An Historical Mystery
Honore de Balzac
Part 4 out of 5
and the prisoners were finally committed for trial, the Marquis de
Chargeboeuf courageously appeared, still in the same old caleche, to
support and protect his young cousin. Foreseeing the haste with which
the law would be administered, this chief of a great family had
already gone to Paris and secured the services of the most able as
well as the most honest lawyer of the old school, named Bordin, who
was for ten years counsel of the nobility in Paris, and was ultimately
succeeded by the celebrated Derville. This excellent lawyer chose for
his assistant the grandson of a former president of the parliament of
Normandy, whose studies had been made under his tuition. This young
lawyer, who was destined to be appointed deputy-attorney-general in
Paris after the conclusion of the present trial, became eventually one
of the most celebrated of French magistrates. Monsieur de Grandville,
for that was his name, accepted the defence of the four young men,
being glad of an opportunity to make his first appearance as an
advocate with distinction.
The old marquis, alarmed at the ravages which troubles had wrought in
Laurence's appearance, was charmingly kind and considerate. He made no
allusion to his neglected advice; he presented Bordin as an oracle
whose counsel must be followed to the letter, and young de Grandville
as a defender in whom the utmost confidence might be placed.
Laurence held out her hand to the kind old man, and pressed his with
an eagerness which delighted him.
"You were right," she said.
"Will you now take my advice?" he asked.
The young countess bowed her head in assent, as did Monsieur and
"Well, then, come to my house; it is in the middle of town, close to
the courthouse. You and your lawyers will be better off there than
here, where you are crowded and too far from the field of battle.
Here, you would have to cross the town twice a day."
Laurence, accepted, and the old man took her with Madame d'Hauteserre
to his house, which became the home of the Cinq-Cygne household and
the lawyers of the defence during the whole time the trial lasted.
After dinner, when the doors were closed, Bordin made Laurence relate
every circumstance of the affair, entreating her to omit nothing, not
the most trifling detail. Though many of the facts had already been
told to him and his young assistant by the marquis on their journey
from Paris to Troyes, Bordin listened, his feet on the fender, without
obtruding himself into the recital. The young lawyer, however, could
not help being divided between his admiration for Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne, and the attention he was bound to give to the facts of his
"Is that really all?" asked Bordin when Laurence had related the
events of the drama just as the present narrative has given them up to
the present time.
"Yes," she answered.
Profound silence reigned for several minutes in the salon of the
Chargeboeuf mansion where this scene took place,--one of the most
important which occur in life. All cases are judged by the counsellors
engaged in them, just as the death or life or a patient is foreseen by
a physician, before the final struggle which the one sustains against
nature, the other against law. Laurence, Monsieur and Madame
d'Hauteserre, and the marquis sat with their eyes fixed on the swarthy
and deeply pitted face of the old lawyer, who was now to pronounce the
words of life or death. Monsieur d'Hauteserre wiped the sweat from his
brow. Laurence looked at the younger man and noted his saddened face.
"Well, my dear Bordin?" said the marquis at last, holding out his
snuffbox, from which the old lawyer took a pinch in an absent-minded
Bordin rubbed the calf of his leg, covered with thick stockings of
black raw silk, for he always wore black cloth breeches and a coat
made somewhat in the shape of those which are now termed /a la
Francaise/. He cast his shrewd eyes upon his clients with an anxious
expression, the effect of which was icy.
"Must I analyze all that?" he said; "am I to speak frankly?"
"Yes; go on, monsieur," said Laurence.
"All that you have innocently done can be converted into proof against
you," said the old lawyer. "We cannot save your friends; we can only
reduce the penalty. The sale which you induced Michu to make of his
property will be taken as evident proof of your criminal intentions
against the senator. You sent your servants to Troyes so that you
might be alone; that is all the more plausible because it is actually
true. The elder d'Hauteserre made an unfortunate speech to Beauvisage,
which will be your ruin. You yourself, mademoiselle, made another in
your own courtyard, which proves that you have long shown ill-will to
the possessor of Gondreville. Besides, you were at the gate of the
/rond-point/, apparently on the watch, about the time when the
abduction took place; if they have not arrested you, it is solely
because they fear to bring a sentimental element into the affair."
"The case cannot be successfully defended," said Monsieur de
"The less so," continued Bordin, "because we cannot tell the whole
truth. Michu and the Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre must hold
to the assertion that you merely went for an excursion into the forest
and returned to Cinq-Cygne for luncheon. Allowing that we can show you
were in the house at three o'clock (the exact hour at which the attack
was made), who are our witnesses? Marthe, the wife of one of the
accused, the Durieus, and Catherine, your own servants, and Monsieur
and Madame d'Hauteserre, father and mother of two of the accused. Such
testimony is valueless; the law does not admit it against you, and
commonsense rejects it when given in your favor. If, on the other
hand, you were to say you went to the forest to recover eleven hundred
thousand francs in gold, you would send the accused to the galleys as
robbers. Judge, jury, audience, and the whole of France would believe
that you took that gold from Gondreville, and abducted the senator
that you might ransack his house. The accusation as it now stands is
not wholly clear, but tell the truth about the matter and it would
become as plain as day; the jury would declare that the robbery
explained the mysterious features,--for in these days, you must
remember, a royalist means a thief. This very case is welcomed as a
legitimate political vengeance. The prisoners are now in danger of the
death penalty; but that is not dishonoring under some circumstances.
Whereas, if they can be proved to have stolen money, which can never
be made to seem excusable, you lose all benefit of whatever interest
may attach to persons condemned to death for other crimes. If, at the
first, you had shown the hiding-places of the treasure, the plan of
the forest, the tubes in which the gold was buried, and the gold
itself, as an explanation of your day's work, it is possible you might
have been believed by an impartial magistrate, but as it is we must be
silent. God grant that none of the prisoners may reveal the truth and
compromise the defence; if they do, we must rely on our cross-
Laurence wrung her hands in despair and raised her eyes to heaven with
a despondent look, for she saw at last in all its depths the gulf into
which her cousins had fallen. The marquis and the young lawyer agreed
with the dreadful view of Bordin. Old d'Hauteserre wept.
"Ah! why did they not listen to the Abbe Goujet and fly!" cried Madame
"If they could have escaped, and you prevented them," said Bordin,
"you have killed them yourselves. Judgment by default gains time; time
enables the innocent to clear themselves. This is the most mysterious
case I have ever known in my life, in the course of which I have
certainly seen and known many strange things."
"It is inexplicable to every one, even to us," said Monsieur de
Grandville. "If the prisoners are innocent some one else has committed
the crime. Five persons do not come to a place as if by enchantment,
obtain five horses shod precisely like those of the accused, imitate
the appearance of some of them, and put Malin apparently underground
for the sole purpose of casting suspicion on Michu and the four
gentlemen. The unknown guilty parties must have had some strong reason
for wearing the skin, as it were, of five innocent men. To discover
them, even to get upon their traces, we need as much power as the
government itself, as many agents and as many eyes as there are
townships in a radius of fifty miles."
"The thing is impossible," said Bordin. "There's no use thinking of
it. Since society invented law it has never found a way to give an
innocent prisoner an equal chance against a magistrate who is pre-
disposed against him. Law is not bilateral. The defence, without spies
or police, cannot call social power to the rescue of its innocent
clients. Innocence has nothing on her side but reason, and reasoning
which may strike a judge is often powerless on the narrow minds of
jurymen. The whole department is against you. The eight jurors who
have signed the indictment are each and all purchasers of national
domain. Among the trial jurors we are certain to have some who have
either sold or bought the same property. In short, we can get nothing
but a Malin jury. You must therefore set up a consistent defence, hold
fast to it, and perish in your innocence. You will certainly be
condemned. But there's a court of appeal; we will go there and try to
remain there as long as possible. If in the mean time we can collect
proofs in your favor you must apply for pardon. That's the anatomy of
the business, and my advice. If we triumph (for everything is possible
in law) it will be a miracle; but your advocate Monsieur de Grandville
is the most likely man among all I know to produce that miracle, and
I'll do my best to help him."
"The senator has the key to the mystery," said Monsieur de Grandville;
"for a man knows his enemies and why they are so. Here we find him
leaving Paris at the close of the winter, coming to Gondreville alone,
shutting himself up with his notary, and delivering himself over, as
one might say, to five men who seize him."
"Certainly," said Bordin, "his conduct seems inexplicable. But how
could we, in the face of a hostile community, become accusers when we
ourselves are the accused? We should need the help and good-will of
the government and a thousand times more proof than is wanted in
ordinary circumstances. I am convinced there was premeditation, and
subtle premeditation, on the part of our mysterious adversaries, who
must have known the situation of Michu and the Messieurs de Simeuse
towards Malin. Not to utter one word; not to steal one thing!--
remarkable prudence! I see something very different from ordinary
evil-doers behind those masks. But what would be the use of saying so
to the sort of jurors we shall have to face?"
This insight into hidden matters which gives such power to certain
lawyers and certain magistrates astonished and confounded Laurence;
her heart was wrung by that inexorable logic.
"Out of every hundred criminal cases," continued Bordin, "there are
not ten where the law really lays bare the truth to its full extent;
and there is perhaps a good third in which the truth is never brought
to light at all. Yours is one of those cases which are inexplicable to
all parties, to accused and accusers, to the law and to the public. As
for the Emperor, he has other fish to fry than to consider the case of
these gentlemen, supposing even that they had not conspired against
him. But who the devil /is/ Malin's enemy? and what has really been
done with him?"
Bordin and Monsieur de Grandville looked at each other; they seemed in
doubt as to Laurence's veracity. This evident suspicion was the most
cutting of all the many pangs the girl had suffered in the affair; and
she turned upon the lawyers a look which effectually put an end to
The next day the indictment was handed over to the defence, and the
lawyers were then enabled to communicate with the prisoners. Bordin
informed the family that the six accused men were "well supported,"--
using a professional term.
"Monsieur de Grandville will defend Michu," said Bordin.
"Michu!" exclaimed the Marquis de Chargeboeuf, amazed at the change.
"He is the pivot of the affair--the danger lies there," replied the
"If he is more in danger than the others, I think that is just," cried
"We see certain chances," said Monsieur de Grandville, "and we shall
study them carefully. If we are able to save these gentlemen it will
be because Monsieur d'Hauteserre ordered Michu to repair one of the
stone posts in the covered way, and also because a wolf has been seen
in the forest; in a criminal court everything depends on discussions,
and discussions often turn on trivial matters which then become of
Laurence sank into that inward dejection which humiliates the soul of
all thoughtful and energetic persons when the uselessness of thought
and action is made manifest to them. It was no longer a matter of
overthrowing a usurper, or of coming to the help of devoted friends,--
fanatical sympathies wrapped in a shroud of mystery. She now saw all
social forces full-armed against her cousins and herself. There was no
taking a prison by assault with her own hands, no deliverance of
prisoners from the midst of a hostile population and beneath the eyes
of a watchful police. So, when the young lawyer, alarmed at the stupor
of the generous and noble girl, which the natural expression of her
face made still more noticeable, endeavored to revive her courage, she
turned to him and said: "I must be silent; I suffer,--I wait."
The accent, gesture, and look with which the words were said made this
answer one of those sublime things which only need a wider stage to
make them famous.
A few moments later old d'Hauteserre was saying to the Marquis de
Chargeboeuf: "What efforts I have made for my two unfortunate sons! I
have already laid by in the Funds enough to give them eight thousand
francs a year. If they had only been willing to serve in the army they
would have reached the higher grades by this time, and could now have
married to advantage. Instead of that, all my plans are scattered to
"How can you," said his wife, "think of their interests when it is a
question of their honor and their lives?"
"Monsieur d'Hauteserre thinks of everything," said the marquis.
While the masters of Cinq-Cygne were waiting at Troyes for the opening
of the trial before the Criminal court and vainly soliciting
permission to see the prisoners, an event of the utmost importance had
taken place at the chateau.
Marthe returned to Cinq-Cygne as soon as she had given her testimony
before the indicting jury. This testimony was so insignificant that it
was not thought necessary to summon her before the Criminal court.
Like all persons of extreme sensibility, the poor woman sat silent in
the salon, where she kept company with Mademoiselle Goujet, in a
pitiable state of stupefaction. To her, as to the abbe, and indeed to
all others who did not know how the accused had been employed on that
day, their innocence seemed doubtful. There were moments when Marthe
believed that Michu and his masters and Laurence had executed
vengeance on the senator. The unhappy woman now knew Michu's devotion
well enough to be certain that he was the one who would be most in
danger, not only because of his antecedents, but because of the part
he was sure to have taken in the execution of the scheme.
The Abbe Goujet and his sister and Marthe were bewildered among the
possibilities to which this opinion gave rise; and yet, in the process
of thinking them over, their minds insensibly took hold of them in a
certain way. The absolute doubt which Descartes demands can no more
exist in the brain of a man than a vacuum can exist in nature, and the
mental operation required to produce it would, like the effect of a
pneumatic machine, be exceptional and anomalous. Whatever a case may
be, the mind believes in something. Now Marthe was so afraid that the
accused were guilty that her fear became equivalent to belief; and
this condition of her mind proved fatal to her.
Five days after the arrests, just as she was in the act of going to
bed about ten o'clock at night, she was called from the courtyard by
her mother, who had come from the farm on foot.
"A laboring man from Troyes wants to speak to you; he is sent by
Michu, and is waiting in the covered way," she said to Marthe.
They passed through the breach so as to take the shortest path. In the
darkness it was impossible for Marthe to distinguish anything more
than the form of a person which loomed through the shadows.
"Speak, madame; so that I may be certain you are really Madame Michu,"
said the person, in a rather anxious voice.
"I am Madame Michu," said Marthe; "what do you want of me?"
"Very good," said the unknown, "give me your hand; do not fear me. I
come," he added, leaning towards her and speaking low, "from Michu
with a note for you. I am employed at the prison, and if my superiors
discover my absence we shall all be lost. Trust me; your good father
placed me where I am. For that reason Michu counted on my helping
He put the letter into Marthe's hand and disappeared toward the forest
without waiting for an answer. Marthe trembled at the thought that she
was now to hear the secret of the mystery. She ran to the farm with
her mother and shut herself up to read the following letter:--
My dear Marthe,--You can rely on the discretion of the man who
will give you this letter; he does not know how to read or to
write. He is a stanch Republican, and shared in Baboeuf's
conspiracy; your father often made use of him, and he regards the
senator as a traitor. Now, my dear wife, attend to my directions.
The senator has been shut up by us in the cave where our masters
were hidden. The poor creature had provisions for only five days,
and as it is our interest that he should live, I wish you, as soon
as you receive this letter, to take him food for at least five
days more. The forest is of course watched; therefore take as many
precautions as we formerly did for our young masters. Don't say a
word to Malin; don't speak to him; and put on one of our masks
which you will find on the steps which lead down to the cave.
Unless you wish to compromise our heads you must be absolutely
silent about this letter and the secret I have now confided to
you. Don't say a word to Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, who might
tell of it. Don't fear for me. We are certain that the matter will
turn out well; when the time comes Malin himself will save us. I
don't need to tell you to burn this letter as soon as you have
read it, for it would cost me my head if a line of it were seen. I
kiss you for now and always,
The existence of the cave was known only to Marthe, her son, Michu,
the four gentlemen, and Laurence; or rather, Marthe, to whom her
husband had not related the incident of his meeting with Peyrade and
Corentin, believed it was known only to them. Had she consulted her
mistress and the two lawyers, who knew the innocence of the prisoners,
the shrewd Bordin would have gained some light upon the perfidious
trap which was evidently laid for his clients. But Marthe, acting like
most women under a first impulse, was convinced by this proof which
came to her own eyes, and flung the letter into the fire as directed.
Nevertheless, moved by a singular gleam of caution, she caught a
portion of it from the flames, tore off the five first lines, which
compromised no one, and sewed them into the hem of her dress.
Terrified at the thought that the prisoner had been without food for
twenty-four hours, she resolved to carry bread, meat, and wine to him
at once; curiosity was well as humanity permitting no delay.
Accordingly, she heated her oven and made, with her mother's help, a
/pate/ of hare and ducks, a rice cake, roasted two fowls, selected
three bottles of wine, and baked two loaves of bread. About two in the
morning she started for the forest, carrying the load on her back,
accompanied by Couraut, who in all such expeditions showed wonderful
sagacity as a guide. He scented strangers at immense distances, and as
soon as he was certain of their presence he returned to his mistress
with a low growl, looking at her fixedly and turning his muzzle in the
direction of the danger.
Marthe reached the pond about three in the morning, and left the dog
as sentinel on the bank. After half an hour's labor in clearing the
entrance she came with a dark lantern to the door of the cave, her
face covered with a mask, which she had found, as directed, on the
steps. The imprisonment of the senator seemed to have been long
premeditated. A hole about a foot square, which Marthe had never seen
before, was roughly cut in the upper part of the iron door which
closed the cave; but in order to prevent Malin from using the time and
patience all prisoners have at their command in loosening the iron bar
which held the door, it was securely fastened with a padlock.
The senator, who had risen from his bed of moss, sighed when he saw
the masked face and felt that there was no chance then of his
deliverance. He examined Marthe, as much as he could by the unsteady
light of her dark lantern, and he recognized her by her clothes, her
stoutness, and her motions. When she passed the /pate/ through the
door he dropped it to seize her hand and then, with great swiftness,
he tried to pull the rings from her fingers,--one her wedding-ring,
the other a gift from Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne.
"You cannot deny that it is you, my dear Madame Michu," he said.
Marthe closed her fist the moment she felt his fingers, and gave him a
vigorous blow in the chest. Then, without a word, she turned away and
cut a stick, at the end of which she held out to the senator the rest
of the provisions.
"What do they want of me?" he asked.
Marthe departed giving him no answer. By five o'clock she had reached
the edge of the forest and was warned by Couraut of the presence of
strangers. She retraced her steps and made for the pavilion where she
had lived so long; but just as she entered the avenue she was seen
from afar by the forester of Gondreville, and she quickly reflected
that her best plan was to go straight up to him.
"You are out early, Madame Michu," he said, accosting her.
"We are so unfortunate," she replied, "that I am obliged to do a
servant's work myself. I am going to Bellache for some grain."
"Haven't you any at Cinq-Cygne?" said the forester.
Marthe made no answer. She continued on her way and reached the farm
at Bellache, where she asked Beauvisage to give her some seed-grain,
saying that Monsieur d'Hauteserre advised her to get it from him to
renew her crop. As soon as Marthe had left the farm, the forester went
there to find out what she asked for.
Six days later, Marthe, determined to be prudent, went at midnight
with her provisions so as to avoid the keepers who were evidently
patrolling the forest. After carrying a third supply to the senator
she suddenly became terrified on hearing the abbe read aloud the
public examination of the prisoners,--for the trial was by that time
begun. She took the abbe aside, and after obliging him to swear that
he would keep the secret she was about to reveal as though it was said
to him in the confessional, she showed him the fragments of Michu's
letter, told him the contents of it, and also the secret of the
hiding-place where the senator then was.
The abbe at once inquired if she had other letters from her husband
that he might compare the writing. Marthe went to her home to fetch
them and there found a summons to appear in court. By the time she
returned to the chateau the abbe and his sister had received a similar
summons on behalf of the defence. They were obliged therefore to start
for Troyes immediately. Thus all the personages of our drama, even
those who were only, as it were, supernumeraries, were collected on
the spot where the fate of the two families was about to be decided.
There are but few localities in France where Law derives from outward
appearance the dignity which ought always to accompany it. Yet it
surely is, after religion and royalty, the greatest engine of society.
Everywhere, even in Paris, the meanness of its surroundings, the
wretched arrangement of the courtrooms, their barrenness and want of
decoration in the most ornate and showy nation upon earth in the
matter of its public monuments, lessens the action of the law's mighty
power. At the farther end of some oblong room may be seen a desk with
a green baize covering raised on a platform; behind it sit the judges
on the commonest of arm-chairs. To the left, is the seat of the public
prosecutor, and beside him, close to the wall, is a long pen filled
with chairs for the jury. Opposite to the jury is another pen with a
bench for the prisoners and the gendarmes who guard them. The clerk of
the court sits below the platform at a table covered with the papers
of the case. Before the imperial changes in the administration of
justice were instituted, a commissary of the government and the
director of the jury each had a seat and a table, one to the right,
the other to the left of the baize-covered desk. Two sheriffs hovered
about in the space left in front of the desk for the station of
witnesses. Facing the judges and against the wall above the entrance,
there is always a shabby gallery reserved for officials and for women,
to which admittance is granted only by the president of the court, to
whom the proper management of the courtroom belongs. The non-
privileged public are compelled to stand in the empty space between
the door of the hall and the bar. This normal appearance of all French
law courts and assize-rooms was that of the Criminal court of Troyes.
In April, 1806, neither the four judges nor the president (or chief-
justice) who made up the court, nor the public prosecutor, the
director of the jury, the commissary of the government, nor the
sheriffs or lawyers, in fact no one except the gendarmes, wore any
robes or other distinctive sign which might have relieved the
nakedness of the surroundings and the somewhat meagre aspect of the
figures. The crucifix was suppressed; its example was no longer held
up before the eyes of justice and of guilt. All was dull and vulgar.
The paraphernalia so necessary to excite social interest is perhaps a
consolation to criminals. On this occasion the eagerness of the public
was what it has ever been and ever will be in trials of this kind, so
long as France refuses to recognize that the admission of the public
to the courts involves publicity, and that the publicity given to
trials is a terrible penalty which would never have been inflicted had
legislators reflected on it. Customs are often more cruel than laws.
Customs are the deeds of men, but laws are the judgment of a nation.
Customs in which there is often no judgment are stronger than laws.
Crowds surrounded the courtroom; the president was obliged to station
squads of soldiers to guard the doors. The audience, standing below
the bar, was so crowded that persons suffocated. Monsieur de
Grandville, defending Michu, Bordin, defending the Simeuse brothers,
and a lawyer of Troyes who appeared for the d'Hauteserres, were in
their seats before the opening of the court; their faces wore a look
of confidence. When the prisoners were brought in, sympathetic murmurs
were heard at the appearance of the young men, whose faces, in twenty
days' imprisonment and anxiety, had somewhat paled. The perfect
likeness of the twins excited the deepest interest. Perhaps the
spectators thought that Nature would exercise some special protection
in the case of her own anomalies, and felt ready to join in repairing
the harm done to them by destiny. Their noble, simple faces, showing
no signs of shame, still less of bravado, touched the women's hearts.
The four gentlemen and Gothard wore the clothes in which they had been
arrested; but Michu, whose coat and trousers were among the "articles
of testimony," so-called, had put on his best clothes,--a blue
surtout, a brown velvet waistcoat /a la/ Robespierre, and a white
cravat. The poor man paid the penalty of his dangerous-looking face.
When he cast a glance of his yellow eye, so clear and so profound upon
the audience, a murmur of repulsion answered it. The assembly chose to
see the finger of God bringing him to the dock where his father-in-law
had sacrificed so many victims. This man, truly great, looked at his
masters, repressing a smile of scorn. He seemed to say to them, "I am
injuring your cause." Five of the prisoners exchanged greetings with
their counsel. Gothard still played the part of an idiot.
After several challenges, made with much sagacity by the defence under
advice of the Marquis de Chargeboeuf, who boldly took a seat beside
Bordin and de Grandville, the jury were empanelled, the indictment was
read, and the prisoners were brought up separately to be examined.
They answered every question with remarkable unanimity. After riding
about the forest all the morning they had returned to Cinq-Cygne for
breakfast at one o'clock. After that meal, from three to half-past
five in the afternoon, they had returned to the forest. That was the
basis of each testimony; any variations were merely individual
circumstances. When the president asked the Messieurs de Simeuse why
they had ridden out so early, they both declared that wishing, since
their return, to buy back Gondreville and intending to make an offer
to Malin who had arrived the night before, they had gone out early
with their cousin and Michu to make certain examinations of the
property on which to base their offer. During that time the Messieurs
d'Hauteserre, their cousin, and Gothard had chased a wolf which was
reported in the forest by the peasantry. If the director of the jury
had sought for the prints of their horses' feet in the forest as
carefully as in the park of Gondreville, he would have found proof of
their presence at long distances from the house.
The examination of the Messieurs d'Hauteserre corroborated this
testimony, and was in harmony with their preliminary dispositions. The
necessity of some reason for their ride suggested to each of them the
excuse of hunting. The peasants had given warning, a few days earlier,
of a wolf in the forest, and on that they had fastened as a pretext.
The public prosecutor, however, pointed out a discrepancy between the
first statements of the Messieurs d'Hauteserre, in which they
mentioned that the whole party hunted together, and the defence now
made by the Messieurs de Simeuse that their purpose on that day was
the valuation of the forest.
Monsieur de Grandville here called attention to the fact that as the
crime was not committed until after two o'clock in the afternoon, the
prosecution had no ground to question their word when they stated the
manner in which they had employed their morning.
The prosecutor replied that the prisoners had an interest in
concealing their preparations for the abduction of the senator.
The remarkable ability of the defence was now felt. Judges, jurors,
and audience became aware that victory would be hotly contested.
Bordin and Monsieur de Grandville had studied their ground and
foreseen everything. Innocence is required to render a clear and
plausible account of its actions. The duty of the defence is to
present a consistent and probable tale in opposition to an
insufficient and improbable accusation. To counsel who regard their
client as innocent, an accusation is false. The public examination of
the four gentlemen sufficiently explained the matter in their favor.
So far all was well. But the examination of Michu was more serious;
there the real struggle began. It was now clear to every one why
Monsieur de Grandville had preferred to take charge of the servant's
defence rather than that of his masters.
Michu admitted his threats against Marion; but denied that he had made
them violently. As for the ambush in which he was supposed to have
watched for his enemy, he said he was merely making his rounds in his
park; the senator and Monsieur Grevin might perhaps have been alarmed
at the sight of his gun and have thought his intentions hostile when
they were really inoffensive. He called attention to the fact that in
the dusk a man who was not in the habit of hunting might easily fancy
a gun was pointed at him, whereas, in point of fact, it was held in
his hand at half-cock. To explain the condition of his clothes when
arrested, he said he had slipped and fallen in the breach on his way
home. "I could scarcely see my way," he said, "and the loose stones
slipped from under me as I climbed the bank." As for the plaster which
Gothard was bringing him, he replied as he had done in all previous
examinations, that he wanted it to secure one of the stone posts of
the covered way.
The public prosecutor and the president asked him to explain how he
could have been at the top of the covered way engaged in mending a
stone post and at the same time in the breach of the moat leading to
the chateau; more especially as the justice of peace, the gendarmes
and the forester all declared they had heard him approach them from
the lower road. To this Michu replied that Monsieur d'Hauteserre had
blamed him for not having mended the post,--which he was anxious to
have finished because there were difficulties about that road with the
township,--and he had therefore gone up to the chateau to report that
the work was done.
Monsieur d'Hauteserre had, in fact, put up a fence above the covered
way to prevent the township from taking possession of it. Michu seeing
the important part which the state of his clothes was likely to play,
invented this subterfuge. If, in law, truth is often like falsehood,
falsehood on the other hand has a very great resemblance to truth. The
defence and the prosecution both attached much importance to this
testimony, which became one of the leading points of the trial on
account of the vigor of the defence and the suspicions of the
Gothard, instructed no doubt by Monsieur de Grandville, for up to that
time he had only wept when they questioned him, admitted that Michu
had told him to carry the plaster.
"Why did neither you nor Gothard take the justice of peace and the
forester to the stone post and show them your work?" said the public
prosecutor, addressing Michu.
"Because," replied the man, "I didn't believe there was any serious
accusation against us."
All the prisoners except Gothard were now removed from the courtroom.
When Gothard was left alone the president adjured him to speak the
truth for his own sake, pointing out that his pretended idiocy had
come to an end; none of the jurors believed him imbecile; if he
refused to answer the court he ran the risk of serious penalty;
whereas by telling the truth at once he would probably be released.
Gothard wept, hesitated, and finally ended by saying that Michu had
told him to carry several sacks of plaster; but that each time he had
met him near the farm. He was asked how many sacks he had carried.
"Three," he replied.
An argument hereupon ensued as to whether the three sacks included the
one which Gothard was carrying at the time of the arrest (which
reduced the number of the other sacks to two) or whether there were
three without the last. The debate ended in favor of the first
proposition, the jury considering that only two sacks had been used.
They appeared to have a foregone conviction on that point, but Bordin
and Monsieur de Grandville judged it best to surfeit them with
plaster, and weary them so thoroughly with the argument that they
would no longer comprehend the question. Monsieur de Grandville made
it appear that experts ought to have been sent to examine the stone
"The director of the jury," he said, "has contented himself with
merely visiting the place, less for the purpose of making a careful
examination than to trap Michu in a lie; this, in our opinion, was a
failure of duty, but the blunder is to our advantage."
On this the Court appointed experts to examine the posts and see if
one of them had been really mended and reset. The public prosecutor,
on his side, endeavored to make capital of the affair before the
experts could testify.
"You seem to have chosen," he said to Michu, who was now brought back
into the courtroom, "an hour when the daylight was waning, from half-
past five to half-past six o'clock, to mend this post and to cement it
"Monsieur d'Hauteserre had blamed me for not doing it," replied Michu.
"But," said the prosecutor, "if you used that plaster on the post you
must have had a trough and a trowel. Now, if you went to the chateau
to tell Monsieur d'Hauteserre that you had done the work, how do you
explain the fact that Gothard was bringing you more plaster. You must
have passed your farm on your way to the chateau, and you would
naturally have left your tools at home and stopped Gothard."
This overwhelming argument produced a painful silence in the
"Come," said the prosecutor, "you had better admit at once that what
you buried was /not a stone post/."
"Do you think it was the senator?" said Michu, sarcastically.
Monsieur de Grandville hereupon demanded that the public prosecutor
should explain his meaning. Michu was accused of abduction and the
concealment of a person, but not of murder. Such an insinuation was a
serious matter. The code of Brumaire, year IV., forbade the public
prosecutor from presenting any fresh count at the trial; he must keep
within the indictment or the proceedings would be annulled.
The public prosecutor replied that Michu, the person chiefly concerned
in the abduction and who, in the interests of his masters, had taken
the responsibility on his own shoulders, might have thought it
necessary to plaster up the entrance of the hiding-place, still
undiscovered, where the senator was now immured.
Pressed with questions, hampered by the presence of Gothard, and
brought into contradiction with himself, Michu struck his fist upon
the edge of the dock with a resounding blow and said: "I have had
nothing whatever to do with the abduction of the senator. I hope and
believe his enemies have merely imprisoned him; when he reappears
you'll find out that the plaster was put to no such use."
"Good!" said de Grandville, addressing the public prosecutor; "you
have done more for my client's cause than anything I could have said."
The first day's session ended with this bold declaration, which
surprised the judges and gave an advantage to the defence. The lawyers
of the town and Bordin himself congratulated the young advocate. The
prosecutor, uneasy at the assertion, feared that he had fallen into
some trap; in fact he was really caught in a snare that was cleverly
set for him by the defence and admirably played off by Gothard. The
wits of the town declared that he had white-washed the affair and
splashed his own cause, and had made the accused as white as the
plaster itself. France is the domain of satire, which reigns supreme
in our land; Frenchmen jest on a scaffold, at the Beresina, at the
barricades, and some will doubtless appear with a quirk upon their
lips at the grand assizes of the Last Judgment.
TRIAL CONTINUED: CRUEL VICISSITUDES
On the morrow the witnesses for the prosecution were examined,--Madame
Marion, Madame Grevin, Grevin himself, the senator's valet, and
Violette, whose testimony can readily be imagined from the facts
already told. They all identified the five prisoners, with more or
less hesitation as to the four gentlemen, but with absolute certainty
as to Michu. Beauvisage repeated Robert d'Hauteserre's speech when he
met them at daybreak in the park. The peasant who had bought Monsieur
d'Hauteserre's calf testified to overhearing that of Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne. The experts, who had compared the hoof-prints with the
shoes on the horses ridden by the five prisoners and found them
absolutely alike, confirmed their previous depositions. This point was
naturally one of vehement contention between Monsieur de Grandville
and the prosecuting officer. The defence called the blacksmith at
Cinq-Cygne and succeeded in proving that he had sold several
horseshoes of the same pattern to strangers who were not known in the
place. The blacksmith declared, moreover, that he was in the habit of
shoeing in this particular manner not only the horses of the chateau
de Cinq-Cygne, but those from other places in the canton. It was also
proved that the horse which Michu habitually rode was always shod at
Troyes, and the mark of that shoe was not among the hoof-prints found
in the park.
"Michu's double was not aware of this circumstance, or he would have
provided for it," said Monsieur de Grandville, looking at the jury.
"Neither has the prosecution shown what horses our clients rode."
He ridiculed the testimony of Violette so far as it concerned a
recognition of the horses, seen from a long distance, from behind, and
after dusk. Still, in spite of all his efforts, the body of the
evidence was against Michu; and the prosecutor, judge, jury, and
audience were impressed with a feeling (as the lawyers for the defence
had foreseen) that the guilt of the servant carried with it that of
the masters. So the vital interest centred on all that concerned
Michu. His bearing was noble. He showed in his answers the sagacity
with which nature had endowed him; and the public, seeing him on his
mettle, recognized his superiority. And yet, strange to say, the more
they understood him the more certainty they felt that he was the
instigator of the outrage.
The witnesses for the defence, always less important in the eyes of a
jury and of the law than the witnesses for the prosecution, seemed to
testify as in duty bound, and were listened to with that allowance. In
the first place neither Marthe, nor Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre
took the oath. Catherine and the Durieus, in their capacity as
servants, did not take it. Monsieur d'Hauteserre stated that he had
ordered Michu to replace and mend the stone post which had been thrown
down. The deposition of the experts sent to examine the fence, which
was now read, confirmed his testimony; but they helped the prosecution
by declaring they could not fix the exact time at which the repairs
had been made; it might have been several weeks or no more than twenty
The appearance of Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne excited the liveliest
curiosity; but the sight of her cousins in the prisoners' dock after
three weeks' separation affected her so much that her emotions gave
the audience an impression of guilt. She felt an overwhelming desire
to stand beside the twins, and was obliged, as she afterwards
admitted, to use all her strength to repress the longing that came
into her mind to kill the prosecutor so as to stand in the eyes of the
world as a criminal beside them. She testified, with simplicity, that
riding from Cinq-Cygne and seeing smoke in the park of Gondreville,
she had supposed there was a fire; at first she thought they were burning
weeds or brush; "but later," she added, "I observed a circumstance
which I offer to the attention of the Court. I found in the frogging
of my habit and in the folds of my collar small fragments of what
appeared to be burned paper which were floating in the air."
"Was there much smoke?" asked Bordin.
"Yes," replied Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, "I feared a conflagration."
"This is enough to change the whole inquiry," remarked Bordin. "I
request the Court to order an immediate examination of that region of
the park where the fire occurred."
The president ordered the inquiry.
Grevin, recalled by the defence and questioned on this circumstance,
declared he knew nothing about it. But Bordin and he exchanged looks
which mutually enlightened them.
"The gist of the case is there," thought the old notary.
"They've laid their finger on it," thought the notary.
But each shrewd head considered the following up of this point
useless. Bordin reflected that Grevin would be silent as the grave;
and Grevin congratulated himself that every sign of the fire had been
To settle this point, which seemed a mere accessory to the trial and
somewhat puerile (but which is really essential in the justification
which history owes to these young men), the experts and Pigoult, who
were despatched by the president to examine the park, reported that
they could find no traces of a bonfire.
Bordin summoned two laborers, who testified to having dug over, under
the direction of the forester, a tract of ground in the park where the
grass had been burned; but they declared they had not observed the
nature of the ashes they had buried.
The forester, recalled by the defence, said he had received from the
senator himself, as he was passing the chateau of Gondreville on his
way to the masquerade at Arcis, an order to dig over that particular
piece of ground which the senator had remarked as needing it.
"Had papers, or herbage been burned there?"
"I could not say. I saw nothing that made me think that papers had
been burned there," replied the forester.
"At any rate," said Bordin, "if, as it appears, a fire was kindled on
that piece of ground some one brought to the spot whatever was burned
The testimony of the abbe and that of Mademoiselle Goujet made a
favorable impression. They said that as they left the church after
vespers and were walking towards home, they met the four gentlemen and
Michu leaving the chateau on horseback and making their way to the
forest. The character, position, and known uprightness of the Abbe
Goujet gave weight to his words.
The summing up of the public prosecutor, who felt sure of obtaining a
verdict, was in the nature of all such speeches. The prisoners were
the incorrigible enemies of France, her institutions and laws. They
thirsted for tumult and conspiracy. Though they had belonged to the
army of Conde and had shared in the late attempts against the life of
the Emperor, that magnanimous sovereign had erased their names from
the list of /emigres/. This was the return they made for his clemency!
In short, all the oratorical declamations of the Bourbons against the
Bonapartists, which in our day are repeated against the republicans
and the legitimists by the Younger Branch, flourished in the speech.
These trite commonplaces, which might have some meaning under a fixed
government, seem farcical in the mouth of administrators of all epochs
and opinions. A saying of the troublous times of yore is still
applicable: "The label is changed, but the wine is the same as ever."
The public prosecutor, one of the most distinguished legal men under
the Empire, attributed the crime to a fixed determination on the part
of returned /emigres/ to protest against the sale of their estates. He
made the audience shudder at the probable condition of the senator;
then he massed together proofs, half-proofs, and probabilities with a
cleverness stimulated by a sense that his zeal was certain of its
reward, and sat down tranquilly to await the fire of his opponents.
Monsieur de Grandville never argued but this one criminal case; and it
made his reputation. In the first place, he spoke with the same
glowing eloquence which to-day we admire in Berryer. He was profoundly
convinced of the innocence of his clients, and that in itself is a
most powerful auxiliary of speech. The following are the chief points
of his defence, which was reported in full by all the leading
newspapers of the period. In the first place he exhibited the
character and life of Michu in its true light. He made it a noble
tale, ringing with lofty sentiments, and it awakened the sympathies of
many. When Michu heard himself vindicated by that eloquent voice,
tears sprang from his yellow eyes and rolled down his terrible face.
He appeared then for what he really was,--a man as simple and as wily
as a child; a being whose whole existence had but one thought, one
aim. He was suddenly explained to the minds of all present, more
especially by his tears, which produced a great effect upon the jury.
His able defender seized that moment of strong interest to enter upon
a discussion of the charges:--
"Where is the body of the person abducted? Where is the senator?" he
asked. "You accuse us of walling him up with stones and plaster. If
so, we alone know where he is; you have kept us twenty-three days in
prison, and the senator must be dead by this time for want of food. We
are therefore murderers, but you have not accused us of murder. On the
other hand, if he still lives, we must have accomplices. If we have
them, and if the senator is living, we should assuredly have set him
at liberty. The scheme in relation to Gondreville which you attribute
to us is a failure, and only aggravates our position uselessly. We
might perhaps obtain a pardon for an abortive attempt by releasing our
victim; instead of that we persist in detaining a man from whom we can
obtain no benefit whatever. It is absurd! Take away your plaster; the
effect is a failure," he said, addressing the public prosecutor. "We
are either idiotic criminals (which you do not believe) or the
innocent victims of circumstances as inexplicable to us as they are to
you. You ought rather to search for the mass of papers which were
burned at Gondreville, which will reveal motives stronger far than
yours or ours and put you on the track of the causes of this
The speaker discussed these hypotheses with marvellous ability. He
dwelt on the moral character of the witnesses for the defence, whose
religious faith was a living one, who believed in a future life and in
eternal punishment. He rose to grandeur in this part of his speech and
moved his hearers deeply:--
"Remember!" he said; "these criminals were tranquilly dining when told
of the abduction of the senator. When the officer of gendarmes
intimated to them the best means of ending the whole affair by giving
up the senator, they refused, for they did not understand what was
asked of them!"
Then, reverting to the mystery of the matter, he declared that its
solution was in the hands of time, which would eventually reveal the
injustice of the charge. Once on this ground, he boldly and
ingeniously supposed himself a juror; related his deliberations with
his colleagues; imagined his distress lest, having condemned the
innocent, the error should be known too late, and drew such a picture
of his remorse, dwelling on the grave doubts which the case presented,
that he brought the jury to a condition of intense anxiety.
Juries were not in those days so blase to this sort of allocution as
they are now; Monsieur de Grandville's appeal had the power of things
new, and the jurors were evidently shaken. After this passionate
outburst they had to listen to the wily and specious prosecutor, who
went over the whole case, brought out the darkest points against the
prisoners and made the rest inexplicable. His aim was to reach the
minds and the reasoning faculties of his hearers just as Monsieur de
Grandville had aimed at the heart and the imagination. The latter,
however, had seriously entangled the convictions of the jury, and the
public prosecutor found his well-laid arguments ineffectual. This was
so plain that the counsel for the Messieurs d'Hauteserre and Gothard
appealed to the judgment of the jury, asking that the case against
their clients be abandoned. The prosecutor demanded a postponement
till the next day in order that he might prepare an answer. Bordin,
who saw acquittal in the eyes of the jury if they deliberated on the
case at once, opposed the delay of even one night by arguments of
legal right and justice to his innocent clients; but in vain,--the
court allowed it.
"The interests of society are as great as those of the accused," said
the president. "The court would be lacking in equity if it denied a
like request when made by the defence; it ought therefore to grant
that of the prosecution."
"All is luck or ill-luck!" said Bordin to his clients when the session
was over. "Almost acquitted tonight you may be condemned to-morrow."
"In either case," said the elder de Simeuse, "we can only admire your
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne's eyes were full of tears. After the doubts
and fears of the counsel for the defence, she had not expected this
success. Those around her congratulated her and predicted the
acquittal of her cousins. But alas! the matter was destined to end in
a startling and almost theatrical event, the most unexpected and
disastrous circumstance which ever changed the face of a criminal
At five in the morning of the day after Monsieur de Grandville's
speech, the senator was found on the high road to Troyes, delivered
from captivity during his sleep, unaware of the trial that was going
on or of the excitement attaching to his name in Europe, and simply
happy in being once more able to breathe the fresh air. The man who
was the pivot of the drama was quite as amazed at what was now told to
him as the persons who met him on his way to Troyes were astounded at
his reappearance. A farmer lent him a carriage and he soon reached the
house of the prefect at Troyes. The prefect notified the director of
the jury, the commissary of the government, and the public prosecutor,
who, after a statement made to them by Malin, arrested Marthe, while
she was still in bed at the Durieu's house in the suburbs.
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, who was only at liberty under bail, was
also snatched from one of the few hours of slumber she had been able
to obtain at rare intervals in the course of her ceaseless anxiety,
and taken to the prefecture to undergo an examination. An order to
keep the accused from holding any communication with each other or
with their counsel was sent to the prison. At ten o'clock the crowd
which assembled around the courtroom were informed that the trial was
postponed until one o'clock in the afternoon of the same day.
This change of hour, following on the news of the senator's
deliverance, Marthe's arrest, and that of Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne,
together with the denial of the right to communicate with the
prisoners carried terror to the hotel de Chargeboeuf. The whole town
and the spectators who had come to Troyes to be present at the trial,
the short-hand writers for the daily journals, even the populace were
in a ferment which can readily be imagined. The Abbe Goujet came at
ten o'clock to see Monsieur and Madame d'Hauteserre and the counsel
for the defence, who were breakfasting--as well as they could under
the circumstances. The abbe took Bordin and Monsieur Grandville apart,
told them what Marthe had confided to him the day before, and gave
them the fragment of the letter she had received. The two lawyers
exchanged a look, after which Bordin said to the abbe: "Not a word of
all this! The case is lost; but at any rate let us show a firm front."
Marthe was not strong enough to evade the cross-questioning of the
director of the jury and the public prosecutor. Moreover the proof
against her was too overwhelming. Lechesneau had sent for the under
crust of the last loaf of bread she had carried to the cavern, also
for the empty bottles and various other articles. During the senator's
long hours of captivity he had formed conjectures in his own mind and
had looked for indications which might put him on the track of his
enemies. These he now communicated to the authorities. Michu's
farmhouse, lately built, had, he supposed, a new oven; the tiles or
bricks on which the bread was baked would show their jointed lines on
the bottom of the loaves, and thus afford a proof that the bread
supplied to him was baked on that particular oven. So with the wine
brought in bottles sealed with green wax, which would probably be
found identical with other bottles in Michu's cellar. These shrewd
observations, which Malin imparted to the justice of peace, who made
the first examination (taking Marthe with him), led to the results
foreseen by the senator.
Marthe, deceived by the apparent friendliness of Lechesneau and the
public prosecutor, who assured her that complete confession could
alone save her husband's life, admitted that the cavern where the
senator had been hidden was known only to her husband and the
Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre, and that she herself had taken
provisions to the senator on three separate occasions at midnight.
Laurence, questioned about the cavern, was forced to acknowledge that
Michu had discovered it and had shown it to her at the time when the
four young men evaded the police and were hidden in it.
As soon as these preliminary examinations were ended, the jury,
lawyers, and audience were notified that the trial would be resumed.
At three o'clock the president opened the session by announcing that
the case would be continued under a new aspect. He exhibited to Michu
three bottles of wine and asked him if he recognized them as bottles
from his own cellar, showing him at the same time the identity between
the green wax on two empty bottles with the green wax on a full bottle
taken from his cellar that morning by the justice of peace in presence
of his wife. Michu refused to recognize anything as his own. But these
proofs for the prosecution were understood by the jurors, to whom the
president explained that the empty bottles were found in the place
where the senator was imprisoned.
Each prisoner was questioned as to the cavern or cellar beneath the
ruins of the old monastery. It was proved by all witnesses for the
prosecution, and also for the defence, that the existence of this
hiding-place discovered by Michu was known only to him and his wife,
and to Laurence and the four gentlemen. We may judge of the effect in
the courtroom when the public prosecutor made known the fact that this
cavern, known only to the accused and to their two witnesses, was the
place where the senator had been imprisoned.
Marthe was summoned. Her appearance caused much excitement among the
spectators and keen anxiety to the prisoners. Monsieur de Grandville
rose to protest against the testimony of a wife against her husband.
The public prosecutor replied that Marthe by her own confession was an
accomplice in the outrage; that she had neither sworn nor testified,
and was to be heard solely in the interests of truth.
"We need only submit her preliminary examination to the jury,"
remarked the president, who now ordered the clerk of the court to read
the said testimony aloud.
"Do you now confirm your own statement?" said the president,
Michu looked at his wife, and Marthe, who saw her fatal error, fainted
away and fell to the floor. It may be truly said that a thunderbolt
had fallen upon the prisoners and their counsel.
"I never wrote to my wife from prison, and I know none of the persons
employed there," said Michu.
Bordin passed to him the fragments of the letter Marthe had received.
Michu gave but one glance at it. "My writing has been imitated," he
"Denial is your last resource," said the public prosecutor.
The senator was introduced into the courtroom with all the ceremonies
due to his position. His entrance was like a stage scene. Malin (now
called Comte de Gondreville, without regard to the feelings of the
late owners of the property) was requested by the president to look at
the prisoners, and did so with great attention and for a long time. He
stated that the clothing of his abductors was exactly like that worn
by the four gentlemen; but he declared that the trouble of his mind
had been such that he could not be positive that the accused were
really the guilty parties.
"More than that," he said, "it is my conviction that these four
gentlemen had nothing to do with it. The hands that blindfolded me in
the forest were coarse and rough. I should rather suppose," he added,
looking at Michu, "that my old enemy took charge of that duty; but I
beg the gentlemen of the jury not to give too much weight to this
remark. My suspicions are very slight, and I feel no certainty
whatever--for this reason. The two men who seized me put me on
horseback behind the man who blindfolded me, and whose hair was red
like Michu's. However singular you may consider the observation I am
about to make, it is necessary to make it because it is the ground of
an opinion favorable to the accused--who, I hope, will not feel
offended by it. Fastened to the man's back I would naturally have been
affected by his odor--yet I did not perceive that which is peculiar to
Michu. As to the person who brought me provisions on three several
occasions, I am certain it was Marthe, the wife of Michu. I recognized
her the first time she came by a ring she always wore, which she had
forgotten to remove. The Court and jury will please allow for the
contradictions which appear in the facts I have stated, which I myself
am wholly unable to reconcile."
A murmur of approval followed this testimony. Bordin asked permission
of the Court to address a few questions to the witness.
"Does the senator think that his abduction was due to other causes
than the interests respecting property which the prosecution
attributes to the prisoners?"
"I do," replied the senator, "but I am wholly ignorant of what the
real motives were; for during a captivity of twenty days I saw and
heard no one."
"Do you think," said the public prosecutor, "that your chateau at
Gondreville contains information, title-deeds, or other papers of
value which would induce a search on the part of the Messieurs de
"I do not think so," replied Malin; "I believe those gentlemen to be
incapable of attempting to get possession of such papers by violence.
They had only to ask me for them to obtain them."
"You burned certain papers in the park, did you not?" said Monsieur de
Malin looked at Grevin. After exchanging a rapid glance with the
notary, which Bordin intercepted, he replied that he had not burned
any papers. The public prosecutor having asked him to describe the
ambush to which he had so nearly fallen a victim two years earlier,
the senator replied that he had seen Michu watching him from the fork
of a tree. This answer, which agreed with Grevin's testimony, produced
a great impression.
The four gentlemen remained impassible during the examination of their
enemy, who seemed determined to overwhelm them with generosity.
Laurence suffered horrible agony. From time to time the Marquis de
Chargeboeuf held her by the arm, fearing she might dart forward to the
rescue. The Comte de Gondreville retired from the courtroom and as he
did so he bowed to the four gentlemen, who did not return the
salutation. This trifling matter made the jury indignant.
"They are lost now," whispered Bordin to the Marquis de Chargeboeuf.
"Alas, yes! and always through the nobility of their sentiments,"
replied the marquis.
"My task is now only too easy, gentlemen," said the prosecutor, rising
to address the jury.
He explained the use of the cement by the necessity of securing an
iron frame on which to fasten a padlock which held the iron bar with
which the gate of the cavern was closed; a description of which was
given in the /proces-verbal/ made that morning by Pigoult. He put the
falsehoods of the accused into the strongest light, and pulverized the
arguments of the defence with the new evidence so miraculously
obtained. In 1806 France was still too near the Supreme Being of 1793
to talk about divine justice; he therefore spared the jury all
reference to the intervention of heaven; but he said that earthly
justice would be on the watch for the mysterious accomplices who had
set the senator at liberty, and he sat down, confidently awaiting the
The jury believed there was a mystery, but they were all persuaded
that it came from the prisoners, who were probably concealing some
matter of a private interest of great importance to them.
Monsieur de Grandville, to whom a plot or machination of some kind was
quite evident, rose; but he seemed discouraged,--less, however, by the
new evidence than by the manifest opinion of the jury. He surpassed,
if anything, his speech of the previous evening; his argument was more
compact and logical; but he felt his fervor repelled by the coldness
of the jury; he spoke ineffectually, and he knew it,--a chilling
situation for an advocate. He called attention to the fact that the
release of the senator, as if by magic and clearly without the aid of
any of the accused or of Marthe, corroborated his previous argument.
Yesterday the prisoners could most surely rely on acquittal, and if
they had, as the prosecution claimed, the power to hold or to release
the senator, they certainly would not have released him until after
their acquittal. He endeavored to bring before the minds of the Court
and jury the fact that mysterious enemies, undiscovered as yet, could
alone have struck the accused this final blow.
Strange to say, the only minds Monsieur de Grandville reached with
this argument were those of the public prosecutor and the judges. The
jury listened perfunctorily; the audience, usually so favorable to
prisoners, were convinced of their guilt. In a court of justice the
sentiments of the crowd do unquestionably weigh upon the judges and
the jury, and /vice versa/. Seeing this condition of the minds about
him, which could be felt if not defined, the counsel uttered his last
words in a tone of passionate excitement caused by his conviction:--
"In the name of the accused," he cried, "I forgive you for the fatal
error you are about to commit, and which nothing can repair! We are
the victims of some mysterious and Machiavellian power. Marthe Michu
was inveigled by vile perfidy. You will discover this too late, when
the evil you now do will be irreparable."
Bordin simply claimed the acquittal of the prisoners on the testimony
of the senator himself.
The president summed up the case with all the more impartiality
because it was evident that the minds of the jurors were already made
up. He even turned the scales in favor of the prisoners by dwelling on
the senator's evidence. This clemency, however, did not in the least
endanger the success of the prosecution. At eleven o'clock that night,
after the jury had replied through their foreman to the usual
questions, the Court condemned Michu to death, the Messieurs de
Simeuse to twenty-four years' and the Messieurs d'Hauteserre to ten
years, penal servitude at hard labor. Gothard was acquitted.
The whole audience was eager to observe the bearing of the five guilty
men in this supreme moment of their lives. The four gentlemen looked
at Laurence, who returned them, with dry eyes, the ardent look of the
"She would have wept had we been acquitted," said the younger de
Simeuse to his brother.
Never did convicted men meet an unjust fate with serener brows or
countenances more worthy of their manhood than these five victims of a
"Our counsel has forgiven you," said the eldest de Simeuse to the
Madame d'Hauteserre fell ill, and was three months in her bed at the
hotel de Chargeboeuf. Monsieur d'Hauteserre returned patiently to
Cinq-Cygne, inwardly gnawed by one of those sorrows of old age which
have none of youth's distractions; often he was so absent-minded that
the abbe, who watched him, knew the poor father was living over again
the scene of the fatal verdict. Marthe passed away from all blame; she
died three weeks after the condemnation of her husband, confiding her
son to Laurence, in whose arms she died.
The trial once over, political events of the utmost importance effaced
even the memory of it, and nothing further was discovered. Society is
like the ocean; it returns to its level and its specious calmness
after a disaster, effacing all traces of it in the tide of its eager
Without her natural firmness of mind and her knowledge of her cousins'
innocence, Laurence would have succumbed; but she gave fresh proof of
the grandeur of her character; she astonished Monsieur de Grandville
and Bordin by the apparent serenity which these terrible misfortunes
called forth in her noble soul. She nursed Madame d'Hauteserre and
went daily to the prison, saying openly that she would marry one of
the cousins when they were taken to the galleys.
"To the galleys!" cried Bordin, "Mademoiselle! our first endeavor must
be to wring their pardon from the Emperor."
"Their pardon!--/from a Bonaparte/?" cried Laurence in horror.
The spectacles of the old lawyer jumped from his nose; he caught them
as they fell and looked at the young girl who was now indeed a woman;
he understood her character at last in all its bearings; then he took
the arm of the Marquis de Chargeboeuf, saying:--
"Monsieur le Marquis, let us go to Paris instantly and save them
The appeal of the Messieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre and that of
Michu was the first case to be brought before the new court. Its
decision was fortunately delayed by the ceremonies attending its
THE EMPEROR'S BIVOUAC
Towards the end of September, after three sessions of the Court of
Appeals in which the lawyers for the defence pleaded, and the
attorney-general Merlin himself spoke for the prosecution, the appeal
was rejected. The Imperial Court of Paris was by this time instituted.
Monsieur de Grandville was appointed assistant attorney-general, and
the department of the Aube coming under the jurisdiction of this
court, it became possible for him to take certain steps in favor of
the convicted prisoners, among them that of importuning Cambaceres,
his protector. Bordin and Monsieur de Chargeboeuf came to his house in
the Marais the day after the appeal was rejected, where they found him
in the midst of his honeymoon, for he had married in the interval. In
spite of all these changes in his condition, Monsieur de Chargeboeuf
saw very plainly that the young lawyer was faithful to his late
clients. Certain lawyers, the artists of their profession, treat their
causes like mistresses. This is rare, however, and must not be
As soon as they were alone in his study, Monsieur de Grandville said
to the marquis: "I have not waited for your visit; I have already
employed all my influence. Don't attempt to save Michu; if you do, you
cannot obtain the pardon of the Messieurs de Simeuse. The law will
insist on one victim."
"Good God!" cried Bordin, showing the young magistrate the three
petitions for mercy; "how can I take upon myself to withdraw the
application for that man. If I suppress the paper I cut off his head."
He held out the petition; de Grandville took it, looked it over, and
"We can't suppress it; but be sure of one thing, if you ask all you
will obtain nothing."
"Have we time to consult Michu?" asked Bordin.
"Yes. The order for execution comes from the office of the attorney-
general; I will see that you have some days. We kill men," he said
with some bitterness, "but at least we do it formally, especially in
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf had already received from the chief justice
certain information which added weight to these sad words of Monsieur
"Michu is innocent, I know," continued the young lawyer, "but what can
we do against so many? Remember, too, that my present influence
depends on my keeping silent. I must order the scaffold to be
prepared, or my late client is certain to be beheaded."
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf knew Laurence well enough to be certain she
would never consent to save her cousins at the expense of Michu; he
therefore resolved on making one more effort. He asked an audience of
the minister of foreign affairs to learn if salvation could be looked
for through the influence of the great diplomat. He took Bordin with
him, for the latter knew the minister and had done him some service.
The two old men found Talleyrand sitting with his feet stretched out,
absorbed in contemplation of his fire, his head resting on his hand,
his elbow on the table, a newspaper lying at his feet. The minister
had just read the decision of the Court of Appeals.
"Pray sit down, Monsieur le marquis," said Talleyrand, "and you,
Bordin," he added, pointing to a place at the table, "write as
Sire,--Four innocent gentlemen, declared guilty by a jury have
just had their condemnation confirmed by your Court of Appeals.
Your Imperial Majesty can now only pardon them. These gentlemen
ask this pardon of your august clemency, in the hope that they may
enter your army and meet their death in battle before your eyes;
and thus praying, they are, of your Imperial and Royal Majesty,
with reverence, etc.
"None but princes can do such prompt and graceful kindness," said the
Marquis de Chargeboeuf, taking the precious draft of the petition from
the hands of Bordin that he might have it signed by the four
gentlemen; resolving in his own mind that he would also obtain the
signatures of several august names.
"The life of your young relatives, Monsieur le marquis," said the
minister, "now depends on the turn of a battle. Endeavor to reach the
Emperor on the morning after a victory and they are saved."
He took a pen and himself wrote a private and confidential letter to
the Emperor, and another of ten lines to Marechal Duroc. Then he rang
the bell, asked his secretary for a diplomatic passport, and said
tranquilly to the old lawyer, "What is your honest opinion of that
"Do you know, monseigneur, who was at the bottom of this cruel wrong?"
"I presume I do; but I have reasons to wish for certainty," replied
Talleyrand. "Return to Troyes; bring me the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne,
here, to-morrow at the same hour, but secretly; ask to be ushered into
Madame de Talleyrand's salon; I will tell her you are coming. If
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, who shall be placed where she can see a
man who will be standing before me, recognizes that man as an
individual who came to her house during the conspiracy of de Polignac
and Riviere, tell her to remember that, no matter what I say or what
he answers me, she must not utter a word nor make a gesture. One thing
more, think only of saving the de Simeuse brothers; don't embarrass
yourself with that scoundrel of a bailiff--"
"A sublime man, monseigneur!" exclaimed Bordin.
"Enthusiasm! in you, Bordin! The man must be remarkable. Our sovereign
has an immense self-love, Monsieur le marquis," he said, changing the
conversation. "He is about to dismiss me that he may commit follies
without warning. The Emperor is a great soldier who can change the
laws of time and distance, but he cannot change men; yet he persists
in trying to run them in his own mould! Now, remember this; the young
men's pardon can be obtained by one person only--Mademoiselle de Cinq-
The marquis went alone to Troyes and told the whole matter to
Laurence. She obtained permission from the authorities to see Michu,
and the marquis accompanied her to the gates of the prison, where he
waited for her. When she came out her face was bathed in tears.
"Poor man!" she said; "he tried to kneel to me, praying that I would
not think of him, and forgetting the shackles that were on his feet!
Ah, marquis, I /will/ plead his cause. Yes, I'll kiss the boot of
their Emperor. If I fail--well, the memory of that man shall live
eternally honored in our family. Present his petition for mercy so as
to gain time; meantime I am resolved to have his portrait. Come, let
The next day, when Talleyrand was informed by a sign agreed upon that
Laurence was at her post, he rang the bell; his orderly came to him,
and received orders to admit Monsieur Corentin.
"My friend, you are a very clever fellow," said Talleyrand, "and I
wish to employ you."
"Listen. In serving Fouche you will get money, but never honor nor any
position you can acknowledge. But in serving me, as you have lately
done at Berlin, you can win credit and repute."
"Monseigneur is very good."
"You displayed genius in that late affair at Gondreville."
"To what does Monseigneur allude?" said Corentin, with a manner that
was neither too reserved nor too surprised.
"Ah, Monsieur!" observed the minister, dryly, "you will never make a
successful man; you fear--"
"Death!" replied Talleyrand, in his fine, deep voice. "Adieu, my good
"That is the man," said the Marquis de Chargeboeuf entering the room
after Corentin was dismissed; "but we have nearly killed the
"He is the only man I know capable of playing such a trick," replied
the minister. "Monsieur le marquis, you are in danger of not
succeeding in your mission. Start ostensibly for Strasburg; I'll send
you double passports in blank to be filled out. Provide yourself with
substitutes; change your route and above all your carriage; let your
substitutes go on to Strasburg, and do you reach Prussia through
Switzerland and Bavaria. Not a word--prudence! The police are against
you; and you do not know what the police are--"
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne offered the then celebrated Robert Lefebvre
a sufficient sum to induce him to go to Troyes and take Michu's
portrait. Monsieur de Grandville promised to afford the painter every
possible facility. Monsieur de Chargeboeuf then started in the old
/berlingot/, with Laurence and a servant who spoke German. Not far
from Nancy they overtook Mademoiselle Goujet and Gothard, who had
preceded them in an excellent carriage, which the marquis took, giving
them in exchange the /berlingot/.
Talleyrand was right. At Strasburg the commissary-general of police
refused to countersign the passport of the travellers, and gave them
positive orders to return. By that time the marquis and Laurence were
leaving France by way of Besancon with the diplomatic passport.
Laurence crossed Switzerland in the first days of October, without
paying the slightest attention to that glorious land. She lay back in
the carriage in the torpor which overtakes a criminal on the eve of
his execution. To her eyes all nature was shrouded in a seething
vapor; even common things assumed fantastic shapes. The one thought,
"If I do not succeed they will kill themselves," fell upon her soul
with reiterated blows, as the bar of the executioner fell upon the
victim's members when tortured on the wheel. She felt herself
breaking; she lost her energy in this terrible waiting for the cruel
moment, short and decisive, when she should find herself face to face
with that man on whom the fate of the condemned depended. She chose to
yield to her depression rather than waste her strength uselessly. The
marquis, who was incapable of understanding this resolve of firm
minds, which often assumes quite diverse aspects (for in such moments
of tension certain superior minds give way to surprising gaiety),
began to fear that he might never bring Laurence alive to the
momentous interview, solemn to them only, and yet beyond the ordinary
limits of private life. To Laurence, the necessity of humiliating
herself before that man, the object of her hatred and contempt, meant
the sacrifice of all her noblest feelings.
"After this," she said, "the Laurence who survives will bear no
likeness to her who is now to perish."
The travellers could not fail to be aware of the vast movement of men
and material which surrounded them the moment they entered Prussia.
The campaign of Jena had just begun. Laurence and the marquis beheld
the magnificent divisions of the French army deploying and parading as
if at the Tuileries. In this display of military power, which can be
adequately described only with the words and images of the Bible, the
proportions of the Man whose spirit moved these masses grew gigantic
to Laurence's imagination. Soon, the cry of victory resounded in her
ears. The Imperial arms had just obtained two signal advantages. The
Prince of Prussia had been killed the evening before the day on which
the travellers arrived at Saalfeld on their endeavor to overtake
Napoleon, who was marching with the rapidity of lightning.
At last, on the 13th of October (date of ill-omen) Mademoiselle de
Cinq-Cygne was skirting a river in the midst of the Grand Army, seeing
nought but confusion, sent hither and thither from one village to
another, from division to division, frightened at finding herself
alone with one old man tossed about in an ocean of a hundred and fifty
thousand armed men facing a hundred and fifty thousand more. Weary of
watching the river through the hedges of the muddy road which she was
following along a hillside, she asked its name of a passing soldier.
"That's the Saale," he said, showing her the Prussian army, grouped in
great masses on the other side of the stream.
Night came on. Laurence beheld the camp-fires lighted and the glitter
of stacked arms. The old marquis, whose courage was chivalric, drove
the horses himself (two strong beasts bought the evening before), his
servant sitting beside him. He knew very well he should find neither
horses nor postilions within the lines of the army. Suddenly the bold
equipage, an object of great astonishment to the soldiers, was stopped
by a gendarme of the military gendarmerie, who galloped up to the
carriage, calling out to the marquis: "Who are you? where are you
going? what do you want?"
"The Emperor," replied the Marquis de Chargeboeuf; "I have an
important dispatch for the Grand-marechal Duroc."
"Well, you can't stay here," said the gendarme.
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne and the marquis were, however, compelled to
remain where they were on account of the darkness.
"Where are we?" she asked, stopping two officers whom she saw passing,
whose uniforms were concealed by cloth overcoats.
"You are among the advanced guard of the French army," answered one of
the officers. "You cannot stay here, for if the enemy makes a movement
and the artillery opens you will be between two fires."
"Ah!" she said, with an indifferent air.
Hearing that "Ah!" the other officer turned and said: "How did that
woman come here?"
"We are waiting," said Laurence, "for a gendarme who has gone to find
General Duroc, a protector who will enable us to speak to the
"Speak to the Emperor!" exclaimed the first officer; "how can you
think of such a thing--on the eve of a decisive battle?"
"True," she said; "I ought to speak to him on the morrow--victory
would make him kind."
The two officers stationed themselves at a little distance and sat
motionless on their horses. The carriage was now surrounded by a mass
of generals, marshals, and other officers, all extremely brilliant in
appearance, who appeared to pay deference to the carriage merely
because it was there.
"Good God!" said the marquis to Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne; "I am
afraid you spoke to the Emperor."
"The Emperor?" said a colonel, beside them, "why there he is!"
pointing to the officer who had said, "How did that woman get here?"
He was mounted on a white horse, richly caparisoned, and wore the
celebrated gray top-coat over his green uniform. He was scanning with
a field-glass the Prussian army massed beyond the Saale. Laurence
understood then why the carriage remained there, and why the Emperor's
escort respected it. She was seized with a convulsive tremor--the hour
had come! She heard the heavy sound of the tramp of men and the clang
of their arms as they arrived at a quick step on the plateau. The
batteries had a language, the caissons thundered, the brass glittered.
"Marechal Lannes will take position with his whole corps in the
advance; Marechal Lefebvre and the Guard will occupy this hill," said
the other officer, who was Major-general Berthier.
The Emperor dismounted. At his first motion Roustan, his famous
mameluke, hastened to hold his horse. Laurence was stupefied with
amazement; she had never dreamed of such simplicity.
"I shall pass the night on the plateau," said the Emperor.
Just then the Grand-marechal Duroc, whom the gendarme had finally
found, came up to the Marquis de Chargeboeuf and asked the reason of
his coming. The marquis replied that a letter from the Prince de
Talleyrand, of which he was the bearer, would explain to the marshal
how urgent it was that Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne and himself should
obtain an audience of the Emperor.
"His Majesty will no doubt dine at his bivouac," said Duroc, taking
the letter, "and when I find out what your object is, I will let you
know if you can see him. Corporal," he said to the gendarme,
"accompany this carriage, and take it close to that hut at the rear."
Monsieur de Chargeboeuf followed the gendarme and stopped his horses
behind a miserable cabin, built of mud and branches, surrounded by a
few fruit-trees, and guarded by pickets of infantry and cavalry.
It may be said that the majesty of war appeared here in all its
grandeur. From this height the lines of the two armies were visible in
the moonlight. After an hour's waiting, the time being occupied by the
incessant coming and going of the aides-de-camp, Duroc himself came
for Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne and the marquis, and made them enter
the hut, the floor of which was of battened earth like that of a
Before a table with the remains of dinner, and before a fire made of
green wood which smoked, Napoleon was seated in a clumsy chair. His
muddy boots gave evidence of a long tramp across country. He had taken
off the famous top-coat; and his equally famous green uniform, crossed
by the red cordon of the Legion of honor and heightened by the white
of his kerseymere breeches and of his waistcoat, brought out vividly
his pale and terrible Caesarian face. One hand was on a map which lay
unfolded on his knees. Berthier stood near him in the brilliant
uniform of the vice-constable of the Empire. Constant, the valet, was
offering the Emperor his coffee from a tray.
"What do you want?" said Napoleon, with a show of roughness, darting
his eye like a flash through Laurence's head. "You are no longer
afraid to speak to me before the battle? What is it about?"
"Sire," she said, looking at him with as firm an eye, "I am
Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne."
"Well?" he replied, in an angry voice, thinking her look braved him.
"Do you not understand? I am the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, come to ask
mercy," she said, falling on her knees and holding out to him the
petition drawn up by Talleyrand, endorsed by the Empress, by
Cambaceres and by Malin.
The Emperor raised her graciously, and said with a keen look: "Have
you come to your senses? Do you now understand what the French Empire
is and must be?"
"Ah! at this moment I understand only the Emperor," she said,
vanquished by the kindly manner with which the man of destiny had said
the words that foretold to her ears success.
"Are they innocent?" asked the Emperor.
"Yes, all of them," she said with enthusiasm.
"All? No, that bailiff is a dangerous man, who would have killed my
senator without taking your advice."
"Ah, Sire," she said, "if you had a friend devoted to you, would you
abandon him? Would you not rather--"
"You are a woman," he said, interrupting her in a faint tone of
"And you, a man of iron!" she replied with a passionate sternness
which pleased him.
"That man has been condemned to death by the laws of his country," he
"But he is innocent!"
"Child!" he said.
He took Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne by the hand and led her from the
hut to the plateau.
"See," he continued, with that eloquence of his which changed even
cowards to brave men, "see those three hundred thousand men--all
innocent. And yet to-morrow thirty thousand of them will be lying
dead, dead for their country! Among those Prussians there is, perhaps,
some great mathematician, a man of genius, an idealist, who will be
mown down. On our side we shall assuredly lose many a great man never
known to fame. Perhaps even I shall see my best friend die. Shall I
blame God? No. I shall bear it silently. Learn from this,
mademoiselle, that a man must die for the laws of his country just as
men die here for her glory." So saying, he led her back into the hut.
"Return to France," he said, looking at the marquis; "my orders shall
Laurence believed in a commutation of Michu's punishment, and in her
gratitude she knelt again before the Emperor and kissed his hand.
"You are the Marquis de Chargeboeuf?" said Napoleon, addressing the
"You have children?"
"Why not give me one of your grandsons? he shall be my page."
"Ah!" thought Laurence, "there's the sub-lieutenant after all; he
wants to be paid for his mercy."
The marquis bowed without replying. Happily at this moment General
Rapp rushed into the hut.
"Sire, the cavalry of the Guard, and that of the Grand-duc de Berg
cannot be set up before midday to-morrow."
"Never mind," said Napoleon, turning to Berthier, "we, too, get our
reprieves; let us profit by them."
At a sign of his hand the marquis and Laurence retired and again
entered their carriage; the corporal showed them their road and
accompanied them to a village where they passed the night. The next
day they left the field of battle behind them, followed by the thunder
of the cannon,--eight hundred pieces,--which pursued them for ten
hours. While still on their way they learned of the amazing victory of
Eight days later, they were driving through the faubourg of Troyes,
where they learned that an order of the chief justice, transmitted
through the /procureur imperial/ of Troyes, commanded the release of
the four gentlemen on bail during the Emperor's pleasure. But Michu's
sentence was confirmed, and the warrant for his execution had been
forwarded from the ministry of police. These orders had reached Troyes
that very morning. Laurence went at once to the prison, though it was
two in the morning, and obtained permission to stay with Michu, who
was about to undergo the melancholy ceremony called "the toilet." The
good abbe, who had asked permission to accompany him to the scaffold,
had just given absolution to the man, whose only distress in dying was
his uncertainty as to the fate of his young masters. When Laurence
entered his cell he uttered a cry of joy.
"I can die now," he said.
"They are pardoned," she said; "I do not know on what conditions, but
they are pardoned. I did all I could for you, dear friend--against the
advice of others. I thought I had saved you; but the Emperor deceived
me with his graciousness."
"It was written above," said Michu, "that the watch-dog should be
killed on the spot where his old masters died."
The last hour passed rapidly. Michu, at the moment of parting, asked
to kiss her hand, but Laurence held her cheek to the lips of the noble
victim that he might sacredly kiss it. Michu refused to mount the
"Innocent men should go afoot," he said.
He would not let the abbe give him his arm; resolutely and with
dignity he walked alone to the scaffold. As he laid his head on the
plank he said to the executioner, after asking him to turn down the
collar of his coat, "My clothes belong to you; try not to spot them."
The four gentlemen had hardly time to even see Mademoiselle de Cinq-
Cygne. An orderly of the general commanding the division to which they
were assigned, brought them their commissions as sub-lieutenants in
the same regiment of cavalry, with orders to proceed at once to
Bayonne, the base of supplies for its particular army-corps. After a
scene of heart-rending farewells, for they all foreboded what the
future should bring forth, Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne returned to her
The two brothers were killed together under the eyes of the Emperor at
Sommo-Sierra, the one defending the other, both being already in
command of their troop. The last words of each were, "Laurence, /cy
The elder d'Hauteserre died a colonel at the attack on the redoubt at
Moscow, where his brother took his place.
Adrien d'Hauteserre, appointed brigadier-general at the battle of
Dresden, was dangerously wounded there and was sent to Cinq-Cygne for
proper nursing. While endeavoring to save this relic of the four
gentlemen who for a few brief months had been so happy around her,
Laurence, then thirty-two years of age, married him. She offered him a
withered heart, but he accepted it; those who truly love doubt nothing
or doubt all.
The Restoration found Laurence without enthusiasm. The Bourbons
returned too late for her. Nevertheless, she had no cause for
complaint. Her husband, made peer of France with the title of Marquis
de Cinq-Cygne, became lieutenant-general in 1816, and was rewarded
with the blue ribbon for the eminent services which he then performed.
Michu's son, of whom Laurence took care as though he were her own
child, was admitted to the bar in 1817. After practising two years he
was made assistant-judge at the court of Alencon, and from there he
became /procureur-du-roi/ at Arcis in 1827. Laurence, who had also
taken charge of Michu's property, made over to the young man on the
day of his majority an investment in the public Funds which yielded
him an income of twelve thousand francs a year. Later, she arranged a
marriage for him with Mademoiselle Girel, an heiress at Troyes.
The Marquis de Cinq-Cygne died in 1829, in the arms of his wife,
surrounded by his father and mother, and his children who adored him.
At the time of his death no one had ever fathomed the mystery of the
senator's abduction. Louis XVIII. did not neglect to repair, as far as
possible, the wrongs done by that affair; but he was silent as to the
causes of the disaster. From that time forth the Marquise de Cinq-
Cygne believed him to have been an accomplice in the catastrophe.
THE MYSTERY SOLVED
The late Marquis de Cinq-Cygne had used his savings, as well as those
of his father and mother, in the purchase of a fine house in the rue
de Faubourg-du-Roule, entailing it on heirs male for the support of
the title. The sordid economy of the marquis and his parents, which
had often troubled Laurence, was then explained. After this purchase
the marquise, who lived at Cinq-Cygne and economized on her own
account for her children, spent her winters in Paris,--all the more
willingly because her daughter Berthe and her son Paul were now of an
age when their education required the resources of Paris.
Madame de Cinq-Cygne went but little into society. Her husband could
not be ignorant of the regrets which lay in her tender heart; but he
showed her always the most exquisite delicacy, and died having loved
no other woman. This noble soul, not fully understood for a period of
time but to which the generous daughter of the Cinq-Cygnes returned in
his last years as true a love as that he gave to her, was completely
happy in his married life. Laurence lived for the joys of home. No
woman has ever been more cherished by her friends or more respected.
To be received in her house is an honor. Gentle, indulgent,
intellectual, above all things simple and natural, she pleases choice
souls and draws them to her in spite of her saddened aspect; each
longs to protect this woman, inwardly so strong, and that sentiment of
secret protection counts for much in the wondrous charm of her
friendship. Her life, so painful during her youth, is beautiful and
serene towards evening. Her sufferings are known, and no one asks who
was the original of that portrait by Lefebvre which is the chief and
sacred ornament of her salon. Her face has the maturity of fruits that
have ripened slowly; a hallowed pride dignifies that long-tried brow.
At the period when the marquise came to Paris to open the new house,
her fortune, increased by the law of indemnities, gave her some two
hundred thousand francs a year, not counting her husband's salary;
besides this, Laurence had inherited the money guarded by Michu for
his young masters. From that time forth she made a practice of
spending half her income and of laying by the rest for her daughter
Berthe is the living image of her mother, but without her warrior
nerve; she is her mother in delicacy, in intellect,--"more a woman,"
Laurence says, sadly. The marquise was not willing to marry her
daughter until she was twenty years of age. Her savings, judiciously
invested in the Funds by old Monsieur d'Hauteserre at the moment when
consols fell in 1830, gave Berthe a dowry of eighty thousand francs a
year in 1833, when she was twenty.
About that time the Princesse de Cadignan, who was seeking to marry
her son, the Duc de Maufrigneuse, brought him into intimate relations
with Madame de Cinq-Cygne. Georges de Maufrigneuse dined with the
marquise three times a week, accompanied the mother and daughter to
the Opera, and curvetted in the Bois around their carriage when they
drove out. It was evident to all the world of the Faubourg Saint-
Germain that Georges loved Berthe. But no one could discover to a
certainty whether Madame de Cinq-Cygne was desirous of making her
daughter a duchess, to become a princess later, or whether it was only
the princess who coveted for her son the splendid dowry. Did the
celebrated Diane court the noble provincial house? and was the
daughter of the Cinq-Cygnes frightened by the celebrity of Madame de
Cadignan, her tastes and her ruinous extravagance? In her strong
desire not to injure her son's prospects the princess grew devout,
shut the door on her former life, and spent the summer season at
Geneva in a villa on the lake.
One evening there were present in the salon of the Princesse de
Cadignan, the Marquise d'Espard, and de Marsay, then president of the
Council (on this occasion the princess saw her former lover for the
last time, for he died the following year), Eugene de Rastignac,
under-secretary of State attached to de Marsay's ministry, two
ambassadors, two celebrated orators from the Chamber of Peers, the old
dukes of Lenoncourt and de Navarreins, the Comte de Vandenesse and his
young wife, and d'Arthez,--who formed a rather singular circle, the
composition of which can be thus explained. The princess was anxious
to obtain from the prime minister of the crown a permit for the return
of the Prince de Cadignan. De Marsay, who did not choose to take upon
himself the responsibility of granting it came to tell the princess
the matter had been entrusted to safe hands, and that a certain
political manager had promised to bring her the result in the course
of that evening.
Madame and Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne were announced. Laurence, whose
principles were unyielding, was not only surprised but shocked to see
the most illustrious representatives of Legitimacy talking and
laughing in a friendly manner with the prime minister of the man whom
she never called anything but Monsieur le Duc d'Orleans. De Marsay,
like an expiring lamp, shone with a last brilliancy. He laid aside for
the moment his political anxieties, and Madame de Cinq-Cygne endured
him, as they say the Court of Austria endured de Saint-Aulaire; the
man of the world effaced the minister of the citizen-king. But she
rose to her feet as though her chair were of red-hot iron when the
name was announced of "Monsieur le Comte de Gondreville."
"Adieu, madame," she said to the princess in a curt tone.
She left the room with Berthe, measuring her steps to avoid
encountering that fatal being.
"You may have caused the loss of Georges' marriage," said the princess
to de Marsay, in a low voice. "Why did you not tell me your agent's
The former clerk of Arcis, former Conventional, former Thermidorien,
tribune, Councillor of State, count of the Empire and senator, peer of
the Restoration, and now peer of the monarchy of July, made a servile
bow to the princess.
"Fear nothing, madame," he said; "we have ceased to make war on
princes. I bring you an assurance of the permit," he added, seating
himself beside her.
Malin was long in the confidence of Louis XVIII., to whom his varied
experience was useful. He had greatly aided in overthrowing Decazes,
and had given much good advice to the ministry of Villele. Coldly
received by Charles X., he had adopted all the rancors of Talleyrand.
He was now in high favor under the twelfth government he had served
since 1789, and which in turn he would doubtless betray. For the last
fifteen months he had broken the long friendship which had bound him
for thirty-six years to our greatest diplomat, the Prince de
Talleyrand. It was in the course of this very evening that he made
answer to some one who asked why the Prince showed such hostility to
the Duc de Bordeaux, "The Pretender is too young!"
"Singular advice to give young men," remarked Rastignac.
De Marsay, who grew thoughtful after Madame de Cadignan's reproachful
speech, took no notice of these jests. He looked askance at
Gondreville and was evidently biding his time until that now old man,
who went to bed early, had taken leave. All present, who had witnessed
the abrupt departure of Madame de Cinq-Cygne (whose reasons were well-
known to them), imitated de Marsay's conduct and kept silence.
Gondreville, who had not recognized the marquise, was ignorant of the
cause of the general reticence, but the habit of dealing with public
matters had given him a certain tact; he was moreover a clever man; he
saw that his presence was embarrassing to the company and he took
leave. De Marsay, standing with his back to the fire, watched the slow
departure of the old man in a manner which revealed the gravity of his
"I did wrong, madame, not to tell you the name of my negotiator," said
the prime minister, listening for the sound of Malin's wheels as they
rolled away. "But I will redeem my fault and give you the means of
making your peace with the Cinq-Cygnes. It is now thirty years since
the affair I am about to speak of took place; it is as old to the
present day as the death of Henri IV. (which between ourselves and in
spite of the proverb is still a mystery, like so many other historical
catastrophes). I can, however, assure you that even if this affair did
not concern Madame de Cinq-Cygne it would be none the less curious and
interesting. Moreover, it throws light on a celebrated exploit in our
modern annals,--I mean that of the Mont Saint-Bernard. Messieurs les
Ambassadeurs," he added, bowing to the two diplomats, "will see that
in the element of profound intrigue the political men of the present
day are far behind the Machiavellis whom the waves of the popular will
lifted, in 1793, above the storm,--some of whom have 'found,' as the
old song says, 'a haven.' To be anything in France in these days a man
must have been tossed in those tempests."
"It seems to me," said the princess, smiling, "that from that point of
view the present state of things under your regime leaves nothing to
A well-bred laugh went round the room, and even the prime minister
himself could not help smiling. The ambassadors seemed impatient for
the tale; de Marsay coughed dryly and silence was obtained.
"On a June night in 1800," began the minister, "about three in the
morning, just as daylight was beginning to pale the brilliancy of the
wax candles, two men tired of playing at /bouillotte/ (or who were
playing merely to keep others employed) left the salon of the ministry
of foreign affairs, then situated in the rue du Bac, and went apart
into a boudoir. These two men, of whom one is dead and the other has
/one/ foot in the grave, were, each in his own way, equally
extraordinary. Both had been priests; both had abjured religion; both
were married. One had been merely an Oratorian, the other had worn the
mitre of a bishop. The first was named Fouche; I shall not tell you
the name of the second;[*] both were then mere simple citizens--with
very little simplicity. When they were seen to leave the salon and
enter the boudoir, the rest of the company present showed a certain
curiosity. A third person followed them,--a man who thought himself
far stronger than the other two. His name was Sieyes, and you all know
that he too had been a priest before the Revolution. The one who
/walked with difficulty/ was then the minister of foreign affairs;
Fouche was minister of police; Sieyes had resigned the consulate.
[*] Talleyrand was still living when de Marsay related these
"A small man, cold and stern in appearance, left his seat and followed
the three others, saying aloud in the hearing of the person from whom
I have the information, 'I mistrust the gambling of priests.' This man
was Carnot, minister of war. His remark did not trouble the two
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