MYSTERIES OF PARIS
By EUGENE SUE
IN THE NOTARY'S OFFICE.
Brain, or heart of the land, which you will, as large cities are, Paris may claim to have nerves, muscles, and arteries centering in it, which but few capitals, by right of size, passions, horrors, loves, charms, mysteries, in a word, can reveal. To trace its emotions, impulses, secrets, wounds, cankers, joys, the following pages are devoted.
We must begin by taking up the further ends of threads which will soon lead us deep into its labyrinths, not without events on the way, only surpassed by those we shall meet in the mazes themselves.
In the year 1819, a singular project, incited by the current stories of left-handed marriages and loving episodes, as in the case of the Prince of Capua and Miss Penelope Smith, was put into operation by one Sarah Seyton, widow of the Earl of M'Gregor. Her brother, the Honorable Tom Seyton, assisted her to the utmost, fully prepared to aid his sister in matrimonially entangling any crown-wearer whomsoever; he was perfectly willing to participate with her in all the schemes and intrigues that might be useful toward the success of her endeavor to become the wife of a sovereign, however humble in possessions and power; but he would far rather have killed the sister whom he so devotedly loved, than he would have seen her become the mistress of a prince, even with the certainty of a subsequent marriage in reparation.
The matrimonial inventory drawn up by Tom, with the aid of the Almanach de Gotha, had a very satisfactory aspect. The Germanic Confederation, especially, furnished a numerous contingency of young presumptive sovereigns, the first to whom the adventurers meant to pay attention being thus designated in the diplomatic and infallible Almanac of Gotha for the year of 1819:
Genealogy of the Sovereigns of Europe and their Families.
Grand-Duke MAXIMILIAN RUDOLPH, born December 10th, 1764. Succeeded his father, CHARLES FREDERIC RUDOLPH, April 21st 1785. Widower January, 1808, of Louisa, daughter of Prince JOHN AUGUSTUS of Burglen.
GUSTAVUS RUDOLPH, born April 17th, 1803.
Grand-Duchess JUDITH, dowager widow of the Grand-Duke
CHARLES FREDERIC RUDOLPH, April 21st, 1785.
Tom had sense enough to inscribe first on his list the youngest of the princes whom he desired for his brother-in-law, thinking that extreme youth was more easily seduced than riper age.
The Countes M'Gregor was not only favored with the introduction of the Marquis d'Harville (a friend of the grand-duke, to whom he had rendered great services in 1815, and a little of a suitor of the lady's while she was in Paris) and of the British Ambassador in Paris, but with that of her own personal appearance. To rare beauty and a singular aptitude of acquiring various accomplishments, was added a seductiveness all the more dangerous, because she possessed a mind unbending and calculating, a disposition cunning and selfish, a deep hypocrisy, a stubborn and despotic will—all hidden under the specious gloss of a generous, warm, and impassioned nature. Physically her organization was as deceptive as it was morally. Her large black eyes—which, by turns languished and beamed with beauty beneath their ebon lashes—could feign to admiration all the kindling fires of voluptuousness. And yet, the burning impulses of love beat not in her frozen bosom; never could a surprise of either the heart or the senses disturb the stern and pitiless schemes of this intriguing, egotistical, and ambitious girl.
Fortunately for her, her plans were assisted by one Dr. Polidori, a learned but hypocritical man, who hoped to be the future Richelieu over the puppet he trusted to convert Prince Rudolph into. The lady and her brother combined with Polidori against the youthful prince, whose only ally was his true friend, an English baronet, Sir Walter Murphy.
The Countess M'Gregor drove things to the end, and, during a brief absence of the grand-duke, was secretly married to Prince Rudolph. In time, about to become a mother, the artful woman began to clamor for an acknowledgment of the union. She braved exposure, hoping to force the prince into giving her the station she sought. All was discovered, easily, therefore. But the old duke was all-powerful within his realm: the clandestine union was pronounced null and void, and the countess expelled. Her latest act of vengeance was to inform Rudolph that their child had died. This was in 1827. But this assurance was on a par with her former falseness: the child, a girl, was handed over to Jacques Ferrand, a miserly notary in Paris, whose housekeeper got rid of it to a rogue known as Pierre Tournemine. When he at last ran to the end of his tether, and was sentenced to imprisonment in the Rochefort-hulks for forgery, he induced a woman called Gervais, but nicknamed the Screech-Owl (Chouette), to take the girl, now five or six years old, who brought the little creature up in the midst of as much cruelty as degradation.
Meanwhile the countess nursed the idea of wedding Prince Rudolph in a more secure manner. When, in time, he became grand-duke, she was more eager than ever to enjoy what she considered her own. Though he had married, she hoped; and, the second wife having died childless, the Countess M'Gregor followed Rudolph into Prance, where he traveled incognito as Count Duren. As a last resort to force the grand-duke into her ambitious aims, she sought for a girl of the age that her own would have been, to pass it off as their child. By chance, the woman to whom she applied was La Chouette, and hardly had she spoken of the likeness which the counterfeit would have to bear to the supposed suppressed child, than the woman recognized the very girl whom she had kept for years by her, or in view.
Yes, the offspring of Prince Rudolph and the countess was a common girl of the town, known as Fleur-de-Marie (the Virgin's Flower), for her touching religious beauty, as La Goualeuse (the Songstress), for her vocal ability, and La Pegriotte (Little Thief), out of La Chouette's anger that she would not be what she styled her.
She had long shunned her sad sisters in shame, and, indeed, in all her life had known but one friend. This was a sewing-girl known as Rigolette, or Miss Dimpleton, from her continual smiles; a maid with no strong ideas of virtue, but preserved from the miry path which poor Fleur-de-Marie had been forced to use, merely by being too hard-worked to have leisure to be bad.
Prince Rudolph entertained the most profound aversion for the mother of his child, yet for the latter he mourned still, fifteen or eighteen years after her reported decease. Weary of life, save for doing good, he took a deep liking for playing the part of a minor providence, be it said in all reverence.
Known to society as the grand-duke, otherwise Count Duren, he had humble lodgings in No. 7, Rue du Temple, as a fan-painter, plain M. Rudolph. To mask the large sums which on occasion he dispensed in charity, he was wont to give out that he was the agent of wealthy persons who trusted him in their alms-giving.
Events brought him into immediate contact with Fleur-de-Marie, and Rigolette (who lived in his own house in the Rue du Temple).
The former he had rescued from her wretchedness and provided with a home on a farm at Bouqueval, whence she had been abducted by Chouette and comrades of hers, by orders of Jacques Ferrand, who wanted her put out of the way.
The wretches who had undertaken to drown the girl with Ferrand's housekeeper (become dangerous to him, as one aware of too many of his secrets) murdered the latter, but the former, swept from their sight by the Seine's current, had been saved by a former prison-mate of hers, a girl of twenty, so wild in manner as to have won the nickname of Louve (Wolf).
Snatched from death, the exhausted girl now lay, but a little this side of life's confines, in the house of Dr. Griffon, at Asnieres, under his care and that of the Count of St. Remy, two gentlemen who had seen her escape.
Rudolph was seeking her all this while, yet not so busily that he forgot his avenger's course. Chief among social oppressors, whose cunning baffled the law, and verified the old saying of "what is everybody's business is nobody's business," Jacques Ferrand stood.
He withheld a large sum of money, intrusted verbally to him, from its owner, the Baroness Fermont, and impoverished her and her daughter; he had seduced his servant Louise Morel, caused her imprisonment on a charge of child-murder, driving her father, a working jeweler, insane, and menacing the destruction of the whole family—but Rudolph was at hand to support them.
His cashier, Francois Germain, also was in prison, thanks to him. The youth—who had saved some money, and deposited it with a banker out of town—had no sooner heard that Louise Morel's father was in debt (a means of Ferrand's triumph over the girl), than he gave her some of his employer's money, thinking to replace it with his own immediately after. But while he was away to draw the deficit from his banker's, the notary discovered the loss, and had him arrested as a thief.
The notary, whose cunning had earned him a high reputation for honesty, strictness, and parsimony, was, at this moment, therefore, at the climax of inward delight. His chief accomplice removed (his only other being the Dr. Polidori already mentioned) he believed he had nothing to fear. Louise Morel had been replaced by a new servant, much more tempting to a man of the notary's sensual cravings than that first poor victim had been.
We usher the reader, at the clerks' breakfast-time, into the notary's gloomy office.
A thing unheard-of, stupendous, marvelous! instead of the meager and unattractive stew, brought every morning to these young people by the departed housekeeper, Madame Seraphin, an enormous cold turkey, served up on an old paper box, ornamented the middle of one of the tables of the office, flanked by two loaves of bread, some Dutch cheese, and three bottles of sealed wine; an old leaden inkstand, filled with a mixture of salt and pepper, served as a salt-cellar; such was the bill of fare.
Each clerk, armed with his knife and a formidable appetite, awaited the hour of the feast with hungry impatience; some of them were raging over the absence of the head clerk, without whom they could not commence their breakfast pursuant to etiquette.
