Une Ténébreuse Affaire
The Gondreville Mystery
Also translated as: A Dark Affair
Also translated as: An Historical Mystery
Also translated as: Murkey Business
Also translated as: A Shady Business
Chapter 1 — Judas
TIME: The story opens November 15, 1803.
PLACE: Gondreville, one of the finest estates in France. When the old Marquis de Simeuse was out of favor at Court he moved to Cinq-Cygne and married the widow of the Comte de Cinq-Cygne, built the Gondreville Mansion and enlarged the estate for better hunting. He also built the Simeuse mansion at Troyes which he sold to the Duc de Lorraine. His son, the next Marquis led a wasteful early life but served brilliantly in the navy, becoming a vice-admiral. The naval man’s son is the one who gave the former hunting lodge to Michu. Michu was an orphan and was partly raised by him and his wife. They were put to death on the scaffold at Troyes and their twin sons emigrated and were loyal to the House of Conde. They are in a foreign country as the story opens. Michu’s presence at the execution of the couple in his capacity as president of the club of Jacobins at Arcis, created bad feelings among the people and eventually Michu developed a hostile attitude. The Gondreville Estate was sold as national property. The new owner, Marion, feared Michu and kept him as bailiff with a salary of three thousand francs plus a portion of the timber sales. Marion subsequently sold the property to Malin. Michu tried to purchase it at that time but was unable to overturn the previous agreement. Malin, living in the Faubourg Saint Germaine (an exclusive street in Paris), is another absentee landlord.
As the story opens, Michu, a short, stout man, is seen cleaning his rifle, although it appears he is not a hunter. Nervously watching him are his pretty young wife, Marthe, and his mother-in-law. The spaniel Couraut growls, prompting Michu to comment, “Spies! the country swarms with them.”
Michu and his family, which also includes a ten year old son, Francois, have been living in the delapidated lodge at the entrance to the Gondreville Estate since 1789. The clearing is called the pavilion of Cinq-Cygne. It is a huge circular area with a pond one hundred feet distant. There is also a young servant boy, Gaucher, and Marianne who is called the cook in one translation and a servant-girl in another. Marthe’s father forced her to marry Michu, but she knows he loves her and she has developed affection and much respect for him. The public opinion of Michu causes her much suffering.
Michu calls his son to him and scolds him for relating things that happened there and warns him that the least little thing could cause his father’s death. He also warns his wife and mother-in-law to keep silent. Courant jumps up barking and two strangers are seen. Michu tells his wife to hide his gun as no one knows he has it.
The older man, about forty-five, is wearing fancy clothing but they are messy and do not fit well. The other man, about thirty, is well turned-out but seems a conceited dandy. Michu has a sudden foreboding upon seeing the dandy. The older man notices the gun and inquires about it.
The younger man, the one we aren’t supposed to trust, turns out to be Corentin who we met in Les Chouans! The older one was also a Jacobin leader like Michu. The older one seems charmed by Marthe and is described as a libertine. He feared the weapon. Corentin notices Marthe’s discomfort.
Corentin asks Michu to show them the way to the chateau. Michu says he has an appointment, but his son will show them. Michu tells Francois to take them to the chateau by a back way so no one sees them and kisses his son which scares Marthe.
As the trio disappear from sight, Couraut again barks. Michu says it is Violette. He wonders what is up as it is the third time that day that he has passed.
Chapter 2 — A Crime Relinquished
As Violette rides up on his nag, we are treated to a scathing portait of a man who pursued “a long course of persistent ill-doing” and “wished harm to all men.” Violette is continually spying on Michu, trying to get something on him which will enable him to further his own ambitions. Violette is always trying to obtain information from the young servant boy Gaucher by means of little presents of clothing or sweets. Gaucher is too naive to realize the importance of his gossip. In addition, Violette embellishes everything he tells Malin about Michu. Michu knows that Violette spys on him and delights in mystifying
When Michu returns he asks Marthe if Gaucher is about and tells her he doesn’t trust the scamp. He then tells her in case he doesn’t see her again that he loves her dearly and tells her to follow the instructions in a letter he has hidden for her. He then ties Courant to the foot of the bed and leaves.
Michu is angry with Marion, but even more so with Malin. Through his father-in-law he knows more than most about Malin.
More back history is related. This time it about the Simeuses and the Cinq-Cygnes. When the crowd came for Simeuse and his wife, the twin boys had been sent for safety to their aunt, Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne. They were eighteen. Their cousin, Laurence, was then twelve and she aided her mother in keeping the happenings from the young men. The older of the identical twins is named Paul-Marie and the younger is Marie-Paul.
When the crowd comes to the Cinq-Cygne mansion the twins arm themselves, the servants and Abbe d’Hauteserre who is a relative of the Cinq-Cygnes. Laurence loads the guns; her mother prays. After some of the crowd were killed and wounded, they call for Malin. He enters the Cinq-Cygne mansion to be confronted by Laurence and the twins so he promises to release the Simeuse parents in order to save his life. Malin was henceforth the enemy of Laurence and the brothers. He had all but the Cinq-Cygne house, grounds and one farm sold as national property. It appears that he could do this because Laurence’s brother had borne arms against the Republic and emigrated.
The brothers are persuaded to leave the country and do so just in time as Malin himself comes to arrest them. As soon as it is learned that the brothers got away safely a crowd of three thousand destroyed the Cinq-Cygne mansion. Laurence’s mother was taken to the Simeuse home with a fever and died there from the fever and stress.
Malin’s friend and advisor is Grevin, an Arcis notary. Malin takes Grevin to the middle of a field for a conference. He tells Grevin that Corentin and the man with him are Fouche’s men and that the Simeuse brothers are back in the area participating in a conspiracy to bring the Bourbons to power. Malin must decide which side to support. He is very disappointed in Corentin and his companion because he had requested the prefect to send him two minor officials and instead was sent two astute ones.
Suddenly they spot the muzzle of a gun up in a tree and recognize Michu by his red beard! Malin worries that they may have been overheard; Grevin thinks he is too far away as they spoke low.
Chapter 3 — The Mask Thrown Off
When Michu returns from spying on Malin, he sees Violette. Unable to speak in front of this enemy he says it is time for Francois to go to bed. Once out of the room he tells his son to saddle the horse and wait in a certain spot.
Michu then proceeds to get Violette so drunk that he passes out. He tells Marianne to watch Gaucher, his mother-in-law to watch Violette and his wife to accompany him. Everyone, if asked, must swear that he was indoors all night.
Michu and Marthe run to meet Francois, get the horse and ride rapidly toward Cinq-Cygne. Michu tells his wife that she must get in to see the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne (Laurence) and warn her that her two cousins are in grave danger. After ten years of marriage, it is only at this point that Michu and Marthe realize they are both on the same side!
As Marthe runs toward the Chateau, she hears a man’s footsteps behind her. It is Michu; he has spotted gendarmes in the area. She is to have Laurence come by horseback to meet him after he tries to find out their plans.
Chapter 4 — Laurence de Cinq-Cygne
This chapter relates the history of Laurence and her family. The name Cinq-Cygne is in honor of five daughters who defended a castle when their father was away. Laurence is the last remaining descendent of that line. After her mother died, her guardian, Monsieur d’Hauteserre, took her to live at the country Chateau de Cinq-Cygne where she now remains. She hung a portrait of Charlotte Corday in her sitting room.
Laurence’s guardians are good people but not involved in her Royalist cause. They continue to manage her estate, leaving her free for the secret pursuits of which no one is suspicious. Laurence, now twenty-three, is anxious to aid in the overthrow of Bonaparte. Appearing feminine and fragile, she can handle firearms and ride for miles without tiring. Her squire, Gothard, has been with Laurence for six years. He is now fifteen and totally trusted. Like Laurence he appears unsuspicious. Laurence’s maid, Catherine, is nineteen and also trusted.
Situated in a relatively isolated area, Laurence acts as liaison and guide for emissaries involved in the plot against Bonaparte who cannot risk being seen. The two young d’Hauteserres and the Simeuse twins are among those now in the area. Someone, apparently threatened with death, had given some information about the conspiracy so the area police are on the alert.
Chapter 5 – Royalist Homes and Portraits Under the Consulate
While Marthe is rushing to give warning, Laurence is resting on a sofa in front of a fire after guiding four gentlemen secretly on their way to Paris. M and Mme d’Hauteserre are playing boston with the abbe and his sister Mlle Goujet. The scene and the card players as representative of the aristocracy during this time, after the overthrow of 1793. Abbe Goujet is astute and knows that Laurence is excited by some project but doesn’t know what. His sister is unmarried and when the others are discussing Laurence’s long day outdoors and the fact that her gun had not been fired, ruling out hunting, Mlle Goujet remarks that she was always rushing about when she was that age.
M d’Hauteserre had slowly been refurnishing the Chateau de Cinq-Cygne and was able to restore the family silver which had been buried at the home of a family servant, Durieu. Durieu is now the factotum and his wife is the housekeeper and Catherine’s sister is being taught to cook. There is also a gardener, his wife and two children. All is not totally harmonious though as Durieu and his wife are jealous of the fact that Catherine (Laurence’s maid) and Gothard have a closer relationship with Laurence than they do. They are also anxious for their sons and the Simeuse twins to take an oath so they can return.
When M d’Hauteserre remarks to Abbe Goujet that Malin has been at Gondreville for two days, the mention of the name awakens Laurence who then goes to her room. Shortly afterward Durieu enters to say that the Mayor has arrived.
Chapter 6 — A Domiciliary Visit
We flash back for more past history and to find out what some of the other characters have been doing while the Cinq-Cygne party was playing boston and Michu and his wife were trying to warn Laurence about the danger to her cousins and the d’Hauteserre boys.
Goulard is the mayor who was announced by Durieu. He made money through the Revolution and lives in a fine home, but as a former huntsman for the Simeuses he still has respect for the aristocratic families of the area. He turns a blind eye to such things as portaits of Charlotte Corday and former royalty on the walls at Cinq-Cygne and to certain things said in his presence.
The two men who Fouche sent to Malin (Corentin and Peyrade) are not there only to spy on Malin (going so far as to search his house–which Corentin was able to do while Malin was having the conference in the field which Michu overheard) but they are using Goulard to “warn” Laurence. Peyrade, one of the last police officials to be trained by the old guard said that the surest way to capture them would be when they were trying to escape.
Corentin is thought to be Fouche’s illegitimate son but this wily person still suspects that Fouche might know more about the conspiracy than it appears.
While Michu and Marthe are heading toward Cinq-Cygne, police are closing in on the Chateau from all sides–as Michu discovered when he spotted them–and Goulard the mayor has arrived with the “warning.”
As Goulard is being told that the countess has already gone to bed, Marthe is telling Gothard to come and speak with her, which he does, followed by Laurence. Marthe gives the warning that the conspiracy is discovered and the twins are in danger. Laurence distrusts her at first because she doesn’t know her. Marthe reveals her name of Marthe Michu.
Gothard has now spotted the police and brings Laurence’s horse whose hooves Catherine wrapped in linen. Laurence now believes and follows Marthe’s directions.
Back inside the Chateau Catherine goes to get Laurence’s riding accessories. On seeing this, Madame d’Hauteserre and the Abbe realize that Laurence is involved in a conspiracy.
Goulard tells the foursome that if any of the boys are in the Chateau to have them escape and to burn any papers they may have while he stalls the police. Outside, Peyrade just laughs when Goulard trys to stall them. Inside, Mlle Goujet is aware of why Catherine came for Laurence’s riding hat, gloves and whip.
Corentin requests Madame d’Hauteserre and Mlle Goujet to follow him to Laurence’s room; he whispers to Madame d’Hauteserre to trust only him and tells Mlle Goujet it is a matter of life and death, thereby causing Madame d’Hauteserre to faint.
On failing to find Laurence in her room, Corentin returns to the Salon to find that Durieu and the other servants have gathered there. A police officer enters with two prisoners–Gothard and Catherine! Corentin remarks that they should have followed Gothard instead of capturing him.
Chapter 7 — A Forest Nook
Michu is getting very worried that Laurence won’t make it out before the net of police closes on Cinq-Cygne. He’s afraid that the length of time it took Violette to get drunk enough to pass out made him start too late.
At last they arrive. Michu sends Marthe to guide Laurence and her horse to the spot where his horse is hidden. He sends Gothard and his horse on one direction and Catherine with Laurence’s hat, gloves and whip in the opposite direction to draw the police away from the trail he plans to take with Laurence. It is so dark that his plan works wonderfully as it is Gothard and Catherine who are caught and brought back to the Chateau.
Michu then proceeds to where Marthe and Laurence are waiting with the horses and sends Marthe home. Laurence wants an explanation of who he is since he had been playing the part of an enemy for years. Michu says that he is the guardian of the twins property, although they don’t yet know it. Everything was arranged by their parents before their deaths. He tells how he has been sending them money through another Royalist who is pretending to be otherwise.
They now gallop for a half hour, taking twists and turns and hidden ways, to a spot even Laurence did not know existed.
A history of the Nodesme forest follows and a beautiful description of the grounds and ruins of an old monastery. It was called the monastery of Notre-Dame which was corrupted over the centuries to Nodesme. It was the twins’ father who first suspected its existence when he was looking over some property deeds. He confided in Michu; they searched together and it was Michu’s knowledge of the forest and nature which enabled him to trace its location by the barest traces of five overgrown roads leading to the same spot. Michu continued the search on his own and now took Laurence to an old cellar which was clean and dry. Michu tells her they are quite safe there and can exchange information. After he relates the conversation he overheard between Malin and Grevin, Laurence tells him that her cousins and the two d’Hauteserres are on their way to Paris and should arrive in the morning.
“Lost!” Michu cries and explains that everyone will be examined at the Paris barriers and that Malin wants to get them killed and out of his way.
Laurence cries that she must warn others, but doesn’t know where they are so she must think only of her cousins and the d’Hauteserres. They must be caught and warned at any cost. Michu replies that if he can find her cousins they must be brought here and stay in hiding in the ruins until the affair is over. He wonders if their father had a foreboding when he set Michu to find the ruins.
Laurence tells Michu the route they are taking and that they are disguised as sailors and plan to enter Paris by the river. There are eight in all. She gives Michu half of her mother’s wedding ring, saying that this is a sign by which they will trust him as they have the other half. They are to be hiding that night with the father of one of the soldiers. Michu thinks only to save the two Simeuse brothers and that it is enough to warn the others, but Laurence insists that all be saved or none.
Michu warns Laurence that if he is successful in bringing the Simeuses and the d’Hauteserres to the ruins to hide that she must not try to see them, adding that his wife or son will bring them food. In case something should happen to him, he tells Laurence where to find a hidden map showing how to get to the ruins. It also contains directions to the buried Simeuse fortune in gold.
Laurence gives him passwords. They realize it is midnight and he must be on his way while Laurence returns to the Chateau to delay the police.
Chapter 8 — Trials of the Police
Corentin interviews the occupants of the salon and orders a search of the house. He and Abbe Goujet realize that the other is more discerning than most. When Corentin learns that Gothard and Catherine were captured going in opposite directions, he knows they were decoys. On discovering that two horses are missing from the stable, he asks if Laurence often goes riding at night. Everyone covers well and Catherine explains that Laurence was puzzled by the gleam of the bayonets in the moonlight. Gothard says that he was following his mistress to the farm.
Corentin continues to tell various people in confidence that he wants to save the four young men. He tells the Abbe that the they should backdate a paper saying they agree to take the oath of loyalty and it should be in his hands before they are arrested.
It is now midnight. Peyrade enters the salon with a sandalwood box. He takes Corentin aside and tells him that he thinks Michu is helping the Simeuse brothers. Corentin remarks that Michu probably overheard Malin and Grevin talking in the meadow. Peyrade says Violette is at Michu’s, but Corentin reminds him that they left to come to Cinq-Cygne without hearing from him. Corentin then tells a gendarme to go to Michu’s and investigate. Peyrade mentions that one of his men heard horses at the time Gothard was arrested and he has four men following whoever it was.
Corentin believes that his quarry is either on the way to Paris or retreating to Germany. He writes instructions to telegraph (semaphore) as soon as it is light enough.
Just as Corentin is forcing the lock of the sandalwood box, a galloping horse is heard and shortly thereafter Laurence bursts into the salon. Seeing the box, she whips Corentin across the hands, grabs the box and throws it into the fire! Upon seeing her heroic action, M d’Hauteserre feels young again and wishes he had a sword.
Peyrade drags Laurence to the couch and retrieves the box from the fire, sitting on it to smother the flames. Lawrence tells them that the box is nothing to do with the government and that they will be ashamed after they read the letters it contains.
Peyrade discovers the contents are three letters and two locks of gray hair. The letter that the locks fell out of is the last letter of Laurence’s cousins’ parents before they were executed. Their hair had been cut off as the only remembrances for their sons. The other letters are one from each brother to Laurence saying how they love her and they know she loves them both. In a secret compartment are two portaits, one of each young man in his army of the Conde uniform.
While Corentin and Peyrade are conferring, the Abbe asks Laurance how she could have thrown that into the fire. By her look he realizes that she did it in order to gain time. Laurence speaks to the Abbe, loud enough for the officials to hear. She asks about Gothard and if he was able to reach the farm. Corentin realizes though that she would never have trusted their safety to a farmer.
Corentin makes himself comfortable in front of the fire. He tells the ladies that they may retire to bed and the servants and the Mayor that they can leave. Only the Mayor leaves. Laurence asks Durieu to see if he can save her horse who collapsed when she arrived at Cinq-Cygne. She and Corentin discuss how far she rode. Laurence gives her perfectly planned explanation that her cousins expected to be given amnesty and were on their way to Cinq-Cygne. But she had learned of Malin’s plot against them and warned them and they were now on their way back to Germany. The explanation is so convincing that Corentin is wondering if it could be true when another horse is heard galloping into the courtyard. It is Peyrade who bursts into the salon and cries, “We have caught Michu.”
When Laurence turns white and almost faints, Corentin knows now that the young men are on their way to Paris and changes the orders accordingly. Corentin and Peyrade now leave the Chateau. One gendarme remains on guard.
Chapter 9 — Foiled
At six a.m. Corentin and Peyrade are sure that horses have passed through the covered way to the forest. Unable to obtain any information from the sobbing (as part of his cover) Gothard or the stoic Catherine, they have them released and go to breakfast. The mayor invites them to partake at his house. While there, word is received that the horse of the corporal sent to investigate Michu was found in the forest.
Back at the Chateau, Laurence, dissatisfied with herself for turning pale when they tricked her into thinking Michu had been captured, consoles herself with the thought that if he had indeed been captured then they would have brought him inside. When Corentin and Peyrade return to the salon the assembled party ignores them, further angering Corentin.
Word arrives that the corporal was knocked from his horse and is now in the care of Michu and Violette. Violette had told him that he and Michu had argued all night about the sale of some land. Laurence smiles. Never crying when things are bad, Laurence now has tears of joy shining in her eyes.
Michu’s son, Francois, arrives, supposedly to advise Corentin that the corporal is in a bad way. He secretly passes both halves of the wedding ring to Gothard who sneaks them to Laurence. She is sure now that Michu found and rescued the sons and cousins. Another gendarme arrives with word that five dead horses have been found.
Corentin and Peyrade leave to go to Michu’s about the corporal. While outside, as they see Laurence watching them from the window, Corentin remembers his dealings with Marie in The Chouans.
Within ten minutes all the gendarmes have left Cinq-Cygne and Laurence has Francois sitting next to her eating and telling how he trapped the corporal with a rope tied to a tree. He also relates that he has taken bread and wine to the four men hidden in the ruins.
As Corentin is being driven to Michu’s, he inquires if Michu has a horse. Upon being told yes, he tells the driver to check Michu’s stable for the condition of the horse. The driver then shows him the spot where the corporal was found. Corentin finds a uniform button there.
At Michu’s Corentin is taken to the injured man who is in Mme Michu’s bed. Corentin is told that the servant lad has gone for the doctor (Varlet) in Arcis. After the two women leave, Corentin’s supposition of the “accident” is confirmed. The corporal further says that he was found and brought to the house by the two women and Francois.
Back downstairs, Corentin is told how much wine Michu and Violette have drunk and Violette says they have been bargaining all night. The driver comes in and says that Michu’s horse is not in the stable. Michu coolly says that he lent the horse.
Corentin asks Michu to step outside with him where he relates Michu’s actions of the previous day and night fairly accurately and tells Michu they should come to an understanding. Michu leads him to the pond where Corentin has the thought that Michu might throw him in the water. As Corentin fingers the knife in his pocket, Michu tells him they will never come to terms. With Couraut barking at him, Corentin gets into the chaise and heads for Paris, stopping at Troyes with instructions on the way.
For the next three months, December, January, and February, the search for the four men continues. Spies are everywhere, including the taverns. A horse like Michu’s was found dead near Lagny. Five horses had been sold at a good price to a man answering Michu’s description. Malin sent Grevin to settle with Michu and fire him. Michu and family then moved to Cinq-Cygne to the “great astonishment of the neighborhood.” He is to farm the reserved land.
Chapter 10 — One and the Same, Yet a Two-fold Love
While a farm house is being built for Michu and his family, they are living in the rooms over the stable. Michu has purchased horses for himself and Francois and they always accompany Laurence and Gothard. Francois, Gothard, Courant and Laurence’s dogs search the woods before Michu and Laurence take food to the four men. Marthe, her mother and Catherine prepare the food so that no others know even that much.
Eventually, due in part to the political climate, even Laurence agrees that the four should petition to be removed from the lists and give the oath of loyalty to the current government. M d’Hauteserre and Abbe Goujet go to Paris to consult with the ci-devant Marquis de Chargeboeuf and deliver the required documents. When Napoleon meets with his Council of State to decide the matter, he says that if they have been in the Nodesme Forest for seven months without being found, then “they have expiated their misdeeds” and after more discussion it appears the petition is granted and it is arranged for the four young men to take the “oath of allegiance” at Troyes.
When the men are on their way, Michu, Francois and Gothard close the cellar entrance but Michu recalls that some silver plate was left behind. When he returns he finds Peyrade and Corentin who tell him that they could have taken the men at any time during the past week but knew they had been reinstated. Michu is dumfounded as to how the hiding place was discovered. The Parisian blacksmith sneakily shoed the horses with specially marked shoes.
There is a wonderful reunion and a party of celebration. The twins are now thirty-one and totally identical in appearance but different in mood. There is also a description of the D’Hauteserre sons. The elder Robert is rough-edged and doesn’t care for women. The younger Adrien is sensitive and, like the twins, in love with Laurence.
Laurence, now twenty-three has eyes only for the twins, and is unable to differentiate her love for them. She is therefore willing to wait for fate to make the choice for her. It seems to be an idyllic time with everyone happy to be together and Laurence’s thoughts do not turn to public or political matters.
Chapter 11 — Wise Counsel
It is now February 1806. The Marquis de Chargeboeuf, who helped bring the petition to Napoleon’s attention in Paris arrives at Cinq-Cygne. They reproach themselves for not showing their respect by calling on him first. Chargeboeuf warns them that they have made many enemies and especially Malin. He tells them that it is known that Michu threatened Malin. Michu is sent for and confirms that he once tried to kill Malin and he still will if given the opportunity. Paul-Marie suggests that Michu should be sent to work in Trieste until this all blows over.
In a private conference with the Simeuse brothers and Laurence, Chargeboeuf says that it is the young men who should leave the area and harm’s way, but that if they persist in remaining, they should write Malin and tell him that, having heard the rumours, they have dismissed Michu and sent him away. He points out how two-faced Malin is and how his only interests are for himself. Chargeboeuf’s advice is to ask Malin for a million francs and in return they will not contest the ownership of Gondreville. They can buy a fine estate in another part of France and leave Cinq-Cygne to the management of M d’Hauteserre. He then alienates them by suggesting that the twins draw lots to see which one will marry Laurence.
