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Title: The Story of André Cornélis
Author: Bourget, Paul
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE STORY

OF

ANDRÉ CORNÉLIS



By


PAUL BOURGET



Adapted by


G.F. MONKSHOOD



LONDON

GREENING & CO., LTD.

1909



CONTENTS
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
CHAPTER XV
CHAPTER XVI
CHAPTER XVII
CHAPTER XVIII
CHAPTER XIX



THE STORY OF
ANDRÉ CORNÉLIS



I


When a child, I went to confession. How often have I wished that I were
still the lad who came at five o'clock into the chapel of our school,
the cold empty chapel, with its white-washed walls, its benches on which
our places were numbered, its harmonium, its Holy Family, its blue
ceiling dotted with stars. We were taken to this chapel in tens. When it
came to my turn to kneel in one of the two spaces on either side of the
central seat of the priest, my heart would beat violently, and a feeling
the murmur of the confessor's voice as he questioned the boy on the
opposite side, to whom I was to succeed. These sensations, and the shame
inspired by sins which I was to confess, made me start with dread when
the sound of the sliding panel announced that the moment had come, and I
could distinguish the priest's profile, and note the keenness of his
glance. What a moment of pain to endure, and then what a sense of
relief! What a feeling of liberty, alleviation, pardon--nay, effacement
of wrong-doing; what conviction that a spotless page was now offered to
me, and it was mine to fill it with good deeds. I am too far removed now
from the faith of my early years to imagine that there was a phenomenon
in all this. Whence then came the sense of deliverance that renewed the
youth of my soul? It came from the fact that I had told my sins, that I
had thrown over the burden of conscience that oppresses us all.
Confession was the lancet-stroke that empties the abscess. Alas! I have
now no confessional at which to kneel, no prayer to murmur, no God in
whom to hope! Nevertheless, I must get rid of these intolerable
recollections. The tragedy of my life presses too heavily upon my
memory, and I have no friend to speak to, no echo to take up my plaint.
There are things which cannot be uttered, since they ought not to find a
hearer; and so I have resolved, in order to cheat my pain, to make my
confession here, to myself alone, on this white paper, as I might make
it to a priest. I will write down all the details of my terrible history
as each comes to my remembrance, and when this confession is finished, I
shall see whether I am to be rid of the anguish also. Ah! if it could
even be diminished! If it were but lessened, so that I might have my
share of youth and life! I have suffered so much, and yet I love life,
in spite of my sufferings. A full glass of the black drug, the laudanum
that I always keep at hand for nights when I cannot sleep, and the slow
torture of my remorse would cease at once. But I cannot, I will not. The
instinctive animal desire _to live on_ stirs me more strongly than all
the moral reasons which urge me to make an end. Live then, poor wretch,
since Nature bids you tremble at the thought of death. Nature? And
besides, I do not want to go down there--no, not yet--into that dark
world where it may be we should meet. No, no, not that terror, not that!
See now, I had promised myself that I would be self-possessed, and I am
already losing control over my thoughts; but I will resume it. The
following is my project:

On these sheets of paper I will draw a true picture of my destiny, for I
can catch only glimpses of it in the blurred mirror of my thoughts. And
when the pages are covered with my scrawl I will burn them. But the
thing will have taken form, and existed before my eyes, like a living
being. I shall have thrown a light upon the chaos of horrible
recollections which bewilder me. I shall know what my strength really
is. Here, in this room where I came to the final resolution, it is only
too easy for me to remember. To work, then! I pass my word to myself
that I will set down the whole.



II


Let me remember? I have the sense of having trodden a sorrowing way
during many years, but what was my first step in the blood-spotted
pathway of pain? Where ought I to take up the tale of the slow
martyrdom, whose last stage of torture I have reached to-day? I know
not, for my feelings are like those lagoon-worn shores on which one
cannot tell where sea begins or ends; vague places, sand and water,
whose uncertain outline is constantly changing and being formed anew;
regions without bounds. Nevertheless these places are drawn upon the
map, and we may depict our feelings also by reflection, and after the
manner of analysis. The reality is ever shifting about. How intangible
it is, always escaping our eager grasp! The enigma of enigmas is to know
the exact moment at which a wound gapes in the heart, one of those
wounds which in mine have never closed. In order to simplify everything,
and to keep myself from sinking into that torpor of reverie which steals
over me like the influence of opium, I will divide my task into events,
marking first the precise fact which was the primal and determining
cause of all the rest--the tragic and mysterious death of my father. Let
me endeavour to recall the emotion by which I was overwhelmed at that
time, without mixing with it anything of what I have since understood
and felt.

I was nine years old. It was in 1864, in the month of June, at the close
of a warm afternoon. I was at my studies in my room as usual, having
come in from the Lycée Bonaparte, and the outer shutters were closed.
We lived in the Rue Tronchet, in the seventh house on the left, coming
from the church. Three highly-polished steps led to the little room,
prettily furnished in blue, within whose walls I passed the last happy
days of my life. Everything comes back to me. I was seated at my table,
dressed in a black overall, and engaged in writing out the tenses of a
Latin verb. All of a sudden I heard a cry, followed by a clamour of
voices; then rapid steps trod the corridor outside my room.
Instinctively I rushed to the door and came against a servant, who was
pale, and had a roll of linen in his hand. I understood the use of this
afterwards. At the sight of me he exclaimed:

"Ah! M. André, 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, 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. 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, my mother, myself, and one
of the frequenters of our house, M. Jacques Termonde, a fellow student
of my father's at the École de Droit, were at table. My father left his
seat before breakfast was over, having looked at the clock, and inquired
whether it was right.

"Are you in such a hurry, Cornélis?" 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
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, always so methodical, so punctual, had not come in, mother
began to betray her uneasiness, and could not conceal from me that his
last words dwelt in 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, 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
blue eyes, and usually shone coldly in his thin face. He had fair hair
and a light beard. So 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
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
beautiful hands. If I had not admired the cane so much, and the fighting
Centaurs on its handle--a fine piece of 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, which made all his phrases melodious, was calm.

"To-morrow," he said, "I will have every inquiry made, if Cornélis has
not returned; but he will come back, and all will be explained. Depend
on it, he went away somewhere on 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 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 eyes, with her black hair,
brown eyes, and 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 elegant figure. It makes me smile when people
talk of presentiments. I went off perfectly satisfied with what he had
said. I had a childish admiration for this man, and hitherto he had
represented nothing to me but treats and indulgence. I attended the two
classes at the Lycée 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 truth, but her strength failed her. I
escaped from her, ran out into the corridor, and reached my father's
bedroom before any one could stop me. Ah! upon the bed lay a 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, helpless with grief. These were my father and my mother. I
flung myself upon her, and she clasped me passionately, with the
piercing cry, "My Andre, my André!" In that cry there was much intense
grief, in that embrace there was such frenzied tenderness, her heart was
then so big, 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!" she said over and over again.
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. In my darkest hours, and when
the phantom was there, beckoning to me, your grief pleaded with me more
strongly than his plaint. Because of the kisses of that moment I have
always been able to believe in you, for those kisses and tears were not
meant to conceal anything. Your whole heart revolted against the deed
that bereaved me of my father. I swear by the anguish which we shared in
that moment, that you had no part in the hideous plot. Ah, forgive me,
that I have felt the need even now of affirming this. If you only knew
how one sometimes hungers and thirsts for certainty--ay, even to the
point of agony.



III


When I asked my mother 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 recognised for
two days. Grownup people are 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 means 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, 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 fat cheeks of Rastonaix and the
ferret face of Servoin. Although we were outdoor pupils, we were allowed
a quarter of an hour's recreation indoors, between the Latin and English
lessons. The two boys had engaged me on the previous days 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 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 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 henceforth my mother, whom
nevertheless I loved with all my heart, exercised a paralysing influence
over me. She was so beautiful in her pallor, so 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; 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
chamber-maid. 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
for ever." 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 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.

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 façade, in the Rue de Rivoli, not
far from the Ministère 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, recognised 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 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 anteroom, 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 gentleman to prepare his bed. They passed
through the salon without observing anything unusual. The traveller'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 traveller 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 was removed from the hiding-place in which the assassin had
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 anteroom. 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 mantelpiece. 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-à-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-à-brac seller. The assassin had been
taken in the cab, first to a shop, where he bought a dressing-bag, next
to a linendraper'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 a day in the preceding month, a man who answered to the description
of Rochdale given by the first driver and the bric-à-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 recognise him, and were intended, he said, to be worn at a fancy
ball. The unknown person was accordingly supplied 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 for colouring
his complexion. He applied these so skilfully, that when he returned to
the hairdresser's shop, Jullien did not recognise 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 his 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 record 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! Let me return to
facts.



IV


I remember little of succeeding events. All was so trivial,
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 overshadowed its boundary wall
with greenery. The centre 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 recognise that there was
something unreal and slightly theatrical 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
Marseilles 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 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 realise.

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 Compiègne, 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 grey, 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 Compiègne, 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 arbour in which we seated ourselves, and
wasps were busy among the ripening grapes. My aunt took both my hands in
hers, and began:

"André, 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 recognise 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 Doré'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. To a child instinct is never
deceived about such impressions. This was quite enough to account for
the shiver that went over me when I uttered his name. But I saw my aunt
start at my cry.

"M. Termonde," said she; "yes, it is he; but why did you think of him
immediately?" Then, looking me full in the face searchingly, she said in
a low tone, as though she were ashamed of putting such a question to a
child: "What do you know?"

At these words, and 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 lose me in some unknown 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 Compiègne. 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 Lycée. 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
mantelpiece, 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 André 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, a
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 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 honour 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 symbolised 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 favour 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 of 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 coloured miniature, representing my
great-grandmother in the costume of the Directory, with a short waist,
and her hair dressed _à 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 portières 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, 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.



V


Indelible! Yes, those two dates and only those have remained so, and
when I retrace the past in fancy, I am always stopped by them. The two
images--my father assassinated, my mother married again--weighed long
upon my heart. Other children have restless and supple minds which yield
easily to successive impressions; they surrender themselves entirely to
the actual moment, pass from a pleasure to a childish trouble, and
forget in the evening what they have felt during the day. But I? ah, no!
From my two recollections I was never released. An ever present
hallucination kept before my mind's eye the dead face on the pillow, and
my mother kneeling at the bed's foot, or the sound in my ears of my
aunt's voice announcing the other news. I could always see her sad face,
her brown eyes, and the black bows on her cap shaking in the wind of the
September afternoon. And still, even to-day, when I am endeavouring to
reproduce the history of my mind's life, or the real and solitary André
Cornélis, all other remembrances vanish before those two; not a phase
of my youth but is pervaded by them and contained in them, as the cloud
contains the lightning, and the fire it kindles, and the ruins of the
homesteads which it strikes. Of all the images that crowd upon my
memory, recalling what I was during my long years of childhood and
youth, those two disastrous days are always the chief; they form the
background of the picture of my life, the dark horizon of a more
melancholy landscape.

What are the other images? A large space, with old trees in it, some
children playing late on an autumn day; while others, who are not
playing, but only look on, lean against the old brown tree-stems, or
wander about like forsaken creatures. This is the playground of the
Lycée at Versailles. The scholars who are playing are the "old" boys,
the others, the shy exiles, are the "new," and I am one of the latter.
It is just four short weeks since my aunt told me of my mother's
marriage, and already my life is entirely changed. On my return from the
holidays it was decided that I should enter the school as a boarder. My
mother and my stepfather were about to travel in Italy until the summer,
and the question of their taking me with them was not even mooted. My
mother proposed to allow me to remain as a day-pupil, under the care of
my aunt, who would come up to Paris; but my stepfather negatived the
proposition at once by quite reasonable arguments. Why should so great a
sacrifice of all her habits be imposed upon the old lady, and what was
there to dread in the rough life of a boarding-school, which is the best
means of forming a boy's character?

"And he needs that schooling," added my stepfather, directing the same
cold glance towards me as on the day when he grasped my arm so roughly.
In short, it was settled that I was to go to school, but not in Paris.

"The air is bad," said my stepfather.

Why am I not in the least obliged to him for his seeming solicitude for
my health? It was not because I foresaw what he had foreseen
already--he, the man who wanted to separate me from my mother for
ever--that it would be easier for them to leave me at a school outside
the city than at one nearer home, when they returned? What need has he
of these calculations? Is it not enough that he should give utterance to
a wish for Madame Termonde to obey him? How I suffer when I hear her say
"thou" to him, just as she used to say it to my own father. And then I
think of the days when I came home from my classes at the Lycée
Bonaparte, and that dear father helped me with my lessons. My stepfather
brought me to this school yesterday in the afternoon, and it was he who
presented me to the head master, a tall thin personage with a bald head,
who tapped me on the cheek and said:

"Ah, he comes from Bonaparte, the school of the 'Muscadins.'"

That same evening I had the curiosity to refer to the dictionary for
this word "Muscadin," and I found the following definition: "A young man
who studies personal adornment." It is true that I do not resemble the
fellows in tunics among whom I am to live, for I am handsomely dressed,
according to my mother's taste, and my costume includes a large white
collar and smart English boots. The other boys have shapeless képis,
coarse blue stockings which fall over their broken shoes, and their
buttons are mostly torn off. They wear out the last year's outdoor
costume in the house. During the first play-time on my first day,
several of the boys eyed me curiously, and one of them asked me: "What
does your father do?" I made no answer. What I dread, with unbearable
misery, is that they may speak to me of it. Yesterday, while my
stepfather and I were coming down to Versailles in the railway carriage,
without exchanging a word, what would I have given to be able to tell
him of this dread, to entreat him not to throw me among a number of
boys, and leave me to their heedless rudeness and cruelty, to promise
him that I would work harder and better than before, if I might but
remain at home! But the look in his blue eyes is so sharp when they rest
on me, it is so hard for me to say the word "Papa" to him--that word
which I am always saying in my thoughts to the other; to him who lies,
in the sleep that knows no waking, in the cemetery at Compiègne! And so
I addressed no supplication to M. Termonde, and I allowed myself to be
shut up in the Versailles Lycée without a word of protest. I preferred
to wander about as I do among strangers, to uttering one complaint to
him. Mamma is to come to-morrow; she is going away the next day, and the
nearness of this interview prevents me from feeling the inevitable
separation too keenly. If she will only come without my stepfather!

She came--and with him. She took her seat in the parlour, which is
decorated with vile portraits of scholars who have taken prizes at the
general examinations. My schoolfellows were also talking to their
mothers, but none could boast a mother so worthy to be loved as mine!
Never had she seemed to me so beautiful, with her slender and elegant
figure, her graceful neck, her deep eyes, her fine smile. But I could
not say a word to her, because my stepfather, "Jack," as she called him,
with her pretty affectation of an English accent, was there between us.
Ah! that antipathy which paralyses all the loving impulses of the heart,
how intensely have I felt it, then and since! I thought I could perceive
that my mother was surprised, almost saddened by my coldness when she
bade me farewell; but ought she not to have known that I would never
show my love for her in his presence? She is gone; she is on her
travels, and I remain here.

Other images arise which recall our schoolroom in the evenings of that
first winter of my imprisonment. The metal stove burns red in the middle
of the gas-lit room. A bowl of water is placed upon the top lest the
heat should affect our heads. All along the walls stretches the line of
our desks, and behind each of us is a little cupboard in which we keep
our books and papers. Silence reigns, and is rendered more perceptible
by the scratching of pens, the turning over of leaves, and an occasional
suppressed cough. The master is in his place, behind a desk which is
raised above the others. His name is Rodolphe Sorbelle, and he is a
poet. The other day he let fall out of his pocket a sheet of paper
covered with writing and erasures, from which we managed to make out the
following lines:


     Je voudrais être oiseau des champs,
                 Avoir un bec,
                 Chanter avec:
     Je voudrais être oiseau des champs,
                 Avoir des ailes,
                 Voler sur elles.
     Mais je ne puis en faire autant,
                 Car j'ai le bec
                 beaucoup trop sec,
                 Et je suis pion,
                'Cré nom de nom!


This prodigious poem gave us, cruel little wretches that we were, the
greatest delight. We sang the verses perpetually, in the dormitory, out
walking, in the playground, setting the last words to the classic music
of "Les Lampions." But the old watch-dog has sharp teeth, and defends
himself by "detentions," so none of us care to brave him to his face.
The lamp hung over his head shows up his greenish-grey hair, his red
forehead, and his threadbare coat, which once was blue. No doubt he is
rhyming, for he is writing, and every now and then he raises that
swollen brow, and his large blue eyes--which express such real kindness
when we do not torment him with our tricks--search the room and observe
in turn each of the thirty-five desks. I, too, take a prolonged survey
of the companions of my slavery; I already know their faces. There is
Rocquain, a little fellow, with a big red nose in a long white face; and
Parizelle, a tall, stout boy, with an underhung jaw. He is fair-skinned,
has green eyes and freckles, and for a wager ate a cockroach the other
day. There is Gervais, a brown, curly-haired lad, who makes his will
every week. He has communicated to me the latest of these documents, in
which there is the following clause: "I leave to Leyreloup some good
advice, contained in my letter to Cornélis." Leyreloup is his former
friend, who played him the trick of rolling him in a heap of dead leaves
last autumn, having been egged on to the deed by big Parizelle, whom the
vengeful Gervais ever since regards as a rascal, and the advice
contained in the posthumous letter is a warning to distrust the giant.
All this small school-world is absorbed in countless interests which
even at that time I held to be puerile, when compared with the thoughts
that are in me. And my schoolfellows themselves seem to understand that
there is something in my life which does not exist in theirs; they spare
me the torments that are generally inflicted upon a new boy, but I am
not the friend of any of them, except this same Gervais, who is my
walking companion when we go out. Gervais is an imaginative lad, and
when he is at home he devours a collection of the _Journal pour Tous_.
He has found in it a series of romances called "L'Homme aux Figures de
Cire," "Le Roi des Gabiers," "Le Chat du Bord," and Thursday after
Thursday, when we go out walking, he relates these stories to me. The
tragic strain of my own fate is the cause of my taking a grim pleasure
in these narratives, in which crime plays the chief part. Unfortunately
I have confided the secret of this questionable amusement to my good
aunt, and the head master has separated the improvised feuilletoniste
from his public. Gervais and I are forbidden to walk together. My aunt
believed that the excess of sensitiveness in me, which alarmed her,
would be corrected by this. Neither her solicitous tenderness, nor her
pious care and foresight--she comes to Versailles from Compiègne every
Sunday to take me out--nor my studies--for I redouble my efforts so that
my stepfather should not triumph in my bad marks--nor my religious
enthusiasm--for I have become the most fervent of us all at the
chapel--no, nothing, nothing appeases the hidden demon which possesses
and devours me. While the evening studies are going on, and in the
interval between two tasks, I read a letter from Italy. This is my food
for the week, conveyed in pages written by my mother. They give me
details of her travels, which I do not understand very clearly; but I do
understand that she is happy without me, outside of me--that the thought
of my father and his mysterious death no longer haunts her; above all,
that she loves her new husband, and I am jealous--miserably, basely
jealous. My imagination, which has its strange lapses, has also a
singular minuteness. I see my mother in a room in a foreign inn, and
spread out upon the table are the various fittings of her
travelling-bag, silver-mounted, with her cipher in relief, the Christian
name in full, and encircling it the letter T. Marie T----. Well, had she
not the right to make a new life for herself, honourably? Why should
this mixture of her past with her present hurt me so much? So much, that
just now, when stretched upon my narrow iron bed in the dormitory, I
could not close my eyes.

How long those nights seemed to me, when I lay down oppressed by this
thought, and strove in vain to lose it in the sweet oblivion of sleep! I
prayed to God for sleep, with all the strength of my childlike piety. I
said mentally twelve times twelve _Paters_ and _Aves_--and I did not
sleep. I then tried to "form a chimera;" for thus I called a strange
faculty with which I knew myself to be endowed. When I was quite a
little boy, on an occasion when I was suffering from toothache, I had
shut my eyes, forcibly abstracted my mind, and compelled it to represent
a happy scene in which I was the chief actor. Thus I was enabled to
overrule my sensations to the point of becoming insensible to the
toothache. Now, whenever I suffer, I do the same, and the device is
almost always successful. I employ it in vain when my mother is in
question. Instead of the picture of felicity which I evoke, the other
picture presents itself to me, that of the intimate life of the being
whom in all the world I most love, with the man whom I most hate. For I
hate him, with an implacable hatred, and without being able to assign
any other motive than that he has taken the first place in the heart
which was all my own. Ah, me! I shall hear the slow hours struck, first
from the belfry of a church hard by, and then by the school-clock--a
grave and sonorous chime, then a treble ringing. I shall hear old
Sorbelle walk through the whole length of the dormitory, and then go
into the room which he occupies at the far end. How dull is the
spectacle of the two rows of our little beds, with their brass knobs
shining in the dim light; and how odious it is to be listening to the
snores of the sleepers! At measured intervals the watchman, an old
soldier with a big face and thick black moustaches, passes. He is
wrapped in a brown cloth cape, and carries a dark lantern. Can it be
that he is not afraid, all alone, at night, in those long passages, and
on the stone staircases, where the wind rushes about with a dismal
noise? How I should hate to be obliged to go down those stairs,
shuddering in that darkness with the fear of meeting a ghost! I try to
drive away this new idea, but in vain, and then I think. . . . Where is
he who killed my father? Is it with fear, is it with horror that I
shudder at this question? And I go on thinking. . . . Does he know that
I am here? Panic seizes upon me, with the idea that the assassin might
be capable of assuming the disguise of a school servant, for the purpose
of killing me also. I commend my soul to God, and in the midst of these
awful thoughts I fall asleep at length, very late, to be awakened with a
start at half-past five in the morning, with an aching head, shaken
nerves, and an ailing mind, sick of a disease which is beyond cure.



VI


Three years have passed away since the autumnal evening on which a
hackney-coach had set down my stepfather and myself in that corner of
one of the gloomy avenues of Old Versailles, which is made more gloomy
by the walls of the school. I was to have remained at this school for
ten months only--the period of my mother's stay in Italy. That evening
was in the autumn of 1866; we are now in the winter of 1870, and I have
been all this time imprisoned in the Lycée, "where the air is so good,
and I get on so well." These are the reasons assigned by my mother for
not taking me back to her home. My schoolfellows pass before me in the
twilight of remembrance of that distant time. Rocquain, more pasty-faced
than ever, with his comic-actor-like red nose, sings café-concert
songs, smokes cigarettes in secret places, and collects the photographs
of actresses. Gervais, still brown and surly, has a passion for races,
at which he is always playing, and is reconciled with Leyreloup, "the
hedgehog," as we call him, whom he has infected with his dangerous
mania. The two are constantly arranging insect or tortoise
steeple-chases. They have even contrived a betting system, and ten of us
have joined in it. The game is played by placing in front of a
dictionary several bits of paper with the name of a horse written upon
each of them. The dictionary is then opened and shut rapidly, and the
bit of paper which is blown farthest away by the little breeze thus
created, is the winner, and the boys who have backed it divide the
stakes. Parizelle is bigger than ever; at sixteen he is already growing
a beard, and has been entertained by some military acquaintances at a
certain café, which he points out to us when we take our weekly walks.
As for myself, I have a new friend, one Joseph Dediot, who has
introduced me to some of the verses of De Musset. We go wild over this
poet. Dediot's place in the schoolroom is by the side of Scelles, the
bookseller's son, whom we call Bel-Œil, because he squints. Bel-Œil is
as lazy as a lobster, and Dediot has made the oddest bargain with him.
Dediot does all his exercises, and in return for each, Bel-Œil hands
over to him a copy of twenty lines of Rolla. In exchange for I know not
how many versions, themes, and Latin verses, my friend has at last
secured the entire poem, and we spout its most characteristic lines
enthusiastically.

