Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August 4th, 2016

II

Seeing that the Chambre Ardente was unsuccessful, Argenson applied to the King to constitute with greater powers for tracking and punishing offenders. The King, thinking he had already given too ample powers to the Chambre Ardente, and shocked at the horrors of the numberless executions carried out by the bloodthirsty La Regnie, refused.

Then another method of influencing His Majesty was devised.

In the apartments of Madame de Maintenon — where the King was in the habit of spending much of his time in the afternoons — and also, very often, would be at work with his Ministers till late at night — a poetical petition was laid before him, on the part of the “Endangered Lovers,” who complained that when “galanterie” rendered it incumbent on them to be the bearers of some valuable present to the ladies of their hearts, they had always to do it at the risk of their lives. The king turned to Madame de Maintenon – without taking his eyes from it – read it again – aloud this time – and then asked, with a pleased smile, what she thought of the petition of the “Endangered Lovers.”

Madame de Maintenon, faithful to her serious turn, and ever wearing the garb of a certain piousness, answered that secret and forbidden practices did not deserve much in the form of protection, but that the criminals probably did require special laws for their punishment. The King, not satisfied with this answer, folded the paper up, and was going back to the Secretary of State, who was at work in the ante-room, when, happening to glance sideways, his eyes rested on Mademoiselle de Scudéri who was present, seated in a little arm-chair. Standing close before her, with his face unwrinkling itself, he said –

“The Marquise does not know, and has no desire to learn, anything about the ‘galanteries’ of our enamoured gentlemen, and evades the subject in ways which are nothing less than forbidden. But, Mademoiselle, what do you think of this poetical petition?”

Mademoiselle de Scudéri rose from her chair; a transient blush, like the purple of the evening sky, passed across her pale cheeks and, gently bending forward, she answered with downcast eyes:

 

  • “Un amant qui craint les voleurs
  • N’est point digne d’amour.”
  • (A lover who takes to heels at sight
  • Of trouble, how I despise the wight!)( free translation by b)

 

The King, surprised, and struck with admiration at the chivalrous spirit of those few words – which completely took the wind out of the sails of the poem, with all its lengthy tirades – cried, with flashing eyes: “By Saint Denis, you are right, Mademoiselle! No blind laws, touching the innocent and the guilty alike, shall shelter cowardice. Argenson and La Regnie must do their best.”

Next morning La Martinière told her all that had happened the previous night, and handed her the mysterious casket, with much fear and trembling. Both she and Baptiste (who stood in the corner as white as a sheet, kneading his cap in his hand from agitation and anxiety) implored her, in the name of all the saints, to take the greatest precautions in opening it.

Weighing and examining the unopened mystery in her hand, she said with a smile, “You are a couple of bogies! The wicked scoundrels outside who, as you say yourselves, spy out all that goes on in every house know, no doubt, quite as well as you and I do, that I am not rich, and that there are no treasures in this house worth committing a murder for. Is my life in danger, do you think? Who could have any interest in the death of an old woman of seventy-three, who never persecuted any evildoers except those in her own novels; who writes mediocre poetry, incapable of exciting anyone’s envy; who has nothing to leave behind her but the belongings of an old maid who sometimes goes to Court, and two or three dozen handsomely-bound books with gilt edges. And, alarming as your account is, La Martinière, of this man’s appearance, I cannot believe that he meant me any harm, so ____”

La Martinière sprang three paces backwards, and Baptiste fell on one knee with a hollow, “Ah!” as Mademoiselle de Scudéri pressed a projecting steel knob, and the lid of the casket flew open with a certain amount of noise.

Great was her surprise to see that it contained a pair of bracelets, and a necklace richly set in jewels. She took them out and, as she spoke in admiration of the marvellous workmanship of the necklace, La Martinière cast glances of wonder at the bracelets, and cried, again and again, that Madame de Montespan herself did not possess such jewellery.

“But why is it brought to me?” cried Mademoiselle de Scudéri. “What can this mean?” She saw, however, a little folded note at the bottom of the casket, and in this she rightly thought she would find the key to the mystery. When she had read what was written in the note, it fell from her trembling hands; she raised an appealing look to heaven, and then sank down half fainting in her chair. Baptiste and La Martinière hurried to her, in alarm.

“Oh!” she cried, in a voice stifled by tears, “the mortification! The deep humiliation! Has it been reserved for me to undergo this in my old age? Have I ever been frivolous, like some of the foolish young creatures; are words, spoken half in jest, to be found capable of such a terrible interpretation? Am I, who have been faithful to all that is pure and good from my childhood, to be made virtually an accomplice in the crimes of this terrible confederation .”

