allow them to compromise themselves, and in that manner
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 43
rid myself of them, or give them my protection on the sly.
I asked for subalterns and am sent a pair of first-class lynxes,
and they had to come by way of Troyes in order to gain over
"You know the proverb, 'A bird in the hand is worth
two in the bush.' — Grondreville is the Tiens^ the conspiracy
is the Tu auras,' ^ said Grevin. "Neither Fouche nor Tal-
leyrand, your two partners, are in the plot. Deal frankly
with them. What! with all those who cut off King Louis
XVI. 's head occupying places under government, with
France full of men who have purchased national prop-
erty, would you help to bring back those who will move
heaven and earth to compel you to give up Gondreville ?
Unless they are imbeciles, the Bourbons will pass the
sponge over everything we have done. Notify Bona-
parte. ' '
"A man of my rank is not a tale-bearer," said Malin,
"Your rank?" exclaimed Grevin with a smile.
"I am offered the seals."
"Ah, 1 understand your perplexity; it is for me, I sup-
pose, to pierce the obscurity of these political fog-banks and
find a safe door of exit. It is impossible to foretell what
events may operate to bring back the Bourbons when a
General Bonaparte has eighty warships and four hundred
thousand men. The great difficulty, in prognosticating the
course of political events, is to know to a certainty when
a power, already tottering, will fall; but Bonaparte's, my
dear fellow, is still in the ascending period. May it not
be that Fouche, wishing to get rid of you, has sent his
emissaries to pump you and learn your secret thoughts?"
"No, I can trust the ambassador. Besides, Fouche
would never have sent me two monkeys such as those,
who, knowing them as well as I do, couldn't fail to
arouse my suspicions."
"I don't like the looks of the business," said Grevin.
"Why should Fouch^, unless he is beginning to mistrust
44 BALZAC'S WORKS
you and wants to test you, have sent those two particular
men down here ? Fouche is not the sort of man to indulge
in a 'Whimsey of that description without there being some
motive for it."
"That settles it!" exclaimed Malin; "those Siraeuses
will never let me be at peace. Perhaps Fouch^, who knows
my position, does not wish to miss them, and thinks through
their means to reach the Condes."
"Eh! my old friend, it won't be in Bonaparte's time that
anybody will think of disturbing the proprietor of Gondre-
Malin, chancing to raise his eyes, was just in time to
catch sight of the glint of a musket-barrel through the
dense foliage of a great linden.
"I wasn't mistaken; I knew I heard some rascal cocking
a firearm," said he to Grrevin, sheltering himself behind the
trunk of a great tree, where the notary promptly joined him,
alarmed by the precipitate movement of his friend.
"It is Michu," said Gr^vin, "I see his red beard."
"Don't let on that you are frightened," Malin continued,
walking slowly away and repeating more than once, "Wbat
can the man have against the purchasers of this property ?
For it certainly was not you at whom that villanous gun
was pointed. If he heard what we said it won't be so well
for him! We should have done better to hold our confer-
ence in the open, but who the devil would have thought
of distrusting the air around us!"
"There is always something to learn," replied the notary,
"but he was a long distance away, and our conversation was
carried on in a low tone."
"I shall mention the matter to Corentin," said Malin.
Not many moments after this Mich a re-entered his house,
pale as a sheet and deeply agitated.
"What ails you?" inquired his wife in ajffright.
*' Nothing," he replied, and perceiving Violette, he started
as he might have done at a clap of thunder.
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 45
Michu drew up a chair and seated himself tranquilly be-
fore the fire, into which he threw a letter that he took from
one of those tubular tin boxes which soldiers use as a re'cep-
tacle for their papers. This action, seeing which Marthe
breathed like one from whose mind a great load has been re-
moved, greatly puzzled Violette. The foreman stood his rifle in
the jamb of the chimney-piece with perfect unconcern. Mari-
anne and Marthe's mother were spinning by the light of a lamp.
"Come, Fran9ois," said the father, "it's time to go to
bed. Do you hear me, sir? Come along."
He seized the lad, none too gently, around the middle
and lugged him away.
