Part 2 out of 7
whether I ought to thank you for the compliment you pay my priest,
or be angry at the hard things you say of my monkey. One thing is
certain," added he, "that my monkey and my priest,--I'm wrong,--my
priest and my monkey, resemble each other in one respect: they have
both a passionate appetite for truffles. You will soon see."
They were just serving fowl with truffles. Solon devoured his
portion in the twinkling of an eye, and as he was prone to coveting
the property of others, he fixed his eyes, full of affectionate
longing, on his neighbor's plate. Active, adroit, and watching his
opportunity, he seized the moment when the priest was carrying his
glass to his lips; to extend his paw, seize a truffle, and swallow
it, was the work of but half a second. Beside himself with
indignation, the holy man turned quickly and looked at the robber
with flashing eyes. The monkey was but little affected by his
anger, and to celebrate the happy success of his roguery, he
capered and frisked in a ridiculous and frantic way, clinging with
his forepaws to the back of his chair. The good father shook his
head sadly, moved his plate further off, and returned to his
eating, not, however, without watching the movements of the enemy
from the corner of his eye. In vain he kept guard; in spite of his
precautions,--a new attack, a new larceny--and fresh caperings of
joy by the monkey. Father Alexis at last lost patience, and the
monkey received a vigorous blow full in the muzzle, which drew from
him a sharp shriek; but at the same instant the priest felt two
rows of teeth bury themselves in his left cheek. He could hardly
repress a cry, and gave up the game, leaving Solon to gorge himself
to his beard in the spoils, while he busied himself in stanching
his wound, from which the blood gushed freely.
The Count affected to be ignorant of all that passed; but there was
a merry sparkle in his eyes which testified that not a detail of
this tragic comedy had escaped his notice.
"You appear to distrust Solon, Father," said he, seeing that the
priest pushed back his chair and kept at a distance from the
baboon. "You are wrong. He has very sweet manners; he is
incapable of a bad action. He is only a little sad now, but in his
melancholy, he observes all the rules of good breeding; which is
not the case with all melancholy people," added he, throwing a look
at Stephane, who, taken with a sudden access of sadness, had just
leaned his elbow upon the table and made a screen of his right hand
to hide his tears from his father. Gilbert felt himself near
stifling, and as soon as he could, left the table. Fortunately no
one followed him onto the terrace. Stephane had no more flowers to
cultivate, and went to shut himself up in his high tower. On his
part, Father Alexis went to dress his wound; as to M. Leminof, he
was displeased with the cool and, as he thought, composed air with
which Gilbert had listened to his pleasantries, and he retired to
his study, promising himself to give to Monsieur his secretary,
whom, nevertheless, he valued very highly, that last touch of
pliancy which he needed for his perfection. Count Kostia was of an
age when even the strongest mind feels the necessity of occasional
relaxation, and he would have been glad to have near him a pliant,
agreeable companion, and enchanted could that companion have been
Gilbert strode across the terrace, and, leaning over the parapet,
gazed long and silently at the highroad. "Ten months yet!" said he
to himself, and contracting his brows, he turned to look at the
odious castle, where destiny had cast his lot. It seemed as if the
old pile wished to avenge itself for his ill humor: never had it
been clothed with such a smiling aspect. A ray of the setting sun
rested obliquely upon its wide roof; the bricks had the warm color
of amber, the highest points were bathed in gold dust, and the
gables and vanes threw out sparks. The air was balmy; the lilacs,
the citron, the jasmine, and the honeysuckle intermingled their
perfumes, which the almost imperceptible breath of the north wind
spread in little waves to the four corners of the terrace.
And these wandering perfumes mingled themselves, in passing, with
other odors more delicate and more subtle; from each leaf, each
petal, each blade of grass, exhaled secret aromas, mute words which
the plants exchange with each other, and which revealed to
Gilbert's heart the great mystery of happiness which animates the
soul of things.
Gilbert was determined to drown his sorrows this evening in the
divine harmonies of nature. To succeed the better, he called
poetry to his aid, for the great poets are the eternal mediators
between the soul of things and our feeble hearts of earth and clay.
He recited the distichs where Goethe has related in a tongue worthy
of Homer or Lucretius the metamorphosis of the plants. This was
placed like a preamble at the beginning of the volume which he
carried with him in his walks, and he had learned it by heart a few
days before. The better to penetrate the sense of these admirable
lines, he tried to translate them into French alexandrines, which
he sometimes composed. This effort at translation soon appeared to
him beyond his abilities; all the French words seemed too noisy,
too brilliant or too vulgar, or too solemn to render these mute
accents, these intonations veiled as if in religious mystery, by
which the author of Faust intended to express the subtle sounds and
even the silence of nature. We know that it is only in German
poetry that we can hear the grass growing from the bosom of the
earth, and the celestial spheres revolving in space.
Every language has its pedals and its peculiar registers; the
Teutonic muse alone can execute these solemn airs which must be
played with the soft pedal. For more than an hour Gilbert
exhausted himself in vain attempts, and at last, disheartened, he
contented himself with reciting aloud the poem which he despaired
of translating. He uttered the first part with the fire of
enthusiasm; but his voice fell as he pronounced the following
"Every flower, my beloved, speaks to thee in a voice distinct and
clear; every plant announces to thee plainly the eternal laws of
life; but these sacred hieroglyphics of the goddess which thou
decipherest upon their perfumed foreheads, thou wilt find
everywhere hidden under other emblems. Let the caterpillar drag
itself creeping along, and soon the light butterfly darts rapidly
through the air; and let man also, with his power of self-
development, follow the circle of his soul's metamorphoses. Oh!
then wilt thou remember that the bond which united our spirits was
first a germ from which sprang in time a sweet and charming
acquaintance; friendship in its turn soon revealed its power in our
hearts, until love came at last, crowning it with flowers and
At this place a light cloud of sadness passed over Gilbert's face;
he felt a secret dissatisfaction at meeting in the verses of his
favorite poet a passage which he could not apply to his own
Meanwhile, night had come, a night like a softened and refreshed
day. The radiant moon shone in the zenith; she inundated the
fields of heaven with soft whiteness, she shook her torch over the
Rhine, and made the crests of its restless waves scintillate; she
poured over the tops of the trees a rain of silvery light; she
suspended from their branches necklaces of sapphires and azure
diamonds, which the breeze in passing sportively dashed together.
The great slumbering woods thrilled at the touch of this dew of
light which bathed their lofty brows; they felt something divine
insinuating itself in the horror of their somber recesses. From
time to time a nightingale gave to the wind a few notes sonorous
and sustained; it seemed the voice of the forest, speaking in its
sleep,--its soul, carried away in ecstasy, exhaling its
intoxication in a long sigh of love.
Gilbert had been sitting up very late recently, since he had
decided to remain but a short time at Geierfels, and he had grown
pale over the Byzantines, in the hope of advancing in his task so
much, that Count Kostia would more easily consent to his departure.
Robust as was his constitution, he finished by tiring himself out,
and nature claiming its rights, sleep seized him at the moment when
he was about leaving the bank to seek his room, and have a little
nocturnal chat with Agathias and Procopius.
When he awoke, the moon had already declined towards the horizon,
which discovery surprised him greatly, as he thought he had slept
but a few moments. He rose and shook his limbs, stiff from the
dampness. Fortunately, he was the only one at Geierfels who had
free ingress and egress; the turret which he inhabited communicated
with the terrace by a private staircase, to the entrance of which
he had the key. Fortunately, too, the bulldogs had learned to know
him, and never dreamed of disturbing his movements. He gained the
little door without any difficulty, opened it, and having lit a
candle which he drew from his pocket, commenced cautiously to
ascend the winding staircase, the steps of which were broken in
many places. He had just reached the first landing where
terminated the spacious corridor, which extended along the
principal facade parallel with the terrace, and was preparing to
cross it, when he heard a long and painful groan, which seemed to
come from the other end of the gallery. Starting, he remained
motionless some moments, with neck extended and ears alert, peering
into the obscurity from whence he expected to see some melancholy
phantom emerge; but almost immediately a gust of wind driving
through the broken square of a dormer window made it grind upon its
hinges and give out a plaintive sound, which reverberated through
the corridor. Gilbert then fancied that what he had taken for a
sigh was only the moaning of the wind, counterfeiting in its
melancholy gambols the voice of human grief. Resuming his ascent,
he had already mounted some steps, when a second groan, still more
dismal than the first, reached his ears, and froze the blood in his
veins. He was sure he could not be deceived now; the wind had no
such accents--it was a wail, sharp, harsh, and heartrending, which
seemed as though it might come from the bosom of a specter.
A thousand sinister suppositions assailed Gilbert's mind, but he
gave himself no time to reflect. Agitated, panting, his head on
fire, he sprang with one bound down the staircase, and reaching the
entrance of the gallery, cried out in a trembling voice, and
scarcely knowing what he said:
"Who's there? Who wants assistance? I, Gilbert, am ready to come
to his aid--"
His voice was swallowed up and lost in the somber arches of the
corridor. No answer; the darkness remained dumb. In the rapidity
of his movement, Gilbert had extinguished his candle; he prepared
to relight it, when a hat flew by and struck his forehead with his
wings. The start which this unforeseen attack gave him made him
drop the candle; he stooped to pick it up, but could not find it.
In spite of this accident, he walked on. A feeble ray of
moonlight, which came in by the dormer window and shed through the
entrance of the corridor a long thread of bluish light, seemed to
guide him a few steps. Then he groped his way with arms extended
and touching the wall. Every few steps he stopped and listened,
and repeated in a voice hoarse with excitement:
"Who's there? You who are moaning, can I do anything to help you?"
Nothing answered him except the beating of his heart, and the
murmur of the wind, which continued to torment the hinges of the
The gallery into which Gilbert had entered was divided halfway in
its length by two steps, at the bottom of which was a large iron
door, always kept open during the day, but closed and double-locked
as night set in. Approaching this, Gilbert saw a feeble light
glimmering beneath the door. He descended the steps, and looking
through the key-hole, from which the key had been withdrawn, saw
what changed the frightful anguish he had just been suffering into
surprise and terror.
At twenty paces from him he saw the appalling figure of a phantom
standing erect; it was enveloped in a large white cloth wound
several times round its body, passing under its left arm, and
falling over the right shoulder. In one hand it held a torch and a
sword, in the other an oval ebony frame of which Gilbert could only
see the back, but which seemed to inclose a portrait. The face of
this specter was emaciated, drawn, and of unusual length; its skin,
withered and dry, seemed to be incrusted upon its bones, its
complexion was sallow; a profuse perspiration trickled from its
brows and glued the hair to its temples. Nothing could describe
the expression of terror in its face. It seemed to Gilbert that
its two burning eyeballs penetrated even through the door, though
they saw nothing which surrounded them; their vision seemed turned
within, and the invisible object which fastened their gaze, a heart
haunted by specters.
Suddenly the lips of this nocturnal wanderer opened, and another
groan more fearful than the first issued from them. It seemed as
if his burdened breast wished to shake off by a violent effort a
mountain of weariness, the weight of which was crushing it, or
rather as though the soul sought to expel itself in this despairing
cry. Gilbert was seized with inexpressible agitation, his hair
stood on end. He started to fly; but a curiosity stronger than his
terror prevented him from leaving the spot and kept him riveted to
the door. By the eyebrows and cheekbones, in spite of the
distortion of the face, he had recognized Count Kostia.
At length this sinister somnambulist stirred from his motionless
position and advanced at a slow pace; he walked like an automaton.
After taking a dozen steps he stopped, looked around him, and
slightly bent forward. His strained features resumed their natural
proportions, life re-animated his brow, the deathlike inertia of
his face gave place to an expression of sadness and prostration.
For a few seconds his lips moved, without saying a word, as if to
become flexible, and fashioned anew to the use of speech:--then, in
a soft voice which Gilbert did not recognize, and with the
plaintive accents of a suffering child, he murmured:
"How heavy this portrait is! I can carry it no longer; take it out
of my hands, it burns them. In mercy, extinguish this fire. I
have a brand in my breast. It must be kept covered with ashes;
when I can see it no more, I shall suffer less. It is my eyes that
make me suffer; if I were blind, I could return to Moscow."
Then in a harsher voice:
"I could easily destroy this likeness, but THE OTHER, I cannot kill
it, curses on me! it is the better portrait of the two. There is
her hair, her mouth, her smile. Ah, thank God, I have killed the
smile. The smile is no longer there. I have buried the smile.
But there is the mole in the corner of the mouth. I have kissed it
a thousand times; take away that mole, it hurts me. If that mole
were gone I should suffer less. Merciful Heaven! it is always
there. But I have buried the smile. The smile is no more. I have
buried it deep in a leaden coffin. It can't come. . . ."
Then suddenly changing his accent, and in a tragical, but bitter
voice, his eyes fixed upon the large rusty sword which he held in
his right hand, he muttered:
"The spot will not go away. The iron will not drink it. It was
not for this blood it thirsted. I shall find it in the other, it
will drink that. Ah! we shall see how it will drink it."
Upon this, he relapsed into silence and appeared to be thinking
deeply. Then raising his head, he cried in a voice so strong and
vibrating that the iron door trembled upon its hinges:
"Morlof, then it was not thou! Ah! my dear friend, I was
deceived. . . . Go, do not regret life. It is only the dream
of a screech-owl. . . . Believe me, friend, I want to die, but
I cannot. I must know . . . I must discover. Ah! Morlof, Morlof,
leave thy hands in mine, or I shall think thou hast not forgiven
me. . . . God! how cold these hands are . . . cold . . . cold . . ."
And at these words he shuddered; his head moved convulsively upon
his shoulders, and his teeth chattered; but soon calming himself,
"I want to know the name, I must know that name! Is there no one
who can tell me that name?"
Thus speaking, he raised the picture to a level with his face, and
with bent head and extended neck, appeared to be trying to decipher
upon the canvas some microscopic writing or obscure hieroglyphics.
"The name is there!" said he. "It is written somewhere about the
heart,--at the bottom of the heart; but I cannot read it, the
writing is so fine, it is a female hand; I do not know how to read
a woman's writing. They have a cipher of which Satan alone has the
key. My sight is failing me. I have flies in my head. There is
always one of them that hides this name from me. Oh! in mercy, in
pity, take away the fly and bring me a pair of pincers. . . . With
good pincers I will seek that name even in the last fibers of this
heart which beats no more."
He added with a terrible air:
The dead do not open their teeth. The one who lives will speak.
You shall see how I will make him speak. You shall see how I will
make him speak. . . . Tear off his black robe, stretch him on this
plank. The iron boots! the iron boots! tighten the boots!"
Then interrupting himself abruptly, he raised his eyes and fixed
them upon the door. An expression of fury mingled with terror
swept over his face, as if he had suddenly perceived some hideous
and alarming object. His features became distorted; his mouth
worked convulsively and frothed; his eyes, unnaturally dilated,
darted flames; he uttered a hollow moan, took a few steps backward,
and suddenly dropping his torch to the ground, where it went out he
cried in a frightful voice:
"There are eyes behind the door! there are eyes! there are eyes!"
Horror-struck, distracted, beside himself, Gilbert turned and took
to flight. In spite of the darkness, he found his way as if by
miracle. He crossed the corridor at a run, mounted the staircase
in three bounds, dashed into his chamber and bolted the door. Then
he hurriedly lighted a candle, and having glanced about to assure
himself that the phantom had not followed him into his room,
dropped heavily upon a chair, stunned and breathless. In a few
moments he had collected his thoughts, and was ashamed of his
terror; but in spite of himself his agitation was such that at
every noise which struck his ear, he thought he heard the step of
Count Kostia ascending the staircase of his turret. It was not
until he had bathed his burning head in cold water that he
recovered something like tranquillity; and determining by a supreme
effort to banish the frightful images which haunted him, he seated
himself at his worktable and resolutely opened one of the Byzantine
folios. As he began to read, his eye fell upon an unsealed letter
which had been left on his table during his absence; it ran thus:
"Man of great phrases, I write to you to inform you of the hatred
with which you inspire me. I wish you to understand that from the
first day I saw you, your bearing, your face, your manners, your
whole person, have been objects of distrust and aversion to me. I
thought I recognized an enemy in you, and the result has proved
that I was not mistaken. Now I hate you, and I tell you so
frankly, for I am not a hypocrite, and I want you to know, that
just now in my prayers I supplicated St. George to give me an
opportunity of revenging myself upon you. What do you want in this
house? What is there between us and you? How long do you intend
to torture me with your odious presence, your ironical smiles, and
your insulting glances? Before your arrival I was not completely
unhappy. God be praised, it has been reserved for you to give me
the finishing stroke. Before, I could weep at my ease, with none
to busy themselves in counting my tears; the man that makes me shed
them does not lower himself to such petty calculations; he has
confidence in me, he knows that at the end of the year the account
will be there; but you! you watch me, you pry into me, you study
me. I see very well that, while you are looking at me, you are
indulging in little dialogues with yourself, and these little
dialogues are insupportable to me. Mark me now, I forbid you to
understand me. It is an affront which you have no right to put
upon me, and I have the right to be incomprehensible if it pleases
me. Ah! once a little while ago, I felt that you had your eyes
fastened on me again. And then I raised my head, and looked at you
steadily and forced you to blush. . . . Yes, you did blush; do not
attempt to deny it! What a consolation to me! What a triumph!
Alas! for all that, I dare not go to my own window any longer for
fear of seeing you ogling the sky, and making declamations of love
to nature with your sentimental air.
"Tell me, now, in a few words, clever man that you are, how you
manage to combine so much sentimentality with such skillful
diplomacy? Tender friend of childhood, of virtue and of sunsets,
what an adroit courtier you make! From the first day you came
here, the master honored you with his confidence and his affection.
How he esteems you! how he cherishes you! what attentions! what
favors! Will he not order us tomorrow to kiss the dust under your
feet? If you want to know what disgusts me the most in you, it is
the unalterable placidity of your disposition and your face. You
know the faun who admires himself night and day in the basin upon
the terrace; he is always laughing and looks at himself laugh. I
detest this eternal laughter from the bottom of my soul, as I
detest you, as I detest the whole world with the exception of my
horse Soliman. But he, at least, is sincere in his gayety; he
shows himself what he really is, life amuses him, great good may it
do him! But you envelop your beatific happiness in an intolerable
gravity. Your tranquil airs fill me with consternation; your great
contented eyes seem to say: 'I am very well, so much the worse for
the sick!' One word more. You treat me as a child--I will prove
to you that I am not a child, showing you how well I have divined
you. The secret of your being is, that you were born without
passions! Confess honestly that you have never in your life felt a
sentiment of disgust, of anger, or of pity. Is there a single
passion, tell me, that you have experienced, or that you are
acquainted with, except through your books? Your soul is like your
cravat, which is always tied precisely the same way, and has such
an air of repose and rationality about it, that it is perfectly
insufferable to me. Yes, the bow of that cravat exasperates me;
the two ends are always exactly the same length, and have an effect
of INDERANGEABILITY which nearly drives me mad. Not that this
famous bow is elegant. No, a thousand times no! but it has an
exasperating accuracy. And in this, behold the true story of your
soul. Every night when you go to bed you put it in its proper
folds; every morning you unfold it carefully without rumpling it!
And you dare to plume yourself on your wisdom! What does this
pretended wisdom prove? Nothing, unless it be that you have poor
blood, and that you were fifty years old when you were born. There
is, however, one passion which no one will deny that you possess.
You understand me,--man of the gilded tongue and the viper's
heart,--you have a passion common to many others! But, hold, in
commencing this letter, I intended to conceal from you that I had
discovered everything. I feared it would give you too much
pleasure to learn that I know.--Oh! why can't I make you stand
before me now this moment! I should confound you! how I would
force you to fall at my feet and cry for pardon!
"Oh, my dear flowers, my Maltese cross, my verbenas, my white
starred fox, and you, my musk rosebush, and above all my beautiful
variegated carnation, which ought to be opening to-day! Was it
then for him,--was it to rejoice the eyes of this insolent
parasite, that I planted, watered, and tended you with so much
care? Beloved flowers, will you not share my hate? Send out from
each of your cups, from each of your corollas, some devouring
insect, some wasp with pointed sting, some furious horse-fly, and
let them all together throw themselves upon him, harass him and
persecute him with their threatening buzzing, and pierce his face
with their poisoned stings. And you yourselves, my cherished
daughters, at his approach, fold up your beautiful petals, refuse
him your perfumes, cheat him of his cares and hopes, let the sap
dry up in your fibers, that he may have the mortification of seeing
you perish and fall to dust in his hands. And may he, this
treacherous man, may he before your blighted petals and drooping
stems, pine away himself with ennui, spite, anger, and remorse!"
The castle clock had struck eight, when Gilbert sprang from his
bed. Shall I confess that in dressing himself, when he came to tie
his cravat, he hesitated for a moment? However, after reflection,
he adjusted the knot as before, and would you believe it, he tied
this famous, this regular knot without concentrating any attention
upon it? His toilet finished, he went to the window. A sudden
change had taken place in the weather; a cold, drizzly rain was
falling noiselessly; very little wind; the horizon was enveloped in
a thick fog; a long train of low clouds, looking like gigantic
fish, floated slowly through the valley of the Rhine; the sky of a
uniform gray, seemed to distill weariness and sadness; land and
water were the color of mud. Gilbert cast his eyes upon his dear
precipice: it was but a pit of frightful ugliness. He sank into an
armchair. His thoughts harmonized with the weather; they formed a
dismal landscape, over which a long procession of gloomy fancies
and sinister apprehensions swept silently, like the trail of low
clouds which wandered along the borders of the Rhine.
"No, a thousand times no!" mused he, "I can't stay in this place
any longer; I shall lose my strength here, and my spirit and my
health, too. To be exposed to the blind hatred of an unhappy child
whose sorrows drive him to insanity; to be the table companion of a
priest without dignity or moral elevation, who silently swallows
the greatest outrages; to become the intimate, the complaisant
friend of a great lord, whose past is suspicious, of an unnatural
father who hates his son, of a man who at times transforms himself
into a specter, and who, stung by remorse, or thirsting for
revenge, fills the corridors of his castle with savage howlings--
such a position is intolerable, and I must leave here at any cost!
This castle is an unhealthy place; the walls are odious to me! I
will not wait to penetrate into their secrets any further."
And Gilbert ransacked his brain for a pretext to quit Geierfels
immediately. While engaged in this research, some one knocked at
the door: it was Fritz, with his breakfast.
This morning he had the self-satisfied air of a fool who has worked
out a folly by the sweat of his brow, and reached the fortunate
moment when he can bring his invention to light. He entered
without salutation, placed the tray which he carried upon the
table; then, turning to Gilbert, who was seated, said to him,
winking his eye:
"Good-morning, comrade! Comrade, good-morning!"
"What do you say?" said Gilbert, astonished, and looking at him
"I say: Good-morning, comrade!" replied he, smiling agreeably.
"And to whom are you speaking, if you please?"
"I am speaking to you, yourself, my comrade, and I say to you,
good-morning, comrade! good-morning."
Gilbert looked at him attentively, trying to find some explanation
of this strange prank, and this excessive and astounding insolence.
"And will you tell me," he continued, after a few moments' silence,
"will you be good enough to tell me, who gave you permission to
call me comrade?"
"It was . . . it was . . ." answered Fritz, hemming and hawing.
And he reflected a moment, as though trying to remember his lesson,
that he might not stumble in its recital. "Ah!" resumed he, "it
was simply his Excellency the Count, and I cannot conceive what you
see astonishing in it."
"Have you ever heard the Count," demanded Gilbert, who felt the
blood boiling in his veins, "call me your comrade?"
"Ah! certainly!" he answered with a long burst of laughter. "Every
day, when I come from him, M. le Comte says to me: 'Well! how is
your comrade Gilbert?' And isn't it very natural? Don't we eat at
the same rack? Are we not, both of us, in the service of the same
master? And don't you see. . . ."
He was not able to say more, for Gilbert bounded from his chair,
"Go and tell your master that he is not my master!" He seized the
valet de chambre by the collar. He was at least a head shorter
than his adversary, but his grasp was like iron; and in spite of
appearances, great Fritz proved but a weak and nerveless body, and
greatly surprised at this unexpected attack, he could only open his
large mouth and utter some inarticulate sounds. Gilbert had
already dragged him to the top of the staircase. Then Fritz,
recovering from his first flurry, tried to struggle, but he lost
his footing, stumbled, and fell headlong down the staircase to the
bottom. Gilbert came near following him in his descent, but
fortunately saved himself by clinging to the balustrade. As he saw
him rolling, he feared that he had been too violent, but felt
reassured, when he saw him scramble up, feel himself, rub his back,
turn to shake his fist and limp away.
He returned to his chamber and breakfasted peaceably.
"Quite an opportune adventure," thought he. "Now, I shall be
inflexible, unyielding, and if my trunks are not packed before
night, I'm an idiot."
Gathering up under his arm a bundle of papers which were needed for
the day's work, he left the room, his head erect and his spirits
animated; but he had hardly descended the first flight of steps
before his exaltation gave way to very different feelings. He
could not look without shuddering at the place where he had stood
like one petrified, listening to the horrible groans of the
somnambulist. He stopped, and, looking at the packet which he held
under his arm, thought to himself that it was with a specter he was
about to discuss Byzantine history. Then resuming his walk, he
arrived at M. Leminof's study, where he almost expected to see the
formidable apparition of last night appear before his eyes, and
hear a sepuchral voice crying out to him: "Those eyes behind the
door were yours!" He remained motionless a few seconds, his hand
upon his heart. At last he knocked. A voice cried: "Come in.
He opened the door and entered. Heavens! how far was the reality
from his fancy.
M. Leminof was quietly seated in the embrasure of the window,
looking at the rain and playing with his monkey. He no sooner
perceived his secretary than he uttered an exclamation of joy, and
after shutting up Solon in an adjoining room, he approached
Gilbert, took both his hands in his and pressed them cordially,
saying in an affectionate tone:
"Welcome, my dear Gilbert, I have been looking for you impatiently.
I have been thinking a great deal since yesterday on our famous
problem of the Slavonic invasions, and I am far from being
convinced by your arguments. Be on your guard, my dear sir! Be on
your guard! I propose to give you some thrusts that will trouble
you to parry."
Gilbert, who had recovered his tranquillity, seated himself, and
the discussion commenced. The point in dispute was the question of
the degree of importance and influence of the establishment of the
Slavonians in the Byzantine empire during the middle ages. Upon
this question, much debated at present, Count Kostia had espoused
the opinion most favorable to the ambitions of Muscovite policy.
He affected to renounce his country and to censure it without
mercy; he had even denationalized himself to the extent of never
speaking his mother tongue and of forbidding its use in his house.
In fact, the idiom of Voltaire was more familiar to him than that
of Karamzin, and he had accustomed himself for a long time even to
think in French. In spite of all this, and of whatever he might
say, he remained Russian at heart: this is a quality which cannot
Twelve o'clock sounded while they were at the height of the
"If you agree, my dear Gilbert," said M. Leminof, "we will give
ourselves a little relaxation. Indeed you're truly a terrible
fellow; there's no persuading you. Let us breakfast in peace, if
you please, like two good friends; afterwards we will renew the
The breakfast was invariably composed of toast au caviar and a
small glass of Madeira wine; and every day at noon they suspended
work for a few moments to partake of this little collation.
"Judge of my presumption," suddenly said M. Leminof, underscoring,
so to speak, every word, "I passed LAST NIGHT [and he put a wide
space between these two words] in pleading against you the cause of
my Slavonians. My arguments seemed to me irresistible. I beat you
all hollow. I am like those fencers who are admirable in the
training school, but who make a very bad figure in the field. I
had prodigious eloquence LAST NIGHT; I don't know what has become
of it; it seems to have fled like a phantom at the first crowing of
As he pronounced these words, Count Kostia fixed such piercing eyes
on Gilbert, that they seemed to search through to the most remote
recesses of his soul. Gilbert sustained the attack with perfect
"Ah! sir," replied he coolly, "I don't know how you argue at night;
but I assure you by day you're the most formidable logician I
Gilbert's tranquil air dissipated the suspicion which seemed to
weigh upon M. Leminof.
"You act," said he gayly, "like those conquerors who exert
themselves to console the generals they have beaten, thereby
enhancing their real glory; but bah! arms are fickle, and I shall
have my revenge at an early day."
"I venture to suggest that you do not delay it long," answered
Gilbert in a grave tone. "Who knows how much longer I may remain
These words re-awakened the suspicions of the Count.
"What do you mean?" exclaimed he.
Whereupon Gilbert related in a firm, distinct tone the morning's
adventure. As he advanced in the recital, he became warmer and
repeated with an indignant air the remark which Fritz had
attributed to the Count, and strongly emphasized his answer:
"Go and tell your master that he is not my master."
He flattered himself that he would pique the Count; he saw him
already raising his head, and speaking in the clouds. He was
destined to be mistaken today in all his conjectures. From the
first words of his eloquent recital, Count Kostia appeared to be
relieved of a pre-occupation which had disturbed him. He had been
prepared for something else, and was glad to find himself mistaken.
He listened to the rest with an undisturbed air, leaning back in
his easy-chair with his eyes fixed on the ceiling. When Gilbert
"And tell me, pray," said he, without changing his posture, "how
did you punish this rascal?"
"I took him by the collar," replied Gilbert, "and flung him down
"Peste!" exclaimed the Count, raising himself and looking at him
with an air of surprise and admiration. "And tell me," resumed he,
smiling in his enjoyment, "did this domestic animal perish in his
"He may perhaps have broken his arms or legs. I didn't take the
trouble to inquire."
M. Leminof rose and folded his arms on his breast.
"See now, how liable our judgments are to be led astray, and how
full of sense that Russian proverb is which says: 'It takes more
than one day to compass a man!' Yesterday you had such a
sentimental pathetic air, when I permitted myself to administer a
little correction to my serf, that I took you in all simplicity for
a philanthropist. I retract it now. You are one of those tyrants
who are only moved for the victims of another. Pure professional
jealousy! But," continued he, "there is one thing which astonishes
me still more, and that is, that you Gilbert, you could for an
He checked himself, bent forward towards Gilbert, and looked at him
scrutinizingly, making a shade of his two bony hands extended over
his enormous eyebrows; then taking him by the arm, he led him to
the embrasure of the window, and as if he had made a sudden change
in his person which rendered him irrecognizable:
"Nothing could be better than your throwing the scoundrel
downstairs," said he, "and if he is not quite dead, I shall drive
him from here without pity; but that you should have believed that
I, Count Leminof-- Oh! it is too much, I dream-- No, you are not
the Gilbert that I know, the Gilbert I love, though I conceal it
And taking him by both hands, he added:
"This man was silly enough to tell you that I was your master, and
you replied to him with the Mirabeau tone: 'Go and tell your
master--' My dear Gilbert, in the name of reason, I ask you to
remember that the true is never the opposite of the false; it is
another thing, that is all; but to which I add, that in answering
as you did, you have cruelly compromised yourself. We should never
contradict a fool; it is running the risk of being like him."
