Bourgonef by Anonymous
AT A TABLE D'HOTE
At the close of February, 1848, I was in Nuremberg. My original
intention had been to pass a couple of days there on my way to
Munich, that being, I thought, as much time as could reasonably be
spared for so small a city, beckoned as my footsteps were to the
Bavarian Athens, of whose glories of ancient art and German
Renaissance I had formed expectations the most exaggerated—
expectations fatal to any perfect enjoyment, and certain to be
disappointed, however great the actual merit of Munich might be.
But after two days at Nuremberg I was so deeply interested in its
antique sequestered life, the charms of which had not been deadened
by previous anticipations, that I resolved to remain there until I
had mastered every detail and knew the place by heart.
I have a story to tell which will move amidst tragic circumstances
of too engrossing a nature to be disturbed by archaeological
interests, and shall not, therefore, minutely describe here what I
observed in Nuremberg, although no adequate description of that
wonderful city has yet fallen in my way. To readers unacquainted
with this antique place, it will be enough to say that in it the
old German life seems still to a great extent rescued from the all-
devouring, all-equalizing tendencies of European civilization. The
houses are either of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, or are
constructed after those ancient models. The citizens have
preserved much of the simple manners and customs of their
ancestors. The hurrying feet of commerce and curiosity pass
rapidly by, leaving it sequestered from the agitations and the
turmoils of metropolitan existence. It is as quiet as a village.
During my stay there rose in its quiet streets the startled echoes
of horror at a crime unparalleled in its annals, which, gathering
increased horror from the very peacefulness and serenity of the
scene, arrested the attention and the sympathy in a degree seldom
experienced. Before narrating that, it will be necessary to go
back a little, that my own connection with it may be intelligible,
especially in the fanciful weaving together of remote conjectures
which strangely involved me in the story.
The table d'hote at the Bayerischer Hof had about thirty visitors—
all, with one exception, of that local commonplace which escapes
remark. Indeed this may almost always be said of tables d'hote;
though there is a current belief, which I cannot share, of a table
d'hote being very delightful—of one being certain to meet pleasant
people there." It may be so. For many years I believed it was so.
The general verdict received my assent. I had never met those
delightful people, but was always expecting to meet them. Hitherto
they had been conspicuous by their absence. According to my
experience in Spain, France, and Germany, such dinners had been
dreary or noisy and vapid. If the guests were English, they were
chillingly silent, or surlily monosyllabic: to their neighbors they
were frigid; amongst each other they spoke in low undertones. And
if the guests were foreigners, they were noisy, clattering, and
chattering, foolish for the most part, and vivaciously commonplace.
I don't know which made me feel most dreary. The predominance of
my countrymen gave the dinner the gayety of a funeral; the
predominance of the Mossoo gave it the fatigue of got-up
enthusiasm, of trivial expansiveness. To hear strangers imparting
the scraps of erudition and connoisseurship which they had that
morning gathered from their valets de place and guide-books, or
describing the sights they had just seen, to you, who either saw
them yesterday, or would see them to-morrow, could not be
permanently attractive. My mind refuses to pasture on such food
with gusto. I cannot be made to care what the Herr Baron's
sentiments about Albert Durer or Lucas Cranach may be. I can
digest my rindfleisch without the aid of the commis voyageur's
criticisms on Gothic architecture. This may be my misfortune. In
spite of the Italian blood which I inherit, I am a shy man—shy as
the purest Briton. But, like other shy men, I make up in obstinacy
what may be deficient in expansiveness. I can be frightened into
silence, but I won't be dictated to. You might as well attempt the
persuasive effect of your eloquence upon a snail who has withdrawn
into his shell at your approach, and will not emerge till his
confidence is restored. To be told that I MUST see this, and ought
to go there, because my casual neighbor was charme, has never
presented itself to me as an adequate motive.
From this you readily gather that I am severely taciturn at a table
d'hote. I refrain from joining in the "delightful conversation"
which flies across the table, and know that my reticence is
attributed to "insular pride." It is really and truly nothing but
impatience of commonplace. I thoroughly enjoy good talk; but, ask
yourself, what are the probabilities of hearing that rare thing in
the casual assemblage of forty or fifty people, not brought
together by any natural affinities or interests, but thrown
together by the accident of being in the same district, and in the
same hotel? They are not "forty feeding like one," but like forty.
They have no community, except the community of commonplace. No,
tables d'hote are not delightful, and do not gather interesting
Such has been my extensive experience. But this at Nuremberg is a
conspicuous exception. At that table there was one guest who, on
various grounds, personal and incidental, remains the most
memorable man I ever met. From the first he riveted my attention
in an unusual degree. He had not, as yet, induced me to emerge
from my habitual reserve, for in truth, although he riveted my
attention, he inspired me with a strange feeling of repulsion. I
could scarcely keep my eyes from him; yet, except the formal bow on
sitting down and rising from the table, I had interchanged no sign
of fellowship with him. He was a young Russian, named Bourgonef,
as I at once learned; rather handsome, and peculiarly arresting to
the eye, partly from an air of settled melancholy, especially in
his smile, the amiability of which seemed breaking from under
clouds of grief, and still more so from the mute appeal to sympathy
in the empty sleeve of his right arm, which was looped to the
breast-button of his coat. His eyes were large and soft. He had
no beard or whisker, and only delicate moustaches. The sorrow,
quiet but profound, the amiable smile and the lost arm, were
appealing details which at once arrested attention and excited
sympathy. But to me this sympathy was mingled with a vague
repulsion, occasioned by a certain falseness in the amiable smile,
and a furtiveness in the eyes, which I saw—or fancied—and which,
with an inexplicable reserve, forming as it were the impregnable
citadel in the center of his outwardly polite and engaging manner,
gave me something of that vague impression which we express by the
words "instinctive antipathy."
It was, when calmly considered, eminently absurd. To see one so
young, and by his conversation so highly cultured and intelligent,
condemned to early helplessness, his food cut up for him by a
servant, as if he were a child, naturally engaged pity, and, on the
first day, I cudgeled my brains during the greater part of dinner
in the effort to account for his lost arm. He was obviously not a
military man; the unmistakable look and stoop of a student told
that plainly enough. Nor was the loss one dating from early life:
he used his left arm too awkwardly for the event not to have had a
recent date. Had it anything to do with his melancholy? Here was
a topic for my vagabond imagination, and endless were the romances
woven by it during my silent dinner. For the reader must be told
of one peculiarity in me, because to it much of the strange
complications of my story are due; complications into which a mind
less active in weaving imaginary hypotheses to interpret casual and
trifling facts would never have been drawn. From my childhood I
have been the victim of my constructive imagination, which has led
me into many mistakes and some scrapes; because, instead of
contenting myself with plain, obvious evidence, I have allowed
myself to frame hypothetical interpretations, which, to acts simple
in themselves, and explicable on ordinary motives, render the
simple-seeming acts portentous. With bitter pangs of self-reproach
I have at times discovered that a long and plausible history
constructed by me, relating to personal friends, has crumpled into
a ruin of absurdity, by the disclosure of the primary misconception
on which the whole history was based. I have gone, let us say, on
the supposition that two people were secretly lovers; on this
supposition my imagination has constructed a whole scheme to
explain certain acts, and one fine day I have discovered
indubitably that the supposed lovers were not lovers, but
confidants of their passions in other directions, and, of course,
all my conjectures have been utterly false. The secret flush of
shame at failure has not, however, prevented my falling into
similar mistakes immediately after.
When, therefore, I hereafter speak of my "constructive
imagination," the reader will know to what I am alluding. It was
already busy with Bourgonef. To it must be added that vague
repulsion, previously mentioned. This feeling abated on the second
day; but, although lessened, it remained powerful enough to prevent
my speaking to him. Whether it would have continued to abate until
it disappeared, as such antipathies often disappear, under the
familiarities of prolonged intercourse, without any immediate
appeal to my amour propre, I know not; but every reflective mind,
conscious of being accessible to antipathies, will remember that
one certain method of stifling them is for the object to make some
appeal to our interest or our vanity: in the engagement of these
more powerful feelings, the antipathy is quickly strangled. At any
rate it is so in my case, and was so now.
On the third day, the conversation at table happening to turn, as
it often turned, upon St. Sebald's Church, a young Frenchman, who
was criticising its architecture with fluent dogmatism, drew
Bourgonef into the discussion, and thereby elicited such a display
of accurate and extensive knowledge, no less than delicacy of
appreciation, that we were all listening spellbound. In the midst
of this triumphant exposition the irritated vanity of the Frenchman
could do nothing to regain his position but oppose a flat denial to
a historical statement made by Bourgonef, backing his denial by the
confident assertion that "all the competent authorities" held with
him. At this point Bourgonef appealed to me, and in that tone of
deference so exquisitely flattering from one we already know to be
superior he requested my decision; observing that, from the manner
in which he had seen me examine the details of the architecture, he
could not be mistaken in his confidence that I was a connoisseur.
All eyes were turned upon me. As a shy man, this made me blush; as
a vain man, the blush was accompanied with delight. It might
easily have happened that such an appeal, acting at once upon
shyness and ignorance, would have inflamed my wrath; but the appeal
happening to be directed on a point which I had recently
investigated and thoroughly mastered, I was flattered at the
opportunity of a victorious display.
The pleasure of my triumph diffused itself over my feelings towards
him who had been the occasion of it. The Frenchman was silenced;
the general verdict of the company was too obviously on our side.
From this time the conversation continued between Bourgonef and
myself; and he not only succeeded in entirely dissipating my absurd
antipathy—which I now saw to have been founded on purely imaginary
grounds, for neither the falseness nor the furtiveness could now be
detected—but he succeeded in captivating all my sympathy. Long
after dinner was over, and the salle empty, we sat smoking our
cigars, and discussing politics, literature, and art in that
suggestive desultory manner which often gives a charm to casual
It was a stirring epoch, that of February, 1848. The Revolution,
at first so hopeful, and soon to manifest itself in failure so
disastrous, was hurrying to an outburst. France had been for many
months agitated by cries of electoral reform, and by indignation at
the corruption and scandals in high places. The Praslin murder,
and the dishonor of M. Teste, terminated by suicide, had been
interpreted as signs of the coming destruction. The political
banquets given in various important cities had been occasions for
inflaming the public mind, and to the far-seeing, these banquets
were interpreted as the sounds of the tocsin. Louis Philippe had
become odious to France, and contemptible to Europe. Guizot and
Duchatel, the ministers of that day, although backed by a
parliamentary majority on which they blindly relied, were
unpopular, and were regarded as infatuated even by their admirers
in Europe. The Spanish marriages had all but led to a war with
England. The Opposition, headed by Thiers and Odillon Barrot, was
strengthened by united action with the republican party, headed by
Ledru Rollin, Marrast, Flocon, and Louis Blanc.
Bourgonef was an ardent republican. So was I; but my color was of
a different shade from his. He belonged to the Reds. My own
dominant tendencies being artistic and literary, my dream was of a
republic in which intelligence would be the archon or ruler; and,
of course, in such a republic, art and literature, as the highest
manifestation of mind, would have the supreme direction. Do you
smile, reader? I smile now; but it was serious earnest with me
then. It is unnecessary to say more on this point. I have said so
much to render intelligible the stray link of communion which
riveted the charm of my new acquaintance's conversation; there was
both agreement enough and difference enough in our views to render
our society mutually fascinating.
On retiring to my room that afternoon I could not help laughing at
my absurd antipathy against Bourgonef. All his remarks had
disclosed a generous, ardent, and refined nature. While my
antipathy had specially fastened upon a certain falseness in his
smile—a falseness the more poignantly hideous if it were
falseness, because hidden amidst the wreaths of amiability—my
delight in his conversation had specially justified itself by the
truthfulness of his mode of looking at things. He seemed to be
sincerity itself. There was, indeed, a certain central reserve;
but that might only he an integrity of pride; or it might be
connected with painful circumstances in his history, of which the
melancholy in his face was the outward sign.
That very evening my constructive imagination was furnished with a
detail on which it was soon to be actively set to work. I had been
rambling about the old fortifications, and was returning at
nightfall through the old archway near Albert Durer's house, when a
man passed by me. We looked at each other in that automatic way in
which men look when they meet in narrow places, and I felt, so to
speak, a start of recognition in the eyes of the man who passed.
