Mauprat, by George Sand

xxvii

There were even more people present than at the first trial. The guard were forced back to the doors of the court, and the crowd occupied every available space, even to the windows of the mansion of Jacques Coeur, the town-hall of the present day. I was much agitated this time, though I had strength and pride enough not to let it be seen. I was now interested in the success of my case, and, as it seemed as if my hopes were not to be realized, I experienced an indescribable feeling of uneasiness, a sort of suppressed rage, a bitter hatred of these men who would not open their eyes to my innocence, and even of God who seemed to have deserted me.

In this state of agitation I had to make such violent efforts to appear calm that I scarcely noticed what was happening around me. I recovered sufficient presence of mind when my fresh examination took place to answer in the same terms as at the first trial. Then a black veil seemed to fall over my head, an iron ring gripped my brow; the sockets of my eyes went icily cold; I could see nothing but myself, hear nothing but vague, unintelligible sounds. I do not know what actually took place; I do not know if any one announced the apparition which suddenly appeared before me. I only remember that a door opened behind the judges, and that Arthur came forward leading a veiled woman, that he took off her veil after making her sit down in a big arm-chair which the ushers eagerly wheeled toward her, and that a cry of admiration rang through the hall when Edmee’s pale, sublime beauty was revealed.

At this moment I forgot the crowd, and the judges, and my cause, and the whole universe. I believe that no human power could have withstood my wild rush. I dashed like a thunderbolt into the middle of the inclosure and, falling at Edmee’s feet, I showered kisses on her knees. I have been told that this act won over the public, and that nearly all the ladies burst into tears. The young dandies did not venture to laugh; the judges were affected; and for a moment truth was completely triumphant.

Edmee looked at me for some time. Her face was as expressionless as the face of death. It did not seem as if she could ever recognise me. The spectators were waiting in profound silence for her to show some sign of hatred or affection for me. All at once she burst into tears, threw her arms around my neck, and then lost consciousness. Arthur had her carried out immediately; he had some trouble in making me return to my place. I could not remember where I was or the issues that were at stake; I clung to Edmee’s dress, and only wanted to follow her. Arthur addressed the court and requested that the doctors who had examined Edmee in the morning might again pronounce upon the state of her health. He likewise demanded that she should be recalled to give evidence, and to be confronted with me as soon as she recovered from the attack.

“This attack is not serious,” he said. “Mademoiselle de Mauprat has had several of the same kind during the last few days and on her way here. After each her mental faculties have taken a more and more favourable turn.”

“Go and attend to the invalid,” said the president. “She shall be recalled in two hours, if you think she will have recovered from her swoon by then. Meanwhile the court will hear the witness on whose demand the first sentence was not carried out.”

Arthur withdrew and Patience was introduced. He was dressed quite neatly; but, after saying a few words, he declared that it would be impossible to continue unless they allowed him to take off his coat. This borrowed finery so embarrassed him and seemed so heavy that he was perspiring profusely. No sooner did the president make a sign of consent, accompanied by a smile of scorn, than he threw to the ground this badge of civilization. Then, after carefully pulling down his shirt-sleeves over his sinewy arms, he spoke almost as follows:

“I will speak the truth, the whole truth. I take the oath for the second time; for I have to speak of things that seem contradictory, things that I cannot explain to myself. I swear before God and man that I will say what I know, and as I know it, without being influenced for or against any one.”

He lifted his big hand and turned round towards the people with a simple confidence, as if to say, “You can all see that I am taking an oath, and you know that I am to be trusted.” This confidence of his was not ill-founded. Since the incident in the first trial the public mind had been much occupied about this extraordinary man, who had spoken before the court with so much daring, and harangued the people in presence of the judges. His conduct had filled all the democrats and Philadelphians with great curiosity and sympathy. The works of Beaumarchais were very fashionable among the upper classes, and this will explain how it was that Patience, though opposed to all the authorities in the province, yet found himself supported and applauded by every man who prided himself on his intelligence. They all thought they saw in him Figaro under a new form. The fame of his private virtues had spread; for you remember that during my stay in America, Patience had made himself known among the people of Varenne and had exchanged his sorcerer’s reputation for that of a public benefactor. They had given him the title of the great judge, because he was always ready to intervene in disputes, and would always settle to the satisfaction of both sides with admirable good-nature and tact.

This time he spoke in a high, penetrating voice. It was a rich voice of wide compass. His gestures were quiet or animated, according to the circumstances, but always dignified and impressive; the expression on his short, Socratic face was never anything but fine. He had all the qualities of an orator; but there was no vanity in his display of them. He spoke in the plain, concise style that he had been obliged to acquire in his recent intercourse with men, in discussions about their practical interests.

“When Mademoiselle de Mauprat was shot,” he said, “I was not more than a dozen paces from her; but the brushwood at that spot is so thick that I could not see more than two paces in front of me. They had persuaded me to take part in the hunt; but it gave me but little pleasure. Finding myself near Gazeau Tower, where I lived for some twenty years, I felt an inclination to see my old cell again, and I was bearing down upon it at a great pace when I heard a shot. That did not frighten me in the least; it seemed but natural that there should be some gun fired during a battue. But when I got through the thicket, that is to day, some two minutes later, I found Edmee — excuse me, I generally call her by this name; I am, so to speak, a sort of foster-father to her — I found Edmee on her knees upon the ground, wounded as you have been told, and still holding the bridle of her horse, which was rearing. She did not know whether she was seriously or slightly wounded, but she had her other hand on her breast, and she was saying:

“‘Bernard, this is hideous! I should never have thought that you would kill me. Bernard, where are you? Come and see me die. This will kill father!’

“As she said this she let go the horse’s bridle and fell to the ground. I rushed towards her.

“‘Ah, you saw it, Patience?’ she said. ‘Do not speak about it; do not tell my father . . .’

“She threw out her arms, and her body became rigid. I thought that she was dead. She spoke no more until night, after they had extracted the bullets from her breast.”

“Did you then see Bernard de Mauprat?”

“I saw him on the spot where the deed was done, just as Edmee lost consciousness and seemed to be giving up her soul; he seemed to be out of his mind. I thought that he was overwhelmed with remorse. I spoke to him sternly, and treated him as a murderer. He made no reply, but sat down on the ground by his cousin’s side. He remained there in a dazed condition, even a long time after they had taken her away. No one thought of accusing him. The people thought that he had had a fall, because they saw his horse trotting by the side of the pond; they believed that his carbine had gone off as he fell. The Abbe Aubert was the only one who heard me accuse M. Bernard of having murdered his cousin. During the days that followed, Edmee spoke occasionally, but it was not always in my presence; besides, at this time she was nearly always delirious. I maintain that she told nobody (and least of all Mademoiselle Leblanc) what had passed between herself and M. de Mauprat before the gun was fired. Nor did she confide this to me any more than others. On the rare occasions when she was in possession of her senses she would say in answer to our questions, that Bernard had certainly not done it on purpose, and several times during the first three days she even asked to see him. However, when she was delirious she would sometimes cry, ‘Bernard! Bernard! You have committed a great crime. You have killed my father!’

“That was her idea; she used really to think that her father was dead; and she thought so for a long time. Very little, therefore, of what she said is to be taken seriously. The words that Mademoiselle Leblanc has put into her mouth are false. After three days she ceased to talk intelligibly, and at the end of a week she ceased to speak altogether. When she recovered her reason, about a week ago, she sent away Mademoiselle Leblanc, which would clearly show that she had some ground for disliking her maid. That is what I have to say against M. de Mauprat. It rested entirely with myself to keep silent; but having other things to say yet, I wished to make known the whole truth.”

