Count Kostia by Victor
At the beginning of the summer of 1850, a Russian nobleman, Count
Kostia Petrovitch Leminof, had the misfortune to lose his wife
suddenly, and in the flower of her beauty. She was his junior by
twelve years. This cruel loss, for which he was totally
unprepared, threw him into a state of profound melancholy; and some
months later, seeking to mitigate his grief by the distractions of
travel, he left his domains near Moscow, never intending to return.
Accompanied by his twin children, ten years of age, a priest who
had served them as tutor, and a serf named Ivan, he repaired to
Odessa, and then took passage on a merchant ship for Martinique.
Disembarking at St. Pierre, he took lodgings in a remote part of
the suburbs. The profound solitude which reigned there did not at
first bring the consolation he had sought. It was not enough that
he had left his native country, he would have changed the planet
itself; and he complained that nature everywhere was too much
alike. No locality seemed to him sufficiently a stranger to his
experience, and in the deserted places, where the desperate
restlessness of his heart impelled him, he imagined the
reappearance of the obtrusive witnesses of his past joys, and of
the misfortune by which they were suddenly terminated.
He had lived a year in Martinique when the yellow fever carried off
one of his children. By a singular reaction in his vigorous
temperament, it was about this time that his somber melancholy gave
way to a bitter and sarcastic gayety, more in harmony with his
nature. From his early youth he had had a taste for jocularity, a
mocking turn of spirit, seasoned by that ironical grace of manner
peculiar to the great Moscovite nobleman, and resulting from the
constant habit of trifling with men and events. His recovery did
not, however, restore the agreeable manners which in former times
had distinguished him in his intercourse with the world. Suffering
had brought him a leaven of misanthropy, which he did not take the
trouble of disguising; his voice had lost its caressing notes and
had become rude and abrupt; his actions were brusque, and his smile
scornful. Sometimes his bearing gave evidence of a haughty will
which, tyrannized over by events, sought to avenge itself upon
Terrible, however, as he sometimes was to those who surrounded him,
Count Kostia was yet a civilized devil. So, after a stay of three
years under tropical skies, he began to sigh for old Europe, and
one fine day saw him disembark upon the quays of Lisbon. He
crossed Portugal, Spain, the south of France and Switzerland. At
Basle, he learned that on the borders of the Rhine, between Coblenz
and Bonn, in a situation quite isolated, an old castle was for
sale. To this place he hurried and bought the antique walls and
the lands which belonged to them, without discussing the price and
without making a detailed examination of the property. The bargain
concluded, he made some hasty and indispensable repairs on one of
the buildings which composed a part of his dilapidated manor, and
which claimed the imposing name of the fortress of Geierfels, and
at once installed himself therein, hoping to pass the rest of his
life in peaceable and studious seclusion.
Count Kostia was gifted with a quick and ready intellect, which he
had strengthened by study. He had always been passionately fond of
historical research, but above everything, knew and wished to know,
only that which the English call "the matter of fact." He
professed a cold scorn for generalities, and heartily abandoned
them to "dreamers;" he laughed at all abstract theories and at the
ingenuous minds which take them seriously. He held that all system
was but logical infatuation; that the only pardonable follies were
those which were frankly avowed; and that only a pedant could
clothe his imagination in geometrical theories. In general,
pedantry to his eyes was the least excusable of vices; he
understood it to be the pretension of tracing back phenomena to
first causes, "as if," said he, "there were any 'first causes,' or
chance admitted of calculation!" This did not prevent him however
from expending much logic to demonstrate that there was no such
thing as logic, either in nature or in man.
These are inconsistencies for which skeptics never dream of
reproaching themselves; they pass their lives in reasoning against
reason. In short, Count Kostia respected nothing but facts, and
believed that, properly viewed, there was nothing else, and that
the universe, considered as an entirety, was but a collection of
A member of the Historical and Antiquarian Society of Moscow, he
had once published important memoirs upon Slavonic antiquities and
upon some of the disputed questions in the history of the Lower
Empire. Hardly was he installed at Geierfels, before he occupied
himself in fitting up his library, but a few volumes of which he
had carried to Martinique. He at once ordered from Moscow most of
the books he had left, and also sent large orders to German
bookstores. When his "seraglio," as he called it, was nearly
complete, he again became absorbed in study, and particularly in
that of the Greek historians of the Byzantine Empire, of whose
collective works he had the good fortune to possess the Louvre
edition in thirty-six volumes folio; and he soon formed the
ambitious project of writing a complete history of that Empire from
Constantine the Great to the taking of Constantinople. So absorbed
did he become in this great design, that he scarcely ate or drank;
but the further he advanced in his researches the more he became
dismayed by the magnitude of the enterprise, and he conceived the
idea of procuring an intelligent assistant, upon whom he could
shift a part of the task. As he proposed to write his voluminous
work in French, it was in France this living instrument which he
needed must be sought, and he therefore broached the project to Dr.
Lerins, one of his old acquaintances in Paris. "For nearly three
years," he wrote to the Doctor, "I have dwelt in a veritable owl's
nest, and I should be much obliged to you if you would procure for
me a young night bird, who could endure life two or three years in
such an ugly hole without dying of ennui. Understand me, I must
have a secretary who is not contented with writing a fine hand and
knowing French a little better than I do: I wish him to be a
consummate philologist, and a hellenist of the first order,—one of
those men who ought to be met with in Paris,—born to belong to the
Institute, but so dependent upon circumstances as to make that
position impossible. If you succeed in finding this priceless
being, I will give him the best room in my castle and a salary of
twelve thousand francs. I stipulate that he shall not be a fool.
As to character, I say nothing about it; he will do me the favor to
have such as will suit me."
M. Lerins was intimate with a young man from Lorraine named Gilbert
Saville, a savant of great merit, who had left Nancy several years
before to seek his fortune in Paris. At the age of twenty-seven he
had presented, in a competition opened by the Academy of
Inscriptions, an essay on the Etruscan language, which took the
prize and was unanimously declared a masterpiece of sagacious
erudition. He had hoped for some time that this first success,
which had gained him renown among learned men, would aid him in
obtaining some lucrative position and rescue him from the
precarious situation in which he found himself. Nothing resulted
from it. His merits compelled esteem; the charm of his frank and
courteous manner won him universal good will; his friends were
numerous; he was well received and caressed; he even obtained,
without seeking it, the entree to more than one salon, where he met
men of standing who could be useful to him and assure him a
successful future. All this however amounted to nothing, and no
position was offered. What worked most to his prejudice was an
independence of opinion and character which was a part of his
nature. Only to look at him was to know that such a man could not
be tied down, and the only language which this able philologist
could not learn was the jargon of society. Add to this that
Gilbert had a speculative, dreamy temperament and the pride and
indolence which are its accessories. To bestir himself and to
importune were torture to him. A promise made to him could be
forgotten with impunity, for he was not the man to revive it; and
besides, as he never complained himself, no one was disposed to
complain for him. In short, among those who had been desirous of
protecting and advancing him, it was said: "What need has he of our
assistance? Such remarkable talent will make its own way." Others
thought, without expressing it: "Let us be guarded, this is another
Letronne,—once 'foot in the stirrup,' God only knows where he will
stop." Others said and thought: "This young man is charming,—he
is so discreet,—not like such and such a person." All those cited
as not "discreet," were provided for.
The difficulties of his life had rendered Gilbert serious and
reflective, but they had neither hardened his heart nor quenched
his imagination. He was too wise to revolt against his fate, but
determined to be superior to it. "Thou art all thou canst be,"
said he to himself; "but do not flatter thyself that thou hast
reached the measure of my aspirations."
After having read M. Leminof's letter, Dr. Lerins went in search of
Gilbert. He described Count Kostia to him according to his remote
recollections, but he asked him, before deciding, to weigh the
matter deliberately. After quitting his young friend he muttered
"After all, I hope he will refuse. He would be too much of a prize
for that boyard. Of his very Muscovite face, I remember only an
enormous pair of eyebrows,—the loftiest and bushiest I ever saw,
and perhaps there is nothing more of him! There are men who are
all in the eyebrows!"
A week later Gilbert was on his way to Geierfels. At Cologne he
embarked on board a steamboat to go up the Rhine ten or twelve
leagues beyond Bonn. Towards evening, a thick fog settled down
upon the river and its banks, and it became necessary to anchor
during the night. This mischance rendered Gilbert melancholy,
finding in it, as he did, an image of his life. He too had a
current to stem, and more than once a sad and somber fog had fallen
and obscured his course.
In the morning the weather cleared; they weighed anchor, and at two
o'clock in the afternoon, Gilbert disembarked at a station two
leagues from Geierfels. He was in no haste to arrive, and even
though "born with a ready-made consolation for anything," as M.
Lerins sometimes reproachfully said to him, he dreaded the moment
when his prison doors should close behind him, and he was disposed
to enjoy yet a few hours of his dear liberty. "We are about to
part," said he to himself; "let us at least take time to say
Instead of hiring a carriage to transport himself and his effects,
he consigned his trunk to a porter, who engaged to forward it to
him the next day, and took his way on foot, carrying under his arm
a little valise, and promising himself not to hurry. An hour later
he quitted the main road, and stopped to refresh himself at an
humble inn situated upon a hillock covered with pine trees. Dinner
was served to him under an arbor,—his repast consisted of a slice
of smoked ham and an omelette au cerfeuil, which he washed down
with a little good claret. This feast a la Jean Jacques appeared
to him delicious, flavored as it was by that "freedom of the inn"
which was dearer to the author of the Confessions than even the
freedom of the press.
When he had finished eating, Gilbert ordered a cup of coffee, or
rather of that black beverage called coffee in Germany. He was
hardly able to drink it, and he remembered with longing the
delicious Mocha prepared by the hands of Madame Lerins; and this
set him thinking of that amiable woman and her husband.
Gilbert's reverie soon took another turn. From the bank where he
was sitting, he saw the Rhine, the tow path which wound along by
the side of its grayish waters, and nearer to him the great white
road where, at intervals, heavy wagons and post chaises raised
clouds of dust. This dusty road soon absorbed all of his
attention. It seemed to him as if it cast tender glances upon him,
as if it called him and said: "Follow me; we will go together to
distant countries; we will keep the same step night and day and
never weary; we will traverse rivers and mountains, and every
morning we will have a new horizon. Come, I wait for thee, give me
thy heart. I am the faithful friend of vagabonds, I am the divine
mistress of those bold and strong hearts which look upon life as an
Gilbert was not the man to dream long. He became himself again,
rose to his feet, and shook off the vision. "Up to this hour I
thought myself rational; but it appears I am so no longer.
Forward, then,—courage, let us take our staff and on to
As he entered the kitchen of the inn to pay his bill, he found the
landlord there busy in bathing a child's face from which the blood
streamed profusely. During this operation, the child cried, and
the landlord swore. At this moment his wife came in.
"What has happened to Wilhelm?" she asked.
"What has happened?" replied he angrily. "It happened that when
Monsieur Stephane was riding on horseback on the road by the mill,
this child walked before him with his pigs. Monsieur Stephane's
horse snorted, and Monsieur Stephane, who could hardly hold him,
said to the child: 'Now then, little idiot, do you think my horse
was made to swallow the dust your pigs raise? Draw aside, drive
them into the brush, and give me the road.' 'Take to the woods
yourself,' answered the child, 'the path is only a few steps off.'
At this Monsieur Stephane got angry, and as the child began to
laugh, he rushed upon him and cut him in the face with his whip.
God-a-mercy! let him come back,—this little master,—and I'll
teach him how to behave himself. I mean to tie him to a tree, one
of these days, and break a dozen fagots of green sticks over his
"Ah take care what thou sayest, my old Peter," replied his wife
with a frightened air. "If thou'dst touch the little man thou'dst
get thyself into a bad business."
"Who is this Monsieur Stephane?" inquired Gilbert.
The landlord, recalled to prudence by the warning of his wife,
answered dryly: "Stephane is Stephane, pryers are pryers, and sheep
are put into the world to be sheared."
Thus repulsed, poor Gilbert paid five or six times its value for
his frugal repast, muttering as he departed: "I don't like this
Stephane; is it on his account that I've just been imposed upon?
Is it my fault that he carries matters with such a high hand?"
Gilbert descended the little hill, and retook the main road; it
pleased him no more, for he knew too well where it was leading him.
He inquired how much further it was to Geierfels, and was told that
by fast walking he would reach that place within an hour, whereupon
he slackened his pace. He was certainly in no haste to get there.
Gilbert was but a half a league from the castle when, upon his
right, a little out of his road, he perceived a pretty fountain
which partly veiled a natural grotto. A path led to it, and this
path had for Gilbert an irresistible attraction. He seated himself
upon the margin of the fountain, resting his feet upon a mossy
stone. This ought to be his last halt, for night was approaching.
Under the influence of the bubbling waters, Gilbert resumed his
dreamy soliloquy, but his meditations were presently interrupted by
the sound of a horse's feet which clattered over the path. Raising
his eyes, he saw coming towards him, mounted upon a large chestnut
horse, a young man of about sixteen, whose pale thin face was
relieved by an abundance of magnificent bright brown hair, which
fell in curls upon his shoulders. He was small but admirably
formed, and his features, although noble and regular, awakened in
Gilbert more of surprise than sympathy: their expression was hard,
sullen, and sad, and upon this beautiful face not any of the graces
of youth appeared.
The young cavalier came straight towards him, and when at a step or
two from the fountain, he called out in German, with an imperious
voice: "My horse is thirsty,—make room for me, my good man!"
Gilbert did not stir.
"You take a very lofty tone, my little friend," replied he in the
same language, which he understood very well, but pronounced like
the devil,—I mean like a Frenchman.
"My tall friend, how much do you charge for your lessons in
etiquette?" answered the young man in the same language, imitating
Gilbert's pronunciation. Then he added in French, with
irreproachable purity of accent: "Come, I can't wait, move
quicker," and he began cutting the air with his riding-whip.
"M. Stephane," said Gilbert, who had not forgotten the adventure of
the little Wilhelm, "your whip will get you into trouble some of
"Who gave you the right to know my name?" cried the young man,
raising his head haughtily.
"The name is already notorious through the country," retorted
Gilbert, "and you have written it in very legible characters upon
the cheek of a little pig-driver."
Stephane, for it was he, reddened with anger and raised his whip
with a threatening air; but with a blow of his stick Gilbert sent
it flying into the bottom of a ditch, twenty paces distant.
When he looked at the young man again, he repented of what he had
done, for his expression was terrible to behold; his pallor became
livid; all the muscles of his face contracted, and his body was
agitated by convulsive movements; in vain he tried to speak, his
voice died upon his lips, and reason seemed deserting him. He tore
off one of his gloves, and tried to throw it in Gilbert's face, but
it fell from his trembling hand. For an instant he looked with a
scornful and reproachful glance at that slender hand whose weakness
he cursed; then tears gushed in abundance from his eyes, he hung
his head over the neck of his horse, and in a choking voice
"For the love of God, if you do not wish me to die of rage, give me
back,—give me back—"
He could not finish; but Gilbert had already run to the ditch, and
having picked up the riding-whip, as well as the glove, returned
them to him. Stephane, without looking at him, answered by a
slight inclination of the head, but kept his eyes fixed upon the
pommel of his saddle,—evidently striving to recover his self-
possession. Gilbert, pitying his state of mind, turned to leave;
but at the moment he stooped to pick up his portmanteau and cane,
the youth, with a well-directed blow of his whip, struck off his
hat, which rolled into the ditch, and when Gilbert, surprised and
indignant, was about to throw himself upon the young traitor, he
had already pushed his horse to a full gallop, and in the twinkling
of an eye he reached the main road, where he disappeared in a
whirlwind of dust. Gilbert was much more affected by this
adventure than his philosophy should have permitted. He took up
his journey again with a feeling of depression, and haunted by the
pale, distorted face of the youth. "This excess of despair," said
he to himself, "indicates a proud and passionate character; but the
perfidy with which he repaid my generosity is the offspring of a
soul ignoble and depraved." And striking his forehead, he
continued: "It just occurs to me, judging from his name, that this
young man may be Count Kostia's son. Ah! what an amiable companion
I shall have to cheer my captivity! M. Leminof ought to have
forewarned me. It was an article which should have been included
in the contract."
Gilbert felt his heart sink; he saw himself already condemned to
defend his dignity incessantly against the caprices and insolence
of a badly-trained child,—the prospect was not attractive!
Plunged in these melancholy reflections, he lost his way, having
passed the place where he should have quitted the main road to
ascend the steep hill of which the castle formed the crown. By
good luck he met a peasant who put him again upon the right track.
The night had already fallen when he entered the court of the vast
building. This great assemblage of incongruous structures appeared
to him but a somber mass whose weight was crushing him. He could
only distinguish one or two projecting towers whose pointed roofs
stood out in profile against the starlit sky. While seeking to
make out his position, several huge dogs rushed upon him, and would
have torn him to pieces if, at the noise of their barking, a tall
stiff valet had not made his appearance with a lantern in hand.
Gilbert having given him his name, was requested to follow him.
They crossed a terrace, forced to turn aside at every step by the
dogs who growled fiercely,—apparently regretting "these amiable
hosts" the supper of which they had been deprived. Following his
guide Gilbert found himself upon a little winding staircase, which
they ascended to the third story, where the valet, opening an
arched door, introduced him into a large circular apartment where a
bed with a canopy had been prepared. "This is your room," said he
curtly, and having lighted two candles and placed them upon the
round table, he left the room, and did not return for half an hour,
when he re-appeared bearing a tray laden with a samovar, a venison
pie, and some cold fowl. Gilbert ate with a good appetite and felt
great satisfaction in finding that he had any at all. "My foolish
reveries," thought he, "have not spoiled my stomach at least."
Gilbert was still at the table when the valet re-entered and handed
him a note from the Count, which ran thus:
"M. Leminoff bids M. Gilbert Saville welcome. He will give himself
the pleasure of calling upon him to-morrow morning."
"To-morrow we shall commence the serious business of life," said
Gilbert to himself, as he enjoyed a cup of exquisite green tea,
"and I'm very glad of it, for I don't approve of the use I make of
my leisure. I have passed all this day reasoning upon myself,
dissecting my mind and heart,—a most foolish pastime, beyond a
doubt"—then drawing from his pocket a note-book, he wrote therein
these words: "Forget thyself, forget thyself, forget thyself,"
imitating the philosopher Kant, who being inconsolable at the loss
of an old servant named Lamp, wrote in his journal: "Remember to
He remained some moments standing in the embrasure of the window
gazing upon the celestial vault which shone with a thousand fires,
and then threw himself upon his bed. His sleep was not tranquil;
Stephane appeared to him in his dreams, and at one time he thought
he saw him kneeling before him, his face bathed in tears; but when
he approached to console him, the child drew a poignard from his
bosom and stabbed him to the heart.
Gilbert awakened with a start, and had some difficulty in getting
to sleep again.
A great pleasure was in store for Gilbert at his awakening; he rose
as the sun began to appear, and having dressed, hastened to the
window to see what view it offered.
The rotunda which had been assigned to him for a lodging formed the
entire upper story of a turret which flanked one of the angles of
the castle. This turret, and a great square tower situated at the
other extremity of the same front, commanded a view of the north,
and from this side the rock descended perpendicularly, forming an
imposing precipice of three hundred feet. When Gilbert's first
glance plunged into the abyss where a bluish vapor floated, which
the rising sun pierced with its golden arrows, the spectacle
transported him. To have a precipice under his window, was a
novelty which gave him infinite joy. The precipice was his domain,
his property, and his eyes took possession of it. He could not
cease gazing at the steep, wall-like rocks, the sides of which were
cut by transverse belts of brush-wood and dwarf trees. It was long
since he had experienced such a lively sensation, and he felt that
if his heart was old, his senses were entirely new. The fact is
that at this moment, Gilbert, the grave philosopher, was as happy
as a child, and in listening to the solemn murmur of the Rhine,
with which mingled the croaking of a raven and the shrill cries of
the martins, who with restless wings grazed the abutments of the
ancient turret, he persuaded himself that the river raised its
voice to salute him, that the birds were serenading him, and that
all nature celebrated a fete of which he was the hero.
He could hardly tear himself from his dear window to breakfast, and
he was again engaged in contemplation when M. Leminof entered the
room. He did not hear him, and it was not until the Count had
coughed three times that he turned his head. Perceiving the enemy,
Gilbert started, but quickly recovered himself. The nervous start,
however, which he had not been able to conceal, caused the Count to
smile, and his smile embarrassed Gilbert. He felt that M. Leminof
would regulate his conduct to him upon the impression he should
receive in this first interview, and he determined to keep close
watch upon himself.
Count Kostia was a man of middle age, very tall and well made,
broad-shouldered, with lofty bearing, a forehead stern and haughty,
a nose like the beak of a bird of prey, a head carried high and
slightly backwards, large, wide open gray eyes which shot glances
at once piercing and restless, an expressive face regularly cut, in
which Gilbert found little to criticise except that the eyebrows
were a little too bushy, and the cheek bones a little too
prominent; but what did not please him was, that M. Leminof
remained standing while praying him to be seated, and as Gilbert
made some objections the Count cut him short by an imperious
gesture and a frown.
"Monsieur le Comte," said Gilbert mentally, "you do not leave this
room until you have been seated too!"
"My dear sir," said the Count, pacing the room with folded arms,
"you have a very warm friend in Dr. Lerins. He sets a great value
upon your merit; he has even been obliging enough to give me to
understand that I was quite unworthy of having such a treasure of
wisdom and erudition in my house. He has also expressly
recommended me to treat you with the tenderest consideration; he
has made me feel that I am responsible for you to the world, and
that the world will hold me to a strict account. You are very
fortunate, sir, in having such good friends, they are among
Heaven's choicest blessings."
Gilbert made no answer but bit his lips and looked at the floor.
"M. Lerins," continued the Count, "informs me also, that you are
both timid and proud, and he desires me to deal gently with you.
He pretends that you are capable of suffering much without
complaint. This is an accomplishment which is uncommon nowadays.
But what I regret is, that our excellent friend M. Lerins
apparently considers me a sort of human wolf. I should be very
unhappy if I inspired you with fear." Then, turning half round
towards Gilbert: "Let us see, look at me well; have I claws at the
ends of my fingers?"
Poor Gilbert inwardly cursed M. Lerins and his indiscreet zeal.
"Oh, Monsieur le Comte," replied he in his frankest tones and with
the most tranquil air he could command, "I never suspect claws in a
fellow-creature;—only when occasion makes me feel them, I cry out
loudly and defend myself."
The sound of Gilbert's voice, and the expression of his face,
struck M. Leminof. It was his turn if not to start (he seldom
started) at least to be astonished. He looked at him an instant in
silence, and then resumed in a more sardonic tone:
"This is not all; M. Lerins (ah! what an admirable friend you have
there!) desires also to inform me that you are, sir, what is called
nowadays, a beautiful soul. What is 'a beautiful soul?' I know
nothing of the species." While thus speaking he seemed to be
looking by turns for a fly on the ceiling and a pin on the floor.
"I have old-fashioned ideas of everything, and I do not understand
the vocabulary of my age. I know a beautiful horse very well or a
beautiful woman;—but A BEAUTIFUL SOUL! Do you know how to explain
to me, sir, what 'this beautiful soul' is?"
Gilbert did not answer a word. He was entirely occupied in
addressing to Heaven the prayer of the philosopher: "Oh, my God!
save me from my friends, and I will take care of my enemies." "My
questions seem to you perhaps a little indiscreet," pursued M.
Leminof; "but M. Lerins is responsible for them. His last letter
caused me great uneasiness. He introduces you to me as an
exceptionable being; it is natural that I should wish to enlighten
myself, for I detest mysteries and surprises. I once heard of a
little Abyssinian prince, who to testify his gratitude to the
missionary who had converted him, sent to him, as a present, a
large chest of scented wood. When the missionary opened the chest,
he found in it a pretty living Nile crocodile. Fancy his delight!
Experiences like this teach prudence. So when our excellent friend
M. Lerins sends me a present of a beautiful soul, it is natural
that I should unpack it with caution, and that before I install
this beautiful soul in my house, I should seek to know what is
inside of it. A beautiful soul!" he repeated, in a less ironical
but harsher tone, "by dint of pondering upon it, I divine to be a
soul which has a passion for the trumpery of sentiment. In this
case, sir, suffer me to give you a piece of advice. Madame Leminof
had a great fancy for Chinese ornaments, and she filled her parlors
with them. Unfortunately, I am a little brusque, and it happened
more than once that I overturned her tables laden with porcelain
and other gewgaws. You can judge how well she liked it! My dear
sir, be prudent, shut up your Chinese ornaments carefully in your
closets, and carry the keys."
"I thank you for the advice," answered Gilbert gently; "but I am
distressed to see that you have received a very false idea of me.
Will you permit me to describe myself as I am?"
"I have no objection," said he.
"To begin then 'I am not a beautiful soul,' I am simply a good
soul, or if you like it better, an honest fellow who takes things
as they come and men as they are; who prides himself upon nothing,
pretends to nothing, and who cares not a straw what others think of
him. I do not deny that in my early youth I was subject, like
others, to what a man of wit has called 'the witchery of nonsense;'
but I have recovered from it entirely. I have found in life a
morose and rather brutal teacher, who has taught me the art of
living by severe discipline; so whatever of the romantic was in me
has taken refuge in my brains, and my heart has become the most
reasonable of all hearts. If I had the good fortune to be at the
same time an artist and rich, I should take life as a play; but
being neither the one nor the other I treat it as a matter of
M. Leminof commenced his walk again, and in passing Gilbert, gave
him a look at once haughty and caressing, such as a huge mastiff
would cast upon a spaniel, who fearing nothing, would approach his
great-toothed majesty familiarly and offer to play with him. He
growls loudly, but feels no anger. There is something in the eye
of a spaniel which forces the big dogs to take their familiarity in
"Ah, then, sir," said the Count, "by your own avowal you are a
perfect egotist. Your great aim is to live, and to live for
"It is nearly so," answered Gilbert, "only I avoid using the word,
it is a little hard. Not that I was born an egotist, but I have
become one. If I still possessed the heart I had at twenty, I
should have brought here with me some very romantic ideas. You may
well laugh, sir, but suppose I had arrived at your castle ten years
ago; it would have been with a fixed intention of loving you a
great deal, and of making you love me. But now, mon Dieu! now I
know a little of the world, and I say to myself that there can be
no question between us but a bargain, and that good bargains should
be advantageous to both parties."
"What a terrible man you are," cried the Count with a mocking
laugh. "You destroy my illusions without pity, you wound my
poetical soul. In my simplicity, I imagined that we should be
enamored of each other. I intended to make an intimate friend of
my secretary,—the dear confidant of all my thoughts, but at the
moment when I was prepared to open my arms to him, the ingrate says
to me in a studied tone: 'Sir, there is nothing but the question of
a bargain between us; I am the seller, you are the buyer; I sell
you Greek, and you pay me cash down.' Peste! Monsieur, 'your
beautiful soul' does not pride itself on its poetry. As an
experiment, I will take you at your word. There is nothing but a
bargain between us. I will make the terms and you will agree
without complaint, though I am the Turk and you the Moor."
"Pardon me," answered Gilbert, "it is naturally to your interest to
treat me with consideration. You may give me a great deal to do, I
shall not grudge my time or trouble, but you must not overburden
me. I am not exacting, and all that I ask for is a few hours of
leisure and solitude daily to enjoy in peace.
M. Leminof stopped suddenly before Gilbert, his hands resting upon
"You will sit down, you will sit down, Monsieur le Comte," muttered
Gilbert between his teeth.
"So you are a dreamer and an egotist," said M. Leminof, looking
fixedly at him. "I hope, sir, that you have the virtues of the
class. I mean to say, that while wholly occupied with yourself,
you are free from all indiscreet curiosity. Egotism is worth its
price only when it is accompanied by a scornful indifference to
others. I will explain: I do not live here absolutely alone, but I
am the only one with whom I desire you to have any intimate
acquaintance. The two persons who live in this house with me know
nothing of Greek, and therefore need not interest you. Remember, I
have the misfortune of being jealous as a tiger, and I intend that
you shall be mine without any division. And as for your fantasies,
should you think better of it, you will find me always ready to
admire them; but you show them to no one else, you understand, to
Count Kostia pronounced these last words with a tone so emphatic
that Gilbert was surprised, and was on the point of asking some
explanation; but the stern and almost threatening look of the Count
deterred him. "Your instructions, sir," answered he, "are
superfluous. To finish my own portrait, I am not very expansive,
and I have but little sociability in my character. To speak
frankly, solitude is my element; it is inexpressibly sweet to me.
Do you wish to try me? If so, shut me up under lock and key in
this room, and provided you have a little food passed through the
door to me daily, you will find me a year hence seated at this
table, fresh, well and happy, unless perhaps," he added, "I should
be unexpectedly attacked with some celestial longing, in which
case, I could some fine day easily fly out of the window; the loss
wouldn't be very great. Finding the cage empty, you would say, 'He
has grown his wings, poor fellow—much good may they do him.'"
"I don't admit that," cried the Count, "Monsieur Secretary. You
please me immensely, and for fear of accident, I will have this
With these words he drew a chair towards him, and seated himself
facing Gilbert, who could have clapped his hands at this propitious
result. Their conversation then turned upon the Byzantine Empire
and its history. The Count unfolded to Gilbert the plan of his
work, and the kind of researches he expected from him. This
conversation was prolonged for several hours.
A fortnight later, Gilbert wrote to his friends a letter conceived
"Madame:—I have found here neither fetes, cavalcades, gala-days
nor Muscovite beauties. What should we do, I beg to know, with
these Muscovite beauties? or perhaps I ought to ask, what would
they do with us? We live in the woods; our castle is an old, very
old one, and in the moonlight it looks like a specter. What I like
best about it, is its long and gloomy corridors, through which the
wind sweeps freely; but I assure you that I have not yet
encountered there a white robe or a plumed hat. Only the other
evening a bat, who had entered by a broken pane, brushed my face
with its wing and almost put out my candle. This, up to the
present time has been my sole adventure. And as for you, sir, know
that I am not obliged to resist the fascinations of my tyrant, for
the reason that he has not taken the trouble to be fascinating.
Know also that I am not bored. I am contented; I am enjoying the
tranquility of mind which comes from a well-defined, well-
regulated, and after all, very supportable position. I am no
longer compelled to urge my life on before me and to show it the
road; it makes its own way, and I follow it as Martin followed his
ass. And then pleasures are not wanting for us,—listen! Our
castle is a long series of dilapidated buildings, of which we
occupy the only one habitable. I am lodged alone in a turret which
commands a magnificent view, and I have a grand precipice under my
window. I can say 'my turret,' 'my precipice!' Oh, my poor
Parisians, you will never understand all there is in these two
words: MY PRECIPICE! 'What is it then but a precipice?' exclaims
Madame Lerins. 'It is only a great chasm.' Ah, yes! Madame, it is
'a great chasm'; but imagine that this morning this chasm was a
deep blue, and this evening at sunset it was—stay, of the color of
your nasturtiums. I opened my window and put my head out to inhale
the odor of this admirable precipice, for I have discovered that in
the evening precipices have an odor. How shall I describe it to
you? It is a perfume of rocks scorched by the sun, with which
mingles a subtle aroma of dry herbs. The combination is exquisite.
"The proud rock, of which we occupy the summit and which deserves
its name of Vulture's Crag, is bounded at the north as you already
know, at the west by a ravine which separates it from a range of
hills higher and fantastically jagged, and following the windings
of the river. This line of hills is not continuous; it is cut by
narrow gorges, which open into the valley and through which the
last rays of the sun reach us. The other evening there was a red
sunset, and one of these gorges seemed to vomit flames; you might
have supposed it the mouth of the furnace. Upon the east, from its
heights and its terrace, Geierfels overlooks the Rhine, from which
it is separated by the main road and a tow-path. At the south it
communicates by steep paths with a vast plateau, of which it forms,
as it were, the upper story, and which is clothed with a forest of
beeches, and furrowed here and there with noisy streams. It is on
this side only that our castle is accessible,—and here not to
carriages,—even a cart could reach us but with difficulty, and all
of our provisions are brought to us upon the backs of men or mules.
Mountains, perpendicular rocks, turrets overhanging a precipice,
grand and somber woods, rugged paths and brooks which fall in
cascades, do not all these, Madame, make this a very wild and very
romantic retreat? On the right bank of the Rhine which stretches
out under our eyes, it is another thing. Picture to yourself a
landscape of infinite sweetness, a great cultivated plain, which
rises by imperceptible gradation to the base of a distant chain of
mountains, the undulating outlines of which are traced upon the sky
in aerial indentations.
"Directly in front of the chateau, beyond the Rhine, a market town,
with neat houses carefully whitewashed and with gardens attached,
spreads itself around a little cove, like a fan. Upon the right of
this great village a rustic church reflects the sun from its tinned
spire; on the left, some large mills show their lazily turning
wheels, and behind these mills, the church and the market town,
extends the fertile plain which I have just endeavored to describe
to you, and which I cannot praise too much. Oh! charming
landscape! This afternoon I was occupied in feasting my eyes upon
it, when a white goat came to distract my attention, followed at a
distance by a little girl whom I suspected of being very pretty;
but I forgot them both in watching a steamboat passing up the river
towing a flotilla of barges, covered with awnings and attended by
their lighters, and a huge raft laden with timber from the Black
Forest, manned by fifty or sixty boatmen, some of whom in front,
and some in the rear, directed its course with vigorous strokes of
"But what pleases me above everything else is, that Geierfels, by
its position, is a kind of acoustic focus to which all the noises
of the valley incessantly ascend. This afternoon, the dull
murmuring of the river, the panting respiration of the tug-boat,
the vibration of a bell in a distant church tower, the song of a
peasant girl washing her linen in a spring, the bleating of sheep,
the tic tac of the mills, the tinkling bells of a long train of
mules drawing a barge by a rope, the reverberating clamors of
boatmen stowing casks in their boats—all these various sounds came
to my ear in vibrations of surprising clearness, when suddenly a
gust of wind mingled them confusedly together, and I could hear but
a vague music which seemed to fall from the skies. But a moment
afterwards all of these vibrating voices emerged anew from the
whirlwind of confused harmony, and each, sonorous and distinct,
recounted to my enraptured heart some episode in the life of man
and nature. And then, when night comes, Madame, to all of these
noises of the day succeed others more mysterious, more penetrating,
more melancholy. Do you like the hooting of the owl, Madame? But
first, I wonder if you have ever heard it. It is a cry— No, it
is not a cry, it is a soft, stifled wail; a monotonous and resigned
sorrow, which unbosoms itself to the moon and stars. One of these
sad birds lodges within two steps of me, in the hollow of a tree,
and when night comes, he amuses himself by singing a duet with the
singing wind. The Rhine plays an accompaniment, and its grave,
subdued voice furnishes a continuous bass, whose volume swells and
falls in rhythmic waves. The other evening this concert failed;
neither the wind nor the owl was in voice. The Rhine alone
grumbled beneath; but it arranged a surprise for me and proved that
it could make harmony of its own without other aid. Towards
midnight a barge carrying a lantern on its prow had become detached
from the bank and had drifted across the river, and I distinctly
heard, or imagined that I heard, the wash of the waves upon the
side of the boat, the bubbling of the eddy which formed under the
stern, the dull sound of the oar when it dipped into the current,
and still sweeter, when raised out of it the tender tears which
dripped from it drop by drop. This music contrasted strongly with
that I had heard the night before at the same hour. The north wind
had risen during the evening, and near eleven o'clock it became
furious; it filled the air with sad howlings, and increased to a
rage that was inexpressible. The weathercocks creaked, the tiles
ground against each other, the roof timbers trembled in their
mortices, and the walls shook upon their foundations. From time to
time a blast would hurl itself against my window with wild shrieks,
and from my bed I imagined I could see through the panes the
bloodshot eyes of a band of famished wolves. In the brief
intervals when this outside tumult subsided, strange murmurs came
from the interior of the castle; the wainscoting gave forth dismal
creakings;—there was not a crack in the partitions, nor a fissure
in the ceiling from which did not issue a sigh, or hoarse groans.
Then again all this became silent, and I heard only something like
a low whispering in the far off corridors, as of phantoms murmuring
in the darkness as they swept the walls in their flight; then
suddenly they seemed to gather up their forces, the floors trembled
under their spasmodic tramping, while they clambered in confusion
up the staircase which led to my room, throwing themselves over the
threshold of my door and uttering indescribable lamentations.
"But enough of this, perhaps you will say; let us now talk a little
of your patron: This terrible man, will you believe it, has not
inspired me with the antagonism which you prophesied. But in the
first place we do not live together from morning to night. The day
after my arrival, he sent me a long list of difficult or mutilated
passages to interpret and restore. It is a work of time, to which
I devote all my afternoons. He has had some of his finest folios
sent to my room, and I live in these like a rat in a Dutch cheese.
It is true, I pass my mornings in his study, where we hold learned
discussions which would edify the Academy of Inscriptions; but to
my delight, after nightfall I can dispose of myself as I choose.
He has even agreed that, after seven o'clock, I may lock myself in
my room, and that no human being under any pretext whatever shall
come to disturb me there. This privilege M. Leminof granted to me
in the most gracious manner, and you can imagine how grateful I am
to him for it. I do not mean to say by this that he is an amiable
man, nor that he cares to be; but he is a man of sense and wit. He
understood me at once, and he means to make me serviceable to him.
I am like a horse who feels that he carries a skilful rider."
The next day was Sunday, and for Gilbert was a day of liberty.
Towards the middle of the forenoon, he went out to take a walk in
the woods. He had wandered for an hour, when, turning his head, he
saw coming behind him a little troop of children, decked out in
strange costumes. The two oldest wore blue dresses and red
mantles, and their heads were covered with felt caps encircled by
bands of gilt paper in imitation of aureoles. A smaller one wore a
gray dress, upon which were painted black devils and inverted
torches. The last five were clothed in white; their shoulders were
ornamented with long wings of rose-tinted gauze, and they held in
their hands sprigs of box by way of palm branches.
Gilbert slackened his pace, and when they came up with him, he
recognized in the one who wore the san-benito the little hog-
driver, so maltreated by Stephane. The child, who while marching
looked down complacently on the torches and the devils with which
his robe was decorated, advanced towards Gilbert, and without
waiting for his questions, said to him, "I am Judas Iscariot. Here
is Saint Peter, and here is Saint John. The others are angels. We
are all going to R——, to take part in a grand procession, that
they have there every five years. If you want to see something
fine, just follow us. I shall sing a solo and so will Saint Peter;
the others sing in the chorus."