Gilbert blushed. He did not try to amend anything, but readily
changing his tactics, he said, smiling:
"I implore you, sir, not to drive this man away. I want him to
stay to remind me occasionally that I am liable to lose my senses."
But what were his feelings when the Count, having sent for this
valet de chambre, said to him:
"You have not done this on your own responsibility--you received
orders. Who gave them?"
Fritz answered, stammering:
"Do please forgive me, your excellency! It was M. Stephane who,
yesterday evening, made me a present of two Russian crowns on
condition that every morning for a week I should say to M. Saville,
A flash of joy shone in the Count's eyes. He turned towards
Gilbert, and pressing his hand, said to him:
"For this once I thank you cordially for having addressed your
complaints to me. The affair is more serious than I had thought.
There is a malignant abscess there, which must be lanced once for
This surgical comparison made Gilbert shudder; he cursed his hasty
passion and his stupidity. Why had he not suspected the real
culprit? Why was it necessary for him to justify the hatred which
Stephane had avowed towards him?
"And how happens it, sir," resumed Count Kostia, with less of anger
in his tone, "that you have an opportunity of holding secret
conversations with my son in the evening? When did you enter his
service? Do you not know that you are to receive neither orders,
messages, nor communications of any kind from him?"
Fritz, who in his heart blessed the admirable invention of
lightning rods, explained as well as he could, that the evening
before, in going up to his excellency's room, he had met Ivan on
the staircase, going down to the grand hall to find a cap which his
young master had forgotten. Apparently he had neglected to close
the wicket, for Fritz, in going out through the gallery, had found
Stephane, who, approaching him stealthily, had given him his little
lesson in a mysterious tone, and as Ivan returned at this moment
without the cap he said:
"Dost thou not see, imbecile, that it's on my head," and he drew
the cap from his pocket and proudly put it on his head, while he
ran to his rooms laughing.
When he had finished his story, Fritz was profuse in his
protestations of repentance, servile and tearful; the Count cut him
short, declaring to him, that at the request of Gilbert he
consented to pardon him; but that at the first complaint brought
against him, he would give him but two hours to pack. When he had
gone out, M. Leminof pulled another bell which communicated with
the room of Ivan, who presently appeared.
"Knowest thou, my son," said the Count to him in German, "that thou
hast been very negligent for some time? Thy mind fails, thy sight
is feeble. Thou art growing old, my poor friend. Thou art like an
old bloodhound in his decline, without teeth and without scent, who
knows neither how to hunt the prey nor how to catch it. Thou must
be on the retired list. I have already thought of the office I
shall give thee in exchange. . . . Oh! do not deceive thyself. It
is in vain to shrug thy shoulders, my son; thou art wrong in
believing thyself necessary. By paying well I shall easily find
one who will be worth as much--"
Ivan's eyes flashed.
"I do not believe you," replied he, in Russian; "you know very well
that you are not amiable, but that I love you in spite of it, and
when you have spent a hundred thousand roubles, you will not have
secured one to replace me, whose affection for you will be worth a
"Why dost thou speak Russian?" resumed the Count. "Thou knowest
well that I have forbidden it. Apparently thou wishest that no one
but myself may understand the sweet things which thou sayest to me.
Go and cry them upon the roof, if that will give thee pleasure; but
I have never asked thee to love me. I exact only faithful service
on thy part, and I answer for it that thy substitute, when his
young master shall tell him 'go and find my cap, which I have left
in the grand hall,' will answer him coolly: 'I am not blind, my
little father, your cap is in your pocket.'"
Ivan looked at his master attentively, and the expression of his
face appeared to reassure him, for he began to smile.
"Meantime," said the Count, "so long as I keep thee in thy office,
study to satisfy me. Go to thy room and reflect, and at the end of
a quarter of an hour, bring thy little father here to me; I want to
talk with him, and I will permit thee to listen, if that will give
As soon as Ivan had gone, Gilbert begged M. Leminof not to pursue
this miserable business. "I have punished Fritz," said he, "with
perhaps undue severity; you yourself have rebuked and threatened
him; I am satisfied."
"Pardon me. In all this Fritz was but an instrument. It would not
be right to allow the real culprit to go unpunished!"
"It is no trouble to me to pardon that culprit," exclaimed Gilbert,
with an animation beyond his control, "he is so unhappy!"
M. Leminof gave Gilbert a haughty and angry look. He strode
through the room several times, his hands behind his back; then,
with the easy tempered air of an absolute prince, who condescends
to some unreasonable fancy of one of his favorites, made Gilbert
sit down, and placing himself by his side:
"My dear sir," said he to him, "your last words show a singular
forgetfulness on your part of our reciprocal agreements. You had
engaged, if you remember, not to take any interest in any one here
but yourself and myself. After that, what difference can it make
to you, whether my son is happy or unhappy? Since, however, you
have raised this question, I consent to an explanation; but let it
be fully understood, that you are never, never, to revive the
subject again. You can readily perceive, that if your society is
agreeable to me, it is because I have the pleasure of forgetting
with you the petty annoyances of domestic life. And now speak
frankly, and tell me what makes you conclude that my son is
Gilbert had a thousand things to reply, but they were difficult to
say. So he hesitated to answer for a moment, and the Count
"Mon Dieu! I must needs proceed in advance of your accusations, a
concession which I dare to hope you will appreciate. Perhaps you
reproach me with not showing sufficient affection for my son in
daily life. But what can you expect? The Leminofs are not
affectionate. I don't remember ever to have received a single
caress from my father. I have seen him sometimes pat his hounds,
or give sugar to his horse; but I assure you that I never partook
of his sweetmeats or his smiles, and at this hour I thank him for
it. The education which he gave me hardened the affections, and it
is the best service which a father can render his son. Life is a
hard stepmother, my dear Gilbert; how many smiles have you seen
pass over her brazen lips! Besides, I have particular reasons for
not treating Stephane with too much tenderness. He seems to you to
be unhappy, he will be so forever if I do not strive to discipline
his inclinations and to break his intractable disposition. The
child was born under an evil star. At once feeble and violent, he
unites with very ardent passions a deplorable puerility of mind;
incapable of serious thought, the merest trivialities move him to
fever heat, and he talks childish prattle with all the gestures of
great passion. And what is worse, interesting himself greatly in
himself, he thinks it very natural that this interest should be
shared by all the world. Do not imagine that his is a loving heart
that feels a necessity of spending itself on others. He likes to
make his emotions spectacular, and as his impressions are events
for him, he would like to display them, even to the inhabitants of
Sirius. His soul is like a lake swept by a gale of wind that would
drive a man-of-war at the rate of twenty-five knots an hour; and on
this lake Stephane sails his squadrons of nutshells, and he sees
them come, go, tack, run around, and capsize. He keeps his log-
book very accurately, pompously registers all the shipwrecks, and
as these spectacles transport him with admiration, he is indignant
to find that he alone is moved by them. This is what makes him
unhappy; and you will agree with me that it is not my fault. The
regime which I prescribe for my invalid may appear to you a little
severe, but it's the only way by which I can hope to cure him.
Leading a regular, uniform life,--and sad enough I admit--he will
gradually become surfeited with his own emotions when the objects
of them are never renewed, and he will end, I hope, by demanding
the diversions of work and study. May he be able some day to
discover that a problem of Euclid is more interesting than the
wreck of a nutshell! Upon that day he will enter upon full
convalescence, and I shall not be the last to rejoice in it."
M. Leminof spoke in a tone so serious and composed, that for a few
moments Gilbert could have imagined him a pedagogue gravely
explaining his maxims of education; but he could not forget that
expression of ferocious joy which was depicted on his face at the
moment when Stephane fled sobbing from the garden, and he
remembered also the somnambulist who, on the preceding night, had
uttered certain broken phrases in regard to a LIVING PORTRAIT and a
BURIED SMILE. These mysterious words, terrible in their obscurity,
had appeared to him to allude to Stephane, and they accorded badly
with the airs of paternal solicitude which M. Leminof had deigned
to affect in the past few minutes. He had a show of reason,
however, in his argument; and the picture which he drew of his son,
if cruelly exaggerated, had still some points of resemblance. Only
Gilbert had reason to think that the Count purposely confounded
cause and effect, and that Stephane's malady was the work of the
"Will you permit me, sir," answered he, "to tell you all that I
have on my heart?"
"Speak, speak, improve the opportunity: I swear to you it won't
And looking at his watch:
"You have still five minutes to talk with me about my son. Hurry;
I will not grant you two seconds more."
"I have heard it said," resumed Gilbert, "that in building bridges
and causeways, the best foundations are those which HUMOR the waves
of the sea. These are foundations with inclined slopes, which,
instead of breaking the waves abruptly, check their movement by
degrees, and abate their force without violence."
"You favor anodynes, Monsieur disciple of Galen," exclaimed M.
Leminof. "Each one according to his temperament. We cannot
reconstruct ourselves. I am a very violent, very passionate man,
and when, for example, a servant offends me I throw him
headforemost downstairs. This happens to me every day."
"Between your son and your valet de chambre, the difference is
great," answered Gilbert, a little piqued.
"Did not your famous revolution proclaim absolute equality between
"In the law it is admirable, but not in the heart of a father."
"Good God!" cried the Count, "I do not know that I have a father's
heart for my son; I know only that I think a great deal about him,
and that I strive according to my abilities to correct in him very
grave faults, which threaten to compromise his future welfare. I
know also for a certainty that this whiner enjoys some pleasures of
which many children of his age are deprived, as, for example, a
servant for himself, a horse, and as much money as he wants for his
petty diversions. You are not ignorant of the use which he makes
of this money, neither in regard to the two thalers expended
yesterday to corrupt my valet, nor of the seven crowns with which
he purchased the delightful pleasure, the other day in your
presence, of having his foot kissed by a troop of young rustics.
And at this point, I will tell you that Ivan has reported to me
that, on the same day, Stephane turned up his sleeve to make you
admire a scar which he carried upon one of his wrists. Oblige me
by telling me what blue story he related to you on this subject."
This unexpected question troubled Gilbert a little.
"To conceal nothing from you," answered he hesitatingly, "he told
me, that for an escapade which he had made, he had been condemned
to pass a fortnight in a dungeon in irons."
"And you believed it!" cried the Count, shrugging his shoulders.
"The truth is, that, for a fortnight, I compelled my son to pass
one hour every evening in an uninhabited wing of this castle; my
intention was not so much to punish him for an act of
insubordination, as to cure him of the foolish terrors by which he
is tormented, for this boy of sixteen, who often shows himself
brave even to rashness, believes in ghosts, in apparitions, in
vampires. I ought to authorize him to guard himself at night by
the best-toothed of my bulldogs. Oh what a strange compound has
God given me for a son!"
At this moment the sound of steps was heard in the corridor.
"In the name of the kind friendship which you profess for me, sir,"
exclaimed Gilbert, seizing one of M. Leminof's hands, "I beg of
you, do not punish this child for a boyish freak for which I
forgive him with all my heart!"
"I can refuse you nothing, my dear Gilbert," answered he with a
smiling air. "I spare him from his pretended dungeons. I dare
hope that you will give me credit for it."
"I thank you; but one thing more: the flowers you deprived him of."
"Mon Dieu! since you wish it, we will have them restored to him,
and to please you, I will content myself with having him make
apologies to you in due form."
"Make apologies to me!" cried Gilbert in consternation; "but that
will be the most cruel of punishments."
"We will leave him the choice," said the Count dryly. And as
Gilbert insisted: "This time you ask too much!" added he in a tone
which admitted of no reply. "It is a question of principles, and
in such matters I never compromise."
Gilbert perceived that even in Stephane's interest, it was
necessary to desist, but he understood also to what extent the
pride of the young man would suffer, and cursed himself a thousand
times for having spoken.
Someone knocked at the door.
"Come in," cried the Count in a hoarse voice; and Stephane entered,
followed by Ivan.
Stephane remained standing in the middle of the room. He was paler
than usual, and kept his eyes on the floor; but his bearing was
good, and he affected a resolute air which he rarely displayed in
the presence of his father. The Count remained silent for some
time; he gazed with a cold eye on the supple and delicate body of
his son, the exquisite elegance of his form, his fine and delicate
features, framed in the slightly darkened gold of his hair. Never
had the beauty of his child filled the heart of his father with
keener bitterness. As for Gilbert, he had eyes only for a little
black spot which he noticed for the first time upon the uniformly
pale complexion of Stephane: it was like an almost imperceptible
fly, under the left corner of his mouth.
"That is the mole," thought he, and he fancied he could hear the
voice of the somnambulist cry:
"Take away that mole! it hurts me!"
Shuddering at this recollection, he felt tempted to rush from the
room; but a look from the Count recalled him to himself; he made a
strong effort to master his emotion, and fixing his eyes upon the
window, he looked at the falling rain.
"As a preliminary question," suddenly exclaimed the Count, speaking
to his son; "do me the favor, sir, to tell me how much time you
have passed in what you call a dungeon, for I do not remember."
Stephane's face colored with a vivid blush. He hesitated a moment
and then answered:
"I was there in all fifteen hours, which appeared to me as long as
"You see!" said the Count, looking at Gilbert. "And now," resumed
he, "let us come to the point; a scene of the greatest impropriety
occurred in this house this morning. Fritz, my valet, in
presenting himself to my secretary, who is my friend, permitted
himself to say three times: 'Good-morning, comrade; comrade, good-
At these words Stephane's lips contracted slightly, as if about to
smile; but the smile was arrested on its way.
"My little story amuses you, apparently," pursued the Count,
raising his head.
"It is the incredible folly of Fritz which diverts me," answered
"His folly seems to me less than his insolence," replied the Count;
"but without discussing words, I am delighted to see that you
disavow his conduct. I ought not to conceal from you the fact,
that this scoundrel wished to make me believe that he acted upon
your orders, and I was resolved to punish you severely. I see now
that he has lied, and it remains for me but to dismiss him in
disgrace." Gilbert trembled lest Stephane's veracity should
succumb under this temptation; the young man hesitated but an
"I am the guilty one," answered he in a firm voice, "and it is I
who should be punished."
"What," said M. Leminof, "was it then my son, who, availing himself
of the only resources of his mind, conceived this truly happy idea.
The invention was admirable, it does honor to your genius. But if
Fritz has been but the instrument to carry out your sublime
conceptions, why do you laugh at his stupidity?"
"Oh, poor soul!" replied Stephane, with animation, "oh! the donkey,
how he spoiled my idea! I didn't order him to call M. Saville his
comrade, but to treat him as a comrade, which is a different thing.
Unfortunately I had not time to give him minute instructions, and
he misunderstood me, but he did what he could conscientiously to
earn his fee. The poor fellow must be pardoned. I am the only
guilty one, I repeat it. I am the one to be punished."
"And might we know, sir," said the Count, "what your intention was
in causing M. Saville to be insulted by a servant?"
"I wished to humiliate him, to disgust him, and to force him to
leave this house."
"And your motive?"
"My motive is that I hate him!" answered he in a hoarse voice.
"Always exaggerations," replied the Count sneeringly. "Can you
not, sir, rid yourself of this detestable habit of perpetual
exaggeration in the expression of your thoughts? Can I not impress
upon your mind the maxims upon this subject which two men of equal
genius have given us: M. de Metternich and Pigault Lebrun! The
first of these illustrious men used to say that superlatives were
the seals of fools, and the second wrote these immortal words:
"'Everything exaggerated is insignificant.'" Then extending his
"To hate! to hate!" exclaimed he. "You say the word glibly. Do
you know what it is? Sorrow, anger, jealousy, antipathy, aversion,
you may know all these; but hatred, hatred!--you have no right to
say this terrible word. Ah! hatred is a rough work! it is
ceaseless torture, it is a cross of lead to carry, and to sustain
its weight without breaking down requires very different shoulders
At this moment Stephane ventured to look his father in the face.
He slowly uplifted his eyes, inclining his head backward. His look
signified "You are right, I will take your word for it; you are
better acquainted with it than I."
But the Count's face was so terrible that Stephane closed his eyes
and resumed his former attitude. A slight shudder agitated his
whole frame. The Count perceived that he was near forgetting
himself, and drove back the bitter wave which came up from his
heart to his lips in spite of himself:
"Besides, my young friend here is the least detestable being in the
world," pursued he in a tranquil tone. "Judge for yourself; just
now he pleaded your cause to me with so much warmth, that he drew
from me a promise not to punish you for what he has the kindness to
call only a boy's freak. He even stipulates that I shall restore
you your flowers, which he pretends give you delight, and within an
hour Ivan will have carried them to your room. In short, two words
of apology are all he requires of you. You must admit that one
could not have a more accommodating disposition, and that you owe
him a thousand thanks."
"Apologies! to him!" cried Stephane with a gesture of horror.
"You hesitate! oh! this is too much! Do you then wish to revisit a
certain rather gloomy hall?"
Stephane shuddered, his lips trembled.
"In mercy," cried he, "inflict any other punishment upon me you
please, but not that one. Oh, no! I cannot go back to that
frightful hall. Oh! I entreat you, deprive me of my customary
walks for six months; sell Soliman, cut my hair, shave my head,--
anything, yes, anything rather than put my feet in that horrible
dungeon again! I shall die there or go mad. You don't want me to
"When one is unfortunate enough to believe in ghosts and
apparitions at the age of sixteen," retorted the Count, "he should
free himself as soon as possible from the ridiculous weakness."
Stephane's whole body trembled. He staggered a few steps, and
falling on his knees before his father, clung to him and cried: "I
am only a poor sick child, have pity on me. You are still my
father, are you not? and I am still your child? Mon Dieu! Mon
Dieu! You do not, you cannot, want your child to die!"
"Put an end to this miserable comedy," cried the Count, disengaging
himself from Stephane's clasp. "I am your father, and you are my
son; no one here doubts it; but your father, sir, has a horror of
scenes. This has lasted too long; end it, I tell you. You are
already in a suitable posture. The most difficult part is done,
the rest is a trifle!"
"What do you say, sir?" answered the child impetuously, trying to
rise. "I am on my knees to you only. Ah! great God! I to kneel
before this man! it is impossible! you know very well it is
The Count, however, pressing his hand upon his shoulder,
constrained him to remain upon his knees, and turning his face to
"I tell you, you are kneeling before the man you have insulted, and
we all understand it."
Was it, indeed thus, that Gilbert understood it? Quiet,
impassible, his eyes fixed upon the window, he seemed a perfect
stranger to all that passed around him.
A cry of anguish escaped Stephane, a frightful change came over his
face. Three times he tried to rise, and three times the hand of
his father weighed him down again, and kept him in a kneeling
posture. Then, as if annihilated by the thought of his weakness
and powerlessness, he yielded, and covering his eyes with both
hands, he murmured these words in a stifled and convulsive voice:
"Sir they do me violence,--I ask pardon for hating you."
And immediately his strength abandoned him, and he fainted; as a
lily broken by the storm, his head sank, and he would have fallen
backward, if his father had not signed to Ivan, who raised him like
a feather in his robust arms, and carried him hastily out of the
Gilbert's first care after returning to his turret, was to light a
candle and burn Stephane's letter. Then he opened a closet and
began to prepare his trunk. While engaged in this task, someone
knocked at the door. He had only time to close the closet and the
trunk when Ivan appeared with a basket on his arm. The serf came
for the flowers, which he had orders to carry to the apartment of
his young master. Having placed five or six in his basket, he
turned to Gilbert and gave him to understand, in his Teutonic
gibberish mingled with French, that he had something important to
communicate to him. Gilbert answered in a tone of ill-humor, that
he had not time to listen to him. Ivan shook his head with a
pensive air, and left. Gilbert immediately seated himself at the
table, and upon the first scrap of paper which came under his hand,
hastily wrote the following lines:
"Poor child, do not distress yourself too much for the humiliation
to which you have just submitted. As you said yourself, you
yielded only to violence, and your apologies are void in my eyes.
Believe me, I exact nothing. Why did I not divine, this morning,
that Fritz spoke in your name! I should not have felt offended,
for it is not to me that your insults are addressed, it is to some
strange Gilbert of your imagination. I am not acquainted with him.
But what can it avail you to provoke contests, the result of which
is certain in advance? It is a hand of iron which lately weighed
upon your shoulder. Do you hope then to free yourself so soon from
its grasp? Believe me, submit yourself to your lot, and mitigate
its rigors by patience, until the day when your eyes have become
strong enough to dare to look him in the face, and your hand manly
enough to throw the gage of battle. Poor child the only
consolation I can offer you in your misfortune I should be a
culprit to refuse. I have but one night more to pass here; keep
this secret for me for twenty-four hours, and receive the adieus of
that Gilbert whom you have never known. One day he passed near you
and looked at you, and you read an offensive curiosity in his eyes.
I swear to you, they were full of tears."
