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shadowy shape after another, A\ild, fantastic, started up in
his distracted brain, and he had to let the puppets play, to
satisfy his tormentor. To the question of how the tall,
powerful man looked and how he was dressed, he answered :
* ' Like a gentleman. ' '

And now it was his turn to describe, to vivify the scene
of action. On the large table in Bancal's room there lay,
not the bundle of tobacco for which he had been called, but
a corpse. He tried to flee, but the tall, robust man fol-
lowed him and threatened him with a pistol.

The magistrate shook his head reproachfully. " With
a pistol? " he said. '' Think well, Bousquier, was it not a
gun, perhaps? was it not a double-barreled gun? " "All
right, ' ' reflected Bousquier, infuriated ; " if they are bent
upon a gTin, it may just as well have been a gun." He
nodded as if ashamed, and went on to say that, his life
being thus threatened, he was obliged to remain in Bancal's
chamber and aid and abet him. The dead man was wrapped
in a linen cloth, bound with ropes, and placed upon the
stretcher. The stretcher was constructed, in Bousquier 's
imagination, aided by the turnkey, with the utmost per-
fection. When he was about to describe the funeral train,
however, the tortured man lost consciousness, and when,
late in the evening, he was again conducted to the hear-
ing — rarely did the night and the candle-light in the dreary
room fail of their spectral effects — he unexpectedly denied
everything, cried, screamed, and acted as if completely
bereft of his senses. In order to encourage and calm him.
Monsieur Jausion resorted to a measure as bold as it was
simple ; he said that Bach and Colard had likewise made a
confession, and it was gratifying that their declarations
coincided with those of Bousquier; if he comported him-


self sensibly now, he would soon be allowed to leave the

Bousquier was startled. The longer he reflected, the more
profoundly was he impressed by what he had heard. His
face blanched and he grew cold all over. It was as if a dis-
ordered dream were suddenly turned into a waking reality,
or as if a person in a state of semi-intoxication, recounting
the fictitious story of some misfortune and becoming more
and more enmeshed in a web of falsehoods with every new
detail, suddenly learned that everything had actually taken
place as he had related. A peculiar depression took pos-
session of him, he had a horror of the solitude of his cell,
a dread of sleep.

All Rodez had listened to Bousquier 's statements with
feverish avidity. Finally the form of the stranger with
the double-barreled gTin obtained distinctness and tangi-
bility. That he had the air of a gentleman spurred the
rage of the people, and the Legitimist party, which was
composed in great part of the rich and the aristocracy,
began to tremble. It was probably among them that a per-
son was first mentioned whose name ran, first cautiously,
then boldly, then accusingly, from mouth to mouth, and
over whose head a thunder-cloud, born of a wreath of mist,
hung arrested, quivering with lightning. It was well known
that Bastide Grammont, the tenant of La Morne, in spite
of his relationship to the lawyer Fualdes, lived in a state
of animosity, or at least of the oppressive dependence of
a debtor, with the old man. Every one knew, or thought
he knew, that stormy scenes had often taken place between
uncle and nephew. Was not that enough? Moreover,
Bastide 's domineering temperament and harsh nature, the
sudden sale of La Morne, and a well connected chain of
little suspicious signs — who still dared to doubt?

The unwearied architect who was at work somewhere
there, in the earth below or the air above, took care that
the circle of ruin should be complete, and enlisted associates
with malicious pleasure in every street, among high and


low. In the forenoon of the nineteenth of March, Fualdes
and Grammont were walking up and down the promenade
of Rodez. A woman who dealt in second-hand things had
heard the young fellow say to the old man : ' * This evening,
then, at eight o 'clock. ' ' A mason who was shoveling sand
for a new building had heard Monsieur Fualdes exclaim:
*' You will keep your word, then? '^ Whereupon Gram-
mont replied : ' ' Set your mind at rest, this evening I shall
settle my account with you. ' ' The music-teacher Lacombe
remembered distinctly how Bastide, with a wrathful coun-
tenance, had called to the old man: '' You drive me to
extremity." The idle talk of a chatterbox gained, in the
buzz of hearsay, the same importance as well established
observations, and what had been said before and after was
blended and combined with audacious arbitrariness. Thus,
Professor Vignet, one of the heads of the Royalists, alleged
that he had gone into a fruit store about seven in the even-
ing, shortly before the murder, and met one of his col-
leagues there. He related that he had seen Bastide Gram-
mont, who was walking rather rapidly on passing him.
He declared that he exclaimed: ''Don't you find that
Grammont has an uncanny face? " To which the other
answered affirmatively and said that one must be on one's
guard against him. Witnesses came forward who con-
firmed this conversation. Witnesses came forward who
claimed to have seen Bastide in front of the Bancal house ;
he had emitted a shrill whistle a number of times and then
dodged into the shadow.

