*THE COUNTESS DE SAINT-GERAN—1639*
About the end of the year 1639, a troop of horsemen arrived, towards
midday, in a little village at the northern extremity of the province of
Auvergne, from the direction of Paris. The country folk assembled at the
noise, and found it to proceed from the provost of the mounted police
and his men. The heat was excessive, the horses were bathed in sweat,
the horsemen covered with dust, and the party seemed on its return from
an important expedition. A man left the escort, and asked an old woman
who was spinning at her door if there was not an inn in the place. The
woman and her children showed him a bush hanging over a door at the end
of the only street in the village, and the escort recommenced its march
at a walk. There was noticed, among the mounted men, a young man of
distinguished appearance and richly dressed, who appeared to be a
prisoner. This discovery redoubled the curiosity of the villagers, who
followed the cavalcade as far as the door of the wine-shop. The host
came out, cap in hand, and the provost enquired of him with a swaggering
air if his pothouse was large enough to accommodate his troop, men and
horses. The host replied that he had the best wine in the country to
give to the king’s servants, and that it would be easy to collect in the
neighbourhood litter and forage enough for their horses. The provost
listened contemptuously to these fine promises, gave the necessary
orders as to what was to be done, and slid off his horse, uttering an
oath proceeding from heat and fatigue. The horsemen clustered round the
young man: one held his stirrup, and the provost deferentially gave way
to him to enter the inn first. No, more doubt could be entertained that
he was a prisoner of importance, and all kinds of conjectures were made.
The men maintained that he must be charged with a great crime, otherwise
a young nobleman of his rank would never have been arrested; the women
argued, on the contrary, that it was impossible for such a pretty youth
not to be innocent.
Inside the inn all was bustle: the serving-lads ran from cellar to
garret; the host swore and despatched his servant-girls to the
neighbours, and the hostess scolded her daughter, flattening her nose
against the panes of a downstairs window to admire the handsome youth.
There were two tables in the principal eating-room. The provost took
possession of one, leaving the other to the soldiers, who went in turn
to tether their horses under a shed in the back yard; then he pointed to
a stool for the prisoner, and seated himself opposite to him, rapping
the table with his thick cane.
"Ouf!" he cried, with a fresh groan of weariness, "I heartily beg your
pardon, marquis, for the bad wine I am giving you!"
The young man smiled gaily.
"The wine is all very well, monsieur provost," said he, "but I cannot
conceal from you that however agreeable your company is to me, this halt
is very inconvenient; I am in a hurry to get through my ridiculous
situation, and I should have liked to arrive in time to stop this affair
The girl of the house was standing before the table with a pewter pot
which she had just brought, and at these words she raised her eyes on
the prisoner, with a reassured look which seemed to say, "I was sure
that he was innocent."
"But," continued the marquis, carrying the glass to his lips, "this wine
is not so bad as you say, monsieur provost."
Then turning to the girl, who was eyeing his gloves and his ruff—
"To your health, pretty child."
"Then," said the provost, amazed at this free and easy air, "perhaps I
shall have to beg you to excuse your sleeping quarters."
"What!" exclaimed the marquis, "do we sleep here?"
"My lord;" said the provost, "we have sixteen long leagues to make, our
horses are done up, and so far as I am concerned I declare that I am no
better than my horse."
The marquis knocked on the table, and gave every indication of being
greatly annoyed. The provost meanwhile puffed and blowed, stretched out
his big boots, and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. He was a
portly man, with a puffy face, whom fatigue rendered singularly
"Marquis," said he, "although your company, which affords me the
opportunity of showing you some attention, is very precious to me, you
cannot doubt that I had much rather enjoy it on another footing. If it
be within your power, as you say, to release yourself from the hands of
justice, the sooner you do so the better I shall be pleased. But I beg
you to consider the state we are in. For my part, I am unfit to keep the
saddle another hour, and are you not yourself knocked up by this forced
march in the great heat?"
"True, so I am," said the marquis, letting his arms fall by his side.
"Well, then, let us rest here, sup here, if we can, and we will start
quite fit in the cool of the morning."
"Agreed," replied the marquis; "but then let us pass the time in a
becoming manner. I have two pistoles left, let them be given to these
good fellows to drink. It is only fair that I should treat them, seeing
that I am the cause of giving them so much trouble."
He threw two pieces of money on the table of the soldiers, who cried in
chorus, "Long live M. the marquis!" The provost rose, went to post
sentinels, and then repaired to the kitchen, where he ordered the best
supper that could be got. The men pulled out dice and began to drink and
play. The marquis hummed an air in the middle of the room, twirled his
moustache, turning on his heel and looking cautiously around; then he
gently drew a purse from his trousers pocket, and as the daughter of the
house was coming and going, he threw his arms round her neck as if to
kiss her, and whispered, slipping ten Louis into her hand—
"The key of the front door in my room, and a quart of liquor to the
sentinels, and you save my life."
The girl went backwards nearly to the door, and returning with an
expressive look, made an affirmative sign with her hand. The provost
returned, and two hours later supper was served. He ate and drank like a
man more at home at table than in the saddle. The marquis plied him with
bumpers, and sleepiness, added to the fumes of a very heady wine, caused
him to repeat over and over again—
"Confound it all, marquis, I can’t believe you are such a blackguard as
they say you are; you seem to me a jolly good sort."
The marquis thought he was ready to fall under the table, and was
beginning to open negotiations with the daughter of the house, when, to
his great disappointment, bedtime having come, the provoking provost
called his sergeant, gave him instructions in an undertone, and
announced that he should have the honour of conducting M. the marquis to
bed, and that he should not go to bed himself before performing this
duty. In fact, he posted three of his men, with torches, escorted the
prisoner to his room, and left him with many profound bows.
The marquis threw himself on his bed without pulling off his boots,
listening to a clock which struck nine. He heard the men come and go in
the stables and in the yard.
An hour later, everybody being tired, all was perfectly still. The
prisoner then rose softly, and felt about on tiptoe on the chimneypiece,
on the furniture, and even in his clothes, for the key which he hoped to
find. He could not find it. He could not be mistaken, nevertheless, in
the tender interest of the young girl, and he could not believe that she
was deceiving him. The marquis’s room had a window which opened upon the
street, and a door which gave access to a shabby gallery which did duty
for a balcony, whence a staircase ascended to the principal rooms of the
house. This gallery hung over the courtyard, being as high above it as
the window was from the street. The marquis had only to jump over one
side or the other: he hesitated for some time, and just as he was
deciding to leap into the street, at the risk of breaking his neck, two
taps were struck on the door. He jumped for joy, saying to himself as he
opened, "I am saved!" A kind of shadow glided into the room; the young
girl trembled from head to foot, and could not say a word. The marquis
reassured her with all sorts of caresses.
"Ah, sir," said she, "I am dead if we are surprised."
"Yes," said the marquis, "but your fortune is made if you get me out of
"God is my witness that I would with all my soul, but I have such a bad
piece of news——"
She stopped, suffocated with varying emotions. The poor girl had come
barefooted, for fear of making a noise, and appeared to be shivering.
"What is the matter?" impatiently asked the marquis.
"Before going to bed," she continued, "M. the provost has required from
my father all the keys of the house, and has made him take a great oath
that there are no more. My father has given him all: besides, there is a
sentinel at every door; but they are very tired; I have heard them
muttering and grumbling, and I have given them more wine than you told
"They will sleep," said the marquis, nowise discouraged, "and they have
already shown great respect to my rank in not nailing me up in this
"There is a small kitchen garden," continued the girl, "on the side of
the fields, fenced in only by a loose hurdle, but——"
"Where is my horse?"
"No doubt in the shed with the rest."
"I will jump into the yard."
"You will be killed."
"So much the better!"
"Ah monsieur marquis, what have, you done?" said the young girl with
"Some foolish things! nothing worth mentioning; but my head and my
honour are at stake. Let us lose no time; I have made up my mind."
"Stay," replied the girl, grasping his arm; "at the left-hand corner of
the yard there is a large heap of straw, the gallery hangs just over
"Bravo! I shall make less noise, and do myself less mischief." He made a
step towards the door; the girl, hardly knowing what she was doing,
tried to detain him; but he got loose from her and opened it. The moon
was shining brightly into the yard; he heard no sound. He proceeded to
the end of the wooden rail, and perceived the dungheap, which rose to a
good height: the girl made the sign of the cross. The marquis listened
once again, heard nothing, and mounted the rail. He was about to jump
down, when by wonderful luck he heard murmurings from a deep voice. This
proceeded from one of two horsemen, who were recommencing their
conversation and passing between them a pint of wine. The marquis crept
back to his door, holding his breath: the girl was awaiting him on the
"I told you it was not yet time," said she.
"Have you never a knife," said the marquis, "to cut those rascals’
"Wait, I entreat you, one hour, one hour only," murmured the young girl;
"in an hour they will all be asleep."
The girl’s voice was so sweet, the arms which she stretched towards him
were full of such gentle entreaty, that the marquis waited, and at the
end of an hour it was the young girl’s turn to tell him to start.
The marquis for the last time pressed with his mouth those lips but
lately so innocent, then he half opened the door, and heard nothing this
time but dogs barking far away in an otherwise silent country. He leaned
over the balustrade, and saw: very plainly a soldier lying prone on the
"If they were to awake?" murmured the young girl in accents of anguish.
"They will not take me alive, be assured," said the marquis.
"Adieu, then," replied she, sobbing; "may Heaven preserve you!"
He bestrode the balustrade, spread himself out upon it, and fell heavily
on the dungheap. The young girl saw him run to the shed, hastily detach
a horse, pass behind the stable wall, spur his horse in both flanks,
tear across the kitchen garden, drive his horse against the hurdle,
knock it down, clear it, and reach the highroad across the fields.
The poor girl remained at the end of the gallery, fixing her eyes on the
sleeping sentry, and ready to disappear at the slightest movement. The
noise made by spurs on the pavement and by the horse at the end of the
courtyard had half awakened him. He rose, and suspecting some surprise,
ran to the shed. His horse was no longer there; the marquis, in his
haste to escape, had taken the first which came to hand, and this was
the soldier’s. Then the soldier gave the alarm; his comrades woke up.
