Home Page
Louisiana Anthology

Charles Testut.
Steven Rowan, translator. The Mysteries of New Orleans, volume 2.

Translation © Steven Rowan.
Used by permission.
All rights reserved.






The Mysteries

of

New Orleans


BY

Charles Testut


Volume 2





New Orleans

Press of
A. Gaux and L. Dutuit,
publishers

112 rue de Chartres,
on the
First [=second] Floor

1852




Ex libris G. Cusachs




TABLE OF CONTENTS


  1. Faublas in the grass
  2. The Masonic Seal
  3. When Finot prepares to travel
  4. Skirmishes
  5. Encore
  6. The Spider and the Fly
  7. The Nightmare
  8. Finot’s First Station
  9. Two Items of News
  10. After having been corrected by the beautiful sex, was Finot any happier with the other?
  11. When Finot sees daylight again
  12. A Divorce
  13. A Capture
  14. The Yellow House
  15. For what purpose a bag of manure may be used
  16. Where it is demonstrated that the horse is more man’s friend than the lizard
  17. A Session of the “Finance Company” in New York
  18. Three Characters
  19. Sorts and Grigris
  20. A cut thread that rejoins itself
  21. A Bitter Deception
  22. To Whom the Apple!
  23. A boy such as we hardly ever see
  24. A woman such as one seldom sees
  25. A Masked Ball
  26. Blue Sky, Black Sky
  27. Conquer or Die
  28. Abandoned in Dante’s Hell
  29. In Union Is Power
  30. An Unexpected Visit





I

Faublas in the grass

— “I beg of you, Mademoiselle Lolotte, let me take your place … just for once … I will say you are indisposed and that you have asked me to take your place. She will never notice the change, and you will have rendered me a great service!”

He who spoke was a young man of eighteen years who looked like fourteen or fifteen, his coloring fresh and pink, his skin white and clear of the slightest fuzz. He was a little shorter build than average, and slightly stooped.

She to whom he addressed the prayer which we shall hear was a girl of color, a noted hairdresser to women of high degree in a district of New Orleans. Lolotte would have been perfect for this proverbial devilish beauty, but at the time of which we speak, little remained for her.

Since these persons play only a large role in our narrative, we shall abstain from a long description of them.

— “Do you continue to make this such an important thing, Monsieur Jules?” Lolotte replied… “Do you understand that there is a danger in satisfying the curiosity you press so ardently?”

— “What danger, dear Mademoiselle Lolotte?” the child flatterer objected… “What is it I ask for, at the end of the account? To dress her hair, to pass my fingers over and comb her long hair so rich, so black, so shiny, that you yourself have told me. Four feet!”

— “Five!”

— “Five feet! That’s awesome! I who love my art above everything else, what a magnificent occasion to see, to know, to touch with my hands, to roll over my arms this incomparable hair!”

— “But that is true love, Monsieur Jules … it is a passion!”

— “A love of art! Passion for hair! I was born with it…”

— “But … it is just that something should be changed. Mademoiselle Lavinia might be very lightly dressed when you come and … one does not know … the trouble, the surprise, could reveal you: you are so young!”

— “Oh no!… it’s the hair, the hair … I’ll only see the hair!”

— “In fact, I always found her dressed when I came to her home,” Lolotte responded, “and this caprice so torments you that I am giving in to you, Monsieur Jules. Only you swear that you will always be mute down there, and you will play your role quickly?”

— “I swear to you! I will be quick and discrete. You also know how I am when dressed as a woman. My mother herself cannot recognize me!”

— “Yes, that’s true.”

— “Well, that’s it, right? I have my bag there; I will go into the next room, and in ten minutes I shall return and submit to your inspection … You will see!”

— “Go! During this time I will arrange the tresses I have promised for noon.”

The young hairdresser did not linger, and he disappeared.

— “In fact,” Lolotte thought, “this will save me a good hour at the least, and it will please this gentle boy.”

At the end of the first volume of this work, we said that Lavinia lived on rue St. Charles, near the place Lafayette.

It was eight and a half in the morning at the moment when we introduce the reader to the beautiful siren he already knows a bit from Vigilant’s letter.

We will skip the description of Lavinia’s apartments and, with rather rude boldness we arrive directly at her bedchamber. Richness, luxury, coquetry, scents, all of this seizes our eyes and nose.

Diana’s beautiful imitator was just getting up. A peignoir of white muslin covers her body. A madras cloth in lively colors seeks in vain to hold the black, lustrous flood of her hair.

— “It was really hot this morning!” she said, as she approached the Persian shutters, “but such a fine breeze is coming from the balcony! Last night I had an extraordinary dream: a sort of archangel, armed with a naked sword, commanded me on pain of death to make love to a man. Love a man! Me! Oh no! Given a choice, I shall choose a quick death, without suffering. Bah! What an idea to go back up! It has been a long time that I have forgotten everything. Forgetting is my force, it is my power, it is my beauty! Oblivious and frozen, I am queen! Queen on the edge of revolutions, exile and the scaffold! If I remember, I will become a woman again, weak and sheltered, full of cares and torments … accursed dream!…”

— “Madame’s bath is ready,” a young servant came to announce.

— “It is good. I am coming,” Lavinia responded.

And she went to a nearby room where we are not permitted to follow.

A half-hour later she return laughing in an enchanting tone. Her hair, untied and immersed in the water, flowed over her white peignoir like a black mantle.

“Immersing myself in a bathtub!” she said in intervals of mad hilarity… “I certainly fell into this situation. I have no idea what demon of melancholy seized me, but I fell asleep, slipped down, and, my God, I took too thorough a bath…”

Rising up, she rang, and the servant who answered helped her retrieve her hair and change her clothes.

— “Now,” Lavinia said, “all that is left is Lolotte. Nine hours have sounded: she will be soon.”

— “She will be working today,” the servant said.

— “Oh, yes! There is enough for two whole hours! It is all soaked and tangled up to a fare-thee-well. What patience will be needed!”

— “Will it displease Madame that I replace your normal hairdresser today?” Jules, dressed as a young girl — well enough to stand inspection even in Paris — said…

— “Of course not, Mademoiselle, Lavinia responded. It is only that today there is a special problem. While taking my bath, I slipped down in the bathtub and my hair was horribly tangled.”

— “I will be patient,” Jules responded, blushing slightly.

— “Good, let’s get started…”

And, as she said these words, Lavinia sat and removed the towel holding her hair, which, weighed down by its moisture, fell all around her on the room’s carpet.

— “What wonderful hair!” the young hairdresser cried, forgetting to give his voice the intonation of the first words he had spoken.

Fortunately, at that very moment, the noise of the door prevented Lavinia from remarking this certainly unique difference. It was the servant bringing the things necessary for her mistress’ hair.

When the counterfeit girl raised and spread the millions of black hairs making up this luxuriant finery with his two hands, ready to proceed to drying it, she felt (or rather he felt) running through them a thousand little magnetic flames that invaded all the body’s pores. The poor young man had presumed too much of his forces, or rather he had not dreamed of the danger when, by his self-convinced love of art, he had begged to be able to set Lavinia’s hairdo.

“Just as long as I am not discovered,” he thought, “it will be enough, and how could that happen to me, who am a past-master at the art of disguise?”

But what the poor inexperienced one did not say was: “Trouble could seize me; error could torture my poor brain; delirium could make me feel the earth trembling if some lascivious circumstance makes an involuntary frontal attack on my daring!”

He only had to touch Lavinia’s hair to feel a unique heat moving from his arm to his heart and from his heart to his head!

Then, in keeping with a magnificent saying of the hero of Egypt, “One grows up fast on the field of battle.” We could say that our apprentice Faublas learned a rude lesson in the very scale of danger he saw coming.

— “How old are you?” Lavinia asked the young man.

— “Eighteen,” he replied…

— “You are pretty!” Lavinia added. “Do you have a lover?”

— “No, Madame”

— “That’s surprising … and unfortunate, really!”

— “It will come, perhaps…” Jules said, continuing to dry Lavinia’s hair by means of hot napkins.

— “This top irritates me,” Lavinia observed; ”please remove it.”

Jules removed her top and … closed his eyes.

Like those who first climb up a roof, he was afraid of giddiness.

But since he could not work with closed eyes, he opened them again.

— “Now I believe it is somewhat dry,” Lavinia said. You may do my hair.”

The young hairdresser took his comb and plunged it in, with frenetic dexterity, and the long moving rows displayed before him. In ten minutes his right hand went and returned from the roots to the ends, as a boat goes from one end to the other of a watercourse.

One could say that he was on a tear.

— “Pay attention,” Lavinia said after a patient time, “I tire of sitting.”

And she rose, causing her tangled hair to fall to the floor around her.

— “Return that accursed pin that comes undone continually,” she said, presenting her chest to the young man.

There is no restraint among women, so Lavinia, too, offered with utter abandon the most beautiful breasts in the world to the dazzled gaze of the imprudent young man.

He wanted to return the rebel pin, but his hands trembled so badly that instead of attaching one, he dislodged two.

— “But here I am half-naked,” Lavinia cried out with a good heart, “What is making you tremble?”

— “Nothing …” Jules babbled. “I was magnetized the other day for a stomach problem, and perhaps my nerves are still a bit … agitated?”

— “Well! You had yourself magnetized … did it hurt?”

— “Somewhat, at the beginning.”

— “Ah! And it did you good afterwards?”

— “That always works for me. But if you would wait for ten minutes, I will go to the shop and find a new pomade that we are getting. It preserves and improves hair, and I can use it on you. I had forgotten it.”

“Go, go … I will await you.”

Jules left, first of all to recover his balance, and then to return as quickly as possible. He went to the shop where he was employed. He had hardly taken two steps when the proprietor came to meet him.

— “Does Madame wish something?” he asked, making a ceremonial salute…

— “Oh, boss, boss,” Jules said, not intending to preserve his error, “I am about to go mad.” Don’t look at me that way! It is I, Jules. I am dressed as a woman to treat the most beautiful hair in the world, and I have found a creature who would drive a saint insane! More than five feet long! Monsieur… black as jade! Supple as silk! Lustrous as a crow’s tail! ”… And she, she! I must go back to her. I have escaped for a moment on the pretext of getting a new pomade. Give me one. I can take it from there without trouble.…

The master of the house stepped back two or three paces, staring at this young girl who was his employee, and he opened his mouth…

But he remained some seconds without being able to speak.

Finally he asked, “Do you have weapons?”

— “Weapons!” Jules-Julie responded, “to do what?”

— “Damn!… you’re crazy … it would perhaps be dangerous to remain close to you if you are armed.”

— “But no, boss, I am the least crazy person in the world. Since I don’t have the time to lose, quickly give me the special pomade, and I will explain it all when I return.”

At this moment there was some of the special pomade in the shop.

— “Right away, Mademoiselle,” the master of the house said in a loud voice.

And he handed his employee what he had requested.

— “What a suave odor!” Lavinia said a few minutes later. “This pomade is genuinely exquisite.”

— “Further,” Jules-Julie added, “it has precious qualities to maintain the hair.”

The happy hairdresser, or the poor hairdresser — your choice — then went to arrange the wrap that served as the black framework on young woman’s splendid face; then, with infinite cares, he reunited into serried cords all this mass of hair that formed like a mantle when they were free.

The operation was long. Much of the time the artist’s fingers, lacking the necessary calm, forced the long pins that served to maintain the hair too far ahead, or in the wrong direction. Often the fortunate imprudent one felt the rise of a heat that was both troubling and seductive.

When he was finally done, Lavinia arose, approaching a large mirror that reflected her whole.

— “See what is perfectly arranged!” she said. Mademoiselle, you took more time than Lolotte, but it was done more artistically.”

— “That was because it was the first time,” the young man responded, “and besides, one seldom finds an equal head of hair.”

— “Is that true?”

And the coquette made a smile that illuminated her entire face.

— “For my part, Madame, I have never seen the like.”

— “Stay, you are so capable,” Lavinia said, “that I ask you to help me with my outfit?”

Jules’ first response was to respond with a refusal, politely colored, since this request made him fearful. But there are as many mysteries in the heart and in the human spirit as in all the rest of nature.

— “Happily!” he stuttered.

And, buffeted by the winds of all his novice passions, he finished by reaching the goal of this dangerous and fascinating course that he had dared to accept.

Several times, Lavinia looked at her, surprised by certain elements in the trembling of the voice, in the changes of the face, in the frenzied hands. But the disguise was so perfect even Vidocq would have been fooled!

It was almost noon when Lavinia was dressed and Jules left her.

A quarter hour later, he arrived at the place of complaisant Lalotte, exhausted.

— “Well?” she asked him…

— “Ah my God! My God!” he cried, “I don’t know, I see no more, I understand no more…”

And he fell on a couch.

— “What happened then?” the poor girl exclaimed… “You are overwhelmed!… You are perhaps too pressed?”

— “No, no, I am not overwhelmed. I am at ease in this situation. But I do believe I have begun to be delirious.”

— “Delirious! How so?”

— “The creature I dressed in your place is not a woman.”

— “How is she not a woman?”

— “No one has hair like that, or eyes, or a similar face, or carriage of equal majesty… And the body! It must be copied from that of Diana the Huntress! And she believed that I was a woman… She will permit me to come to her. Saint Anthony would have surrendered to her! So far as I am concerned, it seems to me that a third visit would make me insane, an idiot, or a criminal … perhaps all three!”

— “I believe this is already beginning,” thought Lolotte.

— “I can change my clothes,” Jules continued, “and then I will walk until I collapse from fatigue!”




II

The Masonic Seal

— “Thus, my dear Vigilant,” the Captain said, — “Having arrived, as we know, in the morning and heading down rue St. Charles — you say that at this hour I shall find her at home?”

— “For certain. But tell me, are you really certain that she will receive you? The situation is that she is excessively hostile, and no one since her arrival has passed the threshold of her rooms.”

— “Me, I shall pass it!”

— “Hmm! Hmm!” asserted Vigilant, in a doubting manner…

— “It is no hmm! hmm! matter, and it will be done soon.”

— “You are a most fortunate mortal! And, if one knew that, you would be a man most envied!”

— “I would not say ‘envied,’ but fortunate…”

— “There are many who would call it that way.”

— “It is possible. But, tell me, have you perhaps occasionally tested one of her weaknesses, by champagne, where one thinks himself sovereign, where there is no doubt, where one is finally fortunate in all the power of that word, happy in forgetting and in hope? You know how hard it is, and the spleen into which one falls the next day. Well, the happiness of which you speak is precisely that. There are men who seduce themselves to death, but there are others who are afraid of it!”

At this moment, the Captain and his companion were not more than a block from the place Lafayette. They separated, and Louis went on alone, walking toward Lavinia’s home. Five minutes later, he was there.

— “Madame is receiving no one,” was the response of the servant he had addressed, after having announced him to her mistress.

— “Return to her,” Louis responded, “and give her this card. You will introduce me then.”

And he gave the servant a card on which he had already written these words: Baltimore Post Office.

Two minutes later, he was seated in Lavinia’s salon.

When the Captain had entered, the beautiful creature was placed near a chimney, supported on one of her arms, her face slightly pale, her head extended forward, as if in curious expectation.

— “You!” she cried out…

She pointed out a chair, and they were seated.

— “Madame,” he said…

— “Why ‘Madame?’”

— “Why otherwise?”

— “I believe there are things one should never forget completely.”

— “That is true; but it is like coming once in one’s life to the edge of a crime and to the edge of suicide. I wish that it should never again be a question of that between us, and before informing you of the subject of my visit, I will tell you something that is related and prevents, if necessary, every danger of memories. I love for life a woman who already has more goodness than beauty, with which she can contest, for charms, with the most beautiful. From this I only except phenomena … such as you.”

— “How gallant!”

— “No, it is true, and you know it well … too well! But I go on, asking you to grant the greatest attention and to permit me to finish before responding to me.”

— “I will not interrupt you.”

— “Thank you. So, if you have a good memory, you will recall that, during the convalescence from the cruel moral malady that was your doing, and which almost killed me, you promised, during one of those moments when every woman finds goodness in her heart, to repair by any means, at any time, the evil you did to me. The hour of this reparation has come, and here I am.”

Lavinia made an affirmative sign with her head.

— “I told you that I love … an angel … of whom I lost legal possession, but who is in fact mine, and, I hope, for life. To explain myself in few words, she is a married woman. She was promised to me long ago, but I left; she believed that this was forever, and she allowed herself to be given to another.”

— “And you want to take her?”

— “It has been done.”

— “Already?”

— “Only in the preliminary stage. The husband is like a madman. He has sold everything he had, to break every tie that could attach him to New Orleans, and rushes through mountains and valleys to recover his wife and to avenge himself…”

— “That is certainly natural.”

— “Isn’t it?… You should know that she did not leave him without a motive. This motive, although very serious, if not sufficient to cause a legal divorce. The position is thus false, and it is to you that I appeal for our rescue.”

— “Me? I do not understand, or rather I am afraid of understanding.”

— “I will be clear. This man has ardent passions, but few of the heart. My purpose is to turn him away from his effort and cause him to lose view of his resolution, and even to mislead him so by other, stronger desires, that he will come to renounce his wife by himself. It is a rude and difficult task for all the world, but for you it would be a mere game!”

Lavinia did not respond. Had she really understood?… With her white teeth she chewed the coral of her lower lip, and her beautiful arched eyebrows drew near to her burning eyes.

— “Do you want me to explain myself further?”

— “Yes.”

— “The service I expect from you is as follows: it is that you play the all-powerful siren for this man of violent passions. There is a similarity between you two. You may go to the end if you wish and…”

— “I never want,” cried Lavinia, violently rising up. “These roles are played due to inspiration, vanity, nature, as if there is no love … but on command, never!”

— “Lavinia, I was counting on you!”

— “And you bet wrong.”

— “In this world I know of no one but you capable of this miracle.”

Lavinia approached the Captain slowly, her eyes fixed on his eyes, with that lascivious and yet majestic walk that made her queen everywhere she showed herself. She placed her hand on Louis’ hair, and, in a deep voice:

— “You still scorn me?” she said.

— “Yes!… it is perhaps the fault of your beauty,” he responded, lowering his head despite himself.

But he resumed his role, and, rising in turn:

— “I am counting on you, Lavinia,” he said, “keeping a promise is always better than dropping it.”

— “Louis,” Lavinia responded, “I am leaving New Orleans.”

— “No, not yet.”

— “I am leaving tomorrow, no later!”

— “You are not leaving tomorrow. I have not yet told you everything. I have need of you, and here is my right:”

He leaned toward her, and said to her in a low voice:

Vigilance and Fortune!”

Lavinia returned to her seat. The Captain returned to his, and there was a moment of silence.

— “It is good, Monsieur!… for me to remain, but not for me to play, for your profit, the role of an amorous cliché.”

— “Let’s see, Lavinia,” the Captain said, approaching her, “Let me talk to you, and when I am speaking do not believe that I wish to insult you. Your life has been, as you know, nothing but a long role as a temptress. I have never known you as a woman in the sweetness of the word, but as a siren with deadly caresses. I do not know … perhaps in the murderous role you play so well, there is a basic idea of vengeance against men. Perhaps a betrayal of love made you resolve to play for all and everyone by means of your beauty … I am not asking for your secret, but I tell you what you are to explain to you why I have chosen you. And yet, the suppositions I am making show that I am searching to justify you in some way, not to condemn your conduct. Am I not myself one of the hundred victims that you have made? Many have succumbed; many have lost their reason; others their future, many perhaps their family. For me, I have loved you, and I was nearly insane. I have had you, and I nearly died. Suffering, I caused to arise from your soul some sparks of a woman, and you promised me reparation, if the proper situation should ever emerge. The occasion presents itself now, and I pray to you, Lavinia, I ask of you by whatever remains of a compassionate woman in you, to save my happiness after having almost taken my life! Consider what I could have done instead of addressing you in prayer: I could have presented this seal of supreme power” — and he took from his pocket a small box that he opened under Lavinia’s eyes — “I would have said: ‘The Company orders you to break this man by all means. He has betrayed, and in place of killing him with one blow, it wishes that he die a thousand times. It is you who are charged with this execution. It is necessary that you obey!’”

“That is what you have said … but I am revolted by this means, and I would have preferred that you would fulfill your promise. You have made so many suffer, me among them. Could you not do for once, for one purpose, what you have so often done for no motive at all, or at least like a sort of exaggerated punishment for crime … itself a crime?  …”

— “If I do it,” Lavinia responded, “would not it be equally criminal, as you judge it? Is this man after all, for me, more or less than all other men? And if I have no right for the others, do I have it for him?”

— “Lavinia, if it will only motivate the execution I ask of you, I will tell you at length what gave the woman I love the right to leave her husband.”

And Louis told her what the reader already knows on this subject.

— “In addition, your promise should count for something.”

— “Do you still love him? …”

— “More than my life. As much by my heart that loved you by the senses.”

— “This avowal is flattery.”

— “Let’s not deal with light matters, Lavinia! I am talking about serious things. If you do not participate in my conspiracy, do you know what I will do? Either I will kill him or I will have him killed, without further involvement, for, if he has not betrayed us, he has compromised us, as you know. I hold him now in my discretion.”

“Why do you want another means?”

— “Why? … it is you I request! So that the love of she whom I love be whole, pure, without a second thought, a love that a noble woman feels for the noble heart of a man. By killing him, I run the risk that the memories of the dead man would harm me in the future, because she whom I love is generous, and if I have him killed, I risk harm! And this does not need to be explained. And with the success of the project I give you with my right hand fails, he falls and I advance, he is entombed and I rise up!”

Lavinia, who never kissed her head, kissed her own head. She felt herself overwhelmed. This man, pushed by a profound love, was a thousand times stronger than she, she who had never found a rival for power in love! If he had felt only a material passion, he would only have been a pygmy to her.

— “Well?” the Captain said, rising and extending a hand to Lavinia …

— “Well!” she responded, rising as well and taking his hand, “I am yours!”




III

When Finot prepares to travel

Since we abandoned our Lieutenant, also called Alexandre, he has traveled many miles, both by water and by land. He resembled a very active travel expert.

After some weeks of this Wandering Jew existence, he had discovered absolutely nothing, learned nothing. He had sworn to have patience, and he had not come to the idea of violating his oath, no matter that all his steps and travels had had no result.

Only, he pursued the following reasoning:

“Presuming that it will take me perhaps six months to discover Anna’s exile by myself, it perhaps occurs to me that it would be good if I had another me to help me. It is very hard to be well represented, but in the end not impossible. It is a matter of searching and choosing well. Who do I know? Léon, a lout. Edouard loves leisure too much. Julien … somebody who does not lack either in activity or aggression! But he is in love at the moment, therefore useless right now. Henri is too naïve; Ludovic is too much of a braggart. Hubert loves the bottle too much. Devil, devil! It is rather difficult to find a man. I am beginning to understand this farceur Diogenes, who was only a prideful non-powerful man, in the last account. But … but … a brilliant idea! Finot!… There is one who has all the qualities needed for my requirements! But already there is a stick in the spokes: Mélanie! Finally, we shall see. But I do not know his address, which is certainly too bad, since I would have almost a certitude of finding him at home today, in view of the fact that tonight is a session of the Finance Company, and the poor boy will be tired. But we shall see. It is Sunday today. Finot is no drinker; he is not a courier, he is not a gambler, but he has one thing that I seek, which is dancing in an easy manner. Finot will be at some public ball, with Mélanie. It’s a good moment to see him and make him a proposal. Let’s go around.”

And Alexandre visited several of these estimable establishments: those in the open air and those in closed structures of brick and covered with slate, in other words, houses. The former serve for relaxation of various positions in the world and for various classes of society. At least one may promenade there without being compromised, and without being ditched in advance and subsequently robbed, as is the case in the Forest of Bondy. The latter are almost all lowdown places, though sometimes with decent appearance, where you are risking your purse when you are a novice, and many other things in many other cases.

First, when you enter there, a very polished man puts his hands in your pockets, gropes you from head to foot, to see whether you have … weapons. Then he lets you in, of course after you have paid. It must be added that, very often, a few minutes after leaving, you will find your pocket bereft of your billfold or wallet if you were so stupid as to let them see some money.

Now, there is a proverb that says, “Bitten by a dog or bitten by a bitch, you are still bitten.” We will add, to complete this review of public balls, indoors, “Robbed by a pickpocket or robbed by a … doesn’t matter, you are still robbed.”

It is true that there are many guards there. It is perhaps why you never know whom you are addressing.

Since this digression appears to us to have been long enough, we return to our principal subject.

Alexander was on the hunt for Finot.

On entering the jardin de Tivoli, also called the Bal des Allemands, the Lieutenant noted near the circular enclosure where the dancers move, a little man gesticulating like a telegraph speeded up by the approach of a fog. The piercing voice that came to his ears indicated the much-desired Finot.

Alexandre approached.

— “I will support you, me,” Finot cried out, speaking to three or four individuals, since he did not have one here who could dance like her! “But look at me here, for the love of God! Look at me here! How rich! What measure! What points!… Like this head, placed a little to the left on the shoulders of a cavalier, in a charming pose! There, hold it, at the moment of balance, see the incomparable style!… And, with that, decency, good type, what!”

The little man paused in the midst of his course of praise. Alexandre profited from this moment of cessation and gave him a sign.

Finot ran over.

— “Well! It’s you, Lieutenant,” he said.

— “Yes. I have been looking for you. I have some things to discuss, on serious things. There is money to be won, in an agreeable manner.”

— “That would be all the more welcome, since Mélanie needs to expand her wardrobe.”

— “Indeed, if we come to an agreement, you will have something to be gallant.”

— “So let’s talk…”

— “We are talking… Let’s sit down at this table and drink a bottle of beer.”

— The bottle brought, the glasses full, Alexandre began:

— “Listen, Finot … what I have to say to you is, for me, entirely, extremely serious, and it also requires that you swear never to say a word about the mission I am about to offer you.”

— “Lieutenant,” Finot responded, “you know that I am discrete by status and by profession, Despite that, I swear, by all I hold most sacred, to be mute as an oyster about what you are to confer on me.”

— “It is not necessary that your Mélanie herself knows it.”

— “Why not?…

— “The woman is weak and her tongue has wings!”

— “So I include her in the oath. You may go on.”

— “Here it is: there was woman — legitimately mine — who left me some weeks ago. I do not know where she went, nor if she left alone or is with someone. I am committed to pay my last sou, and to risk my last drop of blood, to recover her. I have a great deal of money, and I am well armed, which gives my plans a long range. Currently, to have an intelligent and active man to aid me on one side while I search on the other side, I would obviously double my chances of success. This intelligent and active man, Finot, will be you. If you accept, I will give you all the information possible. You will receive the necessary money to travel comfortably, and I would leave this to you to determine — even the ability to fix your own salary.”

“Although…” Finot responded, “the idea attracts me. But there is Mélanie, whom I do not wish to abandon. Further, if I do not have her with me, I cannot avoid having concerns, and when you have concerns, you pursue business poorly.”

Alexander reflected, “I should not worry about additional expense. Finot is the most capable man I know for this sort of thing.”

— “Oh well,” he said, “if you take Mélanie along?… doesn’t she enjoy voyages?”

— “And how! She really loves them … I would even say she is mad about them! The air, the movement, the change, surprises! That is her favorite life! Everything bohemian pleases her to the highest degree. That is why I only have modest confidence in her fidelity. Hold it! She is coming toward us right now. I will ask her if she wants to travel. We will say that you are sending me on a commercial mission. We will talk in a way she does not understand, and the tour is arranged!”

He was pleased, the brave boy, to see her beautiful, ready for anything, excited by dancing, and her eyes already filled with pleasure.

— “My dear,” he said to her, pulling to his full height, “here is Monsieur, an old acquaintance of mine, who wants to give me a commercial mission in a delicate setting. It concerns traveling from place to place to take note of persons of quality to form a basis for the monetary system for large banks. Do you understand?”

— “Certainly!”

— “Fine, here, I will take you along; it is my first condition…”

— “That will work!” Mélanie responded quickly…

— “Pay attention now,” Finot interjected, “Monsieur will lay out our route; he will pay our expenses. Me, I will take care of business, and you will only need to entertain yourself…”

— “When do we leave?” Mélanie asked…

— “As soon as tomorrow,” Alexandre responded, “if you wish. An hour of conversation with Finot, and all is ready.”

— “Accepted!” said Finot…

— “Accepted!” said Mélanie. “During the hour that you need for business, I will go dance the Polka, the Mazurka and waltzes.”

She headed for the ball.

— “Listen, my dear Finot, it will be necessary for you to commit patience, aggressiveness, action and discretion to this mission.”

— “Done! Do not worry … but the first thing of all is information…”

— “From this side, dear Finot, I can inform you in the most perfect fashion in the world: I will give you her portrait, taken by Daguerreotype!”

— “Perfect! What a fine invention!… Oh!” the little man suddenly cried out, “my fortune is made, Monsieur Alexandre … a sublime idea! The most luminous idea ever given birth in a human brain! I will be immortal, rich with millions!”

— “What is the idea?” Alexandre said tranquilly.

— “I go to France … I sell the Police Prefect a means of saving the police, the gendarmerie, et cetera, forever … and here’s how: every carrier of a passport would have to have, in his pocket, his portrait taken by Daguerreotype, with the name of the bearer on the back and the signature of a civil officer, so that he would no longer have to write ‘nose - long, mouth - large, eyes - small, chin - ordinary, etc.,’ which serves no purpose, since a passport can be used by thirty-five percent of all persons! With a Daguerreotype portrait, no more error is possible! How do you find this idea?”

— “I find it very original: but since we only have an hour to talk, let us occupy ourselves with our business…”

— “Let us occupy ourselves with our business, correct! Only guard the secret of my idea, and, one day or another, unless I suffer misfortune, I will put it into execution.”

— “Let it be so!… But hold it, here is her portrait.”

— “How pretty she is!” Finot cried out, after opening the box; what soft eyes! What a suave mouth!”

Alexandre passed his hand in front of his face.

_ “That is not the question here,” he said brusquely. “Where do you want to commence your voyages?”

— “It depends,” responded Finot, “on where you were yourself.”

Alexandre let his new employee-traveler know all the places he had visited without success.

— “You have not gone to Mobile while you were underway?” he asked…

— “No,” the Lieutenant responded. “Pursue your idea for now. Begin at Mobile, if that is your intention. From there, go to Pensacola, finally to Montgomery, wherever you wish. From time to time, write me, always to New Orleans; I will arrange for getting the letters wherever I am.”

— “Agreed. So it is simply a matter of finding the person who is the source of my superb idea on the Daguerreotype applied to passports. Once found, writing without delay, and to await new orders … correct?”

— “That is it, except for one very important amendment. If, by unexpected luck, you find the woman in question, one of two things will happen: the first is to write without losing a minute; the second is not to leave, by day or night, the house where she is living. Further, if there are signs of departure or moving, you must follow her like a shadow!”

— “I understand perfectly,” said Pinot, placing the portrait in his pocket.

— “So you may leave tomorrow. I will be on the cars for lac Pontchartrain, tomorrow at eleven. Get together with your dear Mélanie; I will accompany you to the steamer, and I will give you a wallet, adequately filled.”

— “Only none of our bills?” Finot responded.

— “No; they will be in a small minority… to aid the flow a little.”

— “So until tomorrow!” Finot said while rising…

— “Until tomorrow,” the Lieutenant responded.

And so it was that at noon, Alexandre, Finot, and Mélanie rolled in one of the cars of the lac Pontchartrain, where the fine steamer California, ready to depart for Mobile, awaited, occasionally giving the formidable chuff of its powerful lungs.




IV

Skirmishes

Lavinia had her own police. The police of someone like Lavinia is a thousand times more adroit than that of a commissioner, and even of a minister.

