List Of Contents | Contents of Derues, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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livres due for the purchase of my business."

"So soon as that?"

"Certainly, and I want the money.  Have you forgotten the date,

"Oh dear, I have never looked at the agreement since it was drawn up.
I did not think the time was so near, it is the fault of my bad
memory; but I will contrive to pay you, although trade is very bad,
and in three days I shall have to pay more than fifteen thousand
livres to different people."

He bowed again and departed, apparently exhausted by the effort of
sustaining so long a conversation.

As soon as they were alone, the abbe exclaimed--

"That man is assuredly an utter rascal!  May God forgive him his
hypocrisy!  How is it possible we could allow him to deceive us for
so long?"

"But, my father," interposed one of the visitors, "are you really
sure of what you have just said?"

"I am not now speaking of the seventy-nine Louis d'or which have been
stolen from me, although I never mentioned to anyone but you, and he
was then present, that I possessed such a sum, and although that very
day he made a false excuse for coming to my rooms when I was out.
Theft is indeed infamous, but slander is not less so, and he has
slandered you disgracefully.  Yes, he has spread a report that you,
Madame Legrand, you, his former mistress and benefactress, have put
temptation in his way, and desired to commit carnal sin with him.
This is now whispered the neighbourhood all round us, it will soon be
said aloud, and we have been so completely his dupes, we have helped
him so much to acquire a reputation for uprightness, that it would
now be impossible to destroy our own work; if I were to accuse him of
theft, and you charged him with lying, probably neither of us would
be believed.  Beware, these odious tales have not been spread without
a reason.  Now that your eyes are open, beware of him."

"Yes," replied Madame Legrand, "my brother-in-law warned me three
years ago.  One day Derues said to my sister-in-law,--I remember the
words.  perfectly,--'I should like to be a druggist, because one
would always be able to punish an enemy; and if one has a quarrel
with anyone it would be easy to get rid of him by means of a poisoned
draught.'  I neglected these warnings.  I surmounted the feeling of
repugnance I first felt at the sight of him; I have responded to his
advances, and I greatly fear I may have cause to repent it.  But you
know him as well as I do, who would not have thought his piety
sincere?--who would not still think so?  And notwithstanding all you
have said, I still hesitate to feel serious alarm; I am unwilling to
believe in such utter depravity."

The conversation continued in this strain for some time, and then, as
it was getting late, the party separated.

Next morning early, a large and noisy crowd was assembled in the rue
Saint-Victor before Derues' shop of drugs and groceries.  There was a
confusion of cross questions, of inquiries which obtained no answer,
of answers not addressed to the inquiry, a medley of sound, a
pell-mell of unconnected words, of affirmations, contradictions, and
interrupted narrations.  Here, a group listened to an orator who held
forth in his shirt sleeves, a little farther there were disputes,
quarrels, exclamations of "Poor man!"  "Such a good fellow!"  "My
poor gossip Derues!"  "Good heavens! what will he do now?"  "Alas!
he is quite done for; it is to be hoped his creditors will give him
time!  "Above all this uproar was heard a voice, sharp and piercing
like a cat's, lamenting, and relating with sobs the terrible
misfortune of last night.  At about three in the morning the
inhabitants of the rue St. Victor had been startled out of their
sleep by the cry of "Fire, fire!"  A conflagration had burst forth in
Derues' cellar, and though its progress had been arrested and the
house saved from destruction, all the goods stored therein had
perished.  It apparently meant a considerable loss in barrels of oil,
casks of brandy, boxes of soap, etc., which Derues estimated at not
less than nine thousand livres.

By what unlucky chance the fire had been caused he had no idea.  He
recounted his visit to Madame Legrand, and pale, trembling, hardly
able to sustain himself, he cried--

"I shall die of grief!  A poor man as ill as I am!  I am lost!  I am

A harsh voice interrupted his lamentations, and drew the attention of
the crowd to a woman carrying printed broadsides, and who forced a
passage through the crowd up to the shop door.  She unfolded one of
her sheets, and cried as loudly and distinctly as her husky voice

"Sentence pronounced by the Parliament of Paris against John Robert
Cassel, accused and convicted of Fraudulent Bankruptcy!"

Derues looked up and saw a street-hawker who used to come to his shop
for a drink, and with whom he had had a violent quarrel about a month
previously, she having detected him in a piece of knavery, and abused
him roundly in her own style, which was not lacking in energy.  He
had not seen her since.  The crowd generally, and all the gossips of
the quarter, who held Derues in great veneration, thought that the
woman's cry was intended as an indirect insult, and threatened to
punish her for this irreverence.  But, placing one hand on her hip,
and with the other warning off the most pressing by a significant

"Are you still befooled by his tricks, fools that you are?  Yes, no
doubt there was a fire in the cellar last night, no doubt his
creditors will be geese enough to let him off paying his debts!  But
what you don't know is, that he didn't really lose by it at all!"

"He lost all his goods!" the crowd cried on all sides.  "More than
nine thousand livres!  Oil and brandy, do you think those won't burn?
The old witch, she drinks enough to know!  If one put a candle near
her she would take fire, fast enough!"

"Perhaps," replied the woman, with renewed gesticulations, "perhaps;
but I don't advise any of you to try.  Anyhow, this fellow here is a
rogue; he has been emptying his cellar for the last three nights;
there were only old empty casks in it and empty packing-cases!  Oh
yes!  I have swallowed his daily lies like everybody else, but I know
the truth by now.  He got his liquor taken away by Michael
Lambourne's son, the cobbler in the rue de la Parcheminerie.  How do
I know?  Why, because the young man came and told me!"

"I turned that woman out of my shop a month ago, for stealing," said

Notwithstanding this retaliatory accusation, the woman's bold
assertion might have changed the attitude of the crowd and chilled
the enthusiasm, but at that moment a stout man pressed forward, and
seizing the hawker by the arm, said--

"Go, and hold your tongue, backbiting woman!"

To this man, the honour of Derues was an article of faith; he had not
yet ceased to wonder at the probity of this sainted person, and to
doubt it in the least was as good as suspecting his own.

"My dear friend," he said, "we all know what to think of you.  I know
you well.  Send to me tomorrow, and you shall have what goods you
want, on credit, for as long as is necessary.  Now, evil tongue, what
do you say to that?"

"I say that you are as great a fool as the rest.  Adieu, friend
Derues; go on as you have begun, and I shall be selling your
'sentence' some day"; and dispersing the crowd with a few twirls of
her right arm, she passed on, crying--

"Sentence pronounced by the Parliament of Paris against John Robert
Cassel, accused and convicted of Fraudulent Bankruptcy!"

This accusation emanated from too insignificant a quarter to have any
effect on Derues' reputation.  However resentful he may have been at
the time, he got over it in consequence of the reiterated marks of
interest shown by his neighbours and all the quarter on account of
his supposed ruin, and the hawker's attack passed out of his mind, or
probably she might have paid for her boldness with her life.

But this drunken woman had none the less uttered a prophetic word; it
was the grain of sand on which, later, he was to be shipwrecked.

"All passions," says La Bruyere,--"all passions are deceitful; they
disguise themselves as much as possible from the public eye; they
hide from themselves.  There is no vice which has not a counterfeit
resemblance to some virtue, and which does not profit by it."

The whole life of Derues bears testimony to the truth of this
observation.  An avaricious poisoner, he attracted his victims by the
pretence of fervent and devoted piety, and drew them into the snare
where he silently destroyed them.  His terrible celebrity only began
in 1777, caused by the double murder of Madame de Lamotte and her
son, and his name, unlike those of some other great criminals, does
not at first recall a long series of crimes, but when one examines
this low, crooked, and obscure life, one finds a fresh stain at every
step, and perhaps no one has ever surpassed him in dissimulation, in
profound hypocrisy, in indefatigable depravity.  Derues was executed
at thirty-two, and his whole life was steeped in vice; though happily
so short, it is full of horror, and is only a tissue of criminal
thoughts and deeds, a very essence of evil.  He had no hesitation, no
remorse, no repose, no relaxation; he seemed compelled to lie, to
steal, to poison!  Occasionally suspicion is aroused, the public has
its doubts, and vague rumours hover round him; but he burrows under
new impostures, and punishment passes by.  When he falls into the
hands of human justice his reputation protects him, and for a few
days more the legal sword is turned aside.  Hypocrisy is so
completely a part of his nature, that even when there is no longer
any hope, when he is irrevocably sentenced, and he knows that he can
no longer deceive anyone, neither mankind nor Him whose name he
profanes by this last sacrilege, he yet exclaims, "O Christ!  I shall
suffer even as Thou."  It is only by the light of his funeral pyre
that the dark places of his life can be examined, that this bloody
plot is unravelled, and that other victims, forgotten and lost in the

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