a stout rope that we had there, came down, and tied it firmly
to one of the trees that grow by the roadside. Then I drew
taut the cord until it was breast-high to a man on horseback,
128 BALZAC'S WORKS
and made fast the other end to another tree directly opposite
the first; this was on the road where I had heard horses gal-
loping. The way was barred. My plan did not miscarry.
There was no moon, my corporal took a tumble, but was
not killed. What would you have? They're hard to kill,
gendarmes! Well, there's no use repining;, one can't do
more than one can."
"You have been our salvation!" said Laurence, embrac-
ing the little peasant boy, with whom she walked as far as
the park gate.
There, after she had assured herself that there was no
one near, she asked in a whisper —
"Have they anything to eat?"
"1 have just taken them a twelve-pound loaf and four
bottles of wine. They are to lie quiet for six days."
On her return to the salon the young girl found herself
the object of the mute questioning of M. and Mme. d'Haute-
serre and the cur^ and his sister, who eyed her with equal
admiration and anxiety.
"Have you seen them?" cried Mme. d'Hauteserre.
The Comtesse smiled and laid a finger on her lips, then
left the room to go upstairs to bed, for her fatigue made
itself felt now that victory was assured.
The most direct route from Cinq-Cygne to Michu's pavil-
ion was by the road that led from the village to the farm of
Bellache, and which terminated in the round-point where
the spies had appeared to Michu on the preceding day.
Owing to this reason the gendarme who was acting as Co-
rentin's coachman pursued this route, which was the same
that the Arcis corporal had followed. As they drove along
the agent was on the lookout for indications that might shed
some light on the manner of the corporal's mysterious over-
throw. He took himself to task for having sent only one
man to cover a point of such importance, and from this
error of judgment deduced an axiom for a code of rules
that he was composing for his guidance.
"If they disposed of the gendarme," he reflected, "they
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 129
won't have hesitated to rid themselves of Violette as well.
It is plain that the five dead horses served to bring the four
conspirators and Michu back from the environs of Paris to
the forest. — Has Michu a horse?" he inquired of the gen-
darme, who belonged to the Arcis brigade.
"Ah! and a famous one at that," replied the gendarme,
"a hunter from the stables of the ci-devant Marquis de Si-
meuse. He is rising fifteen, but he's none the worse for
it. Michu will ride him twenty leagues, and bring him in
with a coat as dry as my hat. Oh! he sets great store by
the animal; he has refused big money for him."
"What sort of a looking animal is it?"
"Dark brown in color, verging on black, with spots of
white about the fetlocks, lean, wiry, small-boned, all sinews,
like an Arab."
"Vou know something of Arab horses?"
"I am only a year back from Egypt, where many a time
I've straddled the mounts of the Mamelukes. 1 have seen
eleven years' service in the cavalry. I was on the Ehine
with General Steingel, from there to Italy, and I followed
the First Consul to Egypt. I expect to be promoted cor-
poral before long."
"While I am inside Michu's pavilion do you go and take
a peep into the stable; if, as you assert, you served eleven
years in the cavalry, you should be able to tell when a horse
has been violently exercised."
"Look, there's where our corporal got his fall," said the
gendarme, pointing to the spot where the road debouched
into the round-point.
"You may tell the captain to join me at the pavilion;
we will be company for each other back to Troyes."
Corentin got down and devoted several minutes to an
observation of the ground. He gave special attention to the
two tall elms that stood opposite each other, one close up
against the park wall, the other on the slope of the round-
point at the spot where the vicinal road intersected it; then
his keen eyes detected something that had escaped the no-
130 BALZAC'S WORKS
tice of all who passed that way — a brass button off a uni-
form coat, lying half hidden in the dust of the road; he
stooped and picked it up. On entering the pavilion he
saw Violette and Michu seated at the table in the kitchen,
still engaged in their interminable wrangle. Violette rose,
saluted Corentin, and invited him to drink.
"Thanks — I wish to see the corporal," said the young
man, whose knowledge of such matters told him that Vio-
lette had been drunk for more than twelve hours.
"My wife is tending him upstairs," said Michu.
"Well, corporal, how are you getting on?" asked
Corentin, who ran up the stairs and found the gendarme
lying on Mme. Michu 's bed, his head swathed with com-
His hat, belts and sabre were on a chair. Marthe, faith-
ful to her woman's instinct and entirely ignorant, moreover,
of her son's exploit, was nursing the. corporal, assisted by
"We are expecting M. Varlet, the doctor from Arcis,"
said Mme. Michu. "Gaucher has gone for him."