Bastide Grammont had lived at La Mome for five years.
He was perhaps the only man in the entire district who
never concerned himself about politics, and kept aloof from
all party activity, and this proud independence exposed him
to the ill will, nay, the hatred, of his fellow-citizens. When
upon one occasion a demonstration in favor of the Bourbons
was to take place in Rodez, and the streets were filled with
an excited crowd, he rode with grave coolness on his dapple-
gray horse through the inflamed throng and returned the


wild, angry glances directed at him with a supercilious

It was related of him that he had wasted his youth and
a considerable fortune in Paris, and had returned home
from there sick and tired of mankind. His mode of life
pointed to a love of the singular. In former years a learned
father from the neighboring Benedictine abbey had often
been his guest ; it seemed as if the quiet student of human
nature took a secret pleasure in the unbridled spirit and the
pagan fervor of Nature-worship of the hermit, Bastide ; but
when he forcibly abducted a seamstress, pretty Charlotte
Arlabosse, from Alby, and lived with her in unlawful union,
the Benedictine, in obedience to the command of his supe-
riors, was obliged to break off the intercourse. Thence-
forth, Bastide renounced all intimate human contact. He
had no friend; he wished for none. He secluded himself
with disdainful pride ; the sight of a new face turned his
distant and cold ; people in society he treated with insult-
ing indifference. Perhaps it was only from a fear of dis-
appointment that he harshly withstood even the most
friendly advances, for there lay at times a vague yearning
for love in the depths of his eyes. To grow hard because
unfulfilled claims afflict and darken the soul, to retire into
solitude because overweening pride shuns to lay bare the
glowing heart, to be unjust from a feeling of shame and
misunderstood defiance — that was perhaps his lot, and
certainly his shortcoming.

For days at a time he would roam about with his dogs
in the valleys of the Cevennes. He gathered stones, mush-
rooms, flowers, caught birds and snakes, hunted, sang, and
fished. If something went wrong and his blood was up,
he mounted the fieriest horse in his stable and rode over the
most dangerous paths across the rocks, to Rieux. In win-
ter, in the early cold hours, he was seen bathing in the
river; in sultry summer nights he lay naked and feverish
under the open sky. He declared then that he saw the stars
dance and the earth tremble. At vintage time he was, with-


out ever drinking, as if intoxicated ; he organized festivals
with music and torch-light processions, and was the patron
of all the love-affairs among the workers in the vineyards.
In case of long-continued bad weather he grew pale, lan-
guid, and supersensitive, lost sleep and appetite, and was
subject to sudden fits of rage which were the dread of his
servants ; on one such occasion he cut down half a dozen of
the grandest trees in the garden, which, as everybody knew,
he loved as passionately as if they were his brothers.

That with such an irregular management the income of
the estate diminished year by year, astonished no one but
himself. He fell into debt, but to speak or think about it
caused him the greatest annoyance, and his resource against
it was a regular participation in various lotteries, to whose
dates of payment he always looked forward with childish

■w* w 'Jp ^ ^ 9F gp qp ^ qp

When the court, in compliance with the opinion and accu-
sation of the people, which could not be ignored, ordered
Bastide's arrest, he already knew the forces at work against
him. He was sitting under a huge plane-tree, occupied
with some w^ood-carving, when the constables appeared in
the yard. Charlotte Arlabosse rushed up to him and
seized his arm, but he shook her off, saying: " Let them
have their way, the abscess has been ripe a long time."
Stepping forward to meet the gendarmes with satirical
pomposity, he cried: "Your servant, gentlemen."

The occupants of La Morne were subjected to a rigorous
examination. According to Bastide's own statement, he
had ridden to Rodez on the afternoon of the nineteenth of
March; at seven in the evening he was already with his
sister in the village of Gros ; there he remained over night,
returned in the morning to La Morne, then upon the news
of his uncle's death, ho had ridden to Rodez once more and
spent about half an hour in Fualdes' house. His sister
confirmed his statement that he had passed the night in her
house, and added that he had been particularly cheerful


and amiable. The maid, too, who had waited on him and
prepared his bed, declared that he had retired at ten o 'clock.
As to the domestics at La Morne, they babbled of one thing
and another. In order to say something and not stand
there like simpletons or accomplices, they involved them-
selves in speeches of significant obscurity; thus one of the
servants remarked that if the master's gray mare could
but speak he could tell of some hard riding that night. The
maids spoke incoherently or shed tears; Charlotte Arla-
bosse even fled, but w^as captured in the vineyards and
incarcerated in the town prison.

These occurrences were by no means concealed from
Bousquier and his associates; nay, insignificant details
were emphatically dwelt upon, in order to give them a
sense of security and assist their memory. It was the
smuggler Bach, in particular — who, with the Bancal couple,
could not at first be induced to make a statement — that the
police magistrate had in view. He had terrified judges
and keepers by his violent paroxysms of rage, and, to
punish and subdue him, had been put in chains. Uncon-
scious of it himself, this man suffered from a fierce longing
for freedom, for he was the model of a roving vagabond
and tramp. One night when he had attempted to strangle
himself. Monsieur Jausion acquainted him with the con-
fession of his comrade, Bousquier, and admonished him too
to abandon his fruitless stubbornness. Thereupon the
demeanor of the man changed at once ; he became cheerful
and communicative, and, grinning maliciously, said: *'A11
right, if Bousquier knows much, I know still more. ' ' And
in fact, he did know more. He was a stammerer and took
advantage of this defect to gain time for reflection when
his imagination halted, and every time he strayed into the
regions of the fabulous the keen-witted Monsieur Jausion
led him gently back to the path of reality.

This was his story: Wlien he entered the room with
Bousquier, lawyer Fualdes was seated at the table, and was
made to sign papers. The tall, powerful man, Bastide


Grammont, of course — no doubt it was Grammont; Bach
in this relied upon the information of the magistrate and
upon glib Rumor — stuck the signed papers in his pocket-
book. In the meanwhile Madame Bancal cooked a supper,
chicken with vegetables, and veal with rice; an important
detail, indicating the cold-bloodedness of the murderers.
■Shortly before eight o 'clock two drummers came in, but the
face of the host or of the strange gentleman displeased
them; they thought they were in the way and left, where-
upon the gate was locked. But there was a knocking sev-
eral times after that; the preconcerted signal was three
rapid knocks with the fist, and one after the other there
entered the soldier Colard with his sweetheart, the hump-
backed Missonier, an aristocratic looking veiled lady with
green feathers in her hat, and a tobacco-dealer in a blue
coat. The hat with the green feathers was a special proof
of Bach's powers of invention, and stood out with pictur-
esque verisimilitude against the blue-coated tobacconist.

At half past eight Madame Bancal went up to the attic
to put her daughter Madeleine to bed, and now Bastide
Grammont explained to the old man that he must die. The
imploring supplications of the victim resulted only in the
powerful Bastide seizing him, and, in spite of his violent
resistance, laying him on the table, from w^hich Bancal
hastily removed two loaves of bread which some one had
brought along. Fualdes begged pitifully that he might be
given time to reconcile himself with God, but Bastide Gram-
mont replied gruffly: '^ Reconcile yourself with the devil."

Here M. Jausion interrupted the relation, and inquired
whether a hand-organ had not perchance at that moment
commenced to play in front of the house. Bach eagerly
confirmed the supposition, and continued his report, w^hich
now wrought up the narrator himself to a pitch of excite-
ment and horror: Colard and Bancal held the old man's
legs, while the tobacconist and his sweetheart seized his
head and arms. A gentleman with a wooden leg and a
three-cornered hat held a candle high in the air. There

Vol. XX — 2


was something weird about the emergence of this new
figure ; if it stood for nothing more than a finishing touch
to the horror of that night of murder, it fulfilled its aim to
perfection. The wooden-legged man uplifting the candle
was like an impious spirit from the nether world, and it
was not necessary to dwell upon the narrow chin, the sneer-
ing mouth, the spectral eye.

