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The little house in which lived Madeleine de Scudéri,1 well known for her pleasing verses, and the favour of Louis XIV. and the Marchioness de Maintenon, was situated in the Rue St. Honorée.
One night almost at midnight — it would be about the autumn, of the year 1680 — there came such a loud and violent knocking at the door of her house that it made the whole entrance-passage ring again. Baptiste, who in the lady’s small household discharged at one and the same time the offices of cook, footman, and porter, had with his mistress’s permission gone into the country to attend his sister’s wedding; and thus it happened that La Martinière, Mademoiselle’s lady-maid was alone, and the only person awake in the house. The knockings were repeated. She suddenly remembered that Baptiste had gone for his holiday, and that she and her mistress were left in the house without any further protection. All the outrages burglaries, thefts, and murders — which were then so common in Paris, crowded upon her mind; she was sure it was a band of cut-throats who were making all this disturbance outside; they must be well aware how lonely the house stood, and if let in would perpetrate some wicked deed against her mistress; and so she remained in her room, trembling and quaking with fear, and cursing Baptiste and his sister’s wedding as well.
Meanwhile the hammering at the door was being continued; and she fancied she heard a voice shouting at intervals, “Oh! do open the door! For God’s sake, do open the door!” At last La Martinière’s anxiety rose to such a pitch that, taking up the lighted candle, she ran out into the passage. There she heard quite plainly the voice of the person knocking, “For God’s sake! do open the door, please!” “Certainly,” thought she, “that surely is not the way a robber would knock. Who knows whether it is not some poor man being pursued and wants protection from Mademoiselle, who is always ready to do an act of kindness? But let us be cautious.” Opening a window, she called out, asking who was down making such a loud noise at the house-door so late at night, awakening everybody up out of their sleep; and she endeavoured to give her naturally deep voice as manly a tone as she possibly could.
By the glimmer of the moon, which now broke through the dark clouds, she could make out a tall figure, enveloped in a light-grey mantle, having his broad-brimmed hat pulled down right over his eyes. Then she shouted in a loud voice, so as to be heard by the man below, “Baptiste, Claude, Pierre, get up and go and see who this good-for-nothing vagabond is, who is trying to break into the house.” But the voice from below made answer gently, and in a tone that had a plaintive ring in it, “Oh! La Martinière, I know quite well that it is you, my good woman, however much you try to disguise your voice; I also know that Baptiste has gone into the country, and that you are alone in the house with your mistress. You may confidently undo the door for me; you need have no fear. For I must positively speak with your mistress, and this very minute.” “Whatever are you thinking about?” replied La Martinière. “You want to speak to Mademoiselle in the middle of the night? Don’t you know that she has been gone to bed a long time, and that for no price would I wake her up out of her first sound sleep, which at her time of life she has so much need of?” The person standing below said, “But I know that your mistress has only just laid aside her new romance Clélie, at which she labours so unremittingly; and she is now writing certain verses which she intends to read to the Marchioness de Maintenon2 tomorrow. I implore you, Madame Martinière, have pity and open me the door. I tell you the matter involves the saving of an unfortunate man from ruin — that the honour, freedom, nay, that the life of a man is dependent upon this moment, and I must speak to Mademoiselle. Recollect how your mistress’s anger would rest upon you for ever, if she learned that you had had the hard-heartedness to turn an unfortunate man away from her door when he came to supplicate her assistance.” “But why do you come to appeal to my mistress’s compassion at this unusual hour? Come again early in the morning,” said La Martinière. The person below replied, “Does Destiny, then, heed times and hours when it strikes, like the fatal flash, fraught with destruction? When there is but a single moment longer in which rescue is still possible, ought assistance to be delayed? Open me the door; you need have nothing to fear from a poor defenceless wretch, who is deserted of all the world, pursued and distressed by an awful fate, when he comes to beseech Mademoiselle to save him from threatening danger?” La Martinière heard the man below moaning and sobbing with anguish as he said these words, and at the same time the voice was the voice of a young man, gentle, and gifted with the power of appealing straight to the heart She was greatly touched; without much further deliberation she fetched the keys.
But hardly had she got the door opened when the figure enveloped in the mantle burst tumultuously in, and striding past Martinière into the passage, cried wildly, “Lead me to your mistress!” In terror Martinière lifted up the candle, and its light fell upon a young man’s face, deathly pale and fearfully agitated. Martinière almost dropped on the floor with fright, for the man now threw open his mantle and showed the bright hilt of a stiletto sticking out of the bosom of his doublet. His eyes flashed fire as he fixed them upon her, crying still more wildly than before, “Lead me to your mistress, I tell you.” Martinière now believed Mademoiselle was in the most imminent danger; and her affection for her beloved mistress, whom she honoured, moreover, as her good and faithful mother, burnt up stronger in her heart, enkindling a courage which she had not conceived herself capable of showing. Hastily pulling to the door of her chamber, which she had left standing open, she planted herself before it, and said in a strong firm voice, “I tell you what, your mad behaviour in the house here, corresponds but ill with your plaintive words outside; I see clearly that I let my pity be excited on a wrong occasion. You neither ought to, nor shall you, speak to my mistress now. If your intentions are not evil, you need not fear daylight; so come again tomorrow and state your business then. Now, begone with you out of the house.” The man heaved a deep and painful sigh, and fixing Martinière with a formidable look, grasped his stiletto. She silently commended her soul to Heaven, but manfully stood her ground, and boldly met the man’s gaze, at the same time drawing herself closer to the door, for through it the man would have to go to get to her mistress’s chamber. “Let me go to your mistress, I tell you!” cried the man again. “Do what you will,” replied Martinière, “I shall not stir from this place. Go on and finish your wicked deed; but remember that you also will die a shameful death at the Place Grève, like your atrocious partners in crime.” “Ah! yes, you are right, La Martinière,” replied the man, “I do look like a villainous robber and cut-throat, and am armed like one, but my partners have not been executed — no, not yet.” Therewith, hurling looks of furious wrath at the poor woman, who was almost dead with terror, he drew his stiletto. “O God! O God!” she exclaimed, expecting her death-blow; but at this moment there was heard a rattle of arms in the street, and the hoof-strokes of horses. “The Maréchaussée!3 the Maréchaussée! Help! Help!” screamed Martinière. “You abominable woman, you are determined to ruin me. All is lost now — it’s all over. But here, here — take this. Give that to your mistress this very night — tomorrow if you like.” Whispering these words, he snatched the light from La Martinière, extinguished it, and then forced a casket into her hands. “By your hopes of salvation, I conjure you, give this casket to Mademoiselle,” cried the man; and he rushed out of the house.
Martinière fell to the floor; at length she rose up with difficulty, and groped her way back in the darkness to her own room, where she sank down in an arm-chair completely exhausted, unable to utter a sound. Then she heard the keys rattle, which she had left in the lock of the street-door. The door was closed and locked, and she heard cautious, uncertain footsteps approaching her room. She sat riveted to the chair without power to move, expecting something terrible to happen. But her sensations may be imagined when the door opened, and by the light of the night-taper she recognised at the first glance that it was honest Baptiste, looking very pale and greatly troubled. “In the name of all the saints!” he began, “tell me, Dame Martinière, what has happened? Oh! the anxiety and fear I have had! I don’t know what it was, but something drove me away from the wedding last evening. I couldn’t help myself; I had to come. On getting into our street, I thought. Dame Martinière sleeps lightly, she’ll be sure to hear me, thinks I, if I tap softly and gently at the door, and will come out and let me in. Then there comes a strong patrol on horseback as well as on foot, all armed to the teeth, and they stop me and won’t let me go on. But luckily Desgrais the lieutenant of the Maréchaussée, is amongst them, who knows me quite well; and when they put their lanterns under my nose, he says, ‘Why, Baptiste, where are you coming from at this time o’ night? You’d better stay quietly in the house and take care of it There’s some deviltry at work, and we are hoping to make a good capture to-night.’ You wouldn’t believe how heavy these words fell on my heart. Dame Martinière. And then when I put my foot on the threshold, there comes a man, all muffled up, rushing out of the house with a drawn dagger in his hand, and he runs over me — head over heels. The door was open, and the keys sticking in the lock. Oh! tell me what it all means.” Martinière, relieved of her terrible fear and anxiety, related all that had taken place.
Then she and Baptiste went out into the passage, and there they found the candlestick lying on the floor where the stranger had thrown it as he ran away. “It is only too certain,” said Baptiste, “that our Mademoiselle would have been robbed, ay, and even murdered, I make no doubt. The fellow knew, as you say, that you were alone with Mademoiselle — why, he also knew that she was awake with her writings. I would bet anything it was one of those cursed rogues and thieves who force their way right into the houses, cunningly spying out everything that may be of use to them in carrying out their infernal plans. And as for that little casket, Dame Martinière-I think we’d better throw it into the Seine where it’s deepest. Who can answer for it that there’s not some wicked monster got designs on our good lady’s life, and that if she opens the box she won’t fall down dead like old Marquis de Tournay did, when he opened a letter that came from somebody he didn’t know?”
After a long consultation the two faithful souls made up their minds to tell their mistress everything next morning, and also to place the mysterious casket in her hands, for of course it could be opened with proper precautions. After minutely weighing every circumstance connected with the suspicious stranger’s appearance, they were both of the same opinion, namely, that there was some special mystery connected with the matter, which they durst not attempt to control single-handed; they must leave it to their good lady to unriddle.
Baptiste’s apprehensions were well founded. Just at that time Paris was the scene of the most abominable atrocities, and exactly at the same period the most diabolical invention of Satan was made, to offer the readiest means for committing these deeds.
Glaser, a German apothecary, the best chemist of his age, had busied himself, as people of his profession were in the habit of doing, with alchemistical experiments. He had made it the object of his endeavour to discover the Philosopher’s Stone. His coadjutor was an Italian of the name of Exili. But this man only practised alchemy as a blind. His real object was to learn all about the mixing and decoction and sublimating of poisonous compounds, by which Glaser on his part hoped to make his fortune; and at last he succeeded in fabricating that subtle poison4 that is without smell and without taste, that kills either on the spot or gradually and slowly, without ever leaving the slightest trace in the human body, and that deceives all the skill and art of the physicians, since, not suspecting the presence of poison, they fail not to ascribe the death to natural causes. Circumspectly as Exili5 went to work, he nevertheless fell under the suspicion of being a seller of poison, and was thrown into the Bastille. Soon afterwards Captain Godin de Sainte Croix was confined in the same dungeon. This man had for a long time been living in relations with the Marchioness de Brinvillier,6 which brought disgrace on all the family; so at last, as the Marquis continued indifferent to his wife’s shameful conduct, her father, Dreux d’Aubray, Civil Lieutenant of Paris, compelled the guilty pair to part by means of a warrant which was executed upon the Captain. Passionate, unprincipled, hypocritically feigning to be pious, and yet inclined from his youth up to all kinds of vice, jealous, revengeful even to madness, the Captain could not have met with any more welcome information than that contained in Exili’s diabolical secret, since it would give him the power to annihilate all his enemies. He became an eager scholar of Exili, and soon came to be as clever as his master, so that, on being liberated from the Bastille, he was in a position to work on unaided.
Before an abandoned woman, De Brinvillier became through Sainte Croix’s instrumentality a monster. He contrived to induce her to poison successively her own father, with whom she was living, tending with heartless hypocrisy his declining days, and then her two brothers, and finally her sister — her father out of revenge, and the others on account of the rich family inheritance. From the histories of several poisoners we have terrible examples how the commission of crimes of this class becomes at last an all-absorbing passion. Often, without any further purpose than the mere vile pleasure of the thing, just as chemists make experiments for their own enjoyment, have poisoners destroyed persons whose life or death must have been to them a matter of perfect indifference.
The sudden decease of several poor people in the Hotel Dieu some time afterwards excited the suspicion that the bread had been poisoned which Brinvillier, in order to acquire a reputation for piety and benevolence, used to distribute there every week. At any rate, it is undoubtedly true that she was in the habit of serving the guests whom she invited to her house with poisoned pigeon pie. The Chevalier de Guet and several other persons fell victims to these hellish banquets. Sainte Croix, his confederate La Chaussée,7 and Brinvillier were able for a long time to enshroud their horrid deeds behind an impenetrable veil. But of what avail is the infamous cunning of reprobate men when the Divine Power has decreed that punishment shall overtake the guilty here on earth?
The poisons which Sainte Croix prepared were of so subtle a nature that if the powder (called by the Parisians Pondre de Succession, or Succession Powder) were prepared with the face exposed, a single inhalation of it might cause instantaneous death. Sainte Croix therefore, when engaged in its manufacture, always wore a mask made of fine glass. One day, just as he was pouring a prepared powder into a phial, his mask fell off, and, inhaling the fine particles of the poison, he fell down dead on the spot. As he had died without heirs, the officers of the law hastened to place his effects under seal. Amongst them they found a locked box, which contained the whole of the infernal arsenal of poisons that the abandoned wretch Sainte Croix had had at command; they also found Brinvillier’s letters, which left no doubt as to her atrocious crimes. She fled to Liége, into a convent there. Desgrais, an officer of the Maréchaussée, was sent after her. In the disguise of a monk he arrived at the convent where she had concealed herself, and contrived to engage the terrible woman in a love intrigue, and finally, under the pretext of a secret meeting, to entice her out to a lonely garden beyond the precincts of the town. Directly she arrived at the appointed place she was surrounded by Desgrais’ satellites, whilst her monkish lover was suddenly converted into an officer of the Maréchaussée, who compelled her to get into the carriage which stood ready near the garden; and, surrounded by the police troop, she was driven straight off to Paris. La Chaussée had been already beheaded somewhat earlier; Brinvillier suffered the same death, after which her body was burned and the ashes scattered to the winds.
Now that the monster who had been able to direct his secret murderous weapons against both friend and foe alike unpunished was out of the world, the Parisians breathed freely once more. But it soon became known abroad that the villain Sainte Croix’s abominable art had been handed down to certain successors. Like a malignant invisible spirit, murder insinuated itself into the most intimate circles, even the closest of those formed by relationship and love and friendship, and laid a quick sure grasp upon its unfortunate victims. He who was seen one day in the full vigour of health, tottered about the next a weak wasting invalid, and no skill of the physician could save him from death. Wealth, a lucrative office, a beautiful and perhaps too young a wife — any of these was sufficient to draw down upon the possessor this persecution unto death. The most sacred ties were severed by the cruellest mistrust. The husband trembled at his wife, the father at his son, the sister at the brother. The dishes remained untouched, and the wine at the dinner, which a friend put before his friends; and there where formerly jest and mirth had reigned supreme, savage glances were now spying about for the masked murderer. Fathers of families were observed buying provisions in remote districts with uneasy looks and movements, and preparing them themselves in the first dirty cook-shop they came to, since they feared diabolical treachery in their own homes. And yet even the greatest and most well-considered precautions were in many cases of no avail.
In order to put a stop to this iniquitous state of things, which continued to gain ground and grow greater day by day, the king appointed a special court of justice for the exclusive purpose of inquiring into and punishing these secret crimes. This was the so-called Chambre Ardente, which held its sittings not far from the Bastille, its acting president being La Regnie.8 For a considerable period all his efforts, however zealously they were prosecuted, remained fruitless; it was reserved for the crafty Desgrais to discover the most secret haunts of the criminals. In the Faubourg St. Germain there lived an old woman called Voisin, who made a regular business of fortune-telling and raising departed spirits; and with the help of her confederates Le Sage and Le Vigoureux, she managed to excite fear and astonishment in the minds of persons who could not be called exactly either weak or credulous. But she did more than this. A pupil of Exili, like La Croix, she, like him, concocted the same subtle poison that killed and left no trace behind it; and so she helped in this way profligate sons to get early possession of their inheritance, and depraved wives to another and younger husband. Desgrais wormed his way into her secret; she confessed all; the Chambre Ardente condemned her to be burned alive, and the sentence was executed in the Place Grève.
Amongst her effects was found a list of all the persons who had availed themselves of her assistance; and hence it was that not only did execution follow upon execution, but grave suspicion fell even upon persons of high position. Thus it was believed that Cardinal Bonzy had obtained from La Voisin the means of bringing to an untimely end all those persons to whom, as Archbishop of Narbonne, he was obliged to pay annuities. So also the Duchess de Bouillon, and the Countess de Soissons,9 whose names were found on the list, were accused of having had dealings with the diabolical woman; and even Francois Henri de Montmorenci, Boudebelle, Duke of Luxemburg,10 peer and marshal of the kingdom, was not spared. He too was prosecuted by the terrible Chambre Ardente. He voluntarily gave himself up to be imprisoned in the Bastille, where through Louvois’11 and La Regnie’s hatred he was confined in a cell only six feet long. Months passed before it was made out satisfactorily that the Duke’s transgression did not deserve any blame: he had once had his horoscope cast by Le Sage.
It is certain that the President La Regnie was betrayed by his blind zeal into acts of cruelty and arbitrary violence. The tribunal acquired the character of an Inquisition; the most trifling suspicion was sufficient to entail strict incarceration; and it was left to chance to establish the innocence of a person accused of a capital crime. Moreover, La Regnie was hideous in appearance, and of a malicious temperament, so that he soon drew down upon himself the hatred of those whose avenger or protector he was appointed to be. The Duchess de Bouillon, being asked by him during her trial if she had seen the devil, replied, “I fancy I can see him at this moment.”12
But whilst the blood of the guilty and the suspected alike was flowing in streams in the Place Grève, and after a time the secret poisonings became less and less frequent, a new kind of outrage came to light, and again filled the city with dismay. It seemed as if a band of miscreant robbers were in league together for the purpose of getting into their possession all the jewellery they could. No sooner was any valuable ornament purchased than, no matter how or where kept, it vanished in an inconceivable way. But what was still worse, any one who ventured to wear jewellery on his person at night was robbed, and often murdered even, either in the public street or in the dark passage of a house. Those who escaped with their lives declared that they had been knocked down by a blow on the head, which felled them like a lightning flash, and that on awaking from their stupor they had found that they had been robbed and were lying in quite a different place from that where they had received the blow. All who were murdered, some of whom were found nearly every morning lying either in the streets or in the houses, had all one and the same fatal wound — a dagger-thrust in the heart, killing, according to the judgment of the surgeons, so instantaneously and so surely that the victim would drop down like a stone, unable to utter a sound. Who was there at the voluptuous court of Louis XIV. who was not entangled in some clandestine intrigue, and stole to his mistress at a late hour, often carrying a valuable present about him? The robbers, as if they were in league with spirits, knew almost exactly when anything of this sort was on foot. Often the unfortunate did not reach the house where he expected to meet with the reward of his passion; often he fell on the threshold, nay, at the very chamber door of his mistress, who was horrified at finding the bloody corpse.
In vain did Argenson, the Minister of Police, order the arrest of every person from amongst the populace against whom there was the least suspicion; in vain did La Regnie rage and try to extort confessions; in vain did they strengthen their watch and their patrols; — they could not find a trace of the evil-doers. The only thing that did to a certain extent avail was to take the precaution of going armed to the teeth and have a torch carried before one; and yet instances were not wanting in which the servant was annoyed by stones thrown at him, whilst at the same moment his master was murdered and robbed. It was especially remarkable that, in spite of all inquiries in every place where traffic in jewellery was in any way possible, not the smallest specimen of the stolen ornaments ever came to light, and so in this way also no clue was found which might have been followed.
Desgrais was furious that the miscreants should thus baffle all his cunning. The quarter of the town in which he happened to be stationed was spared; whilst in the others, where nobody apprehended any evil, these robberies and murders claimed their richest victims.
Desgrais hit upon the ruse of making several Desgrais one after the other, so exactly alike in gait, posture, speech, figure, and face, that the myrmidons of the police themselves did not know which was the real Desgrais. Meanwhile, at the risk of his own life, he used to watch alone in the most secret haunts and lairs of crime, and follow at a distance first this man and then that, who at his own instance carried some valuable jewellery about his person. These men, however, were not attacked; and hence the robbers must be acquainted with this contrivance also. Desgrais absolutely despaired.
One morning Desgrais came to President La Regnie pale and perturbed, quite distracted in fact. “What’s the matter? What news? Have you got a clue?” cried the President “Oh! your excellency,” began Desgrais, stammering with rage, “oh! your excellency — last night — not far from the Louvre — the Marquis de la Fare13 was attacked in my presence.” “By Heaven then!” shouted La Regnie, exultant with joy, “we have them.” “But first listen to me,” interrupted Desgrais with a bitter smile, “and hear how it all came about. Well then, I was standing near the Louvre on the watch for these devils who mock me, and my heart was on fire with fury. Then there came a figure close past me without noticing me, walking with unsteady steps and looking behind him. By the faint moonlight I saw that it was Marquis de la Fare. I was not surprised to see him; I knew where he was stealing to. But he had not gone more than ten or twelve paces past me when a man started up right out of the earth as it seemed and knocked him down, and stooped over him. In the sudden surprise and on the impulse of the moment, which would else have delivered the murderer into my hands, I was thoughtless enough to cry out; and I was just bursting out of my hiding-place with a rush, intending to throw myself upon him, when I got entangled in my mantle and fell down. I saw the man hurrying away on the wings of the wind; I made haste and picked myself up and ran after him; and as I ran I blew my horn; from the distance came the answering whistles of the man; the streets were all alive; there was a rattle of arms and a trampling of horses in all directions. ‘Here! here! Desgrais! Desgrais!’ I shouted till the streets echoed. By the bright moonlight I could always see the man in front of me, doubling here and there to deceive me. We came to the Rue Nicaise, and there his strength appeared to fail him: I redoubled my efforts; and he only led me by fifteen paces at the most”—— “You caught him up; you seized him; the patrol came up?” cried La Regnie, his eyes flashing, whilst he seized Desgrais by the arm as though he were the flying murderer. “Fifteen paces,” continued Desgrais in a hollow voice and with difficulty drawing his breath —“fifteen paces from me the man sprang aside into the shade and disappeared through the wall.” “Disappeared? — through the wall? Are you mad?” cried La Regnie, taking a couple of steps backwards and striking his hands together.
“From this moment onwards,” continued Desgrais, rubbing his brow like a man tormented by hateful thoughts, “your excellency may call me a madman or an insane ghost-seer, but it was just as I have told you. I was standing staring at the wall like one petrified when several men of the patrol hurried up breathless, and along with them Marquis de la Fare, who had picked himself up, with his drawn sword in his hand. We lighted the torches, and sounded the wall backwards and forwards — not an indication of a door or a window or an opening. It was a strong stone wall bounding a yard, and was joined on to a house in which live people against whom there has never risen the slightest suspicion. To-day I have again taken a careful survey of the whole place. It must be the Devil himself who is mystifying us.”
Desgrais’ story became known in Paris. People’s heads were full of the sorceries and incantations and compacts with Satan of Voisin, Vigoureuse, and the reprobate priest Le Sage; and as in the eternal nature of us men, the leaning to the marvellous and the wonderful so often outweighs all the authority of reason, so the public soon began to believe simply and solely that as Desgrais in his mortification had said, Satan himself really did protect the abominable wretches, who must have sold their souls to him. It will readily be believed that Desgrais’ story received all sorts of ornamental additions. An account of the adventure, with a woodcut on the title-page representing a grim Satanic form before which the terrified Desgrais was sinking in the earth, was printed and largely sold at the street corners. This alone was enough to overawe the people, and even to rob the myrmidons of the police of their courage, who now wandered about the streets at night trembling and quaking, hung about with amulets and soaked in holy water.
Argenson perceived that the exertions of the Chambre Ardente were of no avail, and he appealed to the king to appoint a tribunal with still more extensive powers to deal with this new epidemic of crime, to hunt up the evil-doers, and to punish them. The king, convinced that he had already vested too much power in the Chambre Ardente and shaken with horror at the numberless executions which the bloodthirsty La Regnie had decreed, flatly refused to entertain the proposed plan.
Another means was chosen to stimulate the king’s interest in the matter.
Louis was in the habit of spending the afternoon in Madame de Maintenon’s salons, and also despatching state business therewith his ministers until a late hour at night. Here a poem was presented to him in the name of the jeopardised lovers, complaining that, whenever gallantry bid them honour their mistress with a present, they had always to risk their lives on the fulfilment of the injunction. There was always both honour and pleasure to be won in shedding their blood for their lady in a knightly encounter; but it was quite another thing when they had to deal with a stealthy malignant assassin, against whom they could not arm themselves. Would Louis, the bright polar star of all love and gallantry, cause the resplendent beams of his glory to shine and dissipate this dark night, and so unveil the black mystery that was concealed within it? The god-like hero, who had broken his enemies to pieces, would now (they hoped) draw his sword glittering with victory, and, as Hercules did against the Lernean serpent, or Theseus the Minotaur, would fight against the threatening monster which was gnawing away all the raptures of love, and darkening all their joy and converting it into deep pain and grief inconsolable.
Serious as the matter was, yet the poem did not lack clever and witty turns, especially in the description of the anxieties which the lovers had to endure as they stole by secret ways to their mistresses, and of how their apprehensions proved fatal to all the rapturous delights of love and to every dainty gallant adventure before it could even develop into blossom. If it be added that the poem was made to conclude with a magniloquent panegyric upon Louis XIV., the king could not fail to read it with visible signs of satisfaction. Having reached the end of it, he turned round abruptly to Madame de Maintenon, without lifting his eyes from the paper, and read the poem through again aloud; after which he asked her with a gracious smile what was her opinion with respect to the wishes of the jeopardised lovers.
De Maintenon, faithful to the serious bent of her mind, and always preserving a certain colour of piety, replied that those who walked along secret and forbidden paths were not worthy of any special protection, but that the abominable criminals did call for special measures to be taken for their destruction. The king, dissatisfied with this wavering answer, folded up the paper, and was going back to the Secretary of State, who was working in the next room, when on casting a glance sideways his eye fell upon Mademoiselle de Scudéri, who was present in the salon and had taken her seat in a small easy-chair not far from De Maintenon. Her he now approached, whilst the pleasant smile which at first had played about his mouth and on his cheeks, but had then disappeared, now won the upper hand again. Standing immediately in front of Mademoiselle, and unfolding the poem once more, he said softly, “Our Marchioness will not countenance in any way the gallantries of our amorous gentlemen, and give us evasive answers of a kind that are almost quite forbidden. But you, Mademoiselle, what is your opinion of this poetic petition?” De Scudéri rose respectfully from her chair, whilst a passing blush flitted like the purple sunset rays in evening across the venerable lady’s pale cheeks, and she said, bowing gently and casting down her eyes,
“Un amant qui craint les voleurs
N’est point digne d’amour.”
(A lover who is afraid of robbers is not worthy of love.)
The king, greatly struck by the chivalric spirit breathed in these few words, which upset the whole of the poem with its yards and yards of tirades, cried with sparkling eyes, “By St. Denis, you are right. Mademoiselle! Cowardice shall not be protected by any blind measures which would affect the innocent along with the guilty; Argenson and La Regnie must do their best as they are.”
All these horrors of the day La Martinière depicted next morning in startling colours when she related to her mistress the occurrence of the previous night; and she handed over to her the mysterious casket in fear and trembling. Both she and Baptiste, who stood in the corner as pale as death, twisting and doubling up his night-cap, and hardly able to speak in his fear and anxiety — both begged Mademoiselle in the most piteous terms and in the names of all the saints, to use the utmost possible caution in opening the box. De Scudéri, weighing the locked mystery in her hand, and subjecting it to a careful scrutiny, said smiling, “You are both of you ghost-seers! That I am not rich, that there are not sufficient treasures here to be worth a murder, is known to all these abandoned assassins, who, you yourself tell me, spy out all that there is in a house, as well as it is to me and you. You think they have designs upon my life? Who could make capital out of the death of an old lady of seventy-three, who never did harm to anybody in the world except the miscreants and peace-breakers in the romances which she writes herself, who makes middling verses which can excite nobody’s envy, who will have nothing to leave except the state dresses of an old maid who sometimes went to court, and a dozen or two well-bound books with gilt edges? And then you, Martinière — you may describe the stranger’s appearance as frightful as you like, yet I cannot believe that his intentions were evil. So then ——”
La Martinière recoiled some paces, and Baptiste, uttering a stifled “Oh!” almost sank upon his knees as Mademoiselle proceeded to press upon a projecting steel knob; then the lid flew back with a noisy jerk.
But how astonished was she to see a pair of gold bracelets, richly set with jewels, and a necklace to match. She took them out of the case; and whilst she was praising the exquisite workmanship of the necklace, Martinière was eyeing the valuable bracelets, and crying time after time, that the vain Lady Montespan herself had no such ornaments as these. “But what is it for? what does it all mean?” said De Scudéri. But at this same moment she observed a small slip of paper folded together, lying at the bottom of the casket. She hoped, and rightly, to find in it an explanation of the mystery. She had hardly finished reading the contents of the scrip when it fell from her trembling hands. She sent an appealing glance towards Heaven, and then fell back almost fainting into her chair. Terrified, Martinière sprang to her assistance, and so also did Baptiste. “Oh! what an insult!” she exclaimed, her voice half-choked with tears, “Oh! what a burning shame! Must I then endure this in my old age? Have I then gone and acted with wrong and foolish levity like some young giddy thing? O God, are words let fall half in jest capable of being stamped with such an atrocious interpretation? And am I, who have been faithful to virtue, and of blameless piety from my earliest childhood until now — am I to be accused of the crime of making such a diabolical compact?”
Mademoiselle held her handkerchief to her eyes and wept and sobbed bitterly, so that Martinière and Baptiste were both of them confused and rendered helpless by embarrassed constraint, not knowing what to do to help their mistress in her great trouble.
Martinière picked up the ominous strip of paper from the floor. Upon it was written —
“Un amant qui craint les voleurs
N’est point digne d’amour.
“Your sagacious mind, honoured lady, has saved us from great persecution. We only exercise the right of the stronger over the weak and the cowardly in order to appropriate to ourselves treasures that would else be disgracefully squandered. Kindly accept these jewels as a token of our gratitude. They are the most brilliant that we have been enabled to meet with for a long time; and yet you, honoured lady, ought to be adorned with jewellery even still finer than this is. We trust you will not withdraw from us your friendship and kind remembrance.
“Is it possible?” exclaimed De Scudéri after she had to some extent recovered herself, “is it possible for men to carry their shameless insolence, their godless scorn, to such lengths?” The sun shone brightly through the dark-red silk window curtains and made the brilliants which lay on the table beside the open casket to sparkle in the reddish gleam. Chancing to cast her eyes upon them, De Scudéri hid her face with abhorrence, and bade Martinière take the fearful jewellery away at once, that very moment, for the blood of the murdered victims was still adhering to it. Martinière at once carefully locked the necklace and bracelets in the casket again, and thought that the wisest plan would be to hand it over to the Minister of Police, and to confide to him every thing connected with the appearance of the young man who had caused them so much uneasiness, and the way in which he had placed the casket in her hands.
De Scudéri rose to her feet and slowly paced up and down the room in silence, as if she were only now reflecting what was to be done. She then bade Baptiste fetch a sedan chair, while Martinière was to dress her, for she meant to go straight to the Marchioness de Maintenon.
She had herself carried to the Marchioness’s just at the hour when she knew she should find that lady alone in her salons. The casket with the jewellery De Scudéri also took with her.
Of course the Marchioness was greatly astonished to see Mademoiselle, who was generally a pattern of dignity, amiability (notwithstanding her advanced age), and gracefulness, come in with tottering steps, pale, and excessively agitated. “By all the saints, what’s happened to you?” she cried when she saw the poor troubled lady, who, almost distracted and hardly able to walk erect, hurried to reach the easy-chair which De Maintenon pushed towards her. At length, having recovered her power of speech somewhat, Mademoiselle related what a deep insult — she should never get over it — her thoughtless jest in answer to the petition of the jeopardised lovers had brought upon her. The Marchioness, after learning the whole of the story by fragments, arrived at the conclusion that De Scudéri took the strange occurrence far too much to heart, that the mockery of depraved wretches like these could never come home to a pious, noble mind like hers, and finally she requested to see the ornaments.
De Scudéri gave her the open casket; and the Marchioness, on seeing the costly jewellery, could not help uttering a loud cry of admiration. She took out the necklace and the bracelets, and approached the window with them, where first she let the sun play upon the stones, and then she held them up close to her eyes in order to see better the exquisite workmanship of the gold, and to admire the marvellous skill with which every little link in the elaborate chain was finished. All at once the Marchioness turned round abruptly towards Mademoiselle and cried, “I tell you what, Mademoiselle, these bracelets and necklace must have been made by no less a person than René Cardillac.”
René Cardillac was at that time the most skilful goldsmith in Paris, and also one of the most ingenious as well as one of the most eccentric men of the age. Rather small than great, but broad-shouldered and with a strong and muscular frame, Cardillac, although considerably more than fifty, still possessed the strength and activity of youth. And his strength, which might be said to be something above the common, was further evidenced by his abundant curly reddish hair, and his thick-set features and the sultry gleam upon them. Had not Cardillac been known throughout all Paris, as one of the most honest and honourable of men, disinterested, frank, without any reserve, always ready to help, the very peculiar appearance of his eyes, which were small, deep-set, green, and glittering, might have drawn upon him the suspicion of lurking malice and viciousness.
As already said, Cardillac was the greatest master in his trade, not only in Paris, but also perhaps of his age. Intimately acquainted with the properties of precious stones, he knew how to treat them and set them in such a manner that an ornament which had at first been looked upon as wanting in lustre, proceeded out of Cardillac’s shop possessing a dazzling magnificence. Every commission he accepted with burning avidity, and fixed a price that seemed to bear no proportion whatever to the work to be done — so small was it. Then the work gave him no rest; both night and day he was heard hammering in his work-shop, and often when the thing was nearly finished he would suddenly conceive a dislike to the form; he had doubts as to the elegance of the setting of some or other of the jewels, of a little link — quite a sufficient reason for throwing all into the crucible, and beginning the entire work over again. Thus every individual piece of jewellery that he turned out was a perfect and matchless masterpiece, utterly astounding to the person who had given the commission.
But it was now hardly possible to get any work that was once finished out of his hands. Under a thousand pretexts he put off the owner from week to week, and from month to month. It was all in vain to offer him double for the work; he would not take a single Louis d’or 15 more than the price bargained for. When at last he was obliged to yield to the insistence of his customer, he could not help betraying all the signs of the greatest annoyance, nay, of even fury seething in his heart. If the piece of work which he had to deliver up was something of more than ordinary importance, especially anything of great value, worth many thousands owing to the costliness of the jewels or the extreme delicacy of the gold-work, he was capable of running about like a madman, cursing himself, his labour, and all about him. But then if any person came up behind him and shouted, “René Cardillac, would you not like to make a beautiful necklace for my betrothed? — bracelets for my sweet-heart,” or so forth, he would suddenly stop still, and looking at him with his little eyes, would ask, as he rubbed his hands, “Well, what have you got?” Thereupon the other would produce a small jewel-case, and say, “Oh! some jewels — see; they are nothing particular, only common things, but in your hands”—— Cardillac does not let him finish what he has to say, but snatching the case out of his hand takes out the stones (which are in reality of but little value) and holds them up to the light, crying enraptured, “Ho! ho! common things, are they? Not at all! Pretty stones — magnificent stones; only let me make them up for you. And if you’re not squeamish to a handful or two of Louis d’or, I can add a few more little gems, which shall sparkle in your eyes like the great sun himself.” The other says, “I will leave it all to you, Master René, and pay you what you like.”
Then, without making any difference whether his customer is a rich citizen only or an eminent nobleman of the court, Cardillac throws his arms impetuously round his neck and embraces him and kisses him, saying that now he is quite happy again, and the work will be finished in a week’s time. Running off home with breathless speed and up into his workshop, he begins to hammer away, and at the week’s end has produced a masterpiece of art But when the customer comes prepared to pay with joy the insignificant sum demanded, and expecting to take the finished ornament away with him, Cardillac gets testy, rude, obstinate, and hard to deal with. “But, Master Cardillac, recollect that my wedding is tomorrow.”—“But what have I to do with your wedding? come again in a fortnight’s time.” “The ornament is finished; here is your money; and I must have it.” “And I tell you that I’ve lots of things to alter in it, and I shan’t let you have it today.” “And I tell you that if you won’t deliver up the ornament by fair means — of course I am willing to pay you double for it — you shall soon see me march up with Argenson’s serviceable underlings.”—“Well, then, may Satan torture you with scores of red-hot pincers, and hang three hundredweight on the necklace till it strangle your bride.” And therewith, thrusting the jewellery into the bridegroom’s breast pocket, Cardillac seizes him by the arm and turns him roughly out of the door, so that he goes stumbling all down the stairs. Then Cardillac puts his head out of the window and laughs like a demon on seeing the poor young man limp out of the house, holding his handkerchief to his bloody nose.
But one thing there was about him that was quite inexplicable. Often, after he had enthusiastically taken a piece of work in hand, he would implore his customer by the Virgin and all the saints, with every sign of deep and violent agitation, and with moving protestations, nay, amidst tears and sobs, that he might be released from his engagement. Several persons who were most highly esteemed of the king and the people had vainly offered large sums of money to get the smallest piece of work from him. He threw himself at the king’s feet and besought as a favour at his hands that he might not be asked to do any work for him. In the same way he refused every commission from De Maintenon; he even rejected with aversion and horror the proposal she made him to fabricate for her a little ring with emblematic ornaments, which was to be presented to Racine.
Accordingly De Maintenon now said, “I would wager that if I sent for Cardillac to come here to tell me at least for whom he made these ornaments, he would refuse to come, since he would probably fear it was some commission; and he never will make anything for me on any account. And yet he has, it seems, dropped something of his inflexible obstinacy some time ago, for I hear that he now labours more industriously than ever, and delivers up his work at once, though still not without much inward vexation and turning away of his face.” De Scudéri, who was greatly concerned that the ornaments should, if it could possibly be managed, come soon into the hands of the proper owner, thought they might send express word to Master Whimsicality that they did not want him to do any work, but only to pass his opinion upon some jewels. This commended itself to the Marchioness. Cardillac was sent for; and, as though he had been already on the way, after a brief interval he stepped into the room.
On observing De Scudéri he appeared to be embarrassed; and, like one confounded by something so utterly unexpected that he forgets the claims of propriety such as the moment demands, he first made a low and reverential obeisance to this venerable lady, and then only did he turn to the Marchioness. She, pointing to the jewellery, which now lay glittering on the dark-green table-cloth, asked him hastily if it was of his workmanship. Hardly glancing at it, and keeping his eyes steadily fixed upon De Maintenon, Cardillac hurriedly packed the necklace and bracelets into the casket, which stood beside them, and pushed it violently away from him. Then he said, whilst a forbidding smile gleamed in his red face, “By my honour, noble lady, he would have but a poor acquaintance with René Cardillac’s workmanship who should believe for a single moment that any other goldsmith in the world could set a piece of jewellery like that is done. Of course it’s my handiwork.” “Then tell me,” continued the Marchioness, “for whom you made these ornaments.” “For myself alone,” replied Cardillac. “Ah! I dare say your ladyship finds that strange,” he continued, since both she and De Scudéri had fixed their eyes upon him astounded, the former full of mistrust, the latter of anxious suspense as to what turn the matter would take next; “but it is so. Merely out of love for my beautiful handicraft I picked out all my best stones and gladly set to work upon them, exercising more industry and care over them than I had ever done over any stones before. A short time ago the ornaments disappeared in some inconceivable way out of my workshop.” “Thank Heaven!” cried De Scudéri, whilst her eyes sparkled with joy, and she jumped up from her chair as quick and nimble as a young girl; then going up to Cardillac, she placed both her hands upon his shoulders, and said, “Here, Master René, take your property back again, which these rascally miscreants stole from you.” And she related every detail of how she had acquired possession of the ornaments, to all of which Cardillac listened silently, with his eyes cast down upon the floor. Only now and again he uttered an indistinct “Hm! — So! — Ho! ho!” now throwing his hands behind his back, and now softly stroking his chin and cheeks.
When De Scudéri came to the end of her story, Cardillac appeared to be struggling with some new and striking thought which had occurred to him during the course of it, and as though he were labouring with some rebellious resolve that refused to conform to his wishes. He rubbed his forehead, sighed, drew his hand across his eyes, as if to check tears which were gushing from them. At length he seized the casket which De Scudéri was holding out towards him, and slowly sinking upon one knee, said, “These jewels have been decreed to you, my noble and respected lady, by Destiny. Yes, now I know that it was you I thought about when I was labouring at them, and that it was for you I worked. Do not disdain to accept these ornaments, nor refuse to wear them; they are indeed the best things I have made for a very long time.” “Why, why, Master René,” replied De Scudéri, in a charming, jesting manner; “what are you thinking about? Would it become me at my years to trick myself out with such bright gems? And what makes you think of giving me such an over-rich present? Nay, nay, Master René. Now if I were beautiful like the Marchioness de Fontange,16 and rich too, I assure you I should not let these ornaments pass out of my hands; but what do these withered arms want with vain show, and this covered neck with glittering ornaments?” Meanwhile Cardillac had risen to his feet again; and whilst persistently holding out the casket towards De Scudéri he said, like one distracted — and his looks were wild and uneasy — “Have pity upon me, Mademoiselle, and take the ornaments. You don’t know what great respect I cherish in my heart for your virtue and your high good qualities. Accept this little present as an effort on my behalf to show my deep respect and devotion.” But as De Scudéri still continued to hesitate, De Maintenon took the casket out of Cardillac’s hands, saying, “Upon my word, Mademoiselle, you are always talking about your great age. What have we, you and I, to do with years and their burdens? And aren’t you acting just like a shy young thing, who would only too well like to take the sweet fruit that is offered to her if she could only do so without stirring either hand or finger? Don’t refuse to accept from our good Master René as a free gift what scores of others could never get, in spite of all their gold and all their prayers and entreaties.”
Whilst speaking De Maintenon had forced the casket into Mademoiselle’s hand; and now Cardillac again fell upon his knees and kissed De Scudéri’s gown and hands, sighing and gasping, weeping and sobbing; then he jumped up and ran off like a madman, as fast as he could run, upsetting chairs and tables in his senseless haste, and making the glasses and porcelain tumble together with a ring and jingle and clash.
De Scudéri cried out quite terrified, “Good Heavens! what’s happened to the man?” But the Marchioness, who was now in an especially lively mood and in such a pert humour as was in general quite foreign to her, burst out into a silvery laugh, and said, “Now, I’ve got it, Mademoiselle. Master René has fallen desperately in love with you, and according to the established form and settled usage of all true gallantry, he is beginning to storm your heart with rich presents.” She even pushed her raillery further, admonishing De Scudéri not to be too cruel towards her despairing lover, until Mademoiselle, letting her natural-born humour have play, was carried away by the bubbling stream of merry conceits and fancies. She thought that if that was really the state of the case, she should be at last conquered and would not be able to help affording to the world the unprecedented example of a goldsmith’s bride, of untarnished nobility, of the age of three and seventy. De Maintenon offered her services to weave the wedding-wreath, and to instruct her in the duties of a good house-wife, since such a snippety bit of a girl could not of course know much about such things.
But when at length De Scudéri rose to say adieu to the Marchioness, she again, notwithstanding all their laughing jests, grew very grave as she took the jewel-case in her hand, and said, “And yet, Marchioness, do you know, I can never wear these ornaments. Whatever be their history, they have at some time or other been in the hands of those diabolical wretches who commit robbery and murder with all the effrontery of Satan himself; nay, I believe they must be in an unholy league with him. I shudder with awe at the sight of the blood which appears to adhere to the glittering stones. And then, I must confess, I cannot help feeling that there is something strangely uneasy and awe-inspiring about Cardillac’s behaviour. I cannot get rid of the dark presentiment that behind all this there is lurking some fearful and terrible secret; but when, on the other hand, I pass the whole matter with all its circumstantial adjuncts in clear review before my mind, I cannot even guess what the mystery consists in, nor yet how our brave honest Master René, the pattern of a good industrious citizen, can have anything to do with what is bad or deserving of condemnation; but of this I am quite sure, that I shall never dare to put the ornaments on.”
The Marchioness thought that this was carrying scruples too far. But when De Scudéri asked her on her conscience what she should really do in her (Scudéri’s) place, De Maintenon replied earnestly and decisively, “Far sooner throw the ornaments into the Seine than ever wear them.”
The scene with Master René was described by De Scudéri in charming verses, which she read to the king on the following evening in De Maintenon’s salon. And of course it may readily be conceived that, conquering her uncomfortable feelings and forebodings of evil, she drew at Master René‘s expense a diverting picture, in bright vivacious colours, of the goldsmith’s bride of three and seventy who was of such ancient nobility. At any rate the king laughed heartily, and swore that Boileau Despreux had found his master; hence De Scudéri’s poem was popularly adjudged to be the wittiest that ever was written.
Several months had passed, when, as chance would have it, De Scudéri was driving over the Pont Neuf in the Duchess de Montansier’s glass coach. The invention of this elegant class of vehicles was still so recent that a throng of the curious always gathered round it when one appeared in the streets. And so there was on the present occasion a gaping crowd round De Montansier’s coach on the Pont Neuf, so great as almost to hinder the horses from getting on. All at once De Scudéri heard a continuous fire of abuse and cursing, and perceived a man making his way through the thick of the crowd by the help of his fists and by punching people in the ribs. And when he came nearer she saw that his piercing eyes were riveted upon her. His face was pale as death and distorted by pain; and he kept his eyes riveted upon her all the time he was energetically working his way onwards with his fists and elbows, until he reached the door. Pulling it open with impetuous violence, he threw a strip of paper into De Scudéri’s lap, and again dealing out and receiving blows and punches, disappeared as he had come. Martinière, who was accompanying her mistress, uttered a scream of terror when she saw the man appear at the coach door, and fell back upon the cushions in a swoon. De Scudéri vainly pulled the cord and called out to the driver; he, as if impelled by the foul Fiend, whipped up his horses, so that they foamed at the mouth and tossed their heads, and kicked and plunged, and finally thundered over the bridge at a sharp trot. De Scudéri emptied her smelling-bottle over the insensible woman, who at length opened her eyes. Trembling and shaking, she clung convulsively to her mistress, her face pale with anxiety and terror as she gasped out, “For the love of the Virgin, what did that terrible man want? Oh! yes, it was he! it was he! — the very same who brought you the casket that awful night.” Mademoiselle pacified the poor woman, assuring her that not the least mischief had been done, and that the main thing to do just then was to see what the strip of paper contained. She unfolded it and found these words —
“I am being plunged into the pit of destruction by an evil destiny which you may avert. I implore you, as the son does the mother whom he cannot leave, and with the warmest affection of a loving child, send the necklace and bracelets which you received from me to Master René Cardillac; any pretext will do, to get some improvement made — or to get something altered. Your welfare, your life, depend upon it. If you have not done so by the day after tomorrow I will force my way into your dwelling and kill myself before your eyes.”
“Well now, it is at any rate certain,” said De Scudéri when she had read it, “that this mysterious man, even if he does really belong to the notorious band of thieves and robbers, yet has no evil designs against me. If he had succeeded in speaking to me that night, who knows whether I should not have learnt of some singular event or some mysterious complication of things, respecting which I now try in vain to form even the remotest guess. But let the matter now take what shape it may, I shall certainly do what this note urgently requests me to do, if for no other reason than to get rid of those ill-starred jewels, which I always fancy are a talisman of the foul Fiend himself. And I warrant Cardillac, true to his rooted habit, won’t let it pass out of his hands again so easily.”
The very next day De Scudéri intended to go and take the jewellery to the goldsmith’s. But somehow it seemed as if all the wits and intellects of entire Paris had conspired together to overwhelm Mademoiselle just on this particular morning with their verses and plays and anecdotes. No sooner had La Chapelle17 finished reading a tragedy, and had slyly remarked with some degree of confident assurance that he should now certainly beat Racine, than the latter poet himself came in, and routed him with a pathetic speech of a certain king, until Boileau appeared to let off the rockets of his wit into this black sky of Tragedy — in order that he might not be talked to death on the subject of the colonnade18 of the Louvre, for he had been penned up in it by Dr. Perrault, the architect.
It was high noon; De Scudéri had to go to the Duchess de Montansier’s; and so the visit to Master René Cardillac’s was put off until the next day. Mademoiselle, however, was tormented by a most extraordinary feeling of uneasiness. The young man’s figure was constantly before her eyes; and deep down in her memory there was stirring a dim recollection that she had seen his face and features somewhere before. Her sleep, which was of the lightest, was disturbed by troublesome dreams. She fancied she had acted frivolously and even criminally in having delayed to grasp the hand which the unhappy wretch, who was sinking into the abyss of ruin, was stretching up towards her; nay, she was even haunted by the thought that she had had it in her power to prevent a fatal event from taking place or an enormous crime from being committed. So, as soon as the morning was fully come, she had Martinière finish her toilet, and drove to the goldsmith, taking the jewel-casket with her.
The people were pouring into the Rue Nicaise, to the house where Cardillac lived, and were gathering about his door, shouting, screaming, and creating a wild tumult of noise; and they were with difficulty prevented by the Maréchaussée, who had drawn a cordon round the house, from forcing their way in. Angry voices were crying in a wild confused hubbub, “Tear him to pieces! pound him to dust! the accursed murderer!” At length Desgrais appeared on the scene with a strong body of police, who formed a passage through the heart of the crowd. The house door flew open and a man stepped out loaded with chains; and he was dragged away amidst the most horrible imprecations of the furious mob.
At the moment that De Scudéri, who was half swooning from fright and her apprehensions that something terrible had happened, was witness of this scene, a shrill piercing scream of distress rang upon her ears. “Go on, go on, right forward,” she cried to her coachman, almost distracted. Scattering the dense mass of people by a quick clever turn of his horses, he pulled up immediately in front of Cardillac’s door. There De Scudéri observed Desgrais, and at his feet a young girl, as beautiful as the day, with dishevelled hair, only half dressed, and her countenance stamped with desperate anxiety and wild with despair. She was clasping his knees and crying in a tone of the most terrible, the most heart-rending anguish, “Oh! he is innocent! he is innocent.” In vain were Desgrais’ efforts, as well as those of his men, to make her leave hold and to raise her up from the floor. At last a strong brutal fellow laid his coarse rough hands upon the poor girl and dragged her away from Desgrais by main force, but awkwardly stumbling let her drop, so that she rolled down the stone steps and lay in the street, without uttering a single sound more; she appeared to be dead.
Mademoiselle could no longer contain herself. “For God’s sake, what has happened? What’s all this about?” she cried as she quickly opened the door of her coach and stepped out. The crowd respectfully made way for the estimable lady. She, on perceiving that two or three compassionate women had raised up the girl and set her on the steps, where they were rubbing her forehead with aromatic waters, approached Desgrais and repeated her question with vehemence. “A horrible thing has happened,” said Desgrais. “René Cardillac was found this morning murdered, stabbed to the heart with a dagger. His journeyman Olivier Brusson is the murderer. That was he who was just led away to prison.” “And the girl?” exclaimed Mademoiselle —— “Is Madelon, Cardillac’s daughter,” broke in Desgrais. “Yon abandoned wretch is her lover. And she’s screaming and crying, and protesting that Olivier is innocent, quite innocent. But the real truth is she is cognisant of the deed, and I must have her also taken to the conciergerie (prison).”
Saying which, Desgrais cast a glance of such spiteful malicious triumph upon the girl that De Scudéri trembled. Madelon was just beginning to breathe again, but she still lay with her eyes closed incapable of either sound or motion; and they did not know what to do, whether to take her into the house or to stay with her longer until she came round again. Mademoiselle’s eyes filled with tears, and she was greatly agitated, as she looked upon the innocent angel; Desgrais and his myrmidons made her shudder. Downstairs came a heavy rumbling noise; they were bringing down Cardillac’s corpse. Quickly making up her mind. De Scudéri said loudly, “I will take the girl with me; you may attend to everything else, Desgrais.” A muttered wave of applause swept through the crowd. They lifted up the girl, whilst everybody crowded round and hundreds of arms were proffered to assist them; like one floating in the air the young girl was carried to the coach and placed within it — blessings being showered from the lips of all upon the noble lady who had come to snatch innocence from the scaffold.
The efforts of Seron, the most celebrated physician in Paris, to bring Madelon back to herself were at length crowned with success, for she had lain for hours in a dead swoon, utterly unconscious. What the physician began was completed by De Scudéri, who strove to excite the mild rays of hope in the girl’s soul, till at length relief came to her in the form of a violent fit of tears and sobbing. She managed to relate all that had happened, although from time to time her heart-rending grief got the upper hand, and her voice was choked with convulsive sobs.
About midnight she had been awakened by a light tap at her chamber door, and heard Olivier’s voice imploring her to get up at once, as her father was dying. Though almost stunned with dismay, she started up and opened the door, and saw Olivier with a light in his hand, pale and dreadfully agitated, and dripping with perspiration. He led the way into her father’s workshop, with an unsteady gait, and she followed him. There lay her father with fixed staring eyes, his throat rattling in the agonies of death. With a loud wail she threw herself upon him, and then first noticed his bloody shirt. Olivier softly drew her away and set to work to wash a wound in her father’s left breast with a traumatic balsam, and to bind it up. During this operation her father’s senses came back to him; his throat ceased to rattle; and he bent, first upon her and then upon Olivier, a glance full of feeling, took her hand, and placed it in Olivier’s, fervently pressing them together. She and Olivier both fell upon their knees beside her father’s bed; he raised himself up with a cry of agony, but at once sank back again, and in a deep sigh breathed his last. Then they both gave way to their grief and sorrow, and wept aloud.
Olivier related how during a walk, on which he had been commanded by his master to attend him, the latter had been murdered in his presence, and how through the greatest exertions he had carried the heavy man home, whom he did not believe to have been fatally wounded.
When morning dawned the people of the house, who had heard the lumbering noises, and the loud weeping and lamenting during the night, came up and found them still kneeling in helpless trouble by her father’s corpse. An alarm was raised; the Maréchaussée made their way into the house, and dragged off Olivier to prison as the murderer of his master. Madelon added the most touching description of her beloved Olivier’s goodness, and steady industry, and faithfulness. He had honoured his master highly, as though he had been his own father; and the latter had fully reciprocated this affection, and had chosen Brusson, in spite of his poverty, to be his son-inlaw, since his skill was equal to his faithfulness and the nobleness of his character. All this the girl related with deep, true, heart-felt emotion; and she concluded by saying that if Olivier had thrust his dagger into her father’s breast in her own presence she should take it for some illusion caused by Satan, rather than believe that Olivier could be capable of such a horrible wicked crime.
De Scudéri, most deeply moved by Madelon’s unutterable sufferings, and quite ready to regard poor Olivier as innocent, instituted inquiries, and she found that all Madelon had said about the intimate terms on which master and journeyman had lived was fully confirmed. The people in the same house, as well as the neighbours, unanimously agreed in commending Olivier as a pattern of goodness, morality, faithfulness, and industry; nobody knew anything evil about him, and yet when mention was made of his heinous deed, they all shrugged their shoulders and thought there was something passing comprehension in it.
Olivier, on being arraigned before the Chambre Ardente denied the deed imputed to him, as Mademoiselle learned, with the most steadfast firmness and with honest sincerity, maintaining that his master had been attacked in the street in his presence and stabbed, that then, as there were still signs of life in him, he had himself carried him home, where Cardillac had soon afterwards expired. And all this too harmonised with Madelon’s account.
Again and again and again De Scudéri had the minutest details of the terrible event repeated to her. She inquired minutely whether there had ever been a quarrel between master and journeyman, whether Olivier was perhaps not subject occasionally to those hasty fits of passion which often attack even the most good-natured of men like a blind madness, impelling the commission of deeds which appear to be done quite independent of voluntary action. But in proportion as Madelon spoke with increasing heartfelt warmth of the quiet domestic happiness in which the three had lived, united by the closest ties of affection, every shadow of suspicion against poor Olivier, now being tried for his life, vanished away. Scrupulously weighing every point and starting with the assumption that Olivier, in spite of all the things which spoke so loudly for his innocence, was nevertheless Cardillac’s murderer, De Scudéri did not find any motive within the bounds of possibility for the hideous deed; for from every point of view it would necessarily destroy his happiness. He is poor but clever. He has succeeded in gaining the good-will of the most renowned master of his trade; he loves his master’s daughter; his master looks upon his love with a favourable eye; happiness and prosperity seem likely to be his lot through life. But now suppose that, provoked in some way that God alone may know, Olivier had been so overmastered by anger as to make a murderous attempt upon his benefactor, his father, what diabolical hypocrisy he must have practised to have behaved after the deed in the way in which he really did behave. Firmly convinced of Olivier’s innocence, Mademoiselle made up her mind to save the unhappy young man at no matter what cost.
Before appealing, however, to the king’s mercy, it seemed to her that the most advisable step to take would be to call upon La Regnie, and direct his attention to all the circumstances that could not fail to speak for Olivier’s innocence, and so perhaps awaken in the President’s mind a feeling of interest favourable to the accused, which might then communicate itself to the judges with beneficial results.
La Regnie received De Scudéri with all the great respect to which the venerable lady, highly honoured as she was by the king himself, might justly lay claim. He listened quietly to all that she had to adduce with respect to the terrible crime, and Olivier’s relations to the victim and his daughter, and his character. Nevertheless the only proof he gave that her words were not falling upon totally deaf ears was a slight and well-nigh mocking smile; and in the same way he heard her protestations and admonitions, which were frequently interrupted by tears, that the judge was not the enemy of the accused, but must also duly give heed to anything that spoke in his favour. When at length Mademoiselle paused, quite exhausted, and dried the tears from her eyes. La Regnie began, “It does honour to the excellence of your heart. Mademoiselle, that, being moved by the tears of a young lovesick girl, you believe everything she tells you, and none the less so that you are incapable of conceiving the thought of such an atrocious deed; but not so is it with the judge, who is wont to rend asunder the mask of brazen hypocrisy. Of course I need not tell you that it is not part of my office to unfold to every one who asks me the various stages of a criminal trial. Mademoiselle, I do my duty and trouble myself little about the judgment of the world. All miscreants shall tremble before the Chambre Ardente, which knows no other punishment except the scaffold and the stake. But since I do not wish you, respected lady, to conceive of me as a monster of hard-heartedness and cruelty, suffer me in a few words to put clearly before you the guilt of this young reprobate, who, thank Heaven, has been overtaken by the avenging arm of justice. Your sagacious mind will then bid you look with scorn upon your own good kindness, which does you so much honour, but which would never under any circumstances be fitting in me.
“Well then! René Cardillac is found in the morning stabbed to the heart with a dagger. The only persons with him are his journeyman Olivier Brusson and his own daughter. In Olivier’s room, amongst other things, is found a dagger covered with blood, still fresh, which dagger fits exactly into the wound. Olivier says, ‘Cardillac was cut down at night before my eyes.’ ‘Somebody attempted to rob him?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘You say you went with him, how then were you not able to keep off the murderer, or hold him fast, or cry out for help?’ ‘My master walked fifteen, nay, fully twenty paces in front of me, and I followed him.’ ‘But why, in the name of wonder, at such a distance?’ ‘My master would have it so.’ ‘But tell us then what Master Cardillac was doing out in the streets at so late an hour?’ ‘That I cannot say.’ ‘But you have never before known him to leave the house after nine o’clock in the evening, have you?’ Here Olivier falters; he is confused; he sighs; he bursts into tears; he protests by all that is holy that Cardillac really went out on the night in question, and then met with his death. But now your particular attention, please, Mademoiselle. It has been proved to absolute certainty that Cardillac never left the house that night, and so, of course, Olivier’s assertion that he went out with him is an impudent lie. The house door is provided with a ponderous lock, which on locking and unlocking makes a loud grating echoing noise; moreover, the wings of the door squeak and creak horribly on their hinges, so that, as we have proved by repeated experiments, the noise is heard all the way up to the garrets. Now in the bottom story, and so of course close to the street door, lives old Master Claude Patru and his housekeeper, a person of nearly eighty years of age, but still lively and nimble. Now these two people heard Cardillac come downstairs punctually at nine o’clock that evening, according to his usual practice, and lock and bolt the door with considerable noise, and then go up again, where they further heard him read the evening prayers aloud, and then, to judge by the banging of doors, go to his own sleeping-chamber. Master Claude, like many old people, suffers from sleeplessness; and that night too he could not close an eye. And so, somewhere about half-past nine it seems, his old housekeeper went into the kitchen (to get into which she had to cross the passage) for a light, and then came and sat down at the table beside Master Claude with an old Chronicle, out of which she read; whilst the old man, following the train of his thoughts, first sat down in his easy-chair, and then stood up again, and paced softly and slowly up and down the room in order to bring on weariness and sleepiness. All remained quiet and still until after midnight. Then they heard quick steps above them and a heavy fall like some big weight being thrown on the floor, and then soon after a muffled groaning. A peculiar feeling of uneasiness and dreadful suspense took possession of them both. It was horror at the bloody deed which had just been committed, which passed out beside them. The bright morning came and revealed to the light what had been begun in the hours of darkness.”
“But,” interrupted De Scudéri, “but by all the saints, tell me what motive for this diabolical deed you can find in any of the circumstances which I just now repeated to you at such length?” “Hm!” rejoined La Regnie, “Cardillac was not poor — he had some valuable stones in his possession.” “But would not his daughter inherit everything?” continued De Scudéri. “You are forgetting that Olivier was to be Cardillac’s son-inlaw.” “But perhaps he had to share or only do the murderous deed for others,” said La Regnie. “Share? do a murderous deed for others?” asked De Scudéri, utterly astounded. “I must tell you, Mademoiselle,” continued the President, “that Olivier’s blood would long ago have been shed in the Place Grève, had not his crime been bound up with that deeply enshrouded mystery which has hitherto exercised such a threatening sway over all Paris. It is evident that Olivier belongs to that accursed band of miscreants who, laughing to scorn all the watchfulness, and efforts, and strict investigations of the courts, have been able to carry out their plans so safely and unpunished. Through him all shall — all must be cleared up. Cardillac’s wound is precisely similar to those borne by all the persons who have been found murdered and robbed in the streets and houses. But the most decisive fact is that since the time Olivier Brusson has been under arrest all these murders and robberies have ceased The streets are now as safe by night as they are by day. These things are proof enough that Olivier probably was at the head of this band of assassins. As yet he will not confess it; but there are means of making him speak against his will.” “And Madelon,” exclaimed De Scudéri, “and Madelon, the faithful, innocent dove!” “Oh!” said La Regnie, with a venomous smile, “Oh! but who will answer to me for it that she also is not an accomplice in the plot? What does she care about her father’s death? Her tears are only shed for this murderous rascal.” “What do you say?” screamed De Scudéri; “it cannot possibly be. Her father — this girl!” “Oh!” went on La Regnie, “Oh, but pray recollect De Brinvillier. You will be so good as to pardon me if I perhaps soon find myself compelled to take your favourite from your protection, and have her cast into the Conciergerie.”
This terrible suspicion made Mademoiselle shudder. It seemed to her as if no faithfulness, no virtue, could stand fast before this fearful man; he seemed to espy murder and blood-guiltiness in the deepest and most secret thoughts. She rose to go. “Be human!” was all that she could stammer out in her distress, and she had difficulty in breathing. Just on the point of going down the stairs, to the top of which the President had accompanied her with ceremonious courtesy, she was suddenly struck by a strange thought, at which she herself was surprised. “And could I be allowed to see this unhappy Olivier Brusson?” she asked, turning round quickly to the President. He, however, looked at her somewhat suspiciously, but his face was soon contracted into the forbidding smile so characteristic of him. “Of course, honoured lady,” said he, “relying upon your feelings and the little voice within you more than upon what has taken place before our very eyes, you will yourself prove Olivier’s guilt or innocence, I perceive. If you are not afraid to see the dark abodes of crime, and if you think there will be nothing too revolting in looking upon pictures of depravity in all its stages, then the doors of the Conciergerie shall be opened to you in two hours from now. You shall have this Olivier, whose fate excites your interest so much, presented to you.”
To tell the truth, De Scudéri could by no means convince herself of the young man’s guilt. Although everything spoke against him, and no judge in the world could have acted differently from what La Regnie did in face of such conclusive circumstantial evidence, yet all these base suspicions were completely outweighed by the picture of domestic happiness which Madelon had painted for her in such warm lifelike colours; and hence she would rather adopt the idea of some unaccountable mystery than believe in the truth of that at which her inmost heart revolted.
She was thinking that she would get Olivier to repeat once more all the events of that ill-omened night and worm her way as much as possible into any secret there might be which remained sealed to the judges, since for their purposes it did not seem worth while to give themselves any further trouble about the matter.
On arriving at the Conciergerie, De Scudéri was led into a large light apartment. She had not long to wait before she heard the rattle of chains. Olivier Brusson was brought in. But the moment he appeared in the doorway De Scudéri sank on the floor fainting. When she recovered, Olivier had disappeared. She demanded impetuously that she should be taken to her carriage; she would go — go at once, that very moment, from the apartments of wickedness and infamy. For oh! at the very first glance she had recognised in Olivier Brusson the young man who had thrown the note into the carriage on the Pont Neuf, and who had brought her the casket and the jewels. Now all doubts were at an end; La Regnie’s horrible suspicion was fully confirmed. Olivier Brusson belonged to the atrocious band of assassins; undoubtedly he murdered his master. And Madelon? Never before had Mademoiselle been so bitterly deceived by the deepest promptings of her heart; and now, shaken to the very depths of her soul by the discovery of a power of evil on earth in the existence of which she had not hitherto believed, she began to despair of all truth. She allowed the hideous suspicion to enter her mind that Madelon was involved in the complot, and might have had a hand in the infamous deed of blood. As is frequently the case with the human mind, that, once it has laid hold upon an idea, it diligently seeks for colours, until it finds them, with which to deck out the picture in tints ever more vivid and ever more glaring; so also De Scudéri, on reflecting again upon all the circumstances of the deed, as well as upon the minutest features in Madelon’s behaviour, found many things to strengthen her suspicion. And many points which hitherto she had regarded as a proof of innocence and purity now presented themselves as undeniable tokens of abominable wickedness and studied hypocrisy. Madelon’s heartrending expressions of trouble, and her floods of piteous tears, might very well have been forced from her, not so much from fear of seeing her lover perish on the scaffold, as of falling herself by the hand of the executioner. To get rid at once of the serpent she was nourishing in her bosom, this was the determination with which Mademoiselle got out of her carriage.
When she entered her room, Madelon threw herself at her feet. With her lovely eyes — none of God’s angels had truer — directed heavenwards, and with her hands folded upon her heaving bosom, she wept and wailed, craving help and consolation. Controlling herself by a painful effort, De Scudéri, whilst endeavouring to impart as much earnestness and calmness as she possibly could to the tone in which she spoke, said, “Go — go — comfort yourself with the thought that righteous punishment will overtake yon murderer for his villainous deeds. May the Holy Virgin forbid that you yourself come to labour under the heavy burden of blood-guiltiness.” “Oh! all hope is now lost!” cried Madelon, with a piercing shriek, as she reeled to the floor senseless. Leaving La Martinière to attend to the girl, Mademoiselle withdrew into another room.
De Scudéri’s heart was torn and bleeding; she felt herself at variance with all mankind, and no longer wished to live in a world so full of diabolical deceit! She reproached Destiny which in bitter mockery had so many years suffered her to go on strengthening her belief in virtue, and truth, only to destroy now in her old age the beautiful images which had been her guiding-stars through life.
She heard Martinière lead away Madelon, who was sighing softly and lamenting. “Alas! and she — she too — these cruel men have infatuated her. Poor, miserable me! Poor, unhappy Olivier!” The tones of her voice cut De Scudéri to the heart; again there stirred in the depths of her soul a dim presentiment that there was some mystery connected with the case, and also the belief in Olivier’s innocence returned. Her mind distracted by the most contradictory feelings, she cried, “What spirit of darkness is it which has entangled me in this terrible affair? I am certain it will be the death of me.” At this juncture Baptiste came in, pale and terrified, with the announcement that Desgrais was at the door. Ever since the trial of the infamous La Voisin the appearance of Desgrais in any house was the sure precursor of some criminal charge; hence came Baptiste’s terror, and therefore it was that Mademoiselle asked him with a gracious smile, “What’s the matter with you, Baptiste? The name Scudéri has been found on La Voisin’s list, has it not, eh?” “For God’s sake,” replied Baptiste, trembling in every limb, “how can you speak of such a thing? But Desgrais, that terrible man Desgrais, behaves so mysteriously, and is so urgent; he seems as if he couldn’t wait a moment before seeing you.” “Well, then, Baptiste,” said De Scudéri, “then bring him up at once — the man who is so terrible to you; in me, at least, he will excite no anxiety.”
“The President La Regnie has sent me to you, Mademoiselle,” said Desgrais on stepping into the room, “with a request which he would hardly dare hope you could grant, did he not know your virtue and your courage. But the last means of bringing to light a vile deed of blood lie in your hands; and you have already of your own accord taken an active part in the notorious trial which the Chambre Ardente, and in fact all of us, are watching with breathless interest. Olivier Brusson has been half a madman since he saw you. He was beginning to show signs of compliance and a readiness to make a confession, but he now swears again, by all the powers of Heaven, that he is perfectly innocent of the murder of Cardillac; and yet he says he is ready to die the death which he has deserved. You will please observe, Mademoiselle, that the last clause evidently has reference to other crimes which weigh upon his conscience. But vain are all our efforts to get him to utter a single word more; even the threat of torture has been of no avail. He begs and prays, and beseeches us to procure him an interview with you; for to you, to you only, will he confess all. Pray deign, Mademoiselle, to hear Brusson’s confession.” “What!” exclaimed De Scudéri indignantly, “am I to be made an instrument of by a criminal court, am I to abuse this unhappy man’s confidence to bring him to the scaffold? No, Desgrais. However vile a murderer Brusson may be, I would never, never deceive him in that villainous way. I don’t want to know anything about his secrets; in any case they would be locked up within my own bosom as if they were a holy confession made to a priest” “Perhaps,” rejoined Desgrais with a subtle smile, “perhaps, Mademoiselle, you would alter your mind after you had heard Brusson. Did you not yourself exhort the President to be human? And he is being so, in that he gives way to Brusson’s foolish request, and thus resorts to the last means before putting him to the rack, for which he was well ripe some time ago.” De Scudéri shuddered involuntarily. “And then, honoured lady,” continued Desgrais, “it will not be demanded of you that you again enter those dark gloomy rooms which filled you with such horror and aversion. Olivier shall be brought to you here in your own house as a free man, but at night, when all excitement can be avoided. Then, without being even listened to, though of course he would be watched, he may without constraint make a clean confession to you. That you personally will have nothing to fear from the wretch — for that I will answer to you with my life. He mentions your name with the intensest veneration. He reiterates again and again that it is nothing but his dark destiny, which prevented him seeing you before, that has brought his life into jeopardy in this way. Moreover, you will be at liberty to divulge what you think well of the things which Brusson confesses to you. And what more could we indeed compel you to do?”
De Scudéri bent her eyes upon the floor in reflection. She felt she must obey the Higher Power which was thus demanding of her that she should effect the disclosure of some terrible secret, and she felt, too, as though she could not draw back out of the tangled skein into which she had run without any conscious effort of will. Suddenly making up her mind, she replied with dignity, “God will give me firmness and self-command, Bring Brusson here; I will speak with him.”
Just as on the previous occasion when Brusson brought the casket, there came a knock at De Scudéri’s house door at midnight. Baptiste, forewarned of this nocturnal visit, at once opened the door. De Scudéri felt an icy shiver run through her as she gathered from the light footsteps and hollow murmuring voices that the guards who had brought Brusson were taking up their stations about the passages of the house.
At length the room door was softly opened. Desgrais came in, followed by Olivier Brusson, freed from his fetters, and dressed in his own neat clothing. The officer bowed respectfully and said, “Here is Brusson, honoured lady,” and then left the room. Brusson fell upon his knees before Mademoiselle, and raised his folded hands in entreaty, whilst copious tears ran down his cheeks.
De Scudéri turned pale and looked down upon him without being able to utter a word. Though his features were now gaunt and hollow from trouble and anguish and pain, yet an expression of the truest staunchest honesty shone upon his countenance. The longer Mademoiselle allowed her eyes to rest upon his face, the more forcibly was she reminded of some loved person, whom she could not in any way clearly call to mind. All her feelings of shivery uncomfortableness left her; she forgot that it was Cardillac’s murderer who was kneeling before her; she spoke in the calm pleasing tone of goodwill that was characteristic of her, “Well, Brusson, what have you to tell me?” He, still kneeling, heaved a sigh of unspeakable sadness, that came from the bottom of his heart, “Oh! honoured, highly esteemed lady, can you have lost all traces of recollection of me?” Mademoiselle scanned his features more narrowly, and replied that she had certainly discovered in his face a resemblance to some one she had once loved, and that it was entirely owing to this resemblance that she had overcome her detestation of the murderer, and was listening to him calmly.
Brusson was deeply hurt at these words; he rose hastily to his feet and took a step, backwards, fixing his eyes gloomily on the floor. “Then you have completely forgotten Anne Guiot?” he said moodily; “it is her son Olivier — the boy whom you often tossed on your lap — who now stands before you.” “Oh help me, good Heaven!” exclaimed Mademoiselle, covering her face with both hands and sinking back upon the cushions. And reason enough she had to be thus terribly affected. Anne Guiot, the daughter of an impoverished burgher, had lived in De Scudéri’s house from a little girl, and had been brought up by Mademoiselle with all the care and faithfulness which a mother expends upon her own child. Now when she was grown up there came a modest good-looking young man, Claude Brusson by name, and he wooed the girl. And since he was a thoroughly clever watchmaker, who would be sure to find a very good living in Paris, and since Anne had also grown to be truly fond of him, De Scudéri had no scruples about giving her consent to her adopted daughter’s marriage. The young people, having set up housekeeping, led a quiet life of domestic happiness; and the ties of affection were knit still closer by the birth of a marvellously pretty boy, the perfect image of his lovely mother.
De Scudéri made a complete idol of little Olivier, carrying him off from his mother for hours and days together to caress him and to fondle him. Hence the boy grew quite accustomed to her, and would just as willingly be with her as with his mother. Three years passed away, when the trade-envy of Brusson’s fellow-artificers made them concert together against him, so that his business decreased day by day, until at last he could hardly earn enough for a bare subsistence. Along with this he felt an ardent longing to see once more his beautiful native city of Geneva; accordingly the small family moved thither, in spite of De Scudéri’s opposition and her promises of every possible means of support Anne wrote two or three times to her foster-mother, and then nothing more was heard from her; so that Mademoiselle had to take refuge in the conclusion that the happy life they were leading in Brusson’s native town prevented their memories dwelling upon the days that were past and gone. It was now just twenty-three years since Brusson had left Paris along with his wife and child and had gone to Geneva.
“Oh! horrible!” exclaimed De Scudéri when she had again recovered herself to some extent. “Oh! horrible! are you Olivier? my Anne’s son? And now ——” “Indeed, honoured lady,” replied Olivier calmly and composedly, “indeed you never could, I suppose, have any the least idea that the boy whom you fondled with all a mother’s tenderness, into whose mouth you never tired of putting sweets and candies as you tossed him on your lap, whom you called by the most caressing names, would, when grown up to be a young man, one day stand before you accused of an atrocious crime. I am not free from reproach; the Chambre Ardente may justly bring a charge against me; but by my hopes of happiness after death, even though it be by the executioner’s hand, I am innocent of this bloody deed; the unhappy Cardillac did not perish through me, nor through any guilty connivance on my part.” So saying, Olivier began to shake and tremble. Mademoiselle silently pointed to a low chair which stood beside him, and he slowly sank down upon it.
“I have had plenty of time to prepare myself for my interview with you,” he began, “which I regard as the last favour to be granted me by Heaven in token of my reconciliation with it, and I have also had time enough to gain what calmness and composure are needful in order to relate to you the history of my fearful and unparalleled misfortunes. I entreat your pity, that you will listen calmly to me, however much you may be surprised — nay, even struck with horror, by the disclosure of a secret which I am sure you have never for a moment suspected. Oh! that my poor father had never left Paris! As far back as my recollections of Geneva go I remember how I felt the tears of my unhappy parents falling upon my cheeks; and how their complaints of misery, which I did not understand, provoked me also to tears. Later I experienced to the full and with keen consciousness in what a state of crushing want and of deep distress my parents lived. My father found all his hopes deceived. He died bowed to the earth with pain, and broken with trouble, immediately after he had succeeded in placing me as apprentice to a goldsmith. My mother talked much about you; she said she would pour out all her troubles to you; but then she fell a victim to that despondency which is born of misery. That, and also a feeling of false shame, which often preys upon a deeply wounded spirit, prevented her from taking any decisive step. Within a few months after my father’s death my mother followed him to the grave.” “Poor Anne! poor Anne!” exclaimed Mademoiselle, quite overcome by sorrow. “All praise and thanks to the Eternal Power of Heaven that she is gone to the better land; she will not see her darling son, branded with shame, fall by the hand of the executioner,” cried Olivier aloud, casting his eyes upwards with a wild unnatural look of anguish.
The police grew uneasy outside; footsteps passed to an fro. “Ho! ho!” said Olivier, smiling bitterly, “Desgrais is waking up his myrmidons, as though I could make my escape here. But to continue — I led a hard life with my master, albeit I soon got to be the best workman, and at last even surpassed my master himself. One day a stranger happened to come into our shop to buy some jewellery. And when he saw a beautiful necklace which I had made he clapped me on the shoulder in a friendly way and said, eyeing the ornament, ‘Ha! i’ faith, my young friend, that’s an excellent piece of work. To tell you the truth, I don’t know who there is who could beat you, unless it were René Cardillac, who, you know, is the first goldsmith in the world. You ought to go to him; he would gladly take you into his workshop; for nobody but you could help him in his artistic labours; and on the other hand he is the only man from whom you could learn anything.’ The stranger’s words sank into my heart and took deep root there. I hadn’t another moment’s ease in Geneva; I felt a violent impulse to be gone. At last I contrived to get free from my master. I came to Paris. René Cardillac received me coldly and churlishly. I persevered in my purpose; he must give me some work, however insignificant it might be. I got a small ring to finish. On my taking the work to him, he fixed his keen glittering eyes upon me as if he would read the very depths of my soul. Then he said, ‘You are a good clever journeyman; you may come to me and help me in my shop. I will pay you well; you shall be satisfied with me.’ Cardillac kept his word. I had been several weeks with him before I saw Madelon; she was at that time, if I mistake not, in the country, staying, with a female relative of Cardillac’s; but at length she came. O Heaven! O God! what did I feel when I saw the sweet angel? Has any man ever loved as I do? And now — O Madelon!”
Olivier was so distressed he could not go on. Holding both hands before his face, he sobbed violently, But at length, fighting down with an effort the sharp pain that shook him, he went on with his story.
“Madelon looked upon me with friendly eyes. Her visits into the workshop grew more and more frequent. I was enraptured to perceive that she loved me. Notwithstanding the strict watch her father kept upon us many a stolen pressure of the hand served as a token of the mutual understanding arrived at between us; Cardillac did not appear to notice anything. I intended first to win his favour, and, if I could gain my mastership, then to woo for Madelon. One day, as I was about to begin work, Cardillac came to me, his face louring darkly with anger and scornful contempt ‘I don’t want your services any longer,’ he began, ‘so out you go from my house this very hour; and never show yourself in my sight again. Why I can’t do with you here any longer, I have no need to tell you. For you, you poor devil, the sweet fruit at which you are stretching out your hand hangs too high.’ I attempted to speak, but he laid hold upon me with a powerful grasp and threw me out of doors, so that I fell to the floor and severely wounded my head and arm. I left the house hotly indignant and furious with the stinging pain; at last I found a good-natured acquaintance in the remotest corner of the Faubourg St. Martin, who received me into his garret. But I had neither ease nor rest. Every night I used to lurk about Cardillac’s house deluding myself with the fancy that Madelon would hear my sighing and lamenting, and that she would perhaps find a way to speak to me out of the window unheard. All sorts of confused plans were revolving in my brain, which I hoped to persuade her to carry out.
“Now joining Cardillac’s house in the Rue Nicaise there is a high wall, with niches and old stone figures in them, now half crumbled away. One night I was standing close beside one of these stone images and looking up at those windows of the house which looked out upon the court enclosed by the wall. All at once I observed a light in Cardillac’s workshop. It was midnight; Cardillac never used to be awake at that hour; he was always in the habit of going to rest on the stroke of nine. My heart beat in uncertain trepidation; I began to think something might have happened which would perhaps pave the way for me to go back into the house once more. But soon the light vanished again. I squeezed myself into the niche close to the stone figure; but I started back in dismay on feeling a pressure against me, as if the image had become instinct with life. By the dusky glimmer of the night I perceived that the stone was slowly revolving, and a dark form slipped out from behind it and went away down the street with light, soft footsteps. I rushed towards the stone figure; it stood as before, close to the wall. Almost without thinking, rather as if impelled by some inward prompter, I stealthily followed the figure. Just beside an image of the Virgin he turned round; the light of the street lamp standing exactly in front of the image fell full upon his face. It was Cardillac.
“An unaccountable feeling of apprehension — an unearthly dread fell upon me. Like one subject to the power of magic, I had to go on — on — in the track of the spectre-like somnambulist. For that was what I took my master to be, notwithstanding that it was not the time of full moon, when this visitation is wont to attack the sleeper. Finally Cardillac disappeared into the deep shade on the side of the street. By a sort of low involuntary cough, which, however, I knew well, I gathered that he was standing in the entry to a house. ‘What is the meaning of that? What is he going to do?’ I asked myself, utterly astounded, pressing close against a house-wall. It was not long before a man came along with fluttering plumes and jingling spur, singing and gaily humming an air. Like a tiger leaping upon his prey, Cardillac burst out of his lurking-place and threw himself upon the man, who that very same instant fell to the ground, gasping in the agonies of death. I rushed up with a cry of horror; Cardillac was stooping over the man, who lay on the floor. ‘Master Cardillac, what are you doing?’ I shouted. ‘Cursed fool!’ growled Cardillac, running past me with lightning-like speed and disappearing from sight.
“Quite upset and hardly able to take a step, I approached the man who had been stabbed. I knelt down beside him. ‘Perhaps,’ thought I, ‘he still may be saved;’ but there was not the least sign of life. In my fearful agitation I had hardly noticed that the Maréchausée had surrounded me. ‘What? already another assassinated by these demons! Hi! hi! Young man, what are you about here? — Are you one of the band? — Away with him!’ Thus they cried one after another, and they laid hold of me. I was scarcely able to stammer out that I should never be capable of such an abominable deed, and that they might therefore let me go my way in peace. Then one of them turned his lamp upon my face and said laughing, ‘Why, it’s Olivier Brusson, the journeyman goldsmith, who works for our worthy honest Master René Cardillac. Ay, I should think so! — he murder people in the street — he looks like it indeed! It’s just like murderous assassins to stoop lamenting over their victim’s corpse till somebody comes and takes them into custody. Well, how was it, youngster? Speak out boldly?’ ‘A man sprang out immediately in front of me,’ I said, ‘and threw himself upon this man and stabbed him, and then ran away as quick as lightning when I shouted out. I only wanted to see if the stabbed man might still be saved.’ ‘No, my son,’ cried one of those who had taken up the corpse; ‘he’s dead enough; the dagger has gone right through the heart as usual.’ ‘The Devil!’ said another; ‘we have come too late again, as we did yesterday.’ Thereupon they went their way, taking the corpse with them.
“What my feelings were I cannot attempt to describe. I felt myself to make sure whether I were not being mocked by some hideous dream; I fancied I must soon wake up and wonder at the preposterous delusion. Cardillac, the father of my Madelon, an atrocious murderer! My strength failed me; I sank down upon the stone steps leading up to a house. The morning light began to glimmer and was stronger and stronger; an officer’s hat decorated with feathers lay before me on the pavement. I saw again vividly Cardillac’s bloody deed, which had been perpetrated on the spot where I sat. I ran off horrified.
“I was sitting in my garret, my thoughts in a perfect whirl, nay, I was almost bereft of my senses, when the door opened, and René Cardillac came in. ‘For God’s sake, what do you want?’ I exclaimed on seeing him. Without heeding my words, he approached close to me, smiling with calmness and an air of affability which only increased my inward abhorrence. Pulling up a rickety old stool and taking his seat upon it close beside me, for I was unable to rise from the heap of straw upon which I had thrown myself, he began, ‘Well, Olivier, how are you getting on, my poor fellow? I did indeed do an abominably rash thing when I turned you out of the house; I miss you at every step and turn. I have got a piece of work on hand just now which I cannot finish without your help. How would it be if you came back to work in my shop? Have you nothing to say? Yes, I know I have insulted you. I will not attempt to conceal it from you that I was angry on account of your love making to my Madelon. But since then I have ripely reflected upon the matter, and decided that, considering your skill and industry and faithful honesty, I could not wish for any better son-inlaw than you. So come along with me, and see if you can win Madelon to be your bride.’
“Cardillac’s words cut me to the very heart; I trembled with dread at his wickedness; I could not utter a word. ‘Do you hesitate?’ he continued in a sharp tone, piercing me through and through with his glittering eyes; ‘do you hesitate? Perhaps you can’t come along with me just today — perhaps you have some other business on hand! Perhaps you mean forsooth to pay a visit to Desgrais or get yourself admitted to an interview with D’Argenson or La Regnie. But you’d better take care, boy, that the claws which you entice out of their sheaths to other people’s destruction don’t seize upon you yourself and tear you to pieces!’ Then my swelling indignation suddenly found vent ‘Let those who are conscious of having committed atrocious crimes,’ I cried — ‘let them start at the names you just named. As for me, I have no reason to do so — I have nothing to do with them.’ ‘Properly speaking,’ went on Cardillac, ‘properly speaking, Olivier, it is an honour to you to work with me — with me, the most renowned master of the age, and highly esteemed everywhere for his faithfulness and honesty, so that all wicked calumnies would recoil upon the head of the backbiter. And as far as concerns Madelon, I must now confess that it is she alone to whom you owe this compliance on my part. She loves you with an intensity which I should not have credited the delicate child with. Directly you had gone she threw herself at my feet, clasped my knees, and confessed amid endless tears that she could not live without you. I thought she only fancied so, as so often happens with young and love-sick girls; they think they shall die at once the first time a milky-faced boy looks kindly upon them. But my Madelon did really become ill and begin to pine away; and when I tried to talk her out of her foolish silly notions, she only uttered your name scores of times. What on earth could I do if I didn’t want her to die away in despair? Last evening I told her I would give my consent to her dearest wishes, and would come and fetch you today. And during the night she has blossomed up like a rose, and is now waiting for you with all the longing impatience of love.’
“May God in heaven forgive me! I don’t know myself how it came about, but I suddenly found myself in Cardillac’s house; and Madelon cried aloud with joy, ‘Olivier! my Olivier! my darling! my husband!’ as she rushed towards me and threw both her arms round my neck, pressing me close to her bosom, till in a perfect delirium of passionate delight I swore by the Virgin and all the saints that I would never, never leave her.”
Olivier was so deeply agitated by the recollection of this fateful moment, that he was obliged to pause. De Scudéri, struck with horror at this foul iniquity in a man whom she had always looked upon as a model of virtue and honest integrity, cried, “Oh! it is horrible! So René Cardillac belongs to the murderous band which has so long made our good city a mere bandits’ haunt?” “What do you say, Mademoiselle, to the band?” said Olivier. “There has never been such a band. It was Cardillac alone who, active in wickedness, sought for his victims and found them throughout the entire city. And it was because he acted alone that he was enabled to carry on his operations with so much security, and from the same cause arose the insuperable difficulty of getting a clue to the murderer. But let me go on with my story; the sequel will explain to you the secrets of the most atrocious but at the same time of the most unfortunate of men.
“The situation in which I now found myself fixed at my master’s may be easily imagined. The step was taken; I could not go back. At times I felt as though I were Cardillac’s accomplice in crime; the only thing that made me forget the inner anguish that tortured me was Madelon’s love, and it was only in her presence that I succeeded in totally suppressing all external signs of the nameless trouble and anxiety I had in my heart. When I was working with the old man in the shop, I could never look him in the face; and I was hardly able to speak a word, owing to the awful dread with which I trembled whenever near the villain, who fulfilled all the duties of a faithful and tender father, and of a good citizen, whilst the night veiled his monstrous iniquity. Madelon, dutiful, pure, confiding as an angel, clung to him with idolatrous affection. The thought often struck like a dagger to my heart that, if justice should one day overtake the reprobate and unmask him, she, deceived by the diabolical arts of the foul Fiend, would assuredly die in the wildest agonies of despair. This alone would keep my lips locked, even though it brought upon me a criminal’s death. Notwithstanding that I picked up a good deal of information from the talk of the Maréchaussée yet the motive for Cardillac’s atrocities, as well as his manner of accomplishing them, still remained riddles to me; but I had not long to wait for the solution.
“One day Cardillac was very grave and preoccupied over his work, instead of being in the merriest of humours, jesting and laughing as he usually did, and so provoking my abhorrence of him. All of a sudden he threw aside the ornament he was working at, so that the pearls and other stones rolled across the floor, and starting to his feet he exclaimed, ‘Olivier, things can’t go on in this way between us; the footing we are now on is getting unbearable. Chance has played into your hands the knowledge of a secret which has baffled the most inventive cunning of Desgrais and all his myrmidons. You have seen me at my midnight work, to which I am goaded by my evil destiny; no resistance is ever of any avail. And your evil destiny it was which led you to follow me, which wrapped you in an impenetrable veil and gave you the lightness of foot which, enabled you to walk as noiselessly as the smallest insect, so that I, who in the blackest night see as plainly as a tiger and hear the slightest noise, the humming of midges, far away along the streets, did not perceive you near me. Your evil star has brought you to me, my associate. As you are now circumstanced there can be no thought of treachery on your part, and so you may now know all.’ ‘Never, never will I be your associate, you hypocritical reprobate,’ I endeavoured to cry out, but I felt a choking sensation in my throat, caused by the dread which came upon me as Cardillac spoke. Instead of speaking words, I only gasped out certain unintelligible sounds. Cardillac again sat down on his bench, drying the perspiration from his brow. He appeared to be fearfully agitated by his recollections of the past and to have difficulty in preserving his composure. But at length he began.
“‘Learned men say a good deal about the extraordinary impressions of which women are capable when enceinte, and of the singular influence which such a vivid involuntary external impression has upon the unborn child. I was told a surprising story about my mother. About eight months before I was born, my mother accompanied certain other women to see a splendid court spectacle in the Trianon.19 There her eyes fell upon a cavalier wearing a Spanish costume, who wore a flashing jewelled chain round his neck, and she could not keep her eyes off it. Her whole being was concentrated into desire to possess the glittering stones, which she regarded as something of supernatural origin. Several years previously, before my mother was married, the same cavalier had paid his insidious addresses to her, but had been repulsed with indignant scorn. My mother knew him again; but now by the gleam of the brilliant diamonds he appeared to her to be a being of a higher race — the paragon of beauty. He noticed my mother’s looks of ardent desire. He believed he should now be more successful than formerly. He found means to approach her, and, yet more, to draw her away from her acquaintances to a retired place. Then he clasped her passionately in his arms, whilst she laid hold of the handsome chain; but in that moment the cavalier reeled backwards, dragging my mother to the ground along with him. Whatever was the cause — whether he had a sudden stroke, or whether it was due to something else — enough, the man was dead. All my mother’s efforts to release herself from the stiffened arms of the corpse proved futile. His glazed eyes, their faculty of vision now extinguished, were fixed upon her; and she lay on the ground with the dead man. At length her piercing screams for help reached the ears of some people passing at a distance; they hurried up and freed her from the arms of her ghastly lover. The horror prostrated her in a serious illness. Her life, and mine too, was despaired of; but she recovered, and her accouchement was more favourable than could have been expected. But the terror of that fearful moment had left its stamp upon me. The evil star of my destiny had got in the ascendant and shot down its sparks upon me, enkindling in me a most singular but at the same time a most pernicious passion. Even in the earliest days of my childhood there was nothing I thought so much of as I did of flashing diamonds and ornaments of gold. It was regarded as an ordinary childish inclination. But the contrary was soon made manifest, for when a boy I stole all the gold and jewellery I could anywhere lay my hands on. Like the most experienced goldsmith I could distinguish by instinct false jewellery from real. The latter alone proved an attraction to me; objects made of imitated gold as well as gold coins I heeded not in the least. My inborn propensity had, however, to give way to the excessively cruel thrashings which I received at my father’s hand.
“‘I adopted the trade of a goldsmith, merely that I might be able to handle gold and precious stones. I worked with passionate enthusiasm and soon became the first master in the craft. But now began a period in which my innate propensity, so long repressed, burst forth with vehemence and grew most rapidly, imbibing nourishment from everything about it. So soon as I had completed a piece of jewellery, and had delivered it up to the customer, I fell into a state of unrest, of desperate disquiet, which robbed me of sleep and health and courage for my daily life. Day and night the person for whom I had done the work stood before my eyes like a spectre, adorned with my jewellery, whilst a voice whispered in my ears, “Yes, it’s yours; yes it’s yours. Go and take it. What does a dead man want diamonds for?” Then I began to practise thievish arts. As I had access to the houses of the great, I speedily turned every opportunity to good account: no lock could baffle my skill; and I soon had the object which I had made in my hands again. But after a time even that did not banish my unrest. That unearthly voice still continued to make itself heard in my ears, mocking me to scorn, and crying, “Ho! ho! a dead man is wearing your jewellery.” By some inexplicable means, which I do not understand, I began to conceive an unspeakable hatred of those for whom I made my ornaments. Ay, deep down in my heart there began to stir a murderous feeling against them, at which I myself trembled with apprehension.
“‘About this time I bought this house. I had just struck a bargain with the owner; we were sitting in this room drinking a glass of wine together and enjoying ourselves over the settlement of our business. Night had come; I rose to go; then the vendor of the house said, “See here, Master René; before you go, I must make you acquainted with the secret of the place.” Therewith he unlocked that press let into the wall there, pushed away the panels at the back, and stepped into a little room, where, stooping down, he lifted up a trap-door. We descended a flight of steep, narrow stairs, and came to a narrow postern, which he unlocked, and let us out into the court-yard. Then the old gentleman, the previous owner of the house, stepped up to the wall and pressed an iron knob, which projected only very triflingly from it; immediately a portion of the wall swung round, so that a man could easily slip through the opening, and in that way gain the street. I will show you the neat contrivance some day, Olivier; very likely it was constructed by the cunning monks of the monastery which formerly stood on this site, in order that they might steal in and out secretly. It is a piece of wood, plastered with mortar and white-washed on the outside only, and within it, on the side next the street, is fixed a statue, also of wood, but coloured to look exactly like stone, and the whole piece, together with the statue, moves upon concealed hinges. Dark thoughts swept into my mind when I saw this contrivance; it appeared to have been built with a predestined view to such deeds as yet remained unknown to myself.
“‘I had just completed a valuable ornament for a courtier, and knew that he intended it for an opera-dancer. The ominous torture assailed me again; the spectre dogged my footsteps; the whispering fiend was at my ear. I took possession of my new house. I tossed sleeplessly on my couch, bathed in perspiration, caused by the hideous torments I was enduring. In imagination I saw the man gliding along to the dancer’s abode with my ornament. I leapt up full of fury; threw on my mantle, went down by the secret stairs, through the wall, and into the Rue Nicaise. He is coming along; I throw myself upon him; he screams out; but I have seized him fast from behind, and driven my dagger right into his heart; the ornament is mine. This done I experienced a calmness, a satisfaction in my soul, which I had never yet experienced. The spectre had vanished; the voice of the fiend was still. Now I knew what my evil Destiny wanted; I had either to yield to it or to perish. And now too you understand the secret of all my conduct, Olivier. But do not believe, because I must do that for which there is no help, that therefore I have entirely lost all sense of pity, of compassion, which is said to be one of the essential properties of human nature. You know how hard it is for me to part with a finished piece of work, and that there are many for whom I refuse to work at all, because I do not wish their death; and it has also happened that when I felt my spectre would have to be exorcised on the following day by blood, I have satisfied it with a stout blow of the fist the same day, which stretched on the ground the owner of my jewel, and delivered the jewel itself into my hand.’
“Having told me all this Cardillac took me into his secret vault and granted me a sight of his jewel-cabinet; and the king himself has not one finer. A short label was attached to each article, stating accurately for whom it was made, when it was recovered, and whether by theft, or by robbery from the person accompanied with violence, or by murder. Then Cardillac said in a hollow and solemn voice, ‘On your wedding-day, Olivier, you will have to lay your hand on the image of the crucified Christ and swear a solemn oath that after I am dead you will reduce all these riches to dust, through means which I shall then, before I die, disclose to you. I will not have any human creature, and certainly neither Madelon nor you, come into possession of this blood-bought treasure-store.’ Entangled in this labyrinth of crime, and with my heart lacerated by love and abhorrence, by rapture and horror, I might be compared to the condemned mortal whom a lovely angel is beckoning upwards with a gentle smile, whilst on the other hand Satan is holding him fast in his burning talons, till the good angel’s smiles of love, in which are reflected all the bliss of the highest heaven, become converted into the most poignant of his miseries. I thought of flight — ay, even of suicide — but Madelon! Blame me, reproach me, honoured lady, for my too great weakness in not fighting down by an effort of will a passion that was fettering me to crime; but am I not about to atone for my fault by a death of shame?
“One day Cardillac came home in uncommonly good spirits. He caressed Madelon, greeted me with the most friendly good-will, and at dinner drank a bottle of better wine, of a brand that he only produced on high holidays and festivals, and he also sang and gave vent to his feelings in exuberant manifestations of joy. When Madelon had left us I rose to return to the workshop. ‘Sit still, lad,’ said Cardillac; ‘we’ll not work any more today. Let us drink another glass together to the health of the most estimable and most excellent lady in Paris.’ After I had joined glasses with him and had drained mine to the bottom, he went on, ‘Tell me, Olivier, how do you like these verses,’
‘Un amant qui craint les voleuis
N’est point digne d’amour.’
“Then he went on to relate the episode between you and the king in De Maintenon’s salons, adding that he had always honoured you as he never had any other human creature, and that you were gifted with such lofty virtue as to make his ill-omened star of Destiny grow pale, and that if you were to wear the handsomest ornament he ever made it would never provoke in him either an evil spectre or murderous thoughts. ‘Listen now, Olivier,’ he said, ‘what I have made up my mind to do. A long time ago I received an order for a necklace and a pair of bracelets for Henrietta of England,20 and the stones were given me for the purpose. The work turned out better than the best I had ever previously done; but my heart was torn at the thought of parting from the ornaments, for they had become my pet jewels. You are aware of the Princess’s unhappy death by sinister means. The ornaments I retained, and will now send them to Mademoiselle de Scudéri in the name of the persecuted band of robbers as a token of my respect and gratitude. Not only will Mademoiselle receive an eloquent token of her triumph, but I shall also laugh Desgrais and his associates to scorn, as they deserve to be laughed at. You shall take her the ornaments.’ As Cardillac mentioned your name, Mademoiselle, I seemed to see a dark veil thrown aside, revealing the fair, bright picture of my early happy childhood days in gay and cheerful colours. A wondrous source of comfort entered my soul, a ray of hope, before which all my dark spirits faded away. Possibly Cardillac noted the effect which his words had upon me and interpreted it in his own way, ‘You appear to find pleasure in my plan,’ he said. ‘And I may as well state to you that I have been commanded to do this by an inward monitor deep down in my heart, very different from that which demands its holocaust of blood like some ravenous beast of prey. I often experience very remarkable feelings; I am powerfully affected by an inward apprehension, by fear of something terrible, the horrors of which breathe upon me in the air from a far-distant world of the Supernatural. I then feel even as if the crimes I commit as the blind instrument of my ill-starred Destiny may be charged upon my immortal soul, which has no share in them. During one such mood I vowed to make a diamond crown for the Holy Virgin in St. Eustace’s Church. But so often as I thought seriously about setting to work upon it, I was overwhelmed by this unaccountable apprehension, so that I gave up the project altogether. Now I feel as if I must humbly offer an acknowledgment at the altar of virtue and piety by sending to De Scudéri the handsomest ornaments I have ever worked.’
“Cardillac, who was intimately acquainted with your habits and ways of life. Mademoiselle, gave me instructions respecting the manner and the hour — the how and the when — in which I was to deliver the ornaments, which he locked in an elegant case, into your hands. I was completely thrilled with delight, for Heaven itself now pointed out to me through the miscreant Cardillac, a way by which I might rescue myself from the hellish thraldom in which I, a sinner and outcast, was slowly perishing; these at least were my thoughts. In express opposition to Cardillac’s will I resolved to force myself in to an interview with you. I intended to reveal myself as Anne Brusson’s son, as your own adoptive child, and to throw myself at your feet and confess all — all. I knew that you would have been so touched by the overwhelming misery which would have threatened poor innocent Madelon by any disclosure that you would have respected the secret; whilst your keen, sagacious mind would, I felt assured, have devised some means by which Cardillac’s infamous wickedness might have been prevented without any exposure. Pray do not ask me what shape these means would have taken; I do not know. But that you would save Madelon and me, of that I was most firmly convinced, as firmly as I believe in the comfort and help of the Holy Virgin. You know how my intention was frustrated that night, Mademoiselle. I still cherished the hope of being more successful another time. Soon after this Cardillac seemed suddenly to lose all his good-humour. He went about with a cloudy brow, fixed his eyes on vacancy in front of him, murmured unintelligible words, and gesticulated with his hands, as if warding off something hostile from him; his mind appeared to be tormented by evil thoughts. Thus he behaved during the course of one whole morning. Finally he sat down to his work-table; but he soon leapt up again peevishly and looked out of the window, saying moodily and earnestly, ‘I wish after all that Henrietta of England had worn my ornaments.’ These words struck terror to my heart. Now I knew that his warped mind was again enslaved by the abominable spectre of murder, and that the voice of the fiend was again ringing audibly in his ears. I saw your life was threatened by the villainous demon of murder. If Cardillac only had his ornaments in his hands again, you were saved.
“Every moment the danger increased. Then I met you on the Pont Neuf, and forced my way to your carriage, and threw you that note, beseeching you to restore the ornaments which you had received to Cardillac’s hands at once. You did not come. My distress deepened to despair when on the following day Cardillac talked about nothing else but the magnificent ornaments which he had seen before his eyes during the night. I could only interpret that as having reference to your jewellery, and I was certain that he was brooding over some fresh murderous onslaught which he had assuredly determined to put into execution during the coming night. I must save you, even if it cost Cardillac’s own life. So soon as he had locked himself in his own room after evening prayers, according to his wont, I climbed out of a window into the court-yard, slipped through the opening in the wall, and took up my station at no great distance, hidden in the deep shade. I had not long to wait before Cardillac appeared and stole softly up the street, me following him. He bent his steps towards the Rue St. Honoré; my heart trembled with apprehension. All of a sudden I lost sight of him. I made up my mind to take post at your house-door. Then there came an officer past me, without perceiving me, singing and gaily humming a tune to himself, as on the occasion when chance first made me a witness of Cardillac’s bloody deeds. But that selfsame moment a dark figure leapt forward and fell upon the officer. It was Cardillac. This murder I would at any rate prevent. With a loud shout I reached the spot in two or three bounds, when, not the officer, but Cardillac, fell on the floor groaning. The officer let his dagger fall, and drawing his sword put himself in a posture for fighting, imagining that I was the murderer’s accomplice; but when he saw that I was only concerned about the slain man, and did not trouble myself about him, he hurried away. Cardillac was still alive. After picking up and taking charge of the dagger which the officer had let fall, I loaded my master upon my shoulders and painfully hugged him home, carrying him up to the workshop by way of the concealed stairs. The rest you know.
“You see, honoured lady, that my only crime consists in the fact that I did not betray Madelon’s father to the officers of the law, and so put an end to his enormities. My hands are clean of any deed of blood. No torture shall extort from me a confession of Cardillac’s crimes. I will not, in defiance of the Eternal Power, which veiled the father’s hideous bloodguiltiness from the eyes of the virtuous daughter, be instrumental in unfolding all the misery of the past, which would now have a far more disastrous effect upon her, nor do I wish to aid worldly vengeance in rooting up the dead man from the earth which covers him, nor that the executioner should now brand the mouldering bones with dishonour. No; the beloved of my soul will weep for me as one who has fallen innocent, and time will soften her sorrow; but how irretrievable a shock would it be if she learnt of the fearful and diabolical deeds of her dearly-loved father.”
Olivier paused; but now a torrent of tears suddenly burst from his eyes, and he threw himself at De Scudéri’s feet imploringly. “Oh! now you are convinced of my innocence — oh! surely you must be! have pity upon me; tell me how my Madelon bears it.” Mademoiselle summoned La Martinière, and in a few moments more Madelon’s arms were round Olivier’s neck. “Now all is well again since you are here. I knew it, I knew this most noble-minded lady would save you,” cried Madelon again and again; and Olivier forgot his situation and all that was impending over him, he was free and happy. It was most touching to hear the two mutually pour out all their troubles, and relate all that they had suffered for one another’s sake; then they embraced one another anew, and wept with joy to see each other again.
If De Scudéri had not been already convinced of Olivier’s innocence she would assuredly have been satisfied of it now as she sat watching the two, who forgot the world and their misery and their excessive sufferings in the happiness of their deep and genuine mutual affection. “No,” she said to herself, “it is only a pure heart which is capable of such happy oblivion.”
The bright beams of morning broke in through the window. Desgrais knocked softly at the room door, and reminded those within that it was time to take Olivier Brusson away, since this could not be done later without exciting a commotion. The lovers were obliged to separate.
The dim shapeless feelings which had taken possession of De Scudéri’s mind on Olivier’s first entry into the room, had now acquired form and content — and in a fearful way. She saw the son of her dear Anne innocently entangled in such a way that there hardly seemed any conceivable means of saving him from a shameful death. She honoured the young man’s heroic purpose in choosing to die under an unjust burden of guilt rather than divulge a secret that would certainly kill his Madelon. In the whole region of possibility she could not find any means whatever to snatch the poor fellow out of the hands of the cruel tribunal. And yet she had a most clear conception that she ought not to hesitate at any sacrifice to avert this monstrous perversion of justice which was on the point of being committed. She racked her brain with a hundred different schemes and plans, some of which bordered upon the extravagant, but all these she rejected almost as soon as they suggested themselves. Meanwhile the rays of hope grew fainter and fainter, till at last she was on the verge of despair. But Madelon’s unquestioning child-like confidence, the rapturous enthusiasm with which she spoke of her lover, who now, absolved of all guilt, would soon clasp her in his arms as his bride, infused De Scudéri with new hope and courage, exactly in proportion as she was the more touched by the girl’s words.
At length, for the sake of doing something. De Scudéri wrote a long letter to La Regnie, in which she informed him that Olivier Brusson had proved to her in the most convincing manner his perfect innocence of Cardillac’s death, and that it was only his heroic resolve to carry with him into the grave a secret, the revelation of which would entail disaster upon virtue and innocence, that prevented him making a revelation to the court which would undoubtedly free him, not only from the fearful suspicion of having murdered Cardillac, but also of having belonged to a band of vile assassins. De Scudéri did all that burning zeal, that ripe and spirited eloquence could effect, to soften La Regnie’s hard heart. In the course of a few hours La Regnie replied that he was heartily glad to learn that Olivier Brusson had justified himself so completely in the eyes of his noble and honoured protectress. As for Olivier’s heroic resolve to carry with him into the grave a secret that had an important bearing upon the crime under investigation, he was sorry to say that the Chambre Ardente could not respect such heroic courage, but would rather be compelled to adopt the strongest means to break it. At the end of three days he hoped to be in possession of this extraordinary secret, which it might be presumed would bring wonders to light.
De Scudéri knew only too well what those means were by which the savage La Regnie intended to break Brusson’s heroic constancy. She was now sure that the unfortunate was threatened with the rack. In her desperate anxiety it at length occurred to her that the advice of a doctor of the law would be useful, if only to effectuate a postponement of the torture. The most renowned advocate in Paris at that time was Pierre Amaud d’Andilly; and his sound knowledge and liberal mind were only to be compared to his virtue and his sterling honesty. To him, therefore, De Scudéri had recourse, and she told him all, so far as she could, without violating Brusson’s secret She expected that D’Andilly would take up the cause of the innocent man with zeal, but she found her hopes most bitterly deceived. The lawyer listened calmly to all she had to say, and then replied in Boileau’s words, smiling as he did so, “Le vrai peut quelque fois n’être pas vraisemblable ” (Sometimes truth wears an improbable garb). He showed De Scudéri that there were most noteworthy grounds for suspicion against Brusson, that La Regnie’s proceedings could neither be called cruel nor yet hurried, rather they were perfectly within the law — nay, that he could not act otherwise without detriment to his duties as judge. He himself did not see his way to saving Brusson from torture, even by the cleverest defence. Nobody but Brusson himself could avert it, either by a candid confession or at least by a most detailed account of all the circumstances attending Cardillac’s murder, and this might then perhaps furnish grounds for instituting fresh inquiries. “Then I will throw myself at the king’s feet and pray for mercy,” said De Scudéri, distracted, her voice half choked by tears. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t do it, Mademoiselle, don’t do it. I would advise you to reserve this last resource, for if it once fail it is lost to you for ever. The king will never pardon a criminal of this class: he would draw down upon himself the bitterest reproaches of the people, who would believe their lives were always in danger. Possibly Brusson, either by disclosing his secret or by some other means, may find a way to allay the suspicions which are working against him. Then will be the time to appeal to the king for mercy, for he will not inquire what has been proved before the court, but be guided by his own inner conviction.” De Scudéri had no help for it but to admit that D’Andilly with his great experience was in the right.
Late one evening she was sitting in her own room in very great trouble, appealing to the Virgin and the Holy Saints, and thinking whatever should she do to save the unhappy Brusson, when La Martinière came in to announce that Count de Miossens, colonel of the King’s Guards, was urgently desiring to speak to Mademoiselle.
“Pardon me, Mademoiselle,” said Miossens, bowing with military grace, “pardon me for intruding upon you so late, at such an inconvenient hour. We soldiers cannot do as we like, and then a couple of words will suffice to excuse me. It is on Olivier Brusson’s account that I have come.” De Scudéri’s attention was at once on the stretch as to what was to follow, and she said, “Olivier Brusson? — that most unhappy of mortals? What have you to do with him?” “Yes, I did indeed think,” continued Miossens smiling, “that your protégé‘s name would be sufficient to procure me a favourable hearing. All the public are convinced of Brusson’s guilt. But you, I know, cling to another opinion, which is based, to be sure, upon the protestations of the accused, as it is said; with me, however, it is otherwise. Nobody can be more firmly convinced that Brusson is innocent of Cardillac’s death than I am.” “Oh! go on and tell me; go on, pray!” exclaimed De Scudéri, whilst her eyes sparkled with delight. Miossens continued, speaking with emphasis, “It was I— I who stabbed the old goldsmith not far from your house here in the Rue St. Honors.” “By the Saints! — you — you?” exclaimed Mademoiselle. “And I swear to you, Mademoiselle,” went on Miossens, “that I am proud of the deed. For let me tell you that Cardillac was the most abandoned and hypocritical of villains, that it was he who committed those dreadful murders and robberies by night, and so long escaped all traps laid for him. Somehow, I can’t say how, a strong feeling of suspicion was aroused in my mind against the old reprobate when he brought me an ornament I had ordered and was so visibly disturbed on giving it to me; and then he inquired particularly for whom I wanted the ornament, and also questioned my valet in the most artful way as to when I was in the habit of visiting a certain lady. I had long before noticed that all the unfortunates who fell victims to this abominable epidemic of murder and robbery bore one and the same wound. I felt sure that the assassin had by practice grown perfect in inflicting it, and that it must prove instantaneously fatal, and upon this he relied implicitly. If it failed, then it would come to a fight on equal terms. This led me to adopt a measure of precaution which is so simple that I cannot comprehend why it did not occur to others, who might then have safeguarded themselves against any murderous assault that threatened them. I wore a light shirt of mail under my tunic. Cardillac attacked me from behind. He laid hold upon me with the strength of a giant, but the surely-aimed blow glanced aside from the iron. That same moment I wrested myself free from his grasp, and drove my dagger, which I held in readiness, into his heart.” “And you maintained silence?” asked De Scudéri; “you did not notify to the tribunals what you had done?” “Permit me to remark,” went on Miossens, “permit me to remark, Mademoiselle, that such an announcement, if it had not at once entailed disastrous results upon me, would at any rate have involved me in a most detestable trial. Would La Regnie, who ferrets out crime everywhere — would he have believed my unsupported word if I had accused honest Cardillac, the pattern of piety and virtue, of an attempted murder? What if the sword of justice had turned its point against me?” “That would not have been possible,” said De Scudéri, “your birth — your rank”—— “Oh! remember Marshal de Luxembourg, whose whim for having his horoscope cast by Le Sage brought him under the suspicion of being a poisoner, and eventually into the Bastille. No! by St. Denis! I would not risk my freedom for an hour — not even the lappet of my ear — in the power of that madman La Regnie, who only too well would like to have his knife at the throats of all of us.” “But do you know you are bringing innocent Brusson to the scaffold?” “Innocent?” rejoined Miossens, “innocent? Are you speaking of the villain Cardillac’s accomplice, Mademoiselle? he who helped him in his evil deeds? who deserves to die a hundred deaths? No, indeed! He would meet a just end on the scaffold. I have only disclosed to you, honoured lady, the details of the occurrence on the presupposition that, without delivering me into the hands of the Chambre Ardent, you will yet find a way to turn my secret to account on behalf of your protégé.”
De Scudéri was so enraptured at finding her conviction of Brusson’s innocence confirmed in such a decisive manner that she did not scruple to tell the Count all, since he already knew of Cardillac’s iniquity, and to exhort him to accompany her to see D’Andilly. To him all should be revealed under the seal of secrecy, and he should advise them what was to be done.
After De Scudéri had related all to D’Andilly down to the minutest particulars, he inquired once more about several of the most insignificant features. In particular he asked Count Miossens whether he was perfectly satisfied that it was Cardillac who had attacked him, and whether he would be able to identify Olivier Brusson as the man who had carried away the corpse. De Miossens made answer, “Not only did I very well recognise Cardillac by the bright light of the moon, but I have also seen in La Regnie’s hands the dagger with which Cardillac was stabbed; it is mine, distinguished by the elegant workmanship of the hilt. As I only stood one yard from the young man, and his hat had fallen off, I distinctly saw his features, and should certainly recognise him again.”
After gazing thoughtfully before him for some minutes in silence, D’Andilly said, “Brusson cannot possibly be saved from the hands of justice in any ordinary and regular way. Out of consideration for Madelon he refuses to accuse Cardillac of being the thievish assassin. And he must continue to do so, for even if he succeeded in proving his statements by pointing out the secret exit and the accumulated store of stolen jewellery, he would still be liable to death as a partner in Cardillac’s guilt. And the bearings of things would not be altered if Count Miossens were to state to the judges the real details of the meeting with Cardillac. The only thing we can aim at securing is a postponement of the torture. Let Count Miossens go to the Conciergerie, have Olivier Brusson brought forward, and recognise in him the man who carried away Cardillac’s dead body. Then let him hurry off to La Regnie and say, ‘I saw a man stabbed in the Rue St. Honoré, and as I stood close beside the corpse another man sprang forward and stooped down over the dead body; but on finding signs of life in him he lifted him on his shoulders and carried him away. This man I recognise in Olivier Brusson.’ This evidence would lead to another hearing of Brusson and to his confrontation with Miossens. At all events the torture would be delayed and further inquiries would be instituted. Then will come the proper time to appeal to the king. It may be left to your sagacity, Mademoiselle, to do this in the adroitest manner. As far as my opinion goes, I think it would be best to disclose to him the whole mystery. Brusson’s confessions are borne out by this statement of Count Miossens; and they may, perhaps, be still further substantiated by secret investigations at Cardillac’s own house. All this could not afford grounds for a verdict of acquittal by the court, but it might appeal to the king’s feelings, that it is his prerogative to speak mercy where the judge can only condemn, and so elicit a favourable decision from His Majesty.” Count Miossens followed implicitly D’Andilly’s advice; and the result was what the latter had foreseen.
But now the thing was to get at the king; and this was the most difficult part of all to accomplish, since he believed that Brusson alone was the formidable assassin who for so long a time had held all Paris enthralled by fear and anxiety, and accordingly he had conceived such an abhorrence of him that he burst into a violent fit of passion at the slightest allusion to the notorious trial. De Maintenon, faithful to her principle of never speaking to the king on any subject that was disagreeable, refused to take any steps in the affair; and so Brusson’s fate rested entirely in De Scudéri’s hands. After long deliberation she formed a resolution which she carried into execution as promptly as she had conceived it. Putting on a robe of heavy black, silk, and hanging Cardillac’s valuable necklace round her neck, and clasping the bracelets on her arms, and throwing a black veil over her head, she presented herself in De Maintenon’s salons at a time when she knew the king would be present there. This stately robe invested the venerable lady’s noble figure with such majesty as could not fail to inspire respect, even in the mob of idle loungers who were wont to collect in anterooms, laughing and jesting in frivolous and irreverent fashion. They all shyly made way for her; and when she entered the salon the king himself in his astonishment rose and came to meet her. As his eyes fell upon the glitter of the costly diamonds in the necklace and bracelets, he cried, “‘Pon my soul, that’s Cardillac’s jewellery!” Then, turning to De Maintenon, he added with an arch smile, “See, Marchioness, how our fair bride mourns for her bridegroom.” “Oh! your Majesty,” broke in De Scudéri, taking up the jest and carrying it on, “would it indeed beseem a deeply sorrowful bride to adorn herself in this splendid fashion? No, I have quite broken off with that goldsmith, and should never think about him more, were it not that the horrid recollection of him being carried past me after he had been murdered so often recurs to my mind.” “What do you say?” asked the king. “What! you saw the poor devil?” De Scudéri now related in a few words how she chanced to be near Cardillac’s house just as the murder was discovered — as yet she did not allude to Brusson’s being mixed up in the matter. She sketched Madelon’s excessive grief, told what a deep impression the angelic child made upon her, and described in what way she had rescued the poor girl out of Desgrais’ hands, amid the approving shouts of the people. Then came the scenes with La Regnie, with Desgrais, with Brusson — the interest deepening and intensifying from moment to moment. The king was so carried away by the extraordinary graphic power and burning eloquence of Mademoiselle’s narration that he did not perceive she was talking about the hateful trial of the abominable wretch Brusson; he was quite unable to utter a word; all he could do was to let off the excess of his emotion by an exclamation from time to time. Ere he knew where he was — he was so utterly confused by this unprecedented tale which he had heard that he was unable to order his thoughts — De Scudéri was prostrate at his feet, imploring pardon for Olivier Brusson. “What are you doing?” burst out the king, taking her by both hands and forcing her into a chair. “What do you mean, Mademoiselle? This is a strange way to surprise me. Oh! it’s a terrible story. Who will guarantee me that Brusson’s marvellous tale is true?” Whereupon De Scudéri replied, “Miossens’ evidence — an examination of Cardillac’s house — my heart-felt conviction — and oh! Madelon’s virtuous heart, which recognised the like virtue in unhappy Brusson’s.” Just as the king was on the point of making some reply he was interrupted by a noise at the door, and turned round. Louvois, who during this time was working in the adjoining apartment, looked in with an expression of anxiety stamped upon his features. The king rose and left the room, following Louvois.
The two ladies, both De Scudéri and De Maintenon, regarded this interruption as dangerous, for having been once surprised the king would be on his guard against falling a second time into the trap set for him. Nevertheless after a lapse of some minutes the king came back again; after traversing the room once or twice at a quick pace, he planted himself immediately in front of De Scudéri and, throwing his arms behind his back, said in almost an undertone, yet without looking at her, “I should very much like to see your Madelon.” Mademoiselle replied, “Oh! my precious liege! what a great — great happiness your condescension will confer upon the poor unhappy child. Oh! the little girl only waits a sign from you to approach, to throw herself at your feet.” Then she tripped towards the door as quickly as she was able in her heavy clothing, and called out on the outside of it that the king would admit Madelon Cardillac; and she came back into the room weeping and sobbing with overpowering delight and gladness.
De Scudéri had foreseen that some such favour as this might be granted and so had brought Madelon along with her, and she was waiting with the Marchioness’ lady-inwaiting with a short petition in her hands that had been drawn up by D’Andilly. After a few minutes she lay prostrate at the king’s feet, unable to speak a word. The throbbing blood was driven quicker and faster through the poor girl’s veins owing to anxiety, nervous confusion, shy reverence, love, and anguish. Her cheeks were died with a deep purple blush; her eyes shone with bright pearly tears, which from time to time fell through her silken eyelashes upon her beautiful lily-white bosom. The king appeared to be struck with the surprising beauty of the angelic creature. He softly raised her up, making a motion as if about to kiss the hand which he had grasped. But he let it go again and regarded the lovely girl with tears in his eyes, thus betraying how great was the emotion stirring within him. De Maintenon softly whispered to Mademoiselle, “Isn’t she exactly like La Vallière,21 the little thing? There’s hardly a pin’s difference between them. The king luxuriates in the most pleasing memories. Your cause is won.”
Notwithstanding the low tone in which De Maintenon spoke, the king appeared to have heard what she said. A fleeting blush passed across his face; his eye wandered past De Maintenon; he read the petition which Madelon had presented to him, and then said mildly and kindly, “I am quite ready to believe, my dear child, that you are convinced of your lover’s innocence; but let us hear what the Chambre Ardente has got to say to it.” With a gentle wave of the hand he dismissed the young girl, who was weeping as if her heart would break.
To her dismay De Scudéri observed that the recollection of La Vallière, however beneficial it had appeared to be at first, had occasioned the king to alter his mind as soon as De Maintenon mentioned her name. Perhaps the king felt he was being reminded in a too indelicate way of how he was about to sacrifice strict justice to beauty, or perhaps he was like the dreamer, when, on somebody’s shouting to him, the lovely dream-images which he was about to clasp, quickly vanish away. Perhaps he no longer saw his La Vallière before his eyes, but only thought of Sœur Louise de la Misèricorde (Louise the Sister of Mercy) — the name La Vallière had assumed on joining the Carmelite nuns — who worried him with her pious airs and repentance. What else could they now do but calmly wait for the king’s decision?
Meanwhile Count Miossens’ deposition before the Chambre Ardente had become publicly known; and as it frequently happens that the people rush so readily from one extreme to another, so on this occasion he whom they had at first cursed as a most abominable murderer and had threatened to tear to pieces, they now pitied, even before he ascended the scaffold, as the innocent victim of barbarous justice. Now his neighbours first began to call to mind his exemplary walk of life, his great love for Madelon, and the faithfulness and touching submissive affection which he had cherished for the old goldsmith. Considerable bodies of the populace began to appear in a threatening manner before La Regnie’s palace and to cry out, “Give us Olivier Brusson; he is innocent;” and they even stoned the windows, so that La Regnie was obliged to seek shelter from the enraged mob with the Maréchaussée.
Several days passed, and Mademoiselle heard not the least intelligence about Olivier Brusson’s trial. She was quite inconsolable and went off to Madame de Maintenon; but she assured her that the king maintained a strict silence about the matter, and it would not be advisable to remind him of it. Then when she went on to ask with a smile of singular import how little La Vallière was doing, De Scudéri was convinced that deep down in the heart of the proud lady there lurked some feeling of vexation at this business, which might entice the susceptible king into a region whose charm she could not understand. Mademoiselle need therefore hope for nothing from De Maintenon.
At last, however, with D’Andilly’s help, De Scudéri succeeded in finding out that the king had had a long and private interview with Count Miossens. Further, she learned that Bontems, the king’s most confidential valet and general agent, had been to the Conciergerie and had an interview with Brusson, also that the same Bontems had one night gone with several men to Cardillac’s house, and there spent a considerable time. Claude Patru, the man who inhabited the lower storey, maintained that they were knocking about overhead all night long, and he was sure that Olivier had been with them, for he distinctly heard his voice. This much was, therefore, at any rate certain, that the king himself was having the true history of the circumstances inquired into; but the long delay before he gave his decision was inexplicable. La Regnie would no doubt do all he possibly could to keep his grip upon the victim who was to be taken out of his clutches. And this annihilated every hope as soon as it began to bud.
A month had nearly passed when De Maintenon sent word to Mademoiselle that the king wished to see her that evening in her salons.
De Scudéri’s heart beat high; she knew that Brusson’s case would now be decided. She told poor Madelon so, who prayed fervently to the Virgin and the saints that they would awaken in the king’s mind a conviction of Brusson’s innocence.
Yet it appeared as though the king had completely forgotten the matter, for in his usual way he dallied in graceful conversation with the two ladies, and never once made any allusion to poor Brusson. At last Bontems appeared, and approaching the king whispered certain words in his ear, but in so low a tone that neither De Maintenon nor De Scudéri could make anything out of them. Mademoiselle’s heart quaked. Then the king rose to his feet and approached her, saying with brimming eyes, “I congratulate you, Mademoiselle. Your protégé Olivier Brusson, is free.” The tears gushed from the old lady’s eyes; unable to speak a word, she was about to throw herself at the king’s feet. But he prevented her, saying, “Go, go, Mademoiselle. You ought to be my advocate in Parliament and plead my causes, for, by St. Denis, there’s nobody on earth could withstand your eloquence; and yet,” he continued, “and yet when Virtue herself has taken a man under her own protection, is he not safe from all base accusations, from the Chambre Ardente and all other tribunals in the world?” De Scudéri now found words and poured them out in a stream of glowing thanks. The king interrupted her, by informing her that she herself would find awaiting her in her own house still warmer thanks than he had a right to claim from her, for probably at that moment the happy Olivier was clasping his Madelon in his arms. “Bontems shall pay you a thousand Louis d’or,” concluded the king. “Give them in my name to the little girl as a dowry. Let her marry her Brusson, who doesn’t deserve such good fortune, and then let them both be gone out of Paris, for such is my will.”
La Martinière came running forward to meet her mistress, and Baptiste behind her; the faces of both were radiant with joy; both cried delighted, “He is here! he is free! O the dear young people!” The happy couple threw themselves at Mademoiselle’s feet. “Oh! I knew it! I knew it!” cried Madelon. “I knew that you, that nobody but you, would save my darling Olivier.” “And O my mother,” cried Olivier, “my belief in you never wavered.” They both kissed the honoured lady’s hands, and shed innumerable tears. Then they embraced each other again and again, affirming that the exquisite happiness of that moment outweighed all the unutterable sufferings of the days that were past; and they vowed never to part from each other till Death himself came to part them.
A few days later they were united by the blessing of the priest. Even though it had not been the King’s wish, Brusson would not have stayed in Paris, where everything would have reminded him of the fearful time of Cardillac’s crimes, and where, moreover, some accident might reveal in pernicious wise his dark secret, now become known to several persons, and so his peace of mind might be ruined for ever. Almost immediately after the wedding he set out with his young wife for Geneva, Mademoiselle’s blessings accompanying them on the way. Richly provided with means through Madelon’s dowry, and endowed with uncommon skill at his trade, as well as with every virtue of a good citizen, he led there a happy life, free from care. He realised the hopes which had deceived his father and had brought him at last to his grave.
A year after Brusson’s departure there appeared a public proclamation, signed by Harloy de Chauvalon, Archbishop of Paris, and by the parliamentary advocate, Pierre Arnaud d’Andilly, which ran to the effect that a penitent sinner had, under the seal of confession, handed over to the Church a large and valuable store of jewels and gold ornaments which he had stolen. Everybody who up to the end of the year 1680 had lost ornaments by theft, particularly by a murderous attack in the public street, was to apply to D’Andilly, and then, if his description of the ornament which had been stolen from him tallied exactly with any of the pieces awaiting identification, and if further there existed no doubt as to the legitimacy of his claim, he should receive his property again. Many of those whose names stood on Cardillac’s list as having been, not murdered, but merely stunned by a blow, gradually came one after the other to the parliamentary advocate, and received, to their no little amazement, their stolen property back again. The rest fell to the coffers of the Church of St. Eustace.
1 Madeleine de Scudéry (1607–1701), a native of Normandy, went to Paris and became connected with the Hotel Rambouillet. Afterwards, on its being broken up by the troubles of the Fronde, she formed a literary circle of her own, their “Saturday gatherings” becoming celebrated. Mademoiselle de Scudéry wrote some vapid and tedious novels, amongst which were the Clélie (1656), an historical romance, to be mentioned presently in the text.
2 The well-known wife of Scarron, then the successor of Madame de Montespan in the favour of Louis XIV., and afterwards his wife.
3 A kind of mounted gensdarmes or police.
4 Supposed to have been arsenic.
5 These facts are all for the most part historically true.
6 Marie M. d’Aubray, Marquise de Brinvilliers, a notorious poisoner, executed July 16, 1676. Madame de Sévigné‘s Lettres contain interesting information on the events of this period. A special history of De Brinvillier’s trial was also published in the same year, 1676.
7 An old servant of Sainte Croix’s, whose real name was Jean Amelin.
8 Nicholas G. de la Reynie was born at Limoges in 1625; he acquired a sort of Judge Jeffreys’ reputation by his cruelties and bloodthirstiness as president of the Chambre Ardente.
9 These two ladies, Marie and Olympe Mancini, were sisters, nieces of Mazarin. The latter was promoted to be head of the Queen’s household, and thus provoked the hatred of Madame de Montespan (the King’s mistress) and Louvois, through whose machinations she was accused before the Chambre Ardente.
10 François Henry de Montmorency, Duke of Luxembourg, was known until 1661 by the name of Bouteville. His name stands high on the roll of distinguished French Marshals.
11 François Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (1639–91), Louis XIV.‘s minister at this time.
12 Her real answer was, “Je le vois en ce moment; il est fort laid et fort vilain; il est déguisé en conseiller d’état.” (I see him at this moment; he is very ugly and very hideous; he is disguised as a state councillor.)
13 The Marquis de la Fare had liaisons, first with Madame de Rochefort, with Louvois for rival, and afterwards with Madame de la Sablière.
14 This incident is not an invention of the author’s. He states that he got it from Wagenseil’s Chronik von Nürnberg (1697), the said Wagenseilius having been to Paris and paid a visit to Mademoiselle de Scudéry herself. The answer this lady gave the king is also historically true, according to Hoffmann, and it was spoken under circumstances almost exactly like those represented in the text.
15 The old Louis d’Or of Louis XIV. = about £1, 0s. 3d. (Cf. A Frederick d’or was a gold coin worth five thalers. — Note, p. 281, vol. I.)
16 One of Louis XIV.‘s former mistresses — Marie de Roussille, Duchess de Fontanges (1661–1681)— is described as being of great beauty, but deficient in intellectual grace and charm of manner, and as being arrogant and cold-hearted.
17 Jean de la Chapelle (1655–1723) attempted to fill the gap left in the dramatic world by Racine’s retirement from play-writing, though — it is said, with but indifferent success.
18 It was constructed after plans by this Claude Perrault in 1666–1670.
19 The well-known pleasure castle erected by Louis XIV. at Versailles for De Maintenon.
20 Daughter of Charles I. and Henrietta Maria of France; she died 29th June, 1670, believing herself to have been poisoned; and this was currently accepted in France, though now rejected by historians as incorrect.
21 Françoise Louise, Duchess de La Vallière, a former mistress of Louis XIV. On being supplanted in the monarch’s favour by Madame de Montespan, she entered the order of Carmelite nuns.
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