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

this girl, much alarmed, acknowledged, after a great deal of
hesitation, that she had posted the letter in obedience to her
mistress's orders.  Whereupon Madame Derues was sent as a prisoner to
Fort l'Eveque, and her husband transferred to the Grand-Chatelet.  On
being interrogated, she at length owned that she had sent these notes
to Monsieur de Lamotte's lawyer, and that her husband had given them
her in an envelope hidden in the soiled linen for which she had
brought him clean in exchange.

All this certainly amounted to serious presumptive evidence of guilt,
and if Derues had shown himself to the multitude, which followed
every phase of the investigation with increasing anxiety, a thousand
arms would have willingly usurped the office of the executioner; but
the distance thence to actual proof of murder was enormous for the
magistracy.  Derues maintained his tranquillity, always asserting
that Madame de Lamotte and her son were alive, and would clear him by
their reappearance.  Neither threats nor stratagems succeeded in
making him contradict himself, and his assurance shook the strongest
conviction.  A new difficulty was added to so much uncertainty.

A messenger had been sent off secretly with all haste to Lyons; his
return was awaited for a test which it was thought would be decisive.

One morning Derues was fetched from his prison and taken to a lower
hall of the Conciergerie.  He received no answers to the questions
addressed to his escort, and this silence showed him the necessity of
being on his guard and preserving his imperturbable demeanour
whatever might happen.  On arriving, he found the commissioner of
police, Mutel, and some other persons.  The hall being very dark, had
been illuminated with several torches, and Derues was so placed that
the light fell strongly on his face, and was then ordered to look
towards a particular part of the hall.  As he did so, a door opened,
and a man entered.  Derues beheld him with indifference, and seeing
that the stranger was observing him attentively, he bowed to him as
one might bow to an unknown person whose curiosity seems rather

It was impossible to detect the slightest trace of emotion, a hand
placed on his heart would not have felt an increased pulsation, yet
this stranger's recognition would be fatal!

Mutel approached the new-comer and whispered--

"Do you recognise him?"

"No, I do not."

"Have the kindness to leave the room for a moment; we will ask you to
return immediately."

This individual was the lawyer in whose office at Lyons the deed had
been drawn up which Derues had signed, disguised as a woman, and
under the name of Marie-Francoise Perier, wife of the Sieur de

A woman's garments were brought in, and Derues was ordered to put
them on, which he did readily, affecting much amusement.  As he was
assisted to disguise himself, he laughed, stroked his chin and
assumed mincing airs, carrying effrontery so far as to ask for a

"I should like to see if it is becoming," he said; "perhaps I might
make some conquests."

The lawyer returned: Derues was made to pass before him, to sit at a
table, sign a paper, in fact to repeat everything it was imagined he
might have said or done in the lawyer's office.  This second attempt
at identification succeeded no better than the first.  The lawyer
hesitated; then, understanding all the importance of his deposition,
he refused to swear to anything, and finally declared that this was
not the person who had come to him at Lyons.

"I am sorry, sir," said Derues, as they removed him, "that you should
have been troubled by having to witness this absurd comedy.  Do not
blame me for it; but ask Heaven to enlighten those who do not fear to
accuse me.  As for me, knowing that my innocence will shortly be made
clear, I pardon them henceforth."

Although justice at this period was generally expeditious, and the
lives of accused persons were by no means safe-guarded as they now
are, it was impossible to condemn Derues in the absence of any
positive proofs of guilt.  He knew this, and waited patiently in his
prison for the moment when he should triumph over the capital
accusation which weighed against him.  The storm no longer thundered
over his head, the most terrible trials were passed, the examinations
became less frequent, and there were no more surprises to dread.  The
lamentations of Monsieur de Lamotte went to the hearts of the
magistrates, but his certainty could not establish theirs, and they
pitied, but could not avenge him.  In certain minds a sort of
reaction favourable to the prisoner began to set in.  Among the dupes
of Derues' seeming piety, many who at first held their peace under
these crushing accusations returned to their former opinion.  The
bigots and devotees, all who made a profession of kneeling in the
churches, of publicly crossing themselves and dipping their fingers
in the holy water, and who lived on cant and repetitions of "Amen"
and "Alleluia," talked of persecution, of martyrdom, until Derues
nearly became a saint destined by the Almighty to find canonisation
in a dungeon.  Hence arose quarrels and arguments; and this abortive
trial, this unproved accusation, kept the public imagination in a
constant ferment.

