I was nine years old. It was in 1864, in the month of June at the
close of a warm, bright afternoon. I was at my studies in my room as
usual, having come in from the Lycee Bonaparte, and the outer shutters
were closed. We lived in the Rue Tronchet, near the Madeleine, in the
seventh house on the left, coming from the church. Three
highly-polished steps (how often have I slipped on them!) led to the
little room, so prettily furnished, all in blue, within whose walls I
passed the last completely happy days of my life. Everything comes
back to me. I was seated at my table, dressed in a large black
overall, and engaged in writing out the tenses of a Latin verb on a
ruled sheet divided into several compartments. All of a sudden I
heard a loud cry, followed by a clamor of voices; then rapid steps
trod the corridor outside my room. Instinctively I rushed to the door
and came up against a man-servant, who was deadly pale, and had a roll
of linen in his hand. I understood the use of this afterwards. I had
not to question this man, for at sight of me he exclaimed, as though
"Ah! M. Andre, what an awful misfortune!"
Then, regaining his presence of mind, he said:
"Go back into your roomgo back at once!"
Before I could answer, he caught me up in his arms, rather threw
than placed me on the upper step of my staircase, locked the door of
the corridor, and walked rapidly away.
"No, no," I cried, flinging myself against the door, "tell me all;
I will, I must know." No answer. I shook the lock, I struck the
panel with my clenched fists, I dashed my shoulder against the door.
Vain was my frenzy! Then, sitting upon the lowest step, I listened,
in an agony of fear, to the coming and going of people outside, who
knew of "the awful misfortune," but what was it they knew? Child as I
was, I understood the terrible signification which the servant's
exclamation bore under the actual circumstances. Two days previously,
my father had gone out after breakfast, according to custom, to the
place of business which he had occupied for over four years, in the
Rue de la Victoire. He had been thoughtful during breakfast, indeed
for some months past he had lost his accustomed cheerfulness. When he
rose to go out, my mother, myself, and one of the habitual frequenters
of our house, M. Jacques Termonde, a fellow student of my father's at
the Ecole de Droit, were at table. My father left his seat before
breakfast was over, having looked at the clock, and inquired whether
it was quite right.
"Are you in such a hurry, Cornelis?" asked Termonde.
"Yes," answered my father, "I have an appointment with a client who
is illa foreignerI have to call on him at his hotel to procure
some important papers. He is an odd sort of man, and I shall not be
sorry to see something of him at closer quarters. I have taken
certain steps on his behalf, and I am almost tempted to regret them."
And since then, no news! In the evening of that day, when dinner,
which had been put off for one quarter of an hour after another, was
over, and my father, who was always so methodical, so punctual, had
not come in, my mother began to betray increasing uneasiness, and
could not conceal from me that his last words dwelt upon her mind. It
was a rare occurrence for him to speak with misgiving of his
The night passed, then the next morning and afternoon, and once
more it was evening. My mother and I were once more seated at the
square table, where the cover laid for my father in front of his
empty chair gave, as it were, a form to our nameless dread.
My mother had written to M. Jacques Termonde, and he came after
dinner. I was sent away immediately, but not without my having had
time to remark the extraordinary brightness of M. Termonde's eyes,
which were blue, and usually shone coldly in his thin, sharp face. He
had fair hair and a beard best described as pale. Thus do children
take note of small details, which are speedily effaced from their
minds, but afterwards reappear, at the contact of life, just as
certain invisible marks come out upon paper when it is held to the
While begging to be allowed to remain, I was mechanically observing
the hurried and agitated turning and returning of a light caneI had
long coveted itheld behind his back in his remarkably beautiful
hands. If I had not admired the cane so much, and the fighting
centaurs on its handlea fine piece of Renaissance work this
symptom of extreme disturbance might have escaped me. But, how could
M. Termonde fail to be disturbed by the disappearance of his best
friend? Nevertheless, his voice, a soft voice which made all his
phrases melodious, was quite calm.
"To-morrow," he said, "I will have every inquiry made, if Cornelis
has not returned; but he will come back, and all will be explained.
Depend on it, he went away somewhere on the business he told you of,
and left a letter for you to be sent by a commissionaire who has not
"Ah!" said my mother, "you think that is possible?"
How often, in my dark hours, have I recalled this dialogue, and the
room in which it took placea little salon, much liked by my mother,
with hangings and furniture of some foreign stuff all striped in red
and white, black and yellow, that my father had brought from Morocco;
and how plainly have I seen my mother in my mind's eye, with her black
hair, her brown eyes, her quivering lips. She was as white as the
summer gown she wore that evening. M. Termonde was dressed with his
usual correctness, and I remember well his slender and elegant figure.
I attended the two classes at the Lycee, if not with a light, at
least with a relieved heart. But, while I was sitting upon the lower
step of my little staircase, all my uneasiness revived. I hammered at
the door again, I called as loudly as I could; but no one answered me,
until the good woman who had been my nurse came into my room.
"My father!" I cried, "where is my father?"
"Poor child, poor child," said nurse, and took me in her arms.
She had been sent to tell me the awful truth, but her strength
failed her. I escaped from her, ran out into the corridor, and
reached my father's bedroom before anyone could stop me. Ah! upon
the bed lay a rigid form covered by a white sheet, upon the pillow a
bloodless, motionless face, with fixed, wide-open eyes, for the lids
had not been closed; the chin was supported by a bandage, a napkin was
bound around the forehead; at the bed's foot knelt a woman, still
dressed in her white summer gown, crushed and helpless with grief.
These were my father and my mother.
I flung myself madly upon her, and she clasped me passionately,
with the piercing cry, "My Andre, my Andre!" In that cry there was
such intense grief, in that embrace there was such frenzied
tenderness, her heart was then so big with tears, that it warms my
own even now to think of it. The next moment she rose and carried me
out of the room, that I might see the dreadful sight no more. She did
this easily, her terrible excitement had doubled her strength. "God
punishes me! God punishes me!" she said over and over again taking no
heed of her words. She had always been given, by fits and starts, to
mystical piety. Then she covered my face, my neck, and my hair with
kisses and tears. May all that we suffered, the dead and I, be
forgiven you, poor mother, for the sincerity of those tears at that
When I asked my mother, on the instant, to tell me all about the
awful event, she said that my father had been seized with a fit in a
hackney carriage, and that as no papers were found upon him, he had
not been recognized for two days.
Grown-up people are much too ready to think it is equally easy to
tell lies to all children.
Now, I was a child who pondered long in my thoughts over things
that were said to me, and by dint of putting a number of small facts
together, I came to the conviction that I did not know the whole
truth. If my father's death had occurred in the manner stated to me,
why should the man-servant have asked me, one day when he took me out
to walk, what had been said to me about it? And when I answered him,
why did he say no more, and, being a very talkative person, why had he
kept silence ever since? Why, too, did I feel the same silence all
around me, in the air, sitting on every lip, hidden in every look?
Why was the subject of conversation constantly changed whenever I
drew near? I guessed this by many trifling signs. Why was not a
single newspaper left lying about, whereas, during my father's
lifetime, the three journals to which we subscribed were always to be
found on a table in the salon? Above all, why did both the masters
and my schoolfellows look at me so curiously, when I went back to
school early in October, four months after our great misfortune?
Alas! it was their curiosity which revealed the full extent of the
catastrophe to me.
It was only a fortnight after the reopening of the school, when I
happened to be playing one morning with two new boys; I remember
their names, Rastonaix and Servoin, now, and I can see the big fat
cheeks of Rastonaix and the ferret-like face of Servoin. Although we
were day pupils, we were allowed a quarter of an hour's recreation at
school, between the Latin and English lessons. The two boys had
engaged me on the previous day for a game of ninepins, and when it was
over, they came close to me, and looking at each other to keep up
their courage, they put to me the following questions, point-blank:
"Is it true that the murderer of your father has been arrested?"
"And that he is to be guillotined?"
This occurred sixteen years ago, but I cannot now recall the
beating of my heart at those words without horror. I must have
turned frightfully pale, for the two boys, who had struck me this
blow with the carelessness of their ageof our agestood there
disconcerted. A blind fury seized upon me, urging me to command them
to be silent, and to hit them with my fists if they spoke again; but
at the same time I felt a wild impulse of curiosity what if this
were the explanation of the silence by which I felt myself
surrounded?and also a pang of fear, the fear of the unknown. The
blood rushed into my face, and I stammered out:
"I do not know."
The drum-tap, summoning us back to the schoolroom, separated us.
What a day I passed, bewildered by my trouble, turning the two
terrible sentences over and over again.
It would have been natural for me to question my mother; but the
truth is, I felt quite unable to repeat to her what my unconscious
tormentors had said. It was strange but true, that thenceforth my
mother, whom nevertheless I loved with all my heart, exercised a
paralyzing influence over me. She was so beautiful in her pallor, so
royally beautiful and proud.
No, I should never have ventured to reveal to her that an
irresistible doubt of the story she had told me was implanted in my
mind merely by the two questions of my schoolfellows; but, as I could
not keep silence entirely and live, I resolved to have recourse to
Julie, my former nurse. She was a little woman, fifty years of age,
an old maid too, with a flat, wrinkled face, like an over-ripe apple;
but her eyes were full of kindness, and indeed so was her whole face,
although her lips were drawn in by the loss of her front teeth, and
this gave her a witch-like mouth. She had deeply mourned my father in
my company, for she had been in his service before his marriage.
Julie was retained specially on my account, and in addition to her
the household consisted of the cook, the man-servant, and the femme de
chambre. Julie put me to bed and tucked me in, heard me say my
prayers, and listened to my little troubles.
"Oh! the wretches!" she exclaimed, when I opened my heart to her
and repeated the words that had agitated me so terribly. "And yet it
could not have been hidden from you forever." Then it was that she
told me all the truth, there in my little room, speaking very low and
bending over me, while I lay sobbing in my narrow bed. She suffered
in the telling of that truth as much as I in the hearing of it, and
the touch of her dry old hand, with fingers scarred by the needle,
fell softly on my curly head as she stroked it.
That ghastly story, which bore down my youth with the weight of an
impenetrable mystery, I have found written in the newspapers of the
day, but not more clearly than it was narrated by my dear old Julie.
Here it is, plainly set forth, as I have turned and re- turned it
over and over again in my thoughts, day after day, with the vain hope
of penetrating it.
My father, who was a distinguished advocate, had resigned his
practice in court some years previously, and set up as a financial
agent, hoping by that means to make a fortune more rapidly than by
the law. His good official connection, his scrupulous probity, his
extensive knowledge of the most important questions, and his great
capacity for work, had speedily secured him an exceptional position.
He employed ten secretaries, and the million and a half francs which
my mother and I inherited formed only the beginnings of the wealth to
which he aspired, partly for his own sake, much more for his son's
but, above all, for his wife'she was passionately attached to her.
Notes and letters found among his papers proved that at the time of
his death, he had been for a month previously in correspondence with a
certain person named, or calling himself, William Henry Rochdale, who
was commissioned by the firm of Crawford, in San Francisco, to obtain
a railway concession in Cochin China, then recently conquered, from
the French Government. It was with Rochdale that my father had the
appointment of which he spoke before he left my mother, M. Termonde,
and myself, after breakfast, on the last fatal morning. The
Instruction had no difficulty in establishing this fact. The
appointed place of meeting was the Imperial Hotel, a large building,
with a long facade, in the Rue de Rivoli, not far from the Ministere
de la Marine. The entire block of houses was destroyed by fire in the
Commune; but during my childhood I frequently begged Julie to take me
to the spot, that I might gaze, with an aching heart, upon the
handsome courtyard adorned with green shrubs, the wide, carpeted
staircase, and the slab of black marble, encrusted with gold, that
marked the entrance to the place whither my father wended his way,
while my mother was talking with M. Termonde, and I was playing in the
room with them. My father had left us at a quarter-past twelve, and
he must have taken a quarter of an hour to walk to the Imperial Hotel,
for the concierge, having seen the corpse, recognized it, and
remembered that it was just about half-past twelve when my father
inquired of him what was the number of Mr. Rochdale's rooms. This
gentleman, a foreigner, had arrived on the previous day, and had
fixed, after some hesitation, upon an apartment situated on the second
floor, and composed of a salon and a bedroom, with a small ante-room,
which separated the apartment from the landing outside. From that
moment he had not gone out and he dined the same evening and
breakfasted the next morning in his salon. The concierge also
remembered that Rochdale came down alone, at about two o'clock on the
second day; but he was too much accustomed to the continual coming and
going to notice whether the visitor who arrived at half- past twelve
had or had not gone away again. Rochdale handed the key of his
apartment to the concierge, with directions that anybody who came,
wanting to see him, should be asked to wait in his salon. After this
he walked away in a leisurely manner, with a business- like portfolio
under his arm, smoking a cigar, and he did not reappear.
The day passed on, and towards night two housemaids entered the
apartment of the foreign gentlemen to prepare his bed. They passed
through the salon without observing anything unusual. The traveler's
luggage, composed of a large and much-used trunk and a quite new
dressing-bag, were there. His dressing-things were arranged on the
top of a cabinet. The next day, towards noon, the same housemaids
entered the apartment, and finding that the traveler had slept out,
they merely replaced the day-covering upon the bed, and paid no
attention to the salon. Precisely the same thing occurred in the
evening; but on the following day, one of the women having come into
the apartment early, and again finding everything intact, began to
wonder what this meant. She searched about, and speedily discovered a
body, lying at full length underneath the sofa, with the head wrapped
in towels. She uttered a scream which brought other servants to the
spot, and the corpse of my fatheralas! it was hewas removed from
the hiding-place in which the assassin had cunningly concealed it. It
was not difficult to reconstruct the scene of the murder. A wound in
the back of the neck indicated that the unfortunate man had been shot
from behind, while seated at the table examining papers, by a person
standing close beside him. The report had not been heard, on account
of the proximity of the weapon, and also because of the constant noise
in the street, and the position of the salon at the back of the
ante-room. Besides, the precautions taken by the murderer rendered it
reasonable to believe that he had carefully chosen a weapon which
would produce but little sound. The ball had penetrated the spinal
marrow and death had been instantaneous. The assassin had placed new
unmarked towels in readiness, and in these he wrapped up the head and
neck of his victim, so that there were no traces of blood. He had
dried his hands on a similar towel, after rinsing them with water
taken from the carafe; this water he had poured back into the same
bottle, which was found concealed behind the drapery of the
mantel-piece. Was the robbery real or pretended? My father's watch
was gone, and neither his letter-case nor any paper by which his
identity could be proved was found upon his body. An accidental
indication led, however, to his immediate recognition. Inside the
pocket of his waistcoat was a little band of tape, bearing the address
of the tailor's establishment. Inquiry was made there, in the
afternoon the sad discovery ensued, and after the necessary legal
formalities, the body was brought home.
And the murderer? The only data on which the police could proceed
were soon exhausted. The trunk left by the mysterious stranger,
whose name was certainly not Rochdale, was opened. It was full of
things bought haphazard, like the trunk itself, from a bric-a-brac
seller who was found, but who gave a totally different description of
the purchaser from that which had been obtained from the concierge of
the Imperial Hotel. The latter declared that Rochdale was a dark,
sunburnt man with a long thick beard; the former described him as of
fair complexion and beardless. The cab on which the trunk had been
placed immediately after the purchase, was traced, and the deposition
of the driver coincided exactly with that of the bric-a-brac seller.
The assassin had been taken in the cab, first to a shop, where he
bought a dressing-bag, next to a linen-draper's where he bought the
towels, thence to the Lyons railway station, and there he had
deposited the trunk and the dressing-bag at the parcels office. Then
the other cab which had taken him, three weeks afterwards, to the
Imperial Hotel, was traced, and the description given by the second
driver agreed with the deposition of the concierge. From this it was
concluded that in the interval formed by these three weeks, the
assassin had dyed his skin and his hair, for all the depositions were
in agreement with respect to the stature, figure, bearing, and tone of
voice of the individual. This hypothesis was confirmed by one
Jullien, a hairdresser, who came forward of his own accord to make the
On the day in the preceding month, a man who answered to the
description of Rochdale given by the first driver and the bric-a-
brac seller, being fair-haired, pale, tall, and broad-shouldered,
came to his shop to order a wig and a beard; these were to be so well
constructed that no one could recognize him, and were intended, he
said, to be worn at a fancy ball. The unknown person was accordingly
furnished with a black wig and a black beard, and he provided himself
with all the necessary ingredients for disguising himself as a native
of South America, purchasing kohl for blackening his eyebrows, and a
composition of Sienna earth and amber for coloring his complexion. He
applied these so skilfully, that when he returned to the hairdresser's
shop, Jullien did not recognize him. The unusualness of a fancy ball
given in the middle of summer, and the perfection to which his
customer carried the art of disguise, astonished the hairdresser so
much that his attention was immediately attracted by the newspaper
articles upon "The Mystery of the Imperial Hotel," as the affair was
called. At my father's house two letters were found; both bore the
signature of Rochdale, and were dated from London, but without
envelopes, and were written in a reversed hand, pronounced by experts
to be disguised. He would have had to forward a certain document on
receipt of these letters; probably that document was in the letter-
case which the assassin carried off after the crime. The firm of
Crawford had a real existence at San Francisco, but had never formed
the project of making a railroad in Cochin China. The authorities
were confronted by one of those criminal problems which set
imagination at defiance. It was probably not for the purpose of theft
that the assassin had resorted to such numerous and clever devices; he
would hardly have led a man of business into so skilfully laid a trap
merely to rob him of a few thousand francs and a watch.