At the end of several days, Lavinia knew what Alexandre was doing as well as Alexandre did.

That having been said, we will be spared having to explain the minor circumstances that perform the office of hazard in the first steps of the intrigue that will unroll before our eyes.

Oftentimes this hazard of which we speak arranged that Alexandre met Lavinia on the street. Just as everyone turned as she passed, so did Alexandre.

— “I have never seen the equal,” he said to himself, and he continued walking.

The second time he saw her, he was involuntarily drawn into the siren’s wake for the length of a block, after which he brusquely returned to his path, shrugging his shoulders and saying to himself:

— “What’s the point?”

But with her he had already received a small arrow of sensuality.

The struggle commenced.

A third time, while passing an evening at a pretty, coquette house, of the same sort he had sold, but richer and more grandiose, Alexandre heard sounds of a harp accompanying a voice of a seductive sympathy. He stopped and listened.

It was the charming Ballad of Charles VI, sung by an unknown voice:

Each evening, Jeanne, on the shore Gave a rendezvous with the handsome page She adored… Waiting, Jeanne the blonde Mixed her voice with the sound of the waves, And murmured: “Come rejoin me on the shore, “If you come from your rendezvous “You remember…” And in the night, the faithful Echo, seemed to call as she did, Saying: Come, come!

Alexandre was fixed to the spot. Other passers-bye also stopped, and the silence reigning in this part of the street bore high witness of the admiration of the hearers.

When the first verse of the ballad was finished, soft sounds of the harp alone sounded for some moments … then the woman singer passed to the second verse:

But then Jeanne on the shore Awaited the handsome page in vain She adored… Along the flood, Jeanne the blonde Mixed her tears with her shadow, And murmured, “Coming no more, you have betrayed me, “Coming no more! Your perfidy “I shall remember…” At the bottom of her heart, what did she say? I do not know … but the faithful echo Said: Come, come!

This “Come, come!” caused a shiver to pass through every fiber of the hearers, whose numbers had been augmented even more.

When the song had ceased, they asked who the unknown songstress, whose melodious voice, vibrant and passionate, came through the air like a spring breeze, charged with seductive scents.

Gradually, the passers-by that the voice had captivated went on. Alexandre alone remained, perhaps hoping that she would allow herself to be heard again.

He listened thus for several minutes, but the echo was mute.

After having listened, Alexandre desired well to see! He searched, at the shutters, for a small opening where a visual ray could pass. Alas! All was hermetically sealed. He went back on his way to search again. A sound, as soft to him as the chant of the ballad, could be heard. It was no more than the scraping of copper rings on a curtain-rod of iron … but this discordant sound lead the opening of a shutter … and, at the end of a moment’s wait, Alexandre could see through this fortunate opening!

— “Her!” he cried out… “her again!”

It was, actually, Lavinia … but Lavinia in the costume of Odette, without the purse or collar. She was charming that way. Her form, tall and supple, without artificial supplement, beautiful and rich from nature alone, gave her the darling infantile contours mixed with a thousand feminine attractions… Only, instead of being made to appease madness, this Odette appeared made and brought into the world to spread about her the follies of love.

It had grown dark in the street. In the room, two candelabras filled with candles spread a magnificent clarity. Alexandre could thus see everything easily without risking being seen. His face remained long framed in the glass, which was at his height.

Lavinia came and went through the chamber, as if in the complete security of anonymity.

Suddenly, she sang with all the boldness and frenzy of passion these lines of the Madman of Toledo:

The king said, on looking so fine, At his niece: I shall give, for a smile from her For a hair… For a kiss I will give Spain And Peru! The wind that comes across the mountain Makes me a madman!

Alexandre continued on with broad strides, putting his hand on his face.

— “I have forgotten my rendezvous!” he said.

As these preliminaries were taking place in New Orleans, Finot and Mélanie were lounging on the soft carpets and on the yielding divans of the Ladies’ Chamber on board the steamer California, paddling its way to the chief city of Alabama.

— “It is really fine here!” said Mélanie, looking at herself reflected whole by a large French mirror.

— “Yes, responded Finot, this was not too bad! When I win the Havana Lottery, I will give you a room like this, my dear!…”

— “When … when…”

— “How? Tittle-tattle!…”

— “That means that you will never win, pooh!”

— “And why is that, if you will?”

— “Because! Well…”

— “But if I do win, finally? Is it that you do not wish to be lodged this way?”

— “We will see when we get there…”

— “Eh, eh … we will perhaps be there quicker than you believe! But then I will put a condition on my generosities…”

— “And what condition, my Finot, will you put on our generosities?”

— “The condition of marriage!”

— “What marriage?”

— “Everything that would be the most legitimate between you and me, do you want it?”

— “Us get married?… Why do it?”

— “Oh well, give me an answer … to my question…”

— “But … to be with the rules toward society. It is necessary that we see the world, when we are rich!”

— “Tell me … with all of this, I have not quite understood what we are to do in Mobile…”

— “For you, you travel for your enjoyment; for me, I travel for business of the highest importance.”

— “What business? In the last analysis…”

— “Oh, it is very complicated! Commercial categorization of products, according to local qualities, to arrive at a table composed of different aptitudes of soils, all applied to the large branches of international traffic, according to the secret rules of high finance!”

— “Ta, ta, ta, ta, ta!… You are singing songs without tunes! Speak as the whole world does and tell me the thing in a clear manner, such as in two plus two make four, four and four make eight, and so on. I am listening.”

— “You see, women do not understand anything about big businesses, and I have explained it well to you…”

At this moment, the bell sounded for supper.

— “Fine, fine,” Mélanie said, “I shall have my revenge … I know well how! You will see, Finot, you will see!”

The captain of the boat came to gather the ladies.

— “Oh well, my bitch, I’ll tell you about it after supper,” Finot said, “and don’t make more of your threats: you know that I love you … and how jealous I get!”

— “Then after supper for sure!”

— “Ah,” Finot said, “what would it be like if we were really married!”




V

Encore

The next day, Alexandre had need to go to Carrolton for some business. About four o’clock in the afternoon, he took the cars at the corner of Baronne and Perdido, and thirty minutes later he got out at Carrolton, celebrated for its magnificent garden. The poor Lieutenant was disappointed: the person he wanted to see came to travel with him on the way to New Orleans.

There is nothing that irritates like little problems. Alexandre was in a bad humor and, in a practice he had never had before his wife’s flight, he went into a café, where he took more than a reasonable dose of cognac … which had probably never received baptism in the tropics … and for a good reason!

Baptized or not — in the manner of which we are speaking — the spirits worked adequately for Alexandre, that part that looked to the sky. He had not taken enough of it to trouble his reason, but it was enough to excite him a little.

— “Since I am here,” Alexandre said to himself, “let’s go see the much-praised garden of Carrolton.”

He entered it and promenaded down the pretty, sandy paths, through the middle of flowers that whose perfume embalmed the air.

When one has a somewhat inflamed head, one loves to carry on soliloquizing.

We underline the word because we do not find it in the dictionary … which renders it both better and more French.

So Alexandre, like the Peripatetics of old, discoursed as they promenaded. And he said:

— “Finot will come perhaps to the end of my business… — This Lavinia has the air of a masterpiece of Satan, created to ruin mortals! You cannot say that she is pretty, nor that she is beautiful, nor that she is superb, or magnificent … it is not the word to describe the thing itself properly! … — Whether I shall find Anna again! Where is she? What is she doing? But the position I am in … it is the griddle of St. Lawrence!… — My word of honor! she is the most beautiful singer I have ever heard, this Lavinia! How amorous and caressing she was when she said, ‘Come, come!’ As if she was burning or mad when she sang:

For a kiss I will give Spain And Peru!

“Me, I understand that, that a king would give Spain, or Peru, for a kiss from a woman such as … Lavinia!… — But I am a madman as if I were of Toledo. God damn me! It is not about Lavinia, but about a song… — Ah! if I ever find Anna with another, I will take a pistol in my right hand, and, for my eternal life! I will blow up both their skulls, even if it is in the middle of the street!”

While reciting these last two words, Alexandre had his two arms extended, as if, in effect, he were committing the double image of this double vengeance murder.

A burst of laughter sounded at his moment from the nearby path next to the one where Alexandre was promenading. He looked through the branches of the shrubs…

— “Lavinia!” … he cried out.

It was really she. She was promenading with another woman one would have found beautiful if she had not been with Lavinia.

She glanced to her right, as if accidentally. Her gaze encountered that of the Lieutenant…

Alexandre sat down in a little thicket covered with honeysuckle and other climbing flours. He placed his head in his two hands and turned to watching the two women walking.

We have already said that Alexandre had gone and broken the temperance to which he had adhered for a long time. His head was burning, his eyes were hot, and, to see the convulsive movements that agitated his body, you could conclude that that he had delivered himself over to a rude combat between his excited nature and his vacillating will.

Lavinia had an entirely simple white dress, and, floating at her shoulders without covering her, a lace scarf, equally white. Her head was covered with a light cap of the same color. Her feet were encased in satin, causing the fine sand of the path to make a light sound. Her companion was dressed in color, with as perfect a taste.

— “Five-thirty!” Alexandre said, checking an elegant watch in gold on his fob. The cars were about to arrive. They were perhaps about to depart. It was time to return to the city.

Lavinia and her companion passed at this moment near the thicket where the Lieutenant had taken refuge. Her white dress, following the undulations which were impressed by the beautiful body with which she caressed the reliefs, brushed past the end of the bench where Alexandre was seated, and, like a censer that throws a flood of perfume at each movement, it left behind a seductive whiff of amber.

Alexander let out a sigh that, strictly speaking, could pass for a small version of a roar: it was the double effect of the cognac and of the perfume.

At this moment, a shattering cry pierced the air. It was the whistle of the steam engine hauling the cars that were arriving at Carrolton.

Lavinia and her companion passed again near Alexandre’s thicket:

— “We must go, Clemence,” Lavinia said. “If you wish, we will dance a little bit in the salon of station?”

— “Excellent idea!” Clemence responded.

Alexandre could not hear more, since the two women were already too far away for their voices to reach him.

They left the garden and mounted the Char des Dames.

Alexandre moved to another spot in order to keep them in sight.

The last bell sounded, the steam whistled, and the cars, chained one after the other, began moving, pulled by the locomotive.

After receiving Lavinia’s consent, the Captain returned to Mobile, to Anna, whose happiness had not been troubled by any clouds since her sojourn in Alabama.

We have already said that happiness is a difficult thing to describe, particularly the calm happiness of the heart that a shared love gives.

The reader should consider the happy days passed, when love satisfied and shared rolled on the blue, calm waves, both in the soft rays of a springtime sun as well as in the white, melancholic clarity of a discrete moon … Who recalls the long hours, too short! when there circulated through his entire being, like a magnetism of sweet and hot torpor… When he glances back a look of regret on this sole period when he had really lived … the era when he loved!

Anna and Louis indeed lived this sweet life, even though unknown storms were forming in their tranquil skies.

All the batteries were loaded for this war of passions which was to engage them at different points.

On the one side, we have the two lovers living happily in Mobile; Finot and Mélanie directed there, sent by Alexandre to pursue Anna.

On the other side, Lavinia, undertaking a mission to the profit of the Captain, a mission of regular seduction to lead Alexandre to forget his wife, and perhaps to renounce her.

Near the persons acting in New Orleans, Le Vigilant, who sees all, who watches, who examines, and renders account.

This is the position of each combatant.

We are now going to assist in the improvised ball of which we have heard Lavinia speak, in the Carrolton garden.

On arriving in town, the young companion of our siren sent, in a hurry, some invitations, and none of the invited was lacking. Alexandre found himself invited, as if by accident. But one should not lose sight of the fact that this accident could well bear another name…

Still, Alexandre went to the ball.

It was a large, lovely salon where one could dance. It had few musicians, but they played well and in time, which is not common. All the women were pretty, and the cavaliers appeared, in their case, to have been chosen after a test. There was only one woman like Lavinia to have dared a similar contest. She had no fear of comparison.

When Alexandre entered, he was dazzled. It would be the better bet to think he hardly thought of Anna at that time…

He saw Lavinia. She was richly clothed. Her dress, low cut with elegance and daring, permitted seeing the gracious back-and-forth of double globes, almost transparent. Her naked arms, white and fat, her shoulders of a luxuriant carnation, all the daring and curves of her breasts, making of this incomparable model the almost constant point of attention of all the cavaliers, and even of the women! Even the women!

— “If I could dance with her!” Alexander said to himself.

Like a poor man could say, “If I could win the big lot at the Havana Lottery!”

Or like an ambitious general: “If I became Emperor!”

And yet, the interior exclamation of the Lieutenant had even more force, because passion has more force, because the passion of love is more violent than for money and for ambition.

For the rest, the matter was really easy. It was only a matter of sending the invitation, and a ball was made for that.

It was so easy … that Alexandre was not able to go all the way in the first moments.

He left his place and directed himself toward the part of the salon where the mortal star was enthroned. When he was no more than a few steps from Lavinia, his walking relented. When he was near to touching her, he was seized by a sort of trembling; he achieved an oblique line and passed out.

The siren saw the situation develop perfectly … and she was not the only one to see it: near the chimney, almost hidden in a semi-shadow, a man was observing. When this man saw the interplay of Alexandre and Lavinia, a smile of ironic satisfaction formed on his lips.

This man was Le Vigilant, known to Lavinia, but unknown to the Lieutenant.

When Le Vigilant saw Alexandre moving away, as if pushed despite himself by a hidden and irresistible force, he went to invite Lavinia, who graciously accepted and, the orchestra giving the signal, they came together.

When Alexandre heard her singing, he palpitated with admiration, when he saw her dancing, he had to become insane. This was not a plain or puritan dance, neither a trivial nor accidental dance, but a gracious and majestic combination of Psyche and Venus … something decently lascivious, virtuously provocative: the finest forms in the world, palpitating and alive in the elastic regions of the most exquisite graces.

“Oh!” Alexandre said to himself, “I invite her this time! I will touch her hand! I will speak with her!…




VI

The Spider and the Fly

Lavinia smiled … and showed the white pearls of her pink mouth. Le Vigilant promenaded his adroitly watching of the siren and his trembling admirer. Alexandre was whiter than his clothing. Barely had the dance ended, than he proceeded without reflection, and, with a volubility that indicated his fear, he asked of Lavinia the favor of the first dance. (That was the traditional word.) A gracious sign of the head, accompanied by a look that would have been a fire signal, was the positive response he received.

Alexandre withdrew to gather his forces. He had forgotten the ordinary walk of a reasonable biped.

Le Vigilant rubbed his hands.

The orchestra launched a few notes to announce the next dance.

Curses! It was a waltz!!

Alexandre trembled in all his members, as if he was emerging from cold water in the midst of winter. This was not that he did not know how to waltz, but to waltz with this woman! He was like an idiot! In place of only touching the end of a hand, as in a chilly quadrille, he was supposed to enclose a body of which the very sight troubled his spirit! to hold a burning hand in his icy hand! to sense, on two inches of his face, the suave smells of magnificent agitated and blushing shoulders in the turbulent fascination of the waltz!

If Alexandre had been able to think, he would have been finished. For a moment he had the idea of fleeing, but he did not dare … and, besides, he had, as powerful correctives, the possibilities to which hazard might lead! Alexandre’s only came from his excess of desires. He forced himself to remain during the few minutes still remaining.

We do not fear to be wrong in saying that, at that moment, the thought of Anna was a thousand leagues from Alexandre’s memory.

Finally, the first measures of the waltz sounded. Alexandre glanced at Lavinia and in the same view he had also surveyed the full scope of her breasts. He jerked his head, put his legs together, called a strong dose of will-power to his aid, and advanced … like a drum-major entering a conquered city. This affected audacity showed his weakness, and Lavinia was too strong not to understand it.

They set out dancing.

Alexandre started rather well during the first measures, but he was only an automaton gliding across the floor in three-quarter time. To the degree that he returned to life, his aplomb abandoned him. Lavinia’s supple body appeared bonded under his grasp, which was less and less firm. Alexandre wished to say some words to excuse himself somewhat on the pretext of a disability or a passing deafness, but he could not say a word!… Soon it was the female dancer sustaining the cavalier. When she made some turns, he followed her, she fascinated him, annihilated him under the power of the queen, then she suddenly halted and helped him almost back to his place.

— “I am a little fatigued,” she said, seeing that he was mute, and perhaps to avoid his telling her of his own trouble.

And, seating him on a sofa, she gathered the skirts of her dress as if to take a place at his side.

Alexandre allowed this to go on, almost mechanically.

After having stunned him, rendered him deaf and mute, paralyzed, Lavinia changed her allures. She smiled at him, she fanned the flame of his regard; she covered the seductive turns of her voice under an easy tone. From magisterial and elevated, she made herself simple and good…

Like a magnetizer who, after having attacked the life of her subject under the invisible blows of the all-powerful fluid, she revived what she had overpowered.

— “Perhaps it has been a long time since you have waltzed,” she said; at the beginning you did very well.”

Alexandre gradually recovered some speech.

— “It is true,” he responded, “I have almost lost the ability.”

— “It revives rapidly if you knew it once.”

— “Certainly, Madame.”

Lavinia chewed her lip at the word, “Madame.”

— “Don’t you find,” she said, “that our reunion is charming? I found there neither a common woman nor a boring man.”

— “I did not see that,” Alexandre responded, “because…”

— “Because of what?” Lavinia asked, with an encouraging smile.

— “Because,” he stuttered, “I only saw you … you are more beautiful than all!”

— Lavinia smiled and dropped her eyes to her magnificent bodice. Alexandre’s eyes took the same direction.

— “I have never seen a woman like you, in my life!” he let escape, with true fire.

— “I am no better than another, ” she said… “These are the gallantries that you say to all women.”

Alexandre had recovered his courage.

— “Oh no, Madame!” he responded, “one does not say that to all women … but you must hear it often repeated, to you!”

— “Men are such children!” she said. “To assume that what you say is true, on the subject of what you wish to call my … beauty, what does that signify?… For me, if I ever must love — as I understand it — I am never moved by physical beauty. It is certainly something, but that is far from being…”

— “Then what seduces you?” Alexandre asked.

— “What? Moral beauty, devotion through every challenge and without limit … An ardent love … and blind!”

— “Which does not challenge these sentiments … for …”

Alexandre’s voice began to tremble…

— “But… I am crazy to hold such a conversation! I have moments of forgetfulness … like that,” she added, running the hand of a duchess through the bands of jade of her hair.

— “I would be sad to leave this ball,” said Alexandre…

— “Why indeed?” Lavinia asked, taking on a mask of dignity that grew severe, perhaps to avoid the response she foresaw…

— “Oh!” Alexandre responded, who grasped the second intention of the glance of this Venus, because after an evening of happi…, of pleasure, it is not gay to find himself alone, isolated…

— “Are you not married?” Lavinia demanded.

Alexandre hesitated a moment. He had not expected this strange question.

— “No!” he finally responded, “but I was…”

— “Ah!” our siren was happy to say.

— But, in the intonation of this “ah!” he had the equivalent of this: “You finally deny her, weak and contemptible man!”

— “But, she added immediately, designating with her head a young, charming woman sitting a few feet away, “at the least to profit from this evening, since you love the ball … invite this pretty blonde; see that the orchestra is beginning.”

Alexandre understood that this was a maneuver to give him to understand that the conversation was at an end. He rose, but before leaving, he hurried to say to Lavinia:

— “I would ask you for this quadrille.”

— “I am tired,” she responded.




VII

The Nightmare

Alexandre went home, his head on fire. Two images imposed themselves in turn, and sometimes together in a confused and bizarre mixture: Anna, her head lazily perched on a male shoulder, listening to the suave words of an adoring lover, and Lavinia, ardent and passionate, making appeals with her hands and eyes that would damn a saint! Jealousy and the thirst for vengeance attracted him on one side, sex and love drew him in on the other. The two women finished by compounding together in his maddened imagination. It returned to him as to a drunk. He lay without knowing what he would do, and the narcotic of a heavy, agitated sleep fell on his dazzled eyes.

At the end of some time, all of his ideas took form in his tormented sleep, changing into a dreadful nightmare that pressed on his chest like a weight of a hundred pounds.

He was locked into a prison with stout walls. Bars of iron permitted him to see out and prevented him from leaving. On the outside of the bars was the siren of the ball, in a diaphanous dancing dress, her long locks free and floating about her, calling him with song, gesture and glance… She made impossible poses for him, her charms agitating, whipped by passion, like waves driven by a tempest.

— “Then come!” she said, reaching out her naked arms … just come, you man without courage! Lover without a heart! Worthy of the weak embraces of a child at the breast! What are these miserable bars that restrain you?… Can’t you break them, or throw yourself down and die there of rage and love!…”

And, in his reverie, the unhappy man wanted to throw himself down, but the nightmare held him paralyzed on his burning bed!… He wanted to cry, to curse, but the pitiless nightmare held him like a Spanish garotte!…

And the sorceress, causing elegy to follow rage, spoke to him in the voice of a wind harp:

— “Don’t you see that I love you?… and that I await you!… Look: my face is bathed in sweat, my eyes are wet with desire, my arms tremble as if pressing against you! my breaths are becoming rapid … and the battering of my heart will split my chest if you do not still it!… Why are you waiting? What holds you back? There is no longer any cage between us… Come!…”

But the impenetrable iron grill still stood before Alexandre’s eyes. He wanted to tell Lavinia that the iron obstacle was still there, but the nightmare still choked him, and his chest closed like Quasimodo’s when he cried to Esmeralda: “I thirst! I thirst!”

And the phantom continued with a sweeter voice:

“Come!… I know a calm and perfumed place near to a running river that goes to caress the blue waves of the sea! There are deep and silent grottos which only resound with the light singing of Bengalis and the plaintive cooing of doves!… There is a carpet of moss, covered with daisies, on which it is sweet to rest at the end of the day! There are woods where man’s hatchet has never cut, where deer graze without fear, where little birds feed their offspring on the flexible branches balanced by the breeze. And the night!… the night there is serene and orderly, full of the sweet murmurs and seductive reveries … Sometimes the singing of the sailors passing near the coast add to the echoes of gay refrains, sweet ballads or songs of their native land!… Come! Everything calls us… It lacks nothing but your gaze admiring the sky, our song to mix with the breezes, our steps to tread the moss, our faces to dream in these woods, our hearts to join and bless God!…”

And the unfortunate man remained fixed to his couch like the victim on the torture rack…

— “Frozen marble!” the siren chanted, changing her tone, “you do not budge!… Do you not know how much gold they wanted to cover the carpet where I placed my feet?… Do you know the princes have offered me a division of their realms … others their villas, their castles and land, an existence of delights in enchanted palaces, where watered silk, velvets and gold sparkle! Kings have prayed on their knees to accept half their throne! Cavaliers, rich in love and heart, have offered me their blood, their entire lives, for a word! And I, I have refused all of it: gold, and power, castles, thrones, and offerings!… for you, do you hear? For you!”

Alexandre was covered with sweat. His hair was tangled. His haggard eyes rolled in their sockets like quicksilver in a balance.

The vision changed.

— “How I love you, Anna” … a sweet male voice said, resonating like a glass in Alexandre’s ears; “How I love you, and for ever…”

— “And I!” She responded — and her voice trembled with happiness. — “And I!… could I live without your love! Is it that my life is not my life?… Is it that your heart is not my heart… Your happiness smiles in my eyes… My felicity is written in your gaze!…”

— “Oh! Let us go, my well-beloved,” murmured the lover’s voice … let us go live under the caresses of the oriental sky, so blue and soft! The waves will carry us with love, seeing that there are treasures in our hearts!”

And, repeating these amorous verses of a contemporary poet, he cried out in a suave delirium:

Come, oh come with me on the azure sea! In which my bark is given to the capricious winds… What importance do the many changes of season have? The flame that warms us does not know winter!

And she responded to him, continuing the language of the same author.

Yes! What is destiny, when your caressing hand Holds the rudder of my inconstant boat; If life is with you … death, where you are not!…

Behold, a bark, all rigged with sail where the blue of the sky, strewn with white stars, softly caressed the gaze, slowly arrived, balanced by a light surge. The prow, elegantly gilded, served as a mirror to the rays of the rising sun, and those who were on deck sang an amorous ballad.

Louis and Anna stood there together, pressing one another like Paul and Virginia descending the mountain.

But the vision vanished … and Alexandre found himself standing in the middle of his room, his arms extended into the void, his mouth twisted in rage.




VIII

Finot’s First Station

Finot had sworn to Alexandre not to confide the true purpose of his mission to anyone, not even to Mélanie, but the lovable lover of the too-weak Finot had her means to get the little man to talk. We do not really know how she did it, but the fact is that Finot talked. Only, he made her promise the most absolute silence. It goes without saying that this silence was solemnly promised, which does not prove that it was scrupulously guarded.

On arriving in Mobile, the couple in question lodged in a comfortable hotel. Finot portrayed himself as a big courtier, making a voyage with his spouse for his health and pleasure. Since he had money, the pretext and the lie went together like on waxed cloth. Further, since the name of Finot had the air of a sobriquet than a real name, it was changed into that of Monsieur and Madame Finotet… Two letters more or less is no scandal.

The very evening of their arrival, the couple made a rather long sentimental promenade in the environs of Mobile, starting with showing the attention of a police agent to all the pretty or elegant women passing near them. This was in vain. None resembled the Daguerreotype they had engraved deeply in their memory. The next day, it was the same approach, as useless as the first. The third day, before going out, Mélanie said to Finot:

— “My dear, there is a very simple way to double our chances of success: you go on one side, I go on the other, and if I succeed better than you, that will prove that it is not always useless to confide your business to … your wife!”

— “This idea seems good to me, Mélanie. You take Government Street: they are walking this afternoon, because it’s Saturday, and it is at the bottom of this street, as you perhaps know already, that the Hall is located. For me, I will beat the environs. They are the places lovers love to frequent. So far as the advantage of telling everything to … his wife, I understand you, if you legitimately bore the name of Madame Finotet!”

— “That will come…”

— “It is just that I have my own little vanity, like anyone else, and I would be able to say to those I know, what I say to those who do not know us, ‘I have the honor of presenting to you my spouse.’”

— “My dear, since I am not of the highest class, I intended to say once, for a man to say routinely ‘my spouse’ is merely common … to say ‘Madame so-and-so’ is pedantic!…”

— “And how is it necessary to speak when speaking of one’s wife?”

— “Quite simply, ‘my wife!’ That is no more difficult than the other, and it is good practice.”

— “Ah!… And who is this man, if you please, who apprised you of this?…”

— “By my faith, I have forgotten him…”

— “Forgotten!” said the little man… “hmm! hmm!”

— “What is that hmm! hmm! I ask you?”

— “It is … it is … a way of speaking that … I love people, as they are, who instruct you.”

Mélanie ended with a great burst of laughter.

— “Here,” he cried out, “is from retroactive jealousy!”

— “Retroactive!” Finot exclaimed while taking a large step backwards… “who gave you this big word?…”

— “A charming lawyer,” Mélanie responded, “who always uses technical words.”

— “Technical! technical, Mélanie!… and this fellow, where did you meet him?”

— “Through a journal editor … who speaks like Cicero.”

— “Who speaks like Cicero!… This is better and better! Of Roman history?”

— “Yes, it comes from a schoolmaster who cites all the great names of antiquity.”

— “But I am going crazy … word of honor!… Retroactive! Technical! Cicero! Antiquity!… A man very much his own way! A charming lawyer! A journal editor!… A schoolmaster!”

And Finot’s arms suddenly executed a telegraphic movement.

Mélanie bent over with laughter, her two hands on her haunches and her head pulled back.

— “And you laugh! And you smile!” the little man stated in a melodramatic voice, ceasing his gesticulation and crossing his arms over his chest.

— “It is something to die from!” the young woman said, while exploding even more… “It is delicious! It is adorable!… Oh! I’m feeling sick … in my stomach … my blood is rising … to my head … I’m falling over … catch me!”

And, since Finot would not budge, she let herself fall on the carpet and roll around like an epileptic, making drum-roll sounds with her throat.

Finot began a polar bear promenade across the room.

— “Imbecile!” Mélanie cried out, still on the floor, but finally calmer, “You do not see that I am making fun of you! There is no other, neither a man as he should be, nor a charming lawyer, nor a journalist, nor a professor…”

— “Ah!” Finot said, stopping himself.

— “But no, fool! If it were so, would I tell it to you?…”

— “But then…?”

— “Then what?”

— “Where did you learn all this stuff?…”

— “In novels, dammit!”

— “Well, well! That is certainly possible,” Finot said, reflecting.

— “Let’s go, let’s see, give me your hand, to help me up.”

And, when she was up:

— “You know,” she said, “what you were describing, right now… You were like a shipwrecked man, on a raft! Ah, a great scene! A great scene!…”

A quarter hour later, they both went out. Finot turned to the right, and Mélanie to the left, each going one’s own way, looking for Anna.

We will say, right away, that they had a market in Mobile in the afternoon, recalling that this day was a Saturday. Here is why it was that way in a town that is puritanical every day. There was no market at all on Sunday, and they are obligated to get provisions for the next day the day before, unless they want to die of hunger on the holy day. In New Orleans it is entirely opposite… Sunday the market is a gathering that perhaps does not have its equal in the entire world. Well before the start of day, crowds begin gathering. Besides the booths of the everyday halls, one sees arising a myriad of little booths that recall the fairs of certain European countries. Here there are the merchants of cheap, small crockery; over there is tin-ware in heaps; further along, there are pyramids of citrons, oranges, and apples; discounted lace — the cheapest — handkerchiefs, ditto; friction matches. To the right there are the savages, men and women, squatting on the ground, clothed in lively colors, selling here plantains, there sassafras in root form, or pulverized wrapped in leaves to make what they call gombo filé, here fan-palms as fans; flat baskets marvelously finished, with red and yellow rays that never lose their colors, sandals of roebuck leather covered all over with bizarre designs in wild colors; little bags of the same origin and the same leather, covered with steel spangles; aromatic plants gathered in the forest; long canes of bamboo for fishing or for making tunnels, trellises, or other works. On the left are the merchants of newspapers, of perfumed soaps, quilts, used footwear, common tables of cypress wood or fatwood, some items for barrel-making. Further on, under tents, there are the merchants of oysters, who sell at half the price of those who have to pay rent and other fees… It is the most heterogeneous and original bazaar possible. Here there are cries, appeals, enticements, without end. There are roads and accesses that cross one another, that run into one another, that squeeze, that expand. Later, from seven until eleven, there is a frightening crescendo of population. In each of the two halls, and on the road that leads from one to the other, it is necessary to take continual zig-zags to move forward. Those who do not know how to play like a lizard will receive blows from elbows, from baskets, from fish, utensils of sale, not to mention the rest. In the middle of all of that, coming and going, balancing along the way, buttocks bouncing off crinolines, heads against floating bangles, bodies against balanced arms with provocative intents, eyes darting to right and left, some more or less incendiary ogling. There are also other women than those of whom we speak: the good mother of a family going for an extra provision; the vagabond seeking … adventures, gazing, observing, inhaling the air and striking his pocket from time to time, as if inadvertently. One sees women of a dubious age or color bearing, in their eyes and at the end of their arms, certain Masonic signs … of counterfeits: an amorous Belgian, adroitly dissimulating something easy to understand for certain … and the halls properly defined … What excess! What profusion! What heaps of meats! What pyramids of fresh legumes! What names of fishes! What animals hanging from hooks! What jumbles of crabs and crayfish! What piles of dried legumes! What displays of fruits! What baskets of flowers! There is something for all tastes, for all appetites, for all smells … And the establishments for coffee, ice cream and sorbets, of cakes and hard-boiled eggs!… At the last, there is a true mosaic of masculine and feminine bodies, of products of every type, of cries in all tones, of marches and counter-marches, of fruits and flowers, of bipeds, quadrupeds, of web-footed, of fowls, of vegetables in their prime and vegetables not in their prime… all of it going, coming, talking, crying, gesticulating, appealing, responding, discussing, disputing, alluring, seeking fortunes, raising a ruckus, and pushing for expenditure and consumption!

