CASES WORTH LOOKING AT
CASES WORTH LOOKING AT.--I. MEMOIRS OF AN ADOPTED SON.
I.--CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH PRECEDED HIS BIRTH.
TOWARD the beginning of the eighteenth century there stood on a rock in theseanear a fishing village on the coast of Brittanya ruined tower with a verybad reputation. No mortal was known to have inhabited it within the memory ofliving man. The one tenant whom Tradition associated with the occupation of theplace at a remote period had moved into it from the infernal regions nobody knewwhy--had lived in it nobody knew how long--and had quitted possession nobodyknew when. Under such circumstancesnothing was more natural than that hisunearthly Individual should give a name to this residence; for which reasonthebuilding was thereafter known to all the neighborhood round as Satanstower.
Early in the year seventeen hundredthe inhabitants of the village werestartled one night by seeing the red gleam of a fire in the towerand bysmellingin the same directiona preternaturally strong odor of fried fish.The next morning the fishermen who passed by the building in their boats wereamazed to find that a stranger had taken up his abode in it. Judging of him at adistancehe seemed to be a fine tallstout fellow; he was dressed infisherman's costumeand he had a new boat of his ownmoored comfortably in acleft of the rock. If he had inhabited a place of decent reputationhisneighbors would have immediately made his acquaintance; butas things wereallthey could venture to do was to watch him in silence.
The first day passedandthough it was fine weatherhe made no use of hisboat. The second day followedwith a continuance of the fine weatherand stillhe was as idle as before. On the third daywhen a violent storm kept all theboats of the village on the beach--on the third dayin the midst of the tempestaway went the man of the tower to make his first fishing experiment in strangewaters! He and his boat came back safe and soundin a lull of the storm; andthe villagers watching on the cliff above saw him carrying the fish upby greatbasketfulsto his tower. No such haul had ever fallen to the lot of any one ofthemand the stranger had taken it in a whole gale of wind.
Upon this the inhabitants of the village called a council. The lead in thedebate was assumed by a smart young fellowa fisherman named Poulaillerwhostoutly declared that the stranger at the tower was of infernal origin."The rest of you may call him what you like" said Poulailler; "Icall him The Fiend-Fisherman!"
The opinion thus expressed proved to be the opinion of the entireaudience--with the one exception of the village priest. The priest said"Gentlymy sons. Don't make sure about the man of the tower before Sunday. Wait and seeif he comes to church."
"And if he doesn't come to church?" asked all the fishermenin abreath.
"In that case" replied the priest"I will excommunicate him;and thenmy childrenyou may call him what you like."
Sunday cameand no sign of the stranger darkened the church doors. He wasexcommunicated accordingly. The whole village forthwith adopted Poulailler'sideaand called the man of the tower by the name which Poulailler had givenhim--"The Fiend-Fisherman."
These strong proceedings produced not the slightest apparent effect on thediabolical personage who had occasioned them. He persisted in remaining idlewhen the weather was finein going out to fish when no other boat in the placedare put to seaand in coming back again to his solitary dwelling-place withhis nets fullhis boat uninjuredand himself alive and hearty. He made noattempts to buy and sell with anybodyhe kept steadily away from the villagehe lived on fish of his own preternaturally strong fryingand he never spoke toa living soul--with the solitary exception of Poulailler himself. One fineeveningwhen the young man was rowing home past the towerthe Fiend-Fishermandarted out on to the rocksaid"Thank youPoulaillerfor giving me aname" bowed politelyand darted in again. The young fisherman felt thewords run cold down the marrow of his back; and whenever he was at sea againhegave the tower a wide berth from that day forth.
Time went onand an important event occurred in Poulailler's life. He wasengaged to be married. On the day when his betrothal was publicly made knownhis friends clustered noisily about him on the fishing-jetty of the village tooffer their congratulations. While they were all in full crya strange voicesuddenly made itself heard through the confusionwhich silenced everybody in aninstant. The crowd fell backand disclosed the Fiend-Fishermansauntering upthe jetty. It was the first time he had ever set foot--cloven foot--within theprecincts of the village.
"Gentlemen" said the Fiend-Fisherman"where is my friendPoulailler?" He put the question with perfect politeness; he lookedremarkably well in his fisherman's costume; he exhaled a relishing odor of friedfish; he had a cordial nod for the menand a sweet smile for the women; butwith all these personal advantageseverybody fell back from himand nobodyanswered his question. The coldness of the popular receptionhoweverdid notin any way abash him. He looked about for Poulailler with searching eyesdiscovered the place in which he was standingand addressed him in thefriendliest manner.
"So you are going to be married?" remarked the Fiend-Fisherman.
"What's that to you?" said Poulailler. He was inwardly terrifiedbut outwardly gruff--not an uncommon combination of circumstances with men ofhis class in his mental situation.
"My friend" pursued the Fiend-Fisherman"I have notforgotten your polite attention in giving me a nameand I come here to requiteit. You will have a familyPoulaillerand your first child will be a boy. Ipropose to make that boy my adopted son."
The marrow of Poulailler's back became awfully cold; but he grew gruffer thaneverin spite of his back.
"You won't do anything of the sort" he replied. "If I havethe largest family in Franceno child of mine shall ever go near you."
"I shall adopt your first-born for all that" persisted theFiend-Fisherman. "PoulaillerI wish you good-morning. Ladies and gentlementhe same to all of you."
With those wordshe withdrew from the jettyand the marrow of Poulailler'sback recovered its temperature.
The next morning was stormyand all the village expected to see the boatfrom the tower put outas usualto sea. Not a sign of it appeared. Later inthe day the rock on which the building stood was examined from a distance.Neither boat nor nets were in their customary places. At night the red gleam ofthe fire was missed for the first time. The Fiend-Fisherman had gone! He hadannounced his intentions on the jettyand had disappeared. What did this mean?Nobody knew.
On Poulailler's wedding-daya portentous circumstance recalled the memory ofthe diabolical strangerandas a matter of courseseriously discomposed thebridegroom's back. At the moment when the marriage ceremony was completearelishing odor of fried fish stole into the nostrils of the companyand a voicefrom invisible lips said"Keep up your spiritsPoulailler; I have notforgotten my promise!"
A year laterMadame Poulailler was in the hands of the midwife of thedistrictand a repetition of the portentous circumstance took place. Poulaillerwas waiting in the kitchen to hear how matters ended upstairs. The nurse came inwith a baby. "Which is it?" asked the happy father; "girl orboy?" Before the nurse could answeran odor of supernaturally fried fishfilled the kitchenand a voice from invisible lips replied"A boyPoulaillerand I've got him!"
Such were the circumstances under which the subject of this Memoir wasintroduced to the joys and sorrows of mortal existence.
II.--HIS BOYHOOD AND EARLY LIFE.
When a boy is born under auspices which lead his parents to suppose thatwhile the bodily part of him is safe at homethe spiritual part is subjected toa course of infernal tuition elsewherewhat are his father and mother to dowith him? They must do the best they can--which was exactly what Poulailler andhis wife did with the hero of these pages.
In the first placethey had him christened instantly. It was observed withhorror that his infant face was distorted with grimacesand that his infantvoice roared with a preternatural lustiness of tone the moment the priesttouched him. The first thing he asked forwhen he learned to speakwas "friedfish"; and the first place he wanted to go towhen he learned to walkwasthe diabolical tower on the rock. "He won't learn anything" said themasterwhen he was old enough to go to school. "Thrash him" saidPoulailler; and the master thrashed him. "He won't come to his firstcommunion" said the priest. "Thrash him" said Poulailler; andthe priest thrashed him. The farmers' orchards were robbed; the neighboringrabbit-warrens were depopulated; linen was stolen from the gardensand netswere torn on the beach. "The deuce take Poulailler's boy" was thegeneral cry. "The deuce has got him" was Poulailler's answer."And yet he is a nice-looking boy" said Madame Poulailler. And hewas--as tallas strongas handsome a young fellow as could be seen in allFrance. "Let us pray for him" said Madame Poulailler. "Let usthrash him" said her husband. "Our son has been thrashed till all thesticks in the neighborhood are broken" pleaded his mother. "We willtry him with the rope's-end next" retorted his father; "he shall goto seaand live in an atmosphere of thrashing. Our son shall be a cabin-boy."It was all one to Poulailler Junior; he knew who had adopted himas well as hisfather; he had been instinctively conscious from infancy of theFiend-Fisherman's interest in his welfare; he cared for no earthly discipline;and a cabin-boy he became at ten years old.
After two years of the rope's-end (applied quite ineffectually)the subjectof this Memoir robbed his captainand ran away in an English port. Londonbecame the next scene of his adventures At twelve years old he persuaded societyin the metropolis that he was the forsaken natural son of a French duke. Britishbenevolenceafter blindly providing for him for four yearsopened its eyes andfound him out at the age of sixteen; upon which he returned to Franceandentered the army in the capacity of drummer. At eighteen he desertedand had aturn with the gypsies. He told fortuneshe conjuredhe danced on thetight-ropehe actedhe sold quack medicineshe altered his mind againandreturned to the army. Here he fell in love with the vivandiere of his newregiment. The sergeant-major of the companytouched by the same amiableweaknessnaturally resented his attentions to the lady. Poulailler (perhapsunjustifiably) asserted himself by boxing his officer's ears. Out flashed theswords on both sidesand in went Poulailler's blade through and through thetender heart of the sergeant-major. The frontier was close at hand. Poulaillerwiped his swordand crossed it.
Sentence of death was recorded against him in his absence. When society hascondemned us to dieif we are men of any spirithow are we to return thecompliment? By condemning society to keep us alive--orin other wordsbyrobbing right and left for a living. Poulailler's destiny was now accomplished.He was picked out to be the greatest thief of his age; and when Fate summonedhim to his place in the world; he stepped forward and took it. His life hithertohad been merely the life of a young scamp; he was now to do justice to thediabolical father who had adopted himand to expand to the proportions of afull-grown robber.
His first exploits were performed in Germany. They showed such a novelty ofcombinationsuch daringsuch dexterityandeven in his most homicidalmomentssuch irresistible gayety and good humorthat a band of congenialspirits gathered about him in no time. As commander-in-chief of the thieves'armyhis popularity never wavered. His weaknesses--and what illustrious man iswithout them?--were three in number. First weakness: he was extravagantlysusceptible to the charms of the fair sex. Second weakness: he was perilouslyfond of practical jokes. Third weakness (inherited from his adopted parent): hisappetite was insatiable in the matter of fried fish. As for the merits to setagainst these defectssome have been noticed alreadyand others will appearimmediately. Let it merely be premised in this place that he was one of thehandsomest men of his timethat he dressed superblyand that he was capable ofthe most exalted acts of generosity wherever a handsome woman was concerned--letthis be understoodto begin with; and let us now enter on the narrative of hislast exploit in Germany before he returned to France. This adventure issomething more than a mere specimen of his method of workmanship; it provedinthe futureto be the fatal event of his life.
On a Monday in the week he had stopped on the highwayand robbed of all hisvaluables and all his papers an Italian nobleman--the Marquis PetrucciofSienna. On Tuesday he was ready for another stroke of business. Posted on thetop of a steep hillhe watched the road which wound up to the summit on onesidewhile his followers were ensconced on the road which led down from it onthe other. The prize expected in this case was the traveling-carriage (with alarge sum of money inside) of the Baron De Kirbergen.
Before long Poulailler discerned the carriage afar off at the bottom of thehilland in advance of itascending the eminencetwo ladies on foot. Theywere the Baron's daughters--Wilhelminaa fair beauty; Fredericaabrunette--both lovelyboth accomplishedboth susceptibleboth young.Poulailler sauntered down the hill to meet the fascinating travelers. He lookedbowedintroduced himselfand fell in love with Wilhelmina on the spot. Boththe charming girls acknowledged in the most artless manner that confinement tothe carriage had given them the fidgetsand that they were walking up the hillto try the remedy of gentle exercise. Poulailler's heart was touchedandPoulailler's generosity to the sex was roused in the nick of time. With a politeapology to the young ladieshe ran backby a short cutto the ambush on theother side of the hill in which his men were posted.
"Gentlemen!" cried the generous thief"in the charming nameof Wilhelmina de KirbergenI charge you alllet the Baron's carriage pass free."The band was not susceptible; the band demurred. Poulailler knew them. He hadappealed to their hearts in vain; he now appealed to their pockets. "Gentlemen!"he resumed"excuse my momentary misconception of your sentiments. Here ismy one-half share of the Marquis Petrucci's property. If I divide it among youwill you let the carriage pass free?" The band knew the value of moneyandaccepted the terms. Poulailler rushed back up the hilland arrived at the topjust in time to hand the young ladies into the carriage. "Charmingman!" said the white Wilhelmina to the brown Fredericaas they drove off.Innocent soul! what would she have said if she had known that her personalattractions had saved her father's property? Was she ever to see the charmingman again? Yes; she was to see him the next day--andmore than thatFate washereafter to link her fast to the robber's life and the robber's doom.
Confiding the direction of the band to h]s first lieutenantPoulaillerfollowed the carriage on horsebackand ascertained the place of the Baron'sresidence that night.
The next morning a superbly-dressed stranger knocked at the door. "Whatnamesir?" said the servant. "The Marquis Petrucciof Sienna"replied Poulailler. "How are the young ladies after their journey?"The Marquis was shown inand introduced to the Baron. The Baron was naturallydelighted to receive a brother nobleman; Miss Wilhelmina was modestly happy tosee the charming man again; Miss Frederica was affectionately pleased on hersister's account. Not being of a disposition to lose time where his affectionswere concernedPoulailler expressed his sentiments to the beloved object thatevening. The next morning he had an interview with the Baronat which heproduced the papers which proved him to be the Marquis. Nothing could be moresatisfactory to the mind of the most anxious parent--the two noblemen embraced.They were still in each other's armswhen a second stranger knocked at the door."What namesir?" said the servant. "The Marquis PetrucciofSienna" replied the stranger. "Impossible!" said the servant;"his lordship is now in the house." "Show me inscoundrel"cried the visitor. The servant submittedand the two Marquises stood face toface. Poulailler's composure was not shaken in the least; he had come first tothe houseand he had got the papers. "You are the villain who robbedme!" cried the true Petrucci. "You are drunkmador an impostor"retorted the false Petrucci. "Send to Florencewhere I am known"exclaimed one of the Marquisesapostrophizing the Baron. "Send to Florenceby all means" echoed the otheraddressing himself to the Baron also."Gentlemen" replied the noble Kirbergen"I will do myself thehonor of taking your advice"--and he sent to Florence accordingly.
Before the messenger had advanced ten miles on his journeyPoulailler hadsaid two words in private to the susceptible Wilhelminaand the pair elopedfrom the baronial residence that night. Once more the subject of this Memoircrossed the frontierand re-entered France. Indifferent to the attractions ofrural lifehe forthwith established himself with the beloved object in Paris.In that superb city he met with his strangest adventuresperformed his boldestachievementscommitted his most prodigious robberiesandin a worddidhimself and his infernal patron the fullest justice in the character of theFiend-Fisherman's adopted son.
III.--HIS CAREER IN PARIS.
Once established in the French metropolisPoulailler planned and executedthat vast system of perpetual robbery and occasional homicide which made him theterror and astonishment of all Paris. Indoors as well as out his good fortunebefriended him. No domestic anxieties harassed his mindand diverted him fromthe pursuit of his distinguished public career. The attachment of the charmingcreature with whom he had eloped from Germany survived the discovery that theMarquis Petrucci was Poulailler the robber. True to the man of her choicethedevoted Wilhelmina shared his fortunesand kept his house. And why notif sheloved him--in the all-conquering name of Cupidwhy not?
