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Stories of Modern French Novels

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form, and my own, and wondered whether the origin of many
irreparable mistakes might not be traced to that contrast. But I
did not reason in those days; I was under the spell of the fair
being who called me, "My son." I used to look at her with a kind
of idolatry when she was seated at her piano in that elegant
sanctum of hers, which she had hung with draped foreign stuffs, and
decorated with tall green plants and various curious things, after
a fashion entirely her own. For her sake, and in spite of my
natural awkwardness and untidiness, I strove to keep myself very
clean and neat in the more and more elaborate costumes which she
made me wear, and also more and more did the terrible image of the
murdered man fade away from that home, which, nevertheless, was
provided and adorned by the fortune which he had earned for us and
bequeathed to us. All the ways of modern life are so opposed to
the tragic in events, so far removed from the savage realities of
passion and bloodshed, that when such things intrude upon the
decorous life of a family, they are put out of sight with all
speed, and soon come to be looked upon as a bad dream, impossible
to doubt, but difficult to realize.

Yes, our life had almost resumed its normal course when my mother's
second marriage was announced to me. This time I accurately
remember not only the period, but also the day and hour.

I was spending my holidays with my spinster aunt, my father's
sister, who lived at Compiegne, in a house situated at the far end
of the town. She had three servants, one of whom was my dear old
Julie, who had left us because my mother could not get on with her.
My aunt Louise was a little woman of fifty, with countrified looks
and manners; she had hardly ever consented to stay two whole days
in Paris during my father's lifetime. Her almost invariable attire
was a black silk gown made at home, with just a line of white at
the neck and wrists, and she always wore a very long gold chain of
ancient date, which was passed under the bodice of her gown and
came out at the belt. To this chain her watch and a bunch of seals
and charms were attached. Her cap, plainly trimmed with ribbon,
was black like her dress, and the smooth bands of her hair, which
was turning gray, framed a thoughtful brow and eyes so kind that
she was pleasant to behold, although her nose was large and her
mouth and chin were heavy. She had brought up my father in this
same little town of Compiegne, and had given him, out of her
fortune, all that she could spare from the simple needs of her
frugal life, when he wished to marry Mdlle. de Slane, in order to
induce my mother's family to listen to his suit.

The contrast between the portrait in my little album of my aunt and
her face as I saw it now, told plainly enough how much she had
suffered during the past two years. Her hair had become more
white, the lines which run from the nostrils to the corners of the
mouth were deepened, her eyelids had a withered look. And yet she
had never been demonstrative in her grief. I was an observant
little boy, and the difference between my mother's character and
that of my aunt was precisely indicated to my mind by the
difference in their respective sorrow. At that time it was hard
for me to understand my aunt's reserve, while I could not suspect
her of want of feeling. Now it is to the other sort of nature that
I am unjust. My mother also had a tender heart, so tender that she
did not feel able to reveal her purpose to me, and it was my Aunt
Louise who undertook to do so. She had not consented to be present
at the marriage, and M. Termonde, as I afterwards learned,
preferred that I should not attend on the occasion, in order, no
doubt, to spare the feelings of her who was to become his wife.

In spite of all her self-control, Aunt Louise had tears in her
brown eyes when she led me to the far end of the garden, where my
father had played when he was a child like myself. The golden
tints of September had begun to touch the foliage of the trees. A
vine spread its tendrils over the arbor in which we seated
ourselves, and wasps were busy among the ripening grapes. My aunt
took both my hands in hers, and began:

"Andre, I have to tell you a great piece of news."

I looked at her apprehensively. The shock of the dreadful event in
our lives had left its mark upon my nervous system, and at the
slightest surprise my heart would beat until I nearly fainted. She
saw my agitation and said simply:

"Your mother is about to marry."

It was strange this sentence did not immediately produce the
impression which my look at her had led my aunt to expect. I had
thought from the tone of her voice, that she was going to tell me
of my mother's illness or death. My sensitive imagination readily
conjured up such fears. I asked calmly:


"You do not guess?"

"M. Termonde?" I cried.

Even now I cannot define the reasons which sent this name to my
lips so suddenly, without a moment's thought. No doubt M. Termonde
had been a good deal at our house since my father's death; but had
he not visited us as often, if not more frequently, before my
mother's widowhood? Had he not managed every detail of our affairs
for us with care and fidelity, which even then I could recognize as
very rare? Why should the news of his marriage with my mother seem
to me on the instant to be much worse news than if she had married
no matter whom? Exactly the opposite effect ought to have been
produced, surely? I had known this man for a long time; he had
been very kind to me formerly--they said he spoiled me--and he was
very kind to me still. My best toys were presents from him, and my
prettiest books; a wonderful wooden horse which moved by clockwork,
given to me when I was seven--how much my poor father was amused
when I told him this horse was "a double thoroughbred"--"Don
Quixote," with Dore's illustrations, this very year; in fact some
new gift constantly, and yet I was never easy and light-hearted in
his presence as I had formerly been. When had this restraint
begun? I could not have told that, but I thought he came too often
between my mother and me. I was jealous of him, I may as well
confess it, with that unconscious jealousy which children feel, and
which made me lavish kisses on my mother when he was by, in order
to show him that she was my mother, and nothing at all to him. Had
he discovered my feelings? Had they been his own also? However
that might be, I now never failed to discern antipathy similar to
my own in his looks, notwithstanding his flattering voice and his
over-polite ways. At my then age, instinct is never deceived about
such impressions.

Without any other cause than the weakness of nerves to which I had
been subject ever since my father's death, I burst into tears. The
same thing happened to me sometimes when I was shut up in my room
alone, with the door bolted, suffering from a dread which I could
not conquer, like that of a coming danger. I would forecast the
worst accidents that could happen; for example, that my mother
would be murdered, like my father, and then myself, and I peered
under all the articles of furniture in the room. It had occurred
to me, when out walking with a servant, to imagine that the
harmless man might be an accomplice of the mysterious criminal, and
have it in charge to take me to him, or at all events to have it in
charge to take place. My too highly-wrought imagination
overmastered me. I fancied myself, however, escaping from the
deadly device, and in order to hide myself more effectually, making
for Compiegne. Should I have enough money? Then I reflected that
it might be possible to sell my watch to an old watchmaker whom I
used to see, when on my way to the Lycee, at work behind the window
of his little shop, with a glass fixed in his right eye. That was
a sad faculty of foresight which poisoned so many of the harmless
hours of my childhood! It was the same faculty that now made me
break out into choking sobs when my aunt asked me what I had in my
mind against M. Termonde. I related the worst of my grievances to
her then, leaning my head on her shoulder, and in this one all the
others were summed up. It dated from two months before. I had
come back from school in a merry mood, contrary to my habit. My
teacher had dismissed me with praise of my compositions and
congratulations on my prizes. What good news this was to take home
and how tenderly my mother would kiss me when she heard it! I put
away my books, washed my hands carefully, and flew to the salon
where my mother was. I entered the room without knocking at the
door, and in such haste that as I sprang towards her to throw
myself into her arms, she gave a little cry. She was standing
beside the mantlepiece, her face was very pale, and near her stood
M. Termonde. He seized me by the arm and held me back from her.

"Oh, how you frightened me!" said my mother.

"Is that the way to come into a salon?" said M. Termonde.

His voice had turned rough like his gesture. He had grasped my arm
so tightly that where his fingers had fastened on it I found black
marks that night when I undressed myself. But it was neither his
insolent words nor the pain of his grasp which made me stand there
stupidly, with a swelling heart. No, it was hearing my mother say
to him:

"Don't scold Andre too much; he is so young. He will improve."

Then she drew me towards her, and rolled my curls round her
fingers; but in her words, in their tone, in her glance, in her
faint smile, I detected a singular timidity, almost a supplication,
directed to the man before her, who frowned as he pulled his
moustache with his restless fingers, as if in impatience of my
presence. By what right did he, stranger, speak in the tone of a
master in our house? Why had he laid his hand on me ever so
lightly? Yes, by what right? Was I his son or his ward? Why did
not my mother defend me against him? Even if I were in fault it
was towards her only. A fit of rage seized upon me; I burned with
longing to spring upon M. Termonde like a beast, to tear his face
and bite him. I darted a look of fury at him and at my mother, and
left the room without speaking. I was of a sullen temper, and I
think this defect was due to my excessive and almost morbid
sensitiveness. All my feelings were exaggerated, so that the least
thing angered me, and it was misery to me to recover myself. Even
my father had found it very difficult to get the better of those
fits of wounded feeling, during which I strove against my own
relentings with a cold and concentrated anger which both relieved
and tortured me. I was well aware of this moral infirmity, and as
I was not a bad child in reality, I was ashamed of it. Therefore,
my humiliation was complete when, as I went out of the room, M.
Termonde said:

"Now for a week's sulk! His temper is really insufferable."

His remark had one advantage, for I made it a point of honor to
give the lie to it, and did not sulk; but the scene had hurt me too
deeply for me to forget it, and now my resentment was fully
revived, and grew stronger and stronger while I was telling the
story to my aunt. Alas! my almost unconscious second-sight, that
of a too sensitive child, was not in error. That puerile but
painful scene symbolized the whole history of my youth, my
invincible antipathy to the man who was about to take my father's
place, and the blind partiality in his favor of her who ought to
have defended me from the first and always.

"He detests me!" I said through my tears; "what have I done to

"Calm yourself," said the kind woman. "You are just like your poor
father, making the worst of all your little troubles. And now you
must try to be nice to him on account of your mother, and not to
give way to this violent feeling, which frightens me. Do not make
an enemy of him," she added.

It was quite natural that she should speak to me in this way, and
yet her earnestness appeared strange to me from that moment out. I
do not know why she also seemed surprised at my answer to her
question, "What do you know?" She wanted to quiet me, and she
increased the apprehension with which I regarded the usurper--so I
called him ever afterwards--by the slight faltering of her voice
when she spoke to him.

"You will have to write to them this evening," said she at length.

Write to them! The words sickened me. They were united; never,
nevermore should I be able to think of the one without thinking of
the other.

"And you?"

"I have already written."

"When are they to be married?"

"They were married yesterday," she answered, in so low a tone that
I hardly heard the words.

"And where?" I asked, after a pause.

"In the country, at the house of some friends." Then she added
quickly: "They preferred that you should not be there on account of
the interruption of your holidays. They have gone away for three
weeks; then they will go to see you in Paris before they start for
Italy. You know I am not well enough to travel. I will keep you
here until then. Be a good boy, and go now and write."

I had many other questions to put to her, and many more tears to
weep, but I restrained myself, and a quarter of an hour later, I
was seated at my dear good aunt's writing-table in her salon.

How I loved that room on the ground floor, with its glass door
opening on the garden. It was filled with remembrance for me. On
the wall at the side of the old-fashioned "secretary" hung the
portraits, in frames of all shapes and sizes, of those whom the
good and pious soul had loved and lost. This funereal little
corner spoke strongly to my fancy. One of the portraits was a
colored miniature, representing my great-grandmother in the costume
of the Directory, with a short waist, and her hair dressed a la
Proudhon. There was also a miniature of my great-uncle, her son.
What an amiable, self-important visage was that of the staunch
admirer of Louis Philippe and M. Thiers! Then came my paternal
grandfather, with his strong parvenu physiognomy, and my father at
all ages. Underneath these works of art was a bookcase, in which I
found all my father's school prizes, piously preserved. What a
feeling of protection I derived from the portieres in green velvet,
with long bands of needlework, my aunt's masterpieces, which hung
in wide folds over the doors! With what admiration I regarded the
faded carpet, with its impossible flowers, which I had so often
tried to gather in my babyhood! This was one of the legends of my
earliest years, one of those anecdotes which are told of a beloved
son, and which make him feel that the smallest details of his
existence have been observed, understood, and loved. In later days
I have been frozen by the ice of indifference. And my aunt, she
whose life had been lived among these old-fashioned things, how I
loved her, with that face in which I read nothing but supreme
tenderness for me, those eyes whose gaze did me good in some
mysterious part of my soul! I felt her so near to me, only through
her likeness to my father, that I rose from my task four or five
times to kiss her, during the time it took me to write my letter of
congratulation to the worst enemy I had, to my knowledge, in the

And this was the second indelible date in my life.


I once spoke to my aunt of the vow I had taken, the solemn promise
I had made to myself that I would discover the murderer of my
father, and take vengeance upon him, and she laid her hand upon my
mouth. She was a pious woman, and she repeated the words of the
gospel: "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord." Then she added: "We
must leave the punishment of the crime to Him; His will is hidden
from us. Remember the divine precept and promise, 'Forgive and you
shall be forgiven.' Never say: 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a
tooth.' Ah, no; drive this enmity out of your heart, Cornelis;
yes, even this." And there were tears in her eyes.

My poor aunt! She thought me made of sterner stuff than I really
was. There was no need of her advice to prevent my being consumed
by the desire for vengeance which had been the fixed star of my
early youth, the blood-colored beacon aflame in my night. Ah! the
resolutions of boyhood, the "oaths of Hannibal" taken to ourselves,
the dream of devoting all our strength to one single and unchanging
aim--life sweeps all that away, together with our generous
illusions, ardent enthusiasm, and noble hopes. What a difference
there is--what a falling off--between the boy of fifteen, unhappy
indeed, but so bold and proud in 1870, and the young man of eight
years later, in 1878! And to think, only to think, that but for
chance occurrences, impossible to foresee, I should still be, at
this hour, the young man whose portrait hangs upon the wall above
the table at which I am writing. Of a surety, the visitors to the
Salon of that year (1878) who looked at this portrait among so many
others, had no suspicion that it represented the son of a father
who had come to so tragic an end. And I, when I look at that
commonplace image of an ordinary Parisian, with eyes unlit by any
fire or force of will, complexion paled by the fatigues of fashion,
hair cut in the mode of the day, strictly correct dress and
attitude, I am astonished to think that I could have lived as I
actually did live at that period. Between the misfortunes that
saddened my childhood, and those of quite recent date which have
finally laid waste my life, the course of my existence was
colorless, monotonous, vulgar, just like that of anybody else. I
shall merely note the stages of it.

In the second half of 1870, the Franco-Prussian war takes place.
The invasion finds me at Compiegne, where I am passing my holidays
with my aunt. My stepfather and my mother remain in Paris during
the siege. I go on with my studies under the tuition of an old
priest belonging to the little town, who prepared my father for his
first communion. In the autumn of 1871 I return to Versailles; in
August, 1873, I take my bachelor's degree, and then I do my one
year's voluntary service in the army at Angers under the easiest
possible conditions. My colonel was the father of my old
schoolfellow, Rocquin. In 1874 I am set free from tutelage by my
stepfather's advice. This was the moment at which my task was to
have been begun, the time appointed with my own soul; yet, four
years afterwards, in 1878, not only was the vengeance that had been
the tragic romance, and, so to speak, the religion of my childhood,
unfulfilled, but I did not trouble myself about it.

I was cruelly ashamed of my indifference when I thought about it;
but I am now satisfied that it was not so much the result of
weakness of character as of causes apart from myself which would
have acted in the same way upon any young man placed in my
situation. From the first, and when I faced my task of vengeance,
an insurmountable obstacle arose before me. It is equally easy and
sublime to strike an attitude and exclaim: "I swear that I will
never rest until I have punished the guilty one." In reality, one
never acts except in detail, and what could I do? I had to proceed
in the same way as justice had proceeded, to reopen the inquiry
which had been pushed to its extremity without any result.

I began with the Judge of Instruction,* who had had the carriage of
the matter, and who was now a Counsellor of the Court. He was a
man of fifty, very quiet and plain in his way, and he lived in the
Ile de Paris, on the first floor of an ancient house, from whose
windows he could see Notre Dame, primitive Paris, and the Seine,
which is as narrow as a canal at that place.

* The translator renders literally those terms and phrases relating
to the French criminal law and procedure which have no analogous
expression in English.

M. Massol, so he was named, was quite willing to resume with me the
analysis of the data which had been furnished by the Instruction.
No doubt existed either as to the personality of the assassin, or
the hour at which the crime was committed. My father had been
killed between two and three o'clock in the day, without a
struggle, by that tall, broad-shouldered personage whose
extraordinary disguise indicated, according to the magistrate, "an
amateur." Excess of complication is always an imprudence, for it
multiplies the chances of failure. Had the assassin dyed his skin
and worn a wig because my father knew him by sight?

To this M. Massol said "No; for M. Cornelis, who was very
observant, and who, besides, was on his guard--this is evident from
his last words when he left you--would have recognized him by his
voice, his glance, and his attitude. A man cannot change his
height and his figure, although he may change his face."

M. Massol's theory of this disguise was that the wearer had adopted
it in order to gain time to get out of France, should the corpse be
discovered on the day of the murder. Supposing that a description
of a man with a very brown complexion and a black beard had been
telegraphed in every direction, the assassin, having washed off his
paint, laid aside his wig and beard, and put on other clothes,
might have crossed the frontier without arousing the slightest
suspicion. There was reason to believe that the pretended Rochdale
lived abroad. He had spoke in English at the hotel, and the people
there had taken him for an American; it was therefore presumable
either that he was a native of the United States, or that he
habitually resided there. The criminal was, then, a foreigner,
American or English, or perhaps a Frenchman settled in America. As
for the motive of so complicated a crime, it was difficult to admit
that it could be robbery alone. "And yet," observed the Judge of
Instruction, "we do not know what the note-case carried off by the
assassin contained. But," he added, "the hypothesis of robbery
seems to me to be utterly routed by the fact that, while Rochdale
stripped the dead man of his watch, he left a ring, which was much
more valuable, on his finger. From this I conclude that he took
the watch merely as a precaution to throw the police off the scent.
My supposition is that the man killed M. Cornelis for revenge.

Then the former Judge of Instruction gave me some singular examples
of the resentment cherished against medical experts employed in
legal cases, Procureurs of the Republic, and Presidents of Assize.
His theory was, that in the course of his practice at the bar my
father might have excited resentment of a fierce and implacable
kind; for he had won many suits of importance, and no doubt had
made enemies of those against whom he employed his great powers.
Supposing one of those persons, being ruined by the result, had
attributed that ruin to my father, there would be an explanation of
all the apparatus of this deadly vengeance.

M. Massol begged me to observe that the assassin, whether he were a
foreigner or not, was known in Paris. Why, if this were not so,
should the man have so carefully avoided being seen in the street?
He had been traced out during his first stay in Paris, when he
bought the wig and the beard, and that time he put up at a small
hotel in the Rue d'Aboukir under the name of Rochdale, and
invariably went out in a cab. "Observe also," said the Judge,
"that he kept his room on the day before the murder, and on the
morning of the actual day. He breakfasted in his apartment, having
breakfasted and dined there the day before. But, when he was in
London, and when he lived at the hotel to which your father
addressed his first letters, he came and went without any

And this was all. The addresses of three hotels--such were the
meagre particulars that formed the whole of the information to
which I listened with passionate eagerness; the magistrate had no
more to tell me. He had small, twinkling, very light eyes, and his
smooth face wore an expression of extreme keenness. His language
was measured, his general demeanor was cold, obliging, and mild, he
was always closely shaven, and in him one recognized at once the
well-balanced and methodical mind which had given him great
professional weight. He acknowledged that he had been unable to
discover anything, even after a close analysis of the whole
existing situation of my father, as well as his past.

"Ah, I have thought a great deal about this said he, adding that
before he resigned his post as Judge of Instruction he had
carefully reperused the notes of the case. He had again questioned
the concierge of the Imperial Hotel and other persons. Since he
had become Counsellor to the Court, he had indicated to his
successor what he believed to be a clue; a robbery committed by a
carefully made-up Englishman had led him to believe the thief to be
identical with the pretended Rochdale. Then there was nothing

These steps had, however, been of use inasmuch as they barred the
rule of limitation, and he laid stress on that fact. I consulted
him then as to how much time still remained for me to seek out the
truth on my own account. The last Act of Instruction dated from
1873, so that I had until 1883 to discover the criminal and deliver
him up to public justice. What madness! Ten years had already
elapsed since the crime, and I, all alone, insignificant, not
possessed of the vast resources at the disposal of the police, I
presumed to imagine that I should triumph, where so skillful a
ferret as he had failed! Folly! Yes; it was so.

And still there was nothing, no indication whatever. Nevertheless,
I tried.

I began a thorough and searching investigation of all the dead
man's papers. With that unbounded tenderness of hers for my
stepfather, which made me so miserable, my mother had placed all
these papers in M. Termonde's keeping. Alas! Why should she have
understood those niceties of feeling on my part, which rendered the
fusion of her present with her past so repugnant to me, any more
clearly on this point than on any other? M. Termonde had at least
scrupulously respected the whole of those papers, from plans of
association and prospectuses to private letters. Among the latter
were several from M. Termonde himself, which bore testimony to the
friendship that had formerly subsisted between my mother's first
husband and her second. Had I not known this always? Why should I
suffer from the knowledge?

And still there was nothing, no indication whatever to put me on
the track of a suspicion.

I evoked the image of my father as he lived, just as I had seen him
for the last time; I heard him replying to M. Termonde's question
in the dining-room of the Rue Tronchet, and speaking of the man who
awaited him to kill him: "A singular man whom I shall not be sorry
to observe more closely." And then he had gone out and was walking
towards his death while I was playing in the little salon, and my
mother was talking to the friend who was one day to be her master
and mine. What a happy home-picture, while in that hotel room--
Ah! was I never to find the key of the terrible enigma? Where was
I to go? What was I to do? At what door was I to knock?

At the same time that a sense of the responsibility of my task
disheartened me, the novel facilities of my new way of life
contributed to relax the tension of my will. During my school
days, the sufferings I underwent from jealousy of my stepfather,
the disappointment of my repressed affections, the meanness and
penury of my surroundings, many grievous influences, had maintained
the restless ardor of my feelings; but this also had undergone a
change. No doubt I still continued to love my mother deeply and
painfully, but I now no longer asked her for what I knew she would
not give me, my unshared place, a separate shrine in her heart. I
accepted her nature instead of rebelling against it.

Neither had I ceased to regard my stepfather with morose antipathy;
but I no longer hated him with the old vehemence. His conduct to
me after I had left school was irreproachable. Just as in my
childhood, he had made it a point of honor never to raise his voice
in speaking to me, so he now seemed to pique himself upon an entire
absence of interference in my life as a young man. When, having
passed my baccalaureate, I announced that I did not wish to adopt
any profession, but without a reason--the true one was my
resolution to devote myself entirely to the fulfillment of my task
of justice--he had not a word to say against that strange decision;
nay, more, he brought my mother to consent to it.

