Part 3 out of 7
changing his purpose, he moved as if to fly, but Gilbert barred the
"Listen to me but a minute," said he in a gentle and penetrating
voice, "I bring you good news."
"You!" exclaimed Stephane, and he repeated, "You! you! good news!"
"I!" said Gilbert, "for I come to announce to you my near
Stephane stared with wide-open eyes, and recoiled slowly to the
wall, where, leaning back again, he exclaimed:
"What! are you going? Ah! certainly the news is excellent, as well
as unexpected; but you are giving yourself unnecessary trouble,
there was no need to forewarn me. Your departure! Great God! I
should have been notified of it in advance by the clearness of the
air, by the more vivid brightness of the sun, by some strange joy
diffused through all my being. Oh! I understand, you are not able
to digest the outrage done to you by the excellent Fritz at my
order. You consider the reparation insufficient. You are right, I
swear it by St. George, my heart made no apologies to you. I upon
my knees to you! Horror and misery! As I told you yesterday, I
yielded only to force. It was the same as if I should make my
bulldog drag you down at my feet now!"
Gilbert made no answer; he contented himself with drawing from his
pocketbook the letter which he had written the day before, and
presenting it to Stephane.
"What have I to do with this paper?" said Stephane with a gesture
of disdain. "You have told me your news, that is sufficient for
me. Anything more you could add would spoil my happiness."
"Read!" said Gilbert. "I have granted you such a great favor that
you can well afford to grant me a small one."--Stephane hesitated a
moment, but the habitual tediousness of his life was so great that
the want of diversion overcame his hatred and scorn.
"This letter is not bad!" said he as he read. "Its style is
eloquent, the penmanship is admirable too. It involuntarily
suggests to me the tie of your cravat. Both are so correct that
they are insufferable."
Gilbert, smiling, untied the cravat and let the ends hang down upon
"It is not worth while to incommode yourself," pursued Stephane,
"we have so short a time to live together! Pray do not renounce
your most cherished habits for me. The bow of your cravat as well
as your writing, harmonize wonderfully with your whole person. I
do not suppose, however, that to please me you would reconstruct
yourself from head to foot. The undertaking would be
"Permit me to speak," answered Gilbert. "I have made a little
change in my programme: I shall not leave tomorrow. I have granted
myself a week's delay."
Stephane's face darkened, and his eyes flashed.
"I swear to you here, upon my honor," continued Gilbert, "that in a
week I will leave, never to return, unless you yourself beg me to
"What baseness! and how cleverly this little plot has been
contrived; I see it all. By force of threats and violence they
hope to compel me a second time to bend my knees to you and cry
with clasped hands, 'Sir, in the name of Heaven, continue us the
favor of your precious presence!' But this act of cowardice I
shall never commit! Rather death! rather death!"
"A word only," resumed Gilbert, without being discouraged. "Submit
me to some proof. Have you no caprice which it is in my power to
"Throw yourself at my feet," cried he impetuously; "drag yourself
in the dust, kiss the ground before me, and demand pardon and mercy
of me! At this price I will grant you, not my affection certainly,
but my indulgence and pity."
"Impossible!" answered Gilbert, shaking his head. "I am like you;
I should not know how to kneel, unless someone stronger than myself
constrained me by violence. Oh, no! in such a performance I should
lose even the hope of being some day esteemed by you. The more so
as in the trial to which I wish you would subject me, I should
desire to have some danger to brave, some difficulty to surmount."
Stephane could not conceal his astonishment. Never in all his life
had he heard language like this. Nevertheless, distrust and pride
triumphed still over every other feeling.
"Since you wish it!" said he, sneering . . . and he drew a kid
glove from one of his pockets, rubbed it between his hands and
threw it to the bulldog, who caught in his teeth and kept it there.
"Vorace," said he to him, "keep your master's glove between your
teeth, watch it well; you will answer to me for it."
Then turning to Gilbert,--"Sir, will you please restore my glove to
me? I should be infinitely obliged to you for it."
"Ah! this is then the trial to which you will subject me?" answered
Gilbert with a smile upon his lips.
Stephane looked him in the face. For the first time, he could not
avoid being struck by its noble expression and the clearness and
purity of his glance.
Stephane was involuntarily moved, and strove in vain to conceal it
by the jocular tone in which he replied:
"No, sir, it is not a test of your sincerity, but a jest which we
shall do well not to push further. This animal is not amiable.
Should you be unfortunate enough to irritate him, it would be
impossible even for me, his master, to calm his fury. Be good
enough then to leave my glove where it is, and return peaceably to
your study to meditate upon some important problem in Byzantine
history. That will be a trial less perilous and better
proportioned to your strength. Good-evening, sir, good-night."
"Oh! permit me," replied Gilbert. "I am resolved to carry this
adventure to its conclusion!"
And gently repulsing Stephane, who sought to restrain him, he
walked straight toward the bulldog.
"Take care," cried the young man, shuddering, "do not trifle with
that beast, or you are a dead man!"
"Take care," repeated Ivan, who, not having understood half of what
had been said, hardly suspected Gilbert's intention. "Take care,
this dog is a ferocious beast."
Meantime Gilbert, crossing his arms upon his breast, advanced
slowly towards the bulldog, keeping his eyes steadily fixed on
those of the animal, and when he thought he had disconcerted him by
his undaunted gaze sufficiently to make him relax his grip upon the
prize, he suddenly tore the glove from him and waved it in the air
with his right hand. At the same moment Vorace, with a howl of
rage, bounded up to leap at the throat of his despoiler. Gilbert
sprang back, covering himself with his left arm, and the dog's jaws
only grazed his shoulder. Yet when he touched the ground again, he
held between his teeth a long strip of cloth, a scrap of linen, and
a morsel of bloody flesh. Mad with fury the bulldog rolled over on
the grass with this prize which he could hardly devour, and then
suddenly, as if seized with a paroxysm of frenzy, he moved towards
the castle doubling upon himself; but reaching the foot of the
turret, he looked for his enemy and returned like an arrow, to
pounce upon him again.
"Throw down the glove," cried Ivan, "and climb the ash."
"I will surrender the glove only to him who asked me for it,"
And hiding it in his bosom, he drew a knife from his pocket. He
had not time to open it. The dog, with bristling hair and foaming
jaws, was already within three steps of him, gathering himself to
spring upon him; but he had scarcely raised himself from the ground
when he fell back with his head shattered. The hatchet which Ivan
carried at his girdle had come down upon him like a flash. The
terrible animal vainly attempted to rise, rolled writhing in the
dust, and breathed out his life with a hoarse and fearful howl.
Doctor Vladimir Paulitch arrived at the castle just in time to take
care of Gilbert. The wound was wide and deep, and in consequence
of the great heat which prevailed, it might easily have proved
serious; fortunately, Doctor Vladimir was a skillful man, and under
his care the wound was soon healed. He employed certain specifics,
the uses of which were known only to himself, and which he took
care to keep a secret from his patient. His medicine was as
mysterious as his person.
Vladimir Paulitch was forty years of age; his face was striking but
unattractive. His eyes had the color and the hard brightness of
steel; his keen glances, subject to his will, often questioned, but
never allowed themselves to be interrogated. Well made, slender, a
slight and graceful figure, he had in his gait and movements a
feline suppleness and stealthiness. He was slow, but easy of
speech, and never animated; the tone of his voice was cold and
veiled, and whatever the subject of conversation might be, he
neither raised nor lowered it; no modulations; everyone of his
sentences terminated in a little minor cadence, which fell sadly on
the ear. He sometimes smiled in speaking, it is true, but it was a
pale smile which did not light up his face. This smile signified
simply: "I do not give you my best reason, and I defy you to divine
One morning when Ivan had come by order of the doctor to dress
Gilbert's wound, our friend questioned him as to the character and
life of Vladimir Paulitch. Of the man Ivan knew nothing, and
confined himself to extolling the genius of the physician; he
expressed himself in regard to him in a mysterious tone. The
imposing face of this impenetrable personage, the extraordinary
power of his glance, his impassible gravity, the miraculous cures
which he had wrought, it needed no more to convince the honest serf
that Vladimir Paulitch dealt in magic and held communications with
spirits; and he felt for his person a profound veneration mingled
with superstitious terror. He told Gilbert that since the age of
twenty-five, Vladimir had been directing a hospital and private
asylum which Count Kostia had founded upon his estates, and that,
thanks to him, these two establishments had not their equals in all
"Last year," added the serf, "he came to attend the barine, and
told him that his malady would return this year, but more feebly,
and that this would be the last. You will see that all will come
to pass as he has said. Kostia Petrovitch is already much better,
and I wager that next summer will come and go without his feeling
As Ivan prepared to go, Gilbert detained him to ask news of
Stephane. The serf had been very discreet, and had related the
adventure upon the terrace to his master without compromising
anyone. The only trouble he had had was in persuading him that it
was not on a sign from Stephane that the dog had attacked Gilbert.
The next day Gilbert dined in the great hall of the castle with M.
Leminof and Father Alexis.
"Do not disturb yourself because Stephane does not dine with us,"
said the Count to him. "He is not sick; but he has a new grievance
against you; you have caused the death of his dog. I ask your
pardon, my dear Gilbert, for the irrational conduct of my son. I
have given him three days for the sulks. When that time has
passed, I intend that he shall put on his good looks for you, and
that he shall take his place at the table opposite you without
"And how is it that Doctor Vladimir is not with us?"
"He has begged me to excuse him for a time. He finds himself much
fatigued with the care he has given me. A magnetic treatment, you
understand. I should inform you that every year, some time during
the summer, I am subject to attacks of neuralgia from which I
suffer intensely. By the way, you have seen our admirable doctor
several times. What do you think of him?"
"I don't know whether he is a great savant, but I am inclined to
think he is a first-class artist."
"You cannot pay him a finer compliment; medicine is an art rather
than a science. He is also a man capable of the greatest devotion.
I am indebted to him for my life, it was not as physician that he
saved me either. A pair of stallions ran away within twenty paces
of a precipice; the doctor, appearing from behind a thicket, darted
to the heads of the horses and hung on to them by their nostrils,
which he held in an iron grip. You have the whole scene from these
windows. What was amusing in it was, that having thanked him, with
what warmth you can imagine, he answered, in a tranquil tone, and
wiping his knees--for the horses in falling had laid him full
length in the dust--'It is I who am obliged to you; for the first
time I have been suspended between life and death, and it is a
singular sensation. But for you I should not have known it.' This
will give you an idea of the man and his sangfroid!"
"I am not surprised at his having the agility of a wildcat,"
replied Gilbert; "but I suspect the sangfroid is feigned, and that
his placidity of face is a mask which hides a very passionate
"Passionate is not the word, or at least the doctor knows only the
passions of the head. There was a time when he thought himself
desperately in love; an unpardonable weakness in such a
distinguished man; but he was not long in undeceiving himself, and
he has not fallen into such a fatal error since."
The night having come, Gilbert, who had inquiries to make, crossed
the yard of which the chapel formed one side, and gaining the rear
by a private door, went in search of Father Alexis. It was not
long before he discovered him, for the priest had left his shutters
open, and he was seated in the embrasure of the window, peaceably
smoking his pipe, when he perceived Gilbert.
"Oh, the good boy!" cried he, "let him come in quickly! My room
and my heart are open to him."
Gilbert showed him his arm in a sling, on account of which he could
not climb the window.
"Is that all, my child?" said Father Alexis. "I will hoist you up
Gilbert raised himself by his right arm, and Father Alexis drawing
him up, they soon found themselves seated face to face, uniting to
their heart's content the blue smoke of their chibouques.
"Have you not noticed," said Father Alexis, "that Kostia Petrovitch
has been in a charming humor to-day? I told you that he had his
pleasant moments! Vladimir Paulitch has already done him much
good. What a physician this Vladimir is! It is a great pity that
he does not believe in God; but some day, perhaps, grace will touch
his heart, and then he will be a complete man."
"If I were in your place, father, I should be afraid of this
Vladimir," said Gilbert. "Ivan pretends that he is something of a
sorcerer. Aren't you afraid that some fine day he may rob you of
Father Alexis shrugged his shoulders.
"Ivan talks foolishly," said he. "If Vladimir Paulitch were a
sorcerer, would he not have long since penetrated the mystery which
he burns to fathom? for he does more than love Count Kostia; he is
devoted to him even to fanaticism. It is certain that having
discovered that the Countess Olga was enceinte, he had the
barbarity to become her denouncer; and that letter which announced
to Count Kostia his dishonor, that letter which made him return
from Paris like a thunder-clap, that letter in short which caused
the death of Olga Vassilievna, was written by him--Vladimir
"And Morlof," said Gilbert, "was it this Vladimir who denounced him
to the unjust fury of the Count?"
"On the contrary, Vladimir pleaded his cause; but his eloquence
failed against the blind prejudices of Kostia Petrovitch. This
Morlof was, unfortunately for himself, a fashionable gentleman,
well known for his gallantries. A man of honor, however, incapable
of betraying a friend; this reputation for gallant successes, of
which he boasted, was his destruction. When Count Kostia
interrogated his wife, and she refused to denounce her seducer, it
occurred to him to name Morlof, and the energy with which she
defended him confirmed the Count's suspicion. To disabuse him, it
needed but that tragic meeting of which I was informed too late.
In breathing his last sigh, Morlof extended his hand to his
murderer and gasped 'I die innocent!' And in these last words of a
dying man, there was such an accent of truth that Count Kostia
could not resist it: light broke in upon his soul."
As the darkness increased, Father Alexis closed the shutters and
lit a candle.
"My child," said he, refilling and lighting his pipe, "I must tell
you something I learned to-day, a few moments before dinner, which
appeared to me very strange. Listen attentively, and I am sure you
will share in my astonishment."
Gilbert opened his ears, for he had a presentiment that Father
Alexis was about to speak of Stephane.
"It is a singular fact," resumed the priest, "and one that I should
not wish to relate to the first-comer, but I am very glad to impart
it to you, because you have a serious and reflective mind, though
unfortunately you are not orthodox; would to God you were. Know
then, my child, that to-day, Saturday, I went according to my
custom to Stephane to catechize him, and for reasons which you
know, I redoubled my efforts to impress his unruly head with the
holy truths of our faith. Now it appears that without intending
it, you have caused him sorrow; and you can believe that such a
character, far from having pardoned you, has taken the greatest
pains to get me to espouse his side in the difficulty. However he,
who will usually fly into a passion and talk fiercely if a fly
tickles him, recited his griefs to me with an air of moderation and
a tranquillity of tone which astonished me to the last degree. As
I endeavored to discover a reason for this, I happened to raise my
eyes to the images of St. George and St. Sergius which decorate one
of the corners of his room, and before which he was in the habit of
saying his prayers every morning. What was my surprise, my grief,
when I perceived that the two saints had suffered shameful
outrages. One had no legs, the other was disfigured by a horrible
scar. With hands raised to Heaven, I threatened him with the
thunder of God. Without being excited, without changing
countenance, he left his chair, came to me and placed his hand on
my mouth. 'Father,' said he, with an air of assurance which awed
me, 'listen to me. I have been wrong, if you wish it so, and
still, under the same circumstances, I should do it again, for
since I have chastised them, the two saints have decided to come to
my aid, and the very day after their punishment, without any change
in my life, all at once I felt my heart become lighter; for the
first time, I swear to you, a ray of celestial hope penetrated my
soul.' What do you say to that, my child? I had often heard
similar things related, but I did not believe them. Little boys
may be whipped, but as for saints!--Ah! my dear child, the ways of
God are very strange, and there are many great mysteries in this
Father Alexis had such an impressive air in speaking of this great
mystery, that Gilbert was tempted to laugh; but he controlled
himself; he was too grateful for his obliging narrative, and could
have embraced him with all his heart.
"Good news!" said he to himself. "That heart has become lighter;
that 'ray of celestial hope.' Ah! God be praised, my effort has
not been thrown away. St. George, St. Sergius, you rob me of my
glory, but what matters it? I am content!"
"And what reply did you make to Stephane?" said he to the priest.
"Did you reprimand him? Did you congratulate him?"
"The case was delicate," said the good father, with the air of a
philosopher meditating on the most abstruse subject; "but I am not
wanting in judgment, and I drew out of the affair with honor."
"You managed admirably," cried I, looking at him with admiration;
then immediately putting on a serious face, "but the sin is
The third day after, Gilbert didn't wait for the bell to ring for
dinner before going down to the great hall. He was not very much
surprised to find Stephane there. Leaning with his back against
the sideboard, the young man, on seeing him appear, lost his
composure, blushed, and turned his head towards the wall. Gilbert
stopped a few steps from him. Then in an agitated manner, and with
a voice at once gentle and abrupt, he said:
"And your arm?"
"It is nearly well. To-morrow I shall take off my sling."
Stephane was silent for a moment. Then in a still lower voice:
"What do you mean to do?" murmured he; "what are your plans?"
"I wait to know your good pleasure," replied Gilbert.
The young man covered his eyes with both hands, and, as Gilbert
said no more, he seemed to feel a thrill of impatience and
"His pride demands some mercy," thought Gilbert. "I will spare him
the mortification of making the first advances."
"I should like very much to have a conversation with you," said he
gently. "This cannot be upon the terrace, Ivan will not leave you
alone there. Does he keep you company in your room in the
"Are you jesting?" answered Stephane, raising his head. "After
nine o'clock Ivan never comes near my room."
"And his room, if I am not mistaken," answered Gilbert, "is
separated from you by a corridor and a staircase. So we shall run
no risk of being overheard."
Stephane turned towards him and looked him in the face. "You think
of everything," said he, with a smile, sad and ironical.
"Apparently, to reach me, you will be obliged to mount a swallow.
Have you made your arrangements with one?"
"I shall come over the roofs," said Gilbert quietly.
"Impossible!" cried Stephane. "In the first place, I do not wish
you to risk your life for me again. And then--"
"And then you do not care for my visit?"
Stephane only answered him by a look.
At this moment steps sounded in the vestibule. When the Count
entered, Gilbert was pacing the further end of the hall, and
Stephane, with his back turned, was attentively observing one of
the carved figures upon the wainscoting. M. Leminof, stopping at
the threshold of the door, looked at them both with a quizzical
"It was time for me to arrive," said he, laughing. "This is an
At about ten o'clock Gilbert began to make preparations for his
expedition. He had no fear of being surprised; his evenings were
his own--that was a point agreed upon between the Count and
himself. He had also just heard the great door of the corridor
roll upon its hinges. On the side of the terrace the thick
branches of the trees concealed him from the watchdogs which, had
they suspected the adventure, could have given the alarm. There
was nothing to fear from the hillock below the precipice; it was
frequented only by the young girl who tended the goats and who was
not in the habit of allowing them to roam so late among the rocks.
Besides, the night, serene and without a moon, was propitious; no
other light than the discreet glistening of the stars which would
help to guide him, without being bright enough to betray or disturb
him; the air was calm, a scarcely perceptible breeze stirred at
intervals the leaves of the trees without agitating the branches.
Thanks to this combination of favorable circumstances, Gilbert's
enterprise was not desperate; but he did not dream of deceiving
himself in regard to its dangers.
The castle clock had just struck ten when he extinguished his lamp
and opened the window. There he remained a long time leaning upon
his elbows: his eyes at last familiarized themselves with the
darkness, and favored by the glimmering of the stars, he began to
recognize with but little effort the actual shape of the
surrounding objects. The window was divided in two equal parts by
a stone mullion, and had in front a wide shelf of basalt,
surrounded by a balustrade. Gilbert fastened one of two knotted
ropes with which he had supplied himself securely to the mullion;
then he crept upon the ledge of basalt and stood there for a few
moments contemplating the precipice in silence. In the gloomy and
vaporous gulf which his eyes explored, he distinguished a wall of
whitish rocks, which seemed to draw him towards them, and to
provoke him to an aerial voyage. He took care not to abandon
himself to this fatal attraction, and the uneasiness which it
caused him disappearing gradually, he stretched out his head and
was able to hang over the abyss with impunity. Proud at having
subdued the monster, he gave himself up for a moment to the
pleasure of gazing at a feeble light which appeared at a distance
of sixty paces, and some thirty feet beneath him. This light came
from Stephane's room; he had opened his window and closed the white
curtains in such a way that his lamp, placed behind this
transparent screen, could serve as a beacon to Gilbert without
danger of dazzling him.
"I am expected," said Gilbert to himself.
And immediately, bestriding the balustrade, he descended the
swaying rope as readily as if he had never done anything else in
He was now upon the roof. There he met with more difficulty.
Partly covered with zinc and partly with slate, this roof--the
whole length of which he must traverse--was so steep and slippery
that no one could stand erect on it. Gilbert seated himself and
remained motionless for a moment to recover himself, and the better
to decide upon his course. A few steps from this point, a huge
dormer window rose, with triangular panes of glass, and reached to
within two feet of the spout. Gilbert resolved to make his way by
this narrow pass, and from tile to tile he pushed himself in that
direction. It will readily be believed that he advanced but
slowly, much more so on account of his left arm, which, as it still
pained him, required to be carefully managed; but by dint of
patience and perseverance he passed beyond the dormer window, and
at length arrived safely at the extremity of the roof, just in
front of Stephane's window.
"God be praised, the most difficult part is over," he said to
himself, breathing freely.
But he was far from correct in his supposition. It is true he had
now only to descend upon the little roof, cross it, and climb to
the window, which was but breast-high; but before descending it was
necessary to find some support--stone, wood or iron, to which he
could fasten the second rope, which he had brought wound about his
neck, shoulders, and waist. Unfortunately he discovered nothing.
At last, in leaning over, he perceived at the outer angle of the
wall a large iron corbel, which seemed to sustain the projecting
roof; but to his great chagrin, he ascertained at the same time,
that the great roof passed three feet beyond the line of the small
one, and that if even he should succeed in attaching his second
rope to the corbel, the other end of it would float in empty space.
This reflection made him shudder; and turning his eyes from the
precipice, he examined the ridge-pole, where he thought he saw a
piece of iron projecting. He was not mistaken: it was a kind of
ornamental molding, which formed the pediment of the ridge. It was
not without great effort that he raised himself even there, and
when he found himself seated astride the beam, he rested a few
moments to breathe, and to study the strange spectacle before him.
His view embraced an immense extent of abrupt, irregular roofing,
from every part of which rose turrets of every kind, in the shape
of extinguishers, pointed gables, corners, retreating or salient
angles, bell-towers, open to the daylight, profound depths where
the gloom thickened, grinning chimneys, heavy weathercocks cutting
the milky way with their iron rods and feathered arrows; from the
top of the chapel steeple a great cross of stone, seeming to
stretch out its arms; here and there the whitish zinc, cutting the
dark blue of the slates; in spots an indistinct glittering and
flashes of pale light enveloped in opaque shadows, and then the
tops of three or four large trees which extended beyond the eaves,
as if prying into the secrets of the attic. By the glittering
light of the stars, the slightest peculiarity in the architecture
assumed singular contours, fantastic figures were profiled upon the
horizon like Chinese shadows; everywhere an air of mystery, of
curiosity, of wild surprise. All these shadows leaned towards
Gilbert, examined him, and interrogated him by their looks.
When he had recovered breath, Gilbert approached the projecting
ornament from which he proposed to suspend his rope; he had been
greatly deceived; he found that this ovolo of sheet iron, for a
long time roughly used by the elements, held only by a wretched
nail, and that it would inevitably yield to the least strain.
"It is decided," said he. "I must go by the iron corbel!" And
although it cost him an effort, his mind was soon resolutely fixed.
Impatient at the loss of so many steps and at the waste of so much
precious time in vain efforts, he redescended the roof much more
actively than he had mounted it. Arriving below, and by the power
of his will conquering a new attack of vertigo with which he felt
himself threatened, he lay down upon his face parallel with the
spout, and advancing his head and arm beyond the roof he succeeded,
not without much trouble, in tying the cord firmly to the iron
corbel. This done, without loitering to see it float, he swung
himself slowly round, and let himself glide over the edge of the
roof as far as his armpits, resting suspended by the elbows.
Critical moment! If but a lath, but a nail should break--He had no
time to make this alarming reflection; he was too much occupied in
drawing towards him with his feet the rope, and when at length he
succeeded, detaching his left arm from the roof, he seized the
corbel firmly, and soon after, his right hand removing itself in
its turn, firmly grasped the rope.
"That's not bad for a beginner," thought he.
He then began to descend, giving careful attention to every
movement. But at the moment when his feet had reached the level of
the small roof, having had the imprudence to look down into the
space beneath him, he was suddenly seized with a dizziness a
thousand times more terrible than he had yet experienced. The
whole valley began to be agitated, and rolled and pitched terribly.
By turns it seemed to rise to the sky or sink into the bowels of
the earth. Presently the motion was accelerated, trees and stones,
mountains and plains were all confounded in one black whirlwind,
which struggled with increasing fury, and from which came forth
flashes of lightning and balls of fire. Restored to himself after
a few minutes, to dispel the emotion which his frightful nightmare
caused him, he had recourse to old Homer, and recited in one breath
that passage of the Iliad where the divine bard describes the joy
of a herdsman contemplating the stars from a craggy height.
Gilbert never, in after life, read these verses without recalling
the sweet but terrible moment when he recited them suspended in
mid-air; above his head the infinite smile of starry fields, and
under his feet the horrors of a precipice. As soon as he felt more
calm, he commenced the task of effecting his descent upon the small
roof, less steep than the other, and covered with hollow tiles
which left deep grooves between them. To crown his good fortune,
the spout was surmounted from place to place by iron ornaments
imbedded in the wall and rolled up in the form of scrolls. Gilbert
imparted an oscillating motion to the rope, and when it had become
strong enough to make this improvised swing graze the gutter,
choosing his time well, he disengaged his right foot and planted it
firmly in one of the grooves, loosening at the same time his right
hand and quickly seizing one of the scrolls. Midnight sounded, and
Gilbert was astonished to find that he had spent two hours upon his
adventurous excursion. To mount the roof halfway, cross it, and
climb into the window was but a slight affair, after which, turning
the curtains aside with his hand, he called in a soft voice: "Am I
expected?" and leaped with a bound into the room.
With his chin upon his knees and his head buried in his hands,
Stephane was crouching at the feet of the holy images. Hearing and
perceiving Gilbert, he started, raised himself quickly and remained
motionless, his hands crossed above his head, his neck extended,
his lips quivering and opening with a smile, lightnings and tears
in his eyes. How paint the strangeness of his countenance? A
thousand diverse emotions betrayed themselves there. Surprise,
gratitude, shame, anxiety, long expectation at last satisfied; a
remnant of haughtiness which felt its defeat certain; an obstinate
incredulity forced to surrender; the disorder of an imagination,
enchanted, rapt, distracted, the delights of hope and the
bitterness of memory; all these appeared upon his face, and formed
a melange so confused that to see him thus laughing and crying at
once, it seemed as if it was his joy which wept and his sadness
which smiled. His first agitation dispelled, the predominating
expression of his face was a dreamy and startled sweetness. He
moved backwards from Gilbert and fell upon a chair at the end of
"Do I intrude? Must I go away?" asked Gilbert, still standing.
Stephane made no answer.
"Evidently my face does not please you," continued Gilbert, half
turning towards the window.
Stephane contracted his brows.
"Do not trifle, I beg of you," said he, in a hollow voice. "We
have serious matters between us to discuss."
"The seriousness which I prefer is that of joy."
Stephane passed his thin and taper hands nervously through his
"Joy?" said he. "It will come, perhaps, in its time, through
speaking to me about it, who knows? Now I seem to be dreaming.
The disorder of my thoughts frightens me. Ask me no questions, for
I should not know how to answer you. And then the sound of my
voice mortifies me, irritates me. It is like a discord in music.
Let me be silent and look at you."
And approaching a long table which stood in the middle of the room,
he signalled to Gilbert to place himself at one side of it and
seated himself at the other.
After a long silence, he began to express his thoughts audibly, as
if he had become reconciled to the sound of his voice:
"This bold, resolute air, so much pride in the look, so much
goodness in the smile. It is another man. Ah! into what contempt
have I fallen. I have seen nothing, divined nothing. I despised
him, I hated him,--this one whom God has sent to save me from
despair. See what was concealed under this simple unaffected air;
this serene face, whose calmness irritated me; this gentleness
which seemed servile; this wisdom which I thought pedantry; this
pliancy of disposition which I took for the meanness of a crouching
dog. All this I can it really be the same man!" He was silent for
a moment and then continued in a more assured voice:
"How did you manage to reach here? Ah! my God! that great roof is
so steep! Only to think of it makes me shudder and sets my head to
whirling. While waiting I prayed to the saints for you. Did you
feel their aid? I should like to know whether they stood by me in
this. They have so often broken faith."
Silence again, during which Stephane looked at Gilbert with a
steadiness sufficient to disconcert him.
"So you have risked your life for me!" continued the young man;
"but are you quite sure that I am worth the trouble? Come now, be
frank. Has anyone spoken to you of me? Or have you, by studying
my character, made some interesting discovery? Answer, and be
careful not to lie. My eyes are upon you, they will readily
discover if you are sincere."
"Really, you astonish me," answered Gilbert tranquilly; "and what
have I to conceal from you? All I know resolves itself into two
points. In the first place, I know that you belong to the race, to
the brotherhood of noble souls; I know, besides, that you are
unhappy.--Pardon me, I know another thing still. I know beyond a
doubt that I have conceived a lively and tender friendship for you,
and that I should be very unhappy, too, if I could not expect any
return from you."
"You feel friendship for me? How can that be?"
"Ah! a strange question! Who has ever been able to answer it? It
is the mystery of mysteries. I love you, because I love you: I
know of no other explanation. You have certainly never made any
very flattering advances to me. I think I have sometimes even had
cause to complain of you.
"Ah, well! in spite of your scorn, of your haughtiness, of your
injustice, I loved you. Ask the secret of this anomaly of Him who
created man, and who planted in his heart that mysterious power
which is called sympathy."
"Why," said Stephane, "was not this sympathy reciprocal? As for
me, from the first day I saw you I hated you. I do not know with
what eyes I looked at you, but I thought that I recognized an
enemy. Alas! suspicion and distrust invaded my heart long ago.
And mark, even at this moment I still doubt, I fear I may be the
dupe of some illusion: I believe and I do not believe, and I am
tempted to exclaim with one of the Holy Evangelists, 'My patron, my
brother, my friend, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!'"
"Your incredulity will cure itself, and be sure, a day will come
when you will say with confidence: there is in this world a soul,
sister of my own, into which I can fearlessly pour all my cares,
all my thoughts, all my sorrows and all my hopes. There is one who
occupies himself unceasingly about me, to whom my happiness is of
great moment, of supreme interest, a being to whom I can say all,
confess all; a being who loves me because he knows me, and who
knows me because he loves me; a being who sees with me, who sees in
me, and who would not hesitate, if necessary, to sacrifice
everything, even his life, upon the holy altar of friendship. And
then could you not cry out in the joy of your heart: 'God he
praised! I possess a friend! By the blessing of God I have learned
what it is to love and to be loved."
Stephane began to weep:
"To be loved!" said he. "It is a great word and I hardly dare to
pronounce it. To be loved! I have never been. I believe, though,
that my mother loved me,--what do I say? I am sure of it, but it
was a long time ago. My mother,--it is like a legend to me. It
seems to me I was not born when I knew her. I remember that she
often took me upon her knees and covered me with kisses. Such joys
are not of this world; I must have tasted them in some distant
star, where hearts are less hard than here, and where I lived some
time, a sojourn of peace and innocence. But one day my mother
dropped me from her arms, and I was thrown upon this earth where
hatred expected me and received me in her bosom. Oh, hatred! I
know her! This second mother cradled me in her arms, nourished me
with her milk, lavished upon me her careful lessons and watched
over me night and day. Ah! hatred is a marvelous providence. It
sees everything, thinks of everything, notices everything, is
omnipresent, always on the alert, unconscious of fatigue, ennui, or
sleep. Hatred! she is the mistress of this castle, she governs it;
these great corridors are full of her. I cannot take a step
without meeting her; even here in this solitary room I see her
image floating upon the paneling, upon the tapestry, about the
curtains of this bed, and often at night in my sleep, she comes and
sits upon my breast and peoples my dreams with specters and
terrors. To be hated without knowing wherefore,--what torment!
And remember, too, that in my early infancy, this father who hates
me was then a father to me. He rarely caressed me and I feared
him; he was imperious and severe; but he was a father after all,
and occasionally he took the trouble to tell us so. Often in our
presence his gravity relaxed, and I recollect that he sometimes
smiled upon me. But one day, a cursed day,--I was then ten years
old; my mother had been dead a month.--He was shut up in his room
while a week passed, during which I did not see him. I said to my
governess: 'I want to see my father.' I knocked at his door,
entered, and ran to him. He repelled me with such violence that I
fell and struck my head against the leg of a chair. I got up
bleeding, and he looked at me with scorn, laughed, and left the
room. My mind wandered, all my ideas were thrown into confusion; I
thought the sun had gone out and that the world had come to an end.
A father who could laugh at the sight of the blood gushing from his
child! And what a laugh! He has made me hear it often since, but
I have not been able to accustom myself to it yet. A fever
attacked me, and I became delirious. They put me to bed, and I
cried to those who took care of me: 'I am cold, I am cold, make me
warm.' And in that icy body I felt a heart that seemed on fire,
which consumed itself. I could have sworn that a red-hot iron had
been passed into it."
Stephane dried his tears with a curl of his hair, and then, leaning
with his elbows upon the table, he resumed in a feeble voice: "I do
not want you to be deceived. You entertain friendship for me and
you ask a return; that is very simple, friendship lives by
exchange. If I had nothing to give you, you would soon cease to
love me. Listen to me then. Yesterday, for the first time in my
life, I went into myself,--a singular fancy, which you alone have
been able to inspire in me; for the first time I examined myself
seriously, I laid hold of my heart with both hands, and examined it
as a physician does his patient; I carried my researches even to
the very bottom, and I recognized there a strange barrenness and
blight, which frightened me. It has been suffering a long time,--
this poor heart; but within a year a fearful crisis has passed
within me, which has killed it. And now there is nothing in this
breast but a handful of ashes, good for nothing but to be thrown
out of the window and scattered in the air.
"What! you are orthodox," said Gilbert, in a tone of authority;
"you believe in the saints after your own fashion, and nevertheless
you have yet to learn that death is but a word, or better, a
respite, a pause in life, a fallow time followed by fresh harvests.
You are ignorant of the fact, or you forget, that there are no
ashes so cold but that when the wind of the spirit breathes upon
them, they will be seen to start, rise up, and walk. You have left
to me the care of teaching you that your soul is capable of
rejuvenescence, of unexpected regeneration; that upon the sole
condition that you wish and desire it, you will feel unknown powers
awakened in your breast, and that without changing your nature, but
by transforming yourself from day to day, you will become to
yourself an eternal novelty!
Stephane looked at him, smiling.
"So you have crossed the roofs to come and preach conversion to me,
like Father Alexis!"
"Conversion! I don't know. I don't undertake to work miracles; but
"You speak to me much about my soul; but my life, my destiny, will
you also find the secret of transforming them?"
"That secret we will seek together. I have already some light upon
it. Only let us not press it. Before undertaking that great work,
it is essential that your heart should recover its health and
"Ingrate that I am!" cried Stephane. "My destiny! It has changed
from to-day. Yes, from this moment I am no longer alone in the
world. Frightful void in which I consumed myself, despair who with
your frightful wings made it night for an abandoned child, it is
all over now, I am delivered from you; the instrument of torture is
broken. Henceforth, I believe, I hope, I breathe! But think of
it, my friend, for me to live will be to see you, to hear you, to
speak to you. Could you come here often?"
"As often as prudence will permit,--two or three times a week. We
will choose our days well; we will consult the sky, the wind, the
stars. On other days, at propitious hours, we will place ourselves
at our windows, and communicate by signs which we will agree upon,
for it seems that you, like me, are long-sighted. And besides, I
know the sign language. I will teach it to you, and if you ever
send me such a message as this upon your fingers: 'I am sad, I am
sick, come this evening at any risk'--Well, whatever the winds and
stars may say--"
"To expose your life foolishly!" interrupted Stephane, "I would
rather die. Curses upon me if ever by a caprice-- But away with
such a thought! And how long, if you please, will this happiness,
which you promise me, last? Some day, alas! retaking your liberty--"
"I have two, perhaps three years to pass here; it will even depend
upon me whether I stay longer or not. Whatever happens, be
assured, that before I leave this house, your destiny will have
changed. I have told you to believe in the seen; believe also in
"The unforeseen!" exclaimed Stephane, "I believe in it, since I
have seen it enter here by the window."
And suddenly carrying his hand to his heart, he closed his eyes,
became pale, and uttered a piteous moan. Gilbert sprang towards
him, but repulsing him gently:
"Fear nothing," said he; "joy has come, I feel it there, it burns
me. Let me enjoy a suffering so new and so sweet." He remained
some minutes with his eyes closed; then reopening them, and shaking
his beautiful head with its long curls, he said sportively:
"Sit down there quick, and teach me the deaf mute language."
"Impossible," replied Gilbert; "the hour for going has already
Stephane impatiently stamped his foot.
"Teach me at least the first two letters; if I don't know a and b,
I shall not be able to close my eyes to-night."
Gilbert, taking him by the arm, led him to the window, where,
drawing aside the curtain, he pointed out to him the stars already
paling and a vague whiteness which appeared at the horizon. Then
suddenly changing his tone, but still carried away by his impetuous
nature, which stamped upon all the movements of his mind the
character of passion, Stephane became much excited at the idea of
the dangers which his friend was about to brave.
"I will go with you," said he, "I want to know what risks you run
in coming here. To descend from the large roof to the small one,
you must have had a ladder. I want to see this ladder, I want to
assure myself that it is strong."
"Do not be afraid, I have attended to that."
"When I tell you that I wish to see it! I will believe only my own
eyes and hands. Where is this ladder? I positively must see it."
"And I forbid you to climb this window. Take my word, my rope
ladder is entirely new and very strong."
"Ah!" exclaimed Stephane, struck with a sudden idea. "I will bet
that you have fastened it to that great iron corbel, which
stretches its frightful beak up there at the angle of the wall.
And just now you were suspended in space on this treacherous
floating cord. Monstrous fool that I was not to understand it."
And to Gilbert's great astonishment, he added:
"You do not yet love me enough to have the right to run such
"Do be a little calmer," said Gilbert. "You displayed just now a
gentleness and wisdom which enchanted me. Take care; Ivan might
wake and come up."
"These walls are deafened, the flagging is thick; between this room
and the staircase there is an alcove, a vestibule, and two large
closed doors; and between the rail of this staircase and the cage
of my jailer, there is a long corridor. Besides, he is capable of
everything but rambling at night round my apartment; but what
matters it?--Let him come to surprise us, this hateful Ivan! I
will resign myself to everything rather than see you put your feet
upon that horrible ladder again. And take my word for it, if you
violate my injunction,--at that very moment before your eyes, I
will throw myself headlong down the precipice."
"You are extremely unreasonable," replied Gilbert, in a severe
tone; "I must leave here at any cost. Since my ladder displeases
you, instead of uttering a thousand follies, try rather to
Stephen struck his forehead.
"Here is my discovery," interrupted he; "opposite this window, on
the other side of the roof, there is another, which, if you can
only open it, will certainly let you into some empty lofts. Where
these lofts will take you I don't exactly know, for Ivan told me
once when he wanted to store some broken furniture there, that he
had not been able to find the entrance; but you will no doubt
discover some window near, by which you can get out upon the great
roof, half-way from your turret, and so you will be spared a great
deal of trouble and danger. Ah! if this proves so, how proud I
shall be of finding it out."
"Now you are as I like to see you," said Gilbert; "instead of
prancing like a badly-bitted horse, you are calm, and you reason."
"So to reward me you will permit me to accompany you."
"God forbid! and if you presume to go without my permission, I
swear to you that I will never come here again."
And as Stephane resisted and chafed, Gilbert took his head between
his hands, and drawing him to his breast, pressed a paternal kiss
on his forehead, just at the roots of his hair. This kiss produced
an extraordinary effect, which alarmed him; Stephane shuddered from
head to foot, and a cry escaped him.
"Awkward fellow that I am," said Gilbert in an uneasy tone; "I have
wounded you without intending it."
"No," murmured he, "it is of no consequence; but that was the place
where my mother used to kiss me. May the saints be with you. I
love you. Good-bye!"
And thus speaking he covered his face which was on fire, with both
Ah! if Gilbert had understood! But he divined nothing; he
descended to the roof, crossed it, and discovered as he groped
about, a window, all the panes of which were broken; which saved
him the trouble of opening it. When he found himself in the lofts,
he lighted the candle which he had taken the precaution to bring in
his pocket. The place which he had just entered was a wretched
garret, three or four feet wide. In front of him he noticed four
or five steps, ascended them, and opened an old door without any
fastening. This let him into a vast corridor, which had no visible
place of exit at the other end; it was infested by spiders and
rats, and encumbered with dilapidated old furniture. Gilbert
discovered, on raising his eyes, that he was in the mansard,
lighted by the great dormer window. The bolt which held the
shutter was so high up that he could not reach it with his hand.
An old rickety table stood in the corner, buried under a triple
coating of dust. Having reached the window by its aid, Gilbert
drew the bolt; he mounted upon the roof and, supporting himself by
one of the projecting timbers of the pediment, restored the shutter
to its embrasure and fastened it as well as he could; after which
he made his way once more towards the small roof; for, before
returning to his lodging, it was necessary at any cost to detach
and draw up the rope, an unimpeachable witness which would have
testified against him. While Gilbert was extended at length, fully
occupied in this delicate operation, Stephane, standing at his
window and trembling like a leaf, was tearing his handkerchief with
his beautiful teeth. The ladder withdrawn, Gilbert cried out to
"Your lofts are admirable. Hereafter, coming to see you will only
be a pleasure trip."
When he found himself again upon his balcony, dawn began to break,
and a screech owl, returning from his hunt after field mice, passed
before him and regained his hole. Gilbert waved his hand to this
nocturnal adventurer whose confrere he felt himself, and leaping
lightly into his room, was sleeping profoundly in five minutes. At
the same moment Stephane, raising his eyes to the holy images to
which he had given such terrible blows, exclaimed with a passionate
gesture: "Oh! St. George, St. Sergius, help me to keep my secret."
Yesterday evening I returned to Stephane by the dormer window and
the lofts; the journey took me but twenty minutes. There was a
slight wind, and I was glad to have nothing to do with the iron
corbel. Arriving at ten o'clock I returned half an hour after
midnight. On leaving the young man, I felt terrified and overjoyed
at the same time,--frightened at the impulsive ardor of his
temperament and at the efforts it will cost me to moderate his
impetuosity; but overjoyed, astonished at the quickness and grasp
of his mind, at his vivid imagination, and the truly Slavonian
flexibility of his naturally happy disposition. It is certain that
the sad and barren existence he has led for years would have
shattered the energies of a soul less finely tempered than his; the
vigor and elasticity of his temperament have saved him. But I
arrived just in time, for he confessed to me that the idea of
suicide had taken possession of him since that unlucky escapade
punished by fifteen hours' imprisonment.
"My first attempt was unfortunate," said he, "but I was resolved to
try again; I had sounded the ford; another time I should have
crossed the stream."
I hastened to turn the conversation, especially as he was not in
the humor to weary himself with such a gloomy subject. How happy
he appeared to see me again; how his joy expressed itself upon his
ingenuous face, and how speaking were his looks! We occupied
ourselves at first with the language of signs. Nothing escaped his
eager intellect; he complained only of my slow explanations.
"I understand, I understand," he would cry; "something else, my
dear sir, something else, I'm not a fool."
I certainly had no idea of such quickness of apprehension. "The
Slavonians learn quickly," said I, "and forget quickly too."
To prove the contrary, he answered me by signs:
"You are an impertinent fellow."
I was confounded. Then all at once:
"Extraordinary man," said, he, with a gravity which made me smile,
"tell me a little of your life."
"Extraordinary I am not at all," said I.
"And I affirm," answered he, "that humanity is composed of tyrants,
valets, and a single and only Gilbert."
"Nonsense! Gilberts are abundant."
"There is but one, there is but one," cried he, with a fire and
energy that enchanted me.
I must own I am not sorry that for the time being he looks upon me
as an exceptional being; for it is well to keep him a little in awe
of me. To satisfy him I gave him the history of my youth. This
time he reproached me for being too brief, and not going enough
As his questions were inexhaustible, I said: "After today do not
let us waste our time upon this subject. Besides, the top of the
basket shows the best that's in it."
"There may perhaps be something to hide from me?"
"No; but I will confess that I do not like to talk about myself too
much. I get tired of it very soon."
"What?" said he, in a tone of reproach, "are we not here to talk
endlessly about you, me, us?"
"Certainly, and our favorite occupation will be to entertain
ourselves with ourselves; but to render this pastime more
delightful, it will be well for us to occupy ourselves sometimes
with something else."
"With something else? With what?"
"With that which is not ourselves."
"And what do I care for anything which is neither you nor me?"
"But at all events you sometimes work, you read, you study?"
"At Martinique, Father Alexis gave me two or three hours of lessons
every day. He taught me history, geography, and among other stuff
of the same kind, the inconceivable merits and the superhuman
perfections of his eternal Panselinos. The dissertations of this
spiritual schoolmaster diverted me very little, as you may well
suppose, and I was furious that in spite of myself his tiresome
verbiage rooted itself in my memory, which is the most tenacious in
"And did he continue his instructions to you?"
"After our return to Europe, my father ordered him to teach me
nothing more but the catechism. He said it was the only study my
silly brain was fit for."
"So for three years you have passed your days in absolute
"Not at all; I have always been occupied from morning till night."
"In sitting down, in getting up, in sitting down again, in pacing
the length and breadth of my room, in gaping at the crows, in
counting the squares of these flagstones, and the tiles of the
little roof, in looking at the iron corbel and the water-spout on
top of it, in watching the clouds sailing through the empty air,
and then in lying down there in that recess of the wall, to rest
quiet, with my eyes closed, ruminating over the problem of my
destiny, asking myself what I could have done to God, that he
chastised me so cruelly, recalling my past sufferings, enjoying in
advance my sufferings to come, weeping and dreaming, dreaming and
weeping, until overcome with lassitude and exhaustion I ended by
falling asleep; or else, driven to desperation by weariness, I ran
down to Ivan's lodging, and there gave vent to my scorn, fury, and
despair, at the top of my lungs."
These words, pronounced in a tone breathing all the bitterness of
his soul, troubled me deeply. I trembled to think of this desolate
child, whose griefs were incessantly augmented by solitude and
idleness, of that soul defenselessly abandoned to its gloomy
reveries, of that poor heart maddened, and pouncing upon itself as
upon a prey; self-devouring, constantly reopening his wounds and
inflaming them, without work or study to divert him a single
instant from his monotonous torment. Oh! Count Kostia, how refined
is your hatred!
"I have an idea," I said at last. "You love flowers and painting.
Paint an herbarium."
"See this large paper. You will paint on it, in water colors, a
collection of all the flowers of this region, of all those, at
least, that you may find in your walks. If you don't know their
names, I will teach them to you, or we will seek for them
"Provided that books take no part in it."
"We will dispense with them as much as possible. I will muster up
all my knowledge to tell you the history of these pretty painted
flowers; I will tell you of their families; I will teach you how to
classify them; in short, will give you little by little, all I know
He made a hundred absurd objections,--among others, that he found
in all the flowers of the fields and the woods in this country a
creeping and servile air; then this, and then that, expressing
himself in a sharp but sportive tone.
"I shall teach you botany, my wild young colt," I said to myself,
"and not let you break loose."
I have not been able, however, to draw from him any positive
Victory! By persistent hammering I have succeeded in beating the
idea of the painted herbarium into this naughty, unruly head.
But he has imposed his conditions. He consents to paint only the
flowers that I will gather myself, and bring to him. After some
discussion I yielded the point.
"Ah!" said I, "take care to gather some yourself, for otherwise
Ivan . . ."
Sunday, July 15th.
This afternoon I took a long walk in the woods. I had succeeded in
gathering some labiates, the dead nettle, the pyramidal bell-flower
and the wild thyme, when in the midst of my occupation, I heard the
trot of a horse. It was he, a bunch of herbs and flowers in his
hand. Ivan, who according to his custom, followed him at a
distance of ten paces, regarded me some way off with an uneasy air;
he evidently feared that I would accost them; but having arrived
within a few steps of me, Stephane, turning his head, started his
horse at full gallop, and Ivan, as he passed, smiled upon me with
an expression of triumphant pity. Poor, simple Ivan, did you not
hear our souls speak to each other?
Yesterday I carried my labiates to him. After some desultory talk,
I endeavored to describe as best I could the characters of this
interesting family. He listened to me out of complaisance. In
time, he will listen to me out of curiosity, inasmuch as, to tell
the truth, I am not a tiresome master; but I dare not yet
interrogate him in a Socratic way. The SHORT LITTLE QUESTIONS
would make our hot-headed young man angry. The lesson finished, he
wished to commence his herbarium under my eyes. The honor of
precedence has been awarded to the wild thyme; its little white,
finely cut labias and the delicate appearance of the stem pleased
him, whilst he found the dead nettle and the bell flower extremely
common, and pronounced by him the word "extremely" is most
expressive. While he made pencil sketches, I told him three
stories, a fairy tale, an anecdote of Plutarch and some sketches of
the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He listened to the fairy tale
without uttering a word, and without a frown; but the other two
stories made him shake his head several times.
"Is what you are telling me really true?" said he. "Would you
wager your life upon it?" And when I came to speak of St. Francis
embracing the lepers--
"Oh! now you're exaggerating." Then speaking to St. George: "Upon
your conscience now, would you have done as much?"
He ended by becoming sportive and frolicsome. As he begged me to
sing him a little song, I hummed Cadet Roussel, which he did not
know; the "three hairs" made him laugh till the tears ran down his
cheeks, but he paid dearly for this excess of gayety. When I rose
to leave he was seized with a paroxysm of weeping, and I had much
trouble in consoling him. I repent having excited him so much. I
must humor his nerves, and never put him in that state of mind
which contrasts too strongly with the realities of his life. At
any cost I must prevent certain AWAKINGS.
I admire his conduct at the table. Seated opposite me, he never
appears to see me, whilst you, grave Gilbert, do not know at times
what to do with your eyes; but the other day he crossed the great
hall with such a quick and elastic step that the Count's attention
was drawn to him. I must caution him to be more discreet. I am
also uneasy because in our nocturnal tete-a-tetes he often raises
his voice, moves the furniture, and storms round the room; but he
assures me there is nothing to fear. The walls are thick, and the
foot of the staircase is separated from the corridor by a
projection of masonry which would intercept the sound. Then the
alcove, the vestibule, the two solid oak doors! These two doors
are never locked. Ivan, he told me, is far from suspecting
anything, and the only thing which could excite his distrust would
be excessive precaution.
"And besides," added he, "by the mercy of God he is beginning to
grow old, his mind is getting dull, and he is more credulous than
formerly. So I have easily persuaded him that I will never forgive
you, as long as I live, for the death of my dog. Then again, he is
growing hard of hearing, and sleeps like a top. Sometimes to
disturb his sleep, I amuse myself by imitating the bark of Vorace
but I have the trouble of my pains. The only sound which he never
fails to hear, is the ringing of my father's bell. I admit,
however, that if anyone presumed to touch his great ugly oak door,
he would wake up with a start. This is because his door is his
property, his object, his fixed idea: he has a way of looking at
it, which seems to say: 'you see this door? it is mine.' I
believe, that in his eyes there is nothing lovelier in the world
than a closed door. So he cherishes this horrible, this infamous
door: he smiles on it benignly, he counts its nails and covers them
"And you say that after nine o'clock he never comes up here?"
"Never, never. I should like to see him attempt it!" cried he,
raising his head with an indignant air.
"You see then, that he is a jailer capable of behaving handsomely.
I imagine that you do not like him much; but after all, in keeping
you under lock and key, he is only obeying orders."
"And I tell you he is happy in making me suffer. The wicked man
has done but one good action in his whole life,--that was in saving
you from the fury of Vorace. In consideration of this good action,
I no longer tell him what I think of him, but I think it none the
less, and it seems to me very singular that you should ask me to
"Excuse me, I do not ask you to love him, but to believe that, at
heart, he loves you."
At these words he became so furious, that I hastened to change the
"Don't you sometimes regret Vorace?"
"It was his duty to guard me against bugaboos, but I have had no
fear of them, since one of them has become my friend.
"I am superstitious, I believe in ghosts; but I defy them to
approach my bed hereafter."
He blushed and did not finish the sentence. Poor child! the
painful misery of his destiny, far from quenching his imagination,
has excited it to intoxication, and I am not surprised that he
shapes friendship to the romantic turn of his thoughts.
"You're mistaken," I said to him, "it is not my image, it is botany
which guards you against spirits. There is no better remedy for
foolish terrors than the study of nature."
"Always the pedant," he exclaimed, throwing his cap in my face.
Vladimir Paulitch appeared yesterday at the end of dinner. The
presence of this man occasions me an indefinable uneasiness. His
coldness freezes me, and then his dogmatic tone; his smile of
mocking politeness. He always knows in advance what you are going
to say to him, and listens to you out of politeness. This Vladimir
has the ironical intolerance characteristic of materialists. As to
his professional ability there can be no doubt. The Count has
entirely recovered; he is better than I have ever seen him. What
vigor, what activity of mind! What confounds me is, that in our
discussions, I come to see in him, in about the course of an hour,
only the historian, the superior mind, the scholar; I forget
entirely the man of the iron boots, the somnambulist, the
persecutor of my Stephane, and I yield myself unreservedly to the
charm of his conversation. Oh, men of letters! men of letters!
He said to me:
"I do not possess happiness yet; but it seems to me at moments,
that I see it, that I touch it."
To-day, Doctor Vladimir appeared again at dessert. He aimed a few
sarcasms at me; I suspect that I do not please him much. Will his
affection for the Count go so far as to make him jealous of the
esteem which he evinces for me? We talked philosophy. He exerted
himself to prove that everything is matter. I stung him to the
quick in representing to him that all his arguments were found in
d'Holbach. I endeavored to show him that matter itself is
spiritual, that even the stones believe in spirit. Instead of
answering, he beat about the bush. Otherwise, he spoke well, that
is to say, he expressed his gross ideas with ingenuity. What he
lacks most, is humor. He has something of the saturnine in his
mind; his ideas have a leaden tint. The Count, prompted by good
taste, saw that he held out too obstinately, without taking into
account that Kostia Petrovitch himself detests the absolute as much
in the negative as in the affirmative. He thanked me with a smile
when I said to the doctor, in order to put an end to the
"Sir, no one could display more mind in denying its existence;" and
the Count added, alluding to the doctor's meagerness of person:
"My dear Vladimir, if you deny the mind what will be left of you?"
Yesterday, to my great chagrin, I found him in tears.
"Let this inexorable father beat me," said he, "provided he tells
me his secret. I prefer bad treatment to his silence. When we
were at Martinique he had attacks of such violence that they made
my hair stand on end. I would gladly have sunk into the earth; I
trembled lest he should tear me in pieces; but he at least thought
about me. He looked at me; I existed for him, and in spite of my
terrors I felt less unhappy than now. Do not think it is my
captivity which grieves me most. At my age it is certainly very
hard and very humiliating to be kept out of sight and under lock
and key; but I should be very easily resigned to that if it were my
father who opened and closed the door. But alas! I am of so little
consequence in his eyes that he deputes the task of tyrannizing
over me to a serf. And then, during the brief moments when he
constrains himself to submit to my presence--what a severe aspect,
what threatening brows, what grim silence! Consider, too, the fact
that he has never entered this tower; no, has never had the
curiosity to know how my prison was made. Yet he cannot be
ignorant of the fact that I lodge above a precipice. He knows,
too, that once the idea of suicide took possession of me, and he
has not even thought of having this window barred."
"That is because he did not consider your attempt a serious one."
"Then how he despises me!"
I represented to him that his father was sick, that he was the
victim of a nervous disorder which deranges the most robust
organizations, that Doctor Vladimir guaranteed his cure, that once
recovered, his temper would change, and that then would be the
moment to besiege this citadel thus rendered more vulnerable.
"We must not, however, be precipitate," said I, "let us have
courage and patience."
I reasoned so well that he finally overcame his despondency. When
I see him yield to my reasoning, I have a strong impulse to embrace
him; but it is a pleasure I deny myself, as I know by experience
what it costs him. A moment afterwards, I don't know why, he spoke
to me of his sister who died at Martinique.
"Why did God take her from me?"
"Alas!" said I, "she could not have supported the life to which you
have been condemned."
"And why not, pray?"
"Because she would have suffered ten times as much as you. Think
of it,--the nerves and heart of a woman!"
He looked at me with a singular expression; apparently he could not
understand how anyone could suffer more than he. After this he
talked a long time about women, who are to him, from what he said,
an impenetrable mystery, and he repeated eagerly:
"You do not despise them, as HE does?"
"That would be impossible, I remember my mother."
"Is that your only reason?"
"Some day I will tell you the others."
As I left and was already nearly out of the window, he seized me
impetuously by the arm, saying to me:
"Could you swear to me that you would be less happy if you did not
"I swear it."
His face brightened, and his eyes flashed.
