The Countess of Saint Geran
Alexandre Dumas, Pere
This etext was produced by David Widger
CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 7, Part 2
By Alexander Dumas, Pere
THE COUNTESS DE SAINT-GERAN
About the end of the year 1639, a troop of horsemen arrived, towards
midday, in a little village at the northern extremity of the province
of Auvergne, from the direction of Paris. The country folk assembled
at the noise, and found it to proceed from the provost of the mounted
police and his men. The heat was excessive, the horses were bathed
in sweat, the horsemen covered with dust, and the party seemed on its
return from an important expedition. A man left the escort, and
asked an old woman who was spinning at her door if there was not an
inn in the place. The woman and her children showed him a bush
hanging over a door at the end of the only street in the village, and
the escort recommenced its march at a walk. There was noticed, among
the mounted men, a young man of distinguished appearance and richly
dressed, who appeared to be a prisoner. This discovery redoubled the
curiosity of the villagers, who followed the cavalcade as far as the
door of the wine-shop. The host came out, cap in hand, and the
provost enquired of him with a swaggering air if his pothouse was
large enough to accommodate his troop, men and horses. The host
replied that he had the best wine in the country to give to the
king's servants, and that it would be easy to collect in the
neighbourhood litter and forage enough for their horses. The provost
listened contemptuously to these fine promises, gave the necessary
orders as to what was to be done, and slid off his horse, uttering an
oath proceeding from heat and fatigue. The horsemen clustered round
the young man: one held his stirrup, and the provost deferentially
gave way to him to enter the inn first. No, more doubt could be
entertained that he was a prisoner of importance, and all kinds of
conjectures were made. The men maintained that he must be charged
with a great crime, otherwise a young nobleman of his rank would
never have been arrested; the women argued, on the contrary, that it
was impossible for such a pretty youth not to be innocent.
Inside the inn all was bustle: the serving-lads ran from cellar to
garret; the host swore and despatched his servant-girls to the
neighbours, and the hostess scolded her daughter, flattening her nose
against the panes of a downstairs window to admire the handsome
There were two tables in the principal eating-room. The provost took
possession of one, leaving the other to the soldiers, who went in
turn to tether their horses under a shed in the back yard; then he
pointed to a stool for the prisoner, and seated himself opposite to
him, rapping the table with his thick cane.
"Ouf!" he cried, with a fresh groan of weariness, "I heartily beg
your pardon, marquis, for the bad wine I am giving you!"
The young man smiled gaily.
"The wine is all very well, monsieur provost," said he, "but I cannot
conceal from you that however agreeable your company is to me, this
halt is very inconvenient; I am in a hurry to get through my
ridiculous situation, and I should have liked to arrive in time to
stop this affair at once."
The girl of the house was standing before the table with a pewter pot
which she had just brought, and at these words she raised her eyes on
the prisoner, with a reassured look which seemed to say, "I was sure
that he was innocent."
"But," continued the marquis, carrying the glass to his lips, "this
wine is not so bad as you say, monsieur provost."
Then turning to the girl, who was eyeing his gloves and his ruff--
"To your health, pretty child."
"Then," said the provost, amazed at this free and easy air, "perhaps
I shall have to beg you to excuse your sleeping quarters."
"What!" exclaimed the marquis, "do we sleep here?"
"My lord;" said the provost, "we have sixteen long leagues to make,
our horses are done up, and so far as I am concerned I declare that I
am no better than my horse."
The marquis knocked on the table, and gave every indication of being
greatly annoyed. The provost meanwhile puffed and blowed, stretched
out his big boots, and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. He
was a portly man, with a puffy face, whom fatigue rendered singularly
"Marquis," said he, "although your company, which affords me the
opportunity of showing you some attention, is very precious to me,
you cannot doubt that I had much rather enjoy it on another footing.
If it be within your power, as you say, to release yourself from the
hands of justice, the sooner you do so the better I shall be pleased.
But I beg you to consider the state we are in. For my part, I am
unfit to keep the saddle another hour, and are you not yourself
knocked up by this forced march in the great heat?"
"True, so I am," said the marquis, letting his arms fall by his side.
"Well, then, let us rest here, sup here, if we can, and we will start
quite fit in the cool of the morning."
"Agreed," replied the marquis; "but then let us pass the time in a
becoming manner. I have two pistoles left, let them be given to
these good fellows to drink. It is only fair that I should treat
them, seeing that I am the cause of giving them so much trouble."
He threw two pieces of money on the table of the soldiers, who cried
in chorus, "Long live M. the marquis!" The provost rose, went to
post sentinels, and then repaired to the kitchen, where he ordered
the best supper that could be got. The men pulled out dice and began
to drink and play. The marquis hummed an air in the middle of the
room, twirled his moustache, turning on his heel and looking
cautiously around; then he gently drew a purse from his trousers
pocket, and as the daughter of the house was coming and going, he
threw his arms round her neck as if to kiss her, and whispered,
slipping ten Louis into her hand--
"The key of the front door in my room, and a quart of liquor to the
sentinels, and you save my life."
The girl went backwards nearly to the door, and returning with an
expressive look, made an affirmative sign with her hand. The provost
returned, and two hours later supper was served. He ate and drank
like a man more at home at table than in the saddle. The marquis
plied him with bumpers, and sleepiness, added to the fumes of a very
heady wine, caused him to repeat over and over again--
"Confound it all, marquis, I can't believe you are such a blackguard
as they say you are; you seem to me a jolly good sort."
The marquis thought he was ready to fall under the table, and was
beginning to open negotiations with the daughter of the house, when,
to his great disappointment, bedtime having come, the provoking
provost called his sergeant, gave him instructions in an undertone,
and announced that he should have the honour of conducting M. the
marquis to bed, and that he should not go to bed himself before
performing this duty. In fact, he posted three of his men, with
torches, escorted the prisoner to his room, and left him with many
The marquis threw himself on his bed without pulling off his boots,
listening to a clock which struck nine. He heard the men come and go
in the stables and in the yard.
An hour later, everybody being tired, all was perfectly still. The
prisoner then rose softly, and felt about on tiptoe on the
chimneypiece, on the furniture, and even in his clothes, for the key
which he hoped to find. He could not find it. He could not be
mistaken, nevertheless, in the tender interest of the young girl, and
he could not believe that she was deceiving him. The marquis's room
had a window which opened upon the street, and a door which gave
access to a shabby gallery which did duty for a balcony, whence a
staircase ascended to the principal rooms of the house. This gallery
hung over the courtyard, being as high above it as the window was
from the street. The marquis had only to jump over one side or the
other: he hesitated for some time, and just as he was deciding to
leap into the street, at the risk of breaking his neck, two taps were
struck on the door. He jumped for joy, saying to himself as he
opened, "I am saved!" A kind of shadow glided into the room; the
young girl trembled from head to foot, and could not say a word. The
marquis reassured her with all sorts of caresses.
"Ah, sir," said she, "I am dead if we are surprised."
"Yes," said the marquis, "but your fortune is made if you get me out
"God is my witness that I would with all my soul, but I have such a
bad piece of news----"
She stopped, suffocated with varying emotions. The poor girl had
come barefooted, for fear of making a noise, and appeared to be
"What is the matter?" impatiently asked the marquis.
"Before going to bed," she continued, "M. the provost has required
from my father all the keys of the house, and has made him take a
great oath that there are no more. My father has given him all:
besides, there is a sentinel at every door; but they are very tired;
I have heard them muttering and grumbling, and I have given them more
wine than you told me."
"They will sleep," said the marquis, nowise discouraged, "and they
have already shown great respect to my rank in not nailing me up in
"There is a small kitchen garden," continued the girl, "on the side
of the fields, fenced in only by a loose hurdle, but----"
"Where is my horse?"
"No doubt in the shed with the rest."
"I will jump into the yard."
"You will be killed."
"So much the better!"
"Ah monsieur marquis, what have, you done?" said the young girl with
"Some foolish things! nothing worth mentioning; but my head and my
honour are at stake. Let us lose no time; I have made up my mind."
"Stay," replied the girl, grasping his arm; "at the left-hand corner
of the yard there is a large heap of straw, the gallery hangs just
"Bravo! I shall make less noise, and do myself less mischief." He
made a step towards the door; tie girl, hardly knowing what she was
doing, tried to detain him; but he got loose from her and opened it.
The moon was shining brightly into the yard; he heard no sound. He
proceeded to the end of the wooden rail, and perceived the dungheap,
which rose to a good height: the girl made the sign of the cross.
The marquis listened once again, heard nothing, and mounted the rail.
He was about to jump down, when by wonderful luck he heard murmurings
from a deep voice. This proceeded from one of two horsemen, who were
recommencing their conversation and passing between them a pint of
wine. The marquis crept back to his door, holding his breath: the
girl was awaiting him on the threshold.
"I told you it was not yet time," said she.
"Have you never a knife," said the marquis, "to cut those rascals'
"Wait, I entreat you, one hour, one hour only," murmured the young
girl; "in an hour they will all be asleep."
The girl's voice was so sweet, the arms which she stretched towards
him were full of such gentle entreaty, that the marquis waited, and
at the end of an hour it was the young girl's turn to tell him to
The marquis for the last time pressed with his mouth those lips but
lately so innocent, then he half opened the door, and heard nothing
this time but dogs barking far away in an otherwise silent country.
He leaned over the balustrade, and saw: very plainly a soldier lying
prone on the straw.
"If they were to awake?" murmured the young girl in accents of
"They will not take me alive, be assured," said the marquis.
"Adieu, then," replied she, sobbing; "may Heaven preserve you!"
He bestrode the balustrade, spread himself out upon it, and fell
heavily on the dungheap. The young girl saw him run to the shed,
hastily detach a horse, pass behind the stable wall, spur his horse
in both flanks, tear across the kitchen garden, drive his horse
against the hurdle, knock it down, clear it, and reach the highroad
across the fields.
