Page images
PDF
EPUB

“I believe you are a fool,' said he, smiling, while his countenance regained its wonted complaisance.

“ “ M. Bertollon, I am serious; I dare not remain ; now is the time; you are my friend, my benefactor ; I will never deceive you. Consider the painful confession I have made as a proof of my affection for you.'

" • A saint like you, Colas,' replied Bertollon, laughing aloud, who previously confess the secrets of your heart to the husband, cannot be a dangerous object. Compose yourself, remain with us; I confide in you, and can have no suspicion of either you or my wife. But enough; I have assured you of my confidence. I have long since remarked my wife's prepossession ; this affection bears the traces of her violent, impetuous character. Participate with her your noble principles and resolves, but do it cautiously; for I warn you, her love can change into the most deadly hatred, and then I charge you to beware of her.'

“ Here he waved the subject, and would not suffer me to renew it, but drew my attention into another channel of discourse. The more reason I had to admire the great confidence he placed in me, the more tranquil I became, as well as more decided to leave his house.

“ The following evening I went to Madame Bertollon ; she sat alone in her room, her hand pensively supporting her beautiful head. On being aware of my entrance she rose, her countenance expressing the most interesting emotion.

"I am come, madame,' said I, with a trembling voice, 'to atone, as far as is in my power, for the misery my society has caused. I will no longer disturb your peace ; my decision is irrevocably taken ; I have confessed to your husband the most secret feelings of my heart; you, madame, cannot be ignorant of them.'

“ Confessed !' she repeated, in a voice of terror, ' and he ...'

“At first he coloured. But confiding in you, madame, and with a greater confidence in me than I merit, he would have dissuaded me from my resolution of leaving Montpellier.'

“• Was that your intention, Alamontade ?'

“And is still, madame. I will no longer disturb the peace of a family to whom I owe a thousand benefits.'

“You are a noble being,' she replied, as the tears rolled down her faded cheeks ; you have only anticipated my intention, as everything was prepared for my departure; I should have been happier, Alamontade, had I never known you.'

"She was silent, and I could no longer command my agitation. We decided that I should retire to their country-house in the village of K., and only now and then pay a visit to the town, after which we separated. Without delay I put in practice my design, although Bertollon very unwillingly acceded to it. I left without again seeing Madame Bertollon. In solitude and contemplation

than ever.

me.

of the beauties of nature I was soon convinced that what I had mistaken for affection was alone excited by pity and gratified vanity. My mind now regained its former purity and tranquillity, and the image of Clementine was more cherished, more beloved,

During four weeks Bertollon had frequently visited “I cannot live without seeing you,' said he, and yet business almost confines me to the abominable town.'

“He made many attempts to induce me to return to Montpellier, but in vain; for I found myself happy in my solitary retirement. I was awakened early one morning by the entrance of the servant, saying

“M. Larette is here, and must speak to you immediately.'

“He had scarcely finished the sentence when Larette, one of Bertollon's friends, entered, pale, and in a state of great perturbation.

“Rise immediately,' said he, "and accompany me to Montpellier.'

“What is the matter?' I asked, quite terrified.

“ • Rise and dress yourself, we have not a moment to lose ; Bertollon is poisoned, and lies at the point of death.'

“ Poisoned !' I exclaimed, and sank back, almost powerless, in the bed.

• Hasten, he wishes once more to see you, and I have almost flown to fulfil his request.'

“I dressed myself with trembling hands, and almost deprived of strength followed him to the door, where stood a small carriage, into which we stepped and hastened with all speed to Montpellier.

" • Is poisoned ! I again repeated on the way.

“It is too true,' replied Larette,' and there is an inexplicable mystery attending the affair. A fellow who fetched the poison from the apothecary's is in prison ; Madame Bertollon likewise is arrested in her room.'

"• Madame Bertollon arrested ! for what? who has arrested her??

" . The magistrate.'

“« The magistrate ! Can the police of Montpellier be guilty of such madness? Does the magistrate imagine Madame Bertollon bas poisoned her husband ?

Not only the magistrate, but every-body believes it.' " " And everybody! Pray continue what you were going to say.'

“• That it is generally believed the man—Valentin I believe he is called

“• What, Valentin, the old faithful servant !'

“Well, he has confessed that eight days since he fetched the poison by the order of Madame Bertollon.'

“The liar !-the

“And upon her being informed of the deposition of her servant, she owned it without hesitation. Now you know all.'

“Confessed ! I seem bereft of my senses, for I do not understand you. What has she confessed ?

" “That Valentin fetched the poison.' “Horrible ! and that she poisoned her husband ?'

“Who would voluntarily confess such an act? but it is, alas ! too true. Yesterday morning Bertollon was seized with a return of his indisposition; you know he is subject to a giddiness in his head. He requested his wife to fetch the drops from her medicine chest (a valuable essence which he is accustomed to take), in a blue glass gilt bottle.'

“I know it quite well, likewise the essence.'

“She poured the medicine into the spoon, added sugar to it, and gave

it to her husband. A short time after he complained of a violent burning pain in his bowels : a physician was sent for, who pronounced it the effects of poison. On requesting to look at the essence, Madame Bertollon resented it, and asked if they supposed her capable of administering poison to her husband? At last, as she could no longer refuse without exciting suspicion, she gave up the bottle. During this time it had become public, and several physicians had hurried to the house, as well as a deputy from the police. The apothecary remembered the poison which Valentin had bought, and gave his deposition at the police office. Valentin was immediately secured, and upon Madame Bertollon's being examined and desired to deliver up her keys she fainted. The medicinc chest was searched, the poison found, and recognised by the apothecary ; it was weighed and was deficient. Meanwhile the essence in the blue vial was analyzed, and contained the poison which was missing. These are the circumstances, sir, and you are of course at liberty to form what opinion you please.'

“I shuddered, but was incapable of making any reply. I discovered in every circumstance a dreadful coincidence which Larette could not penetrate. I now remembered Bertollon's description of the violence of her character. I thought of my last conversation with her, as well as the indiscreet manner in which I had informed her of my confession to Bertollon, her terror and eager inquiries respecting his manner--now all confirmed my suspicions, and probability rose to a dreadful certainty.

“We reached Montpellier, and I desired to be conducted immediately to the room of my beloved benefactor.

“Does he yet live?' I asked, hastily ascending the stairs. His attendants whispered me to be more cautious, as I impatiently entered the room. He had sunk into a gentle slumber, which was the harbinger of consolation, as the doctor considered it a symptom that he might yet be saved.

66 6 And where is Madame Bertollon?' I inquired.

"They informed me she had left the house early that morning and had taken refuge with her relations, whose bail had preserved her from confinement, and their interest and importance saved her from the disgrace of a prison. They told me in confidence that Bertollon, through a friend, had advised her to fly to Italy. Her brother also had entreated her to avail herself of the short freedom, but pride gained the victory; her answer was- I will not fly, for by so doing I should acknowledge a crime of which I am not and cannot be convicted.'

“Beauty of person is only charming so long as we survey in it beauty and purity of mind: it loses all its magic, and inspires us only with horror when we behold a vicious mind enshrined in a lovely tenement. I could only think of Madame Bertollon with disgust; for all that Larette had so hastily informed me on our road to Montpellier was now confirmed by numberless circumstances, which threw a stronger light upon the dreadful deed. The feeling of horror was universal throughout Montpellier; and when by the skill of the physicians Bertollon was pronounced out of danger, it excited the most lively and general joy. I watched incessantly by the bed-side of my beloved friend, whom I loved as brother or father.

“Oh! Bertollon,' said I, 'thank God you are spared ! for had it been otherwise I should not long have survived you; for you are my friend, my benefactor, and to preserve your life I would willingly sacrifice my own. Can it be possible that a female so delicate, so retiring, possessed of such uncommon charms, whose look and language so sweetly expressed purity and virtue ; can it be possible she is so fallen, so abandoned ?' Are

you still attached to her, Alamontade?' “Attached! the thought is revolting to me; how can I be attached to her who would murder you? Would it were possible to recall the hours I have spent with the murderess !'

“The trial had now commenced against the wife of Bertollon. M. Mernard, the most celebrated counsellor in Montpellier, prof. fered his services for the accused. Mernard had never been known to lose a cause; his bewitching eloquence overpowered all, and if he did not succeed in convincing the understanding, he confused and impressed it with doubt, and knew how to work upon every feeling of the human heart. When he spoke the court was crowded with auditors, many of whom came from distant parts of the country to hear him. He undertook and gained the worst causes when he was certain of being amply remunerated.

"All I desire,' said Bertollon, is to be eternally separated from the murderess. I do not wish her punished, as the stings of conscience and public contempt are thorns sufficient. I am aware Mernard personally dislikes me, as he was once my rival. I see beforehand his artifice will blind and perplex both judge and people, and that my infamous wife will eventually triumph.'

6. That shall never be,' I exclaimed with eagerness. 'I entreat you, Bertollon, though I am but a novice, and have never spoken in a court of justice, to permit me to undertake your cause. It would not give me a moment's uneasiness to appear before the tribunal against a female whom I once highly esteemed and called friend. You are my brother, my benefactor; your interest is sacred to me.'

“Bertollon smiled at my warmth, but immediately expressed his fears that my powers were not equal to my opponent's. He at last hesitatingly consented to my wish that his law-suit might be the first trial of

my

abilities. “ Do not fear, dear Bertollon,' said I, 'friendship will both inspire and support me, even if I should for a moment shrink before the pre-eminent abilities of Mernard. With all his cunning he cannot deny the facts which his client, for the success of her cause, rather too prematurely confessed."

“ This trial called forth the most lively interest and sympathy, owing to the terrible nature of the circumstances, as well as the high respectability and consequence of the parties. No one surmised that a violent and lawless passion had most probably inspired Madame Bertollon with the dreadful idea of administering the poison.

All this was and should remain secret, excepting Mernard's art threatened to prove victorious; then I intended to resort to this declaration as my last resource. When it became public that I was to plead the cause of Bertollon, the general voice decided it in favour of my adversary. After sufficient inquiries and examination of witnesses, Mernard and I entered the lists. Confident in his own powers he looked upon me with contempt, and my presumption only called forth his derision. He spoke, and with such force and eloquence that he almost made me waver in favour of the accused. Owing to Mernard's artifice the trial lasted half a year. He always gained the approbation of the populace, while I exhausted my strength only to insure his victory and add to his laurels. The beauty of Madame Bertollon had gained all the young men of Montpellier to her party, and her former benevolence secured the favour of the poorer class. I had not only to contend with Mernard's superior abilities, but against innumerable hearts which had felt the power of her charms, as well as the remembrances of virtues which she once possessed. My courage rose in proportion as I lost ground in the cause; I felt invigorated with unusual powers, and Mernard began either to esteem or fear me as I obliged him in some measure to retreat from his first conquest. His party diminished as he began to blend truth with fiction, and even ceased to acknowledge the facts which had been confessed by the accused. The voice of the public approbation now turned in my favour, and the recollections of Madame Bertollon's beauty and benevolence began to be obscured

« PreviousContinue »