For the first time in five years Madame Jules slept alone in her bed, and was compelled to admit a physician into that sacred chamber. These in themselves were two keen pangs. Desplein found Madame Jules very ill. Never was a violent emotion more untimely. He would say nothing definite, and postponed till the morrow giving any opinion, after leaving a few directions, which were not executed, the emotions of the heart causing all bodily cares to be forgotten.
When morning dawned, Clemence had not yet slept. Her mind was absorbed in the low murmur of a conversation which lasted several hours between the brothers; but the thickness of the walls allowed no word which could betray the object of this long conference to reach her ears. Monsieur Desmarets, the notary, went away at last. The stillness of the night, and the singular activity of the senses given by powerful emotion, enabled Clemence to distinguish the scratching of a pen and the involuntary movements of a person engaged in writing. Those who are habitually up at night, and who observe the different acoustic effects produced in absolute silence, know that a slight echo can be readily perceived in the very places where louder but more equable and continued murmurs are not distinct. At four o'clock the sound ceased. Clemence rose, anxious and trembling. Then, with bare feet and without a wrapper, forgetting her illness and her moist condition, the poor woman opened the door softly without noise and looked into the next room. She saw her husband sitting, with a pen in his hand, asleep in his arm-chair. The candles had burned to the sockets. She slowly advanced and read on an envelope, already sealed, the words, "This is my will."
She knelt down as if before an open grave and kissed her husband's hand. He woke instantly.
"Jules, my friend, they grant some days to criminals condemned to death," she said, looking at him with eyes that blazed with fever and with love. "Your innocent wife asks only two. Leave me free for two days, and—wait! After that, I shall die happy—at least, you will regret me."
"Clemence, I grant them."
Then, as she kissed her husband's hands in the tender transport of her heart, Jules, under the spell of that cry of innocence, took her in his arms and kissed her forehead, though ashamed to feel himself still under subjection to the power of that noble beauty.
On the morrow, after taking a few hours' rest, Jules entered his wife's room, obeying mechanically his invariable custom of not leaving the house without a word to her. Clemence was sleeping. A ray of light passing through a chink in the upper blind of a window fell across the face of the dejected woman. Already suffering had impaired her forehead and the freshness of her lips. A lover's eye could not fail to notice the appearance of dark blotches, and a sickly pallor in place of the uniform tone of the cheeks and the pure ivory whiteness of the skin,—two points at which the sentiments of her noble soul were artlessly wont to show themselves.
"She suffers," thought Jules. "Poor Clemence! May God protect us!"
He kissed her very softly on the forehead. She woke, saw her husband, and remembered all. Unable to speak, she took his hand, her eyes filling with tears.
"I am innocent," she said, ending her dream.
"You will not go out to-day, will you?" asked Jules.
"No, I feel too weak to leave my bed."
"If you should change your mind, wait till I return," said Jules.
Then he went down to the porter's lodge.
"Fouguereau, you will watch the door yourself to-day. I wish to know exactly who comes to the house, and who leaves it."
Then he threw himself into a hackney-coach, and was driven to the hotel de Maulincour, where he asked for the baron.
"Monsieur is ill," they told him.
Jules insisted on entering, and gave his name. If he could not see the baron, he wished to see the vidame or the dowager. He waited some time in the salon, where Madame de Maulincour finally came to him and told him that her grandson was much too ill to receive him.
"I know, madame, the nature of his illness from the letter you did me the honor to write, and I beg you to believe—"
"A letter to you, monsieur, written by me!" cried the dowager, interrupting him. "I have written you no letter. What was I made to say in that letter, monsieur?"
"Madame," replied Jules, "intending to see Monsieur de Maulincour to-day, I thought it best to preserve the letter in spite of its injunction to destroy it. There it is."
Madame de Maulincour put on her spectacles, and the moment she cast her eyes on the paper she showed the utmost surprise.
"Monsieur," she said, "my writing is so perfectly imitated that, if the matter were not so recent, I might be deceived myself. My grandson is ill, it is true; but his reason has never for a moment been affected. We are the puppets of some evil-minded person or persons; and yet I cannot imagine the object of a trick like this. You shall see my grandson, monsieur, and you will at once perceive that he is perfectly sound in mind."
She rang the bell, and sent to ask if the baron felt able to receive Monsieur Desmarets. The servant returned with an affirmative answer. Jules went to the baron's room, where he found him in an arm-chair near the fire. Too feeble to move, the unfortunate man merely bowed his head with a melancholy gesture. The Vidame de Pamiers was sitting with him.
"Monsieur le baron," said Jules, "I have something to say which makes it desirable that I should see you alone."
"Monsieur," replied Auguste, "Monsieur le vidame knows about this affair; you can speak fearlessly before him."
"Monsieur le baron," said Jules, in a grave voice, "you have troubled and well-nigh destroyed my happiness without having any right to do so. Until the moment when we can see clearly which of us should demand, or grant, reparation to the other, you are bound to help me in following the dark and mysterious path into which you have flung me. I have now come to ascertain from you the present residence of the extraordinary being who exercises such a baneful effect on your life and mine. On my return home yesterday, after listening to your avowals, I received that letter."
Jules gave him the forged letter.
"This Ferragus, this Bourignard, or this Monsieur de Funcal, is a demon!" cried Maulincour, after having read it. "Oh, what a frightful maze I put my foot into when I meddled in this matter! Where am I going? I did wrong, monsieur," he continued, looking at Jules; "but death is the greatest of all expiations, and my death is now approaching. You can ask me whatever you like; I am at your orders."
"Monsieur, you know, of course, where this man is living, and I must know it if it costs me all my fortune to penetrate this mystery. In presence of so cruel an enemy every moment is precious."
"Justin shall tell you all," replied the baron.
At these words the vidame fidgeted on his chair. Auguste rang the bell.
"Justin is not in the house!" cried the vidame, in a hasty manner that told much.
"Well, then," said Auguste, excitedly, "the other servants must know where he is; send a man on horseback to fetch him. Your valet is in Paris, isn't he? He can be found."
The vidame was visibly distressed.
"Justin can't come, my dear boy," said the old man; "he is dead. I wanted to conceal the accident from you, but—"
"Dead!" cried Monsieur de Maulincour,—"dead! When and how?"
"Last night. He had been supping with some old friends, and, I dare say, was drunk; his friends—no doubt they were drunk, too—left him lying in the street, and a heavy vehicle ran over him."
"The convict did not miss him; at the first stroke he killed," said Auguste. "He has had less luck with me; it has taken four blows to put me out of the way."
Jules was gloomy and thoughtful.
"Am I to know nothing, then?" he cried, after a long pause. "Your valet seems to have been justly punished. Did he not exceed your orders in calumniating Madame Desmarets to a person named Ida, whose jealousy he roused in order to turn her vindictiveness upon us?"
"Ah, monsieur! in my anger I informed him about Madame Jules," said Auguste.
"Monsieur!" cried the husband, keenly irritated.
"Oh, monsieur!" replied the baron, claiming silence by a gesture, "I am prepared for all. You cannot tell me anything my own conscience has not already told me. I am now expecting the most celebrated of all professors of toxicology, in order to learn my fate. If I am destined to intolerable suffering, my resolution is taken. I shall blow my brains out."
"You talk like a child!" cried the vidame, horrified by the coolness with which the baron said these words. "Your grandmother would die of grief."
"Then, monsieur," said Jules, "am I to understand that there exist no means of discovering in what part of Paris this extraordinary man resides?"
"I think, monsieur," said the old vidame, "from what I have heard poor Justin say, that Monsieur de Funcal lives at either the Portuguese or the Brazilian embassy. Monsieur de Funcal is a nobleman belonging to both those countries. As for the convict, he is dead and buried. Your persecutor, whoever he is, seems to me so powerful that it would be well to take no decisive measures until you are sure of some way of confounding and crushing him. Act prudently and with caution, my dear monsieur. Had Monsieur de Maulincour followed my advice, nothing of all this would have happened."
Jules coldly but politely withdrew. He was now at a total loss to know how to reach Ferragus. As he passed into his own house, the porter told him that Madame had just been out to throw a letter into the post box at the head of the rue de Menars. Jules felt humiliated by this proof of the insight with which the porter espoused his cause, and the cleverness by which he guessed the way to serve him. The eagerness of servants, and their shrewdness in compromising masters who compromised themselves, was known to him, and he fully appreciated the danger of having them as accomplices, no matter for what purpose. But he could not think of his personal dignity until the moment when he found himself thus suddenly degraded. What a triumph for the slave who could not raise himself to his master, to compel his master to come down to his level! Jules was harsh and hard to him. Another fault. But he suffered so deeply! His life till then so upright, so pure, was becoming crafty; he was to scheme and lie. Clemence was scheming and lying. This to him was a moment of horrible disgust. Lost in a flood of bitter feelings, Jules stood motionless at the door of his house. Yielding to despair, he thought of fleeing, of leaving France forever, carrying with him the illusions of uncertainty. Then, again, not doubting that the letter Clemence had just posted was addressed to Ferragus, his mind searched for a means of obtaining the answer that mysterious being was certain to send. Then his thoughts began to analyze the singular good fortune of his life since his marriage, and he asked himself whether the calumny for which he had taken such signal vengeance was not a truth. Finally, reverting to the coming answer, he said to himself:—
"But this man, so profoundly capable, so logical in his every act, who sees and foresees, who calculates, and even divines, our very thoughts, is he likely to make an answer? Will he not employ some other means more in keeping with his power? He may send his answer by some beggar; or in a carton brought by an honest man, who does not suspect what he brings; or in some parcel of shoes, which a shop-girl may innocently deliver to my wife. If Clemence and he have agreed upon such means—"
He distrusted all things; his mind ran over vast tracts and shoreless oceans of conjecture. Then, after floating for a time among a thousand contradictory ideas, he felt he was strongest in his own house, and he resolved to watch it as the ant-lion watches his sandy labyrinth.
"Fouguereau," he said to the porter, "I am not at home to any one who comes to see me. If any one calls to see madame, or brings her anything, ring twice. Bring all letters addressed here to me, no matter for whom they are intended."
"Thus," thought he, as he entered his study, which was in the entresol, "I forestall the schemes of this Ferragus. If he sends some one to ask for me so as to find out if Clemence is alone, at least I shall not be tricked like a fool."
He stood by the window of his study, which looked upon the street, and then a final scheme, inspired by jealousy, came into his mind. He resolved to send his head-clerk in his own carriage to the Bourse with a letter to another broker, explaining his sales and purchases and requesting him to do his business for that day. He postponed his more delicate transactions till the morrow, indifferent to the fall or rise of stocks or the debts of all Europe. High privilege of love!—it crushes all things, all interests fall before it: altar, throne, consols!
At half-past three, just the hour at which the Bourse is in full blast of reports, monthly settlements, premiums, etc., Fouguereau entered the study, quite radiant with his news.
"Monsieur, an old woman has come, but very cautiously; I think she's a sly one. She asked for monsieur, and seemed much annoyed when I told her he was out; then she gave me a letter for madame, and here it is."
Fevered with anxiety, Jules opened the letter; then he dropped into a chair, exhausted. The letter was mere nonsense throughout, and needed a key. It was virtually in cipher.
"Go away, Fouguereau." The porter left him. "It is a mystery deeper than the sea below the plummet line! Ah! it must be love; love only is so sagacious, so inventive as this. Ah! I shall kill her."
At this moment an idea flashed through his brain with such force that he felt almost physically illuminated by it. In the days of his toilsome poverty before his marriage, Jules had made for himself a true friend. The extreme delicacy with which he had managed the susceptibilities of a man both poor and modest; the respect with which he had surrounded him; the ingenious cleverness he had employed to nobly compel him to share his opulence without permitting it to make him blush, increased their friendship. Jacquet continued faithful to Desmarets in spite of his wealth.
Jacquet, a nobly upright man, a toiler, austere in his morals, had slowly made his way in that particular ministry which develops both honesty and knavery at the same time. A clerk in the ministry of Foreign Affairs, he had charge of the most delicate division of its archives. Jacquet in that office was like a glow-worm, casting his light upon those secret correspondences, deciphering and classifying despatches. Ranking higher than a mere bourgeois, his position at the ministry was superior to that of the other subalterns. He lived obscurely, glad to feel that such obscurity sheltered him from reverses and disappointments, and was satisfied to humbly pay in the lowest coin his debt to the country. Thanks to Jules, his position had been much ameliorated by a worthy marriage. An unrecognized patriot, a minister in actual fact, he contented himself with groaning in his chimney-corner at the course of the government. In his own home, Jacquet was an easy-going king,—an umbrella-man, as they say, who hired a carriage for his wife which he never entered himself. In short, to end this sketch of a philosopher unknown to himself, he had never suspected and never in all his life would suspect the advantages he might have drawn from his position,—that of having for his intimate friend a broker, and of knowing every morning all the secrets of the State. This man, sublime after the manner of that nameless soldier who died in saving Napoleon by a "qui vive," lived at the ministry.
In ten minutes Jules was in his friend's office. Jacquet gave him a chair, laid aside methodically his green silk eye-shade, rubbed his hands, picked up his snuff-box, rose, stretched himself till his shoulder-blades cracked, swelled out his chest, and said:—
"What brings you here, Monsieur Desmarets? What do you want with me?"
"Jacquet, I want you to decipher a secret,—a secret of life and death."
"It doesn't concern politics?"
