Part 3 out of 6
I saw her remount hastily, springing up three or four steps at a
time--it was terrible.
She rushed into the neighboring chamber, and I heard something like the
falling of the top of a great chest; then Fledermausse appeared in the
gallery, dragging a manikin after her, and this manikin was clothed
like the Heidelberg student.
With surprising dexterity the old woman suspended this hideous object
to a beam of the shed, then descended rapidly to the courtyard to
contemplate it. A burst of sardonic laughter escaped from her lips; she
remounted, then descended again like a maniac, and each time uttered
new cries and new bursts of laughter.
A noise was heard near the door, and the old woman bounded forward,
unhooked the manikin and carried it off; then, leaning over the
balustrade with her throat elongated, her eyes flashing, she listened
earnestly. The noise was lost in the distance, the muscles of her face
relaxed, and she drew long breaths. It was only a carriage which had
The old wretch had been frightened.
She now returned to the room, and I heard the chest close. This strange
scene confounded all my ideas. What did this manikin signify? I became
more than ever attentive.
Fledermausse now left the house with her basket on her arm. I followed
her with my eyes till she turned the corner of the street. She had
reassumed the air of a trembling old woman, took short steps, and from
time to time turned her head partly around, to peer behind from the
corner of her eye.
Fledermausse was absent fully five hours. For myself, I went, I came, I
meditated. The time seemed insupportable. The sun heated the slate of
the roof, and scorched my brain.
Now I saw, at the window, the good man who occupied the fatal Green
Chamber; he was a brave peasant of Nassau, with a large three-cornered
hat, a scarlet vest, and a laughing face; he smoked his pipe of Ulm
tranquillity, and seemed to fear no evil.
I felt a strong desire to cry out to him: "Good man, be on your guard!
Do not allow yourself to be entrapped by the old wretch; distrust
yourself!" but he would not have comprehended me. Toward two o'clock
Fledermausse returned. The noise of her door resounded through the
vestibule. Then alone, all alone, she entered the yard, and seated
herself on the interior step of the stairway; she put down her basket
before her, and drew out first some packets of herbs, then vegetables,
then a red vest, then a three-cornered hat, a coat of brown velvet,
pants of plush, and coarse woolen hose--the complete costume of the
peasant from Nassau.
For a moment I felt stunned; then flames passed before my eyes.
I recollected those precipices which entice with an irresistible power;
those wells or pits, which the police have been compelled to close,
because men threw themselves into them; those trees which had been cut
down because they inspired men with the idea of hanging themselves;
that contagion of suicides, of robberies, of murders, at certain
epochs, by desperate means; that strange and subtile enticement of
example, which makes you yawn because another yawns, suffer because you
see another suffer, kill yourself because you see others kill
themselves--and my hair stood up with horror.
How could this Fledermausse, this base, sordid creature, have derived
so profound a law of human nature? how had she found the means to use
this law to the profit or indulgence of her sanguinary instincts? This
I could not comprehend; it surpassed my wildest imaginations.
But reflecting longer upon this inexplicable mystery, I resolved to
turn the fatal law against her, and to draw the old murderess into her
So many innocent victims called out for vengeance!
I felt myself to be on the right path.
I went to all the old-clothes sellers in Nuremberg, and returned in the
afternoon to the Inn Boeuf-Gras, with an enormous packet under my arm.
Nichel Schmidt had known me for a long time; his wife was fat and
good-looking; I had painted her portrait.
"Ah, Master Christian," said he, squeezing my hand, "what happy
circumstance brings you here? What procures me the pleasure of seeing
"My dear Monsieur Schmidt, I feel a vehement, insatiable desire to
sleep in the Green Room."
We were standing on the threshold of the inn, and I pointed to the
room. The good man looked at me distrustfully.
"Fear nothing," I said; "I have no desire to hang myself.".
"_A la bonne heure! a la bonne heure!_ For frankly that would give me
pain; an artist of such merit! When do you wish the room, Master
"Impossible! it is occupied!"
"Monsieur can enter immediately," said a voice just behind me, "I will
not be in the way."
We turned around in great surprise; the peasant of Nassau stood before
us, with his three-cornered hat, and his packet at the end of his
walking stick. He had just learned the history of his three
predecessors in the Green Room, and was trembling with rage.
"Rooms like yours!" cried he, stuttering; "but it is murderous to put
people there--it is assassination! You deserve to be sent to the
"Go--go--calm yourself," said the innkeeper; "that did not prevent you
from sleeping well."
"Happily, I said my prayers at night," said the peasant; "without that,
where would I be?" and he withdrew, with his hands raised to heaven.
"Well," said Nichel Schmidt, stupefied, "the room is vacant, but I
entreat you, do not serve me a bad trick."
"It would be a worse trick for myself than for you, monsieur."
I gave my packet to the servants, and installed myself for the time
with the drinkers. For a long time I had not felt so calm and happy.
After so many doubts and disquietudes, I touched the goal. The horizon
seemed to clear up, and it appeared that some invisible power gave me
the hand. I lighted my pipe, placed my elbow on the table, my wine
before me, and listened to the chorus in "Freischuetz," played by a
troupe of gypsies from the Black Forest. The trumpets, the hue and cry
of the chase, the hautboys, plunged me into a vague reverie, and, at
times rousing up to look at the hour, I asked myself gravely, if all
which _had_ happened to me was not a dream. But the watchman came to
ask us to leave the _salle_, and soon other and more solemn thoughts
were surging in my soul, and in deep meditation I followed little
Charlotte, who preceded me with a candle to my room.
We mounted the stairs to the third story. Charlotte gave me the candle
and pointed to the door.
"There," said she, and descended rapidly.
I opened the door. The Green Room was like any other inn room. The
ceiling was very low, the bed very high. With one glance I explored the
interior, and then glided to the window.
Nothing was to be seen in the house of Fledermausse; only, in some
distant room, an obscure light was burning. Some one was on the watch.
"That is well," said I, closing the curtain. "I have all necessary
I opened my packet, I put on a woman's bonnet with hanging lace; then,
placing myself before a mirror, I took a brush and painted wrinkles in
my face. This took me nearly an hour. Then I put on the dress and a
large shawl, and I was actually afraid of myself. Fledermausse seemed
to me to look at me from the mirror.
At this moment the watchman cried out, "Eleven o'clock!" I seized the
manikin which I had brought in my packet, and muffled it in a costume
precisely similar to that worn by the old wretch. I then opened the
Certainly, after all that I had seen of the Fledermausse, of her
infernal cunning, her prudence, her adroitness, she could not in any
way surprise me; and yet I was afraid. The light which I had remarked
in the chamber was still immovable, and now cast its yellow rays on the
manikin of the peasant of Nassau, which was crouched on the corner of
the bed, with the head hanging on the breast, the three-cornered hat
pulled down over the face, the arms suspended, and the whole aspect
that of absolute despair.
The shadows, managed with diabolical art, allowed nothing to be seen
but the general effect of the face. The red vest, and six round buttons
alone, seemed top shine out in the darkness. But the silence of the
night, the complete immobility of the figure, the exhausted, mournful
air, were well calculated to take possession of a spectator with a
strange power. For myself, although forewarned, I was chilled even to
How would it, then, have fared with the poor, simple peasant, if he had
been surprised unawares? He would have been utterly cast down.
Despairing, he would have lost all power of self-control, and the
spirit of imitation would have done the rest.
Scarcely had I moved the curtain, when I saw Fledermausse on the watch
behind her window. She could not see me. I opened my window softly; the
window opposite was opened! Then her manikin appeared to rise slowly
and advance before me. I, also, advanced my manikin, and seizing my
torch with one hand, with the other I quickly opened the shutters. And
now the old woman and myself were face to face. Struck with sudden
terror, she had let her manikin fall!
We gazed at each other with almost equal horror. _She_ extended her
finger--I advanced _mine_. _She_ moved her lips--I agitated _mine_. She
breathed a profound sigh, and leaned upon her elbow. I imitated her.
To describe all the terrors of this scene would be impossible. It
bordered upon confusion, madness, delirium. It was a death struggle
between two wills; between two intelligences; between two souls--each
one wishing to destroy the other; and, in this struggle, I had the
advantage--her victims struggled with me.
After having imitated for some seconds every movement of Fledermausse,
I pulled a rope from under my skirt, and attached it to the crossbeam.
The old woman gazed at me with gaping mouth. I passed the rope around
my neck; her pupils expanded, lightened; her face was convulsed.
"No, no!" said she, in a whistling voice.
I pursued her with the impassability of an executioner.
Then rage seemed to take possession of her.
"Old fool!" she exclaimed, straightening herself up, and her hands
contracted on the crossbeam. "Old fool!" I gave her no time to go on
blowing out my lamp. I stooped, like a man going to make a vigorous
spring, and, seizing my manikin, I passed the rope around its neck, and
precipitated it below.
A terrible cry resounded through the street, and then silence, which I
seemed to feel. Perspiration bathed my forehead. I listened a long
time. At the end of a quarter of an hour I heard, far away, very far
away, the voice of the watchman, crying, "Inhabitants of Nuremberg,
midnight, midnight sounds!"
"Now justice is satisfied!" I cried, "and three victims are avenged.
Pardon me, O Lord!"
About five minutes after the cry of the watchman, I saw Fledermausse
attracted, allured by my manikin (her exact image), spring from the
window, with a rope around her neck, and rest suspended from the
I saw the shadow of death undulating through her body, while the moon,
calm, silent, majestic, inundated the summit of the roof, and her cold,
pale rays reposed upon the old, disheveled, hideous head.
Just as I had seen the poor young student of Heidelberg, just so did I
now see Fledermausse.
In the morning, all Nuremberg learned that the old wretch had hanged
herself, and this was the last event of that kind in the Street
_The Waters of Death_
The warm mineral waters of Spinbronn, situated in the Hundsrueck,
several leagues from Pirmesens, formerly enjoyed a magnificent
reputation. All who were afflicted with gout or gravel in Germany
repaired thither; the savage aspect of the country did not deter them.
They lodged in pretty cottages at the head of the defile; they bathed
in the cascade, which fell in large sheets of foam from the summit of
the rocks; they drank one or two decanters of mineral water daily, and
the doctor of the place, Daniel Haselnoss, who distributed his
prescriptions clad in a great wig and chestnut coat, had an excellent
To-day the waters of Spinbronn figure no longer in the "Codex"; in
this poor village one no longer sees anyone but a few miserable
woodcutters, and, sad to say, Dr. Haselnoss has left!
