[Footnote 20: From another passage (Der Feind, chap. i) it appears that the reference is to a series of regulations dealing with the wine industry, of date August 24, 1498, in the reign of Maximilian I.]
[Footnote 21: Sulphur is burnt inside the cask (care being taken that it does not touch it) in order to keep it sweet and pure, as well as to impart both flavour and colour to the wine.]
[Footnote 22: See note 2, p. 15. The German Meistersinger always sang without any accompaniment of musical instruments.]
[Footnote 23: This is one of the principal round towers, erected 1558-1568, in the town walls; it is situated on the south-east.]
[Footnote 24: Peter Vischer (c. 1455-1529), a native of Nuremberg, one of the most distinguished of German sculptors, was chiefly engaged in making monuments for deceased princes in various parts of Germany and central Europe. The shrine in St. Sebald's, mentioned above, is generally considered his masterpiece.]
[Footnote 25: Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1569) of Florence, goldsmith and worker in metals. Mr. W. M. Rossetti rightly says that his biography, written by himself, forms one of the most "fascinating" of books. It has been translated into English by Thomas Roscoe, and by Goethe into German.]
[Footnote 26: Holzschuher was the name of an old and important family in Nuremberg. Fifty-four years before the date of the present story, that is in 1526, a member of the family was burgomaster of his native town, and was painted by Duerer.]
[Footnote 27: The family of Fugger, which rose from the position of poor weavers to be the richest merchant princes in Augsburg, decorated their house with frescoes externally, like so many other old German families.]
[Footnote 28: During the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries there existed in many German towns (Nuremberg, Frankfort, Strasburg, Ulm, Mayence, &c.) associations or guild-like corporations of burghers, the object of which was the cultivation of song in the same systematic way that the mechanical arts were practised. They framed strict and well-defined codes of rules (Tablatures) by means of which they tested a singer's capabilities. As the chief aims which they set before themselves were the invention of new tunes or melodies, and also songs (words), it resulted that they fell into the inevitable vice of cold formalism, and banished the true spirit of poetry by their many arbitrary rules about rhyme, measure, and melody, and the dry business-like manner in which they worked. The guild or company generally consisted of five distinct grades, the ultimate one being that of master, entrance into which was only permitted to the man who had invented a new melody or tune, and had sung it in public without offending against any of the laws of the Tablature. The subjects, which, as the singers were honest burghers, could not be taken from topics in which chivalric life took any interest, were mostly restricted to fables, legendary lore, and consisted very largely of Biblical narratives and passages.]
[Footnote 29: These words are the names of various "tunes," and signified in each case a particular metre, rhyme, melody, &c, so that each was a brief definition of a number of individual items, so to speak. These Meistersinger technical terms (or slang?) are therefore not translatable, nor could they be made intelligible by paraphrase, even if the requisite information for each instance were at hand.]
[Footnote 30: A glass divided by means of marks placed at intervals from top to bottom. It was usual for one who was invited to drink to drink out of the challenger's glass down to the mark next below the top of the liquid.]
[Footnote 31: These would consist of the certificate of his admission into the ranks of the journeymen of the guild, of the certificates of proper dismissal signed by the various masters for whom he had worked whilst on travel, together with testimonials of good conduct from the same masters.]
[Footnote 32: On these great singing days, generally on Sundays in the churches, and on special occasions in the town-house, the "performances" consisted of three parts. 1. First came a "Voluntary Solo-Singing," in which anybody, even a stranger, might participate, no contest being entered into, and no rewards given. 2. This was followed by a song by all the masters in chorus, 3. Then came the "Principal Singing," the chief "event" of the day—the actual singing contest. Four judges were appointed to examine those who successively presented themselves, being guided by the strict laws and regulations of the Tablatures. Those who violated these laws, that is, who made mistakes, had to leave the singing-desk; the successful ones were, however, crowned with wreaths, and had earned the right to act themselves as judges on future occasions.]
[Footnote 33: Heinrich von Meissen, called Frauenlob (died 1318), after having lived at various courts in both the north and the south of Germany, settled at Mayence and gathered together (1311) a school or society of burgher singers.]
[Footnote 34: The word "prince" is expressed in German by two distinct words; one, like the English word, designates a member of a royal or reigning house; the other is used as a simple title, often official, ranking above duke. The Bishop of Bamberg was in this latter sense a prince of the empire.]
[Footnote 35: At this time Francesco I. (of the illustrious house of Medici) was Grand Duke of Tuscany, his father Cosimo I. having exchanged the title of Duke of Florence for that of Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1569. Francesco did much for the encouragement of art and science. He founded the well-known Uffizi Gallery, and it was in his reign that the Accademia Della Crusca was instituted.]
[Footnote 36: Lucas Cranach occupies along with his contemporary Albrecht Duerer the first place in the ranks of German painters. Born in Upper Franconia in 1472 (died 1553), he secured the favour of the Elector of Saxony, and manifested extraordinary activity in several branches of painting.]
MADEMOISELLE DE SCUDERI. A TALE OF THE TIMES OF LOUIS XIV.
The little house in which lived Madeleine de Scuderi, well known for her pleasing verses, and the favour of Louis XIV. and the Marchioness de Maintenon, was situated in the Rue St. Honoree.
One night almost at midnight—it would be about the autumn, of the year 1680—there came such a loud and violent knocking at the door of her house that it made the whole entrance-passage ring again. Baptiste, who in the lady's small household discharged at one and the same time the offices of cook, footman, and porter, had with his mistress's permission gone into the country to attend his sister's wedding; and thus it happened that La Martiniere, Mademoiselle's lady-maid was alone, and the only person awake in the house. The knockings were repeated. She suddenly remembered that Baptiste had gone for his holiday, and that she and her mistress were left in the house without any further protection. All the outrages burglaries, thefts, and murders—which were then so common in Paris, crowded upon her mind; she was sure it was a band of cut-throats who were making all this disturbance outside; they must be well aware how lonely the house stood, and if let in would perpetrate some wicked deed against her mistress; and so she remained in her room, trembling and quaking with fear, and cursing Baptiste and his sister's wedding as well.
Meanwhile the hammering at the door was being continued; and she fancied she heard a voice shouting at intervals, "Oh! do open the door! For God's sake, do open the door!" At last La Martiniere's anxiety rose to such a pitch that, taking up the lighted candle, she ran out into the passage. There she heard quite plainly the voice of the person knocking, "For God's sake! do open the door, please!" "Certainly," thought she, "that surely is not the way a robber would knock. Who knows whether it is not some poor man being pursued and wants protection from Mademoiselle, who is always ready to do an act of kindness? But let us be cautious." Opening a window, she called out, asking who was down making such a loud noise at the house-door so late at night, awakening everybody up out of their sleep; and she endeavoured to give her naturally deep voice as manly a tone as she possibly could.
By the glimmer of the moon, which now broke through the dark clouds, she could make out a tall figure, enveloped in a light-grey mantle, having his broad-brimmed hat pulled down right over his eyes. Then she shouted in a loud voice, so as to be heard by the man below, "Baptiste, Claude, Pierre, get up and go and see who this good-for-nothing vagabond is, who is trying to break into the house." But the voice from below made answer gently, and in a tone that had a plaintive ring in it, "Oh! La Martiniere, I know quite well that it is you, my good woman, however much you try to disguise your voice; I also know that Baptiste has gone into the country, and that you are alone in the house with your mistress. You may confidently undo the door for me; you need have no fear. For I must positively speak with your mistress, and this very minute." "Whatever are you thinking about?" replied La Martiniere. "You want to speak to Mademoiselle in the middle of the night? Don't you know that she has been gone to bed a long time, and that for no price would I wake her up out of her first sound sleep, which at her time of life she has so much need of?" The person standing below said, "But I know that your mistress has only just laid aside her new romance Clelie, at which she labours so unremittingly; and she is now writing certain verses which she intends to read to the Marchioness de Maintenon to-morrow. I implore you, Madame Martiniere, have pity and open me the door. I tell you the matter involves the saving of an unfortunate man from ruin,—that the honour, freedom, nay, that the life of a man is dependent upon this moment, and I must speak to Mademoiselle. Recollect how your mistress's anger would rest upon you for ever, if she learned that you had had the hard-heartedness to turn an unfortunate man away from her door when he came to supplicate her assistance." "But why do you come to appeal to my mistress's compassion at this unusual hour? Come again early in the morning," said La Martiniere. The person below replied, "Does Destiny, then, heed times and hours when it strikes, like the fatal flash, fraught with destruction? When there is but a single moment longer in which rescue is still possible, ought assistance to be delayed? Open me the door; you need have nothing to fear from a poor defenceless wretch, who is deserted of all the world, pursued and distressed by an awful fate, when he comes to beseech Mademoiselle to save him from threatening danger?" La Martiniere heard the man below moaning and sobbing with anguish as he said these words, and at the same time the voice was the voice of a young man, gentle, and gifted with the power of appealing straight to the heart She was greatly touched; without much further deliberation she fetched the keys.