"Leave us a moment, if you please," Corentin requested,
not a little surprised by what he saw, proving as it did con-
clusively the innocence of the two women. "How were you
attacked ?" he asked, examining the uniform coat.
"In the chest," replied the corporal.
"Let's see your belts."
On the wide band of yellow leather with edges bound
with white which a recent law, extremely minute and pre-
cise as to every little detail, had given to the so-styled
"National" gendarmerie, was a large brass plate, in ap-
pearance not unlike the belt-plate worn by the gardes cham-
p6tres of the present day, and on which the law had directed
should be engraved this remarkable device, "Kespect for
persons and property!" The rope had necessarily defaced
the belt considerably at the point of contact. Corentin held
up the coat and looked for the place of the absent button
that he had found in the road.
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 131
**What time was it when they picked you up?" he
"Not long after daybreak, I think."
"And did they bring you up here immediately?" Co-
rentin inquired, remarking the condition of the bed, which
showed no signs of disorder.
"Who brought you up ?"
"The woman, assisted by the Michu boy, who discovered
me when I was unconscious."
"Good! they never went to bed," said the agent to him-
self. "It was not a shot from a gun or pistol that disabled
the corporal, nor was it a blow from a bludgeon, for his ad-
versary, to strike at him, must have been on the same level,
must have been on horseback; consequently it must have
been an obstacle thrown across his way that did the mis-
chief. A wooden bar ? Impossible. An iron chain ? It
would have left marks. — •What did you feel?" he asked
the corporal, coming to the bedside to note his expression.
"I was thrown from my saddle so suddenly — "
"You have an abrasion of the skin under the chin."
"It seems to me I remember something of a rope being
drawn across my face," replied the corporal.
"I have it!" exclaimed Corentin. "Somebody stretched
a rope across the road between two trees."
"That may well be," rejoined the corporal.
Corentin went downstairs and entered the living-room.
"Come, you old rogue, let's bring the matter to a close!"
said Michu, speaking to Violette and looking at the detec-
tive. "Only a hundred and twenty thousand francs, that's
all, and my property is 3'-ours. I will put the money out at
interest and be a rentier.'"
"So help me God, all I've got is sixty thousand."
"But don't I offer to give you time for the balance?
Here we've been chaffering since yesterday, and are as
far as ever from an agreement! Land of the very first
132 BALZAC'S WORKS
"I've nothing against the land," Violette rejoined.
"More wine, wife!" shouted Michu.
"Don't you think you've had enough?" exclaimed
Marthe's mother. "This makes fourteen bottles since
nine o'clock yesterday."
"You have been here since nine o'clock this morn-
ing?" said Corentin to Violette.
"Excuse me, sir, no, sir; I haven't once left the house
since early yesterday evening, and I'm none the richer for
it; the more he makes me drink the higher he puts the
price of his property."
"That's a correct principle of trade; you give the price a
hoist every time you hoist the elbow," observed Corentin.
A dozen empty bottles, drawn up in platoons at the end
of the table, attested the correctness of the old lady's com-
putation. At that moment the gendarme signalled from
outside for Corentin to come to him, and on the latter ap-
pearing on the doorstep said in his ear:
"There is no horse in the stable."
Corentin re-entered and resumed his seat. "Your little
boy will not be long away, I suppose," he said; "you proba-
bly sent him to the city on your horse?"
"No, Monsieur," spoke up Marthe, "he went on foot."
"Well, then, what have you done with your horse?"
"Lent him," Michu shortly answered.
"Come this way, my apostolic friend," said Corentin, ad-
dressing the foreman, "I have a couple of words that I want
to whisper in your ear."
Michu and the detective left the room.
"The bullet we saw you putting in that rifle yesterday
was intended for the Councillor of State.— Gr^vin, the no-
tary, saw you, but you could not be convicted on his un-
supported testimony. There was abundance of good intention
on your side, but a scarcity of witnesses on ours. I don't
know how you did it, but you put Violette to sleep, and
you, your wife and little boy, instead of going to bed and
sleeping the sleep of peaceable, law-abiding citizens, spent
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 133
your night scouring the country with intent to warn Mile,
de Ciuq-Cygne of our arrival and assist in the spiriting
away of her cousins, whom yon have brought here and
concealed somewhere in the neighborhood, exactly where 1
have not yet found out. Your wife or your son, one or
the other of them, unhorsed the corporal and broke his
head, and did it, 1 am free to confess, in a very workman-
like manner. In short, you have shown yourself one too
many for us. You are a dandy, a chap after my own
heart. But the game is not ended yet; we shall have our
innings. Would you like to treat with xia'i It will be to
the advantage of your masters."
"Come this way, where we can talk without fear of
eavesdroppers," said Michu, conducting the spy into the
park until they came to the pond.
When Corentin set eyes on the expanse of water he
looked steadily at Michu, who was doubtless counting on
his herculean strength to hurl his man into three feet of
water with seven feet of underlying mud. Michu answered
his look with another of equal steadiness. It was like some
great cold-blooded, slimy, dull-eyed boa and a lithe and
graceful jaguar of Brazil exchanging glances of defiance.
"Thank you, 1 am not thirsty just at present," replied
the muscadin, who remained at the edge of the meadow,
while his hand sought the little poniard that he carried in
the side-pocket of his coat.
"We are not likely to agree," Michu observed with an
"I would advise you to be particularly circumspect in
your language and actions, my dear friend; the eye of Jus-
tice will be on you."
"I hope she is less dull of vision than you are, otherwise
everybody will be in peril," rejoined the foreman.
"You decline my proposal, then?" Corentin asked in a
"I would go to the guillotine a hundred times over, if it
were possible for a man to have his head cut off a hundred
134 BALZAC'S WORKS
times, rather than have dealings with such an infernal scoun-
drel as you are!"
Corentin gave a parting glance at Michu, the pavilion, and
Couraut, who growled at him, and leaped nimbly to his seat
in the cabriolet. He issued a few orders as he passed through
Troyes, and returned to Paris. All the brigades of gendar-
merie received a standing order and secret instructions.
During the months of December, January and February
active and incessant perquisitions were carried on in the
smallest and remotest villages. Every little wine-shop had
its spy. Corentin acquired three valuable pieces of infor-
mation; a horse resembling Michu's was found dead not
far from Lagny. The five horses buried in the forest of
Nodesme had been sold, for a consideration of five hun-
dred francs each, by certain farmers and millers to a man
who, from the description given of him, could have been
no other than Michu. Upon the passage of the law rela-
tive to abettors of conspiracy and Cadoudal's accomplices,
Corentin restricted his surveillance to the forest of Nodesme,
and later, after the arrest of Pichegru, Moreau and the Roy-
alists, there were no more strange faces seen in the neighbor-
hood. About that time Michu lost his place. The notary of
Arcis showed him the letter in which the Councillor of State,
lately raised to the dignity of Senator, requested Grevin to
audit the foreman's accounts and notify him of his dis-
charge. Within three days Michu received a formal ac-
quittance and was a free, man once more. Considerably to
the astonishment of his neighbors, he went to live at Cinq-
Cygne, where Laurence engaged him to superintend all the
outlying farms of the chateau. It was not a good omen
that he entered on his new functions coincidently with the
execution of the Due d'Bnghien. The same issue of
the newspapers throughout almost the whole of France
contained the particulars of the Prince's arrest, trial, con-
demnation and death — a terrible reprisal which preceded
the trials of Polignac, Riviere and Moreau.
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 135
CORENTJN'S RETURN INNINGS
TT/jT^ HILE awaiting the completion of the house that
^f^ was being built for him, Michu occupied rooms
over the stables, not far from the gap that has
figured in this history. He purchased two horses, one for
himself and one for his son, for they both united with Go-
thard in escorting Mile, de Cinq-Cygne in her rides about the
country, the chief object of which was, as may be imagined,
to watch over the safety of the four gentlemen and see that
they wanted for nothing. Fran9ois and Gothard, assisted
by Couraut and the dogs of the Comtesse's pack, acted as
scouts to see that no suspicious-looking person approached
the hiding-place in tlie wood. Laurence and Michu brought
the recluses victuals which, in order that the secret might
be confined to the smallest possible number of persons, were
prepared by Marthe, her mother and Catherine, for they
were all morally certain that there were spies in the village.