Behold the Sunday Market of New Orleans.

At Mobile, there is nothing on Sunday. Boutiques, stores, houses, all are closed. One would speak of an abandoned town, and there would be little danger of firing grapeshot from a cannon down the streets.

This is why Saturday is the busiest day at Mobile. Morning market, evening market…




IX

Two Items of News

 First news

Anna and Louise came from the promenade they had made together at the time of the second market on Saturday. The Captain, sitting in the salon before a desk, was writing a letter. Many other letters, sealed and carrying an address, were nearby. They were all closed with green wax bearing the two letters V.F.

Anna returned on cat feet, and she posed, graciously and smiling, behind Louis’ chair. He had not heard her come in, but because of some thing like magnetism he could perhaps explain, he divined her presence. He adroitly turned the sheet of paper upon which he was writing; then, without moving, without showing any surprise, and without moving his head:

— “Anna,” he said, “you are light as a bird, but I divine you like a lover!”

And he turned around.

She looked at him with eyes semi-closed … with a smile full of charming caresses.

— “What are you writing there?” she asked sweetly.

— “Business letters … quite tiring!”

— “And the capitals V.F., what do they say?”

— “Nothing. It is an old seal that a friend gave me a long time ago … and I made it a habit to make use of it…

— “How was the promenade?” he added.

— “The promenade was as ever; only, today there were more people and more custom.”

While talking, Louis locked the completed letters before him in a drawer, as well as those he was still working on. He slid the key into his pocket and arose.

At this moment, the female servant entered bringing a letter to the Captain.

— “It is from Le Vigilant,” he said, after having looked at the signature. “Come here, Anna, and we will read it together.”

They sat down on a couch…

— “I have bad presentiments,” Anna said, “even before the reading of the letter has started…”

— “Not I,” Louis responded, without reading yet. “Let’s see,” he added, “who has the best view of the two of us: in my case, I bet that if there is news in this letter, the news is good…”

— “Fine, for me,” Anna said, “I am afraid! This letter will announce a danger for us.”

— “Let’s see…”

And he read:

New Orleans, the ——

My Dear Monsieur Louis:

It would take too long and be useless to explain how I came to discover what I am about to tell you.

— “What?” Anna said… “see how he presents himself…”

— “Yes. I begin to fear, too. Let’s go on:

Alexandre has sent a man and a woman to Mobile, whose specifications I can provide. In any case, without any knowledge, with no suspicion about the place of your retreat, that Mobile was chosen rather than any other place. It was simply by accident.

Anna clapped one of her hands on the other.

“My God!” she cried out, “this is the news I saw in advance. This is the start of danger!”

— “Don’t tremble so,” the Captain responded with a firm voice. “Let’s go to the end; we will see what we have to do.”

The man in question has the surname of Finot…

— “Finot!” the Captain cried out, rising with a bound… “But to continue:

—— surname of Finot, he is of small build, with an intelligent figure; slender and nervous of body; chestnut hair, eyes blue-green, face rather bare. He minces a bit when walking. With this information alone, you may recognize him at thirty paces.

The woman, named Mélanie, is rather beautiful, even pretty, although of a rather cheap appearance. She has a fat and rounded body, big breasts, figure fresh and lively, a gracious mouth and fine teeth; eyes blue and hair rather dark, the hands and feet rather large; medium height and posture good. She walks with a sort of majestic fierceness, lifting her head high and counting her steps.

I am so well informed on these people that I was able to complete my information. It appears that Finot has a rather violent passion for this Mélanie. She has cheated on him twenty times, and, despite himself, he has always been happy to recover her. The dream of his life is to make her his legal wife. In her case, she has a crazy head but a good heart. She loves her sweetheart enough to deceive him without a second thought and to return to him without shame. She is a type difficult to explain.

They are both in Mobile at the moment I am writing you this letter. Take your precautions. Watch yourself at the Post Office and at the Telegraph Office, since I am certain that at one time or another this wily little man, finding your trail, will find you and denounce you to the man paying him.

For my part, I will watch over your business neither more nor less than a good police detective.

That is the first part of my letter.

Now to the second part:

Lavinia has done a miracle on your behalf! She is a woman who could overturn five hundred families if she desired. Poor Alexandre still fights a little, but he is caught like a fly in a spider’s web. With the passions that that man has, I do not know how all of it will end. Our siren could dominate him and let him writhe in anguish, as lawyers do with bad cases that they have to defend, but the day will come when Alexandre will finish with some tragic resolution, if he is not successful … and I think that she will never give him satisfaction. This woman needs a man who could reject her, and it is not easy! It would probably not be Alexandre who would continue to the end…

Write at once; in the next letter that you receive from me, I will tell you, probably at greater length, of the vaudeville drama of this seduction.

— “What now?” Anna said, “what are we to do?”

— “It will be decided in two hours, my dear soul! Fear not, rest on my love … that nothing will overcome … he who loves can do everything!”

Second News

In another part of the city, another scene was transpiring.

— “Well,” said Mélanie to Finot, have you discovered anything on your promenade to the environs?”

— “My faith, no,” he responded, “I have even made at least a thousand … for the King of Prussia. Imagine that I encountered a woman so pretty and so similar to the portrait — except for her face, which I could not see because of a thick black veil — that I followed this woman like a poodle-dog! She probably thought I desired her for her body, since she turned around several times to observe me. At the end, when I had walked like a devil, the cursed veil was lifted, and I saw I was dealing with a flaming blonde, but pretty, pretty as love!”

— “Was she prettier than I?” Mélanie asked…

— “To me, no! And besides, it was not the same sort of beauty. She had a delicate air … and fragile, while you are the model of a strong woman! She is rather thin, and you are of a seductive solidity…”

— “Dear friend!” the young woman said, giving little taps on Finot’s cheeks… “like it appears nicely in portraits!”

— “Isn’t that true?… But, also concerning you, have you discovered anything?”

— “Perhaps…”

— “Ah bah!… This is not possible.

— “Women are such beasts!” Mélanie said, in an air full of ironic finesse:

— “I did not say that, but I do not think that it will be you who makes the discovery.

— “Oh well … it has been made, the discovery! And by me!”

Finot made a small gasp.

And Mélanie made a Polka step.

— “No, but … really there?…”

— “What?”

— “You have discovered?…”

— “A little, my nephew!”

— “Fine, tell me the fact…”

— “Give it a try, little unbeliever, and open your ears!”

— “Both wings!”

— “I was traveling down Government Street on the right-side sidewalk, near the Sheriff’s office, heading for the market, when two women passed me, one of them the perfect image of the Daguerreotype portrait. I followed them carefully and from a distance. They made the tour of the hall several times. One instant I lost them from view, but I quickly found them again. They went back up the same street, by the left sidewalk, for six blocks, and entered a house of which I have the address exactly by heart… What do you say about that, Monsieur the devil?…”

— “I say,” Finot gasped, “that women are privileged beings, and that mine, among all of them, is a truly precious creature!”

— “Finot! You become charming, and you may be sure of one thing, which is that I will marry you … one day or another!”

— “Mélanie! Mélanie! You know that that is my dream… Don’t open the gates of heaven, if this is not when I enter there!”

— “Is it that you will not go while you are waiting?”

— “Yes … but … I love the legitimate … in the act of marriage…”

— “Why do you prefer it? Let’s see…”

— “Why? Listen: now, as we are, you could plant me there when you wish. Then I could tell myself, ‘She is mine!’”

— “Well! I know a couplet that begins with these words:

She is mine, to me alone in the world! These long black locks are mine Her supple body, her round shank Her hairdo that descends Further than a king’s mantle!…

And the crazy lady began to frolic around Finot, like a child who wants to go to a show.

— “No,” she finally said, stopping, “I do not want to joke about it, since it is your happiness. I promise you that as soon as our campaign is finished, we will have business with a judge or a curé.”

— “Bravo!… Now continue your narration, and do not interrupt it any more with your follies…”

— “How to continue?… I am finished! I found the woman in question; I know where she lives; what more do you want?…”

— “That is true; and if you are not wrong, it is mine to do the rest.”

— “With what will you start?”

— “By assuring myself positively of the fact. For that, as soon as night comes, I will go investigate around the house, first of all to establish its characteristics and its circumstances by memory; then, to look through the windows or the door gaps; then to try to overhear by stealth some conversation, if possible; lastly to seek by hazard and my good stars any favorable chance that I may foresee on the subject of my mission.

— “Fine, go,” said Mélanie.

And she gave Finot all the necessary information.

He waited until nine o’clock sounded, so as to find the streets deserted, to carry out his project without being seen.




X

After having been corrected by the beautiful sex, was Finot any happier with the other?

Night fell, but it was one of those rather clear nights even without a moon.

Finot directed himself to the end of Government Street, toward the house Mélanie had indicated.

At this same hour, the Captain and Anna promenaded in the garden located behind the house. The day had been very hot, and our lovers sought the freshness and sweet gossip of the evening.

An observer who had excellent eyes would have been able to see, in the thinnest shadow, two mobile eyes, and that white line that forms the teeth on a black face, like the gun-ports of a warship. It was John, the tiny servant we have already met.

— “Now,” said the Captain, my duty is done, dear Anna. I am hiding everything. I have foreseen everything. We will leave, whether together or one after the other, as events dictate. Our project moves to New Orleans. First a little patience, and the conclusion will have the result of giving us security for the future, legitimizing our love forever and assuring our happiness.”

She walked beside him, making of her two arms a circle around Louis’ arm, and, leaning against the shoulder of him she loved, going at the same pace, she seemed to say, in her amorous nonchalance, “I repose in you … Where you go, I shall go!” Louis continued:

— “A danger known,” he said, “is almost a danger conquered. The first thing this man will do is to spy around this house, which he has probably already discovered. In this case, my plan is set. John is at his post … and if what I hope for happens, everything will go for the best, to the end.”

— “Do it,” Anna responded; I will close my eyes and allow myself to be led. At a sign from you, I will stop; at a word I will leave … confident in your action, and reposing on your love.”

— “It will not betray you … dear life of my heart!… From this evening I have laid my wires, and whoever approaches will be taken!”

At this moment a small cry of a cicada sounded…

— “Already!” the Captain said… “If that is not a false alarm!…”

— “What is that?” Anna asked…

— “A signal from John,” the Captain responded in a very low voice. The most prudent thing for you at this hour would be to return quietly … take the little door; climb up to your room; I will join you quickly.”

Anna left, quickly and silently … and disappeared like a shadow. Only a small indiscrete echo repeated softly the sound of something resembling a kiss.

When Anna had disappeared, Louis hid himself behind a tree and ran his gaze all around the house. By careful watching, he managed to see the silhouette of a man moving in the shadow.

John was still at his post. The door of the garden was been left open, on purpose. The Captain approached it bit by bit, slipping from tree to tree.

The silhouette of which we are speaking was, as we already know, was that of Monsieur Finot, prowling like a fox around a chicken-coop. Only, in the chicken-coop, there was a dog with good eyes and teeth.

Finot arrived at the fence.

— “Well, it is not closed,” he said, “no one has seen me, let’s enter!”

And he slipped like a eel through a narrow opening without making the smallest sound.

The same cicada made a second cry.

— “There is a light up above,” Finot said to himself. “Fortunately, the night is clear enough for me to make a plan of the places in my memory.”

At this moment the Captain covered half his face with a black mask he took from his pocket.

Finot kept advancing, his nose to the wind and his ear on watch. When he was no more than a few steps from the Captain, a whistle sounded. John ran forward, and in less time than it takes to read it, the poor spy had been seized, tied up, lifted from the ground like a feather, and deposited in a cellar, whose door was closed behind him. Then a voice called to him:

— “If you make a sound, you are dead!”

Meanwhile, Mélanie was waiting. She had thrown herself on her bed, but she did not sleep. Ten o’clock sounded, then eleven, twelve! and no news!… Sleep overcame her in the end … and she slept while imagining a thousand things, except for the truth. When she woke up, around six in the morning, she was still alone. Inquietude began to seize her. She arose, and, after disentangling her thoughts somewhat, she went to the secretary. Finot had not taken the money, and there remained a rather pretty sum of what the Lieutenant had given him. This was an essential thing.

Mélanie, aside from her flighty episodes, was a daughter of precaution. Poetry had little to do with her reasoning, and, if she was not careful with money in ordinary circumstances, she knew how to handle it at certain moments. The presence of cash demonstrated, first of all, that Finot had two powerful reasons to return: his passion for her, and … material necessity. This was pretty good reasoning for an ordinary woman. Besides, Mélanie did not become enthusiastic nor frightened easily. She looked at things tranquilly, this brave Mélanie.

Here is how she reasoned:

“Finot left this evening at nine to investigate the house in question. It is now seven in the morning, and he has not returned. It is striking, but not yet alarming. He was perhaps required to follow a trail. He was perhaps at a ball, and, if tied by his business, he could have passed the night waiting in hiding to ward off someone in pursuit. If by this evening he does not return, it will be time for me to be somewhat concerned, and tomorrow morning I will see what he has done.”

She also added mentally:

“In any case, the money is there … and there is no reason to despair. If some misfortune has taken place, it is my duty to discover it, and, if there is no news within a reasonable period of time, I will be forced to return to New Orleans … Mobile is so sad! For one who loves pleasure, it is a true prison!”

One might criticize the poor girl for great selfishness and an evil indifference to the her lover’s location. One would probably be wrong; because whoever knows that if, basically, she showed no regret for the momentary loss of him who dreamed of making her his legal other half?… There are those who feel things profoundly without making much of a show.

In brief, we will not say more than we know, and we will content ourselves to return to our role of a faithful and truthful story-teller.

Mélanie indeed spent this entire day in waiting, in walking, and in reflecting. It is necessary to say that she directed her promenade to the side of the house where Finot had made his night mission. It would be hard to say what her purpose was, since she could hardly have imagined that Finot was planted there since evening like a stone. Finally, she went on … and said nothing further, than that the house was … silent and immobile.

We would do well now to return to Finot.

As you know, he was thrown in and locked in, in the night, in the cellar of the house where he had gone to discover its plan.

When he was alone within the four walls, Finot began by getting rid of his gag. Then he rubbed his eyes and looked around. That was of no use, because it was black. Finot felt the floor: it was entirely of pressed dirt. He felt the walls: they were of brick. He felt the door: it was thick and solid. When he had finished this primary examination, he went on all fours, if we can describe it so — and searched his new domicile, to see if it was furnished. The position that he had chosen, with a splendid instinct, was the best one for avoiding falls. When he took several paces, he ran into several objects with a slick surface who struck one against the other, like the clink of furious swords. They were bottles. Finot stopped … but suddenly a liquid wetted his hands and feet. From the odor, it was easy for him to determine that this liquid was wine. Then he rose up and took a step back, finding it useless to endure a longer bath. On going backward, he touched a hard and resisting body: it was a cask on its side. The analogy between the cask and the bottles told Finot clearly in what place he found himself. He sat on the cask and thought for a while … on the oddness of his situation.

All things being equal, there is nothing more frightening than uncertainty. What would they do to him? Was he not the victim of an error? Had they not seized his body and shut him in, like a night prowler, to deliver him to justice?… If that was not all it was! What chance! But in fact … how had they determined his intentions? And what were his intentions, in the last analysis? He himself had not been able to speak properly … — In the meantime, if they have seized him rather brusquely, tied him and shut him up so mysteriously, this was without a serious cause. They might have known that Mélanie had discovered Anna… But how could they have known that? And, even in that case, what relation was there between Finot and Mélanie? So it would have been necessary to know all the mission, the whole intrigue, and the beginning of these results… Finally, it is one of these two things: either they know nothing, or they know everything. In the first case, the treatment inflicted on Finot would have no serious consequences. In the second case, the poor devil must expect everything.

This is what Finot said, sitting on the cask that failed to cause him to stumble.

As Finot thought, time passed.

This cursed time! It always passes… When you’re happy, or when you’re suffering, it still passes… That the hour of death or punishment are fixed, it still passes… When you take one of those baths of joy, it passes … it always passes! And even, though it is true that we are not born for happiness, at least in this life, the more you suffer, the more slowly time passes; the more you are happy, the faster it passes…

From his cellar, Finot heard the cry of the watch, posted at the clock tower, a cry repeated hour after hour: “Eleven hours! All is well.” “Midnight! All is well,” and so on until the day, as the muezin does from the heights of Muslim mosques.

At one in the morning, Finot began to test the need for sleep, but he had not wanted to sleep. He was thirsty, and this other need recalled the bottles that had made so much noise when he had jostled them.

Unfortunate bottles! If Finot had been able to foresee what trouble you would cause, it is certain that he would have left you in your corner, under the venerable dust that covered your generous contents…

If you always knew, you would never get drunk, and that would be too bad!

Finot took one bottle; he opened it with his teeth, introducing the wine into his gullet, and had some pulls. Second misfortune! The wine was excellent, without which Finot, who loved good quality, would perhaps never return, He returned … once … twice … ten times! The heat rose from his stomach to his brain. When Finot had excited his brain, he thought much of Mélanie. But at this moment, he thought more of Mélanie, and who, together with his libations, threw mists over his intelligence. To dissipate this mist, he attacked and conquered a third bottle. When he had conquered this third bottle, his ideas changed direction. He forgot where he was, and, with his back against the cask, his feet stretched on the ground, he began to sing:

When the king of wisdom They call Solomon, Was deep in drunkenness, He sang … a song! And ron, ron, ron, And ron, ron, ron, What was this song?…

It is fortunate that Finot had a small voice that did not reach the occupants of the house. Besides this weakness of voice, Finot sensed a multitude of quivers in his gullet. To overcome this inconvenience, he had recourse to a fourth bottle. When he had consumed half of it, he intoned a second verse, and since we have never found any part of this song, we must suppose that Finot made an improvisation, at certain moments:

This great king of wisdom Sang in the same tune, And his last mistress, And his ampler flagon! And ron, ron, ron, And ron, ron, ron, I don’t know the song!…

It is even to be believed that, if Finot knew the Song of Solomon, he would have had some difficulty singing it, in view of the fact that, from minute to minute, he lost both his memory and his voice.

Alas! The reader will miss the other verses, because Finot at length lay down on the dusty floor of the cellar, where he proceeded to snore at orchestral strength.




XI

When Finot sees daylight again

Next morning, the Captain spoke with Anna, saying:

— “While we are holding our spy, there is a choice between two ways: buy his silence, or keep him indefinitely.”

— “The first alternative seems less sure,” Anna responded. “You could not be certain about the promise or oath of a man who makes himself a spy. The second alternative would be excellent if this man were alone, if he did not have with him a woman who shares his mission, and who, consequently, must know as much as he about our subject, and perhaps is already suspicious of what happened to her companion.”

— “All of that is quite just,” Louis said, reviewing; “I believe that, to act with prudence, the first thing to do is to see this man and let him speak, I will go down…”

— “Take your mask,” Anna said.

— “I had thought of that,” the Captain said, “and I have it with me.”

And he went down.

On arriving at the cellar door, the Captain listened. He only heard loud, regular snoring. He covered his face, opened the door, and entered.

Finot had not changed his position. He was sprawled on the soil, as we have seen him since his last verse and his fourth bottle of wine.

The Captain approached the snoring cadaver. He lifted one arm, and the arm fell back heavily, like that of a dead man. He lifted the shoulders, and the shoulders fell back in their immobility once they were let go. He called, he cried out … nothing! Looking around him, he saw the smashed bottles and the empty bottles. He then understood everything.

— “And see,” he said, “the terrible man sent to discover us! A drinking man! He is dead drunk… After all,” he added, “one time is not custom: he could not handle it… Look at his face…”

The Captain raised Finot’s head…

— “Him!” he cried out… “Him!!!”

And he arose precipitously.

— “I know this man,” the Captain said to Anna, who accompanied him. I previously … had some business with him. He broke bottles. He drank without restraint, and he is dead drunk at this moment. It is necessary to wait. I will come in an hour or two, and when I return, I will make a definitive decision.

Louis went to the New Orleans telegraph as well as that to Pensacola. From there, he sent to each of the two cities a dispatch that only could be understood both by him who sent it and by him who received it. After this, he made another rather mysterious visit, whose cause and result we shall encounter in what follows, in time.

Two days passed in calm, without events. The Captain had made a resolution; he had begun carrying it out: Anna was no longer in Mobile, and Finot had received the food needed to survive. Each morning and each evening, John had sent down through a pipe opening on the courtyard by means of a vase of white iron attached to a thread a breakfast and dinner to Mélanie’s poor lover. In the evening, Finot would see the mysterious manna of his supper descending from an unknown ceiling. In the morning, on arising, the manna was already in its accustomed place, and Finot had nothing more to eat.

The third day, or rather the fourth evening, he began to appreciate the sweetness of liberty. He had only drunk moderately, and his ideas were lucid. Mélanie also came to him in his head, more strongly than ever. These two passions hammered his brain, and he asked whether this captivity would be eternal and whether he would ever see his sweet love. He reviewed to himself the miraculous escapes of which we have already read the details. He told himself that, since men deprived of any weapon, of any instrument, were able to escape solid prisons, bound with iron and continually guarded by armed men, it should be easy for him to get out of an ordinary cellar that no one supervised, and in which there were bottles, pieces of wood and other objects that could have their use for an escape. Further, he had a knife with him: that was something! His imagination rose, and he resolved to try everything to escape, even at the risk of his life.

He dreamed at first of the opening that served as the route for his meals. It was not difficult to get up there, climbing on the cask now turned on end. He found that this opening had inside about a foot in width and around four inches more on the exterior. A cat could crawl up it, but not a man. If the opening were to be his rout of salvation, he would have to make it larger.

— “By removing some bricks,” Finot said to himself, “I would pass easily; with my knife, I could get to the top,”

He set about grating in every direction, to find the gaps between the bricks to remove the mortar… The unfortunate fell back down: he was dealing with granite!… He threw away his knife with rage, jumped back down to his barrel, and called to his aid all the demons of Hell and all the saints of Paradise.

At the end of an hour of reflections, contortions and maledictions, Finot began to test and sound the walls to determine their state and their thickness. But everywhere he found the same absence of echo.

“This is neither a state prison,” he said, “nor a fortress.” That was true, but Finot did not suffer as much, and particularly did not suffer as long, for his genius to have attained the degree of power that would overcome dungeons and bastilles.

Toward midnight, when he was falling asleep, he felt a fresh breeze, sufficiently lively to whisper on his face.

— “What is that?” he said, “where does that air that I have not yet felt come from?”

And he felt his way toward the door …

Was it an illusion … a dream? or had Finot gone mad?… That is what we cannot know to say, but the fact was that the blessed door gave way to his touch, like a facile virtue under the seductions of a Lovelace. When the door opened, Finot was too surprised, too amazed, to dare to go through it at once. He searched to assemble in a bundle the scattered threads of his ideas.

— “If it was a trap,” he said to himself in terror… “It is that someone would have the perfect right to kill me on the spot as a night robber! They would call witnesses, and everything would be settled. Five feet of earth in some place or other, and the son of my father would not have more to serve as pasture for the little anthropophages that take what is put in the ground!

Up there, Finot closed the door to avoid the draught.

— “Now,” he thought, “liberty! Mélanie! Pure air! Tomorrow hot sun!… And, besides… I will not have to be judged for seeking to flee, at peril of my life? What is life without liberty? A vegetation! An animality! A slow and sad death!… Leave or die!”

Strengthened by this excitement, Finot returned to the door, pressed it softly and made some steps outdoors. He held his breath; he walked on his toes, stretching his shins; his two hands extended, as in blind man’s bluff, he trembled in the shadow. He encountered some steps that he took carefully, one by one, advancing with prudence, like an acrobat on a wire, without balancing. Soon he was in the courtyard. He had enough clarity to see a certain distance. He saw nothing … but the trees of the garden, resembling phantoms. But, behind the trees there could be danger! Finot fell down, supporting his hands on the soil, and, imitating the walk of a quadruped, he finally arrived at the garden gate. The gate was not closed! Finot got back up and felt the joined stone of the sidewalk. On arriving there, he stopped several seconds, looked around himself, took a heavy breath, and took off like an arrow in the direction of the market hall. At the end of a hundred paces, he stopped again and assumed a tranquil air. He met a night-watchman.

Finot took the dagger of which we have spoken from his pocket, and, holding it open in his right hand, to defend himself in case they wanted to recover him and put him back into his cellar, he took the route to the hotel where he had stayed with Mélanie barely a week before, with a slow pace, a troubled heart, and a heavy head.

At the first knocks Finot gave, a domestic descended and opened the door.

— “Is Madame Finotet here?” he asked with a voice barely articulating.

— “No, Monsieur, the man responded, still half-asleep. Madame left the hotel this morning, but she left a letter for you, on the chimney of your room.”

Finot did not hesitate. He rapidly mounted the stairs and, barely entering the room, he took the letter. It was composed in this way:

My Dear Friend: I do not know what has become of you. Having waited for three days, not knowing what to do, I am returning to New Orleans, where you may find me when you have read this letter. I left to the master of the hotel the money needed for your voyage. Our business has perhaps failed this time. Finally, do what you think is necessary. For me, I await you at home.

Mélanie Finotet

“She wrote ‘Finotet,’ this dear friend,” Finot exclaimed, comforted by this assurance of finding her when he wished.

The next day, at noon, Finot parted from Mobile. Before that, he went to observe the house where he had drunk so much of such good wine, but he found it closed, and he saw that those who had lived there had left town.




XII

A Divorce

Lavinia, in a peignoir of white muslin, was stretched out on an ottoman covered with red damask. Her arms naked above the elbows formed two gracious curves, one supporting her perched head, the other reposing on the bold angle of her hip.

Alexandre was seated on a rocking chair near the siren’s head. From time to time, his fingers clutched, his brows rose and his lips, agitated and pale, witnessed the impressions that he was in resentment.

— “I believed you for an instant,” Lavinia said, “but right now…”

— “What? Right now…”

— “Right now, I don’t believe you any more, and it would be best for you not to linger any longer here … I believe…”

— “You want to make me die of rage!” Alexandre responded. “I am more entirely yours than a slave is to his master! I am ready for anything to prove it to you… I will commit a crime, if it pleases you, to have you!… and you do not believe me when I tell you that I love you… ”

— “No! I do not believe you, and I have excellent reasons for that: you have lied to me!”

—“Me! And how?”

— “My God! Do you believe that one could ignore the secrets of a man when one is near … to loving him?”

— “Near to loving him!” Alexandre repeated, parading his ardent regard for the beautiful body extended beside him…

— “Yes!… But a man’s lie is a great calmer,” she said with an air of disdain…

— “But again … what lie? Lavinia…”

— “Search … you must know it better than I.”

— “I swear to you…”

— “Then go!… but,” she added, “I am tired this evening. It is time that I go to bed … and that you retire.”

Alexandre felt a glacial, burning shudder run through his body. His clutched hands tore his chest.

— “I will not leave this way!” he cried out.

— “You say, Monsieur…”

— “I say,” Alexandre repeated — and his voice trembled with emotion — “that I will not leave this way. I will go mad if I leave now.”

And he rose brusquely.

Lavinia did not budge.

— “Nothing will cause me to leave now! I would rather die before your eyes than to take with me the deliriums that are splitting my brain and twisting my heart! Appeal! That I go … and I will batter myself to death! I will have you … dead if necessary … but I will have you!”

— “Examine yourself, Monsieur Alexandre,” Lavinia said, with a voice that struck on harp strings… “there is nothing that will calm me as much as your passions!”

“Oh,” he said, tumbling onto his knees near the ottoman and taking in his trembling hands Lavinia’s calm, moist hand, “I am insane! Pardon me!… or kill me within the hour! Here is my dagger,” he added, taking this weapon from his belt, and placing it on Lavinia’s knees … “Kill me, or do not chase me away …”

— “Here is a fine blade!” Lavinia said, allowing the light to play on the brilliant steel. “But I will not use it against a madman, and you will leave when I command you. I spoke to you that you have lied to me, and you have not yet withdrawn your lie.”

— “Oh well, yes … it is true … I told you that I was not married, and I am.”

— “There is still something. And while you are married, what do you want with me? Do you believe me a woman with blood so tranquil as to settle for … a part of you?”

— “I am married, that is true; but my wife left me a long time ago.”

— “Ah! it is she who left you… And … why then?…”

— “My God … I really do not know. Probably she did not love me.”

— “You believe!… And you?”

— “Me … I loved her, but at present … since I saw you, I could not love anyone but you, Lavinia!”

— “Words…”

— “Words! No, they are not words, and you can well see it in the torments that you have made me suffer…”

— “A passion of the moment, that’s all; but this is not what you owe me!… Relent, I pray of you” — she added — “his posture is ridiculous … for a married man!”

In saying these words, Lavinia closed her lip with a disdainful air and, with a dry movement of her left hand, she smoothed a ply of her peignoir.

— “But finally, are you torturing me for your pleasure?” said Alexandre, clutching his fingers … I am married, but I live alone. Do you wish that we should part for some country you would please you to choose? I will be yours, totally yours … until death!”

— “It would have to be better than that to prove me your sentiments, but it is not my duty to instruct you. When a man does find in his heart what will conquer the woman he loves, it is because he barely loves her!”

— “But there is something to break my head against walls to head you speak in that way when one loves as do I. Wait,” he said, “you will see…”

While saying these words, he went toward a secretary, on the table of which he found pens, ink, and paper.

Lavinia fired toward him the double rocket of her burning eyes, which his immediately met.

— “Wait,” Alexandre said while returning to her, “this is all that remains to me: everything is yours.”

— “Money!” Lavinia said, giving her face the dramatic expression of the Borgia woman of Victor Hugo… “Money, to me!”

She arose, majestic and pale, tearing up the sheet and throwing the pieces at Alexandre.

He fell back under the insult, his lips agitated and his eyes glittering…

But Lavinia stared at him face to face, immobile and mute.

At the end, Alexandre moved a hand to his face; two tears rolled in his eyes … and he turned around to wipe them away.

— “Now, Monsieur,” she told him, extending her naked arms toward the door, “Now you must go!”

Alexandre made one step to leave, but he stopped himself.

— “I obey,” he said, “but one grace … only one! Tomorrow, let me prove tomorrow how far I am for you, Lavinia! Like a slave … and more! Let me risk everything, risk my leisure and my life against a chance to be loved by you! You have driven me mad! You have raised me to heaven … and dropped me into hell! You have defeated me, smashed me, and annihilated me! I am nothing any more … I know nothing anymore … I want nothing anymore … but you … you! If, after that, you reject me again, I will not suffer long, since I will kill myself! I am not telling you this like in novels and dramas … I tell you this because there will come an hour of madness and despair where I cannot suffer any longer. I tell you this, and I will do it … because, if I do not do it, I will kill you, you!…

After Alexandre departed, Lavinia laid back on her ottoman in a sort of discouragement.

— “It’s always the same thing!” she cried out… “There is always a curse attached to me for those I attract! Drunkenness, moral sicknesses, insanity, suicides … see what I have sown all around me! Men are all the same, loving you all the more when you make them suffer! They abandon those dedicated to them body and soul, who are their faithful companions in their bad days, the guardian angels on their way, who love without drama and without noise, and who will die for them in detail, in silence and obscurity!… And they crawl, they twist themselves, they humiliate themselves, they make themselves valets, slaves, criminals, for those who laugh at them and their brutal passions!… I am beautiful, it’s true; and I am alone, I can happily say. I am more beautiful than not a one of those I have seen, and I have seen plenty! I was happy for this beauty … but my happiness was brief! Betrayed, abandoned, tortured, just as I betray, abandon and torture those I encounter on my path … with a vengeance!… Oh! It is too much, too much! This comedy will be the last! I really want to love, to be happy, and not to destroy the repose of anyone!”

Lavinia let her head fall into her hands, and perhaps making a return to the past, unknown to herself, and a stage to the future, she dreamed…

Then she raised her head again:

— “It is not like that that I want to be loved,” she said, “I do not want the passions that are ever more ephemeral the more violent they are, and which come only from the senses. He,” she said, “for which I am planning, at this moment, what is perhaps a dangerous seduction, loves like I dream to be loved… Vengeance is often an injustice and is never happiness. This will be the last … I swear!

The next day, Alexandre was kept in bed by a fever. It was the end of the day before he could rise. His first concern was to write to Lavinia. He was still suffering from a remnant of the empire of hours of excitement that he had endured.

Lavinia (he wrote), I wish to prove to you in a manner that you cannot doubt, that I love you above everything else. After this letter than I am writing you, enclosed here, you will see that I place myself entirely at your mercy, and you will decide whether you want to reduce me to the last extremities … against myself.

I am married to a woman I have loved with all the force possible, until the moment I knew you. This woman surprised me one day in the flagrante delicto that women pardon the least, and I had against me all the most aggravating circumstances. I demanded pardon from her on my knees; also, I applied all the force of my grief and of my love. Nothing worked. She did not wish to pardon me … because she loved another. Some days after this, she left me … and she did not leave alone! So I sold all I had; I realized all I could of my money, and I swore to expend all my hours and all my resources to the pursuit of this woman, to avenge myself of her and him who led her away. I charged about here and there uselessly; I employed adroit and active men who aided me in my research … this vengeance was my whole life.

Well, now I am abandoning it all; I renounce everything, both this woman and my vengeance! And that for you … to prove to you that I love you alone … that to have you or not to have you is now a question of life or death.

Since I have burned my vessels this way; since nothing in the past, nor the present, nor the future, attaches me any more to this country nor to others, Lavinia, tell me the place you have chosen, and I will follow you there. With what I have, we could live anywhere, and I have enough energy and experience to find through work what would be lacking for your happiness.

I insulted you today by wanting to buy your beauty with money. You have inflicted the punishment I deserved … and I still love you. Today it is a completely different offer that I make to you: it is that of sharing my entire existence … which has no value unless united with yours.

If you wish, I will easily obtain a legal divorce, and afterwards, whatever your past — I will not inquire — I will be yours by the ties that it pleases you to choose.

Now. if you are inexorable, if you reject me, I will be placed between two misfortunes: I shall have lost, by myself, and forever, the wife who already bears my name; I shall have lost all right to vengeance! On the one side I shall have lost you! And yet my life would not be more than a daily hell, until it attacks my reason … either my life, by suicide, or yours by a crime of madness on my part!

You have said that you were ready to love me. This word is the plank of salvation that shall save me if you mean it, which will cause me to die if you withdraw it.

When Alexandre had finished this letter, he took another sheet of paper on which he wrote these lines:

New Orleans, the —— 18—

I the undersigned declare my consent at this time to the divorce between Anna ——, my legitimate wife, and me, Alexandre ——, without need for any judicial form or any contest of any nature to take place.

Expecting that the necessary terms will lead to the solution I desire, I declare abandoned from this moment the rights of all natures that my title as legitimate spouse might give me over Anna ——.

Alexandre ——

When he had completed this act, Alexandre put the letter in an envelope, folded the whole, and sent it at once to Lavinia.

“I will go to her home this evening,” he said, “Something tells me that she will appreciate my sacrifice, that she will take account of my confidence in her and my complete abnegation… Oh! To have that woman!” he cried out with exaltation… “probably the most beautiful creature in the world! This treasure to me! These delights to me! A year of this paradise … and to die! Everywhere they will admire her… Everywhere they dream of her upon seeing her one time! And I shall be the king of this queen! The angel of this Eden!… The first happiness will perhaps kill me, but what does it matter? To die thus is not to die.”

Alexandre was still in his delirium when a letter was delivered. The wax that closed it carried a stamp that he knew. He opened and read:

Monsieur Alexandre,

I hope that, some days after the reception of this letter, you will know where the person is whom you have charged me to discover … if nevertheless, from there, it had not happened when I arrived in Mobile.

I will recount the matter with brevity:

On the third day of our arrival, toward evening, we saw with our eyes the person you are so concerned to recover. What a charming woman! But it was not enough to have found her: I wished to have long details to give you, and for that reason I went at night to the house where she had entered with another woman who accompanied her. At the moment I slipped into the courtyard of that house, I was violently seized, bound, taken to a cellar and doubly locked in! I remained three days in this prison. On the fourth day, in the middle of the night, I found the door open, and I left as quickly as possible. The inhabitants of the house had left that morning!

In this difficult circumstance, I came back to New Orleans, where Mélanie had already returned, not knowing what had happened to me.

One of those hazards, so incomprehensible and frequent in life, informed me of the route our dove had taken, accompanied, I was told, by a very handsome cavalier. Their first stop was by means of a steamboat going to Bâton-Rouge. As soon as I knew this, I took the same route without even stopping to see you, or to see Mélanie! If they did not stop at Bâton-Rouge, I will not stop, either, and I will follow their path to the end of the chase. Send money at once to Bâton-Rouge. Whether I stay there or not, I will find a way to get that money.

Thus, according to every probability, you will soon recover her whom you desire, and you will know him who has taken her from you. A little patience, and you will rejoice!

— “Hell!” Alexandre cried out, another blow was fated to fall at the same moment!




XIII

A Capture

A week has passed since the events of the previous chapter.

“What happened during this week?” the reader asks. We respond that everything shall come at its time and place.

The facts that we must tell at this moment amount to the following:

When Alexandre went to present himself on the day he had written to Lavinia, she had departed, and no one could, or was willing to tell him, where she had gone. This blow was so unexpected and so terrible, that Alexandre returned home with a fever that, after forty-eight hours, put his life in danger. On the sixth day, however, he had recovered, and he got up. But it was said that the unhappy man was again a victim of his passions. He was barely up and in a state to understand what had attacked all his senses, than a letter from Finot informed him that Anna’s companion was Louis, the Captain of the Finance Company!

Alexandre did not take a minute to reflect. He immediately composed an anonymous letter that he put in the post. We will soon know to whom he addressed that letter.

The next day, Finot had returned to New Orleans, after several days following the traces of the fugitives, also returned to New Orleans on the appeal of Lavinia.

At last all the principal actors in our drama were all back in its principal theater, New Orleans.

We will now attend another session of the Finance Company in the house in Versailles that we already know.

The workers, minus some and adding some others, were ranged, as the first time, in the big hall where we attended the first session of the Finance Company at the start of the first volume.

The Captain entered and took his seat, elevated on a sort of stage.

Work and play have ceased.

Silence reigned…

— “Messieurs,” said the Captain, since our last meeting, I have discovered among some of you certain irregularities, and among others certain imprudences that, if they should continue, would have compromised the secret and security of the Company; each of those who take note of that will see immediately, to what degree he is exposed, and what risks he runs. Our Lieutenant has given his resignation pro tempore, provided that a resignation cannot be definitive without authorization of the Captain-General. On the rest, you must review the regulations.

“There is an article, in the meantime, which I must repeat to you, to which those effected are well advised to pay heed, in the matter of treason.”

At this word “treason,” everyone opened his ears and listened. Finot in particular, who made merry with his friend Rousto and with two or three others, was struck by the last word of the Captain. For one part, Finot had once revealed the secret of the Company to save his life at the hands of another Society, as one could easily recall; on the other part, although without knowing it, he had discovered his Captain in flagrante delicto of rape and adulterous living with the wife of the Lieutenant; of these two circumstances, he drew the conclusion that it could well be a question of himself, and he listened with all his ears. There was a chance that the Captain knew nothing, but if the Captain knew all … since the Captain was a very ruthless man, with a finer police than the real police! As a result, Finot did not feel extremely at ease.

“You know, Messieurs, that every imprudence, every lightness of tongue, is reputed to be treason! You know anyone, even to save his life, who causes even a shadow of the existence of our Company to be known, is guilty of treason! You know that being drunk is no excuse … that there is not one excuse! Thus, he who violates one of these acts that I cite to you is condemned to death!”

Finot felt an icy chill run from his head to the soles of his feet.

“And,” the Captain continued, “ execution is never delayed.”

— “How pale you are!” Rousto said to Finot…

— “Me! Why would I be pale? It is perhaps the effect of the light if I am…”

And Finot wiped his face, where unexpected sweat dripped.

“Now, Messieurs,” — and the Captain lowered his voice — I believe it useful to change the place of our meetings and the password of our meetings. I will let you know these changes when those who are outsiders are no longer here.”

— “When those who are outsiders are no longer here!” repeated a trembling echo in Finot’s heart.

“The pay for the month will be made at home, when it arrives.”

At this moment a violent bell rang.

— “It is the alarm bell, Messieurs!” the Captain cried out while arising… We are betrayed!”

Each of them rose and took a weapon from his pocket.

“No confusion!” the Captain continued… “Audacity and cold blood! You know what awaits those who are taken … and now, attention!… do not leave except on my signal, and by the exit that will save you … absolute silence!”

Then the Captain bent over, lifted a trap-door near his stairway, and armed with the torch that he lit from his desk lamp, he set fire to a wick that he held after bending over. When the wick was lit, the Captain straightened up and reclosed the trap door.

— “Now,” he said with a voice strong and firm, holding a pistol in each hand, “we are placed between the fire and arrest… Depart, Messieurs, and farewell! The traitors will not be forgotten!”

At these words, the workers escaped by an exit previously hidden from view. The Captain descended alone via the trap door, and for several seconds the most mournful silence reigned outside and within…

But a minute was barely past when the cries echoed … several gunshots were fired … struggles began, and cries of rage tore this nocturnal tapestry, like infernal notes.

Soon flames rose in all directions, ardent and fuming, as if fed by gum-wood… Crackling could be heard. Planks collapsed; rafters and beams hurled under the grip of the fire. All human sound had ceased, or been covered by the furious clamor of the devastation. Only, at a distance one could hear, carried by the echoes of the night, the sonorous cadences of horses launched at full speed………

Some hours after the police raid, New Orleans was surprised when it heard that several miles from its populous center two members of a counterfeiting operation had been arrested. The rest had escaped due to the fire of the place where they held their meetings. One asked whether this were true, even if it were possible, but more doubt was permitted when they saw the two accused before the Cour Criminelle, and they were condemned to ten years of hard labor at the Penitentiary in Bâton-Rouge.

But it is history we are writing at this moment, and not a novel, an improper and absurd word, considering that there is no fiction possible in this world.

If we may enter here a parenthesis, we could say that the reality of the facts of ordinary life always surpass all the possible fictions of the most delirious brains, of the most vagabond and lugubrious pens. There is not one man of whom his history is not what one would call a romance… There is not one family whose odyssey does not surpass by a hundred meters the inventions and apparent exaggerations of the most prolific writers.

Here, it is an evil good-for-nothing sent into the world to create torment and despair for his fellows. It creates a mass of dramatic or burlesque incidents one has trouble in following the whole series. One sees them return from brother to brother, from cousin to cousin, like a poisoned ball. The stupid voice of the blood provides the support. God knows why! Rather than getting rid of it right away, like a scabby sheep.

There, perhaps to obey a system of compensations, there is the trouble-child, a child more or less natural, as they say, from another bed. He, rather than being the bloodsucker and trouble-child of the family, is a true scapegoat, suffering for all of the iniquities, troubles, injustices, all the preferences, and all the antipathies.

What hidden comedies, what intimate dramas gravitate around these unhappy exceptions! And when all of that takes on large proportions, acting on a larger scale, what cannot result from it? And if strong passions intermingle with it, where is the stopping-point?

One sees that the word “romance” does not signify anything, taken in the sense one wishes to give it. There are romances truer than history; there are histories further from the truth as a cause than the romance. The romance is the narrative of what is or could be. The history is rarely an account of truth, because it is mixed with personal influences, participating in lies.

To write a romance, you need only a man.

To write a history, you need an angel.

There we end our parenthesis, and we have opened and continue, our narrative.

Forty-eight hours after the police invasion at Versailles, the Captain of the Finance Company had in his hands the anonymous denunciation written by Lieutenant Alexandre.




XIV

The Yellow House

Three months have passed since the arrest of the two counterfeiters by the New Orleans Police. These three months have been a sort of station on the route of principal events. The Company was temporarily dispersed following a secret meeting where the Captain communicated two orders from the Captain-General to a small number of those who had been chosen. These two orders will be revealed to the reader when they are carried out. So far as the two poor devils condemned to ten years of hard labor, we will not delay identifying them, so that we shall be transport ourselves to the penitentiary, known as The Yellow House.

The Yellow House forms from outside an immense long square, with high walls to the place where the garden begins, and very low walls from that point to the woods. All days, except Sunday, one hears from morning until sundown, the regular puff, puff of the steam engine.

As is the case with all visitors, we enter through the tower that gives access without ever having an opening. This tower is a form of round rotating turret turning on a pivot by means of a spring that is released from the inside. This is the means of entering: the visitor enters this turret that has a small opening, not a door. There, he pulls the lever, the spring moves, and the turret slowly turns until its entry, which was turned to the outside, moves to be turned toward the first courtyard. There, the guard appears who had caused the spring to act. This guard is armed with a pistol and a sword-cane. It is with this genteel equipment that he politely receives visitors. This reception never fails to have a certain effect on ladies who are making their first visit to the Yellow House.

Once entered into this first courtyard, another guard is called to take you into the maze of rooms, shops, courtyards, cells, and so on.

First of all, to the left, is found the ropeyard, an immense hall where twenty men work. Following the ropeyard comes the forge, then the foundries where iron undergoes all possible transformations. All of this is ordered and run in an admirable manner. Work is done in silence. Only a few rare words are exchanged, from time to time between the guard and his prisoners, and exclusively on the subject of the work.

In the middle of the large courtyard where there are various structures we shall speak of later, there is the steam engine that causes all the motion from one end of the shops to the other, and which supplies water to all parts of the House. This machine has the power of eighty horses.

An admirable thing to see is the Finishing Shop, where the work of lathing in iron, copper, and wood is completed. In this part of the House, works of rare finish and truly superior perfection are achieved. Everything glitters with cleanliness. The best-ordered symmetry reigns from one end to the other, and you cannot form an idea in advance of what this perfect order gives to its products.

But there is something that even surpasses, on all accounts, what we have said of the Finishing Shop: it is the spinning mill, or rather the spinning mills, since you could lose your way there as in the ancient labyrinth. It is impossible to imagine the tableau vivant of the numerous looms of the perpetual shuttles, from morning to night, making their inimitable tick-tack. In the first hall, cotton arrives in bales. From hall to hall, it undergoes all the changes desired, and in the last hall, it has become cloth. They cut them into pieces; they are pressed in a hydraulic machine, they are stamped, and dispatched. These halls are 250 feet long. It would take half a volume to detail, without omission, the complex, immense work of the spinning mills of the Yellow House. When you see from a distance the white waves of cotton pour incessantly from the machines into the white-iron barrels destined to receive them — from the width of a thread to the width of a forearm, depending on the quality of cloth one wishes to make — you would swear you were watching a stream of milk.

All of these machines, from the most insignificant to the most important, are made in the House under the direction of the chief engineer of the establishment.

Following the cotton mill comes the linen works. Further on, the dieworks; then the bleaching works, near to which is located an immense pool of water that is refilled at will.

From there you pass to a second courtyard of immense extent. The brick factory is found in the middle of this courtyard. It is a hangar of immense dimensions, with a roof for cover that can be raised or lowered at will by means of chains and an ingenious iron mechanism. By mechanically opening and closing, you have the sun when you wish, and you may avoid rain when it is not helpful to the work.

We have omitted many details in this description as well as many things of a certain importance, but the whole thing would have taken too long, and our intention is only to outline the major characteristics.

Let us pass to the most important matters of all, which concerns the convicts.

The cachots, or cells, of the Yellow House are 240 in number. They are about seven feet high, with a width of three and a half or four feet. They are quite clean, calcimined white, and provided with an iron door with a large-caliber lock. Further, a bar of iron of a respectable circumference, covers three doors in a very solid manner. These iron bars are eighty in number, since there are 240 cells, with each bar binding three cells. The ends of each of these bars are locked by enormous padlocks when the cells of the prisoners are closed each evening.

In the morning, when he rises, each prisoner brings his mattress and its cover and places it on the ramp that faces his cell, which remains open through the entire day, so that air freely penetrates it through the day, and so that no bad miasmas may form. In the evening, each returns to his couch; the doors are closed, and the most profound silence reigns throughout the entire night.

Now, for general surveillance, there are, on the passages, in the rooms, in the shops, at the doors, in short everywhere, guards. These are men who fulfill the required conditions for the employment conferred on them. These guards are armed by a cane-sword and pistols in their pockets. So far as their clothing goes, they have neither regulation nor uniform. One must say the truth: these men do not resemble in any way the ignoble jailers of European prisons. The latter are, for the most part, the dregs of the human race, stupid beasts with two legs rather than four hoofs. The former, in contrast, are men like any other, respectable fathers of families, fulfilling their office as they would fulfill any other, without insolence, without meanness, with a sort of dignity that is found in the United States, where there are no dishonoring professions, such as is found elsewhere. Besides the interior guards, there are outside guards of the House. From place to place, in the empty lands that surround the prison, there are small cabins, each continually sheltering a man who has loaded weapons, and, nearby, a double-barreled shotgun, also loaded. Every morning, at a fixed hour, these outside guards fire their arms, and reload at once, so that the powder is always dry. These discharges demonstrate to the prisoners every day that surveillance does not sleep. Each guard has a signal lantern and a hearth for the long, glacial winter nights.

There is also a secret surveillance exercised on the visitors that, in most cases, they do not even notice. When a stranger has entered the penitentiary, a man follows him and observes him from afar, primarily to prevent any contact with the prisoners, to whom they are expressly forbidden to speak without receiving advanced permission of the guiding guard.

The impression that arises from a visit to the Yellow House is of a cold sadness, not lacking a certain dignity. There is not that horror that the prisons of Europe well properly inspires, which almost condemns society and inspires a variety of pity for the prisoner, so that an escape almost causes pleasure. In contrast, when you have seen the penitentiary of the capital of Louisiana, one is little inclined to blame the jury that condemned him or to pity those receiving their verdicts.… And, if an escape happens, or a revolt takes place, all citizens are unanimous for advocating a strong hand for the society against the escapee or rebels.

At first glance, the prisoners resemble gentle and quiet workers, ardent and intelligent at their work. Bit by bit, their absolute muteness and the almost sepulchral tranquility reigning in the vast halls chills the heart and mind. When you see everywhere the white and narrow cells where, solitary and abandoned, they pass long hours of Sunday and every night, face to face with their thoughts, despite oneself they gather serious meditations, and you find this vengeance of society worthy in abstaining to inflict on the convict the thousand little tortures that are not written in the Code, and which is content to punish him with severity by means of isolation, separating from the world those who are not worthy to live there, and compelling them to continual labor.

We have spoken of the manner by which the closing of the cachots every evening, when the prisoners are shut in their cells. Then, an enormous lock; further, a transversal iron bar with a strong padlock at each end. The door, of iron, is of considerable thickness … its hinges are sealed into the walls, and there is no other opening. And yet, despite all these precautions, the genius of a convict comes to the goal after several years and passes through all obstacles, without noise, without scandal, without violence! This miraculous escape during the most difficult time, at night, is still alive in the memory of everyone living in Bâton-Rouge.

The man in question found the means, despite unceasing surveillance, alone, alone!… to fabricate a sort of key — which has no duplicate in the world — opened it from the interior of his cell, under the bar under which a hand could not pass, opened the immense, complicated lock without sound and without grinding! The iron bar remained … it was detached silently and lowered to the ground by means of a string. The prisoner then pushed open the door, departed tranquilly, with faith in his genius, took a cane and a hat from a night guard, put on a large greatcoat, taken like the rest from the cloakroom in the gallery … and departed with careful step … never to return. The brave man even had the conscience — perhaps even the pride — to close his cell again, replacing the bar and padlock, to depart so that it seemed to all that it was the act of a supernatural being!… The next morning, when this cell was opened like all the others, when no one was found, and they could not find the slightest break, the least trace of a file, the lightest disturbance of the walls, the soil or the planking, the first impression felt was enthusiastic admiration for what the desire for freedom, even among men society had expelled! A singular thing! Which gave good room for reflections that no one dreamt for a couple hours at least to pursue the fugitive who had made use of such means to escape! It was only with the arrival of the chief of the penitentiary that measures were taken on this subject. In any case, they took such nonchalance and delay in this pursuit that they did not find the least result, the slightest sign.

A week after this miraculous escape, the director of the prison received a letter and a key — we call it a key because there is no word conveniently to call the admirable instrument that served that office. — The letter said:

Monsieur,

Despite the crime that brought me to the penitentiary, after twenty-four hours of presence I felt in myself such a desire for honesty and rehabilitation that I took the scale of God into my culpable hands. On the one side was my crime, on the other my repentance and the unknown motivation that caused me to commit this crime, plus the firm resolution of eternal probity in the future … and I am absolved, or rather pardoned, at the bottom of my conscience. So I have wanted to be free to be honest, and, as a token of expiation, I have used my life as a wager on my freedom, and I asked God to cause me to perish if I have no grace in His presence, and to save me if He pardons me. After this prayer, made from the bottom of my heart, I felt the power to overcome the world … and I went to work … I have never been a mechanic, Monsieur, nor do I have any taste for mechanics. Yet I have managed, in the midst of common labors, under continual guard, with deprivations of every sort, without light, almost without tools, to make the key I am sending you! When I look at this key after my deliverance, I fell on my knees, because it was not the product of my fingers but surely a work of God! I could never make another such masterpiece, even with all the tools and all possible time. My resolution was to escape quietly, noiselessly, without weapons, without violence … and I did it. If I had been discovered, I would have let myself be killed without complaint and without resistance! Now, Monsieur, I am free … and I am so certain having been saved by God alone, that I dare to believe that His all-powerful will strengthen your heart when you read this letter and that you will not wish to use the confidence that I have placed in you.

I am at this moment at —— under the name of ——: I am working honestly, and I shall do the same for the rest of my life.

In response to this magnanimous and holy daring of the fugitive betraying his name and his refuge, the director of the Penitentiary felt tears rising in his eyes, and all his being was filled with a charitable surge from On High.

— “Oh!” he cried out, “I will die before betraying this man.”

And he threw the letter of the convict into the fire … whom God has absolved, in His infinite mercy……




XV

For what purpose a bag of manure may be used

It should be four o’clock in the morning. The day had still not begun. The sky was open, and the Yellow House, sleeping like a vast tomb, displayed its big silhouette, silent and immobile in the shadow.

Before each cabin of the night watch a man promenaded, making the least possible noise, attentive to the slightest signal…

At this moment, a tall man, enveloped in a vast mantel, climbed up the road that led to the Penitentiary. He went with a slow, sure step, looking to right and left, like one who is watching or searching. Soon he would reach this vast prison. On passing by the first night guard, he looked into the cabin and saw two ardent eyes fixed on him.

— “Vigilance!” the man in the mantel murmured.

— “And Fortune!” responded the guard, bowing his head in a sort of submission.

The man in the mantel passed … and continued his path.

On arriving at the second guard, the man in the mantel followed a curve away from the cabin, perhaps to avoid exchanging words. The guard watched him move away from the edge of the woods without making any sign or offering a word.

Ten minutes later, the man in the mantel had passed the long wall that surrounded the Yellow House’s garden, and he entered the woods.

At the same moment, another man walked along the opposing wall, seeming to adjust his pace to the pace of the first man, whom he could not see since they were separated by the entirety of the vast prison and the walls surrounding it. On arriving near the guard, this second unknown, after looking closely for two or three seconds, pronounced the same words as the first man, to the same response. He pursued his own route and reached the woods at the same moment as his invisible companion.

Then, turning a little, the one to the right and the other to the left, they came together at a hundred paces, in the midst of a thicket of trees where they had no risk of being seen, even if day had dawned.

— “Vigilance and Fortune!” said the second unknown man…

— “Treason and Vengeance!” the first responded.

After this exchange of passwords, the two men touched their hands and greeted one another. Only, one bowed more than the other.

— “General,” said he who had spoken first, “I have executed your orders. The condemnation that you have pronounced will be executed very soon. The two escapes that you wanted will took place tomorrow night, if our plans succeed; if not it will be done in twenty-four hours, by other means.”

— “It is good,” responded he who had received the title of General. “What are the means of escape that you have in reserve, in case the first method fails, by the absence of one of ours?”

— “These here, General…”

— “Tell me this in my ear, Captain … the trees can hear.”

The Captain approached his superior and, during several minutes, he spoke with a low voice.

_ “The first is perfect,” he said, “and he goes well with the man who must bring him to execution. While the second is quite problematic! It demands a great presence of spirit, much daring and more agility…”

— “Also it goes perfectly with our second prisoner. On the other side, everything is arranged for the best; all obstacles are foreseen, and the greatest difficulties have been removed.”

— “The child knows his role?”

— “Perfectly … and his mother even better. The three sisters will be there to reinforce the confusion, and, at a half-mile into the woods, an excellent horse will be ready to furnish a way when needed.”

— “Very well, Captain, all planning has been done, I have more confidence in this double plan than in the next one we have to try. We will abandon the first and prepare the execution that you have communicated with a low voice…

— “It is enough, General. For when, then?…”

— “For tomorrow.”

— “What time?”

— “A quarter-hour before the end of the day. Note particularly that I am speaking of the second escape. The first will take place tomorrow morning at about the time we are at this moment. The means that you have found is infallible, if the risk we are taking is not one of his tours.”

— “I am not afraid of that, General: when it is a matter of passing through the eye of a needle, this man has no equal.”

— “May it be exactly that way! and that our Company is never wrong!… Captain, I am giving you a blank check to carry this affair to the end. Take this pouch that carries the supreme seal, and that the first letter you write to me says that we have saved ours and that we have punished the guilty!”

The Captain bowed without responding.

— “Adieu,” the General said, taking his hand; I will go down to New Orleans. From there I will go to New York, and on this journey I will stop a day in Havana. You may address your correspondence to New York. We each will follow a route: you the one I have taken, and I will take yours. We will not meet again before I leave: no excess, only prudence… Adieu!”

— “Adieu, General,” Captain Louis responded while bowing. “When this business is finished, I think, saving superior orders, that it will be good to change a great deal in the general administration of the Company at New Orleans. I will inform you in a memorial on this subject, and I will respond to your orders and your response.”

— “It’s good, Captain; we will see to that, at the right time and place.”

Then the two men separated, each taking the route the other used in coming.

We will now make a visit to our two prisoners, whose names are still unknown to the reader. Let us therefore enter one of the halls where those large yellow boots with wooden hobnails are made that are extensively worn by poor men living in the country. There are our two men. The one, gross and strong, cuts boots out of coarse, dry leather, then puts them into a pot of water next to him. The other, small and lank, inserts the wooden hobnails that reinforce the seams on the heavy soles. The first is that big Rousto, whose acquaintance we have already made at the start of the first volume, to whom Finot so graciously offered to place several inches of steel in his abdomen over the matter of Mélanie. The second — who has not figured it out, alas! Already figured it out? — is this poor man, this unhappy, this unfortunate Finot himself! What a succession of bad luck! Seized and whipped by the women he had surprised, as you recall… Then seized and locked away in a cellar for three days… Finally, taken by the police at the scene in Versailles, judged, condemned and taken to the Yellow House to insert hobnails in the seams of boots, and for ten years!… the finest ten years of his life … while elsewhere, under the New Orleans sky, one fine Mélanie breathes the pure air and lounges in the open sunlight, living in Finot’s home, eating at Finot’s table, sleeping in Finot’s bed! Here, slavery and yellow boots… There, freedom and soft feet encased in booties of woolen and green leather!… Here, solitary, enraged nights; down there, nights together, so long … and so short! Finot probably was thinking of all of that, since, instead of hammering a hobnail, he struck his thumb and index finger with a sharp mallet-blow.

We have told the readers that the inmates of the Yellow House have no right to speak, to render escape plotting difficult. But God has given man things other than language to express oneself, and, without articulating sounds, one can well express one’s thoughts! Ask prisoners and lovers, those two extremes of the human scale, hell and paradise!

Already for several hours, Finot had been plotting with Rousto, even without even raising his head. Here is the method, as simple as it is ingenious … and long, that Finot used: while tapping on the hobnails, he separated certain numbers of mallet-blows with an interval, so as to separate letters, each represented by the number of blows equal to their location in the alphabet. Thus it was one blow for A, two for B, and so one. One could not make long phrases with this rude system! Finot also was undergoing severe training in telegraphy on the cheap!

— “This evening?”

Finot asked … by means of 69 mallet-blows, properly interrupted …

Rousto nodded, as if to consider something: that was as if to say:

— “Yes.”

Finot continued. — The purpose of the question was within eyeshot.

Rousto turned his eyes in the direction of a large porte-cochère by which everything for the House was brought from the courtyard.

Finot made a heavy sigh and looked across the barriers of the shop at the blue mists running across a limpid sky.

At this moment three visitors entered the ropeyard, accompanied by a guard in keeping with the rules. They examined the installations and works, asking the guard for information that showed they did not have the slightest idea of the establishment. One had the atmosphere of a stupid man. The gross clothing of the prisoners caused him tears. He asked if these poor devils were well fed, and on the jovial affirmation of the guard, he made the sign of the cross and wiped his eyes with part of his handkerchief. The second listened, watched and said nothing. So far as the third man was concerned, he was dressed carefully, with taste and luxury. He praised the good order and wise organization of the establishment, and took notes … that would serve, he said, with a defensive air, to publish an important book on the prisons of the United States. He asked the guard’s name, which he wrote down on his notes, with the permission to print…

— “But, ” he observed, “I must have gotten the orthography of your name wrong, which is rather hard to write. Hold it, Monsieur, do it yourself,” he added … and he presented his pad and pencil to the guard.

As the guard was writing, the man with the stupid air approached Rousto’s bench and slipped a paper covered with numbers under the piece of leather he was cutting.

The gross Hercules did not budge, but, in turning his head, he met Finot’s gaze … and this gaze was longer than a long phrase.

The visitors and the guard departed …

— “The Captain!”

said Finot’s hammer on the hobnails of a twelve-inch sole.

— “Yes!”

Rousto’s head responded with the movement of an automaton.

Then, while cutting his leather, Rousto read the numbers on the note without pressure, with a calm that denoted a solid, patient will. When he was finished, he looked at his comrade, giving his face an expression of ecstatic admiration. Then, fragment by fragment, he communicated the Captain’s note…

Evening having come, each prisoner was conducted to a vast table where they placed the ration for each meal. This table was a variety of drafting table, on which each pidgeon-hole the number of each prisoner was written. Each of these numbers is covered with a blank iron containing the food of the pensioners of the Yellow House. Each takes his platter, and, at a signal, all depart by rank, one after another, one after another, according to the rank his cell occupies. Finot had his friend Rousto as his cell-neighbor. They all filed off, and the doors closed at once with a loud sound of locks and bars of iron.

This night Mélanie’s poor lover slept little. We could even say that he did not sleep at all, whether his spirit was full of his mistress or he was moved by the approach of the moment for his escape. He even attempted to speak with Rousto, playing on the bars of his cell as if on a guitar, but the gross Hercules, who had thicker blood than he or a stronger head than the delicate Finot, slept like a drunk in his cage, without care for the morrow, the day when he had to risk his life to be free. Finot strummed like a madman on the bars, in vain, while Rousto accompanied these notes with snorring to compete with a cannon.

— “Ah! If I could only save myself,” the unfortunate man said… “I swear to leave the land and all the possible companies! I will become a tailor, or a merchant of bric brac, in some town that has a baroque name! Or I will be a clerk, or a newspaper carrier, a merchant of perfumed incense! And Mélanie!” he cried out, brought back to her by the word perfumed … “what will become of you while I endure my detention? Will you want to see me again if I manage to escape?”

At this moment of Finot’s internal monologue, Rousto’s snores became so loud that the guard promenading in front of the cells rudely pounded on the snorer’s door to wake him up a little.

— “He is happy being stupid!” Finot thought of his neighbor… There he sleeps like an oyster, without thinking of anything! After all, it is perhaps a Napoléon the night before Austerlitz…” Finot laughed, made jealous by the tranquility he was far from attaining.

Finally the prison clock sounded three hours.

At this moment, four cells were opened: that of Rousto, Finot, and two other prisoners. They were to transport the manure of the day in the bag designated for this purpose. It was the turn of these four prisoners chosen to fulfill this disagreeable and repellant office. Rousto was up at once as if he had neither slept nor snored all night. The gross Hercules had a clear look and a fresh face. In extending his naked, muscular arms and his formidable legs, his limbs cracked.

— “He is strong!” murmured Finot, looking at his own spindly legs… “Yes,” he added, “but I, I am shrewder!”

And, with this consoling thought, he descended with his companions, accompanied by a guard.

Duty commenced.

The bag was of great size, and it took some time to fill it. Finot noted happily that it was old and very much used.

At the most active moment of duty, while the guard had his back turned, Finot was struck in the middle of his body by the robust Rousto … who then threw the little man into the manure. The two other convicts saw the blow, and they hurried to fill the bag … which was immediately closed, sealed, and thrown onto the cart ready to depart.

— “Get going!” the guard said to the carter, after which the prisoners took several steps in the direction of their cells.

The cart departed; the heavy gate closed, and the guard rejoined the prisoners, and the guard returned each to his respective cell, so he believed, at least.

— “My turn tonight,” Rousto said to himself, “And there is already one saved!”

And as Rousto caressed the hope of approaching freedom, Finot, thrown with his sack into the middle of the woods with the previous manure, very carefully removed himself from the old bag and emerged in a pitiable state, and, without making a learned address on the theory of odors, fled like a very pressed man who had no time to amuse himself with bagatelles.




XVI

Where it is demonstrated that the horse is more man’s friend than the lizard

Finot had barely gone the length of some arpents when a man jumped out from behind a tree and stopped him.

The unfortunate Finot went pale and his legs shook; he collapsed to his knees and cried out, “Mercy!”

— “Get up! And fast…” responded an abrupt voice in which he recognized a Gascon’s tone and accent.

— “It’s you! Frastagnac, my Company brother!” Finot cried out, returned to life…

— “Yes, it is I, but enough with phrases! Turn that way; proceed a little fast, without running, and when you arrive at a carriage where you see the open door, climb inside leave the rest to fortune … the eye of the Master is upon you!…”

With these words Frastagnac climbed up a tree like an orangutan. Arriving at the summit, he sounded a boatswain’s whistle, to which there was a response from the coach.

Finot was underway. Soon he arrived, climbed in … and the horses departed at a fast trot……

We will leave the carriage taking away the little man, who had already passed so many tests, and we will follow the deeds and acts of this day, which must be marked in Rousto’s existence, as well as in the annals of the Yellow House.

At the start of day, the prisoners’ cells were opened. When the service man arrived at Finot’s, he became irritated at this prisoner’s tardiness.

— “Let’s go, now! Lazybones!” he cried out… “Are you going to sleep all day?”

It goes without saying that Finot did not respond, which exasperated the guard. Also, in a sort of touching communication, he beat with his cane in the cell. The cane reached nothing but a mattress. Then the guard entered, searched everywhere … and he found nothing!

— “Gone!” he cried out… “but how? Where?”

Immediately, on notice of an escape, the alarm bell was sounded with rapid blows. All the prisoners who had already gone out were returned to their respective cells, and they began a general search of the House in hopes that Finot had possibly not left. At the end of an hour, they had checked everywhere, and they had found nothing, and with good reason! Men were sent in all directions, outside, on searches. But Finot was far away … and, had they encountered the carriage, pulled by two beautiful horses, they would never have suspected it held a convict.

— “Search!” Rousto said to himself while wringing his hands… “Search! And you shall not find! The Company has long arms and a sharp eye!”

In effect, when the searchers returned at about four o’clock in the afternoon, all reports agreed, since they all could be boiled down to one word: “Nothing!”

The work of the House returned to its usual pattern. Prisoners were content and guards were vexed. It was not long afterward that it was learned that Finot had escaped by means of the manure sack.

Today was Saturday. On Saturday, there were usually more visitors than on other days. Ten or twelve had already been presented since morning, since they had not yet been told of the prisoner’s escape, and each believed they would find details by asking House employees. As could be expected, curiosity was not satisfied, and, in town, babblers and men with imaginations built a mass of suppositions and a great quantity of stories, each more romanesque than the last. Nothing — that went without saying — approached the truth.

Among the last visitors, Rousto recognized one of his Company companions. It was the Froustagnac we have seen stopping Finot. That bold young man was a past master in mime. He knew how to hold long conversations without opening his mouth or moving his arms, which is better than deaf-mutes! He informed Rousto to hold himself ready. He told him that the escapee from morning was out of all danger… Then, looking at the sun, he slowly kissed his head toward the horizon. He made his friend to understand that the business would take place at the end of the day.

Several lady visitors arrived about six, at the moment when work was ceased. The ladies were accompanied by a small boy of four to five years. For all their cavaliers, they only had a young blonde child whose beard was not even dreaming of sprouting.

At the same time that the lady visitors entered, the big carriage gate was open to give passage to one wagon piled with provisions and other objects for the Penitentiary. Two guards, each armed with a double-barreled shotgun, were posted, one at the right and one at the left of the gate, to guard it until the wagon would depart, empty.

It was the moment when the prisoners went, squad by squad, to wash for the evening in basins placed near the steam engine.

Soon came the turn of the barracks in which Rousto was a member.

To reach the basins of which we shall speak, it was necessary that those coming from the ropeyard pass close to the carriage gate that could be seen to be open.

The wagon stood in the middle of the large courtyard.

The ladies, the young man and the infant formed a group placed right by this gate, between the two armed sentinels guarding the gate.

At the moment when the prisoners passed near this gate, Rousto saw, a hundred paces away, on the prairie, Froustagnac seated on a tree trunk. When Froustagnac encountered Rousto’s gaze, he lifted his hat…

That was the signal…

Then, in the middle of everyone, with all these impediments, in front of the gate’s guards and those inside, Rousto charged into the middle of the group of ladies, seized the infant, who waved his arms and let loose with frightening cries, and passing between the two stupefied sentinels, he headed straight for the woods.

The first movement of the guards was to level their shotguns in the direction of the fugitive to fire on him; but the mother and the aunt of the child each attacked these men.

— “Don’t fire! Don’t fire!” cried out the impassioned mother…

The other woman hung on the arm of the second guard, piercing the air with her cries.

— “Terrible!” she said, “What are you doing? What if you kill this baby!”

The moment of general stupor that followed this act of supreme daring was such that no one thought of pursuing the fleeing man.

All the guards gathered without knowing what was the matter.

The cries of the women on the one side, the demands and expectations on the other, increased the tumult and disorder even more. The prisoners gathered in the courtyard in such a large number were stunned, asking one another by their looks if it was not the moment to overthrow everything by taking flight.

These questioning gazes were surprised. For the second time the alarm bell sounded, and the chief, arriving on the spot, sent several men to pursue the fugitive. Then he had the gates closed, and his whole world was placed under arms.

All of that was accomplished more rapidly than it takes to read about it.

— “My baby!” the mother cried, “My baby!”

She went from one guard to another, playing a scene of maternal delirium to tear the heart out, like a consummate actress.

A few seconds later, one of the men sent to pursue the fugitive returned with the infant, which was unharmed, found waiting at a certain distance where the bullets of the guns could not reach. Rousto had placed his new-style buckler on the ground.

The poor mother leaped on her child, and the visitors departed.

Meanwhile, one of the men sent by the Penitentiary’s chief to pursue Rousto saw a horse all saddled up, attached to a post near the main gate, recognizing it as belonging to one of the engineers, and, without wasting time by asking permission, he jumped on it and galloped in the direction of the fugitive felon. The other men were on foot, fighting through the woods in every direction.

As the guard mounted the horse at the prison gate, Rousto, some arpents from there, placed the infant on the ground, and mounting his own horse, brought there for his flight, as had been announced in the Captain’s coded note.

The gallop of Rousto’s horse guided the man speeding to his pursuit, and this was nothing more than a question of speed.

At this point the sun had totally set.

Over six minutes, Rousto’s horse and that of the guard kept the same distance between them due to the difficulty of the woods, but soon the road expanded and presented more opportunity to the better rider. The guard beat his horse with his heels, since he did not have any spurs to give him an edge. Rousto only had to pull on the bridle and unleash his tongue to devour the terrain. This horse provided by the Company was a commanding animal. When Rousto finally saw what a racer he had mounted, he released a heavy sigh of relief and, caressing the vigorous, glossy neck of his horse:

— “Hurrah!” he cried out, “I am saved!”

The guard lost an obviously substantial amount of terrain.

— “Halt!” he cried out, “or I shoot!”

— “Stupid bunny!” Rousto murmured, “shooting from a horse!” and he did not respond to the order.

— “One more time, stop!” the guard cried out, “or you are a dead man!”

— “Once again,” Rousto laughed, “an imbecile if he expects me to stop to wait for him!”

And, urging on his horse by voice and movement, he found himself carried by a fantastic reverie.

But at the same instant, a shot rang, an impact was felt, and Rousto’s horse pitched down. This was a movement as rapid as thought, for the splendid animal immediately rebalanced itself, and, driven by pain and its own rich nature, it cut the air like Mazeppa’s savage charger.

Rousto was a sort of centaur. He had adhered to his mount as if the two had been made one. But now dread seized him. He felt that his horse had been hit, and he feared that it would fall from one moment to the next.

Rousto turned his head. He no longer saw the guard, but he saw a narrow trail of blood on the road behind that could draw his attention.……

— “Poor beast!” Rousto said, distressed, “your courage will carry you until you collapse from weakness? It is me he wants … you are saving me, and it is you who dies!”

In effect, the generous animal, although still galloping, began to snort noisily, indicating a coming fall.

At once, the gallop of the other horse could be heard, and the closer it came, the more the charge of the injured relented.

— “Let’s go,” Rousto said to himself, “he does not have a loaded weapon now; we are one against one, it must be finished once and for all. I have not saved myself to permit myself to be taken again. — I have a knife in my pocket,” he added, “but I have never killed! And I would not kill except to save my life!”

Rousto descended from his horse. He stripped the poor beast of his saddle and bridle, throwing both to the side of the road, and he sat tranquilly, like a Parisian tiring of country pleasures.

— “I certainly could save myself by running into the woods,” he reflected, “but I would still have behind me the fear of this man. It is as good as here, and I must go quickly.”

After some minutes, the guard arrived near Rousto, who arose.

— “You may follow me now,” the guard said as he descended from his horse and approached Rousto.

— “That is to say,” the other said as he unfolded his arms, “that you injured my horse without any right; that you have put me on foot unjustly, and in my position, I have no time to lose. You have to kill me; that was your right, but my horse, no!”

— “Miserable!” the guard cried out, bringing up his pistol…

— “Don’t make me laugh, my dear,” the gross Hercules responded. Your pistol is not loaded, note that your ball is in my horse’s body, and that you do not have military ammunition. We are alone, we two. You have a discharged pistol, always a weapon, but I have a knife … but I will not use it unless you force me.”

— “And what do you propose?” the guard cried out, consumed with rage at Rousto’s cold-bloodedness.

— “I propose to take your horse to replace my own…”

While saying these words, Rousto advanced on the horse, extending his hand to take it by its bridle.

The exasperated guard sought to hit Rousto across the head, but Rousto had a lively eye … he received the blow on his shoulder, and, responding to the attack, he directed a double blow at the face and stomach of his adversary, a double stab that sent the unfortunate man rolling senseless on the road.

Then, without pressing, he exchanged the horse’s bridle and saddle for that of the injured horse. Then, with his knife, he cut the mane and the tail on his new horse, to disguise it quickly.

— “Now,” he said to himself, “to the road!”

He mounted the guard’s horse and, starting a fast trot, he continued down the road, interrupted by the incident just read.




XVII

A Session of the “Finance Company” in New York

For the duration of this chapter, we quit Louisiana, the principal theater of the events we serve as narrator, and, to give clarity to the events of our tale, we will attend a meeting in New York that is important in a manner different from what we have seen in Versailles.

This is not a gathering of a portion, nor is it a fabrication shop. It is the general meeting of all the chiefs of the Company in the United States. There are neither workers nor foremen, nor lieutenants, but only the Captain of each section, presided over by the Captain-General, in person.

The great hall where we will be penetrating is located on Broadway, toward the end of this street, or rather boulevard, bordering the height of place Lafayette.

Statue of Benjamin Franklin
Lafayette Square, New Orleans
CC photo by Diego Delso at Wikimedia

This hall, richly decorated, is a perfect square. Mahogany couches serve as the seats of each Captain of the Company. The Captain-General is enthroned on a raised dais covered by thick carpet. At his side are the secretaries and reporters. A profusion of candles spread a lively light everywhere.

The Captain-General came to take his place, and to reclaim silence, he made three strokes on a bell placed on his right. On his right were bundles of papers, some journals, and a weapon of extreme complexity and minimum volume with six small, ribbonned barrels. At first glance, one would think it was a child’s toy, but a glance of the chambers in a brilliant state indicates anything but a plaything.

“Messieurs,” the Captain-General said, our reporter will give you information of the discoveries that were made of our counterfeits of this year. They will tell you to what extent the experts of various states are incapable, and you will understand in what directions our attention must be directed in the future. You will see that there is a great number of states where nothing has been discovered, and the conclusion of this report is as follows: by redoubling our zeal in completing work and in general surveillance, we will progress with every day and acquire power that could show its effects in other concerns than the monetary question. When you hold in your hands the number in circulation, bank secrets and foreknowledge of boom and bust — documents that furnish us our introduction to the highest classes of society — you may hope to hold the reins, if secretly, of the grand public affairs. The reporter has the password. I direct your attention to the end:

The reporter rose and read:

A gold piece of a piastre was discovered in Philadelphia of which the reproduction of the words, “United States of America” are not as clear, distinct and readable as on the genuine pieces. Further, the false pieces are too compact to the touch. — Captain Smith is asked to see to this in the future.

In the state of New Hampshire, banknotes of the Bank of Claremont have been found whose imperfections of engraving have revealed the fraud. The anchor, the eagle, and the cannon are badly imitated. — Notice to Captain Brawn.

In the same state, certain bills of the Bank of Great Falls have been recognized as false because of the defective imitation of the scene and the vessel traveling with full sails.

Without giving all the details of the counterfeits, details of which a copy will be sent to each Captain, this report will summarily indicate the states where discoveries have been made, and the banks that represent the seized bills.

In Vermont, the Bank of Orleans, Irasburgh, the Bank of Burlington, Stark Bank, White River Bank.

In Massachusetts, Appleton Bank; Bay State Bank; Cochituate Bank, Boston; Bank of Commerce; Framingham Bank; Grocers’ Bank, Boston; Housetonic Bank; Holyoke Bank, Northampton; Mattapan Bank, Dorchester; Merrimack Bank, Haverhill; Bank of North America, Boston; Oxford Bank; Union Bank; Washington Bank, Boston.

In Rhode Island, American Bank, Providence; Bank of Bristol; Mechanics Bank; Smithfield Lime Rock Bank, Providence.

In Connecticut, Farmers’ Bank, Bridgeport; Hartford Bank; Mystic Bank; Phoenix Bank; Southport Bank; Tolland County Bank; Saybrook Bank; Thames Bank; Windham County Bank.

State of New York: twenty-five banks, of which no detail is forgotten, and which each of you may read.

In New Jersey, Bank of America; Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank; Mechanics’ Bank, Newark; Mechanics’ and Manufacturers’ Bank; Ocean Bank; Union Bank.

In Pennsylvania, Harrisburg Bank; Lancaster Bank; Monongahela Bank; Philadelphia Bank; York Bank.

In Delaware, Bank of Delaware, and Farmers’ Bank.

In Maryland, Bank of Westminster; Citizens’ Bank, Baltimore; Cumberland Savings Bank; Frederick County Bank; Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank of Baltimore; Union Bank of Maryland.

In North Carolina, Bank of Cape Fear; Bank of the State of North Carolina.

In South Carolina, Bank of South Carolina, Charleston; Bank of the State of South Carolina, and Merchants’ Bank, Cheraw.

In Georgia, Bank of Augusta.

In Ohio, Clinton Bank, Columbus; State Bank of Ohio.

In Indiana, State Bank of Indiana, Indianapolis.

In Kentucky, Bank of Kentucky, Louisville; Bank of Louisville; Northern Bank of Kentucky.

In Missouri, Bank of the State of Missouri.

In Michigan, Government Stock Bank.

The reporter fell silent and sat down.

The Captain-General rose:

— “Messieurs,” he said, you see that the number of states cited in this report, and that of the banks that they want you to know the names, are far from having an alarming significance. There is an infinity of other banks not even in question — Each of you has only to seek to remedy defects cited in the detailed report of which a copy will be sent to each of you.

“From my side, I will hire the most able engravers to be found, whether in the United States, in England, or in France.

“A police raid on us took place in New Orleans during a session of your Company. Only two among them were taken. They were tried and condemned to the Louisiana State Penitentiary. They did not remain long. Thanks to the means of which the general Company disposes, these two men were able to escape and be protected in their escaping. They are now free, and they are living in a place where they will not be sought.

“Otherwise, everything goes well. Our police are larger and stronger than the police of the states. Let each Captain redouble zeal and vigilance, and we shall continually march from progress to progress.

“Messieurs, I end this session. I will convoke you in the next year as is the custom. Farewell!…”




XVIII

Three Characters

We have abandoned three of our characters for several chapters in order to follow the two escapees from the Yellow House.

First of all, there is Lavinia — who disappeared after receiving Alexandre’s consent to a prompt divorce with Anna.

In second place, there is Alexandre himself, whom we have not seen since the denunciation of which the reader has seen the results.

Finally, there is Mélanie, widow … of her poor Finot since the scenes in Mobile.

Before pursuing the principal line of our complex story, it is therefore necessary to occupy ourselves with these three characters, and to know where they are in their respective affairs, so that we may then proceed with the whole and without interruption.

We shall begin with Lavinia.

Whatever good arose from what Alexandre sent her, for her it was like a thunderbolt absolutely ending everything she had been seeking until then, with such energy, with the energetic character of the Lieutenant. He was a man obsessed, savagely amorous, having vowed all his time and all his fortune to pursuing vengeance, and perhaps the recovery of possession of a woman once adored, and properly lost … it was such a man who approached her, voluntarily submitting like a slave, on his knees before her, abandoning everything … his future love and his future vengeance!… and all this for the sole hope of what was probably an ephemeral possession!

Despite her audacity and force, Lavinia was afraid of this obsession, this abnegation, this slavery … that could become imperious all the way to crime. It was no longer a matter of the rages of little capricious masters whom you could denigrate … it was a man’s fury, a tempestuous despair, that could translate into blood!

In this critical circumstance, pushed along, perhaps, by extreme disgust over her role as a seductress, as we have seen in an earlier chapter, Lavinia resolved not to view the end of the play, which, as a comedy, could well become a tragedy.

The same day a steamer was leaving for New York — named, God only knows why! The Empire City. —Lavinia immediately booked passage, and when Alexandre came to her place that evening, the steamer had already reached la Balize, and prepared to enter the Gulf of Mexico.

On the other hand, after his denunciation addressed to the New Orleans police once he learned that Captain Louis was his wife’s preferred lover, Lieutenant Alexandre appeared to lose the remnant of reason that still inhabited his brain as he meditated the frightful impasse into which he had been thrown. He even divined a part of the conspiracy of which he had precipitated the end by renouncing his wife in writing.

Here Lavinia, lost at the moment when he thought he had obtained her, betrayed him by abandoning him, and perhaps by giving the fatal letter of divorce to the rival whom Anna made happy.

There, this Anna, whom he had sworn to punish … and perhaps to reconquer … appeared to him armed with a proper legal act, consummating forever a divorce to which he himself had consented!

Defeat, abandonment, solitude on all sides… Plus even the right to demand vengeance, whether by laws or by arms!

He had to chose:

Whether to pursue Louis, or to search out the traces of Lavinia … to assassinate the first; to demand from the other a happiness dearly bought … and that even at the price of a crime!

In this pressing dilemma, which began to drive him mad, Alexandre recalled a secret Association of women, of which Finot had spoken, drawing of their power and magic an image charged with lively colors. These women, the little man said, could work actual miracles concerning all the business between men and women, even concerning love, or hatred, for division or for bringing together. They threw the sorts, sold grigris, saved the one, lost the other, all at will, without their power ever being overcome.

Alexandre had always shrugged his shoulders at these mysterious revelations, to which the little man attached a full and entire faith. But now that his reason had been obscured and his judgment falsified by a variety of folly, Alexandre grasped at this branch of hope that he had never sought to grasp in any other situation. He searched his memory and recalled, at the end of some time, the name of one of the priestesses that Finot cited.

So he looked for her, and he found her.

So far as Mélanie was concerned, her sadness was rather intense until she learned the sad fate of her friend. In any case, she was never so made as to allow herself to die of grief, and that, further, she could do nothing, so she finished by consoling herself … and one fine morning, seduced by the mines of California, or rather by the prospect of a thousand adventures, each more agreeable than the last, she boarded a superb steamer setting sail for Sacramento, in the company of young man who was very rich (in expectations).

— “Alas!” she said when watching the riverbank covered with trees, houses, and greenery; alas! Perhaps I will see this again one day!”

After this necrology — short and expressive — Mélanie felt terrible itching in her legs as she listened to some copper instruments sounding, on departure, a charming polka adored at the bal des Allemands.

— “Just as long as they dance down there!” she said with a sigh, once the music had ceased.




XIX

Sorts and Grigris

Thirty-three small candles illuminated a round hall where fourteen persons were gathered: thirteen women and one man. The last had his eyes covered and was seated on a raised stool placed facing a sort of platform where one woman, who appeared to command the other twelve, sat enthroned. On the table before the matron you see a long tress of hair, a small lighted chafing dish, a crucible filled with a yellow material, and several strange instruments that have no technical name in our language. The twelve other women sat around the periphery of the circular hall, each seated on a black couch. White drapes, scattered with red tears, covered the walls, and a carpet of a deep color covered the plank floor, and served, when one walked, to deaden the sound of a step.

At a sign, the mistress called for and obtained silence.

— “Arise!” she said to Alexandre, who obeyed immediately. Then she continued, “Is it with faith that you present yourself to us?”

— “Yes,” the Lieutenant responded.

— “Do you believe in our power?”

— “I believe in it.”

— “Do you swear never to reveal our secrets?”

— “I swear it.”

— “Have you ever violated a similar oath?”

Alexandre did not respond.

The women stared at him.

— “You do well not to respond,” the mistress responded, “because you have said a lie! We know everything … and that should give you the measure of our power. For the rest, since you have come to us, listen: Death menaces you wherever you go, and you know why…”

— “Yes, I know; but is there no way to avoid this fate?”

— “Listen,” the matron responded…

Then she called to herself the twelve women, who immediately approached her. There were several minutes of conferences in low voice, then some quiet ceremonies took place, and after the results were obtained, the twelve women having resumed their places, the feminine chief began to speak:

— “We have read,” she said, “about what brings you here. You are pursuing two goals, but we cannot guide you in more than one affair at a time; it is yours to choose. So far as avoiding the fate that menaces you, that will be the question at the end of this séance, if there is time.”

The mistress descended from her platform, went to one after another of the twelve women, gathering views from each, then returned to take her place.

— “What do you want?” she said, addressing Alexandre, “to have the women or to kill the man; possession or vengeance?… You have five minutes to respond.”

During these five minutes, the mistress consulted the auspices. The crucible was placed over the flame of the chafing dish; when the yellow material was boiling, the lock of hair was suspended over the crucible, and immediately the hair, which was ash-blonde, became a magnificent ebony black.

During that time, Alexandre took thought. The remnant of the doubt he had had at the beginning of the séance had evaporated, as the priestess of the Society, a society that could be seen to possess, to some degree, magnetism, Voodoo, and ancient sorcery, all probably aided by exceptional policing…

As Alexandre reflected, and before saying what were his thoughts, we will address some lines to the reader on the subject of this novel association making its appearance in these Mysteries, and which resembles to some extent that in our first volume.

Its name is the Association of Destinies (Association des Sorts). This association exists in New Orleans and in all the large towns of the South of the United States. It holds séances more or less regularly, depending on circumstances, and it is probably that more than one of these séances took place or will take place at the very door of any reader who doubts this.

We generally believe we live in an enlightened age — siècle des lumières is the consecrated term — which does not prevent there to exist, here and elsewhere — individuals — more often women than men — who have or think they have the power to create and destroy, to disrupt or to remake, in a word to cast lots, otherwise called grisgris (the word has nothing to do with the thing) that often have the most surprising results. To one who has the desire and the time, or whose secret interest it is to delve in arcana, will be quite shocked by the discoveries that take every day. Haven’t there been those, at all times, who believed themselves to be living in an enlightened epoch? And how is one to prove that he lives in an enlightened era when there are people dying of hunger, and men rolling in abundance? When there are fanaticisms of every type in all parts of the world?…

We will leave the philosophical reflections behind, and, since we only cite facts that exist, we will become much less distressed over what we believe or do not believe, and we continue…

So, on the subject of this question, a true dilemma, “What do you want? Kill a man or possess a woman…” Alexandre thought deeply.

For a character with his stamp, there was, in fact, material for great thoughts…

On the one hand, he saw the satisfaction of that imperious passion found in bad natures that you call vengeance, and of which it is said that it is the pleasure of the gods 

On the other hand, he trembled at the sole memory of this Lavinia, to whom he had sacrificed all his rights, present and future…

Here, he contemplated a mortal enemy in the throes of death under the knife, under poison, or under any other agony … asking perhaps for mercy, and losing forever what he had gathered for his own needs and those of his house.

There, he saw him open his arms to a lascivious Venus … he saw the enchanting smile of a moist mouth; the seductive glance of two eyes to lose one soul … and, thought on thought, reverie on reverie, delirium on delirium, he plunged, almost as if for real, into the preludes of this sweet death sung by Parny, the poet of the senses.

“Break him!… Kill him!… open his chest with your dagger … Breath in like a seductive scent the last breaths of his life that is ending,” said Vengeance to his burning eyes, with a Satanic smile…

“Dominate her … possess her … die and be reborn in her seductive unmentionables,” Luxury sighed through humid and partly open lips, to trembling hands, to an ardent face…

In the midst of these two human images of the two strongest passions on earth, sweet Anna only appeared on the second plane, in a sort of mysterious penumbrum, suave like the melancholy notes of the alto horn in the midst of the wild playing of copper instruments.

— “Well?” the president asked.

Alexandre arose.

Here is the conclusion to which he had come:

As long as death was unceasingly suspended over his head, it was necessary that he be free of his rival, who could be his judge, as Captain of the Company. Once the Captain was dead, the danger could perhaps be avoided, and there would then be time to pursue the other result.

— “I choose vengeance,” he said.

— “Here is our response,” the president responded: “Within twenty-four hours you will receive a note that will tell you the place to find your enemy and the means to employ to arrive at vengeance. During these twenty-four hours, you will still be at the mercy of the power of which you know. It is entirely your duty to preserve yourself during this lapse of time. We have read on this: ‘The hour of danger approaches. It is necessary to avoid the threshold of doors… Twenty-four hours of vigilance.’”

“Fine,’ responded Alexandre. “For twenty-four hours I shall not leave home. Oh!” he cried out while arising, “Avenge me! Avenge me!”

The women had covered their faces with a thick veil.

— “Now,” said the voice of the president, “lift your blindfold and go.”

Alexandre obeyed, then he went toward the door.

His foot had barely touched the threshold than a death-rattle escaped his chest. He rolled into the middle of the hall, covered with blood. A masked man, holding a dagger in his hand, threw himself into the middle of the terrorized women, threw himself against the knifed man, and threw him these words in a high and intelligible voice:

“On behalf of the Finance Company!”




XX

A cut thread that rejoins itself

In the fifth chapter of the first volume of these Mysteries, we have spoken of a fine American steamship departing New Orleans for California … and we added:

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.

Of these two men, one has long played an important role in this work. It is Louis ——, the Captain of the Finance Company at New Orleans, the former fiancé and the actual lover of Anna.

The other is his brother, whom we have named Eugène, and who we have not seen again since his departure for California.

This new character will now appear as one of the most important in this story.

You go fast in California, once you are on the road to fortune.

Eugène ——, under his appearance of gaiety and carelessness of which we have spoken, was driven by a motive more noble than the sole desire to amass wealth that you exchange at will into luxury and enjoyments of all sorts.

Established at New Orleans for several years, he had originally prospered to the extent of his desires. But one day of misfortune sounded a bell for him. One day the collapse of the banks occurred, striking the first blow. On the other hand, he was unworthily cheated by an entail. Bad luck never comes alone; this was an uninterrupted succession of disasters that tumbled upon him one after another, leading to complete ruin.

The unhappy man fought against fate; he borrowed, and worked harder … but it was in vain. Like someone, caught into a great backwater, forced back more rapidly than his efforts to exit, Eugène entered in a ruin greater than ever when he found foreign resources for work.

Desperate, he traveled to South Carolina, to Charleston, where he had a wealthy relative, for the purpose of getting money. On arrival in Charleston, the first thing he learned was the death of the relative. The heirs were in the middle of dividing up the succession.

Eugène returned to New Orleans. When he set foot on the street where his home was located, he heard great clamor and saw a crowd gathering from all sides. Pumpers came running down the street with great noise … the bells sounded everywhere. The unfortunate had a fatal presentiment that was not wrong: his house was burning!

The next day he was on the street, without resources and without hope.

Then he dreamed about California, and he went looking for money to go there.

The land of gold was as positive for Eugène as New Orleans was fatal. Everything succeeded for him there while everything here had failed, and good opportunities came to him one after another as once misfortunes we mentioned had dropped on him, one after another. When he saw himself to be rich, he resolved to return to the United States.

At the moment when we are concerned with this new character in our story, he was arriving in New York.

Eugène was, as we have said, the very portrait of his brother Louis. It is only that he was a little heavier in body and more handsome in the face. His was one of those free and open figures, with a limpid and soft gaze, breathing probity and honor. His smile had something of a woman’s smile, both in softness and attractiveness.

Eugène barely arrived in New York than invitations arrived from all sides. His fortune, his good looks, his distinguished manners, won him a charming reception everywhere, and sometimes certain advances that flattered his self-worth, but to which he did respond. After several weeks it was his peculiar attitude of turning a deaf ear to feminine invitations, and he took the position of copying the ferocious virtue of the good cavalier. As a result of this inconceivable invulnerability, they nicknamed him Achilles. Gradually matters took such a turn that it was a true war. You know what women can do when their own self-worth is excited by certain contrariness, and the singularity of the circumstance was well made to push to the last limits these daughters of Eve who do not love being disdained.

One evening, in a house on Broadway, where there were twenty persons, men and women, the most determined of the latter decided to wage a complete attack on the insensible and invulnerable Achilles. The valiant Amazon was a magnificent brunette with sparkling eyes, with the hot skin of the Spaniards. Her black eyebrows, slightly arched, almost joined over her eyes, a certain sign of jealousy to which connaisseurs pretend. She was as beautiful a woman as Eugène was a fine cavalier.

— “Have you ever loved?” she suddenly asked him, covering him with a bombardment-scale gaze.

— “No, Madame,” he responded, “it is probable that I will never love at all!”

To this perfunctory response, the young woman suddenly pulled back her chair, as if she had seen a snake. A more than bizarre thought crossed her spirit…

— “That is not possible!” she thought while looking at Eugène… “He is too handsome, and he looks about too intensely.”

— “Do you know,” she said very loudly, “that you are a phenomenon, Monsieur Eugène?…”

— “But I do not know how…”

— “How do you not see it? Responding that you will never love … when you have not loved!”

— “What?”

— “Oh well, Monsieur, there should be the death penalty for such a crime. After all,” she added, “it is perhaps a means… Ha, ha, it is not bad!”

— “I never do comedy,” Eugène responded.

— “So, Monsieur, you are a grand criminal. But without being indiscrete, could one ask the motive for such an exception.”

— “Madame,” he responded, “I cannot say that to such an amiable and charming person as you…”

— “Very good: the refusal is gilded as a compliment. I would divine a tragic story, if you had not declared never to have loved at all.”

— “I have spoken the truth, Madame.”

— “But, Monsieur, if there were many men like you, you know that the world would go to ruin! We would be obliged to play courting with you, to seek your favors, to write you tender notes, to pelt you with declarations! That would be very odd, for heaven’s sake! We would ask your hand in marriage, perhaps! Do you see from that the pretty scenes of sentiment that would arise every day from your disdain and your refusal?…

— “Madame, I most humbly ask your pardon… You put me in a most embarrassing position…”

— “Oh! You are not yet at the end of your pains! Since you are immobile and well decided to alter the use and customs of gallantry, I wish, myself, to act as I should suppose the world suddenly turned upside-down … I want to court you! I will throw vulgar prejudices at your feet. To begin with, I am telling you that I find you very good.

— “Madame!”

— “Oh Monsieur! … don’t blush! Don’t lower your charming eyes of which we seek always a soft glance! Look, see down there this charming blonde; I am quite certain that she is jealous of the attention you do so well to accord me…”

— “Go away, Madame; I am happy that you find in what you call my uniqueness a subject that you take such a spiritual part.”

— “Monsieur is getting angry!” the young woman responded … “all the better; that is preferable to indifference. Perhaps you could hate me a little?…”

— No more than you like, Madame!

— “Thanks… But finally, do you find … something in me that displeases you?”

— “Nothing…”

— “And … that charms you?”

— “Everything about you would charm me, if I could be … charmed.”

— “Gallant! … but immovable.”

— “Damn! When the roles are reversed, when it is I who receives … the courting, and you are doing it, I am in character.”

— “Here is some progress: you become of good composition.”

— “Hold up, Madame, everything has its end, I make use of the privilege of my current role to ask you … to end this game.”

Eugène’s voice was serious at this moment. He added in a low voice, and with a certain emotion:

— “I am suffering, Madame!…”

This phrase, “I am suffering” — went right to the bantering young woman’s heart. Her face, from being fine and mocking, became calm and serious. Her eyes, which had radiated malice, took on an expression of compassion … and her mouth tightened with gravity.

— “Pardon me, Monsieur,” she said. “I have doubtless summoned up some painful memory … I was being light, Monsieur; but I am not mean,” she added, placing her hand on that of the young man by a movement full of nobility and spontaneity.

Eugène started at this contact. A light pallor ran over his face, but it was the matter of a second. He gazed at the young woman, and he read in her eyes so much goodness and repentance that, despite himself, perhaps, in one of those moments of expansion that are the weakness of a good heart, he said to her:

— “Hold up, Madame, I will tell you what I wanted to guard in the deepest part of my heart, and perhaps, after that, you will groan with me…”




XXI

A Bitter Deception

“It was about two years ago. I was promenading one day on the rue de l’Espanade, thinking about some bad incidents that had thrown my affairs into disorder, when I heard a woman’s voice, suave and pure, singing in a moving tone the sweet and magnificent words of The Son of the Virgin:

Poor son who long ago my young reverie Naïve infant, Believed himself abandoned by the Virgin Mary To the winds…

“I stopped short and inclined my ear so as not to miss one note of the sacred song, sung by a divine voice.

“The voice continued this way:

Disrobed by the breeze of his veil of silk, Precious son, What is the cherub whose cry you send So far from them?

“Imagine, Madame, a man who is overcome with somber thoughts, on a dangerous promenade, and who suddenly hears the consoling harmony of a voice from heaven! In an instant I forgot all my material occupations, and asked myself what could be the face of the being who do overpowered my heart with the seduction of her voice.

“You know the song, Madame; you know what poetic and celestial perfume these words conjure that are said to be written for an accompaniment of Aeolian harps.

“I remained fixed to my place, captive of all the emotions that the marriage of poetry and music could produce in loving hearts.

“But at the last couplet, when the invisible singer sent this sublime farewell to earthly love that mounts to heaven with a doubly vibrant voice, to go to revive in the arms of God:

Adieu, poor white child, I love you! fly again, But I will not go Halting on the bush whose thorns devour And wound the arms… Do not rest when, from the height of the turrets The day has fled… Fly high, near to God: the sole faithful loves Are with Him!

“I felt a strange emotion dry my throat and moisten my eyes, there was so much desperation in this poetic cry…

“Later, only later, I understood what these lines meant for the unhappy woman who sang them; you also will understand them, Madame, when I have told you everything.

“Some seconds after the song had ceased, the shutter-blind of one nearby window opened. This window was for an ground floor elevated about five feet above the ground. I saw a face appear … such as has never, neither in reality nor in reveries, nor among the imaginary productions of poets, appeared, except perhaps in heaven.

“You will soon, alas! see that I am not exaggerating. To be so beautiful was the greatest misfortune that could befall the poor creature of whom I speak.

“In sum, this beauty of face was such that I hesitate to decide for myself which, the song or the face, was the more beyond the range of things known! Because this could not be the woman who sang so.

I returned her gaze and demonstrated a mixture of compassion and admiration without deciding the more important of these sentiments.

“I could not remain there without moving. I did continue my walk. When I had gone some steps, I turned my head. The woman’s gaze followed me. When I was near to arriving at the corner of the street where I was going, I turned again, and once again I encountered the same gaze, which appeared unable to detach itself from me…

“The next day, I went along the same street. She was stationed at the same window, her gaze lost in the blue mists that ran across the sky. She did not see me, because I had taken the opposite sidewalk.

“I foresaw something mysterious about this woman, but never, never, did I doubt what it was. I did not love her then, and yet I felt attracted to her by an unknown magnetism. It seemed to me that she had serious confidences to give to a heart, and that it was mine that was made to receive them.

“These are vague impressions, one of those presentiments that come, from no one knows where, and which, almost always, are followed by acts they seem to indicate.

“Invincibly attracted to this woman, mysterious to me, I passed in front of the house she inhabited every day. I waved at her, and she returned my wave. Gradually I approached to speak to her. This was at first a bonjour, accompanied by a respectful nod of the head. Then, another word was attached to this bonjour, and, little by little, it became a phrase … to which, later, it was joined to others. Day after day, week after week, it became a sort of intimacy at a distance. Singular thing! she never offered to open the door to her home, which, always respectfully, we came to the point where this favor appeared to me to be offered. Later I discovered why, when it was too late for my own peace!

“On day then, I asked her simply and freely for permission to speak with her in her home. She blushed, was for some seconds unable to respond, then, returning to speech:

— “‘Tomorrow,’ she said to me, ‘when you pass at eleven, as is your custom.’

— “‘Thank you,’ I responded — and I added, ‘So you have observed the hours of my daily coming?’

— “‘Oh yes!’ she let out, as if her words came by themselves from her mouth… ‘Oh, yes: I have no other joy!’

“And, as if in shame at this statement, she went back into her home after making the sign of adieu with her hand.

“I went away, my heart full and head low, as if I were happy and unhappy at the same time.

“The next day at eleven I knocked on her door.

— “‘Enter!’ This voice, both sweet and at the same time penetrating, cried out to me which, each day, was as charming every day as it had been the first time I heard it.

“I entered. She was sitting in front of a work table around which a large carpet was wrapped that covered the lower part of her body. I could not see her below her belt. She wore a dress with a tight bodice, marking in relief the most beautiful breasts possible. So far as her face went, I have already said how it was. It is impossible to give an idea. It was that of a suffering angel, exiled from some unknown paradise. Her hair was of that tender blonde of women of the English aristocracy. It fell in loose and innumerable curls around her charming head. Her smile was sweet and sad, like that of ‘Melancholia’ and ‘Memory.’

—“‘Sit down,’ she said to me, pointing with a finger to a sofa two or three feet away.

“There was not a single chair, not a single bed in the hall where we were. I noted that without searching out or divining the cause, or making a conclusion. There were only three sofas, a piano, a table, and some small decorative furniture. For the rest, this hall was furnished in some luxury, and everywhere with much taste.

— “‘How beautiful you are!’ I said to her, almost without my knowing, as if my words rapidly escaped from my mind and my mouth.

“Like a sensitive plant that closes its green leaves at the slightest touch, she seemed to shrink under these words. A lively blush covered her neck and face. One second later she became frightfully pale … to the point where I rose to go to her aid.

— “‘No! No!…’ she cried out, extending her arms against me… ‘Remain there, I beg of you!’

“My surprise was in the extreme. This weakness, this redness, this pallor, the movement, struck me that altered my entire figure. I felt that I touched her, with a brutal finger, a bloody plea … what I did not see, I went back as fast as I could, so as not to endure any longer the mute indiscretion of my shock.

— “‘I had no intention of afflicting you,’ I said.

— “‘I did not wish it,’ she responded in her sweet voice. ‘You harmed me without wishing to … and I must appear to you at least bizarre in my excessive sensibility … if only you knew!’ she added, quite low…

“These last words, ‘if only you knew!’ — made me review in the spirit a thousand suppositions … as far from truth as you could imagine, Madame…”

— “Indeed,” said the young widow to whom Eugène was imparting this confidence, “I am lost in the labyrinth of suppositions that your story suggests to me. I do not foresee the conclusion of this story…”

— “Nothing could have caused me to foresee it, Madame. I, who from the first day to the last had been the happy and unhappy witness of this dramatic pastoral, did not know the end until the final minute … the minute when I almost died. But I continue…”

— “‘Monsieur Eugène,’ she said to me, ‘I want to be open with you. You are a noble young man, and my need is to say this to you: there is in me a mystery that, now, I cannot reveal to you but dying of regret and shame. Well, to avoid that, do not return … whatever the cost!’

— “‘I do not believe,’ I responded, ‘that whatever shame could ever be imposed on you … perhaps you exaggerate it… So far as never seeing you any more, I will obey if you order me that, but, for me that would now be a severe blow.’

— “‘I will not command that … I do not have joy when you go… But not link can exist between us, never! Do you hear? Why go forever … toward a certain, inevitable precipice where one of the two of us shall fall … for me, a certain blow?…’

“At these words, I could understand that a previous fault, for which eternal repentance was the punishment, for this beautiful and good nature, all formed a great mystery, and, pushed by I know not what passion, what faith, what indulgence, I cried out, without weighing or searching my words:

— “‘Whatever you believe you have to reproach yourself for, for me I pardon you … and I love you!’

“And I have barely expended these words when I fell on my knees before her…

“But, as lively as this movement had been, she had the time suddenly to remove the panel of carpet that covered the table placed between the two of us. Her hand was extended toward me, I seized it can covered it with kisses without her opposing it. Only, rising by an extraordinary energy, there was the beginning of fainting such as she had had at my first words, and she gave me a sign to raise myself, and she said to me:

— “‘Depart, Monsieur Eugène. Return in two or three days; by then I will increase my courage and, whatever it costs, perhaps I shall tell you what has split my life forever. After that, either you will never want to see me again, or you will remain, for me, like a friend, like a brother, O my God!” she added, raising her beautiful eyes full of tears, you have condemned me to not dreaming forever!’

— “‘Since you wish that, I will depart… As you permit me, I will return in three days, but be sure of one thing, Hélène, it is that I do not believe any evil in which you are concerned, to the point of renouncing you, if you have no other motive for rejecting me. I have said that I love you, and, since you seek to make yourself guilty of I know not what unpardonable fault, I believe that you will love again. If you have so much confidence in me to reveal this great affair — which must really be very minor — I will listen to you; if you would rather retain your secret, I will be happy to pass on this revelation, and it will not be more or less from my side.’

— “‘You are good and great, Eugène, she responded to me; I have no fault to reproach myself for, large or small … It is worse than that! For me, I love you … and cannot ever be yours, or anyone else’s. If I do not have a solid and profound faith, it will be a long time before I will be relieved of life, with the same calm that I say it to you; but I believe … and expect…’

— “‘What?’

— “‘Death … which I wish to see coming now more than ever.’

— “‘Your words are making me crazy!’ I cried out, pushed down by this calm a hundred times more terrible, with this sweet woman, than the exaggeration of rage and despair.

— “‘Pardon me, Eugène,’ she said, joining her beautiful hands… ‘When you know everything, you will weep over my fate, or I will be dead!’

“These words, spoken in an angelic and resigned voice, cut my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I said her farewell and left.

At this point in Eugène’s narrative, a woman he had not perceived before, advanced toward him and the young widow who was listening to him. When she came close to him, and she turned her gaze toward Eugène, an electric shock hit him. For several seconds, her ardent gaze stopped, as if fascinated, on the stunning face of the young woman. But quickly she became mistress of herself, and addressed the young woman.

— “Are you coming to our soirée tomorrow?” she asked her…

— “I cannot promise, but I shall try.”

The new arrival was none other than Lavinia.

When she left, Eugène followed her with his eyes. Lavinia turned around once to look at him. Their eyes met: Lavinia was the first to lower hers, which perhaps never occurred to him, as much as she imposed on others. On returning to her place in the salon, she seemed to be musing, like a person who searches for a name or resemblance in her memory. The fierceness of her gaze lessened for a moment, her prideful bearing was humbled, and as beautiful as we already know her, her beauty did not seem the same. This change — which will be explained later — lasted all the time Eugène took to finish his narrative, which may now be read:

— “The three days having passed, the end of which I will tell you the events, was for me like three centuries … or three minutes … they were both so long and so short!… so that the last hour was slow to come, and yet they passed quickly, in the midst of thousands and thousands of thoughts that attacked me during their duration.

“What is it, I asked myself, that this woman so sweet, so beautiful, so pure, who loves me and cannot be mine, nor anyone’s; that a secret, full of sadness and shame — she said shame — torments her incessantly, and who has no fault, neither great nor small, to reproach her?… Has a parallel enigma ever existed? She loves, and she finds herself smashed under one word of love! Further, she will be killed if she has no faith … and the hope for another world… Let us see, if she was secretly married, that would be a misfortune, but it would not be shameful. She has not had nor does she have a lover, so there is nothing to reproach her with… Oh! You could spend ten years in research and meditation to find the explanation for this mystery! Listen to me, I say, for want of better. I am listening and, on the third day, I knocked on her door.

— “‘Madame is sick,’ a servant came to tell me; ‘she cannot receive anyone today.’

“To wait three days this way and to encounter an obstacle at the last moment when you could see this sad incertitude end!

“The door was closed on me, and, I remained mechanically on the threshold, not dreaming to remain or to depart.

“Barely a couple of seconds had passed, when I heard two voices speaking. I easily recognized that of Hélène, and a little later, that of the servant who received me.

“For one moment I had the idea of reopening this door that had closed behind me, to present myself, calm and cool, before Hélène, and to ask her why I was too much when she was suffering.

“But I did not delay seeing that such conduct would be disloyal and indiscrete. I resolved to be patient and to retire quietly. I did not return to my home until several hours had passed. A letter awaited me. It was this:”

Eugène drew a silken, fine paper from a perfumed envelope, before the young widow, and read in a half-loud voice:

Eugène: I am without courage or force because I love you … I to whom it is forbidden to love. I am without courage to say the word to you that immediately arises in my heart. I am powerless, to lose you at one blow and forever. And further, I have remembered perfectly well from day to day that the hour would come when everything would be over between us, without which there would be nothing but senseless desires of mine. I pray to you to avoid both the one and the other dreadful fate! Do not go further away: what importance does a mystery have and a memory in our life? For me, the only thing known would be eternal suffering. Don’t come any closer. Do not come closer to the places I inhabit: you could not imagine what you would see, one day or another. Adieu! and pardon me for the first glance I sent to you … I should have remained hidden in thick shadows and never had the audacity of coming to breathe the air that other women breathe, for fear that I would find the love that makes their happiness… Adieu!

— “I am dying with impatience!” said the young widow when the reading of the letter was finished. There has to be something horrible in this mystery and, up to now, I see nothing, I understand nothing, and I suspect nothing.”

— “We are now at the conclusion, Madame. Listen:”

“For some time my business went from worse to worse. A mass of bad incidents came blow by blow to ruin me and make me despair. I had bills outstanding. The due dates arrived. I was not in balance. I awaited protests, failure, ruin, misery. The protests did not arrive. All my bills were paid and retired from circulation. By whom? No one could tell or would tell me. Credits, on which I could no longer count, were offered to me. Finally, from all sides, the obstacles along my route had been removed by an unknown hand.

“I did not return to Hélène for three weeks. I did not have the courage to obey her formal order in her letter any longer. I could not tolerate this painful incertitude … that was ceaselessly before my spirit, like an inexorable interrogation demanding a response. I thought of it everywhere, at every instant. At home, with others, on the street, finally everywhere I had the feeling of an incurable dreamer, of a searcher for the philosopher’s stone. I looked without seeing, I replied without understanding. It was intolerable. And besides, I loved this woman with a profound love. The more I compelled myself to obey not seeing her, the more her image impressed itself in my thought and memory.

“Finally, one day, I decided to violate my order and go to her place, to see her, to speak to her, to demand a revelation of this dreadful secret about her. I was ready to go out when a man with whom I had had business relations, came to me. He presented me with his last bill … paid, as the others, by the unknown hand.

— “‘Listen, Monsieur Maurice,’ I said to him, ‘You know whether I am a man of honor, and whether you can believe in my word. Well, I swear to you on all that I could have sacred in the world that I will not repeat what you are to tell me, if you wish to respond to the question I present to you.’

— “‘Speak,’ he responded to me…

— “‘Who was the person who paid my bills?’

— “‘It was a woman.’

— “‘Her name? Her residence?’

— “‘Her forename is Hélène — that is all I know. Her residence is rue de l’Esplanade.’

“Monsieur Maurice spoke for a long time, but I did not understand anything more…

— “‘Adieu,’ I said finally, ‘and thank you!’

“And I accompanied him, as if I were to take him to the door…

— “‘Do not forget!’ he told me …

— “‘Relax: you have my oath.’

— “‘Her,’ I cried out to myself, ‘since we have parted, her!’

“I did not remain there long. I went out at once and took the way to l’Esplanade.

“I arrived at the door of the house. This first door was open, and I entered. I knocked quietly at the door of the salon where I had been received. No response. My heart beat a sorrowful advance. Mechanically, I put my eye at the keyhole. I perceived Hélène, or rather half of her body — the space left free for my view did not permit me to see more — Hélène appeared to me to be seated, or crouched on the ground. Her head was perched on her chest. The poor woman appeared to be weeping. Her long hair hung around her like the branches of willow on a tomb.

“My chest swelled up and tears came to my eyes.

“Then, without thinking, without expecting more, I silently turned the door’s button, I opened, and I entered.

“I had barely glanced at Hélène than I made a terrible cry, to which a more desperate cry responded. I fell almost unconscious on the wall of the corridor, then, half recovered, I fled running into the street, as if I had committed a crime……

“Hélène had, as a woman, only her head and bust … the rest of the body was an unformed mass, a monster!”

— “Madame, there you have the story of my first serious love,” Eugène added, after a moment of silence, supporting his forehead on his right hand, as if he wished to catch a tear, or to search, in his memory, for an image both charming and terrifying at the same time…

The young widow, pale and moved, took the young man’s hand and pressed it, with a soft embrace, as if to console him without banal words.

Lavinia came at this moment, and her eyes flashed a double flair.




XXII

To Whom the Apple!

Two days later, Eugène received a little note with this:

“All women do not have the faces of angels, but none are deformed.”

At the start of the evening, he received the following invitation:

The honor of your presence is requested at the soirée that will take place tomorrow, rue Franklin, No.…

“Lavinia ——

Eugène was in the process of confronting these two writings, to see if they had any model in handwriting. The one was in good current English script; the other in a round mignonne script. He could conclude nothing, and he placed it in his secretary until another letter was given to him.

It was a charming invitation to a concert for tomorrow. This time it was on Fulton Street.

— “Ah so, but … he cried out, “what does all that say? Do they take me for a Lord Byron!… In any case, the axiom for this evening appears to me to be indiscrete and nicely light! I had never believed this pretty widow capable of an advance so indelicate. Is it not to her that I told this sad story, and, at least if she did not repeat it to others, the note should come from her.”

He had barely completed this just, but perhaps erroneous, thought. when a fourth envelope, even more perfumed than the earlier ones, was handed him by his domestic.

— “Who gave this to you?” he asked.

— “A servant,” the valet responded.

Eugène broke the seal and took out a mignon love-letter that smelled of its marquise by all its pores.

— “Well!” he said, “verses for a present. Let’s see …

Once the invincible Achilles,
Little fearing the steely darts,
Marched into combat tranquilly.
The Trojans were thrown down…
But he forgot, in his glory
That when one goes to the end of the line,
He sees his victory terminated
By an injury … to his heel!

— “What is this dressed-up menace from ancient history?” our new character asked… Is it that one really wants to besiege my person? It is a real flatterer! … and quite annoying,” he added, “I wish to go neither to a soirée nor a concert. After all, it would perhaps be the means of redoubling persecutions. Let us confront the storm, head held high. It is those who want me in my place. It is true that one is never when nor where he wants to be. That’s just the world!”

The evening of this day, he will go to the gathering on the rue Franklin, in keeping with Lavinia’s invitation.

Seeing our siren at the soirée where he had given his narration to the young widow, Eugène was struck, as all, by Lavinia’s majestic beauty, but at that moment entirely taken up by the image of the unfortunate Hélène, he did not stop at that admiration, and, as we have seen, he ended his narrative without meeting her.

When Eugène entered the salon, all the feminine gazes turned to him, and like, in salons, the men acted generally like apes or poodle-dogs of the women, they also looked, without knowing why, as they were literally passing in a general review. The first person he saw on making his entry was Lavinia. This evening she was, without any hyperbole, most resplendent in every sense of the word. She had a white dress of moirée silk, decolleté to the very limit of decency, allowing one to see, or rather mounting, her admirable breasts, which could have served as a model for a Michaelangelo. Her abundant black hair were scattered with white pearls, mirroring in this black and glittering human prairie, like snowy daisies in the field on a stormy night. We have seen admirably beautiful often, for the most beautiful yet, we recall that evening. Until then, there was nothing but native beauty, natural if we want to use the word; now, it is everything there, doubled by the prismatic reflection of passion and desire. An elegiac poet would have been able, alone, to take a look at another woman, after having viewed the rest.

If you have always admired a white, round moon illuminating the heavens in the middle of the thousand stars that surround it, you could form a fair idea of what Lavinia was, enthroned by her beauty among the other women.

— “Oh!” Eugène said to himself, behold the only head in the world that could eclipse that of poor Hélène! But this is not the same genre of beauty. The one, proud and queenly, the other, sweet and resigned… This one, giving the alms of a smile, that one weeping when she cannot give love! The Muslim houri; the simple Christian woman. The lilly and the violet; the rose and the sensitive plant…

In turning around, Eugène saw the young widow who had received his confidence. Whether this was his preference, or only to decide to take any place at all, he directed himself to her. She gave him a gracious salute and took a place at his side, where he gravely had installed himself.

— “You appear concerned,” he told his ex-confident.

— “Yes, Madame: deceptions, even slight ones, always create some evil in loyal hearts.

— “You say that while looking at me in some fashion…”

— “Why am I silent about it to you? Your note was really painful to me…”

— “What note, Monsieur?”

— “That which contained these words: ‘All women do not have the faces of angels, but none are deformed.’ I never would have thought that you would advocate that…”

— “But Monsieur, what you say there is horrible! And you have been able to believe me capable, first of all, of writing you notes; then, of abusing, in such an indecent fashion, a narrative that was almost a secret! Oh, Monsieur, Monsieur!”

And the eyes of the beautiful brunette were moist.

— “Pardon me if I am wrong, But what was I to suppose when you were the only one I told this sad adventure? You have not retold it, I imagine…”

— “No more than that I have not written to you … and I am very curious to see this note.”

— “I do not have it with me, but this will be for the next occasion. To return to what I told you, it would have been necessary for someone to have listened to us … or tried.”

— “Who is that magnificent person sitting by the harp, facing us?” Eugène asked.

— “It is Madame Lavinia B——, the widow responded. She is quite beautiful, isn’t she?”

— “I believe I have never seen the equal. At the ball or in the theater, this would be a queen without equal!”

— “She is a first-class harpist.”

— “Ah! … I will be very glad to listen.”

— “I believe you will soon have this pleasure, because she has promised to sing.”

— “And her husband?”

— “I have been told he is a planter of Puerto Rico, very rich, but whom the excesses of youth has aged and enfeebled before his time. So far as Lavinia goes, she has complete freedom of action. She travels, turns all the heads, and does not listen to anyone. She is a singular nature. Good with women, fierce and almost disdainful with men. But I believe, since the other day, she appears to weigh an exception in favor of…”

— “Of?”

— “Of you. All the times she looked at you it was said that her eyes softened. In this moment she was disturbed, tormented. I will swear that that she is not content to see you so close to me since you entered.

Eugène darted a quick look toward Lavinia. He encountered an attentive and questioning gaze that, at the end of one second, was almost caressing.

He took a moment to think…

— “I am going to make a tour around the salon,” he said to his neighbor, in keeping with the rules of politeness.

When he rose, Lavinia responded while showing the most beautiful teeth in the world, to a man of dubious age, with her and somewhat bowing before her, who appeared to be requesting some favor from her. She inclined her beautiful head in a sign of acquiescence.

Eugène promenaded and spoke business with some men.

At this moment, a harp prelude was to be heard, with a voice singing, all at once ardent and sweet, in the midst of the most religious silence, the suave romance of the Favorite, “O my Fernand!!…”

You could say that everyone held breath. Until the final note, this absolute silence, which is the greatest and most flattering of all forms of applause, reigned through the entire hall.

Twice or three times, Eugène, standing with his arms crossed over his chest, gazed at the singer … and, each time, Lavinia’s gaze went, so to say, ahead of his. Since all the eyes were fixed on her, this did not escape anyone, and our hero grew ten cubits in everyone’s eyes, since it was known without example that Lavinia deigned to look at one man.

So far as what happened with him, it is that, altogether possibly, we will learn, following this narrative.




XXIII

A boy such as we hardly ever see

Winter had arrived, and a part of New York society prepared to go to New Orleans, which, in his cold season, is the most agreeable location in the United States.

After some time already, Louis was returning on the Queen of the South.

The act consenting to divorce, signed by Alexandre, and which Lavinia had sent to the Captain, had had its effect. Time, and money, had led the affair to a good conclusion, and everything was legally terminated between Anna and her husband, without which the latter had not understood than, that shortly after the judicial verdict, the Lieutenant was in his bed, between life and death, as a result of the stabbing, which we know about.

Lavinia learned of the death of Alexandre in New York because someone had written the word “dead” before knowing whether chance — which is so great — or nature — which is so good — had not decided otherwise.

When we say that Louis had returned to New Orleans and that Anna’s divorce had been obtained, it is as much as to say that the latter accompanied her lover-fiancé. They did not have more than a few days to wait to legitimize their so-dear liaison.

So Eugène — who did not know in what town his brother was located, and who did not know what his current position might be — Eugène, we say, took the first steamship departing for New Orleans, where he arrived after seven days.

But he did not arrive alone.

Another person — which the reader has divined — embarked an hour before him, and remained enclosed until the ship had achieved the high sea.

Eugène promenaded on the stern of the ship, while reflecting on the singularity of his adventures in New York, and thinking, despite himself, of Lavinia.

— “I believe,” he thought to himself, “that it is time that I depart; that woman is beginning to attract me; perhaps she would submit to me … which I do not wish! To be loved, I cannot disapprove, but for me to love … to suffer like all those I have seen! They do not know what they are seeking, those who chase after passions… If one were certain of an eternal attachment, soon! that would be happiness … but not to know whether it was for a day, for a week, for a month, for a year … that is a hell! Once and for life, yes! Otherwise, no! If she were as beautiful as a houri, it is possible, that’s true; but if there is much more glory in conquering, the danger is greater… And besides, despite certain signs that I could observe, I am not so dumb as to believe that…”the danger is greater… And besides, despite certain signs that I could observe, I am not so dumb as to believe that…”

While making these thoughts, Eugène walked slowly, his head low; when he raised it, after the conclusion of his musings, the first person he perceived before him was Lavinia. She smiled at him sweetly, and he could not do anything but address her a salute, but, in this salute he had trouble … perhaps only from surprise…

— “I did not know you were aboard, Madame,” he said to her. “You are going then to New Orleans?”

— “I am going there,” she responded; I do not like the winter in New York; you yourself appear to share my taste on this subject, because you are obviously also enroute.”

The conversation continued. Eugène sat near to Lavinia. Could he have done anything else?

Aboard a ship, when you do not know many people there, the days are like months for the rapidity of friendly relations.

Each day, Eugène and Lavinia saw one another, and as a result, they talked together.

Lavinia had been struck from the first day by Eugène’s resemblance to Louis; but she also found many differences between the two characters, and she did not try to know whether there was any relation between them. Further, two motives restrained her on this subject: on the one hand, she would not have liked knowing they were related for … some reason; on the other hand, the secret of the Finance Company was there, and one word leads to another, it was altogether possible that the conversation would become embarrassing.

When they then arrived at New Orleans, our two travelers noted — at a distance — that they had lived for ten years in the same village.

Singular junction! Eugène went to the hôtel St. Louis, where he occupied the same room where — at the beginning of our story — we made the acquaintance of his brother Louis, Captain of the Finance Company of New Orleans.

It was from this room, you recall, from which the first signal was sent announcing to the associates in Versailles the arrival of their chief for the first session to which we have brought the reader.

Lavinia had gone to her old lodgings. We will go in with her, since, at this moment, she is involved in an occupation so eccentric that we are curious to see the details, to know the cause, and to understand the result……

— “Clumsy!” Lavinia said, “have you never worn pants in your entire life?…”

— “By my faith! No, Madame,” responded a rather pretty female servant occupied in aiding her mistress in dressing in a man’s clothing. Besides, this pantaloon is not large enough on top. “They will discover you at once … with your lovely breasts.”

— “You believe?…”

— “But yes. And besides, from one moment to the next it can always split, it is so tight! And surely that will betray you!”

— “Well,” Lavinia responded, laughing with a good heart, “give me the other: it is less tight…”

The second set of pants fit better than the first. After some efforts and some precautions, it was taken on and buttoned. There was no need for straps!

— “What a pretty man you make, Madame!” the servant cried out, marveling… “Ah, if I were beautiful and turned as you are, my fortune would be made!”

— “Ah bah! But are you not pretty?”

— “Yes — as they say — but from there to resembling you there is a severe difference!”

— “How does this shirt fit me?”

— “Well. Only it is a little too extended … there … and there…” she said, showing with her finger the outline of the two globes that, according to the poetic expression of Lamartine, give life and love…

— “Devil! How to do it? I want to be outside of all discovery…”

— “It is difficult, Madame. If you have them as much as you do, you could cause that (of which you have too much) to disappear with a band, but it is hard, hard…”

— “Ah, that! Do you know that, if anyone were listening, the inventory you are making of me would cause me to blush?”

— “Damn! We are alone, and I tell you everything that is most nicely.”

— “Now give me the black necktie. You will see that I place this turban for my neck carefully and as it should be!”

— “Here, pay attention; how do I make the knot? — I do not have the area for the ‘iron collar,’ like the many fools who press and force one there like the collar of the Spanish mode of execution.”

— “There you go on raving! If I did not know you are a woman, I would not dare to look at you!”

— “With all of that, we have not come to the matter of the shirt front,” said Lavinia, casting down her eyes on what we all know — it bulged too much.

— “We will not go any further to the end,” the servant responded, “but there is a remedy, which is to firm it up by means of a riding jacket; I believe that by these means…”

— “You are right. You see, the first time I have been a transvestite this way, I was quite young, and … it was easier.”

— “I understand.”

— “How does the riding jacket go from the rear?”

— “Very well: skirt flowing and heavily padded. It is as it should be.”

— “But … you are not as clumsy as I thought at first! I believe you are a carnival girl, that you were no amateur as a carnival valet … you are reasoning too well on the obstacles and their remedies.

— “To tell you the truth, Madame, once or twice … perhaps three times.”

— “Or four!”

— “Or four: let’s say four, I have done some parties as a man; I assure you that I was not the worst of them.”

— “I can believe you easily. You must have played a cavalier shamelessly.”

— “It is necessary to be that, Madame, but not with excess. If you resemble a boy who is about to have first communion, the role would be poorly played. And if you make too much noise, this exaggeration will reveal you the same.”

— “Bravo! You cannot reason better. Let’s go, it is not experience you are lacking, and you will redo me!”

— “Now, Madame,” said the spritely ladies’ maid, going to find brushes and combs, the most difficult has not yet been done. The current question is the hair!”

— “Yes; that is the big question, since I have never had it so long.”

— “Effectively,” the little one said, unrolling the mantel of Lavinia’s black hair, “it will be quite difficult, but, with patience and a little black string that I have, I will finish by going to the end. Only, there is no reason to get rid of your felt.”

— “Good.”

The operation commenced. It was long and tiring. But, like a stubborn labor goes to its final end, at the end of an hour and a half, Lavinia’s long hair was imprisoned in the black net, and the man’s hat could cover the woman’s head for which it was destined.

— “Now, Madame, if you do not make twenty conquests, it is that four do not wish to take the trouble.”

— “Flatterer!” said the feminine cavalier, passing in review before a large mirror.

— “Oh! Flatterer; Madame, you know well not. Don’t you need me?…”

— “No. You may go down, assuming you will be back about nine o’clock.

The young servant profited greatly from the permission; light and chirping, she went down the stairs and was immediately outside.

— “Hell!” cried Lavinia when she was alone “ … to be forced to take a parallel step! Me!… Well, no! It will not be said that I have taken a step toward…”

And, during some seconds of rage, she threw down her riding coat, removed and threw down her tie, and placed a decided hand on the first buttons of her pants.

But there she stopped.

— “Bah!” she responded; “I do not do what I do not wish, He was not what I wanted when I saw him, and I do not see him! What importance is the rest, after everything?…”

She threw herself on a rocking-chair and, during some minutes, her elbow applied to the right arm of this furniture, her head posed on her half-opened hand, she let herself go to a monotonous balancing that they say promotes reflection.

— “Me!” she cried out, revealing as if by an electric shock. “Me!! When has seen so much on my feet, who has seen deliriums, follies … and,” she added in a lower voice, “suicides! … would it be a vengeful heel that I am testing?”

A laugh of rage and pride passed through her whitened lips… She began marching right and left, with a step fierce and resonant, like Arsace in Semiramis.

— “Silence to my pride!” she cried out, suddenly stopping… “Silence to my head! Let my heart speak out a little: it has been a long time that I have not listened to it!”

She sat down on a sofa.

— “And besides,” she added with a reduced voice, “life is not so long! What is it without happiness? I would rather kiss my head and lift my heart. Pride never made anyone happy … I do not know what there is about this man,” she murmured, touching her forehead, “but I cannot look at him without trouble, speak to him without desires … dream of him without conflict … there are moments when I kill him! others when I want to die in his arms!…”

“Seven o’clock!” she said, listening to the sounding of the salon clock… Let’s go, it is time…”

Lavinia returned her tie and riding coat, slipped a purse, more or less filled, into her left pocket, and in her right pocket a small pistol with two barrels, more or less loaded; after which she left, taking in her hand a pretty cane decorated with a golden apple.




XXIV

A woman such as one seldom sees

Eugène was in the process of putting his two rooms at the hôtel St. Louis in order, of which one, as we have already said, had once been occupied by Captain Louis.

The young man — he could have twenty-eight years — placed his linen in a commode; his papers in a secretary, and the rest in the appropriate places.

It was gay that day, or rather that evening. Why was he gay? We do not know, and he probably knew nothing about it. There were days when, to render an account of the motive, one has an invincible spleen. Everything seemed sad and discolored; everything was somber and bad; work and energy were in the cinders, until some event, or even nothing, comes suddenly to change these lugubrious dispositions of the spirit.

All the while he arranged his business, Eugène sang, sometimes one song, then another, and those he chose were invariably sad.

At this moment, it was from the Postillon de Lonjumeau, and he sang with a very agreeable voice this second couplet with such original words:

Many a lady of high birth,
In the absence of her husband,
Goes express on a journey
To be conducted by him…
Always faithful to travel,
They know that an adroit postillon,
If he sometimes turns a pretty girl over,
Was always on schedule…

— “What nastiness!” Eugène continued; “countesses and marquises who throw themselves at the head of a postillon! After which, there were kings who espoused shepherdesses, and princesses giving themselves to their lackeys!”

“On the subject,” he added, “I am obliged this evening to go see Lavinia … what a Venus! or rather, what a Diana! And to say that I received from her two charming billets! Actually, it is the best chance that a man can have, provided that one is not attached…”

“In expectation, I am going this evening to a masked ball, and, since I have bet a hundred piastres not to be recognized before midnight, provided I arrive at ten, I have encouraged myself not to lose.”

Down below, Eugène passed and repassed his razor over his face so as to cause all trace of beard to vanish, a light layer of powder completed the affair. On a chair nearby, near the bed, were the clothes of a woman: petticoats in plural — dresses hung, comfortably padded at the wanted places; a floating, light scarf; white, fine hosiery on the carpet; charming shoes of purple; in a purse, posed on the chimney, lovely black English lace and a wig of the same color, plus a mask with lace to hide a part of the face.

It had become the time to put on, adjust and arrange the whole regularly, But with patience and good will, Eugène was getting to the end. Then he looked at himself in the mirror and found himself unknowable. It was all the better if he could recognize himself.

As he was making his inspection of his person, two light knocks were sounded on the door of the contiguous room to the one he was in. This room where there was knocking was not illuminated except by the continuing light of the other room, so that a sort of half-light reigned there in almost all parts.

Eugène went to open. A young man, who could be estimated at fifteen years, presented himself. An involuntary tremor held him mute for several seconds in the view of the lady who had opened it. But he recovered, and in a low and lightly trembling voice he asked, while bowing but without doffing his hat, if Monsieur Eugène was at home…

“No, Monsieur,” Eugène responded, searching in his head for a falsetto somewhere, to imitate the voice of a woman.

Lavinia — since it was she — made a spiteful gesture … which she immediately repeated, throwing a jealous glance at the woman who represented Eugène, and departed after a salute that was less than cavalier.

— “Who the devil is this boy?” our disguised hero asked… “So far as I could see, he appeared to be a pretty boy. But it is the hour to depart. The vehicle should be downstairs.”

Eugène threw a large mantle over his costume, descended quietly, and mounted the cab, which departed at once.

— “A woman at his home!” Lavinia said, traveling in another vehicle… This must be clarified by me at all costs. He should be at the ball. Fast, to the costumer, and in an hour I shall be there too!”




XXV

A Masked Ball

It was perhaps eleven o’clock. At some place on the rue Bourbon, the masked ball we described in the previous chapter took place. The event is at its apogee. The music throws out in profusion the brilliant notes of galops and polkas. Innumerable lights are reflected in the brilliant costumes of the cavaliers and ladies, of the ladies and cavaliers, since it is difficult to divine the sexes in the middle of this animated mosaic of spangles, of pointed bonnets, of little rattles, of cinched-in bodies, of multi-color masks, of white, black, masonry-color, blues, pinks, green dominos; in the midst of drafts of harlequins, costumes of more or less romantic pierrots, of workers, of sailors, gay working girls, shepherds, senators, savages male and female, not counting those we are omitting so as not to have too long a sentence.

Now for about an hour, four persons are obviously searching for a fifth … whom they have not been able to discover until now.

Besides these four persons, we can not another, a pretty sailor, as it were, or rather a charming novice, since the chin was white — because one can see it despite the half-mask worn — so many movements are young and gracious! In the two openings of the mask you could see two ardent eyes flashing, glittering like fireflies in the night. The aforementioned sailor, or novice, was obviously searching a known masked person who was missing, or was involved in some intrigue.

— “Charming child!” a drum-major said as he carried his bearskin hat in his right hand, “it seems to me that you have not often climbed masts with those pants!”

— “And why should I? Stiff Goliath!…” the sailor responded, lowering the voice.

— “Because, the sewing line you have on your haunches is too plump… Or do you tell the drummers how to beat reveille!”

— “First of all, you do not beat reveille on the drums; the drummers beat it on the drum-cases, you fool!”

The drum-major, who stood out more for his waist than his spirit, executed a right-face and departed left foot first, to remain faithful to his role.

— “And now,” said the young sailor, “but it is really surprising that I do not see him.”

— “Pretty sailor,” said a masked woman of five feet four inches, who was advancing on her walk, “would you navigate with me along the route? You have the wheel, and I will sleep at your feet.”

— “And why execute this maneuver, sentimental odalisque …?”

— “The god of love, as the song says:

And blows the skiff
That bears our loves!

— “And food … who brings it?”

— “Providence!”

On the small birds…

— “It is enough … it is possible; but on small sailors is another matter. And when the storm blows and the waves surge? …”

— “I shall pray to heaven, and it will have pity on us!”

— “That’s charming, word of honor! Oh there, but is it really proper for women to court men now?”

— “Eh, eh!… Perhaps? … and, at a masked ball…

— “How ‘perhaps?’ the young sailor asked in a somewhat troubled voice.

— “I am considering,” the seductress responded, raising her head and executing an extra-ceremonious reverence … then she turned on the heels of her feet … the feet were not actually Chinese in size, and she disappeared in the crowd.

— “I really believe that the sailor is a woman,” she said to herself in delaying… “But this is not sure.”

— “This woman has decidedly the air of a man,” thought the sailor…“but this is not certain.”

This thought barely crossed her mind when her gaze lighted on a half-masked mameluke who was making a particular sign. This sign caused a shudder to pass through all the sailor’s members. The mameluke slowly moved toward a door that opened at his approach. The young sailor took the same path, and, each having entered in turn, the door closed behind them.

The room in which they found themselves was dimly lit.

— “Lavinia, the mameluke said, you are searching for someone…”

— “I do not know what you are trying to say, Monsieur; doubtless you are making an error…”

— “I never make an error. I would recognize you in a bag! Drop the intrigues of the ball and listen to me: I have serious things to say to you.”

— “Oh well, since you have recognized me,” Lavinia responded, “I should at least know with whom I am speaking.”

— “This is not useful at this time; I will tell you soon.”

Lavinia fiercely drew back. In a brusk movement she lifted her mask and, staring at the masked man before her:

— “If I cannot see your face as you can see mine,” she said in a resolute voice, “I have nothing to listen to, nothing to respond, and I am retiring!”

The mameluke took a step forward, bringing his mouth to Lavinia’s ear, and pronounced a few words in a low voice.

Lavinia sat down in a seat located near her and let her head fall on her chest:

“Again!” she murmured to herself…

Then, after a short pause:

— “I am under your command,” she said as she rose; you may let me know if that is your good pleasure.”

— “Do not be unquiet or tremble,” the unknown man responded, softening his voice, but still disguising it. “You know him who is speaking, but listen to me…”

— “I am listening to you.”

At this moment the screen of a window placed at the bottom of the room slowly moved, although there was no opening that could give access to the wind.

— “Have you not seen Alexandre again?” the unknown man asked…

— “For an excellent reason: he is dead,” Lavinia responded.

— “You deceive yourself: he is not dead. In fact he has entirely recovered. But since he was convicted, he was returned to prison, and he shall not escape the second time.”

— “Alexandre is not dead!” Lavinia cried out… “You should protect yourself from a second betrayal!”

— “Precautions have been taken,” the mameluke responded, “and the execution does not have long to await.”

The screen on the window moved again, but the second movement was no more perceived than the first by our two characters.

— “Now, Lavinia,” the unknown person continued, “the first word I will tell you before I let you know who I am, is look…”

— “Louis!” Lavinia cried out…

— “Silence!…” said the Captain, replacing his mask: “we have no need to be discovered… Now,” he continued, seating himself like Lavinia, “I must thank you for the manner in which you conducted the business I confided to you. The divorce was pronounced, and tomorrow I marry Anna.”

— “Be happy!” the young woman said with a sigh, for my part I hope never to be married.”

— “Why?… In changing the route, and being so beautiful! Look what you did with this Alexandre…”

— “Yes. But it is the last time in my life I will play with the love or the passion of a man.”

— “Oh well, if you love him so, Lavinia, and if you and he consent to leave the United States for five years, I could easily obtain his pardon from the Captain-General to compensate you for the service you have rendered me.”

— “I don’t love him!” Lavinia responded.

— “Still,” the Captain said, “it would perhaps be good to save one man to redeem a past of seductions that has made many men suffer, Lavinia! And besides, who knows? Perhaps he will love you, with time.”

— “Don’t add a word, Louis!… I do not love anyone now!”

The screen moved for a third time, but more violently than the first two times.

This time Lavinia perceived the movement. She arose.

— “We are betrayed!” she said, seizing the Captain’s arm. There is someone there, there, behind this screen. — And she extended her arm in the direction indicated.

The Captain jerked up.

But as he rose, a barrel of the pistol, pointed at Lavinia, placed in a gap in the screen, and a shot sounded… It was only one cartridge, and the shot missed. At the same instant, there was heard the sound of a fall, and Louis, pressed to the window, saw the man run away, across the garden of the house.

— “That could only be Alexandre,” Lavinia said…

— “I believe that, too,” Louis replied, “but nothing proves it.”

— “Everything proves it, on the contrary. Wasn’t it on the refusal that I made to you that the shot was fired? You see, Louis: this man will kill me if he is allowed to live.”

— “After tomorrow, Lavinia, you will be out of all danger, except by a miracle. But let us return to the ball. See that midnight has sounded; I must be going.”

The sailor and the mameluke, Louis and Lavinia, had hardly rejoined the crowd when a well-known voice upset the latter…

— “You owe me a hundred piastres!” the voice said, “it is midnight, and I was not recognized!”

— “It is you, Eugène!” a black domino, all of whose movements expressed the most lively surprise, “I would not have recognized you in ten years.”

Eugène and the domino went off together. Lavinia followed them by a few steps. Soon the two persons separated, and our sailor profited from that to accost Eugène standing in front of a window.

— “You have offered me so much, beautiful odalisque,” the sailor said with a voice almost trembling, “a sentimental voyage on the river of love; I have reflected, and I accept…”

— “Alas!” Eugène responded, with a voice still disguised, “unfortunately, it is not possible … I say unfortunately because I sense a growth of love…”

— “And why is it impossible?”

— “Why?… Because, charming child, we belong to the two hostile sexes, although I call the other one beautiful. Yes, despite this dress and all this feminine falderal — which won me a bet of a hundred piastres — I am still happily a boy of twenty-something years.”

— “And I, despite these pants, this vest, this belt and this waxed hat, I am a woman you love!” Lavinia responded, returning to her natural voice and approaching Eugène…

— “It is you!” he cried out … and I have not recognized you!…”

Lavinia lifted her mask…

— “How beautiful you are!” Eugène cried out with passion … “beautiful enough to drive mad!…”

— “No … to make happy when I love … and I love you!”

Eugène seized Lavinia’s hand and brought it to his lips.

The gayety of the ball, the music, the lights, the brilliant costumes, all united to seduce, without considering the much more dangerous seduction of the strange situation they found themselves in, he and she.

— “What concerns you?” he asked, “What is the problem?”

— “Who is that woman who was at your home before the ball?” she asked, pulling back a step.

— “The woman who was at my home! And who is the young man who came there?” Eugène said, who understood the whole problem.

— “The boy?” Lavinia said while pointing the finger at herself. “is there!”

— “And the woman,” Eugène responded by touching his chest, “she’s there! Do I receive women? … I have a horror of them, excepting one … and … that is perhaps a misfortune, he added.”

But Lavinia came closer… The place where they met had a portion that was entirely dark. Chance guided them there; they continued to interact, but so low, so low, that it was necessary to touch to find one another! Only some little sounds pierced this silence from time to time; we cannot say for certain what they were.

Only, at the end of the conversation, the voices rose slightly.

— “Until tomorrow!” said the man’s voice, uniquely sweetened…

— “Yes, until tomorrow, the woman’s voice responded, full of the caresses of love.




XXVI

Blue Sky, Black Sky

It has been a long time since we have lost sight of the beautiful and sweet Anna, involved as we have been by the complicated facts of our history.

As we have already said, happiness has no story. There is no sky except for those who see it smile in their existence; for others, happiness is only monotonous reading.

So we content ourselves to write here that, since we have left the former wife of Alexandre, the dear lover of Captain Louis, the days have succeeded one after another for her, calm and fortunate.

We now find her more beautiful than ever, since she is wearing the white costume of a married woman. The snowy garland of wedlock covers her front, where the signs of sweet joy shine like the stars in the Milky Way.

Already for a long time, Anna and Louis have advanced to this happy day, finally arrived, when they will double their happiness with the charming pride of being able to announce it. And then, they shall no longer have to flee, to hide, to pass half their existence in subterfuges and vigilance, to save the happiness of the other half. Then, one will be to one another without fear, in all places, in the view of all! Since nevertheless — despite all that is said for a hidden happiness — it is necessary to have eye and ear ready, fearing at every moment the explosion of some catastrophe.

Anna now was dressing herself for the nuptial ceremony that would take place in the charming little church of Saint Augustine. When I am saying she was dressing herself, we want to say that one dresses because the day one takes on the white of the mysterious sacrament after which so many sigh, and which they later regret having received on that day, one has at beck and call as many officious friends as one wishes, and often more than one wishes.

The white dress was fitted on the young woman’s gracious contours. The belt, also white, floated on transparent cloth. The shoes of white satin served silken soles on sweet feet that will tread the floor of the temple, and one placed the last hand on the head covering on which trembled the white crown.

In a room above, there was another dressing in expectation of the same rite. There, there was again a happy face, happy with the same happiness written in the eyes and in Anna’s smile. You see that it concerns the Captain. He was as handsome as she was beautiful; his gaze had the same sparkle and his mouth the same smile. In a few hours now, the sweet chain would link the two existences already long joined in the same love.

And still, from time to time, Louis passed his hand across his forehead, as if to bat away an importune thought. Then his lips became serious, his eyes menacing, and the sweet dreams of his thoughts rushed to take wing, as if pursued by an evil spirit.

— “This miserable Alexandre disturbs me,” he said to himself. “If, as one could imagine, he was capable of everything, and we will not be at rest until he has disappeared. Happily all this will be finished today!… And she!” he added after some moments, “if she knew!”

At this moment several discrete knocks were made on Louis’ door.

— “Madame is ready,” said a woman servant, “she awaits you…”

— “I’ll be right down,” the Captain responded, “Go and get the carriages.”

The day was ending and the first points of gas lighted on the principal streets of the town.

Louis descended, finding Anna completely ready.

— “More beautiful than ever!” he whispered in her ear, giving her a caressing smile.

— “It is to please you more!” Anna murmured, responding to his smile with a look no less sweet.

— “How handsome they are!” said a very charming girl with wide eyes.

— “That soon passes,” a tall, thin, hostile twenty-eight year old, and a good fourth heavier, without freshness and without a smile: “They will have nothing but trouble in their lives.”

— “Bah!” responded the brunette, “My little sister recited to me the other day a fable full of truth that the envious should take to heart.”

— “Who do you call envious, Mademoiselle? And what is this notorious fable, if you please?…”

— “I call them envious who make themselves the omens of an evil fate in the presence of others’ happiness, Mademoiselle. And the fable in question has the title of The Fox and the Grapes.”

Some laughter barely repressed were the bravos addressed at this response, and the old maid pinched her lips, murmuring almost silently, “The impertinent!”

The carriages arrived. The members of the wedding — as they say — took their place, and they headed off toward the church on the rue St. Claude.

The daylight had completely ended.

The altar was prepared. The candles spread a mystic clarity in the silent enclosure.

The priest arrived and the ceremony began.

The organ, played by a capable musician, sent vibrant and melancholy noted echoing in the holy place, grave and as called for in prayer. Soon the bass notes, of a majestic harmony, called serious thoughts to the heart of those whom poetry had the power to move. Then the lighter notes, full of sweetness and seemingly emanating from the voice of angels, sang of the purest pleasures that are given to the man of taste in his earthly exile. Holy joys mixed in the poetic and grave thoughts of the future! Mystical sanctifying sensuousness in such a way as to render more profound and more seductive the felicities that God had accorded to the creature, to grant him, in the midst of the ordinary troubles of this life, a foretaste of the life where He awaits us!

Anna and Louis were on their knees, one beside the other. Their eyes, which occasionally met, were moist, and the half-smile on their lips appeared to thank heaven for the happiness they had given one another, and of which, at the moment, it guaranteed the possession.

The great question, posed by the priest to each of the spouses, still required answering, in a loud and intelligible voice…

“Yes!” responded Louis, with an assured voice…

“Yes!” murmured Anna with happiness…

And, the ceremony having been completed, and the spouses preceded their witnesses and the others assisting, departed the church to reach the carriages that awaited, suddenly a voice came from the crowd with the unpitying rage of vengeance:

— “There he is! Arrest him… He is a chief of the Company of counterfeiters!”

And the accuser, followed by several policemen, advanced, with foaming mouths and flying hair, pointing at the newly married Louis, who responded pale and shocked, placing his hand on his chest, as if to seek a weapon.

But Louis was immediately surrounded, and all resistance was futile. Then he recovered his self-control and, in a proud and assured tone, that could only impose itself on the assistants at this scene:

— “Messieurs,” he said to those coming to arrest him, “this man is insane for sure. Nevertheless, I will go with you to obey the law, whatever the error.”

This scene passed in a few seconds. The first words of Alexandre — for it was he — had thrown disorder and confusion among the persons leaving the church after the ceremony. Those passing, stopped outside the principal group, began to form a numerous crowd. At first, Anna did not understand anything in this scene. It was only when she heard Louis’ voice and recognized Alexandre that she anticipated some misfortune without comprehending what it could be. This mention of “counterfeiter” shouted in full voice by her first husband, had no significance for her, as much as he appeared to be a mere offensive name-caller. But when she saw that Louis would be leaving her, she grabbed at his arm and with a barely articulated voice broken by a strange emotion:

— “What is it then?” she asked him… “Are you leaving me? …”

— “It is nothing,” Louis responded, “at the worst I will not be away long… Do not alarm yourself; this man is confused.”

Then Louis committed his wife to his witnesses, and, accompanied by two police officers, he mounted a carriage heading down the rue d’Orléans.

— “Where are we going, Messieurs?” the Captain asked, with a calm, assured voice.

One of the two officers took from his pocket a paper that he presented to Louis…

— “This is the order for your arrest,” he said, “We are going to the Parish Prison.”

— “Good!” the prisoner responded, bowing with politeness, “You are doing your duty…”

And his face remained smiling and calm, as one of innocence.




XXVII

Conquer or Die

In a previous chapter, we have seen Alexandre stabbed as he took his first steps to leave the Casters of Lots. We have seen him rolling with blood in the middle of the room and the murderer bending over him crying out these words:

“On behalf of the Finance Company.”

The blade of the dagger went all the way into Alexandre’s body, but it had not struck any important organ so as to make for death. Nevertheless, the Lieutenant, entirely covered with blood, gave no sign of life, and the shocked women did not know what to do. One of them, however, with some knowledge of how to dress injuries and wounds, came to the aid of the unfortunate man. First of all she washed the open wound through which blood continued to come, then she brought together the edges of the wound, which she covered with compresses to stop the flow of blood as much as possible. Soon the heart commenced beating, weakly. The injured man was then seated and kept in that posture. They had him breathe in penetrating odors. His forehead and temples were moistened with cold water, and finally a long sigh escaped from his chest, and his eyes half-opened…

— “Where am I?” he said in a voice of great pain.

But right away his eyes closed again, and he appeared not to make any response to others.

Alexandre’s heart still beat, but his swoon was distressing.

— “What should we do?” one of the women said… “We don’t know where he lives; should we take him to the hospital on a litter?”

— “You could search him,” another observed, “that way you could perhaps get his address…”

So they searched Alexandre, and they found a wallet where there were letters, some banknotes, and various cards. These cards had various addresses and told them nothing. It was necessary to look at the letters, but this was a veritable labyrinth. One bore “To Monsieur Alexandre ——, rue des Ramparts, nr.…” The other “To Monsieur Alexandre, rue Hévia, nr.…” Others simply bore his name, then below, “New Orleans Post Office.”

At this moment the victim awoke for a second time.

— “If he cannot respond to us,” the president said, “it is necessary to take him as fast as possible to the hospital.”

And turning to Alexandre:

— “Do you hear me?” she asked him in his ear.

An almost imperceptible movement of the head responded, “Yes.”

— “Where do you live?” the woman continued.

Alexandre painfully moved a finger to his mouth and made a negative signal with his head to make it clear that he could not speak.

— “Do you want to go to the hospital?” they asked him…

— “Yes,” a new signal responded.

At this point they sought to find a litter and two porters. Then, one of the women went to tell the Recorder that a man had been stabbed on the threshold of her door, and since he gave some signs of life, he was taken to the hospital………

For a week, Alexandre kept to his bed. Each day, whether he suffered or endured his inaction, one thought filled his heart: vengeance. And he swore to himself to die or to avenge himself. When his healing commenced, it came rapidly, and, at the end of two weeks, Alexandre was completely healed. In any case, he did not want to compromise his existence by going too quickly, and he waited a further week before committing himself to his task.

During this time, events took place that we have already seen, both at New York and at New Orleans. The divorce was proclaimed, as we have already seen, and our characters have returned to the latter town.

Alexandre, well-disguised by a complete change of clothing, by a pair of spectacles, and by the removal of his whiskers and moustaches, armed, and his eye always on the watch, he began his lone researches, which were without result for a long time.

Finally, at the ball we have already seen, Alexandre was served by accident. He recognized the Captain despite his disguise, so much had hatred and thirst for vengeance opened his eyes! He saw him enter the room where he spoke with Lavinia … whom he had not recognized. Then, on passing via an external balcony, he entered through a window masked by a large screen. There he committed himself, ready for anything, for attack or flight, depending on the circumstances.

You have seen what happened.

Alexandre’s first intention was only to avenge himself on the Captain, and he was awaiting an opportunity when the Captain’s conversation with Lavinia changed the course of his ideas.

As it happened, after having announced the approaching execution of the Lieutenant, Louis proposed to Lavinia to save him if she wanted to flee with him … and Lavinia refused by responding, “I love another!”

So, in reviewing past events, this bitter word and this peremptory refusal, Alexandre forgot Anna, who wished to marry Louis, and Louis himself, charged to give the signal to the murderous knife… All he saw now was this woman who, after having broken his head and his heart, after having led him as far as she had, had rejected him when she could have saved his life, and what was worse, wished to give herself to another! A cloud passed before his eyes… The serpents of jealousy gnawed at his heart; passion was transformed into an insensate rage, and he fired on Lavinia, whom he should have infallibly killed at that short distance if his pistol had not misfired. After this shot, he only had time to leap into the garden and escape at top speed, under cover of night.

We have seen what he did the next day, and how, after his prior denunciation and in his presence, the Captain was arrested and taken to the rue d’Orléans prison. Only Alexandre had arrived a half-hour too late! He had wanted to prevent the marriage and lose his rival, who was both his collaborator and superior, with one blow. The accomplishment of the marriage drove his wrath beyond limits, and you have seen the energetic rage with which he denounced Louis to the police.

Anna went back home, protected by the witnesses. She neither wept nor groaned. But a profound alteration appeared in her face.

Louis, on arriving in prison, was locked up and attended his first interview. He sat tranquilly on the sole chair placed in his new retreat, graciously greeted the employee who closed him in, and when alone, he took out his watch:

— “It is seven o’clock,” he said. “The day after tomorrow, I will be passing la Balize on a steamer…”

So far as Alexandre was concerned, who had made himself a State’s Witness, he was free on bail. When he saw the Captain led away by the police, a ray of joy made him smile, and he made broad strides toward what is called the American Quarter.

“Now for the other one!” he said…

If the French have as much repugnance for travel as the English prefer it; perhaps both the French and the English are right. Everywhere one goes he finds something better than England, while far from France it is excessively difficult to recover the charms of France.

— “There it is, I hope! A patriotic proposition!” Lavinia said, placing on the table a volume of Balzac in which she had been reading… “But let’s see,” she continued, “what I have found by accident; it is an excellent way to kill time.”

She picked up the book and read at random:

For a woman of fashion, winters are what a campaign once was for the soldiers of the Empire. What a work of art and engineering is the dress or hairdo destined to cause a sensation! A frail, delicate woman keeps her hard, shining armor of flowers and diamonds, of silk and steel, from nine in the evening until two or often three in the morning. She eats little in the interests of a fine figure; against sugared cakes, filling ices and heavy slices of pastry she opposes debilitating cups of tea. The stomach must give in to the orders of temptation. All of this is in contradiction to the laws of nature, and nature has no pity.

— “All of that is true,” Lavinia said… “but at thirty years, these women are old! — at fifty years, I will be fresh and beautiful! I am never tight-fitting, nor stuffed, nor padded, nor fasting! — A white peignoir and black hair: I am made up!… And he may go!”

— “Well!” she said, following another line of the book; “here is a singular encounter:”

Honorine is my big affair. To reconquer my wife is my sole enthusiasm; to examine her in the cage where she resides without her realizing my power, to satisfy her needs, to see the little pleasure she permits herself, to be continually around her like a sylph without permitting her to see or divine me, since otherwise all my future would be lost: that is my life, my true life! For seven years, I have never gone to bed without seeing her night-light, or her shadow on the window screen. She left my house without doing anything but dress for that day. The child pushed nobility of sentiments to beastliness! Also, eighteen months since her flight, she was abandoned by her lover, frightened by her severe, cold face, sinister and promising misery, sent him off! This man had certainly counted on a happy and gilded existence in Switzerland, in Italy, that gets great ladies to leave their husbands……… You surprised me as I rubbed my hands sometimes, as a promise of happiness. Well, I am about to revive a trick worthy of the theater. I will mislead my wife by sending her through a clothing shop an Indian shawl supposedly from an actress who barely wore it, but with whom I, the grave magistrate you know, slept for one night.

While finishing this phrase, Lavinia raised her head. A mirror was placed opposite her. Her eyes fell upon it, and he was about to let out a cry of terror … but she was strong enough to stop it… She only went pale as death and tottered like a drunk:

She came to see, under her bed, through a gap in the quilt, a masked face in the midst of which flashed two ardent eyes and an armed hand quietly pushing aside the plies of cloth touching the room’s carpet!

By a miracle of will, perhaps instinct, she did not cry out!

Several horrible seconds passed in this way…

The clock sounded seven-thirty…

When Lavinia was somewhat recovered, she darted a second glance at the mirror:

The man slowly advanced, doubtless to leap on her suddenly…

Without moving, without pressing, even humming some random notes, Lavinia went to her secretary, opened it, taking up something; then, turning suddenly around, she crossed her arms over her chest and fixed her eyes on the eyes of the black mask, like an animal tamer on a ferocious beast…

When the two gazes met, there was an electric shock, then some seconds of hesitation.

Then the man advanced another inch.

Lavinia’s arm fell in his direction:

— “One move more and you’re dead!” she said, presenting the double barrel of a pistol…

— “Everything for everything!” a furious voice cried out… You kill me or I have you!”

And, with a bound, the man was in front of her, his mask off and his dagger brandished.

But a shot was heard, and Alexandre’s weapon, stained with his blood, rolled on the carpet…

— “You hit me, Lavinia!” he cried out, shaking his bloody hand, “but we will die here, both of us, you by steel, I by bullet, I will have you, Lavinia! We will roll bloody, one on the other, combining our agonies, but no man will touch you as long as I am alive!”

Lavinia had not moved. Only her lips were white, her eyes bloodshot, and she awaited his second armed attack.

Alexandre attacked to recover his dagger with his left hand, but he was too late: Lavinia put her foot on it and defended him with her firearm.

Then, risking everything for everything, as he had said, Alexandre threw himself on Lavinia, seizing her body with his arms, making it impossible for her to use her pistol.

The human heart is an eternal mystery!…

When, in this furious embrace, Alexandre felt his chest on Lavinia’s chest, when her breath, sweet to him, mixed with his own ardent breath, when he took into his power this magnificent body that it had never been granted to him to touch with a fingertip, he forgot his injury, whose blood was staining Lavinia’s dress; he forgot the knife that lay on the floor; he forgot the pistol which could kill him any second now! A bitter voluptuous thrill galvanized all his flesh. He reasserted the living chain of his arms around the young woman’s neck and back, and he planted a thousand ardent luxury kisses on her shoulders, on her eyes and in her mouth!…

— “Miserable man!” Lavinia cried out, “Go away!”

And she pulled back her head to avoid the kisses that disgusted her.

Then, in one of these moments of unspeakable rage, when love alone could not prevent cruelty, Alexandre bit her on the neck.

The pain caused Lavinia to cry out, but she also gave him an instant of Herculean force. With a supreme effort, she disengaged herself, and Alexandre was thrown back two paces. Unfortunately, the pistol fell in this brutal moment, and it rolled down near Alexandre’s dagger. He took up the two weapons, and a hyena laugh sounded from his clenched teeth.

— “To both of us!” he now said, “to both of us, Madame! You stole Anna from me; you stole my repose, my dignity, my reason! I am divorced now! I am cursed! I am an informer! I am condemned … and soon, if you do not do it to me, I will be an assassin!”

— “You will never take me alive, miserable man!” Lavinia cried out.

— “Then I will take you dead!” roared Alexandre … in a frenzy of desire.

— “As long as your body is still warm,” he added, “I will warm it in my arms!”

— “I will make no noise, for fear of attracting a crowd,” he said, laughing.

— “Pistols are no good for rape scenes!” — “Look, I remove the cartridge; it is not a weapon any longer. — “And now,” he said, placing himself in front of the door to prevent his future victim from fleeing, “and now you see my dagger raised? Well, it is also true that I love you and hate you, I will plunge it into your heart if you do not submit to open to me while living…”

— “Yes … or no?… ” he lisped, making his blade shine above Lavinia’s chest…




XXVIII

Abandoned in Dante’s Hell

— But Alexandre suddenly doubled up on himself like a branch broken by the wind, and his knees almost touched the carpet. At the same instant Lavinia let out a cry … but one of those cries made by all possible good things: the cry of a shipwrecked person reaching shore, of the condemned person receiving a pardon at the foot of a scaffold, of a lover saved by him whom she loves!

— “Assassin!” Eugène cried out, who had entered, and who, with steel in his hand, broke Alexandre’s wrist and caused him to drop his dagger.

Alexandre did not lose consciousness, his surprise and pain were so intense. In a second, he had seen the power of his last crimes abolished. A profound terror animated all his faculties, and, pressed by Eugène, he fell down, without power or will, like a passenger seized by seasickness who falls due to the rolling of the ship.

— “It will be necessary to tie up this miserable man!” Eugène said, “and deliver him to justice. Give me some handkerchiefs, Lavinia, all that you can find…”

Lavinia went at once to the pistol, which she supplied with a new cartridge, and which she gave to Eugène. Then she took two handkerchiefs from her armoire and a long cord.

— “Give me all of that,” Eugène told her, “you take the pistol and, at the first sign of resistance, shoot him in the head, without hesitation…”

In two or three minutes, the operation was complete. Alexandre was solidly tied foot and hands, and more than another line tied him to the foot of the bed.

A general silence reigned for some seconds.

— “Do you know who this man is?” Eugène asked…

— “Yes,” Lavinia responded in some confusion.

— “I will tell you, for me,” Alexandre interjected, returning to himself. — “It is a man whom this siren encouraged in her love, only to lose it later. — It is a man who wanted to recover a beloved woman, a legitimate wife! and whom this siren made to renounce everything by her seductions — it is a man who has broken his head and his heart to forget an old love! And me, I either wanted to have her or kill her! She injured my hand with a pistol-shot, but if you had not come, I would have had her dead or alive.”

— “This man is delirious!” Eugène said.

— “He is a miserable man!” Lavinia responded. There are things I cannot tell you, Eugène, but what I did to distract him from an unjust and dangerous pursuit, I was forced to do. This man is crazy, a wild beast … and more than that. Later, perhaps soon, you will know everything.”

— “There is blood on your dress,” the young man said …

— “It is blood from his hand,” she said, pointing out Alexandre, stretched out on the carpet with her finger. And here are the marks of his teeth!” she added, showing her neck where his bite had bruised her.

Eugène made a gesture of indignation.

— “Yes!” Alexandre cried out, “… and…”

— “Silence!” Eugène said, “or I will gag you, you cowardly assassin!”

Alexandre roared … and was silent.

— “Later,” Lavinia said, “I shall confer a secret that will explain this entire mystery. Believe in me until that, Eugène…”

He brought his mouth to Lavinia’s ear and spoke in a low voice.

Alexandre saw everything, but he was forbidden to speak.

— “I wish you well,” Lavinia said, extending her hand to Eugène, who took it and pressed it.

“See whom I love!” she added, showing him to Alexandre.

He did not respond, but he gnashed his teeth.

The doors and windows were closed.

Alexandre remained tied to the foot of the bed.

Eugène and Lavinia sat next to one another, on a spring-sofa.

A soft clarity reigned in the room.

At this moment nine o’clock sounded.

— “Do I have to go?” Eugène asked with a glance full of passion and malice… Leaving you alone with this man?”

— “No,” she said, responding to his gaze with a smile… I am too afraid!”

Eugène surrounded Lavinia’s neck with his left arm, and on all the places Alexandre had profaned with kisses, he placed an amorous mouth that was not rejected. He was not having an affair with a lukewarm lover, and little by little the divine electricity grew under the magnetic influence of youth, vigor and love.

— “That is where he put his lips,” he said, “that is where he bit you.”

And, like a balm on each wound, he placed his burning and sonorous lips on each indicated place.

We cannot describe the commencement of the torment that descended on the unfortunate Lieutenant. His respiration became intense. A convulsive trembling overcame all his members. He wanted to turn his head to flee the voluptuous tableau that broke him, but an unknown force held his gaze attached to the caresses of which he was witness.

Lavinia had changed her clothes. In the place of her peignoir covered with blood she substituted a charming evening dress, where the batiste and lace, impregnated with sweet odors, floated, white and voluptuous as the fine body that it covered.

Like a good bourgeois taking his ease in his own house, Eugène was somewhat undressed.

All of this was the beginning of the execution of the conspiracy he had planned in a low voice with Lavinia to have the most complete — and the most horrible — revenge for Alexandre’s assault.

— “You are a beautiful and courageous woman!” Eugène said, drowning his head in the seductive sparks of Lavinia’s hair.

And he received caress for caress.

— “Where did you get this ardent growth of black hair, longer than a royal mantle?” he said… And this skin softer than a peach from the south of France? And these quivering eyebrows … like William Tell’s bow? And the eyes that shine like a star at night, or like a night of stars? And this mouth, such as Parny never saw, even in a dream! … I quite sincerely complain to Michaelangelo, ‘Oh my beautiful queen! He did not have models like your admirable body to reproduce the breasts such as statuary has never created!”

— “Kill me now,” cried out Alexandre, “kill me, executioner! But make it with one blow!”

For a reply he received a roar of laughter. Two tears came to his eyes … two tears of rage.

— “And you,” Lavinia said, “are you not beautiful like Apollo, fierce like Mars, strong like Hercules!”

And his fingers, long and pink, fondled the hair of his lover as if they were lascivious darts.

Alexandre frothed, and his eyes could not detach themselves from the spectacle that was his torture.

— “How quickly time passes!” Eugène said, “when you glory in caresses and happiness… The jealous man! They say that he counts as evil hours those which love allows to mortals! Look how the inexorable hand is at ten, and in two hours we shall be at tomorrow!”

These last words were accompanied by a prayer, mute to eyes, going from Lavinia to the foursquare throne where reason does not have access when you mount with one you love.

The mosquito net caused its rings of copper to grate on the iron rods of the bed to the solicitations of Lavinia’s hands.

— “Hell!” murmured Alexandre, “remaining here until morning!…”

— “Well,” said Eugène, “you are reading Balzac, my love…”

— “Yes, I am reading Honorine. It was at that moment when I saw that I was being assaulted, by dagger!”

— “That is more original than a bayonet.”

— “I who was awaiting you, Eugène, know that I was feloniously surprised when I saw, under my bed, a black mask whose eyes drilled into mine! There are many women in my place who would have passed under the dreadful claws of the conqueror…”

— “Not courageous creatures such as you, Lavinia! But if you had not been armed, what would you have done?”

— “I would have done as Judith, not being able or wishing to be Lucretia.”

— “You could take me to another room, I suppose!” Alexandre demanded, who felt a fever seize his brain…

— “But no,” Eugène responded, “it is more original to have you remain there. It is a form of the lex talionis: ‘Who kills with the sword shall perish by the sword.’ You have become a criminal by luxury; luxury shall punish you. You cannot produce more after you as if you were a eunuch of the seraglio.”

— “Look, I will cry out; I will appeal to the night-watch…”

— “You will not appeal at all, because at the first cry, you would be gagged. Tomorrow, you will deal with the Recorder… And, since I have a more agreeable conversation to hold with him than you, until tomorrow, do me the pleasure of becoming mute.”

Lavinia posed before the mirror just as if she were alone. She undid her hair that tumbled about her, and plaited all of it as if she were making a screen. Then, she took it in her full hands and rolled it with marvelous energy, without comb or pins, holding it behind her head by means of fresh pink ribbons exhaling the sweet smell of violets. Her charming feet were now naked, and her alabaster pink softly trod the carpet and parquet…

Eugène read the volume of Balzac, or rather he held it in his hand, since his gaze was more often directed at his beautiful conquest that he did not really look directly at the pages of the novel.

What a moment for him! Those who passed by there are the only ones to form an idea… If our pen did not fear to offend by being too lewd, what a tableau could we make of these moments of expectation, a thousand times sweet, a thousand times seductive?… The preposition before perhaps contains, in another genre, as many joys and delights as the preposition during.

Alexandre was transfigured. His dry, ardent eyes appeared to desire to leave their sockets. His mouth, half-open, allowed a burning, precipitous gasp to escape. His head, pitched forward, appeared to devour the spectacle that was his punishment.

— “Goodby!” said Lavinia to Eugène while extending her hand to him and shooting him with a gaze one of the arrows send by the bow of the fine infant of Venus.

And with the step of a sylph who was going to heaven, she went to the side of her bed, passing two inches from Alexandre, who could see her mount on a mattress covered with drapes of an appetizing white.

A minute afterward, from the side where Eugène was sitting, the mosquito netting was lifted by a tender hand; thirty-two pearls, discovered by a sweet smile, appeared in the midst of a figurine of a houri, and a charming finger pronounced an appeal in five letters that was more expressive than a volume of love. ……




XXIX

In Union Is Power

If the allegory of the joys of paradise and the torments of hell apply in certain hours of life, its certain application, the night we have shown in episodes at the end of the last chapter, was one of those hours.

We pass from a pen-treatment on the ineffable joys and unforgettable tortures collected together in one place, and we leave open to ardent imaginations the vast field of thought and reveries…

The next day did not begin until ten o’clock in the room where Alexandre’s blood had flowed before.

On placing his feet on the carpet, Eugène let out a cry of surprise.

— “He’s gone!” he cried out … “the handkerchiefs and the cord are no longer there!”

— “Then,” Lavinia responded, “make way for vengeance! This man will do murder before dying, and this murder he will commit is on me. I have a presentiment of it.”

“No!” Eugène responded, “because I shall find him again! But for the moment, my lovely Diane… Let us be selfish in twos. Let us not mingle such things with the hot memory of the joys you gave me!”

Lavinia hung on the ear of her lover and responded to his words by several words in a low voice.

— “Yes,” she responded … “and forever!”

Alas! forever is the special word, but who knows where the flood goes? Who knows where the breeze blows … and how great geniuses and great nations have been stopped by a drop of water or by a grain of sand?…

For more than an hour, Eugène performed the office of chamber maid for the benefit of his new mistress. Talk about serious children’s games, premeditated errors, slow sequences, accidents from one party or the other, would make for a pastorale in action that we would rather leave to the reader’s imagination.

The double dressing process was barely finished when a letter was brought to Lavinia.

You may remember that, since yesterday, Captain Louis was locked up in the prison on the rue d’Orléans.

Lavinia signaled to Louis to sit on the sofa where, yesterday, their first amorous encounter had taken place. In her case, she located herself a few paces further to read the missive just received alone.

And she read.

As her eyes passed through the lines of the letter, Lavinia’s face grew somber. When she had finished, she let her arms drop in a discouraging gesture and looked at Eugène, who had not looked away… She appeared troubled, but after having thought for a few minutes, she returned to herself and went to sit with her lover.

— “Do you love me?” she asked him with a voice that revived the scenes of yesterday.

For his entire response, he embraced her.

— “Well, then, listen: I am compelled to reveal to you an important and dangerous secret, but I can only do so after a solemn oath that you give me … besides” she added, “one rarely sees a brother betraying his brother.”

— “What is this enigma?” Eugène said with a certain emotion.

— “First the oath!” Lavinia responded, “It’s the rule.”

— “Very well,” Eugène said, rising and giving his voice all possible gravity, “I swear to you, Lavinia, that I will protect your secret, whatever it is, and that I will not make use of it except with the authorization of whomever it might concern! I swear this by all that I hold sacred in this world!”

— “Now listen:”

Dear Lavinia,

I write you from the Parish Prison, where I was detained yesterday evening at seven o’clock. I was arrested on leaving the église St. Augustine, on the arm of Anna, after the denunciation of the same miserable man whom the Company has been too tardy to execute. By the greatest of coincidents, I expect the arrival of my brother to New Orleans. He will arrive any moment! and what will I say to him?…

— “Stop!” said Eugène, “stop, Lavinia! This brother … that’s me, correct?”

— “And this prison … this Company?”

— “That is the secret … but let me go to the end.”

Finally, we have always loved one another tenderly, Eugène and I, and this is not the moment when he will condemn me: I know him!

Eugène rose with wet eyes.

— “Louis could not have committed crimes,” he said, “I, too, can say, ‘I know him!’ But read it fast, Lavinia, and, as strange as it is that he would address you and that he would use this language, you may explain that later, correct?”

— “Yes,” she responded, “but I will finish:”

If I could wait several days, you know that it is impossible that I would not be free when I went through ordinary procedures, but I cannot wait. It is necessary that tomorrow at seven in the evening I be on board a ship descending the Mississippi. It has to happen!

In this letter I am sending you the absolute seal: you know what that means: order and you will execute! If you find a means of immediate escape without having recourse to the Company Workers, that would be better, but I doubt it. Briefly, in the case where major means are needed, order D——, the second lieutenant to see the c—d.l.p——

— “What does that mean?” Eugène asked…

Lavinia whispered some words in his ear.

She continued to read:

It is up to us, and he must work on subaltern employees, or get rid of them. It is finally necessary that he succeed, even at personal risks.

Today it is necessary that I receive some sort of visit on the subject of my escape and that I know at what time and how it will take place tomorrow.

Two forcibly delayed things cause me pain: see Anna, who must be in terrible shock, and see my brother … who has no suspicion of what I am and where I am.

The Lieutenant does not have long to live if he does not leave the soil of the United States as quickly as possible.

— “Now, Eugène, you know who is the miserable man mentioned in this letter, this Lieutenant condemned without appeal? It is the man you tied up here, at the foot of my bed.”

— “I am lost in this labyrinth,” Lavinia’s lover responded, “but before asking for the string, give me the necessary information for how I first of all go see my poor brother…”

— “No,” she responded, “at a time when we are together, Eugène, I do not wish that you leave here without knowing everything. It will not take long; listen to me…”

And she informed him from one end to the other everything that the reader already knows, without excepting what related to her old liaison with Louis.

In this narrative, Lavinia gave the most complete account, the most loyal truth. At certain moments tears came to her eyes. At other points of her narrative, when, for example, she spoke to him of the circumstance of her life — which we have overlooked until now, and which the reader will learn at length later — when her heart was broken, and where the sentiments of hatred and vengeance against all men created the whole character of Lavinia, clothed in the savage beauties of Judith, holding in one hand her scimitar, and, in the other, the bloody head of Holophernes.

Eugène was moved. He felt for this woman a sentiment he had not suspected until then, and which separated the sweetness of recent memories that caressed him, and that of future pleasures promised him.

He offered her his hand as one does to a man to whom you give your heart and esteem…

— “Your past belongs to you,” he said, “but I thank you, for you and for me, my friend, for having shown it to me with your heart… I have not judged you during your narrative, I have compassion for you … and I love you.”

“Farewell,” he added, “give me the letter; I am going to the prison.”

— “Eugène,” Louis cried out… “You’re here!”

— “I myself…” Eugène responded…

And the two brothers fell into each other’s arms.

For several moments, no words were exchanged.

You could see that a reciprocal uneasiness halted the first explanations of this encounter.

Eugène was the first to break the silence:

— “I know everything, Louis,” he said; when you are free, we will talk if you think it good; until then, we will occupy ourselves with your escape. It is as easy as ‘good day,’ and you will have no need to use the power that you have…”

On reaching these words, Eugène appeared to hesitate.

— “Well,” he said while giving Louis the letter written to Lavinia —“you see that I am up to date, and via a sure route,” he added with a laugh, “even about the past concerning her in relation to you … plus, on the two of you together!”

Louis looked at his brother with almost frightened eyes.

— “Do not be surprised,” Eugène said. “I am not a man of prejudices. She is my mistress, and you have known her… Oh well, afterwards? You have loved others, and for forever, I know. Me, I love that woman! You have not suffered with her, because you two characters cannot proceed without shocks. For me, it’s different: everything came from her; I have let it happen because she is beautiful beyond my dreams, and also I love her for her good frankness toward me, but I retain the scepter nevertheless. With your heart of a poet, you have and must suffer horribly. So, Louis, you can be at ease tonight, and tomorrow evening you will descend the river at seven, as true as I am here.”

Louis fell into his brother’s arms…

— “That is not all, he continued; on arriving in the Gulf of Mexico, a small sloop will approach you, and you will be content to…”

— “My God!” the Captain cried out, I will thank Him for sending me a brother for a friend, a friend to save me!”

Eugène acted as if he had not heard these last words.

— “So,” he said, “let us occupy ourselves with the essential and the most pressing. A ship is leaving. Tomorrow at five o’clock in the afternoon it will leave the wharf of the Market. It is necessary that you be there at four o’clock, and may report yourself to me and count on me, at least if I have not been assassinated.”

— “By whom and for what reason would you be assassinated?”

Eugène then recounted to Louis the scene of the previous evening, Alexandre’s attack, Lavinia’s defense, his arrival, finally what took place then, including the lex talionis punishment suffered by the Lieutenant, as well as his escape during the night.

— “That must have been horrible for him,” the Captain said. With his character and the passions he has, I understand that he is trying to kill you even at peril of his own life. But on the other hand, he must tremble for himself, and it is necessary that he hurry if he wishes to arrive first. I am well armed, and I have eyes everywhere, Eugène!… do not pardon his hatred!”

— “Be calm! I know what I am dealing with; I am on guard. — Concerning which, do you need to see Lavinia?”

— “No,” Louis replied with a smile that carried a security protest addressed to his brother…

— “You do not need to reassure me, my friend,” said Eugène, who understood it all too well. I have many reason to be quite tranquil: first of all, your love, then your friendship, and…”

— “And the passion that you inspire in her, correct?…”

— “Let’s not be children,” Eugène responded, “if you need to see her, speak. Will she be here this evening?”

— “No, my friend, I don’t need her. Protect her against Alexandre, since she is yours without exceptions and without limit: here there are much more serious things to do.”

— “I do not think he will dream of avenging himself on her now; his rage should be entirely turned against me…”

— “Who knows? He will avenge himself against you with hatred and jealousy; against her with passion and rage.”

— “Farewell,” he said to Louis. “Tomorrow you will see me here before four in the afternoon, and the rest will go forward alone, I hope…”

The Captain threw himself into his brother’s arms, embracing as men embrace — such a rare thing! — then he resumed his place, put his two elbows on the table, and put his head in his two hands, taking time to think.




XXX

An Unexpected Visit

The next day, between three and four o’clock, the Captain, instead of seeing his brother in the prison, saw his door open to two strangers, a man and a woman. He let a movement of impatience show at this unscheduled visit which had to disturb the important visit he was expecting.

When the door was closed behind the two strangers, and the Captain was alone with them, he asked their reason for the visit.

Without making a response, the woman took off her mantle, removing her dress, which fell at her feet, removed her skirt and blouse, and lifted her veil and hat.

— ”Eugène!” the Captain cried out…

— “But of course,” he replied. “A beautiful woman, no?”

— “And Monsieur?” Louis asked.

— “This Monsieur,” Eugène responded, continuing to undress, “is an discrete and able artist who manages the razor as well as the sword. In two times and three movements, he will give you my face so that your would not recognize it yourself. Give me your clothes…”

— “My clothes!”

— “Good heavens! Do you think I can remain naked?”

— “But again, I do not believe that you could expose yourself as me.”

— “What am I to expose, and as who?”

— “How as who? Don’t you think that you could not be used to help in my escape, perhaps?…”

— “Me! I am not helping your escape at all.”

— “I don’t understand,” said the Captain.

— “It does not matter,” Eugène responded; sit down, and while Monsieur transforms you, I will clarify the muddied water.”

Louis took his seat, and the barber commenced.

— “Now,” Eugène said, “What did you say when they arrested you? —I will say the questions and the answers so that you do not move as you’re shaved. — You said, ‘This man is crazy,’ speaking of Alexandre, and yet he had the air of one who was not crazy! — I knew all these details. — Then, you followed the gendarmes without a murmur, using an exquisite politeness that had a very good effect. Tomorrow morning, you will be brought before the Recorder and confronted with the state’s witness, which witness will not recognize you, expecting you to be me! So far as the figure that this Alexandre makes, it is a farce of the facts; unfortunately, you will not see him. Now tell me the little that I am risking…”

— “Do you believe,” Louis responded, “that this Alexandre will not go any further … that he will not suspect that there has been a fraud?”

— “And the proof?”

The Captain did not know how to respond.

— “See who is made!” the barber said. I will do the hair after dressing him.

— “For both of us!” Eugène said to his brother. It was Lavinia who dressed me — as a man or as a woman, as you wish — and she gave me some lessons which I may give you that she did for me. You will see!”

— “If you take as much time as she had to,” the Captain said laughing, “We will not be done quickly.”

— “It is not the same thing,” Eugène responded in the same tone… “Between a woman such as you and a man such as I, there is wisdom, and wisdom does not waste time…”

At the end of a quarter hour, in effect, the disguise was complete. The razor and false hair did a marvel.

Eugène had put on Louis’ clothing. Everything was ready.

— “Let’s go, partners!” Eugène said to his brother, who took on his role in a few seconds. Without saying a word, these two remained closely united.

On a sign from Eugène, the barber knocked on the door. The service man opened and, as the key turned in the lock:

“Tomorrow I shall be free,” Eugène said to his brother. A bad night, quickly passed. Farewell…”

“Farewell!”

The male and female visitors descended the stairs, responded to the salute of the service officer, and mounted the carriage that had brought them there.

— “Fouette cocher!” Eugène said, listening for the sound of wheels. Tomorrow there will be comedy and perhaps a drama…”

It was to be six hours. So there were three hundred sixty more minutes that Eugène was to spend in prison.

— “I will still pass a joke of a night,” he said to himself. “What a difference with the other!”

And he made an immense sigh.

— “The days succeed one another and do not resemble one another,” he added in the manner of philosophic consolation.

He had no doubt at all, the happy unfortunate! about what was happening twenty feet below him…

The lieutenant of the guard at the prison was tranquilly sampling the gross literature of Paul de Kock when a paper interposed itself between his eyes and his volume. He lifted his head and was entirely troubled: he had never seen a woman like that who stood before him. He arose, doffed his hat, threw a glance at the lines presented to him, and went before the beautiful visitor to the chamber of the prisoner she was visiting with a special authorization. Before opening the last door, he said to the lady:

— “You have until the firing of the cannon, Madame, until nine o’clock.”

She bowed and was introduced.

— “Lavinia!” Eugène cried out…

— “And yes indeed, dear!” she responded. I was bored down there; I thought that you would not be entertained much here, and I have come.”

— “Bravo! I will have great patience with such a comrade!”

— “Yes, but only until nine o’clock…”

— “That rascal!” the prison officer said, descending the stairs… I would be happy to change places with him … until tomorrow!”

— At the firing of the cannon and the striking of nine o’clock, which happened at the same time, the gallant officer knocked discretely on Louis’ — or Eugène’s — door and did not open it after a response within.

When he opened the door, a small unnamable sound caused him to make a light electric movement.

It was probably a last kiss……

The next morning, a comic imbroglio took place in the office of the Recorder. Eugène was confronted by his accuser. The latter believed he was to find Louis, and when he saw who had come separately to the prison, he turned all sorts of colors, burbling in an unintelligible patois, but otherwise remained silent.

— “Finally, the Recorder, who was losing patience, said, “Tell me whether you are crazy or not. You have denounced a counterfeiter; you have caused to be arrested the person before you, there… Do you recognize him and continue with your accusation?”

— “I do not believe I am crazy,” Alexandre, responded, losing control; this is not the man who was arrested…”

— “Out of my court,” cried out the Recorder. “I do not know,” he said, looking at the poor Lieutenant, “what keeps me from sending you to prison, to arrest you for playing with justice!”

Alexandre wanted to respond, but the magistrate showed him the door with the end of his pen, and passed to the next case.

Bursts of laughter accompanied the unfortunate man who, on exiting, forgot his hat.

Eugène immediately took a carriage that took him to the cotton press of the Third Municipality. As he got down, Alexandre, having arrived at the same time by another carriage, went up to him, his teeth clenched.

— “Monsieur,” he said, “either you must have my life or I will have yours!”

— “If I had five minutes to waste,” Eugène responded, “I would be happy to pass the reins to you; but I am too pressed: it will be another day.”

Then he leaped on a horse that was awaited him, and he departed at a gallop in the direction of the forts.

At the end of some hours, after changing his mount twice, he arrived at Fort St. Philippe, and, not losing a minute, he mounted on board a small ship, ready to go, which descended toward la Balize like a swallow.

Soon after, the Pass was won, and Eugène saw a large three-master waiting, lying to.

— “There is the sloop!” the Captain said, seeing the three-master, speaking to a passenger, who stood near the netting, devouring his admiration for the indicated ship.

— “My God!” murmured Louis, “I am amazed that my presentiment was not wrong!”

The sloop rapidly approached.

Soon Louis perceived a white handkerchief being waved by a hand as yet invisible… Then came a veil, a hat and the clothing of a woman.

— “It’s she!” he cried out…

And, feeling his heart pound, he went down to his cabin to equip himself, so that the crew would not witness the first moments of his joy.

He was dying of impatience for ten minutes when Eugène appeared and took his in his arms the brother he had saved, the poor Anna was all tears, having trouble controlling her sobs.

— “Farewell, my friends!” Eugène cried out… I am returning to New Orleans … be happy… We will see one another again…

And, without waiting any further, thanked by the gaze of Louis and Anna, he remounted the bridge, gave a purse to the captain of the three-master, then descended aboard the sloop, which, favored by the wind, departed with all sails.

End of the Second Volume

Notes

  1. Faublas Reference is to the novel Les amours du chevalier de Faublas by Jean-Baptiste Luvet de Couvray, originally published 1787-1790. The hero of this “libertine novel” has a feminine beauty that leads to adventures dressed as a woman. — Translator’s note.
  2. Vidocq. Eugène François Vidocq (1775-1857), a career criminal whose talents were held as an ideal model by writers including Hugo and Balzac. — Translator’s note.
  3. Telegraph. Reference here is to the télégraphe chappe, a system of semaphore signals using slats placed on towers to transmit messages rapidly across France to Paris, beginning in 1794. — Translator’s note.
  4. Daguerreotype. The public announcement of the successful creation of a photographic process was on 19 August 1839 by Louis Daguerre, drawing in part on the work of the late Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. The French state purchased the rights to the process and gave it to the world. — Translator’s note.
  5. Cour Criminelle. Criminal Court.
  6. Important book. Inevitably, this reference recalls the visit of Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont to the United States for nine months starting in 1831, resulting in their report on American prisons, published as Du système pénitentiaire aux Etats-Unis, et de son application en France (two volumes, Paris, 1833). The time of the events in Testut’s novel, however, appears to be the early 1850s. — Translator’s note.
  7. La Balize (=“beacon”) was the generic name for a facility that located pilots near the best mouth of the Mississippi. Michel Chevalier, Histoire et description des routes de communication aux états-Unis (Paris, 2 volumes, 1840-41), locates it 45 km. below Fort Jackson, 19 km. below the beginning of the Southeast Pass, and 6 km. above the bar of that Pass, on the right bank (vol. 1, pp. 78, 87; vol. 2, p. 320). — Translator’s note.
  8. Parny. Évariste vicomte de Parny (1753-1814), French erotic poet. — Translator’s note.
  9. Houri. Female beings who serve as companions to good Muslims in the afterlife. Popularly known as the 72 virgins.
  10. Balzac. Honorine, a novel by Honoré de Balzac, published in 1843. — Translator’s note.
  11. Lex talionis. The law of retaliation. According to it, a punishment should match the crime in kind and degree. Taken from the verse “but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deuteronomy 19:21 KJV).
  12. Paul de Kock. Kock (1793-1871) was the author of French popular novels, dramas and songs. — Translator’s note.


Text prepared by:



Source

Testut, Charles. The Mysteries of New Orleans. Vol. 2. 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.

Home Page
L’Anthologie  Louisianaise