But hardly had she got the door opened when the figure enveloped in the mantle burst tumultuously in, and striding past Martiniere into the passage, cried wildly, "Lead me to your mistress!" In terror Martiniere lifted up the candle, and its light fell upon a young man's face, deathly pale and fearfully agitated. Martiniere almost dropped on the floor with fright, for the man now threw open his mantle and showed the bright hilt of a stiletto sticking out of the bosom of his doublet. His eyes flashed fire as he fixed them upon her, crying still more wildly than before, "Lead me to your mistress, I tell you." Martiniere now believed Mademoiselle was in the most imminent danger; and her affection for her beloved mistress, whom she honoured, moreover, as her good and faithful mother, burnt up stronger in her heart, enkindling a courage which she had not conceived herself capable of showing. Hastily pulling to the door of her chamber, which she had left standing open, she planted herself before it, and said in a strong firm voice, "I tell you what, your mad behaviour in the house here, corresponds but ill with your plaintive words outside; I see clearly that I let my pity be excited on a wrong occasion. You neither ought to, nor shall you, speak to my mistress now. If your intentions are not evil, you need not fear daylight; so come again to-morrow and state your business then. Now, begone with you out of the house." The man heaved a deep and painful sigh, and fixing Martiniere with a formidable look, grasped his stiletto. She silently commended her soul to Heaven, but manfully stood her ground, and boldly met the man's gaze, at the same time drawing herself closer to the door, for through it the man would have to go to get to her mistress's chamber. "Let me go to your mistress, I tell you!" cried the man again. "Do what you will," replied Martiniere, "I shall not stir from this place. Go on and finish your wicked deed; but remember that you also will die a shameful death at the Place Greve, like your atrocious partners in crime." "Ah! yes, you are right, La Martiniere," replied the man, "I do look like a villainous robber and cut-throat, and am armed like one, but my partners have not been executed,—no, not yet." Therewith, hurling looks of furious wrath at the poor woman, who was almost dead with terror, he drew his stiletto. "O God! O God!" she exclaimed, expecting her death-blow; but at this moment there was heard a rattle of arms in the street, and the hoof-strokes of horses. "The Marechaussee! the Marechaussee! Help! Help!" screamed Martiniere. "You abominable woman, you are determined to ruin me. All is lost now—it's all over. But here, here—take this. Give that to your mistress this very night—to-morrow if you like." Whispering these words, he snatched the light from La Martiniere, extinguished it, and then forced a casket into her hands. "By your hopes of salvation, I conjure you, give this casket to Mademoiselle," cried the man; and he rushed out of the house.
Martiniere fell to the floor; at length she rose up with difficulty, and groped her way back in the darkness to her own room, where she sank down in an arm-chair completely exhausted, unable to utter a sound. Then she heard the keys rattle, which she had left in the lock of the street-door. The door was closed and locked, and she heard cautious, uncertain footsteps approaching her room. She sat riveted to the chair without power to move, expecting something terrible to happen. But her sensations may be imagined when the door opened, and by the light of the night-taper she recognised at the first glance that it was honest Baptiste, looking very pale and greatly troubled. "In the name of all the saints!" he began, "tell me, Dame Martiniere, what has happened? Oh! the anxiety and fear I have had! I don't know what it was, but something drove me away from the wedding last evening. I couldn't help myself; I had to come. On getting into our street, I thought. Dame Martiniere sleeps lightly, she'll be sure to hear me, thinks I, if I tap softly and gently at the door, and will come out and let me in. Then there comes a strong patrol on horseback as well as on foot, all armed to the teeth, and they stop me and won't let me go on. But luckily Desgrais the lieutenant of the Marechaussee, is amongst them, who knows me quite well; and when they put their lanterns under my nose, he says, 'Why, Baptiste, where are you coming from at this time o' night? You'd better stay quietly in the house and take care of it There's some deviltry at work, and we are hoping to make a good capture to-night.' You wouldn't believe how heavy these words fell on my heart. Dame Martiniere. And then when I put my foot on the threshold, there comes a man, all muffled up, rushing out of the house with a drawn dagger in his hand, and he runs over me—head over heels. The door was open, and the keys sticking in the lock. Oh! tell me what it all means." Martiniere, relieved of her terrible fear and anxiety, related all that had taken place.
Then she and Baptiste went out into the passage, and there they found the candlestick lying on the floor where the stranger had thrown it as he ran away. "It is only too certain," said Baptiste, "that our Mademoiselle would have been robbed, ay, and even murdered, I make no doubt. The fellow knew, as you say, that you were alone with Mademoiselle,—why, he also knew that she was awake with her writings. I would bet anything it was one of those cursed rogues and thieves who force their way right into the houses, cunningly spying out everything that may be of use to them in carrying out their infernal plans. And as for that little casket, Dame Martiniere—I think we'd better throw it into the Seine where it's deepest. Who can answer for it that there's not some wicked monster got designs on our good lady's life, and that if she opens the box she won't fall down dead like old Marquis de Tournay did, when he opened a letter that came from somebody he didn't know?"
After a long consultation the two faithful souls made up their minds to tell their mistress everything next morning, and also to place the mysterious casket in her hands, for of course it could be opened with proper precautions. After minutely weighing every circumstance connected with the suspicious stranger's appearance, they were both of the same opinion, namely, that there was some special mystery connected with the matter, which they durst not attempt to control single-handed; they must leave it to their good lady to unriddle.
Baptiste's apprehensions were well founded. Just at that time Paris was the scene of the most abominable atrocities, and exactly at the same period the most diabolical invention of Satan was made, to offer the readiest means for committing these deeds.
Glaser, a German apothecary, the best chemist of his age, had busied himself, as people of his profession were in the habit of doing, with alchemistical experiments. He had made it the object of his endeavour to discover the Philosopher's Stone. His coadjutor was an Italian of the name of Exili. But this man only practised alchemy as a blind. His real object was to learn all about the mixing and decoction and sublimating of poisonous compounds, by which Glaser on his part hoped to make his fortune; and at last he succeeded in fabricating that subtle poison that is without smell and without taste, that kills either on the spot or gradually and slowly, without ever leaving the slightest trace in the human body, and that deceives all the skill and art of the physicians, since, not suspecting the presence of poison, they fail not to ascribe the death to natural causes. Circumspectly as Exili went to work, he nevertheless fell under the suspicion of being a seller of poison, and was thrown into the Bastille. Soon afterwards Captain Godin de Sainte Croix was confined in the same dungeon. This man had for a long time been living in relations with the Marchioness de Brinvillier, which brought disgrace on all the family; so at last, as the Marquis continued indifferent to his wife's shameful conduct, her father, Dreux d'Aubray, Civil Lieutenant of Paris, compelled the guilty pair to part by means of a warrant which was executed upon the Captain. Passionate, unprincipled, hypocritically feigning to be pious, and yet inclined from his youth up to all kinds of vice, jealous, revengeful even to madness, the Captain could not have met with any more welcome information than that contained in Exili's diabolical secret, since it would give him the power to annihilate all his enemies. He became an eager scholar of Exili, and soon came to be as clever as his master, so that, on being liberated from the Bastille, he was in a position to work on unaided.
Before an abandoned woman, De Brinvillier became through Sainte Croix's instrumentality a monster. He contrived to induce her to poison successively her own father, with whom she was living, tending with heartless hypocrisy his declining days, and then her two brothers, and finally her sister,—her father out of revenge, and the others on account of the rich family inheritance. From the histories of several poisoners we have terrible examples how the commission of crimes of this class becomes at last an all-absorbing passion. Often, without any further purpose than the mere vile pleasure of the thing, just as chemists make experiments for their own enjoyment, have poisoners destroyed persons whose life or death must have been to them a matter of perfect indifference.
The sudden decease of several poor people in the Hotel Dieu some time afterwards excited the suspicion that the bread had been poisoned which Brinvillier, in order to acquire a reputation for piety and benevolence, used to distribute there every week. At any rate, it is undoubtedly true that she was in the habit of serving the guests whom she invited to her house with poisoned pigeon pie. The Chevalier de Guet and several other persons fell victims to these hellish banquets. Sainte Croix, his confederate La Chaussee, and Brinvillier were able for a long time to enshroud their horrid deeds behind an impenetrable veil. But of what avail is the infamous cunning of reprobate men when the Divine Power has decreed that punishment shall overtake the guilty here on earth?
The poisons which Sainte Croix prepared were of so subtle a nature that if the powder (called by the Parisians Pondre de Succession, or Succession Powder) were prepared with the face exposed, a single inhalation of it might cause instantaneous death. Sainte Croix therefore, when engaged in its manufacture, always wore a mask made of fine glass. One day, just as he was pouring a prepared powder into a phial, his mask fell off, and, inhaling the fine particles of the poison, he fell down dead on the spot. As he had died without heirs, the officers of the law hastened to place his effects under seal. Amongst them they found a locked box, which contained the whole of the infernal arsenal of poisons that the abandoned wretch Sainte Croix had had at command; they also found Brinvillier's letters, which left no doubt as to her atrocious crimes. She fled to Liege, into a convent there. Desgrais, an officer of the Marechaussee, was sent after her. In the disguise of a monk he arrived at the convent where she had concealed herself, and contrived to engage the terrible woman in a love intrigue, and finally, under the pretext of a secret meeting, to entice her out to a lonely garden beyond the precincts of the town. Directly she arrived at the appointed place she was surrounded by Desgrais' satellites, whilst her monkish lover was suddenly converted into an officer of the Marechaussee, who compelled her to get into the carriage which stood ready near the garden; and, surrounded by the police troop, she was driven straight off to Paris. La Chaussee had been already beheaded somewhat earlier; Brinvillier suffered the same death, after which her body was burned and the ashes scattered to the winds.
Now that the monster who had been able to direct his secret murderous weapons against both friend and foe alike unpunished was out of the world, the Parisians breathed freely once more. But it soon became known abroad that the villain Sainte Croix's abominable art had been handed down to certain successors. Like a malignant invisible spirit, murder insinuated itself into the most intimate circles, even the closest of those formed by relationship and love and friendship, and laid a quick sure grasp upon its unfortunate victims. He who was seen one day in the full vigour of health, tottered about the next a weak wasting invalid, and no skill of the physician could save him from death. Wealth, a lucrative office, a beautiful and perhaps too young a wife—any of these was sufficient to draw down upon the possessor this persecution unto death. The most sacred ties were severed by the cruellest mistrust. The husband trembled at his wife, the father at his son, the sister at the brother. The dishes remained untouched, and the wine at the dinner, which a friend put before his friends; and there where formerly jest and mirth had reigned supreme, savage glances were now spying about for the masked murderer. Fathers of families were observed buying provisions in remote districts with uneasy looks and movements, and preparing them themselves in the first dirty cook-shop they came to, since they feared diabolical treachery in their own homes. And yet even the greatest and most well-considered precautions were in many cases of no avail.
In order to put a stop to this iniquitous state of things, which continued to gain ground and grow greater day by day, the king appointed a special court of justice for the exclusive purpose of inquiring into and punishing these secret crimes. This was the so-called Chambre Ardente, which held its sittings not far from the Bastille, its acting president being La Regnie. For a considerable period all his efforts, however zealously they were prosecuted, remained fruitless; it was reserved for the crafty Desgrais to discover the most secret haunts of the criminals. In the Faubourg St. Germain there lived an old woman called Voisin, who made a regular business of fortune-telling and raising departed spirits; and with the help of her confederates Le Sage and Le Vigoureux, she managed to excite fear and astonishment in the minds of persons who could not be called exactly either weak or credulous. But she did more than this. A pupil of Exili, like La Croix, she, like him, concocted the same subtle poison that killed and left no trace behind it; and so she helped in this way profligate sons to get early possession of their inheritance, and depraved wives to another and younger husband. Desgrais wormed his way into her secret; she confessed all; the Chambre Ardente condemned her to be burned alive, and the sentence was executed in the Place Greve.
Amongst her effects was found a list of all the persons who had availed themselves of her assistance; and hence it was that not only did execution follow upon execution, but grave suspicion fell even upon persons of high position. Thus it was believed that Cardinal Bonzy had obtained from La Voisin the means of bringing to an untimely end all those persons to whom, as Archbishop of Narbonne, he was obliged to pay annuities. So also the Duchess de Bouillon, and the Countess de Soissons, whose names were found on the list, were accused of having had dealings with the diabolical woman; and even Francois Henri de Montmorenci, Boudebelle, Duke of Luxemburg, peer and marshal of the kingdom, was not spared. He too was prosecuted by the terrible Chambre Ardente. He voluntarily gave himself up to be imprisoned in the Bastille, where through Louvois' and La Regnie's hatred he was confined in a cell only six feet long. Months passed before it was made out satisfactorily that the Duke's transgression did not deserve any blame: he had once had his horoscope cast by Le Sage.
It is certain that the President La Regnie was betrayed by his blind zeal into acts of cruelty and arbitrary violence. The tribunal acquired the character of an Inquisition; the most trifling suspicion was sufficient to entail strict incarceration; and it was left to chance to establish the innocence of a person accused of a capital crime. Moreover, La Regnie was hideous in appearance, and of a malicious temperament, so that he soon drew down upon himself the hatred of those whose avenger or protector he was appointed to be. The Duchess de Bouillon, being asked by him during her trial if she had seen the devil, replied, "I fancy I can see him at this moment."
But whilst the blood of the guilty and the suspected alike was flowing in streams in the Place Greve, and after a time the secret poisonings became less and less frequent, a new kind of outrage came to light, and again filled the city with dismay. It seemed as if a band of miscreant robbers were in league together for the purpose of getting into their possession all the jewellery they could. No sooner was any valuable ornament purchased than, no matter how or where kept, it vanished in an inconceivable way. But what was still worse, any one who ventured to wear jewellery on his person at night was robbed, and often murdered even, either in the public street or in the dark passage of a house. Those who escaped with their lives declared that they had been knocked down by a blow on the head, which felled them like a lightning flash, and that on awaking from their stupor they had found that they had been robbed and were lying in quite a different place from that where they had received the blow. All who were murdered, some of whom were found nearly every morning lying either in the streets or in the houses, had all one and the same fatal wound,—a dagger-thrust in the heart, killing, according to the judgment of the surgeons, so instantaneously and so surely that the victim would drop down like a stone, unable to utter a sound. Who was there at the voluptuous court of Louis XIV. who was not entangled in some clandestine intrigue, and stole to his mistress at a late hour, often carrying a valuable present about him? The robbers, as if they were in league with spirits, knew almost exactly when anything of this sort was on foot. Often the unfortunate did not reach the house where he expected to meet with the reward of his passion; often he fell on the threshold, nay, at the very chamber door of his mistress, who was horrified at finding the bloody corpse.
In vain did Argenson, the Minister of Police, order the arrest of every person from amongst the populace against whom there was the least suspicion; in vain did La Regnie rage and try to extort confessions; in vain did they strengthen their watch and their patrols;—they could not find a trace of the evil-doers. The only thing that did to a certain extent avail was to take the precaution of going armed to the teeth and have a torch carried before one; and yet instances were not wanting in which the servant was annoyed by stones thrown at him, whilst at the same moment his master was murdered and robbed. It was especially remarkable that, in spite of all inquiries in every place where traffic in jewellery was in any way possible, not the smallest specimen of the stolen ornaments ever came to light, and so in this way also no clue was found which might have been followed.
Desgrais was furious that the miscreants should thus baffle all his cunning. The quarter of the town in which he happened to be stationed was spared; whilst in the others, where nobody apprehended any evil, these robberies and murders claimed their richest victims.
Desgrais hit upon the ruse of making several Desgrais one after the other, so exactly alike in gait, posture, speech, figure, and face, that the myrmidons of the police themselves did not know which was the real Desgrais. Meanwhile, at the risk of his own life, he used to watch alone in the most secret haunts and lairs of crime, and follow at a distance first this man and then that, who at his own instance carried some valuable jewellery about his person. These men, however, were not attacked; and hence the robbers must be acquainted with this contrivance also. Desgrais absolutely despaired.