To the greater part of those who talk of the "Supreme Being," and who
expect His intervention in human affairs, "Providence" is only a
word, solemn and sonorous, a sort of theatrical machine which sets
all right in the end, and which they glorify with a few banalities
proceeding from the lips, but not from the heart.  It is true that
this unknown and mysterious Cause which we call "God" or "Chance"
often appears so exceedingly blind and deaf that one may be permitted
to wonder whether certain crimes are really set apart for punishment,
when so many others apparently go scot-free.  How many murders remain
buried in the night of the tomb! how many outrageous and avowed
crimes have slept peacefully in an insolent and audacious prosperity!
We know the names of many criminals, but who can tell the number of
unknown and forgotten victims?  The history of humanity is twofold,
and like that of the invisible world, which contains marvels
unexplored by the science of the visible one, the history recounted
in books is by no means the most curious and strange.  But without
delaying over questions such as these, without protesting here
against sophistries which cloud the conscience and hide the presence
of an avenging Deity, we leave the facts to the general judgment, and
have now to relate the last episode in this long and terrible drama.

Of all the populous quarters of Paris which commented on the "affaire
Derues," none showed more excitement than that of the Greve, and
amongst all the surrounding streets none could boast more numerous
crowds than the rue de la Mortellerie.  Not that a secret instinct
magnetised the crowd in the very place where the proof lay buried,
but that each day its attention was aroused by a painful spectacle.
A pale and grief-stricken man, whose eyes seemed quenched in tears,
passed often down the street, hardly able to drag himself along; it
was Monsieur de Lamotte, who lodged, as we have said, in the rue de
la Mortellerie, and who seemed like a spectre wandering round a tomb.
The crowd made way and uncovered before him, everybody respected such
terrible misfortune, and when he had passed, the groups formed up
again, and continued discussing the mystery until nightfall.

On April 17th, about four in the afternoon, a score of workmen and
gossiping women had collected in front of a shop.  A stout woman,
standing on the lowest step, like an orator in the tribune, held
forth and related for the twentieth time what she knew, or rather,
did not know.  There were listening ears and gaping mouths, even a
slight shudder ran through the group; for the widow Masson,
discovering a gift of eloquence at the age of sixty, contrived to
mingle great warmth and much indignation in her recital.  All at once
silence fell on the crowd, and a passage was made for Monsieur de
Lamotte.  One man ventured to ask--

"Is there anything fresh to-day?"

A sad shake of the head was the only answer, and the unhappy man
continued his way.

"Is that Monsieur de Lamotte?" inquired a particularly dirty woman,
whose cap, stuck on the side of her, head, allowed locks of grey hair
to straggle from under it.  "Ah!  is that Monsieur de Lamotte?"

"Dear me!" said a neighbour, "don't you know him by this time?  He
passes every day."

"Excuse me!  I don't belong to this quarter, and--no offence--but it
is not so beautiful as to bring one out of curiosity!  Nothing
personal--but it is rather dirty."

Madame is probably accustomed to use a carriage."

"That would suit you better than me, my dear, and would save your
having to buy shoes to keep your feet off the ground!"

The crowd seemed inclined to hustle the speaker,--

"Wait a moment!" she continued, "I didn't mean to offend anyone.  I
am a poor woman, but there's no disgrace in that, and I can afford a
glass of liqueur.  Eh, good gossip, you understand, don't you?  A
drop of the best for Mother Maniffret, and if my fine friend there
will drink with me to settle our difference, I will stand her a

The example set by the old hawker was contagious, and instead of
filling two little glasses only, widow Masson dispensed a bottleful.

"Come, you have done well," cried Mother Maniffret; "my idea has
brought you luck."

"Faith! not before it was wanted, either!"

"What! are you complaining of trade too?"

"Ah! don't mention it; it is miserable!"

"There's no trade at all.  I scream myself hoarse all day, and choke
myself for twopence halfpenny.  I don't know what's to come of it
all.  But you seem to have a nice little custom."

"What's the good of that, with a whole house on one's hands?  It's
just my luck; the old tenants go, and the new ones don't come."

"What's the matter, then?"

"I think the devil's in it.  There was a nice man on the first
floor-gone; a decent family on the third, all right except that the

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: