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The Buried Temple Part 8

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"The Directorate did not possess the right of reprieve; they felt it their duty to refer the case to the Council of Five Hundred, asking 'whether Lesurques was to die because of his resemblance to a criminal?' The Council pa.s.sed to the Order of the Day on the report of Simeon; and Lesurques was executed, forgiving his judges. And not only had he constantly protested his innocence, but at the moment the verdict was given Couriol had cried out, in firm tones, 'Lesurques is innocent!' He repeated this statement both on the fatal hurdle and on the scaffold. All the other prisoners, while admitting their own guilt, also declared the innocence of Lesurques. It was only in the year IX. that Dubosq, his double, was arrested and sentenced.

"The fatality that had attacked the head of the family spared none of its members. Lesurques' mother died of grief; his wife went mad; his three children languished in insignificance and poverty. The government, however, moved by their great misfortune, restored to the family of Lesurques, in two instalments, the five or six hundred thousand francs which had been so iniquitously confiscated; but a swindler robbed them of the greater part of the money. Sixty years elapsed; of Lesurques' three children two were dead: one alone survived, Virginia Lesurques. Public opinion had for a long time already proclaimed the innocence and the rehabilitation of her unfortunate father. She wanted more; and when the law of the 29th June 1867 was pa.s.sed, authorising the revision of criminal judgments, she hoped that the day had at last come when she might proclaim this rehabilitation in the sanctuary of justice; but, by a final fatality, the Court of Appeal, arguing on legal subtleties, declared by its decree of 17th December 1868 that no cause had been shown for re-opening the case, and that Virginia Lesurques had not made good her claim to revision."

It is as though one were enthralled by a horrible dream, in which some poor wretch was being delivered into the hands of the Furies. Ever since the fatal meal, no less tragic than that of Thyestes, which Lesurques took at Guesno's house, events have been dragging him nearer and nearer the gulf that yawns at his feet; while his destiny, hovering above him like an enormous vulture, hides the light from those who approach him. And the circles from above press magically forward to meet those from below: they advance, they contract, and then, uniting at last, their eddies blend and fasten upon what is now a corpse.

Here, truly, the combination of murderous fatalities may well seem supernatural; and the case is typical, it is formidable, it is as symbolic as a myth. But there can be no doubt that a.n.a.logous chains of circ.u.mstances reproduce themselves daily in the countless petty or ridiculous mortifications of merely ordinary lives which are beneath the influence of an evil or malicious star.

[2] The misfortunes of the Stuarts are well known; those of the Colignys are less familiar. Of these last the author we have already cited gives the following lucid account:--"Gaspard de Coligny, Marshal of France under Francis I., was married to the sister of the Constable Anne de Montmorency. He was reproached with having delayed by half a day his attack on Charles V., at a time when such might have been most advantageously offered, and with having thereby let slip an almost certain opportunity of victory. One of his sons, who had been made Archbishop and Cardinal, embraced Protestantism, and was married in his red ca.s.sock. He fought against the King at the battle of St. Denis, and fled to England, where, in the year 1571, a servant of his attempted to poison him. He escaped, however, and, seeking subsequently to return to France, was captured at Roch.e.l.le, condemned to death, and executed. The Admiral de Coligny, brother of the Cardinal, was reputed one of the greatest captains of his time: he did marvels at the defence of Saint-Quentin. The place, however, was taken by storm, and he was made a prisoner of war. Having become the real leader of the Calvinists, under the Prince de Conde, he displayed the most undaunted courage and extraordinary fertility of resource; neither his merit nor his military skill was ever called in question; and yet he was uniformly unsuccessful in every one of his enterprises. In 1562 he lost the battle of Dreux to the Duc de Guise; that of St. Denis to the Constable de Montmorency; and, finally, that of Jarnac, which was no less fatal to his party. He endured yet another reverse at Montcontour, in Poitou, but his courage remained unshaken; his skill was able to parry the attacks of fortune, and he appeared more redoubtable after his defeats than his enemies in the midst of their victories. Often wounded, but always impervious to fear, he remarked one day quietly to his friends, who wept as they saw his blood flow: 'Should not the profession we follow cause us to regard death with the same indifference as life?' A few days before the Ma.s.sacre of St.



Bartholomew, Maurevert shot him with a carbine from a house in the cloister of St. Germain-l'Auxerrois, and wounded him dangerously in the right hand and left arm. On the eve of that sanguinary day, Besme, at the head of a party of cutthroats, contrived to enter the admiral's house, and ran him several times through the body, then flinging him out of the window into the courtyard, where he expired, it is said, at the feet of the Duc de Guise. His body was exposed for three days to the insults of the mob, and finally hung by the feet to the gibbet of Montfaucon.

"Thus, though the Admiral de Coligny pa.s.sed for the greatest general of his time, he was always unfortunate and always defeated; while the Duc de Guise, his rival, who had less wisdom but more audacity, and above all more confidence in his destiny, was able to take his enemies by surprise and render himself master of events. 'Coligny was an honest man,' said the Abbe de Mably; 'Guise wore the mask of a greater number of virtues. Coligny was detested by the people; Guise was their idol.'

It is stated that the Admiral left a diary, which Charles IX. read with interest, but the Marshal de Retz had it flung into the fire. Finally, a fatal destiny clinging to all who bore the name of Coligny, the last descendant of the family was killed in a duel by the Chevalier de Guise."

[3] It is a remarkable and constant fact that great catastrophes claim infinitely fewer victims than the most reasonable probabilities might have led one to suppose. At the last moment a fortuitous or exceptional circ.u.mstance is almost always found to have kept away half, and sometimes two-thirds, of the persons who were threatened by the still invisible danger. A steamer that goes to the bottom has generally fewer pa.s.sengers on board than would have been the case had she not been destined to go down. Two trains that collide, an express that falls over a precipice, &c., carry less travellers than they would on a day when nothing is going to happen. Should a bridge collapse, the accident will generally be found to occur, in defiance of all probability, at the moment the crowd has just left it. In the case of fires in theatres and other public places, things unfortunately happen otherwise. But there, as we know, the princ.i.p.al danger does not lie in the fire, but in the panic of the terror-stricken crowd. Again, a fire-damp explosion will usually occur at a time when the number of miners inside the mine is appreciably inferior to the number that would habitually be there. Similarly, when a powder factory is blown up, the majority of the workmen, who would otherwise all have perished, will be found to have left the mill for some trifling, but providential, reason. So true is this, that the almost unvarying remark, that we read every day in the papers, has become familiar and hackneyed, as: "A catastrophe which might have a.s.sumed terrible proportions was fortunately confined, thanks to such and such a circ.u.mstance," &c., &c.; or, "One shudders to think what might have happened had the accident occurred a moment sooner, when all the workmen, all the pa.s.sengers," &c. Is this the clemency of Chance? We are becoming ever less inclined to credit it with a personality, with design or intelligence. There is more reason in the supposition that something in man has defined the disaster; that an obscure but unfailing instinct has preserved a great number of people from a danger that was on the point of taking shape, of a.s.suming the imminent and imperious form of the inevitable; and that their unconsciousness, taking alarm, is seized with hidden panic, which manifests itself outwardly in a caprice, a whim, some puerile and inconsistent incident, that is yet irresistible and becomes the means of salvation.

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