As Chargeboeuf is leaving he whispers to Laurence that she is not an ordinary woman and that she should understand that Malin will never cease trying to trap them and they must be very careful, careful even of the slightest actions. Laurence repeats his words to the twins. They cannot fathom the changes in France and berate Chargeboeuf who’s motto is Adsit fortior, the noblest/grandest of warcries. Laurence says that the motto of her house, We die singing, is hers. They agree that Chargeboeuf has probably thought it through correctly and Malin will probably someday have a title and Gondreville. Laurence is appalled and says Gondreville was designed for nobles. Just as she says, “I’d rather see Gondreville in ashes!” a passing villager overhears.
Indoors, Michu says that he will not leave until he knows they are safe and relates that the new keeper at Gondreville says he intends to notify Malin that they are hunting on his land.
Chapter 12 — The Facts of a Mysterious Affair
Michu has sold his farm to Beauvisage and is awaiting the money. A month has passed since Chargeboeuf’s visit and Laurence had told the twins about their buried fortune. They decide to retrieve it during the Mi-careme (mid-Lent) holiday when the servants can be sent to the celebrations at Troyes. It is decided not to tell the D’Hauteserre parents to spare them worry.
The day arrives and the four young men, Laurence, Michu and Gothard set out. Three trips should suffice. The only others in the secret are Marthe, Catherine and Durieu who remain at the Chateau de Cinq-Cygne. They meet Beauvisage on the road. He thinks they are hunting and warns them that they have enemies as well as friends. Robert tells him: “God grant that our hunt may be lucky to-day,–if so, you will get your masters back again.” Robert thinks, along with Marie-Paul and contrary to Chargeboeuf’s thinking, that Malin will return Gondreville to the Simeuse family if they pay him. His ill-timed remark to Beauvisage earns him a stern look from Laurence.
It is a beautiful day. Laurence and the twins, riding a bit ahead of the the D’Hauteserre boys are enjoying the thought of recovering part of the family fortune. They tell Laurence that she is the real fortune and that she must choose one of them to marry soon as they can’t wait much longer. They have agreed between themselves that whichever one Laurence chooses will give his share of their money to the other who will also have the Simeuse title as Laurence’s husband will take the name of Cinq-Cygne and have the title connected with that family. Finally Laurence, unable to decide, says that she will marry the brother to whom their mother speaks first at dinner that night after the blessing. Fate will decide.
Michu, riding behind with the D’Hauteserres, sees a magpie and is superstitious. The fortune is dug up and two trips carrying it to the Chateau have been made without the party being observed. On the third trip they take a more direct route to the treasure and spot a flame at Gondreville. Laurence gallops to investigate. When she is at the gatehouse (Michu’s old home and the scene where this novel opened), Violette sees her and says: “Ah! so you are concerned in it, too, are you, mademoiselle?” Violette has the idea that the Simeuses are up to something and wonders if it is just a trick. Laurence rushes back into the forest and tells everyone they must return to Cinq-Cygne quickly.
Earlier, at Gondreville, Malin, Madame Marion, Grevin and his wife were gathered in the Salon. Most of the servants, including the new bailiff had gone to the celebrations. Only Malin’s valet remained. The porter, gardeners and their families at the other lodge were too far away to hear anything suspicious. Violette was waiting in the antechamber to see Malin and Grevin on business. Suddenly five men burst in and captured Violette and the valet, gagging them. The men were masked, but they resembled the four young nobles and Michu in height, manner and bearing!
Madame Grevin, fearing robbers, went to investigate because she thought she heard cries. She was captured and then the intruders entered the Salon. Two of them grabbed Malin and took him outside while the others tied up Grevin and Mme Marion. The valet was able to chew the rope securing Violette and upon hearing Violette’s cries for help, the intruders, who had been ransacking Gondreville, fled. Their horses resembled those used by the Cinq-Cygne party! The evidence against them is mounting. Violette released the valet, the two ladies and Grevin, then rode for help. It was then that he saw Laurence and thought she was standing watch.
When Grevin and a rural poiceman catch up with Violette, he not only tells them about seeing Laurence standing watch but adds that he recognized Michu and the Cinq-Cygne horses. Grevin spots hoof prints and sets the policeman to guard them until the authorities can see them. If the horses haven’t been reshod, then they are the special marks easily identifiable as belonging to Cinq-Cygne horses.
When Grevin returns to Gondreville, he finds the Arcis authorities have arrived. The lieutenant is the man that Francois knocked off his horse with the rope two years earlier. We now find his name is Giguet. His sub-lieutenant, Welff, was Corentin’s driver at the time. These two need no incentive to blame the Cinq-Cygne contingent.
Chapter 13 — The Code of Brumaire, Year IV
Malin and Grevin had both worked on the current laws and knew them thoroughly which enabled Grevin to move quickly against the Simeuses and the D’Hauteserres in the kidnapping of Malin. The person who could be placed in total and absolute charge of the case is the magistrate of Troyes, Lechesneau, who happens to be a friend of Malin’s and indebted to him for past favors. They are in such a rush that a special messenger is sent to Paris with notifications for various authorities. The Justice of the Peace, Pigoult, is also a past associate of Grevin’s and Malin’s.
The evidence against Michu is overwhelming: the appearance of the one intruder, Michu’s previous threats to Malin and the fact that no locks were broken, leading them to suspect Michu of keeping a set of keys when he was fired. There is also the fact that Michu had just sold his property and collected the proceeds. Against the nobles, who better would know their way around the estate than the former occupants and their friends.
The investigation is set in motion and arrest warrants are already being prepared to save time. Everything moves so rapidly that the Cinq-Cygne servants are met on the road as they return from the festivities at Troyes. Upon being questioned the servants answer truthfully that they did not request the holiday but that Mademoiselle Laurence offered it to them voluntarily.