Nothing else, in features or gestures, betrayed recognition or
surprise. But although there was only that, it flashed from his
eyes to mine like an electric shock. He passed. I looked back.
He continued his way without turning. The face was certainly known
to me; but it floated in a mist of confused memories.
I walked on slowly, pestering my memory with fruitless calls upon
it, hopelessly trying to recover the place where I could have seen
the stranger before. In vain memory traveled over Europe in
concert-rooms, theaters, shops, and railway carriages. I could not
recall the occasion on which those eyes had previously met mine.
That they had met them I had no doubt. I went to bed with the
THE ECHOES OF MURDER
Next morning Nuremberg was agitated with a horror such as can
seldom have disturbed its quiet; a young and lovely girl had been
murdered. Her corpse was discovered at daybreak under the archway
leading to the old fortifications. She had been stabbed to the
heart. No other signs of violence were visible; no robbery had
In great cities, necessarily great centers of crime, we daily hear
of murders; their frequency and remoteness leave us undisturbed.
Our sympathies can only be deeply moved either by some scenic
peculiarities investing the crime with unusual romance or unusual
atrocity, or else by the more immediate appeal of direct neighborly
interest. The murder which is read of in the Times as having
occurred in Westminster, has seldom any special horror to the
inhabitants of Islington or Oxford Street; but to the inhabitants
of Westminster, and especially to the inhabitants of the particular
street in which it was perpetrated, the crime assumes heart-shaking
proportions. Every detail is asked for, and every surmise listened
to, with feverish eagerness is repeated and diffused through the
crowd with growing interest. The family of the victim; the
antecedents of the assassin, if he is known; or the conjectures
pointing to the unknown assassin,—are eagerly discussed. All the
trivial details of household care or domestic fortunes, all the
items of personal gossip, become invested with a solemn and
affecting interest. Pity for the victim and survivors mingle and
alternate with fierce cries for vengeance on the guilty. The whole
street becomes one family, commingled by an energetic sympathy,
united by one common feeling of compassion and wrath.
In villages, and in cities so small as Nuremberg, the same
community of feeling is manifested. The town became as one street.
The horror spread like a conflagration, the sympathy surged and
swelled like a tide. Everyone felt a personal interest in the
event, as if the murder had been committed at his own door. Never
shall I forget that wail of passionate pity, and that cry for the
vengeance of justice, which rose from all sides of the startled
city. Never shall I forget the hurry, the agitation, the feverish
restlessness, the universal communicativeness, the volunteered
services, the eager suggestion, surging round the house of the
unhappy parents. Herr Lehfeldt, the father of the unhappy girl,
was a respected burgher known to almost every one. His mercer's
shop was the leading one of the city. A worthy, pious man,
somewhat strict, but of irreproachable character; his virtues, no
less than those of his wife, and of his only daughter, Lieschen—
now, alas; for ever snatched from their yearning eyes—were
canvassed everywhere, and served to intensify the general grief.
That such a calamity should have fallen on a household so
estimable, seemed to add fuel to the people's wrath. Poor
Lieschen! her pretty, playful ways—her opening prospects, as the
only daughter of parents so well to do and so kind—her youth and
abounding life—these were detailed with impassioned fervor by
friends, and repeated by strangers who caught the tone of friends,
as if they, too, had known and loved her. But amidst the surging
uproar of this sea of many voices no one clear voice of direction
could be heard; no clue given to the clamorous bloodhounds to run
down the assassin.
Cries had been heard in the streets that night at various parts of
the town, which, although then interpreted as the quarrels of
drunken brawlers, and the conflicts of cats, were now confidently
asserted to have proceeded from the unhappy girl in her death-
struggle. But none of these cries had been heard in the immediate
neighborhood of the archway. All the inhabitants of that part of
the town agreed that in their waking hours the streets had been
perfectly still. Nor were there any traces visible of a struggle
having taken place. Lieschen might have been murdered elsewhere,
and her corpse quietly deposited where it was found, as far as any
Wild and vague were the conjectures. All were baffled in the
attempt to give them a definite direction. The crime was
apparently prompted by revenge—certainly not by lust, or desire of
money. But she was not known to stand in any one's way. In this
utter blank as to the assignable motive, I, perhaps alone among the
furious crowd, had a distinct suspicion of the assassin. No sooner
had the news reached me, than with the specification of the theater
of the crime there at once flashed upon me the intellectual vision
of the criminal: the stranger with the dark beard and startled eyes
stood confessed before me! I held my breath for a few moments, and
then there came a tide of objections rushing over my mind,
revealing the inadequacy of the grounds on which rested my
suspicions. What were the grounds? I had seen a man in a
particular spot, not an unfrequented spot, on the evening of the
night when the crime had been committed there; that man had seemed
to recognize me, and wished to avoid being recognized. Obviously
these grounds were too slender to bear any weight of construction
such as I had based on them. Mere presence on the spot could no
more inculpate him than it could inculpate me; if I had met him
there, equally had he met me there. Nor even if my suspicion were
correct that he knew me, and refused to recognize me, could that be
any argument tending to criminate him in an affair wholly
disconnected with me. Besides, he was walking peaceably, openly,
and he looked like a gentleman. All these objections pressed
themselves upon me, and kept me silent. But in spite of their
force I could not prevent the suspicion from continually arising.
Ashamed to mention it, because it may have sounded too absurd, I
could not prevent my constructive imagination indulging in its
vagaries, and with this secret conviction I resolved to await
events, and in case suspicion from other quarters should ever
designate the probable assassin, I might then come forward with my
bit of corroborative evidence, should the suspected assassin be the
stranger of the archway.
By twelve o'clock a new direction was given to rumor. Hitherto the
stories, when carefully sifted of all exaggerations of flying
conjecture, had settled themselves into something like this: The
Lehfeldts had retired to rest at a quarter before ten, as was their
custom. They had seen Lieschen go into her bedroom for the night,
and had themselves gone to sleep with unclouded minds. From this
peaceful security they were startled early in the morning by the
appalling news of the calamity which had fallen on them.
Incredulous at first, as well they might be, and incapable of
believing in a ruin so unexpected and so overwhelming, they
imagined some mistake, asserting that Lieschen was in her own room.
Into that room they rushed, and there the undisturbed bed, and the
open window, but a few feet from the garden, silently and
pathetically disclosed the fatal truth. The bereaved parents
turned a revealing look upon each other's whitened faces, and then
slowly retired from the room, followed in affecting silence by the
others. Back into their own room they went. The father knelt
beside the bed, and, sobbing, prayed. The mother sat staring with
a stupefied stare, her lips faintly moving. In a short while the
flood of grief, awakened to a thorough consciousness, burst from
their laboring hearts. When the first paroxysms were over they
questioned others, and gave incoherent replies to the questions
addressed to them. From all which it resulted that Lieschen's
absence, though obviously voluntary, was wholly inexplicable to
them; and no clew whatever could be given as to the motives of the
crime. When these details became known, conjecture naturally
interpreted Lieschen's absence at night as an assignation. But
with whom? She was not known to have a lover. Her father, on
being questioned, passionately affirmed that she had none; she
loved no one but her parents, poor child! Her mother, on being
questioned, told the same story—adding, however, that about
seventeen months before, she had fancied that Lieschen was a little
disposed to favor Franz Kerkel, their shopman; but on being spoken
to on the subject with some seriousness, and warned of the distance
between them, she had laughed heartily at the idea, and since then
had treated Franz with so much indifference that only a week ago
she had drawn from her mother a reproof on the subject.
"I told her Franz was a good lad, though not good enough for her,
and that she ought to treat him kindly. But she said my lecture
had given her an alarm, lest Franz should have got the same maggot
into his head."
This was the story now passing through the curious crowds in every
street. After hearing it I had turned into a tobacconist's in the
Adlergrasse, to restock my cigar-case, and found there, as
everywhere, a group discussing the one topic of the hour. Herr
Fischer, the tobacconist, with a long porcelain pipe pendent from
his screwed-up lips, was solemnly listening to the particulars
volubly communicated by a stout Bavarian priest; while behind the
counter, in a corner, swiftly knitting, sat his wife, her black
bead-like eyes also fixed on the orator. Of course I was dragged
into the conversation. Instead of attending to commercial
interests, they looked upon me as the possible bearer of fresh
news. Nor was it without a secret satisfaction that I found I
could gratify them in that respect. They had not heard of Franz
Kerkel in the matter. No sooner had I told what I had heard than
the knitting-needles of the vivacious little woman were at once
"Ach Je!" she exclaimed, "I see it all. He's the wretch!"
"Who?" we all simultaneously inquired.
"Who? Why, Kerkel, of course. If she changed, and treated him
with indifference, it was because she loved him; and he has
murdered the poor thing."
"How you run on, wife!" remonstrated Fischer; while the priest
shook a dubious head.
"I tell you it is so. I'm positive."
"If she loved him."
"She did, I tell you. Trust a woman for seeing through such
"Well, say she did," continued Fischer, "and I won't deny that it
may be so; but then that makes against the idea of his having done
her any harm."
"Don't tell me," retorted the convinced woman. "She loved him.
She went out to meet him in secret, and he murdered her—the
villain did. I'm as sure of it as if these eyes had seen him do
The husband winked at us, as much as to say, "You hear these
women!" and the priest and I endeavored to reason her out of her
illogical position. But she was immovable. Kerkel had murdered
her; she knew it; she couldn't tell why, but she knew it. Perhaps
he was jealous, who knows? At any rate, he ought to be arrested.
And by twelve o'clock, as I said, a new rumor ran through the
crowd, which seemed to confirm the little woman in her rash logic.
Kerkel had been arrested, and a waistcoat stained with blood had
been found in his room! By half-past twelve the rumor ran that he
had confessed the crime. This, however, proved on inquiry to be
the hasty anticipation of public indignation. He had been
arrested; the waistcoat had been found: so much was authentic; and
the suspicions gathered ominously over him.
When first Frau Fischer had started the suggestion it flew like
wildfire. Then people suddenly noticed, as very surprising, that
Kerkel had not that day made his appearance at the shop. His
absence had not been noticed in the tumult of grief and inquiry;
but it became suddenly invested with a dreadful significance, now
that it was rumored that he had been Lieschen's lover. Of all men
he would be the most affected by the tragic news; of all men he
would have been the first to tender sympathy and aid to the
afflicted parents, and the most clamorous in the search for the
undiscovered culprit. Yet, while all Nuremberg was crowding round
the house of sorrow, which was also his house of business, he alone
remained away. This naturally pointed suspicion at him. When the
messengers had gone to seek him, his mother refused them admission,
declaring in incoherent phrases, betraying great agitation, that
her son was gone distracted with grief and could see no one. On
this it was determined to order his arrest. The police went, the
house was searched, and the waistcoat found.
The testimony of the girl who lived as servant in Kerkel's house
was also criminatory. She deposed that on the night in question
she awoke about half-past eleven with a violent toothache; she was
certain as to the hour, because she heard the clock afterwards
strike twelve. She felt some alarm at hearing voices in the rooms
at an hour when her mistress and young master must long ago have
gone to bed; but as the voices were seemingly in quiet
conversation, her alarm subsided, and she concluded that instead of
having gone to bed her mistress was still up. In her pain she
heard the door gently open, and then she heard footsteps in the
garden. This surprised her very much. She couldn't think what the
young master could want going out at that hour. She became
terrified without knowing exactly at what. Fear quite drove away
the toothache, which had not since returned. After lying there
quaking for some time, again she heard footsteps in the garden; the
door opened and closed gently; voices were heard; and she at last
distinctly heard her mistress say, "Be a man, Franz. Good-night—
sleep well;" upon which Franz replied in a tone of great agony,
"There's no chance of sleep for me." Then all was silent. Next
morning her mistress seemed "very queer." Her young master went
out very early, but soon came back again; and there were dreadful
scenes going on in his room, as she heard, but she didn't know what
it was all about. She heard of the murder from a neighbor, but
never thought of its having any particular interest for Mr. Franz,
though, of course, he would be very sorry for the Lehfeldts.
