Part 14 out of 31
As he did not say anything, she began to speak again in an agitated voice
and with tears in her eyes. "If you do not promise to respect me
altogether, I shall return home." And so he squeezed her arm tenderly
and replied: "I promise, you shall only do what you like." She appeared
relieved in mind, and asked, with a smile: "Do you really mean it?" And
he looked into her eyes and replied: "I swear it" "Now you may take the
tickets," she said.
During the journey they could hardly speak, as the carriage was full, and
when they reached Maisons-Laffite they went toward the Seine. The sun,
which shone full on the river, on the leaves and the grass, seemed to be
reflected in their hearts, and they went, hand in hand, along the bank,
looking at the shoals of little fish swimming near the bank, and they
walked on, brimming over with happiness, as if they were walking on air.
At last she said: "How foolish you must think me!"
"Why?" he asked. "To come out like this, all alone with you."
"Certainly not; it is quite natural." "No, no; it is not natural for me
--because I do not wish to commit a fault, and yet this is how girls
fall. But if you only knew how wretched it is, every day the same thing,
every day in the month and every month in the year. I live quite alone
with mamma, and as she has had a great deal of trouble, she is not very
cheerful. I do the best I can, and try to laugh in spite of everything,
but I do not always succeed. But, all the same, it was wrong in me to
come, though you, at any rate, will not be sorry."
By way of an answer, he kissed her ardently on the ear that was nearest
him, but she moved from him with an abrupt movement, and, getting
suddenly angry, exclaimed: "Oh! Monsieur Francois, after what you swore
to me!" And they went back to Maisons-Laffitte.
They had lunch at the Petit-Havre, a low house, buried under four
enormous poplar trees, by the side of the river. The air, the heat, the
weak white wine and the sensation of being so close together made them
silent; their faces were flushed and they had a feeling of oppression;
but, after the coffee, they regained their high spirits, and, having
crossed the Seine, started off along the bank, toward the village of La
Frette. Suddenly he asked: "What-is your name?"
"Louise," he repeated and said nothing more.
The girl picked daisies and made them into a great bunch, while he sang
vigorously, as unrestrained as a colt that has been turned into a meadow.
On their left a vine-covered slope followed the river. Francois stopped
motionless with astonishment: "Oh, look there!" he said.
The vines had come to an end, and the whole slope was covered with lilac
bushes in flower. It was a purple wood! A kind of great carpet of
flowers stretched over the earth, reaching as far as the village, more
than two miles off. She also stood, surprised and delighted, and
murmured: "Oh! how pretty!" And, crossing a meadow, they ran toward
that curious low hill, which, every year, furnishes all the lilac that is
drawn through Paris on the carts of the flower venders.
There was a narrow path beneath the trees, so they took it, and when they
came to a small clearing, sat down.
Swarms of flies were buzzing around them and making a continuous, gentle
sound, and the sun, the bright sun of a perfectly still day, shone over
the bright slopes and from that forest of blossoms a powerful fragrance
was borne toward them, a breath of perfume, the breath of the flowers.
A church clock struck in the distance, and they embraced gently, then,
without the knowledge of anything but that kiss, lay down on the grass.
But she soon came to herself with the feeling of a great misfortune, and
began to cry and sob with grief, with her face buried in her hands.
He tried to console her, but she wanted to start to return and to go home
immediately; and she kept saying, as she walked along quickly: "Good
heavens! good heavens!"
He said to her: "Louise! Louise! Please let us stop here." But now her
cheeks were red and her eyes hollow, and, as soon as they got to the
railway station in Paris, she left him without even saying good-by.
When he met her in the omnibus, next day, she appeared to him to be
changed and thinner, and she said to him: "I want to speak to you; we
will get down at the Boulevard."
As soon as they were on the pavement, she said:
"We must bid each other good-by; I cannot meet you again." "But why?" he
asked. "Because I cannot; I have been culpable, and I will not be so
Then he implored her, tortured by his love, but she replied firmly: "No,
I cannot, I cannot." He, however, only grew all the more excited and
promised to marry her, but she said again: "No," and left him.
For a week he did not see her. He could not manage to meet her, and, as
he did not know her address, he thought that he had lost her altogether.
On the ninth day, however, there was a ring at his bell, and when he
opened the door, she was there. She threw herself into his arms and did
not resist any longer, and for three months they were close friends.
He was beginning to grow tired of her, when she whispered something to
him, and then he had one idea and wish: to break with her at any price.
As, however, he could not do that, not knowing how to begin, or what to
say, full of anxiety through fear of the consequences of his rash
indiscretion, he took a decisive step: one night he changed his lodgings
The blow was so heavy that she did not look, for the man who had
abandoned her, but threw herself at her mother's knees and confessed her
misfortune, and, some months after, gave birth to a boy.
Years passed, and Francois Tessier grew old, without there having been
any alteration in his life. He led the dull, monotonous life of an
office clerk, without hope and without expectation. Every day he got up
at the same time, went through the same streets, went through the same
door, past the same porter, went into the same office, sat in the same
chair, and did the same work. He was alone in the world, alone during
the day in the midst of his different colleagues, and alone at night in
his bachelor's lodgings, and he laid by a hundred francs a month against
Every Sunday he went to the Champs-Elysees, to watch the elegant people,
the carriages and the pretty women, and the next day he used to say to
one of his colleagues: "The return of the carriages from the Bois du
Boulogne was very brilliant yesterday." One fine Sunday morning,
however, he went into the Parc Monceau, where the mothers and nurses,
sitting on the sides of the walks, watched the children playing, and
suddenly Francois Tessier started. A woman passed by, holding two
children by the hand, a little boy of about ten and a little girl of
four. It was she!
He walked another hundred yards anti then fell into a chair, choking with
emotion. She had not recognized him, and so he came back, wishing to see
her again. She was sitting down now, and the boy was standing by her
side very quietly, while the little girl was making sand castles. It was
she, it was certainly she, but she had the reserved appearance of a lady,
was dressed simply, and looked self-possessed and dignified. He looked
at her from a distance, for he did not venture to go near; but the little
boy raised his head, and Francois Tessier felt himself tremble. It was
his own son, there could be no doubt of that. And, as he looked at him,
he thought he could recognize himself as he appeared in an old photograph
taken years ago. He remained hidden behind a tree, waiting for her to go
that he might follow her.
He did not sleep that night. The idea of the child especially tormented
him. His son! Oh, if he could only have known, have been sure! But
what could he have done? However, he went to the house where she lived
and asked about her. He was told that a neighbor, an honorable man of
strict morals, had been touched by her distress and had married her; he
knew the fault she had committed and had married her, and had even
recognized the child, his, Francois Tessier's child, as his own.
He returned to the Parc Monceau every Sunday, for then he always saw her,
and each time he was seized with a mad, an irresistible longing to take
his son into his arms, to cover him with kisses and to steal him, to
carry him off.
He suffered horribly in his wretched isolation as an old bachelor, with
nobody to care for him, and he also suffered atrocious mental torture,
torn by paternal tenderness springing from remorse, longing and jealousy
and from that need of loving one's own children which nature has
implanted in all. At last he determined to make a despairing attempt,
and, going up to her, as she entered the park, he said, standing in the
middle of the path, pale and with trembling lips: "You do not recognize
me." She raised her eyes, looked at him, uttered an exclamation of
horror, of terror, and, taking the two children by the hand, she rushed
away, dragging them after her, while he went home and wept inconsolably.
Months passed without his seeing her again, but he suffered, day and
night, for he was a prey to his paternal love. He would gladly have
died, if he could only have kissed his son; he would have committed
murder, performed any task, braved any danger, ventured anything. He
wrote to her, but she did not reply, and, after writing her some twenty
letters, he saw that there was no hope of altering her determination, and
then he formed the desperate resolution of writing to her husband, being
quite prepared to receive a bullet from a revolver, if need be. His
letter only consisted of a few lines, as follows:
"Monsieur: You must have a perfect horror of my name, but I am so
wretched, so overcome by misery that my only hope is in you, and,
therefore, I venture to request you to grant me an interview of only five
"I have the honor, etc."
The next day he received the reply:
"Monsieur: I shall expect you to-morrow, Tuesday, at five o'clock."
As he went up the staircase, Francois Tessier's heart beat so violently
that he had to stop several times. There was a dull and violent thumping
noise in his breast, as of some animal galloping; and he could breathe
only with difficulty, and had to hold on to the banisters, in order not
He rang the bell on the third floor, and when a maid servant had opened
the door, he asked: "Does Monsieur Flamel live here?" "Yes, monsieur.
Kindly come in."
He was shown into the drawing-room; he was alone, and waited, feeling
bewildered, as in the midst of a catastrophe, until a door opened, and a
man came in. He was tall, serious and rather stout, and wore a black
frock coat, and pointed to a chair with his hand. Francois Tessier sat
down, and then said, with choking breath: "Monsieur--monsieur--I do not
know whether you know my name--whether you know----"
Monsieur Flamel interrupted him. "You need not tell it me, monsieur, I
know it. My wife has spoken to me about you." He spoke in the dignified
tone of voice of a good man who wishes to be severe, and with the
commonplace stateliness of an honorable man, and Francois Tessier
"Well, monsieur, I want to say this: I am dying of grief, of remorse, of
shame, and I would like once, only once to kiss the child."
Monsieur Flamel got up and rang the bell, and when the servant came in,
he said: "Will you bring Louis here?" When she had gone out, they
remained face to face, without speaking, as they had nothing more to say
to one another, and waited. Then, suddenly, a little boy of ten rushed
into the room and ran up to the man whom he believed to be his father,
but he stopped when he saw the stranger, and Monsieur Flamel kissed him
and said: "Now, go and kiss that gentleman, my dear." And the child went
up to the stranger and looked at him.
Francois Tessier had risen. He let his hat fall, and was ready to fall
himself as he looked at his son, while Monsieur Flamel had turned away,
from a feeling of delicacy, and was looking out of the window.
The child waited in surprise; but he picked up the hat and gave it to the
stranger. Then Francois, taking the child up in his arms, began to kiss
him wildly all over his face; on his eyes, his cheeks, his mouth, his
hair; and the youngster, frightened at the shower of kisses, tried to
avoid them, turned away his head, and pushed away the man's face with his
little hands. But suddenly Francois Tessier put him down and cried:
"Good-by! good-by!" And he rushed out of the room as if he had been a
MY UNCLE SOSTHENES
Some people are Freethinkers from sheer stupidity. My Uncle Sosthenes
was one of these. Some people are often religious for the same reason.
The very sight of a priest threw my uncle into a violent rage. He would
shake his fist and make grimaces at him, and would then touch a piece of
iron when the priest's back was turned, forgetting that the latter action
showed a belief after all, the belief in the evil eye. Now, when beliefs
are unreasonable, one should have all or none at all. I myself am a
Freethinker; I revolt at all dogmas, but feel no anger toward places of
worship, be they Catholic, Apostolic, Roman, Protestant, Greek, Russian,
Buddhist, Jewish, or Mohammedan.
My uncle was a Freemason, and I used to declare that they are stupider
than old women devotees. That is my opinion, and I maintain it; if we
must have any religion at all, the old one is good enough for me.
What is their object? Mutual help to be obtained by tickling the palms
of each other's hands. I see no harm in it, for they put into practice
the Christian precept: "Do unto others as ye would they should do unto
you." The only difference consists in the tickling, but it does not seem
worth while to make such a fuss about lending a poor devil half a crown.
To all my arguments my uncle's reply used to be:
"We are raising up a religion against a religion; Free Thought will kill
clericalism. Freemasonry is the stronghold, of those who are demolishing
"Very well, my dear uncle," I would reply--in my heart I felt inclined to
say, "You old idiot! it is just that which I am blaming you for. Instead
of destroying, you are organizing competition; it is only a case of
lowering prices. And then, if you admitted only Freethinkers among you,
I could understand it, but you admit anybody. You have a number of
Catholics among you, even the leaders of the party. Pius IX is said to
have been one of you before he became pope. If you call a society with
such an organization a bulwark against clericalism, I think it is an
extremely weak one."
"My dear boy," my uncle would reply, with a wink, "we are most to be
dreaded in politics; slowly and surely we are everywhere undermining the
Then I broke out: "Yes, you are very clever! If you tell me that
Freemasonry is an election machine, I will grant it. I will never deny
that it is used as a machine to control candidates of all shades; if you
say that it is only used to hoodwink people, to drill them to go to the
polls as soldiers are sent under fire, I agree with you; if you declare
that it is indispensable to all political ambitions because it changes
all its members into electoral agents, I should say to you: 'That is as
clear as the sun.' But when you tell me that it serves to undermine the
monarchical spirit, I can only laugh in your face.
"Just consider that gigantic and secret democratic association which had
Prince Napoleon for its grand master under the Empire; which has the
Crown Prince for its grand master in Germany, the Czar's brother in
Russia, and to which the Prince of Wales and King Humbert, and nearly all
the crowned heads of the globe belong."
"You are quite right," my uncle said; "but all these persons are serving
our projects without guessing it."
I felt inclined to tell him he was talking a pack of nonsense.
It was, however, indeed a sight to see my uncle when he had a Freemason
On meeting they shook hands in a manner that was irresistibly funny; one
could see that they were going through a series of secret, mysterious
Then my uncle would take his friend into a corner to tell him something
important, and at dinner they had a peculiar way of looking at each
other, and of drinking to each other, in a manner as if to say: "We know
all about it, don't we?"
And to think that there are millions on the face of the globe who are
amused at such monkey tricks! I would sooner be a Jesuit.
Now, in our town there really was an old Jesuit who was my uncle's
detestation. Every time he met him, or if he only saw him at a distance,
he used to say: "Get away, you toad." And then, taking my arm, he would
whisper to me:
"See here, that fellow will play me a trick some day or other, I feel
sure of it."
My uncle spoke quite truly, and this was how it happened, and through my
It was close on Holy Week, and my uncle made up his mind to give a dinner
on Good Friday, a real dinner, with his favorite chitterlings and black
puddings. I resisted as much as I could, and said:
"I shall eat meat on that day, but at home, quite by myself. Your
manifestation, as you call it, is an idiotic idea. Why should you
manifest? What does it matter to you if people do not eat any meat?"
But my uncle would not be persuaded. He asked three of his friends to
dine with him at one of the best restaurants in the town, and as he was
going to pay the bill I had certainly, after all, no scruples about
At four o'clock we took a conspicuous place in the most frequented
restaurant in the town, and my uncle ordered dinner in a loud voice for
We sat down punctually, and at ten o'clock we had not yet finished. Five
of us had drunk eighteen bottles of choice, still wine and four of
champagne. Then my uncle proposed what he was in the habit of calling
"the archbishop's circuit." Each man put six small glasses in front of
him, each of them filled with a different liqueur, and they had all to be
emptied at one gulp, one after another, while one of the waiters counted
twenty. It was very stupid, but my uncle thought it was very suitable to
At eleven o'clock he was as drunk as a fly. So we had to take him home
in a cab and put him to bed, and one could easily foresee that his anti-
clerical demonstration would end in a terrible fit of indigestion.
As I was going back to my lodgings, being rather drunk myself, with a
cheerful drunkenness, a Machiavellian idea struck me which satisfied all
my sceptical instincts.
I arranged my necktie, put on a look of great distress, and went and,
rang loudly at the old Jesuit's door. As he was deaf he made me wait a
longish while, but at length appeared at his window in a cotton nightcap
and asked what I wanted.
I shouted out at the top of my voice:
"Make haste, reverend sir, and open the door; a poor, despairing, sick
man is in need of your spiritual ministrations."
The good, kind man put on his trousers as quickly as he could, and came
down without his cassock. I told him in a breathless voice that my
uncle, the Freethinker, had been taken suddenly ill, and fearing it was
going to be something serious, he had been seized with a sudden dread of
death, and wished to see the priest and talk to him; to have his advice
and comfort, to make his peace with the Church, and to confess, so as to
be able to cross the dreaded threshold at peace with himself; and I added
in a mocking tone:
"At any rate, he wishes it, and if it does him no good it can do him no
The old Jesuit, who was startled, delighted, and almost trembling, said
"Wait a moment, my son; I will come with you." But I replied: "Pardon
me, reverend father, if I do not go with you; but my convictions will not
allow me to do so. I even refused to come and fetch you, so I beg you
not to say that you have seen me, but to declare that you had a
presentiment--a sort of revelation of his illness."
The priest consented and went off quickly; knocked at my uncle's door,
and was soon let in; and I saw the black cassock disappear within that
stronghold of Free Thought.
I hid under a neighboring gateway to wait results. Had he been well, my
uncle would have half-murdered the Jesuit, but I knew that he would
scarcely be able to move an arm, and I asked myself gleefully what sort
of a scene would take place between these antagonists, what disputes,
what arguments, what a hubbub, and what would be the issue of the
situation, which my uncle's indignation would render still more tragic?
I laughed till my sides ached, and said half aloud: "Oh, what a joke,
what a joke!"
Meanwhile it was getting very cold, and I noticed that the Jesuit stayed
a long time, and I thought: "They are having an argument, I suppose."
One, two, three hours passed, and still the reverend father did not come
out. What had happened? Had my uncle died in a fit when he saw him, or
had he killed the cassocked gentleman? Perhaps they had mutually
devoured each other? This last supposition appeared very unlikely, for I
fancied that my uncle was quite incapable of swallowing a grain more
nourishment at that moment.
At last the day broke.
I was very uneasy, and, not venturing to go into the house myself, went
to one of my friends who lived opposite. I woke him up, explained
matters to him, much to his amusement and astonishment, and took
possession of his window.
At nine o'clock he relieved me, and I got a little sleep. At two o'clock
I, in my turn, replaced him. We were utterly astonished.
At six o'clock the Jesuit left, with a very happy and satisfied look on
his face, and we saw him go away with a quiet step.
Then, timid and ashamed, I went and knocked at the door of my uncle's
house; and when the servant opened it I did not dare to ask her any
questions, but went upstairs without saying a word.
My uncle was lying, pale and exhausted, with weary, sorrowful eyes and
heavy arms, on his bed. A little religious picture was fastened to one
of the bed curtains with a pin.
"Why, uncle," I said, "in bed still? Are you not well?"
He replied in a feeble voice:
"Oh, my dear boy, I have been very ill, nearly dead."
"How was that, uncle?"
"I don't know; it was most surprising. But what is stranger still is
that the Jesuit priest who has just left--you know, that excellent man
whom I have made such fun of--had a divine revelation of my state, and
came to see me."
I was seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to laugh, and with
difficulty said: "Oh, really!"
"Yes, he came. He heard a voice telling him to get up and come to me,
because I was going to die. I was a revelation."
I pretended to sneeze, so as not to burst out laughing; I felt inclined
to roll on the ground with amusement.