One morning Desgrais came to President La Regnie pale and perturbed, quite distracted in fact. "What's the matter? What news? Have you got a clue?" cried the President "Oh! your excellency," began Desgrais, stammering with rage, "oh! your excellency—last night—not far from the Louvre—the Marquis de la Fare was attacked in my presence." "By Heaven then!" shouted La Regnie, exultant with joy, "we have them." "But first listen to me," interrupted Desgrais with a bitter smile, "and hear how it all came about. Well then, I was standing near the Louvre on the watch for these devils who mock me, and my heart was on fire with fury. Then there came a figure close past me without noticing me, walking with unsteady steps and looking behind him. By the faint moonlight I saw that it was Marquis de la Fare. I was not surprised to see him; I knew where he was stealing to. But he had not gone more than ten or twelve paces past me when a man started up right out of the earth as it seemed and knocked him down, and stooped over him. In the sudden surprise and on the impulse of the moment, which would else have delivered the murderer into my hands, I was thoughtless enough to cry out; and I was just bursting out of my hiding-place with a rush, intending to throw myself upon him, when I got entangled in my mantle and fell down. I saw the man hurrying away on the wings of the wind; I made haste and picked myself up and ran after him; and as I ran I blew my horn; from the distance came the answering whistles of the man; the streets were all alive; there was a rattle of arms and a trampling of horses in all directions. 'Here! here! Desgrais! Desgrais!' I shouted till the streets echoed. By the bright moonlight I could always see the man in front of me, doubling here and there to deceive me. We came to the Rue Nicaise, and there his strength appeared to fail him: I redoubled my efforts; and he only led me by fifteen paces at the most"—— "You caught him up; you seized him; the patrol came up?" cried La Regnie, his eyes flashing, whilst he seized Desgrais by the arm as though he were the flying murderer. "Fifteen paces," continued Desgrais in a hollow voice and with difficulty drawing his breath—"fifteen paces from me the man sprang aside into the shade and disappeared through the wall." "Disappeared?—through the wall? Are you mad?" cried La Regnie, taking a couple of steps backwards and striking his hands together.
"From this moment onwards," continued Desgrais, rubbing his brow like a man tormented by hateful thoughts, "your excellency may call me a madman or an insane ghost-seer, but it was just as I have told you. I was standing staring at the wall like one petrified when several men of the patrol hurried up breathless, and along with them Marquis de la Fare, who had picked himself up, with his drawn sword in his hand. We lighted the torches, and sounded the wall backwards and forwards,—not an indication of a door or a window or an opening. It was a strong stone wall bounding a yard, and was joined on to a house in which live people against whom there has never risen the slightest suspicion. To-day I have again taken a careful survey of the whole place. It must be the Devil himself who is mystifying us."
Desgrais' story became known in Paris. People's heads were full of the sorceries and incantations and compacts with Satan of Voisin, Vigoureuse, and the reprobate priest Le Sage; and as in the eternal nature of us men, the leaning to the marvellous and the wonderful so often outweighs all the authority of reason, so the public soon began to believe simply and solely that as Desgrais in his mortification had said, Satan himself really did protect the abominable wretches, who must have sold their souls to him. It will readily be believed that Desgrais' story received all sorts of ornamental additions. An account of the adventure, with a woodcut on the title-page representing a grim Satanic form before which the terrified Desgrais was sinking in the earth, was printed and largely sold at the street corners. This alone was enough to overawe the people, and even to rob the myrmidons of the police of their courage, who now wandered about the streets at night trembling and quaking, hung about with amulets and soaked in holy water.
Argenson perceived that the exertions of the Chambre Ardente were of no avail, and he appealed to the king to appoint a tribunal with still more extensive powers to deal with this new epidemic of crime, to hunt up the evil-doers, and to punish them. The king, convinced that he had already vested too much power in the Chambre Ardente and shaken with horror at the numberless executions which the bloodthirsty La Regnie had decreed, flatly refused to entertain the proposed plan.
Another means was chosen to stimulate the king's interest in the matter.
Louis was in the habit of spending the afternoon in Madame de Maintenon's salons, and also despatching state business therewith his ministers until a late hour at night. Here a poem was presented to him in the name of the jeopardised lovers, complaining that, whenever gallantry bid them honour their mistress with a present, they had always to risk their lives on the fulfilment of the injunction. There was always both honour and pleasure to be won in shedding their blood for their lady in a knightly encounter; but it was quite another thing when they had to deal with a stealthy malignant assassin, against whom they could not arm themselves. Would Louis, the bright polar star of all love and gallantry, cause the resplendent beams of his glory to shine and dissipate this dark night, and so unveil the black mystery that was concealed within it? The god-like hero, who had broken his enemies to pieces, would now (they hoped) draw his sword glittering with victory, and, as Hercules did against the Lernean serpent, or Theseus the Minotaur, would fight against the threatening monster which was gnawing away all the raptures of love, and darkening all their joy and converting it into deep pain and grief inconsolable.
Serious as the matter was, yet the poem did not lack clever and witty turns, especially in the description of the anxieties which the lovers had to endure as they stole by secret ways to their mistresses, and of how their apprehensions proved fatal to all the rapturous delights of love and to every dainty gallant adventure before it could even develop into blossom. If it be added that the poem was made to conclude with a magniloquent panegyric upon Louis XIV., the king could not fail to read it with visible signs of satisfaction. Having reached the end of it, he turned round abruptly to Madame de Maintenon, without lifting his eyes from the paper, and read the poem through again aloud; after which he asked her with a gracious smile what was her opinion with respect to the wishes of the jeopardised lovers.
De Maintenon, faithful to the serious bent of her mind, and always preserving a certain colour of piety, replied that those who walked along secret and forbidden paths were not worthy of any special protection, but that the abominable criminals did call for special measures to be taken for their destruction. The king, dissatisfied with this wavering answer, folded up the paper, and was going back to the Secretary of State, who was working in the next room, when on casting a glance sideways his eye fell upon Mademoiselle de Scuderi, who was present in the salon and had taken her seat in a small easy-chair not far from De Maintenon. Her he now approached, whilst the pleasant smile which at first had played about his mouth and on his cheeks, but had then disappeared, now won the upper hand again. Standing immediately in front of Mademoiselle, and unfolding the poem once more, he said softly, "Our Marchioness will not countenance in any way the gallantries of our amorous gentlemen, and give us evasive answers of a kind that are almost quite forbidden. But you, Mademoiselle, what is your opinion of this poetic petition?" De Scuderi rose respectfully from her chair, whilst a passing blush flitted like the purple sunset rays in evening across the venerable lady's pale cheeks, and she said, bowing gently and casting down her eyes,
"Un amant qui craint les voleurs N'est point digne d'amour."
(A lover who is afraid of robbers is not worthy of love.)
The king, greatly struck by the chivalric spirit breathed in these few words, which upset the whole of the poem with its yards and yards of tirades, cried with sparkling eyes, "By St. Denis, you are right. Mademoiselle! Cowardice shall not be protected by any blind measures which would affect the innocent along with the guilty; Argenson and La Regnie must do their best as they are."
All these horrors of the day La Martiniere depicted next morning in startling colours when she related to her mistress the occurrence of the previous night; and she handed over to her the mysterious casket in fear and trembling. Both she and Baptiste, who stood in the corner as pale as death, twisting and doubling up his night-cap, and hardly able to speak in his fear and anxiety,—both begged Mademoiselle in the most piteous terms and in the names of all the saints, to use the utmost possible caution in opening the box. De Scuderi, weighing the locked mystery in her hand, and subjecting it to a careful scrutiny, said smiling, "You are both of you ghost-seers! That I am not rich, that there are not sufficient treasures here to be worth a murder, is known to all these abandoned assassins, who, you yourself tell me, spy out all that there is in a house, as well as it is to me and you. You think they have designs upon my life? Who could make capital out of the death of an old lady of seventy-three, who never did harm to anybody in the world except the miscreants and peace-breakers in the romances which she writes herself, who makes middling verses which can excite nobody's envy, who will have nothing to leave except the state dresses of an old maid who sometimes went to court, and a dozen or two well-bound books with gilt edges? And then you, Martiniere,—you may describe the stranger's appearance as frightful as you like, yet I cannot believe that his intentions were evil. So then——"
La Martiniere recoiled some paces, and Baptiste, uttering a stifled "Oh!" almost sank upon his knees as Mademoiselle proceeded to press upon a projecting steel knob; then the lid flew back with a noisy jerk.
But how astonished was she to see a pair of gold bracelets, richly set with jewels, and a necklace to match. She took them out of the case; and whilst she was praising the exquisite workmanship of the necklace, Martiniere was eyeing the valuable bracelets, and crying time after time, that the vain Lady Montespan herself had no such ornaments as these. "But what is it for? what does it all mean?" said De Scuderi. But at this same moment she observed a small slip of paper folded together, lying at the bottom of the casket. She hoped, and rightly, to find in it an explanation of the mystery. She had hardly finished reading the contents of the scrip when it fell from her trembling hands. She sent an appealing glance towards Heaven, and then fell back almost fainting into her chair. Terrified, Martiniere sprang to her assistance, and so also did Baptiste. "Oh! what an insult!" she exclaimed, her voice half-choked with tears, "Oh! what a burning shame! Must I then endure this in my old age? Have I then gone and acted with wrong and foolish levity like some young giddy thing? O God, are words let fall half in jest capable of being stamped with such an atrocious interpretation? And am I, who have been faithful to virtue, and of blameless piety from my earliest childhood until now,—am I to be accused of the crime of making such a diabolical compact?"
Mademoiselle held her handkerchief to her eyes and wept and sobbed bitterly, so that Martiniere and Baptiste were both of them confused and rendered helpless by embarrassed constraint, not knowing what to do to help their mistress in her great trouble.
Martiniere picked up the ominous strip of paper from the floor. Upon it was written—
"Un amant qui craint les voleurs N'est point digne d'amour.
"Your sagacious mind, honoured lady, has saved us from great persecution. We only exercise the right of the stronger over the weak and the cowardly in order to appropriate to ourselves treasures that would else be disgracefully squandered. Kindly accept these jewels as a token of our gratitude. They are the most brilliant that we have been enabled to meet with for a long time; and yet you, honoured lady, ought to be adorned with jewellery even still finer than this is. We trust you will not withdraw from us your friendship and kind remembrance.
"Is it possible?" exclaimed De Scuderi after she had to some extent recovered herself, "is it possible for men to carry their shameless insolence, their godless scorn, to such lengths?" The sun shone brightly through the dark-red silk window curtains and made the brilliants which lay on the table beside the open casket to sparkle in the reddish gleam. Chancing to cast her eyes upon them, De Scuderi hid her face with abhorrence, and bade Martiniere take the fearful jewellery away at once, that very moment, for the blood of the murdered victims was still adhering to it. Martiniere at once carefully locked the necklace and bracelets in the casket again, and thought that the wisest plan would be to hand it over to the Minister of Police, and to confide to him every thing connected with the appearance of the young man who had caused them so much uneasiness, and the way in which he had placed the casket in her hands.
De Scuderi rose to her feet and slowly paced up and down the room in silence, as if she were only now reflecting what was to be done. She then bade Baptiste fetch a sedan chair, while Martiniere was to dress her, for she meant to go straight to the Marchioness de Maintenon.
She had herself carried to the Marchioness's just at the hour when she knew she should find that lady alone in her salons. The casket with the jewellery De Scuderi also took with her.
Of course the Marchioness was greatly astonished to see Mademoiselle, who was generally a pattern of dignity, amiability (notwithstanding her advanced age), and gracefulness, come in with tottering steps, pale, and excessively agitated. "By all the saints, what's happened to you?" she cried when she saw the poor troubled lady, who, almost distracted and hardly able to walk erect, hurried to reach the easy-chair which De Maintenon pushed towards her. At length, having recovered her power of speech somewhat, Mademoiselle related what a deep insult—she should never get over it—her thoughtless jest in answer to the petition of the jeopardised lovers had brought upon her. The Marchioness, after learning the whole of the story by fragments, arrived at the conclusion that De Scuderi took the strange occurrence far too much to heart, that the mockery of depraved wretches like these could never come home to a pious, noble mind like hers, and finally she requested to see the ornaments.
De Scuderi gave her the open casket; and the Marchioness, on seeing the costly jewellery, could not help uttering a loud cry of admiration. She took out the necklace and the bracelets, and approached the window with them, where first she let the sun play upon the stones, and then she held them up close to her eyes in order to see better the exquisite workmanship of the gold, and to admire the marvellous skill with which every little link in the elaborate chain was finished. All at once the Marchioness turned round abruptly towards Mademoiselle and cried, "I tell you what, Mademoiselle, these bracelets and necklace must have been made by no less a person than Rene Cardillac."
Rene Cardillac was at that time the most skilful goldsmith in Paris, and also one of the most ingenious as well as one of the most eccentric men of the age. Rather small than great, but broad-shouldered and with a strong and muscular frame, Cardillac, although considerably more than fifty, still possessed the strength and activity of youth. And his strength, which might be said to be something above the common, was further evidenced by his abundant curly reddish hair, and his thick-set features and the sultry gleam upon them. Had not Cardillac been known throughout all Paris, as one of the most honest and honourable of men, disinterested, frank, without any reserve, always ready to help, the very peculiar appearance of his eyes, which were small, deep-set, green, and glittering, might have drawn upon him the suspicion of lurking malice and viciousness.
As already said, Cardillac was the greatest master in his trade, not only in Paris, but also perhaps of his age. Intimately acquainted with the properties of precious stones, he knew how to treat them and set them in such a manner that an ornament which had at first been looked upon as wanting in lustre, proceeded out of Cardillac's shop possessing a dazzling magnificence. Every commission he accepted with burning avidity, and fixed a price that seemed to bear no proportion whatever to the work to be done—so small was it. Then the work gave him no rest; both night and day he was heard hammering in his work-shop, and often when the thing was nearly finished he would suddenly conceive a dislike to the form; he had doubts as to the elegance of the setting of some or other of the jewels, of a little link—quite a sufficient reason for throwing all into the crucible, and beginning the entire work over again. Thus every individual piece of jewellery that he turned out was a perfect and matchless masterpiece, utterly astounding to the person who had given the commission.
But it was now hardly possible to get any work that was once finished out of his hands. Under a thousand pretexts he put off the owner from week to week, and from month to month. It was all in vain to offer him double for the work; he would not take a single Louis d'or more than the price bargained for. When at last he was obliged to yield to the insistence of his customer, he could not help betraying all the signs of the greatest annoyance, nay, of even fury seething in his heart. If the piece of work which he had to deliver up was something of more than ordinary importance, especially anything of great value, worth many thousands owing to the costliness of the jewels or the extreme delicacy of the gold-work, he was capable of running about like a madman, cursing himself, his labour, and all about him. But then if any person came up behind him and shouted, "Rene Cardillac, would you not like to make a beautiful necklace for my betrothed?—bracelets for my sweet-heart," or so forth, he would suddenly stop still, and looking at him with his little eyes, would ask, as he rubbed his hands, "Well, what have you got?" Thereupon the other would produce a small jewel-case, and say, "Oh! some jewels—see; they are nothing particular, only common things, but in your hands"—— Cardillac does not let him finish what he has to say, but snatching the case out of his hand takes out the stones (which are in reality of but little value) and holds them up to the light, crying enraptured, "Ho! ho! common things, are they? Not at all! Pretty stones—magnificent stones; only let me make them up for you. And if you're not squeamish to a handful or two of Louis d'or, I can add a few more little gems, which shall sparkle in your eyes like the great sun himself." The other says, "I will leave it all to you, Master Rene, and pay you what you like."
Then, without making any difference whether his customer is a rich citizen only or an eminent nobleman of the court, Cardillac throws his arms impetuously round his neck and embraces him and kisses him, saying that now he is quite happy again, and the work will be finished in a week's time. Running off home with breathless speed and up into his workshop, he begins to hammer away, and at the week's end has produced a masterpiece of art But when the customer comes prepared to pay with joy the insignificant sum demanded, and expecting to take the finished ornament away with him, Cardillac gets testy, rude, obstinate, and hard to deal with. "But, Master Cardillac, recollect that my wedding is to-morrow."—"But what have I to do with your wedding? come again in a fortnight's time." "The ornament is finished; here is your money; and I must have it." "And I tell you that I've lots of things to alter in it, and I shan't let you have it to-day." "And I tell you that if you won't deliver up the ornament by fair means—of course I am willing to pay you double for it—you shall soon see me march up with Argenson's serviceable underlings."—"Well, then, may Satan torture you with scores of red-hot pincers, and hang three hundredweight on the necklace till it strangle your bride." And therewith, thrusting the jewellery into the bridegroom's breast pocket, Cardillac seizes him by the arm and turns him roughly out of the door, so that he goes stumbling all down the stairs. Then Cardillac puts his head out of the window and laughs like a demon on seeing the poor young man limp out of the house, holding his handkerchief to his bloody nose.
But one thing there was about him that was quite inexplicable. Often, after he had enthusiastically taken a piece of work in hand, he would implore his customer by the Virgin and all the saints, with every sign of deep and violent agitation, and with moving protestations, nay, amidst tears and sobs, that he might be released from his engagement. Several persons who were most highly esteemed of the king and the people had vainly offered large sums of money to get the smallest piece of work from him. He threw himself at the king's feet and besought as a favour at his hands that he might not be asked to do any work for him. In the same way he refused every commission from De Maintenon; he even rejected with aversion and horror the proposal she made him to fabricate for her a little ring with emblematic ornaments, which was to be presented to Racine.
Accordingly De Maintenon now said, "I would wager that if I sent for Cardillac to come here to tell me at least for whom he made these ornaments, he would refuse to come, since he would probably fear it was some commission; and he never will make anything for me on any account. And yet he has, it seems, dropped something of his inflexible obstinacy some time ago, for I hear that he now labours more industriously than ever, and delivers up his work at once, though still not without much inward vexation and turning away of his face." De Scuderi, who was greatly concerned that the ornaments should, if it could possibly be managed, come soon into the hands of the proper owner, thought they might send express word to Master Whimsicality that they did not want him to do any work, but only to pass his opinion upon some jewels. This commended itself to the Marchioness. Cardillac was sent for; and, as though he had been already on the way, after a brief interval he stepped into the room.
On observing De Scuderi he appeared to be embarrassed; and, like one confounded by something so utterly unexpected that he forgets the claims of propriety such as the moment demands, he first made a low and reverential obeisance to this venerable lady, and then only did he turn to the Marchioness. She, pointing to the jewellery, which now lay glittering on the dark-green table-cloth, asked him hastily if it was of his workmanship. Hardly glancing at it, and keeping his eyes steadily fixed upon De Maintenon, Cardillac hurriedly packed the necklace and bracelets into the casket, which stood beside them, and pushed it violently away from him. Then he said, whilst a forbidding smile gleamed in his red face, "By my honour, noble lady, he would have but a poor acquaintance with Rene Cardillac's workmanship who should believe for a single moment that any other goldsmith in the world could set a piece of jewellery like that is done. Of course it's my handiwork." "Then tell me," continued the Marchioness, "for whom you made these ornaments." "For myself alone," replied Cardillac. "Ah! I dare say your ladyship finds that strange," he continued, since both she and De Scuderi had fixed their eyes upon him astounded, the former full of mistrust, the latter of anxious suspense as to what turn the matter would take next; "but it is so. Merely out of love for my beautiful handicraft I picked out all my best stones and gladly set to work upon them, exercising more industry and care over them than I had ever done over any stones before. A short time ago the ornaments disappeared in some inconceivable way out of my workshop." "Thank Heaven!" cried De Scuderi, whilst her eyes sparkled with joy, and she jumped up from her chair as quick and nimble as a young girl; then going up to Cardillac, she placed both her hands upon his shoulders, and said, "Here, Master Rene, take your property back again, which these rascally miscreants stole from you." And she related every detail of how she had acquired possession of the ornaments, to all of which Cardillac listened silently, with his eyes cast down upon the floor. Only now and again he uttered an indistinct "Hm!—So!—Ho! ho!" now throwing his hands behind his back, and now softly stroking his chin and cheeks.
When De Scuderi came to the end of her story, Cardillac appeared to be struggling with some new and striking thought which had occurred to him during the course of it, and as though he were labouring with some rebellious resolve that refused to conform to his wishes. He rubbed his forehead, sighed, drew his hand across his eyes, as if to check tears which were gushing from them. At length he seized the casket which De Scuderi was holding out towards him, and slowly sinking upon one knee, said, "These jewels have been decreed to you, my noble and respected lady, by Destiny. Yes, now I know that it was you I thought about when I was labouring at them, and that it was for you I worked. Do not disdain to accept these ornaments, nor refuse to wear them; they are indeed the best things I have made for a very long time." "Why, why, Master Rene," replied De Scuderi, in a charming, jesting manner; "what are you thinking about? Would it become me at my years to trick myself out with such bright gems? And what makes you think of giving me such an over-rich present? Nay, nay, Master Rene. Now if I were beautiful like the Marchioness de Fontange, and rich too, I assure you I should not let these ornaments pass out of my hands; but what do these withered arms want with vain show, and this covered neck with glittering ornaments?" Meanwhile Cardillac had risen to his feet again; and whilst persistently holding out the casket towards De Scuderi he said, like one distracted—and his looks were wild and uneasy,—"Have pity upon me, Mademoiselle, and take the ornaments. You don't know what great respect I cherish in my heart for your virtue and your high good qualities. Accept this little present as an effort on my behalf to show my deep respect and devotion." But as De Scuderi still continued to hesitate, De Maintenon took the casket out of Cardillac's hands, saying, "Upon my word, Mademoiselle, you are always talking about your great age. What have we, you and I, to do with years and their burdens? And aren't you acting just like a shy young thing, who would only too well like to take the sweet fruit that is offered to her if she could only do so without stirring either hand or finger? Don't refuse to accept from our good Master Rene as a free gift what scores of others could never get, in spite of all their gold and all their prayers and entreaties."
Whilst speaking De Maintenon had forced the casket into Mademoiselle's hand; and now Cardillac again fell upon his knees and kissed De Scuderi's gown and hands, sighing and gasping, weeping and sobbing; then he jumped up and ran off like a madman, as fast as he could run, upsetting chairs and tables in his senseless haste, and making the glasses and porcelain tumble together with a ring and jingle and clash.
De Scuderi cried out quite terrified, "Good Heavens! what's happened to the man?" But the Marchioness, who was now in an especially lively mood and in such a pert humour as was in general quite foreign to her, burst out into a silvery laugh, and said, "Now, I've got it, Mademoiselle. Master Rene has fallen desperately in love with you, and according to the established form and settled usage of all true gallantry, he is beginning to storm your heart with rich presents." She even pushed her raillery further, admonishing De Scuderi not to be too cruel towards her despairing lover, until Mademoiselle, letting her natural-born humour have play, was carried away by the bubbling stream of merry conceits and fancies. She thought that if that was really the state of the case, she should be at last conquered and would not be able to help affording to the world the unprecedented example of a goldsmith's bride, of untarnished nobility, of the age of three and seventy. De Maintenon offered her services to weave the wedding-wreath, and to instruct her in the duties of a good house-wife, since such a snippety bit of a girl could not of course know much about such things.
But when at length De Scuderi rose to say adieu to the Marchioness, she again, notwithstanding all their laughing jests, grew very grave as she took the jewel-case in her hand, and said, "And yet, Marchioness, do you know, I can never wear these ornaments. Whatever be their history, they have at some time or other been in the hands of those diabolical wretches who commit robbery and murder with all the effrontery of Satan himself; nay, I believe they must be in an unholy league with him. I shudder with awe at the sight of the blood which appears to adhere to the glittering stones. And then, I must confess, I cannot help feeling that there is something strangely uneasy and awe-inspiring about Cardillac's behaviour. I cannot get rid of the dark presentiment that behind all this there is lurking some fearful and terrible secret; but when, on the other hand, I pass the whole matter with all its circumstantial adjuncts in clear review before my mind, I cannot even guess what the mystery consists in, nor yet how our brave honest Master Rene, the pattern of a good industrious citizen, can have anything to do with what is bad or deserving of condemnation; but of this I am quite sure, that I shall never dare to put the ornaments on."
The Marchioness thought that this was carrying scruples too far. But when De Scuderi asked her on her conscience what she should really do in her (Scuderi's) place, De Maintenon replied earnestly and decisively, "Far sooner throw the ornaments into the Seine than ever wear them."
The scene with Master Rene was described by De Scuderi in charming verses, which she read to the king on the following evening in De Maintenon's salon. And of course it may readily be conceived that, conquering her uncomfortable feelings and forebodings of evil, she drew at Master Rene's expense a diverting picture, in bright vivacious colours, of the goldsmith's bride of three and seventy who was of such ancient nobility. At any rate the king laughed heartily, and swore that Boileau Despreux had found his master; hence De Scuderi's poem was popularly adjudged to be the wittiest that ever was written.
