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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDerues - Celebrated Crimes - Part 5
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Derues - Celebrated Crimes - Part 5 Post by :directoris Category :Long Stories Author :Alexandre Dumas Date :May 2012 Read :1958

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Derues - Celebrated Crimes - Part 5

On March 12th, a woman, her face hidden in the hood of her cloak, or "Therese," as it was then called, appeared in the office of Maitre N-----, a notary at Lyons. She gave her name as Marie Francoise Perffier, wife of Monsieur Saint-Faust de Lamotte, but separated, as to goods and estate, from him. She caused a deed to be drawn up, authorising her husband to receive the arrears of thirty thousand livres remaining from the price of the estate of Buisson-Souef, situated near Villeneuve-le-Roi-lez-Sens. The deed was drawn up and signed by Madame de Lamotte, by the notary, and one of his colleagues.

This woman was Derues. If we remember that he only arrived at Buisson February 28th, and remained there for some days, it becomes difficult to understand how at that period so long a journey as that from Paris to Lyons could have been accomplished with such rapidity. Fear must have given him wings. We will now explain what use he intended to make of it, and what fable, a masterpiece of cunning and of lies, he had invented.

On his arrival in Paris he found a summons to appear before the magistrate of police. He expected this, and appeared quite tranquil, ready to answer any questions. Monsieur de Lamotte was present. It was a formal examination, and the magistrate first asked why he had left Paris.

"Monsieur," replied Derues, "I have nothing to hide, and none of my actions need fear the daylight, but before replying, I should like to understand my position. As a domiciled citizen I have a right to require this. Will you kindly inform me why I have been summoned to appear before you, whether on account of anything personal to myself, or simply to give information as to something which may be within my knowledge?"

"You are acquainted with this gentleman, and cannot therefore be ignorant of the cause of the present inquiry."

"I am, nevertheless, quite in ignorance of it."

"Be good enough to answer my question. Why did you leave Paris? And where have you been?"

"I was absent for business reasons."

"What business?"

"I shall say no more."

"Take care! you have incurred serious suspicions, and silence will not tend to clear you."

Derues hung down his head with an air of resignation; and Monsieur de Lamotte, seeing in this attitude a silent confession of crime, exclaimed, "Wretched man! what have you done with my wife and my son?"

"Your son!--" said Derues slowly and with peculiar emphasis. He again cast down his eyes.

The magistrate conducting the inquiry was struck by the expression of Derues' countenance and by this half answer, which appeared to hide a mystery and to aim at diverting attention by offering a bait to curiosity. He might have stopped Derues at the moment when he sought to plunge into a tortuous argument, and compelled him to answer with the same clearness and decision which distinguished Monsieur de Lamotte's question; but he reflected that the latter's inquiries, unforeseen, hasty, and passionate, were perhaps more likely to disconcert a prepared defence than cooler and more skilful tactics. He therefore changed his plans, contenting "himself for the moment with the part of an observer only, and watching a duel between two fairly matched antagonists.

"I require: you to tell me what has become of them," repeated Monsieur de Lamotte. "I have been to Versailles, you assured me they were there."

"And I told you the truth, monsieur."

"No one has seen them, no one knows them; every trace is lost. Your Honour, this man must be compelled to answer, he must say what has become of my wife and son!"

"I excuse your anxiety, I understand your trouble, but why appeal to me? Why am I supposed to know what may have happened to them?"

"Because I confided them to your care."

"As a friend, yes, I agree. Yes, it is quite true that last December I received a letter from you informing me of the impending arrival of your wife and son. I received them in my own house, and showed them the same hospitality which I had received from you. I saw them both, your son often, your wife every day, until the day she left me to go to Versailles. Yes, I also took Edouard to his mother, who was negotiating an appointment for him. I have already told you all this, and I repeat it because it is the truth. You believed me then: why do you not believe me now? Why has what I say become strange and incredible? If your wife and your son have disappeared, am I responsible? Did you transmit your authority to me? And now, in what manner are you thus calling me to account? Is it to the friend who might have pitied, who might have aided your search, that you thus address yourself? Have you come to confide in me, to ask for advice, for consolation? No, you accuse me; very well! then I refuse to speak, because, having no proofs, you yet accuse an honest man; because your fears, whether real or imaginary, do not excuse you for casting, I know not what odious suspicions, on a blameless reputation, because I have the right to be offended. Monsieur," he continued, turning to the magistrate, "I believe you will appreciate my moderation, and will allow me to retire. If charges are brought against me, I am quite ready to meet them, and to show what they are really worth. I shall remain in Paris, I have now no business which requires my presence elsewhere."

He emphasised these last words, evidently intending to draw attention to them. It did not escape the magistrate, who inquired--

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing beyond my words, your Honour, Have I your permission to retire?"

"No, remain; you are pretending not to understand."

"I do not understand these insinuations so covertly made."

Monsieur de Lamotte rose, exclaiming--

"Insinuations! What more can I say to compel you to answer? My wife and son have disappeared. It is untrue that, as you pretend, they have been at Versailles. You deceived me at Buisson-Souef, just as you are deceiving me now, as you are endeavouring to deceive justice by inventing fresh lies. Where are they? What has become of them? I am tormented by all the fears possible to a husband and father; I imagine all the most terrible misfortunes, and I accuse you to your face of having caused their death! Is this sufficient, or do you still accuse me of covert insinuations?"

Derues turned to the magistrate. "Is this charge enough to place me in the position of a criminal if I do not give a satisfactory explanation?"

"Certainly; you should have thought of that sooner."

"Then," he continued, addressing Monsieur de Lamotte, "I understand you persist in this odious accusation?"

"I certainly persist in it."

"You have forgotten our friendship, broken all bonds between us: I am in your eyes only a miserable assassin? You consider my silence as guilty, you will ruin me if I do not speak?"

"It is true."

"There is still time for reflection; consider what you are doing; I will forget your insults and your anger. Your trouble is great enough without my reproaches being added to it. But you desire that I should speak, you desire it absolutely?"

"I do desire it."

"Very well, then; it shall be as you wish."

Derues surveyed Monsieur de Lamotte with a look which seemed to say, "I pity you." He then added, with a sigh--

"I am now ready to answer. Your Honour, will you have the kindness to resume my examination?"

Derues had succeeded in taking up an advantageous position. If he had begun narrating the extraordinary romance he had invented, the least penetrating eye must have perceived its improbability, and one would have felt it required some support at every turn. But since he had resisted being forced to tell it, and apparently only ceded to Monsieur de Lamotte's violent persistency, the situation was changed; and this refusal to speak, coming from a man who thereby compromised his personal safety, took the semblance of generosity, and was likely to arouse the magistrate's curiosity and prepare his mind for unusual and mysterious revelations. This was exactly what Derues wanted, and he awaited the interrogation with calm and tranquillity.

"Why did you leave Paris?" the magistrate demanded a second time.

"I have already had the honour to inform you that important business necessitated my absence."

"But you refused to explain the nature of this business. Do you still persist in this refusal?"

"For the moment, yes. I will explain it later."

"Where have you been? Whence do you return?"

"I have been to Lyons, and have returned thence."

"What took you there?

"I will tell you later."

"In the month of December last, Madame de Lamotte and her son came to Paris?

"That is so."

"They both lodged in your house?"

"I have no reason to deny it."

"But neither she herself, nor Monsieur de Lamotte, had at first intended that she should accept a lodging in the house which you occupied."

"That is quite true. We had important accounts to settle, and Madame de Lamotte told me afterwards that she feared some dispute on the question of money might arise between us--at least, that is the reason she gave me. She was mistaken, as the event proved, since I always intended to pay, and I have paid. But she may have had another reason which she preferred not to give."

"It was the distrust of this man which she felt," exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte. Derues answered only with a melancholy smile.

"Silence, monsieur," said the magistrate, "silence; do not interrupt." Then addressing Derues--

"Another motive? What motive do you suppose?"

"Possibly she preferred to be more free, and able to receive any visitor she wished."

"What do you mean?"

"It is only supposition on my part, I do not insist upon it."

"But the supposition appears to contain a hint injurious to Madame de Lamotte's reputation?"

"No, oh no!" replied Derues, after a moment's silence.

This sort of insinuation appeared strange to the magistrate, who resolved to try and force Derues to abandon these treacherous reticences behind which he sheltered himself. Again recommending silence to Monsieur de Lamotte, he continued to question Derues, not perceiving that he was only following the lead skilfully given by the latter, who drew him gradually on by withdrawing himself, and that all the time thus gained was an advantage to the accused.

"Well," said the magistrate, "whatever Madame de Lamotte's motives may have been, it ended in her coming to stay with you. How did you persuade her to take this step?"

"My wife accompanied her first to the Hotel de France, and then to other hotels. I said no more than might be deemed allowable in a friend; I could not presume to persuade her against her will. When I returned home, I was surprised to find her there with her son. She could not find a disengaged room in any of the hotels she tried, and she then accepted my offer."

"What date was this?"

"Monday, the 16th of last December."

"And when did she leave your house?"

"On the 1st of February."

"The porter cannot remember having seen her go out on that day."

"That is possible. Madame de Lamotte went and came as her affairs required. She was known, and no more attention would be paid to her than to any other inmate."

"The porter also says that for several days before this date she was ill, and obliged to keep her room?"

"Yes, it was a slight indisposition, which had no results, so slight that it seemed unnecessary to call in a doctor. Madame de Lamotte appeared preoccupied and anxious. I think her mental attitude influenced her health."

"Did you escort her to Versailles?"

"No; I went there to see her later."

"What proof can you give of her having actually stayed there?"

"None whatever, unless it be a letter which I received from her."

"You told Monsieur de, Lamotte that she was exerting herself to procure her son's admission either as a king's page or into the riding school. Now, no one at Versailles has seen this lady, or even heard of her."

"I only repeated what she told me."

"Where was she staying?"

"I do not know."

"What! she wrote to you, you went to see her, and yet you do not know where she was lodging?"

"That is so."

"But it is impossible."

"There are many things which would appear impossible if I were to relate them, but which are true, nevertheless."

"Explain yourself."

"I only received one letter from Madame de Lamotte, in which she spoke of her plans for Edouard, requesting me to send her her son on a day she fixed, and I told Edouard of her projects. Not being able to go to the school to see him, I wrote, asking if he would like to give up his studies and become a royal page. When I was last at Buisson-Souef, I showed his answer to Monsieur de Lamotte; it is here."

And he handed over a letter to the magistrate, who read it, and passing it on to Monsieur de Lamotte, inquired--

"Did you then, and do you now, recognise your son's handwriting?"

"Perfectly, monsieur."

"You took Edouard to Versailles?"

"I did."

"On what day?"

"February 11th, Shrove Tuesday. It is the only time I have been to Versailles. The contrary might be supposed; for I have allowed it to be understood that I have often seen Madame de Lamotte since she left my house, and was acquainted with all her actions, and that the former confidence and friendship still existed between us. In allowing this, I have acted a lie, and transgressed the habitual sincerity of my whole life."

This assertion produced a bad impression on the magistrate. Derues perceived it, and to avert evil consequences, hastened to add--

"My conduct can only be appreciated when it is known in entirety. I misunderstood the meaning of Madame de Lamotte's letter. She asked me to send her her son, I thought to oblige her by accompanying him, and not leaving him to go alone. So we travelled together, and arrived at Versailles about midday. As I got down from the coach I saw Madame de Lamotte at the palace gate, and observed, to my astonishment, that my presence displeased her. She was not alone."

He stopped, although he had evidently reached the most interesting point of his story.

"Go on," said the magistrate; "why do you stop now?"

"Because what I have to say is so painful--not to me, who have to justify myself, but for others, that I hesitate."

"Go on."

"Will you then interrogate me, please?"

"Well, what happened in this interview?"

Derues appeared to collect himself for a moment, and then said with the air of a man who has decide on speaking out at last--

"Madame de Lamotte was not alone; she was attended by a gentleman whom I did not know, whom I never saw either at Buisson-Souef or in Paris, and whom I have never seen again since. I will ask you to allow me to recount everything; even to the smallest details. This man's face struck me at once, on account of a singular resemblance; he paid no attention to me at first, and I was able to examine him at leisure. His manners were those of a man belonging to the highest classes of society, and his dress indicated wealth. On seeing Edouard, he said to Madame de Lamotte--

"'So this is he?' and he then kissed him tenderly. This and the marks of undisguised pleasure which he evinced surprised me, and I looked at Madame de Lamotte, who then remarked with some asperity--

"'I did not expect to see you, Monsieur Derues. I had not asked you to accompany my son.'

"Edouard seemed quite as much surprised as I was. The stranger gave me a look of haughty annoyance, but seeing I did not avoid his glance his countenance assumed a more gentle expression, and Madame de Lamotte introduced him as a person who took great interest in Edouard."

"It is a whole tissue of imposture!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte.

"Allow me to finish," answered Derues. "I understand your doubts, and that you are not anxious to believe what I say, but I have been brought here by legal summons to tell the truth, and I am going to tell it. You can then weigh the two accusations in the balance, and choose between them. The reputation of an honourable man is as sacred, as important, as worthy of credit as the reputation of a woman, and I never heard that the virtue of the one was more fragile than that of the other."

Monsieur de Lamotte, thunderstruck by such a revelation, could not contain his impatience and indignation.

"This, then," he said, "is the explanation of an anonymous letter which I received, and of the injurious suggestions' concerning my wife's honour which it contained; it was written to give an appearance of probability to this infamous legend. The whole thing is a disgraceful plot, and no doubt Monsieur Derues wrote the letter himself."

"I know nothing about it," said Derues unconcernedly, "and the explanation which you profess to find in it I should rather refer to something else I am going to mention. I did not know a secret warning had been sent to you: I now learn it from you, and I understand perfectly that such a letter, may have been written. But that you have received such a warning ought surely to be a reason for listening patiently and not denouncing all I say as imposture."

While saying this Derues mentally constructed the fresh falsehood necessitated by the interruption, but no variation of countenance betrayed his thought. He had an air of dignity natural to his position. He saw that, in spite of clear-headedness and long practice in studying the most deceptive countenances, the magistrate so far had not scented any of his falsehoods, and was getting bewildered in the windings of this long narrative, through which Derues led him as he chose; and he resumed with confidence--

"You know that I made Monsieur de Lamotte's acquaintance more than a year ago, and I had reason to believe his friendship as sincere as my own. As a friend, I could not calmly accept the suspicion which then entered my mind, nor could I conceal my surprise. Madame de Lamotte saw this, and understood from my looks that I was not satisfied with the explanation she wished me to accept. A glance of intelligence passed between her and her friend, who was still holding Edouard's hand. The day, though cold, was fine, and she proposed a walk in the park. I offered her my arm, and the stranger walked in front with Edouard. We had a short conversation, which has remained indelibly fixed in my memory.

"'Why did you come?' she inquired.

"I did not answer, but looked sternly at her, in order to discompose her. At length I said--

"'You should have written, madame, and warned me that my coming would be indiscreet.'

"She seemed much disconcerted, and exclaimed--

"'I am lost! I see you guess everything, and will tell my husband. I am an unhappy woman, and a sin once committed can never be erased from the pages of a woman's life! Listen, Monsieur Derues, listen, I implore you! You see this man, I shall not tell you who he is, I shall not give his name... but I loved him long ago; I should have been his wife, and had he not been compelled to leave France, I should have married no one else.'"

Monsieur de Lamotte started, and grew pale.

"What is the matter?" the magistrate inquired.

"Oh! this dastardly wretch is profiting by his knowledge of secrets which a long intimacy has enabled him to discover. Do not believe him, I entreat you, do not believe him!"

Derues resumed. "Madame de Lamotte continued: 'I saw him again sixteen years ago, always in hiding, always proscribed. To-day he reappears under a name which is not his own: he wishes to link my fate with his; he has insisted on seeing Edouard. But I shall escape him. I have invented this fiction of placing my son among the royal pages to account for my stay here. Do not contradict me, but help me; for a little time ago I met one of Monsieur de Lamotte's friends, I am afraid he suspected something. Say you have seen me several times; as you have come, let it be known that you brought Edouard here. I shall return to Buisson as soon as possible, but will you go first, see my husband, satisfy him if he is anxious? I am in your hands; my honour, my reputation, my very life, are at your mercy; you can either ruin or help to save me. I may be guilty, but I am not corrupt. I have wept for my sin day after day, and I have already cruelly expiated it.'"

This execrable calumny was not related without frequent interruptions on the part of Monsieur de Lamotte. He was, however, obliged to own to himself that it was quite true that Marie Perier had really been promised to a man whom an unlucky affair had driven into exile, and whom he had supposed to be dead. This revelation, coming from Derues, who had the strongest interest in lying, by no means convinced him of his wife's dishonour, nor destroyed the feelings of a husband and father; but Derues was not speaking for him lone, and what appeared incredible to Monsieur de Lamotte might easily seem less improbable to the colder and less interested judgment of the magistrate.

"I was wrong," Derues continued, "in allowing myself to be touched by her tears, wrong in believing in her repentance, more wrong still in going to Buisson to satisfy her husband. But I only consented on conditions: Madame de Lamotte promised me to return shortly to Paris, vowing that her son should never know the truth, and that the rest of her life should be devoted to atoning for her sin by a boundless devotion. She then begged me to leave her, and told me she would write to me at Paris to fix the day of her return. This is what happened, and this is why I went to Buissan and gave my support to a lying fiction. With one word I might have destroyed the happiness of seventeen years. I did not wish to do so. I believed in the remorse; I believe in it still, in spite of all appearances; I have refused to speak this very day, and made every effort to prolong an illusion which I know it will be terrible to lose."

There was a moment of silence. This fable, so atrociously ingenious, was simply and impressively narrated, and with an air of candour well contrived to impose on the magistrate, or, at least, to suggest grave doubts to his mind. Derues, with his usual cunning, had conformed his language to the quality of his listener. Any tricks, profession of piety, quotations from sacred books, so largely indulged in when he wished to bamboozle people of a lower class, would here have told against him. He knew when to abstain, and carried the art of deception far enough to be able to lay aside the appearance of hypocrisy. He had described all the circumstances without affectation, and if this unexpected accusation was wholly unproved, it yet rested on a possible fact, and did not appear absolutely incredible. The magistrate went through it all again, and made him repeat every detail, without being able to make him contradict himself or show the smallest embarrassment. While interrogating Derues, he kept his eyes fixed upon him; and this double examination being quite fruitless, only increased his perplexity. However, he never relaxed the incredulous severity of his demeanour, nor the imperative and threatening tone of his voice.

"You acknowledge having been at Lyons?" he asked.

"I have been there."

"At the beginning of this examination you said you would explain the reason of this journey later."

"I am ready to do so, for the journey is connected with the facts I have just narrated; it was caused by them."

"Explain it."

"I again ask permission to relate fully. I did not hear from Versailles: I began to fear Monsieur de Lamotte's anxiety would bring him to Paris. Bound by the promise I had made to his wife to avert all suspicion and to satisfy any doubts he might conceive, and, must I add, also remembering that it was important for me to inform him of our new arrangements, and of this payment of a hundred thousand livres."

"That payment is assuredly fictitious," interrupted Monsieur de Lamotte; "we must have some proof of it."