Upon which Judas Iscariot, Saint Peter, Saint John and the angels
resumed their march, and Gilbert decided to follow them. The first
houses of the village of R—— rise at the extremity of the wooded
plain which extends to the south of Geierfels. In about half an
hour, the little procession made its entry into the village in the
midst of a considerable crowd which hastily gathered from the
neighboring hamlets. Gilbert made his way along the main street,
decorated with hangings and altars, and passed on to an open square
planted with elms, of which the church formed one of the sides.
Presently the bells sounded a grand peal; the doors of the church
opened, and the procession came out. At the head marched priests,
monks, and laymen of both sexes, bearing wax tapers, crosses, and
banners. Behind them came a long train of children representing
the escort of the Saviour to Calvary. One of them, a young lad of
ten years, filled the role of Christ.
At a moment when Gilbert was absorbed in reflection, a voice which
was not unknown to him murmured in his ear these words, which made
"You seem prodigiously interested, Monsieur, in this ridiculous
Turning his head quickly, he recognized Stephane. The young man
had just dismounted from his horse, which he had left in the care
of his servant, and had pushed his way through the crowd,
indifferent to the exclamations of the good people whose pious
meditations he disturbed. Gilbert looked at him a moment severely,
and then fixed his eyes on the procession, and tried, but in vain,
to forget the existence of this Stephane whom he had not met before
since the adventure at the fountain, and whose presence at this
moment caused him an indefinable uneasiness. The reproachful look
which he had cast upon the young man, far from intimidating him,
served but to excite his mocking humor, and after a few seconds of
silence he commenced the following soliloquy in French, speaking
low, but in a voice so distinct that Gilbert, to his great regret,
lost not a word of it:
"Mon Dieu! how ridiculous these young ones are! They really seem
to take the whole thing seriously; what vulgar types! what square,
bony faces. Don't their low, stupid expressions contrast oddly
with their wings? Do you see that little chap twisting his mouth
and rolling his eyes? His air of contrition is quite edifying.
The other day he was caught stealing fagots from a neighbor. . . .
And look at that other one who has lost his wings! What an unlucky
accident! He is stooping to pick them up, and tucks them under his
arm like a cocked hat. The idea is a happy one! But thank God,
their litanies are over. It's Saint Peter's turn to sing."
For a long time Gilbert looked about him anxiously, seeking an
opportunity to escape, but the crowd was so compact that it was
impossible to make his way through it. He saw himself forced to
remain where he was and to submit, even to the end, to Stephane's
amiable soliloquy. So he pretended not to hear him, and concealed
his impatience as well as he could; but his nervousness betrayed
him in spite of himself, and to the great diversion of Stephane,
who maliciously enjoyed his own success. Fortunately for Gilbert,
when Judas had stopped singing, the procession resumed its march
towards a second station at the other end of the village, and this
caused a general movement among the bystanders who hedged his
passage. Gilbert profited by this disorder to escape, and was soon
lost in the crowd, where even Stephane's piercing eyes could not
Hastening from the village he took the road to the woods. "This
Stephane is decidedly a nuisance," thought he. "Three weeks since
he surprised me at a bright fountain, where I was deliciously
dreaming, and put my fancies to flight, and now by his impertinent
babbling he has spoiled a fete in which I took interest and
pleasure. What is he holding in reserve for me? The most annoying
part of it is, that henceforth I shall be condemned to see him
daily. Even to-day, in a few hours, I shall meet him at his
father's table. Presentiments do not always deceive, and at first
sight I recognize in him a strong enemy to my repose and happiness;
but I shall manage to keep him at a distance. We won't distress
ourselves over a trifle. What does philosophy amount to, if the
happiness of a philosopher is to be at the mercy of a spoiled
Thus saying, he drew from his pocket a book which he often carried
in his walks: It was a volume of Goethe, containing the admirable
treatise on the "Metamorphosis of Plants." He began to read, often
raising his head from the page to gaze at a passing cloud, or a
bird fluttering from tree to tree. To this pleasant occupation he
abandoned himself for nearly an hour, when he heard the neighing of
a horse behind him, and turning, he saw Stephane advancing at full
speed on his superb chestnut and followed at a few paces by his
groom, mounted on a gray horse. Gilbert's first impulse was to
dart into a path which opened at his left, and thus gain the
shelter of the copse; but he did not wish to give Stephane the
pleasure of imagining that he was afraid of him, and so continued
on his way, his eyes riveted upon the book.
Stephane soon came up to him, and bringing his horse to a walk,
thus accosted him:
"Do you know, sir, that you are not very polite? You quitted me
abruptly, without taking leave. Your proceedings are singular, and
you seem to be a stranger to the first principles of good
"What do you expect, my dear sir?" answered Gilbert. "You were so
amiable, so prepossessing the first time I had the honor of meeting
you, that I was discouraged. I said to myself, that do what I
would, I should always be in arrears to you."
"You are spiteful, Mr. Secretary," retorted Stephane. "What, have
you not forgotten that little affair at the spring?"
"You have taken no trouble, it seems, to make me forget it."
"It is true, I was wrong," replied he with a sneer; "wait a moment,
I will dismount, go upon my knees there in the middle of the road,
and say to you in dolorous voice, 'Sir, I'm grieved, heart-broken,
desperate,'—For what? I know not. Tell me, I pray you, sir, for
what must I beg your pardon? For if I rightly remember, you
commenced by raising your cane to me.
"I did not raise my cane to you," replied Gilbert, beside himself
with indignation; "I contented myself with parrying the blow which
you were about to give me."
"It was not my intention to strike you," rejoined Stephane,
impetuously. "And besides, learn once for all, that between us
things are not equal, and that even should I provoke you, you would
be a wretch to raise the end of your finger against me."
"Oh, that is too much!" cried Gilbert, laughing loudly.
"And why so, my little friend?"
"Because—because—" stammered Stephane; and then suddenly stopped.
An expression of bitter sadness passed over his face; his brows
contracted and his eyes became fixed. It was thus that terrible
paroxysm had commenced which so alarmed Gilbert at their first
meeting. This time, fortunately, the attack was less violent. The
good Gilbert passed quickly from anger to pity; "there is a secret
wound in that heart," thought he, and he was still more convinced
of it when, after a long pause Stephane, recovering the use of his
speech, said to him in a broken voice: "I was ill the other day, I
often am. People should have some consideration for invalids."
Gilbert made no answer; he feared by a hard word to exasperate his
soul so passionate, and so little master of itself; but he thought
that when Stephane felt ill, he had better stay in his room.
They walked on some moments in silence until, recovering from his
dejection, Stephane said ironically: "You made a mistake in leaving
the fete so soon. If you had stayed until the end, you would have
heard Christ and his mother sing; you lost a charming duet."
"Let us drop that subject," interrupted Gilbert; "we could not
understand each other. Yours is a kind of pleasantry for which I
have but little taste."
"Pedant!" murmured Stephane, turning his head, then adding with
animation: "It is just because I respect religion that I do not
like to see it burlesqued and parodied. Let a true angel appear
and I am ready to render him homage; but I am enraged when I see
great seraph's wings tied with white strings to the shoulders of
wicked, boorish, little thieves, liars, cowards, slaves, and
rascals. Their hypocritical airs do not impose on me, for I read
their base natures in their eyes. I detest all affectations, all
shams. I have the misfortune of being able to see through all
"These are very old words for such very young lips," answered
Gilbert sadly. "I suspect, my child, you are repeating a lesson
you have learned."
"And what do you know of my age?" cried he angrily. "By what do
you judge? Are faces clocks which mark the hours and minutes of
life? Well, yes, I am but sixteen; but I have lived longer than
you. I am not a library rat, and have not studied the world in
duodecimos. Thank God! for the advancement of my education. He
has gathered under my eyes a few specimens of the human race which
have enabled me to judge of the rest, and the more experience I
gain, the more I am convinced that all men are alike. On that
account I scorn them all,—all without exception!"
"I thank you sincerely for myself and your groom," answered Gilbert
"Don't trouble yourself about my groom," replied Stephane, beating
down with his whip the foliage which obstructed his path. "In the
first place, he knows but little French; and it is useless to tell
him in Russian that I despise him,—he would be none the worse for
it. He is well lodged, well fed, and well clothed; what matters my
scorn to him? And besides, let me tell you for your guidance, that
my groom is not a groom, he is my jailer. I am a prisoner under
constant surveillance; these woods constitute a yard, where I can
walk but twice a week, and this excellent Ivan is my keeper.
Search his pockets and you will find a scourge."
Gilbert turned to examine the groom, who answered his scrutinizing
look by a jovial and intelligent smile. Ivan represented the type
of the Russian serf in all his original beauty. He was small, but
vigorous and robust; he had a fresh complexion, cheeks full and
rosy, hair of a pale yellow, large soft eyes and a long chestnut
beard, in which threads of silver already mingled. It was such a
face as one often sees among the lower classes of Slavonians;
indicating at once energy in action and placidity in repose.
When Gilbert had looked at him well, he said, "My dear sir, I do
not believe in Ivan's scourge."
"Ah! that is like you bookworms," exclaimed Stephane with an angry
gesture. "You receive all the monstrous nonsense which you find in
your old books for Gospel truth, and without any hesitation, while
the ordinary matters of life appear to you prodigious absurdities,
which you refuse to believe."
"Don't be angry. Ivan's scourge is not exactly an article of
faith. One can fail to believe in it without being in danger of
hell-fire. Besides, I am ready to recant my heresy; but I will
confess to you that I find nothing ferocious or stern in the face
of this honest servant. At all events, he is a jailer who does not
keep his prisoners closely, and who sometimes gives them a
relaxation beyond his orders; for the other day, it seems to me,
you scoured the country without him, and really the use you make of
"The other day," interrupted Stephane, "I did a foolish thing. For
the first time I amused myself by evading Ivan's vigilance. It was
an effort that I longed to make, but it turned out badly for me.
Would you like to see with your own eyes what this fine exploit
Then pushing up the right sleeve of his black velvet blouse, he
showed Gilbert a thin delicate wrist marked by a red circle, which
indicated the prolonged friction of an iron ring. Gilbert could
not repress an exclamation of surprise and pity at the sight, and
repented his pleasantry.
"I have been chained for a fortnight in a dungeon which I thought I
should never come out of again," said Stephane, "and I indulged in
a good many reflections there. Ah! you were right when you accused
me of repeating a lesson I had learned. The pretty bracelet which
I bear on my right arm is my thought-teacher, and if I dared to
repeat all that it taught me—" Then interrupting himself:
"A lie!" exclaimed he in a bitter tone, drawing his cap down over
his eyes. "The truth is, that I came out of the dungeon like a
lamb, flexible as a glove, and that I am capable of committing a
thousand base acts to save myself the horror of returning there. I
am a coward like the rest, and when I tell you that I despise all
men, do not believe that I make an exception in my own favor."
And at these words he drove the spurs into his horse's flank so
violently that the fiery chestnut, irritated by the rude attack,
kicked and pranced. Stephane subdued him by the sole power of his
haughty and menacing voice; then exciting him again, he launched
him forward at full speed and amused himself by suddenly bringing
him up with a jerk of the rein, and by turns making him dance and
plunge; then urging him across the road he made him clear at a
bound, the ditch and hedge which bordered it. After several
minutes of this violent exercise, he trotted away, followed by his
inseparable Ivan, leaving Gilbert to his reflections, which were
not the most agreeable.
He had experienced in talking with Stephane an uneasiness, a secret
trouble which had never oppressed him before. The passionate
character of this young man, the rudeness of his manners, in which
a free savage grace mingled, the exaggeration of his language,
betraying the disorder of an ill-governed mind, the rapidity with
which his impressions succeeded each other, the natural sweetness
of his voice, the caressing melody of which was disturbed by loud
exclamations and rude and harsh accents; his gray eyes turning
nearly black and flashing fire in a paroxysm of anger or emotion;
the contrast between the nobility and distinction of his face and
bearing, and the arrogant scorn of proprieties in which he seemed
to delight—in short, some painful mystery written upon his
forehead and betrayed in his smile—all gave Gilbert much to
speculate upon and troubled him profoundly. The aversion he had at
first felt for Stephane had changed to pity since the poor child
had shown him the red bracelet, which he called his "thought-
teacher,"—but pity without sympathy is a sentiment to which one
yields with reluctance. Gilbert reproached himself for taking such
a lively interest in this young man who had so little merited his
esteem, and more especially as with his pity mingled an indefinable
terror or apprehension. In fact, he hardly knew himself; he so
calm, so reasonable, to be the victim of such painful
presentiments! It seemed to him that Stephane was destined to
exercise great influence over his fate, and to bring disorder into
Suddenly, he heard once more the sound of horse's hoofs and
Stephane re-appeared. Perceiving Gilbert, the young man stopped
his horse and cried out, "Mr. Secretary, I am looking for you."
And then, laughing, continued:
"This is a tender avowal I have just made; for believe me, it is
years since I have thought of looking for anybody; but as in your
estimation I have not been very courteous, and as I pride myself on
my good manners, I wish to obtain your pardon by flattering you a
"This is too much goodness," answered Gilbert. "Don't take the
trouble. The best course you can pursue to win my esteem is to
trouble yourself about me as little as possible."
"And you will do the same in regard to me?"
"Remember that matters are not equal between us. I am but an
insect,—it is easy for you to avoid me, whilst—"
"You are not talking with common sense," interrupted Stephane;
"look at this green beetle crawling across the road. I see him,
but he does not see me. But to drop this bantering—for it's quite
out of character with me—what I like in you is your remarkable
frankness, it really amuses me. By the way, be good enough to tell
me what book that is which never leaves you for a moment and which
you ponder over with such intensity. Do tell me," added he in a
coaxing, childish tone, "what is the book that you press to your
heart with so much tenderness."
Gilbert handed it to him.
"'Essay on the Metamorphosis of Plants.' So, plants have the
privilege of changing themselves? Mon Dieu, they must be happy!
But they ought to tell us their secret."
Then closing the volume, and returning it to Gilbert, he exclaimed:
"Happy man! you live among the plants of the field as if in your
element. Are you not something of a plant yourself? I am not sure
but that you have just now stopped reading to say to the primroses
and anemones covering this slope, 'I am your brother!' Mon Dieu! I
am sorry to have disturbed the charming conversation! And hold!
your eyes are a little the color of the periwinkle."
He turned his head and looked at Gilbert with a scornful air, and
had already prepared to leave him, when a glance over the road
dispersed his ill-humor, for in the distance he saw Wilhelm and his
comrades returning from the fete.
"Come quick, my children," cried he, rising in his stirrups. "Come
quick, my lambs, for I have something of the greatest importance to
propose to you."
Hearing his challenge, the children raised their eyes and
recognizing Stephane, they stopped and took counsel together. The
somewhat brutal impudence of the young Russian had given him a bad
reputation, and the little peasants would rather have turned back
than encounter his morose jesting or his terrible whip.
The three apostles and the five angels, after consulting together,
concluded prudently to beat a retreat, when Stephane drawing from
his pocket a great leather purse, shook it in the air crying,
"There is money to be gained here,—come, my dear children, you
shall have all you want."
The large, full purse which Stephane shook in his hand was a very
tempting bait for the eight children; but his whip, which he held
under his left arm, warned them to be careful. Hesitating between
fear and covetousness, they stood still like the ass in the fable
between his two bundles of hay; but Stephane at that moment was
seized with a happy inspiration and threw his switch to the top of
a neighboring tree, where it rested. This produced a magical
effect, the children with one accord deciding to approach him,
although with slow and hesitating steps. Wilhelm alone,
remembering his recent treatment, darted into a path nearby and
disappeared in the bushes.
The troop of children stopped a dozen paces from Stephane and
formed in a group, the little ones hiding behind the larger. All
of them fumbled nervously with the ends of their belts, and kept
their heads down, awkward and ashamed, with eyes fixed upon the
ground, but casting sidelong glances at the great leather purse
which danced between Stephane's hands.
"You, Saint Peter," said he to them in a grave tone; "you, Saint
John, and your five dear little angels of Heaven, listen to me
closely. You have sung to-day very pretty songs in honor of the
good Lord; he will reward you some day in the other world; but for
the little pleasures people give me, I reward them at once. So
every one of you shall have a bright dollar, if you will do the
little thing I ask. It is only to kiss delicately and respectfully
the toe of my boot. I tell you again, that this little ceremony
will gain for each of you a bright dollar, and you will afterwards
have the happiness of knowing that you have learned to do something
which you can't do too well if you want to get on in this world."
The seven children looked at Stephane with a sheepish air and open
mouths. Not one of them stirred. Their immobility, and their
seven pairs of fixed round eyes directed upon him, provoked him.
"Come, my little lambs," he continued persuasively, "don't stretch
your eyes in this way; they look like barn doors wide open. You
should do this bravely and neatly. Ah! mon Dieu! you will see it
done often enough, and do it yourselves again too in your lifetime.
There must always be a beginning. Come on, make haste. A thaler
is worth thirty-six silbergroschen, and a silbergroschen is worth
ten pfennigs, and for five pfennigs you can buy a cake, a hot
muffin, or a little man in licorice—"
And shaking the leather purse again, he cried:
"Ah, what a pretty sound that makes! How pleasantly the click,
click of these coins sounds to our ears. All music is discordant
compared to that. Nightingales and thrushes, stop your concerts!
we can sing better than you. I am an artist who plays your
favorite air on his violin. Let us open the ball, my darlings."
The seven children seemed still uncertain. They were red with
excitement, and consulted each other by looks. At last the
youngest, a little blond fellow, made up his mind.
"Monsieur HAS ONE CHEVRON TOO MANY," said he to his companions,
which being interpreted means: "Monsieur is a little foolish with
pride, his head is turned, he is crack-brained, and," added he
laughingly, "after all, it's only in fun, and there is a dollar to
So speaking, he approached Stephane deliberately and gave his boot
a loud kiss. The ice was broken; all of his companions followed
his example, some with a grave and composed air, others laughing
till they showed all their teeth. Stephane clapped his hands in
"Bravo! my dear friends," exclaimed he. "The business went off
Then drawing seven dollars from his purse, he threw them into the
road with a scornful gesture:
"Now then, Messrs. Apostles and Seraphim," cried he in a thundering
voice, "pick up your money quick, and scamper away as fast as your
legs can carry you. Vile brood, go and tell your mothers by what a
glorious exploit you won this prize!
And while the children were moving off, he turned towards Gilbert
and said, crossing his arms: "Well, my man of the periwinkles, what
do you think of it?"
Gilbert had witnessed this little scene with mingled sadness and
disgust. He would have given much if only one of the children had
resisted Stephane's insolent caprice; but not having this
satisfaction, he tried to conceal his chagrin as best he could.
"What does it prove?" replied he dryly.
"It seems to me it proves many things, and among others this: that
certain emotions are very ridiculous, and that certain mentors of
my acquaintance who thrust their lessons upon others—"
He said no more, for at this moment a pebble thrown by a vigorous
hand whistled by his ears, and rolled his cap in the dust.
Starting, he uttered an angry cry, and striking spurs into his
horse, he launched him at a gallop across the bushes. Gilbert
picked up the cap, and handed it to Ivan, who said to him in bad
"Pardon him; the poor child is sick," and then departed hastily in
pursuit of his young master.
Gilbert ran after them. When he had overtaken them, Stephane had
dismounted, and stood with clenched fists before a child, who,
quite out of breath from running, had thrown himself exhausted at
the foot of a tree. In running he had torn many holes in his San-
benito, and he was looking with mournful eyes at these rents, and
replied only in monosyllables to all of Stephane's threats.
"You are at my mercy," said the young man to him at last. "I will
forgive you if you ask my pardon on your knees."
"I won't do it," replied the child, getting up. "I have no pardon
to ask. You struck me with your whip, and I swore to pay you for
it. I'm a good shot. I sighted your cap and I was sure I'd hit
it. That makes you mad, and now we're even. But I'll promise not
to throw any more stones, if you'll promise not to strike me with
your whip any more."
"That is a very reasonable proposition," said Gilbert.
"I don't ask your opinion, sir," interrupted Stephane haughtily,—
then turning to Ivan: "Ivan, my dear Ivan," continued he, "in this
matter you ought to obey me. You know very well the Count does not
love me, but he does not mean to have others insult me: it is a
privilege he reserves to himself. Dismount, and make this little
rascal kneel to me and ask my pardon."
Ivan shook his head.
"You struck him first," answered he; "why should he ask your
In vain Stephane exhausted supplications and threats. The serf
remained inflexible, and during his talk Gilbert approached
Wilhelm, and said to him in a low voice:
"Run away quickly, my child; but remember your promise; if you
don't, you'll have to settle with me."
Stephane, seeing him escape, would have started in pursuit; but
Gilbert barred his way.
"Ivan!" cried he, wringing his hands, "drive this man out of my
Ivan shook his head again.
"I don't wish to harm the young Frenchman," replied he; "he has a
kind way and loves children."
Stephane's face was painfully agitated. His lips trembled. He
looked with sinister eye first at Ivan, then at Gilbert. At last
he said to himself in a stifled voice:
"Wretch that I am! I am as feeble as a worm, and weakness is not
Then lowering his head, he approached his horse, mounted him, and
pushed slowly through the copse. When he had regained the wood,
looking fixedly at Gilbert:
"Mr. Secretary," said he, "my father often quotes that diplomatist
who said that all men have their price; unfortunately I am not rich
enough to buy you; you are worth more than a dollar; but permit me
to give you some good advice. When you return to the castle,
repeat to Count Kostia certain words that I have allowed to escape
me to-day. It will give him infinite pleasure. Perhaps he will
make you his spy-in-chief, and without asking it, he may double
your salary. The most profitable trade in the world is burning
candles on the devil's shrine. You will do wonders in it, as well
Upon which, with a profound bow to Gilbert, he disappeared at a
"The devil! the devil! he talks of nothing but the devil!" said
Gilbert to himself, taking the road to the castle. "My poor
friend, you are condemned to pass some years of your life here
between a tyrant who is sometimes amiable, and a victim who is
never so at all!"
When Gilbert got back to the castle, M. Leminof was walking on the
terrace. He perceived his secretary at some distance, and made
signs to him to come and join him. They made several turns on the
parapet, and while walking, Gilbert studied Stephane's father with
still greater attention than he had done before. He was now most
forcibly struck by his eyes, of a slightly turbid gray, whose
glances, vague, unsteady, indiscernible, became at moments cold and
dull as lead. Never had M. Leminof been so amiable to his
secretary; he spoke to him playfully, and looked at him with an
expression of charming good nature. They had conversed for a
quarter of an hour when the sound of a bell gave notice that dinner
was served. Count Kostia conducted Gilbert to the dining-room. It
was an immense vaulted apartment, wainscoted in black oak, and
lighted by three small ogive windows, looking out upon the terrace.
The arches of the ceiling were covered with old apocalyptic
paintings, which time had molded and scaled off. In the center
could be seen the Lamb with seven horns seated on his throne; and
round about him the four-and-twenty elders clothed in white. On
the lower parts of the pendentive the paintings were so much
damaged that the subjects were hardly recognizable. Here and there
could be seen wings of angels, trumpets, arms which had lost their
hands, busts from which the head had disappeared, crowns, stars,
horses' manes, and dragons' tails. These gloomy relics sometimes
formed combinations that were mysterious and ominous. It was a
strange decoration for a dining-hall.
At this hour of the day, the three arched windows gave but a dull
and scanty light; and more was supplied by three bronze lamps,
suspended from the ceiling by iron chains; even their brilliant
flames were hardly sufficient to light up the depths of this
cavernous hall. Below the three lamps was spread a long table,
where twenty guests might easily find room; at one of the rounded
ends of this table, three covers and three morocco chairs had been
arranged in a semi-circle; at the other end, a solitary cover was
placed before a simple wooden stool. The Count seated himself and
motioned Gilbert to place himself at his right; then unfolding his
napkin, he said harshly to the great German valet de chambre:
"Why are not my son and Father Alexis here yet? Go and find them."
Some moments after, the door opened, and Stephane appeared. He
crossed the hall, his eyes downcast, and bending over the long thin
hand which his father presented to him without looking at him, he
touched it slightly with his lips. This mark of filial deference
must have cost him much, for he was seized with that nervous
trembling to which he was subject when moved by strong emotions.
Gilbert could not help saying to himself:
"My child, the seraphim and apostles are well revenged for the
humiliation you inflicted upon them."
It seemed as if the young man divined Gilbert's thoughts, for as he
raised his head, he launched a ferocious glance at him; then
seating himself at his father's left, he remained as motionless as
a statue, his eyes fixed upon his plate. Meantime he whom they
called Father Alexis did not make his appearance, and the Count,
becoming impatient, threw his napkin brusquely upon the table, and
rose to go after him; but at this same moment the door opened, and
Gilbert saw a bearded face which wore an expression of anxiety and
terror. Much heated and out of breath, the priest threw a
scrutinizing glance upon his lord and master, and from the Count
turned his eyes towards the empty stool, and looked as if he would
have given his little finger to be able to reach even that
uncomfortable seat without being seen.
"Father Alexis, you forget yourself in your eternal daubs!"
exclaimed M. Leminof, reseating himself. "You know that I dislike
to wait. I profess, it is true, a passionate admiration for the
burlesque masterpieces with which you are decorating the walls of
my chapel; but I cannot suffer them to annoy me, and I beg you not
to sacrifice again the respect you owe me to your foolish passion
for those coarse paintings; if you do, I shall some fine morning
bury your sublime daubings under a triple coat of whitewash."
This reprimand, pronounced in a thundering tone, produced the most
unhappy effect upon Father Alexis. His first movement was to raise
his eyes and arms toward the arched ceiling where, as if calling
the four-and-twenty elders to witness, he exclaimed:
"You hear! The profane dare call them daubs, those incomparable
frescoes which will carry down the name of Father Alexis to the
But in the heart of the poor priest terror soon succeeded to
indignation. He dropped his arms, and bending down, sunk his head
between his shoulders, and tried to make himself as small as
possible; much as a frightened turtle draws himself into his shell,
and fears that even there he is taking up too much room.
"Well! what are these grimaces for? Do you mean to make us wait
until to-morrow for your benediction?"
The Count pronounced these words in the rude tone of a corporal
ordering recruits to march in double-quick time. Father Alexis
made a bound as if he had received a sharp blow from a whip across
his back, and in his agitation and haste to reach his stool, he
struck violently against the corner of a carved sideboard; this
terrible shock drew from him a cry of pain, but did not arrest his
speed, and rubbing his hip, he threw himself into his place and,
without giving himself time to recover breath, he mumbled in a
nasal tone and in an unintelligible voice, a grace which he soon
finished, and everybody having made the sign of the cross, dinner
"What a strange role religion plays here," thought Gilbert to
himself as he carried his spoon to his lips. "They would on no
account dine until it had blessed the soup, and at the same time
they banish it to the end of the table as a leper whose impure
contact they fear."
During the first part of the repast, Gilbert's attention was
concentrated on Father Alexis. This priestly face excited his
curiosity. At first sight it seemed impressed with a certain
majesty, which was heightened by the black folds of his robe, and
the gold crucifix which hung upon his breast. Father Alexis had a
high, open forehead; his large, strongly aquiline nose gave a manly
character to his face; his black eyes, finely set, were surmounted
by well-curved eyebrows, and his long grizzly beard harmonized very
well with his bronzed cheeks furrowed by venerable wrinkles. Seen
in repose, this face had a character of austere and imposing
beauty. And if you had looked at Father Alexis in his sleep, you
would have taken him for a holy anchorite recently come out of the
desert, or better still, for a Saint John contemplating with closed
eyes upon the height of his Patmos rock, the sublime visions of the
Apocalypse; but as soon as the face of the good priest became
animated, the charm was broken. It was but an expressive mask,
flexible, at times grotesque, where were predicted the fugitive and
shallow impressions of a soul gentle, innocent, and easy, but not
imaginative or exalted. It was then that the monk and the
anchorite suddenly disappeared, and there remained but a child
sixty years old, whose countenance, by turns uneasy or smiling,
expressed nothing but puerile pre-occupations, or still more
puerile content. This transformation was so rapid that it seemed
almost like a juggler's trick. You sought St. John, but found him
no more, and you were tempted to cry out, "Oh, Father Alexis, what
has become of you? The soul now looking out of your face is not
yours." This Father Alexis was an excellent man; but
unfortunately, he had too decided a taste for the pleasures of the
table. He could also be accused of having a strong ingredient of
vanity in his character; but his self-love was so ingenuous, that
the most severe judge could but pardon it. Father Alexis had
succeeded in persuading himself that he was a great artist, and
this conviction constituted his happiness. This much at least
could be said of him, that he managed his brush and pencil with
remarkable dexterity, and could execute four or five square feet of
fresco painting in a few hours. The doctrines of Mount Athos,
which place he had visited in his youth, had no more secrets for
him; Byzantine aesthetics had passed into his flesh and bones; he
knew by heart the famous "Guide to Painting," drawn up by the monk
Denys and his pupil Cyril of Scio. In short, he was thoroughly
acquainted with all the receipts by means of which works of genius
are produced, and thus, with the aid of compasses, he painted from
inspiration, those good and holy men who strikingly resembled
certain figures on gold backgrounds in the convents of Lavra and
Iveron. But one thing brought mortification and chagrin to Father
Alexis,—Count Kostia Petrovitch refused to believe in his genius!
But on the other hand, he was a little consoled by the fact that
the good Ivan professed unreserved admiration for his works; so he
loved to talk of painting and high art with this pious worshiper of
"Look, my son," he would say to him, extending the thumb, index and
middle fingers of his right hand, "thou seest these three fingers:
I have only to say a word to them, and from them go forth Saint
Georges, Saint Michaels, Saint Nicholases, patriarchs of the old
covenant, and apostles of the new, the good Lord himself and all
his dear family!"
And then he would give him his hand to kiss, which duty the good
serf performed with humble veneration. However, if Count Kostia
had the barbarous taste to treat the illuminated works of Father
Alexis as daubs, he was not cruel enough to prevent him from
cultivating his dearly-loved art. He had even lately granted this
disciple of the great Panselinos, the founder of the Byzantine
school, an unexpected favor, for which the good father promised
himself to be eternally grateful. One of the wings of the Castle
of Geierfels enclosed a pretty and sufficiently spacious chapel,
which the Count had appropriated to the services of the Greek
Church, and one fine day, yielding to the repeated solicitations of
Father Alexis, he had authorized him to cover the walls and dome
with "daubs" after his own fashion. The priest commenced the work
immediately. This great enterprise absorbed at least half of his
thoughts; he worked many hours every day, and at night he saw in
dreams great patriarchs in gold and azure, hanging over him and
"Dear Alexis, we commend ourselves to thy good care; let thy genius
perpetuate our glory through the Universe."
The conversation at length turned upon subjects which the Count
amused himself by debating every day with his secretary. They
spoke of the Lower Empire, which M. Leminof regarded as the most
prosperous and most glorious age of humanity. He had little fancy
for Pericles, Caesar, Augustus, and Napoleon, and considered that
the art of reigning had been understood by Justinian and Alexis
Comnenus alone. And when Gilbert protested warmly in the name of
human dignity against this theory:
"Stop just there!" said the Count; "no big words, no declamation,
but listen to me! These pheasants are good. See how Father Alexis
is regaling himself upon them. To whom do they owe this flavor
which is so enchanting him? To the high wisdom of my cook, who
gave them time to become tender. He has served them to us just at
the right moment. A few days sooner they would have been too
tough; a few days later would have been risking too much, and we
should have had the worms in them. My dear sir, societies are very
much like game. Their supreme moment is when they are on the point
of decomposition. In their youth they have a barbarous toughness.
But a certain degree of corruption, on the contrary, imperils their
existence. Very well! Byzantium possessed the art of making minds
gamey and arresting decomposition at that point. Unfortunately she
carried the secret to the grave with her."
A profound silence reigned in the great hall, uninterrupted except
by the rhythmic sound of the good father's jaws. Stephane leaned
his elbows on the table; his attitude expressive of dreamy
melancholy; his head inclined and leaning against the palm of his
right hand; his black tunic without any collar exposing a neck of
perfect whiteness; his long silky hair falling softly upon his
shoulders; the pure and delicate contour of his handsome face; his
sensitive mouth, the corners curving slightly upwards, all reminded
Gilbert of the portrait of Raphael painted by himself, all, except
the expression, which was very different.
A profound melancholy filled Gilbert's heart. Nothing about him
commanded his sympathies, nothing promised any companionship for
his soul; at his left the stern face of a drowsy tyrant, made more
sinister by sleep; opposite him a young misanthrope, for the moment
lost in clouds; at his right an old epicure who consoled himself
for everything by eating figs; above his head the dragons of the
Apocalypse. And then this great vaulted hall was cold, sepulchral;
he felt as though he were breathing the air of a cellar; the
recesses and the corners of the room were obscured by black
shadows; the dark wainscotings which covered the walls had a
lugubrious aspect; outside were heard ominous noises. A gale of
wind had risen and uttered long bellowings like a wounded bull, to
which the grating of weathercocks and the dismal cry of the owls
When Gilbert had re-entered his own room he opened the window that
he might better hear the majestic roll of the river. At the same
moment a voice, carried by the wind from the great square tower,
cried to him:
"Monsieur, the grand vizier, don't forget to burn plenty of candles
to the devil! this is the advice which your most faithful subject
gives you in return for the profound lessons of wisdom with which
you favored his inexperience to-day!"
It was thus Gilbert learned Stephane was his neighbor.
"It is consoling," thought he, "to know that he can't possibly come
in here without wings. And," added he, closing his window,
"whatever happens, I did well to write to Mme. Lerins yesterday—
to-day I am not so well satisfied."
This is what Gilbert wrote in his journal six weeks after his
arrival at Geierfels:
A son who has towards his father the sentiments of a slave toward
his master; a father who habitually shows towards his son a dislike
bordering on hatred—such are the sad subjects for study that I
have found here. At first I wished to persuade myself that M.
Leminof was simply a cold hard character, a skeptic by disposition,
a blase grandee, who believed it a duty to himself to openly
testify his scorn for all the humbug of sentiment. He is nothing
of the kind. The Count's mind is diseased, his soul tormented, his
heart eaten by a secret ulcer and he avenges its sufferings by
making others suffer. Yes, the misanthrope seeks vengeance for
some deadly affront which has been put upon him by man or by fate;
his irony breathes anger and hatred; it conceals deep resentment
which breaks out occasionally in his voice, in his look and in his
unexpected and violent acts; for he is not always master of
himself. At certain times the varnish of cold politeness and icy
sportiveness with which he ordinarily conceals his passions, scales
off suddenly and falls into dust, and his soul appears in its
nakedness. During the first weeks of my residence here he
controlled himself in my presence, now I have the honor of
possessing his confidence, and he no longer deems it necessary to
hide his face from me, nor does he try any longer to deceive me.
It is singular, I thought myself entirely master of my glances, but
in spite of myself, they betrayed too much curiosity on one
occasion. The other day while I was working with him in his study,
he suddenly became dreamy and absent, his brow was like a
thundercloud; he neither saw nor heard me. When he came out of his
reverie his eyes met mine fixed upon his face, and he saw that I
was observing him too attentively.
"Come now," said he brusquely, "you remember our stipulations; we
are two egotists who have made a bargain with each other. Egotists
are not curious; the only thing which interests them in the mind of
a fellow-creature, is in the domain of utility."
And then fearing that he had offended me, he continued in a softer
"I am the least interesting soul in the world to know. My nerves
are very sensitive, and let me say to you once for all, that this
is the secret of all the disorders which you may observe in my poor
"No, Count Kostia, this is not your secret!" I was tempted to
answer. "It is not your nerves which torment you. I would wager
that in despite of your cynicism and skepticism, you have once
believed in something, or in some one who has broken faith with
you," but I was careful not to let him suspect my conjectures. I
believe he would have devoured me. The anger of this man is
terrible, and he does not always spare me the sight of it.
Yesterday especially, he was transported beyond himself, to such an
extent that I blushed for him. Stephane had gone to ride with
Ivan. The dinner-bell rang and they had not returned. The Count
himself went to the entrance of the court to wait for them. His
lips were pale, his voice harsh and grating, veiled by a hoarseness
which always comes with his gusts of passion. When the delinquents
appeared at the end of the path, he ran to them, and measured
Stephane from head to foot with a glance so menacing that the child
trembled in every limb; but his anger exploded itself entirely upon
Ivan. The poor jailer had, however, good excuses to offer:
Stephane's horse had stumbled and cut his knee, and they had been
obliged to slacken their pace. The Count appeared to hear nothing.
He signed to Ivan to dismount; which having done, he seized him by
the collar, tore from him his whip and beat him like a dog. The
unhappy serf allowed himself to be whipped without uttering a cry,
without making a movement. The idea of flight or self-defense
never occurred to him. Riveted to the spot, his eyes closed, he
was the living image of slavery resigned to the last outrages.
Indeed I believe that during this punishment I suffered more than
he. My throat was parched, my blood boiled in my veins. My first
impulse was to throw myself upon the Count, but I restrained
myself; such a violent interference would but have aggravated the
fate of Ivan. I clasped my hands and with a stifled voice cried:
"Mercy! mercy!" The Count did not hear me. Then I threw myself
between the executioner and his victim. Stupefied, with arm raised
and immovable, the Count stared at me with flaming eyes; little by
little he became calm, and his face resumed its ordinary
"Let it pass for this time," said he at last, in a hollow voice;
"but in future meddle no more in my affairs!"
Then dropping the whip to the ground, he strode away. Ivan raised
his eyes to me full of tears, his glance expressed at once
tenderness, gratitude, and admiration. He seized my hands and
covered them with kisses, after which he passed his handkerchief
over his face, streaming with perspiration, foam, and blood, and
taking the two horses by the bridles, quietly led them to the
stable. I found the Count at the table; he had recovered his good
humor; he discharged several arrows of playful sarcasm at my
"heresies" in matters of history. It was not without effort that I
answered him, for at this moment he inspired me with an aversion
that I could hardly conceal. But I felt bound to recognize the
victory which he had gained over himself in abridging Ivan's
punishment. After dinner he sent for the serf, who appeared with
his forehead and hands furrowed with bloody scars. His lips bore
their habitual smile, which was always a mystery to me. His master
ordered him to take off his vest, turn down his shirt, and kneel
before him; then drawing from his pocket a vial full of some
ointment whose virtues he lauded highly, he dressed the wounds of
the moujik with his own hands. This operation finished, he said to
"That will amount to nothing, my son. Go and sin no more."