With a broad knife Bastide Grammont gave the old man
a stab; Fualdes, by a superhuman effort, succeeded in
breaking loose; he sprang up and ran, already mortally
wounded, through the room ; Bastide Gramxmont, pursuing,
seized hold of him, threw him again on the table, the table
rocked, one leg broke ; now the dying man was placed upon
two benches rapidly moved close to each other, and Bastide
Grammont thrust the knife into his throat. With the last
groan of the old man, Bancal came and his wife caught up
the flowing blood in an earthen pot; the part that ran on
the floor was scrubbed up by the women. In the pockets
of the murdered man a five franc piece and several sous
w^ere found. Bastide Grammont threw the money into the
apron of the Bancal woman, saying: " Take it! We are
not killing him for his money." A key, too, was found;
that Bastide kept. Madame Bancal had a hankering for
the fine shirt of the dead man, and remarked covetously
that it looked like a chorister's shirt; she was diverted
from her desire, however, on being presented with an
amethyst ring on Fualdes' finger. This ring was taken
away the following day by a stranger for a consideration
of ten francs.

When Bach 's recital with all its circumstantiality and its
simulated completeness of strange and illuminating details
became known, there lacked but little to hailing the imagina-
tive scamp as a deliverer. Indignation fed belief, and
criticism seemed treason. The public, the witnesses, the
judges, the authorities, all believed in the deed and all
began to join in invention. Bach and Bousquier, who were
confronted with each other, quarreled and called each other


liars ; one claimed that lie had gone into the Bancal house
before, the other after, the murder; one declared that he
had assisted in the deed, the other that he had only lifted
the body, which was wrapped in a sheet and bound with
ropes. The half-witted Missonnier designated still another
batch of persons whom he had seen in the Bancal house,
two notaries from Alby and a cook. In Rose Feral 's
tavern, where all sorts of shady characters congregated,
and old warlike exploits and thieveries were the subjects
of discussion, on the night of the murder the talk fell upon
the pillaging of a house, the property of a Liberal. This
report was designed to heighten the apprehension of the
quiet citizens, and that afterward all the conspirators, even
well-to-do people, met in BancaPs house gave no cause for
astonishment. Everything harmonized in the intricate,
devilish plot ; in the clothes of the dead Fualdes no money,
on his fingers no ring, had been found ; Grammont had the
bailiff in his house as late as the seventeenth of March, and
this circumstance, singled out at an opportune moment
from the quagmire of lies, inspired security. Bastide was
hopelessly entangled. The prisoners were thrown into a
panic by the palpable agitation of the people; each one
appeared guilty in the other's eyes, each one was ready to
admit anything that was desired concerning the other, in
order to exonerate himself; they were ignorant of their
fate, they lost all sense of the meaning of words, they were
no longer conscious of themselves, their bodies, their souls ;
they felt themselves encompassed by invisible clasps, and
each sought to free himself on his own account, without
knowing what he had actually done or failed to do. Every
day new arrests were made, no traveler passing through
was sure of his freedom, and after a few weeks half of
France was seized wdth the intoxication of rage, a craving
for revenge, and fear. Of the figures of the ludicrously-
gruesome murder imbroglio, now this, now that one emerged
with greater distinctness and reality, and the one that stood
out finally as the most important, because her name was


constantly brought forward, was the veiled lady with the
green feather in her hat; nay, she gradually became the
centre and impelling power of the bloody deed, perhaps
only because her origin and existence remained a mystery.
Many raised their voices in suspicion against Charlotte
Arlabosse, but she was able to establish her innocence by
well-nigh unassailable testimony; besides, she appeared too
harmless and too much like a victim of Bastide's tyrannical
cruelty, to answer to the demoniacal picture of the mys-
terious unknown.

