List Of Contents | Contents of Derues, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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traced.  Derues requested the carpenter's wife to allow the chest to
remain in the large workshop, saying he had forgotten something at
his own house, and would return to fetch it in three hours.  But,
instead of a few hours, he left it for two whole days--why, one does
not know, but it may be supposed that he wanted the time to dig a
trench in a sort of vault under the staircase leading to the cellar
in the rue de la Mortellerie.  Whatever the cause, the delay might
have been fatal, and did occasion an unforeseen encounter which
nearly betrayed him.  But of all the actors in this scene he alone
knew the real danger he incurred, and his coolness never deserted him
for a moment.

The third day, as he walked alongside the handcart on which the chest
was being conveyed, he was accosted at Saint Germain l'Auxerrois by a
creditor who had obtained a writ of execution against him, and at the
imperative sign made by this man the porter stopped.  The creditor
attacked Derues violently, reproaching him for his bad faith in
language which was both energetic and uncomplimentary; to which the
latter replied in as conciliatory a manner as he could assume.  But
it was impossible to silence the enemy, and an increasing crowd of
idlers began to assemble round them.

"When will you pay me?" demanded the creditor.  "I have an execution
against you.  What is there in that box?  Valuables which you cart
away secretly, in order to laugh at my just claims, as you did two
years ago?"

Derues shuddered all over; he exhausted himself in protestations; but
the other, almost beside himself, continued to shout.

"Oh!" he said, turning to the crowd, "all these tricks and grimaces
and signs of the cross are no good.  I must have my money, and as I
know what his promises are worth, I will pay myself!  Come, you
knave, make haste.  Tell me what there is in that box; open it, or I
will fetch the police."

The crowd was divided between the creditor and debtor, and possibly a
free fight would have begun, but the general attention was distracted
by the arrival of another spectator.  A voice heard above all the
tumult caused a score of heads to turn, it was the voice of a woman

"The abominable history of Leroi de Valine, condemned to death at the
age of sixteen for having poisoned his entire family!"

Continually crying her wares, the drunken, staggering woman
approached the crowd, and striking out right and left with fists and
elbows, forced her way to Derues.

"Ah! ah!" said she, after looking him well over, "is it you, my
gossip Derues!  Have you again a little affair on hand like the one
when you set fire to your shop in the rue Saint-Victor?"

Derues recognised the hawker who had abused him on the threshold of
his shop some years previously, and whom he had never seen since.
"Yes, yes," she continued, "you had better look at me with your
little round cat's eyes.  Are you going to say you don't know me?"

Derues appealed to his creditor.  "You see," he said, "to what
insults you are exposing me.  I do not know this woman who abuses

"What!--you don't know me!  You who accused me of being a thief!  But
luckily the Maniffets have been known in Paris as honest people for
generations, while as for you----"

"Sir," said Derues, "this case contains valuable wine which I am
commissioned to sell.  To-morrow I shall receive the money for it;
to-morrow, in the course of the day, I will pay what I owe you.  But
I am waited for now, do not in Heaven's name detain me longer, and
thus deprive me of the means of paying at all."

"Don't believe him, my good man," said the hawker; "lying comes
natural to him always."

"Sir, I promise on my oath you shall be paid tomorrow; you had better
trust the word of an honest man rather than the ravings of a drunken

The creditor still hesitated, but, another person now spoke in
Derues' favour; it was the carpenter Mouchy, who had inquired the
cause of the quarrel.

"For God's sake," he exclaimed, "let the gentleman go on.  That chest
came from my workshop, and I know there is wine inside it; he told my
wife so two days ago."

"Will you be surety for me, my friend?" asked Derues.

"Certainly I will; I have not known you for ten years in order to
leave you in trouble and refuse to answer for you.  What the devil
are respectable people to be stopped like this in a public place?
Come, sir, believe his word, as I do."

After some more discussion, the porter was at last allowed to proceed
with his hand-cart.  The hawker wanted to interfere, but Mouchy
warned her off and ordered her to be silent.  "Ah! ah!" she cried,
"what does it matter to me?  Let him sell his wine if he can; I shall
not drink any on his premises.  This is the second time he has found
a surety to my knowledge; the beggar must have some special secret
for encouraging the growth of fools.  Good-bye, gossip Derues; you
know I shall be selling your history some day.  Meanwhile----

"The abominable history of Leroi de Valine, condemned to death at the
age of sixteen for having poisoned his entire family!"

Whilst she amused the people by her grimaces and grotesque gestures,
and while Mouchy held forth to some of them, Derues made his escape.
Several times between Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois and the rue de la
Mortellerie he nearly fainted, and was obliged to stop.  While the
danger lasted, he had had sufficient self-control to confront it
coolly, but now that he calculated the depth of the abyss which for a
moment had opened beneath his feet, dizziness laid hold on him.

Other precautions now became necessary.  His real name had been
mentioned before the commissionaire, and the widow Masson, who owned
the cellar, only knew him as Ducoudray.  He went on in front, asked
for the keys, which till then had been left with her, and the chest
was got downstairs without any awkward questions.  Only the porter
seemed astonished that this supposed wine, which was to be sold
immediately, should be put in such a place, and asked if he might
come the next day and move it again.  Derues replied that someone was
coming for it that very day.  This question, and the disgraceful
scene which the man had witnessed, made it necessary to get rid of
him without letting him see the pit dug under the staircase.  Derues
tried to drag the chest towards the hole, but all his strength was
insufficient to move it.  He uttered terrible imprecations when he
recognised his own weakness, and saw that he would be obliged to
bring another stranger, an informer perhaps, into this charnel-house,
where; as yet, nothing betrayed his crimes.  No sooner escaped from
one peril than he encountered another, and already he had to struggle
against his own deeds.  He measured the length of the trench, it was
too short.  Derues went out and repaired to the place where he had
hired the labourer who had dug it out, but he could not find the man,
whom he had only seen once, and whose name he did not know.  Two
whole days were spent in this fruitless search, but on the third, as
he was wandering on one of the quays at the time labourers were to be
found there, a mason, thinking he was looking for someone, inquired
what he wanted.  Derues looked well at the man, and concluding from
his appearance that he was probably rather simpleminded, asked--

"Would you like to earn a crown of three livres by an easy job?"

"What a question, master!" answered the mason.  "Work is so scarce
that I am going back into the country this very evening."

"Very well!  Bring your tools, spade, and pickaxe, and follow me."

They both went down to the cellar, and the mason was ordered to dig
out the pit till it was five and a half feet deep.  While the man
worked, Derues sat beside the chest and read.  When it was half done,
the mason stopped for breath, and leaning on his spade, inquired why
he wanted a trench of such a depth.  Derues, who had probably
foreseen the question, answered at once, without being disconcerted--

"I want to bury some bottled wine which is contained in this case."

"Wine!" said the other.  "Ah!  you are laughing at me, because you
think I look a fool!  I never yet heard of such a recipe for
improving wine."

"Where do you come from?"


"Cider drinker!  You were brought up in Normandy, that is clear.
Well, you can learn from me, Jean-Baptiste Ducoudray, a wine grower
of Tours, and a wine merchant for the last ten years, that new wine
thus buried for a year acquires the quality and characteristics of
the oldest brands."

"It is possible," said the mason, again taking his spade, "but all
the same it seems a little odd to me."

When he had finished, Derues asked him to help to drag the chest
alongside the trench, so that it might be easier to take out the
bottles and arrange them: The mason agreed, but when he moved the
chest the foetid odour which proceeded from it made him draw back,
declaring that a smell such as that could not possibly proceed from
wine.  Derues tried to persuade him that the smell came from drains
under the cellar, the pipe of which could be seen.  It appeared to
satisfy him, and he again took hold of the chest, but immediately let
it go again, and said positively that he could not execute Derues'
orders, being convinced that the chest must contain a decomposing
corpse.  Then Derues threw himself at the man's feet and acknowledged
that it was the dead body of a woman who had unfortunately lodged in
his house, and who had died there suddenly from an unknown malady,
and that, dreading lest he should be accused of having murdered her,
he had decided to conceal the death and bury her here.

The mason listened, alarmed at this confidence, and not knowing
whether to believe it or not.  Derues sobbed and wept at his feet,
beat his breast and tore out his hair, calling on God and the saints
as witnesses of his good faith and his innocence.  He showed the book
he was reading while the mason excavated: it was the Seven
Penitential Psalms.  "How unfortunate I am!" he cried.  "This woman
died in my house, I assure you--died suddenly, before I could call a

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