Part 6 out of 7
say to me when I talked to her about avenging my father: 'I leave
it to God to punish,' but, for my part, if I had got hold of the
murderer, and he was there before me--if I were sure--no, I would
not wait for the hour of that tardy justice of God."
I had risen while uttering these words, carried away by involuntary
excitement which I knew to be unwise. M. Termonde had bent over
the fire again, and once more taken up the tongs. He made no
answer to my outburst. Had he really felt some slight disturbance,
as I believed for an instant, at hearing me speak of that
inevitable and dreadful morrow of the grave which fills myself with
such fear now that there is blood upon my hands?
I could not tell. His profile was, as usual, calm and sad.
The restlessness of his hands--recalling to my mind the gesture
with which he turned and returned his cane while my mother was
telling him of the disappearance of my father--yes, the
restlessness of his hands was extreme; but he had been working at
the fire with the same feverish eagerness just before. Silence had
fallen between us suddenly; but how often had the same thing
happened? Did it ever fail to happen when he and I were in each
other's company? And then, what could he have to say against the
outburst of my grief and wrath, orphan that I was? Guilty or
innocent, it was for him to be silent, and he held his peace. My
heart sank; but, at the same time, a senseless rage seized upon me.
At that moment I would have given my remaining life for the power
of forcing their secret from those shut lips, by any mode of
My stepfather looked at the clock--he, too, had risen now--and
said: "Shall I put you down anywhere? I have ordered the carriage
for three o'clock, as I have to be at the club at half-past.
There's a ballot coming off tomorrow." Instead of the down-
stricken criminal I had dreamed of, there stood before me a man of
society thinking about the affairs of his club. He came with me so
far as the hall, and took leave of me with a smile.
Why, then, a quarter of an hour afterwards, when we passed each
other on the quay, I going homeward on foot, he in his coupe--yes--
why was his face so transformed, so dark and tragic? He did not
see me. He was sitting back in the corner, and his clay-colored
face was thrown out by the green leather behind his head. His eyes
were looking--where, and at what? The vision of distress that
passed before me was so different from the smiling countenance of a
while ago that it shook me from head to foot with an extraordinary
emotion, and forced me to exclaim, as though frightened at my own
"Have I struck home?"
This impression of dread kept hold of me during the whole of that
evening, and for several days afterwards. There is an infinite
distance between our fancies, however precise they may be, and the
least bit of reality.
My father's letters had stirred my being to its utmost depths, had
summoned up tragic pictures before my eyes; but the simple fact of
my having seen the agonized look in my stepfather's face, after my
interview with him, gave me a shock of an entirely different kind.
Even after I had read the letters repeatedly, I had cherished a
secret hope that I was mistaken, that some slight proof would arise
and dispel suspicions which I denounced as senseless, perhaps
because I had a foreknowledge of the dreadful duty that would
devolve upon me when the hour of certainty had come. Then I should
be obliged to act on a resolution, and I dared not look the
necessity in the face. No, I had not so regarded it, previous to
my meeting with my enemy, when I saw him cowering in anguish upon
the cushions of his carriage. Now I would force myself to
contemplate it. What should my course be, if he were guilty? I
put this question to myself plainly, and I perceived all the horror
of the situation. On whatever side I turned I was confronted with
That things should remain as they were I could not endure. I saw
my mother approach M. Termonde, as she often did, and touch his
forehead caressingly with her hand or her lips. That she should do
this to the murderer of my father! My very bones burned at the
mere thought of it, and I felt as though an arrow pierced my
breast. So be it! I would act; I would find strength to go to my
mother and say: "This man is an assassin," and prove it to her--and
lo! I was already shrinking from the pain that my words must
inflict on her. It seemed to me that while I was speaking I should
see her eyes open wide, and, through the distended pupils, discern
the rending asunder of her being, even to her heart, and that she
would go mad or fall down dead on the spot, before my eyes. No, I
would speak to her myself. If I held the convincing proof in my
hands I would appeal to justice.
But then a new scene arose before me. I pictured my mother at the
moment of her husband's arrest. She would be there, in the room,
close to him. "Of what crime is he accused?" she would ask, and
she would have to hear the inevitable answer. And I should be the
voluntary cause of this, I, who, since my childhood, and to spare
her a pang, had stifled all my complaints at the time when my heart
was laden with so many sighs, so many tears, so much sorrow, that
it would have been a supreme relief to have poured them out to her.
I had not done so then, because I knew that she was happy in her
life, and that it was her happiness only that blinded her to my
pain. I preferred that she should be blind and happy. And now?
Ah! how could I strike her such a cruel blow, dear and fragile
being that she was?
The first glimpse of the double prospect of misery which my future
offered if my suspicions proved just was too terrible for
endurance, and I summoned all my strength of will to shut out a
vision which must bring about such consequences. Contrary to my
habit, I persuaded myself into a happy solution. My stepfather
looked sad when he passed me in his coupe; true, but what did this
prove? Had he not many causes of care and trouble, beginning with
his health, which was failing from day to day?
One fact only would have furnished me with absolute, indisputable
proof; if he had been shaken by a nervous convulsion while we were
talking, if I had seen him (as Hamlet, my brother in anguish, saw
his uncle) start up with distorted face, before the suddenly-evoked
specter of his crime. Not a muscle of his face had moved, not an
eyelash had quivered;--why, then, should I set down this untroubled
calm to amazing hypocrisy, and take the discomposure of his
countenance half an hour later for a revelation of the truth? This
was just reasoning, or at least it appears so to me, now that I am
writing down my recollections in cold blood. They did not prevail
against the sort of fatal instinct which forced me to follow this
trail. Yes, it was absurd, it was mad, gratuitously to imagine
that M. Termonde had employed another person to murder my father;
yet I could not prevent myself constantly admitting that this most
unlikely suggestion of my fancy was possible, and sometimes that it
When a man has given place in his mind to ideas of this kind he is
no longer his own master; either he is a coward, or the thing must
be fought out. It was due to my father, my mother, and myself that
I should KNOW.
I walked about my rooms for hours, revolving these thoughts, and
more than once I took up a pistol, saying to myself: "Just a touch,
a slight movement like this"--I made the gesture--"and I am cured
forever of my mortal pain." But the very handling of the weapon,
the touch of the smooth barrel, reminded me of the mysterious scene
of my father's death. It called up before me the sitting-room in
the Imperial Hotel, the disguised man waiting, my father coming in,
taking a seat at the table, turning over the papers laid before
him, while a pistol, like this one in my hand, was levelled at him,
close to the back of his neck; and then the fatal crack of the
weapon, the head dropping down upon the table, the murderer
wrapping the bleeding neck in towels and washing his hands, coolly,
leisurely, as though he had just completed some ordinary task. The
picture roused in me a raging thirst for vengeance. I approached
the portrait of the dead man, which looked at me with its
motionless eyes. What! I had my suspicions of the instigator of
this murder, and I would leave them unverified because I was afraid
of what I should have to do afterwards! No, no; at any price, I
must in the first place know!
Three days elapsed. I was suffering tortures of irresolution,
mingled with incoherent projects no sooner formed than they were
rejected as impracticable. To know?--this was easily said, but I,
who was so eager, nervous, and excitable, so little able to
restrain my quickly-varying emotions, would never be able to extort
his secret from so resolute a man, one so completely master of
himself as my stepfather. My consciousness of his strength and my
weakness made me dread his presence as much as I desired it. I was
like a novice in arms who was about to fight a duel with a very
skillful adversary; he desires to defend himself and to be
victorious, but he is doubtful of his own coolness. What was I to
do now, when I had struck a first blow and it had not been
decisive? If our interview had really told upon his conscience,
how was I to proceed to the redoubling of the first effect, to the
final reduction of that proud spirit?
My reflections had arrived and stopped at this point, I was forming
and re-forming plans only to abandon them, when a note reached me
from my mother, complaining that I had not gone to her house since
the day on which I had missed seeing her, and telling me that my
stepfather had been very ill indeed two days previously with his
customary liver complaint.
Two days previously, that was on the day after my conversation with
Here again it might be said that fate was making sport of me,
redoubling the ambiguity of the signs, the chief cause of my
despair. Was the imminence of this attack explanatory of the
agonized expression on my stepfather's face when he passed me in
his carriage? Was it a cause, or merely the effect of the terror
by which he had been assailed, if he was guilty, under his mask of
indifference, while I flung my menacing words in his face? Oh, how
intolerable was this uncertainty, and my mother increased it, when
I went to her, by her first words.
"This," she said, "is the second attack he has had in two months;
they have never come so near together until now. What alarms me
most is the strength of the doses of morphine he takes to lull the
pain. He has never been a sound sleeper, and for some years he has
not slept one single night without having recourse to narcotics;
but he used to be moderate--whereas, now--"
She shook her head dejectedly, poor woman, and I, instead of
compassionating her sorrow, was conjecturing whether this, too, was
not a sign, whether the man's sleeplessness did not arise from
terrible, invincible remorse, or whether it also could be merely
the result of illness.
"Would you like to see him?" asked my mother, almost timidly, and
as I hesitated she added, under the impression that I was afraid of
fatiguing him, whereas I was much surprised by the proposal, "he
asked to see you himself; he wants to hear the news from you about
yesterday's ballot at the club." Was this the real motive of a
desire to see me, which I could not but regard as singular, or did
he want to prove that our interview had left him wholly unmoved?
Was I to interpret the message which he had sent me by my mother as
an additional sign of the extreme importance that he attached to
the details of "society" life, or was he, apprehending my
suspicions, forestalling them? Or, yet again, was he, too,
tortured by the desire TO KNOW, by the urgent need of satisfying
his curiosity by the sight of my face, whereon he might decipher my
I entered the room--it was the same that had been mine when I was a
child, but I had not been inside its door for years--in a state of
mind similar to that in which I had gone to my former interview
with him. I had, however, no hope now that M. Termonde would be
brought to his knees by my direct allusion to the hideous crime of
which I imagined him to be guilty. My stepfather occupied the room
as a sleeping-apartment when he was ill, ordinarily he only dressed
there. The walls, hung with dark green damask, ill-lighted by one
lamp, with a pink shade, placed upon a pedestal at some distance
from the bed, to avoid fatigue to the sick man's eyes, had for
their only ornament a likeness of my mother by Bonnat, one of his
first female portraits. The picture was hung between the two
windows, facing the bed, so that M. Termonde, when he slept in that
room, might turn his last look at night and his first look in the
morning upon the face whose long-descended beauty the painter had
very finely rendered. No less finely had he conveyed the something
half-theatrical which characterized that face, the slightly
affected set of the mouth, the far-off look in the eyes, the
elaborate arrangement of the hair.