 A collection of prescriptions indorsed by the Faculty of
All this resulted from a series of very strange catastrophes which
lawyer Bremer of Pirmesens told me about the other day.
You should know, Master Frantz (said he), that the spring of Spinbronn
issues from a sort of cavern, about five feet high and twelve or
fifteen feet wide; the water has a warmth of sixty-seven degrees
Centigrade; it is salt. As for the cavern, entirely covered without
with moss, ivy, and brushwood, its depth is unknown because the hot
exhalations prevent all entrance.
Nevertheless, strangely enough, it was noticed early in the last
century that birds of the neighborhood--thrushes, doves, hawks--were
engulfed in it in full flight, and it was never known to what
mysterious influence to attribute this particular.
In 1801, at the height of the season, owing to some circumstance which
is still unexplained, the spring became more abundant, and the
bathers, walking below on the greensward, saw a human skeleton as
white as snow fall from the cascade.
You may judge, Master Frantz, of the general fright; it was thought
naturally that a murder had been committed at Spinbronn in a recent
year, and that the body of the victim had been thrown in the spring.
But the skeleton weighed no more than a dozen francs, and Haselnoss
concluded that it must have sojourned more than three centuries in the
sand to have become reduced to such a state of desiccation.
This very plausible reasoning did not prevent a crowd of patrons, wild
at the idea of having drunk the saline water, from leaving before the
end of the day; those worst afflicted with gout and gravel consoled
themselves. But the overflow continuing, all the rubbish, slime, and
detritus which the cavern contained was disgorged on the following
days; a veritable bone-yard came down from the mountain: skeletons of
animals of every kind--of quadrupeds, birds, and reptiles--in short,
all that one could conceive as most horrible.
Haselnoss issued a pamphlet demonstrating that all these bones were
derived from an antediluvian world: that they were fossil bones,
accumulated there in a sort of funnel during the universal flood--that
is to say, four thousand years before Christ, and that, consequently,
one might consider them as nothing but stones, and that it was
needless to be disgusted. But his work had scarcely reassured the
gouty when, one fine morning, the corpse of a fox, then that of a hawk
with all its feathers, fell from the cascade.
It was impossible to establish that these remains antedated the Flood.
Anyway, the disgust was so great that everybody tied up his bundle and
went to take the waters elsewhere.
"How infamous!" cried the beautiful ladies--"how horrible! So that's
what the virtue of these mineral waters came from! Oh, 'twere better
to die of gravel than continue such a remedy!"
At the end of a week there remained at Spinbronn only a big Englishman
who had gout in his hands as well as in his feet, who had himself
addressed as Sir Thomas Hawerburch, Commodore; and he brought a large
retinue, according to the usage of a British subject in a foreign
This personage, big and fat, with a florid complexion, but with hands
simply knotted with gout, would have drunk skeleton soup if it would
have cured his infirmity. He laughed heartily over the desertion of
the other sufferers, and installed himself in the prettiest _chalet_
at half price, announcing his design to pass the winter at Spinbronn.
* * * * *
(Here lawyer Bremer slowly absorbed an ample pinch of snuff as if to
quicken his reminiscences; he shook his laced ruff with his finger
tips and continued:)
* * * * *
Five or six years before the Revolution of 1789, a young doctor of
Pirmesens, named Christian Weber, had gone out to San Domingo in the
hope of making his fortune. He had actually amassed some hundred
thousand francs m the exercise of his profession when the negro revolt
I need not recall to you the barbarous treatment to which our
unfortunate fellow countrymen were subjected at Haiti. Dr. Weber had
the good luck to escape the massacre and to save part of his fortune.
Then he traveled in South America, and especially in French Guiana. In
1801 he returned to Pirmesens, and established himself at Spinbronn,
where Dr. Haselnoss made over his house and defunct practice.
Christian Weber brought with him an old negress called Agatha: a
frightful creature, with a flat nose and lips as large as your fist,
and her head tied up in three bandanas of razor-edged colors. This
poor old woman adored red; she had earrings which hung down to her
shoulders, and the mountaineers of Hundsrueck came from six leagues
around to stare at her.
As for Dr. Weber, he was a tall, lean man, invariably dressed in a
sky-blue coat with codfish tails and deerskin breeches. He wore a hat
of flexible straw and boots with bright yellow tops, on the front of
which hung two silver tassels. He talked little; his laugh was like a
nervous attack, and his gray eyes, usually calm and meditative, shone
with singular brilliance at the least sign of contradiction. Every
morning he fetched a turn round about the mountain, letting his horse
ramble at a venture, whistling forever the same tune, some negro
melody or other. Lastly, this rum chap had brought from Haiti a lot of
bandboxes filled with queer insects--some black and reddish brown, big
as eggs; others little and shimmering like sparks. He seemed to set
greater store by them than by his patients, and, from time to time, on
coming back from his rides, he brought a quantity of butterflies
pinned to his hat brim.
Scarcely was he settled in Haselnoss's vast house when he peopled the
back yard with outlandish birds--Barbary geese with scarlet cheeks,
Guinea hens, and a white peacock, which perched habitually on the
garden wall, and which divided with the negress the admiration of the
If I enter into these details, Master Frantz, it's because they recall
my early youth; Dr. Christian found himself to be at the same time my
cousin and my tutor, and as early as on his return to Germany he had
come to take me and install me in his house at Spinbronn. The black
Agatha at first sight inspired me with some fright, and I only got
seasoned to that fantastic visage with considerable difficulty; but
she was such a good woman--she knew so well how to make spiced
patties, she hummed such strange songs in a guttural voice, snapping
her fingers and keeping time with a heavy shuffle, that I ended by
taking her in fast friendship.
Dr. Weber was naturally thick with Sir Thomas Hawerburch, as
representing the only one of his clientele then in evidence, and I was
not slow in perceiving that these two eccentrics held long
conventicles together. They conversed on mysterious matters, on the
transmission of fluids, and indulged in certain odd signs which one or
the other had picked up in his voyages--Sir Thomas in the Orient, and
my tutor in America. This puzzled me greatly. As children will, I was
always lying in wait for what they seemed to want to conceal from me;
but despairing in the end of discovering anything, I took the course
of questioning Agatha, and the poor old woman, after making me promise
to say nothing about it, admitted that my tutor was a sorcerer.
For the rest, Dr. Weber exercised a singular influence over the mind
of this negress, and this woman, habitually so gay and forever ready
to be amused by nothing, trembled like a leaf when her master's gray
eyes chanced to alight on her.
All this, Master Frantz, seems to have no bearing on the springs of
Spinbronn. But wait, wait--you shall see by what a singular concourse
of circumstances my story is connected with it.
I told you that birds darted into the cavern, and even other and
larger creatures. After the final departure of the patrons, some of
the old inhabitants of the village recalled that a young girl named
Louise Mueller, who lived with her infirm old grandmother in a cottage
on the pitch of the slope, had suddenly disappeared half a hundred
years before. She had gone out to look for herbs in the forest, and
there had never been any more news of her afterwards, except that,
three or four days later, some woodcutters who were descending the
mountain had found her sickle and her apron a few steps from the
From that moment it was evident to everyone that the skeleton which
had fallen from the cascade, on the subject of which Haselnoss had
turned such fine phrases, was no other than that of Louise Mueller. The
poor girl had doubtless been drawn into the gulf by the mysterious
influence which almost daily overcame weaker beings!
What could this influence be? None knew. But the inhabitants of
Spinbronn, superstitious like all mountaineers, maintained that the
devil lived in the cavern, and terror spread in the whole region.
* * * * *
Now one afternoon in the middle of the month of July, 1802, my cousin
undertook a new classification of the insects in his bandboxes. He had
secured several rather curious ones the preceding afternoon. I was
with him, holding the lighted candle with one hand and with the other
a needle which I heated red-hot.
Sir Thomas, seated, his chair tipped back against the sill of a
window, his feet on a stool, watched us work, and smoked his cigar
with a dreamy air.
I stood in with Sir Thomas Hawerburch, and I accompanied him every day
to the woods in his carriage. He enjoyed hearing me chatter in
English, and wished to make of me, as he said, a thorough gentleman.
The butterflies labeled, Dr. Weber at last opened the box of the
largest insects, and said:
"Yesterday I secured a magnificent horn beetle, the great _Lucanus
cervus_ of the oaks of the Hartz. It has this peculiarity--the right
claw divides in five branches. It's a rare specimen."
At the same time I offered him the needle, and as he pierced the
insect before fixing it on the cork, Sir Thomas, until then impassive,
got up, and, drawing near a bandbox, he began to examine the spider
crab of Guiana with a feeling of horror which was strikingly portrayed
on his fat vermilion face.
"That is certainly," he cried, "the most frightful work of the
creation. The mere sight of it--it makes me shudder!"
In truth, a sudden pallor overspread his face.
"Bah!" said my tutor, "all that is only a prejudice from
childhood--one hears his nurse cry out--one is afraid--and the
impression sticks. But if you should consider the spider with a strong
microscope, you would be astonished at the finish of his members, at
their admirable arrangement, and even at their elegance."
"It disgusts me," interrupted the commodore brusquely. "Pouah!"
It had turned over in his fingers.
"Oh! I don't know why," he declared, "spiders have always frozen my
Dr. Weber began to laugh, and I, who shared the feelings of Sir
"Yes, cousin, you ought to take this villainous beast out of the
box--it is disgusting--it spoils all the rest."
"Little chump," he said, his eyes sparkling, "what makes you look at
it? If you don't like it, go take yourself off somewhere."
Evidently he had taken offense; and Sir Thomas, who was then before
the window contemplating the mountain, turned suddenly, took me by the
hand, and said to me in a manner full of good will:
"Your tutor, Frantz, sets great store by his spider; we like the trees
better--the verdure. Come, let's go for a walk."
"Yes, go," cried the doctor, "and come back for supper at six
Then raising his voice:
"No hard feelings, Sir Hawerburch."
The commodore replied laughingly, and we got into the carriage, which
was always waiting in front of the door of the house.
Sir Thomas wanted to drive himself and dismissed his servant. He made
me sit beside him on the same seat and we started off for Rothalps.
While the carriage was slowly ascending the sandy path, an invincible
sadness possessed itself of my spirit. Sir Thomas, on his part, was
grave. He perceived my sadness and said:
"You don't like spiders, Frantz, nor do I either. But thank Heaven,
there aren't any dangerous ones in this country. The spider crab which
your tutor has in his box comes from French Guiana. It inhabits the
great, swampy forests filled with warm vapors, with scalding
exhalations; this temperature is necessary to its life. Its web, or
rather its vast snare, envelops an entire thicket. In it it takes
birds as our spiders take flies. But drive these disgusting images
from your mind, and drink a swallow of my old Burgundy."
