CHAPTER IV: THE DRAWBACKS OF AN AUDACIOUS ENTERPRISE
But Patrice bore the crowd no ill-will. The person for whom, at that moment, he entertained a feeling devoid of all affection was his Uncle Coriolis. The young man swore that he would make the crack-brained old rascal pay for the wretched time which he had given him. The feeling aforesaid was made up, first, of the hatred which any placid young gentleman cherishes for the man who upsets his composure and, secondly, of the vague dread that Madeleine and himself, Patrice, were about to become the victims of some extraordinary and perhaps criminal machination on the part of that dangerous eccentric. Whatever happened with Noël, Patrice had made up his mind that Coriolis was responsible for the catastrophe. The observations which he was able to make during the swift taxi-drive only increased his grave and overwhelming anxiety. Coriolis held Madeleine's drooping head on his breast. The young woman opened her eyes from time to time, gazed silently at her father and then shut them again, retaining the picture of the old man's face under her closed lids. Coriolis had lost all his excitement of the morning. He wore an expression of stern reflection, but his sternness seemed directed against himself, for he uttered a strange sentence: "Perhaps I am on the verge of punishment. God's will be done, if I have offended Him." Madeleine could not hear these words without shuddering; and her frail arms hugged the speaker closer to her. As the cab turned into the Rue de Jussieu, Madeleine said: "Don't be frightened, papa. He is no longer a wild beast. I shall talk to him; and he will understand. Our mistake was to run away from him as though he were a wild beast; and that is certainly what he resents. But, if I speak to him as one would to a man, he will behave like a man." Gertrude said, simply: "Yes, he will kill himself like a man!" Madeleine, Gertrude and Coriolis sat and looked at one another. Patrice saw that the same inexplicable anguish united them; and Noël began to assume the figure of a monster in the young man's awe-struck brain. But Patrice was still unable to understand; and that queer incapacity to understand frightened him more than anything else. Now that the others were talking freely before him of things relating to the mystery, the mystery itself appeared to him all the more unfathomable, with dizzy depths of gloom and horror into which he dared not peer. They reached the house. It was almost incredible, but Madeleine seemed to have recovered all her strength. She was the first to alight, entirely unaided. Patrice stared at her in bewilderment : she was as white as her dress, all the same. Patrice insisted that the taxi should wait. They stood on the pavement and examined the front of the house: everything was shut up. Coriolis had his latch-key; they went in. The young man almost forced Madeleine to take his arm. He felt it trembling under his own. She was afraid! She was afraid! Then why had she cotne back? Why had she wanted to come back? She said aloud, after listening to the silence of the house: "He is not here!" Then it was for "him" that she had returned. Patrice felt horribly hurt; and yet he did not doubt Madeleine's love for him. All three were straining their ears for the least sound. Madeleine said, with a sigh: "They have not come in. Perhaps Zoé has made him listen to reason. Oh dear, if only Zoé has persuaded him to go for a stroll in the Jardin d'Acclimatation!" Coriolis had definitely forbidden Balaoo to go to the Jardin des Plantes, which he considered too near. Gertrude said: "It's funny, but I don't see General Captain." As she spoke, General Captain appeared on the top stair of the first flight. The bird-porter wore a very peculiar air. To begin with, he did not say: "Hullo, Polly!" He said nothing at all, he did not speak, which was very unusual in General Captain. And be kept on wagging his small green head in a most distressful fashion. "There's something the matter with General Captain," said Gertrude, who knew him well. Still silent, he went upstairs as they approached, hopping backwards, constantly wagging his head, constantly keeping his eyes fixed upon the party. J "There's something the matter, there's something the matter," Gertrude repeated. Patrice felt Madeleine's hand tremble still more violently on his arm. She agreed with Gertrude: "Let us follow him," she said. "You can see he's calling us." The whole thing was childish and uncanny. That green bird, with the mysterious backward gait and the incessantly wagging head, appeared to them, in the middle of the great staircase which their anxious feet hesitated to climb, as the evil spirit of that cold and echoing house. He led them through the passages to the head of the servants' staircase which they had taken that same morning to escape M. Noël's curiosity; and there they discovered, lying at the top of the stairs, with her arms outstretched and her face covered with blood, Zoé! They cried out with terror. Coriolis flung himself upon the lifeless body and raised a scared face: "She has received a terrible blow on the head," he said, "but she is not killed." They carried her to her room and laid her on the bed. Coriolis held some ether to her nostrils. She opened her eyes. At the sight of the young woman in the bridal dress who was tending her, she was convulsed as though with an electric shock: "I'm not dreaming?" she cried. "It's you, Madeleine? You, here? Oh, go away! Go away! Madeleine darling, go away!" They tried to silence her, to calm her, but in vain. She seemed endowed with an incredible strength to push Madeleine from her: "Go away! . He's coming! . . . He's coming and he will kill you!" They could see that she was delirious, but the words of her delirium terrified them: "Yes, he will kill you! . . . When he saw that you had gone off with Patrice, that you had run away from the restaurant, there was no holding him. I locked the door of the private room, the moment he was inside, and hid the key. He struck me, dragged me by the hair, weeping all the time, saying that he hated me, that he would kill me if I did not at once tell him where you were. . . . I gasped that you were at the Gare de Lyon. . . . Then he gave one bound to the window. . . . He went out by the window. . . . But he will come back, he will come back! . . . And, as I have told him a lie, he will kill me! . . . I don't mind: I only came back for that. . . . But my strength. . . my strength failed me at the top of the stairs. . . and I fell on the stair. . . . I thought I was going to die. . . but I don't want to! . . . I want him to kill me . . . himself; with his tremendous fist, because he will never, never love me! . . ." And Zoé, who had half-raised herself, fell back upon the pillow and closed her pretty eyes. Madeleine wiped the blood tenderly from her little friend's young and sorrowful face, kissed her on the forehead and wept bitterly. "Let us fly!" said Patrice. "Let us fly from that monster whom you have taken. into your house and who has nothing human about him!" "Yes, go," Coriolis' gloomy voice commanded. "Go, both of you. . . You see, Madeleine, what he has done to Zoé. . .. Go." "But, father, you know that he won't mind Zoé's voice, but that he has always obeyed mine!" "Patrice, take your wife away," commanded Coriolis. "Then have you no faith left in your work, father?" asked Madeleine, in her calm, harmonious voice. Coriolis stalked across the room, a prey to some mysterious agitation; but he stopped opposite Madeleine and, looking her straight in the eyes : "What if we have not killed the beast?" Madeleine did not lower her eyes: "I swear to you that the beast is dead! Why would you not believe me? All this would never have happened. He has the right to be spoken to like a man!" But Zoé's voice was raised in frenzied appeal: "Go! Go!... He will come back and do murder! . . . He will commit murder with his tremendous hand! . . ." "No," said Madeleine, sitting down by Zoé's bedside, "he will hot commit murder, because I shall remain and speak to him." But Zoé, avoiding the arms that tried to restrain her, slipped from the bed and, on her knees, entreated Madeleine and Patrice to flee without delay: "He will murder you both!" she cried. "You don't know all, you don't know all! . . . It is not his fault that Patrice is not dead already! . . . He will kill you as he killed Blondel . . . as he killed Camus. . . as he killed Lombard. . . and. . . and another. . . another whom you know of! . . . It was he . . . it was he who killed them all! . . . I lied to you, Madeleine; it was not Élie who cried in the night, 'Pity! Pity in the man's house!' It was. . . it was Balaoo! . . ." Raving wildly, she dragged herself on her knees; and Madeleine retreated before that awful voice, that voice which Coriolis was now trying to silence by main force, yes, by main force, with his hands crushed against Zoé's mouth: "Hold your tongue! . . . Hold your tongue!" he railed, hoarsely. Coriolis, with his white hair, looked a hundred. Madeleine, wild-eyed, openmouthed, horror-stricken, seemed mad. But there was no stopping Zoé's mouth: "He will kill you! . . . He will kill you all, all, all!" she cried. And Zoé's hands clutched Madeleine, drew her outside, pushed her into the passage, flung a cloak over her shoulders: "Kill you! Kill you! . . . Go! Go! . . . you have just time! . . . Kill you!" screamed Zoé, clamouring for the others to assist her. And Zoé's hands, Patrice' hands, Gertrude's hands, Coriolis' hands all pushed Madeleine out of the old house. . . The newly-married couple fled, fled through the sullen night, through the storm bursting over Paris. Leaning back in the taxi, Patrice seemed to hold a dead woman in his arms, while, through the hum of the motor, the throbbing engine seemed to repeat, everlastingly: "Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . ." Those three syllables roused the utmost depths of his tragic memory. He banged at the window: the cab pulled up outside a shop. Five minutes later, Patrice stepped in again. "Where have you been?" asked Madeleine, who had come to herself at the sudden stop of the taxi. "I have been to buy a revolver." "What for?" "To kill your Balaoo." "That was quite unnecessary. You can't kill a pithecanthrope with what you have bought!" "A what?" "A pithecanthrope." Seated, alone with Madeleine at last, in the train that was hurrying them southward, Patrice listened to her story. She told it to the end, with a white, scared face, and Patrice now knew all. Stooping over his hands, which clutched his poor head and hid the shame upon his face, he