The Mystery of Orcival
Part 5 out of 7
brilliantly, by a lamp and a great blazing fire. The shadow of a
man - of Hector - rested on the muslin curtains; the shape was
distinct. He was near the window, and his forehead was pressed
against the panes. Sauvresy instinctively stopped to look at his
friend, who was so at home in his house, and who, in exchange for
the most brotherly hospitality, had brought dishonor, despair and
Hector made a sudden movement, and turned around as if he was
surprised by an unwonted noise. What was it? Sauvresy only knew
too well. Another shadow appeared on the curtain - that of Bertha.
And he had forced himself to doubt till now! Now proofs had come
without his seeking. What had brought her to that room, at that
hour? She seemed to be talking excitedly. He thought he could
hear that full, sonorous voice, now as clear as metal, now soft and
caressing, which had made all the chords of passion vibrate in him.
He once more saw those beautiful eyes which had reigned so
despotically over his heart, and whose expressions he knew so well.
But what was she doing? Doubtless she had gone to ask Hector
something, which he refused her, and she was pleading with him;
Sauvresy saw that she was supplicating, by her motions; he knew the
gesture well. She lifted her clasped hands as high as her forehead,
bent her head, half shut her eyes. What languor had been in her
voice when she used to say:
"Say, dear Clement, you will, will you not?"
And now she was using the same blandishments on another. Sauvresy
was obliged to support himself against a tree. Hector was evidently
refusing what she wished; then she shook her finger menacingly, and
tossed her head angrily, as if she were saying:
"You won't? You shall see, then."
And then she returned to her supplications.
"Ah," thought Sauvresy. "he can resist her prayers; I never had
such courage. He can preserve his coolness, his will, when she
looks at him; I never said no to her; rather, I never waited for
her to ask anything of me; I have passed my life in watching her
lightest fancies, to gratify them. Perhaps that is what has
Hector was obstinate, and Bertha was roused little by little; she
must be angry. She recoiled, holding out her arms, her head thrown
back; she was threatening him. At last he was conquered; he nodded,
"Yes." Then she flung herself upon him, and the two shadows were
confounded in a long embrace.
Sauvresy could not repress an agonized cry, which was lost amid the
noises of the night. He had asked for certainty; here it was. The
truth, indisputable, evident, was clear to him. He had to seek for
nothing more, now, except for the means to punish surely and
terribly. Bertha and Hector were talking amicably. Sauvresy saw
that she was about to go downstairs, and that he could not now go
for the letter. He went in hurriedly, forgetting, in his fear of
being discovered, to lock the garden door. He did not perceive that
he had been standing with naked feet in the snow, till he had
returned to his bedroom again; he saw some flakes on his slippers,
and they were damp; quickly he threw them under the bed, and jumped
in between the clothes, and pretended to be asleep.
It was time, for Bertha soon came in. She went to the bed, and
thinking that he had not woke up, returned to her embroidery by the
fire. Tremorel also soon reappeared; he had forgotten to take his
paper, and had come back for it. He seemed uneasy.
"Have you been out to-night, Madame?" asked he, in a low voice.
"Have all the servants gone to bed?"
"I suppose so ; but why do you ask?"
Since I have been upstairs, somebody has gone out into the garden,
and come back again.
Bertha looked at him with a troubled glance.
"Are you sure of what you say?"
"Certainly. Snow is falling, and whoever went out brought some
back on his shoes. This has melted in the vestibule - "
Mme. Sauvresy seized the lamp, and interrupting Hector, said:
Tremorel was right. Here and there on the vestibule pavement were
"Perhaps this water has been here some time," suggested Bertha.
"No. It was not there an hour ago, I could swear. Besides, see,
here is a little snow that has not melted yet."
"It must have been one of the servants."
Hector went to the door and examined it.
"I do not think so," said he. "A servant would have shut the bolts;
here they are, drawn back. Yet I myself shut the door to-night, and
distinctly recollect fastening the bolts."
"It's very strange!"
"And all the more so, look you, because the traces of the water do
not go much beyond the drawing-room door."
They remained silent, and exchanged anxious looks. The same
terrible thought occurred to them both.
"If it were he?"
But why should he have gone into the garden? It could not have
been to spy on them.
They did not think of the window.
"It couldn't have been Clement," said Bertha, at last. "He was
asleep when I went back, and he is in a calm and deep slumber now."
Sauvresy, stretched upon his bed, heard what his enemies were
saying. He cursed his imprudence.
"Suppose," thought he, "they should think of looking at my gown and
Happily this simple idea did not occur to them; after reassuring
each other as well as they were able, they separated; but each heart
carried an anxious doubt. Sauvresy on that night had a terrible
crisis in his illness. Delirium, succeeding this ray of reason,
renewed its possession of his brain. The next morning Dr. R-
pronounced him in more danger than ever; and sent a despatch to
Paris, saying that he would be detained at Valfeuillu three or four
days. The distemper redoubled in violence; very contradictory
symptoms appeared. Each day brought some new phase of it, which
confounded the foresight of the doctors. Every time that Sauvresy
had a moment of reason, the scene at the window recurred to him,
and drove him to madness again.
On that terrible night when he had gone out into the snow, he had
not been mistaken; Bertha was really begging something of Hector.
This was it:
M. Courtois, the mayor, had invited Hector to accompany himself and
his family on an excursion to Fontainebleau on the following day.
Hector had cordially accepted the invitation. Bertha could not bear
the idea of his spending the day in Laurence's company, and begged
him not to go. She told him there were plenty of excuses to relieve
him from his promise; for instance, he might urge that it would not
be seemly for him to go when his friend lay dangerously ill. At
first he positively refused to grant her prayer, but by her
supplications and menaces she persuaded him, and she did not go
downstairs until he had sworn that he would write to M. Courtois
that very evening declining the invitation. He kept his word, but
he was disgusted by her tyrannical behavior. He was tired of
forever sacrificing his wishes and his liberty, so that he could
plan nothing, say or promise nothing without consulting this jealous
woman, who would scarcely let him wander out of her sight. The
chain became heavier and heavier to bear, and he began to see that
sooner or later it must be wrenched apart. He had never loved
either Bertha or Jenny, or anyone, probably; but he now loved the
mayor's daughter. Her dowry of a million had at first dazzled him,
but little by little he had been subdued by Laurence's charms of
mind and person. He, the dissipated rake, was seduced by such grave
and naive innocence, such frankness and beauty; he would have
married Laurence had she been poor - as Sauvresy married Bertha.
But he feared Bertha too much to brave her suddenly, and so he
waited. The next day after the quarrel about Fontainebleau, he
declared that he was indisposed, attributed it to the want of
exercise, and took to the saddle for several hours every day
afterward. But he did not go far; only to the mayor's. Bertha at
first did not perceive anything suspicious in Tremorel's rides; it
reassured her to see him go off on his horse. After some days,
however, she thought she saw in him a certain feeling of satisfaction
concealed under the semblance of fatigue. She began to have doubts,
and these increased every time he went out; all sorts of conjectures
worried her while he was away. Where did he go? Probably to see
Laurence, whom she feared and detested. The suspicion soon became
a certainty with her. One evening Hector appeared, carrying in his
button-hole a flower which Laurence herself had put there, and which
he had forgotten to take out. Bertha took it gently, examined it,
smelt it, and, compelling herself to smile:
"Why," said she, "what a pretty flower!"
"So I thought," answered Hector, carelessly, "though I don't know
what it is called."
"Would it be bold to ask who gave it to you?"
"Not at all. It's a present from our good Plantat."
All Orcival knew that M. Plantat, a monomaniac on flowers, never
gave them away to anyone except Mme. Laurence. Hector's evasion
was an unhappy one, and Bertha was not deceived.
"You promised me, Hector," said she, "not to see Laurence any more,
and to give up this marriage."
He tried to reply.
"Let me speak," she continued, "and explain yourself afterward.
