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Stories by Modern French Novelists
Lock and Key series edited by Julian Hawthorne


THE LOCK AND KEY LIBRARY
THE MOST INTERESTING STORIES OF ALL NATIONS
Edited by Julian Hawthorne


FRENCH NOVELS



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Victor Cherbuliez
 Count Kostia

Paul Bourget
 Andre Cornelis

Anonymous
 The Last of the Costellos
 Lady Betty's Indiscretion


* * * * *


Victor Cherbuliez
Count Kostia


I


At the beginning of the summer of 1850, a Russian nobleman, Count
Kostia Petrovitch Leminof, had the misfortune to lose his wife
suddenly, and in the flower of her beauty. She was his junior by
twelve years. This cruel loss, for which he was totally
unprepared, threw him into a state of profound melancholy; and some
months later, seeking to mitigate his grief by the distractions of
travel, he left his domains near Moscow, never intending to return.
Accompanied by his twin children, ten years of age, a priest who
had served them as tutor, and a serf named Ivan, he repaired to
Odessa, and then took passage on a merchant ship for Martinique.
Disembarking at St. Pierre, he took lodgings in a remote part of
the suburbs. The profound solitude which reigned there did not at
first bring the consolation he had sought. It was not enough that
he had left his native country, he would have changed the planet
itself; and he complained that nature everywhere was too much
alike. No locality seemed to him sufficiently a stranger to his
experience, and in the deserted places, where the desperate
restlessness of his heart impelled him, he imagined the
reappearance of the obtrusive witnesses of his past joys, and of
the misfortune by which they were suddenly terminated.

He had lived a year in Martinique when the yellow fever carried off
one of his children. By a singular reaction in his vigorous
temperament, it was about this time that his somber melancholy gave
way to a bitter and sarcastic gayety, more in harmony with his
nature. From his early youth he had had a taste for jocularity, a
mocking turn of spirit, seasoned by that ironical grace of manner
peculiar to the great Moscovite nobleman, and resulting from the
constant habit of trifling with men and events. His recovery did
not, however, restore the agreeable manners which in former times
had distinguished him in his intercourse with the world. Suffering
had brought him a leaven of misanthropy, which he did not take the
trouble of disguising; his voice had lost its caressing notes and
had become rude and abrupt; his actions were brusque, and his smile
scornful. Sometimes his bearing gave evidence of a haughty will
which, tyrannized over by events, sought to avenge itself upon
mankind.

Terrible, however, as he sometimes was to those who surrounded him,
Count Kostia was yet a civilized devil. So, after a stay of three
years under tropical skies, he began to sigh for old Europe, and
one fine day saw him disembark upon the quays of Lisbon. He
crossed Portugal, Spain, the south of France and Switzerland. At
Basle, he learned that on the borders of the Rhine, between Coblenz
and Bonn, in a situation quite isolated, an old castle was for
sale. To this place he hurried and bought the antique walls and
the lands which belonged to them, without discussing the price and
without making a detailed examination of the property. The bargain
concluded, he made some hasty and indispensable repairs on one of
the buildings which composed a part of his dilapidated manor, and
which claimed the imposing name of the fortress of Geierfels, and
at once installed himself therein, hoping to pass the rest of his
life in peaceable and studious seclusion.

Count Kostia was gifted with a quick and ready intellect, which he
had strengthened by study. He had always been passionately fond of
historical research, but above everything, knew and wished to know,
only that which the English call "the matter of fact." He
professed a cold scorn for generalities, and heartily abandoned
them to "dreamers;" he laughed at all abstract theories and at the
ingenuous minds which take them seriously. He held that all system
was but logical infatuation; that the only pardonable follies were
those which were frankly avowed; and that only a pedant could
clothe his imagination in geometrical theories. In general,
pedantry to his eyes was the least excusable of vices; he
understood it to be the pretension of tracing back phenomena to
first causes, "as if," said he, "there were any 'first causes,' or
chance admitted of calculation!" This did not prevent him however
from expending much logic to demonstrate that there was no such
thing as logic, either in nature or in man.

These are inconsistencies for which skeptics never dream of
reproaching themselves; they pass their lives in reasoning against
reason. In short, Count Kostia respected nothing but facts, and
believed that, properly viewed, there was nothing else, and that
the universe, considered as an entirety, was but a collection of
contradictory accidents.

A member of the Historical and Antiquarian Society of Moscow, he
had once published important memoirs upon Slavonic antiquities and
upon some of the disputed questions in the history of the Lower
Empire. Hardly was he installed at Geierfels, before he occupied
himself in fitting up his library, but a few volumes of which he
had carried to Martinique. He at once ordered from Moscow most of
the books he had left, and also sent large orders to German
bookstores. When his "seraglio," as he called it, was nearly
complete, he again became absorbed in study, and particularly in
that of the Greek historians of the Byzantine Empire, of whose
collective works he had the good fortune to possess the Louvre
edition in thirty-six volumes folio; and he soon formed the
ambitious project of writing a complete history of that Empire from
Constantine the Great to the taking of Constantinople. So absorbed
did he become in this great design, that he scarcely ate or drank;
but the further he advanced in his researches the more he became
dismayed by the magnitude of the enterprise, and he conceived the
idea of procuring an intelligent assistant, upon whom he could
shift a part of the task. As he proposed to write his voluminous
work in French, it was in France this living instrument which he
needed must be sought, and he therefore broached the project to Dr.
Lerins, one of his old acquaintances in Paris. "For nearly three
years," he wrote to the Doctor, "I have dwelt in a veritable owl's
nest, and I should be much obliged to you if you would procure for
me a young night bird, who could endure life two or three years in
such an ugly hole without dying of ennui. Understand me, I must
have a secretary who is not contented with writing a fine hand and
knowing French a little better than I do: I wish him to be a
consummate philologist, and a hellenist of the first order,--one of
those men who ought to be met with in Paris,--born to belong to the
Institute, but so dependent upon circumstances as to make that
position impossible. If you succeed in finding this priceless
being, I will give him the best room in my castle and a salary of
twelve thousand francs. I stipulate that he shall not be a fool.
As to character, I say nothing about it; he will do me the favor to
have such as will suit me."

M. Lerins was intimate with a young man from Lorraine named Gilbert
Saville, a savant of great merit, who had left Nancy several years
before to seek his fortune in Paris. At the age of twenty-seven he
had presented, in a competition opened by the Academy of
Inscriptions, an essay on the Etruscan language, which took the
prize and was unanimously declared a masterpiece of sagacious
erudition. He had hoped for some time that this first success,
which had gained him renown among learned men, would aid him in
obtaining some lucrative position and rescue him from the
precarious situation in which he found himself. Nothing resulted
from it. His merits compelled esteem; the charm of his frank and
courteous manner won him universal good will; his friends were
numerous; he was well received and caressed; he even obtained,
without seeking it, the entree to more than one salon, where he met
men of standing who could be useful to him and assure him a
successful future. All this however amounted to nothing, and no
position was offered. What worked most to his prejudice was an
independence of opinion and character which was a part of his
nature. Only to look at him was to know that such a man could not
be tied down, and the only language which this able philologist
could not learn was the jargon of society. Add to this that
Gilbert had a speculative, dreamy temperament and the pride and
indolence which are its accessories. To bestir himself and to
importune were torture to him. A promise made to him could be
forgotten with impunity, for he was not the man to revive it; and
besides, as he never complained himself, no one was disposed to
complain for him. In short, among those who had been desirous of
protecting and advancing him, it was said: "What need has he of our
assistance? Such remarkable talent will make its own way." Others
thought, without expressing it: "Let us be guarded, this is another
Letronne,--once 'foot in the stirrup,' God only knows where he will
stop." Others said and thought: "This young man is charming,--he
is so discreet,--not like such and such a person." All those cited
as not "discreet," were provided for.

The difficulties of his life had rendered Gilbert serious and
reflective, but they had neither hardened his heart nor quenched
his imagination. He was too wise to revolt against his fate, but
determined to be superior to it. "Thou art all thou canst be,"
said he to himself; "but do not flatter thyself that thou hast
reached the measure of my aspirations."

After having read M. Leminof's letter, Dr. Lerins went in search of
Gilbert. He described Count Kostia to him according to his remote
recollections, but he asked him, before deciding, to weigh the
matter deliberately. After quitting his young friend he muttered
to himself--

"After all, I hope he will refuse. He would be too much of a prize
for that boyard. Of his very Muscovite face, I remember only an
enormous pair of eyebrows,--the loftiest and bushiest I ever saw,
and perhaps there is nothing more of him! There are men who are
all in the eyebrows!"


II


A week later Gilbert was on his way to Geierfels. At Cologne he
embarked on board a steamboat to go up the Rhine ten or twelve
leagues beyond Bonn. Towards evening, a thick fog settled down
upon the river and its banks, and it became necessary to anchor
during the night. This mischance rendered Gilbert melancholy,
finding in it, as he did, an image of his life. He too had a
current to stem, and more than once a sad and somber fog had fallen
and obscured his course.

In the morning the weather cleared; they weighed anchor, and at two
o'clock in the afternoon, Gilbert disembarked at a station two
leagues from Geierfels. He was in no haste to arrive, and even
though "born with a ready-made consolation for anything," as M.
Lerins sometimes reproachfully said to him, he dreaded the moment
when his prison doors should close behind him, and he was disposed
to enjoy yet a few hours of his dear liberty. "We are about to
part," said he to himself; "let us at least take time to say
farewell."

Instead of hiring a carriage to transport himself and his effects,
he consigned his trunk to a porter, who engaged to forward it to
him the next day, and took his way on foot, carrying under his arm
a little valise, and promising himself not to hurry. An hour later
he quitted the main road, and stopped to refresh himself at an
humble inn situated upon a hillock covered with pine trees. Dinner
was served to him under an arbor,--his repast consisted of a slice
of smoked ham and an omelette au cerfeuil, which he washed down
with a little good claret. This feast a la Jean Jacques appeared
to him delicious, flavored as it was by that "freedom of the inn"
which was dearer to the author of the Confessions than even the
freedom of the press.

When he had finished eating, Gilbert ordered a cup of coffee, or
rather of that black beverage called coffee in Germany. He was
hardly able to drink it, and he remembered with longing the
delicious Mocha prepared by the hands of Madame Lerins; and this
set him thinking of that amiable woman and her husband.

Gilbert's reverie soon took another turn. From the bank where he
was sitting, he saw the Rhine, the tow path which wound along by
the side of its grayish waters, and nearer to him the great white
road where, at intervals, heavy wagons and post chaises raised
clouds of dust. This dusty road soon absorbed all of his
attention. It seemed to him as if it cast tender glances upon him,
as if it called him and said: "Follow me; we will go together to
distant countries; we will keep the same step night and day and
never weary; we will traverse rivers and mountains, and every
morning we will have a new horizon. Come, I wait for thee, give me
thy heart. I am the faithful friend of vagabonds, I am the divine
mistress of those bold and strong hearts which look upon life as an
adventure."

Gilbert was not the man to dream long. He became himself again,
rose to his feet, and shook off the vision. "Up to this hour I
thought myself rational; but it appears I am so no longer.
Forward, then,--courage, let us take our staff and on to
Geierfels!"

As he entered the kitchen of the inn to pay his bill, he found the
landlord there busy in bathing a child's face from which the blood
streamed profusely. During this operation, the child cried, and
the landlord swore. At this moment his wife came in.

"What has happened to Wilhelm?" she asked.

"What has happened?" replied he angrily. "It happened that when
Monsieur Stephane was riding on horseback on the road by the mill,
this child walked before him with his pigs. Monsieur Stephane's
horse snorted, and Monsieur Stephane, who could hardly hold him,
said to the child: 'Now then, little idiot, do you think my horse
was made to swallow the dust your pigs raise? Draw aside, drive
them into the brush, and give me the road.' 'Take to the woods
yourself,' answered the child, 'the path is only a few steps off.'
At this Monsieur Stephane got angry, and as the child began to
laugh, he rushed upon him and cut him in the face with his whip.
God-a-mercy! let him come back,--this little master,--and I'll
teach him how to behave himself. I mean to tie him to a tree, one
of these days, and break a dozen fagots of green sticks over his
back."

"Ah take care what thou sayest, my old Peter," replied his wife
with a frightened air. "If thou'dst touch the little man thou'dst
get thyself into a bad business."

"Who is this Monsieur Stephane?" inquired Gilbert.

The landlord, recalled to prudence by the warning of his wife,
answered dryly: "Stephane is Stephane, pryers are pryers, and sheep
are put into the world to be sheared."

Thus repulsed, poor Gilbert paid five or six times its value for
his frugal repast, muttering as he departed: "I don't like this
Stephane; is it on his account that I've just been imposed upon?
Is it my fault that he carries matters with such a high hand?"

Gilbert descended the little hill, and retook the main road; it
pleased him no more, for he knew too well where it was leading him.
He inquired how much further it was to Geierfels, and was told that
by fast walking he would reach that place within an hour, whereupon
he slackened his pace. He was certainly in no haste to get there.

Gilbert was but a half a league from the castle when, upon his
right, a little out of his road, he perceived a pretty fountain
which partly veiled a natural grotto. A path led to it, and this
path had for Gilbert an irresistible attraction. He seated himself
upon the margin of the fountain, resting his feet upon a mossy
stone. This ought to be his last halt, for night was approaching.
Under the influence of the bubbling waters, Gilbert resumed his
dreamy soliloquy, but his meditations were presently interrupted by
the sound of a horse's feet which clattered over the path. Raising
his eyes, he saw coming towards him, mounted upon a large chestnut
horse, a young man of about sixteen, whose pale thin face was
relieved by an abundance of magnificent bright brown hair, which
fell in curls upon his shoulders. He was small but admirably
formed, and his features, although noble and regular, awakened in
Gilbert more of surprise than sympathy: their expression was hard,
sullen, and sad, and upon this beautiful face not any of the graces
of youth appeared.

The young cavalier came straight towards him, and when at a step or
two from the fountain, he called out in German, with an imperious
voice: "My horse is thirsty,--make room for me, my good man!"

Gilbert did not stir.

"You take a very lofty tone, my little friend," replied he in the
same language, which he understood very well, but pronounced like
the devil,--I mean like a Frenchman.

"My tall friend, how much do you charge for your lessons in
etiquette?" answered the young man in the same language, imitating
Gilbert's pronunciation. Then he added in French, with
irreproachable purity of accent: "Come, I can't wait, move
quicker," and he began cutting the air with his riding-whip.

"M. Stephane," said Gilbert, who had not forgotten the adventure of
the little Wilhelm, "your whip will get you into trouble some of
these days."

"Who gave you the right to know my name?" cried the young man,
raising his head haughtily.

"The name is already notorious through the country," retorted
Gilbert, "and you have written it in very legible characters upon
the cheek of a little pig-driver."

Stephane, for it was he, reddened with anger and raised his whip
with a threatening air; but with a blow of his stick Gilbert sent
it flying into the bottom of a ditch, twenty paces distant.

When he looked at the young man again, he repented of what he had
done, for his expression was terrible to behold; his pallor became
livid; all the muscles of his face contracted, and his body was
agitated by convulsive movements; in vain he tried to speak, his
voice died upon his lips, and reason seemed deserting him. He tore
off one of his gloves, and tried to throw it in Gilbert's face, but
it fell from his trembling hand. For an instant he looked with a
scornful and reproachful glance at that slender hand whose weakness
he cursed; then tears gushed in abundance from his eyes, he hung
his head over the neck of his horse, and in a choking voice
murmured:

"For the love of God, if you do not wish me to die of rage, give me
back,--give me back--"

He could not finish; but Gilbert had already run to the ditch, and
having picked up the riding-whip, as well as the glove, returned
them to him. Stephane, without looking at him, answered by a
slight inclination of the head, but kept his eyes fixed upon the
pommel of his saddle,--evidently striving to recover his self-
possession. Gilbert, pitying his state of mind, turned to leave;
but at the moment he stooped to pick up his portmanteau and cane,
the youth, with a well-directed blow of his whip, struck off his
hat, which rolled into the ditch, and when Gilbert, surprised and
indignant, was about to throw himself upon the young traitor, he
had already pushed his horse to a full gallop, and in the twinkling
of an eye he reached the main road, where he disappeared in a
whirlwind of dust. Gilbert was much more affected by this
adventure than his philosophy should have permitted. He took up
his journey again with a feeling of depression, and haunted by the
pale, distorted face of the youth. "This excess of despair," said
he to himself, "indicates a proud and passionate character; but the
perfidy with which he repaid my generosity is the offspring of a
soul ignoble and depraved." And striking his forehead, he
continued: "It just occurs to me, judging from his name, that this
young man may be Count Kostia's son. Ah! what an amiable companion
I shall have to cheer my captivity! M. Leminof ought to have
forewarned me. It was an article which should have been included
in the contract."

Gilbert felt his heart sink; he saw himself already condemned to
defend his dignity incessantly against the caprices and insolence
of a badly-trained child,--the prospect was not attractive!
Plunged in these melancholy reflections, he lost his way, having
passed the place where he should have quitted the main road to
ascend the steep hill of which the castle formed the crown. By
good luck he met a peasant who put him again upon the right track.
The night had already fallen when he entered the court of the vast
building. This great assemblage of incongruous structures appeared
to him but a somber mass whose weight was crushing him. He could
only distinguish one or two projecting towers whose pointed roofs
stood out in profile against the starlit sky. While seeking to
make out his position, several huge dogs rushed upon him, and would
have torn him to pieces if, at the noise of their barking, a tall
stiff valet had not made his appearance with a lantern in hand.
Gilbert having given him his name, was requested to follow him.
They crossed a terrace, forced to turn aside at every step by the
dogs who growled fiercely,--apparently regretting "these amiable
hosts" the supper of which they had been deprived. Following his
guide Gilbert found himself upon a little winding staircase, which
they ascended to the third story, where the valet, opening an
arched door, introduced him into a large circular apartment where a
bed with a canopy had been prepared. "This is your room," said he
curtly, and having lighted two candles and placed them upon the
round table, he left the room, and did not return for half an hour,
when he re-appeared bearing a tray laden with a samovar, a venison
pie, and some cold fowl. Gilbert ate with a good appetite and felt
great satisfaction in finding that he had any at all. "My foolish
reveries," thought he, "have not spoiled my stomach at least."

Gilbert was still at the table when the valet re-entered and handed
him a note from the Count, which ran thus:

"M. Leminoff bids M. Gilbert Saville welcome. He will give himself
the pleasure of calling upon him to-morrow morning."

"To-morrow we shall commence the serious business of life," said
Gilbert to himself, as he enjoyed a cup of exquisite green tea,
"and I'm very glad of it, for I don't approve of the use I make of
my leisure. I have passed all this day reasoning upon myself,
dissecting my mind and heart,--a most foolish pastime, beyond a
doubt"--then drawing from his pocket a note-book, he wrote therein
these words: "Forget thyself, forget thyself, forget thyself,"
imitating the philosopher Kant, who being inconsolable at the loss
of an old servant named Lamp, wrote in his journal: "Remember to
forget Lamp."

He remained some moments standing in the embrasure of the window
gazing upon the celestial vault which shone with a thousand fires,
and then threw himself upon his bed. His sleep was not tranquil;
Stephane appeared to him in his dreams, and at one time he thought
he saw him kneeling before him, his face bathed in tears; but when
he approached to console him, the child drew a poignard from his
bosom and stabbed him to the heart.

Gilbert awakened with a start, and had some difficulty in getting
to sleep again.


III


A great pleasure was in store for Gilbert at his awakening; he rose
as the sun began to appear, and having dressed, hastened to the
window to see what view it offered.

The rotunda which had been assigned to him for a lodging formed the
entire upper story of a turret which flanked one of the angles of
the castle. This turret, and a great square tower situated at the
other extremity of the same front, commanded a view of the north,
and from this side the rock descended perpendicularly, forming an
imposing precipice of three hundred feet. When Gilbert's first
glance plunged into the abyss where a bluish vapor floated, which
the rising sun pierced with its golden arrows, the spectacle
transported him. To have a precipice under his window, was a
novelty which gave him infinite joy. The precipice was his domain,
his property, and his eyes took possession of it. He could not
cease gazing at the steep, wall-like rocks, the sides of which were
cut by transverse belts of brush-wood and dwarf trees. It was long
since he had experienced such a lively sensation, and he felt that
if his heart was old, his senses were entirely new. The fact is
that at this moment, Gilbert, the grave philosopher, was as happy
as a child, and in listening to the solemn murmur of the Rhine,
with which mingled the croaking of a raven and the shrill cries of
the martins, who with restless wings grazed the abutments of the
ancient turret, he persuaded himself that the river raised its
voice to salute him, that the birds were serenading him, and that
all nature celebrated a fete of which he was the hero.

He could hardly tear himself from his dear window to breakfast, and
he was again engaged in contemplation when M. Leminof entered the
room. He did not hear him, and it was not until the Count had
coughed three times that he turned his head. Perceiving the enemy,
Gilbert started, but quickly recovered himself. The nervous start,
however, which he had not been able to conceal, caused the Count to
smile, and his smile embarrassed Gilbert. He felt that M. Leminof
would regulate his conduct to him upon the impression he should
receive in this first interview, and he determined to keep close
watch upon himself.

Count Kostia was a man of middle age, very tall and well made,
broad-shouldered, with lofty bearing, a forehead stern and haughty,
a nose like the beak of a bird of prey, a head carried high and
slightly backwards, large, wide open gray eyes which shot glances
at once piercing and restless, an expressive face regularly cut, in
which Gilbert found little to criticise except that the eyebrows
were a little too bushy, and the cheek bones a little too
prominent; but what did not please him was, that M. Leminof
remained standing while praying him to be seated, and as Gilbert
made some objections the Count cut him short by an imperious
gesture and a frown.

"Monsieur le Comte," said Gilbert mentally, "you do not leave this
room until you have been seated too!"

"My dear sir," said the Count, pacing the room with folded arms,
"you have a very warm friend in Dr. Lerins. He sets a great value
upon your merit; he has even been obliging enough to give me to
understand that I was quite unworthy of having such a treasure of
wisdom and erudition in my house. He has also expressly
recommended me to treat you with the tenderest consideration; he
has made me feel that I am responsible for you to the world, and
that the world will hold me to a strict account. You are very
fortunate, sir, in having such good friends, they are among
Heaven's choicest blessings."

Gilbert made no answer but bit his lips and looked at the floor.

"M. Lerins," continued the Count, "informs me also, that you are
both timid and proud, and he desires me to deal gently with you.
He pretends that you are capable of suffering much without
complaint. This is an accomplishment which is uncommon nowadays.
But what I regret is, that our excellent friend M. Lerins
apparently considers me a sort of human wolf. I should be very
unhappy if I inspired you with fear." Then, turning half round
towards Gilbert: "Let us see, look at me well; have I claws at the
ends of my fingers?"

Poor Gilbert inwardly cursed M. Lerins and his indiscreet zeal.

"Oh, Monsieur le Comte," replied he in his frankest tones and with
the most tranquil air he could command, "I never suspect claws in a
fellow-creature;--only when occasion makes me feel them, I cry out
loudly and defend myself."

The sound of Gilbert's voice, and the expression of his face,
struck M. Leminof. It was his turn if not to start (he seldom
started) at least to be astonished. He looked at him an instant in
silence, and then resumed in a more sardonic tone:

"This is not all; M. Lerins (ah! what an admirable friend you have
there!) desires also to inform me that you are, sir, what is called
nowadays, a beautiful soul. What is 'a beautiful soul?' I know
nothing of the species." While thus speaking he seemed to be
looking by turns for a fly on the ceiling and a pin on the floor.
"I have old-fashioned ideas of everything, and I do not understand
the vocabulary of my age. I know a beautiful horse very well or a
beautiful woman;--but A BEAUTIFUL SOUL! Do you know how to explain
to me, sir, what 'this beautiful soul' is?"

Gilbert did not answer a word. He was entirely occupied in
addressing to Heaven the prayer of the philosopher: "Oh, my God!
save me from my friends, and I will take care of my enemies." "My
questions seem to you perhaps a little indiscreet," pursued M.
Leminof; "but M. Lerins is responsible for them. His last letter
caused me great uneasiness. He introduces you to me as an
exceptionable being; it is natural that I should wish to enlighten
myself, for I detest mysteries and surprises. I once heard of a
little Abyssinian prince, who to testify his gratitude to the
missionary who had converted him, sent to him, as a present, a
large chest of scented wood. When the missionary opened the chest,
he found in it a pretty living Nile crocodile. Fancy his delight!
Experiences like this teach prudence. So when our excellent friend
M. Lerins sends me a present of a beautiful soul, it is natural
that I should unpack it with caution, and that before I install
this beautiful soul in my house, I should seek to know what is
inside of it. A beautiful soul!" he repeated, in a less ironical
but harsher tone, "by dint of pondering upon it, I divine to be a
soul which has a passion for the trumpery of sentiment. In this
case, sir, suffer me to give you a piece of advice. Madame Leminof
had a great fancy for Chinese ornaments, and she filled her parlors
with them. Unfortunately, I am a little brusque, and it happened
more than once that I overturned her tables laden with porcelain
and other gewgaws. You can judge how well she liked it! My dear
sir, be prudent, shut up your Chinese ornaments carefully in your
closets, and carry the keys."

"I thank you for the advice," answered Gilbert gently; "but I am
distressed to see that you have received a very false idea of me.
Will you permit me to describe myself as I am?"

"I have no objection," said he.

"To begin then 'I am not a beautiful soul,' I am simply a good
soul, or if you like it better, an honest fellow who takes things
as they come and men as they are; who prides himself upon nothing,
pretends to nothing, and who cares not a straw what others think of
him. I do not deny that in my early youth I was subject, like
others, to what a man of wit has called 'the witchery of nonsense;'
but I have recovered from it entirely. I have found in life a
morose and rather brutal teacher, who has taught me the art of
living by severe discipline; so whatever of the romantic was in me
has taken refuge in my brains, and my heart has become the most
reasonable of all hearts. If I had the good fortune to be at the
same time an artist and rich, I should take life as a play; but
being neither the one nor the other I treat it as a matter of
business."

M. Leminof commenced his walk again, and in passing Gilbert, gave
him a look at once haughty and caressing, such as a huge mastiff
would cast upon a spaniel, who fearing nothing, would approach his
great-toothed majesty familiarly and offer to play with him. He
growls loudly, but feels no anger. There is something in the eye
of a spaniel which forces the big dogs to take their familiarity in
good part.

"Ah, then, sir," said the Count, "by your own avowal you are a
perfect egotist. Your great aim is to live, and to live for
yourself."

"It is nearly so," answered Gilbert, "only I avoid using the word,
it is a little hard. Not that I was born an egotist, but I have
become one. If I still possessed the heart I had at twenty, I
should have brought here with me some very romantic ideas. You may
well laugh, sir, but suppose I had arrived at your castle ten years
ago; it would have been with a fixed intention of loving you a
great deal, and of making you love me. But now, mon Dieu! now I
know a little of the world, and I say to myself that there can be
no question between us but a bargain, and that good bargains should
be advantageous to both parties."

"What a terrible man you are," cried the Count with a mocking
laugh. "You destroy my illusions without pity, you wound my
poetical soul. In my simplicity, I imagined that we should be
enamored of each other. I intended to make an intimate friend of
my secretary,--the dear confidant of all my thoughts, but at the
moment when I was prepared to open my arms to him, the ingrate says
to me in a studied tone: 'Sir, there is nothing but the question of
a bargain between us; I am the seller, you are the buyer; I sell
you Greek, and you pay me cash down.' Peste! Monsieur, 'your
beautiful soul' does not pride itself on its poetry. As an
experiment, I will take you at your word. There is nothing but a
bargain between us. I will make the terms and you will agree
without complaint, though I am the Turk and you the Moor."

"Pardon me," answered Gilbert, "it is naturally to your interest to
treat me with consideration. You may give me a great deal to do, I
shall not grudge my time or trouble, but you must not overburden
me. I am not exacting, and all that I ask for is a few hours of
leisure and solitude daily to enjoy in peace.

M. Leminof stopped suddenly before Gilbert, his hands resting upon
his hips.

"You will sit down, you will sit down, Monsieur le Comte," muttered
Gilbert between his teeth.

"So you are a dreamer and an egotist," said M. Leminof, looking
fixedly at him. "I hope, sir, that you have the virtues of the
class. I mean to say, that while wholly occupied with yourself,
you are free from all indiscreet curiosity. Egotism is worth its
price only when it is accompanied by a scornful indifference to
others. I will explain: I do not live here absolutely alone, but I
am the only one with whom I desire you to have any intimate
acquaintance. The two persons who live in this house with me know
nothing of Greek, and therefore need not interest you. Remember, I
have the misfortune of being jealous as a tiger, and I intend that
you shall be mine without any division. And as for your fantasies,
should you think better of it, you will find me always ready to
admire them; but you show them to no one else, you understand, to
no one!"

Count Kostia pronounced these last words with a tone so emphatic
that Gilbert was surprised, and was on the point of asking some
explanation; but the stern and almost threatening look of the Count
deterred him. "Your instructions, sir," answered he, "are
superfluous. To finish my own portrait, I am not very expansive,
and I have but little sociability in my character. To speak
frankly, solitude is my element; it is inexpressibly sweet to me.
Do you wish to try me? If so, shut me up under lock and key in
this room, and provided you have a little food passed through the
door to me daily, you will find me a year hence seated at this
table, fresh, well and happy, unless perhaps," he added, "I should
be unexpectedly attacked with some celestial longing, in which
case, I could some fine day easily fly out of the window; the loss
wouldn't be very great. Finding the cage empty, you would say, 'He
has grown his wings, poor fellow--much good may they do him.'"

"I don't admit that," cried the Count, "Monsieur Secretary. You
please me immensely, and for fear of accident, I will have this
window barred."

With these words he drew a chair towards him, and seated himself
facing Gilbert, who could have clapped his hands at this propitious
result. Their conversation then turned upon the Byzantine Empire
and its history. The Count unfolded to Gilbert the plan of his
work, and the kind of researches he expected from him. This
conversation was prolonged for several hours.


IV


A fortnight later, Gilbert wrote to his friends a letter conceived
thus:

"Madame:--I have found here neither fetes, cavalcades, gala-days
nor Muscovite beauties. What should we do, I beg to know, with
these Muscovite beauties? or perhaps I ought to ask, what would
they do with us? We live in the woods; our castle is an old, very
old one, and in the moonlight it looks like a specter. What I like
best about it, is its long and gloomy corridors, through which the
wind sweeps freely; but I assure you that I have not yet
encountered there a white robe or a plumed hat. Only the other
evening a bat, who had entered by a broken pane, brushed my face
with its wing and almost put out my candle. This, up to the
present time has been my sole adventure. And as for you, sir, know
that I am not obliged to resist the fascinations of my tyrant, for
the reason that he has not taken the trouble to be fascinating.
Know also that I am not bored. I am contented; I am enjoying the
tranquility of mind which comes from a well-defined, well-
regulated, and after all, very supportable position. I am no
longer compelled to urge my life on before me and to show it the
road; it makes its own way, and I follow it as Martin followed his
ass. And then pleasures are not wanting for us,--listen! Our
castle is a long series of dilapidated buildings, of which we
occupy the only one habitable. I am lodged alone in a turret which
commands a magnificent view, and I have a grand precipice under my
window. I can say 'my turret,' 'my precipice!' Oh, my poor
Parisians, you will never understand all there is in these two
words: MY PRECIPICE! 'What is it then but a precipice?' exclaims
Madame Lerins. 'It is only a great chasm.' Ah, yes! Madame, it is
'a great chasm'; but imagine that this morning this chasm was a
deep blue, and this evening at sunset it was--stay, of the color of
your nasturtiums. I opened my window and put my head out to inhale
the odor of this admirable precipice, for I have discovered that in
the evening precipices have an odor. How shall I describe it to
you? It is a perfume of rocks scorched by the sun, with which
mingles a subtle aroma of dry herbs. The combination is exquisite.

"The proud rock, of which we occupy the summit and which deserves
its name of Vulture's Crag, is bounded at the north as you already
know, at the west by a ravine which separates it from a range of
hills higher and fantastically jagged, and following the windings
of the river. This line of hills is not continuous; it is cut by
narrow gorges, which open into the valley and through which the
last rays of the sun reach us. The other evening there was a red
sunset, and one of these gorges seemed to vomit flames; you might
have supposed it the mouth of the furnace. Upon the east, from its
heights and its terrace, Geierfels overlooks the Rhine, from which
it is separated by the main road and a tow-path. At the south it
communicates by steep paths with a vast plateau, of which it forms,
as it were, the upper story, and which is clothed with a forest of
beeches, and furrowed here and there with noisy streams. It is on
this side only that our castle is accessible,--and here not to
carriages,--even a cart could reach us but with difficulty, and all
of our provisions are brought to us upon the backs of men or mules.
Mountains, perpendicular rocks, turrets overhanging a precipice,
grand and somber woods, rugged paths and brooks which fall in
cascades, do not all these, Madame, make this a very wild and very
romantic retreat? On the right bank of the Rhine which stretches
out under our eyes, it is another thing. Picture to yourself a
landscape of infinite sweetness, a great cultivated plain, which
rises by imperceptible gradation to the base of a distant chain of
mountains, the undulating outlines of which are traced upon the sky
in aerial indentations.

"Directly in front of the chateau, beyond the Rhine, a market town,
with neat houses carefully whitewashed and with gardens attached,
spreads itself around a little cove, like a fan. Upon the right of
this great village a rustic church reflects the sun from its tinned
spire; on the left, some large mills show their lazily turning
wheels, and behind these mills, the church and the market town,
extends the fertile plain which I have just endeavored to describe
to you, and which I cannot praise too much. Oh! charming
landscape! This afternoon I was occupied in feasting my eyes upon
it, when a white goat came to distract my attention, followed at a
distance by a little girl whom I suspected of being very pretty;
but I forgot them both in watching a steamboat passing up the river
towing a flotilla of barges, covered with awnings and attended by
their lighters, and a huge raft laden with timber from the Black
Forest, manned by fifty or sixty boatmen, some of whom in front,
and some in the rear, directed its course with vigorous strokes of
the oar.

"But what pleases me above everything else is, that Geierfels, by
its position, is a kind of acoustic focus to which all the noises
of the valley incessantly ascend. This afternoon, the dull
murmuring of the river, the panting respiration of the tug-boat,
the vibration of a bell in a distant church tower, the song of a
peasant girl washing her linen in a spring, the bleating of sheep,
the tic tac of the mills, the tinkling bells of a long train of
mules drawing a barge by a rope, the reverberating clamors of
boatmen stowing casks in their boats--all these various sounds came
to my ear in vibrations of surprising clearness, when suddenly a
gust of wind mingled them confusedly together, and I could hear but
a vague music which seemed to fall from the skies. But a moment
afterwards all of these vibrating voices emerged anew from the
whirlwind of confused harmony, and each, sonorous and distinct,
recounted to my enraptured heart some episode in the life of man
and nature. And then, when night comes, Madame, to all of these
noises of the day succeed others more mysterious, more penetrating,
more melancholy. Do you like the hooting of the owl, Madame? But
first, I wonder if you have ever heard it. It is a cry-- No, it
is not a cry, it is a soft, stifled wail; a monotonous and resigned
sorrow, which unbosoms itself to the moon and stars. One of these
sad birds lodges within two steps of me, in the hollow of a tree,
and when night comes, he amuses himself by singing a duet with the
singing wind. The Rhine plays an accompaniment, and its grave,
subdued voice furnishes a continuous bass, whose volume swells and
falls in rhythmic waves. The other evening this concert failed;
neither the wind nor the owl was in voice. The Rhine alone
grumbled beneath; but it arranged a surprise for me and proved that
it could make harmony of its own without other aid. Towards
midnight a barge carrying a lantern on its prow had become detached
from the bank and had drifted across the river, and I distinctly
heard, or imagined that I heard, the wash of the waves upon the
side of the boat, the bubbling of the eddy which formed under the
stern, the dull sound of the oar when it dipped into the current,
and still sweeter, when raised out of it the tender tears which
dripped from it drop by drop. This music contrasted strongly with
that I had heard the night before at the same hour. The north wind
had risen during the evening, and near eleven o'clock it became
furious; it filled the air with sad howlings, and increased to a
rage that was inexpressible. The weathercocks creaked, the tiles
ground against each other, the roof timbers trembled in their
mortices, and the walls shook upon their foundations. From time to
time a blast would hurl itself against my window with wild shrieks,
and from my bed I imagined I could see through the panes the
bloodshot eyes of a band of famished wolves. In the brief
intervals when this outside tumult subsided, strange murmurs came
from the interior of the castle; the wainscoting gave forth dismal
creakings;--there was not a crack in the partitions, nor a fissure
in the ceiling from which did not issue a sigh, or hoarse groans.
Then again all this became silent, and I heard only something like
a low whispering in the far off corridors, as of phantoms murmuring
in the darkness as they swept the walls in their flight; then
suddenly they seemed to gather up their forces, the floors trembled
under their spasmodic tramping, while they clambered in confusion
up the staircase which led to my room, throwing themselves over the
threshold of my door and uttering indescribable lamentations.

"But enough of this, perhaps you will say; let us now talk a little
of your patron: This terrible man, will you believe it, has not
inspired me with the antagonism which you prophesied. But in the
first place we do not live together from morning to night. The day
after my arrival, he sent me a long list of difficult or mutilated
passages to interpret and restore. It is a work of time, to which
I devote all my afternoons. He has had some of his finest folios
sent to my room, and I live in these like a rat in a Dutch cheese.
It is true, I pass my mornings in his study, where we hold learned
discussions which would edify the Academy of Inscriptions; but to
my delight, after nightfall I can dispose of myself as I choose.
He has even agreed that, after seven o'clock, I may lock myself in
my room, and that no human being under any pretext whatever shall
come to disturb me there. This privilege M. Leminof granted to me
in the most gracious manner, and you can imagine how grateful I am
to him for it. I do not mean to say by this that he is an amiable
man, nor that he cares to be; but he is a man of sense and wit. He
understood me at once, and he means to make me serviceable to him.
I am like a horse who feels that he carries a skilful rider."


V


The next day was Sunday, and for Gilbert was a day of liberty.
Towards the middle of the forenoon, he went out to take a walk in
the woods. He had wandered for an hour, when, turning his head, he
saw coming behind him a little troop of children, decked out in
strange costumes. The two oldest wore blue dresses and red
mantles, and their heads were covered with felt caps encircled by
bands of gilt paper in imitation of aureoles. A smaller one wore a
gray dress, upon which were painted black devils and inverted
torches. The last five were clothed in white; their shoulders were
ornamented with long wings of rose-tinted gauze, and they held in
their hands sprigs of box by way of palm branches.

Gilbert slackened his pace, and when they came up with him, he
recognized in the one who wore the san-benito the little hog-
driver, so maltreated by Stephane. The child, who while marching
looked down complacently on the torches and the devils with which
his robe was decorated, advanced towards Gilbert, and without
waiting for his questions, said to him, "I am Judas Iscariot. Here
is Saint Peter, and here is Saint John. The others are angels. We
are all going to R----, to take part in a grand procession, that
they have there every five years. If you want to see something
fine, just follow us. I shall sing a solo and so will Saint Peter;
the others sing in the chorus."

Upon which Judas Iscariot, Saint Peter, Saint John and the angels
resumed their march, and Gilbert decided to follow them. The first
houses of the village of R---- rise at the extremity of the wooded
plain which extends to the south of Geierfels. In about half an
hour, the little procession made its entry into the village in the
midst of a considerable crowd which hastily gathered from the
neighboring hamlets. Gilbert made his way along the main street,
decorated with hangings and altars, and passed on to an open square
planted with elms, of which the church formed one of the sides.
Presently the bells sounded a grand peal; the doors of the church
opened, and the procession came out. At the head marched priests,
monks, and laymen of both sexes, bearing wax tapers, crosses, and
banners. Behind them came a long train of children representing
the escort of the Saviour to Calvary. One of them, a young lad of
ten years, filled the role of Christ.

At a moment when Gilbert was absorbed in reflection, a voice which
was not unknown to him murmured in his ear these words, which made
him shudder:

"You seem prodigiously interested, Monsieur, in this ridiculous
comedy!"

Turning his head quickly, he recognized Stephane. The young man
had just dismounted from his horse, which he had left in the care
of his servant, and had pushed his way through the crowd,
indifferent to the exclamations of the good people whose pious
meditations he disturbed. Gilbert looked at him a moment severely,
and then fixed his eyes on the procession, and tried, but in vain,
to forget the existence of this Stephane whom he had not met before
since the adventure at the fountain, and whose presence at this
moment caused him an indefinable uneasiness. The reproachful look
which he had cast upon the young man, far from intimidating him,
served but to excite his mocking humor, and after a few seconds of
silence he commenced the following soliloquy in French, speaking
low, but in a voice so distinct that Gilbert, to his great regret,
lost not a word of it:

"Mon Dieu! how ridiculous these young ones are! They really seem
to take the whole thing seriously; what vulgar types! what square,
bony faces. Don't their low, stupid expressions contrast oddly
with their wings? Do you see that little chap twisting his mouth
and rolling his eyes? His air of contrition is quite edifying.
The other day he was caught stealing fagots from a neighbor. . . .
And look at that other one who has lost his wings! What an unlucky
accident! He is stooping to pick them up, and tucks them under his
arm like a cocked hat. The idea is a happy one! But thank God,
their litanies are over. It's Saint Peter's turn to sing."

For a long time Gilbert looked about him anxiously, seeking an
opportunity to escape, but the crowd was so compact that it was
impossible to make his way through it. He saw himself forced to
remain where he was and to submit, even to the end, to Stephane's
amiable soliloquy. So he pretended not to hear him, and concealed
his impatience as well as he could; but his nervousness betrayed
him in spite of himself, and to the great diversion of Stephane,
who maliciously enjoyed his own success. Fortunately for Gilbert,
when Judas had stopped singing, the procession resumed its march
towards a second station at the other end of the village, and this
caused a general movement among the bystanders who hedged his
passage. Gilbert profited by this disorder to escape, and was soon
lost in the crowd, where even Stephane's piercing eyes could not
follow him.

Hastening from the village he took the road to the woods. "This
Stephane is decidedly a nuisance," thought he. "Three weeks since
he surprised me at a bright fountain, where I was deliciously
dreaming, and put my fancies to flight, and now by his impertinent
babbling he has spoiled a fete in which I took interest and
pleasure. What is he holding in reserve for me? The most annoying
part of it is, that henceforth I shall be condemned to see him
daily. Even to-day, in a few hours, I shall meet him at his
father's table. Presentiments do not always deceive, and at first
sight I recognize in him a strong enemy to my repose and happiness;
but I shall manage to keep him at a distance. We won't distress
ourselves over a trifle. What does philosophy amount to, if the
happiness of a philosopher is to be at the mercy of a spoiled
child!"

Thus saying, he drew from his pocket a book which he often carried
in his walks: It was a volume of Goethe, containing the admirable
treatise on the "Metamorphosis of Plants." He began to read, often
raising his head from the page to gaze at a passing cloud, or a
bird fluttering from tree to tree. To this pleasant occupation he
abandoned himself for nearly an hour, when he heard the neighing of
a horse behind him, and turning, he saw Stephane advancing at full
speed on his superb chestnut and followed at a few paces by his
groom, mounted on a gray horse. Gilbert's first impulse was to
dart into a path which opened at his left, and thus gain the
shelter of the copse; but he did not wish to give Stephane the
pleasure of imagining that he was afraid of him, and so continued
on his way, his eyes riveted upon the book.

Stephane soon came up to him, and bringing his horse to a walk,
thus accosted him:

"Do you know, sir, that you are not very polite? You quitted me
abruptly, without taking leave. Your proceedings are singular, and
you seem to be a stranger to the first principles of good
breeding."

"What do you expect, my dear sir?" answered Gilbert. "You were so
amiable, so prepossessing the first time I had the honor of meeting
you, that I was discouraged. I said to myself, that do what I
would, I should always be in arrears to you."

"You are spiteful, Mr. Secretary," retorted Stephane. "What, have
you not forgotten that little affair at the spring?"

"You have taken no trouble, it seems, to make me forget it."

"It is true, I was wrong," replied he with a sneer; "wait a moment,
I will dismount, go upon my knees there in the middle of the road,
and say to you in dolorous voice, 'Sir, I'm grieved, heart-broken,
desperate,'--For what? I know not. Tell me, I pray you, sir, for
what must I beg your pardon? For if I rightly remember, you
commenced by raising your cane to me.

"I did not raise my cane to you," replied Gilbert, beside himself
with indignation; "I contented myself with parrying the blow which
you were about to give me."

"It was not my intention to strike you," rejoined Stephane,
impetuously. "And besides, learn once for all, that between us
things are not equal, and that even should I provoke you, you would
be a wretch to raise the end of your finger against me."

"Oh, that is too much!" cried Gilbert, laughing loudly.

"And why so, my little friend?"

"Because--because--" stammered Stephane; and then suddenly stopped.

An expression of bitter sadness passed over his face; his brows
contracted and his eyes became fixed. It was thus that terrible
paroxysm had commenced which so alarmed Gilbert at their first
meeting. This time, fortunately, the attack was less violent. The
good Gilbert passed quickly from anger to pity; "there is a secret
wound in that heart," thought he, and he was still more convinced
of it when, after a long pause Stephane, recovering the use of his
speech, said to him in a broken voice: "I was ill the other day, I
often am. People should have some consideration for invalids."

Gilbert made no answer; he feared by a hard word to exasperate his
soul so passionate, and so little master of itself; but he thought
that when Stephane felt ill, he had better stay in his room.

They walked on some moments in silence until, recovering from his
dejection, Stephane said ironically: "You made a mistake in leaving
the fete so soon. If you had stayed until the end, you would have
heard Christ and his mother sing; you lost a charming duet."

"Let us drop that subject," interrupted Gilbert; "we could not
understand each other. Yours is a kind of pleasantry for which I
have but little taste."

"Pedant!" murmured Stephane, turning his head, then adding with
animation: "It is just because I respect religion that I do not
like to see it burlesqued and parodied. Let a true angel appear
and I am ready to render him homage; but I am enraged when I see
great seraph's wings tied with white strings to the shoulders of
wicked, boorish, little thieves, liars, cowards, slaves, and
rascals. Their hypocritical airs do not impose on me, for I read
their base natures in their eyes. I detest all affectations, all
shams. I have the misfortune of being able to see through all
masks."

"These are very old words for such very young lips," answered
Gilbert sadly. "I suspect, my child, you are repeating a lesson
you have learned."

"And what do you know of my age?" cried he angrily. "By what do
you judge? Are faces clocks which mark the hours and minutes of
life? Well, yes, I am but sixteen; but I have lived longer than
you. I am not a library rat, and have not studied the world in
duodecimos. Thank God! for the advancement of my education. He
has gathered under my eyes a few specimens of the human race which
have enabled me to judge of the rest, and the more experience I
gain, the more I am convinced that all men are alike. On that
account I scorn them all,--all without exception!"

"I thank you sincerely for myself and your groom," answered Gilbert
smiling.

"Don't trouble yourself about my groom," replied Stephane, beating
down with his whip the foliage which obstructed his path. "In the
first place, he knows but little French; and it is useless to tell
him in Russian that I despise him,--he would be none the worse for
it. He is well lodged, well fed, and well clothed; what matters my
scorn to him? And besides, let me tell you for your guidance, that
my groom is not a groom, he is my jailer. I am a prisoner under
constant surveillance; these woods constitute a yard, where I can
walk but twice a week, and this excellent Ivan is my keeper.
Search his pockets and you will find a scourge."

Gilbert turned to examine the groom, who answered his scrutinizing
look by a jovial and intelligent smile. Ivan represented the type
of the Russian serf in all his original beauty. He was small, but
vigorous and robust; he had a fresh complexion, cheeks full and
rosy, hair of a pale yellow, large soft eyes and a long chestnut
beard, in which threads of silver already mingled. It was such a
face as one often sees among the lower classes of Slavonians;
indicating at once energy in action and placidity in repose.

When Gilbert had looked at him well, he said, "My dear sir, I do
not believe in Ivan's scourge."

"Ah! that is like you bookworms," exclaimed Stephane with an angry
gesture. "You receive all the monstrous nonsense which you find in
your old books for Gospel truth, and without any hesitation, while
the ordinary matters of life appear to you prodigious absurdities,
which you refuse to believe."

"Don't be angry. Ivan's scourge is not exactly an article of
faith. One can fail to believe in it without being in danger of
hell-fire. Besides, I am ready to recant my heresy; but I will
confess to you that I find nothing ferocious or stern in the face
of this honest servant. At all events, he is a jailer who does not
keep his prisoners closely, and who sometimes gives them a
relaxation beyond his orders; for the other day, it seems to me,
you scoured the country without him, and really the use you make of
your liberty--"

"The other day," interrupted Stephane, "I did a foolish thing. For
the first time I amused myself by evading Ivan's vigilance. It was
an effort that I longed to make, but it turned out badly for me.
Would you like to see with your own eyes what this fine exploit
cost me?"

Then pushing up the right sleeve of his black velvet blouse, he
showed Gilbert a thin delicate wrist marked by a red circle, which
indicated the prolonged friction of an iron ring. Gilbert could
not repress an exclamation of surprise and pity at the sight, and
repented his pleasantry.

"I have been chained for a fortnight in a dungeon which I thought I
should never come out of again," said Stephane, "and I indulged in
a good many reflections there. Ah! you were right when you accused
me of repeating a lesson I had learned. The pretty bracelet which
I bear on my right arm is my thought-teacher, and if I dared to
repeat all that it taught me--" Then interrupting himself:

"A lie!" exclaimed he in a bitter tone, drawing his cap down over
his eyes. "The truth is, that I came out of the dungeon like a
lamb, flexible as a glove, and that I am capable of committing a
thousand base acts to save myself the horror of returning there. I
am a coward like the rest, and when I tell you that I despise all
men, do not believe that I make an exception in my own favor."

And at these words he drove the spurs into his horse's flank so
violently that the fiery chestnut, irritated by the rude attack,
kicked and pranced. Stephane subdued him by the sole power of his
haughty and menacing voice; then exciting him again, he launched
him forward at full speed and amused himself by suddenly bringing
him up with a jerk of the rein, and by turns making him dance and
plunge; then urging him across the road he made him clear at a
bound, the ditch and hedge which bordered it. After several
minutes of this violent exercise, he trotted away, followed by his
inseparable Ivan, leaving Gilbert to his reflections, which were
not the most agreeable.

He had experienced in talking with Stephane an uneasiness, a secret
trouble which had never oppressed him before. The passionate
character of this young man, the rudeness of his manners, in which
a free savage grace mingled, the exaggeration of his language,
betraying the disorder of an ill-governed mind, the rapidity with
which his impressions succeeded each other, the natural sweetness
of his voice, the caressing melody of which was disturbed by loud
exclamations and rude and harsh accents; his gray eyes turning
nearly black and flashing fire in a paroxysm of anger or emotion;
the contrast between the nobility and distinction of his face and
bearing, and the arrogant scorn of proprieties in which he seemed
to delight--in short, some painful mystery written upon his
forehead and betrayed in his smile--all gave Gilbert much to
speculate upon and troubled him profoundly. The aversion he had at
first felt for Stephane had changed to pity since the poor child
had shown him the red bracelet, which he called his "thought-
teacher,"--but pity without sympathy is a sentiment to which one
yields with reluctance. Gilbert reproached himself for taking such
a lively interest in this young man who had so little merited his
esteem, and more especially as with his pity mingled an indefinable
terror or apprehension. In fact, he hardly knew himself; he so
calm, so reasonable, to be the victim of such painful
presentiments! It seemed to him that Stephane was destined to
exercise great influence over his fate, and to bring disorder into
his life.

Suddenly, he heard once more the sound of horse's hoofs and
Stephane re-appeared. Perceiving Gilbert, the young man stopped
his horse and cried out, "Mr. Secretary, I am looking for you."

And then, laughing, continued:

"This is a tender avowal I have just made; for believe me, it is
years since I have thought of looking for anybody; but as in your
estimation I have not been very courteous, and as I pride myself on
my good manners, I wish to obtain your pardon by flattering you a
little."

"This is too much goodness," answered Gilbert. "Don't take the
trouble. The best course you can pursue to win my esteem is to
trouble yourself about me as little as possible."

"And you will do the same in regard to me?"

"Remember that matters are not equal between us. I am but an
insect,--it is easy for you to avoid me, whilst--"

"You are not talking with common sense," interrupted Stephane;
"look at this green beetle crawling across the road. I see him,
but he does not see me. But to drop this bantering--for it's quite
out of character with me--what I like in you is your remarkable
frankness, it really amuses me. By the way, be good enough to tell
me what book that is which never leaves you for a moment and which
you ponder over with such intensity. Do tell me," added he in a
coaxing, childish tone, "what is the book that you press to your
heart with so much tenderness."

Gilbert handed it to him.

"'Essay on the Metamorphosis of Plants.' So, plants have the
privilege of changing themselves? Mon Dieu, they must be happy!
But they ought to tell us their secret."

Then closing the volume, and returning it to Gilbert, he exclaimed:

"Happy man! you live among the plants of the field as if in your
element. Are you not something of a plant yourself? I am not sure
but that you have just now stopped reading to say to the primroses
and anemones covering this slope, 'I am your brother!' Mon Dieu! I
am sorry to have disturbed the charming conversation! And hold!
your eyes are a little the color of the periwinkle."

He turned his head and looked at Gilbert with a scornful air, and
had already prepared to leave him, when a glance over the road
dispersed his ill-humor, for in the distance he saw Wilhelm and his
comrades returning from the fete.

"Come quick, my children," cried he, rising in his stirrups. "Come
quick, my lambs, for I have something of the greatest importance to
propose to you."

Hearing his challenge, the children raised their eyes and
recognizing Stephane, they stopped and took counsel together. The
somewhat brutal impudence of the young Russian had given him a bad
reputation, and the little peasants would rather have turned back
than encounter his morose jesting or his terrible whip.

The three apostles and the five angels, after consulting together,
concluded prudently to beat a retreat, when Stephane drawing from
his pocket a great leather purse, shook it in the air crying,
"There is money to be gained here,--come, my dear children, you
shall have all you want."

The large, full purse which Stephane shook in his hand was a very
tempting bait for the eight children; but his whip, which he held
under his left arm, warned them to be careful. Hesitating between
fear and covetousness, they stood still like the ass in the fable
between his two bundles of hay; but Stephane at that moment was
seized with a happy inspiration and threw his switch to the top of
a neighboring tree, where it rested. This produced a magical
effect, the children with one accord deciding to approach him,
although with slow and hesitating steps. Wilhelm alone,
remembering his recent treatment, darted into a path nearby and
disappeared in the bushes.

The troop of children stopped a dozen paces from Stephane and
formed in a group, the little ones hiding behind the larger. All
of them fumbled nervously with the ends of their belts, and kept
their heads down, awkward and ashamed, with eyes fixed upon the
ground, but casting sidelong glances at the great leather purse
which danced between Stephane's hands.

"You, Saint Peter," said he to them in a grave tone; "you, Saint
John, and your five dear little angels of Heaven, listen to me
closely. You have sung to-day very pretty songs in honor of the
good Lord; he will reward you some day in the other world; but for
the little pleasures people give me, I reward them at once. So
every one of you shall have a bright dollar, if you will do the
little thing I ask. It is only to kiss delicately and respectfully
the toe of my boot. I tell you again, that this little ceremony
will gain for each of you a bright dollar, and you will afterwards
have the happiness of knowing that you have learned to do something
which you can't do too well if you want to get on in this world."

The seven children looked at Stephane with a sheepish air and open
mouths. Not one of them stirred. Their immobility, and their
seven pairs of fixed round eyes directed upon him, provoked him.

"Come, my little lambs," he continued persuasively, "don't stretch
your eyes in this way; they look like barn doors wide open. You
should do this bravely and neatly. Ah! mon Dieu! you will see it
done often enough, and do it yourselves again too in your lifetime.
There must always be a beginning. Come on, make haste. A thaler
is worth thirty-six silbergroschen, and a silbergroschen is worth
ten pfennigs, and for five pfennigs you can buy a cake, a hot
muffin, or a little man in licorice--"

And shaking the leather purse again, he cried:

"Ah, what a pretty sound that makes! How pleasantly the click,
click of these coins sounds to our ears. All music is discordant
compared to that. Nightingales and thrushes, stop your concerts!
we can sing better than you. I am an artist who plays your
favorite air on his violin. Let us open the ball, my darlings."

The seven children seemed still uncertain. They were red with
excitement, and consulted each other by looks. At last the
youngest, a little blond fellow, made up his mind.

"Monsieur HAS ONE CHEVRON TOO MANY," said he to his companions,
which being interpreted means: "Monsieur is a little foolish with
pride, his head is turned, he is crack-brained, and," added he
laughingly, "after all, it's only in fun, and there is a dollar to
get."

So speaking, he approached Stephane deliberately and gave his boot
a loud kiss. The ice was broken; all of his companions followed
his example, some with a grave and composed air, others laughing
till they showed all their teeth. Stephane clapped his hands in
triumph:

"Bravo! my dear friends," exclaimed he. "The business went off
admirably, charmingly!"

Then drawing seven dollars from his purse, he threw them into the
road with a scornful gesture:

"Now then, Messrs. Apostles and Seraphim," cried he in a thundering
voice, "pick up your money quick, and scamper away as fast as your
legs can carry you. Vile brood, go and tell your mothers by what a
glorious exploit you won this prize!

And while the children were moving off, he turned towards Gilbert
and said, crossing his arms: "Well, my man of the periwinkles, what
do you think of it?"

Gilbert had witnessed this little scene with mingled sadness and
disgust. He would have given much if only one of the children had
resisted Stephane's insolent caprice; but not having this
satisfaction, he tried to conceal his chagrin as best he could.

"What does it prove?" replied he dryly.

"It seems to me it proves many things, and among others this: that
certain emotions are very ridiculous, and that certain mentors of
my acquaintance who thrust their lessons upon others--"

He said no more, for at this moment a pebble thrown by a vigorous
hand whistled by his ears, and rolled his cap in the dust.
Starting, he uttered an angry cry, and striking spurs into his
horse, he launched him at a gallop across the bushes. Gilbert
picked up the cap, and handed it to Ivan, who said to him in bad
German:

"Pardon him; the poor child is sick," and then departed hastily in
pursuit of his young master.

Gilbert ran after them. When he had overtaken them, Stephane had
dismounted, and stood with clenched fists before a child, who,
quite out of breath from running, had thrown himself exhausted at
the foot of a tree. In running he had torn many holes in his San-
benito, and he was looking with mournful eyes at these rents, and
replied only in monosyllables to all of Stephane's threats.

"You are at my mercy," said the young man to him at last. "I will
forgive you if you ask my pardon on your knees."

"I won't do it," replied the child, getting up. "I have no pardon
to ask. You struck me with your whip, and I swore to pay you for
it. I'm a good shot. I sighted your cap and I was sure I'd hit
it. That makes you mad, and now we're even. But I'll promise not
to throw any more stones, if you'll promise not to strike me with
your whip any more."

"That is a very reasonable proposition," said Gilbert.

"I don't ask your opinion, sir," interrupted Stephane haughtily,--
then turning to Ivan: "Ivan, my dear Ivan," continued he, "in this
matter you ought to obey me. You know very well the Count does not
love me, but he does not mean to have others insult me: it is a
privilege he reserves to himself. Dismount, and make this little
rascal kneel to me and ask my pardon."

Ivan shook his head.

"You struck him first," answered he; "why should he ask your
pardon?"

In vain Stephane exhausted supplications and threats. The serf
remained inflexible, and during his talk Gilbert approached
Wilhelm, and said to him in a low voice:

"Run away quickly, my child; but remember your promise; if you
don't, you'll have to settle with me."

Stephane, seeing him escape, would have started in pursuit; but
Gilbert barred his way.

"Ivan!" cried he, wringing his hands, "drive this man out of my
path!"

Ivan shook his head again.

"I don't wish to harm the young Frenchman," replied he; "he has a
kind way and loves children."

Stephane's face was painfully agitated. His lips trembled. He
looked with sinister eye first at Ivan, then at Gilbert. At last
he said to himself in a stifled voice:

"Wretch that I am! I am as feeble as a worm, and weakness is not
respected!"

Then lowering his head, he approached his horse, mounted him, and
pushed slowly through the copse. When he had regained the wood,
looking fixedly at Gilbert:

"Mr. Secretary," said he, "my father often quotes that diplomatist
who said that all men have their price; unfortunately I am not rich
enough to buy you; you are worth more than a dollar; but permit me
to give you some good advice. When you return to the castle,
repeat to Count Kostia certain words that I have allowed to escape
me to-day. It will give him infinite pleasure. Perhaps he will
make you his spy-in-chief, and without asking it, he may double
your salary. The most profitable trade in the world is burning
candles on the devil's shrine. You will do wonders in it, as well
as others."

Upon which, with a profound bow to Gilbert, he disappeared at a
full trot.

"The devil! the devil! he talks of nothing but the devil!" said
Gilbert to himself, taking the road to the castle. "My poor
friend, you are condemned to pass some years of your life here
between a tyrant who is sometimes amiable, and a victim who is
never so at all!"


VI


When Gilbert got back to the castle, M. Leminof was walking on the
terrace. He perceived his secretary at some distance, and made
signs to him to come and join him. They made several turns on the
parapet, and while walking, Gilbert studied Stephane's father with
still greater attention than he had done before. He was now most
forcibly struck by his eyes, of a slightly turbid gray, whose
glances, vague, unsteady, indiscernible, became at moments cold and
dull as lead. Never had M. Leminof been so amiable to his
secretary; he spoke to him playfully, and looked at him with an
expression of charming good nature. They had conversed for a
quarter of an hour when the sound of a bell gave notice that dinner
was served. Count Kostia conducted Gilbert to the dining-room. It
was an immense vaulted apartment, wainscoted in black oak, and
lighted by three small ogive windows, looking out upon the terrace.
The arches of the ceiling were covered with old apocalyptic
paintings, which time had molded and scaled off. In the center
could be seen the Lamb with seven horns seated on his throne; and
round about him the four-and-twenty elders clothed in white. On
the lower parts of the pendentive the paintings were so much
damaged that the subjects were hardly recognizable. Here and there
could be seen wings of angels, trumpets, arms which had lost their
hands, busts from which the head had disappeared, crowns, stars,
horses' manes, and dragons' tails. These gloomy relics sometimes
formed combinations that were mysterious and ominous. It was a
strange decoration for a dining-hall.

At this hour of the day, the three arched windows gave but a dull
and scanty light; and more was supplied by three bronze lamps,
suspended from the ceiling by iron chains; even their brilliant
flames were hardly sufficient to light up the depths of this
cavernous hall. Below the three lamps was spread a long table,
where twenty guests might easily find room; at one of the rounded
ends of this table, three covers and three morocco chairs had been
arranged in a semi-circle; at the other end, a solitary cover was
placed before a simple wooden stool. The Count seated himself and
motioned Gilbert to place himself at his right; then unfolding his
napkin, he said harshly to the great German valet de chambre:

"Why are not my son and Father Alexis here yet? Go and find them."

Some moments after, the door opened, and Stephane appeared. He
crossed the hall, his eyes downcast, and bending over the long thin
hand which his father presented to him without looking at him, he
touched it slightly with his lips. This mark of filial deference
must have cost him much, for he was seized with that nervous
trembling to which he was subject when moved by strong emotions.
Gilbert could not help saying to himself:

"My child, the seraphim and apostles are well revenged for the
humiliation you inflicted upon them."

It seemed as if the young man divined Gilbert's thoughts, for as he
raised his head, he launched a ferocious glance at him; then
seating himself at his father's left, he remained as motionless as
a statue, his eyes fixed upon his plate. Meantime he whom they
called Father Alexis did not make his appearance, and the Count,
becoming impatient, threw his napkin brusquely upon the table, and
rose to go after him; but at this same moment the door opened, and
Gilbert saw a bearded face which wore an expression of anxiety and
terror. Much heated and out of breath, the priest threw a
scrutinizing glance upon his lord and master, and from the Count
turned his eyes towards the empty stool, and looked as if he would
have given his little finger to be able to reach even that
uncomfortable seat without being seen.

"Father Alexis, you forget yourself in your eternal daubs!"
exclaimed M. Leminof, reseating himself. "You know that I dislike
to wait. I profess, it is true, a passionate admiration for the
burlesque masterpieces with which you are decorating the walls of
my chapel; but I cannot suffer them to annoy me, and I beg you not
to sacrifice again the respect you owe me to your foolish passion
for those coarse paintings; if you do, I shall some fine morning
bury your sublime daubings under a triple coat of whitewash."

This reprimand, pronounced in a thundering tone, produced the most
unhappy effect upon Father Alexis. His first movement was to raise
his eyes and arms toward the arched ceiling where, as if calling
the four-and-twenty elders to witness, he exclaimed:

"You hear! The profane dare call them daubs, those incomparable
frescoes which will carry down the name of Father Alexis to the
latest posterity!"

But in the heart of the poor priest terror soon succeeded to
indignation. He dropped his arms, and bending down, sunk his head
between his shoulders, and tried to make himself as small as
possible; much as a frightened turtle draws himself into his shell,
and fears that even there he is taking up too much room.

"Well! what are these grimaces for? Do you mean to make us wait
until to-morrow for your benediction?"

The Count pronounced these words in the rude tone of a corporal
ordering recruits to march in double-quick time. Father Alexis
made a bound as if he had received a sharp blow from a whip across
his back, and in his agitation and haste to reach his stool, he
struck violently against the corner of a carved sideboard; this
terrible shock drew from him a cry of pain, but did not arrest his
speed, and rubbing his hip, he threw himself into his place and,
without giving himself time to recover breath, he mumbled in a
nasal tone and in an unintelligible voice, a grace which he soon
finished, and everybody having made the sign of the cross, dinner
was served.

"What a strange role religion plays here," thought Gilbert to
himself as he carried his spoon to his lips. "They would on no
account dine until it had blessed the soup, and at the same time
they banish it to the end of the table as a leper whose impure
contact they fear."

During the first part of the repast, Gilbert's attention was
concentrated on Father Alexis. This priestly face excited his
curiosity. At first sight it seemed impressed with a certain
majesty, which was heightened by the black folds of his robe, and
the gold crucifix which hung upon his breast. Father Alexis had a
high, open forehead; his large, strongly aquiline nose gave a manly
character to his face; his black eyes, finely set, were surmounted
by well-curved eyebrows, and his long grizzly beard harmonized very
well with his bronzed cheeks furrowed by venerable wrinkles. Seen
in repose, this face had a character of austere and imposing
beauty. And if you had looked at Father Alexis in his sleep, you
would have taken him for a holy anchorite recently come out of the
desert, or better still, for a Saint John contemplating with closed
eyes upon the height of his Patmos rock, the sublime visions of the
Apocalypse; but as soon as the face of the good priest became
animated, the charm was broken. It was but an expressive mask,
flexible, at times grotesque, where were predicted the fugitive and
shallow impressions of a soul gentle, innocent, and easy, but not
imaginative or exalted. It was then that the monk and the
anchorite suddenly disappeared, and there remained but a child
sixty years old, whose countenance, by turns uneasy or smiling,
expressed nothing but puerile pre-occupations, or still more
puerile content. This transformation was so rapid that it seemed
almost like a juggler's trick. You sought St. John, but found him
no more, and you were tempted to cry out, "Oh, Father Alexis, what
has become of you? The soul now looking out of your face is not
yours." This Father Alexis was an excellent man; but
unfortunately, he had too decided a taste for the pleasures of the
table. He could also be accused of having a strong ingredient of
vanity in his character; but his self-love was so ingenuous, that
the most severe judge could but pardon it. Father Alexis had
succeeded in persuading himself that he was a great artist, and
this conviction constituted his happiness. This much at least
could be said of him, that he managed his brush and pencil with
remarkable dexterity, and could execute four or five square feet of
fresco painting in a few hours. The doctrines of Mount Athos,
which place he had visited in his youth, had no more secrets for
him; Byzantine aesthetics had passed into his flesh and bones; he
knew by heart the famous "Guide to Painting," drawn up by the monk
Denys and his pupil Cyril of Scio. In short, he was thoroughly
acquainted with all the receipts by means of which works of genius
are produced, and thus, with the aid of compasses, he painted from
inspiration, those good and holy men who strikingly resembled
certain figures on gold backgrounds in the convents of Lavra and
Iveron. But one thing brought mortification and chagrin to Father
Alexis,--Count Kostia Petrovitch refused to believe in his genius!
But on the other hand, he was a little consoled by the fact that
the good Ivan professed unreserved admiration for his works; so he
loved to talk of painting and high art with this pious worshiper of
his talents.

"Look, my son," he would say to him, extending the thumb, index and
middle fingers of his right hand, "thou seest these three fingers:
I have only to say a word to them, and from them go forth Saint
Georges, Saint Michaels, Saint Nicholases, patriarchs of the old
covenant, and apostles of the new, the good Lord himself and all
his dear family!"

And then he would give him his hand to kiss, which duty the good
serf performed with humble veneration. However, if Count Kostia
had the barbarous taste to treat the illuminated works of Father
Alexis as daubs, he was not cruel enough to prevent him from
cultivating his dearly-loved art. He had even lately granted this
disciple of the great Panselinos, the founder of the Byzantine
school, an unexpected favor, for which the good father promised
himself to be eternally grateful. One of the wings of the Castle
of Geierfels enclosed a pretty and sufficiently spacious chapel,
which the Count had appropriated to the services of the Greek
Church, and one fine day, yielding to the repeated solicitations of
Father Alexis, he had authorized him to cover the walls and dome
with "daubs" after his own fashion. The priest commenced the work
immediately. This great enterprise absorbed at least half of his
thoughts; he worked many hours every day, and at night he saw in
dreams great patriarchs in gold and azure, hanging over him and
saying:

"Dear Alexis, we commend ourselves to thy good care; let thy genius
perpetuate our glory through the Universe."

The conversation at length turned upon subjects which the Count
amused himself by debating every day with his secretary. They
spoke of the Lower Empire, which M. Leminof regarded as the most
prosperous and most glorious age of humanity. He had little fancy
for Pericles, Caesar, Augustus, and Napoleon, and considered that
the art of reigning had been understood by Justinian and Alexis
Comnenus alone. And when Gilbert protested warmly in the name of
human dignity against this theory:

"Stop just there!" said the Count; "no big words, no declamation,
but listen to me! These pheasants are good. See how Father Alexis
is regaling himself upon them. To whom do they owe this flavor
which is so enchanting him? To the high wisdom of my cook, who
gave them time to become tender. He has served them to us just at
the right moment. A few days sooner they would have been too
tough; a few days later would have been risking too much, and we
should have had the worms in them. My dear sir, societies are very
much like game. Their supreme moment is when they are on the point
of decomposition. In their youth they have a barbarous toughness.
But a certain degree of corruption, on the contrary, imperils their
existence. Very well! Byzantium possessed the art of making minds
gamey and arresting decomposition at that point. Unfortunately she
carried the secret to the grave with her."

A profound silence reigned in the great hall, uninterrupted except
by the rhythmic sound of the good father's jaws. Stephane leaned
his elbows on the table; his attitude expressive of dreamy
melancholy; his head inclined and leaning against the palm of his
right hand; his black tunic without any collar exposing a neck of
perfect whiteness; his long silky hair falling softly upon his
shoulders; the pure and delicate contour of his handsome face; his
sensitive mouth, the corners curving slightly upwards, all reminded
Gilbert of the portrait of Raphael painted by himself, all, except
the expression, which was very different.

A profound melancholy filled Gilbert's heart. Nothing about him
commanded his sympathies, nothing promised any companionship for
his soul; at his left the stern face of a drowsy tyrant, made more
sinister by sleep; opposite him a young misanthrope, for the moment
lost in clouds; at his right an old epicure who consoled himself
for everything by eating figs; above his head the dragons of the
Apocalypse. And then this great vaulted hall was cold, sepulchral;
he felt as though he were breathing the air of a cellar; the
recesses and the corners of the room were obscured by black
shadows; the dark wainscotings which covered the walls had a
lugubrious aspect; outside were heard ominous noises. A gale of
wind had risen and uttered long bellowings like a wounded bull, to
which the grating of weathercocks and the dismal cry of the owls
responded.