Back to the fortune recovery events. As soon as the last of the gold was buried in the floor of a cellar under the building called Mademoiselle’s Tower, the entrance was walled up with concrete. As soon as it was completed, Michu rushes home to eat and to stop Gothard from bringing another bag of concrete which he had been sent for and was not needed after all. Authorities are already watching Michu’s place and hear him call out to Gothard, “It is all finished, my lad; take that back and stay and dine with us.” They then enter the dwelling behind Michu and tell him he is under arrest. Michu, knowing he has done nothing wrong, begins eating.
The forester asks what they have done with the senator and Michu replies that Violette must have played them a trick. Michu and Gothard are to be bound and taken to the Chateau.
Chapter 14 — The Arrests
At Cinq-Cygne, the party is at dinner. Laurence and her cousins are very excited as they wait to see which one of the twins Mme d’Hauteserre will address first, thus choosing Laurence’s husband. Finally she addresses the older twin Paul-Marie.
Just as Laurence has explained the agreement to the other members of the household, a rapping is heard at the window. It is Abbe Goujet. His clothing is torn from having climbed over the wall. He cries out that the young men should flee immediately for the border as the authorities are on their way to arrest them. Like Michu, the young nobles are not alarmed as they haven’t committed any crimes. The Abbe urges them to leave anyway and prove their innocence later. Laurence tells them not to go.
The Abbe quickly leaves as his presence would be used against the young men. Gendarmerie are heard outside and a number of them enter. Lechesneau announces that the four young men are under arrest. Laurence is to be left out on bail. When the mayor asks for her word she gives him such a look that he becomes her mortal enemy.
The D’Hauteserre parents are unconsolable, having only just been reunited with their sons.
Lechesneau tells the young men and Laurence to accompany him to the stables for their horses’ shoes.
Pigoult arrives with Michu and Gothard. The servants who were detained for questioning have also arrived. It is Pigoult who tells the assemblage in the dining-room that the charge is the kidnapping and holding prisoner of Malin. Upon hearing it is the death penalty, Mme d’Hauteserre faints.
Abbe Goujet and his sister arrive and the others return from the stable. As the four nobles, Michu and Gothard are taken away, Paul-Marie tries to reassure Laurence that they will soon be returning.
Chapter 15 — Doubts and Fears of Counsel
Napoleon is told about the kidnapping of Malin and tells them to proceed rapidly with the investigation. It is an attack on Napoleon’s institutions. The public is up in arms about it also. It is remembered that eleven people were killed in 1792 when they came to arrest the Simeuse parents who were then sent to the guillotine. Their association with Michu is unfortunate because of his reputation.
The day after the arrest, Laurence and the D’Hauteserre parents go to Troyes and stay in a small house belonging to Durieu. Abbe Goujet and his sister move into Cinq-Cygne to take care of the property in their absence.
The men are indicted. The Marquis de Chargeboeuf had already been to Paris to hire the shrewd and honest attorney Bordin who chooses the young De Granville as his assistant. Laurance greets Chargeboeuf warmly and tells him he was right and agrees to take his advice in the future. He immediately tells them to come stay at his house which is in the middle of town and near the courthouse. The lawyers are included in the invitation.
That evening at the Hotel de Chargeboeuf, Bordin has Laurence relate all the details of the affair. They then anxiously await the verdict of the lawyers. Bordin says that all the facts are against them and De Granville clarifies that the case cannot be successfully defended. It is determined that it is now too late to tell the truth of what they were doing that day as the jury will undoubtedly think they stole the gold from Gondreville.
De Granville says they must figure out the motive of the five men who were disguised that day. He mentions that it is odd how Malin left Paris at the end of winter to go into seclusion at Gondreville. Bordin asks who Malin’s enemy is and what was done with him. Bordin decides that Michu is the heart of the affair and De Granville will defend him.
Chapter 16 — Marthe Inveigled
Back at Cinq-Cygne, Marthe and the others who were not privy to the happenings of that fateful day wonder about the innocence of the ones awaiting trial. A man comes from Troyes to speak alone with Marthe. He tells her that he owes his position in the prison to her father and therefore Michu trusted him with a note.
The note, signed by Michu, says that Malin is imprisoned where the young nobles were hidden and asks Marthe to take him some food as no one else knows he is there. She is cautioned to wear a mask and not to speak to Malin. Marthe is also warned not to tell Laurence and to burn the letter. Malin is to save them when the time comes.
Marthe, not knowing for certain that Michu is innocent of a part in the kidnapping, follows the instructions, although she does save a few non-incriminating lines. She goes at three in the morning with only Courant the dog for company. There is now a small window cut in the door and it is padlocked on the outside.
When Marthe is passing the food in, Malin tries to grab her rings. She pulls away as he says she cannot deny that she is Mme Michu. Marthe gives him the rest of the food on the end of a stick and leaves without speaking. She is seen by the Gondreville gamekeeper but covers well. Twice more, at intervals of five or six days, Marthe takes food to Malin without revealing it to any of the occupants of Cinq-Cygne.
When Abbe Goujet reads the trial reports aloud, Marthe becomes frightened and confides in him, showing him the fragment of the letter. Suspicous, the Abbe asks her to bring him a sample of Michu’s writing for comparison. When Marthe arrives home there is a summons for her to appear in court. The Abbe and his sister have also received summons, so the trio set out for Troyes.
Chapter 17 — The Trial
The three attorneys look confident. When the four nobles enter they make a very good impression. People are sympathetic to these good-looking young men and interested in the fact that two of them are identical twins. Poor Michu on the other hand, even though he’s wearing his very best clothes while the others are wearing the ones they were wearing when arrested, frightens many with his looks. Sadly he knows this. Gothard is still playing the part of a simpleton. Chargeboeuf sits with Bordin and Granville and advises them during the jury selection.
The tale is told, not that they were digging for gold but that they were riding in the forest and that they were at Cinq-Cygne for a meal from one p.m. to three p.m. at which time they returned to the forest.
The Simeuse brothers say that they wanted to make an offer for Gondreville to Malin and that all of them went to examine the property. While they were out, some of the party chased a wolf. All went very well with the examination of the nobles.