Was the murder committed for revenge?
A search into the life of my father revealed nothing whatever that
could render such a theory tenable. Every suspicion, every
supposition, was routed by the indisputable and inexplicable fact
that Rochdale was a reality whose existence could not be contested,
that he had been at the Imperial Hotel from seven o'clock in the
evening of one day until two o'clock in the afternoon of the next,
and that he had then vanished, like a phantom, leaving one only trace
behindONE ONLY. This man had come there, other men had spoken to
him; the manner in which he had passed the night and the morning
before the crime was known. He had done his deed of murder, and
thennothing. "All Paris" was full of this affair, and when I made a
collection, long afterwards, of newspapers which referred to it, I
found that for six whole weeks it occupied a place in the chronicle of
At length the fatal heading, "The Mystery of the Imperial Hotel,"
disappeared from the columns of the newspapers, as the remembrance of
that ghastly enigma faded from the minds of their readers, and
solicitude about it ceased to occupy the police. The tide of life,
rolling that poor waif amid its waters, had swept on. Yes; but I,
the son? How should I ever forget the old woman's story that had
filled my childhood with tragic horror? How should I ever cease to
see the pale face of the murdered man, with its fixed, open eyes? How
should I not say: "I will avenge thee, thou poor ghost?" Poor ghost!
When I read Hamlet for the first time, with that passionate avidity
which comes from an analogy between the moral situation depicted in a
work of art and some crisis of our own life, I remember that I
regarded the Prince of Denmark with horror. Ah! if the ghost of my
father had come to relate the drama of his death to me, with his
unbreathing lips, would I have hesitated one instant? No! I protested
to myself; and then? I learned all, and yet I hesitated, like him,
though less than he, to dare the terrible deed. Silence! silence!
Let me go back to the facts.
I remember little of the succeeding events. All was so trivial, so
insignificant, between that first vision of horror and the vision of
woe which came to me two years later, that, with one exception, I
hardly recall the intervening time.
In 1864, my father died; in 1866, my mother married M. Jacques
Termonde. The exceptional period of the interval was the only one
during which my mother bestowed constant attention upon me. Before
the fatal date my father was the only person who had cared for me; at
a later period there was no one at all to do so. Our apartment in the
Rue Tronchet became unbearable to us; there we could not escape from
the remembrance of the terrible event, and we removed to a small hotel
in the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg. The house had belonged to a
painter, and stood in a small garden which seemed larger than it was
because other gardens adjoined it, and over- shadowed its boundary
wall and greenery. The center of the house was a kind of hall, in the
English style, which the former occupant had used as a studio; my
mother made this her ordinary sitting- room.
Now, at this distance of time, I can understand my mother's
character, and recognize that there was something about her, which,
although it was very harmless, led her to exaggerate the outward
expression of all her feelings. While she occupied herself in
studying the attitudes by which her emotions were to be fittingly
expressed, the sentiments themselves were fading away. For instance,
she chose to condemn herself to voluntary exile and seclusion after
her bereavement, receiving only a very few friends, of whom M. Jacques
Termonde was one; but she very soon began to adorn herself and
everything around her, with the fine and subtle tastefulness that was
innate in her.
My mother was a very lovely woman; her beauty was of a refined and
pensive order, her figure was tall and slender, her dark hair was
very luxuriant and of remarkable length. No doubt it was to the
Greek blood in her veins that she owed the classical lines of her
profile, her full-lidded soft eyes, and the willowy grace of her
form. Her maternal grandfather was a Greek merchant, of the name of
Votronto, who had come from the Levant to Marcielles when the Ionian
Islands were annexed to France.
Many times in after years I have recalled the strange contrast
between her rare and refined beauty and my father's stolid sturdy
form, and my own, and wondered whether the origin of many irreparable
mistakes might not be traced to that contrast. But I did not reason
in those days; I was under the spell of the fair being who called me,
"My son." I used to look at her with a kind of idolatry when she was
seated at her piano in that elegant sanctum of hers, which she had
hung with draped foreign stuffs, and decorated with tall green plants
and various curious things, after a fashion entirely her own. For her
sake, and in spite of my natural awkwardness and untidiness, I strove
to keep myself very clean and neat in the more and more elaborate
costumes which she made me wear, and also more and more did the
terrible image of the murdered man fade away from that home, which,
nevertheless, was provided and adorned by the fortune which he had
earned for us and bequeathed to us. All the ways of modern life are
so opposed to the tragic in events, so far removed from the savage
realities of passion and bloodshed, that when such things intrude upon
the decorous life of a family, they are put out of sight with all
speed, and soon come to be looked upon as a bad dream, impossible to
doubt, but difficult to realize.
Yes, our life had almost resumed its normal course when my mother's
second marriage was announced to me. This time I accurately remember
not only the period, but also the day and hour.
I was spending my holidays with my spinster aunt, my father's
sister, who lived at Compiegne, in a house situated at the far end of
the town. She had three servants, one of whom was my dear old Julie,
who had left us because my mother could not get on with her. My aunt
Louise was a little woman of fifty, with countrified looks and
manners; she had hardly ever consented to stay two whole days in Paris
during my father's lifetime. Her almost invariable attire was a black
silk gown made at home, with just a line of white at the neck and
wrists, and she always wore a very long gold chain of ancient date,
which was passed under the bodice of her gown and came out at the
belt. To this chain her watch and a bunch of seals and charms were
attached. Her cap, plainly trimmed with ribbon, was black like her
dress, and the smooth bands of her hair, which was turning gray,
framed a thoughtful brow and eyes so kind that she was pleasant to
behold, although her nose was large and her mouth and chin were heavy.
She had brought up my father in this same little town of Compiegne,
and had given him, out of her fortune, all that she could spare from
the simple needs of her frugal life, when he wished to marry Mdlle. de
Slane, in order to induce my mother's family to listen to his suit.
The contrast between the portrait in my little album of my aunt and
her face as I saw it now, told plainly enough how much she had
suffered during the past two years. Her hair had become more white,
the lines which run from the nostrils to the corners of the mouth were
deepened, her eyelids had a withered look. And yet she had never been
demonstrative in her grief. I was an observant little boy, and the
difference between my mother's character and that of my aunt was
precisely indicated to my mind by the difference in their respective
sorrow. At that time it was hard for me to understand my aunt's
reserve, while I could not suspect her of want of feeling. Now it is
to the other sort of nature that I am unjust. My mother also had a
tender heart, so tender that she did not feel able to reveal her
purpose to me, and it was my Aunt Louise who undertook to do so. She
had not consented to be present at the marriage, and M. Termonde, as I
afterwards learned, preferred that I should not attend on the
occasion, in order, no doubt, to spare the feelings of her who was to
become his wife.
In spite of all her self-control, Aunt Louise had tears in her
brown eyes when she led me to the far end of the garden, where my
father had played when he was a child like myself. The golden tints
of September had begun to touch the foliage of the trees. A vine
spread its tendrils over the arbor in which we seated ourselves, and
wasps were busy among the ripening grapes. My aunt took both my hands
in hers, and began:
"Andre, I have to tell you a great piece of news."
I looked at her apprehensively. The shock of the dreadful event in
our lives had left its mark upon my nervous system, and at the
slightest surprise my heart would beat until I nearly fainted. She
saw my agitation and said simply:
"Your mother is about to marry."
It was strange this sentence did not immediately produce the
impression which my look at her had led my aunt to expect. I had
thought from the tone of her voice, that she was going to tell me of
my mother's illness or death. My sensitive imagination readily
conjured up such fears. I asked calmly:
"You do not guess?"
"M. Termonde?" I cried.
Even now I cannot define the reasons which sent this name to my
lips so suddenly, without a moment's thought. No doubt M. Termonde
had been a good deal at our house since my father's death; but had he
not visited us as often, if not more frequently, before my mother's
widowhood? Had he not managed every detail of our affairs for us with
care and fidelity, which even then I could recognize as very rare?
Why should the news of his marriage with my mother seem to me on the
instant to be much worse news than if she had married no matter whom?
Exactly the opposite effect ought to have been produced, surely? I
had known this man for a long time; he had been very kind to me
formerlythey said he spoiled meand he was very kind to me still.
My best toys were presents from him, and my prettiest books; a
wonderful wooden horse which moved by clockwork, given to me when I
was sevenhow much my poor father was amused when I told him this
horse was "a double thoroughbred""Don Quixote," with Dore's
illustrations, this very year; in fact some new gift constantly, and
yet I was never easy and light-hearted in his presence as I had
formerly been. When had this restraint begun? I could not have told
that, but I thought he came too often between my mother and me. I was
jealous of him, I may as well confess it, with that unconscious
jealousy which children feel, and which made me lavish kisses on my
mother when he was by, in order to show him that she was my mother,
and nothing at all to him. Had he discovered my feelings? Had they
been his own also? However that might be, I now never failed to
discern antipathy similar to my own in his looks, notwithstanding his
flattering voice and his over-polite ways. At my then age, instinct
is never deceived about such impressions.
Without any other cause than the weakness of nerves to which I had
been subject ever since my father's death, I burst into tears. The
same thing happened to me sometimes when I was shut up in my room
alone, with the door bolted, suffering from a dread which I could not
conquer, like that of a coming danger. I would forecast the worst
accidents that could happen; for example, that my mother would be
murdered, like my father, and then myself, and I peered under all the
articles of furniture in the room. It had occurred to me, when out
walking with a servant, to imagine that the harmless man might be an
accomplice of the mysterious criminal, and have it in charge to take
me to him, or at all events to have it in charge to take place. My
too highly-wrought imagination overmastered me. I fancied myself,
however, escaping from the deadly device, and in order to hide myself
more effectually, making for Compiegne. Should I have enough money?
Then I reflected that it might be possible to sell my watch to an old
watchmaker whom I used to see, when on my way to the Lycee, at work
behind the window of his little shop, with a glass fixed in his right
eye. That was a sad faculty of foresight which poisoned so many of
the harmless hours of my childhood! It was the same faculty that now
made me break out into choking sobs when my aunt asked me what I had
in my mind against M. Termonde. I related the worst of my grievances
to her then, leaning my head on her shoulder, and in this one all the
others were summed up. It dated from two months before. I had come
back from school in a merry mood, contrary to my habit. My teacher
had dismissed me with praise of my compositions and congratulations on
my prizes. What good news this was to take home and how tenderly my
mother would kiss me when she heard it! I put away my books, washed
my hands carefully, and flew to the salon where my mother was. I
entered the room without knocking at the door, and in such haste that
as I sprang towards her to throw myself into her arms, she gave a
little cry. She was standing beside the mantlepiece, her face was
very pale, and near her stood M. Termonde. He seized me by the arm
and held me back from her.
"Oh, how you frightened me!" said my mother.
"Is that the way to come into a salon?" said M. Termonde.
His voice had turned rough like his gesture. He had grasped my arm
so tightly that where his fingers had fastened on it I found black
marks that night when I undressed myself. But it was neither his
insolent words nor the pain of his grasp which made me stand there
stupidly, with a swelling heart. No, it was hearing my mother say to
"Don't scold Andre too much; he is so young. He will improve."
Then she drew me towards her, and rolled my curls round her
fingers; but in her words, in their tone, in her glance, in her faint
smile, I detected a singular timidity, almost a supplication, directed
to the man before her, who frowned as he pulled his moustache with his
restless fingers, as if in impatience of my presence. By what right
did he, stranger, speak in the tone of a master in our house? Why had
he laid his hand on me ever so lightly? Yes, by what right? Was I
his son or his ward? Why did not my mother defend me against him?
Even if I were in fault it was towards her only. A fit of rage
seized upon me; I burned with longing to spring upon M. Termonde like
a beast, to tear his face and bite him. I darted a look of fury at
him and at my mother, and left the room without speaking. I was of a
sullen temper, and I think this defect was due to my excessive and
almost morbid sensitiveness. All my feelings were exaggerated, so
that the least thing angered me, and it was misery to me to recover
myself. Even my father had found it very difficult to get the better
of those fits of wounded feeling, during which I strove against my own
relentings with a cold and concentrated anger which both relieved and
tortured me. I was well aware of this moral infirmity, and as I was
not a bad child in reality, I was ashamed of it. Therefore, my
humiliation was complete when, as I went out of the room, M. Termonde
"Now for a week's sulk! His temper is really insufferable."
His remark had one advantage, for I made it a point of honor to
give the lie to it, and did not sulk; but the scene had hurt me too
deeply for me to forget it, and now my resentment was fully revived,
and grew stronger and stronger while I was telling the story to my
aunt. Alas! my almost unconscious second-sight, that of a too
sensitive child, was not in error. That puerile but painful scene
symbolized the whole history of my youth, my invincible antipathy to
the man who was about to take my father's place, and the blind
partiality in his favor of her who ought to have defended me from the
first and always.
"He detests me!" I said through my tears; "what have I done to
"Calm yourself," said the kind woman. "You are just like your poor
father, making the worst of all your little troubles. And now you
must try to be nice to him on account of your mother, and not to give
way to this violent feeling, which frightens me. Do not make an enemy
of him," she added.
It was quite natural that she should speak to me in this way, and
yet her earnestness appeared strange to me from that moment out. I
do not know why she also seemed surprised at my answer to her
question, "What do you know?" She wanted to quiet me, and she
increased the apprehension with which I regarded the usurperso I
called him ever afterwardsby the slight faltering of her voice when
she spoke to him.
"You will have to write to them this evening," said she at length.
Write to them! The words sickened me. They were united; never,
nevermore should I be able to think of the one without thinking of
"I have already written."
"When are they to be married?"
"They were married yesterday," she answered, in so low a tone that
I hardly heard the words.
"And where?" I asked, after a pause.
"In the country, at the house of some friends." Then she added
quickly: "They preferred that you should not be there on account of
the interruption of your holidays. They have gone away for three
weeks; then they will go to see you in Paris before they start for
Italy. You know I am not well enough to travel. I will keep you
here until then. Be a good boy, and go now and write."
I had many other questions to put to her, and many more tears to
weep, but I restrained myself, and a quarter of an hour later, I was
seated at my dear good aunt's writing-table in her salon.
How I loved that room on the ground floor, with its glass door
opening on the garden. It was filled with remembrance for me. On
the wall at the side of the old-fashioned "secretary" hung the
portraits, in frames of all shapes and sizes, of those whom the good
and pious soul had loved and lost. This funereal little corner spoke
strongly to my fancy. One of the portraits was a colored miniature,
representing my great-grandmother in the costume of the Directory,
with a short waist, and her hair dressed a la Proudhon. There was
also a miniature of my great-uncle, her son. What an amiable,
self-important visage was that of the staunch admirer of Louis
Philippe and M. Thiers! Then came my paternal grandfather, with his
strong parvenu physiognomy, and my father at all ages. Underneath
these works of art was a bookcase, in which I found all my father's
school prizes, piously preserved. What a feeling of protection I
derived from the portieres in green velvet, with long bands of
needlework, my aunt's masterpieces, which hung in wide folds over the
doors! With what admiration I regarded the faded carpet, with its
impossible flowers, which I had so often tried to gather in my
babyhood! This was one of the legends of my earliest years, one of
those anecdotes which are told of a beloved son, and which make him
feel that the smallest details of his existence have been observed,
understood, and loved. In later days I have been frozen by the ice of
indifference. And my aunt, she whose life had been lived among these
old-fashioned things, how I loved her, with that face in which I read
nothing but supreme tenderness for me, those eyes whose gaze did me
good in some mysterious part of my soul! I felt her so near to me,
only through her likeness to my father, that I rose from my task four
or five times to kiss her, during the time it took me to write my
letter of congratulation to the worst enemy I had, to my knowledge, in
And this was the second indelible date in my life.