The poor girl remained at the end of the gallery, fixing her eyes on
the sleeping sentry, and ready to disappear at the slightest
movement. The noise made by spurs on the pavement and by the horse
at the end of the courtyard had half awakened him. He rose, and
suspecting some surprise, ran to the shed. His horse was no longer
there; the marquis, in his haste to escape, had taken the first which
came to hand, and this was the soldier's. Then the soldier gave the
alarm; his comrades woke up. They ran to the prisoner's room, and
found it empty. The provost came from his bed in a dazed condition.
The prisoner had escaped.
Then the young girl, pretending to have been roused by the noise,
hindered the preparations by mislaying the saddlery, impeding the
horsemen instead of helping them; nevertheless, after a quarter of an
hour, all the party were galloping along the road. The provost swore
like a pagan. The best horses led the way, and the sentinel, who
rode the marquis's, and who had a greater interest in catching the
prisoner, far outstripped his companions; he was followed by the
sergeant, equally well mounted, and as the broken fence showed the
line he had taken, after some minutes they were in view of him, but
at a great distance. However, the marquis was losing ground; the
horse he had taken was the worst in the troop, and he had pressed it
as hard as it could go. Turning in the saddle, he saw the soldiers
half a musket-shot off; he urged his horse more and more, tearing his
sides with his spurs; but shortly the beast, completely winded.
foundered; the marquis rolled with it in the dust, but when rolling
over he caught hold of the holsters, which he found to contain
pistols; he lay flat by the side of the horse, as if he had fainted,
with a pistol at full cock in his hand. The sentinel, mounted on a
valuable horse, and more than two hundred yards ahead of his
serafile, came up to him. In a moment the marquis, jumping up before
he had tune to resist him, shot him through the head; the horseman
fell, the marquis jumped up in his place without even setting foot in
the stirrup, started off at a gallop, and went away like the wind,
leaving fifty yards behind him the non-commissioned officer,
dumbfounded with what had just passed before his eyes.
The main body of the escort galloped up, thinking that he was taken;
and the provost shouted till he was hoarse, "Do not kill him!" But
they found only the sergeant, trying to restore life to his man,
whose skull was shattered, and who lay dead on the spot.
As for the marquis, he was out of sight; for, fearing a fresh
pursuit, he had plunged into the cross roads, along which he rode a
good hour longer at full gallop. When he felt pretty sure of having
shaken the police off his track, and that their bad horses could not
overtake him, he determined to slacken to recruit his horse; he was
walking him along a hollow lane, when he saw a peasant approaching;
he asked him the road to the Bourbonnais, and flung him a crown. The
man took the crown and pointed out the road, but he seemed hardly to
know what he was saying, and stared at the marquis in a strange
manner. The marquis shouted to him to get out of the way; but the
peasant remained planted on the roadside without stirring an inch.
The marquis advanced with threatening looks, and asked how he dared
to stare at him like that.
"The reason is," said the peasant, "that you have----", and he
pointed to his shoulder and his ruff.
The marquis glanced at his dress, and saw that his coat was dabbled
in blood, which, added to the disorder of his clothes and the dust
with which he was covered, gave him a most suspicious aspect.
"I know," said he. "I and my servant have been separated in a
scuffle with some drunken Germans; it's only a tipsy spree, and
whether I have got scratched, or whether in collaring one of these
fellows I have drawn some of his blood, it all arises from the row.
I don't think I am hurt a bit." So saying, he pretended to feel all
over his body.
"All the same," he continued, "I should not be sorry to have a wash;
besides, I am dying with thirst and heat, and my horse is in no
better case. Do you know where I can rest and refresh myself?"
The peasant offered to guide him to his own house, only a few yards
off. His wife and children, who were working, respectfully stood
aside, and went to collect what was wanted--wine, water, fruit, and a
large piece of black bread. The marquis sponged his coat, drank a
glass of wine, and called the people of the house, whom he questioned
in an indifferent manner. He once more informed himself of the
different roads leading into the Bourbonnais province, where he was
going to visit a relative; of the villages, cross roads, distances;
and finally he spoke of the country, the harvest, and asked what news
The peasant replied, with regard to this, that it was surprising to
hear of disturbances on the highway at this moment, when it was
patrolled by detachments of mounted police, who had just made an
"Who is that?--" asked the marquis.
"Oh," said the peasant, "a nobleman who has done a lot of mischief in
"What! a nobleman in the hands of justice?"
"Just so; and he stands a good chance of losing his head."
"Do they say what he has done?"
"Shocking things; horrid things; everything he shouldn't do. All the
province is exasperated with him."
"Do you know him?"
"No, but we all have his description."
As this news was not encouraging, the marquis, after a few more
questions, saw to his horse, patted him, threw some more money to the
peasant, and disappeared in the direction pointed out.
The provost proceeded half a league farther along the road; but
coming to the conclusion that pursuit was useless, he sent one of his
men to headquarters, to warn all the points of exit from the
province, and himself returned with his troop to the place whence he
had started in the morning. The marquis had relatives in the
neighbourhood, and it was quite possible that he might seek shelter
with some of them. All the village ran to meet the horsemen, who
were obliged to confess that they had been duped by the handsome
prisoner. Different views were expressed on the event, which gave
rise to much talking. The provost entered the inn, banging his fist
on the furniture, and blaming everybody for the misfortune which had
happened to him. The daughter of the house, at first a prey to the
most grievous anxiety, had great difficulty in concealing her joy.
The provost spread his papers over the table, as if to nurse his
"The biggest rascal in the world!" he cried; "I ought to have
"What a handsome man he was!" said the hostess.
"A consummate rascal! Do you know who he is? He is the Marquis de
"The Marquis de Saint-Maixent!" all cried with horror.
"Yes, the very man," replied the provost; "the Marquis de
Saint-Maixent, accused, and indeed convicted, of coining and magic."
"Convicted of incest."
"O my God!"
"Convicted of having strangled his wife to marry another, whose
husband he had first stabbed."
"Heaven help us!" All crossed themselves.
"Yes, good people," continued the furious provost, "this is the nice
boy who has just escaped the king's justice!"
The host's daughter left the room, for she felt she was going to
"But," said the host, "is there no hope of catching him again?"
"Not the slightest, if he has taken the road to the Bourbonnais; for
I believe there are in that province noblemen belonging to his family
who will not allow him to be rearrested."
The fugitive was, indeed, no other than the Marquis de Saint-Maixent,
accused of all the enormous crimes detailed by the provost, who by
his audacious flight opened for himself an active part in the strange
story which it remains to relate.
It came to pass, a fortnight after these events, that a mounted
gentleman rang at the wicket gate of the chateau de Saint-Geran, at
the gates of Moulins. It was late, and the servants were in no hurry
to open. The stranger again pulled the bell in a masterful manner,
and at length perceived a man running from the bottom of the avenue.
The servant peered through the wicket, and making out in the twilight
a very ill-appointed traveller, with a crushed hat, dusty clothes,
and no sword, asked him what he wanted, receiving a blunt reply that
the stranger wished to see the Count de Saint-Geran without any
further loss of time. The servant replied that this was impossible;
the other got into a passion.
"Who are you?" asked the man in livery.
"You are a very ceremonious fellow!" cried the horseman. "Go and tell
M. de Saint-Geran that his relative, the Marquis de Saint-Maixent,
wishes to see him at once."
The servant made humble apologies, and opened the wicket gate. He
then walked before the marquis, called other servants, who came to
help him to dismount, and ran to give his name in the count's
apartments. The latter was about to sit down to supper when his
relative was announced; he immediately went to receive the marquis,
embraced him again and again, and gave him the most friendly and
gracious reception possible. He wished then to take him into the
dining-room to present him to all the family; but the marquis called
his attention to the disorder of his dress, and begged for a few
minutes' conversation. The count took him into his dressing-room,
and had him dressed from head to foot in his own clothes, whilst they
talked. The marquis then narrated a made-up story to M. de
Saint-Geran relative to the accusation brought against him. This
greatly impressed his relative, and gave him a secure footing in the
chateau. When he had finished dressing, he followed the count, who
presented him to the countess and the rest of the family.
It will now be in place to state who the inmates of the chateau were,
and to relate some previous occurrences to explain subsequent ones.
The Marshal de Saint-Geran, of the illustrious house of Guiche, and
governor of the Bourbonnais, had married, for his first wife, Anne de
Tournon, by whom he had one son, Claude de la Guiche, and one
daughter, who married the Marquis de Bouille. His wife dying, he
married again with Suzanne des Epaules, who had also been previously
married, being the widow of the Count de Longaunay, by whom she had
Suzanne de Longaunay.
The marshal and his wife, Suzanne des Epauies, for the mutual benefit
of their children by first nuptials, determined to marry them, thus
sealing their own union with a double tie. Claude de Guiche, the
marshal's son, married Suzanne de Longaunay.
This alliance was much to the distaste of the Marchioness de Bouille,
the marshal's daughter, who found herself separated from her
stepmother, and married to a man who, it was said, gave her great
cause for complaint, the greatest being his threescore years and ten.
The contract of marriage between Claude de la Guiche and Suzanne de
Longaunay was executed at Rouen on the 17th of February 1619; but the
tender age of the bridegroom, who was then but eighteen, was the
cause of his taking a tour in Italy, whence he returned after two
years. The marriage was a very happy one but for one
circumstance--it produced no issue. The countess could not endure a
barrenness which threatened the end of a great name, the extinction
of a noble race. She made vows, pilgrimages; she consulted doctors
and quacks; but to no purpose.
The Marshal de Saint-Geran died on the Loth of December 1632, having
the mortification of having seen no descending issue from the
marriage of his son. The latter, now Count de Saint-Geran, succeeded
his father in the government of the Bourbonnais, and was named
Chevalier of the King's Orders.
Meanwhile the Marchioness de Bouille quarrelled with her old husband
the marquis, separated from him after a scandalous divorce, and came
to live at the chateau of Saint-Geran, quite at ease as to her
brother's marriage, seeing that in default of heirs all his property
would revert to her.
Such was the state of affairs when the Marquis de Saint-Maixent
arrived at the chateau. He was young, handsome, very cunning, and
very successful with women; he even made a conquest of the dowager
Countess de Saint-Geran, who lived there with her children. He soon
plainly saw that he might easily enter into the most intimate
relations with the Marchioness de Bouille.
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent's own fortune was much impaired by his
extravagance and by the exactions of the law, or rather, in plain
words, he had lost it all. The marchioness was heiress presumptive
to the count: he calculated that she would soon lose her own husband;
in any case, the life of a septuagenarian did not much trouble a man
like the marquis; he could then prevail upon the marchioness to marry
him, thus giving him the command of the finest fortune in the
He set to work to pay his court to her, especially avoiding anything
that could excite the slightest suspicion. It was, however,
difficult to get on good terms with the marchioness without showing
outsiders what was going on. But the marchioness, already
prepossessed by the agreeable exterior of M. de Saint-Maixent, soon
fell into his toils, and the unhappiness of her marriage, with the
annoyances incidental to a scandalous case in the courts, left her
powerless to resist his schemes. Nevertheless, they had but few
opportunities of seeing one' another alone: the countess innocently
took a part in all their conversations; the count often came to take
the marquis out hunting; the days passed in family pursuits. M. de
Saint-Maixent had not so far had an opportunity of saying what a
discreet woman ought to pretend not to hear; this intrigue,
notwithstanding the marquis's impatience, dragged terribly.
The countess, as has been stated, had for twenty years never ceased
to hope that her prayers would procure for her the grace of bearing a
son to her husband. Out of sheer weariness she had given herself up
to all kinds of charlatans, who at that period were well received by
people of rank. On one occasion she brought from Italy a sort of
astrologer, who as nearly as possible poisoned her with a horrible
nostrum, and was sent back to his own country in a hurry, thanking
his stars for having escaped so cheaply. This procured Madame de
Saint-Geran a severe reprimand from her confessor; and, as time went
on, she gradually accustomed herself to the painful conclusion that
she would die childless, and cast herself into the arms of religion.
The count, whose tenderness for her never failed, yet clung to the
hope of an heir, and made his Will with this in view. The
marchioness's hopes had become certainties, and M. de Saint-Maixent,
perfectly tranquil on this head, thought only of forwarding his suit
with Madame-de Bouille, when, at the end of the month of November
1640, the Count de Saint-Geran was obliged to repair to Paris in
great haste on pressing duty.
The countess, who could not bear to be separated from her husband,
took the family advice as to accompanying him. The marquis,
delighted at an opportunity which left him almost alone in the
chateau with Madame de Bouille, painted the journey to Paris in the
most attractive colours, and said all he could to decide her to go.
The marchioness, for her part, worked very quietly to the same end;
it was more than was needed. It was settled that the countess should
go with M. de Saint-Geran. She soon made her preparations, and a few
days later they set off on the journey together.
The marquis had no fears about declaring his passion; the conquest of
Madame de Bouille gave him no trouble; he affected the most violent
love, and she responded in the same terms. All their time was spent
in excursions and walks from, which the servants were excluded; the
lovers, always together, passed whole days in some retired part of
the park, or shut up in their apartments. It was impossible for
these circumstances not to cause gossip among an army of servants,
against whom they had to keep incessantly on their guard; and this
The marchioness soon found herself obliged to make confidantes of the
sisters Quinet, her maids; she had no difficulty in gaining their
support, for the girls were greatly attached to her. This was the
first step of shame for Madame de Bouille, and the first step of
corruption for herself and her paramour, who soon found themselves
entangled in the blackest of plots. Moreover, there was at the
chateau de Saint-Geran a tall, spare, yellow, stupid man, just
intelligent enough to perform, if not to conceive, a bad action, who
was placed in authority over the domestics; he was a common peasant
whom the old marshal had deigned to notice, and whom the count had by
degrees promoted to the service of major-domo on account of his long
service in the house, and because he had seen him there since he
himself was a child; he would not take him away as body servant,
fearing that his notions of service would not do for Paris, and left
him to the superintendence of the household. The marquis had a quiet
talk with this man, took his measure, warped his mind as he wished,
gave him some money, and acquired him body and soul. These different
agents undertook to stop the chatter of the servants' hall, and
thenceforward the lovers could enjoy free intercourse.
One evening, as the Marquis de Saint-Maixent was at supper in company
with the marchioness, a loud knocking was heard at the gate of the
chateau, to which they paid no great attention. This was followed by
the appearance of a courier who had come post haste from Paris; he
entered the courtyard with a letter from the Count de Saint-Geran for
M. the marquis; he was announced and introduced, followed by nearly
all the household. The marquis asked the meaning of all this, and
dismissed all the following with a wave of the hand; but the courier
explained that M. the count desired that the letter in his hands
should be read before everyone. The marquis opened it without
replying, glanced over it, and read it out loud without the slightest
alteration: the count announced to his good relations and to all his
household that the countess had indicated positive symptoms of
pregnancy; that hardly had she arrived in Paris when she suffered
from fainting fits, nausea, retching, that she bore with joy these
premonitory indications, which were no longer a matter of doubt to
the physicians, nor to anyone; that for his part he was overwhelmed
with joy at this event, which was the crowning stroke to all his
wishes; that he desired the chateau to share his satisfaction by
indulging in all kinds of gaieties; and that so far as other matters
were concerned they could remain as they were till the return of
himself and the countess, which the letter would precede only a few
days, as he was going to transport her in a litter for greater
safety. Then followed the specification of certain sums of money to
be distributed among the servants.
The servants uttered cries of joy; the marquis and marchioness
exchanged a look, but a very troublous one; they, however, restrained
themselves so far as to simulate a great satisfaction, and the
marquis brought himself to congratulate the servants on their
attachment to their master and mistress. After this they were left
alone, looking very serious, while crackers exploded and violins
resounded under the windows. For some time they preserved silence,
the first thought which occurred to both being that the count and
countess had allowed themselves to be deceived by trifling symptoms,
that people had wished to flatter their hopes, that it was impossible
for a constitution to change so suddenly after twenty years, and that
it was a case of simulative pregnancy. This opinion gaining strength
in their minds made them somewhat calmer.
The next day they took a walk side by side in a solitary path in the
park and discussed the chances of their situation. M. de
Saint-Maixent brought before the marchioness the enormous injury
which this event would bring them. He then said that even supposing
the news to be true, there were many rocks ahead to be weathered
before the succession could be pronounced secure.
"The child may die," he said at last.
And he uttered some sinister expressions on the slight damage caused
by the loss of a puny creature without mind, interest, or
consequence; nothing, he said, but a bit of ill-organised matter,
which only came into the world to ruin so considerable a person as
"But what is the use of tormenting ourselves?" he went on
impatiently; "the countess is not pregnant, nor can she be."
A gardener working near them overheard this part of the conversation,
but as they walked away from him he could not hear any more.
A few days later, some outriders, sent before him by the count,
entered the chateau, saying that their master and mistress were close
at hand. In fact, they were promptly followed by brakes and
travelling-carriages, and at length the countess's litter was
descried, which M. de Saint-Geran, on horse back, had never lost
sight of during the journey. It was a triumphal reception: all the
peasants had left their work, and filled the air with shouts of
welcome; the servants ran to meet their mistress; the ancient
retainers wept for joy at seeing the count so happy and in the hope
that his noble qualities might be perpetuated in his heir. The
marquis and Madame de Bouille did their best to tune up to the pitch
of this hilarity.
The dowager countess, who had arrived at the chateau the same day,
unable to convince herself as to this news, had the pleasure of
satisfying her self respecting it. The count and countess were much
beloved in the Bourbonnais province; this event caused therein a
general satisfaction, particularly in the numerous houses attached to
them by consanguinity. Within a few days of their return, more than
twenty ladies of quality flocked to visit them in great haste, to
show the great interest they took in this pregnancy. All these
ladies, on one occasion or another, convinced themselves as to its
genuineness, and many of them, carrying the subject still further, in
a joking manner which pleased the countess, dubbed themselves
prophetesses, and predicted the birth of a boy. The usual symptoms
incidental to the situation left no room for doubt: the country
physicians were all agreed. The count kept one of these physicians in
the chateau for two months, and spoke to the Marquis of Saint-
Maixent of his intention of procuring a good mid-wife, on the same
terms. Finally, the dowager countess, who was to be sponsor, ordered
at a great expense a magnificent store of baby linen, which she
desired to present at the birth.
The marchioness devoured her rage, and among the persons who went
beside themselves with joy not one remarked the disappointment which
overspread her soul. Every day she saw the marquis, who did all he
could to increase her regret, and incessantly stirred up her
ill-humour by repeating that the count and countess were triumphing
over her misfortune, and insinuating that they were importing a
supposititious child to disinherit her. As usual both in private and
political affairs, he began by corrupting the marchioness's religious
views, to pervert her into crime. The marquis was one of those
libertines so rare at that time, a period less unhappy than is
generally believed, who made science dependent upon, atheism. It is
remarkable that great criminals of this epoch, Sainte-Croix for
instance, and Exili, the gloomy poisoner, were the first unbelievers,
and that they preceded the learned of the following age both, in
philosophy and in the exclusive study of physical science, in which
they included that of poisons. Passion, interest, hatred fought the
marquis's battles in the heart of Madame de Bouille; she readily lent
herself to everything that M. de Saint-Maixent wished.
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent had a confidential servant, cunning,
insolent, resourceful, whom he had brought from his estates, a
servant well suited to such a master, whom he sent on errands
frequently into the neighbourhood of Saint-Geran.
One evening, as the marquis was about to go to bed, this man,
returning from one of his expeditions, entered his room, where he
remained for a long time, telling him that he had at length found
what he wanted, and giving him a small piece of paper which contained
several names of places and persons.
Next morning, at daybreak, the marquis caused two of his horses to be
saddled, pretended that he was summoned home on pressing business,
foresaw that he should be absent for three or four days, made his
excuses to the count, and set off at full gallop, followed by his
They slept that night at an inn on the road to Auvergne, to put off
the scent any persons who might recognise them; then, following
cross-country roads, they arrived after two days at a large hamlet,
which they had seemed to have passed far to their left.
In this hamlet was a woman who practised the avocation of midwife,
and was known as such in the neighbourhood, but who had, it was said,
mysterious and infamous secrets for those who paid her well.