First, I looked at this portrait; it confronted me on entering the
room; then my glance fell on my stepfather in the bed. His head,
with its white hair, and his thin yellow face were supported by the
large pillows, round his neck was tied a handkerchief of pale blue
silk which I recognized, for I had seen it on my mother's neck, and
I also recognized the red woollen coverlet that she had knitted for
him; it was exactly the same as one she had made for me; a pretty
bit of woman's work on which I had seen her occupied for hours,
ornamented with ribbons and lined with silk. Ever and always the
smallest details were destined to renew that impression of a shared
interest in my mother's life from which I suffered so much, and
more cruelly than ever now, by reason of my suspicion.
I felt that my looks must needs betray the tumult of such feelings,
and, while I seated myself by the side of the bed, and asked my
stepfather how he was, in a voice that sounded to me like that of
another person, I avoided meeting his eyes.
My mother had gone out immediately after announcing me, to attend
to some small matters relative to the well-being of her dear
invalid. My stepfather questioned me upon the ballot at the club
which he had assigned as a pretext for his wish to see me. I sat
with my elbow on the marble top of the table and my forehead
resting in my hand; although I did not catch his eye I felt that he
was studying my face, and I persisted in looking fixedly into the
half-open drawer where a small pocket-pistol, of English make, lay
side by side with his watch, and a brown silk purse, also made for
him by my mother. What were the dark misgivings revealed by the
presence of this weapon placed within reach of his hand and
probably habitually placed there? Did he interpret my thoughts
from my steady observation? Or had he, too, let his glance fall by
chance upon the pistol, and was he pursuing the ideas that it
suggested in order to keep up the talk it was always so difficult
to maintain between us? The fact is that he said, as though
replying to the question in my mind: "You are looking at that
pistol, it is a pretty thing, is it not?" He took it up, turned in
about in his hand, and then replaced it in the drawer, which he
closed. "I have a strange fancy, quite a mania; I could not sleep
unless I had a loaded pistol there, quite close to me. After all,
it is a habit which does no harm to anyone, and might have its
advantages. If your poor father had carried a weapon like that
upon him when he went to the Imperial Hotel, things would not have
gone so easily with the assassin."
This time I could not refrain from raising my eyes and seeking his.
How, if he were guilty, did he dare to recall this remembrance?
Why, if he were not, did his glance sink before mine? Was it
merely in following out an association of ideas that he referred
thus to the death of my father; was it for the purpose of
displaying his entire unconcern respecting the subject-matter of
our last interview; or was he using a probe to discover the depth
of my suspicion? After this allusion to the mysterious murder
which had made me fatherless, he went on to say:
"And, by-the-bye, have you seen M. Massol again?"
"No," said I, "not since the other day."
"He is a very intelligent man. At the time of that terrible
affair, I had a great deal of talk with him, in my capacity as the
intimate friend of both your father and mother. If I had known
that you were in the habit of seeing him latterly, I should have
asked you to convey my kind regards."
"He has not forgotten you," I answered. In this I lied; for M.
Massol had never spoken of my stepfather to me; but that frenzy
which had made me attack him almost madly in the conversation of
the other evening had seized upon me again. Should I never find
the vulnerable spot in that dark soul for which I was always
looking? This time his eyes did not falter, and whatever there was
of the enigmatical in what I had said, did not lead him to question
me farther. On the contrary, he put his finger on his lips. Used
as he was to all the sounds of the house, he had heard a step
approaching, and knew it was my mother's.
Did I deceive myself, or was there an entreaty that I would respect
the unsuspecting security of an innocent woman in the gesture by
which he enjoined silence?
Was I to translate the look that accompanied the sign into: "Do not
awaken suspicion in your mother's mind, she would suffer too much;"
and was his motive merely the solicitude of a man who desires to
save his wife from the revival of a sad remembrance.
She came in; with the same glance she saw us both, lighted by the
same ray from the lamp, and she gave us a smile, meant for both of
us in common, and fraught with the same tenderness for each. It
had been the dream of her life that we should be together thus, and
both of us with her, and, as she had told me at Compiegne, she
imputed the obstacles which had hindered the realization of her
dream to my moody disposition. She came towards us, smiling, and
carrying a silver tray with a glass of Vichy water upon it; this
she held out to my stepfather, who drank the water eagerly, and,
returning the glass to her, kissed her hand.
"Let us leave him to rest," she said, "his head is burning."
Indeed, in merely touching the tips of his fingers, which he placed
in mine, I could feel that he was highly feverish; but how was I to
interpret this symptom, which was ambiguous like all the others,
and might, like them, signify either moral or physical distress? I
had sworn to myself that I would KNOW; but how? how?
I had been surprised by my stepfather's having expressed a wish to
see me during his illness; but I was far more surprised when, a
fortnight later, my servant announced M. Termonde in person, at my
abode. I was in my study, and occupied in arranging some papers of
my father's which I had brought up from Compiegne. I had passed
these two weeks at my poor aunt's house, making a pretext of a
final settlement of affairs, but in reality because I needed to
reflect at leisure upon the course to be taken with respect to M.
Termonde, and my reflections had increased my doubts. At my
request, my mother had written to me three times, giving me news of
the patient, so that I was aware he was now better and able to go
out. On my return, the day before, I had selected a time at which
I was almost sure not to see anyone for my visit to my mother's
home. And now, here was my stepfather, who had not been inside my
door ten times since I had been installed in an apartment of my
own, paying me a visit without the loss of an hour. My mother, he
said, had sent him with a message to me. She had lent me two
numbers of a review, and she now wanted them back as she was
sending the yearly volume to be bound; so, as he was passing the
door, he had stepped in to ask me for them. I examined him closely
while he was giving this simple explanation of his visit, without
being able to decide whether the pretext did or did not conceal his
real motive. His complexion was more sallow than usual, the look
in his eyes was more glittering, he handled his hat nervously.
"The reviews are not here," I answered; "we shall probably find
them in the smoking-room."
It was not true that the two numbers were not there; I knew their
exact place on the table in my study; but my father's portrait hung
in the smoking-room, and the notion of bringing M. Termonde face to
face with the picture, to see how he would bear the confrontation,
had occurred to me. At first he did not observe the portrait at
all; but I went to the side of the room on which the easel
supporting it stood, and his eyes, following all my movements,
encountered it. His eyelids opened and closed rapidly, and a sort
of dark thrill passed over his face; then he turned his eyes
carelessly upon another little picture hanging upon the wall. I
did not give him time to recover from the shock; but, in pursuance
of the almost brutal method from which I had hitherto gained so
little, I persisted:
"Do you not think," said I, "that my father's portrait is
strikingly like me? A friend of mine was saying the other day
that, if I had my hair cut in the same way, my head would be
He looked first at me, and then at the picture, in the most
leisurely way, like an expert in painting examining a work of art,
without any other motive than that of establishing its
authenticity. If this man had procured the death of him whose
portrait he studied thus, his power over himself was indeed
wonderful. But--was not the experiment a crucial one for him? To
betray his trouble would be to avow all? How ardently I longed to
place my hand upon his heart at that moment and to count its beats.
"You do resemble him," he said at length, "but not to that degree.
The lower part of the chin especially, the nose and the mouth, are
alike, but you have not the same look in the eyes, and the brows,
forehead, and cheeks are not the same shape."
"Do you think," said I, "that the resemblance is strong enough for
me to startle the murderer if he were to meet me suddenly here, and
thus?"--I advanced upon him, looking into the depths of his eyes as
though I were imitating a dramatic scene. "Yes," I continued,
"would the likeness of feature enable me to produce the effect of a
specter, on saying to the man, 'Do you recognize the son of him
whom you killed?"'
"Now we are returning to our former discussion," he replied,
without any farther alteration of his countenance; "that would
depend upon the man's remorse, if he had any, and on his nervous
Again we were silent. His pale and sickly but motionless face
exasperated me by its complete absence of expression. In those
minutes--and how many such scenes have we not acted together since
my suspicion was first conceived--I felt myself as bold and
resolute as I was the reverse when alone with my own thoughts. His
impassive manner drove me wild again; I did not limit myself to
this second experiment, but immediately devised a third, which
ought to make him suffer as much as the two others, if he were
guilty. I was like a man who strikes his enemy with a broken-
handled knife, holding it by the blade in his shut hand; the blow
draws his own blood also. But no, no; I was not exactly that man;
I could not doubt or deny the harm that I was doing to myself by
these cruel experiments, while he, my adversary, hid his wound so
well that I saw it not. No matter, the mad desire TO KNOW overcame
"How strange those resemblances are," I said. "My father's
handwriting and mine are exactly the same. Look here."
I opened an iron safe built into the wall, in which I kept papers
which I especially valued, and took out first the letters from my
father to my aunt which I had selected and placed on top of the
packet. These were the latest in date, and I held them out to him,
just as I had arranged them in their envelopes. The letters were
addressed to "Mademoiselle Louise Cornelis, Compiegne;" they bore
the postmark and the quite legible stamp of the days on which they
were posted in the April and May of 1864. It was the former
process over again. If M. Termonde were guilty, he would be
conscious that the sudden change of my attitude towards himself,
the boldness of my allusions, the vigor of my attacks were all
explained by these letters, and also that I had found the documents
among my dead aunt's papers. It was impossible that he should not
seek with intense anxiety to ascertain what was contained in those
letters that had aroused such suspicions in me. When he had the
envelopes in his hands I saw him bend his brows, and I had a
momentary hope that I had shattered the mask that hid his true
face, that face in which the inner workings of the soul are
reflected. The bent brow was, however, merely a contraction of the
muscles of the eye, caused by regarding an object closely, and it
cleared immediately. He handed me back the letters without any
question as to their contents.
"This time," said he simply, "there really is an astonishing
resemblance." Then, returning to the ostensible object of his
visit--"And the reviews?" he asked.
I could have shed tears of rage. Once more I was conscious that I
was a nervous youth engaged in a struggle with a resolutely self-
possessed man. I locked up the letters in the safe, and I now
rummaged the small bookcase in the smoking-room, then the large one
in my study, and finally pretended to be greatly astonished at
finding the two reviews under a heap of newspapers on my table.
What a silly farce! Was my stepfather taken in by it? When I had
handed him the two numbers, he rose from the chair that he had sat
in during my pretended search in the chimney-corner of the smoking-
room, with his back to my father's portrait. But, again, what did
this attitude prove? Why should he care to contemplate an image
which could not be anything but painful to him, even if he were
"I am going to take advantage of the sunshine to have a turn in the
Bois," said he. "I have my coupe; will you come with me?"
Was he sincere in proposing this tete-a-tete drive which was so
contrary to our habits? What was his motive: the wish to show me
that he had not even understood my attack, or the yearning of the
sick man who dreads to be alone?
