Pierre Mêge

Pierre Mêge—the Fictitious De Caille

Scipio Le Brun, of Castellane, a Provençal gentleman, and lord of the manors of Caille and of Rougon, in 1655 married a young lady called Judith le Gouche. As is common in France, and also in certain parts of Britain, this local squire was best known by the name of his estates, and was commonly termed the Sieur de Caille. Both he and his wife belonged to the strictest sect of the Calvinists, who were by no means favourites in the country. Their usual residence was at Manosque, a little village in Provence, and there five children were born to them, of whom three were sons and two were daughters. The two youngest sons died at an early age, and Isaac, the eldest, after living to the age of thirty-two, died also.

When this Isaac, who has just been mentioned, was a lad of fifteen, his mother died, and in her will constituted him her heir, at the same time bequeathing legacies to her daughters, and granting the life interest of all her property to her husband. The King having revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, the Sieur de Caille quitted the kingdom with his family, which then consisted of his mother, his son Isaac, and his two daughters. The fugitives made their home in Lausanne, in Switzerland. In 1689 the French king, in the zeal of his Catholicism, issued a decree, by which he bestowed the property of the Calvinist fugitives upon their relations. The possessions of the Sieur de Caille were therefore divided between Anne de Gouche, his wife's sister, who had married M. Rolland, the Avocat-Général  of the Supreme Court of Dauphiné, and Madame Tardivi, a relation on his own side.

Meantime Isaac, the son of the Sieur de Caille, who was by courtesy styled the Sieur de Rougon, assiduously applied himself to his studies, and, as the result of over-work, fell into a consumption, of which he died at Vevay on the 15th of February 1696.

In March 1699, Pierre Mêge, a marine, presented himself before M. de Vauvray, the intendant of marines at Toulon, and informed him that he was the son of M. de Caille, at the same time telling the following story. He said that he had had the misfortune to be an object of aversion to his father because of his dislike to study, and because of his ill-concealed attachment to the Catholic religion; that his father had always exhibited his antipathy to him, and, while he was at Lausanne, had frequently maltreated him; that rather than submit to the paternal violence he had often run away from home, but had been brought back again by officious friends, who met him in his flight; that he had at last succeeded in making his escape, by the aid of a servant, in December 1690; that, in order to avoid recapture, and to satisfy his own desire to become a member of the Catholic Church, he had formed the design of returning into Provence; that on his homeward way he had been stopped by the Savoyard troops, who compelled him to enlist in their ranks; and that he had subsequently been captured by some French soldiers. He added that M. de Catinat, who commanded this part of the French army, and to whom he had presented himself as the son of M. de Caille, had given him a free pass; that he had arrived at Nice, and had enlisted in the Provençal militia; and that having been on duty one day at the residence of the governor, he had seen a silver goblet carried past him which bore arms of his family, and which he recognised as a portion of the plate which his father had sold in order to procure the means to fly into Switzerland. The sight of this vessel stirred up old recollections, and he burst into such a violent paroxysm of grief that the attention of his comrades was attracted, and they demanded the cause of his tears, whereupon he told them his story, and pointed out the same arms impressed on his cachet. This tale came to the ears of the Chevalier de la Fare, who then commanded at Nice, and after a hasty investigation he treated his subordinate with excessive courtesy, evidently believing him to be the man whom he represented himself to be.

The militia having been disbanded, the claimant to manorial rights and broad estates repaired to Marseilles, where he fell in with a woman called Honorade Venelle, who was residing with her mother and two sisters-in-law. The morality of these females seems to have been of the slightest description; and Henriade Venelle had no hesitation in yielding to a proposal of this infamous soldier that he should represent her husband, who was at the time serving his king and country in the ranks of the army. The easy spouse drew no distinctions between the real and the supposititious husband, and the latter not only assumed the name of Pierre Mêge, but collected such debts as were due to him, and gave receipts which purported to bear his signature. In 1695 he enlisted under the name of Mêge, on board the galley "La Fidèle"—a ship in which the veritable Mêge was known to have been a marine from 1676—and served for nearly three years, when he was again dismissed. In order to eke out a temporary livelihood he sold a balsam, the recipe for which he declared had been given him by his grandmother Madame de Caille. He made little by this move, and was compelled once more to enlist at Toulon; and here it was that he met M. de Vauvray, and told him his wonderful story.

The intendant of marines listened to the tale with open ears, and recommended his subordinate to make an open profession of his adhesion to the Romish Church as a first step towards the restitution of his rights. The soldier was nothing loth to accept this advice, and after being three weeks under the tutelage of the Jesuits, he publicly abjured the Calvinistic creed in the Cathedral of Toulon, on the 10th of June 1699.

In his act of abjuration he took the name of André d'Entrevergues, the son of Scipio d'Entrevergues, Sieur de Caille, and of Madame Susanne de Caille, his wife. He stated that he was twenty-three years of age, and that he did not know how to write. The falsehood of his story was, therefore, plainly apparent from the beginning. The eldest son of the Sieur de Caille was called Isaac and not André; the soldier took the name of d'Entrevergues, and gave it to the father, while the family name was Brun de Castellane; he called his mother Susanne de Caille, whereas her maiden name was Judith le Gouche. He said that he was twenty-three years of age, while the real son of the Sieur de Caille ought to have been thirty-five; and he did not know how to write, while numerous documents were in existence signed by the veritable Isaac, who was distinguished for his accomplishments.

News of this abjuration having spread abroad, it reached Sieur de Caille, at Lausanne, who promptly forwarded the certificate of his son's death, dated February 15, 1696, to M. de Vauvray, who at once caused the soldier to be arrested. M. d'Infreville, who commanded the troops at Toulon, however, pretended that de Vauvray had no authority to place soldiers under arrest, and the question thus raised was referred from one to another, until it came to the ears of the king. The following answer was at once sent:—

"The King approves the action of M. de Vauvray in arresting and in placing in the arsenal the soldier of the company of Ligondés, who calls himself the son of the Sieur de Caille. His Majesty's commands are, that he be handed over to the civil authorities, who shall take proceedings against him, and punish him as his imposture deserves, and that the affidavits of the real de Caille shall be sent to them."

The soldier was accordingly conveyed to the common prison of Toulon, and was subsequently interrogated by the magistrates. In answer to their inquiries, he said that he had never known his real name; that his father had been in the habit of calling him d'Entrevergues de Rougon de Caille; that he believed he really was twenty-five years old, although two months previously he had stated his age to be twenty-three; that he had never known his godfather or his godmother; that only ten years had elapsed since he left Manosque; that he did not know the name of the street nor the quarter of the town in which his father's house was situated; that he could not tell the number of rooms it contained; and that even if he were to see it again he could not recognise it. In his replies he embodied the greater part of his original story, with the exception of the episode with regard to Honorade Venelle, respecting which he was prudently silent. He said that he neither recollected the appearance nor the height of his sister Lisette, nor the colour of her hair; but that his father had black hair and a black beard, and a dark complexion, and that he was short and stout. (The Sieur de Caille had brown hair and a reddish beard, and was pale complexioned.) He did not know the height nor the colour of the hair of his aunt, nor her features, although she had lived at Lausanne with the son of the Sieur de Caille. He could not remember the colour of the hair, nor the appearance, nor the peculiarities of his grandmother, who had accompanied the family in its flight into Switzerland; and could not mention a single friend with whom he had been intimate, either at Manosque, or Lausanne, or Geneva.

One would have supposed that this remarkable display of ignorance would have sufficed to convince all reasonable men of the falsity of the story, but it was far otherwise. The relatives of de Caille were called upon either to yield to his demands or disprove his identity; and M. Rolland, whose wife, it will be remembered, had obtained a large portion of the property, appeared against him. Twenty witnesses were called, of whom several swore that the accused was Pierre Mêge, the son of a galley-slave, and that they had known him for twenty years; while the others deposed that he was not the son of the Sieur de Caille, in whose studies they had shared. The soldier was very firm, however, and very brazen-faced, and demanded to be taken to the places where the real de Caille had lived, so that the people might have an opportunity of recognising him. Moreover, he deliberately asserted that while he was in prison M. Rolland had made two attempts against his life. He was conducted, according to his request, to Manosque, Caille, and Rougon, and upwards of a hundred witnesses swore that he was the man he represented himself to be. The court was divided; but, after eight hours' consideration, twelve out of the twenty-one judges of the Supreme Court of Provence pronounced in his favour, and several of M. Rolland's witnesses were ordered into custody to take their trial for perjury.

Three weeks after this decision the soldier married the daughter of the Sieur Serri, a physician, who had privately supplied the funds for carrying on the case. This girl's mother was a cousin of one of the judges, and it soon came to be more than hinted that fair play had not been done. However, the soldier took possession of the Caille property, and drove out the poor persons who had been placed in the mansion by Madame Rolland.

Honorade Venelle, the wife of Pierre Mêge, who had preserved silence during the proceedings, now appeared on the scene, all her fury being roused by the marriage. She made a declaration before a notary at Aix, in which she stated that she had unexpectedly heard that Pierre Mêge had been recognised as the son of the Sieur de Caille, and had contracted a second marriage; and affirmed upon oath, "for the ease of her conscience and the maintenance of her honour," that he was her real husband, that he had been married to her in 1685, and that he had cohabited with her till 1699; therefore she demanded that the second marriage should be declared void. The judges, zealous of their own honour, and provoked that their decision should be called in question, gave immediate orders to cast her into prison, which was accordingly done.

The authorities at Berne meantime, believing that the decision of the Provençal Court, which had paid no attention to the documents which they had forwarded from Lausanne and Vevay, to prove the residence and death of the son of the Sieur de Caille in Switzerland was insulting, addressed a letter to the King, and the whole affair was considered by his Majesty in council at Fontainebleau. After the commissioners, to whom the matter was referred, had sat nearly forty times, they pronounced judgment. The decision of the court below was upset; the soldier was deprived of his ill-acquired wealth, was ordered to pay damages, was handed over to the criminal authorities for punishment, while the former holders were restored to possession of the property.