let words slip through his fingers, words that came and struck at her heart — "Tack! Tack! Tack!" — like tiny taps of a hammer: "That comes," said Patrice, in a hard and metallic and ever-so-distant voice, "that comes of having an uncle who thinks himself a genius." Madeleine fell back on the seat, gasping for air, swooning. He did not even see her, and finished saying what he had in mind: "We shall all have to stand our trial. . . . Your father is a murd. . ." Something rolled between his legs like a bag that might have fallen from the rack. It was Madeleine's white body, tossed about by the jolting Auvergne express. "Dinner is served," said the restaurant-car attendant, fortunately without looking into the compartment! As the man had seen nothing; Patrice was able, without scandal, to proceed with the various experiments calculated to restore her who, since that morning, was his wife: air, salts, a window let down, a bodice unlaced, kisses and tears. All Patrice' love returned as soon as he felt between his arms the adorable and throbbing burden which it was his mission to defend against the savage enterprises of a pithecanthrope. And, when Madeleine began to return his kisses, he felt that there would yet be happiness for them both on earth, despite that dire adventure. When he had yielded to his first impulse and failed to control his temper, it was because he really did not expect to find that sort of rival installed in a respectable family. "Oh, Madeleine darling, why did you not tell me of those terrible things earlier?" "My love, my love, I swear that, if I could have dreamt for a moment that that horrible Balaoo was capable of committing the crimes which Zoé spoke of, I would have told you all before consenting to be your wife! And, if I believed that he had committed them, I would have refused your hand! But I do not believe it, no, I do not believe what Zoé said. Zoé was trying to be revenged on Balaoo: I would never have thought it of her!" "But she said that he also killed some one whom you know of!" "Oh, that was an accident! He squeezed a gentleman's neck too hard; and the gentleman died of it. Balaoo does not realize the strength of his hand. He has the hand of a murderer, without knowing it. We had to train him to give up habits for which he was not morally responsible; and we really thought we had succeeded. . . You mustn't believe all that Zoé says, dear. Balaoo once committed manslaughter, through carelessness: that's a thing that can happen to anybody. Now, since he has been in Paris, he knows that he must not touch men's necks with his terrible hand: he knows what it costs. . . . Papa took him to see an execution and he came back quite impressed, I assure you. . . . Patrice, my own, what are you thinking of now? . . . You look quite pensive!" "I'm thinking that I've let myself in for a nice thing!" said Patrice, brutally. Madeleine's tears began to flow once more. Patrice made an attempt to console her, but she pushed him away. No, no, he must not touch her: it did her good to cry . . . And if Patrice regretted his marriage as much as all that, the thing was easily remedied: he could divorce her! . . . Then he would be quite happy, wouldn't he? "I adore you!" Oh, the power of love in the golden days of youth! . . . Here are two young people, the victims of the most frightful adventure that ever crossed what lovers call a honeymoon; and it is all forgotten in a kiss! Patrice fears nothing now: he loves! . . . He is mightier than the racial mysteries! . . . The placid little solicitor's clerk from the Rue de l'Écu feels within himself the pride and courage of an archangel wherewith to fight the monster. "Second dinner, gentlemen." The attendant's voice brought them back to earth again; and the two young people exchanged a pleasant smile, a pleasant smile that expressed their single thought: the two young people were hungry. They had not lunched. It was eight o'clock in the evening. And there is nothing like excitement to give you an appetite! A quick wash and brush-up; and soon they were laughing at their rig-out, at their appearance, at their swollen eyes, at that wedding-dress which Madeleine had been obliged to wear all day, at that cloak of Zoé's which was much too short for her and which covered the dress without concealing it. They laughed at everything, at everything; they laughed at their own fears; and they went to the dining car to make a hearty meal. They had to walk through the whole length of the train; and the jolting knocked them about and set them giggling afresh: they were a little unnerved since the morning. Right at the end of the car was a little table for two, where they would be very comfortable and able to laugh, by themselves, at all around them and at themselves and at everything, I tell you, at everything, at Balaoo himself, yes, and at the veal and spinach and the chicken and mushrooms: we all know what de-li-cious cooking we find in railway dining-cars! "Some more salad, sir?" "Yes, please. . . . Two dinners, darling; they have two dinners on this line: such a lot of people travelling at this time of year. . . ." The second dinner had filled the two compartments of the restaurant-car, which were separated by a sheet of ordinary plate-glass. The other was the smoking compartment; but people were dining at