Michu admitted that he had threatened Malin and gave that as an excuse for hiding when he came upon Malin and Grevin in the meadow while making his rounds. He hadn’t wanted to frighten them since he was carrying a gun. He explained that his clothes were dirty because he had slipped and fallen. The cement was for a post. He was fixing the post so late and alone because he had been scolded for not doing it sooner. He said he hadn’t thought to show his work to the authorities because he didn’t think there were any serious charges against him.
There is a bit of legal finagling about the precise charges against everyone. The prosecution falls into a sort of trap set by the defense and all looks good for acquittals as the first day of the trial ends.
Chapter 18 — Trial Continued: Cruel Vicissitudes
On the second day of the trial, the witnesses for the prosecution are questioned. Some hesitate when asked to identify the nobles, but all agree on Michu. Overheard remarks are quoted and the hoof-print comparisons are given. Fortunately the Cinq-Cygne blacksmith can testify that not only does he shoe other horses with those shoes but he sold some. Also, Michu’s horse was shoed in Troyes and much is made of the fact that Michu’s double would not have known that. The other witnesses for the defense are not really listened to attentively as they are not considered as important as the witnesses for the prosecution.
When Laurence appears and sees her cousins for the first time in three weeks, she is affected and this appears as guilt. She testifies that on seeing the smoke she thought weeds were being burned but later found some fragments on her riding habit that appeared to be paper. An examination was ordered of the area where the fire was. Grevin smugly thinks to himself that every sign of the fire has been erased. Bordin calls two laborers who said they dug an area where grass had been burned. But they had not paid attention to the nature of the ashes.
When Abbe Goujet and his sister testify, they make favorable impressions.
The public prosecutor sums up by saying how the young men had been in the army of the Conde, but even so were pardoned and allowed to return to France. He hints that this is part of a determined effort of returned emigres to protest the sale of their estates. He enlists his audience’s sympathy for the poor missing Senator.
The defense sums up and Granville is magnificent. He sincerely believed in the innocence of his client and it showed. He gave such a speech detailing Michu’s character that it brought tears to the eyes of Michu himself. Just when the jury is highly affected he compounds it by asking where is the Senator? If he was walled up for over three weeks then he must be dead of starvation unless they had accomplices, in which case Malin would have been released by now.
Granville reminds the jury that the prisoners were quietly dining when the gendarmes came and that they were told that if they released Malin at that time then the affair would be ended. He adds that time will prove what happened and that each juror will feel much remorse if they condemn innocents.
When the prosecutor again speaks he is so ineffective that the Troyes attorney acting for the D’Hauteserres and Gothard asks that the case against them be dropped. The prosecutor requests a postponement until the next day to contemplate the matter. Bordin tries to avoid the delay by saying the prisoners should not have to suffer even one more night. He saw by the jurors’ eyes that acquittal was almost a certainty if they deliberated immediately. But the delay is granted. Still, Laurence is happy and De Granville receives many congratulations on his fine speech.
At five the next morning Malin is found on the road by a farmer! Malin borrows a carriage from the farmer and goes into Troyes to the Prefect’s house. Other authorities are called and on Malin’s testimony Marthe is arrested and Laurence taken for questioning. No communication is allowed with legal counsel and the resumption of the trial is postponed until afternoon.
Abbe Goujet gives the lawyers the fragment of the letter that Marthe received and relates what she had told him. Bordin tells the Abbe that the case is now lost.
The evidence is too strong. Even the marks on the bread crust from the new oven at the Michu farmhouse condemn Marthe. Marthe had again been tricked. They told her an immediate confession would save her husband and she admitted the secrecy of the hiding place and the fact that she had taken food three times to Malin. When they called Marthe in the courtroom, De Granville protests that a wife cannot testify against her husband, but is told that she has freely confessed and she will not be sworn but will be heard in the interests of truth. Her statement is read and Marthe is asked if she confirms it. When Michu looked at his wife, Marthe saw her fatal error. She fainted and fell to the floor.
Michu says he never wrote to his wife from prison and that his writing was imitated. The prosecutor naturally says that of course he would deny it.
Malin, now referred to as the Comte de Gondreville, is brought into the courtroom and asked to identify the prisoners. He says of the four nobles that the clothing is the same but his mind is such that he cannot be positive it was them. He states that the hands that bound him were rough and he was put on a horse behind a man with red hair. He asks pardon for what he says, but the body odor of the man he was behind was not the same as Michu’s. However he is certain it was Marthe that brought him the food as he recognized her ring. He also testifies that though he thinks his abduction and captivity were not because of the Gondreville property, he has no idea what the motive could have been.
As Malin leaves the courtroom he bows to the four young men. When they do not return return the salutation it makes a bad impression on the jury. Bordin mentions to Chargeboeuf that they are lost.
As the prosecutor addresses the jury, he says that his task is now easy. He reminds them of several facts, clears up a few points and tells them that they will be on the watch for the accomplices who released Malin.
De Granville again speaks well, but feels the coldness of the jury. He reminds them that an acquittal was almost certain yesterday and if the prisoners were guilty they would surely have waited until after the verdict to release Malin. The public prosecutor and the judges are the only ones to see the sense of this argument which leaves the jury unmoved.
The jury deliberate until eleven p.m. Michu is to be put to death and the four nobles sentenced to years of hard labor. Only Gothard is acquitted.
Mme d’Hauteserre becomes so ill that she is unable to return to Cinc-Cygne with her husband and remains at the Hotel de Chargeboeuf for three months. After three weeks, Marthe dies in Laurence’s arms after asking her to care for Francois.
Laurence states that she will marry one of her cousins when they are on their way to the galleys. Bordin says they must petition Napoleon for a pardon. “Their pardon!–from a Bonaparte?” cried Laurence in horror. Bordin conspires with Chargeboeuf to go to Paris and try to save them without Laurence. The appeal on behalf of the four young men and Michu is to be the first case heard by the new court.
Chapter 19 — The Emperor’s Bivouac
The appeals were eventually rejected. Meanwhile De Granville has been appointed assistant attorney-general. Although he is unable to represent the Cinq-Cygne men, he is able to help in other ways. He has also recently married. When Bordin and Chargeboeuf arrive at his home, De Granville tells them there is no way to save Michu if they want to obtain pardons for the others. “The law will insist on one victim,” he tells them.