Further, she drew a good income from the influence which her art gave
her over credulous people. It was all in her line to cure the king's
evil, compound philtres and love potions; she was useful in a variety
of ways to girls who could afford to pay her; she was a lovers'
go-between, and even practised sorcery for country folk. She played
her cards so well, that the only persons privy to her misdeeds were
unfortunate creatures who had as strong an interest as herself in
keeping them profoundly secret; and as her terms were very high, she
lived comfortably enough in a house her own property, and entirely
alone, for greater security. In a general way, she was considered
skilful in her ostensible profession, and was held in estimation by
many persons of rank. This woman's name was Louise Goillard.
Alone one evening after curfew, she heard a loud knocking at the door
of her house. Accustomed to receive visits at all hours, she took
her lamp without hesitation, and opened the door. An armed man,
apparently much agitated, entered the room. Louise Goillard, in a
great fright, fell into a chair; this man was the Marquis de
"Calm yourself, good woman," said the stranger, panting and
stammering; "be calm, I beg; for it is I, not you, who have any cause
for emotion. I am not a brigand, and far from your having anything
to fear, it is I, on the contrary, who am come to beg for your
He threw his cloak into a corner, unbuckled his waistbelt, and laid
aside his sword. Then falling into a chair, he said--
"First of all, let me rest a little."
The marquis wore a travelling-dress; but although he had not stated
his name, Louise Goillard saw at a glance that he was a very
different person from what she had thought, and that, on the
contrary, he was some fine gentleman who had come on his love
"I beg you to excuse," said she, "a fear which is insulting to you.
You came in so hurriedly that I had not time to see whom I was
talking to. My house is rather lonely; I am alone; ill-disposed
people might easily take advantage of these circumstances to plunder
a poor woman who has little enough to lose. The times are so bad!
You seem tired. Will you inhale some essence?"
"Give me only a glass of water."
Louise Goillard went into the adjoining room, and returned with an
ewer. The marquis affected to rinse his lips, and said--
"I come from a great distance on a most important matter. Be assured
that I shall be properly grateful for your services."
He felt in his pocket, and pulled out a purse, which he rolled
between his fingers.
"In the first place; you must swear to the greatest secrecy."
"There is no need of that with us," said Louise Goillard; "that is
the first condition of our craft."
"I must have more express guarantees, and your oath that you will
reveal to no one in the world what I am going to confide to you."
"I give you my word, then, since you demand it; but I repeat that
this is superfluous; you do not know me."
"Consider that this is a most serious matter, that I am as it were
placing my head in your hands, and that I would lose my life a
thousand times rather than see this mystery unravelled."
"Consider also," bluntly replied the midwife, "that we ourselves are
primarily interested in all the secrets entrusted to us; that an
indiscretion would destroy all confidence in us, and that there are
even cases----You may speak."
When the marquis had reassured her as to himself by this preface, he
continued: "I know that you are a very able woman."
"I could indeed wish to be one, to serve you.".
"That you have pushed the study of your art to its utmost limits."
"I fear they have been flattering your humble servant."
"And that your studies have enabled you to predict the future."
"That is all nonsense."
"It is true; I have been told so."
"You have been imposed upon."
"What is the use of denying it and refusing to do me a service?"
Louise Goillard defended herself long: she could not understand a man
of this quality believing in fortune-telling, which she practised
only with low-class people and rich farmers; but the marquis appeared
so earnest that she knew not what to think.
"Listen," said he, "it is no use dissembling with me, I know all. Be
easy; we are playing a game in which you are laying one against a
thousand; moreover, here is something on account to compensate you
for the trouble I am giving."
He laid a pile of gold on the table. The matron weakly owned that
she had sometimes attempted astrological combinations which were not
always fortunate, and that she had been only induced to do so by the
fascination of the phenomena of science. The secret of her guilty
practices was drawn from her at the very outset of her defence.
"That being so," replied the marquis, "you must be already aware of
the situation in which I find myself; you must know that, hurried
away by a blind and ardent passion, I have betrayed the confidence of
an old lady and violated the laws of hospitality by seducing her
daughter in her own house; that matters have come to a crisis, and
that this noble damsel, whom I Love to distraction, being pregnant,
is on the point of losing her life and honour by the discovery of her
fault, which is mine."
The matron replied that nothing could be ascertained about a person
except from private questions; and to further impose upon the
marquis, she fetched a kind of box marked with figures and strange
emblems. Opening this, and putting together certain figures which it
contained, she declared that what the marquis had told her was true,
and that his situation was a most melancholy one. She added, in
order to frighten him, that he was threatened by still more serious
misfortunes than those which had already overtaken him, but that it
was easy to anticipate and obviate these mischances by new
"Madame," replied the marquis, "I fear only one thing in the world,
the dishonour of the woman I love. Is there no method of remedying
the usual embarrassment of a birth?"
"I know of none," said the matron.
"The young lady has succeeded in concealing her condition; it would
be easy for her confinement to take place privately."
"She has already risked her life; and I cannot consent to be mixed up
in this affair, for fear of the consequences."
"Could not, for instance," said the marquis, "a confinement be
effected without pain?"
"I don't know about that, but this I do" know, that I shall take very
good care not to practise any method contrary to the laws of nature."
"You are deceiving me: you are acquainted with this method, you have
already practised it upon a certain person whom I could name to you."
"Who has dared to calumniate me thus? I operate only after the
decision of the Faculty. God forbid that I should be stoned by all
the physicians, and perhaps expelled from France!"
"Will you then let me die of despair? If I were capable of making a
bad use of your secrets, I could have done so long ago, for I know
them. In Heaven's name, do not dissimulate any longer, and tell me
how it is possible to stifle the pangs of labour. Do you want more
gold? Here it is." And he threw more Louis on the table.
"Stay," said the matron: "there is perhaps a method which I think I
have discovered, and which I have never employed, but I believe it
"But if you have never employed it, it may be dangerous, and risk the
life of the lady whom I love."
"When I say never, I mean that I have tried it once, and most
successfully. Be at your ease."
"Ah!" cried the marquis, "you have earned my everlasting gratitude!
But," continued he, "if we could anticipate the confinement itself,
and remove from henceforth the symptoms of pregnancy?"
"Oh, sir, that is a great crime you speak of!"
"Alas!" continued the marquis, as if speaking to himself in a fit of
intense grief; "I had rather lose a dear child, the pledge of our
love, than bring into the world an unhappy creature which might
possibly cause its mother's death."
"I pray you, sir, let no more be said on the subject; it is a
horrible crime even to think of such a thing."
"But what is to be done? Is it better to destroy two persons and
perhaps kill a whole family with despair? Oh, madame, I entreat you,
extricate us from this extremity!"
The marquis buried his face in his hands, and sobbed as though he
were weeping copiously.
"Your despair grievously affects me," said the matron; "but consider
that for a woman of my calling it is a capital offence."
"What are you talking about? Do not our mystery, our safety, and our
credit come in first?
"They can never get at you till after the death and dishonour of all
that is dear to me in the world."
"I might then, perhaps. But in this case you must insure me against
legal complications, fines, and procure me a safe exit from the
"Ah! that is my affair. Take my whole fortune! Take my life!"
And he threw the whole purse on the table.
"In this case, and solely to extricate you from the extreme danger in
which I see you placed, I consent to give you a decoction, and
certain instructions, which will instantly relieve the lady from her
burden. She must use the greatest precaution, and study to carry out
exactly what I am about to tell you. My God! only such desperate
occasions as this one could induce me to---- Here----"
She took a flask from the bottom of a cupboard, and continued--
"Here is a liquor which never fails."
"Oh, madame, you save my honour, which is dearer to me than life!
But this is not enough: tell me what use I am to make of this liquor,
and in what doses I am to administer it."
"The patient," replied the midwife, "must take one spoonful the first
day; the second day two; the third----"
"You will obey me to the minutest particular?"
"I swear it."
"Let us start, then."
She asked but for time to pack a little linen, put things in order,
then fastened her doors, and left the house with the marquis.
A quarter of an hour later they were galloping through the night,
without her knowing where the marquis was taking her.
The marquis reappeared three days later at the chateau, finding the
count's family as he had left them--that is to say, intoxicated with
hope, and counting the weeks, days, and hours before the accouchement
of the countess. He excused his hurried departure on the ground of
the importance of the business which had summoned him away; and
speaking of his journey at table, he related a story current in the
country whence he came, of a surprising event which he had all but
witnessed. It was the case of a lady of quality who suddenly found
herself in the most dangerous pangs of labour. All the skill of the
physicians who had been summoned proved futile; the lady was at the
point of death; at last, in sheer despair, they summoned a midwife of
great repute among the peasantry, but whose practice did not include
the gentry. From the first treatment of this woman, who appeared
modest and diffident to a degree, the pains ceased as if by
enchantment; the patient fell into an indefinable calm languor, and
after some hours was delivered of a beautiful infant; but after this
was attacked by a violent fever which brought her to death's door.
They then again had recourse to the doctors, notwithstanding the
opposition of the master of the house, who had confidence in the
matron. The doctors' treatment only made matters worse. In this
extremity they again called in the midwife, and at the end of three
weeks the lady was miraculously restored to life, thus, added the
marquis, establishing the reputation of the matron, who had sprung
into such vogue in the town where she lived and the neighbouring
country that nothing else was talked about.
This story made a great impression on the company, on account of the
condition of the countess; the dowager added that it was very wrong
to ridicule these humble country experts, who often through
observation and experience discovered secrets which proud doctors
were unable to unravel with all their studies. Hereupon the count
cried out that this midwife must be sent for, as she was just the
kind of woman they wanted. After this other matters were talked
about, the marquis changing the conversation; he had gained his point
in quietly introducing the thin end of the wedge of his design.
After dinner, the company walked on the terrace. The countess
dowager not being able to walk much on account of her advanced age,
the countess and Madame de Bouille took chairs beside her. The count
walked up and down with M. de Saint-Maixent. The marquis naturally
asked how things had been going on during his absence, and if Madame
de Saint-Geran had suffered any inconvenience, for her pregnancy had
become the most important affair in the household, and hardly
anything else was talked about.
"By the way," said the count, "you were speaking just now of a very
skilful midwife; would it not be a good step to summon her?"
"I think," replied the marquis, "that it would be an excellent
selection, for I do not suppose there is one in this neighbourhood to
compare to her."
"I have a great mind to send for her at once, and to keep her about
the countess, whose constitution she will be all the better
acquainted with if she studies it beforehand. Do you know where I
can send for her?"
"Faith," said the marquis, "she lives in a village, but I don't know
"But at least you know her name?"
"I can hardly remember it. Louise Boyard, I think, or Polliard, one
or the other."
"How! have you not even retained the name?"
"I heard the story, that's all. Who the deuce can keep a name in his
head which he hears in such a chance fashion?"
"But did the condition of the countess never occur to you?"
"It was so far away that I did not suppose you would send such a
distance. I thought you were already provided."
"How can we set about to find her?"
"If that is all, I have a servant who knows people in that part of
the country, and who knows how to go about things: if you like, he
shall go in quest of her."
"If I like? This very moment."
The same evening the servant started on his errand with the count's
instructions, not forgetting those of his master. He went at full
speed. It may readily be supposed that he had not far to seek the
woman he was to bring back with him; but he purposely kept away for
three days, and at the end of this time Louise Goillard was installed
in the chateau.
She was a woman of plain and severe exterior, who at once inspired
confidence in everyone. The plots of the marquis and Madame de
Bouille thus throve with most baneful success; but an accident
happened which threatened to nullify them, and, by causing a great
disaster, to prevent a crime.
The countess, passing into her apartments, caught her foot in a
carpet, and fell heavily on the floor. At the cries of a footman all
the household was astir. The countess was carried to bed; the most
intense alarm prevailed; but no bad consequences followed this
accident, which produced only a further succession of visits from the
neighbouring gentry. This happened about the end of the seventh
At length the moment of accouchement came. Everything had long
before been arranged for the delivery, and nothing remained to be
done. The marquis had employed all this time in strengthening Madame
de Bouille against her scruples. He often saw Louise Goillard in
private, and gave her his instructions; but he perceived that the
corruption of Baulieu, the house steward, was an essential factor.
Baulieu was already half gained over by the interviews of the year
preceding; a large sum of ready money and many promises did the rest.
This wretch was not ashamed to join a plot against a master to whom
he owed everything. The marchioness for her part, and always under
the instigation of M. de Saint-Maixent, secured matters all round by
bringing into the abominable plot the Quinet girls, her maids; so
that there was nothing but treason and conspiracy against this worthy
family among their upper servants, usually styled confidential.
Thus, having prepared matters, the conspirators awaited the event.
On the 16th of August the Countess de Saint-Geran was overtaken
by the pangs of labour in the chapel of the chateau, where she was
hearing mass. They carried her to her room before mass was over, her
women ran around her, and the countess dowager with her own hands
arranged on her head a cap of the pattern worn by ladies about to be
confined--a cap which is not usually removed till some time later.
The pains recurred with terrible intensity. The count wept at his
wife's cries. Many persons were present. The dowager's two
daughters by her second marriage, one of whom, then sixteen years of
age, afterwards married the Duke de Ventadour and was a party to the
lawsuit, wished to be present at this accouchement, which was to
perpetuate by a new scion an illustrious race near extinction. There
were also Dame Saligny, sister of the late Marshal Saint-Geran, the
Marquis de Saint-Maixent, and the Marchioness de Bouille.
Everything seemed to favour the projects of these last two persons,
who took an interest in the event of a very different character from
that generally felt. As the pains produced no result, and the
accouchement was of the most difficult nature, while the countess was
near the last extremity, expresses were sent to all the neighbouring
parishes to offer prayers for the mother and the child; the Holy
Sacrament was elevated in the churches at Moulins.
The midwife attended to everything herself. She maintained that the
countess would be more comfortable if her slightest desires were
instantly complied with. The countess herself never spoke a word,
only interrupting the gloomy silence by heart-rending cries. A11 at
once, Madame de Boulle, who affected to be bustling about, pointed
out that the presence of so many persons was what hindered the
countess's accouchement, and, assuming an air of authority justified
by fictitious tenderness, said that everyone must retire, leaving the
patient in the hands of the persons who were absolutely necessary to
her, and that, to remove any possible objections, the countess
dowager her mother must set the example. The opportunity was made
use of to remove the count from this harrowing spectacle, and
everyone followed the countess dowager. Even the countess's own
maids were not allowed to remain, being sent on errands which kept
them out of the way. This further reason was given, that the eldest
being scarcely fifteen, they were too young to be present on such an
occasion. The only persons remaining by the bedside were the
Marchioness de Bouille, the midwife, and the two Quinet girls; the
countess was thus in the hands of her most cruel enemies.
It was seven o'clock in the evening; the labours continued; the elder
Quinet girl held the patient by the hand to soothe her. The count
and the dowager sent incessantly to know the news. They were told
that everything was going on well, and that shortly their wishes
would be accomplished; but none of the servants were allowed to enter
Three hours later, the midwife declared that the countess could not
hold out any longer unless she got some rest. She made her swallow a
liquor which was introduced into her mouth by spoonfuls. The
countess fell into so deep a sleep that she seemed to be dead. The
younger Quinet girl thought for a moment that they had killed her,
and wept in a corner of the room, till Madame de Bouille reassured
During this frightful night a shadowy figure prowled in the
corridors, silently patrolled the rooms, and came now and then to the
door of the bedroom, where he conferred in a low tone with the
midwife and the Marchioness de Bouille. This was the Marquis de
Saint-Maixent, who gave his orders, encouraged his people, watched
over every point of his plot, himself a prey to the agonies of
nervousness which accompany the preparations for a great crime.
The dowager countess, owing to her great age, had been compelled to
take some rest. The count sat up, worn out with fatigue, in a
downstairs room hard by that in which they were compassing the ruin
of all most dear to him in the world.
The countess, in her profound lethargy, gave birth, without being
aware of it, to a boy, who thus fell on his entry into the world into
the hands of his enemies, his mother powerless to defend him by her
cries and tears. The door was half opened, and a man who was waiting
outside brought in; this was the major-domo Baulieu.
The midwife, pretending to afford the first necessary cares to the
child, had taken it into a corner. Baulieu watched her movements,
and springing upon her, pinioned her arms. The wretched woman dug
her nails into the child's head. He snatched it from her, but the
poor infant for long bore the marks of her claws.
Possibly the Marchioness de Bouille could not nerve herself to the
commission of so great a crime; but it seems more probable that the
steward prevented the destruction of the child under the orders of
M. de Saint-Maixent. The theory is that the marquis, mistrustful of
the promise made him by Madame de Bouille to marry him after the
death of her husband, desired to keep the child to oblige her to keep
her word, under threats of getting him acknowledged, if she proved
faithless to him. No other adequate reason can be conjectured to
determine a man of his character to take such great care of his
Baulieu swaddled the child immediately, put it in a basket, hid it
under his cloak, and went with his prey to find the marquis; they
conferred together for some time, after which the house steward
passed by a postern gate into the moat, thence to a terrace by which
he reached a bridge leading into the park. This park had twelve
gates, and he had the keys of all. He mounted a blood horse which he
had left waiting behind a wall, and started off at full gallop. The
same day he passed through the village of Escherolles, a league
distant from Saint-Geran, where he stopped at the house of a nurse,
wife of a glove-maker named Claude. This peasant woman gave her
breast to the child; but the steward, not daring to stay in a village
so near Saint-Geran, crossed the river Allier at the port de la
Chaise, and calling at the house of a man named Boucaud, the good
wife suckled the child for the second time; he then continued his
journey in the direction of Auvergne.
The heat was excessive, his horse was done up, the child seemed
uneasy. A carrier's cart passed him going to Riom; it was owned by a
certain Paul Boithion of the town of Aigueperce, a common carrier on
the road. Baulieu went alongside to put the child in the cart, which
he entered himself, carrying the infant on his knees. The horse
followed, fastened by the bridle to the back of the cart.
In the conversation which he held with this man, Baulieu said that he
should not take so much care of the child did it not belong to the
most noble house in the Bourbonnais. They reached the village of Che
at midday. The mistress of the house where he put up, who was
nursing an infant, consented to give some of her milk to the child.
The poor creature was covered with blood; she warmed some water,
stripped off its swaddling linen, washed it from head to foot, and
swathed it up again more neatly.
The carrier then took them to Riom. When they got there, Baulieu got
rid of him by giving a false meeting-place for their departure; left
in the direction of the abbey of Lavoine, and reached the village of
Descoutoux, in the mountains, between Lavoine and Thiers. The
Marchioness de Bouille had a chateau there where she occasionally
spent some time.
The child was nursed at Descoutoux by Gabrielle Moini, who was paid a
month in advance; but she only kept it a week or so, because they
refused to tell her the father and mother and to refer her to a place
where she might send reports of her charge. This woman having made
these reasons public, no nurse could be found to take charge of the
child, which was removed from the village of Descoutoux. The persons
who removed it took the highroad to Burgundy, crossing a densely
wooded country, and here they lost their way.
The above particulars were subsequently proved by the nurses, the
carrier, and others who made legal depositions. They are stated at
length here, as they proved very important in the great lawsuit. The
compilers of the case, into which we search for information, have
however omitted to tell us how the absence of the major-domo was
accounted for at the castle; probably the far-sighted marquis had got
an excuse ready.
The countess's state of drowsiness continued till daybreak. She woke
bathed in blood, completely exhausted, but yet with a sensation of
comfort which convinced her that she had been delivered from her
burden. Her first words were about her child; she wished to see it,
kiss it; she asked where it was. The midwife coolly told her, whilst
the girls who were by were filled with amazement at her audacity,
that she had not been confined at all. The countess maintained the
contrary, and as she grew very excited, the midwife strove to calm
her, assuring her that in any case her delivery could not be long
protracted, and that, judging from all the indications of the night,
she would give birth to a boy. This promise comforted the count and
the countess dowager, but failed to satisfy the countess, who
insisted that a child had been born.