Then turning, he raised the cover of the rear seat, and drew from the
straw a sort of gourd from which he poured me a full bumper in a
When I had drunk all my good humor returned and I began to laugh at my
The carriage was drawn by a little Ardennes horse, thin and nervous as
a goat, which clambered up the nearly perpendicular path. Thousands of
insects hummed in the bushes. At our right, at a hundred paces or
more, the somber outskirts of the Rothalp forests extended below us,
the profound shades of which, choked with briers and foul brush,
showed here and there an opening filled with light. On our left
tumbled the stream of Spinbronn, and the more we climbed the more did
its silvered sheets, floating in the abyss, grow tinged with azure and
redouble their sound of cymbals.
I was captivated by this spectacle. Sir Thomas, leaning back in the
seat, his knees as high as his chin, abandoned himself to his habitual
reveries, while the horse, laboring with his feet and hanging his head
on his chest as a counter-weight to the carriage, held on as if
suspended on the flank of the rock. Soon, however, we reached a pitch
less steep: the haunt of the roebuck, surrounded by tremulous shadows.
I always lost my head, and my eyes too, in an immense perspective. At
the apparition of the shadows I turned my head and saw the cavern of
Spinbronn close at hand. The encompassing mists were a magnificent
green, and the stream which, before falling, extends over a bed of
black sand and pebbles, was so clear that one would have thought it
frozen if pale vapors did not follow its surface.
The horse had just stopped of his own accord to breathe; Sir Thomas,
rising, cast his eye over the countryside.
"How calm everything is!" said he.
Then, after an instant of silence:
"If you weren't here, Frantz, I should certainly bathe in the basin."
"But, Commodore," said I, "why not bathe? I would do well to stroll
around in the neighborhood. On the next hill is a great glade filled
with wild strawberries. I'll go and pick some. I'll be back in an
"Ha! I should like to, Frantz; it's a good idea. Dr. Weber contends
that I drink too much Burgundy. It's necessary to offset wine with
mineral water. This little bed of sand pleases me."
Then, having set both feet on the ground, he hitched the horse to the
trunk of a little birch and waved his hand as if to say:
"You may go."
I saw him sit down on the moss and draw off his boots. As I moved away
he turned and called out:
"In an hour, Frantz."
They were his last words.
An hour later I returned to the spring. The horse, the carriage, and
the clothes of Sir Thomas alone met my eyes. The sun was setting. The
shadows were getting long. Not a bird's song under the foliage, not
the hum of an insect in the tall grass. A silence like death looked
down on this solitude! The silence frightened me. I climbed up on the
rock which overlooks the cavern; I looked to the right and to the
left. Nobody! I called. No answer! The sound of my voice, repeated by
the echoes, filled me with fear. Night settled down slowly. A vague
sense of horror oppressed me. Suddenly the story of the young girl who
had disappeared occurred to me; and I began to descend on the run;
but, arriving before the cavern, I stopped, seized with unaccountable
terror: in casting a glance in the deep shadows of the spring I had
caught sight of two motionless red points. Then I saw long lines
wavering in a strange manner in the midst of the darkness, and that at
a depth where no human eye had ever penetrated. Fear lent my sight,
and all my senses, an unheard-of subtlety of perception. For several
seconds I heard very distinctly the evening plaint of a cricket down
at the edge of the wood, a dog barking far away, very far in the
valley. Then my heart, compressed for an instant by emotion, began to
beat furiously and I no longer heard anything!
Then uttering a horrible cry, I fled, abandoning the horse, the
carriage. In less than twenty minutes, bounding over the rocks and
brush, I reached the threshold of our house, and cried in a stifled
"Run! Run! Sir Hawerburch is dead! Sir Hawerburch is in the cavern--!"
After these words, spoken in the presence of my tutor, of the old
woman Agatha, and of two or three people invited in that evening by
the doctor, I fainted. I have learned since that during a whole hour I
The whole village had gone in search of the commodore. Christian Weber
hurried them off. At ten o'clock in the evening all the crowd came
back, bringing the carriage, and in the carriage the clothes of Sir
Hawerburch. They had discovered nothing. It was impossible to take ten
steps in the cavern without being suffocated.
During their absence Agatha and I waited, sitting in the chimney
corner. I, howling incoherent words of terror; she, with hands crossed
on her knees, eyes wide open, going from time to time to the window to
see what was taking place, for from the foot of the mountain one could
see torches flitting in the woods. One could hear hoarse voices, in
the distance, calling to each other in the night.
At the approach of her master, Agatha began to tremble. The doctor
entered brusquely, pale, his lips compressed, despair written on his
face. A score of woodcutters followed him tumultuously, in great felt
hats with wide brims--swarthy visaged--shaking the ash from their
torches. Scarcely was he in the hall when my tutor's glittering eyes
seemed to look for something. He caught sight of the negress, and
without a word having passed between them, the poor woman began to
"No! no! I don't want to!"
"And I wish it," replied the doctor in a hard tone.
One would have said that the negress had been seized by an invincible
power. She shuddered from head to foot, and Christian Weber showing
her a bench, she sat down with a corpse-like stiffness.
All the bystanders, witnesses of this shocking spectacle, good folk
with primitive and crude manners, but full of pious sentiments, made
the sign of the cross, and I who knew not then, even by name, of the
terrible magnetic power of the will, began to tremble, believing that
Agatha was dead.
Christian Weber approached the negress, and making a rapid pass over
"Are you there?" said he.
"Sir Thomas Hawerburch?"
At these words she shuddered again.
"Do you see him?"
"Yes--yes," she gasped in a strangling voice, "I see him."
"Where is he?"
"Up there--in the back of the cavern--dead!"
"Dead!" said the doctor, "how?"
"The spider--Oh! the spider crab--Oh!--"
"Control your agitation," said the doctor, who was quite pale, "tell
"The spider crab holds him by the throat--he is there--at the
back--under the rock--wound round by webs--Ah!"
Christian Weber cast a cold glance toward his assistants, who,
crowding around, with their eyes sticking out of their heads, were
listening intently, and I heard him murmur:
"It's horrible! horrible!"
Then he resumed:
"You see him?"
"I see him--"
"And the spider--is it big?"
"Oh, master, never--never have I seen such a large one--not even on
the banks of the Mocaris--nor in the lowlands of Konanama. It is as
large as my head--!"
There was a long silence. All the assistants looked at each other,
their faces livid, their hair standing up. Christian Weber alone
seemed calm; having passed his hand several times over the negress's
forehead, he continued:
"Agatha, tell us how death befell Sir Hawerburch."
"He was bathing in the basin of the spring--the spider saw him from
behind, with his bare back. It was hungry, it had fasted for a long
time; it saw him with his arms on the water. Suddenly it came out like
a flash and placed its fangs around the commodore's neck, and he cried
out: 'Oh! oh! my God!' It stung and fled. Sir Hawerburch sank down in
the water and died. Then the spider returned and surrounded him with
its web, and he floated gently, gently, to the back of the cavern. It
drew in on the web. Now he is all black."
The doctor, turning to me, who no longer felt the shock, asked:
"Is it true, Frantz, that the commodore went in bathing?"
"Yes, Cousin Christian."
"At what time?"
"At four o'clock."
"At four o'clock--it was very warm, wasn't it?"
"It's certainly so," said he, striking his forehead. "The monster
could come out without fear--"
He pronounced a few unintelligible words, and then, looking toward the
"My friends," he cried, "that is where this mass of debris came
from--of skeletons--which spread terror among the bathers. That is
what has ruined you all--it is the spider crab! It is there--hidden in
its web--awaiting its prey in the back of the cavern! Who can tell the
number of its victims?"
And full of fury, he led the way, shouting:
The woodcutters followed him, vociferating.
Ten minutes later two large wagons laden with fagots were slowly
mounting the slope. A long file of woodcutters, their backs bent
double, followed, enveloped in the somber night. My tutor and I walked
ahead, leading the horses by their bridles, and the melancholy moon
vaguely lighted this funereal march. From time to time the wheels
grated. Then the carts, raised by the irregularities of the rocky
road, fell again in the track with a heavy jolt.
As we drew near the cavern, on the playground of the roebucks, our
cortege halted. The torches were lit, and the crowd advanced toward
the gulf. The limpid water, running over the sand, reflected the
bluish flame of the resinous torches, the rays of which revealed the
tops of the black firs leaning over the rock.
"This is the place to unload," the doctor then said. "It's necessary
to block up the mouth of the cavern."
And it was not without a feeling of terror that each undertook the
duty of executing his orders. The fagots fell from the top of the
loads. A few stakes driven down before the opening of the spring
prevented the water from carrying them away.
Toward midnight the mouth of the cavern was completely closed. The
water running over spread to both sides on the moss. The top fagots
were perfectly dry; then Dr. Weber, supplying himself with a torch,
himself lit the fire. The flames ran from twig to twig with an angry
crackling, and soon leaped toward the sky, chasing clouds of smoke
It was a strange and savage spectacle, the great pile with trembling
shadows lit up in this way.
This cavern poured forth black smoke, unceasingly renewed and
disgorged. All around stood the woodcutters, somber, motionless,
expectant, their eyes fixed on the opening; and I, although trembling
from head to foot in fear, could not tear away my gaze.
It was a good quarter of an hour that we waited, and Dr. Weber was
beginning to grow impatient, when a black object, with long hooked
claws, appeared suddenly in the shadow and precipitated itself toward
A cry resounded about the pyre.
The spider, driven back by the live coals, reentered its cave. Then,
smothered doubtless by the smoke, it returned to the charge and leaped
out into the midst of the flames. Its long legs curled up. It was as
large as my head, and of a violet red.
One of the woodcutters, fearing lest it leap clear of the fire, threw
his hatchet at it, and with such good aim that on the instant the fire
around it was covered with blood. But soon the flames burst out more
vigorously over it and consumed the horrible destroyer.
* * * * *
Such, Master Frantz, was the strange event which destroyed the fine
reputation which the waters of Spinbronn formerly enjoyed. I can
certify the scrupulous precision of my account. But as for giving you
an explanation, that would be impossible for me to do. At the same
time, allow me to tell you that it does not seem to me absurd to admit
that a spider, under the influence of a temperature raised by thermal
waters, which affords the same conditions of life and development as
the scorching climates of Africa and South America, should attain a
fabulous size. It was this same extreme heat which explains the
prodigious exuberance of the antediluvian creation!