Upon which the serf raised himself and left the room, smiling
throughout. Ivan's smile is an exotic plant which I am not
acquainted with, and which only grows in Slavonic soil, a strange
smile,—real prodigy of baseness or heroism. Which is it? I am
sure I cannot tell.
In spite of my trouble, I had been able to observe Stephane at the
beginning of the punishment. At the first blow, a flash of
triumphant joy passed over his face; but when the blood started he
became horribly pale, and pressed one of his hands to his throat as
if to arrest a cry of horror, and with the other he covered his
eyes to shut out the sight; then not being able to contain himself,
he hurried away. God be praised! compassion had triumphed in his
heart over the joy of seeing his jailer chastised. There is in
this young soul, embittered as it is by long sufferings, a fund of
generosity and goodness; but will it not in time lose the last
vestiges of its native qualities? Three years hence will Stephane
cover his eyes to avoid the sight of an enemy's punishment? Within
three years will not the habit of suffering have stifled pity in
his breast? To-morrow, to-morrow perhaps, will not his heart have
uttered its last cry!
Since you have no tender words for him, Count Kostia, would that I
could close his ears to the desolating lessons that you give him!
Do you not see that the life he leads is enough to teach him to
hate men and life, without the necessity of your interference? He
knows nothing of humanity, but what he sees through the bars of his
prison; and imagines that there is nothing in the world but
capricious tyrants and trembling, degraded slaves. Why thus kill
in his heart every germ of enthusiasm, of hope, of manly and
But may not Stephane be a vicious child, whose perverse instincts a
justly provoked father seeks to curb by a pitiless discipline? No,
a thousand times no! It is false, it is impossible; it is only
necessary to look at him to be satisfied of this. His face is
often hard, cold, scornful; but it never expresses a low thought, a
pollution of soul, or a precocious corruption of mind. In his
quiet moods there is upon his brow a stamp of infantile purity. I
was wrong in supposing that his soul had lost its youth.
Alas! with what cruel harshness they dispute the little pleasures
which remain to him. In spite of his jests over the periwinkles,
he has a taste for flowers, and had obtained from the gardener the
concession of a little plot of ground to cultivate according to his
fancy. The Count, it appears, had ratified this favor; but this
unheard-of condescension proved to be but a refinement of cruelty.
For some time, every evening after dinner, Stephane passed an hour
in his little parterre; he plucked out the weeds, planted, watered,
and watched with a paternal eye the growth of his favorites.
Yesterday, an hour after the sanguinary castigation, while his
father was dressing Ivan's wounds, he had gone out on tiptoe. Some
minutes after, as I was walking upon the terrace, I saw him
occupied. with absorbing gravity, in this great work of watering.
I was but a few paces from him, when the gardener approached,
pickax in hand, and, without a word, struck it violently into the
middle of a tuft of verbenas which grew at one end of the plot of
ground. Stephane raised himself briskly, and, believing him
stupid, threw himself upon him, crying out:
"Wretch, what are you doing there?"
"I am doing what his excellency ordered me to," answered the
At this moment the Count strolled toward us, his hands in his
pockets, humming an aria, and an expression of amiable good humor
on his face. Stephane extended his arms towards him, but one of
those looks which always petrifies him kept him silent and
motionless in the middle of the pathway. He watched with wild eyes
the fatal pickax ravage by degrees his beloved garden. In vain he
tried to disguise his despair; his legs trembled and his heart
throbbed violently. He fixed his large eyes upon his dear,
devastated treasures; two great tears escaped them and rolled
slowly down his cheeks. But when the instrument of destruction
approached a magnificent carnation, the finest ornament of his
garden, his heart failed him, he uttered a piercing cry, and
raising his hands to Heaven, ran away sobbing. The Count looked
after him as he fled, and an atrocious smile passed over his lips!
Ah! if this father does not hate his son, I know not what hatred
is, nor how it depicts itself upon a human face. Meantime I threw
myself between the carnation and the pickax, as an hour before
between the knout and Ivan. Stephane's despair had rent my heart;
I wished at any cost to preserve this flower which was so dear to
him. The face of Kostia Petrovitch took all hope from me. It
seemed to say:
"You still indulge in sentiment; this is a little too much of it."
"This plant is beautiful," I said to him; "why destroy it?"
"Ah! you love flowers, my dear Gilbert;" answered he, with an air
of diabolical malice. "I am truly glad of it!"
And turning to the gardener, he added:
"You will carefully take up all these flowers and place them in
pots—they shall decorate Monsieur's room. I am delighted to have
it in my power to do him this little favor."
Thus speaking, he rubbed his hands gleefully, and turning his back
upon me, commenced humming his tune again. He was evidently
satisfied with his day's work.
And now Stephane's flowers are here under my eyes, they have become
my property. Oh! if he knew it! I do not doubt that M. Leminof
wishes his son to hate me; and his wish is gratified. Overwhelmed
with respect and attentions, petted, praised, extolled, treated as
a favorite and grand vizier, how can I be otherwise than an object
of scorn and aversion to this young man? But could he read my
heart! what would he read there, after all? An impotent pity from
which his pride would revolt. I can do nothing for him; I could
not mitigate his misfortunes or pour balm into his wounds.
Go, then, Gilbert, occupy yourself with the Byzantines! Remember
your contract, Gilbert! The master of this house has made you
promise not to meddle in his affairs. Translate Greek, my friend,
and, in your leisure moments, amuse yourself with your puppets.
Beyond that, closed eyes and sealed mouth; that must be your motto.
But do you say, "I shall become a wretch in seeing this child
suffer"? Well! if your useless pity proves too much of a burden,
six months hence you can break your bonds, resume your liberty, and
with three hundred crowns in your pocket, you can undertake that
journey to Italy,—object of your secret dreams and most ardent
longing. Happy man! arming yourself with the white staff of the
pilgrim, you will shake the dust of Geierfels from your feet, and
go far away to forget, before the facades of Venetian palaces, the
dark mysteries of the old Gothic castle and its wicked occupants.
As Gilbert rapidly traced these last lines, the dinner-bell
sounded. He descended in haste to the grand hall. They were
already at the table.
"Tell me, if you please," said Count Kostia, addressing him gayly,
"what you think of our new comrade?"
Gilbert then noticed a fifth guest, whose face was not absolutely
unknown to him. This newly invited individual was seated at the
right of Father Alexis, who seemed to relish his society but
little, and was no less a personage than Solon, the favorite of the
master, one of those apes which are vulgarly called "monkeys in
mourning," with black hair, but with face, hands, and feet of a
"You will not be vexed with me for inviting Solon to dine with us?"
continued M. Leminof. "The poor beast has been hypochondriacal for
several days, and I am glad to procure this little distraction for
him. I hope it will dissipate it. I cannot bear melancholy faces;
hypochondria is the fate of fools who have no mental resources."
He pronounced these last words half turning towards Stephane. The
young man's face was more gloomy than ever. His eyes were swollen,
and dark circles surrounded them. The indignation with which the
brutal remark of his father filled him, gave him strength to
recover from his dejection. He resolutely set about eating his
soup, which he had not touched before, and feeling that Gilbert's
eyes were fixed upon him, he raised his head quickly and darted
upon him a withering glance. Gilbert thought he divined that he
called him to account for his carnation, and could not help
blushing,—so true is it that innocence does not suffice to secure
one a clear conscience.
"Frankly, now," resumed the Count, lowering his voice, "don't you
see some resemblance between the two persons who adorn the lower
end of this table?"
"The resemblance does not strike me," answered Gilbert coldly.
"Ah! mon Dieu, I do not mean to say that they are identical in all
points. I readily grant that Father Alexis uses his thumbs better;
I admit, too, that he has a grain or two more of phosphorus in his
brain, for you know the savants of to-day, at their own risk and
peril, have discovered that the human mind is nothing but a
"It is these same savants," said Gilbert, "who consider genius a
nervous disorder. Much good may it do them. They are not my men."
"You treat science lightly; but answer my question seriously: do
you not discover certain analogies between these two personages in
black clothes and red faces?"
"My opinion," interrupted Gilbert impatiently, "is that Solon is
very ugly, and that Father Alexis is very handsome."
"Your answer embarrasses me," retorted the Count, "and I don't know
whether I ought to thank you for the compliment you pay my priest,
or be angry at the hard things you say of my monkey. One thing is
certain," added he, "that my monkey and my priest,—I'm wrong,—my
priest and my monkey, resemble each other in one respect: they have
both a passionate appetite for truffles. You will soon see."
They were just serving fowl with truffles. Solon devoured his
portion in the twinkling of an eye, and as he was prone to coveting
the property of others, he fixed his eyes, full of affectionate
longing, on his neighbor's plate. Active, adroit, and watching his
opportunity, he seized the moment when the priest was carrying his
glass to his lips; to extend his paw, seize a truffle, and swallow
it, was the work of but half a second. Beside himself with
indignation, the holy man turned quickly and looked at the robber
with flashing eyes. The monkey was but little affected by his
anger, and to celebrate the happy success of his roguery, he
capered and frisked in a ridiculous and frantic way, clinging with
his forepaws to the back of his chair. The good father shook his
head sadly, moved his plate further off, and returned to his
eating, not, however, without watching the movements of the enemy
from the corner of his eye. In vain he kept guard; in spite of his
precautions,—a new attack, a new larceny—and fresh caperings of
joy by the monkey. Father Alexis at last lost patience, and the
monkey received a vigorous blow full in the muzzle, which drew from
him a sharp shriek; but at the same instant the priest felt two
rows of teeth bury themselves in his left cheek. He could hardly
repress a cry, and gave up the game, leaving Solon to gorge himself
to his beard in the spoils, while he busied himself in stanching
his wound, from which the blood gushed freely.
The Count affected to be ignorant of all that passed; but there was
a merry sparkle in his eyes which testified that not a detail of
this tragic comedy had escaped his notice.
"You appear to distrust Solon, Father," said he, seeing that the
priest pushed back his chair and kept at a distance from the
baboon. "You are wrong. He has very sweet manners; he is
incapable of a bad action. He is only a little sad now, but in his
melancholy, he observes all the rules of good breeding; which is
not the case with all melancholy people," added he, throwing a look
at Stephane, who, taken with a sudden access of sadness, had just
leaned his elbow upon the table and made a screen of his right hand
to hide his tears from his father. Gilbert felt himself near
stifling, and as soon as he could, left the table. Fortunately no
one followed him onto the terrace. Stephane had no more flowers to
cultivate, and went to shut himself up in his high tower. On his
part, Father Alexis went to dress his wound; as to M. Leminof, he
was displeased with the cool and, as he thought, composed air with
which Gilbert had listened to his pleasantries, and he retired to
his study, promising himself to give to Monsieur his secretary,
whom, nevertheless, he valued very highly, that last touch of
pliancy which he needed for his perfection. Count Kostia was of an
age when even the strongest mind feels the necessity of occasional
relaxation, and he would have been glad to have near him a pliant,
agreeable companion, and enchanted could that companion have been
Gilbert strode across the terrace, and, leaning over the parapet,
gazed long and silently at the highroad. "Ten months yet!" said he
to himself, and contracting his brows, he turned to look at the
odious castle, where destiny had cast his lot. It seemed as if the
old pile wished to avenge itself for his ill humor: never had it
been clothed with such a smiling aspect. A ray of the setting sun
rested obliquely upon its wide roof; the bricks had the warm color
of amber, the highest points were bathed in gold dust, and the
gables and vanes threw out sparks. The air was balmy; the lilacs,
the citron, the jasmine, and the honeysuckle intermingled their
perfumes, which the almost imperceptible breath of the north wind
spread in little waves to the four corners of the terrace.
And these wandering perfumes mingled themselves, in passing, with
other odors more delicate and more subtle; from each leaf, each
petal, each blade of grass, exhaled secret aromas, mute words which
the plants exchange with each other, and which revealed to
Gilbert's heart the great mystery of happiness which animates the
soul of things.
Gilbert was determined to drown his sorrows this evening in the
divine harmonies of nature. To succeed the better, he called
poetry to his aid, for the great poets are the eternal mediators
between the soul of things and our feeble hearts of earth and clay.
He recited the distichs where Goethe has related in a tongue worthy
of Homer or Lucretius the metamorphosis of the plants. This was
placed like a preamble at the beginning of the volume which he
carried with him in his walks, and he had learned it by heart a few
days before. The better to penetrate the sense of these admirable
lines, he tried to translate them into French alexandrines, which
he sometimes composed. This effort at translation soon appeared to
him beyond his abilities; all the French words seemed too noisy,
too brilliant or too vulgar, or too solemn to render these mute
accents, these intonations veiled as if in religious mystery, by
which the author of Faust intended to express the subtle sounds and
even the silence of nature. We know that it is only in German
poetry that we can hear the grass growing from the bosom of the
earth, and the celestial spheres revolving in space.
Every language has its pedals and its peculiar registers; the
Teutonic muse alone can execute these solemn airs which must be
played with the soft pedal. For more than an hour Gilbert
exhausted himself in vain attempts, and at last, disheartened, he
contented himself with reciting aloud the poem which he despaired
of translating. He uttered the first part with the fire of
enthusiasm; but his voice fell as he pronounced the following
"Every flower, my beloved, speaks to thee in a voice distinct and
clear; every plant announces to thee plainly the eternal laws of
life; but these sacred hieroglyphics of the goddess which thou
decipherest upon their perfumed foreheads, thou wilt find
everywhere hidden under other emblems. Let the caterpillar drag
itself creeping along, and soon the light butterfly darts rapidly
through the air; and let man also, with his power of self-
development, follow the circle of his soul's metamorphoses. Oh!
then wilt thou remember that the bond which united our spirits was
first a germ from which sprang in time a sweet and charming
acquaintance; friendship in its turn soon revealed its power in our
hearts, until love came at last, crowning it with flowers and
At this place a light cloud of sadness passed over Gilbert's face;
he felt a secret dissatisfaction at meeting in the verses of his
favorite poet a passage which he could not apply to his own
Meanwhile, night had come, a night like a softened and refreshed
day. The radiant moon shone in the zenith; she inundated the
fields of heaven with soft whiteness, she shook her torch over the
Rhine, and made the crests of its restless waves scintillate; she
poured over the tops of the trees a rain of silvery light; she
suspended from their branches necklaces of sapphires and azure
diamonds, which the breeze in passing sportively dashed together.
The great slumbering woods thrilled at the touch of this dew of
light which bathed their lofty brows; they felt something divine
insinuating itself in the horror of their somber recesses. From
time to time a nightingale gave to the wind a few notes sonorous
and sustained; it seemed the voice of the forest, speaking in its
sleep,—its soul, carried away in ecstasy, exhaling its
intoxication in a long sigh of love.
Gilbert had been sitting up very late recently, since he had
decided to remain but a short time at Geierfels, and he had grown
pale over the Byzantines, in the hope of advancing in his task so
much, that Count Kostia would more easily consent to his departure.
Robust as was his constitution, he finished by tiring himself out,
and nature claiming its rights, sleep seized him at the moment when
he was about leaving the bank to seek his room, and have a little
nocturnal chat with Agathias and Procopius.
When he awoke, the moon had already declined towards the horizon,
which discovery surprised him greatly, as he thought he had slept
but a few moments. He rose and shook his limbs, stiff from the
dampness. Fortunately, he was the only one at Geierfels who had
free ingress and egress; the turret which he inhabited communicated
with the terrace by a private staircase, to the entrance of which
he had the key. Fortunately, too, the bulldogs had learned to know
him, and never dreamed of disturbing his movements. He gained the
little door without any difficulty, opened it, and having lit a
candle which he drew from his pocket, commenced cautiously to
ascend the winding staircase, the steps of which were broken in
many places. He had just reached the first landing where
terminated the spacious corridor, which extended along the
principal facade parallel with the terrace, and was preparing to
cross it, when he heard a long and painful groan, which seemed to
come from the other end of the gallery. Starting, he remained
motionless some moments, with neck extended and ears alert, peering
into the obscurity from whence he expected to see some melancholy
phantom emerge; but almost immediately a gust of wind driving
through the broken square of a dormer window made it grind upon its
hinges and give out a plaintive sound, which reverberated through
the corridor. Gilbert then fancied that what he had taken for a
sigh was only the moaning of the wind, counterfeiting in its
melancholy gambols the voice of human grief. Resuming his ascent,
he had already mounted some steps, when a second groan, still more
dismal than the first, reached his ears, and froze the blood in his
veins. He was sure he could not be deceived now; the wind had no
such accents—it was a wail, sharp, harsh, and heartrending, which
seemed as though it might come from the bosom of a specter.
A thousand sinister suppositions assailed Gilbert's mind, but he
gave himself no time to reflect. Agitated, panting, his head on
fire, he sprang with one bound down the staircase, and reaching the
entrance of the gallery, cried out in a trembling voice, and
scarcely knowing what he said:
"Who's there? Who wants assistance? I, Gilbert, am ready to come
to his aid—"
His voice was swallowed up and lost in the somber arches of the
corridor. No answer; the darkness remained dumb. In the rapidity
of his movement, Gilbert had extinguished his candle; he prepared
to relight it, when a hat flew by and struck his forehead with his
wings. The start which this unforeseen attack gave him made him
drop the candle; he stooped to pick it up, but could not find it.
In spite of this accident, he walked on. A feeble ray of
moonlight, which came in by the dormer window and shed through the
entrance of the corridor a long thread of bluish light, seemed to
guide him a few steps. Then he groped his way with arms extended
and touching the wall. Every few steps he stopped and listened,
and repeated in a voice hoarse with excitement:
"Who's there? You who are moaning, can I do anything to help you?"
Nothing answered him except the beating of his heart, and the
murmur of the wind, which continued to torment the hinges of the
The gallery into which Gilbert had entered was divided halfway in
its length by two steps, at the bottom of which was a large iron
door, always kept open during the day, but closed and double-locked
as night set in. Approaching this, Gilbert saw a feeble light
glimmering beneath the door. He descended the steps, and looking
through the key-hole, from which the key had been withdrawn, saw
what changed the frightful anguish he had just been suffering into
surprise and terror.
At twenty paces from him he saw the appalling figure of a phantom
standing erect; it was enveloped in a large white cloth wound
several times round its body, passing under its left arm, and
falling over the right shoulder. In one hand it held a torch and a
sword, in the other an oval ebony frame of which Gilbert could only
see the back, but which seemed to inclose a portrait. The face of
this specter was emaciated, drawn, and of unusual length; its skin,
withered and dry, seemed to be incrusted upon its bones, its
complexion was sallow; a profuse perspiration trickled from its
brows and glued the hair to its temples. Nothing could describe
the expression of terror in its face. It seemed to Gilbert that
its two burning eyeballs penetrated even through the door, though
they saw nothing which surrounded them; their vision seemed turned
within, and the invisible object which fastened their gaze, a heart
haunted by specters.
Suddenly the lips of this nocturnal wanderer opened, and another
groan more fearful than the first issued from them. It seemed as
if his burdened breast wished to shake off by a violent effort a
mountain of weariness, the weight of which was crushing it, or
rather as though the soul sought to expel itself in this despairing
cry. Gilbert was seized with inexpressible agitation, his hair
stood on end. He started to fly; but a curiosity stronger than his
terror prevented him from leaving the spot and kept him riveted to
the door. By the eyebrows and cheekbones, in spite of the
distortion of the face, he had recognized Count Kostia.
At length this sinister somnambulist stirred from his motionless
position and advanced at a slow pace; he walked like an automaton.
After taking a dozen steps he stopped, looked around him, and
slightly bent forward. His strained features resumed their natural
proportions, life re-animated his brow, the deathlike inertia of
his face gave place to an expression of sadness and prostration.
For a few seconds his lips moved, without saying a word, as if to
become flexible, and fashioned anew to the use of speech:—then, in
a soft voice which Gilbert did not recognize, and with the
plaintive accents of a suffering child, he murmured:
"How heavy this portrait is! I can carry it no longer; take it out
of my hands, it burns them. In mercy, extinguish this fire. I
have a brand in my breast. It must be kept covered with ashes;
when I can see it no more, I shall suffer less. It is my eyes that
make me suffer; if I were blind, I could return to Moscow."
Then in a harsher voice:
"I could easily destroy this likeness, but THE OTHER, I cannot kill
it, curses on me! it is the better portrait of the two. There is
her hair, her mouth, her smile. Ah, thank God, I have killed the
smile. The smile is no longer there. I have buried the smile.
But there is the mole in the corner of the mouth. I have kissed it
a thousand times; take away that mole, it hurts me. If that mole
were gone I should suffer less. Merciful Heaven! it is always
there. But I have buried the smile. The smile is no more. I have
buried it deep in a leaden coffin. It can't come. . . ."
Then suddenly changing his accent, and in a tragical, but bitter
voice, his eyes fixed upon the large rusty sword which he held in
his right hand, he muttered:
"The spot will not go away. The iron will not drink it. It was
not for this blood it thirsted. I shall find it in the other, it
will drink that. Ah! we shall see how it will drink it."
Upon this, he relapsed into silence and appeared to be thinking
deeply. Then raising his head, he cried in a voice so strong and
vibrating that the iron door trembled upon its hinges:
"Morlof, then it was not thou! Ah! my dear friend, I was
deceived. . . . Go, do not regret life. It is only the dream
of a screech-owl. . . . Believe me, friend, I want to die, but
I cannot. I must know . . . I must discover. Ah! Morlof, Morlof,
leave thy hands in mine, or I shall think thou hast not forgiven
me. . . . God! how cold these hands are . . . cold . . . cold . . ."
And at these words he shuddered; his head moved convulsively upon
his shoulders, and his teeth chattered; but soon calming himself,
"I want to know the name, I must know that name! Is there no one
who can tell me that name?"
Thus speaking, he raised the picture to a level with his face, and
with bent head and extended neck, appeared to be trying to decipher
upon the canvas some microscopic writing or obscure hieroglyphics.
"The name is there!" said he. "It is written somewhere about the
heart,—at the bottom of the heart; but I cannot read it, the
writing is so fine, it is a female hand; I do not know how to read
a woman's writing. They have a cipher of which Satan alone has the
key. My sight is failing me. I have flies in my head. There is
always one of them that hides this name from me. Oh! in mercy, in
pity, take away the fly and bring me a pair of pincers. . . . With
good pincers I will seek that name even in the last fibers of this
heart which beats no more."
He added with a terrible air:
The dead do not open their teeth. The one who lives will speak.
You shall see how I will make him speak. You shall see how I will
make him speak. . . . Tear off his black robe, stretch him on this
plank. The iron boots! the iron boots! tighten the boots!"
Then interrupting himself abruptly, he raised his eyes and fixed
them upon the door. An expression of fury mingled with terror
swept over his face, as if he had suddenly perceived some hideous
and alarming object. His features became distorted; his mouth
worked convulsively and frothed; his eyes, unnaturally dilated,
darted flames; he uttered a hollow moan, took a few steps backward,
and suddenly dropping his torch to the ground, where it went out he
cried in a frightful voice:
"There are eyes behind the door! there are eyes! there are eyes!"
Horror-struck, distracted, beside himself, Gilbert turned and took
to flight. In spite of the darkness, he found his way as if by
miracle. He crossed the corridor at a run, mounted the staircase
in three bounds, dashed into his chamber and bolted the door. Then
he hurriedly lighted a candle, and having glanced about to assure
himself that the phantom had not followed him into his room,
dropped heavily upon a chair, stunned and breathless. In a few
moments he had collected his thoughts, and was ashamed of his
terror; but in spite of himself his agitation was such that at
every noise which struck his ear, he thought he heard the step of
Count Kostia ascending the staircase of his turret. It was not
until he had bathed his burning head in cold water that he
recovered something like tranquillity; and determining by a supreme
effort to banish the frightful images which haunted him, he seated
himself at his worktable and resolutely opened one of the Byzantine
folios. As he began to read, his eye fell upon an unsealed letter
which had been left on his table during his absence; it ran thus:
"Man of great phrases, I write to you to inform you of the hatred
with which you inspire me. I wish you to understand that from the
first day I saw you, your bearing, your face, your manners, your
whole person, have been objects of distrust and aversion to me. I
thought I recognized an enemy in you, and the result has proved
that I was not mistaken. Now I hate you, and I tell you so
frankly, for I am not a hypocrite, and I want you to know, that
just now in my prayers I supplicated St. George to give me an
opportunity of revenging myself upon you. What do you want in this
house? What is there between us and you? How long do you intend
to torture me with your odious presence, your ironical smiles, and
your insulting glances? Before your arrival I was not completely
unhappy. God be praised, it has been reserved for you to give me
the finishing stroke. Before, I could weep at my ease, with none
to busy themselves in counting my tears; the man that makes me shed
them does not lower himself to such petty calculations; he has
confidence in me, he knows that at the end of the year the account
will be there; but you! you watch me, you pry into me, you study
me. I see very well that, while you are looking at me, you are
indulging in little dialogues with yourself, and these little
dialogues are insupportable to me. Mark me now, I forbid you to
understand me. It is an affront which you have no right to put
upon me, and I have the right to be incomprehensible if it pleases
me. Ah! once a little while ago, I felt that you had your eyes
fastened on me again. And then I raised my head, and looked at you
steadily and forced you to blush. . . . Yes, you did blush; do not
attempt to deny it! What a consolation to me! What a triumph!
Alas! for all that, I dare not go to my own window any longer for
fear of seeing you ogling the sky, and making declamations of love
to nature with your sentimental air.
"Tell me, now, in a few words, clever man that you are, how you
manage to combine so much sentimentality with such skillful
diplomacy? Tender friend of childhood, of virtue and of sunsets,
what an adroit courtier you make! From the first day you came
here, the master honored you with his confidence and his affection.
How he esteems you! how he cherishes you! what attentions! what
favors! Will he not order us tomorrow to kiss the dust under your
feet? If you want to know what disgusts me the most in you, it is
the unalterable placidity of your disposition and your face. You
know the faun who admires himself night and day in the basin upon
the terrace; he is always laughing and looks at himself laugh. I
detest this eternal laughter from the bottom of my soul, as I
detest you, as I detest the whole world with the exception of my
horse Soliman. But he, at least, is sincere in his gayety; he
shows himself what he really is, life amuses him, great good may it
do him! But you envelop your beatific happiness in an intolerable
gravity. Your tranquil airs fill me with consternation; your great
contented eyes seem to say: 'I am very well, so much the worse for
the sick!' One word more. You treat me as a child—I will prove
to you that I am not a child, showing you how well I have divined
you. The secret of your being is, that you were born without
passions! Confess honestly that you have never in your life felt a
sentiment of disgust, of anger, or of pity. Is there a single
passion, tell me, that you have experienced, or that you are
acquainted with, except through your books? Your soul is like your
cravat, which is always tied precisely the same way, and has such
an air of repose and rationality about it, that it is perfectly
insufferable to me. Yes, the bow of that cravat exasperates me;
the two ends are always exactly the same length, and have an effect
of INDERANGEABILITY which nearly drives me mad. Not that this
famous bow is elegant. No, a thousand times no! but it has an
exasperating accuracy. And in this, behold the true story of your
soul. Every night when you go to bed you put it in its proper
folds; every morning you unfold it carefully without rumpling it!
And you dare to plume yourself on your wisdom! What does this
pretended wisdom prove? Nothing, unless it be that you have poor
blood, and that you were fifty years old when you were born. There
is, however, one passion which no one will deny that you possess.
You understand me,—man of the gilded tongue and the viper's
heart,—you have a passion common to many others! But, hold, in
commencing this letter, I intended to conceal from you that I had
discovered everything. I feared it would give you too much
pleasure to learn that I know.—Oh! why can't I make you stand
before me now this moment! I should confound you! how I would
force you to fall at my feet and cry for pardon!
"Oh, my dear flowers, my Maltese cross, my verbenas, my white
starred fox, and you, my musk rosebush, and above all my beautiful
variegated carnation, which ought to be opening to-day! Was it
then for him,—was it to rejoice the eyes of this insolent
parasite, that I planted, watered, and tended you with so much
care? Beloved flowers, will you not share my hate? Send out from
each of your cups, from each of your corollas, some devouring
insect, some wasp with pointed sting, some furious horse-fly, and
let them all together throw themselves upon him, harass him and
persecute him with their threatening buzzing, and pierce his face
with their poisoned stings. And you yourselves, my cherished
daughters, at his approach, fold up your beautiful petals, refuse
him your perfumes, cheat him of his cares and hopes, let the sap
dry up in your fibers, that he may have the mortification of seeing
you perish and fall to dust in his hands. And may he, this
treacherous man, may he before your blighted petals and drooping
stems, pine away himself with ennui, spite, anger, and remorse!"
The castle clock had struck eight, when Gilbert sprang from his
bed. Shall I confess that in dressing himself, when he came to tie
his cravat, he hesitated for a moment? However, after reflection,
he adjusted the knot as before, and would you believe it, he tied
this famous, this regular knot without concentrating any attention
upon it? His toilet finished, he went to the window. A sudden
change had taken place in the weather; a cold, drizzly rain was
falling noiselessly; very little wind; the horizon was enveloped in
a thick fog; a long train of low clouds, looking like gigantic
fish, floated slowly through the valley of the Rhine; the sky of a
uniform gray, seemed to distill weariness and sadness; land and
water were the color of mud. Gilbert cast his eyes upon his dear
precipice: it was but a pit of frightful ugliness. He sank into an
armchair. His thoughts harmonized with the weather; they formed a
dismal landscape, over which a long procession of gloomy fancies
and sinister apprehensions swept silently, like the trail of low
clouds which wandered along the borders of the Rhine.
"No, a thousand times no!" mused he, "I can't stay in this place
any longer; I shall lose my strength here, and my spirit and my
health, too. To be exposed to the blind hatred of an unhappy child
whose sorrows drive him to insanity; to be the table companion of a
priest without dignity or moral elevation, who silently swallows
the greatest outrages; to become the intimate, the complaisant
friend of a great lord, whose past is suspicious, of an unnatural
father who hates his son, of a man who at times transforms himself
into a specter, and who, stung by remorse, or thirsting for
revenge, fills the corridors of his castle with savage howlings—
such a position is intolerable, and I must leave here at any cost!
This castle is an unhealthy place; the walls are odious to me! I
will not wait to penetrate into their secrets any further."
And Gilbert ransacked his brain for a pretext to quit Geierfels
immediately. While engaged in this research, some one knocked at
the door: it was Fritz, with his breakfast.
This morning he had the self-satisfied air of a fool who has worked
out a folly by the sweat of his brow, and reached the fortunate
moment when he can bring his invention to light. He entered
without salutation, placed the tray which he carried upon the
table; then, turning to Gilbert, who was seated, said to him,
winking his eye:
"Good-morning, comrade! Comrade, good-morning!"
"What do you say?" said Gilbert, astonished, and looking at him
"I say: Good-morning, comrade!" replied he, smiling agreeably.
"And to whom are you speaking, if you please?"
"I am speaking to you, yourself, my comrade, and I say to you,
good-morning, comrade! good-morning."
Gilbert looked at him attentively, trying to find some explanation
of this strange prank, and this excessive and astounding insolence.
"And will you tell me," he continued, after a few moments' silence,
"will you be good enough to tell me, who gave you permission to
call me comrade?"
"It was . . . it was . . ." answered Fritz, hemming and hawing.
And he reflected a moment, as though trying to remember his lesson,
that he might not stumble in its recital. "Ah!" resumed he, "it
was simply his Excellency the Count, and I cannot conceive what you
see astonishing in it."
"Have you ever heard the Count," demanded Gilbert, who felt the
blood boiling in his veins, "call me your comrade?"
"Ah! certainly!" he answered with a long burst of laughter. "Every
day, when I come from him, M. le Comte says to me: 'Well! how is
your comrade Gilbert?' And isn't it very natural? Don't we eat at
the same rack? Are we not, both of us, in the service of the same
master? And don't you see. . . ."
He was not able to say more, for Gilbert bounded from his chair,
"Go and tell your master that he is not my master!" He seized the
valet de chambre by the collar. He was at least a head shorter
than his adversary, but his grasp was like iron; and in spite of
appearances, great Fritz proved but a weak and nerveless body, and
greatly surprised at this unexpected attack, he could only open his
large mouth and utter some inarticulate sounds. Gilbert had
already dragged him to the top of the staircase. Then Fritz,
recovering from his first flurry, tried to struggle, but he lost
his footing, stumbled, and fell headlong down the staircase to the
bottom. Gilbert came near following him in his descent, but
fortunately saved himself by clinging to the balustrade. As he saw
him rolling, he feared that he had been too violent, but felt
reassured, when he saw him scramble up, feel himself, rub his back,
turn to shake his fist and limp away.
He returned to his chamber and breakfasted peaceably.
"Quite an opportune adventure," thought he. "Now, I shall be
inflexible, unyielding, and if my trunks are not packed before
night, I'm an idiot."
Gathering up under his arm a bundle of papers which were needed for
the day's work, he left the room, his head erect and his spirits
animated; but he had hardly descended the first flight of steps
before his exaltation gave way to very different feelings. He
could not look without shuddering at the place where he had stood
like one petrified, listening to the horrible groans of the
somnambulist. He stopped, and, looking at the packet which he held
under his arm, thought to himself that it was with a specter he was
about to discuss Byzantine history. Then resuming his walk, he
arrived at M. Leminof's study, where he almost expected to see the
formidable apparition of last night appear before his eyes, and
hear a sepuchral voice crying out to him: "Those eyes behind the
door were yours!" He remained motionless a few seconds, his hand
upon his heart. At last he knocked. A voice cried: "Come in.
He opened the door and entered. Heavens! how far was the reality
from his fancy.
M. Leminof was quietly seated in the embrasure of the window,
looking at the rain and playing with his monkey. He no sooner
perceived his secretary than he uttered an exclamation of joy, and
after shutting up Solon in an adjoining room, he approached
Gilbert, took both his hands in his and pressed them cordially,
saying in an affectionate tone:
"Welcome, my dear Gilbert, I have been looking for you impatiently.
I have been thinking a great deal since yesterday on our famous
problem of the Slavonic invasions, and I am far from being
convinced by your arguments. Be on your guard, my dear sir! Be on
your guard! I propose to give you some thrusts that will trouble
you to parry."
Gilbert, who had recovered his tranquillity, seated himself, and
the discussion commenced. The point in dispute was the question of
the degree of importance and influence of the establishment of the
Slavonians in the Byzantine empire during the middle ages. Upon
this question, much debated at present, Count Kostia had espoused
the opinion most favorable to the ambitions of Muscovite policy.
He affected to renounce his country and to censure it without
mercy; he had even denationalized himself to the extent of never
speaking his mother tongue and of forbidding its use in his house.
In fact, the idiom of Voltaire was more familiar to him than that
of Karamzin, and he had accustomed himself for a long time even to
think in French. In spite of all this, and of whatever he might
say, he remained Russian at heart: this is a quality which cannot
Twelve o'clock sounded while they were at the height of the
"If you agree, my dear Gilbert," said M. Leminof, "we will give
ourselves a little relaxation. Indeed you're truly a terrible
fellow; there's no persuading you. Let us breakfast in peace, if
you please, like two good friends; afterwards we will renew the
The breakfast was invariably composed of toast au caviar and a
small glass of Madeira wine; and every day at noon they suspended
work for a few moments to partake of this little collation.
"Judge of my presumption," suddenly said M. Leminof, underscoring,
so to speak, every word, "I passed LAST NIGHT [and he put a wide
space between these two words] in pleading against you the cause of
my Slavonians. My arguments seemed to me irresistible. I beat you
all hollow. I am like those fencers who are admirable in the
training school, but who make a very bad figure in the field. I
had prodigious eloquence LAST NIGHT; I don't know what has become
of it; it seems to have fled like a phantom at the first crowing of
As he pronounced these words, Count Kostia fixed such piercing eyes
on Gilbert, that they seemed to search through to the most remote
recesses of his soul. Gilbert sustained the attack with perfect
"Ah! sir," replied he coolly, "I don't know how you argue at night;
but I assure you by day you're the most formidable logician I
Gilbert's tranquil air dissipated the suspicion which seemed to
weigh upon M. Leminof.
"You act," said he gayly, "like those conquerors who exert
themselves to console the generals they have beaten, thereby
enhancing their real glory; but bah! arms are fickle, and I shall
have my revenge at an early day."
"I venture to suggest that you do not delay it long," answered
Gilbert in a grave tone. "Who knows how much longer I may remain
These words re-awakened the suspicions of the Count.
"What do you mean?" exclaimed he.
Whereupon Gilbert related in a firm, distinct tone the morning's
adventure. As he advanced in the recital, he became warmer and
repeated with an indignant air the remark which Fritz had
attributed to the Count, and strongly emphasized his answer:
"Go and tell your master that he is not my master."
He flattered himself that he would pique the Count; he saw him
already raising his head, and speaking in the clouds. He was
destined to be mistaken today in all his conjectures. From the
first words of his eloquent recital, Count Kostia appeared to be
relieved of a pre-occupation which had disturbed him. He had been
prepared for something else, and was glad to find himself mistaken.
He listened to the rest with an undisturbed air, leaning back in
his easy-chair with his eyes fixed on the ceiling. When Gilbert
"And tell me, pray," said he, without changing his posture, "how
did you punish this rascal?"
"I took him by the collar," replied Gilbert, "and flung him down
"Peste!" exclaimed the Count, raising himself and looking at him
with an air of surprise and admiration. "And tell me," resumed he,
smiling in his enjoyment, "did this domestic animal perish in his
"He may perhaps have broken his arms or legs. I didn't take the
trouble to inquire."
