List Of Contents | Contents of The Countess of Saint Geran, by Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

at midday.  The mistress of the house where he put up, who was
nursing an infant, consented to give some of her milk to the child.
The poor creature was covered with blood; she warmed some water,
stripped off its swaddling linen, washed it from head to foot, and
swathed it up again more neatly.

The carrier then took them to Riom.  When they got there, Baulieu got
rid of him by giving a false meeting-place for their departure; left
in the direction of the abbey of Lavoine, and reached the village of
Descoutoux, in the mountains, between Lavoine and Thiers.  The
Marchioness de Bouille had a chateau there where she occasionally
spent some time.

The child was nursed at Descoutoux by Gabrielle Moini, who was paid a
month in advance; but she only kept it a week or so, because they
refused to tell her the father and mother and to refer her to a place
where she might send reports of her charge.  This woman having made
these reasons public, no nurse could be found to take charge of the
child, which was removed from the village of Descoutoux.  The persons
who removed it took the highroad to Burgundy, crossing a densely
wooded country, and here they lost their way.

The above particulars were subsequently proved by the nurses, the
carrier, and others who made legal depositions.  They are stated at
length here, as they proved very important in the great lawsuit.  The
compilers of the case, into which we search for information, have
however omitted to tell us how the absence of the major-domo was
accounted for at the castle; probably the far-sighted marquis had got
an excuse ready.

The countess's state of drowsiness continued till daybreak.  She woke
bathed in blood, completely exhausted, but yet with a sensation of
comfort which convinced her that she had been delivered from her
burden.  Her first words were about her child; she wished to see it,
kiss it; she asked where it was.  The midwife coolly told her, whilst
the girls who were by were filled with amazement at her audacity,
that she had not been confined at all.  The countess maintained the
contrary, and as she grew very excited, the midwife strove to calm
her, assuring her that in any case her delivery could not be long
protracted, and that, judging from all the indications of the night,
she would give birth to a boy.  This promise comforted the count and
the countess dowager, but failed to satisfy the countess, who
insisted that a child had been born.

The same day a scullery-maid met a woman going to the water's edge in
the castle moat, with a parcel in her arms.  She recognised the
midwife, and asked what she was carrying and where she was going so
early.  The latter replied that she was very inquisitive, and that it
was nothing at all; but the girl, laughingly pretending to be angry
at this answer, pulled open one of the ends of the parcel before the
midwife had time to stop her, and exposed to view some linen soaked
in blood.

"Madame has been confined, then?" she said to the matron.

"No," replied she briskly, "she has not."

The girl was unconvinced, and said, "How do you mean that she has
not, when madame the marchioness, who was there, says she has?"  The
matron in great confusion replied, "She must have a very long tongue,
if she said so."

The girl's evidence was later found most important.

The countess's uneasiness made her worse the next day.  She implored
with sighs and tears at least to be told what had become of her
child, steadily maintaining that she was not mistaken when she
assured them that she had given birth to one.  The midwife with great
effrontery told her that the new moon was unfavourable to childbirth,
and that she must wait for the wane, when it would be easier as
matters were already prepared.

Invalids' fancies do not obtain much credence; still, the persistence
of the countess would have convinced everyone in the long run, had
not the dowager said that she remembered at the end of the ninth
month of one of her own pregnancies she had all the premonitory
symptoms of lying in, but they proved false, and in fact the
accouchement took place three months later.

This piece of news inspired great confidence.  The marquis and Madame
de Bouille did all in their power to confirm it, but the countess
obstinately refused to listen to it, and her passionate transports of
grief gave rise to the greatest anxiety.  The midwife, who knew not
how to gain time, and was losing all hope in face of the countess's
persistence, was almost frightened out of her wits; she entered into
medical details, and finally said that some violent exercise must be
taken to induce labour.  The countess, still unconvinced, refused to
obey this order; but the count, the dowager, and all the family
entreated her so earnestly that she gave way.

They put her in a close carriage, and drove her a whole day over
ploughed fields, by the roughest and hardest roads.  She was so
shaken that she lost the power of breathing; it required all the
strength of her constitution to support this barbarous treatment in
the delicate condition of a lady so recently confined.  They put her
to bed again after this cruel drive, and seeing that nobody took her
view, she threw herself into the arms of Providence, and consoled
herself by religion; the midwife administered violent remedies to
deprive her of milk; she got over all these attempts to murder her,
and slowly got better.

Time, which heals the deepest affliction, gradually soothed that of
the countess; her grief nevertheless burst out periodically on the
slightest cause; but eventually it died out, till the following
events rekindled it.

There had been in Paris a fencing-master who used to boast that he
had a brother in the service of a great house.  This fencing-master
had married a certain Marie Pigoreau, daughter of an actor.  He had
recently died in poor circumstances, leaving her a widow with two
children.  This woman Pigoreau did not enjoy the best of characters,
and no one knew how she made a living, when all at once, after some
short absences from home and visit from a man who came in the
evening, his face muffled in his cloak, she launched out into a more
expensive style of living; the neighbours saw in her house costly
clothes, fine swaddling-clothes, and at last it became known that she
was nursing a strange child.

About the same time it also transpired that she had a deposit of two
thousand livres in the hands of a grocer in the quarter, named
Raguenet; some days later, as the child's baptism had doubtless been
put off for fear of betraying his origin, Pigoreau had him christened
at St. Jean en Greve.  She did not invite any of the neighbours to
the function, and gave parents' names of her own choosing at the
church.  For godfather she selected the parish sexton, named Paul
Marmiou, who gave the child the name of Bernard.  La Pigoreau
remained in a confessional during the ceremony, and gave the man ten
sou.  The godmother was Jeanne Chevalier, a poor woman of the parish.

The entry in the register was as follows:-

     "On the seventh day of March one thousand six hundred and
     forty-two was baptized Bernard, son of .  .  .  and .  .  .  his
     godfather being Paul Marmiou, day labourer and servant of this
     parish, and his godmother Jeanne Chevalier, widow of Pierre

A few days afterwards la Pigoreau put out the child to nurse in the
village of Torcy en Brie, with a woman who had been her godmother,
whose husband was called Paillard.  She gave out that it was a child
of quality which had been entrusted to her, and that she should not
hesitate, if such a thing were necessary, to save its life by the
loss of one of her own children.  The nurse did not keep it long,
because she fell ill; la Pigoreau went to fetch the child away,
lamenting this accident, and further saying that she regretted it all
the more, as the nurse would have earned enough to make her
comfortable for the rest of her life.  She put the infant out again
in the same village, with the widow of a peasant named Marc Peguin.
The monthly wage was regularly paid, and the child brought up as one
of rank.  La Pigoreau further told the woman that it was the son of a
great nobleman, and would later make the fortunes of those who served
him.  An elderly man, whom the people supposed to be the child's
father, but who Pigoreau assured them was her brother-in-law, often
came to see him.

When the child was eighteen months old, la Pigoreau took him away and
weaned him.  Of the two by her husband the elder was called Antoine,
the second would have been called Henri if he had lived; but he was
born on the 9th of August 1639, after the death of his father, who
was killed in June of the same year, and died shortly after his
birth.  La Pigoreau thought fit to give the name and condition of
this second son to the stranger, and thus bury for ever the secret of
his birth.  With this end in view, she left the quarter where she
lived, and removed to conceal herself in another parish where she was
not known.  The child was brought up under the name and style of
Henri, second son of la Pigoreau, till he was two and a half years of
age; but at this time, whether she was not engaged to keep it any
longer, or whether she had spent the two thousand livres deposited
with the grocer Raguenet, and could get no more from the principals,
she determined to get rid of it.

Her gossips used to tell this woman that she cared but little for her
eldest son, because she was very confident of the second one making
his fortune, and that if she were obliged to give up one of them, she
had better keep the younger, who was a beautiful boy.  To this she
would reply that the matter did not depend upon her; that the boy's
godfather was an uncle in good circumstances, who would not charge
himself with any other child.  She often mentioned this uncle, her
brother-in-law, she said, who was major-domo in a great house.

One morning, the hall porter at the hotel de Saint-Geran came to
Baulieu and told him that a woman carrying a child was asking for him

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: