An Historical Mystery

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Author: Honore de Balzac

Chapter XIV the Arrests

The four young men and Laurence were so hungry and the dinner so acceptable that they would not delay it by changing their dress. They entered the salon, she in her riding-habit, they in their white leather breeches, high-top boots and green-cloth jackets, where they found Monsieur d’Hauteserre and his wife, not a little uneasy at their long absence. The goodman had noticed their goings and comings, and, above all, their evident distrust of him, for Laurence had been unable to get rid of him as she had of her servants. Once when his own sons evidently avoided making any reply to his questions, he went to his wife and said, "I am afraid that Laurence may still get us into trouble!"

"What sort of game did you hunt to-day?" said Madame d’Hauteserre to Laurence.

"Ah!" replied the young girl, laughing, "you’ll hear some day what a strange hunt your sons have joined in to-day."

Though said in jest the words made the old lady tremble. Catherine entered to announce dinner. Laurence took Monsieur d’Hauteserre’s arm, smiling for a moment at the necessity she thus forced upon her cousins to offer an arm to Madame d’Hauteserre, who, according to agreement, was now to be the arbiter of their fate.

The Marquis de Simeuse took in Madame d’Hauteserre. The situation was so momentous that after the Benedicite was said Laurence and the young men trembled from the violent palpitation of their hearts. Madame d’Hauteserre, who carved, was struck by the anxiety on the faces of the Simeuse brothers and the great alteration that was noticeable in Laurence’s lamb-like features.

"Something extraordinary is going on, I am sure of it!" she exclaimed, looking at all of them.

"To whom are you speaking?" asked Laurence.

"To all of you," said the old lady.

"As for me, mother," said Robert, "I am frightfully hungry, and that is not extraordinary."

Madame d’Hauteserre, still troubled, offered the Marquis de Simeuse a plate intended for his brother.

"I am like your mother," she said. "I don’t know you apart even by your cravats. I thought I was helping your brother."

"You have helped me better than you thought for," said the youngest, turning pale; "you have made him Comte de Cinq-Cygne."

"What! do you mean to tell me the countess has made her choice?" cried Madame d’Hauteserre.

"No," said Laurence; "we left the decision to fate and you are its instrument."

She told of the agreement made that morning. The elder Simeuse, watching the increasing pallor of his brother’s face, was momentarily on the point of crying out, "Marry her; I will go away and die!" Just then, as the dessert was being served, all present heard raps upon the window of the dining-room on the garden side. The eldest d’Hauteserre opened it and gave entrance to the abbe, whose breeches were torn in climbing over the walls of the park.

"Fly! they are coming to arrest you," he cried.

"Why?"

"I don’t know yet; but there’s a warrant against you."

The words were greeted with general laughter.

"We are innocent," said the young men.

"Innocent or guilty," said the abbe, "mount your horses and make for the frontier. There you can prove your innocence. You could overcome a sentence by default; you will never overcome a sentence rendered by popular passion and instigated by prejudice. Remember the words of President de Harlay, ’If I were accused of carrying off the towers of Notre-Dame the first thing I should do would be to run away.’"

"To run away would be to admit we were guilty," said the Marquis de Simeuse.

"Don’t do it!" cried Laurence.

"Always the same sublime folly!" exclaimed the abbe, in despair. "If I had the power of God I would carry you away. But if I am found here in this state they will turn my visit against you, and against me too; therefore I leave you by the way I came. Consider my advice; you have still time. The gendarmes have not yet thought of the wall which adjoins the parsonage; but you are hemmed in on the other sides."

The sound of many feet and the jangle of the sabres of the gendarmerie echoed through the courtyard and reached the dining-room a few moments after the departure of the poor abbe, whose advice had met the same fate as that of the Marquis de Chargeboeuf.

"Our twin existence," said the younger Simeuse, speaking to Laurence, "is an anomaly—our love for you is anomalous; it is that very quality which was won your heart. Possibly, the reason why all twins known to us in history have been unfortunate is that the laws of nature are subverted in them. In our case, see how persistently an evil fate follows us! your decision is now postponed."

Laurence was stupefied; the fatal words of the director of the jury hummed in her ears:—"In the name of the Emperor and the laws, I arrest the Sieurs Paul-Marie and Marie-Paul Simeuse, Adrien and Robert d’Hauteserre—These gentlemen," he added, addressing the men who accompanied him and pointing to the mud on the clothing of the prisoners, "cannot deny that they have spent the greater part of this day on horseback."

"Of what are they accused?" asked Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne, haughtily.

"Don’t you mean to arrest Mademoiselle?" said Giguet.

"I shall leave her at liberty under bail, until I can carefully examine the charges against her," replied the director.

The mayor offered bail, asking the countess to merely give her word of honor that she would not escape. Laurence blasted him with a look which made him a mortal enemy; a tear started from her eyes, one of those tears of rage which reveal a hell of suffering. The four gentlemen exchanged a terrible look, but remained motionless. Monsieur and Madame d’Hauteserre, dreading lest the young people had practised some deceit, were in a state of indescribable stupefaction. Clinging to their chairs these unfortunate parents, finding their sons torn from them after so many fears and their late hopes of safety, sat gazing before them without seeing, listening without hearing.

"Must I ask you to bail me, Monsieur d’Hauteserre?" cried Laurence to her former guardian, who was roused by the cry, clear and agonizing to his ear as the sound of the last trumpet.

He tried to wipe the tears which sprang to his eyes; he now understood what was passing, and said to his young relation in a quivering voice, "Forgive me, countess; you know that I am yours, body and soul."

Lechesneau, who at first was much struck by the evident tranquillity in which the whole party were dining, now returned to his former opinion of their guilt as he noticed the stupefaction of the old people and the evident anxiety of Laurence, who was seeking to discover the nature of the trap which was set for them.

"Gentlemen," he said, politely, "you are too well-bred to make a useless resistance; follow me to the stables, where I must, in your presence, have the shoes of your horses taken off; they afford important proof of either guilt or innocence. Come, too, mademoiselle."

The blacksmith of Cinq-Cygne and his assistant had been summoned by Lechesneau as experts. While the operation at the stable was going on the justice of peace brought in Gothard and Michu. The work of detaching the shoes of each horse, putting them together and ticketing them, so as to compare them with the hoof-prints in the park, took time. Lechesneau, notified of the arrival of Pigoult, left the prisoners with the gendarmes and returned to the dining-room to dictate the indictment. The justice of peace called his attention to the condition of Michu’s clothes and related the circumstances of his arrest.

"They must have killed the senator and plastered the body up in some wall," said Pigoult.

"I begin to fear it," answered Lechesneau. "Where did you carry that plaster?" he said to Gothard.

The boy began to cry.

"The law frightens him," said Michu, whose eyes were darting flames like those of a lion in the toils.

The servants, who had been detained at the village by order of the mayor, now arrived and filled the antechamber where Catherine and Gothard were weeping. To all the questions of the director of the jury and the justice of peace Gothard replied by sobs; and by dint of weeping he brought on a species of convulsion which alarmed them so much that they let him alone. The little scamp, perceiving that he was no longer watched, looked at Michu with a grin, and Michu signified his approval by a glance. Lechesneau left the justice of peace and returned to the stables.

"Monsieur," said Madame d’Hauteserre, at last, addressing Pigoult; "can you explain these arrests?"

"The gentlemen are accused of abducting the senator by armed force and keeping him a prisoner; for we do not think they have murdered him—in spite of appearances," replied Pigoult.

"What penalties are attached to the crime?" asked Monsieur d’Hauteserre.

"Well, as the old law continues in force, and they are not amenable under the Code, the penalty is death," replied the justice.

"Death!" cried Madame d’Hauteserre, fainting away.

The abbe now came in with his sister, who stopped to speak to Catherine and Madame Durieu.

"We haven’t even seen your cursed senator!" said Michu.

"Madame Marion, Madame Grevin, Monsieur Grevin, the senator’s valet, and Violette all tell another tale," replied Pigoult, with the sour smile of magisterial conviction.

"I don’t understand a thing about it," said Michu, dumbfounded by his reply, and beginning now to believe that his masters and himself were entangled in some plot which had been laid against them.

Just then the party from the stables returned. Laurence went up to Madame d’Hauteserre, who recovered her senses enough to say: "The penalty is death!"

"Death!" repeated Laurence, looking at the four gentlemen.

The word excited a general terror, of which Giguet, formerly instructed by Corentin, took immediate advantage.

"Everything can be arranged," he said, drawing the Marquis de Simeuse into a corner of the dining-room. "Perhaps after all it is nothing but a joke; you’ve been a soldier and soldiers understand each other. Tell me, what have you really done with the senator? If you have killed him —why, that’s the end of it! But if you have only locked him up, release him, for you see for yourself your game is balked. Do this and I am certain the director of the jury and the senator himself will drop the matter."

"We know absolutely nothing about it," said the marquis.

"If you take that tone the matter is likely to go far," replied the lieutenant.

"Dear cousin," said the Marquis de Simeuse, "we are forced to go to prison; but do not be uneasy; we shall return in a few hours, for there is some misunderstanding in all this which can be explained."

"I hope so, for your sakes, gentlemen," said the magistrate, signing to the gendarmes to remove the four gentlemen, Michu, and Gothard. "Don’t take them to Troyes; keep them in your guardhouse at Arcis," he said to the lieutenant; "they must be present to-morrow, at daybreak, when we compare the shoes of their horses with the hoof-prints in the park."

Lechesneau and Pigoult did not follow until they had closely questioned Catherine, Monsieur and Madame d’Hauteserre, and Laurence. The Durieus, Catherine, and Marthe declared they had only seen their masters at breakfast-time; Monsieur d’Hauteserre said he had seen them at three o’clock.

When, at midnight, Laurence found herself alone with Monsieur and Madame d’Hauteserre, the abbe and his sister, and without the four young men who for the last eighteen months had been the life of the chateau and the love and joy of her own life, she fell into a gloomy silence which no one present dared to break. No affliction was ever deeper or more complete than hers. At last a deep sigh broke the stillness, and all eyes turned towards the sound.

Marthe, forgotten in a corner, rose, exclaiming, "Death! They will kill them in spite of their innocence!"

"Mademoiselle, what is the matter with you?" said the abbe.

Laurence left the room without replying. She needed solitude to recover strength in presence of this terrible unforeseen disaster.

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Chicago: Honore de Balzac, "Chapter XIV the Arrests," An Historical Mystery, trans. Marriage, Ellen in An Historical Mystery Original Sources, accessed April 22, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9FTPUZW1QBPPQPX.

MLA: de Balzac, Honore. "Chapter XIV the Arrests." An Historical Mystery, translted by Marriage, Ellen, in An Historical Mystery, Original Sources. 22 Apr. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9FTPUZW1QBPPQPX.

Harvard: de Balzac, H, 'Chapter XIV the Arrests' in An Historical Mystery, trans. . cited in , An Historical Mystery. Original Sources, retrieved 22 April 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=9FTPUZW1QBPPQPX.