When my fortune was handed over to me, I found that my mother, who
had acted as my guardian, and my stepfather, her co-trustee, had
agreed not to touch my funds during the whole period of my
education; the interest had been re-invested, and I came into
possession, not of 750,000 francs, but of more than a million.
Painful as I felt the obligation of gratitude towards the man whom
I had for years regarded as my enemy, I was bound to acknowledge
that he had acted an honorable part towards me. I was well aware
that no real contradiction existed between these high-minded
actions and the harshness with which he had imprisoned me at
school, and, so to speak, relegated me to exile. Provided that I
renounced all attempts to form a third between him and his wife, he
would have no relations with me but those of perfect courtesy; but
I must not be in my mother's house. His will was to reign entirely
alone over the heart and life of the woman who bore his name.

How could I have contended with him? Why, too, should I have
blamed him, since I knew so well that in his place, jealous as I
was, my own conduct would have been exactly similar?

I yielded, therefore, because I was powerless to contend with a
love which made my mother happy; because I was weary of keeping up
the daily constraint of my relations with her and him, and also
because I hoped that when once I was free I should be better fitted
for my task as a doer of justice. I myself asked to be permitted
to leave the house, so that at nineteen I possessed absolute
independence, an apartment of my own in the Avenue Montaigne, close
to the round-point in the Champs Elysees, a yearly income of 50,000
francs, the entree to all the salons frequented by my mother, and
the entree, too, to all the places at which one may amuse one's
self. How could I have resisted the influences of such a position?

Yes, I had dreamed of being an avenger, a justiciary, and I allowed
myself to be caught up almost instantly into the whirlwind of that
life of pleasure whose destructive power those who see it only from
the outside cannot measure. It is a futile and exacting existence
which fritters away your hours as it fritters away your mind,
raveling out the stuff of time thread by thread with irreparable
loss, and also the more precious stuff of mental and moral

With respect to that task of mine, my task as an avenger, I was
incapable of immediate action--what and whom was I to attack?

And so I availed myself of all the opportunities that presented
themselves of disguising my inaction by movement, and soon the days
began to hurry on, and press one upon the other, amid those
innumerable amusements of which the idle rich make a code of duties
to be performed. What with the morning ride in the Bois, afternoon
calls, dinner parties, parties to the theater and after midnight,
play at the club, or the pursuit of pleasure elsewhere--how was I
to find leisure for the carrying out of a project? I had horses,
intrigues, an absurd duel in which I acquitted myself well,
because, as I believe, the tragic ideas that were always at the
bottom of my life favored me.

A woman of forty persuaded me that I was her first love; then I
persuaded myself that I was in love with a Russian great lady, who
was living in Paris. The latter was--indeed she still is--one of
those incomparable actresses in society, who, in order to surround
themselves with a sort of court, composed of admirers who are more
or less rewarded, employ all the allurements of luxury, wit, and
beauty, but who have not a particle of either imagination or heart,
although they fascinate by a display of the most refined fancies
and the most vivid emotions. I led the life of a slave to the
caprices of this soulless coquette for nearly six months, and
learned that women of the fashionable world and women of "the half-
world" are very much alike in point of worth. The former are
intolerable on account of their lies, their assumption, and their
vanity; the others are equally odious by reason of their vulgarity,
their stupidity, and their sordid love of lucre.

I forgot all my absurd relations with women of both orders in the
excitement of play, and yet I was well aware of the meanness of
that diversion, which only ceases to be insipid when it becomes
odious, because it is a clever calculation upon money to be gained
without working for it. There was in me something at once wildly
dissipated and yet disgusted, which drove me to excess, and at the
same time inspired me with bitter self-contempt. In the innermost
recesses of my being the memory of my father dwelt, and poisoned my
thoughts at their source. An impression of dark fatalism invaded
my sick mind; it was so strange that I should live as I was living,
nevertheless, I did live thus, and the visible "I" had but little
likeness to the real.

Upon me, then, poor creature that I was, as upon the whole
universe, a fate rested. "Let it drive me," I said, and yielded
myself up to it. I went to sleep, pondering upon ideas of the most
somber philosophy, and I awoke to resume an existence without worth
or dignity, in which I was losing not only my power of carrying out
my design of reparation towards the phantom which haunted my dreams
but all self-esteem, and all conscience.

Who could have helped me reascend this fatal stream? My mother?
She saw nothing but the fashionable exterior of my life, and she
congratulated herself that I had "ceased to be a savage." My
stepfather? But he had been, voluntarily or not, favorable to my
disorderly life. Had he not made me master of my fortune at the
most dangerous age? Had he not procured me admission, at the
earliest moment, to the clubs to which he belonged, and in every
way facilitated my entrance into society? My aunt? Ah, yes, my
aunt was grieved by my mode of life; and yet, was she not glad that
at any rate I had forgotten the dark resolution of hate that had
always frightened her? And, besides, I hardly ever saw her now.
My visits to Compiegne were few, for I was at the age when one
always finds time for one's pleasures, but never has any for one's
nearest duties. If, indeed, there was a voice that was constantly
lifted up against the waste of my life in vulgar pleasures, it was
that of the dead, who slept in the day, unavenged; that voice rose,
rose, rose unceasingly, from the depths of all my musings, but I
had accustomed myself to pay it no heed, to make it no answer. Was
it my fault that everything, from the most important to the
smallest circumstance, conspired to paralyze my will? And so I
existed, in a sort of torpor which was not dispelled even by the
hurly-burly of my mock passions and my mock pleasures.

The falling of a thunderbolt awoke me from this craven slumber of
the will. My Aunt Louise was seized with paralysis, towards the
end of the sad year 1878, in the month of December. I had come in
at night, or rather in the morning, having won a large sum at play.
Several letters and also a telegram awaited me. I tore open the
blue envelope, while I hummed the air of a fashionable song, with a
cigarette between my lips, untroubled by an idea that I was about
to be apprised of an event which would become, after my father's
death and my mother's second marriage, the third great date in my
life. The telegram was signed by Julie, my former nurse, and it
told me that my aunt had been taken ill quite suddenly, also that I
must come at once, although there was a hope of her recovery.

This bad news was the more terrible to me because I had received a
letter from my aunt just a week previously, and in it the dear old
lady complained, as usual, that I did not come to see her. My
answer to her letter was lying half-written upon my writing-table.
I had not finished it; God knows for what futile reason. It needs
the advent of that dread visitant, Death, to make us understand
that we ought to make good haste and love WELL those whom we do
love, if we would not have them pass away from us forever, before
we have loved them enough.

Bitter remorse, in that I had not proved to her sufficiently how
dear she was to me, increased my anxiety about my aunt's state. It
was two o'clock a. m., the first train for Compiegne did not start
until six; in the interval she might die. Those were very long
hours of waiting, which I killed by turning over in my mind all my
shortcomings towards my father's only sister, my sole kinswoman.
The possibility of an irrevocable parting made me regard myself as
utterly ungrateful! My mental pain grew keener when I was in the
train speeding through the cold dawn of a winter's day, along the
road I knew so well.

As I recognized each familiar feature of the way, I became once
more the schoolboy whose heart was full of unuttered tenderness,
and whose brain was laden with the weight of a terrible mission.
My thoughts outstripped the engine, moving too slowly, to my
impatient fancy, which summoned up that beloved face, so frank and
so simple, the mouth with its thickish lips and its perfect
kindliness, the eyes out of which goodness looked, with their
wrinkled, tear-worn lids, the flat bands of grizzled hair. In what
state should I find her? Perhaps, if on that night of repentance,
wretchedness, and mental disturbance, my nerves had not been
strained to the utmost--yes, perhaps I should not have experienced
those wild impulses when by the side of my aunt's deathbed, which
rendered me capable of disobeying the dying woman. But how can I
regret my disobedience, since it was the one thing that set me on
the track of the truth? No, I do not regret anything, I am better
pleased to have done what I have done.


My good old Julie was waiting for me at the station. Her eyes had
failed her of late, for she was seventy years old, nevertheless she
recognized me as I stepped out of the train, and began to talk to
me in her usual interminable fashion so soon as we were seated in
the hired coupe, which my aunt had sent to meet me whenever I came
to Compiegne, from the days of my earliest childhood. How well I
knew the heavy old vehicle, with its worn cushions of yellow
leather, and the driver, who had been in the service of the livery
stable keeper as long as I could remember. He was a little man
with a merry, roguish face, and eyes twinkling with fun; but he
tried to give a melancholy tone to his salutation that morning.

"It took her yesterday," said Julie, while the vehicle rumbled
heavily through the streets, "but you see it had to happen. Our
poor demoiselle had been changing for weeks past. She was so
trustful, so gentle, so just; she scolded, she ferreted about, she
suspected--there, then, her head was all astray. She talked of
nothing but thieves and assassins; she thought everybody wanted to
do her some harm, the tradespeople, Jean Mariette, myself--yes, I
too. She went into the cellar every day to count the bottles of
wine, and wrote the number down on a paper. The next day she found
the same number, and she would maintain the paper was not the same,
she disowned her own handwriting. I wanted to tell you this the
last time you came here, but I did not venture to say anything; I
was afraid it would worry you, and then I thought these were only
freaks, that she was a little crazy, and it would pass off. Well,
then, I came down yesterday to keep her company at her dinner, as
she always liked me to do, because, you know, she was fond of me in
reality, whether she was ill or well. I could not find her.
Mariette, Jean, and I searched everywhere, and at last Jean
bethought him of letting the dog loose; the animal brought us
straight to the wood-stock, and there we found her lying at full
length upon the ground. No doubt she had gone to the stack to
count the logs. We lifted her up, our poor dear demoiselle! Her
mouth was crooked, and one side of her could not move. She began
to talk. Then we thought she was mad, for she said senseless words
which we could not understand; but the doctor assures us that she
is perfectly clear in her head, only that she utters one word when
she means another. She gets angry if we do not obey her on the
instant. Last night when I was sitting up with her she asked for
some pins. I brought them and she was angry. Would you believe
that it was the time of night she wanted to know? At length, by
dint of questioning her, and by her yesses and noes, which she
expresses with her sound hand, I have come to make out her meaning.
If you only knew how troubled she was all night about you; I saw
it, and when I uttered your name her eyes brightened. She repeats
words, you would think she raves: she calls for you. Now look
here, M. Andre, it was the ideas she had about your poor father
that brought on her illness. All these last weeks she talked of
nothing else. She would say: 'If only they do not kill Andre also.
As for me, I am old, but he so young, so good, so gentle.' And she
cried--yes, she cried incessantly. 'Who is it that you think wants
to harm M. Andre?' I asked her. Then she turned away from me with
a look of distrust that cut me to the heart, although I knew that
her head was astray. The doctor says that she believes herself
persecuted, and that it is a mania; he also says that she may
recover, but will never have her speech again."

I listened to Julie's talk in silence; I made no answer. I was not
surprised that my Aunt Louise had begun to be attacked by a mental
malady; the trials of her life sufficiently explained this, and I
could also account for several singularities that I had observed in
her attitude towards me of late. She had surprised me much by
asking me to bring back a book of my father's which I had never
thought of taking away. "Return it to me," she said, insisting
upon it so strongly, that I instituted a search for the book, and
at last unearthed it from the bottom of a cupboard where it had
been placed, as if on purpose, under a heap of other books.
Julie's prolix narrative only enlightened me as to the sad cause of
what I had taken for the oddity of a fidgety and lonely old maid.

On the other hand, I could not take the ideas of my father's death
so philosophically as Julie accepted them. What were those ideas?
Many a time, in the course of conversation with her, I had vaguely
felt that she was not opening her heart quite freely to me. Her
determined opposition to my plans of a personal inquiry might
proceed from her piety, which would naturally cause her to
disapprove of any thought or project of vengeance, but was there
nothing else, nothing besides that piety in question? Her strange
solicitude for my personal safety, which even led her to entreat me
not to go out unarmed in the evening, or get into an empty
compartment in a train, with other counsels of the same kind, was
no doubt caused by morbid excitement; still her constant and
distressing dread might possibly rest upon a less vague foundation
than I imagined.

I also recalled, with a certain apprehension, that so soon as she
ceased to be able completely to control her mind these strange
fears took stronger possession of her than before. "What!" said I
to myself, "am I becoming like her, that I let such things occur to
me? Are not these fixed ideas quite natural in a person whose
brain is racked by the mania of persecution, and who has lost a
beloved brother under circumstances equally mysterious and

"She is awake," said Julie, who had taken the maid's place at the
foot of the bed. I approached my aunt and called her by her name.
I then clearly saw her poor face distorted by paralysis.

She recognized me, and as I bent down to kiss her, she stroked my
cheek with her sound hand. This caress, which was habitual with
her, she repeated slowly several times. I placed her, with Julie's
assistance, on her back, so that she could see me distinctly; she
looked at me for a long time, and two heavy tears fell from the
eyes in which I read boundless tenderness, supreme anguish, and
inexpressible pity. I answered them by my own tears, which she
dried with the back of her hand; then she strove to speak to me,
but could only pronounce an incoherent sentence that struck me to
the heart. She saw, by the expression of my face, that I had not
understood her, and she made a desperate effort to find words in
which to render the thought evidently precise and lucid in her
mind. Once more she uttered an unintelligible phrase, and began
again to make the feeble gesture of despairing helplessness which
had so shocked me at her waking. She appeared, however, to take
courage when I put the question to her: "What do you want of me,
dear aunt?" She made a sign that Julie was to leave the room, and
no sooner were we alone than her face changed. With my help she
was able to slip her hand under her pillow, and withdraw her bunch
of keys; then separating one key from the others she imitated the
opening of a lock. I immediately remembered her groundless fears
of being robbed and I asked her whether she wanted the box to which
that key belonged. It was a small key of a kind that is specially
made for safety locks. I saw that I had guessed aright; she was
able to get out the word "yes," and her eyes brightened.

"But where is this box?" I asked. Once more she replied by a
sentence of which I could make nothing; and, seeing that she was
relapsing into a state of agitation, with the former heart-rending
movement, I begged her to allow me to question her and to answer by
gestures only. After some minutes, I succeeded in discovering that
the box in question was locked up in one of the two large cupboards
below stairs, and that the key of the cupboard was on the ring with
the others. I went downstairs, leaving her alone, as she had
desired me by signs to do. I had no difficulty in finding the
casket to which the little key adapted itself; although it was
carefully placed behind a bonnet-box and a case of silver forks.
The casket was of sweet-scented wood, and the initials J. C. were
inlaid upon the lid in gold and platinum. J. C., Justin Cornelies--
so, it had belonged to my father. I tried the key in the lock, to
make quite sure that I was not mistaken.

I then raised the lid, and glanced at the contents almost
mechanically, supposing that I was about to find a roll of business
papers, probably shares, a few trinket-cases, and rouleaux of
napoleons, a small treasure in fact, hidden away from motives of
fear. Instead of this, I beheld several small packets carefully
wrapped in paper, each being endorsed with the words, "Justin's
Letters," and the year in which they were written. My aunt had
preserved these letters with the same pious care that had kept her
from allowing anything whatever belonging to him in whom the
deepest affection of her life had centered, to be lost, parted
with, or injured.

But why had she never spoken to me of this treasure, which was more
precious to me than to anyone else in the world? I asked myself
that question as I closed the box; then I reflected that no doubt
she desired to retain the letters to the last hour of her life;
and, satisfied with this explanation, I went upstairs again.

From the doorway my eyes met hers, and I could not mistake their
look of impatience and intense anxiety. I placed the little coffer
on her bed and she instantly opened it, took out a packet of
letters, then another, finally kept only one out, replaced those
she had removed at first, locked the box, and signed to me to place
it on the chest of drawers. While I was clearing away the things
on the top of the drawers, to make a clear space for the box, I
caught sight, in the glass opposite to me, of the sick woman. By a
great effort she had turned herself partly on her side, and she was
trying to throw the packet of letters which she had retained into
the fireplace; it was on the right of her bed, and only about a
yard away from the foot. But she could hardly raise herself at
all, the movement of her hand was too weak, and the little parcel
fell on the floor. I hastened to her, to replace her head on the
pillows and her body in the middle of the bed, and then, with her
powerless arm she again began to make that terrible gesture of
despair, clutching the sheet with her thin fingers, while tears
streamed from her poor eyes.

Ah! how bitterly ashamed I am of what I am going to write in this
place! I will write it, however, for I have sworn to myself that I
will be true, even to the avowal of that fault, even to the avowal
of a worse still. I had no difficulty in understanding what was
passing in my aunt's mind; the little packet--it had fallen on the
carpet close to the fender--evidently contained letters which she
wished to destroy, so that I should not read them. She might have
burned them, dreading as she did their fatal influence upon me,
long since; yet I understood why she had shrunk from doing this,
year after year, I, who knew with what idolatry she worshipped the
smallest objects that had belonged to my father. Had I not seen
her put away the blotting-book which he used when he came to
Compiegne, with the paper and envelopes that were in it at his last

Yes, she had gone on waiting, still waiting, before she could bring
herself to part forever with those dear and dangerous letters, and
then her sudden illness came, and with it the terrible thought that
these papers would come into my possession. I could also take into
account that the unreasonable distrust which she had yielded to of
late had prevented her from asking Jean or Julie for the little
coffer. This was the secret--I understood it on the instant--of
the poor thing's impatience for my arrival, the secret also of the
trouble I had witnessed. And now her strength had betrayed her.
She had vainly endeavored to throw the letters into the fire, that
fire which she could hear crackling, without being able to raise
her head so as to see the flame. All these notions which presented
themselves suddenly to my thoughts took form afterwards; at the
moment they melted into pity for the suffering of the helpless
creature before me.

"Do not disturb yourself, dear aunt," said I, as I drew the
coverlet up to her shoulders, "I am going to burn those letters."

She raised her eyes, full of eager supplication. I closed the lids
with my lips and stooped to pick up the little packet. On the
paper in which it was folded, I distinctly read this date: "1864--
Justin's letters." 1864! that was the last year of my father's
life. I know it, I feel it, that which I did was infamous; the
last wishes of the dying are sacred. I ought not, no, I ought not
to have deceived her who was on the point of leaving me forever. I
heard her breathing quicken at that very moment. Then came a
whirlwind of thought too strong for me. If my Aunt Louise was so
wildly, passionately eager that those letters should be burned, it
was because they could put me on the right track of vengeance.
Letters written in the last year of my father's life, and she had
never spoken of them to me! I did not reason, I did not hesitate,
in a lightning-flash I perceived the possibility of learning--what?
I know not; but--of learning. Instead of throwing the packet of
letters into the fire, I flung it to one side, under a chair,
returned to the bedside and told her in a voice which I endeavored
to keep steady and calm, that her directions had been obeyed, that
the letters were burning. She took my hand and kissed it. Oh,
what a stab that gentle caress inflicted upon me! I knelt down by
her bedside, and hid my head in the sheets, so that her eyes should
not meet mine. Alas! it was not for long that I had to dread her
glance. At ten she fell asleep, but at noon her restlessness
recurred. At two the priest came, and administered the last
sacraments to her. She had a second stroke towards evening, never
recovered consciousness, and died in the night.


At three o'clock in the morning Julie came in to take my place, and
I retired to my room, which was on the same floor as my aunt's. A
boxroom divided the two. I threw myself on my bed, worn out with
fatigue, and nature triumphed over my grief. I fell into that
heavy sleep which follows the expenditure of nerve power, and from
which one awakes able to bear life again and to carry the load that
seemed unendurable. When I awoke it was day, and the wintry sky
was dull and dark like that of yesterday, but it also wore a
threatening aspect, from the great masses of black cloud that
covered it. I went to the window and looked out for a long time at
the gloomy landscape closed in by the edge of the forest. I note
these small details in order that I may more faithfully recall my
exact impression at the time. In turning away from the window and
going towards the fire which the maid had just lighted, my eye fell
upon the packet of letters stolen from my aunt. Yes, stolen--'tis
the word. It was in the place where I had put it last night, on
the mantel-shelf, with my purse, rings, and cigar-case. I took up
the little parcel with a beating heart. I had only to stretch out
my hand and those papers would fall into the flames and my aunt's
dying wish be accomplished. I sank into an easy-chair and watched
the yellow flame gaining on the logs, while I weighed the packet in
my hand. I thought there must be a good many letters in it. I
suffered from the physical uneasiness of indecision. I am not
trying to justify this second failure of my loyalty to my dear
aunt, I am trying to understand it.

Those letters were not mine, I never ought to have appropriated
them. I ought now to destroy them unopened; all the more that the
excitement of the first moment, the sudden rush of ideas which had
prevented me from obeying the agonized supplication of my poor
aunt, had subsided. I asked myself once more what was the cause of
her misery, while I gazed at the inscription upon the cover, in my
aunt's hand: "Justin's Letters, 1864." The very room which I
occupied was an evil counsellor to me in this strife between an
indisputable duty and my ardent desire to know; for it had formerly
been my father's room, and the furniture had not been changed since
his time. The color of the hangings was faded, that was all. He
had warmed himself by a fire which burned upon that self-same
hearth, and he had used the same low, wide chair in which I now
sat, thinking many somber thoughts. He had slept in the bed from
which I had just risen, he had written at the table on which I
rested my arms. No, that room deprived me of free will to act, it
made my father too living. It was as though the phantom of the
murdered man had come out of his grave to entreat me to keep the
oft-sworn vow of vengeance. Had these letters offered me no more
than one single chance, one against a thousand, of obtaining one
single indication of the secrets of my father's private life, I
could not have hesitated. With such sacrilegious reasoning as this
did I dispel the last scruples of pious respect; but I had no need
of arguments for yielding to the desire which increased with every

I had there before me those letters, the last his hand had traced;
those letters which would lay bare to me the recesses of his life,
and I was not to read them! What an absurdity! Enough of such
childish hesitation. I tore off the cover which hid the papers;
the yellow sheets with their faded characters shook in my hands. I
recognized the compact, square, clear writing, with spaces between
the words. The dates had been omitted by my father in several
instances, and then my aunt had repaired the omission by writing in
the day of the month herself. My poor aunt! this pious carefulness
was a fresh testimony to her constant tenderness; and yet, in my
wild excitement I no longer thought of her who lay dead within a
few yards of me.