This radical change in the ordinary meals of the clerks of Jacques Ferrand announced an excessive domestic revolution.
The following conversation, eminently Boeotian (if we may be allowed to borrow this word from the witty writer who has made it popular), will throw some light upon this important question:
"Behold a turkey who never expected, when he entered into life, to appear at breakfast on the table of our governor's quill-drivers!"
"Just so; when the governor entered on the life of a notary, in like manner he never expected to give his clerks a turkey for breakfast."
"For this turkey is ours," cried Stump-in-the-Gutters, the office-boy, with greedy eyes.
"My friend you forget; this turkey must be a foreigner to you."
"And as a Frenchman, you should hate a foreigner."
"All that can be done is to give you the claws."
"Emblem of the velocity with which you run your errands."
"I think, at least, I have a right to the carcass," said the boy, murmuring.
"It might be granted; but you have no right to it, just as it was with the Charter of 1814, which was only another carcass of liberty," said the Mirabeau of the office.
"Apropos of carcass," said one of the party. "May the soul of Mother Seraphin rest in peace! for, since she was drowned, we are no longer condemned to eat her ever lasting hash!"
"And for a week past, the governor, instead of giving us a breakfast—"
"Allows us each forty sous a day."
"That is the reason I say: may her soul rest in peace."
"Exactly; for in her time, the old boy would never have given us the forty sous."
"It is enormous!"
"It is astonishing!"
"There is not an office in Paris—"
"In the universe, where they give forty sous to a famishing clerk for his breakfast."
"Apropos of Madame Seraphin, which of you fellows has seen the new servant that takes her place?"
"The Alsatian girl whom Madame Pipelet, the porter's wife of No. 17, Rue du Temple, the house where poor Louise lived, brought one evening?"
"I have not seen her yet."
"Of course not; it is altogether impossible to see her, for the governor is more savage than ever to prevent our entering the pavilion in the courtyard."
"And since the porter cleans the office now, how can one get a glimpse at his Mary?"
"Pooh! I have seen her."
"Where was that?"
"How does she look?"
"Large or small?"
"Young or old?"
"I am sure, beforehand, that she has not so good-looking a face as poor Louise—that good girl?"
"Come, since you have seen her, how does this new servant look?"
"When I say I saw her, I have seen her cap—a very funny cap."
"It was cherry color, and of velvet, I believe; something like those worn by the little broom girls."
"Like the Alsatians? it is very natural, since she is an Alsatian."
"You don't say so!"
"But I do! what is it that surprises you? The burnt child shuns the fire!"
"Chalamel! what relation between your proverb and this cap?"
"There is none."
"Why did you say it, then?"
"Because a benefit is never lost, and the dog is a friend of man!"
"Hold! If Chalamel opens his budget of proverbs, which mean nothing, we are in for it. Come, tell us what you know of this new servant."
"The day before yesterday I was out in the yard: she had her back toward one of the windows of the ground-floor."
"The yard's back?"
"What stupidity! No, the servant's. The glasses are so dirty that I could see nothing of her figure; but I could see her cherry-colored cap, and a profusion of curls, as black as jet; for she wears her hair in short curls."
"I am sure that the governor would not have seen through his spectacles as much as you did; for here you have one, as they say, who, if he remained alone with a woman on the earth, the world would soon come to an end."
"That is not astonishing. He laughs best who laughs last, and, moreover, punctuality is the politeness of kings."
"How wearisome Chalamel is when he lays himself out to it!"
"Tell me what company you keep, and I'll tell you what you are."
"Oh! how pretty!"
"As for me, I have an idea that it is superstition that stupefies the governor more and more."
"It is, perhaps, from penitence, that he gives us forty sous for our breakfast."
"The fact is, he must be crazy."
"I think for the last two or three days he has been quite wild."
"Not that we see him so much. He who was, for our torment, in his cabinet from morning till night, and always at our backs, now has not, for two days, put his nose into the office."
"That is the reason the head clerk has so much to do."
"And that we are obliged to die with hunger in waiting for him."
"What a change in the office."
"Poor Germain would be much astonished if any one should say to him, 'Only fancy, my boy, the governor gives us forty sous for our breakfast;' 'Pshaw! it is impossible,' he would say. 'It is so possible that he has announced it to me, Chalamel, in my own person.' 'You are jesting.' 'I jest! This is the way it occurred: during two or three days which followed the death of Madame Seraphin, we had no breakfast at all. We liked that well enough, for no breakfast at all was better than that she gave us; but, on the other hand, our luncheon cost us money. However, we were patient, and said: "The governor has got no servant, no housekeeper, and when he gets one, we shall have to live on hash again." It wasn't so, my poor Germain: the old fellow finally employed a servant, and our breakfast was still buried in the river of oblivion. I was appointed a sort of deputy, to present to the governor the complaints of the stomach; he was with the principal clerk." I do not want to feed you in the morning," said he, in a gruff, surly tone; "my servant has no time to prepare your breakfast." "But, sir, you are bound to give us our morning meal." "Well, you may send out for your breakfast, and I will pay for it. How much do you want?—forty sous each?" added he, with some other subject evidently upon his mind, and mentioning, "forty sous," in the same manner that he would have said twenty sous, or a hundred sous. "Yes, sir," I exclaimed, "forty sous, will do," catching the ball "on the fly." "Let it be so," answered the notary; "the head clerk will take charge of the expense, and I will settle with him." Thereupon the governor shut the door in my face.' You must confess, gentleman that Germain would be astonished at the extraordinary liberality of the governor."
"Germain would say: 'The governor is out of his head.'"
"And forty sous a-head out of his pocket," said Chalamel.
"Well done! the first chemist was right who said: 'Bitter as Calomel!'"
"Seriously, I believe that the governor is sick."
"For ten days past, he is scarcely to be recognized. His cheeks are so hollow, that you might thrust in your fist."
"And he is so absent-minded, that it is curious to see him. The other day he took off his glasses to read a deed; his eyes were red as live coals."
"He was right; short reckonings make long friends."
"For heaven's sake, don't cut me with your saws. I tell you, gentlemen, that it is very singular. It was upside down."
"Which was upside down?—the deed or the governor? It is singular, as you say. What the devil was he doing in that position? I should think it would have given him the apoplexy, unless his habits, as you say, have changed very suddenly."
"How wearisome you are, Chalamel! I mean that it was the deed which I presented wrong end foremost."
"How wild he must have been!"
"Not at all; he didn't even perceive it. He looked at it for ten minutes, with his bloodshot eyes fixed upon it, and then he gave it back to me, saying: 'Quite correct.'"
"Still upside down?"
"How could he have read the deed?"
"He couldn't, unless he can read upside down."
"No man can do that."
"He looked so gloomy and savage, that I dared not open my lips, and I went away as if nothing had happened."
"I have got something to tell you. Four days ago I was in the office of the head clerk, and in come one client, two clients, three clients, with whom the governor had made an appointment. They waited impatiently, and requested me to go and rap at the door of the study. I rapped, and, receiving no answer, I walked in."
"Well, what did you see?"
"M. Ferrand lying upon his arms, which were placed upon the table, and his bald head uncovered. He did not stir."
"He was asleep, probably."
"I thought so. I approached him, and said: 'There are some clients outside, who wish to see you.' He did not move. 'M. Ferrand!' No reply. At length I touched his shoulder, and he started up as if the devil had bitten him. His motion was so sudden, that his big glasses fell off from his nose, and I saw—you never can believe it—"
"Out with it. What did you see?"
"Isn't he a queer bird?"
"The governor weep! Get out of the way!"
"When you see him cry, ladybirds will play on the French horn!"
"And monkeys chew tobacco!"
"Pshaw! your nonsense won't prevent me from knowing what I saw with my own eyes. I tell you I saw him as I have described."
"Yes, weeping. And after that, he was wroth at being caught in such a lachrymose condition, and sung out to me: 'Go away—go away!' 'But, sir.—' 'Go away, I tell you!' 'There are some clients in the office, with whom you have made an appointment, sir, and—' 'I haven't the time to see them. Let them go to the devil, and you with them.' Thereupon he arose, as furious as he could be, and looked so much as if he would kick me out at the door, that I didn't wait for the compliment, but hooked it, and told the clients to leave also. They didn't look greatly pleased, I assure you; but for the reputation of the office, I told them that the governor had caught the whooping-cough."
This conversation was now interrupted by the entrance of the principal clerk, who came in as if pressed with business. His appearance was hailed by a general acclamation, and all eyes were turned toward the turkey.
"Without being uncivil, my lord, I must say that you have detained us from breakfast for a long time," said Chalamel. "You must look out, for the next time our appetites won't be under such good control."
"It is not my fault, I assure you; I was more impatient than you are—the governor must be mad!"
"That's what I have been saying."
"But the madness of the governor ought not to keep us from eating."
"It should have the opposite effect."
"We can talk just as well with our mouths full."
"A thousand times better," said the office-boy.
