The Secret of Sarek/Chapter III
CHAPTER III. VORSKI'S SON
VERONIQUE smiled as she sat to starboard on a packing-case, with her face turned towards Honorine. Her smile was anxious still and undefined, full of reticence and flickering as a sunbeam that tries to pierce the last clouds of the storm; but it was nevertheless a happy smile.
And happiness seemed the right expression for that wonderful face, stamped with dignity and with that particular modesty which gives to some women, whether stricken by excessive misfortune or preserved by love, the habit of gravity, combined with an absence of all feminine affectation.
Her black hair, touched with grey at the temples, was knotted very low down on the neck. She had the dead-white complexion of a southerner and very light blue eyes, 'of which the white seemed almost of the same colour, pale as a winter sky. She was tall, with broad shoulders and a well-shaped bust.
Her musical and somewhat masculine voice became light and cheerful when she spoke of the son whom she had found again. And Veronique could speak of nothing else. In vain the Breton woman tried to speak of the problems that harassed her and kept on interrupting Veronique:
“Look here, there are two things which I cannot understand. Who laid the trail with the clues that brought you from Le Faouet to the exact spot where I always land? It almost makes one believe that someone had been from Le Faouet to the Isle of Sarek.' And, on the other hand, how did old Maguennoc come to leave the island? Was it of his own free will? Or was it his dead body that they carried? If so, how?”
“Is it worth troubling about?” Veronique objected.
“Certainly it is. Just think! Besides me, who once a fortnight go either to Beg-Meil or Pont-l'Abbe in my motor-boat for provisions, there are only two fishing-boats, which always go much higher up the coast, to Audierne, where they sell their catch. Then how did Maguennoc get across? Then again, did he commit suicide? But, if so, how did his body disappear?”
But Veronique protested:
“Please don't! It doesn't matter for the moment. It'll all be cleared up. Tell me about Francois. You were saying that he came to Sarek...”
Honorine yielded to Veronique's entreaties:
“He arrived in poor Maguennoc's arms, a few days after he was taken from you. Maguennoc, who had been taught his lesson by your father, said that a strange lady had entrusted him with the child; and he had it nursed by his daughter, who has since died. I was away, in a situation with a Paris family. When I came home again, Francois had grown into a fine little fellow, running about the moors and cliffs. It was then that I took service with your father, who had settled in Sarek. When Maguennoc's daughter died, we took the child to live with us.”
“But under what name?”
“Francois, just Francois. M. d'Hergemont was known as Monsieur Antoine. Francois called him grandfather. No one ever made any remark upon it.”
“And his character?” asked Veronique, with some anxiety.
“Oh, as far as that's concerned, he's a blessing!” replied Honorine. “Nothing of his father about him... nor of his grandfather either, as M. d'Hergemont himself admits. A gentle, lovable, most willing child. Never a sign of anger; always good-tempered. That's what got over his grandfather and made M. d'Hergemont come round to you again, because his grandson reminded him so of the daughter he had cast off. 'He's the very image of his mother,' he used to say. 'Veronique was gentle and affectionate like him, with the same fond and coaxing ways.' And then he began his search for you, with me to help him; for he had come to confide in me.”
Veronique beamed with delight. Her son was like her! Her son was bright and kind-hearted!
“But does he know about me?” she said. “Does he know that I'm alive?”
“I should think he did! M. d'Hergemont tried to keep it from him at first. But! soon told him everything.”
“No. He believes that his father is dead and that, after the shipwreck in which he, I mean Francois, and M. d'Hergemont disappeared, you became a nun and have been lost sight of since. And he is so eager for news, each time I come back from one of my trips! He too is so full of hope! Oh, you can take my word for it, he adores his mother! And he's always singing that song you heard just now, which his grandfather taught him.”
“My Francois, my own little Francois!”
“Ah, yes, he loves you! There's Mother Honorine. But you're mother, just that. And he's in a great hurry to grow up and finish his schooling, so that he may go and look for you.”
“His schooling? Does he have lessons?”
