Part 4 out of 7
daughter is dead. It shall be as you desire.' Then he drew me out
of the coffin half dead with fear and horror, and exclaimed,
'Stephane, remember that my daughter is dead. Should you ever
happen to forget it' . . . He said no more, but his eyes finished
the sentence. Gilbert, at this moment the daughter of my father
comes back to life to tell you that she loves you with an
unconquerable love which she can no longer conceal. In my
simplicity, I thought at first that I loved you as you loved me;
but you yourself have taken care to undeceive me. One day you
spoke of our approaching separation, and you said to me: 'We shall
see each other sometimes!' And you did not hear the cry of my
heart which answered you; to pass a day without seeing you! What a
"When I had fairly comprehended that your friendship was a
devotion, a virtue, a wisdom, and that mine was a folly, then the
daughter of my father thought of dying, so bitter were the torments
which her rebellious pride inflicted upon her. Ah! what would I
not have given, my Gilbert, if divining who I was, you had fallen
at my feet crying: 'I too know how to love madly!'
"But no; you have understood nothing, suspected nothing. My hair,
the resemblance to my mother imprinted on my face, the smile, which
they tell me, passed from her lips to mine. . . . Oh! blindest of
men! how I have hated you at moments! But it does not really seem
that a fatality pursues me? That hand with its iron grip fastened
on my shoulder, and forcing me to prostrate myself before you, I
feel no longer, with its nails pressing into my flesh; and yet my
knees, trembling, powerless, bend under me, and again you see me
fall at your feet. Yes, my poor pride is dead indeed. The thunder
growled when it gave up its last breath. You remember that stormy
night. Glued at the window pane, I tried to pierce the darkness
with my eyes, to discern you in the midst of the tempest. All at
once the heavens were ablaze, and I saw you standing upon the ledge
of your window, bending proudly over the abyss, at which you seemed
to hurl defiance. Enveloped in flashing light, you appeared to me
like a blissful spirit, and I exclaimed to myself: 'This is one of
the elect of God! I can ask of him without shame for indulgence
and mercy!' And now, my Gilbert, do not presume to tell me that my
love is a malady, which needs only careful attention. Oh, God! all
that would be useless; the saints themselves have refused to cure
me. Do not try to terrify me, either, or speak to me of
insurmountable obstacles to our union; of dangers which threaten
us. The future! We will talk of that hereafter. Now, I want to
know but one thing; that is, if you are capable of loving me as I
love you? Friend, if hatred can change to love, would it be
impossible for friendship? . . . Gilbert, Gilbert, forget what the
refined barbarity of my father has made of me; forget my gusts of
passion, my violence, the unruliness of a badly educated child;
forget the vehemence of my language, the rudeness of my actions;
forget the fountain; my whip raised to you; forget those young
villagers I compelled to kiss my feet; forget even the cap which I
threw in your face, for, Heaven is my witness, I feel a woman's
heart awakened in my bosom; it shakes off its long sleep, it stirs,
it sighs, it speaks, and the first name it utters, the only one it
ever wants to know, is yours! . . .
"What more shall I say? I would like to appear to you in your
dreams decked as if for a fete: clothed in white, a smile upon my
lips, pearls about my neck, around my head the flowers you love--
white anemones and blue gentians. Only take care, some of the
henbane flowers have slipped into my crown. Tear them from my hair
yourself, lest their perfume instill a deadly poison into my heart.
But no, I do not wish to frighten you. Stephane is wise; she is
reasonable; she does not ask the impossible; she gives you time to
breathe; to recover yourself. Wait, if you wish it, a week, a
fortnight, a month, before coming here again; until that blessed
day dawns when you can say with your adored poet; 'In its turn,
friendship revealed its power to my heart, and at length love,
coming last, crowned it with flowers and fruit.'"
To this letter Stephane added these words: "And if that day,
Gilbert, if that day should never come--"
But here she hesitated; her hand trembled; she looked alternately
at Gilbert and the knife; then rising--
"I do not know how to finish my letter," she said. "You can easily
supply what is lacking. But you must not read it here; carry it to
your turret; you will meditate upon it there more at leisure."
And at these words, having returned the paper to him, she burst
into a fit of laughter.
"Again that same laugh, which I detest," said Gilbert, trying to
hide the anguish which was consuming him.
"Do you want to know what it means?" said the young girl, looking
him in the face. "When we were at Baden-Baden, three years ago,
Father Alexis had a fancy to take me to a gambling house, and in
entering I heard a burst of laughter much resembling those which
shock you so. 'Who is laughing in that way?' said I to the good
father. He found on inquiring that it was a man who had just
gained enormous sums, and who was preparing to play double or
"Double or quits!" added she; "to play double or quits! If I
All at once her eyes dilated, and shot fire; she turned her head
backward, and raising her arm towards Gilbert, she exclaimed:
"You know who I am, and you have condemned me in your heart. Ah!
think twice; you have my life in your hands." And recoiling a few
steps she suddenly turned, fled across the room, threw open a small
side-door, and disappeared.
How did Gilbert manage to reach his turret?
All he knows himself is, that on coming out of the dormer window,
beside himself, forgetting all idea of danger, he committed, for
the first time, the signal imprudence of walking erectly over the
roof, which ordinarily he found difficult to cross even in
crawling; seeing and hearing nothing, entirely absorbed in a single
thought, he started forward at a quick pace. From his gait and
carriage, the moon, which shone brightly in the sky, must have
taken him for a madman, or a somnambulist. He reached the end of
the roof, when a broken slate slipped under his feet. He lost his
balance, fell heavily, and it would have been all over with him,
if, in falling, his hand had not by a miracle encountered the
trailing end of his ladder, by which he had strength enough to hold
himself. Slates are brittle, and when hurled against a hard
substance break in a thousand pieces. The one which Gilbert had
just precipitated into space met a point of rock which scattered it
into fragments, one of which struck, without wounding, the hand of
a man who happened to be rambling on the border of the ravine.
As fate would have it, this evening M. Leminof had an important
letter to forward by the mail; and near nine o'clock, contrary to
all the usages and customs of his house, he had sent Fritz to a
large town about a league distant, where the courier passed during
the night. Unluckily, upon his return, Fritz saw a light shining
in the cottage of his Dulcinea. Appetite, the opportunity, some
devil also urging him, he left the road, walked straight to the
cabin, opened the door, which was only closed by a latch, entered
with stealthy tread, and surprised his beauty seated upon a stool
and mending her linen. He drew near her, said gallant things to
her, and soon began to take liberties. The damsel, frolicsome and
forward, instead of awakening her father, who slept in the
neighboring room, rushed to the door, darted out and gained upon a
run the serpentine path which ran along the edge of the ravine. A
hundred times more active than Fritz, she kept in advance of him;
then halted, called him, and the moment when he thought he was
going to seize her, she escaped and ran on faster. She continued
this game until becoming weary she hid herself behind a bush, and
laughing in her sleeve, saw the amorous giant pass her, continue to
ascend, reeking with sweat, slipping frequently, and constantly
fearing he would fall down the precipice. At length, by dint of
scrambling, he arrived at the place where the path ended at the
perpendicular fall of the precipice, a height of forty feet. By
what means had his fantastic princess scaled this wall? All at
once he heard a silvery voice which called him below. In his rage
he struck his forehead with his fist; but at the moment he was
about to descend, a singular noise struck his ear--a piece of slate
grazed his hand and drew from him an exclamation of surprise.
Raising his head quickly, and favored by the light of the moon, he
saw upon his right a shadow suspended in the air. It mounted,
stopped upon the ledge of a window, stooped down and soon
"Oh! oh!" said he, much astonished, "here's something odd!
Monsieur secretary goes out at night, then, to make the rounds of
the roofs? And for this we have provided ourselves with rope
ladders. I am much mistaken if his Excellency, the Count, will
relish this little amusement. Peste, the jolly fellow has a good
foot and a good eye. There must be a great deal to gain to risk
his skin this way. Faith! these demure faces are not to be
The great Fritz was so stupefied with his discovery that he seated
himself a moment upon a stone to collect his thoughts. The fine
idea which his thick skull brought forth was that the secretary
belonged to the illustrious brotherhood of ambidexters, and that
his nocturnal circuits had for their object the search for hidden
treasure. Proud of his sagacity, and delighted with the
opportunity to satisfy his resentment, he descended the path, not
without trouble, and deaf to the voice and the laughter of his
enchantress, who challenged him to new trials, he regained the road
and strode on to the castle.
"Oh! then, Mr. Secretary," said the knave to himself with a wicked
smile, "you threw me down a staircase, and thought you'd get me
turned out of doors. What will you say if I make you go out by the
The next day--it was the second Sunday of September--Gilbert went
out at about ten o'clock in the morning, and directed his steps to
a wild and solitary retreat. It was a narrow glade upon the
borders of a little pond dried up by the summer heat, near which he
had often gathered plants for Stephane. Among groups of trees
which straggled up on all sides, under a patch of blue sky, a
ground of blackish clay, cracked and creviced, herbage, dried
rushes; here and there some patches of stagnant water, the surface
of which was rippled by the gambols of the aquatic spider; further
on a large tuft of long-plumed reeds, which shivered at the least
breath and rocked upon their trembling stems drowsy red butterflies
and pensive dragonflies; upon the steep banks of the pond, sad
flowers, pond weed, the marsh clover, the sand plantain; in a
corner, a willow with roots laid bare, which hung over the
exhausted pool as if looking for its lost reflection; around about,
nettles, briars, dry heather, furze, stripped of its blossoms; that
damp and heavy atmosphere which is natural to humid places; the
light of day thinly veiled by the exhalations from the earth; an
odor of decaying plants, long silence interrupted by dull sounds;
an air of abandonment, of idleness, of lassitude, the melancholy
languor of a life departing regretfully; the recollection of
something which was, and will never reappear, never! Such was the
word which this wild solitude murmured to Gilbert's ear. Never!
repeated he to himself, and his heart was oppressed by a sense of
the irretrievable. He seated himself upon the sward, a few steps
from the willow, his elbows upon his knees, and his head in his
hands, and lost himself in long and painful meditation. I shall
tell all; he felt at intervals in the depths of his being, in the
very depths, the agitation of a secret joy which he dared not
confess to himself; but it was a passing movement of his soul which
he did not succeed in defining in the midst of the whirlwind which
shook him. And then, in such a moment, he thought but little of
asking himself what he could or could not feel. His mind was
elsewhere. Sometimes he sought to picture to himself all the
successive phases of this unhappy existence, of which, henceforth,
he held the key; sometimes he felt a tender admiration for the
energy and elasticity of this young soul which unparalleled
misfortunes had not been able to crush. And now to abandon him, to
break such close and sweet ties, was it not to condemn him to
despair, to deliver him up a victim to the violence of his passions
rendered more violent by unhappiness? Ought he not at least to
attempt to draw from his impulsive heart this fatal arrow, this
baleful love which to his eyes was a danger, an extravagance, a
calamity? And from reflection to reflection, from anxiety to
anxiety, he always returned to deplore his own blindness. The
eccentricities of Stephane's conduct, certain salient points in his
character, the passionate ABANDON of his language; his face, his
hair, his glances, the charm of his smile; how was it that so many
of his indications had escaped him? And this want of penetration
which resulted from the rather unromantic character of his mind, he
attributed to bluntness of sensibility and charged himself with it
as a crime. He was profoundly absorbed in his reverie when the cry
of a raven aroused him. He opened his eyes, and when he had lost
sight of the croaking bird, which crossed the glade in rapid
flight, he looked for a moment at a handsome variegated butterfly
which fluttered about the willow; then noticing in the grass,
within reach of his hand, a pretty little marsh flower, he drew it
carefully from the soil with its root and set about its examination
with an attentive eye. He admired the purple tint of its pistil
and the gold of its stamens, which contrasted charmingly with the
brilliant whiteness of the petals, and said unconsciously: "There
is a lovely flower which I have not yet shown to my Stephane: I
must carry it to him."
