Page images

off with an attendant into the country, and he told his wife to remain in town. Madame de la Motte intended, he said, to go to Versailles the next day for change of air, and she must be left quiet to gain strength for removal.

Having thus disembarrassed himself of importunate witnesses, he sent for a stout Auvergnat, whom he conducted into the kitchen, where he helped him to lift up and place a large heavy box on his shoulders. Not far from his own door he met Madame Desrues, and he asked her to go to a friend's house-a M. Monchy-and request permission to leave the box there till the next day. As they were returning, Madame Desrues inquired how Madame de la Motte was. “So well,” replied the husband, jauntily, “ that she went off to Versailles this very morning."

Desrues was on foot betimes the next morning. He directed his steps towards the more crowded and business quarter of the city, and only stopped at a house called the “ Plat d'Etain," in front of which jangled an inscription, with a notice to the effect that there was a cellar there to let. Presenting himself to the mistress of the house, he said that his name was Du Coudray, that he lived in an hotel of the Rue Montmartre, and that he wished to rent the cellar in order to place there some Spanish wine, which he expected that very day, and for which he had no accommodation in his own house. Madame Masson, the landlady, could not, however, cede the cellar till the day following. On that day the assumed Du Coudray went to the Port Saint Nicolas, where he purchased a quarter of cider, and had it put into a cart. He then accompanied the driver to his friend's, M. Monchy, where he had the box brought down and placed in the cart with the barrel, and, thus loaded, he went on to the Plat d'Etain. Unfortunately, on entering the Rue de la Mortellerie, in which that house was situated, he met with a creditor, who, with the curiosity of a man who has been long deceived, persisted in watching whither his slippery customer was bound with his load of merchandise.

Arrived at the Plat d'Etain, Desrues du Coudray engaged an Auvergnat to assist in lowering the said merchandise into the cellar; the barrel was easily managed, but the box was found to be very heavy. The men were, however, so liberally paid that they contented themselves with merely observing the fact. When they were gone, Desrues shut himself up in the cellar with a bundle of straw, some deal boards, nails, hammer, and gimlet, all of which he had obtained in the neighbourhood, and he remained at work there for three hours.

The same evening young De la Motte called in the Rue Beaubourg to see his mother. He was much surprised when he learnt that, ill as she was, she had gone off to Versailles. Desrues persuaded him to stay, saying that if he did so, he would go with him next day to Versailles also. The ensuing morning, however, he pretended sudden and important business, and the departure was thus deferred under one pretext and another until the 10th of February. In the mean time, five days' detention in the house of the Rue Beaubourg had wrought a wondrous change in the young man's health. He had become pale, sickly, and was preyed upon by a low fever; he was, indeed, so weak as scarcely to be able to take even moderate exercise. Desrues comforted him and made his "tisanes."

Arrived at Versailles, Desrues took a room in the Rue de l'Orangerie, giving his name as Beaupré, and saying that he had come to place his nephew in the war-office, but that the latter had been taken ill on the road, and required some rest. He was, indeed, apprehensive of small-pox, but as he was a medical man, he would himself watch over bis case until he was sufficiently recovered to be presented at the office. To the young man himself he apologised for his mother not seeing him ; she was, he declared, so busily engaged in obtaining him a situation under government. The people of the house were much touched with the affection manifested by the pretended uncle for his nephew, and they proffered whatever assistance might be wanted to bring about the youth's convalescence. Great was their surprise, however, at being suddenly summoned up-stairs the very next day; the young man was in agonymoribund, in fact. The uncle, in despair, claimed the attendance of a priest, but before he could come, the young De la Motte was no more!

The day after this untoward event, Desrues made a declaration of the decease of Louis Antoine, son of Jacques Beaupré de Commercy, aged twenty-two; and the same day he attended his funeral, accompanied only by the host of the Rue de l'Orangerie. This accomplished, he made & bundle of the young man's effects, and excusing himself to his host upon the plea that he was anxious to break the sad intelligence to the parents of the youth, he hurried off to Paris, making his appearance in the Rue Beaubourg with the radiant countenance of a merchant who has just done a capital stroke of business.

The deposit in the cellar of the Plat d'Etain appears, however, to have given him some anxiety. He went thither the very next day. Madame Masson said all was right, but the porter of the house had remarked that whenever his dog passed the cellar door, he scratched and barked ferociously. Desrues du Coudray laughed at the statement, but was not really pleased with it. On quitting the house, he went to the Place de Grève, where he hired a workman to dig a hole in the cellar. When this man was conducted to the spot, there were three instead of two objects. There was a barrel, a box, and something else, carefully wrapped in straw, said to be Spanish wine, and which was to be buried, because Spanish wine improved rapidly in quality when under ground. The man set to work, and Desrues sat by, cheering him in his labour with jokes suited to his comprehension. When the hole was dug, he gave a hand in lowering the wine tenderly into its place; and when this was done, he assisted in covering it over, stamping down the ground with comical gestures. The reader will at once comprehend that it was upon the body of the unfortunate Madame de la Motte that this wretch was thus indulging his indecent buffoonery.

But Desrues was as yet only half way through his self-imposed and cynical task. He had still to obtain possession of the property. To bring this about, he began by asserting that Madame de la Motte had made the excuse of going to Versailles an occasion for running away with a lover, after he had deposited in her hands the purchase-moneys. He produced at the same time the contract, drawn up under the promise of a bribe, which he had never made good. This contract, however, was itself dependent upon a power of attorney given by M. de la Motte to his wife, and that power was in the hands of M. Joly. Desrues applied to the “ procureur" for this document, but the latter, suspecting that all was not right, refused to deliver it up, and asked where Madame de la Motte was. He also wrote at the same time to M. de la Motte, expressing his apprehensions of foul play. Desrues had not a moment to lose. He must find Madame de la Motte. So away he started for Lyons. This was on the 5th of March. He arrived there on the 7th. Those were not railway times. The next day a tall lady, elegantly dressed, but in mourning, and her face covered with a black veil, presented herself in the study of the notary Baron. She stated that she was Madame de la Motte, describing her place of residence, and she requested that an act should be drawn up in her name and signed by herself and the notary, requiring the procureur Joly to give up a certain power of attorney held by him to a certain M. Desrues de Bury. The notary apologised that he had not the honour of knowing Madame de la Motte, and that before he drew up such a deed she must return, accompanied by two persons domiciled in Lyons, who could be witnesses to her identity. Thus discomfited, the lady withdrew, but only to try another notary, M. Pourra. The gentleman being out for the moment, the lady was received by his wife, who examined the strange visitor with feminine curiosity, and was by no means satisfied with the result of her examination. M. Pourra, less cautious, however, than M. Baron, drew up the desired document.

It was at once sent off to Paris, where it fell into the hands of the head of the police, who had already ordered a domiciliary visit to be effected in the Rue Beaubourg. Hence, also, the moment that Desrues returned from Lyons he was arrested. This was on the 13th of March. His wife was committed to prison shortly afterwards. At the domiciliary visit, Madame de la Motte's watch was found, and the police no longer doubted but that they were upon the traces of a great crime. The facts of the case soon spread abroad, and became the talk of all Paris. The strange proceedings connected with the cellar at the Pot d'Etain oozed out, and information was given to the police. A search was made, and the body of Madame de la Motte was exhumed. Convinced of a first murder, the police made active researches at Versailles after a second, and despite the falsification of names and dates, a clue was soon obtained that led to the exhumation of the body of the unfortunate young De la Motte. Needless to say, that Desrues himself had personified Madame de la Motte at Lyons.

This wretched criminal was tried on the 28th of April, and sentenced on the 30th. On the 6th of May he underwent the preliminary question, and although so miserable à specimen of humanity, he withstood the torture with remarkable fortitude, persisting to the last in his indocence. When removed to the Place de Grève, and fixed to the cross of St. Andrew, he turned as yellow as an orange, yet his firmness did not forsake him. He looked round at the crowd, and nodded to several persons whom he recognised. When fastened to the wheel, he simply looked at the assistant who held the bar of iron, and said, “ Act quickly." The assistant struck him on the arms, then on the legs, and then on the thighs; he shrieked loudly at each blow, but when he received the last on his chest, his eyes remained open, and he no longer moved. His body was afterwards burnt, and his ashes were thrown to the winds. Desrues perished as he had lived, a most detestable hypocrite to the last, endeavouring not only to lie to men, but to deceive God, to whom he

appealed in vain. The peculiar mental manifestations of the individual appear to have been immense confidence in himself, without the least control of moral or religious feeling, and a contempt for his fellowcreatures, sharpened by the fact of his being the despised of all.

The " affaire du collier,” as it is called—the story of the diamond necklace-in which poor Marie Antoinette was most innocently yet fatally involved, is told by Henry Sanson precisely in the sense now generally accepted even by such little scrupulous historical romancers as Alexandre Dumas. It was a vile plot of Madame de la Motte's (not the victim of Desrues de Bury, but an illegitimate descendant of Henry II., by Nicole de Savigny, and so reduced in early youth as to have had once to beg her bread), abetted by the inordinate vanity and ambition of the Prince Cardinal of Rohan. This precious descendant of the ancient kings of France was a perfect feminine fury. Short in stature, she was well set, rather plump than thin, and of great vigour of body. Her features were good but irregular, and the expression when at rest pleasing, varied greatly when in action. She had beautiful hair, a good complexion, and small and neat hands and feet. When her sentence was read to her, she appeared maddened with rage, and bit her lips till the blood flowed from them. At last, she threw herself back with such force that had she not been luckily caught in the arms of an attendant, she must have seriously injured herself. She then rolled herself on the ground as if in frightful convulsions, howling all the time like a wild beast. It required five men to hold her to prevent her inflicting an injury upon herself.

