess to the in
pace, where there was still a piece of the candle with which he had
first explored the caves. An iron door of some thickness, eaten in
several places by rust, had been put in good order by the bailiff, and
could be fastened securely by bars slipping into holes in the wall on
either side of it. The countess, half dead with fatigue, sat down on a
stone bench, above which there still remained an iron ring, the staple
of which was embedded in the masonry.
"We have a salon to converse in," said Michu. "The gendarmes may prowl
as much as they like; the worst they could do would be to take our
"If they do that," said Laurence, "it would be the death of my cousins
and the Messieurs d'Hauteserre. Tell me now, what do you know?"
Michu related what he had overheard Malin say to Grevin.
"They are already on the road to Paris; they were to enter it to-morrow
morning," said the countess when he had finished.
"Lost!" exclaimed Michu. "All persons entering or leaving the barriers
are examined. Malin has strong reasons to let my masters compromise
themselves; he is seeking to get them killed out of his way."
"And I, who don't know anything of the general plan of the affair,"
cried Laurence, "how can I warn Georges, Riviere, and Moreau? Where are
they?—However, let us think only of my cousins and the d'Hauteserres;
you must catch up with them, no matter what it costs."
"The telegraph goes faster than the best horse," said Michu; "and of
all the nobles concerned in this conspiracy your cousins are the closest
watched. If I can find them, they must be hidden here and kept here till
the affair is over. Their poor father may have had a foreboding when he
set me to search for this hiding-place; perhaps he felt that his sons
would be saved here."
"My mare is from the stables of the Comte d'Artois,—she is the daughter
of his finest English horse," said Laurence; "but she has already gone
sixty miles, she would drop dead before you reached them."
"Mine is in good condition," replied Michu; "and if you did sixty miles
I shall have only thirty to do."
"Nearer forty," she said, "they have been walking since dark. You will
overtake them beyond Lagny, at Coupvrai, where they expected to be at
daybreak. They are disguised as sailors, and will enter Paris by the
river on some vessel. This," she added, taking half of her mother's
wedding-ring from her finger, "is the only thing which will make them
trust you; they have the other half. The keeper of Couvrai is the father
of one of their soldiers; he has hidden them tonight in a hut in the
forest deserted by charcoal-burners. They are eight in all, Messieurs
d'Hauteserre and four others are with my cousins."
"Mademoiselle, no one is looking for the others! let them save
themselves as they can; we must think only of the Messieurs de Simeuse.
It is enough just to warn the rest."
"What! abandon the Hauteserres? never!" she said. "They must all perish
or be saved together!"
"Only petty noblemen!" remarked Michu.
"They are only chevaliers, I know that," she replied, "but they are
related to the Cinq-Cygne and Simeuse blood. Save them all, and advise
them how best to regain this forest."
"The gendarmes are here,—don't you hear them? they are holding a
council of war."
"Well, you have twice had luck to-night; go! bring my cousins here and
hide them in these vaults; they'll be safe from all pursuit—Alas! I am
good for nothing!" she cried, with rage; "I should be only a beacon to
light the enemy—but the police will never imagine that my cousins are
in the forest if they see me at my ease. So the question resolves itself
into this: how can we get five good horses to bring them in six hours
from Lagny to the forest,—five horses to be killed and hidden in some
"And the money?" said Michu, who was thinking deeply as he listened to
the young countess.
"I gave my cousins a hundred louis this evening," she replied.
"I'll answer for them!" cried Michu. "But once hidden here you must not
attempt to see them. My wife, or the little one, shall bring them
food twice a week. But, as I can't be sure of what may happen to me,
remember, mademoiselle, in case of trouble, that the main beam in my
hay-loft has been bored with an auger. In the hole, which is plugged
with a bit of wood, you will find a plan showing how to reach this spot.
The trees which you will find marked with a red dot on the plan have a
black mark at their foot close to the earth. Each of these trees is a
sign-post. At the foot of the third old oak which stands to the left
of each sign-post, two feet in front of it and buried seven feet in the
ground, you will find a large metal tube; in each tube are one
hundred thousand francs in gold. These eleven trees—there are only
eleven—contain the whole fortune of the Simeuse brothers, now that
Gondreville has been taken from them."
"It will take a hundred years for the nobility to recover from such
blows," said Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, slowly.
"Is there a pass-word?" asked Michu.
"'France and Charles' for the soldiers, 'Laurence and Louis' for the
Messieurs d'Hauteserre and Simeuse. Good God! to think that I saw them
yesterday for the first time in eleven years, and that now they are in
danger of death—and what a death! Michu," she said, with a melancholy
look, "be as prudent during the next fifteen hours as you have been
grand and devoted during the last twelve years. If disaster were to
overtake my cousins now I should die of it—No," she added, quickly, "I
would live long enough to kill Bonaparte."
"There will be two of us to do that when all is lost," said Michu.
Laurence took his rough hand and wrung it warmly, as the English do.
Michu looked at his watch; it was midnight.
"We must leave here at any cost," he said. "Death to the gendarme who
attempts to stop me! And you, madame la comtesse, without presuming
to dictate, ride back to Cinq-Cygne as fast as you can. The police are
there by this time; fool them! delay them!"
The hole once opened, Michu flung himself down with his ear to the
earth; then he rose precipitately. "The gendarmes are at the edge of the
forest towards Troyes!" he said. "Ha, I'll get the better of them yet!"
He helped the countess to come out, and replaced the stones. When this
was done he heard her soft voice telling him she must see him mounted
before mounting herself. Tears came to the eyes of the stern man as
he exchanged a last look with his young mistress, whose own eyes were
"Fool them! yes, he is right!" she said when she heard him no longer.
Then she darted towards Cinq-Cygne at full gallop.
CHAPTER VIII. TRIALS OF THE POLICE
Madame d'Hauteserre, roused by the danger of her sons, and not believing
that the Revolution was over, but still fearing its summary justice,
recovered her senses by the violence of the same distress which made
her lose them. Led by an agonizing curiosity she returned to the salon,
which presented a picture worthy of the brush of a genre painter. The
abbe, still seated at the card-table and mechanically playing with the
counters, was covertly observing Corentin and Peyrade, who were standing
together at a corner of the fireplace and speaking in a low voice.
Several times Corentin's keen eye met the not less keen glance of the
priest; but, like two adversaries who knew themselves equally strong,
and who return to their guard after crossing their weapons, each averted
his eyes the instant they met. The worthy old d'Hauteserre, poised on
his long thin legs like a heron, was standing beside the stout form of
the mayor, in an attitude expressive of utter stupefaction. The mayor,
though dressed as a bourgeois, always looked like a servant. Each gazed
with a bewildered eye at the gendarmes, in whose clutches Gothard was
still sobbing, his hands purple and swollen from the tightness of the
cord that bound them. Catherine maintained her attitude of artless
simplicity, which was quite impenetrable. The corporal, who, according
to Corentin, had committed a great blunder in arresting these smaller
fry, did not know whether to stay where he was or to depart. He stood
pensively in the middle of the salon, his hand on the hilt of his sabre,
his eye on the two Parisians. The Durieus, also stupefied, and the
other servants of the chateau made an admirable group of expressive
uneasiness. If it had not been for Gothard's convulsive snifflings those
present could have heard the flies fly.
When Madame d'Hauteserre, pale and terrified, opened the door and
entered the room, almost carried by Mademoiselle Goujet, whose red eyes
had evidently been weeping, all faces turned to her at once. The two
agents hoped as much as the household feared to see Laurence enter. This
spontaneous movement of both masters and servants seemed produced by
the sort of mechanism which makes a number of wooden figures perform the
same gesture or wink the same eye.
Madame d'Hauteserre advanced by three rapid strides towards Corentin and
said, in a broken voice but violently: "For pity's sake, monsieur,
tell me what my sons are accused of. Do you really think they have been
The abbe, who seemed to be saying to himself when he saw the old lady,
"She will certainly commit some folly," lowered his eyes.
"My duty and the mission I am engaged in forbid me to tell you,"
answered Corentin, with a gracious but rather mocking air.
This refusal, which the detestable politeness of the vulgar fop seemed
to make all the more emphatic, petrified the poor mother, who fell into
a chair beside the Abbe Goujet, clasped her hands and began to pray.
"Where did you arrest that blubber?" asked Corentin, addressing the
corporal and pointing to Laurence's little henchman.
"On the road that leads to the farm along the park walls; the little
scamp had nearly reached the Closeaux woods," replied the corporal.
"And that girl?"
"She? oh, it was Oliver who caught her."
"Where was she going?"
"They were going in opposite directions?" said Corentin.
"Yes," replied the gendarme.
"Is that boy the groom, and the girl the maid of the citizeness
Cinq-Cygne?" said Corentin to the mayor.
"Yes," replied Goulard.
After Corentin had exchanged a few words with Peyrade in a whisper, the
latter left the room, taking the corporal of gendarmes with him.
Just then the corporal of Arcis made his appearance. He went up to
Corentin and spoke to him in a low voice: "I know these premises well,"
he said; "I have searched everywhere; unless those young fellows are
buried, they are not here. We have sounded all the floors and walls with
the butt end of our muskets."
Peyrade, who presently returned, signed to Corentin to come out, and
then took him to the breach in the moat and showed him the sunken way.
"We have guessed the trick," said Peyrade.
"And I'll tell you how it was done," added Corentin. "That little scamp
and the girl decoyed those idiots of gendarmes and thus made time for
the game to escape."
"We can't know the truth till daylight," said Peyrade. "The road is
damp; I have ordered two gendarmes to barricade it top and bottom. We'll
examine it after daylight, and find out by the footsteps who went that
"I see a hoof-mark," said Corentin; "let us go to the stables."
"How many horses do you keep?" said Peyrade, returning to the salon with
Corentin, and addressing Monsieur d'Hauteserre and Goulard.
"Come, monsieur le maire, you know, answer," cried Corentin, seeing that
that functionary hesitated.
"Why, there's the countess's mare, Gothard's horse, and Monsieur
"There is only one in the stable," said Peyrade.
"Mademoiselle is out riding," said Durieu.
"Does she often ride about at this time of night?" said the libertine
Peyrade, addressing Monsieur d'Hauteserre.
"Often," said the good man, simply. "Monsieur le maire can tell you
"Everybody knows she has her freaks," remarked Catherine; "she looked at
the sky before she went to bed, and I think the glitter of your bayonets
in the moonlight puzzled her. She told me she wanted to know if there
was going to be another revolution."
"When did she go?" asked Peyrade.
"When she saw your guns."
"Which road did she take?"
"I don't know."
"There's another horse missing," said Corentin.
"The gendarmes—took it—away from me," said Gothard.
"Where were you going?" said one of them.
"I was—following—my mistress to the farm," sobbed the boy.
The gendarme looked towards Corentin as if expecting an order. But
Gothard's speech was evidently so true and yet so false, so perfectly
innocent and so artful that the two Parisians again looked at each other
as if to echo Peyrade's former words: "They are not ninnies."
Monsieur d'Hauteserre seemed incapable of a word; the mayor was
bewildered; the mother, imbecile from maternal fears, was putting
questions to the police agents that were idiotically innocent; the
servants had been roused from their sleep. Judging by these trifling
signs, and these diverse characters, Corentin came to the conclusion
that his only real adversary was Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne. Shrewd
and dexterous as the police may be, they are always under certain
disadvantages. Not only are they forced to discover all that is known
to a conspirator, but they must also suppose and test a great number
of things before they hit upon the right one. The conspirator is always
thinking of his own safety, whereas the police is only on duty at
certain hours. Were it not for treachery and betrayals, nothing would
be easier than to conspire successfully. The conspirator has more mind
concentrated upon himself than the police can bring to bear with all its
vast facilities of action. Finding themselves stopped short morally,
as they might be physically by a door which they expected to find open
being shut in their faces, Corentin and Peyrade saw they were tricked
and misled, without knowing by whom.
"I assert," said the corporal of Arcis, in their ear, "that if the four
young men slept here last night it must have been in the beds of their
father and mother, and Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, or those of the
servants; or they must have spent the night in the park. There is not a
trace of their presence."
"Who could have warned them?" said Corentin, to Peyrade. "No one but the
First Consul, Fouche, the ministers, the prefect of police, and Malin
knew anything about it."
"We must set spies in the neighborhood," whispered Peyrade.
"And watch the spies," said the abbe, who smiled as he overheard the
word and guessed all.
"Good God!" thought Corentin, replying to the abbe's smile with one of
his own; "there is but one intelligent being here,—he's the one to come
to an understanding with; I'll try him."
"Gentlemen—" said the mayor, anxious to give some proof of devotion to
the First Consul and addressing the two agents.
"Say 'citizens'; the Republic still exists," interrupted Corentin,
looking at the priest with a quizzical air.
"Citizens," resumed the mayor, "just as I entered this salon and before
I had opened my mouth Catherine rushed in and took her mistress's hat,
gloves, and whip."
A low murmur of horror came from the breasts of all the household except
Gothard. All eyes but those of the agent and the gendarmes were turned
threateningly on Goulard, the informer, seeming to dart flames at him.
"Very good, citizen mayor," said Peyrade. "We see it all plainly. Some
one" (this with a glance of evident distrust at Corentin) "warned the
citizeness Cinq-Cygne in time."
"Corporal, handcuff that boy," said Corentin, to the gendarme, "and take
him away by himself. And shut up that girl, too," pointing to Catherine.
"As for you, Peyrade, search for papers," adding in his ear, "Ransack
everything, spare nothing.—Monsieur l'abbe," he said, confidentially,
"I have an important communication to make to you"; and he took him into
"Listen to me attentively, monsieur," he went on; "you seem to have the
mind of a bishop, and (no one can hear us) you will understand me. I
have no longer any hope except through you of saving these families,
who, with the greatest folly, are letting themselves roll down a
precipice where no one can save them. The Messieurs Simeuse and
d'Hauteserre have been betrayed by one of those infamous spies whom
governments introduce into all conspiracies to learn their objects,
means, and members. Don't confound me, I beg of you, with the wretch who
is with me. He belongs to the police; but I am honorably attached to
the Consular cabinet, I am therefore behind the scenes. The ruin of the
Simeuse brothers is not desired. Though Malin would like to see them
shot, the First Consul, if they are here and have come without evil
intentions, wishes them to be warned out of danger, for he likes
good soldiers. The agent who accompanies me has all the powers, I,
apparently, am nothing. But I see plainly what is hatching. The agent
is pledged to Malin, who has doubtless promised him his influence, an
office, and perhaps money if he finds the Simeuse brothers and delivers
them up. The First Consul, who is a really great man, never favors
selfish schemes—I don't want to know if those young men are here," he
added, quickly, observing the abbe's gesture, "but I wish to tell you
that there is only one way to save them. You know the law of the 6th
Floreal, year X., which amnestied all the emigres who were still in
foreign countries on condition that they returned home before the 1st
Vendemiaire of the year XI., that is to say, in September of last year.
But the Messieurs Simeuse having, like the Messieurs d'Hauteserre,
served in the army of Conde, they come into the category of exceptions
to this law. Their presence in France is therefore criminal, and
suffices, under the circumstances in which we are, to make them
suspected of collusion in a horrible plot. The First Consul saw the
error of this exception which has made enemies for his government, and
he wishes the Messieurs Simeuse to know that no steps will be taken
against them, if they will send him a petition saying that they have
re-entered France intending to submit to the laws, and agreeing to take
oath to the Constitution. You can understand that the document ought to
be in my hands before they are arrested, and be dated some days earlier.
I would then be the bearer of it—I do not ask you where those young men
are," he said again, seeing another gesture of denial from the priest.
"We are, unfortunately, sure of finding them; the forest is guarded, the
entrances to Paris and the frontiers are all watched. Pray listen to me;
if these gentlemen are between the forest and Paris they must be taken;
if they are in Paris they will be found; if they retreat to the frontier
they will still be arrested. The First Consul likes the ci-devants,
and cannot endure the republicans—simple enough; if he wants a throne
he must needs strangle Liberty. Keep the matter a secret between us.
This is what I will do; I will stay here till to-morrow and be blind;
but beware of the agent; that cursed Provencal is the devil's own valet;
he has the ear of Fouche just as I have that of the First Consul."
"If the Messieurs Simeuse are here," said the abbe, "I would give ten
pints of my blood and my right arm to save them; but if Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne is in the secret she has not—and this I swear on my eternal
salvation—betrayed it in any way, neither has she done me the honor to
consult me. I am now very glad of her discretion, if discretion there
be. We played cards last night as usual, at boston, in almost complete
silence, until half-past ten o'clock, and we neither saw nor heard
anything. Not a child can pass through this solitary valley without the
whole community knowing it, and for the last two weeks no one has come
from other places. Now the d'Hauteserre and the Simeuse brothers would
make a party of four. Old d'Hauteserre and his wife have submitted to
the present government, and they have made all imaginable efforts
to persuade their sons to return to France; they wrote to them again
yesterday. I can only say, upon my soul and conscience, that your visit
has alone shaken my firm belief that these young men are living in
Germany. Between ourselves, there is no one here, except the young
countess, who does not do justice to the eminent qualities of the First
"Fox!" thought Corentin. "Well, if those young men are shot," he said,
aloud; "it is because their friends have willed it—I wash my hands of
He had led the abbe to a part of the garden which lay in the moonlight,
and as he said the last words he looked at him suddenly. The priest
was greatly distressed, but his manner was that of a man surprised and
"Understand this, monsieur l'abbe," resumed Corentin; "the right of
these young men to the estate of Gondreville will render them doubly
criminal in the eyes of the middle class. I'd like to see them put faith
in God and not in his saints—"
"Is there really a plot?" asked the abbe, simply.
"Base, odious, cowardly, and so contrary to the generous spirit of
the nation," replied Corentin, "that it will meet with universal
"Well! Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne is incapable of baseness," cried the
"Monsieur l'abbe," replied Corentin, "let me tell you this; there is for
us (meaning you and me) proof positive of her guilt; but there is not
enough for the law. You see she took flight when we came; I sent the
mayor to warn her."
"Yes, but for one who is so anxious to save them, you followed rather
closely on his heels," said the abbe.
At those words the two men looked at each other, and all was said.
Each belonged to those profound anatomists of thought to whom a mere
inflexion of the voice, a look, a word suffices to reveal a soul, just
as the Indians track their enemies by signs invisible to European eyes.
"I expected to draw something out of him, and I have only betrayed
myself," thought Corentin.
"Ha! the sly rogue!" thought the priest.
Midnight rang from the old church clock just as Corentin and the abbe
re-entered the salon. The opening and shutting of doors and closets
could be heard from the bedrooms above. The gendarmes pulled open the
beds; Peyrade, with the quick perception of a spy, handled and sounded
everything. Such desecration excited both fear and indignation among
the faithful servants of the house, who still stood motionless about the
salon. Monsieur d'Hauteserre exchanged looks of commiseration with his
wife and Mademoiselle Goujet. A species of horrible curiosity kept every
one on the qui vive. Peyrade at length came down, holding in his hand a
sandal-wood box which had probably been brought from China by Admiral
de Simeuse. This pretty casket was flat and about the size of a quarto
Peyrade made a sign to Corentin and took him into the embrasure of a
"I've an idea!" he said, "that Michu, who was ready to pay Marion eight
hundred thousand francs in gold for Gondreville, and who evidently
meant to shoot Malin yesterday, is the man who is helping the Simeuse
brothers. His motive in threatening Marion and aiming at Malin must
be the same. I thought when I saw him that he was capable of ideas;
evidently he has but one; he discovered what was going on and he must
have come here to warn them."
"Probably Malin talked about the conspiracy to his friend the notary,
and Michu from his ambush overheard what was said," remarked Corentin,
continuing the inductions of his colleague. "No doubt he has only
postponed his shot to prevent an evil he thinks worse than the loss of
"He knew what we were the moment he laid eyes on us," said Peyrade. "I
thought then that he was amazingly intelligent for a peasant."
"That proves that he is always on his guard," replied Corentin. "But,
mind you, my old man, don't let us make a mistake. Treachery stinks in
the nostrils, and primitive folks do scent it from afar."
"But that's our strength," said the Provencal.
"Call the corporal of Arcis," cried Corentin to one of the gendarmes. "I
shall send him at once to Michu's house," he added to Peyrade.
"Our ear, Violette, is there," said Peyrade.
"We started without getting news from him. Two of us are not enough;
we ought to have had Sabatier with us—Corporal," he said, when the
gendarme appeared, taking him aside with Peyrade, "don't let them fool
you as they did the Troyes corporal just now. We think Michu is in this
business. Go to his house, put your eye on everything, and bring word of
"One of my men heard horses in the forest just as they arrested the
little groom; I've four fine fellows now on the track of whoever is
hiding there," replied the gendarme.
He left the room, and the gallop of his horse which echoed on the paved
courtyard died rapidly away.
"One thing is certain," said Corentin to himself, "either they have gone
to Paris or they are retreating to Germany."
He sat down, pulled a note-book from the pocket of his spencer, wrote
two orders in pencil, sealed them, and made a sign to one of the
gendarmes to come to him.
"Be off at full gallop to Troyes, wake up the prefect, and tell him to
start the telegraph as soon as there's light enough."
The gendarme departed. The meaning of this movement and Corentin's
intentions were so evident that the hearts of the household sank within
them; but this new anxiety was additional to another that was now
martyrizing them; their eyes were fixed on the sandal-wood box! All the
while the two agents were talking together they were each taking note of
those eager looks. A sort of cold anger stirred the unfeeling hearts of
these men who relished the power of inspiring terror. The police man has
the instincts and emotions of a hunter: but where the one employs his
powers of mind and body in killing a hare, a partridge, or a deer, the
other is thinking of saving the State, or a king, and of winning a large
reward. So the hunt for men is superior to the other class of hunting
by all the distance that there is between animals and human beings.
Moreover, a spy is forced to lift the part he plays to the level and
the importance of the interests to which he is bound. Without looking
further into this calling, it is easy to see that the man who follows
it puts as much passionate ardor into his chase as another man does into
the pursuit of game. Therefore the further these men advanced in their
investigations the more eager they became; but the expression of their
faces and their eyes continued calm and cold, just as their ideas,
their suspicions, and their plans remained impenetrable. To any one who
watched the effects of the moral scent, if we may so call it, of these
bloodhounds on the track of hidden facts, and who noted and understood
the movements of canine agility which led them to strike the truth in
their rapid examination of probabilities, there was in it all something
actually horrifying. How and why should men of genius fall so low when
it was in their power to be so high? What imperfection, what vice, what
passion debases them? Does a man become a police-agent as he becomes
a thinker, writer, statesmen, painter, general, on the condition of
knowing nothing but how to spy, as the others speak, write, govern,
paint, and fight? The inhabitants of the chateau had but one wish,—that
the thunderbolts of heaven might fall upon these miscreants; they were
athirst for vengeance; and had it not been for the presence, up to this
time, of the gendarmes there would undoubtedly have been an outbreak.
"No one, I suppose, has the key of this box?" said the cynical Peyrade,
questioning the family as much by the movement of his huge red nose as
by his words.
The Provencal noticed, not without fear, that the guards were no longer
present; he and Corentin were alone with the family. The younger man
drew a small dagger from his pocket, and began to force the lock of the
box. Just then the desperate galloping of a horse was heard upon the
road and then upon the pavement by the lawn; but most horrible of all
was the fall and sighing of the animal, which seemed to drop all at
once at the door of the middle tower. A convulsion like that which
a thunderbolt might produce shook the spectators when Laurence, the
trailing of whose riding-habit announced her coming, entered the room.
The servants hastily formed into two lines to let her pass.
In spite of her rapid ride, the girl had felt the full anguish the
discovery of the conspiracy must needs cause her. All her hopes were
overthrown! she had galloped through ruins as her thoughts turned to the
necessity of submission to the Consular government. Were it not for the
danger which threatened the four gentlemen, and which served as a tonic
to conquer her weariness and her despair, she would have dropped
asleep on the way. The mare was almost killed in her haste to reach the
chateau, and stand between her cousins and death. As all present looked
at the heroic girl, pale, her features drawn, her veil aside, her whip
in her hand, standing on the threshold of the door, whence her burning
glance grasped the whole scene and comprehended it, each knew from the
almost imperceptible motion which crossed the soured and bittered face
of Corentin, that the real adversaries had met. A terrible duel was
about to begin.
Noticing the box, now in the hands of Corentin, the countess raised her
whip and sprang rapidly towards him. Striking his hands with so violent
a blow that the casket fell to the ground, she seized it, flung it into
the middle of the fire, and stood with her back to the chimney in a
threatening attitude before either of the agents recovered from their
surprise. The scorn which flamed from her eyes, her pale brow, her
disdainful lips, were even more insulting than the haughty action which
treated Corentin as though he were a venomous reptile. Old d'Hauteserre
felt himself once more a cavalier; all his blood rushed to his face, and
he grieved that he had no sword. The servants trembled for an instant
with joy. The vengeance they had called down upon these men had come.
But their joy was driven back within their souls by a terrible fear; the
gendarmes were still heard coming and going in the garrets.
The spy—noun of strength, under which all shades of the police are
confounded, for the public has never chosen to specify in language the
varieties of those who compose this dispensary of social remedies so
essential to all governments—the spy has this curious and magnificent
quality: he never becomes angry; he possesses the Christian humility of
a priest; his eyes are stolid with an indifference which he holds as
a barrier against the world of fools who do not understand him; his
forehead is adamant under insult; he pursues his ends like a reptile
whose carapace is fractured only by a cannonball; but (like that
reptile) he is all the more furious when the blow does reach him,
because he believed his armor invulnerable. The lash of the whip upon
his fingers was to Corentin, pain apart, the cannonball that cracked
the shell. Coming from that magnificent and noble girl, this action,
emblematic of her disgust, humiliated him, not only in the eyes of the
people about him, but in his own.
Peyrade sprang to the hearth, caught Laurence's foot, raised it, and
compelled her, out of modesty, to throw herself on the sofa, where she
had lately lain asleep. The scene, like other contrasts in human things,
was burlesque in the midst of terror. Peyrade scorched his hand as he
dashed it into the fire to seize the box; but he got it, threw it on the
floor and sat down upon it. These little actions were done with great
rapidity and without a word being uttered. Corentin, recovering from the
pain of the blow, caught Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne by both hands, and
"Do not compel me to use force against you," he said, with withering
Peyrade's action had extinguished the fire by the natural process of
suppressing the air.
"Gendarmes! here!" he cried, still occupying his ridiculous position.
"Will you promise to behave yourself?" said Corentin, insolently,
addressing Laurence, and picking up his dagger, but not committing the
great fault of threatening her with it.
"The secrets of that box do not concern the government," she answered,
with a tinge of melancholy in her tone and manner. "When you have read
the letters it contains you will, in spite of your infamy, feel ashamed
of having read them—that is, if you can still feel shame at anything,"
she added, after a pause.
The abbe looked at her as if to say, "For God's sake, be calm!"
Peyrade rose. The bottom of the box, which had been nearly burned
through, left a mark upon the floor; the lid was scorched and the sides
gave way. The grotesque Scaevola, who had offered to the god of the
Police and Terror the seat of his apricot breeches, opened the two sides
of the box as if it had been a book, and slid three letters and two
locks of hair upon the card-table. He was about to smile at Corentin
when he perceived that the locks were of two shades of gray. Corentin
released Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne's hands and went up to the table to
read the letter from which the hair had fallen.
Laurence rose, moved to the table beside the spies, and said:—"Read it
aloud; that shall be your punishment."
As the two men continued to read to themselves, she herself read out the
Dear Laurence,—My husband and I have heard of your noble conduct
on the day of our arrest. We know that you love our dear twins as
much, almost, as we love them ourselves. Therefore it is with you
that we leave a token which will be both precious and sad to them.
The executioner has come to cut our hair, for we are to die in a
few moments; he has promised to put into your hands the only
remembrance we are able to leave to our beloved orphans. Keep
these last remains of us and give them to our sons in happier
days. We have kissed these locks of hair and have laid our
blessing upon them. Our last thought will be of our sons, of you,
and of God. Love them, Laurence.
Berthe de Cinq-Cygne. Jean de Simeuse.
Tears came to the eyes of all the household as they listened to the
Laurence looked at the agents with a petrifying glance and said, in a
"You have less pity than the executioner."
Corentin quietly folded the hair in the letter, laid the letter aside on
the table, and put a box of counters on the top of it as if to prevent
its blowing away. His coolness in the midst of the general emotion was
Peyrade unfolded the other letters.
"Oh, as for those," said Laurence, "they are very much alike. You hear
the will; you can now hear of its fulfilment. In future I shall have no
secrets from any one."
1794, Andernach. Before the battle.
My dear Laurence,—I love you for life, and I wish you to know it.
