The Life of JACQUES PERRIER
a French Robber and Murderer
As I have stepped in the former stories a little back in time, so in this I shall make bold to go out of our own nation, to relate a very extraordinary passage which happened at Paris in the beginning of the last century, because it will serve as a notable instance of that confusion and fear which guilt brings over the souls of the most hardened villains and thereby renders them often instruments of justice upon themselves; so that it seems not virtue only is its own reward, but vice also brings upon itself those torments which it ought to feel. Thus Providence ordereth, with inscrutable wisdom, that every man should feel happiness or misery according as his own demeanour serves. But it is now time that we hearken to the story.
It happened that a certain architect, who was in high esteem with the greatest nobles in France for his excellent skill in building after the Italian model, and had thereby obtained both a great reputation and a large estate, being a generous and charitable man, took into his house one Jacques Perrier, in the nature of an accountant, for the better ordering of his affairs. For the six years that this Jacques lived in his master's house, never any man was known to behave better or more commendably than he did. At length he married and had children, so that the master looking upon him as a staid discreet person, of whose fidelity he had indubitable proofs; he therefore gave him the charge of everything, when he went to a country house of his, a small distance from Paris, where he sometimes stayed for a week or so to unbend his mind and enjoy the benefit of the summer season.
At last, Jacques observing what great wealth he had acquired, began to be covetous and desirous of obtaining it; and after having cast it long in his head how he might obtain it, he at length resolved with himself to join with certain villains who at that time robbed in the streets and committed murders on the roads about Paris. Gaining notice of a house where such people frequented, he found ways and means to be admitted into the room where they had their consultations. And the person who introduced him having promised for his fidelity, they listened very attentively to the proposal which he promised to make them, and which after a little pause, he performed in these words. "My good friends, it is now upwards of six years since I have lived in the service of a rich and eminent person. I thought that before this time I might have made my fortune under him, and therefore have hitherto served him faithfully and honestly; but finding my expectations herein deceived, I come to make you an offer which may enrich you all. He has a house in the country, whither he retires with his daughter and maid-servant only. These may easily be dispatched and then all his effects will be our own. I will venture to assure you, they will be worth ten thousand crowns."
The thieves were not a little rejoiced at the thoughts of so extraordinary a booty, and therefore, after returning Perrier thanks, they readily embraced his motion and promised him whatever assistance he should require. It was not long before the unfortunate, gentleman went, as usual, with his daughter and her maid, to enjoy the pleasures of his rural habitation, leaving the direction of his affairs to Jacques, who no sooner saw him safe out of Paris, but he went to give notice to his associates that the time was now come to execute his bloody proposal. They quickly got all things in readiness, and as soon as it was evening, set out under the command of this desperate varlet to commit that horrible murder which he had contrived. Arriving at the house, Perrier knocked at the door; the maid knowing him, supposed some extraordinary business had brought him thither, and readily opened the door. But she was exceedingly surprised to find him followed by five ruffians oddly dressed, masked and with large staves in their hands. However, they did not give her much time to consider, but followed her immediately into the kitchen, where, by the direction of their abominable leader, they immediately, with many cruel blows, put her to death. From thence they went upstairs into the old gentleman's apartment, and found him sitting upon his bed. As soon as they entered, "Perrier", said his master, "is it thus that you return that kindness with which I have always treated you. Did I not take you from misery and want. Have I not maintained you, and put it in your power to maintain your family? Will you repay this my charity with robbing me of all I have? Must the tenderness I have shown towards you draw upon me death from your hands, and do you not think that the same God who hath seen me cherish and relieve you, will not bring upon you condign punishment for this execrable villainy thou art going to commit?"
Perrier was sensible of the truth of what he said, but knowing it was impossible for him to go back, he gave a sign to the murderers to fall about the execution of their work; but the old man, who was too wise to expect mercy from their hands, endeavoured to lay hold of a halbert which stood in his room, designing therewith, as well as he could, to defend himself. But before he could get it into his hands the villains struck him down, and with thirty or forty wounds gave a passage for his soul into a better life.
The unfortunate young lady lay in the next room to her father's, and being already got to bed, heard with astonishment the execrable fact. However, full of fear and astonishment, she covered herself with the bed clothes, and endeavoured all she was able, to hide herself in the bed. But alas, her caution was to small purpose. Perrier knew too well the situation of all things to be deceived by so trivial an artifice, and therefore after pulling the bedclothes into the middle of the floor, he exposed, naked, to his fellow ruffians, the most beautiful young lady in France. In vain she fell upon her knees, and with all that tender elocution so natural to their sex when in distress, besought them that they would spare her life, which, as she said, could be of no benefit to them, and could only serve to increase the number of their sins; but they were too much flushed in cruelty and blood to give any attention to her entreaties, and so without respect either to the softness of her sex, or to her tender age, with a shower of blows from their clubs they laid her dead upon the floor. Being thus become master of the house, Perrier took the keys, and opening the several apartments, disclosed to them all the riches of his deceased master. They immediately brought away all the ready money they found in the house, which amounted to little less than ten thousand crowns. All the rich movables they conveyed away to a boat which they had prepared for that purpose, and had fastened in a creek of the river on a bank of which the house stood. They loaded and unloaded this vessel five or six times, for there was no hurry in carrying away the goods, seeing it was the dead time of the night, and when they had thoroughly plundered it of everything that would yield money, they then came away and went to the place where they laid up their spoils. There it was resolved to divide the booty, and Perrier claimed the largest share, as well in right of his having put them upon that project, as that he had assisted more strenuously in the execution of it than any of them; for when men associate themselves to commit wickedness, he who surpasses the rest in villainy claims the same reward, and from the same reasons, as he who in another society surpasses all his neighbours in virtue. When this execrable fact was over, and he had secured his share in the plunder, he returned home to the house of his master, and remained in carrying on the ordinary course of business of his master.
About two days after, it happened that a man who had business with the old gentleman called at his country house, and after knocking a good while at the door, finding that nobody answered, he went to town, and meeting with Jacques Perrier at his master's house, he told him of his calling upon him in the country, and that he found nobody there. Jacques counterfeited the greatest surprise at the news, and calling many assistants, went down immediately to his master's seat, and with all the seeming horror imaginable, became a second time a witness of those barbarities which he and his villainous associates had committed. At the sight of the murdered maid in the kitchen, he cried out with the greatest vehemence, and seemed in an agony of sorrow; but when he saw the body of his master, he roared and stamped, he cried out, tore his hair and threw himself upon the body as if he had never more intended to have drawn breath. All the persons he had carried with him were effectually deceived by his behaviour, and were under apprehensions lest his too violent grief should throw him into a fever or prompt him to lay hands upon himself. He was not contented with acting thus upon the spot, but resolved to play it over again when he came back to Paris. There abundance of people pitied him, and looked on him as one whom the sincere love he had for his master had drawn to the utmost despair by reason of his unfortunate death.
But one of the old gentleman's relations, who was a man of more penetration than the rest, began to suspect his excessive affliction, and by his arguments drew another gentleman, who was also interested in the family affairs, to be of his opinion; whereupon Jacques was apprehended on suspicion and sent to prison. Solitude and confinement are often the roads to repentance and confession, for the vanities of the world being no longer before them, in such cases people are apt to retire into the recesses of their own breasts, and having no avocations from considering how they have spent their former years, the reflection often extorts truth which would never be by any other method discovered. But it was not so with Perrier. His dissimulation was of a stronger contexture, and not to be broken even by sorrow and confinement. He not only continued to deny the knowledge of the murder, but also to lament the loss of so indulgent a master, with such floods of tears, and so many strong appearances of real sorrow and affection that, no proof appearing against him, the magistrates were afraid of having themselves reproached with injustice if they had not given him his liberty, to which, after six months imprisonment, he was restored.
The rest of the assassins seeing a long space of time elapsed, and that still not the least discovery was made of the murder, laid aside all fears of being taken, and began to appear more openly than hitherto they had done since the perpetration of that fact. But in the midst of their security the Providence of God forced them to betray themselves; for as the father, son and cousin, who were all concerned in the murder, were sitting with one Masson, another of the confederates, making merry at a public-house, on a sudden they turned their heads and saw ten or twelve archers or marshal's men (who have the same authority as constables in our country) who by chance met together and came into the house to drink. Guilt on a sudden struck the whole company with apprehensions that they were come in search of them, the fear of which made them throw down their knives and forks, leave what they had upon the table and fly with the utmost precipitation, as supposing they ran for their lives.
This extravagant behaviour struck the archers with amazement, and immediately calling for the landlord, they enquired of him what should be the sudden cause of this terror in his guests. He replied that it was impossible for him to tell certainly, but from discourse which he had heard, he took them to be persons of no very honest character, and from the great sums of money he had heard them count out, he was apprehensive that they had committed some robbery or other. There wanted not any farther account to stir up the archers to a pursuit, from whence they already assured themselves they should be considerable gainers, the thing speaking for itself, since honest people are not used to fall into such panics; but only guilt creates apprehensions in men at the sight of the ministers of justice. Immediately, therefore, the officers pursued them in the road they had taken, and the old man being less able to travel than the rest, in about two hours time they came up with him at the side of a rivulet, where, for very weariness he had stopped as not being able to cross it.
No sooner did they come up to him but he surrendered, and fear having brought a sudden repentance, he, without any equivocation, began to confess all the crimes of his life. He said that it was true they all of them deserved death, and he was content to suffer; he said, moreover, that in the course of his life he had murdered upwards of three-score with his own hands. He also carried the officers to an island in the river, which was the usual place of the execution of those innocents who fell into the hands of their gang, and acknowledged that of all the offences he had committed, nothing gave him so much pain as the having murdered a hopeful young gentleman (for the sake of a trifle of money which he had about him) by putting a stone about his neck and sinking him in the water.
Of the other three, two were apprehended, but the third made his escape and was running hastily with the news to Jacques Perrier and their other companions, but he was soon after seized, and carried to prison with the rest, none escaping from the hands of Justice but Masson and the cruel Perrier, the author of all this mischief. The three who were in prison endured the torture with the greatest constancy, absolutely denying that they knew anything of the murders and robberies which had been committed, yet when they were confronted by the old man, their courage deserted them, they acknowledged the fact, and judgment was pronounced upon them that they should be broke alive upon the wheel, before the house of the unfortunate architect whom they had murdered.
When they were brought there, with a strong guard, to suffer that punishment to which the Law had so justly doomed them, they appeared to be very penitent and sorrowful for their crimes, and one of them in particular did, with greatest vehemency, beseech the pardon of Almighty God, of the king his sovereign, and of his people whom he had so much injured, declaring that he could not die in peace without informing the multitude who were assembled to behold their execution, of a certain kind of villainy in which he was particularly concerned. He said it was his custom to watch about the sides of the road which lay near the woods, and that having a cord with him, he suddenly threw it about the neck of any passenger who was coming by, and therewith immediately strangled him before he was aware, or capable of resisting them, and if at any time there came by several passengers together who demanded what he did there, he replied that he was sent thither by his master to catch a cow; and his going in the habit of a peasant gave such an aspect of truth to the story that he was never suspected.
Though the concourse of people be generally very great, yet the assembly on this occasion was much larger than ordinary, and those who were spectators, contrary to the ordinary custom, showed but very little compassion at the miserable tortures which those wretches endured. On the contrary, they continually cried out that they should discover what was become of Perrier and their other accomplice, Masson. These unfortunate men continued to assert in their last moments that they knew nothing of either of them, but supposed that, hearing of their apprehension, they had immediately made their escape, and were retired as far as they were able from the danger. The people were infinitely satisfied with the death of these assassins, and nothing was wanting to complete the triumph of Justice but the apprehension of Perrier and his associate, to whose adventures it is now time that we return, in order to display the severe justice of Providence, and the admirable methods by which it disappoints all the courses that human wit can invent in order to frustrate its intent.
Masson had hid himself in a village not far from the city of Tours, where he concealed himself so effectually that the inhabitants had not the least suspicion of his being a dishonest man. On the contrary, he applied himself to an honest way of getting his livelihood, and after sojourning there for a considerable space, he married a young woman, with the consent of her parents, and seemed to be now established in a state of peace and security, if it were possible for a guilty soul to know either security or peace. A trivial accident, in which no man but Masson would have had a hand, proved the instrument by which he was drawn to suffering that cruel death which his companions had before undergone, and he so justly deserved.
There was, it seems, a young country fellow in the neighbourhood where Masson lived, who was just married, and according to a silly notion which prevails not only among the peasants of France but also among the clowns of all other nations in Europe, fancied himself bewitched by some charm or other, which rendered him incapable of performing the rites of his marriage bed. Masson thereupon offered, if he would give him a reasonable gratuity, to free him from this insupportable malady, and a bargain was accordingly struck for four crowns, two of which the fellow gave him in his hand, and two more were to be paid on the accomplishment of the cure, when there were no more complaints of insufficiency. Upon this he immediately demanded the other two crowns, which the other refused, and our infatuated thief brought the cause before the magistrates, where, when it came to be examined, it appeared plainly that Masson had bragged to his companions that he had wrought the charm, for the undoing of which he now claimed a reward. And as the Justice of the Court required, he was sentenced to be banished as a sorcerer, after being first whipped at all the cross-streets in town.
But behold the marvellous conduct of Divine Justice. He appealed from this sentence to the parliament at Paris, whither he was no sooner conducted under a strong guard, but he was immediately known to be one of that gang of assassins which had been executed for the murder of Perrier's master and family. Immediately he was charged with this fact, and the heirs of that unfortunate gentleman prosecuted their charge with such vigour that he received the like judgment, to be broken alive upon the wheel at the same place where his associates had suffered death; which sentence was rigorously executed five years after the perpetration of that execrable fact.
There remained nobody but Jacques Perrier, the author and contriver of this horrid villainy, who had not suffered according to their deserts. He, after hiding himself for a while, until he saw what became of his companions, hastily betook himself to flight, and endeavoured to fly into England, where, if he once arrived, he knew he should remain in safety. But in this attempt he was disappointed (although nobody pursued him), for being arrived at Calais, the same covetous and wicked disposition which had prompted him to murder so kind a master and all his family, egged him on to rob a certain rich merchant there, which villainous design he effected whilst the gentleman was at church. But he gained not much by that, for the booty being too large to be concealed, he was very quickly apprehended and for this fact condemned to be hanged. He had more wit, however, than his companion, Masson, and therefore never dreamt of appealing to the parliament of Paris, where he knew he should meet with the same fate which had befallen the rest of the gang. However, when he came to suffer that death which was appointed him by Law, he did not stick to acknowledge that execrable parricide which he had projected, as well as carried into execution; so that when the news reached Paris, it occasioned universal joy that not one of these bloody villains had escaped, but were so wonderfully cut off, when they themselves fancied the danger to be over.
The French author from whom I have transcribed this account hath swelled the relation with much of that false eloquence which was so common in the last age, not only in France, but throughout all Europe. Except that I have rejected this, I have been very faithful in this translation, the story appearing to me to be very extraordinary in its kind, and worthy therefore of being known to the public, since it will sufficiently declare that as vice prevails generally throughout all countries and climates, stirring up men to cruel and atrocious deeds, so the eye of Providence is continually watchful, and suffers not the blood of innocents to cry out for revenge in vain. It remains that I inform my readers that this villainy was transacted about the year 1611, and that Masson and Jacques Perrier suffered in the year 1616.