Patience paused awhile; the public and the judges themselves, who were beginning to take an interest in me and lose the bitterness of their prejudices, were apparently thunderstruck at hearing evidence so different from what they expected.

Patience continued as follows:

“For several weeks I remained convinced of Bernard’s guilt. But I was pondering over the matter the while; I frequently said to myself that a man as good and clever as Bernard, a man for whom Edmee felt so much esteem, and whom M. le Chevalier loved like a son, a man, in short, so deeply imbued with the spirit of justice and truth, could not between one day and the next turn into a scoundrel. Then the idea came into my head that, after all, it might have been some other Mauprat who fired the shot. I do not speak of the one who has become a Trappist,” he added, looking among the audience for Jean de Mauprat, who, however was not there; “I speak of the man whose death has never been proved, although the court thought fit to overlook this, and to accept M. Jean de Mauprat’s word.”

“Witness,” said the president, “I must remind you that you are not here to serve as counsel for the prisoner, or to criticise the decisions of this court. You must confine yourself to a statement of facts, and not express your opinion on the question at issue.”

“Very well,” replied Patience. “I must, however, explain why I did not wish to appear at the first trial, seeing that the only evidence I had was against M. Bernard, and that I could not trust that evidence myself.”

“You are not asked to explain this at present. Please keep to your evidence.”

“One moment. I have my honour to defend; I have to explain my own conduct, if you please.”

“You are not the prisoner; you are not here to plead your own cause. If the court thinks right to prosecute you for contempt you can see to your own defence; but there is no question of that now.”

“I beg your pardon. The question is for me to let the court see whether I am an honest man or a false witness. It would seem that this has something to do with the case; the prisoner’s life depends on it; the court cannot consider that a matter of indifference.”

“Proceed,” said the King’s advocate, “and try to remember the respect you owe to the court.”

“I have no wish to offend the court,” replied Patience. “I would merely observe that a man may refuse to submit to the orders of the court from conscientious motives which the court can legally condemn, but which each judge, personally, can understand and excuse. I say, then, that I could not persuade myself of Bernard de Mauprat’s guilt; my ears alone knew of it; this was not enough for me. Pardon me, gentlemen, I, too, am a judge. Make inquiries about me; in my village they call me ‘the great judge.’ When my fellow-villagers ask me to decide some tavern dispute or the boundary of some field, I do not so much listen to their opinions as my own. In judging a man one must take account of more than a single little act. Many previous ones will help to show the truth or falsity of the last that is imputed to him. Thus, being unable to believe that Bernard was a murderer, and having heard more than a dozen people, whom I consider incapable of giving false evidence, testify to the fact that a monk ‘bearing a resemblance to the Mauprats’ had been prowling about the country, and having myself seen this monk’s back and habit as he was passing through Pouligny on the morning of the event, I wished to discover if he was in Varenne; and I learnt that he was still there; that is to say, after leaving it, he had returned about the time of the trial last month. And, what is more, I learnt that he was acquainted with John Mauprat. Who can this monk be? I asked myself; why does the very sight of him frighten all the people in the country? What is he doing in Varenne? If he belongs to the Carmelite convent, why does he not wear their habit? If he is of the same order as John, why is he not staying with him at the Carmelites? If he is collecting money, why, after making a collection in one place, does he not move on to another, instead of returning and bothering people who have given him money only the day before? If he is a Trappist and does not want to stay with the Carmelites like the other, why does he not go back to his own convent? What is this wandering monk? And how does John Mauprat, who has told several people that he does not know him, know him so well that they lunch together from time to time in a tavern at Crevant? I made up my mind, then, to give evidence, though it might, in a measure, do harm to M. Bernard, so as to be able to say what I am now saying, even if it should be of no use. But as you never allow witnesses sufficient time to try to verify what they have reason to believe, I started off immediately for my woods, where I live like the foxes, with a determination not to quit them until I had discovered what this monk was doing in the country. So I put myself on his track and I have discovered who he is; he is the murderer of Edmee de Mauprat; his name is Antony Mauprat.”