However that may be, my tutor, judging that it would be impossible
after this event to reestablish the waters of Spinbronn, sold the
house back to Haselnoss, in order to return to America with his
negress and collections. I was sent to board in Strasbourg, where I
remained until 1809.
The great political events of the epoch then absorbing the attention
of Germany and France explain why the affair I have just told you
about passed completely unobserved.
HONORE DE BALZAC
To Monsieur le General Baron de Pommereul, a token of the
friendship between our fathers, which survives in their sons.
There is a special variety of human nature obtained in the Social
Kingdom by a process analogous to that of the gardener's craft in the
Vegetable Kingdom, to wit, by the forcing-house--a species of hybrid
which can be raised neither from seed nor from slips. This product is
known as the Cashier, an anthropomorphous growth, watered by religious
doctrine, trained up in fear of the guillotine, pruned by vice, to
flourish on a third floor with an estimable wife by his side and an
uninteresting family. The number of cashiers in Paris must always be a
problem for the physiologist. Has anyone as yet been able to state
correctly the terms of the proportion sum wherein the cashier figures
as the unknown _x_? Where will you find the man who shall live with
wealth, like a cat with a caged mouse? This man, for further
qualification, shall be capable of sitting boxed in behind an iron
grating for seven or eight hours a day during seven-eighths of the
year, perched upon a cane-seated chair in a space as narrow as a
lieutenant's cabin on board a man-of-war. Such a man must be able to
defy anchylosis of the knee and thigh joints; he must have a soul above
meanness, in order to live meanly; must lose all relish for money by
dint of handling it. Demand this peculiar specimen of any creed,
educational system, school, or institution you please, and select
Paris, that city of fiery ordeals and branch establishment of hell, as
the soil in which to plant the said cashier. So be it. Creeds, schools,
institutions, and moral systems, all human rules and regulations, great
and small, will, one after another, present much the same face that an
intimate friend turns upon you when you ask him to lend you a thousand
francs. With a dolorous dropping of the jaw, they indicate the
guillotine, much as your friend aforesaid will furnish you with the
address of the money lender, pointing you to one of the hundred gates
by which a man comes to the last refuge of the destitute.
 For the narrative "Melmoth the Wanderer," and a description of
Balzac's debt to its author, see Volume III, page 161.--EDITOR.
Yet Nature has her freaks in the making of a man's mind; she indulges
herself and makes a few honest folk now and again, and now and then a
Wherefore, that race of corsairs whom we dignify with the title of
bankers, the gentry who take out a license for which they pay a
thousand crowns, as the privateer takes out his letters of marque, hold
these rare products of the incubations of virtue in such esteem that
they confine them in cages in their counting-houses, much as
governments procure and maintain specimens of strange beasts at their
If the cashier is possessed of an imagination or of a fervid
temperament; if, as will sometimes happen to the most complete cashier,
he loves his wife, and that wife grows tired of her lot, has ambitions,
or merely some vanity in her composition, the cashier is undone. Search
the chronicles of the counting-house. You will not find a single
instance of a cashier attaining _a position_, as it is called. They are
sent to the hulks; they go to foreign parts; they vegetate on a second
floor in the Rue Saint-Louis among the market gardens of the Marais.
Some day, when the cashiers of Paris come to a sense of their real
value, a cashier will be hardly obtainable for money. Still, certain it
is that there are people who are fit for nothing but to be cashiers,
just as the bent of a certain order of mind inevitably makes for
rascality. But, oh marvel of our civilization! Society rewards virtue
with an income of a hundred louis in old age, a dwelling on a second
floor, bread sufficient, occasional new bandana handkerchiefs, an
elderly wife and her offspring.
So much for virtue. But for the opposite course, a little boldness, a
faculty for keeping on the windward side of the law, as Turenne
outflanked Montecuculli, and Society will sanction the theft of
millions, shower ribbons upon the thief, cram him with honors, and
smother him with consideration.
Government, moreover, works harmoniously with this profoundly illogical
reasoner--Society. Government levies a conscription on the young
intelligence of the kingdom at the age of seventeen or eighteen, a
conscription of precocious power. Great ability is prematurely
exhausted by excessive brain work before it is sent up to be submitted
to a process of selection. Nurserymen sort and select seeds in much the
same way. To this process the Government brings professional appraisers
of talent, men who can assay brains as experts assay gold at the Mint.
Five hundred such heads, set afire with hope, are sent up annually by
the most progressive portion of the population; and of these the
Government takes one third, puts them in sacks called the Ecoles, and
shakes them up together for three years. Though every one of these
young plants represents vast productive power, they are made, as one
may say, into cashiers. They receive appointments; the rank and file of
engineers is made up of them; they are employed as captains of
artillery; there is no (subaltern) grade to which they may not aspire.
Finally, when these men, the pick of the youth of the nation, fattened
on mathematics and stuffed with knowledge, have attained the age of
fifty years, they have their reward, and receive as the price of their
services the third-floor lodging, the wife and family, and all the
comforts that sweeten life for mediocrity. If from among this race of
dupes there should escape some five or six men of genius who climb the
highest heights, is it not miraculous?
This is an exact statement of the relations between Talent and Probity
on the one hand, and Government and Society on the other, in an age
that considers itself to be progressive. Without this prefatory
explanation a recent occurrence in Paris would seem improbable; but
preceded by this summing up of the situation, it will perhaps receive
some thoughtful attention from minds capable oL recognizing the real
plague spots of our civilization, a civilization which since 1815 has
been moved by the spirit of gain rather than by principles of honor.
* * * * *
About five o'clock, on a dull autumn afternoon, the cashier of one of
the largest banks in Paris was still at his desk, working by the light
of a lamp that had been lit for some time. In accordance with the use
and wont of commerce, the counting-house was in the darkest corner of
the low-ceiled and far from spacious mezzanine floor, and at the very
end of a passage lighted only by borrowed lights. The office doors
along this corridor, each with its label, gave the place the look of a
bath-house. At four o'clock the stolid porter had proclaimed, according
to his orders, "The bank is closed." And by this time the departments
were deserted, the letters dispatched, the clerks had taken their
leave. The wives of the partners in the firm were expecting their
lovers; the two bankers dining with their mistresses. Everything was in
The place where the strong boxes had been bedded in sheet iron was just
behind the little sanctum, where the cashier was busy. Doubtless he was
balancing his books. The open front gave a glimpse of a safe of
hammered iron, so enormously heavy (thanks to the science of the modern
inventor) that burglars could not carry it away. The door only opened
at the pleasure of those who knew its password. The letter-lock was a
warden who kept its own secret and could not be bribed; the mysterious
word was an ingenious realization of the "Open sesame!" in the _Arabian
Nights_. But even this was as nothing. A man might discover the
password; but unless he knew the lock's final secret, the _ultima
ratio_ of this gold-guarding dragon of mechanical science, it
discharged a blunderbuss at his head.
The door of the room, the walls of the room, the shutters of the
windows in the room, the whole place, in fact, was lined with sheet
iron a third of an inch in thickness, concealed behind the thin wooden
paneling. The shutters had been closed, the door had been shut. If ever
man could feel confident that he was absolutely alone, and that there
was no remote possibility of being watched by prying eyes, that man was
the cashier of the house of Nucingen and Company in the Rue
Accordingly the deepest silence prevailed in that iron cave. The fire
had died out in the stove, but the room was full of that tepid warmth
which produces the dull heavy-headedness and nauseous queasiness of a
morning after an orgy. The stove is a mesmerist that plays no small
part in the reduction of bank clerks and porters to a state of idiocy.
A room with a stove in it is a retort in which the power of strong men
is evaporated, where their vitality is exhausted, and their wills
enfeebled. Government offices are part of a great scheme for the
manufacture of the mediocrity necessary for the maintenance of a Feudal
System on a pecuniary basis--and money is the foundation of the Social
Contract. (See _Les Employes_.) The mephitic vapors in the atmosphere
of a crowded room contribute in no small degree to bring about a
gradual deterioration of intelligences, the brain that gives off the
largest quantity of nitrogen asphyxiates the others, in the long run.
The cashier was a man of five and forty or thereabouts. As he sat at
the table, the light from a moderator lamp shining full on his bald
head and glistening fringe of iron-gray hair that surrounded it--this
baldness and the round outlines of his face made his head look very
like a ball. His complexion was brick-red, a few wrinkles had gathered
about his eyes, but he had the smooth, plump hands of a stout man. His
blue cloth coat, a little rubbed and worn, and the creases and
shininess of his trousers, traces of hard wear that the clothes-brush
fails to remove, would impress a superficial observer with the idea
that here was a thrifty and upright human being, sufficient of the
philosopher or of the aristocrat to wear shabby clothes. But,
unluckily, it is easy to find penny-wise people who will prove weak,
wasteful, or incompetent in the capital things of life.
The cashier wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor at his buttonhole,
for he had been a major of dragoons in the time of the Emperor. M. de
Nucingen, who had been a contractor before he became a banker, had had
reason in those days to know the honorable disposition of his cashier,
who then occupied a high position. Reverses of fortune had befallen the
major, and the banker out of regard for him paid him five hundred
francs a month. The soldier had become a cashier in the year 1813,
after his recovery from a wound received at Studzianka during the
Retreat from Moscow, followed by six months of enforced idleness at
Strasbourg, whither several officers had been transported by order of
the Emperor, that they might receive skilled attention. This particular
officer, Castanier by name, retired with the honorary grade of colonel,
and a pension of two thousand four hundred francs.
In ten years' time the cashier had completely effaced the soldier, and
Castanier inspired the banker with such trust in him, that he was
associated in the transactions that went on in the private office
behind his little counting-house. The baron himself had access to it by
means of a secret staircase. There, matters of business were decided.
It was the bolting room where proposals were sifted; the privy council
chamber where the reports of the money market were analyzed; circular
notes issued thence; and finally, the private ledger and the journal
which summarized the work of all the departments were kept there.
Castanier had gone himself to shut the door which opened on to a
staircase that led to the parlor occupied by the two bankers on the
first floor of their hotel. This done, he had sat down at his desk
again, and for a moment he gazed at a little collection of letters of
credit drawn on the firm of Watschildine of London. Then he had taken
up the pen and imitated the banker's signature upon each. _Nucingen_ he
wrote, and eyed the forged signatures critically to see which seemed
the most perfect copy.
Suddenly he looked up as if a needle had pricked him. "You are not
alone!" a boding voice seemed to cry in his heart; and indeed the
forger saw a man standing at the little grated window of the
counting-house, a man whose breathing was so noiseless that he did not
seem to breathe at all. Castanier looked, and saw that the door at the
end of the passage was wide open; the stranger must have entered by
For the first time in his life the old soldier felt a sensation of
dread that made him stare open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the man before
him; and for that matter, the appearance of the apparition was
sufficiently alarming even if unaccompanied by the mysterious
circumstances of so sudden an entry. The rounded forehead, the harsh
coloring of the long oval face, indicated quite as plainly as the cut
of his clothes that the man was an Englishman, reeking of his native
isles. You had only to look at the collar of his overcoat, at the
voluminous cravat which smothered the crushed frills of a shirt front
so white that it brought out the changeless leaden hue of an impassive
face, and the thin red line of the lips that seemed made to suck the
blood of corpses; and you could guess at once at the black gaiters
buttoned up to the knee, and the half-puritanical costume of a wealthy
Englishman dressed for a walking excursion. The intolerable glitter of
the stranger's eyes produced a vivid and unpleasant impression, which
was only deepened by the rigid outlines of his features. The dried-up,
emaciated creature seemed to carry within him some gnawing thought that
consumed him and could not be appeased.
He must have digested his food so rapidly that he could doubtless eat
continually without bringing any trace of color into his face or
features. A tun of Tokay _vin de succession_ would not have caused any
faltering in that piercing glance that read men's inmost thoughts, nor
dethroned the merciless reasoning faculty that always seemed to go to
the bottom of things. There was something of the fell and tranquil
majesty of a tiger about him.
"I have come to cash this bill of exchange, sir," he said. Castanier
felt the tones of his voice thrill through every nerve with a violent
shock similar to that given by a discharge of electricity.
"The safe is closed," said Castanier.
"It is open," said the Englishman, looking round the counting-house.
"To-morrow is Sunday, and I cannot wait. The amount is for five hundred
thousand francs. You have the money there, and I must have it."
"But how did you come in, sir?"
The Englishman smiled. That smile frightened Castanier. No words could
have replied more fully nor more peremptorily than that scornful and
imperial curl of the stranger's lips. Castanier turned away, took up
fifty packets, each containing ten thousand francs in bank notes, and
held them out to the stranger, receiving in exchange for them a bill
accepted by the Baron de Nucingen. A sort of convulsive tremor ran
through him as he saw a red gleam in the stranger's eyes when they fell
on the forged signature on the letter of credit.
"It ... it wants your signature ..." stammered Castanier, handing back
"Hand me your pen," answered the Englishman.
Castanier handed him the pen with which he had just committed forgery.
The stranger wrote _John Melmoth_, then he returned the slip of paper
and the pen to the cashier. Castanier looked at the handwriting,
noticing that it sloped from right to left in the Eastern fashion, and
Melmoth disappeared so noiselessly that when Castanier looked up again
an exclamation broke from him, partly because the man was no longer
there, partly because he felt a strange painful sensation such as our
imagination might take for an effect of poison.
The pen that Melmoth had handled sent the same sickening heat through
him that an emetic produces. But it seemed impossible to Castanier that
the Englishman should have guessed his crime. His inward qualms he
attributed to the palpitation of the heart that, according to received
ideas, was sure to follow at once on such a "turn" as the stranger had
"The devil take it; I am very stupid. Providence is watching over me;
for if that brute had come round to see my gentlemen to-morrow, my
goose would have been cooked!" said Castanier, and he burned the
unsuccessful attempts at forgery in the stove.
He put the bill that he meant to take with him in an envelope, and
helped himself to five hundred thousand francs in French and English
bank notes from the safe, which he locked. Then he put everything in
order, lit a candle, blew out the lamp, took up his hat and umbrella,
and went out sedately, as usual, to leave one of the two keys of the
strong room with Madame de Nucingen, in the absence of her husband the
"You are in luck, M. Castanier," said the banker's wife as he entered
her room; "we have a holiday on Monday; you can go into the country, or
"Madame, will you be so good as to tell your husband that the bill of
exchange on Watschildine, which was behind time, has just been
presented? The five hundred thousand francs have been paid; so I shall
not come back till noon on Tuesday."
"Good-by, monsieur; I hope you will have a pleasant time."
"The same to you, madame," replied the old dragoon as he went out. He
glanced as he spoke at a young man well known in fashionable society at
that time, a M. de Rastignac, who was regarded as Madame de Nucingen's
"Madame," remarked this latter, "the old boy looks to me as if he meant
to play you some ill turn."
"Pshaw! impossible; he is too stupid."
"Piquoizeau," said the cashier, walking into the porter's room, "what
made you let anybody come up after four o'clock?"
"I have been smoking a pipe here in the doorway ever since four
o'clock," said the man, "and nobody has gone into the bank. Nobody has
come out either except the gentlemen--"
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yes, upon my word and honor. Stay, though, at four o'clock M.
Werbrust's friend came, a young fellow from Messrs. du Tillet & Co., in
the Rue Joubert."
"All right," said Castanier, and he hurried away.
The sickening sensation of heat that he had felt when he took back the
pen returned in greater intensity. "_Mille diables!_" thought he, as he
threaded his way along the Boulevard de Gand, "haven't I taken proper
precautions? Let me think! Two clear days, Sunday and Monday, then a
day of uncertainty before they begin to look for me; altogether, three
days and four nights' respite. I have a couple of passports and two
different disguises; is not that enough to throw the cleverest
detective off the scent? On Tuesday morning I shall draw a million
francs in London before the slightest suspicion has been aroused. My
debts I am leaving behind for the benefit of my creditors, who will put
a 'P' on the bills, and I shall live comfortably in Italy for the
rest of my days as the Conte Ferraro. I was alone with him when he
died, poor fellow, in the marsh of Zembin, and I shall slip into his
skin.... _Mille diables!_ the woman who is to follow after me might
give them a clew! Think of an old campaigner like me infatuated enough
to tie myself to a petticoat tail!... Why take her? I must leave her
behind. Yes, I could make up my mind to it; but--I know myself--I
should be ass enough to go back for her. Still, nobody knows Aquilina.
Shall I take her or leave her?"
"You will not take her!" cried a voice that filled Castanier with
sickening dread. He turned sharply, and saw the Englishman.
"The devil is in it!" cried the cashier aloud.
Melmoth had passed his victim by this time; and if Castanier's first
impulse had been to fasten a quarrel on a man who read his own
thoughts, he was so much torn by opposing feelings that the immediate
result was a temporary paralysis. When he resumed his walk he fell once
more into that fever of irresolution which besets those who are so
carried away by passion that they are ready to commit a crime, but have
not sufficient strength of character to keep it to themselves without
suffering terribly in the process. So, although Castanier had made up
his mind to reap the fruits of a crime which was already half executed,
he hesitated to carry out his designs. For him, as for many men of
mixed character in whom weakness and strength are equally blended, the
least trifling consideration determines whether they shall continue to
lead blameless lives or become actively criminal. In the vast masses of
men enrolled in Napoleon's armies there were many who, like Castanier,
possessed the purely physical courage demanded on the battlefield, yet
lacked the moral courage which makes a man as great in crime as he
could have been in virtue.
The letter of credit was drafted in such terms that immediately on his
arrival he might draw twenty-five thousand pounds on the firm of
Watschildine, the London correspondents of the house of Nucingen. The
London house had been already advised of the draft about to be made
upon them; he had written to them himself. He had instructed an agent
(chosen at random) to take his passage in a vessel which was to leave
Portsmouth with a wealthy English family on board, who were going to
Italy, and the passage money had been paid in the name of the Conte
Ferraro. The smallest details of the scheme had been thought out. He
had arranged matters so as to divert the search that would be made for
him into Belgium and Switzerland, while he himself was at sea in the
English vessel. Then, by the time that Nucingen might flatter himself
that he was on the track of his late cashier, the said cashier, as the
Conte Ferraro, hoped to be safe in Naples. He had determined to
disfigure his face in order to disguise himself the more completely,
and by means of an acid to imitate the scars of smallpox. Yet, in spite
of all these precautions, which surely seemed as if they must secure
him complete immunity, his conscience tormented him; he was afraid. The
even and peaceful life that he had led for so long had modified the
morality of the camp. His life was stainless as yet; he could not sully
it without a pang. So for the last time he abandoned himself to all the
influences of the better self that strenuously resisted.
"Pshaw!" he said at last, at the corner of the Boulevard and the Rue
Montmartre, "I will take a cab after the play this evening and go out
to Versailles. A post-chaise will be ready for me at my old
quartermaster's place. He would keep my secret even if a dozen men were
standing ready to shoot him down. The chances are all in my favor, so
far as I see; so I shall take my little Naqui with me, and I will go."
"You will not go!" exclaimed the Englishman, and the strange tones of
his voice drove all the cashier's blood back to his heart.
Melmoth stepped into a tilbury which was waiting for him, and was
whirled away so quickly, that when Castanier looked up he saw his foe
some hundred paces away from him, and before it even crossed his mind
to cut off the man's retreat the tilbury was far on its way up the
"Well, upon my word, there is something supernatural about this!" said
he to himself. "If I were fool enough to believe in God, I should think
that He had set Saint Michael on my tracks. Suppose that the devil and
the police should let me go on as I please, so as to nab me in the nick
of time? Did anyone ever see the like! But there, this is folly...."
Castanier went along the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, slackening his
pace as he neared the Rue Richer. There, on the second floor of a block
of buildings which looked out upon some gardens, lived the unconscious
cause of Castanier's crime--a young woman known in the quarter as Mme.
de la Garde. A concise history of certain events in the cashier's past
life must be given in order to explain these facts, and to give a
complete presentment of the crisis when he yielded to temptation.
Mme. de la Garde said that she was a Piedmontese. No one, not even
Castanier, knew her real name. She was one of those young girls who are
driven by dire misery, by inability to earn a living, or by fear of
starvation, to have recourse to a trade which most of them loathe, many
regard with indifference, and some few follow in obedience to the laws
of their constitution. But on the brink of the gulf of prostitution in
Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and pure as the Madonna,
had met with Castanier. The old dragoon was too rough and homely to
make his way in society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at
night and of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some time
past he had desired to bring a certain regularity into an irregular
life. He was struck by the beauty of the poor child who had drifted by
chance into his arms, and his determination to rescue her from the life
of the streets was half benevolent, half selfish, as some of the
thoughts of the best of men are apt to be. Social conditions mingle
elements of evil with the promptings of natural goodness of heart, and
the mixture of motives underlying a man's intentions should be
leniently judged. Castanier had just cleverness enough to be very
shrewd where his own interests were concerned. So he concluded to be a
philanthropist on either count, and at first made her his mistress.
"Hey! hey!" he said to himself, in his soldierly fashion, "I am an old
wolf, and a sheep shall not make a fool of me. Castanier, old man,
before you set up housekeeping, reconnoiter the girl's character for a
bit, and see if she is a steady sort."
This irregular union gave the Piedmontese a status the most nearly
approaching respectability among those which the world declines to
recognize. During the first year she took the _nom de guerre_ of
Aquilina, one of the characters in _Venice Preserved_ which she had
chanced to read. She fancied that she resembled the courtesan in face
and general appearance, and in a certain precocity of heart and brain
of which she was conscious. When Castanier found that her life was as
well regulated and virtuous as was possible for a social outlaw, he
manifested a desire that they should live as husband and wife. So she
took the name of Mme. de la Garde, in order to approach, as closely as
Parisian usages permit, the conditions of a real marriage. As a matter
of fact, many of these unfortunate girls have one fixed idea, to be
looked upon as respectable middle-class women, who lead humdrum lives
of faithfulness to their husbands; women who would make excellent
mothers, keepers of household accounts, and menders of household linen.
This longing springs from a sentiment so laudable that society should
take it into consideration. But society, incorrigible as ever, will
assuredly persist in regarding the married woman as a corvette duly
authorized by her flag and papers to go on her own course, while the
woman who is a wife in all but name is a pirate and an outlaw for lack
of a document. A day came when Mme. de la Garde would fain have signed
herself "Mme. Castanier." The cashier was put out by this.
"So you do not love me well enough to marry me?" she said.
Castanier did not answer; he was absorbed by his thoughts. The poor
girl resigned herself to her fate. The ex-dragoon was in despair.
Naqui's heart softened toward him at the sight of his trouble; she
tried to soothe him, but what could she do when she did not know what
ailed him? When Naqui made up her mind to know the secret, although she
never asked him a question, the cashier dolefully confessed to the
existence of a Mme. Castanier. This lawful wife, a thousand times
accursed, was living in a humble way in Strasbourg on a small property
there; he wrote to her twice a year, and kept the secret of her
existence so well, that no one suspected that he was married. The
reason of this reticence? If it is familiar to many military men who
may chance to be in a like predicament, it is perhaps worth while to
give the story.
Your genuine trooper (if it is allowable here to employ the word which
in the army signifies a man who is destined to die as a captain) is a
sort of serf, a part and parcel of his regiment, an essentially simple
creature, and Castanier was marked out by nature as a victim to the
wiles of mothers with grown-up daughters left too long on their hands.
It was at Nancy, during one of those brief intervals of repose when the
Imperial armies were not on active service abroad, that Castanier was
so unlucky as to pay some attention to a young lady with whom he danced
at a _ridotto_, the provincial name for the entertainments often given
by the military to the townsfolk, or _vice versa_, in garrison towns. A
scheme for inveigling the gallant captain into matrimony was
immediately set on foot, one of those schemes by which mothers secure
accomplices in a human heart by touching all its motive springs, while
they convert all their friends into fellow-conspirators. Like all
people possessed by one idea, these ladies press everything into the
service of their great project, slowly elaborating their toils, much as
the ant-lion excavates its funnel in the sand and lies in wait at the
bottom for its victim. Suppose that no one strays, after all, into that
carefully constructed labyrinth? Suppose that the ant-lion dies of
hunger and thirst in her pit? Such things may be, but if any heedless
creature once enters in, it never comes out. All the wires which could
be pulled to induce action on the captain's part were tried; appeals
were made to the secret interested motives that always come into play
in such cases; they worked on Castanier's hopes and on the weaknesses
and vanity of human nature. Unluckily, he had praised the daughter to
her mother when he brought her back after a waltz, a little chat
followed, and then an invitation in the most natural way in the world.
Once introduced into the house, the dragoon was dazzled by the
hospitality of a family who appeared to conceal their real wealth
beneath a show of careful economy. He was skillfully flattered on all
sides, and everyone extolled for his benefit the various treasures
there displayed. A neatly timed dinner, served on plate lent by an
uncle, the attention shown to him by the only daughter of the house,
the gossip of the town, a well-to-do sub-lieutenant who seemed likely
to cut the ground from under his feet--all the innumerable snares, in
short, of the provincial ant-lion were set for him, and to such good
purpose, that Castanier said five years later, "To this day I do not
know how it came about!"
The dragoon received fifteen thousand francs with the lady, who, after
two years of marriage, became the ugliest and consequently the most
peevish woman on earth. Luckily they had no children. The fair
complexion (maintained by a Spartan regimen), the fresh, bright color
in her face, which spoke of an engaging modesty, became overspread with
blotches and pimples; her figure, which had seemed so straight, grew
crooked, the angel became a suspicious and shrewish creature who drove
Castanier frantic. Then the fortune took to itself wings. At length the
dragoon, no longer recognizing the woman whom he had wedded, left her
to live on a little property at Strasbourg, until the time when it
should please God to remove her to adorn Paradise. She was one of those
virtuous women who, for want of other occupation, would weary the life
out of an angel with complainings, who pray till (if their prayers are
heard in heaven) they must exhaust the patience of the Almighty, and
say everything that is bad of their husbands in dove-like murmurs over
a game of boston with their neighbors. When Aquilina learned all these
troubles she clung still more affectionately to Castanier, and made him
so happy, varying with woman's ingenuity the pleasures with which she
filled his life, that all unwittingly she was the cause of the
Like many women who seem by nature destined to sound all the depths of
love, Mme. de la Garde was disinterested. She asked neither for gold
nor for jewelry, gave no thought to the future, lived entirely for the
present and for the pleasures of the present. She accepted expensive
ornaments and dresses, the carriage so eagerly coveted by women of her
class, as one harmony the more in the picture of life. There was
absolutely no vanity in her desire not to appear at a better advantage
but to look the fairer, and, moreover, no woman could live without
luxuries more cheerfully. When a man of generous nature (and military
men are mostly of this stamp) meets with such a woman, he feels a sort
of exasperation at finding himself her debtor in generosity. He feels
that he could stop a mail coach to obtain money for her if he has not
sufficient for her whims. He will commit a crime if so he may be great
and noble in the eyes of some woman or of his special public; such is
the nature of the man. Such a lover is like a gambler who would be
dishonored in his own eyes if he did not repay the sum he borrowed from
a waiter in a gaming house; but will shrink from no crime, will leave
his wife and children without a penny, and rob and murder, if so he may
come to the gaming table with a full purse, and his honor remain
untarnished among the frequenters of that fatal abode. So it was with
He had begun by installing Aquilina in a modest fourth-floor dwelling,
the furniture being of the simplest kind. But when he saw the girl's
beauty and great qualities, when he had known inexpressible and
unlooked-for happiness with her, he began to dote upon her, and longed
to adorn his idol. Then Aquilina's toilet was so comically out of
keeping with her poor abode, that for both their sakes it was clearly
incumbent on him to move. The change swallowed up almost all
Castanier's savings, for he furnished his domestic paradise with all
the prodigality that is lavished on a kept mistress. A pretty woman
must have everything pretty about her; the unity of charm in the woman
and her surroundings singles her out from among her sex. This sentiment
of homogeneity indeed, though it has frequently escaped the attention
of observers, is instinctive in human nature; and the same prompting
leads elderly spinsters to surround themselves with dreary relies of
the past. But the lovely Piedmontese must have the newest and latest
fashions, and all that was daintiest and prettiest in stuffs for
hangings, in silks or jewelry, in fine china and other brittle and
fragile wares. She asked for nothing; but when she was called upon to
make a choice, when Castanier asked her, "Which do you like?" she would
answer, "Why, this is the nicest!" Love never counts the cost, and
Castanier therefore always took the "nicest."
When once the standard had been set up, there was nothing for it but
everything in the household must be in conformity, from the linen,
plate, and crystal through a thousand and one items of expenditure down
to the pots and pans in the kitchen. Castanier had meant to "do things
simply," as the saying goes, but he gradually found himself more and
more in debt. One expense entailed another. The clock called for candle
sconces. Fires must be lighted in the ornamental grates, but the
curtains and hangings were too fresh and delicate to be soiled by
smuts, so they must be replaced by patent and elaborate fireplaces,
warranted to give out no smoke, recent inventions of the people who are
clever at drawing up a prospectus. Then Aquilina found it so nice to
run about barefooted on the carpet in her room that Castanier must have
soft carpets laid everywhere for the pleasure of playing with Naqui. A
bathroom, too, was built for her, everything to the end that she might
be more comfortable.
Shopkeepers, workmen, and manufacturers in Paris have a mysterious
knack of enlarging a hole in a man's purse. They cannot give the price
of anything upon inquiry; and as the paroxysm of longing cannot abide
delay, orders are given by the feeble light of an approximate estimate
of cost. The same people never send in the bills at once, but ply the
purchaser with furniture till his head spins. Everything is so pretty,
so charming; and everyone is satisfied.
A few months later the obliging furniture dealers are metamorphosed,
and reappear in the shape of alarming totals on invoices that fill the
soul with their horrid clamor; they are in urgent want of the money;
they are, as you may say, on the brink of bankruptcy, their tears flow,
it is heartrending to hear them! And then--the gulf yawns and gives up
serried columns of figures marching four deep; when as a matter of fact
they should have issued innocently three by three.
Before Castanier had any idea of how much he had spent, he had arranged
for Aquilina to have a carriage from a livery stable when she went out,
instead of a cab. Castanier was a gourmand; he engaged an excellent
cook; and Aquilina, to please him, had herself made the purchases of
early fruit and vegetables, rare delicacies, and exquisite wines. But,
as Aquilina had nothing of her own, these gifts of hers, so precious by
reason of the thought and tact and graciousness that prompted them,
were no less a drain upon Castanier's purse; he did not like his Naqui
to be without money, and Naqui could not keep money in her pocket. So
the table was a heavy item of expenditure for a man with Castanier's
income. The ex-dragoon was compelled to resort to various shifts for
obtaining money, for he could not bring himself to renounce this
delightful life. He loved the woman too well to cross the freaks of the
mistress. He was one of those men who, through self-love or through
weakness of character, can refuse nothing to a woman; false shame
overpowers them, and they rather face ruin than make the admissions: "I
cannot--" "My means will not permit--" "I cannot afford--"
When, therefore, Castanier saw that if he meant to emerge from the
abyss of debt into which he had plunged, he must part with Aquilina and
live upon bread and water, he was so unable to do without her or to
change his habits of life, that daily he put off his plans of reform
until the morrow. The debts were pressing, and he began by borrowing
money. His position and previous character inspired confidence, and of
this he took advantage to devise a system of borrowing money as he
required it. Then, as the total amount of debt rapidly increased, he
had recourse to those commercial inventions known as _accommodation
bills_. This form of bill does not represent goods or other value
received, and the first indorser pays the amount named for the obliging
person who accepts it. This species of fraud is tolerated because it is
impossible to detect it, and, moreover, it is an imaginary fraud which
only becomes real if payment is ultimately refused.