I accepted the offer at all hazards, in order to continue my
observation of him, and a quarter of an hour afterwards we were
speeding towards the Arc de Triomphe in that same carriage in which
I had seen him pass by me, beaten, broken, almost killed, after our
This time, he looked like another man. Warmly wrapped in an
overcoat lined with seal fur, smoking a cigar, waving his hand to
this person or that through the open window, he talked on and on,
telling me anecdotes of all sorts, which I had either heard or not
heard previously, about people whose carriages crossed ours. He
seemed to be talking before me and not with me, so little heed did
he take of whether he was telling what I might know, or apprising
me of what I did not know. I concluded from this--for, in certain
states of mind, every mood is significant--that he was talking thus
in order to ward off some fresh attempt on my part. But I had not
the courage to recommence my efforts to open the wound in his heart
and set it bleeding afresh so soon. I merely listened to him, and
once again I remarked the strange contrast between his private
thoughts and the rigid doctrines which he generally professed. One
would have said that in his eyes the high society, whose principles
he habitually defended, was a brigand's cave. It was the hour at
which women of fashion go out for their shopping and their calls,
and he related all the scandals of their conduct, false or true.
He dwelt on all these stories and calumnies with a horrid pleasure,
as though he rejoiced in the vileness of humanity. Did this mean
the facile misanthropy of a profligate, accustomed to such
conversations at the club, or in sporting circles, during which
each man lays bare his brutal egotism, and voluntarily exaggerates
the depth of his own disenchantment that he may boast more largely
of his experience? Was this the cynicism of a villain, guilty of
the most hideous of crimes, and glad to demonstrate that others
were less worthy than he? To hear him laugh and talk thus threw me
into a singular state of dejection.
We had passed the last houses in the Avenue de Bois, and were
driving along an alley on the right in which there were but few
carriages. On the bare hedgerows a beautiful light shone, coming
from that lofty, pale blue sky which is seen only over Paris.
He continued to sneer and chuckle, and I reflected that perhaps he
was right, that the seamy side of the world was what he depicted
it. Why not? Was not I there, in the same carriage with this man,
and I suspected him of having had my father murdered! All the
bitterness of life filled my heart with a rush. Did my stepfather
perceive, by my silence and my face, that his gay talk was
torturing me? Was he weary of his own effort?
He suddenly left off talking, and as we had reached a forsaken
corner of the Bois, we got out of the carriage to walk a little.
How strongly present to my mind is that by-path, a gray line
between the poor spare grass and the bare trees, the cold winter
sky, the wide road at a little distance with the carriage advancing
slowly, drawn by the bay horse, shaking its head and its bit, and
driven by a wooden-faced coachman--then, the man. He walked by my
side, a tall figure in a long overcoat. The collar of dark brown
fur brought out the premature whiteness of his hair. He held a
cane in his gloved hand, and struck away the pebbles with it
impatiently. Why does his image return to me at this hour with an
unendurable exactness? It is because, as I observed him walking
along the wintry road, with his head bent forward, I was struck as
I had never been before with the sense of his absolute unremitting
wretchedness. Was this due to the influence of our conversation of
that afternoon, to the dejection which his sneering, sniggering
talk had produced in me, or to the death of nature all around us?
For the first time since I knew him, a pang of pity mingled with my
hatred of him, while he walked by my side, trying to warm himself
in the pale sunshine, a shrunken, weary, lamentable creature.
Suddenly he turned his face, which was contracted with pain, to me,
"I do not feel well. Let us go home." When we were in the
carriage, he said, putting his sudden seizure upon the pretext of
"I have not long to live, and I suffer so much that I should have
made an end of it all years ago, had it not been for your mother."
Then he went on talking of her with the blindness that I had
already remarked in him. Never, in my most hostile hours, had I
doubted that his worship of his wife was perfectly sincere, and
once again I listened to him, as we drove rapidly into Paris in the
gathering twilight, and all that he said proved how much he loved
her. Alas! his passion rated her more highly than my tenderness.
He praised the exquisite tact with which my mother discerned the
things of the heart, to me, who knew so well her want of feeling!
He lauded the keenness of her intelligence to me, whom she had so
little understood! And he added, he who had so largely contributed
to our separation:
"Love her dearly; you will soon be the only one to love her."
If he were the criminal I believed him to be, he was certainly
aware that in thus placing my mother between himself and me he was
putting in my way the only barrier which I could never, never break
down, and I on my side understood clearly, and with bitterness of
soul, that the obstacles so placed would be stronger than even the
most fatal certainty. What, then, was the good of seeking any
further? Why not renounce my useless quest at once? But it was
already too late.
At the beginning of the summer, six months after my aunt's death, I
was in exactly the same position with respect to my stepfather as
on that already distant day when, maddened with suspicion by my
father's letters, I entered his study, to play the part of the
physician who examines a man's body, searching with his finger for
the tender spot that is probably a symptom of a hidden abscess.
I was full of intuitions now, just as I was at the moment when he
passed me in his carriage with his terrible face, but I did not
grasp a single certainty. Would I have persisted in a struggle in
which I felt beforehand that I must be beaten?
I cannot tell; for, when I no longer expected any solution to the
problem set before me for my grief, a grief, too, that was both
sterile and mortal, a day came on which I had a conversation with
my mother so startling and appalling that to this hour my heart
stands still when I think of it. I have spoken of dates; among
them is the 25th of May, 1879.
My stepfather, who was on the eve of his departure for Vichy, had
just had a severe attack of liver-complaint, the first since his
illness after our terrible conversation in the month of January. I
know that I counted for nothing--at least in any direct or positive
way--in this acute revival of his malady. The fight between us,
which went on without the utterance of a word on either side, and
with no witnesses except ourselves, had not been marked by any
fresh episode; I therefore attributed this complication to the
natural development of the disease under which he labored.
I can exactly recall what I was thinking of on the 25th of May, at
five o'clock in the evening, as I walked up the stairs in the hotel
on the Boulevard de Latour-Marbourg. I hoped to learn that my
stepfather was better, because I had been witnessing my mother's
distress for a whole week, and also--I must tell all--because to
know he was going to the watering-place was a great relief to me,
on account of the separation it would bring about. I was so tired
of my unprofitable pain! My wretched nerves were in such a state
of tension that the slightest disagreeable impression became a
torment. I could not sleep without the aid of narcotics, and such
sleep as these procured was full of cruel dreams in which I walked
by my father's side, while knowing and feeling that he was dead.
One particular nightmare used to recur so regularly that it
rendered my dread of the night almost unbearable. I stood in a
street crowded with people and was looking into a shop window; on a
sudden I heard a man's step approaching, that of M. Termonde. I
did not see him, and yet I was certain it was he. I tried to move
on, but my feet were leaden; to turn my head, but my neck was
immovable. The step drew nearer, my enemy was behind me, I heard
his breathing, and knew that he was about to strike me. He passed
his arm over my shoulder. I saw his hand, it grasped a knife, and
sought for the spot where my heart lay; then it drove the blade in,
slowly, slowly, and I awoke in unspeakable agony.
So often had this nightmare recurred within a few weeks, that I had
taken to counting the days until my stepfather's departure, which
had been at first fixed for the 21st, and then put off until he
should be stronger. I hoped that when he was absent I should be at
rest at least for a time. I had not the courage to go away myself,
attracted as I was every day by that presence which I hated, and
yet sought with feverish eagerness; but I secretly rejoiced that
the obstacle was of his raising, that his absence gave me
breathing-time, without my being obliged to reproach myself with
Such were my reflections as I mounted the wooden staircase, covered
with a red carpet, and lighted by stained-glass windows, that led
to my mother's favorite hall. The servant who opened the door
informed me in answer to my question that my stepfather was better,
and I entered the room with which my saddest recollections were
connected, more cheerfully than usual. Little did I think that the
dial hung upon one of the walls was ticking off in minutes one of
the most solemn hours of my life!
My mother was seated before a small writing-table, placed in a
corner of the deep glazed projection which formed the garden-end of
the hall. Her left hand supported her head, and in the right,
instead of going on with the letter she had begun to write, she
held her idle pen, in a golden holder with a fine pearl set in the
top of it (the latter small detail was itself a revelation of her
luxurious habits). She was so lost in reverie that she did not
hear me enter the room, and I looked at her for some time without
moving, startled by the expression of misery in her refined and
lovely face. What dark thought was it that closed her mouth,
furrowed her brow, and transformed her features? The alteration in
her looks and the evident absorption of her mind contrasted so
strongly with the habitual serenity of her countenance that it at
once alarmed me. But, what was the matter? Her husband was
better; why, then, should the anxiety of the last few days have
developed into this acute trouble? Did she suspect what had been
going on close to her, in her own house, for months past? Had M.
Termonde made up his mind to complain to her, in order to procure
the cessation of the torture inflicted upon him by my assiduity?
No. If he had divined my meaning from the very first day, as I
thought he had, unless he were sure he could not have said to her:
"Andre suspects me of having had his father killed." Or had the
doctor discerned dangerous symptoms behind this seeming improvement
in the invalid?
Was my stepfather in danger of death?
At the idea, my first feeling was joy, my second was rage--joy that
he should disappear from my life, and for ever; rage that, being
guilty, he should die without having felt my full vengeance.
Beneath all my hesitation, my scruples, my doubts, there lurked
that savage appetite for revenge which I had allowed to grow up in
me, revenge that is not satisfied with the death of the hated
object unless it be caused by one's self. I thirsted for revenge
as a dog thirsts for water after running in the sun on a summer
day. I wanted to roll myself in it, as the dog in question rolls
himself in the water when he comes to it, were it the sludge of a
swamp. I continued to gaze at my mother without moving. Presently
she heaved a deep sigh and said aloud: "Oh, me, oh, me! what misery
it is!" Then lifting up her tear-stained face, she saw me, and
uttered a cry of surprise. I hastened towards her.
"You are in trouble, mother," I said. "What ails you?"
Dread of her answer made my voice falter; I knelt down before her
as I used to do when a child, and, taking both her hands, I covered
them with kisses. Again, at this solemn hour, my lips were met by
that golden wedding-ring which I hated like a living person; yet
the feeling did not hinder me from speaking to her almost
childishly. "Ah," I said, "you have troubles, and to whom should
you tell them if not to me? Where will you find anyone to love you
more? Be good to me," I went on; "do you not feel how dear you are
She bent her head twice, made a sign that she could not speak, and
burst into painful sobs.
"Has your trouble anything to do with me?" I asked.
She shook her head as an emphatic negative, and then said in a
half-stifled voice, while she smoothed my hair with her hands, as
she used to do in the old times:
"You are very nice to me, my Andre."
How simple those few words were, and yet they caught my heart and
gripped it as a hand might do. How had I longed for some of those
little words which she had never uttered, some of those gracious
phrases which are like the gestures of the mind, some of her
involuntary tender caresses. Now I had what I had so earnestly
desired, but at what a moment and by what means! It was,
nevertheless, very sweet to feel that she loved me. I told her so,
employing words which scorched my lips, so that I might be kind to
"Is our dear invalid worse?"