I once spoke to my aunt of the vow I had taken, the solemn promise
I had made to myself that I would discover the murderer of my father,
and take vengeance upon him, and she laid her hand upon my mouth. She
was a pious woman, and she repeated the words of the gospel:
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord." Then she added: "We must leave
the punishment of the crime to Him; His will is hidden from us.
Remember the divine precept and promise, 'Forgive and you shall be
forgiven.' Never say: 'An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' Ah,
no; drive this enmity out of your heart, Cornelis; yes, even this."
And there were tears in her eyes.
My poor aunt! She thought me made of sterner stuff than I really
was. There was no need of her advice to prevent my being consumed by
the desire for vengeance which had been the fixed star of my early
youth, the blood-colored beacon aflame in my night. Ah! the
resolutions of boyhood, the "oaths of Hannibal" taken to ourselves,
the dream of devoting all our strength to one single and unchanging
aimlife sweeps all that away, together with our generous illusions,
ardent enthusiasm, and noble hopes. What a difference there iswhat
a falling offbetween the boy of fifteen, unhappy indeed, but so bold
and proud in 1870, and the young man of eight years later, in 1878!
And to think, only to think, that but for chance occurrences,
impossible to foresee, I should still be, at this hour, the young man
whose portrait hangs upon the wall above the table at which I am
writing. Of a surety, the visitors to the Salon of that year (1878)
who looked at this portrait among so many others, had no suspicion
that it represented the son of a father who had come to so tragic an
end. And I, when I look at that commonplace image of an ordinary
Parisian, with eyes unlit by any fire or force of will, complexion
paled by the fatigues of fashion, hair cut in the mode of the day,
strictly correct dress and attitude, I am astonished to think that I
could have lived as I actually did live at that period. Between the
misfortunes that saddened my childhood, and those of quite recent date
which have finally laid waste my life, the course of my existence was
colorless, monotonous, vulgar, just like that of anybody else. I
shall merely note the stages of it.
In the second half of 1870, the Franco-Prussian war takes place.
The invasion finds me at Compiegne, where I am passing my holidays
with my aunt. My stepfather and my mother remain in Paris during the
siege. I go on with my studies under the tuition of an old priest
belonging to the little town, who prepared my father for his first
communion. In the autumn of 1871 I return to Versailles; in August,
1873, I take my bachelor's degree, and then I do my one year's
voluntary service in the army at Angers under the easiest possible
conditions. My colonel was the father of my old schoolfellow,
Rocquin. In 1874 I am set free from tutelage by my stepfather's
advice. This was the moment at which my task was to have been begun,
the time appointed with my own soul; yet, four years afterwards, in
1878, not only was the vengeance that had been the tragic romance,
and, so to speak, the religion of my childhood, unfulfilled, but I did
not trouble myself about it.
I was cruelly ashamed of my indifference when I thought about it;
but I am now satisfied that it was not so much the result of weakness
of character as of causes apart from myself which would have acted in
the same way upon any young man placed in my situation. From the
first, and when I faced my task of vengeance, an insurmountable
obstacle arose before me. It is equally easy and sublime to strike an
attitude and exclaim: "I swear that I will never rest until I have
punished the guilty one." In reality, one never acts except in
detail, and what could I do? I had to proceed in the same way as
justice had proceeded, to reopen the inquiry which had been pushed to
its extremity without any result.
I began with the Judge of Instruction,* who had had the carriage of
the matter, and who was now a Counsellor of the Court. He was a man
of fifty, very quiet and plain in his way, and he lived in the Ile de
Paris, on the first floor of an ancient house, from whose windows he
could see Notre Dame, primitive Paris, and the Seine, which is as
narrow as a canal at that place.
* The translator renders literally those terms and phrases relating
to the French criminal law and procedure which have no analogous
expression in English.
M. Massol, so he was named, was quite willing to resume with me the
analysis of the data which had been furnished by the Instruction. No
doubt existed either as to the personality of the assassin, or the
hour at which the crime was committed. My father had been killed
between two and three o'clock in the day, without a struggle, by that
tall, broad-shouldered personage whose extraordinary disguise
indicated, according to the magistrate, "an amateur." Excess of
complication is always an imprudence, for it multiplies the chances of
failure. Had the assassin dyed his skin and worn a wig because my
father knew him by sight?
To this M. Massol said "No; for M. Cornelis, who was very
observant, and who, besides, was on his guardthis is evident from
his last words when he left youwould have recognized him by his
voice, his glance, and his attitude. A man cannot change his height
and his figure, although he may change his face."
M. Massol's theory of this disguise was that the wearer had adopted
it in order to gain time to get out of France, should the corpse be
discovered on the day of the murder. Supposing that a description of
a man with a very brown complexion and a black beard had been
telegraphed in every direction, the assassin, having washed off his
paint, laid aside his wig and beard, and put on other clothes, might
have crossed the frontier without arousing the slightest suspicion.
There was reason to believe that the pretended Rochdale lived abroad.
He had spoke in English at the hotel, and the people there had taken
him for an American; it was therefore presumable either that he was a
native of the United States, or that he habitually resided there. The
criminal was, then, a foreigner, American or English, or perhaps a
Frenchman settled in America. As for the motive of so complicated a
crime, it was difficult to admit that it could be robbery alone. "And
yet," observed the Judge of Instruction, "we do not know what the
note-case carried off by the assassin contained. But," he added, "the
hypothesis of robbery seems to me to be utterly routed by the fact
that, while Rochdale stripped the dead man of his watch, he left a
ring, which was much more valuable, on his finger. From this I
conclude that he took the watch merely as a precaution to throw the
police off the scent. My supposition is that the man killed M.
Cornelis for revenge.
Then the former Judge of Instruction gave me some singular examples
of the resentment cherished against medical experts employed in legal
cases, Procureurs of the Republic, and Presidents of Assize. His
theory was, that in the course of his practice at the bar my father
might have excited resentment of a fierce and implacable kind; for he
had won many suits of importance, and no doubt had made enemies of
those against whom he employed his great powers. Supposing one of
those persons, being ruined by the result, had attributed that ruin to
my father, there would be an explanation of all the apparatus of this
M. Massol begged me to observe that the assassin, whether he were a
foreigner or not, was known in Paris. Why, if this were not so,
should the man have so carefully avoided being seen in the street? He
had been traced out during his first stay in Paris, when he bought the
wig and the beard, and that time he put up at a small hotel in the Rue
d'Aboukir under the name of Rochdale, and invariably went out in a
cab. "Observe also," said the Judge, "that he kept his room on the
day before the murder, and on the morning of the actual day. He
breakfasted in his apartment, having breakfasted and dined there the
day before. But, when he was in London, and when he lived at the
hotel to which your father addressed his first letters, he came and
went without any precautions."
And this was all. The addresses of three hotelssuch were the
meagre particulars that formed the whole of the information to which
I listened with passionate eagerness; the magistrate had no more to
tell me. He had small, twinkling, very light eyes, and his smooth
face wore an expression of extreme keenness. His language was
measured, his general demeanor was cold, obliging, and mild, he was
always closely shaven, and in him one recognized at once the
well-balanced and methodical mind which had given him great
professional weight. He acknowledged that he had been unable to
discover anything, even after a close analysis of the whole existing
situation of my father, as well as his past.
"Ah, I have thought a great deal about this said he, adding that
before he resigned his post as Judge of Instruction he had carefully
reperused the notes of the case. He had again questioned the
concierge of the Imperial Hotel and other persons. Since he had
become Counsellor to the Court, he had indicated to his successor what
he believed to be a clue; a robbery committed by a carefully made-up
Englishman had led him to believe the thief to be identical with the
pretended Rochdale. Then there was nothing more.
These steps had, however, been of use inasmuch as they barred the
rule of limitation, and he laid stress on that fact. I consulted him
then as to how much time still remained for me to seek out the truth
on my own account. The last Act of Instruction dated from 1873, so
that I had until 1883 to discover the criminal and deliver him up to
public justice. What madness! Ten years had already elapsed since
the crime, and I, all alone, insignificant, not possessed of the vast
resources at the disposal of the police, I presumed to imagine that I
should triumph, where so skillful a ferret as he had failed! Folly!
Yes; it was so.
And still there was nothing, no indication whatever. Nevertheless,
I began a thorough and searching investigation of all the dead
man's papers. With that unbounded tenderness of hers for my
stepfather, which made me so miserable, my mother had placed all
these papers in M. Termonde's keeping. Alas! Why should she have
understood those niceties of feeling on my part, which rendered the
fusion of her present with her past so repugnant to me, any more
clearly on this point than on any other? M. Termonde had at least
scrupulously respected the whole of those papers, from plans of
association and prospectuses to private letters. Among the latter
were several from M. Termonde himself, which bore testimony to the
friendship that had formerly subsisted between my mother's first
husband and her second. Had I not known this always? Why should I
suffer from the knowledge?
And still there was nothing, no indication whatever to put me on
the track of a suspicion.
I evoked the image of my father as he lived, just as I had seen him
for the last time; I heard him replying to M. Termonde's question in
the dining-room of the Rue Tronchet, and speaking of the man who
awaited him to kill him: "A singular man whom I shall not be sorry to
observe more closely." And then he had gone out and was walking
towards his death while I was playing in the little salon, and my
mother was talking to the friend who was one day to be her master and
mine. What a happy home-picture, while in that hotel room Ah! was I
never to find the key of the terrible enigma? Where was I to go?
What was I to do? At what door was I to knock?
At the same time that a sense of the responsibility of my task
disheartened me, the novel facilities of my new way of life
contributed to relax the tension of my will. During my school days,
the sufferings I underwent from jealousy of my stepfather, the
disappointment of my repressed affections, the meanness and penury of
my surroundings, many grievous influences, had maintained the restless
ardor of my feelings; but this also had undergone a change. No doubt
I still continued to love my mother deeply and painfully, but I now no
longer asked her for what I knew she would not give me, my unshared
place, a separate shrine in her heart. I accepted her nature instead
of rebelling against it.
Neither had I ceased to regard my stepfather with morose antipathy;
but I no longer hated him with the old vehemence. His conduct to me
after I had left school was irreproachable. Just as in my childhood,
he had made it a point of honor never to raise his voice in speaking
to me, so he now seemed to pique himself upon an entire absence of
interference in my life as a young man. When, having passed my
baccalaureate, I announced that I did not wish to adopt any
profession, but without a reasonthe true one was my resolution to
devote myself entirely to the fulfillment of my task of justicehe
had not a word to say against that strange decision; nay, more, he
brought my mother to consent to it.
When my fortune was handed over to me, I found that my mother, who
had acted as my guardian, and my stepfather, her co-trustee, had
agreed not to touch my funds during the whole period of my education;
the interest had been re-invested, and I came into possession, not of
750,000 francs, but of more than a million. Painful as I felt the
obligation of gratitude towards the man whom I had for years regarded
as my enemy, I was bound to acknowledge that he had acted an honorable
part towards me. I was well aware that no real contradiction existed
between these high-minded actions and the harshness with which he had
imprisoned me at school, and, so to speak, relegated me to exile.
Provided that I renounced all attempts to form a third between him
and his wife, he would have no relations with me but those of perfect
courtesy; but I must not be in my mother's house. His will was to
reign entirely alone over the heart and life of the woman who bore his
How could I have contended with him? Why, too, should I have
blamed him, since I knew so well that in his place, jealous as I was,
my own conduct would have been exactly similar?
I yielded, therefore, because I was powerless to contend with a
love which made my mother happy; because I was weary of keeping up
the daily constraint of my relations with her and him, and also
because I hoped that when once I was free I should be better fitted
for my task as a doer of justice. I myself asked to be permitted to
leave the house, so that at nineteen I possessed absolute
independence, an apartment of my own in the Avenue Montaigne, close
to the round-point in the Champs Elysees, a yearly income of 50,000
francs, the entree to all the salons frequented by my mother, and the
entree, too, to all the places at which one may amuse one's self. How
could I have resisted the influences of such a position?
Yes, I had dreamed of being an avenger, a justiciary, and I allowed
myself to be caught up almost instantly into the whirlwind of that
life of pleasure whose destructive power those who see it only from
the outside cannot measure. It is a futile and exacting existence
which fritters away your hours as it fritters away your mind,
raveling out the stuff of time thread by thread with irreparable
loss, and also the more precious stuff of mental and moral strength.
With respect to that task of mine, my task as an avenger, I was
incapable of immediate actionwhat and whom was I to attack?
And so I availed myself of all the opportunities that presented
themselves of disguising my inaction by movement, and soon the days
began to hurry on, and press one upon the other, amid those
innumerable amusements of which the idle rich make a code of duties
to be performed. What with the morning ride in the Bois, afternoon
calls, dinner parties, parties to the theater and after midnight,
play at the club, or the pursuit of pleasure elsewherehow was I to
find leisure for the carrying out of a project? I had horses,
intrigues, an absurd duel in which I acquitted myself well, because,
as I believe, the tragic ideas that were always at the bottom of my
life favored me.
A woman of forty persuaded me that I was her first love; then I
persuaded myself that I was in love with a Russian great lady, who
was living in Paris. The latter wasindeed she still isone of
those incomparable actresses in society, who, in order to surround
themselves with a sort of court, composed of admirers who are more or
less rewarded, employ all the allurements of luxury, wit, and beauty,
but who have not a particle of either imagination or heart, although
they fascinate by a display of the most refined fancies and the most
vivid emotions. I led the life of a slave to the caprices of this
soulless coquette for nearly six months, and learned that women of the
fashionable world and women of "the half- world" are very much alike
in point of worth. The former are intolerable on account of their
lies, their assumption, and their vanity; the others are equally
odious by reason of their vulgarity, their stupidity, and their sordid
love of lucre.
I forgot all my absurd relations with women of both orders in the
excitement of play, and yet I was well aware of the meanness of that
diversion, which only ceases to be insipid when it becomes odious,
because it is a clever calculation upon money to be gained without
working for it. There was in me something at once wildly dissipated
and yet disgusted, which drove me to excess, and at the same time
inspired me with bitter self-contempt. In the innermost recesses of
my being the memory of my father dwelt, and poisoned my thoughts at
their source. An impression of dark fatalism invaded my sick mind; it
was so strange that I should live as I was living, nevertheless, I did
live thus, and the visible "I" had but little likeness to the real.
Upon me, then, poor creature that I was, as upon the whole
universe, a fate rested. "Let it drive me," I said, and yielded
myself up to it. I went to sleep, pondering upon ideas of the most
somber philosophy, and I awoke to resume an existence without worth
or dignity, in which I was losing not only my power of carrying out
my design of reparation towards the phantom which haunted my dreams
but all self-esteem, and all conscience.
Who could have helped me reascend this fatal stream? My mother?
She saw nothing but the fashionable exterior of my life, and she
congratulated herself that I had "ceased to be a savage." My
stepfather? But he had been, voluntarily or not, favorable to my
disorderly life. Had he not made me master of my fortune at the most
dangerous age? Had he not procured me admission, at the earliest
moment, to the clubs to which he belonged, and in every way
facilitated my entrance into society? My aunt? Ah, yes, my aunt was
grieved by my mode of life; and yet, was she not glad that at any rate
I had forgotten the dark resolution of hate that had always frightened
her? And, besides, I hardly ever saw her now. My visits to Compiegne
were few, for I was at the age when one always finds time for one's
pleasures, but never has any for one's nearest duties. If, indeed,
there was a voice that was constantly lifted up against the waste of
my life in vulgar pleasures, it was that of the dead, who slept in the
day, unavenged; that voice rose, rose, rose unceasingly, from the
depths of all my musings, but I had accustomed myself to pay it no
heed, to make it no answer. Was it my fault that everything, from the
most important to the smallest circumstance, conspired to paralyze my
will? And so I existed, in a sort of torpor which was not dispelled
even by the hurly-burly of my mock passions and my mock pleasures.
The falling of a thunderbolt awoke me from this craven slumber of
the will. My Aunt Louise was seized with paralysis, towards the end
of the sad year 1878, in the month of December. I had come in at
night, or rather in the morning, having won a large sum at play.
Several letters and also a telegram awaited me. I tore open the blue
envelope, while I hummed the air of a fashionable song, with a
cigarette between my lips, untroubled by an idea that I was about to
be apprised of an event which would become, after my father's death
and my mother's second marriage, the third great date in my life. The
telegram was signed by Julie, my former nurse, and it told me that my
aunt had been taken ill quite suddenly, also that I must come at once,
although there was a hope of her recovery.