"If it did, I shouldn't come to you for information," said Jules. "No, it is a family matter, about which I require you to be absolutely silent."
"Claude-Joseph Jacquet, dumb by profession. Don't you know me by this time?" he said, laughing. "Discretion is my lot."
Jules showed him the letter.
"You must read me this letter, addressed to my wife."
"The deuce! the deuce! a bad business!" said Jacquet, examining the letter as a usurer examines a note to be negotiated. "Ha! that's a gridiron letter! Wait a minute."
He left Jules alone for a moment, but returned immediately.
"Easy enough to read, my friend! It is written on the gridiron plan, used by the Portuguese minister under Monsieur de Choiseul, at the time of the dismissal of the Jesuits. Here, see!"
Jacquet placed upon the writing a piece of paper cut out in regular squares, like the paper laces which confectioners wrap round their sugarplums; and Jules then read with perfect ease the words that were visible in the interstices. They were as follows:—
"Don't be uneasy, my dear Clemence; our happiness cannot again be
troubled; and your husband will soon lay aside his suspicions.
However ill you may be, you must have the courage to come here
to-morrow; find strength in your love for me. Mine for you has
induced me to submit to a cruel operation, and I cannot leave my
bed. I have had the actual cautery applied to my back, and it was
necessary to burn it in a long time; you understand me? But I
thought of you, and I did not suffer.
"To baffle Maulincour (who will not persecute us much longer), I
have left the protecting roof of the embassy, and am now safe from
all inquiry in the rue des Enfants-Rouges, number 12, with an old
woman, Madame Etienne Gruget, mother of that Ida, who shall pay
dear for her folly. Come to-morrow, at nine in the morning. I am
in a room which is reached only by an interior staircase. Ask for
Monsieur Camuset. Adieu; I kiss your forehead, my darling."
Jacquet looked at Jules with a sort of honest terror, the sign of a true compassion, as he made his favorite exclamation in two separate and distinct tones,—
"The deuce! the deuce!"
"That seems clear to you, doesn't it?" said Jules. "Well, in the depths of my heart there is a voice that pleads for my wife, and makes itself heard above the pangs of jealousy. I must endure the worst of all agony until to-morrow; but to-morrow, between nine and ten I shall know all; I shall be happy or wretched for all my life. Think of me then, Jacquet."
"I shall be at your house to-morrow at eight o'clock. We will go together; I'll wait for you, if you like, in the street. You may run some danger, and you ought to have near you some devoted person who'll understand a mere sign, and whom you can safely trust. Count on me."
"Even to help me in killing some one?"
"The deuce! the deuce!" said Jacquet, repeating, as it were, the same musical note. "I have two children and a wife."
Jules pressed his friend's hand and went away; but returned immediately.
"I forgot the letter," he said. "But that's not all, I must reseal it."
"The deuce! the deuce! you opened it without saving the seal; however, it is still possible to restore it. Leave it with me and I'll bring it to you secundum scripturam."
"At what time?"
"If I am not yet in, give it to the porter and tell him to send it up to madame."
"Do you want me to-morrow?"
Jules drove at once to the place de la Rotonde du Temple, where he left his cabriolet and went on foot to the rue des Enfants-Rouges. He found the house of Madame Etienne Gruget and examined it. There, the mystery on which depended the fate of so many persons would be cleared up; there, at this moment, was Ferragus, and to Ferragus all the threads of this strange plot led. The Gordian knot of the drama, already so bloody, was surely in a meeting between Madame Jules, her husband, and that man; and a blade able to cut the closest of such knots would not be wanting.
The house was one of those which belong to the class called cabajoutis. This significant name is given by the populace of Paris to houses which are built, as it were, piecemeal. They are nearly always composed of buildings originally separate but afterwards united according to the fancy of the various proprietors who successively enlarge them; or else they are houses begun, left unfinished, again built upon, and completed,—unfortunate structures which have passed, like certain peoples, under many dynasties of capricious masters. Neither the floors nor the windows have an ensemble,—to borrow one of the most picturesque terms of the art of painting; all is discord, even the external decoration. The cabajoutis is to Parisian architecture what the capharnaum is to the apartment,—a poke-hole, where the most heterogeneous articles are flung pell-mell.
"Madame Etienne?" asked Jules of the portress.
This portress had her lodge under the main entrance, in a sort of chicken coop, or wooden house on rollers, not unlike those sentry-boxes which the police have lately set up by the stands of hackney-coaches.
"Hein?" said the portress, without laying down the stocking she was knitting.
In Paris the various component parts which make up the physiognomy of any given portion of the monstrous city, are admirably in keeping with its general character. Thus porter, concierge, or Suisse, whatever name may be given to that essential muscle of the Parisian monster, is always in conformity with the neighborhood of which he is a part; in fact, he is often an epitome of it. The lazy porter of the faubourg Saint-Germain, with lace on every seam of his coat, dabbles in stocks; he of the Chaussee d'Antin takes his ease, reads the money-articles in the newspapers, and has a business of his own in the faubourg Montmartre. The portress in the quarter of prostitution was formerly a prostitute; in the Marais, she has morals, is cross-grained, and full of crotchets.
On seeing Monsieur Jules this particular portress, holding her knitting in one hand, took a knife and stirred the half-extinguished peat in her foot-warmer; then she said:—
"You want Madame Etienne; do you mean Madame Etienne Gruget?"
"Yes," said Jules, assuming a vexed air.
"Who makes trimmings?"
"Well, then, monsieur," she said, issuing from her cage, and laying her hand on Jules' arm and leading him to the end of a long passage-way, vaulted like a cellar, "go up the second staircase at the end of the court-yard—where you will see the windows with the pots of pinks; that's where Madame Etienne lives."
"Thank you, madame. Do you think she is alone?"
"Why shouldn't she be alone? she's a widow."
Jules hastened up a dark stairway, the steps of which were knobby with hardened mud left by the feet of those who came and went. On the second floor he saw three doors but no signs of pinks. Fortunately, on one of the doors, the oiliest and darkest of the three, he read these words, chalked on a panel: "Ida will come to-night at nine o'clock."
"This is the place," thought Jules.
He pulled an old bellrope, black with age, and heard the smothered sound of a cracked bell and the barking of an asthmatic little dog. By the way the sounds echoed from the interior he knew that the rooms were encumbered with articles which left no space for reverberation,—a characteristic feature of the homes of workmen and humble households, where space and air are always lacking.
Jules looked out mechanically for the pinks, and found them on the outer sill of a sash window between two filthy drain-pipes. So here were flowers; here, a garden, two yards long and six inches wide; here, a wheat-ear; here, a whole life epitomized; but here, too, all the miseries of that life. A ray of light falling from heaven as if by special favor on those puny flowers and the vigorous wheat-ear brought out in full relief the dust, the grease, and that nameless color, peculiar to Parisian squalor, made of dirt, which crusted and spotted the damp walls, the worm-eaten balusters, the disjointed window-casings, and the door originally red. Presently the cough of an old woman, and a heavy female step, shuffling painfully in list slippers, announced the coming of the mother of Ida Gruget. The creature opened the door and came out upon the landing, looked up, and said:—
"Ah! is this Monsieur Bocquillon? Why, no? But perhaps you're his brother. What can I do for you? Come in, monsieur."
Jules followed her into the first room, where he saw, huddled together, cages, household utensils, ovens, furniture, little earthenware dishes full of food or water for the dog and the cats, a wooden clock, bed-quilts, engravings of Eisen, heaps of old iron, all these things mingled and massed together in a way that produced a most grotesque effect,—a true Parisian dusthole, in which were not lacking a few old numbers of the "Constitutionel."
Jules, impelled by a sense of prudence, paid no attention to the widow's invitation when she said civilly, showing him an inner room:—
"Come in here, monsieur, and warm yourself."
Fearing to be overheard by Ferragus, Jules asked himself whether it were not wisest to conclude the arrangement he had come to make with the old woman in the crowded antechamber. A hen, which descended cackling from a loft, roused him from this inward meditation. He came to a resolution, and followed Ida's mother into the inner room, whither they were accompanied by the wheezy pug, a personage otherwise mute, who jumped upon a stool. Madame Gruget showed the assumption of semi-pauperism when she invited her visitor to warm himself. Her fire-pot contained, or rather concealed two bits of sticks, which lay apart: the grating was on the ground, its handle in the ashes. The mantel-shelf, adorned with a little wax Jesus under a shade of squares of glass held together with blue paper, was piled with wools, bobbins, and tools used in the making of gimps and trimmings. Jules examined everything in the room with a curiosity that was full of interest, and showed, in spite of himself, an inward satisfaction.
"Well, monsieur, tell me, do you want to buy any of my things?" said the old woman, seating herself in a cane arm-chair, which appeared to be her headquarters. In it she kept her handkerchief, snuffbox, knitting, half-peeled vegetables, spectacles, calendar, a bit of livery gold lace just begun, a greasy pack of cards, and two volumes of novels, all stuck into the hollow of the back. This article of furniture, in which the old creature was floating down the river of life, was not unlike the encyclopedic bag which a woman carries with her when she travels; in which may be found a compendium of her household belongings, from the portrait of her husband to eau de Melisse for faintness, sugarplums for the children, and English court-plaster in case of cuts.
Jules studied all. He looked attentively at Madame Gruget's yellow visage, at her gray eyes without either brows or lashes, her toothless mouth, her wrinkles marked in black, her rusty cap, her still more rusty ruffles, her cotton petticoat full of holes, her worn-out slippers, her disabled fire-pot, her table heaped with dishes and silks and work begun or finished, in wool or cotton, in the midst of which stood a bottle of wine. Then he said to himself: "This old woman has some passion, some strong liking or vice; I can make her do my will."
"Madame," he said aloud, with a private sign of intelligence, "I have come to order some livery trimmings." Then he lowered his voice. "I know," he continued, "that you have a lodger who has taken the name of Camuset." The old woman looked at him suddenly, but without any sign of astonishment. "Now, tell me, can we come to an understanding? This is a question which means fortune for you."
"Monsieur," she replied, "speak out, and don't be afraid. There's no one here. But if I had any one above, it would be impossible for him to hear you."
"Ha! the sly old creature, she answers like a Norman," thought Jules, "We shall agree. Do not give yourself the trouble to tell falsehoods, madame," he resumed, "In the first place, let me tell you that I mean no harm either to you or to your lodger who is suffering from cautery, or to your daughter Ida, a stay-maker, the friend of Ferragus. You see, I know all your affairs. Do not be uneasy; I am not a detective policeman, nor do I desire anything that can hurt your conscience. A young lady will come here to-morrow-morning at half-past nine o'clock, to talk with this lover of your daughter. I want to be where I can see all and hear all, without being seen or heard by them. If you will furnish me with the means of doing so, I will reward that service with the gift of two thousand francs and a yearly stipend of six hundred. My notary shall prepare a deed before you this evening, and I will give him the money to hold; he will pay the two thousand to you to-morrow after the conference at which I desire to be present, as you will then have given proofs of your good faith."
"Will it injure my daughter, my good monsieur?" she asked, casting a cat-like glance of doubt and uneasiness upon him.
"In no way, madame. But, in any case, it seems to me that your daughter does not treat you well. A girl who is loved by so rich a man as Ferragus ought to make you more comfortable than you seem to be."
"Ah, my dear monsieur, just think, not so much as one poor ticket to the Ambigu, or the Gaiete, where she can go as much as she likes. It's shameful! A girl for whom I sold my silver forks and spoons! and now I eat, at my age, with German metal,—and all to pay for her apprenticeship, and give her a trade, where she could coin money if she chose. As for that, she's like me, clever as a witch; I must do her that justice. But, I will say, she might give me her old silk gowns,—I, who am so fond of wearing silk. But no! Monsieur, she dines at the Cadran-Bleu at fifty francs a head, and rolls in her carriage as if she were a princess, and despises her mother for a Colin-Lampon. Heavens and earth! what heedless young ones we've brought into the world; we have nothing to boast of there. A mother, monsieur, can't be anything else but a good mother; and I've concealed that girl's ways, and kept her in my bosom, to take the bread out of my mouth and cram everything into her own. Well, well! and now she comes and fondles one a little, and says, 'How d'ye do, mother?' And that's all the duty she thinks of paying. But she'll have children one of these days, and then she'll find out what it is to have such baggage,—which one can't help loving all the same."
"Do you mean that she does nothing for you?"
"Ah, nothing? No, monsieur, I didn't say that; if she did nothing, that would be a little too much. She gives me my rent and thirty-six francs a month. But, monsieur, at my age,—and I'm fifty-two years old, with eyes that feel the strain at night,—ought I to be working in this way? Besides, why won't she have me to live with her? I should shame her, should I? Then let her say so. Faith, one ought to be buried out of the way of such dogs of children, who forget you before they've even shut the door."
She pulled her handkerchief from her pocket, and with it a lottery ticket that dropped on the floor; but she hastily picked it up, saying, "Hi! that's the receipt for my taxes."
Jules at once perceived the reason of the sagacious parsimony of which the mother complained; and he was the more certain that the widow Gruget would agree to the proposed bargain.
"Well, then, madame," he said, "accept what I offer you."
"Did you say two thousand francs in ready money, and six hundred annuity, monsieur?"
"Madame, I've changed my mind; I will promise you only three hundred annuity. This way seems more to my own interests. But I will give you five thousand francs in ready money. Wouldn't you like that as well?"
"Bless me, yes, monsieur!"
"You'll get more comfort out of it; and you can go to the Ambigu and Franconi's at your ease in a coach."
"As for Franconi, I don't like that, for they don't talk there. Monsieur, if I accept, it is because it will be very advantageous for my child. I sha'n't be a drag on her any longer. Poor little thing! I'm glad she has her pleasures, after all. Ah, monsieur, youth must be amused! And so, if you assure me that no harm will come to anybody—"
"Not to anybody," replied Jules. "But now, how will you manage it?"
"Well, monsieur, if I give Monsieur Ferragus a little tea made of poppy-heads to-night, he'll sleep sound, the dear man; and he needs it, too, because of his sufferings, for he does suffer, I can tell you, and more's the pity. But I'd like to know what a healthy man like him wants to burn his back for, just to get rid of a tic douleureux which troubles him once in two years. However, to come back to our business. I have my neighbor's key; her lodging is just above mine, and in it there's a room adjoining the one where Monsieur Ferragus is, with only a partition between them. My neighbor is away in the country for ten days. Therefore, if I make a hole to-night while Monsieur Ferragus is sound asleep, you can see and hear them to-morrow at your ease. I'm on good terms with a locksmith,—a very friendly man, who talks like an angel, and he'll do the work for me and say nothing about it."
"Then here's a hundred francs for him. Come to-night to Monsieur Desmaret's office; he's a notary, and here's his address. At nine o'clock the deed will be ready, but—silence!"
"Enough, monsieur; as you say—silence! Au revoir, monsieur."
Jules went home, almost calmed by the certainty that he should know the truth on the morrow. As he entered the house, the porter gave him the letter properly resealed.
"How do you feel now?" he said to his wife, in spite of the coldness that separated them.
"Pretty well, Jules," she answered in a coaxing voice, "do come and dine beside me."
"Very good," he said, giving her the letter. "Here is something Fouguereau gave me for you."
Clemence, who was very pale, colored high when she saw the letter, and that sudden redness was a fresh blow to her husband.
"Is that joy," he said, laughing, "or the effect of expectation?"
"Oh, of many things!" she said, examining the seal.
"I leave you now for a few moments."
He went down to his study, and wrote to his brother, giving him directions about the payment to the widow Gruget. When he returned, he found his dinner served on a little table by his wife's bedside, and Josephine ready to wait on him.
"If I were up how I should like to serve you myself," said Clemence, when Josephine had left them. "Oh, yes, on my knees!" she added, passing her white hands through her husband's hair. "Dear, noble heart, you were very kind and gracious to me just now. You did me more good by showing me such confidence than all the doctors on earth could do me with their prescriptions. That feminine delicacy of yours—for you do know how to love like a woman—well, it has shed a balm into my heart which has almost cured me. There's truce between us, Jules; lower your head, that I may kiss it."
Jules could not deny himself the pleasure of that embrace. But it was not without a feeling of remorse in his heart; he felt himself small before this woman whom he was still tempted to think innocent. A sort of melancholy joy possessed him. A tender hope shone on her features in spite of their grieved expression. They both were equally unhappy in deceiving each other; another caress, and, unable to resist their suffering, all would then have been avowed.
"To-morrow evening, Clemence."
"No, no; to-morrow morning, by twelve o'clock, you will know all, and you'll kneel down before your wife—Oh, no! you shall not be humiliated; you are all forgiven now; you have done no wrong. Listen, Jules; yesterday you did crush me—harshly; but perhaps my life would not have been complete without that agony; it may be a shadow that will make our coming days celestial."
"You lay a spell upon me," cried Jules; "you fill me with remorse."
"Poor love! destiny is stronger than we, and I am not the accomplice of mine. I shall go out to-morrow."
"At what hour?" asked Jules.
"At half-past nine."
"Clemence," he said, "take every precaution; consult Doctor Desplein and old Haudry."
"I shall consult nothing but my heart and my courage."
"I shall leave you free; you will not see me till twelve o'clock."
"Won't you keep me company this evening? I feel so much better."
After attending to some business, Jules returned to his wife,—recalled by her invincible attraction. His passion was stronger than his anguish.
The next day, at nine o'clock Jules left home, hurried to the rue des Enfants-Rouges, went upstairs, and rang the bell of the widow Gruget's lodgings.
"Ah! you've kept your word, as true as the dawn. Come in, monsieur," said the old woman when she saw him. "I've made you a cup of coffee with cream," she added, when the door was closed. "Oh! real cream; I saw it milked myself at the dairy we have in this very street."
"Thank you, no, madame, nothing. Take me at once—"
"Very good, monsieur. Follow me, this way."
She led him up into the room above her own, where she showed him, triumphantly, an opening about the size of a two-franc piece, made during the night, in a place, which, in each room, was above a wardrobe. In order to look through it, Jules was forced to maintain himself in rather a fatiguing attitude, by standing on a step-ladder which the widow had been careful to place there.
"There's a gentleman with him," she whispered, as she retired.
Jules then beheld a man employed in dressing a number of wounds on the shoulders of Ferragus, whose head he recognized from the description given to him by Monsieur de Maulincour.
"When do you think those wounds will heal?" asked Ferragus.
"I don't know," said the other man. "The doctors say those wounds will require seven or eight more dressings."
"Well, then, good-bye until to-night," said Ferragus, holding out his hand to the man, who had just replaced the bandage.
"Yes, to-night," said the other, pressing his hand cordially. "I wish I could see you past your sufferings."
"To-morrow Monsieur de Funcal's papers will be delivered to us, and Henri Bourignard will be dead forever," said Ferragus. "Those fatal marks which have cost us so dear no longer exist. I shall become once more a social being, a man among men, and more of a man than the sailor whom the fishes are eating. God knows it is not for my own sake I have made myself a Portuguese count!"
"Poor Gratien!—you, the wisest of us all, our beloved brother, the Benjamin of the band; as you very well know."
"Adieu; keep an eye on Maulincour."
"You can rest easy on that score."
"Ho! stay, marquis," cried the convict.
"What is it?"
"Ida is capable of everything after the scene of last night. If she should throw herself into the river, I would not fish her out. She knows the secret of my name, and she'll keep it better there. But still, look after her; for she is, in her way, a good girl."
The stranger departed. Ten minutes later Jules heard, with a feverish shudder, the rustle of a silk gown, and almost recognized by their sound the steps of his wife.
"Well, father," said Clemence, "my poor father, are you better? What courage you have shown!"
"Come here, my child," replied Ferragus, holding out his hand to her.
Clemence held her forehead to him and he kissed it.
"Now tell me, what is the matter, my little girl? What are these new troubles?"
"Troubles, father! it concerns the life or death of the daughter you have loved so much. Indeed you must, as I wrote you yesterday, you must find a way to see my poor Jules to-day. If you knew how good he has been to me, in spite of all suspicions apparently so legitimate. Father, my love is my very life. Would you see me die? Ah! I have suffered so much that my life, I feel it! is in danger."
"And all because of the curiosity of that miserable Parisian?" cried Ferragus. "I'd burn Paris down if I lost you, my daughter. Ha! you may know what a lover is, but you don't yet know what a father can do."
"Father, you frighten me when you look at me in that way. Don't weigh such different feelings in the same scales. I had a husband before I knew that my father was living—"
"If your husband was the first to lay kisses on your forehead, I was the first to drop tears upon it," replied Ferragus. "But don't feel frightened, Clemence, speak to me frankly. I love you enough to rejoice in the knowledge that you are happy, though I, your father, may have little place in your heart, while you fill the whole of mine."
"Ah! what good such words do me! You make me love you more and more, though I seem to rob something from my Jules. But, my kind father, think what his sufferings are. What may I tell him to-day?"
"My child, do you think I waited for your letter to save you from this threatened danger? Do you know what will become of those who venture to touch your happiness, or come between us? Have you never been aware that a second providence was guarding your life? Twelve men of power and intellect form a phalanx round your love and your existence,—ready to do all things to protect you. Think of your father, who has risked death to meet you in the public promenades, or see you asleep in your little bed in your mother's home, during the night-time. Could such a father, to whom your innocent caresses give strength to live when a man of honor ought to have died to escape his infamy, could I, in short, I who breathe through your lips, and see with your eyes, and feel with your heart, could I fail to defend with the claws of a lion and the soul of a father, my only blessing, my life, my daughter? Since the death of that angel, your mother, I have dreamed but of one thing,—the happiness of pressing you to my heart in the face of the whole earth, of burying the convict,—" He paused a moment, and then added: "—of giving you a father, a father who could press without shame your husband's hand, who could live without fear in both your hearts, who could say to all the world, 'This is my daughter,'—in short, to be a happy father."
"Oh, father! father!"
"After infinite difficulty, after searching the whole globe," continued Ferragus, "my friends have found me the skin of a dead man in which to take my place once more in social life. A few days hence, I shall be Monsieur de Funcal, a Portuguese count. Ah! my dear child, there are few men of my age who would have had the patience to learn Portuguese and English, which were spoken fluently by that devil of a sailor, who was drowned at sea."
"But, my dear father—"
"All has been foreseen, and prepared. A few days hence, his Majesty John VI., King of Portugal will be my accomplice. My child, you must have a little patience where your father has had so much. But ah! what would I not do to reward your devotion for the last three years,—coming religiously to comfort your old father, at the risk of your own peace!"
"Father!" cried Clemence, taking his hands and kissing them.
"Come, my child, have courage still; keep my fatal secret a few days longer, till the end is reached. Jules is not an ordinary man, I know; but are we sure that his lofty character and his noble love may not impel him to dislike the daughter of a—"
"Oh!" cried Clemence, "you have read my heart; I have no other fear than that. The very thought turns me to ice," she added, in a heart-rending tone. "But, father, think that I have promised him the truth in two hours."
"If so, my daughter, tell him to go to the Portuguese embassy and see the Comte de Funcal, your father. I will be there."
"But Monsieur de Maulincour has told him of Ferragus. Oh, father, what torture, to deceive, deceive, deceive!"
"Need you say that to me? But only a few days more, and no living man will be able to expose me. Besides, Monsieur de Maulincour is beyond the faculty of remembering. Come, dry your tears, my silly child, and think—"
At this instant a terrible cry rang from the room in which Jules Desmarets was stationed.
The clamor was heard by Madame Jules and Ferragus through the opening of the wall, and struck them with terror.
"Go and see what it means, Clemence," said her father.
Clemence ran rapidly down the little staircase, found the door into Madame Gruget's apartment wide open, heard the cries which echoed from the upper floor, went up the stairs, guided by the noise of sobs, and caught these words before she entered the fatal chamber:—
"You, monsieur, you, with your horrid inventions,—you are the cause of her death!"
"Hush, miserable woman!" replied Jules, putting his handkerchief on the mouth of the old woman, who began at once to cry out, "Murder! help!"
At this instant Clemence entered, saw her husband, uttered a cry, and fled away.
"Who will save my child?" cried the widow Gruget. "You have murdered her."
"How?" asked Jules, mechanically, for he was horror-struck at being seen by his wife.
"Read that," said the old woman, giving him a letter. "Can money or annuities console me for that?"
Farewell, mother! I bequeeth you what I have. I beg your pardon
for my forlts, and the last greef to which I put you by ending my
life in the river. Henry, who I love more than myself, says I have
made his misfortune, and as he has drifen me away, and I have lost
all my hops of merrying him, I am going to droun myself. I shall
go abov Neuilly, so that they can't put me in the Morg. If Henry
does not hate me anny more after I am ded, ask him to berry a pore
girl whose hart beet for him only, and to forgif me, for I did
rong to meddle in what didn't consern me. Tak care of his wounds.
How much he sufered, pore fellow! I shall have as much corage to
kill myself as he had to burn his bak. Carry home the corsets I
have finished. And pray God for your daughter.
"Take this letter to Monsieur de Funcal, who is upstairs," said Jules. "He alone can save your daughter, if there is still time."
So saying he disappeared, running like a man who has committed a crime. His legs trembled. The hot blood poured into his swelling heart in torrents greater than at any other moment of his life, and left it again with untold violence. Conflicting thoughts struggled in his mind, and yet one thought predominated,—he had not been loyal to the being he loved most. It was impossible for him to argue with his conscience, whose voice, rising high with conviction, came like an echo of those inward cries of his love during the cruel hours of doubt he had lately lived through.
He spent the greater part of the day wandering about Paris, for he dared not go home. This man of integrity and honor feared to meet the spotless brow of the woman he had misjudged. We estimate wrongdoing in proportion to the purity of our conscience; the deed which is scarcely a fault in some hearts, takes the proportions of a crime in certain unsullied souls. The slightest stain on the white garment of a virgin makes it a thing ignoble as the rags of a mendicant. Between the two the difference lies in the misfortune of the one, the wrong-doing of the other. God never measures repentance; he never apportions it. As much is needed to efface a spot as to obliterate the crimes of a lifetime. These reflections fell with all their weight on Jules; passions, like human laws, will not pardon, and their reasoning is more just; for are they not based upon a conscience of their own as infallible as an instinct?
Jules finally came home pale, despondent, crushed beneath a sense of his wrong-doing, and yet expressing in spite of himself the joy his wife's innocence had given him. He entered her room all throbbing with emotion; she was in bed with a high fever. He took her hand, kissed it, and covered it with tears.
"Dear angel," he said, when they were alone, "it is repentance."
"And for what?" she answered.
As she made that reply, she laid her head back upon the pillow, closed her eyes, and remained motionless, keeping the secret of her sufferings that she might not frighten her husband,—the tenderness of a mother, the delicacy of an angel! All the woman was in her answer.
The silence lasted long. Jules, thinking her asleep, went to question Josephine as to her mistress's condition.
"Madame came home half-dead, monsieur. We sent at once for Monsieur Haudry."
"Did he come? What did he say?"
"He said nothing, monsieur. He did not seem satisfied; gave orders that no one should go near madame except the nurse, and said he should come back this evening."
Jules returned softly to his wife's room and sat down in a chair before the bed. There he remained, motionless, with his eyes fixed on those of Clemence. When she raised her eyelids she saw him, and through those lids passed a tender glance, full of passionate love, free from reproach and bitterness,—a look which fell like a flame of fire upon the heart of that husband, nobly absolved and forever loved by the being whom he had killed. The presentiment of death struck both their minds with equal force. Their looks were blended in one anguish, as their hearts had long been blended in one love, felt equally by both, and shared equally. No questions were uttered; a horrible certainty was there,—in the wife an absolute generosity; in the husband an awful remorse; then, in both souls the same vision of the end, the same conviction of fatality.
There came a moment when, thinking his wife asleep, Jules kissed her softly on the forehead; then after long contemplation of that cherished face, he said:—
"Oh God! leave me this angel still a little while that I may blot out my wrong by love and adoration. As a daughter, she is sublime; as a wife, what word can express her?"
Clemence raised her eyes; they were full of tears.
"You pain me," she said, in a feeble voice.
It was getting late; Doctor Haudry came, and requested the husband to withdraw during his visit. When the doctor left the sick-room Jules asked him no question; one gesture was enough.
"Call in consultation any physician in whom you place confidence; I may be wrong."
"Doctor, tell me the truth. I am a man, and I can bear it. Besides, I have the deepest interest in knowing it; I have certain affairs to settle."
"Madame Jules is dying," said the physician. "There is some moral malady which has made great progress, and it has complicated her physical condition, which was already dangerous, and made still more so by her great imprudence. To walk about barefooted at night! to go out when I forbade it! on foot yesterday in the rain, to-day in a carriage! She must have meant to kill herself. But still, my judgment is not final; she has youth, and a most amazing nervous strength. It may be best to risk all to win all by employing some violent reagent. But I will not take upon myself to order it; nor will I advise it; in consultation I shall oppose it."
Jules returned to his wife. For eleven days and eleven nights he remained beside her bed, taking no sleep during the day when he laid his head upon the foot of the bed. No man ever pushed the jealousy of care and the craving for devotion to such an extreme as he. He could not endure that the slightest service should be done by others for his wife. There were days of uncertainty, false hopes, now a little better, then a crisis,—in short, all the horrible mutations of death as it wavers, hesitates, and finally strikes. Madame Jules always found strength to smile at her husband. She pitied him, knowing that soon he would be alone. It was a double death,—that of life, that of love; but life grew feebler, and love grew mightier. One frightful night there was, when Clemence passed through that delirium which precedes the death of youth. She talked of her happy love, she talked of her father; she related her mother's revelations on her death-bed, and the obligations that mother had laid upon her. She struggled, not for life, but for her love which she could not leave.
"Grant, O God!" she said, "that he may not know I want him to die with me."
Jules, unable to bear the scene, was at that moment in the adjoining room, and did not hear the prayer, which he would doubtless have fulfilled.
When this crisis was over, Madame Jules recovered some strength. The next day she was beautiful and tranquil; hope seemed to come to her; she adorned herself, as the dying often do. Then she asked to be alone all day, and sent away her husband with one of those entreaties made so earnestly that they are granted as we grant the prayer of a little child.
Jules, indeed, had need of this day. He went to Monsieur de Maulincour to demand the satisfaction agreed upon between them. It was not without great difficulty that he succeeded in reaching the presence of the author of these misfortunes; but the vidame, when he learned that the visit related to an affair of honor, obeyed the precepts of his whole life, and himself took Jules into the baron's chamber.
Monsieur Desmarets looked about him in search of his antagonist.
"Yes! that is really he," said the vidame, motioning to a man who was sitting in an arm-chair beside the fire.
"Who is it? Jules?" said the dying man in a broken voice.
Auguste had lost the only faculty that makes us live—memory. Jules Desmarets recoiled with horror at this sight. He could not even recognize the elegant young man in that thing without—as Bossuet said—a name in any language. It was, in truth, a corpse with whitened hair, its bones scarce covered with a wrinkled, blighted, withered skin,—a corpse with white eyes motionless, mouth hideously gaping, like those of idiots or vicious men killed by excesses. No trace of intelligence remained upon that brow, nor in any feature; nor was there in that flabby flesh either color or the faintest appearance of circulating blood. Here was a shrunken, withered creature brought to the state of those monsters we see preserved in museums, floating in alchohol. Jules fancied that he saw above that face the terrible head of Ferragus, and his own anger was silenced by such a vengeance. The husband found pity in his heart for the vacant wreck of what was once a man.
"The duel has taken place," said the vidame.
"But he has killed many," answered Jules, sorrowfully.
"And many dear ones," added the old man. "His grandmother is dying; and I shall follow her soon into the grave."
On the morrow of this day, Madame Jules grew worse from hour to hour. She used a moment's strength to take a letter from beneath her pillow, and gave it eagerly to her husband with a sign that was easy to understand,—she wished to give him, in a kiss, her last breath. He took it, and she died. Jules fell half-dead himself and was taken to his brother's house. There, as he deplored in tears his absence of the day before, his brother told him that this separation was eagerly desired by Clemence, who wished to spare him the sight of the religious paraphernalia, so terrible to tender imaginations, which the Church displays when conferring the last sacraments upon the dying.
"You could not have borne it," said his brother. "I could hardly bear the sight myself, and all the servants wept. Clemence was like a saint. She gathered strength to bid us all good-bye, and that voice, heard for the last time, rent our hearts. When she asked pardon for the pain she might unwillingly have caused her servants, there were cries and sobs and—"
"Enough! enough!" said Jules.
He wanted to be alone, that he might read the last words of the woman whom all had loved, and who had passed away like a flower.
"My beloved, this is my last will. Why should we not make wills
for the treasures of our hearts, as for our worldly property? Was
not my love my property, my all? I mean here to dispose of my
love: it was the only fortune of your Clemence, and it is all that
she can leave you in dying. Jules, you love me still, and I die
happy. The doctors may explain my death as they think best; I
alone know the true cause. I shall tell it to you, whatever pain
it may cause you. I cannot carry with me, in a heart all yours, a
secret which you do not share, although I die the victim of an
"Jules, I was nurtured and brought up in the deepest solitude, far
from the vices and the falsehoods of the world, by the loving
woman whom you knew. Society did justice to her conventional
charm, for that is what pleases society; but I knew secretly her
precious soul, I could cherish the mother who made my childhood a
joy without bitterness, and I knew why I cherished her. Was not
that to love doubly? Yes, I loved her, I feared her, I respected
her; yet nothing oppressed my heart, neither fear nor respect. I
was all in all to her; she was all in all to me. For nineteen
happy years, without a care, my soul, solitary amid the world
which muttered round me, reflected only her pure image; my heart
beat for her and through her. I was scrupulously pious; I found
pleasure in being innocent before God. My mother cultivated all
noble and self-respecting sentiments in me. Ah! it gives me
happiness to tell you, Jules, that I now know I was indeed a young
girl, and that I came to you virgin in heart.
"When I left that absolute solitude, when, for the first time, I
braided my hair and crowned it with almond blossoms, when I added,
with delight, a few satin knots to my white dress, thinking of the
world I was to see, and which I was curious to see—Jules, that
innocent and modest coquetry was done for you! Yes, as I entered
the world, I saw you first of all. Your face, I remarked it; it
stood out from the rest; your person pleased me; your voice, your
manners all inspired me with pleasant presentiments. When you came
up, when you spoke to me, the color on your forehead, the tremble
in your voice,—that moment gave me memories with which I throb as
I now write to you, as I now, for the last time, think of them.
Our love was at first the keenest of sympathies, but it was soon
discovered by each of us and then, as speedily, shared; just as,
in after times, we have both equally felt and shared innumerable
happinesses. From that moment my mother was only second in my
heart. Next, I was yours, all yours. There is my life, and all my
life, dear husband.
"And here is what remains for me to tell you. One evening, a few
days before my mother's death, she revealed to me the secret of
her life,—not without burning tears. I have loved you better
since the day I learned from the priest as he absolved my mother
that there are passions condemned by the world and by the Church.
But surely God will not be severe when they are the sins of souls
as tender as that of my mother; only, that dear woman could never
bring herself to repent. She loved much, Jules; she was all love.
So I have prayed daily for her, but never judged her.
"That night I learned the cause of her deep maternal tenderness;
then I also learned that there was in Paris a man whose life and
whose love centred on me; that your fortune was his doing, and
that he loved you. I learned also that he was exiled from society
and bore a tarnished name; but that he was more unhappy for me,
for us, than for himself. My mother was all his comfort; she was
dying, and I promised to take her place. With all the ardor of a
soul whose feelings had never been perverted, I saw only the
happiness of softening the bitterness of my mother's last moments,
and I pledged myself to continue her work of secret charity,—the
charity of the heart. The first time that I saw my father was
beside the bed where my mother had just expired. When he raised
his tearful eyes, it was to see in me a revival of his dead hopes.
I had sworn, not to tell a lie, but to keep silence; and that
silence what woman could have broken it?
"There is my fault, Jules,—a fault which I expiate by death. I
doubted you. But fear is so natural to a woman; above all, a woman
who knows what it is that she may lose. I trembled for our love.
My father's secret seemed to me the death of my happiness; and the
more I loved, the more I feared. I dared not avow this feeling to
my father; it would have wounded him, and in his situation a wound
was agony. But, without a word from me, he shared my fears. That
fatherly heart trembled for my happiness as much as I trembled for
myself; but it dared not speak, obeying the same delicacy that
kept me mute. Yes, Jules, I believed that you could not love the
daughter of Gratien Bourignard as you loved your Clemence. Without
that terror could I have kept back anything from you,—you who
live in every fold of my heart?
"The day when that odious, unfortunate young officer spoke to you,
I was forced to lie. That day, for the second time in my life, I
knew what pain was; that pain has steadily increased until this
moment, when I speak with you for the last time. What matters now
my father's position? You know all. I could, by the help of my
love, have conquered my illness and borne its sufferings; but I
cannot stifle the voice of doubt. Is it not probable that my
origin would affect the purity of your love and weaken it,
diminish it? That fear nothing has been able to quench in me.
There, Jules, is the cause of my death. I cannot live fearing a
word, a look,—a word you may never say, a look you may never
give; but, I cannot help it, I fear them. I die beloved; there is
"I have known, for the last three years, that my father and his
friends have well-nigh moved the world to deceive the world. That
I might have a station in life, they have bought a dead man, a
reputation, a fortune, so that a living man might live again,
restored; and all this for you, for us. We were never to have
known of it. Well, my death will save my father from that
falsehood, for he will not survive me.
"Farewell, Jules, my heart is all here. To show you my love in its
agony of fear, is not that bequeathing my whole soul to you? I
could never have the strength to speak to you; I have only enough
to write. I have just confessed to God the sins of my life. I have
promised to fill my mind with the King of Heaven only; but I must
confess to him who is, for me, the whole of earth. Alas! shall I
not be pardoned for this last sigh between the life that was and
the life that shall be? Farewell, my Jules, my loved one! I go to
God, with whom is Love without a cloud, to whom you will follow
me. There, before his throne, united forever, we may love each
other throughout the ages. This hope alone can comfort me. If I am
worthy of being there at once, I will follow you through life. My
soul shall bear your company; it will wrap you about, for you
must stay here still,—ah! here below. Lead a holy life that you
may the more surely come to me. You can do such good upon this
earth! Is it not an angel's mission for the suffering soul to shed
happiness about him,—to give to others that which he has not? I
bequeath you to the Unhappy. Their smiles, their tears, are the
only ones of which I cannot be jealous. We shall find a charm in
sweet beneficence. Can we not live together still if you would
join my name—your Clemence—in these good works?
"After loving as we have loved, there is naught but God, Jules.
God does not lie; God never betrays. Adore him only, I charge you!
Lead those who suffer up to him; comfort the sorrowing members of
his Church. Farewell, dear soul that I have filled! I know you;
you will never love again. I may die happy in the thought that
makes all women happy. Yes, my grave will be your heart. After
this childhood I have just related, has not my life flowed on
within that heart? Dead, you will never drive me forth. I am proud
of that rare life! You will know me only in the flower of my
youth; I leave you regrets without disillusions. Jules, it is a
"You, who have so fully understood me, may I ask one thing more of
you,—superfluous request, perhaps, the fulfilment of a woman's
fancy, the prayer of a jealousy we all must feel,—I pray you to
burn all that especially belonged to us, destroy our chamber,
annihilate all that is a memory of our happiness.
"Once more, farewell,—the last farewell! It is all love, and so
will be my parting thought, my parting breath."
When Jules had read that letter there came into his heart one of those wild frenzies of which it is impossible to describe the awful anguish. All sorrows are individual; their effects are not subjected to any fixed rule. Certain men will stop their ears to hear nothing; some women close their eyes hoping never to see again; great and splendid souls are met with who fling themselves into sorrow as into an abyss. In the matter of despair, all is true.