The Brotherhood of Consolation
Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 5
truth, he didn't seem my Mongenod. I trembled. But how could I take
back the hundred louis? I saw each roll in each pocket of his breeches
like the barrels of two pistols.
"Then," continued Monsieur Alain, and this time he sighed, "Mongenod
went away. When I was alone, and no longer in presence of hard and
cruel poverty, I began, in spite of myself, to reflect. I was sobered.
'Mongenod,' thought I, 'is perhaps thoroughly depraved; he may have
been playing a comedy at my expense.' His gaiety, the moment I had
handed over to him readily such a large sum of money, struck me then
as being too like the joy of the valets on the stage when they catch a
Geronte. I ended, where I ought to have begun, by resolving to make
some investigations as to my friend Mongenod, who had given me his
address,--written on the back of a playing card! I did not choose, as
a matter of delicacy, to go and see him the next day; he might have
thought there was distrust in such promptness, as, indeed, there would
have been. The second day I had certain matters to attend to which
took all my time, and it was only at the end of two weeks that, not
seeing or hearing of Mongenod, I went one morning from the Croix-
Rouge, where I was then living, to the rue des Moineaux, where he
lived. I found he was living in furnished lodgings of the lowest
class; but the landlady was a very worthy woman, the widow of a
magistrate who had died on the scaffold; she was utterly ruined by the
Revolution, and had only a few louis with which to begin the hazardous
trade of taking lodgers."
Here Monsieur Alain interrupted himself to explain. "I knew her
later," he said; "she then had seven houses in Saint-Roch, and was
making quite a little fortune.
"'The citizen Mongenod is not at home,' the landlady said to me; 'but
there is some one there.' This remark excited my curiosity. I went up
to the fifth story. A charming person opened the door,--oh, such a
pretty young woman! who looked at me rather suspiciously and kept the
door half closed. 'I am Alain, a friend of Mongenod's,' I said.
Instantly the door opened wide, and I entered a miserable garret,
which was, nevertheless, kept with the utmost neatness. The pretty
young woman offered me a chair before a fireplace where were ashes but
no fire, at the corner of which I saw a common earthen foot-warmer.
'It makes me very happy, monsieur,' she said, taking my hand and
pressing it affectionately, 'to be able to express to you my
gratitude. You have indeed saved us. Were it not for you I might never
have seen Mongenod again. He might,--yes, he would have thrown himself
in the river. He was desperate when he left me to go and see you.' On
examining this person I was surprised to see her head tied up in a
foulard, and along the temples a curious dark line; but I presently
saw that her head was shaved. 'Have you been ill?' I asked, as I
noticed this singularity. She cast a glance at a broken mirror in a
shabby frame and colored; then the tears came into her eyes. 'Yes,
monsieur,' she said, 'I had horrible headaches, and I was obliged to
have my hair cut off; it came to my feet.' 'Am I speaking to Madame
Mongenod?' I asked. 'Yes, monsieur,' she answered, giving me a truly
celestial look. I bowed to the poor little woman and went away,
intending to make the landlady tell me something about them; but she
was out. I was certain that poor young woman had sold her hair to buy
bread. I went from there to a wood merchant and ordered half a cord of
wood, telling the cartman and the sawyer to take the bill, which I
made the dealer receipt to the name of citizen Mongenod, and give it
to the little woman.
"There ends the period of what I long called /my foolishness/," said
Monsieur Alain, clasping his hands and lifting them with a look of
Godefroid could not help smiling. He was, as we shall see, greatly
mistaken in that smile.
"Two days later," resumed the worthy man, "I met one of those men who
are neither friends nor strangers, with whom we have relations from
time to time, and call acquaintances,--a certain Monsieur Barillaud,
who remarked accidentally, /a propos/ of the 'Peruviens,' that the
author was a friend of his. 'Then you know citizen Mongenod?' I said.
"In those days we were obliged by law to call each other 'citizen,'"
said Monsieur Alain to Godefroid, by way of parenthesis. Then he
continued his narrative:--
"The citizen looked at me, exclaiming, 'I wish I never had known him;
for he has several times borrowed money of me, and shown his
friendship by not returning it. He is a queer fellow,--good-hearted
and all that, but full of illusions! always an imagination on fire! I
will do him this justice,--he does not mean to deceive; but as he
deceives himself about everything, he manages to behave like a
dishonest man.' 'How much does he owe you?' I asked. 'Oh! a good many
hundred francs. He's a basket with a hole in the bottom. Nobody knows
where his money goes; perhaps he doesn't know himself.' 'Has he any
resources?' 'Well, yes,' said Barillaud, laughing; 'just now he is
talking of buying land among the savages in the United States.' I
carried away with me the drop of vinegar which casual gossip thus put
into my heart, and it soured all my feelings. I went to see my old
master, in whose office Mongenod and I had studied law; he was now my
counsel. When I told him about my loan to Mongenod and the manner in
which I had acted,--'What!' he cried, 'one of my old clerks to behave
in that way! You ought to have put him off till the next day and come
to see me. You would then have found out that I have forbidden my
clerks to let Mongenod into this office. Within the last year he has
borrowed three hundred francs of me in silver,--an enormous sum at
present rates. Three days before he breakfasted with you I met him on
the street, and he gave such a piteous account of his poverty that I
let him have two louis.' 'If I have been the dupe of a clever
comedian,' I said to Bordin, 'so much the worse for him, not for me.
But tell me what to do.' 'You must try to get from him a written
acknowledgment; for a debtor, however, insolvent he may be, may become
solvent, and then he will pay.' Thereupon Bordin took from a tin box a
case on which I saw the name of Mongenod; he showed me three receipts
of a hundred francs each. 'The next time he comes I shall have him
admitted, and I shall make him add the interest and the two louis, and
give me a note for the whole. I shall, at any rate, have things
properly done, and be in a position to obtain payment.' 'Well,' said I
to Bordin, 'can you have my matter set right so far, as well as yours?
for I know you are a good man, and what you do will be right.' 'I have
remained master of my ground,' he said; 'but when persons behave as
you have done they are at the mercy of a man who can snap his fingers
at them. As for me, I don't choose that any man should get the better
of me,--get the better of a former attorney to the Chatelet!--ta-ra-
ra! Every man to whom a sum of money is lent as heedlessly as you lent
yours to Mongenod, ends, after a certain time, by thinking that money
his own. It is no longer your money, it is /his/ money; you become his
creditor,--an inconvenient, unpleasant person. A debtor will then try
to get rid of you by some juggling with his conscience, and out of one
hundred men in his position, seventy-five will do their best never to
see or hear of you again.' 'Then you think only twenty-five men in a
hundred are honest?' 'Did I say that?' he replied, smiling
maliciously. 'The estimate is too high?'"
Monsieur Alain paused to put the fire together; that done, he
"Two weeks later I received a letter from Bordin asking me to go to
his office and get my receipt. I went. 'I tried to get fifty of your
louis for you,' he said, 'but the birds had flown. Say good-by to your
yellow boys; those pretty canaries are off to other climes. You have
had to do with a sharper; that's what he is. He declared to me that
his wife and father-in-law had gone to the United States with sixty of
your louis to buy land; that he intended to follow, for the purpose,
he said, of making a fortune and paying his debts; the amount of
which, carefully drawn up, he confided to me, requesting me to keep an
eye on what became of his creditors. Here is a list of the items,'
continued Bordin, showing me a paper from which he read the total,--
'Seventeen thousand francs in coin; a sum with which a house could be
bought that would bring in two thousand francs a year.' After
replacing the list in the case, Bordin gave me a note for a sum
equivalent to a hundred louis in gold, with a letter in which Mongenod
admitted having received my hundred louis, on which he owed interest.
'So now I am all right,' I said to Bordin. 'He cannot deny the debt,'
replied my old master; 'but where there are no funds, even the king--I
should say the Directory--can't enforce rights.' I went home.
Believing that I had been robbed in a way intentionally screened from
the law, I withdrew my esteem from Mongenod, and resigned myself
"If I have dwelt on these details, which are so commonplace and seem
so slight," said the worthy man, looking at Godefroid, "it is not
without good reason. I want to explain to you how I was led to act, as
most men act, in defiance of the rules which savages observe in the
smallest matters. Many persons would justify themselves by the opinion
of so excellent a man as Bordin; but to-day I know myself to have been
inexcusable. When it comes to condemning one of our fellows, and
withdrawing our esteem from him, we should act from our own
convictions only. But have we any right to make our heart a tribunal
before which we arraign our neighbor? Where is the law? what is our
standard of judgment? That which in us is weakness may be strength in
our neighbor. So many beings, so many different circumstances for
every act; and there are no two beings exactly alike in all humanity.
Society alone has the right over its members of repression; as for
punishment, I deny it that right. Repression suffices; and that,
besides, brings with it punishment enough.
"So," resumed Monsieur Alain, continuing his history, having drawn
from it that noble teaching, "after listening to the gossip of the
Parisian, and relying on the wisdom of my old master, I condemned
Mongenod. His play, 'Les Peruviens,' was announced. I expected to
receive a ticket from Mongenod for the first representation; I
established in my own mind a sort of claim on him. It seemed to me
that by reason of my loan my friend was a sort of vassal of mine, who
owed me a number of things besides the interest on my money. We all
think that. Mongenod not only did not send me a ticket, but I saw him
from a distance coming towards me in that dark passage under the
Theatre Feydeau, well dressed, almost elegant; he pretended not to see
me; then, after he had passed and I turned to run after him, my debtor
hastily escaped through a transverse alley. This circumstance greatly
irritated me; and the irritation, instead of subsiding with time, only
increased, and for the following reason: Some days after this
encounter, I wrote to Mongenod somewhat in these terms: 'My friend,
you ought not to think me indifferent to whatever happens to you of
good or evil. Are you satisfied with the success of 'Les Peruviens'?
You forgot me (of course it was your right to do so) for the first
representation, at which I should have applauded you. But,
nevertheless, I hope you found a Peru in your Peruvians, for I have
found a use for my funds, and shall look to you for the payment of
them when the note falls due. Your friend, Alain.' After waiting two
weeks for an answer, I went to the rue des Moineaux. The landlady told
me that the little wife really did go away with her father at the time
when Mongenod told Bordin of their departure. Mongenod always left the
garret very early in the morning and did not return till late at
night. Another two weeks, I wrote again, thus: 'My dear Mongenod, I
cannot find you, and you do not reply to my letters. I do not
understand your conduct. If I behaved thus to you, what would you
think of me?' I did not subscribe the letter as before, 'Your friend,'
I merely wrote, 'Kind regards.'
"Well, it was all of no use," said Monsieur Alain. "A month went by
and I had no news of Mongenod. 'Les Peruviens' did not obtain the
great success on which he counted. I went to the twentieth
representation, thinking to find him and obtain my money. The house
was less than half full; but Madame Scio was very beautiful. They told
me in the foyer that the play would run a few nights longer. I went
seven different times to Mongenod's lodging and did not find him; each
time I left my name with the landlady. At last I wrote again:
'Monsieur, if you do not wish to lose my respect, as you have my
friendship, you will treat me now as a stranger,--that is to say, with
politeness; and you will tell me when you will be ready to pay your
note, which is now due. I shall act according to your answer. Your
obedient servant, Alain.' No answer. We were then in 1799; one year,
all but two months, had expired. At the end of those two months I went
to Bordin. Bordin took the note, had it protested, and sued Mongenod
for me. Meantime the disasters of the French armies had produced such
depreciation of the Funds that investors could buy a five-francs
dividend on seven francs capital. Therefore, for my hundred louis in
gold, I might have bought myself fifteen hundred francs of income.