Joined by picked men from his German followersand by new recruits gatheredtogether in ParisPoulailler now set society and its safeguards at flatdefiance. Cartouche himself was his inferior in audacity and cunning. In courseof timethe whole city was panic-stricken by the new robber and his band--thevery Boulevards were deserted after nightfall. Monsieur Héraultlieutenant ofpolice of the periodin despair of laying hands on Poulailler by any othermeansat last offered a reward of a hundred pistoles and a place in his officeworth two thousand livres a year to any one who would apprehend the robber alive.The bills were posted all over Parisand the next morning they produced thevery last result in the world which the lieutenant of police could possibly haveanticipated.
While Monsieur Hérault was at breakfast in his study the Count de Villeneuvewas announced as wishing to speak to him. Knowing the Count by name onlyasbelonging to an ancient family in Provence or in LanguedocMonsieur Héraultordered him to be shown in. A perfect gentleman appeareddressed with anadmirable mixture of magnificence and good taste. "I have something foryour private earsir" said the Count. "Will you give orders that noone must be allowed to disturb us?"
Monsieur Hérault gave the orders.
"May I inquireCountwhat your business is?" he asked when thedoor was closed.
"To earn the reward you offer for taking Poulailler" answered theCount. "I am Poulailler."
Before Monsieur Hérault could open his lipsthe robber produced a prettylittle dagger and some rose-colored silk cord. "The point of this dagger ispoisoned" he observed; "and one scratch of itmy dear sirwould bethe death of you." With these words Poulailler gagged the lieutenant ofpolicebound him to his chair with the rose-colored cordand lightened hiswriting-desk of one thousand pistoles. "I'll take moneyinstead of takingthe place in the office which you kindly offer" said Poulailler. "Don'ttrouble yourself to see me to the door. Good-morning."
A few weeks laterwhile Monsieur Hérault was still the popular subject ofridicule throughout Parisbusiness took Poulailler on the road to Lille andCambrai. The only inside passenger in the coach besides himself was thevenerable Dean Potterof Brussels. They fell into talk on the one interestingsubject of the time--not the weatherbut Poulailler.
"It's a disgracesirto the police" said the Dean"thatsuch a miscreant is still at large. I shall be returning to Paris by this roadin ten days' timeand I shall call on Monsieur Hérault to suggest a plan of myown for catching the scoundrel.
"May I ask what it is?" said Poulailler.
"Excuse me" replied the Dean; "you are a strangersirandmoreover I wish to keep the merit of suggesting the plan to myself."
"Do you think the lieutenant of police will see you?" askedPoulailler; "he is not accessible to strangerssince the miscreant youspeak of played him that trick at his own breakfast-table."
"He will see Dean Potterof Brussels" was the replydeliveredwith the slightest possible tinge of offended dignity.
"Ohunquestionably!" said Poulailler; "pray pardon me."
"Willinglysir" said the Dean; and the conversation flowed intoother channels.
Nine days later the wounded pride of Monsieur Hérault was soothed by a veryremarkable letter. It was signed by one of Poulailler's bandwho offeredhimself as king's evidencein the hope of obtaining a pardon. The letter statedthat the venerable Dean Potter had been waylaid and murdered by Poulaillerandthat the robberwith his customary audacitywas about to re-enter Paris by theLisle coach the next daydisguised in the Dean's own clothesand furnishedwith the Dean's own papers. Monsieur Hérault took his precautions withoutlosing a moment. Picked men were stationedwith their ordersat the barrierthrough which the coach must pass to enter Pariswhile the lieutenant of policewaited at his officein the company of two French gentlemen who could speak tothe Dean's identityin the event of Poulailler's impudently persisting in theassumption of his victim's name.
At the appointed hour the coach appearedand out of it got a man in theDean's costume. He was arrested in spite of his protestations; the papers of themurdered Potter were found on himand he was dragged off to the police-officein triumph. The door opened and the posse comitatus entered with the prisoner.Instantly the two witnesses burst out with a cry of recognitionand turnedindignantly on the lieutenant of police. "Gracious Heavensirwhat haveyou done!" they exclaimed in horror; "this is not Poulailler--here isour venerable friend; here is the Dean himself!" At the same moment aservant entered with a letter. "Dean Potter. To the care of MonsieurHéraultLieutenant of Police." The letter was expressed in these words:"Venerable Sir--Profit by the lesson I have given you. Be a Christian forthe futureand never again try to injure a man unless he tries to injure you.Entirely yours--Poulailler."
These feats of cool audacity were matched by othersin which his generosityto the sex asserted itself as magnanimously as ever.
Hearing one day that large sums of money were kept in the house of a greatladyone Madame De Briennewhose door was guardedin anticipation of a visitfrom the famous thiefby a porter of approved trustworthiness and couragePoulailler undertook to rob her in spite of her precautionsand succeeded. Witha stout pair of leather straps and buckles in his pocketand with two of hisband disguised as a coachman and a footmanhe followed Madame De Brienne onenight to the theater. Just before the close of the performancethe lady'scoachman and footman were tempted away for five minutes by Poulailler'sdisguised subordinates to have a glass of wine. No attempt was made to detainthemor to drug their liquor. But in their absence Poulailler had slipped underthe carriagehad hung his leather straps round the pole--one to hold byandone to support his feet--andwith these simple preparationswas now ready towait for events. Madame De Brienne entered the carriage--the footman got upbehind--Poulailler hung himself horizontally under the poleand was driven homewith them under those singular circumstances. He was strong enough to keep hisposition after the carriage had been taken into the coach-houseand he onlyleft it when the doors were locked for the night. Provided with food beforehandhe waited patientlyhidden in the coach-housefor two days and nightswatching his opportunity of getting into Madame De Brienne's boudoir.
On the third night the lady went to a grand ball; the servants relaxed intheir vigilance while her back was turnedand Poulailler slipped into the room.He found two thousand louis d'orswhich was nothing like the sum he expectedand a pocketbookwhich he took away with him to open at home. It contained somestock warrants for a comparatively trifling amount. Poulailler was far too welloff to care about taking themand far too politewhere a lady was concernednot to send them back againunder those circumstances. AccordinglyMadame DeBrienne received her warrantswith a note of apology from the polite thief.
"Pray excuse my visit to your charming boudoir" wrote Poulailler"in consideration of the false reports of your wealthwhich alone inducedme to enter it. If I had known what your pecuniary circumstances really wereonthe honor of a gentlemanmadameI should have been incapable of robbing you. Icannot return your two thousand louis d'ors by postas I return your warrants.But if you are at all pressed for money in futureI shall be proud to assist sodistinguished a lady by lending herfrom my own ample resourcesdouble the sumof which I regret to have deprived her on the present occasion. "Thisletter was shown to royalty at Versailles. It excited the highest admiration ofthe Court--especially of the ladies. Whenever the robber's name was mentionedthey indulgently referred to him as the Chevalier De Poulailler. Ah! that wasthe age of politenesswhen good-breeding was recognizedeven in the thief.Under similar circumstanceswho would recognize it now? O tempora! O mores!
On another occasion Poulailler was out one night taking the airand watchinghis opportunities on the roofs of the housesa member of the band being postedin the street below to assist him in case of necessity. While in this positionsobs and groans proceeding from an open back-garret window caught his ear. Aparapet rose before the windowwhich enabled him to climb down and look in.Starving children surrounding a helpless motherand clamoring for foodwas thepicture that met his eye. The mother was young and beautifuland Poulailler'shand impulsively clutched his purseas a necessary consequence. Before thecharitable thief could enter by the windowa man rushed in by the door with aface of horrorand cast a handful of gold into the lovely mother's lap. "Myhonor is gone" he cried"but our children are saved! Listen to thecircumstances. I met a man in the street below; he was tall and thin; he had agreen patch over one eye; he was looking up suspiciously at this houseapparently waiting for somebody. I thought of you--I thought of the children--Iseized the suspicious stranger by the collar. Terror overwhelmed him on the spot'Take my watchmy moneyand my two valuable gold snuff-boxes' he said'butspare my life.' I took them." "Noble-hearted man!" criedPoulaillerappearing at the window. The husband started; the wife screamed; thechildren hid themselves. "Let me entreat you to be composed"continued Poulailler. "Sir! I enter on the scene for the purpose ofsoothing your uneasy conscience. From your vivid descriptionI recognize theman whose property is now in your wife's lap. Resume your mental tranquillity.You have robbed a robber--in other wordsyou have vindicated society. Accept mycongratulations on your restored innocence. The miserable coward whose collaryou seized is one of Poulailler's band. He has lost his stolen property as thefit punishment for his disgraceful want of spirit."
"Who are you?" exclaimed the husband.
"I am Poulailler" replied the illustrious manwith the simplicityof an ancient hero. "Take this purseand set up in business with thecontents. There is a prejudicesirin favor of honesty. Give that prejudice achance. There was a time when I felt it myself; I regret to feel it no longer.Under all varieties of misfortunean honest man has his consolation still left.Where is it left? Here!" He struck his heartand the family fell on theirknees before him.
"Benefactor of your species!" cried the husband; "how can Ishow my gratitude?"
"You can permit me to kiss the hand of madame" answered Poulailler.
Madame started to her feet and embraced the generous stranger. "Whatmore can I do?" exclaimed this lovely womaneagerly; "oh heavens!what more?"
"You can beg your husband to light me downstairs" repliedPoulailler. He spokepressed their handsdropped a generous tearand departed.At that touching moment his own adopted father would not have known him.
This last anecdote closes the record of Poulailler's career in Paris. Thelighter and more agreeable aspects of that career have hitherto been designedlypresentedin discreet remembrance of the contrast which the tragic side of thepicture must now present. Comedy and Sentimenttwin sisters of Frenchextractionfarewell! Horror enters next on the stageand enters welcomeinthe name of the Fiend-Fisherman's adopted son.
IV.--HIS EXIT FROM THE SCENE.
The nature of Poulailler's more serious achievements in the art of robberymay be realized by reference to one terrible fact. ln the police records of theperiodmore than one hundred and fifty men and women are reckoned up as havingmet their deaths at the hands of Poulailler and his band. It was not thepractice of this formidable robber to take life as well as propertyunless lifehappened to stand directly in his way--in which case he immediately swept offthe obstacle without hesitation and without remorse. His deadly determination torobwhich was thus felt by the population in generalwas matched by his deadlydetermination to be obeyedwhich was felt by his followers in particular. Oneof their numberfor examplehaving withdrawn from his allegianceand havingafterward attempted to betray his leaderwas tracked to his hiding-place in acellarand was there walled up alive in Poulailler's presencethe robbercomposing the unfortunate wretch's epitaphand scratching it on the wet plasterwith his own hand. Years afterward the inscription was noticed when the housefell into the possession of a new tenantand was supposed to be nothing morethan one of the many jests which the famous robber had practiced in his time.When the plaster was removedthe skeletonfell outand testified thatPoulailler was in earnest.
To attempt the arrest of such a man as this by tampering with his followerswas practically impossible. No sum of money that could be offered would induceany one of the members of his band to risk the fatal chance of his vengeance.Other means of getting possession of him had been triedand tried in vain. Fivetimes over the police had succeeded in tracking him to different hiding places;and on all five occasionsthe women--who adored him for his gallantryhisgenerosityand his good looks--had helped him to escape. If he had notunconsciously paved the way to his own capturefirst by eloping withMademoiselle Wilhelmina de Kirbergenand secondly by maltreating herit ismore than doubtful whether the long arm of the law would ever have reached farenough to fasten its grasp on him. As it wasthe extremes of love and hatredmet at last in the bosom of the devoted Wilhelminaand the vengeance of aneglected woman accomplished what the whole police force of Paris had beenpowerless to achieve.
Poulaillernever famous for the constancy of his attachmentshad weariedat an early periodof the companion of his flight from Germany; but Wilhelminawas one of those women whose affectionsonce arousedwill not take No for ananswer. She persisted in attaching herself to a man who had ceased to love her.Poulailler's patience became exhausted; he tried twice to rid himself of hisunhappy mistress--once by the knifeand once by poison--and failed on bothoccasions. For the third and last timeby way of attempting an experiment ofanother kindhe established a rivalto drive the German woman out of thehouse. From that moment his fate was sealed. Maddened by jealous rageWilhelmina cast the last fragments of her fondness to the winds. She secretlycommunicated with the policeand Poulailler met his doom.
A night was appointed with the authoritiesand the robber was invited by hisdiscarded mistress to a farewell interview. His contemptuous confidence in herfidelity rendered him careless of his customary precautions. He accepted theappointmentand the two supped togetheron the understanding that they werehenceforth to be friends and nothing more. Toward the close of the mealPoulailler was startled by a ghastly change in the face of his companion.
"What is wrong with you?" he asked.
"A mere trifle" she answeredlooking at her glass of wine."I can't help loving you stillbadly as you have treated me. You are adead manPoulaillerand I shall not survive you."
The robber started to his feetand seized a knife on the table.
"You have poisoned me!" he exclaimed.
"No" she replied. "Poison is my vengeance on myself; not myvengeance on you. You will rise from this table as you sat down to it. But yourevening will be finished in prisonand your life will be ended on the wheel."
As she spoke the wordsthe door was burst open by the police and Poulaillerwas secured. The same night the poison did its fatal workand his mistress madeatonement with her life for the firstlast act of treachery which had revengedher on the man she loved.
Once safely lodged in the hands of justicethe robber tried to gain time toescape inby promising to make important disclosures. The maneuver availed himnothing. In those days the Laws of the Land had not yet made acquaintance withthe Laws of Humanity. Poulailler was put to the torture--was suffered torecover--was publicly broken on the wheel--and was taken off it aliveto becast into a blazing fire. By those murderous means Society rid itself of amurderous manand the idlers on the Boulevards took their evening stroll againin recovered security.
. . . . .
Paris had seen the execution of Poulailler; but if legends are to be trustedour old friendsthe people of the fishing village in Brittanysaw the end ofhim afterward. On the day and hour when he perishedthe heavens darkenedand aterrible storm arose. Once moreand for a moment onlythe gleam of theunearthly fire reddened the windows of the old tower. Thunder pealedand struckthe building into fragments. Lightning flashed incessantly over the ruins; andin the scorching glare of itthe boat whichin former yearshad put off tosea whenever the storm rose highestwas seen to shoot out into the raging oceanfrom the cleft in the rockand was discovered on this final occasion to bedoubly manned. The Fiend-Fisherman sat at the helm; his adopted son tugged atthe oars; and a clamor of diabolical voicesroaring awfully through the roaringstormwished the pair of them a prosperous voyage.
CASES WORTH LOOKING AT.--II. THE POISONED MEAL.
[From the Records of the French Courts.]
CHAPTER I.--THE POCKETS.
This case takes us across the Channel to Normandy; and introduces us to ayoung French girlnamed Marie Françoise Victoire Salmon.
Her father was a poor Norman laborer. Her mother died while she was a child.From an early age Marie had learned to get her own living by going out toservice. Three different mistresses tried her while she was a very young girland found every reason to be satisfied with her conduct. She entered her fourthplacein the family of one Monsieur Dumesnilwhen she was twenty years of age.This was the turning-point in her career; and here the strange story of her lifeproperly begins.