"No, he is better. He is resting now," she answered, pointing in
the direction of my stepfather's room.
"Mother, speak to me," I urged, "trust yourself to me; let me
grieve with you, perhaps I may help you. It is so cruel for me
that I must take you by surprise in order to see your tears."
I went on, pressing her by my questions and my complaining. What,
then, did I hope to tear from those lips which quivered but yet
kept silence? At any price I WOULD know; I was in no state to
endure fresh mysteries, and I was certain that my stepfather was
somehow concerned in this inexplicable trouble, for it was only he
and I who so deeply moved that woman's heart of hers. She was not
thus troubled on account of me, she had just told me so; the cause
of her grief must have reference to him, and it was not his health.
Had she, too, made any discovery? Had the terrible suspicion
crossed her mind also? At the mere idea a burning fever seized
upon me; I insisted and insisted again. I felt that she was
yielding, if it were only by the leaning of her head towards me,
the passing of her trembling hand over my hair, and the quickening
of her breath.
"If I were sure," said she at length, "that this secret would die
with you and me."
"Oh, mother!" I exclaimed, in so reproachful a tone that the blood
flew to her cheeks. Perhaps this little betrayal of shame decided
her; she pressed a lingering kiss on my forehead, as though she
would have effaced the frown which her unjust distrust had set
"Forgive me, my Andre," she said, "I was wrong. In whom should I
trust, to whom confide this thing, except to you? From whom ask
counsel?" And then she went on as though she were speaking to
herself, "If he were ever to apply to him?"
"Andre, will you swear to me by your love for me, that you will
never, you understand me, never, make the least illusion to what I
am going to tell you?"
"Mother!" I replied, in the same tone of reproach, and then added
at once, to draw her on, "I give you my word of honor!"
"Nor--" she did not pronounce a name, but she pointed anew to the
door of the sick man's room.
"You have heard of Edmond Termonde, his brother?" Her voice was
lowered, as though she were afraid of the words she uttered, and
now her eyes only were turned towards the closed door, indicating
that she meant the brother of her husband. I had a vague knowledge
of the story; it was of this brother I had thought when I was
reviewing the mental history of my stepfather's family. I knew
that Edmond Termonde had dissipated his share of the family
fortune, no less than 1,200,000 francs, in a few years; that he had
been enlisted, that he had gone on leading a debauched life in his
regiment; that, having no money to come into from any quarter, and
after a heavy loss at cards, he had been tempted into committing
both theft and forgery. Then, finding himself on the brink of
being detected, he had deserted. The end was that he did justice
on himself by drowning himself in the Seine, after he had implored
his brother's forgiveness in terms which proved that some sense of
moral decency still lingered in him. The stolen money was made
good by my stepfather; the scandal was hushed up, thanks to the
scoundrel's disappearance. I had reconstructed the whole story in
my mind from the gossip of my good old nurse, and also from certain
traces of it which I had found in some passages of my father's
correspondence. Thus, when my mother put her question to me in so
agitated a way, I supposed she was about to tell me of family
grievances on the part of her husband which were totally
indifferent to me, and it was with a feeling of disappointment that
I asked her:
"Edmond Termonde? The man who killed himself?"
She bent her head to answer, yes, to the first part of my question;
then, in a still lower voice, she said:
"He did not kill himself, he is still alive."
"He is still alive," I repeated mechanically, and without a notion
of what could be the relation between the existence of this brother
and the tears which I had seen her shed.
"Now you know the secret of my sorrow," she resumed, in a firmer,
almost a relieved tone. "This infamous brother is a tormentor of
my Jacques; he puts him to death daily by the agonies which he
inflicts upon him. No; the suicide never took place. Such men as
he have not the courage to kill themselves. Jacques dictated that
letter to save him from penal servitude after he had arranged
everything for his flight, and given him the wherewithal to lead a
new life, if he would have done so. My poor love, he hoped at
least to save the integrity of his name out of all the terrible
wreck. Edmond had, of course, to renounce the name of Termonde, to
escape pursuit, and he went to America. There he lived--as he had
lived here. The money he took with him was soon exhausted, and
again he had recourse to his brother. Ah! the wretch knew well
that Jacques had made all these sacrifices to the honor of his
name, and when my husband refused him the money he demanded, he
made use of the weapon which he knew would avail.
"Then began the vilest persecution, the most atrocious levying of
black-mail. Edmond threatened to return to France; between going
to the galleys here or starving in America, he said, he preferred
the galleys here and Jacques yielded the first time--he loved him;
after all, he was his only brother. You know when you have once
shown weakness in dealing with people of this sort you are lost.
The threat to return had succeeded, and the other has since used it
to extort sums of which you have no idea.
"This abominable persecution has been going on for years, but I
have only been aware of it since the war. I saw that my husband
was utterly miserable about something; I knew that a hidden trouble
was preying on him, and then, one day, he told me all. Would you
believe it? It was for me that he was afraid. 'What can he
possibly do to me?' I asked my Jacques. 'Ah,' he said, 'he is
capable of anything for the sake of revenge. And then he saw me so
overwhelmed by distress at his fits of melancholy, and I so
earnestly entreated him, that at length he made a stand. He
positively refused to give any more money. We have not heard of
the wretch for some time--he has kept his word--Andre he is in
I had listened to my mother with growing attention. At any period
of my life, I, who had not the same notions of my stepfather's
sensitiveness of feeling which my dear mother entertained, would
have been astonished at the influence exercised by this disgraced
brother. There are similar pests in so many families, that it is
plainly to the interest of society to separate the various
representatives of the same name from each other. At any time I
should have doubted whether M. Termonde, a bold and violent man as
I knew him to be, had yielded under the menace of a scandal whose
real importance he would have estimated quite correctly. Then I
would have explained this weakness by the recollections of his
childhood, by a promise made to his dying parents; but now, in the
actual state of my mind, full as I was of the suspicions which had
been occupying my thoughts for weeks, it was inevitable that
another idea should occur to me. And that idea grew, and grew,
taking form as my mother went on speaking. No doubt my face
betrayed the dread with which the notion inspired me, for she
interrupted her narrative to ask me:
"Are you feeling ill, Andre?"
I found strength to answer, "No; I am upset by having found you in
tears. It is nothing."
She believed me; she had just seen me overcome by her emotion; she
kissed me tenderly, and I begged her to continue. She then told me
that one day in the previous week a stranger, coming ostensibly
from one of their friends in London, had asked to see my
stepfather. He was ushered into the hall, and into her presence,
and she guessed at once by the extraordinary agitation which M.
Termonde displayed that the man was Edmond. The two brothers went
into my stepfather's private room, while my mother remained in the
hall, half dead with anxiety and suspense, every now and then
hearing the angry tones of their voices, but unable to distinguish
any words. At length the brother came out, through the hall, and
looked at her as he passed by with eyes that transfixed her with
"And the same evening," she went on, "Jacques took to his bed.
Now, do you understand my despair? Ah, it is not our name that I
care for. I wear myself out with repeating, 'What has this to do
with us? How can we be spattered by this mud?' It is his health,
his precious health! The doctor says that every violent emotion is
a dose of poison to him. Ah!" she cried, with a gesture of
despair, "this man will kill him."
To hear that cry, which once again revealed to me the depth of her
passion for my stepfather, to hear it at this moment, and to think
what I was thinking!
"You saw him?" I asked, hardly knowing what I said. "Have I not
told you that he passed by me, there?" and with terror depicted in
her face, she showed me the place on the carpet.
"And you are sure that the man was his brother?"
"Jacques told me so in the evening; but I did not require that; I
should have recognized him by the eyes. How strange it is! Those
two brothers, so different; Jacques so refined, so distinguished,
so noble-minded, and the other, a big, heavy, vulgar lout, common-
looking, and a rascal--well, they have the same look in their
"And under what name is he in Paris?"
"I do not know. I dare not speak of him any more. If he knew that
I have told you this, with his ideas! But then, dear, you would
have heard it at some time or other; and besides," she added with
firmness, "I would have told you long ago about this wretched
secret if I had dared! You are a man now, and you are not bound by
this excessively scrupulous fraternal affection. Advise me, Andre;
what is to be done?"
"I do not understand you."
"Yes, yes. There must be some means of informing the police and
having this man arrested without its being talked of in the
newspapers or elsewhere. Jacques would not do this, because the
man is his brother; but if we were to act, you and I, on our own
side? I have heard you say that you visit M. Massol, whom we knew
at the time of our great misfortune; suppose I were to go to him
and ask his advice? Ah! I must keep my husband alive--he must be
saved! I love him too much!"
Why was I seized with a panic at the idea that she might carry out
this project, and apply to the former Judge of Instruction--I, who
had not ventured to go to his house since my aunt's death for fear
he should divine my suspicions merely by looking at me? What was
it that I saw so clearly, that made me implore her to abandon her
idea in the very name of the love she bore her husband?
"You will not do this," I said; "you have no right to do it. He
would never forgive you, and he would have just cause; it would be
"Betraying him! It would be saving him!"
"And if his brother's arrest were to strike him a fresh blow? If
you were to see him ill, more ill than ever, on account of what you
I had used the only argument that could have convinced her.
Strange irony of fate! I calmed her, I persuaded her not to act--
I, who had suddenly conceived the monstrous notion that the doer of
the murderous deed, the docile instrument in my stepfather's hands,
was this infamous brother--that Edmond Termonde and Rochdale were
one and the same man!
The night which followed that conversation with my mother remains
in my memory as the most wretched I had hitherto endured; and yet
how many sleepless nights had I passed, while all the world around
me slept, in bitter conflict with a thought which held mine eyes
waking and devoured my heart! I was like a prisoner who has
sounded every inch of his dungeon--the walls, the floor, the
ceiling--and who, on shaking the bars of his window for the
hundredth time, feels one of the iron rods loosen under the
pressure. He hardly dares to believe in his good fortune, and he
sits down upon the ground almost dazed by the vision of deliverance
that has dawned upon him. "I must be cool-headed now," said I to
myself, as I walked to and fro in the smoking-room, whither I had
retired without tasting the meal that was served on my return.
Evening came, then the black night; the dawn followed, and once
more the full day. Still I was there, striving to see clearly amid
the cloud of suppositions in which an event, simple in itself (only
that in my state of mind no event would have seemed simple), had
I was too well used to these mental tempests not to know that the
only safety consisted in clinging to the positive facts, as though
to immovable rocks.