And you too are transformed, my dear Gilbert; you have visibly
rejuvenated. A new spirit has taken possession of you. Your blood
circulates more quickly; you carry your head more proudly, your
step is more elastic, there is more light in your eyes, more breath
in your lungs, and you feel a celestial leaven fermenting in your
heart. My old friend, you have emerged from your long uselessness
to give birth to a soul! Oh, glorious task! God bless mother and
Stephane is painfully astonished at the friendship which his father
displays towards me.
"He has the power of loving then, and does not love me? It is
because I am destestable!"
Poor innocent! It is certain that in spite of himself, the Count
has begun to like me. Good Father Alexis said to me the other
"You are a clever man, my son; you have cast a spell upon Kostia
Petrovitch, and he entertains an affection for you, which he has
never before manifested for anyone."
His painted herbarium is enriched every day. He already enumerates
twenty species and five families. Yesterday Stephane so far forgot
himself as to look at it with an air of satisfied pride. How happy
I was! I kept my joy to myself, however. He further delighted me
by deciding to write from memory at the bottom of each page the
French and Latin names for each plant. "It is a concession I have
made to the pedant," said he; but this did not prevent him from
being proud of having written these forty names without a mistake.
Last time I carried to him some crowsfeet and anemones. He took
the little celandine in his hand, crying:
"Let me have it; I am going to tell you the history of this little
And he then gave me all the characteristics with marvelous
accuracy. What a quick and luminous intellect, and what
overflowing humor! His hands trembled so much that I said to him:
"Keep cool, keep cool. It requires a firm and steady hand to raise
the veil of Isis."
I contented myself with explaining in a few words who Isis was,
which interested him but moderately. His masterpiece, as a
faithful reproduction of nature, is his marsh ranunculus, which I
had introduced to him under the Latin name of ranuncula scelerata.
He has so exquisitely represented these insignificant little yellow
flowers that it is impossible not to fall in love with them.
"This little prisoner has inspired me," said he. "By dint of
practicing Father Alexis, I begin to wish good to the rascals."
I rebuked him sharply, but he was not much affected by my rating.
The Count's conduct is atrocious, and yet I understand it. His
pride, his whole character, despotic; the horror of having been
deceived. . . . And besides, is he really Stephane's father? . . .
These two children born after six years of marriage, and a few
years later to discover. . . . Suspicions often have less
foundation. And then this fatal resemblance which keeps the image
of the faithless one constantly before his eyes! The more decided
the resemblance, the greater must be his hatred. Even his smile,
that strange smile which belongs to him alone, Stephane according
to Father Alexis, must have inherited from his mother. "I HAVE
BURIED THE SMILE!" Frightful cry which I can hear still! Finally,
I believe that in the barbarous hatred of this father there is more
of instinct than of system. It lives from day to day. I am sure
that Count Kostia has never asked himself: "What shall I do with my
son when he is twenty?"
Ivan, of whom I asked news of Stephane, said to me:
"Do not be uneasy about him any more. He has become much better
within the past month, and he grows more gentle from day to day;
this is the result of seeing death so near."
M. Leminof greatly astonished me this morning.
"My dear Gilbert," said he unreservedly, "I do not claim that I am
a perfect man; but I am certainly what might be called a good sort
of fellow, and I possess, in the bargain, a certain delicacy of
conscience which sometimes inconveniences me. Without flattery,
you are, my dear Gilbert, a man of great merit. Very well! I am
using you unjustly, for you are at an age when a man makes a name
and a career for himself; and these decisive years you are spending
in working for me, in collecting, like a journeyman, the materials
of a great work which will bring neither glory nor profit to you.
I have a proposition to make to you. Be my coadjutor; we will
compose this monumental work together; it shall appear under our
two names, and I give you my head upon it, shall make you famous.
We agree upon nearly all questions of fact, and as to our
difference in ideas. . . Mon Dieu! we are neither of us born
quibblers; we shall end in agreeing, and even supposing we do not
agree, I will give you carte blanche; for, to speak frankly, an
idea is not just the thing I should be ready to die for. What say
you to it, my dear Gilbert? We will not part until the task is
finished, and I fancy that we shall lead a happy life together."
In spite of his persuasions, I have not consented; he has only
drawn from me a promise that I will give him an answer within a
month. Stephane, Stephane, how awkward I shall be, if I do not
make this happy incident instrumental in accomplishing your
deliverance! The day will come when I can say to your father: For
the sake of your health, for the sake of your repose, of your
studies, of the work we have undertaken together, send this child
away from your house; his presence troubles and irritates you.
Send him to some school or college. By a single act you will make
two persons happy. Gracious Heaven, the stronghold will be hard to
take! But by dint of patience, skill and vigilance . . . have I
not already carried a fortress by storm--Stephane's heart? No, I
do not despair of success. But it will cost me dear, this success
that I hope for! To see him leave this house, to be separated from
him forever! At the very thought my heart bleeds.
Doctor Vladimir will leave us during the early part of next month.
I shall not be sorry. Decidedly this man does not please me. The
other day at the table, he looked at Stephane in a way that alarmed
The sky is propitious for my nocturnal excursions. Not a drop of
rain has fallen for six weeks. The north wind, which sometimes
blows violently in the daytime, abates regularly in the evening.
As to the vertigo, no return of it. Oh! the power of habit!
What a misfortune! Day before yesterday Stephane, in crossing a
vestibule in front of the great hall, impelled by some odd motive,
gave vent to a loud burst of laughter. The Count started from his
chair and his face became livid. To-day Soliman was sold. A horse
dealer is coming directly to take him away. Ivan, whom I just met,
had great tears in his eyes. Poor Stephane, what will he say?
It is very singular! Yesterday I expected to find him in a state
of despair. He was gay, smiling.
"I was sure," said he, "that I should pay dearly for that unlucky
burst of laughter.
"My father is mistaken; it was not a burst of gayety, but purely
nervous spasm which seized me while thinking of certain things, and
at a moment when I was not at all merry. However, besides life,
there were but two things left to take from me, my horse and my
hair, and thank God, he was not happily inspired in his choice, and
has not struck me in the most sensitive place."
"What! between Soliman and your hair."
"Isn't it beautiful?" said he quickly.
"Magnificent without any doubt!" I answered, smiling.
"I've always been a little vain of it," continued he, waving his
curls upon his shoulders; "but I value it more since I know it
"Oh! for that matter," I replied, "if you had your head shaved, I
should not love you any the less."
This answer, I don't know why, seemed to affect him deeply. During
the rest of the evening he was thoughtful and gloomy.
I thought it glorious to be able to communicate to him the
overtures which his father has made me, and the project they
suggested to me. I said to him:
"What a joy it would be to me to release you from this prison, and
yet with what bitter sadness this joy would be mingled! But
wherever you go, we will find some means of writing and of seeing
each other. The friendship between us is one of those bonds which
destiny cannot break."
"Oh, yes!" replied he in a sarcastic tone, "you will come to see me
once a year, upon my birthday, and will be careful to bring me a
He burst into a fit of laughter which much resembled that of the
How he made me suffer yesterday! I have not recovered from it yet.
What! was it he--was it to me? God! what bitterness of language;
what keen irony! Count Kostia, you make a mistake--this child is
really yours. He may have the features and smile of his mother,
but there is a little of your soul in his. What grievances can he
have against me? I can imagine but two. Sunday last, near three
o'clock, we were both at the window. He commenced a very animated
speech by signs, and prolonged it far beyond the prudential limits
which I have prescribed to him. He spoke, I believe, about
Soliman, and of a walk which he had refused to take with Ivan. I
did not pay close attention, for I was occupied in looking round to
see that no one was watching us. Suddenly I saw on the slope of
the hill big Fritz and the little goat girl, to whom he is paying
court, seated on a rock. At the moment I was about to answer
Stephane, they raised their eyes to me. I began then to look at
the landscape, and presently quitted the spot. Stephane could not
see them from his window, and of course did not understand the
cause of my retreat. The other grievance is, that for the first
time three days have passed without my paying him a visit; but day
before yesterday the wind was so violent that it overthrew a
chimney nearby, . . . and it was to punish me for such a grave
offense that he allowed himself to say that I was no doubt an
excellent botanist, an unparalleled philanthropist, but that I
understood nothing of the refinements of sentiment.
"You are one of those men," said he, "who carry the whole world in
their hearts. It is useless for you to deny it. I am sure you
have at least a hundred intimate friends."
"You are right," I replied; "it is even for the hundredth one that
I have risked my life."
During the last week, I have seen him three times. He has given me
no cause for complaint; he works, he reflects; his judgment is
forming, not a moment of ill-humor; he is calm, docile, and gentle
as a lamb. Yes, but it is this excess of gentleness which disturbs
me. There is something unnatural to me, in his condition, and I am
forced to regret the absence of those transports, and the
childishness of which I have endeavored to cure him. "Stephane,
you have become too unlike yourself. But a short time since, your
feet hardly touched the ground; lively, impetuous, and violent,
there came from your lips by turns flashes of merriment or of
anger, and in an instant you passed from enthusiasm to despair; but
in our recent interviews I could scarcely recognize you. No more
freaks of the rebellious child; no more of those familiarities
which I loved! Your glances, even, as they meet mine, seem less
assured; sometimes they wander over me doubtfully, and from the
surprise they express, I am inclined to believe that my figure must
have grown some cubits, and you can no longer take it in at a
glance. And then those sighs which escape you! Besides, you no
longer complain of anything; your existence seems to have become a
stranger to you. It must be that without my knowledge--" Ah!
unhappy child, I will know. You shall speak; you shall tell
me. . . .
Heavens! what a flood of light! Father Alexis, you did not tell me
all! The more I think of it. . . . Ah! Gilbert, what scales
covered your eyes! Yesterday I carried him that copy of the poem
of the Metamorphoses, which I had promised him. A few fragments
that I had repeated to him had inspired him with the desire of
reading the whole piece, not from the book, but copied in my hand.