She held her handkerchief to her eyes, so that Baptiste and La Martinière, altogether at sea in their anxious conjectures, felt powerless to set about helping her who was so dear to them, as the best and kindest of mistresses, in her bitter affliction.

La Martinière picked up the paper from the floor. On it was written:

 

  • “‘Un amant qui craint les voleurs
  • N’est point digne d’amour.’

 

“Your brilliant intellect, most honoured lady, has delivered us, who exercise on weakness and cowardice the rights of the stronger, and possess ourselves of treasures which would otherwise be unworthily wasted, from much bitter persecution. As a proof of our gratitude, be pleased kindly to accept this set of ornaments. It is the most valuable that we have been enabled to lay hands on for many a day. Although far more beautiful and precious jewels should adorn you, yet we pray you not to deprive us of your future protection and remembrance. – THE INVISIBLES.”

“Is it possible,” cried Mademoiselle de Scudéri, when she had partially recovered herself, “that shameless wickedness and abandoned insult can be carried further by human beings?”

The sun was shining brightly through the window curtains of crimson silk, and consequently the brilliants, which were lying on the table beside the open casket, were flashing a rosy radiance. Looking at them, Mademoiselle de Scudéri covered her face in horror, and ordered La Martinière instantly to take those terrible jewels away, steeped, as they seemed to be, in the blood of the murdered. La Martinière, having at once put the necklace and bracelets back into their case, thought the best thing to do would be to give them to the Minister of Police, and tell him all that had happened.

Mademoiselle de Scudéri rose, and walked up and down slowly and in silence, as if considering what it was best to do. Then she told Baptiste to bring a sedan chair, and La Martinière to dress her, as she was going straight to the Marquise de Maintenon.

She repaired thither at the hour when she knew Madame de Maintenon would be alone, taking the casket and jewels with her.

Madame de Maintenon might well wonder to see this dear old lady (who was always kindness, sweetness and amiability personified), pale, distressed, upset, coming in with uncertain steps. “In heaven’s name, what has happened to you?” she cried to her visitor, who was scarcely able to stand upright, striving to reach the chair which the Marquise drew forward for her. At last, when she could find words, she told her what a deep, irremediable insult and outrage the thoughtless speech which she had made in reply to the King had brought upon her.

Madame de Maintenon, when she had heard the whole affair properly related, thought Mademoiselle de Scudéri was taking it far too much to heart, strange as the occurrence was – that the insult of a pack of wretched rabble could not hurt an upright, noble heart; and finally begged that she might see the ornaments.

Mademoiselle de Scudéri handed her the open casket, and when she saw the splendid and valuable stones and the workmanship of them she could not repress a loud expression of admiration. She took the bracelets and necklace to the window, letting the sunlight play on the jewels, and holding the beautiful goldsmith’s work close to her eyes so as to see with what wonderful skill each little link of the chains was formed.

She turned suddenly to Mademoiselle de Scudéri, and cried, “Do you know, there is only one man who can have done this work – and that is René Cardillac.”

René Cardillac was then the cleverest worker in gold in all Paris, one of the most artistic, and at the same time extraordinary men of his day. Short rather than tall, but broad-shouldered and of strong and muscular build, Cardillac, now over fifty, had still the strength and activity of a youth. But then, it was hardly possible to get the finished work out of his hands. He would put the customer off from one week to another by a thousand excuses – even from month to month. He might be offered twice the price he had agreed upon, but it was useless; he would take no more; and when, ultimately, he was obliged to yield to the customer’s remonstrances, and deliver the work, he could not conceal the vexation – nay, the rage – which seethed within him. When someone come running up behind him, crying, “René Cardillac, would you be so kind as to make me a beautiful necklace for the lady I am going to marry?” or “a pair of bracelets for my girl?” or the like, he would stop in a moment, flash his small eyes upon the speaker, and say, “Let me see what you have got.” The latter would take out a little case and say “Here are jewels; they are not worth much; only every-day affairs, but in your hands ” Cardillac would interrupt him, snatch the casket from his hands, take out the stones (really not very valuable) hold them up to the light, and cry, “Ho! ho! common stones, you say! Nothing of the kind! – very fine, splendid stones! Just see what I shall make of them; and if a handful of Louis are no object to you, I will put two or three others along with them which will shine in your eyes like the sun himself!” The customer would say: “I leave the matter entirely in your hands, Master René; make what change you please.” Whether the customer were a rich burgher or a gallant of quality, Cardillac would then throw himself violently on his neck, embrace him and kiss him, and say he was perfectly happy again, and that the work would be ready in eight days’ time. Then he would run home as fast as he could to his workshop, where he would set to work hammering away; and in eight days’ time there would be a masterpiece ready.