In about a minute I managed to say indignantly:
"And you received him, uncle? You, a Freethinker, a Freemason? You did
not have him thrown out of doors?"
He seemed confused, and stammered:
"Listen a moment, it is so astonishing--so astonishing and providential!
He also spoke to me about my father; it seems he knew him formerly."
"Your father, uncle? But that is no reason for receiving a Jesuit."
"I know that, but I was very ill, and he looked after me most devotedly
all night long. He was perfect; no doubt he saved my life; those men all
know a little of medicine."
"Oh! he looked after you all night? But you said just now that he had
only been gone a very short time."
"That is quite true; I kept him to breakfast after all his kindness. He
had it at a table by my bedside while I drank a cup of tea."
"And he ate meat?"
My uncle looked vexed, as if I had said something very uncalled for, and
"Don't joke, Gaston; such things are out of place at times. He has shown
me more devotion than many a relation would have done, and I expect to
have his convictions respected."
This rather upset me, but I answered, nevertheless: "Very well, uncle;
and what did you do after breakfast?"
"We played a game of bezique, and then he repeated his breviary while I
read a little book which he happened to have in his pocket, and which was
not by any means badly written."
"A religious book, uncle?"
"Yes, and no, or, rather--no. It is the history of their missions in
Central Africa, and is rather a book of travels and adventures. What
these men have done is very grand."
I began to feel that matters were going badly, so I got up. "Well, good-
by, uncle," I said, "I see you are going to give up Freemasonry for
religion; you are a renegade."
He was still rather confused, and stammered:
"Well, but religion is a sort of Freemasonry."
"When is your Jesuit coming back?" I asked.
"I don't--I don't know exactly; to-morrow, perhaps; but it is not
I went out, altogether overwhelmed.
My joke turned out very badly for me! My uncle became thoroughly
converted, and if that had been all I should not have cared so much.
Clerical or Freemason, to me it is all the same; six of one and half a
dozen of the other; but the worst of it is that he has just made his
will--yes, made his will--and he has disinherited me in favor of that
"Come with me," said my friend Boisrene, "you will see some very
interesting bric-a-brac and works of art there."
He conducted me to the first floor of an elegant house in one of the big
streets of Paris. We were welcomed by a very pleasing man, with
excellent manners, who led us from room to room, showing us rare things,
the price of which he mentioned carelessly. Large sums, ten, twenty,
thirty, fifty thousand francs, dropped from his lips with such grace and
ease that one could not doubt that this gentleman-merchant had millions
shut up in his safe.
I had known him by reputation for a long time Very bright, clever,
intelligent, he acted as intermediary in all sorts of transactions. He
kept in touch with all the richest art amateurs in Paris, and even of
Europe and America, knowing their tastes and preferences; he apprised
them by letter, or by wire if they lived in a distant city, as soon as he
knew of some work of art which might suit them.
Men of the best society had had recourse to him in times of difficulty,
either to find money for gambling, or to pay off a debt, or to sell a
picture, a family jewel, or a tapestry.
It was said that he never refused his services when he saw a chance of
Boisrene seemed very intimate with this strange merchant. They must have
worked together in many a deal. I observed the man with great interest.
He was tall, thin, bald, and very elegant. His soft, insinuating voice
had a peculiar, tempting charm which seemed to give the objects a special
value. When he held anything in his hands, he turned it round and round,
looking at it with such skill, refinement, and sympathy that the object
seemed immediately to be beautiful and transformed by his look and touch.
And its value increased in one's estimation, after the object had passed
from the showcase into his hands.
"And your Crucifix," said Boisrene, "that beautiful Renaissance Crucifix
which you showed me last year?"
The man smiled and answered:
"It has been sold, and in a very peculiar manner. There is a real
Parisian story for you! Would you like to hear it?"
"Do you know the Baroness Samoris?"
"Yes and no. I have seen her once, but I know what she is!"
"Would you mind telling me, so that I can see whether you are not
"Certainly. Mme. Samoris is a woman of the world who has a daughter,
without anyone having known her husband. At any rate, she is received in
a certain tolerant, or blind society. She goes to church and devoutly
partakes of Communion, so that everyone may know it, and she never
compromises herself. She expects her daughter to marry well. Is that
"Yes, but I will complete your information. She is a woman who makes
herself respected by her admirers in spite of everything. That is a rare
quality, for in this manner she can get what she wishes from a man. The
man whom she has chosen without his suspecting it courts her for a long
time, longs for her timidly, wins her with astonishment and possesses her
with consideration. He does not notice that he is paying, she is so
tactful; and she maintains her relations on such a footing of reserve and
dignity that he would slap the first man who dared doubt her in the
least. And all this in the best of faith.
"Several times I have been able to render little services to this woman.
She has no secrets from me.
"Toward the beginning of January she came to me in order to borrow thirty
thousand francs. Naturally, I did not lend them to her; but, as I wished
to oblige her, I told her to explain her situation to me completely, so
that I might see whether there was not something I could do for her.
"She told me her troubles in such cautious language that she could not
have spoken more delicately of her child's first communion. I finally
managed to understand that times were hard, and that she was penniless.
"The commercial crisis, political unrest, rumors of war, had made money
scarce even in the hands of her clients. And then, of course, she was
"She would associate only with a man in the best of society, who could
strengthen her reputation as well as help her financially. A reveller,
no matter how rich, would have compromised her forever, and would have
made the marriage of her daughter quite doubtful.
"She had to maintain her household expenses and continue to entertain, in
order not to lose the opportunity of finding, among her numerous
visitors, the discreet and distinguished friend for whom she was waiting,
and whom she would choose.
"I showed her that my thirty thousand francs would have but little
likelihood of returning to me; for, after spending them all, she would
have to find at least sixty thousand more, in a lump, to pay me back.
"She seemed very disheartened when she heard this. I did not know just
what to do, when an idea, a really fine idea, struck me.
"I had just bought this Renaissance Crucifix which I showed you, an
admirable piece of workmanship, one of the finest of its land that I have
"'My dear friend,' I said to her, 'I am going to send you that piece of
ivory. You will invent some ingenious, touching, poetic story, anything
that you wish, to explain your desire for parting with it. It is, of
course, a family heirloom left you by your father.
"'I myself will send you amateurs, or will bring them to you. The rest
concerns you. Before they come I will drop you a line about their
position, both social and financial. This Crucifix is worth fifty
thousand francs; but I will let it go for thirty thousand. The
difference will belong to you.'
"She considered the matter seriously for several minutes, and then
answered: 'Yes, it is, perhaps, a good idea. I thank you very-much.'
"The next day I sent her my Crucifix, and the same evening the Baron de
"For three months I sent her my best clients, from a business point of
view. But I heard nothing more from her.
"One day I received a visit from a foreigner who spoke very little
French. I decided to introduce him personally to the baroness, in order
to see how she was getting along.
"A footman in black livery received us and ushered us into a quiet little
parlor, furnished with taste, where we waited for several minutes. She
appeared, charming as usual, extended her hand to me and invited us to be
seated; and when I had explained the reason of my visit, she rang.
"The footman appeared.
"'See if Mlle. Isabelle can let us go into her oratory.' The young girl
herself brought the answer. She was about fifteen years of age, modest
and good to look upon in the sweet freshness of her youth. She wished to
conduct us herself to her chapel.
"It was a kind of religious boudoir where a silver lamp was burning
before the Crucifix, my Crucifix, on a background of black velvet. The
setting was charming and very clever. The child crossed herself and then
"'Look, gentlemen. Isn't it beautiful?'
"I took the object, examined it and declared it to be remarkable. The
foreigner also examined it, but he seemed much more interested in the two
women than in the crucifix.
"A delicate odor of incense, flowers and perfume pervaded the whole
house. One felt at home there. This really was a comfortable home,
where one would have liked to linger.
"When we had returned to the parlor I delicately broached the subject of
the price. Mme. Samoris, lowering her eyes, asked fifty thousand francs.
"Then she added: 'If you wish to see it again, monsieur, I very seldom go
out before three o'clock; and I can be found at home every day.'
"In the street the stranger asked me for some details about the baroness,
whom he had found charming. But I did not hear anything more from either
"Three months passed by.
"One morning, hardly two weeks ago, she came here at about lunch time,
and, placing a roll of bills in my hand, said: 'My dear, you are an
angel! Here are fifty thousand francs; I am buying your crucifix, and I
am paying twenty thousand francs more for it than the price agreed upon,
on condition that you always--always send your clients to me--for it is
sill for sale.'"
MOTHER AND SON
A party of men were chatting in the smoking room after dinner. We were
talking of unexpected legacies, strange inheritances. Then M. le
Brument, who was sometimes called "the illustrious judge" and at other
times "the illustrious lawyer," went and stood with his back to the fire.
"I have," said he, "to search for an heir who disappeared under
peculiarly distressing circumstances. It is one of those simple and
terrible dramas of ordinary life, a thing which possibly happens every
day, and which is nevertheless one of the most dreadful things I know.
Here are the facts:
"Nearly six months ago I was called to the bedside of a dying woman. She
said to me:
"'Monsieur, I want to intrust to you the most delicate, the most
difficult, and the most wearisome mission that can be conceived. Be good
enough to notice my will, which is there on the table. A sum of five
thousand francs is left to you as a fee if you do not succeed, and of a
hundred thousand francs if you do succeed. I want you to find my son
after my death.'
"She asked me to assist her to sit up in bed, in order that she might
talk with greater ease, for her voice, broken and gasping, was whistling
in her throat.
"It was a very wealthy establishment. The luxurious apartment, of an
elegant simplicity, was upholstered with materials as thick as walls,
with a soft inviting surface.
"The dying woman continued:
"'You are the first to hear my horrible story. I will try to have
strength enough to finish it. You must know all, in order that you,
whom I know to be a kind-hearted man as well as a man of the world, may
have a sincere desire to aid me with all your power.
"'Listen to me:
"'Before my marriage, I loved a young man, whose suit was rejected by my
family because he was not rich enough. Not long afterward, I married a
man of great wealth. I married him through ignorance, through obedience,
through indifference, as young girls do marry.
"'I had a child, a boy. My husband died in the course of a few years.
"'He whom I had loved had married, in his turn. When he saw that I was
a widow, he was crushed by grief at knowing he was not free. He came to
see me; he wept and sobbed so bitterly, that it was enough to break my
heart. He came to see me at first as a friend. Perhaps I ought not to
have received him. What could I do? I was alone, so sad, so solitary,
so hopeless! And I loved him still. What sufferings we women have
sometimes to endure!
"'I had only him in the world, my parents being dead. He came
frequently; he spent whole evenings with me. I should not have let him
come so often, seeing that he was married. But I had not enough will-
power to prevent him from coming.
"'How can I tell it?--he became my lover. How did this come about? Can
I explain it? Can any one explain such things? Do you think it could be
otherwise when two human beings are drawn to each other by the
irresistible force of mutual affection? Do you believe, monsieur, that
it is always in our power to resist, that we can keep up the struggle
forever, and refuse to yield to the prayers, the supplications, the
tears, the frenzied words, the appeals on bended knees, the transports of
passion, with which we are pursued by the man we adore, whom we want to
gratify even in his slightest wishes, whom we desire to crown with every
possible happiness, and whom, if we are to be guided by a worldly code of
honor, we must drive to despair? What strength would it not require?
What a renunciation of happiness? what self-denial? and even what
"'In short, monsieur, I was his mistress; and I was happy. I became--and
this was my greatest weakness and my greatest piece of cowardice-I became
his wife's friend.
"'We brought up my son together; we made a man of him, a thorough man,
intelligent, full of sense and resolution, of large and generous ideas.
The boy reached the age of seventeen.
"'He, the young man, was fond of my--my lover, almost as fond of him as I
was myself, for he had been equally cherished and cared for by both of
us. He used to call him his 'dear friend,' and respected him immensely,
having never received from him anything but wise counsels and an example
of integrity, honor, and probity. He looked upon him as an old loyal and
devoted comrade of his mother, as a sort of moral father, guardian,
protector--how am I to describe it?
"'Perhaps the reason why he never asked any questions was that he had
been accustomed from his earliest years to see this man in my house, at
my side, and at his side, always concerned about us both.
"'One evening the three of us were to dine together--this was my chief
amusement--and I waited for the two men, asking myself which of them
would be the first to arrive. The door opened; it was my old friend.
I went toward him, with outstretched arms; and he pressed my lips in a
long, delicious kiss.
"'All of a sudden, a slight sound, a faint rustling, that mysterious
sensation which indicates the presence of another person, made us start
and turn round abruptly. Jean, my son, stood there, livid, staring at
"'There was a moment of atrocious confusion. I drew back, holding out my
hand toward my son as if in supplication; but I could not see him. He
"'We remained facing each other--my lover and I--crushed, unable to utter
a word. I sank into an armchair, and I felt a desire, a vague, powerful
desire, to flee, to go out into the night, and to disappear forever.
Then convulsive sobs rose in my throat, and I wept, shaken with spasms,
my heart breaking, all my nerves writhing with the horrible sensation of
an irreparable, misfortune, and with that dreadful sense of shame which,
in such moments as this, fills a mother's heart.
"'He looked at me in a terrified manner, not venturing to approach, to
speak to me, or to touch me, for fear of the boy's return. At last he
"'I am going to follow him-to talk to him--to explain matters to him. In
short, I must see him and let him know----"
"'And he hurried away.
"'I waited--waited in a distracted frame of mind, trembling at the least
sound, starting with fear and with some unutterably strange and
intolerable emotion at every slight crackling of the fire in the grate.
"'I waited an hour, two hours, feeling my heart swell with a dread I had
never before experienced, such anguish that I would not wish the greatest
criminal to endure ten minutes of such misery. Where was my son? What
was he doing?
"'About midnight, a messenger brought me a note from my lover. I still
know its contents by heart:
"'Has your son returned? I did not find him. I am down here. I do not
want to go up at this hour."
"'I wrote in pencil on the same slip of paper:
"'Jean has not returned. You must find him."
"'And I 'remained all night in the armchair, waiting for him.
"'I felt as if I were going mad. I longed to run wildly about, to roll
on the ground. And yet I did not even stir, but kept waiting hour after
hour. What was going to happen? I tried to imagine, to guess. But I
could form no conception, in spite of my efforts, in spite of the
tortures of my soul!
"'And now I feared that they might meet. What would they do in that
case? What would my son do? My mind was torn with fearful doubts, with
"'You can understand my feelings, can you not, monsieur?
"'My chambermaid, who knew nothing, who understood nothing, came into the
room every moment, believing, naturally, that I had lost my reason. I
sent her away with a word or a movement of the hand. She went for the
doctor, who found me in the throes of a nervous attack.
"'I was put to bed. I had brain fever.
"'When I regained consciousness, after a long illness, I saw beside my
"'My son? Where is my son?
"'He made no reply. I stammered:
"'Dead-dead. Has he committed suicide?
"'No, no, I swear it. But we have not found him in spite of all my
"'Then, becoming suddenly exasperated and even indignant--for women are
subject to such outbursts of unaccountable and unreasoning anger--I said:
"'I forbid you to come near me or to see me again unless you find him.
"He did go away.
"'I have never seen one or the other of them since, monsieur, and thus I
have lived for the last twenty years.
"'Can you imagine what all this meant to me? Can you understand this
monstrous punishment, this slow, perpetual laceration of a mother's
heart, this abominable, endless waiting? Endless, did I say? No; it is
about to end, for I am dying. I am dying without ever again seeing
either of them--either one or the other!
"'He--the man I loved--has written to me every day for the last twenty
years; and I--I have never consented to see him, even for one second; for
I had a strange feeling that, if he were to come back here, my son would
make his appearance at the same moment. Oh! my son! my son! Is he dead?
Is he living? Where is he hiding? Over there, perhaps, beyond the great
ocean, in some country so far away that even its very name is unknown to
me! Does he ever think of me? Ah! if he only knew! How cruel one's
children are! Did he understand to what frightful suffering he condemned
me, into what depths of despair, into what tortures, he cast me while I
was still in the prime of life, leaving me to suffer until this moment,
when I am about to die--me, his mother, who loved him with all the
intensity of a mother's love? Oh! isn't it cruel, cruel?
"'You will tell him all this, monsieur--will you not? You will repeat to
him my last words:
"'My child, my dear, dear child, be less harsh toward poor women! Life
is already brutal and savage enough in its dealings with them. My dear
son, think of what the existence of your poor mother has been ever since
the day you left her. My dear child, forgive her, and love her, now that
she is dead, for she has had to endure the most frightful penance ever
inflicted on a woman."
"She gasped for breath, trembling, as if she had addressed the last words
to her son and as if he stood by her bedside.
"Then she added:
"'You will tell him also, monsieur, that I never again saw-the other.'
"Once more she ceased speaking, then, in a broken voice, she said:
"'Leave me now, I beg of you. I want to die all alone, since they are
not with me.'"
Maitre Le Brument added:
"And I left the house, monsieurs, crying like a fool, so bitterly,
indeed, that my coachman turned round to stare at me.
"And to think that, every day, dramas like this are being enacted all
"I have not found the son--that son--well, say what you like about him,
but I call him that criminal son!"
All were crowding around M. Bermutier, the judge, who was giving his
opinion about the Saint-Cloud mystery. For a month this in explicable
crime had been the talk of Paris. Nobody could make head or tail of it.
M. Bermutier, standing with his back to the fireplace, was talking,
citing the evidence, discussing the various theories, but arriving at no
Some women had risen, in order to get nearer to him, and were standing
with their eyes fastened on the clean-shaven face of the judge, who was
saying such weighty things. They, were shaking and trembling, moved by
fear and curiosity, and by the eager and insatiable desire for the
horrible, which haunts the soul of every woman. One of them, paler than
the others, said during a pause:
"It's terrible. It verges on the supernatural. The truth will never be
The judge turned to her:
"True, madame, it is likely that the actual facts will never be
discovered. As for the word 'supernatural' which you have just used, it
has nothing to do with the matter. We are in the presence of a very
cleverly conceived and executed crime, so well enshrouded in mystery that
we cannot disentangle it from the involved circumstances which surround
it. But once I had to take charge of an affair in which the uncanny
seemed to play a part. In fact, the case became so confused that it had
to be given up."
Several women exclaimed at once:
"Oh! Tell us about it!"
M. Bermutier smiled in a dignified manner, as a judge should, and went
"Do not think, however, that I, for one minute, ascribed anything in the
case to supernatural influences. I believe only in normal causes. But
if, instead of using the word 'supernatural' to express what we do not
understand, we were simply to make use of the word 'inexplicable,' it
would be much better. At any rate, in the affair of which I am about to
tell you, it is especially the surrounding, preliminary circumstances
which impressed me. Here are the facts:
"I was, at that time, a judge at Ajaccio, a little white city on the edge
of a bay which is surrounded by high mountains.
"The majority of the cases which came up before me concerned vendettas.
There are some that are superb, dramatic, ferocious, heroic. We find
there the most beautiful causes for revenge of which one could dream,
enmities hundreds of years old, quieted for a time but never
extinguished; abominable stratagems, murders becoming massacres and
almost deeds of glory. For two years I heard of nothing but the price of
blood, of this terrible Corsican prejudice which compels revenge for
insults meted out to the offending person and all his descendants and
relatives. I had seen old men, children, cousins murdered; my head was
full of these stories.
"One day I learned that an Englishman had just hired a little villa at
the end of the bay for several years. He had brought with him a French
servant, whom he had engaged on the way at Marseilles.
"Soon this peculiar person, living alone, only going out to hunt and
fish, aroused a widespread interest. He never spoke to any one, never
went to the town, and every morning he would practice for an hour or so
with his revolver and rifle.
"Legends were built up around him. It was said that he was some high
personage, fleeing from his fatherland for political reasons; then it was
affirmed that he was in hiding after having committed some abominable
crime. Some particularly horrible circumstances were even mentioned.
"In my judicial position I thought it necessary to get some information
about this man, but it was impossible to learn anything. He called
himself Sir John Rowell.
"I therefore had to be satisfied with watching him as closely as I could,
but I could see nothing suspicious about his actions.
"However, as rumors about him were growing and becoming more widespread,
I decided to try to see this stranger myself, and I began to hunt
regularly in the neighborhood of his grounds.
"For a long time I watched without finding an opportunity. At last it
came to me in the shape of a partridge which I shot and killed right in
front of the Englishman. My dog fetched it for me, but, taking the bird,
I went at once to Sir John Rowell and, begging his pardon, asked him to
"He was a big man, with red hair and beard, very tall, very broad, a kind
of calm and polite Hercules. He had nothing of the so-called British
stiffness, and in a broad English accent he thanked me warmly for my
attention. At the end of a month we had had five or six conversations.
"One night, at last, as I was passing before his door, I saw him in the
garden, seated astride a chair, smoking his pipe. I bowed and he invited
me to come in and have a glass of beer. I needed no urging.
"He received me with the most punctilious English courtesy, sang the
praises of France and of Corsica, and declared that he was quite in love
with this country.
"Then, with great caution and under the guise of a vivid interest, I
asked him a few questions about his life and his plans. He answered
without embarrassment, telling me that he had travelled a great deal in
Africa, in the Indies, in America. He added, laughing:
"'I have had many adventures.'
"Then I turned the conversation on hunting, and he gave me the most
curious details on hunting the hippopotamus, the tiger, the elephant and
even the gorilla.
"'Are all these animals dangerous?'
"'Oh, no! Man is the worst.'
"And he laughed a good broad laugh, the wholesome laugh of a contented
"'I have also frequently been man-hunting.'
"Then he began to talk about weapons, and he invited me to come in and
see different makes of guns.
"His parlor was draped in black, black silk embroidered in gold. Big
yellow flowers, as brilliant as fire, were worked on the dark material.
"'It is a Japanese material.'
"But in the middle of the widest panel a strange thing attracted my
attention. A black object stood out against a square of red velvet. I
went up to it; it was a hand, a human hand. Not the clean white hand of
a skeleton, but a dried black hand, with yellow nails, the muscles
exposed and traces of old blood on the bones, which were cut off as clean
as though it had been chopped off with an axe, near the middle of the
"Around the wrist, an enormous iron chain, riveted and soldered to this
unclean member, fastened it to the wall by a ring, strong enough to hold
an elephant in leash.
"'What is that?'
"The Englishman answered quietly:
"'That is my best enemy. It comes from America, too. The bones were
severed by a sword and the skin cut off with a sharp stone and dried in
the sun for a week.'
"I touched these human remains, which must have belonged to a giant. The
uncommonly long fingers were attached by enormous tendons which still had
pieces of skin hanging to them in places. This hand was terrible to see;
it made one think of some savage vengeance.
"'This man must have been very strong.'
"The Englishman answered quietly:
"'Yes, but I was stronger than he. I put on this chain to hold him.'
"I thought that he was joking. I said:
"'This chain is useless now, the hand won't run away.'
"Sir John Rowell answered seriously:
"'It always wants to go away. This chain is needed.'
"I glanced at him quickly, questioning his face, and I asked myself:
"'Is he an insane man or a practical joker?'
"But his face remained inscrutable, calm and friendly. I turned to other
subjects, and admired his rifles.
"However, I noticed that he kept three loaded revolvers in the room, as
though constantly in fear of some attack.
"I paid him several calls. Then I did not go any more. People had
become used to his presence; everybody had lost interest in him.
"A whole year rolled by. One morning, toward the end of November, my
servant awoke me and announced that Sir John Rowell had been murdered
during the night.
"Half an hour later I entered the Englishman's house, together with the
police commissioner and the captain of the gendarmes. The servant,
bewildered and in despair, was crying before the door. At first I
suspected this man, but he was innocent.
"The guilty party could never be found.
"On entering Sir John's parlor, I noticed the body, stretched out on its
back, in the middle of the room.
"His vest was torn, the sleeve of his jacket had been pulled off,
everything pointed to, a violent struggle.
"The Englishman had been strangled! His face was black, swollen and
frightful, and seemed to express a terrible fear. He held something
between his teeth, and his neck, pierced by five or six holes which
looked as though they had been made by some iron instrument, was covered
"A physician joined us. He examined the finger marks on the neck for a
long time and then made this strange announcement:
"'It looks as though he had been strangled by a skeleton.'
"A cold chill seemed to run down my back, and I looked over to where I
had formerly seen the terrible hand. It was no longer there. The chain
was hanging down, broken.
"I bent over the dead man and, in his contracted mouth, I found one of
the fingers of this vanished hand, cut--or rather sawed off by the teeth
down to the second knuckle.
"Then the investigation began. Nothing could be discovered. No door,
window or piece of furniture had been forced. The two watch dogs had not
been aroused from their sleep.
"Here, in a few words, is the testimony of the servant:
"For a month his master had seemed excited. He had received many
letters, which he would immediately burn.
"Often, in a fit of passion which approached madness, he had taken a
switch and struck wildly at this dried hand riveted to the wall, and
which had disappeared, no one knows how, at the very hour of the crime.
"He would go to bed very late and carefully lock himself in. He always
kept weapons within reach. Often at night he would talk loudly, as
though he were quarrelling with some one.
"That night, somehow, he had made no noise, and it was only on going to
open the windows that the servant had found Sir John murdered. He
suspected no one.
"I communicated what I knew of the dead man to the judges and public
officials. Throughout the whole island a minute investigation was
carried on. Nothing could be found out.
"One night, about three months after the crime, I had a terrible
nightmare. I seemed to see the horrible hand running over my curtains
and walls like an immense scorpion or spider. Three times I awoke, three
times I went to sleep again; three times I saw the hideous object
galloping round my room and moving its fingers like legs.
"The following day the hand was brought me, found in the cemetery, on the
grave of Sir John Rowell, who had been buried there because we had been
unable to find his family. The first finger was missing.
"Ladies, there is my story. I know nothing more."
The women, deeply stirred, were pale and trembling. One of them
"But that is neither a climax nor an explanation! We will be unable to
sleep unless you give us your opinion of what had occurred."
The judge smiled severely:
"Oh! Ladies, I shall certainly spoil your terrible dreams. I simply
believe that the legitimate owner of the hand was not dead, that he came
to get it with his remaining one. But I don't know how. It was a kind
One of the women murmured:
"No, it can't be that."
And the judge, still smiling, said:
"Didn't I tell you that my explanation would not satisfy you?"
A TRESS OF HAIR
The walls of the cell were bare and white washed. A narrow grated
window, placed so high that one could not reach it, lighted this sinister
little room. The mad inmate, seated on a straw chair, looked at us with
a fixed, vacant and haunted expression. He was very thin, with hollow
cheeks and hair almost white, which one guessed might have turned gray in
a few months. His clothes appeared to be too large for his shrunken
limbs, his sunken chest and empty paunch. One felt that this man's mind
was destroyed, eaten by his thoughts, by one thought, just as a fruit is
eaten by a worm. His craze, his idea was there in his brain, insistent,
harassing, destructive. It wasted his frame little by little. It--the
invisible, impalpable, intangible, immaterial idea--was mining his
health, drinking his blood, snuffing out his life.
What a mystery was this man, being killed by an ideal! He aroused
sorrow, fear and pity, this madman. What strange, tremendous and deadly
thoughts dwelt within this forehead which they creased with deep wrinkles
which were never still?
"He has terrible attacks of rage," said the doctor to me. "His is one of
the most peculiar cases I have ever seen. He has seizures of erotic and
macaberesque madness. He is a sort of necrophile. He has kept a journal
in which he sets forth his disease with the utmost clearness. In it you
can, as it were, put your finger on it. If it would interest you, you
may go over this document."
I followed the doctor into his office, where he handed me this wretched
man's diary, saying: "Read it and tell me what you think of it."
I read as follows:
"Until the age of thirty-two I lived peacefully, without knowing love.
Life appeared very simple, very pleasant and very easy. I was rich.