Chalamel was carving the turkey, and he said to the principal clerk: "What reason have you for thinking that the governor is crazy?"
"We were inclined to think that he had become perfectly stupid, when he agreed to give us forty sous per head for our daily breakfast."
"I confess that I was as much surprised as you are, gentlemen; but it is a trifle, actually a trifle, compared with what has just occurred."
"You don't say so!" said another.
"Is the notary crazy enough to invite us to dine every day, at his expense, at the Cadran-Bleu?"
"And give us tickets to the play, after dinner?"
"And after that, take us to the cafe, to round off with punch?"
"And after that a la—"
"Gentlemen, just as far as you please; but the scene which I have just observed is more frightful than funny."
"Give us the scene, I beg of you."
"That's right; don't trouble yourself about the breakfast—we are all ears."
"And all jaws! I see through you, my pretties! while I am speaking, your teeth will be in motion, and the turkey would be finished before my story. Be patient; I will reserve it for the dessert."
We do not know whether it was the goad of hunger or curiosity that stimulated the mastication of the young limbs of the law, but the breakfast was so rapidly completed, that the moment for the story arrived immediately.
Not to be surprised by the governor, they sent the office-boy, on whom the carcass and claws of the turkey had been most liberally bestowed, as a sentry into the neighboring room.
The head clerk said to his colleagues, "In the first place, you must know that, for some days past the porter has been alarmed about master's health. As the good man sits up very late, he has seen M. Ferrand go down to the garden in the night in spite of the cold and rain, and walk up and down rapidly. He ventured to leave his nest, and ask his master if he had need of anything. The governor sent him to bed in such a tone that, since then, the porter has kept himself quiet, and he will keep himself so always, as soon as he hears the governor descend to the garden, which happens every night, no matter what weather."
"The old boy is, perhaps, a somnambulist?"
"Not probable; but such nocturnal promenades announce great agitation. I arrive at my story: just now, I went in to get some signatures. At the moment I placed my hand on the lock, I thought I heard some one speak. I stopped, and distinguished two or three dull cries, like stifled sobs. After having hesitated to enter for a moment, fearing some misfortune, I opened the door."
"What did I see? The governor on his knees, on the floor."
"On his knees?"
"On the floor?"
"Yes, kneeling on the floor, his face in his hands and Us elbows on the seat of one of his old arm-chairs."
"It is very plain. What fools we are! He is so bigoted, he was making an extra prayer."
"In any case, it would be a funny prayer! Nothing could be heard but stifled groans, only from time to time he murmured, between his teeth, 'Lord, lord!' like a man in a state of despair. Seeing this, I did not know whether I ought to remain or to retire."
"That would have been also my political opinion."
"I remained, therefore, very much embarrassed, when he rose and turned suddenly. He had between his teeth an old pocket-handkerchief; his spectacles remained on the chair. In all my life I have never seen such a face: he had the appearance of a lost soul. I drew back, alarmed—on my word of honor, alarmed! Then he—"
"Caught you by the throat?"
"You are out there. He looked at me, at first, with a bewildered air; then, letting his handkerchief fall, which he had, doubtless, gnawed and torn in grinding his teeth, he cried, throwing himself into my arms, 'Oh! I am very unhappy!'"
"Draw it mild!"
"Fact! Well, in spite of his death's-head look, when he pronounced these words his voice was so heart-rending—I would say, almost so soft—"
"So soft? Get out. There is not a rattle, nor Tom-cat with a cold, whose sounds would not be music alongside his voice."
"It is possible; that did not prevent it from being so plaintive at that time that I felt myself quite affected; so much the more as M. Ferrand is not habitually communicative. 'Sir,' said I, 'I believe that.' 'Leave me! leave me!' he answered, interrupting me; 'to tell your sufferings to another is a great solace.' Evidently he took me for some one else."
"So familiar? Then you owe us two bottles of Bordeaux:
"'When one's master is not proud One must freely treat the crowd.'
It is the proverb that speaks; it is sacred. Proverbs are the wisdom of a nation."
"Come, Chalamel, leave your proverbs alone. You comprehend, that, on hearing that, I at once understood that he was mistaken, or that he was in a high fever. I disengaged myself, saying, 'Calm yourself! it is I.' Then he looked at me with a stupid look."
"Very well! now that sounds like the truth."
"His eyes were wild. 'Eh!' he answered. 'What is it?—who is there? what do you want with me?' At each question he ran his hand over his face, as if to drive away the clouds which obscured his thoughts."
"'Which obscured his thoughts!' Just as if it were written! Bravo, head clerk; we will make a melodrama together:
"'Who speaks so well, and so polite, A melodrama ought to write.'"
"Do hold your tongue, Chalamel. I know nothing about it; but what is sure is, that, when he recovered his Senses, it was another song. He knit his brows in a terrible manner, and said to me, with quickness, without giving me time to answer, 'What did you come here for?—have you been a long time here?—can I not be alone in my own house without being surrounded by spies?—what have I said?—what have you heard? Answer, answer.' He looked so wicked that I replied, 'I have heard nothing, sir; I just came in.' 'You do not deceive me?' 'No, sir.' 'Well, what do you want?' 'To ask for some signatures, sir.' 'Give me the papers.' And he began to sign—without reading them, a half dozen notarial acts—he, who never put his flourish on an act without spelling it, letter by letter, and twice over, from end to end. I remarked that, from time to time, his hand slackened a little in the middle of his signature, as if he was absorbed by a fixed idea, and then he resumed and signed quickly, in a convulsive manner. When all were signed he told me to retire, and I heard him descend by the little staircase which leads from his cabinet to the court."
"I now come back to this: what can the matter be with him?"
"Perhaps he regrets Madame Seraphin."
"Oh, yes! he regrets any one!"
"That reminds me of what the porter said: that the cure of Bonne-Nouvelle and his vicar had called several times, and were not received. That is surprising."
"What I want to know is, what the carpenter and locksmith have been doing in the pavilion."
"The fact is, they have worked there for three days consecutively."
"And then one evening they brought some furniture here in a covered cart."
"I give it up! as sung the swan of Cambrai."
"It is perhaps remorse for having imprisoned Germain which torments him."
"Remorse—he? It is too hard, and too tough, as the eagle of Meau said."
"Speaking of Germain, he is going to have famous recruits in his prison, poor fellow."
"How is that?"
"I read in the 'Gazette des Tribunaux' that the gang of robbers and assassins who have been arrested by the Champs Elysees in one of those little subterranean taverns—"
"They are real caverns."
"That this band of scoundrels has been confined in La Force."
"Poor Germain, good society for him."
"Louise Morel will also have her part of the recruits; for in the band they say there is a whole family, from father to son and mother to daughter."
"Then they will send the women to Saint Lazare, where Louise is."
"It is, perhaps, some of this band who have attempted the life of the countess who lives near the Observatory, one of our clients. Has not master sent me often enough to know how she is? He appears to be very much interested about her health. Only yesterday he sent me again to inquire how Lady M'Gregor had passed the night."
"Always uncertain: one day they hope, the next despair—they never know whether she will get through the day; two days ago she was given up; but yesterday there was a ray of hope; what complicates the matter is, she has a brain fever."
"Could you go into the house, and see where the deed was committed?"
"Oh! by no means! I could go no further than the gate, and the porter did not seem disposed to walk much, not as ..."
"Here comes master," cried the boy, entering the office with the carcass. Immediately the young men seated themselves at their respective desks, over which they bent, moving their pens, while the boy deposited for a moment the turkey skeleton in a box filled with law papers.
Jacques Ferrand appeared.
Taking off his old silk cap, his red hair, mixed with gray, fell in disorder from each side of his temples; some of the veins on his forehead seemed injected with blood, while his flat face and hollow cheeks were of a livid paleness. The expression of his eyes could not be seen, concealed as they were by his large green spectacles; but the visible alteration of his features announced a consuming passion.
He crossed the office slowly, without saying a word to his clerks, without appearing to notice their presence, entered the room of the head clerk, walked through it, as well as his own cabinet, and descended immediately by the little staircase which led to the court. Jacques Ferrand having left behind him all the doors open, the clerks could, with good reason, be astonished at the extraordinary motions of their master, who came up one staircase and descended another, without stopping in any of the chambers, which he had traversed mechanically.
The Countess M'Gregor, at least, was not his trouble. In showing La Chouette Fleur-de-Marie's picture, she had exposed her jewels, and to secure them, the hag poniarded the lady and decamped.
THOU SHALT NOT LUST.
It was night. The profound silence which reigned in the house occupied by Jacques Ferrand was interrupted at intervals by the sighing of the wind, and by rain, which fell in torrents. These melancholy sounds seemed to render still more complete the solitude of the dwelling. In a bed-chamber on the first floor, very comfortably and newly furnished, and covered with a thick carpet, a young woman was standing before an excellent fire.
What was very strange, in the center of the door, which was strongly bolted, and opposite the bed, was placed a small wicket of about five or six inches square, which could be opened on the outside.