Presently Julie came to consult me upon all the material details
which accompany death; but I told her I was too much overwhelmed,
that she must do as she thought fit, and leave me quite alone for
the whole of the morning. Then I plunged so deeply into the
reading of the letters, that I forgot the hour, the events taking
place around me, forgot to dress myself, to eat, even to go and
look upon her whom I had lost while yet I could behold her face.
Traitor and ingrate that I was! I had devoured only a few lines
before I understood only too well why she had been desirous to
prevent me from drinking the poison which entered with each
sentence into my heart, as it had entered into hers. Terrible,
terrible letters! Now it was as though the phantom had spoken, and
a hidden drama of which I had never dreamed unfolded itself before

I was quite a child when the thousand little scenes which this
correspondence recorded in detail took place. I was too young then
to solve the enigma of the situation; and, since, the only person
who could have initiated me into that dark history was she who had
concealed the existence of the too-eloquent papers from me all her
life long, and on her deathbed had been more anxious for their
destruction than for her eternal salvation--she, who had no doubt
accused herself of having deferred the burning of them from day to
day as of a crime. When at last she had brought herself to do
this, it was too late.

The first letter, written in January, 1864, began with thanks to my
aunt for her New Year's gift to me--a fortress with tin soldiers--
with which I was delighted, said the letter, because the cavalry
were in two pieces, the man detaching himself from his horse.
Then, suddenly, the commonplace sentences changed into utterances
of mournful tenderness. An anxious mind, a heart longing for
affection, and discontent with the existing state of things, might
be discerned in the tone of regret with which the brother dwelt
upon his childhood, and the days when his own and his sister's life
were passed together. There was a repressed repining in that first
letter that immediately astonished and impressed me, for I had
always believed my father and mother to have been perfectly happy
with each other. Alas! that repining did but grow and also take
definite form as I read on. My father wrote to his sister every
Sunday, even when he had seen her in the course of the week. As it
frequently happens in cases of regular and constant correspondence,
the smallest events were recorded in minute detail, so that all our
former daily life was resuscitated in my thoughts as I perused the
lines, but accompanied by a commentary of melancholy which revealed
irreparable division between those whom I had believed to be so
closely united. Again I saw my father in his dressing-gown, as he
greeted me in the morning at seven o'clock, on coming out of his
room to breakfast with me before I started for school at eight. He
would go over my lessons with me briefly, and then we would seat
ourselves at the table (without a tablecloth) in the dining-room,
and Julie would bring us two cups of chocolate, deliciously
sweetened to my childish taste. My mother rose much later, and,
after my school days, my father occupied a separate room in order
to avoid waking her so early. How I enjoyed that morning meal,
during which I prattled at my ease, talking of my lessons, my
exercises, and my schoolmates! What a delightful recollection I
retained of those happy, careless, cordial hours! In his letters
my father also spoke of our early breakfasts, but in a way that
showed how often he was wounded by finding out from my talk that my
mother took too little care of me, according to his notions--that I
filled too small a place in her dreamy, wilfully frivolous life.
There were passages which the then future had since turned into
prophecies. "Were I to be taken from him, what would become of
him?" was one of these. At ten I came back from school; by that
time my father would be occupied with his business. I had lessons
to prepare, and I did not see him again until half-past eleven, at
the second breakfast. Then mamma would appear in one of those
tasteful morning costumes which suited her slender and supple
figure so well. From afar, and beyond the cold years of my
boyhood, that family table came before me like a mirage of warm
homelife; how often had it become a sort of nostalgia to me when I
sat between my mother and M. Termonde on my horrid half-holidays.

And now I found proof in my father's letters that a divorce of the
heart already existed between the two persons who, to my filial
tenderness, were but one. My father loved his wife passionately,
and he felt that his wife did not love him. This was the feeling
continually expressed in his letters--not in words so plain and
positive, indeed; but how should I, whose boyhood had been
strangely analogous with this drama of a man's life, have failed to
perceive the secret signification of all he wrote? My father was
taciturn, like me--even more so than I--and he allowed irreparable
misunderstandings to grow up between my mother and himself. Like
me afterwards, he was passionate, awkward, hopelessly timid in the
presence of that proud, aristocratic woman, so different from him,
the self-made man of almost peasant origin, who had risen to
professional prosperity by the force of his genius. Like me--ah!
not more than I--he had known the torture of false positions, which
cannot be explained except by words that one will never have
courage to utter. And, oh, the pity of it, that destiny should
thus repeat itself; the same tendencies of the mind developing
themselves in the son after they had developed themselves in the
father, so that the misery of both should be identical!

My father's letters breathed sighs that my mother had never
suspected--vain sighs for a complete blending of their two hearts;
tender sighs for the fond dream of fully-shared happiness;
despairing sighs for the ending of a moral separation, all the more
complete because its origin was not to be sought in their
respective faults (mutual love pardons everything), but in a
complete, almost animal, contrast between the two natures. Not one
of his qualities was pleasing to her; all his defects were
displeasing to her. And he adored her. I had seen enough of many
kinds of ill-assorted unions since I had been going about in
society, to understand in full what a silent hell that one must
have been, and the two figures rose up before me in perfect
distinctness. I saw my mother with her gestures--a little
affectation was, so to speak, natural to her--the delicacy of her
hands, her fair, pale complexion, the graceful turn of her head,
her studiously low-pitched voice, the something un-material that
pervaded her whole person, her eyes, whose glance could be so cold,
so disdainful; and, on the other hand, I saw my father with his
robust, workingman's frame, his hearty laugh when he allowed
himself to be merry, the professional, utilitarian, in fact,
plebeian, aspect of him, in his ideas and ways, his gestures and
his discourse. But the plebeian was so noble, so lofty in his
generosity, in his deep feeling. He did not know how to show that
feeling; therein lay his crime. On what wretched trifles, when we
think of it, does absolute felicity or irremediable misfortune

The name of M. Termonde occurred several times in the earlier
letters, and, when I came to the eleventh, I found it mentioned in
a way which brought tears to my eyes, set my hands shaking, and
made my heart leap as at the sound of a cry of sharp agony. In the
pages which he had written during the night--the writing showed how
deeply he was moved--the husband, hitherto so self-restrained,
acknowledged to his sister, his kind and faithful confidante, that
he was jealous. He was jealous, and of whom? Of that very man who
was destined to fill his place at our fireside, to give a new name
to her who had been Madame Cornelis; of the man with cat-like ways,
with pale eyes, whom my childish instinct had taught me to regard
with so precocious and so fixed a hate. He was jealous of Jacques
Termonde. In his sudden confession he related the growth of this
jealousy, with the bitterness of tone that relieves the heart of
misery too long suppressed. In that letter, the first of a series
which death only was destined to interrupt, he told how far back
was the date of his jealousy, and how it awoke to life with his
detection of one look cast at my mother by Termonde. He told how
he had at once suspected a dawning passion on the part of this man,
then that Termonde had gone away on a long journey, and that he, my
father, had attributed his absence to the loyalty of a sincere
friend, to a noble effort to fight from the first against a
criminal feeling. Termonde came back; his visits to us were soon
resumed, and they became more frequent than before. There was
every reason for this; my father had been his chum at the Ecole de
Droit, and would have chosen him to be his best man at his marriage
had not Termonde's diplomatic functions kept him out of France at
the time. In this letter and the following ones my father
acknowledged that he had been strongly attached to Termonde, so
much so, indeed, that he had considered his own jealousy as an
unworthy feeling and a sort of treachery. But it is all very well
to reproach one's self for a passion; it is there in our hearts all
the same, tearing and devouring them. After Termonde's return, my
father's jealousy increased, with the certainty that the man's love
for the wife of his friend was also growing; and yet, the unhappy
husband did not think himself entitled to forbid him the house.
Was not his wife the most pure and upright of women? Her very
inclination to mysticism and exaggerated devotion, although he
sometimes found fault with her for it, was a pledge that she would
never yield to anything by which her conscience could be stained.
Besides, Termonde's assiduity was accompanied by such evident, such
absolute respect, that it afforded no ground for reproach. What
was he to do? Have an explanation with his wife--he who could not
bring himself to enter upon the slightest discussion with her?
Require her to decline to receive his own friend? But, if she
yielded, he would have deprived her of a real pleasure, and for
that he should be unable to forgive himself. If she did not yield?
So, my poor father had preferred to toss about in that Gehenna of
weakness and indecision wherein dwell timid and taciturn souls.
All this misery he revealed to my aunt, dwelling upon the morbid
nature of his feelings, imploring advice and pity, deciding and
blaming the puerility of his jealousy, but jealous all the same,
unable to refrain from recurring again and again to the open wound
in his heart, and incapable of the energy and decision that would
have cured it.

The letters became more and more gloomy, as it always happens when
one has not at once put an end to a false position; my father
suffered from the consequences of his weakness, and allowed them to
develop without taking action, because he could not now have
checked them without painful scenes. After having tolerated the
increased frequency of his friend's visits, it was torture to him
to observe that his wife was sensibly influenced by this
encroaching intimacy. He perceived that she took Termonde's advice
on all little matters of daily life--upon a question of dress, the
purchase of a present, the choice of a book. He came upon the
traces of the man in the change of my mother's tastes, in music for
instance. When we were alone in the evenings, he liked her to go
to the piano and play to him, for hours together, at haphazard; now
she would play nothing but pieces selected by Termonde, who had
acquired an extensive knowledge of the German masters during his
residence abroad. My father, on the contrary, having been brought
up in the country with his sister, who was herself taught by a
provincial music-master, retained his old-fashioned taste for
Italian music.

My mother belonged, by her own family, to a totally different
sphere of society from that into which her marriage with my father
had introduced her. At first she did not feel any regret for her
former circle, because her extreme beauty secured her a triumphant
success in the new one; but it was another thing when her intimacy
with Termonde, who moved in the most worldly and elegant of the
Parisian "world," was perpetually reminding her of all its
pleasures and habits. My father saw that she was bored and weary
while doing the honors of her own salon with an absent mind. He
even found the political opinions of his friend echoed by his wife,
who laughed at him for what she called his Utopian liberalism. Her
mockery had no malice in it; but still it was mockery, and behind
it was Termonde, always Termonde. Nevertheless, he said nothing,
and the shyness, which he had always felt in my mother's presence
increased with his jealousy. The more unhappy he was, the more
incapable of expressing his pain he became. There are minds so
constituted that suffering paralzes them into inaction. And then
there was the ever-present question, what was he to do? How was he
to approach an explanation, when he had no positive accusation to
bring? He remained perfectly convinced of the fidelity of his
wife, and he again and again affirmed this, entreating my aunt not
to withdraw a particle of her esteem from his dear Marie, and
imploring her never to make an allusion to the sufferings of which
he was ashamed, before their innocent cause. And then he dwelt
upon his own faults; he accused himself of lack of tenderness, of
failing to win love, and would draw pictures of his sorrowful home,
in a few words, with heart-rending humility.