I enjoyed so many things that I had no passion for anything in
particular. It was good to be alive! I awoke happy every morning and
did those things that pleased me during the day and went to bed at night
contented, in the expectation of a peaceful tomorrow and a future without
"I had had a few flirtations without my heart being touched by any true
passion or wounded by any of the sensations of true love. It is good to
live like that. It is better to love, but it is terrible. And yet those
who love in the ordinary way must experience ardent happiness, though
less than mine possibly, for love came to me in a remarkable manner.
"As I was wealthy, I bought all kinds of old furniture and old
curiosities, and I often thought of the unknown hands that had touched
these objects, of the eyes that had admired them, of the hearts that had
loved them; for one does love things! I sometimes remained hours and
hours looking at a little watch of the last century. It was so tiny, so
pretty with its enamel and gold chasing. And it kept time as on the day
when a woman first bought it, enraptured at owning this dainty trinket.
It had not ceased to vibrate, to live its mechanical life, and it had
kept up its regular tick-tock since the last century. Who had first worn
it on her bosom amid the warmth of her clothing, the heart of the watch
beating beside the heart of the woman? What hand had held it in its warm
fingers, had turned it over and then wiped the enamelled shepherds on the
case to remove the slight moisture from her fingers? What eyes had
watched the hands on its ornamental face for the expected, the beloved,
the sacred hour?
"How I wished I had known her, seen her, the woman who had selected this
exquisite and rare object! She is dead! I am possessed with a longing
for women of former days. I love, from afar, all those who have loved.
The story of those dead and gone loves fills my heart with regrets. Oh,
the beauty, the smiles, the youthful caresses, the hopes! Should not all
that be eternal?
"How I have wept whole nights-thinking of those poor women of former
days, so beautiful, so loving, so sweet, whose arms were extended in an
embrace, and who now are dead! A kiss is immortal! It goes from lips to
lips, from century to century, from age to age. Men receive them, give
them and die.
"The past attracts me, the present terrifies me because the future means
death. I regret all that has gone by. I mourn all who have lived; I
should like to check time, to stop the clock. But time goes, it goes, it
passes, it takes from me each second a little of myself for the
annihilation of to-morrow. And I shall never live again.
"Farewell, ye women of yesterday. I love you!
"But I am not to be pitied. I found her, the one I was waiting for, and
through her I enjoyed inestimable pleasure.
"I was sauntering in Paris on a bright, sunny morning, with a happy heart
and a high step, looking in at the shop windows with the vague interest
of an idler. All at once I noticed in the shop of a dealer in antiques a
piece of Italian furniture of the seventeenth century. It was very
handsome, very rare. I set it down as being the work of a Venetian
artist named Vitelli, who was celebrated in his day.
"I went on my way.
"Why did the remembrance of that piece of furniture haunt me with such
insistence that I retraced my steps? I again stopped before the shop, in
order to take another look at it, and I felt that it tempted me.
"What a singular thing temptation is! One gazes at an object, and,
little by little, it charms you, it disturbs you, it fills your thoughts
as a woman's face might do. The enchantment of it penetrates your being,
a strange enchantment of form, color and appearance of an inanimate
object. And one loves it, one desires it, one wishes to have it. A
longing to own it takes possession of you, gently at first, as though it
were timid, but growing, becoming intense, irresistible.
"And the dealers seem to guess, from your ardent gaze, your secret and
"I bought this piece of furniture and had it sent home at once. I placed
it in my room.
"Oh, I am sorry for those who do not know the honeymoon of the collector
with the antique he has just purchased. One looks at it tenderly and
passes one's hand over it as if it were human flesh; one comes back to it
every moment, one is always thinking of it, wherever ore goes, whatever
one does. The dear recollection of it pursues you in the street, in
society, everywhere; and when you return home at night, before taking off
your gloves or your hat; you go and look at it with the tenderness of a
"Truly, for eight days I worshipped this piece of furniture. I opened
its doors and pulled out the drawers every few moments. I handled it
with rapture, with all the intense joy of possession.
"But one evening I surmised, while I was feeling the thickness of one of
the panels, that there must be a secret drawer in it: My heart began to
beat, and I spent the night trying to discover this secret cavity.
"I succeeded on the following day by driving a knife into a slit in the
wood. A panel slid back and I saw, spread out on a piece of black
velvet, a magnificent tress of hair.
"Yes, a woman's hair, an immense coil of fair hair, almost red, which
must have been cut off close to the head, tied with a golden cord.
"I stood amazed, trembling, confused. An almost imperceptible perfume,
so ancient that it seemed to be the spirit of a perfume, issued from this
mysterious drawer and this remarkable relic.
"I lifted it gently, almost reverently, and took it out of its hiding
place. It at once unwound in a golden shower that reached to the floor,
dense but light; soft and gleaming like the tail of a comet.
"A strange emotion filled me. What was this? When, how, why had this
hair been shut up in this drawer? What adventure, what tragedy did this
souvenir conceal? Who had cut it off? A lover on a day of farewell, a
husband on a day of revenge, or the one whose head it had graced on the
day of despair?
"Was it as she was about to take the veil that they had cast thither that
love dowry as a pledge to the world of the living? Was it when they were
going to nail down the coffin of the beautiful young corpse that the one
who had adored her had cut off her tresses, the only thing that he could
retain of her, the only living part of her body that would not suffer
decay, the only thing he could still love, and caress, and kiss in his
paroxysms of grief?
"Was it not strange that this tress should have remained as it was in
life, when not an atom of the body on which it grew was in existence?
"It fell over my fingers, tickled the skin with a singular caress, the
caress of a dead woman. It affected me so that I felt as though I should
"I held it in my hands for a long time, then it seemed as if it disturbed
me, as though something of the soul had remained in it. And I put it
back on the velvet, rusty from age, and pushed in the drawer, closed the
doors of the antique cabinet and went out for a walk to meditate.
"I walked along, filled with sadness and also with unrest, that unrest
that one feels when in love. I felt as though I must have lived before,
as though I must have known this woman.
"And Villon's lines came to my mind like a sob:
Tell me where, and in what place
Is Flora, the beautiful Roman,
Hipparchia and Thais
Who was her cousin-german?
Echo answers in the breeze
O'er river and lake that blows,
Their beauty was above all praise,
But where are last year's snows?
The queen, white as lilies,
Who sang as sing the birds,
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
Ermengarde, princess of Maine,
And Joan, the good Lorraine,
Burned by the English at Rouen,
Where are they, Virgin Queen?
And where are last year's snows?
"When I got home again I felt an irresistible longing to see my singular
treasure, and I took it out and, as I touched it, I felt a shiver go all
"For some days, however, I was in my ordinary condition, although the
thought of that tress of hair was always present to my mind.
"Whenever I came into the house I had to see it and take it in my, hands.
I turned the key of the cabinet with the same hesitation that one opens
the door leading to one's beloved, for in my hands and my heart I felt a
confused, singular, constant sensual longing to plunge my hands in the
enchanting golden flood of those dead tresses.
"Then, after I had finished caressing it and had locked the cabinet I
felt as if it were a living thing, shut up in there, imprisoned; and I
longed to see it again. I felt again the imperious desire to take it in
my hands, to touch it, to even feel uncomfortable at the cold, slippery,
irritating, bewildering contact.
"I lived thus for a month or two, I forget how long. It obsessed me,
haunted me. I was happy and tormented by turns, as when one falls in
love, and after the first vows have been exchanged.
"I shut myself in the room with it to feel it on my skin, to bury my lips
in it, to kiss it. I wound it round my face, covered my eyes with the
golden flood so as to see the day gleam through its gold.
"I loved it! Yes, I loved it. I could not be without it nor pass an
hour without looking at it.
"And I waited--I waited--for what? I do not know--For her!
"One night I woke up suddenly, feeling as though I were not alone in my
"I was alone, nevertheless, but I could not go to sleep again, and, as I
was tossing about feverishly, I got up to look at the golden tress. It
seemed softer than usual, more life-like. Do the dead come back? I
almost lost consciousness as I kissed it. I took it back with me to bed
and pressed it to my lips as if it were my sweetheart.
"Do the dead come back? She came back. Yes, I saw her; I held her in my
arms, just as she was in life, tall, fair and round. She came back every
evening--the dead woman, the beautiful, adorable, mysterious unknown.
"My happiness was so great that I could not conceal it. No lover ever
tasted such intense, terrible enjoyment. I loved her so well that I
could not be separated from her. I took her with me always and
everywhere. I walked about the town with her as if she were my wife, and
took her to the theatre, always to a private box. But they saw her--they
guessed--they arrested me. They put me in prison like a criminal. They
took her. Oh, misery!"
Here the manuscript stopped. And as I suddenly raised my astonished eyes
to the doctor a terrific cry, a howl of impotent rage and of exasperated
longing resounded through the asylum.
"Listen," said the doctor. "We have to douse the obscene madman with
water five times a day. Sergeant Bertrand was the only one who was in
love with the dead."
Filled with astonishment, horror and pity, I stammered out:
"But--that tress--did it really exist?"
The doctor rose, opened a cabinet full of phials and instruments and
tossed over a long tress of fair hair which flew toward me like a golden
I shivered at feeling its soft, light touch on my hands. And I sat
there, my heart beating with disgust and desire, disgust as at the
contact of anything accessory to a crime and desire as at the temptation
of some infamous and mysterious thing.
The doctor said as he shrugged his shoulders:
"The mind of man is capable of anything."
ON THE RIVER
I rented a little country house last summer on the banks of the Seine,
several leagues from Paris, and went out there to sleep every evening.