When Gilbert had re-entered his own room he opened the window that
he might better hear the majestic roll of the river. At the same
moment a voice, carried by the wind from the great square tower,
cried to him:

"Monsieur, the grand vizier, don't forget to burn plenty of candles
to the devil! this is the advice which your most faithful subject
gives you in return for the profound lessons of wisdom with which
you favored his inexperience to-day!"

It was thus Gilbert learned Stephane was his neighbor.

"It is consoling," thought he, "to know that he can't possibly come
in here without wings. And," added he, closing his window,
"whatever happens, I did well to write to Mme. Lerins yesterday--
to-day I am not so well satisfied."


VII


This is what Gilbert wrote in his journal six weeks after his
arrival at Geierfels:


A son who has towards his father the sentiments of a slave toward
his master; a father who habitually shows towards his son a dislike
bordering on hatred--such are the sad subjects for study that I
have found here. At first I wished to persuade myself that M.
Leminof was simply a cold hard character, a skeptic by disposition,
a blase grandee, who believed it a duty to himself to openly
testify his scorn for all the humbug of sentiment. He is nothing
of the kind. The Count's mind is diseased, his soul tormented, his
heart eaten by a secret ulcer and he avenges its sufferings by
making others suffer. Yes, the misanthrope seeks vengeance for
some deadly affront which has been put upon him by man or by fate;
his irony breathes anger and hatred; it conceals deep resentment
which breaks out occasionally in his voice, in his look and in his
unexpected and violent acts; for he is not always master of
himself. At certain times the varnish of cold politeness and icy
sportiveness with which he ordinarily conceals his passions, scales
off suddenly and falls into dust, and his soul appears in its
nakedness. During the first weeks of my residence here he
controlled himself in my presence, now I have the honor of
possessing his confidence, and he no longer deems it necessary to
hide his face from me, nor does he try any longer to deceive me.

It is singular, I thought myself entirely master of my glances, but
in spite of myself, they betrayed too much curiosity on one
occasion. The other day while I was working with him in his study,
he suddenly became dreamy and absent, his brow was like a
thundercloud; he neither saw nor heard me. When he came out of his
reverie his eyes met mine fixed upon his face, and he saw that I
was observing him too attentively.

"Come now," said he brusquely, "you remember our stipulations; we
are two egotists who have made a bargain with each other. Egotists
are not curious; the only thing which interests them in the mind of
a fellow-creature, is in the domain of utility."

And then fearing that he had offended me, he continued in a softer
tone:

"I am the least interesting soul in the world to know. My nerves
are very sensitive, and let me say to you once for all, that this
is the secret of all the disorders which you may observe in my poor
machine."

"No, Count Kostia, this is not your secret!" I was tempted to
answer. "It is not your nerves which torment you. I would wager
that in despite of your cynicism and skepticism, you have once
believed in something, or in some one who has broken faith with
you," but I was careful not to let him suspect my conjectures. I
believe he would have devoured me. The anger of this man is
terrible, and he does not always spare me the sight of it.
Yesterday especially, he was transported beyond himself, to such an
extent that I blushed for him. Stephane had gone to ride with
Ivan. The dinner-bell rang and they had not returned. The Count
himself went to the entrance of the court to wait for them. His
lips were pale, his voice harsh and grating, veiled by a hoarseness
which always comes with his gusts of passion. When the delinquents
appeared at the end of the path, he ran to them, and measured
Stephane from head to foot with a glance so menacing that the child
trembled in every limb; but his anger exploded itself entirely upon
Ivan. The poor jailer had, however, good excuses to offer:
Stephane's horse had stumbled and cut his knee, and they had been
obliged to slacken their pace. The Count appeared to hear nothing.
He signed to Ivan to dismount; which having done, he seized him by
the collar, tore from him his whip and beat him like a dog. The
unhappy serf allowed himself to be whipped without uttering a cry,
without making a movement. The idea of flight or self-defense
never occurred to him. Riveted to the spot, his eyes closed, he
was the living image of slavery resigned to the last outrages.
Indeed I believe that during this punishment I suffered more than
he. My throat was parched, my blood boiled in my veins. My first
impulse was to throw myself upon the Count, but I restrained
myself; such a violent interference would but have aggravated the
fate of Ivan. I clasped my hands and with a stifled voice cried:
"Mercy! mercy!" The Count did not hear me. Then I threw myself
between the executioner and his victim. Stupefied, with arm raised
and immovable, the Count stared at me with flaming eyes; little by
little he became calm, and his face resumed its ordinary
expression.

"Let it pass for this time," said he at last, in a hollow voice;
"but in future meddle no more in my affairs!"

Then dropping the whip to the ground, he strode away. Ivan raised
his eyes to me full of tears, his glance expressed at once
tenderness, gratitude, and admiration. He seized my hands and
covered them with kisses, after which he passed his handkerchief
over his face, streaming with perspiration, foam, and blood, and
taking the two horses by the bridles, quietly led them to the
stable. I found the Count at the table; he had recovered his good
humor; he discharged several arrows of playful sarcasm at my
"heresies" in matters of history. It was not without effort that I
answered him, for at this moment he inspired me with an aversion
that I could hardly conceal. But I felt bound to recognize the
victory which he had gained over himself in abridging Ivan's
punishment. After dinner he sent for the serf, who appeared with
his forehead and hands furrowed with bloody scars. His lips bore
their habitual smile, which was always a mystery to me. His master
ordered him to take off his vest, turn down his shirt, and kneel
before him; then drawing from his pocket a vial full of some
ointment whose virtues he lauded highly, he dressed the wounds of
the moujik with his own hands. This operation finished, he said to
him:

"That will amount to nothing, my son. Go and sin no more."

Upon which the serf raised himself and left the room, smiling
throughout. Ivan's smile is an exotic plant which I am not
acquainted with, and which only grows in Slavonic soil, a strange
smile,--real prodigy of baseness or heroism. Which is it? I am
sure I cannot tell.

In spite of my trouble, I had been able to observe Stephane at the
beginning of the punishment. At the first blow, a flash of
triumphant joy passed over his face; but when the blood started he
became horribly pale, and pressed one of his hands to his throat as
if to arrest a cry of horror, and with the other he covered his
eyes to shut out the sight; then not being able to contain himself,
he hurried away. God be praised! compassion had triumphed in his
heart over the joy of seeing his jailer chastised. There is in
this young soul, embittered as it is by long sufferings, a fund of
generosity and goodness; but will it not in time lose the last
vestiges of its native qualities? Three years hence will Stephane
cover his eyes to avoid the sight of an enemy's punishment? Within
three years will not the habit of suffering have stifled pity in
his breast? To-morrow, to-morrow perhaps, will not his heart have
uttered its last cry!

Since you have no tender words for him, Count Kostia, would that I
could close his ears to the desolating lessons that you give him!
Do you not see that the life he leads is enough to teach him to
hate men and life, without the necessity of your interference? He
knows nothing of humanity, but what he sees through the bars of his
prison; and imagines that there is nothing in the world but
capricious tyrants and trembling, degraded slaves. Why thus kill
in his heart every germ of enthusiasm, of hope, of manly and
generous faith?

But may not Stephane be a vicious child, whose perverse instincts a
justly provoked father seeks to curb by a pitiless discipline? No,
a thousand times no! It is false, it is impossible; it is only
necessary to look at him to be satisfied of this. His face is
often hard, cold, scornful; but it never expresses a low thought, a
pollution of soul, or a precocious corruption of mind. In his
quiet moods there is upon his brow a stamp of infantile purity. I
was wrong in supposing that his soul had lost its youth.

Alas! with what cruel harshness they dispute the little pleasures
which remain to him. In spite of his jests over the periwinkles,
he has a taste for flowers, and had obtained from the gardener the
concession of a little plot of ground to cultivate according to his
fancy. The Count, it appears, had ratified this favor; but this
unheard-of condescension proved to be but a refinement of cruelty.
For some time, every evening after dinner, Stephane passed an hour
in his little parterre; he plucked out the weeds, planted, watered,
and watched with a paternal eye the growth of his favorites.
Yesterday, an hour after the sanguinary castigation, while his
father was dressing Ivan's wounds, he had gone out on tiptoe. Some
minutes after, as I was walking upon the terrace, I saw him
occupied. with absorbing gravity, in this great work of watering.
I was but a few paces from him, when the gardener approached,
pickax in hand, and, without a word, struck it violently into the
middle of a tuft of verbenas which grew at one end of the plot of
ground. Stephane raised himself briskly, and, believing him
stupid, threw himself upon him, crying out:

"Wretch, what are you doing there?"

"I am doing what his excellency ordered me to," answered the
gardener.

At this moment the Count strolled toward us, his hands in his
pockets, humming an aria, and an expression of amiable good humor
on his face. Stephane extended his arms towards him, but one of
those looks which always petrifies him kept him silent and
motionless in the middle of the pathway. He watched with wild eyes
the fatal pickax ravage by degrees his beloved garden. In vain he
tried to disguise his despair; his legs trembled and his heart
throbbed violently. He fixed his large eyes upon his dear,
devastated treasures; two great tears escaped them and rolled
slowly down his cheeks. But when the instrument of destruction
approached a magnificent carnation, the finest ornament of his
garden, his heart failed him, he uttered a piercing cry, and
raising his hands to Heaven, ran away sobbing. The Count looked
after him as he fled, and an atrocious smile passed over his lips!
Ah! if this father does not hate his son, I know not what hatred
is, nor how it depicts itself upon a human face. Meantime I threw
myself between the carnation and the pickax, as an hour before
between the knout and Ivan. Stephane's despair had rent my heart;
I wished at any cost to preserve this flower which was so dear to
him. The face of Kostia Petrovitch took all hope from me. It
seemed to say:

"You still indulge in sentiment; this is a little too much of it."

"This plant is beautiful," I said to him; "why destroy it?"

"Ah! you love flowers, my dear Gilbert;" answered he, with an air
of diabolical malice. "I am truly glad of it!"

And turning to the gardener, he added:

"You will carefully take up all these flowers and place them in
pots--they shall decorate Monsieur's room. I am delighted to have
it in my power to do him this little favor."

Thus speaking, he rubbed his hands gleefully, and turning his back
upon me, commenced humming his tune again. He was evidently
satisfied with his day's work.

And now Stephane's flowers are here under my eyes, they have become
my property. Oh! if he knew it! I do not doubt that M. Leminof
wishes his son to hate me; and his wish is gratified. Overwhelmed
with respect and attentions, petted, praised, extolled, treated as
a favorite and grand vizier, how can I be otherwise than an object
of scorn and aversion to this young man? But could he read my
heart! what would he read there, after all? An impotent pity from
which his pride would revolt. I can do nothing for him; I could
not mitigate his misfortunes or pour balm into his wounds.

Go, then, Gilbert, occupy yourself with the Byzantines! Remember
your contract, Gilbert! The master of this house has made you
promise not to meddle in his affairs. Translate Greek, my friend,
and, in your leisure moments, amuse yourself with your puppets.
Beyond that, closed eyes and sealed mouth; that must be your motto.
But do you say, "I shall become a wretch in seeing this child
suffer"? Well! if your useless pity proves too much of a burden,
six months hence you can break your bonds, resume your liberty, and
with three hundred crowns in your pocket, you can undertake that
journey to Italy,--object of your secret dreams and most ardent
longing. Happy man! arming yourself with the white staff of the
pilgrim, you will shake the dust of Geierfels from your feet, and
go far away to forget, before the facades of Venetian palaces, the
dark mysteries of the old Gothic castle and its wicked occupants.


VIII


As Gilbert rapidly traced these last lines, the dinner-bell
sounded. He descended in haste to the grand hall. They were
already at the table.

"Tell me, if you please," said Count Kostia, addressing him gayly,
"what you think of our new comrade?"

Gilbert then noticed a fifth guest, whose face was not absolutely
unknown to him. This newly invited individual was seated at the
right of Father Alexis, who seemed to relish his society but
little, and was no less a personage than Solon, the favorite of the
master, one of those apes which are vulgarly called "monkeys in
mourning," with black hair, but with face, hands, and feet of a
reddish brown.

"You will not be vexed with me for inviting Solon to dine with us?"
continued M. Leminof. "The poor beast has been hypochondriacal for
several days, and I am glad to procure this little distraction for
him. I hope it will dissipate it. I cannot bear melancholy faces;
hypochondria is the fate of fools who have no mental resources."

He pronounced these last words half turning towards Stephane. The
young man's face was more gloomy than ever. His eyes were swollen,
and dark circles surrounded them. The indignation with which the
brutal remark of his father filled him, gave him strength to
recover from his dejection. He resolutely set about eating his
soup, which he had not touched before, and feeling that Gilbert's
eyes were fixed upon him, he raised his head quickly and darted
upon him a withering glance. Gilbert thought he divined that he
called him to account for his carnation, and could not help
blushing,--so true is it that innocence does not suffice to secure
one a clear conscience.

"Frankly, now," resumed the Count, lowering his voice, "don't you
see some resemblance between the two persons who adorn the lower
end of this table?"

"The resemblance does not strike me," answered Gilbert coldly.

"Ah! mon Dieu, I do not mean to say that they are identical in all
points. I readily grant that Father Alexis uses his thumbs better;
I admit, too, that he has a grain or two more of phosphorus in his
brain, for you know the savants of to-day, at their own risk and
peril, have discovered that the human mind is nothing but a
phosphoric tinder-box."

"It is these same savants," said Gilbert, "who consider genius a
nervous disorder. Much good may it do them. They are not my men."

"You treat science lightly; but answer my question seriously: do
you not discover certain analogies between these two personages in
black clothes and red faces?"

"My opinion," interrupted Gilbert impatiently, "is that Solon is
very ugly, and that Father Alexis is very handsome."

"Your answer embarrasses me," retorted the Count, "and I don't know
whether I ought to thank you for the compliment you pay my priest,
or be angry at the hard things you say of my monkey. One thing is
certain," added he, "that my monkey and my priest,--I'm wrong,--my
priest and my monkey, resemble each other in one respect: they have
both a passionate appetite for truffles. You will soon see."

They were just serving fowl with truffles. Solon devoured his
portion in the twinkling of an eye, and as he was prone to coveting
the property of others, he fixed his eyes, full of affectionate
longing, on his neighbor's plate. Active, adroit, and watching his
opportunity, he seized the moment when the priest was carrying his
glass to his lips; to extend his paw, seize a truffle, and swallow
it, was the work of but half a second. Beside himself with
indignation, the holy man turned quickly and looked at the robber
with flashing eyes. The monkey was but little affected by his
anger, and to celebrate the happy success of his roguery, he
capered and frisked in a ridiculous and frantic way, clinging with
his forepaws to the back of his chair. The good father shook his
head sadly, moved his plate further off, and returned to his
eating, not, however, without watching the movements of the enemy
from the corner of his eye. In vain he kept guard; in spite of his
precautions,--a new attack, a new larceny--and fresh caperings of
joy by the monkey. Father Alexis at last lost patience, and the
monkey received a vigorous blow full in the muzzle, which drew from
him a sharp shriek; but at the same instant the priest felt two
rows of teeth bury themselves in his left cheek. He could hardly
repress a cry, and gave up the game, leaving Solon to gorge himself
to his beard in the spoils, while he busied himself in stanching
his wound, from which the blood gushed freely.

The Count affected to be ignorant of all that passed; but there was
a merry sparkle in his eyes which testified that not a detail of
this tragic comedy had escaped his notice.

"You appear to distrust Solon, Father," said he, seeing that the
priest pushed back his chair and kept at a distance from the
baboon. "You are wrong. He has very sweet manners; he is
incapable of a bad action. He is only a little sad now, but in his
melancholy, he observes all the rules of good breeding; which is
not the case with all melancholy people," added he, throwing a look
at Stephane, who, taken with a sudden access of sadness, had just
leaned his elbow upon the table and made a screen of his right hand
to hide his tears from his father. Gilbert felt himself near
stifling, and as soon as he could, left the table. Fortunately no
one followed him onto the terrace. Stephane had no more flowers to
cultivate, and went to shut himself up in his high tower. On his
part, Father Alexis went to dress his wound; as to M. Leminof, he
was displeased with the cool and, as he thought, composed air with
which Gilbert had listened to his pleasantries, and he retired to
his study, promising himself to give to Monsieur his secretary,
whom, nevertheless, he valued very highly, that last touch of
pliancy which he needed for his perfection. Count Kostia was of an
age when even the strongest mind feels the necessity of occasional
relaxation, and he would have been glad to have near him a pliant,
agreeable companion, and enchanted could that companion have been
his secretary.

Gilbert strode across the terrace, and, leaning over the parapet,
gazed long and silently at the highroad. "Ten months yet!" said he
to himself, and contracting his brows, he turned to look at the
odious castle, where destiny had cast his lot. It seemed as if the
old pile wished to avenge itself for his ill humor: never had it
been clothed with such a smiling aspect. A ray of the setting sun
rested obliquely upon its wide roof; the bricks had the warm color
of amber, the highest points were bathed in gold dust, and the
gables and vanes threw out sparks. The air was balmy; the lilacs,
the citron, the jasmine, and the honeysuckle intermingled their
perfumes, which the almost imperceptible breath of the north wind
spread in little waves to the four corners of the terrace.

And these wandering perfumes mingled themselves, in passing, with
other odors more delicate and more subtle; from each leaf, each
petal, each blade of grass, exhaled secret aromas, mute words which
the plants exchange with each other, and which revealed to
Gilbert's heart the great mystery of happiness which animates the
soul of things.

Gilbert was determined to drown his sorrows this evening in the
divine harmonies of nature. To succeed the better, he called
poetry to his aid, for the great poets are the eternal mediators
between the soul of things and our feeble hearts of earth and clay.
He recited the distichs where Goethe has related in a tongue worthy
of Homer or Lucretius the metamorphosis of the plants. This was
placed like a preamble at the beginning of the volume which he
carried with him in his walks, and he had learned it by heart a few
days before. The better to penetrate the sense of these admirable
lines, he tried to translate them into French alexandrines, which
he sometimes composed. This effort at translation soon appeared to
him beyond his abilities; all the French words seemed too noisy,
too brilliant or too vulgar, or too solemn to render these mute
accents, these intonations veiled as if in religious mystery, by
which the author of Faust intended to express the subtle sounds and
even the silence of nature. We know that it is only in German
poetry that we can hear the grass growing from the bosom of the
earth, and the celestial spheres revolving in space.

Every language has its pedals and its peculiar registers; the
Teutonic muse alone can execute these solemn airs which must be
played with the soft pedal. For more than an hour Gilbert
exhausted himself in vain attempts, and at last, disheartened, he
contented himself with reciting aloud the poem which he despaired
of translating. He uttered the first part with the fire of
enthusiasm; but his voice fell as he pronounced the following
passage:

"Every flower, my beloved, speaks to thee in a voice distinct and
clear; every plant announces to thee plainly the eternal laws of
life; but these sacred hieroglyphics of the goddess which thou
decipherest upon their perfumed foreheads, thou wilt find
everywhere hidden under other emblems. Let the caterpillar drag
itself creeping along, and soon the light butterfly darts rapidly
through the air; and let man also, with his power of self-
development, follow the circle of his soul's metamorphoses. Oh!
then wilt thou remember that the bond which united our spirits was
first a germ from which sprang in time a sweet and charming
acquaintance; friendship in its turn soon revealed its power in our
hearts, until love came at last, crowning it with flowers and
fruits."

At this place a light cloud of sadness passed over Gilbert's face;
he felt a secret dissatisfaction at meeting in the verses of his
favorite poet a passage which he could not apply to his own
experience.

Meanwhile, night had come, a night like a softened and refreshed
day. The radiant moon shone in the zenith; she inundated the
fields of heaven with soft whiteness, she shook her torch over the
Rhine, and made the crests of its restless waves scintillate; she
poured over the tops of the trees a rain of silvery light; she
suspended from their branches necklaces of sapphires and azure
diamonds, which the breeze in passing sportively dashed together.
The great slumbering woods thrilled at the touch of this dew of
light which bathed their lofty brows; they felt something divine
insinuating itself in the horror of their somber recesses. From
time to time a nightingale gave to the wind a few notes sonorous
and sustained; it seemed the voice of the forest, speaking in its
sleep,--its soul, carried away in ecstasy, exhaling its
intoxication in a long sigh of love.

Gilbert had been sitting up very late recently, since he had
decided to remain but a short time at Geierfels, and he had grown
pale over the Byzantines, in the hope of advancing in his task so
much, that Count Kostia would more easily consent to his departure.
Robust as was his constitution, he finished by tiring himself out,
and nature claiming its rights, sleep seized him at the moment when
he was about leaving the bank to seek his room, and have a little
nocturnal chat with Agathias and Procopius.

When he awoke, the moon had already declined towards the horizon,
which discovery surprised him greatly, as he thought he had slept
but a few moments. He rose and shook his limbs, stiff from the
dampness. Fortunately, he was the only one at Geierfels who had
free ingress and egress; the turret which he inhabited communicated
with the terrace by a private staircase, to the entrance of which
he had the key. Fortunately, too, the bulldogs had learned to know
him, and never dreamed of disturbing his movements. He gained the
little door without any difficulty, opened it, and having lit a
candle which he drew from his pocket, commenced cautiously to
ascend the winding staircase, the steps of which were broken in
many places. He had just reached the first landing where
terminated the spacious corridor, which extended along the
principal facade parallel with the terrace, and was preparing to
cross it, when he heard a long and painful groan, which seemed to
come from the other end of the gallery. Starting, he remained
motionless some moments, with neck extended and ears alert, peering
into the obscurity from whence he expected to see some melancholy
phantom emerge; but almost immediately a gust of wind driving
through the broken square of a dormer window made it grind upon its
hinges and give out a plaintive sound, which reverberated through
the corridor. Gilbert then fancied that what he had taken for a
sigh was only the moaning of the wind, counterfeiting in its
melancholy gambols the voice of human grief. Resuming his ascent,
he had already mounted some steps, when a second groan, still more
dismal than the first, reached his ears, and froze the blood in his
veins. He was sure he could not be deceived now; the wind had no
such accents--it was a wail, sharp, harsh, and heartrending, which
seemed as though it might come from the bosom of a specter.

A thousand sinister suppositions assailed Gilbert's mind, but he
gave himself no time to reflect. Agitated, panting, his head on
fire, he sprang with one bound down the staircase, and reaching the
entrance of the gallery, cried out in a trembling voice, and
scarcely knowing what he said:

"Who's there? Who wants assistance? I, Gilbert, am ready to come
to his aid--"

His voice was swallowed up and lost in the somber arches of the
corridor. No answer; the darkness remained dumb. In the rapidity
of his movement, Gilbert had extinguished his candle; he prepared
to relight it, when a hat flew by and struck his forehead with his
wings. The start which this unforeseen attack gave him made him
drop the candle; he stooped to pick it up, but could not find it.
In spite of this accident, he walked on. A feeble ray of
moonlight, which came in by the dormer window and shed through the
entrance of the corridor a long thread of bluish light, seemed to
guide him a few steps. Then he groped his way with arms extended
and touching the wall. Every few steps he stopped and listened,
and repeated in a voice hoarse with excitement:

"Who's there? You who are moaning, can I do anything to help you?"

Nothing answered him except the beating of his heart, and the
murmur of the wind, which continued to torment the hinges of the
dormer window.

The gallery into which Gilbert had entered was divided halfway in
its length by two steps, at the bottom of which was a large iron
door, always kept open during the day, but closed and double-locked
as night set in. Approaching this, Gilbert saw a feeble light
glimmering beneath the door. He descended the steps, and looking
through the key-hole, from which the key had been withdrawn, saw
what changed the frightful anguish he had just been suffering into
surprise and terror.

At twenty paces from him he saw the appalling figure of a phantom
standing erect; it was enveloped in a large white cloth wound
several times round its body, passing under its left arm, and
falling over the right shoulder. In one hand it held a torch and a
sword, in the other an oval ebony frame of which Gilbert could only
see the back, but which seemed to inclose a portrait. The face of
this specter was emaciated, drawn, and of unusual length; its skin,
withered and dry, seemed to be incrusted upon its bones, its
complexion was sallow; a profuse perspiration trickled from its
brows and glued the hair to its temples. Nothing could describe
the expression of terror in its face. It seemed to Gilbert that
its two burning eyeballs penetrated even through the door, though
they saw nothing which surrounded them; their vision seemed turned
within, and the invisible object which fastened their gaze, a heart
haunted by specters.

Suddenly the lips of this nocturnal wanderer opened, and another
groan more fearful than the first issued from them. It seemed as
if his burdened breast wished to shake off by a violent effort a
mountain of weariness, the weight of which was crushing it, or
rather as though the soul sought to expel itself in this despairing
cry. Gilbert was seized with inexpressible agitation, his hair
stood on end. He started to fly; but a curiosity stronger than his
terror prevented him from leaving the spot and kept him riveted to
the door. By the eyebrows and cheekbones, in spite of the
distortion of the face, he had recognized Count Kostia.

At length this sinister somnambulist stirred from his motionless
position and advanced at a slow pace; he walked like an automaton.
After taking a dozen steps he stopped, looked around him, and
slightly bent forward. His strained features resumed their natural
proportions, life re-animated his brow, the deathlike inertia of
his face gave place to an expression of sadness and prostration.
For a few seconds his lips moved, without saying a word, as if to
become flexible, and fashioned anew to the use of speech:--then, in
a soft voice which Gilbert did not recognize, and with the
plaintive accents of a suffering child, he murmured:

"How heavy this portrait is! I can carry it no longer; take it out
of my hands, it burns them. In mercy, extinguish this fire. I
have a brand in my breast. It must be kept covered with ashes;
when I can see it no more, I shall suffer less. It is my eyes that
make me suffer; if I were blind, I could return to Moscow."

Then in a harsher voice:

"I could easily destroy this likeness, but THE OTHER, I cannot kill
it, curses on me! it is the better portrait of the two. There is
her hair, her mouth, her smile. Ah, thank God, I have killed the
smile. The smile is no longer there. I have buried the smile.
But there is the mole in the corner of the mouth. I have kissed it
a thousand times; take away that mole, it hurts me. If that mole
were gone I should suffer less. Merciful Heaven! it is always
there. But I have buried the smile. The smile is no more. I have
buried it deep in a leaden coffin. It can't come. . . ."

Then suddenly changing his accent, and in a tragical, but bitter
voice, his eyes fixed upon the large rusty sword which he held in
his right hand, he muttered:

"The spot will not go away. The iron will not drink it. It was
not for this blood it thirsted. I shall find it in the other, it
will drink that. Ah! we shall see how it will drink it."

Upon this, he relapsed into silence and appeared to be thinking
deeply. Then raising his head, he cried in a voice so strong and
vibrating that the iron door trembled upon its hinges:

"Morlof, then it was not thou! Ah! my dear friend, I was
deceived. . . . Go, do not regret life. It is only the dream
of a screech-owl. . . . Believe me, friend, I want to die, but
I cannot. I must know . . . I must discover. Ah! Morlof, Morlof,
leave thy hands in mine, or I shall think thou hast not forgiven
me. . . . God! how cold these hands are . . . cold . . . cold . . ."

And at these words he shuddered; his head moved convulsively upon
his shoulders, and his teeth chattered; but soon calming himself,
he murmured:

"I want to know the name, I must know that name! Is there no one
who can tell me that name?"

Thus speaking, he raised the picture to a level with his face, and
with bent head and extended neck, appeared to be trying to decipher
upon the canvas some microscopic writing or obscure hieroglyphics.

"The name is there!" said he. "It is written somewhere about the
heart,--at the bottom of the heart; but I cannot read it, the
writing is so fine, it is a female hand; I do not know how to read
a woman's writing. They have a cipher of which Satan alone has the
key. My sight is failing me. I have flies in my head. There is
always one of them that hides this name from me. Oh! in mercy, in
pity, take away the fly and bring me a pair of pincers. . . . With
good pincers I will seek that name even in the last fibers of this
heart which beats no more."

He added with a terrible air:

The dead do not open their teeth. The one who lives will speak.
You shall see how I will make him speak. You shall see how I will
make him speak. . . . Tear off his black robe, stretch him on this
plank. The iron boots! the iron boots! tighten the boots!"

Then interrupting himself abruptly, he raised his eyes and fixed
them upon the door. An expression of fury mingled with terror
swept over his face, as if he had suddenly perceived some hideous
and alarming object. His features became distorted; his mouth
worked convulsively and frothed; his eyes, unnaturally dilated,
darted flames; he uttered a hollow moan, took a few steps backward,
and suddenly dropping his torch to the ground, where it went out he
cried in a frightful voice:

"There are eyes behind the door! there are eyes! there are eyes!"

Horror-struck, distracted, beside himself, Gilbert turned and took
to flight. In spite of the darkness, he found his way as if by
miracle. He crossed the corridor at a run, mounted the staircase
in three bounds, dashed into his chamber and bolted the door. Then
he hurriedly lighted a candle, and having glanced about to assure
himself that the phantom had not followed him into his room,
dropped heavily upon a chair, stunned and breathless. In a few
moments he had collected his thoughts, and was ashamed of his
terror; but in spite of himself his agitation was such that at
every noise which struck his ear, he thought he heard the step of
Count Kostia ascending the staircase of his turret. It was not
until he had bathed his burning head in cold water that he
recovered something like tranquillity; and determining by a supreme
effort to banish the frightful images which haunted him, he seated
himself at his worktable and resolutely opened one of the Byzantine
folios. As he began to read, his eye fell upon an unsealed letter
which had been left on his table during his absence; it ran thus:


"Man of great phrases, I write to you to inform you of the hatred
with which you inspire me. I wish you to understand that from the
first day I saw you, your bearing, your face, your manners, your
whole person, have been objects of distrust and aversion to me. I
thought I recognized an enemy in you, and the result has proved
that I was not mistaken. Now I hate you, and I tell you so
frankly, for I am not a hypocrite, and I want you to know, that
just now in my prayers I supplicated St. George to give me an
opportunity of revenging myself upon you. What do you want in this
house? What is there between us and you? How long do you intend
to torture me with your odious presence, your ironical smiles, and
your insulting glances? Before your arrival I was not completely
unhappy. God be praised, it has been reserved for you to give me
the finishing stroke. Before, I could weep at my ease, with none
to busy themselves in counting my tears; the man that makes me shed
them does not lower himself to such petty calculations; he has
confidence in me, he knows that at the end of the year the account
will be there; but you! you watch me, you pry into me, you study
me. I see very well that, while you are looking at me, you are
indulging in little dialogues with yourself, and these little
dialogues are insupportable to me. Mark me now, I forbid you to
understand me. It is an affront which you have no right to put
upon me, and I have the right to be incomprehensible if it pleases
me. Ah! once a little while ago, I felt that you had your eyes
fastened on me again. And then I raised my head, and looked at you
steadily and forced you to blush. . . . Yes, you did blush; do not
attempt to deny it! What a consolation to me! What a triumph!
Alas! for all that, I dare not go to my own window any longer for
fear of seeing you ogling the sky, and making declamations of love
to nature with your sentimental air.

"Tell me, now, in a few words, clever man that you are, how you
manage to combine so much sentimentality with such skillful
diplomacy? Tender friend of childhood, of virtue and of sunsets,
what an adroit courtier you make! From the first day you came
here, the master honored you with his confidence and his affection.
How he esteems you! how he cherishes you! what attentions! what
favors! Will he not order us tomorrow to kiss the dust under your
feet? If you want to know what disgusts me the most in you, it is
the unalterable placidity of your disposition and your face. You
know the faun who admires himself night and day in the basin upon
the terrace; he is always laughing and looks at himself laugh. I
detest this eternal laughter from the bottom of my soul, as I
detest you, as I detest the whole world with the exception of my
horse Soliman. But he, at least, is sincere in his gayety; he
shows himself what he really is, life amuses him, great good may it
do him! But you envelop your beatific happiness in an intolerable
gravity. Your tranquil airs fill me with consternation; your great
contented eyes seem to say: 'I am very well, so much the worse for
the sick!' One word more. You treat me as a child--I will prove
to you that I am not a child, showing you how well I have divined
you. The secret of your being is, that you were born without
passions! Confess honestly that you have never in your life felt a
sentiment of disgust, of anger, or of pity. Is there a single
passion, tell me, that you have experienced, or that you are
acquainted with, except through your books? Your soul is like your
cravat, which is always tied precisely the same way, and has such
an air of repose and rationality about it, that it is perfectly
insufferable to me. Yes, the bow of that cravat exasperates me;
the two ends are always exactly the same length, and have an effect
of INDERANGEABILITY which nearly drives me mad. Not that this
famous bow is elegant. No, a thousand times no! but it has an
exasperating accuracy. And in this, behold the true story of your
soul. Every night when you go to bed you put it in its proper
folds; every morning you unfold it carefully without rumpling it!
And you dare to plume yourself on your wisdom! What does this
pretended wisdom prove? Nothing, unless it be that you have poor
blood, and that you were fifty years old when you were born. There
is, however, one passion which no one will deny that you possess.
You understand me,--man of the gilded tongue and the viper's
heart,--you have a passion common to many others! But, hold, in
commencing this letter, I intended to conceal from you that I had
discovered everything. I feared it would give you too much
pleasure to learn that I know.--Oh! why can't I make you stand
before me now this moment! I should confound you! how I would
force you to fall at my feet and cry for pardon!

"Oh, my dear flowers, my Maltese cross, my verbenas, my white
starred fox, and you, my musk rosebush, and above all my beautiful
variegated carnation, which ought to be opening to-day! Was it
then for him,--was it to rejoice the eyes of this insolent
parasite, that I planted, watered, and tended you with so much
care? Beloved flowers, will you not share my hate? Send out from
each of your cups, from each of your corollas, some devouring
insect, some wasp with pointed sting, some furious horse-fly, and
let them all together throw themselves upon him, harass him and
persecute him with their threatening buzzing, and pierce his face
with their poisoned stings. And you yourselves, my cherished
daughters, at his approach, fold up your beautiful petals, refuse
him your perfumes, cheat him of his cares and hopes, let the sap
dry up in your fibers, that he may have the mortification of seeing
you perish and fall to dust in his hands. And may he, this
treacherous man, may he before your blighted petals and drooping
stems, pine away himself with ennui, spite, anger, and remorse!"


IX


The castle clock had struck eight, when Gilbert sprang from his
bed. Shall I confess that in dressing himself, when he came to tie
his cravat, he hesitated for a moment? However, after reflection,
he adjusted the knot as before, and would you believe it, he tied
this famous, this regular knot without concentrating any attention
upon it? His toilet finished, he went to the window. A sudden
change had taken place in the weather; a cold, drizzly rain was
falling noiselessly; very little wind; the horizon was enveloped in
a thick fog; a long train of low clouds, looking like gigantic
fish, floated slowly through the valley of the Rhine; the sky of a
uniform gray, seemed to distill weariness and sadness; land and
water were the color of mud. Gilbert cast his eyes upon his dear
precipice: it was but a pit of frightful ugliness. He sank into an
armchair. His thoughts harmonized with the weather; they formed a
dismal landscape, over which a long procession of gloomy fancies
and sinister apprehensions swept silently, like the trail of low
clouds which wandered along the borders of the Rhine.

"No, a thousand times no!" mused he, "I can't stay in this place
any longer; I shall lose my strength here, and my spirit and my
health, too. To be exposed to the blind hatred of an unhappy child
whose sorrows drive him to insanity; to be the table companion of a
priest without dignity or moral elevation, who silently swallows
the greatest outrages; to become the intimate, the complaisant
friend of a great lord, whose past is suspicious, of an unnatural
father who hates his son, of a man who at times transforms himself
into a specter, and who, stung by remorse, or thirsting for
revenge, fills the corridors of his castle with savage howlings--
such a position is intolerable, and I must leave here at any cost!
This castle is an unhealthy place; the walls are odious to me! I
will not wait to penetrate into their secrets any further."

And Gilbert ransacked his brain for a pretext to quit Geierfels
immediately. While engaged in this research, some one knocked at
the door: it was Fritz, with his breakfast.

This morning he had the self-satisfied air of a fool who has worked
out a folly by the sweat of his brow, and reached the fortunate
moment when he can bring his invention to light. He entered
without salutation, placed the tray which he carried upon the
table; then, turning to Gilbert, who was seated, said to him,
winking his eye:

"Good-morning, comrade! Comrade, good-morning!"

"What do you say?" said Gilbert, astonished, and looking at him
steadily.

"I say: Good-morning, comrade!" replied he, smiling agreeably.

"And to whom are you speaking, if you please?"

"I am speaking to you, yourself, my comrade, and I say to you,
good-morning, comrade! good-morning."

Gilbert looked at him attentively, trying to find some explanation
of this strange prank, and this excessive and astounding insolence.

"And will you tell me," he continued, after a few moments' silence,
"will you be good enough to tell me, who gave you permission to
call me comrade?"

"It was . . . it was . . ." answered Fritz, hemming and hawing.
And he reflected a moment, as though trying to remember his lesson,
that he might not stumble in its recital. "Ah!" resumed he, "it
was simply his Excellency the Count, and I cannot conceive what you
see astonishing in it."

"Have you ever heard the Count," demanded Gilbert, who felt the
blood boiling in his veins, "call me your comrade?"

"Ah! certainly!" he answered with a long burst of laughter. "Every
day, when I come from him, M. le Comte says to me: 'Well! how is
your comrade Gilbert?' And isn't it very natural? Don't we eat at
the same rack? Are we not, both of us, in the service of the same
master? And don't you see. . . ."

He was not able to say more, for Gilbert bounded from his chair,
and crying:

"Go and tell your master that he is not my master!" He seized the
valet de chambre by the collar. He was at least a head shorter
than his adversary, but his grasp was like iron; and in spite of
appearances, great Fritz proved but a weak and nerveless body, and
greatly surprised at this unexpected attack, he could only open his
large mouth and utter some inarticulate sounds. Gilbert had
already dragged him to the top of the staircase. Then Fritz,
recovering from his first flurry, tried to struggle, but he lost
his footing, stumbled, and fell headlong down the staircase to the
bottom. Gilbert came near following him in his descent, but
fortunately saved himself by clinging to the balustrade. As he saw
him rolling, he feared that he had been too violent, but felt
reassured, when he saw him scramble up, feel himself, rub his back,
turn to shake his fist and limp away.

He returned to his chamber and breakfasted peaceably.

"Quite an opportune adventure," thought he. "Now, I shall be
inflexible, unyielding, and if my trunks are not packed before
night, I'm an idiot."

Gathering up under his arm a bundle of papers which were needed for
the day's work, he left the room, his head erect and his spirits
animated; but he had hardly descended the first flight of steps
before his exaltation gave way to very different feelings. He
could not look without shuddering at the place where he had stood
like one petrified, listening to the horrible groans of the
somnambulist. He stopped, and, looking at the packet which he held
under his arm, thought to himself that it was with a specter he was
about to discuss Byzantine history. Then resuming his walk, he
arrived at M. Leminof's study, where he almost expected to see the
formidable apparition of last night appear before his eyes, and
hear a sepuchral voice crying out to him: "Those eyes behind the
door were yours!" He remained motionless a few seconds, his hand
upon his heart. At last he knocked. A voice cried: "Come in.

He opened the door and entered. Heavens! how far was the reality
from his fancy.

M. Leminof was quietly seated in the embrasure of the window,
looking at the rain and playing with his monkey. He no sooner
perceived his secretary than he uttered an exclamation of joy, and
after shutting up Solon in an adjoining room, he approached
Gilbert, took both his hands in his and pressed them cordially,
saying in an affectionate tone:

"Welcome, my dear Gilbert, I have been looking for you impatiently.
I have been thinking a great deal since yesterday on our famous
problem of the Slavonic invasions, and I am far from being
convinced by your arguments. Be on your guard, my dear sir! Be on
your guard! I propose to give you some thrusts that will trouble
you to parry."

Gilbert, who had recovered his tranquillity, seated himself, and
the discussion commenced. The point in dispute was the question of
the degree of importance and influence of the establishment of the
Slavonians in the Byzantine empire during the middle ages. Upon
this question, much debated at present, Count Kostia had espoused
the opinion most favorable to the ambitions of Muscovite policy.
He affected to renounce his country and to censure it without
mercy; he had even denationalized himself to the extent of never
speaking his mother tongue and of forbidding its use in his house.
In fact, the idiom of Voltaire was more familiar to him than that
of Karamzin, and he had accustomed himself for a long time even to
think in French. In spite of all this, and of whatever he might
say, he remained Russian at heart: this is a quality which cannot
be lost.

Twelve o'clock sounded while they were at the height of the
discussion.

"If you agree, my dear Gilbert," said M. Leminof, "we will give
ourselves a little relaxation. Indeed you're truly a terrible
fellow; there's no persuading you. Let us breakfast in peace, if
you please, like two good friends; afterwards we will renew the
fight."

The breakfast was invariably composed of toast au caviar and a
small glass of Madeira wine; and every day at noon they suspended
work for a few moments to partake of this little collation.

"Judge of my presumption," suddenly said M. Leminof, underscoring,
so to speak, every word, "I passed LAST NIGHT [and he put a wide
space between these two words] in pleading against you the cause of
my Slavonians. My arguments seemed to me irresistible. I beat you
all hollow. I am like those fencers who are admirable in the
training school, but who make a very bad figure in the field. I
had prodigious eloquence LAST NIGHT; I don't know what has become
of it; it seems to have fled like a phantom at the first crowing of
the cock."

As he pronounced these words, Count Kostia fixed such piercing eyes
on Gilbert, that they seemed to search through to the most remote
recesses of his soul. Gilbert sustained the attack with perfect
sangfroid.

"Ah! sir," replied he coolly, "I don't know how you argue at night;
but I assure you by day you're the most formidable logician I
know."

Gilbert's tranquil air dissipated the suspicion which seemed to
weigh upon M. Leminof.

"You act," said he gayly, "like those conquerors who exert
themselves to console the generals they have beaten, thereby
enhancing their real glory; but bah! arms are fickle, and I shall
have my revenge at an early day."

"I venture to suggest that you do not delay it long," answered
Gilbert in a grave tone. "Who knows how much longer I may remain
at Geierfels?"

These words re-awakened the suspicions of the Count.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed he.

Whereupon Gilbert related in a firm, distinct tone the morning's
adventure. As he advanced in the recital, he became warmer and
repeated with an indignant air the remark which Fritz had
attributed to the Count, and strongly emphasized his answer:

"Go and tell your master that he is not my master."

He flattered himself that he would pique the Count; he saw him
already raising his head, and speaking in the clouds. He was
destined to be mistaken today in all his conjectures. From the
first words of his eloquent recital, Count Kostia appeared to be
relieved of a pre-occupation which had disturbed him. He had been
prepared for something else, and was glad to find himself mistaken.
He listened to the rest with an undisturbed air, leaning back in
his easy-chair with his eyes fixed on the ceiling. When Gilbert
had finished--

"And tell me, pray," said he, without changing his posture, "how
did you punish this rascal?"

"I took him by the collar," replied Gilbert, "and flung him down
head first."

"Peste!" exclaimed the Count, raising himself and looking at him
with an air of surprise and admiration. "And tell me," resumed he,
smiling in his enjoyment, "did this domestic animal perish in his
fall?"

"He may perhaps have broken his arms or legs. I didn't take the
trouble to inquire."

M. Leminof rose and folded his arms on his breast.

"See now, how liable our judgments are to be led astray, and how
full of sense that Russian proverb is which says: 'It takes more
than one day to compass a man!' Yesterday you had such a
sentimental pathetic air, when I permitted myself to administer a
little correction to my serf, that I took you in all simplicity for
a philanthropist. I retract it now. You are one of those tyrants
who are only moved for the victims of another. Pure professional
jealousy! But," continued he, "there is one thing which astonishes
me still more, and that is, that you Gilbert, you could for an
instant believe--"

He checked himself, bent forward towards Gilbert, and looked at him
scrutinizingly, making a shade of his two bony hands extended over
his enormous eyebrows; then taking him by the arm, he led him to
the embrasure of the window, and as if he had made a sudden change
in his person which rendered him irrecognizable:

"Nothing could be better than your throwing the scoundrel
downstairs," said he, "and if he is not quite dead, I shall drive
him from here without pity; but that you should have believed that
I, Count Leminof-- Oh! it is too much, I dream-- No, you are not
the Gilbert that I know, the Gilbert I love, though I conceal it
from myself--"

And taking him by both hands, he added:

"This man was silly enough to tell you that I was your master, and
you replied to him with the Mirabeau tone: 'Go and tell your
master--' My dear Gilbert, in the name of reason, I ask you to
remember that the true is never the opposite of the false; it is
another thing, that is all; but to which I add, that in answering
as you did, you have cruelly compromised yourself. We should never
contradict a fool; it is running the risk of being like him."

Gilbert blushed. He did not try to amend anything, but readily
changing his tactics, he said, smiling:

"I implore you, sir, not to drive this man away. I want him to
stay to remind me occasionally that I am liable to lose my senses."

But what were his feelings when the Count, having sent for this
valet de chambre, said to him:

"You have not done this on your own responsibility--you received
orders. Who gave them?"

Fritz answered, stammering:

"Do please forgive me, your excellency! It was M. Stephane who,
yesterday evening, made me a present of two Russian crowns on
condition that every morning for a week I should say to M. Saville,
'good-morning, comrade.'"

A flash of joy shone in the Count's eyes. He turned towards
Gilbert, and pressing his hand, said to him:

"For this once I thank you cordially for having addressed your
complaints to me. The affair is more serious than I had thought.
There is a malignant abscess there, which must be lanced once for
all."

This surgical comparison made Gilbert shudder; he cursed his hasty
passion and his stupidity. Why had he not suspected the real
culprit? Why was it necessary for him to justify the hatred which
Stephane had avowed towards him?

"And how happens it, sir," resumed Count Kostia, with less of anger
in his tone, "that you have an opportunity of holding secret
conversations with my son in the evening? When did you enter his
service? Do you not know that you are to receive neither orders,
messages, nor communications of any kind from him?"

Fritz, who in his heart blessed the admirable invention of
lightning rods, explained as well as he could, that the evening
before, in going up to his excellency's room, he had met Ivan on
the staircase, going down to the grand hall to find a cap which his
young master had forgotten. Apparently he had neglected to close
the wicket, for Fritz, in going out through the gallery, had found
Stephane, who, approaching him stealthily, had given him his little
lesson in a mysterious tone, and as Ivan returned at this moment
without the cap he said:

"Dost thou not see, imbecile, that it's on my head," and he drew
the cap from his pocket and proudly put it on his head, while he
ran to his rooms laughing.

When he had finished his story, Fritz was profuse in his
protestations of repentance, servile and tearful; the Count cut him
short, declaring to him, that at the request of Gilbert he
consented to pardon him; but that at the first complaint brought
against him, he would give him but two hours to pack. When he had
gone out, M. Leminof pulled another bell which communicated with
the room of Ivan, who presently appeared.

"Knowest thou, my son," said the Count to him in German, "that thou
hast been very negligent for some time? Thy mind fails, thy sight
is feeble. Thou art growing old, my poor friend. Thou art like an
old bloodhound in his decline, without teeth and without scent, who
knows neither how to hunt the prey nor how to catch it. Thou must
be on the retired list. I have already thought of the office I
shall give thee in exchange. . . . Oh! do not deceive thyself. It
is in vain to shrug thy shoulders, my son; thou art wrong in
believing thyself necessary. By paying well I shall easily find
one who will be worth as much--"

Ivan's eyes flashed.

"I do not believe you," replied he, in Russian; "you know very well
that you are not amiable, but that I love you in spite of it, and
when you have spent a hundred thousand roubles, you will not have
secured one to replace me, whose affection for you will be worth a
kopeck."

"Why dost thou speak Russian?" resumed the Count. "Thou knowest
well that I have forbidden it. Apparently thou wishest that no one
but myself may understand the sweet things which thou sayest to me.
Go and cry them upon the roof, if that will give thee pleasure; but
I have never asked thee to love me. I exact only faithful service
on thy part, and I answer for it that thy substitute, when his
young master shall tell him 'go and find my cap, which I have left
in the grand hall,' will answer him coolly: 'I am not blind, my
little father, your cap is in your pocket.'"

Ivan looked at his master attentively, and the expression of his
face appeared to reassure him, for he began to smile.

"Meantime," said the Count, "so long as I keep thee in thy office,
study to satisfy me. Go to thy room and reflect, and at the end of
a quarter of an hour, bring thy little father here to me; I want to
talk with him, and I will permit thee to listen, if that will give
thee pleasure."

As soon as Ivan had gone, Gilbert begged M. Leminof not to pursue
this miserable business. "I have punished Fritz," said he, "with
perhaps undue severity; you yourself have rebuked and threatened
him; I am satisfied."

"Pardon me. In all this Fritz was but an instrument. It would not
be right to allow the real culprit to go unpunished!"

"It is no trouble to me to pardon that culprit," exclaimed Gilbert,
with an animation beyond his control, "he is so unhappy!"

M. Leminof gave Gilbert a haughty and angry look. He strode
through the room several times, his hands behind his back; then,
with the easy tempered air of an absolute prince, who condescends
to some unreasonable fancy of one of his favorites, made Gilbert
sit down, and placing himself by his side:

"My dear sir," said he to him, "your last words show a singular
forgetfulness on your part of our reciprocal agreements. You had
engaged, if you remember, not to take any interest in any one here
but yourself and myself. After that, what difference can it make
to you, whether my son is happy or unhappy? Since, however, you
have raised this question, I consent to an explanation; but let it
be fully understood, that you are never, never, to revive the
subject again. You can readily perceive, that if your society is
agreeable to me, it is because I have the pleasure of forgetting
with you the petty annoyances of domestic life. And now speak
frankly, and tell me what makes you conclude that my son is
unhappy."

Gilbert had a thousand things to reply, but they were difficult to
say. So he hesitated to answer for a moment, and the Count
anticipated him:

"Mon Dieu! I must needs proceed in advance of your accusations, a
concession which I dare to hope you will appreciate. Perhaps you
reproach me with not showing sufficient affection for my son in
daily life. But what can you expect? The Leminofs are not
affectionate. I don't remember ever to have received a single
caress from my father. I have seen him sometimes pat his hounds,
or give sugar to his horse; but I assure you that I never partook
of his sweetmeats or his smiles, and at this hour I thank him for
it. The education which he gave me hardened the affections, and it
is the best service which a father can render his son. Life is a
hard stepmother, my dear Gilbert; how many smiles have you seen
pass over her brazen lips! Besides, I have particular reasons for
not treating Stephane with too much tenderness. He seems to you to
be unhappy, he will be so forever if I do not strive to discipline
his inclinations and to break his intractable disposition. The
child was born under an evil star. At once feeble and violent, he
unites with very ardent passions a deplorable puerility of mind;
incapable of serious thought, the merest trivialities move him to
fever heat, and he talks childish prattle with all the gestures of
great passion. And what is worse, interesting himself greatly in
himself, he thinks it very natural that this interest should be
shared by all the world. Do not imagine that his is a loving heart
that feels a necessity of spending itself on others. He likes to
make his emotions spectacular, and as his impressions are events
for him, he would like to display them, even to the inhabitants of
Sirius. His soul is like a lake swept by a gale of wind that would
drive a man-of-war at the rate of twenty-five knots an hour; and on
this lake Stephane sails his squadrons of nutshells, and he sees
them come, go, tack, run around, and capsize. He keeps his log-
book very accurately, pompously registers all the shipwrecks, and
as these spectacles transport him with admiration, he is indignant
to find that he alone is moved by them. This is what makes him
unhappy; and you will agree with me that it is not my fault. The
regime which I prescribe for my invalid may appear to you a little
severe, but it's the only way by which I can hope to cure him.
Leading a regular, uniform life,--and sad enough I admit--he will
gradually become surfeited with his own emotions when the objects
of them are never renewed, and he will end, I hope, by demanding
the diversions of work and study. May he be able some day to
discover that a problem of Euclid is more interesting than the
wreck of a nutshell! Upon that day he will enter upon full
convalescence, and I shall not be the last to rejoice in it."

M. Leminof spoke in a tone so serious and composed, that for a few
moments Gilbert could have imagined him a pedagogue gravely
explaining his maxims of education; but he could not forget that
expression of ferocious joy which was depicted on his face at the
moment when Stephane fled sobbing from the garden, and he
remembered also the somnambulist who, on the preceding night, had
uttered certain broken phrases in regard to a LIVING PORTRAIT and a
BURIED SMILE. These mysterious words, terrible in their obscurity,
had appeared to him to allude to Stephane, and they accorded badly
with the airs of paternal solicitude which M. Leminof had deigned
to affect in the past few minutes. He had a show of reason,
however, in his argument; and the picture which he drew of his son,
if cruelly exaggerated, had still some points of resemblance. Only
Gilbert had reason to think that the Count purposely confounded
cause and effect, and that Stephane's malady was the work of the
physician.

"Will you permit me, sir," answered he, "to tell you all that I
have on my heart?"

"Speak, speak, improve the opportunity: I swear to you it won't
occur again."

And looking at his watch:

"You have still five minutes to talk with me about my son. Hurry;
I will not grant you two seconds more."

"I have heard it said," resumed Gilbert, "that in building bridges
and causeways, the best foundations are those which HUMOR the waves
of the sea. These are foundations with inclined slopes, which,
instead of breaking the waves abruptly, check their movement by
degrees, and abate their force without violence."

"You favor anodynes, Monsieur disciple of Galen," exclaimed M.
Leminof. "Each one according to his temperament. We cannot
reconstruct ourselves. I am a very violent, very passionate man,
and when, for example, a servant offends me I throw him
headforemost downstairs. This happens to me every day."

"Between your son and your valet de chambre, the difference is
great," answered Gilbert, a little piqued.

"Did not your famous revolution proclaim absolute equality between
all men?"

"In the law it is admirable, but not in the heart of a father."

"Good God!" cried the Count, "I do not know that I have a father's
heart for my son; I know only that I think a great deal about him,
and that I strive according to my abilities to correct in him very
grave faults, which threaten to compromise his future welfare. I
know also for a certainty that this whiner enjoys some pleasures of
which many children of his age are deprived, as, for example, a
servant for himself, a horse, and as much money as he wants for his
petty diversions. You are not ignorant of the use which he makes
of this money, neither in regard to the two thalers expended
yesterday to corrupt my valet, nor of the seven crowns with which
he purchased the delightful pleasure, the other day in your
presence, of having his foot kissed by a troop of young rustics.
And at this point, I will tell you that Ivan has reported to me
that, on the same day, Stephane turned up his sleeve to make you
admire a scar which he carried upon one of his wrists. Oblige me
by telling me what blue story he related to you on this subject."

This unexpected question troubled Gilbert a little.

"To conceal nothing from you," answered he hesitatingly, "he told
me, that for an escapade which he had made, he had been condemned
to pass a fortnight in a dungeon in irons."

"And you believed it!" cried the Count, shrugging his shoulders.
"The truth is, that, for a fortnight, I compelled my son to pass
one hour every evening in an uninhabited wing of this castle; my
intention was not so much to punish him for an act of
insubordination, as to cure him of the foolish terrors by which he
is tormented, for this boy of sixteen, who often shows himself
brave even to rashness, believes in ghosts, in apparitions, in
vampires. I ought to authorize him to guard himself at night by
the best-toothed of my bulldogs. Oh what a strange compound has
God given me for a son!"

At this moment the sound of steps was heard in the corridor.

"In the name of the kind friendship which you profess for me, sir,"
exclaimed Gilbert, seizing one of M. Leminof's hands, "I beg of
you, do not punish this child for a boyish freak for which I
forgive him with all my heart!"

"I can refuse you nothing, my dear Gilbert," answered he with a
smiling air. "I spare him from his pretended dungeons. I dare
hope that you will give me credit for it."

"I thank you; but one thing more: the flowers you deprived him of."

"Mon Dieu! since you wish it, we will have them restored to him,
and to please you, I will content myself with having him make
apologies to you in due form."

"Make apologies to me!" cried Gilbert in consternation; "but that
will be the most cruel of punishments."

"We will leave him the choice," said the Count dryly. And as
Gilbert insisted: "This time you ask too much!" added he in a tone
which admitted of no reply. "It is a question of principles, and
in such matters I never compromise."

Gilbert perceived that even in Stephane's interest, it was
necessary to desist, but he understood also to what extent the
pride of the young man would suffer, and cursed himself a thousand
times for having spoken.

Someone knocked at the door.

"Come in," cried the Count in a hoarse voice; and Stephane entered,
followed by Ivan.


X


Stephane remained standing in the middle of the room. He was paler
than usual, and kept his eyes on the floor; but his bearing was
good, and he affected a resolute air which he rarely displayed in
the presence of his father. The Count remained silent for some
time; he gazed with a cold eye on the supple and delicate body of
his son, the exquisite elegance of his form, his fine and delicate
features, framed in the slightly darkened gold of his hair. Never
had the beauty of his child filled the heart of his father with
keener bitterness. As for Gilbert, he had eyes only for a little
black spot which he noticed for the first time upon the uniformly
pale complexion of Stephane: it was like an almost imperceptible
fly, under the left corner of his mouth.

"That is the mole," thought he, and he fancied he could hear the
voice of the somnambulist cry:

"Take away that mole! it hurts me!"

Shuddering at this recollection, he felt tempted to rush from the
room; but a look from the Count recalled him to himself; he made a
strong effort to master his emotion, and fixing his eyes upon the
window, he looked at the falling rain.

"As a preliminary question," suddenly exclaimed the Count, speaking
to his son; "do me the favor, sir, to tell me how much time you
have passed in what you call a dungeon, for I do not remember."

Stephane's face colored with a vivid blush. He hesitated a moment
and then answered:

"I was there in all fifteen hours, which appeared to me as long as
fifteen days."

"You see!" said the Count, looking at Gilbert. "And now," resumed
he, "let us come to the point; a scene of the greatest impropriety
occurred in this house this morning. Fritz, my valet, in
presenting himself to my secretary, who is my friend, permitted
himself to say three times: 'Good-morning, comrade; comrade, good-
morning!'"

At these words Stephane's lips contracted slightly, as if about to
smile; but the smile was arrested on its way.

"My little story amuses you, apparently," pursued the Count,
raising his head.

"It is the incredible folly of Fritz which diverts me," answered
Stephane.

"His folly seems to me less than his insolence," replied the Count;
"but without discussing words, I am delighted to see that you
disavow his conduct. I ought not to conceal from you the fact,
that this scoundrel wished to make me believe that he acted upon
your orders, and I was resolved to punish you severely. I see now
that he has lied, and it remains for me but to dismiss him in
disgrace." Gilbert trembled lest Stephane's veracity should
succumb under this temptation; the young man hesitated but an
instant.

"I am the guilty one," answered he in a firm voice, "and it is I
who should be punished."

"What," said M. Leminof, "was it then my son, who, availing himself
of the only resources of his mind, conceived this truly happy idea.
The invention was admirable, it does honor to your genius. But if
Fritz has been but the instrument to carry out your sublime
conceptions, why do you laugh at his stupidity?"

"Oh, poor soul!" replied Stephane, with animation, "oh! the donkey,
how he spoiled my idea! I didn't order him to call M. Saville his
comrade, but to treat him as a comrade, which is a different thing.
Unfortunately I had not time to give him minute instructions, and
he misunderstood me, but he did what he could conscientiously to
earn his fee. The poor fellow must be pardoned. I am the only
guilty one, I repeat it. I am the one to be punished."

"And might we know, sir," said the Count, "what your intention was
in causing M. Saville to be insulted by a servant?"

"I wished to humiliate him, to disgust him, and to force him to
leave this house."

"And your motive?"

"My motive is that I hate him!" answered he in a hoarse voice.

"Always exaggerations," replied the Count sneeringly. "Can you
not, sir, rid yourself of this detestable habit of perpetual
exaggeration in the expression of your thoughts? Can I not impress
upon your mind the maxims upon this subject which two men of equal
genius have given us: M. de Metternich and Pigault Lebrun! The
first of these illustrious men used to say that superlatives were
the seals of fools, and the second wrote these immortal words:

"'Everything exaggerated is insignificant.'" Then extending his
arm:

"To hate! to hate!" exclaimed he. "You say the word glibly. Do
you know what it is? Sorrow, anger, jealousy, antipathy, aversion,
you may know all these; but hatred, hatred!--you have no right to
say this terrible word. Ah! hatred is a rough work! it is
ceaseless torture, it is a cross of lead to carry, and to sustain
its weight without breaking down requires very different shoulders
than yours!"

At this moment Stephane ventured to look his father in the face.
He slowly uplifted his eyes, inclining his head backward. His look
signified "You are right, I will take your word for it; you are
better acquainted with it than I."

But the Count's face was so terrible that Stephane closed his eyes
and resumed his former attitude. A slight shudder agitated his
whole frame. The Count perceived that he was near forgetting
himself, and drove back the bitter wave which came up from his
heart to his lips in spite of himself:

"Besides, my young friend here is the least detestable being in the
world," pursued he in a tranquil tone. "Judge for yourself; just
now he pleaded your cause to me with so much warmth, that he drew
from me a promise not to punish you for what he has the kindness to
call only a boy's freak. He even stipulates that I shall restore
you your flowers, which he pretends give you delight, and within an
hour Ivan will have carried them to your room. In short, two words
of apology are all he requires of you. You must admit that one
could not have a more accommodating disposition, and that you owe
him a thousand thanks."

"Apologies! to him!" cried Stephane with a gesture of horror.

"You hesitate! oh! this is too much! Do you then wish to revisit a
certain rather gloomy hall?"

Stephane shuddered, his lips trembled.

"In mercy," cried he, "inflict any other punishment upon me you
please, but not that one. Oh, no! I cannot go back to that
frightful hall. Oh! I entreat you, deprive me of my customary
walks for six months; sell Soliman, cut my hair, shave my head,--
anything, yes, anything rather than put my feet in that horrible
dungeon again! I shall die there or go mad. You don't want me to
become insane?"

"When one is unfortunate enough to believe in ghosts and
apparitions at the age of sixteen," retorted the Count, "he should
free himself as soon as possible from the ridiculous weakness."

Stephane's whole body trembled. He staggered a few steps, and
falling on his knees before his father, clung to him and cried: "I
am only a poor sick child, have pity on me. You are still my
father, are you not? and I am still your child? Mon Dieu! Mon
Dieu! You do not, you cannot, want your child to die!"

"Put an end to this miserable comedy," cried the Count, disengaging
himself from Stephane's clasp. "I am your father, and you are my
son; no one here doubts it; but your father, sir, has a horror of
scenes. This has lasted too long; end it, I tell you. You are
already in a suitable posture. The most difficult part is done,
the rest is a trifle!"

"What do you say, sir?" answered the child impetuously, trying to
rise. "I am on my knees to you only. Ah! great God! I to kneel
before this man! it is impossible! you know very well it is
impossible!

The Count, however, pressing his hand upon his shoulder,
constrained him to remain upon his knees, and turning his face to
Gilbert:

"I tell you, you are kneeling before the man you have insulted, and
we all understand it."

Was it, indeed thus, that Gilbert understood it? Quiet,
impassible, his eyes fixed upon the window, he seemed a perfect
stranger to all that passed around him.

A cry of anguish escaped Stephane, a frightful change came over his
face. Three times he tried to rise, and three times the hand of
his father weighed him down again, and kept him in a kneeling
posture. Then, as if annihilated by the thought of his weakness
and powerlessness, he yielded, and covering his eyes with both
hands, he murmured these words in a stifled and convulsive voice:

"Sir they do me violence,--I ask pardon for hating you."

And immediately his strength abandoned him, and he fainted; as a
lily broken by the storm, his head sank, and he would have fallen
backward, if his father had not signed to Ivan, who raised him like
a feather in his robust arms, and carried him hastily out of the
room.

Gilbert's first care after returning to his turret, was to light a
candle and burn Stephane's letter. Then he opened a closet and
began to prepare his trunk. While engaged in this task, someone
knocked at the door. He had only time to close the closet and the
trunk when Ivan appeared with a basket on his arm. The serf came
for the flowers, which he had orders to carry to the apartment of
his young master. Having placed five or six in his basket, he
turned to Gilbert and gave him to understand, in his Teutonic
gibberish mingled with French, that he had something important to
communicate to him. Gilbert answered in a tone of ill-humor, that
he had not time to listen to him. Ivan shook his head with a
pensive air, and left. Gilbert immediately seated himself at the
table, and upon the first scrap of paper which came under his hand,
hastily wrote the following lines:

"Poor child, do not distress yourself too much for the humiliation
to which you have just submitted. As you said yourself, you
yielded only to violence, and your apologies are void in my eyes.
Believe me, I exact nothing. Why did I not divine, this morning,
that Fritz spoke in your name! I should not have felt offended,
for it is not to me that your insults are addressed, it is to some
strange Gilbert of your imagination. I am not acquainted with him.
But what can it avail you to provoke contests, the result of which
is certain in advance? It is a hand of iron which lately weighed
upon your shoulder. Do you hope then to free yourself so soon from
its grasp? Believe me, submit yourself to your lot, and mitigate
its rigors by patience, until the day when your eyes have become
strong enough to dare to look him in the face, and your hand manly
enough to throw the gage of battle. Poor child the only
consolation I can offer you in your misfortune I should be a
culprit to refuse. I have but one night more to pass here; keep
this secret for me for twenty-four hours, and receive the adieus of
that Gilbert whom you have never known. One day he passed near you
and looked at you, and you read an offensive curiosity in his eyes.
I swear to you, they were full of tears."

Gilbert folded this letter, and slid it under the facing of one of
his sleeves; then taking the key of the private door in his hand,
and posting himself at the head of the staircase, he waited Ivan's
return. As soon as he heard the sound of his steps in the
corridor, he descended rapidly and met him on the landing at the
gallery.

"I do not know what to do," said Ivan to him. "My young master is
not himself, and he has broken the first flower-pots I carried to
him in a thousand pieces."

"Take the others too," replied Gilbert, taking care to let him see
the key which he flourished in his hand. "You can put them in your
room for the time being. When he becomes calmer he will be glad to
see them again."

"But will it not be better to leave them with you until he asks for
them?"

"I don't want to keep them half an hour longer," replied Gilbert
quickly, and he descended the first steps of the private staircase.

"As you are going on the terrace, sir," cried the serf to him,
"don't forget, I beg of you, to close the door behind you."

Gilbert promised this. "It works well," thought he; "his caution
proves to me that the wicket is not closed." He was not mistaken.
For the convenience of his transportation, the serf had left it
half open, only taking the precaution to close and double-lock the
door of the grand staircase. Gilbert waited until Ivan had reached
the second story, and immediately remounting upon tiptoe, he darted
into the corridor, followed its entire length, turned to the right,
passed before the Count's study, turned a second time to the right,
found himself in the gallery which led to the square tower, sprang
through the wicket, and arrived without obstacle at the foot of the
tower staircase. He found the steps littered with the debris of
broken pots and flowers. As he began to descend, loud voices came
to his ears; he thought for a moment that M. Leminof was with his
son. This did not turn him from his project. He had nothing to
conceal. "I will beg the Count himself," thought he, "to read my
farewell letter to his son." Having reached the top of the
staircase, he crossed a vestibule and found himself in a long, dark
alcove, lighted by a solitary glass door, opening into the great
room ordinarily occupied by Stephane. This door was ajar, and the
strange scene which presented itself to Gilbert, as he approached,
held him motionless a few steps from the threshold. Stephane, with
his back towards him, stood with his arms crossed upon his breast.
He was not speaking to his father, but to two pictures of saints
hanging from the wall above a lighted taper. These two paintings
on wood, in the style of Father Alexis, represented St. George and
St. Sergius. The child, looking at them with burning eyes,
apostrophized them in a voice trembling with anger, at intervals
stamping his foot and running his hands furiously through his long
hair and tossing it in wild disorder. Illustrious Saints of the
Eastern Church, heard you ever such language before?

Then he sprang on a chair, tore the two pictures from the wall,
threw them to the ground, and seizing his riding whip, switched
them furiously. In this affair, St. George lost half of his head
and one of his legs, and St. Sergius was disfigured for the rest of
his days. When he had satisfied his fury, Stephane hung them up
again on their nails, turning their faces to the wall, and blew out
the lamp; then he rolled upon the floor, twisting his arms and
tearing his hair--but suddenly sitting up, he drew from his bosom a
small, heart-shaped medallion which he gazed on fixedly, and as he
looked the tears began to roll down his cheeks, and in the midst of
his sobs, he cried out:

"Oh, my mother! I desire nothing from you! you could do nothing for
me; but why did I have time to know you? To remember! to remember--
what torment! Yes, I can see you now-- Every morning you gave me
a kiss, high on my forehead at the roots of my hair. The mark is
there yet--sometimes it burns me. I have often looked in the glass
to see if I had not a scar there-- Oh, my mother! come and heal my
wound by renewing it! To be kissed by one's mother, Great God!
what happiness! Oh! for a kiss, for a single kiss from you, I
would brave a thousand dangers, I would give my blood, my life, my
soul. Ah! how sad you look! there are tears in your eyes. You
recognize me, do you not? I am much changed, much changed; but I
have always your look, your forehead, your mouth, your hair."

Then starting up suddenly, Stephane walked around the room with an
unsteady step. He held the medallion closely grasped in his right
hand and kept his eyes upon it. Again he held it out at arm's
length and looked at it steadily with half-closed eyes, or drawing
it nearer to him, he said to it sweet and tender things, pressing
it to his lips, kissing it a thousand times and passing it over his
hair and his cheeks wet with tears; it seemed as though he were
trying to make some particle of this sacred image penetrate his
life and being. At last, placing it on the bed, he knelt before
it, and burying his face in his hands, cried out sobbing, "Mother,
mother, it is long since your daughter died. When will you call
your son to you?"

Gilbert retired in silence. A voice from this room said to him:
"Thou art out of place here. Take care not to meddle in the secret
communion of a son and his mother. Great sorrows have something
sacred about them. Even pity profanes them by its presence." He
descended the staircase with precaution. When he had reached the
last step,--extending his arm in the direction of the Count's room,
he muttered in a low tone: "You have lied! Under that tunic of
black velvet there is a beating heart!" Then advancing with a
rapid step through the corridor, he hoped to pass out unseen; but
on reaching the wicket, he found himself face to face with Ivan,
who was coming out of his room, and who in his surprise dropped the
basket he held in his hand.

"You here!" exclaimed he in a severe tone. "Another would have
paid dearly for this--"

Then in a soft voice, expressing profound melancholy:

"Brother," said he, "do you want both of us to be killed? I see
you do not know the man whose orders you dare to brave." And he
added, bowing humbly: "You will pardon me for calling you brother?
In my mouth, that does not mean 'comrade.'"

Gilbert gave a sign of assent, and started to leave, but the serf,
holding him by the arm, said:

"Fortunately the barine has gone out; but take care; two days since
he had one of his turns, he has one every year, and while they
last, his mind wanders at night, and his anger is terrible during
the day. I tell you there is a storm in the air, do not draw the
thunderbolt upon your head."

Then placing himself between Gilbert and the door, he added with a
grave air:

"Upon your conscience, what have you been doing here? Have you
seen my young father? Has he been talking to himself? You could
understand what he said, for he always talks in French. He only
knows enough Russian to scold me. Tell me, what have you heard? I
must know."

"Don't be alarmed," answered Gilbert. "If he has secrets he has
not betrayed them. He was engaged in complaining to himself, in
scolding the saints and weeping. Neither must you think that I
came hither to spy upon him, or to question him. As he had met
with sorrow, I wanted to console him by imparting the agreeable
news of my near departure; but I had not the courage to show myself
to him, and besides, I am not quite certain now what I shall do."

"Yes, you will do well to go," eagerly answered the serf; "but go
secretly, without warning anyone. I will help you, if you wish it.
You are too inquisitive to remain here. Certain suspicions have
already been excited on your account, which I have combated. Then,
too, you are imprudent!" Thus saying, he drew from his pocket the
candle which Gilbert had dropped in the corridor, the preceding
night.

"Fortunately," said he, returning it to him, "it was I who found
it, and picked it up, and I wish you well, you know why. But
before going from here," added he in a solemn tone, "swear to me,
that during the time you may yet remain in this house, you will not
try to come into this gallery again, and that you will not ramble
in the other any more in the night. I tell you your life is in
danger if you do."