“Yes, with his grandfather and, since two years ago, with such a nice fellow that I brought back from Paris, Stephane Maroux, a wounded soldier covered with medals and restored to health after an internal operation. Francois dotes on him.”
The boat was running quickly over the smooth sea, in which it ploughed a furrow of silvery foam. The clouds had dispersed on the horizon. The evening boded fair and calm.
“More, tell me more!” said Veronique, listening greedily. “What does my boy wear?”
“Knickerbockers and short socks, with his calves bare; a thick flannel shirt with gilt buttons; and a flat knitted cap, like his big friend, M. Stephane; only his is red and suits him to perfection.” “Has he any friends besides M. Maroux?”
“All the growing lads of the island, formerly. But with the exception of three or four ship's boys, all the rest have left the island with their mothers, now that their fathers are at the war, and are working on the mainland, at Concarneau or Lorient, leaving the old people at Sarek by themselves. We are not more than thirty on the island now.”
“Whom does he play with? Whom does he go about with?”
“Oh, as for that, he has the best of companions!”
“Really? Who is it?”
“A little dog that Maguennoc gave him.”
“Yes; and the funniest dog you ever saw: an ugly ridiculous-looking thing, a cross between a poodle and a fox-terrier, but so comical and amusing! Oh, there's no one like Master All's Well!”
“That's what Francois calls him; and you couldn't have a better name for him. He always looks happy and glad to be alive. He's independent, too, and he disappears for hours and even days at a time; but he's always there when he's wanted, if you're feeling sad, or if things aren't going as you might like them to. All's Well hates to see any one crying or scolding or quarrelling. The moment you cry, or pretend to cry, he comes and squats on his haunches in front of you, sits up, shuts one eye, half-opens the other and looks so exactly as if he was laughing that you begin to laugh yourself. 'That's right, old chap,' says Francois, 'you're quite right: all's well. There's nothing to take on about, is there?' And, when you're consoled, All's Well just trots away. His task is done.”
Veronique laughed and cried in one breath. Then she was silent for a long time, feeling more and more gloomy and overcome by a despair which overwhelmed all her gladness. She thought of all the happiness that she had missed during the fourteen years of her childless motherhood, wearing her mourning for a son who was alive. All the cares that a mother lavishes upon the little creature newborn into the world, all the pride that she feels at seeing him grow and hearing him speak, all that delights a mother and uplifts her and makes her heart overflow with daily renewed affection: all this she had never known.
“We are half-way across,” said Honorine.
They were running in sight of the Glenans Islands. On their right, the headland of Penmarch, whose coast-line they were following at a distance of fifteen miles, marked a darker line which was not always differentiated from the horizon.
And Veronique thought of her sad past, of her mother, whom she hardly remembered, of her childhood spent with a selfish, disagreeable father, of her marriage, ah, above all of her marriage! She recalled her first meetings with Vorski, when she was only seventeen. How frightened she had been from the very beginning of that strange and unusual man, whom she dreaded while she submitted to his influence, as one does at that age submit to the influence of anything mysterious and incomprehensible!
Next came the hateful day of the abduction and the other days, more hateful still, that followed, the weeks during which he had kept her imprisoned, threatening her and dominating her with all his evil strength, and the promise of marriage which he had forced from her, a pledge against which all the girl's instincts and all her will revolted, but to which it seemed to her that she was bound to agree after so great a scandal and also because her father was giving his consent.
Her brain rebelled against the memories of her years of married life. Never that! Not even in the worst hours, when the nightmares of the past haunt one like spectres, never did she consent to revive, in the innermost recesses of her mind, that degrading past, with its mortifications, wounds and betrayals, and the disgraceful life led by her husband, who, shamelessly, with cynical pride, gradually revealed himself as the man he was, drinking, cheating at cards, robbing his boon companions, a swindler and blackmailer, giving his wife the impression, which she still retained and which made her shudder, of a sort of evil genius, cruel and unbalanced.
“Have done with dreams, Madame Veronique,” said Honorine.
“It's not so much dreams and memories as remorse,” she replied.
“Remorse, Madame Veronique? You, whose life has been one long martyrdom?”
“A martyrdom that was a punishment.”
“But all that is over and done with, Madame Veronique, seeing that you are going to meet your son and your father again. Come, come, you must think of nothing but being happy.”
“Happy? Can I be happy again?”
“I should think so! You'll soon see!... Look, there's Sarek.”
Honorine took from a locker under her seat a large shell which she used as a trumpet, after the manner of the mariners of old, and, putting her lips to the mouthpiece and puffing out her cheeks, she blew a few powerful notes, which filled the air with a sound not unlike the lowing of an ox.
Veronique gave her a questioning look.
“It's him I'm calling,” said Honorine.
“Francois? You're calling Francois?”
“Yes, it's the same every time I come back. He comes scrambling from the top of the cliffs where we live and runs down to the jetty.”
“So I shall see him?” exclaimed Veronique, turning very pale.
“You will see him. Fold your veil double, so that he may not know you from your photographs. I'll speak to you as I would to a stranger who has come to look at Sarek.”
They could see the island distinctly, but the foot of the cliffs was hidden by a multitude of reefs.
“Ah, yes, there's no lack of rocks! They swarm like a shoal of herring!” cried Honorine, who had been obliged to switch off the motor and was using two short paddles. “You know how calm the sea was just now. It's never calm here.”
Thousands and thousands of little waves were dashing and clashing against one another and waging an incessant and implacable war upon the rocks. The boat seemed to be passing through the backwater of a torrent. Nowhere was a strip of blue or green sea visible amid the bubbling foam. There was nothing but white froth, whipped up by the indefatigable swirl of the forces which desperately assailed the pointed teeth of the reefs.
“And it's like that all round the island,” said Honorine, “so much so that you may say that Sarek isn't accessible except in a small boat. Ah, the Huns could never have established a submarine base on our island! To make quite sure and remove all doubts, some officers came over from Lorient, two years ago, because of a few caves on the west, which can only be entered at low tide. It was waste of time. There was nothing doing here. Just think, it's like a sprinkle of rocks all around; and pointed rocks at that, which get at you treacherously from underneath. And, though these are the most dangerous, perhaps it is the others that are most to be feared, the big ones which you see and have got their name and their history from all sorts of crimes and shipwrecks. Oh, as to those!...”
Her voice grew hollow. With a hesitating hand, which seemed afraid of the half-completed gesture, she pointed to some reefs which stood up in powerful masses of different shapes, crouching animals, crenellated keeps, colossal needles, sphynx-heads, jagged pyramids, all in black granite stained with red, as though soaked in blood.
And she whispered:
“Oh, as to those, they have been guarding the island for centuries and centuries, but like wild beasts that only care for doing harm and killing. They... they... no, it's better never to speak about them or even think of them. They are the thirty wild beasts. Yes, thirty, Madame Veronique, there are thirty of them....”
She made the sign of the cross and continued, more calmly:
“There are thirty of them. Your father says that Sarek is called the island of the thirty coffins because the people instinctively ended in this case by confusing the two words ecueils and cercueils. Perhaps.... It's very likely.... But, all the same, they are thirty real coffins, Madame Veronique; and, if we could open them, we should be sure to find them full of bones and bones and bones. M. d'Hergemont himself says that Sarek comes from the word Sarcophagus, which, according to him, is the learned way of saying coffin. Besides, there's more than that....”
Honorine broke off, as though she wanted to think of something else, and, pointing to a reef of rocks, said:
“Look, Madame Veronique, past that big one right in our way there, you will see, through an opening, our little harbour and, on the quay, Francois in his red cap.”
Veronique had been listening absent-mindedly to Honorine's explanations. She leant her body farther out of the boat, in order to catch sight the sooner of her son, while the Breton woman, once more a victim to her obsession, continued, in spite of herself:
“There's more than that. The Isle of Sarek — and that is why your father came to live here — contains a collection of dolmens which have nothing remarkable about them, but which are peculiar for one reason, that they are all nearly alike. Well, how many of them do you think there are? Thirty! Thirty, like the principal reefs. And those thirty are distributed round the islands, on the cliffs, exactly opposite the thirty reefs; and each of them bears the same name as the reef that corresponds to it: Dol-er-H'roeck, Dol-Kerlitu and so on. What do you say to that?”
She had uttered these names in the same timid voice in which she spoke of all these things, as if she feared to be heard by the things themselves, to which she was attributing a formidable and sacred life.
“What do you say to that, Madame Veronique? Oh, there's plenty of mystery about it all; and, once more, it's better to hold one's tongue! I'll tell you about it when we've left here, right away from the island, and when your little Francois is in your arms, between your father and you.”
Veronique sat silent, gazing into space at the spot to which Honorine had pointed. With her back turned to her companion and her two hands gripping the gunwale, she stared distractedly before her. It was there, through that narrow opening, that she was to see her child, long lost and now found; and she did not want to waste a single second after the moment when she would be able to catch sight of him.
They reached the rock. One of Honorine's paddles grazed its side. They skirted and came to the end of it.
“Oh,” said Veronique, sorrowfully, “he is not there!”
“Francois not there? Impossible!” cried Honorine.
She in her turn saw, three or four hundred yards in front of them, the few big rocks on the beach which served as a jetty. Three women, a little girl and some old seafaring men were waiting for the boat, but no boy, no red cap.
“That's strange,” said Honorine, in a low voice. “It's the first time that he's failed to answer my call.”
“Perhaps he's ill?” Veronique suggested.
“No, Francois is never ill.”
“I don't know.”
“But aren't you afraid?” asked Veronique, who was already becoming frightened.
“For him, no... but for your father. Maguennoc said that I oughtn't to leave him. It's he who is threatened.”
“But Francois is there to defend him; and so is M. Maroux, his tutor. Come, answer me: what do you imagine?”
After a moment's pause, Honorine shrugged her shoulders.
“A pack of nonsense! I get absurd, yes, absurd things into my head. Don't be angry with me. I can't help it: it's the Breton in me. Except for a few years, I have spent all my life here, with legends and stories in the very air I breathed. Don't let's talk about it.”
The Isle of Sarek appears in the shape of a long and undulating table-land, covered with ancient trees and standing on cliffs of medium height than which nothing more jagged could be imagined. It is as though the island were surrounded by a reef of uneven, diversified lacework, incessantly wrought upon by the rain, the wind, the sun, the snow, the frost, the mist and all the water that falls from the sky or oozes from the earth.
The only accessible point is on the eastern side, at the bottom of a depression where a few houses, mostly abandoned since the war, constitute the village. A break in the cliffs opens here, protected by the little jetty. The sea at this spot is perfectly calm.
Two boats lay moored to the quay.
Before landing, Honorine made a last effort:
“We're there, Madame Veronique, as you see. Now is it really worth your while to get out? Why not stay where you are? I'll bring your father and your son to you in two hours' time and we'll have dinner at Beg-Meil or at Pont-l'Abbe. Will that do?”
Veronique rose to her feet and leapt on to the quay without replying. Honorine joined her and insisted no longer:
“Well, children, where's young Francois? Hasn't he come?”
“He was here about twelve,” said one of the women. “Only he didn't expect you until tomorrow.
“That's true enough... but still he must have heard me blow my horn. However, we shall see.”
And, as the man helped her to unload the boat, she said:
“I shan't want all this taken up to the Priory. Nor the bags either. Unless... Look here, if I am not back by five o'clock, send a youngster after me with the bags.”
“No, I'll come myself,” said one of the seamen.
“As you please, Correjou. Oh, by the way, where's Maguennoc?”
“Maguennoc's gone. I took him across to Pont-l'Abbe myself.”
“When was that, Correjou?”
“Why, the day after you went, Madame Honorine.”
“What was he going over for?”
“He told us he was going... I don't know where.... It had to do with the hand he lost.... a pilgrimage....”
“A pilgrimage? To Le Faouet, perhaps? To St. Barbe's Chapel?”
“That's it... that's it exactly: St. Barbe's Chapel, that's what he said.”
Honorine asked no more. She could no longer doubt that Maguennoc was dead. She moved away, accompanied by Veronique, who had lowered her veil; and the two went along a rocky path, cut into steps, which ran through the middle of an oak-wood towards the southernmost point of the island.
