Page images
PDF
EPUB

Lieutenant-general of police; the conversation was long and animated, the acting magistrate took notes, put them into a particular portfolio, and then sent one of the gentlemen of his office to escort M. de M to his carriage, as the etiquette of the time required.

Why has Monsieur de M. gone to the police office? his home is disturbed, two successive attempts to poison had been made, without his being able to discover their origin, when a bold step of the culprit obliged him to see at once to it. But to make the subject better understood, it is well to describe the member of parliament and his family.

He was himself about sixty years of age, a man of the old stamp, all goodness and loyalty, incorruptible in his important functions; he had much influence in the high court, where they followed strictly his advice. Three married sons and a bishop, who was the eldest, three daughters, like their brothers, bound in Hymen's bands. One of his sisters, the rich widow of a deceased president, and a brother retired, with the rank and pension of a Lieutenant-colonel, and the cross of Saint Louis. He lived thus in his immense mansion in the Rue des francs Bourgeois, au Marais. His three sons had their wives with them, the eldest and the youngest having each a boy, the second only daughters; these little girls had filled his house with monkeys.

Although living under the same roof, the several couples did not assemble at one table; they had each their separate larder, but every Sunday, and all the fete days of the month, they gathered, without any strangers, round their common father, the mother had been dead for many years.

One morning Monsieur de M. was in his study, a sealed letter caught his eye, he opened it, it ran so:"Tremble, unhappy man! thou hast ruined me by influencing thy colleagues; from this moment, I declare deadly war against thee; thou and thine shall perish successively, for my hatred is so great, thy destruction alone would not satisfy me; I will not sign, seek my name among thy numerous victims: it will be difficult to distinguish it there.

Monsieur de M. despised this epistle, he asked his people in vain who had brought it, no one knew of it; he thought perhaps, he had in his establishment, an accomplice of the unknown; but who among his servants, the men of his confidence, grown old in his house?

Shortly after this threatening notice, an active poison was poured into the copper in which was cooked the beef to make the soups and stews. A poor kitchen maid, wishing shortly before dinner to refresh herself, had scarcely swallowed a few mouthfuls of this liquid, when she felt terrible pains in her stomach and vital parts of the body. Instant assistance was obtained for her. Her strength of constitution and youth wrestled in her favor, at length she was restored to life, but for a long time she was only able to linger on in a miserable state of existence.

The member of parliament surprised at this horrible attempt, called all his domestics about him, spoke to them like a good master; another would have dismissed them, he on the contrary, kept them, but told them, that a secret and formidable enemy had sworn his ruin and that of his family, and implored of them not to let themselves be influenced by an unknown, who sooner or later would bring them to the gallows.

Struck as it were with a thunderbolt by this dismal disclosure, the comptroller, the steward, butler, cook, gatekeeper, valet, coachman, and the porter, even to the waiting and chambermaids, fell at his feet in exclaiming against it, vowed him fidelity against any temptation; prayed, sobbed, and abused the wretch who had compromised them, and M. de M~~ saw none but innocent hearts among those by whom he was surrounded.

From that day the caution was much greater, the dwelling better watched, the kitchens especially were changed into a kind of fortress, to which the approach was very difficult. Yet so much vigilance and such a desire to preserve their esteemed master could not prevent the eldest son, his wife, and two of their children dying in one night from the effects of a deadly poison which was put in a decanter of gooseberry water of which they had all drank abundantly.

The young woman was in the ninth month of her pregnancy. The tortures of the poison hastened her delivery, and in expiring, she gave life to a male infant, which the physicians declared might live. Notwithstanding the catastrophe which had hurried its birth, this awful shock, which came upon the magistrate with such force, did not leave him thought to care for this new comer, born under such painful circusastances. The wife of the third son, of whom this misfortune displayed the good disposition, taking her unfortunate

nephew in her arms, kissed him with a tenderness which showed maternal feeling, vowing that henceforth he should live with her son, of whom he would be the brother, not the cousin. She would carefully seek a nurse for him, and she found one who came apropos from one of her estates, and hardly had the poor little creature come into the world, at the moment when its own parents left it so unhappily, than he was snatched from the affections of his grandfather, and sent from Paris, even thirty miles away, to the most remote part of Berry.

It was after this fresh attempt, unhappily crowned with too much success, that M. de M- came to confide his griefs and fears to the Lieutenant-General of police. M. de Herault interested for M. de M questioned him as to the antecedents of his life, his attachments, his affairs, the parties who had suffered by his judgments, of the families of criminals condemned to death by the Tournelle, in the decisions of which he had participated. It is a fact, that the severity of the laws, in sacrificing the interests of individuals to the theories of justice, for the supposed benefit of all, never fails to engender animosities which late or early manifest themselves. However worthy a magistrate may be, a slave to a law without mercy, he pays then for the evils of a legislature which he has not power to abolish, and which he considers as supremely just, because his education and his convenience keep him naturally apart from all the circumstances against which the laws are specially enacted. His conscience puts itself in opposition to him, and a thousand enemies spring up around him. Montesquien was thinking undoubtedly on this fatal truth when he exclaimed," Political bodies are infected with weakness, internal vice, and secret and hidden venom."