But instantly recollecting himself, and throwing away the innocent
flower spitefully, he exclaimed:
"Oh, fortune, what singular games you play!"
"Yes, fortune is singular!" answered a voice which was not unknown
to him; and before he had time to turn, Dr. Vladimir was seated
Vladimir Paulitch had employed his morning well. Scarcely out of
bed, he had given a private audience to Fritz, who, not daring to
address his master directly, for his frowns always made him
tremble, had come to ask the doctor to receive his revelations and
obligingly transmit them to his Excellency. When in an excited and
mysterious tone he had disclosed his important secret:
"There is nothing astonishing in that," replied Vladimir coldly.
"This young man is a somnambulist, and the conclusion of your
little story is, that his window must be barred. I will speak to
Count Kostia about it."
Upon which Fritz slunk away discomfited and much confused at the
turn the adventure had taken.
After his departure, Vladimir Paulitch concluded to take a walk
upon the grassy hillock, and on his way said to himself: "Have my
suspicions, then, been well founded?"
He had passed an hour among the rocks, studying the spot, examining
the aspect of the castle from this side, and particularly the
irregularities of the roof. As his eyes rested on the square tower
which Stephane occupied, he saw him appear at the window, and
remain there some minutes, his eyes fixed upon Gilbert's turret.
"Aha! Now we see how matters stand!" said he, "but to risk his
head in this way, our idealist must be desperately in love. And
he'll carry it through! We must find him and have a little chat."
In reascending to the castle, Vladimir had seen Gilbert turn into
the woods, and without being perceived, had followed him at a
"Yes, fortune is singular!" repeated he, "and we must resist it
boldly and brave it resolutely, or submit humbly to its caprices
and die. This is but reasonable; half measures are expedients of
fools. As for me, I have always been the partisan of sequere Deum,
which I interpret thus: 'Take luck for your guide, and walk on
And as Gilbert made no answer, he continued:
"May I presume to ask you what caused you to say, just now, that
fortune plays us odd tricks?"
"I was thinking," replied Gilbert, tranquilly, "of the emperor,
Constantine the Great, who you know--"
"Ah! that is too much," interrupted Vladimir. "What! on a
beautiful morning, in the midst of the woods, before a little
dried-up pond, which is not without its poetry, seated in the grass
with a pretty white flower in your hand--the emperor, Constantine,
the subject of your meditations? As for me, I have not such a
well-balanced head, and I will confess to you that just now, in
rambling among the thickets, I was entirely occupied with the
singular games of my own destiny, and what is more singular still,
I felt the necessity of relating them to someone."
"You surprise me," replied Gilbert; "I did not think you so
"And who of us," resumed Vladimir, "never contradicts his own
character? In Russia the duties of my position oblige me to be
reserved, secret, enveloped in mystery from head to foot, a great
pontiff of science, speaking but in brief sentences and in an
oracular tone; but here I am not obliged to play my role, and by a
natural reaction, finding myself alone in the woods with a man of
sense and heart, my tongue unloosens like a magpie's. Let us see;
if I tell you my history do you promise to be discreet?"
"Undoubtedly. But if you must have a confidant, how happens it
that intimate as you are with Count Kostia--"
"Ah, precisely! when you know my history you will understand for
what reason in my interviews with Kostia Petrovitch I speak often
of him, but rarely of myself."
And at these words Vladimir Paulitch turned up his sleeves, and
showing his wrists to Gilbert; "Look!" he said. "Do you see any
mark, any scar?"
"No, I cannot detect any."
"That is strange. For forty years, however, I have worn handcuffs,
for such as you see me--I, Vladimir Paulitch; I, one of the first
physicians of Russia; I, the learned physiologist, I am the refuse
of the earth, I am Ivan's equal; in a word, I am a serf!"
"You a serf!" exclaimed Gilbert, astonished.
"You should not be so greatly surprised; such things are common in
Russia," said Vladimir Paulitch, with a faint smile. "Yes, sir,"
he resumed, "I am one of Count Kostia's serfs, and you may imagine
whether or not I am grateful to him for having had the goodness to
fashion from the humble clay of which nature had formed one of his
moujiks, the glorious statue of Doctor Vladimir Paulitch. However,
of all the favors he has heaped upon me the one which troubles me
most is, that, thanks to his discretion, there were but two men in
the world, himself and myself, who knew me for what I am. Now
there are three.
"My parents," continued he, "were Ukraine peasants, and my first
profession was taking care of sheep; but I was a born physician.
The sick, whether men or sheep, were to my mind the most
interesting of spectacles. I procured some books, acquired a
slight knowledge of anatomy and chemistry, and by turns I
dissected, and hunted for simples, the virtues of which I tried
with indefatigable ardor. Poor, lacking all resources, brought up
from infancy in foolish superstitions, from which I had the trouble
in emancipating myself; living in the midst of coarse, ignorant men
degraded by slavery, nothing could repulse me or discourage me. I
felt myself born to decipher the great book of nature, and to wring
from it her secrets. I had the good fortune to discover some
specifics against the rot and tag sore. That rendered me famous
within a circuit of three leagues. After quadrupeds, I tried my
hand on bipeds. I effected several happy cures, and people came
from all parts to consult me. Proud as Artaban, the little
shepherd, seated beneath the shade of a tree, uttered his
infallible oracles, and they were believed all the more implicitly,
as nature had given to his eyes that veiled and impenetrable
expression calculated to impose upon fools. The land to which I
belonged was owned by a venerable relative of Count Kostia. At her
death she left her property to him. He came to see his new domain;
heard of me, had me brought into his presence, questioned me, and
was struck with my natural gifts and precocious genius. He had
already proposed to found a hospital in one of his villages where
he resided during the summer, and it occurred to him that he could
some day make me useful there. I went with him to Moscow.
Concealing my position from everyone, he had me instructed with the
greatest care. Masters, books, money, I had in profusion. So
great was my happiness that I hardly dare to believe in it, and I
was sometimes obliged to bite my finger to assure myself that I was
not in a dream. When I reached the age of twenty, Kostia
Petrovitch made me enter the school of medicine, and some years
later I directed his hospital and a private asylum which he founded
by my advice. My talents and success soon made me known. I was
spoken of at Moscow, and was called there upon consultations. Thus
I was in a fair way to make a fortune, and what gratified me still
more, I was sought after, feted, courted, fawned upon. The little
shepherd, the moujik, had become King and more than King, for a
successful physician is adored as a god by his patients; and I do
not believe that a pretty woman gratifies her lovers with half the
smiles which she lavishes freely upon the magician upon whom depend
her life and her youth. At this time, sir, I was still religious.
Imagine the place Count Kostia held in my prayers, and with what
fervor I implored for him the intercession of the saints and of the
blessed Mary. Prosperity, nevertheless, has this much of evil in
it; it makes a man forget his former self.
"Intoxicated with my glory and success, I forgot too soon my youth
and my sheep, and this forgetfulness ruined me. I was called to
attend a cavalry officer retired from service. He had a daughter
named Pauline; she was beautiful and charming. I thought myself
insensible to love, but I had hardly seen her before I conceived a
violent passion for her. Bear in mind that I had lived until that
time as pure as an ascetic monk; science had been my adored and
lofty mistress. When passion fires a chaste heart, it becomes a
fury there. I loved Pauline with frenzy, with idolatry. One day
she gave me to understand that my folly did not displease her. I
declared myself to her father, obtained his consent, and felt as if
I should die of happiness. The next day I sought Count Kostia, and
telling him my story, supplicated him to emancipate me. He
laughed, and declared such an extravagant idea was unworthy of me.
Marriage was not what I required. A wife, children, useless
encumbrances in my life! Petty delights and domestic cares would
extinguish the fire of my genius, would kill in me the spirit of
research and vigor of thought. Besides, was my passion serious?
From what he knew of my disposition, I was incapable of loving. It
was a fantastic trick which my imagination had played me. Only
remain a week without seeing Pauline, and I would be cured. My
only answer was to throw myself at his feet. I glued my mouth to
his hands, watered his knees with my tears, and kissed the ground
before him. He laughed throughout, and asked me with a sneer, if
to possess Pauline it were necessary to marry her. My love was an
adoration. At these insulting words anger took possession of me.
I poured forth imprecations and threats. Presently, however,
recovering myself, I begged him to forgive my transports, and
resuming the language of servile humility, I endeavored to soften
that heart of bronze with my tears. Trouble lost; he remained
inflexible. I rolled upon the floor and tore my hair; and he still
laughed-- That must have been a curious scene. Recollect that at
this epoch I was quite recherche in my costume. I had an
embroidered frill and very fine ruffles of point d'Alencon. I wore
rings on every finger, and my coat was of the latest style and of
elegant cut. Fancy, also, that my deportment, my gait, my air
breathed of pride and arrogance. Parvenus try it in vain, they
always betray themselves. I had a high tone, an overbearing
manner. I enveloped myself in mysterious darkness, which obscured
at times the brightness of my genius, and as I had accomplished
several extraordinary cures, strongly resembling miracles, or
tricks of sorcery, my airs of an inspired priest did not seem out
of place, and I had devotees who encouraged these licenses of my
pride by the excess of their humility. And then, behold, suddenly,
this man of importance, this miraculous personage, flat upon his
face, imploring the mercy of an inexorable master, writhing like a
worm of the earth under the foot which crushed his heart! At last
Kostia Petrovitch lost patience, seized me in his powerful hands,
set me upon my feet, and pushing me violently against the wall,
cried in a voice of thunder, 'Vladimir Paulitch, spare me your
effeminate contortions, and remember who I am and who you are. One
day I saw an ugly piece of charcoal in the road. I picked it up at
the risk of soiling my fingers, and, as I am something of a
chemist, I put it in my crucible and converted it into a diamond.
