List Of Contents | Contents of Derues, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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shadows, arise like spectres at the foot of the scaffold, and escort
the assassin to his doom.

Let us trace rapidly the history of Derues' early years, effaced and
forgotten in the notoriety of his death.  These few pages are not
written for the glorification of crime, and if in our own days, as a
result of the corruption of our manners, and of a deplorable
confusion of all notions of right and wrong, it has been sought to
make him an object; of public interest, we, on our part, only wish to
bring him into notice, and place him momentarily on a pedestal, in
order to cast him still lower, that his fall may be yet greater.
What has been permitted by God may be related by man.  Decaying and
satiated communities need not be treated as children; they require
neither diplomatic handling nor precaution, and it may be good that
they should see and touch the putrescent sores which canker them.
Why fear to mention that which everyone knows?  Why dread to sound
the abyss which can be measured by everyone?  Why fear to bring into
the light of day unmasked wickedness, even though it confronts the
public gaze unblushingly?  Extreme turpitude and extreme excellence
are both in the schemes of Providence; and the poet has summed up
eternal morality for all ages and nations in this sublime

          "Abstulit hunc tandem Rufini poem tumultum."

Besides, and we cannot insist too earnestly that our intention must
not be mistaken, if we had wished to inspire any other sentiment than
that of horror, we should have chosen a more imposing personage from
the annals of crime.  There have been deeds which required audacity,
a sort of grandeur, a false heroism; there have been criminals who
held in check all the regular and legitimate forces of society, and
whom one regarded with a mixture of terror and pity.  There is
nothing of that in Derues, not even a trace of courage; nothing but a
shameless cupidity, exercising itself at first in the theft of a few
pence filched from the poor; nothing but the illicit gains and
rascalities of a cheating shopkeeper and vile money-lender, a
depraved cowardice which dared not strike openly, but slew in the
dark.  It is the story of an unclean reptile which drags itself
underground, leaving everywhere the trail of its poisonous saliva.

Such was the man whose life we have undertaken to narrate, a man who
represents a complete type of wickedness, and who corresponds to the
most hideous sketch ever devised by poet or romance-writer: Facts
without importance of their own, which would be childish if recorded
of anyone else, obtain a sombre reflection from other facts which
precede them, and thenceforth cannot be passed over in silence.  The
historian is obliged to collect and note them, as showing the logical
development of this degraded being: he unites them in sequence, and
counts the successive steps of the ladder mounted by the criminal.

We have seen the early exploit of this assassin by instinct; we find
him, twenty years later, an incendiary and a fraudulent bankrupt.
What had happened in the interval?  With how much treachery and crime
had he filled this space of twenty years?  Let us return to his

His unconquerable taste for theft caused him to be expelled by the
relations who had taken charge of him.  An anecdote is told which
shows his impudence and incurable perversity.  One day he was caught
taking some money, and was soundly whipped by his cousins.  When this
was over, the child, instead of showing any sorrow or asking
forgiveness, ran away with a sneer, and seeing they were out of
breath, exclaimed--

"You are tired, are you?  Well, I am not!"

Despairing of any control over this evil disposition, the relations
refused to keep him, and sent him to Chartres, where two other
cousins agreed to have him, out of charity.  They were simpleminded
women, of great and sincere piety, who imagined that good example and
religious teaching might have a happy influence on their young
relation.  The result was contrary to their expectation: the sole
fruit of their teaching was that Derues learnt to be a cheat and a
hypocrite, and to assume the mask of respectability.

Here also repeated thefts insured him sound corrections.  Knowing his
cousins' extreme economy, not to say avarice, he mocked them when
they broke a lath over his shoulders: "There now, I am so glad; that
will cost you two farthings!"

His benefactresses' patience becoming exhausted, he left their house,
and was apprenticed to a tinman at Chartres.  His master died, and an
ironmonger of the same town took him as shop-boy, and from this he
passed on to a druggist and grocer.  Until now, although fifteen
years old, he had shown no preference for one trade more than
another, but it was now necessary he should choose some profession,
and his share in the family property amounted to the modest sum of
three thousand five hundred livres.  His residence with this last
master revealed a decided taste, but it was only another evil
instinct developing itself: the poisoner had scented poison, being
always surrounded with drugs which were health-giving or hurtful,
according to the use made of them.  Derues would probably have
settled at Chartres, but repeated thefts obliged him to leave the
town.  The profession of druggist and grocer being one which
presented most chances of fortune, and being, moreover, adapted to
his tastes, his family apprenticed him to a grocer in the rue
Comtesse d'Artois, paying a specified premium for him.

