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The Blood of Lorraine
By Barbara Corrado Pope
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Barbara Corrado Pope
All rights reserved.
Friday, November 16
The city of Nancy, 1894. Twenty-four years after France proclaimed itself a republic in the midst of war. Twenty-three years after the humiliating defeat, occupation and concession of the ancient territories of Alsace and part of Lorraine to the new powerful Germany. And only two years after examining magistrate Bernard Martin transferred from Aix-en-Provence to this elegant capital in the truncated northeastern corner of his beloved country.
Martin stood stacking his papers into piles, preparing for the weekend. His white-walled chambers were already growing cold. The black pot-bellied stove that sat in one corner no longer glowered with half-hidden flames. All that came from its mouth now was a soft, amber glow. As the muted footsteps of officials and clerks beckoned through Martin's ground-floor windows, he swelled with what was still for him an unexpectedly joyful contentment. He was going home.
Suddenly the door to his chambers flew open, and his colleague, David Singer, came rushing in, breathless and disheveled. "You've got to take this case off my hands," he said, almost shouting.
"Singer, you didn't knock?" The question slipped out before Martin could stop himself. He did not intend it as a reproach. He was quite simply shocked. Singer was the most proper person in the courthouse, the one least likely to commit any breach of etiquette. And yet here he was before Martin, unannounced, panting, his frock coat open, his cravat askew, and his close-cropped black hair sticking up in shaggy crags as though he had been attempting to tear it out. Martin gestured toward the wooden chair beside his distraught colleague. "Please sit down."
Singer ignored him. "I've been thinking about it all afternoon. I'm sure they gave it to me as a joke. This is their chance to catch me out."
Martin approached his friend to take a closer look. One of Singer's well-manicured hands was locked into a fist, the other clutched a rolled-up newspaper. "Please, sit," he repeated, trying to remain calm. Singer's demeanor was beginning to put him on edge.
When his colleague did not respond, Martin took the precaution of walking around him to close the door. Although he was almost certain that other judges and clerks had already left the Palais de Justice for the weekend, he wanted to make sure that no one else saw Singer in such a state.
"What is wrong?" Martin insisted.
"Presumably," Singer said in a strangled whisper, "it's a case of 'ritual murder.'"
"What?" His confusion churning into dismay, Martin returned to his desk to face his friend.
"A ritual murder." Louder this time. "An accusation that a Jew has killed and mutilated a Christian baby."
"But that's preposterous. These things don't happen—"
"Were you about to say 'any more'?"
"What do you mean?" Martin could not for the life of him understand why Singer was being so prickly with him, of all people.
"These things don't happen any more. Not in 1894. Not in the third decade of our glorious French Republic."
"No, no, not at all." Martin feared that soon he, too, would be shouting.
"I tell you, they gave the case to me as a joke, a trap."
"I don't understand."
"You don't understand," Singer responded sarcastically. "My name is Singer. David Singer."
"Well, I never thought that mattered—"
"I'm sure you never did," Singer interrupted as he took a step back from Martin's desk. "Will you take it? That's all I need to know." He laid the newspaper down and began to fidget with his collar and cuffs, putting himself back together.
Martin stared at his fellow examining magistrate. Somewhere in the back of his mind he had known that Singer was an Israelite. But it had never occurred to him that this held any particular significance. They had been friends from the day, shortly after Martin's arrival here, when Singer was kind enough to show him around the courthouse. They were alike in age, middle thirties; in height and weight, medium in every way; and both passionately republican in their sympathies and ideals.
Most of all, Martin was grateful for Singer's reaction—or lack of it—to the early revelation that Martin, unlike the other magistrates, was not a man of means and that he had married a teacher. Instead of looking down upon him, Singer had volunteered to help the Martins find an inexpensive place to live, which he did, in the very center of Nancy, near the Palais de Justice and Clarie's school. An apartment, Singer had boasted with a smile, that even had running water, an essential aid for the working woman. If it had not been for his colleague's excessive formality, Martin would long ago have started calling him by his Christian name.
But of course, Martin thought with a start, David was not Singer's Christian name.
Singer fingered his coal-black mustache, which rose ever so slightly to a peak on either side of his mouth. "It won't be hard," he continued. "Working-class man and his wife bringing the accusation. Only witness, the wet nurse. They're all lying."
Singer's beard fell to a point so precise, he must have trimmed it every morning. Always well-tailored, respected, treated with utmost civility by everyone in the courthouse, there was no reason for him to be so sensitive. Yet without realizing it, Martin found himself scrutinizing Singer's nose, which was not remarkable in any way.
Their eyes met and Singer stiffened. "I can get the file to you first thing Monday morning. It won't take much of your time."
"It's not that," Martin murmured.
"What, then?" Barely containing his frustration, Singer grabbed the newspaper again.
How could Martin make the cowardly admission that what he felt at this moment was something like fear, that Singer's outbursts had set off memories of another case he had been urgently called upon to solve at the very beginning of his career. The case that had made him an outcast among the police and judges in Aix-en-Provence. The Vernet murders. He shook his head slightly, hoping to vanquish the vision of all those dead bodies.
"You're saying no? After all our talks about justice. Perhaps this is a kind of injustice you don't recognize." Singer moved toward the door.
Martin sighed. "Wait. Surely this is something I will have to take up with the Proc." That's the way everyone referred to the Procureur, the prosecutor who assigned cases to the examining magistrates for investigation.
"Surely," Singer concurred. "And as soon as possible."
"Perhaps I'll see him tonight—"
"I wasn't invited. Never have been." Singer cut him short.
"Well, it's only our first time, and I'm not exactly looking forward to it." It had taken the Presiding Judge almost two years to invite Clarie and him to a formal dinner party. Martin struggled to remember how long Singer had been at the court at Nancy.
"Nevertheless, I've been here two years longer than you have," Singer said, as if reading Martin's thoughts.
Martin shrugged his shoulders in exasperation. "I've never thought of you as other than a Frenchman, a good republican—"
"A French Jew is a Frenchman and a republican." At least Singer had stopped his retreat and was again approaching Martin's desk.
"Yes, I know."
"You know? Do you read Edouard Drumont's newspaper, La Libre Parole?"
Martin raised his hand, fending off any suggestion that he would bother to pick up Drumont's anti-Semitic rag. La Libre Parole, "the free word" indeed.
"Perhaps you would find it instructive." Singer unrolled the paper he had been carrying in his right hand. "This is the weekly version, fully illustrated."
Martin had no choice but to examine the cover of La Libre Parole Illustrée, dated the previous Saturday, November 10. A drawing of a bearded man took up most of the page. He stood beside a stack of books. Martin squinted. He could make out the first title, Drumont's fabulously successful best seller La France Juive, the scurrilous "Jewish France." Martin sucked in a breath. "So this is Drumont."
"Yes, and this," Singer's finger pointed to the little man crawling at the bottom of the page, a caricature of a Jew with a gigantic hooked nose, wearing the helmet of the Prussian army. Drumont held a long prong with which he had grasped this miniature soldier by the seat of his pants. "You know who this is, of course," Singer persisted.
"Singer, I can read," Martin said impatiently. The caption made it all too clear what the cartoon was about: "A propos of Judas Dreyfus. Frenchmen, I've been telling you this every day for eight years."
"First, La France Juive, now his newspaper," Singer exploded. "You know that Drumont is the one who broke the story of Dreyfus's treachery. He's having a field day with it."
Martin nodded, still staring at the caricature. Alfred Dreyfus was in all the newspapers, accused of having sold military secrets to the Germans. Martin wondered what the real Dreyfus looked like. Surely, if he had managed to become a member of the Army's elite General Staff, nothing like this ugly caricature.
"Don't you see," Singer pleaded, "they are going to use Dreyfus to try to prove that all of us are traitors and cheats."
Martin made one last attempt to calm down his friend. "Even if it's true that Dreyfus did have contact with the Germans, he's only one man, not an entire race. Surely...." He did not finish. Surely, what? If Drumont and his ilk kept beating the drums against Dreyfus, wasn't there a danger that they could incite the mob against the Israelites? Martin eased himself into his chair.
"I think you need to read La France Juive," Singer pressed on. "You have no idea of the kind of noxious slime Drumont has spread about us. And now in his newspaper, he slanders us, drags us through the mud, every day. Every single day. You are fortunate that you do not have to care about these things."
Martin could feel the heat rising in his face. Why was he being subjected to this barrage? Again and again he had proved himself to be a true republican. When he was barely out of school, he had given up on the Church, in part, because of the anti-Semitic sermons of his parish priest. Martin did not deserve this harangue. He began, again, to straighten out the files on his desk.
"I'm sorry," Singer said as he drew nearer, demonstrating a belated recognition that Martin did not count among the bigots and rabble rousers. "I'm upset. I just came back from seeing the body of that poor child. You can't imagine what some people will do to prove that we are beasts." He paused. "Bernard, you are the only one I can turn to, the only one I can trust."
It was the appeal to their friendship that did it, the use of Martin's first name, breaking through the formalities imposed by profession and Singer's punctilious sense of comportment.
Martin pressed his lips together and nodded. "I'll try." After all, what did he have to lose? If Singer was right, and it was a case of false accusation easily cleared up, then it was not at all like the Vernet case.
Or was it? Martin sank back into his chair, remembering. Of all the dead bodies in Aix, there was one that Martin could never allow himself to forget, the pallid figure of his oldest friend Jean-Jacques Merckx laid out on the gray slab like an anarchist Christ with four holes drilled into him. Not by nails, but by bullets. A friend he had let down because he hadn't agreed with his radical ideas, a friend who was killed, in part, because Martin had been indecisive, half-hearted, neither really helping him to desert from the army nor insisting that the two of them obey the law and Merckx go back to face his terrible punishment. A friend who, just as Singer had done, accused him of complacency, of not understanding what he was going through. Martin gave his head a hard shake to bring himself back to the present. This situation was entirely different. There was nothing dangerous or unpatriotic about Singer's views. He did not dream of destroying the state as Martin's boyhood friend had. No, Singer, like Martin, was a builder. They both believed in the French Republic and strived together to make it stronger and better, less corrupt, more just. They were alike in so many ways. In all that really mattered.
Singer stood above him, waiting for assurances. Martin nodded. "I'll do everything in my power to corner Didier tonight. First, though," he added, trying to lighten the mood, "I need to get home."
"Yes, of course." Singer took in a breath. "But I strongly advise you go to the Faculté to see the body right away. You need to know what you are getting into. I've asked Dr. Fauvet to wait for you."
Before Martin could object, his companion continued as he retreated for the second time. "I'll prepare the orders so that all three of the so-called witnesses will be at the Palais on Monday morning, waiting for you." Reaching the door, Singer bowed slightly. "Please give my regards to Mme Martin." His return to form accentuated, rather than covered up, the fact that Singer's self-pitying outburst had been completely out of character. And, Martin sincerely hoped, just as completely unwarranted.
As the door closed, Martin threw a pencil across his desk and watched as it bounced off onto the floor. Why did he have to go off tonight and examine the body of a mutilated baby? Why was he always the stranger, the new man in town, the one that others came to with their grisly cases? Now there's self-pity for you! At least this time he had a reason: Singer.
Martin got up with a sigh and followed the rolling pencil to the foot of his greffier's desk, which stood near the wall in a position that allowed his clerk to face both judge and witnesses while taking down the official record of their conversations. After a moment's hesitation, Martin placed the pencil beside Guy Charpentier's inkwell. This was almost a malicious act. His clerk was rather officious for his young years, and his small, orderly workplace stood as a constant rebuke to the clutter on Martin's much larger and more luxurious mahogany desk. Smiling to himself, Martin retrieved his bowler and long woolen coat from the coat rack in the corner.
Clarie would understand his being late again. Best to get the worst of it over with.
Martin exited through the main entrance of the Palais de Justice which lay on the southern edge of the sedate and dignified Place de la Carrière. He loved the "Carrière" because it expressed in greenery and stone everything he believed in his heart, that progress, equality and justice were possible. Part of the oldest section of the city, the stately elongated public square had once been a feudal playground for military parades and jousting, rimmed by palaces inhabited only by men of title and privilege. In the last enlightened century, the good Duke Stanislas had changed all that, harmonizing the façades of surrounding buildings, acquiring some of them for governmental functions, and transforming the central strip into a park open to all, graced by straight rows of clipped linden trees, stone benches, and elegant statuary. On most evenings before heading home through the town's Arc de Triomphe, Martin would pause and contemplate all this with gratitude. Grateful that he was leaving the cares of his work behind at the courthouse, grateful that he no longer led a lonely existence in sleepy, pretentious Aix.
But this was not a usual evening. Holding his hat over his face to protect it from a gust of cold wind, he hurried past the Place de la Carrière and Arc de Triomphe to the busy rue Saint-Dizier to catch the horse tram to the Faculté de Médicine.
Hanging onto an overhead strap in the single crowded car, Martin watched ruefully as it paused at the head of the street that led to his apartment and to Clarie. Unaccustomed to public transport, he anticipated each clanging stop and influx of last-minute shoppers with growing impatience. What if Dr. Fauvet had given up on him and gone home? The jostling reached its peak at the open-air market, which was folding up for the night. Bustling, chattering women knocked him about with their sacks filled with paper-wrapped packets of fresh fish, bread, and dangling vegetables. It was only after the tram passed through an archway of the ancient porte Saint-Nicolas, a massive stone gate leading out of the old city, that Martin breathed easier. The crowd thinned and the broad-backed draft horse, relieved by the lighter load, clopped along the parallel iron tracks at a faster pace. When Martin spotted the steeple of Saint Pierre, it was his turn to ring for a stop. The Faculté de Médicine was only a block away from the church, which was at the center of one of Nancy's newer, less densely populated neighborhoods.
Excerpted from The Blood of Lorraine by Barbara Corrado Pope. Copyright © 2010 Barbara Corrado Pope. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
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