An Historical Mystery
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 5
use in murdering the Councillor of State; but we can't take you up for
that--plenty of intention, but no witnesses. You managed, I don't know
how, to stupefy Violette, and you and your wife and that young rascal
of yours spent the night out of doors to warn Mademoiselle de Cinq-
Cygne and save her cousins, whom you are hiding here,--though I don't
as yet know where. Your son or your wife threw the corporal off his
horse cleverly enough. Well, you've got the better of us just now;
you're a devil of a fellow. But the end is not yet, and you won't have
the last word. Hadn't you better compromise? your masters would be the
better for it."
"Come this way, where we can talk without being overheard," said
Michu, leading the way through the park to the pond.
When Corentin saw the water he looked fixedly at Michu, who was no
doubt reckoning on his physical strength to fling the spy into seven
feet of mud below three feet of water. Michu replied with a look that
was not less fixed. The scene was absolutely as if a cold and flabby
boa constrictor had defied one of those tawny, fierce leopards of
"I am not thirsty," said Corentin, stopping short at the edge of the
field and putting his hand into his pocket to feel for his dagger.
"We shall never come to terms," said Michu, coldly.
"Mind what you're about, my good fellow; the law has its eye upon
"If the law can't see any clearer than you, there's danger to every
one," said the bailiff.
"Do you refuse?" said Corentin, in a significant tone.
"I'd rather have my head cut off a thousand times, if that could be
done, than come to an agreement with such a villain as you."
Corentin got into his vehicle hastily, after one more comprehensive
look at Michu, the lodge, and Couraut, who barked at him. He gave
certain orders in passing through Troyes, and then returned to Paris.
All the brigades of gendarmerie in the neighborhood received secret
instructions and special orders.
During the months of December, January, and February the search was
active and incessant, even in remote villages. Spies were in all the
taverns. Corentin learned some important facts: a horse like that of
Michu had been found dead in the neighborhood of Lagny; the five
horses burned in the forest of Nodesme had been sold, for five hundred
francs each, by farmers and millers to a man who answered to the
description of Michu. When the decree against the accomplices and
harborers of Georges was put in force Corentin confined his search to
the forest of Nodesme. After Moreau, the royalists, and Pichegru were
arrested no strangers were ever seen about the place.
Michu lost his situation at that time; the notary of Arcis brought him
a letter in which Malin, now made senator, requested Grevin to settle
all accounts with the bailiff and dismiss him. Michu asked and
obtained a formal discharge and became a free man. To the great
astonishment of the neighborhood he went to live at Cinq-Cygne, where
Laurence made him the farmer of all the reserved land about the
chateau. The day of his installation as farmer coincided with the
fatal day of the death of the Duc d'Enghien, when nearly the whole of
France heard at the same time of the arrest, trial, condemnation, and
death of the prince,--terrible reprisals, which preceded the trial of
Polignac, Riviere, and Moreau.
ONE AND THE SAME, YET A TWO-FOLD LOVE
While the new farm-house was being built Michu the Judas, so-called,
and his family occupied the rooms over the stables at Cinq-Cygne on
the side of the chateau next to the famous breach. He bought two
horses, one for himself and one for Francois, and they both joined
Gothard in accompanying Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne in her many rides,
which had for their object, as may well be imagined, the feeding of
the four gentlemen and perpetual watching that they were still in
safety. Francois and Gothard, assisted by Couraut and the countess's
dogs, went in front and beat the woods all around the hiding-place to
make sure that there was no one within sight. Laurence and Michu
carried the provisions which Marthe, her mother, and Catherine
prepared, unknown to the other servants of the household so as to
restrict the secret to themselves, for all were sure that there were
spies in the village. These expeditions were never made oftener than
twice a week and on different days and at different hours, sometimes
by day, sometimes by night.
These precautions lasted until the trial of Riviere, Polignac, and
Moreau ended. When the senatus-consultum, which called the dynasty of
Bonaparte to the throne and nominated Napoleon as Emperor of the
French, was submitted to the French people for acceptance Monsieur
d'Hauteserre signed the paper Goulard brought him. When it was made
known that the Pope would come to France to crown the Emperor,
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne no longer opposed the general desire that
her cousins and the young d'Hauteserres should petition to have their
names struck off the list of /emigres/, and be themselves reinstated
in their rights as citizens. On this, old d'Hauteserre went to Paris
and consulted the ci-devant Marquis de Chargeboeuf who knew
Talleyrand. That minister, then in favor, conveyed the petition to
Josephine, and Josephine gave it to her husband, who was addressed as
Emperor, Majesty, Sire, before the result of the popular vote was
known. Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, Monsieur d'Hauteserre, and the Abbe
Goujet, who also went to Paris, obtained an interview with Talleyrand,
who promised them his support. Napoleon had already pardoned several
of the principal actors in the great royalist conspiracy; and yet,
though the four gentlemen were merely suspected of complicity, the
Emperor, after a meeting of the Council of State, called the senator
Malin, Fouche, Talleyrand, Cambaceres, Lebrun, and Dubois, prefect of
police, into his cabinet.
"Gentlemen," said the future Emperor, who still wore the dress of the
First Consul, "we have received from the Sieurs de Simeuse and
d'Hauteserre, officers in the army of the Prince de Conde, a request
to be allowed to re-enter France."
"They are here now," said Fouche.
"Like many others whom I meet in Paris," remarked Talleyrand.
"I think you have not met these gentlemen," said Malin, "for they are
hidden in the forest of Nodesme, where they consider themselves at
He was careful not to tell the First Consul and Fouche how he himself
had given them warning, by talking with Grevin within hearing of
Michu, but he made the most of Corentin's reports and convinced
Napoleon that the four gentlemen were sharers in the plot of Riviere
and Polignac, with Michu for an accomplice. The prefect of police
confirmed these assertions.
"But how could that bailiff know that the conspiracy was discovered?"
said the prefect, "for the Emperor and the council and I were the only
persons in the secret."
No one paid attention to this remark.
"If they have been hidden in that forest for the last seven months and
you have not been able to find them," said the Emperor to Fouche,
"they have expiated their misdeeds."
"Since they are my enemies as well," said Malin, frightened by the
Emperor's clear-sightedness, "I desire to follow the magnanimous
example of your Majesty; I therefore make myself their advocate and
ask that their names be stricken from the list of /emigres/."
"They will be less dangerous to you here than if they are exiled; for
they will now have to swear allegiance to the Empire and the laws,"
said Fouche, looking at Malin fixedly.
"In what way are they dangerous to the senator?" asked Napoleon.
Talleyrand spoke to the Emperor for some minutes in a low voice. The
reinstatement of the Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre appeared to
"Sire," said Fouche, "rely upon it, you will hear of those men again."
Talleyrand, who had been urged by the Duc de Grandlieu, gave the
Emperor pledges in the name of the young men on their honor as
gentlemen (a term which had great fascination for Napoleon), to
abstain from all attacks upon his Majesty and to submit themselves to
his government in good faith.
"Messieurs d'Hauteserre and de Simeuse are not willing to bear arms
against France, now that events have taken their present course," he
said, aloud; "they have little sympathy, it is true, with the Imperial
government, but they are just the men that your Majesty ought to
conciliate. They will be satisfied to live on French soil and obey the
Then he laid before the Emperor a letter he had received from the
brothers in which these sentiments were expressed.
"Anything so frank is likely to be sincere," said the Emperor,
returning the letter and looking at Lebrun and Cambaceres. "Have you
any further suggestions?" he asked of Fouche.
"In your Majesty's interests," replied the future minister of police,
"I ask to be allowed to inform these gentlemen of their reinstatement
--when it is /really granted/," he added, in a louder tone.
"Very well," said Napoleon, noticing an anxious look on Fouche's face.
The matter did not seem positively decided when the Council rose; but
it had the effect of putting into Napoleon's mind a vague distrust of
the four young men. Monsieur d'Hauteserre, believing that all was
gained, wrote a letter announcing the good news. The family at Cinq-
Cygne were therefore not surprised when, a few days later, Goulard
came to inform the countess and Madame d'Hauteserre that they were to
send the four gentlemen to Troyes, where the prefect would show them
the decree reinstating them in their rights and administer to them the
oath of allegiance to the Empire and the laws. Laurence replied that
she would send the notification to her cousins and the Messieurs
"Then they are not here?" said Goulard.
Madame d'Hauteserre looked anxiously after Laurence, who left the room
to consult Michu. Michu saw no reason why the young men should not be
released at once from their hiding-place. Laurence, Michu, his son,
and Gothard therefore started as soon as possible for the forest,
taking an extra horse, for the countess resolved to accompany her
cousins to Troyes and return with them. The whole household, made
aware of the good news, gathered on the lawn to witness the departure
of the happy cavalcade. The four young men issued from their long
confinement, mounted their horses, and took the road to Troyes,
accompanied by Mademoiselle Cinq-Cygne. Michu, with the help of his
son and Gothard, closed the entrance to the cellar, and started to
return home on foot. On the way he recollected that he had left the
forks and spoons and a silver cup, which the young men had been using,
in the cave, and he went back for them alone. When he reached the edge
of the pond he heard voices, and went straight to the entrance of the
cave through the brushwood.
"Have you come for your silver?" said Peyrade, showing his big red
nose through the branches.
Without knowing why, for at any rate his young masters were safe,
Michu felt a sharp agony in all his joints, so keen was the sense of
vague, indefinable coming evil which took possession of him; but he
went forward at once, and found Corentin on the stairs with a taper in
"We are not very harsh," he said to Michu; "we might have seized your
ci-devants any day for the last week; but we knew they were reinstated
--You're a tough fellow to deal with, and you gave us too much trouble
not to make us anxious to satisfy our curiosity about this hiding-
place of yours."
"I'd give something," cried Michu, "to know how and by whom we have
"If that puzzles you, old fellow," said Peyrade, laughing, "look at
your horses' shoes, and you'll see that you betrayed yourselves."
"Well, there need be no rancor!" said Corentin, whistling for the
captain of gendarmerie and their horses.
"So that rascally Parisian blacksmith who shoed the horses in the
English fashion and left Cinq-Cygne only the other day was their spy!"
thought Michu. "They must have followed our tracks when the ground was
damp. Well, we're quits now!"
Michu consoled himself by thinking that the discovery was of no
consequence, as the young men were now safe, Frenchmen once more, and
at liberty. Yet his first presentiment was a true one. The police,
like the Jesuits, have the one virtue of never abandoning their
friends or their enemies.
Old d'Hauteserre returned from Paris and was more than surprised not
to be the first to bring the news. Durieu prepared a succulent dinner,
the servants donned their best clothes, and the household impatiently
awaited the exiles, who arrived about four o'clock, happy,--and yet
humiliated, for they found they were to be under police surveillance
for two years, obliged to present themselves at the prefecture every
month and ordered to remain in the commune of Cinq-Cygne during the
said two years. "I'll send you the papers for signature," the prefect
said to them. "Then, in the course of a few months, you can ask to be
relieved of these conditions, which are imposed on all of Pichegru's
accomplices. I will back your request."
These restrictions, fairly deserved, rather dispirited the young men,
but Laurence laughed at them.
"The Emperor of the French," she said, "was badly brought up; he has
not yet acquired the habit of bestowing favors graciously."
The party found all the inhabitants of the chateau at the gates, and a
goodly proportion of the people of the village waiting on the road to
see the young men, whose adventures had made them famous throughout
the department. Madame d'Hauteserre held her sons to her breast for a
long time, her face covered with tears; she was unable to speak and
remained silent, though happy, through a part of the evening. No
sooner had the Simeuse twins dismounted than a cry of surprise arose
on all sides, caused by their amazing resemblance,--the same look, the
same voice, the same actions. They both had the same movement in
rising from their saddles, in throwing their leg over the crupper of
their horses when dismounting, in flinging the reins upon the animal's
neck. Their dress, precisely the same, contributed to this likeness.
They wore boots /a la/ Suwaroff, made to fit the instep, tight
trousers of white leather, green hunting-jackets with metal buttons,
black cravats, and buckskin gloves. The two young men, just thirty-one
years of age, were--to use a term in vogue in those days--charming
cavaliers, of medium height but well set up, brilliant eyes with long
lashes, floating in liquid like those of children, black hair, noble
brows, and olive skin. Their speech, gentle as that of a woman, fell
graciously from their fresh red lips; their manners, more elegant and
polished than those of the provincial gentlemen, showed that knowledge
of men and things had given them that supplementary education which
makes its possessor a man of the world.
Not lacking money, thanks to Michu, during their emigration, they had
been able to travel and be received at foreign courts. Old
d'Hauteserre and the abbe thought them rather haughty; but in their
present position this may have been the sign of nobility of character.
They possessed all the eminent little marks of a careful education, to
which they added a wonderful dexterity in bodily exercises. Their only
dissimilarity was in the region of ideas. The youngest charmed others
by his gaiety, the eldest by his melancholy; but the contrast, which
was purely spiritual, was not at first observable.
"Ah, wife," whispered Michu in Marthe's ear, "how could one help
devoting one's self to those young fellows?"
Marthe, who admired them as a wife and mother, nodded her head
prettily and pressed her husband's hand. The servants were allowed to
kiss their new masters.
During their seven months' seclusion in the forest (which the young
men had brought upon themselves) they had several times committed the
imprudence of taking walks about their hiding-place, carefully guarded
by Michu, his son, and Gothard. During these walks, taken usually on
starlit nights, Laurence, reuniting the thread of their past and
present lives, felt the utter impossibility of choosing between the
brothers. A pure and equal love for each divided her heart. She
fancied indeed that she had two hearts. On their side, the brothers
dared not speak to themselves of their impending rivalry. Perhaps all
three were trusting to time and accident. The condition of her mind on
this subject acted no doubt upon Laurence as they entered the house,
for she hesitated a moment, and then took an arm of each as she
entered the salon followed by Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, who
were occupied with their sons. Just then a cheer burst from the
servants, "Long live the Cinq-Cygne and the Simeuse families!"
Laurence turned round, still between the brothers, and made a charming
gesture of acknowledgement
When these nine persons came to actually observe each other,--for in
all meetings, even in the bosom of families, there comes a moment when
friends observe those from whom they have been long parted,--the first
glance which Adrien d'Hauteserre cast upon Laurence seemed to his
mother and to the abbe to betray love. Adrien, the youngest of the
d'Hauteserres, had a sweet and tender soul; his heart had remained
adolescent in spite of the catastrophes which had nerved the man. Like
many young heroes, kept virgin in spirit by perpetual peril, he was
daunted by the timidities of youth. In this he was very different from
his brother, a man of rough manners, a great hunter, an intrepid
soldier, full of resolution, but coarse in fibre and without activity
of mind or delicacy in matters of the heart. One was all soul, the
other all action; and yet they both possessed in the same degree that
sense of honor which is the vital essence of a gentleman. Dark, short,
slim and wiry, Adrien d'Hauteserre gave an impression of strength;
whereas Robert, who was tall, pale and fair, seemed weakly. Adrien,
nervous in temperament, was stronger in soul; while his brother though
lymphatic, was fonder of bodily exercise. Families often present these
singularities of contrast, the causes of which it might be interesting
to examine; but they are mentioned here merely to explain how it was
that Adrien was not likely to find a rival in his brother. Robert's
affection for Laurence was that of a relation, the respect of a noble
for a girl of his own caste. In matters of sentiment the elder
d'Hauteserre belonged to the class of men who consider woman as an
appendage to man, limiting her sphere to the physical duties of
maternity; demanding perfection in that respect, but regarding her
mentally as of no account. To such men the admittance of woman as an
actual sharer in society, in the body politic, in the family, meant
the subversion of the social system. In these days we are so far
removed from this theory of primitive people that almost all women,
even those who do not desire the fatal emancipation offered by the new
sects, will be shocked in merely hearing of it; but it must be owned
that Robert d'Hauteserre had the misfortune to think in that way.
Robert was a man of the middle-ages, Adrien a man of to-day. These
differences instead of hindering their affection had drawn its bonds
the closer. On the first evening after the return of the young men
these shades of character were caught and understood by the abbe,
Mademoiselle Goujet, and Madame d'Hauteserre, who, while playing their
boston, were secretly foreseeing the difficulties of the future.
At twenty-three years of age, having passed through the many
reflections of a long solitude and the anguish of a defeated
enterprise, Laurence had become a woman, and felt within her an
absorbing desire for affection. She now put forth all her graces of
her mind and was charming; she revealed the hidden beauties of her
tender heart with the simple candor of a child. For the last thirteen
years she had been a woman only through suffering; she longed to
obtain amends for it, and she showed herself as loving and winning as
she had been, up to this time, strong and great.
The four elders, who were the last to leave the salon that night,
admitted to each other that they felt uneasy at the new position of
this charming girl. What power might not passion have on a young woman
of her character and with her nobility of soul? The twin brothers
loved her with one and the same love and a blind devotion; which of
the two would Laurence choose? To choose one was to kill the other.
Countess in her own right, she could bring her husband a title and
certain prerogatives, together with a long lineage. Perhaps in
thinking of these advantages the elder of the twins, the Marquis de
Simeuse, would sacrifice himself to give Laurence to his brother, who,
according to the old laws, was poor and without a title. But would the
younger brother deprive the elder of the happiness of having Laurence
for a wife? At a distance, this strife of love and generosity might do
no harm,--in fact, so long as the brothers were facing danger the
chances of war might end the difficulty; but what would be the result
of this reunion? When Marie-Paul and Paul-Marie reached the age when
passions rise to their greatest height could they share, as now, the
looks and words and attentions of their cousin? must there not
inevitably arise a jealousy between them the consequences of which
might be horrible? What would then become of the unity of those
beautiful lives, one in heart though twain in body? To these
questionings, passed from one to another as they finished their game,
Madame d'Hauteserre replied that in her opinion Laurence would not
marry either of her cousins. The poor lady had experienced that
evening one of those inexplicable presentiments which are secrets
between the mother's heart and God.
Laurence, in her inward consciousness, was not less alarmed at finding
herself tete-a-tete with her cousins. To the active drama of
conspiracy, to the dangers which the brothers had incurred, to the
pain and penalties of their exile, was now succeeding another sort of
drama, of which she had never thought. This noble girl could not
resort to the violent means of refusing to marry either of the twins;
and she was too honest a woman to marry one and keep an irresistible
passion for the other in her heart. To remain unmarried, to weary her
cousins' love by no decision, and then to take the one who was
faithful to her in spite of her caprices, was a solution of the
difficulty not so much sought for by her as vaguely admitted. As she
fell asleep that night she told herself the wisest course to follow
was to let things take their chance. Chance is, in love, the
providence of women.
The next morning Michu went to Paris, whence he returned a few days
later with four fine horses for his new masters. In six weeks' time
the hunting would begin, and the young countess sagely reflected that
the violent excitements of that exercise would be a help against the
tete-a-tetes of the chateau. At first, however, an unexpected result
surprised the spectators of these strange loves and roused their
admiration. Without any premeditated agreement the brothers rivalled
each other in attentions to Laurence, with a sense of pleasure in so
doing which appeared to suffice them. The relation between themselves
and Laurence was just as fraternal as that between themselves. What
could be more natural? After so long an absence they felt the
necessity of studying her, of knowing her well and letting her know
them, leaving to her the right of choice. They were sustained in this
first trial by the mutual affection which made their double life one
and the same life.
Love, like their own mother, was unable to distinguish between the
brothers. Laurence was obliged (in order to know them apart and make
no mistakes) to give them different cravats--to the elder a white one,
to the younger black. Without this perfect resemblance, this identity
of life, which misled all about them, such a situation would be justly
thought impossible. It can, indeed, be explained only by the fact
itself, which is one of those which men do not believe in unless they
see them; and then the mind is more bewildered by having to explain
them than by the actual sight which caused belief. If Laurence spoke,
her voice echoed in two hearts equally faithful and loving with one
tone. Did she give utterance to an intelligent, or witty, or noble
thought, her glance encountered the delight expressed in two glances
which followed her every movement, interpreted her slightest wish, and
beamed upon her ever with a new expression, gaiety in the one, tender
melancholy in the other. In any matter that concerned their mistress
the brothers showed an admirable quick-wittedness of heart coupled
with instant action which (to use the abbe's own expression)
approached the sublime. Often, if something had to be fetched, if it
was a question of some little attention which men delight to pay to a
beloved woman, the elder would leave that pleasure to the younger with
a look at Laurence that was proud and tender. The younger, on the
other hand, put all his own pride into paying such debts. This rivalry
of noble natures in a feeling which leads men often to the jealous
ferocity of the beasts amazed the old people who were watching it, and
bewildered their ideas.