Rough, commonplace minds know nothing of the scruples that rent and
tortured my father's soul. They say, "I am jealous," without
troubling themselves as to whether the words convey an insult or
not. They forbid the house to the person to whom they object, and
shut their wives mouths with, "Am I master here?" taking heed of
their own feelings merely. Are they in the right? I know not; I
only know that such rough methods were impossible to my poor
father. He had sufficient strength to assume an icy mien towards
Termonde, to address him as seldom as possible, to give him his
hand with the insulting politeness that makes a gulf between two
sincere friends; but Termonde affected unconsciousness of all this.
My father, who did not want to have a scene with him, because the
immediate consequence would have been another scene with my mother,
multiplied these small affronts, and then Termonde simply changed
the time of his visits, and came during my father's business hours.
How vividly my father depicted his stormy rage at the idea that his
wife and the man of whom he was jealous were talking together,
undisturbed, in the flower-decked salon, while he was toiling to
procure all the luxury that money could purchase for that wife who
could never, never love him, although he believed her faithful.
But, oh, that cold fidelity was not what he longed for--he who
ended his letter by these words--how often have I repeated them to

"It is so sad to feel that one is in the way in one's own house,
that one possesses a woman by every right, that she gives one all
that her duty obliges her to give, all, except her heart, which is
another's unknown to herself, perhaps, unless, indeed, that-- My
sister, there are terrible hours in which I say to myself that I am
a fool, a coward, that they laugh together at me, at my blindness,
my stupid trust. Do not scold me, dear Louise. This idea is
infamous, and I drive it away by taking refuge with you, to whom,
at least, I am all the world."

"Unless, indeed, that--" This letter was written on the first
Sunday in June, 1864; and on the following Thursday, four days
later, he who had written it, and had suffered all it revealed,
went out to the appointment at which he met with his mysterious
death, that death by which his wife was set free to marry his felon
friend. What was the idea, as dreadful, as infamous as the idea of
which my father accused himself in his terrible last letter, that
flashed across me now? I placed the packet of papers upon the
mantelpiece, and pressed my two hands to my head, as though to
still the tempest of cruel fancies which made it throb with fever.

Ah, the hideous, nameless thing! My mind got a glimpse of it only
to reject it.

But, had not my aunt also been assailed by the same monstrous
suspicion? A number of small facts rose up in my memory, and
convinced me that my father's faithful sister had been a prey to
the same idea which had just laid hold of me so strongly. How many
strange things I now understood, all in a moment! On that day when
she told me of my mother's second marriage, and I spontaneously
uttered the accursed name of Termonde, why had she asked me, in a
trembling voice: "What do you know?"

What was it she feared that I had guessed? What dreaded
information did she expect to receive from my childish observation
of things?

Afterwards, and when she implored me to abandon the task of
avenging our beloved dead, when she quoted to me the sacred words,
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," who were the guilty ones whom
she foresaw I must meet on my path? When she entreated me to bear
with my stepfather, even to conciliate him, not to make an enemy of
him, had her advice any object except the greater ease of my daily
life, or did she think danger might come to me from that quarter?
When she became more afraid for me, owing to the weakening of her
brain by illness, and again and again enjoined upon me to beware of
going out alone in the evening, was the vision of terror that came
to her that of a hand which would fain strike me in the dark--the
same hand that had struck my father? When she summoned up all her
strength in her last moments, that she might destroy this
correspondence, what was the clue which she supposed the letters
would furnish? A terrific light shone upon me; what my aunt had
perceived beyond the plain purport of the letters, I too perceived.
Ah! I dared to entertain this idea, yet now I am ashamed to write
it down. But could I have escaped from the hard logic of the
situation? If my aunt had handed over those letters to the Judge
of Instruction in the matter, would he not have arrived at the same
conclusion that I drew from them? No, I could not. A man who has
no known enemies is assassinated; it is alleged that robbery is not
the motive of the murder; his wife has a lover, and shortly after
the death of her husband she marries that lover. "But it is they--
it is they who are guilty, they have killed the husband," the judge
would say, and so would the first-comer. Why did not my aunt place
those letters of my father's in the hands of justice? I understood
the reason too well; she would not have me think of my mother what
I was now in a fit of distraction thinking.

To conceive of this as merely possible was to be guilty of moral
parricide, to commit the inexpiable sin against her who had borne
me. I had always loved my mother so tenderly, so mournfully;
never, never had I judged her. How many times--happening to be
alone with her, and not knowing how to tell her what was weighing
on my heart--how many times I had dreamed that the barrier between
us would not for ever divide us. Some day I might, perhaps, become
her only support, then she should see how precious she still was to
me. My sufferings had not lessened my love for her; wretched as I
was because she refused me a certain sort of affection, I did not
condemn her for lavishing that affection upon another. As a matter
of fact, until those fatal letters had done their work of
disenchantment, of what was she guilty in my eyes? Of having
married again? Of having chosen, being left a widow at thirty, to
construct a new life for herself? What could be more legitimate?
Of having failed to understand the relations of the child who
remained to her with the man whom she had chosen? What was more
natural? She was more wife than mother, and besides, fanciful and
fragile beings such as she was recoil from daily contests; they
shrink from facing realities which would demand sustained courage
and energy on their part. I had admitted all these explanations of
my mother's attitude towards me, at first from instinct and
afterwards on reflection. But now, the inexhaustible spring of
indulgence for those who really hold our heart-strings was dried up
in a moment, and a flood of odious, abominable suspicion
overwhelmed me instead.

This sudden invasion of a horrible, torturing idea was not lasting.
I could not have borne it. Had it implanted itself in me then and
there, definite, overwhelming in evidence, impossible of rejection,
I must have taken a pistol and shot myself, to escape from agony
such as I endured in the few minutes which followed my reading of
the letters. But the tension was relaxed, I reflected, and my love
for my mother began to strive against the horrible suggestion. To
the onslaught of these execrable fancies I opposed the facts, in
their certainty and completeness. I recalled the smallest
particulars of that last occasion on which I saw my father and
mother in each other's presence. It was at the table from which he
rose to go forth and meet his murderer. But was not my mother
cheerful and smiling that morning, as usual? Was not Jacques
Termonde with us at breakfast, and did he not stay on, after my
father had gone out, talking with my mother while I played with my
toys in the room? It was at that very time, between one and two
o'clock, that the mysterious Rochdale committed the crime.

Termonde could not be, at one and the same moment, in our salon and
at the Imperial Hotel, any more than my mother, impressionable and
emotional as I knew her to be, could have gone on talking quietly
and happily, if she had known that her husband was being murdered
at that very hour. Why, I must have been mad to allow such a
notion to present its monstrous image before my eyes for a single
moment, and it was infamous of me to have gone so far beyond the
most insulting of my father's suspicions.

Already, and without any proof except the expression of jealousy
acknowledged by himself to be unreasonable, I had reached a point
to which the unhappy but still loving man had not dared to go, even
to the extreme outrage against my mother. What if, during the
lifetime of her first husband, she had inspired him whom she was
one day to marry with too strong a sentiment, did this prove that
she had shared it? If she had shared it, would that have proved
her to be a fallen woman? Why should she not have entertained an
affection for Termonde, which, while it in no wise interfered with
her fidelity to her wifely duties, made my father not unnaturally

Thus did I justify her, not only from any participation in the
crime, but from any failure in her duty. And then again my ideas
changed; I remembered the cry that she had uttered in presence of
my father's dead body: "I am punished by God!" I was not
sufficiently charitable to her to admit that those words might be
merely the utterance of a refined and scrupulous mind which
reproached itself even with its thoughts. I also recalled the
gleaming eyes and shaking hands of Termonde, when he was talking
with my mother about my father's mysterious disappearance. If they
were accomplices, this was a piece of acting performed before me,
an innocent witness, so that they might invoke my childish
testimony on occasion. These recollections once more drove me upon
my fated way. The idea of a guilty tie between her and him now
took possession of me, and then came swiftly the thought that they
had profited by the murder, that they alone had an engrossing
interest in it. So violent was the assault of suspicion that it
overthrew all the barriers I had raised against it. I accumulated
all the objections founded upon a physical alibi and a moral
improbability, and thence I forced myself to say it was, strictly
speaking, impossible they could have anything to do with the
murder; impossible, impossible! I repeated this frantically; but
even as it passed my lips, the hallucination returned, and struck
me down. There are moments when the disordered mind is unable to
quell visions which it knows to be false, when the imaginary and
the real mingle in a nightmare-panic, and the judgment is powerless
to distinguish between them. Who is there that, having been
jealous, does not know this condition of mind? What did I not
suffer from it during the day after I had read those letters! I
wandered about the house, incapable of attending to any duty,
struck stupid by emotions which all around me attributed to grief
for my aunt's death. Several times I tried to sit for a while
beside her bed; but the sight of her pale face, with its pinched
nostrils, and its deepening expression of sadness, was unbearable
to me. It renewed my miserable doubts.

At four o'clock I received a telegram. It was from my mother, and
announced her arrival by evening train. When the slip of blue
paper was in my hand my wretchedness was for a moment relieved.
She was coming. She had thought of my trouble; she was coming.
That assurance [error in text--line missing] criminal thoughts in
my face?

But those absurd and infamous notions took possession of me once
more. Perhaps she thinks, so ran my thoughts, that the
correspondence between my father and my aunt had not been
destroyed, and she is coming in order to get hold of those letters
before I see them, and to find out what my aunt said to me when she
was dying. If she and Termonde are guilty, they must have lived in
constant dread of the old maid's penetration. Ah! I had been very
unhappy in my childhood, but how gladly would I have gone back to
be the school-boy, meditating during the dull and interminable
evening hours of study, and not the young man who walked to and fro
that night in the station at Compiegne, awaiting the arrival of a
mother, suspected as mine was. Just God! Did not I expiate
everything in anticipation by that one hour?


The train from Paris approached, and stopped. The railway
officials called out the name of the station, as they opened the
doors of the carriages one after another, very slowly as it seemed
to me. I went from carriage to carriage seeking my mother. Had
she at the last moment decided not to come! What a trial to me if
it were so! What a night I should have to pass in all the torment
of suspicions which, I knew too well, her mere presence would

A voice called me. It was hers. Then I saw her, dressed in black,
and never in my life did I clasp her in my arms as I did then,
utterly forgetting that we were in a public place, and why she had
come, in the joy of feeling my horrible imaginations vanish, melt
away at the mere touch of the being whom I loved so profoundly, the
only one who was dear to me, notwithstanding our differences, in
the very depths of my heart, now that I had lost my Aunt Louise.

After that first movement, which resembled the grasp in which a
drowning man seizes the swimmer who dives for him, I looked at my
mother without speaking, holding both her hands. She had thrown
back her veil, and in the flickering light of the station I saw
that she was very pale and had been weeping. I had only to meet
her eyes, which were still wet with tears, to know that I had been
mad. I felt this, with the first words she uttered, telling me so
tenderly of her grief, and that she had resolved to come at once,
although my stepfather was ill. M. Termonde had suffered of late
from frequent attacks of liver-complaint.

But neither her grief nor her anxiety about her husband had
prevented my poor mother from providing herself, for this little
excursion of a few hours, with all her customary appliances of
comfort and elegance. Her maid stood behind her, accompanied by a
porter, and both were laden with three or four bags of different
sizes, of the best English make, carefully buttoned up in their
waterproof covers; a dressing-case, a writing-case, an elegant
wallet to hold the traveler's purse, handkerchief, book, and second
veil; a hot-water bottle for her feet, two cushions for her head,
and a little clock suspended from a swinging disc.

"You see," said she, while I was pointing out the carriage to the
maid, so that she might get rid of her impedimenta, "I shall not
have my right mourning until to-morrow"--and now I perceived that
her gown was dark brown and only braided with black--"they could
not have the things ready in time, but will send them as early as
possible." Then, as I placed her in the carriage, she added:
"There is still a trunk and a bonnet-box." She half smiled in
saying this, to make me smile too, for the mass of luggage and the
number of small parcels with which she encumbered herself had been
of old a subject of mild quarrel between us.

