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CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 5 (of 8), Part 2

By Alexandre Dumas, Pere



LA CONSTANTIN

1660

CHAPTER I

Before beginning our story, we must warn the reader that it will not
be worth his while to make researches among contemporary or other
records as to the personage whose name it bears.  For in truth
neither Marie Leroux, widow of Jacques Constantin, nor her
accomplice, Claude Perregaud, was of sufficient importance to find a
place on any list of great criminals, although it is certain that
they were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged.  It may
seem strange that what follows is more a history of the retribution
which overtook the criminals than a circumstantial description of the
deeds for which they were punished; but the crimes were so revolting,
and so unsuitable for discussion, that it was impossible for us to
enter into any details on the subject, so that what we offer in these
pages is, we confess quite openly, not a full, true, and particular
account of a certain series of events leading up to a certain result;
it is not even a picture wherein that result is depicted with
artistic completeness, it is only an imperfect narrative imperfectly
rounded off.  We feel sure, however, that the healthy-minded reader
will be grateful for our reticence and total disregard of proportion.
In spite of the disadvantage which such a theme imposes on any writer
with a deep sense of responsibility, we have resolved to let in some
light on these obscure figures; for we can imagine no more effective
way of throwing into high relief the low morals and deep corruption
into which all classes of society had sunk at the termination of the
factious dissensions of the Fronde, which formed such a fitting
prelude to the licence of the reign of the grand roi.

After this explanation, we shall, without further preamble, introduce
the reader to a little tavern in Paris, situated in the rue
Saint-Andre-des-Arts, on an evening in November 1658.

It was about seven o'clock.  Three gentlemen were seated at one of
the tables in a low, smoky room.  They had already emptied several
bottles, and one of them seemed to have just suggested some madcap
scheme to the others, the thought of which sent them off into shouts
of laughter.

"Pardu!" said one of them, who was the first to recover his breath,
"I must say it would be an excellent trick."

"Splendid!" said another; "and if you like, Commander de Jars, we can
try it this very evening."

"All right, my worthy king's treasurer, provided my pretty nephew
here won't be too much shocked," and as he spoke de Jars gave to the
youngest of the three a caressing touch on the cheek with the back of
his hand.

"That reminds me, de Jars!" said the treasurer, "that word you have
just said piques my curiosity.  For some months now this little
fellow here, Chevalier de Moranges, follows you about everywhere like
your shadow.  You never told us you had a nephew.  Where the devil
did you get him?"

The commander touched the chevalier's knee under the table, and he,
as if to avoid speaking, slowly filled and emptied his glass.

"Look here," said the treasurer, "do you want to hear a few plain
words, such as I shall rap out when God takes me to task about the
peccadilloes of my past life?  I don't believe a word about the
relationship.  A nephew must be the son of either a brother or a
sister.  Now, your only sister is an abbess, and your late brother's
marriage was childless.  There is only one way of proving the
relationship, and that is to confess that when your brother was young
and wild he and Love met, or else Madame l'Abbesse----."

"Take care, Treasurer Jeannin!  no slander against my sister!"

" Well, then, explain; you can't fool me!  May I be hanged if I leave
this place before I have dragged the secret out of you!  Either we
are friends or we are not.  What you tell no one else you ought to
tell me.  What! would you make use of my purse and my sword on
occasion and yet have secrets from me?  It's too bad: speak, or our
friendship is at an end!  I give you fair warning that I shall find
out everything and publish it abroad to court and city: when I strike
a trail there's no turning me aside.  It will be best for you to
whisper your secret voluntarily into my ear, where it will be as safe
as in the grave."

"How full of curiosity you are, my good friend!" said de Jars,
leaning one elbow on the table, and twirling the points of his
moustache with his hand; "but if I were to wrap my secret round the
point of a dagger would you not be too much afraid of pricking your
fingers to pull it off?"

"Not I," said the king's treasurer, beginning to twirl his moustache
also: "the doctors have always told me that I am of too full a
complexion and that it would do me all the good in the world to be
bled now and then.  But what would be an advantage to me would be
dangerous to you.  It's easy to see from your jaundiced phiz that for
you blood-letting is no cure."

"And you would really go that length?  You would risk a duel if I
refused to let you get to the bottom of my mystery?"

"Yes, on my honour!  Well, how is it to be?"