Such little details often drew tears to the eyes of the countess. A
single sensation, which is perhaps all-powerful in some rare
organizations, will give an idea of Laurence's emotions; it may be
perceived by recalling the perfect unison of two fine voices (like
those of Malibran and Sontag) in some harmonious /duo/, or the
blending of two instruments touched by the hand of genius, their
melodious tones entering the soul like the passionate sighing of one
heart. Sometimes, seeing the Marquis de Simeuse buried in an arm-chair
and glancing from time to time with deepest melancholy at his brother
and Laurence who were talking and laughing, the abbe believed him
capable of making the great sacrifice; presently, however, the priest
would see in the young man's eyes the flash of an unconquerable
passion. Whenever either of the brothers found himself alone with
Laurence he might reasonably suppose himself the one preferred.
"I fancy then that there is but one of them," explained the countess
to the abbe when he questioned her. That answer showed the priest her
total want of coquetry. Laurence did not conceive that she was loved
by two men.
"But, my dear child," said Madame d'Hauteserre one evening (her own
son silently dying of love for Laurence), "you must choose!"
"Oh, let us be happy," she replied; "God will save us from ourselves."
Adrien d'Hauteserre buried within his breast the jealousy that was
consuming him; he kept the secret of his torture, aware of how little
he could hope. He tried to be content with the happiness of seeing the
charming woman who during the few months this struggle lasted shone in
all her brilliancy. In one sense Laurence had become coquettish,
taking that dainty care of her person which women who are loved
delight in. She followed the fashions, and went more than once to
Paris to deck her beauty with /chiffons/ or some choice novelty.
Desirous of giving her cousins a sense of home and its every
enjoyment, from which they had so long been severed, she made her
chateau, in spite of the remonstrances of her late guardian, the most
completely comfortable house in Champagne.
Robert d'Hauteserre saw nothing of this hidden drama; he never noticed
his brother's love for Laurence. As to the girl herself, he liked to
tease her about her coquetry,--for he confounded that odious defect
with the natural desire to please; he was always mistaken in matters
of feeling, taste, and the higher ethics. So, whenever this man of the
middle-ages appeared on the scene, Laurence immediately made him,
unknown to himself, the clown of the play; she amused her cousins by
arguing with Robert, and leading him, step by step, into some bog of
ignorance and stupidity. She excelled in such clever mischief, which,
to be really successful, must leave the victim content with himself.
And yet, though his nature was a coarse one, Robert never, during
those delightful months (the only happy period in the lives of the
three young people) said one virile word which might have brought
matters to a crisis between Laurence and her cousins. He was struck
with the sincerity of the brothers; he saw how the one could be glad
at the happiness of the other and yet suffer anguish in the depths of
his heart, and he did perceive how a woman might shrink from showing
tenderness to one which would grieve the other. This perception on
Robert's part was a just one; it explains a situation which, in times
of faith, when the sovereign pontiff had power to intervene and cut
the Gordian knot of such phenomena (allied to the deepest and most
impenetrable mysteries), would have found its solution. The Revolution
had deepened the Catholic faith in these young hearts, and religion
now rendered this crisis in their lives the more severe, because
nobility of character is ever heightened by the grandeur of
circumstances. A sense of this truth kept Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre and the abbe from the slightest fear of any unworthy
result on the part of the brothers or of Laurence.
This private drama, secretly developing within the limits of the
family life where each member watched it silently, ran its course so
rapidly and withal so slowly, it carried with it so many unhoped-for
pleasures, trifling jars, frustrated fancies, hopes reversed, anxious
waitings, delayed explanations and mute avowals that the dwellers at
Cinq-Cygne paid no attention to the public drama of the Emperor's
coronation. At times these passions made a truce and sought
distraction in the violent enjoyment of hunting, when weariness of
body took from the soul all occasions to wander in the dangerous
meadows of reverie. Neither Laurence nor her cousins had a thought now
for public affairs; each day brought its palpitating and absorbing
interests for their hearts.
"Really," said Mademoiselle Goujet one evening, "I don't know which of
all the lovers loves the most."
Adrien, who happened to be alone in the salon with the four card-
players, raised his eyes and turned pale. For the last few days his
only hold on life had been the pleasure of seeing Laurence and of
listening to her.
"I think," said the abbe, "that the countess, being a woman, loves
with the greater abandonment to love."
Laurence, the twins, and Robert entered the room soon after. The
newspapers had just arrived. England, seeing the failure of all
conspiracies attempted within the borders of France, was now arming
all Europe against their common enemy. The disaster at Trafalgar had
overthrown one of the most amazing plans which human genius ever
conceived; by which, if it had succeeded, the Emperor would have paid
the nation for his election by the ruin of the British power. The camp
at Boulogne had just been raised. Napoleon, whose solders were, as
always, inferior in numbers to the enemy, was about to carry the war
into parts of Europe where he had not before waged it. The whole world
was breathless, awaiting the results of the campaign.
"He'll surely be defeated this time," said Robert, laying down the
"The armies of Austria and of Russia are before him," said Marie-Paul.
"He has never fought in Germany," added Paul-Marie.
"Of whom are you speaking?" asked Laurence.
"The Emperor," answered the three gentlemen.
The jealous girl threw a disdainful look at her twin lovers, which
humiliated them while it rejoiced the heart of Adrien, who made a
gesture of admiration and gave her one proud look, which said plainly
that /he/ thought only of her,--of Laurence.
"I told you," said the abbe in a low voice, "that love would some day
cause her to forget her animosity."
It was the first, last, and only reproach the brothers ever received
from her; but certainly at that moment their love, which could still
be distracted by national events, was inferior to that of Laurence,
which, absorbed her mind so completely that she only knew of the
amazing triumph at Austerlitz by overhearing a discussion between
Monsieur d'Hauteserre and his sons.
Faithful to his ideas of submission, the old man wished both Robert
and Adrien to re-enter the French army and apply for service; they
could, he thought, be reinstated in their rank and soon find an
opening to military honors. But royalist opinions were now all-
powerful at Cinq-Cygne. The four young men and Laurence laughed at
their prudent elder, who seemed to foresee a coming evil. Possibly,
prudence is less virtue than the exercise of some instinct, or /sense/
of the mind (if it is allowable to couple those two words). A day will
come, no doubt, when physiologists and philosophers will both admit
that the senses are, in some way, the sheath or vehicle of a keen and
penetrative active power which issues from the mind.
After peace was concluded between France and Austria, towards the end
of the month of February, 1806, a relative, whose influence had been
employed for the reinstatement of the Simeuse brothers, and who was
destined later to give them signal proofs of family attachment, the
ci-devant Marquis de Chargeboeuf, whose estates extended from the
department of the Seine-et-Marne to that of the Aube, arrived one
morning at Cinq-Cygne in a species of caleche which was then named in
derision a /berlingot/. When this shabby carriage was driven past the
windows the inhabitants of the chateau, who were at breakfast, were
convulsed with laughter; but when the bald head of the old man was
seen issuing from behind the leather curtain of the vehicle Monsieur
d'Hauteserre told his name, and all present rose instantly to receive
and do honor to the head of the house of Chargeboeuf.
"We have done wrong to let him come to us," said the Marquis de
Simeuse to his brother and the d'Hauteserres; "we ought to have gone
to him and made our acknowledgements."
A servant, dressed as a peasant, who drove the horses from a seat on a
level with the body of the carriage, slipped his cartman's whip into a
coarse leather socket, and got down from the box to assist the marquis
from the carriage; but Adrien and the younger de Simeuse prevented
him, unbuttoned the leather apron, and helped the old man out in spite
of his protestations. This gentleman of the old school chose to
consider his yellow /berlingot/ with its leather curtains a most
convenient and excellent equipage. The servant, assisted by Gothard,
unharnessed the stout horses with shining flanks, accustomed no doubt
to do as much duty at the plough as in a carriage.
"In spite of this cold weather! Why, you are a knight of the olden
time," said Laurence, to her visitor, taking his arm and leading him
into the salon.
"What has he come for?" thought old d'Hauteserre.
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, a handsome old gentleman of sixty-six, in
light-colored breeches, his small weak legs encased in colored
stockings, wore powder, pigeon-wings and a queue. His green cloth
hunting-coat with gold buttons was braided and frogged with gold. His
white waistcoat glittered with gold embroidery. This apparel, still in
vogue among old people, became his face, which was not unlike that of
Frederick the Great. He never put on his three-cornered hat lest he
should destroy the effect of the half-moon traced upon his cranium by
a layer of powder. His right hand, resting on a hooked cane, held both
cane and hat in a manner worthy of Louis XIV. The fine old gentleman
took off his wadded silk pelisse and seated himself in an armchair,
holding the three-cornered hat and the cane between his knees in an
attitude the secret of which has never been grasped by any but the
roues of Louis XV.'s court, an attitude which left the hands free to
play with a snuff-box, always a precious trinket. Accordingly the
marquis drew from the pocket of his waistcoat, which was closed by a
flap embroidered in gold arabesques, a sumptuous snuff-box. While
fingering his own pinch and offering the box around him with another
charming gesture accompanied with kindly smiles, he noticed the
pleasure which his visit gave. He seemed then to comprehend why these
young /emigres/ had been remiss in their duty towards him, and to be
saying to himself, "When we are making love we can't make visits."
"You will stay with us some days?" said Laurence.
"Impossible," he replied. "If we were not so separated by events (for
as to distance, you go farther than that which lies between us) you
would know, my dear child, that I have daughters, daughters-in-law,
and grand-children. All these dear creatures would be very uneasy if I
did not return to them to-night, and I have forty-five miles to go."
"Your horses are in good condition," said the Marquis de Simeuse.
"Oh! I am just from Troyes, where I had business yesterday."
After the customary polite inquiries for the Marquise de Chargeboeuf
and other matters really uninteresting but about which politeness
assumes that we are keenly interested, it dawned on Monsieur
d'Hauteserre that the old gentleman had come to warn his young
relatives against imprudence. He remarked that times were changed and
no one could tell what the Emperor might now become.
"Oh!" said Laurence, "he'll make himself God."
The Marquis spoke of the wisdom of concession. When he stated, with
more emphasis and authority than he put into his other remarks, the
necessity of submission, Monsieur d'Hauteserre looked at his sons with
an almost supplicating air.
"Would you serve that man?" asked the Marquis de Simeuse.
"Yes, I would, if the interests of my family required it," replied
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf.
Gradually the old man made them aware, though vaguely, of some
threatened danger. When Laurence begged him to explain the nature of
it, he advised the four young men to refrain from hunting and to keep
themselves as much in retirement as possible.
