The Three Eyes/Chapter 19
CHAPTER XIX. THE FORMULA
VELMOT dead, Berangere alive: the joy of it! The sudden sense of security! This time, the evil adventure was over, since the girl whom I loved had nothing more to fear. And my thoughts at once harked back to Noel Dorgeroux: the formula in which the great secret was summed up was saved. With the clues and the means of action which existed elsewhere, mankind was now in a position to continue my uncle's work.
Berangere called me back:
« He's dead, isn't he?”
I felt intuitively that I ought not to tell her a truth which was too heavy for her to bear and which she was afraid of hearing and I declared:
“Not at all.... We haven't seen him.... He must have got away....”
My answer seemed to relieve her; and she whispered:
“In any case, he is wounded.... I know I hit him.”
“Rest, my darling,” I said, “and don't worry any more about anything.”
She did as she was told; and she was so weary that she soon fell asleep.
Before taking her home, the count and I went back to the body and lowered it down the slope of the ravine, which we followed to the wall that surrounded the estate. As there was a breach at this spot, the count gave it as his opinion that Velmot could not have entered anywhere but here. And in fact a little lower down, at the entrance to a lonely forest-road we discovered his car. We lifted the body into it, placed the revolver on the seat, drove the car to a distance of half a mile and left it at the entrance to a clearing. We met nobody on the road. The death would beyond a doubt be ascribed to suicide.
An hour later, Berangere, now back to the lodge and lying on her bed, gave me her hand, which I covered with kisses. We were alone, with no more enemies around us. There was no hideous shape prowling in the dark. No one was any longer able to thwart our rightful happiness.
“The nightmare has passed,” I said. “There is no obstacle left between you and me. You will no longer try to run away, will you?”
I watched her with an emotion in which still lingered no small anxiety. Dear little girl, she was still, to me, a creature full of mystery and the unknown; and there were many secrets hidden in the shadowy places of that soul into which I had never entered. I told her as much. She in her turn looked at me for a long time, with her tired and fevered eyes, so different from the careless, laughing eyes which I had loved long ago, and she whispered:
“Secrets? My secrets? No. There is only one secret in me; and that one secret is the cause of everything.”
“May I hear it?”
“I love you.”
I felt a thrill of joy. Often I had experienced a profound intuition of this love of hers, but it had been spoilt by so much distrust, suspicion and resentment. And now Berangere was confessing it to me, gravely and frankly.
“You love me,” I repeated. “You love me. Why did you not tell me earlier? How many misfortunes would have been avoided! Why didn't you?”
“And you can now, because there is no longer any obstacle between us?”
“There is the same obstacle as ever.”
“Which is that?”
I said in a lower voice:
“You know that Theodore Massignac is dead?”
“I am Theodore Massignac's daughter.”
I cried eagerly:
“Berangere, there is something I want to tell you; and I assure you beforehand...”
She interrupted me:
“Please don't say anything more. There's always that between us. It is a gulf which we cannot hope to fill with words.”
She seemed so much exhausted that I made a movement to leave her. She stopped me:
“No,” she said, “don't go. I am not going to be ill... for more than a day or two, at the outside. First of all, I want everything to be quite clear between us; I want you to understand every single thing that I have done. Listen to me....”
“No to-day,” she insisted. “I feel a need to tell you at once what I have to say. Nothing will do more to restore my peace of mind. Listen to me....”
She did not have to entreat me long. How could I have wearied of looking at her and listening to her? We had been through such trials when separated from each other that I was afraid, after all, of being parted from her now.
She put her arm round my neck. Her beautiful lips were quivering beneath my eyes. Seeing my gaze fixed upon them, she smiled:
“You remember, in the Yard... the first time.... From that day, I hated you... and adored you.... I was your enemy... and your slave.... Yes, all my independent and rather wild nature was up in arms at not being able to shake off a recollection which gave me so much pain... and so much pleasure!... I was mastered. I ran away from you. I kept on coming back to you... and I should have come back altogether, if that man — you know whom I mean — had not spoken to me one morning....”
“Velmot! What did he come for? What did he want?”