This bad news was the more terrible to me because I had received a
letter from my aunt just a week previously, and in it the dear old
lady complained, as usual, that I did not come to see her. My answer
to her letter was lying half-written upon my writing-table. I had not
finished it; God knows for what futile reason. It needs the advent of
that dread visitant, Death, to make us understand that we ought to
make good haste and love WELL those whom we do love, if we would not
have them pass away from us forever, before we have loved them enough.
Bitter remorse, in that I had not proved to her sufficiently how
dear she was to me, increased my anxiety about my aunt's state. It
was two o'clock a. m., the first train for Compiegne did not start
until six; in the interval she might die. Those were very long hours
of waiting, which I killed by turning over in my mind all my
shortcomings towards my father's only sister, my sole kinswoman. The
possibility of an irrevocable parting made me regard myself as utterly
ungrateful! My mental pain grew keener when I was in the train
speeding through the cold dawn of a winter's day, along the road I
knew so well.
As I recognized each familiar feature of the way, I became once
more the schoolboy whose heart was full of unuttered tenderness, and
whose brain was laden with the weight of a terrible mission. My
thoughts outstripped the engine, moving too slowly, to my impatient
fancy, which summoned up that beloved face, so frank and so simple,
the mouth with its thickish lips and its perfect kindliness, the eyes
out of which goodness looked, with their wrinkled, tear-worn lids, the
flat bands of grizzled hair. In what state should I find her?
Perhaps, if on that night of repentance, wretchedness, and mental
disturbance, my nerves had not been strained to the utmostyes,
perhaps I should not have experienced those wild impulses when by the
side of my aunt's deathbed, which rendered me capable of disobeying
the dying woman. But how can I regret my disobedience, since it was
the one thing that set me on the track of the truth? No, I do not
regret anything, I am better pleased to have done what I have done.
My good old Julie was waiting for me at the station. Her eyes had
failed her of late, for she was seventy years old, nevertheless she
recognized me as I stepped out of the train, and began to talk to me
in her usual interminable fashion so soon as we were seated in the
hired coupe, which my aunt had sent to meet me whenever I came to
Compiegne, from the days of my earliest childhood. How well I knew
the heavy old vehicle, with its worn cushions of yellow leather, and
the driver, who had been in the service of the livery stable keeper as
long as I could remember. He was a little man with a merry, roguish
face, and eyes twinkling with fun; but he tried to give a melancholy
tone to his salutation that morning.
"It took her yesterday," said Julie, while the vehicle rumbled
heavily through the streets, "but you see it had to happen. Our poor
demoiselle had been changing for weeks past. She was so trustful, so
gentle, so just; she scolded, she ferreted about, she
suspectedthere, then, her head was all astray. She talked of
nothing but thieves and assassins; she thought everybody wanted to do
her some harm, the tradespeople, Jean Mariette, myselfyes, I too.
She went into the cellar every day to count the bottles of wine, and
wrote the number down on a paper. The next day she found the same
number, and she would maintain the paper was not the same, she
disowned her own handwriting. I wanted to tell you this the last time
you came here, but I did not venture to say anything; I was afraid it
would worry you, and then I thought these were only freaks, that she
was a little crazy, and it would pass off. Well, then, I came down
yesterday to keep her company at her dinner, as she always liked me to
do, because, you know, she was fond of me in reality, whether she was
ill or well. I could not find her. Mariette, Jean, and I searched
everywhere, and at last Jean bethought him of letting the dog loose;
the animal brought us straight to the wood-stock, and there we found
her lying at full length upon the ground. No doubt she had gone to
the stack to count the logs. We lifted her up, our poor dear
demoiselle! Her mouth was crooked, and one side of her could not
move. She began to talk. Then we thought she was mad, for she said
senseless words which we could not understand; but the doctor assures
us that she is perfectly clear in her head, only that she utters one
word when she means another. She gets angry if we do not obey her on
the instant. Last night when I was sitting up with her she asked for
some pins. I brought them and she was angry. Would you believe that
it was the time of night she wanted to know? At length, by dint of
questioning her, and by her yesses and noes, which she expresses with
her sound hand, I have come to make out her meaning. If you only knew
how troubled she was all night about you; I saw it, and when I uttered
your name her eyes brightened. She repeats words, you would think she
raves: she calls for you. Now look here, M. Andre, it was the ideas
she had about your poor father that brought on her illness. All these
last weeks she talked of nothing else. She would say: 'If only they
do not kill Andre also. As for me, I am old, but he so young, so good,
so gentle.' And she criedyes, she cried incessantly. 'Who is it
that you think wants to harm M. Andre?' I asked her. Then she turned
away from me with a look of distrust that cut me to the heart,
although I knew that her head was astray. The doctor says that she
believes herself persecuted, and that it is a mania; he also says that
she may recover, but will never have her speech again."
I listened to Julie's talk in silence; I made no answer. I was not
surprised that my Aunt Louise had begun to be attacked by a mental
malady; the trials of her life sufficiently explained this, and I
could also account for several singularities that I had observed in
her attitude towards me of late. She had surprised me much by asking
me to bring back a book of my father's which I had never thought of
taking away. "Return it to me," she said, insisting upon it so
strongly, that I instituted a search for the book, and at last
unearthed it from the bottom of a cupboard where it had been placed,
as if on purpose, under a heap of other books. Julie's prolix
narrative only enlightened me as to the sad cause of what I had taken
for the oddity of a fidgety and lonely old maid.
On the other hand, I could not take the ideas of my father's death
so philosophically as Julie accepted them. What were those ideas?
Many a time, in the course of conversation with her, I had vaguely
felt that she was not opening her heart quite freely to me. Her
determined opposition to my plans of a personal inquiry might proceed
from her piety, which would naturally cause her to disapprove of any
thought or project of vengeance, but was there nothing else, nothing
besides that piety in question? Her strange solicitude for my
personal safety, which even led her to entreat me not to go out
unarmed in the evening, or get into an empty compartment in a train,
with other counsels of the same kind, was no doubt caused by morbid
excitement; still her constant and distressing dread might possibly
rest upon a less vague foundation than I imagined.
I also recalled, with a certain apprehension, that so soon as she
ceased to be able completely to control her mind these strange fears
took stronger possession of her than before. "What!" said I to
myself, "am I becoming like her, that I let such things occur to me?
Are not these fixed ideas quite natural in a person whose brain is
racked by the mania of persecution, and who has lost a beloved brother
under circumstances equally mysterious and tragical?"
"She is awake," said Julie, who had taken the maid's place at the
foot of the bed. I approached my aunt and called her by her name. I
then clearly saw her poor face distorted by paralysis.
She recognized me, and as I bent down to kiss her, she stroked my
cheek with her sound hand. This caress, which was habitual with her,
she repeated slowly several times. I placed her, with Julie's
assistance, on her back, so that she could see me distinctly; she
looked at me for a long time, and two heavy tears fell from the eyes
in which I read boundless tenderness, supreme anguish, and
inexpressible pity. I answered them by my own tears, which she dried
with the back of her hand; then she strove to speak to me, but could
only pronounce an incoherent sentence that struck me to the heart.
She saw, by the expression of my face, that I had not understood her,
and she made a desperate effort to find words in which to render the
thought evidently precise and lucid in her mind. Once more she
uttered an unintelligible phrase, and began again to make the feeble
gesture of despairing helplessness which had so shocked me at her
waking. She appeared, however, to take courage when I put the
question to her: "What do you want of me, dear aunt?" She made a sign
that Julie was to leave the room, and no sooner were we alone than her
face changed. With my help she was able to slip her hand under her
pillow, and withdraw her bunch of keys; then separating one key from
the others she imitated the opening of a lock. I immediately
remembered her groundless fears of being robbed and I asked her
whether she wanted the box to which that key belonged. It was a small
key of a kind that is specially made for safety locks. I saw that I
had guessed aright; she was able to get out the word "yes," and her
"But where is this box?" I asked. Once more she replied by a
sentence of which I could make nothing; and, seeing that she was
relapsing into a state of agitation, with the former heart-rending
movement, I begged her to allow me to question her and to answer by
gestures only. After some minutes, I succeeded in discovering that
the box in question was locked up in one of the two large cupboards
below stairs, and that the key of the cupboard was on the ring with
the others. I went downstairs, leaving her alone, as she had desired
me by signs to do. I had no difficulty in finding the casket to which
the little key adapted itself; although it was carefully placed behind
a bonnet-box and a case of silver forks. The casket was of
sweet-scented wood, and the initials J. C. were inlaid upon the lid in
gold and platinum. J. C., Justin Cornelies so, it had belonged to
my father. I tried the key in the lock, to make quite sure that I was
I then raised the lid, and glanced at the contents almost
mechanically, supposing that I was about to find a roll of business
papers, probably shares, a few trinket-cases, and rouleaux of
napoleons, a small treasure in fact, hidden away from motives of
fear. Instead of this, I beheld several small packets carefully
wrapped in paper, each being endorsed with the words, "Justin's
Letters," and the year in which they were written. My aunt had
preserved these letters with the same pious care that had kept her
from allowing anything whatever belonging to him in whom the deepest
affection of her life had centered, to be lost, parted with, or
But why had she never spoken to me of this treasure, which was more
precious to me than to anyone else in the world? I asked myself that
question as I closed the box; then I reflected that no doubt she
desired to retain the letters to the last hour of her life; and,
satisfied with this explanation, I went upstairs again.
From the doorway my eyes met hers, and I could not mistake their
look of impatience and intense anxiety. I placed the little coffer
on her bed and she instantly opened it, took out a packet of letters,
then another, finally kept only one out, replaced those she had
removed at first, locked the box, and signed to me to place it on the
chest of drawers. While I was clearing away the things on the top of
the drawers, to make a clear space for the box, I caught sight, in the
glass opposite to me, of the sick woman. By a great effort she had
turned herself partly on her side, and she was trying to throw the
packet of letters which she had retained into the fireplace; it was on
the right of her bed, and only about a yard away from the foot. But
she could hardly raise herself at all, the movement of her hand was
too weak, and the little parcel fell on the floor. I hastened to her,
to replace her head on the pillows and her body in the middle of the
bed, and then, with her powerless arm she again began to make that
terrible gesture of despair, clutching the sheet with her thin
fingers, while tears streamed from her poor eyes.
Ah! how bitterly ashamed I am of what I am going to write in this
place! I will write it, however, for I have sworn to myself that I
will be true, even to the avowal of that fault, even to the avowal of
a worse still. I had no difficulty in understanding what was passing
in my aunt's mind; the little packetit had fallen on the carpet
close to the fenderevidently contained letters which she wished to
destroy, so that I should not read them. She might have burned them,
dreading as she did their fatal influence upon me, long since; yet I
understood why she had shrunk from doing this, year after year, I, who
knew with what idolatry she worshipped the smallest objects that had
belonged to my father. Had I not seen her put away the blotting-book
which he used when he came to Compiegne, with the paper and envelopes
that were in it at his last visit?
Yes, she had gone on waiting, still waiting, before she could bring
herself to part forever with those dear and dangerous letters, and
then her sudden illness came, and with it the terrible thought that
these papers would come into my possession. I could also take into
account that the unreasonable distrust which she had yielded to of
late had prevented her from asking Jean or Julie for the little
coffer. This was the secretI understood it on the instantof the
poor thing's impatience for my arrival, the secret also of the trouble
I had witnessed. And now her strength had betrayed her. She had
vainly endeavored to throw the letters into the fire, that fire which
she could hear crackling, without being able to raise her head so as
to see the flame. All these notions which presented themselves
suddenly to my thoughts took form afterwards; at the moment they
melted into pity for the suffering of the helpless creature before me.
"Do not disturb yourself, dear aunt," said I, as I drew the
coverlet up to her shoulders, "I am going to burn those letters."
She raised her eyes, full of eager supplication. I closed the lids
with my lips and stooped to pick up the little packet. On the paper
in which it was folded, I distinctly read this date: "1864 Justin's
letters." 1864! that was the last year of my father's life. I know
it, I feel it, that which I did was infamous; the last wishes of the
dying are sacred. I ought not, no, I ought not to have deceived her
who was on the point of leaving me forever. I heard her breathing
quicken at that very moment. Then came a whirlwind of thought too
strong for me. If my Aunt Louise was so wildly, passionately eager
that those letters should be burned, it was because they could put me
on the right track of vengeance. Letters written in the last year of
my father's life, and she had never spoken of them to me! I did not
reason, I did not hesitate, in a lightning-flash I perceived the
possibility of learningwhat? I know not; butof learning. Instead
of throwing the packet of letters into the fire, I flung it to one
side, under a chair, returned to the bedside and told her in a voice
which I endeavored to keep steady and calm, that her directions had
been obeyed, that the letters were burning. She took my hand and
kissed it. Oh, what a stab that gentle caress inflicted upon me! I
knelt down by her bedside, and hid my head in the sheets, so that her
eyes should not meet mine. Alas! it was not for long that I had to
dread her glance. At ten she fell asleep, but at noon her
restlessness recurred. At two the priest came, and administered the
last sacraments to her. She had a second stroke towards evening,
never recovered consciousness, and died in the night.
At three o'clock in the morning Julie came in to take my place, and
I retired to my room, which was on the same floor as my aunt's. A
boxroom divided the two. I threw myself on my bed, worn out with
fatigue, and nature triumphed over my grief. I fell into that heavy
sleep which follows the expenditure of nerve power, and from which one
awakes able to bear life again and to carry the load that seemed
unendurable. When I awoke it was day, and the wintry sky was dull and
dark like that of yesterday, but it also wore a threatening aspect,
from the great masses of black cloud that covered it. I went to the
window and looked out for a long time at the gloomy landscape closed
in by the edge of the forest. I note these small details in order
that I may more faithfully recall my exact impression at the time. In
turning away from the window and going towards the fire which the maid
had just lighted, my eye fell upon the packet of letters stolen from
my aunt. Yes, stolen'tis the word. It was in the place where I had
put it last night, on the mantel-shelf, with my purse, rings, and
cigar-case. I took up the little parcel with a beating heart. I had
only to stretch out my hand and those papers would fall into the
flames and my aunt's dying wish be accomplished. I sank into an
easy-chair and watched the yellow flame gaining on the logs, while I
weighed the packet in my hand. I thought there must be a good many
letters in it. I suffered from the physical uneasiness of indecision.
I am not trying to justify this second failure of my loyalty to my
dear aunt, I am trying to understand it.
Those letters were not mine, I never ought to have appropriated
them. I ought now to destroy them unopened; all the more that the
excitement of the first moment, the sudden rush of ideas which had
prevented me from obeying the agonized supplication of my poor aunt,
had subsided. I asked myself once more what was the cause of her
misery, while I gazed at the inscription upon the cover, in my aunt's
hand: "Justin's Letters, 1864." The very room which I occupied was an
evil counsellor to me in this strife between an indisputable duty and
my ardent desire to know; for it had formerly been my father's room,
and the furniture had not been changed since his time. The color of
the hangings was faded, that was all. He had warmed himself by a fire
which burned upon that self-same hearth, and he had used the same low,
wide chair in which I now sat, thinking many somber thoughts. He had
slept in the bed from which I had just risen, he had written at the
table on which I rested my arms. No, that room deprived me of free
will to act, it made my father too living. It was as though the
phantom of the murdered man had come out of his grave to entreat me to
keep the oft-sworn vow of vengeance. Had these letters offered me no
more than one single chance, one against a thousand, of obtaining one
single indication of the secrets of my father's private life, I could
not have hesitated. With such sacrilegious reasoning as this did I
dispel the last scruples of pious respect; but I had no need of
arguments for yielding to the desire which increased with every
I had there before me those letters, the last his hand had traced;
those letters which would lay bare to me the recesses of his life,
and I was not to read them! What an absurdity! Enough of such
childish hesitation. I tore off the cover which hid the papers; the
yellow sheets with their faded characters shook in my hands. I
recognized the compact, square, clear writing, with spaces between
the words. The dates had been omitted by my father in several
instances, and then my aunt had repaired the omission by writing in
the day of the month herself. My poor aunt! this pious carefulness
was a fresh testimony to her constant tenderness; and yet, in my wild
excitement I no longer thought of her who lay dead within a few yards
Presently Julie came to consult me upon all the material details
which accompany death; but I told her I was too much overwhelmed,
that she must do as she thought fit, and leave me quite alone for the
whole of the morning. Then I plunged so deeply into the reading of
the letters, that I forgot the hour, the events taking place around
me, forgot to dress myself, to eat, even to go and look upon her whom
I had lost while yet I could behold her face. Traitor and ingrate that
I was! I had devoured only a few lines before I understood only too
well why she had been desirous to prevent me from drinking the poison
which entered with each sentence into my heart, as it had entered into
hers. Terrible, terrible letters! Now it was as though the phantom
had spoken, and a hidden drama of which I had never dreamed unfolded
itself before me.