The facts testified to by the servant, especially the going out at
that late hour, and the "dreadful scenes" of the morning, seemed to
bear but one interpretation. Moreover, she identified the
waistcoat as the one worn by Franz on the day preceding the fatal
Now at last the pent-up wrath found a vent. From the distracting
condition of wandering uncertain suspicion, it had been recalled
into the glad security of individual hate. Although up to this
time Kerkel had borne an exemplary reputation, it was now
remembered that he had always been of a morose and violent temper,
a hypocrite in religion, a selfish sensualist. Several sagacious
critics had long "seen through him"; others had "never liked him";
others had wondered how it was he kept his place so long in
Lehfeldt's shop. Poor fellow! his life and actions, like those of
every one else when illuminated by a light thrown back upon them,
seemed so conspicuously despicable, although when illuminated in
their own light they had seemed innocent enough. His mother's
frantic protestations of her son's innocence—her assertions that
Franz loved Lieschen more than his own soul—only served to envelop
her in the silent accusation of being an accomplice, or at least of
being an accessory after the fact.
I cannot say why it was, but I did not share the universal belief.
The logic seemed to me forced; the evidence trivial. On first
hearing of Kerkel's arrest, I eagerly questioned my informant
respecting his personal appearance; and on hearing that he was
fair, with blue eyes and flaxen hair, my conviction of his
innocence was fixed. Looking back on these days, I am often amused
at this characteristic of my constructive imagination. While
rejecting the disjointed logic of the mob, which interpreted his
guilt, I was myself deluded by a logic infinitely less rational.
Had Kerkel been dark, with dark eyes and beard, I should probably
have sworn to his guilt, simply because the idea of that stranger
had firmly fixed itself in my mind.
All that afternoon, and all the next day, the busy hum of voices
was raised by the one topic of commanding interest. Kerkel had
been examined. He at once admitted that a secret betrothal had for
some time existed between him and Lieschen. They had been led to
take this improper step by fear of her parents, who, had the
attachment been discovered, would, it was thought, have separated
them for ever. Herr Lehfeldt's sternness, no less than his
superior position, seemed an invincible obstacle, and the good
mother, although doting upon her only daughter, was led by the very
intensity of her affection to form ambitious hopes of her
daughter's future. It was barely possible that some turn in events
might one day yield an opening for their consent; but meanwhile
prudence dictated secrecy, in order to avert the most pressing
danger, that of separation.
And so the pretty Lieschen, with feminine instinct of ruse, had
affected to treat her lover with indifference; and to compensate
him and herself for this restraint, she had been in the habit of
escaping from home once or twice a week, and spending a delicious
hour or two at night in the company of her lover and his mother.
Kerkel and his mother lived in a cottage a little way outside the
town. Lehfeldt's shop stood not many yards from the archway. Now,
as in Nuremberg no one was abroad after ten o'clock, except a few
loungers at the cafes and beer-houses, and these were only to be
met inside the town, not outside it, Lieschen ran extremely little
risk of being observed in her rapid transit from her father's to
her lover's house. Nor, indeed, had she ever met anyone in the
course of these visits.
On the fatal night Lieschen was expected at the cottage. Mother
and son waited at first hopefully, then anxiously, at last with
some vague uneasiness at her non-appearance. It was now a quarter
past eleven—nearly an hour later than her usual time. They
occasionally went to the door to look for her; then they walked a
few yards down the road, as if to catch an earlier glimpse of her
advancing steps. But in vain. The half-hour struck. They came
back into the cottage, discussing the various probabilities of
delay. Three-quarters struck. Perhaps she had been detected;
perhaps she was ill; perhaps—but this was his mother's suggestion,
and took little hold of him—there had been visitors who had stayed
later than usual, and Lieschen, finding the night so advanced, had
postponed her visit to the morrow. Franz, who interpreted
Lieschen's feelings by his own, was assured that no postponement of
a voluntary kind was credible of her. Twelve o'clock struck.
Again Franz went out into the road, and walked nearly up to the
archway; he returned with heavy sadness and foreboding at his
heart, reluctantly admitting that now all hope of seeing her that
night was over. That night? Poor sorrowing heart, the night was
to be eternal! The anguish of the desolate "never more" was
There is something intensely pathetic in being thus, as it were,
spectators of a tragic drama which is being acted on two separate
stages at once—the dreadful link of connection, which is unseen to
the separate actors, being only too vividly seen by the spectators.
It was with some interest that I, who believed in Kerkel's
innocence, heard this story; and in imagination followed its
unfolding stage. He went to bed, not, as may be expected, to
sleep; tossing restlessly in feverish agitation, conjuring up many
imaginary terrors—but all of them trifles compared with the dread
reality which he was so soon to face. He pictured her weeping—and
she was lying dead on the cold pavement of the dark archway. He
saw her in agitated eloquence pleading with offended parents—and
she was removed for ever from all agitations, with the peace of
death upon her young face.
At an early hour he started, that he might put an end to his
suspense. He had not yet reached the archway before the shattering
news burst upon him. From that moment he remembered nothing. But
his mother described his ghastly agitation, as, throwing himself
upon her neck, he told her, through dreadful sobs, the calamity
which had fallen. She did her best to comfort him; but he grew
wilder and wilder, and rolled upon the ground in the agony of an
immeasurable despair. She trembled for his reason and his life.
And when the messengers came to seek him, she spoke but the simple
truth in saying that he was like one distracted. Yet no sooner had
a glimpse of light dawned on him that some vague suspicion rested
on him in reference to the murder, than he started up, flung away
his agitation, and, with a calmness which was awful, answered every
question, and seemed nerved for every trial. From that moment not
a sob escaped him until, in the narrative of the night's events, he
came to that part which told of the sudden disclosure of his
bereavement. And the simple, straightforward manner in which he
told this tale, with a face entirely bloodless, and eyes that
seemed to have withdrawn all their light inwards, made a great
impression on the audience, which was heightened into sympathy when
the final sob, breaking through the forced calmness, told of the
agony which was eating its fiery way through the heart.
The story was not only plausible in itself, but accurately tallied
with what before had seemed like the criminating evidence of the
maid; tallied, moreover, precisely as to time, which would hardly
have been the case had the story been an invention. As to the
waistcoat which had figured so conspicuously in all the rumors, it
appeared that suspicion had monstrously exaggerated the facts.
Instead of a waistcoat plashed with blood—as popular imagination
pictured it—it was a gray waistcoat, with one spot and a slight
smear of blood, which admitted of a very simple explanation. Three
days before, Franz had cut his left hand in cutting some bread; and
to this the maid testified, because she was present when the
accident occurred. He had not noticed that his waistcoat was
marked by it until the next day, and had forgotten to wash out the
People outside shook skeptical heads at this story of the cut hand.
The bloody waistcoat was not to be disposed of in that easy way.
It had fixed itself too strongly in their imagination. Indeed, my
belief is that even could they have seen the waistcoat, its
insignificant marks would have appeared murderous patches to their
eyes. I had seen it, and my report was listened to with ill-
concealed disbelief, when not with open protestation. And when
Kerkel was discharged as free from all suspicion, there was a low
growl of disappointed wrath heard from numerous groups.
This may sympathetically be understood by whomsoever remembers the
painful uneasiness of the mind under a great stress of excitement
with no definite issue. The lust for a vengeance, demanded by the
aroused sensibilities of compassion, makes men credulous in their
impatience; they easily believe anyone is guilty, because they feel
an imperious need for fastening the guilt upon some definite head.
Few verdicts of "Not Guilty" are well received, unless another
victim is at hand upon whom the verdict of guilty is likely to
fall. It was demonstrable to all judicial minds that Kerkel was
wholly, pathetically innocent. In a few days this gradually became
clear to the majority, but at first it was resisted as an attempt
to balk justice; and to the last there were some obstinate
doubters, who shook their heads mysteriously, and said, with a
certain incisiveness, "Somebody must have done it; I should very
much like to know who."
Suspicion once more was drifting aimlessly. None had pointed in
any new direction. No mention of anyone whom I could identify with
the stranger had yet been made; but, although silent on the
subject, I kept firm in my conviction, and I sometimes laughed at
the pertinacity with which I scrutinized the face of every man I
met, if he happened to have a black beard; and as black beards are
excessively common, my curiosity, though never gratified, was never
Meanwhile Lieschen's funeral had been emphatically a public
mourning. Nay, so great was the emotion, that it almost deadened
the interest which otherwise would have been so powerful, in the
news now daily reaching us from Paris. Blood had flowed upon her
streets—in consequence of that pistol-shot, which, either by
accident or criminal intent, had converted the demonstration before
the hotel of the Minister of Foreign Affairs into an insurrection.
Paris had risen; barricades were erected. The troops were under
arms. This was agitating news.
Such is the solidarity of all European nations, and so quick are
all to vibrate in unison with the vibrations of each, that events
like those transacted in Paris necessarily stirred every city, no
matter how remote, nor politically how secure. And it says much
for the intense interest excited by the Lehfeldt tragedy that
Nuremberg was capable of sustaining that interest even amid the
tremendous pressure of the February Revolution. It is true that
Nuremberg is at all times somewhat sequestered from the great
movements of the day, following slowly in the rear of great waves;
it is true, moreover, that some politicians showed remarkable
eagerness in canvassing the characters and hopes of Louis Philippe
and Guizot; but although such events would at another period have
formed the universal interest, the impenetrable mystery hanging
over Lieschen's death threw the Revolution into the background of
their thoughts. If when a storm is raging over the dreary
moorland, a human cry of suffering is heard at the door, at once
the thunders and the tumult sink into insignificance, and are not
even heard by the ear which is pierced with the feeble human voice:
the grandeurs of storm and tempest, the uproar of surging seas, the
clamorous wail of sea-birds amid the volleying artillery of heaven,
in vain assail the ear that has once caught even the distant cry of
a human agony, or serve only as scenical accompaniments to the
tragedy which is foreshadowed by that cry. And so it was amid the
uproar of 1848. A kingdom was in convulsions; but here, at our
door, a young girl had been murdered, and two hearths made
desolate. Rumors continued to fly about. The assassin was always
about to be discovered; but he remained shrouded in impenetrable
darkness. A remark made by Bourgonef struck me much. Our host,
Zum Bayerischen Hof, one day announced with great satisfaction that
he had himself heard from the syndic that the police were on the
traces of the assassin.
"I am sorry to hear it," said Bourgonef.
The guests paused from eating, and looked at him with astonishment.
"It is a proof," he added, "that even the police now give it up as
hopeless. I always notice that whenever the police are said to be
on the traces the malefactor is never tracked. When they are on
his traces they wisely say nothing about it; they allow it to be
believed that they are baffled, in order to lull their victim into
a dangerous security. When they know themselves to be baffled,
there is no danger in quieting the public mind, and saving their
own credit, by announcing that they are about to be successful."
Bourgonef's remark had been but too sagacious. The police were
hoplessly baffled. In all such cases possible success depends upon
the initial suggestion either of a motive which leads to a
suspicion of the person, or of some person which leads to a
suspicion of the motive. Once set suspicion on the right track,
and evidence is suddenly alight in all quarters. But, unhappily,
in the present case there was no assignable motive, no shadow
darkening any person.
An episode now came to our knowledge in which Bourgonef manifested
an unusual depth of interest. I was led to notice this interest,
because it had seemed to me that in the crime itself, and the
discussions which arose out of it, he shared but little of the
universal excitement. I do not mean that he was indifferent—by no
means; but the horror of the crime did not seem to fascinate his
imagination as it fascinated ours. He could talk quite as readily
of other things, and far more readily of the French affairs. But
on the contrary, in this new episode he showed peculiar interest.
It appeared that Lehfeldt, moved, perhaps, partly by a sense of the
injustice which had been done to Kerkel in even suspecting him of
the crime, and in submitting him to an examination more poignantly
affecting to him under such circumstances than a public trial would
have been under others; and moved partly by the sense that
Lieschen's love had practically drawn Kerkel within the family—for
her choice of him as a husband had made him morally, if not
legally, a son-in-law; and moved partly by the sense of loneliness
which had now settled on their childless home,—Lehfeldt had in the
most pathetic and considerate terms begged Kerkel to take the place
of his adopted son, and become joint partner with him in the
business. This, however, Kerkel had gently yet firmly declined.
