Mysteries of Paris Volume III Part 41

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“Oh! I know it but too well.”

“He believes that to cut off the head of a criminal does not sufficiently repair the evil he has done. With the proofs which he holds, if he were to deliver us to the tribunals, what would be the result? Two corpses, at the most only good to fatten the graveyard.”

“Oh! yes–it is tears, and anguish, and tortures which this prince demands–this demon. But I do not know him, I have never done him any harm.

Why does he pursue me thus?”

“In the first place he pretends to reward the good, and punish the evil done to others; and, besides, he knows those whom you have injured, and he punishes you in his own way.”

“But by what right?”

“Come, come, Jacques, between us, do not speak of right; he had the power to have your head taken off in a judicial manner. What would have been the result? Your relations are all dead–the state would have profited by your fortune instead of those whom you have despoiled. On the contrary, in redeeming your life at the price of your money all your victims will be remunerated for their sufferings, in the manner already decided upon. So in this point of view, we can confess to each other that if society should have gained nothing by your death, it gains much by your living.”

“And it is this which causes my rage–and this is not my only torture.”

“The prince knows it well. Now what will he decide to do with us? I am ignorant. He has promised to spare us our lives if we faithfully obey his orders. He will keep his promise. But if he does not believe our crimes sufficiently expiated he will know how to make us prefer death a thousand times to the life he grants us. You do not know him. Besides, he has more than one devil in his service–for this Cecily–whom may the thunder blast!”

“Once more, be still–not that name–not that name!”

“Yes, yes! may the thunder blast her who bears that name! It is she who has ruined all. Our heads would now be in security on our shoulders but for your silly love for this creature.”

Instead of storming with rage, Jacques Ferrand answered with a deep sigh, “Do you know this woman? Speak. Have you ever seen her?”

“Never. They say she is beautiful.”

“Beautiful!” answered the notary, shrugging his shoulders. “Hold!” he added with a kind of bitter desperation; “be still! Do not speak of what you do not know. Do not accuse me! What I have done you would have done in my place.”

“I place my life at the mercy of a woman!”

“Of that one–yes–and I would do it again.”

“By Jove, he is still under the charm,” cried Polidori amazed.

“Listen,” answered the notary, in a low, calm voice, “listen: you know if I love gold? You know what I have braved to acquire it? To reckon up the sums I possessed, to see them doubled by my avarice, to endure every privation, and know myself the master of a treasure–it was my joy, my happiness. Yes, to possess, not to enjoy, but to theorize, was my life. One month since, if they had said to me, ‘Between your fortune and your head choose,’ I would have given up my head.”

“But of what use to have money when one dies?”

“Ask me, then, ‘Of what use to possess it, when one makes no use of what one possesses?’ I, a millionaire, did I lead the life of a millionaire? No: I lived like a poor beggar. I loved, then, to possess, for possession’s sake.”

“But once more I ask you, of what use is it when one dies?”

“To the possessing! Yes, to enjoy that even to the last moment for which you have braved privations, infamy, the scaffold; yes, to say once more, the head under the ax, ‘I possess!’ Oh! do you see, death is sweet compared to the torments that are endured on seeing one’s self during life dispossessed, as I am, of all that I have ama.s.sed at the price of so much pain, so much danger! Oh! to say, at each moment of the day, ‘I, who had more than a million–I, who have endured every privation to preserve it–I, who in ten years would have doubled it, tripled it–I have no longer anything. It is cruel! it is to die, not each day, but each moment of the day. Yes, to this horrible agony, which may endure for years, perhaps, I would have preferred death a thousand times. Once more, I could have said in dying, ‘I possess.'”

Polidori looked at his accomplice with profound astonishment.

“I cannot comprehend you. Then why have you obeyed the commands of him who might have caused your head to roll from the scaffold? Why have you preferred life, without your treasure, if this life seems so horrible to you?”

“It is, do you see,” answered the notary, in a voice sunk to a whisper, “it is not the thought of death–it is annihilation. And Cecily!”

“And you hope!” cried Polidori, astonished.

“I hope not; I possess—“

“What?”

“The remembrance.”

“But you will never see her again; she has delivered up your head!”