But you ought also to know, in case I die, that my brother,
Paul-Marie, loves you as much as I love you. My only consolation in
dying would be the thought that you might some day make my brother
your husband without being forced to see me die of jealousy—which
must surely happen if, both of us being alive, you preferred him
to me. After all, that preference seems natural, for he is,
perhaps, more worthy of your love than I—
"Here is the other letter," she said, with the color in her cheeks.
Andernach. Before the battle.
My kind Laurence,—My heart is sad; but Marie-Paul has a gayer
nature, and will please you more than I am able to do. Some day
you will have to choose between us—well, though I love you
"You are corresponding with emigres," said Peyrade, interrupting
Laurence, and holding the letters between himself and the light to
see if they contained between the lines any treasonable writing with
"Yes," replied Laurence, folding the precious letters, the paper of
which was already yellow with time. "But by virtue of what right do you
presume to violate my dwelling and my personal liberty?"
"Ah, that's the point!" cried Peyrade. "By what right, indeed!—it
is time to let you know it, beautiful aristocrat," he added, taking a
warrant from his pocket, which came from the minister of justice and
was countersigned by the minister of the interior. "See, the authorities
have their eye upon you."
"We might also ask you," said Corentin, in her ear, "by what right you
harbor in this house the assassins of the First Consul. You have applied
your whip to my hands in a manner that authorizes me to take my revenge
upon your cousins, whom I came here to save."
At the mere movement of her lips and the glance which Laurence cast upon
Corentin, the abbe guessed what that great artist was saying, and he
made her a sign to be distrustful, which no one intercepted but Goulard.
Peyrade struck the cover of the box to see if there were a double top.
"Don't break it!" she exclaimed, taking the cover from him.
She took a pin, pushed the head of one of the carved figures, and the
two halves of the top, joined by a spring, opened. In the hollow half
lay miniatures of the Messieurs de Simeuse, in the uniform of the army
of Conde, two portraits on ivory done in Germany. Corentin, who felt
himself in presence of an adversary worthy of his efforts, called
Peyrade aside into a corner of the room and conferred with him.
"How could you throw that into the fire?" said the abbe, speaking to
Laurence and pointing to the letter of the marquise which enclosed the
locks of hair.
For all answer the young girl shrugged her shoulders significantly. The
abbe comprehended then that she had made the sacrifice to mislead the
agents and gain time; he raised his eyes to heaven with a gesture of
"Where did they arrest Gothard, whom I hear crying?" she asked him, loud
enough to be overheard.
"I don't know," said the abbe.
"Did he reach the farm?"
"The farm!" whispered Peyrade to Corentin. "Let us send there."
"No," said Corentin; "that girl never trusted her cousins' safety to a
farmer. She is playing with us. Do as I tell you, so that we mayn't have
to leave here without detecting something, after committing the great
blunder of coming here at all."
Corentin stationed himself before the fire, lifting the long pointed
skirts of his coat to warm himself and assuming the air, manner, and
tone of a gentleman who was paying a visit.
"Mesdames, you can go to bed, and the servants also. Monsieur le maire,
your services are no longer needed. The sternness of our orders does
not permit us to act otherwise than as we have done; but as soon as the
walls, which seem to me rather thick, have been thoroughly examined, we
shall take our departure."
The mayor bowed to the company and retired; but neither the abbe nor
Mademoiselle Goujet stirred. The servants were too uneasy not to watch
the fate of their young mistress. Madame d'Hauteserre, who, from the
moment of Laurence's entrance, had studied her with the anxiety of a
mother, rose, took her by the arm, led her aside, and said in a low
voice, "Have you seen them?"
"Do you think I could have let your sons be under this roof without
your knowing it?" replied Laurence. "Durieu," she added, "see if it is
possible to save my poor Stella; she is still breathing."
"She must have gone a great distance," said Corentin.
"Forty miles in three hours," she answered, addressing the abbe, who
watched her with amazement. "I started at half-past nine, and it was
well past one when I returned."
She looked at the clock which said half-past two.
"So you don't deny that you have ridden forty miles?" said Corentin.
"No," she said. "I admit that my cousins, in their perfect innocence,
expected not to be excluded from the amnesty, and were on their way to
Cinq-Cygne. When I found that the Sieur Malin was plotting to injure
them, I went to warn them to return to Germany, where they will be
before the telegraph can have guarded the frontier. If I have done wrong
I shall be punished for it."
This answer, which Laurence had carefully considered, was so probable in
all its parts that Corentin's convictions were shaken. In that decisive
moment, when every soul present hung suspended, as it were, on the faces
of the two adversaries, and all eyes turned from Corentin to Laurence
and from Laurence to Corentin, again the gallop of a horse, coming from
the forest, resounded on the road and from there through the gates to
the paved courtyard. Frightful anxiety was stamped on every face.
Peyrade entered, his eyes gleaming with joy. He went hastily to Corentin
and said, loud enough for the countess to hear him: "We have caught
Laurence, to whom the agony, fatigue, and tension of all her
intellectual faculties had given an unusual color, turned white and fell
back almost fainting on a chair. Madame Durieu, Mademoiselle Goujet,
and Madame d'Hauteserre sprang to help her, for she was suffocating. She
signed to cut the frogging of her habit.
"Duped!" said Corentin to Peyrade. "I am certain now they are on their
way to Paris. Change the orders."
They left the room and the house, placing one gendarme on guard at the
door of the salon. The infernal cleverness of the two men had gained
a terrible advantage by taking Laurence in the trap of a not uncommon
CHAPTER IX. FOILED
At six o'clock in the morning, as day was dawning, Corentin and Peyrade
returned. Having explored the covered way they were satisfied that
horses had passed through it to reach the forest. They were now awaiting
the report of the captain of gendarmerie sent to reconnoitre the
neighborhood. Leaving the chateau in charge of a corporal, they went
to the tavern at Cinq-Cygne to get their breakfast, giving orders that
Gothard, who never ceased to reply to all questions with a burst of
tears, should be set at liberty, also Catherine, who still continued
silent and immovable. Catherine and Gothard went to the salon to kiss
the hands of their mistress, who lay exhausted on the sofa; Durieu also
went in to tell her that Stella would recover, but needed great care.
The mayor, uneasy and inquisitive, met Peyrade and Corentin in the
village. He declared that he could not allow such important officials to
breakfast in a miserable tavern, and he took them to his own house. The
abbey was only three quarters of a mile distant. On the way, Peyrade
remarked that the corporal of Arcis had sent no news of Michu or of
"We are dealing with very able people," said Corentin; "they are
stronger than we. The priest no doubt has a finger in all this."
Just as the mayor's wife was ushering her guests into a vast dining-room
(without any fire) the lieutenant of gendarmes arrived with an anxious
"We met the horse of the corporal of Arcis in the forest without his
master," he said to Peyrade.
"Lieutenant," cried Corentin, "go instantly to Michu's house and find
out what is going on there. They must have murdered the corporal."
This news interfered with the mayor's breakfast. Corentin and Peyrade
swallowed their food with the rapidity of hunters halting for a meal,
and drove back to the chateau in their wicker carriage, so as to be
ready to start at the first call for any point where their presence
might be necessary. When the two men reappeared in the salon into which
they had brought such trouble, terror, grief, and anxiety, they found
Laurence, in a dressing-gown, Monsieur d'Hauteserre and his wife, the
abbe and his sister, sitting round the fire, to all appearance tranquil.
"If they had caught Michu," Laurence told herself, "they would have
brought him with them. I have the mortification of knowing that I was
not the mistress of myself, and that I threw some light upon the matter
for those wretches; but the harm can be undone—How long are we to be
your prisoners?" she asked sarcastically, with an easy manner.
"How can she know anything about Michu? No one from the outside has got
near the chateau; she is laughing at us," said the two agents to each
other by a look.
"We shall not inconvenience you long," replied Corentin. "In three hours
from now we shall offer our regrets for having troubled your solitude."
No one replied. This contemptuous silence redoubled Corentin's inward
rage. Laurence and the abbe (the two minds of their little world) had
talked the man over and drawn their conclusions. Gothard and Catherine
had set the breakfast-table near the fire and the abbe and his sister
were sharing the meal. Neither masters nor servants paid the slightest
attention to the two spies, who walked up and down the garden, the
courtyard or the lawn, returning every now and then to the salon.
At half-past two the lieutenant reappeared.
"I found the corporal," he said to Corentin, "lying in the road which
leads from the pavilion of Cinq-Cygne to the farm at Bellache. He has
no wound, only a bad contusion of the head, caused, apparently, by his
fall. He told me he had been lifted suddenly off his horse and flung
so violently to the ground that he could not discover how the thing was
done. His feet left the stirrups, which was lucky, for he might have
been killed by the horse dragging him. We put him in charge of Michu and
"Michu! is Michu in his own house?" said Corentin, glancing at Laurence.
The countess smiled ironically, like a woman obtaining her revenge.
"He is bargaining with Violette about the sale of some land," said the
lieutenant. "They seemed to me drunk; and it's no wonder, for they have
been drinking all night and discussing the matter, and they haven't come
to terms yet."
"Did Violette tell you so?" cried Corentin.
"Yes," said the lieutenant.
"Nothing is right if we don't attend to it ourselves!" cried Peyrade,
looking at Corentin, who doubted the lieutenant's news as much as the
"At what hour did you get to Michu's house?" asked Corentin, noticing
that the countess had glanced at the clock.
"About two," replied the lieutenant.
Laurence covered Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and the abbe and his
sister in one comprehensive glance, which made them fancy they were
wrapped in an azure mantle; triumph sparkled in her eyes, she blushed,
and the tears welled up beneath her lids. Strong under all misfortunes,
the girl knew not how to weep except from joy. At this moment she was
all glorious, especially to the priest, who was sometimes distressed
by the virility of her character, and who now caught a glimpse of the
infinite tenderness of her woman's nature. But such feelings lay in her
soul like a treasure hidden at a great depth beneath a block of granite.
Just then a gendarme entered the salon to ask if he might bring in
Michu's son, sent by his father to speak to the gentlemen from Paris.
Corentin gave an affirmative nod. Francois Michu, a sly little chip of
the old block, was in the courtyard, where Gothard, now at liberty, got
a chance to speak to him for an instant under the eyes of a gendarme.
The little fellow managed to slip something into Gothard's hand without
being detected, and the latter glided into the salon after him till he
reached his mistress, to whom he stealthily conveyed both halves of
the wedding-ring, a sure sign, she knew, that Michu had met the four
gentlemen and put them in safety.
"My papa wants to know what he's to do with the corporal, who ain't
doing well," said Francois.
"What's the matter with him?" asked Peyrade.
"It's his head—he pitched down hard on the ground," replied the boy.
"For a gindarme who knows how to ride it was bad luck—I suppose the
horse stumbled. He's got a hole—my! as big as your fist—in the back of
his head. Seems as if he must have hit some big stone, poor man! He may
be a gindarme, but he suffers all the same—you'd pity him."
The captain of the gendarmerie now arrived and dismounted in the
courtyard. Corentin threw up the window, not to lose time.
"What has been done?"
"We are back like the Dutchmen! We found nothing but five dead horses,
their coats stiff with sweat, in the middle of the forest. I have kept
them to find out where they came from and who owns them. The forest is
surrounded; whoever is in it can't get out."
"At what hour do you suppose those horsemen entered the forest?"
"About half-past twelve."
"Don't let a hare leave that forest without your seeing it," whispered
Corentin. "I'll station Peyrade at the village to help you; I am going
to see the corporal myself—Go to the mayor's house," he added, still
whispering, to Peyrade. "I'll send some able man to relieve you. We
shall have to make use of the country-people; examine all faces." He
turned towards the family and said in a threatening tone, "Au revoir!"
No one replied, and the two agents left the room.
"What would Fouche say if he knew we had made a domiciliary visit
without getting any results?" remarked Peyrade as he helped Corentin
into the osier vehicle.
"It isn't over yet," replied the other, "those four young men are in the
forest. Look there!" and he pointed to Laurence who was watching them
from a window. "I once revenged myself on a woman who was worth a dozen
of that one and had stirred my bile a good deal less. If this girl comes
in the way of my hatchet I'll pay her for the lash of that whip."
"The other was a strumpet," said Peyrade; "this one has rank."
"What difference is that to me? All's fish that swims in the sea,"
replied Corentin, signing to the gendarme who drove him to whip up.
Ten minutes later the chateau de Cinq-Cygne was completely evacuated.
"How did they get rid of the corporal?" said Laurence to Francois Michu,
whom she had ordered to sit down and eat some breakfast.
"My father told me it was a matter of life and death and I mustn't let
anybody get into our house," replied the boy. "I knew when I heard the
horses in the forest that I'd got to do with them hounds of gindarmes,
and I meant to keep 'em from getting in. So I took some big ropes that
were in my garret and fastened one of 'em to a tree at the corner of
the road. Then I drew the rope high enough to hit the breast of a man
on horseback, and tied it to the tree on the opposite side of the way in
the direction where I heard the horses. That barred the road. It didn't
miss fire, I can tell you! There was no moon, and the corporal just
pitched!—but he wasn't killed; they're tough, them gindarmes! I did
what I could."
"You have saved us!" said Laurence, kissing him as she took him to
the gate. When there, she looked about her and seeing no one she said
cautiously, "Have they provisions?"
"I have just taken them twelve pounds of bread and four bottles of
wine," said the boy. "They'll be snug for a week."
Returning to the salon, the girl was beset with mute questions in the
eyes of all, each of whom looked at her with as much admiration as
"But have you really seen them?" cried Madame d'Hauteserre.
The countess put a finger on her lips and smiled; then she left the room
and went to bed; her triumph sure, utter weariness had overtaken her.
The shortest road from Cinq-Cygne to Michu's lodge was that which led
from the village past the farm at Bellache to the rond-point where
the Parisian spies had first seen Michu on the preceding evening. The
gendarme who was driving Corentin took this way, which was the one the
corporal of Arcis had taken. As they drove along, the agent was on the
look-out for signs to show why the corporal had been unhorsed. He blamed
himself for having sent but one man on so important an errand, and he
drew from this mistake an axiom for the police Code, which he afterwards
"If they have got rid of the corporal," he said to himself, "they have
done as much by Violette. Those five horses have evidently brought
the four conspirators and Michu from the neighborhood of Paris to the
forest. Has Michu a horse?" he inquired of the gendarme who was driving
him and who belonged to the squad from Arcis.
"Yes, and a famous little horse it is," answered the man, "a hunter
from the stables of the ci-devant Marquis de Simeuse. There's no better
beast, though it is nearly fifteen years old. Michu can ride him fifty
miles and he won't turn a hair. He takes mighty good care of him and
wouldn't sell him at any price."
"What does the horse look like?"
"He's brown, turning rather to black; white stockings above the hoofs,
thin, all nerves like an Arab."
"Did you ever see an Arab?"
"In Egypt—last year. I've ridden the horses of the mamelukes. We have
to serve twelve years in the cavalry, and I was on the Rhine under
General Steingel, after that in Italy, and then I followed the First
Consul to Egypt. I'll be a corporal soon."
"When I get to Michu's house go to the stable; if you have served twelve
years in the cavalry you know when a horse is blown. Let me know the
condition of Michu's beast."
"See! that's where our corporal was thrown," said the man, pointing to a
spot where the road they were following entered the rond-point.
"Tell the captain to come and pick me up at Michu's, and I'll go with
him to Troyes."
So saying Corentin got down, and stood about for a few minutes examining
the ground. He looked at the two elms which faced each other,—one
against the park wall, the other on the bank of the rond-point; then
he saw (what no one had yet noticed) the button of a uniform lying in
the dust, and he picked it up. Entering the lodge he saw Violette and
Michu sitting at the table in the kitchen and talking eagerly. Violette
rose, bowed to Corentin, and offered him some wine.
"Thank you, no; I came to see the corporal," said the young man, who saw
with half a glance that Violette had been drunk all night.
"My wife is nursing him upstairs," said Michu.
"Well, corporal, how are you?" said Corentin who had run up the stairs
and found the gendarme with his head bandaged, and lying on Madame
Michu's bed; his hat, sabre, and shoulder-belt on a chair.
Marthe, faithful in her womanly instincts, and knowing nothing of her
son's prowess, was giving all her care to the corporal, assisted by her
"We expect Monsieur Varlet the doctor from Arcis," she said to Corentin;
"our servant-lad has gone to fetch him."
"Leave us alone for a moment," said Corentin, a good deal surprised at
the scene, which amply proved the innocence of the two women. "Where
were you struck?" he asked the man, examining his uniform.
"On the breast," replied the corporal.
"Let's see your belt," said Corentin.
On the yellow band with a white edge, which a recent regulation had
made part of the equipment of the guard now called National, was a metal
plate a good deal like that of the foresters, on which the law required
the inscription of these remarkable words: "Respect to persons and
to properties." Francois's rope had struck the belt and defaced it.
Corentin took up the coat and found the place where the button he had
picked up upon the road belonged.
"What time did they find you?" asked Corentin.
"Did they bring you up here at once?" said Corentin, noticing that the
bed had not been slept in.
"Who brought you up?"
"The women and little Michu, who found me unconscious."
"So!" thought Corentin: "evidently they didn't go to bed. The corporal
was not shot at, nor struck by any weapon, for an assailant must have
been at his own height to strike a blow. Something, some obstacle, was
in his way and that unhorsed him. A piece of wood? not possible! an iron
chain? that would have left marks. What did you feel?" he said aloud.
"I was knocked over so suddenly—"
"The skin is rubbed off under your chin," said Corentin quickly.
"I think," said the corporal, "that a rope did go over my face."
"I have it!" cried Corentin; "somebody tied a rope from tree to tree to
bar the way."
"Like enough," replied the corporal.
Corentin went downstairs to the kitchen.
"Come, you old rascal," Michu was saying to Violette, "let's make an end
of this. One hundred thousand francs for the place, and you are master
of my whole property. I shall retire on my income."
"I tell you, as there's a God in heaven, I haven't more than sixty
"But don't I offer you time to pay the rest? You've kept me here since
yesterday, arguing it. The land is in prime order."
"Yes, the soil is good," said Violette.
"Wife, some more wine," cried Michu.
"Haven't you drunk enough?" called down Marthe's mother. "This is the
fourteenth bottle since nine o'clock yesterday."
"You have been here since nine o'clock this morning, haven't you?" said
Corentin to Violette.
"No, beg your pardon, since last night I haven't left the place, and
I've gained nothing after all; the more he makes me drink the more he
puts up the price."
"In all markets he who raises his elbow raises a price," said Corentin.
A dozen empty bottles ranged along the table proved the truth of the old
woman's words. Just then the gendarme who had driven him made a sign to
Corentin, who went to the door to speak to him.
"There is no horse in the stable," said the man.
"You sent your boy on horseback to the chateau, didn't you?" said
Corentin, returning to the kitchen. "Will he be back soon?"
"No, monsieur," said Michu, "he went on foot."
"What have you done with your horse, then?"
"I have lent him," said Michu, curtly.
"Come out here, my good fellow," said Corentin; "I've a word for your
Corentin and Michu left the house.
"The gun which you were loading yesterday at four o'clock you meant to
use in murdering the Councillor of State; but we can't take you up for
that—plenty of intention, but no witnesses. You managed, I don't know
how, to stupefy Violette, and you and your wife and that young rascal
of yours spent the night out of doors to warn Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne
and save her cousins, whom you are hiding here,—though I don't as
yet know where. Your son or your wife threw the corporal off his horse
cleverly enough. Well, you've got the better of us just now; you're a
devil of a fellow. But the end is not yet, and you won't have the last
word. Hadn't you better compromise? your masters would be the better for
"Come this way, where we can talk without being overheard," said Michu,
leading the way through the park to the pond.
When Corentin saw the water he looked fixedly at Michu, who was no doubt
reckoning on his physical strength to fling the spy into seven feet of
mud below three feet of water. Michu replied with a look that was
not less fixed. The scene was absolutely as if a cold and flabby boa
constrictor had defied one of those tawny, fierce leopards of Brazil.
"I am not thirsty," said Corentin, stopping short at the edge of the
field and putting his hand into his pocket to feel for his dagger.
"We shall never come to terms," said Michu, coldly.
"Mind what you're about, my good fellow; the law has its eye upon you."
"If the law can't see any clearer than you, there's danger to every
one," said the bailiff.
"Do you refuse?" said Corentin, in a significant tone.
"I'd rather have my head cut off a thousand times, if that could be
done, than come to an agreement with such a villain as you."
Corentin got into his vehicle hastily, after one more comprehensive look
at Michu, the lodge, and Couraut, who barked at him. He gave certain
orders in passing through Troyes, and then returned to Paris. All the
brigades of gendarmerie in the neighborhood received secret instructions
and special orders.
During the months of December, January, and February the search was
active and incessant, even in remote villages. Spies were in all the
taverns. Corentin learned some important facts: a horse like that of
Michu had been found dead in the neighborhood of Lagny; the five horses
burned in the forest of Nodesme had been sold, for five hundred francs
each, by farmers and millers to a man who answered to the description of
Michu. When the decree against the accomplices and harborers of Georges
was put in force Corentin confined his search to the forest of Nodesme.
After Moreau, the royalists, and Pichegru were arrested no strangers
were ever seen about the place.
Michu lost his situation at that time; the notary of Arcis brought him a
letter in which Malin, now made senator, requested Grevin to settle all
accounts with the bailiff and dismiss him. Michu asked and obtained a
formal discharge and became a free man. To the great astonishment of the
neighborhood he went to live at Cinq-Cygne, where Laurence made him
the farmer of all the reserved land about the chateau. The day of his
installation as farmer coincided with the fatal day of the death of the
Duc d'Enghien, when nearly the whole of France heard at the same time
of the arrest, trial, condemnation, and death of the prince,—terrible
reprisals, which preceded the trial of Polignac, Riviere, and Moreau.
CHAPTER X. ONE AND THE SAME, YET A TWO-FOLD LOVE
While the new farm-house was being built Michu the Judas, so-called, and
his family occupied the rooms over the stables at Cinq-Cygne on the side
of the chateau next to the famous breach. He bought two horses, one
for himself and one for Francois, and they both joined Gothard in
accompanying Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne in her many rides, which had for
their object, as may well be imagined, the feeding of the four gentlemen
and perpetual watching that they were still in safety. Francois and
Gothard, assisted by Couraut and the countess's dogs, went in front and
beat the woods all around the hiding-place to make sure that there was
no one within sight. Laurence and Michu carried the provisions which
Marthe, her mother, and Catherine prepared, unknown to the other
servants of the household so as to restrict the secret to themselves,
for all were sure that there were spies in the village. These
expeditions were never made oftener than twice a week and on different
days and at different hours, sometimes by day, sometimes by night.
These precautions lasted until the trial of Riviere, Polignac, and
Moreau ended. When the senatus-consultum, which called the dynasty of
Bonaparte to the throne and nominated Napoleon as Emperor of the French,
was submitted to the French people for acceptance Monsieur d'Hauteserre
signed the paper Goulard brought him. When it was made known that
the Pope would come to France to crown the Emperor, Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne no longer opposed the general desire that her cousins and the
young d'Hauteserres should petition to have their names struck off
the list of emigres, and be themselves reinstated in their rights
as citizens. On this, old d'Hauteserre went to Paris and consulted the
ci-devant Marquis de Chargeboeuf who knew Talleyrand. That minister,
then in favor, conveyed the petition to Josephine, and Josephine gave it
to her husband, who was addressed as Emperor, Majesty, Sire, before the
result of the popular vote was known. Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, Monsieur
d'Hauteserre, and the Abbe Goujet, who also went to Paris, obtained an
interview with Talleyrand, who promised them his support. Napoleon had
already pardoned several of the principal actors in the great royalist
conspiracy; and yet, though the four gentlemen were merely suspected of
complicity, the Emperor, after a meeting of the Council of State, called
the senator Malin, Fouche, Talleyrand, Cambaceres, Lebrun, and Dubois,
prefect of police, into his cabinet.
"Gentlemen," said the future Emperor, who still wore the dress of
the First Consul, "we have received from the Sieurs de Simeuse and
d'Hauteserre, officers in the army of the Prince de Conde, a request to
be allowed to re-enter France."
"They are here now," said Fouche.
"Like many others whom I meet in Paris," remarked Talleyrand.
"I think you have not met these gentlemen," said Malin, "for they are
hidden in the forest of Nodesme, where they consider themselves at
He was careful not to tell the First Consul and Fouche how he himself
had given them warning, by talking with Grevin within hearing of Michu,
but he made the most of Corentin's reports and convinced Napoleon that
the four gentlemen were sharers in the plot of Riviere and Polignac,
with Michu for an accomplice. The prefect of police confirmed these
"But how could that bailiff know that the conspiracy was discovered?"
said the prefect, "for the Emperor and the council and I were the only
persons in the secret."
No one paid attention to this remark.
"If they have been hidden in that forest for the last seven months and
you have not been able to find them," said the Emperor to Fouche, "they
have expiated their misdeeds."
"Since they are my enemies as well," said Malin, frightened by the
Emperor's clear-sightedness, "I desire to follow the magnanimous example
of your Majesty; I therefore make myself their advocate and ask that
their names be stricken from the list of emigres."
"They will be less dangerous to you here than if they are exiled; for
they will now have to swear allegiance to the Empire and the laws," said
Fouche, looking at Malin fixedly.
"In what way are they dangerous to the senator?" asked Napoleon.
Talleyrand spoke to the Emperor for some minutes in a low voice. The
reinstatement of the Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre appeared to
"Sire," said Fouche, "rely upon it, you will hear of those men again."
Talleyrand, who had been urged by the Duc de Grandlieu, gave the Emperor
pledges in the name of the young men on their honor as gentlemen (a term
which had great fascination for Napoleon), to abstain from all attacks
upon his Majesty and to submit themselves to his government in good
"Messieurs d'Hauteserre and de Simeuse are not willing to bear arms
against France, now that events have taken their present course," he
said, aloud; "they have little sympathy, it is true, with the Imperial
government, but they are just the men that your Majesty ought to
conciliate. They will be satisfied to live on French soil and obey the
Then he laid before the Emperor a letter he had received from the
brothers in which these sentiments were expressed.
"Anything so frank is likely to be sincere," said the Emperor, returning
the letter and looking at Lebrun and Cambaceres. "Have you any further
suggestions?" he asked of Fouche.
"In your Majesty's interests," replied the future minister of police, "I
ask to be allowed to inform these gentlemen of their reinstatement—when
it is really granted," he added, in a louder tone.
"Very well," said Napoleon, noticing an anxious look on Fouche's face.
The matter did not seem positively decided when the Council rose; but it
had the effect of putting into Napoleon's mind a vague distrust of the
four young men. Monsieur d'Hauteserre, believing that all was gained,
wrote a letter announcing the good news. The family at Cinq-Cygne were
therefore not surprised when, a few days later, Goulard came to inform
the countess and Madame d'Hauteserre that they were to send the four
gentlemen to Troyes, where the prefect would show them the decree
reinstating them in their rights and administer to them the oath of
allegiance to the Empire and the laws. Laurence replied that she would
send the notification to her cousins and the Messieurs d'Hauteserre.
"Then they are not here?" said Goulard.
Madame d'Hauteserre looked anxiously after Laurence, who left the room
to consult Michu. Michu saw no reason why the young men should not be
released at once from their hiding-place. Laurence, Michu, his son, and
Gothard therefore started as soon as possible for the forest, taking
an extra horse, for the countess resolved to accompany her cousins to
Troyes and return with them. The whole household, made aware of the
good news, gathered on the lawn to witness the departure of the happy
cavalcade. The four young men issued from their long confinement,
mounted their horses, and took the road to Troyes, accompanied by
Mademoiselle Cinq-Cygne. Michu, with the help of his son and Gothard,
closed the entrance to the cellar, and started to return home on foot.
On the way he recollected that he had left the forks and spoons and a
silver cup, which the young men had been using, in the cave, and he
went back for them alone. When he reached the edge of the pond he
heard voices, and went straight to the entrance of the cave through the
"Have you come for your silver?" said Peyrade, showing his big red nose
through the branches.
Without knowing why, for at any rate his young masters were safe, Michu
felt a sharp agony in all his joints, so keen was the sense of vague,
indefinable coming evil which took possession of him; but he went
forward at once, and found Corentin on the stairs with a taper in his
"We are not very harsh," he said to Michu; "we might have seized
your ci-devants any day for the last week; but we knew they were
reinstated—You're a tough fellow to deal with, and you gave us too
much trouble not to make us anxious to satisfy our curiosity about this
hiding-place of yours."
"I'd give something," cried Michu, "to know how and by whom we have been
"If that puzzles you, old fellow," said Peyrade, laughing, "look at your
horses' shoes, and you'll see that you betrayed yourselves."
"Well, there need be no rancor!" said Corentin, whistling for the
captain of gendarmerie and their horses.
"So that rascally Parisian blacksmith who shoed the horses in the
English fashion and left Cinq-Cygne only the other day was their spy!"
thought Michu. "They must have followed our tracks when the ground was
damp. Well, we're quits now!"