He averred that he felt no injury, though great pain had been
inflicted on him by the examination. He himself in such a case
would not have shrunk from demanding that his own brother should be
tried, under suspicions of similar urgency. It was simple justice
that all who were suspected should be examined; justice also to
them that they might for ever clear themselves of doubtful
appearances. But for the rest, while he felt his old affectionate
respect for his master, he could recognize no claim to be removed
from his present position. Had she lived, said the heartbroken
youth, he would gladly have consented to accept any fortune which
her love might bestow, because he felt that his own love and the
devotion of a life might repay it. But there was nothing now that
he could give in exchange. For his services he was amply paid; his
feelings towards Lieschen's parents must continue what they had
ever been. In vain Lehfeldt pleaded, in vain many friends argued.
Franz remained respectfully firm in his refusal.
This, as I said, interested Bourgonef immensely. He seemed to
enter completely into the minds of the sorrowing, pleading parents,
and the sorrowing, denying lover. He appreciated and expounded
their motives with a subtlety and delicacy of perception which
surprised and delighted me. It showed the refinement of his moral
nature. But, at the same time, it rendered his minor degree of
interest in the other episodes of the story, those which had a more
direct and overpowering appeal to the heart, a greater paradox.
Human nature is troubled in the presence of all mystery which has
not by long familiarity lost its power of soliciting attention; and
for my own part, I have always been uneasy in the presence of moral
problems. Puzzled by the contradictions which I noticed in
Bourgonef, I tried to discover whether he had any general
repugnance to stories of crimes, or any special repugnance to
murders, or, finally, any strange repugnance to this particular
case now everywhere discussed. And it is not a little remarkable
that during three separate interviews, in the course of which I
severally, and as I thought artfully, introduced these topics,
making them seem to arise naturally out of the suggestion of our
talk, I totally failed to arrive at any distinct conclusion. I was
afraid to put the direct question: Do you not share the common
feeling of interest in criminal stories? This question would
doubtless have elicited a categorical reply; but somehow, the
consciousness of an arriere-pensee made me shrink from putting such
Reflecting on this indifference on a special point, and on the
numerous manifestations I had noticed of his sensibility, I came at
last to the conclusion that he must be a man of tender heart, whose
delicate sensibilities easily shrank from the horrible under every
form; and no more permitted him to dwell unnecessarily upon painful
facts, than they permit imaginative minds to dwell on the details
of an operation.
I had not long settled this in my mind before an accident suddenly
threw a lurid light upon many details noticed previously, and
painfully revived that inexplicable repulsion with which I had at
first regarded him. A new suspicion filled my mind, or rather, let
me say, a distinct shape was impressed upon many fluctuating
suspicions. It scarcely admitted of argument, and at times seemed
preposterous, nevertheless it persisted. The mind which in broad
daylight assents to all that can be alleged against the absurdities
of the belief in apparitions, will often acknowledge the dim
terrors of darkness and loneliness—terrors at possibilities of
supernatural visitations. In like manner, in the clear daylight of
reason I could see the absurdity of my suspicion, but the vague
stirrings of feeling remained unsilenced. I was haunted by the dim
horrors of a possibility.
Thus it arose. We were both going to Munich, and Bourgonef had
shortened his contemplated stay at Nuremberg that he might have the
pleasure of accompanying me; adding also that he, too, should be
glad to reach Munich, not only for its art, but for its greater
command of papers and intelligence respecting what was then going
on in France. On the night preceding the morning of our departure,
I was seated in his room, smoking and discussing as usual, while
Ivan, his servant, packed up his things in two large portmanteaus.
Ivan was a serf who spoke no word of any language but his own.
Although of a brutal, almost idiotic type, he was loudly eulogized
by his master as the model of fidelity and usefulness. Bourgonef
treated him with gentleness, though with a certain imperiousness;
much as one might treat a savage mastiff which it was necessary to
dominate without exasperating. He more than once spoke of Ivan as
a living satire on physiognomists and phrenologists; and as I am a
phrenologist, I listened with some incredulity.
"Look at him," he would say. "Observe the low, retreating brow,
the flat face, the surly mouth, the broad base of the head, and the
huge bull-like neck. Would not anyone say Ivan was as destructive
as a panther, as tenacious as a bull-dog, as brutal as a bull? Yet
he is the gentlest of sluggish creatures, and as tender-hearted as
a girl! That thick-set muscular frame shrouds a hare's heart. He
is so faithful and so attached that I believe for me he would risk
his life; but on no account could you get him to place himself in
danger on his own account. Part of his love for me is gratitude
for having rescued him from the conscription: the dangers incident
to a military life had no charm for him!"
Now, although Bourgonef, who was not a phrenologist, might be
convinced of the absence of ferocious instincts in Ivan, to me, as
a phrenologist, the statement was eminently incredible. All the
appearances of his manner were such as to confirm his master's
opinion. He was quiet, even tender in his attentions. But the
tyrannous influence of ideas and physical impressions cannot be set
aside; and no evidence would permanently have kept down my distrust
of this man. When women shriek at the sight of a gun, it is in
vain that you solemnly assure them that the gun is not loaded. "I
don't know," they reply,—"at any rate, I don't like it." I was
much in this attitude with regard to Ivan. He might be harmless.
I didn't know that; what I did know was—that I didn't like his
On this night he was moving noiselessly about the room, employed in
packing. Bourgonef's talk rambled over the old themes; and I
thought I had never before met with one of my own age whose society
was so perfectly delightful. He was not so conspicuously my
superior on all points that I felt the restraints inevitably
imposed by superiority; yet he was in many respects sufficiently
above me in knowledge and power to make me eager to have his assent
to my views where we differed, and to have him enlighten me where I
knew myself to be weak.
In the very moment of my most cordial admiration came a shock.
Ivan, on passing from one part of the room to the other, caught his
foot in the strap of the portmanteau and fell. The small wooden
box, something of a glove-box, which he held in his hand at the
time, fell on the floor, and falling over, discharged its contents
close to Bourgonef's feet. The objects which caught my eyes were
several pairs of gloves, a rouge-pot and hare's foot, and a black
By what caprice of imagination was it that the sight of this false
beard lying at Bourgonef's feet thrilled me with horror? In one
lightning-flash I beheld the archway—the stranger with the
startled eyes—this stranger no longer unknown to me, but too
fatally recognized as Bourgonef—and at his feet the murdered girl!
Moved by what subtle springs of suggestion I know not, but there
before me stood that dreadful vision, seen in a lurid light, but
seen as clearly as if the actual presence of the objects were
obtruding itself upon my eyes. In the inexpressible horror of this
vision my heart seemed clutched with an icy hand.
Fortunately Bourgonef's attention was called away from me. He
spoke angrily some short sentence, which of course was in Russian,
and therefore unintelligible to me. He then stooped, and picking
up the rouge-pot, held it towards me with his melancholy smile. He
was very red in the face; but that may have been either anger or
the effect of sudden stooping. "I see you are surprised at these
masquerading follies," he said in a tone which, though low, was
perfectly calm. "You must not suppose that I beautify my sallow
cheeks on ordinary occasions."
He then quietly handed the pot to Ivan, who replaced it with the
gloves and the beard in the box; and after making an inquiry which
sounded like a growl, to which Bourgonef answered negatively, he
continued his packing.
Bourgonef resumed his cigar and his argument as if nothing had
The vision had disappeared, but a confused mass of moving figures
took its place. My heart throbbed so violently that it seemed to
me as if its tumult must be heard by others. Yet my face must have
been tolerably calm, since Bourgonef made no comment on it.
I answered his remarks in vague fragments, for, in truth, my
thoughts were flying from conjecture to conjecture. I remembered
that the stranger had a florid complexion; was this rouge? It is
true that I fancied the stranger carried a walking-stick in his
right hand; if so, this was enough to crush all suspicions of his
identity with Bourgonef; but then I was rather hazy on this point,
and probably did not observe a walking-stick.
After a while my inattention struck him, and looking at me with
some concern, he inquired if there was anything the matter. I
pleaded a colic, which I attributed to the imprudence of having
indulged in sauerkraut at dinner. He advised me to take a little
brandy; but, affecting a fresh access of pain, I bade him good-
night. He hoped I should be all right on the morrow—if not, he
added, we can postpone our journey till the day after.
Once in my own room I bolted the door, and sat down on the edge of
the bed in a tumult of excitement.
Alone with my thoughts, and capable of pursuing conjectures and
conclusions without external interruption, I quickly exhausted all
the hypothetical possibilities of the case, and, from having
started with the idea that Bourgonef was the assassin, I came at
last to the more sensible conclusion that I was a constructive
blockhead. My suspicions were simply outrageous in their defect of
evidence, and could never for one moment have seemed otherwise to
any imagination less riotously active than mine.
I bathed my heated head, undressed myself, and got into bed,
considering what I should say to the police when I went next
morning to communicate my suspicions. And it is worthy of remark,
as well as somewhat ludicrously self-betraying, that no sooner did
I mentally see myself in the presence of the police, and was thus
forced to confront my suspicions with some appearance of evidence,
than the whole fabric of my vision rattled to the ground. What had
I to say to the police? Simply that, on the evening of the night
when Lieschen was murdered, I had passed in a public thoroughfare a
man whom I could not identify, but who as I could not help
fancying, seemed to recognize me. This man, I had persuaded
myself, was the murderer; for which persuasion I was unable to
adduce a tittle of evidence. It was uncolored by the remotest
possibility. It was truly and simply the suggestion of my vagrant
fancy, which had mysteriously settled itself into a conviction; and
having thus capriciously identified the stranger with Lieschen's
murderer, I now, upon evidence quite as preposterous, identified
Bourgonef with the stranger.
The folly became apparent even to myself. If Bourgonef had in his
possession a rouge-pot and false beard, I could not but acknowledge
that he made no attempt to conceal them, nor had he manifested any
confusion on their appearance. He had quietly characterized them
as masquerading follies. Moreover, I now began to remember
distinctly that the stranger did carry a walking-stick in his right
hand; and as Bourgonef had lost his right arm, that settled the
Into such complications, would the tricks of imagination lead me!
I blushed mentally, and resolved to let it serve as a lesson in
future. It is needless, however, to say that the lesson was lost,
as such lessons always are lost; a strong tendency in any direction
soon disregards all the teachings of experience. I am still not
the less the victim of my constructive imagination, because I have
frequently had to be ashamed of its vagaries.
The next morning I awoke with a lighter breast, rejoicing in the
caution which had delayed me from any rash manifestation of
suspicions now seen to be absurd. I smiled as the thought arose:
what if this suspected stranger should also be pestered by an
active imagination, and should entertain similar suspicions of me?
He must have seen in my eyes the look of recognition which I saw in
his. On hearing of the murder, our meeting may also have recurred
to him; and his suspicions would have this color, wanting to mine,
that I happen to inherit with my Italian blood a somewhat truculent
appearance, which has gained for me among my friends the playful
sobriquet of "the brigand."
Anxious to atone at once for my folly, and to remove from my mind
any misgiving—if it existed—at my quitting him so soon after the
disclosures of the masquerading details, I went to Bourgonef as
soon as I was dressed and proposed a ramble till the diligence
started for Munich. He was sympathetic in his inquiries about my
colic, which I assured him had quite passed away, and out we went.
The sharp morning air of March made us walk briskly, and gave a
pleasant animation to our thoughts. As he discussed the acts of
the provisional government, so wise, temperate, and energetic, the
fervor and generosity of his sentiments stood out in such striking
contrast with the deed I had last night recklessly imputed to him
that I felt deeply ashamed, and was nearly carried away by mingled
admiration and self-reproach to confess the absurd vagrancy of my
thoughts and humbly ask his pardon. But you can understand the
reluctance at a confession so insulting to him, so degrading to me.
It is at all times difficult to tell a man, face to face, eye to
eye, the evil you have thought of him, unless the recklessness of
anger seizes on it as a weapon with which to strike; and I had now
so completely unsaid to myself all that I once had thought of evil,
that to put it in words seemed a gratuitous injury to me and insult
A day or two after our arrival in Munich a reaction began steadily
to set in. Ashamed as I was of my suspicions, I could not
altogether banish from my mind the incident which had awakened
them. The image of that false beard would mingle with my thoughts.
I was vaguely uncomfortable at the idea of Bourgonef's carrying
about with him obvious materials of disguise. In itself this would
have had little significance; but coupled with the fact that his
devoted servant was—in spite of all Bourgonef's eulogies—
repulsively ferocious in aspect, capable, as I could not help
believing, of any brutality,—the suggestion was unpleasant. You
will understand that having emphatically acquitted Bourgonef in my
mind, I did not again distinctly charge him with any complicity in
the mysterious murder; on the contrary, I should indignantly have
repelled such a thought; but the uneasy sense of some mystery about
him, coupled with the accessories of disguise, and the aspect of
the servant, gave rise to dim, shadowy forebodings which ever and
anon passed across my mind.
