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List Of Contents | Contents of Marquise de Brinvilliers, by Dumas, Pere
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step by step approached him.  At length the apparition paused, the
prisoner and he stood face to face for a moment, their eyes riveted;
then the mysterious stranger spoke in gloomy tones.

"Young man," said he, "you have prayed to the devil for vengeance on
the men who have taken you, for help against the God who has
abandoned you.  I have the means, and I am here to proffer it.  Have
you the courage to accept?"

"First of all," asked Sainte-Croix; "who are you?"

"Why seek you to know who I am," replied the unknown, "at the very
moment when I come at your call, and bring what you desire?"

"All the same," said Sainte-Croix, still attributing what he heard to
a supernatural being, "when one makes a compact of this kind, one
prefers to know with whom one is treating."

"Well, since you must know," said the stranger, "I am the Italian
Exili."

Sainte-Croix shuddered anew, passing from a supernatural vision to a
horrible reality.  The name he had just heard had a terrible
notoriety at the time, not only in France but in Italy as well.
Exili had been driven out of Rome, charged with many poisonings,
which, however, could not be satisfactorily brought home to him.  He
had gone to Paris, and there, as in his native country, he had drawn
the eyes of the authorities upon himself; but neither in Paris nor in
Rome was he, the pupil of Rene and of Trophana, convicted of guilt.
All the same, though proof was wanting, his enormities were so well
accredited that there was no scruple as to having him arrested.  A
warrant was out against him: Exili was taken up, and was lodged in
the Bastille.  He had been there about six months when Sainte-Croix
was brought to the same place.  The prisoners were numerous just
then, so the governor had his new guest put up in the same room as
the old one, mating Exili and Sainte-Croix, not knowing that they
were a pair of demons.  Our readers now understand the rest.  Sainte-
Croix was put into an unlighted room by the gaoler, and in the dark
had failed to see his companion: he had abandoned himself to his
rage, his imprecations had revealed his state of mind to Exili, who
at once seized the occasion for gaining a devoted and powerful
disciple, who once out of prison might open the doors for him,
perhaps, or at least avenge his fate should he be incarcerated for
life.

The repugnance felt by Sainte-Croix for his fellow-prisoner did not
last long, and the clever master found his pupil apt.  Sainte-Croix,
a strange mixture of qualities good and evil, had reached the supreme
crisis of his life, when the powers of darkness or of light were to
prevail.  Maybe, if he had met some angelic soul at this point, he
would have been led to God; he encountered a demon, who conducted him
to Satan.

Exili was no vulgar poisoner: he was a great artist in poisons,
comparable with the Medici or the Borgias.  For him murder was a fine
art, and he had reduced it to fixed and rigid rules: he had arrived
at a point when he was guided not by his personal interest but by a
taste for experiment.  God has reserved the act of creation for
Himself, but has suffered destruction to be within the scope of man:
man therefore supposes that in destroying life he is God's equal.
Such was the nature of Exili's pride: he was the dark, pale alchemist
of death: others might seek the mighty secret of life, but he had
found the secret of destruction.

For a time Sainte-Croix hesitated: at last he yielded to the taunts
of his companion, who accused Frenchmen of showing too much honour in
their crimes, of allowing themselves to be involved in the ruin of
their enemies, whereas they might easily survive them and triumph
over their destruction.  In opposition to this French gallantry,
which often involves the murderer in a death more cruel than that he
has given, he pointed to the Florentine traitor with his amiable
smile and his deadly poison.  He indicated certain powders and
potions, some of them of dull action, wearing out the victim so
slowly that he dies after long suffering; others violent and so
quick, that they kill like a flash of lightning, leaving not even
time for a single cry.  Little by little Sainte-Croix became
interested in the ghastly science that puts the lives of all men in
the hand of one.  He joined in Exili's experiments; then he grew
clever enough to make them for himself; and when, at the year's end,
he left the Bastille, the pupil was almost as accomplished as his
master.

Sainte-Croix returned into that society which had banished him,
fortified by a fatal secret by whose aid he could repay all the evil
he had received.  Soon afterwards Exili was set free--how it happened
is not known--and sought out Sainte-Croix, who let him a room in the
name of his steward, Martin de Breuille, a room situated in the
blind, alley off the Place Maubert, owned by a woman called Brunet.

It is not known whether Sainte-Croix had an opportunity of seeing the
Marquise de Brinvilliers during his sojourn in the Bastille, but it
is certain that as soon as he was a free man the lovers were more
attached than ever.  They had learned by experience, however, of what
they had to fear; so they resolved that they would at once make trial
of Sainte-Croix's newly acquired knowledge, and M. d'Aubray was
selected by his daughter for the first victim.  At one blow she would
free herself from the inconvenience of his rigid censorship, and by
inheriting his goods would repair her own fortune, which had been
almost dissipated by her husband.  But in trying such a bold stroke
one must be very sure of results, so the marquise decided to
experiment beforehand on another person.  Accordingly, when one day
after luncheon her maid, Francoise Roussel, came into her room, she
gave her a slice of mutton and some preserved gooseberries for her
own meal.  The girl unsuspiciously ate what her mistress gave her,
but almost at once felt ill, saying she had severe pain in the
stomach, and a sensation as though her heart were being pricked with
pins.  But she did not die, and the marquise perceived that the
poison needed to be made stronger, and returned it to Sainte-Croix,
who brought her some more in a few days' time.

The moment had come for action.  M. d'Aubray, tired with business,
was to spend a holiday at his castle called Offemont.  The marquise
offered to go with him.  M. d'Aubray, who supposed her relations with
Sainte-Croix to be quite broken off, joyfully accepted.  Offemont was
exactly the place for a crime of this nature.  In the middle of the
forest of Aigue, three or four miles from Compiegne, it would be
impossible to get efficient help before the rapid action of the
poison had made it useless.

M. d'Aubray started with his daughter and one servant only.  Never
had the marquise been so devoted to her father, so especially
attentive, as she was during this journey.  And M. d'Aubray, like
Christ--who though He had no children had a father's heart--loved his
repentant daughter more than if she had never strayed.  And then the
marquise profited by the terrible calm look which we have already
noticed in her face: always with her father, sleeping in a room
adjoining his, eating with him, caring for his comfort in every way,
thoughtful and affectionate, allowing no other person to do anything
for him, she had to present a smiling face, in which the most
suspicious eye could detect nothing but filial tenderness, though the
vilest projects were in her heart.  With this mask she one evening
offered him some soup that was poisoned.  He took it; with her eyes
she saw him put it to his lips, watched him drink it down, and with a
brazen countenance she gave no outward sign of that terrible anxiety
that must have been pressing on her heart.  When he had drunk it all,
and she had taken with steady hands the cup and its saucer, she went
back to her own room, waited and listened....

The effect was rapid.  The marquise heard her father moan; then she
heard groans.  At last, unable to endure his sufferings, he called
out to his daughter.  The marquise went to him.  But now her face
showed signs of the liveliest anxiety, and it was for M. d'Aubray to
try to reassure her about himself!  He thought it was only a trifling
indisposition, and was not willing that a doctor should be disturbed.
But then he was seized by a frightful vomiting, followed by such
unendurable pain that he yielded to his daughter's entreaty that she
should send for help.  A doctor arrived at about eight o'clock in the
morning, but by that time all that could have helped a scientific
inquiry had been disposed of: the doctor saw nothing, in M. d'Aubray's
story but what might be accounted for by indigestion; so he dosed
him, and went back to Compiegne.

All that day the marquise never left the sick man.  At night she had
a bed made up in his room, declaring that no one else must sit up
with him; thus she, was able to watch the progress of the malady and
see with her own eyes the conflict between death and life in the body
of her father.  The next day the doctor came again: M. d'Aubray was
worse; the nausea had ceased, but the pains in the stomach were now
more acute; a strange fire seemed to burn his vitals; and a treatment
was ordered which necessitated his return to Paris.  He was soon so
weak that he thought it might be best to go only so far as Compiegne,
but the marquise was so insistent as to the necessity for further and
better advice than anything he could get away from home, that M.
d'Aubray decided to go.  He made the journey in his own carriage,
leaning upon his daughter's shoulder; the behaviour of the marquise
was always the same: at last M. d'Aubray reached Paris.  All had
taken place as the marquise desired; for the scene was now changed:
the doctor who had witnessed the symptoms would not be present at the
death; no one could discover the cause by studying the progress of
the disorder; the thread of investigation was snapped in two, and the
two ends were now too distant to be joined again.  In spite, of every
possible attention, M. d'Aubray grew continually worse; the marquise

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