Among the persons who often visited Monsieur Dumesnil and his wife was acertain Monsieur Revela relation of Madame Dumesnil's. He was a man of somenote in his part of the countryholding a responsible legal appointment at thetown of Caenin Normandy; and he honored Mariewhen he first saw her at hermaster's housewith his special attention and approval. She had an innocentface and a winning manner; and Monsieur Revel became almost oppressively anxiousin a strictly paternal waythat she should better her conditionby seekingservice at Caenwhere places were plentiful and wages higher than in thecountryand whereit is also necessary to rememberMonsieur Revel himselfhappened to live.
Marie's own ideahoweverof the best means of improving her condition was alittle at variance with the idea of her disinterested adviser. Her ambition wasto gain her living independentlyif she could by being a seamstress. She leftthe service of Monsieur Dumesnil of her own accordwithout so much as theshadow of a stain on her characterand went to the old town of Bayeux to trywhat she could do by taking in needlework. As a means of subsistenceneedleworksoon proved itself to be insufficient; and she found herself thrown back againon the old resource of going out to service. Most unfortunatelyas eventsafterward turned outshe now called to mind Monsieur Revel's paternal adviceand resolved to seek employment as a maid of all work at Caen.
She left Bayeux with the little bundle of clothes which represented all theproperty she had in the worldon the first of Augustseventeen hundred andeighty-one. It will be well to notice this date particularlyand toremember--in case some of the events of Marie's story should seem almostincredible--that it marks the period which immediately preceded the firstoutbreak of the French Revolution.
Among the few articles of the maid's apparel which the bundle containedandto which it is necessary to direct attention at the outsetwere two pairs ofpocketsone of them being still in an unfinished condition. She had a thirdpair which she wore on her journey. In the last centurya country girl'spockets were an important and prominent part of her costume. They hung on eachside of herready to her hand. They were sometimes very prettily embroideredand they were almost always large and of a bright color.
On the first of Augustseventeen hundred and eighty-oneMarie left Bayeuxand early on the same day she reached Caen. Her good mannersher excellentcharacterand the modesty of her demands in the matter of wagesrendered iteasy for her to find a situation. On the very evening of her arrival she wassuited with a place; and her first night at Caen was passed under the roof ofher new employers.
The family consisted of Marie's master and mistressMonsieur and Madame HuetDuparc (both highly respectable people); of two sonsaged respectivelytwenty-one and eleven years; of their sisteraged seventeen years; and ofMonsieur and Madame De Beaulieuthe father and mother of Madame Duparconeeighty-eight years oldthe other eighty-six.
Madame Duparc explained to Marie the various duties which she was expected toperformon the evening when she entered the house. She was to begin the day byfetching some milk--that being one of the ingredients used in preparing thehasty-pudding which formed the favorite morning meal of the old gentlemanMonsieur De Beaulieu. The hasty-pudding was always to be got ready by seveno'clock exactly. When this had been doneMarie was next required to take theinfirm old ladyMadame De Beaulieuevery morning to mass. She was then to goto marketand get all the provisions that were wanted for the daily use of thefamily; and she wasfinallyto look to the cooking of the foodand to makeherself additionally useful (with some occasional assistance from Madame Duparcand her daughter) in every remaining branch of household work. The yearly wagesshe was to receive for performing all these conflicting duties amounted toprecisely two pounds sterling of English money.
She had entered her new place on a Wednesday. On Thursday she took her firstlesson in preparing the old gentleman's morning meal. One point which hermistress then particularly impressed on her wasthat she was not to put anysalt in the hasty-pudding.
On the Saturday followingwhen she went out to buy milkshe made a littlepurchase on her own account. Of course the purchase was an article of dress--apiece of fine bright orange-colored stufffor which she paid nearly the wholeprice on the spotout of her small savings. The sum of two sous six deniers (abouta penny English) was all that Marie took credit for. On her return to the houseshe showed the piece of stuff to Madame Duparcand asked to be advised whethershe should make an apron or a jacket of it.
The next day being SundayMarie marked the occasion by putting on all thelittle finery she had. Her pair of festive pocketsstriped with blue and whitecame out of her bundle along with other things. When she had put them onshehung the old workaday pockets which she had worn on leaving Bayeux to the backof a chair in her bed-chamber. This was a little room on the ground floorsituated close to the dining-roomand perfectly easy of access to every one inthe house. Long afterwardMarie remembered how pleasantly and quietly thatSunday passed. It was the last day of happiness the poor creature was to enjoyin the house of Madame Duparc.
On the Monday morningshe went to fetch the milk as usual. But themilk-woman was not in the shop to serve her. After returning to the housesheproposed making a second attempt; but her mistress stopped hersaying that themilk would doubtless be sent before long. This turned out to be the caseandMariehaving cleaned the saucepan for Monsieur De Beaulieu's hasty-puddingreceived from the hands of Madame Duparc the earthen vessel containing the mealused in the house. She mixed this flour and put it into the saucepan in thepresence of Madame Duparc and her daughter. She had just set the saucepan on thefirewhen her mistress saidwith a very remarkable abruptness:
"Have you put any salt in it?"
"Certainly notma'am" answered Marieamazed by the question."You told me yourself that I was never to put salt in it."
Upon thisMadame Duparc snatched up the saucepan without saying anotherwordturned to the dresserstretched out her hand toward one of foursalt-cellars which always stood thereand sprinkled salt into the saucepan--or(to speak with extreme correctnessthe matter being important)if not saltsomething which she took for salt.
The hasty-pudding madeMarie poured it from the saucepan into a soup-platewhich her mistress held. Madame Duparc herself then took it to Monsieur DeBeaulieu. She and her daughterand one of her sonsremained with the old manwhile he was eating his breakfast. Marieleft in the kitchenprepared to cleanthe saucepan; butbefore she could do soshe was suddenly called in twodifferent directions by Madame De Beaulieu and Madame Duparc. The old ladywished to be taken to massand her mistress wanted to send her on a number oferrands Marie did not stop even to pour some clean wateras usualinto thosaucepan. She went at once to get her instructions from Madame Duparcand toattend on Madame De Beaulieu. Taking the old lady to churchand then runningher mistress's errandskept her so long away from the housethat it washalf-past eleven in the forenoon before she got back to the kitchen.
The first news that met her on her return was that Monsieur De Beaulieu hadbeen sufferingever since nine o'clockfrom a violent attack of vomiting andcolic. Madame Duparc ordered her to help the old man to bed immediately; andinquiredwhen these directions had been followedwhether Marie felt capable oflooking after him herselfor whether she would prefer that a nurse should besent for. Being a kind-heartedwilling girlalways anxious to make herselfusefulMarie replied that she would gladly undertake the nursing of the oldman; and thereupon her bed was moved at once into Monsieur De Beaulieu's room.
Meanwhile Madame Duparc fetched from a neighboring apothecary's one of theapprentices of the shop to see her father. The lad was quite unfit to meet theemergency of the casewhich was certainly serious enough to require theattention of his masterif not of a regularly qualified physician. Instead ofapplying any internal remediesthe apprentice stupidly tried blistering. Thiscourse of treatment proved utterly useless; but no better advice was called in.After he had suffered for hours without reliefMonsieur De Beaulieu began tosink rapidly toward the afternoon. At half-past five o'clock he had ceased toexist.
This shocking catastrophestartling and suspicious as it wasdid not appearto discompose the nerves of Madame Duparc. While her eldest son immediately leftthe house to inform his father (who had been absent in the country all day) ofwhat had happenedshe lost no time in sending for the nearest nurse to lay outthe corpse of Monsieur De Beaulieu. On entering the chamber of deaththe nursefound Marie there alonepraying by the old man's bedside.
"He died suddenlydid he not?" said the nurse.
"Very suddenly" answered Marie. "He was walking about onlyyesterday in perfect health."
Soon afterward the time came when it was customary to prepare supper. Mariewent into the kitchen mechanicallyto get the meal ready. Madame Duparcherdaughterand her youngest sonsat down to it as usual. Madame De Beaulieuoverwhelmed by the dreadful death of her husbandwas incapable of joining them.
When supper was overMarie assisted the old lady to bed. Thenworn outthough she was with fatigueshe went back to the nurse to keep her company inwatching by the dead body. Monsieur De Beaulieu had been kind to Marieand hadspoken gratefully of the little attentions she had shown him. She rememberedthis tenderly now that he was no more; and she could not find it in her heart toleave a hired mourner to be the only watcher by his death-bed. All that nightshe remained in the roomentirely ignorant of what was passing the while inevery other part of the house--her own little bedroom includedas a matter ofcourse.
About seven o'clock the next morningafter sitting up all nightshe wentback again wearily to the kitchen to begin her day's work. Her mistress joinedher thereand saluted her instantly with a scolding.
"You are the most carelessslovenly girl I ever met with" saidMadame Duparc. "Look at your dress; how can you expect to be decent on aSundayif you wear your best pair of pockets on week-days?"
Surely Madame Duparc's grief for the loss of her father must have been slightenoughif it did not prevent her from paying the strictest attention to herservant's pockets! Although Marie had only known the old man for a few daysshehad been too deeply impressed by his illness and its fatal end to be able tothink of such a trifle as the condition of her dress. And nowof all the peoplein the worldit was Monsieur De Beaulieu's daughter who reminded her that shehad never thought of changing her pockets only the day after the old man'sdreadful death.
"Put on your old pockets directlyyou untidy girl!" said MadameDuparc.
The old pockets were of course hanging where Marie had left themat the backof the chair in her own room--the room which was open to any one who chose to gointo it--the room which she herself had not entered during the past night. Sheleft the kitchen to obey her mistress; and taking the old pair of pockets offthe chairtied them on as quickly as possible. From that fatal moment thefriendless maid of all work was a ruined girl.
CHAPTER II.--THE ARSENIC.
On returning to the kitchen to go on with her workthe exhaustion againstwhich Marie had hitherto fought successfullyoverpowered her that moment shesat down; her heavy head droopedher eyes closed in spite of herand she fellinto a brokenuneasy slumber. Madame Duparc and her daughterseeing thecondition she was inundertook the preparation of the day's dinner themselves.Among the dishes which they got readyand which they salted from the cellars onthe dresserwere two different kinds of soup--one kind for themselvesmadefrom fresh "stock"--the otherfor Marie and the nursemade from old"stock." They were engaged over their cookerywhen Monsieur Duparcarrived from the country; and Marie was awakened to take the horse he had riddento the stablesto unsaddle the animaland to give him his feed of corn.
While she was thus engagedMadame Duparc and her daughter remained alone inthe kitchen. When she left the stableit was time for her to lay the cloth. Shewas told to put plates for seven persons. Only sixhoweversat down to dinner.Those six wereMadame De BeaulieuMonsieur and Madame Duparcthe youngest oftheir two sonsMadame Beauguillot (sister of Madame Duparc)and MonsieurBeauguillot (her son). Mademoiselle Duparc remained in the kitchen to help Mariein serving up the dinnerand only took her place at table after the soup hadbeen put on. Her elder brotherafter summoning his father homehad notreturned to the house.
After the soup had been taken awayand while Marie was waiting at tableduring the eating of the second courseyoung Duparc complained that he feltsomething gritty between his teeth. His mother made precisely the same remark.Nobody elsehoweveragreed with themand the subject was allowed to drop.When the second course was done withthe dessert followedconsisting of aplate of cherries. With the dessert there arrived a visitorMonsieur Fergantarelation of Madame Duparc's. This gentleman placed himself at table with therest of the company.
Meanwhilethe nurse and Marie were making their dinner in the kitchen offthe soup which had been specially provided for them--Marie having previouslyplaced the dirty plates and the empty soup-tureen from the dining-roomin thesculleryas usualto be washed at the proper time. While she and her companionwere still engaged over their soupyoung Duparc and his mother suddenly burstinto the kitchenfollowed by the other persons who had partaken of dinner.
"We are all poisoned!" cried Madame Duparcin the greatest terror."Good heavens! I smell burned arsenic in the kitchen!"
Monsieur Fergantthe visitorhearing these last wordspolitely steppedforward to echo them.
"Burned arsenicbeyond a doubt" said Monsieur Fergant. When thisgentleman was subsequently questioned on the subjectit may not be amiss tomention that he was quite unable to say what burned arsenic smelled like.Neither is it altogether out of place to inquire how Madame Duparc happened tobe so amazingly apt at discovering the smell of burned arsenic? The answer tothe question does not seem easy to discover.
Having settled that they were all poisonedand having even found out (thanksto those two intelligent amateur chemistsMadame Duparc and Monsieur Fergant)the very nature of the deadly drug that had been used to destroy themthe nextthing the company naturally thought of was the necessity of summoning medicalhelp. Young Monsieur Beauguillot obligingly ran off (it was apparently a verymild case of poisoningso far as he was concerned) to the apothecary's shopand fetchednot the apprentice this timebut the master. The masterMonsieurThierryarrived in great hasteand found the dinner-eaters all complaining ofnausea and pains in the stomach. He naturally asked what they had eaten. Thereply wasthat they had eaten nothing but soup.
This wasto say the least of itrather an unaccountable answer. The companyhad had for dinnerbesides soupa second course of boiled meatand ragout ofbeefand a dessert of cherries. Why was this plain fact concealed? Why was theapothecary's attention to be fixed exclusively on the soup? Was it because thetureen was emptyand because the alleged smell of burned arsenic might beaccounted for on the theory that the remains of the soup brought from thedining-room had been thrown on the kitchen fire? But no remains of soup camedown--it had been all consumed by the guests. And what is still more remarkablethe only person in the kitchen (excepting Marie and the nurse) who could notdiscover the smell of burned arsenicwas the person of all others who wasprofessionally qualified to find it out first--the apothecary himself.
After examining the tureen and the platesand stirring up the wood-ashes onthe fireand making no sort of discoveryMonsieur Thierry turned to Marieandasked if she could account for what had happened. She simply replied that sheknew nothing at all about it; and thereupon her mistress and the rest of thepersons present all overwhelmed her together with a perfect torrent ofquestions. The poor girlterrified by the hubbubworn out by a sleepless nightand by the hard work and agitation of the day preceding itburst into anhysterical fit of tearsand was ordered out of the kitchen to lie down andrecover herself. The only person who showed her the least pity and offered herthe slightest attentionwas a servant-girl like herselfwho lived next doorand who stole up to the room in which she was weeping alonewith a cup of warmmilk-and-water to comfort her.
Meanwhile the report had spread in the town that the old manMonsieur DeBeaulieuand the whole Duparc family had been poisoned by their servant. MadameDuparc did her best to give the rumor the widest possible circulation. Entirelyforgettingas it would seemthat she was on her own showing a poisoned womanshe roamed excitably all over the house with an audience of agitated femalefriends at her heels; telling the burned-arsenic story over and over again toevery fresh detachment of visitors that arrived to hear it; and finally leadingthe whole troop of women into the room where Marie was trying to recoverherself. The poor girl was surrounded in a moment; angry faces and shrill voicesmet her on every side; the most insolent questionsthe most extravagantaccusationsassailed her; and not one word that she could say in her owndefense was listened to for an instant. She had sprung up in the bedon herkneesand was frantically entreating for permission to speak in her owndefensewhen a new personage appeared on the sceneand stilled the clamor byhis presence. This individual was a surgeon named Héberta friend of MadameDuparc'swho announced that he had arrived to give the family the benefit ofhis assistanceand who proposed to commence operations by searching theservant's pockets without further delay.
The instant Marie heard him make this proposal she untied her pocketsandgave them to Surgeon Hébert with her own hands. He examined them on the spot.In one he found some copper money and a thimble. In the other (to use his ownwordsgiven in evidence) he discovered "various fragments of breadsprinkled over with some minute substance which was white and shining. He keptthe fragments of breadand left the room immediately without saying aword." By this course of proceeding he gave Marie no chance of stating atthe outset whether she knew of the fragments of bread being in her pocketorwhether she was totally ignorant how they came there. Setting asidefor thepresentthe questionwhether there was really any arsenic on the crumbs atallit would clearly have been showing the unfortunate maid of all work no morethan common justice to have allowed her the opportunity of speaking before thebread was carried away.
It was now seven o'clock in the evening. The next event was the arrival ofanother officious visitor. The new friend in need belonged to the legalprofession--he was an advocate named Friley. Monsieur Friley's legal instinctsled him straightway to a conclusion which seriously advanced the progress ofevents. Having heard the statement of Madame Duparc and her daughterhe decidedthat it was his duty to lodge an information against Marie before the Procuratorof the kingat Caen.
The Procurator of the king isby this timeno stranger to the reader. Hewas the same Monsieur Revel who had taken such an amazingly strong interest inMarie's fortunesand who had strongly advised her to try her luck at Caen. Herethensurelywas a friend found at last for the forlorn maid of all work. Weshall see how Monsieur Revel actedafter Friley's information had been dulylodged.
The French law of the periodandit may be addedthe commonest principlesof justice alsorequired the Procurator to perform certain plain duties as soonas the accusation against Marie had reached his ears.
He wasin the first placebound to proceed immediatelyaccompanied by hisofficial colleagueto the spot where the alleged crime of poisoning wassupposed to have taken place. Arrived thereit was his business to ascertainfor himself the condition of the persons attacked with illness; to hear theirstatements; to examine the roomsthe kitchen utensilsand the familymedicine-chestif there happened to be one in the house; to receive anystatement the accused person might wish to make; to take down her answers to hisquestions; andlastlyto keep anything found on the servant (the bread-crumbsfor instanceof which Surgeon Hébert had coolly taken possession)or anythingfound about the house which it might be necessary to produce in evidencein aposition of absolute securityunder the hand and seal of justice.
These were the plain duties which Monsieur Revelthe Procuratorwasofficially bound to fulfill. In the case of Mariehe not only neglected toperform any one of thembut actually sanctioned a scheme for entrapping herinto prisonby sending a commissary of police to the housein plain clotheswith an order to place her in solitary confinement. To what motive could thisscandalous violation of his duties and of justice be attributed? The last we sawof Monsieur Revelhe was so benevolently disposed toward Marie that hecondescended to advise her about her prospects in lifeand even went the lengthof recommending her to seek for a situation in the very town in which he livedhimself. And now we find him so suddenly and bitterly hostile toward the formerobject of his patronagethat he actually lends the assistance of his highofficial position to sanction an accusation against herinto the truth orfalsehood of which he had not made a single inquiry! Can it be that MonsieurRevel's interest in Marie wasafter allnot of the purest possible kindandthat the unfortunate girl proved too stubbornly virtuous to be taught what thereal end was toward which the attentions of her over-benevolent adviserprivately pointed? There is no evidence attaching to the case (as how shouldthere be?) to prove this. But is there any other explanation of Monsieur Revel'sconduct which at all tends to account for the extraordinary inconsistency of it?
Having received his secret instructionsthe Commissary of Police--a mannamed Bertot--proceeded to the house of Monsieur and Madame Duparcdisguised inplain clothes. His first proceeding was to order Marie to produce the variousplatesdishesand kitchen utensils which had been used at the dinner ofTuesdaythe seventh of August (that being the day on which the poisoning of thecompany was alleged to have taken place). Marie produced a saucepanan earthenvessela stew-panand several platespiled on each otherin one of whichthere were the remains of some soup. These articles Bertot locked up in thekitchen cupboardand took away the key with him. He ought to have taken theadditional precaution of placing a seal on the cup boardso as to prevent anytampering with the lockor any treachery with a duplicate key. But this heneglected to do.
His next proceeding was to tell Marie that the Procurator Revel wished tospeak to herand to propose that she should accompany him to the presence ofthat gentleman forthwith. Not having the slightest suspicion of any treacheryshe willingly consentedand left the house with the Commissary. A friend of theDuparcsnamed Vassolaccompanied them.
Once out of the houseBertot led his unsuspecting prisoner straight to thejail. As soon as she was inside the gateshe informed her that she wasarrestedand proceeded to search her person in the presence of Vassolof thejailer of the prisonand of a woman named Dujardin. The first thing found onher was a little linen bagsewn to her petticoatand containing a species ofreligious charmin the shape of a morsel of the sacramental wafer. Her pocketscame next under review (the pockets which Surgeon Hébert had previouslysearched). A little dust was discovered at the bottom of themwhich was shakenout on paperwrapped up along with the linen bagsealed in one packetandtaken to the Procurator's office. Finallythe woman Dujardin found in Marie'sbosom a little keywhich she readily admitted to be the key of her owncupboard.
The search overone last act of cruelty and injustice was all that remainedto be committed for that day. The unfortunate girl was placed at once insolitary confinement.
CHAPTER III.--THE EVIDENCE.
Thus far the case is one of suspicion only. Waiting until the end of thetrial before we decide on whom that suspicion ought to restlet us now hear theevidence by which the Duparcs and their adherents proceeded to justify theirconspiracy against the liberty and the life of a friendless girl.
Having secured Marie in solitary confinementand having thus left the houseand all that it contained for a whole night at the free disposal of the Duparcsthe Procurator Revel bethought himselfthe morning after the arrest of hisprisonerof the necessity of proceeding with something like officialregularity. He accordingly issued his requisition to the Lieutenant-Criminel toaccompany him to the house of Monsieur Duparcattended by the medical officersand the clerkto inquire into the circumstances under which the suspected deathby poisoning of Monsieur De Beaulieu had taken place. Marie had been imprisonedon the evening of the seventh of Augustand this requisition is dated on themorning of the eighth. The document betrays one remarkable informality. Itmentions the death of Monsieur De Beaulieu; but is absolutely silent on thesubject of the alleged poisoning of seven persons at dinner the next day. Andyet it was this latter circumstance only which first directed suspicion againstMarieand which induced Friley to lodge the information against her on whichthe Procurator was now acting. Probably Monsieur Revel's legal acumen convincedhimat the outsetthat the story of the poisoned dinner was too weak to berelied on.
The officers of the lawaccompanied by the doctorsproceeded to the houseof the Duparcs on the eighth of August. After viewing the body of Monsieur DeBeaulieuthe medical men were directed to open and examine it. They reportedthe discovery in the stomach of a reddishbrick-colored liquidsomewhatresembling the lees of wine. The mucous membrane was detached in some placesand its internal surface was corroded. On examining the reddish liquidtheyfound it to contain a crystallized sedimentwhichon analyzationproved to bearsenic. Upon thisthe doctors delivered it as their opinion that Monsieur DeBeaulieu had been poisonedand that poison had been the cause of his death.
The event having taken this serious turnthe first duty of theLieutenant-Criminel (according to the French law) was to send for the servant onwhom suspicion restedto question herand to confront her with the Duparcs. Hedid nothing of the kind; he made no inquiry after the servant (being probablyunwilling to expose his colleaguethe Procuratorwho had illegally arrestedand illegally imprisoned her); he never examined the kitchen utensils which theCommissary had locked up; he never opened the servant's cupboard with the keythat had been taken from her when she was searched in prison. All he did was toreduce the report of the doctors to writingand to return to his office withhis posse comitatus at his heels.
It was necessary to summon the witnesses and examine them. But the ProcuratorRevel now conveniently remembered the story of the poisoned dinnerand he sentthe Lieutenant-Criminel to examine the Duparcs and their friends at the privateresidence of the familyin consideration of the sick condition of the eaters ofthe adulterated meal. It may be as well to observehere as elsewherethatthese highly indulged personages had none of them been sufficientlyinconvenienced even to go to bedor in any way to alter their ordinary habits.
On the afternoon of the eighththe Lieutenant-Criminel betook himself to thehouse of Monsieur Duparcto collect evidence touching the death by poison ofMonsieur De Beaulieu. The first witness called was Monsieur Duparc.
This gentlemanit will be rememberedwas away from home on Mondaythesixthwhen Monsieur De Beaulieu diedand only returnedat the summons of hiseldest sonat half-past eleven on the forenoon of the seventh. He had nothingto depose connected with the death of his father-in-lawor with the eventswhich might have taken place in the house on the night of the sixth and themorning of the seventh on the other handhe had a great deal to say about thestate of his own stomach after the dinner of the seventh--a species ofinformation not calculated to throw much light on the subject of inquirywhichwas the poisoning of Monsieur De Beaulieu.
The old ladyMadame De Beaulieuwas next examined. She could give noevidence of the slightest importance touching the matter in hand; butlikeMonsieur Duparcshe had something to say on the topic of the poisoned dinner.
Madame Duparc followed on the list of witnesses. The report of herexamination--so thoroughly had she recovered from the effects of the dinner ofthe seventh--ran to a prodigious length. Five-sixths of it related entirely toher own sensations and suspicionsand the sensations and suspicions of herrelatives and friendsafter they had risen from the table. As to the point atissuethe point which affected the libertyand perhaps the lifeof herunfortunate servantshe had so little to say that her testimony may be repeatedhere in her own words:
"The witness (Madame Duparc) deposedthat after Marie had helpedMonsieur De Beaulieu to get upshe (Marie) hastened out for the milkandonher return with itprepared the hasty-puddingtook it herself off the fireand herself poured it out into the plate--then left the kitchen to accompanyMadame De Beaulieu to mass. Four or five minutes after Monsieur De Beaulieu hadeaten the hasty-puddinghe was seized with violent illness."
Short as it isthis statement contains several distinct suppressions of thetruth.
FirstMadame Duparc is wrong in stating that Marie fetched the milkfor itwas the milk-woman who brought it to the house. SecondlyMadame Duparc concealsthe fact that she handed the flour to the servant to make the hasty-pudding.ThirdlyMadame Duparc does not mention that she held the plate for the puddingto be poured intoand took it to her father. Fourthlyand most important ofallMadame Duparc altogether omits to state that she sprinkled saltwith herown handsover the hasty-pudding--although she had expressly informed herservanta day or two beforethat salt was never to be mixed with it. At asubsequent stage of the proceedings she was charged with having salted thehasty-pudding herselfand she could notand did notdeny it.
The examination of Madame Duparc ended the business of the day of the eighth.The next morning the Lieutenant-Criminelas politely attentive as beforereturned to resume his inquiry at the private residence of Monsieur Duparc.
The first witness examined on the second day was Mademoiselle Duparc. Shecarefully followed her mother's lead--saying as little as possible about thepreparation of the hasty-pudding on the morning of Mondayand as much aspossible about the pain suffered by everybody after the dinner of Tuesday.Madame Beauguillotthe next witnessadded her testimonyas to the state ofher own digestive organsafter partaking of the same meal--speaking at suchprodigious length that the poison would appearin her caseto have producedits principal effect (and that of a stimulating kind) on her tongue. Her sonMonsieur De Beauguillotwas next examinedquite uselessly in relation to thedeath by poisonwhich was the object of inquiry. The last witness was MadameDuparc's younger son--the same who had complained of feeling a gritty substancebetween his teeth at dinner. In one important respecthis evidence flatlycontradicted his mother's. Madame Duparc had adroitly connected Monsieur DeBeaulieu's illness with the hasty-puddingby describing the old man as havingbeen taken ill four or five minutes after eating it. Young Duparcon thecontrarydeclared that his grandfather first felt ill at nine o'clock--exactlytwo hours after he had partaken of his morning meal.
With the evidence of this last witnessthe examinations at the privateresidence of Monsieur Duparc ended. Thus farout of the seven personsallrelated to each otherwho had been called as witnessesthree (Monsieur DuparchimselfMadame Beauguillotand her son) had not been in the house on the daywhen Monsieur De Beaulieu died. Of the other fourwho had been present (MadameDe BeaulieuMadame Duparcher son and her daughter)not one deposed to asingle fact tending to fix on Marie any reasonable suspicion of havingadministered poison to Monsieur De Beaulieu.
The remaining witnessescalled before the Lieutenant-Criminelweretwenty-nine in number. Not one of them had been in the house on the Monday whichwas the day of the old man's death. Twenty-six of them had nothing to offer buthearsay evidence on the subject of the events which had taken place atandafterthe dinner of Tuesday. The testimony of the remaining three; namelyofFrileywho had lodged the information against Marie; of Surgeon Hébertwhohad searched her pockets in the house; and of Commiesary Bertotwho hadsearched her for the second timeafter taking her to prison--was the testimonyon which the girl's enemies mainly relied for substantiating their charges bypositively associating her with the possession of arsenic.
Let us see what amount of credit can be attached to the evidence of thesethree witnesses. Friley was the first to be examined. After stating what sharehe had taken in bringing Marie to justice (it will be remembered that he lodgedhis information against her at the instance of Madame Duparcwithout allowingher to say a word in her own defense)he proceeded to depose that he huntedabout the bed on which the girl had lain down to recover herselfand that hediscovered on the mattress seven or eight scattered grains of some substancewhich resembled the powder reported to have been found on the crumbs in herpockets. He added furtherthat on the next dayabout two hours before the bodyof Monsieur De Beaulieu was examinedhe returned to the housesearched underthe bedwith Monsieur Duparc and a soldier named Cauvinand found there fouror five grains more of the same substance which he had discovered on themattress.
Here were two separate portions of poison foundthen. What did Friley dowith them? Did he seal them up immediately in the presence of witnessesandtake them to the legal authorities? Nothing of the sort. On being asked what hedid with the first portionhe replied that he gave it to young MonsieurBeauguillot. Beauguillot's evidence was thereupon referred toand it was foundthat he had never mentioned receiving the packet of powder from Friley. He hadmade himself extremely officious in examining the kitchen utensils; he had beenas anxious as any one to promote the discovery of arsenic; and when he had theopportunity of producing itif Friley were to be believedhe held it backandsaid not one word about the matter. So much for the first portion of themysterious powderand for the credibility of Friley's evidence thus far!
On being questioned as to what he had done with the second portionallegedto have been found under the bedFriley replied that he had handed it to thedoctors who opened the bodyand that they had tried to discover what it was byburning it between two copper pieces. A witness who had been present at thisproceeding declaredon being questionedthat the experiment had been made withsome remains of hasty-pudding scraped out of the saucepan. Here again was acontradictionand hereonce moreFriley's evidence wasto say the least ofitnot to be depended on.
Sergeant Hébert followed. What had he done with the crumbs of breadscattered over with white powder which he had found in Marie's pocket? He hadafter showing them to the company in the drawing-roomexhibited them next tothe apothecaryand handed them afterward to another medical man. Being finallyassured that there was arsenic on the breadhe had sealed up the crumbsandgiven the packet to the legal authorities. When had he done that? On the day ofhis examination as a witness--the fourteenth of August. When did he find thecrumbs? On the seventh. Here was the arsenic in this casethenpassing aboutfrom hand to handand not sealed upfor seven days. Had Surgeon Hébertanything more to say? Yeshe had another little lot of arsenic to hand inwhich a lady-friend of his had told him she had found on Marie's bedand whichlike the first lothad been passed about privately for seven daysfrom hand tohandbefore it was sealed up. To usin these later and better daysit seemshardly credible that the judge should have admitted these two packets inevidence. It isneverthelessthe disgraceful fact that he did so receive them.
Commissary Bertot came next. He and the man named Vassolwho had helped himto entrap Marie into prisonand to search her before she was placed in solitaryconfinementwere examined in successionand contradicted each other on oath inthe flattest manner.
Bertot stated that he had discovered the dust at the bottom of her pockets;had shaken it out on paper; had placed with it the little linen bagcontaininga morsel of the sacramental waferwhich had been sewn to her petticoat; hadsealed the two up in one packet; and had taken the packet to the proper office.Vassolon the other handswore that he had shaken out the pocketsand hadmade up the packet; and that Bertot had done nothing in the matter but lend hisseal. Contradicting each other in these detailsboth agreed that what they hadfound on the girl was inclosed and sealed up in one packetwhich they had leftat the officeneglecting to take such a receipt for it as might haveestablished its identity in writing. At this stage of the proceedings the packetwas sent for. Three packets appeared instead of one! Two were composed of paperand contained dust and a little white powder. The third was the linen bagpresented without any covering at all. Vassolbewildered by the changedeclared that of these three separate objects he could only identify one--thelinen bag. In this caseit was as clear as daylight that somebody must havetampered with the single sealed packet which Bertot and Vassol swore to havingleft at the office. No attempthoweverwas made to investigate thiscircumstance; and the case for the prosecution--so far as the accusation ofpoisoning was concerned--closed with the examination of Bertot and Vassol.
Such was the evidence produced in support of a charge which involved nothingless than the life or death of a human being.
CHAPTER IV.--THE SENTENCE.
While the inquiry was in course of progressvarious details connected withit found their way out-of-doors. The natural sense of justice among the peoplewhich had survived the corruptions of the time was aroused to assert itself onbehalf of the maid of all work. The public voice spoke as loudly as it daredinthose daysin Marie's favorand in condemnation of the conspiracy against her.
People persistedfrom the firstin inquiring how it was that arsenic hadgot into the house of Monsieur Duparc; and rumor answeredin more than onedirectionthat a member of the family had purchased the poison a short timesinceand that there were persons in the town who could prove it. To theastonishment of every oneno steps were taken by the legal authorities to clearup this reportand to establish the truth or the falsehood of itbefore thetrial. Another circumstanceof which also no explanation was attemptedfilledthe public mind with natural suspicion. This was the disappearance of the eldestson of Monsieur and Madame Duparc. On the day of his grandfather's sudden deathhe had been sentas may be rememberedto bring his father back from thecountry; andfrom that time forthhe had never reappeared at the houseandnobody could say what had become of him. Was it not natural to connect togetherthe rumors of purchased poison and the mysterious disappearance of this youngman? Was it not utterly inconsistent with any proceedings conducted in the nameof justice to let these suspicious circumstances existwithout making theslightest attempt to investigate and to explain them?
Butapart from all other considerationsthe charge against Marie wasonthe face of itpreposterously incredible. A friendless young girl arrives at astrange townpossessing excellent testimonials to her characterand gets asituation in a family every member of which is utterly unknown to her until sheenters the house. Established in her new placeshe instantly conceives theproject of poisoning the whole familyand carries it out in five days from thetime when she first took her situationby killing one member of the householdand producing suspicious symptoms of illness in the cases of all the rest. Shecommits this crime having nothing to gain by it; and she is so inconceivablyreckless of detection that she scatters poison about the bed on which she liesdownleaves poison sticking to the crumbs in her pocketsputs those pockets onwhen her mistress tells her to do soand hands them over without a moment'shesitation to the first person who asks permission to search them. What mortalevidence could substantiate such a wild charge as this? How does the evidenceactually presented substantiate it? No shadow of proof that she had purchasedarsenic is offeredto begin with. The evidence against her is evidence whichattempts to associate her with the actual possession of poison. What is itworth? In the first placethe witnesses contradict each other. In the secondplacein no one case in which powdered substances were produced in evidenceagainst her had those powdered substances been so preserved as to prevent theirbeing tampered with. Two packets of the powder pass about from hand to hand forseven days; two have been given to witnesses who can't produce themor accountfor what has become of them; and onewhich the witnesses who made it up swearto as a single packetsuddenly expands into three when it is called for inevidence!
Careless as they were of assuming even the external decencies of justicethelegal authoritiesand their friends the Duparcsfelt that there would be somerisk in trying their victim for her life on such evidence as thisin a largetown like Caen. It was impossible to shift their ground and charge her withpoisoning accidentally; for they either could notor would notaccount onordinary grounds for the presence of arsenic in the house. Andeven if thisdifficulty were overcomeand if it were alleged that arsenic purchased forkilling vermin had been carelessly placed in one of the salt-cellars on thedresserMadame Duparc could not deny that her own hands had salted thehasty-pudding on the Mondayand that her servant had been too ill throughexhaustion to cook the dinner on the Tuesday. Even supposing there were noserious interests of the vilest kind at stake which made the girl's destructiona matter of necessityit was clearly impossible to modify the charge againsther. One other alternative remained--the alternative of adding a secondaccusation which might help to strengthen the firstand to degrade Marie in theestimation of those inhabitants of the town who were now disposed to sympathizewith her.
The poor girl's character was so goodher previous country life had been soharmlessthat no hint or suggestion for a second charge against her could befound in her past history. If her enemies were to succeedit was necessary torely on pure invention. Having hesitated before no extremes of baseness andfalsehoodthus farthey were true to themselves in regard to any vile venturewhich remained to be tried.
A day or two after the examination of the witnesses called to prove thepoisoning had been considered completethe public of Caen were amazed to hearthat certain disclosures had taken place which would render it necessary to tryMarie on a charge of theft as well as of poisoning. She was now not only accusedof the murder of Monsieur De Beaulieubut of robbing her former mistress MadameDumesnil (a relationbe it rememberedof Monsieur Revel's)in the situationshe occupied before she came to Caen; of robbing Madame Duparc; and of robbingthe shop-woman from whom she had bought the piece of orange-colored stuffthepurchase of which is mentioned in an early part of this narrative.
There is no need to hinder the progress of this story by entering intodetails in relation to this second atrocious charge. When the reader is informedthat the so-called evidence in support of the accusation of theft was got up byProcurator Revelby Commissary Bertotand by Madame Duparche will knowbeforehand what importance to attach to itand what opinion to entertain on thequestion of the prisoner's innocence or guilt.
The preliminary proceedings were now considered to be complete. During theirprogress Marie had been formally interrogatedin her prisonby the legalauthorities. Fearful as her situation wasthe poor girl seems to havemaintained self-possession enough to declare her innocence of poisoningand herinnocence of theftfirmly. Her answersit is needless to sayavailed hernothing. No legal help was assigned to her; no such institution as a jury was inexistence in France. Procurator Revel collected the evidenceProcurator Reveltried the caseProcurator Revel delivered the sentence. Need the reader be toldthat Marie's irresponsible judge and unscrupulous enemy had no difficultywhatever in finding her guilty? She had been arrested on the seventh of Augustseventeen hundred and eighty-one. Her doom was pronounced on the seventeenth ofAprilseventeen hundred and eighty-two. Throughout the whole of that intervalshe remained in prison.
The sentence was delivered in the following terms. It was writtenprintedand placarded in Caen; and it is here translated from the original French:
"The Procurator Royal of the Bailiwick and civil and criminal Bench andPresidency of Caenhaving taken cognizance of the documents concerning thetrial specially instituted against Marie Françoise Victoire Salmon accused ofpoisoning; the said documents consisting of an official report of the capture ofthe said Marie Françoise Victoire Salmon on the seventh of August lasttogether with other official reportsetc.
"Requires that the prisoner shall be declared duly convicted:
"I. Of havingon the Monday morning of the sixth of August lastcookedsome hasty-pudding for Monsieur Paisant De Beaulieufather-in-law of MonsieurHuet Duparcin whose house the prisoner had lived in the capacity of servantfrom the first day of the said month of August; and of having put arsenic in thesaid hasty-pudding while cooking itby which arsenic the said Monsieur DeBeaulieu died poisonedabout six o'clock on the same evening.
"II. Of having on the next dayTuesdaythe seventh of August lastputarsenic into the soup which was servedat noonat the table of Monsieur andMadame Duparcher employersin consequence of which all those persons who satat table and ate of the said soup were poisoned and made dangerously illto thenumber of seven.
"III. Of having been discovered with arsenic in her possessionwhicharsenic was found on the said Tuesdayin the afternoonnot only in the pocketsof the prisonerbut upon the mattress of the bed on which she was resting; thesaid arsenic having been recognized as being of the same nature and preciselysimilar to that which the guests discovered to have been put into their soupasalso to that which was found the next dayin the body of the aforesaid MonsieurDe Beaulieuand in the saucepan in which the hasty-pudding had been cookedofwhich the aforesaid Monsieur De Beaulieu had eaten.
"IV. Of being strongly suspected of having put some of the same arsenicinto a plate of cherries which she served to Madame De Beaulieuon the sameTuesday morningand again on the afternoon of the same day at the table ofMonsieur and Madame Duparc.
"V. Of havingat the period of Michaelmasseventeen hundred andeightycommitted different robberies at the house of Monsieur Dumesnilwhereshe lived in the capacity of servantand notably of stealing a sheetof whichshe made herself a petticoat and an apron.
"VI. Of havingat the beginning of the month of August laststoleninthe house of Monsieur Huet Duparcthe different articles enumerated at thetrialand which were found locked up in her cupboard.
"VII. Of being strongly suspected of stealingat the beginning of thesaid month of Augustfrom the woman Lefevrea piece of orange-colored stuff.
"For punishment and reparation of which offenses shethe said MarieFrançoise Victoire Salmonshall be condemned to make atonementin her shiftwith a halter round her neckholding in her hands a burning wax-candle of theweight of two poundsbefore the principal gate and entrance of the church ofSt. Peterto which she shall be taken and led by the executioner of criminalsentenceswho will tie in front of her and behind her back a placardon whichshall be written in large characters these words: Poisoner and Domestic Thief.And therebeing on her kneesshe shall declare that she has wickedly committedthe said robberies and poisoningsfor which she repents and asks pardon of Godand justice. This doneshe shall be led by the said executioner to the squareof the market of Saint Saviour'sto be there fastened to a stake with a chainof ironand to be burned alive; her body to be reduced to ashesand the ashesto be cast to the winds; her goods to be acquired and confiscated to the Kingor to whomsoever else the may belong. Said goods to be charged with fine of tenlivres to the Kingin the event of the confiscation not turning to the profitof his Majesty.
"Requiredadditionallythat the said prisoner shall be previouslysubmitted to the Ordinary and Extraordinary tortureto obtain information ofher accomplicesand notably of those who either sold to her or gave to her thearsenic found in her possession. Order hereby given for the printing andplacarding of this sentence in such places as shall be judged fit. Deliberatedat the barthis seventeenth Aprilseventeen hundred and eighty-two. (Signed)REVEL."
On the next daythe eighteenththis frightful sentence was formallyconfirmed.
The matter had now become publicand no one could prevent the unfortunateprisoner from claiming whatever rights the law still allowed her. She had theprivilege of appealing against her sentence before the Parliament of Rouen. Andshe appealed accordingly; being transferredas directed by the law in suchcasesfrom the prison at Caen to the prison at Rouento await the decision ofthe higher tribunal.
On the seventeenth of day the Rouen Parliament delivered its judgmentandconfirmed the original sentence.
There was some difficultyat firstin making the unhappy girl understandthat her last chance for life had failed her. When the fact that her sentencewas ordered to be carried out was at length impressed on her mindshe sank downwith her face on the prison floor---then started up on her kneespassionatelyshrieking to Heaven to have pity on herand to grant her the justice and theprotection which men denied. Her agitation at the frightful prospect before herwas so violenther screams of terror were so shrill and piercingthat all thepersons connected with the management of the prison hurried together to hercell. Among the number were three priestswho were accustomed to visit theprisoners and to administer spiritual consolation to them. These three menmercifully set themselves to soothe the mental agony from which the poorcreature was suffering. When they had partially quieted herthey soon found herwilling and anxious to answer their questions. They inquired carefully into themain particulars of her sad story; and all three came to the same conclusionthat she was innocent. Seeing the impression she had produced on themshecaughtin her despairat the idea that they might be able to preserve herlife; and the dreadful duty devolved on them of depriving her of this last hope.After the confirmation of the sentenceall that they could do was to provetheir compassion by preparing her for eternity.
On the 26th of daythe priests spoke their last words of comfort to hersoul. She was taken back againto await the execution of her sentence in theprison of Caen. The day was at last fixed for her death by burningand themorning came when the torture-chamber was opened to receive her.
CHAPTER V.--HUSHED UP.
The saddest part of Marie's sad story now remains to be told.
One resource was left herby employing which it was possibleat the lastmomentto avert for a few months the frightful prospect of the torture and thestake. The unfortunate girl might stoopon her sideto use the weapons ofdeception against her enemiesand might defame her own character by pleadingpregnancy. That one miserable alternative was alt that now remained; andin theextremity of mortal terrorwith the shadow of the executioner on her prisonand with the agony of approaching torment and death at her heartthe forlorncreature accepted it. If the law of strict morality must judge her in thismatter without considerationand condemn her without appealthe spirit ofChristian mercy--remembering how sorely she was triedremembering the frailtyof our common humanityremembering the warning word which forbade us to judgeone another--may open its sanctuary of tenderness to a sister in afflictionandmay offer her the tribute of its pitywithout limit and without blame.
The plea of pregnancy was admittedandat the eleventh hourthe period ofthe execution was deferred. On the day when her ashes were to have been cast tothe windsshe was still in her prisona livingbreathing woman. Her limbswere spared from the tortureher body was released from the stakeuntil thetwenty-ninth of Julyseventeen hundred and eighty-two. On that day her reprievewas to endand the execution of her sentence was absolutely to take place.
During the short period of grace which was now to elapsethe situation ofthe friendless girlaccused of such incredible crimes and condemned to so awfula doomwas discussed far and wide in French society. The case became notoriousbeyond the limits of Caen. The report of it spread by way of Rouenfrom mouthto mouthtill it reached Paris; and from Paris it penetrated into the palace ofthe King at Versailles. That unhappy manwhose dreadful destiny it was to paythe penalty which the long and noble endurance of the French people had toomercifully abstained from inflicting on his guilty predecessorshad then latelymounted the fatal steps of the throne. Louis the Sixteenth was sovereign ofFrance when the story of the poor servant-girl obtained its first courtcirculation at Versailles.
The conduct of the Kingwhen the main facts of Marie's case came to hisearsdid all honor to his sense of duty and his sense of justice. He instantlydispatched his royal order to suspend the execution of the sentence. The reportof Marie's fearful situation had reached him so short a time before the periodappointed for her deaththat the royal mandate was only delivered to theParliament of Rouen on the twenty-sixth of July.
The girl's life now hung literally on a thread. An accident happening to thecourierany delay in fulfilling the wearisome official formalities proper tothe occasion--and the execution might have taken its course. The authorities atRouenfeeling that the King's interference implied a rebuke of theirinconsiderate confirmation of the Caen sentencedid their best to setthemselvee right for the future by registering the royal order on the day whenthey received it. The next morningthe twenty-seventhit was sent to Caen; andit reached the authorities there on the twenty-eighth.
