THERE WAS one man in Grasse, however, who did not trust this peace. His name was Antoine Richis, he held the title of second consul, and he lived in a grand residence at the entrance to the rue Droite.
Richis was a widower and had a daughter named Laure. Although not yet forty years old and of undi-minished vigor, he intended to put off a second marriage for some time yet. First he wanted to find a husband for his daughter. And not the first comer, either, but a man of rank. There was a baron de Bouyon who had a son and an estate near Vence, a man of good reputation and miserable financial situation, with whom Richis had already concluded a contract concerning the future marriage of their children. Once he had married Laure off, he planned to put out his own courting feelers in the direction of the highly esteemed houses of Dree, Maubert, or Fontmichel-not because he was vain and would be damned if he didn’t get a noble bedmate, but because he wanted to found a dynasty and to put his own posterity on a track leading directly to the highest social and political influence. For that he needed at least two sons, one to take over his business, the other to pursue a law career leading to the parliament in Aix and advancement to the nobility. Given his present rank, however, he could hold out hopes for such success only if he managed intimately to unite his own person and family with provincial nobility.
Only one thing justified such high-soaring plans: his fabulous wealth. Antoine Richis was far and away the wealthiest citizen anywhere around. He possessed latifundia not only in the area of Grasse, where he planted oranges, oil, wheat, and hemp, but also near Vence and over toward Antibes, where he leased out his farms. He owned houses in Aix and houses in the country, owned shares in ships that traded with India, had a permanent office in Genoa, and was the largest wholesaler for scents, spices, oils, and leathers in France.
The most precious thing that Richis possessed, however, was his daughter. She was his only child, just turned sixteen, with auburn hair and green eyes. She had a face so charming that visitors of all ages and both sexes would stand stockstill at the sight of her, unable to pull their eyes away, practically licking that face with their eyes, the way tongues work at ice cream, with that typically stupid, single-minded expression on their faces that goes with concentrated licking. Even Richis would catch himself looking at his daughter for indefinite periods of time, a quarter of an hour, a half hour perhaps, forgetting the rest of the world, even his business-which otherwise did not happen even in his sleep-melting away in contemplation of this magnificent girl and afterwards unable to say what it was he had been doing. And of late-he noticed this with uneasiness-of an evening, when he brought her to her bed or sometimes of a morning when he went in to waken her and she still lay sleeping as if put to rest by God’s own hand and the forms of her hips and breasts were molded in the veil of her nightgown and her breath rose calm and hot from the frame of bosom, contoured shoulder, elbow, and smooth forearm in which she had laid her face-then he would feel an awful cramping in his stomach and his throat would seem too tight and he would swallow and, God help him, would curse himself for being this woman’s father and not some stranger, not some other man, before whom she lay as she lay now before him, and who then without scruple and full of desire could lie down next to her, on her, in her. And he broke out in a sweat, and his arms and legs trembled while he choked down this dreadful lust and bent down to wake her with a chaste fatherly kiss. During the year just past, at the time of the murders, these fatal temptations had not yet come over him. The magic that his daughter worked on him then-or so at least it seemed to him-had still been a childish magic. And thus he had not been seriously afraid that Laure would be one of the murderer’s victims, since everyone knew that he attacked neither children nor grown women, but exclusively ripening but virginal girls. He had indeed augmented the watch of his home, had had new grilles placed at the windows of the top floor, and had directed Laure’s maid to share her bedchamber with her. But he was loath to send her away as his peers had done with their daughters, some even with their entire families. He found such behavior despicable and unworthy of a member of the town council and second consul, who, he suggested, should be a model of composure, courage, and resolution to his fellow citizens. Besides which, he was a man who did not let his decisions be made for him by other people, nor by a crowd thrown into panic, and certainly not by some anonymous piece of criminal trash. And so all during those terrible days, he had been one of the few people in the town who were immune to the fever of fear and kept a cool head. But, strange to say, this had now changed. While others publicly celebrated the end of the rampage as if the murderer were already hanged and had soon fully forgotten about those dreadful days, fear crept into Antoine Richis’s heart like a foul poison. For a long time he would not admit that it was fear that caused him to delay trips that ought to have been made some time ago, or to be reluctant merely to leave the house, or to break off visits and meetings just so that he could quickly return home. He gave himself the excuse that he was out of sorts or overworked, but admitted as well that he was a bit concerned, as every father with a daughter of marriageable age is concerned, a thoroughly normal concern… Had not the fame of her beauty already gone out to the wider world? Did not people stretch their necks even now when he accompanied her to church on Sundays? Were not certain gentlemen on the council already making advances, in their own names or in those of their sons…?