On Thursday, the 9th of July, 186-, Jean Bertaud and his son, well known at Orcival as living by poaching and marauding, rose at three o’clock in the morning, just at daybreak, to go fishing.
Taking their tackle, they descended the charming pathway, shaded by acacias, which you see from the station at Evry, and which leads from the burg of Orcival to the Seine.
They made their way to their boat, moored as usual some fifty yards above the wire bridge, across a field adjoining Valfeuillu, the imposing estate of the Count de Tremorel.
Having reached the river-bank, they laid down their tackle, and Jean jumped into the boat to bail out the water in the bottom.
While he was skilfully using the scoop, he perceived that one of the oar-pins of the old craft, worn by the oar, was on the point of breaking.
“Philippe,” cried he, to his son, who was occupied in unravelling a net, “bring me a bit of wood to make a new oar-pin.”
“All right,” answered Philippe.
There was no tree in the field. The young man bent his steps toward the park of Valfeuillu, a few rods distant; and, neglectful of Article 391 of the Penal Code, jumped across the wide ditch which surrounds M. de Tremorel’s domain. He thought he would cut off a branch of one of the old willows, which at this place touch the water with their drooping branches.
He had scarcely drawn his knife from his pocket, while looking about him with the poacher’s unquiet glance, when he uttered a low cry, “Father! Here! Father!”
“What’s the matter?” responded the old marauder, without pausing from his work.
“Father, come here!” continued Philippe. “In Heaven’s name, come here, quick!”
Jean knew by the tone of his son’s voice that something unusual had happened. He threw down his scoop, and, anxiety quickening him, in three leaps was in the park. He also stood still, horror-struck, before the spectacle which had terrified Philippe.
On the bank of the river, among the stumps and flags, was stretched a woman’s body. Her long, dishevelled locks lay among the water-shrubs; her dress—of gray silk—was soiled with mire and blood. All the upper part of the body lay in shallow water, and her face had sunk in the mud.
“A murder!” muttered Philippe, whose voice trembled.
“That’s certain,” responded Jean, in an indifferent tone. “But who can this woman be? Really one would say, the countess.”
“We’ll see,” said the young man. He stepped toward the body; his father caught him by the arm.
“What would you do, fool?” said he. “You ought never to touch the body of a murdered person without legal authority.”
“You think so?”
“Certainly. There are penalties for it.”
“Then, come along and let’s inform the Mayor.”
“Why? as if people hereabouts were not against us enough already! Who knows that they would not accuse us—”