When at length it was evidently impossible to borrow any longer,
whether because the amount of the debt was now so greatly increased, or
because Castanier was unable to pay the large amount of interest on the
aforesaid sums of money, the cashier saw bankruptcy before him. On
making this discovery, he decided for a fraudulent bankruptcy rather
than an ordinary failure, and preferred a crime to a misdemeanor. He
determined, after the fashion of the celebrated cashier of the Royal
Treasury, to abuse the trust deservedly won, and to increase the number
of his creditors by making a final loan of the sum sufficient to keep
him in comfort in a foreign country for the rest of his days. All this,
as has been seen, he had prepared to do.
Aquilina knew nothing of the irksome cares of this life; she enjoyed
her existence, as many a woman does, making no inquiry as to where the
money came from, even as sundry other folk will eat their buttered
rolls untroubled by any restless spirit of curiosity as to the culture
and growth of wheat; but as the labor and miscalculations of
agriculture lie on the other side of the baker's oven, so, beneath the
unappreciated luxury of many a Parisian household lie intolerable
anxieties and exorbitant toil.
While Castanier was enduring the torture of the strain, and his
thoughts were full of the deed that should change his whole life,
Aquilina was lying luxuriously back in a great armchair by the
fireside, beguiling the time by chatting with her waiting-maid. As
frequently happens in such cases, the maid had become the mistress's
confidante, Jenny having first assured herself that her mistress's
ascendancy over Castanier was complete.
What are we to do this evening? Leon seems determined to come," Mme. de
la Garde was saying, as she read a passionate epistle indicted upon a
faint gray note paper.
"Here is the master!" said Jenny.
Castanier came in. Aquilina, nowise disconcerted, crumpled up the
letter, took it with the tongs, and held it in the flames.
"So that is what you do with your love letters, is it?" asked
"Oh, goodness, yes," said Aquilina; "is it not the best way of keeping
them safe? Besides, fire should go to the fire, as water makes for the
"You are talking as if it were a real love letter, Naqui--"
"Well, am I not handsome enough to receive them?" she said, holding up
her forehead for a kiss. There was a carelessness in her manner that
would have told any man less blind than Castanier that it was only a
piece of conjugal duty, as it were, to give this joy to the cashier;
but use and wont had brought Castanier to the point where
clear-sightedness is no longer possible for love.
"I have taken a box at the Gymnase this evening," he said; "let us have
dinner early, and then we need not dine in a hurry."
"Go and take Jenny. I am tired of plays. I do not know what is the
matter with me this evening; I would rather stay here by the fire."
"Come, all the same though, Naqui; I shall not be here to bore you much
longer. Yes, Quiqui, I am going to start to-night, and it will be some
time before I come back again. I am leaving everything in your charge.
Will you keep your heart for me too?"
"Neither my heart nor anything else," she said; "but when you come back
again, Naqui will still be Naqui for you."
"Well, this is frankness. So you would not follow me?"
"Eh! why, how can I leave the lover who writes me such sweet little
notes?" she asked, pointing to the blackened scrap of paper with a
"Is there any truth in it?" asked Castanier. "Have you really a lover?"
"Really!" cried Aquilina; "and have you never given it a serious
thought, dear? To begin with, you are fifty years old. Then you have
just the sort of face to put on a fruit stall; if the woman tried to
sell you for a pumpkin, no one would contradict her. You puff and blow
like a seal when you come upstairs; your paunch rises and falls like
the diamond on a woman's forehead! It is pretty plain that you served
in the dragoons; you are a very ugly-looking old man. Fiddle-de-dee. If
you have any mind to keep my respect, I recommend you not to add
imbecility to these qualities by imagining that such a girl as I am
will be content with your asthmatic love, and not look for youth and
good looks and pleasure by way of variety--"
"Aquilina! you are laughing, of course?"
"Oh, very well; and are you not laughing too? Do you take me for a
fool, telling me that you are going away? 'I am going to start
to-night!'" she said, mimicking his tones. "Stuff and nonsense! Would
you talk like that if you were really going away from your Naqui? You
would cry, like the booby that you are!"
"After all, if I go, will you follow?" he asked.
"Tell me first whether this journey of yours is a bad joke or not."
"Yes, seriously, I am going."
"Well, then, seriously, I shall stay. A pleasant journey to you, my
boy! I will wait till you come back. I would sooner take leave of life
than take leave of my dear, cozy Paris--"
"Will you not come to Italy, to Naples, and lead a pleasant life
there--a delicious, luxurious life, with this stout old fogey of yours,
who puffs and blows like a seal?"
"Ungrateful?" she cried, rising to her feet. "I might leave this house
this moment and take nothing out of it but myself. I shall have given
you all the treasures a young girl can give, and something that not
every drop in your veins and mine can ever give me back. If, by any
means whatever, by selling my hopes of eternity, for instance, I could
recover my past self, body as soul (for I have, perhaps, redeemed my
soul), and be pure as a lily for my lover I would not hesitate a
moment! What sort of devotion has rewarded mine? You have housed and
fed me, just as you give a dog food and a kennel because he is a
protection to the house, and he may take kicks when we are out of
humor, and lick our hands as soon as we are pleased to call to him. And
which of us two will have been the more generous?"
"Oh! dear child, do you not see that I am joking?" returned Castanier.
"I am going on a short journey; I shall not be away for very long. But
come with me to the Gymnase; I shall start just before midnight, after
I have had time to say good-by to you."
"Poor pet! so you are really going, are you?" she said. She put her
arms round his neck, and drew down his head against her bodice.
"You are smothering me!" cried Castanier, with his face buried in
Aquilina's breast. That damsel turned to say in Jenny's ear, "Go to
Leon, and tell him not to come till one o'clock. If you do not find
him, and he comes here during the leave-taking, keep him in your
room.--Well," she went on, setting free Castanier, and giving a tweak
to the tip of his nose, "never mind, handsomest of seals that you are.
I will go to the theater with you this evening. But all in good time;
let us have dinner! There is a nice little dinner for you--just what
"It is very hard to part from such a woman as you!" exclaimed
"Very well then, why do you go?" asked she.
"Ah! why? why? If I were to begin to explain the reasons why, I must
tell you things that would prove to you that I love you almost to
madness. Ah! if you have sacrificed your honor for me, I have sold mine
for you; we are quits. Is that love?"
"What is all this about?" said she. "Come, now, promise me that if I
had a lover you would still love me as a father; that would be love!
Come, now, promise it at once, and give us your fist upon it."
"I should kill you," and Castanier smiled as he spoke.
They sat down to the dinner table, and went thence to the Gymnase. When
the first part of the performance was over, it occurred to Castanier to
show himself to some of his acquaintances in the house, so as to turn
away any suspicion of his departure. He left Mme. de la Garde in the
corner box where she was seated, according to her modest wont, and went
to walk up and down in the lobby. He had not gone many paces before he
saw the Englishman, and with a sudden return of the sickening sensation
of heat that once before had vibrated through him, and of the terror
that he had felt already, he stood face to face with Melmoth.
At the word, Castanier glanced round at the people who were moving
about them. He fancied that he could see astonishment and curiosity in
their eyes, and wishing to be rid of this Englishman at once, he raised
his hand to strike him--and felt his arm paralyzed by some invisible
power that sapped his strength and nailed him to the spot. He allowed
the stranger to take him by the arm, and they walked together to the
greenroom like two friends.
"Who is strong enough to resist me?" said the Englishman, addressing
him. "Do you not know that everything here on earth must obey me, that
it is in my power to do everything? I read men's thoughts, I see the
future, and I know the past. I am here, and I can be elsewhere also.
Time and space and distance are nothing to me. The whole world is at my
beck and call. I have the power of continual enjoyment and of giving
joy. I can see through walls, discover hidden treasures, and fill my
hands with them. Palaces arise at my nod, and my architect makes no
mistakes. I can make all lands break forth into blossom, heap up their
gold and precious stones, and surround myself with fair women and ever
new faces; everything is yielded up to my will. I could gamble on the
Stock Exchange, and my speculations would be infallible; but a man who
can find the hoards that misers have hidden in the earth need not
trouble himself about stocks. Feel the strength of the hand that grasps
you; poor wretch, doomed to shame! Try to bend the arm of iron! try to
soften the adamantine heart! Fly from me if you dare! You would hear my
voice in the depths of the caves that lie under the Seine; you might
hide in the Catacombs, but would you not see me there? My voice could
be heard through the sound of the thunder, my eyes shine as brightly as
the sun, for I am the peer of Lucifer!"
Castanier heard the terrible words, and felt no protest nor
contradiction within himself. He walked side by side with the
Englishman, and had no power to leave him.
"You are mine; you have just committed a crime. I have found at last
the mate whom I have sought. Have you a mind to learn your destiny?
Aha! you came here to see a play, and you shall see a play--nay, two.
Come. Present me to Mme. de la Garde as one of your best friends. Am I
not your last hope of escape?"
Castanier, followed by the stranger, returned to his box; and in
accordance with the order he had just received, he hastened to
introduce Melmoth to Mme. de la Garde. Aquilina seemed to be not in the
least surprised. The Englishman declined to take a seat in front, and
Castanier was once more beside his mistress; the man's slightest wish
must be obeyed. The last piece was about to begin, for, at that time,
small theaters only gave three pieces. One of the actors had made the
Gymnase the fashion, and that evening Perlet (the actor in question)
was to play in a vaudeville called _Le Comedien d'Etampes_, in which he
filled four different parts.
When the curtain rose, the stranger stretched out his hand over the
crowded house. Castanier's cry of terror died away, for the walls of
his throat seemed glued together as Melmoth pointed to the stage, and
the cashier knew that the play had been changed at the Englishman's
He saw the strong room at the bank; he saw the Baron de Nucingen in
conference with a police officer from the prefecture, who was informing
him of Castanier's conduct, explaining that the cashier had absconded
with money taken from the safe, giving the history of the forged
signature. The information was put in writing; the document signed and
duly dispatched to the public prosecutor.