You have broken your word - you are deceiving my confidence! But
I tell you, you shall not marry her!" Then, without awaiting his
reply, she overwhelmed him with reproaches. Why had he come here
at all? She was happy in her home before she knew him. She did
not love Sauvresy, it was true; but she esteemed him, and he was
good to her. Ignorant of the happiness of true love, she did not
desire it. But he had come, and she could not resist his
fascination. And now, after having engaged her affection, he was
going to desert her, to marry another! Tremorel listened to her,
perfectly amazed at her audacity. What! She dared to pretend that
it was he who had abused her innocence, when, on the contrary, he
had sometimes been astonished at her persistency! Such was the
depth of her corruption, as it seemed to him, that he wondered
whether he were her first or her twentieth lover. And she had so
led him on, and had so forcibly made him feel the intensity of her
will, that he had been fain still to submit to this despotism. But
he had now determined to resist on the first opportunity; and he
"Well, yes," said he, frankly, "I did deceive you; I have no fortune
- this marriage will give me one; I shall get married." He went on
to say that he loved Laurence less than ever, but that he coveted
her money more and more every day. "To prove this," he pursued,
"if you will find me to-morrow a girl who has twelve hundred
thousand francs instead of a million, I will marry her in preference
to Mademoiselle Courtois."
She had never suspected he had so much courage. She had so long
moulded him like soft wax, and this unexpected conduct disconcerted
her. She was indignant, but at the same time she felt that
unhealthy satisfaction that some women feel, when they meet a master
who subdues them; and she admired Tremorel more than ever before.
This time, he had taken a tone which conquered her; she despised
him enough to think him quite capable of marrying for money. When
he had done, she said:
"It's really so, then; you only care for the million of dowry?"
"I've sworn it to you a hundred times."
"Truly now, don't you love Laurence?"
"I have never loved her, and never shall." He thought that he would
thus secure his peace until the wedding-day; once married, he cared
not what would happen. What cared he for Sauvresy? Life is only a
succession of broken friendships. What is a friend, after all?
One who can and ought to serve you. Ability consists in breaking
with people, when they cease to be useful to you.
"Hear me, Hector," said she at last. "I cannot calmly resign
myself to the sacrifice which you demand. Let me have but a few
days, to accustom myself to this dreadful blow. You owe me as much
- let Clement get well, first."
He did not expect to see her so gentle and subdued; who would have
looked for such concessions, so easily obtained? The idea of a
snare did not occur to him. In his delight he betrayed how he
rejoiced in his liberty, which ought to have undeceived Bertha; but
she did not perceive it. He grasped her hand, and cried:
"Ah, you are very good - you really love me."
The Count de Tremorel did not anticipate that the respite which
Bertha begged would last long. Sauvresy had seemed better during
the last week. He got up every day, and commenced to go about the
house; he even received numerous visits from the neighbors; without
apparent fatigue. But alas, the master of Valfeuillu was only the
shadow of himself. His friends would never have recognized in that
emaciated form and white face, and burning, haggard eye, the robust
young man with red lips and beaming visage whom they remembered.
He had suffered so! He did not wish to die before avenging himself
on the wretches who had filched his happiness and his life. But
what punishment should he inflict? This fixed idea burning in his
brain, gave his look a fiery eagerness. Ordinarily, there are
three modes in which a betrayed husband may avenge himself. He
has the right, and it is almost a duty - to deliver the guilty ones
up to the law, which is on his side. He may adroitly watch them,
surprise them and kill them. There is a law which does not absolve,
but excuses him, in this. Lastly, he may affect a stolid
indifference, laugh the first and loudest at his misfortune, drive
his wife from his roof, and leave her to starve. But what poor,
wretched methods of vengeance. Give up his wife to the law? Would
not that be to offer his name, honor, and life to public ridicule?
To put himself at the mercy of a lawyer, who would drag him through
the mire. They do not defend the erring wife, they attack her
husband. And what satisfaction would he get? Bertha and Tremorel
would be condemned to a year's imprisonment, perhaps eighteen
months, possibly two years. It seemed to him simpler to kill them.
He might go in, fire a revolver at them, and they would not have
time to comprehend it, for their agony would be but for a moment;
and then? Then, he must become a prisoner, submit to a trial,
invoke the judge's mercy, and risk conviction. As to turning his
wife out of doors, that was to hand her over quietly to Hector. He
imagined them leaving Valfeuillu, hand in hand, happy and smiling,
and laughing in his face. At this thought he had a fit of cold
rage; his self-esteem adding the sharpest pains to the wounds in
his heart. None of these vulgar methods could satisfy him. He
longed for some revenge unheard-of, strange, monstrous, as his
tortures were. Then he thought of all the horrible tales he had
read, seeking one to his purpose; he had a right to be particular,
and he was determined to wait until he was satisfied. There was
only one thing that could balk his progress - Jenny's letter. What
had become of it? Had he lost it in the woods? He had looked for
it everywhere, and could not find it.
He accustomed himself, however, to feign, finding a sort of fierce
pleasure in the constraint. He learned to assume a countenance
which completely hid his thoughts. He submitted to his wife's
caresses without an apparent shudder; and shook Hector by the hand
as heartily as ever. In the evening, when they were gathered about
the drawing-room table, he was the gayest of the three. He built
a hundred air-castles, pictured a hundred pleasure-parties, when
he was able to go abroad again. Hector rejoiced at his returning
"Clement is getting on finely," said he to Bertha, one evening.
She understood only too well what he meant.
"Always thinking of Laurence?"
"Did you not permit me to hope?"
"I asked you to wait, Hector, and you have done well not to be in
a hurry. I know a young girl who would bring you, not one, but
three millions as dowry."
This was a painful surprise. He really had no thoughts for anyone
but Laurence, and now a new obstacle presented itself.
"And who is that?"
She leaned over, and whispered tremblingly in his ear:
"I am Clement's sole heiress; perhaps he'll die; I might be a widow
Hector was petrified.
"But Sauvresy, thank God! is getting well fast."
Bertha fixed her large, clear eyes upon him, and with frightful
"What do you know about it?"
Tremorel dared not ask what these strange words meant. He was one
of those men who shun explanations, and who, rather than put
themselves on their guard in time, permit themselves to be drawn
on by circumstances; soft and feeble beings, who deliberately
bandage their eyes so as not to see the danger which threatens
them, and who prefer the sloth of doubt, and acts of uncertainty
to a definite and open position, which they have not the courage
Besides, Hector experienced a childish satisfaction in seeing
Bertha's distress, though he feared and detested her. He conceived
a great opinion of his own value and merit, when he saw the
persistency and desperation with which she insisted on keeping her
hold on him.
"Poor woman!" thought he. "In her grief at losing me, and seeing
me another's, she has begun to wish for her husband's death!"
Such was the torpor of his moral sense that he did not see the
vileness of Bertha's and his own thoughts.
Meanwhile Sauvresy's state was not reassuring for Hector's hopes
and plans. On the very day when he had this conversation with
Bertha, her husband was forced to take to his bed again. This
relapse took place after he had drank a glass of quinine and water,
which he had been accustomed to take just before supper; only, this
time, the symptoms changed entirely, as if one malady had yielded
to another of a very different kind. He complained of a pricking
in his skin, of vertigo, of convulsive twitches which contracted
and twisted his limbs, especially his arms. He cried out with
excruciating neuralgic pains in the face. He was seized with a
violent, persistent, tenacious craving for pepper, which nothing
could assuage. He was sleepless, and morphine in large doses
failed to bring him slumber; while he felt an intense chill within
him, as if the body's temperature were gradually diminishing.
Delirium had completely disappeared, and the sick man retained
perfectly the clearness of his mind. Sauvresy bore up wonderfully
under his pains, and seemed to take a new interest in the business
of his estates. He was constantly in consultation with bailiffs
and agents, and shut himself up for days together with notaries and
attorneys. Then, saying that he must have distractions, he received
all his friends, and when no one called, he sent for some
acquaintance to come and chat with him in order to forget his
illness. He gave no hint of what he was doing and thinking, and
Bertha was devoured by anxiety. She often watched for her husband's
agent, when, after a conference of several hours, he came out of
his room; and making herself as sweet and fascinating as possible,
she used all her cunning to find out something which would
enlighten her as to what he was about. But no one could, or at
least would, satisfy her curiosity; all gave evasive replies, as
if Sauvresy had cautioned them, or as if there were nothing to tell.