The same day a scullery-maid met a woman going to the water's edge in
the castle moat, with a parcel in her arms. She recognised the
midwife, and asked what she was carrying and where she was going so
early. The latter replied that she was very inquisitive, and that it
was nothing at all; but the girl, laughingly pretending to be angry
at this answer, pulled open one of the ends of the parcel before the
midwife had time to stop her, and exposed to view some linen soaked
"Madame has been confined, then?" she said to the matron.
"No," replied she briskly, "she has not."
The girl was unconvinced, and said, "How do you mean that she has
not, when madame the marchioness, who was there, says she has?" The
matron in great confusion replied, "She must have a very long tongue,
if she said so."
The girl's evidence was later found most important.
The countess's uneasiness made her worse the next day. She implored
with sighs and tears at least to be told what had become of her
child, steadily maintaining that she was not mistaken when she
assured them that she had given birth to one. The midwife with great
effrontery told her that the new moon was unfavourable to childbirth,
and that she must wait for the wane, when it would be easier as
matters were already prepared.
Invalids' fancies do not obtain much credence; still, the persistence
of the countess would have convinced everyone in the long run, had
not the dowager said that she remembered at the end of the ninth
month of one of her own pregnancies she had all the premonitory
symptoms of lying in, but they proved false, and in fact the
accouchement took place three months later.
This piece of news inspired great confidence. The marquis and Madame
de Bouille did all in their power to confirm it, but the countess
obstinately refused to listen to it, and her passionate transports of
grief gave rise to the greatest anxiety. The midwife, who knew not
how to gain time, and was losing all hope in face of the countess's
persistence, was almost frightened out of her wits; she entered into
medical details, and finally said that some violent exercise must be
taken to induce labour. The countess, still unconvinced, refused to
obey this order; but the count, the dowager, and all the family
entreated her so earnestly that she gave way.
They put her in a close carriage, and drove her a whole day over
ploughed fields, by the roughest and hardest roads. She was so
shaken that she lost the power of breathing; it required all the
strength of her constitution to support this barbarous treatment in
the delicate condition of a lady so recently confined. They put her
to bed again after this cruel drive, and seeing that nobody took her
view, she threw herself into the arms of Providence, and consoled
herself by religion; the midwife administered violent remedies to
deprive her of milk; she got over all these attempts to murder her,
and slowly got better.
Time, which heals the deepest affliction, gradually soothed that of
the countess; her grief nevertheless burst out periodically on the
slightest cause; but eventually it died out, till the following
events rekindled it.
There had been in Paris a fencing-master who used to boast that he
had a brother in the service of a great house. This fencing-master
had married a certain Marie Pigoreau, daughter of an actor. He had
recently died in poor circumstances, leaving her a widow with two
children. This woman Pigoreau did not enjoy the best of characters,
and no one knew how she made a living, when all at once, after some
short absences from home and visit from a man who came in the
evening, his face muffled in his cloak, she launched out into a more
expensive style of living; the neighbours saw in her house costly
clothes, fine swaddling-clothes, and at last it became known that she
was nursing a strange child.
About the same time it also transpired that she had a deposit of two
thousand livres in the hands of a grocer in the quarter, named
Raguenet; some days later, as the child's baptism had doubtless been
put off for fear of betraying his origin, Pigoreau had him christened
at St. Jean en Greve. She did not invite any of the neighbours to
the function, and gave parents' names of her own choosing at the
church. For godfather she selected the parish sexton, named Paul
Marmiou, who gave the child the name of Bernard. La Pigoreau
remained in a confessional during the ceremony, and gave the man ten
sou. The godmother was Jeanne Chevalier, a poor woman of the parish.
The entry in the register was as follows:-
"On the seventh day of March one thousand six hundred and
forty-two was baptized Bernard, son of . . . and . . . his
godfather being Paul Marmiou, day labourer and servant of this
parish, and his godmother Jeanne Chevalier, widow of Pierre
A few days afterwards la Pigoreau put out the child to nurse in the
village of Torcy en Brie, with a woman who had been her godmother,
whose husband was called Paillard. She gave out that it was a child
of quality which had been entrusted to her, and that she should not
hesitate, if such a thing were necessary, to save its life by the
loss of one of her own children. The nurse did not keep it long,
because she fell ill; la Pigoreau went to fetch the child away,
lamenting this accident, and further saying that she regretted it all
the more, as the nurse would have earned enough to make her
comfortable for the rest of her life. She put the infant out again
in the same village, with the widow of a peasant named Marc Peguin.
The monthly wage was regularly paid, and the child brought up as one
of rank. La Pigoreau further told the woman that it was the son of a
great nobleman, and would later make the fortunes of those who served
him. An elderly man, whom the people supposed to be the child's
father, but who Pigoreau assured them was her brother-in-law, often
came to see him.
When the child was eighteen months old, la Pigoreau took him away and
weaned him. Of the two by her husband the elder was called Antoine,
the second would have been called Henri if he had lived; but he was
born on the 9th of August 1639, after the death of his father, who
was killed in June of the same year, and died shortly after his
birth. La Pigoreau thought fit to give the name and condition of
this second son to the stranger, and thus bury for ever the secret of
his birth. With this end in view, she left the quarter where she
lived, and removed to conceal herself in another parish where she was
not known. The child was brought up under the name and style of
Henri, second son of la Pigoreau, till he was two and a half years of
age; but at this time, whether she was not engaged to keep it any
longer, or whether she had spent the two thousand livres deposited
with the grocer Raguenet, and could get no more from the principals,
she determined to get rid of it.
Her gossips used to tell this woman that she cared but little for her
eldest son, because she was very confident of the second one making
his fortune, and that if she were obliged to give up one of them, she
had better keep the younger, who was a beautiful boy. To this she
would reply that the matter did not depend upon her; that the boy's
godfather was an uncle in good circumstances, who would not charge
himself with any other child. She often mentioned this uncle, her
brother-in-law, she said, who was major-domo in a great house.
One morning, the hall porter at the hotel de Saint-Geran came to
Baulieu and told him that a woman carrying a child was asking for him
at the wicket gate; this Baulieu was, in fact, the brother of the
fencing master, and godfather to Pigoreau's second son. It is now
supposed that he was the unknown person who had placed the child of
quality with her, and who used to go and see him at his nurse's. La
Pigoreau gave him a long account of her situation. The major-domo
took the child with some emotion, and told la Pigoreau to wait his
answer a short distance off, in a place which he pointed out.
Baulieu's wife made a great outcry at the first proposal of an
increase of family; but he succeeded in pacifying her by pointing out
the necessities of his sister-in-law, and how easy and inexpensive it
was to do this good work in such a house as the count's. He went to
his master and mistress to ask permission to bring up this child in
their hotel; a kind of feeling entered into the charge he was
undertaking which in some measure lessened the weight on his
The count and countess at first opposed this project; telling him
that having already five children he ought not to burden himself with
any more, but he petitioned so earnestly that he obtained what he
wanted. The countess wished to see it, and as she was about to start
for Moulins she ordered it to be put in her women's coach; when it
was shown her, she cried out, "What a lovely child!" The boy was
fair, with large blue eyes and very regular features, She gave him a
hundred caresses, which the child returned very prettily. She at
once took a great fancy to him, and said to Baulieu, "I shall not put
him in my women's coach; I shall put him in my own."
After they arrived at the chateau of Saint-Geran, her affection for
Henri, the name retained by the child, increased day by day. She
often contemplated him with sadness, then embraced him with
tenderness, and kept him long on her bosom. The count shared this
affection for the supposed nephew of Baulieu, who was adopted, so to
speak, and brought up like a child of quality.
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent and Madame de Bouille had not married,
although the old Marquis de Bouille had long been dead. It appeared
that they had given up this scheme. The marchioness no doubt felt
scruples about it, and the marquis was deterred from marriage by his
profligate habits. It is moreover supposed that other engagements
and heavy bribes compensated the loss he derived from the
marchioness's breach of faith.
He was a man about town at that period, and was making love to the
demoiselle Jacqueline de la Garde; he had succeeded in gaining her
affections, and brought matters to such a point that she no longer
refused her favours except on the grounds of her pregnancy and the
danger of an indiscretion. The marquis then offered to introduce to
her a matron who could deliver women without the pangs of labour, and
who had a very successful practice. The same Jacqueline de la Garde
further gave evidence at the trial that M. de Saint-Maixent had often
boasted, as of a scientific intrigue, of having spirited away the son
of a governor of a province and grandson of a marshal of France; that
he spoke of the Marchioness de Bouille, said that he had made her
rich, and that it was to him she owed her great wealth; and further,
that one day having taken her to a pretty country seat which belonged
to him, she praised its beauty, saying "c'etait un beau lieu"; he
replied by a pun on a man's name, saying that he knew another Baulieu
who had enabled him to make a fortune of five hundred thousand
crowns. He also said to Jadelon, sieur de la Barbesange, when
posting with him from Paris, that the Countess de Saint-Geran had
been delivered of a son who was in his power.
The marquis had not seen Madame de Bouille for a long time; a common
danger reunited them. They had both learned with terror the presence
of Henri at the hotel de Saint-Geran. They consulted about this; the
marquis undertook to cut the danger short. However, he dared put in
practice nothing overtly against the child, a matter still more
difficult just then, inasmuch as some particulars of his
discreditable adventures had leaked out, and the Saint-Geran family
received him more than coldly.
Baulieu, who witnessed every day the tenderness of the count and
countess for the boy Henri, had been a hundred times on the point of
giving himself up and confessing everything. He was torn to pieces
with remorse. Remarks escaped him which he thought he might make
without ulterior consequences; seeing the lapse of time, but they
were noted and commented on. Sometimes he would say that he held in
his hand the life and honour of Madame the Marchioness de Bouille;
sometimes that the count and countess had more reasons than they knew
of for loving Henri. One day he put a case of conscience to a
confessor, thus: "Whether a man who had been concerned in the
abduction of a child could not satisfy his conscience by restoring
him to his father and mother without telling them who he was?" What
answer the confessor made is not known, but apparently it was not
what the major-domo wanted. He replied to a magistrate of Moulins,
who congratulated him on having a nephew whom his masters
overburdened with kind treatment, that they ought to love him, since
he was nearly related to them.