That twenty-eighth of Julyseventeen hundred and eighty-twofell on aSunday. Throughout the day and night the order lay in the office unopened.Sunday was a holidayand Procurator Revel was not disposed to occupy it by somuch as five minutes' performance of week-day work. On Mondaythe twenty-ninththe crowd assembled to see the execution. The stake was set upthe soldierswere called outthe executioner was ready. All the preliminary horror of thetorturing and burning was suffered to darken round the miserable prisonerbefore the wretches in authority saw fit to open the message of mercy and todeliver it at the prison-gate.
She was now savedas if by a miraclefor the second time! But the cell doorwas still closed on her. The only chance of ever opening it--the only hope ofpublicly asserting her innocencelay in appealing to the King's justice bymeans of a written statement of her casepresenting it exactly as it stood inall its detailsfrom the beginning at Madame Duparc's to the end in the prisonof Caen. The production of such a document as this was beset with obstacles; thechief of them being the difficulty of gaining access to the voluminous reportsof the evidence given at the trialwhich were only accessible in those days topersons professionally connected with the courts of law. If Marie's case was tobe placed before the Kingno man in France but a lawyer could undertake theduty with the slightest chance of serving the interests of the prisoner and theinterests of truth.
In this disgraceful emergency a man was found to plead the girl's causewhose profession secured to him the privilege of examining the evidence againsther. This man--a barristernamed Lecauchois--not only undertook to prepare astatement of the case from the records of the court--but further devoted himselfto collecting money for Mariefrom all the charitably disposed inhabitants ofthe town. It is to be said to his credit that he honestly faced the difficultiesof his taskand industriously completed the document which he had engaged tofurnish. On the other hand it must be recorded to his shamethat his motiveswere interested throughoutand that with almost incredible meanness he paidhimself for the employment of his time by putting the greater part of the sumwhich he had collected for his client in his own pocket. With her one friendnoless than with all her enemiesit seems to have been Marie's hard fate to seethe worst side of human natureon every occasion when she was brought intocontact with her fellow-creatures.
The statement pleading for the revision of Marie's trial was sent to Paris.An eminent barrister at the Court of Requests framed a petition from ittheprayer of which was granted by the King. Acting under the royal orderthejudges of the Court of Requests furnished themselves with the reports of theevidence as drawn up at Caen; and after examining the whole caseunanimouslydecided that there was good and sufficient reason for the revision of the trial.The order to that effect was not issued to the Parliament of Rouen before thetwenty-fourth of Mayseventeen hundred and eighty-four--nearly two years afterthe King's mercy had saved Marie from the executioner. Who can say how slowlythat longlong time must have passed to the poor girl who was still languishingin her prison?
The Rouen Parliamentfeeling that it was held accountable for itsproceedings to a high court of judicatureacting under the direct authority ofthe King himselfrecognized at lastreadily enoughthat the interests of itsown reputation and the interests of rigid justice were now intimately bound uptogether; and applied itself impartiallyon this occasion at leastto theconsideration of Marie's case.
As a necessary consequence of this change of coursethe authorities of Caenbeganfor the first timeto feel seriously alarmed for themselves. If theParliament of Rouen dealt fairly by the prisonera fatal exposure of the wholeparty would be the certain result. Under these circumstancesProcurator Reveland his friends sent a private requisition to the authorities at Rouenconjuring them to remember that the respectability of their professionalbrethren was at stakeand suggesting that the legal establishment of Marie'sinnocence was the error of all others which it was now most urgently necessaryto avoid. The Parliament of Rouen washoweverfar too cautiousif not toohonestto commit itself to such an atrocious proceeding as was here plainlyindicated. After gaining as much time as possible by prolonging theirdeliberations to the utmostthe authorities resolved on adopting a middlecoursewhichon the one handshouldlot actually establish the prisoner'sinnocenceandon the othershould not publicly expose the disgraceful conductof the prosecution at Caen. Their decreenot issued until the twelfth of Marchseventeen hundred and eighty-fiveannulled the sentence of Procurator Revel ontechnical grounds; suppressed the further publication of the statement ofMarie's casewhich had been drawn out by the advocate Lecauchoisas libeloustoward Monsieur Revel and Madame Duparc; and announced that the prisoner wasordered to remain in confinement until more ample information could be collectedrelating to the doubtful question of her innocence or her guilt. No suchinformation was at all likely to present itself (more especially after the onlyexisting narrative of the case had been suppressed); and the practical effect ofthe decreethereforewas to keep Marie in prison for an indefinite periodafter she had been illegally deprived of her liberty already from Augustseventeen hundred and eighty-oneto Marchseventeen hundred and eighty-five.Who shall say that the respectable classes did not take good care of theirrespectability on the eve of the French Revolution!
Marie's only hope of recovering her freedomand exposing her unscrupulousenemies to the obliquy and the punishment which they richly deservedlay incalling the attention of the higher tribunals of the capital to the cruellycunning decree of the Parliament of Rouen. Accordinglyshe once more petitionedthe throne. The King referred the document to his council; and the councilissued an order submitting the Rouen decree to the final investigation of theParliament of Paris.
At lastthenafter more than three miserable years of imprisonmentthevictim of Madame Duparc and Procurator Revel had burst her way through allintervening obstacles of law and intricacies of officeto the judgment-seat ofthat highest law court in the countrywhich had the final power of ending herlong sufferings and of doing her signal justice on her adversaries of alldegrees. The Parliament of Paris was now to estimate the unutterable wrong thathad been inflicted on her; and the eloquent tongue of one of the first advocatesof that famous bar was to plead her cause openly before Godthe Kingand thecountry.
The pleading of Monsieur Fournel (Marie's counsel) before the Parliament ofParisremains on record. At the outsethe assumes the highest ground for theprisoner. He disclaims all intention of gaining her liberty by taking theobvious technical objections to the illegal and irregular sentences of Caen andRouen. He insists on the necessity of vindicating her innocence legally andmorally before the worldand of obtaining the fullest compensation that the lawallows for the merciless injuries which the original prosecution had inflictedon his client. In pursuance of this designhe then proceeds to examine theevidence of the alleged poisoning and the alleged robberystep by steppointing out in the fullest detail the monstrous contradictions andimprobabilities which have been already briefly indicated in this narrative. Thecourse thus pursuedwith signal clearness and abilityleadsas every one whohas followed the particulars of the case from the beginning will readilyunderstandto a very serious result. The arguments for the defense cannotassert Marie s innocence without shifting the whole weight of suspicionin thematter of Monsieur De Beaulieu's death by poisoningon to the shoulders of hermistressMadame Duparc.
It is necessaryin order to prepare the reader for the extraordinarytermination of the proceedingsto examine this question of suspicion in some ofits most striking details.
The poisoning of Monsieur De Beaulieu may be acceptedin consideration ofthe medical evidenceas a proved factto begin with. The question that remainsiswhether that poisoning was accidental or premeditated. In either casetheevidence points directly at Madame Duparcand leads to the conclusion that shetried to shift the blame of the poisoning (if accidental)and the guilt of it(if premeditated)from herself to her servant.
Suppose the poisoning to have been accidental. Suppose arsenic to have beenpurchased for some legitimate domestic purposeand to have been carelesslyleftin one of the salt-cellarson the dresser--who salts the hasty-pudding?Madame Duparc. Who--assuming that the dinner next day really contained somesmall portion of poisonjust enough to swear by--prepared that dinner? MadameDuparc and her daughterwhile the servant was asleep. Having caused the deathof her fatherand having produced symptoms of illness in herself and herguestsby a dreadful accidenthow does the circumstantial evidence furthershow that Madame Duparc tried to fix the responsibility of that accident on herservant before she openly charged the girl with poisoning.
In the first placeMadame Duparc is the only one of the dinner-party whoattributes the general uneasiness to poison. She not only does thisbut sheindicates the kind of poison usedand declares in the kitchen that it isburned--so as to lead to the inference that the servantwho has removed thedisheshas thrown some of the poisoned food on the fire. Here is a foregoneconclusion on the subject of arsenic in Madame Duparc's mindand an inferencein connection with itdirected at the servant by Madame Duparc's lips. In thesecond placeif any trust at all is to be put in the evidence touching thefinding of arsenic on or about Marie's personthat trust must be reposed in thetestimony of Surgeon Hébertwho first searched the girl. Where does he findthe arsenic and the bread-crumbs? In Marie's pockets. Who takes the mostinexplicably officious notice of such a trifle as Marie's dressat the mostshockingly inappropriate timewhen the father of Madame Duparc lies dead in thehouse? Madame Duparc herself. Who tells Marie to take off her Sunday pocketsand sends her into her own room (which she herself has not entered during thenightand which has been open to the intrusion of any one else in the house) totie on the very pockets in which the arsenic is found? Madame Duparc. Who putthe arsenic into the pockets? Is it jumping to a conclusion to answer oncemore--Madame Duparc?
Thus far we have assumed that the mistress attempted to shift the blame of afatal accident on to the shoulders of the servant. Do the facts bear out thattheoryor do they lead to the suspicion that the woman was a parricideandthat she tried to fix on the friendless country girl the guilt of her dreadfulcrime?
If the poisoning of the hasty-pudding (to begin with) was accidentalthesalting of itthrough which the poisoning wasto all appearanceeffectedmust have been a part of the habitual cookery of the dish. So farhoweverfromthis being the caseMadame Duparc had expressly warned her servant not to usesalt; and only used the salt (or the arsenic) herselfafter asking a questionwhich implied a direct contradiction of her own directionsand theinconsistency of which she made no attempt whatever to explain. Againwhen herfather was taken illif Madame Duparc had been only the victim of an accidentwould she have remained content with no better help than that of an apothecary'sboy? would she not have sentas her father grew worsefor the best medicalassistance which the town afforded? The facts show that she summoned just helpenough barely to save appearancesand no more. The facts show that she betrayeda singular anxiety to have the body laid out as soon as possible after life wasextinct. The facts show that she maintained an unnatural composure on the day ofthe death. These are significant circumstances. They speak for themselvesindependently of the evidence given afterwardin which she and her childcontradicted each other as to the time that elapsed when the old man had eatenhis fatal meal before he was taken ill. Add to these serious facts themysterious disappearance from the house of the eldest sonwhich was neveraccounted for; and the rumor of purchased poisonwhich was never investigated.Considerbesideswhether the attempt to sacrifice the servant's life be notmore consistent with the ruthless determination of a criminalthan with theterror of an innocent woman who shrinks from accepting the responsibility of afrightful accident--and determineat the same timewhether the infinitesimalamount of injury done by the poisoned dinner can be most probably attributed tolucky accidentor to premeditated doctoring of the dishes with just arsenicenough to preserve appearancesand to implicate the servant without tooseriously injuring the company on whom she waited. Give all these seriousconsiderations their due weight; then look back to the day of Monsieur DeBeaulieu's deathand say if Madame Duparc was the victim of a dreadfulaccidentor the perpetrator of an atrocious crime! That she was one or theotherand thatin either caseshe was the originator of the vile conspiracyagainst her servant which these pages disclosewas the conclusion to whichMonsieur Fournel's pleading on his client's behalf inevitably led. That pleadingsatisfactorily demonstrated Marie's innocence of poisoning and theftand herfair claim to the fullest legal compensation for the wrong inflicted on her. Onthe twenty-third of Mayseventeen hundred and eighty-sixthe Parliament ofParis issued its decreedischarging her from the remotest suspicion of guiltreleasing her from her long imprisonmentand authorizing her to bring an actionfor damages against the person or persons who had falsely accused her of murderand theft. The truth had triumphedand the poor servant-girl had found laws toprotect her at last.
Under these altered circumstanceswhat happened to Madame Duparc? Whathappened to Procurator Revel and his fellow-conspirators? What happened to theauthorities of the Parliament of Rouen?
The premonitory rumblings of that great earthquake of nations which historycalls the French Revolution wereat this timealready beginning to makethemselves heard; and any public scandal which affected the wealthier and higherclasses involved a serious social riskthe importance of which no man in Francecould then venture to estimate. If Marie claimed the privilege which a sense ofjusticeor rather a sense of decencyhad forced the Parliament of Paris toconcede to her--andthrough her counselshe did claim it--the consequences ofthe legal inquiry into her case which her demand for damages necessarilyinvolved would probably be the trying of Madame Duparceither for parricide orfor homicide by misadventure; the dismissal of Procurator Revel from thefunctions which he had disgracefully abused; and the suspension from office ofthe authorities at Caen and Rouenwho had in various ways forfeited publicconfidence by aiding and abetting him.
Herethenwas no less a prospect in view than the disgrace of a respectablefamilyand the dishonoring of the highest legal functionaries of two importantprovincial towns! And for what end was the dangerous exposure to be made? Merelyto do justice to the daughter of a common day-laborerwho had been illegallysentenced to torture and burningand illegally confined in prison for nearlyfive years. To make a wholesale sacrifice of her superiorsno matter how wickedthey might befor the sake of giving a mere servant-girl compensation for theundeserved obloquy and misery of many yearswas too preposterous and toosuicidal an act of justice to be thought of for a moment. AccordinglywhenMarie was prepared to bring her action for damagesthe lawyers laid their headstogether in the interests of society. It was found possible to put her out ofcourt at once and foreverby taking a technical objection to the proceedings inwhich she was plaintiff at the very outset. This disgraceful means of escapeonce discoveredthe girl's guilty persecutors instantly took advantage of it.She was formally put out of courtwithout the possibility of any furtherappeal. Procurator Revel and the other authorities retained their distinguishedlegal positions; and the question of the guilt or innocence of Madame Duparcinthe matter of her father's deathremains a mystery which no man can solve tothis day.
After recording this scandalous termination of the legal proceedingsit isgratifying to be able to conclude the story of Marie's unmerited sufferings witha picture of her after-life which leaves an agreeable impression on the mind.
If popular sympathyafter the servant-girl's release from prisoncouldconsole her for the hard measure of injustice under which she had suffered solong and so unavailinglythat sympathy was now offered to her heartily andwithout limit. She became quite a public character in Paris. The people followedher in crowds wherever she went. A subscription was set on footwhichfor thetime at leastsecured her a comfortable independence. Friends rose up in alldirections to show her such attention as might be in their power; and the simplecountry girlwhen she was taken to see the sights of Parisactually beheld herown name placarded in the showmen's billsand her presence advertised as thegreatest attraction that could be offered to the public. Whenin due course oftimeall this excitement had evaporatedMarie married prosperouslyand theGovernment granted her its license to open a shop for the sale of stampedpapers. The last we hear of her isthat she was a happy wife and motherandthat she performed every duty of life in such a manner as to justify the deepinterest which had been universally felt for her by the people of France.
Her story is related herenot only because it seemed to contain someelements of interest in itselfbut also because the facts of which it iscomposed may claim to be of some little historical importanceas helping toexpose the unendurable corruptions of society in France before the Revolution.It may not be amiss for those persons whose historical point of view obstinatelycontracts its range to the Reign of Terrorto look a little further back--toremember that the hard case of oppression here related had beenfor somethinglike one hundred yearsthe case (with minor changes of circumstance) of theforlorn many against the powerful few all over France--and then to considerwhether there was not a reason and a necessitya dreadful last necessityforthe French Revolution. That Revolution has expiatedand is still expiatingitsexcessesby political failureswhich all the world can see. But the socialgood which it indisputably effected remains to this day. Takeas an examplethe administration of justice in France at the present time. Whatever itsshortcomings may still beno innocent Frenchwoman could be treated now as aninnocent Frenchwoman was once treated at a period so little remote from our owntime as the end of the last century.