No complaints were heard from Sauvresy. He talked constantly of
Bertha and Hector; he wished all the world to know their devotion
to him; he called them his "guardian' angels," and blessed Heaven
that had given him such a wife and such a friend. Sauvresy's
illness now became so serious that Tremorel began to despair; he
became alarmed; what position would his friend's death leave him
in? Bertha, having become a widow, would be implacable. He
resolved to find out her inmost thoughts at the first opportunity;
she anticipated him, and saved him the trouble of broaching the
subject. One afternoon, when they were alone, M. Plantat being
in attendance at the sick man's bedside, Bertha commenced.
"I want some advice, Hector, and you alone can give it to me. How
can I find out whether Clement, within the past day or two, has not
changed his will in regard to me?"
"Yes, I've already told you that by a will of which I myself have a
copy, Sauvresy has left me his whole fortune. I fear that he may
perhaps revoke it."
"What an idea!"
"Ah, I have reasons for my apprehensions. What are all these agents
and attorneys doing at Valfeuillu? A stroke of this man's pen may
ruin me. Don't you see that he can deprive me of his millions, and
reduce me to my dowry of fifty thousand francs?"
But he will not do it; he loves you - "
"Are you sure of it? I've told you, there are three millions; I
must have this fortune - not for myself, but for you; I want it, I
must have it! But how can I find out - how? how?"
Hector was very indignant. It was to this end, then, that his
delays had conducted him! She thought that she had a right now to
dispose of him in spite of himself, and, as it were, to purchase
him. And he could not, dared not, say anything!
"We must be patient," said he, "and wait - "
"Wait-for what? Till he's dead?"
"Don't speak so."
"Why not?" Bertha went up to him, and in a low voice, muttered:
"He has only a week to live; and see here - "
She drew a little vial from her pocket, and held it up to him.
"That is what convinces me that I am not mistaken."
Hector became livid, and could not stifle a cry of horror. He
comprehended all now - he saw how it was that Bertha had been so
easily subdued, why she had refrained from speaking of Laurence,
her strange words, her calm confidence.
"Poison!" stammered he, confounded.
"You have not used it?"
She fixed a hard, stern look upon him - the look which had subdued
his will, against which he had struggled in vain - and in a calm
voice, emphasizing each word, answered:
"I have used it."
The count was, indeed, a dangerous man, unscrupulous, not recoiling
from any wickedness when his passions were to be indulged, capable
of everything; but this horrible crime awoke in him all that remained
of honest energy.
"'Well," he cried, in disgust, "you will not use it again!"
He hastened toward the door, shuddering; she stopped him.
"Reflect before you act," said she, coldly. "I will betray the
fact of your relations with me; who will then believe that you are
not my accomplice?"
He saw the force of this terrible menace, coming from Bertha.
"Come," said she, ironically, "speak - betray me if you choose.
Whatever happens, for happiness or misery, we shall no longer be
separated; our destinies will be the same."
Hector fell heavily into a chair, more overwhelmed than if he had
been struck with a hammer. He held his bursting forehead between
his hands; he saw himself shut up in an infernal circle, without
"I am lost!" he stammered, without knowing what he said," I am lost!
He was to be pitied; his face was terribly haggard, great drops of
perspiration stood at the roots of his hair, his eyes wandered as
if he were insane. Bertha shook him rudely by the arm, for his
cowardice exasperated her.
"You are afraid," she said. "You are trembling! Lost? You would
not say so, if you loved me as I do you. Will you be lost because
I am to be your wife, because we shall be free to love in the face
of all the world? Lost! Then you have no idea of what I have
endured? You don't know, then, that I am tired of suffering,
"Such a crime!"
She burst out with a laugh that made him shudder.
"You ought to have said so," said she, with a look full of contempt,
"the day you won me from Sauvresy - the day that you stole the wife
of this friend who saved your life. Do you think that was a less
horrid crime? You knew as well as I did how much my husband loved
me, and that he would have preferred to die, rather than lose me
"But he knows nothing, suspects nothing of it."
"You are mistaken; Sauvresy knows all."
"All, I tell you-and he has known all since that day when he came
home so late from hunting. Don't you remember that I noticed his
strange look, and said to you that my husband suspected something?
You shrugged your shoulders. Do you forget the steps in the
vestibule the night I went to your room? He had been spying on us.
Well, do you want a more certain proof? Look at this letter,
which I found, crumpled up and wet, in one of his vest pockets."
She showed him the letter which Sauvresy had forcibly taken from
Jenny, and he recognized it well.
"It is a fatality," said he, overwhelmed. "But we can separate
and break off with each other. Bertha, I can go away."
"It's too late. Believe me, Hector, we are to-day defending our
lives. Ah, you don't know Clement! You don't know what the fury
of a man like him can be, when he sees that his confidence has
been outrageously abused, and his trust vilely betrayed. If he
has said nothing to me, and has not let us see any traces of his
implacable anger, it is because he is meditating some frightful
This was only too probable, and Hector saw it clearly.
"What shall we do?" he asked, in a hoarse voice; he was almost
"Find out what change he has made in his will."
"I don't know yet. I came to ask your advice, and I find you more
cowardly than a woman. Let me act, then; don't do anything yourself;
I will do all."
He essayed an objection.
"Enough," said she. "He must not ruin us after all - I will see
- I will think."
Someone below called her. She went down, leaving Hector overcome
That evening, during which Bertha seemed happy and smiling, his
face finally betrayed so distinctly the traces of his anguish, that
Sauvresy tenderly asked him if he were not ill?
"You exhaust yourself tending on me, my good Hector," said he.
"How can I ever repay your devotion?"
Tremorel had not the strength to reply.
"And that man knows all," thought he. "What courage! What fate
can he be reserving for us?"
The scene which was passing before Hector's eyes made his flesh
creep. Every time that Bertha gave her husband his medicine, she
took a hair-pin from her tresses, and plunged it into the little
vial which she had shown him, taking up thus some small, white
grains, which she dissolved in the potions prescribed by the doctor.
It might be supposed that Tremorel, enslaved by his horrid position,
and harassed by increasing terror, would renounce forever his
proposed marriage with Laurence. Not so. He clung to that project
more desperately than ever. Bertha's threats, the great obstacles
now intervening, his anguish, crime, only augmented the violence of
his love for her, and fed the flame of his ambition to secure her
as his wife. A small and flickering ray of hope which lighted the
darkness of his despair, consoled and revived him, and made the
present more easy to bear. He said to himself that Bertha could not
be thinking of marrying him the day after her husband's death.
Months, a whole year must pass, and thus he would gain time; then
some day he would declare his will. What would she have to say?
Would she divulge the crime, and try to hold him as her accomplice?
Who would believe her? How could she prove that he, who loved and
had married another woman, had any interest in Sauvresy's death?
People don't kill their friends for the mere pleasure of it. Would
she provoke the law to exhume her husband? She was now in a
position, thought he, wherein she could, or would not exercise her
reason. Later on, she would reflect, and then she would be arrested
by the probability of those dangers, the certainty of which did not
now terrify her.
He did not wish that she should ever be his wife at any price. He
would have detested her had she possessed millions; he hated her
now that she was poor, ruined, reduced to her own narrow means.
And that she was so, there was no doubt, Sauvresy indeed knew all.
He was content to wait; he knew that Laurence loved him enough to
wait for him one, or three years, if necessary. He already had
such absolute power over her, that she did not try to combat the
thoughts of him, which gently forced themselves on her, penetrated
to her soul, and filled her mind and heart. Hector said to himself
that in the interest of his designs, perhaps it was well that
Bertha was acting as she did. He forced himself to stifle his
conscience in trying to prove that he was not guilty. Who thought
of this crime? Bertha. Who was executing it? She alone. He
could only be reproached with moral complicity in it, a complicity
involuntary, forced upon him, imposed somehow by the care for his
own life. Sometimes, however, a bitter remorse seized him. He
could have understood a sudden, violent, rapid murder; could have
explained to himself a knife-stroke; but this slow death, given
drop by drop, horribly sweetened by tenderness, veiled under kisses,
appeared to him unspeakably hideous. He was mortally afraid of
Bertha, as of a reptile, and when she embraced him he shuddered
from head to foot.
