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A Book of Remarkable Criminals by Irving

Seigneur de Buisson Souef et Valle Profonde


was entitled to a third of his mother's share of the estate, that is, one-ninth of the whole. But in 1775 Derues acquired the rest of the mother's share on condition that he paid her an annual income of 1,200 livres. Thus on the liquidation of the Duplessis inheritance Mme. Derues would be entitled nominally to some 66,500 livres, about L11,000 in English money. But five years had passed since the death of Despeignes-Duplessis, and the estate was still in the slow process of legal settlement. If Derues were to receive the full third of the Duplessis inheritance--a very unlikely supposition after four years of liquidation--66,000 livres would not suffice to pay his ordinary debts quite apart from the purchase money of Buisson-Souef. His financial condition was in the last degree critical. Not content with the modest calling of a grocer, Derues had turned money-lender, a money-lender to spendthrift and embarrassed noblemen. Derues dearly loved a lord; he wanted to become one himself; it delighted him to receive dukes and marquises at the Rue Beaubourg, even if they came there with the avowed object of raising the wind. The smiling grocer, in his everlasting bonnet and flowered dressing-gown a la J. J. Rousseau, was ever ready to oblige the needy scion of a noble house. What he borrowed at moderate interest from his creditors he lent at enhanced interest to the quality. Duns and bailiffs jostled the dukes and marquises whose presence at the Rue Beaubourg so impressed the wondering neighbours of the facile grocer.

This aristocratic money-lending proved a hopeless trade; it only plunged Derues deeper and deeper into the mire of financial disaster. The noblemen either forgot to pay while they were alive, or on their death were found to be insolvent. Derues was driven to ordering goods and merchandise on credit, and selling them at a lower price for ready money. Victims of this treatment began to press him seriously for their money or their goods. Desperately he continued to fence them off with the long expected windfall of the Duplessis inheritance.

Paris was getting too hot for him. Gay and irrepressible as he was, the strain was severe. If he could only find some retreat in the country where he might enjoy at once refuge from his creditors and the rank and consequence of a country gentleman! Nothing--no fear, no disappointment, no disaster--could check the little grocer's ardent and overmastering desire to be a gentleman indeed, a landed proprietor, a lord or something or other. At the beginning of 1775 he had purchased a place near Rueil from a retired coffeehouse-keeper, paying 1,000 livres on account, but the non-payment of the rest of the purchase-money had resulted in the annulment of the contract. Undefeated, Derues only determined to fly the higher. Having failed to pay 9,000 livres for a modest estate near Rueil, he had no hesitation in pledging himself to pay 130,000 livres for the lordly domain of Buisson-Souef. So great were his pride and joy on the conclusion of the latter bargain that he amused himself by rehearsing on paper his future style and title: "Antoine Francois de Cyrano Derues de Bury, Seigneur de Buisson-Souef et Valle Profonde." He is worthy of Thackeray's pen, this little grocer-snob, with his grand and ruinous acquaintance with the noble and the great, his spurious titles, his unwearied climbing of the social ladder.


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