Michu consoled himself by thinking that the discovery was of no
consequence, as the young men were now safe, Frenchmen once more, and at
liberty. Yet his first presentiment was a true one. The police, like the
Jesuits, have the one virtue of never abandoning their friends or their
Old d'Hauteserre returned from Paris and was more than surprised not to
be the first to bring the news. Durieu prepared a succulent dinner,
the servants donned their best clothes, and the household impatiently
awaited the exiles, who arrived about four o'clock, happy,—and yet
humiliated, for they found they were to be under police surveillance for
two years, obliged to present themselves at the prefecture every month
and ordered to remain in the commune of Cinq-Cygne during the said two
years. "I'll send you the papers for signature," the prefect said to
them. "Then, in the course of a few months, you can ask to be relieved
of these conditions, which are imposed on all of Pichegru's accomplices.
I will back your request."
These restrictions, fairly deserved, rather dispirited the young men,
but Laurence laughed at them.
"The Emperor of the French," she said, "was badly brought up; he has not
yet acquired the habit of bestowing favors graciously."
The party found all the inhabitants of the chateau at the gates, and a
goodly proportion of the people of the village waiting on the road to
see the young men, whose adventures had made them famous throughout the
department. Madame d'Hauteserre held her sons to her breast for a long
time, her face covered with tears; she was unable to speak and remained
silent, though happy, through a part of the evening. No sooner had the
Simeuse twins dismounted than a cry of surprise arose on all sides,
caused by their amazing resemblance,—the same look, the same voice,
the same actions. They both had the same movement in rising from their
saddles, in throwing their leg over the crupper of their horses when
dismounting, in flinging the reins upon the animal's neck. Their dress,
precisely the same, contributed to this likeness. They wore boots a la
Suwaroff, made to fit the instep, tight trousers of white leather, green
hunting-jackets with metal buttons, black cravats, and buckskin gloves.
The two young men, just thirty-one years of age, were—to use a term in
vogue in those days—charming cavaliers, of medium height but well set
up, brilliant eyes with long lashes, floating in liquid like those of
children, black hair, noble brows, and olive skin. Their speech, gentle
as that of a woman, fell graciously from their fresh red lips; their
manners, more elegant and polished than those of the provincial
gentlemen, showed that knowledge of men and things had given them that
supplementary education which makes its possessor a man of the world.
Not lacking money, thanks to Michu, during their emigration, they had
been able to travel and be received at foreign courts. Old d'Hauteserre
and the abbe thought them rather haughty; but in their present position
this may have been the sign of nobility of character. They possessed all
the eminent little marks of a careful education, to which they added a
wonderful dexterity in bodily exercises. Their only dissimilarity was
in the region of ideas. The youngest charmed others by his gaiety, the
eldest by his melancholy; but the contrast, which was purely spiritual,
was not at first observable.
"Ah, wife," whispered Michu in Marthe's ear, "how could one help
devoting one's self to those young fellows?"
Marthe, who admired them as a wife and mother, nodded her head prettily
and pressed her husband's hand. The servants were allowed to kiss their
During their seven months' seclusion in the forest (which the young
men had brought upon themselves) they had several times committed the
imprudence of taking walks about their hiding-place, carefully guarded
by Michu, his son, and Gothard. During these walks, taken usually on
starlit nights, Laurence, reuniting the thread of their past and present
lives, felt the utter impossibility of choosing between the brothers. A
pure and equal love for each divided her heart. She fancied indeed
that she had two hearts. On their side, the brothers dared not speak to
themselves of their impending rivalry. Perhaps all three were trusting
to time and accident. The condition of her mind on this subject acted
no doubt upon Laurence as they entered the house, for she hesitated a
moment, and then took an arm of each as she entered the salon followed
by Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, who were occupied with their sons.
Just then a cheer burst from the servants, "Long live the Cinq-Cygne
and the Simeuse families!" Laurence turned round, still between the
brothers, and made a charming gesture of acknowledgement.
When these nine persons came to actually observe each other,—for in
all meetings, even in the bosom of families, there comes a moment when
friends observe those from whom they have been long parted,—the first
glance which Adrien d'Hauteserre cast upon Laurence seemed to his
mother and to the abbe to betray love. Adrien, the youngest of the
d'Hauteserres, had a sweet and tender soul; his heart had remained
adolescent in spite of the catastrophes which had nerved the man. Like
many young heroes, kept virgin in spirit by perpetual peril, he was
daunted by the timidities of youth. In this he was very different
from his brother, a man of rough manners, a great hunter, an intrepid
soldier, full of resolution, but coarse in fibre and without activity
of mind or delicacy in matters of the heart. One was all soul, the other
all action; and yet they both possessed in the same degree that sense of
honor which is the vital essence of a gentleman. Dark, short, slim
and wiry, Adrien d'Hauteserre gave an impression of strength; whereas
Robert, who was tall, pale and fair, seemed weakly. Adrien, nervous in
temperament, was stronger in soul; while his brother though
lymphatic, was fonder of bodily exercise. Families often present these
singularities of contrast, the causes of which it might be interesting
to examine; but they are mentioned here merely to explain how it was
that Adrien was not likely to find a rival in his brother. Robert's
affection for Laurence was that of a relation, the respect of a
noble for a girl of his own caste. In matters of sentiment the elder
d'Hauteserre belonged to the class of men who consider woman as
an appendage to man, limiting her sphere to the physical duties of
maternity; demanding perfection in that respect, but regarding her
mentally as of no account. To such men the admittance of woman as an
actual sharer in society, in the body politic, in the family, meant the
subversion of the social system. In these days we are so far removed
from this theory of primitive people that almost all women, even those
who do not desire the fatal emancipation offered by the new sects, will
be shocked in merely hearing of it; but it must be owned that Robert
d'Hauteserre had the misfortune to think in that way. Robert was a man
of the middle-ages, Adrien a man of to-day. These differences instead of
hindering their affection had drawn its bonds the closer. On the first
evening after the return of the young men these shades of character
were caught and understood by the abbe, Mademoiselle Goujet, and Madame
d'Hauteserre, who, while playing their boston, were secretly foreseeing
the difficulties of the future.
At twenty-three years of age, having passed through the many reflections
of a long solitude and the anguish of a defeated enterprise, Laurence
had become a woman, and felt within her an absorbing desire for
affection. She now put forth all her graces of her mind and was
charming; she revealed the hidden beauties of her tender heart with the
simple candor of a child. For the last thirteen years she had been a
woman only through suffering; she longed to obtain amends for it, and
she showed herself as loving and winning as she had been, up to this
time, strong and great.
The four elders, who were the last to leave the salon that night,
admitted to each other that they felt uneasy at the new position of this
charming girl. What power might not passion have on a young woman of
her character and with her nobility of soul? The twin brothers loved her
with one and the same love and a blind devotion; which of the two would
Laurence choose? To choose one was to kill the other. Countess in her
own right, she could bring her husband a title and certain prerogatives,
together with a long lineage. Perhaps in thinking of these advantages
the elder of the twins, the Marquis de Simeuse, would sacrifice himself
to give Laurence to his brother, who, according to the old laws, was
poor and without a title. But would the younger brother deprive the
elder of the happiness of having Laurence for a wife? At a distance,
this strife of love and generosity might do no harm,—in fact, so long
as the brothers were facing danger the chances of war might end
the difficulty; but what would be the result of this reunion? When
Marie-Paul and Paul-Marie reached the age when passions rise to their
greatest height could they share, as now, the looks and words and
attentions of their cousin? must there not inevitably arise a jealousy
between them the consequences of which might be horrible? What would
then become of the unity of those beautiful lives, one in heart though
twain in body? To these questionings, passed from one to another as they
finished their game, Madame d'Hauteserre replied that in her opinion
Laurence would not marry either of her cousins. The poor lady had
experienced that evening one of those inexplicable presentiments which
are secrets between the mother's heart and God.
Laurence, in her inward consciousness, was not less alarmed at finding
herself tete-a-tete with her cousins. To the active drama of conspiracy,
to the dangers which the brothers had incurred, to the pain and
penalties of their exile, was now succeeding another sort of drama, of
which she had never thought. This noble girl could not resort to the
violent means of refusing to marry either of the twins; and she was too
honest a woman to marry one and keep an irresistible passion for the
other in her heart. To remain unmarried, to weary her cousins' love by
no decision, and then to take the one who was faithful to her in spite
of her caprices, was a solution of the difficulty not so much sought
for by her as vaguely admitted. As she fell asleep that night she told
herself the wisest course to follow was to let things take their chance.
Chance is, in love, the providence of women.
The next morning Michu went to Paris, whence he returned a few days
later with four fine horses for his new masters. In six weeks' time the
hunting would begin, and the young countess sagely reflected that
the violent excitements of that exercise would be a help against the
tete-a-tetes of the chateau. At first, however, an unexpected result
surprised the spectators of these strange loves and roused their
admiration. Without any premeditated agreement the brothers rivalled
each other in attentions to Laurence, with a sense of pleasure in so
doing which appeared to suffice them. The relation between themselves
and Laurence was just as fraternal as that between themselves. What
could be more natural? After so long an absence they felt the necessity
of studying her, of knowing her well and letting her know them, leaving
to her the right of choice. They were sustained in this first trial by
the mutual affection which made their double life one and the same life.
Love, like their own mother, was unable to distinguish between the
brothers. Laurence was obliged (in order to know them apart and make no
mistakes) to give them different cravats—to the elder a white one, to
the younger black. Without this perfect resemblance, this identity of
life, which misled all about them, such a situation would be justly
thought impossible. It can, indeed, be explained only by the fact
itself, which is one of those which men do not believe in unless they
see them; and then the mind is more bewildered by having to explain them
than by the actual sight which caused belief. If Laurence spoke, her
voice echoed in two hearts equally faithful and loving with one tone.
Did she give utterance to an intelligent, or witty, or noble thought,
her glance encountered the delight expressed in two glances which
followed her every movement, interpreted her slightest wish, and
beamed upon her ever with a new expression, gaiety in the one, tender
melancholy in the other. In any matter that concerned their mistress
the brothers showed an admirable quick-wittedness of heart coupled with
instant action which (to use the abbe's own expression) approached the
sublime. Often, if something had to be fetched, if it was a question of
some little attention which men delight to pay to a beloved woman, the
elder would leave that pleasure to the younger with a look at Laurence
that was proud and tender. The younger, on the other hand, put all his
own pride into paying such debts. This rivalry of noble natures in a
feeling which leads men often to the jealous ferocity of the beasts
amazed the old people who were watching it, and bewildered their ideas.
Such little details often drew tears to the eyes of the countess.
A single sensation, which is perhaps all-powerful in some rare
organizations, will give an idea of Laurence's emotions; it may be
perceived by recalling the perfect unison of two fine voices (like those
of Malibran and Sontag) in some harmonious duo, or the blending of
two instruments touched by the hand of genius, their melodious tones
entering the soul like the passionate sighing of one heart. Sometimes,
seeing the Marquis de Simeuse buried in an arm-chair and glancing from
time to time with deepest melancholy at his brother and Laurence who
were talking and laughing, the abbe believed him capable of making the
great sacrifice; presently, however, the priest would see in the young
man's eyes the flash of an unconquerable passion. Whenever either of the
brothers found himself alone with Laurence he might reasonably suppose
himself the one preferred.
"I fancy then that there is but one of them," explained the countess to
the abbe when he questioned her. That answer showed the priest her total
want of coquetry. Laurence did not conceive that she was loved by two
"But, my dear child," said Madame d'Hauteserre one evening (her own son
silently dying of love for Laurence), "you must choose!"
"Oh, let us be happy," she replied; "God will save us from ourselves."
Adrien d'Hauteserre buried within his breast the jealousy that was
consuming him; he kept the secret of his torture, aware of how little
he could hope. He tried to be content with the happiness of seeing the
charming woman who during the few months this struggle lasted shone in
all her brilliancy. In one sense Laurence had become coquettish, taking
that dainty care of her person which women who are loved delight in.
She followed the fashions, and went more than once to Paris to deck her
beauty with chiffons or some choice novelty. Desirous of giving her
cousins a sense of home and its every enjoyment, from which they had so
long been severed, she made her chateau, in spite of the remonstrances
of her late guardian, the most completely comfortable house in
Robert d'Hauteserre saw nothing of this hidden drama; he never noticed
his brother's love for Laurence. As to the girl herself, he liked to
tease her about her coquetry,—for he confounded that odious defect
with the natural desire to please; he was always mistaken in matters
of feeling, taste, and the higher ethics. So, whenever this man of
the middle-ages appeared on the scene, Laurence immediately made him,
unknown to himself, the clown of the play; she amused her cousins by
arguing with Robert, and leading him, step by step, into some bog of
ignorance and stupidity. She excelled in such clever mischief, which,
to be really successful, must leave the victim content with himself.
And yet, though his nature was a coarse one, Robert never, during those
delightful months (the only happy period in the lives of the three
young people) said one virile word which might have brought matters to
a crisis between Laurence and her cousins. He was struck with the
sincerity of the brothers; he saw how the one could be glad at the
happiness of the other and yet suffer anguish in the depths of his
heart, and he did perceive how a woman might shrink from showing
tenderness to one which would grieve the other. This perception on
Robert's part was a just one; it explains a situation which, in times
of faith, when the sovereign pontiff had power to intervene and cut
the Gordian knot of such phenomena (allied to the deepest and most
impenetrable mysteries), would have found its solution. The Revolution
had deepened the Catholic faith in these young hearts, and religion now
rendered this crisis in their lives the more severe, because nobility of
character is ever heightened by the grandeur of circumstances. A sense
of this truth kept Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and the abbe from
the slightest fear of any unworthy result on the part of the brothers or
This private drama, secretly developing within the limits of the family
life where each member watched it silently, ran its course so rapidly
and withal so slowly, it carried with it so many unhoped-for pleasures,
trifling jars, frustrated fancies, hopes reversed, anxious waitings,
delayed explanations and mute avowals that the dwellers at Cinq-Cygne
paid no attention to the public drama of the Emperor's coronation. At
times these passions made a truce and sought distraction in the violent
enjoyment of hunting, when weariness of body took from the soul all
occasions to wander in the dangerous meadows of reverie. Neither
Laurence nor her cousins had a thought now for public affairs; each day
brought its palpitating and absorbing interests for their hearts.
"Really," said Mademoiselle Goujet one evening, "I don't know which of
all the lovers loves the most."
Adrien, who happened to be alone in the salon with the four
card-players, raised his eyes and turned pale. For the last few days
his only hold on life had been the pleasure of seeing Laurence and of
listening to her.
"I think," said the abbe, "that the countess, being a woman, loves with
the greater abandonment to love."
Laurence, the twins, and Robert entered the room soon after. The
newspapers had just arrived. England, seeing the failure of all
conspiracies attempted within the borders of France, was now arming
all Europe against their common enemy. The disaster at Trafalgar
had overthrown one of the most amazing plans which human genius ever
conceived; by which, if it had succeeded, the Emperor would have paid
the nation for his election by the ruin of the British power. The camp
at Boulogne had just been raised. Napoleon, whose solders were, as
always, inferior in numbers to the enemy, was about to carry the war
into parts of Europe where he had not before waged it. The whole world
was breathless, awaiting the results of the campaign.
"He'll surely be defeated this time," said Robert, laying down the
"The armies of Austria and of Russia are before him," said Marie-Paul.
"He has never fought in Germany," added Paul-Marie.
"Of whom are you speaking?" asked Laurence.
"The Emperor," answered the three gentlemen.
The jealous girl threw a disdainful look at her twin lovers, which
humiliated them while it rejoiced the heart of Adrien, who made a
gesture of admiration and gave her one proud look, which said plainly
that he thought only of her,—of Laurence.
"I told you," said the abbe in a low voice, "that love would some day
cause her to forget her animosity."
It was the first, last, and only reproach the brothers ever received
from her; but certainly at that moment their love, which could still be
distracted by national events, was inferior to that of Laurence, which,
absorbed her mind so completely that she only knew of the amazing
triumph at Austerlitz by overhearing a discussion between Monsieur
d'Hauteserre and his sons.
Faithful to his ideas of submission, the old man wished both Robert and
Adrien to re-enter the French army and apply for service; they could,
he thought, be reinstated in their rank and soon find an opening
to military honors. But royalist opinions were now all-powerful at
Cinq-Cygne. The four young men and Laurence laughed at their prudent
elder, who seemed to foresee a coming evil. Possibly, prudence is less
virtue than the exercise of some instinct, or sense of the mind (if it
is allowable to couple those two words). A day will come, no doubt, when
physiologists and philosophers will both admit that the senses are, in
some way, the sheath or vehicle of a keen and penetrative active power
which issues from the mind.
CHAPTER XI. WISE COUNSEL
After peace was concluded between France and Austria, towards the end
of the month of February, 1806, a relative, whose influence had been
employed for the reinstatement of the Simeuse brothers, and who was
destined later to give them signal proofs of family attachment, the
ci-devant Marquis de Chargeboeuf, whose estates extended from the
department of the Seine-et-Marne to that of the Aube, arrived one
morning at Cinq-Cygne in a species of caleche which was then named in
derision a berlingot. When this shabby carriage was driven past the
windows the inhabitants of the chateau, who were at breakfast, were
convulsed with laughter; but when the bald head of the old man was
seen issuing from behind the leather curtain of the vehicle Monsieur
d'Hauteserre told his name, and all present rose instantly to receive
and do honor to the head of the house of Chargeboeuf.
"We have done wrong to let him come to us," said the Marquis de Simeuse
to his brother and the d'Hauteserres; "we ought to have gone to him and
made our acknowledgements."
A servant, dressed as a peasant, who drove the horses from a seat on a
level with the body of the carriage, slipped his cartman's whip into a
coarse leather socket, and got down from the box to assist the marquis
from the carriage; but Adrien and the younger de Simeuse prevented him,
unbuttoned the leather apron, and helped the old man out in spite of his
protestations. This gentleman of the old school chose to consider his
yellow berlingot with its leather curtains a most convenient and
excellent equipage. The servant, assisted by Gothard, unharnessed the
stout horses with shining flanks, accustomed no doubt to do as much duty
at the plough as in a carriage.
"In spite of this cold weather! Why, you are a knight of the olden
time," said Laurence, to her visitor, taking his arm and leading him
into the salon.
"What has he come for?" thought old d'Hauteserre.
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, a handsome old gentleman of sixty-six,
in light-colored breeches, his small weak legs encased in colored
stockings, wore powder, pigeon-wings and a queue. His green cloth
hunting-coat with gold buttons was braided and frogged with gold. His
white waistcoat glittered with gold embroidery. This apparel, still in
vogue among old people, became his face, which was not unlike that of
Frederick the Great. He never put on his three-cornered hat lest he
should destroy the effect of the half-moon traced upon his cranium by
a layer of powder. His right hand, resting on a hooked cane, held both
cane and hat in a manner worthy of Louis XIV. The fine old gentleman
took off his wadded silk pelisse and seated himself in an armchair,
holding the three-cornered hat and the cane between his knees in an
attitude the secret of which has never been grasped by any but the roues
of Louis XV.'s court, an attitude which left the hands free to play with
a snuff-box, always a precious trinket. Accordingly the marquis drew
from the pocket of his waistcoat, which was closed by a flap embroidered
in gold arabesques, a sumptuous snuff-box. While fingering his own
pinch and offering the box around him with another charming gesture
accompanied with kindly smiles, he noticed the pleasure which his visit
gave. He seemed then to comprehend why these young emigres had been
remiss in their duty towards him, and to be saying to himself, "When we
are making love we can't make visits."
"You will stay with us some days?" said Laurence.
"Impossible," he replied. "If we were not so separated by events (for as
to distance, you go farther than that which lies between us) you would
know, my dear child, that I have daughters, daughters-in-law, and
grand-children. All these dear creatures would be very uneasy if I did
not return to them to-night, and I have forty-five miles to go."
"Your horses are in good condition," said the Marquis de Simeuse.
"Oh! I am just from Troyes, where I had business yesterday."
After the customary polite inquiries for the Marquise de Chargeboeuf and
other matters really uninteresting but about which politeness assumes
that we are keenly interested, it dawned on Monsieur d'Hauteserre
that the old gentleman had come to warn his young relatives against
imprudence. He remarked that times were changed and no one could tell
what the Emperor might now become.
"Oh!" said Laurence, "he'll make himself God."
The Marquis spoke of the wisdom of concession. When he stated, with more
emphasis and authority than he put into his other remarks, the necessity
of submission, Monsieur d'Hauteserre looked at his sons with an almost
"Would you serve that man?" asked the Marquis de Simeuse.
"Yes, I would, if the interests of my family required it," replied
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf.
Gradually the old man made them aware, though vaguely, of some
threatened danger. When Laurence begged him to explain the nature of
it, he advised the four young men to refrain from hunting and to keep
themselves as much in retirement as possible.
"You treat the domain of Gondreville as if it were your own," he said to
the Messieurs de Simeuse, "and you are keeping alive a deadly hatred. I
see, by the surprise upon your faces, that you are quite unaware of
the ill-will against you at Troyes, where your late brave conduct is
remembered. They tell of how you foiled the police of the Empire; some
praise you for it, but others regard you as enemies of the Emperor;
partisans declare that Napoleon's clemency is inexplicable. That,
however, is nothing. The real danger lies here; you foiled men who
thought themselves cleverer than you; and low-bred men never forgive.
Sooner or later justice, which in your department emanates from your
enemy, Senator Malin (who has his henchmen everywhere, even in the
ministerial offices),—his justice will rejoice to see you involved in
some annoying scrape. A peasant, for instance, will quarrel with you
for riding over his field; your guns are in your hands, you are
hot-tempered, and something happens. In your position it is absolutely
essential that you should not put yourselves in the wrong. I do
not speak to you thus without good reason. The police keep this
arrondissement under strict surveillance; they have an agent in that
little hole of Arcis expressly to protect the Imperial senator Malin
against your attacks. He is afraid of you, and says so openly."
"It is a calumny!" cried the younger Simeuse.
"A calumny,—I am sure of it myself, but will the public believe it?
Michu certainly did aim at the senator, who does not forget the danger
he was in; and since your return the countess has taken Michu into her
service. To many persons, in fact to the majority, Malin will seem to
be in the right. You do not understand how delicate the position of an
emigre is towards those who are now in possession of his property. The
prefect, a very intelligent man, dropped a word to me yesterday about
you which has made me uneasy. In short, I sincerely wish you would not
This speech was received in dumb amazement. Marie-Paul rang the bell.
"Gothard," he said, to the little page, "send Michu here."
"Michu, my friend," said the Marquis de Simeuse when the man appeared,
"is it true that you intended to kill Malin?"
"Yes, Monsieur le marquis; and when he comes here again I shall lie in
wait for him."
"Do you know that we are suspected of instigating it, and that our
cousin, by taking you as her farmer is supposed to be furthering your
"Good God!" cried Michu, "am I accursed? Shall I never be able to rid
you of that villain?"
"No, my man, no!" said Paul-Marie. "But we will always take care of you,
though you will have to leave our service and the country too. Sell your
property here; we will send you to Trieste to a friend of ours who has
immense business connections, and he'll employ you until things are
better in this country for all of us."
Tears came into Michu's eyes; he stood rooted to the floor.
"Were there any witnesses when you aimed at Malin?" asked the Marquis de
"Grevin the notary was talking with him, and that prevented my killing
him—very fortunately, as Madame la Comtesse knows," said Michu, looking
at his mistress.
"Grevin is not the only one who knows it?" said Monsieur de Chargeboeuf,
who seemed annoyed at what was said, though none but the family were
"That police spy who came here to trap my masters, he knew it too," said
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf rose as if to look at the gardens, and said,
"You have made the most of Cinq-Cygne." Then he left the house, followed
by the two brothers and Laurence, who now saw the meaning of his visit.
"You are frank and generous, but most imprudent," said the old man. "It
was natural enough that I should warn you of a rumor which was certain
to be a slander; but what have you done now? you have let such weak
persons as Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and their sons see that
there was truth in it. Oh, young men! young men! You ought to keep Michu
here and go away yourselves. But if you persist in remaining, at least
write a letter to the senator and tell him that having heard the rumors
about Michu you have dismissed him from your employ."
"We!" exclaimed the brothers; "what, write to Malin,—to the murderer of
our father and our mother, to the insolent plunderer of our property!"
"All true; but he is one of the chief personages at the Imperial court,
and the king of your department."
"He, who voted for the death of Louis XVI. in case the army of Conde
entered France!" cried Laurence.
"He, who probably advised the murder of the Duc d'Enghien!" exclaimed
"Well, well, if you want to recapitulate his titles of nobility," cried
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, "say he who pulled Robespierre by the skirts
of his coat to make him fall when he saw that his enemies were stronger
than he; he who would have shot Bonaparte if the 18th Brumaire had
missed fire; he who manoeuvres now to bring back the Bourbons if
Napoleon totters; he whom the strong will ever find on their side to
handle either sword or pistol and put an end to an adversary whom they
fear! But—all that is only reason the more for what I urge upon you."
"We have fallen very low," said Laurence.
"Children," said the old marquis, taking them by the hand and going to
the lawn, then covered by a slight fall of snow; "you will be angry at
the prudent advice of an old man, but I am bound to give it, and here
it is: If I were you I would employ as go-between some trustworthy old
fellow—like myself, for instance; I would commission him to ask Malin
for a million of francs for the title-deeds of Gondreville; he would
gladly consent if the matter were kept secret. You will then have
capital in hand, an income of a hundred thousand francs, and you can
buy a fine estate in another part of France. As for Cinq-Cygne, it can
safely be left to the management of Monsieur d'Hauteserre, and you
can draw lots as to which of you shall win the hand of this dear
heiress—But ah! I know the words of an old man in the ears of the young
are like the words of the young in the ears of the old, a sound without
The old marquis signed to his three relatives that he wished no answer,
and returned to the salon, where, during their absence, the abbe and his
sister had arrived.
The proposal to draw lots for their cousin's hand had offended the
brothers, while Laurence revolted in her soul at the bitterness of the
remedy the old marquis counselled. All three were now less gracious to
him, though they did not cease to be polite. The warmth of their feeling
was chilled. Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, who felt the change, cast
frequent looks of kindly compassion on these charming young people.
The conversation became general, but the old marquis still dwelt on
the necessity of submitting to events, and he applauded Monsieur
d'Hauteserre for his persistence in urging his sons to take service
under the Empire.
"Bonaparte," he said, "makes dukes. He has created Imperial fiefs,
he will therefore make counts. Malin is determined to be Comte de
Gondreville. That is a fancy," he added, looking at the Simeuse
brothers, "which might be profitable to you—"
"Or fatal," said Laurence.
As soon as the horses were put-to the marquis took leave, accompanied to
the door by the whole party. When fairly in the carriage he made a sign
to Laurence to come and speak to him, and she sprang upon the foot-board
with the lightness of a swallow.
"You are not an ordinary woman, and you ought to understand me," he said
in her ear. "Malin's conscience will never allow him to leave you in
peace; he will set some trap to injure you. I implore you to be careful
of all your actions, even the most unimportant. Compromise, negotiate;
those are my last words."
The brothers stood motionless behind their cousin and watched the
berlingot as it turned through the iron gates and took the road to
Troyes. Laurence repeated the old man's last words. But sage experience
should not present itself to the eyes of youth in a berlingot, colored
stockings, and a queue. These ardent young hearts had no conception
of the change that had passed over France; indignation crisped their
nerves, honor boiled with their noble blood through every vein.
"He, the head of the house of Chargeboeuf!" said the Marquis de Simeuse.
"A man who bears the motto Adsit fortior, the noblest of warcries!"
"We are no longer in the days of Saint-Louis," said the younger Simeuse.
"But 'We die singing,'" said the countess. "The cry of the five young
girls of my house is mine!"
"And ours, 'Cy meurs,'" said the elder Simeuse. "Therefore, no quarter,
I say; for, on reflection, we shall find that our relative had pondered
well what he told us—Gondreville to be the title of a Malin!"
"And his seat!" said the younger.
"Mansart designed it for noble stock, and the populace will get their
children in it!" exclaimed the elder.
"If that were to come to pass, I'd rather see Gondreville in ashes!"
cried Mademoiselle Cinq-Cygne.
One of the villagers, who had entered the grounds to examine a calf
Monsieur d'Hauteserre was trying to sell him, overheard these words as
he came from the cow-sheds.
"Let us go in," said Laurence, laughing; "this is very imprudent; we are
giving the old marquis a right to blame us. My poor Michu," she added,
as she entered the salon, "I had forgotten your adventure; as we are
not in the odor of sanctity in these parts you must be careful not
to compromise us in future. Have you any other peccadilloes on your
"I blame myself for not having killed the murderer of my old masters
before I came to the rescue of my present ones—"
"Michu!" said the abbe in a warning tone.
