CHAPTER VII: POOR BALAOO!
For hours, Coriolis, with his clothes torn, his hands and face lacerated by the thorns and brambles, pushed branch after branch aside in his vain search for the Pierrefeu clearing, overtopped by the Big Beech which he knew so well in his youth. He was lost in the forest. He had come alone, not wishing to mix up others in his terrible family-history and not knowing what last fatal surprise might await him at the strange meeting-place fixed by Balaoo. Besides, who was there to come with him? Was he not alone on the earth from this day forth? Patrice, who was being nursed at Clermont, had refused to see him and kept accusing him of every possible crime in a delirium that threatened to destroy his reason for good. Little Zoé, whom he had tried to make into a young lady for Balaoo, at the time when, in his extraordinary madness, he hoped to obtain a civic status for the son of the Forest of Bandong, little Zoé, struck to the heart by Balaoo's criminal love for Madeleine, was dying in the arms of Gertrude. Both had left his roof and would have nothing more to do with him. And his daughter: where was his daughter? Was it true that the monster had killed her rather than be parted from her? And was Coriolis on the point of being faced with his child's corpse? Had Balaoo, bewildered with remorse, sent for him to weep over a tomb? Why had he not mentioned Madeleine in his letter? O tragic silence! O hateful uncertainty! O Madeleine! O Balaoo! . . . For hours, the unhappy Coriolis had flung those two dear names to the echoes of the forest; and none but the echoes had replied. Time after time, he seemed to recognize the paths that led to the Big Beech of Pierrefeu; but his footsteps became involved and perhaps only turned around themselves. The sun was now sinking in the sky and piercing the tall trees with its slanting rays. The twilight was at hand: Balaoo! Madeleine! Balaoo, you who loved your little mistress so well, can it be true that you carried her off as a wild beast would and lent a deaf ear to her voice? Despite the horror of that murderous abduction, Coriolis did not yet quite despair in the depths of his being. Certainly, Balaoo must have been terrible at the first moment and, thinking of nothing but the hideous thing that Madeleine's voluntary departure meant to him, he must have listened only to his instinct to retain possession of the beloved object and carried off the young woman in his arms with the same recklessness with which he would have stolen a lifeless thing. But, afterwards, it was impossible that Balaoo should not have yielded to Madeleine's voice, which for the pithecanthrope had the same fascination that serpents find in the voices of flutes. Thus did Coriolis argue, or try to argue, as he continued to tear his clothes and flesh against the brambles on his path. It was the last hope that he built upon an hypothesis frail indeed, in the face of Balaoo's prolonged silence in his Pierrefeu clearing. Alas, if the charm of Madeleine's voice was so potent, the young woman would have ceased to be a prisoner from the first day! Poor Coriolis! His thoughts strayed like his footsteps; and, as the golden beams of the sun now reached him horizontally through the leaves, he struck the lower branches with his crazy forehead and cried, in the falling night: "My daughter is dead! My daughter is dead! " Then, dropping on his knees and lifting his hands to heaven in an attitude that implored both pity and forgiveness, for the first time he regretted his handiwork. As his eyes, filled with an immense despair, rose to the sky, they encountered a thick circle of crows, chattering horribly, as birds and men do after a great banquet. The circle flew up, then down again and at last disappeared into the forest, with a mad accompani ment of hoarse and strident cries, like the hiccuping laughter of surfeited birds of prey. Coriolis' heart turned icy cold. And suddenly his gaze fell upon a white veil clinging to a young branch. He rose and staggered to that veil or rather to that shred of material white as a bride's veil. He had not a doubt but that it was Madeleine's veil. He recognized it. His terror told him that he was not deceived. He snatched it from the forest with fevered hands and, sobbing, raised it to his lips. A few steps farther, he found a piece of the satin of the dress. . . and then a little slipper. . . . It was Madeleine's little white slipper. . . . He covered it with frenzied kisses. . . . And he called out, with all the strength of the sorrow that filled his breast: "Madeleine! . . . Madeleine! . . ." He called in the way in which you call not upon a living, but upon a dear dead woman, in the hope that she may appear to you. For there are moments when