"Go down to the cellar," he commanded in a whisper
when they were outside in the hallway, "take two bottles
of Macon wine, pour out a third of their contents, and fill
them up with the old Cognac that you'll find in bottles on
the shelf; then doctor a bottle of white wine in the same
manner, only making the proportions half and half. Make
a neat job of it, and place the three bottles on the empty
cask beside the cellar door. When I throw up the window
leave the cellar, go to the barn, saddle my horse, get on
him, proceed to the Poteau-des-Gueux, and there await my
coming. — The young rascal, he never wants to go to bed,"
said the foreman on his return to the sitting-room. "He
wants to know all, to see and hear everything that's going
on, just like grown people. You'll be the ruination of my
family, P^re Violette."
''Bo7i Dieuf Boil JJieu!'" cried Violette, "what can
have happened to start your tongue going at that rate ?
'I never knew you to make such a long speech."
"Do you think it's my way to let people spy on my
actions, going and coming and poking their nose into my
concerns, and never take notice of it ? I tell you the way
you have chosen is not the best way for you, Monsieur
Violette. If you were with me, now, instead of being with
those who are against me, I would do better by you than
renew that lease."
46 BALZAC'S WORKS
"What would you do? Come, let's hear," asked the
grasping peasant, pricking up his ears.
"I would sell you my property at a bargain."
"It isn't a bargain when a body has to pay," Violette
"I am thinking of leaving the country, and will let you
have my farm of Mousseau, buildings, crops and stock,
everything as it stands, for fifty thousand francs."
"How does that strike you?"
"I'll have to take time to think about it."
"Suppose we talk the matter over. But I shall want
something to bind the bargain."
"I have nothing."
"Tell me who sent you here."
"I was returning from the place where I had business
and wished to pass the time of day with you."
"Heturning without your horse! Do you take me for
a fool? You are lying to me, you shan't have my farm."
"Well, then, it was M. Grr^vin, if you must know! He
said to me, 'Violette, Michu is needed here, go and fetch
him. If he is not at home wait for him.' I understood that
I was to remain here — "
"The sharpers from Paris, were they still at the cha-
"I wouldn't swear to it, but there was company in the
"You shall have my farm, we will settle on the terms.
Wife, go and bring the wine to wet the contract with.
Fetch us the wine of Rousillon, the best there is, the wine
of the ex-Marquis. We are not boys. You will find two
bottles of it, and a bottle of white, on the empty cask beside
"It's a go!" said Violette, who was never known to be
intoxicated; "let's drink!"
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 47
"You have fifty thousand francs concealed under the
floor of your chamber beside the bed; you will make 'em
over to me fifteen days after the signing of the contract in
Violette looked at Michu with a fixed, helpless stare and
became deathly pale.
"Ah! you come peeping and prying into the affairs of
an old Jacobin who has had the honor of presiding over the
club of Arcis, and think he won't get onto you, do you?
I am not blind, I'd have you know; I saw the fresh mortar
where you had relaid the bricks, and didn't suppose that
you took them up for the purpose of raising a crop of wheat
in your bedroom. — Drink."
Violette, in his confusion, tossed off a great glass of wine
without being conscious of its taste or quality; terror had
transfixed him as with a rod of red-hot iron, the brandy was
less potent than his avarice; he would have given anything
could he have returned home and bestowed his treasure in
another hiding-place. The three women looked at him and
"How do you like the wine?" Michu asked as he refilled
the peasant's glass.
"You will be a landowner, you lucky dog!"
After a half-hour of animated discussion over the time of
yielding possession and the thousand and one other trivial,
irrelevant questions of detail without which no peasant ever
thinks of concluding a bargain, amid stout assertions, and
fierce denials, glasses drained and replenished, cautious
promises, assurances of good faith, and endless assevera-
tions such as, "True, ain't it? — God's truth! — My last
word! — As I was saying! — Strike me dead if — Hope this
glass of wine may poison me if what I say isn't the exact
truth!" — amid all this farrago Violette fell forward, head
first, on the table, not dead nor simply drunk, but dead
drunk. Michu looked into his eyes, and seeing them filled
with vacancy ran and threw open the window.
48 BALZAO'S WORKS
"Where is that young scamp Gaucher?" he asked his
"Do you, Marianne," the foreman enjoined on his faith-
ful maid of all work, "go and sit by his door and keep an
eye on him. Do you, mother," said he, "remain down-
stairs and mount guard over this dirty spy; have your
wits about you, and let no one in who knocks unless it
be FranQois. It is a case of life or death with me," he
added in a deep, hollow voice. "You must all be pre-
pared to make oath, every one of you beneath my roof,
that I have not left the house this night; you must adhere
to that with your last breath, with your head upon the
block. — Come, mother," said he speaking to his wife, "go
get your hood and shawl, put on your shoes, and we will be
off! No questions, I shall go with you."