While Bach and Bousquier, in a rivalry which hastened
their own ruin, tempted the authorities to clemency by ever
new inventions, and, encouraged by the gossip which filtered
through to them by subterranean channels, disturbed fur-
ther the already troubled waters ; while the soldier Colard
and the Bancal couple, owing to the rigorous confinement,
the harsh treatment of the keepers, and the excruciating
hearings, were thrown into paroxysms of insanity, so that
they reported things which even Jausion, used as he was
to extravagance, had to characterize as the mere phantoms
of a dream; while the other prisoners, steering unsteadily
between their actual experiences and morbid visions, con-
stantly suspected each other, and retracted today what they
had sworn to yesterday, now whined for mercy, now main-
tained a defiant silence; while the inhabitants of .the city,
the villages, the whole province, demanded the termination
of the long-winded procedure and the punishment of the
evil-doers, with a fanaticism whose fire was tended and fed
by mysterious agents ; while, finally, the court, in the uncon-
trollably increasing flood of accusations and calumnies, lost
its sense of direction, and was gradually becoming a tool
in the hands of the populace; — in the meanwhile the
boundless forces at work succeeded in poisoning the mind
of a child, who appeared as a witness against father and
mother, and led the deluded people to believe that God him-
self had by a miracle loosened the tongue of an infant.

At the outset the eleven-year-old Madeleine Bancal had



been questioned by the police magistrate ; she knew nothing.
Subsequently the child came to the tavern, and at once
people came forward who had heard from others, who
again had heard from third or fourth parties, that the girl
had seen the old man laid upon the table and her mother
receiving money. Of course it was ascertained by Counselor
Pinaud, the only man who retained clarity and judg-
ment in the wild confusion, that Madeleine had taken pres-
ents from the managers of the tavern, as well as from other
people; but it was too late by that time to discover and
extirpate the root of the lie. She was persuaded ever more
firmly into a belief of her first statement, and the recital
kept expanding the greater the attention paid her, the more
her vanity was flattered, until she believed she had really
witnessed all that she related, and she experienced a feel-
ing of satisfaction in the sympathy and pity of the grown
people. Her mother had taken her to the attic, so she
reported, but fearing the cold, she had stealthily crept
downstairs and hidden herself in the bed in the alcove.
Through a hole in the curtain she could see and hear every-
thing. When the old man was about to be stabbed, the
lady with the green feather ran terrified into the room
and attempted to escape through the window. Bastide
Grammont dragged her forth and wanted to kill her. Ban-
cal and Colard begged him to spare her, and she had to
swear an awful oath which pledged her to silence. A little
later, Grammont, whose suspicions were not silenced, ex-
amined the bed also. Madeleine pretended to be asleep.
He felt her twice, and then said to the mother that she must
attend to getting rid of the child, which Madame Bancal
promised to do for a sum of four hundred francs. The next
morning the mother sent the child to the field, where the
father had just dug a deep hole. She thought her father
meant to throw her in, but he embraced her, weeping, and
admonished her to be good.

Even if people had been ready to doubt every other testi-
mony, the report of the child passed as irrefutable, and


no one concerned himself as to how it had been concocted,
how the ignorant young thing had been courted, bribed,
how she had been intoxicated by fondling, applause, or, it
may be, even by fear. She was dragged from her sleep
at night, in order to take advantage of her bewilderment;
every new fancy Avas welcomed, the girl thought she was
doing something remarkable, and played her part with
increasing readiness. In such wise she molded out of
nothing things which were calculated to throw a singularly
realistic light upon the fevered image of the fateful night ;
for instance, how the mother had cut bread with the same
knife with which the old gentleman had been stabbed, and
how Madeleine had refused the bread, because it made her
shudder ; or how the blood, caught up in the pan, had been
given to one of the pigs to drink, and how the animal had
become wild in consequence, and had rushed, screaming
madly, through the yard.

Bastide Grammont bore hearing after hearing with a cold
placidity. His frigidly haughty dignity, his mocking smile,
the mute shrug of his shoulders, caused Monsieur Jausion
frequent annoyance. But there were times when, carried
away by impatience, he interrupted the judge outright, and
attacked, boldly and eloquently, the frail yet indestructible
structure of the evidence.

"If it was my intention and interest to do away w^ith
my uncle, did it require a conspiracy of so many people ? ' '
he asked, his face blazing with scorn. "Am I supposed
to have such a combination of craft and stupidity as
to ally myself with brothel-keepers, harlots, smugglers,
old women, and convicted criminals, people who would,
as long as I live, remain my masters and blackmailers,

Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 2 of 34)