They ran to the prisoner’s room, and found it empty. The provost came
from his bed in a dazed condition. The prisoner had escaped.
Then the young girl, pretending to have been roused by the noise,
hindered the preparations by mislaying the saddlery, impeding the
horsemen instead of helping them; nevertheless, after a quarter of an
hour, all the party were galloping along the road. The provost swore
like a pagan. The best horses led the way, and the sentinel, who rode
the marquis’s, and who had a greater interest in catching the prisoner,
far outstripped his companions; he was followed by the sergeant, equally
well mounted, and as the broken fence showed the line he had taken,
after some minutes they were in view of him, but at a great distance.
However, the marquis was losing ground; the horse he had taken was the
worst in the troop, and he had pressed it as hard as it could go.
Turning in the saddle, he saw the soldiers half a musket-shot off; he
urged his horse more and more, tearing his sides with his spurs; but
shortly the beast, completely winded, foundered; the marquis rolled with
it in the dust, but when rolling over he caught hold of the holsters,
which he found to contain pistols; he lay flat by the side of the horse,
as if he had fainted, with a pistol at full cock in his hand. The
sentinel, mounted on a valuable horse, and more than two hundred yards
ahead of his serafile, came up to him. In a moment the marquis, jumping
up before he had tune to resist him, shot him through the head; the
horseman fell, the marquis jumped up in his place without even setting
foot in the stirrup, started off at a gallop, and went away like the
wind, leaving fifty yards behind him the non-commissioned officer,
dumbfounded with what had just passed before his eyes.
The main body of the escort galloped up, thinking that he was taken; and
the provost shouted till he was hoarse, "Do not kill him!" But they
found only the sergeant, trying to restore life to his man, whose skull
was shattered, and who lay dead on the spot.
As for the marquis, he was out of sight; for, fearing a fresh pursuit,
he had plunged into the cross roads, along which he rode a good hour
longer at full gallop. When he felt pretty sure of having shaken the
police off his track, and that their bad horses could not overtake him,
he determined to slacken to recruit his horse; he was walking him along
a hollow lane, when he saw a peasant approaching; he asked him the road
to the Bourbonnais, and flung him a crown. The man took the crown and
pointed out the road, but he seemed hardly to know what he was saying,
and stared at the marquis in a strange manner. The marquis shouted to
him to get out of the way; but the peasant remained planted on the
roadside without stirring an inch. The marquis advanced with threatening
looks, and asked how he dared to stare at him like that.
"The reason is," said the peasant, "that you have——", and he pointed to
his shoulder and his ruff.
The marquis glanced at his dress, and saw that his coat was dabbled in
blood, which, added to the disorder of his clothes and the dust with
which he was covered, gave him a most suspicious aspect.
"I know," said he. "I and my servant have been separated in a scuffle
with some drunken Germans; it’s only a tipsy spree, and whether I have
got scratched, or whether in collaring one of these fellows I have drawn
some of his blood, it all arises from the row. I don’t think I am hurt a
bit." So saying, he pretended to feel all over his body.
"All the same," he continued, "I should not be sorry to have a wash;
besides, I am dying with thirst and heat, and my horse is in no better
case. Do you know where I can rest and refresh myself?"
The peasant offered to guide him to his own house, only a few yards off.
His wife and children, who were working, respectfully stood aside, and
went to collect what was wanted—wine, water, fruit, and a large piece of
black bread. The marquis sponged his coat, drank a glass of wine, and
called the people of the house, whom he questioned in an indifferent
manner. He once more informed himself of the different roads leading
into the Bourbonnais province, where he was going to visit a relative;
of the villages, cross roads, distances; and finally he spoke of the
country, the harvest, and asked what news there was.
The peasant replied, with regard to this, that it was surprising to hear
of disturbances on the highway at this moment, when it was patrolled by
detachments of mounted police, who had just made an important capture.
"Who is that?—" asked the marquis.
"Oh," said the peasant, "a nobleman who has done a lot of mischief in
"What! a nobleman in the hands of justice?"
"Just so; and he stands a good chance of losing his head."
"Do they say what he has done?"
"Shocking things; horrid things; everything he shouldn’t do. All the
province is exasperated with him."
"Do you know him?"
"No, but we all have his description."
As this news was not encouraging, the marquis, after a few more
questions, saw to his horse, patted him, threw some more money to the
peasant, and disappeared in the direction pointed out.
The provost proceeded half a league farther along the road; but coming
to the conclusion that pursuit was useless, he sent one of his men to
headquarters, to warn all the points of exit from the province, and
himself returned with his troop to the place whence he had started in
the morning. The marquis had relatives in the neighbourhood, and it was
quite possible that he might seek shelter with some of them. All the
village ran to meet the horsemen, who were obliged to confess that they
had been duped by the handsome prisoner. Different views were expressed
on the event, which gave rise to much talking. The provost entered the
inn, banging his fist on the furniture, and blaming everybody for the
misfortune which had happened to him. The daughter of the house, at
first a prey to the most grievous anxiety, had great difficulty in
concealing her joy.
The provost spread his papers over the table, as if to nurse his
"The biggest rascal in the world!" he cried; "I ought to have suspected
"What a handsome man he was!" said the hostess.
"A consummate rascal! Do you know who he is? He is the Marquis de
"The Marquis de Saint-Maixent!" all cried with horror.
"Yes, the very man," replied the provost; "the Marquis de Saint-Maixent,
accused, and indeed convicted, of coining and magic."
"Convicted of incest."
"O my God!"
"Convicted of having strangled his wife to marry another, whose husband
he had first stabbed."
"Heaven help us!" All crossed themselves.
"Yes, good people," continued the furious provost, "this is the nice boy
who has just escaped the king’s justice!"
The host’s daughter left the room, for she felt she was going to faint.
"But," said the host, "is there no hope of catching him again?"
"Not the slightest, if he has taken the road to the Bourbonnais; for I
believe there are in that province noblemen belonging to his family who
will not allow him to be rearrested."
The fugitive was, indeed, no other than the Marquis de Saint-Maixent,
accused of all the enormous crimes detailed by the provost, who by his
audacious flight opened for himself an active part in the strange story
which it remains to relate.
It came to pass, a fortnight after these events, that a mounted
gentleman rang at the wicket gate of the chateau de Saint-Geran, at the
gates of Moulins. It was late, and the servants were in no hurry to
open. The stranger again pulled the bell in a masterful manner, and at
length perceived a man running from the bottom of the avenue. The
servant peered through the wicket, and making out in the twilight a very
ill-appointed traveller, with a crushed hat, dusty clothes, and no
sword, asked him what he wanted, receiving a blunt reply that the
stranger wished to see the Count de Saint-Geran without any further loss
of time. The servant replied that this was impossible; the other got
into a passion.
"Who are you?" asked the man in livery.
"You are a very ceremonious fellow!" cried the horseman. "Go and tell M.
de Saint-Geran that his relative, the Marquis de Saint-Maixent, wishes
to see him at once."
The servant made humble apologies, and opened the wicket gate. He then
walked before the marquis, called other servants, who came to help him
to dismount, and ran to give his name in the count’s apartments. The
latter was about to sit down to supper when his relative was announced;
he immediately went to receive the marquis, embraced him again and
again, and gave him the most friendly and gracious reception possible.
He wished then to take him into the dining-room to present him to all
the family; but the marquis called his attention to the disorder of his
dress, and begged for a few minutes’ conversation. The count took him
into his dressing-room, and had him dressed from head to foot in his own
clothes, whilst they talked. The marquis then narrated a made-up story
to M. de Saint-Geran relative to the accusation brought against him.
This greatly impressed his relative, and gave him a secure footing in
the chateau. When he had finished dressing, he followed the count, who
presented him to the countess and the rest of the family.
It will now be in place to state who the inmates of the chateau were,
and to relate some previous occurrences to explain subsequent ones.
The Marshal de Saint-Geran, of the illustrious house of Guiche, and
governor of the Bourbonnais, had married, for his first wife, Anne de
Tournon, by whom he had one son, Claude de la Guiche, and one daughter,
who married the Marquis de Bouille. His wife dying, he married again
with Suzanne des Epaules, who had also been previously married, being
the widow of the Count de Longaunay, by whom she had Suzanne de
The marshal and his wife, Suzanne des Epauies, for the mutual benefit of
their children by first nuptials, determined to marry them, thus sealing
their own union with a double tie. Claude de Guiche, the marshal’s son,
married Suzanne de Longaunay.
This alliance was much to the distaste of the Marchioness de Bouille,
the marshal’s daughter, who found herself separated from her stepmother,
and married to a man who, it was said, gave her great cause for
complaint, the greatest being his threescore years and ten.
The contract of marriage between Claude de la Guiche and Suzanne de
Longaunay was executed at Rouen on the 17th of February 1619; but the
tender age of the bridegroom, who was then but eighteen, was the cause
of his taking a tour in Italy, whence he returned after two years. The
marriage was a very happy one but for one circumstance—it produced no
issue. The countess could not endure a barrenness which threatened the
end of a great name, the extinction of a noble race. She made vows,
pilgrimages; she consulted doctors and quacks; but to no purpose.
The Marshal de Saint-Geran died on the Loth of December 1632, having the
mortification of having seen no descending issue from the marriage of
his son. The latter, now Count de Saint-Geran, succeeded his father in
the government of the Bourbonnais, and was named Chevalier of the King’s
Meanwhile the Marchioness de Bouille quarrelled with her old husband the
marquis, separated from him after a scandalous divorce, and came to live
at the chateau of Saint-Geran, quite at ease as to her brother’s
marriage, seeing that in default of heirs all his property would revert
Such was the state of affairs when the Marquis de Saint-Maixent arrived
at the chateau. He was young, handsome, very cunning, and very
successful with women; he even made a conquest of the dowager Countess
de Saint-Geran, who lived there with her children. He soon plainly saw
that he might easily enter into the most intimate relations with the
Marchioness de Bouille.
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent’s own fortune was much impaired by his
extravagance and by the exactions of the law, or rather, in plain words,
he had lost it all. The marchioness was heiress presumptive to the
count: he calculated that she would soon lose her own husband; in any
case, the life of a septuagenarian did not much trouble a man like the
marquis; he could then prevail upon the marchioness to marry him, thus
giving him the command of the finest fortune in the province.
He set to work to pay his court to her, especially avoiding anything
that could excite the slightest suspicion. It was, however, difficult to
get on good terms with the marchioness without showing outsiders what
was going on. But the marchioness, already prepossessed by the agreeable
exterior of M. de Saint-Maixent, soon fell into his toils, and the
unhappiness of her marriage, with the annoyances incidental to a
scandalous case in the courts, left her powerless to resist his schemes.
Nevertheless, they had but few opportunities of seeing one’ another
alone: the countess innocently took a part in all their conversations;
the count often came to take the marquis out hunting; the days passed in
family pursuits. M. de Saint-Maixent had not so far had an opportunity
of saying what a discreet woman ought to pretend not to hear; this
intrigue, notwithstanding the marquis’s impatience, dragged terribly.
The countess, as has been stated, had for twenty years never ceased to
hope that her prayers would procure for her the grace of bearing a son
to her husband. Out of sheer weariness she had given herself up to all
kinds of charlatans, who at that period were well received by people of
rank. On one occasion she brought from Italy a sort of astrologer, who
as nearly as possible poisoned her with a horrible nostrum, and was sent
back to his own country in a hurry, thanking his stars for having
escaped so cheaply. This procured Madame de Saint-Geran a severe
reprimand from her confessor; and, as time went on, she gradually
accustomed herself to the painful conclusion that she would die
childless, and cast herself into the arms of religion. The count, whose
tenderness for her never failed, yet clung to the hope of an heir, and
made his Will with this in view. The marchioness’s hopes had become
certainties, and M. de Saint-Maixent, perfectly tranquil on this head,
thought only of forwarding his suit with Madame-de Bouille, when, at the
end of the month of November 1640, the Count de Saint-Geran was obliged
to repair to Paris in great haste on pressing duty.
The countess, who could not bear to be separated from her husband, took
the family advice as to accompanying him. The marquis, delighted at an
opportunity which left him almost alone in the chateau with Madame de
Bouille, painted the journey to Paris in the most attractive colours,
and said all he could to decide her to go. The marchioness, for her
part, worked very quietly to the same end; it was more than was needed.
It was settled that the countess should go with M. de Saint-Geran. She
soon made her preparations, and a few days later they set off on the
The marquis had no fears about declaring his passion; the conquest of
Madame de Bouille gave him no trouble; he affected the most violent
love, and she responded in the same terms. All their time was spent in
excursions and walks from, which the servants were excluded; the lovers,
always together, passed whole days in some retired part of the park, or
shut up in their apartments. It was impossible for these circumstances
not to cause gossip among an army of servants, against whom they had to
keep incessantly on their guard; and this naturally happened.
The marchioness soon found herself obliged to make confidantes of the
sisters Quinet, her maids; she had no difficulty in gaining their
support, for the girls were greatly attached to her. This was the first
step of shame for Madame de Bouille, and the first step of corruption
for herself and her paramour, who soon found themselves entangled in the
blackest of plots. Moreover, there was at the chateau de Saint-Geran a
tall, spare, yellow, stupid man, just intelligent enough to perform, if
not to conceive, a bad action, who was placed in authority over the
domestics; he was a common peasant whom the old marshal had deigned to
notice, and whom the count had by degrees promoted to the service of
major-domo on account of his long service in the house, and because he
had seen him there since he himself was a child; he would not take him
away as body servant, fearing that his notions of service would not do
for Paris, and left him to the superintendence of the household. The
marquis had a quiet talk with this man, took his measure, warped his
mind as he wished, gave him some money, and acquired him body and soul.
These different agents undertook to stop the chatter of the servants’
hall, and thenceforward the lovers could enjoy free intercourse.
One evening, as the Marquis de Saint-Maixent was at supper in company
with the marchioness, a loud knocking was heard at the gate of the
chateau, to which they paid no great attention. This was followed by the
appearance of a courier who had come post haste from Paris; he entered
the courtyard with a letter from the Count de Saint-Geran for M. the
marquis; he was announced and introduced, followed by nearly all the
household. The marquis asked the meaning of all this, and dismissed all
the following with a wave of the hand; but the courier explained that M.
the count desired that the letter in his hands should be read before
everyone. The marquis opened it without replying, glanced over it, and
read it out loud without the slightest alteration: the count announced
to his good relations and to all his household that the countess had
indicated positive symptoms of pregnancy; that hardly had she arrived in
Paris when she suffered from fainting fits, nausea, retching, that she
bore with joy these premonitory indications, which were no longer a
matter of doubt to the physicians, nor to anyone; that for his part he
was overwhelmed with joy at this event, which was the crowning stroke to
all his wishes; that he desired the chateau to share his satisfaction by
indulging in all kinds of gaieties; and that so far as other matters
were concerned they could remain as they were till the return of himself
and the countess, which the letter would precede only a few days, as he
was going to transport her in a litter for greater safety. Then followed
the specification of certain sums of money to be distributed among the
The servants uttered cries of joy; the marquis and marchioness exchanged
a look, but a very troublous one; they, however, restrained themselves
so far as to simulate a great satisfaction, and the marquis brought
himself to congratulate the servants on their attachment to their master
and mistress. After this they were left alone, looking very serious,
while crackers exploded and violins resounded under the windows. For
some time they preserved silence, the first thought which occurred to
both being that the count and countess had allowed themselves to be
deceived by trifling symptoms, that people had wished to flatter their
hopes, that it was impossible for a constitution to change so suddenly
after twenty years, and that it was a case of simulative pregnancy. This
opinion gaining strength in their minds made them somewhat calmer.
The next day they took a walk side by side in a solitary path in the
park and discussed the chances of their situation. M. de Saint-Maixent
brought before the marchioness the enormous injury which this event
would bring them. He then said that even supposing the news to be true,
there were many rocks ahead to be weathered before the succession could
be pronounced secure.
"The child may die," he said at last.
And he uttered some sinister expressions on the slight damage caused by
the loss of a puny creature without mind, interest, or consequence;
nothing, he said, but a bit of ill-organised matter, which only came
into the world to ruin so considerable a person as the marchioness.
"But what is the use of tormenting ourselves?" he went on impatiently;
"the countess is not pregnant, nor can she be."
A gardener working near them overheard this part of the conversation,
but as they walked away from him he could not hear any more.
A few days later, some outriders, sent before him by the count, entered
the chateau, saying that their master and mistress were close at hand.
In fact, they were promptly followed by brakes and travelling-carriages,
and at length the countess’s litter was descried, which M. de
Saint-Geran, on horse back, had never lost sight of during the journey.
It was a triumphal reception: all the peasants had left their work, and
filled the air with shouts of welcome; the servants ran to meet their
mistress; the ancient retainers wept for joy at seeing the count so
happy and in the hope that his noble qualities might be perpetuated in
his heir. The marquis and Madame de Bouille did their best to tune up to
the pitch of this hilarity.
The dowager countess, who had arrived at the chateau the same day,
unable to convince herself as to this news, had the pleasure of
satisfying her self respecting it. The count and countess were much
beloved in the Bourbonnais province; this event caused therein a general
satisfaction, particularly in the numerous houses attached to them by
consanguinity. Within a few days of their return, more than twenty
ladies of quality flocked to visit them in great haste, to show the
great interest they took in this pregnancy. All these ladies, on one
occasion or another, convinced themselves as to its genuineness, and
many of them, carrying the subject still further, in a joking manner
which pleased the countess, dubbed themselves prophetesses, and
predicted the birth of a boy. The usual symptoms incidental to the
situation left no room for doubt: the country physicians were all
agreed. The count kept one of these physicians in the chateau for two
months, and spoke to the Marquis of Saint-Maixent of his intention of
procuring a good mid-wife, on the same terms. Finally, the dowager
countess, who was to be sponsor, ordered at a great expense a
magnificent store of baby linen, which she desired to present at the
The marchioness devoured her rage, and among the persons who went beside
themselves with joy not one remarked the disappointment which overspread
her soul. Every day she saw the marquis, who did all he could to
increase her regret, and incessantly stirred up her ill-humour by
repeating that the count and countess were triumphing over her
misfortune, and insinuating that they were importing a supposititious
child to disinherit her. As usual both in private and political affairs,
he began by corrupting the marchioness’s religious views, to pervert her
into crime. The marquis was one of those libertines so rare at that
time, a period less unhappy than is generally believed, who made science
dependent upon, atheism. It is remarkable that great criminals of this
epoch, Sainte-Croix for instance, and Exili, the gloomy poisoner, were
the first unbelievers, and that they preceded the learned of the
following age both, in philosophy and in the exclusive study of physical
science, in which they included that of poisons. Passion, interest,
hatred fought the marquis’s battles in the heart of Madame de Bouille;
she readily lent herself to everything that M. de Saint-Maixent wished.
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent had a confidential servant, cunning,
insolent, resourceful, whom he had brought from his estates, a servant
well suited to such a master, whom he sent on errands frequently into
the neighbourhood of Saint-Geran.
One evening, as the marquis was about to go to bed, this man, returning
from one of his expeditions, entered his room, where he remained for a
long time, telling him that he had at length found what he wanted, and
giving him a small piece of paper which contained several names of
places and persons.
Next morning, at daybreak, the marquis caused two of his horses to be
saddled, pretended that he was summoned home on pressing business,
foresaw that he should be absent for three or four days, made his
excuses to the count, and set off at full gallop, followed by his
They slept that night at an inn on the road to Auvergne, to put off the
scent any persons who might recognise them; then, following
cross-country roads, they arrived after two days at a large hamlet,
which they had seemed to have passed far to their left.
In this hamlet was a woman who practised the avocation of midwife, and
was known as such in the neighbourhood, but who had, it was said,
mysterious and infamous secrets for those who paid her well. Further,
she drew a good income from the influence which her art gave her over
credulous people. It was all in her line to cure the king’s evil,
compound philtres and love potions; she was useful in a variety of ways
to girls who could afford to pay her; she was a lovers’ go-between, and
even practised sorcery for country folk. She played her cards so well,
that the only persons privy to her misdeeds were unfortunate creatures
who had as strong an interest as herself in keeping them profoundly
secret; and as her terms were very high, she lived comfortably enough in
a house her own property, and entirely alone, for greater security. In a
general way, she was considered skilful in her ostensible profession,
and was held in estimation by many persons of rank. This woman’s name
was Louise Goillard.
Alone one evening after curfew, she heard a loud knocking at the door of
her house. Accustomed to receive visits at all hours, she took her lamp
without hesitation, and opened the door. An armed man, apparently much
agitated, entered the room. Louise Goillard, in a great fright, fell
into a chair; this man was the Marquis de Saint-Maixent.
"Calm yourself, good woman," said the stranger, panting and stammering;
"be calm, I beg; for it is I, not you, who have any cause for emotion. I
am not a brigand, and far from your having anything to fear, it is I, on
the contrary, who am come to beg for your assistance."
He threw his cloak into a corner, unbuckled his waistbelt, and laid
aside his sword. Then falling into a chair, he said—
"First of all, let me rest a little."
The marquis wore a travelling-dress; but although he had not stated his
name, Louise Goillard saw at a glance that he was a very different
person from what she had thought, and that, on the contrary, he was some
fine gentleman who had come on his love affairs.
"I beg you to excuse," said she, "a fear which is insulting to you. You
came in so hurriedly that I had not time to see whom I was talking to.
My house is rather lonely; I am alone; ill-disposed people might easily
take advantage of these circumstances to plunder a poor woman who has
little enough to lose. The times are so bad! You seem tired. Will you
inhale some essence?"
"Give me only a glass of water."
Louise Goillard went into the adjoining room, and returned with an ewer.
The marquis affected to rinse his lips, and said—
"I come from a great distance on a most important matter. Be assured
that I shall be properly grateful for your services."
He felt in his pocket, and pulled out a purse, which he rolled between
"In the first place; you must swear to the greatest secrecy."
"There is no need of that with us," said Louise Goillard; "that is the
first condition of our craft."
"I must have more express guarantees, and your oath that you will reveal
to no one in the world what I am going to confide to you."
"I give you my word, then, since you demand it; but I repeat that this
is superfluous; you do not know me."
"Consider that this is a most serious matter, that I am as it were
placing my head in your hands, and that I would lose my life a thousand
times rather than see this mystery unravelled."
"Consider also," bluntly replied the midwife, "that we ourselves are
primarily interested in all the secrets entrusted to us; that an
indiscretion would destroy all confidence in us, and that there are even
cases——You may speak."
When the marquis had reassured her as to himself by this preface, he
continued: "I know that you are a very able woman."
"I could indeed wish to be one, to serve you.".
"That you have pushed the study of your art to its utmost limits."
"I fear they have been flattering your humble servant."
"And that your studies have enabled you to predict the future."
"That is all nonsense."
"It is true; I have been told so."
"You have been imposed upon."
"What is the use of denying it and refusing to do me a service?"
Louise Goillard defended herself long: she could not understand a man of
this quality believing in fortune-telling, which she practised only with
low-class people and rich farmers; but the marquis appeared so earnest
that she knew not what to think.
"Listen," said he, "it is no use dissembling with me, I know all. Be
easy; we are playing a game in which you are laying one against a
thousand; moreover, here is something on account to compensate you for
the trouble I am giving."
He laid a pile of gold on the table. The matron weakly owned that she
had sometimes attempted astrological combinations which were not always
fortunate, and that she had been only induced to do so by the
fascination of the phenomena of science. The secret of her guilty
practices was drawn from her at the very outset of her defence.
"That being so," replied the marquis, "you must be already aware of the
situation in which I find myself; you must know that, hurried away by a
blind and ardent passion, I have betrayed the confidence of an old lady
and violated the laws of hospitality by seducing her daughter in her own
house; that matters have come to a crisis, and that this noble damsel,
whom I Love to distraction, being pregnant, is on the point of losing
her life and honour by the discovery of her fault, which is mine."
The matron replied that nothing could be ascertained about a person
except from private questions; and to further impose upon the marquis,
she fetched a kind of box marked with figures and strange emblems.
Opening this, and putting together certain figures which it contained,
she declared that what the marquis had told her was true, and that his
situation was a most melancholy one. She added, in order to frighten
him, that he was threatened by still more serious misfortunes than those
which had already overtaken him, but that it was easy to anticipate and
obviate these mischances by new consultations.
"Madame," replied the marquis, "I fear only one thing in the world, the
dishonour of the woman I love. Is there no method of remedying the usual
embarrassment of a birth?"
"I know of none," said the matron.
"The young lady has succeeded in concealing her condition; it would be
easy for her confinement to take place privately."
"She has already risked her life; and I cannot consent to be mixed up in
this affair, for fear of the consequences."
"Could not, for instance," said the marquis, "a confinement be effected
"I don’t know about that, but this I do" know, that I shall take very
good care not to practise any method contrary to the laws of nature."
"You are deceiving me: you are acquainted with this method, you have
already practised it upon a certain person whom I could name to you."
"Who has dared to calumniate me thus? I operate only after the decision
of the Faculty. God forbid that I should be stoned by all the
physicians, and perhaps expelled from France!"
"Will you then let me die of despair? If I were capable of making a bad
use of your secrets, I could have done so long ago, for I know them. In
Heaven’s name, do not dissimulate any longer, and tell me how it is
possible to stifle the pangs of labour. Do you want more gold? Here it
is." And he threw more Louis on the table.
"Stay," said the matron: "there is perhaps a method which I think I have
discovered, and which I have never employed, but I believe it
"But if you have never employed it, it may be dangerous, and risk the
life of the lady whom I love."
"When I say never, I mean that I have tried it once, and most
successfully. Be at your ease."
"Ah!" cried the marquis, "you have earned my everlasting gratitude!
But," continued he, "if we could anticipate the confinement itself, and
remove from henceforth the symptoms of pregnancy?"
"Oh, sir, that is a great crime you speak of!"
"Alas!" continued the marquis, as if speaking to himself in a fit of
intense grief; "I had rather lose a dear child, the pledge of our love,
than bring into the world an unhappy creature which might possibly cause
its mother’s death."
"I pray you, sir, let no more be said on the subject; it is a horrible
crime even to think of such a thing."
"But what is to be done? Is it better to destroy two persons and perhaps
kill a whole family with despair? Oh, madame, I entreat you, extricate
us from this extremity!"
The marquis buried his face in his hands, and sobbed as though he were
"Your despair grievously affects me," said the matron; "but consider
that for a woman of my calling it is a capital offence."
"What are you talking about? Do not our mystery, our safety, and our
credit come in first?
"They can never get at you till after the death and dishonour of all
that is dear to me in the world."
"I might then, perhaps. But in this case you must insure me against
legal complications, fines, and procure me a safe exit from the
"Ah! that is my affair. Take my whole fortune! Take my life!"
And he threw the whole purse on the table.
"In this case, and solely to extricate you from the extreme danger in
which I see you placed, I consent to give you a decoction, and certain
instructions, which will instantly relieve the lady from her burden. She
must use the greatest precaution, and study to carry out exactly what I
am about to tell you. My God! only such desperate occasions as this one
could induce me to—— Here——"
She took a flask from the bottom of a cupboard, and continued—
"Here is a liquor which never fails."
"Oh, madame, you save my honour, which is dearer to me than life! But
this is not enough: tell me what use I am to make of this liquor, and in
what doses I am to administer it."
"The patient," replied the midwife, "must take one spoonful the first
day; the second day two; the third——"
"You will obey me to the minutest particular?"
"I swear it."
"Let us start, then."
She asked but for time to pack a little linen, put things in order, then
fastened her doors, and left the house with the marquis. A quarter of an
hour later they were galloping through the night, without her knowing
where the marquis was taking her.
The marquis reappeared three days later at the chateau, finding the
count’s family as he had left them—that is to say, intoxicated with
hope, and counting the weeks, days, and hours before the accouchement of
the countess. He excused his hurried departure on the ground of the
importance of the business which had summoned him away; and speaking of
his journey at table, he related a story current in the country whence
he came, of a surprising event which he had all but witnessed. It was
the case of a lady of quality who suddenly found herself in the most
dangerous pangs of labour. All the skill of the physicians who had been
summoned proved futile; the lady was at the point of death; at last, in
sheer despair, they summoned a midwife of great repute among the
peasantry, but whose practice did not include the gentry. From the first
treatment of this woman, who appeared modest and diffident to a degree,
the pains ceased as if by enchantment; the patient fell into an
indefinable calm languor, and after some hours was delivered of a
beautiful infant; but after this was attacked by a violent fever which
brought her to death’s door. They then again had recourse to the
doctors, notwithstanding the opposition of the master of the house, who
had confidence in the matron. The doctors’ treatment only made matters
worse. In this extremity they again called in the midwife, and at the
end of three weeks the lady was miraculously restored to life, thus,
added the marquis, establishing the reputation of the matron, who had
sprung into such vogue in the town where she lived and the neighbouring
country that nothing else was talked about.
This story made a great impression on the company, on account of the
condition of the countess; the dowager added that it was very wrong to
ridicule these humble country experts, who often through observation and
experience discovered secrets which proud doctors were unable to unravel
with all their studies. Hereupon the count cried out that this midwife
must be sent for, as she was just the kind of woman they wanted. After
this other matters were talked about, the marquis changing the
conversation; he had gained his point in quietly introducing the thin
end of the wedge of his design.
After dinner, the company walked on the terrace. The countess dowager
not being able to walk much on account of her advanced age, the countess
and Madame de Bouille took chairs beside her. The count walked up and
down with M. de Saint-Maixent. The marquis naturally asked how things
had been going on during his absence, and if Madame de Saint-Geran had
suffered any inconvenience, for her pregnancy had become the most
important affair in the household, and hardly anything else was talked
"By the way," said the count, "you were speaking just now of a very
skilful midwife; would it not be a good step to summon her?"
"I think," replied the marquis, "that it would be an excellent
selection, for I do not suppose there is one in this neighbourhood to
compare to her."
"I have a great mind to send for her at once, and to keep her about the
countess, whose constitution she will be all the better acquainted with
if she studies it beforehand. Do you know where I can send for her?"
"Faith," said the marquis, "she lives in a village, but I don’t know
"But at least you know her name?"
"I can hardly remember it. Louise Boyard, I think, or Polliard, one or
"How! have you not even retained the name?"
"I heard the story, that’s all. Who the deuce can keep a name in his
head which he hears in such a chance fashion?"
"But did the condition of the countess never occur to you?"
"It was so far away that I did not suppose you would send such a
distance. I thought you were already provided."
"How can we set about to find her?"
"If that is all, I have a servant who knows people in that part of the
country, and who knows how to go about things: if you like, he shall go
in quest of her."
"If I like? This very moment."
The same evening the servant started on his errand with the count’s
instructions, not forgetting those of his master. He went at full speed.
It may readily be supposed that he had not far to seek the woman he was
to bring back with him; but he purposely kept away for three days, and
at the end of this time Louise Goillard was installed in the chateau.
She was a woman of plain and severe exterior, who at once inspired
confidence in everyone. The plots of the marquis and Madame de Bouille
thus throve with most baneful success; but an accident happened which
threatened to nullify them, and, by causing a great disaster, to prevent
The countess, passing into her apartments, caught her foot in a carpet,
and fell heavily on the floor. At the cries of a footman all the
household was astir. The countess was carried to bed; the most intense
alarm prevailed; but no bad consequences followed this accident, which
produced only a further succession of visits from the neighbouring
gentry. This happened about the end of the seventh month.
At length the moment of accouchement came. Everything had long before
been arranged for the delivery, and nothing remained to be done. The
marquis had employed all this time in strengthening Madame de Bouille
against her scruples. He often saw Louise Goillard in private, and gave
her his instructions; but he perceived that the corruption of Baulieu,
the house steward, was an essential factor. Baulieu was already half
gained over by the interviews of the year preceding; a large sum of
ready money and many promises did the rest. This wretch was not ashamed
to join a plot against a master to whom he owed everything. The
marchioness for her part, and always under the instigation of M. de
Saint-Maixent, secured matters all round by bringing into the abominable
plot the Quinet girls, her maids; so that there was nothing but treason
and conspiracy against this worthy family among their upper servants,
usually styled confidential. Thus, having prepared matters, the
conspirators awaited the event.
On the 16th of August the Countess de Saint-Geran was overtaken by the
pangs of labour in the chapel of the chateau, where she was hearing
mass. They carried her to her room before mass was over, her women ran
around her, and the countess dowager with her own hands arranged on her
head a cap of the pattern worn by ladies about to be confined—a cap
which is not usually removed till some time later.
The pains recurred with terrible intensity. The count wept at his wife’s
cries. Many persons were present. The dowager’s two daughters by her
second marriage, one of whom, then sixteen years of age, afterwards
married the Duke de Ventadour and was a party to the lawsuit, wished to
be present at this accouchement, which was to perpetuate by a new scion
an illustrious race near extinction. There were also Dame Saligny,
sister of the late Marshal Saint-Geran, the Marquis de Saint-Maixent,
and the Marchioness de Bouille.
Everything seemed to favour the projects of these last two persons, who
took an interest in the event of a very different character from that
generally felt. As the pains produced no result, and the accouchement
was of the most difficult nature, while the countess was near the last
extremity, expresses were sent to all the neighbouring parishes to offer
prayers for the mother and the child; the Holy Sacrament was elevated in
the churches at Moulins.
The midwife attended to everything herself. She maintained that the
countess would be more comfortable if her slightest desires were
instantly complied with. The countess herself never spoke a word, only
interrupting the gloomy silence by heart-rending cries. All at once,
Madame de Boulle, who affected to be bustling about, pointed out that
the presence of so many persons was what hindered the countess’s
accouchement, and, assuming an air of authority justified by fictitious
tenderness, said that everyone must retire, leaving the patient in the
hands of the persons who were absolutely necessary to her, and that, to
remove any possible objections, the countess dowager her mother must set
the example. The opportunity was made use of to remove the count from
this harrowing spectacle, and everyone followed the countess dowager.
Even the countess’s own maids were not allowed to remain, being sent on
errands which kept them out of the way. This further reason was given,
that the eldest being scarcely fifteen, they were too young to be
present on such an occasion. The only persons remaining by the bedside
were the Marchioness de Bouille, the midwife, and the two Quinet girls;
the countess was thus in the hands of her most cruel enemies.
It was seven o’clock in the evening; the labours continued; the elder
Quinet girl held the patient by the hand to soothe her. The count and
the dowager sent incessantly to know the news. They were told that
everything was going on well, and that shortly their wishes would be
accomplished; but none of the servants were allowed to enter the room.
Three hours later, the midwife declared that the countess could not hold
out any longer unless she got some rest. She made her swallow a liquor
which was introduced into her mouth by spoonfuls. The countess fell into
so deep a sleep that she seemed to be dead. The younger Quinet girl
thought for a moment that they had killed her, and wept in a corner of
the room, till Madame de Bouille reassured her.
During this frightful night a shadowy figure prowled in the corridors,
silently patrolled the rooms, and came now and then to the door of the
bedroom, where he conferred in a low tone with the midwife and the
Marchioness de Bouille. This was the Marquis de Saint-Maixent, who gave
his orders, encouraged his people, watched over every point of his plot,
himself a prey to the agonies of nervousness which accompany the
preparations for a great crime.
The dowager countess, owing to her great age, had been compelled to take
some rest. The count sat up, worn out with fatigue, in a downstairs room
hard by that in which they were compassing the ruin of all most dear to
him in the world.
The countess, in her profound lethargy, gave birth, without being aware
of it, to a boy, who thus fell on his entry into the world into the
hands of his enemies, his mother powerless to defend him by her cries
and tears. The door was half opened, and a man who was waiting outside
brought in; this was the major-domo Baulieu.
The midwife, pretending to afford the first necessary cares to the
child, had taken it into a corner. Baulieu watched her movements, and
springing upon her, pinioned her arms. The wretched woman dug her nails
into the child’s head. He snatched it from her, but the poor infant for
long bore the marks of her claws.
Possibly the Marchioness de Bouille could not nerve herself to the
commission of so great a crime; but it seems more probable that the
steward prevented the destruction of the child under the orders of M. de
Saint-Maixent. The theory is that the marquis, mistrustful of the
promise made him by Madame de Bouille to marry him after the death of
her husband, desired to keep the child to oblige her to keep her word,
under threats of getting him acknowledged, if she proved faithless to
him. No other adequate reason can be conjectured to determine a man of
his character to take such great care of his victim.
Baulieu swaddled the child immediately, put it in a basket, hid it under
his cloak, and went with his prey to find the marquis; they conferred
together for some time, after which the house steward passed by a
postern gate into the moat, thence to a terrace by which he reached a
bridge leading into the park. This park had twelve gates, and he had the
keys of all. He mounted a blood horse which he had left waiting behind a
wall, and started off at full gallop. The same day he passed through the
village of Escherolles, a league distant from Saint-Geran, where he
stopped at the house of a nurse, wife of a glove-maker named Claude.
This peasant woman gave her breast to the child; but the steward, not
daring to stay in a village so near Saint-Geran, crossed the river
Allier at the port de la Chaise, and calling at the house of a man named
Boucaud, the good wife suckled the child for the second time; he then
continued his journey in the direction of Auvergne.
The heat was excessive, his horse was done up, the child seemed uneasy.
A carrier’s cart passed him going to Riom; it was owned by a certain
Paul Boithion of the town of Aigueperce, a common carrier on the road.
Baulieu went alongside to put the child in the cart, which he entered
himself, carrying the infant on his knees. The horse followed, fastened
by the bridle to the back of the cart.
In the conversation which he held with this man, Baulieu said that he
should not take so much care of the child did it not belong to the most
noble house in the Bourbonnais. They reached the village of Che at
midday. The mistress of the house where he put up, who was nursing an
infant, consented to give some of her milk to the child. The poor
creature was covered with blood; she warmed some water, stripped off its
swaddling linen, washed it from head to foot, and swathed it up again
The carrier then took them to Riom. When they got there, Baulieu got rid
of him by giving a false meeting-place for their departure; left in the
direction of the abbey of Lavoine, and reached the village of
Descoutoux, in the mountains, between Lavoine and Thiers. The
Marchioness de Bouille had a chateau there where she occasionally spent
The child was nursed at Descoutoux by Gabrielle Moini, who was paid a
month in advance; but she only kept it a week or so, because they
refused to tell her the father and mother and to refer her to a place
where she might send reports of her charge. This woman having made these
reasons public, no nurse could be found to take charge of the child,
which was removed from the village of Descoutoux. The persons who
removed it took the highroad to Burgundy, crossing a densely wooded
country, and here they lost their way.
The above particulars were subsequently proved by the nurses, the
carrier, and others who made legal depositions. They are stated at
length here, as they proved very important in the great lawsuit. The
compilers of the case, into which we search for information, have
however omitted to tell us how the absence of the major-domo was
accounted for at the castle; probably the far-sighted marquis had got an
The countess’s state of drowsiness continued till daybreak. She woke
bathed in blood, completely exhausted, but yet with a sensation of
comfort which convinced her that she had been delivered from her burden.
Her first words were about her child; she wished to see it, kiss it; she
asked where it was. The midwife coolly told her, whilst the girls who
were by were filled with amazement at her audacity, that she had not
been confined at all. The countess maintained the contrary, and as she
grew very excited, the midwife strove to calm her, assuring her that in
any case her delivery could not be long protracted, and that, judging
from all the indications of the night, she would give birth to a boy.
This promise comforted the count and the countess dowager, but failed to
satisfy the countess, who insisted that a child had been born.
The same day a scullery-maid met a woman going to the water’s edge in
the castle moat, with a parcel in her arms. She recognised the midwife,
and asked what she was carrying and where she was going so early. The
latter replied that she was very inquisitive, and that it was nothing at
all; but the girl, laughingly pretending to be angry at this answer,
pulled open one of the ends of the parcel before the midwife had time to
stop her, and exposed to view some linen soaked in blood.
"Madame has been confined, then?" she said to the matron.
"No," replied she briskly, "she has not."
The girl was unconvinced, and said, "How do you mean that she has not,
when madame the marchioness, who was there, says she has?" The matron in
great confusion replied, "She must have a very long tongue, if she said
The girl’s evidence was later found most important.
The countess’s uneasiness made her worse the next day. She implored with
sighs and tears at least to be told what had become of her child,
steadily maintaining that she was not mistaken when she assured them
that she had given birth to one. The midwife with great effrontery told
her that the new moon was unfavourable to childbirth, and that she must
wait for the wane, when it would be easier as matters were already
Invalids’ fancies do not obtain much credence; still, the persistence of
the countess would have convinced everyone in the long run, had not the
dowager said that she remembered at the end of the ninth month of one of
her own pregnancies she had all the premonitory symptoms of lying in,
but they proved false, and in fact the accouchement took place three
This piece of news inspired great confidence. The marquis and Madame de
Bouille did all in their power to confirm it, but the countess
obstinately refused to listen to it, and her passionate transports of
grief gave rise to the greatest anxiety. The midwife, who knew not how
to gain time, and was losing all hope in face of the countess’s
persistence, was almost frightened out of her wits; she entered into
medical details, and finally said that some violent exercise must be
taken to induce labour. The countess, still unconvinced, refused to obey
this order; but the count, the dowager, and all the family entreated her
so earnestly that she gave way.
They put her in a close carriage, and drove her a whole day over
ploughed fields, by the roughest and hardest roads. She was so shaken
that she lost the power of breathing; it required all the strength of
her constitution to support this barbarous treatment in the delicate
condition of a lady so recently confined. They put her to bed again
after this cruel drive, and seeing that nobody took her view, she threw
herself into the arms of Providence, and consoled herself by religion;
the midwife administered violent remedies to deprive her of milk; she
got over all these attempts to murder her, and slowly got better.
Time, which heals the deepest affliction, gradually soothed that of the
countess; her grief nevertheless burst out periodically on the slightest
cause; but eventually it died out, till the following events rekindled
There had been in Paris a fencing-master who used to boast that he had a
brother in the service of a great house. This fencing-master had married
a certain Marie Pigoreau, daughter of an actor. He had recently died in
poor circumstances, leaving her a widow with two children. This woman
Pigoreau did not enjoy the best of characters, and no one knew how she
made a living, when all at once, after some short absences from home and
visit from a man who came in the evening, his face muffled in his cloak,
she launched out into a more expensive style of living; the neighbours
saw in her house costly clothes, fine swaddling-clothes, and at last it
became known that she was nursing a strange child.
About the same time it also transpired that she had a deposit of two
thousand livres in the hands of a grocer in the quarter, named Raguenet;
some days later, as the child’s baptism had doubtless been put off for
fear of betraying his origin, Pigoreau had him christened at St. Jean en
Greve. She did not invite any of the neighbours to the function, and
gave parents’ names of her own choosing at the church. For godfather she
selected the parish sexton, named Paul Marmiou, who gave the child the
name of Bernard. La Pigoreau remained in a confessional during the
ceremony, and gave the man ten sou. The godmother was Jeanne Chevalier,
a poor woman of the parish.
The entry in the register was as follows:
"On the seventh day of March one thousand six hundred and
forty-two was baptized Bernard, son of . . . and . . . his
godfather being Paul Marmiou, day labourer and servant of this
parish, and his godmother Jeanne Chevalier, widow of Pierre
A few days afterwards la Pigoreau put out the child to nurse in the
village of Torcy en Brie, with a woman who had been her godmother, whose
husband was called Paillard. She gave out that it was a child of quality
which had been entrusted to her, and that she should not hesitate, if
such a thing were necessary, to save its life by the loss of one of her
own children. The nurse did not keep it long, because she fell ill; la
Pigoreau went to fetch the child away, lamenting this accident, and
further saying that she regretted it all the more, as the nurse would
have earned enough to make her comfortable for the rest of her life. She
put the infant out again in the same village, with the widow of a
peasant named Marc Peguin. The monthly wage was regularly paid, and the
child brought up as one of rank. La Pigoreau further told the woman that
it was the son of a great nobleman, and would later make the fortunes of
those who served him. An elderly man, whom the people supposed to be the
child’s father, but who Pigoreau assured them was her brother-in-law,
often came to see him.
When the child was eighteen months old, la Pigoreau took him away and
weaned him. Of the two by her husband the elder was called Antoine, the
second would have been called Henri if he had lived; but he was born on
the 9th of August 1639, after the death of his father, who was killed in
June of the same year, and died shortly after his birth. La Pigoreau
thought fit to give the name and condition of this second son to the
stranger, and thus bury for ever the secret of his birth. With this end
in view, she left the quarter where she lived, and removed to conceal
herself in another parish where she was not known. The child was brought
up under the name and style of Henri, second son of la Pigoreau, till he
was two and a half years of age; but at this time, whether she was not
engaged to keep it any longer, or whether she had spent the two thousand
livres deposited with the grocer Raguenet, and could get no more from
the principals, she determined to get rid of it.
Her gossips used to tell this woman that she cared but little for her
eldest son, because she was very confident of the second one making his
fortune, and that if she were obliged to give up one of them, she had
better keep the younger, who was a beautiful boy. To this she would
reply that the matter did not depend upon her; that the boy’s godfather
was an uncle in good circumstances, who would not charge himself with
any other child. She often mentioned this uncle, her brother-in-law, she
said, who was major-domo in a great house.
One morning, the hall porter at the hotel de Saint-Geran came to Baulieu
and told him that a woman carrying a child was asking for him at the
wicket gate; this Baulieu was, in fact, the brother of the fencing
master, and godfather to Pigoreau’s second son. It is now supposed that
he was the unknown person who had placed the child of quality with her,
and who used to go and see him at his nurse’s. La Pigoreau gave him a
long account of her situation. The major-domo took the child with some
emotion, and told la Pigoreau to wait his answer a short distance off,
in a place which he pointed out.
Baulieu’s wife made a great outcry at the first proposal of an increase
of family; but he succeeded in pacifying her by pointing out the
necessities of his sister-in-law, and how easy and inexpensive it was to
do this good work in such a house as the count’s. He went to his master
and mistress to ask permission to bring up this child in their hotel; a
kind of feeling entered into the charge he was undertaking which in some
measure lessened the weight on his conscience.
The count and countess at first opposed this project; telling him that
having already five children he ought not to burden himself with any
more, but he petitioned so earnestly that he obtained what he wanted.
The countess wished to see it, and as she was about to start for Moulins
she ordered it to be put in her women’s coach; when it was shown her,
she cried out, "What a lovely child!" The boy was fair, with large blue
eyes and very regular features, She gave him a hundred caresses, which
the child returned very prettily. She at once took a great fancy to him,
and said to Baulieu, "I shall not put him in my women’s coach; I shall
put him in my own."
After they arrived at the chateau of Saint-Geran, her affection for
Henri, the name retained by the child, increased day by day. She often
contemplated him with sadness, then embraced him with tenderness, and
kept him long on her bosom. The count shared this affection for the
supposed nephew of Baulieu, who was adopted, so to speak, and brought up
like a child of quality.
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent and Madame de Bouille had not married,
although the old Marquis de Bouille had long been dead. It appeared that
they had given up this scheme. The marchioness no doubt felt scruples
about it, and the marquis was deterred from marriage by his profligate
habits. It is moreover supposed that other engagements and heavy bribes
compensated the loss he derived from the marchioness’s breach of faith.
He was a man about town at that period, and was making love to the
demoiselle Jacqueline de la Garde; he had succeeded in gaining her
affections, and brought matters to such a point that she no longer
refused her favours except on the grounds of her pregnancy and the
danger of an indiscretion. The marquis then offered to introduce to her
a matron who could deliver women without the pangs of labour, and who
had a very successful practice. The same Jacqueline de la Garde further
gave evidence at the trial that M. de Saint-Maixent had often boasted,
as of a scientific intrigue, of having spirited away the son of a
governor of a province and grandson of a marshal of France; that he
spoke of the Marchioness de Bouille, said that he had made her rich, and
that it was to him she owed her great wealth; and further, that one day
having taken her to a pretty country seat which belonged to him, she
praised its beauty, saying "c’etait un beau lieu"; he replied by a pun
on a man’s name, saying that he knew another Baulieu who had enabled him
to make a fortune of five hundred thousand crowns. He also said to
Jadelon, sieur de la Barbesange, when posting with him from Paris, that
the Countess de Saint-Geran had been delivered of a son who was in his
The marquis had not seen Madame de Bouille for a long time; a common
danger reunited them. They had both learned with terror the presence of
Henri at the hotel de Saint-Geran. They consulted about this; the
marquis undertook to cut the danger short. However, he dared put in
practice nothing overtly against the child, a matter still more
difficult just then, inasmuch as some particulars of his discreditable
adventures had leaked out, and the Saint-Geran family received him more
Baulieu, who witnessed every day the tenderness of the count and
countess for the boy Henri, had been a hundred times on the point of
giving himself up and confessing everything. He was torn to pieces with
remorse. Remarks escaped him which he thought he might make without
ulterior consequences; seeing the lapse of time, but they were noted and
commented on. Sometimes he would say that he held in his hand the life
and honour of Madame the Marchioness de Bouille; sometimes that the
count and countess had more reasons than they knew of for loving Henri.
One day he put a case of conscience to a confessor, thus: "Whether a man
who had been concerned in the abduction of a child could not satisfy his
conscience by restoring him to his father and mother without telling
them who he was?" What answer the confessor made is not known, but
apparently it was not what the major-domo wanted. He replied to a
magistrate of Moulins, who congratulated him on having a nephew whom his
masters overburdened with kind treatment, that they ought to love him,
since he was nearly related to them.
These remarks were noticed by others than those principally concerned.
One day a wine merchant came to propose to Baulieu the purchase of a
pipe of Spanish wine, of which he gave him a sample bottle; in the
evening he was taken violently ill. They carried him to bed, where he
writhed, uttering horrible cries. One sole thought possessed him when
his sufferings left him a lucid interval, and in his agony he repeated
over and over again that he wished to implore pardon from the count and
countess for a great injury which he had done them. The people round
about him told him that was a trifle, and that he ought not to let it
embitter his last moments, but he begged so piteously that he got them
to promise that they should be sent for.
The count thought it was some trifling irregularity, some
misappropriation in the house accounts; and fearing to hasten the death
of the sufferer by the shame of the confession of a fault, he sent word
that he heartily forgave him, that he might die tranquil, and refused to
see him. Baulieu expired, taking his secret with him. This happened in
The child was then seven years old. His charming manners grew with his
age, and the count and countess felt their love for him increase. They
caused him to be taught dancing and fencing, put him into breeches and
hose, and a page’s suit of their livery, in which capacity he served
them. The marquis turned his attack to this quarter. He was doubtless
preparing some plot as criminal as the preceding, when justice overtook
him for some other great crimes of which he had been guilty. He was
arrested one day in the street when conversing with one of the
Saint-Geran footmen, and taken to the Conciergerie of the Palace of
Whether owing to these occurrences, or to grounds for suspicion before
mentioned, certain reports spread in the Bourbonnais embodying some of
the real facts; portions of them reached the ears of the count and
countess, but they had only the effect of renewing their grief without
furnishing a clue to the truth.
Meanwhile, the count went to take the waters at Vichy. The countess and
Madame de Bouille followed him, and there they chanced to encounter
Louise Goillard, the midwife. This woman renewed her acquaintance with
the house, and in particular often visited the Marchioness de Bouille.
One day the countess, unexpectedly entering the marchioness’s room,
found them both conversing in an undertone. They stopped talking
immediately, and appeared disconcerted.
The countess noticed this without attaching any importance to it, and
asked the subject of their conversation.
"Oh, nothing," said the marchioness.
"But what is it?" insisted the countess, seeing that she blushed.
The marchioness, no longer able to evade the question, and feeling her
difficulties increase, replied—
"Dame Louise is praising my brother for bearing no ill-will to her."
"Why?" said the countess, turning to the midwife,—"why should you fear
any ill-will on the part of my husband?"
"I was afraid," said Louise Goillard awkwardly, "that he might have
taken a dislike to me on account of all that happened when you expected
to be confined."
The obscurity of these words and embarrassment of the two women produced
a lively effect upon the countess; but she controlled herself and let
the subject drop. Her agitation, however, did not escape the notice of
the marchioness, who the next day had horses put to her coach and
retired to hey estate of Lavoine. This clumsy proceeding strengthened
The first determination of the countess was to arrest Louise Goillard;
but she saw that in so serious a matter every step must be taken with
precaution. She consulted the count and the countess dowager. They
quietly summoned the midwife, to question her without any preliminaries.
She prevaricated and contradicted herself over and over again; moreover,
her state of terror alone sufficed to convict her of a crime. They
handed her over to the law, and the Count de Saint-Geran filed an
information before the vice-seneschal of Moulins.
The midwife underwent a first interrogatory. She confessed the truth of
the accouchement, but she added that the countess had given birth to a
still-born daughter, which she had buried under a stone near the step of
the barn in the back yard. The judge, accompanied by a physician and a
surgeon, repaired to the place, where he found neither stone, nor
foetus, nor any indications of an interment. They searched
unsuccessfully in other places.
When the dowager countess heard this statement, she demanded that this
horrible woman should be put on her trial. The civil lieutenant, in the
absence of the criminal lieutenant, commenced the proceedings.
In a second interrogation, Louise Goillard positively declared that the
countess had never been confined;
In a third, that she had been delivered of a mole;
In a fourth, that she had been confined of a male infant, which Baulieu
had carried away in a basket;
And in a fifth, in which she answered from the dock, she maintained that
her evidence of the countess’s accouchement had been extorted from her
by violence. She made no charges against either Madame de Bouille or the
Marquis de Saint Maixent. On the other hand, no sooner was she under
lock and key than she despatched her son Guillemin to the marchioness to
inform her that she was arrested. The marchioness recognised how
threatening things were, and was in a state of consternation; she
immediately sent the sieur de la Foresterie, her steward, to the
lieutenant-general, her counsel, a mortal enemy of the count, that he
might advise her in this conjuncture, and suggest a means for helping
the matron without appearing openly in the matter. The lieutenant’s
advice was to quash the proceedings and obtain an injunction against the
continuance of the preliminaries to the action. The marchioness spent a
large sum of money, and obtained this injunction; but it was immediately
reversed, and the bar to the suit removed.
La Foresterie was then ordered to pass to Riom, where the sisters Quinet
lived, and to bribe them heavily to secrecy. The elder one, on leaving
the marchioness’s service, had shaken her fist in her face, feeling
secure with the secrets in her knowledge, and told her that she would
repent having dismissed her and her sister, and that she would make a
clean breast of the whole affair, even were she to be hung first. These
girls then sent word that they wished to enter her service again; that
the countess had promised them handsome terms if they would speak; and
that they had even been questioned in her name by a Capuchin superior,
but that they said nothing, in order to give time to prepare an answer
for them. The marchioness found herself obliged to take back the girls;
she kept the younger, and married the elder to Delisle, her house
steward. But la Foresterie, finding himself in this network of intrigue,
grew disgusted at serving such a mistress, and left her house. The
marchioness told him on his departure that if he were so indiscreet as
to repeat a word of what he had learned from the Quinet girls, she would
punish him with a hundred poniard stabs from her major-domo Delisle.
Having thus fortified her position, she thought herself secure against
any hostile steps; but it happened that a certain prudent Berger,
gentleman and page to the Marquis de Saint-Maixent, who enjoyed his
master’s confidence and went to see him in the Conciergerie, where he
was imprisoned, threw some strange light on this affair. His master had
narrated to him all the particulars of the accouchement of the countess
and of the abduction of the child.
"I am astonished, my lord," replied the page, "that having so many
dangerous affairs on hand; you did not relieve your conscience of this
"I intend," replied the marquis, "to restore this child to his father: I
have been ordered to do so by a Capuchin to whom I confessed having
carried off from the midst of the family, without their knowing it, a
grandson of a marshal of France and son of a governor of a province."
The marquis had at that time permission to go out from prison
occasionally on his parole. This will not surprise anyone acquainted
with the ideas which prevailed at that period on the honour of a
nobleman, even the greatest criminal. The marquis, profiting by this
facility, took the page to see a child of about seven years of age, fair
and with a beautiful countenance.
"Page," said he, "look well at this child, so that you may know him
again when I shall send you to inquire about him."
He then informed him that this was the Count de Saint-Geran’s son whom
he had carried away.
Information of these matters coming to the ears of justice, decisive
proofs were hoped for; but this happened just when other criminal
informations were lodged against the marquis, which left him helpless to
prevent the exposure of his crimes. Police officers were despatched in
all haste to the Conciergerie; they were stopped by the gaolers, who
told them that the marquis, feeling ill, was engaged with a priest who
was administering the sacraments, to him. As they insisted on seeing
him; the warders approached the cell: the priest came out, crying that
persons must be sought to whom the sick man had a secret to reveal; that
he was in a desperate state, and said he had just poisoned himself; all
entered the cell.
M. de Saint-Maixent was writhing on a pallet, in a pitiable condition,
sometimes shrieking like a wild beast, sometimes stammering
disconnected words. All that the officers could hear was—
"Monsieur le Comte . . . call . . . the Countess . . . de Saint-Geran .
. . let them come. . . ." The officers earnestly begged him to try to be
The marquis had another fit; when he opened his eyes, he said—
"Send for the countess . . . let them forgive me . . . I wish to tell
them everything." The police officers asked him to speak; one even told
him that the count was there. The marquis feebly murmured—
"I am going to tell you——" Then he gave a loud cry and fell back dead.
It thus seemed as if fate took pains to close every mouth from which the
truth might escape. Still, this avowal of a deathbed revelation to be
made to the Count de Saint-Geran and the deposition of the priest who
had administered the last sacraments formed a strong link in the chain
The judge of first instruction, collecting all the information he had
got, made a report the weight of which was overwhelming. The carters,
the nurse, the domestic servants, all gave accounts consistent with each
other; the route and the various adventures of the child were plainly
detailed, from its birth till its arrival at the village of Descoutoux.
Justice, thus tracing crime to its sources, had no option but to issue a
warrant for the arrest of the Marchioness de Bouilie; but it seems
probable that it was not served owing to the strenuous efforts of the
Count de Saint-Geran, who could not bring himself to ruin his sister,
seeing that her dishonour would have been reflected on him. The
marchioness hid her remorse in solitude, and appeared again no more. She
died shortly after, carrying the weight of her secret till she drew her
The judge of Moulins at length pronounced sentence on the midwife, whom
he declared arraigned and convicted of having suppressed the child born
to the countess; for which he condemned her to be tortured and then
hanged. The matron lodged an appeal against this sentence, and the case
was referred to the Conciergerie.
No sooner had the count and countess seen the successive proofs of the
procedure, than tenderness and natural feelings accomplished the rest.
They no longer doubted that their page was their son; they stripped him
at once of his livery and gave him his rank and prerogatives, under the
title of the Count de la Palice.
Meanwhile, a private person named Sequeville informed the countess that
he had made a very important discovery; that a child had been baptized
in 1642 at St. Jean-en-Greve, and that a woman named Marie Pigoreau had
taken a leading part in the affair. Thereupon inquiries were made, and
it was discovered that this child had been nursed in the village of
Torcy. The count obtained a warrant which enabled him to get evidence
before the judge of Torcy; nothing was left undone to elicit the whole
truth; he also obtained a warrant through which he obtained more
information, and published a monitory. The elder of the Quinet girls on
this told the Marquis de Canillac that the count was searching at a
distance for things very near him. The truth shone out with great lustre
through these new facts which gushed from all this fresh information.