I was quite a child when the thousand little scenes which this
correspondence recorded in detail took place. I was too young then
to solve the enigma of the situation; and, since, the only person who
could have initiated me into that dark history was she who had
concealed the existence of the too-eloquent papers from me all her
life long, and on her deathbed had been more anxious for their
destruction than for her eternal salvationshe, who had no doubt
accused herself of having deferred the burning of them from day to
day as of a crime. When at last she had brought herself to do this,
it was too late.
The first letter, written in January, 1864, began with thanks to my
aunt for her New Year's gift to mea fortress with tin soldiers
with which I was delighted, said the letter, because the cavalry were
in two pieces, the man detaching himself from his horse. Then,
suddenly, the commonplace sentences changed into utterances of
mournful tenderness. An anxious mind, a heart longing for affection,
and discontent with the existing state of things, might be discerned
in the tone of regret with which the brother dwelt upon his childhood,
and the days when his own and his sister's life were passed together.
There was a repressed repining in that first letter that immediately
astonished and impressed me, for I had always believed my father and
mother to have been perfectly happy with each other. Alas! that
repining did but grow and also take definite form as I read on. My
father wrote to his sister every Sunday, even when he had seen her in
the course of the week. As it frequently happens in cases of regular
and constant correspondence, the smallest events were recorded in
minute detail, so that all our former daily life was resuscitated in
my thoughts as I perused the lines, but accompanied by a commentary of
melancholy which revealed irreparable division between those whom I
had believed to be so closely united. Again I saw my father in his
dressing-gown, as he greeted me in the morning at seven o'clock, on
coming out of his room to breakfast with me before I started for
school at eight. He would go over my lessons with me briefly, and
then we would seat ourselves at the table (without a tablecloth) in
the dining-room, and Julie would bring us two cups of chocolate,
deliciously sweetened to my childish taste. My mother rose much
later, and, after my school days, my father occupied a separate room
in order to avoid waking her so early. How I enjoyed that morning
meal, during which I prattled at my ease, talking of my lessons, my
exercises, and my schoolmates! What a delightful recollection I
retained of those happy, careless, cordial hours! In his letters my
father also spoke of our early breakfasts, but in a way that showed
how often he was wounded by finding out from my talk that my mother
took too little care of me, according to his notionsthat I filled
too small a place in her dreamy, wilfully frivolous life. There were
passages which the then future had since turned into prophecies.
"Were I to be taken from him, what would become of him?" was one of
these. At ten I came back from school; by that time my father would
be occupied with his business. I had lessons to prepare, and I did
not see him again until half-past eleven, at the second breakfast.
Then mamma would appear in one of those tasteful morning costumes
which suited her slender and supple figure so well. From afar, and
beyond the cold years of my boyhood, that family table came before me
like a mirage of warm homelife; how often had it become a sort of
nostalgia to me when I sat between my mother and M. Termonde on my
And now I found proof in my father's letters that a divorce of the
heart already existed between the two persons who, to my filial
tenderness, were but one. My father loved his wife passionately, and
he felt that his wife did not love him. This was the feeling
continually expressed in his lettersnot in words so plain and
positive, indeed; but how should I, whose boyhood had been strangely
analogous with this drama of a man's life, have failed to perceive the
secret signification of all he wrote? My father was taciturn, like
meeven more so than Iand he allowed irreparable misunderstandings
to grow up between my mother and himself. Like me afterwards, he was
passionate, awkward, hopelessly timid in the presence of that proud,
aristocratic woman, so different from him, the self-made man of almost
peasant origin, who had risen to professional prosperity by the force
of his genius. Like meah! not more than Ihe had known the torture
of false positions, which cannot be explained except by words that one
will never have courage to utter. And, oh, the pity of it, that
destiny should thus repeat itself; the same tendencies of the mind
developing themselves in the son after they had developed themselves
in the father, so that the misery of both should be identical!
My father's letters breathed sighs that my mother had never
suspectedvain sighs for a complete blending of their two hearts;
tender sighs for the fond dream of fully-shared happiness; despairing
sighs for the ending of a moral separation, all the more complete
because its origin was not to be sought in their respective faults
(mutual love pardons everything), but in a complete, almost animal,
contrast between the two natures. Not one of his qualities was
pleasing to her; all his defects were displeasing to her. And he
adored her. I had seen enough of many kinds of ill-assorted unions
since I had been going about in society, to understand in full what a
silent hell that one must have been, and the two figures rose up
before me in perfect distinctness. I saw my mother with her
gesturesa little affectation was, so to speak, natural to herthe
delicacy of her hands, her fair, pale complexion, the graceful turn of
her head, her studiously low-pitched voice, the something un-material
that pervaded her whole person, her eyes, whose glance could be so
cold, so disdainful; and, on the other hand, I saw my father with his
robust, workingman's frame, his hearty laugh when he allowed himself
to be merry, the professional, utilitarian, in fact, plebeian, aspect
of him, in his ideas and ways, his gestures and his discourse. But
the plebeian was so noble, so lofty in his generosity, in his deep
feeling. He did not know how to show that feeling; therein lay his
crime. On what wretched trifles, when we think of it, does absolute
felicity or irremediable misfortune depend!
The name of M. Termonde occurred several times in the earlier
letters, and, when I came to the eleventh, I found it mentioned in a
way which brought tears to my eyes, set my hands shaking, and made my
heart leap as at the sound of a cry of sharp agony. In the pages
which he had written during the nightthe writing showed how deeply
he was movedthe husband, hitherto so self-restrained, acknowledged
to his sister, his kind and faithful confidante, that he was jealous.
He was jealous, and of whom? Of that very man who was destined to
fill his place at our fireside, to give a new name to her who had been
Madame Cornelis; of the man with cat-like ways, with pale eyes, whom
my childish instinct had taught me to regard with so precocious and so
fixed a hate. He was jealous of Jacques Termonde. In his sudden
confession he related the growth of this jealousy, with the bitterness
of tone that relieves the heart of misery too long suppressed. In
that letter, the first of a series which death only was destined to
interrupt, he told how far back was the date of his jealousy, and how
it awoke to life with his detection of one look cast at my mother by
Termonde. He told how he had at once suspected a dawning passion on
the part of this man, then that Termonde had gone away on a long
journey, and that he, my father, had attributed his absence to the
loyalty of a sincere friend, to a noble effort to fight from the first
against a criminal feeling. Termonde came back; his visits to us were
soon resumed, and they became more frequent than before. There was
every reason for this; my father had been his chum at the Ecole de
Droit, and would have chosen him to be his best man at his marriage
had not Termonde's diplomatic functions kept him out of France at the
time. In this letter and the following ones my father acknowledged
that he had been strongly attached to Termonde, so much so, indeed,
that he had considered his own jealousy as an unworthy feeling and a
sort of treachery. But it is all very well to reproach one's self for
a passion; it is there in our hearts all the same, tearing and
devouring them. After Termonde's return, my father's jealousy
increased, with the certainty that the man's love for the wife of his
friend was also growing; and yet, the unhappy husband did not think
himself entitled to forbid him the house. Was not his wife the most
pure and upright of women? Her very inclination to mysticism and
exaggerated devotion, although he sometimes found fault with her for
it, was a pledge that she would never yield to anything by which her
conscience could be stained. Besides, Termonde's assiduity was
accompanied by such evident, such absolute respect, that it afforded
no ground for reproach. What was he to do? Have an explanation with
his wifehe who could not bring himself to enter upon the slightest
discussion with her? Require her to decline to receive his own friend?
But, if she yielded, he would have deprived her of a real pleasure,
and for that he should be unable to forgive himself. If she did not
yield? So, my poor father had preferred to toss about in that Gehenna
of weakness and indecision wherein dwell timid and taciturn souls.
All this misery he revealed to my aunt, dwelling upon the morbid
nature of his feelings, imploring advice and pity, deciding and
blaming the puerility of his jealousy, but jealous all the same,
unable to refrain from recurring again and again to the open wound in
his heart, and incapable of the energy and decision that would have
The letters became more and more gloomy, as it always happens when
one has not at once put an end to a false position; my father
suffered from the consequences of his weakness, and allowed them to
develop without taking action, because he could not now have checked
them without painful scenes. After having tolerated the increased
frequency of his friend's visits, it was torture to him to observe
that his wife was sensibly influenced by this encroaching intimacy.
He perceived that she took Termonde's advice on all little matters of
daily lifeupon a question of dress, the purchase of a present, the
choice of a book. He came upon the traces of the man in the change of
my mother's tastes, in music for instance. When we were alone in the
evenings, he liked her to go to the piano and play to him, for hours
together, at haphazard; now she would play nothing but pieces selected
by Termonde, who had acquired an extensive knowledge of the German
masters during his residence abroad. My father, on the contrary,
having been brought up in the country with his sister, who was herself
taught by a provincial music-master, retained his old-fashioned taste
for Italian music.
My mother belonged, by her own family, to a totally different
sphere of society from that into which her marriage with my father
had introduced her. At first she did not feel any regret for her
former circle, because her extreme beauty secured her a triumphant
success in the new one; but it was another thing when her intimacy
with Termonde, who moved in the most worldly and elegant of the
Parisian "world," was perpetually reminding her of all its pleasures
and habits. My father saw that she was bored and weary while doing
the honors of her own salon with an absent mind. He even found the
political opinions of his friend echoed by his wife, who laughed at
him for what she called his Utopian liberalism. Her mockery had no
malice in it; but still it was mockery, and behind it was Termonde,
always Termonde. Nevertheless, he said nothing, and the shyness,
which he had always felt in my mother's presence increased with his
jealousy. The more unhappy he was, the more incapable of expressing
his pain he became. There are minds so constituted that suffering
paralzes them into inaction. And then there was the ever-present
question, what was he to do? How was he to approach an explanation,
when he had no positive accusation to bring? He remained perfectly
convinced of the fidelity of his wife, and he again and again affirmed
this, entreating my aunt not to withdraw a particle of her esteem from
his dear Marie, and imploring her never to make an allusion to the
sufferings of which he was ashamed, before their innocent cause. And
then he dwelt upon his own faults; he accused himself of lack of
tenderness, of failing to win love, and would draw pictures of his
sorrowful home, in a few words, with heart-rending humility.
Rough, commonplace minds know nothing of the scruples that rent and
tortured my father's soul. They say, "I am jealous," without
troubling themselves as to whether the words convey an insult or not.
They forbid the house to the person to whom they object, and shut
their wives mouths with, "Am I master here?" taking heed of their own
feelings merely. Are they in the right? I know not; I only know that
such rough methods were impossible to my poor father. He had
sufficient strength to assume an icy mien towards Termonde, to address
him as seldom as possible, to give him his hand with the insulting
politeness that makes a gulf between two sincere friends; but Termonde
affected unconsciousness of all this. My father, who did not want to
have a scene with him, because the immediate consequence would have
been another scene with my mother, multiplied these small affronts,
and then Termonde simply changed the time of his visits, and came
during my father's business hours. How vividly my father depicted his
stormy rage at the idea that his wife and the man of whom he was
jealous were talking together, undisturbed, in the flower-decked
salon, while he was toiling to procure all the luxury that money could
purchase for that wife who could never, never love him, although he
believed her faithful. But, oh, that cold fidelity was not what he
longed forhe who ended his letter by these wordshow often have I
repeated them to myself:
"It is so sad to feel that one is in the way in one's own house,
that one possesses a woman by every right, that she gives one all
that her duty obliges her to give, all, except her heart, which is
another's unknown to herself, perhaps, unless, indeed, that My
sister, there are terrible hours in which I say to myself that I am a
fool, a coward, that they laugh together at me, at my blindness, my
stupid trust. Do not scold me, dear Louise. This idea is infamous,
and I drive it away by taking refuge with you, to whom, at least, I am
all the world."
"Unless, indeed, that" This letter was written on the first
Sunday in June, 1864; and on the following Thursday, four days later,
he who had written it, and had suffered all it revealed, went out to
the appointment at which he met with his mysterious death, that death
by which his wife was set free to marry his felon friend. What was
the idea, as dreadful, as infamous as the idea of which my father
accused himself in his terrible last letter, that flashed across me
now? I placed the packet of papers upon the mantelpiece, and pressed
my two hands to my head, as though to still the tempest of cruel
fancies which made it throb with fever.
Ah, the hideous, nameless thing! My mind got a glimpse of it only
to reject it.
But, had not my aunt also been assailed by the same monstrous
suspicion? A number of small facts rose up in my memory, and
convinced me that my father's faithful sister had been a prey to the
same idea which had just laid hold of me so strongly. How many
strange things I now understood, all in a moment! On that day when
she told me of my mother's second marriage, and I spontaneously
uttered the accursed name of Termonde, why had she asked me, in a
trembling voice: "What do you know?"
What was it she feared that I had guessed? What dreaded
information did she expect to receive from my childish observation of
Afterwards, and when she implored me to abandon the task of
avenging our beloved dead, when she quoted to me the sacred words,
"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord," who were the guilty ones whom
she foresaw I must meet on my path? When she entreated me to bear
with my stepfather, even to conciliate him, not to make an enemy of
him, had her advice any object except the greater ease of my daily
life, or did she think danger might come to me from that quarter?
When she became more afraid for me, owing to the weakening of her
brain by illness, and again and again enjoined upon me to beware of
going out alone in the evening, was the vision of terror that came to
her that of a hand which would fain strike me in the darkthe same
hand that had struck my father? When she summoned up all her strength
in her last moments, that she might destroy this correspondence, what
was the clue which she supposed the letters would furnish? A terrific
light shone upon me; what my aunt had perceived beyond the plain
purport of the letters, I too perceived. Ah! I dared to entertain this
idea, yet now I am ashamed to write it down. But could I have escaped
from the hard logic of the situation? If my aunt had handed over
those letters to the Judge of Instruction in the matter, would he not
have arrived at the same conclusion that I drew from them? No, I
could not. A man who has no known enemies is assassinated; it is
alleged that robbery is not the motive of the murder; his wife has a
lover, and shortly after the death of her husband she marries that
lover. "But it is they it is they who are guilty, they have killed
the husband," the judge would say, and so would the first-comer. Why
did not my aunt place those letters of my father's in the hands of
justice? I understood the reason too well; she would not have me
think of my mother what I was now in a fit of distraction thinking.
To conceive of this as merely possible was to be guilty of moral
parricide, to commit the inexpiable sin against her who had borne me.
I had always loved my mother so tenderly, so mournfully; never, never
had I judged her. How many timeshappening to be alone with her, and
not knowing how to tell her what was weighing on my hearthow many
times I had dreamed that the barrier between us would not for ever
divide us. Some day I might, perhaps, become her only support, then
she should see how precious she still was to me. My sufferings had
not lessened my love for her; wretched as I was because she refused me
a certain sort of affection, I did not condemn her for lavishing that
affection upon another. As a matter of fact, until those fatal
letters had done their work of disenchantment, of what was she guilty
in my eyes? Of having married again? Of having chosen, being left a
widow at thirty, to construct a new life for herself? What could be
more legitimate? Of having failed to understand the relations of the
child who remained to her with the man whom she had chosen? What was
more natural? She was more wife than mother, and besides, fanciful
and fragile beings such as she was recoil from daily contests; they
shrink from facing realities which would demand sustained courage and
energy on their part. I had admitted all these explanations of my
mother's attitude towards me, at first from instinct and afterwards on
reflection. But now, the inexhaustible spring of indulgence for those
who really hold our heart-strings was dried up in a moment, and a
flood of odious, abominable suspicion overwhelmed me instead.
This sudden invasion of a horrible, torturing idea was not lasting.
I could not have borne it. Had it implanted itself in me then and
there, definite, overwhelming in evidence, impossible of rejection, I
must have taken a pistol and shot myself, to escape from agony such as
I endured in the few minutes which followed my reading of the letters.
But the tension was relaxed, I reflected, and my love for my mother
began to strive against the horrible suggestion. To the onslaught of
these execrable fancies I opposed the facts, in their certainty and
completeness. I recalled the smallest particulars of that last
occasion on which I saw my father and mother in each other's presence.