"I will prove it presently," answered Derues. "So I went to Buisson, as I have already told you. On my return I found a letter from Madame de Lamotte, a letter with a Paris stamp, which had arrived that morning. I was surprised that she should write, when actually in Paris; I opened the letter, and was still more surprised. I have not the letter with me, but I recollect the sense of it perfectly, if not the wording, and I can produce it if necessary. Madame de Lamotte was at Lyons with her son and this person whose name I do not know, and whom I do not care to mention before her husband. She had confided this letter to a person who was coming to Paris, and who was to bring it me; but this individual, whose name was Marquis, regretted that having to start again immediately, he was obliged to entrust it to the post. This is the sense of its contents. Madame de Lamotte wrote that she found herself obliged to follow this nameless person to Lyons; and she begged me to send her news of her husband and of the state of his affairs, but said not one single word of any probable return. I became very uneasy at the news of this clandestine departure. I had no security except a private contract annulling our first agreement on the payment of one hundred thousand livres, and that this was not a sufficient and regular receipt I knew, because the lawyer had already refused to surrender Monsieur de Lamotte's power of attorney. I thought over all the difficulties which this flight, which would have to be kept secret, was likely to produce, and I started for Lyons without writing or giving any notice of my intention. I had no information, I did not even know whether Madame de Lamotte was passing by another name, as at Versailles, but chance decreed that I met her the very day of my arrival. She was alone, and complained bitterly of her fate, saying she had been compelled to follow this individual to Lyons, but that very soon she would be free and would return to Paris. But I was struck by the uncertainty of her manner, and said I should not leave her without obtaining a deed in proof of our recent arrangements. She refused at first, saying it was unnecessary, as she would so soon return; but I insisted strongly. I told her I had already com promised myself by telling Monsieur de Lamotte that she was at Versailles, endeavouring to procure an appointment for her son; that since she had been compelled to come to Lyons, the same person might take her elsewhere, so that she might disappear any day, might leave France without leaving any trace, without any written acknowledgment of her own dishonour; and that when all these falsehoods were discovered, I should appear in the light of an accomplice. I said also that, as she had unfortunately lodged in my house in Paris, and had requested me to remove her son from his school, explanations would be required from me, and perhaps I should be accused of this double disappearance. Finally, I declared that if she did not give me some proofs of her existence, willingly or unwillingly, I would go at once to a magistrate. My firmness made her reflect. 'My good Monsieur Derues,' she said, 'I ask your forgiveness for all the trouble I have caused you. I will give you this deed to-morrow, to-day it is too late; but come to this same place to-morrow, and you shall see me again.' I hesitated, I confess, to let her go. 'Ah,' she said, grasping my hands, 'do not suspect me of intending to deceive you! I swear that I will meet you here at four o'clock. It is enough that I have ruined myself, and perhaps my son, without also entangling you in my unhappy fate. Yes, you are right; this deed is important, necessary for you, and you shall have it. But do not show yourself here; if you were seen, I might not be able to do what I ought to do. To-morrow you shall see me again, I swear it.' She then left me. The next day, the 12th, of March, I was exact at the rendezvous, and Madame de Lamotte arrived a moment later. She gave me a deed, authorising her husband to receive the arrears of thirty thousand livres remaining from the purchase-money of Buisson-Souef. I endeavoured again to express my opinion of her conduct; she listened in silence, as if my words affected her deeply. We were walking together, when she told me she had some business in a house we were passing, and asked me to wait for her. I waited more than an hour, and then discovered that this house, like many others in Lyons, had an exit in another street; and I understood that Madame de Lamotte had escaped by this passage, and that I might wait in vain. Concluding that trying to follow her would be useless, and seeing also that any remonstrance would be made in vain, I returned to Paris, deciding to say nothing as yet, and to conceal the truth as long as possible. I still had hopes, and I did not count on being so soon called on to defend myself: I thought that when I had to speak, it would be as a friend, and not as an accused person. This, sir, is the explanation of my conduct, and I regret that this justification, so easy for myself, should be so cruelly painful for another. You have seen the efforts which I made to defer it."

Monsieur de Lamotte had heard this second part of Derues' recital with a more silent indignation, not that he admitted its probability, but he was confounded by this monstrous imposture, and, as it were, terror-stricken by such profound hypocrisy. His mind revolted at the idea of his wife being accused of adultery; but while he repelled this charge with decision, he saw the confirmation of his secret terrors and presentiments, and his heart sank within him at the prospect of exploring this abyss of iniquity. He was pale, gasping for breath, as though he himself had been the criminal, while scorching tears furrowed his cheeks. He tried to speak, but his voice failed; he wanted to fling back at Derues the names of traitor and assassin, and he was obliged to bear in silence the look of mingled grief and pity which the latter bestowed upon him.

The magistrate, calmer, and master of his emotions, but tolerably bewildered in this labyrinth of cleverly connected lies, thought it desirable to ask some further questions.

"How," said he, "did you obtain this sum of a hundred thousand livres which you say you paid over to Madame de Lamotte?"

"I have been engaged in business for several years, and have acquired some fortune."

"Nevertheless, you have postponed the obligation of making this payment several times, so that Monsieur de Lamotte had begun to feel uneasiness on the subject. This was the chief reason of his wife's coming to Paris."

"One sometimes experiences momentary difficulties, which presently disappear."

"You say you have a deed given you at Lyons by Madame de Lamotte, which you were to give to her husband?"

"It is here."

The magistrate examined the deed carefully, and noted the name of the lawyer in whose office it had been drawn up.

"You may go," he said at last.

"What!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lamotte.

Derues stopped, but the magistrate signed to him to go, intimating, however, that he was on no account to leave Paris.

"But," said Monsieur de Lamotte, when they were alone, "this man is indeed guilty. My wife has not betrayed me! She!--forget her duties as a wife! she was virtue incarnate! Ah! I assure you these terrible calumnies are invented to conceal double crime! I throw myself at your feet,--I implore your justice!"