In any other state of mind I should have been pained to find the
unfailing evidence of her frivolity side by side with the mark of
affection she had given me by coming. Was not this one of the
small causes of my great misery? True, but her frivolity was
delightful to me at that moment. This then was the woman whom I
had been picturing to myself as coming to the house of death, with
the sinister purpose of searching my dead aunt's papers and
stealing or destroying any accusing pages which she might find
among them! This was the woman whom I had represented to myself,
that morning, as a criminal steeped in the guilt of a cowardly
murder! Yes! I had been mad! had been like a runaway horse
galloping after its own shadow. But what a relief to make sure
that it was madness, what a blessed relief! It almost made me
forget the dear dead woman.

I was very sad at heart in reality, and yet I was happy, while we
were rattling through the town in the old coupe, past the long
lines of lighted windows. I held my mother's hand; I longed to beg
her pardon, to kiss the hem of her dress, to tell her again and
again that I loved and revered her. She perceived my emotion very
plainly; but she attributed it to the affliction that had just
befallen me, and she condoled with me. She said, "My Andre,"
several times. How rare it was for me to have her thus, all my
own, and just in that mood of feeling for which my sick heart

I had had the room on the ground floor, next to the salon, prepared
for my mother. I remembered that she had occupied it, when she
came to Compiegne with my father, a few days after her marriage,
and I felt sure that the impression which would be produced upon
her by the sight of the house in the first instance, and then by
the sight of the room, would help me to get rid of my dreadful
suspicions. I was determined to note minutely the slightest signs
of agitation which she might betray at the contact of a
resuscitated past, rendered more striking by the aspect of things
that do not change so quickly as the heart of a woman. And now, I
blushed for that idea, worthy of a detective; for I felt it a
shameful thing to judge one's mother: one ought to make an Act of
Faith in her which would resist any evidence. I felt this, alas!
all the more, because the innocent woman was quite off her guard,
as was perfectly natural.

She entered the room with a thoughtful look, seated herself before
the fire, and held her slender feet towards the flames, which
touched her pale cheeks with red; and, with her jet black hair, her
elegant figure, which still retained its youthful grace, she shed
upon the dim twilight of the old-fashioned room that refined and
aristocratic charm of which my father spoke in his letters. She
looked slowly all around her, recognizing most of the things which
my aunt's pious care had preserved in their former place, and said,
sorrowfully: "What recollections!" But there was no bitterness in
the emotion depicted on her face. Ah! no; a woman who is brought,
after twenty years, into the room which she had occupied, as a
bride, with the husband whose murder she had contrived after having
betrayed him, has not such eyes, such a brow, such a mouth as hers.


There was but one remedy to be applied to my unbearable malady--
that remedy which had already been successful in the case of my
suspicions of my mother. I must at once proceed to place the real
in opposition to the suggestions of imagination. I must seek the
presence of the man whom I suspected, look him straight in the
face, and see him as he was, not as my fancy, growing more feverish
day by day, represented him. Then I should discern whether I had
or had not been the sport of a delusion; and the sooner I resorted
to this test the better, for my sufferings were terribly increased
by solitude.

My head became confused; at last I ceased even to doubt. That
which ought to have been only a faint indication, assumed to my
mind the importance of an overwhelming proof. In the interest of
my inquiry itself it was full time to resist this, if I were ever
to pursue my inquiry farther, or else I should fall into the
nervous state which I knew so well, and which rendered any kind of
action in cold blood impossible to me.

I made up my mind to leave Compiegne, see my stepfather, and form
my judgment of whether there was or was not anything in my
suspicions upon the first effect produced on him by my sudden and
unexpected appearance before him. I founded this hope on an
argument which I had already used in the case of my mother, namely,
that if M. Termonde had really been concerned in the assassination
of my father, he had dreaded my aunt's penetration beyond all
things. Their relations had been formal, with an undercurrent of
enmity on her part which had assuredly not escaped a man so astute
as he. If he were guilty, would he not have feared that my aunt
would have confided her thoughts to me on her death-bed? The
attitude that he should assume towards me, at and after our first
interview, would be a proof, complete in proportion to its
suddenness, and he must have no time for preparation.

I returned to Paris, therefore, without having informed even my
valet of my intention, and proceeded almost immediately to my
mother's hotel.

I rang the bell.

The door was opened, and the narrow court, the glass porch, the red
carpet of the staircase, were before me. The concierge, who
saluted me, was not he by whom I had fancied myself slighted in my
childhood; but the old valet de chambre who opened the door to me
was the same. His close-shaven face wore its former impassive
expression, the look that used to convey to me such an impression
of insult and insolence when I came home from school. What
childish absurdity!

To my question the man replied that my mother was in, also H.
Termonde, and Madame Bernard, a friend of theirs. The latter name
brought me back at once to the reality of the situation. Madame
Bernard was a prettyish woman, very slight and very dark, with a
"tip-tilted" nose, frizzy hair worn low upon her forehead, very
white teeth which were continually shown by a constant smile, a
short upper lip, and all the manners and ways of a woman of society
well up to its latest gossip. I fell at once from my fancied
height as an imaginary Grand Judiciary into the shallows of
Parisian frivolity. I felt about to hear chatter upon the last new
play, the latest suit for separation, the latest love affairs, and
the newest bonnet. It was for this that I had eaten my heart out
all these days!

The servant preceded me to the hall I knew so well, with its
Oriental divan, its green plants, its strange furniture, its
slightly faded carpet, its Meissonier on a draped easel, in the
place formerly occupied by my father's portrait, its crowd of
ornamental trifles, and the wide-spreading Japanese parasol open in
the middle of the ceiling. The walls were hung with large pieces
of Chinese stuff embroidered in black and white silk. My mother
was half-reclining in an American rocking-chair, and shading her
face from the fire with a hand-screen; Madame Bernard, who sat
opposite to her, was holding her muff with one hand and
gesticulating with the other; M. Termonde, in walking-dress, was
standing with his back to the chimney, smoking a cigar, and warming
the sole of one of his boots.

On my appearance, my mother uttered a little cry of glad surprise,
and rose to welcome me. Madame Bernard instantly assumed the air
with which a well-bred woman prepares to condole with a person of
her acquaintance upon a bereavement. All these little details I
perceived in a moment, and also the shrug of M. Termonde's
shoulders, the quick flutter of his eyelids, the rapidly-dismissed
expression of disagreeable surprise which my sudden appearance
called forth. But what then? Was it not the same with myself? I
could have sworn that at the same moment he experienced sensations
exactly similar to those which were catching me at the chest and by
the throat. What did this prove but that a current of antipathy
existed between him and me? Was it a reason for the man's being a
murderer? He was simply my stepfather, and a stepfather who did
not like his stepson.

Matters had stood thus for years, and yet, after the week of
miserable suspicion I had lived through, the quick look and shrug
struck me strangely, even while I took his hand after I had kissed
my mother and saluted Madame Bernard. His hand? No, only his
finger tips as usual, and they trembled a little as I touched them.
How often had my own hand shrunk with unconquerable repugnance from
that contact! I listened while he repeated the same phrases of
sympathy with my sorrow which he had already written to me while I
was at Compiegne. I listened while Madame Bernard uttered other
phrases to the same effect; and then the conversation resumed its
course, and, during the half-hour that ensued, I looked on,
speaking hardly at all, but mentally comparing the physiognomy of
my stepfather with that of the visitor, and that of my mother. The
contemplation of those three faces produced a curious impression
upon me; it was that of their difference, not only of age, but of
intensity, of depth. There was no mystery in my mother's face, it
was as easy to read as a page in dear handwriting! The mind of
Madame Bernard, a worldly, trumpery, poor mind, but harmless
enough, was readily to be discerned in her features which were at
once refined and commonplace. How little there was of reflection,
of decision, of exercise of will, in short of individuality, behind
the poetic grace of the one and the pretty affectations of the
other! What a face, on the contrary, was that of my stepfather,
with its strong individuality, and its vivid expression! In this
man of the world, as he stood there talking with two women of the
world, in his blue, furtive eyes, too wide apart, and always
seeming to shun observation, in his prematurely gray hair, his
mouth set round with deep wrinkles, in his dark, blotched, bilious
complexion, there seemed to be a creature of another race. What
passions had worn those furrows? what vigils had hollowed those
eyeballs? Was this the face of a happy man, with whom everything
had succeeded, who, having been born to wealth and of an excellent
family, had married the woman he loved; who had known neither the
wearing cares of ambition, the toil of money-getting, nor the
stings of wounded self-love? It is true, he suffered from liver
complaint; but why was it that, although I had hitherto been
satisfied with this answer, it now appeared to me childish and even
foolish? Why did all these marks of trouble and exhaustion
suddenly strike me as effects of a secret cause, and why was I
astonished that I had not sooner sought for it? Why was it that in
his presence, contrary to my expectations, contrary to what had
happened about my mother, I was plunged more deeply into the gulf
of suspicion from which I had hoped to emerge with a free mind?
Why, when our eyes met for just one second, was I afraid that he
might read my thoughts in my glance, and why did I shift them with
a pang of shame and terror? Ah! coward that I was, triple coward!
Either I was wrong to think thus, and at any price I must know that
I was wrong; or, I was right and I must know that too. The sole
resource henceforth remaining to me for the preservation of my
self-respect was ardent and ceaseless search after certainty.

That such a search was beset with difficulty I was well aware. How
was I to get at facts? The very position of the problem which I
had before me forbade all hope of discovering anything whatsoever
by a formal inquiry. What, in fact, was the matter in question?
It was to make myself certain whether M. Termonde was or was not
the accomplice of the man who had led my father into the trap in
which he had lost his life. But I did not know that man himself; I
had no data to go upon except the particulars of his disguise and
the vague speculations of a Judge of Instruction. If I could only
have consulted that Judge, and availed myself of his experience?
How often since have I taken out the packet containing the
denunciatory letters, with the intention of showing them to him and
imploring advice, support, suggestions, from him. But I have
always stopped short before the door of his house; the thought of
my mother barred its entrance against me. What if he, the Judge of
Instruction in the case, were to suspect her as my aunt had done?
Then I would go back to my own abode, and shut myself up for hours,
lying on the divan in my smoking-room and drugging my senses with
tobacco. During that time I read and re-read the fatal letters,
although I knew them by heart, in order to verify my first
impression with the hope of dispelling it. It was, on the
contrary, deepened. The only gain I obtained from my repeated
perusals was the knowledge that this certainty, of which I had made
a point of honor to myself, could only be psychological. In short,
all my fancies started from the moral data of the crime, apart from
physical data which I could not obtain. I was therefore obliged to
rely entirely, absolutely, upon those moral data, and I began again
to reason as I had done at Compiegne. "Supposing," said I to
myself, "that M. Termonde is guilty, what state of mind must he be
in? This state of mind being once ascertained, how can I act so as
to wrest some sign of his guilt from him?" As to his state of mind
I had no doubt. Ill and depressed as I knew him to be, his mind
troubled to the point of torment, if that suffering, that gloom,
that misery were accompanied by the recollection of a murder
committed in the past, the man was the victim of secret remorse.
The point was then to invent a plan which should give, as it were,
a form to his remorse, to raise the specter of the deed he had done
roughly and suddenly before him. If guilty, it was impossible but
that he would tremble; if innocent, he would not even be aware of
the experiment. But how was this sudden summoning-up of his crime
before the man whom I suspected to be accomplished? On the stage
and in novels one confronts an assassin with the spectacle of his
crime, and keeps watch upon his face for the one second during
which he loses his self-possession; but in reality there is no
instrument except unwieldy, unmanageable speech wherewith to probe
a human conscience. I could not, however, go straight to M.
Termonde and say to his face: "You had my father killed!" Innocent
or guilty, he would have had me turned from the door as a madman!

