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

man beat his wife every night, and made such a row that no one could
sleep--gone also.  I put up notices--no one even looks at them!  A
few months ago--it was the middle of December, the day of the last

"The 15th, then," said the hawker.  "I cried it, so I know; it's my
trade, that."

"Very well, then, the 15th," resumed widow Masson.  "On that day,
then, I let the cellar to a man who said he was a wine merchant, and
who paid a term in advance, seeing that I didn't know him, and
wouldn't have lent him a farthing on the strength of his good looks.
He was a little bit of a man, no taller than that,"--contemptuously
holding out her hand,--"and he had two round eyes which I didn't like
at, all.  He certainly paid, he did that, but we are more than half
through the second term and I have no news of my tenant."

"And have you never seen him since?"

"Yes, once--no, twice.  Let's see--three times, I am sure.  He came
with a hand-cart and a commissionaire, and had a big chest taken
downstairs--a case which he said contained wine in bottles....

"No, he came before that, with a workman I think.

"Really, I don't know if it was before or after--doesn't matter.
Anyhow, it was bottled wine.  The third time he brought a mason, and
I am sure they quarreled.  I heard their voices.  He carried off the
key, and I have seen neither him nor his wine again.  I have another
key, and I went down one day; perhaps the rats have drunk the wine
and eaten the chest, for there certainly is nothing there any more
than there is in my hand now.  Nevertheless, I saw what I saw.  A big
chest, very big, quite new, and corded all round with strong rope."

"Now, what day was that?  "asked the hawker.

"What day?  Well, it was--no, I can't remember."

"Nor I either; I am getting stupid.  Let's have another little
glass-shall we? just to clear our memories!"

The expedient was not crowned with success, the memories failed to
recover themselves.  The crowd waited, attentive, as may be supposed.
Suddenly the hawker exclaimed:

"What a fool I am!  I am going to find that, if only I have still got

She felt eagerly in the pocket of her underskirt, and produced
several pieces of dirty, crumpled paper.  As she unfolded one after
another, she asked:

"A big chest, wasn't it?"

"Yes, very big."

"And quite new?"

"Quite new."

"And corded?"

"Yes, I can see it now."

"So can I, good gracious!  It was the day when I sold the history of
Leroi de Valines, the 1st of February."

"Yes, it was a Saturday; the next day was Sunday."

"That's it, that's it!--Saturday, February 1st.  Well, I know that
chest too!  I met your wine merchant on the Place du Louvre, and he
wasn't precisely enjoying himself: one of his creditors wanted to
seize the chest, the wine, the whole kettle of fish!  A little man,
isn't he?--a scarecrow?"

"Just SO."

"And has red hair?"

"That's the man."

"And looks a hypocrite?"

"You've hit it exactly."

"And he is a hypocrite!  enough to make one shudder!  No doubt he
can't pay his rent!  A thief, my dears, a beggarly thief, who set
fire to his own cellar, and who accused me of trying to steal from
him, while it was he who cheated me, the villain, out of a piece of
twenty-four sous.  It's lucky I turned up here!  Well, well, we shall
have some fun!  Here's another little business on your hands, and you
will have to say where that wine has got to, my dear gossip Derues."

"Derues!" cried twenty voices all at once.

"What!  Derues who is in Prison?"

"Why, that's Monsieur de Lamotte's man."

"The man who killed Madame de Lamotte?"

"The man who made away with her son?"

"A scoundrel, my dears, who accused me of stealing, an absolute

"It is just a little unfortunate," said widow Masson, "that it isn't
the man.  My tenant calls himself Ducoudray.  There's his name on the

"Confound it, that doesn't look like it at all," said the hawker:
"now that's a bore!  Oh yes, I have a grudge against that thief, who
accused me of stealing.  I told him I should sell his history some
day.  When that happens, I'll treat you all round."

As a foretaste of the fulfilment of this promise, the company
disposed of a second bottle of liqueur, and, becoming excited, they
chattered at random for some time, but at length slowly dispersed,
and the street relapsed into the silence of night.  But, a few hours
later, the inhabitants were surprised to see the two ends occupied by
unknown people, while other sinister-looking persons patrolled it all
night, as if keeping guard.  The next morning a carriage escorted by
police stopped at the widow Masson's door.  An officer of police got
out and entered a neighbouring house, whence he emerged a quarter of
an hour later with Monsieur de Lamotte leaning on his arm.  The
officer demanded the key of the cellar which last December had been
hired from the widow Masson by a person named Ducoudray, and went
down to it with Monsieur de Lamotte and one of his subordinates.

