List Of Contents | Contents of Derues, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

unknown handwriting, and in which Madame de Lamotte's reputation was
attacked with a kind of would-be reticence, which hinted that she was
an unfaithful wife and that in this lay the cause of her long
absence.  Her husband did not believe this anonymous denunciation,
but the fate of the two beings dearest to him seemed shrouded in so
much obscurity that he could delay no longer, and started for Paris.

His resolution not to accompany Derues had saved his life.  The
latter could not carry out his culminating crime at Buisson-Souef; it
was only in Paris that his victims would disappear without his being
called to account.  Obliged to leave hold of his prey, he endeavoured
to bewilder him in a labyrinth where all trace of truth might be
lost.  Already, as he had arranged beforehand, he had called calumny
to his help, and prepared the audacious lie which was to vindicate
himself should an accusation fall upon his head.  He had hoped that
Monsieur de Lamotte would fall defenceless into his hands; but now a
careful examination of his position, showing the impossibility of
avoiding an explanation had become inevitable, made him change all
his plans, and compelled him to devise an infernal plot, so skilfully
laid that it bid fair to defeat all human sagacity.

Monsieur de Lamotte arrived in Paris early in March.  Chance decided
that he should lodge in the rue de la Mortellerie, in a house not far
from the one where his wife's body lay buried.  He went to see
Derues, hoping to surprise him, and determined to make him speak, but
found he was not at home.  Madame Derues, whether acting with the
discretion of an accomplice or really ignorant of her husband's
proceedings, could not say where he was likely to be found.  She said
that he told her nothing about his actions, and that Monsieur de
Lamotte must have observed during their stay at Buisson (which was
true) that she never questioned him, but obeyed his wishes in
everything; and that he had now gone away without saying where he was
going.  She acknowledged that Madame de Lamotte had lodged with them
for six weeks, and that she knew that lady had been at Versailles,
but since then she had heard nothing.  All Monsieur de Lamotte's
questions, his entreaties, prayers, or threats, obtained no other
answer.  He went to the lawyer in the rue de Paon, to the
schoolmaster, and found the same uncertainty, the same ignorance.
His wife and his son had gone to Versailles, there the clue ended
which ought to guide his investigations.  He went to this town; no
one could give him any information, the very name of Lamotte was
unknown.  He returned to Paris, questioned and examined the people of
the quarter, the proprietor of the Hotel de France, where his wife
had stayed on her former visit; at length, wearied with useless
efforts, he implored help from justice.  Then his complaints ceased;
he was advised to maintain a prudent silence, and to await Derues'

The latter thoroughly understood that, having failed to dissipate
Monsieur de Lamotte's fears, there was no longer an instant to lose,
and that the pretended private contract of February 12th would not of
itself prove the existence of Madame de Lamotte.  This is how he
employed the time spent by the unhappy husband in fruitless

On March 12th, a woman, her face hidden in the hood of her cloak, or
"Therese," as it was then called, appeared in the office of Maitre
N-----, a notary at Lyons.  She gave her name as Marie Francoise
Perffier, wife of Monsieur Saint-Faust de Lamotte, but separated, as
to goods and estate, from him.  She caused a deed to be drawn up,
authorising her husband to receive the arrears of thirty thousand
livres remaining from the price of the estate of Buisson-Souef,
situated near Villeneuve-le-Roi-lez-Sens.  The deed was drawn up and
signed by Madame de Lamotte, by the notary, and one of his

This woman was Derues.  If we remember that he only arrived at
Buisson February 28th, and remained there for some days, it becomes
difficult to understand how at that period so long a journey as that
from Paris to Lyons could have been accomplished with such rapidity.
Fear must have given him wings.  We will now explain what use he
intended to make of it, and what fable, a masterpiece of cunning and
of lies, he had invented.

On his arrival in Paris he found a summons to appear before the
magistrate of police.  He expected this, and appeared quite tranquil,
ready to answer any questions.  Monsieur de Lamotte was present.  It
was a formal examination, and the magistrate first asked why he had
left Paris.

"Monsieur," replied Derues, "I have nothing to hide, and none of my
actions need fear the daylight, but before replying, I should like to
understand my position.  As a domiciled citizen I have a right to
require this.  Will you kindly inform me why I have been summoned to
appear before you, whether on account of anything personal to myself,
or simply to give information as to something which may be within my

"You are acquainted with this gentleman, and cannot therefore be
ignorant of the cause of the present inquiry."

"I am, nevertheless, quite in ignorance of it."

"Be good enough to answer my question.  Why did you leave Paris?  And
where have you been?"

"I was absent for business reasons."

"What business?"

"I shall say no more."

"Take care! you have incurred serious suspicions, and silence will
not tend to clear you."

Derues hung down his head with an air of resignation; and Monsieur de
Lamotte, seeing in this attitude a silent confession of crime,
exclaimed, "Wretched man! what have you done with my wife and my

"Your son!--" said Derues slowly and with peculiar emphasis.  He
again cast down his eyes.

The magistrate conducting the inquiry was struck by the expression of
Derues' countenance and by this half answer, which appeared to hide a
mystery and to aim at diverting attention by offering a bait to
curiosity.  He might have stopped Derues at the moment when he sought
to plunge into a tortuous argument, and compelled him to answer with
the same clearness and decision which distinguished Monsieur de
Lamotte's question; but he reflected that the latter's inquiries,
unforeseen, hasty, and passionate, were perhaps more likely to
disconcert a prepared defence than cooler and more skilful tactics.
He therefore changed his plans, contenting "himself for the moment
with the part of an observer only, and watching a duel between two
fairly matched antagonists.

"I require: you to tell me what has become of them," repeated
Monsieur de Lamotte.  "I have been to Versailles, you assured me they
were there."

"And I told you the truth, monsieur."

"No one has seen them, no one knows them; every trace is lost.  Your
Honour, this man must be compelled to answer, he must say what has
become of my wife and son!"

"I excuse your anxiety, I understand your trouble, but why appeal to
me?  Why am I supposed to know what may have happened to them?"

"Because I confided them to your care."

"As a friend, yes, I agree.  Yes, it is quite true that last December
I received a letter from you informing me of the impending arrival of
your wife and son.  I received them in my own house, and showed them
the same hospitality which I had received from you.  I saw them both,
your son often, your wife every day, until the day she left me to go
to Versailles.  Yes, I also took Edouard to his mother, who was
negotiating an appointment for him.  I have already told you all
this, and I repeat it because it is the truth.  You believed me then:
why do you not believe me now?  Why has what I say become strange and
incredible?  If your wife and your son have disappeared, am I
responsible?  Did you transmit your authority to me?  And now, in
what manner are you thus calling me to account?  Is it to the friend
who might have pitied, who might have aided your search, that you
thus address yourself?  Have you come to confide in me, to ask for
advice, for consolation?  No, you accuse me; very well! then I refuse
to speak, because, having no proofs, you yet accuse an honest man;
because your fears, whether real or imaginary, do not excuse you for
casting, I know not what odious suspicions, on a blameless
reputation, because I have the right to be offended.  Monsieur" he
continued, turning to the magistrate, "I believe you will appreciate
my moderation, and will allow me to retire.  If charges are brought
against me, I am quite ready to meet them, and to show what they are
really worth.  I shall remain in Paris, I have now no business which
requires my presence elsewhere."

He emphasised these last words, evidently intending to draw attention
to them.  It did not escape the magistrate, who inquired--

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing beyond my words, your Honour, Have I your permission to

"No, remain; you are pretending not to understand."

"I do not understand these insinuations so covertly made."

Monsieur de Lamotte rose, exclaiming--

"Insinuations!  What more can I say to compel you to answer?  My wife
and son have disappeared.  It is untrue that, as you pretend, they
have been at Versailles.  You deceived me at Buisson-Souef, just as
you are deceiving me now, as you are endeavouring to deceive justice
by inventing fresh lies.  Where are they?  What has become of them?
I am tormented by all the fears possible to a husband and father; I
imagine all the most terrible misfortunes, and I accuse you to your
face of having caused their death!  Is this sufficient, or do you
still accuse me of covert insinuations?"

Derues turned to the magistrate.  "Is this charge enough to place me
in the position of a criminal if I do not give a satisfactory

"Certainly; you should have thought of that sooner."

"Then," he continued, addressing Monsieur de Lamotte, "I understand
you persist in this odious accusation?"

"I certainly persist in it."

"You have forgotten our friendship, broken all bonds between us: I am
in your eyes only a miserable assassin?  You consider my silence as

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: