How Bluebeard Made Love to His Victims,
Thrilling Story Told by Girl Who Escaped;
Written Exclusively for the Daily Star
This is the story of "The Girl He Did Not Kill," the story of Mlle. Fernande Segret and of Henri Landru, the "Bluebeard of Gambais," translated from the words of Fernande herself while her lover awaits his death on the guillotine.
How she escaped the fate of the others—for she was Landru's twelfth fiancee—she herself cannot surely say. Because she alone had won his real love? Was it because she had not surprised his secret and thus obtained control of his fate? Because her time had not yet come when the police stepped in and saved her? None can answer—unless it be the condemned man, who is silent and whose word in any event could not be taken as conclusive.
But the typically Parisian romance of their meeting, of their drawing together, of their intimate life and their final parting—when he kissed her in the presence of the guards and whispered, smiling, that line from Manon, "Adieu notre petite table"—all this is here as Gernande tells it for the ARizona Morning Star. If it reads like a novel, that is because it was lived like a novel—of Paris.
The narrative is in five chapters each reveals—especially in the light of dreadful facts produced long afterward at the trial—some new phase in the shrewd campaign against the heart of a girl, and each shows something new in the psychology of her response. These are the chapter subjects:
I. The Proposal at Gambais.
II. A Hint of Betrayal.
III. The Surrender.
IV. Brief Happiness.
V. The Guillotine.
By Fernande Segret
Paris, Dec. 18.
We had been shopping—two chattering girls. My friend and I bound for the last of the shops on our list, had just taken our seats in the tram when my glance fell upon a gentleman of about forty, in correct—I might also say fastidious—attire. He looked at me so fixedly, at the same time caressing softly his rich black beard that I was confused and troubled. The audacity of it! And the mystery! I felt the blush that overspread my face as I lowered my eyes. When I lifted them again, the unknown, having undoubtably sensed my embarrassment, smiled shrewdly.
It was May, 1917, a fine sunny morning. My friend and I stepped out of the tram near our destination and had only taken a few steps when we were accosted in the most respectful manner by the unknown man. There was magnetism and persuasion in his surprisingly soft voice as he asked permission to accompany us a little way.
A short refusal did not discourage him. He begged us to consider the dangers that beset young girls walking alone in Paris, the perils that might arise from chance encounters with unscrupulous strangers. A stranger giving warning against strangers! How droll! We laughed aloud and laughter disarms.
Taking advantage of the situation the man walked along with us, constantly saying witty things, keeping us in constant laughter, until we reached the door of the shop. There he tried to detain me, and I, seeking the easiest way to be rid of him for the moment, promised to meet him at 10 o'clock the next morning in the Place de l'Etoile at the corner of l'Avenue Wagram. Of course, I had no intention of keeping the appointment.
I suppose he knew—as I did not—that I was already caught in the spell of his personality, the strange magnetic influence that ruled the women he wished to rule. At all events when I had risen the next morning, I seemed to feel a pair of eyes. My nerves were shaken, my will weakened. Without wishing to do so, I went to the rendezvous, cherishing the hope that he would not be there. But he was.
There was both joy and vanity in his voice as he told me he had been perfectly sure that I would come. His calm assurance irritated me and I told him in plain words that I had come for the sole purpose of ending the whole adventure in a way that could not be misunderstood. But he merely smiled, and taking my arm led me into the Bois de Boulogne.
There I intended to put a period to his hopes by telling him that I was already betrothed to a man who was then a prisoner in Germany. But my mysterious companion gave me no time to speak. He himself, kept an endless run of talk—light, witty, touching on all sorts of subjects. He seemed inspired by the springtime beauty of the woods. He quoted poetry—especially that of de Musset. Not once did he betray by voice or language or manner the quality of the usual vulgar "masher." (Mlle. Segret's word was "suiver," literally a follower, specifically a man who follows women, seeking adventure.)
Certainly I was getting a better impression of him, but I did at last seize an opportunity to tell him that this must be our last meeting—and to tell him why.
He listened to me without a word of interruption. He even seemed to approve of the stand I ahd taken. Then he told me he had no hope of competing at his age with a young man such as I had described my fiance to be. He only wanted to talk to me in a friendly way he said. And by way of impressing me of his sincerity he told me that he was Lucien Guillet—for it was not until much later that I learned that he was really Landru. He spoke to me ofr his childhood, of his tender regard for his mother. He seemed llike a lonly man who wanted nothing more than a sympathetic listener.
* * *
The war had changed the lives of many people. My profession had been that of an actress, but now I had abandoned that—for the time being—and was employed in a fur establishment. Warm garments were more important in those dark days than entertainment.
I was giving more and more time to the man I knew as Lucien. We went to the theatres together, to the cinema, or we strolled, usually to my home, where I lived with my mother. The deportment of Lucien—I shall continue to call him by that name— was always correct. He was grave, considerate, courteous, solicitous of my welfare and my wishes, altogether a charming and entertaining companion.
We exchanged confidences, but for a long time there was nothing that resembled a courtship. He seemed to be resigned to my betrothal to another, to be patient in his own situation, to respect me entirely. I was so completely confident of him that when one day he asked me to go with him to his villa in the woods, I consented.
And there at Cambais, he proposed marriage.
We were gathering flowers in the forest. Suddenly he took my hand, fixed me with a look so strange that it seemed to burn through me, and said:
"What do you think of me?"
The shock of it held me silent, and after a pause he continued. He said that he had struggled in vain against the feeling that was in him. He could endure no longer. He felt under a compulsion to make an avowal—at which he begged me not to smile—that he loved me. He did not want an immediate answer, he said, for it might terminate his hopes. He implored me to reflect, to weigh all that he had to offer against all that it would cost me. He would not hear a word from me then. The expression of his face changed and he spoke gayly of the birds and flowers and the sunshine. He did not wish me to spoil so pretty a day, he said, with thoughts too grave.
And he proceeded to tell me a story, one of his favorite tales the he told so well.
When we parted he seemed a little constrained, as if he knew his hope was the slenderest thread and he watched me as I went away.
Continued in Chapter 2.