After a few days I made the acquaintance of one of my neighbors, a man
between thirty and forty, who certainly was the most curious specimen I
ever met. He was an old boating man, and crazy about boating. He was
always beside the water, on the water, or in the water. He must have
been born in a boat, and he will certainly die in a boat at the last.
One evening as we were walking along the banks of the Seine I asked him
to tell me some stories about his life on the water. The good man at
once became animated, his whole expression changed, he became eloquent,
almost poetical. There was in his heart one great passion, an absorbing,
irresistible passion-the river.
Ah, he said to me, how many memories I have, connected with that river
that you see flowing beside us! You people who live in streets know
nothing about the river. But listen to a fisherman as he mentions the
word. To him it is a mysterious thing, profound, unknown, a land of
mirages and phantasmagoria, where one sees by night things that do not
exist, hears sounds that one does not recognize, trembles without knowing
why, as in passing through a cemetery--and it is, in fact, the most
sinister of cemeteries, one in which one has no tomb.
The land seems limited to the river boatman, and on dark nights, when
there is no moon, the river seems limitless. A sailor has not the same
feeling for the sea. It is often remorseless and cruel, it is true; but
it shrieks, it roars, it is honest, the great sea; while the river is
silent and perfidious. It does not speak, it flows along without a
sound; and this eternal motion of flowing water is more terrible to me
than the high waves of the ocean.
Dreamers maintain that the sea hides in its bosom vast tracts of blue
where those who are drowned roam among the big fishes, amid strange
forests and crystal grottoes. The river has only black depths where one
rots in the slime. It is beautiful, however, when it sparkles in the
light of the rising sun and gently laps its banks covered with whispering
The poet says, speaking of the ocean,
"O waves, what mournful tragedies ye know--
Deep waves, the dread of kneeling mothers' hearts!
Ye tell them to each other as ye roll
On flowing tide, and this it is that gives
The sad despairing tones unto your voice
As on ye roll at eve by mounting tide."
Well, I think that the stories whispered by the slender reeds, with their
little soft voices, must be more sinister than the lugubrious tragedies
told by the roaring of the waves.
But as you have asked for some of my recollections, I will tell you of a
singular adventure that happened to me ten years ago.
I was living, as I am now, in Mother Lafon's house, and one of my closest
friends, Louis Bernet who has now given up boating, his low shoes and his
bare neck, to go into the Supreme Court, was living in the village of C.,
two leagues further down the river. We dined together every day,
sometimes at his house, sometimes at mine.
One evening as I was coming home along and was pretty tired, rowing with
difficulty my big boat, a twelve-footer, which I always took out at
night, I stopped a few moments to draw breath near the reed-covered point
yonder, about two hundred metres from the railway bridge.
It was a magnificent night, the moon shone brightly, the river gleamed,
the air was calm and soft. This peacefulness tempted me. I thought to
myself that it would be pleasant to smoke a pipe in this spot. I took up
my anchor and cast it into the river.
The boat floated downstream with the current, to the end of the chain,
and then stopped, and I seated myself in the stern on my sheepskin and
made myself as comfortable as possible. There was not a sound to be
heard, except that I occasionally thought I could perceive an almost
imperceptible lapping of the water against the bank, and I noticed taller
groups of reeds which assumed strange shapes and seemed, at times, to
The river was perfectly calm, but I felt myself affected by the unusual
silence that surrounded me. All the creatures, frogs and toads, those
nocturnal singers of the marsh, were silent.
Suddenly a frog croaked to my right, and close beside me. I shuddered.
It ceased, and I heard nothing more, and resolved to smoke, to soothe my
mind. But, although I was a noted colorer of pipes, I could not smoke;
at the second draw I was nauseated, and gave up trying. I began to sing.
The sound of my voice was distressing to me. So I lay still, but
presently the slight motion of the boat disturbed me. It seemed to me as
if she were making huge lurches, from bank to bank of the river, touching
each bank alternately. Then I felt as though an invisible force, or
being, were drawing her to the surface of the water and lifting her out,
to let her fall again. I was tossed about as in a tempest. I heard
noises around me. I sprang to my feet with a single bound. The water
was glistening, all was calm.
I saw that my nerves were somewhat shaky, and I resolved to leave the
spot. I pulled the anchor chain, the boat began to move; then I felt a
resistance. I pulled harder, the anchor did not come up; it had caught
on something at the bottom of the river and I could not raise it. I
began pulling again, but all in vain. Then, with my oars, I turned the
boat with its head up stream to change the position of the anchor. It
was no use, it was still caught. I flew into a rage and shook the chain
furiously. Nothing budged. I sat down, disheartened, and began to
reflect on my situation. I could not dream of breaking this chain, or
detaching it from the boat, for it was massive and was riveted at the
bows to a piece of wood as thick as my arm. However, as the weather was
so fine I thought that it probably would not be long before some
fisherman came to my aid. My ill-luck had quieted me. I sat down and
was able, at length, to smoke my pipe. I had a bottle of rum; I drank
two or three glasses, and was able to laugh at the situation. It was
very warm; so that, if need be, I could sleep out under the stars without
any great harm.
All at once there was a little knock at the side of the boat. I gave a
start, and a cold sweat broke out all over me. The noise was, doubtless,
caused by some piece of wood borne along by the current, but that was
enough, and I again became a prey to a strange nervous agitation. I
seized the chain and tensed my muscles in a desperate effort. The anchor
held firm. I sat down again, exhausted.
The river had slowly become enveloped in a thick white fog which lay
close to the water, so that when I stood up I could see neither the
river, nor my feet, nor my boat; but could perceive only the tops of the
reeds, and farther off in the distance the plain, lying white in the
moonlight, with big black patches rising up from it towards the sky,
which were formed by groups of Italian poplars. I was as if buried to
the waist in a cloud of cotton of singular whiteness, and all sorts of
strange fancies came into my mind. I thought that someone was trying to
climb into my boat which I could no longer distinguish, and that the
river, hidden by the thick fog, was full of strange creatures which were
swimming all around me. I felt horribly uncomfortable, my forehead felt
as if it had a tight band round it, my heart beat so that it almost
suffocated me, and, almost beside myself, I thought of swimming away from
the place. But then, again, the very idea made me tremble with fear. I
saw myself, lost, going by guesswork in this heavy fog, struggling about
amid the grasses and reeds which I could not escape, my breath rattling
with fear, neither seeing the bank, nor finding my boat; and it seemed as
if I would feel myself dragged down by the feet to the bottom of these
In fact, as I should have had to ascend the stream at least five hundred
metres before finding a spot free from grasses and rushes where I could
land, there were nine chances to one that I could not find my way in the
fog and that I should drown, no matter how well I could swim.
I tried to reason with myself. My will made me resolve not to be afraid,
but there was something in me besides my will, and that other thing was
afraid. I asked myself what there was to be afraid of. My brave "ego"
ridiculed my coward "ego," and never did I realize, as on that day, the
existence in us of two rival personalities, one desiring a thing, the
other resisting, and each winning the day in turn.
This stupid, inexplicable fear increased, and became terror. I remained
motionless, my eyes staring, my ears on the stretch with expectation. Of
what? I did not know, but it must be something terrible. I believe if
it had occurred to a fish to jump out of the water, as often happens,
nothing more would have been required to make me fall over, stiff and
However, by a violent effort I succeeded in becoming almost rational
again. I took up my bottle of rum and took several pulls. Then an idea
came to me, and I began to shout with all my might towards all the points
of the compass in succession. When my throat was absolutely paralyzed I
listened. A dog was howling, at a great distance.
I drank some more rum and stretched myself out at the bottom of the boat.
I remained there about an hour, perhaps two, not sleeping, my eyes wide
open, with nightmares all about me. I did not dare to rise, and yet I
intensely longed to do so. I delayed it from moment to moment. I said
to myself: "Come, get up!" and I was afraid to move. At last I raised
myself with infinite caution as though my life depended on the slightest
sound that I might make; and looked over the edge of the boat.
I was dazzled by the most marvellous, the most astonishing sight that it
is possible to see. It was one of those phantasmagoria of fairyland, one
of those sights described by travellers on their return from distant
lands, whom we listen to without believing.
The fog which, two hours before, had floated on the water, had gradually
cleared off and massed on the banks, leaving the river absolutely clear;
while it formed on either bank an uninterrupted wall six or seven metres
high, which shone in the moonlight with the dazzling brilliance of snow.
One saw nothing but the river gleaming with light between these two white
mountains; and high above my head sailed the great full moon, in the
midst of a bluish, milky sky.
All the creatures in the water were awake. The frogs croaked furiously,
while every few moments I heard, first to the right and then to the left,
the abrupt, monotonous and mournful metallic note of the bullfrogs.
Strange to say, I was no longer afraid. I was in the midst of such an
unusual landscape that the most remarkable things would not have
How long this lasted I do not know, for I ended by falling asleep. When
I opened my eyes the moon had gone down and the sky was full of clouds.
The water lapped mournfully, the wind was blowing, it was pitch dark.
I drank the rest of the rum, then listened, while I trembled, to the
rustling of the reeds and the foreboding sound of the river. I tried to
see, but could not distinguish my boat, nor even my hands, which I held
up close to my eyes.
Little by little, however, the blackness became less intense. All at
once I thought I noticed a shadow gliding past, quite near me. I
shouted, a voice replied; it was a fisherman. I called him; he came near
and I told him of my ill-luck. He rowed his boat alongside of mine and,
together, we pulled at the anchor chain. The anchor did not move. Day
came, gloomy gray, rainy and cold, one of those days that bring one
sorrows and misfortunes. I saw another boat. We hailed it. The man on
board of her joined his efforts to ours, and gradually the anchor
yielded. It rose, but slowly, slowly, loaded down by a considerable
weight. At length we perceived a black mass and we drew it on board.