We have become sceptics and misanthropes. We play at despairing Atheism
just as Parizelle and Rocquain play at debauchery, Gervais and others at
sport and fashion, politics and love. Old Sorbelle, having been
dismissed from the Lycée, has just published a pamphlet in which he
figures under the name of Lebros, and the Provost under that of M.
Bifteck. This little book occupies our attention throughout the whole
winter, and induces us to form a conspiracy which leads to nothing. Here
we are, then, playing at revolution! What a strange discipline is that
of those infamous schools, where young boys ruin their years of unhappy
youth by the puerile and premature imitation of passions from which they
will have to suffer in reality some day, just as children, who are
destined to die in war as men, play at soldiers, with their flaxen curls
and their ringing laughter! Alas! for me the game was over too soon.

Nevertheless, this shabby, dull, mean school was my home, the only place
in which I felt myself really "at home," and I loved it. Yes, I loved
that hulks which was also partly barracks and partly hospital, because
there at all events I was not perpetually confronted with the evidence
of my double misfortune. After all, the influence of my age made itself
felt there, the nervous strain upon me was relaxed, and I escaped from
the fixed idea of the murderer of my father to be discovered, and my
stepfather to be detested. My half-holidays were such misery to me that
they would have made me dread the termination of my school-time, only
that I knew the same date would place me in possession of my fortune,
enabling me to devote myself entirely to the supreme aim and purpose of
my life. I had sworn to myself that the mysterious assassin whom justice
had failed to discover should be unearthed by me, and I derived
extraordinary moral strength from that resolution, which I kept strictly
to myself, without ever speaking of it. This, however, did not prevent
me from suffering from trifles, whenever those trifles were signs of my
doubly-orphaned state. How clearly present to me now are the torments of
those sortie days! When the servant who was to take me to my mother's
abode comes to fetch me on those Sunday mornings at eight, his careless
manner makes me feel that I am no longer the son of the house. This
wretch, this François Niquet, with his shaven chin and his insolent
eye, does not remove his hat when I come down into the parlour.
Sometimes, when the weather is bad, he presumes to grumble, and,
although the smell of tobacco makes me sick, he lights his pipe in the
railway carriage, and smokes without asking my leave. I would rather die
than make any observation upon this, because I had once complained of my
stepfather's valet, a vile fellow whom they made out to be in the right
as against me, and I then and there resolved that never again would I
expose myself to a similar affront. Besides, I had already suffered too
much, and thus to suffer teaches one to feel contempt. The train
proceeds, and I do not exchange a dozen words with the fellow. I know
that I am regarded as proud and unamiable; but the same bent of mind
which made me sullen when quite a child, now makes me take a pleasure in
displeasing those whom I dislike. Amid silence and the reek of coarse
tobacco, we reach the Montparnasse Station, where no carriage ever
awaits me, no matter how bad the weather may be. We take the Boulevard
Latour-Maubourg, and pass by the long avenues lined with buildings,
hospitals, and bric-à-brac shops, turn down by the Church of Saint
François Xavier, cross the Place des Invalides, and reach the door of
our hotel. I hate the concierge, also a creature of M. Termonde's, and
his broad flat face, in which I read hostility which is no doubt
absolute indifference. But everything transforms itself into a sign of
enmity, to my mind, from the faces of the servants, even to the aspect
of my own room. M. Termonde has taken my own dear old room from me; a
large handsome room, which used to be flooded with sunshine, with a
window opening on the garden, and a door communicating with my mother's
apartment. I now occupy a sort of large closet, with a northern aspect
and no view except that of a wood-stack. When I reach home on those
Sunday mornings, I have to go straight to this room and wait there until
my mother has risen and can receive me. No one has taken the trouble to
light a fire; so I ask for one, and while the servant is blowing at the
logs, I take a chair, and gaze at the portrait of my father, which is
now banished to my quarters after having figured for so long upon an
easel draped with black, in my mother's morning-room. The odour of damp
wood in process of kindling is mingled with the musty flavour of the
room, which has been shut up all the week. I have some bitter moments to
pass there. These mean miseries make me feel the moral forsakenness of
my position more keenly, more cruelly. And my mother lives, she breathes
at the distance of a few steps from me; yes, and she loves me!

Now that I can cast a look back upon my unhappy youth, I am aware that
my own temper had much to do with the misunderstanding between my poor
mother and myself which has never ceased to exist. Yes, she loved me,
and at the same time she loved her husband. It was for me to explain to
her the sort of pain she caused me by uniting and mingling those two
affections in her heart. She would have understood me, she would have
spared me the series of small dumb troubles that ultimately made any
explanation between us impossible. When at length I saw her on those
"sortie" days, at about eleven, just before breakfast, she expected me
to meet her with effusive delight; how should she know that the presence
of her husband paralysed me, just as it had done when we parted before
her journey to Italy? There was an incomprehensible mystery to her in
that absolute incapacity for revealing my mind, that stony inertness
which overwhelmed me so soon as we were not alone, she and I--and we
were never alone. She used to come to see me at Versailles once a week,
on Wednesday, and it hardly ever happened that she came without my
stepfather. I never wrote a letter to her that she did not show to her
husband; indeed, he saw every letter which she received. How well I knew
this habit of hers, how she would say, "André has written to me," and
then hand to him the sheet of paper on which I could not trace one
sincere, heartfelt, trustful line, because of the idea that his eyes
were to rest upon it! How many notes have I torn up in which I tried to
tell her the story of the troubles amid which I lived! Yes, yes, I ought
to have spoken to her, nevertheless, to have explained myself a little,
confessed my sufferings, my wild jealousy, my brooding grief, my great
need of having a corner in her thoughts for myself alone, were it only
pity--but I dared not. It was in my nature to feel the pain that I must
cause her by speaking thus, too strongly, and I was unable to bear it.
All the various trouble of my heart then was bound up in a timid
silence, in embarrassment in her presence which affected herself. Like
many women she was unable to understand a disposition different from her
own, a manner of feeling opposed to hers. She was happy in her second
marriage, she loved, she was loved. In M. Termonde she had met a man to
whom she had given her whole self, but she had also given to me freely,
lavishly. I was her son, it seemed so natural to her that he whom she
loved should also love her child. And, in fact, had not M. Termonde been
to me a vigilant and irreproachable protector? Had he not carefully
provided for every detail of my education? No doubt he had insisted upon
my being sent to school as a boarder, but I had also been of his opinion
as to that. He had chosen masters for me in all branches of instruction;
I learned fencing, riding, dancing, music, foreign languages. He had
attended to, and he continued to attend to, the smallest details, from
the New Year's gift that I was to receive--it was always very
handsome--to the fixing of my allowance, my "week," as we called it,
which was paid on each Thursday, at the highest figure permitted by the
rules of the Lycée. Never had this man, who was so imperious by nature,
raised his voice in speaking to me. Never once since his marriage had he
varied from the most perfect politeness towards me; a woman who was in
love with him would naturally see in this a proof of exquisite tact and
devoted affection. Put my grievances against my stepfather into words?
No, I could not do it. And so I was silent, and how was my mother to
explain my sullenness, the absence of any demonstrativeness on my part
towards my stepfather otherwise than by my selfishness and want of
feeling? She did believe me, in fact, to be a selfish and unfeeling boy,
and I, owing to my unhealthy mood of mind, felt that when I was in her
presence I really became what she believed me. I shrank into myself like
a surly animal. But why did she not spare me those trials which
completed our alienation from each other? Why, when we met on those
wretched Sundays, did she not contrive that I should have the five
minutes alone with her that would have enabled me, not to talk to her--I
did not ask so much--but to embrace her, as I loved her, with all my
heart? I came into the room which she had transformed into a private
sitting-room--in every corner of it I had played at my free pleasure
when I, the spoiled child whose lightest wish was a command, was the
master--and there was M. Termonde in his morning costume, smoking
cigarettes and reading newspapers. It needed nothing but the rustic of
the sheet in his hand, the tone of his voice as he bade me good-day, the
touch of his fingers--he merely gave me their tips--and I recoiled upon
myself. So strong was my antipathy that I never remember to have eaten
with a good appetite at the same table with him. My wretchedness was at
its height during those Sunday breakfasts and dinners. Ah, I hated
everything about him; his blue eyes, almost too far apart, which were
sometimes fixed, and at others rolled slightly in their orbits, his high
prominent forehead, and prematurely grey hair, the refinement of his
features, and the elegance of his manners, such a contrast with my
natural dulness and lack of ease--yes, I hated all these, and even to
the finely-shaped foot which was set off by his perfect boots. I think
that even now, at this present hour, I should recognise a coat he had
worn, among a thousand, so living a thing has a garment of his seemed to
me, under the influence of that aversion. Only too well did I, with my
filial instinct, realise that he, with his slender graceful figure, his
feline movements, his flattering voice, his native and acquired
aristocratic ways, was the true husband of the lovely, highly-adorned,
almost ideal creature whom I, her son, resembled as little as my poor
father had resembled her. Ah, how bitter was that knowledge!

Out of the depths of the silence which I preserved on those wretched
half-holidays, I followed with intense interest all the conversations
that took place before me, especially during breakfast and dinner, in
the dining-room--newly furnished, like all the rest of the house. The
hours of those meals were no longer the hours of my father's time. This
change, and the new furnishing of our dwelling, typified the newness of
my mother's life. M. Termonde, who was the son of a stockbroker, and had
been for some time in diplomacy, had kept up social relations of a kind
quite different from our former ones. My mother and he went frequently
into that mixed and cosmopolitan society which was then, and is now,
called "smart." What had become of the familiar faces at the dinners,
few and far between, which my father used to give at the Rue Tronchet?
Those dinner parties consisted of three or four persons, the ladies in
high gowns, and the gentlemen in morning dress. The talk was of politics
and business; a former Minister of King Louis Philippe's, who had gone
back to his practice at the bar, was the oracle of the little circle;
and the dinner hour was half-past six, instead of seven, on those days,
because the old statesman always retired to rest at ten o'clock. In the
wealthy but plain bourgeois life of our home, to go to a theatre was an
event, and a ball formed an epoch. Thus, at least, did things represent
themselves to my childish mind. Now the old ex-Minister came to the
house no more, nor Mdme. Largeyx, the engineer's widow, whom papa was
always quoting to mamma as a model, and whom my mother laughingly called
her "mother-in-law." Now, my mother and my stepfather went out almost
every evening. They had horses and several carriages, instead of the
coupé hired by the month with which the wife of the renowned lawyer had
been content. All the men who came in after dinner, all the women whom I
met at six o'clock in my mother's drawing-room, were young and full of
life and spirits, and their talk was solely of amusements; new plays,
fancy balls, races, and dress. My father, who was full of the ideas of
the Monarchy of July, like his old political friend, used to speak
severely of the imperial régime; but now, my mother was invited to the
great receptions at the Tuileries. How could I have ventured to talk to
her about the small miseries of my school life, which seemed to me so
mean when I contrasted them with her brilliant and opulent existence?
Formerly, when I was a day pupil at the Bonaparte, I used to relate to
her every trifle concerning the school and my fellow pupils; but now, I
should have been ashamed to bore her with Rocquain, Gervais, Leyreloup,
and the rest. It seemed to me that she could not possibly be interested
in the story of how Joseph Dediot had been traitorously deserted by his
faithless cousin Cécile; and yet, how tragic the case was, to my mind!
Notwithstanding that two locks of hair had been exchanged, a bouquet
offered and accepted, a kiss snatched and returned, the false girl had
married an apothecary at Avranches. Dediot had even written two poems,
inspired by his misfortune, and one of them, dedicated to me, began
thus:


     Sèche ton cœur, André, ne sois jamais aimant.