For the better part of the last hour this man had exhib-
ited in his looks and gestures a despotic, irresistible author-
ity, derived from that common and mysterious source whence
great men derive their extraordinary powers in moments of
emergency: the great general animating his battalions to
heroic deeds upon the battlefield, the great orator swaying
the masses and carrying them, nolens volens^ along with
him from the hustings or the pulpit, and — we may as well
acknowledge it — the great criminal in his audacious and
desperate enterprises. It would almost seem as if it were
by virtue of some supernatural influence, some unex-
plained, invisible effluence projected through space, that
a man is thus enabled to infuse his personality into the
minds and persons of his fellow men, compelling them to
do his will, subjugating them, making them for the time
his thralls. The three women felt instinctively that some
terrible crisis was impending; they had a vague presenti-
ment of something hanging over them in the swift, de-
termined actions of the master, whose face shone, whose
forehead was eloquent, whose eyes were bright as stars;
they had seen his brow wet with great beads of sweat,
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 49
more than once his voice had rung out, imperiously, vi-
brant with rage and impatience. Marthe, therefore, obeyed
him without questioning. Armed to the teeth, his rifle on
his shoulder, Michu strode swiftly down the avenue, and soon
they came to the open space where Fran9ois lay hid among
the furze and bracken.
"The youngster is no fool," Michu observed when he
caught sight of liim.
That was his first utterance. His wife and he had run
so fast that there had been no opportunity for conversation.
"Eeturn to the pavilion, hide in the leafiest tree you can
find, and observe the park, the country roundabout," he
said to his son. "We are all abed and asleep, remember;
the door is to be opened to no one. Your grandmother is
keeping watch, and will not stir until she hears your voice.
Remember my injunctions and obey them to the letter. Your
father's and mother's life is in your keeping. The authorities
must never know that we were away from home to-night!"
After these words spoken in the ear of his son, who glided
away through the thicket with the speed and silence of an eel
through its bed of slime, Michu turned to his wife and said:
"Get up here! and put up a prayer to God for His as-
sistance. Keep tight hold of me, the horse is liable to
Scarcely had these words passed his lips when the
horse, into whose flanks Michu twice dug his heels and
whose shoulders he held compressed in the vise-like grip
of his powerful thighs, sprang forward with the speed of a
racer; the animal seemed to divine his master's wishes; in
a quarter of an hour the forest was behind them. Michu,
who had pursued the directest route without once deviating
from it in spite of the impenetrable darkness, stood on a pro-
jecting point at the edge of the wood whence the turrets
and gables of the chateau of Cinq-Cygne were visible in
the moonlight. He tied his horse to a tree, and with sure
swift steps climbed an eminence that commanded a view of
the valley of Cinq-Cygne.
(O— Vol. 17
60 BALZAC'S WORKS
The chateau, that Marthe and Michu stood contemplating
for a moment, is a charmingly effective adjunct to the land-
scape. Although nothing to boast of either in respect of size
or architecturally, it is not devoid of a certain archeological
interest. This old fifteenth-century edifice, seated on an emi-
nence and surrounded by wide, deep moats still filled with
water, is built of mortar and rubble-stone, but its walls are
seven feet thick. In its stern simplicity it serves admirably
to illustrate the life, so rude and full of strife and yet so
picturesque, of the days of feudalism. The chateau, art-
less and unpretending in appearance, consists of two huge,
square, dull red towers, with between them a long stretch of
buildings pierced with veritable croisees — great windows of
which the panes are set, instead of in the wooden sashes
of the present day, in a delicate tracery of solid stone carved
to resemble the convolutions of a grape-vine. The staircase,
placed in a pentagonal tower with a small ogival door, is out-
side the main structure, in the centre of the fagade. Above
the rez-de-chauss^e, the interior of which was renovated in
the time of Louis XIV., and the first story tower lofty
roofs pierced with a multitude of windows adorned with
sculptured tympana. In front of the chateau stretches a
spacious lawn, off which the trees were felled not very long
ago. On either side of the main entrance are two small
houses that serve as dwellings for the gardeners, separated
by a tasteless, insignificant grille, evidently of modern origin.