M. Leminof rose and folded his arms on his breast.
"See now, how liable our judgments are to be led astray, and how
full of sense that Russian proverb is which says: 'It takes more
than one day to compass a man!' Yesterday you had such a
sentimental pathetic air, when I permitted myself to administer a
little correction to my serf, that I took you in all simplicity for
a philanthropist. I retract it now. You are one of those tyrants
who are only moved for the victims of another. Pure professional
jealousy! But," continued he, "there is one thing which astonishes
me still more, and that is, that you Gilbert, you could for an
He checked himself, bent forward towards Gilbert, and looked at him
scrutinizingly, making a shade of his two bony hands extended over
his enormous eyebrows; then taking him by the arm, he led him to
the embrasure of the window, and as if he had made a sudden change
in his person which rendered him irrecognizable:
"Nothing could be better than your throwing the scoundrel
downstairs," said he, "and if he is not quite dead, I shall drive
him from here without pity; but that you should have believed that
I, Count Leminof— Oh! it is too much, I dream— No, you are not
the Gilbert that I know, the Gilbert I love, though I conceal it
And taking him by both hands, he added:
"This man was silly enough to tell you that I was your master, and
you replied to him with the Mirabeau tone: 'Go and tell your
master—' My dear Gilbert, in the name of reason, I ask you to
remember that the true is never the opposite of the false; it is
another thing, that is all; but to which I add, that in answering
as you did, you have cruelly compromised yourself. We should never
contradict a fool; it is running the risk of being like him."
Gilbert blushed. He did not try to amend anything, but readily
changing his tactics, he said, smiling:
"I implore you, sir, not to drive this man away. I want him to
stay to remind me occasionally that I am liable to lose my senses."
But what were his feelings when the Count, having sent for this
valet de chambre, said to him:
"You have not done this on your own responsibility—you received
orders. Who gave them?"
Fritz answered, stammering:
"Do please forgive me, your excellency! It was M. Stephane who,
yesterday evening, made me a present of two Russian crowns on
condition that every morning for a week I should say to M. Saville,
A flash of joy shone in the Count's eyes. He turned towards
Gilbert, and pressing his hand, said to him:
"For this once I thank you cordially for having addressed your
complaints to me. The affair is more serious than I had thought.
There is a malignant abscess there, which must be lanced once for
This surgical comparison made Gilbert shudder; he cursed his hasty
passion and his stupidity. Why had he not suspected the real
culprit? Why was it necessary for him to justify the hatred which
Stephane had avowed towards him?
"And how happens it, sir," resumed Count Kostia, with less of anger
in his tone, "that you have an opportunity of holding secret
conversations with my son in the evening? When did you enter his
service? Do you not know that you are to receive neither orders,
messages, nor communications of any kind from him?"
Fritz, who in his heart blessed the admirable invention of
lightning rods, explained as well as he could, that the evening
before, in going up to his excellency's room, he had met Ivan on
the staircase, going down to the grand hall to find a cap which his
young master had forgotten. Apparently he had neglected to close
the wicket, for Fritz, in going out through the gallery, had found
Stephane, who, approaching him stealthily, had given him his little
lesson in a mysterious tone, and as Ivan returned at this moment
without the cap he said:
"Dost thou not see, imbecile, that it's on my head," and he drew
the cap from his pocket and proudly put it on his head, while he
ran to his rooms laughing.
When he had finished his story, Fritz was profuse in his
protestations of repentance, servile and tearful; the Count cut him
short, declaring to him, that at the request of Gilbert he
consented to pardon him; but that at the first complaint brought
against him, he would give him but two hours to pack. When he had
gone out, M. Leminof pulled another bell which communicated with
the room of Ivan, who presently appeared.
"Knowest thou, my son," said the Count to him in German, "that thou
hast been very negligent for some time? Thy mind fails, thy sight
is feeble. Thou art growing old, my poor friend. Thou art like an
old bloodhound in his decline, without teeth and without scent, who
knows neither how to hunt the prey nor how to catch it. Thou must
be on the retired list. I have already thought of the office I
shall give thee in exchange. . . . Oh! do not deceive thyself. It
is in vain to shrug thy shoulders, my son; thou art wrong in
believing thyself necessary. By paying well I shall easily find
one who will be worth as much—"
Ivan's eyes flashed.
"I do not believe you," replied he, in Russian; "you know very well
that you are not amiable, but that I love you in spite of it, and
when you have spent a hundred thousand roubles, you will not have
secured one to replace me, whose affection for you will be worth a
"Why dost thou speak Russian?" resumed the Count. "Thou knowest
well that I have forbidden it. Apparently thou wishest that no one
but myself may understand the sweet things which thou sayest to me.
Go and cry them upon the roof, if that will give thee pleasure; but
I have never asked thee to love me. I exact only faithful service
on thy part, and I answer for it that thy substitute, when his
young master shall tell him 'go and find my cap, which I have left
in the grand hall,' will answer him coolly: 'I am not blind, my
little father, your cap is in your pocket.'"
Ivan looked at his master attentively, and the expression of his
face appeared to reassure him, for he began to smile.
"Meantime," said the Count, "so long as I keep thee in thy office,
study to satisfy me. Go to thy room and reflect, and at the end of
a quarter of an hour, bring thy little father here to me; I want to
talk with him, and I will permit thee to listen, if that will give
As soon as Ivan had gone, Gilbert begged M. Leminof not to pursue
this miserable business. "I have punished Fritz," said he, "with
perhaps undue severity; you yourself have rebuked and threatened
him; I am satisfied."
"Pardon me. In all this Fritz was but an instrument. It would not
be right to allow the real culprit to go unpunished!"
"It is no trouble to me to pardon that culprit," exclaimed Gilbert,
with an animation beyond his control, "he is so unhappy!"
M. Leminof gave Gilbert a haughty and angry look. He strode
through the room several times, his hands behind his back; then,
with the easy tempered air of an absolute prince, who condescends
to some unreasonable fancy of one of his favorites, made Gilbert
sit down, and placing himself by his side:
"My dear sir," said he to him, "your last words show a singular
forgetfulness on your part of our reciprocal agreements. You had
engaged, if you remember, not to take any interest in any one here
but yourself and myself. After that, what difference can it make
to you, whether my son is happy or unhappy? Since, however, you
have raised this question, I consent to an explanation; but let it
be fully understood, that you are never, never, to revive the
subject again. You can readily perceive, that if your society is
agreeable to me, it is because I have the pleasure of forgetting
with you the petty annoyances of domestic life. And now speak
frankly, and tell me what makes you conclude that my son is
Gilbert had a thousand things to reply, but they were difficult to
say. So he hesitated to answer for a moment, and the Count
"Mon Dieu! I must needs proceed in advance of your accusations, a
concession which I dare to hope you will appreciate. Perhaps you
reproach me with not showing sufficient affection for my son in
daily life. But what can you expect? The Leminofs are not
affectionate. I don't remember ever to have received a single
caress from my father. I have seen him sometimes pat his hounds,
or give sugar to his horse; but I assure you that I never partook
of his sweetmeats or his smiles, and at this hour I thank him for
it. The education which he gave me hardened the affections, and it
is the best service which a father can render his son. Life is a
hard stepmother, my dear Gilbert; how many smiles have you seen
pass over her brazen lips! Besides, I have particular reasons for
not treating Stephane with too much tenderness. He seems to you to
be unhappy, he will be so forever if I do not strive to discipline
his inclinations and to break his intractable disposition. The
child was born under an evil star. At once feeble and violent, he
unites with very ardent passions a deplorable puerility of mind;
incapable of serious thought, the merest trivialities move him to
fever heat, and he talks childish prattle with all the gestures of
great passion. And what is worse, interesting himself greatly in
himself, he thinks it very natural that this interest should be
shared by all the world. Do not imagine that his is a loving heart
that feels a necessity of spending itself on others. He likes to
make his emotions spectacular, and as his impressions are events
for him, he would like to display them, even to the inhabitants of
Sirius. His soul is like a lake swept by a gale of wind that would
drive a man-of-war at the rate of twenty-five knots an hour; and on
this lake Stephane sails his squadrons of nutshells, and he sees
them come, go, tack, run around, and capsize. He keeps his log-
book very accurately, pompously registers all the shipwrecks, and
as these spectacles transport him with admiration, he is indignant
to find that he alone is moved by them. This is what makes him
unhappy; and you will agree with me that it is not my fault. The
regime which I prescribe for my invalid may appear to you a little
severe, but it's the only way by which I can hope to cure him.
Leading a regular, uniform life,—and sad enough I admit—he will
gradually become surfeited with his own emotions when the objects
of them are never renewed, and he will end, I hope, by demanding
the diversions of work and study. May he be able some day to
discover that a problem of Euclid is more interesting than the
wreck of a nutshell! Upon that day he will enter upon full
convalescence, and I shall not be the last to rejoice in it."
M. Leminof spoke in a tone so serious and composed, that for a few
moments Gilbert could have imagined him a pedagogue gravely
explaining his maxims of education; but he could not forget that
expression of ferocious joy which was depicted on his face at the
moment when Stephane fled sobbing from the garden, and he
remembered also the somnambulist who, on the preceding night, had
uttered certain broken phrases in regard to a LIVING PORTRAIT and a
BURIED SMILE. These mysterious words, terrible in their obscurity,
had appeared to him to allude to Stephane, and they accorded badly
with the airs of paternal solicitude which M. Leminof had deigned
to affect in the past few minutes. He had a show of reason,
however, in his argument; and the picture which he drew of his son,
if cruelly exaggerated, had still some points of resemblance. Only
Gilbert had reason to think that the Count purposely confounded
cause and effect, and that Stephane's malady was the work of the
"Will you permit me, sir," answered he, "to tell you all that I
have on my heart?"
"Speak, speak, improve the opportunity: I swear to you it won't
And looking at his watch:
"You have still five minutes to talk with me about my son. Hurry;
I will not grant you two seconds more."
"I have heard it said," resumed Gilbert, "that in building bridges
and causeways, the best foundations are those which HUMOR the waves
of the sea. These are foundations with inclined slopes, which,
instead of breaking the waves abruptly, check their movement by
degrees, and abate their force without violence."
"You favor anodynes, Monsieur disciple of Galen," exclaimed M.
Leminof. "Each one according to his temperament. We cannot
reconstruct ourselves. I am a very violent, very passionate man,
and when, for example, a servant offends me I throw him
headforemost downstairs. This happens to me every day."
"Between your son and your valet de chambre, the difference is
great," answered Gilbert, a little piqued.
"Did not your famous revolution proclaim absolute equality between
"In the law it is admirable, but not in the heart of a father."
"Good God!" cried the Count, "I do not know that I have a father's
heart for my son; I know only that I think a great deal about him,
and that I strive according to my abilities to correct in him very
grave faults, which threaten to compromise his future welfare. I
know also for a certainty that this whiner enjoys some pleasures of
which many children of his age are deprived, as, for example, a
servant for himself, a horse, and as much money as he wants for his
petty diversions. You are not ignorant of the use which he makes
of this money, neither in regard to the two thalers expended
yesterday to corrupt my valet, nor of the seven crowns with which
he purchased the delightful pleasure, the other day in your
presence, of having his foot kissed by a troop of young rustics.
And at this point, I will tell you that Ivan has reported to me
that, on the same day, Stephane turned up his sleeve to make you
admire a scar which he carried upon one of his wrists. Oblige me
by telling me what blue story he related to you on this subject."
This unexpected question troubled Gilbert a little.
"To conceal nothing from you," answered he hesitatingly, "he told
me, that for an escapade which he had made, he had been condemned
to pass a fortnight in a dungeon in irons."
"And you believed it!" cried the Count, shrugging his shoulders.
"The truth is, that, for a fortnight, I compelled my son to pass
one hour every evening in an uninhabited wing of this castle; my
intention was not so much to punish him for an act of
insubordination, as to cure him of the foolish terrors by which he
is tormented, for this boy of sixteen, who often shows himself
brave even to rashness, believes in ghosts, in apparitions, in
vampires. I ought to authorize him to guard himself at night by
the best-toothed of my bulldogs. Oh what a strange compound has
God given me for a son!"
At this moment the sound of steps was heard in the corridor.
"In the name of the kind friendship which you profess for me, sir,"
exclaimed Gilbert, seizing one of M. Leminof's hands, "I beg of
you, do not punish this child for a boyish freak for which I
forgive him with all my heart!"
"I can refuse you nothing, my dear Gilbert," answered he with a
smiling air. "I spare him from his pretended dungeons. I dare
hope that you will give me credit for it."
"I thank you; but one thing more: the flowers you deprived him of."
"Mon Dieu! since you wish it, we will have them restored to him,
and to please you, I will content myself with having him make
apologies to you in due form."
"Make apologies to me!" cried Gilbert in consternation; "but that
will be the most cruel of punishments."
"We will leave him the choice," said the Count dryly. And as
Gilbert insisted: "This time you ask too much!" added he in a tone
which admitted of no reply. "It is a question of principles, and
in such matters I never compromise."
Gilbert perceived that even in Stephane's interest, it was
necessary to desist, but he understood also to what extent the
pride of the young man would suffer, and cursed himself a thousand
times for having spoken.
Someone knocked at the door.
"Come in," cried the Count in a hoarse voice; and Stephane entered,
followed by Ivan.
Stephane remained standing in the middle of the room. He was paler
than usual, and kept his eyes on the floor; but his bearing was
good, and he affected a resolute air which he rarely displayed in
the presence of his father. The Count remained silent for some
time; he gazed with a cold eye on the supple and delicate body of
his son, the exquisite elegance of his form, his fine and delicate
features, framed in the slightly darkened gold of his hair. Never
had the beauty of his child filled the heart of his father with
keener bitterness. As for Gilbert, he had eyes only for a little
black spot which he noticed for the first time upon the uniformly
pale complexion of Stephane: it was like an almost imperceptible
fly, under the left corner of his mouth.
"That is the mole," thought he, and he fancied he could hear the
voice of the somnambulist cry:
"Take away that mole! it hurts me!"
Shuddering at this recollection, he felt tempted to rush from the
room; but a look from the Count recalled him to himself; he made a
strong effort to master his emotion, and fixing his eyes upon the
window, he looked at the falling rain.
"As a preliminary question," suddenly exclaimed the Count, speaking
to his son; "do me the favor, sir, to tell me how much time you
have passed in what you call a dungeon, for I do not remember."
Stephane's face colored with a vivid blush. He hesitated a moment
and then answered:
"I was there in all fifteen hours, which appeared to me as long as
"You see!" said the Count, looking at Gilbert. "And now," resumed
he, "let us come to the point; a scene of the greatest impropriety
occurred in this house this morning. Fritz, my valet, in
presenting himself to my secretary, who is my friend, permitted
himself to say three times: 'Good-morning, comrade; comrade, good-
At these words Stephane's lips contracted slightly, as if about to
smile; but the smile was arrested on its way.
"My little story amuses you, apparently," pursued the Count,
raising his head.
"It is the incredible folly of Fritz which diverts me," answered
"His folly seems to me less than his insolence," replied the Count;
"but without discussing words, I am delighted to see that you
disavow his conduct. I ought not to conceal from you the fact,
that this scoundrel wished to make me believe that he acted upon
your orders, and I was resolved to punish you severely. I see now
that he has lied, and it remains for me but to dismiss him in
disgrace." Gilbert trembled lest Stephane's veracity should
succumb under this temptation; the young man hesitated but an
"I am the guilty one," answered he in a firm voice, "and it is I
who should be punished."
"What," said M. Leminof, "was it then my son, who, availing himself
of the only resources of his mind, conceived this truly happy idea.
The invention was admirable, it does honor to your genius. But if
Fritz has been but the instrument to carry out your sublime
conceptions, why do you laugh at his stupidity?"
"Oh, poor soul!" replied Stephane, with animation, "oh! the donkey,
how he spoiled my idea! I didn't order him to call M. Saville his
comrade, but to treat him as a comrade, which is a different thing.
Unfortunately I had not time to give him minute instructions, and
he misunderstood me, but he did what he could conscientiously to
earn his fee. The poor fellow must be pardoned. I am the only
guilty one, I repeat it. I am the one to be punished."
"And might we know, sir," said the Count, "what your intention was
in causing M. Saville to be insulted by a servant?"
"I wished to humiliate him, to disgust him, and to force him to
leave this house."
"And your motive?"
"My motive is that I hate him!" answered he in a hoarse voice.
"Always exaggerations," replied the Count sneeringly. "Can you
not, sir, rid yourself of this detestable habit of perpetual
exaggeration in the expression of your thoughts? Can I not impress
upon your mind the maxims upon this subject which two men of equal
genius have given us: M. de Metternich and Pigault Lebrun! The
first of these illustrious men used to say that superlatives were
the seals of fools, and the second wrote these immortal words:
"'Everything exaggerated is insignificant.'" Then extending his
"To hate! to hate!" exclaimed he. "You say the word glibly. Do
you know what it is? Sorrow, anger, jealousy, antipathy, aversion,
you may know all these; but hatred, hatred!—you have no right to
say this terrible word. Ah! hatred is a rough work! it is
ceaseless torture, it is a cross of lead to carry, and to sustain
its weight without breaking down requires very different shoulders
At this moment Stephane ventured to look his father in the face.
He slowly uplifted his eyes, inclining his head backward. His look
signified "You are right, I will take your word for it; you are
better acquainted with it than I."
But the Count's face was so terrible that Stephane closed his eyes
and resumed his former attitude. A slight shudder agitated his
whole frame. The Count perceived that he was near forgetting
himself, and drove back the bitter wave which came up from his
heart to his lips in spite of himself:
"Besides, my young friend here is the least detestable being in the
world," pursued he in a tranquil tone. "Judge for yourself; just
now he pleaded your cause to me with so much warmth, that he drew
from me a promise not to punish you for what he has the kindness to
call only a boy's freak. He even stipulates that I shall restore
you your flowers, which he pretends give you delight, and within an
hour Ivan will have carried them to your room. In short, two words
of apology are all he requires of you. You must admit that one
could not have a more accommodating disposition, and that you owe
him a thousand thanks."
"Apologies! to him!" cried Stephane with a gesture of horror.
"You hesitate! oh! this is too much! Do you then wish to revisit a
certain rather gloomy hall?"
Stephane shuddered, his lips trembled.
"In mercy," cried he, "inflict any other punishment upon me you
please, but not that one. Oh, no! I cannot go back to that
frightful hall. Oh! I entreat you, deprive me of my customary
walks for six months; sell Soliman, cut my hair, shave my head,—
anything, yes, anything rather than put my feet in that horrible
dungeon again! I shall die there or go mad. You don't want me to
"When one is unfortunate enough to believe in ghosts and
apparitions at the age of sixteen," retorted the Count, "he should
free himself as soon as possible from the ridiculous weakness."
Stephane's whole body trembled. He staggered a few steps, and
falling on his knees before his father, clung to him and cried: "I
am only a poor sick child, have pity on me. You are still my
father, are you not? and I am still your child? Mon Dieu! Mon
Dieu! You do not, you cannot, want your child to die!"
"Put an end to this miserable comedy," cried the Count, disengaging
himself from Stephane's clasp. "I am your father, and you are my
son; no one here doubts it; but your father, sir, has a horror of
scenes. This has lasted too long; end it, I tell you. You are
already in a suitable posture. The most difficult part is done,
the rest is a trifle!"
"What do you say, sir?" answered the child impetuously, trying to
rise. "I am on my knees to you only. Ah! great God! I to kneel
before this man! it is impossible! you know very well it is
The Count, however, pressing his hand upon his shoulder,
constrained him to remain upon his knees, and turning his face to
"I tell you, you are kneeling before the man you have insulted, and
we all understand it."
Was it, indeed thus, that Gilbert understood it? Quiet,
impassible, his eyes fixed upon the window, he seemed a perfect
stranger to all that passed around him.
A cry of anguish escaped Stephane, a frightful change came over his
face. Three times he tried to rise, and three times the hand of
his father weighed him down again, and kept him in a kneeling
posture. Then, as if annihilated by the thought of his weakness
and powerlessness, he yielded, and covering his eyes with both
hands, he murmured these words in a stifled and convulsive voice:
"Sir they do me violence,—I ask pardon for hating you."
And immediately his strength abandoned him, and he fainted; as a
lily broken by the storm, his head sank, and he would have fallen
backward, if his father had not signed to Ivan, who raised him like
a feather in his robust arms, and carried him hastily out of the
Gilbert's first care after returning to his turret, was to light a
candle and burn Stephane's letter. Then he opened a closet and
began to prepare his trunk. While engaged in this task, someone
knocked at the door. He had only time to close the closet and the
trunk when Ivan appeared with a basket on his arm. The serf came
for the flowers, which he had orders to carry to the apartment of
his young master. Having placed five or six in his basket, he
turned to Gilbert and gave him to understand, in his Teutonic
gibberish mingled with French, that he had something important to
communicate to him. Gilbert answered in a tone of ill-humor, that
he had not time to listen to him. Ivan shook his head with a
pensive air, and left. Gilbert immediately seated himself at the
table, and upon the first scrap of paper which came under his hand,
hastily wrote the following lines:
"Poor child, do not distress yourself too much for the humiliation
to which you have just submitted. As you said yourself, you
yielded only to violence, and your apologies are void in my eyes.
Believe me, I exact nothing. Why did I not divine, this morning,
that Fritz spoke in your name! I should not have felt offended,
for it is not to me that your insults are addressed, it is to some
strange Gilbert of your imagination. I am not acquainted with him.
But what can it avail you to provoke contests, the result of which
is certain in advance? It is a hand of iron which lately weighed
upon your shoulder. Do you hope then to free yourself so soon from
its grasp? Believe me, submit yourself to your lot, and mitigate
its rigors by patience, until the day when your eyes have become
strong enough to dare to look him in the face, and your hand manly
enough to throw the gage of battle. Poor child the only
consolation I can offer you in your misfortune I should be a
culprit to refuse. I have but one night more to pass here; keep
this secret for me for twenty-four hours, and receive the adieus of
that Gilbert whom you have never known. One day he passed near you
and looked at you, and you read an offensive curiosity in his eyes.
I swear to you, they were full of tears."
Gilbert folded this letter, and slid it under the facing of one of
his sleeves; then taking the key of the private door in his hand,
and posting himself at the head of the staircase, he waited Ivan's
return. As soon as he heard the sound of his steps in the
corridor, he descended rapidly and met him on the landing at the
"I do not know what to do," said Ivan to him. "My young master is
not himself, and he has broken the first flower-pots I carried to
him in a thousand pieces."
"Take the others too," replied Gilbert, taking care to let him see
the key which he flourished in his hand. "You can put them in your
room for the time being. When he becomes calmer he will be glad to
see them again."
"But will it not be better to leave them with you until he asks for
"I don't want to keep them half an hour longer," replied Gilbert
quickly, and he descended the first steps of the private staircase.
"As you are going on the terrace, sir," cried the serf to him,
"don't forget, I beg of you, to close the door behind you."
Gilbert promised this. "It works well," thought he; "his caution
proves to me that the wicket is not closed." He was not mistaken.
For the convenience of his transportation, the serf had left it
half open, only taking the precaution to close and double-lock the
door of the grand staircase. Gilbert waited until Ivan had reached
the second story, and immediately remounting upon tiptoe, he darted
into the corridor, followed its entire length, turned to the right,
passed before the Count's study, turned a second time to the right,
found himself in the gallery which led to the square tower, sprang
through the wicket, and arrived without obstacle at the foot of the
tower staircase. He found the steps littered with the debris of
broken pots and flowers. As he began to descend, loud voices came
to his ears; he thought for a moment that M. Leminof was with his
son. This did not turn him from his project. He had nothing to
conceal. "I will beg the Count himself," thought he, "to read my
farewell letter to his son." Having reached the top of the
staircase, he crossed a vestibule and found himself in a long, dark
alcove, lighted by a solitary glass door, opening into the great
room ordinarily occupied by Stephane. This door was ajar, and the
strange scene which presented itself to Gilbert, as he approached,
held him motionless a few steps from the threshold. Stephane, with
his back towards him, stood with his arms crossed upon his breast.
He was not speaking to his father, but to two pictures of saints
hanging from the wall above a lighted taper. These two paintings
on wood, in the style of Father Alexis, represented St. George and
St. Sergius. The child, looking at them with burning eyes,
apostrophized them in a voice trembling with anger, at intervals
stamping his foot and running his hands furiously through his long
hair and tossing it in wild disorder. Illustrious Saints of the
Eastern Church, heard you ever such language before?
Then he sprang on a chair, tore the two pictures from the wall,
threw them to the ground, and seizing his riding whip, switched
them furiously. In this affair, St. George lost half of his head
and one of his legs, and St. Sergius was disfigured for the rest of
his days. When he had satisfied his fury, Stephane hung them up
again on their nails, turning their faces to the wall, and blew out
the lamp; then he rolled upon the floor, twisting his arms and
tearing his hair—but suddenly sitting up, he drew from his bosom a
small, heart-shaped medallion which he gazed on fixedly, and as he
looked the tears began to roll down his cheeks, and in the midst of
his sobs, he cried out:
"Oh, my mother! I desire nothing from you! you could do nothing for
me; but why did I have time to know you? To remember! to remember—
what torment! Yes, I can see you now— Every morning you gave me
a kiss, high on my forehead at the roots of my hair. The mark is
there yet—sometimes it burns me. I have often looked in the glass
to see if I had not a scar there— Oh, my mother! come and heal my
wound by renewing it! To be kissed by one's mother, Great God!
what happiness! Oh! for a kiss, for a single kiss from you, I
would brave a thousand dangers, I would give my blood, my life, my
soul. Ah! how sad you look! there are tears in your eyes. You
recognize me, do you not? I am much changed, much changed; but I
have always your look, your forehead, your mouth, your hair."
Then starting up suddenly, Stephane walked around the room with an
unsteady step. He held the medallion closely grasped in his right
hand and kept his eyes upon it. Again he held it out at arm's
length and looked at it steadily with half-closed eyes, or drawing
it nearer to him, he said to it sweet and tender things, pressing
it to his lips, kissing it a thousand times and passing it over his
hair and his cheeks wet with tears; it seemed as though he were
trying to make some particle of this sacred image penetrate his
life and being. At last, placing it on the bed, he knelt before
it, and burying his face in his hands, cried out sobbing, "Mother,
mother, it is long since your daughter died. When will you call
your son to you?"
Gilbert retired in silence. A voice from this room said to him:
"Thou art out of place here. Take care not to meddle in the secret
communion of a son and his mother. Great sorrows have something
sacred about them. Even pity profanes them by its presence." He
descended the staircase with precaution. When he had reached the
last step,—extending his arm in the direction of the Count's room,
he muttered in a low tone: "You have lied! Under that tunic of
black velvet there is a beating heart!" Then advancing with a
rapid step through the corridor, he hoped to pass out unseen; but
on reaching the wicket, he found himself face to face with Ivan,
who was coming out of his room, and who in his surprise dropped the
basket he held in his hand.
"You here!" exclaimed he in a severe tone. "Another would have
paid dearly for this—"
Then in a soft voice, expressing profound melancholy:
"Brother," said he, "do you want both of us to be killed? I see
you do not know the man whose orders you dare to brave." And he
added, bowing humbly: "You will pardon me for calling you brother?
In my mouth, that does not mean 'comrade.'"
Gilbert gave a sign of assent, and started to leave, but the serf,
holding him by the arm, said:
"Fortunately the barine has gone out; but take care; two days since
he had one of his turns, he has one every year, and while they
last, his mind wanders at night, and his anger is terrible during
the day. I tell you there is a storm in the air, do not draw the
thunderbolt upon your head."
Then placing himself between Gilbert and the door, he added with a
"Upon your conscience, what have you been doing here? Have you
seen my young father? Has he been talking to himself? You could
understand what he said, for he always talks in French. He only
knows enough Russian to scold me. Tell me, what have you heard? I
"Don't be alarmed," answered Gilbert. "If he has secrets he has
not betrayed them. He was engaged in complaining to himself, in
scolding the saints and weeping. Neither must you think that I
came hither to spy upon him, or to question him. As he had met
with sorrow, I wanted to console him by imparting the agreeable
news of my near departure; but I had not the courage to show myself
to him, and besides, I am not quite certain now what I shall do."
"Yes, you will do well to go," eagerly answered the serf; "but go
secretly, without warning anyone. I will help you, if you wish it.
You are too inquisitive to remain here. Certain suspicions have
already been excited on your account, which I have combated. Then,
too, you are imprudent!" Thus saying, he drew from his pocket the
candle which Gilbert had dropped in the corridor, the preceding
"Fortunately," said he, returning it to him, "it was I who found
it, and picked it up, and I wish you well, you know why. But
before going from here," added he in a solemn tone, "swear to me,
that during the time you may yet remain in this house, you will not
try to come into this gallery again, and that you will not ramble
in the other any more in the night. I tell you your life is in
danger if you do."
Gilbert answered him by a gesture of assent, and passing the
wicket, regained his room, where alternately standing at the
window, or stretched upon an easy-chair, he passed two full hours
communing with his thoughts. The dinner-bell put an end to his
long meditations. There was but little conversation during the
repast. M. Leminof was grave and gloomy, and seemed to be laboring
under a great nervous excitement which he strove to conceal.
Stephane was calmer than would have been expected, after the
violent emotions he had experienced, but there was something
singular in his look. Father Alexis alone wore his everyday face;
he found it very good, and did not judge it expedient to change it.
Towards the end of the repast, Gilbert was surprised to see
Stephane, who was in the habit of drinking only wine and water,
fill his glass with Marsala three times, and swallow it almost at a
single draught. The young man was not long in feeling the effect
of it; his face flushed, and his gaze became vacant. Towards the
close of the meal, he looked a great deal at the Apocalyptic
frescoes of the vaulted ceiling: then turning suddenly to his
father, he ventured to address him a question. It was the first
time for nearly two years,—an event which made even Father Alexis
open his eyes.
"Is it true," asked Stephane, "that living persons, supposed to be
dead, have sometimes been buried?"
"Yes, it has sometimes happened," replied the Count.
"But is there no way of establishing the certainty of death?"
"Some say yes, others no. I have been told of a frozen man who was
dissected in a hospital. The operator, in opening him, saw his
heart beating in his breast; he took flight and is running yet."
"But when one dies a violent death—poisoned, for example?"
"My opinion is, that they can still be mistaken. Physiology is a
"Oh! that would be horrible," said Stephane in a penetrating voice;
"to awaken by bruising one's forehead against the cover of a
"It would certainly be a very disagreeable experience, answered the
Count. And the conversation dropped. Stephane appeared very much
affected by his father's answers. He gazed no more at the ceiling,
but fixed his eyes on his plate. His face changed color several
times, and as if feeling the need of stupefying himself, he filled
his glass with wine for the fourth time, but he could not empty it,
and had hardly touched it with his lips before he set it on the
table with an air of disgust.
Tea was brought in. M. Leminof served it; and leaving his cup to
cool, rose and walked the floor. After making two or three turns,
he called Gilbert, and leaning upon his arm continued his walk,
talking with him about the political news of the day. Stephane saw
them come and go; he was evidently deeply agitated. Suddenly, at
the moment when they turned their backs, he drew from his sleeve a
small packet, which contained a pinch of yellow powder, and
unfolding it quickly, held it over his still full cup; but as he
was about emptying it, his hand trembled, and at this moment, his
father and Gilbert returning to his side, he had only time to
conceal the paper in his hand. In an instant he raised it again,
but at the decisive moment his courage again failed him. It was
not until the third trial that the yellow powder glided into the
cup, where Stephane stirred it with his spoon. This little scene
had escaped Gilbert. The Count alone had lost nothing of it; he
had eyes at the back of his head. He reseated himself in his place
and drank his tea slowly, continuing to talk with Gilbert, and
apparently quite unconscious of his son; but not a movement escaped
him. Stephane looked at his cup steadily, his agitation increased,
he breathed heavily, he shuddered, and his hand trembled with
feverish excitement. After waiting several minutes, the Count
turned to him and, looking him full in the eyes, said:
"Well! you do not drink? Cold tea is a bad drug."
The child trembled still more; his eyes had a glassy brightness.
Turning his head slowly, they wandered over everything about him,
the table, the chairs, the plate, and the black oak wainscoting.
There are moments when the aspect of the most common objects stirs
the soul with solemn emotion. When the condemned man is led out to
die, the least straw on the floor of his cell seems to say
something to his heart. Finally, gathering all his courage,
Stephane raised the cup and carried it to his mouth; but before it
had touched his lips, the Count took it roughly from his hands.
Stephane uttered a piercing cry and fell back in his chair with
closed eyes. M. Leminof looked at him for a moment with a
sarcastic and scornful smile; then bending over the cup he examined
it with care, smelt of it, and dipping his spoon in it, drew out
two or three yellow grains which he rubbed and pulverized between
his fingers. Then in a tone as tranquil and as indifferent as if
speaking of the rain, or of the fine weather, he said:
"It is phosphorus, a sufficiently active poison, and phosphorus
matches have been the death of a man more than once. But I saw
your little paper some time before. If I am not mistaken the dose
was not strong enough." And dipping his finger in the cup, he
passed it over his tongue, and curled his lip disdainfully. "I was
not mistaken," continued he, "it would only have given you a
violent colic. It was very imprudent in you; you do not like to
suffer, and you know we have only fresh-water physicians in this
neighborhood. Why didn't you wait a few hours? Doctor Vladimir
Paulitch will be here to-morrow evening." And then he went on in a
more phlegmatic tone. "It should be a first principle to do
thoroughly whatever you undertake to do at all. Thus, when a man
wants to kill himself according to rule, he should not begin by
exciting suspicions in talking of the cemetery. And as these
affairs require the exercise of coolness, he should not try to get
intoxicated. The courage which a person finds at the bottom of a
glass of Marsala is not of a good quality, and the approach of
death always sobers one. Finally, when a man has seriously
resolved to kill himself, he does not do this little thing at the
table, in company, but in his room, after having carefully bolted
the door. In short, your little scene has failed in every point,
and you do not know the first rudiments of this fine art. I advise
you not to meddle with it any more."
At these words he pulled the bell for Ivan.
"Your young master wanted to kill himself," said he; "take him to
his room and prepare him a composing draught that will put him to
sleep. Watch with him to-night, and in future be careful not to
leave any phosphorus matches in his rooms. Not that I suspect him
of entertaining any intense desire of killing himself,—but who
knows? Wounded vanity might drive him to try it. As his nerves
are excited, you will see that for some days he takes a great deal
of exercise. If the weather is fine tomorrow, keep him in the open
air all day, and in the evening walk him on the terrace; he must
get his blood stirred up."
From the moment that his father had taken the poisoned cup from
him, Stephane had remained petrified on his chair, with livid face
and arms hanging over his knees, giving no sign of life. When Ivan
approached to take him away, he rose with a start, and leaning upon
the arm of the serf, he crossed the room without opening his eyes.
When he had gone, the Count heaved a long sigh of weariness and
"What did I tell you?" exclaimed he, throwing upon Gilbert a
scrutinizing look; "this boy has a theatrical turn of mind. I
would wager my life that he hadn't the faintest desire to kill
himself: he only aimed at exciting us; but certainly if it was the
sensitive heart of Father Alexis which he took for a target, he has
lost the trouble." And he directed Gilbert's attention to the
worthy priest, who, as soon as he had emptied his cup, had fallen
sound asleep on his stool, and smiled at the angels in his dreams.
Gilbert gave the Count a lively and agreeable surprise by answering
him in the steadiest tone:
"You are entirely right, sir; it was only a very ridiculous
affectation. Fortunately, we may consider it pretty certain that
our young tragedian will not regale us a second time with his
little play. Where courage is required, it is good to have an
opportunity of seeing to the bottom of one's sack; nothing is more
likely to cure a boaster of the foolish mania for blustering."
"Decidedly my secretary is improving," thought the Count; "he has a
tender mouth and feels the curb." And in the joy which this
discovery gave him, he felt that he entertained for him sentiments
of real friendship, of which he would not have believed himself
capable. His surprise and pleasure increased still more when
"But apropos, sir, do you persist in believing that, according to
Constantius Porphyrogennatus, all Greece became Slavonian in the
eighteenth century? I have new objections to present to you on
that subject. And first this famous Copronymus of whom he
speaks. . . ."
They did not rise from the table until eleven o'clock. It was
necessary to awaken Father Alexis, who slept during the whole time,
his right arm extended over his plate, and his head leaning upon
his elbow. The Count having shaken him, he rose with a start and
"Don't touch it! The colors are all fresh; Jacob's beard is such a
The compliant secretary retired humming an aria. M. Leminof
followed him with his eyes, and, pointing after him, said to his
serf in a confidential tone:
"Thou seest that man there; just fancy! I feel friendship for him.
He is at least my most cherished—habit. My suspicions were
absurd, thou wert right in combating them. By way of precaution,
however, make a tour of the corridor between midnight and two
o'clock. Now come and double-lock me in my room, for I feel a
paroxysm coming on. To-morrow at five o'clock thou wilt come to
open it for me."
"Count Kostia!" murmured Gilbert, when he found himself in his
room, "fear no longer that I shall think of leaving you. Whatever
happens, I remain here. Count Kostia, understand me, you have
buried the smile: I take heaven to witness that I will resuscitate
The day following the one on which Gilbert had resolved to remain
at Geierfels, Father Alexis rose at an early hour, and betook
himself as usual to his dear chapel; he entered with a slow step,
bowed back, and anxious face; but when he had traversed the nave
and stood before the main entrance to the choir, the influence of
the holy place began to dissipate his melancholy; his thoughts took
a more serene turn, and his face brightened.
For several days Father Alexis had been occupied in painting a
group of three figures, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their
posterity on their knees. It was the exact copy of a picture in
the Convent of Lavra. These patriarchs were gravely seated upon a
grassy bank, separated from each other by little shrubs of a
somewhat fantastic shape. Their venerable heads were crowned with
aureoles; their abundant hair, combed with the greatest care, fell
majestically upon their shoulders, and their thick beards descended
to the middle of their breasts.
Father Alexis worked for nearly an hour, when he heard a step in
the court, and turning his head quickly, perceived Gilbert coming
towards the chapel. The priest thrilled with joy, as a fisherman
might, who after long hours of mortal waiting sees a fish of good
size imprudently approaching his net. Eager for his prey, he threw
aside his brush, quickly descended the ladder with the agility of a
young man and ran to place himself in ambuscade near the door,
where he waited with bated breath. As soon as Gilbert appeared, he
rushed upon him, seized him by the arm, and looked upon him with
eyes which seemed to say: "You are caught, and you won't escape
from me either."
When he had recovered from his first excess of joy, "Ah, my son,"
exclaimed he, "what happy inspiration brings you hither?"
"M. Leminof is not well to-day," answered Gilbert, "and I thought I
could make no better use of my leisure than to pay my respects to
"Oh! what a charming idea," said the priest, looking at him with
ineffable tenderness. "Come, come, my son, I will show you all,
This word ALL was pronounced with such an energetic accent, that
Gilbert was startled. It may be readily believed that it was not
exactly about Byzantine pictures that he was curious at this
moment. Nevertheless, he entered with great good-nature into a
minute examination of the images of the choir and the nave; he
praised all which appeared praiseworthy, kept silent upon the
prominent defects which offended the delicacy of his taste, and
allowed himself to criticise only some of the details.
At last he announced to the priest that he wished to talk with him
of a serious matter.
"A serious matter?"
And the face of the good father became grave. "Have you anything
to confess to me? What am I saying? You are not orthodox, my
child,—would to God you were."
"Let us descend, let us descend," said Gilbert, putting his foot
upon the ladder.
They descended and seated themselves upon the end of a white marble
step, which extended the entire width of the nave, at the entrance
of the choir.
"My son," began the priest timidly, "yesterday evening—"
"That is precisely what I want to talk to you about," said Gilbert.
"Ah! you are a good, generous child. You saw my embarrassment, and
you wished,—I confess it, a slight drowsiness,—flesh is weak,—
ah, it is good in you. Favors do not turn your head. Speak,
speak, I am all attention."
"It is understood that you will keep the secret, father, for you
"I understand! we should be lost if it were known that we talked of
certain things together. Oh! you need not be afraid. If Kostia
Petrovitch alludes to this matter, I shall appear to know nothing,
and I shall accuse myself of having violated the precept of the
great Solomon, who said, 'When thou sittest down to eat with a
prince, consider attentively what is done before thee.'
"Speak with confidence, my child, and rest assured that this mouth
has an old tongue in it which never says what it does not want to."
When Gilbert had finished his recital, Father Alexis burst forth in
exclamations accompanied by many signs of the cross.
"Oh! unhappy child!" cried he; "what folly is thine! He has then
sworn his own destruction? To wish to die in mortal sin! A spirit
of darkness must have taken possession of him. Then he invokes St.
George no longer every morning and evening? He prays no more,—he
no longer carries on his heart the holy amulet I gave him. Ah! why
did I fall asleep yesterday evening? What beautiful things I would
have said to him! I would have commenced by representing to him—"
"I do not doubt your eloquence; but it is not remonstrance, nor
good counsel that this child wants: a little happiness would answer
the purpose far better."
"Happiness! Ah, yes! his life is a little sad. There are certain
maxims of education—"
"It is not a question of maxims of education, but of a father who
betrays an open hatred to his son."
"Holy Virgin!" exclaimed the priest with a gesture of terror, "you
must not say such things, my child. These are words which the good
God does not like to hear. Never repeat them, it would be neither
prudent nor charitable."
Gilbert persisted; announcing the conjectures which he had formed
as certainties, and even exaggerating his suspicions in the hope
that the priest, in correcting him, would furnish the explanations
which he desired. The success of this little artifice surpassed
"I know for a certainty," said he, "that M. Leminof loved his
wife,—that she was unfaithful to him—that he finished by
suspecting her, and that he revenged himself—"
"False! false!" cried the priest with deep emotion. "To hear you
one would believe that Count Kostia killed his wife. You have
heard lying reports. The truth is, that the Countess Olga poisoned
herself, and then feeling the approach of death, became terrified
and implored aid. It was useless: they could not counteract the
effects of the poison. She then sent in haste for me. I had but
just time to receive her confession. Oh! what a frightful scene,
my child! Why recall it to me? And above all, whose calumnious
"I have been told, also," pursued the inflexible Gilbert, "that
after this deplorable event M. Leminof, holding in abhorrence the
localities which witnessed his dishonor, quitted Moscow and Russia,
and went to Martinique. Having arrived there, he lost, after some
months' residence, one of his two children, a daughter if I am not
mistaken, and this death may have been hastened by—"
"A fresh calumny!" interrupted the priest, looking steadily at
Gilbert. "The young girl died of yellow fever. Kostia Petrovitch
never raised a finger against his children. Ah! tell me what
"It is not a calumny, at least, to state that he has two good
reasons for not loving his son. First, because he is the living
portrait of his mother, and then because he doubts, perhaps, if
this child is really his son."
"An impious doubt, which I have combated with all my strength.
This child was born nine years before his mother committed her
first and only fault. I have said it, and I repeat it. It has
been objected that he was born after six years of a marriage which
seemed condemned by Heaven to an eternal sterility:—fatal
circumstance, which appeared proof positive to a vindictive and
ulcerated heart. But again, who could have told you—"
"One more word: before leaving for Martinique, M. Leminof did
everything he could to discover the lover of his wife. His
suspicions fell upon one of his intimate friends named Morlof. In
his blind fury he killed him, but nevertheless Morlof was
"Did they tell you that he assassinated him?" said Father Alexis,
who became more and more agitated. "Another calumny! he killed him
in a regular duel. Holy Virgin! the sin was grave enough; but the
police hushed up the matter, and absolution has been granted him."
"Alas!" resumed Gilbert, "if the church has pardoned, the
conscience of the murderer persists in condemning; it curses that
rash hand which shed innocent blood, and by a strange aberration it
exhorts him to wash out this fatal mistake in the blood of the real
offender. This offender, after six years' fruitless search, he has
not given up the hope of discovering; he will go into the very
bowels of the earth to find him, if he must, and if by chance there
is some heart upon which the name is written, he will open that
heart with the point of his sword to decipher those letters of
blood and of fire!"
Gilbert pronounced these last words in a vibrating voice. He had
suddenly forgotten where he was and to whom he was speaking. He
thought he again saw before him the scene of the corridor, and
could again hear those terrible words which had frozen the blood in
his veins. The priest was seized with a convulsive trembling; but
he soon mastered it. He raised himself slowly and stood up before
Gilbert, his arms crossed upon his breast. Within a few moments
his face became dignified, and at the same time his language. Now
the transformation was complete; Gilbert had no longer before him
the timid, easy soul who trembled before a frown, the epicure in
quest of agreeable sensations, the vain artist ingeniously begging
eulogies. The priest's eyes opened wide and shone like coals of
fire; his lips, wreathed in a bitter smile, seemed ready to launch
the thunders of excommunication; and a truly sacerdotal majesty
diffused itself as if by miracle over his face. Gilbert could
scarcely believe his eyes; he looked at him in silence, incapable
of recognizing this new Father Alexis, who had just been revealed
Then, said the priest, speaking to himself:
"Brother! what simplicity is yours! A few caresses, a few
cajoleries, and your satisfied vanity silences your distrust and
disarms your good sense! Did you not know that this young man is
the intimate friend of your master?"
Then bowing towards Gilbert:
"They thought then that you could make me speak. And you imagined
yourself that a coarse artifice and some threatening talk would
suffice to tear from me a secret I have guarded for nearly seven
years. Presumptuous young man, return to him who sent you, and
repeat faithfully what I am about to say to you: One day at
Martinique, in a remote house some distance from the outskirts of
the town of St. Pierre,—let me speak, my story will be short.—
Picture to yourself a great dark hall, with a table in the center.—
They shut me in there near noon; the next day at evening I was
there still, and for thirty hours I neither ate nor drank. The
night came,—they stretched me upon a table,—bound me and tied me
down. Then I saw bending over me a face more terrible than thou
wilt ever see, even in thy dreams, and a mouth which sneered as the
damned must sneer, approached my ear and said to me: 'Father
Alexis, I want your secret—I will have it.' I breathed not a
word; they tightened the cords with a jack, and I did not speak;
they piled weights on my chest, and I spoke not; they put boots
upon me which I hope never to see upon thy feet, and I spake not;
my bones cracked, and I spake not; I saw my blood gush out, and I
did not speak. At length a supreme anguish seized me, a red cloud
passed over my eyes, I felt my heart freezing, and I thought myself
dying. Then I spoke and said: 'Count Leminof, thou canst kill me,
but thou shalt not tear from me the secrets of the confessional.'"
And at these words, the priest stooping, laid bare his right foot
and showed Gilbert the bruised and withered flesh, and bones
deformed by torture; then covering it again he recoiled, as if from
a serpent in his path, and cried in a thundering voice, extending
his arms to Heaven:
"God curse the vipers who take the form of doves! Oh, Solomon,
hast thou not written in thy Proverbs: 'When he shall speak
graciously, do not believe him, for he has seven abominations in
As he listened to the recital of the priest, Gilbert was reminded
of some incoherent phrases of the somnambulist, which he had not
been able to explain: "STRETCH HIM ON THIS TABLE! THE BLACK ROBE!
TIGHTEN THE IRON BOOTS!"
"That black robe then," said he to himself, "was Father Alexis."
He rose and looked at the priest in surprise and admiration; he
could not take his eyes from that face which he believed he saw for
the first time, and he murmured in a low voice:
"My God! how complex is the heart of man. What a discovery I have
Then he tried to approach him; but the priest, still recoiling and
raising his arms threateningly above his head, repeated:
"Cursed be the vipers who come in the form of doves!"
"And I say," cried Gilbert, "blessed forever be the lips which have
touched the sacred coal, and keep their secrets even unto death!"
And rushing upon him he took him in his arms, and kissed three
times the scar which the cruel bite of Solon had left.
Father Alexis was surprised, stupefied, and confounded. He looked
at Gilbert, then at Abraham, then at Jacob. He uttered disjointed
phrases. He called upon Heaven to witness what had happened to
him, gesticulated and wept until, overcome by emotion, he dropped
on the marble step, and hid his face, bathed in tears, in his
"Father," said Gilbert respectfully, seating himself near him,
"pardon me for the agitation I have caused you. And if by chance
some distrust of me remains, listen to what I am about to tell you,
for I am going to put myself at your mercy, and by betraying a
secret it will depend upon you to have me expelled from this house
the day and hour you please."
He then related to him the scene of the corridor.
"Judge for yourself what impression the terrible words I heard
produced upon me! For some days my mind has been at work. I
ceaselessly tried to picture to myself the details of this
lamentable affair; but fearing to stray in my suspicions, I wished
to make a clean breast of it, and came to find you. I have grieved
you sorely, father; once more, will you pardon my rash curiosity?"
Father Alexis raised his head. Farewell to the saint! farewell to
the prophet! His face had resumed its habitual expression; the
sublime tempest which had transfigured it had left but a few almost
invisible traces of its passage. He looked at Gilbert
"Ah!" said he, "it was only for this that you sought me? My dear
child, you do not love the arts then?"
That day Gilbert passed an entire hour at his window. It was not
the Rhine which fixed his attention, nor the precipice, the
mountains nor the clouds. The narrow space within which he
confined his gaze was bounded on the west by the great square
tower, on the south by a gable, on the north by a spout; I mean to
say that the object of his contemplations was a very irregular,
very undulating roof, or to speak more accurately, two adjacent and
parallel roofs, one higher than the other by twelve feet, and both
inclining by a steep slope towards a frightful precipice.
As he closed the window, he said to himself:
"After all, it is less difficult than I thought; two rope ladders
will do the business, with God's help!"
M. Leminof finding himself too much indisposed to leave his room,
Gilbert dined alone in his turret; after which he went out for a
walk on the borders of the Rhine. As he left the path for the main
road, he saw Stephane and Ivan within twenty paces of him.
Perceiving him, the young man made an angry gesture, and turning
his face, started his horse off at full speed. Gilbert had
scarcely time to leap into the ditch to avoid being run down. As
Ivan passed, he looked at him sadly, shook his head, and carried
his finger to his forehead, as if to say: "You must pardon him; his
poor mind is very sick." Gilbert returned to the castle without
delay, and as he reached the entrance to the terrace, he saw the
serf leaning against one of the doors, where he seemed to be on
"My dear Ivan," said he, "you appear to be waiting for someone."
"I heard you coming," answered he, "and I took you for Vladimir
Paulitch. It was the sound of your step which deceived me; you
haven't such a measured step generally."
"You are a keen observer," replied Gilbert smiling; "but who, I
pray, is this Vladimir Paulitch?"
"He is a physician from my country. He will remain two months with
us. The barine wrote to him a fortnight since, when he felt that
he was going to be ill; Vladimir Paulitch left immediately, and day
before yesterday he wrote from Berlin, that he would be here this
evening. This Vladimir is a physician who hasn't his equal. I am
waiting for him to arrive."
"Tell me, good Ivan, is your young master in the garden?"
"He is down there under the weeping ash."
"Very well, you must permit me to speak to him a moment. You will
even extend the obligation by saying nothing about it to Kostia
Petrovitch. You know he cannot see us, for he keeps his bed now,
and even if he should rise, his windows open on the inner court."
Ivan's brow contracted. "Impossible, impossible!" he murmured.
"Impossible? Why? Because you will not?
"Ivan, my good Ivan, it is absolutely necessary for me to speak to
your young master. I have made him submit to a humiliation against
my will. He mistakes my sentiments and credits me with the
blackest intentions, and it will be torture to him in future to be
condemned to sit at the same table with me daily. Let me explain
myself to him. In two words I will make him understand who I am,
and I wish him no harm."
The discussion was prolonged some minutes, Ivan finally yielding,
but on the condition that Gilbert should not put his good will to
the proof a second time. "Otherwise," said Ivan, "if you still
attempt to talk with him secretly, I cannot permit him to go out,
and, of course, he could only blame you, and would then have the
right to consider you an enemy."
Upon his side, the serf promised that the Count should know nothing
of the interview.
"Recollect, brother," continued he, "that this is the last improper
favor that you will obtain from me. You are a man of heart, but
sometimes I should say that YOU HAD BEEN EATING BELLADONNA."
Stephane had left the circular bank where he had been sitting, and
stood, with his back against the parapet of the terrace, his arms
hanging dejectedly, and his head sunk upon his breast. His reverie
was so profound that Gilbert approached within ten steps of him
without being perceived; but suddenly rousing himself, he raised
his head quickly, and stamped his foot imperiously.
"Go away!" cried he, "go away, or I will set Vorace on you!"
Vorace was the name of the bulldog that kept him company at night,
and was crouching in the grass some paces distant. Of all the
watchdogs of the castle, this one was the strongest and most
"You see," said Ivan, retaining Gilbert by the arm, "you have
nothing to do here."
Gilbert gently disengaged himself and continued to advance.
"Get out of my sight," screamed Stephane. "Why do you come to
trouble my solitude? Who gives you the right to pursue me, to
track me? How dare you look me in the face after—"
He could say no more. Excitement and anger choked his voice. For
some moments he looked alternately at Gilbert and the dog; then
changing his purpose, he moved as if to fly, but Gilbert barred the
"Listen to me but a minute," said he in a gentle and penetrating
voice, "I bring you good news."
"You!" exclaimed Stephane, and he repeated, "You! you! good news!"
"I!" said Gilbert, "for I come to announce to you my near
Stephane stared with wide-open eyes, and recoiled slowly to the
wall, where, leaning back again, he exclaimed:
"What! are you going? Ah! certainly the news is excellent, as well
as unexpected; but you are giving yourself unnecessary trouble,
there was no need to forewarn me. Your departure! Great God! I
should have been notified of it in advance by the clearness of the
air, by the more vivid brightness of the sun, by some strange joy
diffused through all my being. Oh! I understand, you are not able
to digest the outrage done to you by the excellent Fritz at my
order. You consider the reparation insufficient. You are right, I
swear it by St. George, my heart made no apologies to you. I upon
my knees to you! Horror and misery! As I told you yesterday, I
yielded only to force. It was the same as if I should make my
bulldog drag you down at my feet now!"
Gilbert made no answer; he contented himself with drawing from his
pocketbook the letter which he had written the day before, and
presenting it to Stephane.
"What have I to do with this paper?" said Stephane with a gesture
of disdain. "You have told me your news, that is sufficient for
me. Anything more you could add would spoil my happiness."
"Read!" said Gilbert. "I have granted you such a great favor that
you can well afford to grant me a small one."—Stephane hesitated a
moment, but the habitual tediousness of his life was so great that
the want of diversion overcame his hatred and scorn.
"This letter is not bad!" said he as he read. "Its style is
eloquent, the penmanship is admirable too. It involuntarily
suggests to me the tie of your cravat. Both are so correct that
they are insufferable."
Gilbert, smiling, untied the cravat and let the ends hang down upon
"It is not worth while to incommode yourself," pursued Stephane,
"we have so short a time to live together! Pray do not renounce
your most cherished habits for me. The bow of your cravat as well
as your writing, harmonize wonderfully with your whole person. I
do not suppose, however, that to please me you would reconstruct
yourself from head to foot. The undertaking would be
"Permit me to speak," answered Gilbert. "I have made a little
change in my programme: I shall not leave tomorrow. I have granted
myself a week's delay."
Stephane's face darkened, and his eyes flashed.
"I swear to you here, upon my honor," continued Gilbert, "that in a
week I will leave, never to return, unless you yourself beg me to
"What baseness! and how cleverly this little plot has been
contrived; I see it all. By force of threats and violence they
hope to compel me a second time to bend my knees to you and cry
with clasped hands, 'Sir, in the name of Heaven, continue us the
favor of your precious presence!' But this act of cowardice I
shall never commit! Rather death! rather death!"
"A word only," resumed Gilbert, without being discouraged. "Submit
me to some proof. Have you no caprice which it is in my power to
"Throw yourself at my feet," cried he impetuously; "drag yourself
in the dust, kiss the ground before me, and demand pardon and mercy
of me! At this price I will grant you, not my affection certainly,
but my indulgence and pity."
"Impossible!" answered Gilbert, shaking his head. "I am like you;
I should not know how to kneel, unless someone stronger than myself
constrained me by violence. Oh, no! in such a performance I should
lose even the hope of being some day esteemed by you. The more so
as in the trial to which I wish you would subject me, I should
desire to have some danger to brave, some difficulty to surmount."
Stephane could not conceal his astonishment. Never in all his life
had he heard language like this. Nevertheless, distrust and pride
triumphed still over every other feeling.
"Since you wish it!" said he, sneering . . . and he drew a kid
glove from one of his pockets, rubbed it between his hands and
threw it to the bulldog, who caught in his teeth and kept it there.
"Vorace," said he to him, "keep your master's glove between your
teeth, watch it well; you will answer to me for it."
Then turning to Gilbert,—"Sir, will you please restore my glove to
me? I should be infinitely obliged to you for it."
"Ah! this is then the trial to which you will subject me?" answered
Gilbert with a smile upon his lips.
Stephane looked him in the face. For the first time, he could not
avoid being struck by its noble expression and the clearness and
purity of his glance.
Stephane was involuntarily moved, and strove in vain to conceal it
by the jocular tone in which he replied:
"No, sir, it is not a test of your sincerity, but a jest which we
shall do well not to push further. This animal is not amiable.
Should you be unfortunate enough to irritate him, it would be
impossible even for me, his master, to calm his fury. Be good
enough then to leave my glove where it is, and return peaceably to
your study to meditate upon some important problem in Byzantine
history. That will be a trial less perilous and better
proportioned to your strength. Good-evening, sir, good-night."
"Oh! permit me," replied Gilbert. "I am resolved to carry this
adventure to its conclusion!"
And gently repulsing Stephane, who sought to restrain him, he
walked straight toward the bulldog.
"Take care," cried the young man, shuddering, "do not trifle with
that beast, or you are a dead man!"
"Take care," repeated Ivan, who, not having understood half of what
had been said, hardly suspected Gilbert's intention. "Take care,
this dog is a ferocious beast."
Meantime Gilbert, crossing his arms upon his breast, advanced
slowly towards the bulldog, keeping his eyes steadily fixed on
those of the animal, and when he thought he had disconcerted him by
his undaunted gaze sufficiently to make him relax his grip upon the
prize, he suddenly tore the glove from him and waved it in the air
with his right hand. At the same moment Vorace, with a howl of
rage, bounded up to leap at the throat of his despoiler. Gilbert
sprang back, covering himself with his left arm, and the dog's jaws
only grazed his shoulder. Yet when he touched the ground again, he
held between his teeth a long strip of cloth, a scrap of linen, and
a morsel of bloody flesh. Mad with fury the bulldog rolled over on
the grass with this prize which he could hardly devour, and then
suddenly, as if seized with a paroxysm of frenzy, he moved towards
the castle doubling upon himself; but reaching the foot of the
turret, he looked for his enemy and returned like an arrow, to
pounce upon him again.
"Throw down the glove," cried Ivan, "and climb the ash."
"I will surrender the glove only to him who asked me for it,"
And hiding it in his bosom, he drew a knife from his pocket. He
had not time to open it. The dog, with bristling hair and foaming
jaws, was already within three steps of him, gathering himself to
spring upon him; but he had scarcely raised himself from the ground
when he fell back with his head shattered. The hatchet which Ivan
carried at his girdle had come down upon him like a flash. The
terrible animal vainly attempted to rise, rolled writhing in the
dust, and breathed out his life with a hoarse and fearful howl.
Doctor Vladimir Paulitch arrived at the castle just in time to take
care of Gilbert. The wound was wide and deep, and in consequence
of the great heat which prevailed, it might easily have proved
serious; fortunately, Doctor Vladimir was a skillful man, and under
his care the wound was soon healed. He employed certain specifics,
the uses of which were known only to himself, and which he took
care to keep a secret from his patient. His medicine was as
mysterious as his person.
Vladimir Paulitch was forty years of age; his face was striking but
unattractive. His eyes had the color and the hard brightness of
steel; his keen glances, subject to his will, often questioned, but
never allowed themselves to be interrogated. Well made, slender, a
slight and graceful figure, he had in his gait and movements a
feline suppleness and stealthiness. He was slow, but easy of
speech, and never animated; the tone of his voice was cold and
veiled, and whatever the subject of conversation might be, he
neither raised nor lowered it; no modulations; everyone of his
sentences terminated in a little minor cadence, which fell sadly on
the ear. He sometimes smiled in speaking, it is true, but it was a
pale smile which did not light up his face. This smile signified
simply: "I do not give you my best reason, and I defy you to divine
One morning when Ivan had come by order of the doctor to dress
Gilbert's wound, our friend questioned him as to the character and
life of Vladimir Paulitch. Of the man Ivan knew nothing, and
confined himself to extolling the genius of the physician; he
expressed himself in regard to him in a mysterious tone. The
imposing face of this impenetrable personage, the extraordinary
power of his glance, his impassible gravity, the miraculous cures
which he had wrought, it needed no more to convince the honest serf
that Vladimir Paulitch dealt in magic and held communications with
spirits; and he felt for his person a profound veneration mingled
with superstitious terror. He told Gilbert that since the age of
twenty-five, Vladimir had been directing a hospital and private
asylum which Count Kostia had founded upon his estates, and that,
thanks to him, these two establishments had not their equals in all
"Last year," added the serf, "he came to attend the barine, and
told him that his malady would return this year, but more feebly,
and that this would be the last. You will see that all will come
to pass as he has said. Kostia Petrovitch is already much better,
and I wager that next summer will come and go without his feeling
As Ivan prepared to go, Gilbert detained him to ask news of
Stephane. The serf had been very discreet, and had related the
adventure upon the terrace to his master without compromising
anyone. The only trouble he had had was in persuading him that it
was not on a sign from Stephane that the dog had attacked Gilbert.
The next day Gilbert dined in the great hall of the castle with M.
Leminof and Father Alexis.
"Do not disturb yourself because Stephane does not dine with us,"
said the Count to him. "He is not sick; but he has a new grievance
against you; you have caused the death of his dog. I ask your
pardon, my dear Gilbert, for the irrational conduct of my son. I
have given him three days for the sulks. When that time has
passed, I intend that he shall put on his good looks for you, and
that he shall take his place at the table opposite you without
"And how is it that Doctor Vladimir is not with us?"
"He has begged me to excuse him for a time. He finds himself much
fatigued with the care he has given me. A magnetic treatment, you
understand. I should inform you that every year, some time during
the summer, I am subject to attacks of neuralgia from which I
suffer intensely. By the way, you have seen our admirable doctor
several times. What do you think of him?"
"I don't know whether he is a great savant, but I am inclined to
think he is a first-class artist."
"You cannot pay him a finer compliment; medicine is an art rather
than a science. He is also a man capable of the greatest devotion.
I am indebted to him for my life, it was not as physician that he
saved me either. A pair of stallions ran away within twenty paces
of a precipice; the doctor, appearing from behind a thicket, darted
to the heads of the horses and hung on to them by their nostrils,
which he held in an iron grip. You have the whole scene from these
windows. What was amusing in it was, that having thanked him, with
what warmth you can imagine, he answered, in a tranquil tone, and
wiping his knees—for the horses in falling had laid him full
length in the dust—'It is I who am obliged to you; for the first
time I have been suspended between life and death, and it is a
singular sensation. But for you I should not have known it.' This
will give you an idea of the man and his sangfroid!"
"I am not surprised at his having the agility of a wildcat,"
replied Gilbert; "but I suspect the sangfroid is feigned, and that
his placidity of face is a mask which hides a very passionate
"Passionate is not the word, or at least the doctor knows only the
passions of the head. There was a time when he thought himself
desperately in love; an unpardonable weakness in such a
distinguished man; but he was not long in undeceiving himself, and
he has not fallen into such a fatal error since."
The night having come, Gilbert, who had inquiries to make, crossed
the yard of which the chapel formed one side, and gaining the rear
by a private door, went in search of Father Alexis. It was not
long before he discovered him, for the priest had left his shutters
open, and he was seated in the embrasure of the window, peaceably
smoking his pipe, when he perceived Gilbert.
"Oh, the good boy!" cried he, "let him come in quickly! My room
and my heart are open to him."
Gilbert showed him his arm in a sling, on account of which he could
not climb the window.
"Is that all, my child?" said Father Alexis. "I will hoist you up
Gilbert raised himself by his right arm, and Father Alexis drawing
him up, they soon found themselves seated face to face, uniting to
their heart's content the blue smoke of their chibouques.
"Have you not noticed," said Father Alexis, "that Kostia Petrovitch
has been in a charming humor to-day? I told you that he had his
pleasant moments! Vladimir Paulitch has already done him much
good. What a physician this Vladimir is! It is a great pity that
he does not believe in God; but some day, perhaps, grace will touch
his heart, and then he will be a complete man."
"If I were in your place, father, I should be afraid of this
Vladimir," said Gilbert. "Ivan pretends that he is something of a
sorcerer. Aren't you afraid that some fine day he may rob you of
Father Alexis shrugged his shoulders.
"Ivan talks foolishly," said he. "If Vladimir Paulitch were a
sorcerer, would he not have long since penetrated the mystery which
he burns to fathom? for he does more than love Count Kostia; he is
devoted to him even to fanaticism. It is certain that having
discovered that the Countess Olga was enceinte, he had the
barbarity to become her denouncer; and that letter which announced
to Count Kostia his dishonor, that letter which made him return
from Paris like a thunder-clap, that letter in short which caused
the death of Olga Vassilievna, was written by him—Vladimir
"And Morlof," said Gilbert, "was it this Vladimir who denounced him
to the unjust fury of the Count?"
"On the contrary, Vladimir pleaded his cause; but his eloquence
failed against the blind prejudices of Kostia Petrovitch. This
Morlof was, unfortunately for himself, a fashionable gentleman,
well known for his gallantries. A man of honor, however, incapable
of betraying a friend; this reputation for gallant successes, of
which he boasted, was his destruction. When Count Kostia
interrogated his wife, and she refused to denounce her seducer, it
occurred to him to name Morlof, and the energy with which she
defended him confirmed the Count's suspicion. To disabuse him, it
needed but that tragic meeting of which I was informed too late.
In breathing his last sigh, Morlof extended his hand to his
murderer and gasped 'I die innocent!' And in these last words of a
dying man, there was such an accent of truth that Count Kostia
could not resist it: light broke in upon his soul."
As the darkness increased, Father Alexis closed the shutters and
lit a candle.
"My child," said he, refilling and lighting his pipe, "I must tell
you something I learned to-day, a few moments before dinner, which
appeared to me very strange. Listen attentively, and I am sure you
will share in my astonishment."
Gilbert opened his ears, for he had a presentiment that Father
Alexis was about to speak of Stephane.
"It is a singular fact," resumed the priest, "and one that I should
not wish to relate to the first-comer, but I am very glad to impart
it to you, because you have a serious and reflective mind, though
unfortunately you are not orthodox; would to God you were. Know
then, my child, that to-day, Saturday, I went according to my
custom to Stephane to catechize him, and for reasons which you
know, I redoubled my efforts to impress his unruly head with the
holy truths of our faith. Now it appears that without intending
it, you have caused him sorrow; and you can believe that such a
character, far from having pardoned you, has taken the greatest
pains to get me to espouse his side in the difficulty. However he,
who will usually fly into a passion and talk fiercely if a fly
tickles him, recited his griefs to me with an air of moderation and
a tranquillity of tone which astonished me to the last degree. As
I endeavored to discover a reason for this, I happened to raise my
eyes to the images of St. George and St. Sergius which decorate one
of the corners of his room, and before which he was in the habit of
saying his prayers every morning. What was my surprise, my grief,
when I perceived that the two saints had suffered shameful
outrages. One had no legs, the other was disfigured by a horrible
scar. With hands raised to Heaven, I threatened him with the
thunder of God. Without being excited, without changing
countenance, he left his chair, came to me and placed his hand on
my mouth. 'Father,' said he, with an air of assurance which awed
me, 'listen to me. I have been wrong, if you wish it so, and
still, under the same circumstances, I should do it again, for
since I have chastised them, the two saints have decided to come to
my aid, and the very day after their punishment, without any change
in my life, all at once I felt my heart become lighter; for the
first time, I swear to you, a ray of celestial hope penetrated my
soul.' What do you say to that, my child? I had often heard
similar things related, but I did not believe them. Little boys
may be whipped, but as for saints!—Ah! my dear child, the ways of
God are very strange, and there are many great mysteries in this
Father Alexis had such an impressive air in speaking of this great
mystery, that Gilbert was tempted to laugh; but he controlled
himself; he was too grateful for his obliging narrative, and could
have embraced him with all his heart.
"Good news!" said he to himself. "That heart has become lighter;
that 'ray of celestial hope.' Ah! God be praised, my effort has
not been thrown away. St. George, St. Sergius, you rob me of my
glory, but what matters it? I am content!"
"And what reply did you make to Stephane?" said he to the priest.
"Did you reprimand him? Did you congratulate him?"
"The case was delicate," said the good father, with the air of a
philosopher meditating on the most abstruse subject; "but I am not
wanting in judgment, and I drew out of the affair with honor."
"You managed admirably," cried I, looking at him with admiration;
then immediately putting on a serious face, "but the sin is
The third day after, Gilbert didn't wait for the bell to ring for
dinner before going down to the great hall. He was not very much
surprised to find Stephane there. Leaning with his back against
the sideboard, the young man, on seeing him appear, lost his
composure, blushed, and turned his head towards the wall. Gilbert
stopped a few steps from him. Then in an agitated manner, and with
a voice at once gentle and abrupt, he said:
"And your arm?"
"It is nearly well. To-morrow I shall take off my sling."
Stephane was silent for a moment. Then in a still lower voice:
"What do you mean to do?" murmured he; "what are your plans?"
"I wait to know your good pleasure," replied Gilbert.
The young man covered his eyes with both hands, and, as Gilbert
said no more, he seemed to feel a thrill of impatience and
"His pride demands some mercy," thought Gilbert. "I will spare him
the mortification of making the first advances."
"I should like very much to have a conversation with you," said he
gently. "This cannot be upon the terrace, Ivan will not leave you
alone there. Does he keep you company in your room in the
"Are you jesting?" answered Stephane, raising his head. "After
nine o'clock Ivan never comes near my room."
"And his room, if I am not mistaken," answered Gilbert, "is
separated from you by a corridor and a staircase. So we shall run
no risk of being overheard."
Stephane turned towards him and looked him in the face. "You think
of everything," said he, with a smile, sad and ironical.
"Apparently, to reach me, you will be obliged to mount a swallow.
Have you made your arrangements with one?"
"I shall come over the roofs," said Gilbert quietly.
"Impossible!" cried Stephane. "In the first place, I do not wish
you to risk your life for me again. And then—"
"And then you do not care for my visit?"
Stephane only answered him by a look.
At this moment steps sounded in the vestibule. When the Count
entered, Gilbert was pacing the further end of the hall, and
Stephane, with his back turned, was attentively observing one of
the carved figures upon the wainscoting. M. Leminof, stopping at
the threshold of the door, looked at them both with a quizzical
"It was time for me to arrive," said he, laughing. "This is an
At about ten o'clock Gilbert began to make preparations for his
expedition. He had no fear of being surprised; his evenings were
his own—that was a point agreed upon between the Count and
himself. He had also just heard the great door of the corridor
roll upon its hinges. On the side of the terrace the thick
branches of the trees concealed him from the watchdogs which, had
they suspected the adventure, could have given the alarm. There
was nothing to fear from the hillock below the precipice; it was
frequented only by the young girl who tended the goats and who was
not in the habit of allowing them to roam so late among the rocks.
Besides, the night, serene and without a moon, was propitious; no
other light than the discreet glistening of the stars which would
help to guide him, without being bright enough to betray or disturb
him; the air was calm, a scarcely perceptible breeze stirred at
intervals the leaves of the trees without agitating the branches.
Thanks to this combination of favorable circumstances, Gilbert's
enterprise was not desperate; but he did not dream of deceiving
himself in regard to its dangers.
The castle clock had just struck ten when he extinguished his lamp
and opened the window. There he remained a long time leaning upon
his elbows: his eyes at last familiarized themselves with the
darkness, and favored by the glimmering of the stars, he began to
recognize with but little effort the actual shape of the
surrounding objects. The window was divided in two equal parts by
a stone mullion, and had in front a wide shelf of basalt,
surrounded by a balustrade. Gilbert fastened one of two knotted
ropes with which he had supplied himself securely to the mullion;
then he crept upon the ledge of basalt and stood there for a few
moments contemplating the precipice in silence. In the gloomy and
vaporous gulf which his eyes explored, he distinguished a wall of
whitish rocks, which seemed to draw him towards them, and to
provoke him to an aerial voyage. He took care not to abandon
himself to this fatal attraction, and the uneasiness which it
caused him disappearing gradually, he stretched out his head and
was able to hang over the abyss with impunity. Proud at having
subdued the monster, he gave himself up for a moment to the
pleasure of gazing at a feeble light which appeared at a distance
of sixty paces, and some thirty feet beneath him. This light came
from Stephane's room; he had opened his window and closed the white
curtains in such a way that his lamp, placed behind this
transparent screen, could serve as a beacon to Gilbert without
danger of dazzling him.
"I am expected," said Gilbert to himself.
And immediately, bestriding the balustrade, he descended the
swaying rope as readily as if he had never done anything else in
He was now upon the roof. There he met with more difficulty.
Partly covered with zinc and partly with slate, this roof—the
whole length of which he must traverse—was so steep and slippery
that no one could stand erect on it. Gilbert seated himself and
remained motionless for a moment to recover himself, and the better
to decide upon his course. A few steps from this point, a huge
dormer window rose, with triangular panes of glass, and reached to
within two feet of the spout. Gilbert resolved to make his way by
this narrow pass, and from tile to tile he pushed himself in that
direction. It will readily be believed that he advanced but
slowly, much more so on account of his left arm, which, as it still
pained him, required to be carefully managed; but by dint of
patience and perseverance he passed beyond the dormer window, and
at length arrived safely at the extremity of the roof, just in
front of Stephane's window.
"God be praised, the most difficult part is over," he said to
himself, breathing freely.
But he was far from correct in his supposition. It is true he had
now only to descend upon the little roof, cross it, and climb to
the window, which was but breast-high; but before descending it was
necessary to find some support—stone, wood or iron, to which he
could fasten the second rope, which he had brought wound about his
neck, shoulders, and waist. Unfortunately he discovered nothing.
At last, in leaning over, he perceived at the outer angle of the
wall a large iron corbel, which seemed to sustain the projecting
roof; but to his great chagrin, he ascertained at the same time,
that the great roof passed three feet beyond the line of the small
one, and that if even he should succeed in attaching his second
rope to the corbel, the other end of it would float in empty space.
This reflection made him shudder; and turning his eyes from the
precipice, he examined the ridge-pole, where he thought he saw a
piece of iron projecting. He was not mistaken: it was a kind of
ornamental molding, which formed the pediment of the ridge. It was
not without great effort that he raised himself even there, and
when he found himself seated astride the beam, he rested a few
moments to breathe, and to study the strange spectacle before him.
His view embraced an immense extent of abrupt, irregular roofing,
from every part of which rose turrets of every kind, in the shape
of extinguishers, pointed gables, corners, retreating or salient
angles, bell-towers, open to the daylight, profound depths where
the gloom thickened, grinning chimneys, heavy weathercocks cutting
the milky way with their iron rods and feathered arrows; from the
top of the chapel steeple a great cross of stone, seeming to
stretch out its arms; here and there the whitish zinc, cutting the
dark blue of the slates; in spots an indistinct glittering and
flashes of pale light enveloped in opaque shadows, and then the
tops of three or four large trees which extended beyond the eaves,
as if prying into the secrets of the attic. By the glittering
light of the stars, the slightest peculiarity in the architecture
assumed singular contours, fantastic figures were profiled upon the
horizon like Chinese shadows; everywhere an air of mystery, of
curiosity, of wild surprise. All these shadows leaned towards
Gilbert, examined him, and interrogated him by their looks.
When he had recovered breath, Gilbert approached the projecting
ornament from which he proposed to suspend his rope; he had been
greatly deceived; he found that this ovolo of sheet iron, for a
long time roughly used by the elements, held only by a wretched
nail, and that it would inevitably yield to the least strain.
"It is decided," said he. "I must go by the iron corbel!" And
although it cost him an effort, his mind was soon resolutely fixed.
Impatient at the loss of so many steps and at the waste of so much
precious time in vain efforts, he redescended the roof much more
actively than he had mounted it. Arriving below, and by the power
of his will conquering a new attack of vertigo with which he felt
himself threatened, he lay down upon his face parallel with the
spout, and advancing his head and arm beyond the roof he succeeded,
not without much trouble, in tying the cord firmly to the iron
corbel. This done, without loitering to see it float, he swung
himself slowly round, and let himself glide over the edge of the
roof as far as his armpits, resting suspended by the elbows.
Critical moment! If but a lath, but a nail should break—He had no
time to make this alarming reflection; he was too much occupied in
drawing towards him with his feet the rope, and when at length he
succeeded, detaching his left arm from the roof, he seized the
corbel firmly, and soon after, his right hand removing itself in
its turn, firmly grasped the rope.
"That's not bad for a beginner," thought he.
He then began to descend, giving careful attention to every
movement. But at the moment when his feet had reached the level of
the small roof, having had the imprudence to look down into the
space beneath him, he was suddenly seized with a dizziness a
thousand times more terrible than he had yet experienced. The
whole valley began to be agitated, and rolled and pitched terribly.
By turns it seemed to rise to the sky or sink into the bowels of
the earth. Presently the motion was accelerated, trees and stones,
mountains and plains were all confounded in one black whirlwind,
which struggled with increasing fury, and from which came forth
flashes of lightning and balls of fire. Restored to himself after
a few minutes, to dispel the emotion which his frightful nightmare
caused him, he had recourse to old Homer, and recited in one breath
that passage of the Iliad where the divine bard describes the joy
of a herdsman contemplating the stars from a craggy height.
Gilbert never, in after life, read these verses without recalling
the sweet but terrible moment when he recited them suspended in
mid-air; above his head the infinite smile of starry fields, and
under his feet the horrors of a precipice. As soon as he felt more
calm, he commenced the task of effecting his descent upon the small
roof, less steep than the other, and covered with hollow tiles
which left deep grooves between them. To crown his good fortune,
the spout was surmounted from place to place by iron ornaments
imbedded in the wall and rolled up in the form of scrolls. Gilbert
imparted an oscillating motion to the rope, and when it had become
strong enough to make this improvised swing graze the gutter,
choosing his time well, he disengaged his right foot and planted it
firmly in one of the grooves, loosening at the same time his right
hand and quickly seizing one of the scrolls. Midnight sounded, and
Gilbert was astonished to find that he had spent two hours upon his
adventurous excursion. To mount the roof halfway, cross it, and
climb into the window was but a slight affair, after which, turning
the curtains aside with his hand, he called in a soft voice: "Am I
expected?" and leaped with a bound into the room.
With his chin upon his knees and his head buried in his hands,
Stephane was crouching at the feet of the holy images. Hearing and
perceiving Gilbert, he started, raised himself quickly and remained
motionless, his hands crossed above his head, his neck extended,
his lips quivering and opening with a smile, lightnings and tears
in his eyes. How paint the strangeness of his countenance? A
thousand diverse emotions betrayed themselves there. Surprise,
gratitude, shame, anxiety, long expectation at last satisfied; a
remnant of haughtiness which felt its defeat certain; an obstinate
incredulity forced to surrender; the disorder of an imagination,
enchanted, rapt, distracted, the delights of hope and the
bitterness of memory; all these appeared upon his face, and formed
a melange so confused that to see him thus laughing and crying at
once, it seemed as if it was his joy which wept and his sadness
which smiled. His first agitation dispelled, the predominating
expression of his face was a dreamy and startled sweetness. He
moved backwards from Gilbert and fell upon a chair at the end of
"Do I intrude? Must I go away?" asked Gilbert, still standing.
Stephane made no answer.
"Evidently my face does not please you," continued Gilbert, half
turning towards the window.
Stephane contracted his brows.
"Do not trifle, I beg of you," said he, in a hollow voice. "We
have serious matters between us to discuss."
"The seriousness which I prefer is that of joy."
Stephane passed his thin and taper hands nervously through his
"Joy?" said he. "It will come, perhaps, in its time, through
speaking to me about it, who knows? Now I seem to be dreaming.
The disorder of my thoughts frightens me. Ask me no questions, for
I should not know how to answer you. And then the sound of my
voice mortifies me, irritates me. It is like a discord in music.
Let me be silent and look at you."
And approaching a long table which stood in the middle of the room,
he signalled to Gilbert to place himself at one side of it and
seated himself at the other.
After a long silence, he began to express his thoughts audibly, as
if he had become reconciled to the sound of his voice:
"This bold, resolute air, so much pride in the look, so much
goodness in the smile. It is another man. Ah! into what contempt
have I fallen. I have seen nothing, divined nothing. I despised
him, I hated him,—this one whom God has sent to save me from
despair. See what was concealed under this simple unaffected air;
this serene face, whose calmness irritated me; this gentleness
which seemed servile; this wisdom which I thought pedantry; this
pliancy of disposition which I took for the meanness of a crouching
dog. All this I can it really be the same man!" He was silent for
a moment and then continued in a more assured voice:
"How did you manage to reach here? Ah! my God! that great roof is
so steep! Only to think of it makes me shudder and sets my head to
whirling. While waiting I prayed to the saints for you. Did you
feel their aid? I should like to know whether they stood by me in
this. They have so often broken faith."
Silence again, during which Stephane looked at Gilbert with a
steadiness sufficient to disconcert him.
"So you have risked your life for me!" continued the young man;
"but are you quite sure that I am worth the trouble? Come now, be
frank. Has anyone spoken to you of me? Or have you, by studying
my character, made some interesting discovery? Answer, and be
careful not to lie. My eyes are upon you, they will readily
discover if you are sincere."
"Really, you astonish me," answered Gilbert tranquilly; "and what
have I to conceal from you? All I know resolves itself into two
points. In the first place, I know that you belong to the race, to
the brotherhood of noble souls; I know, besides, that you are
unhappy.—Pardon me, I know another thing still. I know beyond a
doubt that I have conceived a lively and tender friendship for you,
and that I should be very unhappy, too, if I could not expect any
return from you."
"You feel friendship for me? How can that be?"
"Ah! a strange question! Who has ever been able to answer it? It
is the mystery of mysteries. I love you, because I love you: I
know of no other explanation. You have certainly never made any
very flattering advances to me. I think I have sometimes even had
cause to complain of you.
"Ah, well! in spite of your scorn, of your haughtiness, of your
injustice, I loved you. Ask the secret of this anomaly of Him who
created man, and who planted in his heart that mysterious power
which is called sympathy."
"Why," said Stephane, "was not this sympathy reciprocal? As for
me, from the first day I saw you I hated you. I do not know with
what eyes I looked at you, but I thought that I recognized an
enemy. Alas! suspicion and distrust invaded my heart long ago.
And mark, even at this moment I still doubt, I fear I may be the
dupe of some illusion: I believe and I do not believe, and I am
tempted to exclaim with one of the Holy Evangelists, 'My patron, my
brother, my friend, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!'"
"Your incredulity will cure itself, and be sure, a day will come
when you will say with confidence: there is in this world a soul,
sister of my own, into which I can fearlessly pour all my cares,
all my thoughts, all my sorrows and all my hopes. There is one who
occupies himself unceasingly about me, to whom my happiness is of
great moment, of supreme interest, a being to whom I can say all,
confess all; a being who loves me because he knows me, and who
knows me because he loves me; a being who sees with me, who sees in
me, and who would not hesitate, if necessary, to sacrifice
everything, even his life, upon the holy altar of friendship. And
then could you not cry out in the joy of your heart: 'God he
praised! I possess a friend! By the blessing of God I have learned
what it is to love and to be loved."
Stephane began to weep:
"To be loved!" said he. "It is a great word and I hardly dare to
pronounce it. To be loved! I have never been. I believe, though,
that my mother loved me,—what do I say? I am sure of it, but it
was a long time ago. My mother,—it is like a legend to me. It
seems to me I was not born when I knew her. I remember that she
often took me upon her knees and covered me with kisses. Such joys
are not of this world; I must have tasted them in some distant
star, where hearts are less hard than here, and where I lived some
time, a sojourn of peace and innocence. But one day my mother
dropped me from her arms, and I was thrown upon this earth where
hatred expected me and received me in her bosom. Oh, hatred! I
know her! This second mother cradled me in her arms, nourished me
with her milk, lavished upon me her careful lessons and watched
over me night and day. Ah! hatred is a marvelous providence. It
sees everything, thinks of everything, notices everything, is
omnipresent, always on the alert, unconscious of fatigue, ennui, or
sleep. Hatred! she is the mistress of this castle, she governs it;
these great corridors are full of her. I cannot take a step
without meeting her; even here in this solitary room I see her
image floating upon the paneling, upon the tapestry, about the
curtains of this bed, and often at night in my sleep, she comes and
sits upon my breast and peoples my dreams with specters and
terrors. To be hated without knowing wherefore,—what torment!
And remember, too, that in my early infancy, this father who hates
me was then a father to me. He rarely caressed me and I feared
him; he was imperious and severe; but he was a father after all,
and occasionally he took the trouble to tell us so. Often in our
presence his gravity relaxed, and I recollect that he sometimes
smiled upon me. But one day, a cursed day,—I was then ten years
old; my mother had been dead a month.—He was shut up in his room
while a week passed, during which I did not see him. I said to my
governess: 'I want to see my father.' I knocked at his door,
entered, and ran to him. He repelled me with such violence that I
fell and struck my head against the leg of a chair. I got up
bleeding, and he looked at me with scorn, laughed, and left the
room. My mind wandered, all my ideas were thrown into confusion; I
thought the sun had gone out and that the world had come to an end.
A father who could laugh at the sight of the blood gushing from his
child! And what a laugh! He has made me hear it often since, but
I have not been able to accustom myself to it yet. A fever
attacked me, and I became delirious. They put me to bed, and I
cried to those who took care of me: 'I am cold, I am cold, make me
warm.' And in that icy body I felt a heart that seemed on fire,
which consumed itself. I could have sworn that a red-hot iron had
been passed into it."
Stephane dried his tears with a curl of his hair, and then, leaning
with his elbows upon the table, he resumed in a feeble voice: "I do
not want you to be deceived. You entertain friendship for me and
you ask a return; that is very simple, friendship lives by
exchange. If I had nothing to give you, you would soon cease to
love me. Listen to me then. Yesterday, for the first time in my
life, I went into myself,—a singular fancy, which you alone have
been able to inspire in me; for the first time I examined myself
seriously, I laid hold of my heart with both hands, and examined it
as a physician does his patient; I carried my researches even to
the very bottom, and I recognized there a strange barrenness and
blight, which frightened me. It has been suffering a long time,—
this poor heart; but within a year a fearful crisis has passed
within me, which has killed it. And now there is nothing in this
breast but a handful of ashes, good for nothing but to be thrown
out of the window and scattered in the air.
"What! you are orthodox," said Gilbert, in a tone of authority;
"you believe in the saints after your own fashion, and nevertheless
you have yet to learn that death is but a word, or better, a
respite, a pause in life, a fallow time followed by fresh harvests.
You are ignorant of the fact, or you forget, that there are no
ashes so cold but that when the wind of the spirit breathes upon
them, they will be seen to start, rise up, and walk. You have left
to me the care of teaching you that your soul is capable of
rejuvenescence, of unexpected regeneration; that upon the sole
condition that you wish and desire it, you will feel unknown powers
awakened in your breast, and that without changing your nature, but
by transforming yourself from day to day, you will become to
yourself an eternal novelty!
Stephane looked at him, smiling.
"So you have crossed the roofs to come and preach conversion to me,
like Father Alexis!"
"Conversion! I don't know. I don't undertake to work miracles; but
"You speak to me much about my soul; but my life, my destiny, will
you also find the secret of transforming them?"
"That secret we will seek together. I have already some light upon
it. Only let us not press it. Before undertaking that great work,
it is essential that your heart should recover its health and
"Ingrate that I am!" cried Stephane. "My destiny! It has changed
from to-day. Yes, from this moment I am no longer alone in the
world. Frightful void in which I consumed myself, despair who with
your frightful wings made it night for an abandoned child, it is
all over now, I am delivered from you; the instrument of torture is
broken. Henceforth, I believe, I hope, I breathe! But think of
it, my friend, for me to live will be to see you, to hear you, to
speak to you. Could you come here often?"
"As often as prudence will permit,—two or three times a week. We
will choose our days well; we will consult the sky, the wind, the
stars. On other days, at propitious hours, we will place ourselves
at our windows, and communicate by signs which we will agree upon,
for it seems that you, like me, are long-sighted. And besides, I
know the sign language. I will teach it to you, and if you ever
send me such a message as this upon your fingers: 'I am sad, I am
sick, come this evening at any risk'—Well, whatever the winds and
stars may say—"
"To expose your life foolishly!" interrupted Stephane, "I would
rather die. Curses upon me if ever by a caprice— But away with
such a thought! And how long, if you please, will this happiness,
which you promise me, last? Some day, alas! retaking your liberty—"
"I have two, perhaps three years to pass here; it will even depend
upon me whether I stay longer or not. Whatever happens, be
assured, that before I leave this house, your destiny will have
changed. I have told you to believe in the seen; believe also in
"The unforeseen!" exclaimed Stephane, "I believe in it, since I
have seen it enter here by the window."
And suddenly carrying his hand to his heart, he closed his eyes,
became pale, and uttered a piteous moan. Gilbert sprang towards
him, but repulsing him gently:
"Fear nothing," said he; "joy has come, I feel it there, it burns
me. Let me enjoy a suffering so new and so sweet." He remained
some minutes with his eyes closed; then reopening them, and shaking
his beautiful head with its long curls, he said sportively:
"Sit down there quick, and teach me the deaf mute language."
"Impossible," replied Gilbert; "the hour for going has already
Stephane impatiently stamped his foot.
"Teach me at least the first two letters; if I don't know a and b,
I shall not be able to close my eyes to-night."
Gilbert, taking him by the arm, led him to the window, where,
drawing aside the curtain, he pointed out to him the stars already
paling and a vague whiteness which appeared at the horizon. Then
suddenly changing his tone, but still carried away by his impetuous
nature, which stamped upon all the movements of his mind the
character of passion, Stephane became much excited at the idea of
the dangers which his friend was about to brave.
"I will go with you," said he, "I want to know what risks you run
in coming here. To descend from the large roof to the small one,
you must have had a ladder. I want to see this ladder, I want to
assure myself that it is strong."
"Do not be afraid, I have attended to that."
"When I tell you that I wish to see it! I will believe only my own
eyes and hands. Where is this ladder? I positively must see it."
"And I forbid you to climb this window. Take my word, my rope
ladder is entirely new and very strong."
"Ah!" exclaimed Stephane, struck with a sudden idea. "I will bet
that you have fastened it to that great iron corbel, which
stretches its frightful beak up there at the angle of the wall.
And just now you were suspended in space on this treacherous
floating cord. Monstrous fool that I was not to understand it."
And to Gilbert's great astonishment, he added:
"You do not yet love me enough to have the right to run such
"Do be a little calmer," said Gilbert. "You displayed just now a
gentleness and wisdom which enchanted me. Take care; Ivan might
wake and come up."
"These walls are deafened, the flagging is thick; between this room
and the staircase there is an alcove, a vestibule, and two large
closed doors; and between the rail of this staircase and the cage
of my jailer, there is a long corridor. Besides, he is capable of
everything but rambling at night round my apartment; but what
matters it?—Let him come to surprise us, this hateful Ivan! I
will resign myself to everything rather than see you put your feet
upon that horrible ladder again. And take my word for it, if you
violate my injunction,—at that very moment before your eyes, I
will throw myself headlong down the precipice."
"You are extremely unreasonable," replied Gilbert, in a severe
tone; "I must leave here at any cost. Since my ladder displeases
you, instead of uttering a thousand follies, try rather to
Stephen struck his forehead.
"Here is my discovery," interrupted he; "opposite this window, on
the other side of the roof, there is another, which, if you can
only open it, will certainly let you into some empty lofts. Where
these lofts will take you I don't exactly know, for Ivan told me
once when he wanted to store some broken furniture there, that he
had not been able to find the entrance; but you will no doubt
discover some window near, by which you can get out upon the great
roof, half-way from your turret, and so you will be spared a great
deal of trouble and danger. Ah! if this proves so, how proud I
shall be of finding it out."
"Now you are as I like to see you," said Gilbert; "instead of
prancing like a badly-bitted horse, you are calm, and you reason."
"So to reward me you will permit me to accompany you."
"God forbid! and if you presume to go without my permission, I
swear to you that I will never come here again."
And as Stephane resisted and chafed, Gilbert took his head between
his hands, and drawing him to his breast, pressed a paternal kiss
on his forehead, just at the roots of his hair. This kiss produced
an extraordinary effect, which alarmed him; Stephane shuddered from
head to foot, and a cry escaped him.
"Awkward fellow that I am," said Gilbert in an uneasy tone; "I have
wounded you without intending it."
"No," murmured he, "it is of no consequence; but that was the place
where my mother used to kiss me. May the saints be with you. I
love you. Good-bye!"
And thus speaking he covered his face which was on fire, with both
Ah! if Gilbert had understood! But he divined nothing; he
descended to the roof, crossed it, and discovered as he groped
about, a window, all the panes of which were broken; which saved
him the trouble of opening it. When he found himself in the lofts,
he lighted the candle which he had taken the precaution to bring in
his pocket. The place which he had just entered was a wretched
garret, three or four feet wide. In front of him he noticed four
or five steps, ascended them, and opened an old door without any
fastening. This let him into a vast corridor, which had no visible
place of exit at the other end; it was infested by spiders and
rats, and encumbered with dilapidated old furniture. Gilbert
discovered, on raising his eyes, that he was in the mansard,
lighted by the great dormer window. The bolt which held the
shutter was so high up that he could not reach it with his hand.
An old rickety table stood in the corner, buried under a triple
coating of dust. Having reached the window by its aid, Gilbert
drew the bolt; he mounted upon the roof and, supporting himself by
one of the projecting timbers of the pediment, restored the shutter
to its embrasure and fastened it as well as he could; after which
he made his way once more towards the small roof; for, before
returning to his lodging, it was necessary at any cost to detach
and draw up the rope, an unimpeachable witness which would have
testified against him. While Gilbert was extended at length, fully
occupied in this delicate operation, Stephane, standing at his
window and trembling like a leaf, was tearing his handkerchief with
his beautiful teeth. The ladder withdrawn, Gilbert cried out to
"Your lofts are admirable. Hereafter, coming to see you will only
be a pleasure trip."
When he found himself again upon his balcony, dawn began to break,
and a screech owl, returning from his hunt after field mice, passed
before him and regained his hole. Gilbert waved his hand to this
nocturnal adventurer whose confrere he felt himself, and leaping
lightly into his room, was sleeping profoundly in five minutes. At
the same moment Stephane, raising his eyes to the holy images to
which he had given such terrible blows, exclaimed with a passionate
gesture: "Oh! St. George, St. Sergius, help me to keep my secret."
Yesterday evening I returned to Stephane by the dormer window and
the lofts; the journey took me but twenty minutes. There was a
slight wind, and I was glad to have nothing to do with the iron
corbel. Arriving at ten o'clock I returned half an hour after
midnight. On leaving the young man, I felt terrified and overjoyed
at the same time,—frightened at the impulsive ardor of his
temperament and at the efforts it will cost me to moderate his
impetuosity; but overjoyed, astonished at the quickness and grasp
of his mind, at his vivid imagination, and the truly Slavonian
flexibility of his naturally happy disposition. It is certain that
the sad and barren existence he has led for years would have
shattered the energies of a soul less finely tempered than his; the
vigor and elasticity of his temperament have saved him. But I
arrived just in time, for he confessed to me that the idea of
suicide had taken possession of him since that unlucky escapade
punished by fifteen hours' imprisonment.
"My first attempt was unfortunate," said he, "but I was resolved to
try again; I had sounded the ford; another time I should have
crossed the stream."
I hastened to turn the conversation, especially as he was not in
the humor to weary himself with such a gloomy subject. How happy
he appeared to see me again; how his joy expressed itself upon his
ingenuous face, and how speaking were his looks! We occupied
ourselves at first with the language of signs. Nothing escaped his
eager intellect; he complained only of my slow explanations.
"I understand, I understand," he would cry; "something else, my
dear sir, something else, I'm not a fool."
I certainly had no idea of such quickness of apprehension. "The
Slavonians learn quickly," said I, "and forget quickly too."
To prove the contrary, he answered me by signs:
"You are an impertinent fellow."
I was confounded. Then all at once:
"Extraordinary man," said, he, with a gravity which made me smile,
"tell me a little of your life."
"Extraordinary I am not at all," said I.
"And I affirm," answered he, "that humanity is composed of tyrants,
valets, and a single and only Gilbert."
"Nonsense! Gilberts are abundant."
"There is but one, there is but one," cried he, with a fire and
energy that enchanted me.
I must own I am not sorry that for the time being he looks upon me
as an exceptional being; for it is well to keep him a little in awe
of me. To satisfy him I gave him the history of my youth. This
time he reproached me for being too brief, and not going enough
As his questions were inexhaustible, I said: "After today do not
let us waste our time upon this subject. Besides, the top of the
basket shows the best that's in it."
"There may perhaps be something to hide from me?"
"No; but I will confess that I do not like to talk about myself too
much. I get tired of it very soon."
"What?" said he, in a tone of reproach, "are we not here to talk
endlessly about you, me, us?"
"Certainly, and our favorite occupation will be to entertain
ourselves with ourselves; but to render this pastime more
delightful, it will be well for us to occupy ourselves sometimes
with something else."
"With something else? With what?"
"With that which is not ourselves."
"And what do I care for anything which is neither you nor me?"
"But at all events you sometimes work, you read, you study?"
"At Martinique, Father Alexis gave me two or three hours of lessons
every day. He taught me history, geography, and among other stuff
of the same kind, the inconceivable merits and the superhuman
perfections of his eternal Panselinos. The dissertations of this
spiritual schoolmaster diverted me very little, as you may well
suppose, and I was furious that in spite of myself his tiresome
verbiage rooted itself in my memory, which is the most tenacious in
"And did he continue his instructions to you?"
"After our return to Europe, my father ordered him to teach me
nothing more but the catechism. He said it was the only study my
silly brain was fit for."
"So for three years you have passed your days in absolute
"Not at all; I have always been occupied from morning till night."
"In sitting down, in getting up, in sitting down again, in pacing
the length and breadth of my room, in gaping at the crows, in
counting the squares of these flagstones, and the tiles of the
little roof, in looking at the iron corbel and the water-spout on
top of it, in watching the clouds sailing through the empty air,
and then in lying down there in that recess of the wall, to rest
quiet, with my eyes closed, ruminating over the problem of my
destiny, asking myself what I could have done to God, that he
chastised me so cruelly, recalling my past sufferings, enjoying in
advance my sufferings to come, weeping and dreaming, dreaming and
weeping, until overcome with lassitude and exhaustion I ended by
falling asleep; or else, driven to desperation by weariness, I ran
down to Ivan's lodging, and there gave vent to my scorn, fury, and
despair, at the top of my lungs."
These words, pronounced in a tone breathing all the bitterness of
his soul, troubled me deeply. I trembled to think of this desolate
child, whose griefs were incessantly augmented by solitude and
idleness, of that soul defenselessly abandoned to its gloomy
reveries, of that poor heart maddened, and pouncing upon itself as
upon a prey; self-devouring, constantly reopening his wounds and
inflaming them, without work or study to divert him a single
instant from his monotonous torment. Oh! Count Kostia, how refined
is your hatred!
"I have an idea," I said at last. "You love flowers and painting.
Paint an herbarium."
"See this large paper. You will paint on it, in water colors, a
collection of all the flowers of this region, of all those, at
least, that you may find in your walks. If you don't know their
names, I will teach them to you, or we will seek for them
"Provided that books take no part in it."
"We will dispense with them as much as possible. I will muster up
all my knowledge to tell you the history of these pretty painted
flowers; I will tell you of their families; I will teach you how to
classify them; in short, will give you little by little, all I know
He made a hundred absurd objections,—among others, that he found
in all the flowers of the fields and the woods in this country a
creeping and servile air; then this, and then that, expressing
himself in a sharp but sportive tone.
"I shall teach you botany, my wild young colt," I said to myself,
"and not let you break loose."
I have not been able, however, to draw from him any positive
Victory! By persistent hammering I have succeeded in beating the
idea of the painted herbarium into this naughty, unruly head.
But he has imposed his conditions. He consents to paint only the
flowers that I will gather myself, and bring to him. After some
discussion I yielded the point.
"Ah!" said I, "take care to gather some yourself, for otherwise
Ivan . . ."
Sunday, July 15th.
This afternoon I took a long walk in the woods. I had succeeded in
gathering some labiates, the dead nettle, the pyramidal bell-flower
and the wild thyme, when in the midst of my occupation, I heard the
trot of a horse. It was he, a bunch of herbs and flowers in his
hand. Ivan, who according to his custom, followed him at a
distance of ten paces, regarded me some way off with an uneasy air;
he evidently feared that I would accost them; but having arrived
within a few steps of me, Stephane, turning his head, started his
horse at full gallop, and Ivan, as he passed, smiled upon me with
an expression of triumphant pity. Poor, simple Ivan, did you not
hear our souls speak to each other?
Yesterday I carried my labiates to him. After some desultory talk,
I endeavored to describe as best I could the characters of this
interesting family. He listened to me out of complaisance. In
time, he will listen to me out of curiosity, inasmuch as, to tell
the truth, I am not a tiresome master; but I dare not yet
interrogate him in a Socratic way. The SHORT LITTLE QUESTIONS
would make our hot-headed young man angry. The lesson finished, he
wished to commence his herbarium under my eyes. The honor of
precedence has been awarded to the wild thyme; its little white,
finely cut labias and the delicate appearance of the stem pleased
him, whilst he found the dead nettle and the bell flower extremely
common, and pronounced by him the word "extremely" is most
expressive. While he made pencil sketches, I told him three
stories, a fairy tale, an anecdote of Plutarch and some sketches of
the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He listened to the fairy tale
without uttering a word, and without a frown; but the other two
stories made him shake his head several times.
"Is what you are telling me really true?" said he. "Would you
wager your life upon it?" And when I came to speak of St. Francis
embracing the lepers—
"Oh! now you're exaggerating." Then speaking to St. George: "Upon
your conscience now, would you have done as much?"
He ended by becoming sportive and frolicsome. As he begged me to
sing him a little song, I hummed Cadet Roussel, which he did not
know; the "three hairs" made him laugh till the tears ran down his
cheeks, but he paid dearly for this excess of gayety. When I rose
to leave he was seized with a paroxysm of weeping, and I had much
trouble in consoling him. I repent having excited him so much. I
must humor his nerves, and never put him in that state of mind
which contrasts too strongly with the realities of his life. At
any cost I must prevent certain AWAKINGS.
I admire his conduct at the table. Seated opposite me, he never
appears to see me, whilst you, grave Gilbert, do not know at times
what to do with your eyes; but the other day he crossed the great
hall with such a quick and elastic step that the Count's attention
was drawn to him. I must caution him to be more discreet. I am
also uneasy because in our nocturnal tete-a-tetes he often raises
his voice, moves the furniture, and storms round the room; but he
assures me there is nothing to fear. The walls are thick, and the
foot of the staircase is separated from the corridor by a
projection of masonry which would intercept the sound. Then the
alcove, the vestibule, the two solid oak doors! These two doors
are never locked. Ivan, he told me, is far from suspecting
anything, and the only thing which could excite his distrust would
be excessive precaution.
"And besides," added he, "by the mercy of God he is beginning to
grow old, his mind is getting dull, and he is more credulous than
formerly. So I have easily persuaded him that I will never forgive
you, as long as I live, for the death of my dog. Then again, he is
growing hard of hearing, and sleeps like a top. Sometimes to
disturb his sleep, I amuse myself by imitating the bark of Vorace
but I have the trouble of my pains. The only sound which he never
fails to hear, is the ringing of my father's bell. I admit,
however, that if anyone presumed to touch his great ugly oak door,
he would wake up with a start. This is because his door is his
property, his object, his fixed idea: he has a way of looking at
it, which seems to say: 'you see this door? it is mine.' I
believe, that in his eyes there is nothing lovelier in the world
than a closed door. So he cherishes this horrible, this infamous
door: he smiles on it benignly, he counts its nails and covers them
"And you say that after nine o'clock he never comes up here?"
"Never, never. I should like to see him attempt it!" cried he,
raising his head with an indignant air.
"You see then, that he is a jailer capable of behaving handsomely.
I imagine that you do not like him much; but after all, in keeping
you under lock and key, he is only obeying orders."
"And I tell you he is happy in making me suffer. The wicked man
has done but one good action in his whole life,—that was in saving
you from the fury of Vorace. In consideration of this good action,
I no longer tell him what I think of him, but I think it none the
less, and it seems to me very singular that you should ask me to
"Excuse me, I do not ask you to love him, but to believe that, at
heart, he loves you."
At these words he became so furious, that I hastened to change the
"Don't you sometimes regret Vorace?"
"It was his duty to guard me against bugaboos, but I have had no
fear of them, since one of them has become my friend.
"I am superstitious, I believe in ghosts; but I defy them to
approach my bed hereafter."
He blushed and did not finish the sentence. Poor child! the
painful misery of his destiny, far from quenching his imagination,
has excited it to intoxication, and I am not surprised that he
shapes friendship to the romantic turn of his thoughts.
"You're mistaken," I said to him, "it is not my image, it is botany
which guards you against spirits. There is no better remedy for
foolish terrors than the study of nature."
"Always the pedant," he exclaimed, throwing his cap in my face.
Vladimir Paulitch appeared yesterday at the end of dinner. The
presence of this man occasions me an indefinable uneasiness. His
coldness freezes me, and then his dogmatic tone; his smile of
mocking politeness. He always knows in advance what you are going
to say to him, and listens to you out of politeness. This Vladimir
has the ironical intolerance characteristic of materialists. As to
his professional ability there can be no doubt. The Count has
entirely recovered; he is better than I have ever seen him. What
vigor, what activity of mind! What confounds me is, that in our
discussions, I come to see in him, in about the course of an hour,
only the historian, the superior mind, the scholar; I forget
entirely the man of the iron boots, the somnambulist, the
persecutor of my Stephane, and I yield myself unreservedly to the
charm of his conversation. Oh, men of letters! men of letters!
He said to me:
"I do not possess happiness yet; but it seems to me at moments,
that I see it, that I touch it."
To-day, Doctor Vladimir appeared again at dessert. He aimed a few
sarcasms at me; I suspect that I do not please him much. Will his
affection for the Count go so far as to make him jealous of the
esteem which he evinces for me? We talked philosophy. He exerted
himself to prove that everything is matter. I stung him to the
quick in representing to him that all his arguments were found in
d'Holbach. I endeavored to show him that matter itself is
spiritual, that even the stones believe in spirit. Instead of
answering, he beat about the bush. Otherwise, he spoke well, that
is to say, he expressed his gross ideas with ingenuity. What he
lacks most, is humor. He has something of the saturnine in his
mind; his ideas have a leaden tint. The Count, prompted by good
taste, saw that he held out too obstinately, without taking into
account that Kostia Petrovitch himself detests the absolute as much
in the negative as in the affirmative. He thanked me with a smile
when I said to the doctor, in order to put an end to the
"Sir, no one could display more mind in denying its existence;" and
the Count added, alluding to the doctor's meagerness of person:
"My dear Vladimir, if you deny the mind what will be left of you?"
Yesterday, to my great chagrin, I found him in tears.
"Let this inexorable father beat me," said he, "provided he tells
me his secret. I prefer bad treatment to his silence. When we
were at Martinique he had attacks of such violence that they made
my hair stand on end. I would gladly have sunk into the earth; I
trembled lest he should tear me in pieces; but he at least thought
about me. He looked at me; I existed for him, and in spite of my
terrors I felt less unhappy than now. Do not think it is my
captivity which grieves me most. At my age it is certainly very
hard and very humiliating to be kept out of sight and under lock
and key; but I should be very easily resigned to that if it were my
father who opened and closed the door. But alas! I am of so little
consequence in his eyes that he deputes the task of tyrannizing
over me to a serf. And then, during the brief moments when he
constrains himself to submit to my presence—what a severe aspect,
what threatening brows, what grim silence! Consider, too, the fact
that he has never entered this tower; no, has never had the
curiosity to know how my prison was made. Yet he cannot be
ignorant of the fact that I lodge above a precipice. He knows,
too, that once the idea of suicide took possession of me, and he
has not even thought of having this window barred."
"That is because he did not consider your attempt a serious one."
"Then how he despises me!"
I represented to him that his father was sick, that he was the
victim of a nervous disorder which deranges the most robust
organizations, that Doctor Vladimir guaranteed his cure, that once
recovered, his temper would change, and that then would be the
moment to besiege this citadel thus rendered more vulnerable.
"We must not, however, be precipitate," said I, "let us have
courage and patience."
I reasoned so well that he finally overcame his despondency. When
I see him yield to my reasoning, I have a strong impulse to embrace
him; but it is a pleasure I deny myself, as I know by experience
what it costs him. A moment afterwards, I don't know why, he spoke
to me of his sister who died at Martinique.
"Why did God take her from me?"
"Alas!" said I, "she could not have supported the life to which you
have been condemned."
"And why not, pray?"
"Because she would have suffered ten times as much as you. Think
of it,—the nerves and heart of a woman!"
He looked at me with a singular expression; apparently he could not
understand how anyone could suffer more than he. After this he
talked a long time about women, who are to him, from what he said,
an impenetrable mystery, and he repeated eagerly:
"You do not despise them, as HE does?"
"That would be impossible, I remember my mother."
"Is that your only reason?"
"Some day I will tell you the others."
As I left and was already nearly out of the window, he seized me
impetuously by the arm, saying to me:
"Could you swear to me that you would be less happy if you did not
"I swear it."
His face brightened, and his eyes flashed.
And you too are transformed, my dear Gilbert; you have visibly
rejuvenated. A new spirit has taken possession of you. Your blood
circulates more quickly; you carry your head more proudly, your
step is more elastic, there is more light in your eyes, more breath
in your lungs, and you feel a celestial leaven fermenting in your
heart. My old friend, you have emerged from your long uselessness
to give birth to a soul! Oh, glorious task! God bless mother and
Stephane is painfully astonished at the friendship which his father
displays towards me.
"He has the power of loving then, and does not love me? It is
because I am destestable!"
Poor innocent! It is certain that in spite of himself, the Count
has begun to like me. Good Father Alexis said to me the other
"You are a clever man, my son; you have cast a spell upon Kostia
Petrovitch, and he entertains an affection for you, which he has
never before manifested for anyone."
His painted herbarium is enriched every day. He already enumerates
twenty species and five families. Yesterday Stephane so far forgot
himself as to look at it with an air of satisfied pride. How happy
I was! I kept my joy to myself, however. He further delighted me
by deciding to write from memory at the bottom of each page the
French and Latin names for each plant. "It is a concession I have
made to the pedant," said he; but this did not prevent him from
being proud of having written these forty names without a mistake.
Last time I carried to him some crowsfeet and anemones. He took
the little celandine in his hand, crying:
"Let me have it; I am going to tell you the history of this little
And he then gave me all the characteristics with marvelous
accuracy. What a quick and luminous intellect, and what
overflowing humor! His hands trembled so much that I said to him:
"Keep cool, keep cool. It requires a firm and steady hand to raise
the veil of Isis."
I contented myself with explaining in a few words who Isis was,
which interested him but moderately. His masterpiece, as a
faithful reproduction of nature, is his marsh ranunculus, which I
had introduced to him under the Latin name of ranuncula scelerata.
He has so exquisitely represented these insignificant little yellow
flowers that it is impossible not to fall in love with them.
"This little prisoner has inspired me," said he. "By dint of
practicing Father Alexis, I begin to wish good to the rascals."
I rebuked him sharply, but he was not much affected by my rating.
The Count's conduct is atrocious, and yet I understand it. His
pride, his whole character, despotic; the horror of having been
deceived. . . . And besides, is he really Stephane's father? . . .
These two children born after six years of marriage, and a few
years later to discover. . . . Suspicions often have less
foundation. And then this fatal resemblance which keeps the image
of the faithless one constantly before his eyes! The more decided
the resemblance, the greater must be his hatred. Even his smile,
that strange smile which belongs to him alone, Stephane according
to Father Alexis, must have inherited from his mother. "I HAVE
BURIED THE SMILE!" Frightful cry which I can hear still! Finally,
I believe that in the barbarous hatred of this father there is more
of instinct than of system. It lives from day to day. I am sure
that Count Kostia has never asked himself: "What shall I do with my
son when he is twenty?"
Ivan, of whom I asked news of Stephane, said to me:
"Do not be uneasy about him any more. He has become much better
within the past month, and he grows more gentle from day to day;
this is the result of seeing death so near."
M. Leminof greatly astonished me this morning.
"My dear Gilbert," said he unreservedly, "I do not claim that I am
a perfect man; but I am certainly what might be called a good sort
of fellow, and I possess, in the bargain, a certain delicacy of
conscience which sometimes inconveniences me. Without flattery,
you are, my dear Gilbert, a man of great merit. Very well! I am
using you unjustly, for you are at an age when a man makes a name
and a career for himself; and these decisive years you are spending
in working for me, in collecting, like a journeyman, the materials
of a great work which will bring neither glory nor profit to you.
I have a proposition to make to you. Be my coadjutor; we will
compose this monumental work together; it shall appear under our
two names, and I give you my head upon it, shall make you famous.
We agree upon nearly all questions of fact, and as to our
difference in ideas. . . Mon Dieu! we are neither of us born
quibblers; we shall end in agreeing, and even supposing we do not
agree, I will give you carte blanche; for, to speak frankly, an
idea is not just the thing I should be ready to die for. What say
you to it, my dear Gilbert? We will not part until the task is
finished, and I fancy that we shall lead a happy life together."
In spite of his persuasions, I have not consented; he has only
drawn from me a promise that I will give him an answer within a
month. Stephane, Stephane, how awkward I shall be, if I do not
make this happy incident instrumental in accomplishing your
deliverance! The day will come when I can say to your father: For
the sake of your health, for the sake of your repose, of your
studies, of the work we have undertaken together, send this child
away from your house; his presence troubles and irritates you.
Send him to some school or college. By a single act you will make
two persons happy. Gracious Heaven, the stronghold will be hard to
take! But by dint of patience, skill and vigilance . . . have I
not already carried a fortress by storm—Stephane's heart? No, I
do not despair of success. But it will cost me dear, this success
that I hope for! To see him leave this house, to be separated from
him forever! At the very thought my heart bleeds.
Doctor Vladimir will leave us during the early part of next month.
I shall not be sorry. Decidedly this man does not please me. The
other day at the table, he looked at Stephane in a way that alarmed
The sky is propitious for my nocturnal excursions. Not a drop of
rain has fallen for six weeks. The north wind, which sometimes
blows violently in the daytime, abates regularly in the evening.
As to the vertigo, no return of it. Oh! the power of habit!
What a misfortune! Day before yesterday Stephane, in crossing a
vestibule in front of the great hall, impelled by some odd motive,
gave vent to a loud burst of laughter. The Count started from his
chair and his face became livid. To-day Soliman was sold. A horse
dealer is coming directly to take him away. Ivan, whom I just met,
had great tears in his eyes. Poor Stephane, what will he say?
It is very singular! Yesterday I expected to find him in a state
of despair. He was gay, smiling.
"I was sure," said he, "that I should pay dearly for that unlucky
burst of laughter.
"My father is mistaken; it was not a burst of gayety, but purely
nervous spasm which seized me while thinking of certain things, and
at a moment when I was not at all merry. However, besides life,
there were but two things left to take from me, my horse and my
hair, and thank God, he was not happily inspired in his choice, and
has not struck me in the most sensitive place."
"What! between Soliman and your hair."
"Isn't it beautiful?" said he quickly.
"Magnificent without any doubt!" I answered, smiling.
"I've always been a little vain of it," continued he, waving his
curls upon his shoulders; "but I value it more since I know it
"Oh! for that matter," I replied, "if you had your head shaved, I
should not love you any the less."
This answer, I don't know why, seemed to affect him deeply. During
the rest of the evening he was thoughtful and gloomy.
I thought it glorious to be able to communicate to him the
overtures which his father has made me, and the project they
suggested to me. I said to him:
"What a joy it would be to me to release you from this prison, and
yet with what bitter sadness this joy would be mingled! But
wherever you go, we will find some means of writing and of seeing
each other. The friendship between us is one of those bonds which
destiny cannot break."
"Oh, yes!" replied he in a sarcastic tone, "you will come to see me
once a year, upon my birthday, and will be careful to bring me a
He burst into a fit of laughter which much resembled that of the
How he made me suffer yesterday! I have not recovered from it yet.
What! was it he—was it to me? God! what bitterness of language;
what keen irony! Count Kostia, you make a mistake—this child is
really yours. He may have the features and smile of his mother,
but there is a little of your soul in his. What grievances can he
have against me? I can imagine but two. Sunday last, near three
o'clock, we were both at the window. He commenced a very animated
speech by signs, and prolonged it far beyond the prudential limits
which I have prescribed to him. He spoke, I believe, about
Soliman, and of a walk which he had refused to take with Ivan. I
did not pay close attention, for I was occupied in looking round to
see that no one was watching us. Suddenly I saw on the slope of
the hill big Fritz and the little goat girl, to whom he is paying
court, seated on a rock. At the moment I was about to answer
Stephane, they raised their eyes to me. I began then to look at
the landscape, and presently quitted the spot. Stephane could not
see them from his window, and of course did not understand the
cause of my retreat. The other grievance is, that for the first
time three days have passed without my paying him a visit; but day
before yesterday the wind was so violent that it overthrew a
chimney nearby, . . . and it was to punish me for such a grave
offense that he allowed himself to say that I was no doubt an
excellent botanist, an unparalleled philanthropist, but that I
understood nothing of the refinements of sentiment.
"You are one of those men," said he, "who carry the whole world in
their hearts. It is useless for you to deny it. I am sure you
have at least a hundred intimate friends."
"You are right," I replied; "it is even for the hundredth one that
I have risked my life."
During the last week, I have seen him three times. He has given me
no cause for complaint; he works, he reflects; his judgment is
forming, not a moment of ill-humor; he is calm, docile, and gentle
as a lamb. Yes, but it is this excess of gentleness which disturbs
me. There is something unnatural to me, in his condition, and I am
forced to regret the absence of those transports, and the
childishness of which I have endeavored to cure him. "Stephane,
you have become too unlike yourself. But a short time since, your
feet hardly touched the ground; lively, impetuous, and violent,
there came from your lips by turns flashes of merriment or of
anger, and in an instant you passed from enthusiasm to despair; but
in our recent interviews I could scarcely recognize you. No more
freaks of the rebellious child; no more of those familiarities
which I loved! Your glances, even, as they meet mine, seem less
assured; sometimes they wander over me doubtfully, and from the
surprise they express, I am inclined to believe that my figure must
have grown some cubits, and you can no longer take it in at a
glance. And then those sighs which escape you! Besides, you no
longer complain of anything; your existence seems to have become a
stranger to you. It must be that without my knowledge—" Ah!
unhappy child, I will know. You shall speak; you shall tell
me. . . .
Heavens! what a flood of light! Father Alexis, you did not tell me
all! The more I think of it. . . . Ah! Gilbert, what scales
covered your eyes! Yesterday I carried him that copy of the poem
of the Metamorphoses, which I had promised him. A few fragments
that I had repeated to him had inspired him with the desire of
reading the whole piece, not from the book, but copied in my hand.
We read it together, distich by distich. I translated, explained,
and commented. When we arrived at these verses: "May you only
remember how the tie which first united our souls was a germ from
which grew in time a sweet and charming intimacy, and soon
friendship revealed its power in our hearts, until love, coming
last, crowned it with flowers and with fruit—" At these words he
became agitated and trembled violently.
"Do not let us go any further," said he, pushing the paper away.
"That is poetry enough for this evening."
Then leaning upon the table, he opened and turned the leaves of his
herbarium; but his eyes and his thoughts were elsewhere. Suddenly
he rose, took a few steps in the room, and then returning to me:
"Do you think that friendship can change into love?"
"Goethe says so; we must believe it."
He took a flower from the table, looked at it a moment and dropping
it on the floor, he murmured, lowering his eyes:
"I am an ignoramus; tell me what is this love?"
"It is the folly of friendship."
"Have you ever been foolish?"
"No, and I do not imagine I ever shall be."
He remained motionless for a moment, his arms hanging listlessly;
at length, raising them slowly, he crossed his hands over his head,
one of his favorite attitudes, raised his eyes from the ground, and
looked steadily at me. Oh! what a strange expression! His wild
look, a sad and mysterious smile wandering over his lips, his mouth
which tried to speak, but to which speech refused to come! That
face has been constantly before me since last night; it pursues me,
possesses me, and even at this moment its image is stamped in the
paper I am writing on. This black velvet tunic, then, may be a
forced disguise? Yes, the character of Stephane, his mind, his
singularity of conduct,—all these things which astonished and
frightened me are now explained. Gilbert, Gilbert! what have you
done? into what abyss. . . And yet, perhaps I am mistaken, for how
can I believe— There is the dinner bell. . . I shall see HIM
Some hours later, Gilbert entered Stephane's room, and struck by
his pallor and with the troubled expression of his voice, inquired
about him anxiously.
"I assure you I am very well," Stephane replied, mastering his
emotion. "Have you brought me any flowers?"
"No, I have had no time to go for them."
"That is to say, you have not had time to think of me."
"Oh! I beg your pardon! I can think of you while working, while
reading Greek, even while sleeping. And last night I saw you in my
dreams: you treated me as a pedant, and threw your cap in my face."
"That was a very extravagant dream."
"I am not so sure about that. It seems to me that one day—"
"Yes, one day, two centuries ago."
"Is it then so long since our acquaintance commenced?"
"Perhaps not two centuries, but nearly. As for me, I have already
lived three lives: my first I passed with my mother. The second—
let us not speak of that. The third began upon the night when, for
the first time, you climbed into this window. And that must have
been a long time ago, if I can judge of it by all which has passed
since then, in my soul, in my imagination, and in my mind. Is it
possible that these two centuries have only been two months? How
can it be that such great changes have been wrought in me, in so
short a time, for they are so marvelous that I can hardly recognize
"One of these changes, of which I am proud, is that you no longer
throw your cap at my head."
"That was a liberty I took only with the pedant."
"And are you at last reconciled to him?"
"I have discovered that the pedant does not exist. There is a hero
and a philosopher in you."
"That is a discovery I did not expect from you, and one that
astonishes as much as it flatters me."
"When I tell you that I am changed throughout, and that I no longer
"And I, in spite of your transformation, recognize you very easily.
My dear Stephane has preserved his habit of exaggerating all his
impressions. Once I was a man who ought to be smothered; now I am
an extraordinary being who passes his life in executing heroic
projects. No, my poet, I am neither a scoundrel nor a knight
errant, and the best that can be said of me is that I am not a
blockhead, that I do not lack heart, and that I run over the roofs
with remarkable agility."
"No, I exaggerate nothing," he said. "I speak of things as they
are, and the proof that you are an extraordinary man is, that in
all you do, you appear perfectly simple and natural."
And as Gilbert shrugged his shoulders and smiled:
"Ah! you need not laugh!" he continued. "Feel my pulse, you will
see I have no fever. And have you not noticed how calm I have been
for several days?"
I confess that your quietness surprises me; but is it really a
calm? I suspect that you have only covered the brazier, and that
the fire smoulders under the ashes."
"And you stir up the ashes to draw out the sparks. As you please,
but I forewarn you, that you will not succeed, and that I shall
remain insensible to all your efforts."
"So for a week, you have felt more tranquil in heart and mind?"
"Yes, and I have a good reason for it. There was a great fomenter
of seditions in me, a great stirrer up of rebellion. It was my
Stephane hid his face in his hands; then after a long silence:
"No," said he, "I have not the courage to speak yet. Besides,
before making my revelation, which you will perhaps consider
extravagant, I want to prove to you more thoroughly that my senses
have been restored, and that I have become wise in your school.
Know then, that before I became acquainted with you, religion was
in my eyes, but a coarse magic in which I believed with passionate
irrationality. I considered prayer as a kind of sorcery, and
attributed to it the power of compelling the divine will; every day
I called upon Heaven to perform a miracle in my favor, and, finding
myself refused, my ungranted prayers fell back like lead upon my
heart. Then I rebelled against the celestial intelligences which
refused to yield to my enchantments, or else I sought in anguish to
ascertain to what error in form, to what neglected precaution, to
what sin of omission I could attribute the impotence of my
operations in magic and my formulas.
"And now am I nothing but a charmed dreamer, a half-crazy child, a
sick brain feeding on crochets, an incorrigible, wrong-headed
fellow? No, you admit that I have profited by your lessons; that a
grain of wisdom has fallen into my brain, and that without having
seen the bottom of things, I have at least lucid intervals. If
this be so, my Gilbert, believe what I am going to say as you would
the Holy Bible. You have worked with all your strength to cure my
soul, and there is not a more skillful physician in the world than
you. But all of your trouble would have been lost, if you had not
had by your side an all-powerful ally, whom you don't know, and
whom I am about to reveal to you. Ah! tell me, when you came into
this room the first time, did you not feel that a celestial spirit
followed in your track and entered with you? You went, he
remained, and has not left me, and never will. Look, do not these
walls speak of him? Do not these saints move their lips to murmur
his name to you? And the air we breathe here, is it not full of
those delicious perfumes which these envoys of Heaven scatter in
their earthward journeys? How strange this spirit appeared to me
at first! His face was all unknown to me, it had never appeared to
me in my dreams. Startled and bewildered, I said to him: Who then
art thou? What is thy name? And, one day, Gilbert, one day, it
was through your mouth that he answered me. Gilbert, Gilbert, oh!
what a singular company you have introduced to me in his person.
Sometimes he seated himself near me, pale, melancholy, clothed in
mourning, and breathed into my heart a venomous bitterness, such as
I had never dreamed of. And feeling myself seized with an
inexpressible desire to die; I cried out 'I know you, you must be
the brother of death!' But all at once transforming himself, he
appeared to me holding a fool's cap in his hand. He shook the
bells and sang to me songs which filled my ears with feverish
murmurings. My head turned, smoke floated before me, my dazzled
eyes were intoxicated with visions, and it seemed to me, poor
child, nourished with gall and tears, that life was an eternal
fete, upon which Heaven looked down smiling. Then I said to the
spirit: 'Now I know you better, you are the brother of folly.' But
he changed himself again, and suddenly I saw him standing erect
before me folded in the long white wings of the seraphim; at once
serious and gentle, divine reason shone in his deep eyes and the
serenity on his brow announced an inhabitant of Heaven. In these
moments, my Gilbert, his voice was more penetrating and more
persuasive than yours; he repeated your words and gave me strength
to believe in them; he engraved your lessons on my mind; he
instilled your wisdom into my folly, your soul in my soul; and know
that if the lily has drunk the juices of the earth, if the lily has
grown, if the lily should blossom one day, it shall not be from the
impotent sun rays which you brought to me in your breast, to which
thanks must be rendered; but to him, the celestial spirit, to him
who lighted in my heart a divine flame with which, may it please
God that yours too may be illuminated!" And rising at these words,
he almost gasped: "Have I said enough? Do you understand me at
"No!" answered Gilbert resolutely, "I do not understand this
celestial spirit at all."
Stephane writhed his arms.
"Cruel! you do not wish then to divine anything!" murmured he
distractedly. And going to the window, he stood some moments
leaning against it. When he turned towards Gilbert, his eyes were
wet with tears; but by one of those rapid changes which were
familiar to him, he had a smile upon his lips, "What I dare not say
to you, I have just now written," resumed he, drawing a letter from
"It was a last resort which I hoped you would not force me to call
to my aid. Oh! hard heart! to what humiliations have you not
abased my pride!" He presented the letter, but changing his mind,
"I wish to add a few words to it."
And ran and seated himself at the table. His pen had fallen on the
floor, and not being able to find it, he quickly sharpened a pencil
with a keen-edged poniard which he drew from the depths of a
"What a singular penknife you have there," said Gilbert,
"It is a Russian stiletto of Toula manufacture. It belongs to
Ivan, he lent it to me day before yesterday, when we were out
walking, to uproot a plant with. He has forgotten to take it
"You will oblige me by returning it to him," answered Gilbert; "it
is a plaything I don't like to see in your hands."
Stephane gave a sign of assent, and bent over the paper. The
letter which he had written was as follows:
"My Gilbert, listen to a story. I was eleven years old when MY
BROTHER STEPHANE died. Scarcely was he buried when my father
called me to him. He held in his hand a suit of clothes like these
I wear now, and he said to me: 'Stephane, understand me clearly.
It was my daughter that just died, my son lives still.' And as I
persisted in not understanding him, he had a coffin brought in,
placed on a table and he laid me in it; and closing the cover by
degrees, he said, 'My daughter, are you dead?' When it was
entirely closed, I decided to speak, and I cried out, 'Father, your
daughter is dead. It shall be as you desire.' Then he drew me out
of the coffin half dead with fear and horror, and exclaimed,
'Stephane, remember that my daughter is dead. Should you ever
happen to forget it' . . . He said no more, but his eyes finished
the sentence. Gilbert, at this moment the daughter of my father
comes back to life to tell you that she loves you with an
unconquerable love which she can no longer conceal. In my
simplicity, I thought at first that I loved you as you loved me;
but you yourself have taken care to undeceive me. One day you
spoke of our approaching separation, and you said to me: 'We shall
see each other sometimes!' And you did not hear the cry of my
heart which answered you; to pass a day without seeing you! What a
"When I had fairly comprehended that your friendship was a
devotion, a virtue, a wisdom, and that mine was a folly, then the
daughter of my father thought of dying, so bitter were the torments
which her rebellious pride inflicted upon her. Ah! what would I
not have given, my Gilbert, if divining who I was, you had fallen
at my feet crying: 'I too know how to love madly!'
"But no; you have understood nothing, suspected nothing. My hair,
the resemblance to my mother imprinted on my face, the smile, which
they tell me, passed from her lips to mine. . . . Oh! blindest of
men! how I have hated you at moments! But it does not really seem
that a fatality pursues me? That hand with its iron grip fastened
on my shoulder, and forcing me to prostrate myself before you, I
feel no longer, with its nails pressing into my flesh; and yet my
knees, trembling, powerless, bend under me, and again you see me
fall at your feet. Yes, my poor pride is dead indeed. The thunder
growled when it gave up its last breath. You remember that stormy
night. Glued at the window pane, I tried to pierce the darkness
with my eyes, to discern you in the midst of the tempest. All at
once the heavens were ablaze, and I saw you standing upon the ledge
of your window, bending proudly over the abyss, at which you seemed
to hurl defiance. Enveloped in flashing light, you appeared to me
like a blissful spirit, and I exclaimed to myself: 'This is one of
the elect of God! I can ask of him without shame for indulgence
and mercy!' And now, my Gilbert, do not presume to tell me that my
love is a malady, which needs only careful attention. Oh, God! all
that would be useless; the saints themselves have refused to cure
me. Do not try to terrify me, either, or speak to me of
insurmountable obstacles to our union; of dangers which threaten
us. The future! We will talk of that hereafter. Now, I want to
know but one thing; that is, if you are capable of loving me as I
love you? Friend, if hatred can change to love, would it be
impossible for friendship? . . . Gilbert, Gilbert, forget what the
refined barbarity of my father has made of me; forget my gusts of
passion, my violence, the unruliness of a badly educated child;
forget the vehemence of my language, the rudeness of my actions;
forget the fountain; my whip raised to you; forget those young
villagers I compelled to kiss my feet; forget even the cap which I
threw in your face, for, Heaven is my witness, I feel a woman's
heart awakened in my bosom; it shakes off its long sleep, it stirs,
it sighs, it speaks, and the first name it utters, the only one it
ever wants to know, is yours! . . .
"What more shall I say? I would like to appear to you in your
dreams decked as if for a fete: clothed in white, a smile upon my
lips, pearls about my neck, around my head the flowers you love—
white anemones and blue gentians. Only take care, some of the
henbane flowers have slipped into my crown. Tear them from my hair
yourself, lest their perfume instill a deadly poison into my heart.
But no, I do not wish to frighten you. Stephane is wise; she is
reasonable; she does not ask the impossible; she gives you time to
breathe; to recover yourself. Wait, if you wish it, a week, a
fortnight, a month, before coming here again; until that blessed
day dawns when you can say with your adored poet; 'In its turn,
friendship revealed its power to my heart, and at length love,
coming last, crowned it with flowers and fruit.'"
To this letter Stephane added these words: "And if that day,
Gilbert, if that day should never come—"
But here she hesitated; her hand trembled; she looked alternately
at Gilbert and the knife; then rising—
"I do not know how to finish my letter," she said. "You can easily
supply what is lacking. But you must not read it here; carry it to
your turret; you will meditate upon it there more at leisure."
And at these words, having returned the paper to him, she burst
into a fit of laughter.
"Again that same laugh, which I detest," said Gilbert, trying to
hide the anguish which was consuming him.
"Do you want to know what it means?" said the young girl, looking
him in the face. "When we were at Baden-Baden, three years ago,
Father Alexis had a fancy to take me to a gambling house, and in
entering I heard a burst of laughter much resembling those which
shock you so. 'Who is laughing in that way?' said I to the good
father. He found on inquiring that it was a man who had just
gained enormous sums, and who was preparing to play double or
"Double or quits!" added she; "to play double or quits! If I
All at once her eyes dilated, and shot fire; she turned her head
backward, and raising her arm towards Gilbert, she exclaimed:
"You know who I am, and you have condemned me in your heart. Ah!
think twice; you have my life in your hands." And recoiling a few
steps she suddenly turned, fled across the room, threw open a small
side-door, and disappeared.
How did Gilbert manage to reach his turret?
All he knows himself is, that on coming out of the dormer window,
beside himself, forgetting all idea of danger, he committed, for
the first time, the signal imprudence of walking erectly over the
roof, which ordinarily he found difficult to cross even in
crawling; seeing and hearing nothing, entirely absorbed in a single
thought, he started forward at a quick pace. From his gait and
carriage, the moon, which shone brightly in the sky, must have
taken him for a madman, or a somnambulist. He reached the end of
the roof, when a broken slate slipped under his feet. He lost his
balance, fell heavily, and it would have been all over with him,
if, in falling, his hand had not by a miracle encountered the
trailing end of his ladder, by which he had strength enough to hold
himself. Slates are brittle, and when hurled against a hard
substance break in a thousand pieces. The one which Gilbert had
just precipitated into space met a point of rock which scattered it
into fragments, one of which struck, without wounding, the hand of
a man who happened to be rambling on the border of the ravine.
As fate would have it, this evening M. Leminof had an important
letter to forward by the mail; and near nine o'clock, contrary to
all the usages and customs of his house, he had sent Fritz to a
large town about a league distant, where the courier passed during
the night. Unluckily, upon his return, Fritz saw a light shining
in the cottage of his Dulcinea. Appetite, the opportunity, some
devil also urging him, he left the road, walked straight to the
cabin, opened the door, which was only closed by a latch, entered
with stealthy tread, and surprised his beauty seated upon a stool
and mending her linen. He drew near her, said gallant things to
her, and soon began to take liberties. The damsel, frolicsome and
forward, instead of awakening her father, who slept in the
neighboring room, rushed to the door, darted out and gained upon a
run the serpentine path which ran along the edge of the ravine. A
hundred times more active than Fritz, she kept in advance of him;
then halted, called him, and the moment when he thought he was
going to seize her, she escaped and ran on faster. She continued
this game until becoming weary she hid herself behind a bush, and
laughing in her sleeve, saw the amorous giant pass her, continue to
ascend, reeking with sweat, slipping frequently, and constantly
fearing he would fall down the precipice. At length, by dint of
scrambling, he arrived at the place where the path ended at the
perpendicular fall of the precipice, a height of forty feet. By
what means had his fantastic princess scaled this wall? All at
once he heard a silvery voice which called him below. In his rage
he struck his forehead with his fist; but at the moment he was
about to descend, a singular noise struck his ear—a piece of slate
grazed his hand and drew from him an exclamation of surprise.
Raising his head quickly, and favored by the light of the moon, he
saw upon his right a shadow suspended in the air. It mounted,
stopped upon the ledge of a window, stooped down and soon
"Oh! oh!" said he, much astonished, "here's something odd!
Monsieur secretary goes out at night, then, to make the rounds of
the roofs? And for this we have provided ourselves with rope
ladders. I am much mistaken if his Excellency, the Count, will
relish this little amusement. Peste, the jolly fellow has a good
foot and a good eye. There must be a great deal to gain to risk
his skin this way. Faith! these demure faces are not to be
The great Fritz was so stupefied with his discovery that he seated
himself a moment upon a stone to collect his thoughts. The fine
idea which his thick skull brought forth was that the secretary
belonged to the illustrious brotherhood of ambidexters, and that
his nocturnal circuits had for their object the search for hidden
treasure. Proud of his sagacity, and delighted with the
opportunity to satisfy his resentment, he descended the path, not
without trouble, and deaf to the voice and the laughter of his
enchantress, who challenged him to new trials, he regained the road
and strode on to the castle.
"Oh! then, Mr. Secretary," said the knave to himself with a wicked
smile, "you threw me down a staircase, and thought you'd get me
turned out of doors. What will you say if I make you go out by the
The next day—it was the second Sunday of September—Gilbert went
out at about ten o'clock in the morning, and directed his steps to
a wild and solitary retreat. It was a narrow glade upon the
borders of a little pond dried up by the summer heat, near which he
had often gathered plants for Stephane. Among groups of trees
which straggled up on all sides, under a patch of blue sky, a
ground of blackish clay, cracked and creviced, herbage, dried
rushes; here and there some patches of stagnant water, the surface
of which was rippled by the gambols of the aquatic spider; further
on a large tuft of long-plumed reeds, which shivered at the least
breath and rocked upon their trembling stems drowsy red butterflies
and pensive dragonflies; upon the steep banks of the pond, sad
flowers, pond weed, the marsh clover, the sand plantain; in a
corner, a willow with roots laid bare, which hung over the
exhausted pool as if looking for its lost reflection; around about,
nettles, briars, dry heather, furze, stripped of its blossoms; that
damp and heavy atmosphere which is natural to humid places; the
light of day thinly veiled by the exhalations from the earth; an
odor of decaying plants, long silence interrupted by dull sounds;
an air of abandonment, of idleness, of lassitude, the melancholy
languor of a life departing regretfully; the recollection of
something which was, and will never reappear, never! Such was the
word which this wild solitude murmured to Gilbert's ear. Never!
repeated he to himself, and his heart was oppressed by a sense of
the irretrievable. He seated himself upon the sward, a few steps
from the willow, his elbows upon his knees, and his head in his
hands, and lost himself in long and painful meditation. I shall
tell all; he felt at intervals in the depths of his being, in the
very depths, the agitation of a secret joy which he dared not
confess to himself; but it was a passing movement of his soul which
he did not succeed in defining in the midst of the whirlwind which
shook him. And then, in such a moment, he thought but little of
asking himself what he could or could not feel. His mind was
elsewhere. Sometimes he sought to picture to himself all the
successive phases of this unhappy existence, of which, henceforth,
he held the key; sometimes he felt a tender admiration for the
energy and elasticity of this young soul which unparalleled
misfortunes had not been able to crush. And now to abandon him, to
break such close and sweet ties, was it not to condemn him to
despair, to deliver him up a victim to the violence of his passions
rendered more violent by unhappiness? Ought he not at least to
attempt to draw from his impulsive heart this fatal arrow, this
baleful love which to his eyes was a danger, an extravagance, a
calamity? And from reflection to reflection, from anxiety to
anxiety, he always returned to deplore his own blindness. The
eccentricities of Stephane's conduct, certain salient points in his
character, the passionate ABANDON of his language; his face, his
hair, his glances, the charm of his smile; how was it that so many
of his indications had escaped him? And this want of penetration
which resulted from the rather unromantic character of his mind, he
attributed to bluntness of sensibility and charged himself with it
as a crime. He was profoundly absorbed in his reverie when the cry
of a raven aroused him. He opened his eyes, and when he had lost
sight of the croaking bird, which crossed the glade in rapid
flight, he looked for a moment at a handsome variegated butterfly
which fluttered about the willow; then noticing in the grass,
within reach of his hand, a pretty little marsh flower, he drew it
carefully from the soil with its root and set about its examination
with an attentive eye. He admired the purple tint of its pistil
and the gold of its stamens, which contrasted charmingly with the
brilliant whiteness of the petals, and said unconsciously: "There
is a lovely flower which I have not yet shown to my Stephane: I
must carry it to him."
But instantly recollecting himself, and throwing away the innocent
flower spitefully, he exclaimed:
"Oh, fortune, what singular games you play!"
"Yes, fortune is singular!" answered a voice which was not unknown
to him; and before he had time to turn, Dr. Vladimir was seated
Vladimir Paulitch had employed his morning well. Scarcely out of
bed, he had given a private audience to Fritz, who, not daring to
address his master directly, for his frowns always made him
tremble, had come to ask the doctor to receive his revelations and
obligingly transmit them to his Excellency. When in an excited and
mysterious tone he had disclosed his important secret:
"There is nothing astonishing in that," replied Vladimir coldly.
"This young man is a somnambulist, and the conclusion of your
little story is, that his window must be barred. I will speak to
Count Kostia about it."
Upon which Fritz slunk away discomfited and much confused at the
turn the adventure had taken.
After his departure, Vladimir Paulitch concluded to take a walk
upon the grassy hillock, and on his way said to himself: "Have my
suspicions, then, been well founded?"
He had passed an hour among the rocks, studying the spot, examining
the aspect of the castle from this side, and particularly the
irregularities of the roof. As his eyes rested on the square tower
which Stephane occupied, he saw him appear at the window, and
remain there some minutes, his eyes fixed upon Gilbert's turret.
"Aha! Now we see how matters stand!" said he, "but to risk his
head in this way, our idealist must be desperately in love. And
he'll carry it through! We must find him and have a little chat."
In reascending to the castle, Vladimir had seen Gilbert turn into
the woods, and without being perceived, had followed him at a
"Yes, fortune is singular!" repeated he, "and we must resist it
boldly and brave it resolutely, or submit humbly to its caprices
and die. This is but reasonable; half measures are expedients of
fools. As for me, I have always been the partisan of sequere Deum,
which I interpret thus: 'Take luck for your guide, and walk on
And as Gilbert made no answer, he continued:
"May I presume to ask you what caused you to say, just now, that
fortune plays us odd tricks?"
"I was thinking," replied Gilbert, tranquilly, "of the emperor,
Constantine the Great, who you know—"
"Ah! that is too much," interrupted Vladimir. "What! on a
beautiful morning, in the midst of the woods, before a little
dried-up pond, which is not without its poetry, seated in the grass
with a pretty white flower in your hand—the emperor, Constantine,
the subject of your meditations? As for me, I have not such a
well-balanced head, and I will confess to you that just now, in
rambling among the thickets, I was entirely occupied with the
singular games of my own destiny, and what is more singular still,
I felt the necessity of relating them to someone."
"You surprise me," replied Gilbert; "I did not think you so
"And who of us," resumed Vladimir, "never contradicts his own
character? In Russia the duties of my position oblige me to be
reserved, secret, enveloped in mystery from head to foot, a great
pontiff of science, speaking but in brief sentences and in an
oracular tone; but here I am not obliged to play my role, and by a
natural reaction, finding myself alone in the woods with a man of
sense and heart, my tongue unloosens like a magpie's. Let us see;
if I tell you my history do you promise to be discreet?"
"Undoubtedly. But if you must have a confidant, how happens it
that intimate as you are with Count Kostia—"
"Ah, precisely! when you know my history you will understand for
what reason in my interviews with Kostia Petrovitch I speak often
of him, but rarely of myself."
And at these words Vladimir Paulitch turned up his sleeves, and
showing his wrists to Gilbert; "Look!" he said. "Do you see any
mark, any scar?"
"No, I cannot detect any."
"That is strange. For forty years, however, I have worn handcuffs,
for such as you see me—I, Vladimir Paulitch; I, one of the first
physicians of Russia; I, the learned physiologist, I am the refuse
of the earth, I am Ivan's equal; in a word, I am a serf!"
"You a serf!" exclaimed Gilbert, astonished.
"You should not be so greatly surprised; such things are common in
Russia," said Vladimir Paulitch, with a faint smile. "Yes, sir,"
he resumed, "I am one of Count Kostia's serfs, and you may imagine
whether or not I am grateful to him for having had the goodness to
fashion from the humble clay of which nature had formed one of his
moujiks, the glorious statue of Doctor Vladimir Paulitch. However,
of all the favors he has heaped upon me the one which troubles me
most is, that, thanks to his discretion, there were but two men in
the world, himself and myself, who knew me for what I am. Now
there are three.
"My parents," continued he, "were Ukraine peasants, and my first
profession was taking care of sheep; but I was a born physician.
The sick, whether men or sheep, were to my mind the most
interesting of spectacles. I procured some books, acquired a
slight knowledge of anatomy and chemistry, and by turns I
dissected, and hunted for simples, the virtues of which I tried
with indefatigable ardor. Poor, lacking all resources, brought up
from infancy in foolish superstitions, from which I had the trouble
in emancipating myself; living in the midst of coarse, ignorant men
degraded by slavery, nothing could repulse me or discourage me. I
felt myself born to decipher the great book of nature, and to wring
from it her secrets. I had the good fortune to discover some
specifics against the rot and tag sore. That rendered me famous
within a circuit of three leagues. After quadrupeds, I tried my
hand on bipeds. I effected several happy cures, and people came
from all parts to consult me. Proud as Artaban, the little
shepherd, seated beneath the shade of a tree, uttered his
infallible oracles, and they were believed all the more implicitly,
as nature had given to his eyes that veiled and impenetrable
expression calculated to impose upon fools. The land to which I
belonged was owned by a venerable relative of Count Kostia. At her
death she left her property to him. He came to see his new domain;
heard of me, had me brought into his presence, questioned me, and
was struck with my natural gifts and precocious genius. He had
already proposed to found a hospital in one of his villages where
he resided during the summer, and it occurred to him that he could
some day make me useful there. I went with him to Moscow.
Concealing my position from everyone, he had me instructed with the
greatest care. Masters, books, money, I had in profusion. So
great was my happiness that I hardly dare to believe in it, and I
was sometimes obliged to bite my finger to assure myself that I was
not in a dream. When I reached the age of twenty, Kostia
Petrovitch made me enter the school of medicine, and some years
later I directed his hospital and a private asylum which he founded
by my advice. My talents and success soon made me known. I was
spoken of at Moscow, and was called there upon consultations. Thus
I was in a fair way to make a fortune, and what gratified me still
more, I was sought after, feted, courted, fawned upon. The little
shepherd, the moujik, had become King and more than King, for a
successful physician is adored as a god by his patients; and I do
not believe that a pretty woman gratifies her lovers with half the
smiles which she lavishes freely upon the magician upon whom depend
her life and her youth. At this time, sir, I was still religious.
Imagine the place Count Kostia held in my prayers, and with what
fervor I implored for him the intercession of the saints and of the
blessed Mary. Prosperity, nevertheless, has this much of evil in
it; it makes a man forget his former self.
"Intoxicated with my glory and success, I forgot too soon my youth
and my sheep, and this forgetfulness ruined me. I was called to
attend a cavalry officer retired from service. He had a daughter
named Pauline; she was beautiful and charming. I thought myself
insensible to love, but I had hardly seen her before I conceived a
violent passion for her. Bear in mind that I had lived until that
time as pure as an ascetic monk; science had been my adored and
lofty mistress. When passion fires a chaste heart, it becomes a
fury there. I loved Pauline with frenzy, with idolatry. One day
she gave me to understand that my folly did not displease her. I
declared myself to her father, obtained his consent, and felt as if
I should die of happiness. The next day I sought Count Kostia, and
telling him my story, supplicated him to emancipate me. He
laughed, and declared such an extravagant idea was unworthy of me.
Marriage was not what I required. A wife, children, useless
encumbrances in my life! Petty delights and domestic cares would
extinguish the fire of my genius, would kill in me the spirit of
research and vigor of thought. Besides, was my passion serious?
From what he knew of my disposition, I was incapable of loving. It
was a fantastic trick which my imagination had played me. Only
remain a week without seeing Pauline, and I would be cured. My
only answer was to throw myself at his feet. I glued my mouth to
his hands, watered his knees with my tears, and kissed the ground
before him. He laughed throughout, and asked me with a sneer, if
to possess Pauline it were necessary to marry her. My love was an
adoration. At these insulting words anger took possession of me.
I poured forth imprecations and threats. Presently, however,
recovering myself, I begged him to forgive my transports, and
resuming the language of servile humility, I endeavored to soften
that heart of bronze with my tears. Trouble lost; he remained
inflexible. I rolled upon the floor and tore my hair; and he still
laughed— That must have been a curious scene. Recollect that at
this epoch I was quite recherche in my costume. I had an
embroidered frill and very fine ruffles of point d'Alencon. I wore
rings on every finger, and my coat was of the latest style and of
elegant cut. Fancy, also, that my deportment, my gait, my air
breathed of pride and arrogance. Parvenus try it in vain, they
always betray themselves. I had a high tone, an overbearing
manner. I enveloped myself in mysterious darkness, which obscured
at times the brightness of my genius, and as I had accomplished
several extraordinary cures, strongly resembling miracles, or
tricks of sorcery, my airs of an inspired priest did not seem out
of place, and I had devotees who encouraged these licenses of my
pride by the excess of their humility. And then, behold, suddenly,
this man of importance, this miraculous personage, flat upon his
face, imploring the mercy of an inexorable master, writhing like a
worm of the earth under the foot which crushed his heart! At last
Kostia Petrovitch lost patience, seized me in his powerful hands,
set me upon my feet, and pushing me violently against the wall,
cried in a voice of thunder, 'Vladimir Paulitch, spare me your
effeminate contortions, and remember who I am and who you are. One
day I saw an ugly piece of charcoal in the road. I picked it up at
the risk of soiling my fingers, and, as I am something of a
chemist, I put it in my crucible and converted it into a diamond.
But just as I have set my jewel, and am about to wear it on my
finger, you ask me to give it up! Ah! my son, I do not know what
keeps me from sending you back to your sheep. Go, make an effort
to conquer your passion; be reasonable, be yourself again. Wait
until my death, my will shall emancipate you; but until then, even
at the risk of your displeasure, you shall be my THING, my
PROPERTY. Take care you do not forget it, or I will shatter you in
pieces like this glass;' and, seizing a phial from the table, he
threw it against the wall, where it broke in fragments.
"Sir, Count Kostia displayed a little too much energy at the time,
but at bottom he was right. Was it just that he should lose all
the fruits of his trouble? Think what a gratification it was to
his pride, to be able to say to himself, 'The great doctor, so
feted, so admired, is my thing and my property.' His words were
true; he wore me as a ring upon his finger. And then he foresaw
the future. For two consecutive years it has only been necessary
for him to move the end of his forefinger, to make me run from the
heart of Russia to soothe his poor tormented nerves. You know how
the heart of man is made. If he had had the imprudence to
emancipate me, I should have come last year out of gratitude; but
While Vladimir spoke, Gilbert thought to himself, "This man is
truly the compatriot of Count Leminof."
And then recalling the amiable and generous Muscovite with whom he
had once been intimate, he justly concluded that Russia is large,
and that nature, taking pleasure in contrasts, produces in that
great country alternately the hardest and the most tender souls in
"One word more," continued Vladimir: "Count Kostia was right; but
unfortunately passion will not listen to reason. I left him with
death in my heart, but firmly resolved to cope with him and to
carry my point. You see that upon this occasion I observed but
poorly the great maxim, Sequere fatum. I flattered myself I should
be able to stem the current. Vain illusion!—but without it would
one be in love? Pauline lived in a small town at about two leagues
from our village. Whenever I had leisure, I mounted a horse and
flew to her. The third day after the terrible scene, I took a
drive with this amiable girl and her father. As we were about to
leave the village, I was seized with a sudden trembling at the
sight of Count Kostia on the footpath, holding his gold-headed cane
under his arm and making his way quietly toward us. He recognized
us, smiled agreeably, and signed to the coachman to stop and to me
"Plague upon the thoughtless fellow! whip up, coachman!" cried
But I had already opened the door.
"Excuse me," said I, "I will be with you in a moment." And while
saying these words I was so pale that she became pale, too, as if
assailed by a dark presentiment. Kostia Petrovitch did not detain
me long. After saluting me with ceremonious politeness, he said in
a bantering tone:
"Vladimir, faith she is really charming. But I am sorry to say
that if your engagement is not broken off before this evening, to-
morrow this pretty girl will learn from me who you are."
After which, saluting me again, he walked away humming an aria.
"Money, sir, had always appeared to me so small a thing compared
with science and glory; and besides, my love for Pauline was so
free from alloy, that I had never conceived the idea of informing
myself in regard to her fortune, or the dowry which she might bring
to me. That evening, as we took tea together in the parlor of my
expected father-in-law, I contrived to bring up this important
question for consideration, and expressed views of such a selfish
character, and displayed such a sordid cupidity, that the old
officer at last became indignant. Pauline had a proud soul; she
listened to us some time in silence, and then rising, she crushed
me with a look of scorn, and, extending her arm, pointed me the
door. That devil of a look, sir, I have not forgotten; it has long
pursued me, and now I often see it in my dreams.
"Returning home, I tried to kill myself; but so awkwardly that I
failed. There are some things in which we never succeed the first
time. I was prevented from renewing the attempt by the Sequere
fatum, which returned to my memory. I said to the floods which
beat against my exhausted breast: 'Carry me where you please; you
are my masters, I am your slave.'
"And believe me, sir, this unhappy adventure benefited me. It led
me to salutary reflection. For the first time I ventured to think,
I eradicated from my mind every prejudice which remained there, I
took leave of all chimeras, I saw life and the world as they are,
and decided that Heaven is a myth. My manners soon betrayed the
effect of the enlightenment of my mind. No more arrogance, no more
boasting. I did not divest myself of pride, but it became more
tractable and more convenient; it renounced ostentation and vain
display; the peacock changed into a man of good breeding. This,
sir, is what experience has done for me, assisted by Sequere fatum.
It has made me wise, an honest man and an atheist. So I said a
little while afterwards to Count Kostia:
"'Of all the benefits I have received from you, the most precious
was that of delivering me from Pauline. That woman would have
ruined me. Ah, Count Kostia, how I laugh to myself when I recall
the ridiculous litanies with which I once regaled your ears. You
knew me well. A passing fancy—a fire of straw. Thanks to you,
Kostia Petrovitch, my mind has acquired a perspicuity for which I
shall be eternally grateful to you.
"This declaration touched him; he loved me the more for it. He has
always had a weakness for men who listen to reason. Until then,
notwithstanding the marks of affection which he lavished upon me,
he had always made me feel the distance between us. But from that
day I became intimate with him; I participated in his secrets, and,
what cemented our friendship still more, was that one day I had an
opportunity of saving his life at the risk of my own."
"And Pauline?" said the inquisitive and sympathetic Gilbert.
"Ah! Pauline interests you! Comfort yourself. Six months after
our rupture she made a rich marriage. She still lives in her
little town; she is happy, and has lost none of her beauty. I meet
her sometimes in the street with her husband and children, and I
have the pleasure of seeing her turn her head always from me. And
I, too, sir, have children; they are my pupils. They are called in
Moscow THE LITTLE VLADIMIRS, and one of them will become some of
these days a great Vladimir. I have revealed all my secrets to
him, for I do not want them to die with me, and my end may be near.
I have yet an important work to accomplish; and when my task is
finished, let death take me. The life of the little shepherd of
Ukraine has been too exciting to last long. 'Short and sweet,' is
And at these words, leaning suddenly towards Gilbert, and looking
him in the eye:
"Apropos," said he, "were you really thinking of Constantine, the
emperor, when you exclaimed: 'Oh, fortune! what strange tricks you
Gilbert was nearly disconcerted by this sudden attack, but promptly
"Ah! ah!" thought he, "it was not for nothing, then, that you told
me your history; you had a purpose! Who knows but that Count
Leminof has sent you to get my confidence?"
Vladimir employed all the skill he possessed to make Gilbert speak;
his insidious questions were inexhaustible: Gilbert was
impenetrable. From time to time they looked steadily at each
other, each seeking to embarrass his adversary, and to surprise his
secret, but in vain; they fenced with glances, but they were both
so sure in the parries, that not a thrust succeeded. At last
Vladimir lost patience.
"My dear sir," exclaimed he, "I have the weakness to put faith in
dreams, and I had one the other night which troubled me very much.
I dreamed that Count Kostia had a daughter, and that he made her
very unhappy, because she had the twofold misfortune of not being
his daughter, and of resembling in a striking manner a woman whose
remembrance he did not cherish. You see that dreams are as
singular as the tricks of fortune. But the most serious matter
was, that the unhappiness and beauty of this child had strongly
touched your heart and that you had conceived an ardent passion for
"'What must I do?' you said to me one day.
"Then I related my story to you, and said: 'You know the character
of Kostia Petrovitch. Do not hope to move him, it would be an
amusement for him to break your heart. If I had been as much in
love as you are, I should have carried off Pauline and fled with
her to the ends of the world. An elopement!—that is your only
resource. And mark (it was in my dream that I spoke thus), and
mark—if you perform this bold stroke successfully, the Count, at
first furious to see his victim escape him, will at last be
reconciled to it. The sight of this child is a horror to him; even
the tyranny which he exercises over her excites him and disorders
his nerves. After she has left him, he will breathe more freely,
will enjoy better health, and will pardon the ravisher, who will
have relieved his life of the ferment of hatred which torments him.
Then you can treat with him, and I shall be much mistaken if it is
long before your dear mistress becomes your wife.' It was thus I
repeat, that I spoke to you in my dream, and I added: 'Do not lose
an instant; there is danger in remaining here. Kostia Petrovitch
has suspicions; to-morrow perhaps it will be too late!'"
"And then you awoke," interrupted Gilbert, laughing.
Then rising, he continued:
"Your dreams have no common sense, my dear Doctor; for without
taking into consideration that M. Leminof has no daughter, the
faculty of loving has been denied to me by nature, and the only
abduction of which I am capable is that of ink spots from a folio.
With a little chlorine you see—"
He took a few steps to pick up the little flower which he had
thrown away, and continued as he retraced with Vladimir the path
which led to the castle. "Let us speak of more serious things. Do
you know the family of this pretty flower?"
Thus walking on they conversed exclusively upon botany, and having
arrived at the terrace, separated amicably. Vladimir saw Gilbert
move away, and then muttered between his teeth:
"Ha! you won't speak, you refuse me your confidence, and you only
take off spots of ink! Then let your fate work itself out!"
Shall I describe the feelings which agitated Gilbert's heart? They
will readily be divined. In addition to the anxiety which preyed
upon him, a further and greater source of uneasiness was the fear
that all had been discovered. "In spite of my precautions,"
thought he, "some spy stationed by the Count may have seen me
running over the roof, but it is very improbable.
"I am inclined to believe rather, that the lynx eyes of Vladimir
Paulitch have read Stephane's face. At the table he has watched
her narrowly. Perhaps, too, my glances have betrayed me. This
mind, coarse in its subtilty, has taken for a common love the
tender and generous pity with which a great misfortune has inspired
me. Doubtless he has informed the Count, and it was by his order
that he attempted to force my confidence and to draw out my
intentions. Stephane, Stephane, all my efforts then will have but
resulted in heaping upon your head new misfortunes!" He was calmed
a little, however, by the reflection that she had authorized him of
her own accord to remain away from her for at least two weeks.
"Before that time expires," thought he, "I shall have devised some
expedient. It is, first of all, important to throw this terrier,
who is upon our track, off the scent. Fortunately he will not be
here long. His departure will be a great relief to me, for he is a
dangerous person. If only Stephane will be prudent!"
Dinner passed off well! Vladimir did not make his appearance. The
Count was amiable and gay. Stephane, although very pale, was as
calm as on the preceding days, and his eyes did not try to meet
those of Gilbert, who felt his alarm subsiding; but when they had
risen from the table, Kostia Petrovitch having left the room first,
his daughter had time, before following him, to turn quickly, draw
from her sleeve a little roll of paper, and throw it at Gilbert's
feet; he picked it up, and what was his chagrin when, after having
locked himself in his room, he read the following lines: "The
spirit of darkness has returned to me! I could not close my eyes
last night. My head is on fire. I fear, I doubt, I despair. My
Gilbert, I must at any cost see you this evening, for I feel myself
capable of anything. Oh, my friend! come at least to console me—
come and take from my sight the knife which remains open on my
Gilbert passed two hours in indescribable anguish. Whilst day
lasted, he stood leaning upon his window sill, hoping all the time
that Stephane would appear at hers, and that he could communicate
to her by signs; but he waited in vain, and already night began to
fall. He deliberated, wavered, hesitated. At last, in this
internal struggle, one thought prevailed over all others. He
imagined he could see Stephane, pale, disheveled, despair in her
eyes; he thought he could see a knife in her hands, the slender
blade flashing in the darkness of the night. Terrified by these
horrible fancies, he turned a deaf ear to prudential counsels,
suspended his ladder, descended, crossed the roofs, clambered up
the window, and sprang into the room. Stephane awaited him,
crouching at the feet of the saints. She rose, bounded forward,
and seized the knife lying upon the table with a convulsive motion,
turned the point towards her heart, and cried in a vibrating voice:
"Gilbert, for the first and last time, do you love me?"
Terrified, trembling, beside himself, Gilbert opened his arms to
her. She threw the poniard away, uttered a cry of joy, of
delirium, leaped with a bound to her friend, threw her arms about
him, and hanging upon his lips she cried:
"He loves me! he loves! I am saved."
Gilbert, while returning her caresses, sought to calm her
excitement; but all at once he turned pale. From the neighboring
alcove came a sigh like that he had heard in one of the corridors
of the castle.
"We are lost!" gasped he in a stifled voice. "They have surprised
But she, clinging to him, her face illuminated by delirious joy,
"You love me! I am happy. What matters the rest?"
At this moment the door of the alcove opened and Count Kostia
appeared upon the threshold, terrible, threatening, his lips
curling with a sinister smile. At this sight his daughter slowly
raised her head, then took a few steps towards him, and for the
first time dared to look that father in the face, who for so many
years had held her bowed and shuddering under his iron hand. Then
like a young lion with bristling mane, her hair floating in
disorder upon her shoulders, her body quivering, her brows
contracted, with flashing eyes and in a thrilling voice, she cried:
"Ah! it really is you then, sir!
"You are welcome. You here, great God! Truly these walls ought to
be surprised to see you. Yes, hear me, deaf old walls: the man you
see there upon the threshold is my father! Ah, tell me, would you
not have divined it by the tenderness in his face, by that smile
full of goodness playing about his lips?" And then she added:
"Unnatural father, do you remember yet that you once had a
daughter? Search well, you will find her, perhaps, at the bottom
of your memory. Very well! this daughter whom you killed, has just
left her coffin, and he who resuscitated her is the man before
you." Then more excitedly still: "Oh, how I love him, this divine
man! and in loving him, obedient daughter that I am, what have I
done but execute your will? for was it not you yourself who one day
threw me at his feet? I have remained there."
At these words, exhausted by the excess of her emotion, her
strength deserted her. She uttered a cry, closed her eyes, and
sank down. Gilbert, however, had already sprang towards her; he
raised her in his arms and laid her inanimate form in an armchair;
then placing himself before her, made a rampart of his body. When
he turned his eyes upon the Count again, he could not repress a
shudder, for he fancied he saw the somnambulist. The features of
Kostia Petrovitch were distorted, his eyes bloodshot, and his fixed
and burning pupils seemed almost starting from their sockets. He
bent down slowly and picked up the knife, after which he remained
some time motionless without giving any signs of life except by
passing his tongue several times over his lips, as if to assuage
the thirst for blood which consumed him. At last he advanced, his
head erect, his arm holding the knife suspended in the air, ready
to strike. As he drew near, Gilbert recovered all his composure,
and in a clear, strong voice, cried out:
"Count Leminof, control yourself, or you will lose your reason."
And as the frightful phantom still advanced, he quickly uncovered
his breast, and exclaimed in a still louder voice:
"Count Kostia, strike, here is my heart, but your blows will not
reach me,—the specter of Morlof is between us."
At these words the Count uttered a cry like a fallow deer, followed
by a long and plaintive sigh. A terrible internal struggle
followed; his brow contracted; the convulsive movements which
agitated his body, and the flakes of foam which stood upon his
lips, testified to the violence of the effort he was making.
Reason at length returned; his arms fell and the knife dropped, the
muscles of his face relaxed, and his features by degrees resumed
their natural expression. Then turning in the direction of the
alcove, he called out:
"Ivan, come and take care of your young mistress, she has fainted."
Ivan appeared. Who could describe the look which he threw upon
Gilbert? Meanwhile the Count had reentered the alcove; but
returned immediately with a candle, which he lighted quietly, and
then, with an easy gesture, said to Gilbert:
"My dear sir, it seems to me we are in the way here. Be good
enough to leave with me by the staircase; for please God, you do
not return by the roof. If an accident should happen to you, the
Byzantines and I would be inconsolable!"
Gilbert was so constituted, that at this moment M. Leminof inspired
him more with pity than anger. He obeyed, and preceding him a few
steps, crossed the alcove and the vestibule and descended the
stairs. When at the entrance of the corridor, he turned, and
placing his back against the wall, said sadly:
"I have a few words to say to you!"
The Count, stopping upon the last step, leaned nonchalantly over
the balustrade and answered, smiling:
"Speak, I am ready to hear you; you know it always gives me
pleasure to talk with you."
"I beg you, sir," said Gilbert, "to pardon your daughter the
bitterness of her language. She spoke in delirium. I swear to you
that at the bottom of her heart, she respects you, and that you
have only to wish it to have her love you as a father."
M. Leminof answered only by a shrug of the shoulders, which
signified—"What matters it to me?"
"I am bound to say further," resumed Gilbert, "that your anger
ought to fall upon me alone. It was I who sought this child, who
hated me; and I constrained her to receive me. I pressed my
attentions upon her and had no peace or rest until I had gained her
The Count shrugged his shoulders again, as much as to say: "I
believe you, but how does that change the situation?"
"As for me," continued Gilbert, "I assure you, upon my honor, that
it was only yesterday I drew from your daughter her secret."
The Count answered:
"I believe you readily; but tell me, if you please, is it true that
you now love this little girl as she loves you?"
Gilbert reflected a moment; then considering only the dignity and
interests of Stephane, he replied:
"Yes, I love her with a pure, deep love."
A sarcastic joy appeared upon the Count's face.
"Admirable!" said he; "that is all I wish to know. We have nothing
more to say."
Gilbert raised his head: "One word more, sir!" he exclaimed. "I do
not leave you until you have sworn to me that you will not touch a
hair of your daughter's head, and that you will not revenge
yourself upon her for my well-meant imprudence."
"Peste!" said the Count, laughing, "you are taking great airs; but
I owe you some gratitude, inasmuch as your coolness has saved me
from committing a crime which would have been a great folly, for
only fools avenge themselves with the knife. So I shall grant you
even more than you ask. Hereafter, my daughter shall have no cause
to complain of me, and I will interest myself paternally in her
happiness. It displeases her to be under Ivan's charge; he shall
be only her humble servant. I intend that she shall be as free as
air, and all of her caprices will be sacred to me. I will begin by
restoring her horse, if he is not already sold. I will do more: I
will permit her to resume the garments of her sex. But for these
favors I exact two conditions: first, that you shall remain here at
least six months; second, that you will try neither to see, speak,
nor write to my doll, without my consent."
Gilbert breathed a deep sigh.
"I swear it, on my honor!" replied he.
"Enough! Enough!" resumed M. Leminof, "I have your promise, and I
believe in it as I do in the Gospels."
When the Count reentered his study, Doctor Vladimir, who was
patiently awaiting him, examined him from head to foot, as if
seeking to discover upon his garments or his hands some stain of
blood, then controlling his emotion:
"Well," said he coolly, "how did the affair terminate?"
"Very well," said the Count, throwing himself in a chair. "I have
not killed anyone. This young man's reason restored mine."
Vladimir Paulitch turned pale.
"So," said he, with a forced smile, "this audacious seducer gets
off with a rating."
"You haven't common sense, Vladimir Paulitch! What are you saying
about seduction? Gilberts are an enigma to you. They are not born
under the same planets as Doctors Vladimir and Counts Leminof.
There is a mixture in them of the humanitarian, the knight-errant,
the gray sister, and the St. Vincent de Paul, added to all which,
our philanthropist has a passion for puppets, and from the time of
his arrival he has forewarned me that he intended to make them
play. He must have wanted, I think, to give himself a
representation of some sacramental act, of some mystery play of the
middle ages. The piece began well. The principal personages were
faith, hope, and charity. Unfortunately, love got into the party,
and the mystery was transformed into a drama of cloak and sword. I
am sorry for him; these things always end badly."
"You are mistaken, Count Kostia!" replied Vladimir ironically;
"they often end with a wedding."
"Vladimir Paulitch!" exclaimed the Count, stamping his foot, "you
have the faculty of exasperating me. Today you spent an hour in
kindling the fire of vengeance in my soul. You hate this young
man. I believe, on my honor, that you are jealous of him. You are
afraid, perhaps, that I may put him in my will in place of the
little shepherd of Ukraine? Think of it as you please, my dear
doctor; it is certain that if I had had the awkwardness to kill
this admirable companion of my studies, I should lament him now in
tears of blood, for I know not why, but he is dear to me in spite
of all. But who loves well, chastises well, and I cannot help
pitying him in thinking of all the sufferings which I shall make
him undergo. Now go to bed, doctor. To-morrow morning you will go
on your nimble feet, three leagues from here, on the other side of
the mountain, to a little inn, which I will direct you how to find.
I will follow on horseback. I need exercise and diversion. We
will meet there and dine together. At dessert we will talk
physiology, and you will exert yourself to entertain me."
"But what are you thinking of?" exclaimed Vladimir, surprised to
the last degree. "Will you permit these two lovers—"
"Oh! you have but a dull mind, in spite of your wisdom,"
interrupted the Count. "In matters of vengeance, you only know the
calicoes and cottons. Mine I prefer to weave of silk and threads
On returning to his room, Vladimir Paulitch said to himself:
"These two men are too rational. The piece moves too slowly. I
must hasten the denouement."
Early in the morning Ivan entered Gilbert's room. The face of the
poor serf was distressing to see. His eyes were red and swollen,
and his features bloated. The bloody marks of his nails were
visible on his face; forehead and cheeks were furrowed with them.
He informed Gilbert that towards noon Count Kostia would go out
with Vladimir Paulitch and would be absent the rest of the day.
"He left me here to watch you and to render an account to him upon
his return of all I should see and hear. I am not ugly;—but after
what has passed, you would be foolish to expect the least favor
from me. My eyes, ears, and tongue will do their duty. You must
know, too, that the barine is in a very gloomy mood to-day. His
lips are white, and he frequently passes his left hand over his
forehead, a sure sign that a storm is raging within."
"My dear Ivan," answered Gilbert, "I also shall be absent all day;
so you see your task of watching will be easy."
Ivan breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed as if a mountain had
been taken from his breast.
"I see with pleasure," said he, "that you repent of your sin, and
that you promise to be wiser in the future; ah, if my young master
would only listen to reason, like you."
"Your young master, as you call him, will be as rational as myself.
But do me the favor to tell me—"
"Oh! don't be alarmed; his fainting fit was not long. I had hardly
got to him, when he opened his eyes and asked me if you were still
alive. On hearing my answer he exclaimed: 'Ah! my God! how happy I
am! He lives and loves me!' Then he tried to rise, but was so
weak that he fell back. I carried him to his bed and he said to
me: 'Ivan, for four nights I have not closed my eyes,' and at these
words he smiled and fell asleep, smiling, and he is asleep yet."
"In order to be wise, Stephane must be occupied. She must work
with her mind and her hands. Here, take this little white flower,"
added he, handing him the one he had plucked the day before; "ask
her, for me, to paint it in her herbarium to-day."
And as Ivan examined the plant with an air of distrust, he added:
"Go, and fear nothing. I've not hidden a note in it. I am a man
of honor, my dear Ivan, and never break my word."
Ivan hid the flower in one of his sleeves and went out muttering to
"How is all this going to end? Ah! may the Holy Trinity look down
in pity upon this house. We are all lost!"
Gilbert went out. Leaving upon his right the plateau and its close
thickets, he gained the main road and followed the bank of the
Rhine for a long distance. A thousand thoughts crowded in
confusion through his mind; but he always came to the same
"I will save this child, or lose my life in the attempt."
As the sun began to sink towards the horizon, he returned to the
castle. He went in search of Father Alexis and found him in the
chapel. The good father had learned from Ivan what had happened
the night before. He reproached Gilbert severely, but
nevertheless, after hearing his explanations, softened
considerably, and in a tone of grumbling indulgence, repeated the
old proverb, "Everyone to his trade." "Oxen," added he, "are born
to draw the plow, birds to fly, bees to make honey, Gilberts to
read and make great books, and Father Alexis to edify and console
his fellow-creatures. You have encroached upon my prerogatives.
You wanted to walk in my shoes. And what has been the result of
your efforts? The spoiling of my task! Have you not observed how
much better this child has been for the last two months, how much
more tranquil, gentle, and resigned? I had preached so well to
her, that she at last listened to reason. And you must come to put
in her head a silly love which will cost both of you many tears."
Upon which, seizing him rudely by the arm, he continued:
"And what need had we of your assistance, the good God and I? Have
you forgotten? Open your eyes and look! To-day, my child, even
to-day I have put the finishing touch to my great work."
Then he pointed his finger to two long rows of sallow faces,
surmounted by golden halos, which two lamps suspended from the
ceiling illuminated with a mysterious light. Like a general
enumerating his troops, he said:
"Look at these graybeards. That is Isaac, this Jeremiah, and this
Ezekiel. On the other side are the holy warrior martyrs. Then St.
Procopius, there St. Theodore, who burnt the temple of Cybele. His
torch may yet be relighted. And these archangels, do you think
their arms will be forever nerveless and their swords always asleep
in their scabbards?"
Then, falling upon his knees, he prayed aloud:
"And thou, holy mother of God, suffer thy unworthy servant to
summon thee to keep thy promise. Let thy august power at last be
made manifest. At the sight of thy frowning brows let there be
accomplished a mystery of terror and tears in hardened hearts. Let
the neck of the proud be broken, and let his haughty head, bent
down by the breath of thy lips, as by the wind of a tempest, bow to
the very earth and its hair sweep the dust of this pavement."
Just then they heard a voice calling:
"Father Alexis, Father Alexis, where are you?"
The priest turned pale and trembled. He tried in vain to rise, his
knees seemed nailed to the ground.
"Ah! my child, did you not hear a divine voice answer me?"
But helping him to his feet, Gilbert said with a sad smile:
"There is nothing divine in that voice. It has a strongly-marked
Provencal accent, and if I am not mistaken, it belongs to Jasmin
the cook, who is there in the court with a lantern in his hand, and
is calling you."
"Perhaps you are right," answered the good father, shaking his head
and passing his hand over his forehead, which was bathed in
perspiration. "Let us see what this good Jasmin wants. Perhaps he
brings my dinner. I had notified him, however, that I proposed to
Jasmin no sooner saw them come out of the chapel than he ran
towards them and said to the priest:
"I don't know, father, what has happened to Ivan, but when I went
into his room to carry him his dinner, I found him stretched on his
bed. I called him and shook him, but couldn't wake him up."
A shudder ran through Gilbert's whole body. Seizing the lantern
from Jasmin he darted off on a run; in two seconds he was with
Ivan. Jasmin had told the truth; the serf slept heavily and
profoundly. By dint of pulling him by the arm, Gilbert succeeded
in making him open his eyes; but he soon closed them again, turned
towards the wall, and slept on.
"Someone must have given him a narcotic," said Gilbert, whispering
to Father Alexis who had just joined him.
And addressing Jasmin, who had followed the priest.
"Has anyone been here this afternoon?"
"I ask your pardon," said the cook. "Doctor Vladimir returned from
his walk at about five o'clock. This surprised me very much, as
Count Kostia told me before he left, that M. Stephane would dine
here alone to-day."
"The doctor is at the table then, now."
"Pardon, pardon! He didn't wish any dinner. He told me in a
joking way, that he would shortly go to a grand dinner in the other
"But where is he then? In his study?"
"Two hours afterwards, he went out with M. Stephane."
"Which way did they go?" cried Gilbert, shaking him violently by
"Ah! pardon, sir, take care, you'll put my arm out of joint,"
answered the huge Provencal.
"Jasmin, my good Jasmin, answer me: which way did they go?"
"Ah! I remember now, they took the road to the woods."
Gilbert darted off instantly. Father Alexis cried after him in
"Wait for me, my child, I will accompany you. I am a man of good
judgment." As if carried by the wind, Gilbert was already in the
woods. His head bare, pale, out of breath, he ran at the top of
his speed. Night had come, and the moon began to silver over the
foliage which quivered at every breath of wind. Gilbert was blind
to the moon's brightness, deaf to the sighing of the wind. He
heard nothing but the diminishing sound of steps in the distance,
he saw nothing but a cloud of blood which floated before his eyes
and indicated the path; the sole thought which shed any light upon
his mind, filled with gloomiest apprehensions, was this:
"I did not understand this man! It was an offensive alliance which
he proposed to me yesterday. I refused to avenge him: he is going
to revenge himself, and a Russian serf seeking vengeance is capable
On he ran with unabated speed, and would have run to the end of the
world if, in an elbow of the road, some steps before him, he had
not suddenly perceived Stephane. Standing in the moonlight erect
and motionless, Gilbert stopped, held out his arms, and uttered a
cry. She trembled, turned, and running to him, cried:
"Gilbert, do you love me?"
He answered only by pressing her to his heart; and then perceiving
Doctor Vladimir, who was sitting on the edge of a ditch, his head
in his hands, he stammered:
"This man here with you!"
"I do not know," said she in a trembling voice, "whether he is a
mad man or a villain; but it is certain that he is going to die,
for he has poisoned himself."
"What have you to say?" said Gilbert, looking wildly at the
dejected face of the doctor, upon which the moon was shining full.
"Explain I beg of you."
"What do I know?" said she; "I think I have been dreaming since
yesterday evening. It seems to me, however, that this man came to
my room for me. He had taken the precaution to drug Ivan. I was
dying with melancholy. He persuaded me that you, my Gilbert, were
waiting for me in one of the paths of this forest, to fly with me
to a distant country. 'Let us go, let us go,' I cried; but on the
way I began to think, I grew suspicious, and at this turning of the
road I said to my gloomy companion: 'Bring my Gilbert to me here; I
will go no further.' Then he looked at me with frightful eyes, and
I believe said to me: 'What is your Gilbert to me? Follow me or
you die;' and then he fumbled in his bosom as if to find a
concealed weapon; but if I am not mistaken, I looked at him
steadily, and crossing my arms, said to him: 'Kill me, but you
shall not make me take another step.'"
Vladimir raised his head.
"How deceptive resemblances are," said he in a hollow voice. "I
once knew a woman who had the same contour of face, and one
evening, by the sole power of my eye, I compelled her to fall at my
feet, crying: 'Vladimir Paulitch, do with me what you will.' But
your young friend has a soul made of different stuff. You can
believe me if you wish, sir; but the fact is that her charming face
suddenly struck me with an involuntary respect. It seemed to me
that her head was adorned with a royal diadem. Her eyes glowed
with a noble pride; anger dilated her nostrils, and while a
scornful smile flitted over her lips, her whole face expressed the
innocence of a soul as pure as the rays of the moon shining upon
us. At this sight I thought of the woman of whom I spoke to you
yesterday, and I felt a sensation of horror at the crime I had
premeditated, and I, Doctor Vladimir, I prostrated myself at the
feet of this child, saying to her: 'Forgive me, I am a wretch;'
after which I swallowed a strong dose of poison of my own
composition, whose antidote I do not know, and in two hours I shall
be no more."
Gilbert looked steadily at him.
"Ah! great God," thought he, "it was not the life but the honor of
Stephane which was in danger! But the promised miracle has been
wrought, only this is not the one which Father Alexis expected,
since it has been the work of the God of nature."
Stephane approached him, and taking his hands murmured:
"Gilbert, Gilbert, let us fly—let us fly together! There is yet
But he only muttered:
"I see through it all!" Then turning to Vladimir he said in a tone
of authority, "Follow me, sir! It is right that Count Kostia
should receive your last breath."
Vladimir reflected for a moment, then rising, said:
"You are right. I must see him again before I die; but give me
your arm, for the poison begins to work and my legs are very weak."
They began to walk, Stephane preceding them a few steps. At
intervals, Vladimir would exclaim:
"To die—to breathe no more—no more to see the sun—no more to
remember—to forget all!" And then he added, "One thing disturbs
my happiness. I am not sufficiently revenged!"
At last his voice died upon his lips and his legs failed him.
Gilbert was obliged to carry him on his shoulders, and was nearly
giving out under the burden when he saw Father Alexis coming
towards them breathless. He gave him no time to recover breath,
"Take this man by the feet. I will support his shoulders.
Forward! my good father, forward! We have no time to lose."
Father Alexis hastened to comply with Gilbert's request, and they
continued on their way with bowed heads and in gloomy silence.
Stephane alone, with her cap drawn over her eyes, occasionally
uttered disconnected words and alternately cast a furtive glance at
Gilbert, or gazed sadly at the moon. Arriving at the castle, they
crossed the court and ascended the stairs without meeting anyone;
but entering the vestibule of the first story, in which all the
lamps were lighted, they heard a noise of steps in the corridor
which led to the square tower.
"M. Leminof has returned," said Gilbert, trembling. "Father
Alexis, carry this man to his room. I will go and speak to the
Count, and will bring him to you in a moment."
Then taking Stephane by the arm, he whispered to her:
"In the name of Heaven, keep out of the way. Go down on the
terrace and conceal yourself. Your father must not see you until
he has heard me."
"Do you think I am afraid, then?" she replied, and escaping from
him, darted off in the direction of the corridor.
Meanwhile Father Alexis had entered the room of Vladimir Paulitch,
whom he sustained with difficulty in his trembling arms. At the
moment he laid him upon his bed, a voice, which reached even to
them, uttered these terrible words:
"Ah! this is braving me too much! Let her die!" Then a sharp cry
pierced the air, followed by the dull noise of a body falling
heavily upon the floor.
Father Alexis looked at Vladimir with horror. "The mother was not
enough," cried he, "thou hast just killed the daughter!"
And he sprang out of the room distracted.
Vladimir sat up. An atrocious joy gleamed in his face; and
recovering the use of his speech, he murmured, "My vengeance is
But at these words a groan escaped him—the poison began to burn
his vitals. Nevertheless he forgot his sufferings when he saw the
Count appear, followed by the priest, and holding in his hand a
sword, which he threw in the corner.
"Count Kostia," cried the dying man, "what have you done with your
"I have killed her," answered he sternly, questioning him with his
Vladimir remained silent a moment.
"My good master," resumed he, "do you remember that Pauline whom I
loved? Do you also remember having seen me crouched at your feet
crying, 'Mercy! Mercy! for her and for me'? My good master, have
you forgotten that corner of the street where you said to me one
day: 'This woman is charming; but if your marriage is not broken
off before evening, to-morrow she will learn from me who you are'?
That day, Count Kostia Petrovitch, you had a happy and smiling air.
Say, Kostia Petrovitch, do you recollect it?"
The Count answered only by a disdainful smile.
"Oh! most simple and most credulous of men," continued Vladimir,
"how could you think that I would empty the cup of sorrow and of
shame to the very dregs, and not revenge myself upon him who smiled
as he made me drink it."
"Six months later, you saved my life," said the Count, slightly
shrugging his shoulders.
"Because your days were dear to me. You do not know then the
tenderness of hatred! I wished you to live, and that your life
should be a hell."
And then he added, panting:
"The lover of the Countess Olga, . . . was I."
The Count staggered as if struck by lightning. He supported
himself by the back of a chair, to avoid falling; then springing to
the table, he seized a carafe full of water and emptied it in a
single draught. Then in a convulsed voice, he exclaimed:
"You lie! The Countess Olga could never have given herself to a
"Refer to your memory once more, Kostia Petrovitch. You forget
that in her eyes I was not a serf, but an illustrious physician, a
sort of great man. However, I will console you. The Countess Olga
loved me no more than I loved her. My magnetic eyes, my threats
had, as it were, bewitched her poor head; in my arms she was dying
with fear, and when at the end of one of these sweet interviews,
she heard me cry out, 'Olga Vassilievna, your lover is a serf,' she
nearly perished of shame and horror."
The Count cast upon his serf a look of indescribable disgust, and,
making a superhuman effort to speak, once more exclaimed:
"Impossible! That letter which you addressed to me at Paris—"
"I feared that your dishonor might be concealed from you, and what
would life have been to me then?"
M. Leminof turned to the priest who remained standing at the other
end of the room. "Father Alexis, is what this man says true?"
The priest silently bowed.
"And was it for this, foolish priest, that you have endured death
and martyrdom—to prolong the days of a worm of the earth?"
"I cared little for his life," answered the priest, with dignity,
"but much for my conscience, and for the inviolable secrecy of the
"And for two years in succession you have suffered my mortal enemy
to lodge under my roof without warning me?"
"I was ignorant of his history and of the fact that he had reasons
for hating you. I fancied that a mad passion had made him a
traitor to friendship, and that in repentance he sought to expiate
his fault, by the assiduous attentions which he lavished upon you."
"Poor fellow!" said the Count, crushing him with a look of pity.
Then Vladimir resumed in a voice growing more and more feeble:
"Since that cursed hour, when I crawled at your feet, without being
able to soften your stony heart with my tears, I became disgusted
with life. To feel that I belonged to you was every instant a
torment. But if you ask me why I have deferred my death so long, I
answer that while you had a daughter living my vengeance was not
complete. I let this child grow up; but when the clock of fate
struck the hour I waited for, courage suddenly failed me, and I was
seized with scruples, which still astonish me. But what am I
saying? I bless my weakness, since I brought home a victim pure
and without stain, and since her virginal innocence adds to the
horror of your crime. Ah! tell me, was the steel which pierced her
heart the same that silenced Morlof's? Oh, sword, thou art
Count Kostia's eyes brightened. He had something like a
presentiment that he was about to be delivered from that fatal
doubt which for so many years had poisoned his life, and he fixed
his vulture-like eyes upon Vladimir.
"That child," said he, "was not my daughter."
Vladimir opened his vest, tore the lining with his nails and drew
out a folded paper, which he threw at the Count's feet:
"Pick up that letter!" cried he, "the writing is known to you. I
meant to have sent it to you by your dishonored daughter. Go and
read it near your dead child."
M. Leminof picked up the letter, unfolded it, and read it to the
end with bearing calm and firm. The first lines ran thus: "Vile
Moujik. Thou hast made me a mother. Be happy and proud. Thou
hast revealed to me that maternity can be a torture. In my
ignorant simplicity, I did not know until now it could be aught
else than an intoxication, a pride, a virtue, which God and the
church regard with favor, and the angels shelter with their white
wings. When for the first time I felt my Stephan and my Stephane
stir within me, my heart leaped for joy, and I could not find words
enough to bless Heaven which at last rewarded six years of
expectation; but now it is not a child I carry in bosom, it is a
crime. . . ."
This letter of four pages shed light, and carried conviction into
the mind of Count Kostia.
"She was really my daughter," said he, coolly. . . "Fortunately I
have not killed her."
He left the room, and an instant after re-appeared, accompanied by
Gilbert, and carrying in his arms his daughter, pale and
disheveled, but living. He advanced into the middle of the room.
There, as if speaking to himself, he said:
"This young man is my good genius. He tore my sword from me. God
be praised! he has saved her and me. This dear child was
frightened, she fell, but she is unhurt. You see her, she is
alive, her eyes are open, she hears, she breathes. To-morrow she
shall smile, to-morrow we shall all be happy.
Then drawing her to the head of the bed and calling Gilbert to him,
he placed his hands together, and standing behind them, embracing
their shoulders in his powerful arms, and thrusting his head
between theirs, he forced them, in spite of themselves, to bend
with him over the dying man.
Gilbert and Stephane closed their eyes.
The Count's and Vladimir's were wide open devouring each other.
The master's flamed like torches; the serf's were sunken, glassy,
and filled with the fear and horror of death. He seemed almost
petrified, and murmured in a failing voice:
"I am lost. I have undone my own work. To-morrow, to-morrow, they
will be happy."
One last look, full of hatred, flashed from his eyes, over which
the eternal shadow was creeping, his features contracted, his mouth
became distorted, and, uttering a frightful cry, he rendered up his
Then the Count slowly raised himself. His arms, in which he held
the two young people as in a living vice, relaxed, and Stephane
fell upon Gilbert's breast. Confused, colorless, wild-eyed,
intoxicated with joy and terror at the same time, clinging to her
friend as the sailor to his plank of safety, she said in an
"In the life to which you condemn me, my father, the joys are as
terrible as the sorrows."
The Count said to Gilbert:
"Console her, calm her emotion. She is yours. I have given her to
you. Do not fear that I shall take her back again." Then, turning
again to the bed, he exclaimed: "What a terrible thorn death has
just drawn from my heart!"
In the midst of so many tragic sensations, who was happy? Father
Alexis was, and he had no desire to hide it. He went and came,
moved the furniture, passed his hand over his beard, struck his
chest with all his might, and presently in his excess of joy threw
himself upon Stephane and then upon Gilbert, caressing and
embracing them. At last, kneeling down by the bed of death, under
the eyes of the Count, he took the head of the dead man between his
hands and kissed him upon the mouth and cheeks, saying:
"My poor brother, thou hast perhaps been more unfortunate than
guilty. May God, in the unfathomable mystery of his infinite
mercy, give thee one day, as I have, the kiss of peace! Then
raising his clasped hands, he said: "Holy mother of God: blessed be
thy name. Thou hast done more than I dared to ask."
At that moment Ivan, roused at last from his long lethargy,
appeared at the threshold of the door. For some minutes he
remained paralyzed by astonishment, and looked around distractedly;
then, throwing himself at his master's feet and tearing his hair,
"Seigneur Pere, I am not a traitor! That man mixed some drug in my
tea which put me to sleep. Seigneur Pere, kill me, but do not say
that I am a traitor."
"Rise," returned the Count gayly, "rise, I say. I shall not kill
thee. I am not going to kill anybody. My son, thou'rt a rusty old
tool. Dost know what I shall do with thee? I shall slip thee in
among the wedding presents of Madame Gilbert Saville."