Peytel was a notary living at Belley, who, on the 20th of August 1839, was condemned to death by the Ain Assizes on a charge of murdering his wife and man-servant. Balzac had known him some time before in Paris, when both were on the staff of the theatrical journal Le Voleur. The Court of Cassation was appealed to in vain and the sentence was carried out at Bourg on the 28th of October.
Gentlemen, Madame Peytel bore in her bosom a sweet pledge of future concord between herself and her husband: in three brief months she was to become a mother.
In this manner they travelled, side by side, lovingly together. Monsieur Peytel was not a lawyer merely, but a man of letters and varied learning; of the noble and sublime science of geology he was, especially, an ardent devotee." Allude to the creation of this mighty world, and then, naturally, to the Creator. * He always went to mass; it is in the evidence.
This argument was shortly put by Peytel's counsel: "if Peytel had been killed by Rey in the struggle, would you not have found Rey guilty of the murder of his master and mistress?" It is such a dreadful dilemma, that I wonder how judges and lawyers could have dared to persecute Peytel in the manner which they did.
"The condemned Peytel has just undergone his punishment, which took place four days before the anniversary of his crime. The terrible drama of the bridge of Andert, which cost the life of two persons, has just terminated on the scaffold. Mid-day had just sounded on the clock of the Palais: the same clock tolled midnight when, on the 30th of August, his sentence was pronounced.
Having thus primed his audience, and prepared them for the testimony of the accused party, "Now," says he, with a fine show of justice, "let us hear Monsieur Peytel;" and that worthy's narrative is given as follows: "He said that he had left Macon on the 31st October, at eleven o'clock in the morning, in order to return to Belley, with his wife and servant.
Nevertheless, the Court of Cassation found no reason for granting a new trial, and Peytel was executed at Bourg, October 28, 1839. This was a bitter blow to Balzac, who had believed that he could save him. Furthermore, his efforts and investigations had cost him ten thousand francs! This was a cruel loss, both in time and in money.
Having done this, as far as lies in his power, having exaggerated every circumstance that can be unfavorable to Peytel, and given his own tale in the baldest manner possible having declared that Peytel is the murderer of his wife and servant, the Crown now proceeds to back this assertion, by showing what interested motives he had, and by relating, after its own fashion, the circumstances of his marriage.
The pistol, indeed, which was found on the hill of Darde, on the night of the 1st of November, could only have belonged to Peytel, and must have been thrown by him, near the body of his domestic, with the paper which had before enveloped it. Who had seen this pistol in the hands of Louis?
Just reverse the argument, and apply it to Rey. "Who but Rey could have committed this murder? who but Rey had a large sum of money to seize upon? a pistol is found by his side, balls and powder in his pocket, other balls in his trunks at home. The pistol found near his body could not, indeed, have belonged to Peytel: did any man ever see it in his possession?