The End of Evil Ways/Section 11
While beauties, ministers, and magistrates were conspiring to save Lucien, this was what he was doing at the Conciergerie. As he passed the gate the poet told the keeper that Monsieur Camusot had granted him leave to write, and he begged to have pens, ink, and paper. At a whispered word to the Governor from Camusot's usher a warder was instructed to take them to him at once. During the short time that it took for the warder to fetch these things and carry them up to Lucien, the hapless young man, to whom the idea of facing Jacques Collin had become intolerable, sank into one of those fatal moods in which the idea of suicide—to which he had yielded before now, but without succeeding in carrying it out—rises to the pitch of mania. According to certain mad-doctors, suicide is in some temperaments the closing phase of mental aberration; and since his arrest Lucien had been possessed by that single idea. Esther's letter, read and reread many times, increased the vehemence of his desire to die by reminding him of the catastrophe of Romeo dying to be with Juliet.
This is what he wrote:—
"This is my Last Will and Testament.
"AT THE CONCIERGERIE, May 15th, 1830.
"I, the undersigned, give and bequeath to the children of my
sister, Madame Eve Chardon, wife of David Sechard, formerly a
printer at Angouleme, and of Monsieur David Sechard, all the
property, real and personal, of which I may be possessed at the
time of my decease, due deduction being made for the payments and
legacies, which I desire my executor to provide for.
"And I earnestly beg Monsieur de Serizy to undertake the charge of
being the executor of this my will.
"First, to Monsieur l'Abbe Carlos Herrera I direct the payment of
the sum of three hundred thousand francs. Secondly, to Monsieur le
Baron de Nucingen the sum of fourteen hundred thousand francs,
less seven hundred and fifty thousand if the sum stolen from
Mademoiselle Esther should be recovered.
"As universal legatee to Mademoiselle Esther Gobseck, I give and
bequeath the sum of seven hundred and sixty thousand francs to the
Board of Asylums of Paris for the foundation of a refuge
especially dedicated to the use of public prostitutes who may wish
to forsake their life of vice and ruin.
"I also bequeath to the Asylums of Paris the sum of money
necessary for the purchase of a certificate for dividends to the
amount of thirty thousand francs per annum in five per cents, the
annual income to be devoted every six months to the release of
prisoners for debts not exceeding two thousand francs. The Board
of Asylums to select the most respectable of such persons
imprisoned for debt.
"I beg Monsieur de Serizy to devote the sum of forty thousand
francs to erecting a monument to Mademoiselle Esther in the
Eastern cemetery, and I desire to be buried by her side. The tomb
is to be like an antique tomb—square, our two effigies lying
thereon, in white marble, the heads on pillows, the hands folded
and raised to heaven. There is to be no inscription whatever.
"I beg Monsieur de Serizy to give to Monsieur de Rastignac a gold
toilet-set that is in my room as a remembrance.
"And as a remembrance, I beg my executor to accept my library of
books as a gift from me.
"LUCIEN CHARDON DE RUBEMPRE."
This Will was enclosed in a letter addressed to Monsieur le Comte de Granville, Public Prosecutor in the Supreme Court at Paris, as follows:
"MONSIEUR LE COMTE,—
"I place my Will in your hands. When you open this letter I shall
be no more. In my desire to be free, I made such cowardly replies
to Monsieur Camusot's insidious questions, that, in spite of my
innocence, I may find myself entangled in a disgraceful trial.
Even if I were acquitted, a blameless life would henceforth be
impossible to me in view of the opinions of the world.
"I beg you to transmit the enclosed letter to the Abbe Carlos
Herrera without opening it, and deliver to Monsieur Camusot the
formal retraction I also enclose.
"I suppose no one will dare to break the seal of a packet
addressed to you. In this belief I bid you adieu, offering you my
best respects for the last time, and begging you to believe that
in writing to you I am giving you a token of my gratitude for all
the kindness you have shown to your deceased humble servant,
"LUCIEN DE R."
"To the Abbe Carlos Herrera.
"MY DEAR ABBE,—I have had only benefits from you, and I have
betrayed you. This involuntary ingratitude is killing me, and when
you read these lines I shall have ceased to exist. You are not
here now to save me.