Every morning, as I took my coffee and read the paper, I said to
myself: 'That cursed Mongenod! if it were not for him I should have
three thousand francs a year to live on.' Mongenod became by /bete-
noire/; I inveighed against him even as I walked the streets. 'Bordin
is there,' I thought to myself; 'Bordin will put the screws on, and a
good thing, too.' My feelings turned to hatred, and my hatred to
imprecations; I cursed the man, and I believed he had every vice. 'Ah!
Monsieur Barillaud was very right,' thought I, 'in all he told me!'"
Monsieur Alain paused reflectively.
"Yes," he said again, "I thought him very right in all he told me. At
last, one morning, in came my debtor, no more embarrassed than if he
didn't owe me a sou. When I saw him I felt all the shame he ought to
have felt. I was like a criminal taken in the act; I was all upset.
The eighteenth Brumaire had just taken place. Public affairs were
doing well, the Funds had gone up. Bonaparte was off to fight the
battle of Marengo. 'It is unfortunate, monsieur,' I said, receiving
Mongenod standing, 'that I owe your visit to a sheriff's summons.'
Mongenod took a chair and sat down. 'I came to tell you,' he said,
'that I am totally unable to pay you.' 'You made me miss a fine
investment before the election of the First Consul,--an investment
which would have given me a little fortune.' 'I know it, Alain,' he
said, 'I know it. But what is the good of suing me and crushing me
with bills of costs? I have nothing with which to pay anything.
Lately I received letters from my wife and father-in-law; they have
bought land with the money you lent me, and they send me a list of
things they need to improve it. Now, unless some one prevents it, I
shall sail on a Dutch vessel from Flushing, whither I have sent the
few things I am taking out to them. Bonaparte has won the battle of
Marengo, peace will be signed, I may safely rejoin my family; and I
have need to, for my dear little wife is about to give birth to a
child.' 'And so you have sacrificed me to your own interests?' said I.
'Yes,' he answered, 'for I believed you my friend.' At that moment I
felt myself inferior to Mongenod, so sublime did he seem to me as he
said those grand words. 'Did I not speak to you frankly,' he said, 'in
this very room? I came to you, Alain, as the only person who would
really understand me. I told you that fifty louis would be lost, but a
hundred I could return to you. I did not bind myself by saying when;
for how could I know the time at which my long struggle with disaster
would end? You were my last friend. All others, even our old master
Bordin, despised me for the very reason that I borrowed money of them.
Oh! you do not know, Alain, the dreadful sensation which grips the
heart of an honest man when, in the throes of poverty, he goes to a
friend and asks him for succor,--and all that follows! I hope you
never may know it; it is far worse than the anguish of death. You have
written me letters which, if I had written them to you in a like
situation, you would have thought very odious. You expected of me that
which it was out of my power to do. But you are the only person to
whom I shall try to justify myself. In spite of your severity, and
though from being a friend you became a creditor on the day when
Bordin asked for my note on your behalf (thus abrogating the generous
compact you had made with me there, on that spot, when we clasped
hands and mingled our tears),--well, in spite of all that, I have
remembered that day, and because of it I have come here to say to you,
You do not know misery, therefore do not judge it. I have not had one
moment when I could answer you. Would you have wished me to come here
and cajole you with words? I could not pay you; I did not even have
enough for the bare necessities of those whose lives depended on me.
My play brought little. A novice in theatrical ways, I became a prey
to musicians, actors, journalists, orchestras. To get the means to
leave Paris and join my family, and carry to them the few things they
need, I have sold "Les Peruviens" outright to the director, with two
other pieces which I had in my portfolio. I start for Holland without
a sou; I must reach Flushing as best I can; my voyage is paid, that is
all. Were it not for the pity of my landlady, who has confidence in
me, I should have to travel on foot, with my bag upon my back. But, in
spite of your doubts of me, I, remembering that without you I never
could have sent my wife and father-in-law to New York, am forever
grateful to you. No, Monsieur Alain, I shall not forget that the
hundred louis d'or you lent me would have yielded you to-day fifteen
hundred francs a year.' 'I desire to believe you, Mongenod,' I said,
shaken by the tone in which he made this explanation. 'Ah, you no
longer say /monsieur/ to me!' he said quickly, with a tender glance.
'My God! I shall quit France with less regret if I can leave one man
behind me in whose eyes I am not half a swindler, nor a spendthrift,
nor a man of illusions! Alain, I have loved an angel in the midst of
my misery. A man who truly loves cannot be despicable.' At those words
I stretched out my hand to him. He took it and wrung it. 'May heaven
protect you!' I said. 'Are we still friends?' he asked. 'Yes,' I
replied. 'It shall never be that my childhood's comrade and the friend
of my youth left me for America under the feeling that I was angry
with him.' Mongenod kissed me, with tears in his eyes, and rushed
Monsieur Alain stopped in his narrative for an instant and looked at
Godefroid. "I remember that day with some satisfaction," he said. Then
"A week or so later I met Bordin and told him of that interview. He
smiled and said: 'I hope it was not a pretty bit of comedy. Didn't he
ask for anything?' 'No,' I answered. 'Well, he came to see me the same
day. I was almost as touched as you; and he asked me for means to get
food on his journey. Well, well, time will show!' These remarks of
Bordin made me fear I had foolishly yielded to mistaken sensibility.
'Nevertheless,' I said to myself, 'he, the old lawyer, did as I did.'
I do not think it necessary to explain to you how I lost all, or
nearly all, my property. I had placed a little in the Funds, which
gave me five hundred francs a year; all else was gone. I was then
thirty-four years old. I obtained, through the influence of Monsieur
Bordin, a place as clerk, with a salary of eight hundred francs, in a
branch office of the Mont-de-piete, rue des Augustins.[*] From that
time I lived very modestly. I found a small lodging in the rue des
Marais, on the third floor (two rooms and a closet), for two hundred
and fifty francs a year. I dined at a common boarding-house for forty
francs a month. I copied writings at night. Ugly as I was and poor, I
had to renounce marriage."
[*] The Mont-de-Piete and its branches are pawn-shops under control of
As Godefroid heard this judgment which the poor man passed upon
himself with beautiful simplicity and resignation, he made a movement
which proved, far more than any confidence in words could have done,
the resemblance of their destinies; and the goodman, in answer to that
eloquent gesture, seemed to expect the words that followed it.
"Have you never been loved?" asked Godefroid.
"Never!" he said; "except by Madame, who returns to us all the love we
have for her,--a love which I may call divine. You must be aware of
it. We live through her life as she lives through ours; we have but
one soul among us; and such pleasures, though they are not physical,
are none the less intense; we exist through our hearts. Ah, my child!"
he continued, "when women come to appreciate moral qualities, they are
indifferent to others; and they are then old--Oh! I have suffered
"And I, in the same way," said Godefroid.
"Under the Empire," said the worthy man, resuming his narrative, "the
Funds did not always pay their dividends regularly; it was necessary
to be prepared for suspensions of payment. From 1802 to 1814 there was
scarcely a week that I did not attribute my misfortune to Mongenod.
'If it were not for Mongenod,' I used to say to myself, 'I might have
married. If I had never known him I should not be obliged to live in
such privation.' But then, again, there were other times when I said,
'Perhaps the unfortunate fellow has met with ill luck over there.' In
1806, at a time when I found my life particularly hard to bear, I
wrote him a long letter, which I sent by way of Holland. I received no
answer. I waited three years, placing all my hopes on that answer. At
last I resigned myself to my life. To the five hundred francs I
received from the Funds I now added twelve hundred from the Mont-de-
piete (for they raised my salary), and five hundred which I obtained
from Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, perfumer, for keeping his books in the
evening. Thus, not only did I manage to get along comfortably, but I
laid by eight hundred francs a year. At the beginning of 1814 I
invested nine thousand francs of my savings at forty francs in the
Funds, and thus I was sure of sixteen hundred francs a year for my old
age. By that time I had fifteen hundred a year from the Mont-de-piete,
six hundred for my book-keeping, sixteen hundred from the Funds; in
all, three thousand seven hundred francs a year. I took a lodging in
the rue de Seine, and lived a little better. My place had brought me
into relations with many unfortunates. For the last twelve years I had
known better than any man whatsoever the misery of the poor. Once or
twice I had been able to do a real service. I felt a vivid pleasure
when I found that out of ten persons relieved, one or two households
had been put on their feet. It came into my mind that benevolence
ought not to consist in throwing money to those who suffered. 'Doing
charity,' to use that common expression, seemed to me too often a
premium offered to crime. I began to study the question. I was then
fifty years of age, and my life was nearly over. 'Of what good am I?'
thought I. 'To whom can I leave my savings? When I have furnished my
rooms handsomely, and found a good cook, and made my life suitable in
all respects, what then?--how shall I employ my time?' Eleven years of
revolution, and fifteen years of poverty, had, as I may say, eaten up
the most precious parts of my life,--used it up in sterile toil for my
own individual preservation. No man at the age of fifty could spring
from that obscure, repressed condition to a brilliant future; but
every man could be of use. I understood by this time that watchful
care and wise counsels have tenfold greater value than money given;
for the poor, above all things, need a guide, if only in the labor
they do for others, for speculators are never lacking to take
advantage of them. Here I saw before me both an end and an occupation,
not to speak of the exquisite enjoyments obtained by playing in a
miniature way the role of Providence."
"And to-day you play it in a grand way, do you not?" asked Godefroid,
"Ah! you want to know everything," said the old man. "No, no! Would
you believe it," he continued after this interruption, "the smallness
of my means to do the work I now desired to do brought back the
thought of Mongenod. 'If it were not for Mongenod,' I kept saying to
myself, 'I could do so much more. If a dishonest man had not deprived
me of fifteen hundred francs a year I could save this or that poor
family.' Excusing my own impotence by accusing another, I felt that
the miseries of those to whom I could offer nothing but words of
consolation were a curse upon Mongenod. That thought soothed my heart.
One morning, in January, 1816, my housekeeper announced,--whom do you
suppose?--Mongenod! Monsieur Mongenod! And whom do you think I saw
enter my room? The beautiful young woman I had once seen,--only now
she was thirty-six years old,--followed by her three children and
Mongenod. He looked younger than when he went away; for prosperity and
happiness do shed a halo round their favorites. Thin, pale, yellow,
shrivelled, when I last saw him, he was now plump, sleek, rosy as a
prebendary, and well dressed. He flung himself into my arms. Feeling,
perhaps, that I received him coldly, his first words were: 'Friend, I
could not come sooner. The ocean was not free to passenger ships till
1815; then it took me a year to close up my business and realize my
property. I have succeeded, my friend. When I received your letter in
1806, I started in a Dutch vessel to bring you myself a little
fortune; but the union of Holland with the French Empire caused the
vessel to be taken by the English and sent to Jamaica, from which
island I escaped by mere chance. When I reached New York I found I was
a victim to the bankruptcy of others. In my absence my poor Charlotte
had not been able to protect herself against schemers. I was therefore
forced to build up once more the edifice of my fortunes. However, it
is all done now, and here we are. By the way those children are
looking at you, you must be aware that we have often talked to them of
their father's benefactor.' 'Oh, yes, yes, monsieur!' said the
beautiful Mongenod, 'we have never passed a single day without
remembering you. Your share has been set aside in all our affairs. We
have looked forward eagerly to the happiness we now have in returning
to you your fortune, not thinking for a moment that the payment of
these just dues can ever wipe out our debt of gratitude.' With those
words Madame Mongenod held out to me that magnificent box you see over
there, in which were one hundred and fifty notes of a thousand francs
The old man paused an instant as if to dwell on that moment; then he
"Mongenod looked at me fixedly and said: 'My poor Alain, you have
suffered, I know; but we did divine your sufferings; we did try every
means to send the money to you, and failed in every attempt. You told
me you could not marry,--that I had prevented it. But here is our
eldest daughter; she has been brought up in the thought of becoming
your wife, and she will have a dowry of five hundred thousand francs.'
'God forbid that I should make her miserable!' I cried hastily,
looking at the girl, who was as beautiful as her mother when I first
saw her. I drew her to me to kiss her brow. 'Don't be afraid, my
beautiful child!' I said. 'A man of fifty to a girl of seventeen?--
never! and a man as plain and ugly as I am?--never!' I cried.
'Monsieur,' she said, 'my father's benefactor could not be ugly for
me.' Those words, said spontaneously, with simple candor, made me
understand how true was all that Mongenod had said. I then gave him my
hand, and we embraced each other again. 'My friend,' I said, 'I have
done you wrong. I have often accused you, cursed you.' 'You had the
right to do so, Alain,' he replied, blushing; 'you suffered, and
through me.' I took Mongenod's note from my desk and returned it to
him. 'You will all stay and breakfast with me, I hope?' I said to the
family. 'On condition that you dine with us,' said Mongenod. 'We
arrived yesterday. We are going to buy a house; and I mean to open a
banking business between Paris and North America, so as to leave it to
this fellow here,' he added, showing me his eldest son, who was
fifteen years old. We spent the rest of the day together and went to
the play; for Mongenod and his family were actually hungry for the
theatre. The next morning I placed the whole sum in the Funds, and I
now had in all about fifteen thousand francs a year. This fortune
enabled me to give up book-keeping at night, and also to resign my
place at the Mont-de-piete, to the great satisfaction of the underling
who stepped into my shoes. My friend died in 1827, at the age of
sixty-three, after founding the great banking-house of Mongenod and
Company, which made enormous profits from the first loans under the
Restoration. His daughter, to whom he subsequently gave a million in
dowry, married the Vicomte de Fontaine. The eldest son, whom you know,
is not yet married; he lives with his mother and brother. We obtain
from them all the sums we need. Frederic (his father gave him my name
in America),--Frederic Mongenod is, at thirty-seven years of age, one
of the ablest, and most upright, bankers in Paris. Not very long ago
Madame Mongenod admitted to me that she had sold her hair, as I
suspected, for twelve francs to buy bread. She gives me now twenty-
four cords of wood a year for my poor people, in exchange for the half
cord which I once sent her."
"This explains to me your relations with the house of Mongenod," said
Godefroid,--"and your fortune."
Again the goodman looked at Godefroid with a smile, and the same
expression of kindly mischief.
"Oh, go on!" said Godefroid, seeing from his manner that he had more
"This conclusion, my dear Godefroid, made the deepest impression on
me. If the man who had suffered so much, if my friend forgave my
injustice, I could not forgive myself."
"Oh!" ejaculated Godefroid.
"I resolved to devote all my superfluous means--about ten thousand
francs a year--to acts of intelligent benevolence," continued Monsieur
Alain, tranquilly. "About this time it was that I made the
acquaintance of a judge of the Lower Civil Court of the Seine named
Popinot, whom we had the great grief of losing three years ago, and
who practised for fifteen years an active and most intelligent charity
in the quartier Saint-Marcel. It was he, with the venerable vicar of
Notre-Dame and Madame, who first thought of founding the work in which
we are now co-operating, and which, since 1825, has quietly done much
good. This work has found its soul in Madame de la Chanterie, for she
is truly the inspiration of this enterprise. The vicar has known how
to make us more religious than we were at first, by showing us the
necessity of being virtuous ourselves in order to inspire virtue; in
short, to preach by example. The farther we have advanced in our work,
the happier we have mutually found ourselves. And so, you see, it
really was the repentance I felt for misconceiving the heart of my
friend which gave me the idea of devoting to the poor, through my own
hands, the fortune he returned to me, and which I accepted without
objecting to the immensity of the sum returned in proportion to the
sum lent. Its destination justified my taking it."
This narration, made quietly, without assumption, but with a gentle
kindliness in accent, look, and gesture, would have inspired Godefroid
to enter this noble and sacred association if his resolution had not
already been taken.
"You know the world very little," he said, "if you have such scruples
about a matter that would not weigh on any other man's conscience."
"I know only the unfortunate," said Monsieur Alain. "I do not desire
to know a world in which men are so little afraid of judging one
another. But see! it is almost midnight, and I still have my chapter
of the 'Imitation of Jesus Christ' to meditate upon! Good-night!"
Godefroid took the old man's hand and pressed it, with an expression
"Can you tell me Madame de la Chanterie's history?"
"Impossible, without her consent," replied Monsieur Alain; "for it is
connected with one of the most terrible events of Imperial policy. It
was through my friend Bordin that I first knew Madame. He had in his
possession all the secrets of that noble life; it was he who, if I may
say so, led me to this house."
"I thank you," said Godefroid, "for having told me your life; there
are many lessons in it for me."
"Do you know what is the moral of it?"
"Tell me," said Godefroid, "for perhaps I may see something different
in it from what you see."
"Well, it is this: that pleasure is an accident in a Christian's life;
it is not the aim of it; and this we learn too late."
"What happens when we turn to Christianity?" asked Godefroid.
"See!" said the goodman.
He pointed with his finger to some letters of gold on a black ground
which the new lodger had not observed, for this was the first time he
had ever been in Monsieur Alain's room. Godefroid turned and read the
words: TRANSIRE BENEFACIENDO.
"That is our motto. If you become one of us, that will be your only
commission. We read that commission, which we have given to ourselves,
at all times, in the morning when we rise, in the evening when we lie
down, and when we are dressing. Ah! if you did but know what immense
pleasures there are in accomplishing that motto!"
"Such as--?" said Godefroid, hoping for further revelations.
"I must tell you that we are as rich as Baron de Nucingen himself. But
the 'Imitation of Jesus Christ' forbids us to regard our wealth as our
own. We are only the spenders of it; and if we had any pride in being
that, we should not be worthy of dispensing it. It would not be
/transire benefaciendo/; it would be inward enjoyment. For if you say
to yourself with a swelling of the nostrils, 'I play the part of
Providence!' (as you might have thought if you had been in my place
this morning and saved the future lives of a whole family), you would
become a Sardanapalus,--an evil one! None of these gentlemen living
here thinks of himself when he does good. All vanity, all pride, all
self-love, must be stripped off, and that is hard to do,--yes, very
Godefroid bade him good-night, and returned to his own room, deeply
affected by this narrative. But his curiosity was more whetted than
satisfied, for the central figure of the picture was Madame de la
Chanterie. The history of the life of that woman became of the utmost
importance to him, so that he made the obtaining of it the object of
his stay in that house. He already perceived in this association of
five persons a vast enterprise of Charity; but he thought far less of
that than he did of its heroine.
WHO SHE WAS--WIFE AND MOTHER
The would-be disciple passed many days in observing more carefully
than he had hitherto done the rare persons among whom fate had brought
him; and he became the subject of a moral phenomenon which modern
philosophers have despised,--possibly out of ignorance.
The sphere in which he lived had a positive action upon Godefroid. The
laws which regulate the physical nature under relation to the
atmospheric environment in which it is developed, rule also in the
moral nature. Hence it follows that the assembling together of
condemned prisoners is one of the greatest of social crimes; and also
that their isolation is an experiment of doubtful success. Condemned
criminals ought to be in religious institutions, surrounded by
prodigies of Good, instead of being cast as they are into sight and
knowledge of Evil only. The Church can be expected to show an absolute
devotion in this matter. If it sends missionaries to heathen or savage
nations, with how much greater joy would it welcome the mission of
redeeming the heathen of civilization? for all criminals are atheists,
and often without knowing they are so.
Godefroid found these five associated persons endowed with the
qualities they required in him. They were all without pride, without
vanity, truly humble and pious; also without any of the pretension
which constitutes /devotion/, using that word in its worst sense.
These virtues were contagious; he was filled with a desire to imitate
these hidden heroes, and he ended by passionately studying the book he
had begun by despising. Within two weeks he reduced his views of life
to its simplest lines,--to what it really /is/ when we consider it
from the higher point of view to which the Divine spirit leads us. His
curiosity--worldly at first, and excited by many vulgar and material
motives--purified itself; if he did not renounce it altogether, the
fault was not his; any one would have found it difficult to resign an
interest in Madame de la Chanterie; but Godefroid showed, without
intending it, a discretion which was appreciated by these persons, in
whom the divine Spirit had developed a marvellous power of the
faculties,--as, indeed, it often does among recluses. The
concentration of the moral forces, no matter under what system it may
be effected, increases the compass of them tenfold.
"Our friend is not yet converted," said the good Abbe de Veze, "but he
is seeking to be."
An unforeseen circumstance brought about the revelation of Madame de
la Chanterie's history to Godefroid; and so fully was this made to him
that the overpowering interest she excited in his soul was completely
The public mind was at that time much occupied by one of those
horrible criminal trials which mark the annals of our police-courts.
This trial had gathered its chief interest from the character of the
criminals themselves, whose audacity, superior intelligence in evil,
and cynical replies, had horrified the community. It is a matter
worthy of remark that no newspaper ever found its way into the hotel
de la Chanterie, and Godefroid only heard of the rejection of the
criminals' appeal from his master in book-keeping; for the trial
itself had taken place some time before he came to live in his new
"Do you ever encounter," he said to his new friends, "such atrocious
villains as those men? and if you do encounter them, how do you manage
"In the first place," said Monsieur Nicolas, "there are no atrocious
villains. There are diseased natures, to be cared for in asylums; but
outside of those rare medical cases, we find only persons who are
without religion, or who reason ill; and the mission of charity is to
teach them the right use of reason, to encourage the weak, and guide
aright those who go astray."
"And," said the Abbe de Veze, "all is possible to such teachers, for
God is with them."
"If they were to send you those criminals, you could do nothing with
them, could you?" asked Godefroid.
"The time would be too short," remarked Monsieur Alain.
"In general," said Monsieur Nicolas, "persons turn over to religion
souls which have reached the last stages of evil, and leave it no time
to do its work. The criminals of whom you speak were men of remarkable
vigor; could they have been within our hands in time they might have
become distinguished men; but as soon as they committed a murder, it
was no longer possible to interfere; they then belonged to human
"That must mean," said Godefroid, "that you are against the penalty of
Monsieur Nicolas rose hastily and left the room.
"Do not ever mention the penalty of death again before Monsieur
Nicolas," said Monsieur Alain. "He recognized in a criminal at whose
execution he was officially present his natural son."
"And the son was innocent!" added Monsieur Joseph.
Madame de la Chanterie, who had been absent for a while, returned to
the salon at this moment.
"But you must admit," said Godefroid, addressing Monsieur Joseph,
"that society cannot exist without the death penalty, and that those
persons who to-morrow morning will have their heads cut--"
Godefroid felt his mouth suddenly closed by a vigorous hand, and he
saw the abbe leading away Madame de la Chanterie in an almost fainting
"What have you done?" Monsieur Joseph said to him. "Take him away,
Alain!" he added, removing the hand with which he had gagged
Godefroid. Then he followed the Abbe de Veze into Madame de la
"Come!" said Monsieur Alain to Godefroid; "you have made it essential
that I should tell you the secrets of Madame's life."
They were presently sitting in the old man's room.
"Well?" said Godefroid, whose face showed plainly his regret for
having been the cause of something which, in that peaceful home, might
be called a catastrophe.
"I am waiting till Manon comes to reassure us," replied the goodman,
listening to the steps of the maid upon the staircase.
"Madame is better," said Manon. "Monsieur l'abbe has deceived her as
to what was said." And she looked at Godefroid angrily.
"Good God!" cried the poor fellow, in distress, the tears coming into
"Come, sit down," said Monsieur Alain, sitting down himself. Then he
made a pause as if to gather up his ideas. "I don't know," he went on,
"if I have the talent to worthily relate a life so cruelly tried. You
must excuse me if the words of so poor a speaker as I are beneath the
level of its actions and catastrophes. Remember that it is long since
I left school, and that I am the child of a century in which men cared
more for thought than for effect,--a prosaic century which knew only
how to call things by their right names."
Godefroid made an acquiescing gesture, with an expression of sincere
admiration, and said simply, "I am listening."
"You have just had a proof, my young friend," resumed the old man,
"that it is impossible you should remain among us without knowing at
least some of the terrible facts in the life of that saintly woman.
There are ideas and illusions and fatal words which are completely
interdicted in this house, lest they reopen wounds in Madame's heart,
and cause a suffering which, if again renewed, might kill her."
"Good God!" cried Godefroid, "what have I done?"
"If Monsieur Joseph had not stopped the words on your lips, you were
about to speak of that fatal instrument of death, and that would have
stricken down Madame de la Chanterie like a thunderbolt. It is time
you should know all, for you will really belong to us before long,--we
all think so. Here, then, is the history of her life:--
"Madame de la Chanterie," he went on, after a pause, "comes from one
of the first families of Lower Normandy. Her maiden name was
Mademoiselle Barbe-Philiberte de Champignelles, of the younger branch
of that house. She was destined to take the veil unless she could make
a marriage which renounced on the husband's side the dowry her family
could not give her. This was frequently the case in the families of
"A Sieur de la Chanterie, whose family had fallen into obscurity,
though it dates from the Crusade of Philip Augustus, was anxious to
recover the rank and position which this ancient lineage properly gave
him in the province of Normandy. This gentleman had doubly derogated
from his rightful station; for he had amassed a fortune of nearly a
million of francs as purveyor to the armies of the king at the time of
the war in Hanover. The old man had a son; and this son, presuming on
his father's wealth (greatly exaggerated by rumor), was leading a life
in Paris that greatly disquieted his father.
"The word of Mademoiselle de Champignelle's character was well known
in the Bessin,--that beautiful region of Lower Normandy near Bayeux,
where the family lived. The old man, whose little estate of la
Chanterie was between Caen and Saint-Lo, often heard regrets expressed
before him that so perfect a young girl, and one so capable of
rendering a husband happy, should be condemned to pass her life in a
convent. When, on reflection, he expressed a desire to know more of
the young lady, the hope was held out to him of obtaining the hand of
Mademoiselle Philiberte for his son, provided he would take her
without dowry. He went to Bayeux, had several interviews with the
Champignelles's family, and was completely won by the noble qualities
of the young girl.
"At sixteen years of age, Mademoiselle de Champignelles gave promise
of what she would ultimately become. It was easy to see in her a
living piety, an unalterable good sense, an inflexible uprightness,
and one of those souls which never detach themselves from an affection
under any compulsion. The old father, enriched by his extortions in
the army, recognized in this charming girl a woman who could restrain
his son by the power of virtue, and by the ascendancy of a nature that
was firm without rigidity.
"You have seen her," said Monsieur Alain, pausing in his narrative,
"and you know that no one can be gentler than Madame de la Chanterie;
and also, I may tell you, that no one is more confiding. She has kept,
even to her declining years, the candor and simplicity of innocence;
she has never been willing to believe in evil, and the little mistrust
you may have noticed in her is due only to her terrible misfortunes.
"The old man," said Monsieur Alain, continuing, "agreed with the
Champignelles family to give a receipt for the legal dower of
Mademoiselle Philiberte (this was necessary in those days); but in
return, the Champignelles, who were allied to many of the great
families, promised to obtain the erection of the little fief of la
Chanterie into a barony; and they kept their word. The aunt of the
future husband, Madame de Boisfrelon, the widow of a parliamentary
councillor, promised to bequeath her whole fortune to her nephew.
"When these arrangements had been completed by the two families, the
father sent for the son. At this time the latter was Master of
petitions to the Grand Council. He was twenty-five years of age, and
had already lived a life of folly with all the young seigneurs of the
period; in fact, the old purveyor had been forced more than once to
pay his debts. The poor father, foreseeing further follies, was only
too glad to make a settlement on his daughter-in-law of a certain sum;
and he entailed the estate of la Chanterie on the heirs male of the
"But the Revolution," said Monsieur Alain in a parenthesis, "made that
last precaution useless.
"Gifted with the beauty of an angel," he continued, "and with
wonderful grace and agility in all exercises of the body, the young
Master of petitions possessed the gift of /charm/. Mademoiselle de
Champignelles became, as you can readily believe, very much in love
with her husband. The old man, delighted with the outset of the
marriage, and believing in the reform of his son, sent the young
couple to Paris. All this happened about the beginning of the year
"Nearly a whole year of happiness followed. Madame de la Chanterie
enjoyed during that time the tenderest care and the most delicate
attentions that a man deeply in love can bestow upon a loving woman.
However short it may have been, the honeymoon did shine into the heart
of that noble and most unfortunate woman. You know that in those days
women nursed their children. Madame de la Chanterie had a daughter.
That period during which a woman ought to be the object of redoubled
care and tenderness proved, in this case, the beginning of untold
miseries. The Master of petitions was obliged to sell all the property
he could lay his hands on to pay former debts (which he had not
acknowledged to his father) and fresh losses at play. Then the
National Assembly decreed the dissolution of the Grand Council, the
parliament, and all the law offices so dearly bought.
"The young household, increased by a daughter, was soon without other
means than those settled upon Madame de la Chanterie by her father-in-
law. In twenty months that charming woman, now only seventeen and a
half years old, was obliged to live--she and the child she was nursing
--in an obscure quarter, and by the labor of her hands. She was then
entirely abandoned by her husband, who fell by degrees lower and
lower, into the society of women of the worst kind. Never did she
reproach her husband, never has she allowed herself to blame him. She
has sometimes told us how, during those wretched days, she would pray
for her 'dear Henri.'
"That scamp was named Henri," said the worthy man interrupting
himself. "We never mention that name here, nor that of Henriette. I
"Never leaving her little room in the rue de la Corderie du Temple,
except to buy provisions or to fetch her work, Madame de la Chanterie
contrived to get along, thanks to a hundred francs which her father-
in-law, touched by her goodness, sent to her once a month.
Nevertheless, foreseeing that that resource might fail her, the poor
young woman had taken up the hard and toilsome work of corset-making
in the service of a celebrated dressmaker. This precaution proved a
wise one. The father died, and his property was obtained by the son
(the old monarchical laws of entail being then overthrown) and
speedily dissipated by him. The former Master of petitions was now one
of the most ferocious presidents of the Revolutionary tribunals of
that period; he became the terror of Normandy, and was able to satisfy
all his passions. Imprisoned in his turn after the fall of
Robespierre, the hatred of his department doomed him to certain death.
"Madame de la Chanterie heard of this through a letter of farewell
which her husband wrote to her. Instantly, giving her little girl to
the care of a neighbor, she went to the town where that wretch was
imprisoned, taking with her the few louis which were all that she
owned. These louis enabled her to make her way into the prison. She
succeeded in saving her husband by dressing him in her own clothes,
under circumstances almost identical with those which, sometime later,
were so serviceable to Madame de la Valette. She was condemned to
death, but the government was ashamed to carry out the sentence; and
the Revolutionary tribunal (the one over which her husband had
formerly presided) connived at her escape. She returned to Paris on
foot, without means, sleeping in farm buildings and fed by charity."
"Good God!" cried Godefroid.
"Ah! wait," said Monsieur Alain; "that is nothing. In eight years the
poor woman saw her husband three times. The first time he stayed
twenty-four hours in the humble lodging of his wife, and carried away
with him all her money; having showered her with marks of tenderness
and made her believe in his complete conversion. 'I could not,' she
said, 'refuse a husband for whom I prayed daily and of whom I thought
exclusively.' On the second occasion, Monsieur de la Chanterie arrived
almost dying, and with what an illness! She nursed him and saved his
life. Then she tried to bring him to better sentiments and a decent
life. After promising all that angel asked, the jacobin plunged back
into frightful profligacy, and finally escaped the hands of justice
only by again taking refuge with his wife, in whose care he died in
"Oh! but that is nothing!" cried the goodman, seeing the pain on
Godefroid's face. "No one, in the world in which he lived, had known
he was a married man. Two years after his death Madame de la Chanterie
discovered that a second Madame de la Chanterie existed, widowed like
herself, and, like her, ruined. That bigamist had found two angels
incapable of discarding him.
"Towards 1803," resumed Alain after a pause, "Monsieur de Boisfrelon,
uncle of Madame de la Chanterie, came to Paris, his name having been
erased from the list of /emigres/, and brought Madame the sum of two
hundred thousand francs which her father-in-law, the old purveyor, had
formerly entrusted to him for the benefit of his son's children. He
persuaded the widow to return to Normandy; where she completed the
education of her daughter and purchased on excellent terms and still
by the advice of her uncle, a patrimonial estate."
"Ah!" cried Godefroid.
"All that is still nothing," said Monsieur Alain; "we have not yet
reached the period of storms and darkness. I resume:
"In 1807, after four years of rest and peace, Madame de la Chanterie
married her daughter to a gentleman of rank, whose piety, antecedents,
and fortune offered every guarantee that could be given,--a man who,
to use a popular saying, 'was after every one's own heart,' in the
best society of the provincial city where Madame and her daughter
passed their winters. I should tell you that this society was composed
of seven or eight families belonging to the highest nobility in
France: d'Esgrignon, Troisville, Casteran, Nouatre, etc. At the end of
eighteen months the baron deserted his wife, and disappeared in Paris,
where he changed his name.
"Madame de la Chanterie never knew the causes of this desertion until
the lightning of a dreadful storm revealed them. Her daughter, brought
up with anxious care and trained in the purest religious sentiments,
kept total silence as to her troubles. This lack of confidence in her
mother was a painful blow to Madame de la Chanterie. Already she had
several times noticed in her daughter indications of the reckless
disposition of the father, increased in the daughter by an almost
virile strength of will.
"The husband, however, abandoned his home of his own free will,
leaving his affairs in a pitiable condition. Madame de la Chanterie
is, even to this day, amazed at the catastrophe, which no human
foresight could have prevented. The persons she prudently consulted
before the marriage had assured her that the suitor's fortune was
clear and sound, and that no mortgages were on his estate.
Nevertheless it appeared, after the husband's departure, that for ten
years his debts had exceeded the entire value of his property.
Everything was therefore sold, and the poor young wife, now reduced to
her own means, came back to her mother. Madame de la Chanterie knew
later that the most honorable persons of the province had vouched for
her son-in-law in their own interests; for he owed them all large sums
of money, and they looked upon his marriage with Mademoiselle de la
Chanterie as a means to recover them.
"There were, however, other reasons for this catastrophe, which you
will find later in a confidential paper written for the eyes of the
Emperor. Moreover, this man had long courted the good-will of the
royalist families by his devotion to the royal cause during the
Revolution. He was one of Louis XVIII.'s most active emissaries, and
had taken part after 1793 in all conspiracies,--escaping their
penalties, however, with such singular adroitness that he came, in the
end, to be distrusted. Thanked for his services by Louis XVIII., but
completely set aside in the royalist affairs, he had returned to live
on his property, now much encumbered with debt.
"These antecedents were then obscure (the persons initiated into the
secrets of the royal closet kept silence about so dangerous a
coadjutor), and he was therefore received with a species of reverence
in a city devoted to the Bourbons, where the cruellest deeds of the
Chouannerie were accepted as legitimate warfare. The d'Esgrignons,
Casterans, the Chevalier de Valois, in short, the whole aristocracy
and the Church opened their arms to this royalist diplomat and drew
him into their circle. Their protection was encouraged by the desire
of his creditors for the payment of his debts. For three years this
man, who was a villain at heart, a pendant to the late Baron de la
Chanterie, contrived to restrain his vices and assume the appearance
of morality and religion.
"During the first months of his marriage he exerted a sort of spell
over his wife; he tried to corrupt her mind by his doctrines (if it
can be said that atheism is a doctrine) and by the jesting tone in
which he spoke of sacred principles. From the time of his return to
the provinces this political manoeuvrer had an intimacy with a young
man, overwhelmed with debt like himself, but whose natural character
was as frank and courageous as the baron's was hypocritical and base.
This frequent guest, whose accomplishments, strong character, and
adventurous life were calculated to influence a young girl's mind, was
an instrument in the hands of the husband to bring the wife to adopt
his theories. Never did she let her mother know the abyss into which
her fate had cast her.
"We may well distrust all human prudence when we think of the infinite
precautions taken by Madame de la Chanterie in marrying her only
daughter. The blow, when it came to a life so devoted, so pure, so
truly religious as that of a woman already tested by many trials, gave
Madame de la Chanterie a distrust of herself which served to isolate
her from her daughter; and all the more because her daughter, in
compensation for her misfortunes, exacted complete liberty, ruled her
mother, and was even, at times, unkind to her.
"Wounded thus in all her affections, mistaken in her devotion and love
for her husband, to whom she had sacrificed without a word her
happiness, her fortune, and her life; mistaken in the education
exclusively religious which she had given to her daughter; mistaken in
the confidence she had placed in others in the affair of her
daughter's marriage; and obtaining no justice from the heart in which
she had sown none but noble sentiments, she united herself still more
closely to God as the hand of trouble lay heavy upon her. She was
indeed almost a nun; going daily to church, performing cloistral
penances, and practising economy that she might have means to help the
"Could there be, up to this point, a saintlier life or one more tried
than that of this noble woman, so gentle under misfortune, so brave in
danger, and always Christian?" said Monsieur Alain, appealing to
Godefroid. "You know Madame now,--you know if she is wanting in sense,
judgment, reflection; in fact, she has those qualities to the highest
degree. Well! the misfortunes I have now told you, which might be said
to make her life surpass all others in adversity, are as nothing to
those that were still in store for this poor woman. But now let us
concern ourselves exclusively with Madame de la Chanterie's daughter,"
said the old man, resuming his narrative.
"At eighteen years of age, the period of her marriage, Mademoiselle de
la Chanterie was a young girl of delicate complexion, brown in tone
with a brilliant color, graceful in shape, and very pretty. Above a
forehead of great beauty was a mass of dark hair which harmonized with
the brown eyes and the general gaiety of her expression. A certain
daintiness of feature was misleading as to her true character and her
almost virile decision. She had small hands and small feet; in fact,
there was something fragile about her whole person which excluded the
idea of vigor and determination. Having always lived beside her
mother, she had a most perfect innocence of thought and behavior and a
really remarkable piety. This young girl, like her mother, was
fanatically attached to the Bourbons; she was therefore a bitter enemy
to the Revolution, and regarded the dominion of Napoleon as a curse
inflicted by Providence upon France in punishment of the crimes of
"The conformity of opinion on this subject between Madame de la
Chanterie and her daughter, and the daughter's suitor, was one of the
determining reasons of the marriage.
"The friend of the husband had commanded a body of Chouans at the time
that hostilities were renewed in 1799; and it seems that the baron's
object (Madame de la Chanterie's son-in-law was a baron) in fostering
the intimacy between his wife and his friend was to obtain, through
her influence, certain succor from that friend.
"This requires a few words of explanation," said Monsieur Alain,
interrupting his narrative, "about an association which in those days
made a great deal of noise. I mean the 'Chauffeurs.'[*] Every province
in the west of France was at that time more or less overrun with these
'brigands,' whose object was far less pillage than a resurrection of
the royalist warfare. They profited, so it was said, by the great
number of 'refractories,'--the name applied to those who evaded the
conscription, which was at that time, as you probably know, enforced
to actual abuse.
[*] /Chauffeurs/. This name applies to royalists who robbed the mail-
coaches conveying government funds, and levied tribute on those
who bought the confiscated property of /emigres/ at the West. When
the Thermidorian reaction began, after the fall of Robespierre,
other companies of royalists, chiefly young nobles who had not
emigrated, were formed at the South and East under various names,
such as "The Avengers," and "The Company of Jehu," who stopped the
diligences containing government money, which they transmitted to
Brittany and La Vendee for the support of the royalist troops.
They regarded this as legitimate warfare, and were scrupulous not
to touch private property. When captured, however, they were tried
and executed as highwaymen.--TR.
"Between Mortagne and Rennes, and even beyond, as far as the banks of
the Loire, nocturnal expeditions were organized, which attacked,
especially in Normandy, the holders of property bought from the
National domain.[*] These armed bands sent terror throughout those
regions. I am not misleading you when I ask you to observe that in
certain departments the action of the laws was for a long time
[*] The National domain was the name given to the confiscated property
of the /emigres/, which was sold from time to time at auction to
the highest bidder.--TR.
"These last echoes of the civil war made much less noise than you
would imagine, accustomed as we are now to the frightful publicity
given by the press to every trial, even the least important, whether
political or individual. The system of the Imperial government was
that of all absolute governments. The censor allowed nothing to be
published in the matter of politics except accomplished facts, and
those were travestied. If you will take the trouble to look through
files of the 'Moniteur' and the other newspapers of that time, even
those of the West, you will not find a word about the four or five
criminal trials which cost the lives of sixty or eighty 'brigands.'
The term /brigands/, applied during the revolutionary period to the
Vendeans, Chouans, and all those who took up arms for the house of
Bourbon, was afterwards continued judicially under the Empire against
all royalists accused of plots. To some ardent and loyal natures the
emperor and his government were the enemy; any form of warfare against
them was legitimate. I am only explaining to you these opinions, not
"Now," he said, after one of those pauses which are necessary in such
long narratives, "if you realize how these royalists, ruined by the
civil war of 1793, were dominated by violent passions, and how some
exceptional natures (like that of Madame de la Chanterie's son-in-law
and his friend) were eaten up with desires of all kinds, you may be
able to understand how it was that the acts of brigandage which their
political views justified when employed against the government in the
service of the good cause, might in some cases be committed for
"The younger of the two men had been for some time employed in
collecting the scattered fragments of Chouannerie, and was holding
them ready to act at an opportune moment. There came a terrible crisis
in the Emperor's career when, shut up in the island of Lobau, he
seemed about to give way under the combined and simultaneous attack of
England and Austria. This was the moment for the Chouan uprising; but
just as it was about to take place, the victory of Wagram rendered the
conspiracy in the provinces powerless.
"This expectation of exciting civil war in Brittany, La Vendee, and
part of Normandy, coincided in time with the final wreck of the
baron's fortune; and this wreck, coming at this time, led him to
undertake an expedition to capture funds of the government which he
might apply to the liquidation of the claims upon his property. But
his wife and friend refused to take part in applying to private
interests the money taken by armed force from the Receiver's offices
and the couriers and post-carriages of the government,--money taken,
as they thought, justifiably by the rules of war to pay the regiments
of 'refractories' and Chouans, and purchase the arms and ammunition
with which to equip them. At last, after an angry discussion in which
the young leader, supported by the wife, positively refused to hand
over to the husband a portion of the large sum of money which the
young leader had seized for the benefit of the royal armies from the
treasury of the West, the baron suddenly and mysteriously disappeared,
to avoid arrest for debt, having no means left by which to ward it
off. Poor Madame de la Chanterie was wholly ignorant of these facts;
but even they are nothing to the plot still hidden behind these
"It is too late to-night," said Monsieur Alain, looking at his little
clock, "to go on with my narrative, which would take me, in any case,
a long time to finish in my own words. Old Bordin, my friend, whose
management of the famous Simeuse case had won him much credit in the
royalist party, and who pleaded in the well-known criminal affair
called that of the Chauffeurs de Mortagne, gave me, after I was
installed in this house, two legal papers relating to the terrible
history of Madame de la Chanterie and her daughter. I kept them
because Bordin died soon after, before I had a chance to return them.
You shall read them. You will find the facts much more succinctly
stated than I could state them. Those facts are so numerous that I
should only lose myself in the details and confuse them, whereas in
those papers you have them in a legal summary. To-morrow, if you come
to me, I will finish telling you all that relates to Madame de la
Chanterie; for you will then know the general facts so thoroughly that
I can end the whole story in a few words."
THE LEGAL STATEMENT
Monsieur Alain placed the papers, yellowed by time, in Godefroid's
hand; the latter, bidding the old man good-night, carried them off to
his room, where he read, before he slept, the following document:--
Court of Criminal and Special Justice for the Department of the Orne
The attorney-general to the Imperial Court of Caen, appointed to
fulfil his functions before the Special Criminal Court established
by imperial decree under date September, 1809, and sitting at
Alencon, states to the Imperial Court the following facts which
have appeared under the above procedure.
The plot of a company of brigands, evidently long planned with
consummate care, and connected with a scheme for inciting the
Western departments to revolt, has shown itself in certain
attempts against the private property of citizens, but more
especially in an armed attack and robbery committed on the mail-
coach which transported, May --, 18--, the money in the treasury
at Caen to the Treasury of France. This attack, which recalls the
deplorable incidents of a civil war now happily extinguished,
manifests a spirit of wickedness which the political passions of
the present day do not justify.
Let us pass to the facts. The plot is complicated, the details are
numerous. The investigation has lasted one year; but the evidence,
which has followed the crime step by step, has thrown the clearest
light on its preparation, execution, and results.
The conception of the plot was formed by one Charles-Amedee-Louis-
Joseph Rifoel, calling himself Chevalier du Vissard, born at the
Vissard, district of Saint-Mexme, near Ernee, and a former leader
of the rebels.
This criminal, whom H.M. the Emperor and King pardoned at the time
of the general pacification, and who has profited by the
sovereign's magnanimity to commit other crimes, has already paid
on the scaffold the penalty of his many misdeeds; but it is
necessary to recall some of his actions, because his influence was
great on the guilty persons now before the court, and he is
closely connected with the facts of his case.
This dangerous agitator, concealed, according to the usual custom
of the rebels, under the name of Pierrot, went from place to place
throughout the departments of the West gathering together the
elements of rebellion; but his chief resort was the chateau of
Saint-Savin, the residence of a Madame Lechantre and her daughter,
a Madame Bryond, situated in the district of Saint-Savin,
arrondissement of Mortagne. Several of the most horrible events of
the rebellion of 1799 are connected with this strategic point.
Here a bearer of despatches was murdered, his carriage pillaged by
the brigands under command of a woman, assisted by the notorious
Marche-a-Terre. Brigandage appeared to be endemic in that
An intimacy, which we shall not attempt to characterize, existed
for more than a year between the woman Bryond and the said Rifoel.
It was in this district that an interview took place, in April,
1808, between Rifoel and a certain Boislaurier, a leader known by
the name of August in the baneful rebellions of the West, who
instigated the affair now before the court.
The somewhat obscure point of the relations between these two
leaders is cleared up by the testimony of numerous witnesses, and
also by the judgment of the court which condemned Rifoel.
From that time Boislaurier had an understanding with Rifoel, and
they acted in concert.
They communicated to each other, at first secretly, their infamous
plans, encouraged by the absence of His Imperial and Royal Majesty
with the armies in Spain. Their scheme was to obtain possession of
the money of the Treasury as the fundamental basis of future
Some time after this, one named Dubut, of Caen, sent an emissary
to the chateau of Saint-Savin named Hiley--commonly called "The
Laborer," long known as a highwayman, a robber of diligences--to
give information as to the men who could safely be relied upon.
It was thus by means of Hiley that the plotters obtained, from the
beginning, the co-operation of one Herbomez, otherwise called
General Hardi, a former rebel of the same stamp as Rifoel, and
like him faithless to his pledges under the amnesty.
Herbomez and Hiley recruited from the surrounding districts seven
brigands whose names are:--
1. Jean Cibot, called Pille-Miche, one of the boldest brigands of
the corps formed by Montauran in the year VII., and a participator
in the attack upon the courier of Mortagne and his murder.
2. Francois Lisieux, called Grand-Fils, refractory of the
department of the Mayenne.
3. Charles Grenier, called Fleur-de-Genet, deserter from the 69th
4. Gabriel Bruce, called Gros-Jean, one of the most ferocious
Chouans of Fontaine's division.
5. Jacques Horeau, called Stuart, ex-lieutenant in the same
brigade, one of the confederates of Tinteniac, well-known for his
participation in the expedition to Quiberon.
6. Marie-Anne Cabot, called Lajeunesse, former huntsman to the
Sieur Carol of Alencon.
7. Louis Minard, refractory.
These confederates were lodged in three different districts, in
the houses of the following named persons: Binet, Melin, and
Laraviniere, innkeepers or publicans, and all devoted to Rifoel.
The necessary arms were supplied by one Jean-Francois Leveille,
notary; an incorrigible assistant of the brigands, and their go-
between with certain hidden leaders; also by one Felix Courceuil,
commonly called Confesseur, former surgeon of the rebel armies of
La Vendee; both these men are from Alencon.
Eleven muskets were hidden in a house belonging to the Sieur
Bryond in the faubourg of Alencon, where they were placed without
When the Sieur Bryond left his wife to pursue the fatal course she
had chosen, these muskets, mysteriously taken from the said house,
were transported by the woman Bryond in her own carriage to the
chateau of Saint-Savin.
It was then that the acts of brigandage in the department of the
Orne and the adjacent departments took place,--acts that amazed
both the authorities and the inhabitants of those regions, which
had long been entirely pacificated; acts, moreover, which proved
that these odious enemies of the government and the French Empire
were in the secret of the coalition of 1809 through communication
with the royalist party in foreign countries.
The notary Leveille, the woman Bryond, Dubut of Caen, Herbomez of
Mayenne, Boislaurier of Mans, and Rifoel, were therefore the heads
of the association, which was composed of certain guilty persons
already condemned to death and executed with Rifoel, certain
others who are the accused persons at present under trial, and a
number more who have escaped just punishment by flight or by the
silence of their accomplices.
It was Dubut who, living near Caen, notified the notary Leveille
when the government money contained in the local tax-office would
be despatched to the Treasury.
We must remark here that after the time of the removal of the
muskets, Leveille, who went to see Bruce, Grenier, and Cibot in
the house of Melin, found them hiding the muskets in a shed on the
premises, and himself assisted in the operation.
A general rendezvous was arranged to take place at Mortagne, in
the hotel de l'Ecu de France. All the accused persons were present
under various disguises. It was then that Leveille, the woman
Bryond, Dubut, Herbomez, Boislaurier and Hiley (the ablest of the
secondary accomplices, as Cibot was the boldest) obtained the
co-operation of one Vauthier, called Vieux-Chene, a former servant
of the famous Longuy, and now hostler of the hotel. Vauthier
agreed to notify the woman Bryond of the arrival and departure of
the diligence bearing the government money, which always stopped
for a time at the hotel.
The woman Bryond collected the scattered brigands at the chateau
de Saint-Savin, a few miles from Mortagne, where she had lived
with her mother since the separation from her husband. The
brigands, with Hiley at their head, stayed at the chateau for
several days. The woman Bryond, assisted by her maid Godard,
prepared with her own hands the food of these men. She had already
filled a loft with hay, and there the provisions were taken to
them. While awaiting the arrival of the government money these
brigands made nightly sorties from Saint-Savin, and the whole
region was alarmed by their depredations. There is no doubt that
the outrages committed at la Sartiniere, at Vonay, and at the
chateau of Saint-Seny, were committed by this band, whose boldness
equals their criminality, though they were able to so terrify
their victims that the latter have kept silence, and the
authorities have been unable to obtain any testimony from them.
While thus putting under contribution those persons in the
neighborhood who had purchased lands of the National domain, these
brigands carefully explored the forest of Chesnay which they
selected as the theatre of their crime.
Not far from this forest is the village of Louvigney. An inn is
kept there by the brothers Chaussard, formerly game-keepers on the
Troisville estate, which inn was made the final rendezvous of the
brigands. These brothers knew beforehand the part they were to
play in the affair. Courceuil and Boislaurier had long made
overtures to them to revive their hatred against the government of
our august Emperor, telling them that among the guests who would
be sent to them would be certain men of their acquaintance, the
dreaded Hiley and the not less dreaded Cibot.
Accordingly, on the 6th, the seven bandits, under Hiley, arrived
at the inn of the brothers Chaussard, and there they spent two
days. On the 8th Hiley led off his men, saying they were going to
a palace about nine miles distant, and asking the brothers to send
provisions for them to a certain fork in the road not far distant
from the village. Hiley himself returned and slept at the inn.
Two persons on horseback, who were undoubtedly Rifoel and the
woman Bryond (for it is stated that this woman accompanied Rifoel
on these expeditions on horseback and dressed as a man), arrived
during the evening and conversed with Hiley.
The next day Hiley wrote a letter to the notary Leveille, which
one of the Chaussard brothers took to the latter, bringing back
Two hours later Rifoel and the woman Bryond returned and had an
interview with Hiley.
It was then found necessary to obtain an axe to open, as we shall
see, the cases containing the money. The notary went with the
woman Bryond to Saint-Savin, where they searched in vain for an
axe. The notary returned alone; half way back he met Hiley, to
whom he stated that they could not obtain an axe.
Hiley returned to the inn, where he ordered supper for ten
persons; seven of them being the brigands, who had now returned,
fully armed. Hiley made them stack their arms in the military
manner. They then sat down to table and supped in haste. Hiley
ordered provisions prepared to take away with him. Then he took
the elder Chaussard aside and asked him for an axe. The innkeeper
who, if we believe him, was surprised, refused to give one.
Courceuil and Boislaurier arrived; the night wore on; the three
men walked the floor of their room discussing the plot. Courceuil,
called "Confesseur," the most wily of the party, obtained an axe;
and about two in the morning they all went away by different
Every moment was of value; the execution of the crime was fixed
for that night. Hiley, Courceuil, and Boislaurier led and placed
their men. Hiley hid in ambush with Minard, Cabot, and Bruce at
the right of the Chesnay forest; Boislaurier, Grenier, and Horeau
took the centre; Courceuil, Herbomez, and Lisieux occupied the
ravine to the left of the wood. All these positions are indicated
on the ground-plan drawn by the engineer of the government survey-
office, which is here subjoined.
The diligence, which had left Mortagne about one in the morning,
was driven by one Rousseau, whose conduct proved so suspicious
that his arrest was judged necessary. The vehicle, driven slowly,
would arrive about three o'clock in the forest of Chesnay.
A single gendarme accompanied the diligence, which would stop for
breakfast at Donnery. Three passengers only were making the trip,
and were now walking up the hill with the gendarme.
The driver, who had driven very slowly to the bridge of Chesnay at
the entrance of the wood, now hastened his horses with a vigor and
eagerness remarked by the passengers, and turned into a cross-
road, called the road of Senzey. The carriage was thus out of
sight; and the gendarme with the three young men were hurrying to
overtake it when they heard a shout: "Halt!" and four shots were
fired at them.
The gendarme, who was not hit, drew his sabre and rushed in the
direction of the vehicle. He was stopped by four armed men, who
fired at him; his eagerness saved him, for he ran toward one of
the three passengers to tell him to make for Chesnay and ring the
tocsin. But two brigands followed him, and one of them, taking
aim, sent a ball through his left shoulder, which broke his arm,
and he fell helpless.
The shouts and firing were heard in Donnery. A corporal stationed
there and one gendarme ran toward the sounds. The firing of a
squad of men took them to the opposite side of the wood to that
where the pillage was taking place. The noise of the firing
prevented the corporal from hearing the cries of the wounded
gendarme; but he did distinguish a sound which proved to be that
of an axe breaking and chopping into cases. He ran toward the
sound. Meeting four armed bandits, he called out to them,
They replied: "Stay where you are, or you are a dead man!" The
corporal sprang forward; two shots were fired and one struck him;
a ball went through his left leg and into the flank of his horse.
The brave man, bathed in blood, was forced to give up the unequal
fight; he shouted "Help! the brigands are at Chesnay!" but all in
The robbers, masters of the ground thanks to their numbers,
ransacked the coach. They had gagged and bound the driver by way
of deception. The cases were opened, the bags of money were thrown
out; the horses were unharnessed and the silver and gold loaded on
their backs. Three thousand francs in copper were rejected; but a
sum in other coin of one hundred and three thousand francs was
safely carried off on the four horses.
The brigands took the road to the hamlet of Menneville, which is
close to Saint-Savin. They stopped with their plunder at an
isolated house belonging to the Chaussard brothers, where the
Chaussards' uncle, one Bourget, lived, who was knowing to the
whole plot from its inception. This old man, aided by his wife,
welcomed the brigands, charged them to make no noise, unloaded the
bags of money, and gave the men something to drink. The wife
performed the part of sentinel. The old man then took the horses
through the wood, returned them to the driver, unbound the latter,
and also the young men, who had been garotted. After resting for a
time, Courceuil, Hiley, and Boislaurier paid their men a paltry
sum for their trouble, and the whole band departed, leaving the
plunder in charge of Bourget.
When they reached a lonely place called Champ-Landry, these
criminals, obeying the impulse which leads all malefactors into
the blunders and miscalculations of crime, threw their guns into a
wheat-field. This action, done by all of them, is a proof of their
mutual understanding. Struck with terror at the boldness of their
act, and even by its success, they dispersed.
The robbery now having been committed, with the additional
features of assault and assassination, other facts and other
actors appear, all connected with the robbery itself and with the
disposition of the plunder.
Rifoel, concealed in Paris, whence he pulled every wire of the
plot, transmits to Leveille an order to send him instantly fifty
Courceuil, knowing to all the facts, sends Hiley to tell Leveille
of the success of the attempt, and say that he will meet him at
Mortagne. Leveille goes there.
Vauthier, on whose fidelity they think they can rely, agrees to go
to Bourget, the uncle of the Chaussards, in whose care the money
was left, and ask for the booty. The old man tells Vauthier that
he must go to his nephews, who have taken large sums to the woman
Bryond. But he orders him to wait outside in the road, and brings
him a bag containing the small sum of twelve hundred francs, which
Vauthier delivers to the woman Lechantre for her daughter.
At Leveille's request, Vauthier returns to Bourget, who this time
sends for his nephews. The elder Chaussard takes Vauthier to the
wood, shows him a tree, and there they find a bag of one thousand
francs buried in the earth. Leveille, Hiley, and Vauthier make
other trips, obtaining only trifling sums compared with the large
sum known to have been captured.
The woman Lechantre receives these sums at Mortagne; and, on
receipt of a letter from her daughter, removes them to Saint-
Savin, where the woman Bryond now returns.
This is not the moment to examine as to whether the woman
Lechantre had any anterior knowledge of the plot.
It suffices here to note that this woman left Mortagne to go to
Saint-Savin the evening before the crime; that after the crime she
met her daughter on the high-road, and they both returned to
Mortagne; that on the following day Leveille, informed by Hiley of
the success of the plot, goes from Alencon to Mortagne, and there
visits the two women; later he persuades them to deposit the sums
obtained with such difficulty from the Chaussards and Bourget in a
house in Alencon, of which we shall speak presently,--that of the
Sieur Pannier, merchant.
The woman Lechantre writes to the bailiff at Saint-Savin to come
and drive her and her daughter by the cross-roads towards Alencon.
The funds now in their possession amount to twenty thousand
francs; these the girl Godard puts into the carriage at night.
The notary Leveille had given exact instructions. The two women
reach Alencon and stop at the house of a confederate, one Louis
Chargegrain, in the Littray district. Despite all the precautions
of the notary, who came there to meet the women, witnesses were at
hand who saw the portmanteaux and bags containing the money taken
from the carriole.
At the moment when Courceuil and Hiley, disguised as women, were
consulting in the square at Alencon with the Sieur Pannier
(treasurer of the rebels since 1794, and devoted to Rifoel) as to
the best means of conveying to Rifoel the sum he asked for, the
woman Lechantre became alarmed on hearing at the inn where she
stopped of the suspicions and arrests already made. She fled
during the night, taking her daughter with her through the byways
and cross-roads to Saint-Savin, in order to take refuge, if
necessary, in certain hiding-places prepared at the chateau de
Saint-Savin. Courceuil, Boislaurier, and his relation Dubut,
clandestinely changed two thousand francs in silver money for
gold, and fled to Brittany and England.
On arriving at Saint-Savin, the women Lechantre and Bryond heard
of the arrest of Bourget, that of the driver of the diligence, and
that of the two refractories.
The magistrates and the gendarmerie struck such sure blows that it
was thought advisable to place the woman Bryond beyond the reach
of human justice; for she appears to have been an object of great
devotion on the part of these criminals, who were captivated by
her. She left Saint-Savin, and was hidden at first in Alencon,
where her followers deliberated, and finally placed her in the
cellar of Pannier's house.
Here new incidents develop themselves.
After the arrest of Bourget and his wife, the Chaussards refuse to
give up any more of the money, declaring themselves betrayed. This
unexpected refusal was given at a moment when an urgent want of
money was felt among the accomplices, if only for the purposes of
escape. Rifoel was always clamorous for money. Hiley, Cibot, and
Leveille began to suspect the Chaussards.
Here comes in a new incident, which calls for the rigor of the
Two gendarmes, detailed to discover the woman Bryond, succeeded in
tracking her to Pannier's. There a discussion is held; and these
men, unworthy of the trust reposed in them, instead of arresting
the woman Bryond, succumb to her seductions. These unworthy
soldiers, named Ratel and Mallet, showed this woman the utmost
interest and offered to take her to the Chaussards and force them
to make restitution.
The woman Bryond starts on horseback, disguised as a man,
accompanied by Ratel, Mallet, and the girl Godard. She makes the
journey by night. She has a conference alone with one of the
brothers Chaussard, an excited conference. She is armed with a
pistol, and threatens to blow out the brains of her accomplice if
he refuses the money. Then he goes with her into the forest, and
they return with a heavy bag of coin. In the bag are copper coins
and twelve-sous silver pieces to the amount of fifteen hundred
When the woman Bryond returns to Alencon the accomplices propose
to go in a body to the Chaussards' house and torture them until
they deliver up the whole sum.
When Pannier hears of this failure he is furious. He threatens.
The woman Bryond, though threatening him in return with Rifoel's
wrath, is forced to fly.
These facts rest on the confession of Ratel.
Mallet, pitying the woman Bryond's position, offers her an asylum.
Then Mallet and Ratel, accompanied by Hiley and Cibot, go at night
to the brothers Chaussard; this time they find these brothers have
left the place and have taken the rest of the money with them.
This was the last effort of the accomplices to recover the
proceeds of the robbery.
It now becomes necessary to show the exact part taken by each of
the actors in this crime.
Dubut, Boislaurier, Herbomez, Courceuil, and Hiley were the
ringleaders. Some deliberated and planned, others acted.
Boislaurier, Dubut, and Courceuil, all three fugitives from
justice and outlawed, are addicted to rebellion, fomenters of
trouble, implacable enemies of Napoleon the Great, his victories,
his dynasty, and his government, haters of our new laws and of the
constitution of the Empire.
Herbomez and Hiley audaciously executed that which the three
The guilt of the seven instruments of the crime, namely, Cibot,
Lisieux, Grenier, Bruce, Horeau, Cabot, and Minard, is evident; it
appears from the confessions of those of them who are now in the
hands of justice; Lisieux died during the investigation, and Bruce
has fled the country.
The conduct of Rousseau, who drove the coach, marks him as an
accomplice. His slow method of driving, his haste at the entrance
of the wood, his persistent declaration that his head was covered,
whereas the passengers testify that the leader of the brigands
told him to take the handkerchief off his head and recognize them;
all these facts are strong presumptive evidence of collusion.
As for the woman Bryond and the notary Leveille, could any
co-operation be more connected, more continuous than theirs? They
repeatedly furnished means for the crime; they were privy to it,
and they abetted it. Leveille travelled constantly. The woman
Bryond invented scheme after scheme; she risked all, even her
life, to recover the plunder. She lent her house, her carriage;
her hand is seen in the plot from the beginning; she did not
dissuade the chief leader of all, Rifoel, since executed, although
through her guilty influence upon him she might have done so. She
made her waiting-woman, the girl Godard, an accomplice. As for
Leveille, he took an active part in the actual perpetration of the
crime by seeking the axe the brigands asked for.
The woman Bourget, Vauthier, the Chaussards, Pannier, the woman
Lechantre, Mallet and Ratel, all participated in the crime in
their several degrees, as did the innkeepers Melin, Binet,
Laraviniere, and Chargegrain.
Bourget has died during the investigation, after making a
confession which removes all doubt as to the part played by
Vauthier and the woman Bryond; if he attempted to extenuate that
of his wife and his nephews Chaussard, his motives are easy to
The Chaussards knowingly fed and lodged the brigands, they saw
them armed, they witnessed all their arrangements and knew the
object of them; and lastly, they received the plunder, which they
hid, and as it appears, stole from their accomplices.
Pannier, the former treasurer of the rebels, concealed the woman
Bryond in his house; he is one of the most dangerous accomplices
of this crime, which he knew from its inception. In him certain
mysterious relations which are still obscure took their rise; the
authorities now have these matters under investigation. Pannier
was the right hand of Rifoel, the depositary of the secrets of the
counter-revolutionary party of the West; he regretted that Rifoel
introduced women into the plot and confided in them; it was he who
received the stolen money from the woman Bryond and conveyed it to
As for the conduct of the two gendarmes Ratel and Mallet, it
deserves the severest penalty of the law. They betrayed their
duty. One of them, foreseeing his fate, committed suicide, but not
until he had made important revelations. The other, Mallet, denies
nothing, his tacit admissions preclude all doubt, especially as to
the guilt of the woman Bryond.
The woman Lechantre, in spite of her constant denials, was privy
to all. The hypocrisy of this woman, who attempts to shelter her
assumed innocence under the mask of a false piety, has certain
antecedents which prove her decision of character and her
intrepidity in extreme cases. She alleges that she was misled by
her daughter, and believed that the plundered money belonged to
the Sieur Bryond,--a common excuse! If the Sieur Bryond had
possessed any property, he would not have left the department on
account of his debts. The woman Lechantre claims that she did not
suspect a shameful theft, because she saw the proceedings approved
by her ally, Boislaurier. But how does she explain the presence of
Rifoel (already executed) at Saint-Savin; the journeys to and fro;
the relations of that young man with her daughter; the stay of the
brigands at Saint-Savin, where they were served by her daughter
and the girl Godard? She alleges sleep; declares it to be her
practice to go to bed at seven in the evening; and has no answer
to make when the magistrate points out to her that if she rises,
as she says she does, at dawn, she must have seen some signs of
the plot, of the sojourn of so many persons, and of the nocturnal
goings and comings of her daughter. To this she replies that she
was occupied in prayer. This woman is a mass of hypocrisy. Lastly,
her journey on the day of the crime, the care she takes to carry
her daughter to Mortagne, her conduct about the money, her
precipitate flight when all is discovered, the pains she is at to
conceal herself, even the circumstances of her arrest, all go to
prove a long-existing complicity. She has not acted like a mother
who desires to save her daughter and withdraw her from danger, but
like a trembling accomplice. And her complicity is not that of a
misguided tenderness; it is the fruit of party spirit, the
inspiration of a well-known hatred against the government of His
Imperial and Royal Majesty. Misguided maternal tenderness, if that
could be fairly alleged in her defence, would not, however, excuse
it; and we must not forget that consentment, long-standing and
premeditated, is the surest sign of guilt.
Thus all the elements of the crime and the persons committing it
are fully brought to light.
We see the madness of faction combining with pillage and greed; we
see assassination advised by party spirit, under whose aegis these
criminals attempt to justify themselves for the basest crimes. The
leaders give the signal for the pillage of the public money, which
money is to be used for their ulterior crimes; vile stipendiaries
do this work for a paltry price, not recoiling from murder; then
the fomenters of rebellion, not less guilty because their own
hands have neither robbed nor murdered, divide the booty and
dispose of it. What community can tolerate such outrages? The law
itself is scarcely rigorous enough to duly punish them.
It is upon the above facts that this Court of Criminal and Special
Justice is called upon to decide whether the prisoners Herbomez,
Hiley, Cibot, Grenier, Horeau, Cabot, Minard, Melin, Binet,
Laraviniere, Rousseau, the woman Bryond, Leveille, the woman
Bourget, Vauthier, Chaussard the elder, Pannier, the widow
Lechantre, Mallet, all herein named and described, and arraigned
before this court; also Boislaurier, Dubut, Courceuil, Bruce, the
younger Chaussard, Chargegrain, and the girl Godard,--these latter
being absent and fugitives from justice,--are or are not guilty of
the crimes charged in this indictment.
Done at Caen, this 1st of December, 180--.
(Signed) Baron Bourlac,
PRAY FOR THOSE WHO DESPITEFULLY USE YOU AND PERSECUTE YOU
This legal paper, much shorter and more imperative than such
indictments are these days, when they are far more detailed and more
precise, especially as to the antecedent life of accused persons,
affected Godefroid deeply. The dryness of the statement in which the
official pen narrated in red ink the principal details of the affair
stirred his imagination. Concise, abbreviated narratives are to some
minds texts into the hidden meaning of which they love to burrow.
In the middle of the night, aided by the silence, by the darkness, by
the terrible relation intimated by the worthy Alain between the facts
of that document and Madame de la Chanterie, Godefroid applied all the
forces of his intellect to decipher the dreadful theme.
Evidently the name Lechantre stood for la Chanterie; in all probably
the aristocracy of the name was intentionally thus concealed during
the Revolution and under the Empire.
Godefroid saw, in imagination, the landscape and the scenes where this
drama had taken place. The forms and faces of the accomplices passed
before his eyes. He pictured to himself not "one Rifoel" but a
Chevalier du Vissard, a young man something like the Fergus of Walter
Scott, a French Jacobite. He developed the romance of an ardent young
girl grossly deceived by an infamous husband (a style of romance then
much the fashion); loving the young and gallant leader of a rebellion
against the Empire; giving herself, body and soul, like another Diana
Vernon, to the conspiracy, and then, once launched on that fatal
incline, unable to stop herself. Had she rolled to the scaffold?
The young man saw in his own mind a whole world, and he peopled it. He
wandered in the shade of those Norman groves; he saw the Breton hero
and Madame Bryond among the gorse and shrubbery; he inhabited the old
chateau of Saint-Savin; he shared in the diverse acts of all those
many personages, picturing to himself the notary, the merchant, and
those bold Chouans. His mind conceived the state of that wild country
where lingered still the memory of the Comtes de Bauvan, de Longuy,
the exploits of Marche-a-Terre, the massacre at La Vivetiere, the
death of the Marquis de Montauran--of whose prowess Madame de la
Chanterie had told him.
This sort of vision of things, of men, of places was rapid. When he
remembered that this drama must relate to the dignified, noble, deeply
religious old woman whose virtue was acting upon him so powerfully as
to be upon the point of metamorphosing him, Godefroid was seized with
a sort of terror, and turned hastily to the second document which
Monsieur Alain had given him. This was entitled:--
Summary on behalf of Madame Henriette Bryond des Tours-Minieres,
nee Lechantre de la Chanterie.
"No longer any doubt!" murmured Godefroid.
We are condemned and guilty; but if ever the Sovereign had reason
to exercise his right of clemency it is surely in a case like
Here is a young woman, about to become a mother, and condemned to
From a prison cell, with the scaffold before her, this woman will
tell the truth.
The trial before the Criminal Court of Alencon had, as in all
cases where there are many accused persons in a conspiracy
inspired by party-spirit, certain portions which were seriously
The Chancellor of His Imperial and Royal Majesty knows now the
truth about the mysterious personage named Le Marchand, whose
presence in the department of the Orne was not denied by the
government during the trial, but whom the prosecution did not
think proper to call as witness, and whom the defence had neither
the power nor the opportunity to find.
That personage is, as the prosecuting officer, the police of
Paris, and the Chancellor of His Imperial and Royal Majesty well
know, the Sieur Bernard-Polydor Bryond des Tours-Minieres, the
correspondent, since 1794, of the Comte de Lille,--known elsewhere
as the Baron des Tours-Minieres, and on records of the Parisian
police under the name of Contenson.
He is notorious. His youth and name were degraded by vices so
imperative, an immorality so profound, conduct so criminal, that
his infamous life must have ended on the scaffold if he had not
possessed the ability to play a double part, as indicated by his
names. Hereafter, as his passions rule him more and more, he will
end by falling to the depths of infamy in spite of his
incontestable ability and a remarkable mind.
[Well, falling to the ground from the roof of a house, at any rate,
courtesy of Collin in Scenes.--JB.]
When the Comte de Lille became aware of this man's character he no
longer permitted him to take part in the royalist councils or to
handle the money sent to France; he thus lost the resources
derived from these masters, whose service had been profitable to
It was then that he returned to his country home, crippled with
His traitorous connection with the intrigues of England and the
Comte de Lille, won him the confidence of the old families
attached to the cause now vanquished by the genius of our immortal
Emperor. He there met one of the former leaders of the rebellion,
with whom at the time of the expedition to Quberon, and later, at
the time of the last uprising of the Chouans, he had held certain
relations as an envoy from England. He encouraged the schemes of
this young agitator, Rifoel, who has since paid with his life on
the scaffold for his plots against the State. Through him Bryond
was able to penetrate once more into the secrets of that party
which has misunderstood both the glory of H.M. the Emperor
Napoleon I. and the true interests of the nation united in his
At the age of thirty-five, this man, then known under his true
name of des Tours-Minieres, affecting a sincere piety, professing
the utmost devotion to the interests of the Comte de Lille and a
reverence for the memory of the insurgents who lost their lives at
the West, disguising with great ability the secrets of his
exhausted youth, and powerfully protected by the silence of
creditors, and by the spirit of caste which exists among all
country /ci-devants/,--this man, truly a whited sepulchre, was
introduced, as possessing every claim for consideration, to Madame
Lechantre, who was supposed to be the possessor of a large
All parties conspired to promote a marriage between the young
Henriette, only daughter of Madame Lechantre, and this protege of
the /ci-devants/. Priests, nobles, creditors, each with a
different interest, loyal in some, selfish in others, blind for
the most part, all united in furthering the union of Bernard
Bryond des Tours-Minieres with Henriette Lechantre.
The good sense of the notary who had charge of Madame Lechantre's
affairs, and perhaps his distrust, were the actual cause of the
disaster of this young girl. The Sieur Chesnel, notary at Alencon,
put the estate of Saint-Savin, the sole property of the bride,
under the dower system, reserving the right of habitation and a
modest income to the mother.
The creditors, who supposed, from Madame Lechantre's orderly and
frugal way of living, that she had capital laid by, were deceived
in their expectations, and they then began suits which revealed
the precarious financial condition of Bryond.
Serious differences now arose between the newly married pair, and
the young wife had occasion to know the depraved habits, the
political and religious atheism and--shall I say the word?--the
infamy of the man to whom her life had been so fatally united.
Bryond, forced to let his wife into the secret of the royalist
plots, gave a home in his house to their chief agent, Rifoel du
The character of Rifoel, adventurous, brave, generous, exercised a
charm on all who came in contact with him, as was abundantly
proved during his trials before three successive criminal courts.
The irresistible influence, the absolute empire he acquired over
the mind of a young woman who saw herself suddenly cast into the
abyss of a fatal marriage, is but too visible in this catastrophe
which now brings her a suppliant to the foot of the Throne. But
that which the Chancellor of His Imperial and Royal Majesty can
easily verify is the infamous encouragement given by Bryond to
this intimacy. Far from fulfilling his duty as guide and
counsellor to a child whose poor deceived mother had trusted her
to him, he took pleasure in drawing closer still the bonds that
united the young Henriette to the rebel leader.
The plan of this odious being, who takes pride in despising all
things and considers nothing but the satisfaction of his passions,
admitting none of the restraints imposed by civil or religious
morality, was as follows:--
We must first remark, however, that such plotting was familiar to
a man who, ever since 1794 has played a double part, who for eight
years deceived the Comte de Lille and his adherents, and probably
deceived at the same time the police of the Republic and the
Empire: such men belong only to those who pay them most.
Bryond pushed Rifoel to crime; he instigated the attacks of armed
men upon the mail-coaches bearing the moneys of the government,
and the levying of a heavy tribute from the purchasers of the
National domain; a tax he enforced by means of tortures invented
by him which carried terror through five departments. He then
demanded that a sum of three hundred thousand francs derived from
these plunderings be paid to him for the liquidation of his debts.
When he met with resistance on the part of his wife and Rifoel,
and saw the contempt his proposal inspired in upright minds who
were acting only from party spirit, he determined to bring them
both under the rigor of the law in the next occasion of their
committing a crime.
He disappeared, and returned to Paris, taking with him all
information as to the then condition of the departments of the
The brothers Chaussard and Vauthier were, as the chancellor knows,
As soon as the attack was made on the diligence from Caen, Bryond
returned secretly and in disguise, under the name of Le Marchand.
He put himself into secret communication with the prefect and the
magistrates. What was the result? Never was any conspiracy, in
which a great number of persons took part, so rapidly discovered
and dealt with. Within six days after the committal of the crime
all the guilty persons were followed and watched with an
intelligence which showed the most accurate knowledge of the
plans, and of the individuals concerned in them. The immediate
arrest, trial, and execution of Rifoel and his accomplices are the
proof of this. We repeat, the chancellor knows even more than we
do on this subject.
If ever a condemned person had a right to appeal to the
Sovereign's mercy it is Henriette Lechantre.
Though led astray by love, by ideas of rebellion which she sucked
in with the milk that fed her, she is, most certainly, inexcusable
in the eyes of the law; but in the eyes of the most magnanimous of
emperors, will not her misfortunes, the infamous betrayal of her
husband, and a rash enthusiasm plead for her?
[Hopefully not. What a ridiculous case for the defence! Would Rumpole
of the Bailey speak like this?--JB.]
The greatest of all captains, the immortal genius which pardoned
the Prince of Hatzfeldt and is able to divine the reasons of the
heart, will he not admit the fatal power of love, invincible in
youth, which extenuates this crime, great as it was?
Twenty-two heads have fallen under the blade of the law; only one
of the guilty persons is now left, and she is a young woman, a
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