“He came from my father. What he wanted, as I perceived later, was through me to enter into Noel Dorgeroux's life and rob him of the secret of his invention.”
“Why did you not warn me?”
“From the first moment, Velmot asked me to be silent. Later, he commanded it.”
“You ought to have obeyed him....”
“Had I committed the least indiscretion, he would have killed you. I loved you. I was afraid; and I was all the more afraid because Velmot persecuted me with a love which my hatred for him merely stimulated. How could I doubt that his threat was seriously meant? From that time onward, I was caught in the wheels of the machine. What with one lie and another, I became his accomplice... or rather their accomplice, for my father joined him in the course of the winter. Oh, the torture of it! That man who loved me... and that contemptible father!... I lived a life of horror... always hoping that they would grow tired because their machinations were leading to nothing.”
“And what about my letters from Grenoble? And my uncle's fears?”
“Yes, I know, my uncle often mentioned them to me; and, without revealing the plot to him, I myself put him on his guard. It was at my request that he sent you that report which was stolen. Only, he never anticipated murder. Theft, yes; and, notwithstanding the watch which I maintained, I could see that I was doing no good, that my father made his way into the Lodge at night, that he had at his disposal methods of which I knew nothing. But between that and murder, assassination! No, no, a daughter cannot believe such things.”
“So, on the Sunday, when Velmot came to fetch you at the Lodge while Noel Dorgeroux was out...?”
“That Sunday, he told me that my father had given up his plan and wanted to say good-bye to me and that he was waiting for me by the chapel in the disused cemetery, where the two of them had been experimenting with the fragments removed from the old wall in the Yard. As it happened, Velmot had taken advantage of his call at the Lodge to steal one of the blue phials which my uncle used. I did not notice this before he had already poured part of the liquid on the improvised screen of the chapel. I was able to get hold of the phial and throw it into the well. Just then you called me. Velmot made a rush at me and carried me to his motor-car, where, after stunning me with his fist and binding me, he hid me under a rug. When I recovered from my swoon, I was in the garage at Batignolles. It was in the evening. I was able to push the car under a window which opened on the street, and I jumped out. A gentleman and a lady who were passing picked me up, for I had sprained my ankle as I came to the ground. They took me home with them. Next morning I read in the papers that Noel Dorgeroux had been murdered.”
Berangere hid her face in her hands: “Oh, how I suffered! Was I not responsible for his death? And I should have given myself up, if M. and Madame de Roncherolles, who were the kindest of friends to me, had not prevented me. To give myself up meant ruining my father and, as a consequence, destroying Noel Dorgeroux's secret. This last consideration decided me. I had to repair the wrong which I had unwittingly committed and to fight against those whom I had served. As soon as I was well again, I set to work. Knowing of the existence of the written instructions which Noel Dorgeroux had hidden behind the portrait of D'Alembert, I had myself driven to the Lodge on the evening before, or rather on the morning of the inauguration. My intention was to see you and tell you everything. But it so happened that the kitchen-entrance was open and that I was able to go upstairs without attracting anybody's attention. It was then that you surprised me, in godfather's bedroom.”
“But why did you run away, Berangere?”
“You had the documents; and that was enough.”
“No, you ought to have stayed and explained.”
“Then you shouldn't have spoken to me of love,” she replied, sadly. “No one can love Massignac's daughter.”
“And the result, my poor darling,” I said, with a smile, “was that Massignac, who was in the house, of which he had a key, and who overheard our conversation, took the document and, through your fault, remained the sole possessor of the secret. Not to mention that you left me face to face with a formidable adversary!”
She shook her head: “You had nothing to fear from my father. Your danger came from Velmot; and him I watched.”
“I had accepted an invitation to stay at the Chateau de Pre-Bony, because I knew that my father and Velmot had lived in that neighbourhood during the past winter. Indeed, one day I recognized Velmot's car coming down the hill at Bougival. After some searching, I discovered the shed in which he kept his car. Well, on the fifteenth of May, I was watching there when he went in, accompanied by two men. From what they said I gathered that they had carried off my father at the end of the performance, that they had taken him to an island in the river where Velmot lay in hiding and that next day Velmot was to resort to every possible method to make him speak. I did not know what to do. To denounce Velmot to the police meant supplying them with convincing evidence against my father. On the other hand, my friends the Roncherolles were not at Pre-Bony. Longing for assistance, I ran to the Blue Lion and telephoned to you making an appointment with you there.”
“I kept the appointment that same night, Berangere.”
“You came that night?” she asked, surprised.
“Of course I did; and at the door of the inn I was met by a small boy, sent by you, who took me to the island and to Velmot's house and to a room in which Velmot locked me up and from which, on the following day, I witnessed Theodore Massignac's torture and removal. My dear Berangere, it wasn't very clever of you!”
She seemed stupefied and said: “I sent no boy. I never left the Blue Lion and I waited for you that night and all the morning. Somebody must have given us away: I can't think who.”
“It's a simple enough mystery,” I said, laughing. “Velmot no doubt had a crony of some sort in the inn, who told him of your telephone-call. Then he must have sent that boy, who was in his pay, to pick me up on my way to you.”
“But why lay a trap for you and not for me?”
“Very likely he was waiting till next day to capture you. Very likely he was more afraid of me and wanted to seize the opportunity to keep me under lock and key until Massignac had spoken. Also no doubt he was obeying motives and yielding to necessities of which we shall never know and which moreover do not really matter. The fact remains, Berangere, that, next day...”
“Next day,” she resumed, “I managed to find a boat and in the evening, to row round the island to the place where my father was dying. I was able to save him.”
I in my turn was bewildered:
“What, it was you who saved him? You succeeded in landing, in finding Velmot in the dark, in hitting him just as he was turning on me? It was you who stopped him? It was you who set Massignac free?”
I took her little hand and kissed it with emotion. The dear girl! She also had done all she could to protect Noel Dorgeroux's secret; and with what courage, with what undaunted pluck, risking death twenty times over and not recoiling, at the great hour of danger, from the terrible act of taking life!
“You must tell me all this in detail, Berangere. Go on with your story. Where did you take your father to?”
“To the river bank; and from there, in a market-gardener's cart, to the Chateau de Pre-Bony, where I nursed him.”
She gave a shudder:
“I did not see him again for days and days, not until this morning. I was sitting on the bench by the ruins, reading. Suddenly he stood before me. I tried to run away. He prevented me and said,' Your father is dead. I have come to you from him. Listen!' I distrusted him but he went on to say,' I swear I come from him; and, to prove it, he told me that you knew the formula. He confided it to you during his illness.' This was true. While I was nursing my father, in this very lodge, he said to me one day, 'I can't tell what may happen, Berangere. It is possible that I shall destroy the screen at Meudon, out of revenge. It will be a mistake. In any case, I want to undo that act of madness beforehand.' He then made me learn the formula by heart. And this was a thing which no one except my father and myself could know, because I was alone with him and kept the secret. Velmot, consequently, was speaking the truth.”
“What did you say?”
“I just said, 'Well?' Velmot said, 'His last wish was that you should give me the formula.' 'Never!' I said. 'You lie! My father made me swear never to reveal it to any one, whatever happened, except to one person.' He shrugged his shoulders: 'Victorien Beaugrand, I suppose?' 'Yes.' 'Victorien Beaugrand heard Massignac's last words. And he agrees with me, or at least is on the point of doing so.' 'I refuse to believe it!' 'Ask him for yourself. He's up there, in the ruins...'”
“I, in the ruins?”
“That's what he said: 'In the ruins, fastened to the foot of a tree. His life depends on you. I offer it to you in exchange for the formula. If not, he's a dead man.' I did not suspect the trap which he was laying for me. I ran towards the ruins as fast as I could. This was what Velmot wanted. The ruins was a deserted spot, which gave him the chance to attack me. He took it at once, without even trying to conceal his falsehood. 'Caught, baby!' he cried, throwing me to the ground. 'Oh, I knew you'd be sure to come! Only think, it's your lover, it's the man you love! For you do love him, don't you?' Evidently his only object was to obtain the secret from me by threats and blows. But what happened was that his rage against you and my hatred and loathing for him made him lose his head. First of all he wanted his revenge. He had me in his arms. Oh, the villain!”
She once more hid her face in her hands. She was very feverish; and I heard her stammering:
“The villain!... I don't know how I got away from him. I was worn out. For all that, I managed to give him a savage bite and to release myself. He ran after me, brandishing his revolver; but just as he caught me up, he fell and let go of it. I picked it up at once. When he came after me again, I fired....”
She was silent. The painful story had exhausted her. Her face retained an expression of bewilderment and fright.
“My poor Berangere,” I said, “I have done you a great wrong. I have often, far too often, accused you in my heart, without guessing what a wonderful, plucky creature you were.”
“You could not be expected to understand me.”
She murmured sadly:
“I am Massignac's daughter.”
“No more of that!” I cried. “You are the one who always sacrificed herself and who always took the risk. And you are also the girl I love, Berangere, the girl who gave me all her life and all her soul in a kiss. Remember Berangere... the other day in the Yard, when I found you again and when the sight of all those visions of love threw you in my arms....”
“I have forgotten nothing,” she said, “and I never shall forget.”
“Then you consent?”
Once again she repeated:
“lam Massignac's daughter.”
“Is that the only reason why you refuse me?”
“Can you doubt it?”
I allowed a moment to pass and said:
“So that, if your fate had willed it that you were not Massignac's daughter, you would have consented to be my wife?”
“Yes,” she said, gravely.
The hour had come to speak; and how happy was I to be able to do so. I repeated my sentence:
“If fate had willed that you were not Massignac's daughter.... Berangere, did it never occur to you to wonder why there was so little affection between Massignac and you, why, on the contrary, there was so much indifference? When you were a child, the thought of going back to him and living with him used to upset you terribly. All your life was wrapped up in the Yard. All your love went out to Noel Dorgeroux. Don't you think, when all is said, that we are entitled to interpret your girlish feelings and instincts in a special sense?”
She looked at me in surprise:
“I don't understand,” she said.
“You don't understand, because you have never thought about these things. For instance, is it natural that the death of the man whom you called your father should give you such an Impression of deliverance and relief?”
She seemed dazed:
“Why do you say, the man whom I called my father?”
“Well,” I replied, smiling, “I have never seen your birth-certificate. And, as I have no proof of a fact which seems to me improbable...”
“But,” she said, in a changed voice, “you have not the least proof either that it is not so....”
“Perhaps I have,” I answered.
“Oh,” said Berangere, “it would be too terrible to say that and not to let me learn the truth at once!”
“Do you know Massignac's writing?”
I took a letter from my pocket and handed it to her:
“Read this, my darling. It is a letter which Massignac wrote to me and which he handed to me as he lay dying. I read only the first few words to begin with and at once went off in search of you. Read it, Berangere, and have no doubts: it is the evidence of a dead man.”
She took the letter and read aloud:
“Berangere knows the formula and must not communicate it to any one except you alone, Victorien. You will marry her, will you not? She is not my daughter, but Noel Dorgeroux's. She was born five months after my marriage, as you can confirm by consulting the public records. Forgive me, both of you, and pray for me.”
A long pause followed. Berangere was weeping tears of joy. A radiant light was being thrown on her whole life. The awful weight that had bowed her down in shame and despair no longer bore upon her shoulders. She was at last able to breathe and hold her head high and look straight before her and accept her share of happiness and love. She whispered:
“Is it possible? Noel Dorgeroux's daughter? Is it possible?”
“It is possible,” I said, “and it is certain. After his rightful struggle with Velmot and after the care which you bestowed upon him once you had saved him, Massignac repented. Thinking of the day of his death, he tried to atone for a part of his crimes and wrote you that letter... which evidently possesses no legal value, but which you and I will accept as the truth. You are the daughter of Noel Dorgeroux, Berangere, of the man whom you always loved as a father... and who wanted us to be married. Will you dream of disobeying his wishes, Berangere? Do you not think that it is our duty to join forces and together to complete his enterprise? You know the indispensable formula. By publishing it, we shall make Noel Dorgeroux's wonderful life-work endure for ever. Do you consent, Berangere?”
She did not reply at once; and, when I again tried to convince her, I saw that she was listening with an absent expression, in which I was surprised to find a certain anxiety:
“What is it, darling? You accept, do you not?”
“Yes, yes,” she said, “but, before everything I must try to jog my memory. Only think! How careless of me not to have written the formula down! Certainly, I know it by heart. But, all the same...”
She thought for a long time, screwing up her forehead and moving her lips. Suddenly she said:
“A paper and pencil... quickly....”
I handed her a writing-block. Swiftly, with a trembling hand, she jotted down a few figures. Then she stopped and looked at me with eyes full of anguish.
I understood the effort which she had made and, to calm her, said:
“Don't rack your brains now... it'll come later.... What you need to-day is rest Go to sleep, my darling.”
“I must find it... at all costs.... I must....”
“You'll find it some other time. You are tired now and excited. Rest yourself.”
She did as I said and ended by falling asleep. But an hour after, she woke up, took the sheet of paper again and, in a moment or two, stammered:
“This is dreadful! My brain refuses to work! Oh, but it hurts, it hurts!...”
The night was spent in these vain attempts. Her fever increased. Next day she was delirious and kept on muttering letters and figures which were never the same.
For a week, her life was despaired of. She suffered horribly with her head and wore herself out scribbling lines on her bed clothes.
When she became convalescent and had recovered her consciousness, we avoided the subject and did not refer to it for some time. But I felt that she never ceased to think of it and that she continued to seek the formula. At last, one day, she said with tears in her eyes:
“I have given up all hopes, dear. I repeated that formula a hundred times after I had learnt it; and I felt sure of my memory. But not a single recollection of it remains. It must have been when Velmot was clutching my throat. Everything grew dark, suddenly. I know now that I shall never remember.”
- * * * *
She never did remember. The exhibitions at the Yard were not resumed. The miraculous visions did not reappear.
And yet what investigations were pursued! How many companies have been promoted which attempted to exploit the lost secret! But all in vain: the screen remained lifeless and empty, like a blind man's eyes.
To Berangere and me it would have meant a sorrow incessantly renewed, if love had not brought us peace and consolation in all things. The authorities, who showed themselves fairly easy-going, I think, in this case, never found any traces of the woman who bore the name of Massignac. I was dispatched on a mission to the Far East. I sent out for her; and we were married without attracting attention.
We often speak of Noel Dorgeroux's great secret; and if Berangere's lovely eyes become clouded with sadness:
“Certainly,” I say, “the lost secret was a wonderful thing. There was never anything more thrilling than the Meudon pictures; and those which we had a right to expect might have opened up horizons which we are not able to conceive. But are you quite sure that we ought to regret them? Does a knowledge of the past and the future spell happiness for mankind? Is it not rather an essential law of our equilibrium that we should be obliged to live within the narrow confines of the present and to see before or behind us no more than lights which are still just glimmering and lights which are being faintly kindled? Our knowledge is adjusted to our strength; and it is not good to learn and to decipher too quickly truths to which we have not had time to adapt our existence and riddles which we do not yet deserve to know.”
Benjamin Prevotelle made no attempt to conceal his disappointment. I keep up a regular correspondence with him. In every letter that I receive from this great scientist I anticipate his anxious question: “Does she remember? May we hope?” Alas, my answers leave him no illusions: “Berangere remembers nothing. You must not hope.”
He consoles himself by waging a fierce contest with those who still deny any value to his theory; and it must be confessed that, now that the screen has been destroyed and it has become impossible to support that theory by proofs which are in any way material, the number of his adversaries has increased and that they propound objections which Benjamin Prevotelle must find it extremely difficult to refute. But he has every sincere and unprejudiced person on his side.
- * * * *
He likewise has the great public. We all know, of our reasoned conviction, and we all believe, out of our impulse of ardent faith, that, though we now receive no communications from our brothers in Venus, they, those beings with the Three Eyes, are still interesting themselves in us with the same fervour, the same watchfulness, the same impassioned curiosity. Looking down upon us, they follow our every action, they observe us, study us and pity us, they count our misfortunes and our wounds and perhaps also they envy us, when they witness our joys and when, in some secret place, they surprise a man and a maid, with love-laden eyes, whose lips unite in a kiss.