"But I'll not leave the country," Michu continued, paying no heed to
the abbe's exclamation, "till I am certain you are safe. I see fellows
roaming about here whom I distrust. The last time we hunted in the
forest, that keeper who took my place at Gondreville came to me and
asked if we supposed we were on our own property. 'Ho! my lad,' I said,
'we can't get rid in two weeks of ideas we've had for centuries.'"
"You did wrong, Michu," said the Marquis de Simeuse, smiling with
"What answer did he make?" asked Monsieur d'Hauteserre.
"He said he would inform the senator of our claims," replied Michu.
"Comte de Gondreville!" repeated the elder Simeuse; "what a masquerade!
But after all, they say 'your Majesty' to Bonaparte!"
"And to the Grand Duc de Berg, 'your Highness!'" said the abbe.
"Who is he?" asked the Marquis de Simeuse.
"Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law," replied old d'Hauteserre.
"Delightful!" remarked Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne. "Do they also say
'your Majesty' to the widow of Beauharnais?"
"Yes, mademoiselle," said the abbe.
"We ought to go to Paris and see it all," cried Laurence.
"Alas, mademoiselle," said Michu, "I was there to put Francois at
school, and I swear to you there's no joking with what they call the
Imperial Guard. If the rest of the army are like them, the thing may
last longer than we."
"They say many of the noble families are taking service," said Monsieur
"According to the present law," added the abbe, "you will be compelled
to serve. The conscription makes no distinction of ranks or names."
"That man is doing us more harm with his court than the Revolution did
with its axe!" cried Laurence.
"The Church prays for him," said the abbe.
These remarks, made rapidly one after another, were so many commentaries
on the wise counsel of the old Marquis de Chargeboeuf; but the young
people had too much faith, too much honor, to dream of resorting to a
compromise. They told themselves, as all vanquished parties in all times
have declared, that the luck of the conquerors would soon be at an end,
that the Emperor had no support but that of the army, that the power de
facto must sooner or later give way to the Divine Right, etc. So, in
spite of the wise counsel given to them, they fell into the pitfall,
which others, like old d'Hauteserre, more prudent and more amenable
to reason, would have been able to avoid. If men were frank they might
perhaps admit that misfortunes never overtake them until after they have
received either an actual or an occult warning. Many do not perceive the
deep meaning of such visible or invisible signs until after the disaster
is upon them.
"In any case, Madame la comtesse knows that I cannot leave the country
until I have given up a certain trust," said Michu in a low voice to
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne.
For all answer she made him a sign of acquiescence, and he left the
CHAPTER XII. THE FACTS OF A MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR
Michu sold his farm at once to Beauvisage, a farmer at Bellache, but he
was not to receive the money for twenty days. A month after the Marquis
de Chargeboeuf's visit, Laurence, who had told her cousins of their
buried fortune, proposed to them to take the day of the Mi-careme to
disinter it. The unusual quantity of snow which fell that winter had
hitherto prevented Michu from obtaining the treasure, and it now
gave him pleasure to undertake the operation with his masters. He was
determined to leave the neighborhood as soon as it was over, for he
"Malin has suddenly arrived at Gondreville, and no one knows why,"
he said to his mistress. "I shall never be able to resist putting the
property into the market by the death of its owner. I feel I am guilty
in not following my inspirations."
"Why should he leave Paris at this season?" said the countess.
"All Arcis is talking about it," replied Michu; "he has left his family
in Paris, and no one is with him but his valet. Monsieur Grevin, the
notary of Arcis, Madame Marion, the wife of the receiver-general, and
her sister-in-law are staying at Gondreville."
Laurence had chosen the mid-lent day for their purpose because it
enabled her to give her servants a holiday and so get them out of the
way. The usual masquerade drew the peasantry to the town and no one
was at work in the fields. Chance made its calculations with as much
cleverness as Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne made hers. The uneasiness of
Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre at the idea of keeping eleven hundred
thousand francs in gold in a lonely chateau on the borders of a forest
was likely to be so great that their sons advised they should know
nothing about it. The secret of the expedition was therefore confined to
Gothard, Michu, Laurence, and the four gentlemen.
After much consultation it seemed possible to put forty-eight thousand
francs in a long sack on the crupper of each of their horses. Three
trips would therefore bring the whole. It was agreed to send all the
servants, whose curiosity might be troublesome, to Troyes to see the
shows. Catherine, Marthe, and Durieu, who could be relied on, stayed
at home in charge of the house. The other servants were glad of their
holiday and started by daybreak. Gothard, assisted by Michu, saddled the
horses as soon as they were gone, and the party started by way of the
gardens to reach the forest. Just as they were mounting—for the park
gate was so low on the garden side that they led their horses until they
were through it—old Beauvisage, the farmer at Bellache, happened to
"There!" cried Gothard, "I hear some one."
"Oh, it is only I," said the worthy man, coming toward them. "Your
servant, gentleman; are you off hunting, in spite of the new decrees?
I don't complain of you; but do take care! though you have friends you
have also enemies."
"Oh, as for that," said the elder Hauteserre, smiling, "God grant that
our hunt may be lucky to-day,—if so, you will get your masters back
These words, to which events were destined to give a totally different
meaning, earned a severe look from Laurence. The elder Simeuse was
confident that Malin would restore Gondreville for an indemnity. These
rash youths were determined to do exactly the contrary of what the
Marquis de Chargeboeuf had advised. Robert, who shared these hopes, was
thinking of them when he gave utterance to the fatal words.
"Not a word of this, old friend," said Michu to Beauvisage, waiting
behind the others to lock the gate.
It was one of those fine mornings in March when the air is dry, the
earth pure, the sky clear, and the atmosphere a contradiction to the
leafless trees; the season was so mild that the eye caught glimpses here
and there of verdure.
"We are seeking treasure when all the while you are the real treasure of
our house, cousin," said the elder Simeuse, gaily.
Laurence was in front, with a cousin on each side of her. The
d'Hauteserres were behind, followed by Michu. Gothard had gone forward
to clear the way.
"Now that our fortune is restored, you must marry my brother," said the
younger in a low voice. "He adores you; together you will be as rich as
nobles ought to be in these days."
"No, give the whole fortune to him and I will marry you," said Laurence;
"I am rich enough for two."
"So be it," cried the Marquis; "I will leave you, and find a wife worthy
to be your sister."
"So you really love me less than I thought you did?" said Laurence
looking at him with a sort of jealousy.
"No; I love you better than either of you love me," replied the marquis.
"And therefore you would sacrifice yourself?" asked Laurence with a
glance full of momentary preference.
The marquis was silent.
"Well, then, I shall think only of you, and that will be intolerable to
my husband," exclaimed Laurence, impatient at his silence.
"How could I live without you?" said the younger twin to his brother.
"But, after all, you can't marry us both," said the marquis, replying to
Laurence; "and the time has come," he continued, in the brusque tone of
a man who is struck to the heart, "to make your decision."
He urged his horse in advance so that the d'Hauteserres might not
overhear them. His brother's horse and Laurence's followed him. When
they had put some distance between themselves and the rest of the party
Laurence attempted to speak, but tears were at first her only language.
"I will enter a cloister," she said at last.
"And let the race of Cinq-Cygne end?" said the younger brother. "Instead
of one unhappy man, would you make two? No, whichever of us must be your
brother only, will resign himself to that fate. It is the knowledge
that we are no longer poor that has brought us to explain ourselves,"
he added, glancing at the marquis. "If I am the one preferred, all this
money is my brother's. If I am rejected, he will give it to me with
the title of de Simeuse, for he must then take the name and title of
Cinq-Cygne. Whichever way it ends, the loser will have a chance of
recovery—but if he feels he must die of grief, he can enter the army
and die in battle, not to sadden the happy household."
"We are true knights of the olden time, worthy of our fathers," cried
the elder. "Speak, Laurence; decide between us."
"We cannot continue as we are," said the younger.
"Do not think, Laurence, that self-denial is without its joys," said the
"My dear loved ones," said the girl, "I am unable to decide. I love you
both as though you were one being—as your mother loved you. God will
help us. I cannot choose. Let us put it to chance—but I make one
"What is it?"
"Whichever one of you becomes my brother must stay with me until I
suffer him to leave me. I wish to be sole judge of when to part."
"Yes, yes," said the brothers, without explaining to themselves her
"The first of you to whom Madame d'Hauteserre speaks to-night at table
after the Benedicite, shall be my husband. But neither of you must
practise fraud or induce her to answer a question."
"We will play fair," said the younger, smiling.
Each kissed her hand. The certainty of some decision which both could
fancy favorable made them gay.
"Either way, dear Laurence, you create a Comte de Cinq-Cygne—"
"I believe," thought Michu, riding behind them, "that mademoiselle will
not long be unmarried. How gay my masters are! If my mistress makes her
choice I shall not leave; I must stay and see that wedding."
Just then a magpie flew suddenly before his face. Michu, superstitious
like all primitive beings, fancied he heard the muffled tones of a
death-knell. The day, however, began brightly enough for lovers, who
rarely see magpies when together in the woods. Michu, armed with his
plan, verified the spots; each gentleman had brought a pickaxe, and the
money was soon found. The part of the forest where it was buried was
quite wild, far from all paths or habitations, so that the cavalcade
bearing the gold returned unseen. This proved to be a great misfortune.
On their way from Cinq-Cygne to fetch the last two hundred thousand
francs, the party, emboldened by success, took a more direct way than
on their other trips. The path passed an opening from which the park of
Gondreville could be seen.
"What is that?" cried Laurence, pointing to a column of blue flame.
"A bonfire, I think," replied Michu.
Laurence, who knew all the by-ways of the forest, left the rest of the
party and galloped towards the pavilion, Michu's old home. Though the
building was closed and deserted, the iron gates were open, and traces
of the recent passage of several horses struck Laurence instantly. The
column of blue smoke was rising from a field in what was called the
English park, where, as she supposed, they were burning brush.
"Ah! so you are concerned in it, too, are you, mademoiselle?" cried
Violette, who came out of the park at top speed on his pony, and pulled
up to meet Laurence. "But, of course, it is only a carnival joke? They
surely won't kill him?"
"Your cousins wouldn't put him to death?"
"Death! whose death?"
"You are crazy, Violette!"
"Well, what are you doing here, then?" he demanded.
At the idea of a danger which was threatening her cousins, Laurence
turned her horse and galloped back to them, reaching the ground as the
last sacks were filled.
"Quick, quick!" she cried. "I don't know what is going on, but let us
get back to Cinq-Cygne."
While the happy party were employed in recovering the fortune saved
by the old marquis, and guarded for so many years by Michu, an
extraordinary scene was taking place in the chateau of Gondreville.
About two o'clock in the afternoon Malin and his friend Grevin were
playing chess before the fire in the great salon on the ground-floor.
Madame Grevin and Madame Marion were sitting on a sofa and talking
together at a corner of the fireplace. All the servants had gone to see
the masquerade, which had long been announced in the arrondissement. The
family of the bailiff who had replaced Michu had gone too. The senator's
valet and Violette were the only persons beside the family at the
chateau. The porter, two gardeners, and their wives were on the place,
but their lodge was at the entrance of the courtyards at the farther end
of the avenue to Arcis, and the distance from there to the chateau
is beyond the sound of a pistol-shot. Violette was waiting in the
antechamber until the senator and Grevin could see him on business, to
arrange a matter relating to his lease. At that moment five men, masked
and gloved, who in height, manner, and bearing strongly resembled
the Simeuse and d'Hauteserre brothers and Michu, rushed into the
antechamber, seized and gagged the valet and Violette, and fastened them
to their chairs in a side room. In spite of the rapidity with which this
was done, Violette and the servant had time to utter one cry. It was
heard in the salon. The two ladies thought it a cry of fear.
"Listen!" said Madame Grevin, "can there be robbers?"
"No, nonsense!" said Grevin, "only carnival cries; the masqueraders must
be coming to pay us a visit."
This discussion gave time for the four strangers to close the doors
towards the courtyards and to lock up Violette and the valet. Madame
Grevin, who was rather obstinate, insisted on knowing what the noise
meant. She rose, left the room, and came face to face with the five
masked men, who treated her as they had treated the farmer and the
valet. Then they rushed into the salon, where the two strongest seized
and gagged Malin, and carried him off into the park, while the three
others remained behind to gag Madame Marion and Grevin and lash them to
their armchairs. The whole affair did not take more than half an hour.
The three unknown men, who were quickly rejoined by the two who had
carried off the senator, then proceeded to ransack the chateau from
cellar to garret. They opened all closets and doors, and sounded the
walls; until five o'clock they were absolute masters of the place. By
that time the valet had managed to loosen with his teeth the rope that
bound Violette. Violette, able then to get the gag from his mouth,
began to shout for help. Hearing the shouts the five men withdrew to
the gardens, where they mounted horses closely resembling those at
Cinq-Cygne and rode away, but not so rapidly that Violette was unable to
catch sight of them. After releasing the valet, the two ladies, and the
notary, Violette mounted his pony and rode after help. When he reached
the pavilion he was amazed to see the gates open and Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne apparently on the watch.
Directly after the young countess had ridden off, Violette was overtaken
by Grevin and the forester of the township of Gondreville, who had taken
horses from the stables at the chateau. The porter's wife was on her way
to summon the gendarmerie from Arcis. Violette at once informed Grevin
of his meeting with Laurence and the sudden flight of the daring girl,
whose strong and decided character was known to all of them.
"She was keeping watch," said Violette.
"Is it possible that those Cinq-Cygne people have done this thing?"
"Do you mean to say you didn't recognize that stout Michu?" exclaimed
Violette. "It was he who attacked me; I knew his fist. Besides, they
rode the Cinq-Cygne horses."
Noticing the hoof-marks on the sand of the rond-point and along the
park road the notary stationed the forester at the gateway to see to
the preservation of these precious traces until the justice of peace
of Arcis (for whom he now sent Violette) could take note of them.
He himself returned hastily to the chateau, where the lieutenant
and sub-lieutenant of the Imperial gendarmerie at Arcis had arrived,
accompanied by four men and a corporal. The lieutenant was the same
man whose head Francois Michu had broken two years earlier, and who had
heard from Corentin the name of his mischievous assailant. This man,
whose name was Giguet (his brother was in the army, and became one of
the finest colonels of artillery), was an extremely able officer
of gendarmerie. Later he commanded the squadron of the Aube. The
sub-lieutenant, named Welff, had formerly driven Corentin from
Cinq-Cygne to the pavilion, and from the pavilion to Troyes. On the
way, the spy had fully informed him as to what he called the trickery
of Laurence and Michu. The two officers were therefore well inclined to
show, and did show, great eagerness against the family at Cinq-Cygne.
CHAPTER XIII. THE CODE OF BRUMAIRE, YEAR IV.
Malin and Grevin had both, the latter working for the former, taken part
in the construction of the Code called that of Brumaire, year IV., the
judicial work of the National Convention, so-called, and promulgated by
the Directory. Grevin knew its provisions thoroughly, and was able to
apply them in this affair with terrible celerity, under a theory, now
converted into a certainty, of the guilt of Michu and the Messieurs
de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre. No one in these days, unless it be some
antiquated magistrates, will remember this system of justice, which
Napoleon was even then overthrowing by the promulgation of his own
Codes, and by the institution of his magistracy under the form in which
it now rules France.
The Code of Brumaire, year IV., gave to the director of the jury of
the department the duty of discovering, indicting, and prosecuting the
persons guilty of the delinquency committed at Gondreville. Remark, by
the way, that the Convention had eliminated from its judicial vocabulary
the word "crime"; delinquencies and misdemeanors were alone
admitted; and these were punished with fines, imprisonment, and
penalties "afflictive or infamous." Death was an afflictive punishment.
But the penalty of death was to be done away with after the restoration
of peace, and twenty-four years of hard labor were to take its place.
Thus the Convention estimated twenty-four years of hard labor as
the equivalent of death. What therefore can be said for a code which
inflicts the punishment of hard labor for life? The system then in
process of preparation by the Napoleonic Council of State suppressed the
function of the directors of juries, which united many enormous powers.
In relation to the discovery of delinquencies and their prosecution the
director of the jury was, in fact, agent of police, public prosecutor,
municipal judge, and the court itself. His proceedings and his
indictments were, however, submitted for signature to a commissioner of
the executive power and to the verdict of eight jurymen, before whom
he laid the facts of the case, and who examined the witnesses and the
accused and rendered the preliminary verdict, called the indictment. The
director was, however, in a position to exercise such influence over the
jurymen, who met in his private office, that they could not well avoid
agreeing with him. These jurymen were called the jury of indictment.
There were others who formed the juries of the criminal tribunals
whose duty it was to judge the accused; these were called, in
contradistinction to the jury of indictment, the judgment jury. The
criminal tribunal, to which Napoleon afterwards gave the name of
criminal court, was composed of one President or chief justice, four
judges, the public prosecutor, and a government commissioner.
Nevertheless, from 1799 to 1806 there were special courts (so-called)
which judged without juries certain misdemeanors in certain departments;
these were composed of judges taken from the civil courts and formed
into a special court. This conflict of special justice and criminal
justice gave rise to questions of competence which came before the
courts of appeal. If the department of the Aube had had a special court,
the verdict on the outrage committed on a senator of the Empire would no
doubt have been referred to it; but this tranquil department had
never needed unusual jurisdiction. Grevin therefore despatched the
sub-lieutenant to Troyes to bring the director of the jury of that town.
The emissary went at full gallop, and soon returned in a post-carriage
with the all-powerful magistrate.
The director of the Troyes jury was formerly secretary of one of the
committees of the Convention, a friend of Malin, to whom he owed his
present place. This magistrate, named Lechesneau, had helped Malin, as
Grevin had done, in his work on the Code during the Convention. Malin in
return recommended him to Cambaceres, who appointed him attorney-general
for Italy. Unfortunately for him, Lechesneau had a liaison with a
great lady in Turin, and Napoleon removed him to avoid a criminal trial
threatened by the husband. Lechesneau, bound in gratitude to Malin, felt
the importance of this attack upon his patron, and brought with him a
captain of gendarmerie and twelve men.
Before starting he laid his plans with the prefect, who was unable
at that late hour, it being after dark, to use the telegraph. They
therefore sent a mounted messenger to Paris to notify the minister of
police, the chief justice and the Emperor of this extraordinary crime.
In the salon of Gondreville, Lechesneau found Mesdames Marion and
Grevin, Violette, the senator's valet, and the justice of peace with his
clerk. The chateau had already been examined; the justice, assisted by
Grevin, had carefully collected the first testimony. The first thing
that struck him was the obvious intention shown in the choice of the
day and hour for the attack. The hour prevented an immediate search for
proofs and traces. At this season it was nearly dark by half-past five,
the hour at which Violette gave the alarm, and darkness often means
impunity to evil-doers. The choice of a holiday, when most persons had
gone to the masquerade at Arcis, and the senator was comparatively alone
in the house, showed an obvious intention to get rid of witnesses.
"Let us do justice to the intelligence of the prefecture of police,"
said Lechesneau; "they have never ceased to warn us to be on our guard
against the nobles at Cinq-Cygne; they have always declared that sooner
or later those people would play us some dangerous trick."
Sure of the active co-operation of the prefect of the Aube, who sent
messengers to all the surrounding prefectures asking them to search
for the five abductors and the senator, Lechesneau began his work by
verifying the first facts. This was soon done by the help of two such
legal heads as those of Grevin and the justice of peace. The latter,
named Pigoult, formerly head-clerk in the office where Malin and Grevin
had first studied law in Paris, was soon after appointed judge of the
municipal court at Arcis. In relation to Michu, Lechesneau knew of the
threats the man had made about the sale of Gondreville to Marion, and
the danger Malin had escaped in his own park from Michu's gun. These
two facts, one being the consequence of the other, were no doubt
the precursors of the present successful attack, and they pointed so
obviously to the late bailiff as the instigator of the outrage that
Grevin, his wife, Violette, and Madame Marion declared that they had
recognized among the five masked men one who exactly resembled Michu.
The color of the hair and whiskers and the thick-set figure of the man
made the mask he wore useless. Besides, who but Michu could have opened
the iron gates of the park with a key? The present bailiff and his wife,
now returned from the masquerade, deposed to have locked both gates
before leaving the pavilion. The gates when examined showed no sign of
"When we turned him off he must have taken some duplicate keys with
him," remarked Grevin. "No doubt he has been meditating a desperate
step, for he has lately sold his whole property, and he received the
money for it in my office day before yesterday."
"The others have followed his lead!" exclaimed Lechesneau, struck with
the circumstances. "He has been their evil genius."
Moreover, who could know as well as the Messieurs de Simeuse the ins and
outs of the chateau. None of the assailants seemed to have blundered in
their search; they had gone through the house in a confident way which
showed that they knew what they wanted to find and where to find it.
The locks of none of the opened closets had been forced; therefore the
delinquents had keys. Strange to say, however, nothing had been taken;
the motive, therefore, was not robbery. More than all, when Violette
had followed the tracks of the horses as far as the rond-point, he
had found the countess, evidently on guard, at the pavilion. From such a
combination of facts and depositions arose a presumption as to the guilt
of the Messieurs de Simeuse, d'Hauteserre, and Michu, which would have
been strong to unprejudiced minds, and to the director of the jury had
the force of certainty. What were they likely to do to the future Comte
de Gondreville? Did they mean to force him to make over the estate for
which Michu declared in 1799 he had the money to pay?
But there was another aspect of the cast to the knowing criminal lawyer.
He asked himself what could be the object of the careful search made of
the chateau. If revenge were at the bottom of the matter, the assailants
would have killed the senator. Perhaps he had been killed and buried.
The abduction, however, seemed to point to imprisonment. But why keep
their victim imprisoned after searching the castle? It was folly to
suppose that the abduction of a dignitary of the Empire could long
remain secret. The publicity of the matter would prevent any benefit
To these suggestions Pigoult replied that justice was never able to make
out all the motives of scoundrels. In every criminal case there
were obscurities, he said, between the judge and the guilty person;
conscience had depths into which no human mind could enter unless by the
confession of the criminal.
Grevin and Lechesneau nodded their assent, without, however, relaxing
their determination to see to the bottom of the present mystery.
"The Emperor pardoned those young men," said Pigoult to Grevin. "He
removed their names from the list of emigres, though they certainly
took part in that last conspiracy against him."
Lechesneau make no delay in sending his whole force of gendarmerie to
the forest and to the valley of Cinq-Cygne; telling Giguet to take with
him the justice of peace, who, according to the terms of the Code, would
then become an auxiliary police-officer. He ordered them to make
all preliminary inquiries in the township of Cinq-Cygne, and to take
testimony if necessary; and to save time, he dictated and signed a
warrant for the arrest of Michu, against whom the charge was evident on
the positive testimony of Violette. After the departure of the gendarmes
Lechesneau returned to the important question of issuing warrants for
the arrest of the Simeuse and d'Hauteserre brothers. According to
the Code these warrants would have to contain the charges against the
Giguet and the justice of peace rode so rapidly to Cinq-Cygne that
they met Laurence's servants returning from the festivities at Troyes.
Stopped, and taken before the mayor where they were interrogated, they
all stated, being ignorant of the importance of the answer, that their
mistress had given them permission to spend the whole day at Troyes.
To a question put by the justice of the peace, each replied that
Mademoiselle had offered them the amusement which they had not thought
of asking for. This testimony seemed so important to the justice of the
peace that he sent back a messenger to Gondreville to advise Lechesneau
to proceed himself to Cinq-Cygne and arrest the four gentlemen, while
he went to Michu's farm, so that the five arrests might be made
This new element was so convincing that Lechesneau started at once for
Cinq-Cygne. He knew well what pleasure would be felt in Troyes at such
proceedings against the old nobles, the enemies of the people, now
become the enemies of the Emperor. In such circumstances a magistrate
is very apt to take mere presumptive evidence for actual proof.
Nevertheless, on his way from Gondreville to Cinq-Cygne, in the
senator's own carriage, it did occur to Lechesneau (who would certainly
have made a fine magistrate had it not been for his love-affair, and the
Emperor's sudden morality to which he owed his disgrace) to think the
audacity of the young men and Michu a piece of folly which was not in
keeping with what he knew of the judgment and character of Mademoiselle
de Cinq-Cygne. He imagined in his own mind some other motives for the
deed than the restitution of Gondreville. In all things, even in the
magistracy, there is what may be called the conscience of a calling.
Lechesneau's perplexities came from this conscience, which all men put
into the proper performance of the duties they like—scientific men into
science, artists into art, judges into the rendering of justice. Perhaps
for this reason judges are really greater safeguards for persons accused
of wrong-doing than are juries. A magistrate relies only on reason and
its laws; juries are floated to and fro by the waves of sentiment. The
director of the jury accordingly set several questions before his mind,
resolving to find in their solution satisfactory reasons for making the
Though the news of the abduction was already agitating the town of
Troyes, it was still unknown at Arcis, where the inhabitants were
supping when the messenger arrived to summon the gendarmes. No one, of
course, knew it in the village of Cinq-Cygne, the valley and the chateau
of which were now, for the second time, encircled by gendarmes.
Laurence had only to tell Marthe, Catherine, and the Durieus not to
leave the chateau, to be strictly obeyed. After each trip to fetch the
gold, the horses were fastened in the covered way opposite to the breach
in the moat, and from there Robert and Michu, the strongest of the
party, carried the sacks through the breach to a cellar under the
staircase in the tower called Mademoiselle's. Reaching the chateau with
the last load about half-past five o'clock, the four gentlemen and Michu
proceeded to bury the treasure in the floor of the cellar and then to
wall up the entrance. Michu took charge of the matter with Gothard to
help him; the lad was sent to the farm for some sacks of plaster left
over when the new buildings were put up, and Marthe went with him to
show him where they were. Michu, very hungry, made such haste that by
half-past seven o'clock the work was done; and he started for home at
a quick pace to stop Gothard, who had been sent for another sack of
plaster which he thought he might want. The farm was already watched
by the forester of Cinq-Cygne, the justice of peace, his clerk and four
gendarmes who, however, kept out of sight and allowed him to enter the
house without seeing them.
Michu saw Gothard with the sack on his shoulder and called to him from a
distance: "It is all finished, my lad; take that back and stay and dine
Michu, his face perspiring, his clothes soiled with plaster and covered
with fragments of muddy stone from the breach, reached home joyfully and
entered the kitchen where Marthe and her mother were serving the soup in
expectation of his coming.
Just as Michu was turning the faucet of the water-pipe intending to wash
his hands, the justice of peace entered the house accompanied by his
clerk and the forester.
"What have you come for, Monsieur Pigoult?" asked Michu.
"In the name of the Emperor and the laws, I arrest you," replied the
The three gendarmes entered the kitchen leading Gothard. Seeing the
silver lace on their hats Marthe and her mother looked at each other in
"Pooh! why?" asked Michu, who sat down at the table and called to his
wife, "Give me something to eat; I'm famished."
"You know why as well as we do," said the justice, making a sign to his
clerk to begin the proces-verbal and exhibiting the warrant of arrest.
"Well, well, Gothard, you needn't stare so," said Michu. "Do you want
some dinner, yes or no? Let them write down their nonsense."
"You admit, of course, the condition of your clothes?" said the justice
of peace; "and you can't deny the words you said just now to Gothard?"
Michu, supplied with food by his wife, who was amazed at his coolness,
was eating with the avidity of a hungry man. He made no answer to
the justice, for his mouth was full and his heart innocent. Gothard's
appetite was destroyed by fear.
"Look here," said the forester, going up to Michu and whispering in his
ear: "What have you done with the senator? You had better make a clean
breast of it, for if we are to believe these people it is a matter of
life or death to you."
"Good God!" cried Marthe, who overheard the last words and fell into a
chair as if annihilated.
"Violette must have played us some infamous trick," cried Michu,
recollecting what Laurence had said in the forest.
"Ha! so you do know that Violette saw you?" said the justice of peace.
Michu bit his lips and resolved to say no more. Gothard imitated him.
Seeing the uselessness of all attempts to make them talk, and knowing
what the neighborhood chose to call Michu's perversity, the justice
ordered the gendarmes to bind his hands and those of Gothard, and take
them both to the chateau, whither he now went himself to rejoin the
director of the jury.
CHAPTER XIV. THE ARRESTS
The four young men and Laurence were so hungry and the dinner so
acceptable that they would not delay it by changing their dress. They
entered the salon, she in her riding-habit, they in their white leather
breeches, high-top boots and green-cloth jackets, where they found
Monsieur d'Hauteserre and his wife, not a little uneasy at their long
absence. The goodman had noticed their goings and comings, and, above
all, their evident distrust of him, for Laurence had been unable to get
rid of him as she had of her servants. Once when his own sons evidently
avoided making any reply to his questions, he went to his wife and said,
"I am afraid that Laurence may still get us into trouble!"