human sorrow does not dread ghosts and when it conjures up shades to press them to its heart, without trembling on the threshold of the great mystery; moments when love would have the dead come forth from the dark and when it is astonished — so loud has been its call — that the spirits do not come and kiss its lips! "Madeleine!..." The cawing of the crows was his sole answer. And, guided by the cawing of the crows, he continued his progress through the clustering branches. When he had pushed aside the last from that corner of thick timber, it was as though there had been a fire on the level of the ground and of the holes in the ground and as though he had come upon the centre of the furnace. He recognized the Moabit clearing. Over a thousand crows were there and did not so much as turn their heads, being busily engaged in devouring the carrion of three great men'.s corpses lying on the grass with outstretched arms. And, though their foreheads were smashed in and much of their flesh eaten, Coriolis recognized the Three Brothers, who, for so many years, had been the terror of the country-side. Their guns lay beside them; the biggest of the three, red-bearded Hubert, still held his in his clenched hand. The ferns and bushes all around were torn and broken and trampled. The struggle in which these had suffered and the three Vautrins met their death had created a sort of circus, a sort of flat ring. It must have been a terrible battle. Who had been strong enough to defeat the Three Brothers, armed with their three guns? And what all powerful weapon had laid low those three huge bodies on the bloodsoaked earth? Oh, it was simply a weapon made of wood! It also lay there, resting on the grass, after performing its work. It was a fine young tree, which might have reckoned on long years of glorious forest-life and which, trusting in the future, had dug its roots solidly into the fostering soil. And behold, a hand had torn it out of the earth as though it were not fastened there; and it was this birch-trunk, whose silvery whiteness was splashed and stained with the brown blood which it had brought spouting from the three men's heads, it was this birch-trunk that had done the killing. What giant, what hero had waged battle here? What archangel's hand had wielded this flaming sword of wood? On a branch of that tree, Coriolis saw yet another strip of the white veil that sent his heart beating in his chest like a drum; and also, after disturbing the crows, which protested and staggered around him like a black, drunkenband, he saw yet another piece of the white dress clutched in the fingers of one of the albinos. And he no longer had a doubt but that his child was the coveted booty of that wild men's battle. His troubled brain, burning redder than that flaming forest at eve, pictured in a flash all the phases of that tourney of blood and death. It was here that Balaoo must have hurried with his prey, to this friendly solitude of the forest where men would not come to rob him of her whose presence was as necessary to his life as the air he breathed. And then, no doubt, he had come upon the three men, the sole inhabitants of that solitude and the sole masters of that corner of the forest. The brute men had risen against the animal, on seeing him the possessor of so fair a prey, and they, in their turn, had tried to snatch it from him. They were dead; and Balaoo had carried elsewhither the sacred object of that battle of the gods. Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . Moabit suddenly fell into pitch darkness; and Coriolis collided with the living walls of the clearing, which closed their branchy arms and leafy hands upon him. And, having reached the last stage of his despair, he sank down to the ground, like a child in its cradle. In the morning, he woke and thought that he must still be dreaming when he saw Balaoo's sad and serious face bending over him. He tried to cry out. Balaoo, with his finger to his mouth, enjoined silence: "Take care!" said the pithecanthrope, whose voice seemed to reach him through a lake of tears. "Take care! . . . Don't wake her! . . ." "Is she dead or alive?" "She is asleep. . . . Hush! . . ." "Is she dead or alive? " "She is asleep and we must not wake her." And, walking straight before him, with his finger to his mouth, looking round from time to time to make sure that the other was following him, Balaoo led the way, a very long way, through the forest. Everything was silent as they passed. The birds interrupted their singing, the leaves ceased to quiver with joy in the morning breeze. Balaoo's finger raised to his mouth seemed to command all nature to hush and not disturb the rest of her to whom they were going. Was she dead? Was she alive? Was she at rest for