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List Of Contents | Contents of Derues, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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pretending at first to hide it as if it were something wrong.  He
tried to prevent the maid from going into his room, and when she
found out the straw he forbade her to mention it--which naturally
made her more anxious to relate her discovery.  Such a piece of
piety, combined with such meritorious humility, such dread of
publicity, could only increase the excellent opinion which everyone
already had of him.

Every day was marked by some fresh hypocrisy.  One of his sisters, a
novice in the convent of the Ladies of the Visitation of the Virgin,
was to take the veil at Easter.  Derues obtained permission to be
present at the ceremony, and was to start on foot on Good Friday.
When he departed, the shop happened to be full of people, and the
gossips of the neighbourhood inquired where he was going.  Madame
Legrand desired him to have a glass of liqueur (wine he never
touched) and something to eat before starting.

"Oh, madame!" he exclaimed, "do you think I could eat on a day like
this, the day on which Christ was crucified!  I will take a piece of
bread with me, but I shall only eat it at the inn where I intend to
sleep: I mean to fast the whole way."

But this kind of thing was not sufficient.  He wanted an opportunity
to establish a reputation for honesty on a firm basis.  Chance
provided one, and he seized it immediately, although at the expense
of a member of his own family.

One of his brothers, who kept a public-house at Chartres, came to see
him.  Derues, under pretence of showing him the sights of Paris,
which he did not know, asked his mistress to allow him to take in the
brother for a few days, which she granted.  The last evening of his
stay, Derues went up to his room, broke open the box which contained
his clothes, turned over everything it contained, examined the
clothes, and discovering two new cotton nightcaps, raised a cry which
brought up the household.  His brother just then returned, and Derues
called him an infamous thief, declaring that he had stolen the money
for these new articles out of the shop the evening before.  His
brother defended himself, protesting his innocence, and, indignant at
such incomprehensible treachery, endeavoured to turn the tables by
relating some of Antoine's early misdeeds.  The latter, however,
stopped him, by declaring on his honour that he had seen his brother
the evening before go to the till, slip his hand in, and take out
some money.  The brother was confounded and silenced by so audacious
a lie; he hesitated, stammered, and was turned out of the house.
Derues worthily crowned this piece of iniquity by obliging his
mistress to accept the restitution of the stolen money.  It cost him
three livres, twelve sons, but the interest it brought him was the
power of stealing unsuspected.  That evening he spent in prayer for
the pardon of his brother's supposed guilt.

All these schemes had succeeded, and brought him nearer to the
desired goal, for not a soul in the quarter ventured to doubt the
word of this saintly individual.  His fawning manners and insinuating
language varied according to the people addressed.  He adapted
himself to all, contradicting no one, and, while austere himself, he
flattered the tastes of others.  In the various houses where he
visited his conversation was serious, grave, and sententious; and, as
we have seen, he could quote Scripture with the readiness of a
theologian.  In the shop, when he had to deal with the lower classes,
he showed himself acquainted with their modes of expression, and
spoke the Billingsgate of the market-women, which he had acquired in
the rue Comtesse d'Artois, treating them familiarly, and they
generally addressed him as "gossip Denies." By his own account he
easily judged the characters of the various people with whom he came
in contact.

However, Pere Cartault's prophecy was not fulfilled: the blessing of
Heaven did not descend on the Legrand establishment.  There seemed to
be a succession of misfortunes which all Derues' zeal and care as
shopman could neither prevent nor repair.  He by no means contented
himself with parading an idle and fruitless hypocrisy, and his most
abominable deceptions were not those displayed in the light of day.
He watched by night: his singular organisation, outside the ordinary
laws of nature, appeared able to dispense with sleep.  Gliding about
on tiptoe, opening doors noiselessly, with all the skill of an
accomplished thief, he pillaged shop and cellar, and sold his plunder
in remote parts of the town under assumed names.  It is difficult to
understand how his strength supported the fatigue of this double
existence; he had barely arrived at puberty, and art had been obliged
to assist the retarded development of nature.  But he lived only for
evil, and the Spirit of Evil supplied the physical vigour which was
wanting.  An insane love of money (the only passion he knew) brought
him by degrees back to his starting-point of crime; he concealed it
in hiding-places wrought in the thick walls, in holes dug out by his
nails.  As soon as he got any, he brought it exactly as a wild beast
brings a piece of bleeding flesh to his lair; and often, by the
glimmer of a dark lantern, kneeling in adoration before this shameful
idol, his eyes sparkling with ferocious joy, with a smile which
suggested a hyena's delight over its prey, he would contemplate his
money, counting and kissing it.

These continual thefts brought trouble into the Legrand affairs,
cancelled all profits, and slowly brought on ruin.  The widow had no
suspicion of Derues' disgraceful dealings, and he carefully referred
the damage to other causes, quite worthy of himself.  Sometimes it
was a bottle of oil, or of brandy, or some other commodity, which was
found spilt, broken, or damaged, which accidents he attributed to the
enormous quantity of rats which infested the cellar and the house.
At length, unable to meet her engagements, Madame Legrand made the
business over to him in February, 1770.  He was then twenty-five
years and six months old, and was accepted as a merchant grocer in
August the same year.  By an agreement drawn up between them, Derues
undertook to pay twelve hundred livres for the goodwill, and to lodge
her rent free during the remainder of her lease, which had still nine
years to run.  Being thus obliged to give up business to escape
bankruptcy, Madame Legrand surrendered to her creditors any goods
remaining in her warehouse; and Derues easily made arrangements to
take them over very cheaply.  The first step thus made, he was now
able to enrich himself safely and to defraud with impunity under the
cover of his stolen reputation.

One of his uncles, a flour merchant at Chartres, came habitually
twice a year to Paris to settle accounts with his correspondents.  A
sum of twelve hundred francs, locked up in a drawer, was stolen from
him, and, accompanied by his nephew, he went to inform the police.
On investigation being made, it was found that the chest of drawers
had been broken at the top.  As at the time of the theft of the
seventy-nine Louis from the abbe, Derues was the only person known to
have entered his uncle's room.  The innkeeper swore to this, but the
uncle took pains to justify his nephew, and showed his confidence
shortly after by becoming surety for him to the extent of five
thousand livres.  Derues failed to pay when the time expired, and the
holder of the note was obliged to sue the surety for it.

He made use of any means, even the most impudent, which enabled him
to appropriate other people's property.  A provincial grocer on one
occasion sent him a thousand-weight of honey in barrels to be sold on
commission.  Two or three months passed, and he asked for an account
of the sale.  Derues replied that he had not yet been able to dispose
of it advantageously, and there ensued a fresh delay, followed by the
same question and the same reply.  At length, when more than a year
had passed, the grocer came to Paris, examined his barrels, and found
that five hundred pounds were missing.  He claimed damages from
Derues, who declared he had never received any more, and as the honey
had been sent in confidence, and there was no contract and no receipt
to show, the provincial tradesman could not obtain compensation.

As though having risen by the ruin of Madame Legrand and her four
children was not enough, Derues grudged even the morsel of bread he
had been obliged to leave her.  A few days after the fire in the
cellar, which enabled him to go through a second bankruptcy, Madame
Legrand, now undeceived and not believing his lamentations, demanded
the money due to her, according to their agreement.  Derues pretended
to look for his copy of the contract, and could not find it.  "Give
me yours, madame," said he; "we will write the receipt upon it.  Here
is the money."

The widow opened her purse and took out her copy; Derues snatched it,
and tore it up.  "Now," he exclaimed, "you are paid; I owe you
nothing now.  If you like, I will declare it on oath in court, and no
one will disbelieve my word."

"Wretched man," said the unfortunate widow, "may God forgive your
soul; but your body will assuredly end on the gallows!"

It was in vain that she complained, and told of this abominable
swindle; Derues had been beforehand with her, and the slander he had
disseminated bore its fruits.  It was said that his old mistress was
endeavouring by an odious falsehood to destroy the reputation of a
man who had refused to be her lover.  Although reduced to poverty,
she left the house where she had a right to remain rent free,
preferring the hardest and dreariest life to the torture of remaining
under the same roof with the man who had caused her ruin.

We might relate a hundred other pieces of knavery, but it must not be
supposed that having begun by murder, Derues would draw back and
remain contented with theft.  Two fraudulent bankruptcies would have
sufficed for most people; for him they were merely a harmless
pastime.  Here we must place two dark and obscure stories, two crimes
of which he is accused, two victims whose death groans no one heard.

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