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List Of Contents | Contents of La Constantin, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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There, mixed up together in the greatest confusion, lay instruments
of all sorts, caldrons and retorts, as well as books containing the
most absurd ravings of the human mind.  There were the twenty folio
volumes of Albertus Magnus; the works of his disciple, Thomas de
Cantopre, of Alchindus, of Averroes, of Avicenna, of Alchabitius, of
David de Plaine-Campy, called L'Edelphe, surgeon to Louis XIII and
author of the celebrated book The Morbific Hydra Exterminated by the
Chemical Hercules.  Beside a bronze head, such as the monk Roger
Bacon possessed, which answered all the questions that were addressed
to it and foretold the future by means of a magic mirror and the
combination of the rules of perspective, lay an eggshell, the same
which had been used by Caret, as d'Aubigne tells us, when making men
out of germs, mandrakes, and crimson silk, over a slow fire.  In the
presses, which had sliding-doors fastening with secret springs, stood
Jars filled with noxious drugs, the power of which was but too
efficacious; in prominent positions, facing each other, hung two
portraits, one representing Hierophilos, a Greek physician, and the
other Agnodice his pupil, the first Athenian midwife.

For several years already La Constantin and Claude Perregaud had
carried on their criminal practices without interference.  A number
of persons were of course in the secret, but their interests kept
them silent, and the two accomplices had at last persuaded themselves
that they were perfectly safe.  One evening, however, Perregaud came
home, his face distorted by terror and trembling in every limb.  He
had been warned while out that the suspicions of the authorities had
been aroused in regard to him and La Constantin.  It seemed that some
little time ago, the Vicars-General had sent a deputation to the
president of the chief court of justice, having heard from their
priests that in one year alone six hundred women had avowed in the
confessional that they had taken drugs to prevent their having
children.  This had been sufficient to arouse the vigilance of the
police, who had set a watch on Perregaud's house, with the result
that that very night a raid was to be made on it.  The two criminals
took hasty counsel together, but, as usual under such circumstances,
arrived at no practical conclusions.  It was only when the danger was
upon them that they recovered their presence of mind.  In the dead of
night loud knocking at the street door was heard, followed by the
command to open in the name of the king.

"We can yet save ourselves!" exclaimed surgeon, with a sudden flash
of inspiration.

Rushing into the room where the pretended chevalier was lying, he
called out--

"The police are coming up!  If they discover your sex you are lost,
and so am I.  Do as I tell you."

At a sign from him, La Constantin went down and opened the door.
While the rooms on the first floor were being searched, Perregaud
made with a lancet a superficial incision in the chevalier's right
arm, which gave very little pain, and bore a close resemblance to a
sword-cut.  Surgery and medicine were at that time so inextricably
involved, required such apparatus, and bristled with such scientific
absurdities, that no astonishment was excited by the extraordinary
collection of instruments which loaded the tables and covered the
floors below: even the titles of certain treatises which there had
been no time to destroy, awoke no suspicion.

Fortunately for the surgeon and his accomplice, they had only one
patient--the chevalier--in their house when the descent was made.
When the chevalier's room was reached, the first thing which the
officers of the law remarked were the hat, spurred boots, and sword
of the patient.  Claude Perregaud hardly looked up as the room was
invaded; he only made a sign to those--who came in to be quiet, and
went on dressing the wound.  Completely taken in, the officer in
command merely asked the name of the patient and the cause of the
wound.  La Constantin replied that it' was the young Chevalier de
Moranges, nephew of Commander de Jars, who had had an affair of
honour that same night, and being sightly wounded had been brought
thither by his uncle hardly an hour before.  These questions and the
apparently trustworthy replies elicited by them being duly taken
down, the uninvited visitors retired, having discovered nothing to
justify their visit.

All might have been well had there been nothing the matter but the
wound on the chevalier's sword-arm.  But at the moment when Perregaud
gave it to him the poisonous nostrums employed by La Constantin were
already working in his blood.  Violent fever ensued, and in three
days the chevalier was dead.  It was his funeral which had met
Quennebert's wedding party at the church door.

Everything turned out as Quennebert had anticipated.  Madame
Quennebert, furious at the deceit which had been practised on her,
refused to listen to her husband's justification, and Trumeau, not
letting the grass grow under his feet, hastened the next day to
launch an accusation of bigamy against the notary; for the paper
which had been found in the nuptial camber was nothing less than an
attested copy of a contract of marriage concluded between Quennebert
and Josephine-Charlotte Boullenois.  It was by the merest chance that
Trumeau had come on the record of the marriage, and he now challenged
his rival to produce a certificate of the death of his first wife.
Charlotte Boullenois, after two years of marriage, had demanded a
deed of separation, which demand Quennebert had opposed.  While the
case was going on she had retired to the convent of La Raquette,
where her intrigue with de Jars began.  The commander easily induced
her to let herself be carried off by force.  He then concealed his
conquest by causing her to adopt male attire, a mode of dress which
accorded marvellously well with her peculiar tastes and rather
masculine frame.  At first Quennebert had instituted an active but
fruitless search for his missing wife, but soon became habituated to
his state of enforced single blessedness, enjoying to the full the
liberty it brought with it.  But his business had thereby suffered,
and once having made the acquaintance of Madame Rapally, he
cultivated it assiduously, knowing her fortune would be sufficient to
set him straight again with the world, though he was obliged to
exercise the utmost caution and reserve in has intercourse with her,
as she on her side displayed none of these qualities.  At last,
however, matters came to such a pass that he must either go to prison
or run the risk of a second marriage.  So he reluctantly named a day
for the ceremony, resolving to leave Paris with Madame Rapally as
soon as he had settled with his creditors.

In the short interval which ensued, and while Trumeau was hugging the
knowledge of the discovery he had made, a stroke of luck had brought
the pretended chevalier to La Constantin.  As Quennebert had kept an
eye on de Jars and was acquainted with all his movements, he was
aware of everything that happened at Perregaud's, and as Charlotte's
death preceded his second marriage by one day, he knew that no
serious consequences would ensue from the legal proceedings taken
against him.  He produced the declarations made by Mademoiselle de
Guerchi and the commander, and had the body exhumed.  Extraordinary
and improbable as his defence appeared at first to be, the exhumation
proved the truth of his assertions.  These revelations, however, drew
the eye of justice again on Perregaud and his partner in crime, and
this time their guilt was brought home to them.  They were condemned
by parliamentary decree to "be hanged by the neck till they were
dead, on a gallows erected for that purpose at the cross roads of the
Croix-du-Trahoir; their bodies to remain there for twenty-four hours,
then to be cut down and brought back to Paris, where they were to be
exposed an a gibbet," etc., etc.

It was proved that they had amassed immense fortunes in the exercise
of their infamous calling.  The entries in the books seized at their
house, though sparse, would have led, if made public, to scandals,
involving many in high places; it was therefore judged best to limit
the accusation to the two deaths by blood-poisoning of Angelique de
Querchi and Charlotte Boullenois.






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