An Historical Mystery
by Honore de Balzac
AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY
CHAPTER I. JUDAS
CHAPTER II. A CRIME RELINQUISHED
CHAPTER III. THE MASK THROWN OFF
CHAPTER IV. LAURENCE DE CINQ-CYGNE
CHAPTER V. ROYALIST HOMES AND PORTRAITS UNDER THE
CHAPTER VI. A DOMICILIARY VISIT
CHAPTER VII. A FOREST NOOK
CHAPTER VIII. TRIALS OF THE POLICE
CHAPTER IX. FOILED
CHAPTER X. ONE AND THE SAME, YET A TWO-FOLD LOVE
CHAPTER XI. WISE COUNSEL
CHAPTER XII. THE FACTS OF A MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR
CHAPTER XIII. THE CODE OF BRUMAIRE, YEAR IV.
CHAPTER XIV. THE ARRESTS
CHAPTER XV. DOUBTS AND FEARS OF COUNSEL
CHAPTER XVI. MARTHE INVEIGLED
CHAPTER XVII. THE TRIAL
CHAPTER XVIII. TRIAL CONTINUED: CRUEL VICISSITUDES
CHAPTER XIX. THE EMPEROR'S BIVOUAC
CHAPTER XX. THE MYSTERY SOLVED
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Monsieur de Margone.
In grateful remembrance, from his guest at the Chateau de Sache.
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 carbine.
"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
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 axe.
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
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
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 the mother.
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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 generally sad.
"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 Marthe:—
"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
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
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
"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 all annoyed.
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
"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
"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
"I'll bet, Corentin," said the elder of the two men, after
exchanging a glance with his companion, "that this is my friend
"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 peremptory tone.
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 circumstance.
"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 apparent sarcasm.
"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.
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
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,"
"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 coming?"
"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 scheming something."
"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
"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
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
"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
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 and Michu.
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
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
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 Republic.
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
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
"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
"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
"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 it."
"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
"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
"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.
A few moments later Michu returned home, his face pale, his
"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
He lifted the boy roughly by the middle of his body and carried him
"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,
"I want to leave the neighborhood, and I'll let you have my farm of
Mousseau, the buildings, granary, and cattle for fifty thousand
"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
"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
"The boy is intelligent," said Michu, when he caught sight of him.
These were his first words. His wife had rushed after him, unable
"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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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 Consul.
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.
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
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
"You are rather giddy, Mademoiselle Goujet," said the abbe,
"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
"Malin!" cried Laurence, roused by the name, though her sleep was
"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."
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
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 distrust him."
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"I do not see Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne," said Corentin.
"She is probably asleep in her bedroom," said Monsieur
"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
"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 them."
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
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
"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
"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
"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 of it."
"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 go elsewhere."
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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 thicket."
"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
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 tearless.
"Fool them! yes, he is right!" she said when she heard him no
longer. Then she darted towards Cinq-Cygne at full gallop.
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 here?"
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
"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
"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
"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 way."
"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
"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 the garden.
"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
"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 Consul."
"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 the affair."
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 wholly ignorant.
"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
"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
"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 volume.
Peyrade made a sign to Corentin and took him into the embrasure of
"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 Gondreville."
"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
"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 the result."
"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
"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
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 held her.
"Do not compel me to use force against you," he said, with
Peyrade's action had extinguished the fire by the natural process
of suppressing the air.
"Gendarmes! here!" he cried, still occupying his ridiculous
"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 following words:—
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
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 firm voice:—
"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 horrible.
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
your husband without being forced to see me die of
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 invisible ink.
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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 Violette.
"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 air.
"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
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
"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
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
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 Violette—"
"Michu! is Michu in his own house?" said Corentin, glancing at
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 other did.
"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
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
"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
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 applied.
"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
"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 mother.
"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
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
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 it."
"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
"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
"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.
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 assertions.
"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 be granted.
"Sire," said Fouche, "rely upon it, you will hear of those men
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 faith.
"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
"Very well," said Napoleon, noticing an anxious look on Fouche's
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
"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 brushwood.
"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
"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
"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 enemies.
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 new masters.
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 men.
"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
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 Champagne.
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 of Laurence.
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
"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.
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 supplicating air.
"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 remain here."
This speech was received in dumb amazement. Marie-Paul rang the
"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 Chargeboeuf.
"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 present.
"That police spy who came here to trap my masters, he knew it too,"
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
"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
"We!" exclaimed the brothers; "what, write to Malin,—to the
murderer of our father and our mother, to the insolent plunderer of
"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!"
"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 meaning."
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
"We are no longer in the days of Saint-Louis," said the younger
"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
"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
"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
"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
"According to the present law," added the abbe, "you will be
compelled to serve. The conscription makes no distinction of ranks or
"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
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 feared himself.
"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 pass.
"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
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
"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
"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
"How could I live without you?" said the younger twin to his
"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
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
"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
"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 elder.
"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
"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-
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 being forced.
"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 from it.
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
"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 delinquents.
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 simultaneously.
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 arrests.
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
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 with us."
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 three gendarmes entered the kitchen leading Gothard. Seeing the
silver lace on their hats Marthe and her mother looked at each other
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"What sort of game did you hunt to-day?" said Madame d'Hauteserre
"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 not extraordinary."
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 Madame d'Hauteserre.
"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
"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,
"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
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,
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
"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 stables.
"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
"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 magisterial conviction.
"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 o'clock.
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.
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 facts.
"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 liberty."
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 unjust spoliation.
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 distinction.
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
"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 present time.
"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
"The case cannot be successfully defended," said Monsieur de
"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 cross-
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 d'Hauteserre, exasperated.
"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 miles."
"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 him?"
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 distrust.
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
"He is the pivot of the affair—the danger lies there," replied the
"If he is more in danger than the others, I think that is just,"
"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 importance."
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 them famous.
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
"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.
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
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
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
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
as you receive this letter, to take him food for at least five
days more. The forest is of course watched; therefore take as
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
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.
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 the provisions.
"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.
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 the forest.
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 done.
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 prosecution.
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
"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 testify.
"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
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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 hearers deeply:—
"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 them!"
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 the prosecution."
"All is luck or ill-luck!" said Bordin to his clients when the
session was over. "Almost acquitted tonight you may be condemned
"In either case," said the elder de Simeuse, "we can only admire
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
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
"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 testimony aloud.
"Do you now confirm your own statement?" said the president,
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 said.
"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 guilty parties.
"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 the prisoners?"
"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 one."
"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
"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 Gondreville, abruptly.
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 impression.
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
"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
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
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
"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 martyrs.
"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
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 interests.
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
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
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
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 one victim."
"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,
"We can't suppress it; but be sure of one thing, if you ask all you
will obtain nothing."
"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 in Paris."
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf had already received from the chief justice
certain information which added weight to these sad words of Monsieur
"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
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
"Do you know, monseigneur, who was at the bottom of this cruel
"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
"That is the man," said the Marquis de Chargeboeuf entering the
room after Corentin was dismissed; "but we have nearly killed the
"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 berlingot.
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
"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
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 de Cinq-Cygne."
"Well?" he replied, in an angry voice, thinking her look braved
"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 must be?"
"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 pleased him.
"That man has been condemned to death by the laws of his country,"
"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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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 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 evening.
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
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 beside her.
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 too young!"
"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 desired."
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 ten years.'
"'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
"'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 seven months.'
"'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
"'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 resources.'
"'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
"'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
"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
"'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
"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 speaking.'"
(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
"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
"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 in Italy.
"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
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human
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
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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
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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
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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