“But I love her still, and more madly than ever,” cried Jacques Ferrand, with an explosion of tears, of sobs, which strangely contrasted with the calmness of his last words. “Yes, I love her always, and I do not wish to die, so that I can plunge myself deeper and deeper with wild delight into this furnace where I am consumed by inches. For you do not know–that night–that night in which I saw her so beautiful–that night is always present to my thoughts–that picture of voluptuousness is there, there–always there–before my eyes. Let them be open or shut, in feverish weakness or burning watchfulness, I see her black eyes and inflaming glances, which boil the marrow of my bones. I feel her breath upon my face–I hear her voice.”

“But these are frightful torments!”

“Frightful! ay, frightful! But death! but annihilation! but to lose forever this remembrance, as vivid as reality; but to renounce these recollections, which torture me, devour me, and consume me! No! no! no! Live! live–poor, despised, scorned–live in the galleys, but live! so that thought remains–since this infernal creature has all my thought–is all my thought!”

“Jacques,” said Polidori, in a grave tone, which strangely contrasted with his habitual bitter irony, “I have seen much suffering, but never tortures that approach yours. He who holds us in his power could not have been more unmerciful. He has condemned you to live–to await death in terrible agonies–for this avowal explains to me the alarming symptoms which every day develop in you, and of which I sought in vain the cause.”

“But these symptoms are nothing serious! It is exhaustion; it is the reaction of my sorrows! I am not in danger. Is it not so?”

“No, no; but your position is a critical one; you must not make it worse.

Certain thoughts must be driven away, otherwise you run great risk.”

“I will do what you wish so I may live, for I do not wish to die. Oh! the priests talk of the d.a.m.ned! never could one imagine for them a punishment equal to mine. Tortured by pa.s.sion and avarice, I have two bleeding wounds instead of one, and I feel both of them equally. The loss of my gold is frightful to me, but death would be more frightful still. I wish to live; my life may be a torture without end, and I dare not call upon death, for death annihilates my fatal happiness, this phantom of my thoughts, in which Cecily constantly appears.”

“You have at least the consolation,” said Polidori, resuming his usual calmness, “of thinking upon the good that you have done in expiation of your crimes.”

“Yes, rail–you are right; turn me over on the burning coals. You know well, wretch, that I hate humanity; you know well that these expiations which are imposed upon me, only inspire me with hatred against those who oblige me to act thus, and against those who profit by it. Thunder and blood! To think that, while I drag along a frightful life, these men whom I execrate have their misery solaced; that this widow and her daughter will thank G.o.d for the fortune I restore them–that this Morel and his daughter will live in ease and comfort–that this Germain will have an honorable situation a.s.sured to him for life! And this priest! this priest, who blessed me when my heart was swimming in gall and blood–I could have stabbed him! Oh! it is too much! No! no!” he cried, covering his face with his hands: “my head bursts–my ideas are confused–I cannot resist such attacks of impotent rage! And all this for you! Cecily! Cecily! do you know how much I suffer? do you know, Cecily–demon–brought up from below!”

Ferrand, exhausted by this frightful raving, fell back foaming on his chair, and threw his arms wildly about, uttering hollow and inarticulate sounds. This fit of convulsive and despairing rage by no means astonished Polidori. Possessing a consummate medical experience, he at once saw that Ferrand’s anguish at seeing himself dispossessed of his fortune, joined to his pa.s.sion for Cecily, had lighted up the flames of a devouring fever.

Suddenly some one knocked hurriedly at the door of the cabinet.

“Jacques!” said Polidori, to the notary; “Jacques! recover yourself; here is some one.”

The notary did not hear him. Half lying on his desk, be writhed with convulsive spasms. Polidori went to open the door, and saw the head clerk, who, pale and alarmed, cried, “I must speak at once to M. Ferrand.”

“Silence! he is at this moment lying ill; he cannot understand you,” said Polidori, in a whisper; and coming out from the cabinet, he closed the door after him.

“Oh! sir,” cried the clerk, “you are the best friend of M. Ferrand; come to his a.s.sistance; there is not a moment to be lost.”

“What do you mean?”

“I went, according to the orders of M. Ferrand, to tell the Countess M’Gregor that he could not visit her to-day as she desired.”

“Well?”

“This lady, who appears to be now out of danger, made me come into her room. She cried, in a threatening tone, ‘Return, and tell M. Ferrand that if he is not here in an hour he shall be arrested for forgery, for the child which he pretended was dead is yet alive. I know to whom he delivered her–I know where she is.'”

[Footnote: The reader will remember that the countess thought Fleur-de-Marit was still at Saint Lazare, according to La Chouette’s account. ]

“The woman is crazy,” answered Polidori, coldly, shrugging his shoulders.

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