A reflecting lamp cast an obscure light in this room, which was hung with garnet-colored silk; the curtains of the bed, as also the covering of a large sofa, were of silk and worsted damask, of the same color.
We are minute in these details of furniture, so recently imported into the dwelling of the notary, because it announces a complete revolution in the habits of Jacques Ferrand, who, until then was of Spartan avarice and meanness (above all as respected others) in all that concerned living. It is then upon this garnet tapestry, a strong background, warm in color, on which is delineated the picture we are going to paint.
Of tall and graceful stature, she is a quadroon in the flower of bloom and youth. The development of her fine shoulders, and of her luxurious person, makes her waist appear so marvelously slender, that one would believe that she might use her necklace for a girdle.
As simple as it is coquettish and provoking, her Alsatian costume is of strange taste, somewhat theatrical, and thus more calculated for the effect that it was intended to produce.
Her spencer of black cassimere, half open on her swelling bosom, very long in the body, with tight sleeves and plain back, is embroidered with purple wool on the seams, and trimmed with a row of small chased silver buttons. A short petticoat of orange merino, which seems of exaggerated amplitude, although it fits admirably on the contours of sculptural richness, allows a glance at the charming leg of the Creole, in the scarlet stockings with blue clocks, just as it is met with among the old Flemish painters, who show so complacently the garters of their robust heroines.
Never did artist dream of an outline more pure than her limbs; strong and muscular above their full calves, they terminated in a small foot, quite at ease, and well arched in its very small shoe of black morocco with silver buckles. She is standing before the glass on the chimney-piece. The slope of her spencer displays her elegant, graceful neck, of dazzling whiteness, but without transparency.
Taking off her cherry-colored cap, to replace it by a Madras kerchief, the Creole displayed her thick and magnificent hair of bluish black, which, divided in the middle of her forehead, and naturally curled, descended no lower than the junction of the neck with the shoulders. One must know the inimitable taste with which a Creole twists around her head these handkerchiefs, to have an idea of the graceful appearance, and of the piquant contrast of this tissue, variegated purple, azure, and orange, with her black hair, which, escaping from the close folds, surrounds with its large, silky curls her pale, but plump and firm cheeks.
Her arms raised above her head, she finished, with her slender ivory fingers, arranging a large bow, placed very low on the left side, almost on the ear. Her features are of the kind it is impossible ever to forget.
A bold forehead, slightly projecting, surmounted a visage of perfect oval, her complexion of a dead white, the satin-like freshness of a camellia imperceptibly touched by a ray of the sun; her eyes of a size almost immoderate, have a singular expression, for the pupil, extremely large, black, and brilliant, hardly allows the transparent pale blue of the eye ball to be seen from the corners of her eyelids, fringed with long lashes; her chin is perfect; her nose, fine and straight, is terminated by nostrils dilating at each emotion; her lovely impudent mouth is of a lively red.
Let one imagine this pale face, with its sparkling black glances, its red, moist, and glossy lips, which shine like wet coral.
Let us say that this tall Creole, slender, fleshy, strong and active as a panther, was the type of that sensuality which is only lighted up by the fires of the tropics. Such was Cecily.
She was once the slave of a Louisiana planter, who designed her for his harem. Her lover, a slave named David, resisted that design to the only gain of being flogged, while his loved one was borne away. David was no common black; he had been educated in France, and was the plantation surgeon. The story of this high-handed and twofold outrage reached Rudolph, whose yacht was on the coast. The prince, landing in the night with a boat's crew, carried off David and Cecily from the planter's calaboose, leaving a sum of money as indemnity. The two were wedded in France, but Cecily, won away by a very bad man, had become so evil, that her new life was a series of scandals. David would have killed her, but Rudolph, whose physician he had worthily become, induced him to prefer her life-prisonment in Germany. Out of her dungeon she was brought by Rudolph, who knew no fitter implement with which to chastise the notary.
Her detestable predilections, for some time restrained by her real attachment for David, were only developed in Europe; the civilization and climatical influence of the North had tempered the violence, modified the expression. Instead of casting herself violently on her prey, and thinking only, like her compeers, to destroy as soon as possible their life and fortune, Cecily, fixing on her victims her magnetic glances, commenced by attracting them, little by little, into the blazing whirlwind which seemed to emanate from her; then, seeing them lost, suffering every torment of a tantalized craving, she amused herself by a refinement of coquetry, prolonging their delirium; then, returning to her first instincts, she destroyed them in her homicidal embrace. This was more horrible still.
The famished tiger, who springs upon and carries off the prey which he tears with wild roars, inspires less horror than the serpent, which silently charms, attracts by degrees, twists in inextricable folds the victim, feels it palpitate under its deadly stings, and seems to feed upon its struggles with as much delight as upon its blood.
To the foregoing let there be joined an adroit, insinuating, quick mind—an intelligence so marvelous, that in a year she spoke both French and German with the most extreme facility—sometimes even with marked eloquence. Imagine, in fine, a corruption worthy of the courtesan queens of ancient Rome, and audacity and courage above all proof, propensities, diabolical wickedness, and one would have a correct idea of the new servant of Jacques Ferrand—the determined creature who had dared to throw herself into the den of the wolf. And yet (singular anomaly) on learning from M. de Graun the provoking platonic part which she was to play at the notary's and what avenging ends were to be produced by her artifices, Cecily had promised to perform her part with a will; or, rather, with a terrible hatred against Jacques Ferrand, being very indignant at the recital of his having drugged Louise—a recital it was found necessary to make, in order that she should be on her guard against the hypocritical attempts of the monster. Some retrospective words concerning the latter personage are indispensable.
When Cecily was presented to him by Rudolph's intermediary, Madame Pipelet, as an orphan over whom she wished to have no control, or care, the notary had, perhaps, been less struck with the beauty of the Creole than fascinated by her irresistible glances, which, at the first interview, lighted a fire which disturbed his reason.
This man, ordinarily with so much self-command, so calm, and cunning, forgot the cold calculations of his profound dissimulation when the demon of lust obscured his mind. Besides he had no reason to suspect the protegee of Madame Pipelet.
After her conversation with the latter, Madame Seraphin had proposed to Jacques Ferrand, to take the place of Louise, a young girl almost without a home, for whom she would answer. The notary had gladly accepted, in the hope of abusing, with impunity, the precarious and isolated condition of his new servant. Finally, far from being suspicious, Jacques Ferrand found, in the progress of events, new motives of security.
All responded to his wishes. The death of Madame Seraphin rid him of a dangerous accomplice. The death of Fleur-de-Marie (he thought her dead) released him from the living proof of his crime of child-stealing. He did not fear the Countess M'Gregor now that she was wounded, while La Chouette was dead, as we have related.
We repeat, no sentiment of suspicion came to counterbalance in his mind the sudden, irresistible impression which he had experienced at the sight of Cecily. He seized, with delight, the occasion to receive into his solitary dwelling the pretended niece of Madame Pipelet.
The character, habits, antecedents of Jacques Ferrand known and stated, the provoking beauty of the Creole, such as we have endeavored to paint it, some other facts which we will now expose, will cause to be comprehended, we hope, the sudden frenzied passion of the notary for this seductive and dangerous creature.
Although Jacques Ferrand was never to obtain the object of his wishes, the Creole was very careful not to deprive him of all hope; but the vague and distant hopes which she rocked in the cradle of so many caprices were for him only increased tortures, and riveted more solidly still the burning chain he wore.
If any astonishment is felt that a man of such vigor and audacity had not had recourse to cunning or violence to triumph over the calculated resistance of Cecily, it must not be forgotten that Cecily was not a second Louise. Besides, the next day after her presentation to the notary, she had played quite another part than the simple country lass, under whose semblance she had been introduced to her master, or he would not have been the dupe of his servant for two consecutive days.
Instructed of the fate of Louise by Baron de Graun, and knowing by what abominable means the unfortunate daughter of Morel had become the prey of the notary, the Creole, entering into this solitary house, had taken excellent precautions to pass the first night in security.
The evening of her arrival, remaining alone with Jacques Ferrand, who, in order not to alarm her, affected hardly to look at her, and told her, roughly, to go to bed, she avowed innocently, that at night she was very much afraid of thieves, but that she was strong, resolute, and ready to defend herself.
"With what?" asked Jacques Ferrand.
"With this," answered the Creole, drawing from the ample woolen pelisse in which she was wrapped up a little dagger, of high finish, which made the notary reflect.
Yet, persuaded that his new servant only feared robbers, he conducted her to the room she was to occupy (the former chamber of Louise). After having examined the localities, Cecily told him, trembling, with her eyes cast down, that, from fear, she would pass her night on a chair, because she saw on the door neither lock nor bolt.
Jacques Ferrand, already completely under the charm, but not wishing to awaken the suspicions of Cecily, said to her, in a cross tone, that she was a fool to have such fears; but he promised that the next day the bolt should be arranged. The Creole did not go to bed.
In the morning the notary came to instruct her as to her duties. He intended to preserve, during the first day, a hypocritical reserve toward his new servant in order to inspire her with confidence; but, struck with her beauty, Which, in the broad daylight seemed still more dazzling, blinded, and carried away by his feelings, he stammered forth some compliments on her figure and beauty.
She, with rare sagacity, had judged from her first interview with the notary, that he was completely under the charm, at the avowal which he made of his flame, she thought she would at once throw off her feigned timidity, and change her mask. The Creole then assumed all at once a bold air. Jacques Ferrand went into new ecstasies, on the beauty of features, and the enchanting figure of his new maid.
"Look me full in the face," said Cecily, resolutely; "although dressed as an Alsatian peasant, do I look like a servant?"
"What do you mean to say?" cried Jacques Ferrand.
"Mark this hand—is it accustomed to rude labor?"
And she showed a white and charming hand, with slender and delicate fingers, the long nails polished like agate, but of which the slightly-shaded crown betrayed the mixed blood.
"And is this a servant's foot?"
And she advanced a ravishing little foot, which the notary had not yet remarked, and which he now only desisted from looking at to regard Cecily with amazement.
"I told Aunt Pipelet just what suited me; she is ignorant of my past life; she thought I was reduced to this position by the death of my parents, and took me for a servant; but you have, I hope, too much sagacity to partake of her error, dear master."
"And what are you, then?" cried Jacques Ferrand, more and more surprised at this language.
"That is my secret. For reasons best known to myself, I have been obliged to leave Germany in this disguise. I wish to remain concealed at Paris for some time. My aunt, supposing me reduced to poverty, proposed my entering your service, spoke of your solitary manner of living, and told me that I would never be allowed to go out. I accepted quickly. Without knowing it, my aunt anticipated my most anxious desire. Who could look for and discover me here?"
"Conceal yourself! what have you done, to be obliged to conceal yourself?"
"Soft offenses, perhaps, but this is my secret."
"And what are your intentions, miss?"
"Always the same. Saving your significant compliments on my shape and beauty, I should not, perhaps, have made this avowal, which your penetration had sooner or later provoked. Listen to me, then, my dear master: I have accepted for the moment the condition, or, rather, the appearance of a servant; circumstances oblige me to do so. I shall have the courage to play this part to the end. I will submit to all the consequences. I will serve you with zeal, activity, and respect, to preserve my place; that is to say, a sure and unknown retreat. But at the least word of gallantry, at the least liberty you take with me, I leave you—not from prudery, nothing in me, I think, looks like the prude."
And she cast a glance charged with sensual electricity, which reached the very bottom of the notary's soul; he shuddered.
"No, I am not a prude," she resumed, with a provoking smile, which displayed her dazzling teeth. "When love bites me, the bacchantes are saints in comparison. But be just, and you will agree that your unworthy servant only wishes to perform honestly her duty as a servant. Now you know my secret, or at least a part of my secret, will you, perchance, act as a gentleman? Do I seem too handsome to serve you? Do you desire to change parts and become my slave? So be it! Frankly, I prefer that, but always on this condition, that I shall never go out of the house, and you shall have for me the most paternal attention—that need not hinder you from saying that you find me charming: it shall be the recompense of your devotion and your discretion."
"The sole?" stammered Jacques Ferrand.
"The sole—unless solitude makes me mad; which is impossible, for you will keep me company, and, in your quality as a holy man you shall exorcise the evil spirit. Come, decide, no mixed position; either I will serve you, or you shall serve me; otherwise I leave your house, and I beg my aunt to find me another place. All this must seem strange to you; so be it; but if you take me for an adventurer, without the means of existence, you are wrong. In order to make my aunt my accomplice without her knowledge, I allowed her to think I was too poor to buy other clothes than these. Yet I have, you see, a purse well-filled: on this side with gold, on the other with diamonds" (and she showed the notary a long red silk purse, filled with gold, through the meshes of which also shone precious stones). "Unfortunately, all the money in the world could not give me a retreat as secure as your house, so isolated by the retirement in which you live. Accept, then, one or the other of my offers; you will render me a service. You see, I place myself at your discretion; for to tell you that I concealed myself, is to tell you I am sought for. But I am sure you will not betray me, even if you knew how to betray."
This romantic confidence, this sudden transformation of character, troubled the brain of Jacques Ferrand.
Who was this woman? Why did she conceal herself? Had chance alone conducted her to his dwelling? If, on the contrary, she came there for some secret purpose, what was this purpose?
Among all the hypotheses which this singular adventure raised in the mind of the notary, the true motive of the Creole's presence never came to his thought. He had not, or, rather, he thought he had not, any other enemies than the victims of his licentiousness and cupidity. Now all of them were in such a condition of trouble or distress that he could not suppose them capable of spreading a snare of which Cecily was the bait.
And then, again, for what purpose was it spread? No, the sudden transformation of Cecily inspired but one fear to Jacques Ferrand: he thought that if this woman did not speak the truth she was an adventurer, who, believing him rich, introduced herself into the house to cajole him, find him out, and perhaps cause him to marry her. But, although his avarice and cupidity revolted at the idea, he perceived, shuddering, that these suspicions and reflections were too late; for, with a single word, he could put his suspicions at rest by sending this woman away. And this word he did not speak. Already he loved her, after his manner, and passionately. Already the idea of seeing this seducing creature leave his house seemed to him impossible. Already, even, feeling the pangs of a savage jealousy to think that Cecily might bestow on others favors refused to him, he experienced some consolation in saying, "As long as she is sequestered in my house no one will possess her."
The boldness of language of this woman, the fire in her eyes, the provoking liberty of her manners, sufficiently revealed that she was not, as she said, a prude. This conviction, giving vague hopes to the notary, assured still more the empire of Cecily.
In a word, the licentiousness of Jacques Ferrand stifled the voice of cold reason; he abandoned himself blindly to the emotions which overwhelmed him.
It was agreed that Cecily should be his servant only in appearance; in this manner there would be no scandal. Besides, to assure still more the security of his guest, he would take no other domestic; he would himself serve her and himself also; a neighboring coffee-house keeper could bring his repasts. He paid in money the breakfasts of his clerks, and the porter could take care of the office. Finally, the notary ordered to be promptly furnished a chamber on the first floor, according to Cecily's taste. She offered to pay the expense. He opposed it, and expended two thousand francs.
This generosity was enormous, and proved the unheard-of violence of his passion. Then commenced for this wretch a strange life.
Shut up in the impenetrable solitude of his house, inaccessible to all, more and more under the yoke of his frenzied love, no longer attempting to discover the secrets of this strange woman, from master he became a slave; he was the footman of Cecily—he served her at her repasts—he took care of her apartment. Informed by the baron that Louise had been surprised by a narcotic, the Creole only drank very pure water, only ate meats impossible to adulterate; she chose the chamber which she occupied, and assured herself that the walls concealed no secret doors.
Besides, Jacques Ferrand soon comprehended that Cecily was a woman not to be surprised with impunity. She was vigorous, agile, and dangerously armed.
Nevertheless, not to allow his passion to flag, the Creole seemed at times touched with his attentions, and flattered by the terrible domination she exercised over him. Then, supposing that by proofs of his devotion and self-denial he could make her forget age and ugliness, she delighted to paint in glowing colors his reward when he should arrive at that success.
At these words of a woman so young and so lovely, Jacques Ferrand felt sometimes his mind wandering; a devouring imagery pursued him, waking or sleeping. The ancient fable of the Nessus' shirt was realized for him.
In the midst of these nameless tortures he lost his health, appetite, and sleep. Often at night, in spite of cold or rain, he descended to his garden, and endeavored by a rapid walk to calm his emotions.
At other times, during whole hours, he looked into the chamber where the Creole slept, for she had had the infernal kindness to allow a wicket to be placed in her door, which she often opened, in order that she might almost cause him to lose his reason, so that she could then execute the orders she had received.
The decisive moment seemed to approach. The chastisement of Ferrand became from day to day more worthy of his sins.
He suffered all the torments. By turns absorbed, lost, out of his mind, indifferent to his most serious interests, the maintenance of his reputation as an austere, grave, and pious man—a reputation usurped, but acquired by long years of dissimulation and cunning—he astonished his clerks by his aberrations, displeased his clients by his refusal to see them, and harshly kept at a distance the priests, who, deceived by his hypocrisy, had been, until then, his most fervent trumpeters.
As we were saying, Cecily was arranging her head for the night before a glass. On a slight noise coming from the corridor, she turned her face away from the door.
Notwithstanding the noise which she had just heard at the door, Cecily did not the less tranquilly continue her undressing; she drew from her corsage, where it was placed like a busk, a dirk, five or six inches long, in a case of black shagreen, with a handle of black ebony fastened with silver, a very simple handle, but perfectly handy, not a weapon of mere display.
Cecily took the dirk from its case with excessive precaution, and placed it on the marble chimney-piece; the blade, of the finest Damascus and the best temper, was triangular; its point, as sharp as a needle, had pierced a dollar without blunting it.
Impregnated with a subtle and quick poison, the least wound from this poniard was mortal.
Jacques Ferrand, having one day doubted the dangerous properties of this weapon, the Creole made before him an experiment in anima vita, that is to say, on the unfortunate house dog, who, slightly pricked in the nose, fell dead in horrible convulsions.
The dirk placed on the chimney, Cecily taking off her spencer of black cloth, exposed her shoulders, bosom, and arms, naked like a lady in ball costume.
According to the custom of most girls of color, she wore, instead of a corset, a second corsage of double linen, which was closely bound around her waist; her orange petticoat, remaining fastened under her white inner waist with short sleeves, composed thus a costume much less severe than the first, and harmonized wonderfully with the scarlet stockings, and the Madras scarf so capriciously twisted around the head of the Creole. Nothing could be more pure, more beautiful, than the contour of her arms and shoulders, to which little dimples gave a charm the more.
A profound sigh attracted the attention of Cecily. She smiled, while roiling around one of her ivory fingers some stray curls which escaped from the folds of the bandana.
"Cecily! Cecily!" murmured a voice, at once harsh and plaintive.
And at the narrow opening of the wicket appeared the pale, flat face of Jacques Ferrand; his eyes sparkled in the shade.
Cecily, silent until then, began to sing softly in Creole French, a Louisianian air. The words of this melody were soft and expressive. Although restrained, the noble contralto overpowered the noise of the torrents of rain and violent gusts of wind, which seemed to shake the old house to its foundation.
"Cecily! Cecily!" repeated Jacques Ferrand, in a supplicating tone.
The Creole suddenly stopped, turned her head quickly, and appeared to hear for the first time the voice of the notary, and approached the door. "How! dear master, you are there?" said she, with a slight foreign accent, which gave additional charm to her melodious voice.
"Oh! how handsome you are!" murmured the notary.
"You think so?" answered the Creole: "this bandana suits my hair?"
"Every day I find you still more handsome."
"And see how white my arm is."
"Monster! go away! go away!" cried Jacques Ferrand, furiously.
Cecily laughed immoderately.
"No, no, this is suffering too much! Oh! if I did not fear death!" cried the notary, in a hollow voice; "but to die—to renounce the sight of you, so handsome. I prefer to suffer, and see you—"
"See me; this wicket is made for that, and, also, that we can talk as friends, and thus charm our solitude; which, in truth, does not weigh heavily, you are so good a master! See what dangerous confessions I can make through this door."
"And will you not open this door? Yet see how submissive I am! to-night I might have tried to enter with you into your chamber—I did not."
"You are submissive for two reasons. In the first place, you know that being, from necessity, in the habit of wearing a dirk, I handle with a firm hand this venomous plaything, sharper than the tooth of a viper; you know also, that on the day I complain of you, I shall leave forever this house, leaving you a thousand time more charmed, since you have been so gracious toward your unworthy servant as to be charmed with her."
"My servant? it is I who am your slave—your slave, mocked, despised."
"That is true enough."
"And does not this touch you?"
"It amuses me. The days, and, above all, the nights, are so long."
"Oh, the cursed—"
"No seriously, you appear so completely bewildered, your features change so sensibly, that I am flattered. It is a poor triumph, but you are the only man here!"
"To hear that, and only be able to consume in powerless rage!"
"How little wit you have! never, perhaps, have I said anything to you more tender."
"I do not scoff; I have never seen a man of your age so much in love; and, it must be acknowledged, that a young and handsome man would be incapable of such mad passion. An Adonis admires himself as much as he admires us; he loves on the end of his teeth; and then to love him is his due, hardly is he grateful; but to love a man like you, my master, oh! that would be to raise him from earth to heaven; it would be to accomplish his wildest dreams, his hopes the most extravagent. For, in fine, the being would say to you, 'You love Cecily madly; if I wish it, she shall be yours'—you would believe such a being endowed with supernatural powers, would you not, dear master?"
"Yes, oh! yes."
"Well! if you knew how to convince me better of your passion, I should have, perhaps, the fantasy to play myself, in your favor, this supernatural part. Do you comprehend?"
"I comprehend that you scoff at me still, always, and without pity."
"Perhaps solitude creates such strange fantasies."
Her tone, until then, had been sardonic; but she pronounced these last words with a serious expression, and accompanied them by a glance which made the notary tremble. "Hush—do not look at me thus; you will make me mad. I prefer that you should say to me never; at least, I could abhor you, drive you from the house," cried Jacques Ferrand, who again abandoned his vain hopes. "Yes, for I expect nothing from you. But woe is me! woe! I know you now enough. You tell me to convince you of my love; do you not see how unhappy I am! Yet I do all I can to please you. You wish to be concealed from every eye: I conceal you, perhaps at the risk of compromising myself; in fine, I do not know who you are; I respect your secret; I never speak to you about it. I have interrogated you on your past life; you have not answered me."
"Well! I was wrong; I am going to give you a mark of blind confidence. Oh! my master, listen to me."
"Once more a bitter joke!"
"No, it is very serious. You must know, you should know, the history of her to whom you give such generous hospitality."
And Cecily added, in a tone of hypocritical and tearful compunction:
"The daughter of a brave soldier, brother of my Aunt Pipelet, I have received an education above my condition; I was seduced, then abandoned, by a rich young man. Then, to escape from the rage of my old father, I fled my native country." Then, laughing heartily, Cecily added: "There, I hope is a little story very presentable, and, above all, very probable, for it has often been related. Amaze your curiosity with that, while waiting for some revelation more piquant."
"I was very sure that this was a cruel pleasantry," said the notary, with suppressed anger. "Nothing touches you, nothing; what must be done? tell me, at least. I serve you like the meanest valet; for you I neglect my dearest interests; I know no more what I do. I am a subject of laughter for my clerks; my clients hesitate to leave me their business. I have parted with some pious people who used to visit me. I dare not think what the public say of this complete change in all my habits. You do not know, no, you do not know the fatal consequences that my mad passion may have for me. See, now, the proofs of my devotion, my sacrifices. Do you wish more? speak! Is it gold you wish? The world thinks me richer than I am, but I——"
"What would you have me to do with your gold?" said Cecily, interrupting the notary, and shrugging her shoulders. "To reside in this chamber—what good would the gold do me? You have small invention!"
"But it is not my fault if you are a prisoner. Does this room displease you? Will you have it more magnificent? speak, command."
"For what purpose; once more, for what purpose? Oh! if I expected here an adored being, I would have gold, silk, flowers, perfumes, all the wonders of luxury; nothing could be too sumptuous, too enchanting."
"Well! these wonders of luxury; say a word, and——"
"For what purpose? What should I do with the frame without the picture? The adored being, where is he, oh! my master?"
"It is true!" cried the notary, bitterly. "I am old. I am ugly. I can only inspire disgust and aversion; she loads me with contempt; she scoffs at me, and I have not the strength to drive her away. I have only strength to suffer."
"Oh! the insupportable cry-baby; oh! the silly, with his complaints," cried Cecily, in a sardonic and contemptuous tone; he does nothing but groan and lament, and has been for ten days shut up alone with a young woman, in a deserted house."
"But this woman despises me—is armed—is locked!" cried the notary in a rage.
"Well! overcome the disdain of this woman; cause the dagger to fall from her hand; constrain her to open this door, which separates you from her; and that not by brutal force, which would fail."
"And how then?"
"By the force of your passion."
"Passion! and how can I inspire it?"
"Stop, you are but a notary bound up with a sexton; you make me pity you. Am I to teach you your part? You are ugly; be terrible, your ugliness will be forgotten. You are old; be energetic, your age will be overlooked. You are repulsive; be threatening. Since you cannot be the noble horse, who neighs proudly in the midst of his wives, be not, at least, the stupid camel, who bends the knee and crooks the back; be a tiger. An old tiger, who roars in the midst of carnage, has also its beauty; his tigress answers him from the depths of the desert."
At this language, which was not without a sort of bold natural eloquence, Jacques Ferrard shuddered, at the savage and almost ferocious expression of the face of Cecily, who, with heaving bosom, expanded nostril, haughty mouth, fixed on him her large black and burning eyes.
Never had she appeared so lovely.
"Speak, speak again!" cried he, passionately; "you speak seriously this time. Oh! if I could——"
"One can do what one wishes," said Cecily, abruptly.
"But I tell you that if you wish, repulsive as you are——"
"Yes, I will do it! Try me, try me!" cried Jacques Ferrand, more and more excited.
Cecily continued, approaching nearer, and fixing on the notary a penetrating look, "For a woman loving a handsome youth would know," resumed the Creole, "that she would have an exorbitant caprice to satisfy; that the boys would look at their money if they had any, or, if they had none, to a mean trick, while the old tiger——"
"Would regard nothing, do you understand? nothing. Fortune, honor, he would know how to sacrifice all he would!"
"True," said Cecily, placing her charming fingers on the bony and hairy hands of Jacques Ferrand, who, for the first time, touched the soft and velvety skin of the Creole. He became still paler, and uttered a hoarse sigh.
"How this woman would be beloved," added Cecily, "had she an enemy, whom, pointing out to her old tiger, she would say strike, and—"
"And he would strike," cried Jacques Ferrand, endeavoring to approach the ends of her fingers to his withered lips.
"True, the old tiger would strike," said the Creole, placing her hand softly on his.
"If you would love me," cried the wretch, "I believe I would commit a crime."
"Hold, master," said Cecily, suddenly withdrawing her hand; "in your turn go away, go away, I know you no more; you do not appear to me so ugly now as before; go away."
She retired quickly from the wicket. The detestable creature knew how to give to her gestures and to her last words an accent of truth so incredible—her look, at once surprised and annoyed, seemed to express so naturally her spite at having for a moment forgotten the ugliness of Jacques Ferrand—that he, transported with frenzied hope, cried, clinging to the bars of the wicket, "Cecily, return, command, I will be your tiger!"
"No, no, master," said Cecily, retreating still further from the wicket; "and to lay the devil who tempts me—I am going to sing a song of my country. Master, do you hear? without, the wind redoubles, the tempest is unchained; what a fine night for two lovers, seated side by side near a sparkling fire!"
"Cecily, return!" cried Jacques Ferrand, in a supplicating tone.
"No, no, presently, when I can without danger; but the light from this lamp hurts my eyes, a soft languor weighs down my eyelids. I do not know what emotion agitates me; a demi-obscurity will please me more; one would say I am in the twilight of pleasure."
And Cecily went toward the chimney, put out the lamp, took a guitar suspended on the wall, and stirred the fire, whose blaze illuminated this large room.
From the narrow wicket where he remained immovable, such was the picture which Jacques Ferrand perceived. In the midst of the luminous horizon formed by the undulating light of the fire, Cecily, in a position full of languor, half reclining on a divan of pink satin, held a guitar, from whence she drew some harmonious preludes.
The blazing hearth shed its rosy light on the Creole, who appeared brilliantly illumined in the midst of the obscurity of the rest of the apartment.
To complete the effect of this picture, let the reader recall to his mind the mysterious and almost fantastic appearance of a room where the firelight struggles with the long, dark shadows which tremble on the ceiling and walls.
The storm redoubled its violence, its roaring could be heard from within.
While preluding on her guitar, Cecily fixed her magnetic glances on Jacques Ferrand, who, fascinated, could not withdraw.
"Now, master," said the Creole, "listen to a song of my country; we do not know how to make verses; we muse a simple recitative, without rhyme, and at each pause we improvise a couplet appropriate to the subject; it is very pastoral; it will please you, I am sure, master. This song is called the 'Loving Girl!' it is she who speaks."
And Cecily commenced a kind of recitative, much more accented by the expression of the voice than by the modulations of the song. A few soft and trembling chords served as an accompaniment. This was the song:
"Flowers, everywhere flowers, My lover comes! The hope of happiness enervates and destroys. Soften the light of day—pleasure seeks a lucid darkness. To the fresh perfume of flowers my love prefers my warm breath, The glare of day shall not wound his eyes, for I will keep them closed by my kisses. My angel, come! My heart beats; my blood burns! Come, come, come!"
These words, chanted with as much ardor as if she had addressed an invisible lover, were, thus to speak, translated by the Creole into a theme of enchanting melody; her charming fingers drew from her guitar sounds full of delicious harmony.
The animated face of Cecily, her veiled and moistened eyes constantly fixed on those of Jacques Ferrand, expressed all the languor of the song. Words of love; intoxicating music; inflamed looks; silence; night! all conspired at this moment to disturb the reason of the notary. He cried, bewildered:
"Mercy! Cecily! mercy I I shall go wild. Hush! I die. Oh! that I were mad!"
"Listen, then, to the second couplet," said the Creole, preluding anew.
And she continued her passionate recitative:
"If my lover were there, and with his hand touched my soft neck, I should shudder and die. If he were there, and his hair touched my cheek, my cheek so pale would become red. My cheek so pale would be as fire. Life of my soul, if you were there, my parched lips could not speak. Life of my life, if you were there—expiring—I would ask no mercy. Those whom I love as I love you, I kill. My angel, come. Oh! come! My heart beats: my blood burns I Come, come, come!"
If the Creole had accented the first stanza with a voluptuous languor, she poured into these last words all the transports of Eros of old. As if the music had been powerless to express her wild delirium, she threw the guitar aside, and half rising from the couch and extending her arms toward the door, she repeated, in an expiring, languishing voice,
"Oh! come, come, come!"
To paint the electric look with which she accompanied these words would he impossible.
Jacques Ferrand uttered a terrible cry.
"O! death—death to him you love so much, to whom you have addressed these words!" cried he, shaking the door in a transport of jealousy.
Active as a tigress, with one bound Cecily was at the wicket, and, as if she had with difficulty dispelled her feigned transports, she said to Jacques Ferrand, in a low, palpitating voice: "Well! I avow I did not wish to return to the door. I am here in spite of myself; for I fear your words spoken just now. If you say strike—I will strike. You love me well, then?"
"Do you wish gold—all my gold?"
"No; I have enough."
"Have you an enemy? I'll kill him."
"I have no enemy."
"Will you be my wife? I will espouse you."
"I am married."
"But what do you wish, then! what do you wish?"
"Prove to me that your passion for me is blind, furious, that you will sacrifice everything for me!"
"All! yes, all! But how?"
"I do not know; but there was a moment when the glance of your eye bewildered me. If now you give me some proof of your love, I do not know of what I should be capable! Hasten! I am capricious; to-morrow the impression of this hour will perhaps be effaced."
"But what proof can I give you on the moment?" cried the wretch. "It is an atrocious torment! What proof? speak! What proof?"
"You are only a fool!" answered Cecily, retreating from the wicket with an appearance of extreme irritation. "I am mistaken! I thought you capable of energetic devotion! Good-night. It is a pity—"
"Cecily! oh! do not go—return. But what must I do? tell me, at least. Oh! my senses wander. What must I do? what do?"
"But, in fine—speak! what do you wish?" cried the notary, quite beside himself.
"Ah! if you love me as passionately as you say, you will find the means. Good-night."
"I am going to shut this wicket—instead of opening the door—"
"Mercy! listen—remain—I have found it," cried Jacques Ferrand, after a moment's pause, with an expression of joy impossible to describe. The wretch was seized with a vertigo. He lost all prudence, all reserve; the instinct of moral preservation abandoned him.
"Well! this proof of your love?" said the Creole: who, having approached the chimney, took hold of her knife, and returned slowly toward the wicket.
Then, without being seen by the notary, she assured herself of the action of a small chain, one end of which was fastened to the door, the other to the door-post.
"Listen," said Jacques Ferrand, in a hoarse and broken voice; "listen. If I place my honor, my fortune, my life, at your mercy—here—on the spot—will you then believe I love you? This proof of an insane passion, will it suffice?"
"Your honor, your fortune, your life? I do not comprehend."
"If I confide to you a secret which would place me on the scaffold?"
"You a criminal? You jest. And your austerity?"
"You pass for a saint, and you would be a demon! You are a boaster! No; there is no man quite cunning enough, bold enough, thus to insinuate himself into the confidence and respect of men. It would be a frightful defiance cast in the face of society."
"I am this man! I have thrown this taunt, this defiance, in the teeth of society!" cried the monster, in an access of frightful pride.
"Jacques! Jacques! do not speak thus," said Cecily. "You will make me mad!"
"My head for your love—do you wish it?"
"Oh! this is love, indeed!" cried Cecily. "Here—take my poniard; you disarm me."
Jacques Ferrand took, through the wicket the dangerous weapon with precaution, and threw it from him into the corridor.
"Verily—you believe me, then?" cried he, in transport.
"I believe you?" said the Creole, leaning with force her charming hands on those of Jacques Ferrand. "Yes, I believe you; for I see again your look of just now—that look which fascinated me. Your eyes sparkle with savage ardor; Jacques, I love your eyes!"
"You should speak the truth."
"I speak the truth! Oh! you shall see."
"Your countenance is lowering. Your expression formidable. Hold, you are as fearful and beautiful as a mad tiger. But you speak the truth, do you not?"
"I have committed crimes, I tell you."
"So much the better, if by their avowal you prove your love."
"And if I tell you all?"
"I grant all; for if you have this blind confidence in me—do you see, Jacques—it will no longer be the ideal lover of the song I call. It is to you, my tiger, you, that I shall say come—come—come."
"Oh, you will be mine. I shall be your tiger," cried he; "and then, if you will, you shall dishonor me—my head shall fall. My honor, my life, all is yours now,"
"My honor! Listen; ten years since an infant was confided to my care, and two hundred thousand francs for its support; I have abandoned this child. I spread the report the child was dead, and I kept the money."
"It was bold and skillful—who would have thought it of you?"