CASES WORTH LOOKING AT.--III. THE CALDRON OF OIL.
ABOUT one French league distant from the city of Toulouse there is a villagecalled Croix-Daurade. In the military history of Englandthis place isassociated with a famous charge of the Eighteenth Hussarswhich united twoseparated columns of the British army on the day before the Duke of Wellingtonfought the battle of Toulouse. In the criminal history of Francethe village ismemorable as the scene of a daring crimewhich was discovered and punishedunder circumstances sufficiently remarkable to merit preservation in the form ofa plain narrative.
I. THE PERSONS OF THE DRAMA.
In the year seventeen hundredthe resident priest of the village ofCroix-Daurade was Monsieur Pierre-Celestin Chaubard. He was a man of noextraordinary energy or capacitysimple in his habitsand sociable in hisdisposition. His character was irreproachable; he was strictly conscientious inthe performance of his duties; and he was universally respected and beloved byall his parishioners.
Among the members of his flock there was a family named Siadoux. The head ofthe householdSaturnin Siadouxhad been long established in business atCroix-Daurade as an oil manufacturer. At the period of the events now to benarratedhe had attained the age of sixtyand was a widower. His familyconsisted of five children--three young menwho helped him in the businessandtwo daughters. His nearest living relative was his sisterthe widow Mirailhe.
The widow resided principally at Toulouse. Her time in that city was mainlyoccupied in winding up the business affairs of her deceased husbandwhich hadremained unsettled for a considerable period after his deaththrough delays inrealizing certain sums of money owing to his representative. The widow had beenleft very well provided for--she was still a comelyattractive woman--and morethan one substantial citizen of Toulouse had shown himself anxious to persuadeher into marrying for the second time. But the widow Mirailhe lived on terms ofgreat intimacy and affection with her brother Siadoux and his family; she wassincerely attached to themand sincerely unwillingat her ageto deprive hernephews and niecesby a second marriageof the inheritanceor even of aportion of the inheritancewhich would otherwise fall to them on her death.Animated by these motivesshe closed her doors resolutely on all suitors whoattempted to pay their court to herwith the one exception of a master-butcherof Toulousewhose name was Cantegrel.
This man was a neighbor of the widow'sand had made himself useful byassisting her in the business complications which still hung about therealization of her late husband's estate. The preference which she showed forthe master-butcher was thus far of the purely negative kind. She gave him noabsolute encouragement; she would not for a moment admit that there was theslightest prospect of her ever marrying him; butat the same limeshecontinued to receive his visitsand she showed no disposition to restrict theneighborly intercourse between themfor the futurewithin purely formalbounds. Under these circumstancesSaturnin Siadoux began to be alarmedand tothink it time to bestir himself. He had no personal acquaintance with Cantegrelwho never visited the village; and Monsieur Chaubard (to whom he might otherwisehave applied for advice) was not in a position to give an opinion; the priestand the master-butcher did not even know each other by sight. In thisdifficultySiadoux bethought himself of inquiring privately at Toulousein thehope of discovering some scandalous passages in Cantegrel's early life whichmight fatally degrade him in the estimation of the widow Mirailhe. Theinvestigationas usual in such casesproduced rumors and reports in plentythe greater part of which dated back to a period of the butcher's life when hehad resided in the ancient town or Narbonne. One of these rumorsespeciallywas of so serious a nature that Siadoux determined to test the truth orfalsehood of it personally by traveling to Narbonne. He kept his intention asecret not only from his sister and his daughtersbut also from his sons; theywere young mennot overpatient in their tempersand he doubted theirdiscretion. Thusnobody knew his real purpose but himself when he left home.
His safe arrival at Narbonne was notified in a letter to his family. Theletter entered into no particulars relating to his secret errand: it merelyinformed his children of the day when they might expect him backand of certainsocial arrangements which he wished to be made to welcome him on his return. Heproposedon his way hometo stay two days at Castelnaudryfor the purpose ofpaying a visit to an old friend who was settled there. According to this planhis return to Croix-Daurade would be deferred until Tuesdaythe twenty-sixth ofAprilwhen his family might expect to see him about sunsetin good time forsupper. He further desired that a little party of friends might be invited tothe mealto celebrate the twenty-sixth of April (which was a feast-day in thevillage)as well as to celebrate his return. The guests whom he wished to beinvited werefirsthis sister; secondlyMonsieur Chaubardwhose pleasantdisposition made him a welcome guest at all the village festivals; thirdly andfourthlytwo neighborsbusiness men like himselfwith whom he lived on termsof the friendliest intimacy. That was the party; and the family of Siadoux tookespecial painsas the time approachedto provide a supper worthy of theguestswho had all shown the heartiest readiness in accepting theirinvitations.
This was the domestic positionthese were the family prospectson themorning of the twenty-sixth of April--a memorable dayfor years afterwardinthe village of Croix-Daurade.
II. THE EVENTS OF THE DAY.
Besides the curacy of the village churchgood Monsieur Chaubard held someecclesiastical preferment in the cathedral church of St. Stephen at Toulouse.Early in the forenoon of the twenty-sixthcertain matters connected with thispreferment took him from his village curacy to the city--a distance which hasbeen already described as not greater than one French leagueor between two andthree English miles.
After transacting his businessMonsieur Chaubard parted with his clericalbrethrenwho left him by himself in the sacristy (or vestry) of the church.Before he had quitted the roomin his turnthe beadle entered itand inquiredfor the Abbe de Mariotteone of the officiating priests attached to thecathedral.
"The Abbe has just gone out" replied Monsieur Chaubard. "Whowants him?"
"A respectable-looking man" said the beadle. "I thought heseemed to be in some distress of mind when he spoke to me."
"Did he mention his business with the Abbe?"
"Yessir; he expressed himself as anxious to make his confessionimmediately."
"In that case" said Monsieur Chaubard"I may be of use tohim in the Abbe's absencefor I have authority to act here as confessor. Let usgo into the church and see if this person feels disposed to accept myservices."
When they went into the churchthey found the man walking backward andforward in a restlessdisordered manner. His looks were so strikinglysuggestive of some serious mental perturbationthat Monsieur Chaubard found itno easy matter to preserve his composure when he first addressed himself to thestranger.
"I am sorry" he began"that the Abbe de Mariotte is not hereto offer you his services--"
"I want to make my confession" said the manlooking about himvacantlyas if the priest's words had not attracted his attention.
"You can do so at onceif you please" said Monsieur Chaubard."I am attached to this churchand I possess the necessary authority toreceive confessions in it. Perhapshoweveryou are personally acquainted withthe Abbe de Mariotte? Perhaps you would prefer waiting--"
"No!" said the manroughly. "I would as soonor soonerconfess to a stranger."
"In that case" replied Monsieur Chaubard"be so good as tofollow me."
He led the way to the confessional. The beadlewhose curiosity was excitedwaited a littleand looked after them. In a few minutes he saw the curtainswhich were sometimes used to conceal the face of the officiating priestsuddenly drawn. The penitent knelt with his back turned to the church. There wasliterally nothing to see; but the beadle waitedneverthelessin expectation ofthe end.
After a long lapse of time the curtain was withdrawnand priest and penitentleft the confessional.
The change which the interval had worked in Monsieur Chaubard was soextraordinary that the beadle's attention was altogether withdrawnin theinterest of observing itfrom the man who had made the confession. He did notremark by which door the stranger left the church--his eyes were fixed onMonsieur Chaubard. The priest's naturally ruddy face was as white as if he hadjust risen from a long sickness; he looked straight before himwith a stare ofterrorand he left the church as hurriedly as if he had been a man escapingfrom prison; left it without a parting wordor a farewell lookalthough he wasnoted for his courtesy to his inferiors on all ordinary occasions.
"Good Monsieur Chaubard has heard more than he bargained for" saidthe beadlewandering back to the empty confessional with an interest which hehad never felt in it till that moment.
The day wore on as quietly as usual in the village of Croix-Daurade. At theappointed time the supper-table was laid for the guests in the house of SaturninSiadoux. The widow Mirailhe and the two neighbors arrived a little beforesunset. Monsieur Chaubardwho was usually punctualdid not make his appearancewith them; and when the daughters of Saturnin Siadoux looked out from the upperwindowsthey saw no signs on the highroad of their father's return.
Sunset cameand still neither Siadoux nor the priest appeared. The littleparty sat waiting round the tableand waited in vain. Before long a message wassent up from the kitchenrepresenting that the supper must be eaten forthwithor be spoiled; and the company began to debate the two alternatives--of waitingor not waitingany longer.
"It is my belief" said the widow Mirailhe"that my brotheris not coming home to-night. When Monsieur Chaubard joins uswe had better sitdown to supper."
"Can any accident have happened to my father?" asked one of the twodaughtersanxiously.
"God forbid!" said the widow.
"God forbid!" repeated the two neighborslooking expectantly atthe empty supper-table.
"It has been a wretched day for traveling" said Louisthe eldestson.
"It rained in torrents all yesterday" added Thomasthe secondson.
"And your father's rheumatism makes him averse to traveling in wetweather" suggested the widowthoughtfully.
"Very true!" said the first of the two neighborsshaking his headpiteously at his passive knife and fork.
Another message came up from the kitchenand peremptorily forbade thecompany to wait any longer.
"But where is Monsieur Chaubard?" said the widow. "Has he beentaking a journey too? Why is he absent? Has anybody seen him to-day?"
"I have seen him to-day" said the youngest sonwho had not spokenyet. This young man's name was Jean; he was little given to talkingbut he hadproved himselfon various domestic occasionsto be the quickest and mostobservant member of the family.
"Where did you see him?" asked the widow.
"I met him this morningon his way in to Toulouse."
"He has not fallen illI hope? Did he look out of sorts when you methim?"
"He was in excellent health and spirits" said Jean. "I neversaw him look better--"
"And I never saw him look worse" said the second of the neighborsstriking into the conversation with the aggressive fretfulness of a hungry man.
"What! this morning?" cried Jeanin astonishment.
"No; this afternoon" said the neighbor. "I saw him going intoour church here. He was as white as our plates will be--when they come up. Andwhat is almost as extraordinaryhe passed without taking the slightest noticeof me."
Jean relapsed into his customary silence. It was getting dark; the clouds hadgathered while the company had been talking; andat the first pause in theconversationthe rainfalling again in torrentsmade itself drearily audible.
"Deardear me!" said the widow. "If it was not raining sohardwe might send somebody to inquire after good Monsieur Chaubard."
"I'll go and inquire" said Thomas Siadoux. "It's not fiveminutes' walk. Have up the supper; I'll take a cloak with me; and if ourexcellent Monsieur Chaubard is out of his bedI'll bring him backto answerfor himself."
With those words he left the room. The supper was put on the table forthwith.The hungry neighbor disputed with nobody from that momentand the melancholyneighbor recovered his spirits.
On reaching the priest's houseThomas Siadoux found him sitting alone in hisstudy. He started to his feetwith every appearance of the most violent alarmwhen the young man entered the room.
"I beg your pardonsir" said Thomas; "I am afraid I havestartled you."
"What do you want?" asked Monsieur Chaubardin a singularlyabruptbewildered manner.
"Have you forgottensirthat this is the night of our supper?"remonstrated Thomas. "My father has not come backand we can onlysuppose--"
At those words the priest dropped into his chair againand trembled fromhead to foot. Amazed to the last degree by this extraordinary reception of hisremonstranceThomas Siadoux rememberedat the same timethat he had engagedto bring Monsieur Chaubard back with him; and he determined to finish his civilspeech as if nothing had happened.
"We are all of opinion" he resumed"that the weather haskept my father on the road. But that is no reasonsirwhy the supper should bewastedor why you should not make one of usas you promised. Here is a goodwarm cloak--"
"I can't come" said the priest. "I'm ill; I'm in bad spirits;I'm not fit to go out." He sighed bitterlyand hid his face in his hands.
"Don't say thatsir" persisted Thomas. "If you are out ofspiritslet us try to cheer you. And youin your turnwill enliven us. Theyare all waiting for you at home. Don't refusesir" pleaded the young man"or we shall think we have offended you in some way. You have always been agood friend to our family--"
Monsieur Chaubard again rose from his chairwith a second change of manneras extraordinary and as perplexing as the first. His eyes moistened as if thetears were rising in them; he took the hand of Thomas Siadouxand pressed itlong and warmly in his own. There was a curious mixed expression of pity andfear in the look which he now fixed on the young man.
"Of all the days in the year" he saidvery earnestly"don'tdoubt my friendship to-day. Ill as I amI will make one of the supper partyfor your sake--"
"And for my father's sake?" added Thomaspersuasively.
"Let us go to the supper" said the priest.
Thomas Siadoux wrapped the cloak round himand they left the house.
Every one at the table noticed the change in Monsieur Chaubard. He accountedfor it by declaringconfusedlythat he was suffering from nervous illness; andthen added that he would do his bestnotwithstandingto promote the socialenjoyment of the evening. His talk was fragmentaryand his cheerfulness wassadly forced; but he contrivedwith these drawbacksto take his part in theconversation--except in the case when it happened to turn on the absent masterof the house. Whenever the name of Saturnin Siadoux was mentioned--either by theneighborswho politely regretted that he was not presentor by the familywhonaturally talked about the resting-place which he might have chosen for thenight--Monsieur Chaubard either relapsed into blank silenceor abruptly changedthe topic. Under these circumstancesthe companyby whom he was respected andbelovedmade the necessary allowances for his state of health; the only personamong them who showed no desire to cheer the priest's spiritsand to humor himin his temporary fretfulnessbeing the silent younger son of Saturnin Siadoux.
Both Louis and Thomas noticed thatfrom the moment when Monsieur Chaubard'smanner first betrayed his singular unwillingness to touch on the subject oftheir father's absenceJean fixed his eyes on the priest with an expression ofsuspicious attentionand never looked away from him for the rest of theevening. The young man's absolute silence at table did not surprise hisbrothersfor they were accustomed to his taciturn habits. But the sullendistrust betrayed in his close observation of the honored guest and friend ofthe family surprised and angered them. The priest himself seemed once or twiceto be aware of the scrutiny to which he was subjectedand to feel uneasy andoffendedas he naturally might. He abstainedhoweverfrom openly noticingJean's strange behavior; and Louis and Thomas were boundthereforein commonpolitenessto abstain from noticing it also.
The inhabitants of Croix-Daurade kept early hours. Toward eleven o'clockthecompany rose and separated for the night. Except the two neighborsnobody hadenjoyed the supperand even the two neighborshaving eaten their fillwere asglad to get home as the rest. In the little confusion of partingMonsieurChaubard completed the astonishment of the guests at the extraordinary change inhimby slipping away alonewithout waiting to bid anybody good-night.
The widow Mirailhe and her nieces withdrew to their bedroomsand left thethree brothers by themselves in the parlor.
"Jean" said Thomas Siadoux"I have a word to say to you. Youstared at our good Monsieur Chaubard in a very offensive manner all through theevening. What did you mean by it?"
"Wait till to-morrow" said Jean"and perhaps I may tellyou."
He lit his candleand left them. Both the brothers observed that his handtrembledand that his manner--never very winning--was on that night moreserious and more unsociable than usual.