And, from prudential motives, these relief expeditions were
never sent out oftener than twice in the week, sometimes by
day, sometimes by night, and never at the same hour. These
precautions were observed during the pendency of the Rivi-
ere, Polignac and Moreau trials. When the senatus-consul-
tum that summoned the Bonaparte family to the Empire and
made Napoleon Emperor was submitted to the vote of the
French people, M. d'Hauteserre signed the register that
Goulard brought to him at the chateau. Not long after-
ward it became known that the Pope was to come all the
way from Rome to assist at the coronation of Napoleon,
and thereon Mile, de Cinq-Cygne withdrew her opposition
to her cousins and the young d'Hauteserres petitioning to
have their names struck oflE the list of ^migr6s and be re-
136 BALZAC'S WORKS
stored to their civil rights. The old gentleman harried off
to Paris, where his first business was to call on the ci-
devant, Marquis de Chargeboeuf, a friend and intimate of
M. de Talleyrand. That minister, then high in his mas-
ter's favor, transmitted the petition to Josephine, and
Josephine handed it to her husband, whom, although
the result of the popular vote was not yet ascertained,
it was the fashion to address as "Sire" and "Your Maj-
esty." M. de Chargeboeuf, M. d'Hauteserre, and the
Abbe Goujet, who had also come up to Paris, were ad-
mitted to an interview with Talleyrand, and that minister
promised them his support. Napoleon had already gra-
ciously pardoned the chief actors in the great Royalist
conspiracy; but, although the four gentlemen were only
objects of suspicion, at the close of the seance of the
Council of State the Emperor summoned to his cabinet
Senator Malin, Fouch^, Talleyrand, Cambaceres, Lebrun,
and Dubois, the Prefect of Police.
"Messieurs," said the future Emperor, who still wore
the uniform prescribed for a first consul, "we have re-
ceived from the Sieurs de Simeuse and d'Hauteserre, offi-
cers in the army of the Prince de Conde, a petition request-
ing that they be allowed to return to France."
"They are there now," said Fouch6.
"As are a thousand others whom I see every day in
Paris," rejoined Talleyrand.
"I do not think you can have seen these gentlemen,"
Malin replied, "for they are in hiding in the forest of
Nodesme, where they consider themselves at home."
He took good care not to repeat to the First Consul and
Fouch6 the words to which he had owed his life, but, using
Corentin's reports to support his position, he convinced the
council of the four gentlemen's participation in the conspir-
acy of MM. de Riviere and de Polignac, mentioning Michu
as their accomplice. The Prefect of Police confirmed the
"But how could this man of so humble a condition have
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 137
known of the discovery of the conspiracy at a time when the
only persons in the secret were the Emperor, his council, and
myself?" asked the Prefect of Police,
Dubois' question passed unheeded.
"If they are concealed in a forest where you have not
been able to find them after a seven months' hunt," said
the Emperor to Fouche, "I think they have pretty well
expiated their offence!"
"That those men are my enemies," said Malin, alarmed
by the Prefect's perspicacity, "is sufficient reason why I
should try to imitate your Majesty's clemency: I therefore
constitute myself their advocate, and ask that their names
be taken off the lists."
"They will be less dangerous to you reintegrated than
as emigres," observed Fouch^," scrutinizing Malin's face,
"for they will be sworn to support the constitution of the
Empire and obey the laws."
"In what respect are they a menace to the Senator?"
Talleyrand conversed for some time with the Emperor
in. an undertone. It seemed as if all obstacles were re-
moved, and that the petition of the Simeuses and d'Haute-
serres would be granted.
"Sire," said Fouche, "you may hear from those gentle-
men again some day."
Talleyrand, at the solicitation of the Due de Grrandlieu,
speaking in behalf of the young gentlemen, had given their
"word of honor as a gentleman" — a locution that always
had a particularly imposing effect upon Napoleon — that
their submission was made in good faith, without equivo-
cation or mental reservation, and that they would never
undertake anything against the Emperor.
"MM. d'Hauteserre and de Simeuse, after recent occur-
rences, do not care to bear arms longer against their coun-
try. They are not exactly in sympathy with the imperial
government, and are of that order of men whom your
Majesty will do well to propitiate; but they will be con-
138 BALZAC'S WORKS
tent to live on French soil and obey the laws," said the
And he took out and handed to the Emperor for his
perusal a letter that he had received, the tenor of which
confirmed his spoken words.