But as soon as the customer arrived, glad to pay the moderate price demanded and take away his prize, Cardillac would become morose, ill-tempered, rude and insolent. “But consider, Master Cardillac,” the customer would say, “tomorrow is my wedding-day.” “What do I care?, Cardillac would answer; “what is your wedding-day to me? Come back in a fortnight.” “But it is finished! – here is the money; I must have it.” “And I tell you that there are many alterations which I must make before I let it leave my hands, and I am not going to let you have it today.” “And I tell you, that if you don’t give me my jewels – which I am ready to pay you for – quietly, you will see me come back with a file of D’Argenson’s men.” “Now, may the devil seize you with a hundred red-hot pincers, and hang three hundredweight on to the necklace, that it may throttle your bride!” With which he would cram the work into the customer’s breast-pocket, seize him by the arm, push him out of the door, so that he would go stumbling all the way downstairs. Then he would laugh like a fiend, out of the window, when he saw the poor wretch go limping out, holding his handkerchief to his bleeding nose. It was not easy to explain either why, when Cardillac had undertaken a commission with alacrity and enthusiasm, he would sometimes suddenly implore the customer, with every sign of the deepest emotion – with the most moving adjurations, even with sobs and tears – not to ask him to go on with it. Many persons, amongst those most highly considered by the King and nation, had in vain offered large sums for the smallest specimen of Cardillac’s work. He threw himself at the King’s feet, and begged him, of his mercy, not to command him to work for him; and he declined all orders of Madame de Maintenon’s; “I would wager, therefore,” said Madame de Maintenon, “that even if I were to send for Cardillac, to find out, at least, for whom he had made those ornaments, he would somehow avoid coming, for fear that I should give him an order; nothing will induce him to work for me.”

Mademoiselle de Scudéri, who was exceedingly anxious that the jewels which came into her possession in such an extraordinary manner should be restored to their owner as speedily as possible, thought that this wondrous René Cardillac should be informed at once that no work was required of him, but simply his opinion as to certain stones. The Marquise agreed to this; he was sent for, and he came into the room in a very brief space, almost as if he had been on the way when sent for.

When he saw Mademoiselle de Scudéri, he appeared perplexed, like one confronted with the unexpected, who for the time loses sight of the demands of courtesy; he first of all made a profound reverence to her, and then turned, in the second place, to the Marquise. Madame de Maintenon impetuously asked him if the jewelled ornaments – to which she pointed as they lay sparkling on the dark-green cover of the table – were of his workmanship. Cardillac scarcely glanced at them but, fixedly staring in her face, he hastily packed the necklace and bracelets into their case, and shoved them away with some violence.

Then with an evil smile gleaming on his red face, he said, “The truth is, Madame la Marquise, that one must know René Cardillac’s handiwork very little to suppose, even for a moment, that any other goldsmith in the world made those. Of course, I made them.”

“Then,” continued the Marquise, “say whom you made them for.”

“For myself alone,” he answered. “You may think this strange,” he continued, as they both gazed at him with amazement, Madame de Maintenon incredulous, and Mademoiselle de Scudéri all anxiety as to how the matter was going to turn out, “but I tell you the truth, Madame la Marquise. Merely for the sake of the beauty of the work, I collected some of my finest stones together, and those ornaments disappeared from my workshop a short time since, in an incomprehensible manner.”

“Heaven be thanked!” cried Mademoiselle de Scudéri, her eyes sparkling with joy. With a smile she sprang up from her seat and, going up to Cardillac quickly and actively as a young girl, she laid her hands on his shoulder, saying, “Take back your treasure, Master René, which the villains have robbed you of!” And she circumstantially related how the ornaments had come into her possession.

Cardillac listened in silence, with downcast eyes, merely from time to time uttering a scarcely audible “Hm! Indeed! Ah! Ho, ho!”, sometimes placing his hands behind his back, or again stroking his chin and cheeks. When she had ended, he appeared to be struggling with strange thoughts which had come to him during her story, and seemed unable to come to any decision satisfactory to himself. He rubbed his brow, sighed, passed his hand over his eyes – perhaps to keep back tears. At last he seized the casket (which Mademoiselle de Scudéri had been holding out to him), sank slowly on one knee, and said: “Esteemed lady! Fate destined this casket for you; and I now feel, for the first time, that I was thinking of you when I was at work upon it – nay, was making it expressly for you. Do not disdain to accept this work, and to wear it; it is the best I have done for a very long time.”