It was at the table from which he rose to go forth and meet his
murderer. But was not my mother cheerful and smiling that morning, as
usual? Was not Jacques Termonde with us at breakfast, and did he not
stay on, after my father had gone out, talking with my mother while I
played with my toys in the room? It was at that very time, between
one and two o'clock, that the mysterious Rochdale committed the crime.
Termonde could not be, at one and the same moment, in our salon and
at the Imperial Hotel, any more than my mother, impressionable and
emotional as I knew her to be, could have gone on talking quietly and
happily, if she had known that her husband was being murdered at that
very hour. Why, I must have been mad to allow such a notion to
present its monstrous image before my eyes for a single moment, and it
was infamous of me to have gone so far beyond the most insulting of my
Already, and without any proof except the expression of jealousy
acknowledged by himself to be unreasonable, I had reached a point to
which the unhappy but still loving man had not dared to go, even to
the extreme outrage against my mother. What if, during the lifetime
of her first husband, she had inspired him whom she was one day to
marry with too strong a sentiment, did this prove that she had shared
it? If she had shared it, would that have proved her to be a fallen
woman? Why should she not have entertained an affection for Termonde,
which, while it in no wise interfered with her fidelity to her wifely
duties, made my father not unnaturally jealous?
Thus did I justify her, not only from any participation in the
crime, but from any failure in her duty. And then again my ideas
changed; I remembered the cry that she had uttered in presence of my
father's dead body: "I am punished by God!" I was not sufficiently
charitable to her to admit that those words might be merely the
utterance of a refined and scrupulous mind which reproached itself
even with its thoughts. I also recalled the gleaming eyes and shaking
hands of Termonde, when he was talking with my mother about my
father's mysterious disappearance. If they were accomplices, this was
a piece of acting performed before me, an innocent witness, so that
they might invoke my childish testimony on occasion. These
recollections once more drove me upon my fated way. The idea of a
guilty tie between her and him now took possession of me, and then
came swiftly the thought that they had profited by the murder, that
they alone had an engrossing interest in it. So violent was the
assault of suspicion that it overthrew all the barriers I had raised
against it. I accumulated all the objections founded upon a physical
alibi and a moral improbability, and thence I forced myself to say it
was, strictly speaking, impossible they could have anything to do with
the murder; impossible, impossible! I repeated this frantically; but
even as it passed my lips, the hallucination returned, and struck me
down. There are moments when the disordered mind is unable to quell
visions which it knows to be false, when the imaginary and the real
mingle in a nightmare-panic, and the judgment is powerless to
distinguish between them. Who is there that, having been jealous,
does not know this condition of mind? What did I not suffer from it
during the day after I had read those letters! I wandered about the
house, incapable of attending to any duty, struck stupid by emotions
which all around me attributed to grief for my aunt's death. Several
times I tried to sit for a while beside her bed; but the sight of her
pale face, with its pinched nostrils, and its deepening expression of
sadness, was unbearable to me. It renewed my miserable doubts.
At four o'clock I received a telegram. It was from my mother, and
announced her arrival by evening train. When the slip of blue paper
was in my hand my wretchedness was for a moment relieved. She was
coming. She had thought of my trouble; she was coming. That assurance
[error in textline missing] criminal thoughts in my face?
But those absurd and infamous notions took possession of me once
more. Perhaps she thinks, so ran my thoughts, that the
correspondence between my father and my aunt had not been destroyed,
and she is coming in order to get hold of those letters before I see
them, and to find out what my aunt said to me when she was dying. If
she and Termonde are guilty, they must have lived in constant dread of
the old maid's penetration. Ah! I had been very unhappy in my
childhood, but how gladly would I have gone back to be the school-boy,
meditating during the dull and interminable evening hours of study,
and not the young man who walked to and fro that night in the station
at Compiegne, awaiting the arrival of a mother, suspected as mine was.
Just God! Did not I expiate everything in anticipation by that one
The train from Paris approached, and stopped. The railway
officials called out the name of the station, as they opened the
doors of the carriages one after another, very slowly as it seemed to
me. I went from carriage to carriage seeking my mother. Had she at
the last moment decided not to come! What a trial to me if it were
so! What a night I should have to pass in all the torment of
suspicions which, I knew too well, her mere presence would dispel.
A voice called me. It was hers. Then I saw her, dressed in black,
and never in my life did I clasp her in my arms as I did then,
utterly forgetting that we were in a public place, and why she had
come, in the joy of feeling my horrible imaginations vanish, melt
away at the mere touch of the being whom I loved so profoundly, the
only one who was dear to me, notwithstanding our differences, in the
very depths of my heart, now that I had lost my Aunt Louise.
After that first movement, which resembled the grasp in which a
drowning man seizes the swimmer who dives for him, I looked at my
mother without speaking, holding both her hands. She had thrown back
her veil, and in the flickering light of the station I saw that she
was very pale and had been weeping. I had only to meet her eyes,
which were still wet with tears, to know that I had been mad. I felt
this, with the first words she uttered, telling me so tenderly of her
grief, and that she had resolved to come at once, although my
stepfather was ill. M. Termonde had suffered of late from frequent
attacks of liver-complaint.
But neither her grief nor her anxiety about her husband had
prevented my poor mother from providing herself, for this little
excursion of a few hours, with all her customary appliances of
comfort and elegance. Her maid stood behind her, accompanied by a
porter, and both were laden with three or four bags of different
sizes, of the best English make, carefully buttoned up in their
waterproof covers; a dressing-case, a writing-case, an elegant wallet
to hold the traveler's purse, handkerchief, book, and second veil; a
hot-water bottle for her feet, two cushions for her head, and a little
clock suspended from a swinging disc.
"You see," said she, while I was pointing out the carriage to the
maid, so that she might get rid of her impedimenta, "I shall not have
my right mourning until to-morrow"and now I perceived that her gown
was dark brown and only braided with black"they could not have the
things ready in time, but will send them as early as possible." Then,
as I placed her in the carriage, she added: "There is still a trunk
and a bonnet-box." She half smiled in saying this, to make me smile
too, for the mass of luggage and the number of small parcels with
which she encumbered herself had been of old a subject of mild quarrel
In any other state of mind I should have been pained to find the
unfailing evidence of her frivolity side by side with the mark of
affection she had given me by coming. Was not this one of the small
causes of my great misery? True, but her frivolity was delightful to
me at that moment. This then was the woman whom I had been picturing
to myself as coming to the house of death, with the sinister purpose
of searching my dead aunt's papers and stealing or destroying any
accusing pages which she might find among them! This was the woman
whom I had represented to myself, that morning, as a criminal steeped
in the guilt of a cowardly murder! Yes! I had been mad! had been like
a runaway horse galloping after its own shadow. But what a relief to
make sure that it was madness, what a blessed relief! It almost made
me forget the dear dead woman.
I was very sad at heart in reality, and yet I was happy, while we
were rattling through the town in the old coupe, past the long lines
of lighted windows. I held my mother's hand; I longed to beg her
pardon, to kiss the hem of her dress, to tell her again and again that
I loved and revered her. She perceived my emotion very plainly; but
she attributed it to the affliction that had just befallen me, and she
condoled with me. She said, "My Andre," several times. How rare it
was for me to have her thus, all my own, and just in that mood of
feeling for which my sick heart pined!
I had had the room on the ground floor, next to the salon, prepared
for my mother. I remembered that she had occupied it, when she came
to Compiegne with my father, a few days after her marriage, and I felt
sure that the impression which would be produced upon her by the sight
of the house in the first instance, and then by the sight of the room,
would help me to get rid of my dreadful suspicions. I was determined
to note minutely the slightest signs of agitation which she might
betray at the contact of a resuscitated past, rendered more striking
by the aspect of things that do not change so quickly as the heart of
a woman. And now, I blushed for that idea, worthy of a detective; for
I felt it a shameful thing to judge one's mother: one ought to make an
Act of Faith in her which would resist any evidence. I felt this,
alas! all the more, because the innocent woman was quite off her
guard, as was perfectly natural.
She entered the room with a thoughtful look, seated herself before
the fire, and held her slender feet towards the flames, which touched
her pale cheeks with red; and, with her jet black hair, her elegant
figure, which still retained its youthful grace, she shed upon the dim
twilight of the old-fashioned room that refined and aristocratic charm
of which my father spoke in his letters. She looked slowly all around
her, recognizing most of the things which my aunt's pious care had
preserved in their former place, and said, sorrowfully: "What
recollections!" But there was no bitterness in the emotion depicted
on her face. Ah! no; a woman who is brought, after twenty years, into
the room which she had occupied, as a bride, with the husband whose
murder she had contrived after having betrayed him, has not such eyes,
such a brow, such a mouth as hers.
There was but one remedy to be applied to my unbearable malady
that remedy which had already been successful in the case of my
suspicions of my mother. I must at once proceed to place the real in
opposition to the suggestions of imagination. I must seek the
presence of the man whom I suspected, look him straight in the face,
and see him as he was, not as my fancy, growing more feverish day by
day, represented him. Then I should discern whether I had or had not
been the sport of a delusion; and the sooner I resorted to this test
the better, for my sufferings were terribly increased by solitude.
My head became confused; at last I ceased even to doubt. That
which ought to have been only a faint indication, assumed to my mind
the importance of an overwhelming proof. In the interest of my
inquiry itself it was full time to resist this, if I were ever to
pursue my inquiry farther, or else I should fall into the nervous
state which I knew so well, and which rendered any kind of action in
cold blood impossible to me.
I made up my mind to leave Compiegne, see my stepfather, and form
my judgment of whether there was or was not anything in my suspicions
upon the first effect produced on him by my sudden and unexpected
appearance before him. I founded this hope on an argument which I had
already used in the case of my mother, namely, that if M. Termonde had
really been concerned in the assassination of my father, he had
dreaded my aunt's penetration beyond all things. Their relations had
been formal, with an undercurrent of enmity on her part which had
assuredly not escaped a man so astute as he. If he were guilty, would
he not have feared that my aunt would have confided her thoughts to me
on her death-bed? The attitude that he should assume towards me, at
and after our first interview, would be a proof, complete in
proportion to its suddenness, and he must have no time for
I returned to Paris, therefore, without having informed even my
valet of my intention, and proceeded almost immediately to my
I rang the bell.
The door was opened, and the narrow court, the glass porch, the red
carpet of the staircase, were before me. The concierge, who saluted
me, was not he by whom I had fancied myself slighted in my childhood;
but the old valet de chambre who opened the door to me was the same.
His close-shaven face wore its former impassive expression, the look
that used to convey to me such an impression of insult and insolence
when I came home from school. What childish absurdity!
To my question the man replied that my mother was in, also H.
Termonde, and Madame Bernard, a friend of theirs. The latter name
brought me back at once to the reality of the situation. Madame
Bernard was a prettyish woman, very slight and very dark, with a
"tip-tilted" nose, frizzy hair worn low upon her forehead, very white
teeth which were continually shown by a constant smile, a short upper
lip, and all the manners and ways of a woman of society well up to its
latest gossip. I fell at once from my fancied height as an imaginary
Grand Judiciary into the shallows of Parisian frivolity. I felt about
to hear chatter upon the last new play, the latest suit for
separation, the latest love affairs, and the newest bonnet. It was
for this that I had eaten my heart out all these days!
The servant preceded me to the hall I knew so well, with its
Oriental divan, its green plants, its strange furniture, its slightly
faded carpet, its Meissonier on a draped easel, in the place formerly
occupied by my father's portrait, its crowd of ornamental trifles, and
the wide-spreading Japanese parasol open in the middle of the ceiling.
The walls were hung with large pieces of Chinese stuff embroidered in
black and white silk. My mother was half-reclining in an American
rocking-chair, and shading her face from the fire with a hand-screen;
Madame Bernard, who sat opposite to her, was holding her muff with one
hand and gesticulating with the other; M. Termonde, in walking-dress,
was standing with his back to the chimney, smoking a cigar, and
warming the sole of one of his boots.
On my appearance, my mother uttered a little cry of glad surprise,
and rose to welcome me. Madame Bernard instantly assumed the air
with which a well-bred woman prepares to condole with a person of her
acquaintance upon a bereavement. All these little details I perceived
in a moment, and also the shrug of M. Termonde's shoulders, the quick
flutter of his eyelids, the rapidly-dismissed expression of
disagreeable surprise which my sudden appearance called forth. But
what then? Was it not the same with myself? I could have sworn that
at the same moment he experienced sensations exactly similar to those
which were catching me at the chest and by the throat. What did this
prove but that a current of antipathy existed between him and me? Was
it a reason for the man's being a murderer? He was simply my
stepfather, and a stepfather who did not like his stepson.
Matters had stood thus for years, and yet, after the week of
miserable suspicion I had lived through, the quick look and shrug
struck me strangely, even while I took his hand after I had kissed my
mother and saluted Madame Bernard. His hand? No, only his finger
tips as usual, and they trembled a little as I touched them. How often
had my own hand shrunk with unconquerable repugnance from that
contact! I listened while he repeated the same phrases of sympathy
with my sorrow which he had already written to me while I was at
Compiegne. I listened while Madame Bernard uttered other phrases to
the same effect; and then the conversation resumed its course, and,
during the half-hour that ensued, I looked on, speaking hardly at all,
but mentally comparing the physiognomy of my stepfather with that of
the visitor, and that of my mother. The contemplation of those three
faces produced a curious impression upon me; it was that of their
difference, not only of age, but of intensity, of depth. There was no
mystery in my mother's face, it was as easy to read as a page in dear
handwriting! The mind of Madame Bernard, a worldly, trumpery, poor
mind, but harmless enough, was readily to be discerned in her features
which were at once refined and commonplace. How little there was of
reflection, of decision, of exercise of will, in short of
individuality, behind the poetic grace of the one and the pretty
affectations of the other! What a face, on the contrary, was that of
my stepfather, with its strong individuality, and its vivid
expression! In this man of the world, as he stood there talking with
two women of the world, in his blue, furtive eyes, too wide apart, and
always seeming to shun observation, in his prematurely gray hair, his
mouth set round with deep wrinkles, in his dark, blotched, bilious
complexion, there seemed to be a creature of another race. What
passions had worn those furrows? what vigils had hollowed those
eyeballs? Was this the face of a happy man, with whom everything had
succeeded, who, having been born to wealth and of an excellent family,
had married the woman he loved; who had known neither the wearing
cares of ambition, the toil of money-getting, nor the stings of
wounded self-love? It is true, he suffered from liver complaint; but
why was it that, although I had hitherto been satisfied with this
answer, it now appeared to me childish and even foolish? Why did all
these marks of trouble and exhaustion suddenly strike me as effects of
a secret cause, and why was I astonished that I had not sooner sought
for it? Why was it that in his presence, contrary to my expectations,
contrary to what had happened about my mother, I was plunged more
deeply into the gulf of suspicion from which I had hoped to emerge
with a free mind? Why, when our eyes met for just one second, was I
afraid that he might read my thoughts in my glance, and why did I
shift them with a pang of shame and terror? Ah! coward that I was,
triple coward! Either I was wrong to think thus, and at any price I
must know that I was wrong; or, I was right and I must know that too.
The sole resource henceforth remaining to me for the preservation of
my self-respect was ardent and ceaseless search after certainty.
That such a search was beset with difficulty I was well aware. How
was I to get at facts? The very position of the problem which I had
before me forbade all hope of discovering anything whatsoever by a
formal inquiry. What, in fact, was the matter in question? It was to
make myself certain whether M. Termonde was or was not the accomplice
of the man who had led my father into the trap in which he had lost
his life. But I did not know that man himself; I had no data to go
upon except the particulars of his disguise and the vague speculations
of a Judge of Instruction. If I could only have consulted that Judge,
and availed myself of his experience? How often since have I taken out
the packet containing the denunciatory letters, with the intention of
showing them to him and imploring advice, support, suggestions, from
him. But I have always stopped short before the door of his house;
the thought of my mother barred its entrance against me. What if he,
the Judge of Instruction in the case, were to suspect her as my aunt
had done? Then I would go back to my own abode, and shut myself up for
hours, lying on the divan in my smoking-room and drugging my senses
with tobacco. During that time I read and re-read the fatal letters,
although I knew them by heart, in order to verify my first impression
with the hope of dispelling it. It was, on the contrary, deepened.