Did it ever occur to you, reader, to reflect on the depths of
deceit which lie still and dark even in the honestest minds?
Society reposes on a thin crust of convention, underneath which lie
fathomless possibilities of crime, and consequently suspicions of
crime. Friendship, however close and dear, is not free from its
reserves, unspoken beliefs, more or less suppressed opinions. The
man whom you would indignantly defend against any accusation
brought by another, so confident are you in his unshakable
integrity, you may yourself momentarily suspect of crimes far
exceeding those which you repudiate. Indeed, I have known
sagacious men hold that perfect frankness in expressing the
thoughts is a sure sign of imperfect friendship; something is
always suppressed; and it is not he who loves you that "tells you
candidly what he thinks" of your person, your pretensions, your
children, or your poems. Perfect candor is dictated by envy, or
some other unfriendly feeling, making friendship a stalking-horse,
under cover of which it shoots the arrow which will rankle.
Friendship is candid only when the candor is urgent—meant to avert
impending danger or to rectify an error. The candor which is an
impertinence never springs from friendship. Love is sympathetic.
I do not, of course, mean to intimate that my feeling for Bourgonef
was of that deep kind which justifies the name of friendship. I
only want to say that in our social relations we are constantly
hiding from each other, under the smiles and courtesies of friendly
interest, thoughts which, if expressed, would destroy all possible
communion—and that, nevertheless, we are not insincere in our
smiles and courtesies; and therefore there is nothing paradoxical
in my having felt great admiration for Bourgonef, and great
pleasure in his society, while all the time there was deep down in
the recesses of my thoughts an uneasy sense of a dark mystery which
possibly connected him with a dreadful crime.
This feeling was roused into greater activity by an incident which
now occurred. One morning I went to Bourgonef's room, which was at
some distance from mine on the same floor, intending to propose a
visit to the sculpture at the Glyptothek. To my surprise I found
Ivan the serf standing before the closed door. He looked at me
like a mastiff about to spring; and intimated by significant
gestures that I was not allowed to enter the room. Concluding that
his master was occupied in some way, and desired not to be
disturbed, I merely signified by a nod that my visit was of no
consequence, and went out. On returning about an hour afterwards I
saw Ivan putting three pink letters into the letter-box of the
hotel. I attached no significance to this very ordinary fact at
the time, but went up to my room and began writing my letters, one
of which was to my lawyer, sending him an important receipt. The
dinner-bell sounded before I had half finished this letter; but I
wrote on, determined to have done with it at once, in case the
afternoon should offer any expedition with Bourgonef.
At dinner he quietly intimated that Ivan had informed him of my
visit, and apologized for not having been able to see me. I, of
course, assured him that no apology was necessary, and that we had
plenty of time to visit sculpture together without intruding on his
private hours. He informed me that he was that afternoon going to
pay a visit to Schwanthaler, the sculptor, and if I desired it, he
would ask permission on another occasion to take me with him. I
jumped at the proposal, as may be supposed.
Dinner over, I strolled into the Englische Garten, and had my
coffee and cigar there. On my return I was vexed to find that in
the hurry of finishing my letters I had sealed the one to my
lawyer, and had not enclosed the receipt which had been the object
of writing. Fortunately it was not too late. Descending to the
bureau of the hotel, I explained my mistake to the head-waiter, who
unlocked the letter-box to search for my letter. It was found at
once, for there were only seven or eight in the box. Among these
my eye naturally caught the three pink letters which I had that
morning seen Ivan drop into the box; but although they were SEEN by
me they were not NOTICED at the time, my mind being solely occupied
with rectifying the stupid blunder I had made.
Once more in my own room a sudden revelation startled me. Everyone
knows what it is to have details come under the eye which the mind
first interprets long after the eye ceases to rest upon them. The
impressions are received passively; but they are registered, and
can be calmly read whenever the mind is in activity. It was so
now. I suddenly, as if now for the first time, saw that the
addresses on Bourgonef's letters were written in a fluent, masterly
hand, bold in character, and with a certain sweep which might have
come from a painter. The thrill which this vision gave will be
intelligible when you remember that Bourgonef had lost or pretended
to have lost his right arm, and was, as I before intimated, far
from dexterous with his left. That no man recently thrown upon the
use of a left hand could have written those addresses was too
evident. What, then, was the alternative? The empty sleeve was an
imposture! At once the old horrible suspicion returned, and this
time with tenfold violence, and with damnatory confirmation.
Pressing my temples between my hands, I tried to be calm and to
survey the evidence without precipitation; but for some time the
conflict of thoughts was too violent. Whatever might be the
explanation, clear it was that Bourgonef, for some purposes, was
practising a deception, and had, as I knew, other means of
disguising his appearance. This, on the most favorable
interpretation, branded him with suspicion. This excluded him from
the circle of honest men.
But did it connect him with the murder of Lieschen Lehfeldt? In my
thought it did so indubitably; but I was aware of the difficulty of
making this clear to anyone else.
If the reader feels that my suspicions were not wholly unwarranted,
were indeed inevitable, he will not laugh at me on learning that
once more these suspicions were set aside, and the fact—the
damnatory fact, as I regarded it—discovered by me so accidentally,
and, I thought, providentially, was robbed of all its significance
by Bourgonef himself casually and carelessly avowing it in
conversation, just as one may avow a secret infirmity, with some
bitterness, but without any implication of deceit in its
I was the more prepared for this revulsion of feeling, by the
difficulty I felt in maintaining my suspicions in the presence of
one so gentle and so refined. He had come into my room that
evening to tell me of his visit to Schwanthaler, and of the
sculptor's flattering desire to make my personal acquaintance. He
spoke of Schwanthaler, and his earnest efforts in art, with so much
enthusiasm, and was altogether so charming, that I felt abashed
before him, incapable of ridding myself of the dreadful suspicions,
yet incapable of firmly believing him to be what I thought. But
more than this, there came the new interest awakened in me by his
story; and when, in the course of his story, he accidentally
disclosed the fact that he had not lost his arm, all my suspicions
vanished at once.
We had got, as usual, upon politics, and were differing more than
usual, because he gave greater prominence to his sympathy with the
Red Republicans. He accused me of not being "thorough-going,"
which I admitted. This he attributed to the fact of my giving a
divided heart to politics—a condition natural enough at my age,
and with my hopes. "Well," said I, laughing, "you don't mean to
take a lofty stand upon your few years' seniority. If my age
renders it natural, does yours profoundly alter such a conviction?"
"My age, no. But you have the hopes of youth. I have none. I am
banished for ever from the joys and sorrows of domestic life; and
therefore, to live at all, must consecrate my soul to great
abstractions and public affairs."
"But why banished, unless self-banished?"
"Woman's love is impossible. You look incredulous. I do not
allude to this," he said, taking up the empty sleeve, and by so
doing sending a shiver through me.
"The loss of your arm," I said—and my voice trembled slightly, for
I felt that a crisis was at hand—"although a misfortune to you,
would really be an advantage in gaining a woman's affections.
Women are so romantic, and their imaginations are so easily
"Yes," he replied bitterly; "but the trouble is that I have not
lost my arm."
I started. He spoke bitterly, yet calmly. I awaited his
explanation in great suspense.
"To have lost my arm in battle, or even by an accident, would
perhaps have lent me a charm in woman's eyes. But, as I said, my
arm hangs by my side—withered, unpresentable."
I breathed again. He continued in the same tone, and without
noticing my looks.
"But it is not this which banishes me. Woman's love might be hoped
for, had I far worse infirmities. The cause lies deeper. It lies
in my history. A wall of granite has grown up between me and the
"But, my dear fellow, do you—wounded, as I presume to guess, by
some unworthy woman—extend the fault of one to the whole sex? Do
you despair of finding another true, because a first was false?"
"They are all false," he exclaimed with energy. "Not, perhaps, all
false from inherent viciousness, though many are that, but false
because their inherent weakness renders them incapable of truth.
Oh! I know the catalogue of their good qualities. They are often
pitiful, self-devoting, generous; but they are so by fits and
starts, just as they are cruel, remorseless, exacting, by fits and
starts. They have no constancy—they are too weak to be constant
even in evil; their minds are all impressions; their actions are
all the issue of immediate promptings. Swayed by the fleeting
impulses of the hour, they have only one persistent, calculable
motive on which reliance can always be placed—that motive is
vanity; you are always sure of them there. It is from vanity they
are good—from vanity they are evil; their devotion and their
desertion equally vanity. I know them. To me they have disclosed
the shallows of their natures. God! how I have suffered from
A deep, low exclamation, half sob, half curse, closed his tirade.
He remained silent for a few minutes, looking on the floor, then,
suddenly turning his eyes upon me, said:
"Were you ever in Heidelberg?"
"I thought all your countrymen went there? Then you will never
have heard anything of my story. Shall I tell you how my youth was
blighted? Will you care to listen?"
"It would interest me much."
"I had reached the age of seven-and-twenty," he began, "without
having once known even the vague stirrings of the passion of love.
I admired many women, and courted the admiration of them all; but I
was as yet not only heart-whole, but, to use your Shakespeare's
phrase, Cupid had not tapped me on the shoulder.
"This detail is not unimportant in my story. You may possibly have
observed that in those passionate natures which reserve their
force, and do not fritter away their feelings in scattered
flirtations or trivial love-affairs, there is a velocity and
momentum, when the movement of passion is once excited, greatly
transcending all that is ever felt by expansive and expressive
natures. Slow to be moved, when they do move it is with the whole
mass of the heart. So it was with me. I purchased my immunity
from earlier entanglements by the price of my whole life. I am not
what I was. Between my past and present self there is a gulf; that
gulf is dark, stormy, and profound. On the far side stands a youth
of hope, energy, ambition, and unclouded happiness, with great
capacities for loving; on this side a blighted manhood, with no
prospects but suffering and storm."
He paused. With an effort he seemed to master the suggestions
which crowded upon his memory, and continued his narrative in an
"I had been for several weeks at Heidelberg. One of my intimate
companions was Kestner, the architect, and he one day proposed to
introduce me to his sister-in-law, Ottilie, of whom he had
repeatedly spoken to me in terms of great affection and esteem.
"We went, and we were most cordially received. Ottilie justified
Kestner's praises. Pretty, but not strikingly so—clever, but not
obtrusively so; her soft dark eyes were frank and winning; her
manner was gentle and retiring, with that dash of sentimentalism
which seems native to all German girls, but without any of the
ridiculous extravagance too often seen in them. I liked her all
the more because I was perfectly at my ease with her, and this was
rarely the case in my relations to young women. I don't enjoy
"You leap at once to the conclusion that we fell in love. Your
conclusion is precipitate. Seeing her continually, I grew to
admire and respect her; but the significant smiles, winks, and
hints of friends, pointing unmistakably at a supposed understanding
existing between us, only made me more seriously examine the state
of my feelings, and assured me that I was not in love. It is true
that I felt a serene pleasure in her society, and that when away
from her she occupied much of my thoughts. It is true that I often
thought of her as a wife; and in these meditations she appeared as
one eminently calculated to make a happy home. But it is no less
true that during a temporary absence of hers of a few weeks I felt
no sort of uneasiness, no yearning for her presence, no vacancy in
my life. I knew, therefore, that it was not love which I felt.
"So much for my feelings. What of hers? They seemed very like my
own. That she admired me, and was pleased to be with me, was
certain. That she had a particle of fiery love for me I did not,
could not believe. And it was probably this very sense of her
calmness which kept my feelings quiet. For love is a flame which
often can be kindled only by contact with flame. Certainly this is
so in proud, reserved natures, which are chilled by any contact
with temperature not higher than their own.
"On her return, however, from that absence I have mentioned, I was
not a little fluttered by an obvious change in her manner; an
impression which subsequent meetings only served to confirm.
Although still very quiet, her manner had become more tender, and
it had that delicious shyness which is the most exquisite of
flatteries, as it is one of the most enchanting of graces. I saw
her tremble slightly beneath my voice, and blush beneath my gaze.
"There was no mistaking these signs. It was clear that she loved
me; and it was no less clear that I, taking fire at this discovery,
was myself rapidly falling in love. I will not keep you from my
story by idle reflections. Take another cigar." He rose and paced
up and down the room in silence.
"At this juncture there arrived from Paris the woman to whom the
great sorrow of my life is due. A fatalist might read in her
appearance at this particular moment the signs of a prearranged
doom. A few weeks later, and her arrival would have been harmless;
I should have been shielded from all external influence by the
absorbing force of love. But, alas! this was not to be. My fate
had taken another direction. The woman had arrived whose shadow
was to darken the rest of my existence. That woman was Agalma
"How is it that the head which we can only see surrounded with a
halo, or a shadow, when the splendors of achievement or the infamy
of shame instruct our eyes, is by the uninstructed eye observed as
wholly vulgar? We all profess to be physiognomists; how is it we
are so lamentably mistaken in our judgments? Here was a woman in
whom my ignorant eyes saw nothing at all remarkable except golden
hair of unusual beauty. When I say golden, I am not speaking
loosely. I do not mean red or flaxen hair, but hair actually
resembling burnished gold more than anything else. Its ripples on
her brow caught the light like a coronet. This was her one beauty,
and it was superb. For the rest, her features were characterless.
Her figure was tall and full; not graceful, but sweepingly
imposing. At first I noticed nothing about her except the braided
splendor of her glorious hair."
He rose, and went into his bedroom, from which he returned with a
small trinket-box in his hand. This he laid open on the table,
disclosing a long strand of exquisite fair hair lying on a cushion
of dark-blue velvet.
"Look at that," he said. "Might it not have been cut from an
"It is certainly wonderful."
"It must have been hair like this which crowned the infamous head
of Lucrezia Borgia," he said, bitterly. "She, too, had golden
hair; but hers must have been of paler tint, like her nature."
He resumed his seat, and, fixing his eyes upon the lock, continued:
"She was one of Ottilie's friends—dear friends, they called each
other,—which meant that they kissed each other profusely, and told
each other all their secrets, or as much as the lying nature of the
sex permitted and suggested. It is, of course, impossible for me
to disentangle my present knowledge from my past impressions so as
to give you a clear description of what I then thought of Agalma.
Enough that, as a matter of fact, I distinctly remember not to have
admired her, and to have told Ottilie so; and when Ottilie, in
surprise at my insensibility, assured me that men were in general
wonderfully charmed with her (though, for her part, she had never
understood why), I answered, and answered sincerely, that it might
be true with the less refined order of men, but men of taste would
certainly be rather repelled from her.
"This opinion of mine, or some report of it, reached Agalma.
"It may have been the proximate cause of my sorrows. Without this
stimulus to her vanity, she might have left me undisturbed. I
don't know. All I know is, that over many men Agalma exercised
great influence, and that over me she exercised the spell of
fascination. No other word will explain her influence; for it was
not based on excellences such as the mind could recognize to be
attractions; it was based on a mysterious personal power, something
awful in its mysteriousness, as all demoniac powers are. One
source of her influence over men I think I can explain: she at once
captivated and repelled them. By artful appeals to their vanity,
she made them interested in her and in her opinion of them, and yet
kept herself inaccessible by a pride which was the more fascinating
because it always seemed about to give way. Her instinct fastened
upon the weak point in those she approached. This made her
seductive to men, because she flattered their weak points; and
hateful to women, because she flouted and disclosed their weak
"Her influence over me began in the following way. One day, at a
picnic, having been led by her into a conversation respecting the
relative inferiority of the feminine intellect, I was forced to
speak rather more earnestly than usual, when suddenly she turned to
me and exclaimed in a lower voice:
"'I am willing to credit anything you say; only pray don't continue
talking to me so earnestly.'
"'Why not?' I asked, surprised.
"She looked at me with peculiar significance, but remained silent.
"'May I ask why not?' I asked.
"'Because, if you do, somebody may be jealous.' There was a
laughing defiance in her eye as she spoke.
"'And pray, who has a right to be jealous of me?'
"'Oh! you know well enough.'
"It was true; I did know; and she knew that I knew it. To my shame
be it said that I was weak enough to yield to an equivocation which
I now see to have been disloyal, but which I then pretended to have
been no more than delicacy to Ottilie. As, in point of fact, there
had never been a word passed between us respecting our mutual
feelings, I considered myself bound in honor to assume that there
was nothing tacitly acknowledged.
"Piqued by her tone and look, I disavowed the existence of any
claims upon my attention; and to prove the sincerity of my words, I
persisted in addressing my attentions to her. Once or twice I
fancied I caught flying glances, in which some of the company
criticised my conduct, and Ottilie also seemed to me unusually
quiet. But her manner, though quiet, was untroubled and unchanged.
I talked less to her than usual, partly because I talked so much to
Agalma, and partly because I felt that Agalma's eyes were on us.
But no shadow of 'temper' or reserve darkened our interchange of
"On our way back, I know not what devil prompted me to ask Agalma
whether she had really been in earnest in her former allusion to
"'Yes,' she said, 'I was in earnest then.'
"'Now I have doubts. I may have been misinformed. It's no concern
of mine, anyway; but I had been given to understand. However, I
admit that my own eyes have not confirmed what my ears heard.'
"This speech was irritating on two separate grounds. It implied
that people were talking freely of my attachment, which, until I
had formally acknowledged it, I resented as an impertinence; and it
implied that, from personal observation, Agalma doubted Ottilie's
feelings for me. This alarmed my quick-retreating pride! I, too,
began to doubt. Once let loose on that field, imagination soon saw
shapes enough to confirm any doubt. Ottilie's manner certainly had
seemed less tender—nay, somewhat indifferent—during the last few
days. Had the arrival of that heavy lout, her cousin, anything to
do with this change?
"Not to weary you by recalling all the unfolding stages of this
miserable story with the minuteness of detail which my own memory
morbidly lingers on, I will hurry to the catastrophe. I grew more
and more doubtful of the existence in Ottilie's mind of any feeling
stronger than friendship for me; and as this doubt strengthened,
there arose the flattering suspicion that I was becoming an object
of greater interest to Agalma, who had quite changed her tone
towards me, and had become serious in her speech and manner. Weeks
passed. Ottilie had fallen from her pedestal, and had taken her
place among agreeable acquaintances. One day I suddenly learned
that Ottilie was engaged to her cousin.
"You will not wonder that Agalma, who before this had exercised
great fascination over me, now doubly became an object of the most
tender interest. I fell madly in love. Hitherto I had never known
that passion. My feeling for Ottilie I saw was but the
inarticulate stammerings of the mighty voice which now sounded
throught the depths of my nature. The phrase, madly in love, is no
exaggeration; madness alone knows such a fever of the brain, such a
tumult of the heart. It was not that reason was overpowered; on
the contrary, reason was intensely active, but active with that
logic of flames which lights up the vision of maniacs.
"Although, of course, my passion was but too evident to every one,
I dreaded its premature avowal, lest I should lose her; and almost
equally dreaded delay, lest I should suffer from that also. At
length the avowal was extorted from me by jealousy of a brilliant
Pole—Korinski—who had recently appeared in our circle, and was
obviously casting me in the shade by his superior advantages of
novelty, of personal attraction, and of a romantic history. She
accepted me; and now, for a time, I was the happiest of mortals.
The fever of the last few weeks was abating; it gave place to a
deep tide of hopeful joy. Could I have died then! Could I have
even died shortly afterwards, when I knew the delicious mystery of
a jealousy not too absorbing! For you must know that my happiness
was brief. Jealousy, to which all passion of a deep and exacting
power is inevitably allied, soon began to disturb my content.
Agalma had no tenderness. She permitted caresses, never returned
them. She was ready enough to listen to all my plans for the
future, so long as the recital moved amid details of fortune and
her position in society—that is, so long as her vanity was
interested; but I began to observe with pain that her thoughts
never rested on tender domesticities and poetic anticipations.
This vexed me more and more. The very spell which she exercised
over me made her want of tenderness more intolerable. I yearned
for her love—for some sympathy with the vehement passion which was
burning within me; and she was as marble.
"You will not be surprised to hear that I reproached her bitterly
for her indifference. That is the invariable and fatal folly of
lovers—they seem to imagine that a heart can be scolded into
tenderness! To my reproaches she at first answered impatiently
that they were unjust; that it was not her fault if her nature was
less expansive than mine; and that it was insulting to be told she
was indifferent to the man whom she had consented to marry. Later
she answered my reproaches with haughty defiance, one day
intimating that if I really thought what I said, and repented our
engagement, it would be most prudent for us to separate ere it was
too late. This quieted me for a while. But it brought no balm to
"And now fresh tortures were added. Korinski became quite marked
in his attentions to Agalma. These she received with evident
delight; so much so, that I saw by the glances of others that they
were scandalized at it; and this, of course, increased my pain. My
renewed reproaches only made her manner colder to me; to Korinski
it became what I would gladly have seen towards myself.
"The stress and agitation of those days were too much for me. I
fell ill, and for seven weeks lay utterly prostrate. On
recovering, this note was handed to me. It was from Agalma."
Bourgonef here held out to me a crumpled letter, and motioned that
I should open it and read. It ran thus:
"I have thought much of what you have so often said, that it would
be for the happiness of both if our unfortunate engagement were set
aside. That you have a real affection for me I believe, and be
assured that I once had a real affection for you; not, perhaps, the
passionate love which a nature so exacting as yours demands, and
which I earnestly hope it may one day find, but a genuine affection
nevertheless, which would have made me proud to share your lot.
But it would be uncandid in me to pretend that this now exists.
Your incessant jealousy, the angry feelings excited by your
reproaches, the fretful irritation in which for some time we have
lived together, has completely killed what love I had, and I no
longer feel prepared to risk the happiness of both of us by a
marriage. What you said the other night convinces me that it is
even your desire our engagement should cease. It is certainly
mine. Let us try to think kindly of each other and meet again as
When I had read this and returned it to him, he said:
"You see that this was written on the day I was taken ill. Whether
she knew that I was helpless I know not. At any rate, she never
sent to inquire after me. She went off to Paris; Korinski followed
her; and—as I quickly learned on going once more into society—
they were married! Did you ever, in the whole course of your
experience, hear of such heartless conduct?"
Bourgonef asked this with a ferocity which quite startled me. I
did not answer him; for, in truth, I could not see that Agalma had
been very much to blame, even as he told the story, and felt sure
that could I have heard her version it would have worn a very
different aspect. That she was cold, and disappointed him, might
be true enough, but there was no crime; and I perfectly understood
how thoroughly odious he must have made himself to her by his
exactions and reproaches. I understood this, perhaps, all the
better, because in the course of his narrative Bourgonef had
revealed to me aspects of his nature which were somewhat repulsive.
Especially was I struck with his morbid vanity, and his readiness
to impute low motives to others. This unpleasant view of his
character—a character in many respects so admirable for its
generosity and refinement—was deepened as he went on, instead of
awaiting my reply to his question.
"For a wrong so measureless, you will naturally ask what
measureless revenge I sought."
The idea had not occurred to me; indeed I could see no wrong, and
this notion of revenge was somewhat startling in such a case.
"I debated it long," he continued. "I felt that since I was
prevented from arresting any of the evil to myself, I could at
least mature my plans for an adequate discharge of just
retributions on her. It reveals the impotence resulting from the
trammels of modern civilization, that while the possibilities of
wrong are infinite, the openings for vengeance are few and
contemptible. Only when a man is thrown upon the necessities of
this 'wild justice' does he discover how difficult vengeance really
is. Had Agalma been my wife, I could have wreaked my wrath upon
her, with assurance that some of the torture she inflicted on me
was to fall on her. Not having this power what was I to do? Kill
her? That would have afforded one moment of exquisite
satisfaction—but to her it would have been simply death—and I
wanted to kill the heart."
He seemed working with an insane passion, so that I regarded him
with disgust, mingled with some doubts as to what horrors he was
about to relate.
"My plan was chosen. The only way to reach her heart was to strike
through her husband. For several hours daily I practised with the
pistol, until—in spite of only having a left hand—I acquired
fatal skill. But this was not enough. Firing at a mark is simple
work. Firing at a man—especially one holding a pistol pointed at
you—is altogether different. I had too often heard of 'crack
shots' missing their men, to rely confidently on my skill in the
shooting gallery. It was necessary that my eye and hand should be
educated to familiarity with the real object. Part of the cause
why duelists miss their man is from the trepidation of fear. I was
without fear. At no moment in my life have I been afraid; and the
chance of being shot by Korinski I counted as nothing. The other
cause is unfamiliarity with the mark. This I secured myself
against by getting a lay figure of Korinski's height, dressing it
to resemble him, placing a pistol in its hand, and then practising
at this mark in the woods. After a short time I could send a
bullet through the thorax without taking more than a hasty glance
at the figure.
"Thus prepared, I started for Paris. But you will feel for me when
you learn that my hungry heart was baffled of its vengeance, and
baffled for ever. Agalma had been carried off by scarlet fever.
Korinski had left Paris, and I felt no strong promptings to follow
him, and wreak on him a futile vengeance. It was on HER my wrath
had been concentrated, and I gnashed my teeth at the thought that
she had escaped me.
"My story is ended. The months of gloomy depression which
succeeded, now that I was no longer sustained by the hope of
vengeance, I need not speak of. My existence was desolate, and
even now the desolation continues over the whole region of the
emotions. I carry a dead heart within me."
A SECOND VICTIM
Bourgonef's story has been narrated with some fullness, though in
less detail than he told it, in order that the reader may
understand its real bearings on MY story. Without it, the motives
which impelled the strange pertinacity of my pursuit would have
been unintelligible. I have said that a very disagreeable
impression remained on my mind respecting certain aspects of his
character, and I felt somewhat ashamed of my imperfect sagacity in
having up to this period been entirely blind to those aspects. The
truth is, every human being is a mystery, and remains so to the
last. We fancy we know a character; we form a distinct conception
of it; for years that conception remains unmodified, and suddenly
the strain of some emergency, of the incidental stimulus of new
circumstances, reveals qualities not simply unexpected, but flatly
contradictory of our previous conception. We judge of a man by the
angle he subtends to our eye—only thus CAN we judge of him; and
this angle depends on the relation his qualities and circumstances
bear to our interests and sympathies. Bourgonef had charmed me
intellectually; morally I had never come closer to him than in the
sympathies of public questions and abstract theories. His story
had disclosed hidden depths.
My old suspicions reappeared, and a conversation we had two days
afterwards helped to strengthen them.
We had gone on a visit to Schwanthaler, the sculptor, at his tiny
little castle of Schwaneck, a few miles from Munich. The artist
was out for a walk, but we were invited to come in and await his
return, which would be shortly; and meanwhile Bourgonef undertook
to show me over the castle, interesting as a bit of modern Gothic,
realizing on a diminutive scale a youthful dream of the sculptor's.
When our survey was completed—and it did not take long—we sat at
one of the windows and enjoyed a magnificent prospect. "It is
curious," said Bourgonef, "to be shut up here in this imitation of
medieval masonry, where every detail speaks of the dead past, and
to think of the events now going on in Paris which must find
imitators all over Europe, and which open to the mind such vistas
of the future. What a grotesque anachronism is this Gothic castle,
built in the same age as that which sees a reforming pope!"
"Yes; but is not the reforming pope himself an anachronism?"
"As a Catholic," here he smiled, intimating that his orthodoxy was
not very stringent, "I cannot admit that; as a Protestant, you must
admit that if there must be a pope, he must in these days be a
reformer, or—give up his temporal power. Not that I look on Pio
Nono as more than a precursor; he may break ground, and point the
way, but he is not the man to lead Europe out of its present slough
of despond, and under the headship of the Church found a new and
lasting republic. We want a Hildebrand, one who will be to the
nineteenth century as Gregory was to the eleventh."
"Do you believe in such a possibility? Do you think the Roman
pontiff can ever again sway the destinies of Europe?"
"I can hardly say I believe it; yet I see the possibility of such
an opening if the right man were to arise. But I fear he will not
arise; or if he should, the Conclave will stifle him. Yet there is
but one alternative: either Europe must once more join in a crusade
with a pope at the head, or it must hoist the red flag. There is
no other issue."
"Heaven preserve us from both! And I think we shall be preserved
from the Pope by the rottenness of the Church; from the drapeau
rouge by the indignation and horror of all honest men. You see how
the Provisional Government has resisted the insane attempt of the
fanatics to make the red flag accepted as the national banner?"
"Yes; and it is the one thing which dashes my pleasure in the new
revolution. It is the one act of weakness which the Government has
exhibited; a concession which will be fatal unless it be happily
set aside by the energetic party of action."
"An act of weakness? say rather an act of strength. A concession?
say rather the repudiation of anarchy, the assertion of law and
"Not a bit. It was concession to the fears of the timid, and to
the vanity of the French people. The tricolor is a French flag—
not the banner of humanity. It is because the tricolor has been
identified with the victories of France that it appeals to the
vanity of the vainest of people. They forget that it is the flag
of a revolution which failed, and of an empire which was one
perpetual outrage to humanity. Whereas the red is new; it is the
symbol of an energetic, thorough-going creed. If it carries terror
with it, so much the better. The tyrants and the timid should be
made to tremble."
"I had no idea you were so bloodthirsty," said I, laughing at his
"I am not bloodthirsty at all; I am only logical and consistent.
There is a mass of sophistry current in the world which sickens me.
People talk of Robespierre and St. Just, two of the most virtuous
men that ever lived—and of Dominic and Torquemada, two of the most
single-minded—as if they were cruel and bloodthirsty, whereas they
were only convinced."
"Is it from love of paradox that you defend these tigers?"
"Tigers, again—how those beasts are calumniated!"
He said this with a seriousness which was irresistibly comic. I
shouted with laughter; but he continued gravely:
"You think I am joking. But let me ask you why you consider the
tiger more bloodthirsty than yourself? He springs upon his food—
you buy yours from the butcher. He cannot live without animal
food: it is a primal necessity, and he obeys the ordained instinct.
You can live on vegetables; yet you slaughter beasts of the field
and birds of the air (or buy them when slaughtered), and consider
yourself a model of virtue. The tiger only kills his food or his
enemies; you not only kill both, but you kill one animal to make
gravy for another! The tiger is less bloodthirsty than the
"I don't know how much of that tirade is meant to be serious; but
to waive the question of the tiger's morality, do you really—I
will not say sympathize,—but justify Robespierre, Dominic, St.
Just, and the rest of the fanatics who have waded to their ends
"He who wills the END, wills the MEANS."
"A devil's maxim."
"But a truth. What the foolish world shrinks at as
bloodthirstiness and cruelty is very often mere force and constancy
of intellect. It is not that fanatics thirst for blood—far from
it,—but they thirst for the triumph of their cause. Whatever
obstacle lies on their path must be removed; if a torrent of blood
is the only thing that will sweep it away—the torrent must sweep."
"And sweep with it all the sentiments of pity, mercy, charity,
"No; these sentiments may give a sadness to the necessity; they
make the deed a sacrifice, but they cannot prevent the soul from
seeing the aim to which it tends."
"This is detestable doctrine! It is the sophism which has
destroyed families, devastated cities, and retarded the moral
progress of the world more than anything else. No single act of
injustice is ever done on this earth but it tends to perpetuate the
reign of iniquity. By the feelings it calls forth it keeps up the
native savagery of the heart. It breeds injustice, partly by
hardening the minds of those who assent, and partly by exciting the
passion of revenge in those who resist."
"You are wrong. The great drag-chain on the car of progress is the
faltering inconsistency of man. Weakness is more cruel than
sternness. Sentiment is more destructive than logic."
The arrival of Schwanthaler was timely, for my indignation was
rising. The sculptor received us with great cordiality, and in the
pleasure of the subsequent hour I got over to some extent the
irritation Bourgonef's talk had excited.
The next day I left Munich for the Tyrol. My parting with
Bourgonef was many degrees less friendly than it would have been a
week before. I had no wish to see him again, and therefore gave
him no address or invitation in case he should come to England. As
I rolled away in the Malleposte, my busy thoughts reviewed all the
details of our acquaintance, and the farther I was carried from his
presence, the more obtrusive became the suspicions which connected
him with the murder of Lieschen Lehfeldt. How, or upon what
motive, was indeed an utter mystery. He had not mentioned the name
of Lehfeldt. He had not mentioned having before been at Nuremberg.
At Heidelberg the tragedy occurred—or was Heidelberg only a mask?
It occurred to me that he had first ascertained that I had never
been at Heidelberg before he placed the scene of his story there.
Thoughts such as these tormented me. Imagine, then, the horror
with which I heard, soon after my arrival at Salzburg, that a
murder had been committed at Grosshesslohe—one of the pretty
environs of Munich much resorted to by holiday folk—corresponding
in all essential features with the murder at Nuremberg! In both
cases the victim was young and pretty. In both cases she was found
quietly lying on the ground, stabbed to the heart, without any
other traces of violence. In both cases she was a betrothed bride,
and the motive of the unknown assassin a mystery.
Such a correspondence in the essential features inevitably
suggested an appalling mystery of unity in these crimes,—either as
the crimes of one man, committed under some impulse of motiveless
malignity and thirst for innocent blood—or as the equally
appalling effect of IMITATION acting contagiously upon a criminal
imagination; of which contagion there have been, unfortunately, too
many examples—horrible crimes prompting certain weak and feverish
imaginations, by the very horror they inspire, first to dwell on,
and finally to realize their imitations.
It was this latter hypothesis which found general acceptance.
Indeed it was the only one which rested upon any ground of
experience. The disastrous influence of imitation, especially
under the fascination of horror, was well known. The idea of any
diabolical malice moving one man to pass from city to city, and
there quietly single out his victims—both of them, by the very
hypothesis, unrelated to him, both of them at the epoch of their
"The bosom's lord sits lightly on its throne,"
when the peace of the heart is assured, and the future is radiantly
beckoning to them,—that any man should choose such victims for
such crimes was too preposterous an idea long to be entertained.
Unless the man were mad, the idea was inconceivable; and even a
monomaniac must betray himself in such a course, because he would
necessarily conceive himself to be accomplishing some supreme act
It was thus I argued; and indeed I should much have preferred to
believe that one maniac were involved, rather than the contagion of
crime,—since one maniac must inevitably be soon detected; whereas
there were no assignable limits to the contagion of imitation. And
this it was which so profoundly agitated German society. In every
family in which there happened to be a bride, vague tremors could
not be allayed; and the absolute powerlessness which resulted from
the utter uncertainty as to the quarter in which this dreaded
phantom might next appear, justified and intensified those tremors.
Against such an apparition there was no conceivable safeguard.
From a city stricken with the plague, from a district so stricken,
flight is possible, and there are the resources of medical aid.
But from a moral plague like this, what escape was possible?
So passionate and profound became the terror, that I began to share
the opinion which I heard expressed, regretting the widespread
publicity of the modern press, since, with many undeniable
benefits, it carried also the fatal curse of distributing through
households, and keeping constantly under the excitement of
discussion, images of crime and horror which would tend to
perpetuate and extend the excesses of individual passion. The mere
dwelling long on such a topic as this was fraught with evil.
This and more I heard discussed as I hurried back to Munich. To
Munich? Yes; thither I was posting with all speed. Not a shadow
of doubt now remained in my mind. I knew the assassin, and was
resolved to track and convict him. Do not suppose that THIS time I
was led away by the vagrant activity of my constructive
imagination. I had something like positive proof. No sooner had I
learned that the murder had been committed at Grosshesslohe, than
my thoughts at once carried me to a now memorable visit I had made
there in company with Bourgonef and two young Bavarians. At the
hotel where we dined, we were waited on by the niece of the
landlord, a girl of remarkable beauty, who naturally excited the
attention of four young men, and furnished them with a topic of
conversation. One of the Bavarians had told us that she would one
day be perhaps one of the wealthiest women in the country, for she
was engaged to be married to a young farmer who had recently found
himself, by a rapid succession of deaths, sole heir to a great
brewer, whose wealth was known to be enormous.
At this moment Sophie entered bringing wine, and I saw Bourgonef
slowly turn his eyes upon her with a look which then was mysterious
to me, but which now spoke too plainly its dreadful meaning.
What is there in a look, you will say? Perhaps nothing; or it may
be everything. To my unsuspecting, unenlightened perception,
Bourgonef's gaze was simply the melancholy and half-curious gaze
which such a man might be supposed to cast upon a young woman who
had been made the topic of an interesting discourse. But to my
mind, enlightened as to his character, and instructed as to his
peculiar feelings arising from his own story, the gaze was charged
with horror. It marked a victim. The whole succession of events
rose before me in vivid distinctness; the separate details of
suspicion gathered into unity.