“Ah! Master René,” said Mademoiselle de Scudéri, jesting pleasantly, “how think you it would become me at my age to bedeck myself with those beautiful jewels? – and what should put it in your mind to make me such a valuable present? Come, come! What have my withered arms, and my wrinkled neck, to do with all that splendour?”

Cardillac had risen, and said with wild looks, like a man beside himself, still holding the casket out towards her, “Do me the kindness to take it, Mademoiselle!”

As Mademoiselle de Scudéri was still hesitating, Madame de Maintenon took the casket from Cardillac’s hands, saying, “Now, by heaven, Mademoiselle, do not hesitate to accept good Master René’s present, which thousands of others could not obtain for money or entreaty.”

As she spoke she continued to press the casket on Mademoiselle de Scudéri; and now Cardillac sank again on his knees, kissed her dress, her hands, sighed, wept, sobbed, sprang up, and ran off in frantic haste, upsetting chairs and tables, so that the glass and porcelain crashed and clattered together.

“In the name of all the saints, what is the matter with the man?” cried Mademoiselle de Scudéri in great alarm.

But the Marquise, in particularly happy temper, laughed aloud, saying, “What is it, Mademoiselle? That Master René is over head and ears in love with you and, according to the laws of galanterie, begins to lay siege to your heart with a valuable present.”

She carried this jest further, begging Mademoiselle de Scudéri not to be too obdurate towards this despairing lover of hers; But, notwithstanding all the jesting and the laughter, when Mademoiselle de Scudéri rose to depart, she became very grave again as her hand rested upon the jewel casket. “Whatever happens,” she said, “I shall never be able to bring myself to wear these ornaments. They have, in any event, been in the hands of one of those diabolical men, who rob and slay with the audacity of the evil one himself and are very probably in league with him. I shudder at the thought of the blood which seems to cling to those glittering stones – even Cardillac’s behaviour had something about it which struck me as singularly wild and strange. I never can wear those jewels ”

The Marquise considered that this was carrying scruples rather too far; yet, when Mademoiselle de Scudéri asked her to say, on her honour, what she would do in her place, she replied, firmly and earnestly, “Far rather throw them into the Seine than ever put them on.”

The scene with Master René inspired Mademoiselle de Scudéri to write some pleasant verses, which she read to the King the following evening at Madame de Maintenon’s. De Scudéri’s poem was reckoned the very wittiest that ever was written.

 

Several months had elapsed, when chance so willed it that Mademoiselle de Scudéri was crossing the Pont Neuf in the glass coach of the Duchesse de Montpensier. The invention of those delightful glass coaches was then so recent that the people came together in crowds whenever one of them made its appearance in the streets. Consequently a gaping crowd gathered about the Duchesse’s carriage on the Pont Neuf, so that the horses could hardly make their way along. Suddenly Mademoiselle de Scudéri heard a sound of quarrelling and curses, and saw a man making a way for himself through the crowd, by means of fisticuffs and blows in the ribs; and as he came near they were struck by the piercing eyes of a young face, deadly pale, and drawn by sorrow. This young man, gazing fixedly upon them, vigorously fought his way to them by help of fists and elbows, till he reached the carriage door, threw it open with much violence, and flung a note into Mademoiselle de Scudéri’s lap; after which, he disappeared as he had come, distributing and receiving blows and fisticuffs.

La Martinière, who was with her mistress, fell back fainting in the carriage with a shriek of terror, as soon as she saw the young man. In vain Mademoiselle de Scudéri pulled the string, and called out to the driver. Mademoiselle de Scudéri emptied the contents of her smelling-bottle over the fainting La Martinière, who at last opened her eyes and, shuddering and quaking, clinging convulsively to her mistress, with fear and horror in her pale face, groaned out with difficulty, “For the love of the Virgin, what did that terrible man want? It was he who brought you the jewels on that awful night.” Mademoiselle de Scudéri calmed her, pointing out that nothing very dreadful had happened after all, and that the immediate business in hand was to ascertain the contents of the letter. She opened it, and read as follows:

“A dark and cruel fatality, which you could dispel, is driving me into an abyss. I conjure you – as a son would a mother, in the glow of filial affection – to send the necklace and bracelets to Master René Cardillac, on some pretence or other – say, to have something altered or improved. Your welfare, your very life – depend on your doing this. If you do not comply before the day after tomorrow, I will force my way into your house, and kill myself before your eyes.”