To right and left of the lawn, which is bisected by a paved
causeway, extend the stables, cowsheds, granaries, bakery,
brewhouse, woodshed, poultry-yard, and other outbuild-
ings, doubtless erected on ground once occupied by two
wings of dimensions and appearance similar to the cha-
teau of the present day. In ancient times, probably, the
castle was rectangular in form and covered a much larger
extent of ground; it was bastioned at the four corners with
turrets en poivriere for archers and javelin men, its central
front was protected by a huge tower, a grim, squat, frown-
ing pile of masonry in the base of which was a low-arched,
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 61
forbidding-looking gateway, and visitors in those days, if
thej were so fortunate as to find the drawbridge lowered
that spanned the moat, were confronted, not by a flimsy
gate of ornamental ironwork, but by a serviceable port-
cullis. The two great towers, the conical pointed roofa
of which still remained intact, and the central clock-turret,
lent an air of picturesque dignity to the village. The
church, likewise a structure of great antiquity, reared its
tapering spire at a few yards' distance, and harmonized
perfectly with the masses of the castle. The moon
brought out in high relief all the quaint gables, pin-
nacles and pepper- box roofs, which appeared to be bath-
ing in a sea of mellow light. Michu contemplated the old
seigniorial mansion in a manner calculated to effect a revolu-
tion in the feelings of his wife, for his face, from which the
angry passions had departed, displayed a softened expres-
sion in which were hope and something akin to pride. He
bent his ear to catch the sounds that rose from the slumber-
ing fields, his gaze scanned intently every quarter of the
horizon; the hour was about nine, the moon was shedding
floods of light upon the margin of the forest and, in par-
ticular, the eminence on which he stood was brilliantly il-
luminated. His position doubtless appeared undesirable to
the foreman; he left it and made his way down to level
ground, like one not wishing to be seen. In all the beau-
teous valley, however, inclosed on this side by the forest
of Nodesme, no sound was heard calculated to inspire dis-
trust or mar the perfect stillness of the night. Marthe,
exhausted and trembling after her wild ride, was looking
forward to a tragic denouement of some sort. What was
her role to be ? Was she to participate in a good action or
in a crime? At that moment Michu drew up alongside his
wife and spoke in her ear.
"Go and knock at the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne's door,"
said he, "and ask to speak with her. When she appears re-
quest a private interview. Then, when there is no one by
to hear, you will say, 'Mademoiselle, your two cousins are
62 BALZAC'S WORKS
in deadly peril; there is one waiting outside who can ex-
plain to you the why and wherefore.' Should she show
signs of fear or appear disinclined to trust you, you will
add, 'They are mixed up in the conspiracy against the First
Consul, and the conspiracy is discovered.' Don't mention
your name, we are too much objects of suspicion."
Marthe Michu looked her husband in the face and said :
"You would serve them, then?"
He interpreted her question as a reproach. "Well, what
then?" he asked, his brows contracting in a frown.
"You do not understand!" Marthe cried, seizing Michu 's
hand, dropping on her knees before him, and kissing the big
hairy hand that suddenly was wet with tears.
"Hasten! You can do your crying later," said he, giving
her a swift strong embrace.
When the sound of his wife's footsteps was heard no
longer the eyes of this man of iron were dim with tears.
He had distrusted Marthe because of the opinions of her
father, he had kept from her the secrets of his life; but
now the true character of his wife appeared to him in all
its lovely simplicity, as the grandeur of his was suddenly
revealed to her. Marthe passed from the deep humiliation
which results from the disgrace of a man whose name a
woman bears to the celestial ravishment afforded by his
glory; the passage was made at a single bound, without
transition. Is it to be wondered at that she almost swooned
for joy ? Suffering the most cruel anxiety, she had, as she
told him afterward, "walked in blood" from the pavilion to
Cinq-Cygne, and the next moment had felt herself borne up
to heaven on angels' wings. He, who believed himself un-
appreciated, who mistook his wife's reserve and melancholy
for absence of affection, who had shunned her society and ab-
sented himself from the domestic hearth, concentrating all his
tenderness upon their child, had instantaneously had borne
in upon his mind all the hidden meaning of that woman's
tears: she cursed the role that her beauty and a father's will
had forced her to play. Joy, happiness had blazed for them
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 53
out of the centre of the storm with its purest flame, like a
bolt of lightning. Each thought of those ten long years of
misunderstanding, each was desirous to shoulder all the
blame. Michu remained standing, motionless, hands
crossed over the muzzle of his rifle and chin resting
on his hands, lost in profound revery. Such a moment
is compensation for all the pangs of the most cruel past.