Several months had passed, when, as chance would have it, De Scuderi was driving over the Pont Neuf in the Duchess de Montansier's glass coach. The invention of this elegant class of vehicles was still so recent that a throng of the curious always gathered round it when one appeared in the streets. And so there was on the present occasion a gaping crowd round De Montansier's coach on the Pont Neuf, so great as almost to hinder the horses from getting on. All at once De Scuderi heard a continuous fire of abuse and cursing, and perceived a man making his way through the thick of the crowd by the help of his fists and by punching people in the ribs. And when he came nearer she saw that his piercing eyes were riveted upon her. His face was pale as death and distorted by pain; and he kept his eyes riveted upon her all the time he was energetically working his way onwards with his fists and elbows, until he reached the door. Pulling it open with impetuous violence, he threw a strip of paper into De Scuderi's lap, and again dealing out and receiving blows and punches, disappeared as he had come. Martiniere, who was accompanying her mistress, uttered a scream of terror when she saw the man appear at the coach door, and fell back upon the cushions in a swoon. De Scuderi vainly pulled the cord and called out to the driver; he, as if impelled by the foul Fiend, whipped up his horses, so that they foamed at the mouth and tossed their heads, and kicked and plunged, and finally thundered over the bridge at a sharp trot. De Scuderi emptied her smelling-bottle over the insensible woman, who at length opened her eyes. Trembling and shaking, she clung convulsively to her mistress, her face pale with anxiety and terror as she gasped out, "For the love of the Virgin, what did that terrible man want? Oh! yes, it was he! it was he!—the very same who brought you the casket that awful night." Mademoiselle pacified the poor woman, assuring her that not the least mischief had been done, and that the main thing to do just then was to see what the strip of paper contained. She unfolded it and found these words—
"I am being plunged into the pit of destruction by an evil destiny which you may avert. I implore you, as the son does the mother whom he cannot leave, and with the warmest affection of a loving child, send the necklace and bracelets which you received from me to Master Rene Cardillac; any pretext will do, to get some improvement made—or to get something altered. Your welfare, your life, depend upon it. If you have not done so by the day after to-morrow I will force my way into your dwelling and kill myself before your eyes."
"Well now, it is at any rate certain," said De Scuderi when she had read it, "that this mysterious man, even if he does really belong to the notorious band of thieves and robbers, yet has no evil designs against me. If he had succeeded in speaking to me that night, who knows whether I should not have learnt of some singular event or some mysterious complication of things, respecting which I now try in vain to form even the remotest guess. But let the matter now take what shape it may, I shall certainly do what this note urgently requests me to do, if for no other reason than to get rid of those ill-starred jewels, which I always fancy are a talisman of the foul Fiend himself. And I warrant Cardillac, true to his rooted habit, won't let it pass out of his hands again so easily."
The very next day De Scuderi intended to go and take the jewellery to the goldsmith's. But somehow it seemed as if all the wits and intellects of entire Paris had conspired together to overwhelm Mademoiselle just on this particular morning with their verses and plays and anecdotes. No sooner had La Chapelle finished reading a tragedy, and had slyly remarked with some degree of confident assurance that he should now certainly beat Racine, than the latter poet himself came in, and routed him with a pathetic speech of a certain king, until Boileau appeared to let off the rockets of his wit into this black sky of Tragedy—in order that he might not be talked to death on the subject of the colonnade of the Louvre, for he had been penned up in it by Dr. Perrault, the architect.
It was high noon; De Scuderi had to go to the Duchess de Montansier's; and so the visit to Master Rene Cardillac's was put off until the next day. Mademoiselle, however, was tormented by a most extraordinary feeling of uneasiness. The young man's figure was constantly before her eyes; and deep down in her memory there was stirring a dim recollection that she had seen his face and features somewhere before. Her sleep, which was of the lightest, was disturbed by troublesome dreams. She fancied she had acted frivolously and even criminally in having delayed to grasp the hand which the unhappy wretch, who was sinking into the abyss of ruin, was stretching up towards her; nay, she was even haunted by the thought that she had had it in her power to prevent a fatal event from taking place or an enormous crime from being committed. So, as soon as the morning was fully come, she had Martiniere finish her toilet, and drove to the goldsmith, taking the jewel-casket with her.
The people were pouring into the Rue Nicaise, to the house where Cardillac lived, and were gathering about his door, shouting, screaming, and creating a wild tumult of noise; and they were with difficulty prevented by the Marechaussee, who had drawn a cordon round the house, from forcing their way in. Angry voices were crying in a wild confused hubbub, "Tear him to pieces! pound him to dust! the accursed murderer!" At length Desgrais appeared on the scene with a strong body of police, who formed a passage through the heart of the crowd. The house door flew open and a man stepped out loaded with chains; and he was dragged away amidst the most horrible imprecations of the furious mob.
At the moment that De Scuderi, who was half swooning from fright and her apprehensions that something terrible had happened, was witness of this scene, a shrill piercing scream of distress rang upon her ears. "Go on, go on, right forward," she cried to her coachman, almost distracted. Scattering the dense mass of people by a quick clever turn of his horses, he pulled up immediately in front of Cardillac's door. There De Scuderi observed Desgrais, and at his feet a young girl, as beautiful as the day, with dishevelled hair, only half dressed, and her countenance stamped with desperate anxiety and wild with despair. She was clasping his knees and crying in a tone of the most terrible, the most heart-rending anguish, "Oh! he is innocent! he is innocent." In vain were Desgrais' efforts, as well as those of his men, to make her leave hold and to raise her up from the floor. At last a strong brutal fellow laid his coarse rough hands upon the poor girl and dragged her away from Desgrais by main force, but awkwardly stumbling let her drop, so that she rolled down the stone steps and lay in the street, without uttering a single sound more; she appeared to be dead.
Mademoiselle could no longer contain herself. "For God's sake, what has happened? What's all this about?" she cried as she quickly opened the door of her coach and stepped out. The crowd respectfully made way for the estimable lady. She, on perceiving that two or three compassionate women had raised up the girl and set her on the steps, where they were rubbing her forehead with aromatic waters, approached Desgrais and repeated her question with vehemence. "A horrible thing has happened," said Desgrais. "Rene Cardillac was found this morning murdered, stabbed to the heart with a dagger. His journeyman Olivier Brusson is the murderer. That was he who was just led away to prison." "And the girl?" exclaimed Mademoiselle—— "Is Madelon, Cardillac's daughter," broke in Desgrais. "Yon abandoned wretch is her lover. And she's screaming and crying, and protesting that Olivier is innocent, quite innocent. But the real truth is she is cognisant of the deed, and I must have her also taken to the conciergerie (prison)."
Saying which, Desgrais cast a glance of such spiteful malicious triumph upon the girl that De Scuderi trembled. Madelon was just beginning to breathe again, but she still lay with her eyes closed incapable of either sound or motion; and they did not know what to do, whether to take her into the house or to stay with her longer until she came round again. Mademoiselle's eyes filled with tears, and she was greatly agitated, as she looked upon the innocent angel; Desgrais and his myrmidons made her shudder. Downstairs came a heavy rumbling noise; they were bringing down Cardillac's corpse. Quickly making up her mind. De Scuderi said loudly, "I will take the girl with me; you may attend to everything else, Desgrais." A muttered wave of applause swept through the crowd. They lifted up the girl, whilst everybody crowded round and hundreds of arms were proffered to assist them; like one floating in the air the young girl was carried to the coach and placed within it,—blessings being showered from the lips of all upon the noble lady who had come to snatch innocence from the scaffold.
The efforts of Seron, the most celebrated physician in Paris, to bring Madelon back to herself were at length crowned with success, for she had lain for hours in a dead swoon, utterly unconscious. What the physician began was completed by De Scuderi, who strove to excite the mild rays of hope in the girl's soul, till at length relief came to her in the form of a violent fit of tears and sobbing. She managed to relate all that had happened, although from time to time her heart-rending grief got the upper hand, and her voice was choked with convulsive sobs.