"Are we in time, do you think?" asked Nucingen.
"Yes," said the agent of police; "he is at the Gymnase, and has no
suspicion of anything."
Castanier fidgeted on his chair, and made as if he would leave the
theater, but Melmoth's hand lay on his shoulder, and he was obliged to
sit and watch; the hideous power of the man produced an effect like
that of nightmare, and he could not move a limb. Nay, the man himself
was the nightmare; his presence weighed heavily on his victim like a
poisoned atmosphere. When the wretched cashier turned to implore the
Englishman's mercy, he met those blazing eyes that discharged electric
currents, which pierced through him and transfixed him like darts of
"What have I done to you?" he said, in his prostrate helplessness, and
he breathed hard like a stag at the water's edge. "What do you want of
"Look!" cried Melmoth.
Castanier looked at the stage. The scene had been changed. The play
seemed to be over, and Castanier beheld himself stepping from the
carriage with Aquilina; but as he entered the courtyard of the house in
the Rue Richer, the scene again was suddenly changed, and he saw his
own house. Jenny was chatting by the fire in her mistress's room with a
subaltern officer of a line regiment then stationed at Paris.
"He is going, is he?" said the sergeant, who seemed to belong to a
family in easy circumstances; "I can be happy at my ease! I love
Aquilina too well to allow her to belong to that old toad! I, myself,
am going to marry Mme. de la Garde!" cried the sergeant.
"Old toad!" Castanier murmured piteously.
"Here come the master and mistress; hide yourself! Stay, get in here,
Monsieur Leon," said Jenny. "The master won't stay here for very long."
Castanier watched the sergeant hide himself among Aquilina's gowns in
her dressing room. Almost immediately he himself appeared upon the
scene, and took leave of his mistress, who made fun of him in "asides"
to Jenny, while she uttered the sweetest and tenderest words in his
ears. She wept with one side of her face, and laughed with the other.
The audience called for an encore.
"Accursed creature!" cried Castanier from his box.
Aquilina was laughing till the tears came into her eyes.
"Goodness!" she cried, "how funny Perlet is as the Englishwoman!... Why
don't you laugh? Everyone else in the house is laughing. Laugh, dear!"
she said to Castanier.
Melmoth burst out laughing, and the unhappy cashier shuddered. The
Englishman's laughter wrung his heart and tortured his brain; it was as
if a surgeon had bored his skull with a red-hot iron.
"Laughing! are they laughing?" stammered Castanier.
He did not see the prim English lady whom Perlet was acting with such
ludicrous effect, nor hear the English-French that had filled the house
with roars of laughter; instead of all this, he beheld himself hurrying
from the Rue Richer, hailing a cab on the Boulevard, bargaining with
the man to take him to Versailles. Then once more the scene changed. He
recognized the sorry inn at the corner of the Rue de l'Orangerie and
the Rue des Recollets, which was kept by his old quartermaster. It was
two o'clock in the morning, the most perfect stillness prevailed, no
one was there to watch his movements. The post-horses were put into the
carriage (it came from a house in the Avenue de Paris in which an
Englishman lived, and had been ordered in the foreigner's name to avoid
raising suspicion). Castanier saw that he had his bills and his
passports, stepped into the carriage, and set out. But at the barrier
he saw two gendarmes lying in wait for the carriage. A cry of horror
burst from him, but Melmoth gave him a glance, and again the sound died
in his throat.
"Keep your eyes on the stage, and be quiet!" said the Englishman.
In another moment Castanier saw himself flung into prison at the
Conciergerie; and in the fifth act of the drama, entitled _The
Cashier_, he saw himself, in three months' time, condemned to twenty
years of penal servitude. Again a cry broke from him. He was exposed
upon the Place du Palais-de-Justice, and the executioner branded him
with a red-hot iron. Then came the last scene of all; among some sixty
convicts in the prison yard of the Bicetre, he was awaiting his turn to
have the irons riveted on his limbs.
"Dear me! I cannot laugh any more!..." said Aquilina. "You are very
solemn, dear boy; what can be the matter? The gentleman has gone."
"A word with you, Castanier," said Melmoth when the piece was at an
end, and the attendant was fastening Mme. de la Garde's cloak.
The corridor was crowded, and escape impossible.
"Very well, what is it?"
"No human power can hinder you from taking Aquilina home, and going
next to Versailles, there to be arrested."
"Because you are in a hand that will never relax its grasp," returned
Castanier longed for the power to utter some word that should blot him
out from among living men and hide him in the lowest depths of hell.
"Suppose that the devil were to make a bid for your soul, would you not
give it to him now in exchange for the power of God? One single word,
and those five hundred thousand francs shall be back in the Baron de
Nucingen's safe; then you can tear up your letter of credit, and all
traces of your crime will be obliterated. Moreover, you would have gold
in torrents. You hardly believe in anything perhaps? Well, if all this
comes to pass, you will believe at least in the devil."
"If it were only possible!" said Castanier joyfully.
"The man who can do it all gives you his word that it is possible,"
answered the Englishman.
Melmoth, Castanier, and Mme. de la Garde were standing out in the
Boulevard when Melmoth raised his arm. A drizzling rain was falling,
the streets were muddy, the air was close, there was thick darkness
overhead; but in a moment, as the arm was outstretched, Paris was
filled with sunlight; it was high noon on a bright July day. The trees
were covered with leaves; a double stream of joyous holiday makers
strolled beneath them. Sellers of licorice water shouted their cool
drinks. Splendid carriages rolled past along the streets. A cry of
terror broke from the cashier, and at that cry rain and darkness once
more settled down upon the Boulevard.
Mme. de la Garde had stepped into the carriage. "Do be quick, dear!"
she cried; "either come in or stay out. Really, you are as dull as
ditch-water this evening--"
"What must I do?" Castanier asked of Melmoth.
"Would you like to take my place?" inquired the Englishman.
"Very well, then; I will be at your house in a few moments."
"By the bye, Castanier, you are rather off your balance," Aquilina
remarked. "There is some mischief brewing; you were quite melancholy
and thoughtful all through the play. Do you want anything that I can
give you, dear? Tell me."
"I am waiting till we are at home to know whether you love me."
"You need not wait till then," she said, throwing her arms round his
neck. "There!" she said, as she embraced him, passionately to all
appearance, and plied him with the coaxing caresses that are part of
the business of such a life as hers, like stage action for an actress.
"Where is the music?" asked Castanier.
"What next? Only think of your hearing music now!"
"Heavenly music!" he went on. "The sounds seem to come from above."
"What? You have always refused to give me a box at the Italiens because
you could not abide music, and are you turning music-mad at this time
of day? Mad--that you are! The music is inside your own noddle, old
addle-pate!" she went on, as she took his head in her hands and rocked
it to and fro on her shoulder. "Tell me now, old man; isn't it the
creaking of the wheels that sings in your ears?"
"Just listen, Naqui! If the angels make music for God Almighty, it must
be such music as this that I am drinking in at every pore, rather than
hearing. I do not know how to tell you about it; it is as sweet as
"Why, of course, they have music in heaven, for the angels in all the
pictures have harps in their hands. He is mad, upon my word!" she said
to herself, as she saw Castanier's attitude; he looked like an opium
eater in a blissful trance.
They reached the house. Castanier, absorbed by the thought of all that
he had just heard and seen, knew not whether to believe it or no; he
was like a drunken man, and utterly unable to think connectedly. He
came to himself in Aquilina's room, whither he had been supported by
the united efforts of his mistress, the porter, and Jenny; for he had
fainted as he stepped from the carriage.
"_He_ will be here directly! Oh, my friends, my friends!" he cried, and
he flung himself despairingly into the depths of a low chair beside the
Jenny heard the bell as he spoke, and admitted the Englishman. She
announced that "a gentleman had come who had made an appointment with
the master," when Melmoth suddenly appeared, and deep silence followed.
He looked at the porter--the porter went; he looked at Jenny--and Jenny
"Madame," said Melmoth, turning to Aquilina, "with your permission, we
will conclude a piece of urgent business."
He took Castanier's hand, and Castanier rose, and the two men went into
the drawing-room. There was no light in the room, but Melmoth's eyes
lit up the thickest darkness. The gaze of those strange eyes had left
Aquilina like one spellbound; she was helpless, unable to take any
thought for her lover; moreover, she believed him to be safe in Jenny's
room, whereas their early return had taken the waiting woman by
surprise, and she had hidden the officer in the dressing room. It had
all happened exactly as in the drama that Melmoth had displayed for his
victim. Presently the house door was slammed violently, and Castanier
"What ails you?" cried the horror-struck Aquilina.
There was a change in the cashier's appearance. A strange pallor
overspread his once rubicund countenance; it wore the peculiarly
sinister and stony look of the mysterious visitor. The sullen glare of
his eyes was intolerable, the fierce light in them seemed to scorch.
The man who had looked so good-humored and good-natured had suddenly
grown tyrannical and proud. The courtesan thought that Castanier had
grown thinner; there was a terrible majesty in his brow; it was as if a
dragon breathed forth a malignant influence that weighed upon the
others like a close, heavy atmosphere. For a moment Aquilina knew not
what to do.
"What passed between you and that diabolical-looking man in those few
minutes?" she asked at length.
"I have sold my soul to him. I feel it; I am no longer the same. He has
taken my _self_, and given me his soul in exchange."
"You would not understand it at all.... Ah! he was right," Castanier
went on, "the fiend was right! I see everything and know all
things.--You have been deceiving me!"
Aquilina turned cold with terror. Castanier lighted a candle and went
into the dressing room. The unhappy girl followed him in dazed
bewilderment, and great was her astonishment when Castanier drew the
dresses that hung there aside and disclosed the sergeant.
"Come out, my boy," said the cashier; and, taking Leon by a button of
his overcoat, he drew the officer into his room.
The Piedmontese, haggard and desperate, had flung herself into her easy
chair. Castanier seated himself on a sofa by the fire, and left
Aquilina's lover in a standing position.
"You have been in the army," said Leon; "I am ready to give you
"You are a fool," said Castanier dryly. "I have no occasion to fight. I
could kill you by a look if I had any mind to do it. I will tell you
what it is, youngster; why should I kill you? I can see a red line
round your neck--the guillotine is waiting for you. Yes, you will end
in the Place de Greve. You are the headsman's property! there is no
escape for you. You belong to a _vendita_ of the Carbonari. You are
plotting against the Government."