Marthe, moved by a multitude of thoughts of the same
nature as her husband's, was heavy-hearted by reason of
the danger that threatened the Simeuses, for she under-
stood everything, even the faces of the two inscrutable
Parisians, but was unable to account for the presence of
that rifle in her husband's possession. She ran with the
speed of a wild fawn, and had reached the road leading to
the chateau when she heard the sound of a man's steps be-
hind her on the road. She gave a cry of alarm, which was
immediately silenced by a heavy hand laid upon her mouth.
The hand was Michu's.
"From my post on the hilltop I made out in the distance
the glitter of the silver embroidery on uniform hats. There
is a gap in the fence between the Tour de Mademoiselle and
the stables; crawl through it and enter the grounds, the dogs
will not molest you. Pass through the garden, summon the
young Comtesse by knocking on her window, have her men
saddle her horse and lead him around to the gap; I will be
there as soon as I shall have discovered what those Parisians
are up to and devised means to escape from them. ' '
This danger, which descended on them like an avalanche,
and against which it behooved them to guard, lent wings to
The Frankish name that is shared in common by the
families of Cinq-Cygne and Chargeboeuf is DuinefiE. Cinq-
Cygne (five swans) became the name of the younger branch
of the Chargeboeuf family as a result of the defence of a
castle conducted, in the absence of their father, by five
daughters of that house, all noteworthy for the fairness of
their complexion, and whom no one would have supposed
64 BALZAC'S WORKS
capable of such conduct. One of the eariy Counts of Cham-
pagne was pleased by that poetical name to perpetuate the
memory of the exploit as long as the family should endure.
After that remarkable feat of arms the daughters of the
house were very proud, but the historians do not aver that
all of them were fair. Laurence, the last of the line, in
opposition to the Salic Law, inherited the family name,
arms and fiefs. The King of France gave his approval to
that patent of the Comte de Champagne by virtue of which
the title and estates are not confined exclusively to direct
heirs male. So Laurence was Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, her
husband would bear her name and assume her blazon, which
had for its device the sublime answer made by the eldest of
the five sisters to the demand for the surrender of the
chateau, "Mourir en chantant!" (I die singing!) A worthy
successor to those fair heroines, Laurence was of a whiteness
that almost defies description. Every smallest reticulation
of her blue veins was visible under the fine and satiny surface
of her epidermis. Her hair, of the most charming imagi-
nable hue of gold, accorded marvellously with her eyes of
deepest azure. All her features, everything pertaining to
her, was in the genre mignon. In her frail body, notwith-
standing her slenderness and her complexion of milky
whiteness, resided a soul fine-tempered as that of a man of
loftiest character, but that no one, no matter how keen an
observer, would have divined the existence of on seeing the
calm, gentle, and at most times rather expressionless face,
whose aquiline and somewhat blunted contours, seen in
profile and in repose, reminded one faintly of the face of
a sheep. This excessive gentleness, notwithstanding its
nobility, appeared at times to verge almost on the stupidity
of the ovine family. "I appear like a sheep in a dream!"
she would sometimes laughingly remark. Laurence, who
had little to say at most times, appeared to be dull of intel-
lect rather than a person of dreams and fancies. Let there
arrive a circumstance that made a call on her energies, how-
ever, forthwith the Judith concealed in the depths beneath
A MOST MYSTERIOUS CASE 55
would stand forth revealed and become sublime, and such
circumstances, unfortunately, had not been absent from her
life. After the events that you know of, Laurence, orphaned
at the age of thirteen, found herself an inmate of a house in
Troyes opposite the site where but yesterday had stood one
of the finest examples of the architecture of the sixteenth
century, the Hotel Cinq-Cygne. M. d'Hauteserre, a rela-
tive and now her guardian, took the young heiress away
with him to the country. This honest country gentleman,