Gilbert folded this letter, and slid it under the facing of one of
his sleeves; then taking the key of the private door in his hand,
and posting himself at the head of the staircase, he waited Ivan's
return. As soon as he heard the sound of his steps in the
corridor, he descended rapidly and met him on the landing at the
"I do not know what to do," said Ivan to him. "My young master is
not himself, and he has broken the first flower-pots I carried to
him in a thousand pieces."
"Take the others too," replied Gilbert, taking care to let him see
the key which he flourished in his hand. "You can put them in your
room for the time being. When he becomes calmer he will be glad to
see them again."
"But will it not be better to leave them with you until he asks for
"I don't want to keep them half an hour longer," replied Gilbert
quickly, and he descended the first steps of the private staircase.
"As you are going on the terrace, sir," cried the serf to him,
"don't forget, I beg of you, to close the door behind you."
Gilbert promised this. "It works well," thought he; "his caution
proves to me that the wicket is not closed." He was not mistaken.
For the convenience of his transportation, the serf had left it
half open, only taking the precaution to close and double-lock the
door of the grand staircase. Gilbert waited until Ivan had reached
the second story, and immediately remounting upon tiptoe, he darted
into the corridor, followed its entire length, turned to the right,
passed before the Count's study, turned a second time to the right,
found himself in the gallery which led to the square tower, sprang
through the wicket, and arrived without obstacle at the foot of the
tower staircase. He found the steps littered with the debris of
broken pots and flowers. As he began to descend, loud voices came
to his ears; he thought for a moment that M. Leminof was with his
son. This did not turn him from his project. He had nothing to
conceal. "I will beg the Count himself," thought he, "to read my
farewell letter to his son." Having reached the top of the
staircase, he crossed a vestibule and found himself in a long, dark
alcove, lighted by a solitary glass door, opening into the great
room ordinarily occupied by Stephane. This door was ajar, and the
strange scene which presented itself to Gilbert, as he approached,
held him motionless a few steps from the threshold. Stephane, with
his back towards him, stood with his arms crossed upon his breast.
He was not speaking to his father, but to two pictures of saints
hanging from the wall above a lighted taper. These two paintings
on wood, in the style of Father Alexis, represented St. George and
St. Sergius. The child, looking at them with burning eyes,
apostrophized them in a voice trembling with anger, at intervals
stamping his foot and running his hands furiously through his long
hair and tossing it in wild disorder. Illustrious Saints of the
Eastern Church, heard you ever such language before?
Then he sprang on a chair, tore the two pictures from the wall,
threw them to the ground, and seizing his riding whip, switched
them furiously. In this affair, St. George lost half of his head
and one of his legs, and St. Sergius was disfigured for the rest of
his days. When he had satisfied his fury, Stephane hung them up
again on their nails, turning their faces to the wall, and blew out
the lamp; then he rolled upon the floor, twisting his arms and
tearing his hair--but suddenly sitting up, he drew from his bosom a
small, heart-shaped medallion which he gazed on fixedly, and as he
looked the tears began to roll down his cheeks, and in the midst of
his sobs, he cried out:
"Oh, my mother! I desire nothing from you! you could do nothing for
me; but why did I have time to know you? To remember! to remember--
what torment! Yes, I can see you now-- Every morning you gave me
a kiss, high on my forehead at the roots of my hair. The mark is
there yet--sometimes it burns me. I have often looked in the glass
to see if I had not a scar there-- Oh, my mother! come and heal my
wound by renewing it! To be kissed by one's mother, Great God!
what happiness! Oh! for a kiss, for a single kiss from you, I
would brave a thousand dangers, I would give my blood, my life, my
soul. Ah! how sad you look! there are tears in your eyes. You
recognize me, do you not? I am much changed, much changed; but I
have always your look, your forehead, your mouth, your hair."
Then starting up suddenly, Stephane walked around the room with an
unsteady step. He held the medallion closely grasped in his right
hand and kept his eyes upon it. Again he held it out at arm's
length and looked at it steadily with half-closed eyes, or drawing
it nearer to him, he said to it sweet and tender things, pressing
it to his lips, kissing it a thousand times and passing it over his
hair and his cheeks wet with tears; it seemed as though he were
trying to make some particle of this sacred image penetrate his
life and being. At last, placing it on the bed, he knelt before
it, and burying his face in his hands, cried out sobbing, "Mother,
mother, it is long since your daughter died. When will you call
your son to you?"
Gilbert retired in silence. A voice from this room said to him:
"Thou art out of place here. Take care not to meddle in the secret
communion of a son and his mother. Great sorrows have something
sacred about them. Even pity profanes them by its presence." He
descended the staircase with precaution. When he had reached the
last step,--extending his arm in the direction of the Count's room,
he muttered in a low tone: "You have lied! Under that tunic of
black velvet there is a beating heart!" Then advancing with a
rapid step through the corridor, he hoped to pass out unseen; but
on reaching the wicket, he found himself face to face with Ivan,
who was coming out of his room, and who in his surprise dropped the
basket he held in his hand.
"You here!" exclaimed he in a severe tone. "Another would have
paid dearly for this--"
Then in a soft voice, expressing profound melancholy:
"Brother," said he, "do you want both of us to be killed? I see
you do not know the man whose orders you dare to brave." And he
added, bowing humbly: "You will pardon me for calling you brother?
In my mouth, that does not mean 'comrade.'"
Gilbert gave a sign of assent, and started to leave, but the serf,
holding him by the arm, said:
"Fortunately the barine has gone out; but take care; two days since
he had one of his turns, he has one every year, and while they
last, his mind wanders at night, and his anger is terrible during
the day. I tell you there is a storm in the air, do not draw the
thunderbolt upon your head."
Then placing himself between Gilbert and the door, he added with a
"Upon your conscience, what have you been doing here? Have you
seen my young father? Has he been talking to himself? You could
understand what he said, for he always talks in French. He only
knows enough Russian to scold me. Tell me, what have you heard? I
"Don't be alarmed," answered Gilbert. "If he has secrets he has
not betrayed them. He was engaged in complaining to himself, in
scolding the saints and weeping. Neither must you think that I
came hither to spy upon him, or to question him. As he had met
with sorrow, I wanted to console him by imparting the agreeable
news of my near departure; but I had not the courage to show myself
to him, and besides, I am not quite certain now what I shall do."
"Yes, you will do well to go," eagerly answered the serf; "but go
secretly, without warning anyone. I will help you, if you wish it.
You are too inquisitive to remain here. Certain suspicions have
already been excited on your account, which I have combated. Then,
too, you are imprudent!" Thus saying, he drew from his pocket the
candle which Gilbert had dropped in the corridor, the preceding
"Fortunately," said he, returning it to him, "it was I who found
it, and picked it up, and I wish you well, you know why. But
before going from here," added he in a solemn tone, "swear to me,
that during the time you may yet remain in this house, you will not
try to come into this gallery again, and that you will not ramble
in the other any more in the night. I tell you your life is in
danger if you do."
Gilbert answered him by a gesture of assent, and passing the
wicket, regained his room, where alternately standing at the
window, or stretched upon an easy-chair, he passed two full hours
communing with his thoughts. The dinner-bell put an end to his
long meditations. There was but little conversation during the
repast. M. Leminof was grave and gloomy, and seemed to be laboring
under a great nervous excitement which he strove to conceal.
Stephane was calmer than would have been expected, after the
violent emotions he had experienced, but there was something
singular in his look. Father Alexis alone wore his everyday face;
he found it very good, and did not judge it expedient to change it.
Towards the end of the repast, Gilbert was surprised to see
Stephane, who was in the habit of drinking only wine and water,
fill his glass with Marsala three times, and swallow it almost at a
single draught. The young man was not long in feeling the effect
of it; his face flushed, and his gaze became vacant. Towards the
close of the meal, he looked a great deal at the Apocalyptic
frescoes of the vaulted ceiling: then turning suddenly to his
father, he ventured to address him a question. It was the first
time for nearly two years,--an event which made even Father Alexis
open his eyes.
"Is it true," asked Stephane, "that living persons, supposed to be
dead, have sometimes been buried?"
"Yes, it has sometimes happened," replied the Count.
"But is there no way of establishing the certainty of death?"
"Some say yes, others no. I have been told of a frozen man who was
dissected in a hospital. The operator, in opening him, saw his
heart beating in his breast; he took flight and is running yet."
"But when one dies a violent death--poisoned, for example?"
"My opinion is, that they can still be mistaken. Physiology is a
"Oh! that would be horrible," said Stephane in a penetrating voice;
"to awaken by bruising one's forehead against the cover of a
"It would certainly be a very disagreeable experience, answered the
Count. And the conversation dropped. Stephane appeared very much
affected by his father's answers. He gazed no more at the ceiling,
but fixed his eyes on his plate. His face changed color several
times, and as if feeling the need of stupefying himself, he filled
his glass with wine for the fourth time, but he could not empty it,
and had hardly touched it with his lips before he set it on the
table with an air of disgust.
Tea was brought in. M. Leminof served it; and leaving his cup to
cool, rose and walked the floor. After making two or three turns,
he called Gilbert, and leaning upon his arm continued his walk,
talking with him about the political news of the day. Stephane saw
them come and go; he was evidently deeply agitated. Suddenly, at
the moment when they turned their backs, he drew from his sleeve a
small packet, which contained a pinch of yellow powder, and
unfolding it quickly, held it over his still full cup; but as he
was about emptying it, his hand trembled, and at this moment, his
father and Gilbert returning to his side, he had only time to
conceal the paper in his hand. In an instant he raised it again,
but at the decisive moment his courage again failed him. It was
not until the third trial that the yellow powder glided into the
cup, where Stephane stirred it with his spoon. This little scene
had escaped Gilbert. The Count alone had lost nothing of it; he
had eyes at the back of his head. He reseated himself in his place
and drank his tea slowly, continuing to talk with Gilbert, and
apparently quite unconscious of his son; but not a movement escaped
him. Stephane looked at his cup steadily, his agitation increased,
he breathed heavily, he shuddered, and his hand trembled with
feverish excitement. After waiting several minutes, the Count
turned to him and, looking him full in the eyes, said:
"Well! you do not drink? Cold tea is a bad drug."
The child trembled still more; his eyes had a glassy brightness.
Turning his head slowly, they wandered over everything about him,
the table, the chairs, the plate, and the black oak wainscoting.
There are moments when the aspect of the most common objects stirs
the soul with solemn emotion. When the condemned man is led out to
die, the least straw on the floor of his cell seems to say
something to his heart. Finally, gathering all his courage,
Stephane raised the cup and carried it to his mouth; but before it
had touched his lips, the Count took it roughly from his hands.
Stephane uttered a piercing cry and fell back in his chair with
closed eyes. M. Leminof looked at him for a moment with a
sarcastic and scornful smile; then bending over the cup he examined
it with care, smelt of it, and dipping his spoon in it, drew out
two or three yellow grains which he rubbed and pulverized between
his fingers. Then in a tone as tranquil and as indifferent as if
speaking of the rain, or of the fine weather, he said:
"It is phosphorus, a sufficiently active poison, and phosphorus
matches have been the death of a man more than once. But I saw
your little paper some time before. If I am not mistaken the dose
was not strong enough." And dipping his finger in the cup, he
passed it over his tongue, and curled his lip disdainfully. "I was
not mistaken," continued he, "it would only have given you a
violent colic. It was very imprudent in you; you do not like to
suffer, and you know we have only fresh-water physicians in this
neighborhood. Why didn't you wait a few hours? Doctor Vladimir
Paulitch will be here to-morrow evening." And then he went on in a
more phlegmatic tone. "It should be a first principle to do
thoroughly whatever you undertake to do at all. Thus, when a man
wants to kill himself according to rule, he should not begin by
exciting suspicions in talking of the cemetery. And as these
affairs require the exercise of coolness, he should not try to get
intoxicated. The courage which a person finds at the bottom of a
glass of Marsala is not of a good quality, and the approach of
death always sobers one. Finally, when a man has seriously
resolved to kill himself, he does not do this little thing at the
table, in company, but in his room, after having carefully bolted
the door. In short, your little scene has failed in every point,
and you do not know the first rudiments of this fine art. I advise
you not to meddle with it any more."
At these words he pulled the bell for Ivan.
"Your young master wanted to kill himself," said he; "take him to
his room and prepare him a composing draught that will put him to
sleep. Watch with him to-night, and in future be careful not to
leave any phosphorus matches in his rooms. Not that I suspect him
of entertaining any intense desire of killing himself,--but who
knows? Wounded vanity might drive him to try it. As his nerves
are excited, you will see that for some days he takes a great deal
of exercise. If the weather is fine tomorrow, keep him in the open
air all day, and in the evening walk him on the terrace; he must
get his blood stirred up."
From the moment that his father had taken the poisoned cup from
him, Stephane had remained petrified on his chair, with livid face
and arms hanging over his knees, giving no sign of life. When Ivan
approached to take him away, he rose with a start, and leaning upon
the arm of the serf, he crossed the room without opening his eyes.
When he had gone, the Count heaved a long sigh of weariness and
"What did I tell you?" exclaimed he, throwing upon Gilbert a
scrutinizing look; "this boy has a theatrical turn of mind. I
would wager my life that he hadn't the faintest desire to kill
himself: he only aimed at exciting us; but certainly if it was the
sensitive heart of Father Alexis which he took for a target, he has
lost the trouble." And he directed Gilbert's attention to the
worthy priest, who, as soon as he had emptied his cup, had fallen
sound asleep on his stool, and smiled at the angels in his dreams.
Gilbert gave the Count a lively and agreeable surprise by answering
him in the steadiest tone:
"You are entirely right, sir; it was only a very ridiculous
affectation. Fortunately, we may consider it pretty certain that
our young tragedian will not regale us a second time with his
little play. Where courage is required, it is good to have an
opportunity of seeing to the bottom of one's sack; nothing is more
likely to cure a boaster of the foolish mania for blustering."
"Decidedly my secretary is improving," thought the Count; "he has a
tender mouth and feels the curb." And in the joy which this
discovery gave him, he felt that he entertained for him sentiments
of real friendship, of which he would not have believed himself
capable. His surprise and pleasure increased still more when
"But apropos, sir, do you persist in believing that, according to
Constantius Porphyrogennatus, all Greece became Slavonian in the
eighteenth century? I have new objections to present to you on
that subject. And first this famous Copronymus of whom he
speaks. . . ."
They did not rise from the table until eleven o'clock. It was
necessary to awaken Father Alexis, who slept during the whole time,
his right arm extended over his plate, and his head leaning upon
his elbow. The Count having shaken him, he rose with a start and
"Don't touch it! The colors are all fresh; Jacob's beard is such a
The compliant secretary retired humming an aria. M. Leminof
followed him with his eyes, and, pointing after him, said to his
serf in a confidential tone:
"Thou seest that man there; just fancy! I feel friendship for him.
He is at least my most cherished--habit. My suspicions were
absurd, thou wert right in combating them. By way of precaution,
however, make a tour of the corridor between midnight and two
o'clock. Now come and double-lock me in my room, for I feel a
paroxysm coming on. To-morrow at five o'clock thou wilt come to
open it for me."
"Count Kostia!" murmured Gilbert, when he found himself in his
room, "fear no longer that I shall think of leaving you. Whatever
happens, I remain here. Count Kostia, understand me, you have
buried the smile: I take heaven to witness that I will resuscitate
The day following the one on which Gilbert had resolved to remain
at Geierfels, Father Alexis rose at an early hour, and betook
himself as usual to his dear chapel; he entered with a slow step,
bowed back, and anxious face; but when he had traversed the nave
and stood before the main entrance to the choir, the influence of
the holy place began to dissipate his melancholy; his thoughts took
a more serene turn, and his face brightened.
For several days Father Alexis had been occupied in painting a
group of three figures, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their
posterity on their knees. It was the exact copy of a picture in
the Convent of Lavra. These patriarchs were gravely seated upon a
grassy bank, separated from each other by little shrubs of a
somewhat fantastic shape. Their venerable heads were crowned with
aureoles; their abundant hair, combed with the greatest care, fell
majestically upon their shoulders, and their thick beards descended
to the middle of their breasts.
Father Alexis worked for nearly an hour, when he heard a step in
the court, and turning his head quickly, perceived Gilbert coming
towards the chapel. The priest thrilled with joy, as a fisherman
might, who after long hours of mortal waiting sees a fish of good
size imprudently approaching his net. Eager for his prey, he threw
aside his brush, quickly descended the ladder with the agility of a
young man and ran to place himself in ambuscade near the door,
where he waited with bated breath. As soon as Gilbert appeared, he
rushed upon him, seized him by the arm, and looked upon him with
eyes which seemed to say: "You are caught, and you won't escape
from me either."
When he had recovered from his first excess of joy, "Ah, my son,"
exclaimed he, "what happy inspiration brings you hither?"
"M. Leminof is not well to-day," answered Gilbert, "and I thought I
could make no better use of my leisure than to pay my respects to
"Oh! what a charming idea," said the priest, looking at him with
ineffable tenderness. "Come, come, my son, I will show you all,
This word ALL was pronounced with such an energetic accent, that
Gilbert was startled. It may be readily believed that it was not
exactly about Byzantine pictures that he was curious at this
moment. Nevertheless, he entered with great good-nature into a
minute examination of the images of the choir and the nave; he
praised all which appeared praiseworthy, kept silent upon the
prominent defects which offended the delicacy of his taste, and
allowed himself to criticise only some of the details.
At last he announced to the priest that he wished to talk with him
of a serious matter.
"A serious matter?"
And the face of the good father became grave. "Have you anything
to confess to me? What am I saying? You are not orthodox, my
child,--would to God you were."
"Let us descend, let us descend," said Gilbert, putting his foot
upon the ladder.
They descended and seated themselves upon the end of a white marble
step, which extended the entire width of the nave, at the entrance
of the choir.
"My son," began the priest timidly, "yesterday evening--"
"That is precisely what I want to talk to you about," said Gilbert.
"Ah! you are a good, generous child. You saw my embarrassment, and
you wished,--I confess it, a slight drowsiness,--flesh is weak,--
ah, it is good in you. Favors do not turn your head. Speak,
speak, I am all attention."
"It is understood that you will keep the secret, father, for you
"I understand! we should be lost if it were known that we talked of
certain things together. Oh! you need not be afraid. If Kostia
Petrovitch alludes to this matter, I shall appear to know nothing,
and I shall accuse myself of having violated the precept of the
great Solomon, who said, 'When thou sittest down to eat with a
prince, consider attentively what is done before thee.'
"Speak with confidence, my child, and rest assured that this mouth
has an old tongue in it which never says what it does not want to."
When Gilbert had finished his recital, Father Alexis burst forth in
exclamations accompanied by many signs of the cross.
"Oh! unhappy child!" cried he; "what folly is thine! He has then
sworn his own destruction? To wish to die in mortal sin! A spirit
of darkness must have taken possession of him. Then he invokes St.
George no longer every morning and evening? He prays no more,--he
no longer carries on his heart the holy amulet I gave him. Ah! why
did I fall asleep yesterday evening? What beautiful things I would
have said to him! I would have commenced by representing to him--"
"I do not doubt your eloquence; but it is not remonstrance, nor
good counsel that this child wants: a little happiness would answer
the purpose far better."
"Happiness! Ah, yes! his life is a little sad. There are certain
maxims of education--"
"It is not a question of maxims of education, but of a father who
betrays an open hatred to his son."
"Holy Virgin!" exclaimed the priest with a gesture of terror, "you
must not say such things, my child. These are words which the good
God does not like to hear. Never repeat them, it would be neither
prudent nor charitable."
Gilbert persisted; announcing the conjectures which he had formed
as certainties, and even exaggerating his suspicions in the hope
that the priest, in correcting him, would furnish the explanations
which he desired. The success of this little artifice surpassed
"I know for a certainty," said he, "that M. Leminof loved his
wife,--that she was unfaithful to him--that he finished by
suspecting her, and that he revenged himself--"
"False! false!" cried the priest with deep emotion. "To hear you
one would believe that Count Kostia killed his wife. You have
heard lying reports. The truth is, that the Countess Olga poisoned
herself, and then feeling the approach of death, became terrified
and implored aid. It was useless: they could not counteract the
effects of the poison. She then sent in haste for me. I had but
just time to receive her confession. Oh! what a frightful scene,
my child! Why recall it to me? And above all, whose calumnious
"I have been told, also," pursued the inflexible Gilbert, "that
after this deplorable event M. Leminof, holding in abhorrence the
localities which witnessed his dishonor, quitted Moscow and Russia,
and went to Martinique. Having arrived there, he lost, after some
months' residence, one of his two children, a daughter if I am not
mistaken, and this death may have been hastened by--"
"A fresh calumny!" interrupted the priest, looking steadily at
Gilbert. "The young girl died of yellow fever. Kostia Petrovitch
never raised a finger against his children. Ah! tell me what
"It is not a calumny, at least, to state that he has two good
reasons for not loving his son. First, because he is the living
portrait of his mother, and then because he doubts, perhaps, if
this child is really his son."
"An impious doubt, which I have combated with all my strength.
This child was born nine years before his mother committed her
first and only fault. I have said it, and I repeat it. It has
been objected that he was born after six years of a marriage which
seemed condemned by Heaven to an eternal sterility:--fatal
circumstance, which appeared proof positive to a vindictive and
ulcerated heart. But again, who could have told you--"
"One more word: before leaving for Martinique, M. Leminof did
everything he could to discover the lover of his wife. His
suspicions fell upon one of his intimate friends named Morlof. In
his blind fury he killed him, but nevertheless Morlof was
"Did they tell you that he assassinated him?" said Father Alexis,
who became more and more agitated. "Another calumny! he killed him
in a regular duel. Holy Virgin! the sin was grave enough; but the
police hushed up the matter, and absolution has been granted him."
"Alas!" resumed Gilbert, "if the church has pardoned, the
conscience of the murderer persists in condemning; it curses that
rash hand which shed innocent blood, and by a strange aberration it
exhorts him to wash out this fatal mistake in the blood of the real
offender. This offender, after six years' fruitless search, he has
not given up the hope of discovering; he will go into the very
bowels of the earth to find him, if he must, and if by chance there
is some heart upon which the name is written, he will open that
heart with the point of his sword to decipher those letters of
blood and of fire!"
Gilbert pronounced these last words in a vibrating voice. He had
suddenly forgotten where he was and to whom he was speaking. He
thought he again saw before him the scene of the corridor, and
could again hear those terrible words which had frozen the blood in
his veins. The priest was seized with a convulsive trembling; but
he soon mastered it. He raised himself slowly and stood up before
Gilbert, his arms crossed upon his breast. Within a few moments
his face became dignified, and at the same time his language. Now
the transformation was complete; Gilbert had no longer before him
the timid, easy soul who trembled before a frown, the epicure in
quest of agreeable sensations, the vain artist ingeniously begging
eulogies. The priest's eyes opened wide and shone like coals of
fire; his lips, wreathed in a bitter smile, seemed ready to launch
the thunders of excommunication; and a truly sacerdotal majesty
diffused itself as if by miracle over his face. Gilbert could
scarcely believe his eyes; he looked at him in silence, incapable
of recognizing this new Father Alexis, who had just been revealed
Then, said the priest, speaking to himself:
"Brother! what simplicity is yours! A few caresses, a few
cajoleries, and your satisfied vanity silences your distrust and
disarms your good sense! Did you not know that this young man is
the intimate friend of your master?"
Then bowing towards Gilbert:
"They thought then that you could make me speak. And you imagined
yourself that a coarse artifice and some threatening talk would
suffice to tear from me a secret I have guarded for nearly seven
years. Presumptuous young man, return to him who sent you, and
repeat faithfully what I am about to say to you: One day at
Martinique, in a remote house some distance from the outskirts of
the town of St. Pierre,--let me speak, my story will be short.--
Picture to yourself a great dark hall, with a table in the center.--
They shut me in there near noon; the next day at evening I was
there still, and for thirty hours I neither ate nor drank. The
night came,--they stretched me upon a table,--bound me and tied me
down. Then I saw bending over me a face more terrible than thou
wilt ever see, even in thy dreams, and a mouth which sneered as the
damned must sneer, approached my ear and said to me: 'Father
Alexis, I want your secret--I will have it.' I breathed not a
word; they tightened the cords with a jack, and I did not speak;
they piled weights on my chest, and I spoke not; they put boots
upon me which I hope never to see upon thy feet, and I spake not;
my bones cracked, and I spake not; I saw my blood gush out, and I
did not speak. At length a supreme anguish seized me, a red cloud
passed over my eyes, I felt my heart freezing, and I thought myself
dying. Then I spoke and said: 'Count Leminof, thou canst kill me,
but thou shalt not tear from me the secrets of the confessional.'"
And at these words, the priest stooping, laid bare his right foot
and showed Gilbert the bruised and withered flesh, and bones
deformed by torture; then covering it again he recoiled, as if from
a serpent in his path, and cried in a thundering voice, extending
his arms to Heaven:
"God curse the vipers who take the form of doves! Oh, Solomon,
hast thou not written in thy Proverbs: 'When he shall speak
graciously, do not believe him, for he has seven abominations in
As he listened to the recital of the priest, Gilbert was reminded
of some incoherent phrases of the somnambulist, which he had not
been able to explain: "STRETCH HIM ON THIS TABLE! THE BLACK ROBE!
TIGHTEN THE IRON BOOTS!"
"That black robe then," said he to himself, "was Father Alexis."
He rose and looked at the priest in surprise and admiration; he
could not take his eyes from that face which he believed he saw for
the first time, and he murmured in a low voice:
"My God! how complex is the heart of man. What a discovery I have
Then he tried to approach him; but the priest, still recoiling and
raising his arms threateningly above his head, repeated:
"Cursed be the vipers who come in the form of doves!"
"And I say," cried Gilbert, "blessed forever be the lips which have
touched the sacred coal, and keep their secrets even unto death!"
And rushing upon him he took him in his arms, and kissed three
times the scar which the cruel bite of Solon had left.
Father Alexis was surprised, stupefied, and confounded. He looked
at Gilbert, then at Abraham, then at Jacob. He uttered disjointed
phrases. He called upon Heaven to witness what had happened to
him, gesticulated and wept until, overcome by emotion, he dropped
on the marble step, and hid his face, bathed in tears, in his
"Father," said Gilbert respectfully, seating himself near him,
"pardon me for the agitation I have caused you. And if by chance
some distrust of me remains, listen to what I am about to tell you,
for I am going to put myself at your mercy, and by betraying a
secret it will depend upon you to have me expelled from this house
the day and hour you please."
He then related to him the scene of the corridor.
"Judge for yourself what impression the terrible words I heard
produced upon me! For some days my mind has been at work. I
ceaselessly tried to picture to myself the details of this
lamentable affair; but fearing to stray in my suspicions, I wished
to make a clean breast of it, and came to find you. I have grieved
you sorely, father; once more, will you pardon my rash curiosity?"
Father Alexis raised his head. Farewell to the saint! farewell to
the prophet! His face had resumed its habitual expression; the
sublime tempest which had transfigured it had left but a few almost
invisible traces of its passage. He looked at Gilbert
"Ah!" said he, "it was only for this that you sought me? My dear
child, you do not love the arts then?"
That day Gilbert passed an entire hour at his window. It was not
the Rhine which fixed his attention, nor the precipice, the
mountains nor the clouds. The narrow space within which he
confined his gaze was bounded on the west by the great square
tower, on the south by a gable, on the north by a spout; I mean to
say that the object of his contemplations was a very irregular,
very undulating roof, or to speak more accurately, two adjacent and
parallel roofs, one higher than the other by twelve feet, and both
inclining by a steep slope towards a frightful precipice.
As he closed the window, he said to himself:
"After all, it is less difficult than I thought; two rope ladders
will do the business, with God's help!"
M. Leminof finding himself too much indisposed to leave his room,
Gilbert dined alone in his turret; after which he went out for a
walk on the borders of the Rhine. As he left the path for the main
road, he saw Stephane and Ivan within twenty paces of him.
Perceiving him, the young man made an angry gesture, and turning
his face, started his horse off at full speed. Gilbert had
scarcely time to leap into the ditch to avoid being run down. As
Ivan passed, he looked at him sadly, shook his head, and carried
his finger to his forehead, as if to say: "You must pardon him; his
poor mind is very sick." Gilbert returned to the castle without
delay, and as he reached the entrance to the terrace, he saw the
serf leaning against one of the doors, where he seemed to be on
"My dear Ivan," said he, "you appear to be waiting for someone."
"I heard you coming," answered he, "and I took you for Vladimir
Paulitch. It was the sound of your step which deceived me; you
haven't such a measured step generally."
"You are a keen observer," replied Gilbert smiling; "but who, I
pray, is this Vladimir Paulitch?"
"He is a physician from my country. He will remain two months with
us. The barine wrote to him a fortnight since, when he felt that
he was going to be ill; Vladimir Paulitch left immediately, and day
before yesterday he wrote from Berlin, that he would be here this
evening. This Vladimir is a physician who hasn't his equal. I am
waiting for him to arrive."
"Tell me, good Ivan, is your young master in the garden?"
"He is down there under the weeping ash."
"Very well, you must permit me to speak to him a moment. You will
even extend the obligation by saying nothing about it to Kostia
Petrovitch. You know he cannot see us, for he keeps his bed now,
and even if he should rise, his windows open on the inner court."
Ivan's brow contracted. "Impossible, impossible!" he murmured.
"Impossible? Why? Because you will not?
"Ivan, my good Ivan, it is absolutely necessary for me to speak to
your young master. I have made him submit to a humiliation against
my will. He mistakes my sentiments and credits me with the
blackest intentions, and it will be torture to him in future to be
condemned to sit at the same table with me daily. Let me explain
myself to him. In two words I will make him understand who I am,
and I wish him no harm."
The discussion was prolonged some minutes, Ivan finally yielding,
but on the condition that Gilbert should not put his good will to
the proof a second time. "Otherwise," said Ivan, "if you still
attempt to talk with him secretly, I cannot permit him to go out,
and, of course, he could only blame you, and would then have the
right to consider you an enemy."
Upon his side, the serf promised that the Count should know nothing
of the interview.
"Recollect, brother," continued he, "that this is the last improper
favor that you will obtain from me. You are a man of heart, but
sometimes I should say that YOU HAD BEEN EATING BELLADONNA."
Stephane had left the circular bank where he had been sitting, and
stood, with his back against the parapet of the terrace, his arms
hanging dejectedly, and his head sunk upon his breast. His reverie
was so profound that Gilbert approached within ten steps of him
without being perceived; but suddenly rousing himself, he raised
his head quickly, and stamped his foot imperiously.
"Go away!" cried he, "go away, or I will set Vorace on you!"
Vorace was the name of the bulldog that kept him company at night,
and was crouching in the grass some paces distant. Of all the
watchdogs of the castle, this one was the strongest and most
"You see," said Ivan, retaining Gilbert by the arm, "you have
nothing to do here."
Gilbert gently disengaged himself and continued to advance.
"Get out of my sight," screamed Stephane. "Why do you come to
trouble my solitude? Who gives you the right to pursue me, to
track me? How dare you look me in the face after--"
He could say no more. Excitement and anger choked his voice. For
some moments he looked alternately at Gilbert and the dog; then