“Thus much is certain, at all events,” said Mademoiselle de Scudéri, when she had read this letter, “whether this mysterious man belongs to be band of robbers and murderers or not, he has no very evil designs against me. I certainly shall do, were it only to be rid of those fatal jewels, which seem to me as if they must be some diabolical talisman of the Prince of Darkness’s very own. Cardillac is not very likely to let them out of his hands again, if once he gets hold of them.”

She intended to take them to him next day.

When high noon arrived, Mademoiselle de Scudéri had to go to Madame de Montansier; so the visit to René Cardillac had to be put off till the following day.

But the young man was always present to her mind, and a species of dim remembrance seemed to be trying to arise in the depths of her being that she had, somehow and at some time, seen that face and those features before.

As soon as it was fairly light, she had herself dressed and set off to the goldsmith’s with the jewels in her hand.

A crowd was streaming towards the Rue Niçaise (where Cardillac lived), trooping together at the door, shouting, raging, surging, striving to storm into the house, kept back with difficulty by the Marechaussée, who were guarding the place. Amid the wild distracted uproar, voices were heard crying, “Tear him in pieces! Drag him limb from limb, the accursed murderer!” At length Desgrais came up, with a number of his men, and formed a lane through the thickest of the crowd. The door flew open, and a man loaded with irons was brought out, and marched off amid the most frightful imprecations of the raging populace. At the moment when Mademoiselle de Scudéri, half dead with terror and gloomy foreboding, caught sight of him, a piercing shriek of lamentation struck upon her ears.

“Go forward!” she cried to the coachman and, with a clever, rapid turn of his horses, he scattered the thick masses of the crowd aside, and pulled up close to René Cardillac’s door. Desgrais was there, and at his feet a young girl, beautiful as the day, half-dressed, with her hair dishevelled and wild inconsolable despair in her face, clinging to his knees, and crying in tones of the bitterest and profoundest anguish, “He is innocent! He is innocent!”

Desgrais and his men tried in vain to shake her off and raise her from the ground, till at length a rough, powerful fellow, gripping her arms with his strong hands, dragged her away from Desgrais by sheer force. Stumbling awkwardly, he let the girl go, and she went rolling down the stone steps, and lay like one dead on the pavement.

Mademoiselle de Scudéri could contain herself no longer. “In Christ’s name!” she cried, “what has happened? What is going forward here?” She hastily opened the carriage-door and stepped out. The crowd made way for her deferentially; and when she saw that one or two compassionate women had lifted the girl up, laid her on the steps, and were rubbing her brow with strong waters, she went up to Desgrais, and angrily repeated her question.

“A terrible thing has happened,” said Desgrais. “René Cardillac was found this morning, killed by a dagger-thrust. His journeyman, Olivier, is the murderer, and has just been taken to prison.”

“And the girl- ”

“Is Madelon,” interrupted Desgrais, “Cardillac’s daughter. The wretched culprit was her sweetheart, and now she is crying and howling, and screaming over and over again that Olivier is innocent – quite innocent; but she knows all about this crime, and I must have her taken to prison too.”

As he spoke he cast one of his baleful, malignant looks at the girl, which made Mademoiselle de Scudéri shudder. The girl was now beginning to revive, and breathe again faintly, though still incapable of speech or motion. There she lay with closed eyes, and people did not know what to do, whether to take her indoors, or leave her where she was a little longer till she recovered. Deeply moved, Mademoiselle de Scudéri looked upon this innocent creature, with tears in her eyes. She felt a horror of Desgrais and his men. Presently heavy footsteps came downstairs, those of the men bearing Cardillac’s body.

Coming to a rapid decision, Mademoiselle de Scudéri cried out, “I shall take this girl home with me. What you do next is up to you, Desgrais.”

A murmur of approval ran through the crowd. The women raised the girl; everyone crowded up; a hundred hands were proffered to help, and she was borne lightly to the carriage, whilst from every lip broke blessings on the kind lady who had saved her from arrest and criminal trial.

Madelon lay for many hours in a deep swoon, but at length the efforts of Seron – then the most celebrated physician in Paris – were successful in restoring her. (To be concluded)

Read Full Post »