“After all,” said Honorine, “I am not sure — and I may as well say so — that M. d'Hergemont will consent to leave. He treats all my stories as crotchets, though there's plenty of things that astonish even him....”
“Does he live far from here?” asked Veronique.
“It's forty minutes' walk. As you will see, it's almost another island, joined to the first. The Benedictines built an abbey there.”
“But he's not alone there, is he, with Francois and M. Maroux?”
“Before the war, there were two men besides. Lately, Maguennoc and I used to do pretty well all the work, with the cook, Marie Le Goff.”
“She remained, of course, while you were away?”
They reached the top of the cliffs. The path, which followed the coast, rose and fell in steep gradients. On every hand were old oaks with their bunches of mistletoe, which showed among the as yet scanty leaves. The sea, grey-green in the distance, girded the island with a white belt.
“What do you propose to do, Honorific?”
“I shall go in by myself and speak to your father. Then I shall come back and fetch you at the garden-gate; and in Francois' eyes you will pass for a friend of his mother's. He will guess the truth gradually.”
“And you think that my father will give me a good welcome?”
“He will receive you with open arms, Madame Veronique,” cried the Breton woman, “and we shall all be happy, provided... provided nothing has happened... It's so funny that Francois doesn't run out to meet met He can see our boat from every part of the island... as far off as the Glenans almost.”
She relapsed into what M. d'Hergemont called her crotchets; and they pursued their road in silence. Veronique felt anxious and impatient.
Suddenly Honorine made the sign of the cross:
“You do as I'm doing, Madame Veronique,” she said. “The monks have consecrated the place, but there's lots of bad, unlucky things remaining from the old days, especially in that wood, the wood of the Great Oak.”
The old days no doubt meant the period of the Druids and their human sacrifices; and the two women were now entering a wood in which the oaks, each standing in isolation on a mound of moss-grown stones, had a look of ancient gods, each with his own altar, his mysterious cult and his formidable power.
Veronique, following Honorine's example, crossed herself and could not help shuddering as she said:
“How melancholy it is! There's not a flower on this desolate plateau.”
“They grow most wonderfully when one takes the trouble. You shall see Maguennoc's, at the end of the island, to the right of the Fairies' Dolmen... a place called the Calvary of the Flowers.”
“Are they lovely?”
“Wonderful, I tell you. Only he goes himself to get the mould from certain places. He prepares it. He works it up. He mixes it with some special leaves of which he knows the effect.” And she repeated, “You shall see Maguennoc's flowers. There are no flowers like them in the world. They are miraculous flowers....”
After skirting a hill, the road descended a sudden declivity. A huge gash divided the island into two parts, the second of which now appeared, standing a little higher, but very much more limited in extent.
“It's the Priory, that part,” said Honorine.
The same jagged cliffs surrounded the smaller islet with an even steeper rampart, which itself was hollowed out underneath like the hoop of a crown. And this rampart was joined to the main island by a strip of cliff fifty yards long and hardly thicker than a castle-wall, with a thin, tapering crest which looked as sharp as the edge of an axe.
There was no thoroughfare possible along this ridge, inasmuch as it was split in the middle with a wide fissure, for which reason the abutments of a wooden bridge had been anchored to the two extremities. The bridge started flat on the rock and subsequently spanned the intervening crevice.
They crossed it separately, for it was not only very narrow but also unstable, shaking under their feet and in the wind.
“Look, over there, at the extreme point of the island,” said Honorine, “you can see a corner of the Priory.”
The path that led to it ran through fields planted with small fir-trees arranged in quincunxes. Another path turned to the right and disappeared from view in some dense thickets.
Veronique kept her eyes upon the Priory, whose low-storied front was lengthening gradually, when Honorine, after a few minutes, stopped short, with her face towards the thickets on the right, and called out:
“Whom are you calling?” asked Veronique. “M. Maroux?”
“Yes, Francois' tutor. He was running towards the bridge: I caught sight of him through a clearing... Monsieur Stephane!... But why doesn't he answer? Did you see a man running?”
“I declare it was he, with his white cap. At any rate, we can see the bridge behind us. Let us wait for him to cross.”
“Why wait? If anything's the matter, if there's a danger of any kind, it's at the Priory.”
“You're right. Let's hurry.”
They hastened their pace, overcome with forebodings; and then, for no definite reason, broke into a run, so greatly did their fears increase as they drew nearer to the reality.
The islet grew narrower again, barred by a low wall which marked the boundaries of the Priory domain. At that moment, cries were heard, coming from the house.
“They're calling! Did you hear? A woman's cries! It's the cook! It's Marie Le Goff!...”
She made a dash for the gate and grasped the key, but inserted it so awkwardly that she jammed the lock and was unable to open it.
“Through the gap!” she ordered. “This way, on the right!”
They rushed along, scrambled through the wall and crossed a wide grassy space filled with ruins, in which the winding and ill-marked path disappeared at every moment under trailing creepers and moss.
“Here we are! Here we are!” shouted Honorine. “We're coming!”
And she muttered:
“The cries have stopped! It's dreadful! Oh, poor Marie Le Goff!”
She grasped Veronique's arm:
“Let's go round. The front of the house is on the other side. On this side the doors are always locked and the window-shutters closed.”
But Veronique caught her foot in some roots, stumbled and fell to her knees. When she stood up again, the Breton woman had left her and was hurrying round the left wing. Unconsciously, Veronique, instead of following her, made straight for the house, climbed the step and was brought up short by the door, at which she knocked again and again.
The idea of going round, as Honorine had done, seemed to her a waste of time which nothing could ever make good. However, realising the futility of her efforts, she was just deciding to go, when once more cries sounded from inside the house and above her head.
It was a man's voice, which Veronique seemed to recognize as her father's. She fell back a few steps. Suddenly one of the windows on the first floor opened and she saw M. d'Hergemont, his features distorted with inexpressible terror, gasping:
“Help! Help! Oh, the monster! Help!”
“Father! Father!” cried Veronique, in despair. “It's I!”
He lowered his head for an instant, appeared not to see his daughter and made a quick attempt to climb over the balcony. But a shot rang out behind him and one of the window-panes was blown into fragments.
“Murderer, murderer!” he shouted, turning back into the room.
Veronique, mad with fear and helplessness, looked around her. How could she rescue her father? The wall was too high and offered nothing to cling to. Suddenly, she saw a ladder, lying twenty yards away, beside the wall of the house. With a prodigious effort of will and strength, she managed to carry the ladder, heavy though it was, and to set it up under the open window.
At the most tragic moment in life, when the mind is no more than a seething confusion, when the whole body is shaken by the tremor of anguish, a certain logic continues to connect our ideas: and Veronique wondered why she had not heard Honorine's voice and what could have delayed her coming.
She also thought of Francois. Where was Francois? Had he followed Stephane Maroux in his inexplicable flight? Had he gone in search of assistance? And who was it that M. d'Hergemont had apostrophized as a monster and a murderer?
The ladder did not reach the window; and Veronique at once became aware of the effort which would be necessary if she was to climb over the balcony. Nevertheless she did not hesitate. They were fighting up there; and the struggle was mingled with stifled shouts uttered by her father. She went up the ladder. The most that she could do was to grasp the bottom rail of the balcony. But a narrow ledge enabled her to hoist herself on one knee, to put her head through and to witness the tragedy that was being enacted in the room.
At that moment, M. d'Hergemont had once more retreated to the window and even a little beyond it, so that she almost saw him face to face. He stood without moving, haggard-eyed and with his arms hanging in an undecided posture, as though waiting for something terrible to happen. He stammered:
“Murderer! Murderer!... Is it really you? Oh, curse you! Francois! Francois!”
He was no doubt calling upon his grandson for help; and Francois no doubt was also exposed to some attack, was perhaps wounded, was possibly dead!
Veronique summoned up all her strength and succeeded in setting foot on the ledge.
“Here I am! Here I am!” she meant to cry.