M. de M. listened to the questions with the impatience of a man who had nothing to accuse himself of. His conscience was so pure, his suits had always been so accordant with the strict rules of justice, that he could see no enemy. M. Herault gave him but little hope, for he himself did not understand what way to take to discover the truth. Eight days after this catastrophe M, de Vartelle, third son of M. de — heard new figs cried in the street: he opened the window, called the peasant seller of the fruit, bought it and had it hoisted to his apartment, by means of a cord which they fastened to the basket in which these spring fruits were dis

played. Having them in his possession, he went to seek his father to offer him some of them, but hearing he was receiving the Bishop of Meaux, he returned, ate six figs, and shortly after was seized with horrible convulsions. At the first intimation he gave of this accident, they ran for his wife, she was at mass; M. de M-sent to seek skilful doctors. They came, detected the presence of a poisonous substance in the figs; some one had inserted in each, several grains of arsenic in very fine powder. The unfortunate man lingered till the next day, when he breathed his last.

Oh! at this time the inconsolable father had need of all his religion not to blaspheme Providence, or to use against himself some fatal violence. A very natural terror was manifest in the family. Two of his sons-in-law declared to him that they wished to travel for some time. It was the pretext they made use of to leave this ill-fated house, and remove from it their wives and children.

Madame d'Orgerel, the magistrate's sister, frightened like her nephews and nieces, was going also to remove, but she was dissuaded from it by the eagerness of Madame de Vartelle, the newly made widow, who weeping very much, declared that death caused her less fear than the grief of leaving the grandfather of her children. All Paris admired the courage of this good daughter-in-law, supported soon by the Bishop de her brother-in-law, the eldest son as I have said, and who also instead of basely abandoning his father, had hastened from his diocese to share in his affliction.

The bishop would pass a month with his family. The one and twentieth day he is in bed with a rheumatic fever. He orders a drink to be made of borage, sweetmeats, dried figs and conserve of roses. His aunt and sister-in-law are both in his room, they ring the bell, sugar is required, they bring a sugar basin of Saxony china, the drink is taken, the bishop has more of it several times, and towards evening symptoms of poisoning manifest themselves; the strength of the poison is not so great, and the bishop has time, ere dying, to leave all his wealth in an entail to the eldest son of Madame de Vartelle, in case the orphan child of the eldest son died before him.

We will not attempt to describe the state of the family of M-, after this latest loss, the despair of the father, the fright of the sons-in-law and the daughters, the indignation of the public, the surprise of the authorities, the disappoint

ment of the police, furious at not been able to come at this unknown poisoner, so clever and so exceedingly villainous. While matters were in this state a favorite servant of the second son (M. de Niore, the father of the little one in the country,) came in one morning where the counsellor was, and throwing himself on his knees, implored him to hear him to the end in what he was going to say, and not to refuse him a request.

"Monsieur," continued he, "on the eve of the death of your third son, M. de Vartell, I felt myself shaken with force. in my bed, and about two o'clock in the morning I awoke with a start, and opened my eyes; what was my horror when I saw before me, my good master, your son, M. de Niore, he was pale and sad, he made me a sign to have no fear, and his action did not lessen my terror, when he told me I should have thought of saving his son. Ask from my father, authority to fetch away afar this child, that my father, and my father only, may know where you will bring him to; without this he will die, as my poor brother de Vartelle is now dying.'

[ocr errors]

"These words spoken, the vision vanished, I fainted, and when I came to myself the sun had risen. For nothing in the world, would I have dared to make such a revelation to you, quite certain you would regard it as an idle fancy. I was silent,-In two days after your fourth son expired. I then felt remorse, but still I was silent; again, on Tuesday last, and my lord the bishop is dead. Yesterday, Thursday, I was at nightfall in the servants' hall, where they had lighted a fire, to bake sweetmeats for the winter's use. Seated in an armchair meditating, I thought of my good master, when I felt him move against me, bend down to my ear so close that his cold and damp breath froze me with horror. Saint Jean,' he said to me, thou hast not then loved me'' Oh Lut yes, master' I replied, very much and even still' Well then, why wilt thou not give me the consolation to see my son, my poor Exupère, escape death? Death which threatens him also, as it has struck my brothers."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

"Some person entered, I heard nothing go out, but the voice was silent. I opened my eyes, it was the cook who came, he said to me, I did not think you were alone, Saint Jean, it is strange, I heard some one speak'-'It was myself, I have got that bad habit,' I thought best to say, not to let him suspect what had happened me. I ought to have gone to seek you,

« PreviousContinue »