"What sort of game did you hunt to-day?" said Madame d'Hauteserre to
"Ah!" replied the young girl, laughing, "you'll hear some day what a
strange hunt your sons have joined in to-day."
Though said in jest the words made the old lady tremble. Catherine
entered to announce dinner. Laurence took Monsieur d'Hauteserre's arm,
smiling for a moment at the necessity she thus forced upon her cousins
to offer an arm to Madame d'Hauteserre, who, according to agreement, was
now to be the arbiter of their fate.
The Marquis de Simeuse took in Madame d'Hauteserre. The situation was so
momentous that after the Benedicite was said Laurence and the young
men trembled from the violent palpitation of their hearts. Madame
d'Hauteserre, who carved, was struck by the anxiety on the faces of
the Simeuse brothers and the great alteration that was noticeable in
Laurence's lamb-like features.
"Something extraordinary is going on, I am sure of it!" she exclaimed,
looking at all of them.
"To whom are you speaking?" asked Laurence.
"To all of you," said the old lady.
"As for me, mother," said Robert, "I am frightfully hungry, and that is
Madame d'Hauteserre, still troubled, offered the Marquis de Simeuse a
plate intended for his brother.
"I am like your mother," she said. "I don't know you apart even by your
cravats. I thought I was helping your brother."
"You have helped me better than you thought for," said the youngest,
turning pale; "you have made him Comte de Cinq-Cygne."
"What! do you mean to tell me the countess has made her choice?" cried
"No," said Laurence; "we left the decision to fate and you are its
She told of the agreement made that morning. The elder Simeuse, watching
the increasing pallor of his brother's face, was momentarily on the
point of crying out, "Marry her; I will go away and die!" Just then, as
the dessert was being served, all present heard raps upon the window of
the dining-room on the garden side. The eldest d'Hauteserre opened it
and gave entrance to the abbe, whose breeches were torn in climbing over
the walls of the park.
"Fly! they are coming to arrest you," he cried.
"I don't know yet; but there's a warrant against you."
The words were greeted with general laughter.
"We are innocent," said the young men.
"Innocent or guilty," said the abbe, "mount your horses and make for
the frontier. There you can prove your innocence. You could overcome
a sentence by default; you will never overcome a sentence rendered
by popular passion and instigated by prejudice. Remember the words of
President de Harlay, 'If I were accused of carrying off the towers of
Notre-Dame the first thing I should do would be to run away.'"
"To run away would be to admit we were guilty," said the Marquis de
"Don't do it!" cried Laurence.
"Always the same sublime folly!" exclaimed the abbe, in despair. "If I
had the power of God I would carry you away. But if I am found here
in this state they will turn my visit against you, and against me too;
therefore I leave you by the way I came. Consider my advice; you have
still time. The gendarmes have not yet thought of the wall which adjoins
the parsonage; but you are hemmed in on the other sides."
The sound of many feet and the jangle of the sabres of the gendarmerie
echoed through the courtyard and reached the dining-room a few moments
after the departure of the poor abbe, whose advice had met the same fate
as that of the Marquis de Chargeboeuf.
"Our twin existence," said the younger Simeuse, speaking to Laurence,
"is an anomaly—our love for you is anomalous; it is that very quality
which was won your heart. Possibly, the reason why all twins known to
us in history have been unfortunate is that the laws of nature are
subverted in them. In our case, see how persistently an evil fate
follows us! your decision is now postponed."
Laurence was stupefied; the fatal words of the director of the jury
hummed in her ears:—"In the name of the Emperor and the laws, I
arrest the Sieurs Paul-Marie and Marie-Paul Simeuse, Adrien and Robert
d'Hauteserre—These gentlemen," he added, addressing the men who
accompanied him and pointing to the mud on the clothing of the
prisoners, "cannot deny that they have spent the greater part of this
day on horseback."
"Of what are they accused?" asked Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, haughtily.
"Don't you mean to arrest Mademoiselle?" said Giguet.
"I shall leave her at liberty under bail, until I can carefully examine
the charges against her," replied the director.
The mayor offered bail, asking the countess to merely give her word of
honor that she would not escape. Laurence blasted him with a look which
made him a mortal enemy; a tear started from her eyes, one of those
tears of rage which reveal a hell of suffering. The four gentlemen
exchanged a terrible look, but remained motionless. Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre, dreading lest the young people had practised some deceit,
were in a state of indescribable stupefaction. Clinging to their chairs
these unfortunate parents, finding their sons torn from them after
so many fears and their late hopes of safety, sat gazing before them
without seeing, listening without hearing.
"Must I ask you to bail me, Monsieur d'Hauteserre?" cried Laurence to
her former guardian, who was roused by the cry, clear and agonizing to
his ear as the sound of the last trumpet.
He tried to wipe the tears which sprang to his eyes; he now understood
what was passing, and said to his young relation in a quivering voice,
"Forgive me, countess; you know that I am yours, body and soul."
Lechesneau, who at first was much struck by the evident tranquillity in
which the whole party were dining, now returned to his former opinion
of their guilt as he noticed the stupefaction of the old people and the
evident anxiety of Laurence, who was seeking to discover the nature of
the trap which was set for them.
"Gentlemen," he said, politely, "you are too well-bred to make a useless
resistance; follow me to the stables, where I must, in your presence,
have the shoes of your horses taken off; they afford important proof of
either guilt or innocence. Come, too, mademoiselle."
The blacksmith of Cinq-Cygne and his assistant had been summoned by
Lechesneau as experts. While the operation at the stable was going on
the justice of peace brought in Gothard and Michu. The work of detaching
the shoes of each horse, putting them together and ticketing them, so as
to compare them with the hoof-prints in the park, took time. Lechesneau,
notified of the arrival of Pigoult, left the prisoners with the
gendarmes and returned to the dining-room to dictate the indictment.
The justice of peace called his attention to the condition of Michu's
clothes and related the circumstances of his arrest.
"They must have killed the senator and plastered the body up in some
wall," said Pigoult.
"I begin to fear it," answered Lechesneau. "Where did you carry that
plaster?" he said to Gothard.
The boy began to cry.
"The law frightens him," said Michu, whose eyes were darting flames like
those of a lion in the toils.
The servants, who had been detained at the village by order of the
mayor, now arrived and filled the antechamber where Catherine and
Gothard were weeping. To all the questions of the director of the jury
and the justice of peace Gothard replied by sobs; and by dint of weeping
he brought on a species of convulsion which alarmed them so much that
they let him alone. The little scamp, perceiving that he was no longer
watched, looked at Michu with a grin, and Michu signified his approval
by a glance. Lechesneau left the justice of peace and returned to the
"Monsieur," said Madame d'Hauteserre, at last, addressing Pigoult; "can
you explain these arrests?"
"The gentlemen are accused of abducting the senator by armed force and
keeping him a prisoner; for we do not think they have murdered him—in
spite of appearances," replied Pigoult.
"What penalties are attached to the crime?" asked Monsieur d'Hauteserre.
"Well, as the old law continues in force, and they are not amenable
under the Code, the penalty is death," replied the justice.
"Death!" cried Madame d'Hauteserre, fainting away.
The abbe now came in with his sister, who stopped to speak to Catherine
and Madame Durieu.
"We haven't even seen your cursed senator!" said Michu.
"Madame Marion, Madame Grevin, Monsieur Grevin, the senator's valet, and
Violette all tell another tale," replied Pigoult, with the sour smile of
"I don't understand a thing about it," said Michu, dumbfounded by his
reply, and beginning now to believe that his masters and himself were
entangled in some plot which had been laid against them.
Just then the party from the stables returned. Laurence went up to
Madame d'Hauteserre, who recovered her senses enough to say: "The
penalty is death!"
"Death!" repeated Laurence, looking at the four gentlemen.
The word excited a general terror, of which Giguet, formerly instructed
by Corentin, took immediate advantage.
"Everything can be arranged," he said, drawing the Marquis de Simeuse
into a corner of the dining-room. "Perhaps after all it is nothing but a
joke; you've been a soldier and soldiers understand each other. Tell me,
what have you really done with the senator? If you have killed him—why,
that's the end of it! But if you have only locked him up, release him,
for you see for yourself your game is balked. Do this and I am certain
the director of the jury and the senator himself will drop the matter."
"We know absolutely nothing about it," said the marquis.
"If you take that tone the matter is likely to go far," replied the
"Dear cousin," said the Marquis de Simeuse, "we are forced to go to
prison; but do not be uneasy; we shall return in a few hours, for there
is some misunderstanding in all this which can be explained."
"I hope so, for your sakes, gentlemen," said the magistrate, signing to
the gendarmes to remove the four gentlemen, Michu, and Gothard. "Don't
take them to Troyes; keep them in your guardhouse at Arcis," he said to
the lieutenant; "they must be present to-morrow, at daybreak, when we
compare the shoes of their horses with the hoof-prints in the park."
Lechesneau and Pigoult did not follow until they had closely questioned
Catherine, Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, and Laurence. The Durieus,
Catherine, and Marthe declared they had only seen their masters at
breakfast-time; Monsieur d'Hauteserre said he had seen them at three
When, at midnight, Laurence found herself alone with Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre, the abbe and his sister, and without the four young men
who for the last eighteen months had been the life of the chateau and
the love and joy of her own life, she fell into a gloomy silence which
no one present dared to break. No affliction was ever deeper or more
complete than hers. At last a deep sigh broke the stillness, and all
eyes turned towards the sound.
Marthe, forgotten in a corner, rose, exclaiming, "Death! They will kill
them in spite of their innocence!"
"Mademoiselle, what is the matter with you?" said the abbe.
Laurence left the room without replying. She needed solitude to recover
strength in presence of this terrible unforeseen disaster.
CHAPTER XV. DOUBTS AND FEARS OF COUNSEL
At a distance of thirty-four years, during which three great revolutions
have taken place, none but elderly persons can recall the immense
excitement produced in Europe by the abduction of a senator of the
French Empire. No trial, if we except that of Trumeaux, the grocer of
the Place Saint-Michel, and that of the widow Morin, under the Empire;
those of Fualdes and de Castaing, under the Restoration; those of Madame
Lafarge and Fieschi, under the present government, ever roused so much
curiosity or so deep an interest as that of the four young men accused
of abducting Malin. Such an attack against a member of his Senate
excited the wrath of the Emperor, who was told of the arrest of the
delinquents almost at the moment when he first heard of the crime and
the negative results of the inquiries. The forest, searched throughout,
the department of the Aube, ransacked from end to end, gave not the
slightest indication of the passage of the Comte de Gondreville nor
of his imprisonment. Napoleon sent for the chief justice, who, after
obtaining certain information from the ministry of police, explained to
his Majesty the position of Malin in regard to the Simeuse brothers
and the Gondreville estate. The Emperor, at that time pre-occupied
with serious matters, considered the affair explained by these anterior
"Those young men are fools," he said. "A lawyer like Malin will escape
any deed they may force him to sign under violence. Watch those nobles,
and discover the means they take to set the Comte de Gondreville at
He ordered the affair to be conducted with the utmost celerity,
regarding it as an attack on his own institutions, a fatal example of
resistance to the results of the Revolution, an effort to open the great
question of the sales of "national property," and a hindrance to that
fusion of parties which was the constant object of his home policy.
Besides all this, he thought himself tricked by these young nobles, who
had given him their promise to live peaceably.
"Fouche's prediction has come true," he cried, remembering the words
uttered two years earlier by his present minister of police, who said
them under the impressions conveyed to him by Corentin's report as to
the character and designs of Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne.
It is impossible for persons living under a constitutional government,
where no one really cares for that cold and thankless, blind, deaf Thing
called public interest, to imagine the zeal which a mere word of the
Emperor was able to inspire in his political or administrative machine.
That powerful will seemed to impress itself as much upon things as upon
men. His decision once uttered, the Emperor, overtaken by the coalition
of 1806, forgot the whole matter. He thought only of new battles to
fight, and his mind was occupied in massing his regiments to strike the
great blow at the heart of the Prussian monarchy. His desire for prompt
justice in the present case found powerful assistance in the great
uncertainty which affected the position of all magistrates of the
Empire. Just at this time Cambaceres, as arch-chancellor, and Regnier,
chief justice, were preparing to organize tribunaux de premiere
instance (lower civil courts), imperial courts, and a court of appeal
or supreme court. They were agitating the question of a legal garb or
costume; to which Napoleon attached, and very justly, so much importance
in all official stations; and they were also inquiring into the
character of the persons composing the magistracy. Naturally, therefore,
the officials of the department of the Aube considered they could have
no better recommendation than to give proofs of their zeal in the matter
of the abduction of the Comte de Gondreville. Napoleon's suppositions
became certainties to these courtiers and also to the populace.
Peace still reigned on the continent; admiration for the Emperor was
unanimous in France; he cajoled all interests, persons, vanities, and
things, in short, everything, even memories. This attack, therefore,
directed against his senator, seemed in the eyes of all an assault upon
the public welfare. The luckless and innocent gentlemen were the objects
of general opprobrium. A few nobles living quietly on their estates
deplored the affair among themselves but dared not open their lips;
in fact, how was it possible for them to oppose the current of public
opinion. Throughout the department the deaths of the eleven persons
killed by the Simeuse brothers in 1792 from the windows of the hotel
Cinq-Cygne were brought up against them. It was feared that other
returned and now emboldened emigres might follow this example of
violence against those who had bought their estates from the "national
domain," as a method of protesting against what they might call an
The unfortunate young nobles were therefore considered as robbers,
brigands, murderers; and their connection with Michu was particularly
fatal to them. Michu, who was declared, either he or his father-in-law,
to have cut off all the heads that fell under the Terror in that
department, was made the subject of ridiculous tales. The exasperation
of the public mind was all the more intense because nearly all the
functionaries of the department owed their offices to Malin. No generous
voice uplifted itself against the verdict of the public. Besides all
this, the accused had no legal means with which to combat prejudice; for
the Code of Brumaire, year IV., giving as it did both the prosecution of
a charge and the verdict upon it into the hands of a jury, deprived the
accused of the vast protection of an appeal against legal suspicion.
The day after the arrest all the inhabitants of the chateau of
Cinq-Cygne, both masters and servants, were summoned to appear before
the prosecuting jury. Cinq-Cygne was left in charge of a farmer,
under the supervision of the abbe and his sister who moved into it.
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, with Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, went
to Troyes and occupied a small house belonging to Durieu in one of the
long and wide faubourgs which lead from the little town. Laurence's
heart was wrung when she at last comprehended the temper of the
populace, the malignity of the bourgeoisie, and the hostility of the
administration, from the many little events which happened to them as
relatives of prisoners accused of criminal wrong-doing and about to
be judged in a provincial town. Instead of hearing encouraging or
compassionate words they heard only speeches which called for vengeance;
proofs of hatred surrounded them in place of the strict politeness or
the reserve required by mere decency; but above all they were conscious
of an isolation which every mind must feel, but more particularly those
which are made distrustful by misfortune.
Laurence, who had recovered her vigor of mind, relied upon the innocence
of the accused, and despised the community too much to be frightened by
the stern and silent disapproval they met with everywhere. She sustained
the courage of Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, all the while thinking
of the judicial struggle which was now being hurried on. She was,
however, to receive a blow she little expected, which, undoubtedly,
diminished her courage.
In the midst of this great disaster, at the moment when this afflicted
family were made to feel themselves, as it were, in a desert, a man
suddenly became exalted in Laurence's eyes and showed the full beauty of
his character. The day after the indictment was found by the jury,
and the prisoners were finally committed for trial, the Marquis de
Chargeboeuf courageously appeared, still in the same old caleche, to
support and protect his young cousin. Foreseeing the haste with which
the law would be administered, this chief of a great family had already
gone to Paris and secured the services of the most able as well as the
most honest lawyer of the old school, named Bordin, who was for ten
years counsel of the nobility in Paris, and was ultimately succeeded by
the celebrated Derville. This excellent lawyer chose for his assistant
the grandson of a former president of the parliament of Normandy, whose
studies had been made under his tuition. This young lawyer, who was
destined to be appointed deputy-attorney-general in Paris after the
conclusion of the present trial, became eventually one of the most
celebrated of French magistrates. Monsieur de Grandville, for that was
his name, accepted the defence of the four young men, being glad of
an opportunity to make his first appearance as an advocate with
The old marquis, alarmed at the ravages which troubles had wrought in
Laurence's appearance, was charmingly kind and considerate. He made no
allusion to his neglected advice; he presented Bordin as an oracle whose
counsel must be followed to the letter, and young de Grandville as a
defender in whom the utmost confidence might be placed.
Laurence held out her hand to the kind old man, and pressed his with an
eagerness which delighted him.
"You were right," she said.
"Will you now take my advice?" he asked.
The young countess bowed her head in assent, as did Monsieur and Madame
"Well, then, come to my house; it is in the middle of town, close to
the courthouse. You and your lawyers will be better off there than here,
where you are crowded and too far from the field of battle. Here, you
would have to cross the town twice a day."
Laurence, accepted, and the old man took her with Madame d'Hauteserre
to his house, which became the home of the Cinq-Cygne household and the
lawyers of the defence during the whole time the trial lasted. After
dinner, when the doors were closed, Bordin made Laurence relate every
circumstance of the affair, entreating her to omit nothing, not the most
trifling detail. Though many of the facts had already been told to him
and his young assistant by the marquis on their journey from Paris
to Troyes, Bordin listened, his feet on the fender, without obtruding
himself into the recital. The young lawyer, however, could not help
being divided between his admiration for Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, and
the attention he was bound to give to the facts of his case.
"Is that really all?" asked Bordin when Laurence had related the events
of the drama just as the present narrative has given them up to the
"Yes," she answered.
Profound silence reigned for several minutes in the salon of the
Chargeboeuf mansion where this scene took place,—one of the most
important which occur in life. All cases are judged by the counsellors
engaged in them, just as the death or life or a patient is foreseen by
a physician, before the final struggle which the one sustains
against nature, the other against law. Laurence, Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre, and the marquis sat with their eyes fixed on the swarthy
and deeply pitted face of the old lawyer, who was now to pronounce the
words of life or death. Monsieur d'Hauteserre wiped the sweat from his
brow. Laurence looked at the younger man and noted his saddened face.
"Well, my dear Bordin?" said the marquis at last, holding out his
snuffbox, from which the old lawyer took a pinch in an absent-minded
Bordin rubbed the calf of his leg, covered with thick stockings of
black raw silk, for he always wore black cloth breeches and a coat made
somewhat in the shape of those which are now termed a la Francaise.
He cast his shrewd eyes upon his clients with an anxious expression, the
effect of which was icy.
"Must I analyze all that?" he said; "am I to speak frankly?"
"Yes; go on, monsieur," said Laurence.
"All that you have innocently done can be converted into proof against
you," said the old lawyer. "We cannot save your friends; we can only
reduce the penalty. The sale which you induced Michu to make of his
property will be taken as evident proof of your criminal intentions
against the senator. You sent your servants to Troyes so that you might
be alone; that is all the more plausible because it is actually true.
The elder d'Hauteserre made an unfortunate speech to Beauvisage, which
will be your ruin. You yourself, mademoiselle, made another in your
own courtyard, which proves that you have long shown ill-will to
the possessor of Gondreville. Besides, you were at the gate of the
rond-point, apparently on the watch, about the time when the abduction
took place; if they have not arrested you, it is solely because they
fear to bring a sentimental element into the affair."
"The case cannot be successfully defended," said Monsieur de Grandville.
"The less so," continued Bordin, "because we cannot tell the whole
truth. Michu and the Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre must hold to
the assertion that you merely went for an excursion into the forest and
returned to Cinq-Cygne for luncheon. Allowing that we can show you were
in the house at three o'clock (the exact hour at which the attack was
made), who are our witnesses? Marthe, the wife of one of the accused,
the Durieus, and Catherine, your own servants, and Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre, father and mother of two of the accused. Such testimony
is valueless; the law does not admit it against you, and commonsense
rejects it when given in your favor. If, on the other hand, you were to
say you went to the forest to recover eleven hundred thousand francs in
gold, you would send the accused to the galleys as robbers. Judge, jury,
audience, and the whole of France would believe that you took that gold
from Gondreville, and abducted the senator that you might ransack his
house. The accusation as it now stands is not wholly clear, but tell
the truth about the matter and it would become as plain as day; the jury
would declare that the robbery explained the mysterious features,—for
in these days, you must remember, a royalist means a thief. This very
case is welcomed as a legitimate political vengeance. The prisoners are
now in danger of the death penalty; but that is not dishonoring under
some circumstances. Whereas, if they can be proved to have stolen money,
which can never be made to seem excusable, you lose all benefit of
whatever interest may attach to persons condemned to death for other
crimes. If, at the first, you had shown the hiding-places of the
treasure, the plan of the forest, the tubes in which the gold was
buried, and the gold itself, as an explanation of your day's work, it is
possible you might have been believed by an impartial magistrate, but as
it is we must be silent. God grant that none of the prisoners may reveal
the truth and compromise the defence; if they do, we must rely on our
Laurence wrung her hands in despair and raised her eyes to heaven with
a despondent look, for she saw at last in all its depths the gulf into
which her cousins had fallen. The marquis and the young lawyer agreed
with the dreadful view of Bordin. Old d'Hauteserre wept.
"Ah! why did they not listen to the Abbe Goujet and fly!" cried Madame
"If they could have escaped, and you prevented them," said Bordin,
"you have killed them yourselves. Judgment by default gains time; time
enables the innocent to clear themselves. This is the most mysterious
case I have ever known in my life, in the course of which I have
certainly seen and known many strange things."
"It is inexplicable to every one, even to us," said Monsieur de
Grandville. "If the prisoners are innocent some one else has committed
the crime. Five persons do not come to a place as if by enchantment,
obtain five horses shod precisely like those of the accused, imitate the
appearance of some of them, and put Malin apparently underground for the
sole purpose of casting suspicion on Michu and the four gentlemen. The
unknown guilty parties must have had some strong reason for wearing the
skin, as it were, of five innocent men. To discover them, even to get
upon their traces, we need as much power as the government itself, as
many agents and as many eyes as there are townships in a radius of fifty
"The thing is impossible," said Bordin. "There's no use thinking of it.
Since society invented law it has never found a way to give an innocent
prisoner an equal chance against a magistrate who is pre-disposed
against him. Law is not bilateral. The defence, without spies or
police, cannot call social power to the rescue of its innocent clients.
Innocence has nothing on her side but reason, and reasoning which may
strike a judge is often powerless on the narrow minds of jurymen. The
whole department is against you. The eight jurors who have signed the
indictment are each and all purchasers of national domain. Among the
trial jurors we are certain to have some who have either sold or bought
the same property. In short, we can get nothing but a Malin jury. You
must therefore set up a consistent defence, hold fast to it, and perish
in your innocence. You will certainly be condemned. But there's a court
of appeal; we will go there and try to remain there as long as possible.
If in the mean time we can collect proofs in your favor you must apply
for pardon. That's the anatomy of the business, and my advice. If we
triumph (for everything is possible in law) it will be a miracle; but
your advocate Monsieur de Grandville is the most likely man among all I
know to produce that miracle, and I'll do my best to help him."
"The senator has the key to the mystery," said Monsieur de Grandville;
"for a man knows his enemies and why they are so. Here we find him
leaving Paris at the close of the winter, coming to Gondreville alone,
shutting himself up with his notary, and delivering himself over, as one
might say, to five men who seize him."
"Certainly," said Bordin, "his conduct seems inexplicable. But how
could we, in the face of a hostile community, become accusers when we
ourselves are the accused? We should need the help and good-will of the
government and a thousand times more proof than is wanted in ordinary
circumstances. I am convinced there was premeditation, and subtle
premeditation, on the part of our mysterious adversaries, who must have
known the situation of Michu and the Messieurs de Simeuse towards Malin.
Not to utter one word; not to steal one thing!—remarkable prudence!
I see something very different from ordinary evil-doers behind those
masks. But what would be the use of saying so to the sort of jurors we
shall have to face?"
This insight into hidden matters which gives such power to certain
lawyers and certain magistrates astonished and confounded Laurence; her
heart was wrung by that inexorable logic.
"Out of every hundred criminal cases," continued Bordin, "there are not
ten where the law really lays bare the truth to its full extent; and
there is perhaps a good third in which the truth is never brought to
light at all. Yours is one of those cases which are inexplicable to all
parties, to accused and accusers, to the law and to the public. As for
the Emperor, he has other fish to fry than to consider the case of these
gentlemen, supposing even that they had not conspired against him. But
who the devil is Malin's enemy? and what has really been done with
Bordin and Monsieur de Grandville looked at each other; they seemed in
doubt as to Laurence's veracity. This evident suspicion was the most
cutting of all the many pangs the girl had suffered in the affair; and
she turned upon the lawyers a look which effectually put an end to their
The next day the indictment was handed over to the defence, and the
lawyers were then enabled to communicate with the prisoners.
Bordin informed the family that the six accused men were "well
supported,"—using a professional term.
"Monsieur de Grandville will defend Michu," said Bordin.
"Michu!" exclaimed the Marquis de Chargeboeuf, amazed at the change.
"He is the pivot of the affair—the danger lies there," replied the old
"If he is more in danger than the others, I think that is just," cried
"We see certain chances," said Monsieur de Grandville, "and we shall
study them carefully. If we are able to save these gentlemen it will be
because Monsieur d'Hauteserre ordered Michu to repair one of the stone
posts in the covered way, and also because a wolf has been seen in
the forest; in a criminal court everything depends on discussions, and
discussions often turn on trivial matters which then become of immense
Laurence sank into that inward dejection which humiliates the soul of
all thoughtful and energetic persons when the uselessness of thought
and action is made manifest to them. It was no longer a matter
of overthrowing a usurper, or of coming to the help of devoted
friends,—fanatical sympathies wrapped in a shroud of mystery. She now
saw all social forces full-armed against her cousins and herself. There
was no taking a prison by assault with her own hands, no deliverance of
prisoners from the midst of a hostile population and beneath the eyes of
a watchful police. So, when the young lawyer, alarmed at the stupor of
the generous and noble girl, which the natural expression of her face
made still more noticeable, endeavored to revive her courage, she turned
to him and said: "I must be silent; I suffer,—I wait."
The accent, gesture, and look with which the words were said made this
answer one of those sublime things which only need a wider stage to make
A few moments later old d'Hauteserre was saying to the Marquis de
Chargeboeuf: "What efforts I have made for my two unfortunate sons! I
have already laid by in the Funds enough to give them eight thousand
francs a year. If they had only been willing to serve in the army they
would have reached the higher grades by this time, and could now have
married to advantage. Instead of that, all my plans are scattered to the
"How can you," said his wife, "think of their interests when it is a
question of their honor and their lives?"
"Monsieur d'Hauteserre thinks of everything," said the marquis.
CHAPTER XVI. MARTHE INVEIGLED
While the masters of Cinq-Cygne were waiting at Troyes for the opening
of the trial before the Criminal court and vainly soliciting permission
to see the prisoners, an event of the utmost importance had taken place
at the chateau.
Marthe returned to Cinq-Cygne as soon as she had given her testimony
before the indicting jury. This testimony was so insignificant that it
was not thought necessary to summon her before the Criminal court. Like
all persons of extreme sensibility, the poor woman sat silent in the
salon, where she kept company with Mademoiselle Goujet, in a pitiable
state of stupefaction. To her, as to the abbe, and indeed to all others
who did not know how the accused had been employed on that day, their
innocence seemed doubtful. There were moments when Marthe believed
that Michu and his masters and Laurence had executed vengeance on the
senator. The unhappy woman now knew Michu's devotion well enough to
be certain that he was the one who would be most in danger, not only
because of his antecedents, but because of the part he was sure to have
taken in the execution of the scheme.
The Abbe Goujet and his sister and Marthe were bewildered among the
possibilities to which this opinion gave rise; and yet, in the process
of thinking them over, their minds insensibly took hold of them in a
certain way. The absolute doubt which Descartes demands can no more
exist in the brain of a man than a vacuum can exist in nature, and the
mental operation required to produce it would, like the effect of a
pneumatic machine, be exceptional and anomalous. Whatever a case may
be, the mind believes in something. Now Marthe was so afraid that the
accused were guilty that her fear became equivalent to belief; and this
condition of her mind proved fatal to her.
Five days after the arrests, just as she was in the act of going to bed
about ten o'clock at night, she was called from the courtyard by her
mother, who had come from the farm on foot.
"A laboring man from Troyes wants to speak to you; he is sent by Michu,
and is waiting in the covered way," she said to Marthe.
They passed through the breach so as to take the shortest path. In the
darkness it was impossible for Marthe to distinguish anything more than
the form of a person which loomed through the shadows.
"Speak, madame; so that I may be certain you are really Madame Michu,"
said the person, in a rather anxious voice.
"I am Madame Michu," said Marthe; "what do you want of me?"
"Very good," said the unknown, "give me your hand; do not fear me. I
come," he added, leaning towards her and speaking low, "from Michu
with a note for you. I am employed at the prison, and if my superiors
discover my absence we shall all be lost. Trust me; your good father
placed me where I am. For that reason Michu counted on my helping him."
He put the letter into Marthe's hand and disappeared toward the forest
without waiting for an answer. Marthe trembled at the thought that she
was now to hear the secret of the mystery. She ran to the farm with her
mother and shut herself up to read the following letter:—
My dear Marthe,—You can rely on the discretion of the man who
will give you this letter; he does not know how to read or to
write. He is a stanch Republican, and shared in Baboeuf's
conspiracy; your father often made use of him, and he regards the
senator as a traitor. Now, my dear wife, attend to my directions.
The senator has been shut up by us in the cave where our masters
were hidden. The poor creature had provisions for only five days,
and as it is our interest that he should live, I wish you, as soon
as you receive this letter, to take him food for at least five
days more. The forest is of course watched; therefore take as many
precautions as we formerly did for our young masters. Don't say a
word to Malin; don't speak to him; and put on one of our masks
which you will find on the steps which lead down to the cave.
Unless you wish to compromise our heads you must be absolutely
silent about this letter and the secret I have now confided to
you. Don't say a word to Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, who might
tell of it. Don't fear for me. We are certain that the matter will
turn out well; when the time comes Malin himself will save us. I
don't need to tell you to burn this letter as soon as you have
read it, for it would cost me my head if a line of it were seen. I
kiss you for now and always,
The existence of the cave was known only to Marthe, her son, Michu, the
four gentlemen, and Laurence; or rather, Marthe, to whom her husband
had not related the incident of his meeting with Peyrade and Corentin,
believed it was known only to them. Had she consulted her mistress and
the two lawyers, who knew the innocence of the prisoners, the shrewd
Bordin would have gained some light upon the perfidious trap which was
evidently laid for his clients. But Marthe, acting like most women under
a first impulse, was convinced by this proof which came to her own eyes,
and flung the letter into the fire as directed. Nevertheless, moved by
a singular gleam of caution, she caught a portion of it from the flames,
tore off the five first lines, which compromised no one, and sewed them
into the hem of her dress. Terrified at the thought that the prisoner
had been without food for twenty-four hours, she resolved to carry
bread, meat, and wine to him at once; curiosity was well as humanity
permitting no delay. Accordingly, she heated her oven and made, with
her mother's help, a pate of hare and ducks, a rice cake, roasted two
fowls, selected three bottles of wine, and baked two loaves of bread.
About two in the morning she started for the forest, carrying the load
on her back, accompanied by Couraut, who in all such expeditions
showed wonderful sagacity as a guide. He scented strangers at immense
distances, and as soon as he was certain of their presence he returned
to his mistress with a low growl, looking at her fixedly and turning his
muzzle in the direction of the danger.
Marthe reached the pond about three in the morning, and left the dog
as sentinel on the bank. After half an hour's labor in clearing the
entrance she came with a dark lantern to the door of the cave, her face
covered with a mask, which she had found, as directed, on the steps.
The imprisonment of the senator seemed to have been long premeditated.
A hole about a foot square, which Marthe had never seen before, was
roughly cut in the upper part of the iron door which closed the cave;
but in order to prevent Malin from using the time and patience all
prisoners have at their command in loosening the iron bar which held the
door, it was securely fastened with a padlock.
The senator, who had risen from his bed of moss, sighed when he saw the
masked face and felt that there was no chance then of his deliverance.
He examined Marthe, as much as he could by the unsteady light of her
dark lantern, and he recognized her by her clothes, her stoutness, and
her motions. When she passed the pate through the door he dropped it
to seize her hand and then, with great swiftness, he tried to pull the
rings from her fingers,—one her wedding-ring, the other a gift from
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne.
"You cannot deny that it is you, my dear Madame Michu," he said.
Marthe closed her fist the moment she felt his fingers, and gave him a
vigorous blow in the chest. Then, without a word, she turned away and
cut a stick, at the end of which she held out to the senator the rest of
"What do they want of me?" he asked.
Marthe departed giving him no answer. By five o'clock she had reached
the edge of the forest and was warned by Couraut of the presence of
strangers. She retraced her steps and made for the pavilion where she
had lived so long; but just as she entered the avenue she was seen from
afar by the forester of Gondreville, and she quickly reflected that her
best plan was to go straight up to him.
"You are out early, Madame Michu," he said, accosting her.
"We are so unfortunate," she replied, "that I am obliged to do a
servant's work myself. I am going to Bellache for some grain."
"Haven't you any at Cinq-Cygne?" said the forester.
Marthe made no answer. She continued on her way and reached the farm at
Bellache, where she asked Beauvisage to give her some seed-grain, saying
that Monsieur d'Hauteserre advised her to get it from him to renew her
crop. As soon as Marthe had left the farm, the forester went there to
find out what she asked for.
Six days later, Marthe, determined to be prudent, went at midnight with
her provisions so as to avoid the keepers who were evidently patrolling
the forest. After carrying a third supply to the senator she suddenly
became terrified on hearing the abbe read aloud the public examination
of the prisoners,—for the trial was by that time begun. She took the
abbe aside, and after obliging him to swear that he would keep the
secret she was about to reveal as though it was said to him in the
confessional, she showed him the fragments of Michu's letter, told him
the contents of it, and also the secret of the hiding-place where the
senator then was.
The abbe at once inquired if she had other letters from her husband that
he might compare the writing. Marthe went to her home to fetch them and
there found a summons to appear in court. By the time she returned to
the chateau the abbe and his sister had received a similar summons on
behalf of the defence. They were obliged therefore to start for Troyes
immediately. Thus all the personages of our drama, even those who were
only, as it were, supernumeraries, were collected on the spot where the
fate of the two families was about to be decided.
CHAPTER XVII. THE TRIAL
There are but few localities in France where Law derives from outward
appearance the dignity which ought always to accompany it. Yet it
surely is, after religion and royalty, the greatest engine of society.
Everywhere, even in Paris, the meanness of its surroundings, the
wretched arrangement of the courtrooms, their barrenness and want of
decoration in the most ornate and showy nation upon earth in the matter
of its public monuments, lessens the action of the law's mighty power.
At the farther end of some oblong room may be seen a desk with a green
baize covering raised on a platform; behind it sit the judges on
the commonest of arm-chairs. To the left, is the seat of the public
prosecutor, and beside him, close to the wall, is a long pen filled with
chairs for the jury. Opposite to the jury is another pen with a bench
for the prisoners and the gendarmes who guard them. The clerk of the
court sits below the platform at a table covered with the papers of the
case. Before the imperial changes in the administration of justice were
instituted, a commissary of the government and the director of the jury
each had a seat and a table, one to the right, the other to the left of
the baize-covered desk. Two sheriffs hovered about in the space left in
front of the desk for the station of witnesses. Facing the judges and
against the wall above the entrance, there is always a shabby gallery
reserved for officials and for women, to which admittance is granted
only by the president of the court, to whom the proper management of the
courtroom belongs. The non-privileged public are compelled to stand in
the empty space between the door of the hall and the bar. This normal
appearance of all French law courts and assize-rooms was that of the
Criminal court of Troyes.
In April, 1806, neither the four judges nor the president (or
chief-justice) who made up the court, nor the public prosecutor, the
director of the jury, the commissary of the government, nor the sheriffs
or lawyers, in fact no one except the gendarmes, wore any robes or
other distinctive sign which might have relieved the nakedness of the
surroundings and the somewhat meagre aspect of the figures. The crucifix
was suppressed; its example was no longer held up before the eyes of
justice and of guilt. All was dull and vulgar. The paraphernalia
so necessary to excite social interest is perhaps a consolation to
criminals. On this occasion the eagerness of the public was what it has
ever been and ever will be in trials of this kind, so long as France
refuses to recognize that the admission of the public to the courts
involves publicity, and that the publicity given to trials is a terrible
penalty which would never have been inflicted had legislators reflected
on it. Customs are often more cruel than laws. Customs are the deeds of
men, but laws are the judgment of a nation. Customs in which there is
often no judgment are stronger than laws.
Crowds surrounded the courtroom; the president was obliged to station
squads of soldiers to guard the doors. The audience, standing below the
bar, was so crowded that persons suffocated. Monsieur de Grandville,
defending Michu, Bordin, defending the Simeuse brothers, and a lawyer
of Troyes who appeared for the d'Hauteserres, were in their seats before
the opening of the court; their faces wore a look of confidence. When
the prisoners were brought in, sympathetic murmurs were heard at the
appearance of the young men, whose faces, in twenty days' imprisonment
and anxiety, had somewhat paled. The perfect likeness of the twins
excited the deepest interest. Perhaps the spectators thought that Nature
would exercise some special protection in the case of her own anomalies,
and felt ready to join in repairing the harm done to them by destiny.
Their noble, simple faces, showing no signs of shame, still less of
bravado, touched the women's hearts. The four gentlemen and Gothard wore
the clothes in which they had been arrested; but Michu, whose coat and
trousers were among the "articles of testimony," so-called, had put
on his best clothes,—a blue surtout, a brown velvet waistcoat a la
Robespierre, and a white cravat. The poor man paid the penalty of his
dangerous-looking face. When he cast a glance of his yellow eye, so
clear and so profound upon the audience, a murmur of repulsion answered
it. The assembly chose to see the finger of God bringing him to the dock
where his father-in-law had sacrificed so many victims. This man, truly
great, looked at his masters, repressing a smile of scorn. He seemed to
say to them, "I am injuring your cause." Five of the prisoners exchanged
greetings with their counsel. Gothard still played the part of an idiot.
After several challenges, made with much sagacity by the defence under
advice of the Marquis de Chargeboeuf, who boldly took a seat beside
Bordin and de Grandville, the jury were empanelled, the indictment was
read, and the prisoners were brought up separately to be examined. They
answered every question with remarkable unanimity. After riding about
the forest all the morning they had returned to Cinq-Cygne for breakfast
at one o'clock. After that meal, from three to half-past five in the
afternoon, they had returned to the forest. That was the basis of each
testimony; any variations were merely individual circumstances. When
the president asked the Messieurs de Simeuse why they had ridden out so
early, they both declared that wishing, since their return, to buy back
Gondreville and intending to make an offer to Malin who had arrived the
night before, they had gone out early with their cousin and Michu to
make certain examinations of the property on which to base their offer.
During that time the Messieurs d'Hauteserre, their cousin, and Gothard
had chased a wolf which was reported in the forest by the peasantry. If
the director of the jury had sought for the prints of their horses' feet
in the forest as carefully as in the park of Gondreville, he would have
found proof of their presence at long distances from the house.
The examination of the Messieurs d'Hauteserre corroborated this
testimony, and was in harmony with their preliminary dispositions. The
necessity of some reason for their ride suggested to each of them the
excuse of hunting. The peasants had given warning, a few days earlier,
of a wolf in the forest, and on that they had fastened as a pretext.
The public prosecutor, however, pointed out a discrepancy between the
first statements of the Messieurs d'Hauteserre, in which they mentioned
that the whole party hunted together, and the defence now made by the
Messieurs de Simeuse that their purpose on that day was the valuation of
Monsieur de Grandville here called attention to the fact that as the
crime was not committed until after two o'clock in the afternoon, the
prosecution had no ground to question their word when they stated the
manner in which they had employed their morning.
The prosecutor replied that the prisoners had an interest in concealing
their preparations for the abduction of the senator.
The remarkable ability of the defence was now felt. Judges, jurors, and
audience became aware that victory would be hotly contested. Bordin and
Monsieur de Grandville had studied their ground and foreseen everything.
Innocence is required to render a clear and plausible account of its
actions. The duty of the defence is to present a consistent and probable
tale in opposition to an insufficient and improbable accusation. To
counsel who regard their client as innocent, an accusation is false.
The public examination of the four gentlemen sufficiently explained the
matter in their favor. So far all was well. But the examination of Michu
was more serious; there the real struggle began. It was now clear to
every one why Monsieur de Grandville had preferred to take charge of the
servant's defence rather than that of his masters.
Michu admitted his threats against Marion; but denied that he had made
them violently. As for the ambush in which he was supposed to have
watched for his enemy, he said he was merely making his rounds in his
park; the senator and Monsieur Grevin might perhaps have been alarmed at
the sight of his gun and have thought his intentions hostile when they
were really inoffensive. He called attention to the fact that in the
dusk a man who was not in the habit of hunting might easily fancy a gun
was pointed at him, whereas, in point of fact, it was held in his hand
at half-cock. To explain the condition of his clothes when arrested, he
said he had slipped and fallen in the breach on his way home. "I could
scarcely see my way," he said, "and the loose stones slipped from under
me as I climbed the bank." As for the plaster which Gothard was bringing
him, he replied as he had done in all previous examinations, that he
wanted it to secure one of the stone posts of the covered way.
The public prosecutor and the president asked him to explain how he
could have been at the top of the covered way engaged in mending a
stone post and at the same time in the breach of the moat leading to the
chateau; more especially as the justice of peace, the gendarmes and the
forester all declared they had heard him approach them from the lower
road. To this Michu replied that Monsieur d'Hauteserre had blamed him
for not having mended the post,—which he was anxious to have finished
because there were difficulties about that road with the township,—and
he had therefore gone up to the chateau to report that the work was
Monsieur d'Hauteserre had, in fact, put up a fence above the covered way
to prevent the township from taking possession of it. Michu seeing
the important part which the state of his clothes was likely to play,
invented this subterfuge. If, in law, truth is often like falsehood,
falsehood on the other hand has a very great resemblance to truth.
The defence and the prosecution both attached much importance to this
testimony, which became one of the leading points of the trial
on account of the vigor of the defence and the suspicions of the
Gothard, instructed no doubt by Monsieur de Grandville, for up to that
time he had only wept when they questioned him, admitted that Michu had
told him to carry the plaster.
"Why did neither you nor Gothard take the justice of peace and the
forester to the stone post and show them your work?" said the public
prosecutor, addressing Michu.
"Because," replied the man, "I didn't believe there was any serious
accusation against us."
All the prisoners except Gothard were now removed from the courtroom.
When Gothard was left alone the president adjured him to speak the truth
for his own sake, pointing out that his pretended idiocy had come to an
end; none of the jurors believed him imbecile; if he refused to answer
the court he ran the risk of serious penalty; whereas by telling the
truth at once he would probably be released. Gothard wept, hesitated,
and finally ended by saying that Michu had told him to carry several
sacks of plaster; but that each time he had met him near the farm. He
was asked how many sacks he had carried.
"Three," he replied.
An argument hereupon ensued as to whether the three sacks included the
one which Gothard was carrying at the time of the arrest (which reduced
the number of the other sacks to two) or whether there were three
without the last. The debate ended in favor of the first proposition,
the jury considering that only two sacks had been used. They appeared
to have a foregone conviction on that point, but Bordin and Monsieur de
Grandville judged it best to surfeit them with plaster, and weary them
so thoroughly with the argument that they would no longer comprehend the
question. Monsieur de Grandville made it appear that experts ought to
have been sent to examine the stone posts.
"The director of the jury," he said, "has contented himself with merely
visiting the place, less for the purpose of making a careful examination
than to trap Michu in a lie; this, in our opinion, was a failure of
duty, but the blunder is to our advantage."
On this the Court appointed experts to examine the posts and see if one
of them had been really mended and reset. The public prosecutor, on his
side, endeavored to make capital of the affair before the experts could
"You seem to have chosen," he said to Michu, who was now brought
back into the courtroom, "an hour when the daylight was waning, from
half-past five to half-past six o'clock, to mend this post and to cement
it all alone."
"Monsieur d'Hauteserre had blamed me for not doing it," replied Michu.
"But," said the prosecutor, "if you used that plaster on the post you
must have had a trough and a trowel. Now, if you went to the chateau
to tell Monsieur d'Hauteserre that you had done the work, how do you
explain the fact that Gothard was bringing you more plaster. You
must have passed your farm on your way to the chateau, and you would
naturally have left your tools at home and stopped Gothard."
This overwhelming argument produced a painful silence in the courtroom.
"Come," said the prosecutor, "you had better admit at once that what you
buried was not a stone post."
"Do you think it was the senator?" said Michu, sarcastically.
Monsieur de Grandville hereupon demanded that the public prosecutor
should explain his meaning. Michu was accused of abduction and the
concealment of a person, but not of murder. Such an insinuation was
a serious matter. The code of Brumaire, year IV., forbade the public
prosecutor from presenting any fresh count at the trial; he must keep
within the indictment or the proceedings would be annulled.
The public prosecutor replied that Michu, the person chiefly concerned
in the abduction and who, in the interests of his masters, had taken the
responsibility on his own shoulders, might have thought it necessary to
plaster up the entrance of the hiding-place, still undiscovered, where
the senator was now immured.
Pressed with questions, hampered by the presence of Gothard, and brought
into contradiction with himself, Michu struck his fist upon the edge of
the dock with a resounding blow and said: "I have had nothing whatever
to do with the abduction of the senator. I hope and believe his enemies
have merely imprisoned him; when he reappears you'll find out that the
plaster was put to no such use."
"Good!" said de Grandville, addressing the public prosecutor; "you have
done more for my client's cause than anything I could have said."
The first day's session ended with this bold declaration, which
surprised the judges and gave an advantage to the defence. The lawyers
of the town and Bordin himself congratulated the young advocate. The
prosecutor, uneasy at the assertion, feared that he had fallen into some
trap; in fact he was really caught in a snare that was cleverly set for
him by the defence and admirably played off by Gothard. The wits of the
town declared that he had white-washed the affair and splashed his own
cause, and had made the accused as white as the plaster itself. France
is the domain of satire, which reigns supreme in our land; Frenchmen
jest on a scaffold, at the Beresina, at the barricades, and some will
doubtless appear with a quirk upon their lips at the grand assizes of
the Last Judgment.
CHAPTER XVIII. TRIAL CONTINUED: CRUEL VICISSITUDES
On the morrow the witnesses for the prosecution were examined,—Madame
Marion, Madame Grevin, Grevin himself, the senator's valet, and
Violette, whose testimony can readily be imagined from the facts
already told. They all identified the five prisoners, with more or less
hesitation as to the four gentlemen, but with absolute certainty as to
Michu. Beauvisage repeated Robert d'Hauteserre's speech when he met
them at daybreak in the park. The peasant who had bought Monsieur
d'Hauteserre's calf testified to overhearing that of Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne. The experts, who had compared the hoof-prints with the shoes
on the horses ridden by the five prisoners and found them absolutely
alike, confirmed their previous depositions. This point was naturally
one of vehement contention between Monsieur de Grandville and the
prosecuting officer. The defence called the blacksmith at Cinq-Cygne
and succeeded in proving that he had sold several horseshoes of the same
pattern to strangers who were not known in the place. The blacksmith
declared, moreover, that he was in the habit of shoeing in this
particular manner not only the horses of the chateau de Cinq-Cygne, but
those from other places in the canton. It was also proved that the horse
which Michu habitually rode was always shod at Troyes, and the mark of
that shoe was not among the hoof-prints found in the park.
"Michu's double was not aware of this circumstance, or he would have
provided for it," said Monsieur de Grandville, looking at the jury.
"Neither has the prosecution shown what horses our clients rode."
He ridiculed the testimony of Violette so far as it concerned a
recognition of the horses, seen from a long distance, from behind, and
after dusk. Still, in spite of all his efforts, the body of the evidence
was against Michu; and the prosecutor, judge, jury, and audience were
impressed with a feeling (as the lawyers for the defence had foreseen)
that the guilt of the servant carried with it that of the masters. So
the vital interest centred on all that concerned Michu. His bearing
was noble. He showed in his answers the sagacity with which nature had
endowed him; and the public, seeing him on his mettle, recognized his
superiority. And yet, strange to say, the more they understood him the
more certainty they felt that he was the instigator of the outrage.
The witnesses for the defence, always less important in the eyes of a
jury and of the law than the witnesses for the prosecution, seemed to
testify as in duty bound, and were listened to with that allowance. In
the first place neither Marthe, nor Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre
took the oath. Catherine and the Durieus, in their capacity as servants,
did not take it. Monsieur d'Hauteserre stated that he had ordered Michu
to replace and mend the stone post which had been thrown down. The
deposition of the experts sent to examine the fence, which was now read,
confirmed his testimony; but they helped the prosecution by declaring
they could not fix the exact time at which the repairs had been made; it
might have been several weeks or no more than twenty days.
The appearance of Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne excited the liveliest
curiosity; but the sight of her cousins in the prisoners' dock after
three weeks' separation affected her so much that her emotions gave
the audience an impression of guilt. She felt an overwhelming desire to
stand beside the twins, and was obliged, as she afterwards admitted, to
use all her strength to repress the longing that came into her mind
to kill the prosecutor so as to stand in the eyes of the world as a
criminal beside them. She testified, with simplicity, that riding from
Cinq-Cygne and seeing smoke in the park of Gondreville, she had supposed
there was a fire; at first she thought they were burning weeds or brush;
"but later," she added, "I observed a circumstance which I offer to the
attention of the Court. I found in the frogging of my habit and in the
folds of my collar small fragments of what appeared to be burned paper
which were floating in the air."
"Was there much smoke?" asked Bordin.
"Yes," replied Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, "I feared a conflagration."
"This is enough to change the whole inquiry," remarked Bordin. "I
request the Court to order an immediate examination of that region of
the park where the fire occurred."
The president ordered the inquiry.
Grevin, recalled by the defence and questioned on this circumstance,
declared he knew nothing about it. But Bordin and he exchanged looks
which mutually enlightened them.
"The gist of the case is there," thought the old notary.
"They've laid their finger on it," thought the notary.
But each shrewd head considered the following up of this point useless.
Bordin reflected that Grevin would be silent as the grave; and Grevin
congratulated himself that every sign of the fire had been effaced.
To settle this point, which seemed a mere accessory to the trial and
somewhat puerile (but which is really essential in the justification
which history owes to these young men), the experts and Pigoult, who
were despatched by the president to examine the park, reported that they
could find no traces of a bonfire.
Bordin summoned two laborers, who testified to having dug over, under
the direction of the forester, a tract of ground in the park where
the grass had been burned; but they declared they had not observed the
nature of the ashes they had buried.
The forester, recalled by the defence, said he had received from the
senator himself, as he was passing the chateau of Gondreville on his way
to the masquerade at Arcis, an order to dig over that particular piece
of ground which the senator had remarked as needing it.
"Had papers, or herbage been burned there?"
"I could not say. I saw nothing that made me think that papers had been
burned there," replied the forester.
"At any rate," said Bordin, "if, as it appears, a fire was kindled on
that piece of ground some one brought to the spot whatever was burned
The testimony of the abbe and that of Mademoiselle Goujet made a
favorable impression. They said that as they left the church after
vespers and were walking towards home, they met the four gentlemen
and Michu leaving the chateau on horseback and making their way to
the forest. The character, position, and known uprightness of the Abbe
Goujet gave weight to his words.
The summing up of the public prosecutor, who felt sure of obtaining a
verdict, was in the nature of all such speeches. The prisoners were the
incorrigible enemies of France, her institutions and laws. They thirsted
for tumult and conspiracy. Though they had belonged to the army of Conde
and had shared in the late attempts against the life of the Emperor,
that magnanimous sovereign had erased their names from the list of
emigres. This was the return they made for his clemency! In short, all
the oratorical declamations of the Bourbons against the Bonapartists,
which in our day are repeated against the republicans and the
legitimists by the Younger Branch, flourished in the speech. These trite
commonplaces, which might have some meaning under a fixed government,
seem farcical in the mouth of administrators of all epochs and opinions.
A saying of the troublous times of yore is still applicable: "The label
is changed, but the wine is the same as ever." The public prosecutor,
one of the most distinguished legal men under the Empire, attributed
the crime to a fixed determination on the part of returned emigres to
protest against the sale of their estates. He made the audience shudder
at the probable condition of the senator; then he massed together
proofs, half-proofs, and probabilities with a cleverness stimulated by
a sense that his zeal was certain of its reward, and sat down tranquilly
to await the fire of his opponents.
Monsieur de Grandville never argued but this one criminal case; and it
made his reputation. In the first place, he spoke with the same glowing
eloquence which to-day we admire in Berryer. He was profoundly convinced
of the innocence of his clients, and that in itself is a most powerful
auxiliary of speech. The following are the chief points of his defence,
which was reported in full by all the leading newspapers of the period.
In the first place he exhibited the character and life of Michu in its
true light. He made it a noble tale, ringing with lofty sentiments, and
it awakened the sympathies of many. When Michu heard himself vindicated
by that eloquent voice, tears sprang from his yellow eyes and rolled
down his terrible face. He appeared then for what he really was,—a man
as simple and as wily as a child; a being whose whole existence had
but one thought, one aim. He was suddenly explained to the minds of all
present, more especially by his tears, which produced a great effect
upon the jury. His able defender seized that moment of strong interest
to enter upon a discussion of the charges:—
"Where is the body of the person abducted? Where is the senator?" he
asked. "You accuse us of walling him up with stones and plaster. If so,
we alone know where he is; you have kept us twenty-three days in prison,
and the senator must be dead by this time for want of food. We are
therefore murderers, but you have not accused us of murder. On the other
hand, if he still lives, we must have accomplices. If we have them, and
if the senator is living, we should assuredly have set him at liberty.
The scheme in relation to Gondreville which you attribute to us is a
failure, and only aggravates our position uselessly. We might perhaps
obtain a pardon for an abortive attempt by releasing our victim; instead
of that we persist in detaining a man from whom we can obtain no
benefit whatever. It is absurd! Take away your plaster; the effect is
a failure," he said, addressing the public prosecutor. "We are either
idiotic criminals (which you do not believe) or the innocent victims of
circumstances as inexplicable to us as they are to you. You ought rather
to search for the mass of papers which were burned at Gondreville, which
will reveal motives stronger far than yours or ours and put you on the
track of the causes of this abduction."
The speaker discussed these hypotheses with marvellous ability. He dwelt
on the moral character of the witnesses for the defence, whose religious
faith was a living one, who believed in a future life and in eternal
punishment. He rose to grandeur in this part of his speech and moved his
"Remember!" he said; "these criminals were tranquilly dining when told
of the abduction of the senator. When the officer of gendarmes intimated
to them the best means of ending the whole affair by giving up the
senator, they refused, for they did not understand what was asked of
Then, reverting to the mystery of the matter, he declared that its
solution was in the hands of time, which would eventually reveal the
injustice of the charge. Once on this ground, he boldly and ingeniously
supposed himself a juror; related his deliberations with his colleagues;
imagined his distress lest, having condemned the innocent, the error
should be known too late, and drew such a picture of his remorse,
dwelling on the grave doubts which the case presented, that he brought
the jury to a condition of intense anxiety.
Juries were not in those days so blase to this sort of allocution as
they are now; Monsieur de Grandville's appeal had the power of things
new, and the jurors were evidently shaken. After this passionate
outburst they had to listen to the wily and specious prosecutor, who
went over the whole case, brought out the darkest points against the
prisoners and made the rest inexplicable. His aim was to reach the
minds and the reasoning faculties of his hearers just as Monsieur de
Grandville had aimed at the heart and the imagination. The latter,
however, had seriously entangled the convictions of the jury, and the
public prosecutor found his well-laid arguments ineffectual. This was
so plain that the counsel for the Messieurs d'Hauteserre and Gothard
appealed to the judgment of the jury, asking that the case against their
clients be abandoned. The prosecutor demanded a postponement till the
next day in order that he might prepare an answer. Bordin, who saw
acquittal in the eyes of the jury if they deliberated on the case at
once, opposed the delay of even one night by arguments of legal right
and justice to his innocent clients; but in vain,—the court allowed it.
"The interests of society are as great as those of the accused," said
the president. "The court would be lacking in equity if it denied a like
request when made by the defence; it ought therefore to grant that of
"All is luck or ill-luck!" said Bordin to his clients when the session
was over. "Almost acquitted tonight you may be condemned to-morrow."
"In either case," said the elder de Simeuse, "we can only admire your
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne's eyes were full of tears. After the doubts
and fears of the counsel for the defence, she had not expected this
success. Those around her congratulated her and predicted the acquittal
of her cousins. But alas! the matter was destined to end in a startling
and almost theatrical event, the most unexpected and disastrous
circumstance which ever changed the face of a criminal trial.
At five in the morning of the day after Monsieur de Grandville's
speech, the senator was found on the high road to Troyes, delivered from
captivity during his sleep, unaware of the trial that was going on or
of the excitement attaching to his name in Europe, and simply happy in
being once more able to breathe the fresh air. The man who was the pivot
of the drama was quite as amazed at what was now told to him as
the persons who met him on his way to Troyes were astounded at his
reappearance. A farmer lent him a carriage and he soon reached the house
of the prefect at Troyes. The prefect notified the director of the jury,
the commissary of the government, and the public prosecutor, who, after
a statement made to them by Malin, arrested Marthe, while she was still
in bed at the Durieu's house in the suburbs. Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne,
who was only at liberty under bail, was also snatched from one of the
few hours of slumber she had been able to obtain at rare intervals in
the course of her ceaseless anxiety, and taken to the prefecture to
undergo an examination. An order to keep the accused from holding any
communication with each other or with their counsel was sent to the
prison. At ten o'clock the crowd which assembled around the courtroom
were informed that the trial was postponed until one o'clock in the
afternoon of the same day.
This change of hour, following on the news of the senator's deliverance,
Marthe's arrest, and that of Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, together with
the denial of the right to communicate with the prisoners carried terror
to the hotel de Chargeboeuf. The whole town and the spectators who had
come to Troyes to be present at the trial, the short-hand writers
for the daily journals, even the populace were in a ferment which can
readily be imagined. The Abbe Goujet came at ten o'clock to see Monsieur
and Madame d'Hauteserre and the counsel for the defence, who were
breakfasting—as well as they could under the circumstances. The abbe
took Bordin and Monsieur Grandville apart, told them what Marthe had
confided to him the day before, and gave them the fragment of the letter
she had received. The two lawyers exchanged a look, after which Bordin
said to the abbe: "Not a word of all this! The case is lost; but at any
rate let us show a firm front."
Marthe was not strong enough to evade the cross-questioning of the
director of the jury and the public prosecutor. Moreover the proof
against her was too overwhelming. Lechesneau had sent for the under
crust of the last loaf of bread she had carried to the cavern, also for
the empty bottles and various other articles. During the senator's long
hours of captivity he had formed conjectures in his own mind and had
looked for indications which might put him on the track of his enemies.
These he now communicated to the authorities. Michu's farmhouse, lately
built, had, he supposed, a new oven; the tiles or bricks on which the
bread was baked would show their jointed lines on the bottom of the
loaves, and thus afford a proof that the bread supplied to him was baked
on that particular oven. So with the wine brought in bottles sealed with
green wax, which would probably be found identical with other bottles in
Michu's cellar. These shrewd observations, which Malin imparted to the
justice of peace, who made the first examination (taking Marthe with
him), led to the results foreseen by the senator.
Marthe, deceived by the apparent friendliness of Lechesneau and the
public prosecutor, who assured her that complete confession could alone
save her husband's life, admitted that the cavern where the senator had
been hidden was known only to her husband and the Messieurs de Simeuse
and d'Hauteserre, and that she herself had taken provisions to the
senator on three separate occasions at midnight.
Laurence, questioned about the cavern, was forced to acknowledge that
Michu had discovered it and had shown it to her at the time when the
four young men evaded the police and were hidden in it.
As soon as these preliminary examinations were ended, the jury, lawyers,
and audience were notified that the trial would be resumed. At three
o'clock the president opened the session by announcing that the case
would be continued under a new aspect. He exhibited to Michu three
bottles of wine and asked him if he recognized them as bottles from his
own cellar, showing him at the same time the identity between the green
wax on two empty bottles with the green wax on a full bottle taken from
his cellar that morning by the justice of peace in presence of his wife.
Michu refused to recognize anything as his own. But these proofs for
the prosecution were understood by the jurors, to whom the president
explained that the empty bottles were found in the place where the
senator was imprisoned.
Each prisoner was questioned as to the cavern or cellar beneath the
ruins of the old monastery. It was proved by all witnesses for the
prosecution, and also for the defence, that the existence of this
hiding-place discovered by Michu was known only to him and his wife, and
to Laurence and the four gentlemen. We may judge of the effect in the
courtroom when the public prosecutor made known the fact that this
cavern, known only to the accused and to their two witnesses, was the
place where the senator had been imprisoned.
Marthe was summoned. Her appearance caused much excitement among the
spectators and keen anxiety to the prisoners. Monsieur de Grandville
rose to protest against the testimony of a wife against her husband.
The public prosecutor replied that Marthe by her own confession was an
accomplice in the outrage; that she had neither sworn nor testified, and
was to be heard solely in the interests of truth.
"We need only submit her preliminary examination to the jury," remarked
the president, who now ordered the clerk of the court to read the said
"Do you now confirm your own statement?" said the president, addressing
Michu looked at his wife, and Marthe, who saw her fatal error, fainted
away and fell to the floor. It may be truly said that a thunderbolt had
fallen upon the prisoners and their counsel.
"I never wrote to my wife from prison, and I know none of the persons
employed there," said Michu.
Bordin passed to him the fragments of the letter Marthe had received.
Michu gave but one glance at it. "My writing has been imitated," he
"Denial is your last resource," said the public prosecutor.
The senator was introduced into the courtroom with all the ceremonies
due to his position. His entrance was like a stage scene. Malin (now
called Comte de Gondreville, without regard to the feelings of the late
owners of the property) was requested by the president to look at the
prisoners, and did so with great attention and for a long time. He
stated that the clothing of his abductors was exactly like that worn
by the four gentlemen; but he declared that the trouble of his mind had
been such that he could not be positive that the accused were really the
"More than that," he said, "it is my conviction that these four
gentlemen had nothing to do with it. The hands that blindfolded me in
the forest were coarse and rough. I should rather suppose," he added,
looking at Michu, "that my old enemy took charge of that duty; but I beg
the gentlemen of the jury not to give too much weight to this remark. My
suspicions are very slight, and I feel no certainty whatever—for this
reason. The two men who seized me put me on horseback behind the man who
blindfolded me, and whose hair was red like Michu's. However singular
you may consider the observation I am about to make, it is necessary
to make it because it is the ground of an opinion favorable to the
accused—who, I hope, will not feel offended by it. Fastened to the
man's back I would naturally have been affected by his odor—yet I
did not perceive that which is peculiar to Michu. As to the person who
brought me provisions on three several occasions, I am certain it was
Marthe, the wife of Michu. I recognized her the first time she came by
a ring she always wore, which she had forgotten to remove. The Court and
jury will please allow for the contradictions which appear in the facts
I have stated, which I myself am wholly unable to reconcile."
A murmur of approval followed this testimony. Bordin asked permission of
the Court to address a few questions to the witness.
"Does the senator think that his abduction was due to other causes than
the interests respecting property which the prosecution attributes to
"I do," replied the senator, "but I am wholly ignorant of what the real
motives were; for during a captivity of twenty days I saw and heard no
"Do you think," said the public prosecutor, "that your chateau at
Gondreville contains information, title-deeds, or other papers of value
which would induce a search on the part of the Messieurs de Simeuse?"
"I do not think so," replied Malin; "I believe those gentlemen to be
incapable of attempting to get possession of such papers by violence.
They had only to ask me for them to obtain them."
"You burned certain papers in the park, did you not?" said Monsieur de
Malin looked at Grevin. After exchanging a rapid glance with the notary,
which Bordin intercepted, he replied that he had not burned any papers.
The public prosecutor having asked him to describe the ambush to which
he had so nearly fallen a victim two years earlier, the senator replied
that he had seen Michu watching him from the fork of a tree. This
answer, which agreed with Grevin's testimony, produced a great
The four gentlemen remained impassible during the examination of their
enemy, who seemed determined to overwhelm them with generosity. Laurence
suffered horrible agony. From time to time the Marquis de Chargeboeuf
held her by the arm, fearing she might dart forward to the rescue. The
Comte de Gondreville retired from the courtroom and as he did so he
bowed to the four gentlemen, who did not return the salutation. This
trifling matter made the jury indignant.
"They are lost now," whispered Bordin to the Marquis de Chargeboeuf.
"Alas, yes! and always through the nobility of their sentiments,"
replied the marquis.
"My task is now only too easy, gentlemen," said the prosecutor, rising
to address the jury.
He explained the use of the cement by the necessity of securing an iron
frame on which to fasten a padlock which held the iron bar with which
the gate of the cavern was closed; a description of which was given in
the proces-verbal made that morning by Pigoult. He put the falsehoods
of the accused into the strongest light, and pulverized the arguments
of the defence with the new evidence so miraculously obtained. In 1806
France was still too near the Supreme Being of 1793 to talk about divine
justice; he therefore spared the jury all reference to the intervention
of heaven; but he said that earthly justice would be on the watch for
the mysterious accomplices who had set the senator at liberty, and he
sat down, confidently awaiting the verdict.
The jury believed there was a mystery, but they were all persuaded that
it came from the prisoners, who were probably concealing some matter of
a private interest of great importance to them.
Monsieur de Grandville, to whom a plot or machination of some kind was
quite evident, rose; but he seemed discouraged,—less, however, by the
new evidence than by the manifest opinion of the jury. He surpassed,
if anything, his speech of the previous evening; his argument was more
compact and logical; but he felt his fervor repelled by the coldness of
the jury; he spoke ineffectually, and he knew it,—a chilling situation
for an advocate. He called attention to the fact that the release of
the senator, as if by magic and clearly without the aid of any of the
accused or of Marthe, corroborated his previous argument. Yesterday the
prisoners could most surely rely on acquittal, and if they had, as the
prosecution claimed, the power to hold or to release the senator, they
certainly would not have released him until after their acquittal. He
endeavored to bring before the minds of the Court and jury the fact that
mysterious enemies, undiscovered as yet, could alone have struck the
accused this final blow.
Strange to say, the only minds Monsieur de Grandville reached with this
argument were those of the public prosecutor and the judges. The jury
listened perfunctorily; the audience, usually so favorable to prisoners,
were convinced of their guilt. In a court of justice the sentiments
of the crowd do unquestionably weigh upon the judges and the jury, and
vice versa. Seeing this condition of the minds about him, which could
be felt if not defined, the counsel uttered his last words in a tone of
passionate excitement caused by his conviction:—
"In the name of the accused," he cried, "I forgive you for the fatal
error you are about to commit, and which nothing can repair! We are the
victims of some mysterious and Machiavellian power. Marthe Michu was
inveigled by vile perfidy. You will discover this too late, when the
evil you now do will be irreparable."
Bordin simply claimed the acquittal of the prisoners on the testimony of
the senator himself.
The president summed up the case with all the more impartiality because
it was evident that the minds of the jurors were already made up. He
even turned the scales in favor of the prisoners by dwelling on the
senator's evidence. This clemency, however, did not in the least
endanger the success of the prosecution. At eleven o'clock that night,
after the jury had replied through their foreman to the usual questions,
the Court condemned Michu to death, the Messieurs de Simeuse to
twenty-four years' and the Messieurs d'Hauteserre to ten years, penal
servitude at hard labor. Gothard was acquitted.
The whole audience was eager to observe the bearing of the five guilty
men in this supreme moment of their lives. The four gentlemen looked
at Laurence, who returned them, with dry eyes, the ardent look of the
"She would have wept had we been acquitted," said the younger de Simeuse
to his brother.
Never did convicted men meet an unjust fate with serener brows or
countenances more worthy of their manhood than these five victims of a
"Our counsel has forgiven you," said the eldest de Simeuse to the Court.
Madame d'Hauteserre fell ill, and was three months in her bed at the
hotel de Chargeboeuf. Monsieur d'Hauteserre returned patiently to
Cinq-Cygne, inwardly gnawed by one of those sorrows of old age which
have none of youth's distractions; often he was so absent-minded that
the abbe, who watched him, knew the poor father was living over again
the scene of the fatal verdict. Marthe passed away from all blame; she
died three weeks after the condemnation of her husband, confiding her
son to Laurence, in whose arms she died.
The trial once over, political events of the utmost importance effaced
even the memory of it, and nothing further was discovered. Society is
like the ocean; it returns to its level and its specious calmness
after a disaster, effacing all traces of it in the tide of its eager
Without her natural firmness of mind and her knowledge of her cousins'
innocence, Laurence would have succumbed; but she gave fresh proof of
the grandeur of her character; she astonished Monsieur de Grandville and
Bordin by the apparent serenity which these terrible misfortunes called
forth in her noble soul. She nursed Madame d'Hauteserre and went daily
to the prison, saying openly that she would marry one of the cousins
when they were taken to the galleys.
"To the galleys!" cried Bordin, "Mademoiselle! our first endeavor must
be to wring their pardon from the Emperor."
"Their pardon!—from a Bonaparte?" cried Laurence in horror.
The spectacles of the old lawyer jumped from his nose; he caught them
as they fell and looked at the young girl who was now indeed a woman; he
understood her character at last in all its bearings; then he took the
arm of the Marquis de Chargeboeuf, saying:—
"Monsieur le Marquis, let us go to Paris instantly and save them without
The appeal of the Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre and that
of Michu was the first case to be brought before the new court. Its
decision was fortunately delayed by the ceremonies attending its
CHAPTER XIX. THE EMPEROR'S BIVOUAC
Towards the end of September, after three sessions of the Court
of Appeals in which the lawyers for the defence pleaded, and the
attorney-general Merlin himself spoke for the prosecution, the appeal
was rejected. The Imperial Court of Paris was by this time instituted.
Monsieur de Grandville was appointed assistant attorney-general, and the
department of the Aube coming under the jurisdiction of this court, it
became possible for him to take certain steps in favor of the convicted
prisoners, among them that of importuning Cambaceres, his protector.
Bordin and Monsieur de Chargeboeuf came to his house in the Marais the
day after the appeal was rejected, where they found him in the midst of
his honeymoon, for he had married in the interval. In spite of all these
changes in his condition, Monsieur de Chargeboeuf saw very plainly that
the young lawyer was faithful to his late clients. Certain lawyers, the
artists of their profession, treat their causes like mistresses. This is
rare, however, and must not be depended on.
As soon as they were alone in his study, Monsieur de Grandville said to
the marquis: "I have not waited for your visit; I have already employed
all my influence. Don't attempt to save Michu; if you do, you cannot
obtain the pardon of the Messieurs de Simeuse. The law will insist on
"Good God!" cried Bordin, showing the young magistrate the three
petitions for mercy; "how can I take upon myself to withdraw the
application for that man. If I suppress the paper I cut off his head."
He held out the petition; de Grandville took it, looked it over, and
"We can't suppress it; but be sure of one thing, if you ask all you will
"Have we time to consult Michu?" asked Bordin.
"Yes. The order for execution comes from the office of the
attorney-general; I will see that you have some days. We kill men," he
said with some bitterness, "but at least we do it formally, especially
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf had already received from the chief justice
certain information which added weight to these sad words of Monsieur de
"Michu is innocent, I know," continued the young lawyer, "but what can
we do against so many? Remember, too, that my present influence depends
on my keeping silent. I must order the scaffold to be prepared, or my
late client is certain to be beheaded."
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf knew Laurence well enough to be certain she
would never consent to save her cousins at the expense of Michu; he
therefore resolved on making one more effort. He asked an audience of
the minister of foreign affairs to learn if salvation could be looked
for through the influence of the great diplomat. He took Bordin with
him, for the latter knew the minister and had done him some service.
The two old men found Talleyrand sitting with his feet stretched out,
absorbed in contemplation of his fire, his head resting on his hand, his
elbow on the table, a newspaper lying at his feet. The minister had just
read the decision of the Court of Appeals.
"Pray sit down, Monsieur le marquis," said Talleyrand, "and you,
Bordin," he added, pointing to a place at the table, "write as
Sire,—Four innocent gentlemen, declared guilty by a jury have
just had their condemnation confirmed by your Court of Appeals.
Your Imperial Majesty can now only pardon them. These gentlemen
ask this pardon of your august clemency, in the hope that they may
enter your army and meet their death in battle before your eyes;
and thus praying, they are, of your Imperial and Royal Majesty,
with reverence, etc.
"None but princes can do such prompt and graceful kindness," said the
Marquis de Chargeboeuf, taking the precious draft of the petition from
the hands of Bordin that he might have it signed by the four gentlemen;
resolving in his own mind that he would also obtain the signatures of
several august names.
"The life of your young relatives, Monsieur le marquis," said the
minister, "now depends on the turn of a battle. Endeavor to reach the
Emperor on the morning after a victory and they are saved."
He took a pen and himself wrote a private and confidential letter to the
Emperor, and another of ten lines to Marechal Duroc. Then he rang the
bell, asked his secretary for a diplomatic passport, and said tranquilly
to the old lawyer, "What is your honest opinion of that trial?"
"Do you know, monseigneur, who was at the bottom of this cruel wrong?"
"I presume I do; but I have reasons to wish for certainty," replied
Talleyrand. "Return to Troyes; bring me the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne,
here, to-morrow at the same hour, but secretly; ask to be ushered
into Madame de Talleyrand's salon; I will tell her you are coming. If
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, who shall be placed where she can see a man
who will be standing before me, recognizes that man as an individual who
came to her house during the conspiracy of de Polignac and Riviere, tell
her to remember that, no matter what I say or what he answers me, she
must not utter a word nor make a gesture. One thing more, think only
of saving the de Simeuse brothers; don't embarrass yourself with that
scoundrel of a bailiff—"
"A sublime man, monseigneur!" exclaimed Bordin.
"Enthusiasm! in you, Bordin! The man must be remarkable. Our sovereign
has an immense self-love, Monsieur le marquis," he said, changing the
conversation. "He is about to dismiss me that he may commit follies
without warning. The Emperor is a great soldier who can change the
laws of time and distance, but he cannot change men; yet he persists in
trying to run them in his own mould! Now, remember this; the young men's
pardon can be obtained by one person only—Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne."
The marquis went alone to Troyes and told the whole matter to Laurence.
She obtained permission from the authorities to see Michu, and the
marquis accompanied her to the gates of the prison, where he waited for
her. When she came out her face was bathed in tears.
"Poor man!" she said; "he tried to kneel to me, praying that I would
not think of him, and forgetting the shackles that were on his feet!
Ah, marquis, I will plead his cause. Yes, I'll kiss the boot of their
Emperor. If I fail—well, the memory of that man shall live eternally
honored in our family. Present his petition for mercy so as to gain
time; meantime I am resolved to have his portrait. Come, let us go."
The next day, when Talleyrand was informed by a sign agreed upon that
Laurence was at her post, he rang the bell; his orderly came to him, and
received orders to admit Monsieur Corentin.
"My friend, you are a very clever fellow," said Talleyrand, "and I wish
to employ you."
"Listen. In serving Fouche you will get money, but never honor nor any
position you can acknowledge. But in serving me, as you have lately done
at Berlin, you can win credit and repute."
"Monseigneur is very good."
"You displayed genius in that late affair at Gondreville."
"To what does Monseigneur allude?" said Corentin, with a manner that was
neither too reserved nor too surprised.
"Ah, Monsieur!" observed the minister, dryly, "you will never make a
successful man; you fear—"
"Death!" replied Talleyrand, in his fine, deep voice. "Adieu, my good
"That is the man," said the Marquis de Chargeboeuf entering the room
after Corentin was dismissed; "but we have nearly killed the countess."
"He is the only man I know capable of playing such a trick," replied the
minister. "Monsieur le marquis, you are in danger of not succeeding
in your mission. Start ostensibly for Strasburg; I'll send you double
passports in blank to be filled out. Provide yourself with substitutes;
change your route and above all your carriage; let your substitutes
go on to Strasburg, and do you reach Prussia through Switzerland and
Bavaria. Not a word—prudence! The police are against you; and you do
not know what the police are—"
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne offered the then celebrated Robert Lefebvre a
sufficient sum to induce him to go to Troyes and take Michu's portrait.
Monsieur de Grandville promised to afford the painter every possible
facility. Monsieur de Chargeboeuf then started in the old berlingot,
with Laurence and a servant who spoke German. Not far from Nancy they
overtook Mademoiselle Goujet and Gothard, who had preceded them in an
excellent carriage, which the marquis took, giving them in exchange the
Talleyrand was right. At Strasburg the commissary-general of police
refused to countersign the passport of the travellers, and gave them
positive orders to return. By that time the marquis and Laurence were
leaving France by way of Besancon with the diplomatic passport.
Laurence crossed Switzerland in the first days of October, without
paying the slightest attention to that glorious land. She lay back in
the carriage in the torpor which overtakes a criminal on the eve of his
execution. To her eyes all nature was shrouded in a seething vapor; even
common things assumed fantastic shapes. The one thought, "If I do not
succeed they will kill themselves," fell upon her soul with reiterated
blows, as the bar of the executioner fell upon the victim's members when
tortured on the wheel. She felt herself breaking; she lost her energy in
this terrible waiting for the cruel moment, short and decisive, when she
should find herself face to face with that man on whom the fate of the
condemned depended. She chose to yield to her depression rather
than waste her strength uselessly. The marquis, who was incapable of
understanding this resolve of firm minds, which often assumes quite
diverse aspects (for in such moments of tension certain superior minds
give way to surprising gaiety), began to fear that he might never bring
Laurence alive to the momentous interview, solemn to them only, and yet
beyond the ordinary limits of private life. To Laurence, the necessity
of humiliating herself before that man, the object of her hatred and
contempt, meant the sacrifice of all her noblest feelings.
"After this," she said, "the Laurence who survives will bear no likeness
to her who is now to perish."
The travellers could not fail to be aware of the vast movement of men
and material which surrounded them the moment they entered Prussia. The
campaign of Jena had just begun. Laurence and the marquis beheld the
magnificent divisions of the French army deploying and parading as if
at the Tuileries. In this display of military power, which can be
adequately described only with the words and images of the Bible, the
proportions of the Man whose spirit moved these masses grew gigantic to
Laurence's imagination. Soon, the cry of victory resounded in her ears.
The Imperial arms had just obtained two signal advantages. The Prince
of Prussia had been killed the evening before the day on which the
travellers arrived at Saalfeld on their endeavor to overtake Napoleon,
who was marching with the rapidity of lightning.
At last, on the 13th of October (date of ill-omen) Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne was skirting a river in the midst of the Grand Army, seeing
nought but confusion, sent hither and thither from one village to
another, from division to division, frightened at finding herself
alone with one old man tossed about in an ocean of a hundred and fifty
thousand armed men facing a hundred and fifty thousand more. Weary of
watching the river through the hedges of the muddy road which she was
following along a hillside, she asked its name of a passing soldier.
"That's the Saale," he said, showing her the Prussian army, grouped in
great masses on the other side of the stream.
Night came on. Laurence beheld the camp-fires lighted and the glitter
of stacked arms. The old marquis, whose courage was chivalric, drove
the horses himself (two strong beasts bought the evening before), his
servant sitting beside him. He knew very well he should find neither
horses nor postilions within the lines of the army. Suddenly the bold
equipage, an object of great astonishment to the soldiers, was stopped
by a gendarme of the military gendarmerie, who galloped up to the
carriage, calling out to the marquis: "Who are you? where are you going?
what do you want?"
"The Emperor," replied the Marquis de Chargeboeuf; "I have an important
dispatch for the Grand-marechal Duroc."
"Well, you can't stay here," said the gendarme.
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne and the marquis were, however, compelled to
remain where they were on account of the darkness.
"Where are we?" she asked, stopping two officers whom she saw passing,
whose uniforms were concealed by cloth overcoats.
"You are among the advanced guard of the French army," answered one of
the officers. "You cannot stay here, for if the enemy makes a movement
and the artillery opens you will be between two fires."
"Ah!" she said, with an indifferent air.
Hearing that "Ah!" the other officer turned and said: "How did that
woman come here?"
"We are waiting," said Laurence, "for a gendarme who has gone to find
General Duroc, a protector who will enable us to speak to the Emperor."
"Speak to the Emperor!" exclaimed the first officer; "how can you think
of such a thing—on the eve of a decisive battle?"
"True," she said; "I ought to speak to him on the morrow—victory would
make him kind."
The two officers stationed themselves at a little distance and sat
motionless on their horses. The carriage was now surrounded by a mass
of generals, marshals, and other officers, all extremely brilliant in
appearance, who appeared to pay deference to the carriage merely because
it was there.
"Good God!" said the marquis to Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne; "I am afraid
you spoke to the Emperor."
"The Emperor?" said a colonel, beside them, "why there he is!" pointing
to the officer who had said, "How did that woman get here?" He was
mounted on a white horse, richly caparisoned, and wore the celebrated
gray top-coat over his green uniform. He was scanning with a field-glass
the Prussian army massed beyond the Saale. Laurence understood then why
the carriage remained there, and why the Emperor's escort respected it.
She was seized with a convulsive tremor—the hour had come! She heard
the heavy sound of the tramp of men and the clang of their arms as they
arrived at a quick step on the plateau. The batteries had a language,
the caissons thundered, the brass glittered.
"Marechal Lannes will take position with his whole corps in the advance;
Marechal Lefebvre and the Guard will occupy this hill," said the other
officer, who was Major-general Berthier.
The Emperor dismounted. At his first motion Roustan, his famous
mameluke, hastened to hold his horse. Laurence was stupefied with
amazement; she had never dreamed of such simplicity.
"I shall pass the night on the plateau," said the Emperor.
Just then the Grand-marechal Duroc, whom the gendarme had finally
found, came up to the Marquis de Chargeboeuf and asked the reason of his
coming. The marquis replied that a letter from the Prince de Talleyrand,
of which he was the bearer, would explain to the marshal how urgent
it was that Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne and himself should obtain an
audience of the Emperor.
"His Majesty will no doubt dine at his bivouac," said Duroc, taking the
letter, "and when I find out what your object is, I will let you know
if you can see him. Corporal," he said to the gendarme, "accompany this
carriage, and take it close to that hut at the rear."
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf followed the gendarme and stopped his horses
behind a miserable cabin, built of mud and branches, surrounded by a few
fruit-trees, and guarded by pickets of infantry and cavalry.
It may be said that the majesty of war appeared here in all its
grandeur. From this height the lines of the two armies were visible in
the moonlight. After an hour's waiting, the time being occupied by the
incessant coming and going of the aides-de-camp, Duroc himself came for
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne and the marquis, and made them enter the hut,
the floor of which was of battened earth like that of a stable.
Before a table with the remains of dinner, and before a fire made of
green wood which smoked, Napoleon was seated in a clumsy chair. His
muddy boots gave evidence of a long tramp across country. He had taken
off the famous top-coat; and his equally famous green uniform, crossed
by the red cordon of the Legion of honor and heightened by the white of
his kerseymere breeches and of his waistcoat, brought out vividly
his pale and terrible Caesarian face. One hand was on a map which lay
unfolded on his knees. Berthier stood near him in the brilliant uniform
of the vice-constable of the Empire. Constant, the valet, was offering
the Emperor his coffee from a tray.
"What do you want?" said Napoleon, with a show of roughness, darting his
eye like a flash through Laurence's head. "You are no longer afraid to
speak to me before the battle? What is it about?"
"Sire," she said, looking at him with as firm an eye, "I am Mademoiselle
"Well?" he replied, in an angry voice, thinking her look braved him.
"Do you not understand? I am the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, come to ask
mercy," she said, falling on her knees and holding out to him the
petition drawn up by Talleyrand, endorsed by the Empress, by Cambaceres
and by Malin.
The Emperor raised her graciously, and said with a keen look: "Have you
come to your senses? Do you now understand what the French Empire is and
"Ah! at this moment I understand only the Emperor," she said, vanquished
by the kindly manner with which the man of destiny had said the words
that foretold to her ears success.
"Are they innocent?" asked the Emperor.
"Yes, all of them," she said with enthusiasm.
"All? No, that bailiff is a dangerous man, who would have killed my
senator without taking your advice."
"Ah, Sire," she said, "if you had a friend devoted to you, would you
abandon him? Would you not rather—"
"You are a woman," he said, interrupting her in a faint tone of
"And you, a man of iron!" she replied with a passionate sternness which
"That man has been condemned to death by the laws of his country," he
"But he is innocent!"
"Child!" he said.
He took Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne by the hand and led her from the hut
to the plateau.
"See," he continued, with that eloquence of his which changed even
cowards to brave men, "see those three hundred thousand men—all
innocent. And yet to-morrow thirty thousand of them will be lying dead,
dead for their country! Among those Prussians there is, perhaps, some
great mathematician, a man of genius, an idealist, who will be mown
down. On our side we shall assuredly lose many a great man never known
to fame. Perhaps even I shall see my best friend die. Shall I blame God?
No. I shall bear it silently. Learn from this, mademoiselle, that a
man must die for the laws of his country just as men die here for her
glory." So saying, he led her back into the hut. "Return to France," he
said, looking at the marquis; "my orders shall follow you."
Laurence believed in a commutation of Michu's punishment, and in her
gratitude she knelt again before the Emperor and kissed his hand.
"You are the Marquis de Chargeboeuf?" said Napoleon, addressing the
"You have children?"
"Why not give me one of your grandsons? he shall be my page."
"Ah!" thought Laurence, "there's the sub-lieutenant after all; he wants
to be paid for his mercy."
The marquis bowed without replying. Happily at this moment General Rapp
rushed into the hut.
"Sire, the cavalry of the Guard, and that of the Grand-duc de Berg
cannot be set up before midday to-morrow."