all the tables. "Oh, Madeleine. . . if you could only see. . . it's too funny! . . . No, don't turn round. . . you can look presently. . . . Over there, at the end, there's a lady in a hat: such a hat! It would be just the thing for General Captain! . . . You'll see her: it's a lady on the right, sitting next to . . . next to . . . to. . . . Oh . . . Madeleine! . . ." "What's the matter, Patrice, what is it? . . . Are you going to faint now?" Patrice was no longer laughing: "Madeleine," he said, in a hollow voice, "I believe the person next to the lady in the hat. . . is Balaoo ! " "Ah!" "Don't turn round! . . . Don't turn round! . . . He's bending forward!. . . I can't see plainly. . . his felt hat is over his eyes. . . . Ah, he's raising them! . . . He's looking at us! . . . It's he!" Madeleine could not help turning round. Patrice was right. It was Balaoo. He lowered his head as soon as he saw Madeleine look at him. She made a sign to her husband to change seats with her. As he did so, her fingers met his. Patrice' hand was moist and shaking. She tried to give him confidence: “Don't be frightened," she said. "He is tamed now. His violent fit is over, he is lowering his head, he dare not look at me." Patrice, who had turned extremely pale, said: "The reason I'm trembling is that I want to polish off that loathsome brute for good and all." "Hush, dear, and pass me the bill of fare." But Patrice, who now had his back to Balaoo but could still see his image in a glass behind Madeleine, continued: "If he comes, I shall know what to do." "If he comes, you will let him come," said Madeleine, in a curt tone which the young man disliked exceedingly. "A good bullet in the ear would settle his business as easily as anyone else's." " Patrice, if you love me, you will do what I say. . . . First of all, keep your revolver in your pocket." "Well? And then?" "Then, when dinner is finished, go back with the other passengers and leave me alone with Balaoo." "That, never! Have you forgotten what Zoé said?" "Balaoo was mad this morning; he is perfectly quiet now." "Why did he follow us here? Do you think it's with a good intention? Zoé was perfectly right. We must be on our guard!" "I am not taking my eyes off him and the poor fellow daren't even look up at us. . . . He does not know what to do: he is hiding his face behind the bill of fare, putting it down, taking it up again. Now he's pretending to give an order to the waiter. Now he's moving the bottles on the table. It's pitiful. . . . Listen, Patrice dear, you must leave me alone with him for a moment and I'll scold him. He will get down at the first station, I promise you." "You can do as you please, but I sha'n't leave you." "Oh!" exclaimed Madeleine, anxious but dignified. "He's getting up, he's going, he'll escape us. . . . You can see he's afraid. Let's go after him. I must speak to him, at all costs, I must know what he wants!" "Yes," repeated Patrice, "we must know. . . know what he wants. . . . We can't continue this journey with that thing about us." They stood up. Patrice tried to pass in front of Madeleine, but she pushed him behind her with some violence and they hastened through the two compartments of the dining-car with the staggering gait of tipsy people quarrelling. They were the object of general curiosity and of some laughter. Balaoo, who was on the foot-board joining the dining-car to the next coach, turned round angrily, thinking that the people were laughing at him. Patrice was almost blinded by those fierce and flashing eyes. . . and he shuddered to the marrow of his bones. He had recognized the eyes of the monster in the black mask who had nearly strangled him on the top of the diligence, by the Wolf Stone. Madeleine hurried after Balaoo, who had now reached the corridor. Patrice, behind her, cocked his revolver; and the three ran one after the other, in Indian file. Madeleine called, in a faint voice: "Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . ." The other must have heard, but no longer turned his head, seemed wholly taken up with his flight along the corridor. He slipped like a shadow throllgh the astonished passengers, who, with staring eyes, watched a pursuit that looked to them like a game. "Balaoo!" said Madeleine, in a voice of command. But her voice in vain adopted a tone of authority, like that of a lion-tamer preparing to lash his animals: the other no longer obeyed. Then, as he was gaining ground, Madeleine's voice became gentle and beseeching and she uttered the "Balaoo!" that had always brought him back, moaning, to her feet, at the worst and most rebellious hours of his savage brain. But Balaoo seemed not even to hear and rushed into the corridor of the third carriage. When they arrived there, he was gone; and they ransacked the whole train to no purpose, in a galloping anxiety. Balaoo had disappeared! And this seemed to them even more terrifying than to have him in front of them in the restaurantcar, stealthily dining at a little table, deceitfully mimicking the actions of one of the Race ordering his dinner, while, underneath the table, the sinewy thighs of one from the Forest of Bandong were preparing for a murderous leap! Patrice and Madeleine retreated half-dead to their compartment, locking and bolting it, though that made but a poor defence against an