all time? Balaoo himself perhaps did not know. They reached the Big Beech at Pierrefeu. Balaoo pointed to the upper storey of branches and to the road which Coriolis was to take. Coriolis went up it, obeying Balaoo as Balaoo had once obeyed him and not even wondering whether he could resist the pithecanthrope's gesture of command, accompanied by that extraordinarily human and divine look of sadness which he had not yet seen in his eyes, having never seen anything there but childish looks. They climbed into the tree, which was as large as a little wood that might have surrounded Balaoo's private dwelling. And they came to the private dwelling, to the hut built in the style of the Forest of Bandong which Coriolus, remembering the huts built by the pithecanthropes on the mangroves in the swamps, was not at all surprised to find there. Only, this hut had a door, as in a man's house. He opened the door, while Balaoo, more and more sad and more and more polite, like any man inviting a stranger to cross his threshold, stood modestly behind him. He opened the door and found himself in the presence of Madeleine lying on a bed of dry leaves and decently covered with a rug which he remembered once missing from his pony-chaise. Madeleine was pale as death, but not dead. At the noise which her father made on entering, she opened her eyes; and two syllables came from her bloodless lips: "Papa!" Coriolis fell on his knees' before his child, raised the dear head, pressed it to his heart and bathed it with his tears: "Forgive me! . . . Forgive me! . . ." "Forgive you for what, papa? . . . Hasn't Balaoo told you? . . Embrace him: he saved me!" Coriolis' eyes wandered from Madeleine to Balaoo, who, standing in the doorway, turned aside his head so that he might not be seen to weep: "What! He saved you?" Then Madeleine, putting her shapely, trembling arms around her father's neck, told him the terrible story of her abduction from the room at Moulins by Élie the albino. Mother Vautrin's son must have heard of the marriage of her whom he had never ceased to love and of the contemplated arrival of the newly-married pair at Clermont-Ferrand. His sudden resolution to go and lie in wait for them, like an animal lurking for its prey, spoke volumes for the mental attitude of the Three Brothers, who, definitely outlawed from human society by their conviction and sentence, had for years led the lives of wild animals in the depths of the forest. But, whereas Hubert and Siméon lived only to eat and breathe in their lair, Élie's fierce heart was still, from time to time, roused by the memory of a white figure that used to appear to him, in the old days, when he returned of a morning from his clandestine hunting-expeditions, at the edge of the dawn-swept fields. The image of Madeleine lingered deep down in that brutal brain; and, if he had sunk so low as never to speak a word, never to reply to his brothers' call, it was because he never ceased to converse with Madeleine's image and to say things to her that could be confided to none other. When prowling with his brothers like a jackal around the villages which they still terrorized, at intervals, with their plunderings, Élie heard of Madeleine's approaching return to Clermont with her young husband. He said nothing to his brothers, went to Clermont, made enquiries in the neighbourhood of the Rue de l'Écu and went back to Moulins. His aim was to kidnap Madeleine before her arrival at the capital of the Puy-de- Dôme. There, he might have had to abandon his sinful plan; whereas, if he carried off Madeleine in the open country, he could undertake, by travelling only at night, to reach his haunt in the forest undisturbed. To get into the train, take advantage of a stop at an intermediate station, or even of the slowing down of the train at certain places on the line of which he knew, and rush into the night with the young woman in his arms : this was the exceedingly simple plan that suggested itself to his brute brain. Events turned out in such a way as to simplify things even more. At Moulins, he saw Madeleine and Patrice alight from the train. It was all that he could do to refrain from seizing her on the platform, in the midst of the passengers. He might have made the attempt then and there, had she not passed so quickly, on Patrice' arm. He felt his heart seething, his brain afire, himself trembling with impatience to effect his rape. At the hotel, he walked straight in behind them and then made his way, with watchful eyes and ears, to the courtyard. A light appeared in a window; and he saw Madeleine's shadow. Ten minutes later, Madeleine was in his arms. He stopped her screams by thrusting his hand into her mouth and flung her half-dead into a cart. He jumped on the box