But just as I have set my jewel, and am about to wear it on my
finger, you ask me to give it up! Ah! my son, I do not know what
keeps me from sending you back to your sheep. Go, make an effort
to conquer your passion; be reasonable, be yourself again. Wait
until my death, my will shall emancipate you; but until then, even
at the risk of your displeasure, you shall be my THING, my
PROPERTY. Take care you do not forget it, or I will shatter you in
pieces like this glass;' and, seizing a phial from the table, he
threw it against the wall, where it broke in fragments.
"Sir, Count Kostia displayed a little too much energy at the time,
but at bottom he was right. Was it just that he should lose all
the fruits of his trouble? Think what a gratification it was to
his pride, to be able to say to himself, 'The great doctor, so
feted, so admired, is my thing and my property.' His words were
true; he wore me as a ring upon his finger. And then he foresaw
the future. For two consecutive years it has only been necessary
for him to move the end of his forefinger, to make me run from the
heart of Russia to soothe his poor tormented nerves. You know how
the heart of man is made. If he had had the imprudence to
emancipate me, I should have come last year out of gratitude; but
While Vladimir spoke, Gilbert thought to himself, "This man is
truly the compatriot of Count Leminof."
And then recalling the amiable and generous Muscovite with whom he
had once been intimate, he justly concluded that Russia is large,
and that nature, taking pleasure in contrasts, produces in that
great country alternately the hardest and the most tender souls in
"One word more," continued Vladimir: "Count Kostia was right; but
unfortunately passion will not listen to reason. I left him with
death in my heart, but firmly resolved to cope with him and to
carry my point. You see that upon this occasion I observed but
poorly the great maxim, Sequere fatum. I flattered myself I should
be able to stem the current. Vain illusion!--but without it would
one be in love? Pauline lived in a small town at about two leagues
from our village. Whenever I had leisure, I mounted a horse and
flew to her. The third day after the terrible scene, I took a
drive with this amiable girl and her father. As we were about to
leave the village, I was seized with a sudden trembling at the
sight of Count Kostia on the footpath, holding his gold-headed cane
under his arm and making his way quietly toward us. He recognized
us, smiled agreeably, and signed to the coachman to stop and to me
"Plague upon the thoughtless fellow! whip up, coachman!" cried
But I had already opened the door.
"Excuse me," said I, "I will be with you in a moment." And while
saying these words I was so pale that she became pale, too, as if
assailed by a dark presentiment. Kostia Petrovitch did not detain
me long. After saluting me with ceremonious politeness, he said in
a bantering tone:
"Vladimir, faith she is really charming. But I am sorry to say
that if your engagement is not broken off before this evening, to-
morrow this pretty girl will learn from me who you are."
After which, saluting me again, he walked away humming an aria.
"Money, sir, had always appeared to me so small a thing compared
with science and glory; and besides, my love for Pauline was so
free from alloy, that I had never conceived the idea of informing
myself in regard to her fortune, or the dowry which she might bring
to me. That evening, as we took tea together in the parlor of my
expected father-in-law, I contrived to bring up this important
question for consideration, and expressed views of such a selfish
character, and displayed such a sordid cupidity, that the old
officer at last became indignant. Pauline had a proud soul; she
listened to us some time in silence, and then rising, she crushed
me with a look of scorn, and, extending her arm, pointed me the
door. That devil of a look, sir, I have not forgotten; it has long
pursued me, and now I often see it in my dreams.
"Returning home, I tried to kill myself; but so awkwardly that I
failed. There are some things in which we never succeed the first
time. I was prevented from renewing the attempt by the Sequere
fatum, which returned to my memory. I said to the floods which
beat against my exhausted breast: 'Carry me where you please; you
are my masters, I am your slave.'
"And believe me, sir, this unhappy adventure benefited me. It led
me to salutary reflection. For the first time I ventured to think,
I eradicated from my mind every prejudice which remained there, I
took leave of all chimeras, I saw life and the world as they are,
and decided that Heaven is a myth. My manners soon betrayed the
effect of the enlightenment of my mind. No more arrogance, no more
boasting. I did not divest myself of pride, but it became more
tractable and more convenient; it renounced ostentation and vain
display; the peacock changed into a man of good breeding. This,
sir, is what experience has done for me, assisted by Sequere fatum.
It has made me wise, an honest man and an atheist. So I said a
little while afterwards to Count Kostia:
"'Of all the benefits I have received from you, the most precious
was that of delivering me from Pauline. That woman would have
ruined me. Ah, Count Kostia, how I laugh to myself when I recall
the ridiculous litanies with which I once regaled your ears. You
knew me well. A passing fancy--a fire of straw. Thanks to you,
Kostia Petrovitch, my mind has acquired a perspicuity for which I
shall be eternally grateful to you.
"This declaration touched him; he loved me the more for it. He has
always had a weakness for men who listen to reason. Until then,
notwithstanding the marks of affection which he lavished upon me,
he had always made me feel the distance between us. But from that
day I became intimate with him; I participated in his secrets, and,
what cemented our friendship still more, was that one day I had an
opportunity of saving his life at the risk of my own."
"And Pauline?" said the inquisitive and sympathetic Gilbert.
"Ah! Pauline interests you! Comfort yourself. Six months after
our rupture she made a rich marriage. She still lives in her
little town; she is happy, and has lost none of her beauty. I meet
her sometimes in the street with her husband and children, and I
have the pleasure of seeing her turn her head always from me. And
I, too, sir, have children; they are my pupils. They are called in
Moscow THE LITTLE VLADIMIRS, and one of them will become some of
these days a great Vladimir. I have revealed all my secrets to
him, for I do not want them to die with me, and my end may be near.
I have yet an important work to accomplish; and when my task is
finished, let death take me. The life of the little shepherd of
Ukraine has been too exciting to last long. 'Short and sweet,' is
And at these words, leaning suddenly towards Gilbert, and looking
him in the eye:
"Apropos," said he, "were you really thinking of Constantine, the
emperor, when you exclaimed: 'Oh, fortune! what strange tricks you
Gilbert was nearly disconcerted by this sudden attack, but promptly
"Ah! ah!" thought he, "it was not for nothing, then, that you told
me your history; you had a purpose! Who knows but that Count
Leminof has sent you to get my confidence?"
Vladimir employed all the skill he possessed to make Gilbert speak;
his insidious questions were inexhaustible: Gilbert was
impenetrable. From time to time they looked steadily at each
other, each seeking to embarrass his adversary, and to surprise his
secret, but in vain; they fenced with glances, but they were both
so sure in the parries, that not a thrust succeeded. At last
Vladimir lost patience.
"My dear sir," exclaimed he, "I have the weakness to put faith in
dreams, and I had one the other night which troubled me very much.
I dreamed that Count Kostia had a daughter, and that he made her
very unhappy, because she had the twofold misfortune of not being
his daughter, and of resembling in a striking manner a woman whose
remembrance he did not cherish. You see that dreams are as
singular as the tricks of fortune. But the most serious matter
was, that the unhappiness and beauty of this child had strongly
touched your heart and that you had conceived an ardent passion for
"'What must I do?' you said to me one day.
"Then I related my story to you, and said: 'You know the character
of Kostia Petrovitch. Do not hope to move him, it would be an
amusement for him to break your heart. If I had been as much in
love as you are, I should have carried off Pauline and fled with
her to the ends of the world. An elopement!--that is your only
resource. And mark (it was in my dream that I spoke thus), and
mark--if you perform this bold stroke successfully, the Count, at
first furious to see his victim escape him, will at last be
reconciled to it. The sight of this child is a horror to him; even
the tyranny which he exercises over her excites him and disorders
his nerves. After she has left him, he will breathe more freely,
will enjoy better health, and will pardon the ravisher, who will
have relieved his life of the ferment of hatred which torments him.
Then you can treat with him, and I shall be much mistaken if it is
long before your dear mistress becomes your wife.' It was thus I
repeat, that I spoke to you in my dream, and I added: 'Do not lose
an instant; there is danger in remaining here. Kostia Petrovitch
has suspicions; to-morrow perhaps it will be too late!'"
"And then you awoke," interrupted Gilbert, laughing.
Then rising, he continued:
"Your dreams have no common sense, my dear Doctor; for without
taking into consideration that M. Leminof has no daughter, the
faculty of loving has been denied to me by nature, and the only
abduction of which I am capable is that of ink spots from a folio.
With a little chlorine you see--"
He took a few steps to pick up the little flower which he had
thrown away, and continued as he retraced with Vladimir the path
which led to the castle. "Let us speak of more serious things. Do
you know the family of this pretty flower?"
Thus walking on they conversed exclusively upon botany, and having
arrived at the terrace, separated amicably. Vladimir saw Gilbert
move away, and then muttered between his teeth:
"Ha! you won't speak, you refuse me your confidence, and you only
take off spots of ink! Then let your fate work itself out!"
Shall I describe the feelings which agitated Gilbert's heart? They
will readily be divined. In addition to the anxiety which preyed
upon him, a further and greater source of uneasiness was the fear
that all had been discovered. "In spite of my precautions,"
thought he, "some spy stationed by the Count may have seen me
running over the roof, but it is very improbable.
"I am inclined to believe rather, that the lynx eyes of Vladimir
Paulitch have read Stephane's face. At the table he has watched
her narrowly. Perhaps, too, my glances have betrayed me. This
mind, coarse in its subtilty, has taken for a common love the
tender and generous pity with which a great misfortune has inspired
me. Doubtless he has informed the Count, and it was by his order
that he attempted to force my confidence and to draw out my
intentions. Stephane, Stephane, all my efforts then will have but
resulted in heaping upon your head new misfortunes!" He was calmed
a little, however, by the reflection that she had authorized him of
her own accord to remain away from her for at least two weeks.
"Before that time expires," thought he, "I shall have devised some
expedient. It is, first of all, important to throw this terrier,
who is upon our track, off the scent. Fortunately he will not be
here long. His departure will be a great relief to me, for he is a
dangerous person. If only Stephane will be prudent!"