We read it together, distich by distich. I translated, explained,
and commented. When we arrived at these verses: "May you only
remember how the tie which first united our souls was a germ from
which grew in time a sweet and charming intimacy, and soon
friendship revealed its power in our hearts, until love, coming
last, crowned it with flowers and with fruit--" At these words he
became agitated and trembled violently.
"Do not let us go any further," said he, pushing the paper away.
"That is poetry enough for this evening."
Then leaning upon the table, he opened and turned the leaves of his
herbarium; but his eyes and his thoughts were elsewhere. Suddenly
he rose, took a few steps in the room, and then returning to me:
"Do you think that friendship can change into love?"
"Goethe says so; we must believe it."
He took a flower from the table, looked at it a moment and dropping
it on the floor, he murmured, lowering his eyes:
"I am an ignoramus; tell me what is this love?"
"It is the folly of friendship."
"Have you ever been foolish?"
"No, and I do not imagine I ever shall be."
He remained motionless for a moment, his arms hanging listlessly;
at length, raising them slowly, he crossed his hands over his head,
one of his favorite attitudes, raised his eyes from the ground, and
looked steadily at me. Oh! what a strange expression! His wild
look, a sad and mysterious smile wandering over his lips, his mouth
which tried to speak, but to which speech refused to come! That
face has been constantly before me since last night; it pursues me,
possesses me, and even at this moment its image is stamped in the
paper I am writing on. This black velvet tunic, then, may be a
forced disguise? Yes, the character of Stephane, his mind, his
singularity of conduct,--all these things which astonished and
frightened me are now explained. Gilbert, Gilbert! what have you
done? into what abyss. . . And yet, perhaps I am mistaken, for how
can I believe-- There is the dinner bell. . . I shall see HIM
Some hours later, Gilbert entered Stephane's room, and struck by
his pallor and with the troubled expression of his voice, inquired
about him anxiously.
"I assure you I am very well," Stephane replied, mastering his
emotion. "Have you brought me any flowers?"
"No, I have had no time to go for them."
"That is to say, you have not had time to think of me."
"Oh! I beg your pardon! I can think of you while working, while
reading Greek, even while sleeping. And last night I saw you in my
dreams: you treated me as a pedant, and threw your cap in my face."
"That was a very extravagant dream."
"I am not so sure about that. It seems to me that one day--"
"Yes, one day, two centuries ago."
"Is it then so long since our acquaintance commenced?"
"Perhaps not two centuries, but nearly. As for me, I have already
lived three lives: my first I passed with my mother. The second--
let us not speak of that. The third began upon the night when, for
the first time, you climbed into this window. And that must have
been a long time ago, if I can judge of it by all which has passed
since then, in my soul, in my imagination, and in my mind. Is it
possible that these two centuries have only been two months? How
can it be that such great changes have been wrought in me, in so
short a time, for they are so marvelous that I can hardly recognize
"One of these changes, of which I am proud, is that you no longer
throw your cap at my head."
"That was a liberty I took only with the pedant."
"And are you at last reconciled to him?"
"I have discovered that the pedant does not exist. There is a hero
and a philosopher in you."
"That is a discovery I did not expect from you, and one that
astonishes as much as it flatters me."
"When I tell you that I am changed throughout, and that I no longer
"And I, in spite of your transformation, recognize you very easily.
My dear Stephane has preserved his habit of exaggerating all his
impressions. Once I was a man who ought to be smothered; now I am
an extraordinary being who passes his life in executing heroic
projects. No, my poet, I am neither a scoundrel nor a knight
errant, and the best that can be said of me is that I am not a
blockhead, that I do not lack heart, and that I run over the roofs
with remarkable agility."
"No, I exaggerate nothing," he said. "I speak of things as they
are, and the proof that you are an extraordinary man is, that in
all you do, you appear perfectly simple and natural."
And as Gilbert shrugged his shoulders and smiled:
"Ah! you need not laugh!" he continued. "Feel my pulse, you will
see I have no fever. And have you not noticed how calm I have been
for several days?"
I confess that your quietness surprises me; but is it really a
calm? I suspect that you have only covered the brazier, and that
the fire smoulders under the ashes."
"And you stir up the ashes to draw out the sparks. As you please,
but I forewarn you, that you will not succeed, and that I shall
remain insensible to all your efforts."
"So for a week, you have felt more tranquil in heart and mind?"
"Yes, and I have a good reason for it. There was a great fomenter
of seditions in me, a great stirrer up of rebellion. It was my
Stephane hid his face in his hands; then after a long silence:
"No," said he, "I have not the courage to speak yet. Besides,
before making my revelation, which you will perhaps consider
extravagant, I want to prove to you more thoroughly that my senses
have been restored, and that I have become wise in your school.
Know then, that before I became acquainted with you, religion was
in my eyes, but a coarse magic in which I believed with passionate
irrationality. I considered prayer as a kind of sorcery, and
attributed to it the power of compelling the divine will; every day
I called upon Heaven to perform a miracle in my favor, and, finding
myself refused, my ungranted prayers fell back like lead upon my
heart. Then I rebelled against the celestial intelligences which
refused to yield to my enchantments, or else I sought in anguish to
ascertain to what error in form, to what neglected precaution, to
what sin of omission I could attribute the impotence of my
operations in magic and my formulas.
"And now am I nothing but a charmed dreamer, a half-crazy child, a
sick brain feeding on crochets, an incorrigible, wrong-headed
fellow? No, you admit that I have profited by your lessons; that a
grain of wisdom has fallen into my brain, and that without having
seen the bottom of things, I have at least lucid intervals. If
this be so, my Gilbert, believe what I am going to say as you would
the Holy Bible. You have worked with all your strength to cure my
soul, and there is not a more skillful physician in the world than
you. But all of your trouble would have been lost, if you had not
had by your side an all-powerful ally, whom you don't know, and
whom I am about to reveal to you. Ah! tell me, when you came into
this room the first time, did you not feel that a celestial spirit
followed in your track and entered with you? You went, he
remained, and has not left me, and never will. Look, do not these
walls speak of him? Do not these saints move their lips to murmur
his name to you? And the air we breathe here, is it not full of
those delicious perfumes which these envoys of Heaven scatter in
their earthward journeys? How strange this spirit appeared to me
at first! His face was all unknown to me, it had never appeared to
me in my dreams. Startled and bewildered, I said to him: Who then
art thou? What is thy name? And, one day, Gilbert, one day, it
was through your mouth that he answered me. Gilbert, Gilbert, oh!
what a singular company you have introduced to me in his person.
Sometimes he seated himself near me, pale, melancholy, clothed in
mourning, and breathed into my heart a venomous bitterness, such as
I had never dreamed of. And feeling myself seized with an
inexpressible desire to die; I cried out 'I know you, you must be
the brother of death!' But all at once transforming himself, he
appeared to me holding a fool's cap in his hand. He shook the
bells and sang to me songs which filled my ears with feverish
murmurings. My head turned, smoke floated before me, my dazzled
eyes were intoxicated with visions, and it seemed to me, poor
child, nourished with gall and tears, that life was an eternal
fete, upon which Heaven looked down smiling. Then I said to the
spirit: 'Now I know you better, you are the brother of folly.' But
he changed himself again, and suddenly I saw him standing erect
before me folded in the long white wings of the seraphim; at once
serious and gentle, divine reason shone in his deep eyes and the
serenity on his brow announced an inhabitant of Heaven. In these
moments, my Gilbert, his voice was more penetrating and more
persuasive than yours; he repeated your words and gave me strength
to believe in them; he engraved your lessons on my mind; he
instilled your wisdom into my folly, your soul in my soul; and know
that if the lily has drunk the juices of the earth, if the lily has
grown, if the lily should blossom one day, it shall not be from the
impotent sun rays which you brought to me in your breast, to which
thanks must be rendered; but to him, the celestial spirit, to him
who lighted in my heart a divine flame with which, may it please
God that yours too may be illuminated!" And rising at these words,
he almost gasped: "Have I said enough? Do you understand me at
"No!" answered Gilbert resolutely, "I do not understand this
celestial spirit at all."
Stephane writhed his arms.
"Cruel! you do not wish then to divine anything!" murmured he
distractedly. And going to the window, he stood some moments
leaning against it. When he turned towards Gilbert, his eyes were
wet with tears; but by one of those rapid changes which were
familiar to him, he had a smile upon his lips, "What I dare not say
to you, I have just now written," resumed he, drawing a letter from
"It was a last resort which I hoped you would not force me to call
to my aid. Oh! hard heart! to what humiliations have you not
abased my pride!" He presented the letter, but changing his mind,
"I wish to add a few words to it."
And ran and seated himself at the table. His pen had fallen on the
floor, and not being able to find it, he quickly sharpened a pencil
with a keen-edged poniard which he drew from the depths of a
"What a singular penknife you have there," said Gilbert,
"It is a Russian stiletto of Toula manufacture. It belongs to
Ivan, he lent it to me day before yesterday, when we were out
walking, to uproot a plant with. He has forgotten to take it
"You will oblige me by returning it to him," answered Gilbert; "it
is a plaything I don't like to see in your hands."
Stephane gave a sign of assent, and bent over the paper. The
letter which he had written was as follows:
"My Gilbert, listen to a story. I was eleven years old when MY
BROTHER STEPHANE died. Scarcely was he buried when my father
called me to him. He held in his hand a suit of clothes like these
I wear now, and he said to me: 'Stephane, understand me clearly.
It was my daughter that just died, my son lives still.' And as I
persisted in not understanding him, he had a coffin brought in,
placed on a table and he laid me in it; and closing the cover by
degrees, he said, 'My daughter, are you dead?' When it was
entirely closed, I decided to speak, and I cried out, 'Father, your