The child, exhibited in the presence of a legal commissary to the nurses
and witnesses of Torcy, was identified, as much by the scars left by the
midwife’s nails on his head, as by his fair hair and blue eyes. This
ineffaceable vestige of the woman’s cruelty was the principal proof; the
witnesses testified that la Pigoreau, when she visited this child with a
man who appeared to be of condition, always asserted that he was the son
of a great nobleman who had been entrusted to her care, and that she
hoped he would make her fortune and that of those who had reared him.
The child’s godfather, Paul Marmiou, a common labourer; the grocer
Raguenet, who had charge of the two thousand livres; the servant of la
Pigoreau, who had heard her say that the count was obliged to take this
child; the witnesses who proved that la Pigoreau had told them that the
child was too well born to wear a page’s livery, all furnished
convincing proofs; but others were forthcoming.
It was at la Pigoreau’s that the Marquis de Saint-Maixent, living then
at the hotel de Saint-Geran, went to see the child, kept in her house as
if it were hers; Prudent Berger, the marquis’s page, perfectly well
remembered la Pigoreau, and also the child, whom he had seen at her
house and whose history the marquis had related to him. Finally, many
other witnesses heard in the course of the case, both before the three
chambers of nobles, clergy, and the tiers etat, and before the judges of
Torcy, Cusset, and other local magistrates, made the facts so clear and
conclusive in favour of the legitimacy of the young count, that it was
impossible to avoid impeaching the guilty parties. The count ordered the
summons in person of la Pigoreau, who had not been compromised in the
original preliminary proceedings. This drastic measure threw the
intriguing woman on her beam ends, but she strove hard to right herself.
The widowed Duchess de Ventadour, daughter by her mother’s second
marriage of the Countess dowager of Saint-Geran, and half-sister of the
count, and the Countess de Lude, daughter of the Marchioness de Bouille,
from whom the young count carried away the Saint-Geran inheritance, were
very warm in the matter, and spoke of disputing the judgment. La
Pigoreau went to see them, and joined in concert with them.
Then commenced this famous lawsuit, which long occupied all France, and
is parallel in some respects, but not in the time occupied in the
hearing, to the case heard by Solomon, in which one child was claimed by
The Marquis de Saint-Maixent and Madame de Bouille being dead, were
naturally no parties to the suit, which was fought against the
Saint-Geran family by la Pigoreau and Mesdames du Lude and de Ventadour.
These ladies no doubt acted in good faith, at first at any rate, in
refusing to believe the crime; for if they had originally known the
truth it is incredible that they could have fought the case so long aid
They first of all went to the aid of the midwife, who had fallen sick in
prison; they then consulted together, and resolved as follows:
That the accused should appeal against criminal proceedings;
That la Pigoreau should lodge a civil petition against the judgments
which ordered her arrest and the confronting of witnesses;
That they should appeal against the abuse of obtaining and publishing
monitories, and lodge an interpleader against the sentence of the judge
of first instruction, who had condemned the matron to capital
And that finally, to carry the war into the enemy’s camp, la Pigoreau
should impugn the maternity of the countess, claiming the child as her
own; and that the ladies should depose that the countess’s accouchement
was an imposture invented to cause it to be supposed that she had given
birth to a child.
For more safety and apparent absence of collusion Mesdames du Lude and
de Ventadour pretended to have no communication with la Pigoreau.
About this time the midwife died in prison, from an illness which
vexation and remorse had aggravated. After her death, her son Guillemin
confessed that she had often told him that the countess had given birth
to a son whom Baulieu had carried off, and that the child entrusted to
Baulieu at the chateau Saint-Geran was the same as the one recovered;
the youth added that he had concealed this fact so long as it might
injure his mother, and he further stated that the ladies de Ventadour
and du Lude had helped her in prison with money and advice—another
strong piece of presumptive evidence.
The petitions of the accused and the interpleadings of Mesdames du Lude
and de Ventadour were discussed in seven hearings, before three courts
convened. The suit proceeded with all the languor and chicanery of the
After long and specious arguments, the attorney general Bijnon gave his
decision in favour of the Count and Countess of Saint-Geran, concluding
"The court rejects the civil appeal of la Pigoreau; and all the
opposition and appeals of the appellants and the defendants; condemns
them to fine and in costs; and seeing that the charges against la
Pigoreau were of a serious nature, and that a personal summons had been
decreed against her, orders her committal, recommending her to the
indulgence of the court."
By a judgment given in a sitting at the Tournelle by M. de Mesmes, on
the 18th of August 1657, the appellant ladies’ and the defendants’
opposition was rejected with fine and costs. La Pigoreau was forbidden
to leave the city and suburbs of Paris under penalty of summary
conviction. The judgment in the case followed the rejection of the
This reverse at first extinguished the litigation of Mesdames du Lude
and de Ventadour, but it soon revived more briskly than ever. These
ladies, who had taken la Pigoreau in their coach to all the hearings,
prompted her, in order to procrastinate, to file a fresh petition, in
which she demanded the confrontment of all the witnesses to the
pregnancy, and the confinement. On hearing this petition, the court gave
on the 28th of August 1658 a decree ordering the confrontment, but on
condition that for three days previously la Pigoreau should deliver
herself a prisoner in the Conciergerie.
This judgment, the consequences of which greatly alarmed la Pigoreau,
produced such an effect upon her that, after having weighed the interest
she had in the suit, which she would lose by flight, against the danger
to her life if she ventured her person into the hands of justice, she
abandoned her false plea of maternity, and took refuge abroad. This last
circumstance was a heavy blow to Mesdames du Lude and de Ventadour; but
they were not at the end of their resources and their obstinacy.
Contempt of court being decreed against la Pigoreau, and the case being
got up against the other defendants, the Count de Saint-Geran left for
the Bourbonnais, to put in execution the order to confront the
witnesses. Scarcely had he arrived in the province when he was obliged
to interrupt his work to receive the king and the queen mother, who were
returning from Lyons and passing through Moulins. He presented the Count
de la Palice to their Majesties as his son; they received him as such.
But during the visit of the king and queen the Count de Saint-Geran fell
ill, over fatigued, no doubt, by the trouble he had taken to give them a
suitable reception, over and above the worry of his own affairs.
During his illness, which only lasted a week, he made in his will a new
acknowledgment of his son, naming his executors M. de Barriere,
intendant of the province, and the sieur Vialet, treasurer of France,
desiring them to bring the lawsuit to an end. His last words were for
his wife and child; his only regret that he had not been able to
terminate this affair. He died on the 31st of January 1659.
The maternal tenderness of the countess did not need stimulating by the
injunctions of her husband, and she took up the suit with energy. The
ladies de Ventadour and du Lude obtained by default letters of
administration as heiresses without liability, which were granted out of
the Chatelet. At the same time they appealed against the judgment of the
lieutenant-general of the Bourbonnais, giving the tutelage of the young
count to the countess his mother, and his guardianship to sieur de
Bompre. The countess, on her side, interpleaded an appeal against the
granting of letters of administration without liability, and did all in
her power to bring back the case to the Tournelle. The other ladies
carried their appeal to the high court, pleading that they were not
parties to the lawsuit in the Tournelle.
It would serve no purpose to follow the obscure labyrinth of legal
procedure of that period, and to recite all the marches and
countermarches which legal subtlety suggested to the litigants. At the
end of three years, on the 9th of April 1661, the countess obtained a
judgment by which the king in person:
"Assuming to his own decision the civil suit pending at the
Tournelle, as well as the appeals pled by both parties, and the
last petition of Mesdames du Lude and de Ventadour, sends back
the whole case to the three assembled chambers of the States
General, to be by them decided on its merits either jointly or
separately, as they may deem fit."
The countess thus returned to her first battlefield. Legal science
produced an immense quantity of manuscript, barristers and attorneys
greatly distinguishing themselves in their calling. After an
interminable hearing, and pleadings longer and more complicated than
ever, which however did not bamboozle the court, judgment was pronounced
in Conformity with the summing up of the attorney-general, thus—
"That passing over the petition of Mesdames Marie de la Guiche and
Eleonore de Bouille, on the grounds," etc. etc.;
"Evidence taken," etc.;
"Appeals, judgments annulled," etc.;
"With regard to the petition of the late Claude de la Guiche and Suzanne
de Longaunay, dated 12th August 1658,"
"That the rule be made absolute;
"Which being done, Bernard de la Guiche is pronounced, maintained, and
declared the lawfully born and legitimate son of Claude de la Guiche and
Suzanne de Longaunay; in possession and enjoyment of the name and arms
of the house of Guiche, and of all the goods left by Claude de la
Guiche, his father; and Marie de la Guiche and Eleonore de Bouille are
interdicted from interfering with him;
"The petitions of Eleonore de Bouille and Marie de la Guiche, dated 4th
June 1664, 4th August 1665, 6th January, 10th February, 12th March, 15th
April, and 2nd June, 1666, are dismissed with costs;
"That the defaults against la Pigoreau are confirmed; and that she,
arraigned and convicted of the offences imputed to her, is condemned to
be hung and strangled at a gallows erected in the Place de Greve in this
city, if taken and apprehended; otherwise, in effigy at a gallows
erected in the Place de Greve aforesaid; that all her property subject
to confiscation is seized and confiscated from whomsoever may be in
possession of it; on which property and other not subject to
confiscation, is levied a fine of eight hundred Paris livres, to be paid
to the King, and applied to the maintenance of prisoners in the
Conciergerie of the Palace of justice, and to the costs."
Possibly a more obstinate legal contest was never waged, on both sides,
but especially by those who lost it. The countess, who played the part
of the true mother in the Bible, had the case so much to heart that she
often told the judges, when pleading her cause, that if her son were not
recognised as such, she would marry him, and convey all her property to
The young Count de la Palice became Count de Saint-Geran through the
death of his father, married, in 1667, Claude Francoise Madeleine de
Farignies, only daughter of Francois de Monfreville and of Marguerite
Jourdain de Carbone de Canisi. He had only one daughter, born in 1688,
who became a nun. He died at the age of fifty-five years, and thus this
illustrious family became extinct.