and did not stop until the horse dropped between the shafts. By this time, he had covered a long way on the Paris road, going in the opposite direction to the Cerdogne country; and this, a few hours later, must have thrown first Patrice off the scent and then Coriolis. Lastly, the coincidence of the events for which Gabriel was responsible completely restored his ease of mind and he proceeded to travel by short and careful stages to the Moabit clearing. He did not speak a word to Madeleine, but he terrorized her into eating and drinking. She hoped, for a moment, that the pursuit of which she was bound to be the active and desperate object would end by dicovering her before she was imprisoned for good and all in one of the horrible Moabit quarries for which they were making. She knew the terrible legend of those quarries, all peopled with ghosts and corpses, lined with skeletons and treasures. But the forest closed in upon them before help came; and they arrived at Moabit. The two brothers received the albino and his white prey in silence. Élie said: "This shall be my wife, the wife of Élie of Moabit." The others stepped towards her with eyes of flame. She saw that they were armed and that all the three looked at one another with a great hatred. She realized that the Three Brothers were going to fight and that she would be the victor's booty. And, as the three were snatching her from one another with their terrible arms, as she felt their monstrous fingers tearing her, she gave a loud scream that echoed far through the forest: "Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . ." And Balaoo appeared. Oh, it was a battle of giants, a mythological contest, with the thunderbolt of modern fire-arms superadded! But, whether because the pithecanthrope gods watched with a jealous vigilance over their terrestrial hero, or because nature had endowed him with a flesh impervious to the vulgar lead of men, the human thunderbolt was powerless to stay the onslaught of those avenging limbs. The forest itself armed him with its terrible weapon; and the weapon whirled around their heads. Balaoo! Balaoo! He had come! He was striking for her! For her he was killing his three forest brothers! She had called to men in vain: none had come. But she had only to utter his name, for him to rush into the fray and come out victorious, the dear, formidable, gentle, terrible Balaoo! And all for her, for her who had seen Patrice fire at Balaoo nor sought to divert his hand, for her who looked like a white lily, on her knees, in the centre of Moabit, while the battle was raging around her. Ah, did ever doughtier knight enter the lists? Cut, Balaoo, and thrust! Use your hands and your shoe-hands! A Balaoo, a Balaoo! . . . Strike! Fell! . . . Here's for Siméon! . . . And there's for Élie! . . . As to Hubert, you must keep your hardest blow for him. They have danced around you with their empty guns, which they are now using as clubs; but you have your trusty tree-club and you have shown them all the colours of the rainbow: red above all! Oh, what blood on cheeks and arms! . . . Hop, hop, Balaoo! She had but to call your name and you came! Tourôô! Tourôô! Bang! One more good blow in the ribs for Élie, who will never stand on his feet again and who is dragging himself in the grass like a hare with its hind-legs broken! And their skulls are cracked and stream with blood; but they are sturdy fellows, for all that, and not to be demolished with the first blow of a tree-trunk! They are as tough as pithecanthrope flesh-and-bone itself! Have at them again! Woop! Phch! Phch!... A blow here, a blow there! . . . The warriors are as though drunk, dancing round Balaoo like bears, and it is you, Balaoo, who make them dance like that, as a gipsy does his bear. Goek! Goek!. . . Patti Palang Kaing's hell awaits them! . . . Oof! They breathe no more! . . . They moan no more! . . . They move no more! . . . They are dead all three, with arms outflung on the red grass. But you, you are in a sad plight too, my poor Balaoo! . . . However, this is no time to coddle yourself, when the white lily of Moabit sinks down softly to the ground, exhausted, after beholding your victory. It is your turn now to carry the white lily in your arms, with precautions worthy of a man-child's nurse, by the Lord Patti Palang Kaing! . . . And you laid the lily on the cool bed of leaves in your lonely dwelling in the Big Beech at Pierrefeu! . . . Blessed be Patti Palang Kaing, who watches over stout hearts from his throne in the Forest of Bandong and who rewards brave forest battles; blessed be Patti Palang Kaing, inasmuch as he has blessed your dwelling, O Balaoo! . . . That is the story of this last episode: bloody, tragic, heroic and beautiful as the fights of