"Where there is so much frankness there cannot be in-
sincerity," said the Emperor, glancing at Cambacer^s and
Lebrun. Then, turning to Fouche, "Do^^ou still object?"
"In your Majesty's interest," replied the future Minister
of Police, "I request to be allowed to notify the gentlemen
of their reinstatement, when it shall be definitively accorded, ' '
he added, emphasizing his concluding words.
"Be it so," said Napoleon, observing the troubled ex-
pression of Fouche's countenance.
The little council came to an end, apparently without
the subject of discussion having been decided; but it re-
sulted in planting in Napoleon's mind a germ of distrust
as to the four gentlemen. M. d'Hauteserre, who was as-
sured of their success, had written home a letter in which
he announced the joyful tidings. The inmates of Cinq-
Cygne were not greatly surprised, therefore, when, a few
days later, Goulard appeared and informed Laurence and
Mme. d'Hauteserre that they were to send the four gentle-
men to Troyes, where the prefect, after they should have
taken the oath of adhesion and fidelity to the Empire and
the laws, would deliver to them the decree by virtue of
which they would be reinstated in all their rights, privileges
and possessions. Laurence said to the mayor that she would
take steps to notify her cousins and the MM. d'Hauteserre.
"They are not here, then?" queried Goulard.
Mme. d'Hauteserre looked anxiously at the young lady,
who presently left the room to go and confer with Michu.
Michu could see no impediment to immediately releasing
the 6migr^s from durance. Laurence, Michu, his son, and
Gothard accordingly set out for the forest on horseback,
taking with them a led horse, for the Comtesse was to ride
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 139
with the four gentlemen to Troyes and return with them.
All the servants who were so lucky as to hear the glorious
news assembled on the lawn to witness the departure of the
joyous cavalcade. The four young men came forth from
their dungeon, got on their horses unseen by any prying
eye, and took the road for Troyes, accompanied by Mile.
de Cinq-Cygne. Michu, assisted by Gothard and his son,
replaced the stones over the entrance of the vault, and the
three of them returned on foot. They had not gone a great
way, however, before Michu remembered that he had not
brought away the silver table utensils that his masters had
been using; he went back alone to secure them. He was
near the bank of the pond when he heard voices in the
crypt, and made directly for the entrance, pushing his way
through the underbrush.
"I suppose you've come back to get your silverware?"
It was Peyrade who spoke, smiling on him amiably, his big
red nose gleaming through the foliage.
Without knowing why, for the young men were out of
danger, Michu felt as if each and every joint in his body was
racked and twisted by unendurable pain, so vivid in him at
that moment was that vague, inexplicable sensation of dread
that is inspired by the premonition of approaching disaster.
None the less, however, he continued to press on, and on the
steps encountered Corentin, carrying a candle in his hand.
"There is nothing mean about us," said he to Michu;
"we might have pinched your ci-devants a week ago, but we
knew they were in process of purging themselves of their
sins. You are a tough customer! but you surely won't ob-
ject to our satisfying our curiosity a bit, after all the trouble
and worry you have caused us."
"I wouldn't mind paying something handsome," Michu
exclaimed, "to find out how and by whom we were sold out
the way we were."
"If that is what is bothering you, my boy," Peyrade
replied with a smile, "look at your horses' shoes; you will
see that it was you who gave yourselves away."
140 BALZAC'S WORKS
"No offence, I hope," said Corentin, motioning to the
captain of gendarmerie to bring up the horses.
"I see how it was!" cried Michu. "That miserable Pari-
sian farrier, who used to shoe the horses so scientifically in
English style, and is no longer in Cinq-Cygne, was in league
with them ! All they had to do was to wait for a rainy day,
and then, when the roads were soft, send oat their spies in
the disguise of woodcutters or poachers to follow our trail,
easily recognizable by the horses' distinctive toe-calks. We
Michu comforted himself with the reflection that the dis-
covery of the hiding-place was no longer a source of danger,
now that the gentlemen had regained their freedom and were
Freuch citizens once more. And yet, he had abundant
reason for his presentiments, if he had but known it. The
police have this virtue in common with the Jesuits — they
never lose sight either of a friend or of an enemy.
Old M. d'Hauteserre returned from Paris, and was con-
siderably surprised that he was not the first to communicate
the joyful tidings. Durieu prepared the most appetizing of
dinners. The servants dressed themselves in their best, and
all hands impatiently awaited the arrival of the prodigals,