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CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 8 (of 8), Part 1

by ALEXANDER DUMAS, PERE




THE MARQUISE DE BRINVILLIERS



Towards the end of the year 1665, on a fine autumn evening, there was
a considerable crowd assembled on the Pont-Neuf where it makes a turn
down to the rue Dauphine.  The object of this crowd and the centre of
attraction was a closely shut, carriage.  A police official was
trying to force open the door, and two out of the four sergeants who
were with him were holding the horses back and the other two stopping
the driver, who paid no attention to their commands, but only
endeavoured to urge his horses to a gallop.  The struggle had been
going on same time, when suddenly one of the doors violentiy pushed
open, and a young officer in the uniform of a cavalry captain jumped
down, shutting the door as he did so though not too quickly for the
nearest spectators to perceive a woman sitting at the back of the
carriage.  She was wrapped in cloak and veil, and judging by the
precautions she, had taken to hide her face from every eye, she must
have had her reasons for avoiding recognition.

"Sir," said the young man, addressing the officer with a haughty air,
"I presume, till I find myself mistaken, that your business is with
me alone; so I will ask you to inform me what powers you may have for
thus stopping my coach; also, since I have alighted, I desire you to
give your men orders to let the vehicle go on."

"First of all," replied the man, by no means intimidated by these
lordly airs, but signing to his men that they must not release the
coach or the horses, "be so good as to answer my questions."

"I am attending," said the young man, controlling his agitation by a
visible effort.

"Are you the Chevalier Gaudin de Sainte-Croix?"

"I am he."

"Captain of the Tracy, regiment?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then I arrest you in the king's name."

"What powers have you?"

"This warrant."

Sainte-Croix cast a rapid glance at the paper, and instantly
recognised the signature of the minister of police: he then
apparently confined his attention to the woman who was still in the
carriage; then he returned to his first question.

"This is all very well, sir," he said to the officer, "but this
warrant contains no other name than mine, and so you have no right to
expose thus to the public gaze the lady with whom I was travelling
when you arrested me.  I must beg of you to order your assistants to
allow this carriage to drive on; then take me where you please, for I
am ready to go with you."

To the officer this request seemed a just one: he signed to his men
to let the driver and the horses go on; and, they, who had waited
only for this, lost no time in breaking through the crowd, which
melted away before them; thus the woman escaped for whose safety the
prisoner seemed so much concerned.

Sainte-Croix kept his promise and offered no resistance; for some
moments he followed the officer, surrounded by a crowd which seemed
to have transferred all its curiosity to his account; then, at the
corner of the Quai de d'Horloge, a man called up a carriage that had
not been observed before, and Sainte-Croix took his place with the
same haughty and disdainful air that he had shown throughout the
scene we have just described.  The officer sat beside him, two of his
men got up behind, and the other two, obeying no doubt their master's
orders, retired with a parting direction to the driver,

"The Bastille!"

Our readers will now permit us to make them more fully acquainted
with the man who is to take the first place in the story.  The origin
of Gaudin de Sainte-Croix was not known: according to one tale, he
was the natural son of a great lord; another account declared that he
was the offspring of poor people, but that, disgusted with his
obscure birth, he preferred a splendid disgrace, and therefore chose
to pass for what he was not.  The only certainty is that he was born
at Montauban, and in actual rank and position he was captain of the
Tracy regiment.  At the time when this narrative opens, towards the
end of 1665, Sainte-Croix was about twenty-eight or thirty, a fine
young man of cheerful and lively appearance, a merry comrade at a
banquet, and an excellent captain: he took his pleasure with other
men, and was so impressionable a character that he enjoyed a virtuous
project as well as any plan for a debauch; in love he was most
susceptible, and jealous to the point of madness even about a
courtesan, had she once taken his fancy; his prodigality was
princely, although he had no income; further, he was most sensitive
to slights, as all men are who, because they are placed in an
equivocal position, fancy that everyone who makes any reference to
their origin is offering an intentional insult.

We must now see by what a chain of circumstances he had arrived at
his present position.  About the year 1660, Sainte-Croix, while in
the army, had made the acquaintance of the Marquis de Brinvilliers,
maitre-de-camp of the Normandy regiment.

Their age was much the same, and so was their manner of life: their
virtues and their vices were similar, and thus it happened that a
mere acquaintance grew into a friendship, and on his return from the
field the marquis introduced Sainte-Croix to his wife, and he became
an intimate of the house.  The usual results followed.  Madame de
Brinvilliers was then scarcely eight-and-twenty: she had married the
marquis in 1651-that is, nine years before.  He enjoyed an income of
30,000 livres, to which she added her dowry of 200,000 livres,
exclusive of her expectations in the future.  Her name was Marie-
Madeleine; she had a sister and two brothers: her father, M. de Dreux
d'Aubray; was civil lieutenant at the Chatelet de Paris.  At the age
of twenty-eight the marquise was at the height of her beauty: her
figure was small but perfectly proportioned; her rounded face was
charmingly pretty; her features, so regular that no emotion seemed to
alter their beauty, suggested the lines of a statue miraculously
endowed with life: it was easy enough to mistake for the repose of a
happy conscience the cold, cruel calm which served as a mask to cover
remorse.

Sainte-Croix and the marquise loved at first sight, and she was soon
his mistress.  The marquis, perhaps endowed with the conjugal
philosophy which alone pleased the taste of the period, perhaps too
much occupied with his own pleasure to see what was going on before
his eyes, offered no jealous obstacle to the intimacy, and continued
his foolish extravagances long after they had impaired his fortunes:
his affairs became so entangled that the marquise, who cared for him
no longer, and desired a fuller liberty for the indulgence of her new
passion, demanded and obtained a separation.  She then left her
husband's house, and henceforth abandoning all discretion, appeared
everywhere in public with Sainte-Croix.  This behaviour, authorised
as it was by the example of the highest nobility, made no impression
upon the.  Marquis of Brinvilliers, who merrily pursued the road to
ruin, without worrying about his wife's behaviour.  Not so M. de
Dreux d'Aubray: he had the scrupulosity of a legal dignitary.  He was
scandalised at his daughter's conduct, and feared a stain upon his
own fair name: he procured a warrant for the arrest of Sainte-Croix
wheresoever the bearer might chance to encounter him.  We have seen
how it was put in execution when Sainte-Croix was driving in the
carriage of the marquise, whom our readers will doubtless have
recognised as the woman who concealed herself so carefully.

From one's knowledge of the character of Sainte-Croix, it is easy to
imagine that he had to use great self-control to govern the anger he
felt at being arrested in the middle of the street; thus, although
during the whole drive he uttered not a single word, it was plain to
see that a terrible storm was gathering, soon to break.  But he
preserved the same impossibility both at the opening and shutting of
the fatal gates, which, like the gates of hell, had so often bidden
those who entered abandon all hope on their threshold, and again when
he replied to the formal questions put to him by the governor.  His
voice was calm, and when they gave him they prison register he signed
it with a steady hand.  At once a gaoler, taking his orders from the
governor, bade him follow: after traversing various corridors, cold
and damp, where the daylight might sometimes enter but fresh air
never, he opened a door, and Sainte-Croix had no sooner entered than
he heard it locked behind him.

At the grating of the lock he turned.  The gaoler had left him with
no light but the rays of the moon, which, shining through a barred
window some eight or ten feet from the ground, shed a gleam upon a
miserable truckle-bed and left the rest of the room in deep
obscurity.  The prisoner stood still for a moment and listened; then,
when he had heard the steps die away in the distance and knew himself
to be alone at last, he fell upon the bed with a cry more like the
roaring of a wild beast than any human sound: he cursed his fellow-
man who had snatched him from his joyous life to plunge him into a
dungeon; he cursed his God who had let this happen; he cried aloud to
whatever powers might be that could grant him revenge and liberty.

Just at that moment, as though summoned by these words from the
bowels of the earth, a man slowly stepped into the circle of blue
light that fell from the window-a man thin and pale, a man with long
hair, in a black doublet, who approached the foot of the bed where
Sainte-Croix lay.  Brave as he was, this apparition so fully answered
to his prayers (and at the period the power of incantation and magic
was still believed in) that he felt no doubt that the arch-enemy of
the human race, who is continually at hand, had heard him and had now
come in answer to his prayers.  He sat up on the bed, feeling
mechanically at the place where the handle of his sword would have
been but two hours since, feeling his hair stand on end, and a cold
sweat began to stream down his face as the strange fantastic being

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