She was so calm, so engaging, so natural; her voice had the same
soft and caressing tones, that he could not forget it. She plunged
her hair-pin into the fatal vial without ceasing her conversation,
and he did not surprise her in any shrinking or shuddering, nor
even a trembling of the eyelids. She must have been made of brass.
Yet he thought that she was not cautious enough; and that she put
herself in danger of discovery; and he told her of these fears,
and how she made him tremble every moment.
Have confidence in me," she answered. "I want to succeed - I am
"But you may be suspected."
"Eh! How do Iknow? Everyone - the servants, the doctor."
"No danger. And suppose they did suspect?"
"They would make examinations, Bertha; they would make a minute
She gave a smile of the most perfect security.
"They might examine and experiment as much as they pleased, they
would find nothing. Do you think I am such a fool as to use
"For Heaven's sake, hush!"
"I have procured one of those poisons which are as yet unknown, and
which defy all analysis; one of which many doctors - and learned
ones, too - could not even tell the symptoms!"
"But where did you get this - this - "
He dared not say, "poison."
"Who gave you that?" resumed he.
"What matters it? I have taken care that he who gave it to me
should run the same danger as myself, and he knows it. There's
nothing to fear from that quarter. I've paid him enough to smother
all his regrets."
An objection came to his lips; he wanted to say, "It's too slow;"
but he had not the courage, though she read his thought in his eyes.
"It is slow, because that suits me," said she. "Be fore all, I
must know about the will - and that I am trying to find out."
She occupied herself constantly about this will, and during the
long hours that she passed at Sauvresy's bedside, she gradually,
with the greatest craft and delicacy, led her husband's mind in
the direction of his last testament, with such success that he
himself mentioned the subject which so absorbed Bertha.
He said that he did not comprehend why people did not always have
their worldly affairs in order, and their wishes fully written down,
in case of accident. What difference did it make whether one were
ill or well? At these words Bertha attempted to stop him. Such
ideas, she said, pained her too much. She even shed real tears,
which fell down her cheeks and made her more beautiful and
irresistible than before; real tears which moistened her handkerchief.
"You dear silly creature," said Sauvresy, "do you think that makes
"No; but I do not wish it."
"But, dear, have we been any the less happy because, on the day
after our marriage, I made a will bequeathing you all my fortune?
And, stop; you have a copy of it, haven't you? If you were kind,
you would go and fetch it for me."
She became very red, then very pale. Why did he ask for this copy?
Did he want to tear it up? A sudden thought reassured her; people
do not tear up a document which can be cancelled by a scratch of
the pen on another sheet of paper. Still, she hesitated a moment.
"I don't know where it can be."
"But I do. It is in the left-hand drawer of the glass cupboard;
come, please me by getting it."
While she was gone, Sauvresy said to Hector:
"Poor girl! Poor dear Bertha! If I died, she never would survive
Tremorel thought of nothing to reply; his anxiety was intense and
"And this man," thought he, "suspects something! No; it is not
"I have found it," said she.
"Give it to me."
He took the copy of his will, and read it with evident satisfaction,
nodding his head at certain passages in which he referred to his
love for his wife. When he had finished reading, he said:
"Now give me a pen and some ink."
Hector and Bertha reminded him that it would fatigue him to write;
but he insisted. The two guilty ones, seated at the foot of the
bed and out of Sauvresy's sight, exchanged looks of alarm. What
was he going to write? But he speedily finished it.
"Take this," said he to Tremorel, "and read aloud what I have just
Hector complied with his friend's request, with trembling voice:
"This day, being sound in mind, though much suffering, I declare
that I do not wish to change a line of this will. Never have I
loved my wife more - never have I so much desired to leave her
the heiress of all I possess, should I die before her.
Mistress of herself as Bertha was, she succeeded in concealing the
unspeakable satisfaction with which she was filled. All her wishes
were accomplished, and yet she was able to veil her delight under
an apparent sadness.
"Of what good is this?" said she, with a sigh.
She said this, but half an hour afterward, when she was alone with
Hector, she gave herself up to the extravagance of her delight.
"Nothing more to fear," exclaimed she. "Nothing! Now we shall
have liberty, fortune, love, pleasure, life! Why, Hector, we shall
have at least three millions; you see, I've got this will myself,
and I shall keep it. No more agents or notaries shall be admitted
into this house henceforth. Now I must hasten!"
The count certainly felt a satisfaction in knowing her to be rich,
for he could much more easily get rid of a millionnaire widow than
of a poor penniless woman. Sauvresy's conduct thus calmed many
sharp anxieties. Her restless gayety, however, her confident
security, seemed monstrous to Hector. He would have wished for
more solemnity in the execution of the crime; he thought that he
ought at least to calm Bertha's delirium.
"You will think more than once of Sauvresy," said he, in a graver
She answered with a "prrr," and added vivaciously:
"Of him? when and why? Oh, his memory will not weigh on me very
heavily. I trust that we shall be able to live still at Valfeuillu,
for the place pleases me; but we must also have a house at Paris
- or we will buy yours back again. What happiness, Hector!"
The mere prospect of this anticipated felicity so shocked Hector,
that his better self for the moment got the mastery; he essayed to
"For the last time," said he, "I implore you to renounce this
terrible, dangerous project. You see that you were mistaken - that
Sauvresy suspects nothing, but loves you as well as ever."
The expression of Bertha's face suddenly changed; she sat quite
still, in a pensive revery.
"Don't let's talk any more of that," said she, at last. "Perhaps
I was mistaken. Perhaps he only had doubts - perhaps, although he
has discovered something, he hopes to win me back by his goodness.
But you see - "
She stopped. Doubtless she did not wish to alarm him.
He was already much alarmed. The next day he went off to Melun
without a word; being unable to bear the sight of this agony, and
fearing to betray himself. But he left his address, and when she
sent word that Sauvresy was always crying out for him, he hastily
returned. Her letter was most imprudent and absurd, and made his
hair stand on end. He had intended, on his arrival, to reproach
her; but it was she who upbraided him.
"Why this flight?"
"I could not stay here - I suffered, trembled, felt as if I were
"What a coward you are!"
He would have replied, but she put her finger on his mouth, and
pointed with her other hand to the door of the next room.
"Sh! Three doctors have been in consultation there for the past
hour, and I haven't been able to hear a word of what they said. Who
knows what they are about? I shall not be easy till they go away."
Bertha's fears were not without foundation. When Sauvresy had his
last relapse, and complained of a severe neuralgia in the face and
an irresistible craving for pepper, Dr. R- had uttered a significant
exclamation. It was nothing, perhaps - yet Bertha had heard it, and
she thought she surprised a sudden suspicion on the doctor's part;
and this now disturbed her, for she thought that it might be the
subject of the consultation. The suspicion, however, if there had
ever been any, quickly vanished. The symptoms entirely changed
twelve hours later, and the next day the sick man felt pains quite
the opposite of those which had previously distressed him. This
very inconstancy of the distemper served to puzzle the doctor's
conclusions. Sauvresy, in these latter days, had scarcely suffered
at all, he said, and had slept well at night; but he had, at times,
strange and often distressing sensations. He was evidently failing
hourly; he was dying - everyone perceived it. And now Dr. R- asked
for a consultation, the result of which had not been reached when
The drawing-room door at last swung open, and the calm faces of the
physicians reassured the poisoner. Their conclusions were that the
case was hopeless; everything had been tried and exhausted; no human
resources had been neglected; the only hope was in Sauvresy's strong
Bertha, colder than marble, motionless, her eyes full of tears,
seemed so full of grief on hearing this cruel decision, that all
the doctors were touched.
"Is there no hope then? Oh, my God!" cried she, in agonizing tones.
Dr. R- hardly dared to attempt to comfort her; he answered her
"We must never despair," said he, "when the invalid is of Sauvresy's
age and constitution; nature often works miracles when least
The doctor, however, lost no time in taking Hector apart and begging
him to prepare the poor, devoted, loving young lady for the terrible
blow about to ensue.
"For you see," added he, "I don't think Monsieur Sauvresy can live
more than two days!"
Bertha, with her ear at the keyhole, had heard the doctor's
prediction; and when Hector returned from conducting the physician
to the door, he found her radiant. She rushed into his arms.
"Now' cried she, "the future truly belongs to us. Only one black
point obscured our horizon, and it has cleared away. It is for me
to realize Doctor R-'s prediction." They dined together, as usual,
in the dining-room, while one of the chambermaids remained beside
the sick-bed. Bertha was full of spirits which she could scarcely
control. The certainty of success and safety, the assurance of
reaching the end, made her imprudently gay. She spoke aloud, even
in the presence of the servants, of her approaching liberty.
During the evening she was more reckless than ever. If any of the
servants should have a suspicion, or a shadow of one she might be
discovered and lost. Hector constantly nudged her under the table
and frowned at her, to keep her quiet; he felt his blood run cold
at her conduct; all in vain. There are times when the armor of
hypocrisy becomes so burdensome that one is forced, cost what it
may, to throw it off if only for an instant.
While Hector was smoking his cigar, Bertha was more freely pursuing
her dream. She was thinking that she could spend the period of her
mourning at Valfeuillu, and Hector, for the sake of appearances,
would hire a pretty little house somewhere in the suburbs. The
worst of it all was that she would be forced to seem to mourn for
Sauvresy, as she had pretended to love him during his lifetime.
But at last a day would come when, without scandal, she might throw
off her mourning clothes, and then they would get married. Where?
At Paris or Orcival?
Hector's thoughts ran in the same channel. He, too, wished to see
his friend under the ground to end his own terrors, and to submit
to Bertha's terrible yoke.
Time passed. Hector and Bertha repaired to Sauvresy's room; he was
asleep. They noiselessly took chairs beside the fire, as usual,
and the maid retired. In order that the sick man might not be
disturbed by the light of the lamp, curtains had been hung so that,
when lying down, he could not see the fireplace and mantel. In
order to see these, he must have raised himself on his pillow and
leaned forward on his right arm. But now he was asleep, breathing
painfully, feverish, and shuddering convulsively. Bertha and Hector
did not speak; the solemn and sinister silence was only broken by
the ticking of the clock, or by the leaves of the book which Hector
was reading. Ten o'clock struck; soon after Sauvresy moved, turned
over, and awoke. Bertha was at his side in an instant; she saw that
his eyes were open.
Do you feel a little better, dear Clement?" she asked.
"Neither better nor worse."
"Do you want anything?"
"I am thirsty."
Hector, who had raised his eyes when his friend spoke, suddenly
resumed his reading.
Bertha, standing by the mantel, began to prepare with great care
Dr. R.-'s last prescription; when it was ready, she took out the
fatal little vial as usual, and thrust one of her hair-pins into it.
She had not time to draw it out before she felt a light touch upon
her shoulder. A shudder shook her from head to foot; she suddenly
turned and uttered a loud scream, a cry of terror and horror.
The hand which had touched her was her husband's. While she was
busied with the poison at the mantel, Sauvresy had softly raised
himself; more softly still, he had pulled the curtain aside, and
had stretched out his arm and touched her. His eyes glittered
with hate and anger.
Bertha's cry was answered by another dull cry, or rather groan;
Tremorel had seen and comprehended all; he was overwhelmed.
"All is discovered!" Their eyes spoke these three words to each
other. They saw them everywhere, written in letters of fire. There
was a moment of stupor, of silence so profound that Hector heard his
temples beat. Sauvresy had got back under the bed-clothes again.
He laughed loudly, wildly, just as a skeleton might have laughed
whose jaws and teeth rattled together.
But Bertha was not one of those persons who are overcome by a single
blow, terrible as it might be. She trembled like a leaf; her legs
staggered; but her mind was already at work seeking a subterfuge.
What had Sauvresy seen - anything? What did he know? For even
had he seen the vial, this might be explained. It could only have
been by simple chance that he had touched her at the moment when
she was using the poison. All these thoughts flashed across her
mind in a moment, as rapid as lightning shooting between the clouds.
And then she dared to approach the bed, and, with a frightfully
constrained smile, to say:
"How you frightened me then!"
He looked at her a moment, which seemed to her an age - and simply
"I understand it."
There was no longer any uncertainty. Bertha saw only too well in
her husband's eyes that he knew something. But what - how much?
She nerved herself to go on:
"Are you still suffering?"
"Then why did you get up?"
He raised himself upon his pillow, and with a sudden strength, he
"I got up to tell you that I have had enough of these tortures,
that I have reached the limits of human energy, that I cannot endure
one day longer the agony of seeing myself put to death slowly, drop
by drop, by the hands of my wife and my best friend!"
He stopped. Hector and Bertha were thunderstruck. "I wanted to
tell you also, that I have had enough of your cruel caution, and
that I suffer. Ah, don't you see that I suffer horribly? Hurry,
cut short my agony! Kill me, and kill me at a blow - poisoners!"
At the last word, the Count de Tremorel sprang up as if he had
moved by a spring, his eyes haggard, his arms stretched out.
Sauvresy, seeing this, quickly slipped his hand under the pillow,
pulled out a revolver, and pointed the barrel at Hector, crying out:
"Don't advance a step!"
He thought that Tremorel, seeing that they were discovered, was
going to rush upon him and strangle him; but he was mistaken. It
seemed to Hector as though he were losing his mind. He fell down
as heavily as if he were a log. Bertha was more self-possessed;
she tried to resist the torpor of terror which she felt coming on.
"You are worse, my Clement," said she. "This is that dreadful fever
which frightens me so. Delirium - "
"Have I really been delirious?" interrupted he, with a surprised air.
"Alas, yes, dear, that is what haunts you, and fills your poor sick
head with horrid visions."
He looked at her curiously. He was really stupefied by this
boldness, which constantly grew more bold.
"What! you think that we, who are so dear to you, your friends, I,
your - "
Her husband's implacable look forced her to stop, and the words
expired on her lips.
"Enough of these lies, Bertha," resumed Sauvresy, "they are useless.
No, I have not been dreaming, nor have I been delirious. The poison
is only too real, and I could tell you what it is without your
taking it out of your pocket."
She recoiled as if she had seen her husband's hand stretched out to
snatch the blue vial.
"I guessed it and recognized it at the very first; for you have
chosen one of those poisons which, it is true, leave scarcely any
trace of themselves, but the symptoms of which are not deceptive.
Do you remember the day when I complained of a morbid taste for
pepper? The next day I was certain of it, and I was not the only
one. Doctor R-, too, had a suspicion."
Bertha tried to stammer something; her husband interrupted her.
"People ought to try their poisons," pursued he, in an ironical
tone, "before they use them. Didn't you understand yours, or what
its effects were? Why, your poison gives intolerable neuralgia,
sleeplessness, and you saw me without surprise, sleeping soundly
all night long! I complained of a devouring fire within me, while
your poison freezes the blood and the entrails, and yet you are not
astonished. You see all the symptoms change and disappear, and
that does not enlighten you. You are fools, then. Now see what
I had to do to divert Doctor R-'s suspicions. I hid the real pains
which your poison caused, and complained of imaginary, ridiculous
ones. I described sensations just the opposite of those which I
felt. You were lost, then - and I saved you."
Bertha's malignant energy staggered beneath so many successive blows.
She wondered whether she were not going mad; had she heard aright?
Was it really true that her husband bad perceived that he was being
poisoned, and yet said nothing; nay, that he had even deceived the
doctor? Why? What was his purpose?
Sauvresy paused several minutes, and then went on:
"I have held my tongue and so sayed you, because the sacrifice of
my life had already been made. Yes, I had been fatally wounded in
the heart on the day that I learned that you were faithless to me."
He spoke of his death without apparent emotion; but at the words,
"You were faithless to me," his voice faltered and trembled.
"I would not, could not believe it at first. I doubted the evidence
of my senses, rather than doubt you. But I was forced to believe at
last. I was no longer anything in my house but a laughing-stock.
But I was in your way. You and your lover needed more room and
liberty. You were tired of constraint and hypocrisy. Then it was
that, believing that my death would make you free and rich, you
brought in poison to rid yourselves of me."
Bertha had at least the heroism of crime. All was discovered; well,
she threw down the mask. She tried to defend her accomplice, who
lay unconscious in a chair.
"It is I that have done it all," cried she. "He is innocent."
Sauvresy turned pale with rage.
"Ah, really," said he, "my friend Hector is innocent! It wasn't he,
then, who, to pay me up - not for his life, for he was too cowardly
to kill himself; but for his honor, which he owes to me - took my
wife from me? Wretch! I hold out my hand to him when he is
drowning, I welcome him like a brother, and in return, he desolates
my hearth! . . . And you knew what you were doing, my friend Hector
- for I told you a hundred times that my wife was my all here below,
my present and my future, my dream and happiness and hope and very
life! You knew that for me to lose her was to die. But if you had
loved her - no, it was not that you loved her; you hated me. Envy
devoured you, and you could not tell me to my face, "You are too
happy." Then, like a coward, you dishonored me in the dark. Bertha
was only the instrument of your rancor; and she weighs upon you
to-day - you despise and fear her. My friend, Hector, you have been
in this house the vile lackey who thinks to avenge his baseness by
spitting upon the meats which he puts on his master's table!"
The count only responded by a shudder. The dying man's terrible
words fell more cruelly on his conscience than blows upon his cheek.
"See, Bertha," continued Sauvresy, "that's the man whom you haye
preferred to me, and for whom you have betrayed me. You never
loved me - I see it now - your heart was never Mine. And I - I
loved you so! From the day I first saw you, you were my only
thought; as if your heart had beaten in place of Mine. Everything
about you was dear and precious to me; I adored your whims,
caprices, even your faults. There was nothing I would not do for
a smile from you, so that you would say to me, Thank you, between
two kisses. You don't know that for years after our marriage it
was my delight to wake up first so as to gaze upon you as you lay
asleep, to admire and touch your lovely hair, lying dishevelled
across the pillow. Bertha!"
He softened at the remembrance of these past joys, which would not
come again. He forgot their presence, the infamous treachery, the
poison; that he was about to die, murdered by this beloved wife;
and his eyes filled with tears, his voice choked.
Bertha, more motionless and pallid than marble, listened to him
It is true, then," continued the sick man, "that these lovely eyes
conceal a soul of filth! Ah, who would not have been deceived, as
I was? Bertha, what did you dream of when you were sleeping in my
arms? Tremorel came, and you thought you saw in him the ideal of
your dreams. You admired the precocious wrinkles which betrayed an
exhausted life, like the fatal seal which marks the fallen
archangel's forehead. Your love, without thought of mine, rushed
toward him, though he did not think of you. You went to evil as if
it were your nature. And yet I thought you more immaculate than
the Alpine snows. You did not even have a struggle with yourself;
you betrayed no confusion which would reveal your first fault to
me. You brought me your forehead soiled with his kisses without
Weariness overcame his energies; his voice became little by little
feebler and less distinct.
"You had your happiness in your hands, Bertha, and you carelessly
destroyed it, as the child breaks the toy of whose value he is
ignorant. What did you expect from this wretch for whom you had
the frightful courage to kill me, with a kiss upon your lips,
slowly, hour by hour? You thought you loved him, but disgust
ought to have come at last. Look at him, and judge between us.
See which is the - man - I, extended on this bed where I shall
soon die, or he shivering there in a corner. You have the energy
of crime, but he has only the baseness of it. Ah, if my name was
Hector de Tremorel, and a man had spoken as I have just done,
that man should live no longer, even if he had ten revolvers like
this I am holding to defend himself with!"
Hector, thus taunted, tried to get up and reply; but his legs would
not support him, and his throat only gave hoarse, unintelligible
sounds. Bertha, as she looked at the two men, recognized her error
with rage and indignation. Her husband, at this moment, seemed to
her sublime; his eyes gleamed, his face was radiant; while the other
- the other! She felt sick with disgust when she but glanced
Thus all these deceptive chimeras after which she had run, love,
passion, poetry, were already hers; she had held them in her hands
and she had not been able to perceive it. But what was Sauvresy's
He continued, painfully:
"This then, is our situation; you have killed me, you are going to
be free, yet you hate and despise each other - "
He stopped, and seemed to be suffocating; he tried to raise himself
on his pillow and to sit up in bed, but found himself too feeble.
"Bertha," said he, "help me get up."
She leaned over the bed, and taking her husband in her arms,
succeeded in placing him as he wished. He appeared more at ease
in his new position, and took two or three long breaths.
"Now," he said, "I should like something to drink. The doctor lets
me take a little old wine, if I have a fancy for it; give me some."
She hastened to bring him a glass of wine, which he emptied and
handed back to her.
"There wasn't any poison in it, was there?" he asked.
This ghastly question and the smile which accompanied it, melted
Bertha's callousness; remorse had already taken possession of her,
as her disgust of Tremorel increased.
"Poison?" she cried, eagerly, "never!"
"You must give me some, though, presently, so as to help me to die."
"You die, Clement? No; I went you to live, so that I may redeem
the past. I am a wretch, and have committed a hideous crime - but
you are good. You will live; I don't ask to be your wife, but
only your servant. I will love you, humiliate myself, serve you
on my knees, so that some day, after ten, twenty years of expiation,
you will forgive me!"
Hector in his mortal terror and anguish, was scarcely able to
distinguish what was taking place. But he saw a dim ray of hope
in Bertha's gestures and accent, and especially in her last words;
he thought that perhaps it was all going to end and be forgotten,
and that Sauvresy would pardon them. Half-rising, he stammered:
"Yes, forgive us, forgive us!"
Sauvresy's eyes glittered, and his angry voice vibrated as if it
came from a throat of metal.
"Forgive!" cried he, "pardon! Did you have pity on me during all
this year that you have leen playing with my happiness, during this
fortnight that you have been mixing poison in all my potions?
Pardon? What, are you fools? Why do you think I held my tongue,
when I discovered your infamy, and let myself be poisoned, and
threw the doctors off the scent? Do you really hope that I did
this to prepare a scene of heartrending farewells, and to give
you my benediction at the end? Ah, know me better!"
Bertha was sobbing; she tried to take her husband's hand, but he
rudely repulsed her.
"Enough of these falsehoods," said he. "Enough of these perfidies.
I hate you! You don't seem to perceive that hate is all that is
still living in me."
Sauvresy's expression was at this moment ferocious. "It is almost
two months since I learned the truth; it broke me up, soul and body.
Ab, it cost me a good deal to keep quiet - it almost killed me.
But one thought sustained me; I longed to avenge myself. My mind
was always bent on that; I searched for a punishment as great as
this crime; I found none, could find none. Then you resolved to
poison me. Mark this - that the very day when I guessed about the
poison I had a thrill of joy, for I had discovered my vengeance!"
A constantly increasing terror possessed Bertha, and now stupefied
her, as well as Tremorel.
"Why do you wish for my death? To be free and marry each other?
Very well; I wish that also. The Count de Tremorel will be Madame
Sauvresy's second husband."
"Never!" cried Bertha. "No, never!"
"Never!" echoed Hector.
"It shall be so; nevertheless because I wish it. Oh, my precautions
have been well taken, and you can't escape me. Now hear me. When
I became certain that I was being poisoned, I began to write a
minute history of all three of us; I did more - I have kept a
journal day by day and hour by hour, narrating all the particulars
of my illness; then I kept some of the poison which you gave me - "
Bertha made a gesture of denial. Sauvresy proceeded:
"Certainly, I kept it, and I will tell you how. Every time that
Bertha gave me a suspicious potion, I kept a portion of it in my
mouth, and carefully ejected it into a bottle which I kept hid
under the bolster. Ah, you ask how I could have done all this
without your suspecting it, or without being seen by any of the
servants. Know that hate is stronger than love, be sure that I
have left nothing to chance, nor have I forgotten anything."
Hector and Bertha looked at Sauvresy with a dull, fixed gaze. They
forced themselves to understand him, but could scarcely do so.