It was the corpse of an old women with a big stone round her neck.
The following adventure happened to me about 1882. I had just taken the
train and settled down in a corner, hoping that I should be left alone,
when the door suddenly opened again and I heard a voice say: "Take care,
monsieur, we are just at a crossing; the step is very high."
Another voice answered: "That's all right, Laurent, I have a firm hold on
Then a head appeared, and two hands seized the leather straps hanging on
either side of the door and slowly pulled up an enormous body, whose feet
striking on the step, sounded like two canes. When the man had hoisted
his torso into the compartment I noticed, at the loose edge of his
trousers, the end of a wooden leg, which was soon followed by its mate.
A head appeared behind this traveller and asked; "Are you all right,
"Yes, my boy."
"Then here are your packages and crutches."
And a servant, who looked like an old soldier, climbed in, carrying in
his arms a stack of bundles wrapped in black and yellow papers and
carefully tied; he placed one after the other in the net over his
master's head. Then he said: "There, monsieur, that is all. There are
five of them--the candy, the doll the drum, the gun, and the pate de
"Very well, my boy."
"Thank you, Laurent; good health!"
The man closed the door and walked away, and I looked at my neighbor.
He was about thirty-five, although his hair was almost white; he wore the
ribbon of the Legion of Honor; he had a heavy mustache and was quite
stout, with the stoutness of a strong and active man who is kept
motionless on account of some infirmity. He wiped his brow, sighed, and,
looking me full in the face, he asked: "Does smoking annoy you,
Surely I knew that eye, that voice, that face. But when and where had I
seen them? I had certainly met that man, spoken to him, shaken his hand.
That was a long, long time ago. It was lost in the haze wherein the mind
seems to feel around blindly for memories and pursues them like fleeing
phantoms without being able to seize them. He, too, was observing me,
staring me out of countenance, with the persistence of a man who
remembers slightly but not completely. Our eyes, embarrassed by this
persistent contact, turned away; then, after a few minutes, drawn
together again by the obscure and tenacious will of working memory, they
met once more, and I said: "Monsieur, instead of staring at each other
for an hour or so, would it not be better to try to discover where we
have known each other?"
My neighbor answered graciously: "You are quite right, monsieur."
I named myself: "I am Henri Bonclair, a magistrate."
He hesitated for a few minutes; then, with the vague look and voice which
accompany great mental tension, he said: "Oh, I remember perfectly.
I met you twelve years ago, before the war, at the Poincels!"
"Yes, monsieur. Ah! Ah! You are Lieutenant Revaliere?"
"Yes. I was Captain Revaliere even up to the time when I lost my feet--
both of them together from one cannon ball."
Now that we knew each other's identity we looked at each other again.
I remembered perfectly the handsome, slender youth who led the cotillons
with such frenzied agility and gracefulness that he had been nicknamed
"the fury." Going back into the dim, distant past, I recalled a story
which I had heard and forgotten, one of those stories to which one
listens but forgets, and which leave but a faint impression upon the
There was something about love in it. Little by little the shadows
cleared up, and the face of a young girl appeared before my eyes. Then
her name struck me with the force of an explosion: Mademoiselle de
Mandel. I remembered everything now. It was indeed a love story, but
quite commonplace. The young girl loved this young man, and when I had
met them there was already talk of the approaching wedding. The youth
seemed to be very much in love, very happy.
I raised my eye to the net, where all the packages which had been brought
in by the servant were trembling from the motion of the train, and the
voice of the servant came back to me, as if he had just finished
speaking. He had said: "There, monsieur, that is all. There are five of
them: the candy, the doll, the drum, the gun, and the pate de foies
Then, in a second, a whole romance unfolded itself in my head. It was
like all those which I had already read, where the young lady married
notwithstanding the catastrophe, whether physical or financial;
therefore, this officer who had been maimed in the war had returned,
after the campaign, to the young girl who had given him her promise, and
she had kept her word.
I considered that very beautiful, but simple, just as one, considers
simple all devotions and climaxes in books or in plays. It always seems,
when one reads or listens to these stories of magnanimity, that one could
sacrifice one's self with enthusiastic pleasure and overwhelming joy.
But the following day, when an unfortunate friend comes to borrow some
money, there is a strange revulsion of feeling.
But, suddenly, another supposition, less poetic and more realistic,
replaced the first one. Perhaps he had married before the war, before
this frightful accident, and she, in despair and resignation, had been
forced to receive, care for, cheer, and support this husband, who had
departed, a handsome man, and had returned without his feet, a frightful
wreck, forced into immobility, powerless anger, and fatal obesity.
Was he happy or in torture? I was seized with an irresistible desire to
know his story, or, at least, the principal points, which would permit me
to guess that which he could not or would not tell me. Still thinking
the matter over, I began talking to him. We had exchanged a few
commonplace words; and I raised my eyes to the net, and thought: "He must
have three children: the bonbons are for his wife, the doll for his
little girl, the drum and the gun for his sons, and this pate de foies
gras for himself."
Suddenly I asked him: "Are you a father, monsieur?"
He answered: "No, monsieur."
I suddenly felt confused, as if I had been guilty of some breach of
etiquette, and I continued: "I beg your pardon. I had thought that you
were when I heard your servant speaking about the toys. One listens and
draws conclusions unconsciously."
He smiled and then murmured: "No, I am not even married. I am still at
the preliminary stage."
I pretended suddenly to remember, and said:
"Oh! that's true! When I knew you, you were engaged to Mademoiselle de
Mandel, I believe."
"Yes, monsieur, your memory is excellent."
I grew very bold and added: "I also seem to remember hearing that
Mademoiselle de Mandel married Monsieur--Monsieur--"
He calmly mentioned the name: "Monsieur de Fleurel."
"Yes, that's it! I remember it was on that occasion that I heard of your
I looked him full in the face, and he blushed. His full face, which was
already red from the oversupply of blood, turned crimson. He answered
quickly, with a sudden ardor of a man who is pleading a cause which is
lost in his mind and in his heart, but which he does not wish to admit.
"It is wrong, monsieur, to couple my name with that of Madame de Fleurel.
When I returned from the war-without my feet, alas! I never would have
permitted her to become my wife. Was it possible? When one marries,
monsieur, it is not in order to parade one's generosity; it is in order
to live every day, every hour, every minute, every second beside a man;
and if this man is disfigured, as I am, it is a death sentence to marry
him! Oh, I understand, I admire all sacrifices and devotions when they
have a limit, but I do not admit that a woman should give up her whole
life, all joy, all her dreams, in order to satisfy the admiration of the
gallery. When I hear, on the floor of my room, the tapping of my wooden
legs and of my crutches, I grow angry enough to strangle my servant. Do
you think that I would permit a woman to do what I myself am unable to
tolerate? And, then, do you think that my stumps are pretty?"
He was silent. What could I say? He certainly was right. Could I blame
her, hold her in contempt, even say that she was wrong? No. However,
the end which conformed to the rule, to the truth, did not satisfy my
poetic appetite. These heroic deeds demand a beautiful sacrifice, which
seemed to be lacking, and I felt a certain disappointment. I suddenly.
asked: "Has Madame de Fleurel any children?"
"Yes, one girl and two boys. It is for them that I am bringing these
toys. She and her husband are very kind to me."
The train was going up the incline to Saint-Germain. It passed through
the tunnels, entered the station, and stopped. I was about to offer my
arm to the wounded officer, in order to help him descend, when two hands
were stretched up to him through the open door.
"Hello! my dear Revaliere!"
"Ah! Hello, Fleurel!"
Standing behind the man, the woman, still beautiful, was smiling and
waving her hands to him. A little girl, standing beside her, was jumping
for joy, and two young boys were eagerly watching the drum and the gun,
which were passing from the car into their father's hands.
When the cripple was on the ground, all the children kissed him. Then
they set off, the little girl holding in her hand the small varnished
rung of a crutch, just as she might walk beside her big friend and hold
When Old Man Leras, bookkeeper for Messieurs Labuze and Company, left the
store, he stood for a minute bewildered at the glory of the setting sun.
He had worked all day in the yellow light of a small jet of gas, far in
the back of the store, on a narrow court, as deep as a well. The little
room where he had been spending his days for forty years was so dark that
even in the middle of summer one could hardly see without gaslight from
eleven until three.
It was always damp and cold, and from this hole on which his window
opened came the musty odor of a sewer.
For forty years Monsieur Leras had been arriving every morning in this
prison at eight o'clock, and he would remain there until seven at night,
bending over his books, writing with the industry of a good clerk.
He was now making three thousand francs a year, having started at fifteen
hundred. He had remained a bachelor, as his means did not allow him the
luxury of a wife, and as he had never enjoyed anything, he desired
nothing. From time to time, however, tired of this continuous and
monotonous work, he formed a platonic wish: "Gad! If I only had an
income of fifteen thousand francs, I would take life easy."
He had never taken life easy, as he had never had anything but his
monthly salary. His life had been uneventful, without emotions, without
hopes. The faculty of dreaming with which every one is blessed had never
developed in the mediocrity of his ambitions.
When he was twenty-one he entered the employ of Messieurs Labuze and
Company. And he had never left them.
In 1856 he had lost his father and then his mother in 1859. Since then