III. THE YOUNGER BROTHER.
When post-time came on the morning of the twenty-seventhno letter arrivedfrom Saturnin Siadoux. On considerationthe family interpreted thiscircumstance in a favorable light. If the master of the house had not written tothemit followedsurelythat he meant to make writing unnecessary byreturning on that day.
As the hours passedthe widow and her nieces looked outfrom time to timefor the absent man. Toward noon they observed a little assembly of peopleapproaching the village. Ere longon a nearer viewthey recognized at the headof the assembly the chief magistrate of Toulousein his official dress. He wasaccompanied by his assessor (also in official dress)by an escort of archersand by certain subordinates attached to the townhall. These last appeared to becarrying some burdenwhich was hidden from view by the escort of archers. Theprocession stopped at the house of Saturnin Siadoux; and the two daughtershastening to the door to discover what had happenedmet the burden which themen were carryingand sawstretched on a litterthe dead body of theirfather.
The corpse had been found that morning on the banks of the river Lers. It wasstabbed in eleven places with knife or dagger wounds. None of the valuablesabout the dead man's person had been touched; his watch and his money were stillin his pockets. Whoever had murdered himhad murdered him for vengeancenotfor gain.
Some time elapsed before even the male members of the family weresufficiently composed to hear what the officers of justice had to say to them.When this result had been at length achievedand when the necessary inquirieshad been madeno information of any kind was obtained which pointed to themurdererin the eye of the law. After expressing his sympathyand promisingthat every available means should be tried to effect the discovery of thecriminalthe chief magistrate gave his orders to his escortand withdrew.
When night camethe sister and the daughters of the murdered man retired tothe upper part of the houseexhausted by the violence of their grief. The threebrothers were left once more alone in the parlorto speak together of the awfulcalamity which had befallen them. They were of hot Southern bloodand theylooked on one another with a Southern thirst for vengeance in their tearlesseyes.
The silent younger son was now the first to open his lips.
"You charged me yesterday" he said to his brother Thomas"with looking strangely at Monsieur Chaubard all the evening; and Iansweredthat I might tell you why I looked at him when to-morrow came.To-morrow has comeand I am ready to tell you."
He waited a littleand lowered his voice to a whisper when he spoke again.
"When Monsieur Chaubard was at our supper-table last night" hesaid"I had it in my mind that something had happened to our fatherandthat the priest knew it."
The two elder brothers looked at him in speechless astonishment.
"Our father has been brought back to us a murdered man!" Jean wentonstill in a whisper. "I tell youLouis--and youThomas--that thepriest knows who murdered him."
Louis and Thomas shrank from their younger brother as if he had spokenblasphemy.
"Listen" said Jean. "No clew has been found to the secret ofthe murder. The magistrate has promised us to do his bestbut I saw in his facethat he had little hope. We must make the discovery ourselvesor our father'sblood will have cried to us for vengeanceand cried in vain. Remember thatandmark my next words. You heard me say yesterday evening that I had met MonsieurChaubard on his way to Toulousein excellent health and spirits. You heard ourold friend and neighbor contradict me at the supper-tableand declare that hehad seen the priestsome hours latergo into our church here with the face ofa panic-stricken man. You sawThomashow he behaved when you went to fetch himto our house. You sawLouiswhat his looks were like when he came in. Thechange was noticed by everybody--what was the cause of it? I saw the cause inthe priest's own face when our father's name turned up in the talk round thesupper-table. Did Monsieur Chaubard join in that talk? He was the only personpresent who never joined in it once. Did he change it on a sudden whenever itcame his way? It came his way four times; and four times he changedit--tremblingstammeringturning whiter and whiterbut stillas true as theheaven above usshifting the talk off himself every time! Are you men? Have youbrains in your heads? Don't you seeas I seewhat this leads to? On mysalvation I swear it--the priest knows the hand that killed our father!"
The faces of the two elder brothers darkened vindictivelyas the convictionof the truth fastened itself on their minds.
"How could he know it?" they inquiredeagerly.
"He must tell us himself" said Jean.
"And if he hesitates--if he refuses to open his lips?"
"We must open them by main force."
They drew their chairs together after that last answerand consulted forsome time in whispers.
When the consultation was overthe brothers rose and went into the roomwhere the dead body of their father was laid out. The three kissed himin turnon the forehead--then took hands togetherand looked meaningly in each other'sfaces--then separated. Louis and Thomas put on their hatsand went at once tothe priest's residence; while Jean withdrew by himself to the great room at theback of the housewhich was used for the purposes of the oil factory.
Only one of the workmen was left in the place. He was watching an immensecaldron of boiling linseed-oil.
"You can go home" said Jeanpatting the man kindly on theshoulder. "There is no hope of a night's rest for meafter the afflictionthat has befallen us; I will take your place at the caldron. Go homemy goodfellow--go home."
The man thanked himand withdrew. Jean followedand satisfied himself thatthe workman had really left the house. He then returnedand sat down by theboiling caldron.
MeanwhileLouis and Thomas presented themselves at the priest's house. Hehad not yet retired to bedand he received them kindlybut with the sameextraordinary agitation in his face and manner which had surprised all who sawhim on the previous day. The brothers were prepared beforehand with an answerwhen he inquired what they wanted of him. They replied immediately that theshock of their father's horrible death had so seriously affected their aunt andtheir elder sisterthat it was feared the minds of both might give wayunlessspiritual consolation and assistance were afforded to them that night. Theunhappy priest--always faithful and self-sacrificing where the duties of hisministry were in question--at once rose to accompany the young men back to thehouse. He even put on his surpliceand took the crucifix with himto impresshis words of comfort all the more solemnly on the afflicted women whom he wascalled on to succor.
Thus innocent of all suspicion of the conspiracy to which he had fallen avictimhe was taken into the room where Jean sat waiting by the caldron of oiland the door was locked behind him.
Before he could speakThomas Siadoux openly avowed the truth.
"It is we three who want you" he said; "not our auntand notour sister. If you answer our questions trulyyou have nothing to fear. If yourefuse--" He stoppedand looked toward Jean and the boiling caldron.
Neverat the best of timesa resolute man; deprivedsince the day beforeof such resources of energy as he possessedby the mental suffering which hehad undergone in secretthe unfortunate priest trembled from head to foot asthe three brothers closed round him. Louis took the crucifix from himand heldit; Thomas forced him to place his right hand on it; Jean stood in front of himand put the questions.
"Our father has been brought home a murdered man" he said."Do you know who killed him?"
The priest hesitatedand the two elder brothers moved him nearer to thecaldron.
"Answer uson peril of your life" said Jean. "Saywith yourhand on the blessed crucifixdo you know the man who killed our father?"
"I do know him."
"When did you make the discovery?"
"Name the murderer."
At those words the priest closed his hand fast on the crucifixand ralliedhis sinking courage.
"Never!" he saidfirmly. "The knowledge I possess wasobtained in the confessional. The secrets of the confessional are sacred. If Ibetray themI commit sacrilege. I will die first!"
"Think!" said Jean. "If you keep silenceyou screen themurderer. If you keep silenceyou are the murderer's accomplice. We have swornover our father's dead body to avenge him; if you refuse to speakwe willavenge him on you. I charge you againname the man who killed him."
"I will die first" the priest reiteratedas firmly as before.
"Diethen!" said Jean. "Die in that caldron of boilingoil."
"Give him time" cried Louis and Thomasearnestly pleadingtogether.
"We will give him time" said the younger brother. "There isthe clock yonderagainst the wall. We will count five minutes by it. In thosefive minuteslet him make his peace with Godor make up his mind tospeak."
They waitedwatching the clock. In that dreadful intervalthe priestdropped on his knees and hid his face. The time passed in dead silence.
"Speak! for your own sakefor our sakesspeak!" said ThomasSiadouxas the minute-hand reached the point at which the five minutes expired.
The priest looked up; his voice died away on his lips; the mortal agony brokeout on his face in great drops of sweat; his head sank forward on his breast.
"Lift him!" cried Jeanseizing the priest on one side. "Lifthimand throw him in!"
The two elder brothers advanced a stepand hesitated.
"Lift himon your oath over our father's body!"
The two brothers seized him on the other side. As they lifted him to a levelwith the caldronthe horror of the death that threatened him burst from thelips of the miserable man in a scream of terror. The brothers held him firm atthe caldron's edge. "Name the man!" they said for the last time.
The priest's teeth chattered--he was speechless. But he made a sign with hishead--a sign in the affirmative. They placed him in a chairand waitedpatiently until he was able to speak.
His first words were words of entreaty. He begged Thomas Siadoux to give himback the crucifix. When it was placed in his possessionhe kissed itand saidfaintly: "I ask pardon of God for the sin that I am about to commit."He pausedand then looked up at the younger brotherwho still stood in frontof him. "I am ready" he said. "Question meand I willanswer."
Jean repeated the questions which he had put when the priest was firstbrought into the room.
"You know the murderer of our father?"
"I know him."
"Since he made his confession to me yesterday in the Cathedral ofToulouse."
"His name is Cantegrel."
"The man who wanted to marry our aunt?"
"What brought him to the confessional?"
"His own remorse."
"What were the motives for his crime?"
"There were reports against his characterand he discovered that yourfather had gone privately to Narbonne to make sure that they were true."
"Did our father make sure of their truth?"
"Would those discoveries have separated our aunt from Cantegrel if ourfather had lived to tell her of them?"
"They would. If your father had livedhe would have told your aunt thatCantegrel was married already; that he had deserted his wife at Narbonne; thatshe was living there with another manunder another name; and that she hadherself confessed it in your father's presence."
"Where was the murder committed?"
"Between Villefranche and this village. Cantegrel had followed yourfather to Narbonneand had followed him back again to Villefranche. As far asthat placehe traveled in company with othersboth going and returning. BeyondVillefranchehe was left alone at the ford over the river. There Cantegrel drewthe knife to kill him before he reached home and told his news to youraunt."
"How was the murder committed?"
"It was committed while your father was watering his pony by the bank ofthe stream. Cantegrel stole on him from behindand struck him as he wasstooping over the saddle-bow."
"This is the truthon your oath?"
"On my oathit is the truth."
"You may leave us."
The priest rose from his chair without assistance. From the time when theterror of death had forced him to reveal the murderer's name a great change hadpassed over him. He had given his answers with the immovable calmness of a manon whose mind all human interests had lost their hold. He now left the roomstrangely absorbed in himself; moving with the mechanical regularity of asleep-walker; lost to all perception of things and persons about him. At thedoor he stopped--wokeas it seemedfrom the trance that possessed him--andlooked at the three brothers with a steadychangeless sorrowwhich they hadnever seen in him beforewhich they never afterward forgot.
"I forgive you" he saidquietly and solemnly. "Pray for mewhen my time comes."
With those last wordshe left them.
IV. THE END.
The night was far advanced; but the three brothers determined to set forthinstantly for Toulouseand to place their information in the magistrate's handsbefore the morning dawned.
Thus far no suspicion had occurred to them of the terrible consequences whichwere to follow their night-interview with the priest. They were absolutelyignorant of the punishment to which a man in holy orders exposed himselfif herevealed the secrets of the confessional. No infliction of that punishment hadbeen known in their neighborhood; for at that timeas at thisthe rarest ofall priestly offenses was a violation of the sacred trust confided to theconfessor by the Roman Church. Conscious that they had forced the priest intothe commission of a clerical offensethe brothers sincerely believed that theloss of his curacy would be the heaviest penalty which the law could exact fromhim. They entered Toulouse that nightdiscussing the atonement which they mightoffer to Monsieur Chaubardand the means which they might best employ to makehis future easy to him.
The first disclosure of the consequences which would certainly follow theoutrage they had committedwas revealed to them when they made their depositionbefore the officer of justice. The magistrate listened to their narrative withhorror vividly expressed in his face and manner.
"Better you had never been born" he said"than have avengedyour father's death as you three have avenged it. Your own act has doomed theguilty and the innocent to suffer alike."
Those words proved prophetic of the truth. The end came quicklyas thepriest had foreseen itwhen he spoke his parting words.
The arrest of Cantegrel was accomplished without difficulty the next morning.In the absence of any other evidence on which to justify this proceedingtheprivate disclosure to the authorities of the secret which the priest hadviolated became inevitable. The Parliament of Languedoc wasunder thesecircumstancesthe tribunal appealed to; and the decision of that assemblyimmediately ordered the priest and the three brothers to be placed inconfinementas well as the murderer Cantegrel. Evidence was then immediatelysought forwhich might convict this last criminal without any reference to therevelation that had been forced from the priest--and evidence enough was foundto satisfy judges whose minds already possessed the foregone certainty of theprisoner's guilt. He was put on his trialwas convicted of the murderand wascondemned to be broken on the wheel. The sentence was rigidly executedwith aslittle delay as the law would permit.
The cases of Monsieur Chaubardand of the three sons of Siadouxnestoccupied the judges. The three brothers were found guilty of having forced thesecret of a confession from a man in holy ordersand were sentenced to death byhanging. A far more terrible expiation of his offense awaited the unfortunatepriest. He was condemned to have his limbs broken on the wheeland to beafterwardwhile still livingbound to the stake and destroyed by fire.
Barbarous as the punishments of that period wereaccustomed as thepopulation was to hear of their inflictionand even to witness itthesentences pronounced in these two cases dismayed the public mind; and theauthorities were surprised by receiving petitions for mercy from Toulouseandfrom all the surrounding neighborhood. But the priest's doom had been sealed.All that could be obtainedby the intercession of persons of the highestdistinctionwasthat the executioner should grant him the mercy of deathbefore his body was committed to the flames. With this one modificationthesentence was executedas the sentence had been pronouncedon the curate ofCroix-Daurade.
The punishment of the three sons of Siadoux remained to be inflicted. But thepeopleroused by the death of the ill-fated priestrose against this thirdexecution with a resolution before which the local government gave way. Thecause of the young men was taken up by the hot-blooded populaceas the cause ofall fathers and all sons; their filial piety was exalted to the skies; theiryouth was pleaded in their behalf; their ignorance of the terribleresponsibility which they had confronted in forcing the secret from the priestwas loudly alleged in their favor. More than thisthe authorities were actuallywarned that the appearance of the prisoners on the scaffold would be the signalfor an organized revolt and rescue. Under this serious pressurethe executionwas deferredand the prisoners were kept in confinement until the popularferment had subsided.
The delay not only saved their livesit gave them back their liberty aswell. The infection of the popular sympathy had penetrated through the prisondoors. All three brothers were handsomewell-grown young men. The gentlest ofthe three in disposition--Thomas Siadoux--aroused the interest and won theaffection of the head-jailer's daughter. Her father was prevailed on at herintercession to relax a little in his customary vigilance; and the rest wasaccomplished by the girl herself. One morning the population of Toulouse heardwith every testimony of the most extravagant rejoicingthat the three brothershad escapedaccompanied by the jailer's daughter. As a necessary legalformalitythey were pursuedbut no extraordinary efforts were used to overtakethem; and they succeededaccordinglyin crossing the nearest frontier.
Twenty days laterorders were received from the capital to execute theirsentence in effigy. They were then permitted to return to Franceon conditionthat they never again appeared in their native placeor in any other part ofthe province of Languedoc. With this reservation they were left free to livewhere they pleasedand to repent the fatal act which had avenged them on themurderer of their father at the cost of the priest's life.
Beyond this point the official documents do not enable us to follow theircareer. All that is now known has been now told of the village tragedy atCroix-Daurade.