After ten minutes spent in these fearful struggles, she was removed to the great court of the Palais de Justice, where a scaffold had been erected. It was at that time six o'clock in the morning, and there were few persons present; when she had been laid upon the platform the fustigation was proceeded with, and as long as it lasted her yells were furious and agonising. Her imprecations were especially addressed to Cardinal Rohan, whom she accused of her misfortune, and of whom she spoke in the most insulting terms. She was also heard to say, “It is my fault if I am subjected to this ignominious treatment; I had only to speak the word, and I should have been hung.”

She was scourged twelve times. When she was raised from the infliction of this degrading punishment, the tears started from her eyelids as if projected by some peculiar muscular contraction excited by her nervous condition, and instead of falling down her cheeks they actually darted forwards. Till that moment, and during all her agony, her sufferings had been unrelieved by tears.

Her dress had been torn and disordered in the prolonged struggle of the few previous moments, and Charles Henry Sanson took advantage of the circumstance, and of a kind of momentary stupor that had succeeded upon the fustigation, to stamp the hot iron of the brand upon one of her shoulders. This roused her again with a vengeance. She threw herself, with the cry of a hyæna, upon one of the assistants, and bit him till a piece of flesh remained in her teeth. So fierce were her struggles, and so exhaustive the opposition she presented, that the brand could Dever be effectually applied to the other shoulder.

The demands of justice being, however, satisfied, Madame de la Motte was transferred in a hackney-carriage to the Salpêtrière, but when she was being removed she attempted to throw herself beneath the wheels, and even when in prison she tried to suffocate herself by forcing the sheets of her bed down her throat.

She only remained, however, ten months in confinement. It is supposed that M. de la Motte was enabled to bribe certain parties with the money obtained by the sale of the necklace, and with which he had started for London, leaving his wife to be publicly fustigated and branded for obtaining possession of the same, and for implicating an innocent queen in the swindling transaction. Certain it is that a soldier acting as sentinel below her window was induced to pass over to her a light-blue coat, with black waistcoat and trousers, round hat, cane, and gloves, so that she was enabled to issue forth from her prison in the complete disguise of a fashionable of the day. It is related that the Sister of Charity who facilitated her escape, said to her, as she went forth, “ Adieu, madame; prenez garde de vous faire remarquer ;' which may be understood either in the sense of take care you are not noticed, or take care you are not branded again. Madame de la Motte died in London on the 23rd of August, 1791, some say of a bilious fever, others, that she was killed by throwing herself out of her window in a fit of passion.

The last time that a criminal was sentenced to be broken on the wheel was at Versailles, in 1788. The final extinction of so barbarous a practice was a first good act of the then prevalent tendency to reforms, which, unfortunately, when allowed to run into revolutionary riot, accomplished, by means of an instrument not at that time perfected, more murders than have ever stained the soil of any other country. This was how it happened :

There was at Versailles a farrier, Mathurin Louschart by name, who carried on his business in the Rue de Montreuil, assisted by an only son. Master Mathurin, as he was called, was a fine man, of herculean strength, although long past his prime, and he was especially and deeply imbued with reverence for the existing order of things. Royalty, and all that appertained to it, was with him sacred; the more so as he was in reception of a handsome income as farrier to the court. He was also a member of a corporation, and upheld all the prejudices, antipathies, and hatreds of such old-established institutions. His son, on the contrary, a handsome young man, although obliged by an imperious father to follow a coarse but lucrative employment, had been educated at college, where he had become a convert to the new ideas of the day. Although, in reality, deeply attached, this unfortunate difference of opinion sowed the seeds of discord between father and son ; and this difference appears to have been further increased by the machinations of a woman-Elizabeth Verdier who, with her daughter Hélène, inhabited a portion of the house ever since the decease of Madame Louschart. Brought up with this young girl, Jean Louis Louschart had long been attached to her with an affection of no merely evanescent character. The mother, a-vain, irritable, and ambitious woman, sought, it would appear, for a better settlement for her daughter, and fixed her hopes, with that view, upon the master of the establishment. It is hence probable that she also contributed in no small degree, having such objects in view, to foment, instead of allaying, the little social and political divergences of opinion that broke out between father and son.

« EelmineJätka »