Derues arrived in Paris in 1760.  It was a new horizon, where he was
unknown; no suspicion attached to him, and he felt much at his ease.
Lost in the noise and the crowd of this immense receptacle for every
vice, he had time to found on hypocrisy his reputation as an honest
man.  When his apprenticeship expired, his master proposed to place
him with his sister-in-law, who kept a similar establishment in the
rue St. Victor, and who had been a widow for several years.  He
recommended Derues as a young man whose zeal and intelligence might
be useful in her business, being ignorant of various embezzlements
committed by his late apprentice, who was always clever enough to
cast suspicion on others.  But the negotiation nearly fell through,
because, one day, Derues so far forgot his usual prudence and
dissimulation as to allow himself to make the observation recorded
above to his mistress.  She, horrified, ordered him to be silent, and
threatened to ask her husband to dismiss him.  It required a double
amount of hypocrisy to remove this unfavourable impression; but he
spared no pains to obtain the confidence of the sister-in-law, who
was much influenced in his favour.  Every day he inquired what could
be done for her, every evening he took a basket-load of the goods she
required from the rue Comtesse d'Artois; and it excited the pity of
all beholders to see this weakly young man, panting and sweating
under his heavy burden, refusing any reward, and labouring merely for
the pleasure of obliging, and from natural kindness of heart!  The
poor widow, whose spoils he was already coveting, was completely
duped.  She rejected the advice of her brother-in-law, and only
listened to the concert of praises sung by neighbours much edified by
Derues' conduct, and touched by the interest he appeared to show her.
Often he found occasion to speak of her, always with the liveliest
expressions of boundless devotion.  These remarks were repeated to
the good woman, and seemed all the more sincere to her as they
appeared to have been made quite casually, and she never suspected
they were carefully calculated and thought out long before.

Derues carried dishonesty as far as possible, but he knew how to stop
when suspicion was likely to be aroused, and though always planning
either to deceive or to hurt, he was never taken by surprise.  Like
the spider which spreads the threads of her web all round her, he
concealed himself in a net of falsehood which one had to traverse
before arriving at his real nature.  The evil destiny of this poor
woman, mother of four children, caused her to engage him as her
shopman in the year 1767, thereby signing the warrant for her own

Derues began life under his new mistress with a master-stroke.  His
exemplary piety was the talk of the whole quarter, and his first care
had been to request Madame Legrand to recommend him a confessor.  She
sent him to the director of her late husband, Pere Cartault, of the
Carmelite order, who, astonished at the devotion of his penitent,
never failed, if he passed the shop, to enter and congratulate Madame
Legrand on the excellent acquisition she had made in securing this
young man, who would certainly bring her a blessing along with him.
Derues affected the greatest modesty, and blushed at these praises,
and often, when he saw the good father approaching, appeared not to
see him, and found something to do elsewhere; whereby the field was
left clear for his too credulous panegyrists.

But Pere Cartault appeared too indulgent, and Derues feared that his
sins were too easily pardoned; and he dared not find peace in an
absolution which was never refused.  Therefore, before the year was
out, he chose a second confessor, Pere Denys, a Franciscan,
consulting both alternately, and confiding his conscientious scruples
to them.  Every penance appeared too easy, and he added to those
enjoined by his directors continual mortifications of his own
devising, so that even Tartufe himself would have owned his

He wore about him two shrouds, to which were fastened relics of
Madame de Chantal, also a medal of St. Francois de Saps, and
occasionally scourged himself.  His mistress related that he had
begged her to take a sitting at the church of St. Nicholas, in order
that he might more easily attend service when he had a day out, and
had brought her a small sum which he had saved, to pay half the

Moreover, he had slept upon straw during the whole of Lent, and took
care that Madame Legrand heard of this through the servant,

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