"My dear boy," said de Jars to the youth, "we are caught, and may as
well yield gracefully.  You don't know this big fellow as well as I
do.  He's obstinacy itself.  You can make the most obstinate donkey
go on by pulling its tail hard enough, but when Jeannin gets a notion
into his pate, not all the legions of hell can get it out again.
Besides that, he's a skilful fencer, so there's nothing for it but to
trust him."

"Just as you like," said the young man; "you know all my
circumstances and how important it is that my secret should be kept."

"Oh! among Jeannin's many vices there are a few virtues, and of these
discretion is the greatest, so that his curiosity is harmless.  A
quarter of an hour hence he will let himself be killed rather than
reveal what just now he is ready to risk his skin to find out,
whether we will or no."

Jeannin nodded approvingly, refilled the glasses, and raising his to
his lips, said in a tone of triumph--

"I am listening, commander."

"Well, if it must be, it must.  First of all, learn that my nephew is
not my nephew at all."

"Go on."

"That his name is not Moranges."

"And the next?"

"I am not going to reveal his real name to you."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't know ft myself, and no more does the chevalier."

"What' nonsense!"

"No nonsense at all, but the sober truth.  A few months ago the
chevalier carne to Paris, bringing me a letter of introduction from a
German whom I used to know years ago.  This letter requested me to
look after the bearer and help him in his investigations.  As you
said just now, Love and someone once met somewhere, and that was
about all was known as to his origin.  Naturally the young man wants
to cut a figure in the world, and would like to discover the author
of his existence, that he may have someone at hand to pay the debts
he is going to incur.  We have brought together every scrap of
information we could collect as to this person, hoping to find
therein a clue that we could follow up.  To be quite open with you,
and convince you at the same time how extremely prudent and discreet
we must be, I must tell you that we think we have found one, and that
it leads to no less a dignitary than a Prince of the Church.  But if
he should get wind of our researches too soon everything would be at
an end, don't you see?  So keep your tongue between your teeth."

"Never fear," said Jeannin.

"Now, that's what I call speaking out as a friend should.  I wish you
luck, my gallant Chevalier de Moranges, and until you unearth your
father, if you want a little money, my purse is at your service.  On
my word, de Jars, you must have been born with a caul.  There never
was your equal for wonderful adventures.  This one promises
well-spicy intrigues, scandalous revelations, and you'll be in the
thick of it all.  You're a lucky fellow!  It's only a few months
since you had the most splendid piece of good fortune sent you
straight from heaven.  A fair lady falls in love with you and makes
you carry her off from the convent of La Raquette.  But why do you
never let anyone catch a glimpse of her?  Are you jealous?  Or is it
that she is no such beauty, after all, but old and wrinkled, like
that knave of a Mazarin?"

"I know what I'm about," answered de Jars, smiling; "I have my very
good reasons.  The elopement caused a great deal of indignation, and
it's not easy to get fanatics to listen to common sense.  No, I am
not in the least jealous; she is madly in love with me.  Ask my
nephew."

"Does he know her?"

"We have no secrets from each other; the confidence between us is
without a flaw.  The fair one, believe me, is good to look on, and is
worth all the ogling, fan-flirting baggages put together that one
sees at court or on the balconies of the Palais Roy: ah! I'll answer
for that.  Isn't she, Moranges?"

"I'm quite of your opinion," said the youth; exchanging with de jars
a singularly significant look; "and you had better treat her well,
uncle, or I shall play you some trick."

"Ah!  ah!" cried Jeannin.  "You poor fellow!  I very much fear that
you are warming a little serpent in your bosom.  Have an eye to this
dandy with the beardless chin!  But joking apart, my boy, are you
really on good terms with the fair lady?"

"Certainly I am."

"And you are not uneasy, commander?"

" Not the least little bit."

"He is quite right. I answer for her as for my self, you know; as
long as he loves her she will love him; as long as he is faithful she
will be faithful.  Do you imagine that a woman who insists on her
lover carrying her off can so easily turn away from the man of her
choice?  I know her well; I have had long talks with her, she and I
alone: she is feather-brained, given to pleasure, entirely without
prejudices and those stupid scruples which spoil the lives of other
women; but a good sort on the whole; devoted to my uncle, with no
deception about her; but at the same time extremely jealous, and has

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