In the present instance, the positive facts reduced themselves to
two: first, I had just learned that a brother of M. Termonde, who
passed for dead, and of whom my stepfather never spoke, existed;
secondly, that this man, disgraced, proscribed, ruined, an outlaw
in fact, exercised a dictatorship of terror over his rich, honored,
and irreproachable brother. The first of these two facts explained
itself. It was quite natural that Jacques Termonde should not
dispel the legend of the suicide, which was of his own invention,
and had saved the other from the galleys. It is never pleasant to
have to own a thief, a forger, or a deserter, for one's nearest
relation; but this, after all, is only an excessively disagreeable
The second fact was of a different kind. The disproportion between
the cause assigned by my stepfather and its result in the terror
from which he was suffering was too great. The dominion which
Edmond Termonde exercised over his brother was not to be justified
by the threat of his return, if that return were not to have any
other consequence than a transient scandal. My mother, who
regarded her husband as a noble-minded, high-souled, great-hearted
man, might be satisfied with the alleged reason; but not I. It
occurred to me to consult the Code of Military Justice, and I
ascertained, by the 184th clause, that a deserter cannot claim
immunity from punishment until after he has attained his forty-
seventh year, so that it was most likely Edmond Termonde was still
within the reach of the law.
Was it possible that his desire to shield his brother from the
punishment of the offense of desertion should throw my stepfather
into such a state of illness and agitation? I discerned another
reason for this dominion--some dark and terrible bond of complicity
between the two men. What if Jacques Termonde had employed his
brother to kill my father, and proof of the transaction was still
in the murderer's possession? No doubt his hands would be tied so
far as the magistrates were concerned; he had it in his power to
enlighten my mother, and the mere threat of doing this would
suffice to make a loving husband tremble, and tame his fierce
"I must be cool," I repeated, "I must be cool;" and I put all my
strength to recalling the physical and moral particulars respecting
the crime which were in my possession. It was my business now to
try whether one single point remained obscure when tested by the
theory of the identity of Rochdale with Edmond Termonde. The
witnesses were agreed in representing Rochdale as tall and stout,
my mother had described Edmond Termonde as a big, heavy man.
Fifteen years lay between the assassin of 1864, and the elderly
rake of 1879; but nothing prevented the two from being identical.
My mother had dwelt upon the color of Edmond Termonde's eyes, pale
blue like those of his brother; the concierge of the Imperial Hotel
had mentioned the pale blue color and the brightness of Rochdale's
eyes in his deposition, which I knew by heart. He had noticed this
peculiarity on account of the contrast of the eyes with the man's
bronzed complexion. Edmond Termonde had taken refuge in America
after his alleged suicide, and what had M. Massol said? I could
hear him repeat, with his well-modulated voice, and methodical
movement of the hand: "A foreigner, American or English, or,
perhaps, a Frenchman settled in America." Physical impossibility
there existed none.
And moral impossibility? That was equally absent. In order to
convince myself more fully of this, I took up the history of the
crime from the moment at which my father's correspondence
concerning Jacques Termonde became explicit, that is to say, in
So as to rid my judgment of every trace of personal enmity, I
suppressed the names in my thoughts, reducing the dreadful
occurrence by which I had suffered to the bareness of an abstract
narrative. A man is desperately in love with the wife of one of
his intimate friends, a woman whom he knows to be absolutely,
spotlessly virtuous; he knows, he feels, that if she were free she
would love him; but that, not being free, she will never, never be
his. This man is of the temperament which makes criminals, his
passions are violent in the extreme, he has no scruples and a
despotic will; he is accustomed to see everything give way to his
desires. He perceives that his friend is growing jealous; a little
later and the house will no longer be open to him.
Would not the thought come to him--if the husband could be got rid
of? And yet--?
This dream of the death of him, who forms the sole obstacle to his
happiness, troubles the man's head, it recurs once, twice, many
times, and he turns the fatal idea over and over again in his brain
until he becomes used to it. He arrives at the "If I dared," which
is the starting point of the blackest villainies. The idea takes a
precise form; he conceives that he might have the man whom he now
hates, and by whom he feels that he is hated, killed. Has he not,
far away, a wretch of a brother, whose actual existence, to say
nothing of his present abode, is absolutely unknown? What an
admirable instrument of murder he should find in this infamous,
depraved, and needy brother, whom he holds at his beck and call by
the aid in money that he sends him! And the temptation grows and
grows. An hour comes when it is stronger than all besides, and the
man, resolved to play this desperate game, summons his brother to
Paris. How? By one or two letters in which he excites the
rascal's hopes of a large sum of money to be gained, at the same
time that he imposes the condition of absolute secrecy as to his
voyage. The other accepts; he is a social failure, a bankrupt in
life, he has neither relations nor ties, he has been leading an
anonymous and haphazard existence for years. The two brothers are
face to face. Up to that point all is logical, all is in
conformity with the possible stages of a project of this order.
I arrived at the execution of it; and I continued to reason in the
same way, impersonally. The rich brother proposes the blood-
bargain to the poor brother. He offers him money; a hundred
thousand francs, two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand.
From what motive should the scoundrel hesitate to accept the offer?
Moral ideas? What is the morality of a rake who has gone from
libertinism to theft? Under the influence of my vengeful thoughts
I had read the criminal news of the day in the journals, and the
reports of criminal trials, too assiduously for years past, not to
know how a man becomes a murderer. How many cases of stabbing,
shooting, and poisoning have there not been, in which the gain was
entirely uncertain, and the conditions of danger extreme, merely to
enable the perpetrators to go, presently, and expend the murder-
money in some low haunt of depravity?
Fear of the scaffold? Then nobody would kill. Besides,
debauchees, whether they stop short at vice or roll down the
descent into crime, have no foresight of the future. Present
sensation is too strong for them; its image abolishes all other
images, and absorbs all the vital forces of the temperament and the
soul. An old dying mother, children perishing of hunger, a
despairing wife; have these pictures of their deeds ever arrested
drunkards, gamblers, or profligates? No more have the tragic
phantoms of the tribunal, the prison, and the guillotine, when,
thirsting for gold, they kill to procure it. The scaffold is far
off, the brothel is at the street corner, and the being sunk in
vice kills a man, just as a butcher would kill a beast, that he may
go thither, or to the tavern, or to the low gaming-house, with a
pocket full of money. This is the daily mode of procedure in
Why should not the desire of a more elevated kind of debauch
possess the same wicked attraction for men who are indeed more
refined, but are quite as incapable of moral goodness as the
rascally frequenters of the lowest dens of iniquity?
Ah! the thought that my father's blood might have paid for suppers
in a New York night-house was too cruel and unendurable. I lost
courage to pursue my cold, calm, reasonable deductions, a kind of
hallucination came upon me--a mental picture of the hideous scene--
and I felt my reason reel. With a great effort I turned to the
portrait of my father, gazed at it long, and spoke to him as if he
could have heard me, aloud, in abject entreaty. "Help me, help
And then, I once more became strong enough to resume the dreadful
hypothesis, and to criticise it point by point. Against it was its
utter unlikelihood; it resembled nothing but the nightmare of a
diseased imagination. A brother who employs his brother as the
assassin of a man whose wife he wants to marry! Still, although
the conception of such a devilish plot belonged to the domain of
the wildest fantasies, I said to myself: "This may be so, but in
the way of crime, there is no such thing as unlikelihood. The
assassin ceases to move in the habitual grooves of social life by
the mere fact that he makes up his mind to murder." And then a
score of examples of crimes committed under circumstances as
strange and exceptional as those whose greater or less probability
I was then discussing with myself recurred to my memory.
One objection arose at once. Admitting this complicated crime to
be possible only, how came I to be the first to form a suspicion of
it? Why had not the keen, subtle, experienced old magistrate, M.
Massol, looked in that direction for an explanation of the mystery
in whose presence he confessed himself powerless? The answer came
ready. M. Massol did not think of it, that was all. The important
thing is to know, not whether the Judge of Instruction suspected
the fact, or did not suspect it; but whether the fact itself is, or
is not, real.
Again, what indications had reached M. Massol to put him on this
scent? If he had thoroughly studied my father's home and his
domestic life, he had acquired the certainty that my mother was a
faithful wife and a good woman. He had witnessed her sincere
grief, and he had not seen, as I had, letters written by my father
in which he acknowledged his jealousy, and revealed the passion of
his false friend.
But, even supposing the judge had from the first suspected the
villainy of my future stepfather, the discovery of his accomplices
would have been the first thing to be done, since, in any case, the
presence of M. Termonde in our house at the time of the murder was
an ascertained fact.
Supposing M. Massol had been led to think of the brother who had
disappeared, what then? Where were the traces of that brother to
be found? Where and how? If Edmond and Jacques had been
accomplices in the crime, would not their chief care be to contrive
a means of correspondence which should defy the vigilance of the
police? Did they not cease for a time to communicate with each
other by letters? What had they to communicate, indeed? Edmond
was in possession of the price of the murder, and Jacques was
occupied in completing his conquest of my mother's heart.
I resumed my argument; all this granted again, but, although M.
Massol was ignorant of the essential factor in the case, although
he was unaware of Jacques Termonde's passion for the wife of the
murdered man, my aunt knew it well, she had in her hands
indisputable proofs of my father's suspicions; how came she not to
have thought as I was now thinking. And how did I know that she
had NOT thought just as I was thinking? She had been tormented by
suspicions, even she, too; she had lived and died haunted by them.
The only difference was that she had included my mother in them,
being incapable of forgiving her the sufferings of the brother whom
she loved so deeply. To act against my mother was to act against
me, so she had forsworn that idea forever. But if she would have
acted against my mother, how could she have gone beyond the domain
of vague inductions, since she, no more than I, could have divined
my stepfather's alibi, or known of the actual existence of Edmond
Termonde? No; that I should be the first to explain the murder of
my father as I did, proved only that I had come into possession of
additional information respecting the surroundings of the crime,
and not that the conjectures drawn from it were baseless.
Other objections presented themselves. If my stepfather had
employed his brother to commit the murder, how came he to reveal
the existence of that brother to his wife? An answer to this
question was not far to seek. If the crime had been committed
under conditions of complicity, only one proof of the fact could
remain, namely, the letters written by Jacques Termonde to Edmond,
in which the former recalled the latter to Europe and gave him
instructions for his journey; these letters Edmond had of course
preserved, and it was through them, and by the threat of showing
them to my mother, that he kept a hold over his brother. To tell
his wife so much as he had told her was to forestall and neutralize
this threat, at least to a certain extent; for, if the doer of the
deed should ever resolve on revealing the common secret to the
victim's widow, now the wife of him who had inspired it, the latter
would be able to deny the authenticity of the letters, to plead the
former confidence reposed in her respecting his brother, and to
point out that the denunciation was an atrocious act of revenge
achieved by a forgery. And, besides, if indeed the crime had been
committed in the manner that I imagined, was not that revelation to
my mother justified by another reason?