"You treat the domain of Gondreville as if it were your own," he said
to the Messieurs de Simeuse, "and you are keeping alive a deadly
hatred. I see, by the surprise upon your faces, that you are quite
unaware of the ill-will against you at Troyes, where your late brave
conduct is remembered. They tell of how you foiled the police of the
Empire; some praise you for it, but others regard you as enemies of
the Emperor; partisans declare that Napoleon's clemency is
inexplicable. That, however, is nothing. The real danger lies here;
you foiled men who thought themselves cleverer than you; and low-bred
men never forgive. Sooner or later justice, which in your department
emanates from your enemy, Senator Malin (who has his henchmen
everywhere, even in the ministerial offices),--/his/ justice will
rejoice to see you involved in some annoying scrape. A peasant, for
instance, will quarrel with you for riding over his field; your guns
are in your hands, you are hot-tempered, and something happens. In
your position it is absolutely essential that you should not put
yourselves in the wrong. I do not speak to you thus without good
reason. The police keep this arrondissement under strict surveillance;
they have an agent in that little hole of Arcis expressly to protect
the Imperial senator Malin against your attacks. He is afraid of you,
and says so openly."
"It is a calumny!" cried the younger Simeuse.
"A calumny,--I am sure of it myself, but will the public believe it?
Michu certainly did aim at the senator, who does not forget the danger
he was in; and since your return the countess has taken Michu into her
service. To many persons, in fact to the majority, Malin will seem to
be in the right. You do not understand how delicate the position of an
/emigre/ is towards those who are now in possession of his property.
The prefect, a very intelligent man, dropped a word to me yesterday
about you which has made me uneasy. In short, I sincerely wish you
would not remain here."
This speech was received in dumb amazement. Marie-Paul rang the bell.
"Gothard," he said, to the little page, "send Michu here."
"Michu, my friend," said the Marquis de Simeuse when the man appeared,
"is it true that you intended to kill Malin?"
"Yes, Monsieur le marquis; and when he comes here again I shall lie in
wait for him."
"Do you know that we are suspected of instigating it, and that our
cousin, by taking you as her farmer is supposed to be furthering your
"Good God!" cried Michu, "am I accursed? Shall I never be able to rid
you of that villain?"
"No, my man, no!" said Paul-Marie. "But we will always take care of
you, though you will have to leave our service and the country too.
Sell your property here; we will send you to Trieste to a friend of
ours who has immense business connections, and he'll employ you until
things are better in this country for all of us."
Tears came into Michu's eyes; he stood rooted to the floor.
"Were there any witnesses when you aimed at Malin?" asked the Marquis
"Grevin the notary was talking with him, and that prevented my killing
him--very fortunately, as Madame la Comtesse knows," said Michu,
looking at his mistress.
"Grevin is not the only one who knows it?" said Monsieur de
Chargeboeuf, who seemed annoyed at what was said, though none but the
family were present.
"That police spy who came here to trap my masters, he knew it too,"
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf rose as if to look at the gardens, and said,
"You have made the most of Cinq-Cygne." Then he left the house,
followed by the two brothers and Laurence, who now saw the meaning of
"You are frank and generous, but most imprudent," said the old man.
"It was natural enough that I should warn you of a rumor which was
certain to be a slander; but what have you done now? you have let such
weak persons as Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and their sons see
that there was truth in it. Oh, young men! young men! You ought to
keep Michu here and go away yourselves. But if you persist in
remaining, at least write a letter to the senator and tell him that
having heard the rumors about Michu you have dismissed him from your
"We!" exclaimed the brothers; "what, write to Malin,--to the murderer
of our father and our mother, to the insolent plunderer of our
"All true; but he is one of the chief personages at the Imperial
court, and the king of your department."
"He, who voted for the death of Louis XVI. in case the army of Conde
entered France!" cried Laurence.
"He, who probably advised the murder of the Duc d'Enghien!" exclaimed
"Well, well, if you want to recapitulate his titles of nobility," cried
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, "say he who pulled Robespierre by the skirts
of his coat to make him fall when he saw that his enemies were
stronger than he; he who would have shot Bonaparte if the 18th
Brumaire had missed fire; he who manoeuvres now to bring back the
Bourbons if Napoleon totters; he whom the strong will ever find on
their side to handle either sword or pistol and put an end to an
adversary whom they fear! But--all that is only reason the more for
what I urge upon you."
"We have fallen very low," said Laurence.
"Children," said the old marquis, taking them by the hand and going to
the lawn, then covered by a slight fall of snow; "you will be angry at
the prudent advice of an old man, but I am bound to give it, and here
it is: If I were you I would employ as go-between some trustworthy old
fellow--like myself, for instance; I would commission him to ask Malin
for a million of francs for the title-deeds of Gondreville; he would
gladly consent if the matter were kept secret. You will then have
capital in hand, an income of a hundred thousand francs, and you can
buy a fine estate in another part of France. As for Cinq-Cygne, it can
safely be left to the management of Monsieur d'Hauteserre, and you can
draw lots as to which of you shall win the hand of this dear heiress--
But ah! I know the words of an old man in the ears of the young are
like the words of the young in the ears of the old, a sound without
The old marquis signed to his three relatives that he wished no
answer, and returned to the salon, where, during their absence, the
abbe and his sister had arrived.
The proposal to draw lots for their cousin's hand had offended the
brothers, while Laurence revolted in her soul at the bitterness of the
remedy the old marquis counselled. All three were now less gracious to
him, though they did not cease to be polite. The warmth of their
feeling was chilled. Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, who felt the change,
cast frequent looks of kindly compassion on these charming young
people. The conversation became general, but the old marquis still
dwelt on the necessity of submitting to events, and he applauded
Monsieur d'Hauteserre for his persistence in urging his sons to take
service under the Empire.
"Bonaparte," he said, "makes dukes. He has created Imperial fiefs, he
will therefore make counts. Malin is determined to be Comte de
Gondreville. That is a fancy," he added, looking at the Simeuse
brothers, "which might be profitable to you--"
"Or fatal," said Laurence.
As soon as the horses were put-to the marquis took leave, accompanied
to the door by the whole party. When fairly in the carriage he made a
sign to Laurence to come and speak to him, and she sprang upon the
foot-board with the lightness of a swallow.
"You are not an ordinary woman, and you ought to understand me," he
said in her ear. "Malin's conscience will never allow him to leave you
in peace; he will set some trap to injure you. I implore you to be
careful of all your actions, even the most unimportant. Compromise,
negotiate; those are my last words."
The brothers stood motionless behind their cousin and watched the
/berlingot/ as it turned through the iron gates and took the road to
Troyes. Laurence repeated the old man's last words. But sage
experience should not present itself to the eyes of youth in a
/berlingot/, colored stockings, and a queue. These ardent young hearts
had no conception of the change that had passed over France;
indignation crisped their nerves, honor boiled with their noble blood
through every vein.
"He, the head of the house of Chargeboeuf!" said the Marquis de
Simeuse. "A man who bears the motto /Adsit fortior/, the noblest of
"We are no longer in the days of Saint-Louis," said the younger
"But 'We die singing,'" said the countess. "The cry of the five young
girls of my house is mine!"
"And ours, 'Cy meurs,'" said the elder Simeuse. "Therefore, no
quarter, I say; for, on reflection, we shall find that our relative
had pondered well what he told us--Gondreville to be the title of a
"And his seat!" said the younger.
"Mansart designed it for noble stock, and the populace will get their
children in it!" exclaimed the elder.
"If that were to come to pass, I'd rather see Gondreville in ashes!"
cried Mademoiselle Cinq-Cygne.
One of the villagers, who had entered the grounds to examine a calf
Monsieur d'Hauteserre was trying to sell him, overheard these words as
he came from the cow-sheds.
"Let us go in," said Laurence, laughing; "this is very imprudent; we
are giving the old marquis a right to blame us. My poor Michu," she
added, as she entered the salon, "I had forgotten your adventure; as
we are not in the odor of sanctity in these parts you must be careful
not to compromise us in future. Have you any other peccadilloes on
"I blame myself for not having killed the murderer of my old masters
before I came to the rescue of my present ones--"
"Michu!" said the abbe in a warning tone.
"But I'll not leave the country," Michu continued, paying no heed to
the abbe's exclamation, "till I am certain you are safe. I see fellows
roaming about here whom I distrust. The last time we hunted in the
forest, that keeper who took my place at Gondreville came to me and
asked if we supposed we were on our own property. 'Ho! my lad,' I
said, 'we can't get rid in two weeks of ideas we've had for
"You did wrong, Michu," said the Marquis de Simeuse, smiling with
"What answer did he make?" asked Monsieur d'Hauteserre.
"He said he would inform the senator of our claims," replied Michu.
"Comte de Gondreville!" repeated the elder Simeuse; "what a
masquerade! But after all, they say 'your Majesty' to Bonaparte!"
"And to the Grand Duc de Berg, 'your Highness!'" said the abbe.
"Who is he?" asked the Marquis de Simeuse.
"Murat, Napoleon's brother-in-law," replied old d'Hauteserre.
"Delightful!" remarked Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne. "Do they also say
'your Majesty' to the widow of Beauharnais?"
"Yes, mademoiselle," said the abbe.
"We ought to go to Paris and see it all," cried Laurence.
"Alas, mademoiselle," said Michu, "I was there to put Francois at
school, and I swear to you there's no joking with what they call the
Imperial Guard. If the rest of the army are like them, the thing may
last longer than we."
"They say many of the noble families are taking service," said
"According to the present law," added the abbe, "you will be compelled
to serve. The conscription makes no distinction of ranks or names."
"That man is doing us more harm with his court than the Revolution did
with its axe!" cried Laurence.
"The Church prays for him," said the abbe.
These remarks, made rapidly one after another, were so many
commentaries on the wise counsel of the old Marquis de Chargeboeuf;
but the young people had too much faith, too much honor, to dream of
resorting to a compromise. They told themselves, as all vanquished
parties in all times have declared, that the luck of the conquerors
would soon be at an end, that the Emperor had no support but that of
the army, that the power /de facto/ must sooner or later give way to
the Divine Right, etc. So, in spite of the wise counsel given to them,
they fell into the pitfall, which others, like old d'Hauteserre, more
prudent and more amenable to reason, would have been able to avoid. If
men were frank they might perhaps admit that misfortunes never
overtake them until after they have received either an actual or an
occult warning. Many do not perceive the deep meaning of such visible
or invisible signs until after the disaster is upon them.
"In any case, Madame la comtesse knows that I cannot leave the country
until I have given up a certain trust," said Michu in a low voice to
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne.
For all answer she made him a sign of acquiescence, and he left the
THE FACTS OF A MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR
Michu sold his farm at once to Beauvisage, a farmer at Bellache, but
he was not to receive the money for twenty days. A month after the
Marquis de Chargeboeuf's visit, Laurence, who had told her cousins of
their buried fortune, proposed to them to take the day of the
Mi-careme to disinter it. The unusual quantity of snow which fell that
winter had hitherto prevented Michu from obtaining the treasure, and
it now gave him pleasure to undertake the operation with his masters.
He was determined to leave the neighborhood as soon as it was over,
for he feared himself.
"Malin has suddenly arrived at Gondreville, and no one knows why," he
said to his mistress. "I shall never be able to resist putting the
property into the market by the death of its owner. I feel I am guilty
in not following my inspirations."
"Why should he leave Paris at this season?" said the countess.
"All Arcis is talking about it," replied Michu; "he has left his
family in Paris, and no one is with him but his valet. Monsieur
Grevin, the notary of Arcis, Madame Marion, the wife of the receiver-
general, and her sister-in-law are staying at Gondreville."
Laurence had chosen the mid-lent day for their purpose because it
enabled her to give her servants a holiday and so get them out of the
way. The usual masquerade drew the peasantry to the town and no one
was at work in the fields. Chance made its calculations with as much
cleverness as Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne made hers. The uneasiness of
Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre at the idea of keeping eleven hundred
thousand francs in gold in a lonely chateau on the borders of a forest
was likely to be so great that their sons advised they should know
nothing about it. The secret of the expedition was therefore confined
to Gothard, Michu, Laurence, and the four gentlemen.
After much consultation it seemed possible to put forty-eight thousand
francs in a long sack on the crupper of each of their horses. Three
trips would therefore bring the whole. It was agreed to send all the
servants, whose curiosity might be troublesome, to Troyes to see the
shows. Catherine, Marthe, and Durieu, who could be relied on, stayed
at home in charge of the house. The other servants were glad of their
holiday and started by daybreak. Gothard, assisted by Michu, saddled
the horses as soon as they were gone, and the party started by way of
the gardens to reach the forest. Just as they were mounting--for the
park gate was so low on the garden side that they led their horses
until they were through it--old Beauvisage, the farmer at Bellache,
happened to pass.
"There!" cried Gothard, "I hear some one."
"Oh, it is only I," said the worthy man, coming toward them. "Your
servant, gentleman; are you off hunting, in spite of the new decrees?
/I/ don't complain of you; but do take care! though you have friends
you have also enemies."
"Oh, as for that," said the elder Hauteserre, smiling, "God grant that
our hunt may be lucky to-day,--if so, you will get your masters back
These words, to which events were destined to give a totally different
meaning, earned a severe look from Laurence. The elder Simeuse was
confident that Malin would restore Gondreville for an indemnity. These
rash youths were determined to do exactly the contrary of what the
Marquis de Chargeboeuf had advised. Robert, who shared these hopes,
was thinking of them when he gave utterance to the fatal words.
"Not a word of this, old friend," said Michu to Beauvisage, waiting
behind the others to lock the gate.
It was one of those fine mornings in March when the air is dry, the
earth pure, the sky clear, and the atmosphere a contradiction to the
leafless trees; the season was so mild that the eye caught glimpses
here and there of verdure.
"We are seeking treasure when all the while you are the real treasure
of our house, cousin," said the elder Simeuse, gaily.
Laurence was in front, with a cousin on each side of her. The
d'Hauteserres were behind, followed by Michu. Gothard had gone forward
to clear the way.
"Now that our fortune is restored, you must marry my brother," said
the younger in a low voice. "He adores you; together you will be as
rich as nobles ought to be in these days."
"No, give the whole fortune to him and I will marry you," said
Laurence; "I am rich enough for two."
"So be it," cried the Marquis; "I will leave you, and find a wife
worthy to be your sister."
"So you really love me less than I thought you did?" said Laurence
looking at him with a sort of jealousy.
"No; I love you better than either of you love me," replied the
"And therefore you would sacrifice yourself?" asked Laurence with a
glance full of momentary preference.
The marquis was silent.
"Well, then, I shall think only of you, and that will be intolerable
to my husband," exclaimed Laurence, impatient at his silence.
"How could I live without you?" said the younger twin to his brother.
"But, after all, you can't marry us both," said the marquis, replying
to Laurence; "and the time has come," he continued, in the brusque
tone of a man who is struck to the heart, "to make your decision."
He urged his horse in advance so that the d'Hauteserres might not
overhear them. His brother's horse and Laurence's followed him. When
they had put some distance between themselves and the rest of the
party Laurence attempted to speak, but tears were at first her only
"I will enter a cloister," she said at last.
"And let the race of Cinq-Cygne end?" said the younger brother.
"Instead of one unhappy man, would you make two? No, whichever of us
must be your brother only, will resign himself to that fate. It is the
knowledge that we are no longer poor that has brought us to explain
ourselves," he added, glancing at the marquis. "If I am the one
preferred, all this money is my brother's. If I am rejected, he will
give it to me with the title of de Simeuse, for he must then take the
name and title of Cinq-Cygne. Whichever way it ends, the loser will
have a chance of recovery--but if he feels he must die of grief, he
can enter the army and die in battle, not to sadden the happy
"We are true knights of the olden time, worthy of our fathers," cried
the elder. "Speak, Laurence; decide between us."
"We cannot continue as we are," said the younger.
"Do not think, Laurence, that self-denial is without its joys," said
"My dear loved ones," said the girl, "I am unable to decide. I love
you both as though you were one being--as your mother loved you. God
will help us. I cannot choose. Let us put it to chance--but I make one
"What is it?"
"Whichever one of you becomes my brother must stay with me until I
suffer him to leave me. I wish to be sole judge of when to part."
"Yes, yes," said the brothers, without explaining to themselves her
"The first of you to whom Madame d'Hauteserre speaks to-night at table
after the Benedicite, shall be my husband. But neither of you must
practise fraud or induce her to answer a question."
"We will play fair," said the younger, smiling.
Each kissed her hand. The certainty of some decision which both could
fancy favorable made them gay.
"Either way, dear Laurence, you create a Comte de Cinq-Cygne--"
"I believe," thought Michu, riding behind them, "that mademoiselle
will not long be unmarried. How gay my masters are! If my mistress
makes her choice I shall not leave; I must stay and see that wedding."
Just then a magpie flew suddenly before his face. Michu, superstitious
like all primitive beings, fancied he heard the muffled tones of a
death-knell. The day, however, began brightly enough for lovers, who
rarely see magpies when together in the woods. Michu, armed with his
plan, verified the spots; each gentleman had brought a pickaxe, and
the money was soon found. The part of the forest where it was buried
was quite wild, far from all paths or habitations, so that the
cavalcade bearing the gold returned unseen. This proved to be a great
misfortune. On their way from Cinq-Cygne to fetch the last two hundred
thousand francs, the party, emboldened by success, took a more direct
way than on their other trips. The path passed an opening from which
the park of Gondreville could be seen.
"What is that?" cried Laurence, pointing to a column of blue flame.
"A bonfire, I think," replied Michu.
Laurence, who knew all the by-ways of the forest, left the rest of the
party and galloped towards the pavilion, Michu's old home. Though the
building was closed and deserted, the iron gates were open, and traces
of the recent passage of several horses struck Laurence instantly. The
column of blue smoke was rising from a field in what was called the
English park, where, as she supposed, they were burning brush.
"Ah! so you are concerned in it, too, are you, mademoiselle?" cried
Violette, who came out of the park at top speed on his pony, and
pulled up to meet Laurence. "But, of course, it is only a carnival
joke? They surely won't kill him?"
"Your cousins wouldn't put him to death?"
"Death! whose death?"
"You are crazy, Violette!"
"Well, what are you doing here, then?" he demanded.
At the idea of a danger which was threatening her cousins, Laurence
turned her horse and galloped back to them, reaching the ground as the
last sacks were filled.
"Quick, quick!" she cried. "I don't know what is going on, but let us
get back to Cinq-Cygne."
While the happy party were employed in recovering the fortune saved by
the old marquis, and guarded for so many years by Michu, an
extraordinary scene was taking place in the chateau of Gondreville.
About two o'clock in the afternoon Malin and his friend Grevin were
playing chess before the fire in the great salon on the ground-floor.
Madame Grevin and Madame Marion were sitting on a sofa and talking
together at a corner of the fireplace. All the servants had gone to
see the masquerade, which had long been announced in the
arrondissement. The family of the bailiff who had replaced Michu had
gone too. The senator's valet and Violette were the only persons
beside the family at the chateau. The porter, two gardeners, and their
wives were on the place, but their lodge was at the entrance of the
courtyards at the farther end of the avenue to Arcis, and the distance
from there to the chateau is beyond the sound of a pistol-shot.
Violette was waiting in the antechamber until the senator and Grevin
could see him on business, to arrange a matter relating to his lease.
At that moment five men, masked and gloved, who in height, manner, and
bearing strongly resembled the Simeuse and d'Hauteserre brothers and
Michu, rushed into the antechamber, seized and gagged the valet and
Violette, and fastened them to their chairs in a side room. In spite
of the rapidity with which this was done, Violette and the servant had
time to utter one cry. It was heard in the salon. The two ladies
thought it a cry of fear.
"Listen!" said Madame Grevin, "can there be robbers?"
"No, nonsense!" said Grevin, "only carnival cries; the masqueraders
must be coming to pay us a visit."
This discussion gave time for the four strangers to close the doors
towards the courtyards and to lock up Violette and the valet. Madame
Grevin, who was rather obstinate, insisted on knowing what the noise
meant. She rose, left the room, and came face to face with the five
masked men, who treated her as they had treated the farmer and the
valet. Then they rushed into the salon, where the two strongest seized
and gagged Malin, and carried him off into the park, while the three
others remained behind to gag Madame Marion and Grevin and lash them
to their armchairs. The whole affair did not take more than half an
hour. The three unknown men, who were quickly rejoined by the two who
had carried off the senator, then proceeded to ransack the chateau
from cellar to garret. They opened all closets and doors, and sounded
the walls; until five o'clock they were absolute masters of the place.
By that time the valet had managed to loosen with his teeth the rope
that bound Violette. Violette, able then to get the gag from his
mouth, began to shout for help. Hearing the shouts the five men
withdrew to the gardens, where they mounted horses closely resembling
those at Cinq-Cygne and rode away, but not so rapidly that Violette
was unable to catch sight of them. After releasing the valet, the two
ladies, and the notary, Violette mounted his pony and rode after help.
When he reached the pavilion he was amazed to see the gates open and
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne apparently on the watch.