"You had given me full liberty, if I should find it advantageous,
to destroy you by flinging you on the ground like a cigar-end; but
I have ruined you by a blunder. To escape from a difficulty,
deluded by a clever question from the examining judge, your son by
adoption and grace went over to the side of those who aim at
killing you at any cost, and insist on proving an identity, which
I know to be impossible, between you and a French villain. All is
"Between a man of your calibre and me—me of whom you tried to
make a greater man than I am capable of being—no foolish
sentiment can come at the moment of final parting. You hoped to
make me powerful and famous, and you have thrown me into the gulf
of suicide, that is all. I have long heard the broad pinions of
that vertigo beating over my head.
"As you have sometimes said, there is the posterity of Cain and
the posterity of Abel. In the great human drama Cain is in
opposition. You are descended from Adam through that line, in
which the devil still fans the fire of which the first spark was
flung on Eve. Among the demons of that pedigree, from time to time
we see one of stupendous power, summing up every form of human
energy, and resembling the fevered beasts of the desert, whose
vitality demands the vast spaces they find there. Such men are as
dangerous as lions would be in the heart of Normandy; they must
have their prey, and they devour common men and crop the money of
fools. Their sport is so dangerous that at last they kill the
humble dog whom they have taken for a companion and made an idol
"When it is God's will, these mysterious beings may be a Moses, an
Attila, Charlemagne, Mahomet, or Napoleon; but when He leaves a
generation of these stupendous tools to rust at the bottom of the
ocean, they are no more than a Pugatschef, a Fouche, a Louvel, or
the Abbe Carlos Herrera. Gifted with immense power over tenderer
souls, they entrap them and mangle them. It is grand, it is fine
—in its way. It is the poisonous plant with gorgeous coloring that
fascinates children in the woods. It is the poetry of evil. Men
like you ought to dwell in caves and never come out of them. You
have made me live that vast life, and I have had all my share of
existence; so I may very well take my head out of the Gordian knot
of your policy and slip it into the running knot of my cravat.
"To repair the mischief I have done, I am forwarding to the public
prosecutor a retraction of my deposition. You will know how to
take advantage of this document.
"In virtue of a will formally drawn up, restitution will be made,
Monsieur l'Abbe, of the moneys belonging to your Order which you
so imprudently devoted to my use, as a result of your paternal
affection for me.
"And so, farewell. Farewell, colossal image of Evil and
Corruption; farewell—to you who, if started on the right road,
might have been greater than Ximenes, greater than Richelieu! You
have kept your promises. I find myself once more just as I was on
the banks of the Charente, after enjoying, by your help, the
enchantments of a dream. But, unfortunately, it is not now in the
waters of my native place that I shall drown the errors of a boy;
but in the Seine, and my hole is a cell in the Conciergerie.
"Do not regret me: my contempt for you is as great as my
"I, the undersigned, hereby declare that I retract, without
reservation, all that I deposed at my examination to-day before
"The Abbe Carlos Herrera always called himself my spiritual
father, and I was misled by the word father used in another sense
by the judge, no doubt under a misapprehension.
"I am aware that, for political ends, and to quash certain secrets
concerning the Cabinets of Spain and of the Tuileries, some
obscure diplomatic agents tried to show that the Abbe Carlos
Herrera was a forger named Jacques Collin; but the Abbe Carlos
Herrera never told me anything about the matter excepting that he
was doing his best to obtain evidence of the death or of the
continued existence of Jacques Collin.
"LUCIEN DE RUBEMPRE.
"AT THE CONCIERGERIE, May 15th, 1830."
The fever for suicide had given Lucien immense clearness of mind, and the swiftness of hand familiar to authors in the fever of composition. The impetus was so strong within him that these four documents were all written within half an hour; he folded them in a wrapper, fastened with wafers, on which he impressed with the strength of delirium the coat-of-arms engraved on a seal-ring he wore, and he then laid the packet very conspicuously in the middle of the floor.
Certainly it would have been impossible to conduct himself with greater dignity, in the false position to which all this infamy had led him; he was rescuing his memory from opprobrium, and repairing the injury done to his accomplice, so far as the wit of a man of the world could nullify the result of the poet's trustfulness.
If Lucien had been taken back to one of the lower cells, he would have been wrecked on the impossibility of carrying out his intentions, for those boxes of masonry have no furniture but a sort of camp-bed and a pail for necessary uses. There is not a nail, not a chair, not even a stool. The camp-bed is so firmly fixed that it is impossible to move it without an amount of labor that the warder would not fail to detect, for the iron-barred peephole is always open. Indeed, if a prisoner under suspicion gives reason for uneasiness, he is watched by a gendarme or a constable.