antiquity. Madeleine, with her poor, faint voice and her pale breath, the breath of an expiring lily, was not able to tell all these glorious feats of war to the weeping Coriolis. But the few words which she whispered in his ear, together with what he had seen —the corpses and his humble Balaoo's wounds — all this made him sob for joy, made his heart leap with pride; for Madeleine was saved and Balaoo had acted like one of the Race in the days of the blameless knights. Balaoo was still turning away his head in the door way of his forest dwelling, lest he should show his eyes full of tears. Madeleine, sighing, said: "We must beg his pardon, very earnestly. We were wrong not to treat him as one of the Race. He said to me, 'I wanted to see you once more, Madeleine, before you went away with a husband of your Race. What did you think and of what were you afraid? One with fingers to his shoe-hands will always be a true friend to the daughter of men; and, if you knew the law of the forest, laid down by Patti Palang Kaing at the beginning of the world, you would know that the daughter of men can walk without fear in the forest; but it is not forbidden to touch the tracks of her footsteps with one's lips, nor to lick her hand!' That was what Balaoo said, was it not, my Balaoo? He told me all that, beside my bed of leaves, waiting for you to come: he even told it me in immortal verse, for Balaoo is a great poet, are you not, Balaoo?" Balaoo, at the door, nodded his head in assent, but kept it still turned away, for his pain was more than he could bear and threatened to burst like an untimely storm. . . . And he held himself in, lest he should seem ridiculous, and tried to swallow his sobs and keep his thunder to himself. . . . Poor Balaoo, who knew that Coriolis had come to take Madeleine away! . . . Poor Balaoo, who had himself summoned his master, by order of his little mistress, and who had himself gone, after himself writing the letter — for Madeleine was then too ill — and posted it at night in the box of Mme. Godefroy the postmistress and been very nearly recognized by that confounded old mole of a gossip of a Mother Toussaint, who had not yet forgiven him for his theft of the Empress' dress! . . . . . . . A few days passed; and it was over. Madeleine was gone. She had gone to join her husband and Balaoo would never see her again. His master would come back, but not she, because of the man's law that told her to follow her husband. She had but just gone; and, after a leave taking that made all who lived in the Cerdogne country believe that a great storm was raging in the woods and on the mountain, he remained there, at the door of his forest dwelling in the Big Beech at Pierrefeu, remained there motionless, with his arms and legs hanging and his head on his chest, motionless as a pithecanthrope of wood. And he stayed like that while the tinkling carriage bells tinkled against his heart, now dry and hollow as a drum; for he had nothing left in his heart now, nothing: she had taken it all. At least, it produced that effect upon him, a sense of emptiness; it was as though he had an empty box there, which naught would ever replace: naught but memory, O Balaoo! . . . And you shall see, Balaoo, that memory does fill the heart, ay, even to burstingpoint! . . . There was not a sound now under the greenwood. Balaoo went indoors and lay at full length on the bed of leaves that had kept the shape of her body. . . and, incredible to state, Balaoo still had tears to shed. Then, when the last were spent, he lay for two days and two nights on the bed of leaves, lying without movement, like a pithecanthrope of wood. Old forest friends climbed up to him, peeped through the crack in the door; and he did not move a limb. Old As, who now had a broken leg, looked in and saw and went off without a word, shrugging his shoulders. Balaoo knew none of them now. At the end of the second day, when Coriolis returned, he found Balaoa sitting at his door, with one shoulder in the sun and a consumptive look in his face. Coriolis had told his daughter that he was going to retire for good to Saint-Martindes- Bois; but he lied in his thought: it was to the Big Beech at Pierrefeu that he meant to withdraw, far from a society that could but curse him, alone with his divine masterpiece, with the man from Java whom his genius had brought into the world. At any rate, he must see what he could do. There were unpleasant rumours in the department, stories about a pithecanthrope. Coriolis considered that he was best-off in the forest guarded by the memory of the Three Brothers and of the battle in which so many brave officers and soldiers were slain. . . . It was a very nearly safe and inviolable retreat, very nearly. . . . Coriolis' first