Bordin and Chargeboeuf then go to Talleyrand to see if he would help with the young nobles only. Talleyrand dictates a letter to Napoleon, stating that the four are innocent and requesting their pardon if they will join his army. He advises then to catch Napoleon in a good mood, such as the morning after a victory. They ask Talleyrand if he knows who was the instigator of the plot. Talleyrand requests them to bring Laurence secretly tomorrow to observe someone. He also warns them that only Mlle de Cinq-Cygne will be able to obtain the pardon from Napoleon.
Laurence goes to visit Michu in prison. She comes out with tears in her eyes and tells Chargeboeuf that Michu was so noble that she WILL plead for him. If it fails, at least she will have a portrait of him and arranges for a great artist of the day to paint him.
The next day at Talleyrand’s, Laurence recognizes Corentin and knows that he was instrumental in the kidnapping of Malin, possibly under orders from Fouche and also because he was seeking personal revenge for her treatment and scorn of him. Talleyrand gives them double passports and warns them that the police will try to stop them and to change their route and their carriage.
Chargeboeuf and Laurence are successful in reaching Napoleon and the Grand Army. They speak to him on the evening before a major battle. At the interview, Laurence remembers to be humble. Laurence gets the impression that Michu will be included in the pardons. Napoleon asks Chargeboeuf for one of his grandsons as a page, but Chargeboeuf is saved from making the sacrifice when matters of war draw Napoleon’s attention.
When they arrive in Troyes, just over a week later, they hear that Michu’s execution is imminent and Abbe Goujet has obtained permission to go to the scaffold with him. Laurence goes to Michu immediately. He is very brave and also thrilled to know that the young nobles were saved. He says it is fitting that “the watch-dog should be killed on the spot where his old masters died,” referring to the Simeuse parents who also were guillotined. Michu refuses to ride in the cart, saying that “Innocent men should go afoot.” Abbe Goujet walks with him. Michu’s last words are to the executioner: “My clothes belong to you; try not to spot them.”
Both of the Simeuse brothers and Robert d’Hauteserre end up being killed in battle. Prior to their deaths they had distinguished themselves and obtained promotions. Adrien d’Hauteserre attained the rank of Brigadier-General. He was badly wounded and sent home to Cinq-Cygne where Laurence eventually married him and they had children. Adrien was made a Marquis. He died in 1829.
Michu and Marthe’s son, Francois, was raised by Laurence. He was admitted to the bar in 1817 and received a high post at Arcis ten years later. Laurence had taken care of Michu’s property and Francois now had an income of twelve thousand francs a year. She had also arranged his marriage to an heiress of Troyes.
The Bourbons had come to power too late to save the twins and Robert. When Adrien died in 1829 it was still not known who was behind the kidnapping of Malin. “Louis XVIII did not neglect to repair, as far as possible, the wrongs done by that affair; but he was silent as to the causes of the disaster. From that time forth the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne believed him to have been an accomplice in the catastrophe.”
Chapter 20 — The Mystery Solved
Adrien had purchased a house in Paris and it is there that Laurence lives during the winters. They had at least two children–Berthe and Paul. Michu’s portrait by Lefebvre was “the chief and sacred ornament of her salon.” Laurence spent half her income and saved half for Berthe’s dowry.
Princesse de Cadignan wants her son and Berthe to marry. One evening in her salon are gathered the Marquise d’Espard, De Marsay, Eugene de Rastignac, the old dukes of Lenoncourt and De Navarreins, the Comte de Vandenesse and his young wife, d’Arthez and others. Laurence and Berthe arrive. When Laurence hears Monsieur le Comte de Gondreville announced and sees Malin, she and Berthe immediately leave, making sure to avoid Malin.
Malin had been entrusted by De Marsay to work on permission for the return of the Prince de Cadignan and was coming to make his report. The Princesse reprimands him for not telling her his name and says that this may have spoiled Georges’ chance to marry Berthe.
Malin has been active in twelve different governments since 1789, changing his loyalties like a chameleon to stay in favor with the various parties in power.
After Malin leaves, De Marsay apologizes to the Princesse and says he will give her information on the events of thirty years ago which will enable her to make peace with the Cinq-Cygnes.
De Marsay relates that in 1800, in the home of the minister of foreign affairs, Fouche and someone he doesn’t name (Talleyrand) held a private conference. They were joined by Sieyes and Carnot and plotted how they could bring Napoleon down if he lost the battle campaign in which he was engaged at the time. Unknown to them, Malin had been in the boudoir before them and now made himself known by saying: “Be frank, if Bonaparte returns a victor, we shall adore him; if vanquished, we’ll bury him!”
De Marsay says that it was to this one circumstance that Malin was able to begin gaining political power. Since he had overheard, they made him one of them and an integral part of the plans. After more discussion, a courier arrived with the news that the first battle of the campaign was victorious. But the five agreed to be ready should he falter. Malin was the one man that Fouche did not trust, so he had Malin order the printing of compromising political documents and store them in his house. When the battle at Marengo was going badly, a despatch was sent to a leading banker of the day. Major sums were lost on the Bourse (Stock Exchange). Fouche had been just about to distribute the pamphlets when word came that it had been a victory after all. Malin, in a panic, took all the documents to Gondreville which had recently been purchased for him by Marion. These were what was burned on that fateful day. He then rushed back to Paris to congratulate Napoleon who had returned with haste in response to a message from his brother Lucien who had become suspicious. Fouche told Malin to be patient, that all was not over yet. The five mysterious persons were sent by the police to burn the pamphlets. De Marsay believes that at that time Fouche had Gondreville searched for correspondence between Malin and Louis XVIII.
De Marsay adds: “But in this cruel affair there was a private element, a passion of revenge in the mind of the leader of the party, a man named Corentin.” He concluded by telling the Princesse de Cadignan and company that Malin would have related all of this to Louis XVIII and she can relate it to Laurence to help her understand why Louis XVIII kept silent about the affair.
Summarized by Dagny, February – March, 2007