In the private rooms for which prisoners pay, and in that whither Lucien had been conveyed by the judge's courtesy to a young man belonging to the upper ranks of society, the movable bed, table, and chair might serve to carry out his purpose of suicide, though they hardly made it easy. Lucien wore a long blue silk necktie, and on his way back from examination he was already meditating on the means by which Pichegru, more or less voluntarily, ended his days. Still, to hang himself, a man must find a purchase, and have a sufficient space between it and the ground for his feet to find no support. Now the window of his room, looking out on the prison-yard, had no handle to the fastening; and the bars, being fixed outside, were divided from his reach by the thickness of the wall, and could not be used for a support.
This, then, was the plan hit upon by Lucien to put himself out of the world. The boarding of the lower part of the opening, which prevented his seeing out into the yard, also hindered the warders outside from seeing what was done in the room; but while the lower portion of the window was replaced by two thick planks, the upper part of both halves still was filled with small panes, held in place by the cross pieces in which they were set. By standing on his table Lucien could reach the glazed part of the window, and take or break out two panes, so as to have a firm point of attachment in the angle of the lower bar. Round this he would tie his cravat, turn round once to tighten it round his neck after securing it firmly, and kick the table from under his feet.
He drew the table up under the window without making any noise, took off his coat and waistcoat, and got on the table unhesitatingly to break a pane above and one below the iron cross-bar. Standing on the table, he could look out across the yard on a magical view, which he then beheld for the first time. The Governor of the prison, in deference to Monsieur Camusot's request that he should deal as leniently as possible with Lucien, had led him, as we have seen, through the dark passages of the Conciergerie, entered from the dark vault opposite the Tour d'Argent, thus avoiding the exhibition of a young man of fashion to the crowd of prisoners airing themselves in the yard. It will be for the reader to judge whether the aspect of the promenade was not such as to appeal deeply to a poet's soul.
The yard of the Conciergerie ends at the quai between the Tour d'Argent and the Tour Bonbec; thus the distance between them exactly shows from the outside the width of the plot of ground. The corridor called the Galerie de Saint-Louis, which extends from the Galerie Marchande to the Courts of Appeals and the Tour Bonbec—in which, it is said, Saint-Louis' room still exists—may enable the curious to estimate the depths of the yard, as it is of the same length. Thus the dark cells and the private rooms are under the Galerie Marchande. And Queen Marie Antoinette, whose dungeon was under the present cells, was conducted to the presence of the Revolutionary Tribunal, which held its sittings in the place where the Court of Appeals now performs its solemn functions, up a horrible flight of steps, now never used, in the very thickness of the wall on which the Galerie Marchande is built.
One side of the prison-yard—that on which the Hall of Saint-Louis forms the first floor—displays a long row of Gothic columns, between which the architects of I know not what period have built up two floors of cells to accommodate as many prisoners as possible, by choking the capitals, the arches, and the vaults of this magnificent cloister with plaster, barred loopholes, and partitions. Under the room known as the Cabinet de Saint-Louis, in the Tour Bonbec, there is a spiral stair leading to these dens. This degradation of one of the immemorial buildings of France is hideous to behold.
From the height at which Lucien was standing he saw this cloister, and the details of the building that joins the two towers, in sharp perspective; before him were the pointed caps of the towers. He stood amazed; his suicide was postponed to his admiration. The phenomena of hallucination are in these days so fully recognized by the medical faculty that this mirage of the senses, this strange illusion of the mind is beyond dispute. A man under the stress of a feeling which by its intensity has become a monomania, often finds himself in the frame of mind to which opium, hasheesh, or the protoxyde of azote might have brought him. Spectres appear, phantoms and dreams take shape, things of the past live again as they once were. What was but an image of the brain becomes a moving or a living object. Science is now beginning to believe that under the action of a paroxysm of passion the blood rushes to the brain, and that such congestion has the terrible effects of a dream in a waking state, so averse are we to regard thought as a physical and generative force. (See Louis Lambert.)
Lucien saw the building in all its pristine beauty; the columns were new, slender and bright; Saint-Louis' Palace rose before him as it had once appeared; he admired its Babylonian proportions and Oriental fancy. He took this exquisite vision as a poetic farewell from civilized creation. While making his arrangements to die, he wondered how this marvel of architecture could exist in Paris so utterly unknown. He was two Luciens—one Lucien the poet, wandering through the Middle Ages under the vaults and the turrets of Saint-Louis, the other Lucien ready for suicide.