How could I have talked of all these small things to a lady who dined
with the Duchesse d'Arcole, whose intimate friends were a Maréchale and
two Marquises, and whose entertainments were described in the society
journals? My mother was now the beautiful Madame Termonde, and so
completely had her new name replaced the old, that I was almost the only
person who remembered she was also the widow of M. Cornélis, he whose
tragical death had been related in the very same newspapers. Had she
herself forgotten it?

"Forgetfulness! Is this then in all reality the world's law?" I asked
myself, with the indignant revolt of a young heart, which does not admit
the inevitable compromises of feeling. And I made answer to myself, No!
There was one person who remembered as well as I did, one person to whom
my father's death still remained a hideous nightmare, one person to whom
I could tell all my thoughts and all my grief--my dear, good, kind aunt.
In her case at least all the fond and tender things of the past remained
unchanged. When August came, and I went to Compiègne for a portion of
my holidays, I found everything in its place, both in the house and in
the heart of the dear old maid.

For my sake, I knew it well, she had consented to keep up her former
relations with my mother, and she dined with her three or four times a
year. Dear Aunt Louise! She would listen with the utmost kindness to all
my childish complaints, and she always sent me home softened, almost
appeased; more indulgent towards my mother, and convinced that I was
wrong in my judgment of M. Termonde.

Nevertheless, I did not tell Aunt Louise anything about my reprisals
upon the man whom I accused of having stolen my mother's heart from me.
I had perceived, very soon, certain signs of an antipathy towards myself
on the part of my stepfather, similar to that which I entertained
towards him. When I came rather suddenly into the salon, and he was
engaged in a conversation either with my mother or one of his friends,
my presence sufficed to cause a slight alteration in his voice; a change
which, most likely, no one else would have perceived, but which did not
escape me, for did not my own throat contract, and my lips quiver with
sheer abhorrence?

I should not have been the sullen and resentful boy I then was, if I had
not planned how to utilise my strange power of disturbing the man whom I
execrated, in the interest of my enmity. My system was to force him to
feel the acute sensation which my presence inflicted on him, by keeping
silence, and steadily pursuing him with my gaze. Great as his
self-control was, I never fixed my eyes upon him from the far end of the
room, but, after a while, he would turn his eyes towards me. Then his
glance avoided mine, and he would go on talking; but still he was
looking at me, and presently our eyes would meet, and his would shift
away again. I knew, by a frown which gathered on his forehead, that he
was on the point of forbidding me to look at him in that way; but then
he would put strong restraint upon himself, and sometimes he would leave
the room.

That abstention from any kind of struggle with me was a fixed resolution
on his part, I guessed, because I knew him to be very determined by
nature, and especially incapable of enduring that any one should brave
him. He was fond of relating how, in his youth, when he was attached to
the Embassy at Madrid, he had killed a bull at an amateur "ring," on
being "dared" to do it by a young Spaniard. It must have hurt his pride
severely to permit me the silent insolence of my eyes; he did allow me
to indulge it, however, and I did not acknowledge that petty triumph to
Aunt Louise. I must set down everything here, and the truth is I was
most unhappy; I knew myself to be so, and I did not lessen my trouble in
the least in dilating upon it; on the contrary, I rather exaggerated it
so as to win that tender sympathy which did my sore heart good.

I once spoke to her 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, Cornélis; yes, even this." And there were tears in her eyes.



VII


My poor aunt! She thought me made of stronger 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-coloured 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 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 senseless dissipation, hair cut in the fashion 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 colourless, 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 Compiègne, 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, Rocquain. 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 Nôtre Dame, primitive Paris, and the Seine, which is as
narrow as a canal at that place.

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. Cornélis, who was very
observant, and who, besides, was on his guard--this is evident from his
last words when he left you--would have recognised 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 spoken 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. Cornélis 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
demeanour was cold, obliging, and mild, he was always closely shaven,
and in him one recognised 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 affair," 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
skilful a ferret as he had failed! Folly! Yes; it was so. 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 ardour 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. Mis conduct to me after I had
left school was irreproachable. Just as in my childhood, he had made it
a point of honour 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 fulfilment
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 honourable 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
Élysées, a yearly income of 50,000 francs, the entrée to all the
salons frequented by my mother, and the entrée, 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, ravelling 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 made a
code of duties to be performed. What with the morning ride in the Bois,
afternoon calls, dinner parties, parties to the theatre 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
favoured me. A woman of forty persuaded me that I was her first love,
and I became her lover; 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 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 if 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 sombre 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, favourable 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 Compiègne 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 paralyse 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 that
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 for ever, 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 Compiègne 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
recognised 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 death-bed, 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.



VIII


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 recognised
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 coupé,
which my aunt had sent to meet me whenever I came to Compiègne, 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-stack, 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 yeses 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.
André, 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 André also. As for me, I am old, but he
is so young, so good, so gentle.' And she cried--yes, she cried
incessantly. 'Who is it that you think wants to harm M. André?' 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 aunt upon
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?"

Thus reasoning with myself, almost in spite of myself, and listening to
Julie, I arrived at my aunt's house. A gloomy place it looked on that
bitter cold morning, sunk in the grimmest kind of silence, that of the
country in winter. The dog, a big black-and-white Newfoundland, whom I
had named Don Juan, whereat my aunt had been scandalised, jumped upon me
when I got out of the old coupé; but I pushed him away almost roughly,
so sore was my heart at the thought of what I was about to see in my
aunt's room, whither I proceeded at once.

When I entered, the maid-servant, who was seated at the bed's foot,
stopped me with a gesture at the threshold; my aunt was sleeping. I
stole softly over the carpet to an easy-chair beside the fire, and
looked at the invalid from that distance. She lay, with her face turned
towards the wall, in the middle of the old bed with four carved posts,
which had belonged to my grandmother. The curtains, of thick red stuff
brocaded with black velvet, half hid her from my sight. I watched her
sleeping; now listening to her short breathing, and again looking about
the room, which was as familiar to me as the salon below stairs, where I
had written my letter of congratulation to my stepfather on his
marriage. Those red curtains were of an old-fashioned shade, which
harmornised with the antiquated shape of the furniture, the faded paper
of the screen before the window, the white ground of the carpet, the
discoloured reps with which the chairs were covered; in short, with all
the waifs from the wreck of our family life, that had been piously
preserved by the dear old maid. She was so exact and orderly; her
black-mittened hands were so skilful in pouncing upon any dust
overlooked by Jean, who combined the functions of gardener and
house-servant, that these old worn things, owing to the deep shining
brown of the bedstead, the chairs, and the brass-handled chest of
drawers, lent a homely aspect to the room such as the primitive painters
loved to give to their pictures of the Nativity. The contrast between my
apartment--the typical fashionable young man's rooms--and this peaceful
retreat was striking indeed. I had passed from the one to the other too
suddenly not to feel that contrast, and also the mute reproach that was
conveyed to me by the sick room, with its atmosphere tainted by a
medicinal odour instead of the fresh scent of lavender which I had
always recognised there. How bitterly I reproached myself in that half
hour, during which I listened to her breathing as she slept, and
meditated upon her lonely life. What resolutions I formed! I would come
here for long weeks together, when she should be better--for I would not
admit that she was in danger of death--and I eagerly awaited the moment
of her awakening, to beg her forgiveness, to tell her how much I loved
her. All of a sudden she heaved a deep sigh, and I saw her raise the
free arm and move it up and down several times with a gesture that had
something of despair in it.

"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 recognised 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 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 Cornélis--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
centred, 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 any
one 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
Compiègne, 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 for ever 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
endeavoured 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 pot, no, I ought not to have deceived her who was on the point
of leaving me for ever. 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 knew
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 endeavoured 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.

Will you pardon me that falsehood which I told you in your last hours, O
my beloved dead? Your desire that I should never read those fatal
letters, which have begun to shed so terrible a light upon the past,
arose from your solicitude to spare me the suspicions that had tortured
yourself. On your death-bed your sole thought was for my happiness. Will
you forgive me for having frustrated that foresight of the dying? I must
speak to you, although I know not whether you can see me this day, or
hear me, or even feel the emotion which goes out to you, beloved one,
from my inmost soul. But, I am ashamed of having lied to you, when you
thought only of being good to me, so good, so good that no human
creature was ever better to another; and I am forced to tell you this.
You, at least, I have never doubted; there is only one touch of
bitterness in my thoughts of you; it is that I did not cherish you
sufficiently while you were here with me, that I betrayed you in the
matter of the last earthly desire of your pure soul.

I see you now, and those eyes which revealed your stainless but sorely
wounded heart. You come to me, and you pardon me; your hand strokes my
check with that sad, sad caress which you gave me before you went away
into the darkness, where hands may no more be clasped or tears mingled.
If death had not come to you too quickly, if I had obeyed your last
desire, you would have carried the secret of your most painful doubts to
the grave. You do not blame me now for having wanted to know? You no
longer blame me for having suffered? A destiny exists, and weighs upon
us, which requires that light shall be cast upon the darkness of that
crime, that justice shall resume its rights, and the avenger come. By
what road? That power knows, and uses strange weapons for its task of
reparation. It was decreed, dear and pious sister of my murdered father,
that your faithful cherishing of his dear memory should at last arouse
my slumbering will. Reproach me not, O tender, unquiet spirit, with the
torments which I have inflicted upon myself, with the tragic purpose to
which I have sacrificed my youth. Rest, I say, rest! May peace descend
upon the grave in which you sleep beside my father, in the cemetery at
Compiègne, where I too shall find repose one day. And to think that
to-morrow might be that day!



IX


My aunt died at nine o'clock in the evening. I closed her eyes, and sat
by her side until eleven, when Julie came to me and persuaded me to go
downstairs and eat something. I had taken nothing but a cup of coffee at
noon. What a mournful meal was that in the dining-room, with its walls
adorned with old china plates, where I had so often sat opposite to my
dear aunt! A lamp stood on the table and threw a light upon the
table-cloth just in front of me, but did not dispel the shadows in the
room, which was warmed by a big earthenware stove, cracked by the heat.
I listened to the noise of this stove, and it brought back the evenings
in my childhood, when I used to roast chestnuts in the ashes of just
such a fire, after I had split them, lest they should burst. I looked at
Julie, who insisted on waiting upon me herself, and found her drying the
big tears that rolled down her wrinkled cheeks with the corner of her
blue apron. I have passed hours that were more cruel, but have never
known any more poignant; and I may do myself the justice to record that
grief absorbed every other feeling in me at first. During the whole of
that dismal night I never for an instant thought of opening the packet
of letters which I had obtained by so shameful a falsehood. I had
forgotten its existence, although I had taken care to pick it up and
take it to my own room. Where was now my curiosity to learn the secrets
of those letters? I knew that I had just lost for ever the only being
who had loved me entirely, and that knowledge crushed me. I wished to
keep the watch by the side of the dead for part of the night, and I
could not turn my gaze from that motionless face which had looked upon
me for so many years with absolute and unbounded tenderness, but now lay
before me with rigid features, closed lips, shut eyelids, and wearing an
expression of profound sorrow such as I have never seen upon any other
dead face. All the melancholy thoughts which had distilled their slow
poison into her heart while she lived, were revealed by that countenance
now restored to its truth. Ah! that expression of infinite sadness ought
to have driven me on the instant to seek for its mysterious cause in the
letters which had occupied her mind to the very brink of the grave, but
how could I have had strength to reason while gazing on that mournful
face? I could only feel that the lips which had never spoken any words
but those of tenderness to me would utter them no more, that the hands
which had caressed me so tenderly would clasp mine no more for ever. The
nun who was watching the dead repeated the appointed prayers, and I
found myself uttering the old forms in which I no longer believed. As I
recited the Paternoster and the Ave, I thought of all the prayers which
she, who lay at rest before me, had put up to God for my peace and
welfare.

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 box-room
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 mantelshelf, 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 agonised 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: "1864--Justin's
Letters." 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 colour 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 my sombre 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 recognised 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 death-bed 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
table-cloth) 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 school-mates! 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, working-man'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
Cornélis; 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 École 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, deriding
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 the 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 quite another thing when her intimacy with Termonde, who moved in
the most worldly and elegant of Parisian "worlds," was perpetually
reminding her of all its pleasures and habits. My father saw that she
was bored and weary while doing the honours 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 paralyses 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 he is her lover, she is his mistress, 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 dreadful 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 had me think of my mother what I was now in a fit of
distraction thinking--that she had deceived my father, that she had been
Termonde's mistress, that therein lay the secret of the murder. 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 excerpt 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, of believing that she had been Termonde's mistress.
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 they 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 dispelled my suspicions.
What if she were to read my 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 Compiègne, awaiting the arrival of a mother,
suspected as mine was. Just God! Did not I expiate everything in
anticipation by that one hour?



X


The train from Paris approached, and stopped. The railway officials
called out the name of the station, as they opened the doors of the
carriage one after another, very slowly 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 illness. 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, carefully buttoned up in their
waterproof covers; a dressing-case, writing-case, an elegant wallet to
hold the traveller's purse, handkerchief, book, and second veil; a
hot-water bottle for the feet, two cushions for her head, and a little
clock.

"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 misrepresented to
myself, that morning, as a criminal steeped in the guilt of a cowardly
murder! Yes! I had been mad! I 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 coupé, 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 André," 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
Compiègne 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 this 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, recognising 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 has contrived after having betrayed him, has not such eyes, such a
brow, such a mouth as hers.

Every detail of all that passed that evening served to prove to me how
basely my puerile and disgraceful fancies had calumniated her who ought
to have been sacred in my sight. Julie had prepared a sort of supper,
and wished to attend at table herself. I observed the former mistress
and the old servant brought thus face to face, and, although I knew that
they had not got on well together in past days, I saw that they were
well pleased to meet again. Poor Julie especially, who was a simple
creature, incapable of deceit or dissimulation, was so glad that she
took me aside a few minutes before the meal, to tell me what a
consolation it was to her in her grief to see my mother so kind and
affectionate to me, and to wait on us both at the same table, as in the
bygone time. Had there been in my mother's past life any of those guilty
secrets which faithful servants are more quick than any others to
divine, the honest and true-hearted woman who had tended both my father
and myself would neither have been ignorant of it nor capable of
condoning it. I should have detected the trace of it in her wrinkled
face with the drawn-in lips, for its every wrinkle spoke eloquently to
me. Nor would my mother have been pleased and easy in the presence of
this witness of a sin of the past; her manner would have betrayed a
secret disturbance, were it only by the haughtiness with which, as it
were, one repels the silent censure of an inferior by anticipation.

Julie's face made one among the many things which recalled her first
marriage to my mother's mind; and, either because the almost sudden
death of my aunt had deeply moved her, or because this sentimental
recurrence to the past was an indulgence of her taste for the romantic,
far from avoiding such recollections, she yielded to them fully, while I
silently blessed her for thus destroying the last vestiges of my mute
calumny. How fervent was my mental thanksgiving, when, later in the
night, she asked to see my dear dead aunt, so that she might take a last
farewell of her! We entered the room where the dying woman had striven
with the last earthly solicitude from which I had drawn such black
conclusions. Death had strengthened the resemblance that existed in her
lifetime between my aunt and my father. The motionless face forcibly
recalled that other face still living in my sad memory, and in whose
presence my mother had clasped me in so warm an embrace; and the
resemblance was made more striking by the chin-cloth which kept the
mouth closed. Once more we stood side by side before a funereal
spectacle; but I was no longer a child, and my mother was no longer a
young woman.

How many years lay between those two deaths--and what years! The
comparison struck my mother too; she did not speak for a while--then she
whispered: "How like him she is!" She bent over the bed, pressed a kiss
on the ice-cold brow, and kneeling at the foot of the bed, she prayed.
This trying ordeal, of which I had hardly ventured to dream, she herself
had sought in so natural, so simple a way. . . . Since then I have had
many other tokens of the absolute blamelessness of my mother, I have
heard words uttered by him who had contrived and arranged the whole
crime, which fully exonerated the noble woman; but there was no need of
them. The sight of her kneeling beside the dead sister of my dear father
had sufficed to exorcise the phantom.

After her prayer, she expressed a wish to remain in the room; but I
objected, fearing that the trial would be too severe for her strength,
and induced her to go downstairs with me. She was too much affected to
sleep, and she begged of me to stay with her for a while. I complied
with joy, so afraid was I that when out of her sight I might be
revisited by the hallucinations that had been so completely banished by
her demeanour. I felt myself once more so entirely her child for this
night, that I was in delight with her least actions, her slightest
gestures, just as I used to be in my real childhood. I admired the skill
with which she instantly transformed the chimney corner of the salon
into a quiet little retreat, just the place for a comfortable long talk.
She made me arrange the screen so as to shut in the sofa, and place a
little table within its shelter; on this she set out her travelling
cloak, her smelling-bottle, and my cigarettes. She put on a white
dressing-gown, wrapped round her head and shoulders a black-lace
mantilla, and when she was settled snugly on the sofa she tucked round
her a soft covering of pink wool decked with ribbons. She leaned her
cheek on one of the two little red silk cushions that she used in the
railway carriage, and inhaled some wood violets which Julie had placed
in a little vase. The scent of the flowers mingled with the perfume of
her garments and her hair, and I liked to see her thus, to revive my
earliest impressions of her by the aid of her refined luxuriousness.
Above all I liked her to talk as she now talked, showing her mind to me,
and letting so many recollections escape from it. She had begun by
questioning me about my aunt's illness, and then she went on to speak of
my father. This was very rare with her; it was also rare for her and me
to be so familiar and so united. It was a strange sensation to hear her
tell the story of her marriage in that salon, filled with the relics of
the dead, and with the ever present remembrance of the letters which I
had read that day in my mind.

She told me--but this I already knew--how her marriage was brought
about. She met my father at a ball given by a great lawyer, who was
intimate with her family; their name was De Slane. She described her own
dress at this ball, and then sketched my father for me, in his black
coat, with an ill-tied white cravat and ill-fitting gloves. "A young
girl is always so foolish," she said. "He had himself introduced to us,
and he proposed for me twice over. I refused him each time, just because
I had those ill-fitting gloves in my mind. The third time he asked to
see me in private. Mamma wished very much for the marriage,
notwithstanding certain differences in station and education. Your
father was such a good man, so clever and hard-working, and then he
adored my mother with frank simplicity, just as if she were an idol.
Well, she consented to the interview. I received your father with the
firm intention of saying 'No' to him, and he spoke to me so nicely, with
so much eloquence and such perfect tact, I saw so plainly how much he
loved me, that I said 'Yes.' . . . ."

What a commentary upon the whole of my father's correspondence was this
entry into marriage, what a symbol of the years that were to follow!
Yes, even until their last breakfast together before the murder, they
had lived thus; she allowing herself to be loved, with the indulgent
pride of a woman who knows herself to be the superior in refinement and
distinction, and he--the hard-working man of business, only a little
above the people--loving that refined and charming woman with an
idolatrous sense of her superiority, and a single-hearted
unconsciousness of his own. A fatal poison of the heart is silence; I
had already learned this too well, and I felt it on that of my father,
whose sombre and reserved nature I had inherited. And my mother
continued--how heart-rending it was to hear her--dwelling on my father's
qualities, on his uprightness, his perseverance, and also certain points
in his character which had always puzzled her. "Since he died so sadly,"
she resumed, "I have often asked myself whether I made him as happy as
he might have been. I was very young then, and we had no tastes in
common. I have always liked society--that was born with me--and he did
not care about it, he did not feel at ease in it. I was very pious, and
he was of the school of Voltaire. He believed other men to be as good as
himself, and thought we could do without religion. . . . We have seen
since his time what that brings us to. He was not jealous, he never once
made a remark to me upon the few men friends I had, but there was a
restless tendency in him. When he was obliged to leave Paris for a short
time, if I chanced to send my daily letter to the post too late, there
would surely come a telegram urgently requesting news of my health. If,
in the evening, I came home a little later than usual, I would find him
in great anxiety, full of the notion that an accident had happened. And
then, he was subject to causeless fits of depression, prolonged spells
of silence. I did not venture to question him. You take after him in
this, my poor André."

She continued to speak of his mysterious death:

"I wept so much for it," she said, "and I have since thought so much of
it. Your father had not an enemy; his life was too upright for that. My
conviction is that the assassin reckoned on his taking a large sum of
money with him; bear in mind that we do not know what your father had in
his note-case. Ah, my André, you little know what I went through. That
was the time when I learned who were my true friends." She spoke of M.
Termonde, and the proofs of friendship he had given her. I was not angry
with her, because she did not understand that she could not say his name
at that moment without inflicting a wound upon me. Once set going upon
the road of reminiscence, what should check her? Why should she scruple
to speak to me of her second marriage and the consolation it had brought
her? Of course it was terribly sad for me to listen to these
confidences, which formed the cruel counterpart of those contained in my
father's letters to my aunt. But, sorrowful as it was to sound the
depths of the gulf which had separated those two beloved beings, what
was this in comparison with the tragic idea that had assailed me?
Throughout the long winter's evening I listened to my mother as she
talked to me, with the sweet, blessed certainty that never again could
my monstrous suspicions recur to my mind. My father's letters were fully
explained; he had been profoundly jealous of his wife, and he had never
dared to avow that jealousy. It arose from a moral influence of which
the person over whom it was exercised was probably ignorant. No, the
gentle creature who related all this past history to me with such frank
clear eyes, so sweet a voice, such ingenuousness in the acknowledgment
of her mistakes, such evident, all-pervading sincerity, must either have
been entirely innocent of the suffering she inflicted, or else she must
now be a monster of hypocrisy. At all events, I never thought that of
you, O my mother! weak but good woman as you were, capable indeed of
passing by pain unnoticed, but quite incapable of wilfully inflicting
it, and since that evening my faith in you has never been assailed. No
impious doubt crossed my mind from thenceforth, during the night which
followed this interview, or the day after, which was that of the
funeral, or when my mother had left me.

It was, however, quite another thing with regard to my stepfather. When
suspicion is awakened upon a point of such tragic interest as the murder
of a father, that suspicion cannot be lulled to sleep again, without
having touched, handled, grasped a certainty. I had grasped this
certainty, at the moment when I clasped my mother in my arms, and heard
her speak; but, did my mother's innocence prove that of my stepfather
also? No sooner was I alone, and free to study the fatal letters, in
minute detail this time, than the new aspect of the problem presented
itself to my mind. Except in those moments when he was driven into
injustice by excess of pain, my father had always distinguished between
the responsibility of his wife and that of his friend, in the relation
that excited his jealousy. In his thoughts he had always acquitted my
mother; but, on the other hand, he had never treated Termonde's passion
for her as doubtful. There, then, was the positive, undeniable fact, of
which I had been ignorant until I read the letters--this man had an
immense interest in the "suppression" of my father. Before I read the
letters I was free to believe that his feelings towards my mother were
not awakened until she was free to marry him. Notwithstanding my
jealousy, I had never denied that it was most natural for a young,
beautiful, and grief-stricken woman to inspire a passionate desire to
console her, easily transformed into love, in even the most intimate
friend of her dead husband. Things now appeared to me in a different
light. In the solitude of the house at Compiègne, where I lingered on
instead of returning to Paris, professedly in order to regulate some
affairs, but in reality because I was like the wounded animals who creep
away to endure their pain, I read those letters over and over again. One
relic in particular, among all those in the house, aroused the desire
for vengeance and for justice that had been so strong in my childhood.
This was a calendar, one of those from which one tears off a leaf daily,
that lay beside the blotting-book formerly belonging to my father and
already mentioned, on a small bureau in his old room, now mine. The
calendar was for the year 1864, and my aunt had kept it, untouched, at
the date of the day that had brought her the terrible news of the
murder. Saturday, the 11th of June, was the day marked by the leaf which
lay uppermost upon the bulk of the others, and those others marked the
days of that year, days which my father never saw. The 11th of June,
1864! It was then, on Thursday, the 9th, that he had been killed. I was
nine years old at that time, I was now twenty-four, and his death was
still unavenged. Why? Because chance had not furnished me with any
indication; because I had not been able to form any hypothesis resting
upon a fact that was observed, verified, certain. Now that I had laid
hold of one of those indications, however doubtful, one of those
hypotheses, however improbable, I had no right to draw back, I was bound
to push my suspicions to their extreme. "If I were to go to M. Massol,"
I reflected, "to place this correspondence in his hands and to consult
him, would he regard that revelation of our life, of the feelings of the
victim and of those of my mother's second husband, as a document to be
neglected?" No--a thousand times no--so strongly was I convinced of
this, that I would not have dared to take the letters to him. I should
have been afraid to set the bloodhounds of justice on this track. He and
I had pondered and studied so long that crucial question--who could
possibly have had an interest in the crime? If he had thought of my
stepfather, he had never spoken of him. What indication did he possess
which could have authorised him for a moment to raise so great a
disturbance in my mind? None; but I could now furnish him with such an
indication, and my instinct told me that it was very grave, and of
formidable significance. How could I have prevented myself from
fastening upon it, turning it over and over in my mind, and abandoning
myself completely to its absorbing suggestions?

A strange contrast existed between the tempest within my breast and the
profound quiet of the house of the dead. My life glided on in apparent
monotony; but in reality it was one of torment and perplexity. I rose
late and took my breakfast alone, always waited on by Julie. I had,
however, as companions in the silent room, Don Juan, the watch-dog, and
two half-bred Angora cats, given by me to my aunt long ago, and named
respectively, Boule-de-Poil and Pierrot. I fed these creatures, each in
its turn, reminding myself of Robinson Crusoe, the beloved hero of my
childhood, and the scenes in which the solitary man is described as
sitting at his table surrounded by his private menagerie. The cats
hissed when Don Juan came near them, and if I neglected them they put
out their claws and tore the table-cloth, poking their prying little
noses up at me. The old clock ticked solemnly, as it had done for more
years than I knew of, and there I sat, amid these homely surroundings,
discussing with myself the arguments for and against my stepfather's
guilt. I put the matter to myself thus: "The great objection to be made
to an inquiry is the established alibi; the alibi attaches to the
physical data of the crime, and in every analysis of this kind the
series of moral data exists alongside of the series of physical data. If
these do not coincide, there is room for doubt, and the chief care of a
clever assassin is to create that doubt. If the appearance of material
impossibility were to prevent investigation, how many 'instructions'
would be abandoned?" When these thoughts pressed upon me too heavily, I
rose and walked towards the wood. Around me spread the vast silence of
the afternoon in winter. The dry leaves crackled under my feet, while my
mind still toiled over the argument for and against. Granted that M.
Termonde is guilty. He was, he is still passionate to the point of
violence; that is the first fact. He was madly in love with my mother;
that is a second fact. My father was painfully jealous of him; that was
a third fact. Here begins the uncertainty! Was M. Termonde aware of that
jealousy? Had he and my father had some of those silent scenes, after
which a man of the world is aware that the house of his friend, to whose
wife he is making love, is about to be closed to him? This supposition
would, I thought, be admitted without any difficulty. It was less easy
to understand the transition from that point to the fierce longing to be
rid of an obstacle which is felt to be for ever invincible; but yet the
thing is possible. At this stage of my analysis, I came in contact with
what I called the physical data of the crime. The false Rochdale
existed; this again was a fact. He had been seen by certain persons, who
had also heard him speak. He was waiting in a room at the Imperial
Hotel, while M. Termonde was at our table talking with us. For M.
Termonde to be guilty of the crime, it would be necessary to establish a
complicity between the two men; one of them, the false Rochdale, must
needs have been an instrument, a bravo hired to kill, for the advantage
of the other.

The exceptional character of this fresh hypothesis was too evident for
me to yield to it immediately; indeed, the first time the idea occurred
to me, I ridiculed myself mercilessly. I remembered my childish terror
and the many proofs I had had of my readiness and ingenuity in
confounding the imaginary with the real. How like my former self I still
was, how incapable of chasing away the phantoms which suddenly appeared
before me! In vain did I urge this upon myself, because it was no more
than an improbability that the false Rochdale should be bribed by M.
Termonde to murder my father; it was not an absolute impossibility. The
least reflection shows that in the matter of crime everything happens. I
then set to work to recall all the extraordinary stories of the Cour
d'Assises which I could remember. My imagination turned blood-colour,
like the horizon where the sun was setting. I reentered the house, I
dined, as I had breakfasted, all alone, and then I passed the evening in
the salon, silting where my mother had sat. So afraid was I of thought
that I asked Julie to rejoin me after her supper. The old woman settled
herself on a low Breton chair, in a corner of the hearth, and went on
with her knitting. Her needles flashed as they moved in and out amid the
brown wool of which she was fabricating a stocking, and her spectacles
gleamed in the firelight. Sometimes she worked on the whole evening
without uttering a word, with Boule-de-Poil, her favourite, purring at
her feet, and Pierrot, who was of a jealous disposition, rubbing his
head against her, and standing on his hind paws. At other times she
talked, answering my questions about my aunt. She repeated what I
already knew so well; the solicitude of the dear old woman for me, her
dread of possible danger to me, her terrible anxiety on her death-bed.
She dwelt upon my aunt's inconsolable regret for my mother's second
marriage, and her unconquerable dislike to M. Termonde.

"Each time that she made up her mind to go to your mother's house," said
Julie, "for your sake, André, she was ill from agitation beforehand,
and sunk in melancholy for a full week after she came back." These
particulars were not new to me, I had known them long before, but in my
present mood they threw me back upon my cruel suspicions. I resumed the
analysis of my thoughts concerning M. Termonde from another point of
view. Granted that he is guilty, I argued, is there a single fact since
the event which is not made clear by his culpability? My aunt's horror
is, moreover, an indication that I am not a madman, for she entertained
suspicions similar to my own. But she also suspected my mother,
otherwise she would have stedfastly opposed a marriage which she must
have regarded as a frightful sacrilege. Yes; but she may have been
mistaken about my mother, and right with respect to my stepfather. Is
not M. Termonde's antipathy to me also a sign? Has there not always been
something more in this than the not-uncommon antagonism between
stepfather and stepson? Is not that "something more" bitter detestation
of one who recalls his victim at every turn, sickening aversion to the
presence of the son of the murdered man? Again, I considered the
capricious humours of the man, his alternate craving for excitement and
for solitude, and the fits of silence and brooding to which my mother
told me he was subject. Hitherto I had explained these freaks by
attributing them to the liver complaint which had hollowed out his
cheeks, darkened his eyelids, and from time to time stretched hint on
his bed in such paroxysms of pain that the strong man cried aloud. But
these oddities, this malady itself, might not they be the effect of that
obscure but undeniable phenomenon which assumes such strange and various
shapes--remorse? Did I not know by experience the close relation between
the moral and the physical in man, the ravages which a fixed idea makes
in one's health, the killing and irresistible power of thought. I, who
could not go through strong emotion of any kind without being attacked
by neuralgia? Once more, suspicion took hold of me. How wretched is he
whom such dreadful doubts assail! Tossed upon a troubled sea, the sick
and weary mind knows no repose.



XI


There was one remedy to be applied to this unbearable malady--that
remedy which had already been successful in the case of my suspicions of
my mother. I must proceed to place the realities 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 that inquiry farther, or else I should fall into
the nervous state which I knew so well, which rendered any kind of
action in cold blood impossible to me. I made up my mind to leave
Compiègne, 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
arrived there at two o'clock in the afternoon--an hour at which I was
pretty sure of finding M. Termonde at home, and smoking his cigar in the
hall after the second breakfast. A little later he and my mother would
go their separate ways until dinner-time, which was seven o'clock. I had
come on foot in order to steady my nerves by exercise, and all the way
along I had been pouring contempt upon myself, for, as I drew near to
the reality, the phantoms which I had summoned up in my solitude seemed
like the dreams of a sick child.

I remembered how the humiliating and the ridiculous were mingled in the
arrival of my mother at Compiègne. I went to meet her, as Orestes might
have gone to meet Clytemnestra, and I found a woman wholly occupied with
her mourning, her travelling bag, and her little cushions. Would the
same ironical contrast present itself in this first interview with my
stepfather? Very likely, and I should be convinced once more of my
readiness to be intoxicated with my own ideas. It was always painful to
me to be convicted of that weakness, and also of my abiding inability to
form clear, precise, and definite views. I mentally compared myself with
the bulls which I had seen in the bull-ring at San Sebastian--stupid
animals; they foamed and stamped at a red rag instead of rushing
straight upon the alert toreador, who mocked their rage. In this
disheartened mood 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 M.
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 rather pretty woman, very slight and dark, with a tip-tilted nose,
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 in its latest gossip.

I fell at once from my fancied height as an imaginary Grand Justiciary
into the shallows of Parisian frivolity. I was about to hear chatter
upon the last 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 Compiègne. 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 clear handwriting! The mind of Madame
Bernard, a worldly, trumpery 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
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 some 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 wrong to think thus, and harbour 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. Mow 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 honour 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 Compiègne. "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 spectre 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 these 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: "André, André, 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 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, and 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, an indescribable 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--or cease to hit at all.

"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 Troppmann had an accomplice. He founds his belief on the details of
the crime, which presupposes two men, he says. If this be true it must
be admitted that 'Messieurs The Assassins' have a kind of honour 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 had some bad times before him, after the
discovery of the bodies and the arrest of his comrade. I, for my part,
would not trust to that honour, and if the humour 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
eyelids 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 a 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 magnetises 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 re-opened
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 ay 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 to-morrow." 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 homewards on foot, he in his coupé--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-coloured 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.



XII


This impression of dread kept hold of me during the whole of that
evening, and for several days afterwards. There is 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 agonised 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 t 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 coupé; 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
spectre 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 from 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, thinking these thoughts, and more than once I took up a pistol,
saying to myself: "Just a touch, a slight movement like this and I am
cured for ever of mortal pain." But the 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 passed. 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 skilful 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
agonised expression of 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 characterised 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 recognised, for I had seen it on my mother's neck, and I also
recognised 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 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 it
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 any one, 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 Compiègne, she imputed the obstacles which had hindered the
realisation 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 Compiègne. 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 any one for my visit to my mother's house.
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 there," 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
arranged 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 of 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 spectre, on saying to the
man, 'Do you recognise 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 Cornélis, Compiègne;" they bore the post-mark 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 vigour 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 coupé; will you come with me?"

Was he sincere in proposing this tête-à-tête 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. According
to him, one of these great ladies was the mistress of her husband's
brother, another was notoriously under the protection of an old
diplomatist who had enriched himself by a disgraceful marriage, a third
had married an imbecile widower, and, in order that she might inherit
the whole of his fortune, had incited the man's son to so vicious a life
that it had killed him at nineteen. 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.



XIII


Have I been a coward? When I think of what I have accomplished with the
same hand that holds my pen, I am forced to answer: "No." How then shall
I explain that these first scenes, that in which I had tried to torture
my stepfather by talking to him of crimes committed by confederates, and
the danger of complicity; that in which I said to him as I sat by his
bedside and looked him full in the face: "No, M. Massol has not
forgotten you;" that in my room, when I placed the accusing letters in
his hands;--yes, how shall I explain that these three scenes were
succeeded by so many days of inaction? The proof that lies to one's
hand, that stares one in the face like a living thing, was furnished to
me by chance. It was not I who dragged it out of the darkness where it
lurked into the light. But was this my fault? From the moment when my
stepfather had the courage to resist my first attack, the most sudden
and unexpected of the three, what was there for me to do beyond watching
for the slightest indications, and probing the deepest recesses of his
character? I recurred to my first course of reasoning: since material
proofs were not to be had, let me at least collect all the moral reasons
that existed for believing more or believing less in the probability of
the complicated crime of which I accused the man in my thoughts. To do
this I had to depart from my usual custom, and live much at my mother's
house. Our association was necessarily an intolerable torment to M.
Termonde and to myself. How did he endure me, feeling himself suspected
in this way? How did I bear his presence, suspecting him as I did? Ah,
well, it was like a serpent's tooth at my heart when I saw him by my
mother's side, in all the security of love and luxury, loving his wife,
beloved by her, respected by all, and when I said to myself:

"And yet, this man is an assassin, a base, cowardly assassin."

Then I saw him, in my mind's eye, as he ought to have been, approaching
the scaffold in the dawn, livid, with cropped hair, and bound hands,
with the agony of expiation in his eyes, and in front of him the
guillotine, black against the pale sky. Instead of this, it was: "Are
you in any pain, dearest? At what hour do you want the carriage,
Jacques? Mind you wrap yourself up well. Whom shall we ask to dinner on
Wednesday?" It was on Wednesday they received their friends that winter
and until the spring. Thus spoke the soft voice of my mother, and the
evidence of their perfect union tortured me; but the thirst to know was
stronger and fiercer than that pain. My suspicions rose to fever heat,
and produced in me an irresistible craving to keep him always under my
eyes, to inflict the torment of my constant presence upon him. He
yielded to this with a facility which always surprised me. Had he
sensations analogous to mine? Now, when the whole mystery is unveiled,
and I know the part he took in the horrible plot, I understand the
torturing kind of attraction which I had for him. He was wholly
possessed by the fixed idea of his accomplished crime, and I formed a
living portion of that fixed idea, just as he formed a living portion of
my dark and continuous reflections. Henceforth he could think only of
me, just as I could think of none but him. Our mutual hate drew us
together like a mutual love. When we were apart the tempest of wild
fancies broke out with too great fury. At least, this was so in my case;
and although his presence was painful to me, it stilled at the same time
the kind of internal hurricane which hurled me from one extremity of the
possible to the other, when he was out of my sight. No sooner was I
alone than the wildest projects suggested themselves to me. I had a
vision of myself, seizing him by the throat, with the cry of "Assassin!
assassin!" and forcing him to confession by violence. I fancied myself
inducing M. Massol to resume the abandoned _Instruction_ on my account,
and pictured his coming to my mother's house with the new data supplied
by me. I fancied myself bribing two or three rascals, carrying off my
stepfather and shutting him up in some lonely house in the suburbs of
Paris, until he should have confessed the crime. My reason staggered
under these vagaries into which the excess of my desire, still further
stimulated by the sense of my powerlessness, drove me. And he too must
have lived through hours like these; when I was not there, he must have
formed and renounced a hundred plans. He asked of himself, "What does he
know?" he answered, according to the hours, "He knows all--he knows
nothing. What will he do?" and concluded, by turns, either that I would
do all, or that I would do nothing. But, when we were together, face to
face, the reality asserted itself, and put fancy to flight. We remained
together, studying each other, like two animals about to attack each
other presently; but each of us was perfectly aware of how it was with
the other. He could not fully manifest his distrust, nor I my
suspicions, we merely made it evident to one another that we had not
advanced one step since our first conversation on my return from
Compiègne. And, on my part, the evidence of this, while it discouraged
me, somewhat tranquillised; it eased my conscience of the reproach of
inaction. I did nothing, true; but what could I do?

Until the month of May of that year, 1879, I lived this strange life,
seeing my stepfather almost every day; a prey, when he was not there, to
the torments of my fancy, and when he was there suffering agonies from
his presence. My field of action was restricted to the closest study of
his character, and I devoted myself to the anatomy of his moral being
with ardent curiosity, which was sometimes gratified and sometimes
defeated, in proportion as I caught certain significant points, or
failed to catch them. I observed the least of these, purposely, for they
were more involuntary, less likely to deceive, and more useful in aiding
my search into the innermost recesses of his nature. We rode in the
Bois, in the morning, several times a week, and, contrary to our usual
custom, together. He came for me, or met me, without having made any
appointment: we were drawn towards each other by the force of our common
obsession. While we were riding side by side, talking of indifferent
matters, I observed him handling his horse so roughly that several times
he narrowly escaped being thrown, although he was a good horseman. He
preferred restive horses, and displayed a cold ferocity in his treatment
of the animals. What he did with his horses, unjust, despotic, and
implacable as he was, I thought within myself he had done with life,
bending all things and all persons about him to his will. He was
excessively vindictive, to the point indeed of asserting that he did not
attach any meaning to the word "forgiveness," and he had made for
himself a place apart in the world, being little liked, much feared, and
yet received by the most exclusive section of society. Under the perfect
elegance and correct style of his exterior, he hid the daring courage
which had been proved during the war, when he had fought with great
gallantry under the walls of Paris. From his bearing on horseback, I
arrived at far other conclusions; his innate violence convinced me that
he was capable of anything to gratify his passions. In the courage which
he displayed in 1870, I thought I could discern a kind of bargain made
with himself, a rehabilitation of himself in his own eyes, if indeed he
had committed the crime. Again, I wondered whether it was merely an
outcome of his innate ferocity, only a vent for the pent-up despair in
which he lived, for all his outside show of happiness. But whence this
despair? Was it only the moral effect of his bad health? Then, as I rode
by his side, I set myself to examine the physiology of the man,
searching for a correspondence between the construction of his frame,
and the signs and tokens given in specialist books upon the subject, as
those which indicate criminals; the upper part of his body was too heavy
for his legs, his arms were too strongly developed, the expression of
the lower jaw was hard, and his thumb too long. The latter peculiarity
assumed additional importance to my mind from the fact that my
stepfather had a habit of closing his hand with the thumb inwards as
though to hide it. I was well aware that I must not set any real store
by observations of this kind; I rejected them as puerile, but I returned
to them again, in order to supplement them by others which gave value
and importance to the former.

I reflected deeply upon the hereditary probabilities of M. Termonde's
character, during our rides in the Bois. His maternal grandfather had
shot himself with a pistol; his own brother had drowned himself, after
having dissipated hip fortune, taken service in the army, and deserted
under disgraceful circumstances. There were tragic elements in the
family history. How often as we rode together, boot almost touching
boot, have I turned those mad, sad, bad fancies in my head, and worse
ones still!

We would return, and sometimes I would go in to breakfast with my
mother, or call at her hotel after my solitary meal taken in my little
dining-room in the Avenue Montaigne. M. Termonde and I were very rarely
alone together during my visits to the hotel on the Boulevard
Latour-Marbourg. What did it matter to me now? If he was the criminal
whom I was bent on running down, he was forewarned; I had no longer any
chance of wresting his secret from him by surprise. I much preferred to
study him while he was talking, and in the course of his conversation
with one person or another, in my presence, I learned how perfect was
his self-control. In my childhood and my early youth, I had hated that
power of mastering himself completely, which he possessed to a supreme
degree, while I was so foolish, so helpless a victim to my nervous
sensibility, so incapable of the cold-bloodedness that hides violent
emotion with the mask of calmness. Now, it gave me a sort of pleasure to
contemplate the depth of his hypocrisy. He had such an inveterate habit
of dissimulation, such a mania for it, indeed, that he kept silence
respecting the smallest events of his life, even to his wife. He never
spoke of the visits he made, the people he met, the plans he formed, or
the books he read. He had evidently trained himself to forecast the most
remote consequences of every sentence that he uttered. This unremitting
watch kept upon himself in a life apparently so easy, prosperous, and
happy, could not fail to impress even the least observant people with an
idea that the man was an enigmatical personage. On putting together the
various pieces of his strange character and connecting his dissimulation
with the passionate frenzy which I had observed in him, he appeared to
me in the light of an infinitely dangerous being. He asked a great many
questions, and he spoke very deliberately, very temperately, unless he
were in a certain singular mood like that in which he had intoxicated
himself with his own words, on the occasion of our drive in his coupé.
Then he would talk on and on, with a nervous, sneering laugh, and give
utterance to theories so cynical, and to ideas and conceits so peculiar
that the whole thing made me shudder. He had, for instance, an
extraordinary knowledge of all questions relating to medical
jurisprudence. A case, which made a great sensation, was tried during
that winter, and in the course of an animated discussion in which
several persons took part, my stepfather chanced to mention the date of
the arrest of the notorious criminal Conty de la Pommerais. I verified
the statement; it was correct. How strangely full of things connected
with crime his mind must have been, and how strongly this bore upon
certain data, for which I was indebted to my interviews with M. Massol!
For, was it not an instance of the all-absorbing, single thought which
the old judge declared he had discerned in the great majority of
murderers, that which leads them to return to the scene of murder, to
approach the body of their victim when it is exposed in a public place,
to read every line of the newspapers, in which details of their crimes
are to be found, to follow the record of deeds similar to their own with
eager attention? At other times, my stepfather fell into a deep silence
from which it was impossible to rouse him, and he smoked cigar after
cigar while the silent mood was upon him, notwithstanding the reiterated
prohibition of the doctors. Tobacco by day, morphine by night--what
suffering was it he tried to baffle by such an abuse of narcotics? Was
it the pain of his malady, or torture of another kind, such as I
imagined when I gave myself up to my tragic conjectures? Again, he had
intervals of lassitude so great that even my presence could not rouse
him--the lassitude of a man who has reached the limit of what he can
suffer, and who can feel no more, because he has felt too much. I found
him in this condition two or three times, alone in the twilight, so
utterly sunk in weariness that he took no notice of me when I seated
myself opposite to him and gazed at him, also in silence. I was tempted
to cry out to him: "Confess, confess, confess at once!" And I should not
have been surprised had he surrendered, allowed his secret to escape
him, and answered: "It is true." On these occasions I felt the inanity
of the small facts I had so carefully collected. What if he were not
guilty? I kept silence, a prey to the fever of doubt which had been
devouring me for weeks, and at last he emerged from his taciturnity to
talk to me of my mother. Why? Was he thinking of her so intently just
then because he was very ill and believed that he was on the eve of an
eternal parting? Or was he merely striving to defend himself against me
with that buckler before which I always must retreat? Was this a
supplication to me to spare her a supreme grief? Yes; the latter was the
true explanation. With his inborn courage and his natural violence, he
would not have endured the outrage of my steady immovable gaze, the
menacing allusions I frequently made, the continuous threat of my
presence, but for his desire to spare my mother a scene between us, at
any cost, although he might be ever so sure that no solidly certain
proof could spring up accidentally in the course of it. But--rather than
be accused of this thing in her presence--he preferred to suffer as he
was suffering. For he loved her. However intolerable that sentiment
might appear to me, it was indispensable that I should admit it, even in
the hypothesis of the crime, in that case above all indeed. And then I
knew that notwithstanding our mutual enmity we felt ourselves obliged to
act in common so as not to endanger the happiness of the being who was
so dear to both of us. Nevertheless, the difference between us was
great. He might have a feeling of sullen jealousy because of my
attachment to my mother, but it could not give him the shudder of horror
that passed over me with the thought that he loved her as much as I did,
and was beloved by her, and yet had my father's blood upon his
conscience!

He loved her! It was for her that he had bought the assassin's hand, and
caused that blood to be shed, and it was she who brought him to
destruction at last, she who moved about between us with the same look
of happy tenderness she had cast upon us both, on the evening when she
found me by her ailing husband's bedside, and when her smile had beamed
so softly upon him and me--the very same smile! The efforts he made to
preserve the tranquillity of that woman's heart of hers were destined to
destroy him. Yes, all the precautions he had taken with a view to
warding off eventualities which he thought possible, were the cause of
his ultimate ruin, from the cunning disclosures he made to the gentle
unsuspecting creature, even to the false affection which he pretended
for me in her presence. If he and I had not made a pretence of mutual
regard, she would never have spoken to me as she did speak, I should
never have learned from her what I did learn, with the result that the
silent duel in which my useless energies were being exhausted was
brought to a sudden end. Is there then an overruling fate, as certain
men have believed, ay, even those who, like Bonaparte, have striven most
vigorously with stern realities? What I gather from the contemplation of
my life, from beyond the accomplished events of it, is that there is a
logical law of situation and character, which develops all the
consequences of our actions even to their end, so inexorably that the
very success of our criminal projects contains that which will crush us
some day. When I think this out for a little while, remembering how it
was she, the woman whom he so loved, who put the effectual clue for
which I had ceased to hope into my hand, and that it led to the
certainty from which there was no drawing back, a vertigo of terror
seizes upon me, as though the awful breath of destiny swept over my
brow. Yes, I am terrified, because I too have blood upon my hands; but
at the same time it comforts me because I can say to myself that I have
but been the instrument of an inevitable deed, the necessary slave of an
invisible master. Poor mother! If you had known? You also were the
deadly weapon in the hand of fate, blind, like the knife that kills and
knows it not. Whereas I--I have seen, I have known, I have willed. Ah!
Until now I have been strong enough to keep the compact made with
myself, that I would confess my story simply, detail by detail, passing
no judgment on myself. And now, as the scene approaches which determined
the new and last period of the drama of my life, my spirit shrinks.
Coward! Once more I yield to a kind of stupefaction at the thought that
it is really my own story I am setting down, that thus I acted, that
there is in my memory----No, I have pledged my word; I will go on. Yes,
with this hand that holds my pen I have done the deed. Yes, I have
blood, blood, an indelible stain upon these fingers. They falter, but
they must needs obey me and write out the story to its end.



XIV


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 never-to-be-forgotten 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 laboured. 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 this 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 favourite 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: "André 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 any one 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 André."

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 André," 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?"

"André, will you swear to me by your love for me, that you will never,
you understand me, never, make the least allusion 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 honour!"

"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 then 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 the 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 honour 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 blackmail. 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--André, 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, André?"

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 recognised 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, André, 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 t 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!



XV


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, honoured, 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 offence
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; but 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 colour of Edmond
Termonde's eyes, pale blue like those of his brother; the concierge of
the Imperial Hotel had mentioned the pale blue colour 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 readily. 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
accomplice 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 for ever. 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 neutralise 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 everything, 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 limitation. 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 dishonouring 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 skilful
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 clue 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
to-day, 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 endeavoured for months to find the flaw in
his armour 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 spectre upon the criminal?" Why not
utilise 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 apologise 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 traveller 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 bank-notes,
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.



XVI


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 logs bent under him. His tall, robust frame had sustained
one of those shocks of excessive terror which almost paralyse the forces
of life. He uttered but one word--Cornélis!

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 habit 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 an assassin as 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 defence 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 nor 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,
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 had 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 some one 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 head
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
spectre of another André Cornélis. 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
fulfil 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 ironbound 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 bank-notes 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 postmarks 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.



XVII


What was I going to do with those letters of my stepfather's which I had
bought so dear, since I had paid for them by the sacrifice of one-half
of my vengeance? The letters placed him at my mercy, even as they had
held him for long years at the mercy of his brother--what was I going to
do with them?

I began to read them in the cab on my way to the Avenue Montaigne. The
first, which was of great length, reminded Edmond of his past faults and
the hopelessness of his actual condition, and then indicated, without
entering into any particulars, a possible means of at least partially
repairing all these disasters and once more gaining a fortune. The first
condition was that the outlaw should scrupulously obey the orders of his
brother. He was to begin by announcing his departure from New York to
all his ordinary associates, and then to remove into another quarter of
the city under a new name, and wait there for the next letter. That one,
the second, made it evident that an answer from Edmond had been received
prior to its despatch, and that he had accepted the offer. By this
second letter the wretch was enjoined to go to Liverpool and to await
further instructions there. These instructions, contained in the third
letter--a mere note--were limited to an appointment at an early date, at
ten o'clock in the evening, in Paris, on the portion of the footpath of
the Rue de Jussieu which faces the Rue Guy-de-la-Brosse. At that hour,
those two streets, situated between the old Jardin des Plantes and the
buildings of the Entrepôt des Vins, are as solitary as the streets of a
country town. There was no more mention in this note than in the two
preceding letters of the plan that had been laid by Jacques Termonde,
and which was to be discussed by the brothers at their first meeting
after so many years; but, even if I had not had the false Rochdale's own
avowal, extorted by his surprise and terror, the coincidence of date
between this clandestine recall and the assassination of my father
constituted an undeniable proof. I read and re-read those accusing
pages--as I had read and re-read my father's letters written at the same
time--first in the cab, and then in the solitude of my own apartment,
and the horrible plot which had made me fatherless was fully revealed to
me with all its terrible details.

It happened that I was well acquainted with the street in which Jacques
played the part of tempter to Edmond; Joseph Dediot, my former
schoolfellow at Versailles, had a lodging close to it in the Rue Cuvier
for some years after he and I had left school, and I used constantly to
drop in the morning or the afternoon to pass an hour or two with him,
or take him to one of the restaurants on the Quay, from whence we could
look out upon the green water of the Seine, the busy workmen on the
Quay, and the long line of boats. Often and gaily had I trodden that
pavement on which the two accomplices walked while they were keeping
their rendezvous of crime. How plainly I saw them, coming and going
between the gas lamps! I heard the sound of their footsteps, I
distinguished the voice of the man who was to be my stepfather. That
insinuating and impassioned voice uttered words fraught with
consequences to the whole of my life, words which were the death-warrant
of my father and also of my aunt; for the malady that killed her had its
origin in grief. I, myself, had suffered severely in my childhood, was
suffering cruelly at this very moment on account of the words spoken in
that place. And then there came to me an equally distinct vision of the
infamous scoundrel whose bite still made it painful for me to move my
left shoulder. I saw him arranging his disordered dress after I had left
his room, strapping his trunks, calling the waiter, asking for his bill,
paying it with one of the notes which I had flung to him, and leaving
the house. His luggage was hoisted up on the carriage, and he was driven
off in haste to a railway station--no doubt that of Le Nord, because it
is nearest to the frontier. He took the first train and departed, and
never more should I hold him at my mercy. Again rage seized upon me! He
had not yet had time to get very far away. What if I were to go to the
Prefecture de Police? My description of him would be sufficient; he
would be arrested. I had sworn to him by my father's memory that I would
let him go free. Well, what then? An oath to such a wretch! He would be
arrested; they would be arrested--and my mother? What of her? For the
first time since the suspicion of the fatal truth had dawned upon me, I
recoiled from the thought of her. At the moment my anger burned so
fiercely at the image of the escaping murderer, that I reproached
myself, as though it were a weakness, for the filial pity which had
induced me to sacrifice one-half of my vengeance to the peace of my
dearly-beloved mother. "Let her suffer," I said to myself; "let her be
punished for her unfaithfulness to the memory of the dead!" But I was
ashamed a little later of having allowed such a thought to flit across
my mind; I repelled it as a crime. To have lived with an assassin for
fifteen years, and borne his name! Ah, she never could endure such a
discovery, or I the remorse of having revealed so hideous a truth to
her. No, no, let him escape! I looked at the clock, and with each swing
of the pendulum the chances of the villain's escape were increased. What
route had he taken? Had he set out for England? A few hours more and he
would be in London, secure, hidden, and lost amid the swarming
multitudes of the great city. "Oh, mother, mother," I cried as I flung
myself upon the sofa and writhed in mental agony, "what have I not done
for you!" After a while I arose and resolutely put away the image of
Edmond Termonde, substituting that of his brother. He at least could not
escape me. If "vengeance is a dish to be eaten cold," I had full leisure
to prepare mine at my case. My stepfather could not fly as his
accomplice had done; his marriage with my mother, the successful result
of his crime, made him my prisoner. I knew where to find him always, and
should always be free to approach him and bring about the scene between
us which the execution of my design demanded. What design? What but that
which had already haunted me, that which had appeared to offer
sufficient compensation, if I did not allow one of my two enemies to
escape; the design that had taken the form in my mind of a resolution? I
uttered aloud the words, "I am going to kill him." Several times I
repeated, "I am going to kill him, I am going to kill him," with a kind
of frenzy, as though I were intoxicated. So I was, by a vision of my
mothers infamous husband, stiff, stark, dead; those, eyes whose glance I
had suffered from so long, sightless; that mouth which had proposed the
blood bargain, mute. Never would that body, whose movements I had so
detested, move again. A strange wild delight came over me, while the
vision born of my hate was before my mind's eye. "At last, at last," I
again said aloud, "I am going to kill him!" Immediately after came the
inevitable question: how?

I had to prevent at any cost my mother's learning the truth respecting
the death of my father. I had not sacrificed my first vengeance,
allowing the wretch who actually did the deed to go free, to permit the
consequence of the second to wound the unhappy woman far more cruelly. I
had therefore to plan this second act of justice so as to secure beyond
all risk my own escape from the law. I should have to employ, in the
killing of my stepfather, all the cautious precaution that he had
employed in procuring the killing of my own father. Let me speak
plainly: I was bound to assassinate him. Yes, to assassinate him; that
is the name by which the act of killing a man who does not defend
himself is called--and things would happen thus. No matter how ingenious
the snare that I might lay for him, were I to poison him drop by drop,
to wait for him at a street corner and stab him, to fire a pistol at
him, there would be only one name for the deed. An assassination! I
myself should be an assassin. All the base infamy the word represents
was suddenly evoked in my thoughts, and for the first time I was afraid
of the vengeance I had so much desired, on which I had counted since my
childhood, as the sole and supreme reparation for all my misery. When I
became conscious of the sudden failure of my courage in presence of the
actual deed now it had become feasible, I was at first astounded. I
closed my eyes that I might collect my mind and force it in upon itself,
and I had to confess to myself: "I am afraid." Afraid of what? Afraid of
a word! For it was only a word. My vengeance, to which I had sacrificed
even the respect due to the wishes of the dying--had I not failed to
fulfil the desire of my aunt in her last moments?--now caused me a
thrill of terror, because the work that was to be done was repugnant. To
what? To the prejudices of my class and my time. 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 civilised 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 civilised 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
labouring 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-Élysées, 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 noisy quarter of the
Champs-Élysées, 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 recognised 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 head 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 irresolution 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
filial 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 practised 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!



XVIII


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 be 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
recognise 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 arm-chair 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, André? 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 every one 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 he 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, 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, André, not yet! Pity me, André, 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, André, 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, André, 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 recognise
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 with unbearable agony; 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: "Some one 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 that 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 practised 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 honour; 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!



XIX


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 André--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 recognise 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?



HERE ENDS THE STORY OF ANDRÉ CORNÉLIS



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