These remarks were noticed by others than those principally
concerned. One day a wine merchant came to propose to Baulieu the
purchase of a pipe of Spanish wine, of which he gave him a sample
bottle; in the evening he was taken violently ill. They carried him
to bed, where he writhed, uttering horrible cries. One sole thought
possessed him when his sufferings left him a lucid interval, and in
his agony he repeated over and over again that he wished to implore
pardon from the count and countess for a great injury which he had
done them. The people round about him told him that was a trifle,
and that he ought not to let it embitter his last moments, but he
begged so piteously that he got them to promise that they should be
The count thought it was some trifling irregularity, some
misappropriation in the house accounts; and fearing to hasten the
death of the sufferer by the shame of the confession of a fault, he
sent word that he heartily forgave him, that he might die tranquil,
and refused to see him. Baulieu expired, taking his secret with him.
This happened in 1648.
The child was then seven years old. His charming manners grew with
his age, and the count and countess felt their love for him increase.
They caused him to be taught dancing and fencing, put him into
breeches and hose, and a page's suit of their livery, in which
capacity he served them. The marquis turned his attack to this
quarter. He was doubtless preparing some plot as criminal as the
preceding, when justice overtook him for some other great crimes of
which he had been guilty. He was arrested one day in the street when
conversing with one of the Saint-Geran footmen, and taken to the
Conciergerie of the Palace of Justice.
Whether owing to these occurrences, or to grounds for suspicion
before mentioned, certain reports spread in the Bourbonnais embodying
some of the real facts; portions of them reached the ears of the
count and countess, but they had only the effect of renewing their
grief without furnishing a clue to the truth.
Meanwhile, the count went to take the waters at Vichy. The countess
and Madame de Bouille followed him, and there they chanced to
encounter Louise Goillard, the midwife. This woman renewed her
acquaintance with the house, and in particular often visited the
Marchioness de Bouille. One day the countess, unexpectedly entering
the marchioness's room, found them both conversing in an undertone.
They stopped talking immediately, and appeared disconcerted.
The countess noticed this without attaching any importance to it, and
asked the subject of their conversation.
"Oh, nothing," said the marchioness.
"But what is it?" insisted the countess, seeing that she blushed.
The marchioness, no longer able to evade the question, and feeling
her difficulties increase, replied--
"Dame Louise is praising my brother for bearing no ill-will to her."
"Why?" said the countess, turning to the midwife,--"why should you
fear any ill-will on the part of my husband?"
"I was afraid," said Louise Goillard awkwardly, "that he might have
taken a dislike to me on account of all that happened when you
expected to be confined."
The obscurity of these words and embarrassment of the two women
produced a lively effect upon the countess; but she controlled
herself and let the subject drop. Her agitation, however, did not
escape the notice of the marchioness, who the next day had horses put
to her coach and retired to hey estate of Lavoine. This clumsy
proceeding strengthened suspicion.
The first determination of the countess was to arrest Louise
Goillard; but she saw that in so serious a matter every step must be
taken with precaution. She consulted the count and the countess
dowager. They quietly summoned the midwife, to question her without
any preliminaries. She prevaricated and contradicted herself over
and over again; moreover, her state of terror alone sufficed to
convict her of a crime. They handed her over to the law, and the
Count de Saint-Geran filed an information before the vice-seneschal
The midwife underwent a first interrogatory. She confessed the truth
of the accouchement, but she added that the countess had given birth
to a still-born daughter, which she had buried under a stone near the
step of the barn in the back yard. The judge, accompanied by a
physician and a surgeon, repaired to the place, where he found
neither stone, nor foetus, nor any indications of an interment. They
searched unsuccessfully in other places.
When the dowager countess heard this statement, she demanded that
this horrible woman should be put on her trial. The civil
lieutenant, in the absence of the criminal lieutenant, commenced the
In a second interrogation, Louise Goillard positively declared that
the countess had never been confined;
In a third, that she had been delivered of a mole;
In a fourth, that she had been confined of a male infant, which
Baulieu had carried away in a basket;
And in a fifth, in which she answered from the dock, she maintained
that her evidence of the countess's accouchement had been extorted
from her by violence. She made no charges against either Madame de
Bouille or the Marquis de Saint Maixent. On the other hand, no
sooner was she under lock and key than she despatched her son
Guillemin to the marchioness to inform her that she was arrested.
The marchioness recognised how threatening things were, and was in a
state of consternation; she immediately sent the sieur de la
Foresterie, her steward, to the lieutenant-general, her counsel,
a mortal enemy of the count, that he might advise her in this
conjuncture, and suggest a means for helping the matron without
appearing openly in the matter. The lieutenant's advice was to quash
the proceedings and obtain an injunction against the continuance of
the preliminaries to the action. The marchioness spent a large sum
of money, and obtained this injunction; but it was immediately
reversed, and the bar to the suit removed.
La Foresterie was then ordered to pass to Riom, where the sisters
Quinet lived, and to bribe them heavily to secrecy. The elder one,
on leaving the marchioness's service, had shaken her fist in her
face, feeling secure with the secrets in her knowledge, and told her
that she would repent having dismissed her and her sister, and that
she would make a clean breast of the whole affair, even were she to
be hung first. These girls then sent word that they wished to enter
her service again; that the countess had promised them handsome terms
if they would speak; and that they had even been questioned in her
name by a Capuchin superior, but that they said nothing, in order to
give time to prepare an answer for them. The marchioness found
herself obliged to take back the girls; she kept the younger, and
married the elder to Delisle, her house steward. But la Foresterie,
finding himself in this network of intrigue, grew disgusted at
serving such a mistress, and left her house. The marchioness told
him on his departure that if he were so indiscreet as to repeat a
word of what he had learned from the Quinet girls, she would punish
him with a hundred poniard stabs from her major-domo Delisle. Having
thus fortified her position, she thought herself secure against any
hostile steps; but it happened that a certain prudent Berger,
gentleman and page to the Marquis de Saint-Maixent, who enjoyed his
master's confidence and went to see him in the Conciergerie, where he
was imprisoned, threw some strange light on this affair. His master
had narrated to him all the particulars of the accouchement of the
countess and of the abduction of the child.
"I am astonished, my lord," replied the page, "that having so many
dangerous affairs on hand; you did not relieve your conscience of
"I intend," replied the marquis, "to restore this child to his
father: I have been ordered to do so by a Capuchin to whom I
confessed having carried off from the midst of the family, without
their knowing it, a grandson of a marshal of France and son of a
governor of a province."
The marquis had at that time permission to go out from prison
occasionally on his parole. This will not surprise anyone acquainted
with the ideas which prevailed at that period on the honour of a
nobleman, even the greatest criminal. The marquis, profiting by this
facility, took the page to see a child of about seven years of age,
fair and with a beautiful countenance.
"Page," said he, "look well at this child, so that you may know him
again when I shall send you to inquire about him."
He then informed him that this was the Count de Saint-Geran's son
whom he had carried away.
Information of these matters coming to the ears of justice, decisive
proofs were hoped for; but this happened just when other criminal
informations were lodged against the marquis, which left him helpless
to prevent the exposure of his crimes. Police officers were
despatched in all haste to the Conciergerie; they were stopped by the
gaolers, who told them that the marquis, feeling ill, was engaged
with a priest who was administering the sacraments, to him. As they
insisted on seeing him; the warders approached the cell: the priest
came out, crying that persons must be sought to whom the sick man had
a secret to reveal; that he was in a desperate state, and said he had
just poisoned himself; all entered the cell.
M. de Saint-Maixent was writhing on a pallet, in a pitiable
condition, sometimes shrieking like a wild beast, sometimes
stammering disconnected words. All that the officers could hear was
"Monsieur le Comte . . . call . . . the Countess . . . de
Saint-Geran . . . let them come. . . ." The officers earnestly
begged him to try to be more explicit.
The marquis had another fit; when he opened his eyes, he said--
"Send for the countess . . . let them forgive me . . . I wish
to tell them everything." The police officers asked him to speak;
one even told him that the count was there. The marquis feebly
"I am going to tell you----" Then he gave a loud cry and fell back
It thus seemed as if fate took pains to close every mouth from which
the truth might escape. Still, this avowal of a deathbed revelation
to be made to the Count de Saint-Geran and the deposition of the
priest who had administered the last sacraments formed a strong link
in the chain of evidence.
The judge of first instruction, collecting all the information he had
got, made a report the weight of which was overwhelming. The
carters, the nurse, the domestic servants, all gave accounts
consistent with each other; the route and the various adventures of
the child were plainly detailed, from its birth till its arrival at
the village of Descoutoux.
Justice, thus tracing crime to its sources, had no option but to
issue a warrant for the arrest of the Marchioness de Bouilie; but it
seems probable that it was not served owing to the strenuous efforts
of the Count de Saint-Geran, who could not bring himself to ruin his
sister, seeing that her dishonour would have been reflected on him.
The marchioness hid her remorse in solitude, and appeared again no
more. She died shortly after, carrying the weight of her secret till
she drew her last breath.
The judge of Moulins at length pronounced sentence on the midwife,
whom he declared arraigned and convicted of having suppressed the
child born to the countess; for which he condemned her to be tortured
and then hanged. The matron lodged an appeal against this sentence,
and the case was referred to the Conciergerie.
No sooner had the count and countess seen the successive proofs of
the procedure, than tenderness and natural feelings accomplished the
rest. They no longer doubted that their page was their son; they
stripped him at once of his livery and gave him his rank and
prerogatives, under the title of the Count de la Palice.
Meanwhile, a private person named Sequeville informed the countess
that he had made a very important discovery; that a child had been
baptized in 1642 at St. Jean-en-Greve, and that a woman named Marie
Pigoreau had taken a leading part in the affair. Thereupon inquiries
were made, and it was discovered that this child had been nursed in
the village of Torcy. The count obtained a warrant which enabled him
to get evidence before the judge of Torcy; nothing was left undone to
elicit the whole truth; he also obtained a warrant through which he
obtained more information, and published a monitory. The elder of
the Quinet girls on this told the Marquis de Canillac that the count
was searching at a distance for things very near him. The truth
shone out with great lustre through these new facts which gushed from
all this fresh information. The child, exhibited in the presence of
a legal commissary to the nurses and witnesses of Torcy, was
identified, as much by the scars left by the midwife's nails on his
head, as by his fair hair and blue eyes. This ineffaceable vestige
of the woman's cruelty was the principal proof; the witnesses
testified that la Pigoreau, when she visited this child with a man
who appeared to be of condition, always asserted that he was the son
of a great nobleman who had been entrusted to her care, and that she
hoped he would make her fortune and that of those who had reared him.
The child's godfather, Paul Marmiou, a common labourer; the grocer
Raguenet, who had charge of the two thousand livres; the servant of
la Pigoreau, who had heard her say that the count was obliged to take
this child; the witnesses who proved that la Pigoreau had told them
that the child was too well born to wear a page's livery, all
furnished convincing proofs; but others were forthcoming.
It was at la Pigoreau's that the Marquis de Saint-Maixent, living
then at the hotel de Saint-Geran, went to see the child, kept in her
house as if it were hers; Prudent Berger, the marquis's page,
perfectly well remembered la Pigoreau, and also the child, whom he
had seen at her house and whose history the marquis had related to
him. Finally, many other witnesses heard in the course of the case,
both before the three chambers of nobles, clergy, and the tiers etat,
and before the judges of Torcy, Cusset, and other local magistrates,
made the facts so clear and conclusive in favour of the legitimacy of
the young count, that it was impossible to avoid impeaching the
guilty parties. The count ordered the summons in person of la
Pigoreau, who had not been compromised in the original preliminary
proceedings. This drastic measure threw the intriguing woman on her
beam ends, but she strove hard to right herself.
The widowed Duchess de Ventadour, daughter by her mother's second
marriage of the Countess dowager of Saint-Geran, and half-sister of
the count, and the Countess de Lude, daughter of the Marchioness de
Bouille, from whom the young count carried away the Saint-Geran
inheritance, were very warm in the matter, and spoke of disputing the
judgment. La Pigoreau went to see them, and joined in concert with
Then commenced this famous lawsuit, which long occupied all France,
and is parallel in some respects, but not in the time occupied in the
hearing, to the case heard by Solomon, in which one child was claimed
by two mothers.
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent and Madame de Bouille being dead, were
naturally no parties to the suit, which was fought against the
Saint-Geran family by la Pigoreau and Mesdames du Lude and de
Ventadour. These ladies no doubt acted in good faith, at first at
any rate, in refusing to believe the crime; for if they had
originally known the truth it is incredible that they could have
fought the case so long aid so obstinately.
They first of all went to the aid of the midwife, who had fallen sick
in prison; they then consulted together, and resolved as follows:
That the accused should appeal against criminal proceedings;
That la Pigoreau should lodge a civil petition against the judgments
which ordered her arrest and the confronting of witnesses;
That they should appeal against the abuse of obtaining and publishing
monitories, and lodge an interpleader against the sentence of the
judge of first instruction, who had condemned the matron to capital
And that finally, to carry the war into the enemy's camp, la Pigoreau
should impugn the maternity of the countess, claiming the child as
her own; and that the ladies should depose that the countess's
accouchement was an imposture invented to cause it to be supposed
that she had given birth to a child.
For more safety and apparent absence of collusion Mesdames du Lude
and de Ventadour pretended to have no communication with la Pigoreau.
About this time the midwife died in prison, from an illness which
vexation and remorse had aggravated. After her death, her son
Guillemin confessed that she had often told him that the countess had
given birth to a son whom Baulieu had carried off, and that the child
entrusted to Baulieu at the chateau Saint-Geran was the same as the
one recovered; the youth added that he had concealed this fact so
long as it might injure his mother, and he further stated that the
ladies de Ventadour and du Lude had helped her in prison with money
and advice--another strong piece of presumptive evidence.
The petitions of the accused and the interpleadings of Mesdames du
Lude and de Ventadour were discussed in seven hearings, before three
courts convened. The suit proceeded with all the languor and
chicanery of the period.
After long and specious arguments, the attorney general Bijnon gave
his decision in favour of the Count and Countess of Saint-Geran,
"The court rejects the civil appeal of la Pigoreau; and all the
opposition and appeals of the appellants and the defendants; condemns
them to fine and in costs; and seeing that the charges against la
Pigoreau were of a serious nature, and that a personal summons had
been decreed against her, orders her committal, recommending her to
the indulgence of the court."
By a judgment given in a sitting at the Tournelle by M. de Mesmes, on
the 18th of August 1657, the appellant ladies' and the defendants'
opposition was rejected with fine and costs. La Pigoreau was
forbidden to leave the city and suburbs of Paris under penalty of
summary conviction. The judgment in the case followed the rejection
of the appeal.
This reverse at first extinguished the litigation of Mesdames du Lude
and de Ventadour, but it soon revived more briskly than ever. These
ladies, who had taken la Pigoreau in their coach to all the hearings,
prompted her, in order to procrastinate, to file a fresh petition, in
which she demanded the confrontment of all the witnesses to the
pregnancy, and the confinement. On hearing this petition, the court
gave on the 28th of August 1658 a decree ordering the confrontment,
but on condition that for three days previously la Pigoreau should
deliver herself a prisoner in the Conciergerie.
This judgment, the consequences of which greatly alarmed la Pigoreau,
produced such an effect upon her that, after having weighed the
interest she had in the suit, which she would lose by flight, against
the danger to her life if she ventured her person into the hands of
justice, she abandoned her false plea of maternity, and took refuge
abroad. This last circumstance was a heavy blow to Mesdames du Lude
and de Ventadour; but they were not at the end of their resources and
Contempt of court being decreed against la Pigoreau, and the case
being got up against the other defendants, the Count de Saint-Geran
left for the Bourbonnais, to put in execution the order to confront
the witnesses. Scarcely had he arrived in the province when he was
obliged to interrupt his work to receive the king and the queen
mother, who were returning from Lyons and passing through Moulins.
He presented the Count de la Palice to their Majesties as his son;
they received him as such. But during the visit of the king and
queen the Count de Saint-Geran fell ill, over fatigued, no doubt, by
the trouble he had taken to give them a suitable reception, over and
above the worry of his own affairs.
During his illness, which only lasted a week, he made in his will a
new acknowledgment of his son, naming his executors M. de Barriere,
intendant of the province, and the sieur Vialet, treasurer of France,
desiring them to bring the lawsuit to an end. His last words were
for his wife and child; his only regret that he had not been able to
terminate this affair. He died on the 31st of January 1659.
The maternal tenderness of the countess did not need stimulating by
the injunctions of her husband, and she took up the suit with energy.
The ladies de Ventadour and du Lude obtained by default letters of
administration as heiresses without liability, which were granted out
of the Chatelet. At the same time they appealed against the judgment
of the lieutenant-general of the Bourbonnais, giving the tutelage of
the young count to the countess his mother, and his guardianship to
sieur de Bompre. The countess, on her side, interpleaded an appeal
against the granting of letters of administration without liability,
and did all in her power to bring back the case to the Tournelle.
The other ladies carried their appeal to the high court, pleading
that they were not parties to the lawsuit in the Tournelle.
It would serve no purpose to follow the obscure labyrinth of legal
procedure of that period, and to recite all the marches and
countermarches which legal subtlety suggested to the litigants. At
the end of three years, on the 9th of April 1661, the countess
obtained a judgment by which the king in person--
"Assuming to his own decision the civil suit pending at the
Tournelle, as well as the appeals pled by both parties, and the
last petition of Mesdames du Lude and de Ventadour, sends back
the whole case to the three assembled chambers of the States
General, to be by them decided on its merits either jointly or
separately, as they may deem fit."
The countess thus returned to her first battlefield. Legal science
produced an immense quantity of manuscript, barristers and attorneys
greatly distinguishing themselves in their calling. After an
interminable hearing, and pleadings longer and more complicated than
ever, which however did not bamboozle the court, judgment was
pronounced in Conformity with the summing up of the attorney-general,
"That passing over the petition of Mesdames Marie de la Guiche and
Eleonore de Bouille, on the grounds," etc. etc.;
"Evidence taken," etc.;
"Appeals, judgments annulled," etc.;
"With regard to the petition of the late Claude de la Guiche and
Suzanne de Longaunay, dated 12th August 1658,"
"That the rule be made absolute;
"Which being done, Bernard de la Guiche is pronounced, maintained,
and declared the lawfully born and legitimate son of Claude de la
Guiche and Suzanne de Longaunay; in possession and enjoyment of the
name and arms of the house of Guiche, and of all the goods left by
Claude de la Guiche, his father; and Marie de la Guiche and Eleonore
de Bouille are interdicted from interfering with him;
"The petitions of Eleonore de Bouille and Marie de la Guiche, dated
4th June 1664, 4th August 1665, 6th January, 10th February, 12th
March, 15th April, and 2nd June, 1666, are dismissed with costs;
"That the defaults against la Pigoreau are confirmed; and that she,
arraigned and convicted of the offences imputed to her, is condemned
to be hung and strangled at a gallows erected in the Place de Greve
in this city, if taken and apprehended; otherwise, in effigy at a
gallows erected in the Place de Greve aforesaid; that all her
property subject to confiscation is seized and confiscated from
whomsoever may be in possession of it; on which property and other
not subject to confiscation, is levied a fine of eight hundred Paris
livres, to be paid to the King, and applied to the maintenance of
prisoners in the Conciergerie of the Palace of justice, and to the
Possibly a more obstinate legal contest was never waged, on both
sides, but especially by those who lost it. The countess, who played
the part of the true mother in the Bible, had the case so much to
heart that she often told the judges, when pleading her cause, that
if her son were not recognised as such, she would marry him, and
convey all her property to him.
The young Count de la Palice became Count de Saint-Geran through the
death of his father, married, in 1667, Claude Francoise Madeleine de
Farignies, only daughter of Francois de Monfreville and of Marguerite
Jourdain de Carbone de Canisi. He had only one daughter, born in
1688, who became a nun. He died at the age of fifty-five years, and
thus this illustrious family became extinct.
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