"Let's finish," resumed the dying man, "my strength is waning.
This very morning, the bottle containing the poison I have preserved,
our biographies, and the narrative of my poisoning, have been put
in the hands of a trustworthy and devoted person, whom, even if
you knew him, you could not corrupt. He does not know the
contents of what has been confided to him. The day that you get
married this friend will give them all up to you. If, however,
you are not married in a year from to-day, he has instructions to
put these papers and this bottle into the hands of the officers of
A double cry of horror and anguish told Sauvresy that he had well
chosen his vengeance.
"And reflect," added he, "that this package once delivered up to
justice, means the galleys, if not the scaffold for both of you."
Sauvresy had overtasked his strength. He fell panting upon the
bed, his mouth open, his eyes filmy, and his features so distorted
that he seemed to be on the point of death. But neither Bertha
nor Tremorel thought of trying to relieve him. They remained
opposite each other with dilated eyes, stupefied, as if their
thoughts were bent upon the torments of that future which the
implacable vengeance of the man whom they had outraged imposed
upon them. They were indissolubly united, confounded in a common
destiny; nothing could separate them but death. A chain stronger
and harder than that of the galley-slave bound them together; a
chain of infamies and crimes, of which the first link was a kiss,
and the last a murder by poison. Now Sauvresy might die; his
vengeance was on their heads, casting a cloud upon their sun. Free
in appearance, they would go through life crushed by the burden of
the past, more slaves than the blacks in the American rice-fields.
Separated by mutual hate and contempt, they saw themselves riveted
together by the common terror of punishment, condemned to an
Bertha at this moment admired her husband. Now that he was so
feeble that he breathed as painfully as an infant, she looked upon
him as something superhuman. She had had no idea of such
constancy and courage allied with so much dissimulation and genius.
How cunningly he had found them out! How well he had known how to
avenge himself! To be the master, he had only to will it. In a
certain way she rejoiced in the strange atrocity of this scene; she
felt something like a bitter pride in being one of the actors in it.
At the same time she was transported with rage and sorrow in
thinking that she had had this man in her power, that he had been
at her feet. She almost loved him. Of all men, it was he whom she
would have chosen were she mistress of her destinies; and he was
going to escape her.
Tremorel, while these strange ideas crowded upon Bertha's mind,
began to come to himself. The certainty that Laurence was now
forever lost for him occurred to him, and his despair was without
bounds. The silence continued a full quarter of an hour. Sauvresy
at last subdued the spasm which had exhausted him, and spoke.
"I have not said all yet," he commenced.
His voice was as feeble as a murmur, and yet it seemed terrible to
"You shall see whether I have reckoned and foreseen well. Perhaps,
when I was dead, the idea of flying and going abroad would strike
you. I shall not permit that. You must stay at Orcival - at
Valfeuillu. A - friend-not he with the package - is charged,
without knowing the reason for it, with the task of watching you.
Mark well what I say - if either of you should disappear for eight
days, on the ninth, the man who has the package would receive a
letter which would cause him to resort at once to the police."
Yes, he had foreseen all, and Tremorel, who had already thought of
flight, was overwhelmed.
"I have so arranged, besides, that the idea of flight shall not
tempt you too much. It is true I have left all my fortune to
Bertha, but I only give her the use of it; the property itself will
not be hers until the day after your marriage."
Bertha made a gesture of repugnance which her husband misinterpreted.
"You are thinking of the copy of my will which is in your possession.
It is a useless one, and I only added to it some valueless words
because I wanted to put your suspicions to sleep. My true will is
in the notary's hands, and bears a date two days later. I can read
you the rough draft of it."
He took a sheet of paper from a portfolio which was concealed; like
the revolver, under the bolster, and read:
"Being stricken with a fatal malady, I here set down freely, and
in the fulness of my faculties, my last wishes:
"My dearest wish is that my well-beloved widow, Bertha, should
espouse, as soon as the delay enjoined by law has expired, my
dear friend, the Count Hector de Tremorel. Having appreciated the
grandeur of soul and nobleness of sentiment which belong to my
wife and friend, I know that they are worthy of each other, and
that each will be happy in the other. I die the more peacefully,
as I leave my Bertha to a protector whose - "
It was impossible for Bertha to hear more.
"For pity's sake," cried she, "enough."
"Enough? Well, let it be so," responded Sauvresy. "I have read
this paper to you to show you that while I have arranged everything
to insure the execution of my will; I have also done all that can
preserve to you the world's respect. Yes, I wish that you should
be esteemed and honored, for it is you alone upon whom I rely for
my vengeance. I have knit around you a net-work which you can
never burst asunder. You triumph; my tombstone shall be, as you
hoped, the altar of your nuptials, or else - the galleys."
Tremorel's pride at last revolted against so many humiliations, so
many whip-strokes lashing his face.
"You have only forgotten one thing, Sauvresy; that a man can die."
"Pardon me," replied the sick man, coldly. "I have foreseen that
also, and was just going to tell you so. Should one of you die
suddenly before the marriage, the police will be called in."
"You misunderstood me; I meant that a man can kill himself."
"You kill yourself? Humph! Jenny, who disdains you almost as much
as I do, has told me about your threats to kill yourself. You!
See here; here is my revolver; shoot yourself, and I will forgive
Hector made a gesture of anger, but did not take the pistol.
"You see," said Sauvresy, "I knew it well. You are afraid."
Turning to Bertha, he added, "This is your lover."
Extraordinary situations like this are so unwonted and strange
that the actors in them almost always remain composed and natural,
as if stupefied. Bertha, Hector, and Sauvresy accepted, without
taking note of it, the strange position in which they found
themselves; and they talked naturally, as if of matters of
every-day life, and not of terrible events. But the hours flew,
and Sauvresy perceived his life to be ebbing from him.
"There only remains one more act to play," said he. "Hector, go
and call the servants, have those who have gone to bed aroused, I
want to see them before dying."
"Come, go along; or shall I ring, or fire a pistol to bring them
Hector went out; Bertha remained alone with her husband - alone!
She had a hope that perhaps she might succeed in making him change
his purpose, and that she might obtain his forgiveness. She knelt
beside the bed. Never had she been so beautiful, so seductive, so
irresistible. The keen emotions of the evening had brought her
whole soul into her face, and her lovely eyes supplicated, her
breast heaved, her mouth was held out as if for a kiss, and her
new-born passion for Sauvresy burst out into delirium.
"Clement," she stammered, in a voice full of tenderness, "my
He directed toward her a glance of hatred.
"What do you wish?"
She did not know how to begin - she hesitated, trembled and sobbed.
"Hector would not kill himself," said she, "but I - "
"Well, what do you wish to say? Speak!"
"It was I, a wretch, who have killed you. I will not survive you."
An inexpressible anguish distorted Sauvresy's features. She kill
herself! If so, his vengeance was vain; his own death would then
appear only ridiculous and absurd. And he knew that Bertha would
not be wanting in courage at the critical moment.
She waited, while he reflected.
"You are free," said he, at last, "this would merely be a sacrifice
to Hector. If you died, he would marry Laurence Courtois, and in
a year would forget even our name."
Bertha sprang to her feet; she pictured Hector to herself married
and happy. A triumphant smile, like a sun's ray, brightened
Sauvresy's pale face. He had touched the right chord. He might
sleep in peace as to his vengeance. Bertha would live. He knew
how hateful to each other were these enemies whom he left linked
The servants came in one by one; nearly all of them had been long
in Sauvresy's service, and they loved him as a good master. They
wept and groaned to see him lying there so pale and haggard, with
the stamp of death already on his forehead. Sauvresy spoke to
them in a feeble voice, which was occasionally interrupted by
distressing hiccoughs. He thanked them, he said, for their
attachment and fidelity, and wished to apprise them that he had
left each of them a goodly sum in his will. Then turning to Bertha
and Hector, he resumed:
"You have witnessed, my people, the care and solicitude with which
my bedside has been surrounded by this incomparable friend and my
adored Bertha. You have seen their devotion. Alas, I know how
keen their sorrow will be! But if they wish to soothe my last
moments and give me a happy death, they will assent to the prayer
which I earnestly make, to them, and will swear to espouse each
other after I am gone. Oh, my beloved friends, this seems cruel
to you now; but you know not how all human pain is dulled in me.