Directly after the young countess had ridden off, Violette was
overtaken by Grevin and the forester of the township of Gondreville,
who had taken horses from the stables at the chateau. The porter's
wife was on her way to summon the gendarmerie from Arcis. Violette at
once informed Grevin of his meeting with Laurence and the sudden
flight of the daring girl, whose strong and decided character was
known to all of them.
"She was keeping watch," said Violette.
"Is it possible that those Cinq-Cygne people have done this thing?"
"Do you mean to say you didn't recognize that stout Michu?" exclaimed
Violette. "It was he who attacked me; I knew his fist. Besides, they
rode the Cinq-Cygne horses."
Noticing the hoof-marks on the sand of the /rond-point/ and along the
park road the notary stationed the forester at the gateway to see to
the preservation of these precious traces until the justice of peace
of Arcis (for whom he now sent Violette) could take note of them. He
himself returned hastily to the chateau, where the lieutenant and sub-
lieutenant of the Imperial gendarmerie at Arcis had arrived,
accompanied by four men and a corporal. The lieutenant was the same
man whose head Francois Michu had broken two years earlier, and who
had heard from Corentin the name of his mischievous assailant. This
man, whose name was Giguet (his brother was in the army, and became
one of the finest colonels of artillery), was an extremely able
officer of gendarmerie. Later he commanded the squadron of the Aube.
The sub-lieutenant, named Welff, had formerly driven Corentin from
Cinq-Cygne to the pavilion, and from the pavilion to Troyes. On the
way, the spy had fully informed him as to what he called the trickery
of Laurence and Michu. The two officers were therefore well inclined
to show, and did show, great eagerness against the family at Cinq-
THE CODE OF BRUMAIRE, YEAR IV.
Malin and Grevin had both, the latter working for the former, taken
part in the construction of the Code called that of Brumaire, year
IV., the judicial work of the National Convention, so-called, and
promulgated by the Directory. Grevin knew its provisions thoroughly,
and was able to apply them in this affair with terrible celerity,
under a theory, now converted into a certainty, of the guilt of Michu
and the Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre. No one in these days,
unless it be some antiquated magistrates, will remember this system of
justice, which Napoleon was even then overthrowing by the promulgation
of his own Codes, and by the institution of his magistracy under the
form in which it now rules France.
The Code of Brumaire, year IV., gave to the director of the jury of
the department the duty of discovering, indicting, and prosecuting the
persons guilty of the delinquency committed at Gondreville. Remark, by
the way, that the Convention had eliminated from its judicial
vocabulary the word "crime"; /delinquencies/ and /misdemeanors/ were
alone admitted; and these were punished with fines, imprisonment, and
penalties "afflictive or infamous." Death was an afflictive
punishment. But the penalty of death was to be done away with after
the restoration of peace, and twenty-four years of hard labor were to
take its place. Thus the Convention estimated twenty-four years of
hard labor as the equivalent of death. What therefore can be said for
a code which inflicts the punishment of hard labor for life? The
system then in process of preparation by the Napoleonic Council of
State suppressed the function of the directors of juries, which united
many enormous powers. In relation to the discovery of delinquencies
and their prosecution the director of the jury was, in fact, agent of
police, public prosecutor, municipal judge, and the court itself. His
proceedings and his indictments were, however, submitted for signature
to a commissioner of the executive power and to the verdict of eight
jurymen, before whom he laid the facts of the case, and who examined
the witnesses and the accused and rendered the preliminary verdict,
called the indictment. The director was, however, in a position to
exercise such influence over the jurymen, who met in his private
office, that they could not well avoid agreeing with him. These
jurymen were called the jury of indictment. There were others who
formed the juries of the criminal tribunals whose duty it was to judge
the accused; these were called, in contradistinction to the jury of
indictment, the judgment jury. The criminal tribunal, to which
Napoleon afterwards gave the name of criminal court, was composed of
one President or chief justice, four judges, the public prosecutor,
and a government commissioner.
Nevertheless, from 1799 to 1806 there were special courts (so-called)
which judged without juries certain misdemeanors in certain
departments; these were composed of judges taken from the civil courts
and formed into a special court. This conflict of special justice and
criminal justice gave rise to questions of competence which came
before the courts of appeal. If the department of the Aube had had a
special court, the verdict on the outrage committed on a senator of
the Empire would no doubt have been referred to it; but this tranquil
department had never needed unusual jurisdiction. Grevin therefore
despatched the sub-lieutenant to Troyes to bring the director of the
jury of that town. The emissary went at full gallop, and soon returned
in a post-carriage with the all-powerful magistrate.
The director of the Troyes jury was formerly secretary of one of the
committees of the Convention, a friend of Malin, to whom he owed his
present place. This magistrate, named Lechesneau, had helped Malin, as
Grevin had done, in his work on the Code during the Convention. Malin
in return recommended him to Cambaceres, who appointed him attorney-
general for Italy. Unfortunately for him, Lechesneau had a liaison
with a great lady in Turin, and Napoleon removed him to avoid a
criminal trial threatened by the husband. Lechesneau, bound in
gratitude to Malin, felt the importance of this attack upon his
patron, and brought with him a captain of gendarmerie and twelve men.
Before starting he laid his plans with the prefect, who was unable at
that late hour, it being after dark, to use the telegraph. They
therefore sent a mounted messenger to Paris to notify the minister of
police, the chief justice and the Emperor of this extraordinary crime.
In the salon of Gondreville, Lechesneau found Mesdames Marion and
Grevin, Violette, the senator's valet, and the justice of peace with
his clerk. The chateau had already been examined; the justice,
assisted by Grevin, had carefully collected the first testimony. The
first thing that struck him was the obvious intention shown in the
choice of the day and hour for the attack. The hour prevented an
immediate search for proofs and traces. At this season it was nearly
dark by half-past five, the hour at which Violette gave the alarm, and
darkness often means impunity to evil-doers. The choice of a holiday,
when most persons had gone to the masquerade at Arcis, and the senator
was comparatively alone in the house, showed an obvious intention to
get rid of witnesses.
"Let us do justice to the intelligence of the prefecture of police,"
said Lechesneau; "they have never ceased to warn us to be on our guard
against the nobles at Cinq-Cygne; they have always declared that
sooner or later those people would play us some dangerous trick."
Sure of the active co-operation of the prefect of the Aube, who sent
messengers to all the surrounding prefectures asking them to search
for the five abductors and the senator, Lechesneau began his work by
verifying the first facts. This was soon done by the help of two such
legal heads as those of Grevin and the justice of peace. The latter,
named Pigoult, formerly head-clerk in the office where Malin and
Grevin had first studied law in Paris, was soon after appointed judge
of the municipal court at Arcis. In relation to Michu, Lechesneau knew
of the threats the man had made about the sale of Gondreville to
Marion, and the danger Malin had escaped in his own park from Michu's
gun. These two facts, one being the consequence of the other, were no
doubt the precursors of the present successful attack, and they
pointed so obviously to the late bailiff as the instigator of the
outrage that Grevin, his wife, Violette, and Madame Marion declared
that they had recognized among the five masked men one who exactly
resembled Michu. The color of the hair and whiskers and the thick-set
figure of the man made the mask he wore useless. Besides, who but
Michu could have opened the iron gates of the park with a key? The
present bailiff and his wife, now returned from the masquerade,
deposed to have locked both gates before leaving the pavilion. The
gates when examined showed no sign of being forced.
"When we turned him off he must have taken some duplicate keys with
him," remarked Grevin. "No doubt he has been meditating a desperate
step, for he has lately sold his whole property, and he received the
money for it in my office day before yesterday."
"The others have followed his lead!" exclaimed Lechesneau, struck with
the circumstances. "He has been their evil genius."
Moreover, who could know as well as the Messieurs de Simeuse the ins
and outs of the chateau. None of the assailants seemed to have
blundered in their search; they had gone through the house in a
confident way which showed that they knew what they wanted to find and
where to find it. The locks of none of the opened closets had been
forced; therefore the delinquents had keys. Strange to say, however,
nothing had been taken; the motive, therefore, was not robbery. More
than all, when Violette had followed the tracks of the horses as far
as the /rond-point/, he had found the countess, evidently on guard, at
the pavilion. From such a combination of facts and depositions arose a
presumption as to the guilt of the Messieurs de Simeuse, d'Hauteserre,
and Michu, which would have been strong to unprejudiced minds, and to
the director of the jury had the force of certainty. What were they
likely to do to the future Comte de Gondreville? Did they mean to
force him to make over the estate for which Michu declared in 1799 he
had the money to pay?
But there was another aspect of the cast to the knowing criminal
lawyer. He asked himself what could be the object of the careful
search made of the chateau. If revenge were at the bottom of the
matter, the assailants would have killed the senator. Perhaps he had
been killed and buried. The abduction, however, seemed to point to
imprisonment. But why keep their victim imprisoned after searching the
castle? It was folly to suppose that the abduction of a dignitary of
the Empire could long remain secret. The publicity of the matter would
prevent any benefit from it.
To these suggestions Pigoult replied that justice was never able to
make out all the motives of scoundrels. In every criminal case there
were obscurities, he said, between the judge and the guilty person;
conscience had depths into which no human mind could enter unless by
the confession of the criminal.
Grevin and Lechesneau nodded their assent, without, however, relaxing
their determination to see to the bottom of the present mystery.
"The Emperor pardoned those young men," said Pigoult to Grevin. "He
removed their names from the list of /emigres/, though they certainly
took part in that last conspiracy against him."
Lechesneau make no delay in sending his whole force of gendarmerie to
the forest and to the valley of Cinq-Cygne; telling Giguet to take
with him the justice of peace, who, according to the terms of the
Code, would then become an auxiliary police-officer. He ordered them
to make all preliminary inquiries in the township of Cinq-Cygne, and
to take testimony if necessary; and to save time, he dictated and
signed a warrant for the arrest of Michu, against whom the charge was
evident on the positive testimony of Violette. After the departure of
the gendarmes Lechesneau returned to the important question of issuing
warrants for the arrest of the Simeuse and d'Hauteserre brothers.
According to the Code these warrants would have to contain the charges
against the delinquents.
Giguet and the justice of peace rode so rapidly to Cinq-Cygne that
they met Laurence's servants returning from the festivities at Troyes.
Stopped, and taken before the mayor where they were interrogated, they
all stated, being ignorant of the importance of the answer, that their
mistress had given them permission to spend the whole day at Troyes.
To a question put by the justice of the peace, each replied that
Mademoiselle had offered them the amusement which they had not thought
of asking for. This testimony seemed so important to the justice of
the peace that he sent back a messenger to Gondreville to advise
Lechesneau to proceed himself to Cinq-Cygne and arrest the four
gentlemen, while he went to Michu's farm, so that the five arrests
might be made simultaneously.
This new element was so convincing that Lechesneau started at once for
Cinq-Cygne. He knew well what pleasure would be felt in Troyes at such
proceedings against the old nobles, the enemies of the people, now
become the enemies of the Emperor. In such circumstances a magistrate
is very apt to take mere presumptive evidence for actual proof.
Nevertheless, on his way from Gondreville to Cinq-Cygne, in the
senator's own carriage, it did occur to Lechesneau (who would
certainly have made a fine magistrate had it not been for his love-
affair, and the Emperor's sudden morality to which he owed his
disgrace) to think the audacity of the young men and Michu a piece of
folly which was not in keeping with what he knew of the judgment and
character of Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne. He imagined in his own mind
some other motives for the deed than the restitution of Gondreville.
In all things, even in the magistracy, there is what may be called the
conscience of a calling. Lechesneau's perplexities came from this
conscience, which all men put into the proper performance of the
duties they like--scientific men into science, artists into art,
judges into the rendering of justice. Perhaps for this reason judges
are really greater safeguards for persons accused of wrong-doing than
are juries. A magistrate relies only on reason and its laws; juries
are floated to and fro by the waves of sentiment. The director of the
jury accordingly set several questions before his mind, resolving to
find in their solution satisfactory reasons for making the arrests.
Though the news of the abduction was already agitating the town of
Troyes, it was still unknown at Arcis, where the inhabitants were
supping when the messenger arrived to summon the gendarmes. No one, of
course, knew it in the village of Cinq-Cygne, the valley and the
chateau of which were now, for the second time, encircled by
Laurence had only to tell Marthe, Catherine, and the Durieus not to
leave the chateau, to be strictly obeyed. After each trip to fetch the
gold, the horses were fastened in the covered way opposite to the
breach in the moat, and from there Robert and Michu, the strongest of
the party, carried the sacks through the breach to a cellar under the
staircase in the tower called Mademoiselle's. Reaching the chateau
with the last load about half-past five o'clock, the four gentlemen
and Michu proceeded to bury the treasure in the floor of the cellar
and then to wall up the entrance. Michu took charge of the matter with
Gothard to help him; the lad was sent to the farm for some sacks of
plaster left over when the new buildings were put up, and Marthe went
with him to show him where they were. Michu, very hungry, made such
haste that by half-past seven o'clock the work was done; and he
started for home at a quick pace to stop Gothard, who had been sent
for another sack of plaster which he thought he might want. The farm
was already watched by the forester of Cinq-Cygne, the justice of
peace, his clerk and four gendarmes who, however, kept out of sight
and allowed him to enter the house without seeing them.
Michu saw Gothard with the sack on his shoulder and called to him from
a distance: "It is all finished, my lad; take that back and stay and
dine with us."
Michu, his face perspiring, his clothes soiled with plaster and
covered with fragments of muddy stone from the breach, reached home
joyfully and entered the kitchen where Marthe and her mother were
serving the soup in expectation of his coming.
Just as Michu was turning the faucet of the water-pipe intending to
wash his hands, the justice of peace entered the house accompanied by
his clerk and the forester.
"What have you come for, Monsieur Pigoult?" asked Michu.
"In the name of the Emperor and the laws, I arrest you," replied the
The three gendarmes entered the kitchen leading Gothard. Seeing the
silver lace on their hats Marthe and her mother looked at each other
"Pooh! why?" asked Michu, who sat down at the table and called to his
wife, "Give me something to eat; I'm famished."
"You know why as well as we do," said the justice, making a sign to
his clerk to begin the /proces-verbal/ and exhibiting the warrant of
"Well, well, Gothard, you needn't stare so," said Michu. "Do you want
some dinner, yes or no? Let them write down their nonsense."
"You admit, of course, the condition of your clothes?" said the
justice of peace; "and you can't deny the words you said just now to
Michu, supplied with food by his wife, who was amazed at his coolness,
was eating with the avidity of a hungry man. He made no answer to the
justice, for his mouth was full and his heart innocent. Gothard's
appetite was destroyed by fear.
"Look here," said the forester, going up to Michu and whispering in
his ear: "What have you done with the senator? You had better make a
clean breast of it, for if we are to believe these people it is a
matter of life or death to you."
"Good God!" cried Marthe, who overheard the last words and fell into a
chair as if annihilated.
"Violette must have played us some infamous trick," cried Michu,
recollecting what Laurence had said in the forest.
"Ha! so you do know that Violette saw you?" said the justice of peace.
Michu bit his lips and resolved to say no more. Gothard imitated him.
Seeing the uselessness of all attempts to make them talk, and knowing
what the neighborhood chose to call Michu's perversity, the justice
ordered the gendarmes to bind his hands and those of Gothard, and take
them both to the chateau, whither he now went himself to rejoin the
director of the jury.
The four young men and Laurence were so hungry and the dinner so
acceptable that they would not delay it by changing their dress. They
entered the salon, she in her riding-habit, they in their white
leather breeches, high-top boots and green-cloth jackets, where they
found Monsieur d'Hauteserre and his wife, not a little uneasy at their
long absence. The goodman had noticed their goings and comings, and,
above all, their evident distrust of him, for Laurence had been unable
to get rid of him as she had of her servants. Once when his own sons
evidently avoided making any reply to his questions, he went to his
wife and said, "I am afraid that Laurence may still get us into
"What sort of game did you hunt to-day?" said Madame d'Hauteserre to
"Ah!" replied the young girl, laughing, "you'll hear some day what a
strange hunt your sons have joined in to-day."
Though said in jest the words made the old lady tremble. Catherine
entered to announce dinner. Laurence took Monsieur d'Hauteserre's arm,
smiling for a moment at the necessity she thus forced upon her cousins
to offer an arm to Madame d'Hauteserre, who, according to agreement,
was now to be the arbiter of their fate.
The Marquis de Simeuse took in Madame d'Hauteserre. The situation was
so momentous that after the Benedicite was said Laurence and the young
men trembled from the violent palpitation of their hearts. Madame
d'Hauteserre, who carved, was struck by the anxiety on the faces of
the Simeuse brothers and the great alteration that was noticeable in
Laurence's lamb-like features.
"Something extraordinary is going on, I am sure of it!" she exclaimed,
looking at all of them.
"To whom are you speaking?" asked Laurence.
"To all of you," said the old lady.
"As for me, mother," said Robert, "I am frightfully hungry, and that
is not extraordinary."
Madame d'Hauteserre, still troubled, offered the Marquis de Simeuse a
plate intended for his brother.
"I am like your mother," she said. "I don't know you apart even by
your cravats. I thought I was helping your brother."
"You have helped me better than you thought for," said the youngest,
turning pale; "you have made him Comte de Cinq-Cygne."
"What! do you mean to tell me the countess has made her choice?" cried
"No," said Laurence; "we left the decision to fate and you are its
She told of the agreement made that morning. The elder Simeuse,
watching the increasing pallor of his brother's face, was momentarily
on the point of crying out, "Marry her; I will go away and die!" Just
then, as the dessert was being served, all present heard raps upon the
window of the dining-room on the garden side. The eldest d'Hauteserre
opened it and gave entrance to the abbe, whose breeches were torn in
climbing over the walls of the park.
"Fly! they are coming to arrest you," he cried.
"I don't know yet; but there's a warrant against you."
The words were greeted with general laughter.
"We are innocent," said the young men.
"Innocent or guilty," said the abbe, "mount your horses and make for
the frontier. There you can prove your innocence. You could overcome a
sentence by default; you will never overcome a sentence rendered by
popular passion and instigated by prejudice. Remember the words of
President de Harlay, 'If I were accused of carrying off the towers of
Notre-Dame the first thing I should do would be to run away.'"
"To run away would be to admit we were guilty," said the Marquis de
"Don't do it!" cried Laurence.
"Always the same sublime folly!" exclaimed the abbe, in despair. "If I
had the power of God I would carry you away. But if I am found here in
this state they will turn my visit against you, and against me too;
therefore I leave you by the way I came. Consider my advice; you have
still time. The gendarmes have not yet thought of the wall which
adjoins the parsonage; but you are hemmed in on the other sides."
The sound of many feet and the jangle of the sabres of the gendarmerie
echoed through the courtyard and reached the dining-room a few moments
after the departure of the poor abbe, whose advice had met the same
fate as that of the Marquis de Chargeboeuf.
"Our twin existence," said the younger Simeuse, speaking to Laurence,
"is an anomaly--our love for you is anomalous; it is that very quality
which was won your heart. Possibly, the reason why all twins known to
us in history have been unfortunate is that the laws of nature are
subverted in them. In our case, see how persistently an evil fate
follows us! your decision is now postponed."
Laurence was stupefied; the fatal words of the director of the jury
hummed in her ears:--"In the name of the Emperor and the laws, I
arrest the Sieurs Paul-Marie and Marie-Paul Simeuse, Adrien and Robert
d'Hauteserre--These gentlemen," he added, addressing the men who
accompanied him and pointing to the mud on the clothing of the
prisoners, "cannot deny that they have spent the greater part of this
day on horseback."
"Of what are they accused?" asked Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne,
"Don't you mean to arrest Mademoiselle?" said Giguet.
"I shall leave her at liberty under bail, until I can carefully
examine the charges against her," replied the director.
The mayor offered bail, asking the countess to merely give her word of
honor that she would not escape. Laurence blasted him with a look
which made him a mortal enemy; a tear started from her eyes, one of
those tears of rage which reveal a hell of suffering. The four
gentlemen exchanged a terrible look, but remained motionless. Monsieur
and Madame d'Hauteserre, dreading lest the young people had practised
some deceit, were in a state of indescribable stupefaction. Clinging
to their chairs these unfortunate parents, finding their sons torn
from them after so many fears and their late hopes of safety, sat
gazing before them without seeing, listening without hearing.
"Must I ask you to bail me, Monsieur d'Hauteserre?" cried Laurence to
her former guardian, who was roused by the cry, clear and agonizing to
his ear as the sound of the last trumpet.
He tried to wipe the tears which sprang to his eyes; he now understood
what was passing, and said to his young relation in a quivering voice,
"Forgive me, countess; you know that I am yours, body and soul."
Lechesneau, who at first was much struck by the evident tranquillity
in which the whole party were dining, now returned to his former
opinion of their guilt as he noticed the stupefaction of the old
people and the evident anxiety of Laurence, who was seeking to
discover the nature of the trap which was set for them.