Dinner passed off well! Vladimir did not make his appearance. The
Count was amiable and gay. Stephane, although very pale, was as
calm as on the preceding days, and his eyes did not try to meet
those of Gilbert, who felt his alarm subsiding; but when they had
risen from the table, Kostia Petrovitch having left the room first,
his daughter had time, before following him, to turn quickly, draw
from her sleeve a little roll of paper, and throw it at Gilbert's
feet; he picked it up, and what was his chagrin when, after having
locked himself in his room, he read the following lines: "The
spirit of darkness has returned to me! I could not close my eyes
last night. My head is on fire. I fear, I doubt, I despair. My
Gilbert, I must at any cost see you this evening, for I feel myself
capable of anything. Oh, my friend! come at least to console me--
come and take from my sight the knife which remains open on my
Gilbert passed two hours in indescribable anguish. Whilst day
lasted, he stood leaning upon his window sill, hoping all the time
that Stephane would appear at hers, and that he could communicate
to her by signs; but he waited in vain, and already night began to
fall. He deliberated, wavered, hesitated. At last, in this
internal struggle, one thought prevailed over all others. He
imagined he could see Stephane, pale, disheveled, despair in her
eyes; he thought he could see a knife in her hands, the slender
blade flashing in the darkness of the night. Terrified by these
horrible fancies, he turned a deaf ear to prudential counsels,
suspended his ladder, descended, crossed the roofs, clambered up
the window, and sprang into the room. Stephane awaited him,
crouching at the feet of the saints. She rose, bounded forward,
and seized the knife lying upon the table with a convulsive motion,
turned the point towards her heart, and cried in a vibrating voice:
"Gilbert, for the first and last time, do you love me?"
Terrified, trembling, beside himself, Gilbert opened his arms to
her. She threw the poniard away, uttered a cry of joy, of
delirium, leaped with a bound to her friend, threw her arms about
him, and hanging upon his lips she cried:
"He loves me! he loves! I am saved."
Gilbert, while returning her caresses, sought to calm her
excitement; but all at once he turned pale. From the neighboring
alcove came a sigh like that he had heard in one of the corridors
of the castle.
"We are lost!" gasped he in a stifled voice. "They have surprised
But she, clinging to him, her face illuminated by delirious joy,
"You love me! I am happy. What matters the rest?"
At this moment the door of the alcove opened and Count Kostia
appeared upon the threshold, terrible, threatening, his lips
curling with a sinister smile. At this sight his daughter slowly
raised her head, then took a few steps towards him, and for the
first time dared to look that father in the face, who for so many
years had held her bowed and shuddering under his iron hand. Then
like a young lion with bristling mane, her hair floating in
disorder upon her shoulders, her body quivering, her brows
contracted, with flashing eyes and in a thrilling voice, she cried:
"Ah! it really is you then, sir!
"You are welcome. You here, great God! Truly these walls ought to
be surprised to see you. Yes, hear me, deaf old walls: the man you
see there upon the threshold is my father! Ah, tell me, would you
not have divined it by the tenderness in his face, by that smile
full of goodness playing about his lips?" And then she added:
"Unnatural father, do you remember yet that you once had a
daughter? Search well, you will find her, perhaps, at the bottom
of your memory. Very well! this daughter whom you killed, has just
left her coffin, and he who resuscitated her is the man before
you." Then more excitedly still: "Oh, how I love him, this divine
man! and in loving him, obedient daughter that I am, what have I
done but execute your will? for was it not you yourself who one day
threw me at his feet? I have remained there."
At these words, exhausted by the excess of her emotion, her
strength deserted her. She uttered a cry, closed her eyes, and
sank down. Gilbert, however, had already sprang towards her; he
raised her in his arms and laid her inanimate form in an armchair;
then placing himself before her, made a rampart of his body. When
he turned his eyes upon the Count again, he could not repress a
shudder, for he fancied he saw the somnambulist. The features of
Kostia Petrovitch were distorted, his eyes bloodshot, and his fixed
and burning pupils seemed almost starting from their sockets. He
bent down slowly and picked up the knife, after which he remained
some time motionless without giving any signs of life except by
passing his tongue several times over his lips, as if to assuage
the thirst for blood which consumed him. At last he advanced, his
head erect, his arm holding the knife suspended in the air, ready
to strike. As he drew near, Gilbert recovered all his composure,
and in a clear, strong voice, cried out:
"Count Leminof, control yourself, or you will lose your reason."
And as the frightful phantom still advanced, he quickly uncovered
his breast, and exclaimed in a still louder voice:
"Count Kostia, strike, here is my heart, but your blows will not
reach me,--the specter of Morlof is between us."
At these words the Count uttered a cry like a fallow deer, followed
by a long and plaintive sigh. A terrible internal struggle
followed; his brow contracted; the convulsive movements which
agitated his body, and the flakes of foam which stood upon his
lips, testified to the violence of the effort he was making.
Reason at length returned; his arms fell and the knife dropped, the
muscles of his face relaxed, and his features by degrees resumed
their natural expression. Then turning in the direction of the
alcove, he called out:
"Ivan, come and take care of your young mistress, she has fainted."
Ivan appeared. Who could describe the look which he threw upon
Gilbert? Meanwhile the Count had reentered the alcove; but
returned immediately with a candle, which he lighted quietly, and
then, with an easy gesture, said to Gilbert:
"My dear sir, it seems to me we are in the way here. Be good
enough to leave with me by the staircase; for please God, you do
not return by the roof. If an accident should happen to you, the
Byzantines and I would be inconsolable!"
Gilbert was so constituted, that at this moment M. Leminof inspired
him more with pity than anger. He obeyed, and preceding him a few
steps, crossed the alcove and the vestibule and descended the
stairs. When at the entrance of the corridor, he turned, and
placing his back against the wall, said sadly:
"I have a few words to say to you!"
The Count, stopping upon the last step, leaned nonchalantly over
the balustrade and answered, smiling:
"Speak, I am ready to hear you; you know it always gives me
pleasure to talk with you."
"I beg you, sir," said Gilbert, "to pardon your daughter the
bitterness of her language. She spoke in delirium. I swear to you
that at the bottom of her heart, she respects you, and that you
have only to wish it to have her love you as a father."
M. Leminof answered only by a shrug of the shoulders, which
signified--"What matters it to me?"
"I am bound to say further," resumed Gilbert, "that your anger
ought to fall upon me alone. It was I who sought this child, who
hated me; and I constrained her to receive me. I pressed my
attentions upon her and had no peace or rest until I had gained her
The Count shrugged his shoulders again, as much as to say: "I
believe you, but how does that change the situation?"
"As for me," continued Gilbert, "I assure you, upon my honor, that
it was only yesterday I drew from your daughter her secret."
The Count answered:
"I believe you readily; but tell me, if you please, is it true that
you now love this little girl as she loves you?"
Gilbert reflected a moment; then considering only the dignity and
interests of Stephane, he replied:
"Yes, I love her with a pure, deep love."
A sarcastic joy appeared upon the Count's face.
"Admirable!" said he; "that is all I wish to know. We have nothing
more to say."
Gilbert raised his head: "One word more, sir!" he exclaimed. "I do
not leave you until you have sworn to me that you will not touch a
hair of your daughter's head, and that you will not revenge
yourself upon her for my well-meant imprudence."
"Peste!" said the Count, laughing, "you are taking great airs; but
I owe you some gratitude, inasmuch as your coolness has saved me
from committing a crime which would have been a great folly, for
only fools avenge themselves with the knife. So I shall grant you
even more than you ask. Hereafter, my daughter shall have no cause
to complain of me, and I will interest myself paternally in her
happiness. It displeases her to be under Ivan's charge; he shall
be only her humble servant. I intend that she shall be as free as
air, and all of her caprices will be sacred to me. I will begin by
restoring her horse, if he is not already sold. I will do more: I
will permit her to resume the garments of her sex. But for these
favors I exact two conditions: first, that you shall remain here at
least six months; second, that you will try neither to see, speak,
nor write to my doll, without my consent."
Gilbert breathed a deep sigh.
"I swear it, on my honor!" replied he.
"Enough! Enough!" resumed M. Leminof, "I have your promise, and I
believe in it as I do in the Gospels."
When the Count reentered his study, Doctor Vladimir, who was
patiently awaiting him, examined him from head to foot, as if
seeking to discover upon his garments or his hands some stain of
blood, then controlling his emotion:
"Well," said he coolly, "how did the affair terminate?"
"Very well," said the Count, throwing himself in a chair. "I have
not killed anyone. This young man's reason restored mine."
Vladimir Paulitch turned pale.
"So," said he, with a forced smile, "this audacious seducer gets
off with a rating."
"You haven't common sense, Vladimir Paulitch! What are you saying
about seduction? Gilberts are an enigma to you. They are not born
under the same planets as Doctors Vladimir and Counts Leminof.
There is a mixture in them of the humanitarian, the knight-errant,
the gray sister, and the St. Vincent de Paul, added to all which,
our philanthropist has a passion for puppets, and from the time of
his arrival he has forewarned me that he intended to make them
play. He must have wanted, I think, to give himself a
representation of some sacramental act, of some mystery play of the
middle ages. The piece began well. The principal personages were
faith, hope, and charity. Unfortunately, love got into the party,
and the mystery was transformed into a drama of cloak and sword. I
am sorry for him; these things always end badly."
"You are mistaken, Count Kostia!" replied Vladimir ironically;
"they often end with a wedding."
"Vladimir Paulitch!" exclaimed the Count, stamping his foot, "you
have the faculty of exasperating me. Today you spent an hour in
kindling the fire of vengeance in my soul. You hate this young
man. I believe, on my honor, that you are jealous of him. You are
afraid, perhaps, that I may put him in my will in place of the
little shepherd of Ukraine? Think of it as you please, my dear
doctor; it is certain that if I had had the awkwardness to kill
this admirable companion of my studies, I should lament him now in
tears of blood, for I know not why, but he is dear to me in spite
of all. But who loves well, chastises well, and I cannot help
pitying him in thinking of all the sufferings which I shall make
him undergo. Now go to bed, doctor. To-morrow morning you will go
on your nimble feet, three leagues from here, on the other side of
the mountain, to a little inn, which I will direct you how to find.
I will follow on horseback. I need exercise and diversion. We
will meet there and dine together. At dessert we will talk
physiology, and you will exert yourself to entertain me."
"But what are you thinking of?" exclaimed Vladimir, surprised to
the last degree. "Will you permit these two lovers--"
"Oh! you have but a dull mind, in spite of your wisdom,"
interrupted the Count. "In matters of vengeance, you only know the
calicoes and cottons. Mine I prefer to weave of silk and threads
On returning to his room, Vladimir Paulitch said to himself:
"These two men are too rational. The piece moves too slowly. I
must hasten the denouement."
Early in the morning Ivan entered Gilbert's room. The face of the
poor serf was distressing to see. His eyes were red and swollen,
and his features bloated. The bloody marks of his nails were
visible on his face; forehead and cheeks were furrowed with them.
He informed Gilbert that towards noon Count Kostia would go out
with Vladimir Paulitch and would be absent the rest of the day.
"He left me here to watch you and to render an account to him upon
his return of all I should see and hear. I am not ugly;--but after
what has passed, you would be foolish to expect the least favor
from me. My eyes, ears, and tongue will do their duty. You must
know, too, that the barine is in a very gloomy mood to-day. His
lips are white, and he frequently passes his left hand over his
forehead, a sure sign that a storm is raging within."
"My dear Ivan," answered Gilbert, "I also shall be absent all day;
so you see your task of watching will be easy."
Ivan breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed as if a mountain had
been taken from his breast.
"I see with pleasure," said he, "that you repent of your sin, and
that you promise to be wiser in the future; ah, if my young master
would only listen to reason, like you."
"Your young master, as you call him, will be as rational as myself.
But do me the favor to tell me--"
"Oh! don't be alarmed; his fainting fit was not long. I had hardly
got to him, when he opened his eyes and asked me if you were still
alive. On hearing my answer he exclaimed: 'Ah! my God! how happy I
am! He lives and loves me!' Then he tried to rise, but was so
weak that he fell back. I carried him to his bed and he said to
me: 'Ivan, for four nights I have not closed my eyes,' and at these
words he smiled and fell asleep, smiling, and he is asleep yet."
"In order to be wise, Stephane must be occupied. She must work
with her mind and her hands. Here, take this little white flower,"
added he, handing him the one he had plucked the day before; "ask
her, for me, to paint it in her herbarium to-day."
And as Ivan examined the plant with an air of distrust, he added:
"Go, and fear nothing. I've not hidden a note in it. I am a man
of honor, my dear Ivan, and never break my word."
Ivan hid the flower in one of his sleeves and went out muttering to
"How is all this going to end? Ah! may the Holy Trinity look down
in pity upon this house. We are all lost!"
Gilbert went out. Leaving upon his right the plateau and its close
thickets, he gained the main road and followed the bank of the
Rhine for a long distance. A thousand thoughts crowded in
confusion through his mind; but he always came to the same
"I will save this child, or lose my life in the attempt."
As the sun began to sink towards the horizon, he returned to the
castle. He went in search of Father Alexis and found him in the
chapel. The good father had learned from Ivan what had happened
the night before. He reproached Gilbert severely, but
nevertheless, after hearing his explanations, softened
considerably, and in a tone of grumbling indulgence, repeated the
old proverb, "Everyone to his trade." "Oxen," added he, "are born
to draw the plow, birds to fly, bees to make honey, Gilberts to
read and make great books, and Father Alexis to edify and console
his fellow-creatures. You have encroached upon my prerogatives.
You wanted to walk in my shoes. And what has been the result of
your efforts? The spoiling of my task! Have you not observed how
much better this child has been for the last two months, how much
more tranquil, gentle, and resigned? I had preached so well to
her, that she at last listened to reason. And you must come to put
in her head a silly love which will cost both of you many tears."
Upon which, seizing him rudely by the arm, he continued:
"And what need had we of your assistance, the good God and I? Have
you forgotten? Open your eyes and look! To-day, my child, even
to-day I have put the finishing touch to my great work."
Then he pointed his finger to two long rows of sallow faces,
surmounted by golden halos, which two lamps suspended from the
ceiling illuminated with a mysterious light. Like a general
enumerating his troops, he said:
"Look at these graybeards. That is Isaac, this Jeremiah, and this
Ezekiel. On the other side are the holy warrior martyrs. Then St.
Procopius, there St. Theodore, who burnt the temple of Cybele. His
torch may yet be relighted. And these archangels, do you think
their arms will be forever nerveless and their swords always asleep
in their scabbards?"
Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed aloud:
"And thou, holy mother of God, suffer thy unworthy servant to
summon thee to keep thy promise. Let thy august power at last be
made manifest. At the sight of thy frowning brows let there be
accomplished a mystery of terror and tears in hardened hearts. Let
the neck of the proud be broken, and let his haughty head, bent
down by the breath of thy lips, as by the wind of a tempest, bow to
the very earth and its hair sweep the dust of this pavement."
Just then they heard a voice calling:
"Father Alexis, Father Alexis, where are you?"
The priest turned pale and trembled. He tried in vain to rise, his
knees seemed nailed to the ground.
"Ah! my child, did you not hear a divine voice answer me?"
But helping him to his feet, Gilbert said with a sad smile:
"There is nothing divine in that voice. It has a strongly-marked
Provencal accent, and if I am not mistaken, it belongs to Jasmin
the cook, who is there in the court with a lantern in his hand, and
is calling you."
"Perhaps you are right," answered the good father, shaking his head
and passing his hand over his forehead, which was bathed in
perspiration. "Let us see what this good Jasmin wants. Perhaps he
brings my dinner. I had notified him, however, that I proposed to
Jasmin no sooner saw them come out of the chapel than he ran
towards them and said to the priest:
"I don't know, father, what has happened to Ivan, but when I went
into his room to carry him his dinner, I found him stretched on his
bed. I called him and shook him, but couldn't wake him up."
A shudder ran through Gilbert's whole body. Seizing the lantern
from Jasmin he darted off on a run; in two seconds he was with
Ivan. Jasmin had told the truth; the serf slept heavily and
profoundly. By dint of pulling him by the arm, Gilbert succeeded
in making him open his eyes; but he soon closed them again, turned
towards the wall, and slept on.
"Someone must have given him a narcotic," said Gilbert, whispering
to Father Alexis who had just joined him.
And addressing Jasmin, who had followed the priest.
"Has anyone been here this afternoon?"
"I ask your pardon," said the cook. "Doctor Vladimir returned from
his walk at about five o'clock. This surprised me very much, as
Count Kostia told me before he left, that M. Stephane would dine
here alone to-day."
"The doctor is at the table then, now."
"Pardon, pardon! He didn't wish any dinner. He told me in a
joking way, that he would shortly go to a grand dinner in the other
"But where is he then? In his study?"
"Two hours afterwards, he went out with M. Stephane."
"Which way did they go?" cried Gilbert, shaking him violently by
"Ah! pardon, sir, take care, you'll put my arm out of joint,"
answered the huge Provencal.
"Jasmin, my good Jasmin, answer me: which way did they go?"
"Ah! I remember now, they took the road to the woods."
Gilbert darted off instantly. Father Alexis cried after him in
"Wait for me, my child, I will accompany you. I am a man of good
judgment." As if carried by the wind, Gilbert was already in the
woods. His head bare, pale, out of breath, he ran at the top of
his speed. Night had come, and the moon began to silver over the
foliage which quivered at every breath of wind. Gilbert was blind
to the moon's brightness, deaf to the sighing of the wind. He
heard nothing but the diminishing sound of steps in the distance,
he saw nothing but a cloud of blood which floated before his eyes
and indicated the path; the sole thought which shed any light upon
his mind, filled with gloomiest apprehensions, was this:
"I did not understand this man! It was an offensive alliance which
he proposed to me yesterday. I refused to avenge him: he is going
to revenge himself, and a Russian serf seeking vengeance is capable
On he ran with unabated speed, and would have run to the end of the
world if, in an elbow of the road, some steps before him, he had
not suddenly perceived Stephane. Standing in the moonlight erect
and motionless, Gilbert stopped, held out his arms, and uttered a
cry. She trembled, turned, and running to him, cried:
"Gilbert, do you love me?"
He answered only by pressing her to his heart; and then perceiving
Doctor Vladimir, who was sitting on the edge of a ditch, his head
in his hands, he stammered:
"This man here with you!"
"I do not know," said she in a trembling voice, "whether he is a
mad man or a villain; but it is certain that he is going to die,
for he has poisoned himself."
"What have you to say?" said Gilbert, looking wildly at the
dejected face of the doctor, upon which the moon was shining full.
"Explain I beg of you."
"What do I know?" said she; "I think I have been dreaming since
yesterday evening. It seems to me, however, that this man came to
my room for me. He had taken the precaution to drug Ivan. I was
dying with melancholy. He persuaded me that you, my Gilbert, were
waiting for me in one of the paths of this forest, to fly with me
to a distant country. 'Let us go, let us go,' I cried; but on the
way I began to think, I grew suspicious, and at this turning of the
road I said to my gloomy companion: 'Bring my Gilbert to me here; I
will go no further.' Then he looked at me with frightful eyes, and
I believe said to me: 'What is your Gilbert to me? Follow me or
you die;' and then he fumbled in his bosom as if to find a
concealed weapon; but if I am not mistaken, I looked at him
steadily, and crossing my arms, said to him: 'Kill me, but you
shall not make me take another step.'"
Vladimir raised his head.
"How deceptive resemblances are," said he in a hollow voice. "I
once knew a woman who had the same contour of face, and one
evening, by the sole power of my eye, I compelled her to fall at my
feet, crying: 'Vladimir Paulitch, do with me what you will.' But
your young friend has a soul made of different stuff. You can
believe me if you wish, sir; but the fact is that her charming face
suddenly struck me with an involuntary respect. It seemed to me
that her head was adorned with a royal diadem. Her eyes glowed
with a noble pride; anger dilated her nostrils, and while a
scornful smile flitted over her lips, her whole face expressed the
innocence of a soul as pure as the rays of the moon shining upon
us. At this sight I thought of the woman of whom I spoke to you
yesterday, and I felt a sensation of horror at the crime I had
premeditated, and I, Doctor Vladimir, I prostrated myself at the
feet of this child, saying to her: 'Forgive me, I am a wretch;'
after which I swallowed a strong dose of poison of my own
composition, whose antidote I do not know, and in two hours I shall
be no more."
Gilbert looked steadily at him.
"Ah! great God," thought he, "it was not the life but the honor of
Stephane which was in danger! But the promised miracle has been
wrought, only this is not the one which Father Alexis expected,
since it has been the work of the God of nature."
Stephane approached him, and taking his hands murmured:
"Gilbert, Gilbert, let us fly--let us fly together! There is yet
But he only muttered:
"I see through it all!" Then turning to Vladimir he said in a tone
of authority, "Follow me, sir! It is right that Count Kostia
should receive your last breath."