"Rise, monsieur. This is only a preliminary examination, and I confess that, so far, he comes well out of it, for imagination can hardly understand such a depth of deceit. I watched him closely the whole time, and I could discover no sign of alarm, no contradiction, in either face or language; if guilty, he must be the greatest hypocrite that ever existed. But I shall neglect nothing: if a criminal is allowed to flatter himself with impunity, he frequently forgets to be prudent, and I have seen many betray themselves when they thought they had nothing to fear. Patience, and trust to the justice of both God and man."

Several days passed, and Derues flattered him self the danger was over: his every action mean while was most carefully watched, but so that he remained unaware of the surveillance. A police officer named Mutel, distinguished for activity and intelligence beyond his fellows, was charged with collecting information and following any trail. All his bloodhounds were in action, and hunted Paris thoroughly, but could trace nothing bearing on the fate of Madame de Lamotte and her son. Mutel, however, soon discovered that in the rue Saint Victor, Derues had failed--three successive times, that he had been pursued by numerous creditors, and been often near imprisonment for debt, and that in 1771 he had been publicly accused of incendiarism. He reported on these various circumstances, and then went himself to Derues' abode, where he obtained no results. Madame Derues declared that she knew nothing whatever, and the police, having vainly searched the whole house, had to retire. Derues himself was absent; when he returned he found another order to appear before the magistrate.

His first success had encouraged him. He appeared before the magistrate accompanied by a lawyer and full of confidence, complaining loudly that the police, in searching during his absence, had offended against the rights of a domiciled burgess, and ought to have awaited his return. Affecting a just indignation at Monsieur de Lamotte's conduct towards him, he presented a demand that the latter should be declared a calumniator, and should pay damages for the injury caused to his reputation. But this time his effrontery and audacity were of little avail, the magistrate easily detected him in flagrant lies. He declared at first that he had paid the hundred thousand livres with his own money but when reminded of his various bankruptcies, the claims of his creditors, and the judgments obtained against him as an insolvent debtor, he made a complete volte-face, and declared he had borrowed the money from an advocate named Duclos, to whom he had given a bond in presence of a notary. In spite of all his protestations, the magistrate committed him to solitary confinement at Fort l'Eveque.

As yet, nothing was publicly known; but vague reports and gossip, carried from shop to shop, circulated among the people, and began to reach the higher classes of society. The infallible instinct which is aroused among the masses is truly marvellous; a great crime is committed, which seems at first likely to defeat justice, and the public conscience is aroused. Long before the tortuous folds which envelop the mystery can be penetrated, while it is still sunk in profound obscurity, the voice of the nation, like an excited hive, buzzes around the secret; though the magistrates doubt, the public curiosity fixes itself, and never leaves go; if the criminal's hiding-place is changed, it follows the track, points it out, descries it in the gloom. This is what happened on the news of Derues' arrest. The affair was everywhere discussed, although the information was incomplete, reports inexact, and no real publicity to be obtained. The romance which Derues had invented by way of defence, and which became known as well as Monsieur de Lamotte's accusation, obtained no credence whatever; on the contrary, all the reports to his discredit were eagerly adopted. As yet, no crime could be traced, but the public presentiment divined an atrocious one. Have we not often seen similar agitations? The names of Bastide, of Castaing, of Papavoine, had hardly been pronounced before they completely absorbed all the public attention, and this had to be satisfied, light had to be thrown on the darkness: society demanded vengeance.

Derues felt some alarm in his dungeon, but his presence of mind and his dissimulation in no wise deserted him, and he swore afresh every day to the truth of his statements. But his last false assertion turned against him: the bond for a hundred thousand livres which he professed to have given to Duclos was a counterfeit which Duclos had annulled by a sort of counter declaration made the same day. Another circumstance, intended to ensure his safety, only redoubled suspicion. On April 8th, notes payable to order to the amount of seventy-eight thousand livres, were received by Monsieur de Lamotte's lawyer, as if coming from Madame de Lamotte. It appeared extraordinary that these notes, which arrived in an ordinary stamped envelope, should not be accompanied by any letter of advice, and suspicion attached to Madame Derues, who hitherto had remained unnoticed. An inquiry as to where the packet had been posted soon revealed the office, distinguished by a letter of the alphabet, and the postmaster described a servant-maid who had brought the letter and paid for it. The description resembled the Derues' servant; and 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 unusual.

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 Lamotte.

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 mirror.

"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.

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