The carriage standing at the door, the presence of the commissioner
Mutel, the chatter of the previous evening, had naturally roused
everybody's imagination.  But this excitement had to be kept for home
use: the whole street was under arrest, and its inhabitants were
forbidden to leave their houses.  The windows, crammed with anxious
faces, questioning each other, in the expectation of something
wonderful, were a curious sight; and the ignorance in which they
remained, these mysterious preparations, these orders silently
executed, doubled the curiosity, and added a sort of terror: no one
could see the persons who had accompanied the police officer; three
men remained in the carriage, one guarded by the two others.  When
the heavy coach turned into the rue de la Mortellerie, this man had
bent towards the closed window and asked--

"Where are we?"

And when they answered him, he said--

"I do not know this street; I was never in it."

After saying this quite quietly, he asked--

"Why am I brought here?"

As no one replied, he resumed his look of indifference, and betrayed
no emotion, neither when the carriage stopped nor when he saw
Monsieur de Lamotte enter the widow Masson's house.

The officer reappeared on the threshold, and ordered Derues to be
brought in.

The previous evening, detectives, mingling with the crowd, had
listened to the hawker's story of having met Derues near the Louvre
escorting a large chest.  The police magistrate was informed in the
course of the evening.  It was an indication, a ray of light, perhaps
the actual truth, detached from obscurity by chance gossip; and
measures were instantly taken to prevent anyone either entering or
leaving the street without being followed and examined.  Mutel
thought he was on the track, but the criminal might have accomplices
also on the watch, who, warned in time, might be able to remove the
proofs of the crime, if any existed.

Derues was placed between two men who each held an arm.  A third went
before, holding a torch. The commissioner, followed by men also
carrying torches, and provided with spades and pickaxes, came behind,
and in this order they descended to the vault.  It was a dismal and
terrifying procession; anyone beholding these dark and sad
countenances, this pale and resigned man, passing thus into these
damp vaults illuminated by the flickering glare of torches, might
well have thought himself the victim of illusion and watching some
gloomy execution in a dream.  But all was real and when light
penetrated this dismal charnel-house it seemed at once to illuminate
its secret depths, so that the light of truth might at length
penetrate these dark shadows, and that the voice of the dead would
speak from the earth and the walls.

"Wretch!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte, when he saw Derues appear,
"is it here that you murdered my wife and my son?"

Derues looked calmly at him, and replied--

"I beg you, sir, not to add insult to the misfortunes you have
already caused.  If you stood in my place and I were in yours, I
should feel some pity and respect for so terrible a position.  What
do you want me? and why am I brought here?"

He did not know the events of last evening, and could only mentally
accuse the mason who had helped to bury the chest.  He felt that he
was lost, but his audacity never forsook him.

"You are here, in the first place, to be confronted with this woman,"
said the officer, causing the widow Masson to stand opposite to him.

"I do not know her."

"But I know you, and know you well.  It was you who hired this cellar
under the name of Ducoudray."

Derues shrugged his shoulders and answered bitterly--

"I can understand a man being condemned to the torture if he is
guilty, but that in order to accomplish one's mission as accuser, and
to discover a criminal, false witnesses who can give no evidence
should be brought a hundred leagues, that the rabble should be roused
up, that divers faces and imaginary names should be bestowed on an
innocent man, in order to turn a movement of surprise or an indignant
gesture to his disadvantage, all this is iniquitous, and goes beyond
the right of judgment bestowed upon men by God.  I do not know this
woman, and no matter what she says or does, I shall say no more."

Neither the skill nor threats of the police officer could shake this
resolution.  It was to no purpose that the widow Masson repeated and
asseverated that she recognised him as her tenant Ducoudray, and that
he had had a large case of wine taken down into the cellar; Derues
folded his arms, and remained as motionless as if he had been blind
and deaf.

The walls were sounded, the stones composing them carefully examined,
the floor pierced in several places, but nothing unusual was

Would they have to give it up?  Already the officer was making signs
to this effect, when the man who had remained at first below with
Monsieur de Lamotte, and who, standing in shadow, had carefully
watched Derues when he was brought down, came forward, and pointing

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: