Translation © Steven Rowan.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.
The Mysteries of New Orleans!
“What will this work be?” many men ask themselves.
“Does the author who dares tackle this task rake the mud of the Queen of the South that, like all large towns, has its ditches and sewers?…”
“Will he uncover the secrets hidden, so to speak, between the epidermis and the skin of the city?…”
“Or will he openly attack the abuses, the shameful liaisons, the obscure deals of hidden politics, of secret commerce, of electoral tricks, of judicial venalities and the other betrayals of every variety?” Perhaps there are some great criminals, absolved by chance, by success, by popular votes…”
“Will it be merely a novel of dubious morals seasoned by local descriptions…”
“Or a narrative panorama of the town, from the markets to the churches; from the little houses of certain streets with a morality more than equivocal, to places of higher charitable asylum for orphans and widows?…”
The Mysteries of New Orleans is not a work of scandal … nor is it a monotonous novel of morals … nor an arid statistic: here is our response.
The purpose of our work is:
- To cause to know, from the surface to a certain depth, what happens, in public or in secret, in this town with the name of “New Orleans.”
- To unveil, in a rather normal manner without compromising anyone, the existence and operations of certain associations little known or not known at all;
- To give, in the current of a general account, the description of various places in the town it is worth seeing in order to know what New Orleans is;
- Finally, to arrive at the point through reading this work so that the stranger knows as well as the resident this town on which so many opinions swirl in lands more or less distant.
We will give this work the charms that suit it: something of the piquant without scandal; of curious revelations, yet so veiled that the personalities are not obvious. Truth will be our guide, but we will dress it properly.
All the faces of the great town will be viewed at leasure, with their thousands of fantastic varieties, changing like the luminous and innumerable facets of the kaleidoscope. One will find there plenty of enigmas that have passed and pass now before our eyes, almost not perceived and rarely understood.
It sometimes happens that we act a bit like Asmodaeus lifting the roofs of certain houses to attract public view.
From the great thefts unpunished to the planned arsons; from certain mysterious deaths to minor adolescent corruptions; from the voting urn and the scandals of elections, even in feminine form, to the miserable vessel of the sick-bed … we will delve into everything.
As a consoling compensation we will bring lovely hidden acts, unknown self-sacrifice of noble unknown deeds that have not been rewarded, into the light of … all the glorious and obscure constellation of men of goodness and charity.
There was a time when New Orleans was a rambunctious city, contentious, displaying pistol or blade for any reason, making scandal from morning to night, from evening to morning. These disreputable rumors made for a horrible reputation to the stranger. But this scandalous epoch is fortunately past. Order has made such rapid progress that the traveler who arrives, afraid of what he will encounter, is utterly surprised after a long or short visit to see that the tranquil man who remains in his wonted place is no more troubled than elsewhere.
It is important to know both the past and the present.
When a careful author portrays a person, he does it completely, that is, he includes in his written image the physical as well as moral qualities and faults, hidden motives and their apparent causes, so that the reader is totally informed.
We will do that for New Orleans.
We will say what it was and what it is; we will utter the good and the bad, giving a cause for each virtue and each vice.
For the physical portrait we will display the churches, hospitals, prisons, banks, convents, hotels, auction houses, schools, journals, theaters, circuses, halls, fashionable cafés and low-down cabarets, the varieties of the great river where float all the pavilions of the world, details of national festivals, election parades,… and other things necessary to complete the physiognomy of New Orleans.
As a moral portrait, we will write on the center of the principal intrigue, a series of scenes from real life, where all the degrees of our social scale will be presented to the reader, from the good man to the criminal; from the woman not worthy of the name to the most saintly, the honest wife and pure mother.
If there had not been truly mysterious scenes that make the title of this work real, we could entitle it History of New Orleans.
It is night. Eleven hours sound at the Cathedral of New Orleans. The last stroke of the bell is still vibrating among the silent echoes. One hears from afar the two blows of the iron batons of the night watch. The sky is almost without stars; the barometer rests at variable. Some few passers-by coming from the cafés sing choruses of patriotic songs, some rather scorched by the quavering that excessive libations give to the voice. Among these nocturnal cries one remarks Frenchmen and Germans. Wine inspires the former, beer the latter. One sees some white coats contrasting with the black of the streets, tipping before certain known doors of the knights of midnight. These are the industrialists awaiting the passage of lost dollars that vice pays, like a tax, in all large towns. A watchful curious person, something of an observer, will note, after surveying the chief streets, that certain small lamps placed at the end of dark corridors, like mocking lighthouses summoning to mysterious pleasures those couriers of adventures, supplied with the metallic universal pass they call money.
Let us move to the corner of rue Royal and rue St. Louis. Let us raise our head and note a window on the second floor of the Exchange, the last to the right. There is a light in this window. All the others are in total darkness. If we penetrate to the room whose brightness draws our attention, we will see, perched at a little mahogany desk, a man of thirty years, whose attention appears profoundly absorbed in the letter he is writing. After several minutes, he raises his head, glances at the small clock that decorates his hearth, folds his missive, seals it and gives a signal. A tiny Negro appears at once. The quickest of responses comes from this child of Africa.
— “Well, John,” the master says, “take this to Mariette … you know?”
— “Yes, master, I know where to find her!”
— “Be careful of the watchmen!”
At this warning, the little Negro departs with a prideful smile that one could translate this way: “Is there an ill wind so bad that watchmen could catch me?”
Then he went down the stairs with no more sound than a cat pursuing a nest of mice.
There are those who, in my place, upon entering this room on the second floor of the St. Louis Exchange, would give his readers a complete portrait of the person we have found. They would have given his size nearly to the centimeter; they would have spoken of the color of his hair, the size of his nose, the scale of his eyes, and those thousand and one details that a daguerreotype records so well.
We will say, though readers expect better, that his hair was brown, his build a little above average, neither handsome nor heavy, seeing that one is never handsome and almost never heavy in an absolute manner — One finds those handsome whom one loves, and everyone has a chance to be loved…
Let us follow the little black messenger, sliding like a shadow along the sidewalks. He mounts rue St. Louis to rue des Ramparts. He turns left and, arriving at a small, new house, before which is a miniature garden, he coughs in a special way; then, after having thrown an inquisitor’s glance about, he slips the letter through a wooden grill and, not awaiting a response, slips away as he had come, only following a different path.
If the night were less dark, we could perceive that on the balcony of the second floor of the house located at the corner of rue St. Louis and rue des Ramparts, stands a man whose gaze is invariably fixed in the direction of that lighted room of the hôtel St. Louis of which we are to speak.
But despite the darkness we can perfectly distinguish a black horse, all ready, tied by its bridle to a ring set in the wall of this house from which the unknown man watches…
“Already midnight!” the man murmurs impatiently at his vigil on the balcony”… “The night is perfect for our business; but the signal is late!… Have I forgotten anything? Here I have my papers, here is my revolver and my knife … and there is this letter!” — he added in a trembling voice, betraying anger — “…My horse is excellent, and…”
But a trembling passed through his body; his monologue is over, and his ardent gaze secured to pierce the night, to follow the luminous point where his eyes were attached…
“Once!” — he said…
The light of the hôtel St. Louis window vanished:
The light had appeared again, then it was covered a second time.
“— That’s two … or three…” he murmured to himself with the highest anxiety “…My project will fail! How long the minutes are!”
“— Three times! Praise God … it is perhaps for this evening…”
And, carefully buttoning his black riding-coat, he reentered the house. One minute later he was leaping on his horse, and the echoes of the night soon sounded a triple cadenced rhythm, pounding the pavement of the road.
The anonymous cavalier galloped down rue des Ramparts to Esplanade; from there, turning right to reach the levees and follow them along the course of the Mississippi, we will give our thoughts greater than lightning speed.
We shall pass in front the Ursulines Convent like a sylph, past the barracks and continue this course some miles farther. On reaching there, we go left and rise a certain distance overland, where the little village of Versailles is located. — We say a little village, although there was no more than a dozen houses belonging to gardeners and dairymen, and at length settlements more or less considerable.…
But there we will moderate our course and, arriving with the reader near a squared house built of old bricks, we listen carefully, hiding our indiscrete presence in a dead-silent place.
At first look this house appeared to be abandoned… No light betrayed the presence of people awake. Still, by placing an ear against the thick old door, solidly closed, we can hear some low and continuous sounds, and occasionally some voices.
It is good that we have decided to hide ourselves, for the door where we placed our indiscrete ear opened without a sound and provided passage to a man of great stature, who looked around himself with piercing gaze, as if he could penetrate the darkness…
A dry double sound was heard, obviously the cocking of a pistol caused us to redouble our prudence and attention, even as it excited our curiosity.
A half hour passed in this manner.
The man went back and forth before the half-opened door, like a vigilant sentinel. We paid attention and remained silent…
Finally, the sound of a galloping horse struck our ears, muffled occasionally by the ground, softened at various points.
The hoot of an owl sounded some paces away, and a similar call responded farther away.
It was obviously that it was a call and response, and that no bird was making these calls.
Some minutes later, the cavalier and the sentinel conversed in low voice, probably exchanging a command. The horse was unbridled, unsaddled and tethered on the prairie, and the two men entered the building, closing the door behind them.
Our curiosity would not be satisfied for a moment, and we shall pass elsewhere to witness a scene of an entirely different nature.
The Kiss in the Shadow
We have not forgotten the little house on rue des Ramparts, in the garden of which the black messenger of the stranger in the Hôtel St. Louis tossed a letter, after having coughed to give a signal.
A quarter hour later, the door of this house opened soundlessly, and a man entered in silence. This man crossed the little garden, closed the door without a sound, mounted twenty steps and found himself in a dimly lit salon…
— “Anna!” he said in a voice trembling with emotion, “at last I see you as I desire… If you had rejected my last prayer, you could have called down on my head troubles that it is not permitted to me to tell you… Thank God that you receive me! You know I love you … and how I love you…”
These thanks and hot protests were addressed to a young woman, seated on a couch near the veiled light that was all that illuminated the room. She was dressed in white muslin, and innumerable locks of hair black as jet caressed her pink shoulders. She had one of those suave faces, beautiful with sweetness and a pensive melancholy. A sort of shame appeared to restrain her, for, on the arrival of the unknown man, a trembling light descended on her beautiful body, and her gaze did not dare respond to the love that the eyes of her lover projected.
— “Come to me,” she finally said, extending her plump hand, with fine, rosy fingers, on which he showered repeatedly five or six ardent kisses…”
— “Tell me that you love me, Anna! Tell me that it is your heart that opened to me the door of this dear sanctuary where lives the queen of all my soul!”
— “I love you, Louis … you know that … but, my God! What a sin you make me commit! Long have I trembled; long have I hesitated … I am still hesitating … if we are surprised!”
— “Have no fear, my dear! Any danger of this sort is unlikely… Do you think that I would let anyone menace you? Do you believe that I am not so discrete and so desirous of our happiness not to have taken necessary precautions?… Just reassure yourself, Anna, and permit me to love you, to tell you again, again and forever…
“Poor Louis! I know everything that your love has done for me … my heart responds on its own; but is our position tenable? May one be happy when one trembles endlessly?…”
— “Tremble! … why? Your husband, this man who stole you from me through fraud…”
— “Silence! my friend; no recriminations … we have no right to accuse the past… Aren’t we culpable in the present?”
— “Culpable!” Louis responded… “Not again!” he added in a low voice.
But as low as he murmured these words, the young woman still heard them, and the whiteness of her face and her lovely shoulders turned a subtle carmine…
At this moment the salon clock sounded in the midst of these embraces of love, a silver stroke that long vibrated in silent echoes.
In the last chapter we said that the stranger, writing in the room of the Hôtel St. Louis, was a man in his thirties. We abstained from detailing the portrait for reasons that the reader might or might not appreciate.
At this instant he was handsome: one is always handsome when one is alone with the one he loves.
After the last words exchanged between the lovers, we cannot tell the conversation that took place, nor the pitch to which culpable passion rose, fanned by glances, by words, by this unknown fluid that is the secret of the Creator.
Only, at the end of about an hour, we could hear three scattered sounds in the midst of the mysterious silence.
Two of them came from the little animated furniture-piece that measures time;
The third, that one could not describe, was that of a kiss taken in the shadow, in the midst of the intermingled names of Louis and Anna.
Every writer has his own manner.
Some commence a narrative at the end; others, in the middle, and the smallest number, at the beginning.
The most difficult of all manners is incontestably the last; it is perhaps for that reason the least liked, by the literary time that works, as it is said.
The fact is that, on balance, it is best to say rather monotonously, “Once upon a time … et cetera …” and to proceed in this manner to the end.
Let us confess that, because of this monotony, a transcendent talent is demanded in order to interest readers in multiple action from its beginning, and to continue it without manipulation.
That is probably why we have not adopted this manner.
After this opinion, which at least proves our modesty — we will not speak of the two other ways of proceeding. We must be clear in our own procedure; it is all we have to occupy us.
We ask the reader to return with us to these paths. We will enter at once the isolated house in Versailles where our attention was earlier interrupted.
Two men are going to enter it, as we have seen. They carefully follow a dark corridor at the top of which is a door, solidly closed. The man who is the first to this door turns a ring hidden in the corner of the wall, and the door opens silently, as if on its own.
— “Will he be late to arrive?” he asked his companion.
— “I don’t know…”
— “It was surely the signal you saw?”
— “In that case, let’s descend and announce him…”
Together they went down a narrow, humid stairway that was obviously taking them into the earth. They twisted several times to the right and to the left, and found themselves suddenly in the middle of a vast space, brightly lit.
It was a singular scene that suddenly appeared to them.
Envision a bizarre hall twenty meters high.
There were furnaces, tongs, rolling mills, anvils, working benches, hammers, pincers, besides other smaller tools, and a thousand that only the patience of an auctioneer could define.
In this vast hall, enclosed by moist walls, a badly-bricked floor and a rather low platform, forty or so small benches were ranged in a sort of symmetry, with some large tables piled with crucibles of yellow and white metal, in which gold or silver certainly played only a limited role.
At these forty work benches there were sitting forty men hard at work. Among them were young men, men of mature age, and others who edged into that last period we call old age.
For the time being we shall not examine these varied physiognomies, which would be rather curious if we judge them by the two or three were have already noticed.
In the middle of the hall there was a small printing press, and on every side of this press there were ranged printers’ cases filled with type. Two compositors were working there intensely to the sound of a punch. A man from thirty-five to forty years of age moved from place to place, inspecting each of the various works in progress in the establishment, benches, cases, and furnaces.
In the corner, a long oval table was covered with pieces of laminated, polished steel, burins, gouges, pieces of wax, and other bizarre objects. Six men sat around this table. Each of them had a reflecting lamp illuminating the minute work to which he was dedicated.
Silence reigned in the midst of these fifty persons completely devoted to various tasks, in the crypt of this isolated and silent house, some miles from New Orleans.
The first who entered quickly struck a bell with a low sound, doubtless chosen so as to cause as little echo as possible, so as not to be heard outside.
Everything stopped at this signal.
The burins ceased cutting steel, the hammers ceased to strike metal, the bellows ceased boosting the flame of the furnaces, characters ceased being set by the compositors.
On a second signal, all the lights lowered as one, and the vast workshop suddenly went dark.
They waited for the feet of the fifty mysterious workers to cease moving in the corridors in the midst of the intensifying silence.…… …
— “Gentlemen!” said the chief we have seen inspecting the works in progress in the large hall where we introduced the reader, “The Captain is coming tonight! It is the day of inspection, and of payment… The three foremen were coming to the large laboratory to receive the Captain and help him with the general inspection. So far as the others go, they may pass the time as they wished while awaiting another signal!”
— “Hurrah!” sounded the voices of those turned free, “Hurrah for the Captain!”
There was no danger that the noise would be heard outside. The thickness of the walls, the depth of the caverns and the strict closure of all the gates sufficiently guaranteed the secrecy of all these men for a purpose of common interest.
— “To play!” some of them cried out.
— “To play! To play!”
And, in an instant, a mass of small tables was lined up, covered with cards and dice and other utensils for the use of blind fortune. Candle ends were fixed on small lead chandeliers, and the battles commenced.
Cards and Dice
— “Let’s go, Loriquet! This is my revenge for the other day, and may all the devils of Hell damn you if you take even a piastre from me!”
— “Good, good; what shall be shall be!… and onward to your revenge!”
— “What will we play?”
— “Piquet rules.”
— “How much?”
— “A half-piastre a point.”
— “That’s too much to start with.”
— “Let’s go, you capon! Is it because you aren’t winning like before?”
— “Let it be! A half-piastre, then… Where’s your money?”
— “Me, I always have it, and I earn less than you do!”
— “Possibly, but since we are not playing a game of morality, but just playing cards, and before the game, I swear … you will pay this evening…”
— “Fine! Pay this evening!”
The cards were shuffled, reshuffled, and dealt.
— “To you, my boy… What do you say?”
— “Not good!”
— “To the devil with you! Three queens!”
— “Not good!”
— “Damn! That’s the way it is: no good … then … nothing!”
— “My turn: six cards, major win, three kings…”
— “Six and fifteen, twenty-one, and three, twenty-four. I play twenty-five and so forth, twenty-nine, sixteen, and the trick: hundred! Fifty cents gained!”
— “Go ahead…”
And the game continued to Loriquet’s advantage. On all sides conversations took their course. Here it was an argument, there it was a scandalous story; further on there were confidences given in low voices…
— “Tell me, Rousto,” a voice arose from his chest, “have you seen Mélanie?”
— “Well! that’s surprising: Fleuriot saw you with her the evening before last.”
— “Ah, yesterday evening … I recall … yes, yes, I recall; I encountered her by the Champs-Elysées, and I went with her to the end of the road…”
Rousto was a big man built like Hercules, with whiskers of various colors, poorly kept. His wandering eyes and red nose polished like a pumice stone, signaled a genteel taste for drinks stressing the spirits of wine.
Finot, his partner in conversation, was truly a curious type. Short, delicate, dry, thin, eyes and mouth full of energy, he only kept his seat with difficulty. Some part of his body was always in motion: his right leg or his left leg, one of his eyes, or his lower lip; in short, he never kept completely still even in sleep. Finot was only a surname that they had given him because of his intelligence, continually spinning on a short thread. His real name shall not flow from our pen, for reasons that will perhaps be discovered later.
— “Well, then,” he responded, staring at Rousto between his two eyes, “you repeat what you said before … incidentally … on the Champs-Elysées … and you went with her to the end of the road?…”
— “But yes; then?”
— “Then! Pay close attention to what I tell you, in your fat mouth! If you are making moves on Mélanie, look out (and here his smooth voice suddenly took on a very masculine accent), I will skewer you with hard steel in your gut!”
The gross Hercules let out a roar of laughter that disturbed the game next to them.
— “Look here,” said a man rolling dice, “It’s Finot attacking the fat stoker with a shocking story! My God, I did not expect that!”
— “You have lost a lot,” the fat man replied, and continued to roar with laughter.
— “Listen, papa,” Finot replied in a low voice, with a tone of sarcasm hard to describe, “you heard me and understood, right? Enough! Say no more; we will see later, by continuing our game if you wish.”
— “I want to very much.”
And the dice rolled…
— “Three!” said Finot, “and four, seven, and six, thirteen! Your turn…”
— “Six and six, twelve…”
— “What luck!”
— “And six, eighteen! I won. Pay up?”
— “Hold it! Enough for this evening………”
— “It’s getting late!” said the new arrival, none other than the man we saw keeping watch on the balcony at the corner of the rues St. Louis and Rampart … an hour ago!
The place where the troupe of nocturnal workers was located at this moment was a hall presenting a long rectangle. At the end there was an elevated stairway starting about two feet above the coarse floor, leveled and sanded. It was doubtless the place of conferences and entertainments.
One may see what sort of work was being done. — The reader will know, when the time is right, what this work was. — One has already seen what discipline and silence this sort of effort was commanded by one ringing of a bell.
When we know the association that controlled and united these workers, enemies of daylight, he will understand the motivations of this whole and also this discipline, as strict as that of an elite administration.
— “He hasn’t arrived yet!” repeated an impatient man “…and his horse is better than mine, which is excellent.”
— The Lieutenant, with a discontented air, said, in carefully approaching the little man who threatened to stab some sort of blade into Rousto’s belly.
— “Good heavens,” the Lieutenant responded, “I am exhausted!”
— “A man like you should not tire, Monsieur Alexandre … it is fine enough for those lacking resources in their imagination. But tell me, the Captain will not arrive quickly this evening … Look, it has been thirty-three days, I think, since he was last seen?”
— “Precisely twenty-three days. He was in New York after our last meeting, and he only returned today.”
— “In this case, Lieutenant, we will probably have an important session … perhaps also a raise in pay…”
— “You really love money, Finot!”
— “Yeah, yeah … money is the nerve of war, and also of peace! Assuming that one entertains himself when not fighting, and that to amuse himself, it is necessary to pay, and pay again, Lieutenant.”
— “An hour and a half!” the Lieutenant said, drawing a magnificent watch, no heavier nor thicker than two stacked silver dollars, from his vest.………
Half the players had quit their cards and dice; the others went on, intent to tire the blind goddess who nourished so many illusions amid so many hopes.
Those who had ceased playing formed a circle around the spokesman of the troupe. This spokesman was none other than our old friend Finot, the little crook who was so jealous about Mélanie.
— He who knows so much, Finot, asked one of his listeners, “Did you hear about the murder that took place yesterday, near the Mint?”
— “Do you think I won’t tell you everything?”
— “Then tell me what you know…”
— “Gladly. Here is Rousto, I am happy to have him listen to this little story … he will contribute!”
Everyone relaxed: Rousto sat down, and Finot began:
— “Very well,” he said, “I am naming this story:
An Intimate friend
“Let us proceed in order,” he went on. “There was a man killed, therefore he was killed by someone…”
— “How well-said!” murmured a fat man, shaped like a beast.
— “To continue,” Pinot went on, “if he was killed by someone, it is necessary to know who this someone is and why he had imposed death on his fellow human. I will remain silent on the first question, which I might or might not know, seeing that I do not play the role of the police. On the second question, it’s different: that is the story, and in the last analysis the moral of the matter.”
— “My God! How he talks!… like a book!” the fat listener was not able to restrain himself.
“There was a pretty girl named Louise … her last name is not important … on one day or another, a pretty girl has to have a lover… This day arrived for Louise; she had a lover, a gallant fellow who loved her in his way. He was no communist when it came to women! If we wish we could name him Julien … always with three stars — it is not necessary to be indiscrete — Julien then had an intimate friend, very intimate — you will see how he served his friend. — It is also proper to tell you that Louise was a brunette five feet three inches tall; with black curls and eyebrows that joined together over her nose; very fresh and well-colored, rare here due to the yellow fever and cholera. Finally she had a shape that was appealing, in short, she could say when she looked in the mirror, ‘This daughter of my mother is not bad at all!’
“There are those who say she is wise; others scorn this wisdom slightingly with their tongues. Why was this? I have no idea, and I don’t care.”
The Lieutenant continued to pace here and there, looking at his watch every five minutes, observing that time passed slowly, as it always does for those who wait.
“Then, one day, Julien had to take a little journey to St. Louis. Before his departure, he went to his intimate friend and said, ‘Tomorrow I am leaving for a few weeks; please do me the service of paying attention to Louise, and if, for unforeseen reasons, she needs anything, I will count on you!’ Saying that, Julien left his intimate friend, and on the next day he was off for the West on a brand-new steamboat.
“Julien’s intimate friend was a handsome young man with a great deal of honey on his tongue when it came to sex. He formed phrases easily and with facility. No one knew what his trade was, but he always had money in his pocket and fine clothes on his back.
“We must tell you that he had known Louise for a while, but always honorably! So, when Julien departed, he went to see her … to protect her, as was proper…”
— “Two hours!” the Lieutenant said, grinding his teeth, continuing his pacing.
“Up to now,” Finot went on, “everything ran as if on rails. It was a story you’ve heard a thousand times. You even think you already know the end… You would imagine that he would seduce her, be found out by Julien and fight with him — After all! An intimate friend! You would harrow your brain for a decade and not find out the truth!
“About a week after Julien’s departure, the New Orleans papers, informed by telegraph, would announce that a boat headed for St. Louis had exploded.
“Julien’s intimate friend had an intimate enemy who, not being very brave and yet very vindictive, had long rehearsed in his mind all sorts of unimaginable projects properly to revenge some treacherous blow.
“A week later, the intimate friend received a letter from his intimate enemy in which Julien’s death was announced. No detail was omitted. He had fallen something like a hundred feet, landing on bricks, head first. The narrator naively added that the unfortunate Julien, having crushed his head, leg and arms, did not survive his injury.
“The letter in question began and finished with assurances of regrets about the past, with protestations of friendship for the future, following a complete listing of previous wrongs in the affair that had made them mutual enemies, both he who wrote and he who received.
“The intimate friend of Julien announced this misfortune to Louise. He had a painful air, but it is possible that he was little pained at the bottom of his heart — the human race is so vicious!” —
— “Word of honor!” Rousto declared, “one cannot tell it better than that!”
— “Thanks for the compliment,” the narrator responded with a sardonic smile. “Listen to the end: that will confirm it…”
— “Go on to the end!”
“Time passed … and the intimate friend of the late Julien also advanced, from his house to her house … that was Louise.
“Damn! Little by little, from tick to tock, from day to day, the absent one lost and the present one gained.…… and, finally, the intimate friend of the late Julien replaced Julien, which once again proved the devotion of friendship!”
“With Julien gone, do you think anyone would blame her?”
— “No, no, no,” replied the circle…
— “In this case, I continue:
“The death of Julien was a trick. — I tell you this naively, without playing the charlatan, as so many fiction-writers do — it was a trick, but there was some truth in it. Julien had been injured along with many others, and he had been taken to a hospital.
“It would take too long to tell you why and by what subterfuges the enemy of Julien’s friend arranged all of this and wished to promote it. One may well discover the goal this miserable person communicated this story to Louise’s protector, but the danger was so great!
“But Julien’s friend was with Louise.
“During this time, Julien slowly recovered his health, awaiting impatiently the hour of recovering the broken sequence of his love.
“Had I the time, I would happily have made a more or less pastoral portrayal of the existence of Louise and her new friend; I could also have painted in detail the moral situation of Julien … but, since the Captain will not delay coming, and since I do not wish to delay the end for later, I will have to go directly to the conclusion.
“Not content having prepared a scene of murder between the two men, the falsifier of news desired to help his tragedy to its end through a refinement of his vengeance. He arranged to arrive in New Orleans a few days before Julien, who had completely recovered, and sought to place himself at his first apartment, so as to play his role in the drama. Before leaving, he had sent Julien an anonymous letter of which one divines the content and understands the intent.
“But man proposes … and the mist disposes…
“It happened that the boat bringing the scoundrel was delayed by a series of little accidents, and that the one with Julien on board made a rapid voyage that reduced the advantage of the first boat over the second by twelve or fourteen hours.
“The scoundrel — we shall call him that — arrived to New Orleans on Saturday morning. He used his day to cause Louise’s new friend, his enemy, to be far away through various wise maneuvers, and that evening he visited the young woman … perhaps to learn the extent to which she was attached to Julien’s successor, and to use that to judge the probable degree of his revenge — the human heart is that ferocious! —
“The scoundrel was located rather close to Louise, and, while he curried his maringouin, replacing an errant hair with the point of his finger — as he did that, partly by negligence, partly by a refined calculation of … I have no idea — the fact was that at that moment he had all appearances against him, in the eyes of a jealous lover:
“And the jealous lover was not far away … he was approaching…
“In less than a second, the gate opened, and a shot was followed by a fall and a death rattle at almost the same moment.
“Julien was avenged! Heart full of rage, his eyes full of blood, his head on fire over the obsession with the anonymous letter, he had jumped like a demoniac and believed that he had killed his intimate friend. Without saying a word, without waiting a second, he fled into the street without goal and without direction, just to avoid arrest. ”
— “Ooh!” Rousto punctuated, letting out an enormous puff of air.
— “That was well-done!” some of the others exclaimed.
— “To complete the picture,” Finot responded, “the intimate friend, Julien’s successor, arrived an hour after this event. He found Louise still dumb with surprise and terror. She told him what happened as best she could. Her new lover was a young man of intelligence, reflection and strong nerves. He relayed his narrative, making it up as he went along, and having been half the mystery, made up the other half. After this he left, promising to return in half an hour. After fifteen minutes he returned with a small cart, acquired in a hurry.
— “‘Let’s go,’ he said, ‘it is important not to compromise ourselves and to act quickly.’
“There he gathered the corpse with care, so as not to be stained with blood, he carried it to the cart, and after covering it with some cloth, he took the horse’s bridle and led the whole quietly away, as if it were the most innocent thing in the world, toward the bottom of Esplanade.
“He reached it, and, having carefully checked the environs so as to avoid an indiscrete encounter with the watchman, he quietly slid the cadaver onto the ground by the sidewalk, then departing as he had come, he returned the cart and horse to where he had obtained it, and he innocently returned to his home, which is to say her place.
“On seeing her lover’s calm and courage, Louise returned to herself and, wishing not to appear useless in such dangerous circumstances, she caused every trace of the murder to disappear.
“And this is why they found a murdered man near the Mint…”
— “And yet, in all of that,” one critic said, “I do not find that the intimate friend did anything worthy of reproach…”
— “That is true,” responded Finot… “Only, when he arose the next morning, he said to himself, while tying his necktie in front of Louise’s mirror:
“‘In every way I am master of the situation. Julien will not dare return to New Orleans, and I have gained a fine mistress … and cheap!’
“That was the funeral speech delivered by the intimate friend!”
Finot had hardly finished his narrative when a threefold sounding of the bell reverberated. The games were abandoned at once, conversations ceased, and a semi-silence established itself. Each of the fifty workers found his place, whether at a table or at a workbench… Some remained standing, but all of them obviously placed themselves to listen attentively, and they waited impatiently.
The masters of the shop, the foremen, entered at this moment, and one of them spoke quietly to the Lieutenant, who had finally ceased his impatient pacing. In five minutes they constructed a sort of stage from parts placed in readiness in a corner of the hall. A seat was placed near a desk placed on this stage, and they waited.
The wait was not long.
After a few minutes, a small door, almost invisible, opened behind the stage. A man entered, and giving a gracious greeting to all with his hand, mounted the stage, sat at the desk and took command:
— “Sirs, good day!” he said. “I do not have much time to give to you this evening, but we will review past business and bring into the open the weeks I have been absent. The Lieutenant will pay what I will sign in order of precedence. We will begin with the engravers. Where is Michel, the master?”
— “Here!” responded a tall, dry man whose long, tangled whiskers almost hid his whole face…
— “Here, Captain!”
— “How much is due to your men?”
— “Six hundred twenty-two piastres in all, including me.”
— “The account was approved by the Lieutenant?”
— “Yes, Captain, himself there…”
— “It is good. Give…”
The Captain took it and signed it.
— “Concerning this,” he said, “You have one man who is losing his touch. I received complaints from our superior in New York. Look at this dreadful bill for fifty piastres. The details of the illustrations are heavy and shaky. One would say it was the hand of a drinking man! Who did this?”
— “It was John.”
— “Oh well! John took leave for a week, and if he does it a second time, he will no longer work with us. We must have none but the best workers of the United States.”
— “It is enough, Captain … I will keep an eye on him.”
The engravers’ foreman took the fifty-piastre bill, brought it to the flame of a candle and let it burn gently to the end, holding the flame above it. He then collected the ashes of the bill in the palm of his right hand and approached John, who remained shamefaced in a corner.
— “At ten percent, old pal,” he said, “that makes five piastres to deduct from your four weeks! Assuming that the Captain does not make any more criticisms of the engraving!”
— “That is good!” John replied… “I believe I am as good a worker as any other, one time is no precedent.”
— “No! But twice is too many! We will talk about this no more.”
And Master Michel withdrew.
— “Where is the report of casting?” the Captain asked.
— “Here it is,” the Lieutenant responded. “Twelve hundred sixty piastres.”
— “Very good … pay it! — And the typography account?”
— “Two hundred twelve piastres,” a jovial fat man (who had no hair on his head, and who always wore a black cap to hide this fact) responded. His nickname was The Sacristan.
— “Has it been verified?”
— “Yes, Captain,” the Sacristan responded.
— “Fine… Let it be paid.… And lithography?”
— “Lithography was not a major matter, Captain,” responded a little old man wearing a pair of spectacles with four blue lenses … “Two hundred ten piastres in all! It has been checked…”
— “The account is to be paid. Except you have to pay more attention with the purchase of red ink. You should pay more and get better ink. If you are lacking here, we will have it brought.”
— “Fine, Captain,” the lithographer responded, somewhat disconcerted.
— “Let’s pass on to the gold now … where is the head of the shop?”
— “Present!” responded a true duplicate of Voltaire: sarcastic body, thin lips,
forehead bulging, prominent chin, and the body somewhat bent by work.
This word present! was filled with the assurance of unhesitant pride, with the deep satisfaction of a transcendent talent without fear of reproach.
— “William,” the Captain said, “the gold coming from our shops is perfect. If engraving deserved some criticism, the eagles, half-eagles and double-eagles have satisfied the finest experts … fine! And how high is the bill for the department?”
— “Up to eighteen hundred piastres, Captain! Reviewed and approved…”
— “To pay on sight! William… Also, here is a twenty-piastre coin that you may spend for the
benefit of whomever you please…”
And the Captain flipped a fine shining coin into William’s hand.
— “What a fine coin!” William said as he contemplated the Captain with eyes filled with mocking finesse, “It was made in New York, but there are better!”
— “William, how are there better? It is a masterpiece of the Thompson factory…”
— “It doesn’t matter; the color is not uniform. It is excellent for the whole world … the weight is right … but for me … it is worthless.”
— “Come on, you are a fierce worker! Few others would have seen the fault. Give it back, and I will get you another…”
— “Oh! That is … a legal one!… Thanks, Captain…”
— “Let’s pass on to the silver… Where is Daniel?”
— “Daniel is sick,” the Lieutenant responded. “Here is the account for his department; it is thorough and countersigned.”
— “How high does it go?”
— “To fourteen hundred piastres.”
— “That is good,” responded the Captain, and he signed it.
“Now,” the Captain said, “make notes on the machines and principal tools; everything not already in excellent shape must be replaced.
“It is also necessary to reduce the half-dollars and increase the Mexicans. The large bills must cease production for two or three weeks, and we will increase the middling notes and double the small ones. The shops of New York, Philadelphia and New Orleans will have an increase in pay after the next general assembly.”
A joyful smile appeared on the forty mouths, up to now very serious.
“Before leaving you, gentlemen, I want to repeat the most serious recommendations on the conduct that the men of our company must maintain outside. Absolute discretion is not enough. It is also to allow nothing to pass via gestures, inept expenditures, silences, or embarrassment in response to delicate questions. Our business is doing well, but it will do even better. Look about at the miseries of men on all sides, working hard and still not making ends meet at the end of the year. See almost all businesses tottering, too much unemployment… Not for us! Without a doubt — happily! — we will recover a little balance. Some cannot have everything and the others nothing! Let us work on! and we will see the end of bad days when hunger and other needs are no longer ignored! Let us above all avoid discord among ourselves, so that each of us respects what is important to his comrade.”
— “You intend to? Rousto,” Finot said with a low voice, touching the big Hercules’ elbow…
— “Certainly I intend to … do you think I’m deaf?”
— “Well, this should serve as an assignment!”
— “You are…” Rousto responded, staring at the openings of the platform…
“As your final instruction, gentlemen,” the Captain continued during the dialogue of the two friends, “I recommend that you always keep secret from the police what you do not keep secret from one another… From tomorrow, our password will change. The Lieutenant will come to me, and I will tell it to him, and he will pass it from person to person, always quietly.”
The Lieutenant approached the Captain, who passed these two words: “Vigilance and Fortune.”
The password moved from the Lieutenant to the foremen, and from the foremen to the workers, to all the ears, and each resumed his place in silence.
— “Lieutenant,” said the Captain, “in this portfolio you will find what you need to pay all the bills. You will transfer the balance to the section’s credit.”
The hidden door behind the stage opened as if by itself. The Captain arose:
— “Farewell, gentlemen!” he said.
And he vanished.
— “Now for payment!” said the Lieutenant, replacing the departing Captain on the stage…
The masters of the shop approached him one by one, each receiving what was owed to their men and to themselves.
Among the last notes that the Lieutenant drew from the portfolio was an entirely different paper from the delicate slips at whose end came so much action, good and ill. He acted as if no one would see this paper, folded like a letter, and ended his task by turning the opening of the portfolio away from his side. After this, he put it carefully into the pocket of his frock coat, barely holding its precious contents.
“Lookouts! To your posts,” he cried, “and let us organize the departure… It is past three in the morning!”
Four men left, not by the door that had granted access to the Captain, but by that leading to the shops we saw in the previous chapter.
After a few minutes, a nocturnal birdcall sounded from a distance of several arpents. Then five men emerged, then five more, and so on, each band taking a path other than the previous one, preceded by a guide to avoid bad incidents…
The men had barely departed when the Lieutenant remounted his horse and recapitulated the route we saw him take to Versailles to announce the approach of the Captain. This time, the gallop of his horse was more rapid than before. He did not pause until he was to the house on rue des Ramparts where we saw the little Negro toss a letter, and later open for the unknown person we have learned bore the name of Anna.
He did not notice the person half-hidden behind a pillar twenty paces from the house when he entered soundlessly, using a key.
Anna was asleep. Her beautiful head, slightly nodding, covered with black and rose in the snow of a pillow bordered with light lace. Black, her long, beautiful hair, flowing like waves about her head; the rose was her open lips, in the midst of which pearled two ranges of small, even teeth. A gentle breath escaped like the slow sob of a zephyr from this lovely mouth in repose, and arising under a transparent muslin were the two most gracious breasts God ever created.
The room was illuminated by a single votive candle.
The Lieutenant sought to penetrate the room without the slightest sound.
— “What sweet sleep!” he said, as he approached the bed … “She is so beautiful!”
“And to say that perhaps she does not love me!… perhaps…! oh! no … I would kill her … or I would kill myself!”
For a long time he concentrated his ardent attention, full of caresses, on this sleeping woman who was his… In this gaze one might read many diverse sentiments: first of all, love, without limit or calculation; doubt; perhaps remorse … sometimes the flames of savage jealousy, followed by sudden tenderness, near to tears.
What was happening in this soul?
What angels, what demons were disputing?…
After this long, mysterious contemplation, the Lieutenant withdrew from his pocket the portfolio the Captain had given him. He drew out the paper hidden among the last bank bills: it was a small sealed letter; it carried no address.
After a moment’s hesitation he returned it to the portfolio…
— “I am a fool!” he said, smiling… “why should I commit a useless indiscretion?”
Four o’clock sounded at this moment.
Anna awoke and, seeing her husband by the light:
— “Is it you Alexandre?,” she said.
— “Yes, I just arrived. We had to attend to pressing obligations to write a number of letters on the subject of a sudden rise in cotton. I am harrowed with fatigue.”
— “Rest,” Anna said. “For myself, I will get up and read: I was not able to sleep any more…”
Alexandre looked at his wife with distress, and he did not respond.
When the daylight appeared, the Lieutenant slept in agitated slumber, and Anna quietly descended to smell the flowers of her little garden.
Meanwhile, at the house in Versailles, a passer-by, led there by some chance, saw the house occupied by three or four riders drinking and eating with an appetite suited to cause envy from kings or vagrants.
Man and a Madman
In spring of the year 1848, a fine steamboat, whose name we have forgotten, departed New Orleans for California.
Only a year ago gold, that chimera of Monsieur Scribe, was discovered in the Sacramento Valley.
We will make a major effort to show the reader a few of the lines causing the immense result of the California emigration.
“Among the guards of Charles X there was a Swiss officer named Sutter, who, unable to preserve his rank after the July Revolution, went to seek his fortune in America, to Oregon; then to the Sandwich Islands, then to California, where he was granted thirty leagues of land in the Sacramento Valley, on the banks of the rivière de la Fourche, a tributary of the great river.
“Mr. Sutter established his residence on a small hill. There he constructed a fort to command the area. Later, in 1847, after having successfully begun the foundation of a palisade, he established a mill destined to power a sawing yard. The basis of the millwheel proved to be too narrow.
“To save labor, he let the watercourse cut its own passage. The gravel and sand from the bottom of the millrace, raised and cleaned, bounced against the boards and the side of the passage, revealing to their eyes a great quantity of shining gold nuggets.
“Behold, the discovery of El Dorado!…
“Behold Herr Sutter and his people gathered, collecting the nuggets; behold the neighbors and the neighbors of neighbors also crowding in; then strangers: the Mexicans, the Texans, the Louisianans, the Pennsylvanians, the English, the French, even the immovable Chinese. Behold the more moving questions agitating Europe!… Behold the depreciation of gold resulting; unimaginable financial events preparing from one end of the civilized world to the other, and all because Herr Sutter was unable to preserve his rank in the army of 1830.”
So, a year after this discovery, an American steamship departed New Orleans, carrying across the seas hardy adventurers leaving a mediocre and tranquil life to seek riches in the midst of a thousand dangers.
To be sure, one seeking to determine the true causes of all these departures would be acquainted with curious facts! The thirst for gold was certainly the principal cause of emigration. Perhaps for two-thirds it was the only cause… But for many others?
The last cable holding the ship, prepared to depart, was about to be raised from the wharf and tossed into the water. Smoke escaped in thick black billows from the huge sheet-metal chimney… The paddles began to describe their vast rotation under the vigorous power of steam… Farewells were exchanged, hats waved, and the last greetings were sent in full voice.
Finally, the captain gave his last order, and the steamer began a majestic advance to the middle of the river. There, it described a gracious curve, and with the force of its paddles, augmented by the force of the current, it descended the river with a speed of twenty miles an hour.
It was only then that the passengers organized themselves. Those in the first cabin, those in the second, and those on the bridge deck each sought their cabin to make the best possible arrangement. Some remained at the railing watching the trees and houses of both banks pass like the phantoms of a dream.
Half the day passed in arrangements of all kinds on board. Acquaintances had not yet been made. Many searched the crowd for sympathetic faces to make into friends for the voyage. No one had ten years ahead of himself to get to know someone, to appreciate and judge this person or that as worthy of confidence and fraternal relations. Instinct guided them; the glance, a sense without a name that causes us to say of him, “He will return,” and of the other, “I will never be able to tolerate him.”
And, in the last analysis, it has never been proved that liaisons achieved over time are better than those arising from instinct.
Two men of almost the same age were seated next to one another on a bench behind the railing. Their physical similarity was striking, but the impressions of their faces bore no resemblance at all.
The one appeared gay and careless. Hope was written in detail in his animated eyes and his smiling mouth.
The other, in contrast, appeared serious, even sad. His gaze was concentrated invincibly toward the point where New Orleans rose, which had vanished long since. Occasionally even his eyes moistened, and his chest threatened to produce a sob.
His happy companion perceived this. From gayety and cheer his face grew serious and melancholic…
— “Courage, brother!” he told him, taking his hand… “Courage! … See the horizon unrolling before your eyes! Forget! Time is a great master who heals everything: it will cure you, too…”
— “Never, Eugène … never, my dear brother! It is my heart that I leave there! That is what I leave behind!”
— “What you never could have had you would do well to leave. I am the one who gave you the advice, and I don’t regret it.”
— “Agreed! Eugene … you have no idea! The love one gives to a woman, you see, is the sum of three loves that one gives to a mother, to a sister, and to a child, doubling the charm that God sows, like powerful magnetism between a man and a woman who love one another! Oh! the world horrifies me!”
— “Why? tell me … why? … because if a man is able to shatter my happiness like a glass, and also, you know … because I have been beaten, forced as it were, with a friend of this man! And yet I do not know whether he knew…”
— “Even if you did not know him, it would be no reason to see yourself as a fool! You acted well…”
— “Yes, I acted well; but if I had been able to see where it was going, I would have waited until after my marriage before demanding reparation! What importance would Anna’s father have been to me once she was mine?…”
— “And why would she not have loved you despite her father?”
— “Because, besides the ridicule that was his permanently for one beaten in a duel, he is the best father there is, and she is the best daughter that could be found…”
— “It is all the same. I cannot see this as an excellent reason…”
— “Finally… But I shall write to him … he will respond … one never knows what could happen.”
— “Don’t say that to him, at the least she is such a loving daughter!”
— “Don’t press me, my friend … I prefer to feel sorry for myself than to doubt her!”
A quarter hour of silence followed the two brothers’ conversation.
The day began to fade. The colors on the horizon darkened from moment to moment. The steamer had spread its sails, and the breeze augmented the power of steam, pushing it across the waves like a racehorse…
— “Oh, my brother… I am suffering in this moment! Here was the hour when I sat beside her, before this fatal duel… These were sweet hours when our hearts spoke, in the midst of an indescribable intoxication! … Oh, do you see, if I were capable of swimming back to this happy place, I would throw myself into these waves we are now crossing!”
— “Louis, it is not good to speak this way… It is a reproach against my recommendation to depart!”
— “No it isn’t! It is no reproach, because you meant it well … but there are moments when my head goes wild, or my senses are as if thousands of icy spears are piercing my body! When I think that she lives there, a day’s trip away, in a quiet home where I visited and from which I have been banished! … and to know that she loves me! … that, if I remained, I would have been able to see her in a cloakroom, at a party, in a church, on promenade!”
— “Fine! Louis… But if you had remained, unhappy, with your ardent and impressionable character, with your heart hot and in love, you would have suffered all the martyrdom of uncertainty, of watchfulness, of jealousy! Serious maladies require heroic remedies, since it is the heart or the soul that suffers!”
— “Yes, yes, you are always right, and I am always causing you trouble.”
Night descended on the waves, calm, serene and star-lit…
It was a magnificent spectacle, witnessing man’s power and genius, that this vast floating home was being led like a liveried horse on a road without landmarks, with the speed of an eagle… Neither waves nor contrary winds could cause it to move from its route marked on the compass!
Who had been able to find a bit of the genius of the creator, master of the elements, in the mysterious depths of human intelligence? Who had conquered the air and the water using water and fire?
We shall now shift to reading, or copying, a letter from the beautiful Marion Delorme to her friend and devotee, Henry d’Effiat:
As you have forgotten me at Narbonne and dedicated yourself to the pleasures of the court and the joy of conversing with the Cardinal, I, in keeping with the desire you have expressed, do the honors of Paris with your English lord, the Marquis of Worcester, telling him curiosity upon curiosity, always choosing the saddest and most serious, speaking little, listening with extreme attention, and attaching from him who is interrogating two large blue eyes that seem to penetrate to the depths of thought. Further, he is never happy with the explanations others give him, and he barely accepts the things one presents him. An example is the visit we made together to Bicêtre, where he said he had found a man of genius among the madmen. If the madman had not been raving, I really believe that our marquis would have asked the liberty of taking him to London and listen to his follies from morning until night. As we wandered in the court of madmen, where I feared so much I was more dead than alive, I saw a heavy face surge behind the bars toward my companion and cry out in a cracked voice:
“I am not a madman, I have made a discovery that will enrich the country that puts it to use”
“What has he discovered?” I asked the person who was leading our tour.
“Ah!” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “something very simple and that you would never understand: it is the use of steam from boiling water.”
I began to laugh.
“This man,” the guardian resumed, “is named Salomon de Caus. He came from Normandy about four years ago to present a memorial to the king on the marvelous effects that one could obtain from his invention. To listen to him, with steam one could turn mills, cause vehicles to move, operate I know not what marvels. The Cardinal dismissed this madman without a hearing. Salomon de Caus, instead of becoming discouraged, began to pursue the Cardinal wherever he went, who, tired of seeing him always following him, promoting his follies, ordered him shut up in the Bicêtre, where he has been for three and a half years, and where, as you yourself have seen, he cries out to every stranger that he is not mad and has made an important discovery. He has even composed a book on this, which I have here.”
— Milord Worcester, who had become interested, asked for the book, and, after reading a few pages, said:
“This man is no madman, and in my country, rather than lock him up, we would have heaped him with riches. Bring him to me, I would like to interrogate him.”
They took him to him, but he returned sad and pensive:
“Now he is truly mad,” he said. The misfortune of his captivity has permanently altered his reason. You have driven him mad, but when you threw him in this hole, you have thrown away the greatest genius of your age.”
Then we departed, but during this time he spoke of nothing but Salomon de Caus.
Farewell, my dearly beloved and dedicated Henry. Return soon, and do not become so happy down there that you do not save a little love for me.
The Finance Company
Anna B—— to Eugénie V—— in St. Louis.
New Orleans, June 1848
My good and beloved Eugénie:
He whom I love has departed! The inflexible severity of my father concerning Louis’ unfortunate duel caused the despair of my life, and since a month ago he has been on his way to California. My heart is alone; my soul is sad. Each day, at the hour when he came to my house, I am tried with a desolating emptiness nothing can fill. Sometimes I suspect that my father had a motive other than the duel to chase the man I love from his house, and who alone can make me happy.
For some time we have been receiving visits from a man my father grants the warmest welcome. This man appears to be rich, although we do not know to what business he is dedicated and what position he holds. He is a rather handsome brown-haired man, with a rather coarse figure and energetic speech.
What I regret, my dear Eugénie, is that I can barely reply to him. Everything weighs on me; everything tires me; everything is indifferent to me… When the evening comes, it always seems as if I about to die! I am there, alone, with a book, with a piano, or some needlework, as if I were in a desert… I do not know what I want, what I am to do, what I am waiting for! I forget to dress in the morning, and in the evening to dress to go to bed… Sometimes I do not tell my father “Good Morning” or “Good evening.”… I forget myself on the sofa until midnight, between wakefulness and sleep, like someone with seasickness…
What am I thinking this moment?… I am only talking to you about myself and I describe the most tiresome things! Yet you pardon me because you love me, right?
You are happy, you, my beloved Eugénie! You have found happiness in a union of your own choice … and me!
You wrote me on the receipt of this letter; it seemed to me that was good, in fact, that your letter be long, so the monotony of my solitude could be broken by some hours of a more active existence.
Farewell … I shall write again on receiving your response, if I have the courage to pick up a pen. Oh! I think that I will perish, since you will speak of HIM!”
First the days passed; then the weeks; then the months. Forgetting, this blanket of the past, thrown by time over the joys and pains of life, bit by bit cleared the mists of memories, and Anna, although not consoled, revived over time to breathe the air of habitual existence. As we have seen in the letter she addressed to her friend in St. Louis, a man was frequenting her father’s house, and the intelligent reader would easily have understood the goal of this frequenting.
Louis wrote many letters … that did not arrive. News from California announced every day that the new Californians all were making fortunes on the enchanted banks of the Sacramento.
This idea of “fortune” worked on young daughters like a sign of forgetfulness for those things that regard the heart. They come to think, in most cases rightfully, that the man occupied with nothing but amassing or recovering gold did not have the time, nor the idea, of recalling in his memories the sentimental romances of a love far away.
One day, Monsieur B—— says to his daughter:
— “Anna, it is time to imagine your future for you. I will not mislead you, and I will say that a man worthy of us has asked for your hand. Alexandre loves you, despite the cold reception you give him every day… What do you say to this proposition?”
— “But … there must be nothing pressing about all this… To the present day, I can detect no inclination to him that you propose… It would be better to wait… I shall see…”
Over some time there was a series of similar requests and roughly parallel responses. But each day the father’s insisting grew and the resistance of the girl weakened…
Finally, from this growth of the one side and the retreating of the other side, it arose after six or eight months that poor Anna became “Madame,” to the benefit of the persevering lover she loved so little.
Such things happen often that way in the world.
Pressure always triumphs when even the most sincere attachment succumbs.
So Anna was Madame Alexandre ——, by both the Church and the judge; but, at the bottom of her heart, she would have preferred to be called Madame Louis ——, if it had been possible, if California had not given her to believe that the heart of her lover had turned toward the places where gold hid in the entrails of the earth.
When the young spouses entered Saint Mary’s Church on the rue Condé, followed by witnesses and some friends, the curious who were there made a flattering murmur about the beauty of the young spouse, and some comments of envy directed at the fortunate mortal who now was possessor of these charms.
Everything went well. The twofold solemn “oui” was pronounced … incense burned; sacred chants rose, and, when silence followed the melancholic sounds of the echoes in the nave, a profound sigh escaped the body of the newly married woman.
Meanwhile, toward the middle of its voyage, the American steamer we have seen departing from New Orleans was assailed by hard times and endured serious damage. It was necessary to seek refuge in the nearest possible port. Some passengers went ashore for lodging, including Louis and his brother.
Louis was still somber and taciturn. Neither the troubles of the voyage nor the view of new lands could distract him from his melancholy and his sadness.
It is a fact that, for certain lovers — the best constituted to suffer severely — absence and distance are helpers of passion instead of being, for dry and cold natures, causes of indifference and forgetting.
At each opportunity, Louis wrote to New Orleans, and his brother told him each time that this would imprudently revive a dangerous flame on both sides…
But just try to talk to a lover who is dealing with his love? It is to try to stop the wind in its course and the river in its flow…
So all possible comments serve no purpose.
Finally, the steamer was able to return to the sea. The ship’s bell gave the last signal for departure, and Louis was still not on board. Only at the last moment, his brother realized this; he searched everywhere, he asked questions, all lost effort. They were already miles from the port.
At this moment a ship’s employee passed him a letter containing roughly the following:
Leave without me: I cannot go further! Whether I am wise or foolish does not greatly concern me. Go where fortune calls you; for me, I will go where Anna lives, wherever that is. When a man’s head and heart are ruined, he is no good at business, and that is the state I am in. If there is no hope left for me, I must act; but I still hope, and I want to go to the end, at all costs. All that I know is that I will see her again… I am not concerned about the rest: I will consider the circumstances, my own situation, everything, and let happen what will happen!
“That’s it!” the young man told himself while closing Louis’ letter… “I had to expect failure.”
Two months later Louis arrived in New York, and, twenty days later, he was informed by a letter from one of his friends he had written on his arrival, telling him of Anna’s marriage to a stranger.
Then a complete change took place in him, almost instantly, at the cost, it is true, of rude suffering.
The unhappy man looked about himself and asked what he was to do.
But soon, stripped of torments of a passion for which there remained no hope, Louis became a man of energy, with a will to try anything…
In New York he heard talk of a secret society named the Finance Company. He was invited offhandedly, as they say, to attend under oath, a meeting of this Company, with the expectation, perhaps, for them to acquire a man who already knew values and resources. He responded. He listened, observed, and soon he was fully informed.
With a disposition other than what he had at the time, he perhaps would have responded with indignation at the idea of associating with an enterprise to undermine society, but at this time in the life of a man, when everything was changing direction and proportion, when one saw via the dazzling nature of an extreme situation, a luminous image of the most somber things … perhaps vengeance — sterile and insensitive — against everyone, to raise oneself above it all! He wished to look down like an aeronaut on the crowd of those walking beneath him, whose vulgar pleasures they thought were sublime…
It was pride … but pride is a human trait.
Is it that all chiefs of brigands have not climbed their first mountain and made their first attack with the dream of an almost glorious nimbus? Is it that, at the first step of their exceptional life, they had not encountered men without limits, called by a Superior Power to help balance social imbalances?
And finally, the decay of authority; obedience to ferocious men outside the laws; the right to condemn or absolve without appeal; all these irritating fumes of the incense of a false glory in which one plunges deeper and deeper, didn’t they press the most energetic natures along the same path, where they sought a sort of martyrdom in their pride?
Louis immersed himself in all the secrets, all the details, all the operations of the Finance Company. He profoundly studied the play of resources in that vast machine that operates in the United States despite arrests and partial convictions, repeated time and again, in town after town.
Around us, on your street perhaps, often at your side, are men who lead an existence that is monetarily problematic, by means of their secret incomes, as members of the Finance Company. You see them every day; you contact them; you talk with them; you do business with them.
In the course of this book, we will see many more close details of this Company that we have not yet seen. We have witnessed a scene devoted to fabrication and administration. But this is not everything; now we have to pass on to circulation.
Things become clear.
So as we have seen, Louis threw himself utterly into the affairs of the Finance Company. His aptitude proved itself so well, his ideas so suited to administration and improvements, that the General Council offered him his choice of a director’s position among two or three important posts.
He chose New Orleans, having decided to march with head held high and heart firm into the shadow of that violent love that he believed had ended. He presented a rude challenge to himself, perhaps to make up for his past weakness. As he had said, every hope having been destroyed, he knew how to play his role vigorously.
He arrived in New Orleans, replacing his predecessor, called to lead in another town, and took firm control of the office confided in him. He came to know the chiefs placed under his orders without these ties going too far. The most important of these persons was the Lieutenant, Alexandre, with whom we have already made some acquaintance. Louis only knew him as a colleague, and this lasted until a particular day, whose delicate events we shall now recount.
It was a Saturday evening after a secret meeting between the chief workers individually assigned to a particular service. They had all departed. The Captain and his chief Lieutenant remained together to consider matters that did not concern the rest of the group.
— “So,” the Captain said, “it is planned that you alone will receive the signal for the next general assembly on the day designated. You are to station yourself on the balcony of the second storey of the building at the corner of rue St. Louis and rue des Ramparts.”
— “As ordered! Captain…”
— “Your horse should be kept ready below, and once the signal is given by three lowerings of the light from the room in the hôtel St. Louis, you will mount your horse and gallop to Versailles.”
— “Very good! All of that will be executed punctually.”
— “I am relying on you. And you have no limitation of time, of family… On that matter, Lieutenant, do you have a family?”
— “I have been married for a short time, but up to now…”
— “Finally, it is up to you to say that nothing, absolutely nothing, could cause you to deviate a single minute from our route, for the greater success of all!”
— “It is as I have always understood, sir… ”
— “So everything will proceed automatically. When the head moves correctly, the rest naturally follows. Do you have prudent relations with the chief police officers?”
— “That is a matter I never neglect. I know them by heart, and they do not know anything about our business, properly so called.”
On these last words, the Captain reflected for a few moments…
— “It would be proper,” he said, adding, “In any case, I see … Continue what you have been doing, without revealing anything even indirectly … Events will show us when we are to act.”
For a few moments they continued walking at the same pace, like two men who were patiently thinking.
— “In four days I am going to New York,” the Captain declared. “I will leave you my final instructions, and on the day stated on this note, you are to await the signal we have determined. We could meet the day after tomorrow, and since you do not know where I live, where would you want to have our last meeting before I leave?”
— “But, Captain, since I am not subject to the same formalities, I can receive you at my home, if you wish to go there.”
— “Gladly … and your address?”
— “Rue des Ramparts, number ——, a small house with a garden in front; it is the only house on the whole block.”
— “Agreed… I will be there about ten o’clock in the morning.”
The two men shook hands and separated.
— “Rue des Ramparts number ——!” Louis murmured as he walked… “right across from my room! I will have to take a look at it tomorrow! What a lovely little house!… How we spoke of it, she and I, when the property was for sale! If things had been different, perhaps I would be living there today, with her!…”
“But careful! horrible nightmare…” Louis said, making a furious maneuver with his cane, as if he were called to defend himself against aggressors… “Am I to fall into this hell of regrets, jealousy, of sorrows…”
And he let out one of those forced laughs that are inclined to call up energy against an attack of passion.
It was nearly midnight. The encounter we are about to describe took place at the bottom of rue Claiborne. Since a few moments earlier, Louis had been followed by three men, and, despite his eagle eye, used to all the little precautions of prudence, he had seen nothing.
At the instant when his laugh pierced the silence of the night, he felt two large hands drop, like pincers, on his shoulders, and the flash of a blade before his eyes. With a herculean effort, due to the doubled force of an explosion of courage, the Captain disengaged himself. The three men were on him in an instant, but the poor devils, used to dagger and pistols, did not know that it was a stout cane well handled by a courageous man. The whistle of a stick pierced the air; two or three dry blows, followed by two collapses, could be heard… and the swift footfalls of a fleeing man announced the Captain’s victory.
In three or four turns of caning, he had beaten two men. The third had fled!
Content to be left alone at this price, the Captain continued on his way without searching out his aggressors, but this time his eye was open and his finger on the trigger of his revolver. Now he could walk peacefully.
The next day, once the first soundings of the bell called the faithful to mass, the Captain, posted behind the glass of his window, his fine watch in hand, examined the coming and going in the Lieutenant’s house.
He thought that this hour of the divine office, particularly on Sunday, would permit him to see the little house’s residents.
You ask, why this curiosity?
You cannot respond to such questions by A and B.
Why, for example, do you take this path rather than the other that would be shorter? Why does one person fear to start anything on a Friday, while the other prefers that day? Why do you see everything in white one day, and the other utterly black? Pose all these questions of time and place, and they will respond:
— “It’s a hunch!”
That is to say, they do not respond at all.
So it was the Captain’s hunch to observe this house to see his Lieutenant’s wife before being received there, perhaps because she had been recently married, perhaps because this word about recent marriage recalled some memory of the past… Last of all, the reader has the right to add all the possible maybe’s he wishes… The fact exists no more or no less. We go on:
The Captain had barely taken his place than a cabriolet stopped in front of the house. The Lieutenant came out of the house alone, gloved, done up as well as could be, and briskly entered the carriage.
He had been gone about a quarter-hour when the door of the little house opened.
The Captain took out his watch … but a second later the watch fell to the ground and shattered … The Captain, as strong a man as he was, began to fall. He grew pale; he felt a dizziness pass over his eyes… For several seconds his nerves trembled … he saw nothing…
But this was almost as rapid as his thought…
— “Anna!” he said… “Anna!”
She had already gone several streets along the rue des Ramparts following the Circus Square.
The Captain, recovering, saw his white coat flying in the wind, with the two ends of his black scarf, and the ribbons of his hat.
— “John!” he cried… “Come here!”
A young Negro arrived, as if he had been listening.
— “You are to remain there, at the window, without budging for a moment, you hear?… You are to observe this house, there in front, and nothing else! Observe who enters, observe who leaves, and inform me!”
The Captain took his hat, his gloves and his cane; then he left … almost calm, as a result of force of will.
Louis went at once to the Cathedral. He remained there for half an hour. What a half-hour! Thirty minutes were thirty centuries on the dial of the most intense impatient experiences of human suffering!… He saw no one come.
He repeated his course, descending rue Condé, and entered the old diocesan church on rue des Ursulines. Everyone was in place. No one more would be entering. The pews were full.
Louis, hidden behind a pillar, his heart beating heavily, his face burning and his hands cold, undertook to follow the order of the pews, searching from one end to the other, wiping his handkerchief on his dazzled eyes from time to time.
He had ended his fruitless review when an organ anthem arose from the neighboring church of Saint Mary, which struck the Captain like a bugle-call rouses a charger… Was it a memory or a presentiment, one of those nameless signs that run through the air, telling a frantic mother when her child has perished?…
Without searching further, he departed, and, five minutes later, apparently lost in a crowd of people, calm and settled, he contemplated in an incredible ecstasy the beautiful source of his dreams and love, kneeling beneath the harmonious cascades of the sacred instrument.
Even more beautiful than on the finest days when he had seen her clearly, Anna softly curved, like a snow-swan on a blue lake, appearing to him in the form of an angel of love and contentment.
Bit by bit, calm descended on the agitated heart of Louis. The past vanished from him as if a dream, to the large and melancholic notes of sacred music, at the sight of this sweet young girl whom he loved, and … who had loved him.
People with more energetic minds often have more impressionable hearts.
This variety of magnetism existed in our heroes, whom the impact of a present hour removed the torments of the past down to the last traces, leaving them an awareness of the situation of the moment!
Dream and Awakening
It was his fiancée who awaited him there… She made his final farewell to the age of hope, taking his first step into the age of happiness… She was praying for him to whom her destiny was joined, to whom her entire life will be given!
How little did the sparks of happiness completely ravished to heaven comprehended! How much those drowning in it return with a bitter felicity! Oh, yes … bitter, since awakening from these dreams is to the soul what the cold of a steel blade is to the body!
At a proper sign, the prostrate rose.
Louis advanced a few steps under the encouraging and lying caress of his dream. He placed himself well within Anna’s view and waited …
These chants that arose were the chants of his marriage; these candles burning were like the stars of his happiness; these praying people were the witnesses of his felicity… The organ spoke his hopes, his joys, his ravishments, in the melancholic tempo of its harmony of sadness and barely-worldly beatitude.
Does a man know that it is a dream even when his eyes are not closed? Can one ever explain this sort of magnetic second sight of the mind? By what mystery, what All of this is felt and never explained.
At the moment of the benediction, when the words sound that move all the cords of the soul:
“Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus….,” Anna’s eyes met Louis’ eyes … and she lowered her head away from those eyes, or beneath the benediction, as the priest slowly entoned
Then her face was actually revealed. Two tears rolled from her eyes… The Captain saw these tears…
The dream was ended!… A man was once more a man.
When mass had been completed, instead of going to wait in the exit, Louis remained in place, by one of those exquisitely sensitive acts that possess those who know love. He was repaid for this attention. The young woman, confronted by an invincible lover, threw him a long look…
What was in that look could only be known from knowledge of the heart.
Perhaps it said:
“So he loves me!… and now, what will he think?”
If Anna’s eyes were eloquent, Louis’ were no less. They were not charged with any reproach.
“Yes,” they said, “I have always loved you … and I still love you!”
Louis made no greeting, no movement of the head, as Anna’s look came to caress him. He only placed his hand on his heart.
— “I will see her tomorrow!” he thought … as she slowly withdrew.
He let the crowd exit, and he only left with the last ushers.
When he returned to his room after making a long detour, he found the little Negro unmoving, at his observation post.
— “Master,” he said, “a pretty lady entered; no one left.”
— “Very good, John!… now go.”
Once the Captain was alone, he sat down near the window, and, his eyes fixed on the blessed little house opposite, he began to reflect.
— “She’s my Lieutenant’s wife!” he said to himself… “According to my orders, this is sacred! Not to love her is impossible! She was wrong about the reason for my departure … but by whom?… She still loves me; I saw that in her sweet eyes… What to do, dear God! If he becomes aware of anything, everything could be compromised … and, if I play games with my duty, I who am chief here, will he hesitate to play his own part?… She is his wife!”
Anna, fresher and more beautiful than the beautiful, fresh houris of nature, animated their charming situation. Her pensive face supported itself on her right hand. The black coils of her long locks framed the melancholy of her suave face. What were her thoughts? They are easy to determine, but it is pointless to repeat them.
Louis plunged with gusto into the encouraging sensations of this view, full of memories … and perhaps of hopes.
— “Tomorrow,” he said to himself, “tomorrow, I will see her … I will listen to her voice … perhaps I shall touch her hand … But he will be there, he!”
Anna went back into her house, returning with a book in her hand. She sat among the flowers of her balcony, and read … But obviously her thoughts intruded. She stopped reading, resumed, opened and closed the poor volume, as if the words were not intelligible to her spirit.
The Captain took a leaf of blank paper, a drawing pen, and drew the balcony, the flowers, and Anna, with long strokes.
He was an amateur artist as able as he was as Captain of the Finance Company of New Orleans.
For the features of Anna’s face, he had them in his memory better than from what he could see at this distance. He did not draw her reading, but standing on the balcony, as she had appeared to him a moment ago.
As he was drawing with the pleasure that lover-artists can understand, the same cabriolet that had taken the Lieutenant away two hours earlier, stopped in front of the garden gate. The Lieutenant descended and entered his house.
Anna, who had been reading, raised her head, saw her husband … and the book fell from her knees to the balcony.
By a movement he could not repress, Louis threw to one side his sketch, to the other his pencil… Then he arose, closing his window’s shutter.
— “Him!” he said… “always him!… In truth I shall have to get used to that! Hell! I would have done better to remain down south! This sequence of joys and torments are enough to break a man!”
Passions do not reason, and, among those, jealousy can be ranked first.
Bit by bit, the Captain calmed down. He described the precise situation to himself, and he decided that he had to choose one of two alternatives, either to renounce this happiness forever, or to content himself with a possible portion using prudence and discretion.
He half-opened the shutter he had slammed shut; his view passed at once to the balcony.
Anna was no longer there…
— “Let’s go to the lake!” he said, repeating it impatiently this time. “I cannot endure the hours this way: I have to shorten them by movement.”
Next morning, about nine o’clock, the Captain was getting himself ready, and it was a singular thing to see. Despite the demand that he had made on all his masculine energy, his hands trembled … his scattered attention turned from one object to another. He wanted to be at his best, because, in such a situation, you are preoccupied to the end with a thousand and one exterior details when you are about to present yourself to a woman, particularly in the exceptional circumstances in which our Captain now finds himself. From one time to another, his gaze turned to the little house where he would be introduced in sixty minutes.
It was a decisive moment marked by the large hand of the inexorable clock! He had to appear cold despite a burning heart … to appear like an unknown in the presence of a beloved woman, who was perhaps lost forever!
Ten o’clock sounded at last. The Captain felt a chill run through his spine and his inner parts. Nevertheless, he opened his door and departed. But instead of simply crossing rue des Ramparts to enter the Lieutenant’s home, he turned left and reached rue du Canal. On arriving there, he returned via the opposite sidewalk of rue des Ramparts toward the house where he was expected.
On this circuit he undertook, he had some time to calm himself down, and he was master of himself when he pulled the bell of the grilled door of the garden.
Had her husband informed Anna in advance of this visit?
It is that she could not have known the Captain … and besides, this would not have prepared her for the surprise that was coming, since Alexandre only knew the Captain’s first name.
When he was about to arrive at the house door, the Lieutenant appeared in the door to receive him.
After an exchange of greetings and a couple insignificant words, the two men entered the house.
— “Sir,” said the Lieutenant, “while we are alone, please give me, if you wish, the last instructions of which you spoke yesterday.”
This “while we are alone” cast a shadow on the Captain’s assurance. But this was only a spark.
— “My wife,” Alexandre continued, “will come in a moment or two, and I will have the honor of presenting her to you…”
The Captain leaned forward…
— “I have revised it very precisely, ” he said in responding to the Lieutenant’s first question. “The only thing I have to say to you personally is to pay close attention to the two men whose names I have written here in red. At the least suspicion of loose talk or any other danger to the secret of the Company, you must send them to New York. Now,” he added, “here is the note.”
The Lieutenant went to lock up the paper he received, and he returned to his place.
The location of the two persons was as follows:
The master of the house, sitting across from the Captain, had his back to the door that separated the first room from the second one; he had before him the door leading to the little garden, through which the Captain had come. Between them was a round table, and on this table were books and various papers.
— “I will be as briefly as possible in New York,” the Captain said … and with his right hand he restrained the intense beating of his heart…
At this moment the door separating the two rooms opened soundlessly … and Anna appeared.
What she saw at once was Louis’ pale face which, to hide as best he could his guilty lack of color, passed his hand to his hair to cover himself with his lower arm.
This was only an instant, but for the duration of that instant, Anna nearly fell down. Fortunately, she held the door with one hand, and with the other she was able to support herself with the door handle.
The Lieutenant rose and turned toward his wife.
This instant, as short as it was, was almost enough… The worst part was past… The rest of the emotion could be attributed to any cause at all. Perhaps without this first encounter last night, at Saint Mary’s, the scene we saw take place, more rapid than an instant, could have led to fatal results… It was not so now.
— “Sir,” Alexandre said, “I have the honor of presenting my wife.”
The Captain bowed. Nothing at all appeared on his face, but his heart received a blow that stopped its beating.
— “Anna,” the master of this house continued, “I present to you the gentleman with which our house does business in New York for some time.”
Anna made a gracious greeting, using the motion of this greeting to place her hand on the back of a chair that was near the doorway.
After which, everyone was seated, and some words were exchanged.
The Captain responded in very brief phrases, nearly monosyllables, since he feared his voice would tremble.
Anna had recourse to a different stratagem, if one may call the thousand ways instinct suggests in the embarrassing moments of life a stratagem. She pretended to give a pleasant tone to her words, to give herself the occasion to cover her embarrassment with a laugh.
— “My wife is obsessed with flowers,” Alexandre said: “she passes half the day watering, pruning, weeding, and trimming, and she does not permit anyone to help her at anything.”
— “The tools I use are so small!” Anna responded.
— “That anyone else would break them…” Louis added.
At this moment, a servant came to tell Alexandre that someone wished to see him. He rose…
— “Excuse me,” he said, addressing his wife and Louis, “I shall not delay returning.”
Anna and Louis were alone!
The first minute of this unexpected conversation was painful beyond expression. The young woman in particular suffered horribly. It was not hers to interrupt the silence.
“Madam!” … Louis said … and his voice stuck in his throat… “Anna!” … he repeated with a sort of resolution, “what I would give to see you in an entirely different place!”
The face of the young woman grew red, then frightfully pale. At this word, “Madam!” the redness advanced to her shoulders and her face; at this name, “Anna,” all her blood flowed to her heart. — “You forgot me very quickly!” the Captain continued with a voice broken by emotion…
— “Be quiet,” the young woman responded, joining her white hands as if in prayer… “You do not know… You do not know!”…
— “What I know, Anna, is that I love you! It is that I have always loved you … it is that when I die, I could not tell and repeat to you that I love you … that I love you!”
— “Silence! For God’s sake… You’re killing me!”
— “Anna! I do ask you only one grace … and I will be silent… That I may write to you or that I may see you one more time, only once! If you refuse me that, I don’t know what I shall do! My heart is full and my head is splitting! You with this man! … and he cannot love you as I do! For us, we have known one another for a long time … it has been a long time that we have opened our hearts to one another … that we have promised ourselves to one another, and now!…”
Anna was about to respond, but footsteps from the next room interrupted. Perhaps it was Alexandre returning. Despite that, Louis added in a rapid and low voice:
— “I will be discrete… Permit me to write to you and respond immediately when…”
The young woman did not have time to respond. The door opened and Alexandre returned. The conversation continued a few more moments, and then it ended, like the most ordinary thing in the world.
The next day, aided by his little Negro, the Captain sent Anna a first letter with the aid of a servant whose services and discretion he had purchased. It was that Mariette, whose name we have written in the first chapter of this history. It is pointless to say in what terms this first letter concluded. Save for some variation of words, any writer could reproduce it at length without fear of error. This first time, Louis did not receive a response. You can imagine his impatience! He wrote again with even more intensity. He was soon to depart, and he could not do so without seeing her, without speaking with her, and this interview must be the last.
This time he received a response … very brief … but which transported him to the seventh heaven. Here it is:
Louis, I cannot refuse to see you; I have suffered as much as you! Mariette will tell you the hour and place.
And the first encounter took place in a house on the rue Saint-Claude, not far from the little church dedicated to Saint Augustine.
Two hours passed like two minutes in other circumstances … and to use words adopted in parallel situations, nothing culpable took place.
Whatever happened, though, the first steps had been taken. Promises were exchanged for the next time, since Louis departed for New York where, as we already know, he was to remain for only a few days. We have already seen him return, giving, from a room on rue St. Louis, the signal that would cause the Lieutenant to leave home to convene a meeting of the Company. We have seen John throw a letter into the little garden and, some seconds later, seen the scene of love that our chaste discretion as narrator indicates only by points.
Therefore, except for the unexplained paper found by the Lieutenant in the Captain’s portfolio, except for the husband’s jealousies concerning his wife — all things that become clearer with time and place, we have joined the two ends of the prologue already read. Now we will continue our narrative, continuous or not, in the order of events, without being restrained to any classical order or other but that of events and logic.
Where one sees that there are still witches in our
It was near midnight. A small, bony man surveyed the interval separating the meat market and the vegetable market, both located between rue Saint Anne and rue des Ursulines, that is, over the length of three blocks.
On arriving at the place where the Café de la Maison Rouge is located, our man entered the establishment and ordered a respectable dose of a more or less legitimate cognac.
— “The night is humid as hell!” he said to the waiter, letting his tongue flutter on his palette after having emptied his glass.
— “True,” the waiter responded, winking his eye, “but that does not prevent your taking the measure of entertainment, Monsieur Finot!”
— “Oh, my God … affairs! very extraordinary!”
— “Yes, at midnight, at a time that would make a duck sick! Ah, love is an infamous tyrant, Monsieur Finot!…”
— “To be sure, my friend, you have read this in a more or less comic almanac…”
— “Perhaps … but that does not prevent … sentiments!”
— “Appearances are misleading, my friend,” the little man responded. “It is like the labels on certain bottles of our acquaintance … and yours! On that, good evening, and don’t have any bad dreams…”
And Finot, our old acquaintance, continued his journey, following the levee to the Mint. On arriving there, he went up Esplanade to rue d’Amour, which he followed for a few minutes.
At this moment, twelve o’clock sounded.
— “Good!” Finot said. “It is impossible to arrive at a better time: today, Friday, precisely at midnight! If it doesn’t work, then the devil is afoot!”
And he scraped against a small alley door that opened at the end of a minute. He entered, carefully reclosed the door, and reached the end of a narrow, long courtyard. There he found another door opening soundlessly, and the little man entered. The room in which he found himself was twelve feet square. It had little furniture, but it was brightly illuminated. Three candles were lit on the black-marble hearth: one candle was green, one blue and one red.
A woman of about forty years, but who had been beautiful to judge by what remained of her charms, was seated before a small oval table covered with cards.
— “I have been waiting for you,” she said to Finot…
— “It is certainly possible,” he responded, with an unfeigned air of credulity.
— “Are you coming to take, to have or to conserve?… That is the first category. Or perhaps to augment, to reduce or to extend? That is the second.”
— “Half for the second part of the first category; half for the first of the second: to have the person and to augment … her … friendship.”
“Fine. Two and a half plus two and a half make five. That will be five piastres.”
— “Here,” said Finot, offering two goldpieces to make up the demanded sum. “You are having a séance this evening, right?”
— “Yes. We began ten minutes before midnight, to profit from Friday. Your business will be done tonight.”
— “Tell me, isn’t there any way to see it, after paying?”
— “See what? The séance!”
— “Yes, the séance?”
— “But you would lose your head, you unfortunate! Don’t you know that we need six pairs to work on what you have ordered! That makes twelve women … who are not allowed to have any clothes on when inspiration puts them to sleep! I tell you this to make you understand that it is impossible…”
— “But,” the dry little man responded, “if I paid five piastres more? No one would know … I would keep myself hidden.”
The woman appeared to consider.
— “No!” she said after a second, “that is not possible. I am even offended that you advanced words touching this.”
In turn Finot contemplated. His little eye toured the room, and a secret thought moved his lips into a slight smile.
— “It is true that I was wrong to make such a request. That was not moral, it was even indiscrete… We will speak of it no more.”
At this word “moral,” the two speakers made like the ancient augurs who were not able to see one another without making a little smile.
In any case, there was no more talk about Finot’s proposition.
— “Give me one of your hairs,” the priestess told Finot, “and leave.” Tomorrow you will receive the response to your affair. Concerning that, what is the first letter of the name of the person?”
— “It is an M,” Finot responded.
— “Good. Now, good evening. Leave soundlessly, and firmly close the alley gate.”
— “Good evening!” Finot responded, and he departed. On arriving at the door on the street, he acted as if to shut the lock, so as to be heard, but, instead of going through it, he remained inside, and he retraced his steps slowly into the courtyard and hid himself behind a large tub designed to receive rainwater.
— “For now,” he said to himself, “I am arriving as planned! Since I could not pay to watch, I will try to see it for nothing.”
— “It is true,” he should have added, “if the matter had a value worth the trouble, whether paying or not, it is almost the same thing for me, since the coins I would give are not entirely twenty-two carats.” But, habit being a second nature, Finot did not think to make this reflection. If he had given good gold, that would perhaps have seemed more extraordinary.
Finot thus lurked behind his tub like a soldier in his sentry box, awaiting whatever happens, and searching in his spirit the ways he could come to a good end.
As he gnawed on his rather worldly reflections, most likely, or even distorting — altogether possibly — the third capital sin — he heard some cries.
Finot pricked up his ears and didn’t budge. In fact he tried to play dead, since, at the same instant, the woman bearing Finot’s hair passed by him, with a small lantern in her hand. She opened a door that Finot had not noticed before, but which he carefully observed this time; then she entered, and one heard her steps in the second courtyard.
That was an excellent indicator that the superstitious ferret intended to make a profit as soon as possible.
Since it was probable that there was not a single man in a house where women return — virtually — to the primitive state of all-too-curious Eve, Finot’s courage was not shaken for a second. He waited four or five minutes, then began stalking, like a searching cat waging war against his prey.
Finot emerged from his hiding-place and steered at once toward the door that he had seen opening. This door yielded to the first touch of the fingers of the curious ferret, and he found himself in a second open courtyard, at the end of which he perceived a light. The night was black as the devil, but Finot could see somewhat like a cat. He carefully walked around a wooden partition, and arrived at a rather large hut adjoined to a wall. There, he listened and only heard some soft sounds. He searched everywhere to find a post where he could watch without being seen. There were some gaps between the pine planks of the house, but they were not large enough for an eye to see within. He searched in all directions. Finot spied an old cart placed on waste-wood and with a single wheel. The roof of the house was not very high, and our man considered climbing to this roof, using the cart as a step-ladder.
But he was too short; he lacked a good foot to reach the roof, made of shingles, not too old. The difference was large, but Finot still sought to climb to the top of the house, when a great idea came to him, and this idea placed him infallibly in the show’s first row once he had made his ascension. So he had to mount it at all costs. When you must, it is rare that you cannot.
Finot descended from the cart and searched in all directions. He was a patient man, and was fortunate for him in the circumstances, where this quality alone could lead him to success. Behind a brick fountain, he discovered a box of manure: this splendid box did not smell nice, but it was more than a foot high! The damned little man carefully dumped the contents on the ground and, armed with the box, he returned to the scaffolding. Another problem: how to place the box on a wheel? And, in case of a fall both of the man and the box, what would result from the inevitable noise that would follow?
— “Let’s see,” Finot asked himself, “how am I to place my box on top of the wheel?”
What a problem!
But Finot had resources in his imagination, and thus among his ideas. He reasoned in the following manner:
— “Why cannot I place the box on the wheel?” — “Because, first of all, the wheel offers less surface than the box; secondly, because the box has a plane surface, and the wheel a curved surface; thirdly, because the wheel, inclined to one side as a result of the lack of its opposite wheel, makes an angle to the cart of I have no idea how many degrees. So, from these three causes, one could prevent it! But … couldn’t you, by a change in some disposition, prevent all of these at once? The box does not wish to obey the wheel; if I could make the wheel obey the box?… Let’s see!…”
— “I will press the wheel against the wall … done! But there remains a large space between the wall and that damned wheel … and so, seeing that the other end of the axle supports itself on the soil.”
— “Devil! devil!… It is a simple matter of raising this end of the axle to the normal height. If I only had a barrel! Yes, it would be simple with a barrel, but I don’t have a barrel!” And the little man struck his forehead to conjure up inspiration.
At this moment one heard some light cries.
— “Hurry up,” Finot said to himself: “it appears that it is getting started down there!…”
And, while hurrying, he struck his foot on some sort of object, and he stumbled.
— “Well, well, well,” he said, after falling and checking this object with his hands; “look here, four or five pieces of planking! That is not enough to lift the cart’s axle three feet above the ground! But couldn’t they be used in another way?”
And mounting the cart, carrying in his hands his box and his pieces of planking, he searched… Then he touched the wall: it was rather decayed and here and there offered larger and shallower grooves. This gave him the idea that inevitably led to another, so our little spy had many ideas.
As a result of these ideas, Finot rammed, so to speak, one end of a plank into a groove on the wall, then put the other end on the cartwheel. This wasn’t bad, but it was not very solid due to a lack of width.
— “But,” thought Pinot, “if I can place one plank piece, I could perhaps place a second one!”
Luckily, he found another groove not far from the other, and using the same procedure, our little chevalier of the evening had two planks reinforcing one another. On these two planks, he placed his box … and regarded his work with pride.
He had something!…
But it was not everything… He needed to climb up, arranging it so as to foresee and prevent a fall.
Finot got down one more time and blocked the wheel on each side of its possible rotation using two brickbats.
Not able to do anything more, he resolutely crawled over all his devices while recommending himself to his special stars. He easily reached the roof, crawling so as to avoid any loud noise, and on arriving where he was going, he stopped.
All of this takes much longer to describe than to execute. Finot had really lost very little time, while we have spent much time detailing the processes, not wishing to omit anything.
At the end of some minutes to calm himself, he went to work. This was soon finished. He raised himself carefully, taking a rotten shingle first in his right hand, then in his left hand, so that it was entirely removed and he had the satisfaction of having an opening by which he could, at need, hold on to with his hands.
He was happy to place his two eyes there, and soon they opened wide with shock.
What he saw merits being described, and, as a faithful historian, we are obliged to leave nothing out.
is not good to be too curious in matters concerning women
At first Finot could see nothing, although he had things to see!
For our part, we wish to be accurate, and at the same time not to scandalize our readers, so we will be obliged to count on their intelligence, seeing that there are certain things on which we cannot be detailed.
On these scandalous occasions, we think that the wisest thing is to preserve moderation between the demands of truth and the conventions of decency.
So Finot saw singular things in the hall, to which he directed his total attention. If he had been lame like Asmodeus, you could have justly compared him to that curious and facetious person who, in lifting the roofs of houses, saw things there very ugly and very beautiful. Except our own person was happy to lift just a tiny portion of the roof.
Then, at the end of the hall, he perceived four women … dressed as our first mother, before her sin.
These women appeared to be sleeping. They were placed, two by two, on large couches of painted wood.
In the middle of the hall, a sort of priestess, clothed entirely in white, made magnetic passes over the face, shoulders, and arms of a seated woman, who was going into a trance.
When this trance was complete, two other women approached her and removed the clothes of she who had submitted to these mysterious passes. Another woman replaced her, and another, until there were twelve in the primitive state we have described.
There remained no one awake or clothed but she who had entranced them.
When these various operations had been completed, the superior charged that day with the work, and whom we have called the priestess, burned some odiferous lozenges in the hall whose acrid vapor struck Finot’s smelling nerves, exciting him rudely. The poor devil was obliged to close the opening he had made, through which the stimulating fumes from the lozenges rose.
At this moment he heard talking below him, and, overcome with curiosity, he brought his nose back to the opening, but he did not remain there for long; the vapor imperiously reclaimed a passage, and it found the opening in the ceiling easier than all others.
During the meantime, one could hear the sounds of several voices. Evidently, it consisted of questions and responses, but made in a language that was alien to the ears of the listener.
When Finot was able to return to his aerial observation post, the scene had changed. The sleepers had completely awakened, but they were no more dressed than they had been before. A type of delirium appeared to have captured them. It was dancing, leaping, and struggling that the priestess-magnetizer excited them with.
It appears that, for one reason or another, Finot was attacked by almost similar sympathies. His head began to move; his eyes burned, and a sort of fever ran through all his members. One could attribute this to the lozenges’ fumes, to magnetic influences, or to another cause that it is useless to define.
— “Devil!” he said to himself, “this begins getting interesting … they would say I am drunk!”
And the follies continued in the chamber below. The dancing became more rapid, the leaps bolder, the struggles more hair-raising. It was a full-orchestra crescendo.
When the bacchanal had reached a certain level less elevated, the priestess mingled actively in the party. Armed with a bunch of scourges, she struck to the right and to the left, exciting herself with this multiple flagellation, to the point that it soon became a true furor that no longer knew any limit…
Finot sensed a thousand pricks cutting his flesh.
A thousand ideas — each less modest than the last — chastised his imagination, and he began to sense trouble.
The unfortunate was not at the end of his pains! When we say his pains, we are speaking from the point of view of a high morality. Our man perhaps did not think that way at that precise moment. We will soon see him change his opinion.
The scene below was at its height when frightening caterwauling reached Finot’s ears. It was not ordinary caterwauling: it was the cries of a baby in its cradle, the cries of an enraged hyena, of a furious jackal, a sort of mosaic of the most intense and distressing sounds that you hear on all the rooftops at certain seasons.
In the shadows, Finot saw two bodies slipping through, half leaping, half stalking, separating from time to time, like sparks. If Finot had had a brick at hand, there is no doubt that he would have thrown it at that damned monster or that noisy cat, even risking being revealed by making noise.
How to plunge his spirit into more or less incendiary notions, as his ears were assaulted by the barbaric howls of these accursed tigers? It would have damned a saint, should a saint could have been found in the position Finot had sought. Then, from that moment, he cursed all cats, present and future, with a Corsican curse, implacable and eternal, and he made an oath in his heart to kill, if possible, the first cat to fall into his hands.
When the dancers below were tired or rather finished, the priestess doused her scourge in a pot of water and used it as a sort of holy-water sprinkle on all the bodies, red and burning. This was like a piece of ice in boiling milk. Finot, who had his eye on his opening, caused part of his roof to fall on the poor chest he had installed with such trouble. Alas! Perhaps it would have been better for him if he had been what fell!…
He did not fall, and he continued to watch.
A quiet calm had followed agitation, and these flows of living flesh, truly a boiling sea of the most disordered passions.
Some of them collapsed and immediately fell into a state of prostration equal to their earlier delirium. Others, being stronger, tested sensations that it would be rather difficult to define precisely.
In his entire life, Finot had not seen an equal spectacle, and probably few of our readers have ever seen the like.
And again, all of that was only the beginning of the end.
After a few minutes, a more decent state had replaced the natures we have seen, and Finot, less focused, could curse cats in general, and amorous cats in particular, at his ease. All the more as the abominable couple appeared to redouble their cries of pleasure as if in revenge against the usurper who had invaded their domain.
— “Let’s go,” our man said to himself, “I believe it is time to beat retreat. The mystery appears to me completed. I think I would do well to exit, particularly because it cost me nothing … and that I have seen a fine spectacle for cheap.”
He had barely rejoiced at his good fortune when he heard knocking on the door of the house on which he was perched, three rapid knocks followed by two slower ones, like three white notes followed by two black. He moved quickly to his viewing port and looked.
The cats continued their abominable serenade.
The door opened and two women appeared.
Finot was immediately able to see only the first woman. She was pretty, small, and blonde. After exchanging a few words with the Queen, she appeared to submit with repugnance to the sine qua non condition, the statutes of the Society. This painful condition consisted of separating herself at once from everything she carried or wore. A sort of formal refusal took place at the last moment. Then the Queen presented her with the alternative of leaving or continuing…
— “If you hold to what you demand,” the Queen said, “there is only this way: decide!”
— “Yes … I will!” the young woman responded, with exaltation … “and as much as possible, I will do it!…”
After which she made an investigatory look at all the persons in the hall, and, seeing only women, she made, or rather, permitted the ultimate sacrifice to take place.
Then, the gestures having been made, her trance came, and the rest of the mystery was accomplished.
When they were done with her, the other woman who had entered at the same time, and which his limited vision had prevented Finot from seeing her, approached the Queen in her turn.
Finot sensed that something struck him in his heart when he saw this woman walking. He looked at her with all his senses, so to speak.
She had a tall, beautiful body surmounted by a small head, a brunette to entrance any Andalusian. Her air was a little common, but her fresh youth caused that to be forgotten.
At this instant, the mad cats did not have eyes more inflamed and more bouncing than those belonging to Finot…
He came to recognize his mistress! Mélanie!…
Mélanie, whose coyness drove Finot to despair…
Mélanie, on whose behalf Finot had threatened the fat Hercules…
Mélanie, whose sentiments Finot had sought to revive by means of sorcery…
Mélanie, whom he held at this moment to be more appetizing than ever!… just as it is true that a woman pleases us most when we are afraid of losing her!
Finot spent three minutes deliberating whether he would remain longer, or whether he would do better to throw himself down the roof to get away more quickly, at the risk of breaking his neck.
He decided to stay … but this time, he forgot the cats.
He looked down, one trembling hand on the edge of his hole.
After some phrases exchanged between the priestess and Mélanie, she took her place on the couch where we have seen the women coming to receive the priestess’s gestures. They began the ceremonies completed with the others, but, perhaps since Mélanie was stronger, perhaps because she was not used to submitting to the will of another, the charm did not work on her. Then Finot saw the priestess take Mélanie by the hand and lead her to a small cabinet the size of a large armoire and lock her in.
— “Devil!” Finot said to himself … “they are locking her in! Fortunately there is no room down there for more than one!”
At the end of a few moments, the priestess opened the door, and Mélanie came out, barely walking, her head low, as if she were drunk, with no more will except what was needed for her to move and submit to the rest of the mystery.
But, when the first piece of clothing fell, Finot lost his head. He made a furious leap, knocking down two or three shingles from the roof, perhaps without knowing it. This made a terrible noise. All the women were suddenly on their feet, and all eyes turned to the open hole where, injured and hideous to see, there was the damaged figure of poor Finot!
This made a tremendous brouhaha.
Mélanie gathered her clothing and her shawl, and she fled without awaiting the conclusion.
All the other women concentrated on the pursuit of Finot, who descended from his roof, turning over his box and suffering some contusions. In his poor condition, he was quickly taken. They tied up his hands with their handkerchiefs, they bound his eyes so as to make him perfectly incapable of seeing, and they brought him to the chamber, half dead with terror.
fair sex is not always tender
You could easily imagine the wrath of the twelve women that an infamous spy had been devouring for an hour with his sensual, voracious eyes! Thus the menaces of atrocious tortures against the unfortunate… Immediate death seemed too gentle a chastisement, both for the deed and for the future security of the mysterious Society. They had there perhaps all the women who had something to protect from the world, and a spy who could reveal everything!…
Execution was the punishment for the crime…
Death would mean certitude of silence!
Finot trembled in all his members, and he had reason!
Women — called by the epithets of the beautiful sex, the weaker sex, and other acts of gentility, each more gallant than the last — are, at certain times, more ferocious and inexorable than men! Particularly in the matter of their reputation, when they are in control, they know neither heaven nor hell!
And you cannot believe that women — who we have seen working among themselves, to the last instance — were what one would have supposed at first glance. They had fanaticism, and this fanaticism overcame everything else. They believed themselves incapable of committing any deed that would cause them embarrassment that they would let any profane eye see. And yet, according to the rules of their Society — a society that exists here and functions regularly — no one could hide anything from the others, neither physically nor morally. But the more decadent they became without intention, the greater their rage became at discovery of a scandal such as that done by Finot’s spying.
To know all of this, to explain it to our readers, it has been necessary for us to reveal, and to reveal from a good source, like so many other things that we will reveal to them, as our account conducts us forward.
This is not a novel that we are making, reciting with all possible circumspection the true mysteries that beset our city: it is history … more or less embroidered.
Now we return to our own Asmodeus, whom we abandoned a short time ago in such a piteous state.
— “Silence!” the Queen (or priestess if you will) shouted, “It is necessary that this spy not leave here alive…
At these words, Finot felt a glacial shiver cover all his members.
— “At least…” she continued…
The unfortunate one opened his ears and took a large gulp of air.
— “At least he will have to engage, by the most solemn of oaths, to forget everything he has seen…”
— “No!” said a large, beautiful brunette, “to save his life, he would swear all the oaths there are, and nothing says he will be faithful.”
At the Queen’s merciful phrase, Finot had breathed a sigh of relief like a sperm whale returning to the surface of the waves … but at the opposition that responded, he felt the cold enter him through all his pores.
— “We shall decide that in a moment,” the Queen repeated in an absolute tone… “We will consult the assembly… In expectation, this is what I order, that silence be observed!”
— “Alas!” Finot thought, comprehending that there would be some sort of execution, “what will they do with me? Great God!… By women!”
— “The spy is now to experience the scourges. We are twelve. Each of us will apply twenty-five strokes as carefully as possible… After this, we will put an end to it, in some manner, for the security of our affairs.”
Poor Finot was stripped of his clothing down to his underwear, His hands were tied in front of him, and, in that manner, his back was presented naked to feminine correction.
“— “Mercy!” he cried out piteously… “I swear before God that I shall not reveal anything I have seen!”
— “We will take good precautions for that!” the Queen responded. “You will receive the correction that your unworthy conduct has merited; they will not give you mercy with a single blow! And if the decision of the assembly condemns you to die, the execution will be done fast and without a sound.”
After this inexorable response, the Queen caused one of the ties of her dress to fall, so as to have free movement of her arms, and then she seized the scourge she had used in the mysterious scenes we have seen…
And twenty-five furious blows covered Fino’s back and shoulders.
— “Enough!” cried the unfortunate… “Enough, for God’s sake. You will kill me right here! I swear to be discrete! I swear…”
But he did not have time to finish his phrase:
A beautiful, vigorous brunette, in her twenties, picked up the scourge, and the patient this time believed he was feeling a man’s hand, the blows that landed on his poor body were so well applied. Toward the middle of this flagellation, she became so heated in her rage in thinking that the miserable man had indecently devoured her with his eyes, the pretty brunette, stripped of her robe down to her underpants, made the air snap with the thousand spines of the scourge, which fell without pity on the poor devil’s torn epidermis.
— “I am going! dying,…” he howled. “I am dying. Mercy! Mercy!”
— “No mercy!” a frail blonde replied … “We are revenging our sex!”
— “I only regret one thing,” said another, resting before taking her turn, “it is not having Sophie’s strength to whip him to the blood, the infamous spy!” … And she commenced to strike him, but she did reflect:
— “These scourges have become soft,” she said, “they are not worth a thing. I will go find others.”
She went to the little cabinet where the unhappy Finot saw Mélanie briefly closed in, and she soon returned holding a new bunch, long and well-furnished, with flexible bows.
— “To work!” she cried with exaltation: “I have never worked with such pleasure!…”
And immediately she gave, by the manner in which she acquitted herself, a proof of the pleasure she had in correcting such a guilty man.
The unfortunate, in place of finding mercy in response to lamentations, fell from Charybdis to Scylla, from upset woman to furious woman, from old scourges to new scourges … without considering that his poor back, almost stripped, became more sensitive the more he was beaten.
When the third execution had ended, Finot felt ill or acted like he felt ill.
A young girl, initiated for the first time that night, had pity on him.
— “I ask mercy for the rest,” she said with a sweet voice almost in tears. “For my account, I do not have the courage to touch him now.”
— “Very well,” said the Queen, “I permit each of you who have not beaten him the choice of doing it or not. Next, we deliberate on the means of going beyond every indiscretion. It concerns our honor.”
If evil is contagious, so is good, sometimes.
The clemency of the young girl was a gift to poor Finot. Mercy was accorded him from those from whom he was to receive, and that was no small thing. They returned his clothes, but they left on his blindfold.
The Queen had him sit, which Finot did, and he breathed a great sigh. Did this sigh come from satisfaction at seeing the correction ended, or from fear of the fate that still awaited him? We cannot say. It remains that he sighed deeply.
— “Now,” said the Queen, “it is necessary to choose one of two things. one: either that the guilty find a means of guaranteeing irreversibly his perpetual discretion, or he will leaves here dead! This is very easy by means of some drops from our blue vial… What do you say?”
— “It is just,” many voices replied, “and let us hurry before the day starts.”
— “Speak!” the Queen cried out, touching poor Finot’s shoulder, who was as dead as alive; do you have a positive guarantee to give of your silence?
— “Alas!” Finot responded, “I will swear an oath on the head … of…”
— “Of whom?”
— “But … I have neither father nor mother, nor children … I cannot swear on anything but my own head!”
— “This is not the moment to be funny,” the Queen responded with a tone of menace…”
— “I swear, Madam, that I am not being funny in any way! May lightning destroy me if I open my mouth on what I have seen, but what more can I do?…”
— “Whether you can or cannot, that is not our concern. Search — and fast… Without that, here is what will happen, right away: We will open your mouth by force with a spoon or some other device, then we will force you to take a twentieth of a drop of a potion we know, and in two minutes you will be dead, and our secret shall be saved…”
— “You intend to poison me?”
— “Without the least remorse! And we will do it soon…”
— “Then,” responded Finot, “Make me die, for I have no guarantee to offer you but my oath.”
This response, so firmly accented, appeared to have a certain effect on the fine menacing group surrounding Finot.
They were veritable Charlotte Cordays, with ferocious faces, with fine breasts, fury in their eyes and impatience in their hands.
— “We will retire and leave you alone for a quarter hour with one of us to oversee you. Before this, you will be tied hand and foot so that you cannot flee. If, after a quarter hour, you have not found a means of saving your life, it will be done as has been said.”
Finot kissed his head and recommended himself to God.
All but one of the women withdrew.
to suffer than to die
You must have sad reflections when, alive and in good health, you fear you will be dead at the end of a quarter-hour!
The necessity of giving this work the greatest possible mark of truth has forced us many times to ferret here and there, and to slither around in certain places, to mix in things that were often not our taste, and where we are not in our place. If it were possible to place ourselves in actual peril of death just to say what happens in the soul at this critical moment, perhaps we would have done it, but this chance has never been offered us by events, we cannot tell our readers what were the thoughts of Finot, awaiting the poison that he had nearly merited.
When he saw himself alone with the guardian left to him, he began to reflect profoundly for about five minutes. Five minutes well employed in reflection could cause many ideas to surge up.
— “Madam!” Finot said in a suppliant voice, turning on his side where he saw his guardian make certain movements, “you are a woman; you must have a good heart. I am a miserable being, worthy of all punishments, but have pity on me! I repent of my fault … I ask pardon from you, save me!…”
— “Save you!… And, if I wanted to do that, how could I?…”
— “This would be very easy,” the unfortunate responded, grasping a straw of hope, “Just undo my hands. The rest would be the matter of a second, and I would escape without being seen by anyone. For God’s sake! Do this!”
— “But you are crazy! You say nothing about what would happen to me if I were culpable of such a treason?”
— “Treason! Is it treason to save an unfortunate?…” poor Finot responded, finding nothing better to do than turn back the victorious argument of his guardian.
— “Don’t speak any more of that! Ask me something else that is possible…”
— “Alas! What to ask you when I am on the edge of dying?”
— “Search for a means to save yourself…”
— “I would be able to do much, believe me, madam… but what am I to do for that?”
— “Search well; time is passing!”
— “Wait,” Finot said while trying to raise himself, “I will ask something simple of you, which will not compromise you … I swear in advance to forget what I will see for a minute, only one…”
— “What is it?”
— “Raise the blindfold that covers my eyes, just a little … that I may see your face!”
— “Why? How would that help you, assuming I accept your oath?”
— “I don’t know, but consider that when in danger, one grasps at even the weakest thread the hand can reach! When one is about to die, one attaches his head to the weakest ray of hope, to the most futile thing, the silliest! Have pity on me and trust … let me see you for a minute!”
— “I can understand, but don’t dream that this will give you any hope that I shall fail at supervision … and I don’t see how this would help you…”
And the young woman raised the blindfold from the poor devil’s face.
— “How beautiful you are!” Finot cried, seeing a blush rise on the shoulders and face of his pretty guardian! “You are too beautiful not to be a good person. Your soft eyes and smile are divine. Oh! plead with the women for me!…”
— “That would be pointless: you alone have to find your own salvation, but I could perhaps help you…”
— “Oh! I know that well! My thanks would be eternal if I could be saved by your counsels!”
— “Let’s see… You have discovered mysteries that no man should know… Further, you have seen … what no man may see. You are doubly compromised. Search whether you have something to give to our queen some great secret whose revelation could compensate your very existence … then both sides would be mutually satisfied, perhaps…”
Finot kissed his head and thought hard.
— “No!” he said to himself, “death would be better…”
— “But,” he added out loud, “I would have to be a criminal to have such secrets to reveal about myself.”
— “It is up to you … but it is time I restored your blindfold…”
— “Not yet, I beg you, I prefer to talk with you this way … What is it to you that I see you for a few more moments?…”
— “In fact, a little more, a little less, if it will aid you to find the means to save yourself…”
— “And,” Finot said, “If I have to make an exchange such as you describe, to whom am I to confer my secret?”
— “To the Queen alone.”
— “And what guarantee would I have from her?”
— “None. Besides, you would have our secret to guarantee your own.”
— “That is proper. But what if mine were weightier, more dangerous than yours?”
— “That would double your chance of salvation, certainly. But the quarter hour you were allowed is soon over. I am replacing your blindfold, and you should try to save your life. Now that I see your repentance and the dreadful punishment awaiting you, I pity your fate!”
— “Thank you!” Finot responded, turning pale…
At this moment they heard steps and rustling of dresses. It was the return of the judges in petticoats who were to try the life of poor Finot.
— “Well,” the Queen said when all the women had entered, “for the last time, do you have a guarantee of your silence to give us? But such a guarantee that it leaves no doubt on the interest you would have to be forever silent about what you have seen?…”
— “Permit me an observation, Madam,” the little man responded, “Suppose — which is possible — that I will reveal your secret, what great peril will menace you then? Don’t you have the right to assemble where you wish and to do among yourselves whatever you wish? I believe my sole crime was having seen you in an … unusual state. I agree that this abominable indiscretion must irritate you on this last point, but isn’t this only a question of modesty?”
“Would the punishment you have inflicted on me have sufficed to calm your legitimate wrath? And again, what could I say — since in the end you could not condemn me without permitting me to defend myself — what could I say for you to compromise if I depart this place absolved by you? That I have seen the most beautiful bodies of women it would be possible to find? But do I know your names? Could I recognize a one of you so that my glance would cause her to blush?”
A slight murmur circulated in the feminine circle. Finot, inspired by this silence as well as the murmur, continued his defense in this manner:
— “And, if it is thus, after what you have done to me, why would you wish to poison me if you find I have not given you a guarantee of my silence? I am the least of men, what could I do against you? Now that I have discussed the question of necessity and that I believe you have victoriously demonstrated that my death would do you no good, let me address your humanity, your heart! It would not bear you ill, you who are women, who are beautiful, and who must be good once again after your explosion of anger, would it not be bad to see me there, compelling me in convulsions of agony … then cold, chilled, dead … a corpse in your midst, in this room! And your whole night would be troubled by the specter of a man you have killed … by your delicate hands!… Oh! think of it, think of it! When you have done that, you shall have committed a crime, and a useless crime … while now you have a pure conscience and a tranquil heart. You have had vengeance; I deserve it … but for the last time, why my death?…”
Here Finot paused, trying to learn from the judges some symptom of clemency promoted by his persuasive eloquence. If he had had the resource of eyes and hands, he would have been more pathetic, and he would have been able to read the effect of his defense on the faces of the judges … but he had to be content with his ears.
Two or three minutes passed in a silence that seemed to the unfortunate to last long hours.
— “Listen,” the Queen responded, “and recall that this is the last time we will respond to you, and that we do not do so but to prove to you that we do not wish to commit a useless crime, but that one does not commit a crime in assuring your silence by your death.
“You ask first of all what danger menaces us if our secret is divulged. We are aware of the danger of being continually spied upon in our operations, and as a result, to see our Society troubled, assaulted, dissolved … besides that one could plunge again into all the most intimate secrets of women! Do you understand?… Concerning public danger, personal danger, dreadful, worse than death, to explain ourselves categorically, it is necessary to reveal things that you should not know, that no man in the entire world, save one, may know … and this one is not you! I am not defending you. You speak of the question of offended modesty. Certainly this question is grave, but the punishment that you have received, joined with the certainty that you could not recognize one of us in the world, suffices for our vengeance. But that is only a secondary matter. Touching the conclusion of your defense, we do not pretend that we could send you to your death without our own hearts bleeding.… We do not say that your corpse would not cause us horror… We are also women as all other women! On this title, we would pardon you, but we are a Society, and we do not have the right to be merciful on others’ account. We are only a small fraction of a greater whole, and we do not the right to be generous at the risk of perils for others. So prepare yourself to die if you have no means to save yourself.”
And, at the same moment, Finot’s head was seized and pulled back with an almost masculine force.
— “Stop!” he cried out… “Perhaps I can satisfy you…”
— “That’s good,” the Queen responded, “that he be released and speak…”
— “But there are too many here,” Finot cried out… “I do not want to talk except before the Queen.”
— “But we are three to hear you. The others are gathered in the next room, ready to come at the first call. No discussions. You must submit.”
— “Fine,” Finot responded.
Then, very quietly:
— “It is better to die later than sooner, and that it is not likely that I will be accused again.”
You pass the Rhubarb; I’ll pass you the
— “We are listening,” the Queen said after taking her place between the two women who had accompanied her when the others departed. “Speak in a low voice. We do not intend that your secret should be betrayed, we only wish to protect ourselves. Fear nothing.”
— “Good,” said Finot in a low voice, “before telling you a secret whose revelation would infallibly lead to my death, I call attention to the fact that it is no longer necessary to have my eyes covered, at least while we are in a small group. What I say is to guarantee my silence so that you will be forever secure, both for your Society and for your personal reputation.”
The three women consulted visually, and their decision was in keeping with Finot’s desire. The blindfold was removed, and he saw with a certain satisfaction that his former guardian was one of the three who were to listen to his secret.
— “Take note,” he said, “if I were ever suspected, only suspected, of having revealed the hundredth part of what I am forced to tell you to save my life, I would be knifed before twenty-four hours had passed.”
— “That is certainly the guarantee we need,” the Queen responded. “On the rest, your silence is tied to our own, and you would have nothing to fear so long as you are perfectly discrete.”
Finot passed a deep sigh.
— “Do you know who I am?” he said, casting about himself the gaze of a sergeant of the guard, and lowering his voice to the lowest whisper… “I am a member of a company of counterfeiters! This company has branches in all of the United States. We manufacture banknotes, gold, and silver.”
— “And?” the Queen said.
— “And?… But it seems to me that that is plenty to get hanged by justice, or stabbed by my own, if they knew what I have revealed to you!”
An incredulous smile passed across the pretty lips of the feminine circle.
Finot had a horrible fear. Did they doubt the truth of this revelation? Did they take what he said with trembling to be a lie made to fit the occasion?
— “It is necessary to search further than that, or explain it further,” said she who was to the right of the Queen.
“Good God!” Finot cried, “search better than that! Do you think I am making it up now?…”
— “No, for my part,” she who showed herself more inclined to the unfortunate responded.
— “It is possible,” replied the other, “but he has not said enough to prove it.”
— “Fine! Listen again: This is so true that I can tell you where it currently holds its meetings… We have our chiefs, our constitution, our password!”
— “Where is the place of its meetings?”
— “At Versailles!”
And Finot’s voice was only a sigh.
— “And your password?”
— “Our password … oh! that much, never … never!”
— “Look, it is as if you have said nothing. What proves that you have not made it all up?”
— “Hold it, this proves it,” Finot responded, “taking a purse from his pocket from which he took a false banknote and some coins of as good an alloy. Other proof: the coins I gave to the woman I met here are also counterfeit … I confess it, to prove to you that I speak the truth.”
— “That’s fine … but we must have the password; that does not compromise you more or less. We ourselves have a password; we will exchange them, here it is.”
— “Fine, then … here it is:”
Finot put his face forward so as to touch those of his three judges, who also advanced, and he murmured rather than pronounced:
— “Vigilance and Fortune. And yours?”
— “Mystery and Happiness,” the Queen responded. “Now, you may go a free man. Forget; and remember!”
All the women were summoned, and, after they entered, they put the blindfold back over Finot’s eyes. Then they untied his feet and hands, and the Queen turned to the company:
— “Everything is for the best,” she said. The outrage has been punished; our mysteries are freed of all danger. Julie,” she added, “return him to the alley door. There, he could recover his sight, and may heaven guide him!”
Julie was Finot’s kind guardian. He was happy with this choice, took the young woman’s hand, and the two withdrew.
— “I beg of you,” Finot asked when he was far enough away not to be heard by those they were leaving behind, “tell me your address, Madam, … Perhaps I will have need to see you again, and I will not do so without discretion and after you allow it. You have been so good to me that I probably can give you something.”
— “Do as you wish,” she responded, “one never has anything to hide if one does no evil. Here is my address…”
And, leaning to Finot’s ear, she gave him the information he sought.
— “Thank you,” he said, “you will see me soon.”
And, at the time of departure, he held her hand.
Julie reentered the room where her companions awaited her.
“It is time for us to part,” the Queen said, “but first I will change the monthly password, and each will make it known in her quarter before noon tomorrow. In place of Mystery and Happiness, remember this: Union and Love.”
The day was commencing. Each of the women returned home.
comes after the first lines of Page 34
This sort of title that is no title at all, properly speaking, and it is only there to help the reader to follow the inevitable shifts of this narrative.
We return to the principal persons of our first Mystery, that of the Finance Company, now intermingled with the second, that of the Women United, who will produce, with time, these or those results, after many complications.
We have seen from the start that Lieutenant Alexandre was not the beloved of his wife.
An amorous liaison had taken place between Anna and Louis, the Captain of the Finance Company. It was in Alexandre’s house, as you recall, that the first scene took place that injured the rights of the husband. Fortunately, nothing was noticed, and, if we do not agree with the view of this proposition:
“If one knows it, it is a minor matter,”
we are perfectly in agreement with this other, which arises from the first:
“When one does not know it, it is nothing.”
So they did not know it, but it was not nothing.
But the first imprudence did not have to be repeated. The Captain knew full well that he did not wish to compromise she whom he loved, and who had been given to him, swept away by his love.
If the reader wishes to follow is, we could lead him, leaving the rue du Canal and taking the rue du Camp to the right. We pass by the blocks formed by the rues Commune, Gravier, Poydras, Hevia, Girod, not counting two paths not named. We pass in front of St. Patrick’s Church, then turn right into rue Julia. Three more blocks on this street, and we stop at the door of a house fronted with an iron grill. There we read on a bill that flutters in the wind: Furnished Rooms to let — Chambres Garnies à louer.
It is not by sunlight that we read this banal inscription, but by the lively clarity of the gaslight in front of the house’s grill.
It could have been eight o’clock.
At the end of the courtyard rose a sort of pavilion of red bricks, edged with white in the interstices. In the pavilion was a pretty apartment composed of two separate parts separated by a light glass door, supplied with white shutters. In the first of these two rooms was a round table, a sofa and some chairs. On the hearth there was a pendulum clock and two vases with artificial flowers. Each of the two rooms had an exit into a corridor, so that one could enter by one or the other door. In the second room was a bed, a commode, a pretty washstand, and two armchairs. A rather nice carpet covered the floor of this room. Near the mirror that surmounted the commode are two little statuettes of marble, the first representing a Venus and an Adonis in a lascivious, academic pose that identified them, and a second, Hercules with his attributes … Love and Force.
On this round table mentioned were perched two elbows supporting the fairly handsome head of a man, and, under the gaze of this man there was opened a letter with fine, light penmanship on silky paper.
Let us listen to this letter, the reading of which the Captain, our old acquaintance, read aloud — for it is he that we find in the room on rue Julia.
It seems to me that all my blessings come to me at once. After discovering you by the strangest of chances, and then finding by myself the most obvious proof that my husband authorizes to the world by his most guilty conduct … or rather if the world accepts a true reason to justify our love. I prefer writing this to saying it to you: I blush to tell you this narrative, and perhaps at the first moment the story of what happened last night will sadden you. I took good precautions before telling you the truth. It worked! Dear Louis… Now I am free in my conscience, free to refuse him everything; but to reach that, it was necessary to do what I did. I will tell you everything, because, for me this secret is the best proof of my attachment. Just listen:
An incomprehensible thing! Despite the love that Alexandre has always appeared to hold for me, a love always expressed in jealousy and furors rather than in tenderness and trust, he went to give all the acts of a brutal passion where the heart is excluded, and where the senses alone play a role.
After all, perhaps he found me cold, restrained, unhappy with him; but was that a reason to descend so low? A man would perhaps say yes; a woman will say no. So far as I am concerned, it seems more inspired by disgust than any other sentiment, and I wanted to know it … I wanted to see it! and I did see it!
But I will console you, Dear Louis: It seems to me with the conviction of this conduct on the part of my husband, I will have a greater right to love you, and more pleasure to prove it.
“You will see that what I did, I, a timid and fearful woman beyond every term, quick to revulsion and ignorant of everything low in evil passions … you will see what I did.
After having taken the precautions that it is useless to tell you in this letter, after having deployed a thousand ruses and a thousand maneuvers — of which I had not the slightest idea of all of it — I betook myself, in an impenetrable disguise, to a house where I would never have gone with an uncovered face to save my life. I came into a magnificent salon, with fine carpeting, decorated with pictures such as — God help me! — I had never seen. There was crystal everywhere, settees everywhere, couches covered with brocaded silk, all the details of luxury, but a particular luxury that went together with the attractions of this house. I was there; it was necessary to go all the way. Several cavaliers entered. They were irreproachably turned out. Richly dressed and almost distinguished. I forgot to tell you that there were in the salon several rather pretty women, but pretty in paint, in costume, through a thousand artifices that I knew. I kept myself alone in a corner of this vast salon, trembling, hostile, but resolved! It was for him, I told myself … and he was you. Each chevalier who entered dealt for a moment with the women who were there, then retired with one of them to another room. Two or three times I felt my rouge burning my face, but no one could penetrate my double makeup. One man was in his forties, large, strong, with a figure full of the freshness with some light wrinkles of between fifty and sixty. He passed in review all the women presented, and after a moment’s hesitation, he advanced on me. I trembled and thought myself near to falling faint. Then, the very excess of my surprise and my indignation — not reasoned but involuntary — struck me like a mechanical force, and I was standing in a second. At this moment, the mistress of the house entered; she saw everything in an instant and, crossing the floor in three steps, or rather in three bounds, she seized the arm of that man. “You are going astray,” she told him … then to me: “I will remain near you, Madame, until he comes.” I made a sign of thanks to her and returned to my place, more resolved than ever to go all the way. The man in his forties moved away without sounding a word, but every few steps he turned around to look at me. But my disguise could resist the longest and most minute investigation.
At the end of some moments, my husband entered! He was not drunk, but he was certainly excited: his eyes were shining and mobile, his color was ardent and, in his walk, in all his movements, I saw in an instant the state he was in. He was coming from an indulgent meal to go to another indulgence … that I will not name.
My intention in going there was to see with my own eyes, so as not to maintain in my spirit the shadow of a doubt, but never, never, would I doubt what happened.
As soon as he entered, he looked around, and, like the man in his forties, he advanced toward me. I touched the arm of the woman helping at my side: ‘Let it happen,’ I said to her in a low voice, ‘it is he.’ My husband approached a couch and, without further ado, sat down next to me. The mistress of the house arose and passed to another room.
“— Why did you hide yourself that way?” Alexandre asked me…
“I have my reasons,” I responded, falsifying my voice as best I could.
“I am sure that you are beautiful … the shape of your breasts appears magnificent.”
— “I can say nothing about that.”
Then he took my gloved hand with his left hand, with his right hand he enveloped my back, and I saw his eyes widen more and more. I let him do it; I had my reasons.
There the Captain stopped and walked around the room.
— “Well,” he said, “she did that well! And in any case, it was her own husband! Nevertheless, I would just as rather not know the end that I see ahead … Dear Anna! What decisiveness! Tell me everything!”
— “I have money, he told me … plenty of money!… I tell you, gold … bills…”
… “All the better!” I responded; and I felt my whole being shake with disgust,
— “And, if you want to be with me … — What about it?… I have no idea the sum you ask me for!”
— “Monsieur!” I cried out, despite myself, forgetting my role for a moment.
— “What! but then why are you here?”
— “That is true!” I responded, lowering my head.
Bit by hit, he made me a proposal I could not repeat. I endured everything; I was pretending to be something I was not: who wishes the end wishes the means.
— “Wait,” he said, “fumbling with the execution, wait, here are the banknotes.” And he gave me several. On the corner of one of them I saw the number: 100. If I had ever loved this man, I would have been dead on the spot!…”
— “Come,” he stuttered, “come: I have a room here at my command. Be my queen until tomorrow!”
— “Oh no! I cannot,” I responded, as I saw the conclusion of this scene of disgust culminating; “I would rather give it all back to you! There it is!”
— “Ah!” he observed, seeking to coordinate his ideas “… there is, under that, some mystery I have to pierce.” I trembled at his words, but I did not respond; I could not find the words.
— “Let us take something,” he said,
He called a servant, who returned at once with a bottle of champagne. I took a couple gulps, nearly by force, and he drank the rest without ceasing to make a thousand provocations.
— “Come,” he said, succumbing again in the excess of his desires, “if what I have given you is not enough, I will sign a bill payable tomorrow. I am off work for the next three days … I want to pass them with you!”
— “Done,” I responded, resolutely this time.
And without my really knowing what he was doing, he wrote a bill that he signed with all the letters, without even trying to disguise his signature! It was more than I could have hoped.
— “Now,” he said to me, “Come…”
— “I will not undress,” I responded, after having put the bills away.
— “I don’t care!” he responded, almost distracted.
I followed him, searching in my poor troubled head for a trick to flee this infamous place. But how could I hope for this without revealing myself? What occurred to me was one of those ideas a woman does not say except to another woman. I thought that only my husband’s sleep could save me… But this sleep, could it come in the middle of a delirium where his imagination has risen without a … gentle … satisfaction … moderating … it? I cannot write anything here lest I compromise myself with you. Finally, after fifteen mortal minutes, I was able to extract myself and walk soundlessly away … and I went home with Mariette, who had accompanied me. On arriving at my room, I dissolved in tears. One hour later, I felt relieved and almost happy; I thought of you, Louis! And how you waited for me yesterday, in vain. Even today, I was ashamed to come after what I have written. But, after all, it is he, and I now have the right not to desire him any more!
— “Wow!” said the Captain.
And he glanced at the clock that said eight thirty.
— “Still thirty minutes to go,” he said, “and I will see her! Poor child! How she would die of shame for having done well! Since, in the end, she had the courage and the initiative. Now, she will have no remorse, and our happiness will not have any more clouds! But let’s finish this letter…”
See, my dear Louis, what has happened! But there is yet another thing that causes me great perplexity, I would even say a sort of dismay. This morning, by the greatest of accidents, I came to know that one of the bills Alexandre gave me was counterfeit! I wanted to find out about the others … and indeed … they are false, too! What sort of mystery is in that? I do not know.”
— “Oh hell!” the Captain cried out … “The incompetent! The fool! But we continue.”
I am sending you the bills, amounting to two hundred fifty dollars, and you will see after the obligation for the same sum! Could you tell me what this signifies? I cannot understand any of it…”
— “I understand too much of it myself,” the Captain cried out… “What am I to do? Twenty more minutes…”
This evening, at nine, my friend, I shall come hide my head in your arms… You pardon me, don’t you?
“Oh! Yes,” Louis said, feeling the tears rise to his eyes… “I pardon you for having been sublime! I will love you even more, if that is possible, for having been so sincere!… But him, him!… She is coming soon; I need to have the banknotes … I have to get them!… Then, we shall see…”
Louis folded the letter again, took from one of the drawers of his commode a small iron box, opened it, and closed it again, closing the solid, small device with two turns of an excellent lock. He put the whole assemblage in its accustomed place and returned to his place.
The Hours pass slowly for those who suffer and
rapidly for those who are happy
“Let’s see,” said the Captain, “Let us reflect, reason, and take a position for her and against him. In her defense, it amounts to this: to be as happy as possible and to recover the banknotes. That is easy. We can have everything from a woman who loves us, everything! So far as it goes with him … once his banknotes are in my pocket, I will take the opportunity to use them as is proper: ‘Everything moves to the point which it knows awaits it.’ But to know what awaits is a great talent, and few have it. I have two roles to carry out. It is necessary that one not do wrong with the other. That is the best way. So with her, love and confidence; with him, patience and action: circumstances will decide everything.”
After this decision, he was still and reflected further, then looked at his mantle clock for the third time. The big hand moved rapidly to the top of the dial; the little one had arrived at nine o’clock, minus a tiny fraction.
— “Let’s see,” he said again, “I am not superstitious, but I want to see what verse I would reach on her arrival while reading this work called The Clock, lying open before me, to divert me from the slowness or brevity of the time.”
And he slowly read:
Moving at a cadenced pace,
Where are you going? on the stable dial.
What is the goal traced?…
Nothing pushes you to stop,
And yet you continually turn,
For the fortunate smiling during the feast,
And for the poor on sad days.
Why, inflexible walker,
To the tune of an insensible tick-tock,
Do you match the march of time?
Can’t you speed up for pain,
Recover your breath for happiness?
So that we suffer a shorter time?
But no! Your ears are closed,
You will not hear me…
You always go at the same pace!
Louis barely completed this verse when the glass door separating the two rooms softly grated and opened. A smiling face, covered with a lively blush, appeared. It was a head of a Madonna on the body of a Diana, the strongest grade of temptation and the sweetest seduction of poetry: an ideal facial beauty, full of modesty and restrained enchantments, a supple body, curved, undulating and lascivious, appearing in its entirely material promises to deny the nearly celestial sweetness of the seraphic properties of the face.
It was Anna!
Louis stood still for a second, and they met in the middle of the room in a passionate embrace that expressed all their mutual thoughts, all their happiness, all their hopes.
— “You didn’t want me, my friend?” she said at once…
— “I want you! Poor angel,” he responded, “I want you, and why? Because you have chased away your remorse to make our happiness easier and more overpowering! Oh yes, I want you … to be so beautiful that I lose my reason! I want you because … I have never met anyone with your height, since you are a hundred cubits higher than I!”
A small white hand, sweet and soft, pressed on the Captain’s burning lips.
— “Be quiet!” murmured a voice sweeter that the breeze from a vase of roses… “Be quiet, flatterer! On the contrary, what I did was selfish: it was to give a reason for my fault, but I committed it before authorized, so don’t praise me for something that I don’t deserve… I did it because I love you!”
— “Oh, thank you … my Anna!… Your letter did me good, although at certain points I felt a thrill of jealousy…”
Anna took off her hat and shawl, and they sat on the sofa I have described.
— “You brought the banknotes?” the Captain asked…
— “Yes. I promised it in my letter.”
And passing her little hand into her large bodice, from her white temptations — in keeping with the naive description of an old author — containing them, she recovered some banknotes, passing them to Louis.
Louis slowly grew pale, we cannot say quite why. Perhaps the sight of these banknotes, recalling to him his office, brought him back to himself… Perhaps it was the prison he sought to escape…
But let us put these suppositions aside and go on:
He opened and examined the four counterfeits, whose origin he recognized at once, and for good reason. One, as we know, for a hundred piastres, and three others, for fifty piastres each, made the total of two hundred fifty piastres mentioned in the letter the reader has seen.
— “Well, what do you say of that?”
— “But…” the Captain stammered, “I don’t know much. What is certain is that these banknotes are false. There are a lot of these around, and I don’t see a great mystery in this circumstance. Your husband was cheated in one of those moments when his reason was clouded due to his scandalous situation, and…”
— “Why do you say your husband?”
— “Pardon me!” he said… “The indignation that Monsieur Alexandre’s conduct inspired in me caused me for a moment to set aside pleasant thoughts. Let me have these banknotes, I shall see, I shall inform myself…”
— “What will you inform yourself about?”
— “But with these … one could … some day, discover others, and this would be a service to commerce, to the community as a whole…”
— “That is true,” the naive young woman responded, who was as ignorant as others in her class about money, and confident as all those who love in him to whom she has committed her heart.
— “I will take these bills,” Louis said, arising, as much to cover his embarrassment as to secure these dangerous items.
Then he returned to Anna’s side.
— “Now here,” she said, while blushing once more, despite herself, “is the note he had the infamy to write and give me, taking me for someone else.”
Louis took it and read:
Tomorrow at midnight, I promise to remit two hundred fifty piastres to the female person who presents this note, in the salon of house number … of the rue Conti,
— “To compromise himself when he has things to protect other than his own reputation!” he said… “When he has such a treasure,” he added, caressing the silky lips that floated on his lover’s face. “These are truly things one could not understand.”
— “Give me the note,” Anna said, “it could be useful to me some day.”
— “Yes, dear, you are right. It is an excellent offensive or defensive weapon. Save it for an opportune moment, and it will serve well.”
— “I will ask your advice, correct?”
— “As you say. But see what is good, my lost Anna I have found again! What sweet eyes of love! What satin skin! What a voluptuous mouth! Diane and Psyche, body and soul! Oh! That no impediment would prevent you to place your arm on mine before everyone! When shall I be able to show my treasure and happiness, so that envy and admiration will make me a king of felicity?… Oh! How I love you … how I love you!”
— “As do I!” she responded.
These few simple words contain more happiness than the most passionate and extensive phrases in existence.
A curious person roaming in front of the pavilion on the rue Julia a quarter hour after the young woman’s brief exclamation would not have seen any light in the first room of the pretty apartment. In the second room whose furniture we have described there was only the weak light of a small night light in thin blue crystal filtered through the slits of the doors and windows.
The Strongest Reason is not always the Best
As the next morning as the sun rose, radiant, and continued through the entire day, the little house on the rue des Ramparts and the pretty pavilion on the rue Julia were two houses, each with one happy person.
Who were the happy persons in these two homes?
On the rue Julia, the Captain caressed a sweet recent memory, and perhaps a future hope.
On the rue des Ramparts, Anna also remembered and hoped.
But you know full well that the there is no such thing on this earth as perfect happiness. Each of these versions of happiness had a cloud.
The counterfeit banknotes tormented the Captain.
The cares of an inevitable and difficult rupture darkened somewhat Anna’s sweet thoughts.
After the happiness that the world would justly call legitimate, it is not sweeter than he thought the sweeter, and, surprisingly, the prior is not what one seeks more. It is the story of the forbidden fruit that always seems more savory, since it is more difficult to achieve it.
The Captain passed the day between two occupations that divided his times, quarter hour by quarter hour. He did his correspondence and he thought of Anna, and he put his books in order, written in code and only intelligible to those interested in understanding them, and also had been initiated into this knowledge.
When he had finished engrossing a letter, he put aside his pen, supported his head on his hand, and dreamed…
When he had dreamed well, and a smile came to his lips, or emotion to his eyes, he took up his pen again and wrote a few lines … after which the same sequence was repeated.
All this day, the Captain did not return to his true home that we have known for several chapters. He perhaps had yet others than those two; we will learn of others in the course of this story.
In the house on the rue des Ramparts, it was almost the same thing, only instead of writing, Anna read.
Poor book! How it was taken up and dropped, dropped and taken up again! As if the unhappy author would have a bad opinion of his talent, or more probably, of the intelligence of the pretty reader if he had been able to see, from some hiding place, in what a pitiable manner one followed the intrigue that he perhaps believed was a masterpiece!
A woman who is in love sees almost nothing but memories and hopes, more hopes than memories, when springtimes have not been converted into winters for her.
Since the earth does not cease to spin for the lover or for those who watch for a master’s bell, night came as it was its custom to arrive, that is, at a definite hour on each day of the year.
Night indeed came … and went … Solitary night this time, despite dreams for those we know that darkness had reunited. As usual, the day came, but it was witness to many things that we shall recount.
It was about ten o’clock. Anna, tired from an almost sleepless night, arose. After done her hair, she dressed in a light dressing gown of white muslin. Ensconced on her balcony, she watched in turn her flowers and movements on the street. These poor flowers, alas! seem to have been somewhat neglected. Many hung their stems languidly down, others ran their roots into soil parched by drought, and their sad leaves had already lost the fine, lively green that is the charming sign of their good health. The rose bushes were covered with yellow leaves, as if autumn had come. In a word, it was the beginning of general desolation.
Who had killed all the flowers? It was a different flower that was born in the heart of she who was charged with their care.
As Anna surveyed these poor abandoned ones with a sentiment of commiseration, a cabriolet halted before the garden gate, and Alexandre descended from this cabriolet.
— “My husband!” Anna cried… “He returns from his trip!” she added with a sarcastic, hostile smile…
And he entered the salon.
She had barely grabbed an album to give herself a proper appearance when Alexandre entered.
— “Good day, ma chère,” he said with a rather restrained air, advancing to embrace his wife.
— “Good day,” she responded with a barely intelligible voice, presenting her face for the conjugal kiss.
Then an embarrassed silence on both parts.
— “I made a small, rather miserable trip,” Alexandre said. “Partly by horse, partly by carriage, sometimes on dreadful roads…”
— “Ah… And what was this trip? For I know nothing about your business…”
— “Why! You know nothing of my business… Don’t you wish that I tell you a heap of negotiations and traffic that would make you yawn at the least?”
— “Finally, that would be good. For two days your house has not seen you! Then you desert it right away!”
— “But what is this all about,” Alexandre cried out… “you have never spoken like that!”
— “Ask yourself before you accuse me, Monsieur!” Anna replied, incapable of playing her role to the end.
— “What should I ask myself! But why do you say this? Chère…” Alexandre responded, — for, by an inexplicable enigma of the human heart, he loved this woman with a sort of rage, despite her accusations against him, and perhaps because of those same accusations — “Why do you say that?”
— “Don’t be a hypocrite, Alexandre!… Your tu and your chère are mere words! You do not set out on your supposed trip in hope of finding, on your return, a naive woman who believes, on your word, these inept defeats…”
— “Of jealousy!” the husband cried out, who believed himself victorious…”
— “Of jealousy, Monsieur!… Oh no! Jealousy comes from love…”
— “And you have none for me?” Alexandre replied, growing pale…
— “Certainly not!” Anna responded.
And she rose to pass to another room.
Alexandre reached her in one bound and stopped her with his arm.
— “Don’t leave that way,” he said in an almost suppliant tone. “You have never spoken to me in that way. What is the new thing that makes you, so gentle, a Fury?…”
Anna grew pale with shock. Gradually, she went to recover her place on the couch she had abandoned. The red of indignation rose in his face, and his eyes, usually so soft, were charged with a storm of passions.
She was still beautiful that way, because she was always beautiful.
— “Listen, Alexandre,” she said, “Believe me, we will not continue any further, and … let us separate!”
— “Let us separate, you say!” he cried out… “and why, if you please? What complaint do you have against me? Aren’t you just searching around in advance for some scandal I have discovered, for everyone knows…”
— “Oh yes, everybody knows! But what scandal have you discovered?”
— “What scandal, Madame! Where did you pass last night?” Alexandre cried, rising up with enflamed eyes, as if he would obliterate his wife with this accusation.
— “I will tell you at the right time,” Anna responded blushing a bit at a memory of love rather than at a memory of shame. “Right now I wish that this accusation come to its end… It is perhaps the last time that we will have to speak together!”
This decisiveness intimidated her husband somewhat. Nevertheless, giving in would be to abandon the case to his wife, and he could not yet believe that she knew of what had happened in the house of the rue de Conti.
— “Truly, Madame,” he responded, “I no longer recognize you! I had to be away for two days for my business, I returned before I could have, and this is how you greet me! Further, you passed the night with some relative, I suppose. Nothing bad about that, really, but to ask of you to account for it is no crime… I am trying to understand what you are trying to say with the words, ‘We will not remain together, and let’s separate!’”
— “Sit down, Monsieur,” Anna responded calmly, “and respond to the questions I will pose to you…”
— “Yes, questions…”
— “Only for curiosity, I will listen to you…”
— “Where were you during your last two days away?”
— “But that is the formal question of a juge d’instruction!”
— “Indeed! It is whatever you will, but answer me… ”
— “I was doing my business … on the coast…”
— “That’s vague. Details, if you please?”
— “Madame, I find the role you are making me play to be very humiliating!”
— “That is possible, but there is something much more humiliating we will soon be discussing…”
— “The enigma becomes more and more obscure, and… I do not divine the direction you are going.”
— “You wish me to be clearer. Well, where did you pass the night or a part of the night of Saturday?”
This question brought Alexandre to the boiling-point.
Anna saw this, and a hostile smile touched her beautiful mouth.
— “My God,” he said, affecting a disengaged air, “I passed it at a place on the coast, I no longer really know where. But what does all that signify?”
— “Monsieur, that signifies,” the young woman rose, growing red with contempt for her husband, “it signifies that you passed that night … in a house … of infamy!”
— “Me!” Alexandre cried, also arising to shock, “Me! Who told you such a tale, Madame?”
— “Someone I must trust, Monsieur…”
— “Someone you believe more than me?”
— “More than you!”
— “Really, it is something to laugh about,” Alexandre responded, recovering and letting loose with a burst of forced laughter, sensing the comedy of one line.
“Yes, Monsieur, there is something to laugh about,” Anna responded, her eyes full of the tears of indignation… “There is something to laugh about, for you… For me, it was something to weep over!”
— “But finally, Anna, this is false! You cannot believe it! Who do you know who frequents such houses to give you this sort of information? It is to die of shock!”
— “It is to die of shame! Further…”
— “If it were true, if it were likely, if it was possible…”
— “Stop, once again, break it off there at once, and let’s separate!”
— “No, Madame! If you cannot prove such horrors, it is infamous for you to speak about it … and perhaps … well, yes … perhaps all that is only a bad pretext for…”
— “For being free to love another!”
— “It is quite possible that your conduct would have this result, but, to prove to you that what I say is true, I will pursue this line, however disagreeable it is to me!”
— “I would be very open to this,” Alexandre responded, believing that Anna was only speaking of some report that would be impossible to prove with precision.
— “First of all, Monsieur, it appears that you have become rich,” the young woman said with a sardonic and slow air, “you pay dearly for your pleasures…”
— “All of that is nothing but words.”
— “Only,” she continued, “it is hardly generous to pay in counterfeit banknotes!”
These last words were like a stab-wound running through Alexandre’s heart. He remained a long time without speaking, almost breathless.
— “What banknotes?… What are you trying to say?… What counterfeits?… ” he finally articulated, almost ruined.
— “I want to say what I say, no more, no less! I say that you pay generously for your ignoble pleasures in counterfeit banknotes!”
Alexandre bounded to his chair, and, by a movement stronger than he willed, he put his right hand to his left side, as if to seize a weapon.
— “But, to say something of that sort, Madame, it is necessary to have there, at once, in hand, the clear evidence for what you assert! Where are these banknotes? Speak…”
— “I have … burned them!” she responded.
— “Burned!” he cried out.
“I am saved!” he thought.
— “Yes, I have burned them,” Anna repeated.
— “Infamy and lying, Madame!… And where did you get them?” I ask you, “Who gave them to you?”
— “Who gave them to me? The woman who had them from your generosity, Monsieur…”
— “Let’s see, admitting the possibility of a similar fable, which is so injurious to me, how do you know similar examples? You whom I married as a pure young girl, accustomed to keep your place modestly in your father’s house?… I defy you to support such an assertion any longer!”
— “Listen, Monsieur, you will understand it in the end. I read somewhere about a young woman betrayed by her husband — which fortunately, she did not love excessively — one day put aside all fear, all restraint, and vowed to know for herself what to believe on the subject of this betrayal. She had discovered, it does not matter how, that her husband was to go a certain night to a house of the lowest level, but full of luxury. That there, after a debauch at dinner, he was to go experience a debauch of another nature. She determined to go herself to this house in an impenetrable disguise. You begin to understand.”
— “Very little, Madame. To me it has the air of a story I would not have believed you capable of inventing … any of it.”
— “Have a little patience, Monsieur. This young woman overcame all her loathing, and, disguised as I said, she entered this infamous place, she who, like myself, never left her father’s house except to enter her husband’s. There, she saw shameful things, but she had the courage to go to the end. She had been waiting for more than an hour when her husband entered. Do you begin to understand, Monsieur?…”
— “I understand the narration, but not the connection there is between this story and the question you have posed.”
— “Have a little patience again. I continue: Her husband entered. He was half drunk. The seal of the most brutal passions marked his face. Amazingly, instead of going to the women resplendent in daring outfits, he advanced on his disguised wife, whom he did not recognize. You will divine without difficulty what role he played toward her, drawn perhaps by the mystery that surrounded this woman. Twice the unhappy woman was at the point of revealing herself because of her disgust she felt for him caused her to forget her role. But she remained good to the end. Her husband, in the grip of desire and exaltation, half from drink, half from self-indulgence, lost his head. He offered her money, gold, banknotes… Do you begin to understand, Monsieur?…”
— “Always the same, Madame: the narrative, yes; the analogy, no!“
“The banknotes were burned,” he thought to himself, “there is no proof! The poor girl has destroyed the one weapon that would have killed me.”
— “I go on, then: the husband gave his wife the banknotes … counterfeit!”
— “And to prove that, the wife then burned the banknotes?…”
— “She burned the banknotes, but we are not at the end.”
— “This will not take long.”
— “All the better!”
— “Oh yes, all the better! Because it takes courage to overcome so much disgust for so long! Then, when he saw himself on the edge of success, the drunk did more; he wrote, without even disguising his hand, a note for… — the amount is not significant — payable the next day, under the same conditions! Do you begin to understand this, Monsieur? …”
This time Alexandre did not respond. He lowered his head and reflected as Anna went on:
— “Oh! Then, Monsieur, the poor woman would have wished to submit at once to the termination of this scene, but she saw that she could have done this only at the price of a scandal that would have upset her plans … and, as you know, she was forced — it was, after all, her husband — to … give in, for some moments … to the demands of her role. Do you understand, Monsieur?…”
— “Very well … and very badly, Madame, as it was from the beginning of your interesting narrative. But if we return to this pretty invention of the counterfeit banknotes?”
— “Yes, Monsieur, I will return to them, as there is a last explanation, I well wish that it should be as long as you like, despite how much you made me suffer. Now to give you a proof of the truth of the counterfeit banknotes, it seems to me that it will be enough to have you see, if that would be possible, the note signed by the husband to his wife!…”
“My note would also have been burned,” he thought.
And, having no other defense, he decided to act audaciously to the end.
— “Now, Monsieur,” Anna said, as she arose with dignity, “Don’t you think that it is time, high time, that we separate … forever?”
— “But Madame, if you make me the sad hero of this sad adventure, and to give it more weight, you suppose yourself its heroine, it is necessary for you at least to give me indisputable proof of what you claim.”
— “Here is that proof, Monsieur! Isn’t this your hand there? Is that certainly your signature?”
Alexandre turned to the paper that his wife handed him. In a glance he recognized everything…
And she, standing there, waited…
Then it came to pass in this man one of those mysteries of the human heart, a perpetual labyrinth where thinkers and philosophers get lost. On the one hand he saw himself crushed under a horrible proof that he held in his hand. This paper, which he had formally signed, appeared before his eyes and transformed itself into a definitive certificate of eternal divorce. And, inexplicably, this man’s love for this woman who was crushing him with the club of her offended dignity and legitimate hostility, awoke more lively than ever. He tore at the wretched note that carried his name in every letter … and he stared at his wife…
Leaning on the marble of the hearth, her head supported and sustained by her right hand, her eyes fixed, semi-watery, semi-indignant, she observed without seeing, as if a thunderbolt had paralyzed her without beating her down. This pose, achieved accidentally, was magnificent: she combined the young woman’s admirable head and proud breasts. All the treasures that he had possessed and that he lost, bringing, for Alexandre, the irresistible attraction of the unknown and of memory, if you may risk creating this combination.
In this world there are anomalies that are not easily explained but that certain people comprehend at first glance.
Alexandre loved this woman. He loved her with a rage! But there are two ways to love. You love with the heart, and you love with imagination. In the first case, there is a durable attachment, virtually eternal: the senses participate in it, but they only have a secondary place. In the second case, love lasts as long as vanity persists, and it is violent so long as it lasts: the senses are invested in it before everything else. A woman loved in the heart is that forever, even after a separation. A woman loved in the imagination will be so as long as she is beautiful, or until she remains under the same conditions as when they met. Love by heart generates all varieties of courage and heroism that arise from probity, self-abnegation, and indifference to the world’s approval. Love by imagination generates acts of violence: murders, suicides, all the insensitive excesses of the irritated flotsam of the human passions.
Alexandre loved Anna in this lesser form that we call love with the imagination and the senses. His wife’s indifference, responding weakly to the attacks of this sensual love, had perhaps caused Alexandre to make his surplus of passion to overflow into excesses of all sorts. There is the natural and easily-understood explanation for his infidelities despite his violent love. He would have defended this woman against a force of a hundred men so that she would not belong to any of them, or that he would himself would not live, but perish himself. But it is to be doubted that he would have sought her among floods or flames with the assurance that she would remain his. Sensual jealousy is selfish and pitiless. Jealousy of the heart brings along with itself abnegation and charity. He who loves with his heart would be capable of leaving his love to another, if it is proved to him that this other person alone could provide happiness to her whom he loves. It would suffer, perhaps die of it … but it would remain silent. He who loves in his imagination is not big enough for the smallest sacrifice: he becomes a ferocious beast at the least suspicion, or he recovers his passion entirely by a quite minimum event.
So we repeat it: Alexandre loved his wife in his imagination more than in his heart. So far as she is concerned, in her husband’s eyes, we know what we should think about it.
— “There you are!” Alexandre cried out, “I have done it … I have destroyed it! We shall not separate!”
With a movement of repulsion, as if she had stepped on a serpent, the young woman bounded three paces from the hearth where she had been leaning. Wrath mounted to her face…
— “Are you that infamous!” she cried in a voice Alexandre had never heard…
— “Yes, my conduct was infamous, but your coldness gave me a sort of excuse. I could not live without you. I will go mad if I lose you!”
— “And I will die of shame at your first touch … I remember the last time!”
— “Pardon me,” the unhappy man responded, almost sobbing… “If you knew how I love you!”
— “Yes, I know how you love me! It is for that reason that I do not pity you, because you can replace me easily…”
— “Never! never! If you leave here, I will follow you everywhere; I renounce all others! I will see no one but you! I will be your shadow! Stay, Anna, you will drive me insane!”
— “I do not love you, Monsieur!… and the women who give themselves without loving, you may find in the house on the rue Conti … or in others!”
Alexandre sensed rage expanding throughout his being. With his convulsive hands he tore the fatal note into a thousand pieces and began walking from one end of the salon to the other. After several times he halted.
— “Let’s see,” he said, with a voice that he made calm through force of will, “Do you wish that all of this should be finished? Do you want me to beg you on my knees … that I crawl before you … that I swear an oath to you…”
— “Nothing of the sort, Monsieur! On top of an infamy this would be sordid! I wish that we should separate … without public notice, if that should be possible; at least that you should not oblige me to employ means … that are repugnant to me.”
— “So, you have completely made up your mind?”
— “The more you insist, the more I am inspired by disgust.”
— “Very well, Madame, listen to me then. The banknotes that you say were counterfeit have been burned; the fatal note, which I wrote when I did not have my wits, is in a thousand pieces. There remains no proof to allege against me, in case we resort to judicial means! You are my wife, and you remain my wife despite yourself!”
— “We shall see, Monsieur.”
— “Yes, Madame, we shall see,” Alexandre said, grinding his teeth in fury… “And, rather than seeing you anywhere but here, perhaps with another, I will blow your brains out, at risk of my ending at the end of a rope! Reflect on this for a few more hours. Weigh my reasons carefully. Don’t forget that I am still responsible for you, and that I am not that for anyone else. Farewell. I will return this evening. If you are here, I will try to change your mind. If you are no longer here, I will find you … and cursed be anyone who mixes in our affairs!”
After these words, Alexandre departed.
Anna let herself fall on a sofa. Her fine eyebrows were lowered, her lips, pink and rather thin, were whitened and pressed together, and she supported her pale face on her trembling hand as if, for the first time in her life, she searched in her kind and righteous heart for a means of resistance to sustain her struggle.
She had no pardon. She did not love the guilty man!
A Ray of Sun in the midst of the Storm
— “I gave the banknotes to Louis,” she said, slowly addressing herself… “and, when I recover them, what will it help me? But … this note … that my husband destroyed … the pieces are there!… It is there: I should work on them into the night, I will reassemble them, as many as there are … and then we shall see.”
Then she got down and gathered even the tiniest fragments of her husband’s note scattered throughout the room. This was a long and tiring labor. Poor Anna felt stiff in her joints before finishing, but she went time and again over the area, turning the carpet fibers in the contrary direction until she found what she was stooping for. It was not finished once she had collected the note’s various morsels: she had to assemble them and collate them on another paper so that it became entirely readable.
Anna used a table for this and, having prepared what was needed, she began her labor of patience.
Alexandre had lacerated the poor note in such a way that, at the end of an hour the patient young woman was not able to win a single phrase!
They were torsos of partial words: pias…, or…, ti… Only the word minuit was complete. Mets…, main… deux…, ans… The signature was not sketched by any portion of the name of the signer. Here there was the final l of an unknown word, followed by two or three letters of another word whose ending was somewhere. It was enough to crack the head of an angel! But a woman in love, or who does not to love any more, precisely resembles a person condemned to death, ruminating over means of evasion.
Poor Anna struck the floor impatiently with her foot, and the harder she pressed, the less she accomplished, which is the rule in works of minutiae and patience.
At this moment the door of the salon opened softly, and Louis appeared on the threshold…
Anna’s first movement was to open her arms to her lover, her second was to push him away…
— “Unfortunates,” she cried, after shuddering under the heat of a rapid kiss, “What are you doing here? If only you knew what just happened! Oh! Go away … go away! More than ever, your being here is dangerous.”
Louis looked at her while smiling placidly, running his ravished eye over the fine living treasures he knew.
— “I beg of you, my friend! Your presence here could cause the very worst misfortunes! Do you wish to expose me so, Louis?…”
— “Have no fear, my dear Anna! I never am indifferent when I have a woman who wishes to love me in my protection! Just five minutes, and I will leave you, you sorry girl! With hopes of seeing an angel in the happy pavilion on our rue Julia!”
— “I tremble, my friend … if Alexandre returns!”
— “I will be warned of that by a signal with ten times what I need to go down to his office on the pretext I always have, in any case.”
— “Well, five minutes will do it! But three minutes have already passed!”
— “Don’t count so fast, my Anna, and above all else don’t lose a fragment!”
And, with a loving and trembling arm, the Captain formed a living belt around the flexible and vigorous waist of the young woman.
“O my charming loves!“ he said in a voice that chanted like an idea of Weber, “How I sense the happiness trembling on your sides! Like the sweet flame of your glance, like the suave breath of your mouth, like the perfume of your hair, like the magnetism of your entire being, seeming to double my life! Several hours of this will be enough to die of it!…”
— “Hush!” she gasped, turning an attentive ear to some outside sound…
— “That’s nothing: the signal hasn’t been heard!”
— “I was wrong. But don’t hold me this way for any longer. Don’t look at me any longer, don’t talk to me any longer! I will forget everything!”
And, with her round, firm, and white arms, she softly repressed the Captain’s dangerous restraint.
At this moment, he saw all the bits of Alexandre’s note on the table nearby.
— “Oh! Do you know how to do this, my friend?”
Anna said to him… “I was seeking to reassemble all the scattered fragments, and I could not complete them. It’s the note that he destroyed in that way.”
— “In a moment I will give you the key to this operation. Trying to join the bits in terms of the script will take you a whole day. You can succeed in a quarter hour doing it this way.”
And Louis joined practice with theory.
— “First of all, you take the fragments of which the one side or the other of the paper provides a straight, neat line: that is the paper’s edge… You assemble them to form a square, and then the pieces in the middle are easy to adjust. Then you slowly apply clear glue to a morsel of the paper like this. You place it gently on the other fragments as closely as possible. Then you review and rectify an error, if there are any.”
As he said these last words, Louis turned the paper to which the fragments adhered and showed Anna Alexandre’s note in its perfect state.
— “One does not always succeed with the first try,” the professor said with a smile, “It needs practice.”
— “Oh thank you!…” cried the young woman: “now I can finish with him!”
— “What has he done Anna?…”
— “It would take too long to tell you now. We have neither the time nor the necessary calmness.”
— “Well, would this be this evening?” the Captain murmured, pressing Anna’s velvet hand in his hands…
— “No, not this evening! You will know why, but tomorrow…”
— “Thank you!… What a fine day that will be after a night alone!…”
Anna closed his mouth with her rosy fingers.
— “Silence! And goodbye!” she said, “Until tomorrow…”
— “Until tomorrow, my dear … until I can say to you, forever!”
— “Well, have you reflected?” Alexandre asked, entering after some hours.
— “Yes, Monsieur, I have reflected.”
— “I hold to what I said to you several hours ago. Only, to convince you that you would never be protected from my attacks if you oblige me to deal with you, listen to this: I swear to you that what I say is the truth:
“The counterfeit banknotes have not been burned; I can get them if I wish. The note that you have torn into a thousand pieces is now in perfect shape, glued to another piece of paper, and so adjusted that it looks intact under a close inspection.”
Alexandre let out a large peal of laughter.
— “The banknotes have not been burned! They are now here?” he said. “The other has been so arranged that one would not believe at first glance that it had ever been shredded! You have that, too?” — “Well, now,” he cried out, changing his tone, “it is necessary for me at once to turn the house inside-out from one end to the other!”
— “Have pity, Monsieur… Your conduct has taught me dissimulation and lying, and you can see that I have profited from it. Your banknotes were never burned, and they are not here. I have sent them to a place of security because today I have perceived your character. The paper that you signed was in pieces; now it is in order and in a place where you will not find it. You could turn your house upside down, if you like. Me, I am leaving it.”
With this precise declaration, together with the notion that the banknotes and his signature survived as unimpeachable witnesses that could serve, one day, to protect his wife against him, and perhaps reveal him as a member of the Finance Company, Alexandre felt his head fill with burdens that darkened his reason.
On the one hand, this lost woman, lost at the moment when he saw her more beautiful than ever, hating him, damning him, torturing him like a condemned soul of Dante, with these words, as cruel as those of Balthazar’s feast, “You no longer have me!”
On the other hand, perhaps his secret is in the hands of a third party! That is to say, a hundred knives were raised against him from morning to night, ceaselessly, everywhere, and forever!
These two horrible visions were confounded in his burning brain. He could not see anything else! Neither her, nor the future, nor the past, not death! He rose as if he were an automaton, extended his arms before him, and fell on the carpet, stretched out next to the sofa.
For some moments he remained motionless, as if dead.
Anna grew pale … trembled … but made no motion to come to his aid!
A woman who no longer loves is as ferocious as a tiger.
Finally, a large, deep sigh issued from Alexandre’s chest. More massive sighs, mingled with tears and delirium, roared in the room like the explosion of a storm.
Anna trembled … but she did not budge.
Perhaps she thought of the Captain.
It was not the danger suspended over his head that broke this energetic man. When he returned to himself, nothing remained in his thoughts but the stronger of the two ideas that had battered him: that of the loss of Anna.
It is thus both in physics as in morality: of two simultaneous sufferings, the stronger dominates the other.
In the midst of his sorrow, to which the reaction was slow, Alexandre saw his wife almost unmoved. Despite that, since his love was nothing but sensual, the truth, which he had perceived from first glance, if he had loved from his heart, her who had rejected him, the truth (let us say) was obscured by a thousand phantoms waving in his delirious brain the palm of pardon on the one hand, and on the other the torches of self-indulgence.
Instead of rendering him strong, turned him toward prayer. He revived and, falling on his knees before his wife:
— “Anna,” he said, “you have no idea how much I love you! You would not chase me away if you knew this! Be generous… Give all of it to me or burn it before me… It would be good of you to pardon me!”
And the unhappy man embraced the hands of his wife as he had never held them in his before. He embraced her body, placed his weeping head on her arms, on one of her breasts, on the shoulders that it seemed to him he was approaching for the first time.
Anna could not get up, restrained as she was in these passionate restraints. Perhaps an involuntary remnant of pity held her back…
— “Leave me,” she said, “You know perfectly well that I cannot be yours. If loved me so, would you have done this that I am ashamed to repeat?”
— “If I did that, Anna, it was because I was a fool … and I was a fool … because … I have not had you enough!”
— “I do not understand,” the young woman responded, trying to disengage herself.
— “Oh yes, you do understand,” he cried, redoubling his caresses and prayers.
— “But you are raving! Alexandre… What are you trying to do?”
— “I don’t know. To have you, I would have myself killed.”
This time Anna was afraid. Alexandre’s eyes were wild as if he were drunk. They were now dry, but shining and reddened.
— “Oh!” the young woman cried, vigorously pushing him back, “So you want to have me by force!”
And she rushed to the balcony…
— “If you follow me here,” she cried out, “I will throw myself down!”
In response to this menace, Alexandre, who had made one step to join her, stopped short.
He only had two means to end the state of exaltation he was in: that which Anna was using, or some promises. She had made use of the means that provided no link for the future.
— “Come back in,” he said in a calmer voice… “if I commit some crime, it will only be against myself.”
— “Listen,” he said, “I am going; I will pass the night somewhere … nowhere and everywhere, I don’t know … with some friend, if my memory supplies the name of one of them, in my present state. Tomorrow … if I return … we will see how to end this anguish, no?”
— “But I am not chasing you out of our home! There is more than one room in the house.”
— “No: I would suffer too much! It is late … go and rest … me, I would not get any rest except in upset.”
Two hours after this, the twelve strokes of midnight will awaken Anna from her thoughts. She went to bed but had only an agitated slumber, interrupted by dreams, until daytime.
Eight hours of Agony
It was ten when Alexandre left his home. We know as little as he did what path he would take, but he found himself about an hour later near the place on the levee where you take the ferry from the First Municipality for Algiers. He sat down mechanically on the benches of the little enclosure where the passengers await the ferry.
— “Well! It is you, Monsieur Alexandre,” said a voice that he did not recognize. “If you want to cross, it is too late: the boat has made its last voyage for today.”
— “Oh! I will have the courage,” Anna’s husband said.
— “How do you have the courage to wait here until tomorrow…”
— “Until tomorrow! Perhaps I shall be dead!”
— “How dead! Do you want to cross in a pirogue?”
— “Ah yes, but, what is today, thought the man on the bench.” Then out loud:
— “I am asking you if you wish to cross the river…”
— “The river!… If I believe another … oh! I will kill everyone, and her, and me!…”
— “Word of honor, he is crazy,” the complaisant interlocutor of the poor Lieutenant said very low.
— “The wind is a little strong; it would perhaps be dangerous…”
— “Oh! I love her too much … but it is my fault if she doesn’t want to continue!”
— “Monsieur Alexandre?” said he whom we shall call émile, to facilitate the dialogue, as he touched the Lieutenant’s arm…
— “What are you doing there?” the other asked…
— “Eh … eh … I will not betray myself, at least … I await … a woman!”
— “My wife! You have denied … and I will kill you!”
— “But you are surely insane!”
— “Oh! My dear friend, my head burns!… do you know that it is the premier happiness in the world to have a wife such as mine.”
— “I will not contradict you … but that is not a reason to wish to kill me!”
— “Oh! No … I will not kill her … she is too beautiful! But perhaps you will go and denounce me…”
émile began to fear that Alexandre was crazy. He shook his arm, brought him close to his face and said to him in a rather elevated voice:
— “Look, do you recognize me?”
— “Well! It’s émile,” Alexandre said, in a tone so natural that his friend believed he was only joking earlier.
— “Certainly, it is I! But what do you have now?”
— “She has proof!”
— “But is that where we are to resume?”
— “I say she has proof … and that she wants no more of me!”
émile finally understood that to reason with a misguided man, you have no alternative but to follow his own sense.
— “Ah! She wants no more of you! She is very difficult! But tell me, why does she want no more of you?”
— “Unfortunately! What are you asking there?… I am a criminal! And she, she is the most beautiful woman in New Orleans!”
— “Concerning her, I believe you, but you are not a criminal! It is a moment of agitation, of forgetting… And my God! It comes to most men. It is necessary to hide oneself away, so that’s all…”
— “What you say there is true… Come, console me… But what am I to do? She doesn’t want anything to do with me, and I want only her!”
At this moment you could hear a light footstep, accompanied by the sound of a dress.
The moon, covered for some time by a thin mist, emerged, and its white light fell on the group gathered near the ferry shelter.
In an excited state the Lieutenant gazed at the new person entering the scene.
It was a woman.
The persistence he dedicated to examination could lead one to believe that he was not seeing her for the first time. He struck his forehead as if to retrieve a memory, but since the memory was rather old or that this forehead had not retrieved all its lucidity, Alexandre could not get to the bottom of the enigma.
— “I am leaving you, Monsieur Alexandre,” émile said, “you have not chased me away! But … my dear Mélanie reclaims my presence.”
— “Ah … ah!… You are very fortunate!”
Finot’s former mistress took émile’s arm and they departed, as the Lieutenant murmured:
— “Mélanie! That’s it… It is she of whom the ferret of the Company spoke on the day of the general meeting at Versailles! Yes … I recall … My head calms down when I do not think of her. That Finot was plotting to assassinate someone for his Mélanie, despite her wretched appearance. Oh … he was right … But for me, I would rather kill the woman than the man: in that case, one is sure she would not matter! What good is it to kill a man in that situation? Is it because there is no one else?… still…
“But … what is she doing?” Alexandre went on, pursuing his monologue out loud… “It is almost midnight… Perhaps she is sleeping… She is lying, white and beautiful, in … our bed!… and me… I am there … alone … on the riverbank … sitting like a vagabond — my head is burning — on a wooden bench! I am accursed! The river flows, as it does most days, tranquilly … and deep! At the end of the account, what did she say when I left her?… I no longer know… Yes! … She had rushed to the balcony… She wanted to kill herself to avoid my rage! Silly! Poor woman! Oh! But it would be good that all that would be over. I feel my eyes burning! They say the sun is coming!”
Alexandre threw his head back and supported himself on the planks of the cabin. His eyes closed, and he appeared to drowse.
After a few seconds, he felt a touch on the shoulder and he revived, as if he had been sleeping.
— “Eh! Friend!” sounded a rude voice, “is it because we have downed spirits by the pint? In that case, the ordinances…”
— “Well, it’s you, John? They made you a watchman?”
— “Why not, Alexandre?”
— “Indeed, why not?… I am envious to become a watchman myself!”
— “Let’s go, I see that you have not drunk, my old comrade … even if you had!… Among friends, that has no consequence.”
— “Look, John, I am not drunk, I never drink. I am suffering. I appear to be drunk. I am recovering. I feel better now.”
— “And now? A little cognac, a coffee from the Maison-Rouge, it’s very close … huh?”
— “I would love it, but it is supposed to be closed…”
— “Certainly it’s closed, but there is always a way to enter … when you are in on the secret. Let’s go!”
— “Let’s go…”
And they directed their steps to the café de la Maison-Rouge. Before entering, the brave watchman looked both ways, and he pulled a fire signal and made two blows with his iron-tipped baton. Then he pressed, or rather pushed in a certain fashion, and at once the door opened quietly. The two men entered like two shadows, and the door closed behind them.
Some seconds later, they came back out as quietly as they had entered. The watchman sounded two more blows, and he resumed his rounds. Alexandre went back up the rue des Ramparts, then following the rue St. Anne.
He went forward step by step, slowly and measured, like a president of the Cour d’Assises making an entrance to take his seat.
He himself did not know where he was going, wherever the route he was following led him straight home. He obeyed mechanically, drawn like a piece of iron toward the lover attracting him.
Then he stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, talking and responding to himself out loud, like any man whom a strong thought dominated him to the point of poisoning his reason, so to speak.
For some time the heavens had darkened, and rain started to fall. Alexandre did not hasten his pace one second.
Soon the gutters were spilling waves on him without his noticing. Suddenly the soft wind that had reigned ceased, and the fine rain became a shower.
Alexandre’s monologue continued still. He had reached the corner of the rue Dauphine. After having spoken and replied for five minutes, as he turned a bit around, he continued walking, always straight forward, without knowing he had left the rue St.-Anne. When he had gone two blocks in this direction, he heard a voice saying:
— “Come in, Monsieur; you are being drowned!”
Alexandre turned his head and saw a woman, clothed in white, sitting in a fine mahogany chair by a round table.
He entered. He was dressed quite properly, even a bit richly. A gold chain appeared on his front, at the opening of a vest of black satin. His linen was fine and white, his shoes in good taste. This exterior favored him, in the rather obscure sense of that word. He went to seat himself on a black sofa without saying a word. The woman who called on him closed a thin shutter to cover the door, which was rather pointless considering the time of day, and then she went to sit alongside Alexandre without any ceremony.
— “What is your name?” he said.
— ”My name is Anna, Monsieur.”
— “You are Anna!” he cried, arising, as if a spring had been released.
— “But yes, I am Anna … do you know me?”
— “You! Anna!… Do I know you!… Oh! Is it true what you say there?…”
— “Indeed! Perhaps I know my own name!”
The unhappy man fell into one of his excesses of dementia. The room where they were transformed itself, for him, into the room where he had been so happy; the woman sitting at his side was his wife; the voice, the white dress, the black hair, were the voice, the dress, and the hair he knew. Precisely, this woman was beautiful; she had the same shape as she who slept in the little house on the rue des Ramparts; a sound of voice roughly similar, hair arranged in the same fashion … and the sweet name of Anna!
— “Could you pardon me and please give me the banknotes,” Alexandre requested.
— “How, if I pardon you … indeed! So far as the banknotes go, my faith, explain yourself…”
— “Which I have explained! Since you have not burned them!”
— “Me! Burn banknotes… Nothing that bad! It does not come from the sky … like the water right now.”
— “You want to see me assassinated!”
— “Assassinated!… But,” she said very low, “is it that I am speaking with a madman?…”
— “No! I was misled… They gave me the banknotes … it was not my fault … even if they were counterfeit!”
— “Let’s go! He had nothing to do with this original here,” the woman said, rising to her feet.
— “I would really like to have them, these banknotes!” Alexandre said.
— “Sure, give me the real ones and I will give you counterfeit,” proposed the white creature, or rather the creature in the white dress.
— “Oh! I meant well! But you are a coquette, Madame … you wish to sell me silk, velvets, lace…”
— “Why indeed not?”
“What a change!” Alexandre said to himself… “She!”
He raised his head and looked at this woman more attentively. His reason appeared to return…
— “I was misled,” he said, “You are no Anna! Adieu! Excuse me…”
— “You are crazy!” the woman cried out. “Go to the Devil!”
— “I am not crazy,” Alexandre responded, rising to go: “I am just unhappy!”
The woman shut the door on him…
— “This imbecile here held me for a quarter-hour for … counterfeit banknotes!”
And she threw herself back into her chair after having reopened the door and the screen.
The rain had not diminished its violence.
A half-hour after this scene, Alexandre turned his master key in the lock of the door that separated the garden from his house. Five minutes later, he was in the room where his wife slept.
The unfortunate man was soaked to the bone. Water sloughed from the brim of his hat onto the carpet. He appeared tranquil at this moment, both because his suffering was in an hour of retreat, and because the cold had physically calmed the ardor that was devouring him earlier.
A small night lamp burned on the hearth. Everything was calm and silent. A sweet perfume arose from the furnishings in the apartment. It was like an oasis of love all prepared for happiness. This striking contrast with the storms that were testing Alexandre, both in nature and in his head, forced his thoughts to a reasonable moderation. There, the dominant passion of his normal being rose to the middle of his thought. The spur of his senses acted again. Little by little he paled and trembled on seeing the magnificent body that the light covers of the bed outlined in relief.
At the moment he approached by another pace, to see Anna a little closer, her lips opened. Some barely articulated sounds emerged; then a name was distinctly pronounced: “Louis,” murmured with sentiment, struck the unintended phrase that pronounced its dream.
— “Louis!…” Alexandre repeated very low…
— Then the sleeper continued, “Now … I am … yours … forever!”
— “Forever!…” the living echo repeated…
— “Is it he, or is it me?… Who is named Louis? I do not know … a dream!…”
— “You will … cause me … to die,” the soft voice of the dream continued…
Alexandre sensed his hairs rising on his head… His hand grasped the handle of the dagger he always carried.
— “Not farewell, Louis … until we meet again!”
— “Again!” Alexandre cried as if a madman, and, throwing this word, he leaped upon his wife’s bed…
But, due his sudden movement, some drops of the icy water that covered Alexandre’s clothing splashed on Anna’s face. She rose up suddenly and cried out. Alexandre, beside himself, went through the door and precipitated himself down the stairs as if a thousand swords menaced his life.
Two weeks had passed since the scene closing the previous chapter. Many events have taken place in this short expanse of time.
One of the steamboats traveling from New Orleans to Mobile was leaving the wharf of Lake Pontchartrain, the normal station of the mail boats between the capital of Louisiana and the chief city of Alabama.
Many passengers crowded the steamer bridge. The ladies, in a rather large number, formed a separate group in front, where they had gone to breathe the fresh air. Promenades and conversations intermingled. Meanwhile, the two long tables of the great dining hall were being formed both with rapidity and symmetry. Everywhere glittered the crystal and porcelain, the silver and steel, and the table linen was as white as snow.
There is nothing more comfortable or rich than the decorations of this floating mansion.
Those who only entered at this moment might doubt that this vast, splendid dining hall was at the same time the sleeping room for the male passengers.
As we wait, let us portray what it is at the moment when six valets are occupied with placing the two tables where dinner would be served.
Forty screens of rich damask cloth masked twice as many white, narrow beds ranged on each side of the hall, suspended by large copper rings from a rich gilded curtain-rod. A well-made tassel hung from each side of each of the eighty uniform screens; the tassel on the left served to close it, and that on the right to open. A rich carpet covered the hall over its total extent. A console of sculpted mahogany, surmounted by a mirror, thin and of large dimension, decorated the end of the hall. On each side of this mirror and at a man’s height were collected the Ship’s Rules of Conduct. The hundred and some chairs whose removal from storage was almost complete at this moment, were in charming taste and minutely detailed. In front of the console that we shall later describe was a side-board supporting a sort of dispenser in which thirsty passenger throughout the entire journey could find an iced container, as clear as that from the finest spring. Above this dispenser could be heard the cadenced tick-tock of a clock made in the form of a chronometer. The ceiling, painted in white and polished, was of Flemish origin. One does not see the slightest bit of dust on the flutings or modeling of its woodwork. Everywhere the eye is caressed by the most exquisite propriety and the most perfect order.
The dinner bell has sounded.
The passengers, who already had been circulating about the hall, now located themselves, each behind the chair he had chosen, awaiting the arrival of the ladies. They came, some by their husband, the others by the captain or by an officer of the boat. After they had taken their places, the men sat, and the combat commenced, a combat silent but intense, against the many small plates positioned from place to place for induce patience among the eaters.
The big-bellied maître d’hôtel, gird by a white apron and armed by a formidable kitchen knife and a fork no less terrible, cut with senatorial seriousness thin slices of the inevitable roast beef, an eminently American pièce de résistance.
At his side, the captain, presiding at the first table, was in charge of an immense fish au bleu, of which he cut generous portions, using a large silver blade pieced by a thousand serrations.
The first officer, assisting at the high end of the second table, occupied himself with delivering portions of the other meats. Each of these three cutters was assisted by two boys in charge of distribution, and all of it circulated in order, silence, and rapidity.
For example, woe to the novice passenger who does not know the American manner at table, particularly at a table on a boat! While both the naïve and the overly polished guest seeks to show their acumen by the little acts of obligation to which no one pays any attention, their neighbors, who never open their mouths to talk, maintaining perpetual motion, benefitting their stomachs, and while they rise well filled, the poor devil has not taken four bites!
How can you remain at table when everyone has left it? It is just not possible. It is one of the little shames whose tyranny is inevitable, and in its presence you must always give way, though a sort of human respect.
The meal is over. The guests depart one after another. The ladies pass to the rear, where their salon is located; the men go forward to breath the lake air and to smoke cigars more or less from Havana.
We leave the gentlemen to their smoky occupation, and as gallant travelers we enter, bare-headed, the ladies’ salon where chance will acquire for us a meeting with some acquaintances.
On accompanying this hesitant stranger, let us cast our eyes on that which surrounds us.
This ladies’ salon is a magnificent place magnificently furnished and decorated.
The doors of the sleeping rooms are a dull white relieved by gilded moldings. The buttons on their locks are crystal, and the window screens of a rich damask cloth. In this salon there are soft couches of rich couches for a single person and others for two. These latter, of a new design, merit two or three lines of description. They are double and have a sinuous form of which this is nearly the model:
A cavalier sits on one side of the two parts, and on the other, the lady with whom he is conversing, so that by means of a gracious design, slightly oblique for both, their faces may be seen directly and are close enough so that they may speak on a low voice. The velvet, the damask, the carved and punched mahogany, all contribute to the creation of these pieces of furniture as convenient as they are solid and elegant.
An open piano, covered with sheets of music, solicits ladies’ fingers that tap, more or less agreeably, on the ivory keys of this instrument and furniture, of a quality that does not deserve to fall into eternal forgetfulness for long.
It goes without saying that the carpeting of this salon exceeds in beauty that of the first hall we have mentioned.
On round tables topped with marble are the refreshments and glasses of carved crystal on their saucers.
The inevitable Protestant Bible, page edges gilded and magnificently bound, reposes in majesty on a small linen cloth embroidered with flowers. The brilliant color of the gilding attests to infrequent usage. Near the holy book are some fashion magazines that are more troubling than the Holy Bible.
Between the upper part of the doors that close the sanctuaries where the ladies sleep and the white ceiling run glasses of blue, green, and yellow, which filter and soften the brightness of the sun that causes them to shine.
As one may see, all this luxury and comfort are there, thrown in by the handfuls, and beneath it all boils a pot that, from one second to the next, could cause all of it to send all the furniture, all the lamps, all the hangings and, what is more important, all the pretty women lounging on their couches, or taking in the light breeze, more than a hundred feet in the air, the last plaything of the steam! Each stroke of the formidable piston could mean the rupture of the line that stands suspended above the head of three hundred persons, this sword of Damocles that is an explosion! But carelessness about life, indeed a true contempt of danger, is nowhere as great as in this land where catastrophes of this variety are more frequent than anywhere else. Perhaps because of the frequency of these accidents there is no utility in worrying about them. In expectation, the gallery sails, rich and poor alike, with its living and inanimate merchandise, soon to come to a good port.
We will spare the reader a longer description. We thought it useful to dwell on it a little on the way, but we do not want to abuse it.
Why, you might ask, are we aboard a boat for Mobile?
Because we must accompany one of the heroes of our story, the Captain of the Finance Company, Louis, to call him by his forename.
Yes, he is aboard the Oregon, or any other boat of the line, if the reader prefers.
Louis appears at the same time happy and preoccupied. Momentarily he stops to look at the boat’s rapid wake. His stare appears to be following an immobile point despite the mobility of the floating home that is taking him along. Evidently he is looking without seeing, like those pursuing a fixed idea. Then he measures over its entire extent the space between the bow and the curved obstacle that contains the boat’s paddle-wheel. The smile then comes to his lips; his gaze takes on an unforeseen clarity; a thrill runs through his entire body … then he takes a step; then, throwing his gaze as far as it could reach, he appears to devour the space and perceive the port with all his will.
We, whose thoughts can exceed steam and all the other modes of transportation that are thought to be rapid, will abandon the Oregon, and, in less than a second, we will be in Mobile, the principal town of the state of Alabama.
It is not without an important reason that we departed the principal theater of our scenes. If the presence to the Captain on board the Oregon has brought us aboard this boat, another presence, which the reader has already sensed, forces us to make a brief visit to this sad, monotonous city that, in a remarkable manner, denies its own name. There is nothing more immobile, effectively, than this Mobile. There are neither distractions nor pleasures there. A bit of business and much boredom is its lot. There is a physiognomy such as many other towns that are neither small nor large, and in which the positive spirit and cold character of the American race of the pure blood dominates.
If this town is sad and morose, in contrast its setting is charming if you want to enjoy it with another, to speak of it in a low voice. The forests of magnificent pines, the twisting roads, blanketed with a fine sand that absorbs the sound of walking, the pretty little flowers turning to the sun and whichever way, the delicious views, all could console one for the prosaic nature of the town for those with a taste for meadows and sentimental aspirations. Neither dirt nor ruts spoil these pretty places, as wet as they are from recent rains.
It is a delicious place to spend a third of the year for a honeymoon in the idleness and poetry of nature, two factors to double love with a tranquil, sweet charm. A morning and evening promenade on the sands of long, straight paths, or among dead trees, under a sun softened by rotting branches; in the middle of the day, a nap on a couch, in a small apartment with screens and shutters… Three months of this, far from all business, all noises, and all the ordinary noise of an agitated life would be a quarter-year whose memory would never fade — we are speaking of those who know how to love — the others are well left outside, to do everything else.
There is, however, one magnificent street in Mobile that merits, as they say, an honorable mention. It is Government Street. It is quite wide and regular from one end to the other, and it is several miles long. There you will find no business, except for the last two blocks by the river. All the rest is filled by private homes, rich and surrounded by vast areas planted with trees and flowers. Other than that, the general aspect is cold and sad. The rich who live there find it good, but the visitor soon tires of the desperate monotony reigning there.
Since the town is not equal to its environment, we will leave it right away and take the pretty road that leads to the bay.
It could be four hours into the afternoon, and the days are long.
Two women —we follow them quietly — are stepping out smartly and marching together along the slightly-rising road. They are about the same build. The one has that fine and ardent hair from a modern novel composed by Mademoiselle de Cardoville. The other allows her hair of waving tresses to float in the breeze, hair black with blue highlights. Both of them, marching forward, have the sober and gracious undulations found only of well-made women. Their make-up is without art and filled with good taste. A little Negro — whom we already know — sometimes precedes them, sometimes follows, running here and there, plucking a flower or breaking a branch, but always without losing view of his pretty mistresses. This little Negro is John, the Captain’s intelligent messenger. It would be superfluous to tell the reader who the young woman with black hair is.
— “So,” she said to her companion, “he does not know the place of your retreat?… You were able to flee without his knowing the path you had planned?…
“Yes, my friend, I came here with Louis’ aide, to cover all my traces. Despite that, it was not without mortal anguish that I managed this sort of flight. I have told you everything, Julie. What would you have done in my place?”
— “Listen, Anna, the question you pose is not a question to which one may respond. If you add: ‘and what I would have done in your position toward another,’ it would be different…”
— “Oh well, what would you have done in my place, if your husband — suppose he were still alive — acted as mine did, and you loved another as I love Louis, and for a long time?”
— “My dear, I am saying nothing to cause you pain, but I would have demanded and obtained a divorce, and, after that, I would have married him who had my heart.”
— “To plead!… To parade my shame in front of the public! About counterfeit banknotes and the scandals of shameful houses!”
— “To be sure, all of that is really hard, but what can you do? You are on a volcano… You are in a false position … which the world could judge quite severely.”
— “Also, it will not last long. If he refuses to consent to our divorce, I would obtain it by pleading what the torments and shame has cost me.”
— “Then the sooner the better.”
— “No. At this moment there is nothing to expect from Alexandre. He is in the grip of rage, regret, and exaltation. He is searching for me everywhere like a madman, with weapons! He will respond to nothing, not to propositions nor to threats. He would commit a crime without hesitation.”
— “And if he kills you?” Julie said …
Anna kissed her head and said nothing.
Probably to keep calm, she called John, who came running. She spoke some words to him before turning to her friend:
— “This is what we should do,” she had told him. “When several weeks have passed, and he sees the impossibility of forcing me back, he would be compelled to consent to a divorce…”
— “And if he refuses?”
— “Either I will plead, risking all, after placing myself under the protection of the law, or I will go far away … hide my happiness … so that the world will not suspect it…”
— “Could the law protect you if your husband knew and could prove … that … you had followed a lover?… Since, however far you went, could you live happily without tranquility?”
— “Perhaps you are right, Julie … but I cannot see that far ahead. Can you follow a wise route when you do not have a calm spirit?… Besides, I have not told you everything: I expect him soon … tomorrow morning…”
— “What! He is coming here?”
— “Julie! Is it at the hour of calm and prosperity that friendship is tested? Do you want to crush me, throw a stone at me, abandon me when I most need a friend?…”
Anna’s black hair mixed with Julie’s golden, frizzy locks. The poor sufferer had eyes full of tears and that down-caste voice that precedes the explosion of sadness.
— “No, dear,” the young widow responded, “I do not wish to cast a stone, no less than to abandon you. I love you more than ever, because you are good and open, and because you trust me.”
— “Oh! Now I am utterly happy,” the Captain’s lover cried out. “I have his love, and I have yours! Yes, he arrives on the Oregon tomorrow morning, probably early … I shall not sleep all night! There is the great secret that I did not wish to tell you in a room, in a salon. I prefer the path, the trees, the sky…”
— “Crazy! Go…”
— “Oh, yes, crazy if you will… I do not break my head over this future you describe so darkly. He will arrange everything, he!… me, my heart is full; I await him whom I love!”
Love strong and true in a woman’s heart is like the vision of his native home by a sailor after a long voyage full of storms. Past suffering appear to covered with a thin veil; the days of misery and torment are like a bad dream built on a lie… Everything is joy, everything is hope, everything is happiness. There is always the physical law and the moral law: a great sadness kills a hundred lesser instants of sadness; a great joy effaces a hundred lesser pleasures.
— “Well, Julie,” Anna went on, “if I remain alone tonight in this big room you have given me in your home, I could not stand it … I will lie down, I will get up, I will go, I will come, I will not be able to close an eye nor rest in place … I want to be beautiful tomorrow! I will sleep with you, are you willing?”
— “I have room for two, and I do not more than that it would give you pleasure…”
— “Oh yes!…”
— “But be sure of one thing, neither of us will sleep, due to the chatter you will regale me with!”
— “No; I will be wise; we will talk for one or two hours…”
— “Let’s say three or four … if I am wrong, it will not be for less. But I will not stop you; I don’t need to be beautiful…”
— “You well know that you are that all the time…”
At this moment, the two young women arrived at the bay. From this place you could see the boats coming to Mobile and those departing, as well as the oyster fishers who crossed it at the start and end of the day.
— “Look,” Julie said, “there is one going to New Orleans, that must be the Florida …”
— “And tomorrow morning, going in the opposite direction, it will be the Oregon,” Anna responded.
— “And, on board the Oregon…”
— “Will be…”
— “He whom you love, correct?”
— “How good and charming you are, Julie!…”
— “As children are gentle when you speak to them of sweets!”
— “But don’t say that you are a grandmother with your twenty-five years!”
— “Already thirty! pretty stupidity … and thirty years is serious!”
— “Oh well, he has your age; is it that he is not as young as I?…”
— “Pretty business! besides, I have heard that you are not the age of your birth certificate, but what you appear to have.”
— “That is a saying that all lovers have in their mouths when they court a woman who has passed the first freshness.”
— “How wise you are, Julie…”
— “Ah, experience!…”
Anna let out a free burst of laughter at this word, ‘experience’, which her friend launched with a cold-bloodedness worthy of a better fate.
— “Oh well, if you have experience,” she said, “when your pretty lips can close, you will give us good advice to escape from the bad position that circumstances have placed us, him and me … correct?”
— “But I have as good an opinion of him to think that you have no need of it.”
— “Bah! Two are better than one.”
— “Not always.”
When Anna and Julie entered, the sun began to settle its enflamed disk in the rosy clouds on the horizon.
On the morning of the same day, on the rue des Ramparts, an auction sale of all furniture took place.
On the house in which this sale took place, a completely new placard had been nailed, and on this placard one reads:
HOUST FOR SALE
(Apply at the Sheriff’s office)
Since his wife’s disappearance, Alexandre had passed through all the degrees on the scale of horrible suffering, all the more horrible since it had its source in material regrets, in dreams of vengeance, in the rages of solitude, and these were neither softened by memory or rendered poetic by hope. If one could put it that way, it was a madness in the head, capable of making him a fool or an assassin, depending on the circumstances.
It had little to do with the facts.
At once, during two or three times twenty-four hours, he was day and night on the streets of New Orleans like a insane man. Twenty times he tried to kill himself through errors he committed, in a sort of furious madness, by believing he recognized his wife on the arms of men more or less tolerant. Happily, there is a god that protects drunks … and fools … and Alexandre was by turns a fool and a drunk!
On the third day, perhaps without knowing what he was doing, he threw himself into the water opposite Algiers at the moment the ferry was landing. He was saved without trouble.
Another time in a barbershop on the rue de la Champs-élysées, he took a razor after he had been shaved and pomaded, and he gave himself a dreadful gash. They took him to the hospital, and he was healed in four days.
When nature had repaired him somewhat, against his own will, one day he walked all the way up the rue St. Philippe to the place where the forest and swamps begin. On arriving there, he fell into a ditch and remained there the entire night, unconscious. He revived the next day, about noon. He was lying on the bed of a poor man who had recovered him. Two hours later he became delirious, which continued for three days, between life and death. A charitable physician of the same rue, but from the opposite end, cared for him as if he were rich. During these three days, the unfortunate was bled six times … Forty-eight hours after his last bleeding, he was barely conscious!
Since he could neither die nor suffer more, this was his last crisis.
A sort of transformation suddenly occurred in his moral being: if one faculty was weakened, another faculty was doubled.
He reasoned. He grew cold.
He had no more feelings for his wife!
He tested more than one need, and he swore all the more formidably to satisfy this need at any cost, by all means, in all times and in all places…
It was the need for a vengeance…
But it was one of those forms of vengeance — complete, long, atrocious, without a second of pity … close to those of a Nero or a Louis XI would be similar.
He felt developing in himself the influence of evil, causing him to find enjoyment in a bath of crimes.
He proceeded with calm, order and logic.
He started by recovering, on all sides, the credit that he could get, losing a great deal to get it quickly.
When he had realized what he wanted, he prepared a rich outfit, he bought fine linen, some expensive jewels, everything needed show to an advantage, and he prepared himself for his campaign.
He was triply armed so as to be ready for every circumstance and to have less chance of being impeded by some miserable obstacle. A fine, small four-shot revolver, was ready in his right pant’s pocket; a knife capable of penetrating two piastres at once, rested on his left flank; and, in a wallet of minimum size, three or four packets of various colors and carefully folded, containing those substances that chemistry had evolved, showing what a paltry matter is our life.
Alexandre had prepared all of this without haste, after judicious choice and reinforcing experiments.
For several continuous days, he drank only water, ate soberly, went to bed early on an excellent bed, his wife’s former bed, in a room embalmed with many sweet flowers, his wife’s flowers. After several days, he was fine, fresh, and robust. No insomnia, no desire came to him from the worlds (formerly so obsessive) where he had plunged to satiation. He felt his strong muscles, his supple movements, his head fresh and strong, his heart beat like a chronometer.
The dawn of the day when the sale we are to describe would take place, when ten hours of morning sounded from the pretty bronze pendulum clock in Alexandre’s sleeping room, as he slept. On this signal, the old Negro came, opened half of the Persian shutters and the screens of the two windows of the balcony, then withdrew without saying a word. Then Alexandre stretched his legs, yawned two or three times, and began getting out of the bed.
— “What an excellent night!” he said … “I slept like a monk does! It is the right regimen!”
Continuing his monologue, he dressed himself.
— “Good heavens!” he said, “Here is the girl’s coverlet!… the final curtain! And what a suave odor! It is some amber joined with a pinch of violet, which would put a little mistress at ease! How soft this carpet is … and this perfumed air!”
— “I will sell off all of this,” he added, “and the house with… Yes, I believe that I may launch my campaign now. Next, I am leaving the Finance Company. I want to be free of every tie … and, to free my power, finally to succeed in my projects I must coldly, tranquilly keep my life in play at any hour when it is necessary. With this resolution, you arrive where the wind goes! Only, my life will be severely upset if trouble is so intense to look on it as a matter of greed.”
— “Pierre!” he cried out…
— “Master?” the servant responded, opening the door…
— “Bring me my chocolate and my journal.”
— “Yes, Master.”
Five minutes later, Alexandre was dipping pretty brioches in thin, hot chocolate, From time to time, he read a few lines from L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans.
— “Well!” he declared … but we read again:
We are translating the following lines from a New York journal:
Several individuals were arrested in Fulton Street carrying bank notes that were counterfeit, but perfectly well imitated, all amounting to the considerable sum of $28,000. The exterior of these individuals is distinguished and rather rich. It is suspected that they were part of some great enterprise whose traces are being investigated by the police. To all the questions addressed to them, they have refused to respond except by pleasantries in extremely bad taste. It is to regretted that they were forced to release them for lack of proof.
— “Ah … oh …” — “This is excellent chocolate, only it is a little too sugary.”
— “Pierre!… Bring me another chocolate without sugar, and a large glass of ice-water.”
The servant, who was listening, came through the door, bowed, and returned at once, holding in his hand that for which his master had asked.
— “Now,” Alexandre said to him, “Go down, and don’t return until I call you.”
— “Like that,” Alexandre went on when he was alone, “these fellows let them take… It’s twenty-eight thousand piastres in losses, or rather formally; but for them, what were they risking? They were not long in prison! The Company is there for a victory!”
And he downed the contents of his cup.
— “Let’s go!” he said as he rose, “To avoid all the trouble of disposal, I will charge the sheriff to sell everything there, including the contents.”
So that is why, on the morning of the day of which we spoke at the start of the chapter, they were making a public sale in the little house of the rue des Ramparts.
— “To establish a price!” the auctioneer cried out… “On the bed and their accessories consisting of: three magnificent coverlets, a featherbed, four pillows, drapes, counterpane, mosquito netting, all of it deluxe and in perfect shape!”
— “Fifty piastres!” a furniture merchant responded…
— “Hundred dollars!” inserted a young blond man. “This is the bedstead of the pretty lady we have seen at St. Patrick’s,” he added, speaking to a friend whose arm he held.
— “Well!” the other responded and he cried out in a strong voice, “Two hundred!”
— “Two hundred dollars! Two hundred piastres!” the crier repeated.
The young blond man looked quite tranquilly at his friend and, without letting go of his arm, he called out with the greatest possible phlegm:
— “Three hundred!”
— “Devil!” someone said among the assistants, “There are two gentlemen who like each other a lot!”
— “Three hundred! Three hundred!… Three hundred piastres,” repeating the echoes of the bidders.
— “Four!” the friend replied, without his voice, the best ever, changing its inflection.
— “Four hundred dollars! Four hundred piastres! Messieurs” … the auctioneer added, wringing his hands.
— “They are crazy!” said some…
— “He is standing pat!”
— “Perhaps they believe it is for credit!”
— “Pooh!” went the furniture-merchant: “the whole isn’t worth more than a hundred fifty piastres for an auction.”
The young blond man did not withdraw his right arm from his friend, but rather he raised his left hand while stretching his left hand, extending five fingers and making a sign to the auctioneer.
— “Five hundred!” the auctioneer cried, “Five hundred piastres! Five … hundred … piastres!… Going once!”
— “And that one had a chance,” someone murmured to his assistant.
— “Who then?” his neighbor asked.
— “Oh, for heaven’s sake, he who made the sale.”
— “Going twice!”
— “It is because he doesn’t need the money!” a third added in…
— “Going three times!”… No one speaks a word. “Sold!”
This time the young blond man withdraws his arm from his companion, to reach for his wallet.
As he searched for and counted the banknotes, two men who whom the consignment had probably been given approached, lifted the coverlets and disassembled the bed. When the transaction was nearly done, the buyer handed the bills to the auctioneer, who counted them, examined them a moment and put them in his pocket. After which he entered in his book at the end of one line the figure 500. When he had finished writing this receipt, the two gentlemen departed and the bed had disappeared.
— “If this continued in this way,” the furniture merchant said, “I will be losing my time here!”
Onward went the clock’s tour, through vases, chairs, sofas. All of these received only an ordinary price.
— “Perhaps there was gold in the mattresses!” said the seedy little old man who could smell usury ten blocks away.
A number of the curious gathered.
— “For the price of the mahogany desk!” the auctioneer began again…
— “It is proper!” the merchant, “It is entirely unsurfaced!”
— “It has pegs for nails!” added another.
— “The finish is gone!”
— “And the style dates from my childhood!”
— “One piastre!” one voice attacked…
— “One and a half!” the usurer risked…
The auctioneer did not repeat it.
At this moment, two eyes that we know from the very commencement of these Mysteries, passed over this piece of furniture that some regarded as worthless.
— “But that is mine…” Finot murmured, without too heated an air…
— “Two piastres!” the auctioneer reposted, following a sign from the crowd.
— “Three!” Finot yelped, wishing to cut the points, as one says in auctioning slang in the countryside.
The auctioneer was pressed. He received little profit on objects of this sort.
— “Three piastres!” he cried. “Going once … going twice … Sold!”
Finot paid and carried off his desk.
After two hours, the house was finished, and, the next morning, Alexandre was with the auctioneer, who had the sheriff check the receipt of the sale.
— “We will therefore say, Monsieur, fee and commission taken, that I will pay you eighteen hundred twelve piastres.”
— “It is so,” Alexandre responded, after checking the addition: “eighteen hundred twelve.”
— “Sign the receipt…”
Alexandre signed … and held the receipt between his thumb and index finger of his left hand, awaiting payment.
— “Here it is,” the auctioneer said, presenting Alexandre with a bundle of bills, gold and some silver.
— “Permit me,” he observed, without delivering the receipt.
Alexandre passed the bills between the fingers of his right hand, isolating some; then he passed to the gold and the silver.
— “Look here, there are five hundred three piastres that I cannot accept,” he said. “it is amazing that…”
— “That what, Monsieur?…”
— “That you have accepted these! Look at them: they are counterfeit!”
— “How?” the auctioneer said, going pale…
— “But it is the simplest thing! Here are five hundred piastres worth of banknotes that are worthless; and here are three piastres in silver that never came from the mint.”
The unhappy auctioneer was shattered. He called in some officers, and, when all verification was made, it was proved that Alexandre was right.
— “I was indecently cheated!” the civil officer cried.
— “It is true, Monsieur,” Alexandre responded… “You see that I am greatly pained on your behalf.”
— “Be so good as to wait for me for an hour, if you wish, while I go search for the money and make a deposition?”
— “Certainly, Monsieur.”
The auctioneer departed, and Alexandre proceeded to peruse the journals that he found on the table.
— “It appears that this circulates broadly!” he said to himself, “But it is rather a new thing that it should come to me! But what will he say in his
testimony? They are so hot for investigations here! It would be much better to moderate it very carefully. It is his business … for this brave man!”
The officers who were consulted dealt with the matter. Each expressed his view, and there were as many views as there were persons, as it happens generally in almost every situation … except for the arithmetic.
— “It is utterly dreadful, Messieurs!” Alexandre said as he rose. “The transactions are imbued with an equal confusion!”
— “There are arrests of counterfeiters every day,” said one of the young men, “and that does not keep the counterfeits from circulating. Recently, in New York, they arrested three.”
— “Ah, ah!” Alexandre said.
— “So to speak,” another responded, “that they were carrying counterfeits; but that does not prove…”
— “Why! That doesn’t prove anything? Twenty-eight thousand piastres!”
— “Why is the sum important? Proof is needed!”
— “The fact is, Messieurs, there must be proof,” Alexandre said, “but twenty-eight thousand piastres should excite grave suspicions.”
— “Also they arrested the three men, but of course they had to be released when nothing was proved against them.”
— “It is just, but the evil persists…”
— “Where is the fault … and how to end it?…”
— “I read somewhere,” Alexandre said, “that a man proposed to Congress that for twenty thousand piastres he could discover a means to render all counterfeiting of banknotes impossible.”
— “Then the Congress decided … not to decide anything.”
At the end of an hour, the auctioneer returned and paid Alexandre the five hundred three piastres that had been lacking.
“You have made your deposition?” Alexandre asked him.
— “Not yet,” the auctioneer responded, “I believe the Recorder is absent…”
Alexandre waved farewell and left.
— “There was a fellow who has thought about it,” he said. “So far as I am concerned, I have nothing left to sell but my house.”
Why you often find something other than that for which you search
We are about to enter, without ceremony, a rather large room, little furnished, located on the rue de l’Esplanade. There, we meet our old familiar, Finot, once more, who is occupied in putting his home in order, with an ardor rarely found among journeymen … because Finot has been a journeyman for only a quarter-hour.
A sad status when you are not accustomed to it!
For in the last analysis, what is a man alone? Not much… A woman alone, even less again.
So Finot is a journeyman, and he is putting his room in order.
There was a particular motivation for Finot to put his room in order, and this motivation was the new purchase that he had obtained at his Lieutenant’s auction.
— “Here,” the little man said, “I will store my ice: it will do better there. There, I will place my armoire. So far as the bed…” — Finot emitted a sigh — “It is better where it is. Horrible Mélanie!” he cried out, “You abandoned me in an infamous manner, just as Manon Lescaut left her Chevalier des Grieux! And I had done nothing! It is in your blood to be thieving and unfaithful! And to say that I love that monster! Perhaps because of her lying ways!… When I say monster, it is a manner of speaking: there are many — I know all too well — who keep a similar monster for their personal pleasures!”
Finot moved his armoire, relocated his two tables, cleaning everywhere as if he were expecting a reunion.
— “Down to one mat!” he said, crossing his arms, “down to the one mat … that I bought! If she saw it, with my new desk that I will sand, clean and polish!… Ah! Life is a sofa covered with peach-pits! Women are catastrophes! Love is a form of mental illness! Counterfeit banknotes are truer than that!”
The unfortunate man caused his imagination to wander in the waves of philosophy, in the abysses of paradoxes, on the mists of sayings of Heraclitus, all the while fixing his furniture, a labor that produced as many complaints as drops of sweat.
There was an element of burlesque and, at the same time, of sadness, in this sort of drama-vaudeville played by Finot in his room. There are men of marble who will not understand it, and Puritans who do not want to understand it, but those who have had some sort of youth can recover, in this type of carelessness, easy love, elastic sentiments, some fragment of a time of which the memory is difficult to lose when you had the sanctuary where memories live, the heart.
From work while philosophizing and reflecting on sayings, Finot arrived at tears without knowing it.
It was eight in the evening. The time was superb: the moon threw its white, melancholic clarity on the roofs and on the streets.
Two candles burned on Finot’s chimney, in the midst of the tick-tock of a square clock, built into a miniature armoire, marking time with scrupulous regularity…
— “But what do I actually have?” Finot cried out, getting up. “I should not cry there, like a calf! Oath of honor, I am a child of ten! What does Mélanie matter to me?… Is it like we are married?… Ah! If I ever meet her again, I want to pass her by proud, joyous, free … like a superior man, egad!”
Morally comforted by these challenges addressed to his self-love — as if he were all the more fragile for love — he returned to his work with a rage.
— “Let’s see these drawers,” he said, — approaching the desk he had bought this morning — perhaps there were cockroaches in there…
And he examined one after another, trying the locks to check their quality, to judge whether he had made a good deal.
— “Well, here is an envelope,” he said, “there are some papers down below. Let us see…”
He went to the light and studies them. A rather large half-packet of paper was in an envelope without an address, Finot opened it.
— “It is written in ciphers!” he cried out. “I am at the limit of the knowledge I possess as a member of the Finance Company. Let’s see.”
And he read, or rather translated, stopping at each word to check the match of the ciphers with the letters of the alphabet.
Those named Rousto and Finot must be pursued because of the jealousy that has flamed up between them because of a woman, which could lead them to compromise the secrets of the Company, using these secrets to promote themselves reciprocally.
— “D-e-v-i-l! here is a peril!” the little man said. “My three piastres are in no way wasted if they reveal something! But let us go on. This starts well.”
It will be necessary to check the books of the captain at Mobile.
— “That is nothing to me. Let’s keep going.”
Madame B——, Madame L—— and Madame V—— were initiated and sworn. They will help in the circulation of banknotes.
— “Very good!… but this only could have come from the Captain. Let’s finish, and we will think about it later.”
Judge —— needs money to pay the last bill he signed to … the person damaged…
“What does ‘the person damaged’ mean?”
He is nearly one of ours. It is necessary to buy and own him.
— “By the twenty gods! What mysteries! These are precious notes. But why are they to be found in this desk? Further, no one has read this paper before me, who deciphered it. I am losing my way more and more.”
“But … what is that? I cannot decipher any more: '24-12-23-1-6: y-l-x-a-f. That means nothing; or rather the one key does not apply to this new hieroglyphic key; one will know! too bad; I have perhaps understood the best part. In the end, one will understand it later. Where the devil did this paper come from?”
If Finot was not able to respond to this question, it is not the same for the reader, with memory, and that he has had enough good will to have read us with some attention. It came from this letter found by Lieutenant Alexandre at the time of the payments to the workers at Versailles. This paper was put in the drawer by the Lieutenant, and the series of major events that intervened had removed it from his memory.
This is why Finot found himself — by means of three counterfeit piastres — master of the paper and the desk. He put the one back in the other, crossed his arms and reflected…
He probably reflected on two things: on the ciphered note and on Mélanie… perhaps a bit more on the second than on the first.
As he plunged into his reflections, three little taps, full of fear and hesitation, sounded at his door.
He had something like a presentiment, since his face went pale.
— “Come in!” he said.
Mélanie entered, her head low, like the poor girl in the tableau of Return to the Farm, a sad and humble prodigal, supported by a long walking stick, in the middle of the family she had abandoned to go to Paris — Paris, the great city that devours so many monetary treasures and as many treasures of innocence.
— “Good evening, Finot,” she said, remaining on the threshold.
— “Good evening, Mélanie,” Finot responded without moving from his place.
Mélanie raised her head…
— “Come in then!” he said to his lover, once he looked at her.
She entered … leaving the door half-opened.
Finot went to close the door, closed the bolt, and waited. He felt the desire to speak, but he was afraid of saying too much, and he was silent. It took an advantage, but he did do that intentionally.
— “It seems funny to you to see me here, doesn’t it?” she said with a very humble smile…
— “But … I don’t know… It pleases me … and not, at the same time.”
— “It’s very nice here,” she said.
— “I have done as little as possible, since it was not my intention to stay alone here. You know that this existence depresses me. Everyone has his own character and tastes, but … I would have chosen not to love again, it brings bad too often, and could, some fine day, press one … to crime!”
Mélanie looked at the little man … whom she had always regarded as a lamb, since he had caressing habits and tranquil speech in his amorous relations…
— “You want me?” she said to him, giving him her hand with one of those traditional gestures that have the gift of slow wrath and cause hostility to evaporate…
— “My faith!” Finot responded, taking her hand, “it seems to me that I will not be ridiculous to want you…”
— “It is true: I was wrong, but what to do about it?… Do you wish that there should no longer be a question of the past?”
— “Let’s see, my friend, what are you thinking? Tell me the truth, the real truth; tell me all your thinking…”
— “Oh well, all my thinking is gone: I believe that it would been better if you were gone, and now that you are here, I do not want to see you go! That seems strange to you, doesn’t it?”
— “But no, that does not seem strange to me. But come sit with me; I want to tell you how I am; then I will ask pardon from you for all that I have done. That is all I can do now. But listen: ‘I am very easy to get. A party somewhere, an offer of amusement, some act of politeness, the smallest gift easily makes me, most times, to have no resistance. There are days when I need to change, to do like students and play hooky. That is what it is like! But I always act without thinking, and like those who fool me, it ends by having results…”
Finot passed a sigh.
“Results … that do not last long, you see, because, in the last analysis, I love only you! What do you wish? There have already been many who do not appeal to me … only because they hide themselves, they make comedy, but to me, no; I always act openly, whether it goes well or badly, and, if it is silly, it turns out that I am not attentive in the time. I cannot explain everything when I think about it, but for you, who are wiser than I, perhaps you understand.”
— “Yes,” Finot said, “I understand that you are a good girl, fickle and weak, who causes suffering for those you love very innocently, precisely like all little children who torture little birds without realizing what they are doing. You recall Manon Lescaut, which I read to you; well, you are a sort of Manon … right?”
— “Really, that is another matter. You know that I am not involved; I never think further than the next day, and again, that is plenty! Only, when I have a fantasy, I make it happen right away. The day after I don’t think about it any more!
“My poor Finot,” the naive and silly creature says, taking in her hands the head of her lover, “Pardon me … I am not lying … and I love you forever!”
And, with every syllable of this last phrase, she embraced with her eyes with an open joy that would have won pardon from a tiger … but less amorously. For, since Finot was more than a little, and he was not a tiger, the prettiest and most ordinary agreement came about, that is, a beautiful and good reconciliation.
One should not fool himself here: there are many women of this variety among the daughters of Eve. The least guilty in the eyes of the world that are so severely judged are those who best know how to hide, that is to say, the most perverse.
They have sung so much, and they sing every day in all tones, of all these noble loves, these perfumed adulteries, these treasons hidden in silk and rouge, these elastic morals in the good company they seek; they have even transported these heroes and heroines to the seventh heaven who have a heart of gold, who are blessed with superhuman qualities, who have only celestial aspirations in their horribly earthly intrigues. It seems to us that truth covers all these poetic lies and that the merit of moral pictures does not reside only in the finesse or the coloration of the artist’s brush. Truth is always the best. There are perhaps natures that are called set apart, but if there are such, one does not know them for certain. The best are perhaps those with some qualities to balance their defaults. The poets’ dream is not often encountered on earth … we have the right to assume that they are in heaven or in an entirely separate place very unclear and very far away.
Mélanie is a type. Celestial women are an invention. There are other types entirely, but the one does not prevent the other…
The different degrees of the typical scale according to which women are portrayed in this work, which will be a series of scenes from real life, since the woman who more merits the name, all the way to the most beautiful and holy on earth, the honest spouse and pure mother.
While we were waiting, we have left on one side Alexandre, preparing to commence his vengeance; on the other side, Finot and his mistress in the sweet phase in the life of lovers that we call a reconciliation, We return to Mobile, where the Captain is arriving, and chatty Anna lives, awaiting his arrival.
What is happiness?
Before leaving New Orleans, Alexandre was pusued by an active surveillance, an intelligent man entirely following him alone, one of those beings who, in gratitude became the eye and arm of him whom they love, without reason or hesitation. This surveillance was the first result of this measure taken by the Captain.
As expected, the Oregon was advancing rapidly toward its destination.
It was four o’clock in the morning. Everyone in his cabin slept. A single man promenaded on the bridge. It was Louis.
Four o’clock in the morning! It is, for those who have passed through the torments of love, the best hour, the best poetry in the memory. It is the hour where one may speak alone with the most pleasure. Around oneself there is silence, this companion of high thoughts. There was an absence of light, the sweet advance of dawn that doubles the value of solitude. You have your thought, that only acts between yourself and the infinite … a reverie that walks, reasons, talks, and asks! Yes! You love to pray at this hour … perhaps because you are alone … Sublime, harnessed to the heart! It is at this hour, more than any other, that the father of the family, seeing distress approach, prays … It is at this hour that the lover, who cannot sleep, prays… When the wife or the husband, who were separated by what our language so suavely makes poetry in this word: his half, prays, from happiness, from hope, or from fear. And, if there is, among all the vulgar circumstances of life, a position where the soul raises itself with more ardor at this hour when you are totally poetry, it is when you are moving over the waves toward whom you love, or toward that one of whom you hope.
Many find themselves moved to this memory.
Here, it is the refugee that the ship is taking into exile. It prays for the fatherland that pursues him…
There, it is the prodigal son who will look toward the horizon when the sun is rising and see the graying land of his birth, which he is fleeing in his childish exaltation.
It is the lover who, having passed his time of trial, returns happily and excited to the shore where the other half of his heart awaits him…
It is the father who will recover his children, separated by long years…
It is the courageous child who, to help his parents, has made an honor of exile, and who returns happy and wealthy, dreaming of a thousand surprises that his modest opulence will cause, in the midst of the granary he had left almost empty…
Oh yes!… at this morning hour utterly impregnated with poetry, there are throughout the world a thousand and one prayers that rise from earthly to celestial waves. It is at that very hour that angels can gather their most abundant harvest of human hymns.
So the Captain is promenading on the bridge of the Oregon some hours before arrival.
There are poets who make verses, and there are those who do not make them, and the latter are not the worst of the two. They understand what the Captain’s thoughts are, both those and the others.
But in Mobile, on that Government Street of which we have spoken, what is happening, or rather what is being said between the young widow we hardly know and the young woman of whom we know a great deal?
— “Let’s see,” Anna said, “You who are a philosopher and so full of experience, tell me a little, please, what is the end of the account, the purpose of life?…”
— “Ah so, but … are you crazy?” the young widow responded — whom we shall call Camille, because that name pleases us — “You want me to compose a course in transcendental philosophy for three quarters of the night, and all that on the pretext that you cannot sleep…”
— “What are you to do so long as you are not permitted to sleep, should we speak of one thing or another?”
— “The fact is that cause for cause, I will leave you the choice of the subject.”
— “Oh well, tell me now, what is the purpose of life?”
— “But that is simple … happiness.”
— “Then what is happiness?”
— “Devil! What a question! But one cannot respond to that categorically … it depends on…”
— “Respond as you like, but respond.”
— “Happiness! For one person, it is wealth; for another, it is mediocrity. For one person, it is to plunge into the hubbub of business, for the other, it is to lead an existence of simple calm. For the one, it is power; for the other, it is obscurity. For the one, it is noise, war, struggle, agitation; for the other, repose, friendship, love. For this person, it is study and exertion, for the other it is idleness and lack of cares. Some are only happy on earth, others are only happy in heaven. The question you pose me is as complex as the other one: ‘What are the most beautiful waves in the ocean?’ Since there are waves that are blue and calm, and stormy waves, waves that murmur and waves that roar; those that smash a ship in a storm, and those that push along the light skiff that sounds with sweet songs. All are happiness, either for the one or for the other … and, if one is obliged to respond to your question with a single response, it would be no other than this: happiness is the realization of what the heart desires.”
— “Ah, bravo! all your explications tell me nothing. Your last words tell me everything. Now, if happiness is the realization of what the heart desires, what do you say of those who break the desire of their heart to obey the prejudices of the world?”
— “They commit moral suicide.”
— “And what is suicide?”
— “Weakness, pride, and a failing.”
— “Very good! See, why does the world break apart under its error in forcing everyone to conform to its prejudices to be happy?”
— “Because the world keeps account of the effects and never the causes,”
— “So it is unjust?”
— “Not always. It has made rules and cannot concern itself with exceptions.”
— “What should he do to be happy and not to fear the world’s opinion?”
— “It is necessary to be strong, courageous, and independent.”
— “So under these conditions, one has the right to be happy by pursuing the realization of one’s own heart?”
— “So, to bet your happiness at all risks for him you love, when you see no happiness without love, and only with him, is a laudable thing, is the true purpose of life, whatever the vulgar situations where one is placed?”
— “No! — and I see where you are going — no … because he or she who is the object of this beautiful reverie is not worthy … because the exception becomes the rule, and the rule an abuse. Ah! You want to hang me with your silk cords?…”
There was silence.
It was a suave tableau as these two young women debated, foot to foot, the ground between them burning where all the daughters of Eve have marched:
Camille, her head forced into her pillow, her two arms forming a white crown above her hair; her eyes fixed on the little cupids that laughed in the blue heaven of her bed, and philosophy responded in this nonchalant pose, like Socrates in his last moments.
Anna, both her arms out of the bed, supporting her beautiful head on her flexed left arm, her ebony lips caressing the face of her friend, searching, in the twists of her amorous logic, a sanction for her unpermitted happiness…
Both gave to the undulating curves of the thin drapes, the bold and seductive reliefs, both immobile yet moving…
In the room, a soft blue glow, due to the thin crystal of a globe surrounding the light…
Everywhere, this light perfume of the clothing of the young women whose rest was reheated by the down comforter…
A tableau chaste and lascivious, pure and seductive, simple and coquet…
And, hovering above all this magic, the calm face of friendship and the moist eyes of love.
Some leagues away, the Oregon moved steadily ahead, and, on the bridge of the Oregon, the Captain continued his morning promenade.
A Young Girl’s Fault
The Oregon had departed for New Orleans. For two days, evening and morning, the Captain and his lover promenaded their happiness in the poetic environs of Mobile; sometimes Camille accompanied them. This tableau seemed to throw her into a sadness that Anna could never understand.
Despite the liberty that their amorous exile had won them, the two lovers preserved in their relations a great appearance of decorum, which perhaps rendered their happiness more piquant.
On the third day of their sojourn at Mobile, Louis received a letter from New Orleans. They were finishing dinner when this missive was delivered. The Captain retired to another room to learn the contents of the letter, although he recognized the handwriting. Anna and Camille remained alone.
— “You have a very anxious attitude, Camille, particularly since yesterday,” Anna said … “That distresses me, you see, since this sadness appears to be a silent reproach directed at me.”
— “No, dear, it is not even a shadow of reproach toward you in my mood; I am happy for your own happiness because some day you could legitimize it, I have hopes for you… But when I see you so happy, I involuntarily have a return to a past that you do not know … and that … I will confide to you later … perhaps.”
— “Speak at once, my friend, and I will listen with interest, and if there is good advice for me in your confidence, I will profit from it, if that is possible. But tell me, how do you find him?”
— “Quite well, Anna dear: loving and discrete, devoted and with a good tone. He is a man one could love.”
— “Oh yes… And I am glad for your judgment. But tell me of yourself … on this past whose confidence you have promised me. I am listening to you with a large heart.”
— “Some years ago — I was still with my parents — a man became a friend of my father and was received in our home, where he came rather often for dinner and to be with us for the evening. His manners had a simple, open air. He had done for us a thousand small obligations that led, at length, to being a sort of member of the family. He loaned me books speaking almost exclusively of the joys of the wealth and pleasures of Paris … balls, theaters, clothing, promenades, the entire range of luxury and wealth. This lasted several months without any other incident. This man had become a virtual necessity for our existence as a family. He was gone from us for a time when he did not come. The evenings became monotonous, the promenade incomplete.
“Little by little, these readings tormented me, and a loss of money came to increase in us our distress, and the visions of luxury and pleasures which arose in my imagination acquired more power over me. A moment came when I no longer spoke of Paris and its festivals. The traditional routine of our house began to weigh me down. I fell into a disgust of the daily routine that became deeper and deeper. Pride and ambition — I understand now — were the demons that came to trouble my sleep. I was only happy at the theater, at a concert or the promenade, and yet, these theaters, concerts, and promenades appeared shabby to me. This is difficult to explain, Anna, but the truth is that that man of whom I speak said nothing further to me, and never spoke anything to my heart afterwards. So far as he was concerned, I was never able to judge. But let’s not anticipate.
“One day, all the fantasies that had accumulated returned to my imagination, telling me, with modifications, that I was made for this life of pleasures and seductions, that New Orleans was a real tomb to shelter natures that are dormant or null. Later, he returned on this subject, moderating the colors of his visions that seduced me more and more. One could say that all of it went together to lead to the catastrophe that later precipitated me into an abyss of despair and remorse. To the degree that I gave in to the silly reveries that dangerous books and adroit talk caused to arise in me, the financial decline of my family intensified. Today it would be a lost loan, tomorrow an inept speculation; at another time, a guarantee to back a friend came due; then there was a season when business fell almost flat … Finally, there was a series of very sad episodes, of little interest to describe. Everything came blow by blow, as if to provide proof of the truth that trouble never comes alone.
“When this man judged that my imagination was sufficiently excited, he began to cause me to see that there was a possibility to embrace this Parisian existence that he made filled with delights. These overtures were never direct. Gradually I understood what I did not let him see. But this man was experienced, and he viewed with a knowing eye the degree of the slope down which I was sliding.”
— “I can hear noise from the next room,” Anna said, “Perhaps Louis is coming out…”
— “Let’s look from the balcony,” Camille responded.
— “He is on the sidewalk.”
— “He has a letter in his hand.”
— “It is probably the reply to that which he received.”
— “That must be. I bet that he will not delay returning…”
— “To provide us with company,” the young woman added…
— “What proportion do you make up of us?” the pretty widow asked.
— “Well … half!…”
— “Little dissembler, go! Half!”
They returned to sit down, and Camille continued:
— “One evening we were at the theatre, my family, him and me. One could have said that the piece being played that day was chosen for the circumstances. During the third act, our companion, sitting by me, turned to me, in semi-confidence, that he had received a letter from Paris and that planned to leave in a few days for France. He asked me to say nothing to my parents, reserving it to himself, he added, to let me know the motive for this recommendation the next day. I passed half the night in sorrowful agitation. I dreamed while fully awake. I suffered without knowing why.
“The next day, it was unusual that I was in the house alone. Our visitor came. After having spoken of unimportant things,
— “‘Concerning the matter,’ he told me, ‘I am speaking to you about my coming departure for France. One of my uncles has died, and I have something to recover from his succession.’
— “‘You are certainly happy to see France once more,’ I responded, ‘Paris, no doubt?’
— “‘That goes without saying, Mademoiselle: Who has not seen Paris has not seen anything, has not lived! I who have known it for many years, this place of continual and ever-changing pleasures, I never return there without new joy.’
“Suddenly he rose and began laughing in the most natural manner in the world:
“‘I have had a pleasant idea,’ he cried out… ‘If you wish to profit from the opportunity?’
— “‘If my father and mother could go there, I would go with my whole heart,’ I responded, hiding the shame that I resented without becoming insulted…’
— “‘Listen, Mademoiselle,’ he repeated — but seriously this time — you must have courage and I want to tell you a secret so delicate that you are to keep it for yourself alone, I am sure. Your parents are in a financial crisis that is growing every day. Your youth would become sad or at least monotonous, in a position from which you would have increased difficulty to extract yourself. I am your friend, but not such that I could render financial services without offending them. It depends only on you to make it that this would be possible…’
“There he ceased speaking and began walking around the room.
— “‘I do not understand,’ I said…
— “‘Here,’ he said to me, standing before me, taking a paternal tone, and with a somewhat effected voice: ‘Let’s talk. On arriving in my family, I will marry you, and the new property that I will be added to what I already have will permit me to be useful to your parents.’
— “‘Abandon my family to follow you!’ I cried out… You will not think of it, Monsieur!’
— “‘I am not talking about abandonment,’ he responded while seating himself at my side. ‘There are different ways to do things. Here is what I expect: Before leaving New Orleans with you, I will leave a letter for your father. He will know the lot which awaits you, and your good action…’
— “‘What good action?’
— “‘Why, to have the courage to cause him a little pain first, then to come comfortably to his aide. If I were to ask him for you, assuming he would accept, this would require delay, and I cannot remain any longer in the United States. On the other hand, to depart alone with the hope of returning to ask for your hand would tempt the hazards of absence and retard the happiness of your family. Believe me, there are circumstances where it is necessary to plan fast and to execute even faster.’
“This audacity, full of charm, confounded me to such a degree that I could not respond.
— “‘Say nothing now,’ he continued. ‘Take time for reflection, and, whatever your decision may be, keep to yourself what I say to you. So far as it touches me, if I have not yet asked what your sentiments are toward me, it is because I am persuaded of knowing one thing, that by means of devotion without limits, and sincere attachment, a man who has neither a moral nor physical deformity can always hope to make himself loved.’
“Then, he bade farewell, smiling with good will, then he left, recommending silence and reflection.”
— “There,” said Anna, “is a very original way to proceed!”
— “You are not yet at the end,” Camille responded. “But the sun is going down. Let us wait to see what is going on. I will finish my narrative later.”
Here is the content of the letter the Captain received:
My dear Monsieur Louis: I have followed your instructions precisely, and here is what I have discovered. The man you have designated for me, this Monsieur Alexandre, acted like a madman for several days. After that he caused all his furniture of his house on the rue des Ramparts, and at this time he is negotiating for the sale or the lease, long term, of the house itself. He is also occupied in recovering everything that is due to him, and he even accepts large losses to take rapid possession of cash in hand. All of this leads one to believe in an intention to leave town, but I have nothing positive on this subject.
Since he has almost completely finished his business, Monsieur Alexandre appears transformed. He is calm, poised, perfectly well composed. This includes change to his external appearance. Even his walk does not appear to me to be the same. Finally, he is not recognizable on his exterior. He has attained a strongly silent discretion, he who, in the outline you gave me, was occasionally intemperate with his tongue.
He went once to Carrolton, another time to the baie St. Louis and to Pascagoula. Finally, he took a boat to voyage among several parishes upriver, visiting them one after another, as if seeking information, or in service of some important secret. On observing him once with close attention, I perceived in his pants pocket the profile of a revolver pistol. This discovery suggested to me a more detailed observation that could pass for espionage. In examining the gait of this man, and some movements when he was sitting, I saw something stiff under his clothes on his left thigh. The discovery of a pistol gave me near certitude that the second object is a dagger. These arms jibe poorly with the light and elegant attitude of this man, which causes me to hesitate to conclude anything from all of this.
Finally, my dear monsieur, I continue to keep you current on everything that strikes me, as well as all the acts and gestures concerning this Monsieur Alexandre. I am pleased if my zeal might aide you in your undertakings, whatever they might be.
All to you, and I sign myself as we have agreed:
P.S.: Lavinia has returned to New Orleans.
— “Devil!” the Captain cried, “Lavinia has returned!…”
And he supported his head between his two hands, as if he were thinking profoundly.
— “He visited the environs,” he said on raising his head. “He has sold everything he had; he always walks about armed; he has become calm, and he dresses himself elegantly! Take note! These changes have to me the air of a well-planned project … but what to do? Perhaps it will be necessary to go and fight him … but with what weapon?”
— “Oh!” he cried to himself, rising brusquely and walking across his room with great strides. “The post-script of this letter is a flash of light … it is a veritable counsel in a single line! My poor Vigilant tells me more there than in the entire rest of the letter, which is precious for more than one reason. Ah! Lavinia is in New Orleans!… She!… It is a bolt from the blue if she has not changed. I must digest that … the night, as they say, brings counsel…”
At this instant, a smile passed over the Captain’s lips, and a sigh escaped his chest. This smile and this sigh reunited perhaps wished to say, “There are some nights that bring counsel, but not all!” Finally, it was of little importance what these two acts said. We perhaps have been a little brave to search for an interpretation.
The Captain immediately wrote a response to the letter that he had read, and he himself went out to send a response without losing any time.
During this time, Camille’s sharing followed its course. Interrupted by an ordinary incident that it is useless to report, the young widow completed it this way:
“I passed the entire night in thought. I was not so ignorant of the facts of life not to understand perfectly that my conduct would be blamed if I gave in to my friend’s proposals. Yet, as envy and vanity strongly argued within myself for the worst, I made what all of those do who are commencing an evil action, I created pretexts for myself that, bit by bit, became powerful motivations deriving from noble sentiments. I persuaded myself — so much as one can deny one’s conscience — that it would be good for me to provide comfort for my own, at the cost of a brief irritation that I would cause them. If my honor and reputation were briefly in play, I would have a response to give to myself. To that person I would not be well and properly married. By that I justified and, to some degree, ennobled my conduct … I would have a position, and my family would owe me its salvation.
“Oh well, now I can assert that all the reasons, made in a rush of thought, were hypocrisies and cowardice. My conscience revolted despite myself; it told me, with brutal probity, that the evil I was about to commit was certain, and that the remedies of which I dreamed were only suppositions!… It told me that a young girl who flees her paternal home does not have, like a boy, the right to count on the future to repair the past, because a woman’s future who goes off the social path is lost … forever, forever!”
Anna trembled at these last words. She looked at her friend who continued without paying attention to anything else.
“All of that was a little confused in my thought. Besides being quite young, I had a fatal tendency for all that glittered and made noise. But, what was not confused, nor veiled, nor obscure, was this that my conscience said repeatedly: ‘Behold your mother … a woman who gave you existence, who nourished you, who suffered all your little sorrows, who trembled at all your illnesses, who would have exposed her own life a thousand times for yours, who worked for eighteen years for you and your younger sisters, and who saw you, with pride and happiness, a grand and beautiful young girl, as living and adored recompense for all her troubles… Behold your father, a man who, as many times as you had days of existence, gave you a kiss on your arising, caressing your hair and face with his work-worn hands; a man who wanted you to grow, to hear you babble and sing, to watch you come and go in the house, with joy, happiness, caressing a thousand reveries of the future built on you and by you … Behold your young sisters, to whom you became after a fashion a second mother, whom you saw entirely powerless and who must have seen you, through the thousand cares you had taken with them, as if you yourself had born them… Behold what you are leaving, for reveries of pride! Behold the calm and modest you wish to cast away in the resentment and tears of your ingratitude! Eighteen years of work and friendship effaced in an hour! The morning, evening, the days where the time is dark and your heart sad, your name will occasionally come from the mouths of those who have given you so many kisses … and you will not respond to their call!
“My eyes filled with tears at these thoughts, but this anticipated regret lasted no more than an hour. When the day came, I dreamed that I was enthroned, brilliant and beautiful in the center of rich salons. Men bowed to me and women were jealous. My hand nothing to do for work than to move a fan or to play with the locks of my perfumed hair. And also, I would send money to the house, and that made me proud.
“Finally, what am I to say?… I left…”
— “Oh,” Anna cried, “Me, I never would have done that!”
— “You could have added this reproach to all of the things I have done since, Anna, and of which the world has not spared me at all!hellip;”
— “That escaped me,” the young woman responded, throwing herself on her friend’s neck. I never thought to cast a stone at anyone, and you least of all … besides, would I have had the right?”
“I departed with the persuasion that he had addressed a letter to my family. In my case, I did not have the courage to write myself. During the first two weeks of the crossing, my father’s friend was full of concern and attentions to me. If I had any remorse, he appeased me with hopes for the future. At the end of two weeks, during which he sought nothing from me, he gave me a written promise of marriage in his hand and signed with his name, without asking for anything on my part. This confidence and delicacy touched me. Gradually he became more tender … and talked. The confidence that he inspired in me was such that soon I could refuse him nothing. Afterward he was as he had been before, and there was nothing from his part that I have to repent.
“We had barely arrived in Le Havre when he died. He married me in his last hour. I was alone, between two sorrowful memories: an abandoned family and a dead husband. It was the beginning of my penance.
“I tell you, Anna, that I never loved this man in the meaning of the word I have since come to know the meaning. I wept for him when he died because he had dealt loyally with me.
“After the loss of my husband, I went to see some members of his family, whom he had designated. I was received coldly, to say no more. I did not dare to return at once to New Orleans to my own, kept back partly by shame, partly by a sort of false pride, and for more than six months I led an existence that was as sad and monotonous as I had envisioned it as joyous and brilliant. I did not remain alone. The rich or leisured relatives of the poor departed did not want me in their homes, but the poorest of them, a woman approaching her forties, received me with pleasure, and we lived together during the time I spent in France.
“I will not give you the details of this sad existence. I suffered, and my eyesight was stricken. The poor woman whose companion I became consoled me and undertook to love me. I told her the total story of my fault. She listened to my complaint, and, all tears, advised me to return to my family, because, she added, my departure must have done them injury. But she loved me for myself and not for her, and the position, at least false, in which I found myself had closed my chances for the future.
“Finally, I returned to Louisiana after six long months of gloom and boredom. All my fine reveries were long gone, and it was not their disappearance that I regretted… These six months had given me six years of experience, and I began to understand what the future has since confirmed more and more to know: that there is for a woman only one line that does not lead to certain evil, the line of honesty, followed whatever the cost.
“I will briefly tell you the end of all this.
“I arrived in New Orleans on Sunday, toward evening. The gaslights were just being illuminated. The ship’s captain, a respectable old man, accompanied me to the door of my house. I wanted to enter alone. I encountered no one on the ground floor. I mounted quietly, barely able to support myself. My heart beat so as to break my chest. In this instant, lasting barely two or three minutes, a thousand memories returned, and I felt tears coming to my eyes. I stopped halfway up the stairs. At this moment, they opened the door of the first room, where we were accustomed to gather in the evening. I heard singing. It was my mother … her voice was sad and full of emotion. I listened … it was a verse of À la Grâce de Dieu:
“If you go you never return!…
“Your poor mother is without the courage
“To quit you, to bless you!
“Work well… Say your prayers:
“Prayer comes from the heart…
“And sometimes think of your mother:
“That will grant you happiness!…”
“‘I was close to suffocating,’ Camille said in a voice that choked with emotion. Her mother finished with the refrain:
“To the grace of God!”
— “Her voice was full of tears. My heart broke, and some sobs emerged, despite myself, with noise from my oppressed chest. Still, I gradually recovered more than I would have thought possible, and I continued mounting the stairs. I arrived at the threshold. The door remained open. I saw my mother … she wiped her eyes in silence. My father was reading further inside. My sisters were not there.
“I entered. At the sound of my footsteps, my mother raised her head. She saw me and turned pale. I was in her arms when my father rose…
— “‘Camille!’ he cried.
“And he fell into his chair.
“I throw myself at his knees. I will drench your icy hands with tears, and when I arise I raised my eyes to him, he could only open the two arms into which I fell, half dead of shame and joy.”
Camille ceased to speak, and Anna took time to reflect.
“You remarried two years later?” The latter said.
— “Yes, without love, like the first time … and I have been a widow for twenty months.”
Here is the response that the Captain made to the letter signed “Le Vigilant,” a letter our readers have already come to know.
The information you have given me in your letter is precious to me. Continue to keep me up to date of everything concerning the person in question. You may even follow him in excursions he might undertake.
If you discover from any source that he is going to Mobile, use the telegraph to let me know in the fastest way. Neglect nothing and spare no necessary expense in carrying out on a large scale all that I order.
In your postscript, you have announced the arrival in New Orleans of this dangerous siren named Lavinia. It is possible that this magnificent demon once wonderfully promoted my projects without knowing how long it was necessary. I will think about it. In the meantime, get the most detailed information about her current position. Make for me her complete portrait: I mean her physical portrait. Tell me who frequents her, where she goes, where she lives, when she usually leaves, finally, that I know her at a distance as if I have her under my eyes.
I wrote to Monsieur P——, merchant, rue de la Duane, that he open to you a credit account in specie, of the sums that you need for the execution of your duties, voyages or other things.
Use without fear, and write me as soon as possible.
Some days later, the Captain received the following response:
Dear Monsieur and friend,
For the last three days I have been afoot as a chief of police searching for a big criminal. I could almost say that I was walking day and night; fortunately this was not for nothing.
To begin with Monsieur Alexandre, I already told you that he had closed on the sale of his house on the rue des Ramparts. He has deposited the larger part of the money from this sale, and since then he has sent out a large number of letters by post. I was unable to know their destinations. When he is in town, he stays in a furnished room in the rue Dauphine, not far from the rue du Canal. He receives no one; further he is rarely at home. I will do what you said on the subject of the voyages he undertakes. I will follow him adroitly.
I now come to the second person you have recommended to me, I mean Lavinia. I have done a great deal, and I have obtained more than I had dared hope, and in little time. She lives on rue St. Charles, near to la place Lafayette. I have twice seen her promenade on this square; she was alone, that is, in the sense that no one gave her his arm. Only, I can say without exaggeration tell you that each time she was literally besieged, from a distance, by a succession of admirers without end.
It is the moment to give you her portrait — which, besides, I am sending you. —
— “O admirable man!” the Captain cried out. “But where the devil is this portrait?” We continue:
My dear Monsieur Louis, I have seen many women in my life. I have seen them in the world, in novels, I have seen paintings in oils or pastels, in gilded frames. Well, all that I have seen is as nothing compared with Lavinia. It is impossible for anyone to be more beautiful than she. At the first moment I forgot … I forgot why I was looking at her. Then I had to laugh at myself, and I recovered my role, became cold. I will start with her bad side. I decided that this woman had neither heart nor soul. She must be dry and selfish, necessarily cruel. She is a woman who must make a man delirious or accursed. Her attraction must be that of a magnetizing serpent with a poor bird. If Satan has demons to destroy souls on earth, it is certain that this woman is one of these demons.
I do not know where to begin to tell you the physical beauties of this siren. First of all, she dresses like no one else. They say that each ply of her dress, that each lock of her hair, that each undulation of her movements, possesses a seduction, and that all these seductions multiply, one on the other, have only one purpose but to create madness around herself. It is impossible to analyze these traits. Here face, slightly brown, is rose-colored in the day, dull forehead, velvet below, while her neck and shoulders are, frankly, without parallels. Uncovered, her hair, as black as could ever exist, falls easily to the ground, although she is of tall build.
— “It is certainly well done here,” murmured the Captain. “My bold Vigilant is a Balzac. I recognize the infernal creature no one could resist, except for he who knows her well … but let’s see further along.”
She has a magnificent body, and the most practiced eye cannot find any artifice of fashion that helps to form this opinion. Her foot, imprinted on the sand of a road where she walks when I saw her the second time would have indicated the passage of a child of ten. She wore a dress of black silk, and on her head a light cap of white tulle … nothing more. There are neither flowers, nor plumes, nor large rosettes, nor floating ribbons. This extra-simple composition would be the despair of a coquette. But that was made and worn as I have seen nowhere else.
You asked me to be explicit, and you see how conscientiously I have obeyed. I admit to you that I have a certain pleasure in writing this. Why? I have no idea.
Despite her stunning beauty, dear Monsieur Louis, I pity — I do not know why — the man who would be the husband or even the lover of this woman. It would not be, I think, any means not to risk one’s reason with her: after possession for one day, one would want to have the distance of one world between him and her.
— “Devil!” the Captain said, “my poor Vigilant has become a poet… If this continues, he could easily lose his mind, despite his experience and his philosophy! Let’s go on:
… the distance of one world between him and her. But I see that I am outside my program. I will work to keep myself on track to the end.
When Lavinia had completed her second promenade, where I admired her, she descended the rue St. Charles further than where her home was. I intended to follow her, partly to watch her walk, and partly due to a presentiment that I would come onto some new fact. That is what happened. She went in to an artist in Daguerre portraits. I entered after her. She said a few words to the man who went to receive her, and she went to the part of the salon where there was a chair and the instruments. I approached the master, who perhaps believed that I accompanied the magnificent model just entering, and I said to him pressingly, “Make two!” He responded with a nod and passed to the other side of the hood. She spoke to the painter. I had never heard her voice: I found it hard and curt. At the end of some minutes, he presented her with the portrait. She appeared pleased, and paid the artist. But she no longer had the same sound of her voice. This time there was something melodious, the pure sound of a harmonica. Then she paid and left. She had barely passed the door than the artist quickly slipped a square box into the pocket of my coat. I gave him a banknote and left at once, specifically to cause him to think my action was motivated, and that I was the lady’s companion. The brave painter regarded me with eyes that seemed to say, “You are fortunate, Monsieur——!” I could have disillusioned him, but I did not! Men are big children.
Some rumors circulate about Lavinia. It is said, for example, the other day, that the president of a bank, a very rich man, sent her in a small perfumed envelope a thousand piastre note, accompanied with just these words: “I expect response (at a certain address) this evening at eight o’clock.” And that evening at seven o’clock, the bank president received no less an aristocratic envelope than that he had sent that morning. He opened it and found a receipt for a thousand piastres, signed by the treasurer of a charitable society for orphans!… The poor man contented himself with letting out a vigorous g——! After which he went to a great concert. Thus ends this little anecdote.
— “She’s good!” the Captain cried out, laughing hard.
My dear Monsieur, I end by announcing that the portrait in question is currently located where you are reading this letter, at Monsieur C—— merchant on rue Conti, near the rue de l’Eau, in this monotonous city of Mobile, where you currently live.
If something important comes up, I will have recourse, as you recommended, to the telegraph … where I go, morning and evening, to see if there is any communication from you.
— “Everything is well up to now,” said the Captain. “I foresee a full battle between Alexandre and Anna, or later between Alexandre and me, if he finds out … I will gather my auxiliaries and go to battle, incognito, of course.”
With that, Louis went to the merchant on the rue Conti, who gave him the portrait of Lavinia, carefully enveloped and prudently boxed. After this he mounted the stairs of the telegraph bureau located on the same street, and sent the following dispatch, with the proper address:
Meet me tomorrow morning on the arrival of the cars from lac Pontchartrain.
The same day, having said farewell to Anna, the Captain took one of the line boats, and, the next day at seven in the morning, the locomotive from the Lake stopped its cars and deposited the travelers in the vast hangar of the rue des Champs-élysées. Le Vigilante was at his post … and what happened next will be added in due course.
- Asmodaeus. (=Asmodée), a demon mentioned in the Apocrypha Book of Tobit, ch. 3, v. 8, is also the name of the pesky demon described in a narrative by Luis Velez de Guevara, El diablo cojuelo (1641), later adapted in Alain Réné Le Sage’s popular fantasy Le Diable boiteux (1707), translated into English as The Devil on Two Sticks. This story describes the rescue of a devil, who reveals in gratitude to his rescuer secrets of the lives of others, by lifting the roofs of houses. It was frequently adapted in later fiction. The German-American novelist Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein adapted this theme to portray New Orleans during the Federal siege in 1861-62 in an unfinished serial entitled “Wie der Teufel in New Orleans ist, und wie er die Dächer von Häuser abnimmt” in Die Deutsche Zeitung of New Orleans. — Translator’s note.
- Piastre. Name used for small coins in French, Italy, Spain, and their colonies.
- Champs-Elysées. Elysian Fields.
- Maringouin. A variety of mustache worn in New Orleans. — Translator’s note.
- Magnetism. Testut never uses “magnetism” as a loose metaphor. He was an ardent supporter and portrayer of “animal magnetism,” which argued for the existence of a mysterious force that could be manipulated by adepts. Later in The Mysteries he repeatedly refers to Franz Anton Mesmer and Mesmerism, which survives later in the practice of hypnotism. — Translator’s note.
- Bicêtre. Bicêtre was a hospital near Paris located in an old fortress that became an asylum for the insane. — Translator’s note.
- Salomon de Caus. de Caus (1576-1626) was a French engineer. The fictional story of his advocacy of steam power and captivity at the Bicêtre was popular in the 1840s and 1850s. — Translator’s note.
- Marion Delorme. Delorme, 1613-1650, was a French courtesan and subject of a drama by Victor Hugo in 1831. She was probably the model for Milady de Winter in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, 1844. She was made the fictional author of this letter on 3 February 1641 by Samuel-Henry Berthoud, who later had to remind readers that it was fiction. — Translator’s note.
- “No fear! master … John has good eyes!” Testut here appears to be using italics to indicate English dialogue. — Translator’s note.
- “Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus.” May the Almighty God bless you. (Latin).
- “Pater … et Filius … et Spiritus Sanctus!” Father and Son and Holy Spirit. (Latin).
- Smile. Cicero, De divinatione, II, 24, quotes Cato the Elder as saying that a soothsayer must laugh when encountering another soothsayer. — Translator’s note.
- Charlotte Corday. Assassin of the French Republican Marat in 1793. — Translator’s note.
- Juge d’instruction. A juge d’instruction is the member of a court in France (or Louisiana) who prepares the dossier used in a trial by interviewing the parties. — Translator’s note.
- Mademoiselle de Cardoville· A character in Eugène Sue’s novel Le Juif errant of 1845. — Translator’s note.
- L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orléans. [=“The New Orleans Bee”] was a French-language newspaper in New Orleans that ran from 1827 until 1923. The Jefferson Parish Library makes L’Abeille available here. — Translator’s note.
- Manon Lescaut. Manon Lescaut (a courtesan) and the Chevalier du Grieux were characters in the novel Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost published in 1731 and subsequently made into several dramas and operas, most notably by Daniel Auber, Jules Massenet, and Giacomo Puccini. — Translator’s note.
La Grâce de Dieu. Poem by Lemoine.
“Ici commence ton voyage!
Si tu n’allais pas revenir
Ta pauvre mère est sans courage
Pour te quitter pour te bénir!
Travaille bien, fais ta prière,
La prière donne du cœur,
Et quelquefois pense à ta mère
Cela te portera bonheur!
Va mon enfant adieu!
À la grâce de Dieu!
Adieu, à la grâce de Dieu!”
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Testut, Charles. The Mysteries of New Orleans. Vol. 1. Trans. Steven Rowan. Semaine Litteraire. Annex to the journal La Semaine. New Orleans: Press of A. Gaux and L. Dutuit, Publishers, 1852. Print. © Steven Rowan. Used by permission. All rights reserved.