But her voice died away in her throat. She had seen! She saw! Facing her father, at a distance of five paces, against the opposite wall of the room, stood some one pointing a revolver at M. d'Hergemont and deliberately taking aim. And that some one was... oh, horror! Veronique recognized the red cap of which Honorine had spoken, the flannel shirt with the gilt buttons. And above all she beheld, in that young face convulsed with hideous emotions, the very expression which Vorski used to wear at times when his-instincts, hatred and ferocity, gained the upper hand.
The boy did not see her. His eyes were fixed on the mark which he proposed to hit; and he seemed to take a sort of savage joy in postponing the fatal act.
Veronique herself was silent. Words or cries could not possibly avert the peril. What she had to do was to fling herself between her father and her son. She clutched hold of the railings, clambered up and climbed through the window.
It was too late. The shot was fired. M. d'Hergemont fell with a groan of pain.
And, at the same time, at that very moment, while the boy still had his arm outstretched and the old man was sinking into a huddled heap, a door opened at the back. Honorine appeared; and the abominable sight struck her, so to speak, full in the face.
“Francois!” she screamed. “You! You!”
The boy sprang at her. The woman tried to bar his way. There was not even a struggle. The boy took a step back, quickly raised his weapon and fired.
Honorine's knees gave way beneath her and she fell across the threshold. And, as he jumped over her body and fled, she kept on repeating:
“Francois.... Francois.... No, it's not true!... Oh, can it be possible?... Francois....”
There was a burst of laughter outside. Yes, the boy had laughed. Veronique heard that horrible, infernal laugh, so like Vorski's laugh; and it all agonized her with the same anguish which used to sear her in Vorski's days!
She did not run after the murderer. She did not call out.
A faint voice beside her was murmuring her name:
“Veronique.... Veronique....” M. d'Hergemont lay on the ground, staring at her with glassy eyes which were already filled with death.
She knelt down by his side; but, when she tried to unbutton his waistcoat and his bloodstained shirt, in order to dress the wound of which he was dying, he gently pushed her hand aside. She understood that all aid was useless and that he wished to speak to her. She stooped still lower.
“Veronique... forgive... Veronique....” It was the first utterance of his failing thoughts. She kissed him on the forehead and wept: “Hush, father.... Don't tire yourself....” But he had something else to say; and his mouth vainly emitted syllables which did not form words and to which she listened in despair. His life was ebbing away. His mind was fading into the darkness. Veronique glued her ear to the lips which exhausted themselves in a supreme effort and she caught the words:
“Beware... beware... the God-Stone....” Suddenly he half raised himself. His eyes flashed as though lit by the last flicker of an expiring flame. Veronique received the impression that her father, as he looked at her, now understood nothing but the full significance of her presence and foresaw all the dangers that threatened her; and, speaking in a hoarse and terrified but quite distinct voice, he said:
“You mustn't stay.... It means death if you stay.... Escape this island.... Go... Go....'
His head fell back. He stammered a few more words which Veronique was just able to grasp:
“Oh, the cross!... The four crosses of Sarek!... My daughter... my daughter... crucified!...”
And that was all.
There was a great silence, a vast silence which Veronique felt weighing upon her like a burden that grows heavier second after second.
“You must escape from this island,” a voice repeated. “.Go, quickly. Your father bade you, Madame Veronique.”
Honorine was beside her, livid in the face, with her two hands clasping a napkin, rolled into a plug and red with blood, which she held to her chest.
“But I must look after you first!” cried Veronique. “Wait a moment.... Let me see....”
“Later on... they'll attend to me presently,” spluttered Honorine “Oh, the monster!... If I had only come in time! But the door below was barricaded....”
“Do let me see to your wound,” Veronique implored. “Lie down.”
“Presently.... First Marie Le Goff, the cook, at the top of the staircase.... She's wounded too... mortally perhaps.... Go and see.”
Veronique went out by the door at the back, the one through which her son had made his escape. There was a large landing here. On the top steps, curled into a heap, lay Marie Le Goff, with the death-rattle in her throat.
She died almost at once, without recovering consciousness, the third victim of the incomprehensible tragedy. As foretold by old Maguennoc, M. d'Hergemont had been the second victim.