This revelation caused a great stir on the bench and among the public. Every one looked around for John Mauprat, whose face was nowhere to be seen.

“What proof have you of this?” said the president.

“I am about to tell you,” replied Patience. “Having learnt from the landlady at Crevant, to whom I have occasionally been of some assistance, that the two Trappists used to lunch at her tavern from time to time, as I have said, I went and took up my abode about half a league from here, in a hermitage known as Le Trou aux Fades, situated in the middle of the woods and open to the first comer, furniture and all. It is a cave in the rock, containing a seat in the shape of a big stone and nothing else. I lived there for a couple of days on roots and bits of bread that they occasionally brought me from the tavern. It is against my principles to live in a tavern. On the third day the landlady’s little boy came and informed me that the two monks were about to sit down to a meal. I hastened back, and hid myself in a cellar which opens into the garden. The door of this cellar is quite close to the apple-tree under which these gentlemen were taking luncheon in the open air. John was sober; the other was eating like a Carmelite and drinking like a Franciscan. I could hear and see everything at my ease.

“‘There must be an end of this,’ Antony was saying — I easily recognised the man when I saw him drink and heard him swear —‘I am tired of playing this game for you. Hide me away with the Carmelites or I shall make a row.’

“‘And what row can you make that will not bring you to the gallows, you clumsy fool!’ answered John. ‘It is very certain that you will not set foot inside the monastery. I don’t want to find myself mixed up in a criminal trial; for they would discover what you are in an hour or two.’

“‘And why, I should like to know? You make them all believe that you are a saint!’

“‘Because I know how to behave like a saint; whereas you — you behave like a fool. Why, you can’t stop swearing for an hour, and you would be breaking all the mugs after dinner!’

“‘I say, Nepomucene,’ rejoined the other, ‘do you fancy that you would get off scot-free if I were caught and tried?’

“‘Why not?’ answered the Trappist. ‘I had no hand in your folly, nor did I advise anything of this kind.’

“‘Ha! ha! my fine apostle!’ cried Antony, throwing himself back in his chair in a fit of laughter. ‘You are glad enough about it, now that it is done. You were always a coward; and had it not been for me you would never have thought of anything better than getting yourself made a Trappist, to ape devotion and afterward get absolution for the past, so as to have a right to draw a little money from the “Headbreakers” of Sainte–Severe. By Jove! a mighty fine ambition, to give up the ghost under a monk’s cowl after leading a pretty poor life and only tasting half its sweets, let alone hiding like a mole! Come, now; when they have hung my pretty Bernard, and the lovely Edmonde is dead, and when the old neck-breaker has given back his big bones to the earth; when we have inherited all that pretty fortune yonder; you will own that we have done a capital stroke of business — three at a blow! It would cost me rather too much to play the saint, seeing that convent ways are not quite my ways, and that I don’t know how to wear the habit; so I shall throw the cowl to the winds, and content myself with building a chapel at Roche–Mauprat and taking the sacrament four times a year.’

“‘Everything you have done in this matter is stupid and infamous.’

“‘Bless my soul! Don’t talk of infamy, my sweet brother, or I shall make you swallow this bottle whole.’

“‘I say that it is a piece of folly, and if it succeeds you ought to burn a fine candle to the Virgin. If it does not succeed, I wash my hands of the whole business, do you hear? After I had been in hiding in the secret passage in the keep, and had heard Bernard telling his valet after supper that he was going out of his mind on account of the beautiful Edmee, I happened to throw out a suggestion that there might be a chance here of doing a good stroke of business; and like a fool you took the matter seriously, and, without consulting me or waiting for a favourable moment, you went and did a deed that should have been thought over and properly planned.’