"Listen again: I hated my cashier, Francois Germain. One night he took from me a little gold, which he returned the next day; but to ruin him, I accused him of having robbed me of a considerable sum. I was believed, he was thrown into prison. Now my honor is at your mercy."
"Oh, you love me, Jacques, you love me. To inform me thus of your secrets—what empire I must have over you! I will not be ungrateful; let me kiss this forehead, where so many infernal thoughts were created."
"Oh!" cried the notary, stammering, "if the scaffold stood there, ready, I would not draw back. Listen again: this child, Fleur-de-Marie, once abandoned, crosses my path—she inspires me with fears; I have had her killed!"
"You? How? where?"
"A few days since—near Asnieres Bridge, by Ravageurs' Island. One named Martial drowned her in a boat. Are these details sufficient? do you believe me?"
"Oh! demon from hell: you alarm, yet attract me. You inspire me. What is, then, your power?"
"Listen again: before that a man had confided to me a hundred thousand crowns. I set a trap for him. I blew his brains out. I proved that he committed suicide, and I denied the deposit which his sister the Baroness de Fermont reclaimed. Now my life is at your mercy—open."
"Jacques, I adore you!" said the Creole, with warmth.
"Oh! come a thousand deaths, and I'd dare them!" cried the notary, in an intoxication impossible to describe. "Yes, you are right; were I young and charming, I should not experience this triumphant joy. The key! throw me the key! draw the bolt!"
The Creole took the key from the lock, and handed it to the notary through the wicket, saying, "Jacques, I am mad!"
"You are mine, at length!" cried he, with a savage roar, turning the key in the lock. But the door, fastened with a bolt, did not open.
"Come, my tiger! come," said Cecily, in an expiring voice.
"The bolt! the bolt!" cried Jacques Ferrand.
"But, if you deceive me," cried the Creole, suddenly, "if these secrets are an invention, to cajole me—-"
The notary remained for a moment, struck with stupor; he thought he had succeeded: this last difficulty raised his impatient fury to its climax.
He thrust his hand quickly in his bosom, opened his waistcoat, broke with violence a small chain of steel, to which was suspended a small, thin pocket-book, took it, and showing it through the wicket to Cecily, he said, in an oppressed and breathless tone,
"Here is what would cause my head to fall! draw the bolt—the book is yours."
"Give it to me, my tiger," cried Cecily.
And hastily drawing the bolt with one hand, with the other she seized the book.
But Jacques Ferrand did not abandon it until the moment he felt the door yielding to his efforts.
But though the door yielded, it was only for about six inches, confined, as it was, by the chain above mentioned. At this unforeseen obstacle, Jacques Ferrand threw himself against the door, and shook it with a desperate effort. Cecily, with the rapidity of thought, put the wallet between her teeth, opened the window, threw a cloak into the court, and with great dexterity making use of a cord previously fastened to the balcony, she let herself down into the court, as rapidly and lightly as an arrow falls to the ground.
Then, wrapping herself up in haste in the mantle, she ran to the porter's lodge, opened it, drew the bolt, went out into the street, and jumped into a carriage, which, since her residence at Jacques Ferrand's, was sent every night by order of Baron de Graun, stationed not twenty steps from the notary's mansion.
This carriage was quickly driven off, drawn by two stout horses. It reached the boulevard before Jacques Ferrand had perceived the flight of Cecily. Let us return to this monster.
Through the opening of the door it was impossible for him to see the window by which the Creole escaped. With one mighty effort with his broad shoulders, he burst the chain which confined the door, and rushed into the chamber, and found no one.
The cord waved in the wind, as he leaned from the balcony. Then, from the other side of the court, by the light of the moon, which burst forth at intervals from the driving clouds, he saw the gate open.
In a moment he divined everything. A last ray of hope remained.
Vigorous and determined, he sprang over the balcony, using the cord in his turn, lowered himself into the court, and rushed out of the house. The street was deserted—he was alone.
He heard no other noise than the distant rolling of the carriage which was rapidly carrying off the Creole. The notary thought it was some belated vehicle, and attached no importance to this circumstance.
Thus, for him no chance remained of finding Cecily, who carried off with her the proofs of his crimes!!!
On this frightful certainty, he fell, thunderstruck, on his own threshold.
He remained there a long time, dumb, immovable, petrified. With wan eyes, his teeth compressed, his mouth foaming, tearing mechanically with his nails his breast, he felt his reason totter, and was lost in an abyss of darkness. When he awoke from his stupor, he walked heavily, and with an ill-assured step; objects trembled in his sight; he felt as if recovering from a fit of intoxication.
He shut with violence the street door, and re-entered the court. The rain had ceased, but the wind continued to blow with violence, chasing the heavy laden clouds, which veiled, without concealing, the light of the moon.
Slightly calmed by the brisk and cold air of the night, Ferrand, hoping to combat his internal agitation by the rapidity of his walk, plunged into the obscure walks of his garden, marching with rapid strides, and from time to time striking his forehead with his clinched fists.
Walking thus at hazard, he reached the end of a walk near a greenhouse in ruins. Suddenly he stumbled violently over a mound of earth newly raised. He stooped, and looked mechanically on some linen stained with blood.
He was near the grave where Louise Morel buried her dead child. Her child—also the child of Jacques Ferrand! Notwithstanding his obduracy, notwithstanding the frightful fears which agitated him, Jacques Ferrand shuddered with alarm.
There was something supernatural in this stumbling-block. Pursued by the avenging punishment of his vice, chance carried him to the grave of his child—unhappy fruit of his violence. Under any other circumstances, Jacques Ferrand would have trampled on this sepulcher with atrocious indifference; but having exhausted his savage energy in the scene we have related, he was seized with a weakness and sudden alarm. His face was covered with an icy sweat, his trembling knees shook under him, and he fell lifeless across this open grave.
The interior of a prison is a frightful pandemonium—a sad thermometer of the state of society, and an instructive study.
In a word, the varied physiognomies of all classes of prisoners, the relations of family or affection which connects them still to the world, from which the prison walls separate them, have appeared to us worthy of regard.
The reader will, then, excuse us for having grouped around several of the prisoners personages to be known in this tale, and other secondary figures, destined to place in active relief certain critical events necessary to complete this initiation into prison life. Let us enter La Force.
There is nothing gloomy, nothing sinister in the aspect of this house of detention.
In the middle of one of the first courts are to be seen some mounds of earth, planted with shrubbery, at the foot of which are already shooting forth some precocious cowslips and snowdrops; a trellised doorway leads to one of the seven or eight exercise-grounds destined for the prisoners.
The vast buildings surrounding this court resemble much a barrack or manufactory, kept with extreme neatness. They are built of limestone, with lofty windows, in order to allow a free circulation of air. The steps and pavement of the yard are of scrupulous cleanliness. On the ground-floor, vast halls, heated during winter, and well aired during summer, serve during the day as a place for conversation, workshops, or refectories. The upper stories are used as immense sleeping apartments, ten or twelve feet in height, with shining floors; they are furnished with two rows of iron bedsteads, excellent beds, composed of a soft thick mattress, a bolster, sheets of white linen, and a warm woolen covering.
At the sight of these accommodations, uniting all the requisites of comfort and salubrity, a stranger is much surprised, accustomed as he is to suppose all prisons as sorrowful, dirty, unhealthy, and gloomy. He is mistaken.
Sad, dirty, and gloomy are the holes where so many poor and honest workmen languish exhausted, forced to abandon their beds to their infirm wives, and to leave with powerless despair their half-starving, naked children, struggling with the cold, in the infectious straw.
There is some contrast between the physiognomies of the inhabitants of these two dwellings. Incessantly occupied with the wants of his family, to whom the day is hardly long enough, seeing a mad perversity reducing his salary, the artisan will be cast down and worn out; the hour of repose will not be sound to him; a kind of sleep like lassitude alone interrupts his daily toil. Then, on awaking from this mournful drowsiness, he will find himself overwhelmed with the same racking thoughts of the present, with the same inquietudes for the morrow.
But if, hardened by vice, indifferent to the past, happy with the present, certain of the future (he can assure himself of it by an offense or crime), regretting his liberty without doubt, but finding large compensation in the personal well-being he enjoys, certain to carry away with him on his release a good sum of money, gained by moderate and easy labor, esteemed, or, may be, feared by his companions, either for his impudence or perversity, the convict, on the contrary, will be almost always careless and gay. Once more; what does he want?
Does he not find in prison good shelter, good bed, good food, good pay, easy labor, and above all and before all, a society to his taste, a society, let us repeat, which measures his merit by the magnitude of his offenses?
A hardened criminal, then, knows neither poverty, hunger, nor cold. What matters to him the horror he inspires in honest men? He does not see them—he knows none.
His crimes are his glory, influence, and strength with the bandits among whom he will henceforth pass his life. How can he fear shame?
Instead of grave and charitable remonstrances, which might force him to blush and to repent, he hears savage plaudits, which encourage him to robbery and murder, Scarcely imprisoned, he meditates new misdeeds. What is more logical?