"Gentlemen," he said, politely, "you are too well-bred to make a
useless resistance; follow me to the stables, where I must, in your
presence, have the shoes of your horses taken off; they afford
important proof of either guilt or innocence. Come, too,
The blacksmith of Cinq-Cygne and his assistant had been summoned by
Lechesneau as experts. While the operation at the stable was going on
the justice of peace brought in Gothard and Michu. The work of
detaching the shoes of each horse, putting them together and ticketing
them, so as to compare them with the hoof-prints in the park, took
time. Lechesneau, notified of the arrival of Pigoult, left the
prisoners with the gendarmes and returned to the dining-room to
dictate the indictment. The justice of peace called his attention to
the condition of Michu's clothes and related the circumstances of his
"They must have killed the senator and plastered the body up in some
wall," said Pigoult.
"I begin to fear it," answered Lechesneau. "Where did you carry that
plaster?" he said to Gothard.
The boy began to cry.
"The law frightens him," said Michu, whose eyes were darting flames
like those of a lion in the toils.
The servants, who had been detained at the village by order of the
mayor, now arrived and filled the antechamber where Catherine and
Gothard were weeping. To all the questions of the director of the jury
and the justice of peace Gothard replied by sobs; and by dint of
weeping he brought on a species of convulsion which alarmed them so
much that they let him alone. The little scamp, perceiving that he was
no longer watched, looked at Michu with a grin, and Michu signified
his approval by a glance. Lechesneau left the justice of peace and
returned to the stables.
"Monsieur," said Madame d'Hauteserre, at last, addressing Pigoult;
"can you explain these arrests?"
"The gentlemen are accused of abducting the senator by armed force and
keeping him a prisoner; for we do not think they have murdered him--in
spite of appearances," replied Pigoult.
"What penalties are attached to the crime?" asked Monsieur
"Well, as the old law continues in force, and they are not amenable
under the Code, the penalty is death," replied the justice.
"Death!" cried Madame d'Hauteserre, fainting away.
The abbe now came in with his sister, who stopped to speak to
Catherine and Madame Durieu.
"We haven't even seen your cursed senator!" said Michu.
"Madame Marion, Madame Grevin, Monsieur Grevin, the senator's valet,
and Violette all tell another tale," replied Pigoult, with the sour
smile of magisterial conviction.
"I don't understand a thing about it," said Michu, dumbfounded by his
reply, and beginning now to believe that his masters and himself were
entangled in some plot which had been laid against them.
Just then the party from the stables returned. Laurence went up to
Madame d'Hauteserre, who recovered her senses enough to say: "The
penalty is death!"
"Death!" repeated Laurence, looking at the four gentlemen.
The word excited a general terror, of which Giguet, formerly
instructed by Corentin, took immediate advantage.
"Everything can be arranged," he said, drawing the Marquis de Simeuse
into a corner of the dining-room. "Perhaps after all it is nothing but
a joke; you've been a soldier and soldiers understand each other. Tell
me, what have you really done with the senator? If you have killed him
--why, that's the end of it! But if you have only locked him up,
release him, for you see for yourself your game is balked. Do this and
I am certain the director of the jury and the senator himself will
drop the matter."
"We know absolutely nothing about it," said the marquis.
"If you take that tone the matter is likely to go far," replied the
"Dear cousin," said the Marquis de Simeuse, "we are forced to go to
prison; but do not be uneasy; we shall return in a few hours, for
there is some misunderstanding in all this which can be explained."
"I hope so, for your sakes, gentlemen," said the magistrate, signing
to the gendarmes to remove the four gentlemen, Michu, and Gothard.
"Don't take them to Troyes; keep them in your guardhouse at Arcis," he
said to the lieutenant; "they must be present to-morrow, at daybreak,
when we compare the shoes of their horses with the hoof-prints in the
Lechesneau and Pigoult did not follow until they had closely
questioned Catherine, Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, and Laurence.
The Durieus, Catherine, and Marthe declared they had only seen their
masters at breakfast-time; Monsieur d'Hauteserre said he had seen them
at three o'clock.
When, at midnight, Laurence found herself alone with Monsieur and
Madame d'Hauteserre, the abbe and his sister, and without the four
young men who for the last eighteen months had been the life of the
chateau and the love and joy of her own life, she fell into a gloomy
silence which no one present dared to break. No affliction was ever
deeper or more complete than hers. At last a deep sigh broke the
stillness, and all eyes turned towards the sound.
Marthe, forgotten in a corner, rose, exclaiming, "Death! They will
kill them in spite of their innocence!"
"Mademoiselle, what is the matter with you?" said the abbe.
Laurence left the room without replying. She needed solitude to
recover strength in presence of this terrible unforeseen disaster.
DOUBTS AND FEARS OF COUNSEL
At a distance of thirty-four years, during which three great
revolutions have taken place, none but elderly persons can recall the
immense excitement produced in Europe by the abduction of a senator of
the French Empire. No trial, if we except that of Trumeaux, the grocer
of the Place Saint-Michel, and that of the widow Morin, under the
Empire; those of Fualdes and de Castaing, under the Restoration; those
of Madame Lafarge and Fieschi, under the present government, ever
roused so much curiosity or so deep an interest as that of the four
young men accused of abducting Malin. Such an attack against a member
of his Senate excited the wrath of the Emperor, who was told of the
arrest of the delinquents almost at the moment when he first heard of
the crime and the negative results of the inquiries. The forest,
searched throughout, the department of the Aube, ransacked from end to
end, gave not the slightest indication of the passage of the Comte de
Gondreville nor of his imprisonment. Napoleon sent for the chief
justice, who, after obtaining certain information from the ministry of
police, explained to his Majesty the position of Malin in regard to
the Simeuse brothers and the Gondreville estate. The Emperor, at that
time pre-occupied with serious matters, considered the affair
explained by these anterior facts.
"Those young men are fools," he said. "A lawyer like Malin will escape
any deed they may force him to sign under violence. Watch those
nobles, and discover the means they take to set the Comte de
Gondreville at liberty."
He ordered the affair to be conducted with the utmost celerity,
regarding it as an attack on his own institutions, a fatal example of
resistance to the results of the Revolution, an effort to open the
great question of the sales of "national property," and a hindrance to
that fusion of parties which was the constant object of his home
policy. Besides all this, he thought himself tricked by these young
nobles, who had given him their promise to live peaceably.
"Fouche's prediction has come true," he cried, remembering the words
uttered two years earlier by his present minister of police, who said
them under the impressions conveyed to him by Corentin's report as to
the character and designs of Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne.
It is impossible for persons living under a constitutional government,
where no one really cares for that cold and thankless, blind, deaf
Thing called public interest, to imagine the zeal which a mere word of
the Emperor was able to inspire in his political or administrative
machine. That powerful will seemed to impress itself as much upon
things as upon men. His decision once uttered, the Emperor, overtaken
by the coalition of 1806, forgot the whole matter. He thought only of
new battles to fight, and his mind was occupied in massing his
regiments to strike the great blow at the heart of the Prussian
monarchy. His desire for prompt justice in the present case found
powerful assistance in the great uncertainty which affected the
position of all magistrates of the Empire. Just at this time
Cambaceres, as arch-chancellor, and Regnier, chief justice, were
preparing to organize /tribunaux de premiere instance/ (lower civil
courts), imperial courts, and a court of appeal or supreme court. They
were agitating the question of a legal garb or costume; to which
Napoleon attached, and very justly, so much importance in all official
stations; and they were also inquiring into the character of the
persons composing the magistracy. Naturally, therefore, the officials
of the department of the Aube considered they could have no better
recommendation than to give proofs of their zeal in the matter of the
abduction of the Comte de Gondreville. Napoleon's suppositions became
certainties to these courtiers and also to the populace.
Peace still reigned on the continent; admiration for the Emperor was
unanimous in France; he cajoled all interests, persons, vanities, and
things, in short, everything, even memories. This attack, therefore,
directed against his senator, seemed in the eyes of all an assault
upon the public welfare. The luckless and innocent gentlemen were the
objects of general opprobrium. A few nobles living quietly on their
estates deplored the affair among themselves but dared not open their
lips; in fact, how was it possible for them to oppose the current of
public opinion. Throughout the department the deaths of the eleven
persons killed by the Simeuse brothers in 1792 from the windows of the
hotel Cinq-Cygne were brought up against them. It was feared that
other returned and now emboldened /emigres/ might follow this example
of violence against those who had bought their estates from the
"national domain," as a method of protesting against what they might
call an unjust spoliation.
The unfortunate young nobles were therefore considered as robbers,
brigands, murderers; and their connection with Michu was particularly
fatal to them. Michu, who was declared, either he or his father-in-
law, to have cut off all the heads that fell under the Terror in that
department, was made the subject of ridiculous tales. The exasperation
of the public mind was all the more intense because nearly all the
functionaries of the department owed their offices to Malin. No
generous voice uplifted itself against the verdict of the public.
Besides all this, the accused had no legal means with which to combat
prejudice; for the Code of Brumaire, year IV., giving as it did both
the prosecution of a charge and the verdict upon it into the hands of
a jury, deprived the accused of the vast protection of an appeal
against legal suspicion.
The day after the arrest all the inhabitants of the chateau of Cinq-
Cygne, both masters and servants, were summoned to appear before the
prosecuting jury. Cinq-Cygne was left in charge of a farmer, under the
supervision of the abbe and his sister who moved into it. Mademoiselle
de Cinq-Cygne, with Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre, went to Troyes
and occupied a small house belonging to Durieu in one of the long and
wide faubourgs which lead from the little town. Laurence's heart was
wrung when she at last comprehended the temper of the populace, the
malignity of the bourgeoisie, and the hostility of the administration,
from the many little events which happened to them as relatives of
prisoners accused of criminal wrong-doing and about to be judged in a
provincial town. Instead of hearing encouraging or compassionate words
they heard only speeches which called for vengeance; proofs of hatred
surrounded them in place of the strict politeness or the reserve
required by mere decency; but above all they were conscious of an
isolation which every mind must feel, but more particularly those
which are made distrustful by misfortune.
Laurence, who had recovered her vigor of mind, relied upon the
innocence of the accused, and despised the community too much to be
frightened by the stern and silent disapproval they met with
everywhere. She sustained the courage of Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre, all the while thinking of the judicial struggle which
was now being hurried on. She was, however, to receive a blow she
little expected, which, undoubtedly, diminished her courage.
In the midst of this great disaster, at the moment when this afflicted
family were made to feel themselves, as it were, in a desert, a man
suddenly became exalted in Laurence's eyes and showed the full beauty
of his character. The day after the indictment was found by the jury,
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