“‘A favourable moment, chicken-heart that you are! How the deuce was I to get one? “Opportunity makes the thief.” I find myself surprised by the hunt in the middle of the forest; I go and hide in that cursed Gazeau Tower; I see my turtle-doves coming; I overhear a conversation that might make one die of laughing, and see Bernard blubbering and the girl playing the haughty beauty; Bernard goes off like an idiot without showing himself a man; I find on me — God knows how — a rascally pistol already loaded. Bang! . . .’

“‘Hold your tongue, you wild brute!’ said the other, quite frightened. ‘Do you think a tavern is the proper place to talk of these things? Keep that tongue quiet, you wretched creature, or I will never see you again.’

“‘And yet you will have to see me, sweet brother mine, when I go and ring the bell at the gate of the Carmelite monastery.’

“‘If you come I will denounce you.’

“‘You will not denounce me, for I know too much about you.’

“‘I am not afraid. I have given proofs of my repentance; I have expiated my sins.’

“‘Hypocrite!’

“‘Come, now, hold your tongue, you madman!’ said the other. ‘I must leave you. There is some money.’

“‘That all?’

“‘What do you expect from a monk? Do you imagine that I am rich?’

“‘Your Carmelites are; and you can do what you like with them.’

“‘I might give you more, but I would rather not. As soon as you got a couple of louis you would be off for a debauch, and make enough row to betray yourself.’

“‘And if you want me to quit this part of the country for some time, what do you suppose I am to travel with?’

“‘Three times already I have given you enough to take you away, haven’t I? And each time you have come back, after drinking it all in the first place of ill-fame on the frontier of the province! Your impudence sickens me, after the evidence given against you, when the police are on the watch, when Bernard is appealing for a fresh trial. You may be caught at any moment!’

“‘That is for you to see to, brother. You can lead the Carmelites by the nose; and the Carmelites can lead the bishop, through some little peccadillo, I suppose, done together on the quiet in the convent after supper . . .’”

Here the president interrupted Patience.

“Witness,” he said, “I call you to order. You are outraging a prelate’s virtue by daring to retail such a conversation.”

“By no means,” replied Patience. “I am merely reporting a drunkard’s and a murderer’s invectives against the prelate. They do not concern me in the least; and every one here knows what value to put upon them; but, if you wish, I will say no more on this point. The discussion lasted for some time longer. The real Trappist wanted to make the sham Trappist leave the country, and the latter persisted in remaining, declaring that, if he were not on the spot, his brother would have him arrested immediately after Bernard’s head had been cut off, so that he might have the whole inheritance to himself. John, driven to extremities, seriously threatened to denounce him and hand him over to justice.

“‘Enough!’ replied Antony. ‘You will take good care not to do that, I know; for, if Bernard is acquitted, good-bye to the inheritance!’

“Then they separated. The real Trappist went away looking very anxious; the other fell asleep, with his elbows on the table. I left my hiding-place to take steps for his arrest. It was just then that the police, who had been on my track for some time to force me to come and give evidence, collared me. In vain did I point to the monk as Edmee’s murderer; they would not believe me, and said they had no warrant against him. I wanted to arouse the village, but they prevented me from speaking. They brought me here, from station to station, as if I had been a deserter, and for the last week I have been in the cells and no one has deigned to heed my protests. They would not even let me see M. Bernard’s lawyer, or inform him that I was in prison; it was only just now that the jailer came, and told me that I must put on my coat and appear in court. I do not know whether all this is according to the law; but one thing is certain, namely, that the murderer might have been arrested and has not been; nor will he be, unless you secure the person of John Mauprat to prevent him from warning, I do not say his accomplice, but his protege. I state on oath that, from all I have heard, John Mauprat is above any suspicion of complicity. As to the act of allowing an innocent man to be handed over to the rigour of the law, and of endeavouring to save a guilty man by going so far as to give false evidence, and produce false documents to prove his death . . .”

Patience, noticing that the president was again about to interrupt him, hastened to end his testimony by saying:

“As to that, gentlemen, it is for you, not for me, to judge him.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29