About midnight she had been awakened by a light tap at her chamber door, and heard Olivier's voice imploring her to get up at once, as her father was dying. Though almost stunned with dismay, she started up and opened the door, and saw Olivier with a light in his hand, pale and dreadfully agitated, and dripping with perspiration. He led the way into her father's workshop, with an unsteady gait, and she followed him. There lay her father with fixed staring eyes, his throat rattling in the agonies of death. With a loud wail she threw herself upon him, and then first noticed his bloody shirt. Olivier softly drew her away and set to work to wash a wound in her father's left breast with a traumatic balsam, and to bind it up. During this operation her father's senses came back to him; his throat ceased to rattle; and he bent, first upon her and then upon Olivier, a glance full of feeling, took her hand, and placed it in Olivier's, fervently pressing them together. She and Olivier both fell upon their knees beside her father's bed; he raised himself up with a cry of agony, but at once sank back again, and in a deep sigh breathed his last. Then they both gave way to their grief and sorrow, and wept aloud.
Olivier related how during a walk, on which he had been commanded by his master to attend him, the latter had been murdered in his presence, and how through the greatest exertions he had carried the heavy man home, whom he did not believe to have been fatally wounded.
When morning dawned the people of the house, who had heard the lumbering noises, and the loud weeping and lamenting during the night, came up and found them still kneeling in helpless trouble by her father's corpse. An alarm was raised; the Marechaussee made their way into the house, and dragged off Olivier to prison as the murderer of his master. Madelon added the most touching description of her beloved Olivier's goodness, and steady industry, and faithfulness. He had honoured his master highly, as though he had been his own father; and the latter had fully reciprocated this affection, and had chosen Brusson, in spite of his poverty, to be his son-in-law, since his skill was equal to his faithfulness and the nobleness of his character. All this the girl related with deep, true, heart-felt emotion; and she concluded by saying that if Olivier had thrust his dagger into her father's breast in her own presence she should take it for some illusion caused by Satan, rather than believe that Olivier could be capable of such a horrible wicked crime.
De Scuderi, most deeply moved by Madelon's unutterable sufferings, and quite ready to regard poor Olivier as innocent, instituted inquiries, and she found that all Madelon had said about the intimate terms on which master and journeyman had lived was fully confirmed. The people in the same house, as well as the neighbours, unanimously agreed in commending Olivier as a pattern of goodness, morality, faithfulness, and industry; nobody knew anything evil about him, and yet when mention was made of his heinous deed, they all shrugged their shoulders and thought there was something passing comprehension in it.
Olivier, on being arraigned before the Chambre Ardente denied the deed imputed to him, as Mademoiselle learned, with the most steadfast firmness and with honest sincerity, maintaining that his master had been attacked in the street in his presence and stabbed, that then, as there were still signs of life in him, he had himself carried him home, where Cardillac had soon afterwards expired. And all this too harmonised with Madelon's account.
Again and again and again De Scuderi had the minutest details of the terrible event repeated to her. She inquired minutely whether there had ever been a quarrel between master and journeyman, whether Olivier was perhaps not subject occasionally to those hasty fits of passion which often attack even the most good-natured of men like a blind madness, impelling the commission of deeds which appear to be done quite independent of voluntary action. But in proportion as Madelon spoke with increasing heartfelt warmth of the quiet domestic happiness in which the three had lived, united by the closest ties of affection, every shadow of suspicion against poor Olivier, now being tried for his life, vanished away. Scrupulously weighing every point and starting with the assumption that Olivier, in spite of all the things which spoke so loudly for his innocence, was nevertheless Cardillac's murderer, De Scuderi did not find any motive within the bounds of possibility for the hideous deed; for from every point of view it would necessarily destroy his happiness. He is poor but clever. He has succeeded in gaining the good-will of the most renowned master of his trade; he loves his master's daughter; his master looks upon his love with a favourable eye; happiness and prosperity seem likely to be his lot through life. But now suppose that, provoked in some way that God alone may know, Olivier had been so overmastered by anger as to make a murderous attempt upon his benefactor, his father, what diabolical hypocrisy he must have practised to have behaved after the deed in the way in which he really did behave. Firmly convinced of Olivier's innocence, Mademoiselle made up her mind to save the unhappy young man at no matter what cost.
Before appealing, however, to the king's mercy, it seemed to her that the most advisable step to take would be to call upon La Regnie, and direct his attention to all the circumstances that could not fail to speak for Olivier's innocence, and so perhaps awaken in the President's mind a feeling of interest favourable to the accused, which might then communicate itself to the judges with beneficial results.
La Regnie received De Scuderi with all the great respect to which the venerable lady, highly honoured as she was by the king himself, might justly lay claim. He listened quietly to all that she had to adduce with respect to the terrible crime, and Olivier's relations to the victim and his daughter, and his character. Nevertheless the only proof he gave that her words were not falling upon totally deaf ears was a slight and well-nigh mocking smile; and in the same way he heard her protestations and admonitions, which were frequently interrupted by tears, that the judge was not the enemy of the accused, but must also duly give heed to anything that spoke in his favour. When at length Mademoiselle paused, quite exhausted, and dried the tears from her eyes. La Regnie began, "It does honour to the excellence of your heart. Mademoiselle, that, being moved by the tears of a young lovesick girl, you believe everything she tells you, and none the less so that you are incapable of conceiving the thought of such an atrocious deed; but not so is it with the judge, who is wont to rend asunder the mask of brazen hypocrisy. Of course I need not tell you that it is not part of my office to unfold to every one who asks me the various stages of a criminal trial. Mademoiselle, I do my duty and trouble myself little about the judgment of the world. All miscreants shall tremble before the Chambre Ardente, which knows no other punishment except the scaffold and the stake. But since I do not wish you, respected lady, to conceive of me as a monster of hard-heartedness and cruelty, suffer me in a few words to put clearly before you the guilt of this young reprobate, who, thank Heaven, has been overtaken by the avenging arm of justice. Your sagacious mind will then bid you look with scorn upon your own good kindness, which does you so much honour, but which would never under any circumstances be fitting in me.
"Well then! Rene Cardillac is found in the morning stabbed to the heart with a dagger. The only persons with him are his journeyman Olivier Brusson and his own daughter. In Olivier's room, amongst other things, is found a dagger covered with blood, still fresh, which dagger fits exactly into the wound. Olivier says, 'Cardillac was cut down at night before my eyes.' 'Somebody attempted to rob him?' 'I don't know.' 'You say you went with him, how then were you not able to keep off the murderer, or hold him fast, or cry out for help?' 'My master walked fifteen, nay, fully twenty paces in front of me, and I followed him.' 'But why, in the name of wonder, at such a distance?' 'My master would have it so.' 'But tell us then what Master Cardillac was doing out in the streets at so late an hour?' 'That I cannot say.' 'But you have never before known him to leave the house after nine o'clock in the evening, have you?' Here Olivier falters; he is confused; he sighs; he bursts into tears; he protests by all that is holy that Cardillac really went out on the night in question, and then met with his death. But now your particular attention, please, Mademoiselle. It has been proved to absolute certainty that Cardillac never left the house that night, and so, of course, Olivier's assertion that he went out with him is an impudent lie. The house door is provided with a ponderous lock, which on locking and unlocking makes a loud grating echoing noise; moreover, the wings of the door squeak and creak horribly on their hinges, so that, as we have proved by repeated experiments, the noise is heard all the way up to the garrets. Now in the bottom story, and so of course close to the street door, lives old Master Claude Patru and his housekeeper, a person of nearly eighty years of age, but still lively and nimble. Now these two people heard Cardillac come downstairs punctually at nine o'clock that evening, according to his usual practice, and lock and bolt the door with considerable noise, and then go up again, where they further heard him read the evening prayers aloud, and then, to judge by the banging of doors, go to his own sleeping-chamber. Master Claude, like many old people, suffers from sleeplessness; and that night too he could not close an eye. And so, somewhere about half-past nine it seems, his old housekeeper went into the kitchen (to get into which she had to cross the passage) for a light, and then came and sat down at the table beside Master Claude with an old Chronicle, out of which she read; whilst the old man, following the train of his thoughts, first sat down in his easy-chair, and then stood up again, and paced softly and slowly up and down the room in order to bring on weariness and sleepiness. All remained quiet and still until after midnight. Then they heard quick steps above them and a heavy fall like some big weight being thrown on the floor, and then soon after a muffled groaning. A peculiar feeling of uneasiness and dreadful suspense took possession of them both. It was horror at the bloody deed which had just been committed, which passed out beside them. The bright morning came and revealed to the light what had been begun in the hours of darkness."