Vladimir reflected for a moment, then rising, said:
"You are right. I must see him again before I die; but give me
your arm, for the poison begins to work and my legs are very weak."
They began to walk, Stephane preceding them a few steps. At
intervals, Vladimir would exclaim:
"To die--to breathe no more--no more to see the sun--no more to
remember--to forget all!" And then he added, "One thing disturbs
my happiness. I am not sufficiently revenged!"
At last his voice died upon his lips and his legs failed him.
Gilbert was obliged to carry him on his shoulders, and was nearly
giving out under the burden when he saw Father Alexis coming
towards them breathless. He gave him no time to recover breath,
"Take this man by the feet. I will support his shoulders.
Forward! my good father, forward! We have no time to lose."
Father Alexis hastened to comply with Gilbert's request, and they
continued on their way with bowed heads and in gloomy silence.
Stephane alone, with her cap drawn over her eyes, occasionally
uttered disconnected words and alternately cast a furtive glance at
Gilbert, or gazed sadly at the moon. Arriving at the castle, they
crossed the court and ascended the stairs without meeting anyone;
but entering the vestibule of the first story, in which all the
lamps were lighted, they heard a noise of steps in the corridor
which led to the square tower.
"M. Leminof has returned," said Gilbert, trembling. "Father
Alexis, carry this man to his room. I will go and speak to the
Count, and will bring him to you in a moment."
Then taking Stephane by the arm, he whispered to her:
"In the name of Heaven, keep out of the way. Go down on the
terrace and conceal yourself. Your father must not see you until
he has heard me."
"Do you think I am afraid, then?" she replied, and escaping from
him, darted off in the direction of the corridor.
Meanwhile Father Alexis had entered the room of Vladimir Paulitch,
whom he sustained with difficulty in his trembling arms. At the
moment he laid him upon his bed, a voice, which reached even to
them, uttered these terrible words:
"Ah! this is braving me too much! Let her die!" Then a sharp cry
pierced the air, followed by the dull noise of a body falling
heavily upon the floor.
Father Alexis looked at Vladimir with horror. "The mother was not
enough," cried he, "thou hast just killed the daughter!"
And he sprang out of the room distracted.
Vladimir sat up. An atrocious joy gleamed in his face; and
recovering the use of his speech, he murmured, "My vengeance is
But at these words a groan escaped him--the poison began to burn
his vitals. Nevertheless he forgot his sufferings when he saw the
Count appear, followed by the priest, and holding in his hand a
sword, which he threw in the corner.
"Count Kostia," cried the dying man, "what have you done with your
"I have killed her," answered he sternly, questioning him with his
Vladimir remained silent a moment.
"My good master," resumed he, "do you remember that Pauline whom I
loved? Do you also remember having seen me crouched at your feet
crying, 'Mercy! Mercy! for her and for me'? My good master, have
you forgotten that corner of the street where you said to me one
day: 'This woman is charming; but if your marriage is not broken
off before evening, to-morrow she will learn from me who you are'?
That day, Count Kostia Petrovitch, you had a happy and smiling air.
Say, Kostia Petrovitch, do you recollect it?"
The Count answered only by a disdainful smile.
"Oh! most simple and most credulous of men," continued Vladimir,
"how could you think that I would empty the cup of sorrow and of
shame to the very dregs, and not revenge myself upon him who smiled
as he made me drink it."
"Six months later, you saved my life," said the Count, slightly
shrugging his shoulders.
"Because your days were dear to me. You do not know then the
tenderness of hatred! I wished you to live, and that your life
should be a hell."
And then he added, panting:
"The lover of the Countess Olga, . . . was I."
The Count staggered as if struck by lightning. He supported
himself by the back of a chair, to avoid falling; then springing to
the table, he seized a carafe full of water and emptied it in a
single draught. Then in a convulsed voice, he exclaimed:
"You lie! The Countess Olga could never have given herself to a
"Refer to your memory once more, Kostia Petrovitch. You forget
that in her eyes I was not a serf, but an illustrious physician, a
sort of great man. However, I will console you. The Countess Olga
loved me no more than I loved her. My magnetic eyes, my threats
had, as it were, bewitched her poor head; in my arms she was dying
with fear, and when at the end of one of these sweet interviews,
she heard me cry out, 'Olga Vassilievna, your lover is a serf,' she
nearly perished of shame and horror."
The Count cast upon his serf a look of indescribable disgust, and,
making a superhuman effort to speak, once more exclaimed:
"Impossible! That letter which you addressed to me at Paris--"
"I feared that your dishonor might be concealed from you, and what
would life have been to me then?"
M. Leminof turned to the priest who remained standing at the other
end of the room. "Father Alexis, is what this man says true?"
The priest silently bowed.
"And was it for this, foolish priest, that you have endured death
and martyrdom--to prolong the days of a worm of the earth?"
"I cared little for his life," answered the priest, with dignity,
"but much for my conscience, and for the inviolable secrecy of the
"And for two years in succession you have suffered my mortal enemy
to lodge under my roof without warning me?"
"I was ignorant of his history and of the fact that he had reasons
for hating you. I fancied that a mad passion had made him a
traitor to friendship, and that in repentance he sought to expiate
his fault, by the assiduous attentions which he lavished upon you."
"Poor fellow!" said the Count, crushing him with a look of pity.
Then Vladimir resumed in a voice growing more and more feeble:
"Since that cursed hour, when I crawled at your feet, without being
able to soften your stony heart with my tears, I became disgusted
with life. To feel that I belonged to you was every instant a
torment. But if you ask me why I have deferred my death so long, I
answer that while you had a daughter living my vengeance was not
complete. I let this child grow up; but when the clock of fate
struck the hour I waited for, courage suddenly failed me, and I was
seized with scruples, which still astonish me. But what am I
saying? I bless my weakness, since I brought home a victim pure
and without stain, and since her virginal innocence adds to the
horror of your crime. Ah! tell me, was the steel which pierced her
heart the same that silenced Morlof's? Oh, sword, thou art
Count Kostia's eyes brightened. He had something like a
presentiment that he was about to be delivered from that fatal
doubt which for so many years had poisoned his life, and he fixed
his vulture-like eyes upon Vladimir.
"That child," said he, "was not my daughter."
Vladimir opened his vest, tore the lining with his nails and drew
out a folded paper, which he threw at the Count's feet:
"Pick up that letter!" cried he, "the writing is known to you. I
meant to have sent it to you by your dishonored daughter. Go and
read it near your dead child."
M. Leminof picked up the letter, unfolded it, and read it to the
end with bearing calm and firm. The first lines ran thus: "Vile
Moujik. Thou hast made me a mother. Be happy and proud. Thou
hast revealed to me that maternity can be a torture. In my
ignorant simplicity, I did not know until now it could be aught
else than an intoxication, a pride, a virtue, which God and the
church regard with favor, and the angels shelter with their white
wings. When for the first time I felt my Stephan and my Stephane
stir within me, my heart leaped for joy, and I could not find words
enough to bless Heaven which at last rewarded six years of
expectation; but now it is not a child I carry in bosom, it is a
crime. . . ."
This letter of four pages shed light, and carried conviction into
the mind of Count Kostia.
"She was really my daughter," said he, coolly. . . "Fortunately I
have not killed her."
He left the room, and an instant after re-appeared, accompanied by
Gilbert, and carrying in his arms his daughter, pale and
disheveled, but living. He advanced into the middle of the room.
There, as if speaking to himself, he said:
"This young man is my good genius. He tore my sword from me. God
be praised! he has saved her and me. This dear child was
frightened, she fell, but she is unhurt. You see her, she is
alive, her eyes are open, she hears, she breathes. To-morrow she
shall smile, to-morrow we shall all be happy.
Then drawing her to the head of the bed and calling Gilbert to him,
he placed his hands together, and standing behind them, embracing
their shoulders in his powerful arms, and thrusting his head
between theirs, he forced them, in spite of themselves, to bend
with him over the dying man.
Gilbert and Stephane closed their eyes.
The Count's and Vladimir's were wide open devouring each other.
The master's flamed like torches; the serf's were sunken, glassy,
and filled with the fear and horror of death. He seemed almost
petrified, and murmured in a failing voice:
"I am lost. I have undone my own work. To-morrow, to-morrow, they
will be happy."
One last look, full of hatred, flashed from his eyes, over which
the eternal shadow was creeping, his features contracted, his mouth
became distorted, and, uttering a frightful cry, he rendered up his
Then the Count slowly raised himself. His arms, in which he held
the two young people as in a living vice, relaxed, and Stephane
fell upon Gilbert's breast. Confused, colorless, wild-eyed,
intoxicated with joy and terror at the same time, clinging to her
friend as the sailor to his plank of safety, she said in an
"In the life to which you condemn me, my father, the joys are as
terrible as the sorrows."
The Count said to Gilbert:
"Console her, calm her emotion. She is yours. I have given her to
you. Do not fear that I shall take her back again." Then, turning
again to the bed, he exclaimed: "What a terrible thorn death has
just drawn from my heart!"
In the midst of so many tragic sensations, who was happy? Father
Alexis was, and he had no desire to hide it. He went and came,
moved the furniture, passed his hand over his beard, struck his
chest with all his might, and presently in his excess of joy threw
himself upon Stephane and then upon Gilbert, caressing and
embracing them. At last, kneeling down by the bed of death, under
the eyes of the Count, he took the head of the dead man between his
hands and kissed him upon the mouth and cheeks, saying:
"My poor brother, thou hast perhaps been more unfortunate than
guilty. May God, in the unfathomable mystery of his infinite
mercy, give thee one day, as I have, the kiss of peace! Then
raising his clasped hands, he said: "Holy mother of God: blessed be
thy name. Thou hast done more than I dared to ask."
At that moment Ivan, roused at last from his long lethargy,
appeared at the threshold of the door. For some minutes he
remained paralyzed by astonishment, and looked around distractedly;
then, throwing himself at his master's feet and tearing his hair,
"Seigneur Pere, I am not a traitor! That man mixed some drug in my
tea which put me to sleep. Seigneur Pere, kill me, but do not say
that I am a traitor."
"Rise," returned the Count gayly, "rise, I say. I shall not kill
thee. I am not going to kill anybody. My son, thou'rt a rusty old
tool. Dost know what I shall do with thee? I shall slip thee in
among the wedding presents of Madame Gilbert Saville."
I was nine years old. It was in 1864, in the month of June at the
close of a warm, bright afternoon. I was at my studies in my room
as usual, having come in from the Lycee Bonaparte, and the outer
shutters were closed. We lived in the Rue Tronchet, near the
Madeleine, in the seventh house on the left, coming from the
church. Three highly-polished steps (how often have I slipped on
them!) led to the little room, so prettily furnished, all in blue,
within whose walls I passed the last completely happy days of my
life. Everything comes back to me. I was seated at my table,
dressed in a large black overall, and engaged in writing out the
tenses of a Latin verb on a ruled sheet divided into several
compartments. All of a sudden I heard a loud cry, followed by a
clamor of voices; then rapid steps trod the corridor outside my
room. Instinctively I rushed to the door and came up against a
man-servant, who was deadly pale, and had a roll of linen in his
hand. I understood the use of this afterwards. I had not to
question this man, for at sight of me he exclaimed, as though
"Ah! M. Andre, what an awful misfortune!"
Then, regaining his presence of mind, he said:
"Go back into your room--go back at once!"
Before I could answer, he caught me up in his arms, rather threw
than placed me on the upper step of my staircase, locked the door
of the corridor, and walked rapidly away.
"No, no," I cried, flinging myself against the door, "tell me all;
I will, I must know." No answer. I shook the lock, I struck the
panel with my clenched fists, I dashed my shoulder against the
door. Vain was my frenzy! Then, sitting upon the lowest step, I
listened, in an agony of fear, to the coming and going of people
outside, who knew of "the awful misfortune," but what was it they
knew? Child as I was, I understood the terrible signification
which the servant's exclamation bore under the actual
circumstances. Two days previously, my father had gone out after
breakfast, according to custom, to the place of business which he
had occupied for over four years, in the Rue de la Victoire. He
had been thoughtful during breakfast, indeed for some months past
he had lost his accustomed cheerfulness. When he rose to go out,
my mother, myself, and one of the habitual frequenters of our
house, M. Jacques Termonde, a fellow student of my father's at the
Ecole de Droit, were at table. My father left his seat before
breakfast was over, having looked at the clock, and inquired
whether it was quite right.
"Are you in such a hurry, Cornelis?" asked Termonde.
"Yes," answered my father, "I have an appointment with a client who
is ill--a foreigner--I have to call on him at his hotel to procure
some important papers. He is an odd sort of man, and I shall not
be sorry to see something of him at closer quarters. I have taken
certain steps on his behalf, and I am almost tempted to regret
And since then, no news! In the evening of that day, when dinner,
which had been put off for one quarter of an hour after another,
was over, and my father, who was always so methodical, so punctual,
had not come in, my mother began to betray increasing uneasiness,
and could not conceal from me that his last words dwelt upon her
mind. It was a rare occurrence for him to speak with misgiving of
The night passed, then the next morning and afternoon, and once
more it was evening. My mother and I were once more seated at the
square table, where the cover laid for my father in front of his
empty chair gave, as it were, a form to our nameless dread.
My mother had written to M. Jacques Termonde, and he came after
dinner. I was sent away immediately, but not without my having had
time to remark the extraordinary brightness of M. Termonde's eyes,
which were blue, and usually shone coldly in his thin, sharp face.
He had fair hair and a beard best described as pale. Thus do
children take note of small details, which are speedily effaced
from their minds, but afterwards reappear, at the contact of life,
just as certain invisible marks come out upon paper when it is held
to the fire.
While begging to be allowed to remain, I was mechanically observing
the hurried and agitated turning and returning of a light cane--I
had long coveted it--held behind his back in his remarkably
beautiful hands. If I had not admired the cane so much, and the
fighting centaurs on its handle--a fine piece of Renaissance work--
this symptom of extreme disturbance might have escaped me. But,
how could M. Termonde fail to be disturbed by the disappearance of
his best friend? Nevertheless, his voice, a soft voice which made
all his phrases melodious, was quite calm.
"To-morrow," he said, "I will have every inquiry made, if Cornelis
has not returned; but he will come back, and all will be explained.
Depend on it, he went away somewhere on the business he told you
of, and left a letter for you to be sent by a commissionaire who
has not delivered it."
"Ah!" said my mother, "you think that is possible?"
How often, in my dark hours, have I recalled this dialogue, and the
room in which it took place--a little salon, much liked by my
mother, with hangings and furniture of some foreign stuff all
striped in red and white, black and yellow, that my father had
brought from Morocco; and how plainly have I seen my mother in my
mind's eye, with her black hair, her brown eyes, her quivering
lips. She was as white as the summer gown she wore that evening.
M. Termonde was dressed with his usual correctness, and I remember
well his slender and elegant figure.
I attended the two classes at the Lycee, if not with a light, at
least with a relieved heart. But, while I was sitting upon the
lower step of my little staircase, all my uneasiness revived. I
hammered at the door again, I called as loudly as I could; but no
one answered me, until the good woman who had been my nurse came
into my room.
"My father!" I cried, "where is my father?"
"Poor child, poor child," said nurse, and took me in her arms.
She had been sent to tell me the awful truth, but her strength
failed her. I escaped from her, ran out into the corridor, and
reached my father's bedroom before anyone could stop me. Ah! upon
the bed lay a rigid form covered by a white sheet, upon the pillow
a bloodless, motionless face, with fixed, wide-open eyes, for the
lids had not been closed; the chin was supported by a bandage, a
napkin was bound around the forehead; at the bed's foot knelt a
woman, still dressed in her white summer gown, crushed and helpless
with grief. These were my father and my mother.
I flung myself madly upon her, and she clasped me passionately,
with the piercing cry, "My Andre, my Andre!" In that cry there was
such intense grief, in that embrace there was such frenzied
tenderness, her heart was then so big with tears, that it warms my
own even now to think of it. The next moment she rose and carried
me out of the room, that I might see the dreadful sight no more.
She did this easily, her terrible excitement had doubled her
strength. "God punishes me! God punishes me!" she said over and
over again taking no heed of her words. She had always been given,
by fits and starts, to mystical piety. Then she covered my face,
my neck, and my hair with kisses and tears. May all that we
suffered, the dead and I, be forgiven you, poor mother, for the
sincerity of those tears at that moment!
When I asked my mother, on the instant, to tell me all about the
awful event, she said that my father had been seized with a fit in
a hackney carriage, and that as no papers were found upon him, he
had not been recognized for two days.
Grown-up people are much too ready to think it is equally easy to
tell lies to all children.
Now, I was a child who pondered long in my thoughts over things
that were said to me, and by dint of putting a number of small
facts together, I came to the conviction that I did not know the
whole truth. If my father's death had occurred in the manner
stated to me, why should the man-servant have asked me, one day
when he took me out to walk, what had been said to me about it?
And when I answered him, why did he say no more, and, being a very
talkative person, why had he kept silence ever since? Why, too,
did I feel the same silence all around me, in the air, sitting on
every lip, hidden in every look? Why was the subject of
conversation constantly changed whenever I drew near? I guessed
this by many trifling signs. Why was not a single newspaper left
lying about, whereas, during my father's lifetime, the three
journals to which we subscribed were always to be found on a table
in the salon? Above all, why did both the masters and my
schoolfellows look at me so curiously, when I went back to school
early in October, four months after our great misfortune? Alas! it
was their curiosity which revealed the full extent of the
catastrophe to me.
It was only a fortnight after the reopening of the school, when I
happened to be playing one morning with two new boys; I remember
their names, Rastonaix and Servoin, now, and I can see the big fat
cheeks of Rastonaix and the ferret-like face of Servoin. Although
we were day pupils, we were allowed a quarter of an hour's
recreation at school, between the Latin and English lessons. The
two boys had engaged me on the previous day for a game of ninepins,
and when it was over, they came close to me, and looking at each
other to keep up their courage, they put to me the following
"Is it true that the murderer of your father has been arrested?"
"And that he is to be guillotined?"
This occurred sixteen years ago, but I cannot now recall the
beating of my heart at those words without horror. I must have
turned frightfully pale, for the two boys, who had struck me this
blow with the carelessness of their age--of our age--stood there
disconcerted. A blind fury seized upon me, urging me to command
them to be silent, and to hit them with my fists if they spoke
again; but at the same time I felt a wild impulse of curiosity--
what if this were the explanation of the silence by which I felt
myself surrounded?--and also a pang of fear, the fear of the
unknown. The blood rushed into my face, and I stammered out:
"I do not know."
The drum-tap, summoning us back to the schoolroom, separated us.
What a day I passed, bewildered by my trouble, turning the two
terrible sentences over and over again.
It would have been natural for me to question my mother; but the
truth is, I felt quite unable to repeat to her what my unconscious
tormentors had said. It was strange but true, that thenceforth my
mother, whom nevertheless I loved with all my heart, exercised a
paralyzing influence over me. She was so beautiful in her pallor,
so royally beautiful and proud.
No, I should never have ventured to reveal to her that an
irresistible doubt of the story she had told me was implanted in my
mind merely by the two questions of my schoolfellows; but, as I
could not keep silence entirely and live, I resolved to have
recourse to Julie, my former nurse. She was a little woman, fifty
years of age, an old maid too, with a flat, wrinkled face, like an
over-ripe apple; but her eyes were full of kindness, and indeed so
was her whole face, although her lips were drawn in by the loss of
her front teeth, and this gave her a witch-like mouth. She had
deeply mourned my father in my company, for she had been in his
service before his marriage. Julie was retained specially on my
account, and in addition to her the household consisted of the
cook, the man-servant, and the femme de chambre. Julie put me to
bed and tucked me in, heard me say my prayers, and listened to my
"Oh! the wretches!" she exclaimed, when I opened my heart to her
and repeated the words that had agitated me so terribly. "And yet
it could not have been hidden from you forever." Then it was that
she told me all the truth, there in my little room, speaking very
low and bending over me, while I lay sobbing in my narrow bed. She
suffered in the telling of that truth as much as I in the hearing
of it, and the touch of her dry old hand, with fingers scarred by
the needle, fell softly on my curly head as she stroked it.
That ghastly story, which bore down my youth with the weight of an
impenetrable mystery, I have found written in the newspapers of the
day, but not more clearly than it was narrated by my dear old
Julie. Here it is, plainly set forth, as I have turned and re-
turned it over and over again in my thoughts, day after day, with
the vain hope of penetrating it.