"Never mind," said Napoleon, turning to Berthier, "we, too, get our
reprieves; let us profit by them."
At a sign of his hand the marquis and Laurence retired and again entered
their carriage; the corporal showed them their road and accompanied them
to a village where they passed the night. The next day they left
the field of battle behind them, followed by the thunder of the
cannon,—eight hundred pieces,—which pursued them for ten hours. While
still on their way they learned of the amazing victory of Jena.
Eight days later, they were driving through the faubourg of Troyes,
where they learned that an order of the chief justice, transmitted
through the procureur imperial of Troyes, commanded the release of
the four gentlemen on bail during the Emperor's pleasure. But Michu's
sentence was confirmed, and the warrant for his execution had been
forwarded from the ministry of police. These orders had reached Troyes
that very morning. Laurence went at once to the prison, though it was
two in the morning, and obtained permission to stay with Michu, who was
about to undergo the melancholy ceremony called "the toilet." The good
abbe, who had asked permission to accompany him to the scaffold, had
just given absolution to the man, whose only distress in dying was his
uncertainty as to the fate of his young masters. When Laurence entered
his cell he uttered a cry of joy.
"I can die now," he said.
"They are pardoned," she said; "I do not know on what conditions, but
they are pardoned. I did all I could for you, dear friend—against the
advice of others. I thought I had saved you; but the Emperor deceived me
with his graciousness."
"It was written above," said Michu, "that the watch-dog should be killed
on the spot where his old masters died."
The last hour passed rapidly. Michu, at the moment of parting, asked
to kiss her hand, but Laurence held her cheek to the lips of the noble
victim that he might sacredly kiss it. Michu refused to mount the cart.
"Innocent men should go afoot," he said.
He would not let the abbe give him his arm; resolutely and with dignity
he walked alone to the scaffold. As he laid his head on the plank he
said to the executioner, after asking him to turn down the collar of his
coat, "My clothes belong to you; try not to spot them."
The four gentlemen had hardly time to even see Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne. An orderly of the general commanding the division to which
they were assigned, brought them their commissions as sub-lieutenants in
the same regiment of cavalry, with orders to proceed at once to Bayonne,
the base of supplies for its particular army-corps. After a scene of
heart-rending farewells, for they all foreboded what the future should
bring forth, Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne returned to her desolate home.
The two brothers were killed together under the eyes of the Emperor at
Sommo-Sierra, the one defending the other, both being already in command
of their troop. The last words of each were, "Laurence, cy meurs!"
The elder d'Hauteserre died a colonel at the attack on the redoubt at
Moscow, where his brother took his place.
Adrien d'Hauteserre, appointed brigadier-general at the battle of
Dresden, was dangerously wounded there and was sent to Cinq-Cygne
for proper nursing. While endeavoring to save this relic of the four
gentlemen who for a few brief months had been so happy around her,
Laurence, then thirty-two years of age, married him. She offered him a
withered heart, but he accepted it; those who truly love doubt nothing
or doubt all.
The Restoration found Laurence without enthusiasm. The Bourbons returned
too late for her. Nevertheless, she had no cause for complaint. Her
husband, made peer of France with the title of Marquis de Cinq-Cygne,
became lieutenant-general in 1816, and was rewarded with the blue ribbon
for the eminent services which he then performed.
Michu's son, of whom Laurence took care as though he were her own child,
was admitted to the bar in 1817. After practising two years he was
made assistant-judge at the court of Alencon, and from there he became
procureur-du-roi at Arcis in 1827. Laurence, who had also taken
charge of Michu's property, made over to the young man on the day of his
majority an investment in the public Funds which yielded him an income
of twelve thousand francs a year. Later, she arranged a marriage for him
with Mademoiselle Girel, an heiress at Troyes.
The Marquis de Cinq-Cygne died in 1829, in the arms of his wife,
surrounded by his father and mother, and his children who adored him.
At the time of his death no one had ever fathomed the mystery of the
senator's abduction. Louis XVIII. did not neglect to repair, as far as
possible, the wrongs done by that affair; but he was silent as to the
causes of the disaster. From that time forth the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne
believed him to have been an accomplice in the catastrophe.
CHAPTER XX. THE MYSTERY SOLVED
The late Marquis de Cinq-Cygne had used his savings, as well as those
of his father and mother, in the purchase of a fine house in the rue
de Faubourg-du-Roule, entailing it on heirs male for the support of
the title. The sordid economy of the marquis and his parents, which had
often troubled Laurence, was then explained. After this purchase the
marquise, who lived at Cinq-Cygne and economized on her own account
for her children, spent her winters in Paris,—all the more willingly
because her daughter Berthe and her son Paul were now of an age when
their education required the resources of Paris.
Madame de Cinq-Cygne went but little into society. Her husband could not
be ignorant of the regrets which lay in her tender heart; but he showed
her always the most exquisite delicacy, and died having loved no other
woman. This noble soul, not fully understood for a period of time but
to which the generous daughter of the Cinq-Cygnes returned in his last
years as true a love as that he gave to her, was completely happy in
his married life. Laurence lived for the joys of home. No woman has ever
been more cherished by her friends or more respected. To be received in
her house is an honor. Gentle, indulgent, intellectual, above all things
simple and natural, she pleases choice souls and draws them to her in
spite of her saddened aspect; each longs to protect this woman, inwardly
so strong, and that sentiment of secret protection counts for much in
the wondrous charm of her friendship. Her life, so painful during her
youth, is beautiful and serene towards evening. Her sufferings are
known, and no one asks who was the original of that portrait by Lefebvre
which is the chief and sacred ornament of her salon. Her face has the
maturity of fruits that have ripened slowly; a hallowed pride dignifies
that long-tried brow.
At the period when the marquise came to Paris to open the new house, her
fortune, increased by the law of indemnities, gave her some two hundred
thousand francs a year, not counting her husband's salary; besides this,
Laurence had inherited the money guarded by Michu for his young masters.
From that time forth she made a practice of spending half her income and
of laying by the rest for her daughter Berthe.
Berthe is the living image of her mother, but without her warrior nerve;
she is her mother in delicacy, in intellect,—"more a woman," Laurence
says, sadly. The marquise was not willing to marry her daughter until
she was twenty years of age. Her savings, judiciously invested in the
Funds by old Monsieur d'Hauteserre at the moment when consols fell in
1830, gave Berthe a dowry of eighty thousand francs a year in 1833, when
she was twenty.
About that time the Princesse de Cadignan, who was seeking to marry her
son, the Duc de Maufrigneuse, brought him into intimate relations with
Madame de Cinq-Cygne. Georges de Maufrigneuse dined with the marquise
three times a week, accompanied the mother and daughter to the Opera,
and curvetted in the Bois around their carriage when they drove out. It
was evident to all the world of the Faubourg Saint-Germain that Georges
loved Berthe. But no one could discover to a certainty whether Madame
de Cinq-Cygne was desirous of making her daughter a duchess, to become a
princess later, or whether it was only the princess who coveted for
her son the splendid dowry. Did the celebrated Diane court the noble
provincial house? and was the daughter of the Cinq-Cygnes frightened
by the celebrity of Madame de Cadignan, her tastes and her ruinous
extravagance? In her strong desire not to injure her son's prospects the
princess grew devout, shut the door on her former life, and spent the
summer season at Geneva in a villa on the lake.
One evening there were present in the salon of the Princesse de
Cadignan, the Marquise d'Espard, and de Marsay, then president of the
Council (on this occasion the princess saw her former lover for the
last time, for he died the following year), Eugene de Rastignac,
under-secretary of State attached to de Marsay's ministry, two
ambassadors, two celebrated orators from the Chamber of Peers, the old
dukes of Lenoncourt and de Navarreins, the Comte de Vandenesse and his
young wife, and d'Arthez,—who formed a rather singular circle, the
composition of which can be thus explained. The princess was anxious to
obtain from the prime minister of the crown a permit for the return
of the Prince de Cadignan. De Marsay, who did not choose to take upon
himself the responsibility of granting it came to tell the princess the
matter had been entrusted to safe hands, and that a certain political
manager had promised to bring her the result in the course of that
Madame and Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne were announced. Laurence, whose
principles were unyielding, was not only surprised but shocked to see
the most illustrious representatives of Legitimacy talking and laughing
in a friendly manner with the prime minister of the man whom she never
called anything but Monsieur le Duc d'Orleans. De Marsay, like an
expiring lamp, shone with a last brilliancy. He laid aside for the
moment his political anxieties, and Madame de Cinq-Cygne endured him, as
they say the Court of Austria endured de Saint-Aulaire; the man of the
world effaced the minister of the citizen-king. But she rose to her feet
as though her chair were of red-hot iron when the name was announced of
"Monsieur le Comte de Gondreville."
"Adieu, madame," she said to the princess in a curt tone.
She left the room with Berthe, measuring her steps to avoid encountering
that fatal being.
"You may have caused the loss of Georges' marriage," said the princess
to de Marsay, in a low voice. "Why did you not tell me your agent's
The former clerk of Arcis, former Conventional, former Thermidorien,
tribune, Councillor of State, count of the Empire and senator, peer of
the Restoration, and now peer of the monarchy of July, made a servile
bow to the princess.
"Fear nothing, madame," he said; "we have ceased to make war on princes.
I bring you an assurance of the permit," he added, seating himself
Malin was long in the confidence of Louis XVIII., to whom his varied
experience was useful. He had greatly aided in overthrowing Decazes, and
had given much good advice to the ministry of Villele. Coldly received
by Charles X., he had adopted all the rancors of Talleyrand. He was now
in high favor under the twelfth government he had served since 1789, and
which in turn he would doubtless betray. For the last fifteen months he
had broken the long friendship which had bound him for thirty-six years
to our greatest diplomat, the Prince de Talleyrand. It was in the course
of this very evening that he made answer to some one who asked why the
Prince showed such hostility to the Duc de Bordeaux, "The Pretender is
"Singular advice to give young men," remarked Rastignac.
De Marsay, who grew thoughtful after Madame de Cadignan's reproachful
speech, took no notice of these jests. He looked askance at Gondreville
and was evidently biding his time until that now old man, who went to
bed early, had taken leave. All present, who had witnessed the abrupt
departure of Madame de Cinq-Cygne (whose reasons were well-known to
them), imitated de Marsay's conduct and kept silence. Gondreville,
who had not recognized the marquise, was ignorant of the cause of the
general reticence, but the habit of dealing with public matters had
given him a certain tact; he was moreover a clever man; he saw that his
presence was embarrassing to the company and he took leave. De Marsay,
standing with his back to the fire, watched the slow departure of the
old man in a manner which revealed the gravity of his thoughts.
"I did wrong, madame, not to tell you the name of my negotiator," said
the prime minister, listening for the sound of Malin's wheels as they
rolled away. "But I will redeem my fault and give you the means of
making your peace with the Cinq-Cygnes. It is now thirty years since the
affair I am about to speak of took place; it is as old to the present
day as the death of Henri IV. (which between ourselves and in spite
of the proverb is still a mystery, like so many other historical
catastrophes). I can, however, assure you that even if this affair did
not concern Madame de Cinq-Cygne it would be none the less curious and
interesting. Moreover, it throws light on a celebrated exploit in our
modern annals,—I mean that of the Mont Saint-Bernard. Messieurs les
Ambassadeurs," he added, bowing to the two diplomats, "will see that in
the element of profound intrigue the political men of the present day
are far behind the Machiavellis whom the waves of the popular will
lifted, in 1793, above the storm,—some of whom have 'found,' as the old
song says, 'a haven.' To be anything in France in these days a man must
have been tossed in those tempests."
"It seems to me," said the princess, smiling, "that from that point of
view the present state of things under your regime leaves nothing to be
A well-bred laugh went round the room, and even the prime minister
himself could not help smiling. The ambassadors seemed impatient for the
tale; de Marsay coughed dryly and silence was obtained.
"On a June night in 1800," began the minister, "about three in the
morning, just as daylight was beginning to pale the brilliancy of the
wax candles, two men tired of playing at bouillotte (or who were
playing merely to keep others employed) left the salon of the ministry
of foreign affairs, then situated in the rue du Bac, and went apart into
a boudoir. These two men, of whom one is dead and the other has one
foot in the grave, were, each in his own way, equally extraordinary.
Both had been priests; both had abjured religion; both were married. One
had been merely an Oratorian, the other had worn the mitre of a bishop.
The first was named Fouche; I shall not tell you the name of the
second;[*] both were then mere simple citizens—with very little
simplicity. When they were seen to leave the salon and enter the
boudoir, the rest of the company present showed a certain curiosity. A
third person followed them,—a man who thought himself far stronger than
the other two. His name was Sieyes, and you all know that he too
had been a priest before the Revolution. The one who walked with
difficulty was then the minister of foreign affairs; Fouche was
minister of police; Sieyes had resigned the consulate.
[*] Talleyrand was still living when de Marsay related these
"A small man, cold and stern in appearance, left his seat and followed
the three others, saying aloud in the hearing of the person from whom I
have the information, 'I mistrust the gambling of priests.' This man was
Carnot, minister of war. His remark did not trouble the two consuls who
were playing cards in the salon. Cambaceres and Lebrun were then at the
mercy of their ministers, men who were infinitely stronger than they.
"Nearly all these statesmen are dead, and no secrecy is due to
them. They belong to history; and the history of that night and its
consequences has been terrible. I tell it to you now because I alone
know it; because Louis XVIII. never revealed the truth to that poor
Madame de Cinq-Cygne; and because the present government which I serve
is wholly indifferent as to whether the truth be known to the world or
"All four of these personages sat down in the boudoir. The lame man
undoubtedly closed the door before a word was said; it is even thought
that he ran the bolt. It is only persons of high rank who pay attention
to such trifles. The three priests had the livid, impassible faces which
you all remember. Carnot alone was ruddy. He was the first to speak.
'What is the point to be discussed?' he asked. 'France,' must have been
the answer of the Prince (whom I admire as one of the most extraordinary
men of our time). 'The Republic,' undoubtedly said Fouche. 'Power,'
probably said Sieyes."
All present looked at each other. With voice, look, and gesture de
Marsay had wonderfully represented the three men.
"The three priests fully understood one another," he continued, resuming
his narrative. "Carnot no doubt looked at his colleagues and the
ex-consul in a dignified manner. He must, however, have felt bewildered
in his own mind.
"'Do you believe in the success of the army?' Sieyes said to him.
"'We may expect everything from Bonaparte,' replied the minister of war;
'he has crossed the Alps.'
"'At this moment,' said the minister of foreign affairs, with deliberate
slowness, 'he is playing his last stake.'
"'Come, let's speak out,' said Fouche; 'what shall we do if the First
Consul is defeated? Is it possible to collect another army? Must we
continue his humble servants?'
"'There is no republic now,' remarked Sieyes; 'Bonaparte is consul for
"'He has more power than ever Cromwell had,' said the former bishop,
'and he did not vote for the death of the king.'
"'We have a master,' said Fouche; 'the question is, shall we continue to
keep him if he loses the battle or shall we return to a pure republic?'
"'France,' replied Carnot, sententiously, 'cannot resist except she
reverts to the old Conventional energy.'
"'I agree with Carnot,' said Sieyes; 'if Bonaparte returns defeated we
must put an end to him; he has let us know him too well during the last
"'The army is for him,' remarked Carnot, thoughtfully.
"'And the people for us!' cried Fouche.
"'You go fast, monsieur,' said the Prince, in that deep bass voice which
he still preserves and which now drove Fouche back into himself.
"'Be frank,' said a voice, as a former Conventional rose from a corner
of the boudoir and showed himself; 'if Bonaparte returns a victor, we
shall adore him; if vanquished, we'll bury him!'
"'So you were there, Malin, were you?' said the Prince, without
betraying the least feeling. 'Then you must be one of us; sit down'; and
he made him a sign to be seated.
"It is to this one circumstance that Malin, a Conventional of small
repute, owes the position he afterwards obtained and, ultimately, that
in which we see him at the present moment. He proved discreet, and
the ministers were faithful to him; but they made him the pivot of the
machine and the cat's-paw of the machination. To return to my tale.
"'Bonaparte has never yet been vanquished,' cried Carnot, in a tone of
conviction, 'and he has just surpassed Hannibal.'
"'If the worst happens, here is the Directory,' said Sieyes, artfully,
indicating with a wave of his hand the five persons present.
"'And,' added the Prince, 'we are all committed to the maintenance
of the French republic; we three priests have literally unfrocked
ourselves; the general, here, voted for the death of the king; and
you,' he said, turning to Malin, 'have got possession of the property of
"'Yes, we have all the same interests,' said Sieyes, dictatorially, 'and
our interests are one with those of the nation.'
"'A rare thing,' said the Prince, smiling.
"'We must act,' interrupted Fouche. 'In all probability the battle is
now going on; the Austrians outnumber us; Genoa has surrendered; Massena
has committed the great mistake of embarking for Antibes; it is very
doubtful if he can rejoin Bonaparte, who will then be reduced to his own
"'Who gave you that news?' asked Carnot.
"'It is sure,' replied Fouche. 'You will have the courier when the
"Those men didn't mince their words," said de Marsay, smiling, and
stopping short for a moment.
"'Remember,' continued Fouche, 'it is not when the news of a disaster
comes that we can organize clubs, rouse the patriotism of the people,
and change the constitution. Our 18th Brumaire ought to be prepared
"'Let us leave the care of that to the minister of police,' said the
Prince, bowing to Fouche, 'and beware ourselves of Lucien.' (Lucien
Bonaparte was then minister of the interior.)
"'I'll arrest him,' said Fouche.
"'Messieurs!' cried Sieyes, 'our Directory ought not to be subject to
anarchical changes. We must organize a government of the few, a Senate
for life, and an elective chamber the control of which shall be in our
hands; for we ought to profit by the blunders of the past.'
"'With such a system, there would be peace for me,' remarked the
"'Find me a sure man to negotiate with Moreau; for the Army of the
Rhine will be our sole resource,' cried Carnot, who had been plunged in
"Ah!" said de Marsay, pausing, "those men were right. They were grand
in this crisis. I should have done as they did"; then he resumed his
"'Messieurs!' cried Sieyes, in a grave and solemn tone.
"That word 'Messieurs!' was perfectly understood by all present; all
eyes expressed the same faith, the same promise, that of absolute
silence, and unswerving loyalty to each other in case the First Consul
"'We all know what we have to do,' added Fouche.
"Sieyes softly unbolted the door; his priestly ear had warned him.
Lucien entered the room.
"'Good news!' he said. 'A courier has just brought Madame Bonaparte a
line from the First Consul. The campaign has opened with a victory at
"The three ministers exchanged looks.
"'Was it a general engagement?' asked Carnot.
"'No, a fight, in which Lannes has covered himself with glory. The
affair was bloody. Attacked with ten thousand men by eighteen thousand,
he was only saved by a division sent to his support. Ott is in full
retreat. The Austrian line is broken.'
"'When did the fight take place?' asked Carnot.
"'On the 8th,' replied Lucien.
"'And this is the 13th,' said the sagacious minister. 'Well, if that is
so, the destinies of France are in the scale at the very moment we are
(In fact, the battle of Marengo did begin at dawn of the 14th.)
"'Four days of fatal uncertainty!' said Lucien.
"'Fatal?' said the minister of foreign affairs, coldly and
"'Four days,' echoed Fouche.
"An eye-witness told me," said de Marsay, continuing the narrative in
his own person, "that the consuls, Cambaceres and Lebrun, knew nothing
of this momentous news until after the six personages returned to the
salon. It was then four in the morning. Fouche left first. That man
of dark and mysterious genius, extraordinary, profound, and little
understood, but who undoubtedly had the gifts of a Philip the Second, a
Tiberius and a Borgia, went at once to work with an infernal and secret
activity. His conduct at the time of the affair at Walcheren was that of
a consummate soldier, a great politician, a far-seeing administrator. He
was the only real minister that Napoleon ever had. And you all know how
he then alarmed him.
"Fouche, Massena and the Prince," continued de Marsay, reflectively,
"are the three greatest men, the wisest heads in diplomacy, war, and
government, that I have ever known. If Napoleon had frankly allied them
with his work there would no longer be a Europe, only a vast French
Empire. Fouche did not finally detach himself from Napoleon until he saw
Sieyes and the Prince de Talleyrand shoved aside.
"He now went to work, and in three days (all the while hiding the hand
that stirred the ashes of the Montagne) he had organized that general
agitation which then arose all over France and revived the republicanism
of 1793. As it is necessary that I should explain this obscure corner of
our history, I must tell you that this agitation, starting from Fouche's
own hand (which held the wires of the former Montagne), produced
republican plots against the life of the First Consul, which was in
peril from this cause long after the victory of Marengo. It was Fouche's
sense of the evil he had thus brought about which led him to warn
Napoleon, who held a contrary opinion, that republicans were more
concerned than royalists in the various conspiracies.
"Fouche was an admirable judge of men; he relied on Sieyes because of
his thwarted ambition, on Talleyrand because he was a great seigneur,
on Carnot for his perfect honesty; but the man he dreaded was the one
whom you have seen here this evening. I will now tell how he entangled
that man in his meshes.
"Malin was only Malin in those days,—a secret agent and correspondent
of Louis XVIII. Fouche now compelled him to reduce to writing all the
proclamations of the proposed revolutionary government, its warrants and
edicts against the factions of the 18th Brumaire. An accomplice against
his own will, Malin was required to have these documents secretly
printed, and the copies held ready in his own house for distribution
if Bonaparte were defeated. The printer was subsequently imprisoned and
detained two months; he died in 1816, and always believed he had been
employed by a Montagnard conspiracy.
"One of the most singular scenes ever played by Fouche's police was
caused by the blunder of an agent, who despatched a courier to a famous
banker of that day with the news of a defeat at Marengo. Victory, you
will remember, did not declare itself for Napoleon until seven o'clock
in the evening of the battle. At midday the banker's agent, considering
the day lost and the French army about to be annihilated, hastened to
despatch the courier. On receipt of that news Fouche was about to put
into motion a whole army of bill-posters and cries, with a truck full
of proclamations, when the second courier arrived with the news of the
triumph which put all France beside itself with joy. There were heavy
losses at the Bourse, of course. But the criers and posters who were
gathered to announce the political death of Bonaparte and to post up
the new proclamations were only kept waiting awhile till the news of the
victory could be struck off!
"Malin, on whom the whole responsibility of the plot of which he had
been the working agent was likely to fall if it ever became known, was
so terrified that he packed the proclamations and other papers in carts
and took them down to Gondreville in the night-time, where no doubt they
were hidden in the cellars of that chateau, which he had bought in
the name of another man—who was it, by the bye? he had him made
chief-justice of an Imperial court—Ah! Marion. Having thus disposed
of these damning proofs he returned to Paris to congratulate the First
Consul on his victory. Napoleon, as you know, rushed from Italy to Paris
after the battle of Marengo with alarming celerity. Those who know the
secret history of that time are well aware that a message from Lucien
brought him back. The minister of the interior had foreseen the attitude
of the Montagnard party, and though he had no idea of the quarter from
which the wind really blew, he feared a storm. Incapable of suspecting
the three ministers and Carnot, he attributed the movement which stirred
all France to the hatred his brother had excited by the 18th Brumaire,
and to the confident belief of the men of 1793 that defeat was certain
"The battle of Marengo detained Napoleon on the plains of Lombardy until
the 25th of June, but he reached Paris on the 2nd of July. Imagine
the faces of the five conspirators as they met the First Consul at the
Tuileries, and congratulated him on the victory. Fouche on that very
occasion at the palace told Malin to have patience, for all was not
over yet. The truth was, Talleyrand and Fouche both held that Bonaparte
was not as much bound to the principles of the Revolution as they were,
and as he ought to be; and for this reason, as well as for their own
safety, they subsequently, in 1804, buckled him irrevocably, as they
believed, to its cause by the affair of the Duc d'Enghien. The execution
of that prince is connected by a series of discoverable ramifications
with the plot which was laid on that June evening in the boudoir of the
ministry of foreign affairs, the night before the battle of Marengo.
Those who have the means of judging, and who have known persons who were
well-informed, are fully aware that Bonaparte was handled like a
child by Talleyrand and Fouche, who were determined to alienate him
irrevocably from the House of Bourbon, whose agents were even then, at
the last moment, endeavoring to negotiate with the First Consul."
"Talleyrand was playing whist in the salon of Madame de Luynes," said a
personage who had been listening attentively to de Marsay's narrative.
"It was about three o'clock in the morning, when he pulled out his
watch, looked at it, stopped the game, and asked his three companions
abruptly and without any preface whether the Prince de Conde had any
other children than the Duc d'Enghien. Such an absurd inquiry from the
lips of Talleyrand caused the utmost surprise. 'Why do you ask us what
you know perfectly well yourself?' they said to him. 'Only to let
you know that the House of Conde comes to an end at this moment.'
Now Monsieur de Talleyrand had been at the hotel de Luynes the entire
evening, and he must have known that Bonaparte was absolutely unable to
grant the pardon."
"But," said Eugene de Rastignac, "I don't see in all this any connection
with Madame de Cinq-Cygnes and her troubles."
"Ah, you were so young at that time, my dear fellow; I forgot to explain
the conclusion. You all know the affair of the abduction of the Comte de
Gondreville, then senator of the Empire, for which the Simeuse brothers
and the two d'Hauteserres were condemned to the galleys,—an affair
which did, in fact, lead to their death."
De Marsay, entreated by several persons present to whom the
circumstances were unknown, related the whole trial, stating that the
mysterious abductors were five sharks of the secret service of the
ministry of the police, who were ordered to obtain the proclamations of
the would-be Directory which Malin had surreptitiously taken from his
house in Paris, and which he had himself come to Gondreville for the
express purpose of destroying, being convinced at last that the Empire
was on a sure foundation and could not be overthrown. "I have no doubt,"
added de Marsay, "that Fouche took the opportunity to have the house
searched for the correspondence between Malin and Louis XVIII., which
was always kept up, even during the Terror. But in this cruel affair
there was a private element, a passion of revenge in the mind of the
leader of the party, a man named Corentin, who is still living, and who
is one of those subaltern agents whom nothing can replace and who
makes himself felt by his amazing ability. It appears that Madame, then
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, had ill-treated him on a former occasion
when he attempted to arrest the Simeuse brothers. What happened
afterwards in connection with the senator's abduction was the result of
his private vengeance.
"These facts were known, of course, to Malin, and through him to Louis
XVIII. You may therefore," added de Marsay, turning to the Princesse de
Cadignan, "explain the whole matter to the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne, and
show her why Louis XVIII. thought fit to keep silence."
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
The Member for Arcis
The Seamy Side of History
The Commission in Lunacy
Jealousies of a Country Town
Cinq-Cygne, Laurence, Comtesse (afterwards Marquise de)
The Secrets of a Princess
The Seamy Side of History
The Member for Arcis
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Middle Classes
A Start in Life
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Woman of Thirty
Espard, Jeanne-Clementine-Athenais de Blamont-Chauvry, Marquise d'
The Commission in Lunacy
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Member for Arcis
Gondreville, Malin, Comte de
A Start in Life
The Member for Arcis
The Member for Arcis
The Member for Arcis
Grandlieu, Duc Ferdinand de
A Bachelor's Establishment
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Granville, Vicomte de
A Second Home
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Daughter of Eve
A Start in Life
The Member for Arcis
The Member for Arcis
Lenoncourt, Duc de
The Lily of the Valley
Jealousies of a Country Town
Louis XVIII., Louis-Stanislas-Xavier
The Seamy Side of History
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Lily of the Valley
The Government Clerks
Marion (of Arcis)
The Member for Arcis
The Member for Arcis
Marsay, Henri de
The Unconscious Humorists
Another Study of Woman
The Lily of the Valley
Jealousies of a Country Town
A Marriage Settlement
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
The Ball at Sceaux
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
Maufrigneuse, Duchesse de
The Secrets of a Princess
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Muse of the Department
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis
Maufrigneuse, Georges de
The Secrets of a Princess
The Member for Arcis
Maufrigneuse, Berthe de
The Member for Arcis
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Member for Arcis
Michu, Madame Francois
The Member for Arcis
Murat, Joachim, Prince
The Country Doctor
Navarreins, Duc de
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Muse of the Department
Jealousies of a Country Town
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Country Parson
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Rastignac, Eugene de
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Commission in Lunacy
A Study of Woman
Another Study of Woman
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Firm of Nucingen
The Member for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists
A Second Home
Simeuse, Admiral de
Jealousies of a Country Town
Talleyrand-Perigord, Charles-Maurice de
Letters of Two Brides
Vandenesse, Comte Felix de
The Lily of the Valley
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
A Start in Life
The Marriage Settlement
The Secrets of a Princess
Another Study of Woman
A Daughter of Eve
The Gondreville Mystery
The Member for Arcis
Produced by John Bickers, Dagny, Bonnie Sala, and David Widger