thought was how to overcome Balaoo's sadness. He was right, for the poor fellow was extremely ill and, if he went on moping like that, without mov ing, at the top of his tree, would surely fall into a decline. Coriolis took him for walks in the forest. To divert his pupil's thoughts, he told him of the pranks of a certain Gabriel, whom many people for a moment believed to be Balaoo. In fact, Coriolis himself was taken in by a trick which Gabriel had of wearing his jacket open and suddenly thrusting his fingers into the pockets or arm-holes of his waistcoat; and, lastly, because of an eye-glass. "I knew Gabriel well," replied Balaoo, making an effort to follow his master's train of thought. "He used to copy everything I had: my clothes and even my way of wearing them. I once made him a present of a pair of spectacles; and I see he managed to make an eyeglass out of them, because I wore one. Those monkeys are never happy unless they are mimicking people!" They walked for a time without speaking; and then Balaoo resumed: "While all these horrors were being put down to me, I was on my way to Pierrefeu, in despair. I merely wanted to see Madeleine once more. I saw her through the window of the railway-carriage; but the other tried to kill me; and I am very sorry that he did not succeed." Coriolis fondly pressed Balaoo's arm. Balaoo humbly returned the pressure and lowered his head, as he concluded: "Yes, my only wish now is to die. . . to die in this forest which has known her, which has heard her soft voice calling, 'Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . . Balaoo! . . .' My only joy henceforth will be to see the trees at the foot of which we used to sit when she wished to teach me some fresh story. . . . Here I shall find her image everywhere . . . Patti Palang Kaing is kind. . . . He will let me die here. . . ." Coriolis tried in vain to silence him. Balaoo thought of nothing but Madeleine and took a mournful pleasure in confiding his thoughts to all the branches on the road. He was visibly pining away. He emerged from his dreams only to speak of Paul and Virginia, which his master had read to him. The story attracted him above all others because he found in it a likeness to his own misfortunes. And, like Paul after Virginia's departure, he visited all the spots where he had been with the companion of his childhood; all the places that reminded him of their alarms, their games, their picnics and the loving-kindness of his dear little sister; a young birch which she had planted; the mossy carpets over which she loved to race; the open spaces in the forest where she used to sing and where their two voices had mingled their two names: Balaoo! . . . Madeleine! In five days! time, he took to his bed; and Coriolis began to fear that he would never leave it again. One morning, Balaoo woke from his coma and saw Zoé and Gertrude standing by his side. He betrayed neither anger nor the least ill-humour. Nay more, he let Gertrude kiss him tenderly and begged Zoé's pardon for all the pain which he had caused her since he first knew her. His voice was gentle and soft; he allowed himself to be nursed and petted. He was as weak as a child at the point of death. Coriolis, kneeling behind him and supporting him, though he was no stronger himself, ventured to use the "word-remedy" which little Zoé, with her fond heart and quick intelligence, had suggested of her own initiative. He leant over and whispered two syllables in Balaoo's ear: "Bandong!" At once, Balaoo's eyes kindled, his frame stiffened, his chest breathed more firmly and he repeated: " Bandong ! " Then Zoé asked: "Would you like to go back to the Forest of Bandong, Balaoo?" "Oh," said Balaoo, with a terrible sigh," oh, how I should love to see it once again before I die!" "Well, we will take you there, Balaoo! . . . We will all go together! . . ." Balaoo put his great, quivering fists to his lips, as was his habit when he wished to restrain the too-noisy expressipn of his joy or grief: "Let us go!" he said. "Oh, let us go! . . . Far from men's houses! . . . Take me back to my Forest of Bandong! . . ." There was no reason nor room for hesitation. It meant salvation not only for Balaoo, but for all of them, especially Coriolus; for Zoé had returned from Clermont with the most grievous news. M. Mathieu Delafosse now knew for certain that the smart officers and brave men killed in the attack on the forest had fallen under the blows of Coriolus' pithecanthrope. The official enquiry had ended by clearing up that gruesome business; and the police were once more hunting for the master and his terrible disciple. There was only just time to fly. They crossed the frontier and took ship for the East. They fled to the Forest of Bandong.