The only gain I obtained from my repeated perusals was the knowledge
that this certainty, of which I had made a point of honor to myself,
could only be psychological. In short, all my fancies started from
the moral data of the crime, apart from physical data which I could
not obtain. I was therefore obliged to rely entirely, absolutely,
upon those moral data, and I began again to reason as I had done at
Compiegne. "Supposing," said I to myself, "that M. Termonde is
guilty, what state of mind must he be in? This state of mind being
once ascertained, how can I act so as to wrest some sign of his guilt
from him?" As to his state of mind I had no doubt. Ill and depressed
as I knew him to be, his mind troubled to the point of torment, if
that suffering, that gloom, that misery were accompanied by the
recollection of a murder committed in the past, the man was the victim
of secret remorse. The point was then to invent a plan which should
give, as it were, a form to his remorse, to raise the specter of the
deed he had done roughly and suddenly before him. If guilty, it was
impossible but that he would tremble; if innocent, he would not even
be aware of the experiment. But how was this sudden summoning-up of
his crime before the man whom I suspected to be accomplished? On the
stage and in novels one confronts an assassin with the spectacle of
his crime, and keeps watch upon his face for the one second during
which he loses his self-possession; but in reality there is no
instrument except unwieldy, unmanageable speech wherewith to probe a
human conscience. I could not, however, go straight to M. Termonde
and say to his face: "You had my father killed!" Innocent or guilty,
he would have had me turned from the door as a madman!
After several hours of reflection, I came to the conclusion that
only one plan was reasonable, and available: this was to have a
private talk with my stepfather at a moment when he would least
expect it, an interview in which all should be hints, shades, double
meanings, in which each word should be like the laying of a finger
upon the sorest spots in his breast, if indeed his reflections were
those of a murderer.
Every sentence of mine must be so contrived as to force him to ask
himself: "Why does he say this to me if he knows nothing? He does
know something. How much does he know?"
So well acquainted was I with every physical trait of his, the
slightest variations of his countenance, his simplest gestures, that
no sign of disturbance on his part, however slight, could escape me.
If I did not succeed in discovering the seat of the malady by this
process, I should be convinced of the baselessness of those suspicions
which were constantly springing up afresh in my mind since the death
of my aunt. I would then admit the simple and probable
explanationnothing in my father's letters discredited itthat M.
Termonde had loved my mother without hope in the lifetime of her first
husband, and had then profited by her widowhood, of which he had not
even ventured to think.
If, on the contrary, I observed during our interview that he was
alive to my suspicions, that he divined them, and anxiously followed
my words; if I surprised that swift gleam in his eye which reveals the
instinctive terror of an animal, attacked at the moment of its fancied
security, if the experiment succeeded, thenthenI dared not think
of what then?
The mere possibility was too overwhelming.
But should I have the strength to carry on such a conversation? At
the mere thought of it my heart-beats were quickened, and my nerves
thrilled. What! this was the first opportunity that had been offered
to me of action, of devoting myself to the task of vengeance, so
coveted, so fully accepted during all my early years, and I could
Happily, or unhappily, I had near me a counsellor stronger than my
doubts, my father's portrait, which was hung in my smoking-room. When
I awoke in the night and plunged into those thoughts, I would light my
candle and go to look at the picture. How like we were to each other,
my father and I, although I was more slightly built! How exactly the
same we were! How near to me I felt him, and how dearly I loved him!
With what emotion I studied those features, the lofty forehead, the
brown eyes, the rather large mouth, the rather long chin, the mouth
especially half-hidden by a black moustache cut like my own; it had no
need to open, and cry out: "Andre, Andre, remember me!" Ah, no, my
dear dead father, I could not leave you thus, without having done my
utmost to avenge you, and it was only an interview to be faced, only
My nervousness gave way to determination at once feverish and
fixedyes, it was bothand it was in a mood of perfect self-
mastery, that, after a long period of mental conflict, I repaired to
the hotel on the boulevard, with the plan of my discourse clearly laid
out. I felt almost sure of finding my stepfather alone; for my mother
was to breakfast on that day with Madame Bernard. M. Termonde was at
home, and, as I expected, alone in his study.
When I entered the room, he was sitting in a low chair, close to
the fire, looking chilly, and smoking. Like myself in my dark hours,
he drugged himself with tobacco. The room was a large one, and both
luxurious and ordinary. A handsome bookcase lined one of the walls.
Its contents were various, ranging from grave works on history and
political economy, to the lightest novels of the day. A large, flat
writing-table, on which every kind of writing- material was carefully
arranged, occupied the middle of the room, and was adorned with
photographs in plain leather cases. These were portraits of my mother
and M. Termonde's father and mother. At least one prominent trait of
its owner's character, his scrupulous attention to order and
correctness of detail, was revealed by the aspect of my stepfather's
study; but this quality, which is common to so many persons of his
position in the world, may belong to the most commonplace character as
well as to the most refined hypocrite. It was not only in the
external order and bearing of his life that my stepfather was
impenetrable, none could tell whether profound thoughts were or were
not hidden behind his politeness and elegance of manner. I had often
reflected on this, at a period when as yet I had no stronger motive
for examining into the recesses of the man's character than curiosity,
and the impression came to me with extreme intensity at the moment
when I entered his presence with a firm resolve to read in the book of
his past life.
We shook hands, I took a seat opposite to his on the other side of
the hearth, lighted a cigar, and said, as if to explain my
"Mamma is not here?"
"Did she not tell you, the other day, that she was to breakfast
with Madame Bernard? There's an expedition to Lozano's studio"
(Lozano was a Spanish painter much in vogue just then), "to see a
portrait he is painting of Madame Bernard. Is there anything you
want to have told to your mother?" he added, simply.
These few words were sufficient to show me that he had remarked the
singularity of my visit. Ought I to regret or to rejoice at this? He
was, then, already aware that I had some particular motive for coming;
but this very fact would give all their intended weight to my words.
I began by turning the conversation on an indifferent matter, talking
of the painter Lozano and a good picture of his which I knew, "A
Gipsy-dance in a Tavern-yard at Grenada." I described the bold
attitudes, the pale complexions, the Moorish faces of the "gitanas,"
and the red carnations stuck into the heavy braids of their black
hair, and I questioned him about Spain.
He answered me, but evidently out of mere politeness.
While continuing to smoke his cigar, he raked the fire with the
tongs, taking up one small piece of charred wood after another
between their points. By the quivering of his fingers, the only sign
of his nervous sensitiveness which he was unable entirely to keep
down, I could observe that my presence was then, as it always was,
disagreeable to him. Nevertheless he talked on with his habitual
courtesy, in his low voice, almost without tone or accent, as though
he had trained himself to talk thus. His eyes were fixed on the
flame, and his face, which I saw in profile, wore the expression of
infinite weariness that I knew well, in indescribable stillness and
sadness, with long deep lines, and the mouth was contracted as though
by some bitter thought ever present. Suddenly, I looked straight at
that detested profile, concentrating all the attention I had in me
upon it, and, passing from one subject to another without transition,
"I paid a very interesting visit this morning."
"In that you are agreeably distinguished from me," was his reply,
made in a tone of utter indifference, "for I wasted my morning in
putting my correspondence in order."
"Yes," I continued, "very interesting. I passed two hours with M.
I had reckoned a good deal on the effect of this name, which must
have instantly recalled the inquiry into the mystery of the Imperial
Hotel to his memory. The muscles of his face did not move. He laid
down the tongs, leaned back in his chair, and said in an absent
"The former Judge of Instruction? What is he doing now?"
Was it possible that he really did not know where the man, whom, if
he were guilty, he ought to have dreaded most of all men, was then
living? How was I to know whether this indifference was feigned? The
trap I had set appeared to me all at once a childish notion. Admitting
that my stepfather's pulses were even now throbbing with fever, and
that he was saying to himself with dread: "What is he coming to? What
does he mean?" why, this was a reason why he should conceal his
emotion all the more carefully. No matter. I had begun; I was bound
to go on, and to hit hard.
"M. Massol is Counsellor to the Court," I replied, and I added
although this was not true"I see him often. We were talking this
morning of criminals who have escaped punishment. Only fancy his
being convinced that Troppman had an accomplice. He founds his
belief on the details of the crime, which presuppose two men, he
says. If this be true it must be admitted that 'Messieurs les
assassins' have a kind of honor of their own, however odd that may
appear, since the child-killing monster let his own head be cut off
without denouncing the other. Nevertheless, the accomplice must have
put some bad time over him, after the discovery of the bodies and the
arrest of his comrade. I, for my part, would not trust to that honor,
and if the humor took me to commit a crime, I should do it by myself.
Would you?" I asked jestingly.
These two little words meant nothing, were merely an insignificant
jest, if the man to whom I put my odd question was innocent. But, if
he were guilty, those two little words were enough to freeze the
marrow in his bones. He surrounded himself with smoke while
listening to me, his eye-lids half veiled his eyes; I could no longer
see his left hand, which hung over the far side of his chair, and he
had put the right into the pocket of his morning- coat. There was a
short pause before he answered mevery short but the interval,
perhaps a minute, that divided his reply from my question, was a
burning one for me. But what of this? It was not his way to speak in
a hurry; and besides, my question had nothing interesting in it if he
were not guilty, and if he were, would he not have to calculate the
bearing of the phrase which he was about to utter with the quickness
of thought? He closed his eyes completelyhis constant habitand
said, in the unconcerned tone of a man who is talking generalities:
"It is a fact that scraps of conscience do remain intact in very
depraved individuals. One sees instances of this especially in
countries where habits and morals are more genuine and true to nature
than ours. There's Spain, for instance, the country that interests
you so much; when I lived in Spain, it was still infested by brigands.
One had to make treaties with them in order to cross the Sierras in
safety; there was no case known in which they broke the contract. The
history of celebrated criminal cases swarms with scoundrels who have
been excellent friends, devoted sons, and constant lovers. But I am
of your opinion, and I think it is best not to count too much upon
He smiled as he uttered the last words, and now he looked full at
me with those light blue eyes which were so mysterious and
impassible. No, I was not of stature to cope with him, to read his
heart by force. It needed capacity of another kind than mine to play
in the case of this personage the part of the magnate of police who
magnetizes a criminal. And yet, why did my suspicions gather force as
I felt the masked, dissimulating, guarded nature of the man in all its
strength? Are there not natures so constituted that they shut
themselves up without cause, just as others reveal themselves; are
there not souls that love darkness as others love daylight? Courage,
then, let me strike again.
"M. Massol and I," I resumed, "have been talking about what kind of
life Troppmann's accomplice must be leading; and also Rochdale's; for
neither of us has relinquished the intention of finding him. Before M.
Massol's retirement he took the precaution to bar the limitation by a
formal notice, and we have several years before us in which to search
for the man. Do these criminals sleep in peace? Are they punished by
remorse, or by the apprehension of danger, even in their momentary
security? It would be strange if they were both at this moment good,
quiet citizens, smoking their cigars like you and me, loved and
loving. Do you believe in remorse?"
"Yes, I do believe in remorse," he answered.
Was it the contrast between the affected levity of my speech, and
the seriousness with which he had spoken, that caused his voice to
sound grave and deep to my ears? No, no; I was deceiving myself, for
without a thrill he had heard the news that the limitation had been
barred, that the case might be reopened any dayterrible news for him
if he were mixed up with the murderand he added, calmly, referring
to the philosophic side of my question only:
"And does M. Massol believe in remorse?"
"M. Massol," said I, "is a cynic. He has seen too much wickedness,
known too many terrible stories. He says that remorse is a question
of stomach and religious education, and that a man with a sound
digestion, who had never heard anything about hell in his childhood,
might rob and kill from morning to night without feeling any other
remorse than fear of the police. He also maintains, being a sceptic,
that we do not know what part that question of the other life plays in
solitude; and I think he is right, for I often begin to think of
death, at night, and I am afraid; yes, I, who don't believe in
anything very much, am afraid. And you," I continued, "do you believe
in another world?"
"Yes." This time I was sure that there was an alteration in his
"And in the justice of God?"
"In His justice and His mercy," he answered, in a strange tone.
"Singular justice," I said vehemently, "which is able to do
everything, and yet delays to punish! My poor aunt used always to
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 meif I were sureno, 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 handsrecalling to my mind the gesture
with which he turned and returned his cane while my mother was
telling him of the disappearance of my fatheryes, 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 torture.
My stepfather looked at the clockhe, too, had risen nowand
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 coupeyes
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
lookingwhere, 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 success:
"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 intolerable misery.
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 herand 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 was
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
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
"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 moderatewhereas, 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 thoughts?
I entered the roomit was the same that had been mine when I was a
child, but I had not been inside its door for yearsin 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
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
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
"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 exactly like"
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. Butwas 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
"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 system."
Again we were silent. His pale and sickly but motionless face
exasperated me by its complete absence of expression. In those
minutesand how many such scenes have we not acted together since my
suspicion was first conceivedI 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 my pain.
"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 innocent?
"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 thisfor, in certain states of
mind, every mood is significantthat 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 coachmanthen, 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, and said:
"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 his
"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 nothingat least in any direct or positive
wayin 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 alsoI must tell allbecause 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 weakness.
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 ragejoy 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 to me?"
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 there.
"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 livedas 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 timehe 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 timehe has
kept his wordAndre he is in Paris!"
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 fear.
"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 rascalwell, they have the same look in their eyes."
"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
"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 alivehe 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 InstructionI, 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 brotherthat 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 dungeonthe walls, the floor, the ceilingand 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 wrapped me.
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
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 matter.
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 dominionsome 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 pride.
"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 January, 1864.
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 himif 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 crime.
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 mea 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 me!"
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
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
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
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
mesilence 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 lovedeven 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 himselfhis health being already undermined by his prolonged
mental anguishwould 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 thisunless indeed these surmises
of mine were but fallacies of a brain disturbed by fever and the
consuming desire for vengeanceI 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 impenetrable face.
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 otherremembrance of a guilty complicity
or fear of a scandalmy 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 followed.
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
Rochdaleto 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
What motives would inspire him? Two, manifestlythe 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 lovedeven 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
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, 353I 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 without
"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
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
"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
limitationshe 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 meyesit 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 coolness."
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 interview:
"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 for them."
"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
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 and
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 contentsa 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 manall 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 footthe May evening was deliciousI 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 dinner gaily.
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,
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 cowardicefor 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
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
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 thoughts?
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
choiceeither 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
woman? To these objections I replied, that, whereas I had suspected
previously, now I knew. No, he will not be entirely convinced that
the evidence I hold will make me dare everything. Well then, if he
refuse, I shall have attempted the impossible to avoid murderlet
destiny be accomplished!
It was four o'clock in the afternoon on the following day, when I
presented myself at the hotel on the Boulevard de Latour-Maubourg. I
knew that my mother would most probably be out. I also thought it
likely my stepfather would he feeling none the better of his early
excursion to the Grand Hotel on the previous day, and I therefore
hoped to find him at home, perhaps in his bed. I was right; my mother
was out, and he had remained at home. He was in his study, the room
in which our first explanation had taken place. That upon which I was
now bent was of far greater importance, and yet I was less agitated
than on the former occasion. At last I was completely certain of the
facts, and with that certainty a strange calmness had come to me. I
can recall my having talked for a few moments with the servant who
announced me, about a child of his who was ill. I also remember to
have observed for the first time that the smoky chimney of some
manufacturing works at the back of the garden, built, no doubt, during
the last winter, was visible through the window of the staircase.
I record these things because I am bound to recognize that my mind
was quite clear and freefor I will be sincere to the endwhen I
entered the spacious room.
My stepfather was reclining in a deep armchair at the far side of
the fireplace, and occupied in cutting the pages of a new book with a
dagger. The blade of this weapon was broad, short, and strong. He had
brought the knife back from Spain, with several other kinds of arms,
which lay about in the rooms he habitually occupied. I now understood
the order of ideas which this singular taste indicated. He was
dressed for walking; but his altered looks bore witness to the
intensity of the crisis through which he had passed. It had affected
his whole being.
Very likely my face was expressive of an extraordinary resolution,
for I saw by his eyes, as our looks met, that he had read the depths
of my thoughts at a glance. Nevertheless, he said: "Ah, is it you,
Andre? It is very kind of you to come," thus exhibiting once more the
power of his self-control, and he put out his hand. I did not take it,
and my refusal, contrasting with his gesture of welcome, the silence
which I kept for some minutes, the contraction of my features, and, no
doubt, the menace in my eyes, entirely enlightened him as to the mood
in which I came to him. Very quietly, he laid down his book and the
Spanish knife he had been using, on a large table within his reach,
and then he rose from his chair, leaned his back against the
mantelpiece, and crossing his arms, looked at me with the haughty
stare I knew so well, and which had so often humiliated me in my
boyhood. I was the first to break the silence; replying to his polite
greeting in a harsh tone, and looking him straight in the face, I
"The time of lies is past. You have guessed that I know all?"
He bent his brows into the stern frown he always assumed when he
felt anger he was bound to suppress, his eyes met mine with
indomitable pride, and he merely replied:
"I do not understand you."
"You do not understand me? Very well, I am about to enlighten
you." My voice shook in uttering these words; my coolness was
forsaking me. The day before, and in my conversation with the
brother, I had come in contact with the vile infamy of a knave and a
coward; but the enemy whom I was now facing, although a greater
scoundrel than the other, found means to preserve a sort of moral
superiority, even in that terrible hour when he knew well he was face
to face with his crime.
Yes, this man was a criminal, but of a grand kind, and there was no
cowardice in him. Pride sat upon that brow so laden with dark
thoughts, but fear set no mark upon it, any more than did repentance.
In his eyesexactly like those of his brothera fierce resolution
shone; I felt that he would defend himself to the end. He would yield
to evidence only, and such strength of mind displayed at such a moment
had the effect of exasperating me. The blood flew to my head, and my
heart beat rapidly, as I went on:
"Allow me to take up the matter a little farther back. In 1864,
there was in Paris a man who loved the wife of his most intimate
friend. Although that friend was very trusting, very noble, very
easily duped, he became aware of this love, and he began to suffer
from it. He grew jealousalthough he never doubted his wife's
purity of heartjealous as everyone is who loves too well.
"The man who was the object of his jealousy perceived it,
understood that he was about to be forbidden the house, knew that the
woman whom he loved would never degrade herself by listening to a
lover, and this is the plan which be conceived:
"He had a brother somewhere in a distant land, an infamous
scoundrel who was supposed to be dead, a creature sunk in shame, a
thief, a forger, a deserter, and he bethought him of this brother as
an instrument ready to his hand wherewith to rid himself of the friend
who stood in the way of his passion. He sent for the fellow secretly,
he appointed to meet him in one of the loneliest corners of Parisin
a street adjoining the Jardin des Plantes, and at nightyou see I am
well informed. It is easy to imagine how he persuaded the former
thief to play the part of bravo. A few months after, the husband was
assassinated by this brother, who eluded justice. The felon-friend
married almost immediately the woman whom he loved; he is now a man in
society, wealthy and respected, and his pure and pious wife loves,
admires, nay, worships him. Do you now begin to understand?"
"No more than before," he answered, with the same impassive face.
He did well not to flinch. What I had said might be only an attempt
to wrest his secret from him by feigning to know all. Nevertheless,
the detail concerning the place where he had appointed to meet his
brother had made him start. That was the spot to hit, and quickly.
"The cowardly assassin," I continued, "yes, the coward, because he
dared not commit the crime himself, had carefully calculated all the
circumstances of the murder; but he had reckoned without certain
little accidents, for instance, that his brother would keep the three
letters he had received, the first two at New York, the last at
Liverpool, and which contained instructions relating to the stages of
this clandestine journey. Neither had he taken into account that the
son of his victim would grow up, would become a man, would conceive
certain suspicions of the true cause of his father's death, and would
succeed in procuring overwhelming proof of the dark conspiracy. Come,
then," I added fiercely, "off with the mask! M. Jacques Termonde, it
is you who had my unhappy father killed by your brother Edmond. I
have in my possession the letters you wrote him in January, 1864, to
induce him to come to Europe, first under the false name of Rochester
and afterwards under that of Rochdale. It is not worth your while to
play the indignant or the astonished with methe game is up."
He had turned frightfully pale; but his arms still remained
crossed, and his bold eyes did not droop. He made one last attempt
to parry the straight blow I had aimed at him, and he had the
hardihood to say:
"How much did that wretch Edmond ask as the price of the forgery
which he fabricated in revenge for my refusal to give him money?"
"Be silent, you" said I still more fiercely. "Is it to me that
you dare to speak thusto me? Did I need those letters in order to
learn all? Have we not known for weeks past, I, that you had
committed the crime, and you, that I had divined your guilt? What I
still needed was the written, indisputable, undeniable proof, that
which can be laid before a magistrate. You refused him money? You
were about to give him money, only that you mistrusted him, and chose
to wait until the day of his departure. You did not suspect that I
was upon your track. Shall I tell you when it was you saw him for the
last time? Yesterday, at ten o'clock in the morning, you went out,
you changed your cab first at the Place de la Concorde, and a second
time at the Palais Royal. You went to the Grand Hotel, and you asked
whether Mr. Stanbury was in his room. A few hours later I, myself,
was in that same room. Ah! how much did Edmond Termonde ask from me
for the letters? Why, I tore them from him, pistol in hand, after a
struggle in which I was nearly killed. You see now that you can
deceive me no more, and that it is no longer worth your while to
I thought he was about to drop dead before me. His face changed,
until it was hardly human, as I went on, on, on, piling up the exact
facts, tracking his falsehood, as one tracks a wild beast, and proving
to him that his brother had defended himself after his fashion, even
as he had done. He clasped his hands about his head, when I ceased to
speak, as though to compress the maddening thoughts which rushed upon
him; then, once more looking me in the face, but this time with
infinite despair in his eyes, he uttered exactly the same sentence as
his brother had spoken, but with quite another expression and tone:
"This hour too was bound to come. What do you want from me now?"
"That you should do justice on yourself," I answered. "You have
twenty-four hours before you. If, to-morrow at this hour, you are
still living, I place the letters in my mother's hands."
Every sort of feeling was depicted upon his livid face while I
placed this ultimatum before him, in a firm voice which admitted of
no farther discussion. I was standing up, and I leaned against the
large table; he came towards me, with a sort of delirium in his eyes
as they strove to meet mine.
"No," he cried, "no, Andre, not yet! Pity me, Andre, pity me! See
now, I am a condemned man, I have not six months to live. Your
revenge! Ah! you had no need to undertake it. What! If I have done
a terrible deed, do you think I have not been punished for it? Look at
me, only look at me; I am dying of this frightful secret. It is all
over; my days are numbered. The few that remain, leave, oh, leave
them to me! Understand this, I am not afraid to die; but to kill
myself, to go away, leaving this grief to her whom you love as I do!
It is true that, to win her, I have done an atrocious deed; but say,
answer, has there ever been an hour, a minute since, in which her
happiness was not my only aim? And you would have me leave her thus,
inflict upon her the torment of thinking that while I might have grown
old by her side, I preferred to go away, to forsake her before the
time? No, Andrethis last year, leave it to me! Ah, leave it to me,
leave it to us, for I assure you that I am hopelessly ill, that I know
it, that the doctors have not hidden it from me. In a few monthsfix
a dateif the disease has not carried me off, you can come back. But
I shall be dead. She will weep for me, without the horror of that
idea that I have forestalled my hour, she who is so pious! You only
will be there to console her, to love her. Have pity upon her, if not
upon me. See, I have no more pride towards you, I entreat you in her
name, in the name of her dear heart, for well you know its tenderness.
You love her, I know that; I have guessed truly that you hid your
suspicions to spare her pain. I tell you once again, my life is a
hell, and I would joyfully give it to you in expiation of what I have
done; but she, Andre, she, your mother, who has never, never cherished
a thought that was not pure and noble, no, do not inflict this torture
"Words, words!" I answered, moved to the bottom of my soul in spite
of myself, by the outburst of an anguish in which I was forced to
recognize sincerity. "It is because my mother is noble and pure that
I will not have her remain the wife of a vile murderer for a day
longer. You shall kill yourself, or she shall know all."
"Do it then if you dare," he replied, with a return to the natural
pride of his character, at the ferocity of my answer. "Do it if you
dare! Yes, she is my wife, yes, she loves me; go and tell her, and
kill her yourself with the words. Ha, you see! You turn pale at the
mere thought. I have allowed you to live, yes, I, on account of her,
and do you suppose I do not hate you as much as you hate me?
Nevertheless, I have respected you because you were dear to her, and
you will have to do the same with me. Yes, do you hear, it must be
It was he who was giving orders now, he who was threatening. How
plainly had he read my mind, to stand up before me in such an
attitude! Furious passion broke loose in me; I took in the facts of
the situation. This man had loved my mother madly enough to purchase
her at the cost of the murder of his most intimate friend, and he
loved her after all those years passionately enough to desire that not
one of the days he had still to pass with her might be lost to him.
And it was also true that never, never should I have the courage to
reveal the terrific truth to the poor woman.
I was suddenly carried away by rage to the point of losing all
control over my frenzy. "Ah!" I cried, "since you will not do
justice on yourself, die then, at once!" I stretched out my hand and
seized the dagger which he had recently placed upon the table. He
looked at me without flinching, or recoiling; indeed presenting his
breast to me, as though to brave my childish rage. I was on his left
bending down, and ready to spring. I saw his smile of contempt, and
then with all my strength I struck him with the knife in the direction
of the heart.
The blade entered his body to the hilt.
No sooner had I done this thing than I recoiled, wild with terror
at the deed. He uttered a cry. His face was distorted with terrible
agony, and he moved his right hand towards the wound, as though he
would draw out the dagger. He looked at me, convulsed; I saw that he
wanted to speak; his lips moved, but no sound issued from his mouth.
The expression of a supreme effort passed into his eyes, he turned to
the table, took a pen, dipped it into the inkstand, and traced two
lines on a sheet of paper within his reach. He looked at me again,
his lips moved once more, then he fell down like a log.
I rememberI saw the body stretched upon the carpet, between the
table and the tall mantelpiece, within two feet of me. I approached
him, I bent over his face. His eyes seemed to follow me even after
Yes, he was dead.
The doctor who certified the death explained afterwards that the
knife had passed through the cardiac muscle without completely
penetrating the left cavity of the heart, and that, the blood not
being shed all at once, death had not been instantaneous.
I cannot tell how long he lived after I struck him, nor do I know
how long I remained in the same place, overwhelmed by the thought:
"Someone will come, and I am lost." It was not for myself that I
trembled. What could be done to a son who had but avenged his
murdered father? But, my mother? This was what all my resolutions
to spare her at any cost, my daily solicitude for her welfare, my
unseen tears, my tender silence, had come to in the end! I must now,
inevitably, either explain myself, or leave her to think I was a mere
murderer. I was lost. But if I called, if I cried out suddenly that
my stepfather had just killed himself in my presence, should I be
believed? And, besides, had he not written what would convict me of
murder, on that sheet of paper lying on the table? Was I going to
destroy it, as a practiced criminal destroys every vestige of his
presence before he leaves the scene of his crime?
I seized the sheet of paper; the lines were written upon it in
characters rather larger than usual. How it shook in my hand while I
read these words: "Forgive me, Marie. I was suffering too much. I
wanted to be done with it." And he had had the strength to affix his
So then, his last thought had been for her. In the brief moments
that had elapsed between my blow with the knife, and his death, he
had perceived the dreadful truth, that I should be arrested, that I
would speak to explain my deed, that my mother would then learn his
crimeand he had saved me by compelling me to silence.
But was I going to profit by this means of safety? Was I going to
accept the terrible generosity by which the man, whom I had so
profoundly detested, would stand acquitted towards me for evermore? I
must render so much justice to my honor; my first impulse was to
destroy that paper, to annihilate with it even the memory of the debt
imposed upon my hatred by the atrocious but sublime action of the
murderer of my father.
At that moment I caught sight of a portrait of my mother, on the
table, close to where he had been sitting. It was a photograph,
taken in her youth; she was represented in brilliant evening attire,
her bare arms shaded with lace, pearls in her hair, gay, ay, better
than gay, happy, with an ineffably pure expression overspreading her
face. My stepfather had sacrificed all to save her from despair on
learning the truth, and was she to receive the fatal blow from me, to
learn at the same moment that the man she loved had killed her first
husband, and that he had been killed by her son?
I desire to believe, so that I may continue to hold myself in some
esteem, that only the vision of her grief led me to my decision. I
replaced the sheet of paper on the table, and turned away from the
corpse lying on the carpet, without casting a glance at it. The
remembrance of my flight from the Grand Hotel, on the previous day,
gave me courage; I must try a second time to get away without
I found my hat, left the room, and closed the door carelessly. I
crossed the hall and went down the staircase, passing by the footman
who stood up mechanically, and then the concierge who saluted me. The
two servants had not even put me out of countenance.
I returned to my room as I had done the day before, but in a far
more tragic state of suspense. Was I saved? Was I lost? All
depended on the moment at which somebody might go into my
stepfather's room. If my mother were to return within a few minutes
of my departure; if the footman were to go upstairs with some letter,
I should instantly be suspected, in spite of the declaration written
by M. Termonde. I felt that my courage was exhausted. I knew that,
if accused, I should not have moral strength to defend myself, for my
weariness was so overwhelming that I did not suffer any longer. The
only thing I had strength to do was to watch the swing of the pendulum
of the timepiece on the mantelshelf, and to mark the movement of the
hands. A quarter of an hour elapsed, half an hour, a whole hour.
It was an hour and a half after I had left the fatal room, when the
bell at the door was rung. I heard it through the walls. A servant
brought me a laconic note from my mother scribbled in pencil and
hardly legible. It informed me that my stepfather had destroyed
himself in an attack of severe pain. The poor woman implored me to go
to her immediately. Ah, she would now never know the truth!
The confession that I wished to write is written. To what end
could I add fresh facts to it now? I hoped to ease my heart by
passing in review all the details of this dark story, but I have only
revived the dread memory of the scenes in which I have been an actor;
from the firstwhen I saw my father stretched dead upon his bed, and
my mother weeping by his side, to the lastwhen I noiselessly entered
a room in which the unhappy woman was again kneeling and weeping.
Again upon the bed there lay a corpse, and she rose as she had done
before, and uttered the same despairing cry: "My Andremy son." And
I had to answer her questions; I had to invent for her a false
conversation with my stepfather, to tell her that I left him rather
depressed, but with nothing in his appearance or manner to indicate a
fatal resolution. I had to take the necessary steps to prevent this
alleged suicide from getting known, to see the commissary of police
and the "doctor of the dead." I had to preside at the funeral
ceremonies, to receive the guests and act as chief mourner. And
always, always, he was present to me, with the dagger in his breast,
writing the lines that had saved me, and looking at me, while his lips
Ah, begone, begone, abhorred phantom! Yes! I have done it; yes! I
have killed you; yes! it was just. You know well that it was just.
Why are you still here now? Ah! I WILL live; I WILL forget. If I
could only cease to think of you for one day, only one day, just to
breathe, and walk, and see the sky, without your image returning to
haunt my poor head which is racked by this hallucination, and
troubled? My God! have pity on me. I did not ask for this dreadful
fate; it is Thou that hast sent it to me. Why dost Thou punish me?
Oh, my God, have pity on me! Miserere mei, Domine.
Vain prayers! Is there any God, any justice, is there either good
or evil? None, none, none, none! There is nothing but a pitiless
destiny which broods over the human race, iniquitous and blind,
distributing joy and grief at haphazard. A God who says, "Thou shalt
not kill," to him whose father has been killed? No, I don't believe
it. No, if hell were there before me, gaping open, I would make
answer: "I have done well," and I would not repent. I do not repent.
My remorse is not for having seized the weapon and struck the blow,
it is that I owe to himto himthat infamous good service which he
did methat I cannot to the present hour shake from me the horrible
gift I have received from that man. If I had destroyed the paper, if
I had gone and given myself up, if I had appeared before a jury,
revealing, proclaiming my deed, I should not be ashamed; I could still
hold up my head. What relief, what joy it would be if I might cry
aloud to all men that I killed him, that he lied, and I lied, that it
was I, I, who took the weapon and plunged it into him! And yet, I
ought not to suffer from having acceptednoendured the odious
immunity. Was it from any motive of cowardice that I acted thus?
What was I afraid of? Of torturing my mother, nothing more. Why,
then, do I suffer this unendurable anguish? Ah, it is she, it is my
mother who, without intending it, makes the dead so living to me, by
her own despair. She lives, shut up in the rooms where they lived
together for sixteen years; she has not allowed a single article of
furniture to be touched; she surrounds the man's accursed memory with
the same pious reverence that my aunt formerly lavished on my unhappy
father. I recognize the invincible influence of the dead in the
pallor of her cheeks, the wrinkles in her eyelids, the white streaks
in her hair. He disputes her with me from the darkness of his coffin;
he takes her from me, hour by hour, and I am powerless against that
love. If I were to tell her, as I would like to tell her, all the
truth, from the hideous crime which he committed, down to the
execution carried out by me, it is I whom she would hate, for having
killed him. She will grow old thus and I shall see her weep, always,
always What good is it to have done what I did, since I have not
killed him in her heart?