Great as was Bourgonef's command over his features, he could not
conceal uneasiness as well as surprise at my appearance at the
table d'hote in Munich. I shook hands with him, putting on as
friendly a mask as I could, and replied to his question about my
sudden return by attributing it to unexpected intelligence received
"Nothing serious, I hope?"
"Well, I'm afraid it will prove very serious," I said. "But we
shall see. Meanwhile my visit to the Tyrol must be given up or
"Do you remain here, then?"
"I don't know what my movements will be."
Thus I had prepared him for any reserve or strangeness in my
manner; and I had concealed from him the course of my movements;
for at whatever cost, I was resolved to follow him and bring him to
But how? Evidence I had none that could satisfy any one else,
however convincing it might be to my own mind. Nor did there seem
any evidence forthcoming from Grosshesslohe. Sophie's body had
been found in the afternoon lying as if asleep in one of the by-
paths of the wood. No marks of a struggle; no traces of the
murderer. Her affianced lover, who was at Augsburg, on hearing of
her fate, hurried to Grosshesslohe, but could throw no light on the
murder, could give no hint as to a possible motive for the deed.
But this entire absence of evidence, or even ground of suspicion,
only made MY case the stronger. It was the motiveless malignity of
the deed which fastened it on Bourgonef; or rather, it was the
absence of any known motive elsewhere which assured me that I had
detected the motive in him.
Should I communicate my conviction to the police? It was possible
that I might impress them with at least sufficient suspicion to
warrant his examination—and in that case the truth might be
elicited; for among the many barbarities and iniquities of the
criminal procedure in Continental States which often press heavily
on the innocent, there is this compensating advantage, that the
pressure on the guilty is tenfold heavier. If the innocent are
often unjustly punished—imprisoned and maltreated before their
innocence can be established—the guilty seldom escape. In England
we give the criminal not only every chance of escape, but many
advantages. The love of fair-play is carried to excess. It seems
at times as if the whole arrangements of our procedure were
established with a view to giving a criminal not only the benefit
of every doubt, but of every loophole through which he can slip.
Instead of this, the Continental procedure goes on the principle of
closing up every loophole, and of inventing endless traps into
which the accused may fall. We warn the accused not to say
anything that may be prejudicial to him. They entangle him in
contradictions and confessions which disclose his guilt.
Knowing this, I thought it very likely that, however artful
Bourgonef might be, a severe examination might extort from him
sufficient confirmation of my suspicion to warrant further
procedure. But knowing also that THIS resort was open to me when
all others had failed, I resolved to wait and watch.
Two days passed, and nothing occurred. My watching seemed
hopeless, and I resolved to try the effect of a disguised
interrogatory. It might help to confirm my already settled
conviction, if it did not elicit any new evidence.
Seated in Bourgonef's room, in the old place, each with a cigar,
and chatting as of old on public affairs, I gradually approached
the subject of the recent murder.
"Is it not strange," I said, "that both these crimes should have
happened while we were casually staying in both places?"
"Perhaps we are the criminals," he replied, laughing. I shivered
slightly at this audacity. He laughed as he spoke, but there was a
hard, metallic, and almost defiant tone in his voice which
"Perhaps we are," I answered, quietly. He looked full at me; but I
was prepared, and my face told nothing. I added, as in
explanation, "The crime being apparently contagious, we may have
brought the infection from Nuremberg."
"Do you believe in that hypothesis of imitation?"
"I don't know what to believe. Do you believe in there being only
one murderer? It seems such a preposterous idea. We must suppose
him, at any rate, to be a maniac."
"Not necessarily. Indeed there seems to have been too much artful
contrivance in both affairs, not only in the selection of the
victims, but in the execution of the schemes. Cunning as maniacs
often are they are still maniacs, and betray themselves."
"If not a maniac," said I, hoping to pique him, "he must be a man
of stupendous and pitiable vanity,—perhaps one of your constant-
minded friends, whom you refuse to call bloodthirsty."
"Constant-minded, perhaps; but why pitiably vain?"
"Why? Because only a diseased atrocity of imagination, stimulating
a nature essentially base and weak in its desire to make itself
conspicuous, would or could suggest such things. The silly youth
who 'fired the Ephesian dome,' the vain idiot who set fire to York
Minster, the miserable Frenchmen who have committed murder and
suicide with a view of making their exit striking from a world in
which their appearance had been contemptible, would all sink into
insignificance beside the towering infamy of baseness which—for
the mere love of producing an effect on the minds of men, and thus
drawing their attention upon him, which otherwise would never have
marked him at all—could scheme and execute crimes so horrible and
inexcusable. In common charity to human nature, let us suppose the
wretch is mad; because otherwise his miserable vanity would be too
loathsome." I spoke with warmth and bitterness, which increased as
I perceived him wincing under the degradation of my contempt.
"If his motive WERE vanity," he said, "no doubt it would be
horrible; but may it not have been revenge?"
"Revenge!" I exclaimed; "what! on innocent women?"
"You assume their innocence."
"Good God! do you know anything to the contrary?"
"Not I. But as we are conjecturing, I may as well conjecture it to
have been the desire to produce a startling effect."
"How do you justify your conjecture?"
"Simply enough. We have to suppose a motive; let us say it was
revenge, and see whether that will furnish a clue."
"But it can't. The two victims were wholly unconnected with each
other by any intermediate acquaintances, consequently there can
have been no common wrong or common enmity in existence to furnish
food for vengeance."
"That may be so; it may also be that the avenger made them
"It is human nature. Did you ever observe a thwarted child
striking in its anger the unoffending nurse, destroying its toys to
discharge its wrath? Did you ever see a schoolboy, unable to wreak
his anger on the bigger boy who has just struck him, turn against
the nearest smaller boy and beat him? Did you ever know a
schoolmaster, angered by one of the boy's parents, vent his pent-up
spleen upon the unoffending class? Did you ever see a subaltern
punished because an officer had been reprimanded? These are
familiar examples of vicarious vengeance. When the soul is stung
to fury, it must solace itself by the discharge of that fury—it
must relieve its pain by the sight of pain in others. We are so
constituted. We need sympathy above all things. In joy we cannot
bear to see others in distress; in distress we see the joy of
others with dismal envy which sharpens our pain. That is human
"And," I exclaimed, carried away by my indignation, "you suppose
that the sight of these two happy girls, beaming with the quiet joy
of brides, was torture to some miserable wretch who had lost his
I had gone too far. His eyes looked into mine. I read in his that
he divined the whole drift of my suspicion—the allusion made to
himself. There often passes into a look more than words can
venture to express. In that look he read that he was discovered,
and I read that he had recognized it. With perfect calmness, but
with a metallic ring in his voice which was like the clash of
swords, he said:
"I did not say that I supposed this; but as we were on the wide
field of conjecture—utterly without evidence one way or the other,
having no clue either to the man or his motives—I drew from the
general principles of human nature a conclusion which was just as
plausible—or absurd if you like—as the conclusion that the motive
must have been vanity."
"As you say, we are utterly without evidence, and conjecture drifts
aimlessly from one thing to another. After all, the most plausible
explanation is that of a contagion of imitation."
I said this in order to cover my previous imprudence. He was not
deceived—though for a few moments I fancied he was—but replied:
"I am not persuaded of that either. The whole thing is a mystery,
and I shall stay here some time in the hope of seeing it cleared
up. Meanwhile, for a subject of conjecture, let me show you
something on which your ingenuity may profitably be employed."
He rose and passed into his bedroom. I heard him unlocking and
rummaging the drawers, and was silently reproaching myself for my
want of caution in having spoken as I had done, though it was now
beyond all doubt that he was the murderer, and that his motive had
been rightly guessed; but with this self-reproach there was mingled
a self-gratulation at the way I had got out of the difficulty, as I
He returned, and as he sat down I noticed that the lower part of
his surtout was open. He always wore a long frogged and braided
coat reaching to the knees—as I now know, for the purpose of
concealing the arm which hung (as he said, withered) at his side.
The two last fastenings were now undone.
He held in his hand a tiny chain made of very delicate wire. This
he gave me, saying:
"Now what would you conjecture that to be?"
"Had it come into my hands without any remark, I should have said
it was simply a very exquisite bit of ironwork; but your question
points to something more out of the way."
"It IS iron-work," he said.
Could I be deceived? A third fastening of his surtout was undone!
I had seen but two a moment ago.
"And what am I to conjecture?" I asked.
"Where that iron came from? It was NOT from a mine." I looked at
it again, and examined it attentively. On raising my eyes in
inquiry—fortunately with an expression of surprise, since what met
my eyes would have startled a cooler man—I saw the fourth
"You look surprised," he continued, "and will be more surprised
when I tell you that the iron in your hands once floated in the
circulation of a man. It is made from human blood."
"Human blood!" I murmured.
He went on expounding the physiological wonders of the blood,—how
it carried, dissolved in its currents, a proportion of iron and
earths; how this iron was extracted by chemists and exhibited as a
curiosity; and how this chain had been manufactured from such
extracts. I heard every word, but my thoughts were hurrying to and
fro in the agitation of a supreme moment. That there was a dagger
underneath that coat—that in a few moments it would flash forth—
that a death-struggle was at hand,—I knew well. My safety
depended on presence of mind. That incalculable rapidity with
which, in critical moments, the mind surveys all the openings and
resources of an emergency, had assured me that there was no weapon
within reach—that before I could give an alarm the tiger would be
at my throat, and that my only chance was to keep my eyes fixed
upon him, ready to spring on him the moment the next fastening was
undone, and before he could use his arm.
At last the idea occurred to me, that as, with a wild beast, safety
lies in attacking him just before he attacks you, so with this
beast my best chance was audacity. Looking steadily into his face,
I said slowly:
"And you would like to have such a chain made from my blood." I
rose as I spoke. He remained sitting, but was evidently taken
"What do you mean?" he said.
"I mean," said I, sternly, "that your coat is unfastened, and that
if another fastening is loosened in my presence, I fell you to the
"You're a fool!" he exclaimed.
I moved towards the door, keeping my eye fixed upon him as he sat
pale and glaring at me.
"YOU are a fool," I said—" and worse, if you stir."
At this moment, I know not by what sense, as if I had eyes at the
back of my head, I was aware of some one moving behind me, yet I
dared not look aside. Suddenly two mighty folds of darkness seemed
to envelop me like arms. A powerful scent ascended my nostrils.
There was a ringing in my ears, a beating at my heart. Darkness
came on, deeper and deeper, like huge waves. I seemed growing to
gigantic stature. The waves rolled on faster and faster. The
ringing became a roaring. The beating became a throbbing. Lights
flashed across the darkness. Forms moved before me. On came the
waves hurrying like a tide, and I sank deeper and deeper into this
mighty sea of darkness. Then all was silent. Consciousness was
. . . . . .
How long I remained unconscious, I cannot tell. But it must have
been some considerable time. When consciousness once more began to
dawn within me, I found myself lying on a bed surrounded by a group
of eager, watching faces, and became aware of a confused murmur of
whispering going on around me. "Er Lebt" (he lives) were the words
which greeted my opening eyes—words which I recognized as coming
from my landlord.
I had had a very narrow escape. Another moment and I should not
have lived to tell the tale. The dagger that had already immolated
two of Bourgonef's objects of vengeance would have been in my
breast. As it was, at the very moment when the terrible Ivan had
thrown his arms around me and was stifling me with chloroform, one
of the servants of the hotel, alarmed or attracted by curiosity at
the sound of high words within the room, had ventured to open the
door to see what was going on. The alarm had been given, and
Bourgonef had been arrested and handed over to the police. Ivan,
however, had disappeared; nor were the police ever able to find
him. This mattered comparatively little. Ivan without his master
was no more redoubtable than any other noxious animal. As an
accomplice, as an instrument to execute the will of a man like
Bourgonef, he was a danger to society. The directing intelligence
withdrawn, he sank to the level of the brute. I was not uneasy,
therefore, at his having escaped. Sufficient for me that the real
criminal, the mind that had conceived and directed those fearful
murders, was at last in the hands of justice. I felt that my task
had been fully accomplished when Bourgonef's head fell on the