The remorseful moods by which I believed my stepfather to be
tortured were not likely to escape the observant affection of his
wife; she could not fail to know that there was a dark shadow on
his life which even her love could not dispel. Who knows but she
had suffered from the worst of all jealousy, that which is inspired
by a constant thought not imparted, a strange emotion hidden from
one? And he had revealed a portion of the truth to her so as to
spare her uneasiness of that kind, and to protect himself from
questions which his conscience rendered intolerable to him. There
was then no contradiction between this half-revelation made to my
mother, and my own theory of the complicity of the two brothers.
It was also clear to me that in making that revelation he had been
unable to go beyond a certain point in urging upon her the
necessity of silence towards me--silence which would never have
been broken but for her unforeseen emotion, but for my affectionate
entreaties, but for the sudden arrival of Edmond Termonde, which
had literally bewildered the poor woman. But how was my
stepfather's imprudence in refusing money to this brother, who was
at bay and ready to dare any and every thing, to be explained?
This, too, I succeeded in explaining to myself. It had happened
before my aunt's death, at a period when my stepfather believed
himself to be guaranteed from all risk on my side. He believed
himself to be sheltered from justice by the statute of limitations.
He was ill. What, then, was more natural than that he should wish
to recover those papers which might become a means of levying
blackmail upon his widow after his death, and dishonoring his
memory in the heart of that woman whom he had loved--even to crime--
at any price? Such a negotiation could only be conducted in
person. My stepfather would have reflected that his brother would
not fulfil his threat without making a last attempt; he would come
to Paris, and the accomplices would again be face to face after all
these years. A fresh but final offer of money would have to be
made to Edmond, the price of the relinquishment of the sole proof
whereby the mystery of the Imperial Hotel could be cleared up. In
this calculation my stepfather had omitted to forecast the chance
that his brother might come to the hotel on the Boulevard de
Latour-Maubourg, that he would be ushered into my mother's
presence, and that the result of the shock to himself--his health
being already undermined by his prolonged mental anguish--would be
a fresh attack of his malady. In events, there is always the
unexpected to put to rout the skillful calculations of the most
astute and the most prudent, and when I reflected that so much
cunning, such continual watchfulness over himself and others had
all come to this--unless indeed these surmises of mine were but
fallacies of a brain disturbed by fever and the consuming desire
for vengeance--I once more felt the passage of the wind of destiny
over us all.
However, whether reality or fancy, there they were, and I could not
remain in ignorance or in doubt. At the end of all my various
arguments for and against the probability of my new explanation of
the mystery, I arrived at a positive fact: rightly or wrongly I had
conceived the possibility of a plot in which Edmond Termonde had
served as the instrument of murder in his brother's hand. Were
there only one single chance, one against a thousand, that my
father had been killed in this way, I was bound to follow up the
clew to the end, on pain of having to despise myself as the veriest
coward that lived. The time of sorrowful dreaming was over; it was
now necessary to act, and to act was to know.
Morning dawned upon these thoughts of mine. I opened my window, I
saw the faces of the lofty houses livid in the first light of day,
and I swore solemnly to myself, in the presence of re-awakening
life, that this day should see me begin to do what I ought, and the
morrow should see me continue, and the following days should see
the same, until I could say to myself: "I am certain."
I resolutely repressed the wild feelings which had taken hold of me
during the night, and I fixed my mind upon the problem: "Does there
exist any means of making sure whether Edmond Termonde is, or is
not, identical with the man who in 1864 called himself Rochdale?"
For the answer to this question I had only myself, the resources of
my own intelligence, and my personal will to rely upon. I must do
myself the justice to state that not for one minute, during all
those cruel hours, was I tempted to rid myself once for all of the
difficulties of my tragic task by appealing to justice, as I should
have done had I not taken my mother's sufferings into account. I
had resolved that the terrible blow of learning that for fifteen
years she had been the wife of an assassin should never be dealt to
her by me. In order that she might always remain in ignorance of
this story of crime, it was necessary for the struggle to be
strictly confined to my stepfather and myself.
And yet, I thought, what if I find that he is guilty?
At this idea, no longer vague and distant, but liable today, to-
morrow, at any time, to become an indisputable truth, a terrible
project presented itself to my mind. But I would not look in that
direction, I made answer to myself: "I will think of this later
on," and I forced myself to concentrate all my reflections upon the
actual day and its problem: How to verify the identity of Edmond
Termonde with the false Rochdale?
To tear the secret from my stepfather was impossible. I had vainly
endeavored for months to find the flaw in his armor of
dissimulation; I had but broken not one dagger, but twenty against
the plates of that cuirass. If I had had all the tormentors of the
Middle Ages at my service, I could not have forced his fast-shut
lips to open, or extorted an admission from his woebegone and yet
There remained the other; but in order to attack him, I must first
discover under what name he was hiding in Paris, and where. No
great effort of imagination was required to hit upon a certain
means of discovering these particulars. I had only to recall the
circumstances under which I had learned the fact of Edmond
Termonde's arrival in Paris. For some reason or other--remembrance
of a guilty complicity or fear of a scandal--my stepfather trembled
with fear at the mere idea of his brother's return. His brother
had returned, and my stepfather would undoubtedly make every effort
to induce him to go away again. He would see him, but not at the
house on the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg, on account of my mother
and the servants. I had, therefore, a sure means of finding out
where Edmond Termonde was living; I would have his brother
There were two alternatives: either he would arrange a meeting in
some lonely place, or he would go himself to Edmond Termonde's
abode. In the latter case, I should have the information I wanted
at once; in the former, it would be sufficient to give the
description of Edmond Termonde just as I had received it from my
mother, and to have him also followed on his return from the place
of meeting. The spy-system has always seemed to me to be infamous,
and even at that moment I felt all the ignominy of setting this
trap for my stepfather; but when one is fighting, one must use the
weapons that will avail. To attain my end, I would have trodden
everything under foot except my mother's grief.
And then? Supposing myself in possession of the false name of
Edmond Termonde and his address, WHAT WAS I TO DO? I could not, in
imitation of the police, lay my hand upon him and his papers, and
get off with profuse excuses for the action when the search was
finished. I remember to have turned over twenty plans in my mind,
all more or less ingenious, and rejected them all in succession,
concluding by again fixing my mind on the bare facts.
Supposing the man really had killed my father, it was impossible
that the scene of the murder should not be indelibly impressed upon
his memory. In his dark hours the face of the dead man, whom I
resembled so closely, must have been visible to his mind's eye.
Once more I studied the portrait at which my stepfather had hardly
dared to glance, and recalled my own words: "Do you think the
likeness is sufficiently strong for me to have the effect of a
specter upon the criminal?"
Why not utilize this resemblance? I had only to present myself
suddenly before Edmond Termonde, and call him by the name--
Rochdale--to his ears its syllables would have the sound of a
funeral bell. Yes! that was the way to do it; to go into the room
he now occupied, just as my father had gone into the room at the
Imperial Hotel, and to ask for him by the name under which my
father had asked for him, showing him the very face of his victim.
If he was not guilty, I should merely have to apologize for having
knocked at his door by mistake; if he was guilty, he would be so
terrified for some minutes that his fear would amount to an avowal.
It would then be for me to avail myself of that terror to wring the
whole of his secret from him.
What motives would inspire him? Two, manifestly--the fear of
punishment, and the love of money. It would then be necessary for
me to be provided with a large sum when taking him unawares, and to
let him choose between two alternatives, either that he should sell
me the letters which had enabled him to blackmail his brother for
years past, or that I should shoot him on the spot.
And what if he refused to give up the letters to me? Is it likely
that a ruffian of his kind would hesitate?
Well, then, he would accept the bargain, hand me over the papers by
which my stepfather is convicted of murder, and take himself off;
and I must let him go away just as he had gone away from the
Imperial Hotel, smoking a cigar, and paid for his treachery to his
brother, even as he had been paid for his treachery to my father!
Yes, I must let him go away thus, because to kill him with my own
hand would be to place myself under the necessity of revealing the
whole of the crime, which I am bound to conceal at all hazards.
"Ah, mother! what will you not cost me!" I murmured with tears.
Fixing my eyes again upon the portrait of the dead man, it seemed
to me that I read in its eyes and mouth an injunction never to
wound the heart of the woman he had so dearly loved--even for the
sake of avenging him. "I will obey you," I made answer to my
father, and bade adieu to that part of my vengeance.
It was very hard, very cruel to myself; nevertheless, it was
possible; for, after all, did I hate the wretch himself? He had
struck the blow, it is true, but only as a servile tool in the hand
Ah! that other, I would not let HIM escape, when he should be in my
grip; he who had conceived, meditated, arranged, and paid for the
deed; he who had stolen all from me, all, all, from my father's
life even to my mother's love; he, the real, the only culprit.
Yes, I would lay hold of him, and contrive and execute my
vengeance, while my mother should never suspect the existence of
that duel out of which I should come triumphant. I was intoxicated
beforehand with the idea of the punishment which I would find means
to inflict upon the man whom I execrated. It warmed my heart only
to think of how this would repay my long, cruel martyrdom.
"To work! to work!" I cried aloud.
I trembled lest this should be nothing but a delusion, lest Edmond
Termonde should have already left the country, my stepfather having
previously purchased his silence.
At nine o'clock I was in an abominable Private Inquiry Office--
merely to have passed its threshold would have seemed to me a
shameful action, only a few hours before. At ten I was with my
broker, giving him instructions to sell out 100,000 francs' worth
of shares for me. That day passed, and then a second. How I bore
the succession of the hours, I know not. I do know that I had not
courage to go to my mother's house, or to see her again. I feared
she might detect my wild hope in my eyes, and unconsciously
forewarn my stepfather by a sentence or a word, as she had
unconsciously informed me.
Towards noon, on the third day, I learned that my stepfather had
gone out that morning. It was a Wednesday, and on that day my
mother always attended a meeting for some charitable purpose in the
Grenelle quarter. M. Termonde had changed his cab twice, and had
alighted from the second vehicle at the Grand Hotel. There he had
paid a visit to a traveler who occupied a room on the second floor
(No. 353); this person's name was entered in the list of arrivals
as Stanbury. At noon I was in possession of these particulars, and
at two o'clock I ascended the staircase of the Grand Hotel, with a
loaded revolver and a note-case containing one hundred banknotes,
wherewith to purchase the letters, in my pocket.
Was I about to enter on a formidable scene in the drama of my life,
or was I about to be convinced that I had been once more made the
dupe of my own imagination?
At all events, I should have done my duty.
I had reached the second floor. At one corner of the long corridor
there was a notification that the numbers ran from 300 to 360. A
waiter passed me, whistling; two girls were chattering and laughing
in a kind of office at the stair-head; the various noises of the
courtyard came up through the open windows.
The moment was opportune for the execution of my project. With
these people about the man could not hope to escape from the house.