My father, who was a distinguished advocate, had resigned his
practice in court some years previously, and set up as a financial
agent, hoping by that means to make a fortune more rapidly than by
the law. His good official connection, his scrupulous probity, his
extensive knowledge of the most important questions, and his great
capacity for work, had speedily secured him an exceptional
position. He employed ten secretaries, and the million and a half
francs which my mother and I inherited formed only the beginnings
of the wealth to which he aspired, partly for his own sake, much
more for his son's but, above all, for his wife's--he was
passionately attached to her. Notes and letters found among his
papers proved that at the time of his death, he had been for a
month previously in correspondence with a certain person named, or
calling himself, William Henry Rochdale, who was commissioned by
the firm of Crawford, in San Francisco, to obtain a railway
concession in Cochin China, then recently conquered, from the
French Government. It was with Rochdale that my father had the
appointment of which he spoke before he left my mother, M.
Termonde, and myself, after breakfast, on the last fatal morning.
The Instruction had no difficulty in establishing this fact. The
appointed place of meeting was the Imperial Hotel, a large
building, with a long facade, in the Rue de Rivoli, not far from
the Ministere de la Marine. The entire block of houses was
destroyed by fire in the Commune; but during my childhood I
frequently begged Julie to take me to the spot, that I might gaze,
with an aching heart, upon the handsome courtyard adorned with
green shrubs, the wide, carpeted staircase, and the slab of black
marble, encrusted with gold, that marked the entrance to the place
whither my father wended his way, while my mother was talking with
M. Termonde, and I was playing in the room with them. My father
had left us at a quarter-past twelve, and he must have taken a
quarter of an hour to walk to the Imperial Hotel, for the
concierge, having seen the corpse, recognized it, and remembered
that it was just about half-past twelve when my father inquired of
him what was the number of Mr. Rochdale's rooms. This gentleman, a
foreigner, had arrived on the previous day, and had fixed, after
some hesitation, upon an apartment situated on the second floor,
and composed of a salon and a bedroom, with a small ante-room,
which separated the apartment from the landing outside. From that
moment he had not gone out and he dined the same evening and
breakfasted the next morning in his salon. The concierge also
remembered that Rochdale came down alone, at about two o'clock on
the second day; but he was too much accustomed to the continual
coming and going to notice whether the visitor who arrived at half-
past twelve had or had not gone away again. Rochdale handed the
key of his apartment to the concierge, with directions that anybody
who came, wanting to see him, should be asked to wait in his salon.
After this he walked away in a leisurely manner, with a business-
like portfolio under his arm, smoking a cigar, and he did not
The day passed on, and towards night two housemaids entered the
apartment of the foreign gentlemen to prepare his bed. They passed
through the salon without observing anything unusual. The
traveler's luggage, composed of a large and much-used trunk and a
quite new dressing-bag, were there. His dressing-things were
arranged on the top of a cabinet. The next day, towards noon, the
same housemaids entered the apartment, and finding that the
traveler had slept out, they merely replaced the day-covering upon
the bed, and paid no attention to the salon. Precisely the same
thing occurred in the evening; but on the following day, one of the
women having come into the apartment early, and again finding
everything intact, began to wonder what this meant. She searched
about, and speedily discovered a body, lying at full length
underneath the sofa, with the head wrapped in towels. She uttered
a scream which brought other servants to the spot, and the corpse
of my father--alas! it was he--was removed from the hiding-place in
which the assassin had cunningly concealed it. It was not
difficult to reconstruct the scene of the murder. A wound in the
back of the neck indicated that the unfortunate man had been shot
from behind, while seated at the table examining papers, by a
person standing close beside him. The report had not been heard,
on account of the proximity of the weapon, and also because of the
constant noise in the street, and the position of the salon at the
back of the ante-room. Besides, the precautions taken by the
murderer rendered it reasonable to believe that he had carefully
chosen a weapon which would produce but little sound. The ball had
penetrated the spinal marrow and death had been instantaneous. The
assassin had placed new unmarked towels in readiness, and in these
he wrapped up the head and neck of his victim, so that there were
no traces of blood. He had dried his hands on a similar towel,
after rinsing them with water taken from the carafe; this water he
had poured back into the same bottle, which was found concealed
behind the drapery of the mantel-piece. Was the robbery real or
pretended? My father's watch was gone, and neither his letter-case
nor any paper by which his identity could be proved was found upon
his body. An accidental indication led, however, to his immediate
recognition. Inside the pocket of his waistcoat was a little band
of tape, bearing the address of the tailor's establishment.
Inquiry was made there, in the afternoon the sad discovery ensued,
and after the necessary legal formalities, the body was brought
And the murderer? The only data on which the police could proceed
were soon exhausted. The trunk left by the mysterious stranger,
whose name was certainly not Rochdale, was opened. It was full of
things bought haphazard, like the trunk itself, from a bric-a-brac
seller who was found, but who gave a totally different description
of the purchaser from that which had been obtained from the
concierge of the Imperial Hotel. The latter declared that Rochdale
was a dark, sunburnt man with a long thick beard; the former
described him as of fair complexion and beardless. The cab on
which the trunk had been placed immediately after the purchase, was
traced, and the deposition of the driver coincided exactly with
that of the bric-a-brac seller. The assassin had been taken in the
cab, first to a shop, where he bought a dressing-bag, next to a
linen-draper's where he bought the towels, thence to the Lyons
railway station, and there he had deposited the trunk and the
dressing-bag at the parcels office. Then the other cab which had
taken him, three weeks afterwards, to the Imperial Hotel, was
traced, and the description given by the second driver agreed with
the deposition of the concierge. From this it was concluded that
in the interval formed by these three weeks, the assassin had dyed
his skin and his hair, for all the depositions were in agreement
with respect to the stature, figure, bearing, and tone of voice of
the individual. This hypothesis was confirmed by one Jullien, a
hairdresser, who came forward of his own accord to make the
On the day in the preceding month, a man who answered to the
description of Rochdale given by the first driver and the bric-a-
brac seller, being fair-haired, pale, tall, and broad-shouldered,
came to his shop to order a wig and a beard; these were to be so
well constructed that no one could recognize him, and were
intended, he said, to be worn at a fancy ball. The unknown person
was accordingly furnished with a black wig and a black beard, and
he provided himself with all the necessary ingredients for
disguising himself as a native of South America, purchasing kohl
for blackening his eyebrows, and a composition of Sienna earth and
amber for coloring his complexion. He applied these so skilfully,
that when he returned to the hairdresser's shop, Jullien did not
recognize him. The unusualness of a fancy ball given in the middle
of summer, and the perfection to which his customer carried the art
of disguise, astonished the hairdresser so much that his attention
was immediately attracted by the newspaper articles upon "The
Mystery of the Imperial Hotel," as the affair was called. At my
father's house two letters were found; both bore the signature of
Rochdale, and were dated from London, but without envelopes, and
were written in a reversed hand, pronounced by experts to be
disguised. He would have had to forward a certain document on
receipt of these letters; probably that document was in the letter-
case which the assassin carried off after the crime. The firm of
Crawford had a real existence at San Francisco, but had never
formed the project of making a railroad in Cochin China. The
authorities were confronted by one of those criminal problems which
set imagination at defiance. It was probably not for the purpose
of theft that the assassin had resorted to such numerous and clever
devices; he would hardly have led a man of business into so
skilfully laid a trap merely to rob him of a few thousand francs
and a watch.
Was the murder committed for revenge?
A search into the life of my father revealed nothing whatever that
could render such a theory tenable. Every suspicion, every
supposition, was routed by the indisputable and inexplicable fact
that Rochdale was a reality whose existence could not be contested,
that he had been at the Imperial Hotel from seven o'clock in the
evening of one day until two o'clock in the afternoon of the next,
and that he had then vanished, like a phantom, leaving one only
trace behind--ONE ONLY. This man had come there, other men had
spoken to him; the manner in which he had passed the night and the
morning before the crime was known. He had done his deed of
murder, and then--nothing. "All Paris" was full of this affair,
and when I made a collection, long afterwards, of newspapers which
referred to it, I found that for six whole weeks it occupied a
place in the chronicle of every day.
At length the fatal heading, "The Mystery of the Imperial Hotel,"
disappeared from the columns of the newspapers, as the remembrance
of that ghastly enigma faded from the minds of their readers, and
solicitude about it ceased to occupy the police. The tide of life,
rolling that poor waif amid its waters, had swept on. Yes; but I,
the son? How should I ever forget the old woman's story that had
filled my childhood with tragic horror? How should I ever cease to
see the pale face of the murdered man, with its fixed, open eyes?
How should I not say: "I will avenge thee, thou poor ghost?" Poor
ghost! When I read Hamlet for the first time, with that passionate
avidity which comes from an analogy between the moral situation
depicted in a work of art and some crisis of our own life, I
remember that I regarded the Prince of Denmark with horror. Ah! if
the ghost of my father had come to relate the drama of his death to
me, with his unbreathing lips, would I have hesitated one instant?
No! I protested to myself; and then? I learned all, and yet I
hesitated, like him, though less than he, to dare the terrible
deed. Silence! silence! Let me go back to the facts.
I remember little of the succeeding events. All was so trivial, so
insignificant, between that first vision of horror and the vision
of woe which came to me two years later, that, with one exception,
I hardly recall the intervening time.
In 1864, my father died; in 1866, my mother married M. Jacques
Termonde. The exceptional period of the interval was the only one
during which my mother bestowed constant attention upon me. Before
the fatal date my father was the only person who had cared for me;
at a later period there was no one at all to do so. Our apartment
in the Rue Tronchet became unbearable to us; there we could not
escape from the remembrance of the terrible event, and we removed
to a small hotel in the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg. The house
had belonged to a painter, and stood in a small garden which seemed
larger than it was because other gardens adjoined it, and over-
shadowed its boundary wall and greenery. The center of the house
was a kind of hall, in the English style, which the former occupant
had used as a studio; my mother made this her ordinary sitting-
Now, at this distance of time, I can understand my mother's
character, and recognize that there was something about her, which,
although it was very harmless, led her to exaggerate the outward
expression of all her feelings. While she occupied herself in
studying the attitudes by which her emotions were to be fittingly
expressed, the sentiments themselves were fading away. For
instance, she chose to condemn herself to voluntary exile and
seclusion after her bereavement, receiving only a very few friends,
of whom M. Jacques Termonde was one; but she very soon began to
adorn herself and everything around her, with the fine and subtle
tastefulness that was innate in her.
My mother was a very lovely woman; her beauty was of a refined and
pensive order, her figure was tall and slender, her dark hair was
very luxuriant and of remarkable length. No doubt it was to the
Greek blood in her veins that she owed the classical lines of her
profile, her full-lidded soft eyes, and the willowy grace of her
form. Her maternal grandfather was a Greek merchant, of the name
of Votronto, who had come from the Levant to Marcielles when the
Ionian Islands were annexed to France.
Many times in after years I have recalled the strange contrast
between her rare and refined beauty and my father's stolid sturdy