Gilbert answered him by a gesture of assent, and passing the
wicket, regained his room, where alternately standing at the
window, or stretched upon an easy-chair, he passed two full hours
communing with his thoughts. The dinner-bell put an end to his
long meditations. There was but little conversation during the
repast. M. Leminof was grave and gloomy, and seemed to be laboring
under a great nervous excitement which he strove to conceal.
Stephane was calmer than would have been expected, after the
violent emotions he had experienced, but there was something
singular in his look. Father Alexis alone wore his everyday face;
he found it very good, and did not judge it expedient to change it.
Towards the end of the repast, Gilbert was surprised to see
Stephane, who was in the habit of drinking only wine and water,
fill his glass with Marsala three times, and swallow it almost at a
single draught. The young man was not long in feeling the effect
of it; his face flushed, and his gaze became vacant. Towards the
close of the meal, he looked a great deal at the Apocalyptic
frescoes of the vaulted ceiling: then turning suddenly to his
father, he ventured to address him a question. It was the first
time for nearly two years,--an event which made even Father Alexis
open his eyes.

"Is it true," asked Stephane, "that living persons, supposed to be
dead, have sometimes been buried?"

"Yes, it has sometimes happened," replied the Count.

"But is there no way of establishing the certainty of death?"

"Some say yes, others no. I have been told of a frozen man who was
dissected in a hospital. The operator, in opening him, saw his
heart beating in his breast; he took flight and is running yet."

"But when one dies a violent death--poisoned, for example?"

"My opinion is, that they can still be mistaken. Physiology is a
great mystery."

"Oh! that would be horrible," said Stephane in a penetrating voice;
"to awaken by bruising one's forehead against the cover of a
coffin."

"It would certainly be a very disagreeable experience, answered the
Count. And the conversation dropped. Stephane appeared very much
affected by his father's answers. He gazed no more at the ceiling,
but fixed his eyes on his plate. His face changed color several
times, and as if feeling the need of stupefying himself, he filled
his glass with wine for the fourth time, but he could not empty it,
and had hardly touched it with his lips before he set it on the
table with an air of disgust.

Tea was brought in. M. Leminof served it; and leaving his cup to
cool, rose and walked the floor. After making two or three turns,
he called Gilbert, and leaning upon his arm continued his walk,
talking with him about the political news of the day. Stephane saw
them come and go; he was evidently deeply agitated. Suddenly, at
the moment when they turned their backs, he drew from his sleeve a
small packet, which contained a pinch of yellow powder, and
unfolding it quickly, held it over his still full cup; but as he
was about emptying it, his hand trembled, and at this moment, his
father and Gilbert returning to his side, he had only time to
conceal the paper in his hand. In an instant he raised it again,
but at the decisive moment his courage again failed him. It was
not until the third trial that the yellow powder glided into the
cup, where Stephane stirred it with his spoon. This little scene
had escaped Gilbert. The Count alone had lost nothing of it; he
had eyes at the back of his head. He reseated himself in his place
and drank his tea slowly, continuing to talk with Gilbert, and
apparently quite unconscious of his son; but not a movement escaped
him. Stephane looked at his cup steadily, his agitation increased,
he breathed heavily, he shuddered, and his hand trembled with
feverish excitement. After waiting several minutes, the Count
turned to him and, looking him full in the eyes, said:

"Well! you do not drink? Cold tea is a bad drug."

The child trembled still more; his eyes had a glassy brightness.
Turning his head slowly, they wandered over everything about him,
the table, the chairs, the plate, and the black oak wainscoting.
There are moments when the aspect of the most common objects stirs
the soul with solemn emotion. When the condemned man is led out to
die, the least straw on the floor of his cell seems to say
something to his heart. Finally, gathering all his courage,
Stephane raised the cup and carried it to his mouth; but before it
had touched his lips, the Count took it roughly from his hands.
Stephane uttered a piercing cry and fell back in his chair with
closed eyes. M. Leminof looked at him for a moment with a
sarcastic and scornful smile; then bending over the cup he examined
it with care, smelt of it, and dipping his spoon in it, drew out
two or three yellow grains which he rubbed and pulverized between
his fingers. Then in a tone as tranquil and as indifferent as if
speaking of the rain, or of the fine weather, he said:

"It is phosphorus, a sufficiently active poison, and phosphorus
matches have been the death of a man more than once. But I saw
your little paper some time before. If I am not mistaken the dose
was not strong enough." And dipping his finger in the cup, he
passed it over his tongue, and curled his lip disdainfully. "I was
not mistaken," continued he, "it would only have given you a
violent colic. It was very imprudent in you; you do not like to
suffer, and you know we have only fresh-water physicians in this
neighborhood. Why didn't you wait a few hours? Doctor Vladimir
Paulitch will be here to-morrow evening." And then he went on in a
more phlegmatic tone. "It should be a first principle to do
thoroughly whatever you undertake to do at all. Thus, when a man
wants to kill himself according to rule, he should not begin by
exciting suspicions in talking of the cemetery. And as these
affairs require the exercise of coolness, he should not try to get
intoxicated. The courage which a person finds at the bottom of a
glass of Marsala is not of a good quality, and the approach of
death always sobers one. Finally, when a man has seriously
resolved to kill himself, he does not do this little thing at the
table, in company, but in his room, after having carefully bolted
the door. In short, your little scene has failed in every point,
and you do not know the first rudiments of this fine art. I advise
you not to meddle with it any more."

At these words he pulled the bell for Ivan.

"Your young master wanted to kill himself," said he; "take him to
his room and prepare him a composing draught that will put him to
sleep. Watch with him to-night, and in future be careful not to
leave any phosphorus matches in his rooms. Not that I suspect him
of entertaining any intense desire of killing himself,--but who
knows? Wounded vanity might drive him to try it. As his nerves
are excited, you will see that for some days he takes a great deal
of exercise. If the weather is fine tomorrow, keep him in the open
air all day, and in the evening walk him on the terrace; he must
get his blood stirred up."

From the moment that his father had taken the poisoned cup from
him, Stephane had remained petrified on his chair, with livid face
and arms hanging over his knees, giving no sign of life. When Ivan
approached to take him away, he rose with a start, and leaning upon
the arm of the serf, he crossed the room without opening his eyes.
When he had gone, the Count heaved a long sigh of weariness and
dejection.

"What did I tell you?" exclaimed he, throwing upon Gilbert a
scrutinizing look; "this boy has a theatrical turn of mind. I
would wager my life that he hadn't the faintest desire to kill
himself: he only aimed at exciting us; but certainly if it was the
sensitive heart of Father Alexis which he took for a target, he has
lost the trouble." And he directed Gilbert's attention to the
worthy priest, who, as soon as he had emptied his cup, had fallen
sound asleep on his stool, and smiled at the angels in his dreams.
Gilbert gave the Count a lively and agreeable surprise by answering
him in the steadiest tone:

"You are entirely right, sir; it was only a very ridiculous
affectation. Fortunately, we may consider it pretty certain that
our young tragedian will not regale us a second time with his
little play. Where courage is required, it is good to have an
opportunity of seeing to the bottom of one's sack; nothing is more
likely to cure a boaster of the foolish mania for blustering."

"Decidedly my secretary is improving," thought the Count; "he has a
tender mouth and feels the curb." And in the joy which this
discovery gave him, he felt that he entertained for him sentiments
of real friendship, of which he would not have believed himself
capable. His surprise and pleasure increased still more when
Gilbert resumed:

"But apropos, sir, do you persist in believing that, according to
Constantius Porphyrogennatus, all Greece became Slavonian in the
eighteenth century? I have new objections to present to you on
that subject. And first this famous Copronymus of whom he
speaks. . . ."

They did not rise from the table until eleven o'clock. It was
necessary to awaken Father Alexis, who slept during the whole time,
his right arm extended over his plate, and his head leaning upon
his elbow. The Count having shaken him, he rose with a start and
exclaimed:

"Don't touch it! The colors are all fresh; Jacob's beard is such a
fine gray!"

The compliant secretary retired humming an aria. M. Leminof
followed him with his eyes, and, pointing after him, said to his
serf in a confidential tone:

"Thou seest that man there; just fancy! I feel friendship for him.
He is at least my most cherished--habit. My suspicions were
absurd, thou wert right in combating them. By way of precaution,
however, make a tour of the corridor between midnight and two
o'clock. Now come and double-lock me in my room, for I feel a
paroxysm coming on. To-morrow at five o'clock thou wilt come to
open it for me."

"Count Kostia!" murmured Gilbert, when he found himself in his
room, "fear no longer that I shall think of leaving you. Whatever
happens, I remain here. Count Kostia, understand me, you have
buried the smile: I take heaven to witness that I will resuscitate
it."


XI


The day following the one on which Gilbert had resolved to remain
at Geierfels, Father Alexis rose at an early hour, and betook
himself as usual to his dear chapel; he entered with a slow step,
bowed back, and anxious face; but when he had traversed the nave
and stood before the main entrance to the choir, the influence of
the holy place began to dissipate his melancholy; his thoughts took
a more serene turn, and his face brightened.

For several days Father Alexis had been occupied in painting a
group of three figures, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their
posterity on their knees. It was the exact copy of a picture in
the Convent of Lavra. These patriarchs were gravely seated upon a
grassy bank, separated from each other by little shrubs of a
somewhat fantastic shape. Their venerable heads were crowned with
aureoles; their abundant hair, combed with the greatest care, fell
majestically upon their shoulders, and their thick beards descended
to the middle of their breasts.

Father Alexis worked for nearly an hour, when he heard a step in
the court, and turning his head quickly, perceived Gilbert coming
towards the chapel. The priest thrilled with joy, as a fisherman
might, who after long hours of mortal waiting sees a fish of good
size imprudently approaching his net. Eager for his prey, he threw
aside his brush, quickly descended the ladder with the agility of a
young man and ran to place himself in ambuscade near the door,
where he waited with bated breath. As soon as Gilbert appeared, he
rushed upon him, seized him by the arm, and looked upon him with
eyes which seemed to say: "You are caught, and you won't escape
from me either."

When he had recovered from his first excess of joy, "Ah, my son,"
exclaimed he, "what happy inspiration brings you hither?"

"M. Leminof is not well to-day," answered Gilbert, "and I thought I
could make no better use of my leisure than to pay my respects to
you."

"Oh! what a charming idea," said the priest, looking at him with
ineffable tenderness. "Come, come, my son, I will show you all,
yes all."

This word ALL was pronounced with such an energetic accent, that
Gilbert was startled. It may be readily believed that it was not
exactly about Byzantine pictures that he was curious at this
moment. Nevertheless, he entered with great good-nature into a
minute examination of the images of the choir and the nave; he
praised all which appeared praiseworthy, kept silent upon the
prominent defects which offended the delicacy of his taste, and
allowed himself to criticise only some of the details.

At last he announced to the priest that he wished to talk with him
of a serious matter.

"A serious matter?"

And the face of the good father became grave. "Have you anything
to confess to me? What am I saying? You are not orthodox, my
child,--would to God you were."

"Let us descend, let us descend," said Gilbert, putting his foot
upon the ladder.

They descended and seated themselves upon the end of a white marble
step, which extended the entire width of the nave, at the entrance
of the choir.

"My son," began the priest timidly, "yesterday evening--"

"That is precisely what I want to talk to you about," said Gilbert.

"Ah! you are a good, generous child. You saw my embarrassment, and
you wished,--I confess it, a slight drowsiness,--flesh is weak,--
ah, it is good in you. Favors do not turn your head. Speak,
speak, I am all attention."

"It is understood that you will keep the secret, father, for you
know--"

"I understand! we should be lost if it were known that we talked of
certain things together. Oh! you need not be afraid. If Kostia
Petrovitch alludes to this matter, I shall appear to know nothing,
and I shall accuse myself of having violated the precept of the
great Solomon, who said, 'When thou sittest down to eat with a
prince, consider attentively what is done before thee.'

"Speak with confidence, my child, and rest assured that this mouth
has an old tongue in it which never says what it does not want to."

When Gilbert had finished his recital, Father Alexis burst forth in
exclamations accompanied by many signs of the cross.

"Oh! unhappy child!" cried he; "what folly is thine! He has then
sworn his own destruction? To wish to die in mortal sin! A spirit
of darkness must have taken possession of him. Then he invokes St.
George no longer every morning and evening? He prays no more,--he
no longer carries on his heart the holy amulet I gave him. Ah! why
did I fall asleep yesterday evening? What beautiful things I would
have said to him! I would have commenced by representing to him--"

"I do not doubt your eloquence; but it is not remonstrance, nor
good counsel that this child wants: a little happiness would answer
the purpose far better."

"Happiness! Ah, yes! his life is a little sad. There are certain
maxims of education--"

"It is not a question of maxims of education, but of a father who
betrays an open hatred to his son."

"Holy Virgin!" exclaimed the priest with a gesture of terror, "you
must not say such things, my child. These are words which the good
God does not like to hear. Never repeat them, it would be neither
prudent nor charitable."

Gilbert persisted; announcing the conjectures which he had formed
as certainties, and even exaggerating his suspicions in the hope
that the priest, in correcting him, would furnish the explanations
which he desired. The success of this little artifice surpassed
his expectation.

"I know for a certainty," said he, "that M. Leminof loved his
wife,--that she was unfaithful to him--that he finished by
suspecting her, and that he revenged himself--"

"False! false!" cried the priest with deep emotion. "To hear you
one would believe that Count Kostia killed his wife. You have
heard lying reports. The truth is, that the Countess Olga poisoned
herself, and then feeling the approach of death, became terrified
and implored aid. It was useless: they could not counteract the
effects of the poison. She then sent in haste for me. I had but
just time to receive her confession. Oh! what a frightful scene,
my child! Why recall it to me? And above all, whose calumnious
tongue--"

"I have been told, also," pursued the inflexible Gilbert, "that
after this deplorable event M. Leminof, holding in abhorrence the
localities which witnessed his dishonor, quitted Moscow and Russia,
and went to Martinique. Having arrived there, he lost, after some
months' residence, one of his two children, a daughter if I am not
mistaken, and this death may have been hastened by--"

"A fresh calumny!" interrupted the priest, looking steadily at
Gilbert. "The young girl died of yellow fever. Kostia Petrovitch
never raised a finger against his children. Ah! tell me what
viper's tongue--"

"It is not a calumny, at least, to state that he has two good
reasons for not loving his son. First, because he is the living
portrait of his mother, and then because he doubts, perhaps, if
this child is really his son."

"An impious doubt, which I have combated with all my strength.
This child was born nine years before his mother committed her
first and only fault. I have said it, and I repeat it. It has
been objected that he was born after six years of a marriage which
seemed condemned by Heaven to an eternal sterility:--fatal
circumstance, which appeared proof positive to a vindictive and
ulcerated heart. But again, who could have told you--"

"One more word: before leaving for Martinique, M. Leminof did
everything he could to discover the lover of his wife. His
suspicions fell upon one of his intimate friends named Morlof. In
his blind fury he killed him, but nevertheless Morlof was
innocent."

"Did they tell you that he assassinated him?" said Father Alexis,
who became more and more agitated. "Another calumny! he killed him
in a regular duel. Holy Virgin! the sin was grave enough; but the
police hushed up the matter, and absolution has been granted him."

"Alas!" resumed Gilbert, "if the church has pardoned, the
conscience of the murderer persists in condemning; it curses that
rash hand which shed innocent blood, and by a strange aberration it
exhorts him to wash out this fatal mistake in the blood of the real
offender. This offender, after six years' fruitless search, he has
not given up the hope of discovering; he will go into the very
bowels of the earth to find him, if he must, and if by chance there
is some heart upon which the name is written, he will open that
heart with the point of his sword to decipher those letters of
blood and of fire!"

Gilbert pronounced these last words in a vibrating voice. He had
suddenly forgotten where he was and to whom he was speaking. He
thought he again saw before him the scene of the corridor, and
could again hear those terrible words which had frozen the blood in
his veins. The priest was seized with a convulsive trembling; but
he soon mastered it. He raised himself slowly and stood up before
Gilbert, his arms crossed upon his breast. Within a few moments
his face became dignified, and at the same time his language. Now
the transformation was complete; Gilbert had no longer before him
the timid, easy soul who trembled before a frown, the epicure in
quest of agreeable sensations, the vain artist ingeniously begging
eulogies. The priest's eyes opened wide and shone like coals of
fire; his lips, wreathed in a bitter smile, seemed ready to launch
the thunders of excommunication; and a truly sacerdotal majesty
diffused itself as if by miracle over his face. Gilbert could
scarcely believe his eyes; he looked at him in silence, incapable
of recognizing this new Father Alexis, who had just been revealed
to him.

Then, said the priest, speaking to himself:

"Brother! what simplicity is yours! A few caresses, a few
cajoleries, and your satisfied vanity silences your distrust and
disarms your good sense! Did you not know that this young man is
the intimate friend of your master?"

Then bowing towards Gilbert:

"They thought then that you could make me speak. And you imagined
yourself that a coarse artifice and some threatening talk would
suffice to tear from me a secret I have guarded for nearly seven
years. Presumptuous young man, return to him who sent you, and
repeat faithfully what I am about to say to you: One day at
Martinique, in a remote house some distance from the outskirts of
the town of St. Pierre,--let me speak, my story will be short.--
Picture to yourself a great dark hall, with a table in the center.--
They shut me in there near noon; the next day at evening I was
there still, and for thirty hours I neither ate nor drank. The
night came,--they stretched me upon a table,--bound me and tied me
down. Then I saw bending over me a face more terrible than thou
wilt ever see, even in thy dreams, and a mouth which sneered as the
damned must sneer, approached my ear and said to me: 'Father
Alexis, I want your secret--I will have it.' I breathed not a
word; they tightened the cords with a jack, and I did not speak;
they piled weights on my chest, and I spoke not; they put boots
upon me which I hope never to see upon thy feet, and I spake not;
my bones cracked, and I spake not; I saw my blood gush out, and I
did not speak. At length a supreme anguish seized me, a red cloud
passed over my eyes, I felt my heart freezing, and I thought myself
dying. Then I spoke and said: 'Count Leminof, thou canst kill me,
but thou shalt not tear from me the secrets of the confessional.'"
And at these words, the priest stooping, laid bare his right foot
and showed Gilbert the bruised and withered flesh, and bones
deformed by torture; then covering it again he recoiled, as if from
a serpent in his path, and cried in a thundering voice, extending
his arms to Heaven:

"God curse the vipers who take the form of doves! Oh, Solomon,
hast thou not written in thy Proverbs: 'When he shall speak
graciously, do not believe him, for he has seven abominations in
his heart'?"

As he listened to the recital of the priest, Gilbert was reminded
of some incoherent phrases of the somnambulist, which he had not
been able to explain: "STRETCH HIM ON THIS TABLE! THE BLACK ROBE!
TIGHTEN THE IRON BOOTS!"

"That black robe then," said he to himself, "was Father Alexis."

He rose and looked at the priest in surprise and admiration; he
could not take his eyes from that face which he believed he saw for
the first time, and he murmured in a low voice:

"My God! how complex is the heart of man. What a discovery I have
just made!"

Then he tried to approach him; but the priest, still recoiling and
raising his arms threateningly above his head, repeated:

"Cursed be the vipers who come in the form of doves!"

"And I say," cried Gilbert, "blessed forever be the lips which have
touched the sacred coal, and keep their secrets even unto death!"

And rushing upon him he took him in his arms, and kissed three
times the scar which the cruel bite of Solon had left.

Father Alexis was surprised, stupefied, and confounded. He looked
at Gilbert, then at Abraham, then at Jacob. He uttered disjointed
phrases. He called upon Heaven to witness what had happened to
him, gesticulated and wept until, overcome by emotion, he dropped
on the marble step, and hid his face, bathed in tears, in his
hands.

"Father," said Gilbert respectfully, seating himself near him,
"pardon me for the agitation I have caused you. And if by chance
some distrust of me remains, listen to what I am about to tell you,
for I am going to put myself at your mercy, and by betraying a
secret it will depend upon you to have me expelled from this house
the day and hour you please."

He then related to him the scene of the corridor.

"Judge for yourself what impression the terrible words I heard
produced upon me! For some days my mind has been at work. I
ceaselessly tried to picture to myself the details of this
lamentable affair; but fearing to stray in my suspicions, I wished
to make a clean breast of it, and came to find you. I have grieved
you sorely, father; once more, will you pardon my rash curiosity?"

Father Alexis raised his head. Farewell to the saint! farewell to
the prophet! His face had resumed its habitual expression; the
sublime tempest which had transfigured it had left but a few almost
invisible traces of its passage. He looked at Gilbert
reproachfully.

"Ah!" said he, "it was only for this that you sought me? My dear
child, you do not love the arts then?"


XII


That day Gilbert passed an entire hour at his window. It was not
the Rhine which fixed his attention, nor the precipice, the
mountains nor the clouds. The narrow space within which he
confined his gaze was bounded on the west by the great square
tower, on the south by a gable, on the north by a spout; I mean to
say that the object of his contemplations was a very irregular,
very undulating roof, or to speak more accurately, two adjacent and
parallel roofs, one higher than the other by twelve feet, and both
inclining by a steep slope towards a frightful precipice.

As he closed the window, he said to himself:

"After all, it is less difficult than I thought; two rope ladders
will do the business, with God's help!"

M. Leminof finding himself too much indisposed to leave his room,
Gilbert dined alone in his turret; after which he went out for a
walk on the borders of the Rhine. As he left the path for the main
road, he saw Stephane and Ivan within twenty paces of him.
Perceiving him, the young man made an angry gesture, and turning
his face, started his horse off at full speed. Gilbert had
scarcely time to leap into the ditch to avoid being run down. As
Ivan passed, he looked at him sadly, shook his head, and carried
his finger to his forehead, as if to say: "You must pardon him; his
poor mind is very sick." Gilbert returned to the castle without
delay, and as he reached the entrance to the terrace, he saw the
serf leaning against one of the doors, where he seemed to be on
guard.

"My dear Ivan," said he, "you appear to be waiting for someone."

"I heard you coming," answered he, "and I took you for Vladimir
Paulitch. It was the sound of your step which deceived me; you
haven't such a measured step generally."

"You are a keen observer," replied Gilbert smiling; "but who, I
pray, is this Vladimir Paulitch?"

"He is a physician from my country. He will remain two months with
us. The barine wrote to him a fortnight since, when he felt that
he was going to be ill; Vladimir Paulitch left immediately, and day
before yesterday he wrote from Berlin, that he would be here this
evening. This Vladimir is a physician who hasn't his equal. I am
waiting for him to arrive."

"Tell me, good Ivan, is your young master in the garden?"

"He is down there under the weeping ash."

"Very well, you must permit me to speak to him a moment. You will
even extend the obligation by saying nothing about it to Kostia
Petrovitch. You know he cannot see us, for he keeps his bed now,
and even if he should rise, his windows open on the inner court."

Ivan's brow contracted. "Impossible, impossible!" he murmured.

"Impossible? Why? Because you will not?

"Ivan, my good Ivan, it is absolutely necessary for me to speak to
your young master. I have made him submit to a humiliation against
my will. He mistakes my sentiments and credits me with the
blackest intentions, and it will be torture to him in future to be
condemned to sit at the same table with me daily. Let me explain
myself to him. In two words I will make him understand who I am,
and I wish him no harm."

The discussion was prolonged some minutes, Ivan finally yielding,
but on the condition that Gilbert should not put his good will to
the proof a second time. "Otherwise," said Ivan, "if you still
attempt to talk with him secretly, I cannot permit him to go out,
and, of course, he could only blame you, and would then have the
right to consider you an enemy."

Upon his side, the serf promised that the Count should know nothing
of the interview.

"Recollect, brother," continued he, "that this is the last improper
favor that you will obtain from me. You are a man of heart, but
sometimes I should say that YOU HAD BEEN EATING BELLADONNA."

Stephane had left the circular bank where he had been sitting, and
stood, with his back against the parapet of the terrace, his arms
hanging dejectedly, and his head sunk upon his breast. His reverie
was so profound that Gilbert approached within ten steps of him
without being perceived; but suddenly rousing himself, he raised
his head quickly, and stamped his foot imperiously.

"Go away!" cried he, "go away, or I will set Vorace on you!"

Vorace was the name of the bulldog that kept him company at night,
and was crouching in the grass some paces distant. Of all the
watchdogs of the castle, this one was the strongest and most
ferocious.

"You see," said Ivan, retaining Gilbert by the arm, "you have
nothing to do here."

Gilbert gently disengaged himself and continued to advance.

"Get out of my sight," screamed Stephane. "Why do you come to
trouble my solitude? Who gives you the right to pursue me, to
track me? How dare you look me in the face after--"

He could say no more. Excitement and anger choked his voice. For
some moments he looked alternately at Gilbert and the dog; then
changing his purpose, he moved as if to fly, but Gilbert barred the
way.

"Listen to me but a minute," said he in a gentle and penetrating
voice, "I bring you good news."

"You!" exclaimed Stephane, and he repeated, "You! you! good news!"

"I!" said Gilbert, "for I come to announce to you my near
departure."

Stephane stared with wide-open eyes, and recoiled slowly to the
wall, where, leaning back again, he exclaimed:

"What! are you going? Ah! certainly the news is excellent, as well
as unexpected; but you are giving yourself unnecessary trouble,
there was no need to forewarn me. Your departure! Great God! I
should have been notified of it in advance by the clearness of the
air, by the more vivid brightness of the sun, by some strange joy
diffused through all my being. Oh! I understand, you are not able
to digest the outrage done to you by the excellent Fritz at my
order. You consider the reparation insufficient. You are right, I
swear it by St. George, my heart made no apologies to you. I upon
my knees to you! Horror and misery! As I told you yesterday, I
yielded only to force. It was the same as if I should make my
bulldog drag you down at my feet now!"

Gilbert made no answer; he contented himself with drawing from his
pocketbook the letter which he had written the day before, and
presenting it to Stephane.

"What have I to do with this paper?" said Stephane with a gesture
of disdain. "You have told me your news, that is sufficient for
me. Anything more you could add would spoil my happiness."

"Read!" said Gilbert. "I have granted you such a great favor that
you can well afford to grant me a small one."--Stephane hesitated a
moment, but the habitual tediousness of his life was so great that
the want of diversion overcame his hatred and scorn.

"This letter is not bad!" said he as he read. "Its style is
eloquent, the penmanship is admirable too. It involuntarily
suggests to me the tie of your cravat. Both are so correct that
they are insufferable."

Gilbert, smiling, untied the cravat and let the ends hang down upon
his vest.

"It is not worth while to incommode yourself," pursued Stephane,
"we have so short a time to live together! Pray do not renounce
your most cherished habits for me. The bow of your cravat as well
as your writing, harmonize wonderfully with your whole person. I
do not suppose, however, that to please me you would reconstruct
yourself from head to foot. The undertaking would be
considerable."

"Permit me to speak," answered Gilbert. "I have made a little
change in my programme: I shall not leave tomorrow. I have granted
myself a week's delay."

Stephane's face darkened, and his eyes flashed.

"I swear to you here, upon my honor," continued Gilbert, "that in a
week I will leave, never to return, unless you yourself beg me to
remain."

"What baseness! and how cleverly this little plot has been
contrived; I see it all. By force of threats and violence they
hope to compel me a second time to bend my knees to you and cry
with clasped hands, 'Sir, in the name of Heaven, continue us the
favor of your precious presence!' But this act of cowardice I
shall never commit! Rather death! rather death!"

"A word only," resumed Gilbert, without being discouraged. "Submit
me to some proof. Have you no caprice which it is in my power to
satisfy?"

"Throw yourself at my feet," cried he impetuously; "drag yourself
in the dust, kiss the ground before me, and demand pardon and mercy
of me! At this price I will grant you, not my affection certainly,
but my indulgence and pity."

"Impossible!" answered Gilbert, shaking his head. "I am like you;
I should not know how to kneel, unless someone stronger than myself
constrained me by violence. Oh, no! in such a performance I should
lose even the hope of being some day esteemed by you. The more so
as in the trial to which I wish you would subject me, I should
desire to have some danger to brave, some difficulty to surmount."

Stephane could not conceal his astonishment. Never in all his life
had he heard language like this. Nevertheless, distrust and pride
triumphed still over every other feeling.

"Since you wish it!" said he, sneering . . . and he drew a kid
glove from one of his pockets, rubbed it between his hands and
threw it to the bulldog, who caught in his teeth and kept it there.
"Vorace," said he to him, "keep your master's glove between your
teeth, watch it well; you will answer to me for it."

Then turning to Gilbert,--"Sir, will you please restore my glove to
me? I should be infinitely obliged to you for it."

"Ah! this is then the trial to which you will subject me?" answered
Gilbert with a smile upon his lips.

Stephane looked him in the face. For the first time, he could not
avoid being struck by its noble expression and the clearness and
purity of his glance.

Stephane was involuntarily moved, and strove in vain to conceal it
by the jocular tone in which he replied:

"No, sir, it is not a test of your sincerity, but a jest which we
shall do well not to push further. This animal is not amiable.
Should you be unfortunate enough to irritate him, it would be
impossible even for me, his master, to calm his fury. Be good
enough then to leave my glove where it is, and return peaceably to
your study to meditate upon some important problem in Byzantine
history. That will be a trial less perilous and better
proportioned to your strength. Good-evening, sir, good-night."

"Oh! permit me," replied Gilbert. "I am resolved to carry this
adventure to its conclusion!"

And gently repulsing Stephane, who sought to restrain him, he
walked straight toward the bulldog.

"Take care," cried the young man, shuddering, "do not trifle with
that beast, or you are a dead man!"

"Take care," repeated Ivan, who, not having understood half of what
had been said, hardly suspected Gilbert's intention. "Take care,
this dog is a ferocious beast."

Meantime Gilbert, crossing his arms upon his breast, advanced
slowly towards the bulldog, keeping his eyes steadily fixed on
those of the animal, and when he thought he had disconcerted him by
his undaunted gaze sufficiently to make him relax his grip upon the
prize, he suddenly tore the glove from him and waved it in the air
with his right hand. At the same moment Vorace, with a howl of
rage, bounded up to leap at the throat of his despoiler. Gilbert
sprang back, covering himself with his left arm, and the dog's jaws
only grazed his shoulder. Yet when he touched the ground again, he
held between his teeth a long strip of cloth, a scrap of linen, and
a morsel of bloody flesh. Mad with fury the bulldog rolled over on
the grass with this prize which he could hardly devour, and then
suddenly, as if seized with a paroxysm of frenzy, he moved towards
the castle doubling upon himself; but reaching the foot of the
turret, he looked for his enemy and returned like an arrow, to
pounce upon him again.

"Throw down the glove," cried Ivan, "and climb the ash."

"I will surrender the glove only to him who asked me for it,"
answered Gilbert.

And hiding it in his bosom, he drew a knife from his pocket. He
had not time to open it. The dog, with bristling hair and foaming
jaws, was already within three steps of him, gathering himself to
spring upon him; but he had scarcely raised himself from the ground
when he fell back with his head shattered. The hatchet which Ivan
carried at his girdle had come down upon him like a flash. The
terrible animal vainly attempted to rise, rolled writhing in the
dust, and breathed out his life with a hoarse and fearful howl.


XIII


Doctor Vladimir Paulitch arrived at the castle just in time to take
care of Gilbert. The wound was wide and deep, and in consequence
of the great heat which prevailed, it might easily have proved
serious; fortunately, Doctor Vladimir was a skillful man, and under
his care the wound was soon healed. He employed certain specifics,
the uses of which were known only to himself, and which he took
care to keep a secret from his patient. His medicine was as
mysterious as his person.

Vladimir Paulitch was forty years of age; his face was striking but
unattractive. His eyes had the color and the hard brightness of
steel; his keen glances, subject to his will, often questioned, but
never allowed themselves to be interrogated. Well made, slender, a
slight and graceful figure, he had in his gait and movements a
feline suppleness and stealthiness. He was slow, but easy of
speech, and never animated; the tone of his voice was cold and
veiled, and whatever the subject of conversation might be, he
neither raised nor lowered it; no modulations; everyone of his
sentences terminated in a little minor cadence, which fell sadly on
the ear. He sometimes smiled in speaking, it is true, but it was a
pale smile which did not light up his face. This smile signified
simply: "I do not give you my best reason, and I defy you to divine
it."

One morning when Ivan had come by order of the doctor to dress
Gilbert's wound, our friend questioned him as to the character and
life of Vladimir Paulitch. Of the man Ivan knew nothing, and
confined himself to extolling the genius of the physician; he
expressed himself in regard to him in a mysterious tone. The
imposing face of this impenetrable personage, the extraordinary
power of his glance, his impassible gravity, the miraculous cures
which he had wrought, it needed no more to convince the honest serf
that Vladimir Paulitch dealt in magic and held communications with
spirits; and he felt for his person a profound veneration mingled
with superstitious terror. He told Gilbert that since the age of
twenty-five, Vladimir had been directing a hospital and private
asylum which Count Kostia had founded upon his estates, and that,
thanks to him, these two establishments had not their equals in all
Russia.

"Last year," added the serf, "he came to attend the barine, and
told him that his malady would return this year, but more feebly,
and that this would be the last. You will see that all will come
to pass as he has said. Kostia Petrovitch is already much better,
and I wager that next summer will come and go without his feeling
his nerves."

As Ivan prepared to go, Gilbert detained him to ask news of
Stephane. The serf had been very discreet, and had related the
adventure upon the terrace to his master without compromising
anyone. The only trouble he had had was in persuading him that it
was not on a sign from Stephane that the dog had attacked Gilbert.

The next day Gilbert dined in the great hall of the castle with M.
Leminof and Father Alexis.

"Do not disturb yourself because Stephane does not dine with us,"
said the Count to him. "He is not sick; but he has a new grievance
against you; you have caused the death of his dog. I ask your
pardon, my dear Gilbert, for the irrational conduct of my son. I
have given him three days for the sulks. When that time has
passed, I intend that he shall put on his good looks for you, and
that he shall take his place at the table opposite you without
frowning."

"And how is it that Doctor Vladimir is not with us?"

"He has begged me to excuse him for a time. He finds himself much
fatigued with the care he has given me. A magnetic treatment, you
understand. I should inform you that every year, some time during
the summer, I am subject to attacks of neuralgia from which I
suffer intensely. By the way, you have seen our admirable doctor
several times. What do you think of him?"

"I don't know whether he is a great savant, but I am inclined to
think he is a first-class artist."

"You cannot pay him a finer compliment; medicine is an art rather
than a science. He is also a man capable of the greatest devotion.
I am indebted to him for my life, it was not as physician that he
saved me either. A pair of stallions ran away within twenty paces
of a precipice; the doctor, appearing from behind a thicket, darted
to the heads of the horses and hung on to them by their nostrils,
which he held in an iron grip. You have the whole scene from these
windows. What was amusing in it was, that having thanked him, with
what warmth you can imagine, he answered, in a tranquil tone, and
wiping his knees--for the horses in falling had laid him full
length in the dust--'It is I who am obliged to you; for the first
time I have been suspended between life and death, and it is a
singular sensation. But for you I should not have known it.' This
will give you an idea of the man and his sangfroid!"

"I am not surprised at his having the agility of a wildcat,"
replied Gilbert; "but I suspect the sangfroid is feigned, and that
his placidity of face is a mask which hides a very passionate
soul."

"Passionate is not the word, or at least the doctor knows only the
passions of the head. There was a time when he thought himself
desperately in love; an unpardonable weakness in such a
distinguished man; but he was not long in undeceiving himself, and
he has not fallen into such a fatal error since."

The night having come, Gilbert, who had inquiries to make, crossed
the yard of which the chapel formed one side, and gaining the rear
by a private door, went in search of Father Alexis. It was not
long before he discovered him, for the priest had left his shutters
open, and he was seated in the embrasure of the window, peaceably
smoking his pipe, when he perceived Gilbert.

"Oh, the good boy!" cried he, "let him come in quickly! My room
and my heart are open to him."

Gilbert showed him his arm in a sling, on account of which he could
not climb the window.

"Is that all, my child?" said Father Alexis. "I will hoist you up
here."

Gilbert raised himself by his right arm, and Father Alexis drawing
him up, they soon found themselves seated face to face, uniting to
their heart's content the blue smoke of their chibouques.

"Have you not noticed," said Father Alexis, "that Kostia Petrovitch
has been in a charming humor to-day? I told you that he had his
pleasant moments! Vladimir Paulitch has already done him much
good. What a physician this Vladimir is! It is a great pity that
he does not believe in God; but some day, perhaps, grace will touch
his heart, and then he will be a complete man."

"If I were in your place, father, I should be afraid of this
Vladimir," said Gilbert. "Ivan pretends that he is something of a
sorcerer. Aren't you afraid that some fine day he may rob you of
your secret?"

Father Alexis shrugged his shoulders.

"Ivan talks foolishly," said he. "If Vladimir Paulitch were a
sorcerer, would he not have long since penetrated the mystery which
he burns to fathom? for he does more than love Count Kostia; he is
devoted to him even to fanaticism. It is certain that having
discovered that the Countess Olga was enceinte, he had the
barbarity to become her denouncer; and that letter which announced
to Count Kostia his dishonor, that letter which made him return
from Paris like a thunder-clap, that letter in short which caused
the death of Olga Vassilievna, was written by him--Vladimir
Paulitch."

"And Morlof," said Gilbert, "was it this Vladimir who denounced him
to the unjust fury of the Count?"

"On the contrary, Vladimir pleaded his cause; but his eloquence
failed against the blind prejudices of Kostia Petrovitch. This
Morlof was, unfortunately for himself, a fashionable gentleman,
well known for his gallantries. A man of honor, however, incapable
of betraying a friend; this reputation for gallant successes, of
which he boasted, was his destruction. When Count Kostia
interrogated his wife, and she refused to denounce her seducer, it
occurred to him to name Morlof, and the energy with which she
defended him confirmed the Count's suspicion. To disabuse him, it
needed but that tragic meeting of which I was informed too late.
In breathing his last sigh, Morlof extended his hand to his
murderer and gasped 'I die innocent!' And in these last words of a
dying man, there was such an accent of truth that Count Kostia
could not resist it: light broke in upon his soul."

As the darkness increased, Father Alexis closed the shutters and
lit a candle.

"My child," said he, refilling and lighting his pipe, "I must tell
you something I learned to-day, a few moments before dinner, which
appeared to me very strange. Listen attentively, and I am sure you
will share in my astonishment."

Gilbert opened his ears, for he had a presentiment that Father
Alexis was about to speak of Stephane.

"It is a singular fact," resumed the priest, "and one that I should
not wish to relate to the first-comer, but I am very glad to impart
it to you, because you have a serious and reflective mind, though
unfortunately you are not orthodox; would to God you were. Know
then, my child, that to-day, Saturday, I went according to my
custom to Stephane to catechize him, and for reasons which you
know, I redoubled my efforts to impress his unruly head with the
holy truths of our faith. Now it appears that without intending
it, you have caused him sorrow; and you can believe that such a
character, far from having pardoned you, has taken the greatest
pains to get me to espouse his side in the difficulty. However he,
who will usually fly into a passion and talk fiercely if a fly
tickles him, recited his griefs to me with an air of moderation and
a tranquillity of tone which astonished me to the last degree. As
I endeavored to discover a reason for this, I happened to raise my
eyes to the images of St. George and St. Sergius which decorate one
of the corners of his room, and before which he was in the habit of
saying his prayers every morning. What was my surprise, my grief,
when I perceived that the two saints had suffered shameful
outrages. One had no legs, the other was disfigured by a horrible
scar. With hands raised to Heaven, I threatened him with the
thunder of God. Without being excited, without changing
countenance, he left his chair, came to me and placed his hand on
my mouth. 'Father,' said he, with an air of assurance which awed
me, 'listen to me. I have been wrong, if you wish it so, and
still, under the same circumstances, I should do it again, for
since I have chastised them, the two saints have decided to come to
my aid, and the very day after their punishment, without any change
in my life, all at once I felt my heart become lighter; for the
first time, I swear to you, a ray of celestial hope penetrated my
soul.' What do you say to that, my child? I had often heard
similar things related, but I did not believe them. Little boys
may be whipped, but as for saints!--Ah! my dear child, the ways of
God are very strange, and there are many great mysteries in this
world."

Father Alexis had such an impressive air in speaking of this great
mystery, that Gilbert was tempted to laugh; but he controlled
himself; he was too grateful for his obliging narrative, and could
have embraced him with all his heart.

"Good news!" said he to himself. "That heart has become lighter;
that 'ray of celestial hope.' Ah! God be praised, my effort has
not been thrown away. St. George, St. Sergius, you rob me of my
glory, but what matters it? I am content!"

"And what reply did you make to Stephane?" said he to the priest.
"Did you reprimand him? Did you congratulate him?"

"The case was delicate," said the good father, with the air of a
philosopher meditating on the most abstruse subject; "but I am not
wanting in judgment, and I drew out of the affair with honor."

"You managed admirably," cried I, looking at him with admiration;
then immediately putting on a serious face, "but the sin is
enormous."

The third day after, Gilbert didn't wait for the bell to ring for
dinner before going down to the great hall. He was not very much
surprised to find Stephane there. Leaning with his back against
the sideboard, the young man, on seeing him appear, lost his
composure, blushed, and turned his head towards the wall. Gilbert
stopped a few steps from him. Then in an agitated manner, and with
a voice at once gentle and abrupt, he said:

"And your arm?"

"It is nearly well. To-morrow I shall take off my sling."

Stephane was silent for a moment. Then in a still lower voice:

"What do you mean to do?" murmured he; "what are your plans?"

"I wait to know your good pleasure," replied Gilbert.

The young man covered his eyes with both hands, and, as Gilbert
said no more, he seemed to feel a thrill of impatience and
vexation.

"His pride demands some mercy," thought Gilbert. "I will spare him
the mortification of making the first advances."

"I should like very much to have a conversation with you," said he
gently. "This cannot be upon the terrace, Ivan will not leave you
alone there. Does he keep you company in your room in the
evening?"

"Are you jesting?" answered Stephane, raising his head. "After
nine o'clock Ivan never comes near my room."

"And his room, if I am not mistaken," answered Gilbert, "is
separated from you by a corridor and a staircase. So we shall run
no risk of being overheard."

Stephane turned towards him and looked him in the face. "You think
of everything," said he, with a smile, sad and ironical.
"Apparently, to reach me, you will be obliged to mount a swallow.
Have you made your arrangements with one?"

"I shall come over the roofs," said Gilbert quietly.

"Impossible!" cried Stephane. "In the first place, I do not wish
you to risk your life for me again. And then--"

"And then you do not care for my visit?"

Stephane only answered him by a look.

At this moment steps sounded in the vestibule. When the Count
entered, Gilbert was pacing the further end of the hall, and
Stephane, with his back turned, was attentively observing one of
the carved figures upon the wainscoting. M. Leminof, stopping at
the threshold of the door, looked at them both with a quizzical
air.

"It was time for me to arrive," said he, laughing. "This is an
embarrassing tete-a-tete."


XIV


At about ten o'clock Gilbert began to make preparations for his
expedition. He had no fear of being surprised; his evenings were
his own--that was a point agreed upon between the Count and
himself. He had also just heard the great door of the corridor
roll upon its hinges. On the side of the terrace the thick
branches of the trees concealed him from the watchdogs which, had
they suspected the adventure, could have given the alarm. There
was nothing to fear from the hillock below the precipice; it was
frequented only by the young girl who tended the goats and who was
not in the habit of allowing them to roam so late among the rocks.
Besides, the night, serene and without a moon, was propitious; no
other light than the discreet glistening of the stars which would
help to guide him, without being bright enough to betray or disturb
him; the air was calm, a scarcely perceptible breeze stirred at
intervals the leaves of the trees without agitating the branches.
Thanks to this combination of favorable circumstances, Gilbert's
enterprise was not desperate; but he did not dream of deceiving
himself in regard to its dangers.

The castle clock had just struck ten when he extinguished his lamp
and opened the window. There he remained a long time leaning upon
his elbows: his eyes at last familiarized themselves with the
darkness, and favored by the glimmering of the stars, he began to
recognize with but little effort the actual shape of the
surrounding objects. The window was divided in two equal parts by
a stone mullion, and had in front a wide shelf of basalt,
surrounded by a balustrade. Gilbert fastened one of two knotted
ropes with which he had supplied himself securely to the mullion;
then he crept upon the ledge of basalt and stood there for a few
moments contemplating the precipice in silence. In the gloomy and
vaporous gulf which his eyes explored, he distinguished a wall of
whitish rocks, which seemed to draw him towards them, and to
provoke him to an aerial voyage. He took care not to abandon
himself to this fatal attraction, and the uneasiness which it
caused him disappearing gradually, he stretched out his head and
was able to hang over the abyss with impunity. Proud at having
subdued the monster, he gave himself up for a moment to the
pleasure of gazing at a feeble light which appeared at a distance
of sixty paces, and some thirty feet beneath him. This light came
from Stephane's room; he had opened his window and closed the white
curtains in such a way that his lamp, placed behind this
transparent screen, could serve as a beacon to Gilbert without
danger of dazzling him.

"I am expected," said Gilbert to himself.

And immediately, bestriding the balustrade, he descended the
swaying rope as readily as if he had never done anything else in
his life.

He was now upon the roof. There he met with more difficulty.
Partly covered with zinc and partly with slate, this roof--the
whole length of which he must traverse--was so steep and slippery
that no one could stand erect on it. Gilbert seated himself and
remained motionless for a moment to recover himself, and the better
to decide upon his course. A few steps from this point, a huge
dormer window rose, with triangular panes of glass, and reached to
within two feet of the spout. Gilbert resolved to make his way by
this narrow pass, and from tile to tile he pushed himself in that
direction. It will readily be believed that he advanced but
slowly, much more so on account of his left arm, which, as it still
pained him, required to be carefully managed; but by dint of
patience and perseverance he passed beyond the dormer window, and
at length arrived safely at the extremity of the roof, just in
front of Stephane's window.

"God be praised, the most difficult part is over," he said to
himself, breathing freely.

But he was far from correct in his supposition. It is true he had
now only to descend upon the little roof, cross it, and climb to
the window, which was but breast-high; but before descending it was
necessary to find some support--stone, wood or iron, to which he
could fasten the second rope, which he had brought wound about his
neck, shoulders, and waist. Unfortunately he discovered nothing.
At last, in leaning over, he perceived at the outer angle of the
wall a large iron corbel, which seemed to sustain the projecting
roof; but to his great chagrin, he ascertained at the same time,
that the great roof passed three feet beyond the line of the small
one, and that if even he should succeed in attaching his second
rope to the corbel, the other end of it would float in empty space.
This reflection made him shudder; and turning his eyes from the
precipice, he examined the ridge-pole, where he thought he saw a
piece of iron projecting. He was not mistaken: it was a kind of
ornamental molding, which formed the pediment of the ridge. It was
not without great effort that he raised himself even there, and
when he found himself seated astride the beam, he rested a few
moments to breathe, and to study the strange spectacle before him.
His view embraced an immense extent of abrupt, irregular roofing,
from every part of which rose turrets of every kind, in the shape
of extinguishers, pointed gables, corners, retreating or salient
angles, bell-towers, open to the daylight, profound depths where
the gloom thickened, grinning chimneys, heavy weathercocks cutting
the milky way with their iron rods and feathered arrows; from the
top of the chapel steeple a great cross of stone, seeming to
stretch out its arms; here and there the whitish zinc, cutting the
dark blue of the slates; in spots an indistinct glittering and
flashes of pale light enveloped in opaque shadows, and then the
tops of three or four large trees which extended beyond the eaves,
as if prying into the secrets of the attic. By the glittering
light of the stars, the slightest peculiarity in the architecture
assumed singular contours, fantastic figures were profiled upon the
horizon like Chinese shadows; everywhere an air of mystery, of
curiosity, of wild surprise. All these shadows leaned towards
Gilbert, examined him, and interrogated him by their looks.

When he had recovered breath, Gilbert approached the projecting
ornament from which he proposed to suspend his rope; he had been
greatly deceived; he found that this ovolo of sheet iron, for a
long time roughly used by the elements, held only by a wretched
nail, and that it would inevitably yield to the least strain.

"It is decided," said he. "I must go by the iron corbel!" And
although it cost him an effort, his mind was soon resolutely fixed.
Impatient at the loss of so many steps and at the waste of so much
precious time in vain efforts, he redescended the roof much more
actively than he had mounted it. Arriving below, and by the power
of his will conquering a new attack of vertigo with which he felt
himself threatened, he lay down upon his face parallel with the
spout, and advancing his head and arm beyond the roof he succeeded,
not without much trouble, in tying the cord firmly to the iron
corbel. This done, without loitering to see it float, he swung
himself slowly round, and let himself glide over the edge of the
roof as far as his armpits, resting suspended by the elbows.
Critical moment! If but a lath, but a nail should break--He had no
time to make this alarming reflection; he was too much occupied in
drawing towards him with his feet the rope, and when at length he
succeeded, detaching his left arm from the roof, he seized the
corbel firmly, and soon after, his right hand removing itself in
its turn, firmly grasped the rope.

"That's not bad for a beginner," thought he.

He then began to descend, giving careful attention to every
movement. But at the moment when his feet had reached the level of
the small roof, having had the imprudence to look down into the
space beneath him, he was suddenly seized with a dizziness a
thousand times more terrible than he had yet experienced. The
whole valley began to be agitated, and rolled and pitched terribly.
By turns it seemed to rise to the sky or sink into the bowels of
the earth. Presently the motion was accelerated, trees and stones,
mountains and plains were all confounded in one black whirlwind,
which struggled with increasing fury, and from which came forth
flashes of lightning and balls of fire. Restored to himself after
a few minutes, to dispel the emotion which his frightful nightmare
caused him, he had recourse to old Homer, and recited in one breath
that passage of the Iliad where the divine bard describes the joy
of a herdsman contemplating the stars from a craggy height.
Gilbert never, in after life, read these verses without recalling
the sweet but terrible moment when he recited them suspended in
mid-air; above his head the infinite smile of starry fields, and
under his feet the horrors of a precipice. As soon as he felt more
calm, he commenced the task of effecting his descent upon the small
roof, less steep than the other, and covered with hollow tiles
which left deep grooves between them. To crown his good fortune,
the spout was surmounted from place to place by iron ornaments
imbedded in the wall and rolled up in the form of scrolls. Gilbert
imparted an oscillating motion to the rope, and when it had become
strong enough to make this improvised swing graze the gutter,
choosing his time well, he disengaged his right foot and planted it
firmly in one of the grooves, loosening at the same time his right
hand and quickly seizing one of the scrolls. Midnight sounded, and
Gilbert was astonished to find that he had spent two hours upon his
adventurous excursion. To mount the roof halfway, cross it, and
climb into the window was but a slight affair, after which, turning
the curtains aside with his hand, he called in a soft voice: "Am I
expected?" and leaped with a bound into the room.

With his chin upon his knees and his head buried in his hands,
Stephane was crouching at the feet of the holy images. Hearing and
perceiving Gilbert, he started, raised himself quickly and remained
motionless, his hands crossed above his head, his neck extended,
his lips quivering and opening with a smile, lightnings and tears
in his eyes. How paint the strangeness of his countenance? A
thousand diverse emotions betrayed themselves there. Surprise,
gratitude, shame, anxiety, long expectation at last satisfied; a
remnant of haughtiness which felt its defeat certain; an obstinate
incredulity forced to surrender; the disorder of an imagination,
enchanted, rapt, distracted, the delights of hope and the
bitterness of memory; all these appeared upon his face, and formed
a melange so confused that to see him thus laughing and crying at
once, it seemed as if it was his joy which wept and his sadness
which smiled. His first agitation dispelled, the predominating
expression of his face was a dreamy and startled sweetness. He
moved backwards from Gilbert and fell upon a chair at the end of
the room.

"Do I intrude? Must I go away?" asked Gilbert, still standing.
Stephane made no answer.

"Evidently my face does not please you," continued Gilbert, half
turning towards the window.

Stephane contracted his brows.

"Do not trifle, I beg of you," said he, in a hollow voice. "We
have serious matters between us to discuss."

"The seriousness which I prefer is that of joy."

Stephane passed his thin and taper hands nervously through his
hair.

"Joy?" said he. "It will come, perhaps, in its time, through
speaking to me about it, who knows? Now I seem to be dreaming.
The disorder of my thoughts frightens me. Ask me no questions, for
I should not know how to answer you. And then the sound of my
voice mortifies me, irritates me. It is like a discord in music.
Let me be silent and look at you."

And approaching a long table which stood in the middle of the room,
he signalled to Gilbert to place himself at one side of it and
seated himself at the other.

After a long silence, he began to express his thoughts audibly, as
if he had become reconciled to the sound of his voice:

"This bold, resolute air, so much pride in the look, so much
goodness in the smile. It is another man. Ah! into what contempt
have I fallen. I have seen nothing, divined nothing. I despised
him, I hated him,--this one whom God has sent to save me from
despair. See what was concealed under this simple unaffected air;
this serene face, whose calmness irritated me; this gentleness
which seemed servile; this wisdom which I thought pedantry; this
pliancy of disposition which I took for the meanness of a crouching
dog. All this I can it really be the same man!" He was silent for
a moment and then continued in a more assured voice:

"How did you manage to reach here? Ah! my God! that great roof is
so steep! Only to think of it makes me shudder and sets my head to
whirling. While waiting I prayed to the saints for you. Did you
feel their aid? I should like to know whether they stood by me in
this. They have so often broken faith."

Silence again, during which Stephane looked at Gilbert with a
steadiness sufficient to disconcert him.

"So you have risked your life for me!" continued the young man;
"but are you quite sure that I am worth the trouble? Come now, be
frank. Has anyone spoken to you of me? Or have you, by studying
my character, made some interesting discovery? Answer, and be
careful not to lie. My eyes are upon you, they will readily
discover if you are sincere."

"Really, you astonish me," answered Gilbert tranquilly; "and what
have I to conceal from you? All I know resolves itself into two
points. In the first place, I know that you belong to the race, to
the brotherhood of noble souls; I know, besides, that you are
unhappy.--Pardon me, I know another thing still. I know beyond a
doubt that I have conceived a lively and tender friendship for you,
and that I should be very unhappy, too, if I could not expect any
return from you."

"You feel friendship for me? How can that be?"

"Ah! a strange question! Who has ever been able to answer it? It
is the mystery of mysteries. I love you, because I love you: I
know of no other explanation. You have certainly never made any
very flattering advances to me. I think I have sometimes even had
cause to complain of you.

"Ah, well! in spite of your scorn, of your haughtiness, of your
injustice, I loved you. Ask the secret of this anomaly of Him who
created man, and who planted in his heart that mysterious power
which is called sympathy."

"Why," said Stephane, "was not this sympathy reciprocal? As for
me, from the first day I saw you I hated you. I do not know with
what eyes I looked at you, but I thought that I recognized an
enemy. Alas! suspicion and distrust invaded my heart long ago.
And mark, even at this moment I still doubt, I fear I may be the
dupe of some illusion: I believe and I do not believe, and I am
tempted to exclaim with one of the Holy Evangelists, 'My patron, my
brother, my friend, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!'"

"Your incredulity will cure itself, and be sure, a day will come
when you will say with confidence: there is in this world a soul,
sister of my own, into which I can fearlessly pour all my cares,
all my thoughts, all my sorrows and all my hopes. There is one who
occupies himself unceasingly about me, to whom my happiness is of
great moment, of supreme interest, a being to whom I can say all,
confess all; a being who loves me because he knows me, and who
knows me because he loves me; a being who sees with me, who sees in
me, and who would not hesitate, if necessary, to sacrifice
everything, even his life, upon the holy altar of friendship. And
then could you not cry out in the joy of your heart: 'God he
praised! I possess a friend! By the blessing of God I have learned
what it is to love and to be loved."

Stephane began to weep:

"To be loved!" said he. "It is a great word and I hardly dare to
pronounce it. To be loved! I have never been. I believe, though,
that my mother loved me,--what do I say? I am sure of it, but it
was a long time ago. My mother,--it is like a legend to me. It
seems to me I was not born when I knew her. I remember that she
often took me upon her knees and covered me with kisses. Such joys
are not of this world; I must have tasted them in some distant
star, where hearts are less hard than here, and where I lived some
time, a sojourn of peace and innocence. But one day my mother
dropped me from her arms, and I was thrown upon this earth where
hatred expected me and received me in her bosom. Oh, hatred! I
know her! This second mother cradled me in her arms, nourished me
with her milk, lavished upon me her careful lessons and watched
over me night and day. Ah! hatred is a marvelous providence. It
sees everything, thinks of everything, notices everything, is
omnipresent, always on the alert, unconscious of fatigue, ennui, or
sleep. Hatred! she is the mistress of this castle, she governs it;
these great corridors are full of her. I cannot take a step
without meeting her; even here in this solitary room I see her
image floating upon the paneling, upon the tapestry, about the
curtains of this bed, and often at night in my sleep, she comes and
sits upon my breast and peoples my dreams with specters and
terrors. To be hated without knowing wherefore,--what torment!
And remember, too, that in my early infancy, this father who hates
me was then a father to me. He rarely caressed me and I feared
him; he was imperious and severe; but he was a father after all,
and occasionally he took the trouble to tell us so. Often in our
presence his gravity relaxed, and I recollect that he sometimes
smiled upon me. But one day, a cursed day,--I was then ten years
old; my mother had been dead a month.--He was shut up in his room
while a week passed, during which I did not see him. I said to my
governess: 'I want to see my father.' I knocked at his door,
entered, and ran to him. He repelled me with such violence that I
fell and struck my head against the leg of a chair. I got up
bleeding, and he looked at me with scorn, laughed, and left the
room. My mind wandered, all my ideas were thrown into confusion; I
thought the sun had gone out and that the world had come to an end.
A father who could laugh at the sight of the blood gushing from his
child! And what a laugh! He has made me hear it often since, but
I have not been able to accustom myself to it yet. A fever
attacked me, and I became delirious. They put me to bed, and I
cried to those who took care of me: 'I am cold, I am cold, make me
warm.' And in that icy body I felt a heart that seemed on fire,
which consumed itself. I could have sworn that a red-hot iron had
been passed into it."

Stephane dried his tears with a curl of his hair, and then, leaning
with his elbows upon the table, he resumed in a feeble voice: "I do
not want you to be deceived. You entertain friendship for me and
you ask a return; that is very simple, friendship lives by
exchange. If I had nothing to give you, you would soon cease to
love me. Listen to me then. Yesterday, for the first time in my
life, I went into myself,--a singular fancy, which you alone have
been able to inspire in me; for the first time I examined myself
seriously, I laid hold of my heart with both hands, and examined it
as a physician does his patient; I carried my researches even to
the very bottom, and I recognized there a strange barrenness and
blight, which frightened me. It has been suffering a long time,--
this poor heart; but within a year a fearful crisis has passed
within me, which has killed it. And now there is nothing in this
breast but a handful of ashes, good for nothing but to be thrown
out of the window and scattered in the air.

"What! you are orthodox," said Gilbert, in a tone of authority;
"you believe in the saints after your own fashion, and nevertheless
you have yet to learn that death is but a word, or better, a
respite, a pause in life, a fallow time followed by fresh harvests.
You are ignorant of the fact, or you forget, that there are no
ashes so cold but that when the wind of the spirit breathes upon
them, they will be seen to start, rise up, and walk. You have left
to me the care of teaching you that your soul is capable of
rejuvenescence, of unexpected regeneration; that upon the sole
condition that you wish and desire it, you will feel unknown powers
awakened in your breast, and that without changing your nature, but
by transforming yourself from day to day, you will become to
yourself an eternal novelty!

Stephane looked at him, smiling.

"So you have crossed the roofs to come and preach conversion to me,
like Father Alexis!"

"Conversion! I don't know. I don't undertake to work miracles; but
the metamorphosis--"

"You speak to me much about my soul; but my life, my destiny, will
you also find the secret of transforming them?"

"That secret we will seek together. I have already some light upon
it. Only let us not press it. Before undertaking that great work,
it is essential that your heart should recover its health and
strength."

"Ingrate that I am!" cried Stephane. "My destiny! It has changed
from to-day. Yes, from this moment I am no longer alone in the
world. Frightful void in which I consumed myself, despair who with
your frightful wings made it night for an abandoned child, it is
all over now, I am delivered from you; the instrument of torture is
broken. Henceforth, I believe, I hope, I breathe! But think of
it, my friend, for me to live will be to see you, to hear you, to
speak to you. Could you come here often?"

"As often as prudence will permit,--two or three times a week. We
will choose our days well; we will consult the sky, the wind, the
stars. On other days, at propitious hours, we will place ourselves
at our windows, and communicate by signs which we will agree upon,
for it seems that you, like me, are long-sighted. And besides, I
know the sign language. I will teach it to you, and if you ever
send me such a message as this upon your fingers: 'I am sad, I am
sick, come this evening at any risk'--Well, whatever the winds and
stars may say--"

"To expose your life foolishly!" interrupted Stephane, "I would
rather die. Curses upon me if ever by a caprice-- But away with
such a thought! And how long, if you please, will this happiness,
which you promise me, last? Some day, alas! retaking your liberty--"

"I have two, perhaps three years to pass here; it will even depend
upon me whether I stay longer or not. Whatever happens, be
assured, that before I leave this house, your destiny will have
changed. I have told you to believe in the seen; believe also in
the unforseen."

"The unforeseen!" exclaimed Stephane, "I believe in it, since I
have seen it enter here by the window."

And suddenly carrying his hand to his heart, he closed his eyes,
became pale, and uttered a piteous moan. Gilbert sprang towards
him, but repulsing him gently:

"Fear nothing," said he; "joy has come, I feel it there, it burns
me. Let me enjoy a suffering so new and so sweet." He remained
some minutes with his eyes closed; then reopening them, and shaking
his beautiful head with its long curls, he said sportively:

"Sit down there quick, and teach me the deaf mute language."

"Impossible," replied Gilbert; "the hour for going has already
struck."

Stephane impatiently stamped his foot.

"Teach me at least the first two letters; if I don't know a and b,
I shall not be able to close my eyes to-night."

Gilbert, taking him by the arm, led him to the window, where,
drawing aside the curtain, he pointed out to him the stars already
paling and a vague whiteness which appeared at the horizon. Then
suddenly changing his tone, but still carried away by his impetuous
nature, which stamped upon all the movements of his mind the
character of passion, Stephane became much excited at the idea of
the dangers which his friend was about to brave.

"I will go with you," said he, "I want to know what risks you run
in coming here. To descend from the large roof to the small one,
you must have had a ladder. I want to see this ladder, I want to
assure myself that it is strong."

"Do not be afraid, I have attended to that."

"When I tell you that I wish to see it! I will believe only my own
eyes and hands. Where is this ladder? I positively must see it."

"And I forbid you to climb this window. Take my word, my rope
ladder is entirely new and very strong."

"Ah!" exclaimed Stephane, struck with a sudden idea. "I will bet
that you have fastened it to that great iron corbel, which
stretches its frightful beak up there at the angle of the wall.
And just now you were suspended in space on this treacherous
floating cord. Monstrous fool that I was not to understand it."

And to Gilbert's great astonishment, he added:

"You do not yet love me enough to have the right to run such
risks."

"Do be a little calmer," said Gilbert. "You displayed just now a
gentleness and wisdom which enchanted me. Take care; Ivan might
wake and come up."

"These walls are deafened, the flagging is thick; between this room
and the staircase there is an alcove, a vestibule, and two large
closed doors; and between the rail of this staircase and the cage
of my jailer, there is a long corridor. Besides, he is capable of
everything but rambling at night round my apartment; but what
matters it?--Let him come to surprise us, this hateful Ivan! I
will resign myself to everything rather than see you put your feet
upon that horrible ladder again. And take my word for it, if you
violate my injunction,--at that very moment before your eyes, I
will throw myself headlong down the precipice."

"You are extremely unreasonable," replied Gilbert, in a severe
tone; "I must leave here at any cost. Since my ladder displeases
you, instead of uttering a thousand follies, try rather to
discover--"

Stephen struck his forehead.

"Here is my discovery," interrupted he; "opposite this window, on
the other side of the roof, there is another, which, if you can
only open it, will certainly let you into some empty lofts. Where
these lofts will take you I don't exactly know, for Ivan told me
once when he wanted to store some broken furniture there, that he
had not been able to find the entrance; but you will no doubt
discover some window near, by which you can get out upon the great
roof, half-way from your turret, and so you will be spared a great
deal of trouble and danger. Ah! if this proves so, how proud I
shall be of finding it out."

"Now you are as I like to see you," said Gilbert; "instead of
prancing like a badly-bitted horse, you are calm, and you reason."

"So to reward me you will permit me to accompany you."

"God forbid! and if you presume to go without my permission, I
swear to you that I will never come here again."

And as Stephane resisted and chafed, Gilbert took his head between
his hands, and drawing him to his breast, pressed a paternal kiss
on his forehead, just at the roots of his hair. This kiss produced
an extraordinary effect, which alarmed him; Stephane shuddered from
head to foot, and a cry escaped him.

"Awkward fellow that I am," said Gilbert in an uneasy tone; "I have
wounded you without intending it."

"No," murmured he, "it is of no consequence; but that was the place
where my mother used to kiss me. May the saints be with you. I
love you. Good-bye!"

And thus speaking he covered his face which was on fire, with both
hands.

Ah! if Gilbert had understood! But he divined nothing; he
descended to the roof, crossed it, and discovered as he groped
about, a window, all the panes of which were broken; which saved
him the trouble of opening it. When he found himself in the lofts,
he lighted the candle which he had taken the precaution to bring in
his pocket. The place which he had just entered was a wretched
garret, three or four feet wide. In front of him he noticed four
or five steps, ascended them, and opened an old door without any
fastening. This let him into a vast corridor, which had no visible
place of exit at the other end; it was infested by spiders and
rats, and encumbered with dilapidated old furniture. Gilbert
discovered, on raising his eyes, that he was in the mansard,
lighted by the great dormer window. The bolt which held the
shutter was so high up that he could not reach it with his hand.
An old rickety table stood in the corner, buried under a triple
coating of dust. Having reached the window by its aid, Gilbert
drew the bolt; he mounted upon the roof and, supporting himself by
one of the projecting timbers of the pediment, restored the shutter
to its embrasure and fastened it as well as he could; after which
he made his way once more towards the small roof; for, before
returning to his lodging, it was necessary at any cost to detach
and draw up the rope, an unimpeachable witness which would have
testified against him. While Gilbert was extended at length, fully
occupied in this delicate operation, Stephane, standing at his
window and trembling like a leaf, was tearing his handkerchief with
his beautiful teeth. The ladder withdrawn, Gilbert cried out to
him:

"Your lofts are admirable. Hereafter, coming to see you will only
be a pleasure trip."

When he found himself again upon his balcony, dawn began to break,
and a screech owl, returning from his hunt after field mice, passed
before him and regained his hole. Gilbert waved his hand to this
nocturnal adventurer whose confrere he felt himself, and leaping
lightly into his room, was sleeping profoundly in five minutes. At
the same moment Stephane, raising his eyes to the holy images to
which he had given such terrible blows, exclaimed with a passionate
gesture: "Oh! St. George, St. Sergius, help me to keep my secret."


XV


Yesterday evening I returned to Stephane by the dormer window and
the lofts; the journey took me but twenty minutes. There was a
slight wind, and I was glad to have nothing to do with the iron
corbel. Arriving at ten o'clock I returned half an hour after
midnight. On leaving the young man, I felt terrified and overjoyed
at the same time,--frightened at the impulsive ardor of his
temperament and at the efforts it will cost me to moderate his
impetuosity; but overjoyed, astonished at the quickness and grasp
of his mind, at his vivid imagination, and the truly Slavonian
flexibility of his naturally happy disposition. It is certain that
the sad and barren existence he has led for years would have
shattered the energies of a soul less finely tempered than his; the
vigor and elasticity of his temperament have saved him. But I
arrived just in time, for he confessed to me that the idea of
suicide had taken possession of him since that unlucky escapade
punished by fifteen hours' imprisonment.

"My first attempt was unfortunate," said he, "but I was resolved to
try again; I had sounded the ford; another time I should have
crossed the stream."

I hastened to turn the conversation, especially as he was not in
the humor to weary himself with such a gloomy subject. How happy
he appeared to see me again; how his joy expressed itself upon his
ingenuous face, and how speaking were his looks! We occupied
ourselves at first with the language of signs. Nothing escaped his
eager intellect; he complained only of my slow explanations.

"I understand, I understand," he would cry; "something else, my
dear sir, something else, I'm not a fool."

I certainly had no idea of such quickness of apprehension. "The
Slavonians learn quickly," said I, "and forget quickly too."

To prove the contrary, he answered me by signs:

"You are an impertinent fellow."

I was confounded. Then all at once:

"Extraordinary man," said, he, with a gravity which made me smile,
"tell me a little of your life."

"Extraordinary I am not at all," said I.

"And I affirm," answered he, "that humanity is composed of tyrants,
valets, and a single and only Gilbert."

"Nonsense! Gilberts are abundant."

"There is but one, there is but one," cried he, with a fire and
energy that enchanted me.

I must own I am not sorry that for the time being he looks upon me
as an exceptional being; for it is well to keep him a little in awe
of me. To satisfy him I gave him the history of my youth. This
time he reproached me for being too brief, and not going enough
into detail.

As his questions were inexhaustible, I said: "After today do not
let us waste our time upon this subject. Besides, the top of the
basket shows the best that's in it."

"There may perhaps be something to hide from me?"

"No; but I will confess that I do not like to talk about myself too
much. I get tired of it very soon."

"What?" said he, in a tone of reproach, "are we not here to talk
endlessly about you, me, us?"

"Certainly, and our favorite occupation will be to entertain
ourselves with ourselves; but to render this pastime more
delightful, it will be well for us to occupy ourselves sometimes
with something else."

"With something else? With what?"

"With that which is not ourselves."

"And what do I care for anything which is neither you nor me?"

"But at all events you sometimes work, you read, you study?"

"At Martinique, Father Alexis gave me two or three hours of lessons
every day. He taught me history, geography, and among other stuff
of the same kind, the inconceivable merits and the superhuman
perfections of his eternal Panselinos. The dissertations of this
spiritual schoolmaster diverted me very little, as you may well
suppose, and I was furious that in spite of myself his tiresome
verbiage rooted itself in my memory, which is the most tenacious in
the world."

"And did he continue his instructions to you?"

"After our return to Europe, my father ordered him to teach me
nothing more but the catechism. He said it was the only study my
silly brain was fit for."

"So for three years you have passed your days in absolute
idleness."

"Not at all; I have always been occupied from morning till night."

"And how?"

"In sitting down, in getting up, in sitting down again, in pacing
the length and breadth of my room, in gaping at the crows, in
counting the squares of these flagstones, and the tiles of the
little roof, in looking at the iron corbel and the water-spout on
top of it, in watching the clouds sailing through the empty air,
and then in lying down there in that recess of the wall, to rest
quiet, with my eyes closed, ruminating over the problem of my
destiny, asking myself what I could have done to God, that he
chastised me so cruelly, recalling my past sufferings, enjoying in
advance my sufferings to come, weeping and dreaming, dreaming and
weeping, until overcome with lassitude and exhaustion I ended by
falling asleep; or else, driven to desperation by weariness, I ran
down to Ivan's lodging, and there gave vent to my scorn, fury, and
despair, at the top of my lungs."

These words, pronounced in a tone breathing all the bitterness of
his soul, troubled me deeply. I trembled to think of this desolate
child, whose griefs were incessantly augmented by solitude and
idleness, of that soul defenselessly abandoned to its gloomy
reveries, of that poor heart maddened, and pouncing upon itself as
upon a prey; self-devouring, constantly reopening his wounds and
inflaming them, without work or study to divert him a single
instant from his monotonous torment. Oh! Count Kostia, how refined
is your hatred!

"I have an idea," I said at last. "You love flowers and painting.
Paint an herbarium."

"What's that?"

"See this large paper. You will paint on it, in water colors, a
collection of all the flowers of this region, of all those, at
least, that you may find in your walks. If you don't know their
names, I will teach them to you, or we will seek for them
together."

"Provided that books take no part in it."

"We will dispense with them as much as possible. I will muster up
all my knowledge to tell you the history of these pretty painted
flowers; I will tell you of their families; I will teach you how to
classify them; in short, will give you little by little, all I know
of botany."

He made a hundred absurd objections,--among others, that he found
in all the flowers of the fields and the woods in this country a
creeping and servile air; then this, and then that, expressing
himself in a sharp but sportive tone.

"I shall teach you botany, my wild young colt," I said to myself,
"and not let you break loose."

I have not been able, however, to draw from him any positive
promise.


July 14th.

Victory! By persistent hammering I have succeeded in beating the
idea of the painted herbarium into this naughty, unruly head.

But he has imposed his conditions. He consents to paint only the
flowers that I will gather myself, and bring to him. After some
discussion I yielded the point.

"Ah!" said I, "take care to gather some yourself, for otherwise
Ivan . . ."


Sunday, July 15th.

This afternoon I took a long walk in the woods. I had succeeded in
gathering some labiates, the dead nettle, the pyramidal bell-flower
and the wild thyme, when in the midst of my occupation, I heard the
trot of a horse. It was he, a bunch of herbs and flowers in his
hand. Ivan, who according to his custom, followed him at a
distance of ten paces, regarded me some way off with an uneasy air;
he evidently feared that I would accost them; but having arrived
within a few steps of me, Stephane, turning his head, started his
horse at full gallop, and Ivan, as he passed, smiled upon me with
an expression of triumphant pity. Poor, simple Ivan, did you not
hear our souls speak to each other?


July 16th.

Yesterday I carried my labiates to him. After some desultory talk,
I endeavored to describe as best I could the characters of this
interesting family. He listened to me out of complaisance. In
time, he will listen to me out of curiosity, inasmuch as, to tell
the truth, I am not a tiresome master; but I dare not yet
interrogate him in a Socratic way. The SHORT LITTLE QUESTIONS
would make our hot-headed young man angry. The lesson finished, he
wished to commence his herbarium under my eyes. The honor of
precedence has been awarded to the wild thyme; its little white,
finely cut labias and the delicate appearance of the stem pleased
him, whilst he found the dead nettle and the bell flower extremely
common, and pronounced by him the word "extremely" is most
expressive. While he made pencil sketches, I told him three
stories, a fairy tale, an anecdote of Plutarch and some sketches of
the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He listened to the fairy tale
without uttering a word, and without a frown; but the other two
stories made him shake his head several times.

"Is what you are telling me really true?" said he. "Would you
wager your life upon it?" And when I came to speak of St. Francis
embracing the lepers--

"Oh! now you're exaggerating." Then speaking to St. George: "Upon
your conscience now, would you have done as much?"

He ended by becoming sportive and frolicsome. As he begged me to
sing him a little song, I hummed Cadet Roussel, which he did not
know; the "three hairs" made him laugh till the tears ran down his
cheeks, but he paid dearly for this excess of gayety. When I rose
to leave he was seized with a paroxysm of weeping, and I had much
trouble in consoling him. I repent having excited him so much. I
must humor his nerves, and never put him in that state of mind
which contrasts too strongly with the realities of his life. At
any cost I must prevent certain AWAKINGS.


July 19th.

I admire his conduct at the table. Seated opposite me, he never
appears to see me, whilst you, grave Gilbert, do not know at times
what to do with your eyes; but the other day he crossed the great
hall with such a quick and elastic step that the Count's attention
was drawn to him. I must caution him to be more discreet. I am
also uneasy because in our nocturnal tete-a-tetes he often raises
his voice, moves the furniture, and storms round the room; but he
assures me there is nothing to fear. The walls are thick, and the
foot of the staircase is separated from the corridor by a
projection of masonry which would intercept the sound. Then the
alcove, the vestibule, the two solid oak doors! These two doors
are never locked. Ivan, he told me, is far from suspecting
anything, and the only thing which could excite his distrust would
be excessive precaution.

"And besides," added he, "by the mercy of God he is beginning to
grow old, his mind is getting dull, and he is more credulous than
formerly. So I have easily persuaded him that I will never forgive
you, as long as I live, for the death of my dog. Then again, he is
growing hard of hearing, and sleeps like a top. Sometimes to
disturb his sleep, I amuse myself by imitating the bark of Vorace
but I have the trouble of my pains. The only sound which he never
fails to hear, is the ringing of my father's bell. I admit,
however, that if anyone presumed to touch his great ugly oak door,
he would wake up with a start. This is because his door is his
property, his object, his fixed idea: he has a way of looking at
it, which seems to say: 'you see this door? it is mine.' I
believe, that in his eyes there is nothing lovelier in the world
than a closed door. So he cherishes this horrible, this infamous
door: he smiles on it benignly, he counts its nails and covers them
with kisses."

"And you say that after nine o'clock he never comes up here?"

"Never, never. I should like to see him attempt it!" cried he,
raising his head with an indignant air.

"You see then, that he is a jailer capable of behaving handsomely.
I imagine that you do not like him much; but after all, in keeping
you under lock and key, he is only obeying orders."

"And I tell you he is happy in making me suffer. The wicked man
has done but one good action in his whole life,--that was in saving
you from the fury of Vorace. In consideration of this good action,
I no longer tell him what I think of him, but I think it none the
less, and it seems to me very singular that you should ask me to
love him."

"Excuse me, I do not ask you to love him, but to believe that, at
heart, he loves you."

At these words he became so furious, that I hastened to change the
subject.

"Don't you sometimes regret Vorace?"

"It was his duty to guard me against bugaboos, but I have had no
fear of them, since one of them has become my friend.

"I am superstitious, I believe in ghosts; but I defy them to
approach my bed hereafter."

He blushed and did not finish the sentence. Poor child! the
painful misery of his destiny, far from quenching his imagination,
has excited it to intoxication, and I am not surprised that he
shapes friendship to the romantic turn of his thoughts.

"You're mistaken," I said to him, "it is not my image, it is botany
which guards you against spirits. There is no better remedy for
foolish terrors than the study of nature."

"Always the pedant," he exclaimed, throwing his cap in my face.


July 23rd.

Vladimir Paulitch appeared yesterday at the end of dinner. The
presence of this man occasions me an indefinable uneasiness. His
coldness freezes me, and then his dogmatic tone; his smile of
mocking politeness. He always knows in advance what you are going
to say to him, and listens to you out of politeness. This Vladimir
has the ironical intolerance characteristic of materialists. As to
his professional ability there can be no doubt. The Count has
entirely recovered; he is better than I have ever seen him. What
vigor, what activity of mind! What confounds me is, that in our
discussions, I come to see in him, in about the course of an hour,
only the historian, the superior mind, the scholar; I forget
entirely the man of the iron boots, the somnambulist, the
persecutor of my Stephane, and I yield myself unreservedly to the
charm of his conversation. Oh, men of letters! men of letters!


July 27th.

He said to me:

"I do not possess happiness yet; but it seems to me at moments,
that I see it, that I touch it."


July 28th.

To-day, Doctor Vladimir appeared again at dessert. He aimed a few
sarcasms at me; I suspect that I do not please him much. Will his
affection for the Count go so far as to make him jealous of the
esteem which he evinces for me? We talked philosophy. He exerted
himself to prove that everything is matter. I stung him to the
quick in representing to him that all his arguments were found in
d'Holbach. I endeavored to show him that matter itself is
spiritual, that even the stones believe in spirit. Instead of
answering, he beat about the bush. Otherwise, he spoke well, that
is to say, he expressed his gross ideas with ingenuity. What he
lacks most, is humor. He has something of the saturnine in his
mind; his ideas have a leaden tint. The Count, prompted by good
taste, saw that he held out too obstinately, without taking into
account that Kostia Petrovitch himself detests the absolute as much
in the negative as in the affirmative. He thanked me with a smile
when I said to the doctor, in order to put an end to the
discussion:

"Sir, no one could display more mind in denying its existence;" and
the Count added, alluding to the doctor's meagerness of person:

"My dear Vladimir, if you deny the mind what will be left of you?"


July 30th.

Yesterday, to my great chagrin, I found him in tears.

"Let this inexorable father beat me," said he, "provided he tells
me his secret. I prefer bad treatment to his silence. When we
were at Martinique he had attacks of such violence that they made
my hair stand on end. I would gladly have sunk into the earth; I
trembled lest he should tear me in pieces; but he at least thought
about me. He looked at me; I existed for him, and in spite of my
terrors I felt less unhappy than now. Do not think it is my
captivity which grieves me most. At my age it is certainly very
hard and very humiliating to be kept out of sight and under lock
and key; but I should be very easily resigned to that if it were my
father who opened and closed the door. But alas! I am of so little
consequence in his eyes that he deputes the task of tyrannizing
over me to a serf. And then, during the brief moments when he
constrains himself to submit to my presence--what a severe aspect,
what threatening brows, what grim silence! Consider, too, the fact
that he has never entered this tower; no, has never had the
curiosity to know how my prison was made. Yet he cannot be
ignorant of the fact that I lodge above a precipice. He knows,
too, that once the idea of suicide took possession of me, and he
has not even thought of having this window barred."

"That is because he did not consider your attempt a serious one."

"Then how he despises me!"

I represented to him that his father was sick, that he was the
victim of a nervous disorder which deranges the most robust
organizations, that Doctor Vladimir guaranteed his cure, that once
recovered, his temper would change, and that then would be the
moment to besiege this citadel thus rendered more vulnerable.

"We must not, however, be precipitate," said I, "let us have
courage and patience."

I reasoned so well that he finally overcame his despondency. When
I see him yield to my reasoning, I have a strong impulse to embrace
him; but it is a pleasure I deny myself, as I know by experience
what it costs him. A moment afterwards, I don't know why, he spoke
to me of his sister who died at Martinique.

"Why did God take her from me?"

"Alas!" said I, "she could not have supported the life to which you
have been condemned."

"And why not, pray?"

"Because she would have suffered ten times as much as you. Think
of it,--the nerves and heart of a woman!"

He looked at me with a singular expression; apparently he could not
understand how anyone could suffer more than he. After this he
talked a long time about women, who are to him, from what he said,
an impenetrable mystery, and he repeated eagerly:

"You do not despise them, as HE does?"

"That would be impossible, I remember my mother."

"Is that your only reason?"

"Some day I will tell you the others."

As I left and was already nearly out of the window, he seized me
impetuously by the arm, saying to me:

"Could you swear to me that you would be less happy if you did not
know me?"

"I swear it."

His face brightened, and his eyes flashed.


August 8th.

And you too are transformed, my dear Gilbert; you have visibly
rejuvenated. A new spirit has taken possession of you. Your blood
circulates more quickly; you carry your head more proudly, your
step is more elastic, there is more light in your eyes, more breath
in your lungs, and you feel a celestial leaven fermenting in your
heart. My old friend, you have emerged from your long uselessness
to give birth to a soul! Oh, glorious task! God bless mother and
daughter!


August 9th.

Stephane is painfully astonished at the friendship which his father
displays towards me.

"He has the power of loving then, and does not love me? It is
because I am destestable!"

Poor innocent! It is certain that in spite of himself, the Count
has begun to like me. Good Father Alexis said to me the other
evening:

"You are a clever man, my son; you have cast a spell upon Kostia
Petrovitch, and he entertains an affection for you, which he has
never before manifested for anyone."


August 11th.

His painted herbarium is enriched every day. He already enumerates
twenty species and five families. Yesterday Stephane so far forgot
himself as to look at it with an air of satisfied pride. How happy
I was! I kept my joy to myself, however. He further delighted me
by deciding to write from memory at the bottom of each page the
French and Latin names for each plant. "It is a concession I have
made to the pedant," said he; but this did not prevent him from
being proud of having written these forty names without a mistake.
Last time I carried to him some crowsfeet and anemones. He took
the little celandine in his hand, crying:

"Let me have it; I am going to tell you the history of this little
yellow fellow."

And he then gave me all the characteristics with marvelous
accuracy. What a quick and luminous intellect, and what
overflowing humor! His hands trembled so much that I said to him:

"Keep cool, keep cool. It requires a firm and steady hand to raise
the veil of Isis."

I contented myself with explaining in a few words who Isis was,
which interested him but moderately. His masterpiece, as a
faithful reproduction of nature, is his marsh ranunculus, which I
had introduced to him under the Latin name of ranuncula scelerata.
He has so exquisitely represented these insignificant little yellow
flowers that it is impossible not to fall in love with them.

"This little prisoner has inspired me," said he. "By dint of
practicing Father Alexis, I begin to wish good to the rascals."

I rebuked him sharply, but he was not much affected by my rating.


August 13th.

The Count's conduct is atrocious, and yet I understand it. His
pride, his whole character, despotic; the horror of having been
deceived. . . . And besides, is he really Stephane's father? . . .
These two children born after six years of marriage, and a few
years later to discover. . . . Suspicions often have less
foundation. And then this fatal resemblance which keeps the image
of the faithless one constantly before his eyes! The more decided
the resemblance, the greater must be his hatred. Even his smile,
that strange smile which belongs to him alone, Stephane according
to Father Alexis, must have inherited from his mother. "I HAVE
BURIED THE SMILE!" Frightful cry which I can hear still! Finally,
I believe that in the barbarous hatred of this father there is more
of instinct than of system. It lives from day to day. I am sure
that Count Kostia has never asked himself: "What shall I do with my
son when he is twenty?"


August 14th.

Ivan, of whom I asked news of Stephane, said to me:

"Do not be uneasy about him any more. He has become much better
within the past month, and he grows more gentle from day to day;
this is the result of seeing death so near."

M. Leminof greatly astonished me this morning.

"My dear Gilbert," said he unreservedly, "I do not claim that I am
a perfect man; but I am certainly what might be called a good sort
of fellow, and I possess, in the bargain, a certain delicacy of
conscience which sometimes inconveniences me. Without flattery,
you are, my dear Gilbert, a man of great merit. Very well! I am
using you unjustly, for you are at an age when a man makes a name
and a career for himself; and these decisive years you are spending
in working for me, in collecting, like a journeyman, the materials
of a great work which will bring neither glory nor profit to you.
I have a proposition to make to you. Be my coadjutor; we will
compose this monumental work together; it shall appear under our
two names, and I give you my head upon it, shall make you famous.
We agree upon nearly all questions of fact, and as to our
difference in ideas. . . Mon Dieu! we are neither of us born
quibblers; we shall end in agreeing, and even supposing we do not
agree, I will give you carte blanche; for, to speak frankly, an
idea is not just the thing I should be ready to die for. What say
you to it, my dear Gilbert? We will not part until the task is
finished, and I fancy that we shall lead a happy life together."

In spite of his persuasions, I have not consented; he has only
drawn from me a promise that I will give him an answer within a
month. Stephane, Stephane, how awkward I shall be, if I do not
make this happy incident instrumental in accomplishing your
deliverance! The day will come when I can say to your father: For
the sake of your health, for the sake of your repose, of your
studies, of the work we have undertaken together, send this child
away from your house; his presence troubles and irritates you.
Send him to some school or college. By a single act you will make
two persons happy. Gracious Heaven, the stronghold will be hard to
take! But by dint of patience, skill and vigilance . . . have I
not already carried a fortress by storm--Stephane's heart? No, I
do not despair of success. But it will cost me dear, this success
that I hope for! To see him leave this house, to be separated from
him forever! At the very thought my heart bleeds.


August 16th.

Doctor Vladimir will leave us during the early part of next month.
I shall not be sorry. Decidedly this man does not please me. The
other day at the table, he looked at Stephane in a way that alarmed
me.


August 18th.

The sky is propitious for my nocturnal excursions. Not a drop of
rain has fallen for six weeks. The north wind, which sometimes
blows violently in the daytime, abates regularly in the evening.
As to the vertigo, no return of it. Oh! the power of habit!


August 19th.

What a misfortune! Day before yesterday Stephane, in crossing a
vestibule in front of the great hall, impelled by some odd motive,
gave vent to a loud burst of laughter. The Count started from his
chair and his face became livid. To-day Soliman was sold. A horse
dealer is coming directly to take him away. Ivan, whom I just met,
had great tears in his eyes. Poor Stephane, what will he say?


August 20th.

It is very singular! Yesterday I expected to find him in a state
of despair. He was gay, smiling.

"I was sure," said he, "that I should pay dearly for that unlucky
burst of laughter.

"My father is mistaken; it was not a burst of gayety, but purely
nervous spasm which seized me while thinking of certain things, and
at a moment when I was not at all merry. However, besides life,
there were but two things left to take from me, my horse and my
hair, and thank God, he was not happily inspired in his choice, and
has not struck me in the most sensitive place."

"What! between Soliman and your hair."

"Isn't it beautiful?" said he quickly.

"Magnificent without any doubt!" I answered, smiling.

"I've always been a little vain of it," continued he, waving his
curls upon his shoulders; "but I value it more since I know it
pleases you."

"Oh! for that matter," I replied, "if you had your head shaved, I
should not love you any the less."

This answer, I don't know why, seemed to affect him deeply. During
the rest of the evening he was thoughtful and gloomy.


August 24th.

I thought it glorious to be able to communicate to him the
overtures which his father has made me, and the project they
suggested to me. I said to him:

"What a joy it would be to me to release you from this prison, and
yet with what bitter sadness this joy would be mingled! But
wherever you go, we will find some means of writing and of seeing
each other. The friendship between us is one of those bonds which
destiny cannot break."

"Oh, yes!" replied he in a sarcastic tone, "you will come to see me
once a year, upon my birthday, and will be careful to bring me a
bouquet."

He burst into a fit of laughter which much resembled that of the
other day.


August 30th.

How he made me suffer yesterday! I have not recovered from it yet.
What! was it he--was it to me? God! what bitterness of language;
what keen irony! Count Kostia, you make a mistake--this child is
really yours. He may have the features and smile of his mother,
but there is a little of your soul in his. What grievances can he
have against me? I can imagine but two. Sunday last, near three
o'clock, we were both at the window. He commenced a very animated
speech by signs, and prolonged it far beyond the prudential limits
which I have prescribed to him. He spoke, I believe, about
Soliman, and of a walk which he had refused to take with Ivan. I
did not pay close attention, for I was occupied in looking round to
see that no one was watching us. Suddenly I saw on the slope of
the hill big Fritz and the little goat girl, to whom he is paying
court, seated on a rock. At the moment I was about to answer
Stephane, they raised their eyes to me. I began then to look at
the landscape, and presently quitted the spot. Stephane could not
see them from his window, and of course did not understand the
cause of my retreat. The other grievance is, that for the first
time three days have passed without my paying him a visit; but day
before yesterday the wind was so violent that it overthrew a
chimney nearby, . . . and it was to punish me for such a grave
offense that he allowed himself to say that I was no doubt an
excellent botanist, an unparalleled philanthropist, but that I
understood nothing of the refinements of sentiment.

"You are one of those men," said he, "who carry the whole world in
their hearts. It is useless for you to deny it. I am sure you
have at least a hundred intimate friends."

"You are right," I replied; "it is even for the hundredth one that
I have risked my life."


September 7th.

During the last week, I have seen him three times. He has given me
no cause for complaint; he works, he reflects; his judgment is
forming, not a moment of ill-humor; he is calm, docile, and gentle
as a lamb. Yes, but it is this excess of gentleness which disturbs
me. There is something unnatural to me, in his condition, and I am
forced to regret the absence of those transports, and the
childishness of which I have endeavored to cure him. "Stephane,
you have become too unlike yourself. But a short time since, your
feet hardly touched the ground; lively, impetuous, and violent,
there came from your lips by turns flashes of merriment or of
anger, and in an instant you passed from enthusiasm to despair; but
in our recent interviews I could scarcely recognize you. No more
freaks of the rebellious child; no more of those familiarities
which I loved! Your glances, even, as they meet mine, seem less
assured; sometimes they wander over me doubtfully, and from the
surprise they express, I am inclined to believe that my figure must
have grown some cubits, and you can no longer take it in at a
glance. And then those sighs which escape you! Besides, you no
longer complain of anything; your existence seems to have become a
stranger to you. It must be that without my knowledge--" Ah!
unhappy child, I will know. You shall speak; you shall tell
me. . . .


September 10.

Heavens! what a flood of light! Father Alexis, you did not tell me
all! The more I think of it. . . . Ah! Gilbert, what scales
covered your eyes! Yesterday I carried him that copy of the poem
of the Metamorphoses, which I had promised him. A few fragments
that I had repeated to him had inspired him with the desire of
reading the whole piece, not from the book, but copied in my hand.
We read it together, distich by distich. I translated, explained,
and commented. When we arrived at these verses: "May you only
remember how the tie which first united our souls was a germ from
which grew in time a sweet and charming intimacy, and soon
friendship revealed its power in our hearts, until love, coming
last, crowned it with flowers and with fruit--" At these words he
became agitated and trembled violently.

"Do not let us go any further," said he, pushing the paper away.
"That is poetry enough for this evening."

Then leaning upon the table, he opened and turned the leaves of his
herbarium; but his eyes and his thoughts were elsewhere. Suddenly
he rose, took a few steps in the room, and then returning to me:

"Do you think that friendship can change into love?"

"Goethe says so; we must believe it."

He took a flower from the table, looked at it a moment and dropping
it on the floor, he murmured, lowering his eyes:

"I am an ignoramus; tell me what is this love?"

"It is the folly of friendship."

"Have you ever been foolish?"

"No, and I do not imagine I ever shall be."

He remained motionless for a moment, his arms hanging listlessly;
at length, raising them slowly, he crossed his hands over his head,
one of his favorite attitudes, raised his eyes from the ground, and
looked steadily at me. Oh! what a strange expression! His wild
look, a sad and mysterious smile wandering over his lips, his mouth
which tried to speak, but to which speech refused to come! That
face has been constantly before me since last night; it pursues me,
possesses me, and even at this moment its image is stamped in the
paper I am writing on. This black velvet tunic, then, may be a
forced disguise? Yes, the character of Stephane, his mind, his
singularity of conduct,--all these things which astonished and
frightened me are now explained. Gilbert, Gilbert! what have you
done? into what abyss. . . And yet, perhaps I am mistaken, for how
can I believe-- There is the dinner bell. . . I shall see HIM
again!


XVI


Some hours later, Gilbert entered Stephane's room, and struck by
his pallor and with the troubled expression of his voice, inquired
about him anxiously.

"I assure you I am very well," Stephane replied, mastering his
emotion. "Have you brought me any flowers?"

"No, I have had no time to go for them."

"That is to say, you have not had time to think of me."

"Oh! I beg your pardon! I can think of you while working, while
reading Greek, even while sleeping. And last night I saw you in my
dreams: you treated me as a pedant, and threw your cap in my face."

"That was a very extravagant dream."

"I am not so sure about that. It seems to me that one day--"

"Yes, one day, two centuries ago."

"Is it then so long since our acquaintance commenced?"

"Perhaps not two centuries, but nearly. As for me, I have already
lived three lives: my first I passed with my mother. The second--
let us not speak of that. The third began upon the night when, for
the first time, you climbed into this window. And that must have
been a long time ago, if I can judge of it by all which has passed
since then, in my soul, in my imagination, and in my mind. Is it
possible that these two centuries have only been two months? How
can it be that such great changes have been wrought in me, in so
short a time, for they are so marvelous that I can hardly recognize
myself?"

"One of these changes, of which I am proud, is that you no longer
throw your cap at my head."

"That was a liberty I took only with the pedant."

"And are you at last reconciled to him?"

"I have discovered that the pedant does not exist. There is a hero
and a philosopher in you."

"That is a discovery I did not expect from you, and one that
astonishes as much as it flatters me."

"When I tell you that I am changed throughout, and that I no longer
recognize myself--"

"And I, in spite of your transformation, recognize you very easily.
My dear Stephane has preserved his habit of exaggerating all his
impressions. Once I was a man who ought to be smothered; now I am
an extraordinary being who passes his life in executing heroic
projects. No, my poet, I am neither a scoundrel nor a knight
errant, and the best that can be said of me is that I am not a
blockhead, that I do not lack heart, and that I run over the roofs
with remarkable agility."

"No, I exaggerate nothing," he said. "I speak of things as they
are, and the proof that you are an extraordinary man is, that in
all you do, you appear perfectly simple and natural."

And as Gilbert shrugged his shoulders and smiled:

"Ah! you need not laugh!" he continued. "Feel my pulse, you will
see I have no fever. And have you not noticed how calm I have been
for several days?"

I confess that your quietness surprises me; but is it really a
calm? I suspect that you have only covered the brazier, and that
the fire smoulders under the ashes."

"And you stir up the ashes to draw out the sparks. As you please,
but I forewarn you, that you will not succeed, and that I shall
remain insensible to all your efforts."

"So for a week, you have felt more tranquil in heart and mind?"

"Yes, and I have a good reason for it. There was a great fomenter
of seditions in me, a great stirrer up of rebellion. It was my
pride."

Stephane hid his face in his hands; then after a long silence:

"No," said he, "I have not the courage to speak yet. Besides,
before making my revelation, which you will perhaps consider
extravagant, I want to prove to you more thoroughly that my senses
have been restored, and that I have become wise in your school.
Know then, that before I became acquainted with you, religion was
in my eyes, but a coarse magic in which I believed with passionate
irrationality. I considered prayer as a kind of sorcery, and
attributed to it the power of compelling the divine will; every day
I called upon Heaven to perform a miracle in my favor, and, finding
myself refused, my ungranted prayers fell back like lead upon my
heart. Then I rebelled against the celestial intelligences which
refused to yield to my enchantments, or else I sought in anguish to
ascertain to what error in form, to what neglected precaution, to
what sin of omission I could attribute the impotence of my
operations in magic and my formulas.

"And now am I nothing but a charmed dreamer, a half-crazy child, a
sick brain feeding on crochets, an incorrigible, wrong-headed
fellow? No, you admit that I have profited by your lessons; that a
grain of wisdom has fallen into my brain, and that without having
seen the bottom of things, I have at least lucid intervals. If
this be so, my Gilbert, believe what I am going to say as you would
the Holy Bible. You have worked with all your strength to cure my
soul, and there is not a more skillful physician in the world than
you. But all of your trouble would have been lost, if you had not
had by your side an all-powerful ally, whom you don't know, and
whom I am about to reveal to you. Ah! tell me, when you came into
this room the first time, did you not feel that a celestial spirit
followed in your track and entered with you? You went, he
remained, and has not left me, and never will. Look, do not these
walls speak of him? Do not these saints move their lips to murmur
his name to you? And the air we breathe here, is it not full of
those delicious perfumes which these envoys of Heaven scatter in
their earthward journeys? How strange this spirit appeared to me
at first! His face was all unknown to me, it had never appeared to
me in my dreams. Startled and bewildered, I said to him: Who then
art thou? What is thy name? And, one day, Gilbert, one day, it
was through your mouth that he answered me. Gilbert, Gilbert, oh!
what a singular company you have introduced to me in his person.
Sometimes he seated himself near me, pale, melancholy, clothed in
mourning, and breathed into my heart a venomous bitterness, such as
I had never dreamed of. And feeling myself seized with an
inexpressible desire to die; I cried out 'I know you, you must be
the brother of death!' But all at once transforming himself, he
appeared to me holding a fool's cap in his hand. He shook the
bells and sang to me songs which filled my ears with feverish
murmurings. My head turned, smoke floated before me, my dazzled
eyes were intoxicated with visions, and it seemed to me, poor
child, nourished with gall and tears, that life was an eternal
fete, upon which Heaven looked down smiling. Then I said to the
spirit: 'Now I know you better, you are the brother of folly.' But
he changed himself again, and suddenly I saw him standing erect
before me folded in the long white wings of the seraphim; at once
serious and gentle, divine reason shone in his deep eyes and the
serenity on his brow announced an inhabitant of Heaven. In these
moments, my Gilbert, his voice was more penetrating and more
persuasive than yours; he repeated your words and gave me strength
to believe in them; he engraved your lessons on my mind; he
instilled your wisdom into my folly, your soul in my soul; and know
that if the lily has drunk the juices of the earth, if the lily has
grown, if the lily should blossom one day, it shall not be from the
impotent sun rays which you brought to me in your breast, to which
thanks must be rendered; but to him, the celestial spirit, to him
who lighted in my heart a divine flame with which, may it please
God that yours too may be illuminated!" And rising at these words,
he almost gasped: "Have I said enough? Do you understand me at
last?"

"No!" answered Gilbert resolutely, "I do not understand this
celestial spirit at all."

Stephane writhed his arms.

"Cruel! you do not wish then to divine anything!" murmured he
distractedly. And going to the window, he stood some moments
leaning against it. When he turned towards Gilbert, his eyes were
wet with tears; but by one of those rapid changes which were
familiar to him, he had a smile upon his lips, "What I dare not say
to you, I have just now written," resumed he, drawing a letter from
his bosom.

"It was a last resort which I hoped you would not force me to call
to my aid. Oh! hard heart! to what humiliations have you not
abased my pride!" He presented the letter, but changing his mind,
he said:

"I wish to add a few words to it."

And ran and seated himself at the table. His pen had fallen on the
floor, and not being able to find it, he quickly sharpened a pencil
with a keen-edged poniard which he drew from the depths of a
drawer.

"What a singular penknife you have there," said Gilbert,
approaching him.

"It is a Russian stiletto of Toula manufacture. It belongs to
Ivan, he lent it to me day before yesterday, when we were out
walking, to uproot a plant with. He has forgotten to take it
back."

"You will oblige me by returning it to him," answered Gilbert; "it
is a plaything I don't like to see in your hands."

Stephane gave a sign of assent, and bent over the paper. The
letter which he had written was as follows:

"My Gilbert, listen to a story. I was eleven years old when MY
BROTHER STEPHANE died. Scarcely was he buried when my father
called me to him. He held in his hand a suit of clothes like these
I wear now, and he said to me: 'Stephane, understand me clearly.
It was my daughter that just died, my son lives still.' And as I
persisted in not understanding him, he had a coffin brought in,
placed on a table and he laid me in it; and closing the cover by
degrees, he said, 'My daughter, are you dead?' When it was
entirely closed, I decided to speak, and I cried out, 'Father, your
daughter is dead. It shall be as you desire.' Then he drew me out
of the coffin half dead with fear and horror, and exclaimed,
'Stephane, remember that my daughter is dead. Should you ever
happen to forget it' . . . He said no more, but his eyes finished
the sentence. Gilbert, at this moment the daughter of my father
comes back to life to tell you that she loves you with an
unconquerable love which she can no longer conceal. In my
simplicity, I thought at first that I loved you as you loved me;
but you yourself have taken care to undeceive me. One day you
spoke of our approaching separation, and you said to me: 'We shall
see each other sometimes!' And you did not hear the cry of my
heart which answered you; to pass a day without seeing you! What a
hell!

"When I had fairly comprehended that your friendship was a
devotion, a virtue, a wisdom, and that mine was a folly, then the
daughter of my father thought of dying, so bitter were the torments
which her rebellious pride inflicted upon her. Ah! what would I
not have given, my Gilbert, if divining who I was, you had fallen
at my feet crying: 'I too know how to love madly!'

"But no; you have understood nothing, suspected nothing. My hair,
the resemblance to my mother imprinted on my face, the smile, which
they tell me, passed from her lips to mine. . . . Oh! blindest of
men! how I have hated you at moments! But it does not really seem
that a fatality pursues me? That hand with its iron grip fastened
on my shoulder, and forcing me to prostrate myself before you, I
feel no longer, with its nails pressing into my flesh; and yet my
knees, trembling, powerless, bend under me, and again you see me
fall at your feet. Yes, my poor pride is dead indeed. The thunder
growled when it gave up its last breath. You remember that stormy
night. Glued at the window pane, I tried to pierce the darkness
with my eyes, to discern you in the midst of the tempest. All at
once the heavens were ablaze, and I saw you standing upon the ledge
of your window, bending proudly over the abyss, at which you seemed
to hurl defiance. Enveloped in flashing light, you appeared to me
like a blissful spirit, and I exclaimed to myself: 'This is one of
the elect of God! I can ask of him without shame for indulgence
and mercy!' And now, my Gilbert, do not presume to tell me that my
love is a malady, which needs only careful attention. Oh, God! all
that would be useless; the saints themselves have refused to cure
me. Do not try to terrify me, either, or speak to me of
insurmountable obstacles to our union; of dangers which threaten
us. The future! We will talk of that hereafter. Now, I want to
know but one thing; that is, if you are capable of loving me as I
love you? Friend, if hatred can change to love, would it be
impossible for friendship? . . . Gilbert, Gilbert, forget what the
refined barbarity of my father has made of me; forget my gusts of
passion, my violence, the unruliness of a badly educated child;
forget the vehemence of my language, the rudeness of my actions;
forget the fountain; my whip raised to you; forget those young
villagers I compelled to kiss my feet; forget even the cap which I
threw in your face, for, Heaven is my witness, I feel a woman's
heart awakened in my bosom; it shakes off its long sleep, it stirs,
it sighs, it speaks, and the first name it utters, the only one it
ever wants to know, is yours! . . .

"What more shall I say? I would like to appear to you in your
dreams decked as if for a fete: clothed in white, a smile upon my
lips, pearls about my neck, around my head the flowers you love--
white anemones and blue gentians. Only take care, some of the
henbane flowers have slipped into my crown. Tear them from my hair
yourself, lest their perfume instill a deadly poison into my heart.
But no, I do not wish to frighten you. Stephane is wise; she is
reasonable; she does not ask the impossible; she gives you time to
breathe; to recover yourself. Wait, if you wish it, a week, a
fortnight, a month, before coming here again; until that blessed
day dawns when you can say with your adored poet; 'In its turn,
friendship revealed its power to my heart, and at length love,
coming last, crowned it with flowers and fruit.'"

To this letter Stephane added these words: "And if that day,
Gilbert, if that day should never come--"

But here she hesitated; her hand trembled; she looked alternately
at Gilbert and the knife; then rising--

"I do not know how to finish my letter," she said. "You can easily
supply what is lacking. But you must not read it here; carry it to
your turret; you will meditate upon it there more at leisure."

And at these words, having returned the paper to him, she burst
into a fit of laughter.

"Again that same laugh, which I detest," said Gilbert, trying to
hide the anguish which was consuming him.

"Do you want to know what it means?" said the young girl, looking
him in the face. "When we were at Baden-Baden, three years ago,
Father Alexis had a fancy to take me to a gambling house, and in
entering I heard a burst of laughter much resembling those which
shock you so. 'Who is laughing in that way?' said I to the good
father. He found on inquiring that it was a man who had just
gained enormous sums, and who was preparing to play double or
quits.

"Double or quits!" added she; "to play double or quits! If I
should lose--"

All at once her eyes dilated, and shot fire; she turned her head
backward, and raising her arm towards Gilbert, she exclaimed:

"You know who I am, and you have condemned me in your heart. Ah!
think twice; you have my life in your hands." And recoiling a few
steps she suddenly turned, fled across the room, threw open a small
side-door, and disappeared.

How did Gilbert manage to reach his turret?

All he knows himself is, that on coming out of the dormer window,
beside himself, forgetting all idea of danger, he committed, for
the first time, the signal imprudence of walking erectly over the
roof, which ordinarily he found difficult to cross even in
crawling; seeing and hearing nothing, entirely absorbed in a single
thought, he started forward at a quick pace. From his gait and
carriage, the moon, which shone brightly in the sky, must have
taken him for a madman, or a somnambulist. He reached the end of
the roof, when a broken slate slipped under his feet. He lost his
balance, fell heavily, and it would have been all over with him,
if, in falling, his hand had not by a miracle encountered the
trailing end of his ladder, by which he had strength enough to hold
himself. Slates are brittle, and when hurled against a hard
substance break in a thousand pieces. The one which Gilbert had
just precipitated into space met a point of rock which scattered it
into fragments, one of which struck, without wounding, the hand of
a man who happened to be rambling on the border of the ravine.

As fate would have it, this evening M. Leminof had an important
letter to forward by the mail; and near nine o'clock, contrary to
all the usages and customs of his house, he had sent Fritz to a
large town about a league distant, where the courier passed during
the night. Unluckily, upon his return, Fritz saw a light shining
in the cottage of his Dulcinea. Appetite, the opportunity, some
devil also urging him, he left the road, walked straight to the
cabin, opened the door, which was only closed by a latch, entered
with stealthy tread, and surprised his beauty seated upon a stool
and mending her linen. He drew near her, said gallant things to
her, and soon began to take liberties. The damsel, frolicsome and
forward, instead of awakening her father, who slept in the
neighboring room, rushed to the door, darted out and gained upon a
run the serpentine path which ran along the edge of the ravine. A
hundred times more active than Fritz, she kept in advance of him;
then halted, called him, and the moment when he thought he was
going to seize her, she escaped and ran on faster. She continued
this game until becoming weary she hid herself behind a bush, and
laughing in her sleeve, saw the amorous giant pass her, continue to
ascend, reeking with sweat, slipping frequently, and constantly
fearing he would fall down the precipice. At length, by dint of
scrambling, he arrived at the place where the path ended at the
perpendicular fall of the precipice, a height of forty feet. By
what means had his fantastic princess scaled this wall? All at
once he heard a silvery voice which called him below. In his rage
he struck his forehead with his fist; but at the moment he was
about to descend, a singular noise struck his ear--a piece of slate
grazed his hand and drew from him an exclamation of surprise.
Raising his head quickly, and favored by the light of the moon, he
saw upon his right a shadow suspended in the air. It mounted,
stopped upon the ledge of a window, stooped down and soon
disappeared.

"Oh! oh!" said he, much astonished, "here's something odd!
Monsieur secretary goes out at night, then, to make the rounds of
the roofs? And for this we have provided ourselves with rope
ladders. I am much mistaken if his Excellency, the Count, will
relish this little amusement. Peste, the jolly fellow has a good
foot and a good eye. There must be a great deal to gain to risk
his skin this way. Faith! these demure faces are not to be
trusted."

The great Fritz was so stupefied with his discovery that he seated
himself a moment upon a stone to collect his thoughts. The fine
idea which his thick skull brought forth was that the secretary
belonged to the illustrious brotherhood of ambidexters, and that
his nocturnal circuits had for their object the search for hidden
treasure. Proud of his sagacity, and delighted with the
opportunity to satisfy his resentment, he descended the path, not
without trouble, and deaf to the voice and the laughter of his
enchantress, who challenged him to new trials, he regained the road
and strode on to the castle.

"Oh! then, Mr. Secretary," said the knave to himself with a wicked
smile, "you threw me down a staircase, and thought you'd get me
turned out of doors. What will you say if I make you go out by the
window?"


XVII


The next day--it was the second Sunday of September--Gilbert went
out at about ten o'clock in the morning, and directed his steps to
a wild and solitary retreat. It was a narrow glade upon the
borders of a little pond dried up by the summer heat, near which he
had often gathered plants for Stephane. Among groups of trees
which straggled up on all sides, under a patch of blue sky, a
ground of blackish clay, cracked and creviced, herbage, dried
rushes; here and there some patches of stagnant water, the surface
of which was rippled by the gambols of the aquatic spider; further
on a large tuft of long-plumed reeds, which shivered at the least
breath and rocked upon their trembling stems drowsy red butterflies
and pensive dragonflies; upon the steep banks of the pond, sad
flowers, pond weed, the marsh clover, the sand plantain; in a
corner, a willow with roots laid bare, which hung over the
exhausted pool as if looking for its lost reflection; around about,
nettles, briars, dry heather, furze, stripped of its blossoms; that
damp and heavy atmosphere which is natural to humid places; the
light of day thinly veiled by the exhalations from the earth; an
odor of decaying plants, long silence interrupted by dull sounds;
an air of abandonment, of idleness, of lassitude, the melancholy
languor of a life departing regretfully; the recollection of
something which was, and will never reappear, never! Such was the
word which this wild solitude murmured to Gilbert's ear. Never!
repeated he to himself, and his heart was oppressed by a sense of
the irretrievable. He seated himself upon the sward, a few steps
from the willow, his elbows upon his knees, and his head in his
hands, and lost himself in long and painful meditation. I shall
tell all; he felt at intervals in the depths of his being, in the
very depths, the agitation of a secret joy which he dared not
confess to himself; but it was a passing movement of his soul which
he did not succeed in defining in the midst of the whirlwind which
shook him. And then, in such a moment, he thought but little of
asking himself what he could or could not feel. His mind was
elsewhere. Sometimes he sought to picture to himself all the
successive phases of this unhappy existence, of which, henceforth,
he held the key; sometimes he felt a tender admiration for the
energy and elasticity of this young soul which unparalleled
misfortunes had not been able to crush. And now to abandon him, to
break such close and sweet ties, was it not to condemn him to
despair, to deliver him up a victim to the violence of his passions
rendered more violent by unhappiness? Ought he not at least to
attempt to draw from his impulsive heart this fatal arrow, this
baleful love which to his eyes was a danger, an extravagance, a
calamity? And from reflection to reflection, from anxiety to
anxiety, he always returned to deplore his own blindness. The
eccentricities of Stephane's conduct, certain salient points in his
character, the passionate ABANDON of his language; his face, his
hair, his glances, the charm of his smile; how was it that so many
of his indications had escaped him? And this want of penetration
which resulted from the rather unromantic character of his mind, he
attributed to bluntness of sensibility and charged himself with it
as a crime. He was profoundly absorbed in his reverie when the cry
of a raven aroused him. He opened his eyes, and when he had lost
sight of the croaking bird, which crossed the glade in rapid
flight, he looked for a moment at a handsome variegated butterfly
which fluttered about the willow; then noticing in the grass,
within reach of his hand, a pretty little marsh flower, he drew it
carefully from the soil with its root and set about its examination
with an attentive eye. He admired the purple tint of its pistil
and the gold of its stamens, which contrasted charmingly with the
brilliant whiteness of the petals, and said unconsciously: "There
is a lovely flower which I have not yet shown to my Stephane: I
must carry it to him."

But instantly recollecting himself, and throwing away the innocent
flower spitefully, he exclaimed:

"Oh, fortune, what singular games you play!"

"Yes, fortune is singular!" answered a voice which was not unknown
to him; and before he had time to turn, Dr. Vladimir was seated
beside him.

Vladimir Paulitch had employed his morning well. Scarcely out of
bed, he had given a private audience to Fritz, who, not daring to
address his master directly, for his frowns always made him
tremble, had come to ask the doctor to receive his revelations and
obligingly transmit them to his Excellency. When in an excited and
mysterious tone he had disclosed his important secret:

"There is nothing astonishing in that," replied Vladimir coldly.
"This young man is a somnambulist, and the conclusion of your
little story is, that his window must be barred. I will speak to
Count Kostia about it."

Upon which Fritz slunk away discomfited and much confused at the
turn the adventure had taken.

After his departure, Vladimir Paulitch concluded to take a walk
upon the grassy hillock, and on his way said to himself: "Have my
suspicions, then, been well founded?"

He had passed an hour among the rocks, studying the spot, examining
the aspect of the castle from this side, and particularly the
irregularities of the roof. As his eyes rested on the square tower
which Stephane occupied, he saw him appear at the window, and
remain there some minutes, his eyes fixed upon Gilbert's turret.

"Aha! Now we see how matters stand!" said he, "but to risk his
head in this way, our idealist must be desperately in love. And
he'll carry it through! We must find him and have a little chat."

In reascending to the castle, Vladimir had seen Gilbert turn into
the woods, and without being perceived, had followed him at a
distance.

"Yes, fortune is singular!" repeated he, "and we must resist it
boldly and brave it resolutely, or submit humbly to its caprices
and die. This is but reasonable; half measures are expedients of
fools. As for me, I have always been the partisan of sequere Deum,
which I interpret thus: 'Take luck for your guide, and walk on
blindly.'"

And as Gilbert made no answer, he continued:

"May I presume to ask you what caused you to say, just now, that
fortune plays us odd tricks?"

"I was thinking," replied Gilbert, tranquilly, "of the emperor,
Constantine the Great, who you know--"

"Ah! that is too much," interrupted Vladimir. "What! on a
beautiful morning, in the midst of the woods, before a little
dried-up pond, which is not without its poetry, seated in the grass
with a pretty white flower in your hand--the emperor, Constantine,
the subject of your meditations? As for me, I have not such a
well-balanced head, and I will confess to you that just now, in
rambling among the thickets, I was entirely occupied with the
singular games of my own destiny, and what is more singular still,
I felt the necessity of relating them to someone."

"You surprise me," replied Gilbert; "I did not think you so
communicative."

"And who of us," resumed Vladimir, "never contradicts his own
character? In Russia the duties of my position oblige me to be
reserved, secret, enveloped in mystery from head to foot, a great
pontiff of science, speaking but in brief sentences and in an
oracular tone; but here I am not obliged to play my role, and by a
natural reaction, finding myself alone in the woods with a man of
sense and heart, my tongue unloosens like a magpie's. Let us see;
if I tell you my history do you promise to be discreet?"

"Undoubtedly. But if you must have a confidant, how happens it
that intimate as you are with Count Kostia--"

"Ah, precisely! when you know my history you will understand for
what reason in my interviews with Kostia Petrovitch I speak often
of him, but rarely of myself."

And at these words Vladimir Paulitch turned up his sleeves, and
showing his wrists to Gilbert; "Look!" he said. "Do you see any
mark, any scar?"

"No, I cannot detect any."

"That is strange. For forty years, however, I have worn handcuffs,
for such as you see me--I, Vladimir Paulitch; I, one of the first
physicians of Russia; I, the learned physiologist, I am the refuse
of the earth, I am Ivan's equal; in a word, I am a serf!"

"You a serf!" exclaimed Gilbert, astonished.

"You should not be so greatly surprised; such things are common in
Russia," said Vladimir Paulitch, with a faint smile. "Yes, sir,"
he resumed, "I am one of Count Kostia's serfs, and you may imagine
whether or not I am grateful to him for having had the goodness to
fashion from the humble clay of which nature had formed one of his
moujiks, the glorious statue of Doctor Vladimir Paulitch. However,
of all the favors he has heaped upon me the one which troubles me
most is, that, thanks to his discretion, there were but two men in
the world, himself and myself, who knew me for what I am. Now
there are three.

"My parents," continued he, "were Ukraine peasants, and my first
profession was taking care of sheep; but I was a born physician.
The sick, whether men or sheep, were to my mind the most
interesting of spectacles. I procured some books, acquired a
slight knowledge of anatomy and chemistry, and by turns I
dissected, and hunted for simples, the virtues of which I tried
with indefatigable ardor. Poor, lacking all resources, brought up
from infancy in foolish superstitions, from which I had the trouble
in emancipating myself; living in the midst of coarse, ignorant men
degraded by slavery, nothing could repulse me or discourage me. I
felt myself born to decipher the great book of nature, and to wring
from it her secrets. I had the good fortune to discover some
specifics against the rot and tag sore. That rendered me famous
within a circuit of three leagues. After quadrupeds, I tried my
hand on bipeds. I effected several happy cures, and people came
from all parts to consult me. Proud as Artaban, the little
shepherd, seated beneath the shade of a tree, uttered his
infallible oracles, and they were believed all the more implicitly,
as nature had given to his eyes that veiled and impenetrable
expression calculated to impose upon fools. The land to which I
belonged was owned by a venerable relative of Count Kostia. At her
death she left her property to him. He came to see his new domain;
heard of me, had me brought into his presence, questioned me, and
was struck with my natural gifts and precocious genius. He had
already proposed to found a hospital in one of his villages where
he resided during the summer, and it occurred to him that he could
some day make me useful there. I went with him to Moscow.
Concealing my position from everyone, he had me instructed with the
greatest care. Masters, books, money, I had in profusion. So
great was my happiness that I hardly dare to believe in it, and I
was sometimes obliged to bite my finger to assure myself that I was
not in a dream. When I reached the age of twenty, Kostia
Petrovitch made me enter the school of medicine, and some years
later I directed his hospital and a private asylum which he founded
by my advice. My talents and success soon made me known. I was
spoken of at Moscow, and was called there upon consultations. Thus
I was in a fair way to make a fortune, and what gratified me still
more, I was sought after, feted, courted, fawned upon. The little
shepherd, the moujik, had become King and more than King, for a
successful physician is adored as a god by his patients; and I do
not believe that a pretty woman gratifies her lovers with half the
smiles which she lavishes freely upon the magician upon whom depend
her life and her youth. At this time, sir, I was still religious.
Imagine the place Count Kostia held in my prayers, and with what
fervor I implored for him the intercession of the saints and of the
blessed Mary. Prosperity, nevertheless, has this much of evil in
it; it makes a man forget his former self.

"Intoxicated with my glory and success, I forgot too soon my youth
and my sheep, and this forgetfulness ruined me. I was called to
attend a cavalry officer retired from service. He had a daughter
named Pauline; she was beautiful and charming. I thought myself
insensible to love, but I had hardly seen her before I conceived a
violent passion for her. Bear in mind that I had lived until that
time as pure as an ascetic monk; science had been my adored and
lofty mistress. When passion fires a chaste heart, it becomes a
fury there. I loved Pauline with frenzy, with idolatry. One day
she gave me to understand that my folly did not displease her. I
declared myself to her father, obtained his consent, and felt as if
I should die of happiness. The next day I sought Count Kostia, and
telling him my story, supplicated him to emancipate me. He
laughed, and declared such an extravagant idea was unworthy of me.
Marriage was not what I required. A wife, children, useless
encumbrances in my life! Petty delights and domestic cares would
extinguish the fire of my genius, would kill in me the spirit of
research and vigor of thought. Besides, was my passion serious?
From what he knew of my disposition, I was incapable of loving. It
was a fantastic trick which my imagination had played me. Only
remain a week without seeing Pauline, and I would be cured. My
only answer was to throw myself at his feet. I glued my mouth to
his hands, watered his knees with my tears, and kissed the ground
before him. He laughed throughout, and asked me with a sneer, if
to possess Pauline it were necessary to marry her. My love was an
adoration. At these insulting words anger took possession of me.
I poured forth imprecations and threats. Presently, however,
recovering myself, I begged him to forgive my transports, and
resuming the language of servile humility, I endeavored to soften
that heart of bronze with my tears. Trouble lost; he remained
inflexible. I rolled upon the floor and tore my hair; and he still
laughed-- That must have been a curious scene. Recollect that at
this epoch I was quite recherche in my costume. I had an
embroidered frill and very fine ruffles of point d'Alencon. I wore
rings on every finger, and my coat was of the latest style and of
elegant cut. Fancy, also, that my deportment, my gait, my air
breathed of pride and arrogance. Parvenus try it in vain, they
always betray themselves. I had a high tone, an overbearing
manner. I enveloped myself in mysterious darkness, which obscured
at times the brightness of my genius, and as I had accomplished
several extraordinary cures, strongly resembling miracles, or
tricks of sorcery, my airs of an inspired priest did not seem out
of place, and I had devotees who encouraged these licenses of my
pride by the excess of their humility. And then, behold, suddenly,
this man of importance, this miraculous personage, flat upon his
face, imploring the mercy of an inexorable master, writhing like a
worm of the earth under the foot which crushed his heart! At last
Kostia Petrovitch lost patience, seized me in his powerful hands,
set me upon my feet, and pushing me violently against the wall,
cried in a voice of thunder, 'Vladimir Paulitch, spare me your
effeminate contortions, and remember who I am and who you are. One
day I saw an ugly piece of charcoal in the road. I picked it up at
the risk of soiling my fingers, and, as I am something of a
chemist, I put it in my crucible and converted it into a diamond.
But just as I have set my jewel, and am about to wear it on my
finger, you ask me to give it up! Ah! my son, I do not know what
keeps me from sending you back to your sheep. Go, make an effort
to conquer your passion; be reasonable, be yourself again. Wait
until my death, my will shall emancipate you; but until then, even
at the risk of your displeasure, you shall be my THING, my
PROPERTY. Take care you do not forget it, or I will shatter you in
pieces like this glass;' and, seizing a phial from the table, he
threw it against the wall, where it broke in fragments.

"Sir, Count Kostia displayed a little too much energy at the time,
but at bottom he was right. Was it just that he should lose all
the fruits of his trouble? Think what a gratification it was to
his pride, to be able to say to himself, 'The great doctor, so
feted, so admired, is my thing and my property.' His words were
true; he wore me as a ring upon his finger. And then he foresaw
the future. For two consecutive years it has only been necessary
for him to move the end of his forefinger, to make me run from the
heart of Russia to soothe his poor tormented nerves. You know how
the heart of man is made. If he had had the imprudence to
emancipate me, I should have come last year out of gratitude; but
this time--"

While Vladimir spoke, Gilbert thought to himself, "This man is
truly the compatriot of Count Leminof."

And then recalling the amiable and generous Muscovite with whom he
had once been intimate, he justly concluded that Russia is large,
and that nature, taking pleasure in contrasts, produces in that
great country alternately the hardest and the most tender souls in
the world.

"One word more," continued Vladimir: "Count Kostia was right; but
unfortunately passion will not listen to reason. I left him with
death in my heart, but firmly resolved to cope with him and to
carry my point. You see that upon this occasion I observed but
poorly the great maxim, Sequere fatum. I flattered myself I should
be able to stem the current. Vain illusion!--but without it would
one be in love? Pauline lived in a small town at about two leagues
from our village. Whenever I had leisure, I mounted a horse and
flew to her. The third day after the terrible scene, I took a
drive with this amiable girl and her father. As we were about to
leave the village, I was seized with a sudden trembling at the
sight of Count Kostia on the footpath, holding his gold-headed cane
under his arm and making his way quietly toward us. He recognized
us, smiled agreeably, and signed to the coachman to stop and to me
to descend.

"Plague upon the thoughtless fellow! whip up, coachman!" cried
Pauline gayly.

But I had already opened the door.

"Excuse me," said I, "I will be with you in a moment." And while
saying these words I was so pale that she became pale, too, as if
assailed by a dark presentiment. Kostia Petrovitch did not detain
me long. After saluting me with ceremonious politeness, he said in
a bantering tone:

"Vladimir, faith she is really charming. But I am sorry to say
that if your engagement is not broken off before this evening, to-
morrow this pretty girl will learn from me who you are."

After which, saluting me again, he walked away humming an aria.

"Money, sir, had always appeared to me so small a thing compared
with science and glory; and besides, my love for Pauline was so
free from alloy, that I had never conceived the idea of informing
myself in regard to her fortune, or the dowry which she might bring
to me. That evening, as we took tea together in the parlor of my
expected father-in-law, I contrived to bring up this important
question for consideration, and expressed views of such a selfish
character, and displayed such a sordid cupidity, that the old
officer at last became indignant. Pauline had a proud soul; she
listened to us some time in silence, and then rising, she crushed
me with a look of scorn, and, extending her arm, pointed me the
door. That devil of a look, sir, I have not forgotten; it has long
pursued me, and now I often see it in my dreams.

"Returning home, I tried to kill myself; but so awkwardly that I
failed. There are some things in which we never succeed the first
time. I was prevented from renewing the attempt by the Sequere
fatum, which returned to my memory. I said to the floods which
beat against my exhausted breast: 'Carry me where you please; you
are my masters, I am your slave.'

"And believe me, sir, this unhappy adventure benefited me. It led
me to salutary reflection. For the first time I ventured to think,
I eradicated from my mind every prejudice which remained there, I
took leave of all chimeras, I saw life and the world as they are,
and decided that Heaven is a myth. My manners soon betrayed the
effect of the enlightenment of my mind. No more arrogance, no more
boasting. I did not divest myself of pride, but it became more
tractable and more convenient; it renounced ostentation and vain
display; the peacock changed into a man of good breeding. This,
sir, is what experience has done for me, assisted by Sequere fatum.
It has made me wise, an honest man and an atheist. So I said a
little while afterwards to Count Kostia:

"'Of all the benefits I have received from you, the most precious
was that of delivering me from Pauline. That woman would have
ruined me. Ah, Count Kostia, how I laugh to myself when I recall
the ridiculous litanies with which I once regaled your ears. You
knew me well. A passing fancy--a fire of straw. Thanks to you,
Kostia Petrovitch, my mind has acquired a perspicuity for which I
shall be eternally grateful to you.

"This declaration touched him; he loved me the more for it. He has
always had a weakness for men who listen to reason. Until then,
notwithstanding the marks of affection which he lavished upon me,
he had always made me feel the distance between us. But from that
day I became intimate with him; I participated in his secrets, and,
what cemented our friendship still more, was that one day I had an
opportunity of saving his life at the risk of my own."

"And Pauline?" said the inquisitive and sympathetic Gilbert.

"Ah! Pauline interests you! Comfort yourself. Six months after
our rupture she made a rich marriage. She still lives in her
little town; she is happy, and has lost none of her beauty. I meet
her sometimes in the street with her husband and children, and I
have the pleasure of seeing her turn her head always from me. And
I, too, sir, have children; they are my pupils. They are called in
Moscow THE LITTLE VLADIMIRS, and one of them will become some of
these days a great Vladimir. I have revealed all my secrets to
him, for I do not want them to die with me, and my end may be near.
I have yet an important work to accomplish; and when my task is
finished, let death take me. The life of the little shepherd of
Ukraine has been too exciting to last long. 'Short and sweet,' is
my motto."

And at these words, leaning suddenly towards Gilbert, and looking
him in the eye:

"Apropos," said he, "were you really thinking of Constantine, the
emperor, when you exclaimed: 'Oh, fortune! what strange tricks you
play?'"

Gilbert was nearly disconcerted by this sudden attack, but promptly
recovered himself.

"Ah! ah!" thought he, "it was not for nothing, then, that you told
me your history; you had a purpose! Who knows but that Count
Leminof has sent you to get my confidence?"

Vladimir employed all the skill he possessed to make Gilbert speak;
his insidious questions were inexhaustible: Gilbert was
impenetrable. From time to time they looked steadily at each
other, each seeking to embarrass his adversary, and to surprise his
secret, but in vain; they fenced with glances, but they were both
so sure in the parries, that not a thrust succeeded. At last
Vladimir lost patience.

"My dear sir," exclaimed he, "I have the weakness to put faith in
dreams, and I had one the other night which troubled me very much.
I dreamed that Count Kostia had a daughter, and that he made her
very unhappy, because she had the twofold misfortune of not being
his daughter, and of resembling in a striking manner a woman whose
remembrance he did not cherish. You see that dreams are as
singular as the tricks of fortune. But the most serious matter
was, that the unhappiness and beauty of this child had strongly
touched your heart and that you had conceived an ardent passion for
her.

"'What must I do?' you said to me one day.

"Then I related my story to you, and said: 'You know the character
of Kostia Petrovitch. Do not hope to move him, it would be an
amusement for him to break your heart. If I had been as much in
love as you are, I should have carried off Pauline and fled with
her to the ends of the world. An elopement!--that is your only
resource. And mark (it was in my dream that I spoke thus), and
mark--if you perform this bold stroke successfully, the Count, at
first furious to see his victim escape him, will at last be
reconciled to it. The sight of this child is a horror to him; even
the tyranny which he exercises over her excites him and disorders
his nerves. After she has left him, he will breathe more freely,
will enjoy better health, and will pardon the ravisher, who will
have relieved his life of the ferment of hatred which torments him.
Then you can treat with him, and I shall be much mistaken if it is
long before your dear mistress becomes your wife.' It was thus I
repeat, that I spoke to you in my dream, and I added: 'Do not lose
an instant; there is danger in remaining here. Kostia Petrovitch
has suspicions; to-morrow perhaps it will be too late!'"

"And then you awoke," interrupted Gilbert, laughing.

Then rising, he continued:

"Your dreams have no common sense, my dear Doctor; for without
taking into consideration that M. Leminof has no daughter, the
faculty of loving has been denied to me by nature, and the only
abduction of which I am capable is that of ink spots from a folio.
With a little chlorine you see--"

He took a few steps to pick up the little flower which he had
thrown away, and continued as he retraced with Vladimir the path
which led to the castle. "Let us speak of more serious things. Do
you know the family of this pretty flower?"

Thus walking on they conversed exclusively upon botany, and having
arrived at the terrace, separated amicably. Vladimir saw Gilbert
move away, and then muttered between his teeth:

"Ha! you won't speak, you refuse me your confidence, and you only
take off spots of ink! Then let your fate work itself out!"

Shall I describe the feelings which agitated Gilbert's heart? They
will readily be divined. In addition to the anxiety which preyed
upon him, a further and greater source of uneasiness was the fear
that all had been discovered. "In spite of my precautions,"
thought he, "some spy stationed by the Count may have seen me
running over the roof, but it is very improbable.

"I am inclined to believe rather, that the lynx eyes of Vladimir
Paulitch have read Stephane's face. At the table he has watched
her narrowly. Perhaps, too, my glances have betrayed me. This
mind, coarse in its subtilty, has taken for a common love the
tender and generous pity with which a great misfortune has inspired
me. Doubtless he has informed the Count, and it was by his order
that he attempted to force my confidence and to draw out my
intentions. Stephane, Stephane, all my efforts then will have but
resulted in heaping upon your head new misfortunes!" He was calmed
a little, however, by the reflection that she had authorized him of
her own accord to remain away from her for at least two weeks.
"Before that time expires," thought he, "I shall have devised some
expedient. It is, first of all, important to throw this terrier,
who is upon our track, off the scent. Fortunately he will not be
here long. His departure will be a great relief to me, for he is a
dangerous person. If only Stephane will be prudent!"

Dinner passed off well! Vladimir did not make his appearance. The
Count was amiable and gay. Stephane, although very pale, was as
calm as on the preceding days, and his eyes did not try to meet
those of Gilbert, who felt his alarm subsiding; but when they had
risen from the table, Kostia Petrovitch having left the room first,
his daughter had time, before following him, to turn quickly, draw
from her sleeve a little roll of paper, and throw it at Gilbert's
feet; he picked it up, and what was his chagrin when, after having
locked himself in his room, he read the following lines: "The
spirit of darkness has returned to me! I could not close my eyes
last night. My head is on fire. I fear, I doubt, I despair. My
Gilbert, I must at any cost see you this evening, for I feel myself
capable of anything. Oh, my friend! come at least to console me--
come and take from my sight the knife which remains open on my
table."

Gilbert passed two hours in indescribable anguish. Whilst day
lasted, he stood leaning upon his window sill, hoping all the time
that Stephane would appear at hers, and that he could communicate
to her by signs; but he waited in vain, and already night began to
fall. He deliberated, wavered, hesitated. At last, in this
internal struggle, one thought prevailed over all others. He
imagined he could see Stephane, pale, disheveled, despair in her
eyes; he thought he could see a knife in her hands, the slender
blade flashing in the darkness of the night. Terrified by these
horrible fancies, he turned a deaf ear to prudential counsels,
suspended his ladder, descended, crossed the roofs, clambered up
the window, and sprang into the room. Stephane awaited him,
crouching at the feet of the saints. She rose, bounded forward,
and seized the knife lying upon the table with a convulsive motion,
turned the point towards her heart, and cried in a vibrating voice:

"Gilbert, for the first and last time, do you love me?"

Terrified, trembling, beside himself, Gilbert opened his arms to
her. She threw the poniard away, uttered a cry of joy, of
delirium, leaped with a bound to her friend, threw her arms about
him, and hanging upon his lips she cried:

"He loves me! he loves! I am saved."

Gilbert, while returning her caresses, sought to calm her
excitement; but all at once he turned pale. From the neighboring
alcove came a sigh like that he had heard in one of the corridors
of the castle.

"We are lost!" gasped he in a stifled voice. "They have surprised
us."

But she, clinging to him, her face illuminated by delirious joy,
answered:

"You love me! I am happy. What matters the rest?"

At this moment the door of the alcove opened and Count Kostia
appeared upon the threshold, terrible, threatening, his lips
curling with a sinister smile. At this sight his daughter slowly
raised her head, then took a few steps towards him, and for the
first time dared to look that father in the face, who for so many
years had held her bowed and shuddering under his iron hand. Then
like a young lion with bristling mane, her hair floating in
disorder upon her shoulders, her body quivering, her brows
contracted, with flashing eyes and in a thrilling voice, she cried:

"Ah! it really is you then, sir!

"You are welcome. You here, great God! Truly these walls ought to
be surprised to see you. Yes, hear me, deaf old walls: the man you
see there upon the threshold is my father! Ah, tell me, would you
not have divined it by the tenderness in his face, by that smile
full of goodness playing about his lips?" And then she added:
"Unnatural father, do you remember yet that you once had a
daughter? Search well, you will find her, perhaps, at the bottom
of your memory. Very well! this daughter whom you killed, has just
left her coffin, and he who resuscitated her is the man before
you." Then more excitedly still: "Oh, how I love him, this divine
man! and in loving him, obedient daughter that I am, what have I
done but execute your will? for was it not you yourself who one day
threw me at his feet? I have remained there."

At these words, exhausted by the excess of her emotion, her
strength deserted her. She uttered a cry, closed her eyes, and
sank down. Gilbert, however, had already sprang towards her; he
raised her in his arms and laid her inanimate form in an armchair;
then placing himself before her, made a rampart of his body. When
he turned his eyes upon the Count again, he could not repress a
shudder, for he fancied he saw the somnambulist. The features of
Kostia Petrovitch were distorted, his eyes bloodshot, and his fixed
and burning pupils seemed almost starting from their sockets. He
bent down slowly and picked up the knife, after which he remained
some time motionless without giving any signs of life except by
passing his tongue several times over his lips, as if to assuage
the thirst for blood which consumed him. At last he advanced, his
head erect, his arm holding the knife suspended in the air, ready
to strike. As he drew near, Gilbert recovered all his composure,
and in a clear, strong voice, cried out:

"Count Leminof, control yourself, or you will lose your reason."

And as the frightful phantom still advanced, he quickly uncovered
his breast, and exclaimed in a still louder voice:

"Count Kostia, strike, here is my heart, but your blows will not
reach me,--the specter of Morlof is between us."

At these words the Count uttered a cry like a fallow deer, followed
by a long and plaintive sigh. A terrible internal struggle
followed; his brow contracted; the convulsive movements which
agitated his body, and the flakes of foam which stood upon his
lips, testified to the violence of the effort he was making.
Reason at length returned; his arms fell and the knife dropped, the
muscles of his face relaxed, and his features by degrees resumed
their natural expression. Then turning in the direction of the
alcove, he called out:

"Ivan, come and take care of your young mistress, she has fainted."

Ivan appeared. Who could describe the look which he threw upon
Gilbert? Meanwhile the Count had reentered the alcove; but
returned immediately with a candle, which he lighted quietly, and
then, with an easy gesture, said to Gilbert:

"My dear sir, it seems to me we are in the way here. Be good
enough to leave with me by the staircase; for please God, you do
not return by the roof. If an accident should happen to you, the
Byzantines and I would be inconsolable!"

Gilbert was so constituted, that at this moment M. Leminof inspired
him more with pity than anger. He obeyed, and preceding him a few
steps, crossed the alcove and the vestibule and descended the
stairs. When at the entrance of the corridor, he turned, and
placing his back against the wall, said sadly:

"I have a few words to say to you!"

The Count, stopping upon the last step, leaned nonchalantly over
the balustrade and answered, smiling:

"Speak, I am ready to hear you; you know it always gives me
pleasure to talk with you."

"I beg you, sir," said Gilbert, "to pardon your daughter the
bitterness of her language. She spoke in delirium. I swear to you
that at the bottom of her heart, she respects you, and that you
have only to wish it to have her love you as a father."

M. Leminof answered only by a shrug of the shoulders, which
signified--"What matters it to me?"

"I am bound to say further," resumed Gilbert, "that your anger
ought to fall upon me alone. It was I who sought this child, who
hated me; and I constrained her to receive me. I pressed my
attentions upon her and had no peace or rest until I had gained her
affection."

The Count shrugged his shoulders again, as much as to say: "I
believe you, but how does that change the situation?"

"As for me," continued Gilbert, "I assure you, upon my honor, that
it was only yesterday I drew from your daughter her secret."

The Count answered:

"I believe you readily; but tell me, if you please, is it true that
you now love this little girl as she loves you?"

Gilbert reflected a moment; then considering only the dignity and
interests of Stephane, he replied:

"Yes, I love her with a pure, deep love."

A sarcastic joy appeared upon the Count's face.

"Admirable!" said he; "that is all I wish to know. We have nothing
more to say."

Gilbert raised his head: "One word more, sir!" he exclaimed. "I do
not leave you until you have sworn to me that you will not touch a
hair of your daughter's head, and that you will not revenge
yourself upon her for my well-meant imprudence."

"Peste!" said the Count, laughing, "you are taking great airs; but
I owe you some gratitude, inasmuch as your coolness has saved me
from committing a crime which would have been a great folly, for
only fools avenge themselves with the knife. So I shall grant you
even more than you ask. Hereafter, my daughter shall have no cause
to complain of me, and I will interest myself paternally in her
happiness. It displeases her to be under Ivan's charge; he shall
be only her humble servant. I intend that she shall be as free as
air, and all of her caprices will be sacred to me. I will begin by
restoring her horse, if he is not already sold. I will do more: I
will permit her to resume the garments of her sex. But for these
favors I exact two conditions: first, that you shall remain here at
least six months; second, that you will try neither to see, speak,
nor write to my doll, without my consent."

Gilbert breathed a deep sigh.

"I swear it, on my honor!" replied he.

"Enough! Enough!" resumed M. Leminof, "I have your promise, and I
believe in it as I do in the Gospels."

When the Count reentered his study, Doctor Vladimir, who was
patiently awaiting him, examined him from head to foot, as if
seeking to discover upon his garments or his hands some stain of
blood, then controlling his emotion:

"Well," said he coolly, "how did the affair terminate?"

"Very well," said the Count, throwing himself in a chair. "I have
not killed anyone. This young man's reason restored mine."

Vladimir Paulitch turned pale.

"So," said he, with a forced smile, "this audacious seducer gets
off with a rating."

"You haven't common sense, Vladimir Paulitch! What are you saying
about seduction? Gilberts are an enigma to you. They are not born
under the same planets as Doctors Vladimir and Counts Leminof.
There is a mixture in them of the humanitarian, the knight-errant,
the gray sister, and the St. Vincent de Paul, added to all which,
our philanthropist has a passion for puppets, and from the time of
his arrival he has forewarned me that he intended to make them
play. He must have wanted, I think, to give himself a
representation of some sacramental act, of some mystery play of the
middle ages. The piece began well. The principal personages were
faith, hope, and charity. Unfortunately, love got into the party,
and the mystery was transformed into a drama of cloak and sword. I
am sorry for him; these things always end badly."

"You are mistaken, Count Kostia!" replied Vladimir ironically;
"they often end with a wedding."

"Vladimir Paulitch!" exclaimed the Count, stamping his foot, "you
have the faculty of exasperating me. Today you spent an hour in
kindling the fire of vengeance in my soul. You hate this young
man. I believe, on my honor, that you are jealous of him. You are
afraid, perhaps, that I may put him in my will in place of the
little shepherd of Ukraine? Think of it as you please, my dear
doctor; it is certain that if I had had the awkwardness to kill
this admirable companion of my studies, I should lament him now in
tears of blood, for I know not why, but he is dear to me in spite
of all. But who loves well, chastises well, and I cannot help
pitying him in thinking of all the sufferings which I shall make
him undergo. Now go to bed, doctor. To-morrow morning you will go
on your nimble feet, three leagues from here, on the other side of
the mountain, to a little inn, which I will direct you how to find.
I will follow on horseback. I need exercise and diversion. We
will meet there and dine together. At dessert we will talk
physiology, and you will exert yourself to entertain me."

"But what are you thinking of?" exclaimed Vladimir, surprised to
the last degree. "Will you permit these two lovers--"

"Oh! you have but a dull mind, in spite of your wisdom,"
interrupted the Count. "In matters of vengeance, you only know the
calicoes and cottons. Mine I prefer to weave of silk and threads
of gold."

On returning to his room, Vladimir Paulitch said to himself:

"These two men are too rational. The piece moves too slowly. I
must hasten the denouement."


XVIII


Early in the morning Ivan entered Gilbert's room. The face of the
poor serf was distressing to see. His eyes were red and swollen,
and his features bloated. The bloody marks of his nails were
visible on his face; forehead and cheeks were furrowed with them.
He informed Gilbert that towards noon Count Kostia would go out
with Vladimir Paulitch and would be absent the rest of the day.

"He left me here to watch you and to render an account to him upon
his return of all I should see and hear. I am not ugly;--but after
what has passed, you would be foolish to expect the least favor
from me. My eyes, ears, and tongue will do their duty. You must
know, too, that the barine is in a very gloomy mood to-day. His
lips are white, and he frequently passes his left hand over his
forehead, a sure sign that a storm is raging within."

"My dear Ivan," answered Gilbert, "I also shall be absent all day;
so you see your task of watching will be easy."

Ivan breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed as if a mountain had
been taken from his breast.

"I see with pleasure," said he, "that you repent of your sin, and
that you promise to be wiser in the future; ah, if my young master
would only listen to reason, like you."

"Your young master, as you call him, will be as rational as myself.
But do me the favor to tell me--"

"Oh! don't be alarmed; his fainting fit was not long. I had hardly
got to him, when he opened his eyes and asked me if you were still
alive. On hearing my answer he exclaimed: 'Ah! my God! how happy I
am! He lives and loves me!' Then he tried to rise, but was so
weak that he fell back. I carried him to his bed and he said to
me: 'Ivan, for four nights I have not closed my eyes,' and at these
words he smiled and fell asleep, smiling, and he is asleep yet."

"In order to be wise, Stephane must be occupied. She must work
with her mind and her hands. Here, take this little white flower,"
added he, handing him the one he had plucked the day before; "ask
her, for me, to paint it in her herbarium to-day."

And as Ivan examined the plant with an air of distrust, he added:

"Go, and fear nothing. I've not hidden a note in it. I am a man
of honor, my dear Ivan, and never break my word."

Ivan hid the flower in one of his sleeves and went out muttering to
himself:

"How is all this going to end? Ah! may the Holy Trinity look down
in pity upon this house. We are all lost!"

Gilbert went out. Leaving upon his right the plateau and its close
thickets, he gained the main road and followed the bank of the
Rhine for a long distance. A thousand thoughts crowded in
confusion through his mind; but he always came to the same
conclusion:

"I will save this child, or lose my life in the attempt."

As the sun began to sink towards the horizon, he returned to the
castle. He went in search of Father Alexis and found him in the
chapel. The good father had learned from Ivan what had happened
the night before. He reproached Gilbert severely, but
nevertheless, after hearing his explanations, softened
considerably, and in a tone of grumbling indulgence, repeated the
old proverb, "Everyone to his trade." "Oxen," added he, "are born
to draw the plow, birds to fly, bees to make honey, Gilberts to
read and make great books, and Father Alexis to edify and console
his fellow-creatures. You have encroached upon my prerogatives.
You wanted to walk in my shoes. And what has been the result of
your efforts? The spoiling of my task! Have you not observed how
much better this child has been for the last two months, how much
more tranquil, gentle, and resigned? I had preached so well to
her, that she at last listened to reason. And you must come to put
in her head a silly love which will cost both of you many tears."

Upon which, seizing him rudely by the arm, he continued:

"And what need had we of your assistance, the good God and I? Have
you forgotten? Open your eyes and look! To-day, my child, even
to-day I have put the finishing touch to my great work."

Then he pointed his finger to two long rows of sallow faces,
surmounted by golden halos, which two lamps suspended from the
ceiling illuminated with a mysterious light. Like a general
enumerating his troops, he said:

"Look at these graybeards. That is Isaac, this Jeremiah, and this
Ezekiel. On the other side are the holy warrior martyrs. Then St.
Procopius, there St. Theodore, who burnt the temple of Cybele. His
torch may yet be relighted. And these archangels, do you think
their arms will be forever nerveless and their swords always asleep
in their scabbards?"

Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed aloud:

"And thou, holy mother of God, suffer thy unworthy servant to
summon thee to keep thy promise. Let thy august power at last be
made manifest. At the sight of thy frowning brows let there be
accomplished a mystery of terror and tears in hardened hearts. Let
the neck of the proud be broken, and let his haughty head, bent
down by the breath of thy lips, as by the wind of a tempest, bow to
the very earth and its hair sweep the dust of this pavement."

Just then they heard a voice calling:

"Father Alexis, Father Alexis, where are you?"

The priest turned pale and trembled. He tried in vain to rise, his
knees seemed nailed to the ground.

"Ah! my child, did you not hear a divine voice answer me?"

But helping him to his feet, Gilbert said with a sad smile:

"There is nothing divine in that voice. It has a strongly-marked
Provencal accent, and if I am not mistaken, it belongs to Jasmin
the cook, who is there in the court with a lantern in his hand, and
is calling you."

"Perhaps you are right," answered the good father, shaking his head
and passing his hand over his forehead, which was bathed in
perspiration. "Let us see what this good Jasmin wants. Perhaps he
brings my dinner. I had notified him, however, that I proposed to
fast to-day."

Jasmin no sooner saw them come out of the chapel than he ran
towards them and said to the priest:

"I don't know, father, what has happened to Ivan, but when I went
into his room to carry him his dinner, I found him stretched on his
bed. I called him and shook him, but couldn't wake him up."

A shudder ran through Gilbert's whole body. Seizing the lantern
from Jasmin he darted off on a run; in two seconds he was with
Ivan. Jasmin had told the truth; the serf slept heavily and
profoundly. By dint of pulling him by the arm, Gilbert succeeded
in making him open his eyes; but he soon closed them again, turned
towards the wall, and slept on.

"Someone must have given him a narcotic," said Gilbert, whispering
to Father Alexis who had just joined him.

And addressing Jasmin, who had followed the priest.

"Has anyone been here this afternoon?"

"I ask your pardon," said the cook. "Doctor Vladimir returned from
his walk at about five o'clock. This surprised me very much, as
Count Kostia told me before he left, that M. Stephane would dine
here alone to-day."

"The doctor is at the table then, now."

"Pardon, pardon! He didn't wish any dinner. He told me in a
joking way, that he would shortly go to a grand dinner in the other
world."

"But where is he then? In his study?"

"Two hours afterwards, he went out with M. Stephane."

"Which way did they go?" cried Gilbert, shaking him violently by
the arm.

"Ah! pardon, sir, take care, you'll put my arm out of joint,"
answered the huge Provencal.

"Jasmin, my good Jasmin, answer me: which way did they go?"

"Ah! I remember now, they took the road to the woods."

Gilbert darted off instantly. Father Alexis cried after him in
vain:

"Wait for me, my child, I will accompany you. I am a man of good
judgment." As if carried by the wind, Gilbert was already in the
woods. His head bare, pale, out of breath, he ran at the top of
his speed. Night had come, and the moon began to silver over the
foliage which quivered at every breath of wind. Gilbert was blind
to the moon's brightness, deaf to the sighing of the wind. He
heard nothing but the diminishing sound of steps in the distance,
he saw nothing but a cloud of blood which floated before his eyes
and indicated the path; the sole thought which shed any light upon
his mind, filled with gloomiest apprehensions, was this:

"I did not understand this man! It was an offensive alliance which
he proposed to me yesterday. I refused to avenge him: he is going
to revenge himself, and a Russian serf seeking vengeance is capable
of anything."

On he ran with unabated speed, and would have run to the end of the
world if, in an elbow of the road, some steps before him, he had
not suddenly perceived Stephane. Standing in the moonlight erect
and motionless, Gilbert stopped, held out his arms, and uttered a
cry. She trembled, turned, and running to him, cried:

"Gilbert, do you love me?"

He answered only by pressing her to his heart; and then perceiving
Doctor Vladimir, who was sitting on the edge of a ditch, his head
in his hands, he stammered:

"This man here with you!"

"I do not know," said she in a trembling voice, "whether he is a
mad man or a villain; but it is certain that he is going to die,
for he has poisoned himself."

"What have you to say?" said Gilbert, looking wildly at the
dejected face of the doctor, upon which the moon was shining full.
"Explain I beg of you."

"What do I know?" said she; "I think I have been dreaming since
yesterday evening. It seems to me, however, that this man came to
my room for me. He had taken the precaution to drug Ivan. I was
dying with melancholy. He persuaded me that you, my Gilbert, were
waiting for me in one of the paths of this forest, to fly with me
to a distant country. 'Let us go, let us go,' I cried; but on the
way I began to think, I grew suspicious, and at this turning of the
road I said to my gloomy companion: 'Bring my Gilbert to me here; I
will go no further.' Then he looked at me with frightful eyes, and
I believe said to me: 'What is your Gilbert to me? Follow me or
you die;' and then he fumbled in his bosom as if to find a
concealed weapon; but if I am not mistaken, I looked at him
steadily, and crossing my arms, said to him: 'Kill me, but you
shall not make me take another step.'"

Vladimir raised his head.

"How deceptive resemblances are," said he in a hollow voice. "I
once knew a woman who had the same contour of face, and one
evening, by the sole power of my eye, I compelled her to fall at my
feet, crying: 'Vladimir Paulitch, do with me what you will.' But
your young friend has a soul made of different stuff. You can
believe me if you wish, sir; but the fact is that her charming face
suddenly struck me with an involuntary respect. It seemed to me
that her head was adorned with a royal diadem. Her eyes glowed
with a noble pride; anger dilated her nostrils, and while a
scornful smile flitted over her lips, her whole face expressed the
innocence of a soul as pure as the rays of the moon shining upon
us. At this sight I thought of the woman of whom I spoke to you
yesterday, and I felt a sensation of horror at the crime I had
premeditated, and I, Doctor Vladimir, I prostrated myself at the
feet of this child, saying to her: 'Forgive me, I am a wretch;'
after which I swallowed a strong dose of poison of my own
composition, whose antidote I do not know, and in two hours I shall
be no more."

Gilbert looked steadily at him.

"Ah! great God," thought he, "it was not the life but the honor of
Stephane which was in danger! But the promised miracle has been
wrought, only this is not the one which Father Alexis expected,
since it has been the work of the God of nature."

Stephane approached him, and taking his hands murmured:

"Gilbert, Gilbert, let us fly--let us fly together! There is yet
time!"

But he only muttered:

"I see through it all!" Then turning to Vladimir he said in a tone
of authority, "Follow me, sir! It is right that Count Kostia
should receive your last breath."

Vladimir reflected for a moment, then rising, said:

"You are right. I must see him again before I die; but give me
your arm, for the poison begins to work and my legs are very weak."

They began to walk, Stephane preceding them a few steps. At
intervals, Vladimir would exclaim:

"To die--to breathe no more--no more to see the sun--no more to
remember--to forget all!" And then he added, "One thing disturbs
my happiness. I am not sufficiently revenged!"

At last his voice died upon his lips and his legs failed him.
Gilbert was obliged to carry him on his shoulders, and was nearly
giving out under the burden when he saw Father Alexis coming
towards them breathless. He gave him no time to recover breath,
but cried:

"Take this man by the feet. I will support his shoulders.
Forward! my good father, forward! We have no time to lose."

Father Alexis hastened to comply with Gilbert's request, and they
continued on their way with bowed heads and in gloomy silence.
Stephane alone, with her cap drawn over her eyes, occasionally
uttered disconnected words and alternately cast a furtive glance at
Gilbert, or gazed sadly at the moon. Arriving at the castle, they
crossed the court and ascended the stairs without meeting anyone;
but entering the vestibule of the first story, in which all the
lamps were lighted, they heard a noise of steps in the corridor
which led to the square tower.

"M. Leminof has returned," said Gilbert, trembling. "Father
Alexis, carry this man to his room. I will go and speak to the
Count, and will bring him to you in a moment."

Then taking Stephane by the arm, he whispered to her:

"In the name of Heaven, keep out of the way. Go down on the
terrace and conceal yourself. Your father must not see you until
he has heard me."

"Do you think I am afraid, then?" she replied, and escaping from
him, darted off in the direction of the corridor.

Meanwhile Father Alexis had entered the room of Vladimir Paulitch,
whom he sustained with difficulty in his trembling arms. At the
moment he laid him upon his bed, a voice, which reached even to
them, uttered these terrible words:

"Ah! this is braving me too much! Let her die!" Then a sharp cry
pierced the air, followed by the dull noise of a body falling
heavily upon the floor.

Father Alexis looked at Vladimir with horror. "The mother was not
enough," cried he, "thou hast just killed the daughter!"

And he sprang out of the room distracted.

Vladimir sat up. An atrocious joy gleamed in his face; and
recovering the use of his speech, he murmured, "My vengeance is
complete!"

But at these words a groan escaped him--the poison began to burn
his vitals. Nevertheless he forgot his sufferings when he saw the
Count appear, followed by the priest, and holding in his hand a
sword, which he threw in the corner.

"Count Kostia," cried the dying man, "what have you done with your
daughter?"

"I have killed her," answered he sternly, questioning him with his
eyes.

Vladimir remained silent a moment.

"My good master," resumed he, "do you remember that Pauline whom I
loved? Do you also remember having seen me crouched at your feet
crying, 'Mercy! Mercy! for her and for me'? My good master, have
you forgotten that corner of the street where you said to me one
day: 'This woman is charming; but if your marriage is not broken
off before evening, to-morrow she will learn from me who you are'?
That day, Count Kostia Petrovitch, you had a happy and smiling air.
Say, Kostia Petrovitch, do you recollect it?"

The Count answered only by a disdainful smile.

"Oh! most simple and most credulous of men," continued Vladimir,
"how could you think that I would empty the cup of sorrow and of
shame to the very dregs, and not revenge myself upon him who smiled
as he made me drink it."

"Six months later, you saved my life," said the Count, slightly
shrugging his shoulders.

"Because your days were dear to me. You do not know then the
tenderness of hatred! I wished you to live, and that your life
should be a hell."

And then he added, panting:

"The lover of the Countess Olga, . . . was I."

The Count staggered as if struck by lightning. He supported
himself by the back of a chair, to avoid falling; then springing to
the table, he seized a carafe full of water and emptied it in a
single draught. Then in a convulsed voice, he exclaimed:

"You lie! The Countess Olga could never have given herself to a
serf!"

"Refer to your memory once more, Kostia Petrovitch. You forget
that in her eyes I was not a serf, but an illustrious physician, a
sort of great man. However, I will console you. The Countess Olga
loved me no more than I loved her. My magnetic eyes, my threats
had, as it were, bewitched her poor head; in my arms she was dying
with fear, and when at the end of one of these sweet interviews,
she heard me cry out, 'Olga Vassilievna, your lover is a serf,' she
nearly perished of shame and horror."

The Count cast upon his serf a look of indescribable disgust, and,
making a superhuman effort to speak, once more exclaimed:
"Impossible! That letter which you addressed to me at Paris--"

"I feared that your dishonor might be concealed from you, and what
would life have been to me then?"

M. Leminof turned to the priest who remained standing at the other
end of the room. "Father Alexis, is what this man says true?"

The priest silently bowed.

"And was it for this, foolish priest, that you have endured death
and martyrdom--to prolong the days of a worm of the earth?"

"I cared little for his life," answered the priest, with dignity,
"but much for my conscience, and for the inviolable secrecy of the
confessional."

"And for two years in succession you have suffered my mortal enemy
to lodge under my roof without warning me?"

"I was ignorant of his history and of the fact that he had reasons
for hating you. I fancied that a mad passion had made him a
traitor to friendship, and that in repentance he sought to expiate
his fault, by the assiduous attentions which he lavished upon you."

"Poor fellow!" said the Count, crushing him with a look of pity.

Then Vladimir resumed in a voice growing more and more feeble:

"Since that cursed hour, when I crawled at your feet, without being
able to soften your stony heart with my tears, I became disgusted
with life. To feel that I belonged to you was every instant a
torment. But if you ask me why I have deferred my death so long, I
answer that while you had a daughter living my vengeance was not
complete. I let this child grow up; but when the clock of fate
struck the hour I waited for, courage suddenly failed me, and I was
seized with scruples, which still astonish me. But what am I
saying? I bless my weakness, since I brought home a victim pure
and without stain, and since her virginal innocence adds to the
horror of your crime. Ah! tell me, was the steel which pierced her
heart the same that silenced Morlof's? Oh, sword, thou art
predestinated!"

Count Kostia's eyes brightened. He had something like a
presentiment that he was about to be delivered from that fatal
doubt which for so many years had poisoned his life, and he fixed
his vulture-like eyes upon Vladimir.

"That child," said he, "was not my daughter."

Vladimir opened his vest, tore the lining with his nails and drew
out a folded paper, which he threw at the Count's feet:

"Pick up that letter!" cried he, "the writing is known to you. I
meant to have sent it to you by your dishonored daughter. Go and
read it near your dead child."

M. Leminof picked up the letter, unfolded it, and read it to the
end with bearing calm and firm. The first lines ran thus: "Vile
Moujik. Thou hast made me a mother. Be happy and proud. Thou
hast revealed to me that maternity can be a torture. In my
ignorant simplicity, I did not know until now it could be aught
else than an intoxication, a pride, a virtue, which God and the
church regard with favor, and the angels shelter with their white
wings. When for the first time I felt my Stephan and my Stephane
stir within me, my heart leaped for joy, and I could not find words
enough to bless Heaven which at last rewarded six years of
expectation; but now it is not a child I carry in bosom, it is a
crime. . . ."

This letter of four pages shed light, and carried conviction into
the mind of Count Kostia.

"She was really my daughter," said he, coolly. . . "Fortunately I
have not killed her."

He left the room, and an instant after re-appeared, accompanied by
Gilbert, and carrying in his arms his daughter, pale and
disheveled, but living. He advanced into the middle of the room.
There, as if speaking to himself, he said:

"This young man is my good genius. He tore my sword from me. God
be praised! he has saved her and me. This dear child was
frightened, she fell, but she is unhurt. You see her, she is
alive, her eyes are open, she hears, she breathes. To-morrow she
shall smile, to-morrow we shall all be happy.

Then drawing her to the head of the bed and calling Gilbert to him,
he placed his hands together, and standing behind them, embracing
their shoulders in his powerful arms, and thrusting his head
between theirs, he forced them, in spite of themselves, to bend
with him over the dying man.

Gilbert and Stephane closed their eyes.

The Count's and Vladimir's were wide open devouring each other.
The master's flamed like torches; the serf's were sunken, glassy,
and filled with the fear and horror of death. He seemed almost
petrified, and murmured in a failing voice:

"I am lost. I have undone my own work. To-morrow, to-morrow, they
will be happy."

One last look, full of hatred, flashed from his eyes, over which
the eternal shadow was creeping, his features contracted, his mouth
became distorted, and, uttering a frightful cry, he rendered up his
soul.

Then the Count slowly raised himself. His arms, in which he held
the two young people as in a living vice, relaxed, and Stephane
fell upon Gilbert's breast. Confused, colorless, wild-eyed,
intoxicated with joy and terror at the same time, clinging to her
friend as the sailor to his plank of safety, she said in an
indistinct voice:

"In the life to which you condemn me, my father, the joys are as
terrible as the sorrows."

The Count said to Gilbert:

"Console her, calm her emotion. She is yours. I have given her to
you. Do not fear that I shall take her back again." Then, turning
again to the bed, he exclaimed: "What a terrible thorn death has
just drawn from my heart!"

In the midst of so many tragic sensations, who was happy? Father
Alexis was, and he had no desire to hide it. He went and came,
moved the furniture, passed his hand over his beard, struck his
chest with all his might, and presently in his excess of joy threw
himself upon Stephane and then upon Gilbert, caressing and
embracing them. At last, kneeling down by the bed of death, under
the eyes of the Count, he took the head of the dead man between his
hands and kissed him upon the mouth and cheeks, saying:

"My poor brother, thou hast perhaps been more unfortunate than
guilty. May God, in the unfathomable mystery of his infinite
mercy, give thee one day, as I have, the kiss of peace! Then
raising his clasped hands, he said: "Holy mother of God: blessed be
thy name. Thou hast done more than I dared to ask."

At that moment Ivan, roused at last from his long lethargy,
appeared at the threshold of the door. For some minutes he
remained paralyzed by astonishment, and looked around distractedly;
then, throwing himself at his master's feet and tearing his hair,
he cried:

"Seigneur Pere, I am not a traitor! That man mixed some drug in my
tea which put me to sleep. Seigneur Pere, kill me, but do not say
that I am a traitor."

"Rise," returned the Count gayly, "rise, I say. I shall not kill
thee. I am not going to kill anybody. My son, thou'rt a rusty old
tool. Dost know what I shall do with thee? I shall slip thee in
among the wedding presents of Madame Gilbert Saville."



Paul Bourget

Andre Cornelis


I


I was nine years old. It was in 1864, in the month of June at the
close of a warm, bright afternoon. I was at my studies in my room
as usual, having come in from the Lycee Bonaparte, and the outer
shutters were closed. We lived in the Rue Tronchet, near the
Madeleine, in the seventh house on the left, coming from the
church. Three highly-polished steps (how often have I slipped on
them!) led to the little room, so prettily furnished, all in blue,
within whose walls I passed the last completely happy days of my
life. Everything comes back to me. I was seated at my table,
dressed in a large black overall, and engaged in writing out the
tenses of a Latin verb on a ruled sheet divided into several
compartments. All of a sudden I heard a loud cry, followed by a
clamor of voices; then rapid steps trod the corridor outside my
room. Instinctively I rushed to the door and came up against a
man-servant, who was deadly pale, and had a roll of linen in his
hand. I understood the use of this afterwards. I had not to
question this man, for at sight of me he exclaimed, as though
involuntarily:

"Ah! M. Andre, what an awful misfortune!"

Then, regaining his presence of mind, he said:

"Go back into your room--go back at once!"

Before I could answer, he caught me up in his arms, rather threw
than placed me on the upper step of my staircase, locked the door
of the corridor, and walked rapidly away.

"No, no," I cried, flinging myself against the door, "tell me all;
I will, I must know." No answer. I shook the lock, I struck the
panel with my clenched fists, I dashed my shoulder against the
door. Vain was my frenzy! Then, sitting upon the lowest step, I
listened, in an agony of fear, to the coming and going of people
outside, who knew of "the awful misfortune," but what was it they
knew? Child as I was, I understood the terrible signification
which the servant's exclamation bore under the actual
circumstances. Two days previously, my father had gone out after
breakfast, according to custom, to the place of business which he
had occupied for over four years, in the Rue de la Victoire. He
had been thoughtful during breakfast, indeed for some months past
he had lost his accustomed cheerfulness. When he rose to go out,
my mother, myself, and one of the habitual frequenters of our
house, M. Jacques Termonde, a fellow student of my father's at the
Ecole de Droit, were at table. My father left his seat before
breakfast was over, having looked at the clock, and inquired
whether it was quite right.

"Are you in such a hurry, Cornelis?" asked Termonde.

"Yes," answered my father, "I have an appointment with a client who
is ill--a foreigner--I have to call on him at his hotel to procure
some important papers. He is an odd sort of man, and I shall not
be sorry to see something of him at closer quarters. I have taken
certain steps on his behalf, and I am almost tempted to regret
them."

And since then, no news! In the evening of that day, when dinner,
which had been put off for one quarter of an hour after another,
was over, and my father, who was always so methodical, so punctual,
had not come in, my mother began to betray increasing uneasiness,
and could not conceal from me that his last words dwelt upon her
mind. It was a rare occurrence for him to speak with misgiving of
his undertakings!

The night passed, then the next morning and afternoon, and once
more it was evening. My mother and I were once more seated at the
square table, where the cover laid for my father in front of his
empty chair gave, as it were, a form to our nameless dread.

My mother had written to M. Jacques Termonde, and he came after
dinner. I was sent away immediately, but not without my having had
time to remark the extraordinary brightness of M. Termonde's eyes,
which were blue, and usually shone coldly in his thin, sharp face.
He had fair hair and a beard best described as pale. Thus do
children take note of small details, which are speedily effaced
from their minds, but afterwards reappear, at the contact of life,
just as certain invisible marks come out upon paper when it is held
to the fire.

While begging to be allowed to remain, I was mechanically observing
the hurried and agitated turning and returning of a light cane--I
had long coveted it--held behind his back in his remarkably
beautiful hands. If I had not admired the cane so much, and the
fighting centaurs on its handle--a fine piece of Renaissance work--
this symptom of extreme disturbance might have escaped me. But,
how could M. Termonde fail to be disturbed by the disappearance of
his best friend? Nevertheless, his voice, a soft voice which made
all his phrases melodious, was quite calm.

"To-morrow," he said, "I will have every inquiry made, if Cornelis
has not returned; but he will come back, and all will be explained.
Depend on it, he went away somewhere on the business he told you
of, and left a letter for you to be sent by a commissionaire who
has not delivered it."

"Ah!" said my mother, "you think that is possible?"

How often, in my dark hours, have I recalled this dialogue, and the
room in which it took place--a little salon, much liked by my
mother, with hangings and furniture of some foreign stuff all
striped in red and white, black and yellow, that my father had
brought from Morocco; and how plainly have I seen my mother in my
mind's eye, with her black hair, her brown eyes, her quivering
lips. She was as white as the summer gown she wore that evening.
M. Termonde was dressed with his usual correctness, and I remember
well his slender and elegant figure.

I attended the two classes at the Lycee, if not with a light, at
least with a relieved heart. But, while I was sitting upon the
lower step of my little staircase, all my uneasiness revived. I
hammered at the door again, I called as loudly as I could; but no
one answered me, until the good woman who had been my nurse came
into my room.

"My father!" I cried, "where is my father?"

"Poor child, poor child," said nurse, and took me in her arms.

She had been sent to tell me the awful truth, but her strength
failed her. I escaped from her, ran out into the corridor, and
reached my father's bedroom before anyone could stop me. Ah! upon
the bed lay a rigid form covered by a white sheet, upon the pillow
a bloodless, motionless face, with fixed, wide-open eyes, for the
lids had not been closed; the chin was supported by a bandage, a
napkin was bound around the forehead; at the bed's foot knelt a
woman, still dressed in her white summer gown, crushed and helpless
with grief. These were my father and my mother.

I flung myself madly upon her, and she clasped me passionately,
with the piercing cry, "My Andre, my Andre!" In that cry there was
such intense grief, in that embrace there was such frenzied
tenderness, her heart was then so big with tears, that it warms my
own even now to think of it. The next moment she rose and carried
me out of the room, that I might see the dreadful sight no more.
She did this easily, her terrible excitement had doubled her
strength. "God punishes me! God punishes me!" she said over and
over again taking no heed of her words. She had always been given,
by fits and starts, to mystical piety. Then she covered my face,
my neck, and my hair with kisses and tears. May all that we
suffered, the dead and I, be forgiven you, poor mother, for the
sincerity of those tears at that moment!


II


When I asked my mother, on the instant, to tell me all about the
awful event, she said that my father had been seized with a fit in
a hackney carriage, and that as no papers were found upon him, he
had not been recognized for two days.

Grown-up people are much too ready to think it is equally easy to
tell lies to all children.

Now, I was a child who pondered long in my thoughts over things
that were said to me, and by dint of putting a number of small
facts together, I came to the conviction that I did not know the
whole truth. If my father's death had occurred in the manner
stated to me, why should the man-servant have asked me, one day
when he took me out to walk, what had been said to me about it?
And when I answered him, why did he say no more, and, being a very
talkative person, why had he kept silence ever since? Why, too,
did I feel the same silence all around me, in the air, sitting on
every lip, hidden in every look? Why was the subject of
conversation constantly changed whenever I drew near? I guessed
this by many trifling signs. Why was not a single newspaper left
lying about, whereas, during my father's lifetime, the three
journals to which we subscribed were always to be found on a table
in the salon? Above all, why did both the masters and my
schoolfellows look at me so curiously, when I went back to school
early in October, four months after our great misfortune? Alas! it
was their curiosity which revealed the full extent of the
catastrophe to me.

It was only a fortnight after the reopening of the school, when I
happened to be playing one morning with two new boys; I remember
their names, Rastonaix and Servoin, now, and I can see the big fat
cheeks of Rastonaix and the ferret-like face of Servoin. Although
we were day pupils, we were allowed a quarter of an hour's
recreation at school, between the Latin and English lessons. The
two boys had engaged me on the previous day for a game of ninepins,
and when it was over, they came close to me, and looking at each
other to keep up their courage, they put to me the following
questions, point-blank:

"Is it true that the murderer of your father has been arrested?"

"And that he is to be guillotined?"

This occurred sixteen years ago, but I cannot now recall the
beating of my heart at those words without horror. I must have
turned frightfully pale, for the two boys, who had struck me this
blow with the carelessness of their age--of our age--stood there
disconcerted. A blind fury seized upon me, urging me to command
them to be silent, and to hit them with my fists if they spoke
again; but at the same time I felt a wild impulse of curiosity--
what if this were the explanation of the silence by which I felt
myself surrounded?--and also a pang of fear, the fear of the
unknown. The blood rushed into my face, and I stammered out:

"I do not know."

The drum-tap, summoning us back to the schoolroom, separated us.
What a day I passed, bewildered by my trouble, turning the two
terrible sentences over and over again.

It would have been natural for me to question my mother; but the
truth is, I felt quite unable to repeat to her what my unconscious
tormentors had said. It was strange but true, that thenceforth my
mother, whom nevertheless I loved with all my heart, exercised a
paralyzing influence over me. She was so beautiful in her pallor,
so royally beautiful and proud.

No, I should never have ventured to reveal to her that an
irresistible doubt of the story she had told me was implanted in my
mind merely by the two questions of my schoolfellows; but, as I
could not keep silence entirely and live, I resolved to have
recourse to Julie, my former nurse. She was a little woman, fifty
years of age, an old maid too, with a flat, wrinkled face, like an
over-ripe apple; but her eyes were full of kindness, and indeed so
was her whole face, although her lips were drawn in by the loss of
her front teeth, and this gave her a witch-like mouth. She had
deeply mourned my father in my company, for she had been in his
service before his marriage. Julie was retained specially on my
account, and in addition to her the household consisted of the
cook, the man-servant, and the femme de chambre. Julie put me to
bed and tucked me in, heard me say my prayers, and listened to my
little troubles.

"Oh! the wretches!" she exclaimed, when I opened my heart to her
and repeated the words that had agitated me so terribly. "And yet
it could not have been hidden from you forever." Then it was that
she told me all the truth, there in my little room, speaking very
low and bending over me, while I lay sobbing in my narrow bed. She
suffered in the telling of that truth as much as I in the hearing
of it, and the touch of her dry old hand, with fingers scarred by
the needle, fell softly on my curly head as she stroked it.

That ghastly story, which bore down my youth with the weight of an
impenetrable mystery, I have found written in the newspapers of the
day, but not more clearly than it was narrated by my dear old
Julie. Here it is, plainly set forth, as I have turned and re-
turned it over and over again in my thoughts, day after day, with
the vain hope of penetrating it.

My father, who was a distinguished advocate, had resigned his
practice in court some years previously, and set up as a financial
agent, hoping by that means to make a fortune more rapidly than by
the law. His good official connection, his scrupulous probity, his
extensive knowledge of the most important questions, and his great
capacity for work, had speedily secured him an exceptional
position. He employed ten secretaries, and the million and a half
francs which my mother and I inherited formed only the beginnings
of the wealth to which he aspired, partly for his own sake, much
more for his son's but, above all, for his wife's--he was
passionately attached to her. Notes and letters found among his
papers proved that at the time of his death, he had been for a
month previously in correspondence with a certain person named, or
calling himself, William Henry Rochdale, who was commissioned by
the firm of Crawford, in San Francisco, to obtain a railway
concession in Cochin China, then recently conquered, from the
French Government. It was with Rochdale that my father had the
appointment of which he spoke before he left my mother, M.
Termonde, and myself, after breakfast, on the last fatal morning.
The Instruction had no difficulty in establishing this fact. The
appointed place of meeting was the Imperial Hotel, a large
building, with a long facade, in the Rue de Rivoli, not far from
the Ministere de la Marine. The entire block of houses was
destroyed by fire in the Commune; but during my childhood I
frequently begged Julie to take me to the spot, that I might gaze,
with an aching heart, upon the handsome courtyard adorned with
green shrubs, the wide, carpeted staircase, and the slab of black
marble, encrusted with gold, that marked the entrance to the place
whither my father wended his way, while my mother was talking with
M. Termonde, and I was playing in the room with them. My father
had left us at a quarter-past twelve, and he must have taken a
quarter of an hour to walk to the Imperial Hotel, for the
concierge, having seen the corpse, recognized it, and remembered
that it was just about half-past twelve when my father inquired of
him what was the number of Mr. Rochdale's rooms. This gentleman, a
foreigner, had arrived on the previous day, and had fixed, after
some hesitation, upon an apartment situated on the second floor,
and composed of a salon and a bedroom, with a small ante-room,
which separated the apartment from the landing outside. From that
moment he had not gone out and he dined the same evening and
breakfasted the next morning in his salon. The concierge also
remembered that Rochdale came down alone, at about two o'clock on
the second day; but he was too much accustomed to the continual
coming and going to notice whether the visitor who arrived at half-
past twelve had or had not gone away again. Rochdale handed the
key of his apartment to the concierge, with directions that anybody
who came, wanting to see him, should be asked to wait in his salon.
After this he walked away in a leisurely manner, with a business-
like portfolio under his arm, smoking a cigar, and he did not
reappear.

The day passed on, and towards night two housemaids entered the
apartment of the foreign gentlemen to prepare his bed. They passed
through the salon without observing anything unusual. The
traveler's luggage, composed of a large and much-used trunk and a
quite new dressing-bag, were there. His dressing-things were
arranged on the top of a cabinet. The next day, towards noon, the
same housemaids entered the apartment, and finding that the
traveler had slept out, they merely replaced the day-covering upon
the bed, and paid no attention to the salon. Precisely the same
thing occurred in the evening; but on the following day, one of the
women having come into the apartment early, and again finding
everything intact, began to wonder what this meant. She searched
about, and speedily discovered a body, lying at full length
underneath the sofa, with the head wrapped in towels. She uttered
a scream which brought other servants to the spot, and the corpse
of my father--alas! it was he--was removed from the hiding-place in
which the assassin had cunningly concealed it. It was not
difficult to reconstruct the scene of the murder. A wound in the
back of the neck indicated that the unfortunate man had been shot
from behind, while seated at the table examining papers, by a
person standing close beside him. The report had not been heard,
on account of the proximity of the weapon, and also because of the
constant noise in the street, and the position of the salon at the
back of the ante-room. Besides, the precautions taken by the
murderer rendered it reasonable to believe that he had carefully
chosen a weapon which would produce but little sound. The ball had
penetrated the spinal marrow and death had been instantaneous. The
assassin had placed new unmarked towels in readiness, and in these
he wrapped up the head and neck of his victim, so that there were
no traces of blood. He had dried his hands on a similar towel,
after rinsing them with water taken from the carafe; this water he
had poured back into the same bottle, which was found concealed
behind the drapery of the mantel-piece. Was the robbery real or
pretended? My father's watch was gone, and neither his letter-case
nor any paper by which his identity could be proved was found upon
his body. An accidental indication led, however, to his immediate
recognition. Inside the pocket of his waistcoat was a little band
of tape, bearing the address of the tailor's establishment.
Inquiry was made there, in the afternoon the sad discovery ensued,
and after the necessary legal formalities, the body was brought
home.

And the murderer? The only data on which the police could proceed
were soon exhausted. The trunk left by the mysterious stranger,
whose name was certainly not Rochdale, was opened. It was full of
things bought haphazard, like the trunk itself, from a bric-a-brac
seller who was found, but who gave a totally different description
of the purchaser from that which had been obtained from the
concierge of the Imperial Hotel. The latter declared that Rochdale
was a dark, sunburnt man with a long thick beard; the former
described him as of fair complexion and beardless. The cab on
which the trunk had been placed immediately after the purchase, was
traced, and the deposition of the driver coincided exactly with
that of the bric-a-brac seller. The assassin had been taken in the
cab, first to a shop, where he bought a dressing-bag, next to a
linen-draper's where he bought the towels, thence to the Lyons
railway station, and there he had deposited the trunk and the
dressing-bag at the parcels office. Then the other cab which had
taken him, three weeks afterwards, to the Imperial Hotel, was
traced, and the description given by the second driver agreed with
the deposition of the concierge. From this it was concluded that
in the interval formed by these three weeks, the assassin had dyed
his skin and his hair, for all the depositions were in agreement
with respect to the stature, figure, bearing, and tone of voice of
the individual. This hypothesis was confirmed by one Jullien, a
hairdresser, who came forward of his own accord to make the
following statement:

On the day in the preceding month, a man who answered to the
description of Rochdale given by the first driver and the bric-a-
brac seller, being fair-haired, pale, tall, and broad-shouldered,
came to his shop to order a wig and a beard; these were to be so
well constructed that no one could recognize him, and were
intended, he said, to be worn at a fancy ball. The unknown person
was accordingly furnished with a black wig and a black beard, and
he provided himself with all the necessary ingredients for
disguising himself as a native of South America, purchasing kohl
for blackening his eyebrows, and a composition of Sienna earth and
amber for coloring his complexion. He applied these so skilfully,
that when he returned to the hairdresser's shop, Jullien did not
recognize him. The unusualness of a fancy ball given in the middle
of summer, and the perfection to which his customer carried the art
of disguise, astonished the hairdresser so much that his attention
was immediately attracted by the newspaper articles upon "The
Mystery of the Imperial Hotel," as the affair was called. At my
father's house two letters were found; both bore the signature of
Rochdale, and were dated from London, but without envelopes, and
were written in a reversed hand, pronounced by experts to be
disguised. He would have had to forward a certain document on
receipt of these letters; probably that document was in the letter-
case which the assassin carried off after the crime. The firm of
Crawford had a real existence at San Francisco, but had never
formed the project of making a railroad in Cochin China. The
authorities were confronted by one of those criminal problems which
set imagination at defiance. It was probably not for the purpose
of theft that the assassin had resorted to such numerous and clever
devices; he would hardly have led a man of business into so
skilfully laid a trap merely to rob him of a few thousand francs
and a watch.

Was the murder committed for revenge?

A search into the life of my father revealed nothing whatever that
could render such a theory tenable. Every suspicion, every
supposition, was routed by the indisputable and inexplicable fact
that Rochdale was a reality whose existence could not be contested,
that he had been at the Imperial Hotel from seven o'clock in the
evening of one day until two o'clock in the afternoon of the next,
and that he had then vanished, like a phantom, leaving one only
trace behind--ONE ONLY. This man had come there, other men had
spoken to him; the manner in which he had passed the night and the
morning before the crime was known. He had done his deed of
murder, and then--nothing. "All Paris" was full of this affair,
and when I made a collection, long afterwards, of newspapers which
referred to it, I found that for six whole weeks it occupied a
place in the chronicle of every day.

At length the fatal heading, "The Mystery of the Imperial Hotel,"
disappeared from the columns of the newspapers, as the remembrance
of that ghastly enigma faded from the minds of their readers, and
solicitude about it ceased to occupy the police. The tide of life,
rolling that poor waif amid its waters, had swept on. Yes; but I,
the son? How should I ever forget the old woman's story that had
filled my childhood with tragic horror? How should I ever cease to
see the pale face of the murdered man, with its fixed, open eyes?
How should I not say: "I will avenge thee, thou poor ghost?" Poor
ghost! When I read Hamlet for the first time, with that passionate
avidity which comes from an analogy between the moral situation
depicted in a work of art and some crisis of our own life, I
remember that I regarded the Prince of Denmark with horror. Ah! if
the ghost of my father had come to relate the drama of his death to
me, with his unbreathing lips, would I have hesitated one instant?
No! I protested to myself; and then? I learned all, and yet I
hesitated, like him, though less than he, to dare the terrible
deed. Silence! silence! Let me go back to the facts.


III


I remember little of the succeeding events. All was so trivial, so
insignificant, between that first vision of horror and the vision
of woe which came to me two years later, that, with one exception,
I hardly recall the intervening time.

In 1864, my father died; in 1866, my mother married M. Jacques
Termonde. The exceptional period of the interval was the only one
during which my mother bestowed constant attention upon me. Before
the fatal date my father was the only person who had cared for me;
at a later period there was no one at all to do so. Our apartment
in the Rue Tronchet became unbearable to us; there we could not
escape from the remembrance of the terrible event, and we removed
to a small hotel in the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg. The house
had belonged to a painter, and stood in a small garden which seemed
larger than it was because other gardens adjoined it, and over-
shadowed its boundary wall and greenery. The center of the house
was a kind of hall, in the English style, which the former occupant
had used as a studio; my mother made this her ordinary sitting-
room.

Now, at this distance of time, I can understand my mother's
character, and recognize that there was something about her, which,
although it was very harmless, led her to exaggerate the outward
expression of all her feelings. While she occupied herself in
studying the attitudes by which her emotions were to be fittingly
expressed, the sentiments themselves were fading away. For
instance, she chose to condemn herself to voluntary exile and
seclusion after her bereavement, receiving only a very few friends,
of whom M. Jacques Termonde was one; but she very soon began to
adorn herself and everything around her, with the fine and subtle
tastefulness that was innate in her.

My mother was a very lovely woman; her beauty was of a refined and
pensive order, her figure was tall and slender, her dark hair was
very luxuriant and of remarkable length. No doubt it was to the
Greek blood in her veins that she owed the classical lines of her
profile, her full-lidded soft eyes, and the willowy grace of her
form. Her maternal grandfather was a Greek merchant, of the name
of Votronto, who had come from the Levant to Marcielles when the
Ionian Islands were annexed to France.

Many times in after years I have recalled the strange contrast
between her rare and refined beauty and my father's stolid sturdy
form, and my own, and wondered whether the origin of many
irreparable mistakes might not be traced to that contrast. But I
did not reason in those days; I was under the spell of the fair
being who called me, "My son." I used to look at her with a kind
of idolatry when she was seated at her piano in that elegant
sanctum of hers, which she had hung with draped foreign stuffs, and
decorated with tall green plants and various curious things, after
a fashion entirely her own. For her sake, and in spite of my
natural awkwardness and untidiness, I strove to keep myself very
clean and neat in the more and more elaborate costumes which she
made me wear, and also more and more did the terrible image of the
murdered man fade away from that home, which, nevertheless, was
provided and adorned by the fortune which he had earned for us and
bequeathed to us. All the ways of modern life are so opposed to
the tragic in events, so far removed from the savage realities of
passion and bloodshed, that when such things intrude upon the
decorous life of a family, they are put out of sight with all
speed, and soon come to be looked upon as a bad dream, impossible
to doubt, but difficult to realize.

Yes, our life had almost resumed its normal course when my mother's
second marriage was announced to me. This time I accurately
remember not only the period, but also the day and hour.

I was spending my holidays with my spinster aunt, my father's
sister, who lived at Compiegne, in a house situated at the far end
of the town. She had three servants, one of whom was my dear old
Julie, who had left us because my mother could not get on with her.
My aunt Louise was a little woman of fifty, with countrified looks
and manners; she had hardly ever consented to stay two whole days
in Paris during my father's lifetime. Her almost invariable attire
was a black silk gown made at home, with just a line of white at
the neck and wrists, and she always wore a very long gold chain of
ancient date, which was passed under the bodice of her gown and
came out at the belt. To this chain her watch and a bunch of seals
and charms were attached. Her cap, plainly trimmed with ribbon,
was black like her dress, and the smooth bands of her hair, which
was turning gray, framed a thoughtful brow and eyes so kind that
she was pleasant to behold, although her nose was large and her
mouth and chin were heavy. She had brought up my father in this
same little town of Compiegne, and had given him, out of her
fortune, all that she could spare from the simple needs of her
frugal life, when he wished to marry Mdlle. de Slane, in order to
induce my mother's family to listen to his suit.

The contrast between the portrait in my little album of my aunt and
her face as I saw it now, told plainly enough how much she had
suffered during the past two years. Her hair had become more
white, the lines which run from the nostrils to the corners of the
mouth were deepened, her eyelids had a withered look. And yet she
had never been demonstrative in her grief. I was an observant
little boy, and the difference between my mother's character and
that of my aunt was precisely indicated to my mind by the
difference in their respective sorrow. At that time it was hard
for me to understand my aunt's reserve, while I could not suspect
her of want of feeling. Now it is to the other sort of nature that
I am unjust. My mother also had a tender heart, so tender that she
did not feel able to reveal her purpose to me, and it was my Aunt
Louise who undertook to do so. She had not consented to be present
at the marriage, and M. Termonde, as I afterwards learned,
preferred that I should not attend on the occasion, in order, no
doubt, to spare the feelings of her who was to become his wife.

In spite of all her self-control, Aunt Louise had tears in her
brown eyes when she led me to the far end of the garden, where my
father had played when he was a child like myself. The golden
tints of September had begun to touch the foliage of the trees. A
vine spread its tendrils over the arbor in which we seated
ourselves, and wasps were busy among the ripening grapes. My aunt
took both my hands in hers, and began:

"Andre, I have to tell you a great piece of news."

I looked at her apprehensively. The shock of the dreadful event in
our lives had left its mark upon my nervous system, and at the
slightest surprise my heart would beat until I nearly fainted. She
saw my agitation and said simply:

"Your mother is about to marry."

It was strange this sentence did not immediately produce the
impression which my look at her had led my aunt to expect. I had
thought from the tone of her voice, that she was going to tell me
of my mother's illness or death. My sensitive imagination readily
conjured up such fears. I asked calmly:

"Whom?"

"You do not guess?"

"M. Termonde?" I cried.

Even now I cannot define the reasons which sent this name to my
lips so suddenly, without a moment's thought. No doubt M. Termonde
had been a good deal at our house since my father's death; but had
he not visited us as often, if not more frequently, before my
mother's widowhood? Had he not managed every detail of our affairs
for us with care and fidelity, which even then I could recognize as
very rare? Why should the news of his marriage with my mother seem
to me on the instant to be much worse news than if she had married
no matter whom? Exactly the opposite effect ought to have been
produced, surely? I had known this man for a long time; he had
been very kind to me formerly--they said he spoiled me--and he was
very kind to me still. My best toys were presents from him, and my
prettiest books; a wonderful wooden horse which moved by clockwork,
given to me when I was seven--how much my poor father was amused
when I told him this horse was "a double thoroughbred"--"Don
Quixote," with Dore's illustrations, this very year; in fact some
new gift constantly, and yet I was never easy and light-hearted in
his presence as I had formerly been. When had this restraint
begun? I could not have told that, but I thought he came too often
between my mother and me. I was jealous of him, I may as well
confess it, with that unconscious jealousy which children feel, and
which made me lavish kisses on my mother when he was by, in order
to show him that she was my mother, and nothing at all to him. Had
he discovered my feelings? Had they been his own also? However
that might be, I now never failed to discern antipathy similar to
my own in his looks, notwithstanding his flattering voice and his
over-polite ways. At my then age, instinct is never deceived about
such impressions.

Without any other cause than the weakness of nerves to which I had
been subject ever since my father's death, I burst into tears. The
same thing happened to me sometimes when I was shut up in my room
alone, with the door bolted, suffering from a dread which I could
not conquer, like that of a coming danger. I would forecast the
worst accidents that could happen; for example, that my mother
would be murdered, like my father, and then myself, and I peered
under all the articles of furniture in the room. It had occurred
to me, when out walking with a servant, to imagine that the
harmless man might be an accomplice of the mysterious criminal, and
have it in charge to take me to him, or at all events to have it in
charge to take place. My too highly-wrought imagination
overmastered me. I fancied myself, however, escaping from the
deadly device, and in order to hide myself more effectually, making
for Compiegne. Should I have enough money? Then I reflected that
it might be possible to sell my watch to an old watchmaker whom I
used to see, when on my way to the Lycee, at work behind the window
of his little shop, with a glass fixed in his right eye. That was
a sad faculty of foresight which poisoned so many of the harmless
hours of my childhood! It was the same faculty that now made me
break out into choking sobs when my aunt asked me what I had in my
mind against M. Termonde. I related the worst of my grievances to
her then, leaning my head on her shoulder, and in this one all the
others were summed up. It dated from two months before. I had
come back from school in a merry mood, contrary to my habit. My
teacher had dismissed me with praise of my compositions and
congratulations on my prizes. What good news this was to take home
and how tenderly my mother would kiss me when she heard it! I put
away my books, washed my hands carefully, and flew to the salon
where my mother was. I entered the room without knocking at the
door, and in such haste that as I sprang towards her to throw
myself into her arms, she gave a little cry. She was standing
beside the mantlepiece, her face was very pale, and near her stood
M. Termonde. He seized me by the arm and held me back from her.

"Oh, how you frightened me!" said my mother.

"Is that the way to come into a salon?" said M. Termonde.

His voice had turned rough like his gesture. He had grasped my arm
so tightly that where his fingers had fastened on it I found black
marks that night when I undressed myself. But it was neither his
insolent words nor the pain of his grasp which made me stand there
stupidly, with a swelling heart. No, it was hearing my mother say
to him:

"Don't scold Andre too much; he is so young. He will improve."

Then she drew me towards her, and rolled my curls round her
fingers; but in her words, in their tone, in her glance, in her
faint smile, I detected a singular timidity, almost a supplication,
directed to the man before her, who frowned as he pulled his
moustache with his restless fingers, as if in impatience of my
presence. By what right did he, stranger, speak in the tone of a
master in our house? Why had he laid his hand on me ever so
lightly? Yes, by what right? Was I his son or his ward? Why did
not my mother defend me against him? Even if I were in fault it
was towards her only. A fit of rage seized upon me; I burned with
longing to spring upon M. Termonde like a beast, to tear his face
and bite him. I darted a look of fury at him and at my mother, and
left the room without speaking. I was of a sullen temper, and I
think this defect was due to my excessive and almost morbid
sensitiveness. All my feelings were exaggerated, so that the least
thing angered me, and it was misery to me to recover myself. Even
my father had found it very difficult to get the better of those
fits of wounded feeling, during which I strove against my own
relentings with a cold and concentrated anger which both relieved
and tortured me. I was well aware of this moral infirmity, and as
I was not a bad child in reality, I was ashamed of it. Therefore,
my humiliation was complete when, as I went out of the room, M.
Termonde said:

"Now for a week's sulk! His temper is really insufferable."

His remark had one advantage, for I made it a point of honor to
give the lie to it, and did not sulk; but the scene had hurt me too
deeply for me to forget it, and now my resentment was fully
revived, and grew stronger and stronger while I was telling the
story to my aunt. Alas! my almost unconscious second-sight, that
of a too sensitive child, was not in error. That puerile but
painful scene symbolized the whole history of my youth, my
invincible antipathy to the man who was about to take my father's
place, and the blind partiality in his favor of her who ought to
have defended me from the first and always.

"He detests me!" I said through my tears; "what have I done to
him?"

"Calm yourself," said the kind woman. "You are just like your poor
father, making the worst of all your little troubles. And now you
must try to be nice to him on account of your mother, and not to
give way to this violent feeling, which frightens me. Do not make
an enemy of him," she added.

It was quite natural that she should speak to me in this way, and
yet her earnestness appeared strange to me from that moment out. I
do not know why she also seemed surprised at my answer to her
question, "What do you know?" She wanted to quiet me, and she
increased the apprehension with which I regarded the usurper--so I
called him ever afterwards--by the slight faltering of her voice
when she spoke to him.

"You will have to write to them this evening," said she at length.

Write to them! The words sickened me. They were united; never,
nevermore should I be able to think of the one without thinking of
the other.

"And you?"

"I have already written."

"When are they to be married?"

"They were married yesterday," she answered, in so low a tone that
I hardly heard the words.

"And where?" I asked, after a pause.

"In the country, at the house of some friends." Then she added
quickly: "They preferred that you should not be there on account of
the interruption of your holidays. They have gone away for three
weeks; then they will go to see you in Paris before they start for
Italy. You know I am not well enough to travel. I will keep you
here until then. Be a good boy, and go now and write."

I had many other questions to put to her, and many more tears to
weep, but I restrained myself, and a quarter of an hour later, I
was seated at my dear good aunt's writing-table in her salon.

How I loved that room on the ground floor, with its glass door
opening on the garden. It was filled with remembrance for me. On
the wall at the side of the old-fashioned "secretary" hung the
portraits, in frames of all shapes and sizes, of those whom the
good and pious soul had loved and lost. This funereal little
corner spoke strongly to my fancy. One of the portraits was a
colored miniature, representing my great-grandmother in the costume
of the Directory, with a short waist, and her hair dressed a la
Proudhon. There was also a miniature of my great-uncle, her son.
What an amiable, self-important visage was that of the staunch
admirer of Louis Philippe and M. Thiers! Then came my paternal
grandfather, with his strong parvenu physiognomy, and my father at
all ages. Underneath these works of art was a bookcase, in which I
found all my father's school prizes, piously preserved. What a
feeling of protection I derived from the portieres in green velvet,
with long bands of needlework, my aunt's masterpieces, which hung
in wide folds over the doors! With what admiration I regarded the
faded carpet, with its impossible flowers, which I had so often
tried to gather in my babyhood! This was one of the legends of my
earliest years, one of those anecdotes which are told of a beloved
son, and which make him feel that the smallest details of his
existence have been observed, understood, and loved. In later days
I have been frozen by the ice of indifference. And my aunt, she
whose life had been lived among these old-fashioned things, how I
loved her, with that face in which I read nothing but supreme
tenderness for me, those eyes whose gaze did me good in some
mysterious part of my soul! I felt her so near to me, only through
her likeness to my father, that I rose from my task four or five
times to kiss her, during the time it took me to write my letter of
congratulation to the worst enemy I had, to my knowledge, in the
world.

And this was the second indelible date in my life.


IV


I once spoke to my aunt of the vow I had taken, the solemn promise
I had made to myself that I would discover the murderer of my
father, and take vengeance upon him, and she laid her hand upon my
mouth. She was a pious woman, and she repeated the words of the
gospel: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord." Then she added: "We
must leave the punishment of the crime to Him; His will is hidden
from us. Remember the divine precept and promise, 'Forgive and you
shall be forgiven.' Never say: 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a
tooth.' Ah, no; drive this enmity out of your heart, Cornelis;
yes, even this." And there were tears in her eyes.

My poor aunt! She thought me made of sterner stuff than I really
was. There was no need of her advice to prevent my being consumed
by the desire for vengeance which had been the fixed star of my
early youth, the blood-colored beacon aflame in my night. Ah! the
resolutions of boyhood, the "oaths of Hannibal" taken to ourselves,
the dream of devoting all our strength to one single and unchanging
aim--life sweeps all that away, together with our generous
illusions, ardent enthusiasm, and noble hopes. What a difference
there is--what a falling off--between the boy of fifteen, unhappy
indeed, but so bold and proud in 1870, and the young man of eight
years later, in 1878! And to think, only to think, that but for
chance occurrences, impossible to foresee, I should still be, at
this hour, the young man whose portrait hangs upon the wall above
the table at which I am writing. Of a surety, the visitors to the
Salon of that year (1878) who looked at this portrait among so many
others, had no suspicion that it represented the son of a father
who had come to so tragic an end. And I, when I look at that
commonplace image of an ordinary Parisian, with eyes unlit by any
fire or force of will, complexion paled by the fatigues of fashion,
hair cut in the mode of the day, strictly correct dress and
attitude, I am astonished to think that I could have lived as I
actually did live at that period. Between the misfortunes that
saddened my childhood, and those of quite recent date which have
finally laid waste my life, the course of my existence was
colorless, monotonous, vulgar, just like that of anybody else. I
shall merely note the stages of it.

In the second half of 1870, the Franco-Prussian war takes place.
The invasion finds me at Compiegne, where I am passing my holidays
with my aunt. My stepfather and my mother remain in Paris during
the siege. I go on with my studies under the tuition of an old
priest belonging to the little town, who prepared my father for his
first communion. In the autumn of 1871 I return to Versailles; in
August, 1873, I take my bachelor's degree, and then I do my one
year's voluntary service in the army at Angers under the easiest
possible conditions. My colonel was the father of my old
schoolfellow, Rocquin. In 1874 I am set free from tutelage by my
stepfather's advice. This was the moment at which my task was to
have been begun, the time appointed with my own soul; yet, four
years afterwards, in 1878, not only was the vengeance that had been
the tragic romance, and, so to speak, the religion of my childhood,
unfulfilled, but I did not trouble myself about it.

I was cruelly ashamed of my indifference when I thought about it;
but I am now satisfied that it was not so much the result of
weakness of character as of causes apart from myself which would
have acted in the same way upon any young man placed in my
situation. From the first, and when I faced my task of vengeance,
an insurmountable obstacle arose before me. It is equally easy and
sublime to strike an attitude and exclaim: "I swear that I will
never rest until I have punished the guilty one." In reality, one
never acts except in detail, and what could I do? I had to proceed
in the same way as justice had proceeded, to reopen the inquiry
which had been pushed to its extremity without any result.

I began with the Judge of Instruction,* who had had the carriage of
the matter, and who was now a Counsellor of the Court. He was a
man of fifty, very quiet and plain in his way, and he lived in the
Ile de Paris, on the first floor of an ancient house, from whose
windows he could see Notre Dame, primitive Paris, and the Seine,
which is as narrow as a canal at that place.


* The translator renders literally those terms and phrases relating
to the French criminal law and procedure which have no analogous
expression in English.


M. Massol, so he was named, was quite willing to resume with me the
analysis of the data which had been furnished by the Instruction.
No doubt existed either as to the personality of the assassin, or
the hour at which the crime was committed. My father had been
killed between two and three o'clock in the day, without a
struggle, by that tall, broad-shouldered personage whose
extraordinary disguise indicated, according to the magistrate, "an
amateur." Excess of complication is always an imprudence, for it
multiplies the chances of failure. Had the assassin dyed his skin
and worn a wig because my father knew him by sight?

To this M. Massol said "No; for M. Cornelis, who was very
observant, and who, besides, was on his guard--this is evident from
his last words when he left you--would have recognized him by his
voice, his glance, and his attitude. A man cannot change his
height and his figure, although he may change his face."

M. Massol's theory of this disguise was that the wearer had adopted
it in order to gain time to get out of France, should the corpse be
discovered on the day of the murder. Supposing that a description
of a man with a very brown complexion and a black beard had been
telegraphed in every direction, the assassin, having washed off his
paint, laid aside his wig and beard, and put on other clothes,
might have crossed the frontier without arousing the slightest
suspicion. There was reason to believe that the pretended Rochdale
lived abroad. He had spoke in English at the hotel, and the people
there had taken him for an American; it was therefore presumable
either that he was a native of the United States, or that he
habitually resided there. The criminal was, then, a foreigner,
American or English, or perhaps a Frenchman settled in America. As
for the motive of so complicated a crime, it was difficult to admit
that it could be robbery alone. "And yet," observed the Judge of
Instruction, "we do not know what the note-case carried off by the
assassin contained. But," he added, "the hypothesis of robbery
seems to me to be utterly routed by the fact that, while Rochdale
stripped the dead man of his watch, he left a ring, which was much
more valuable, on his finger. From this I conclude that he took
the watch merely as a precaution to throw the police off the scent.
My supposition is that the man killed M. Cornelis for revenge.

Then the former Judge of Instruction gave me some singular examples
of the resentment cherished against medical experts employed in
legal cases, Procureurs of the Republic, and Presidents of Assize.
His theory was, that in the course of his practice at the bar my
father might have excited resentment of a fierce and implacable
kind; for he had won many suits of importance, and no doubt had
made enemies of those against whom he employed his great powers.
Supposing one of those persons, being ruined by the result, had
attributed that ruin to my father, there would be an explanation of
all the apparatus of this deadly vengeance.

M. Massol begged me to observe that the assassin, whether he were a
foreigner or not, was known in Paris. Why, if this were not so,
should the man have so carefully avoided being seen in the street?
He had been traced out during his first stay in Paris, when he
bought the wig and the beard, and that time he put up at a small
hotel in the Rue d'Aboukir under the name of Rochdale, and
invariably went out in a cab. "Observe also," said the Judge,
"that he kept his room on the day before the murder, and on the
morning of the actual day. He breakfasted in his apartment, having
breakfasted and dined there the day before. But, when he was in
London, and when he lived at the hotel to which your father
addressed his first letters, he came and went without any
precautions."

And this was all. The addresses of three hotels--such were the
meagre particulars that formed the whole of the information to
which I listened with passionate eagerness; the magistrate had no
more to tell me. He had small, twinkling, very light eyes, and his
smooth face wore an expression of extreme keenness. His language
was measured, his general demeanor was cold, obliging, and mild, he
was always closely shaven, and in him one recognized at once the
well-balanced and methodical mind which had given him great
professional weight. He acknowledged that he had been unable to
discover anything, even after a close analysis of the whole
existing situation of my father, as well as his past.

"Ah, I have thought a great deal about this said he, adding that
before he resigned his post as Judge of Instruction he had
carefully reperused the notes of the case. He had again questioned
the concierge of the Imperial Hotel and other persons. Since he
had become Counsellor to the Court, he had indicated to his
successor what he believed to be a clue; a robbery committed by a
carefully made-up Englishman had led him to believe the thief to be
identical with the pretended Rochdale. Then there was nothing
more.

These steps had, however, been of use inasmuch as they barred the
rule of limitation, and he laid stress on that fact. I consulted
him then as to how much time still remained for me to seek out the
truth on my own account. The last Act of Instruction dated from
1873, so that I had until 1883 to discover the criminal and deliver
him up to public justice. What madness! Ten years had already
elapsed since the crime, and I, all alone, insignificant, not
possessed of the vast resources at the disposal of the police, I
presumed to imagine that I should triumph, where so skillful a
ferret as he had failed! Folly! Yes; it was so.

And still there was nothing, no indication whatever. Nevertheless,
I tried.

I began a thorough and searching investigation of all the dead
man's papers. With that unbounded tenderness of hers for my
stepfather, which made me so miserable, my mother had placed all
these papers in M. Termonde's keeping. Alas! Why should she have
understood those niceties of feeling on my part, which rendered the
fusion of her present with her past so repugnant to me, any more
clearly on this point than on any other? M. Termonde had at least
scrupulously respected the whole of those papers, from plans of
association and prospectuses to private letters. Among the latter
were several from M. Termonde himself, which bore testimony to the
friendship that had formerly subsisted between my mother's first
husband and her second. Had I not known this always? Why should I
suffer from the knowledge?

And still there was nothing, no indication whatever to put me on
the track of a suspicion.

I evoked the image of my father as he lived, just as I had seen him
for the last time; I heard him replying to M. Termonde's question
in the dining-room of the Rue Tronchet, and speaking of the man who
awaited him to kill him: "A singular man whom I shall not be sorry
to observe more closely." And then he had gone out and was walking
towards his death while I was playing in the little salon, and my
mother was talking to the friend who was one day to be her master
and mine. What a happy home-picture, while in that hotel room--
Ah! was I never to find the key of the terrible enigma? Where was
I to go? What was I to do? At what door was I to knock?

At the same time that a sense of the responsibility of my task
disheartened me, the novel facilities of my new way of life
contributed to relax the tension of my will. During my school
days, the sufferings I underwent from jealousy of my stepfather,
the disappointment of my repressed affections, the meanness and
penury of my surroundings, many grievous influences, had maintained
the restless ardor of my feelings; but this also had undergone a
change. No doubt I still continued to love my mother deeply and
painfully, but I now no longer asked her for what I knew she would
not give me, my unshared place, a separate shrine in her heart. I
accepted her nature instead of rebelling against it.

Neither had I ceased to regard my stepfather with morose antipathy;
but I no longer hated him with the old vehemence. His conduct to
me after I had left school was irreproachable. Just as in my
childhood, he had made it a point of honor never to raise his voice
in speaking to me, so he now seemed to pique himself upon an entire
absence of interference in my life as a young man. When, having
passed my baccalaureate, I announced that I did not wish to adopt
any profession, but without a reason--the true one was my
resolution to devote myself entirely to the fulfillment of my task
of justice--he had not a word to say against that strange decision;
nay, more, he brought my mother to consent to it.

When my fortune was handed over to me, I found that my mother, who
had acted as my guardian, and my stepfather, her co-trustee, had
agreed not to touch my funds during the whole period of my
education; the interest had been re-invested, and I came into
possession, not of 750,000 francs, but of more than a million.
Painful as I felt the obligation of gratitude towards the man whom
I had for years regarded as my enemy, I was bound to acknowledge
that he had acted an honorable part towards me. I was well aware
that no real contradiction existed between these high-minded
actions and the harshness with which he had imprisoned me at
school, and, so to speak, relegated me to exile. Provided that I
renounced all attempts to form a third between him and his wife, he
would have no relations with me but those of perfect courtesy; but
I must not be in my mother's house. His will was to reign entirely
alone over the heart and life of the woman who bore his name.

How could I have contended with him? Why, too, should I have
blamed him, since I knew so well that in his place, jealous as I
was, my own conduct would have been exactly similar?

I yielded, therefore, because I was powerless to contend with a
love which made my mother happy; because I was weary of keeping up
the daily constraint of my relations with her and him, and also
because I hoped that when once I was free I should be better fitted
for my task as a doer of justice. I myself asked to be permitted
to leave the house, so that at nineteen I possessed absolute
independence, an apartment of my own in the Avenue Montaigne, close
to the round-point in the Champs Elysees, a yearly income of 50,000
francs, the entree to all the salons frequented by my mother, and
the entree, too, to all the places at which one may amuse one's
self. How could I have resisted the influences of such a position?

Yes, I had dreamed of being an avenger, a justiciary, and I allowed
myself to be caught up almost instantly into the whirlwind of that
life of pleasure whose destructive power those who see it only from
the outside cannot measure. It is a futile and exacting existence
which fritters away your hours as it fritters away your mind,
raveling out the stuff of time thread by thread with irreparable
loss, and also the more precious stuff of mental and moral
strength.

With respect to that task of mine, my task as an avenger, I was
incapable of immediate action--what and whom was I to attack?

And so I availed myself of all the opportunities that presented
themselves of disguising my inaction by movement, and soon the days
began to hurry on, and press one upon the other, amid those
innumerable amusements of which the idle rich make a code of duties
to be performed. What with the morning ride in the Bois, afternoon
calls, dinner parties, parties to the theater and after midnight,
play at the club, or the pursuit of pleasure elsewhere--how was I
to find leisure for the carrying out of a project? I had horses,
intrigues, an absurd duel in which I acquitted myself well,
because, as I believe, the tragic ideas that were always at the
bottom of my life favored me.

A woman of forty persuaded me that I was her first love; then I
persuaded myself that I was in love with a Russian great lady, who
was living in Paris. The latter was--indeed she still is--one of
those incomparable actresses in society, who, in order to surround
themselves with a sort of court, composed of admirers who are more
or less rewarded, employ all the allurements of luxury, wit, and
beauty, but who have not a particle of either imagination or heart,
although they fascinate by a display of the most refined fancies
and the most vivid emotions. I led the life of a slave to the
caprices of this soulless coquette for nearly six months, and
learned that women of the fashionable world and women of "the half-
world" are very much alike in point of worth. The former are
intolerable on account of their lies, their assumption, and their
vanity; the others are equally odious by reason of their vulgarity,
their stupidity, and their sordid love of lucre.

I forgot all my absurd relations with women of both orders in the
excitement of play, and yet I was well aware of the meanness of
that diversion, which only ceases to be insipid when it becomes
odious, because it is a clever calculation upon money to be gained
without working for it. There was in me something at once wildly
dissipated and yet disgusted, which drove me to excess, and at the
same time inspired me with bitter self-contempt. In the innermost
recesses of my being the memory of my father dwelt, and poisoned my
thoughts at their source. An impression of dark fatalism invaded
my sick mind; it was so strange that I should live as I was living,
nevertheless, I did live thus, and the visible "I" had but little
likeness to the real.

Upon me, then, poor creature that I was, as upon the whole
universe, a fate rested. "Let it drive me," I said, and yielded
myself up to it. I went to sleep, pondering upon ideas of the most
somber philosophy, and I awoke to resume an existence without worth
or dignity, in which I was losing not only my power of carrying out
my design of reparation towards the phantom which haunted my dreams
but all self-esteem, and all conscience.

Who could have helped me reascend this fatal stream? My mother?
She saw nothing but the fashionable exterior of my life, and she
congratulated herself that I had "ceased to be a savage." My
stepfather? But he had been, voluntarily or not, favorable to my
disorderly life. Had he not made me master of my fortune at the
most dangerous age? Had he not procured me admission, at the
earliest moment, to the clubs to which he belonged, and in every
way facilitated my entrance into society? My aunt? Ah, yes, my
aunt was grieved by my mode of life; and yet, was she not glad that
at any rate I had forgotten the dark resolution of hate that had
always frightened her? And, besides, I hardly ever saw her now.
My visits to Compiegne were few, for I was at the age when one
always finds time for one's pleasures, but never has any for one's
nearest duties. If, indeed, there was a voice that was constantly
lifted up against the waste of my life in vulgar pleasures, it was
that of the dead, who slept in the day, unavenged; that voice rose,
rose, rose unceasingly, from the depths of all my musings, but I
had accustomed myself to pay it no heed, to make it no answer. Was
it my fault that everything, from the most important to the
smallest circumstance, conspired to paralyze my will? And so I
existed, in a sort of torpor which was not dispelled even by the
hurly-burly of my mock passions and my mock pleasures.

The falling of a thunderbolt awoke me from this craven slumber of
the will. My Aunt Louise was seized with paralysis, towards the
end of the sad year 1878, in the month of December. I had come in
at night, or rather in the morning, having won a large sum at play.
Several letters and also a telegram awaited me. I tore open the
blue envelope, while I hummed the air of a fashionable song, with a
cigarette between my lips, untroubled by an idea that I was about
to be apprised of an event which would become, after my father's
death and my mother's second marriage, the third great date in my
life. The telegram was signed by Julie, my former nurse, and it
told me that my aunt had been taken ill quite suddenly, also that I
must come at once, although there was a hope of her recovery.

This bad news was the more terrible to me because I had received a
letter from my aunt just a week previously, and in it the dear old
lady complained, as usual, that I did not come to see her. My
answer to her letter was lying half-written upon my writing-table.
I had not finished it; God knows for what futile reason. It needs
the advent of that dread visitant, Death, to make us understand
that we ought to make good haste and love WELL those whom we do
love, if we would not have them pass away from us forever, before
we have loved them enough.

Bitter remorse, in that I had not proved to her sufficiently how
dear she was to me, increased my anxiety about my aunt's state. It
was two o'clock a. m., the first train for Compiegne did not start
until six; in the interval she might die. Those were very long
hours of waiting, which I killed by turning over in my mind all my
shortcomings towards my father's only sister, my sole kinswoman.
The possibility of an irrevocable parting made me regard myself as
utterly ungrateful! My mental pain grew keener when I was in the
train speeding through the cold dawn of a winter's day, along the
road I knew so well.

As I recognized each familiar feature of the way, I became once
more the schoolboy whose heart was full of unuttered tenderness,
and whose brain was laden with the weight of a terrible mission.
My thoughts outstripped the engine, moving too slowly, to my
impatient fancy, which summoned up that beloved face, so frank and
so simple, the mouth with its thickish lips and its perfect
kindliness, the eyes out of which goodness looked, with their
wrinkled, tear-worn lids, the flat bands of grizzled hair. In what
state should I find her? Perhaps, if on that night of repentance,
wretchedness, and mental disturbance, my nerves had not been
strained to the utmost--yes, perhaps I should not have experienced
those wild impulses when by the side of my aunt's deathbed, which
rendered me capable of disobeying the dying woman. But how can I
regret my disobedience, since it was the one thing that set me on
the track of the truth? No, I do not regret anything, I am better
pleased to have done what I have done.


V


My good old Julie was waiting for me at the station. Her eyes had
failed her of late, for she was seventy years old, nevertheless she
recognized me as I stepped out of the train, and began to talk to
me in her usual interminable fashion so soon as we were seated in
the hired coupe, which my aunt had sent to meet me whenever I came
to Compiegne, from the days of my earliest childhood. How well I
knew the heavy old vehicle, with its worn cushions of yellow
leather, and the driver, who had been in the service of the livery
stable keeper as long as I could remember. He was a little man
with a merry, roguish face, and eyes twinkling with fun; but he
tried to give a melancholy tone to his salutation that morning.

"It took her yesterday," said Julie, while the vehicle rumbled
heavily through the streets, "but you see it had to happen. Our
poor demoiselle had been changing for weeks past. She was so
trustful, so gentle, so just; she scolded, she ferreted about, she
suspected--there, then, her head was all astray. She talked of
nothing but thieves and assassins; she thought everybody wanted to
do her some harm, the tradespeople, Jean Mariette, myself--yes, I
too. She went into the cellar every day to count the bottles of
wine, and wrote the number down on a paper. The next day she found
the same number, and she would maintain the paper was not the same,
she disowned her own handwriting. I wanted to tell you this the
last time you came here, but I did not venture to say anything; I
was afraid it would worry you, and then I thought these were only
freaks, that she was a little crazy, and it would pass off. Well,
then, I came down yesterday to keep her company at her dinner, as
she always liked me to do, because, you know, she was fond of me in
reality, whether she was ill or well. I could not find her.
Mariette, Jean, and I searched everywhere, and at last Jean
bethought him of letting the dog loose; the animal brought us
straight to the wood-stock, and there we found her lying at full
length upon the ground. No doubt she had gone to the stack to
count the logs. We lifted her up, our poor dear demoiselle! Her
mouth was crooked, and one side of her could not move. She began
to talk. Then we thought she was mad, for she said senseless words
which we could not understand; but the doctor assures us that she
is perfectly clear in her head, only that she utters one word when
she means another. She gets angry if we do not obey her on the
instant. Last night when I was sitting up with her she asked for
some pins. I brought them and she was angry. Would you believe
that it was the time of night she wanted to know? At length, by
dint of questioning her, and by her yesses and noes, which she
expresses with her sound hand, I have come to make out her meaning.
If you only knew how troubled she was all night about you; I saw
it, and when I uttered your name her eyes brightened. She repeats
words, you would think she raves: she calls for you. Now look
here, M. Andre, it was the ideas she had about your poor father
that brought on her illness. All these last weeks she talked of
nothing else. She would say: 'If only they do not kill Andre also.
As for me, I am old, but he so young, so good, so gentle.' And she
cried--yes, she cried incessantly. 'Who is it that you think wants
to harm M. Andre?' I asked her. Then she turned away from me with
a look of distrust that cut me to the heart, although I knew that
her head was astray. The doctor says that she believes herself
persecuted, and that it is a mania; he also says that she may
recover, but will never have her speech again."

I listened to Julie's talk in silence; I made no answer. I was not
surprised that my Aunt Louise had begun to be attacked by a mental
malady; the trials of her life sufficiently explained this, and I
could also account for several singularities that I had observed in
her attitude towards me of late. She had surprised me much by
asking me to bring back a book of my father's which I had never
thought of taking away. "Return it to me," she said, insisting
upon it so strongly, that I instituted a search for the book, and
at last unearthed it from the bottom of a cupboard where it had
been placed, as if on purpose, under a heap of other books.
Julie's prolix narrative only enlightened me as to the sad cause of
what I had taken for the oddity of a fidgety and lonely old maid.

On the other hand, I could not take the ideas of my father's death
so philosophically as Julie accepted them. What were those ideas?
Many a time, in the course of conversation with her, I had vaguely
felt that she was not opening her heart quite freely to me. Her
determined opposition to my plans of a personal inquiry might
proceed from her piety, which would naturally cause her to
disapprove of any thought or project of vengeance, but was there
nothing else, nothing besides that piety in question? Her strange
solicitude for my personal safety, which even led her to entreat me
not to go out unarmed in the evening, or get into an empty
compartment in a train, with other counsels of the same kind, was
no doubt caused by morbid excitement; still her constant and
distressing dread might possibly rest upon a less vague foundation
than I imagined.

I also recalled, with a certain apprehension, that so soon as she
ceased to be able completely to control her mind these strange
fears took stronger possession of her than before. "What!" said I
to myself, "am I becoming like her, that I let such things occur to
me? Are not these fixed ideas quite natural in a person whose
brain is racked by the mania of persecution, and who has lost a
beloved brother under circumstances equally mysterious and
tragical?"

"She is awake," said Julie, who had taken the maid's place at the
foot of the bed. I approached my aunt and called her by her name.
I then clearly saw her poor face distorted by paralysis.

She recognized me, and as I bent down to kiss her, she stroked my
cheek with her sound hand. This caress, which was habitual with
her, she repeated slowly several times. I placed her, with Julie's
assistance, on her back, so that she could see me distinctly; she
looked at me for a long time, and two heavy tears fell from the
eyes in which I read boundless tenderness, supreme anguish, and
inexpressible pity. I answered them by my own tears, which she
dried with the back of her hand; then she strove to speak to me,
but could only pronounce an incoherent sentence that struck me to
the heart. She saw, by the expression of my face, that I had not
understood her, and she made a desperate effort to find words in
which to render the thought evidently precise and lucid in her
mind. Once more she uttered an unintelligible phrase, and began
again to make the feeble gesture of despairing helplessness which
had so shocked me at her waking. She appeared, however, to take
courage when I put the question to her: "What do you want of me,
dear aunt?" She made a sign that Julie was to leave the room, and
no sooner were we alone than her face changed. With my help she
was able to slip her hand under her pillow, and withdraw her bunch
of keys; then separating one key from the others she imitated the
opening of a lock. I immediately remembered her groundless fears
of being robbed and I asked her whether she wanted the box to which
that key belonged. It was a small key of a kind that is specially
made for safety locks. I saw that I had guessed aright; she was
able to get out the word "yes," and her eyes brightened.

"But where is this box?" I asked. Once more she replied by a
sentence of which I could make nothing; and, seeing that she was
relapsing into a state of agitation, with the former heart-rending
movement, I begged her to allow me to question her and to answer by
gestures only. After some minutes, I succeeded in discovering that
the box in question was locked up in one of the two large cupboards
below stairs, and that the key of the cupboard was on the ring with
the others. I went downstairs, leaving her alone, as she had
desired me by signs to do. I had no difficulty in finding the
casket to which the little key adapted itself; although it was
carefully placed behind a bonnet-box and a case of silver forks.
The casket was of sweet-scented wood, and the initials J. C. were
inlaid upon the lid in gold and platinum. J. C., Justin Cornelies--
so, it had belonged to my father. I tried the key in the lock, to
make quite sure that I was not mistaken.

I then raised the lid, and glanced at the contents almost
mechanically, supposing that I was about to find a roll of business
papers, probably shares, a few trinket-cases, and rouleaux of
napoleons, a small treasure in fact, hidden away from motives of
fear. Instead of this, I beheld several small packets carefully
wrapped in paper, each being endorsed with the words, "Justin's
Letters," and the year in which they were written. My aunt had
preserved these letters with the same pious care that had kept her
from allowing anything whatever belonging to him in whom the
deepest affection of her life had centered, to be lost, parted
with, or injured.

But why had she never spoken to me of this treasure, which was more
precious to me than to anyone else in the world? I asked myself
that question as I closed the box; then I reflected that no doubt
she desired to retain the letters to the last hour of her life;
and, satisfied with this explanation, I went upstairs again.

From the doorway my eyes met hers, and I could not mistake their
look of impatience and intense anxiety. I placed the little coffer
on her bed and she instantly opened it, took out a packet of
letters, then another, finally kept only one out, replaced those
she had removed at first, locked the box, and signed to me to place
it on the chest of drawers. While I was clearing away the things
on the top of the drawers, to make a clear space for the box, I
caught sight, in the glass opposite to me, of the sick woman. By a
great effort she had turned herself partly on her side, and she was
trying to throw the packet of letters which she had retained into
the fireplace; it was on the right of her bed, and only about a
yard away from the foot. But she could hardly raise herself at
all, the movement of her hand was too weak, and the little parcel
fell on the floor. I hastened to her, to replace her head on the
pillows and her body in the middle of the bed, and then, with her
powerless arm she again began to make that terrible gesture of
despair, clutching the sheet with her thin fingers, while tears
streamed from her poor eyes.

Ah! how bitterly ashamed I am of what I am going to write in this
place! I will write it, however, for I have sworn to myself that I
will be true, even to the avowal of that fault, even to the avowal
of a worse still. I had no difficulty in understanding what was
passing in my aunt's mind; the little packet--it had fallen on the
carpet close to the fender--evidently contained letters which she
wished to destroy, so that I should not read them. She might have
burned them, dreading as she did their fatal influence upon me,
long since; yet I understood why she had shrunk from doing this,
year after year, I, who knew with what idolatry she worshipped the
smallest objects that had belonged to my father. Had I not seen
her put away the blotting-book which he used when he came to
Compiegne, with the paper and envelopes that were in it at his last
visit?

Yes, she had gone on waiting, still waiting, before she could bring
herself to part forever with those dear and dangerous letters, and
then her sudden illness came, and with it the terrible thought that
these papers would come into my possession. I could also take into
account that the unreasonable distrust which she had yielded to of
late had prevented her from asking Jean or Julie for the little
coffer. This was the secret--I understood it on the instant--of
the poor thing's impatience for my arrival, the secret also of the
trouble I had witnessed. And now her strength had betrayed her.
She had vainly endeavored to throw the letters into the fire, that
fire which she could hear crackling, without being able to raise
her head so as to see the flame. All these notions which presented
themselves suddenly to my thoughts took form afterwards; at the
moment they melted into pity for the suffering of the helpless
creature before me.

"Do not disturb yourself, dear aunt," said I, as I drew the
coverlet up to her shoulders, "I am going to burn those letters."

She raised her eyes, full of eager supplication. I closed the lids
with my lips and stooped to pick up the little packet. On the
paper in which it was folded, I distinctly read this date: "1864--
Justin's letters." 1864! that was the last year of my father's
life. I know it, I feel it, that which I did was infamous; the
last wishes of the dying are sacred. I ought not, no, I ought not
to have deceived her who was on the point of leaving me forever. I
heard her breathing quicken at that very moment. Then came a
whirlwind of thought too strong for me. If my Aunt Louise was so
wildly, passionately eager that those letters should be burned, it
was because they could put me on the right track of vengeance.
Letters written in the last year of my father's life, and she had
never spoken of them to me! I did not reason, I did not hesitate,
in a lightning-flash I perceived the possibility of learning--what?
I know not; but--of learning. Instead of throwing the packet of
letters into the fire, I flung it to one side, under a chair,
returned to the bedside and told her in a voice which I endeavored
to keep steady and calm, that her directions had been obeyed, that
the letters were burning. She took my hand and kissed it. Oh,
what a stab that gentle caress inflicted upon me! I knelt down by
her bedside, and hid my head in the sheets, so that her eyes should
not meet mine. Alas! it was not for long that I had to dread her
glance. At ten she fell asleep, but at noon her restlessness
recurred. At two the priest came, and administered the last
sacraments to her. She had a second stroke towards evening, never
recovered consciousness, and died in the night.


VI


At three o'clock in the morning Julie came in to take my place, and
I retired to my room, which was on the same floor as my aunt's. A
boxroom divided the two. I threw myself on my bed, worn out with
fatigue, and nature triumphed over my grief. I fell into that
heavy sleep which follows the expenditure of nerve power, and from
which one awakes able to bear life again and to carry the load that
seemed unendurable. When I awoke it was day, and the wintry sky
was dull and dark like that of yesterday, but it also wore a
threatening aspect, from the great masses of black cloud that
covered it. I went to the window and looked out for a long time at
the gloomy landscape closed in by the edge of the forest. I note
these small details in order that I may more faithfully recall my
exact impression at the time. In turning away from the window and
going towards the fire which the maid had just lighted, my eye fell
upon the packet of letters stolen from my aunt. Yes, stolen--'tis
the word. It was in the place where I had put it last night, on
the mantel-shelf, with my purse, rings, and cigar-case. I took up
the little parcel with a beating heart. I had only to stretch out
my hand and those papers would fall into the flames and my aunt's
dying wish be accomplished. I sank into an easy-chair and watched
the yellow flame gaining on the logs, while I weighed the packet in
my hand. I thought there must be a good many letters in it. I
suffered from the physical uneasiness of indecision. I am not
trying to justify this second failure of my loyalty to my dear
aunt, I am trying to understand it.

Those letters were not mine, I never ought to have appropriated
them. I ought now to destroy them unopened; all the more that the
excitement of the first moment, the sudden rush of ideas which had
prevented me from obeying the agonized supplication of my poor
aunt, had subsided. I asked myself once more what was the cause of
her misery, while I gazed at the inscription upon the cover, in my
aunt's hand: "Justin's Letters, 1864." The very room which I
occupied was an evil counsellor to me in this strife between an
indisputable duty and my ardent desire to know; for it had formerly
been my father's room, and the furniture had not been changed since
his time. The color of the hangings was faded, that was all. He
had warmed himself by a fire which burned upon that self-same
hearth, and he had used the same low, wide chair in which I now
sat, thinking many somber thoughts. He had slept in the bed from
which I had just risen, he had written at the table on which I
rested my arms. No, that room deprived me of free will to act, it
made my father too living. It was as though the phantom of the
murdered man had come out of his grave to entreat me to keep the
oft-sworn vow of vengeance. Had these letters offered me no more
than one single chance, one against a thousand, of obtaining one
single indication of the secrets of my father's private life, I
could not have hesitated. With such sacrilegious reasoning as this
did I dispel the last scruples of pious respect; but I had no need
of arguments for yielding to the desire which increased with every
moment.

I had there before me those letters, the last his hand had traced;
those letters which would lay bare to me the recesses of his life,
and I was not to read them! What an absurdity! Enough of such
childish hesitation. I tore off the cover which hid the papers;
the yellow sheets with their faded characters shook in my hands. I
recognized the compact, square, clear writing, with spaces between
the words. The dates had been omitted by my father in several
instances, and then my aunt had repaired the omission by writing in
the day of the month herself. My poor aunt! this pious carefulness
was a fresh testimony to her constant tenderness; and yet, in my
wild excitement I no longer thought of her who lay dead within a
few yards of me.

Presently Julie came to consult me upon all the material details
which accompany death; but I told her I was too much overwhelmed,
that she must do as she thought fit, and leave me quite alone for
the whole of the morning. Then I plunged so deeply into the
reading of the letters, that I forgot the hour, the events taking
place around me, forgot to dress myself, to eat, even to go and
look upon her whom I had lost while yet I could behold her face.
Traitor and ingrate that I was! I had devoured only a few lines
before I understood only too well why she had been desirous to
prevent me from drinking the poison which entered with each
sentence into my heart, as it had entered into hers. Terrible,
terrible letters! Now it was as though the phantom had spoken, and
a hidden drama of which I had never dreamed unfolded itself before
me.

I was quite a child when the thousand little scenes which this
correspondence recorded in detail took place. I was too young then
to solve the enigma of the situation; and, since, the only person
who could have initiated me into that dark history was she who had
concealed the existence of the too-eloquent papers from me all her
life long, and on her deathbed had been more anxious for their
destruction than for her eternal salvation--she, who had no doubt
accused herself of having deferred the burning of them from day to
day as of a crime. When at last she had brought herself to do
this, it was too late.

The first letter, written in January, 1864, began with thanks to my
aunt for her New Year's gift to me--a fortress with tin soldiers--
with which I was delighted, said the letter, because the cavalry
were in two pieces, the man detaching himself from his horse.
Then, suddenly, the commonplace sentences changed into utterances
of mournful tenderness. An anxious mind, a heart longing for
affection, and discontent with the existing state of things, might
be discerned in the tone of regret with which the brother dwelt
upon his childhood, and the days when his own and his sister's life
were passed together. There was a repressed repining in that first
letter that immediately astonished and impressed me, for I had
always believed my father and mother to have been perfectly happy
with each other. Alas! that repining did but grow and also take
definite form as I read on. My father wrote to his sister every
Sunday, even when he had seen her in the course of the week. As it
frequently happens in cases of regular and constant correspondence,
the smallest events were recorded in minute detail, so that all our
former daily life was resuscitated in my thoughts as I perused the
lines, but accompanied by a commentary of melancholy which revealed
irreparable division between those whom I had believed to be so
closely united. Again I saw my father in his dressing-gown, as he
greeted me in the morning at seven o'clock, on coming out of his
room to breakfast with me before I started for school at eight. He
would go over my lessons with me briefly, and then we would seat
ourselves at the table (without a tablecloth) in the dining-room,
and Julie would bring us two cups of chocolate, deliciously
sweetened to my childish taste. My mother rose much later, and,
after my school days, my father occupied a separate room in order
to avoid waking her so early. How I enjoyed that morning meal,
during which I prattled at my ease, talking of my lessons, my
exercises, and my schoolmates! What a delightful recollection I
retained of those happy, careless, cordial hours! In his letters
my father also spoke of our early breakfasts, but in a way that
showed how often he was wounded by finding out from my talk that my
mother took too little care of me, according to his notions--that I
filled too small a place in her dreamy, wilfully frivolous life.
There were passages which the then future had since turned into
prophecies. "Were I to be taken from him, what would become of
him?" was one of these. At ten I came back from school; by that
time my father would be occupied with his business. I had lessons
to prepare, and I did not see him again until half-past eleven, at
the second breakfast. Then mamma would appear in one of those
tasteful morning costumes which suited her slender and supple
figure so well. From afar, and beyond the cold years of my
boyhood, that family table came before me like a mirage of warm
homelife; how often had it become a sort of nostalgia to me when I
sat between my mother and M. Termonde on my horrid half-holidays.

And now I found proof in my father's letters that a divorce of the
heart already existed between the two persons who, to my filial
tenderness, were but one. My father loved his wife passionately,
and he felt that his wife did not love him. This was the feeling
continually expressed in his letters--not in words so plain and
positive, indeed; but how should I, whose boyhood had been
strangely analogous with this drama of a man's life, have failed to
perceive the secret signification of all he wrote? My father was
taciturn, like me--even more so than I--and he allowed irreparable
misunderstandings to grow up between my mother and himself. Like
me afterwards, he was passionate, awkward, hopelessly timid in the
presence of that proud, aristocratic woman, so different from him,
the self-made man of almost peasant origin, who had risen to
professional prosperity by the force of his genius. Like me--ah!
not more than I--he had known the torture of false positions, which
cannot be explained except by words that one will never have
courage to utter. And, oh, the pity of it, that destiny should
thus repeat itself; the same tendencies of the mind developing
themselves in the son after they had developed themselves in the
father, so that the misery of both should be identical!

My father's letters breathed sighs that my mother had never
suspected--vain sighs for a complete blending of their two hearts;
tender sighs for the fond dream of fully-shared happiness;
despairing sighs for the ending of a moral separation, all the more
complete because its origin was not to be sought in their
respective faults (mutual love pardons everything), but in a
complete, almost animal, contrast between the two natures. Not one
of his qualities was pleasing to her; all his defects were
displeasing to her. And he adored her. I had seen enough of many
kinds of ill-assorted unions since I had been going about in
society, to understand in full what a silent hell that one must
have been, and the two figures rose up before me in perfect
distinctness. I saw my mother with her gestures--a little
affectation was, so to speak, natural to her--the delicacy of her
hands, her fair, pale complexion, the graceful turn of her head,
her studiously low-pitched voice, the something un-material that
pervaded her whole person, her eyes, whose glance could be so cold,
so disdainful; and, on the other hand, I saw my father with his
robust, workingman's frame, his hearty laugh when he allowed
himself to be merry, the professional, utilitarian, in fact,
plebeian, aspect of him, in his ideas and ways, his gestures and
his discourse. But the plebeian was so noble, so lofty in his
generosity, in his deep feeling. He did not know how to show that
feeling; therein lay his crime. On what wretched trifles, when we
think of it, does absolute felicity or irremediable misfortune
depend!

The name of M. Termonde occurred several times in the earlier
letters, and, when I came to the eleventh, I found it mentioned in
a way which brought tears to my eyes, set my hands shaking, and
made my heart leap as at the sound of a cry of sharp agony. In the
pages which he had written during the night--the writing showed how
deeply he was moved--the husband, hitherto so self-restrained,
acknowledged to his sister, his kind and faithful confidante, that
he was jealous. He was jealous, and of whom? Of that very man who
was destined to fill his place at our fireside, to give a new name
to her who had been Madame Cornelis; of the man with cat-like ways,
with pale eyes, whom my childish instinct had taught me to regard
with so precocious and so fixed a hate. He was jealous of Jacques
Termonde. In his sudden confession he related the growth of this
jealousy, with the bitterness of tone that relieves the heart of
misery too long suppressed. In that letter, the first of a series
which death only was destined to interrupt, he told how far back
was the date of his jealousy, and how it awoke to life with his
detection of one look cast at my mother by Termonde. He told how
he had at once suspected a dawning passion on the part of this man,
then that Termonde had gone away on a long journey, and that he, my
father, had attributed his absence to the loyalty of a sincere
friend, to a noble effort to fight from the first against a
criminal feeling. Termonde came back; his visits to us were soon
resumed, and they became more frequent than before. There was
every reason for this; my father had been his chum at the Ecole de
Droit, and would have chosen him to be his best man at his marriage
had not Termonde's diplomatic functions kept him out of France at
the time. In this letter and the following ones my father
acknowledged that he had been strongly attached to Termonde, so
much so, indeed, that he had considered his own jealousy as an
unworthy feeling and a sort of treachery. But it is all very well
to reproach one's self for a passion; it is there in our hearts all
the same, tearing and devouring them. After Termonde's return, my
father's jealousy increased, with the certainty that the man's love
for the wife of his friend was also growing; and yet, the unhappy
husband did not think himself entitled to forbid him the house.
Was not his wife the most pure and upright of women? Her very
inclination to mysticism and exaggerated devotion, although he
sometimes found fault with her for it, was a pledge that she would
never yield to anything by which her conscience could be stained.
Besides, Termonde's assiduity was accompanied by such evident, such
absolute respect, that it afforded no ground for reproach. What
was he to do? Have an explanation with his wife--he who could not
bring himself to enter upon the slightest discussion with her?
Require her to decline to receive his own friend? But, if she
yielded, he would have deprived her of a real pleasure, and for
that he should be unable to forgive himself. If she did not yield?
So, my poor father had preferred to toss about in that Gehenna of
weakness and indecision wherein dwell timid and taciturn souls.
All this misery he revealed to my aunt, dwelling upon the morbid
nature of his feelings, imploring advice and pity, deciding and
blaming the puerility of his jealousy, but jealous all the same,
unable to refrain from recurring again and again to the open wound
in his heart, and incapable of the energy and decision that would
have cured it.

The letters became more and more gloomy, as it always happens when
one has not at once put an end to a false position; my father
suffered from the consequences of his weakness, and allowed them to
develop without taking action, because he could not now have
checked them without painful scenes. After having tolerated the
increased frequency of his friend's visits, it was torture to him
to observe that his wife was sensibly influenced by this
encroaching intimacy. He perceived that she took Termonde's advice
on all little matters of daily life--upon a question of dress, the
purchase of a present, the choice of a book. He came upon the
traces of the man in the change of my mother's tastes, in music for
instance. When we were alone in the evenings, he liked her to go
to the piano and play to him, for hours together, at haphazard; now
she would play nothing but pieces selected by Termonde, who had
acquired an extensive knowledge of the German masters during his
residence abroad. My father, on the contrary, having been brought
up in the country with his sister, who was herself taught by a
provincial music-master, retained his old-fashioned taste for
Italian music.

My mother belonged, by her own family, to a totally different
sphere of society from that into which her marriage with my father
had introduced her. At first she did not feel any regret for her
former circle, because her extreme beauty secured her a triumphant
success in the new one; but it was another thing when her intimacy
with Termonde, who moved in the most worldly and elegant of the
Parisian "world," was perpetually reminding her of all its
pleasures and habits. My father saw that she was bored and weary
while doing the honors of her own salon with an absent mind. He
even found the political opinions of his friend echoed by his wife,
who laughed at him for what she called his Utopian liberalism. Her
mockery had no malice in it; but still it was mockery, and behind
it was Termonde, always Termonde. Nevertheless, he said nothing,
and the shyness, which he had always felt in my mother's presence
increased with his jealousy. The more unhappy he was, the more
incapable of expressing his pain he became. There are minds so
constituted that suffering paralzes them into inaction. And then
there was the ever-present question, what was he to do? How was he
to approach an explanation, when he had no positive accusation to
bring? He remained perfectly convinced of the fidelity of his
wife, and he again and again affirmed this, entreating my aunt not
to withdraw a particle of her esteem from his dear Marie, and
imploring her never to make an allusion to the sufferings of which
he was ashamed, before their innocent cause. And then he dwelt
upon his own faults; he accused himself of lack of tenderness, of
failing to win love, and would draw pictures of his sorrowful home,
in a few words, with heart-rending humility.

Rough, commonplace minds know nothing of the scruples that rent and
tortured my father's soul. They say, "I am jealous," without
troubling themselves as to whether the words convey an insult or
not. They forbid the house to the person to whom they object, and
shut their wives mouths with, "Am I master here?" taking heed of
their own feelings merely. Are they in the right? I know not; I
only know that such rough methods were impossible to my poor
father. He had sufficient strength to assume an icy mien towards
Termonde, to address him as seldom as possible, to give him his
hand with the insulting politeness that makes a gulf between two
sincere friends; but Termonde affected unconsciousness of all this.
My father, who did not want to have a scene with him, because the
immediate consequence would have been another scene with my mother,
multiplied these small affronts, and then Termonde simply changed
the time of his visits, and came during my father's business hours.
How vividly my father depicted his stormy rage at the idea that his
wife and the man of whom he was jealous were talking together,
undisturbed, in the flower-decked salon, while he was toiling to
procure all the luxury that money could purchase for that wife who
could never, never love him, although he believed her faithful.
But, oh, that cold fidelity was not what he longed for--he who
ended his letter by these words--how often have I repeated them to
myself:

"It is so sad to feel that one is in the way in one's own house,
that one possesses a woman by every right, that she gives one all
that her duty obliges her to give, all, except her heart, which is
another's unknown to herself, perhaps, unless, indeed, that-- My
sister, there are terrible hours in which I say to myself that I am
a fool, a coward, that they laugh together at me, at my blindness,
my stupid trust. Do not scold me, dear Louise. This idea is
infamous, and I drive it away by taking refuge with you, to whom,
at least, I am all the world."

"Unless, indeed, that--" This letter was written on the first
Sunday in June, 1864; and on the following Thursday, four days
later, he who had written it, and had suffered all it revealed,
went out to the appointment at which he met with his mysterious
death, that death by which his wife was set free to marry his felon
friend. What was the idea, as dreadful, as infamous as the idea of
which my father accused himself in his terrible last letter, that
flashed across me now? I placed the packet of papers upon the
mantelpiece, and pressed my two hands to my head, as though to
still the tempest of cruel fancies which made it throb with fever.

Ah, the hideous, nameless thing! My mind got a glimpse of it only
to reject it.

But, had not my aunt also been assailed by the same monstrous
suspicion? A number of small facts rose up in my memory, and
convinced me that my father's faithful sister had been a prey to
the same idea which had just laid hold of me so strongly. How many
strange things I now understood, all in a moment! On that day when
she told me of my mother's second marriage, and I spontaneously
uttered the accursed name of Termonde, why had she asked me, in a
trembling voice: "What do you know?"

What was it she feared that I had guessed? What dreaded
information did she expect to receive from my childish observation
of things?

Afterwards, and when she implored me to abandon the task of
avenging our beloved dead, when she quoted to me the sacred words,
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," who were the guilty ones whom
she foresaw I must meet on my path? When she entreated me to bear
with my stepfather, even to conciliate him, not to make an enemy of
him, had her advice any object except the greater ease of my daily
life, or did she think danger might come to me from that quarter?
When she became more afraid for me, owing to the weakening of her
brain by illness, and again and again enjoined upon me to beware of
going out alone in the evening, was the vision of terror that came
to her that of a hand which would fain strike me in the dark--the
same hand that had struck my father? When she summoned up all her
strength in her last moments, that she might destroy this
correspondence, what was the clue which she supposed the letters
would furnish? A terrific light shone upon me; what my aunt had
perceived beyond the plain purport of the letters, I too perceived.
Ah! I dared to entertain this idea, yet now I am ashamed to write
it down. But could I have escaped from the hard logic of the
situation? If my aunt had handed over those letters to the Judge
of Instruction in the matter, would he not have arrived at the same
conclusion that I drew from them? No, I could not. A man who has
no known enemies is assassinated; it is alleged that robbery is not
the motive of the murder; his wife has a lover, and shortly after
the death of her husband she marries that lover. "But it is they--
it is they who are guilty, they have killed the husband," the judge
would say, and so would the first-comer. Why did not my aunt place
those letters of my father's in the hands of justice? I understood
the reason too well; she would not have me think of my mother what
I was now in a fit of distraction thinking.

To conceive of this as merely possible was to be guilty of moral
parricide, to commit the inexpiable sin against her who had borne
me. I had always loved my mother so tenderly, so mournfully;
never, never had I judged her. How many times--happening to be
alone with her, and not knowing how to tell her what was weighing
on my heart--how many times I had dreamed that the barrier between
us would not for ever divide us. Some day I might, perhaps, become
her only support, then she should see how precious she still was to
me. My sufferings had not lessened my love for her; wretched as I
was because she refused me a certain sort of affection, I did not
condemn her for lavishing that affection upon another. As a matter
of fact, until those fatal letters had done their work of
disenchantment, of what was she guilty in my eyes? Of having
married again? Of having chosen, being left a widow at thirty, to
construct a new life for herself? What could be more legitimate?
Of having failed to understand the relations of the child who
remained to her with the man whom she had chosen? What was more
natural? She was more wife than mother, and besides, fanciful and
fragile beings such as she was recoil from daily contests; they
shrink from facing realities which would demand sustained courage
and energy on their part. I had admitted all these explanations of
my mother's attitude towards me, at first from instinct and
afterwards on reflection. But now, the inexhaustible spring of
indulgence for those who really hold our heart-strings was dried up
in a moment, and a flood of odious, abominable suspicion
overwhelmed me instead.

This sudden invasion of a horrible, torturing idea was not lasting.
I could not have borne it. Had it implanted itself in me then and
there, definite, overwhelming in evidence, impossible of rejection,
I must have taken a pistol and shot myself, to escape from agony
such as I endured in the few minutes which followed my reading of
the letters. But the tension was relaxed, I reflected, and my love
for my mother began to strive against the horrible suggestion. To
the onslaught of these execrable fancies I opposed the facts, in
their certainty and completeness. I recalled the smallest
particulars of that last occasion on which I saw my father and
mother in each other's presence. It was at the table from which he
rose to go forth and meet his murderer. But was not my mother
cheerful and smiling that morning, as usual? Was not Jacques
Termonde with us at breakfast, and did he not stay on, after my
father had gone out, talking with my mother while I played with my
toys in the room? It was at that very time, between one and two
o'clock, that the mysterious Rochdale committed the crime.

Termonde could not be, at one and the same moment, in our salon and
at the Imperial Hotel, any more than my mother, impressionable and
emotional as I knew her to be, could have gone on talking quietly
and happily, if she had known that her husband was being murdered
at that very hour. Why, I must have been mad to allow such a
notion to present its monstrous image before my eyes for a single
moment, and it was infamous of me to have gone so far beyond the
most insulting of my father's suspicions.

Already, and without any proof except the expression of jealousy
acknowledged by himself to be unreasonable, I had reached a point
to which the unhappy but still loving man had not dared to go, even
to the extreme outrage against my mother. What if, during the
lifetime of her first husband, she had inspired him whom she was
one day to marry with too strong a sentiment, did this prove that
she had shared it? If she had shared it, would that have proved
her to be a fallen woman? Why should she not have entertained an
affection for Termonde, which, while it in no wise interfered with
her fidelity to her wifely duties, made my father not unnaturally
jealous?

Thus did I justify her, not only from any participation in the
crime, but from any failure in her duty. And then again my ideas
changed; I remembered the cry that she had uttered in presence of
my father's dead body: "I am punished by God!" I was not
sufficiently charitable to her to admit that those words might be
merely the utterance of a refined and scrupulous mind which
reproached itself even with its thoughts. I also recalled the
gleaming eyes and shaking hands of Termonde, when he was talking
with my mother about my father's mysterious disappearance. If they
were accomplices, this was a piece of acting performed before me,
an innocent witness, so that they might invoke my childish
testimony on occasion. These recollections once more drove me upon
my fated way. The idea of a guilty tie between her and him now
took possession of me, and then came swiftly the thought that they
had profited by the murder, that they alone had an engrossing
interest in it. So violent was the assault of suspicion that it
overthrew all the barriers I had raised against it. I accumulated
all the objections founded upon a physical alibi and a moral
improbability, and thence I forced myself to say it was, strictly
speaking, impossible they could have anything to do with the
murder; impossible, impossible! I repeated this frantically; but
even as it passed my lips, the hallucination returned, and struck
me down. There are moments when the disordered mind is unable to
quell visions which it knows to be false, when the imaginary and
the real mingle in a nightmare-panic, and the judgment is powerless
to distinguish between them. Who is there that, having been
jealous, does not know this condition of mind? What did I not
suffer from it during the day after I had read those letters! I
wandered about the house, incapable of attending to any duty,
struck stupid by emotions which all around me attributed to grief
for my aunt's death. Several times I tried to sit for a while
beside her bed; but the sight of her pale face, with its pinched
nostrils, and its deepening expression of sadness, was unbearable
to me. It renewed my miserable doubts.

At four o'clock I received a telegram. It was from my mother, and
announced her arrival by evening train. When the slip of blue
paper was in my hand my wretchedness was for a moment relieved.
She was coming. She had thought of my trouble; she was coming.
That assurance [error in text--line missing] criminal thoughts in
my face?

But those absurd and infamous notions took possession of me once
more. Perhaps she thinks, so ran my thoughts, that the
correspondence between my father and my aunt had not been
destroyed, and she is coming in order to get hold of those letters
before I see them, and to find out what my aunt said to me when she
was dying. If she and Termonde are guilty, they must have lived in
constant dread of the old maid's penetration. Ah! I had been very
unhappy in my childhood, but how gladly would I have gone back to
be the school-boy, meditating during the dull and interminable
evening hours of study, and not the young man who walked to and fro
that night in the station at Compiegne, awaiting the arrival of a
mother, suspected as mine was. Just God! Did not I expiate
everything in anticipation by that one hour?


VII


The train from Paris approached, and stopped. The railway
officials called out the name of the station, as they opened the
doors of the carriages one after another, very slowly as it seemed
to me. I went from carriage to carriage seeking my mother. Had
she at the last moment decided not to come! What a trial to me if
it were so! What a night I should have to pass in all the torment
of suspicions which, I knew too well, her mere presence would
dispel.

A voice called me. It was hers. Then I saw her, dressed in black,
and never in my life did I clasp her in my arms as I did then,
utterly forgetting that we were in a public place, and why she had
come, in the joy of feeling my horrible imaginations vanish, melt
away at the mere touch of the being whom I loved so profoundly, the
only one who was dear to me, notwithstanding our differences, in
the very depths of my heart, now that I had lost my Aunt Louise.

After that first movement, which resembled the grasp in which a
drowning man seizes the swimmer who dives for him, I looked at my
mother without speaking, holding both her hands. She had thrown
back her veil, and in the flickering light of the station I saw
that she was very pale and had been weeping. I had only to meet
her eyes, which were still wet with tears, to know that I had been
mad. I felt this, with the first words she uttered, telling me so
tenderly of her grief, and that she had resolved to come at once,
although my stepfather was ill. M. Termonde had suffered of late
from frequent attacks of liver-complaint.

But neither her grief nor her anxiety about her husband had
prevented my poor mother from providing herself, for this little
excursion of a few hours, with all her customary appliances of
comfort and elegance. Her maid stood behind her, accompanied by a
porter, and both were laden with three or four bags of different
sizes, of the best English make, carefully buttoned up in their
waterproof covers; a dressing-case, a writing-case, an elegant
wallet to hold the traveler's purse, handkerchief, book, and second
veil; a hot-water bottle for her feet, two cushions for her head,
and a little clock suspended from a swinging disc.

"You see," said she, while I was pointing out the carriage to the
maid, so that she might get rid of her impedimenta, "I shall not
have my right mourning until to-morrow"--and now I perceived that
her gown was dark brown and only braided with black--"they could
not have the things ready in time, but will send them as early as
possible." Then, as I placed her in the carriage, she added:
"There is still a trunk and a bonnet-box." She half smiled in
saying this, to make me smile too, for the mass of luggage and the
number of small parcels with which she encumbered herself had been
of old a subject of mild quarrel between us.

In any other state of mind I should have been pained to find the
unfailing evidence of her frivolity side by side with the mark of
affection she had given me by coming. Was not this one of the
small causes of my great misery? True, but her frivolity was
delightful to me at that moment. This then was the woman whom I
had been picturing to myself as coming to the house of death, with
the sinister purpose of searching my dead aunt's papers and
stealing or destroying any accusing pages which she might find
among them! This was the woman whom I had represented to myself,
that morning, as a criminal steeped in the guilt of a cowardly
murder! Yes! I had been mad! had been like a runaway horse
galloping after its own shadow. But what a relief to make sure
that it was madness, what a blessed relief! It almost made me
forget the dear dead woman.

I was very sad at heart in reality, and yet I was happy, while we
were rattling through the town in the old coupe, past the long
lines of lighted windows. I held my mother's hand; I longed to beg
her pardon, to kiss the hem of her dress, to tell her again and
again that I loved and revered her. She perceived my emotion very
plainly; but she attributed it to the affliction that had just
befallen me, and she condoled with me. She said, "My Andre,"
several times. How rare it was for me to have her thus, all my
own, and just in that mood of feeling for which my sick heart
pined!

I had had the room on the ground floor, next to the salon, prepared
for my mother. I remembered that she had occupied it, when she
came to Compiegne with my father, a few days after her marriage,
and I felt sure that the impression which would be produced upon
her by the sight of the house in the first instance, and then by
the sight of the room, would help me to get rid of my dreadful
suspicions. I was determined to note minutely the slightest signs
of agitation which she might betray at the contact of a
resuscitated past, rendered more striking by the aspect of things
that do not change so quickly as the heart of a woman. And now, I
blushed for that idea, worthy of a detective; for I felt it a
shameful thing to judge one's mother: one ought to make an Act of
Faith in her which would resist any evidence. I felt this, alas!
all the more, because the innocent woman was quite off her guard,
as was perfectly natural.

She entered the room with a thoughtful look, seated herself before
the fire, and held her slender feet towards the flames, which
touched her pale cheeks with red; and, with her jet black hair, her
elegant figure, which still retained its youthful grace, she shed
upon the dim twilight of the old-fashioned room that refined and
aristocratic charm of which my father spoke in his letters. She
looked slowly all around her, recognizing most of the things which
my aunt's pious care had preserved in their former place, and said,
sorrowfully: "What recollections!" But there was no bitterness in
the emotion depicted on her face. Ah! no; a woman who is brought,
after twenty years, into the room which she had occupied, as a
bride, with the husband whose murder she had contrived after having
betrayed him, has not such eyes, such a brow, such a mouth as hers.


VIII


There was but one remedy to be applied to my unbearable malady--
that remedy which had already been successful in the case of my
suspicions of my mother. I must at once proceed to place the real
in opposition to the suggestions of imagination. I must seek the
presence of the man whom I suspected, look him straight in the
face, and see him as he was, not as my fancy, growing more feverish
day by day, represented him. Then I should discern whether I had
or had not been the sport of a delusion; and the sooner I resorted
to this test the better, for my sufferings were terribly increased
by solitude.

My head became confused; at last I ceased even to doubt. That
which ought to have been only a faint indication, assumed to my
mind the importance of an overwhelming proof. In the interest of
my inquiry itself it was full time to resist this, if I were ever
to pursue my inquiry farther, or else I should fall into the
nervous state which I knew so well, and which rendered any kind of
action in cold blood impossible to me.

I made up my mind to leave Compiegne, see my stepfather, and form
my judgment of whether there was or was not anything in my
suspicions upon the first effect produced on him by my sudden and
unexpected appearance before him. I founded this hope on an
argument which I had already used in the case of my mother, namely,
that if M. Termonde had really been concerned in the assassination
of my father, he had dreaded my aunt's penetration beyond all
things. Their relations had been formal, with an undercurrent of
enmity on her part which had assuredly not escaped a man so astute
as he. If he were guilty, would he not have feared that my aunt
would have confided her thoughts to me on her death-bed? The
attitude that he should assume towards me, at and after our first
interview, would be a proof, complete in proportion to its
suddenness, and he must have no time for preparation.

I returned to Paris, therefore, without having informed even my
valet of my intention, and proceeded almost immediately to my
mother's hotel.

I rang the bell.

The door was opened, and the narrow court, the glass porch, the red
carpet of the staircase, were before me. The concierge, who
saluted me, was not he by whom I had fancied myself slighted in my
childhood; but the old valet de chambre who opened the door to me
was the same. His close-shaven face wore its former impassive
expression, the look that used to convey to me such an impression
of insult and insolence when I came home from school. What
childish absurdity!

To my question the man replied that my mother was in, also H.
Termonde, and Madame Bernard, a friend of theirs. The latter name
brought me back at once to the reality of the situation. Madame
Bernard was a prettyish woman, very slight and very dark, with a
"tip-tilted" nose, frizzy hair worn low upon her forehead, very
white teeth which were continually shown by a constant smile, a
short upper lip, and all the manners and ways of a woman of society
well up to its latest gossip. I fell at once from my fancied
height as an imaginary Grand Judiciary into the shallows of
Parisian frivolity. I felt about to hear chatter upon the last new
play, the latest suit for separation, the latest love affairs, and
the newest bonnet. It was for this that I had eaten my heart out
all these days!

The servant preceded me to the hall I knew so well, with its
Oriental divan, its green plants, its strange furniture, its
slightly faded carpet, its Meissonier on a draped easel, in the
place formerly occupied by my father's portrait, its crowd of
ornamental trifles, and the wide-spreading Japanese parasol open in
the middle of the ceiling. The walls were hung with large pieces
of Chinese stuff embroidered in black and white silk. My mother
was half-reclining in an American rocking-chair, and shading her
face from the fire with a hand-screen; Madame Bernard, who sat
opposite to her, was holding her muff with one hand and
gesticulating with the other; M. Termonde, in walking-dress, was
standing with his back to the chimney, smoking a cigar, and warming
the sole of one of his boots.

On my appearance, my mother uttered a little cry of glad surprise,
and rose to welcome me. Madame Bernard instantly assumed the air
with which a well-bred woman prepares to condole with a person of
her acquaintance upon a bereavement. All these little details I
perceived in a moment, and also the shrug of M. Termonde's
shoulders, the quick flutter of his eyelids, the rapidly-dismissed
expression of disagreeable surprise which my sudden appearance
called forth. But what then? Was it not the same with myself? I
could have sworn that at the same moment he experienced sensations
exactly similar to those which were catching me at the chest and by
the throat. What did this prove but that a current of antipathy
existed between him and me? Was it a reason for the man's being a
murderer? He was simply my stepfather, and a stepfather who did
not like his stepson.

Matters had stood thus for years, and yet, after the week of
miserable suspicion I had lived through, the quick look and shrug
struck me strangely, even while I took his hand after I had kissed
my mother and saluted Madame Bernard. His hand? No, only his
finger tips as usual, and they trembled a little as I touched them.
How often had my own hand shrunk with unconquerable repugnance from
that contact! I listened while he repeated the same phrases of
sympathy with my sorrow which he had already written to me while I
was at Compiegne. I listened while Madame Bernard uttered other
phrases to the same effect; and then the conversation resumed its
course, and, during the half-hour that ensued, I looked on,
speaking hardly at all, but mentally comparing the physiognomy of
my stepfather with that of the visitor, and that of my mother. The
contemplation of those three faces produced a curious impression
upon me; it was that of their difference, not only of age, but of
intensity, of depth. There was no mystery in my mother's face, it
was as easy to read as a page in dear handwriting! The mind of
Madame Bernard, a worldly, trumpery, poor mind, but harmless
enough, was readily to be discerned in her features which were at
once refined and commonplace. How little there was of reflection,
of decision, of exercise of will, in short of individuality, behind
the poetic grace of the one and the pretty affectations of the
other! What a face, on the contrary, was that of my stepfather,
with its strong individuality, and its vivid expression! In this
man of the world, as he stood there talking with two women of the
world, in his blue, furtive eyes, too wide apart, and always
seeming to shun observation, in his prematurely gray hair, his
mouth set round with deep wrinkles, in his dark, blotched, bilious
complexion, there seemed to be a creature of another race. What
passions had worn those furrows? what vigils had hollowed those
eyeballs? Was this the face of a happy man, with whom everything
had succeeded, who, having been born to wealth and of an excellent
family, had married the woman he loved; who had known neither the
wearing cares of ambition, the toil of money-getting, nor the
stings of wounded self-love? It is true, he suffered from liver
complaint; but why was it that, although I had hitherto been
satisfied with this answer, it now appeared to me childish and even
foolish? Why did all these marks of trouble and exhaustion
suddenly strike me as effects of a secret cause, and why was I
astonished that I had not sooner sought for it? Why was it that in
his presence, contrary to my expectations, contrary to what had
happened about my mother, I was plunged more deeply into the gulf
of suspicion from which I had hoped to emerge with a free mind?
Why, when our eyes met for just one second, was I afraid that he
might read my thoughts in my glance, and why did I shift them with
a pang of shame and terror? Ah! coward that I was, triple coward!
Either I was wrong to think thus, and at any price I must know that
I was wrong; or, I was right and I must know that too. The sole
resource henceforth remaining to me for the preservation of my
self-respect was ardent and ceaseless search after certainty.

That such a search was beset with difficulty I was well aware. How
was I to get at facts? The very position of the problem which I
had before me forbade all hope of discovering anything whatsoever
by a formal inquiry. What, in fact, was the matter in question?
It was to make myself certain whether M. Termonde was or was not
the accomplice of the man who had led my father into the trap in
which he had lost his life. But I did not know that man himself; I
had no data to go upon except the particulars of his disguise and
the vague speculations of a Judge of Instruction. If I could only
have consulted that Judge, and availed myself of his experience?
How often since have I taken out the packet containing the
denunciatory letters, with the intention of showing them to him and
imploring advice, support, suggestions, from him. But I have
always stopped short before the door of his house; the thought of
my mother barred its entrance against me. What if he, the Judge of
Instruction in the case, were to suspect her as my aunt had done?
Then I would go back to my own abode, and shut myself up for hours,
lying on the divan in my smoking-room and drugging my senses with
tobacco. During that time I read and re-read the fatal letters,
although I knew them by heart, in order to verify my first
impression with the hope of dispelling it. It was, on the
contrary, deepened. The only gain I obtained from my repeated
perusals was the knowledge that this certainty, of which I had made
a point of honor to myself, could only be psychological. In short,
all my fancies started from the moral data of the crime, apart from
physical data which I could not obtain. I was therefore obliged to
rely entirely, absolutely, upon those moral data, and I began again
to reason as I had done at Compiegne. "Supposing," said I to
myself, "that M. Termonde is guilty, what state of mind must he be
in? This state of mind being once ascertained, how can I act so as
to wrest some sign of his guilt from him?" As to his state of mind
I had no doubt. Ill and depressed as I knew him to be, his mind
troubled to the point of torment, if that suffering, that gloom,
that misery were accompanied by the recollection of a murder
committed in the past, the man was the victim of secret remorse.
The point was then to invent a plan which should give, as it were,
a form to his remorse, to raise the specter of the deed he had done
roughly and suddenly before him. If guilty, it was impossible but
that he would tremble; if innocent, he would not even be aware of
the experiment. But how was this sudden summoning-up of his crime
before the man whom I suspected to be accomplished? On the stage
and in novels one confronts an assassin with the spectacle of his
crime, and keeps watch upon his face for the one second during
which he loses his self-possession; but in reality there is no
instrument except unwieldy, unmanageable speech wherewith to probe
a human conscience. I could not, however, go straight to M.
Termonde and say to his face: "You had my father killed!" Innocent
or guilty, he would have had me turned from the door as a madman!

After several hours of reflection, I came to the conclusion that
only one plan was reasonable, and available: this was to have a
private talk with my stepfather at a moment when he would least
expect it, an interview in which all should be hints, shades,
double meanings, in which each word should be like the laying of a
finger upon the sorest spots in his breast, if indeed his
reflections were those of a murderer.

Every sentence of mine must be so contrived as to force him to ask
himself: "Why does he say this to me if he knows nothing? He does
know something. How much does he know?"

So well acquainted was I with every physical trait of his, the
slightest variations of his countenance, his simplest gestures,
that no sign of disturbance on his part, however slight, could
escape me. If I did not succeed in discovering the seat of the
malady by this process, I should be convinced of the baselessness
of those suspicions which were constantly springing up afresh in my
mind since the death of my aunt. I would then admit the simple and
probable explanation--nothing in my father's letters discredited
it--that M. Termonde had loved my mother without hope in the
lifetime of her first husband, and had then profited by her
widowhood, of which he had not even ventured to think.

If, on the contrary, I observed during our interview that he was
alive to my suspicions, that he divined them, and anxiously
followed my words; if I surprised that swift gleam in his eye which
reveals the instinctive terror of an animal, attacked at the moment
of its fancied security, if the experiment succeeded, then--then--I
dared not think of what then?

The mere possibility was too overwhelming.

But should I have the strength to carry on such a conversation? At
the mere thought of it my heart-beats were quickened, and my nerves
thrilled. What! this was the first opportunity that had been
offered to me of action, of devoting myself to the task of
vengeance, so coveted, so fully accepted during all my early years,
and I could hesitate?

Happily, or unhappily, I had near me a counsellor stronger than my
doubts, my father's portrait, which was hung in my smoking-room.
When I awoke in the night and plunged into those thoughts, I would
light my candle and go to look at the picture. How like we were to
each other, my father and I, although I was more slightly built!
How exactly the same we were! How near to me I felt him, and how
dearly I loved him! With what emotion I studied those features,
the lofty forehead, the brown eyes, the rather large mouth, the
rather long chin, the mouth especially half-hidden by a black
moustache cut like my own; it had no need to open, and cry out:
"Andre, Andre, remember me!" Ah, no, my dear dead father, I could
not leave you thus, without having done my utmost to avenge you,
and it was only an interview to be faced, only an interview!

My nervousness gave way to determination at once feverish and
fixed--yes, it was both--and it was in a mood of perfect self-
mastery, that, after a long period of mental conflict, I repaired
to the hotel on the boulevard, with the plan of my discourse
clearly laid out. I felt almost sure of finding my stepfather
alone; for my mother was to breakfast on that day with Madame
Bernard. M. Termonde was at home, and, as I expected, alone in his
study.

When I entered the room, he was sitting in a low chair, close to
the fire, looking chilly, and smoking. Like myself in my dark
hours, he drugged himself with tobacco. The room was a large one,
and both luxurious and ordinary. A handsome bookcase lined one of
the walls. Its contents were various, ranging from grave works on
history and political economy, to the lightest novels of the day.
A large, flat writing-table, on which every kind of writing-
material was carefully arranged, occupied the middle of the room,
and was adorned with photographs in plain leather cases. These
were portraits of my mother and M. Termonde's father and mother.
At least one prominent trait of its owner's character, his
scrupulous attention to order and correctness of detail, was
revealed by the aspect of my stepfather's study; but this quality,
which is common to so many persons of his position in the world,
may belong to the most commonplace character as well as to the most
refined hypocrite. It was not only in the external order and
bearing of his life that my stepfather was impenetrable, none could
tell whether profound thoughts were or were not hidden behind his
politeness and elegance of manner. I had often reflected on this,
at a period when as yet I had no stronger motive for examining into
the recesses of the man's character than curiosity, and the
impression came to me with extreme intensity at the moment when I
entered his presence with a firm resolve to read in the book of his
past life.

We shook hands, I took a seat opposite to his on the other side of
the hearth, lighted a cigar, and said, as if to explain my
unaccustomed presence:

"Mamma is not here?"

"Did she not tell you, the other day, that she was to breakfast
with Madame Bernard? There's an expedition to Lozano's studio"
(Lozano was a Spanish painter much in vogue just then), "to see a
portrait he is painting of Madame Bernard. Is there anything you
want to have told to your mother?" he added, simply.

These few words were sufficient to show me that he had remarked the
singularity of my visit. Ought I to regret or to rejoice at this?
He was, then, already aware that I had some particular motive for
coming; but this very fact would give all their intended weight to
my words. I began by turning the conversation on an indifferent
matter, talking of the painter Lozano and a good picture of his
which I knew, "A Gipsy-dance in a Tavern-yard at Grenada." I
described the bold attitudes, the pale complexions, the Moorish
faces of the "gitanas," and the red carnations stuck into the heavy
braids of their black hair, and I questioned him about Spain.

He answered me, but evidently out of mere politeness.

While continuing to smoke his cigar, he raked the fire with the
tongs, taking up one small piece of charred wood after another
between their points. By the quivering of his fingers, the only
sign of his nervous sensitiveness which he was unable entirely to
keep down, I could observe that my presence was then, as it always
was, disagreeable to him. Nevertheless he talked on with his
habitual courtesy, in his low voice, almost without tone or accent,
as though he had trained himself to talk thus. His eyes were fixed
on the flame, and his face, which I saw in profile, wore the
expression of infinite weariness that I knew well, in indescribable
stillness and sadness, with long deep lines, and the mouth was
contracted as though by some bitter thought ever present.
Suddenly, I looked straight at that detested profile, concentrating
all the attention I had in me upon it, and, passing from one
subject to another without transition, I said:

"I paid a very interesting visit this morning."

"In that you are agreeably distinguished from me," was his reply,
made in a tone of utter indifference, "for I wasted my morning in
putting my correspondence in order."

"Yes," I continued, "very interesting. I passed two hours with M.
Massol."

I had reckoned a good deal on the effect of this name, which must
have instantly recalled the inquiry into the mystery of the
Imperial Hotel to his memory. The muscles of his face did not
move. He laid down the tongs, leaned back in his chair, and said
in an absent manner:

"The former Judge of Instruction? What is he doing now?"

Was it possible that he really did not know where the man, whom, if
he were guilty, he ought to have dreaded most of all men, was then
living? How was I to know whether this indifference was feigned?
The trap I had set appeared to me all at once a childish notion.
Admitting that my stepfather's pulses were even now throbbing with
fever, and that he was saying to himself with dread: "What is he
coming to? What does he mean?" why, this was a reason why he
should conceal his emotion all the more carefully. No matter. I
had begun; I was bound to go on, and to hit hard.

"M. Massol is Counsellor to the Court," I replied, and I added--
although this was not true--"I see him often. We were talking this
morning of criminals who have escaped punishment. Only fancy his
being convinced that Troppman had an accomplice. He founds his
belief on the details of the crime, which presuppose two men, he
says. If this be true it must be admitted that 'Messieurs les
assassins' have a kind of honor of their own, however odd that may
appear, since the child-killing monster let his own head be cut off
without denouncing the other. Nevertheless, the accomplice must
have put some bad time over him, after the discovery of the bodies
and the arrest of his comrade. I, for my part, would not trust to
that honor, and if the humor took me to commit a crime, I should do
it by myself. Would you?" I asked jestingly.

These two little words meant nothing, were merely an insignificant
jest, if the man to whom I put my odd question was innocent. But,
if he were guilty, those two little words were enough to freeze the
marrow in his bones. He surrounded himself with smoke while
listening to me, his eye-lids half veiled his eyes; I could no
longer see his left hand, which hung over the far side of his
chair, and he had put the right into the pocket of his morning-
coat. There was a short pause before he answered me--very short--
but the interval, perhaps a minute, that divided his reply from my
question, was a burning one for me. But what of this? It was not
his way to speak in a hurry; and besides, my question had nothing
interesting in it if he were not guilty, and if he were, would he
not have to calculate the bearing of the phrase which he was about
to utter with the quickness of thought? He closed his eyes
completely--his constant habit--and said, in the unconcerned tone
of a man who is talking generalities:

"It is a fact that scraps of conscience do remain intact in very
depraved individuals. One sees instances of this especially in
countries where habits and morals are more genuine and true to
nature than ours. There's Spain, for instance, the country that
interests you so much; when I lived in Spain, it was still infested
by brigands. One had to make treaties with them in order to cross
the Sierras in safety; there was no case known in which they broke
the contract. The history of celebrated criminal cases swarms with
scoundrels who have been excellent friends, devoted sons, and
constant lovers. But I am of your opinion, and I think it is best
not to count too much upon them."

He smiled as he uttered the last words, and now he looked full at
me with those light blue eyes which were so mysterious and
impassible. No, I was not of stature to cope with him, to read his
heart by force. It needed capacity of another kind than mine to
play in the case of this personage the part of the magnate of
police who magnetizes a criminal. And yet, why did my suspicions
gather force as I felt the masked, dissimulating, guarded nature of
the man in all its strength? Are there not natures so constituted
that they shut themselves up without cause, just as others reveal
themselves; are there not souls that love darkness as others love
daylight? Courage, then, let me strike again.

"M. Massol and I," I resumed, "have been talking about what kind of
life Troppmann's accomplice must be leading; and also Rochdale's;
for neither of us has relinquished the intention of finding him.
Before M. Massol's retirement he took the precaution to bar the
limitation by a formal notice, and we have several years before us
in which to search for the man. Do these criminals sleep in peace?
Are they punished by remorse, or by the apprehension of danger,
even in their momentary security? It would be strange if they were
both at this moment good, quiet citizens, smoking their cigars like
you and me, loved and loving. Do you believe in remorse?"

"Yes, I do believe in remorse," he answered.

Was it the contrast between the affected levity of my speech, and
the seriousness with which he had spoken, that caused his voice to
sound grave and deep to my ears? No, no; I was deceiving myself,
for without a thrill he had heard the news that the limitation had
been barred, that the case might be reopened any day--terrible news
for him if he were mixed up with the murder--and he added, calmly,
referring to the philosophic side of my question only:

"And does M. Massol believe in remorse?"

"M. Massol," said I, "is a cynic. He has seen too much wickedness,
known too many terrible stories. He says that remorse is a
question of stomach and religious education, and that a man with a
sound digestion, who had never heard anything about hell in his
childhood, might rob and kill from morning to night without feeling
any other remorse than fear of the police. He also maintains,
being a sceptic, that we do not know what part that question of the
other life plays in solitude; and I think he is right, for I often
begin to think of death, at night, and I am afraid;-- yes, I, who
don't believe in anything very much, am afraid. And you," I
continued, "do you believe in another world?"

"Yes." This time I was sure that there was an alteration in his
voice.

"And in the justice of God?"

"In His justice and His mercy," he answered, in a strange tone.

"Singular justice," I said vehemently, "which is able to do
everything, and yet delays to punish! My poor aunt used always to
say to me when I talked to her about avenging my father: 'I leave
it to God to punish,' but, for my part, if I had got hold of the
murderer, and he was there before me--if I were sure--no, I would
not wait for the hour of that tardy justice of God."

I had risen while uttering these words, carried away by involuntary
excitement which I knew to be unwise. M. Termonde had bent over
the fire again, and once more taken up the tongs. He made no
answer to my outburst. Had he really felt some slight disturbance,
as I believed for an instant, at hearing me speak of that
inevitable and dreadful morrow of the grave which fills myself with
such fear now that there is blood upon my hands?

I could not tell. His profile was, as usual, calm and sad.

The restlessness of his hands--recalling to my mind the gesture
with which he turned and returned his cane while my mother was
telling him of the disappearance of my father--yes, the
restlessness of his hands was extreme; but he had been working at
the fire with the same feverish eagerness just before. Silence had
fallen between us suddenly; but how often had the same thing
happened? Did it ever fail to happen when he and I were in each
other's company? And then, what could he have to say against the
outburst of my grief and wrath, orphan that I was? Guilty or
innocent, it was for him to be silent, and he held his peace. My
heart sank; but, at the same time, a senseless rage seized upon me.
At that moment I would have given my remaining life for the power
of forcing their secret from those shut lips, by any mode of
torture.

My stepfather looked at the clock--he, too, had risen now--and
said: "Shall I put you down anywhere? I have ordered the carriage
for three o'clock, as I have to be at the club at half-past.
There's a ballot coming off tomorrow." Instead of the down-
stricken criminal I had dreamed of, there stood before me a man of
society thinking about the affairs of his club. He came with me so
far as the hall, and took leave of me with a smile.

Why, then, a quarter of an hour afterwards, when we passed each
other on the quay, I going homeward on foot, he in his coupe--yes--
why was his face so transformed, so dark and tragic? He did not
see me. He was sitting back in the corner, and his clay-colored
face was thrown out by the green leather behind his head. His eyes
were looking--where, and at what? The vision of distress that
passed before me was so different from the smiling countenance of a
while ago that it shook me from head to foot with an extraordinary
emotion, and forced me to exclaim, as though frightened at my own
success:

"Have I struck home?"


IX


This impression of dread kept hold of me during the whole of that
evening, and for several days afterwards. There is an infinite
distance between our fancies, however precise they may be, and the
least bit of reality.

My father's letters had stirred my being to its utmost depths, had
summoned up tragic pictures before my eyes; but the simple fact of
my having seen the agonized look in my stepfather's face, after my
interview with him, gave me a shock of an entirely different kind.

Even after I had read the letters repeatedly, I had cherished a
secret hope that I was mistaken, that some slight proof would arise
and dispel suspicions which I denounced as senseless, perhaps
because I had a foreknowledge of the dreadful duty that would
devolve upon me when the hour of certainty had come. Then I should
be obliged to act on a resolution, and I dared not look the
necessity in the face. No, I had not so regarded it, previous to
my meeting with my enemy, when I saw him cowering in anguish upon
the cushions of his carriage. Now I would force myself to
contemplate it. What should my course be, if he were guilty? I
put this question to myself plainly, and I perceived all the horror
of the situation. On whatever side I turned I was confronted with
intolerable misery.

That things should remain as they were I could not endure. I saw
my mother approach M. Termonde, as she often did, and touch his
forehead caressingly with her hand or her lips. That she should do
this to the murderer of my father! My very bones burned at the
mere thought of it, and I felt as though an arrow pierced my
breast. So be it! I would act; I would find strength to go to my
mother and say: "This man is an assassin," and prove it to her--and
lo! I was already shrinking from the pain that my words must
inflict on her. It seemed to me that while I was speaking I should
see her eyes open wide, and, through the distended pupils, discern
the rending asunder of her being, even to her heart, and that she
would go mad or fall down dead on the spot, before my eyes. No, I
would speak to her myself. If I held the convincing proof in my
hands I would appeal to justice.

But then a new scene arose before me. I pictured my mother at the
moment of her husband's arrest. She would be there, in the room,
close to him. "Of what crime is he accused?" she would ask, and
she would have to hear the inevitable answer. And I should be the
voluntary cause of this, I, who, since my childhood, and to spare
her a pang, had stifled all my complaints at the time when my heart
was laden with so many sighs, so many tears, so much sorrow, that
it would have been a supreme relief to have poured them out to her.
I had not done so then, because I knew that she was happy in her
life, and that it was her happiness only that blinded her to my
pain. I preferred that she should be blind and happy. And now?
Ah! how could I strike her such a cruel blow, dear and fragile
being that she was?

The first glimpse of the double prospect of misery which my future
offered if my suspicions proved just was too terrible for
endurance, and I summoned all my strength of will to shut out a
vision which must bring about such consequences. Contrary to my
habit, I persuaded myself into a happy solution. My stepfather
looked sad when he passed me in his coupe; true, but what did this
prove? Had he not many causes of care and trouble, beginning with
his health, which was failing from day to day?

One fact only would have furnished me with absolute, indisputable
proof; if he had been shaken by a nervous convulsion while we were
talking, if I had seen him (as Hamlet, my brother in anguish, saw
his uncle) start up with distorted face, before the suddenly-evoked
specter of his crime. Not a muscle of his face had moved, not an
eyelash had quivered;--why, then, should I set down this untroubled
calm to amazing hypocrisy, and take the discomposure of his
countenance half an hour later for a revelation of the truth? This
was just reasoning, or at least it appears so to me, now that I am
writing down my recollections in cold blood. They did not prevail
against the sort of fatal instinct which forced me to follow this
trail. Yes, it was absurd, it was mad, gratuitously to imagine
that M. Termonde had employed another person to murder my father;
yet I could not prevent myself constantly admitting that this most
unlikely suggestion of my fancy was possible, and sometimes that it
was certain.

When a man has given place in his mind to ideas of this kind he is
no longer his own master; either he is a coward, or the thing must
be fought out. It was due to my father, my mother, and myself that
I should KNOW.

I walked about my rooms for hours, revolving these thoughts, and
more than once I took up a pistol, saying to myself: "Just a touch,
a slight movement like this"--I made the gesture--"and I am cured
forever of my mortal pain." But the very handling of the weapon,
the touch of the smooth barrel, reminded me of the mysterious scene
of my father's death. It called up before me the sitting-room in
the Imperial Hotel, the disguised man waiting, my father coming in,
taking a seat at the table, turning over the papers laid before
him, while a pistol, like this one in my hand, was levelled at him,
close to the back of his neck; and then the fatal crack of the
weapon, the head dropping down upon the table, the murderer
wrapping the bleeding neck in towels and washing his hands, coolly,
leisurely, as though he had just completed some ordinary task. The
picture roused in me a raging thirst for vengeance. I approached
the portrait of the dead man, which looked at me with its
motionless eyes. What! I had my suspicions of the instigator of
this murder, and I would leave them unverified because I was afraid
of what I should have to do afterwards! No, no; at any price, I
must in the first place know!

Three days elapsed. I was suffering tortures of irresolution,
mingled with incoherent projects no sooner formed than they were
rejected as impracticable. To know?--this was easily said, but I,
who was so eager, nervous, and excitable, so little able to
restrain my quickly-varying emotions, would never be able to extort
his secret from so resolute a man, one so completely master of
himself as my stepfather. My consciousness of his strength and my
weakness made me dread his presence as much as I desired it. I was
like a novice in arms who was about to fight a duel with a very
skillful adversary; he desires to defend himself and to be
victorious, but he is doubtful of his own coolness. What was I to
do now, when I had struck a first blow and it had not been
decisive? If our interview had really told upon his conscience,
how was I to proceed to the redoubling of the first effect, to the
final reduction of that proud spirit?

My reflections had arrived and stopped at this point, I was forming
and re-forming plans only to abandon them, when a note reached me
from my mother, complaining that I had not gone to her house since
the day on which I had missed seeing her, and telling me that my
stepfather had been very ill indeed two days previously with his
customary liver complaint.

Two days previously, that was on the day after my conversation with
him.

Here again it might be said that fate was making sport of me,
redoubling the ambiguity of the signs, the chief cause of my
despair. Was the imminence of this attack explanatory of the
agonized expression on my stepfather's face when he passed me in
his carriage? Was it a cause, or merely the effect of the terror
by which he had been assailed, if he was guilty, under his mask of
indifference, while I flung my menacing words in his face? Oh, how
intolerable was this uncertainty, and my mother increased it, when
I went to her, by her first words.

"This," she said, "is the second attack he has had in two months;
they have never come so near together until now. What alarms me
most is the strength of the doses of morphine he takes to lull the
pain. He has never been a sound sleeper, and for some years he has
not slept one single night without having recourse to narcotics;
but he used to be moderate--whereas, now--"

She shook her head dejectedly, poor woman, and I, instead of
compassionating her sorrow, was conjecturing whether this, too, was
not a sign, whether the man's sleeplessness did not arise from
terrible, invincible remorse, or whether it also could be merely
the result of illness.

"Would you like to see him?" asked my mother, almost timidly, and
as I hesitated she added, under the impression that I was afraid of
fatiguing him, whereas I was much surprised by the proposal, "he
asked to see you himself; he wants to hear the news from you about
yesterday's ballot at the club." Was this the real motive of a
desire to see me, which I could not but regard as singular, or did
he want to prove that our interview had left him wholly unmoved?
Was I to interpret the message which he had sent me by my mother as
an additional sign of the extreme importance that he attached to
the details of "society" life, or was he, apprehending my
suspicions, forestalling them? Or, yet again, was he, too,
tortured by the desire TO KNOW, by the urgent need of satisfying
his curiosity by the sight of my face, whereon he might decipher my
thoughts?

I entered the room--it was the same that had been mine when I was a
child, but I had not been inside its door for years--in a state of
mind similar to that in which I had gone to my former interview
with him. I had, however, no hope now that M. Termonde would be
brought to his knees by my direct allusion to the hideous crime of
which I imagined him to be guilty. My stepfather occupied the room
as a sleeping-apartment when he was ill, ordinarily he only dressed
there. The walls, hung with dark green damask, ill-lighted by one
lamp, with a pink shade, placed upon a pedestal at some distance
from the bed, to avoid fatigue to the sick man's eyes, had for
their only ornament a likeness of my mother by Bonnat, one of his
first female portraits. The picture was hung between the two
windows, facing the bed, so that M. Termonde, when he slept in that
room, might turn his last look at night and his first look in the
morning upon the face whose long-descended beauty the painter had
very finely rendered. No less finely had he conveyed the something
half-theatrical which characterized that face, the slightly
affected set of the mouth, the far-off look in the eyes, the
elaborate arrangement of the hair.

First, I looked at this portrait; it confronted me on entering the
room; then my glance fell on my stepfather in the bed. His head,
with its white hair, and his thin yellow face were supported by the
large pillows, round his neck was tied a handkerchief of pale blue
silk which I recognized, for I had seen it on my mother's neck, and
I also recognized the red woollen coverlet that she had knitted for
him; it was exactly the same as one she had made for me; a pretty
bit of woman's work on which I had seen her occupied for hours,
ornamented with ribbons and lined with silk. Ever and always the
smallest details were destined to renew that impression of a shared
interest in my mother's life from which I suffered so much, and
more cruelly than ever now, by reason of my suspicion.

I felt that my looks must needs betray the tumult of such feelings,
and, while I seated myself by the side of the bed, and asked my
stepfather how he was, in a voice that sounded to me like that of
another person, I avoided meeting his eyes.

My mother had gone out immediately after announcing me, to attend
to some small matters relative to the well-being of her dear
invalid. My stepfather questioned me upon the ballot at the club
which he had assigned as a pretext for his wish to see me. I sat
with my elbow on the marble top of the table and my forehead
resting in my hand; although I did not catch his eye I felt that he
was studying my face, and I persisted in looking fixedly into the
half-open drawer where a small pocket-pistol, of English make, lay
side by side with his watch, and a brown silk purse, also made for
him by my mother. What were the dark misgivings revealed by the
presence of this weapon placed within reach of his hand and
probably habitually placed there? Did he interpret my thoughts
from my steady observation? Or had he, too, let his glance fall by
chance upon the pistol, and was he pursuing the ideas that it
suggested in order to keep up the talk it was always so difficult
to maintain between us? The fact is that he said, as though
replying to the question in my mind: "You are looking at that
pistol, it is a pretty thing, is it not?" He took it up, turned in
about in his hand, and then replaced it in the drawer, which he
closed. "I have a strange fancy, quite a mania; I could not sleep
unless I had a loaded pistol there, quite close to me. After all,
it is a habit which does no harm to anyone, and might have its
advantages. If your poor father had carried a weapon like that
upon him when he went to the Imperial Hotel, things would not have
gone so easily with the assassin."

This time I could not refrain from raising my eyes and seeking his.
How, if he were guilty, did he dare to recall this remembrance?
Why, if he were not, did his glance sink before mine? Was it
merely in following out an association of ideas that he referred
thus to the death of my father; was it for the purpose of
displaying his entire unconcern respecting the subject-matter of
our last interview; or was he using a probe to discover the depth
of my suspicion? After this allusion to the mysterious murder
which had made me fatherless, he went on to say:

"And, by-the-bye, have you seen M. Massol again?"

"No," said I, "not since the other day."

"He is a very intelligent man. At the time of that terrible
affair, I had a great deal of talk with him, in my capacity as the
intimate friend of both your father and mother. If I had known
that you were in the habit of seeing him latterly, I should have
asked you to convey my kind regards."

"He has not forgotten you," I answered. In this I lied; for M.
Massol had never spoken of my stepfather to me; but that frenzy
which had made me attack him almost madly in the conversation of
the other evening had seized upon me again. Should I never find
the vulnerable spot in that dark soul for which I was always
looking? This time his eyes did not falter, and whatever there was
of the enigmatical in what I had said, did not lead him to question
me farther. On the contrary, he put his finger on his lips. Used
as he was to all the sounds of the house, he had heard a step
approaching, and knew it was my mother's.

Did I deceive myself, or was there an entreaty that I would respect
the unsuspecting security of an innocent woman in the gesture by
which he enjoined silence?

Was I to translate the look that accompanied the sign into: "Do not
awaken suspicion in your mother's mind, she would suffer too much;"
and was his motive merely the solicitude of a man who desires to
save his wife from the revival of a sad remembrance.

She came in; with the same glance she saw us both, lighted by the
same ray from the lamp, and she gave us a smile, meant for both of
us in common, and fraught with the same tenderness for each. It
had been the dream of her life that we should be together thus, and
both of us with her, and, as she had told me at Compiegne, she
imputed the obstacles which had hindered the realization of her
dream to my moody disposition. She came towards us, smiling, and
carrying a silver tray with a glass of Vichy water upon it; this
she held out to my stepfather, who drank the water eagerly, and,
returning the glass to her, kissed her hand.

"Let us leave him to rest," she said, "his head is burning."
Indeed, in merely touching the tips of his fingers, which he placed
in mine, I could feel that he was highly feverish; but how was I to
interpret this symptom, which was ambiguous like all the others,
and might, like them, signify either moral or physical distress? I
had sworn to myself that I would KNOW; but how? how?

I had been surprised by my stepfather's having expressed a wish to
see me during his illness; but I was far more surprised when, a
fortnight later, my servant announced M. Termonde in person, at my
abode. I was in my study, and occupied in arranging some papers of
my father's which I had brought up from Compiegne. I had passed
these two weeks at my poor aunt's house, making a pretext of a
final settlement of affairs, but in reality because I needed to
reflect at leisure upon the course to be taken with respect to M.
Termonde, and my reflections had increased my doubts. At my
request, my mother had written to me three times, giving me news of
the patient, so that I was aware he was now better and able to go
out. On my return, the day before, I had selected a time at which
I was almost sure not to see anyone for my visit to my mother's
home. And now, here was my stepfather, who had not been inside my
door ten times since I had been installed in an apartment of my
own, paying me a visit without the loss of an hour. My mother, he
said, had sent him with a message to me. She had lent me two
numbers of a review, and she now wanted them back as she was
sending the yearly volume to be bound; so, as he was passing the
door, he had stepped in to ask me for them. I examined him closely
while he was giving this simple explanation of his visit, without
being able to decide whether the pretext did or did not conceal his
real motive. His complexion was more sallow than usual, the look
in his eyes was more glittering, he handled his hat nervously.

"The reviews are not here," I answered; "we shall probably find
them in the smoking-room."

It was not true that the two numbers were not there; I knew their
exact place on the table in my study; but my father's portrait hung
in the smoking-room, and the notion of bringing M. Termonde face to
face with the picture, to see how he would bear the confrontation,
had occurred to me. At first he did not observe the portrait at
all; but I went to the side of the room on which the easel
supporting it stood, and his eyes, following all my movements,
encountered it. His eyelids opened and closed rapidly, and a sort
of dark thrill passed over his face; then he turned his eyes
carelessly upon another little picture hanging upon the wall. I
did not give him time to recover from the shock; but, in pursuance
of the almost brutal method from which I had hitherto gained so
little, I persisted:

"Do you not think," said I, "that my father's portrait is
strikingly like me? A friend of mine was saying the other day
that, if I had my hair cut in the same way, my head would be
exactly like--"

He looked first at me, and then at the picture, in the most
leisurely way, like an expert in painting examining a work of art,
without any other motive than that of establishing its
authenticity. If this man had procured the death of him whose
portrait he studied thus, his power over himself was indeed
wonderful. But--was not the experiment a crucial one for him? To
betray his trouble would be to avow all? How ardently I longed to
place my hand upon his heart at that moment and to count its beats.

"You do resemble him," he said at length, "but not to that degree.
The lower part of the chin especially, the nose and the mouth, are
alike, but you have not the same look in the eyes, and the brows,
forehead, and cheeks are not the same shape."

"Do you think," said I, "that the resemblance is strong enough for
me to startle the murderer if he were to meet me suddenly here, and
thus?"--I advanced upon him, looking into the depths of his eyes as
though I were imitating a dramatic scene. "Yes," I continued,
"would the likeness of feature enable me to produce the effect of a
specter, on saying to the man, 'Do you recognize the son of him
whom you killed?"'

"Now we are returning to our former discussion," he replied,
without any farther alteration of his countenance; "that would
depend upon the man's remorse, if he had any, and on his nervous
system."

Again we were silent. His pale and sickly but motionless face
exasperated me by its complete absence of expression. In those
minutes--and how many such scenes have we not acted together since
my suspicion was first conceived--I felt myself as bold and
resolute as I was the reverse when alone with my own thoughts. His
impassive manner drove me wild again; I did not limit myself to
this second experiment, but immediately devised a third, which
ought to make him suffer as much as the two others, if he were
guilty. I was like a man who strikes his enemy with a broken-
handled knife, holding it by the blade in his shut hand; the blow
draws his own blood also. But no, no; I was not exactly that man;
I could not doubt or deny the harm that I was doing to myself by
these cruel experiments, while he, my adversary, hid his wound so
well that I saw it not. No matter, the mad desire TO KNOW overcame
my pain.

"How strange those resemblances are," I said. "My father's
handwriting and mine are exactly the same. Look here."

I opened an iron safe built into the wall, in which I kept papers
which I especially valued, and took out first the letters from my
father to my aunt which I had selected and placed on top of the
packet. These were the latest in date, and I held them out to him,
just as I had arranged them in their envelopes. The letters were
addressed to "Mademoiselle Louise Cornelis, Compiegne;" they bore
the postmark and the quite legible stamp of the days on which they
were posted in the April and May of 1864. It was the former
process over again. If M. Termonde were guilty, he would be
conscious that the sudden change of my attitude towards himself,
the boldness of my allusions, the vigor of my attacks were all
explained by these letters, and also that I had found the documents
among my dead aunt's papers. It was impossible that he should not
seek with intense anxiety to ascertain what was contained in those
letters that had aroused such suspicions in me. When he had the
envelopes in his hands I saw him bend his brows, and I had a
momentary hope that I had shattered the mask that hid his true
face, that face in which the inner workings of the soul are
reflected. The bent brow was, however, merely a contraction of the
muscles of the eye, caused by regarding an object closely, and it
cleared immediately. He handed me back the letters without any
question as to their contents.

"This time," said he simply, "there really is an astonishing
resemblance." Then, returning to the ostensible object of his
visit--"And the reviews?" he asked.

I could have shed tears of rage. Once more I was conscious that I
was a nervous youth engaged in a struggle with a resolutely self-
possessed man. I locked up the letters in the safe, and I now
rummaged the small bookcase in the smoking-room, then the large one
in my study, and finally pretended to be greatly astonished at
finding the two reviews under a heap of newspapers on my table.
What a silly farce! Was my stepfather taken in by it? When I had
handed him the two numbers, he rose from the chair that he had sat
in during my pretended search in the chimney-corner of the smoking-
room, with his back to my father's portrait. But, again, what did
this attitude prove? Why should he care to contemplate an image
which could not be anything but painful to him, even if he were
innocent?

"I am going to take advantage of the sunshine to have a turn in the
Bois," said he. "I have my coupe; will you come with me?"

Was he sincere in proposing this tete-a-tete drive which was so
contrary to our habits? What was his motive: the wish to show me
that he had not even understood my attack, or the yearning of the
sick man who dreads to be alone?

I accepted the offer at all hazards, in order to continue my
observation of him, and a quarter of an hour afterwards we were
speeding towards the Arc de Triomphe in that same carriage in which
I had seen him pass by me, beaten, broken, almost killed, after our
first interview.

This time, he looked like another man. Warmly wrapped in an
overcoat lined with seal fur, smoking a cigar, waving his hand to
this person or that through the open window, he talked on and on,
telling me anecdotes of all sorts, which I had either heard or not
heard previously, about people whose carriages crossed ours. He
seemed to be talking before me and not with me, so little heed did
he take of whether he was telling what I might know, or apprising
me of what I did not know. I concluded from this--for, in certain
states of mind, every mood is significant--that he was talking thus
in order to ward off some fresh attempt on my part. But I had not
the courage to recommence my efforts to open the wound in his heart
and set it bleeding afresh so soon. I merely listened to him, and
once again I remarked the strange contrast between his private
thoughts and the rigid doctrines which he generally professed. One
would have said that in his eyes the high society, whose principles
he habitually defended, was a brigand's cave. It was the hour at
which women of fashion go out for their shopping and their calls,
and he related all the scandals of their conduct, false or true.
He dwelt on all these stories and calumnies with a horrid pleasure,
as though he rejoiced in the vileness of humanity. Did this mean
the facile misanthropy of a profligate, accustomed to such
conversations at the club, or in sporting circles, during which
each man lays bare his brutal egotism, and voluntarily exaggerates
the depth of his own disenchantment that he may boast more largely
of his experience? Was this the cynicism of a villain, guilty of
the most hideous of crimes, and glad to demonstrate that others
were less worthy than he? To hear him laugh and talk thus threw me
into a singular state of dejection.

We had passed the last houses in the Avenue de Bois, and were
driving along an alley on the right in which there were but few
carriages. On the bare hedgerows a beautiful light shone, coming
from that lofty, pale blue sky which is seen only over Paris.

He continued to sneer and chuckle, and I reflected that perhaps he
was right, that the seamy side of the world was what he depicted
it. Why not? Was not I there, in the same carriage with this man,
and I suspected him of having had my father murdered! All the
bitterness of life filled my heart with a rush. Did my stepfather
perceive, by my silence and my face, that his gay talk was
torturing me? Was he weary of his own effort?

He suddenly left off talking, and as we had reached a forsaken
corner of the Bois, we got out of the carriage to walk a little.
How strongly present to my mind is that by-path, a gray line
between the poor spare grass and the bare trees, the cold winter
sky, the wide road at a little distance with the carriage advancing
slowly, drawn by the bay horse, shaking its head and its bit, and
driven by a wooden-faced coachman--then, the man. He walked by my
side, a tall figure in a long overcoat. The collar of dark brown
fur brought out the premature whiteness of his hair. He held a
cane in his gloved hand, and struck away the pebbles with it
impatiently. Why does his image return to me at this hour with an
unendurable exactness? It is because, as I observed him walking
along the wintry road, with his head bent forward, I was struck as
I had never been before with the sense of his absolute unremitting
wretchedness. Was this due to the influence of our conversation of
that afternoon, to the dejection which his sneering, sniggering
talk had produced in me, or to the death of nature all around us?
For the first time since I knew him, a pang of pity mingled with my
hatred of him, while he walked by my side, trying to warm himself
in the pale sunshine, a shrunken, weary, lamentable creature.
Suddenly he turned his face, which was contracted with pain, to me,
and said:

"I do not feel well. Let us go home." When we were in the
carriage, he said, putting his sudden seizure upon the pretext of
his health:

"I have not long to live, and I suffer so much that I should have
made an end of it all years ago, had it not been for your mother."
Then he went on talking of her with the blindness that I had
already remarked in him. Never, in my most hostile hours, had I
doubted that his worship of his wife was perfectly sincere, and
once again I listened to him, as we drove rapidly into Paris in the
gathering twilight, and all that he said proved how much he loved
her. Alas! his passion rated her more highly than my tenderness.
He praised the exquisite tact with which my mother discerned the
things of the heart, to me, who knew so well her want of feeling!
He lauded the keenness of her intelligence to me, whom she had so
little understood! And he added, he who had so largely contributed
to our separation:

"Love her dearly; you will soon be the only one to love her."

If he were the criminal I believed him to be, he was certainly
aware that in thus placing my mother between himself and me he was
putting in my way the only barrier which I could never, never break
down, and I on my side understood clearly, and with bitterness of
soul, that the obstacles so placed would be stronger than even the
most fatal certainty. What, then, was the good of seeking any
further? Why not renounce my useless quest at once? But it was
already too late.


X


At the beginning of the summer, six months after my aunt's death, I
was in exactly the same position with respect to my stepfather as
on that already distant day when, maddened with suspicion by my
father's letters, I entered his study, to play the part of the
physician who examines a man's body, searching with his finger for
the tender spot that is probably a symptom of a hidden abscess.

I was full of intuitions now, just as I was at the moment when he
passed me in his carriage with his terrible face, but I did not
grasp a single certainty. Would I have persisted in a struggle in
which I felt beforehand that I must be beaten?

I cannot tell; for, when I no longer expected any solution to the
problem set before me for my grief, a grief, too, that was both
sterile and mortal, a day came on which I had a conversation with
my mother so startling and appalling that to this hour my heart
stands still when I think of it. I have spoken of dates; among
them is the 25th of May, 1879.

My stepfather, who was on the eve of his departure for Vichy, had
just had a severe attack of liver-complaint, the first since his
illness after our terrible conversation in the month of January. I
know that I counted for nothing--at least in any direct or positive
way--in this acute revival of his malady. The fight between us,
which went on without the utterance of a word on either side, and
with no witnesses except ourselves, had not been marked by any
fresh episode; I therefore attributed this complication to the
natural development of the disease under which he labored.

I can exactly recall what I was thinking of on the 25th of May, at
five o'clock in the evening, as I walked up the stairs in the hotel
on the Boulevard de Latour-Marbourg. I hoped to learn that my
stepfather was better, because I had been witnessing my mother's
distress for a whole week, and also--I must tell all--because to
know he was going to the watering-place was a great relief to me,
on account of the separation it would bring about. I was so tired
of my unprofitable pain! My wretched nerves were in such a state
of tension that the slightest disagreeable impression became a
torment. I could not sleep without the aid of narcotics, and such
sleep as these procured was full of cruel dreams in which I walked
by my father's side, while knowing and feeling that he was dead.

One particular nightmare used to recur so regularly that it
rendered my dread of the night almost unbearable. I stood in a
street crowded with people and was looking into a shop window; on a
sudden I heard a man's step approaching, that of M. Termonde. I
did not see him, and yet I was certain it was he. I tried to move
on, but my feet were leaden; to turn my head, but my neck was
immovable. The step drew nearer, my enemy was behind me, I heard
his breathing, and knew that he was about to strike me. He passed
his arm over my shoulder. I saw his hand, it grasped a knife, and
sought for the spot where my heart lay; then it drove the blade in,
slowly, slowly, and I awoke in unspeakable agony.

So often had this nightmare recurred within a few weeks, that I had
taken to counting the days until my stepfather's departure, which
had been at first fixed for the 21st, and then put off until he
should be stronger. I hoped that when he was absent I should be at
rest at least for a time. I had not the courage to go away myself,
attracted as I was every day by that presence which I hated, and
yet sought with feverish eagerness; but I secretly rejoiced that
the obstacle was of his raising, that his absence gave me
breathing-time, without my being obliged to reproach myself with
weakness.

Such were my reflections as I mounted the wooden staircase, covered
with a red carpet, and lighted by stained-glass windows, that led
to my mother's favorite hall. The servant who opened the door
informed me in answer to my question that my stepfather was better,
and I entered the room with which my saddest recollections were
connected, more cheerfully than usual. Little did I think that the
dial hung upon one of the walls was ticking off in minutes one of
the most solemn hours of my life!

My mother was seated before a small writing-table, placed in a
corner of the deep glazed projection which formed the garden-end of
the hall. Her left hand supported her head, and in the right,
instead of going on with the letter she had begun to write, she
held her idle pen, in a golden holder with a fine pearl set in the
top of it (the latter small detail was itself a revelation of her
luxurious habits). She was so lost in reverie that she did not
hear me enter the room, and I looked at her for some time without
moving, startled by the expression of misery in her refined and
lovely face. What dark thought was it that closed her mouth,
furrowed her brow, and transformed her features? The alteration in
her looks and the evident absorption of her mind contrasted so
strongly with the habitual serenity of her countenance that it at
once alarmed me. But, what was the matter? Her husband was
better; why, then, should the anxiety of the last few days have
developed into this acute trouble? Did she suspect what had been
going on close to her, in her own house, for months past? Had M.
Termonde made up his mind to complain to her, in order to procure
the cessation of the torture inflicted upon him by my assiduity?
No. If he had divined my meaning from the very first day, as I
thought he had, unless he were sure he could not have said to her:
"Andre suspects me of having had his father killed." Or had the
doctor discerned dangerous symptoms behind this seeming improvement
in the invalid?

Was my stepfather in danger of death?

At the idea, my first feeling was joy, my second was rage--joy that
he should disappear from my life, and for ever; rage that, being
guilty, he should die without having felt my full vengeance.
Beneath all my hesitation, my scruples, my doubts, there lurked
that savage appetite for revenge which I had allowed to grow up in
me, revenge that is not satisfied with the death of the hated
object unless it be caused by one's self. I thirsted for revenge
as a dog thirsts for water after running in the sun on a summer
day. I wanted to roll myself in it, as the dog in question rolls
himself in the water when he comes to it, were it the sludge of a
swamp. I continued to gaze at my mother without moving. Presently
she heaved a deep sigh and said aloud: "Oh, me, oh, me! what misery
it is!" Then lifting up her tear-stained face, she saw me, and
uttered a cry of surprise. I hastened towards her.

"You are in trouble, mother," I said. "What ails you?"

Dread of her answer made my voice falter; I knelt down before her
as I used to do when a child, and, taking both her hands, I covered
them with kisses. Again, at this solemn hour, my lips were met by
that golden wedding-ring which I hated like a living person; yet
the feeling did not hinder me from speaking to her almost
childishly. "Ah," I said, "you have troubles, and to whom should
you tell them if not to me? Where will you find anyone to love you
more? Be good to me," I went on; "do you not feel how dear you are
to me?"

She bent her head twice, made a sign that she could not speak, and
burst into painful sobs.

"Has your trouble anything to do with me?" I asked.

She shook her head as an emphatic negative, and then said in a
half-stifled voice, while she smoothed my hair with her hands, as
she used to do in the old times:

"You are very nice to me, my Andre."

How simple those few words were, and yet they caught my heart and
gripped it as a hand might do. How had I longed for some of those
little words which she had never uttered, some of those gracious
phrases which are like the gestures of the mind, some of her
involuntary tender caresses. Now I had what I had so earnestly
desired, but at what a moment and by what means! It was,
nevertheless, very sweet to feel that she loved me. I told her so,
employing words which scorched my lips, so that I might be kind to
her.

"Is our dear invalid worse?"

"No, he is better. He is resting now," she answered, pointing in
the direction of my stepfather's room.

"Mother, speak to me," I urged, "trust yourself to me; let me
grieve with you, perhaps I may help you. It is so cruel for me
that I must take you by surprise in order to see your tears."

I went on, pressing her by my questions and my complaining. What,
then, did I hope to tear from those lips which quivered but yet
kept silence? At any price I WOULD know; I was in no state to
endure fresh mysteries, and I was certain that my stepfather was
somehow concerned in this inexplicable trouble, for it was only he
and I who so deeply moved that woman's heart of hers. She was not
thus troubled on account of me, she had just told me so; the cause
of her grief must have reference to him, and it was not his health.
Had she, too, made any discovery? Had the terrible suspicion
crossed her mind also? At the mere idea a burning fever seized
upon me; I insisted and insisted again. I felt that she was
yielding, if it were only by the leaning of her head towards me,
the passing of her trembling hand over my hair, and the quickening
of her breath.

"If I were sure," said she at length, "that this secret would die
with you and me."

"Oh, mother!" I exclaimed, in so reproachful a tone that the blood
flew to her cheeks. Perhaps this little betrayal of shame decided
her; she pressed a lingering kiss on my forehead, as though she
would have effaced the frown which her unjust distrust had set
there.

"Forgive me, my Andre," she said, "I was wrong. In whom should I
trust, to whom confide this thing, except to you? From whom ask
counsel?" And then she went on as though she were speaking to
herself, "If he were ever to apply to him?"

"He! Whom?"

"Andre, will you swear to me by your love for me, that you will
never, you understand me, never, make the least illusion to what I
am going to tell you?"

"Mother!" I replied, in the same tone of reproach, and then added
at once, to draw her on, "I give you my word of honor!"

"Nor--" she did not pronounce a name, but she pointed anew to the
door of the sick man's room.

"Never."

"You have heard of Edmond Termonde, his brother?" Her voice was
lowered, as though she were afraid of the words she uttered, and
now her eyes only were turned towards the closed door, indicating
that she meant the brother of her husband. I had a vague knowledge
of the story; it was of this brother I had thought when I was
reviewing the mental history of my stepfather's family. I knew
that Edmond Termonde had dissipated his share of the family
fortune, no less than 1,200,000 francs, in a few years; that he had
been enlisted, that he had gone on leading a debauched life in his
regiment; that, having no money to come into from any quarter, and
after a heavy loss at cards, he had been tempted into committing
both theft and forgery. Then, finding himself on the brink of
being detected, he had deserted. The end was that he did justice
on himself by drowning himself in the Seine, after he had implored
his brother's forgiveness in terms which proved that some sense of
moral decency still lingered in him. The stolen money was made
good by my stepfather; the scandal was hushed up, thanks to the
scoundrel's disappearance. I had reconstructed the whole story in
my mind from the gossip of my good old nurse, and also from certain
traces of it which I had found in some passages of my father's
correspondence. Thus, when my mother put her question to me in so
agitated a way, I supposed she was about to tell me of family
grievances on the part of her husband which were totally
indifferent to me, and it was with a feeling of disappointment that
I asked her:

"Edmond Termonde? The man who killed himself?"

She bent her head to answer, yes, to the first part of my question;
then, in a still lower voice, she said:

"He did not kill himself, he is still alive."

"He is still alive," I repeated mechanically, and without a notion
of what could be the relation between the existence of this brother
and the tears which I had seen her shed.

"Now you know the secret of my sorrow," she resumed, in a firmer,
almost a relieved tone. "This infamous brother is a tormentor of
my Jacques; he puts him to death daily by the agonies which he
inflicts upon him. No; the suicide never took place. Such men as
he have not the courage to kill themselves. Jacques dictated that
letter to save him from penal servitude after he had arranged
everything for his flight, and given him the wherewithal to lead a
new life, if he would have done so. My poor love, he hoped at
least to save the integrity of his name out of all the terrible
wreck. Edmond had, of course, to renounce the name of Termonde, to
escape pursuit, and he went to America. There he lived--as he had
lived here. The money he took with him was soon exhausted, and
again he had recourse to his brother. Ah! the wretch knew well
that Jacques had made all these sacrifices to the honor of his
name, and when my husband refused him the money he demanded, he
made use of the weapon which he knew would avail.

"Then began the vilest persecution, the most atrocious levying of
black-mail. Edmond threatened to return to France; between going
to the galleys here or starving in America, he said, he preferred
the galleys here and Jacques yielded the first time--he loved him;
after all, he was his only brother. You know when you have once
shown weakness in dealing with people of this sort you are lost.
The threat to return had succeeded, and the other has since used it
to extort sums of which you have no idea.

"This abominable persecution has been going on for years, but I
have only been aware of it since the war. I saw that my husband
was utterly miserable about something; I knew that a hidden trouble
was preying on him, and then, one day, he told me all. Would you
believe it? It was for me that he was afraid. 'What can he
possibly do to me?' I asked my Jacques. 'Ah,' he said, 'he is
capable of anything for the sake of revenge. And then he saw me so
overwhelmed by distress at his fits of melancholy, and I so
earnestly entreated him, that at length he made a stand. He
positively refused to give any more money. We have not heard of
the wretch for some time--he has kept his word--Andre he is in
Paris!"

I had listened to my mother with growing attention. At any period
of my life, I, who had not the same notions of my stepfather's
sensitiveness of feeling which my dear mother entertained, would
have been astonished at the influence exercised by this disgraced
brother. There are similar pests in so many families, that it is
plainly to the interest of society to separate the various
representatives of the same name from each other. At any time I
should have doubted whether M. Termonde, a bold and violent man as
I knew him to be, had yielded under the menace of a scandal whose
real importance he would have estimated quite correctly. Then I
would have explained this weakness by the recollections of his
childhood, by a promise made to his dying parents; but now, in the
actual state of my mind, full as I was of the suspicions which had
been occupying my thoughts for weeks, it was inevitable that
another idea should occur to me. And that idea grew, and grew,
taking form as my mother went on speaking. No doubt my face
betrayed the dread with which the notion inspired me, for she
interrupted her narrative to ask me:

"Are you feeling ill, Andre?"

I found strength to answer, "No; I am upset by having found you in
tears. It is nothing."

She believed me; she had just seen me overcome by her emotion; she
kissed me tenderly, and I begged her to continue. She then told me
that one day in the previous week a stranger, coming ostensibly
from one of their friends in London, had asked to see my
stepfather. He was ushered into the hall, and into her presence,
and she guessed at once by the extraordinary agitation which M.
Termonde displayed that the man was Edmond. The two brothers went
into my stepfather's private room, while my mother remained in the
hall, half dead with anxiety and suspense, every now and then
hearing the angry tones of their voices, but unable to distinguish
any words. At length the brother came out, through the hall, and
looked at her as he passed by with eyes that transfixed her with
fear.

"And the same evening," she went on, "Jacques took to his bed.
Now, do you understand my despair? Ah, it is not our name that I
care for. I wear myself out with repeating, 'What has this to do
with us? How can we be spattered by this mud?' It is his health,
his precious health! The doctor says that every violent emotion is
a dose of poison to him. Ah!" she cried, with a gesture of
despair, "this man will kill him."

To hear that cry, which once again revealed to me the depth of her
passion for my stepfather, to hear it at this moment, and to think
what I was thinking!

"You saw him?" I asked, hardly knowing what I said. "Have I not
told you that he passed by me, there?" and with terror depicted in
her face, she showed me the place on the carpet.

"And you are sure that the man was his brother?"

"Jacques told me so in the evening; but I did not require that; I
should have recognized him by the eyes. How strange it is! Those
two brothers, so different; Jacques so refined, so distinguished,
so noble-minded, and the other, a big, heavy, vulgar lout, common-
looking, and a rascal--well, they have the same look in their
eyes."

"And under what name is he in Paris?"

"I do not know. I dare not speak of him any more. If he knew that
I have told you this, with his ideas! But then, dear, you would
have heard it at some time or other; and besides," she added with
firmness, "I would have told you long ago about this wretched
secret if I had dared! You are a man now, and you are not bound by
this excessively scrupulous fraternal affection. Advise me, Andre;
what is to be done?"

"I do not understand you."

"Yes, yes. There must be some means of informing the police and
having this man arrested without its being talked of in the
newspapers or elsewhere. Jacques would not do this, because the
man is his brother; but if we were to act, you and I, on our own
side? I have heard you say that you visit M. Massol, whom we knew
at the time of our great misfortune; suppose I were to go to him
and ask his advice? Ah! I must keep my husband alive--he must be
saved! I love him too much!"

Why was I seized with a panic at the idea that she might carry out
this project, and apply to the former Judge of Instruction--I, who
had not ventured to go to his house since my aunt's death for fear
he should divine my suspicions merely by looking at me? What was
it that I saw so clearly, that made me implore her to abandon her
idea in the very name of the love she bore her husband?

"You will not do this," I said; "you have no right to do it. He
would never forgive you, and he would have just cause; it would be
betraying him."

"Betraying him! It would be saving him!"

"And if his brother's arrest were to strike him a fresh blow? If
you were to see him ill, more ill than ever, on account of what you
had done?"

I had used the only argument that could have convinced her.
Strange irony of fate! I calmed her, I persuaded her not to act--
I, who had suddenly conceived the monstrous notion that the doer of
the murderous deed, the docile instrument in my stepfather's hands,
was this infamous brother--that Edmond Termonde and Rochdale were
one and the same man!


XI


The night which followed that conversation with my mother remains
in my memory as the most wretched I had hitherto endured; and yet
how many sleepless nights had I passed, while all the world around
me slept, in bitter conflict with a thought which held mine eyes
waking and devoured my heart! I was like a prisoner who has
sounded every inch of his dungeon--the walls, the floor, the
ceiling--and who, on shaking the bars of his window for the
hundredth time, feels one of the iron rods loosen under the
pressure. He hardly dares to believe in his good fortune, and he
sits down upon the ground almost dazed by the vision of deliverance
that has dawned upon him. "I must be cool-headed now," said I to
myself, as I walked to and fro in the smoking-room, whither I had
retired without tasting the meal that was served on my return.
Evening came, then the black night; the dawn followed, and once
more the full day. Still I was there, striving to see clearly amid
the cloud of suppositions in which an event, simple in itself (only
that in my state of mind no event would have seemed simple), had
wrapped me.

I was too well used to these mental tempests not to know that the
only safety consisted in clinging to the positive facts, as though
to immovable rocks.

In the present instance, the positive facts reduced themselves to
two: first, I had just learned that a brother of M. Termonde, who
passed for dead, and of whom my stepfather never spoke, existed;
secondly, that this man, disgraced, proscribed, ruined, an outlaw
in fact, exercised a dictatorship of terror over his rich, honored,
and irreproachable brother. The first of these two facts explained
itself. It was quite natural that Jacques Termonde should not
dispel the legend of the suicide, which was of his own invention,
and had saved the other from the galleys. It is never pleasant to
have to own a thief, a forger, or a deserter, for one's nearest
relation; but this, after all, is only an excessively disagreeable
matter.

The second fact was of a different kind. The disproportion between
the cause assigned by my stepfather and its result in the terror
from which he was suffering was too great. The dominion which
Edmond Termonde exercised over his brother was not to be justified
by the threat of his return, if that return were not to have any
other consequence than a transient scandal. My mother, who
regarded her husband as a noble-minded, high-souled, great-hearted
man, might be satisfied with the alleged reason; but not I. It
occurred to me to consult the Code of Military Justice, and I
ascertained, by the 184th clause, that a deserter cannot claim
immunity from punishment until after he has attained his forty-
seventh year, so that it was most likely Edmond Termonde was still
within the reach of the law.

Was it possible that his desire to shield his brother from the
punishment of the offense of desertion should throw my stepfather
into such a state of illness and agitation? I discerned another
reason for this dominion--some dark and terrible bond of complicity
between the two men. What if Jacques Termonde had employed his
brother to kill my father, and proof of the transaction was still
in the murderer's possession? No doubt his hands would be tied so
far as the magistrates were concerned; he had it in his power to
enlighten my mother, and the mere threat of doing this would
suffice to make a loving husband tremble, and tame his fierce
pride.

"I must be cool," I repeated, "I must be cool;" and I put all my
strength to recalling the physical and moral particulars respecting
the crime which were in my possession. It was my business now to
try whether one single point remained obscure when tested by the
theory of the identity of Rochdale with Edmond Termonde. The
witnesses were agreed in representing Rochdale as tall and stout,
my mother had described Edmond Termonde as a big, heavy man.
Fifteen years lay between the assassin of 1864, and the elderly
rake of 1879; but nothing prevented the two from being identical.
My mother had dwelt upon the color of Edmond Termonde's eyes, pale
blue like those of his brother; the concierge of the Imperial Hotel
had mentioned the pale blue color and the brightness of Rochdale's
eyes in his deposition, which I knew by heart. He had noticed this
peculiarity on account of the contrast of the eyes with the man's
bronzed complexion. Edmond Termonde had taken refuge in America
after his alleged suicide, and what had M. Massol said? I could
hear him repeat, with his well-modulated voice, and methodical
movement of the hand: "A foreigner, American or English, or,
perhaps, a Frenchman settled in America." Physical impossibility
there existed none.

And moral impossibility? That was equally absent. In order to
convince myself more fully of this, I took up the history of the
crime from the moment at which my father's correspondence
concerning Jacques Termonde became explicit, that is to say, in
January, 1864.

So as to rid my judgment of every trace of personal enmity, I
suppressed the names in my thoughts, reducing the dreadful
occurrence by which I had suffered to the bareness of an abstract
narrative. A man is desperately in love with the wife of one of
his intimate friends, a woman whom he knows to be absolutely,
spotlessly virtuous; he knows, he feels, that if she were free she
would love him; but that, not being free, she will never, never be
his. This man is of the temperament which makes criminals, his
passions are violent in the extreme, he has no scruples and a
despotic will; he is accustomed to see everything give way to his
desires. He perceives that his friend is growing jealous; a little
later and the house will no longer be open to him.

Would not the thought come to him--if the husband could be got rid
of? And yet--?

This dream of the death of him, who forms the sole obstacle to his
happiness, troubles the man's head, it recurs once, twice, many
times, and he turns the fatal idea over and over again in his brain
until he becomes used to it. He arrives at the "If I dared," which
is the starting point of the blackest villainies. The idea takes a
precise form; he conceives that he might have the man whom he now
hates, and by whom he feels that he is hated, killed. Has he not,
far away, a wretch of a brother, whose actual existence, to say
nothing of his present abode, is absolutely unknown? What an
admirable instrument of murder he should find in this infamous,
depraved, and needy brother, whom he holds at his beck and call by
the aid in money that he sends him! And the temptation grows and
grows. An hour comes when it is stronger than all besides, and the
man, resolved to play this desperate game, summons his brother to
Paris. How? By one or two letters in which he excites the
rascal's hopes of a large sum of money to be gained, at the same
time that he imposes the condition of absolute secrecy as to his
voyage. The other accepts; he is a social failure, a bankrupt in
life, he has neither relations nor ties, he has been leading an
anonymous and haphazard existence for years. The two brothers are
face to face. Up to that point all is logical, all is in
conformity with the possible stages of a project of this order.

I arrived at the execution of it; and I continued to reason in the
same way, impersonally. The rich brother proposes the blood-
bargain to the poor brother. He offers him money; a hundred
thousand francs, two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand.

From what motive should the scoundrel hesitate to accept the offer?

Moral ideas? What is the morality of a rake who has gone from
libertinism to theft? Under the influence of my vengeful thoughts
I had read the criminal news of the day in the journals, and the
reports of criminal trials, too assiduously for years past, not to
know how a man becomes a murderer. How many cases of stabbing,
shooting, and poisoning have there not been, in which the gain was
entirely uncertain, and the conditions of danger extreme, merely to
enable the perpetrators to go, presently, and expend the murder-
money in some low haunt of depravity?

Fear of the scaffold? Then nobody would kill. Besides,
debauchees, whether they stop short at vice or roll down the
descent into crime, have no foresight of the future. Present
sensation is too strong for them; its image abolishes all other
images, and absorbs all the vital forces of the temperament and the
soul. An old dying mother, children perishing of hunger, a
despairing wife; have these pictures of their deeds ever arrested
drunkards, gamblers, or profligates? No more have the tragic
phantoms of the tribunal, the prison, and the guillotine, when,
thirsting for gold, they kill to procure it. The scaffold is far
off, the brothel is at the street corner, and the being sunk in
vice kills a man, just as a butcher would kill a beast, that he may
go thither, or to the tavern, or to the low gaming-house, with a
pocket full of money. This is the daily mode of procedure in
crime.

Why should not the desire of a more elevated kind of debauch
possess the same wicked attraction for men who are indeed more
refined, but are quite as incapable of moral goodness as the
rascally frequenters of the lowest dens of iniquity?

Ah! the thought that my father's blood might have paid for suppers
in a New York night-house was too cruel and unendurable. I lost
courage to pursue my cold, calm, reasonable deductions, a kind of
hallucination came upon me--a mental picture of the hideous scene--
and I felt my reason reel. With a great effort I turned to the
portrait of my father, gazed at it long, and spoke to him as if he
could have heard me, aloud, in abject entreaty. "Help me, help
me!"

And then, I once more became strong enough to resume the dreadful
hypothesis, and to criticise it point by point. Against it was its
utter unlikelihood; it resembled nothing but the nightmare of a
diseased imagination. A brother who employs his brother as the
assassin of a man whose wife he wants to marry! Still, although
the conception of such a devilish plot belonged to the domain of
the wildest fantasies, I said to myself: "This may be so, but in
the way of crime, there is no such thing as unlikelihood. The
assassin ceases to move in the habitual grooves of social life by
the mere fact that he makes up his mind to murder." And then a
score of examples of crimes committed under circumstances as
strange and exceptional as those whose greater or less probability
I was then discussing with myself recurred to my memory.

One objection arose at once. Admitting this complicated crime to
be possible only, how came I to be the first to form a suspicion of
it? Why had not the keen, subtle, experienced old magistrate, M.
Massol, looked in that direction for an explanation of the mystery
in whose presence he confessed himself powerless? The answer came
ready. M. Massol did not think of it, that was all. The important
thing is to know, not whether the Judge of Instruction suspected
the fact, or did not suspect it; but whether the fact itself is, or
is not, real.

Again, what indications had reached M. Massol to put him on this
scent? If he had thoroughly studied my father's home and his
domestic life, he had acquired the certainty that my mother was a
faithful wife and a good woman. He had witnessed her sincere
grief, and he had not seen, as I had, letters written by my father
in which he acknowledged his jealousy, and revealed the passion of
his false friend.

But, even supposing the judge had from the first suspected the
villainy of my future stepfather, the discovery of his accomplices
would have been the first thing to be done, since, in any case, the
presence of M. Termonde in our house at the time of the murder was
an ascertained fact.

Supposing M. Massol had been led to think of the brother who had
disappeared, what then? Where were the traces of that brother to
be found? Where and how? If Edmond and Jacques had been
accomplices in the crime, would not their chief care be to contrive
a means of correspondence which should defy the vigilance of the
police? Did they not cease for a time to communicate with each
other by letters? What had they to communicate, indeed? Edmond
was in possession of the price of the murder, and Jacques was
occupied in completing his conquest of my mother's heart.

I resumed my argument; all this granted again, but, although M.
Massol was ignorant of the essential factor in the case, although
he was unaware of Jacques Termonde's passion for the wife of the
murdered man, my aunt knew it well, she had in her hands
indisputable proofs of my father's suspicions; how came she not to
have thought as I was now thinking. And how did I know that she
had NOT thought just as I was thinking? She had been tormented by
suspicions, even she, too; she had lived and died haunted by them.
The only difference was that she had included my mother in them,
being incapable of forgiving her the sufferings of the brother whom
she loved so deeply. To act against my mother was to act against
me, so she had forsworn that idea forever. But if she would have
acted against my mother, how could she have gone beyond the domain
of vague inductions, since she, no more than I, could have divined
my stepfather's alibi, or known of the actual existence of Edmond
Termonde? No; that I should be the first to explain the murder of
my father as I did, proved only that I had come into possession of
additional information respecting the surroundings of the crime,
and not that the conjectures drawn from it were baseless.

Other objections presented themselves. If my stepfather had
employed his brother to commit the murder, how came he to reveal
the existence of that brother to his wife? An answer to this
question was not far to seek. If the crime had been committed
under conditions of complicity, only one proof of the fact could
remain, namely, the letters written by Jacques Termonde to Edmond,
in which the former recalled the latter to Europe and gave him
instructions for his journey; these letters Edmond had of course
preserved, and it was through them, and by the threat of showing
them to my mother, that he kept a hold over his brother. To tell
his wife so much as he had told her was to forestall and neutralize
this threat, at least to a certain extent; for, if the doer of the
deed should ever resolve on revealing the common secret to the
victim's widow, now the wife of him who had inspired it, the latter
would be able to deny the authenticity of the letters, to plead the
former confidence reposed in her respecting his brother, and to
point out that the denunciation was an atrocious act of revenge
achieved by a forgery. And, besides, if indeed the crime had been
committed in the manner that I imagined, was not that revelation to
my mother justified by another reason?

The remorseful moods by which I believed my stepfather to be
tortured were not likely to escape the observant affection of his
wife; she could not fail to know that there was a dark shadow on
his life which even her love could not dispel. Who knows but she
had suffered from the worst of all jealousy, that which is inspired
by a constant thought not imparted, a strange emotion hidden from
one? And he had revealed a portion of the truth to her so as to
spare her uneasiness of that kind, and to protect himself from
questions which his conscience rendered intolerable to him. There
was then no contradiction between this half-revelation made to my
mother, and my own theory of the complicity of the two brothers.
It was also clear to me that in making that revelation he had been
unable to go beyond a certain point in urging upon her the
necessity of silence towards me--silence which would never have
been broken but for her unforeseen emotion, but for my affectionate
entreaties, but for the sudden arrival of Edmond Termonde, which
had literally bewildered the poor woman. But how was my
stepfather's imprudence in refusing money to this brother, who was
at bay and ready to dare any and every thing, to be explained?
This, too, I succeeded in explaining to myself. It had happened
before my aunt's death, at a period when my stepfather believed
himself to be guaranteed from all risk on my side. He believed
himself to be sheltered from justice by the statute of limitations.
He was ill. What, then, was more natural than that he should wish
to recover those papers which might become a means of levying
blackmail upon his widow after his death, and dishonoring his
memory in the heart of that woman whom he had loved--even to crime--
at any price? Such a negotiation could only be conducted in
person. My stepfather would have reflected that his brother would
not fulfil his threat without making a last attempt; he would come
to Paris, and the accomplices would again be face to face after all
these years. A fresh but final offer of money would have to be
made to Edmond, the price of the relinquishment of the sole proof
whereby the mystery of the Imperial Hotel could be cleared up. In
this calculation my stepfather had omitted to forecast the chance
that his brother might come to the hotel on the Boulevard de
Latour-Maubourg, that he would be ushered into my mother's
presence, and that the result of the shock to himself--his health
being already undermined by his prolonged mental anguish--would be
a fresh attack of his malady. In events, there is always the
unexpected to put to rout the skillful calculations of the most
astute and the most prudent, and when I reflected that so much
cunning, such continual watchfulness over himself and others had
all come to this--unless indeed these surmises of mine were but
fallacies of a brain disturbed by fever and the consuming desire
for vengeance--I once more felt the passage of the wind of destiny
over us all.

However, whether reality or fancy, there they were, and I could not
remain in ignorance or in doubt. At the end of all my various
arguments for and against the probability of my new explanation of
the mystery, I arrived at a positive fact: rightly or wrongly I had
conceived the possibility of a plot in which Edmond Termonde had
served as the instrument of murder in his brother's hand. Were
there only one single chance, one against a thousand, that my
father had been killed in this way, I was bound to follow up the
clew to the end, on pain of having to despise myself as the veriest
coward that lived. The time of sorrowful dreaming was over; it was
now necessary to act, and to act was to know.

Morning dawned upon these thoughts of mine. I opened my window, I
saw the faces of the lofty houses livid in the first light of day,
and I swore solemnly to myself, in the presence of re-awakening
life, that this day should see me begin to do what I ought, and the
morrow should see me continue, and the following days should see
the same, until I could say to myself: "I am certain."

I resolutely repressed the wild feelings which had taken hold of me
during the night, and I fixed my mind upon the problem: "Does there
exist any means of making sure whether Edmond Termonde is, or is
not, identical with the man who in 1864 called himself Rochdale?"

For the answer to this question I had only myself, the resources of
my own intelligence, and my personal will to rely upon. I must do
myself the justice to state that not for one minute, during all
those cruel hours, was I tempted to rid myself once for all of the
difficulties of my tragic task by appealing to justice, as I should
have done had I not taken my mother's sufferings into account. I
had resolved that the terrible blow of learning that for fifteen
years she had been the wife of an assassin should never be dealt to
her by me. In order that she might always remain in ignorance of
this story of crime, it was necessary for the struggle to be
strictly confined to my stepfather and myself.

And yet, I thought, what if I find that he is guilty?

At this idea, no longer vague and distant, but liable today, to-
morrow, at any time, to become an indisputable truth, a terrible
project presented itself to my mind. But I would not look in that
direction, I made answer to myself: "I will think of this later
on," and I forced myself to concentrate all my reflections upon the
actual day and its problem: How to verify the identity of Edmond
Termonde with the false Rochdale?

To tear the secret from my stepfather was impossible. I had vainly
endeavored for months to find the flaw in his armor of
dissimulation; I had but broken not one dagger, but twenty against
the plates of that cuirass. If I had had all the tormentors of the
Middle Ages at my service, I could not have forced his fast-shut
lips to open, or extorted an admission from his woebegone and yet
impenetrable face.

There remained the other; but in order to attack him, I must first
discover under what name he was hiding in Paris, and where. No
great effort of imagination was required to hit upon a certain
means of discovering these particulars. I had only to recall the
circumstances under which I had learned the fact of Edmond
Termonde's arrival in Paris. For some reason or other--remembrance
of a guilty complicity or fear of a scandal--my stepfather trembled
with fear at the mere idea of his brother's return. His brother
had returned, and my stepfather would undoubtedly make every effort
to induce him to go away again. He would see him, but not at the
house on the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg, on account of my mother
and the servants. I had, therefore, a sure means of finding out
where Edmond Termonde was living; I would have his brother
followed.

There were two alternatives: either he would arrange a meeting in
some lonely place, or he would go himself to Edmond Termonde's
abode. In the latter case, I should have the information I wanted
at once; in the former, it would be sufficient to give the
description of Edmond Termonde just as I had received it from my
mother, and to have him also followed on his return from the place
of meeting. The spy-system has always seemed to me to be infamous,
and even at that moment I felt all the ignominy of setting this
trap for my stepfather; but when one is fighting, one must use the
weapons that will avail. To attain my end, I would have trodden
everything under foot except my mother's grief.

And then? Supposing myself in possession of the false name of
Edmond Termonde and his address, WHAT WAS I TO DO? I could not, in
imitation of the police, lay my hand upon him and his papers, and
get off with profuse excuses for the action when the search was
finished. I remember to have turned over twenty plans in my mind,
all more or less ingenious, and rejected them all in succession,
concluding by again fixing my mind on the bare facts.

Supposing the man really had killed my father, it was impossible
that the scene of the murder should not be indelibly impressed upon
his memory. In his dark hours the face of the dead man, whom I
resembled so closely, must have been visible to his mind's eye.

Once more I studied the portrait at which my stepfather had hardly
dared to glance, and recalled my own words: "Do you think the
likeness is sufficiently strong for me to have the effect of a
specter upon the criminal?"

Why not utilize this resemblance? I had only to present myself
suddenly before Edmond Termonde, and call him by the name--
Rochdale--to his ears its syllables would have the sound of a
funeral bell. Yes! that was the way to do it; to go into the room
he now occupied, just as my father had gone into the room at the
Imperial Hotel, and to ask for him by the name under which my
father had asked for him, showing him the very face of his victim.
If he was not guilty, I should merely have to apologize for having
knocked at his door by mistake; if he was guilty, he would be so
terrified for some minutes that his fear would amount to an avowal.
It would then be for me to avail myself of that terror to wring the
whole of his secret from him.

What motives would inspire him? Two, manifestly--the fear of
punishment, and the love of money. It would then be necessary for
me to be provided with a large sum when taking him unawares, and to
let him choose between two alternatives, either that he should sell
me the letters which had enabled him to blackmail his brother for
years past, or that I should shoot him on the spot.

And what if he refused to give up the letters to me? Is it likely
that a ruffian of his kind would hesitate?

Well, then, he would accept the bargain, hand me over the papers by
which my stepfather is convicted of murder, and take himself off;
and I must let him go away just as he had gone away from the
Imperial Hotel, smoking a cigar, and paid for his treachery to his
brother, even as he had been paid for his treachery to my father!
Yes, I must let him go away thus, because to kill him with my own
hand would be to place myself under the necessity of revealing the
whole of the crime, which I am bound to conceal at all hazards.

"Ah, mother! what will you not cost me!" I murmured with tears.

Fixing my eyes again upon the portrait of the dead man, it seemed
to me that I read in its eyes and mouth an injunction never to
wound the heart of the woman he had so dearly loved--even for the
sake of avenging him. "I will obey you," I made answer to my
father, and bade adieu to that part of my vengeance.

It was very hard, very cruel to myself; nevertheless, it was
possible; for, after all, did I hate the wretch himself? He had
struck the blow, it is true, but only as a servile tool in the hand
of another.

Ah! that other, I would not let HIM escape, when he should be in my
grip; he who had conceived, meditated, arranged, and paid for the
deed; he who had stolen all from me, all, all, from my father's
life even to my mother's love; he, the real, the only culprit.
Yes, I would lay hold of him, and contrive and execute my
vengeance, while my mother should never suspect the existence of
that duel out of which I should come triumphant. I was intoxicated
beforehand with the idea of the punishment which I would find means
to inflict upon the man whom I execrated. It warmed my heart only
to think of how this would repay my long, cruel martyrdom.

"To work! to work!" I cried aloud.

I trembled lest this should be nothing but a delusion, lest Edmond
Termonde should have already left the country, my stepfather having
previously purchased his silence.

At nine o'clock I was in an abominable Private Inquiry Office--
merely to have passed its threshold would have seemed to me a
shameful action, only a few hours before. At ten I was with my
broker, giving him instructions to sell out 100,000 francs' worth
of shares for me. That day passed, and then a second. How I bore
the succession of the hours, I know not. I do know that I had not
courage to go to my mother's house, or to see her again. I feared
she might detect my wild hope in my eyes, and unconsciously
forewarn my stepfather by a sentence or a word, as she had
unconsciously informed me.

Towards noon, on the third day, I learned that my stepfather had
gone out that morning. It was a Wednesday, and on that day my
mother always attended a meeting for some charitable purpose in the
Grenelle quarter. M. Termonde had changed his cab twice, and had
alighted from the second vehicle at the Grand Hotel. There he had
paid a visit to a traveler who occupied a room on the second floor
(No. 353); this person's name was entered in the list of arrivals
as Stanbury. At noon I was in possession of these particulars, and
at two o'clock I ascended the staircase of the Grand Hotel, with a
loaded revolver and a note-case containing one hundred banknotes,
wherewith to purchase the letters, in my pocket.

Was I about to enter on a formidable scene in the drama of my life,
or was I about to be convinced that I had been once more made the
dupe of my own imagination?

At all events, I should have done my duty.


XII


I had reached the second floor. At one corner of the long corridor
there was a notification that the numbers ran from 300 to 360. A
waiter passed me, whistling; two girls were chattering and laughing
in a kind of office at the stair-head; the various noises of the
courtyard came up through the open windows.

The moment was opportune for the execution of my project. With
these people about the man could not hope to escape from the house.
345, 350, 351, 353--I stood before the door of Edmond Termonde's
room; the key was in the lock; chance had served my purpose better
than I had ventured to hope. This trifling particular bore witness
to the security in which the man whom I was about to surprise was
living. Was he even aware that I existed?

I paused a moment before the closed door. I wore a short coat, so
as to have my revolver within easy reach in the pocket, and I put
my right hand upon it, opened the door with my left, and entered
without knocking.

"Who is there?" said a man who was lying rather than sitting in an
arm-chair, with his feet on a table; he was reading a newspaper and
smoking, and his back was turned to the door. He did not trouble
himself to rise and see whose hand had opened the door, thinking,
no doubt, that a servant had come in; he merely turned his head
slightly, and I did not give him time to look completely round.

"M. Rochdale?" I asked.

He started to his feet, pushed away the chair, and rushed to the
other side of the table, staring at me with a terrified
countenance; his light blue eyes were unnaturally distended, his
face was livid, his mouth was half open, his legs bent under him.
His tall, robust frame had sustained one of those shocks of
excessive terror which almost paralyze the forces of life. He
uttered but one word--"Cornelis!"

At last I held in my victorious hand the proof that I had been
seeking for months, and in that moment I was master of all the
resources of my being. Yes, I was as calm, as clear of purpose, as
my adversary was the reverse. He was not accustomed to live, like
his accomplice, in the daily habits of studied dissimulation. The
name, "Rochdale," the terrifying likeness, the unlooked-for
arrival! I had not been mistaken in my calculation. With the
amazing rapidity of thought that accompanies action I perceived the
necessity of following up this first shock of moral terror by a
shock of physical terror. Otherwise, the man would hurl himself
upon me, in the moment of reaction, thrust me aside and rush away
like a madman, at the risk of being stopped on the stairs by the
servants, and then? But I had already taken out my revolver, and I
now covered the wretch with it, calling him by his real name, to
prove that I knew all about him.

"M. Edmond Termonde," I said, "if you make one step towards me, I
will kill you, like the assassin that you are, as you killed my
father."

Pointing to a chair at the corner of the half-open window, I added:

"Sit down!"

He obeyed mechanically. At that instant I exercised absolute
control over him; but I felt sure this would cease so soon as he
recovered his presence of mind. But even though the rest of the
interview were now to go against me, that could not alter the
certainty which I had acquired. I had wanted to know whether
Edmond Termonde was the man who had called himself Rochdale, and I
had secured undeniable proof of the fact. Nevertheless, it was due
to myself that I should extract from my enemy the proof of the
truth of all my conjectures, that proof which would place my
stepfather at my mercy. This was a fresh phase of the struggle.

I glanced round the room in which I was shut up with the assassin.
On the bed, placed on my left, lay a loaded cane, a hat and an
overcoat; on a small table were a steel "knuckle-duster" and a
revolver. Among the articles laid out on a chest of drawers on my
right a bowie-knife was conspicuous, a valise was placed against an
unused door, a wardrobe with a looking-glass stood before another
unused door, then came the toilet-stand, and the man, crouching
under the aim of my revolver, between the table and the window. He
could neither escape, nor reach to any means of defense without a
personal struggle with me; but he would have to stand my fire
first, and besides, if he was tall and robust, I was neither short
or feeble. I was twenty-five, he was fifty. All the moral forces
were for me, I must win.

"Now," said I, as I took a seat, but without releasing him from the
covering barrel of my pistol, "let us talk."

"What do you want of me?" he asked roughly. His voice was both
hoarse and muffled; the blood had gone back into his cheeks, his
eyes, those eyes so exactly like his brother's, sparkled. The
brute-nature was reviving in him after having sustained a fearful
shock, as though astonished that it still lived.

"Come, then," he added, clenching his fists, "I am caught. Fire on
me, and let this end."

Then, as I made him no answer, but continued to threaten him with
my pistol, he exclaimed:

"Ah! I understand; it is that blackguard Jacques who has sold me to
you in order to get rid of me himself. There's the statute of
limitations--he thinks he is safe! But has he told you that he was
in it himself, good, honest man, and that I have the proof of this?
Ah! he thinks I am going to let you kill me, like that, without
speaking? No, I shall call out, we shall be arrested, and all will
be known."

Fury had seized upon him; he was about to shout "Help!" and the
worst of it was that rage was rising in me also. It was he, with
that same hand which I saw creeping along the table, strong, hairy,
seeking something to throw at me--yes--it was he who had killed my
father.

One impulse more of anger and I was lost; a bullet was lodged in
his body, and I saw his blood flow. Oh, what good it would have
done me to see that sight!

But no, I soon made the sacrifice of this particular vengeance. In
a second, I beheld myself arrested, obliged to explain everything,
and my mother exposed to all the misery of it.

Happily for me, he also had an interval of reflection. The first
idea that must have occurred to him was that his brother had
betrayed him, by telling me one-half of the truth, so as to deliver
him up to my vengeance. The second, no doubt, was that, for a son
who came to avenge his dead father, I was making a good deal of
delay about it. There was a momentary silence between us. This
allowed me to regain my coolness, and to say: "You are mistaken,"
so quietly that his amazement was visible in his face. He looked
at me, then closed his eyes, and knitted his brow. I felt that he
could not endure my resemblance to my father.

"Yes, you are mistaken," I continued deliberately, giving the tone
of a business conversation to this terrible interview. "I have not
come here either to have you arrested or to kill you. Unless," I
added, "you oblige me to do so yourself, as I feared just now you
would oblige me. I have come to propose a bargain to you, but it
is on the condition that you listen, as I shall speak, with
coolness."

Once more we were both silent. In the corridor, almost at the door
of the room, there were sounds of feet, voices, and peals of
laughter. This was enough to recall me to the necessity of
controlling myself, and him to the consciousness that he was
playing a dangerous game. A shot, a cry, and someone would enter
the room, for it opened upon the corridor. Edmond Termonde had
heard me with extreme attention; a gleam of hope, succeeded by a
singular look of suspicion, had passed over his face.

"Make your conditions," said he.

"If I had intended to kill you," I resumed, so as to convince him
of my sincerity by the evidence of his senses, "you would be dead
already." I raised the revolver. "If I had intended to have you
arrested, I would not have taken the trouble to come here myself;
two policemen would have been sufficient, for you don't forget that
you are a deserter, and still amenable to the law."

"True," he replied simply, and then added, following out a mental
argument which was of vital importance to the issue of our
interview:

"If it is not Jacques, then who is it that has sold me?"

"I held you at my disposal," I continued, without noticing what he
had said, "and I have not availed myself of that. Therefore I had
a strong reason for sparing you yesterday, ere yesterday, this
morning, a little while ago, at the present moment; and it depends
upon yourself whether I spare you altogether."

"And you want me to believe you," he answered, pointing to my
revolver which I still continued to hold in my hand, but no longer
covering him with it. "No, no," and he added, with an expression
which smacked of the barrack-room, "I don't tumble to that sort of
thing."

"Listen to me," said I, now assuming a tone of extreme contempt.
"The powerful motive which I have for not shooting you like a mad
dog, you shall learn. I do not choose that my mother should ever
know what a man she married in your brother. Do you now understand
why I resolved to let you go? Provided you are of the same mind,
however; for even the idea of my mother would not stop me, if you
pushed me too far. I will add, for your guidance, that the
limitation by which you supposed yourself to be safe from pursuit
for the murder in 1864 has been traversed; you are therefore
staking your head at this moment. For ten years past you have been
successfully levying blackmail on your brother. I do not suppose
you have merely played upon the chord of fraternal love. When you
came from America to assume the personality of Rochdale, it was
clearly necessary that he should send you some instructions. You
have kept those letters. I offer you one hundred thousand francs
for them."

"Sir," he replied slowly, and his tone showed me that for the
moment he had recovered his self-control, "how can you imagine that
I should take such a proposal seriously? Admitting that any such
letters were ever written, and that I had kept them, why should I
give up a document of this kind to you? What security should I
have that you would not have me laid by the heels the moment after!
Ah!" he cried, looking me straight in the face, "you know nothing!
That name! That likeness! Idiot that I am, you have tricked me."

His face turned crimson with rage, and he uttered an oath.

"You shall pay for this!" he cried; and at the same instant, when
he was no longer covered by my pistol, he pushed the table upon me
so violently, that if I had not sprung backwards I must have been
thrown down; but he already had time to fling himself upon me and
seize me round the body. Happily for me the violence of the attack
had knocked the pistol out of my hands, so that I could not be
tempted to use it, and a struggle began between us in which not one
word was spoken by either.

With his first rush he had flung me to the ground; but I was
strong, and the strange premonitions of danger, from which I
suffered in my youth, had led me to develop all my physical energy
and adroitness.

I felt his breath on my face, his skin upon my skin, his muscles
striving against mine, and at the same time the dread that our
conflict might be overheard gave me the coolness which he had lost.
After a few minutes of this tussle, and just as his strength was
failing, he fastened his teeth in my shoulder so savagely that the
pain of the bite maddened me. I wrenched one of my arms from his
grasp and seized him by the throat at the risk of choking him. I
held him under me now, and I struck his bead against the floor as
though I meant to smash it. He remained motionless for a minute,
and I thought I had killed him. I first picked up my pistol, which
had rolled away to the door, and then bathed his forehead with
water in order to revive him.

When I caught sight of myself in the glass, with my coat-collar
torn, my face bruised, my cravat in rags, I shuddered as if I had
seen the specter of another Andre Cornelis. The ignoble nature of
this adventure filled me with disgust; but it was not a question of
fine-gentleman fastidiousness. My enemy was coming to himself, I
must end this. I knew in my conscience I had done all that was
possible to fulfill my vow in regard to my mother. The blame must
fall upon destiny. the wretch had half-raised himself, and was
looking at me; I bent over him, and put the barrel of my revolver
within a hair's breadth of his temple.

"There is still time," I said. "I give you five minutes to decide
upon the bargain which I proposed to you just now; the letters, and
one hundred thousand francs, with your liberty; if not, a bullet in
your head. Choose. I wished to spare you on account of my mother;
but I will not lose my vengeance both ways. I shall be arrested,
your papers will be searched, the letters will be found, it will be
known that I had a right to shoot you. My mother will go mad with
grief; but I shall be avenged. I have spoken. You have five
minutes, not one more."

No doubt my face expressed invincible resolution. The assassin
looked at that face, then at the clock. He tried to make a
movement, but saw that my finger was about to press the trigger.

"I yield," he said.

I ordered him to rise, and he obeyed me.

"Where are the letters?"

"When you have them," he implored, with the terror of a trapped
beast in his abject face, "you will let me go away?"

"I swear it," I answered; and, as I saw doubt and dread in his
quailing eyes, I added, "by the memory of my father. Where are the
letters?"

"There."

He pointed to a valise in a corner of the room.

"Here is the money."

I flung him the note-case which contained it. Is there a sort of
moral magnetism in the tone of certain words and in certain
expressions of countenance? Was it the nature of the oath which I
had just taken, so deeply impressive at that moment, or had this
man sufficient strength of mind to say to himself that his single
chance of safety resided in belief in my good faith? However that
may be, he did not hesitate for a moment; he opened the iron-bound
valise, took out a yellow-leather box with a patent lock, and,
having opened it, flung its contents--a large sealed envelope-to
me, exactly as I had flung the banknotes to him. I, too, for my
part, had not a moment's fear that he would produce a weapon from
the valise and attack me while I was verifying the contents of the
envelope. These consisted of three letters only; the two first
bore the double stamp of Paris and New York, the third those of New
York and Liverpool, and all three bore the January or February
post-marks of the year 1864.

"Is that all?" he asked.

"Not yet," I answered; "you must undertake to leave Paris this
evening by the first train, without having seen your brother or
written to him."

"I promise; and then?"

"When was he to come back here to see you?"

"On Saturday," he answered, with a shrug of his shoulders. "The
bargain was concluded. He was determined to wait until the day
came for me to set out for Havre before paying me the money, so
that he might make quite sure I should not stay on in Paris.--The
game is up," he added, "and now I wash my hands of it."

"Edmond Termonde," said I, rising, but not loosing him from the
hold of my eye, "remember that I have spared you; but you must not
tempt me a second time by putting yourself in my way, or crossing
the path of any whom I love."

Then, with a threatening gesture, I quitted the room, leaving him
seated at the table near the window. I had hardly reached the
corridor when my nerves, which had been so strangely under my
control during the struggle, failed me. My legs bent under me, and
I feared I was about to fall. How was I to account for the
disorder of my clothes? I made a great effort, concealed the torn
ends of my cravat, turned up the collar of my coat to hide the
condition of my shirt, and did my best to repair the damage that
had been done to my hat. I then wiped my face with my
handkerchief, and went downstairs with a slow and careless step.
The inspector of the first floor was, doubtless, occupied at the
other end of the corridor; but two of the waiters saw me and were
evidently surprised at my aspect. They were, however, too busy,
luckily for me, to stop me and inquire into the cause of my
discomposure. At last I reached the courtyard. If anybody who
knew me had been there? I got into the first cab and gave my
address. I had kept my word. I had conquered.

I am afraid to kill; but had I been born in Italy, in the fifteenth
century, would I have hesitated to poison my father's murderer?
Would I have hesitated to shoot him, had I been born in Corsica
fifty years ago? Am I then nothing but a civilized person, a
wretched and impotent dreamer, who would fain act, but shrinks from
soiling his hands in the action? I forced myself to contemplate
the dilemma in which I stood, in its absolute, imperative,
inevitable distinctness. I must either avenge my father by handing
over his murderer to be dealt with by the law, since M. Massol had
prudently fulfilled all the formalities necessary to bar the
limitation, or I must be my own minister of justice. There was a
third alternative; that I should spare the murderous wretch, allow
him to live on in occupation of his victim's place in my mother's
home, from which he had driven me; but at the thought of this my
rage revived. The scruples of the civilized man did indeed give
him pause; but that hesitation did not hinder the savage, who
slumbers in us all, from feeling the appetite for retaliation which
stirs the animal nature of man--all his flesh, and all his blood--
as hunger and thirst stir it. "Well, then," said I to myself, "I
will assassinate my stepfather, since that is the right word. Was
he afraid to assassinate my father? He killed; he shall be killed.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; that is the primitive law,
and all the rest is a lie."

Evening had come while this strife was raging in my soul. I was
laboring under excitement which contrasted strangely with the
calmness I had felt a few hours previously, when ascending the
stairs in the Grand Hotel. The situation also had undergone a
change; then I was preparing for a struggle, a kind of duel; I was
about to confront a man whom I had to conquer, to attack him face
to face without any treachery, and I had not flinched. It was the
mean hypocrisy of clandestine murder that had made me shrink from
the idea of killing my stepfather, by luring him into a snare. I
had controlled this trembling the first time; but I was afraid of
its coming again, and that I should have a sleepless night, and be
unfit to act next day with the cool calmness I desired.

I felt that I could not bear suspense; on the morrow I must act.
The plan on which I should decide, be it what it might, must be
executed within the twenty-four hours.

The best means of calming my nerves was by making a beginning now,
at once; by doing something beforehand to guard against suspicion.
I determined upon letting myself be seen by persons who could bear
witness, if necessary, that they had seen me, careless, easy,
almost gay. I dressed and went out, intending to dine at a place
where I was known, and to pass the most of the night at the club.

When I was in the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, crowded with carriages
and people on foot--the May evening was delicious--I shared the
physical sensation of the joy of living, which was abroad in the
air. The sky quivered with the innumerable throbs of the stars,
and the young leaves shook at the touch of a slow and gentle
breeze. Garlands of light illumined the various pleasure-gardens.
I passed in front of a restaurant where the tables extended to the
edge of the footpath, and young men and women were finishing their
dinner gaily.

The contrast between the spring-festival aspect of Paris and the
tragedy of my own destiny came home to me too strongly. What had I
done to Fate to deserve that I should be the one only person, amid
all this crowd, condemned to such an experience? Why had my path
been crossed by a man capable of pushing passion to the point of
crime, in a society in which passion is ordinarily so mild, so
harmless, and so lukewarm? Probably there did not exist in all the
"good" society of Paris four persons with daring enough to conceive
such a plan as that which Jacques Termonde had executed with such
cool deliberation under the influence of his passion. And this
villain, who could love so intensely, was my stepfather!

Once more the breath of fatality, which had already thrilled me
with a kind of mysterious horror, passed over me, and I felt that I
could no longer bear the sight of the human face. Turning my back
upon the lit-up, noisy quarter of the Champs Elysees, I walked on
towards the Arc de Triomphe. Without thinking about it I took the
road to the Bois, bore to the right to avoid the vehicles, and
turned into one of the loneliest paths. Had I unconsciously obeyed
one of those almost animal impulses of memory, which bring us back
to ways that we have already trodden? By the soft, bluish light of
the spring moon I recognized the place where I had walked with my
stepfather in the winter, on the occasion of our first drive to the
Bois. It was on that day I obliged him to look the portrait of his
victim in the face, on that day he came to me on the pretext of
asking for the Review which my mother had lent me. In my thoughts
I beheld him, as he then was, and recalled the strange pity which
had stirred my heart at the sight of him, so sad, broken-down, and,
so to speak, conquered. He stood before me, in the light of that
remembrance, as living and real as if he had been there, close
beside me, and the acute sensation of his existence made me feel at
the same time all the signification of those fearful and mysterious
words: to kill. To kill? I was going to kill him, in a few hours
it might be, at the latest in a few days.

I heard voices, and I withdrew into the shade. Two forms passed
me, a young man and a girl, lovers, who did not see me. The
moonlight fell upon them, as they went on their way, hand in hand.
I burst into tears, and wept long, unrestrainedly; for I too was
young; in my heart there was a flood of pent-up tenderness, and
here I was, on this perfumed, moonlit, starlit night, crouching in
a dark corner, meditating murder!

No, not murder, an execution. Has my stepfather deserved death?
Yes. Is the executioner who lets down the knife on the neck of the
condemned criminal to be called an assassin? No! Well, then I
shall be the executioner and nothing else. I rose from the bench
where I had shed my last tears of resolution and cowardice--for
thus I regarded those hot tears to which I now appeal, as a last
proof that I was not born for what I have done.

While walking back to Paris, I multiplied and reiterated my
arguments. Sometimes I succeeded in silencing a voice within me,
stronger than my reasoning and my longing for vengeance, a voice
which pronounced the words formerly uttered by my aunt: "Vengeance
is mine, saith the Lord God." And if there be no God? And if
there be, is not the fault His, for He has let this thing be? Yes,
such were my wild words and thoughts; and then all these scruples
of my conscience appeared to me mere vain, futile quibbles, fitting
for philosophers and confessors.

There remained one indisputable, absolute fact; I could not endure
that the murderer of my father should continue to be the husband of
my mother.

There was a second no less evident fact; I could not place this man
in the hands of justice without, probably, killing my mother on the
spot, or, quite certainly, laying her whole life waste. Therefore
I would have to be my own tribunal, judge, and executioner in my
own cause. What mattered to me the arguments for or against? I
was bound to give heed first to my final instinct, and it cried out
to me "Kill!"

I walked fast, keeping my mind fixed on this idea with a kind of
tragic pleasure, for I felt that my irresolution was gone, and that
I should act. All of a sudden, as I came close to the Arc de
Triomphe, I remembered how, on that very spot, I had met one of my
club companions for the last time. He shot himself the next day.
Why did this remembrance suddenly suggest to me a series of new
thoughts?

I stopped short with a beating heart. I had caught a glimpse of
the way of safety. Fool that I had been, led away as usual by an
undisciplined imagination! My stepfather should die. I had
sentenced him in the name of my inalienable right as an avenging
son; but could I not condemn him to die by his own hand? Had I not
that in my possession which would drive him to suicide? If I went
to him without any more reserves or circumlocution, and if I said
to him, "I hold the proof that you are the murderer of my father.
I give you the choice--either you will kill yourself, or I denounce
you to my mother," what would his answer be? He, who loved his
wife with that reciprocated devotion by which I had suffered so
much, would he consent that she should know the truth, that she
should regard him as a base, cowardly assassin? No, never; he
would rather die.

My heart, weary and worn with pain, rushed towards this door of
hope, so suddenly opened. "I shall have done my duty," I thought,
"and I shall have no blood on my hands. My conscience will not be
stained." I experienced an immense relief from the weight of
foreseen remorse that had caused me such agony, and I went on
drawing a picture of the future, freed at last from one dark image
which had veiled the sunshine of my youth. "He will kill himself;
my mother will weep for him; but I shall be able to dry her tears.
Her heart will bleed, but I will heal the wound with the balm of my
tenderness. When the assassin is no longer there, she and I will
live over again all the dear time that he stole from us, and then I
shall be able to show her how I love her. The caresses which I did
not give her when I was a child, because the other froze me by his
mere presence, I will give her then; the words which I did not
speak, the tender words that were stopped upon my lips, she shall
hear then. We will leave Paris, and get rid of these sad
remembrances. We will retire to some quiet spot, far, far away,
where she will have none but me, I none but her, and I will devote
myself to her old age. What do I want with any other love, with
any other tie? Suffering softens the heart; her grief will make
her love me more. Ah! how happy we shall be." But once more the
voice within resumed: "What if the wretch refuse to kill himself?
What if he were not to believe me when I threaten to denounce him?"
Had I not been acting for months as his accomplice in maintaining
the deceit practiced upon my mother? Did he not know how much I
loved her, he who had been jealous of me as her son, as I had been
jealous of him as her husband? Would he not answer: "Denounce me!"
being well assured that I would not deal such a blow at the poor
woman? To these objections I replied, that, whereas I had
suspected previously, now I knew. No, he will not be entirely
convinced that the evidence I hold will make me dare everything.
Well then, if he refuse, I shall have attempted the impossible to
avoid murder--let destiny be accomplished!


XIII


It was four o'clock in the afternoon on the following day, when I
presented myself at the hotel on the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg.
I knew that my mother would most probably be out. I also thought
it likely my stepfather would he feeling none the better of his
early excursion to the Grand Hotel on the previous day, and I
therefore hoped to find him at home, perhaps in his bed. I was
right; my mother was out, and he had remained at home. He was in
his study, the room in which our first explanation had taken place.
That upon which I was now bent was of far greater importance, and
yet I was less agitated than on the former occasion. At last I was
completely certain of the facts, and with that certainty a strange
calmness had come to me. I can recall my having talked for a few
moments with the servant who announced me, about a child of his who
was ill. I also remember to have observed for the first time that
the smoky chimney of some manufacturing works at the back of the
garden, built, no doubt, during the last winter, was visible
through the window of the staircase.

I record these things because I am bound to recognize that my mind
was quite clear and free--for I will be sincere to the end--when I
entered the spacious room.

My stepfather was reclining in a deep armchair at the far side of
the fireplace, and occupied in cutting the pages of a new book with
a dagger. The blade of this weapon was broad, short, and strong.
He had brought the knife back from Spain, with several other kinds
of arms, which lay about in the rooms he habitually occupied. I
now understood the order of ideas which this singular taste
indicated. He was dressed for walking; but his altered looks bore
witness to the intensity of the crisis through which he had passed.
It had affected his whole being.

Very likely my face was expressive of an extraordinary resolution,
for I saw by his eyes, as our looks met, that he had read the
depths of my thoughts at a glance. Nevertheless, he said: "Ah, is
it you, Andre? It is very kind of you to come," thus exhibiting
once more the power of his self-control, and he put out his hand.
I did not take it, and my refusal, contrasting with his gesture of
welcome, the silence which I kept for some minutes, the contraction
of my features, and, no doubt, the menace in my eyes, entirely
enlightened him as to the mood in which I came to him. Very
quietly, he laid down his book and the Spanish knife he had been
using, on a large table within his reach, and then he rose from his
chair, leaned his back against the mantelpiece, and crossing his
arms, looked at me with the haughty stare I knew so well, and which
had so often humiliated me in my boyhood. I was the first to break
the silence; replying to his polite greeting in a harsh tone, and
looking him straight in the face, I said:

"The time of lies is past. You have guessed that I know all?"

He bent his brows into the stern frown he always assumed when he
felt anger he was bound to suppress, his eyes met mine with
indomitable pride, and he merely replied:

"I do not understand you."

"You do not understand me? Very well, I am about to enlighten
you." My voice shook in uttering these words; my coolness was
forsaking me. The day before, and in my conversation with the
brother, I had come in contact with the vile infamy of a knave and
a coward; but the enemy whom I was now facing, although a greater
scoundrel than the other, found means to preserve a sort of moral
superiority, even in that terrible hour when he knew well he was
face to face with his crime.