345, 350, 351, 353--I stood before the door of Edmond Termonde's
room; the key was in the lock; chance had served my purpose better
than I had ventured to hope. This trifling particular bore witness
to the security in which the man whom I was about to surprise was
living. Was he even aware that I existed?
I paused a moment before the closed door. I wore a short coat, so
as to have my revolver within easy reach in the pocket, and I put
my right hand upon it, opened the door with my left, and entered
"Who is there?" said a man who was lying rather than sitting in an
arm-chair, with his feet on a table; he was reading a newspaper and
smoking, and his back was turned to the door. He did not trouble
himself to rise and see whose hand had opened the door, thinking,
no doubt, that a servant had come in; he merely turned his head
slightly, and I did not give him time to look completely round.
"M. Rochdale?" I asked.
He started to his feet, pushed away the chair, and rushed to the
other side of the table, staring at me with a terrified
countenance; his light blue eyes were unnaturally distended, his
face was livid, his mouth was half open, his legs bent under him.
His tall, robust frame had sustained one of those shocks of
excessive terror which almost paralyze the forces of life. He
uttered but one word--"Cornelis!"
At last I held in my victorious hand the proof that I had been
seeking for months, and in that moment I was master of all the
resources of my being. Yes, I was as calm, as clear of purpose, as
my adversary was the reverse. He was not accustomed to live, like
his accomplice, in the daily habits of studied dissimulation. The
name, "Rochdale," the terrifying likeness, the unlooked-for
arrival! I had not been mistaken in my calculation. With the
amazing rapidity of thought that accompanies action I perceived the
necessity of following up this first shock of moral terror by a
shock of physical terror. Otherwise, the man would hurl himself
upon me, in the moment of reaction, thrust me aside and rush away
like a madman, at the risk of being stopped on the stairs by the
servants, and then? But I had already taken out my revolver, and I
now covered the wretch with it, calling him by his real name, to
prove that I knew all about him.
"M. Edmond Termonde," I said, "if you make one step towards me, I
will kill you, like the assassin that you are, as you killed my
Pointing to a chair at the corner of the half-open window, I added:
He obeyed mechanically. At that instant I exercised absolute
control over him; but I felt sure this would cease so soon as he
recovered his presence of mind. But even though the rest of the
interview were now to go against me, that could not alter the
certainty which I had acquired. I had wanted to know whether
Edmond Termonde was the man who had called himself Rochdale, and I
had secured undeniable proof of the fact. Nevertheless, it was due
to myself that I should extract from my enemy the proof of the
truth of all my conjectures, that proof which would place my
stepfather at my mercy. This was a fresh phase of the struggle.
I glanced round the room in which I was shut up with the assassin.
On the bed, placed on my left, lay a loaded cane, a hat and an
overcoat; on a small table were a steel "knuckle-duster" and a
revolver. Among the articles laid out on a chest of drawers on my
right a bowie-knife was conspicuous, a valise was placed against an
unused door, a wardrobe with a looking-glass stood before another
unused door, then came the toilet-stand, and the man, crouching
under the aim of my revolver, between the table and the window. He
could neither escape, nor reach to any means of defense without a
personal struggle with me; but he would have to stand my fire
first, and besides, if he was tall and robust, I was neither short
or feeble. I was twenty-five, he was fifty. All the moral forces
were for me, I must win.
"Now," said I, as I took a seat, but without releasing him from the
covering barrel of my pistol, "let us talk."
"What do you want of me?" he asked roughly. His voice was both
hoarse and muffled; the blood had gone back into his cheeks, his
eyes, those eyes so exactly like his brother's, sparkled. The
brute-nature was reviving in him after having sustained a fearful
shock, as though astonished that it still lived.
"Come, then," he added, clenching his fists, "I am caught. Fire on
me, and let this end."
Then, as I made him no answer, but continued to threaten him with
my pistol, he exclaimed:
"Ah! I understand; it is that blackguard Jacques who has sold me to
you in order to get rid of me himself. There's the statute of
limitations--he thinks he is safe! But has he told you that he was
in it himself, good, honest man, and that I have the proof of this?
Ah! he thinks I am going to let you kill me, like that, without
speaking? No, I shall call out, we shall be arrested, and all will
Fury had seized upon him; he was about to shout "Help!" and the
worst of it was that rage was rising in me also. It was he, with
that same hand which I saw creeping along the table, strong, hairy,
seeking something to throw at me--yes--it was he who had killed my
One impulse more of anger and I was lost; a bullet was lodged in
his body, and I saw his blood flow. Oh, what good it would have
done me to see that sight!
But no, I soon made the sacrifice of this particular vengeance. In
a second, I beheld myself arrested, obliged to explain everything,
and my mother exposed to all the misery of it.
Happily for me, he also had an interval of reflection. The first
idea that must have occurred to him was that his brother had
betrayed him, by telling me one-half of the truth, so as to deliver
him up to my vengeance. The second, no doubt, was that, for a son
who came to avenge his dead father, I was making a good deal of
delay about it. There was a momentary silence between us. This
allowed me to regain my coolness, and to say: "You are mistaken,"
so quietly that his amazement was visible in his face. He looked
at me, then closed his eyes, and knitted his brow. I felt that he
could not endure my resemblance to my father.
"Yes, you are mistaken," I continued deliberately, giving the tone
of a business conversation to this terrible interview. "I have not
come here either to have you arrested or to kill you. Unless," I
added, "you oblige me to do so yourself, as I feared just now you
would oblige me. I have come to propose a bargain to you, but it
is on the condition that you listen, as I shall speak, with
Once more we were both silent. In the corridor, almost at the door
of the room, there were sounds of feet, voices, and peals of
laughter. This was enough to recall me to the necessity of
controlling myself, and him to the consciousness that he was
playing a dangerous game. A shot, a cry, and someone would enter
the room, for it opened upon the corridor. Edmond Termonde had
heard me with extreme attention; a gleam of hope, succeeded by a
singular look of suspicion, had passed over his face.
"Make your conditions," said he.
"If I had intended to kill you," I resumed, so as to convince him
of my sincerity by the evidence of his senses, "you would be dead
already." I raised the revolver. "If I had intended to have you
arrested, I would not have taken the trouble to come here myself;
two policemen would have been sufficient, for you don't forget that
you are a deserter, and still amenable to the law."
"True," he replied simply, and then added, following out a mental
argument which was of vital importance to the issue of our
"If it is not Jacques, then who is it that has sold me?"
"I held you at my disposal," I continued, without noticing what he
had said, "and I have not availed myself of that. Therefore I had
a strong reason for sparing you yesterday, ere yesterday, this
morning, a little while ago, at the present moment; and it depends
upon yourself whether I spare you altogether."
"And you want me to believe you," he answered, pointing to my
revolver which I still continued to hold in my hand, but no longer
covering him with it. "No, no," and he added, with an expression
which smacked of the barrack-room, "I don't tumble to that sort of
"Listen to me," said I, now assuming a tone of extreme contempt.
"The powerful motive which I have for not shooting you like a mad
dog, you shall learn. I do not choose that my mother should ever
know what a man she married in your brother. Do you now understand
why I resolved to let you go? Provided you are of the same mind,
however; for even the idea of my mother would not stop me, if you
pushed me too far. I will add, for your guidance, that the
limitation by which you supposed yourself to be safe from pursuit
for the murder in 1864 has been traversed; you are therefore
staking your head at this moment. For ten years past you have been
successfully levying blackmail on your brother. I do not suppose
you have merely played upon the chord of fraternal love. When you
came from America to assume the personality of Rochdale, it was
clearly necessary that he should send you some instructions. You
have kept those letters. I offer you one hundred thousand francs
"Sir," he replied slowly, and his tone showed me that for the
moment he had recovered his self-control, "how can you imagine that
I should take such a proposal seriously? Admitting that any such
letters were ever written, and that I had kept them, why should I
give up a document of this kind to you? What security should I
have that you would not have me laid by the heels the moment after!
Ah!" he cried, looking me straight in the face, "you know nothing!
That name! That likeness! Idiot that I am, you have tricked me."
His face turned crimson with rage, and he uttered an oath.
"You shall pay for this!" he cried; and at the same instant, when
he was no longer covered by my pistol, he pushed the table upon me
so violently, that if I had not sprung backwards I must have been
thrown down; but he already had time to fling himself upon me and
seize me round the body. Happily for me the violence of the attack
had knocked the pistol out of my hands, so that I could not be
tempted to use it, and a struggle began between us in which not one
word was spoken by either.
With his first rush he had flung me to the ground; but I was
strong, and the strange premonitions of danger, from which I
suffered in my youth, had led me to develop all my physical energy
I felt his breath on my face, his skin upon my skin, his muscles
striving against mine, and at the same time the dread that our
conflict might be overheard gave me the coolness which he had lost.
After a few minutes of this tussle, and just as his strength was
failing, he fastened his teeth in my shoulder so savagely that the
pain of the bite maddened me. I wrenched one of my arms from his
grasp and seized him by the throat at the risk of choking him. I
held him under me now, and I struck his bead against the floor as
though I meant to smash it. He remained motionless for a minute,
and I thought I had killed him. I first picked up my pistol, which
had rolled away to the door, and then bathed his forehead with
water in order to revive him.
When I caught sight of myself in the glass, with my coat-collar
torn, my face bruised, my cravat in rags, I shuddered as if I had
seen the specter of another Andre Cornelis. The ignoble nature of
this adventure filled me with disgust; but it was not a question of
fine-gentleman fastidiousness. My enemy was coming to himself, I
must end this. I knew in my conscience I had done all that was
possible to fulfill my vow in regard to my mother. The blame must
fall upon destiny. the wretch had half-raised himself, and was
looking at me; I bent over him, and put the barrel of my revolver
within a hair's breadth of his temple.
"There is still time," I said. "I give you five minutes to decide
upon the bargain which I proposed to you just now; the letters, and
one hundred thousand francs, with your liberty; if not, a bullet in
your head. Choose. I wished to spare you on account of my mother;
but I will not lose my vengeance both ways. I shall be arrested,
your papers will be searched, the letters will be found, it will be
known that I had a right to shoot you. My mother will go mad with
grief; but I shall be avenged. I have spoken. You have five
minutes, not one more."
No doubt my face expressed invincible resolution. The assassin
looked at that face, then at the clock. He tried to make a
movement, but saw that my finger was about to press the trigger.
"I yield," he said.
I ordered him to rise, and he obeyed me.
"Where are the letters?"
"When you have them," he implored, with the terror of a trapped
beast in his abject face, "you will let me go away?"
"I swear it," I answered; and, as I saw doubt and dread in his
quailing eyes, I added, "by the memory of my father. Where are the
He pointed to a valise in a corner of the room.
"Here is the money."
I flung him the note-case which contained it. Is there a sort of
moral magnetism in the tone of certain words and in certain
expressions of countenance? Was it the nature of the oath which I
had just taken, so deeply impressive at that moment, or had this
man sufficient strength of mind to say to himself that his single
chance of safety resided in belief in my good faith? However that
may be, he did not hesitate for a moment; he opened the iron-bound
valise, took out a yellow-leather box with a patent lock, and,
having opened it, flung its contents--a large sealed envelope-to
me, exactly as I had flung the banknotes to him. I, too, for my
part, had not a moment's fear that he would produce a weapon from
the valise and attack me while I was verifying the contents of the
envelope. These consisted of three letters only; the two first
bore the double stamp of Paris and New York, the third those of New
York and Liverpool, and all three bore the January or February
post-marks of the year 1864.
"Is that all?" he asked.
"Not yet," I answered; "you must undertake to leave Paris this
evening by the first train, without having seen your brother or
written to him."
"I promise; and then?"
"When was he to come back here to see you?"
"On Saturday," he answered, with a shrug of his shoulders. "The
bargain was concluded. He was determined to wait until the day
came for me to set out for Havre before paying me the money, so
that he might make quite sure I should not stay on in Paris.--The
game is up," he added, "and now I wash my hands of it."
"Edmond Termonde," said I, rising, but not loosing him from the
hold of my eye, "remember that I have spared you; but you must not
tempt me a second time by putting yourself in my way, or crossing
the path of any whom I love."
Then, with a threatening gesture, I quitted the room, leaving him
seated at the table near the window. I had hardly reached the
corridor when my nerves, which had been so strangely under my
control during the struggle, failed me. My legs bent under me, and
I feared I was about to fall. How was I to account for the
disorder of my clothes? I made a great effort, concealed the torn
ends of my cravat, turned up the collar of my coat to hide the
condition of my shirt, and did my best to repair the damage that
had been done to my hat. I then wiped my face with my
handkerchief, and went downstairs with a slow and careless step.
The inspector of the first floor was, doubtless, occupied at the
other end of the corridor; but two of the waiters saw me and were
evidently surprised at my aspect. They were, however, too busy,
luckily for me, to stop me and inquire into the cause of my
discomposure. At last I reached the courtyard. If anybody who
knew me had been there? I got into the first cab and gave my
address. I had kept my word. I had conquered.
I am afraid to kill; but had I been born in Italy, in the fifteenth
century, would I have hesitated to poison my father's murderer?
Would I have hesitated to shoot him, had I been born in Corsica
fifty years ago? Am I then nothing but a civilized person, a
wretched and impotent dreamer, who would fain act, but shrinks from
soiling his hands in the action? I forced myself to contemplate
the dilemma in which I stood, in its absolute, imperative,
inevitable distinctness. I must either avenge my father by handing
over his murderer to be dealt with by the law, since M. Massol had
prudently fulfilled all the formalities necessary to bar the
limitation, or I must be my own minister of justice. There was a
third alternative; that I should spare the murderous wretch, allow
him to live on in occupation of his victim's place in my mother's
home, from which he had driven me; but at the thought of this my
rage revived. The scruples of the civilized man did indeed give
him pause; but that hesitation did not hinder the savage, who
slumbers in us all, from feeling the appetite for retaliation which
stirs the animal nature of man--all his flesh, and all his blood--
as hunger and thirst stir it. "Well, then," said I to myself, "I
will assassinate my stepfather, since that is the right word. Was
he afraid to assassinate my father? He killed; he shall be killed.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; that is the primitive law,
and all the rest is a lie."
Evening had come while this strife was raging in my soul. I was
laboring under excitement which contrasted strangely with the
calmness I had felt a few hours previously, when ascending the
stairs in the Grand Hotel. The situation also had undergone a
change; then I was preparing for a struggle, a kind of duel; I was
about to confront a man whom I had to conquer, to attack him face
to face without any treachery, and I had not flinched. It was the
mean hypocrisy of clandestine murder that had made me shrink from
the idea of killing my stepfather, by luring him into a snare. I
had controlled this trembling the first time; but I was afraid of
its coming again, and that I should have a sleepless night, and be
unfit to act next day with the cool calmness I desired.
I felt that I could not bear suspense; on the morrow I must act.
The plan on which I should decide, be it what it might, must be
executed within the twenty-four hours.
The best means of calming my nerves was by making a beginning now,
at once; by doing something beforehand to guard against suspicion.
I determined upon letting myself be seen by persons who could bear
witness, if necessary, that they had seen me, careless, easy,
almost gay. I dressed and went out, intending to dine at a place
where I was known, and to pass the most of the night at the club.
When I was in the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, crowded with carriages
and people on foot--the May evening was delicious--I shared the
physical sensation of the joy of living, which was abroad in the
air. The sky quivered with the innumerable throbs of the stars,
and the young leaves shook at the touch of a slow and gentle
breeze. Garlands of light illumined the various pleasure-gardens.
I passed in front of a restaurant where the tables extended to the
edge of the footpath, and young men and women were finishing their
The contrast between the spring-festival aspect of Paris and the
tragedy of my own destiny came home to me too strongly. What had I
done to Fate to deserve that I should be the one only person, amid
all this crowd, condemned to such an experience? Why had my path
been crossed by a man capable of pushing passion to the point of
crime, in a society in which passion is ordinarily so mild, so
harmless, and so lukewarm? Probably there did not exist in all the
"good" society of Paris four persons with daring enough to conceive
such a plan as that which Jacques Termonde had executed with such
cool deliberation under the influence of his passion. And this
villain, who could love so intensely, was my stepfather!
Once more the breath of fatality, which had already thrilled me
with a kind of mysterious horror, passed over me, and I felt that I
could no longer bear the sight of the human face. Turning my back
upon the lit-up, noisy quarter of the Champs Elysees, I walked on
towards the Arc de Triomphe. Without thinking about it I took the
road to the Bois, bore to the right to avoid the vehicles, and
turned into one of the loneliest paths. Had I unconsciously obeyed
one of those almost animal impulses of memory, which bring us back
to ways that we have already trodden? By the soft, bluish light of
the spring moon I recognized the place where I had walked with my
stepfather in the winter, on the occasion of our first drive to the
Bois. It was on that day I obliged him to look the portrait of his
victim in the face, on that day he came to me on the pretext of
asking for the Review which my mother had lent me. In my thoughts
I beheld him, as he then was, and recalled the strange pity which
had stirred my heart at the sight of him, so sad, broken-down, and,
so to speak, conquered. He stood before me, in the light of that
remembrance, as living and real as if he had been there, close
beside me, and the acute sensation of his existence made me feel at
the same time all the signification of those fearful and mysterious
words: to kill. To kill? I was going to kill him, in a few hours
it might be, at the latest in a few days.
I heard voices, and I withdrew into the shade. Two forms passed
me, a young man and a girl, lovers, who did not see me. The
moonlight fell upon them, as they went on their way, hand in hand.
I burst into tears, and wept long, unrestrainedly; for I too was
young; in my heart there was a flood of pent-up tenderness, and
here I was, on this perfumed, moonlit, starlit night, crouching in
a dark corner, meditating murder!
No, not murder, an execution. Has my stepfather deserved death?
Yes. Is the executioner who lets down the knife on the neck of the
condemned criminal to be called an assassin? No! Well, then I
shall be the executioner and nothing else. I rose from the bench
where I had shed my last tears of resolution and cowardice--for
thus I regarded those hot tears to which I now appeal, as a last
proof that I was not born for what I have done.
While walking back to Paris, I multiplied and reiterated my
arguments. Sometimes I succeeded in silencing a voice within me,
stronger than my reasoning and my longing for vengeance, a voice
which pronounced the words formerly uttered by my aunt: "Vengeance
is mine, saith the Lord God." And if there be no God? And if
there be, is not the fault His, for He has let this thing be? Yes,
such were my wild words and thoughts; and then all these scruples
of my conscience appeared to me mere vain, futile quibbles, fitting
for philosophers and confessors.
There remained one indisputable, absolute fact; I could not endure
that the murderer of my father should continue to be the husband of
There was a second no less evident fact; I could not place this man
in the hands of justice without, probably, killing my mother on the
spot, or, quite certainly, laying her whole life waste. Therefore
I would have to be my own tribunal, judge, and executioner in my
own cause. What mattered to me the arguments for or against? I
was bound to give heed first to my final instinct, and it cried out
to me "Kill!"
I walked fast, keeping my mind fixed on this idea with a kind of
tragic pleasure, for I felt that my irresolution was gone, and that
I should act. All of a sudden, as I came close to the Arc de
Triomphe, I remembered how, on that very spot, I had met one of my
club companions for the last time. He shot himself the next day.
Why did this remembrance suddenly suggest to me a series of new
I stopped short with a beating heart. I had caught a glimpse of
the way of safety. Fool that I had been, led away as usual by an
undisciplined imagination! My stepfather should die. I had
sentenced him in the name of my inalienable right as an avenging
son; but could I not condemn him to die by his own hand? Had I not
that in my possession which would drive him to suicide? If I went
to him without any more reserves or circumlocution, and if I said
to him, "I hold the proof that you are the murderer of my father.
I give you the choice--either you will kill yourself, or I denounce
you to my mother," what would his answer be? He, who loved his
wife with that reciprocated devotion by which I had suffered so
much, would he consent that she should know the truth, that she
should regard him as a base, cowardly assassin? No, never; he
would rather die.
My heart, weary and worn with pain, rushed towards this door of
hope, so suddenly opened. "I shall have done my duty," I thought,
"and I shall have no blood on my hands. My conscience will not be
stained." I experienced an immense relief from the weight of
foreseen remorse that had caused me such agony, and I went on
drawing a picture of the future, freed at last from one dark image
which had veiled the sunshine of my youth. "He will kill himself;
my mother will weep for him; but I shall be able to dry her tears.
Her heart will bleed, but I will heal the wound with the balm of my
tenderness. When the assassin is no longer there, she and I will
live over again all the dear time that he stole from us, and then I
shall be able to show her how I love her. The caresses which I did
not give her when I was a child, because the other froze me by his
mere presence, I will give her then; the words which I did not
speak, the tender words that were stopped upon my lips, she shall
hear then. We will leave Paris, and get rid of these sad
remembrances. We will retire to some quiet spot, far, far away,
where she will have none but me, I none but her, and I will devote
myself to her old age. What do I want with any other love, with
any other tie? Suffering softens the heart; her grief will make
her love me more. Ah! how happy we shall be." But once more the
voice within resumed: "What if the wretch refuse to kill himself?
What if he were not to believe me when I threaten to denounce him?"
Had I not been acting for months as his accomplice in maintaining
the deceit practiced upon my mother? Did he not know how much I
loved her, he who had been jealous of me as her son, as I had been
jealous of him as her husband? Would he not answer: "Denounce me!"
being well assured that I would not deal such a blow at the poor