After several hours of reflection, I came to the conclusion that
only one plan was reasonable, and available: this was to have a
private talk with my stepfather at a moment when he would least
expect it, an interview in which all should be hints, shades,
double meanings, in which each word should be like the laying of a
finger upon the sorest spots in his breast, if indeed his
reflections were those of a murderer.

Every sentence of mine must be so contrived as to force him to ask
himself: "Why does he say this to me if he knows nothing? He does
know something. How much does he know?"

So well acquainted was I with every physical trait of his, the
slightest variations of his countenance, his simplest gestures,
that no sign of disturbance on his part, however slight, could
escape me. If I did not succeed in discovering the seat of the
malady by this process, I should be convinced of the baselessness
of those suspicions which were constantly springing up afresh in my
mind since the death of my aunt. I would then admit the simple and
probable explanation--nothing in my father's letters discredited
it--that M. Termonde had loved my mother without hope in the
lifetime of her first husband, and had then profited by her
widowhood, of which he had not even ventured to think.

If, on the contrary, I observed during our interview that he was
alive to my suspicions, that he divined them, and anxiously
followed my words; if I surprised that swift gleam in his eye which
reveals the instinctive terror of an animal, attacked at the moment
of its fancied security, if the experiment succeeded, then--then--I
dared not think of what then?

The mere possibility was too overwhelming.

But should I have the strength to carry on such a conversation? At
the mere thought of it my heart-beats were quickened, and my nerves
thrilled. What! this was the first opportunity that had been
offered to me of action, of devoting myself to the task of
vengeance, so coveted, so fully accepted during all my early years,
and I could hesitate?

Happily, or unhappily, I had near me a counsellor stronger than my
doubts, my father's portrait, which was hung in my smoking-room.
When I awoke in the night and plunged into those thoughts, I would
light my candle and go to look at the picture. How like we were to
each other, my father and I, although I was more slightly built!
How exactly the same we were! How near to me I felt him, and how
dearly I loved him! With what emotion I studied those features,
the lofty forehead, the brown eyes, the rather large mouth, the
rather long chin, the mouth especially half-hidden by a black
moustache cut like my own; it had no need to open, and cry out:
"Andre, Andre, remember me!" Ah, no, my dear dead father, I could
not leave you thus, without having done my utmost to avenge you,
and it was only an interview to be faced, only an interview!

My nervousness gave way to determination at once feverish and
fixed--yes, it was both--and it was in a mood of perfect self-
mastery, that, after a long period of mental conflict, I repaired
to the hotel on the boulevard, with the plan of my discourse
clearly laid out. I felt almost sure of finding my stepfather
alone; for my mother was to breakfast on that day with Madame
Bernard. M. Termonde was at home, and, as I expected, alone in his

When I entered the room, he was sitting in a low chair, close to
the fire, looking chilly, and smoking. Like myself in my dark
hours, he drugged himself with tobacco. The room was a large one,
and both luxurious and ordinary. A handsome bookcase lined one of
the walls. Its contents were various, ranging from grave works on
history and political economy, to the lightest novels of the day.
A large, flat writing-table, on which every kind of writing-
material was carefully arranged, occupied the middle of the room,
and was adorned with photographs in plain leather cases. These
were portraits of my mother and M. Termonde's father and mother.
At least one prominent trait of its owner's character, his
scrupulous attention to order and correctness of detail, was
revealed by the aspect of my stepfather's study; but this quality,
which is common to so many persons of his position in the world,
may belong to the most commonplace character as well as to the most
refined hypocrite. It was not only in the external order and
bearing of his life that my stepfather was impenetrable, none could
tell whether profound thoughts were or were not hidden behind his
politeness and elegance of manner. I had often reflected on this,
at a period when as yet I had no stronger motive for examining into
the recesses of the man's character than curiosity, and the
impression came to me with extreme intensity at the moment when I
entered his presence with a firm resolve to read in the book of his
past life.

We shook hands, I took a seat opposite to his on the other side of
the hearth, lighted a cigar, and said, as if to explain my
unaccustomed presence:

"Mamma is not here?"

"Did she not tell you, the other day, that she was to breakfast
with Madame Bernard? There's an expedition to Lozano's studio"
(Lozano was a Spanish painter much in vogue just then), "to see a
portrait he is painting of Madame Bernard. Is there anything you
want to have told to your mother?" he added, simply.

These few words were sufficient to show me that he had remarked the
singularity of my visit. Ought I to regret or to rejoice at this?
He was, then, already aware that I had some particular motive for
coming; but this very fact would give all their intended weight to
my words. I began by turning the conversation on an indifferent
matter, talking of the painter Lozano and a good picture of his
which I knew, "A Gipsy-dance in a Tavern-yard at Grenada." I
described the bold attitudes, the pale complexions, the Moorish
faces of the "gitanas," and the red carnations stuck into the heavy
braids of their black hair, and I questioned him about Spain.

He answered me, but evidently out of mere politeness.

While continuing to smoke his cigar, he raked the fire with the
tongs, taking up one small piece of charred wood after another
between their points. By the quivering of his fingers, the only
sign of his nervous sensitiveness which he was unable entirely to
keep down, I could observe that my presence was then, as it always
was, disagreeable to him. Nevertheless he talked on with his
habitual courtesy, in his low voice, almost without tone or accent,
as though he had trained himself to talk thus. His eyes were fixed
on the flame, and his face, which I saw in profile, wore the
expression of infinite weariness that I knew well, in indescribable
stillness and sadness, with long deep lines, and the mouth was
contracted as though by some bitter thought ever present.
Suddenly, I looked straight at that detested profile, concentrating
all the attention I had in me upon it, and, passing from one
subject to another without transition, I said:

"I paid a very interesting visit this morning."

"In that you are agreeably distinguished from me," was his reply,
made in a tone of utter indifference, "for I wasted my morning in
putting my correspondence in order."

"Yes," I continued, "very interesting. I passed two hours with M.

I had reckoned a good deal on the effect of this name, which must
have instantly recalled the inquiry into the mystery of the
Imperial Hotel to his memory. The muscles of his face did not
move. He laid down the tongs, leaned back in his chair, and said
in an absent manner:

"The former Judge of Instruction? What is he doing now?"

Was it possible that he really did not know where the man, whom, if
he were guilty, he ought to have dreaded most of all men, was then
living? How was I to know whether this indifference was feigned?
The trap I had set appeared to me all at once a childish notion.
Admitting that my stepfather's pulses were even now throbbing with
fever, and that he was saying to himself with dread: "What is he
coming to? What does he mean?" why, this was a reason why he
should conceal his emotion all the more carefully. No matter. I
had begun; I was bound to go on, and to hit hard.

"M. Massol is Counsellor to the Court," I replied, and I added--
although this was not true--"I see him often. We were talking this
morning of criminals who have escaped punishment. Only fancy his
being convinced that Troppman had an accomplice. He founds his
belief on the details of the crime, which presuppose two men, he
says. If this be true it must be admitted that 'Messieurs les
assassins' have a kind of honor of their own, however odd that may
appear, since the child-killing monster let his own head be cut off
without denouncing the other. Nevertheless, the accomplice must
have put some bad time over him, after the discovery of the bodies
and the arrest of his comrade. I, for my part, would not trust to
that honor, and if the humor took me to commit a crime, I should do
it by myself. Would you?" I asked jestingly.

These two little words meant nothing, were merely an insignificant
jest, if the man to whom I put my odd question was innocent. But,
if he were guilty, those two little words were enough to freeze the
marrow in his bones. He surrounded himself with smoke while
listening to me, his eye-lids half veiled his eyes; I could no
longer see his left hand, which hung over the far side of his
chair, and he had put the right into the pocket of his morning-
coat. There was a short pause before he answered me--very short--
but the interval, perhaps a minute, that divided his reply from my
question, was a burning one for me. But what of this? It was not
his way to speak in a hurry; and besides, my question had nothing
interesting in it if he were not guilty, and if he were, would he
not have to calculate the bearing of the phrase which he was about
to utter with the quickness of thought? He closed his eyes
completely--his constant habit--and said, in the unconcerned tone
of a man who is talking generalities:

"It is a fact that scraps of conscience do remain intact in very
depraved individuals. One sees instances of this especially in
countries where habits and morals are more genuine and true to
nature than ours. There's Spain, for instance, the country that
interests you so much; when I lived in Spain, it was still infested
by brigands. One had to make treaties with them in order to cross
the Sierras in safety; there was no case known in which they broke
the contract. The history of celebrated criminal cases swarms with
scoundrels who have been excellent friends, devoted sons, and
constant lovers. But I am of your opinion, and I think it is best
not to count too much upon them."

He smiled as he uttered the last words, and now he looked full at
me with those light blue eyes which were so mysterious and
impassible. No, I was not of stature to cope with him, to read his
heart by force. It needed capacity of another kind than mine to
play in the case of this personage the part of the magnate of
police who magnetizes a criminal. And yet, why did my suspicions
gather force as I felt the masked, dissimulating, guarded nature of
the man in all its strength? Are there not natures so constituted
that they shut themselves up without cause, just as others reveal
themselves; are there not souls that love darkness as others love
daylight? Courage, then, let me strike again.

"M. Massol and I," I resumed, "have been talking about what kind of
life Troppmann's accomplice must be leading; and also Rochdale's;
for neither of us has relinquished the intention of finding him.
Before M. Massol's retirement he took the precaution to bar the
limitation by a formal notice, and we have several years before us
in which to search for the man. Do these criminals sleep in peace?
Are they punished by remorse, or by the apprehension of danger,
even in their momentary security? It would be strange if they were
both at this moment good, quiet citizens, smoking their cigars like
you and me, loved and loving. Do you believe in remorse?"

"Yes, I do believe in remorse," he answered.

Was it the contrast between the affected levity of my speech, and
the seriousness with which he had spoken, that caused his voice to
sound grave and deep to my ears? No, no; I was deceiving myself,
for without a thrill he had heard the news that the limitation had
been barred, that the case might be reopened any day--terrible news
for him if he were mixed up with the murder--and he added, calmly,
referring to the philosophic side of my question only:

"And does M. Massol believe in remorse?"

"M. Massol," said I, "is a cynic. He has seen too much wickedness,
known too many terrible stories. He says that remorse is a
question of stomach and religious education, and that a man with a
sound digestion, who had never heard anything about hell in his
childhood, might rob and kill from morning to night without feeling
any other remorse than fear of the police. He also maintains,
being a sceptic, that we do not know what part that question of the
other life plays in solitude; and I think he is right, for I often
begin to think of death, at night, and I am afraid;-- yes, I, who
don't believe in anything very much, am afraid. And you," I
continued, "do you believe in another world?"

"Yes." This time I was sure that there was an alteration in his

"And in the justice of God?"

"In His justice and His mercy," he answered, in a strange tone.

"Singular justice," I said vehemently, "which is able to do
everything, and yet delays to punish! My poor aunt used always to

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