Yes, this man was a criminal, but of a grand kind, and there was no
cowardice in him. Pride sat upon that brow so laden with dark
thoughts, but fear set no mark upon it, any more than did
repentance. In his eyes--exactly like those of his brother--a
fierce resolution shone; I felt that he would defend himself to the
end. He would yield to evidence only, and such strength of mind
displayed at such a moment had the effect of exasperating me. The
blood flew to my head, and my heart beat rapidly, as I went on:

"Allow me to take up the matter a little farther back. In 1864,
there was in Paris a man who loved the wife of his most intimate
friend. Although that friend was very trusting, very noble, very
easily duped, he became aware of this love, and he began to suffer
from it. He grew jealous--although he never doubted his wife's
purity of heart--jealous as everyone is who loves too well.

"The man who was the object of his jealousy perceived it,
understood that he was about to be forbidden the house, knew that
the woman whom he loved would never degrade herself by listening to
a lover, and this is the plan which be conceived:

"He had a brother somewhere in a distant land, an infamous
scoundrel who was supposed to be dead, a creature sunk in shame, a
thief, a forger, a deserter, and he bethought him of this brother
as an instrument ready to his hand wherewith to rid himself of the
friend who stood in the way of his passion. He sent for the fellow
secretly, he appointed to meet him in one of the loneliest corners
of Paris--in a street adjoining the Jardin des Plantes, and at
night--you see I am well informed. It is easy to imagine how he
persuaded the former thief to play the part of bravo. A few months
after, the husband was assassinated by this brother, who eluded
justice. The felon-friend married almost immediately the woman
whom he loved; he is now a man in society, wealthy and respected,
and his pure and pious wife loves, admires, nay, worships him. Do
you now begin to understand?"

"No more than before," he answered, with the same impassive face.
He did well not to flinch. What I had said might be only an
attempt to wrest his secret from him by feigning to know all.
Nevertheless, the detail concerning the place where he had
appointed to meet his brother had made him start. That was the
spot to hit, and quickly.

"The cowardly assassin," I continued, "yes, the coward, because he
dared not commit the crime himself, had carefully calculated all
the circumstances of the murder; but he had reckoned without
certain little accidents, for instance, that his brother would keep
the three letters he had received, the first two at New York, the
last at Liverpool, and which contained instructions relating to the
stages of this clandestine journey. Neither had he taken into
account that the son of his victim would grow up, would become a
man, would conceive certain suspicions of the true cause of his
father's death, and would succeed in procuring overwhelming proof
of the dark conspiracy. Come, then," I added fiercely, "off with
the mask! M. Jacques Termonde, it is you who had my unhappy father
killed by your brother Edmond. I have in my possession the letters
you wrote him in January, 1864, to induce him to come to Europe,
first under the false name of Rochester and afterwards under that
of Rochdale. It is not worth your while to play the indignant or
the astonished with me--the game is up."

He had turned frightfully pale; but his arms still remained
crossed, and his bold eyes did not droop. He made one last attempt
to parry the straight blow I had aimed at him, and he had the
hardihood to say:

"How much did that wretch Edmond ask as the price of the forgery
which he fabricated in revenge for my refusal to give him money?"

"Be silent, you--" said I still more fiercely. "Is it to me that
you dare to speak thus--to me? Did I need those letters in order
to learn all? Have we not known for weeks past, I, that you had
committed the crime, and you, that I had divined your guilt? What
I still needed was the written, indisputable, undeniable proof,
that which can be laid before a magistrate. You refused him money?
You were about to give him money, only that you mistrusted him, and
chose to wait until the day of his departure. You did not suspect
that I was upon your track. Shall I tell you when it was you saw
him for the last time? Yesterday, at ten o'clock in the morning,
you went out, you changed your cab first at the Place de la
Concorde, and a second time at the Palais Royal. You went to the
Grand Hotel, and you asked whether Mr. Stanbury was in his room. A
few hours later I, myself, was in that same room. Ah! how much did
Edmond Termonde ask from me for the letters? Why, I tore them from
him, pistol in hand, after a struggle in which I was nearly killed.
You see now that you can deceive me no more, and that it is no
longer worth your while to deny."

I thought he was about to drop dead before me. His face changed,
until it was hardly human, as I went on, on, on, piling up the
exact facts, tracking his falsehood, as one tracks a wild beast,
and proving to him that his brother had defended himself after his
fashion, even as he had done. He clasped his hands about his head,
when I ceased to speak, as though to compress the maddening
thoughts which rushed upon him; then, once more looking me in the
face, but this time with infinite despair in his eyes, he uttered
exactly the same sentence as his brother had spoken, but with quite
another expression and tone:

"This hour too was bound to come. What do you want from me now?"

"That you should do justice on yourself," I answered. "You have
twenty-four hours before you. If, to-morrow at this hour, you are
still living, I place the letters in my mother's hands."

Every sort of feeling was depicted upon his livid face while I
placed this ultimatum before him, in a firm voice which admitted of
no farther discussion. I was standing up, and I leaned against the
large table; he came towards me, with a sort of delirium in his
eyes as they strove to meet mine.

"No," he cried, "no, Andre, not yet! Pity me, Andre, pity me! See
now, I am a condemned man, I have not six months to live. Your
revenge! Ah! you had no need to undertake it. What! If I have
done a terrible deed, do you think I have not been punished for it?
Look at me, only look at me; I am dying of this frightful secret.
It is all over; my days are numbered. The few that remain, leave,
oh, leave them to me! Understand this, I am not afraid to die; but
to kill myself, to go away, leaving this grief to her whom you love
as I do! It is true that, to win her, I have done an atrocious
deed; but say, answer, has there ever been an hour, a minute since,
in which her happiness was not my only aim? And you would have me
leave her thus, inflict upon her the torment of thinking that while
I might have grown old by her side, I preferred to go away, to
forsake her before the time? No, Andre--this last year, leave it
to me! Ah, leave it to me, leave it to us, for I assure you that I
am hopelessly ill, that I know it, that the doctors have not hidden
it from me. In a few months--fix a date--if the disease has not
carried me off, you can come back. But I shall be dead. She will
weep for me, without the horror of that idea that I have
forestalled my hour, she who is so pious! You only will be there
to console her, to love her. Have pity upon her, if not upon me.
See, I have no more pride towards you, I entreat you in her name,
in the name of her dear heart, for well you know its tenderness.
You love her, I know that; I have guessed truly that you hid your
suspicions to spare her pain. I tell you once again, my life is a
hell, and I would joyfully give it to you in expiation of what I
have done; but she, Andre, she, your mother, who has never, never
cherished a thought that was not pure and noble, no, do not inflict
this torture upon her."

"Words, words!" I answered, moved to the bottom of my soul in spite
of myself, by the outburst of an anguish in which I was forced to
recognize sincerity. "It is because my mother is noble and pure
that I will not have her remain the wife of a vile murderer for a
day longer. You shall kill yourself, or she shall know all."

"Do it then if you dare," he replied, with a return to the natural
pride of his character, at the ferocity of my answer. "Do it if
you dare! Yes, she is my wife, yes, she loves me; go and tell her,
and kill her yourself with the words. Ha, you see! You turn pale
at the mere thought. I have allowed you to live, yes, I, on
account of her, and do you suppose I do not hate you as much as you
hate me? Nevertheless, I have respected you because you were dear
to her, and you will have to do the same with me. Yes, do you
hear, it must be so--"

It was he who was giving orders now, he who was threatening. How
plainly had he read my mind, to stand up before me in such an
attitude! Furious passion broke loose in me; I took in the facts
of the situation. This man had loved my mother madly enough to
purchase her at the cost of the murder of his most intimate friend,
and he loved her after all those years passionately enough to
desire that not one of the days he had still to pass with her might
be lost to him. And it was also true that never, never should I
have the courage to reveal the terrific truth to the poor woman.

I was suddenly carried away by rage to the point of losing all
control over my frenzy. "Ah!" I cried, "since you will not do
justice on yourself, die then, at once!" I stretched out my hand
and seized the dagger which he had recently placed upon the table.
He looked at me without flinching, or recoiling; indeed presenting
his breast to me, as though to brave my childish rage. I was on
his left bending down, and ready to spring. I saw his smile of
contempt, and then with all my strength I struck him with the knife
in the direction of the heart.

The blade entered his body to the hilt.

No sooner had I done this thing than I recoiled, wild with terror
at the deed. He uttered a cry. His face was distorted with
terrible agony, and he moved his right hand towards the wound, as
though he would draw out the dagger. He looked at me, convulsed; I
saw that he wanted to speak; his lips moved, but no sound issued
from his mouth. The expression of a supreme effort passed into his
eyes, he turned to the table, took a pen, dipped it into the
inkstand, and traced two lines on a sheet of paper within his
reach. He looked at me again, his lips moved once more, then he
fell down like a log.

I remember--I saw the body stretched upon the carpet, between the
table and the tall mantelpiece, within two feet of me. I
approached him, I bent over his face. His eyes seemed to follow me
even after death.

Yes, he was dead.

The doctor who certified the death explained afterwards that the
knife had passed through the cardiac muscle without completely
penetrating the left cavity of the heart, and that, the blood not
being shed all at once, death had not been instantaneous.

I cannot tell how long he lived after I struck him, nor do I know
how long I remained in the same place, overwhelmed by the thought:
"Someone will come, and I am lost." It was not for myself that I
trembled. What could be done to a son who had but avenged his
murdered father? But, my mother? This was what all my resolutions
to spare her at any cost, my daily solicitude for her welfare, my
unseen tears, my tender silence, had come to in the end! I must
now, inevitably, either explain myself, or leave her to think I was
a mere murderer. I was lost. But if I called, if I cried out
suddenly that my stepfather had just killed himself in my presence,
should I be believed? And, besides, had he not written what would
convict me of murder, on that sheet of paper lying on the table?
Was I going to destroy it, as a practiced criminal destroys every
vestige of his presence before he leaves the scene of his crime?

I seized the sheet of paper; the lines were written upon it in
characters rather larger than usual. How it shook in my hand while
I read these words: "Forgive me, Marie. I was suffering too much.
I wanted to be done with it." And he had had the strength to affix
his signature!

So then, his last thought had been for her. In the brief moments
that had elapsed between my blow with the knife, and his death, he
had perceived the dreadful truth, that I should be arrested, that I
would speak to explain my deed, that my mother would then learn his
crime--and he had saved me by compelling me to silence.

But was I going to profit by this means of safety? Was I going to
accept the terrible generosity by which the man, whom I had so
profoundly detested, would stand acquitted towards me for evermore?
I must render so much justice to my honor; my first impulse was to
destroy that paper, to annihilate with it even the memory of the
debt imposed upon my hatred by the atrocious but sublime action of
the murderer of my father.

At that moment I caught sight of a portrait of my mother, on the
table, close to where he had been sitting. It was a photograph,
taken in her youth; she was represented in brilliant evening
attire, her bare arms shaded with lace, pearls in her hair, gay,
ay, better than gay, happy, with an ineffably pure expression
overspreading her face. My stepfather had sacrificed all to save
her from despair on learning the truth, and was she to receive the
fatal blow from me, to learn at the same moment that the man she
loved had killed her first husband, and that he had been killed by
her son?

I desire to believe, so that I may continue to hold myself in some
esteem, that only the vision of her grief led me to my decision. I
replaced the sheet of paper on the table, and turned away from the
corpse lying on the carpet, without casting a glance at it. The
remembrance of my flight from the Grand Hotel, on the previous day,
gave me courage; I must try a second time to get away without
betraying discomposure.

I found my hat, left the room, and closed the door carelessly. I
crossed the hall and went down the staircase, passing by the
footman who stood up mechanically, and then the concierge who
saluted me. The two servants had not even put me out of
countenance.

I returned to my room as I had done the day before, but in a far
more tragic state of suspense. Was I saved? Was I lost? All
depended on the moment at which somebody might go into my
stepfather's room. If my mother were to return within a few
minutes of my departure; if the footman were to go upstairs with
some letter, I should instantly be suspected, in spite of the
declaration written by M. Termonde. I felt that my courage was
exhausted. I knew that, if accused, I should not have moral
strength to defend myself, for my weariness was so overwhelming
that I did not suffer any longer. The only thing I had strength to
do was to watch the swing of the pendulum of the timepiece on the
mantelshelf, and to mark the movement of the hands. A quarter of
an hour elapsed, half an hour, a whole hour.

It was an hour and a half after I had left the fatal room, when the
bell at the door was rung. I heard it through the walls. A
servant brought me a laconic note from my mother scribbled in
pencil and hardly legible. It informed me that my stepfather had
destroyed himself in an attack of severe pain. The poor woman
implored me to go to her immediately. Ah, she would now never know
the truth!


XIV


The confession that I wished to write is written. To what end
could I add fresh facts to it now? I hoped to ease my heart by
passing in review all the details of this dark story, but I have
only revived the dread memory of the scenes in which I have been an
actor; from the first--when I saw my father stretched dead upon his
bed, and my mother weeping by his side, to the last--when I
noiselessly entered a room in which the unhappy woman was again
kneeling and weeping. Again upon the bed there lay a corpse, and
she rose as she had done before, and uttered the same despairing
cry: "My Andre--my son." And I had to answer her questions; I had
to invent for her a false conversation with my stepfather, to tell
her that I left him rather depressed, but with nothing in his
appearance or manner to indicate a fatal resolution. I had to take
the necessary steps to prevent this alleged suicide from getting
known, to see the commissary of police and the "doctor of the
dead." I had to preside at the funeral ceremonies, to receive the
guests and act as chief mourner. And always, always, he was
present to me, with the dagger in his breast, writing the lines
that had saved me, and looking at me, while his lips moved.

Ah, begone, begone, abhorred phantom! Yes! I have done it; yes! I
have killed you; yes! it was just. You know well that it was just.
Why are you still here now? Ah! I WILL live; I WILL forget. If I
could only cease to think of you for one day, only one day, just to
breathe, and walk, and see the sky, without your image returning to
haunt my poor head which is racked by this hallucination, and
troubled? My God! have pity on me. I did not ask for this
dreadful fate; it is Thou that hast sent it to me. Why dost Thou
punish me? Oh, my God, have pity on me! Miserere mei, Domine.

Vain prayers! Is there any God, any justice, is there either good
or evil? None, none, none, none! There is nothing but a pitiless
destiny which broods over the human race, iniquitous and blind,
distributing joy and grief at haphazard. A God who says, "Thou
shalt not kill," to him whose father has been killed? No, I don't
believe it. No, if hell were there before me, gaping open, I would
make answer: "I have done well," and I would not repent. I do not
repent. My remorse is not for having seized the weapon and struck
the blow, it is that I owe to him--to him--that infamous good
service which he did me--that I cannot to the present hour shake
from me the horrible gift I have received from that man. If I had
destroyed the paper, if I had gone and given myself up, if I had
appeared before a jury, revealing, proclaiming my deed, I should
not be ashamed; I could still hold up my head. What relief, what
joy it would be if I might cry aloud to all men that I killed him,
that he lied, and I lied, that it was I, I, who took the weapon and
plunged it into him! And yet, I ought not to suffer from having
accepted--no--endured the odious immunity. Was it from any motive
of cowardice that I acted thus? What was I afraid of? Of
torturing my mother, nothing more. Why, then, do I suffer this
unendurable anguish? Ah, it is she, it is my mother who, without
intending it, makes the dead so living to me, by her own despair.
She lives, shut up in the rooms where they lived together for
sixteen years; she has not allowed a single article of furniture to
be touched; she surrounds the man's accursed memory with the same
pious reverence that my aunt formerly lavished on my unhappy
father. I recognize the invincible influence of the dead in the
pallor of her cheeks, the wrinkles in her eyelids, the white
streaks in her hair. He disputes her with me from the darkness of
his coffin; he takes her from me, hour by hour, and I am powerless
against that love. If I were to tell her, as I would like to tell
her, all the truth, from the hideous crime which he committed, down
to the execution carried out by me, it is I whom she would hate,
for having killed him. She will grow old thus and I shall see her
weep, always, always-- What good is it to have done what I did,
since I have not killed him in her heart?



Anonymous


The Last of the Costellos


After several years' service on the staff of a great daily
newspaper in San Francisco, Gerald Ffrench returned to his home in
Ireland to enjoy a three months' vacation. A brief visit, when the
time consumed in traveling was deducted, and the young journalist,
on this January afternoon, realized that it was nearly over, and
that his further stay in the country of his birth was now to be
reckoned by days.

He had been spending an hour with his old friend, Dr. Lynn, and the
clergyman accompanied him to the foot of the rectory lawn, and
thence, through a wicket gate that opened upon the churchyard,
along the narrow path among the graves. It was an obscure little
country burying-ground, and very ancient. The grass sprang
luxuriant from the mouldering dust of three hundred years; for so
long at least had these few acres been consecrated to their present
purpose.

"Well, I won't go any further," says Dr. Lynn, halting at the
boundary wall, spanned by a ladder-like flight of wooden steps
which connected the churchyard with the little bye-road. "I'll say
good evening, Gerald, and assure you I appreciate your kindness in
coming over to see a stupid old man."

"I would not hear thine enemy say that," quoted Gerald with a light
laugh. "I hope to spend another day as pleasantly before I turn my
back on old Ireland." He ran up the steps as he spoke and stood on
the top of the wall, looking back to wave a last greeting before he
descended. Suddenly he stopped.

"What's that?" he asked, pointing down among the graves.

The rector turned, but the tall grass and taller nettles concealed
from his view the object, whatever it might be, which Gerald had
seen from his temporary elevation.

"It looks like a coffin," and coming rapidly down again the young
man pushed his way through the rank growth. The clergyman
followed.

In a little depression between the mounds of two graves lay a plain
coffin of stained wood. It was closed, but an attempt to move it
showed that it was not empty. A nearer inspection revealed that
the lid was not screwed down in the usual manner, but hastily
fastened with nails. Dr. Lynn and Gerald looked at each other.
There was something mysterious in the presence of this coffin above
ground.

"Has there been a funeral--interrupted--or anything of that kind?"
asked Gerald.

"Nothing of the sort. I wish Bolan were here. He might have
something to say about it."

Bolan was the sexton. Gerald knew where he lived, within a stone's
throw of the spot, and volunteered to fetch him. Dr. Lynn looked
all over the sinister black box, but no plate or mark of any kind
rewarded his search. Meanwhile, young Ffrench sped along the lower
road to Bolan's house.

The sexton was in, just preparing for a smoke in company with the
local blacksmith, when Gerald entered with the news of the uncanny
discovery in the churchyard. Eleven young Bolans, grouped around
the turf fire, drank in the intelligence and instantly scattered to
spread the report in eleven different directions. A tale confided
to the Bolan household was confided to rumor.

Blacksmith and sexton rose together and accompanied Gerald to the
spot where he had left Dr. Lynn, but Dr. Lynn was no longer alone.
The rector had heard steps in the road; it was a constabulary
patrol on its round, and the old gentleman's hail had brought two
policemen to his side. There they stood, profoundly puzzled and
completely in the dark, except for the light given by their bull's-
eye lanterns. But the glare of these lanterns had been seen from
the road. Some people shunned them, as lights in a graveyard
should always be shunned; but others, hearing voices, had suffered
their curiosity to overcome their misgivings, and were gathered
around, silent, open-mouthed, wondering. So stood the group when
Gerald and his companions joined it.

In reply to general questions Bolan was dumb. In reply to
particular interrogations he did not hesitate to admit that he was
"clane bate." Gerald, seeing that no one had ventured to touch the
grim casket, hinted that it would be well to open it. There was a
dubious murmur from the crowd and a glance at the constables as the
visible representatives of the powers that be. The officers
tightened their belts and seemed undecided, and Dr. Lynn took the
lead with a clear, distinct order, "Take off the lid, Andy," he
said.

"An' why not? Isn't his riverince a magistrate? Go in, Andy, yer
sowl ye, and off wid it." Thus the crowd.

So encouraged, the blacksmith stepped forward. Without much
difficulty he burst the insecure fastenings and removed the lid.
The constables turned their bull's-eyes on the inside of the
coffin. The crowd pressed forward, Gerald in the front rank.

There was an occupant. A young girl, white with the pallor of
death, lay under the light of the lanterns. The face was as placid
and composed as if she had just fallen asleep, and it was a
handsome face with regular features and strongly defined black
eyebrows. The form was fully dressed, and the clothes seemed
expensive and fashionable. A few raven locks straggled out from
beneath a lace scarf which was tied around the head. The hands,
crossed below the breast, were neatly gloved. There she lay, a
mystery, for not one of those present had ever seen her face
before.

Murmurs of wonder and sympathy went up from the bystanders. "Ah,
the poor thing!" "Isn't she purty?" "So young, too!" "Musha,
it's the beautiful angel she is be this time."

"Does anyone know her?" asked the rector; and then, as there was no
reply, he put a question that was destined for many a day to
agitate the neighborhood of Drim, and ring through the length and
breadth of Ireland--"How did she come here?"

The investigation made at the moment was unsatisfactory. The grass
on all sides had been trampled and pressed down by the curious
throng, and such tracks as the coffin-bearers had made were
completely obliterated. It was clearly a case for the coroner, and
when that official arrived and took charge the crowd slowly
dispersed.

The inquest furnished no new light. Medical testimony swept away
the theory of murder, for death was proved to have resulted from
organic disease of the heart. The coffin might have been placed
where it was found at any time within thirty-six hours, for it
could not be shown that anyone had crossed the churchyard path
since the morning previous, and indeed a dozen might have passed
that way without noticing that which Gerald only discovered through
the accident of having looked back at the moment that he mounted
the wall. Still, it did not seem likely that an object of such
size could have lain long unnoticed, and the doctors were of
opinion that the woman had been alive twenty-four hours before her
body was found.

In the absence of suspicion of any crime--and the medical
examination furnished none--interest centered in the question of
identity; and this was sufficiently puzzling.

The story got into the newspapers--into the Dublin papers;
afterwards into the great London journals, and was widely discussed
under the title of "The Drim Churchyard Mystery," but all this
publicity and a thorough investigation of the few available clues
led to nothing. No one was missing; widely distributed photographs
of the deceased found no recognition; and the quest was finally
abandoned even in the immediate neighborhood. The unknown dead
slept beneath the very sod on which they had found her.

Gerald Ffrench, who, like most good journalists, had a strongly
developed detective instinct, alone kept the mystery in mind and
worked at it incessantly. He devoted the few remaining days of his
stay in Ireland to a patient, systematic inquiry, starting from the
clues that had developed at the inquest. He had provided himself
with a good photograph of the dead girl, and a minute, carefully
written description of her apparel, from the lace scarf which had
been wound round her head to the dainty little French boots on her
feet. The first examination had produced no result. Railway
officials and hotel-keepers, supplied with the photographs, could
not say that they had ever seen the original in life. Even the
coffin, a cheap, ready-made affair, could be traced to no local
dealer in such wares. A chatelaine bag, slung round the waist of
the dead girl, had evidently been marked with initials, for the
leather showed the holes in which the letters had been fastened,
and the traces of the knife employed in their hurried removal. But
the pretty feminine trifle was empty, and in its present condition
had nothing to suggest save that a determined effort had been made
to hide the identity of the dead. The linen on the corpse was new
and of good material, but utterly without mark. Only a
handkerchief which was found in the pocket bore a coat of arms
exquisitely embroidered on the corner.

The shield showed the head and shoulders of a knight with visor
closed, party per fess on counter-vair. Gerald, whose smattering
of heraldry told him so much, could not be sure that the lines of
the embroidery properly indicated the colors of the shield; but he
was sanguine that a device so unusual would be recognized by the
learned in such matters, and, having carefully sketched it, he sent
a copy to the Heralds' College, preserving the original drawing for
his own use. The handkerchief itself, with the other things found
on the body, was of course beyond his reach.

The answer from the Heralds' College arrived a day or two before
the approaching close of his vacation forced Gerald to leave
Ireland, but the information furnished served only to make the
mystery deeper.

The arms had been readily recognized from his sketch, and the
college, in return for his fee, had furnished him with an
illuminated drawing, showing that the embroidery had been accurate.
The shield was party per fess, argent above, azure below, and from
this Gerald concluded that the handkerchief had been marked by
someone accustomed to blazonries; he thought it likely that the
work had been done in a French convent. The motto, Nemo me impune
lacessit, appeared below. The bearings and cognizance were those
of the noble family of Costello, which had left Ireland about the
middle of the seventeenth century and had settled in Spain. The
last representative had fallen some sixty years ago at the battle
of Vittoria, in the Peninsular war, and the name was now extinct.
So pronounced the unimpeachable authority of the Heralds' College.

And yet Gerald had seen those very arms embroidered on a
handkerchief which had been found in the pocket of a nameless girl,
whose corpse he himself had been the first to discover some two
weeks before, in the lonely little burying-ground at Drim. What
was he to think? Through what strange, undreamed-of ramifications
was this affair to be pursued?

The day before his departure, Ffrench walked over to the rectory to
say good-bye to Dr. Lynn. Gerald knew that the rector was an
authority in county history, and thought it possible that the old
gentleman could tell him something about the Costellos, a name
linked with many a Westmeath tradition. He was not disappointed,
and the mystery he was investigating took on a new interest from
what he heard. The Costellos had been one of the midland
chieftains in Cromwell's time; the clan had offered the most
determined resistance, and it had been extirpated root and branch
by the Protector. The Ffrench estate of Ballyvore had once formed
portion of the Costello property, and had been purchased by
Gerald's ancestor from the Cromwellian Puritan to whom it had been
granted on confiscation.

The young man was now deeply interested in the inquiry, and to it
he devoted every movement of the time he could still call his own.

But the last day of Gerald's visit slipped away without result, and
one fine morning Larry, his brother's servant, drove him into
Athlone to take the train for Queenstown.

"Ye'll not be lettin' another six years go by without comin' home
agen, will ye, sir?" said the groom, who was really concerned at
Gerald's departure.

"I don't know," answered Gerald; "it all depends. Say, Larry!"

"Sir."

"Keep an eye out, and if anything turns up about that dead girl,
let me know, won't you?" Ffrench had already made a similar
request of his brother, but he was determined to leave no chance
untried.

"An' are ye thinkin' of that yet, an' you goin' to America?" said
Larry with admiring wonder.

"Of course I'm thinking of it. I can't get it out of my head,"
replied Gerald impatiently.

"Well, well d'ye mind that now?" said the groom meditatively.
"Well, sir, if anything does turn up, I'll let ye know, never fear;
but sure she's underground now, an' if we'd been goin' to larn
anything about the matter, we'd ha' had it long ago."

Gerald shook hands with the faithful Larry at parting, and left a
sovereign in his palm.

The groom watched the train moving slowly out of the station.

"It's a mortal pity to see a fine young jintleman like that so far
gone in love with a dead girl."

This was Larry's comment on his young master's detective tastes.

At Queenstown Ffrench bought a paper and looked over it while the
tender was carrying him, in company with many a weeping emigrant,
to the great steamer out in the bay. From time to time the
journals still contained references to the subject which was
uppermost in Gerald's thoughts. The familiar words, "The Drim
Churchyard Mystery," caught his eye, and he read a brief paragraph,
which had nothing to say except that all investigations had failed
to throw any light on the strange business.

"Ay, and will fail," he mused, as the tender came alongside the
steamer; "at any rate, if anything is found out it won't be by me,
for I shall be in California, and I can scarcely run across any
clues there."

And yet, as Gerald paced the deck, and watched the bleak shores of
Cork fading in the distance, his thoughts were full of the banished
Costellos, and he wondered with what eyes those exiles had looked
their last on the Old Head of Kinsale a quarter of a millennium
ago. Those fierce old chieftains, to whom the Ffrenches--proud
county family as they esteemed themselves--were but as mushrooms;
what lives had they lived, what deaths had they died, and how came
their haughty cognizance, so well expressing its defiant motto, on
the handkerchief of the nameless stranger who slept in Drim
churchyard--Drim, the old, old graveyard; Drim, that had been
fenced in as God's acre in the days of the Costellos themselves?
Was it mere chance that had selected this spot as the last resting-
place of one who bore the arms of the race? Was it possible the
girl had shared the Costello blood?

Gerald glanced over his letter from the Heralds' College and shook
his head. The family had been extinct for more than sixty years.

About two months after Gerald's return to California a despatch was
received from the Evening Mail's regular correspondent in
Marysville, relating the particulars of an encounter between the
Mexican holders of a large ranch in Yuba County and certain
American land-grabbers who had set up a claim to a portion of the
estate. The matter was in course of adjudication in the Marysville
courts, but the claimants, impatient at the slow process of the
law, had endeavored to seize the disputed land by force. Shots had
been fired, blood had been spilled, and the whole affair added
nothing to Yuba County's reputation for law and order. The matter
created some talk in San Francisco, and the Evening Mail, among
other papers, expressed its opinion in one of those trenchant
personal articles which are the spice of Western journalism. Two
or three days later, when the incident had been almost forgotten in
the office, the city editor sent for Gerald Ffrench.

"Ffrench," said that gentleman, as the young man approached his
desk, "I've just received a letter from Don Miguel y--y--something
or other. I can't read his whole name, and it don't matter much.
It's Vincenza, you know, the owner of that ranch where they had the
shooting scrape the other day. He is anxious to make a statement
of the matter for publication, and has come down to the Bay on
purpose. Suppose you go and see what he has to say? He's staying
at the Lick."

The same morning Gerald sent up his card and was ushered into the
apartment of Don Miguel Vincenza at the Lick House.

The senor was a young man, not much older than Gerald himself. He
had the appearance and manners of a gentleman, as Ffrench quickly
discovered, and he spoke fluent, well-chosen English with scarcely
a trace of accent, a circumstance for which the interviewer felt he
could not be sufficiently grateful.

"Ah, you are from the Evening Mail," said the young Spaniard,
rising as Gerald entered; "most kind of you to come, and to come so
promptly. Won't you be seated? Try a cigar. No? You'll excuse
me if I light a cigarette. I want to make myself clear, and I'm
always clearest when I'm in a cloud." He gave a little laugh, and
with one twirl of his slender fingers he converted a morsel of
tissue paper and a pinch of tobacco into a compact roll, which he
lighted, and exhausted in half-a-dozen puffs as he spoke.

"This man, this Jenkinson's claim is perfectly preposterous," he
began, "but I won't go into that. The matter is before the courts.
What I want to give you is a true statement of that unfortunate
affair at the ranch, with which, I beg you to believe, I had
nothing whatever to do."

Senor Vincenza's tale might have had the merit of truth; it
certainly lacked that of brevity. He talked on, rolling a fresh
cigarette at every second sentence, and Gerald made notes of such
points as he considered important, but at the conclusion of the
Spaniard's statement the journalist could not see that it had
differed much from the published accounts, and he told the other as
much.

"Well, you see," said Vincenza, "I am in a delicate position. It
is not as if I were acting for myself. I am only my sister's
agent--my half-sister's, I should say--poor little Catalina;" and
the speaker broke off with a sigh and rolled a fresh cigarette
before he resumed.

"It's her property, all of it, and I cannot bear to have her
misrepresented in any way."

"I understand," said Gerald, making a note of the fact. "The
property, I suppose, passed to your sister from--"

"From her father. I was in the land of the living some years
before he met and wooed and won my widowed mother. They are both
dead now, and Catalina has none but myself to look out for her,
except distant relatives on the father's side, who will inherit the
property if she dies unmarried, and whom she cordially detests."

Gerald was not particularly romantic, but the idea of this fair
young Spaniard, owner of one of the finest ranches in Yuba County,
unmarried, and handsome too, if she were anything like her mother,
inflamed his imagination a little. He shook hands cordially with
the young man as he rose to go, and could not help wishing they
were better acquainted.

"You may be sure I will publish your statement exactly as you have
given it to me, and as fully as possible," said Gerald. Before the
young heiress had been mentioned, the journalist had scarcely seen
material enough in the interview for a paragraph.

It is fair to presume that Senor Vincenza was satisfied with the
treatment he received in the Evening Mail, for a polite note
conveyed to Ffrench the expression of his thanks. So that incident
passed into the limbo of forgetfulness, though Gerald afterwards
took more interest in the newspaper paragraphs, often scant enough,
which told of the progress of the great land case in the Marysville
courts.

A curt despatch, worded with that exasperating brevity which is a
peculiarity of all but the most important telegrams, wound up the
matter with an announcement that a decision had been reached in
favor of the defendant, and that Mr. Isaac Hall, of the law firm of
Hall and McGowan, had returned to San Francisco, having conducted
the case to a successful issue. Gerald was pleased to hear that
the young lady had been sustained in her rights, and determined to
interview Mr. Hall, with whom he was well acquainted. Accordingly,
after two or three unsuccessful attempts, he managed to catch the
busy lawyer with half an hour's spare time on his hands, and well
enough disposed to welcome his young friend.

"Mr. Hall," said Gerald, dropping into the spare chair in the
attorney's private room, "I want to ask you a few questions about
that Marysville land case."

"Fire ahead, my boy; I can give you twenty minutes," answered the
lawyer, who was disposed to make a great deal more of the victory
he had won than the newspapers had hitherto done, and who was
consequently by no means averse from an interview. "What do you
want to know?"

"Hard fight, wasn't it?" asked the journalist.

"Yes," replied Mr. Hall, "tough in a way; but we had right on our
side as well as possession. A good lawyer ought always to win when
he has those; to beat law and facts and everything else is harder
scratching; though I've done that too," and the old gentleman
chuckled as if well satisfied with himself.

"That's what your opponents had to do here, I suppose?" remarked
Gerald, echoing the other's laugh.

"Pretty much, only they didn't do it," said the lawyer.

"I met Vincenza when he was down last month," pursued Gerald. "He
seems a decentish sort of a fellow for a greaser."

"He's no greaser; he's a pure-blooded Castilian, and very much of
the gentleman," answered Hall.

"So I found him," said Gerald. "I only used the 'greaser' as a
generic term. He talks English as well as I do."

"That's a great compliment from an Irishman," remarked Mr. Hall
with another chuckle.

"I suppose the sister's just as nice in her own way," went on
Gerald, seeing an opportunity to satisfy a certain curiosity he had
felt about the heiress since he first heard of her existence. "Did
she make a good witness?"

"Who? What sister? What the deuce are you talking about?" asked
the lawyer.

"Why, Vincenza's sister, half-sister, whatever she is. I
understood from him that she was the real owner of the property."

"Oh, ay, to be sure," said Mr. Hall slowly; "these details escape
one. Vincenza was my client; he acts for the girl under power of
attorney, and really her name has hardly come up since the very
beginning of the case."

"You didn't see her, then?" said Gerald, conscious of a vague sense
of disappointment.

"See her?" repeated the lawyer. "No; how could I? She's in Europe
for educational advantages--at a convent somewhere, I believe."

"Oh," said Gerald, "a child, is she? I had fancied, I don't know
why, that she was a grown-up young lady."

"I couldn't tell you what her age is, but it must be over twenty-
one or she couldn't have executed the power of attorney, and that
was looked into at the start and found quite regular."

"I see," replied Gerald slowly; but the topic had started Mr. Hall
on a fresh trail, and he broke in--

"And it was the only thing in order in the whole business. Do you
know we came within an ace of losing, all through their confounded
careless way of keeping their papers?"

"How did they keep them?" inquired Gerald listlessly. The suit
appeared to be a commonplace one, and the young man's interest
began to wane.

"They didn't keep them at all," exclaimed Mr. Hall indignantly.
"Fancy, the original deed--the old Spanish grant--the very keystone
of our case, was not to be found till the last moment, and then
only by the merest accident, and where do you suppose it was?"

"I haven't an idea," answered Gerald, stifling a yawn.

"At the back of an old print of the Madonna. It had been framed
and hung up as an ornament, I suppose, Heaven knows when; and by-
and-by some smart Aleck came along and thought the mother and child
superior as a work of art and slapped it into the frame over the
deed, and there it has hung for ten years anyhow."

"That's really very curious," said Gerald, whose attention began to
revive as he saw a possible column to be compiled on the details of
the case that had seemed so uninteresting to his contemporaries.

"Curious! I call it sinful--positively wicked," said the old
gentleman wrathfully. "Just fancy two hundred thousand dollars
hanging on the accident of finding a parchment in such a place as
that."

"How did you happen to find it?" asked Gerald. "I should never
have thought of looking for it there."

"No; nor any other sane man," sputtered the lawyer, irritated, as
he recalled the anxiety the missing deed had caused him. "It was
found by accident, I tell you. Some blundering, awkward, heaven-
guided servant knocked the picture down and broke the frame. The
Madonna was removed, and the missing paper came to light."

"And that was the turning-point of the case. Very interesting
indeed," said Gerald, who saw in the working out of this legal
romance a bit of detective writing such as his soul loved. "I
suppose they'll have sense enough to put it in a safer place next
time?"

"I will, you may bet your life. I've taken charge of all the
family documents; and if they get away from me, they'll do
something that nothing's ever done before;" and the old lawyer
chuckled with renewed satisfaction as he pointed to the massive
safe in a corner of the office.

"So the deed is there, is it?" asked Gerald, following Mr. Hall's
eyes.

"Yes, it's there. A curious old document too; one of the oldest
grants I have ever come across. Would you like to see it?" and the
lawyer rose and opened the safe.

It was a curious old document drawn up in curious old Spanish, on
an old discolored piece of parchment. The body of the instrument
was unintelligible to Ffrench, but down in one corner was something
that riveted his attention in a moment and seemed to make his heart
stand still.

There was a signature in old-fashioned angular handwriting,
Rodriguez Costello y Ugarte, and opposite to it a large, spreading
seal. The impression showed a knight's head and shoulders in full
armor, below it the motto, Nemo me impune lacessit, and a shield of
arms, party per fess, azure below, argent above, counter-vair on
the argent. Point for point the identical blazonry which Ffrench
had received from the Heralds' College in England--the shield that
he had first seen embroidered on the dead girl's handkerchief at
Drim.

"What's the matter with you? Didn't you ever see an old Spanish
deed before, or has it any of the properties of Medusa's head?"
inquired Mr. Hall, noticing Gerald's start of amazement and intent
scrutiny of the seal.

"I've seen these arms before," said the young man slowly. "But the
name--" He placed his finger on the signature. "Of course, I knew
Vincenza's name must be different from his half-sister's; but is
that hers?"

"Ugarte? Yes," said the lawyer, glancing at the parchment.

"I mean the whole name," and Gerald pointed again.

"Costello!" Mr. Hall gave the word its Spanish pronunciation,
"Costelyo," and it sounded strange and foreign in the young man's
ears. "Costello, yes, I suppose so; but I don't try to keep track
of more of these Spaniards' titles than is absolutely necessary."

"But Costello is an Irish name," said Gerald.

"Is it? You ought to know. Well Costelyo is Spanish; and now, my
dear boy, I must positively turn you out."

Gerald went straight home without returning to the office.

He unlocked his desk, and took from it the two results of his first
essay in detective craft. Silently he laid them side by side and
scrutinized each closely in turn. The pale, set face of the
beautiful dead, as reproduced by the photographer's art, told him
nothing. He strove to trace some resemblance, to awaken some
memory, by long gazing at the passionless features, but it was in
vain. Then he turned to the illuminated shield. Every line was
familiar to him, and a glance sufficed. It was identical in all
respects with the arms on the seal. Of this he had been already
convinced, and his recollection had not betrayed him. Then he
placed the two--the piteous photograph and the proud blazonry--in
his pocket-book, and left the room. The same evening he took his
place on the Sacramento train en route for Marysville.

When Gerald reached San Luis, the postoffice address of the Ugarte
ranch, a disappointment awaited him. Evening was falling, and
inquiry elicited the fact that Don Vincenza's residence was still
twelve miles distant. Ffrench, after his drive of eighteen miles
over the dusty road from Marysville, was little inclined to go
further, so he put up his horse at a livery stable, resolved to
make the best of such accommodations as San Luis afforded.

The face of the man who took the reins when Ffrench alighted seemed
familiar. The young fellow looked closer at him, and it was
evident the recognition was mutual, for the stableman accosted him
by name, and in the broad, familiar dialect of western Leinster.

"May I niver ate another bit if it isn't Masther Gerald Ffrench!"
he said. "Well, well, well, but it's good for sore eyes to see ye.
Come out here, Steve, an' take the team. Jump down, Masther
Gerald, an' stretch yer legs a bit. It's kilt ye are entirely."

A swarthy little Mexican appeared, and led the tired horses into
the stable. Then the young journalist took a good look at the man
who seemed to know him so well, and endeavored, as the phrase goes,
to "place him."

"Ye don't mind me, yer honor, an' how wud ye? But I mind yersilf
well. Sure it's often I've druv ye and Mr. Edward too. I used to
wurruk for Mr. Ross of Mullinger. I was Denny the postboy--Denis
Driscoll, yer honor; sure ye must know me?"

"Oh yes, to be sure--I remember," said Gerald, as recollection
slowly dawned upon him. "But who'd have thought of finding you in
a place like this? I didn't even know you'd left Ross's stables."

"Six or siven months ago, yer honor."

"And have you been here ever since? I hope you are doing well,"
said Gerald.

"Iver since, sor, an' doin' finely, wid the blessin' o' God. I own
that place," pointing to the stable, "an' four as good turnouts as
ye'd ax to sit behind."

"I'm glad of it," said Gerald heartily. "I like to hear of the
boys from the old neighborhood doing well."

"Won't ye step inside, sor, an' thry a drop of something? Ye must
be choked intirely wid the dust."

"I don't care if I do," answered Gerald. "I feel pretty much as if
I'd swallowed a limekiln."

A minute later the two were seated in Denny's own particular room,
where Gerald washed the dust from his throat with some capital
bottled beer, while his host paid attention to a large demijohn
which contained, as he informed the journalist in an impressive
whisper, "close on to a gallon of the real ould stuff."

Their conversation extended far into the night; but long before
they separated Gerald induced Denny to despatch his Mexican helper,
on a good mustang, to the Ugarte ranch, bearing to Senor Vincenza
Mr. Ffrench's card, on which were penciled the words: "Please come
over to San Luis as soon as possible. Most important business."

For the tale told by the ex-postboy, his change of residence and
present prosperity, seemed to throw a curious light on the Drim
churchyard mystery.

Senor Vincenza appeared the following morning just as Gerald had
finished breakfast. The ranchero remembered the representative of
the Evening Mail and greeted him cordially, expressing his surprise
at Gerald's presence in that part of the country. The Spaniard
evidently imagined that this unexpected visit had some bearing on
the recently decided lawsuit, but the other's first words dispelled
the illusion.

"Senor Vincenza," Ffrench said, "I have heard a very strange story
about your sister, and I have come to ask you for an explanation of
it."

The young Spaniard changed color and looked uneasily at the
journalist.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "I do not understand you. My sister
is in Europe."

"Yes," answered Gerald, "she is in Europe--in Ireland. She fills a
nameless grave in Drim churchyard."

Vincenza leaped to his feet, and the cigarette he had lighted
dropped from his fingers. They were in Gerald's room at the hotel,
and the young man had placed his visitor so that the table was
between them. He suspected that he might have to deal with a
desperate man. Vincenza leaned over the narrow table, and his
breath blew hot in Ffrench's face as he hissed, "Carambo! What do
you mean? How much do you know?"

"I know everything. I know how she died in the carriage on your
way from Mullingar; how you purchased a coffin and bribed the
undertaker to silence; how you laid her, in the dead of night,
among the weeds in the graveyard; how you cut her name from the
chatelaine bag, and did all in your power to hide her identity,
even carrying off with you the postboy who drove you and aided you
to place her where she was found. Do you recognize that
photograph? Have you ever seen that coat-of-arms before?" and
Ffrench drew the two cards from his pocket and offered them to
Vincenza.

The Spaniard brushed them impatiently aside and crouched for a
moment as if to spring. Gerald never took his eyes off him, and
presently the other straightened up, and, sinking into the chair
behind him, attempted to roll a cigarette. But his hand trembled,
and half the tobacco was spilled on the floor.

"You know a great deal, Mr. Gerald Ffrench. Do you accuse me of my
sister's murder?"

"No," answered Gerald. "She died from natural causes. But I do
accuse you of fraudulently withholding this property from its
rightful owners, and of acting on a power of attorney which has
been cancelled by the death of the giver."

There was a moment's silence, broken only by a muttered oath from
Vincenza as he threw the unfinished cigarette to the ground, and
began to roll another, this time with better success. It was not
till it was fairly alight that he spoke again.

Listen to me, young man," he said, "and then judge me as you hope
to be judged hereafter--with mercy. My sister was very dear to me;
I loved her, O God, how I loved her!" His voice broke, and Gerald,
recalling certain details of Denny's narrative, felt that the
Spaniard was speaking the truth. It was nearly a minute before
Vincenza recovered his self-command and resumed.

"Yes, we were very dear to each other; brought up as brother and
sister, how could we fail to be? But her father never liked me,
and he placed restrictions upon the fortune he left her so that it
could never come to me. My mother--our mother--had died some years
before. Well, Catalina was wealthy; I was a pauper, but that made
no difference while she lived. We were as happy and fond a brother
and sister as the sun ever shone upon. When she came of age she
executed the power of attorney that gave me the charge of her
estate. She was anxious to spend a few years in Europe. I was to
take her over, and after we had traveled a little she was to go to
a convent in France and spend some time there while I returned
home. But she was one of the old Costellos, and she was anxious to
visit the ancient home of her race. That was what brought us to
Ireland."

"I thought the Costello family was extinct," said Gerald.

"The European branch has been extinct since 1813, when Don Lopez
Costello fell at Vittoria; but the younger branch, which settled in
Mexico towards the end of the eighteenth century, survived until a
few months ago--until Catalina's death, in fact, for she was the
last of the Costellos."

"I see," said Gerald; "go on."

"She was very proud of the name, poor Catalina, and she made me
promise in case anything happened to her while we were abroad that
she should be laid in the ancient grave of her race--in the
churchyard of Drim. She had a weak heart, and she knew that she
might die suddenly. I promised. And it was on our way to the spot
she was so anxious to visit that death claimed her, only a few
miles from the place where her ancestors had lived in the old days,
and where all that remains of them has long mouldered to dust. So
you see, Mr. Ffrench, that I had no choice but to lay her there."

"That is not the point," said Gerald; "why this secrecy? Why this
flight? Dr. Lynn, I am sure, would have enabled you to obey your
sister's request in the full light of day; you need not have thrown
her coffin on the ground and left to strangers the task of doing
for the poor girl the last duties of civilization." Gerald spoke
with indignant heat, for this looked to him like the cruellest
desertion.

"I know how it must seem to you," said Vincenza, "and I have no
excuse to offer for my conduct but this. My sister's death would
have given all she possessed to people whom she disliked. It would
have thrown me, whom she loved, penniless on the world. I acted as
if she were still living, and as I am sure she would have wished me
to act; no defence, I know, in your eyes, but consider the
temptation."

"And did you not realize that all this must come out some day?"
asked Ffrench.

"Yes, but not for several years. Indeed, I cannot imagine how it
is that you have stumbled on the truth."

And Gerald, remembering the extraordinary chain of circumstances
which had led him to the root of the mystery, could not but
acknowledge that, humanly speaking, Vincenza's confidence was
justified.

"And now you have found this out, what use do you intend to make of
it?" asked the Spaniard after a pause.

"I shall publish the whole story as soon as I return to San
Francisco," answered Gerald promptly.

"So for a few hundred dollars, which is all that you can possibly
get out of it, you will make a beggar of me."

"Right is right," said the young Irishman. "This property does not
belong to you."

"Will you hold your tongue--or your pen--for fifty thousand
dollars?" asked the Spaniard eagerly.

"No, nor for every dollar you have in the world. I don't approve
your practice and I won't share your plunder. I am sorry for you
personally, but I can't help that. I won't oust you. I will make
such use of the story as any newspaper man would make, and so I
give you fair warning. You may save yourself if you can."

"Then you do not intend to communicate with the heirs?" began
Vincenza eagerly.

"I neither know nor care who they are," interrupted Gerald. "I am
not a detective, save in the way of my profession, and I shall
certainly not tell what I have discovered to any individual till I
give it to the press."

"And that will be?" asked the Spaniard.

"As soon as I return to San Francisco," answered Ffrench. "It may
appear in a week or ten days."

"Thank you, senor; good morning," said Vincenza, rising and leaving
the room.

Three days later Senor Miguel Vincenza sailed on the outgoing
Pacific mail steamer bound for Japan and China. He probably took a
considerable sum of money with him, for the heirs of Catalina
Costello y Ugarte found the affairs of the deceased in a very
tangled state, and the ranch was mortgaged for nearly half its
value.

Gerald Ffrench's story occupied four pages of the next issue of the
Golden Fleece, and was widely copied and commented on over two
continents. Larry, the groom at Ballyvire, read the account in his
favorite Westmeath Sentinel, and as he laid the paper down
exclaimed in wonder--

"Begob, he found her!"



Lady Betty's Indiscretion


"Horry! I am sick to death of it!"

There was a servant in the room gathering the tea-cups; but Lady
Betty Stafford, having been brought up in the purple, was not to be
deterred from speaking her mind by a servant. Her cousin was
either more prudent or less vivacious; he did not answer on the
instant, but stood looking through one of the windows at the
leafless trees and slow-dropping rain in the Mall, and only turned
when Lady Betty pettishly repeated her statement.

"Had a bad time?" he then vouchsafed, dropping into a chair near
her, and looking first at her, in a good-natured way, and then at
his boots, which he seemed to approve.

"Horrid!" she replied.

"Many people here?"

"Hordes of them! Whole tribes!" she exclaimed. She was a little
lady, plump and pretty, with a pale, clear complexion, and bright
eyes. "I am bored beyond belief. And--and I have not seen
Stafford since morning," she added.

"Cabinet council?"

"Yes!" she answered viciously. "A cabinet council, and a privy
council, and a board of trade, and a board of green cloth, and all
the other boards! Horry, I am sick to death of it! What is the
use of it all?"

"Country go to the dogs!" he said oracularly, still admiring his
boots.

"Let it!" she retorted, not relenting a whit. " I wish it would; I
wish the dogs joy of it!"

He made an extraordinary effort at diffuseness. "I thought," he
said, "that you were becoming political, Betty. Going to write
something, and all that."

"Rubbish! But here is Mr. Atley. Mr. Atley, will you have a cup
of tea," she continued, speaking to the newcomer. "There will be
some here presently. Where is Mr. Stafford?"

"Mr. Stafford will take a cup of tea in the library, Lady Betty,"
replied the secretary. "He asked me to bring it to him. He is
copying an important paper."

Sir Horace forsook his boots, and in a fit of momentary interest
asked, "They have come to terms?"

The secretary nodded. Lady Betty said "Pshaw!" A man brought in
the fresh teapot. The next moment Mr. Stafford himself came
quickly into the room, an open telegram in his hand.

He nodded pleasantly to his wife and her cousin. But his thin,
dark face wore--it generally did--a preoccupied look. Country
people to whom he was pointed out in the streets called him,
according to their political leanings, either insignificant, or a
prig, or a "dry sort;" or sometimes said, "How young he is!" But
those whose fate it was to face the Minister in the House knew that
there was something in him more to be feared even than his
imperturability, his honesty, or his precision--and that was a
certain sudden warmth, which was apt to carry away the House at
unexpected times. On one of these occasions, it was rumored, Lady
Betty Champion had seen him, and fallen in love with him. Why he
had thrown the handkerchief to her--well that was another matter;
and whether the apparently incongruous match would answer--that,
too, remained to be seen.

"More telegrams?" she cried now. "It rains telegrams! how I hate
them!"

"Why?" he said. "Why should you?" He really wondered.

She made a face at him. "Here is your tea," she said abruptly.

"Thank you; you are very good," he replied. He took the cup and
set it down absently. "Atley," he continued, speaking to the
secretary, "you have not corrected the report of my speech at the
Club, have you? No, I know you have had no time. Will you run
your eye over it presently, and see if it is all right, and send it
to the Times--I do not think I need see it--by eleven o'clock at
latest. The editor," he added, tapping the pink paper in his hand,
"seemed to doubt us. I have to go to Fitzgerald's now, so you must
copy Lord Pilgrimstone's terms, too, please. I had meant to do it
myself, but I shall be with you before you have finished."

"What are the terms?" Lady Betty asked. "Lord Pilgrimstone has not
agreed to--"

"To permit me to communicate them?" he replied, with a grave smile.
"No. So you must pardon me, my dear, I have passed my word for
absolute secrecy. And, indeed, it is as important to me as to
Pilgrimstone that they should not be divulged."

"They are sure to leak out," she retorted. "They always do."

"Well, it will not be through me, I hope."

She stamped her foot on the carpet. "I should like to get them,
and send them to the Times!" she exclaimed, her eyes flashing--he
was so provoking! "And let all the world know them! I should!"

He looked his astonishment, while the other two laughed softly,
partly to avoid embarrassment, perhaps. My Lady often said these
things, and no one took them seriously.

"You had better play the secretary for once, Lady Betty," said
Atley, who was related to his chief. "You will then be able to
satisfy your curiosity. Shall I resign pro tem?"

She looked eagerly at her husband for the third part of a second--
looked for assent, perhaps. But she read no playfulness in his
face, and her own fell. He was thinking about other things. "No,"
she said, almost sullenly, dropping her eyes to the carpet; "I
should not spell well enough."

Soon after that they dispersed, this being Wednesday, Mr.
Stafford's day for dining out. Everyone knows that Ministers dine
only twice a week in session--on Wednesday and Sunday; and Sunday
is often sacred to the children where there are any, lest they
should grow up and not know their father by sight. Lady Betty came
into the library at a quarter to eight, and found her husband still
at his desk, a pile of papers before him waiting for his signature.
As a fact, he had only just sat down, displacing his secretary, who
had gone upstairs to dress.

"Stafford!" she said.

She did not seem quite at her ease, but his mind was troubled, and
he failed to notice this. "Yes, my dear," he answered politely,
shuffling the papers before him into a heap. He knew he was late,
and he could see that she was dressed. "Yes, I am going upstairs
this minute. I have not forgotten."

"It is not that," she said, leaning with one hand on the table; "I
only want to ask you--"

"My dear, you really must tell it to me in the carriage." He was
on his feet already, making some hasty preparations. "Where are we
to dine? At the Duke's? Then we shall have nearly a mile to
drive. Will not that do for you?" He was working hard while he
spoke. There was a great oak post-box within reach, and another
box for letters which were to be delivered by hand, and he was
thrusting a handful of notes into each of these. Other packets he
swept into different drawers of the table. Still standing, he
stooped and signed his name to half a dozen letters, which he left
open on the blotting-pad. "Atley will see to these when he is
dressed," he murmured. "Would you oblige me by locking the
drawers, my dear--it will save me a minute--and giving me the keys
when I come down?"

He was off then, two or three papers in his hand, and almost ran
upstairs. Lady Betty stood a moment on the spot on which he had
left her, looking in an odd way, just as if it were new to her,
round the grave, spacious room, with its somber Spanish-leather-
covered furniture, its ponderous writing-tables and shelves of
books, its three lofty curtained windows. When her eyes at last
came back to the lamp, and dwelt on it, they were very bright, and
her face was flushed. Her foot could be heard tapping on the
carpet. Presently she remembered herself and fell to work,
vehemently slamming such drawers as were open, and locking them.

The private secretary found her doing this when he came in. She
muttered something--still stooping with her face over the drawers--
and almost immediately went out. He looked after her, partly
because there was something odd in her manner--she kept her face
averted; and partly because she was wearing a new and striking
gown, and he admired her; and he noticed, as she passed through the
doorway, that she had some papers held down by her side. But, of
course, he thought nothing of this.

He was hopelessly late for his own dinner-party, and only stayed a
moment to slip the letters just signed into envelopes prepared for
them. Then he made hastily for the door, opened it, and came into
abrupt collision with Sir Horace, who was strolling in.

"Beg pardon!" said that gentleman, with irritating placidity.
"Late for dinner?"

"Rather!" cried the secretary, trying to get round him.

"Well," drawled the other, "which is the hand-box, old fellow?"

"It has just been cleared. Here, give it me. The messengers is in
the hall now."

And Atley snatched the letter from his companion, the two going out
into the hall together. Marcus, the butler, a couple of tall
footmen, and the messenger were sorting letters at the table.
"Here, Marcus," said the secretary, pitching his letter on the
slab, "let that go with the others. And is my hansom here?"

In another minute he was speeding one way, and the Staffords in
their brougham another, while Sir Horace walked at his leisure down
to his club. The Minister and his wife drove along in silence, for
he forgot to ask her what she wanted; and, strange to say, Lady
Betty forgot to tell him. At the party she made quite a sensation;
never had she seemed more recklessly gay, more piquant, more
audaciously witty, than she showed herself this evening. There
were illustrious personages present, but they paled beside her.
The Duke, with whom she was a great favorite, laughed at her
sallies until he could laugh no more; and even her husband, her
very husband, forgot for a time the country and the crisis, and
listened, half-proud and half-afraid. But she was not aware of
this; she could not see his face where she was sitting. To all
seeming, she never looked that way. She was quite a model society
wife.

Mr. Stafford himself was an early riser. It was his habit to be up
by six; to make his own coffee over a spirit lamp, and then not
only to get through much work in his dressing-room, but to take his
daily ride also before breakfast. On the morning after the Duke's
party, however, he lay later than usual; and as there was more
business to be done--owing to the crisis--the canter in the Park
had to be omitted. He was still among his papers--though
momentarily awaiting the breakfast-gong, when a hansom cab driven
at full speed stopped at the door. He glanced up wearily as he
heard the doors of the cab flung open with a crash. There had been
a time when the stir and bustle of such arrivals had been sweet to
him--not so sweet as to some, for he had never been deeply in love
with the parade of office--but sweeter than to-day, when they were
no more to him than the creaking of the mill to the camel that
turns it blindfold and in darkness.

Naturally he was thinking of Lord Pilgrimstone this morning, and
guessed, before he opened the note which the servant brought in to
him, who was its writer. But its contents had, nevertheless, an
electrical effect upon him. His brow reddened. With a quite
unusual display of emotion he sprang to his feet, crushing the
fragment of paper in his fingers. "Who brought this?" he asked
sharply. "Who brought it?" he repeated, before the servant could
explain.

The man had never seen him so moved. "Mr. Scratchley, sir," he
answered.

"Ha! Then, show him into the library," was the quick reply. And
while the servant went to do his bidding, the Minister hastily
changed his dressing-gown for a coat, and ran down a private
staircase, reaching the room he had mentioned by one door as Mr.
Scratchley, Lord Pilgrim-stone's secretary, entered in through
another.

By that time he had regained his composure, and looked much as
usual. Still, when he held up the crumpled note, there was a
brusqueness in the gesture which would have surprised his ordinary
acquaintances, and did remind Mr. Scratchley of certain "warm
nights" in the House. "You know the contents of this, Mr.
Scratchley?" he said without prelude, and in a tone which matched
his gesture.

The visitor bowed. He was a grave middle-aged man, who seemed
oppressed and burdened by the load of cares and responsibilities
which his smiling chief carried so jauntily. People said that he
was the proper complement of Lord Pilgrimstone, as the more
volatile Atley was of his leader.

"And you are aware," continued Mr. Stafford, still more harshly,
"that Lord Pilgrimstone gives yesterday's agreement to the winds?"

"I have never seen his lordship so deeply moved," replied the
discreet one.

"He says: 'Our former negotiation was ruined by premature talk, but
this last disclosure can only be referred to treachery or gross
carelessness.' What does this mean? I know of no disclosure, Mr.
Scratchley. I must have an explanation, and you, I presume, are
here to give me one."

For a moment the other seemed taken aback. "You have not seen the
Times?" he murmured.

"This morning's? No. But it is here."

He snatched it, as he spoke, from a table at his elbow, and
unfolded it. The secretary approached and pointed to the head of a
column--the most conspicuous, the column most readily to be found
in the paper. "They are crying it at every street corner I
passed," he added apologetically. "There is nothing to be heard in
St. James's Street and Pall Mall but 'Detailed Programme of the
Coalition.' The other dailies are striking off second editions to
contain it!"

Mr. Stafford's eyes were riveted to the paper, and there was a long
pause, a pause on his part of dismay and consternation. He could
scarcely--to repeat a common phrase--believe his eyes. "It seems,"
he muttered at length, "it seems fairly accurate--a tolerably
precise account, indeed."

"It is a verbatim copy," said the secretary drily. "The question
is, who furnished it. Lord Pilgrimstone, I am authorized to say,
has not permitted his note of the agreement to pass out of his
possession--even up to the present moment."

"And so he concludes," the Minister said thoughtfully--"it is a
fair inference enough, perhaps--that the Times must have procured
its information from my note?"

"No!" the secretary objected sharply and forcibly. "It is not a
matter of inference, Mr. Stafford. I am directed to say that. I
have inquired, early as it is, at the Times office, and learned
that the copy printed came directly from the hands of your
messenger."

"Of my messenger!" Mr. Stafford cried, thunderstruck. "You are
sure of that?"

"I am sure that the sub-editor says so."

And again there was silence. "This must be looked into," said Mr.
Stafford at length, controlling himself by an effort. "For the
present, I agree with Lord Pilgrimstone, that it alters the
position--and perhaps finally."

"Lord Pilgrimstone will be damaged in the eyes of a large section
of his supporters--seriously damaged," said Mr. Scratchley, shaking
his head, and frowning.

"Possibly. From every point of view the thing is to be deplored.
But I will call on Lord Pilgrimstone," continued the Minister,
"after lunch. Will you tell him so?"

A curious embarrassment showed itself in the secretary's manner.
He twisted his hat in his hands, and looked suddenly sick and sad--
as if he were about to join in the groan at a prayer-meeting.
"Lord Pilgrimstone," he said, in a voice he vainly strove to render
commonplace, "is going to Sandown Spring Meeting to-day."

The tone was really so lugubrious--to say nothing of a shake of the
head with which he could not help accompanying the statement--that
a faint smile played on Mr. Stafford's lip. "Then I must take the
next possible opportunity. I will see him to-morrow."

Mr. Scratchley assented to that, and bowed himself out, after
another word or two, looking more gloomy and careworn than usual.
The interview had not been altogether to his mind. He wished now
that he had spoken more roundly to Mr. Stafford; perhaps even asked
for a categorical denial of the charge. But the Minister's manner
had overawed him. He had found it impossible to put the question.
And then the pitiful degrading confession he had had to make for
Lord Pilgrimstone! That had put the coping-stone to his
dissatisfaction.

"Oh!" sighed Mr. Scratchley, as he stepped into his cab. "Oh, that
men so great should stoop to things so little!"

It did not occur to him that there is a condition of things even
more sad: when little men meddle with great things.

Meanwhile Mr. Stafford, left alone, stood at the window deep in
unpleasant thoughts, from which the entrance of the butler sent to
summon him to breakfast first aroused him. "Stay a moment,
Marcus!" he said, turning with a sigh, as the man was leaving the
room after doing his errand. "I want to ask you a question. Did
you make up the messenger's bag last evening?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you notice a letter addressed to the Times office?"

The servant had prepared himself to cogitate. But he found it
unnecessary. "Yes, sir," he replied smartly, "Two."

"Two?" repeated Mr. Stafford, dismay in his tone, though this was
just what he had reason to expect.

"Yes, sir. There was one I took from the band-box, and one Mr.
Atley gave me in the hall at the last moment," explained the
butler.

"Ha! Thank you, Marcus. Then ask Mr. Atley if he will kindly come
to me. No doubt he will be able to tell me what I want to know."

The words were commonplace, but the speaker's anxiety was so
evident that Marcus when he delivered the message--which he did
with all haste--added a word or two of warning. "It is about a
letter to the Times, sir, I think. Mr. Stafford seemed a good deal
put out," he said, confidentially.

"Indeed?" Atley replied. "I will go down." And he started at
once. But before he reached the library he met someone. Lady
Betty looked out of the breakfast-room, and saw him descending the
stairs with the butler behind him.

"Where is Mr. Stafford, Marcus?" she asked impatiently, as she
stood with her hand on the door. "Good morning, Mr. Atley," she
added, her eyes descending to him. "Where is my husband? The
coffee is getting quite cold."

"He has just sent to ask me to come to him," Atley answered.
"Marcus tells me there is something in the Times which has annoyed
him, Lady Betty; I will send him up as quickly as I can."

But Lady Betty had not stayed to receive this last assurance. She
had drawn back and shut the door smartly; yet not so quickly but
that the private secretary had seen her change color. "Umph!" he
ejaculated to himself--the lady was not much given to blushing as a
rule--"I wonder what is wrong with HER this morning. She is not
generally rude to me."

It was not long before he got some light on the matter. "Come
here, Atley," said his employer, the moment he entered the library.
"Look at this!"

The secretary took the Times, folded back at the important column,
and read the letter. Meanwhile the Minister read the secretary.
He saw surprise and consternation on his face, but no trace of
guilt. Then he told him what Marcus said about the two letters
which had gone the previous evening from the house addressed to the
Times office. "One," he said, "contained the notes of my speech.
The other--"

"The other--" replied the secretary, thinking while he spoke, "was
given to me at the last moment by Sir Horace. I threw it to Marcus
in the hall."

"Ah!" said his chief, trying very hard to express nothing by the
exclamation, but not quite succeeding. "Did you see that that
letter was addressed to the editor of the Times?"

The secretary reddened, and betrayed sudden confusion. "I did," he
said hurriedly. "I saw so much of the address as I threw the
letter on the slab--though I thought nothing of it at the time."

Mr. Stafford looked at him fixedly. "Come," he said, "this is a
grave matter, Atley. You noticed, I can see, the handwriting. Was
it Sir Horace's?"

"No," replied the secretary.

"Whose was it?"

"I think--I think, Mr. Stafford--that it was Lady Betty's. But I
should be sorry, having seen it only for a moment--so say for
certain."

"Lady Betty's?"

Mr. Stafford repeated the exclamation three times, in pure
surprise, in anger, a third time in trembling. In this last stage
he walked away to the window, and turning his back on his companion
looked out. He recalled at once his wife's petulant exclamation of
yesterday, the foolish desire expressed, as he had supposed in
jest. Had she really been in earnest? And had she carried out her
threat? Had she--his wife--done this thing so compromising to his
honor, so mischievous to the country, so mad, reckless, wicked?
Impossible. It was impossible. And yet--and yet Atley was a man
to be trusted, a gentleman, his own relation! And Atley's eye was
not likely to be deceived in a matter of handwriting. That Atley
had made up his mind he could see.

The statesman turned from the window, and walked to and fro, his
agitation betrayed by his step. The third time he passed in front
of his secretary--who had riveted his eyes to the Times and
appeared to be reading the money article--he stopped. "If this be
true--mind I say if, Atley--" he cried, jerkily, "what was my
wife's motive? I am in the dark, blindfolded! Help me! Tell me
what has been passing round me that I have not seen. You would not
have my wife--a spy?"

"No! no! no!" cried the other, as he dropped the paper, his
vehemence and his working features showing that he felt the pathos
of the appeal. "It is not that. Lady Betty is jealous, if I may
venture to judge, of your devotion to politics. She sees little of
you. You are wrapped up in public affairs and matters of state.
She feels herself neglected and set aside. And she has been
married no more than a year."

"But she has her society," objected the Minister, compelling
himself to speak calmly, "and her cousin, and--and many other
things."

"For which she does not care," returned the secretary.

It was a simple answer, but something in it touched a tender place.
Mr. Stafford winced and cast a queer startled look at the speaker.
Before he could reply, however--if he intended to reply--a knock
came at the door and Marcus put in his head. "My lady is waiting
breakfast, sir," he suggested timidly. What could a poor butler do
between an impatient mistress and an obdurate master?

"I will come," said Mr. Stafford hastily. "I will come at once.
For this matter, Atley," he continued when the door was closed
again, "let it rest for the present where it is. I am aware I can
depend upon your--" he paused, seeking a word--"your discretion.
One thing is certain, however. There is an end of the arrangement
made yesterday. Probably the Queen will send for Templeton. I
shall see Lord Pilgrimstone tomorrow, but probably that will be the
end of it."

Atley went away marveling at his coolness, trying to retrace the
short steps of their conversation, and so to discern how far the
Minister had gone with him, and where he had turned off upon a
resolution of his own. He failed to see the clue, however, and
marveled still more as the day went on and others succeeded it,
days of political crisis. Out of doors the world, or that little
jot of it which has its center at Westminster, was in confusion.
The newspapers, morning or evening, found ready sale, and had no
need of recourse to murder-panics, or prurient discussions. The
Coalition scandal, the resignation of Ministers, the sending for
Lord This and Mr. That, the certainty of a dissolution, provided
matter enough. In all this Atley found nothing to wonder at. He
had seen it all before. That which did cause him surprise was the
calm--the unnatural calm as it seemed to him--which prevailed in
the house in Carlton Terrace. For a day or two, indeed, there was
much going to and fro, much closeting and button-holing; for rather
longer the secretary read anxiety and apprehension in one
countenance--Lady Betty's. But things settled down. The knocker
presently found peace, such comparative peace as falls to knockers
in Carlton Terrace. Lady Betty's brow grew clear as her eye found
no reflection of its anxiety in Mr. Stafford's face. In a word the
secretary failed to discern the faintest sign of domestic trouble.

The late Minister, indeed, was taking things with wonderful
coolness. Lord Pilgrimstone had failed to taunt him, and the
triumph of old foes had failed to goad him into a last effort.
Apparently it had occurred to him that the country might for a time
exist without him. He was standing aside with a shade on his face,
and there were rumors that he would take a long holiday.

A week saw all these things happen. And then, one day as Atley sat
writing in the library--Mr. Stafford being out--Lady Betty came
into the room for something. Rising to find her what she wanted,
he was holding the door open for her to pass out, when she paused.

"Shut the door, Mr. Atley," she said, pointing to it. "I want to
ask you a question."

"Pray do, Lady Betty," he answered.

"It is this," she said, meeting his eyes boldly--and a brighter, a
more dainty little creature than she looked then had seldom tempted
man. "Mr. Stafford's resignation--had it anything, Mr. Atley, to
do with--" her face colored a very little--"something that was in
the Times this day week?"

His own cheek colored violently enough. "If ever," he was saying
to himself, "I meddle or mar between husband and wife again, may
I--" But aloud he answered quietly, "Something perhaps." The
question was sudden. Her eyes were on his face. He found it
impossible to prevaricate.

"My husband has never spoken to me about it," she replied,
breathing quickly.

He bowed, having no words adapted to the situation. But he
repeated his resolution (as above) more furiously.

"He has never appeared even aware of it," she persisted. "Are you
sure that he saw it?"

He wondered at her innocence or her audacity. That such a baby
should do so much mischief. The thought irritated him. "It was
impossible that he should not see it, Lady Betty," he said, with a
touch of asperity. "Quite impossible!"

"Ah," she replied with a faint sigh. "Well, he has never spoken to
me about it. And you think it had really something to do with his
resignation, Mr. Atley?"

"Most certainly," he said. He was not inclined to spare her this
time.

She nodded thoughtfully, and then with a quiet "Thank you," went
out.

"Well," muttered the secretary to himself when the door was fairly
shut behind her, "she is--upon my word she is a fool! And he"--
appealing to the inkstand--"he has never said a word to her about
it. He is a new Don Quixote! a second Job, new Sir Isaac Newton!
I do not know what to call him."

It was Sir Horace, however, who precipitated the catastrophe. He
happened to come in about tea-time that afternoon, before, in fact,
my lady had had an opportunity of seeing her husband. He found her
alone and in a brown study, a thing most unusual with her and
portending something. He watched her for a time in silence, seemed
to draw courage from a still longer inspection of his boots, and
then said, "So the cart is clean over, Betty?"

She nodded.

"Driver much hurt?"

"Do you mean, does Stafford mind it?" she replied impatiently.

He nodded.

"Well, I do not know. It is hard to say."

"Think so?" he persisted.

"Good gracious, Horry!" my lady retorted, losing patience. "I say
I do not know, and you say 'Think so!' If you want to learn so
particularly, ask him yourself. Here he is!"

Mr. Stafford had just entered the room. Perhaps she really wished
to satisfy herself as to the state of his feelings. Perhaps she
only desired in her irritation to put her cousin in a corner. At
any rate she coolly turned to her husband and said, "Here is Horace
wishing to know if you mind being turned out much?"

Mr. Stafford's face flushed a little at the home-thrust which no
one else would have dared to deal him. But he showed no
displeasure. "Well, not so much as I should have thought," he
answered frankly, pausing to weigh a lump of sugar, and, as it
seemed, his feelings. "There are compensations, you know."

"Pity all the same those terms came out," grunted Sir Horace.

"It was."

"Stafford!" Lady Betty struck in on a sudden, speaking fast and
eagerly, "is it true, I want to ask you, it is true that that led
you to resign?"



THE END





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