enterprising Balaoo. Since her voice was powerless, even when raised in entreaty, they were at the monster's mercy. What was going to befall them, with that hateful thought of the pithecanthrope around them? They realized that everyone of their movements was spied upon, from some place, which they could not discover, where the anthropoid's malice had found a refuge. And it was only now that Zoé's voice, proclaiming all Balaoo's crimes, reached Madeleine's ears with its full, dreadful force: "He will kill you as he killed Blondel . . . as he killed Camus. . . as he killed Lombard. . . and another whom you know of!" Ah, yes; yes, yes, she knew! . . . She had seen him at work! . . . She had seen his terrible hand at work! . . . She was forewarned, she knew what he was capable of and, if he killed yet another — another who was sitting beside her, fingering the revolver in his pocket with a trembling hand — she could say to herself, with absolute certainty, that that fine piece of business, the business of educating a pithecanthrope, was hers! . . . Oh, the anarchists need not think that reversible bombs alone are delicate and dangerous to handle; there are other receptacles; such as brain-pans, which, when manipulated a little too roughly by old professors or a little too heedlessly by young ladies, also have a way of going off at a moment when you think them quite safe, brain-pans of pithecanthropes and the like, which reverse of their own accord upon the shoulders of thoughtless young persons! . . . Patrice and Madeleine cast haggard eyes above, below and around them. Where was he? It was frightful not to know where he was; for they could feel his eyes! The train was travelling at a speed which would have frightened them, if they could have felt frightened, at that moment, of anything but the eyes that watched them. . . . Unconsciously, instinctively, they sat closer together. . . . They embraced each other with timid arms, shuddering under the eyes that were slowly killing them. . . . The train rushed through station after station with a whistle that rent the black veils of the night like silk. Sometimes, the train made a noise like thunder: that was when it was passing through a tunnel. And here again came the noise of the thunder, at the moment when they were most afraid. Then. . . then. . . they saw the eyes watching them behind the glass, the glass of the carriage-window, which was pitch dark in the tunnel and formed a black frame for the terrible head of Balaoo watching them! Patrice made the movement that would set them free. His hand darted forward like a spring, his hand armed with the revolver, and Madeleine uttered one last cry of pity and compassion: "Don't shoot!" And Patrice aimed between the two eyes and fired. The train made such a noise of thunder in that tunnel that they alone heard the shot that was meant to kill Balaoo. No one, therefore, would come to disturb them in their murder of a poor pithecanthrope who had strayed from the Forest of Bandong. But had they murdered him as much as all that? Did not Madeleine say that you can't kill a pithecanthrope with a revolver? Madeleine looked out with every sign of despair. She made a rush at the window, tried to open the door, at the risk of being dashed to pieces in the tunnel. Patrice had to exert all his strength to hold her back. And now, panting, they watched the drama enacted behind the pane. The bullet had made a very clean' little hole in the window-pane and another little hole, not so clean, because of the blood, at the root of Balaoo's nose, behind the window, to which he was clinging desperately. Balaoo gazed at Madeleine with, his fast-closing eyes; and never had Madeleine seen a more human look, at the moment of death, even in the eyes of the tamest animals, even in the eyes of sporting-dogs when they die in the arms of their masters who have shot them through awkwardness. . . . And Balaoo let go the carriage-window and disappeared in the black rumbling hole. "Balaoo! Balaoo! Balaoo!" cried the despairing Madeleine, imprisoned in Patrice' arms. "Balaoo ! Balaoo !" Poor Balaoo must be in a thousand pieces by now. There is nothing like a train in a tunnel to kill a pithecanthrope. Madeleine was stifling. But Patrice began to breathe. Alas, how often do we not find, at the moment when we think ourselves safe, at last, from the pursuit of fate, that it turns against us with the most deadly cruelty! Even so with Patrice Saint-Aubin. Seeing his dear little Madeleine for the third time nearly expiring on that wretched wedding-day, he resolved to shorten this first part of the journey. They left the train at Moulins and drove to the old Hôtel de la Gare. Here, Patrice engaged a suite of rooms of which he had not time to appreciate the full comfort, for, when he went downstairs to give some orders to the proprietor, he heard an appalling cry from Madeleine's lips: "Help!" All the terror that a cry can express was contained in that one cry. The hotelkeeper and Patrice felt their hair stand up on end. They flew to the unhappy girl's room. She was no longer there; but the window was wide open on the night. Madeleine must have made a supreme effort to defend herself. The marks of her bloodstained fingers were found on the sheets torn from the bed. And a trail of blood led from the bed to the window.