You are young, life has yet much happiness in store for you. I
conjure you yield to a dying man's entreaties!"
They approached the bed, and Sauvresy put Bertha's hand into
"Do you swear to obey me?" asked he.
They shuddered to hold each other's hands, and seemed near
fainting; but they answered, and were heard to murmur:
"We swear it."
The servants retired, grieved at this distressing scene, and
Oh, 'tis infamous, 'tis horrible!"
"Infamous - yes," returned Sauvresy, "but not more so than your
caresses, Bertha, or than your hand-pressures, Hector; not more
horrible than your plans, than your hopes - "
His voice sank into a rattle. Soon the agony commenced. Horrible
convulsions distorted his limbs; twice or thrice he cried out:
"I am cold; I am cold!"
His body was indeed stiff, and nothing could warm it.
Despair filled the house, for a death so sudden was not looked for.
The domestics came and went, whispering to each other, "He is going,
poor monsieur; poor madame!"
Soon the convulsions ceased. He lay extended on his back, breathing
so feebly that twice they thought his breath had ceased forever. At
last, a little before ten o'clock, his cheeks suddenly colored and
he shuddered. He rose, up in bed, his eye staring, his arm
stretched out toward the window, and he cried:
"There-behind the curtain - I see them - I see them!"
A last convulsion stretched him again on his pillow.
Clement Sauvresy was dead!
The old justice of the peace ceased reading his voluminous record.
His hearers, the detective and the doctor remained silent under the
influence of this distressing narrative. M. Plantat had read it
impressively, throwing himself into the recital as if he had been
personally an actor in the scenes described.
M. Lecoq was the first to recover himself.
"A strange man, Sauvresy," said he.
It was Sauvresy's extraordinary idea of vengeance which struck him
in the story. He admired his "good playing" in a drama in which
he knew he was going to yield up his life.
"I don't know many people," pursued the detective, "capable of so
fearful a firmness. To let himself be poisoned so slowly and
gently by his wife! Brrr! It makes a man shiver all over!"
"He knew how to avenge himself," muttered the doctor.
"Yes," answered M. Plantat, "yes, Doctor; he knew how to avenge
himself, and more terribly than he supposed, or than you can imagine.
The detective rose from his seat. He had remained motionless,
glued to his chair for more than three hours, and his legs were
"For my part," said he, "I can very well conceive what an infernal
existence the murderers began to suffer the day after their victim's
death. You have depicted them, Monsieur Plantat, with the hand of
a master. I know them as well after your description as if I had
studied them face to face for ten years."
He spoke deliberately, and watched for the effect of what he said
in M. Plantat's countenance.
"Where on earth did this old fellow get all these details?" he
asked himself. "Did he write this narrative, and if not, who did?
How was it, if he had all this information, that he has said
M. Plantat appeared to be unconscious of the detective's searching
"I know that Sauvresy's body was not cold," said he, "before his
murderers began to threaten each other with death."
"Unhappily for them," observed Dr. Gendron, "Sauvresy had foreseen
the probability of his widow's using up the rest of the vial of
"Ah, he was shrewd," said M. Lecoq, in a tone of conviction,
"Bertha could not pardon Hector," continued M. Plantat, "for
refusing to take the revolver and blow his brains out; Sauvresy,
you see, had foreseen that. Bertha thought that if her lover were
dead, her husband would have forgotten all; and it is impossible to
tell whether she was mistaken or not."
"And nobody knew anything of this horrible struggle that was going
on in the house?"
"No one ever suspected anything."
"Say, Monsieur Lecoq, that is scarcely credible. Never was
dissimulation so crafty, and above all, so wonderfully sustained.
If you should question the first person you met in Orcival, he
would tell you, as our worthy Courtois this morning told Monsieur
Domini, that the count and countess were a model pair and adored
each other. Why I, who knew - or suspected, I should say - what
had passed, was deceived myself."
Promptly as M. Plantat had corrected himself, his slip of the
tongue did not escape M. Lecoq.
"Was it really a slip, or not? " he asked himself.
"These wretches have been terribly punished," pursued M. Plantat,
"and it is impossible to pity them; all would have gone rightly if
Sauvresy, intoxicated by his hatred, had not committed a blunder
which was almost a crime."
"A crime! "exclaimed the doctor.
M. Lecoq smiled and muttered in a low tone:
But low as he had spoken, M. Plantat heard him.
"Yes, Monsieur Lecoq," said he severely. "Yes, Laurence. Sauvresy
did a detestable thing when he thought of making this poor girl the
accomplice, or I should say, the instrument of his wrath. He
piteously threw her between these two wretches, without asking
himself whether she would be broken. It was by using Laurence's
name that he persuaded Bertha not to kill herself. Yet he knew of
Tremorel's passion for her, he knew her love for him, and he knew
that his friend was capable of anything. He, who had so well
foreseen all that could serve his vengeance, did not deign to
foresee that Laurence might be dishonored; and yet he left her
disarmed before this most cowardly and infamous of men!"
The detective reflected.
"There is one thing," said he, "that I can't explain. Why was it
that these two, who execrated each other, and whom the implacable
will of their victim chained together despite themselves, did not
separate of one accord the day after their marriage, when they had
fulfilled the condition which had established their crime?"
The old justice of the peace shook his head.
"I see," he answered, "that I have not yet made you understand
Bertha's resolute character. Hector would have been delighted with
a separation; his wife could not consent to it. Ah, Sauvresy knew
her well! She saw her life ruined, a horrible remorse lacerated
her; she must have a victim upon whom to expiate her errors and
crimes; this victim was Hector. Ravenous for her prey, she would
not let him go for anything in the world."
"I' faith," observed Dr. Gendron, "your Tremorel was a
chicken-hearted wretch. What had he to fear when Sauvresy's
manuscript was once destroyed?"
"Who told you it had been destroyed?" interrupted M. Plantat.
M. Lecoq at this stopped promenading up and down the room, and sat
down opposite M. Plantat.
"The whole case lies there," said he, "Whether these proofs have
or have not been destroyed."
M. Plantat did not choose to answer directly.
"Do you know," asked he, "to whom Sauvresy confided them for
"Ah," cried the detective, as if a sudden idea had enlightened him,
"it was you."
He added to himself, "Now, my good man, I begin to see where all
your information comes from."
"Yes, it was I," resumed M. Plantat. "On the day of the marriage
of Madame Sauvresy and Count Hector, in conformity with the last
wishes of my dying friend, I went to Valfeuillu and asked to see
Monsieur and Madame de Tremorel. Although they were full of
company, they received me at once in the little room on the
ground-floor where Sauvresy was murdered. They were both very pale
and terribly troubled. They evidently guessed the purpose of my
visit, for they lost no time in admitting me to an interview. After
saluting them I addressed myself to Bertha, being enjoined to do so
by the written instructions I had received; this was another
instance of Sauvresy's foresight. 'Madame,' said I, 'I was charged
by your late husband to hand to you, on the day of your second
marriage, this package, which he confided to my care.' She took the
package, in which the bottle and the manuscript were enclosed,
with a smiling, even joyous air, thanked me warmly, and went out.
The count's expression instantly changed; he appeared very restless
and agitated; he seemed to be on coals. I saw well enough that he
burned to rush after his wife, but dared not; I was going to retire;
but he stopped me. 'Pardon me,' said he, abruptly, 'you will permit
me, will you not? I will return immediately,' with which he ran
out. When I saw him and his wife a few minutes afterward, they
were both very red; their eyes had a strange expression and their
voices trembled, as they accompanied me to the door. They had
certainly been having a violent altercation."
"The rest may he conjectured," interrupted M. Lecoq. "She had gone
to secrete the manuscript in some safe place; and when her new
husband asked her to give it up to him, she replied, 'Look for it.'"
"Sauvresy had enjoined on me to give it only into her hands."
"Oh, he knew how to work his revenge. He had it given to his wife
so that she might hold a terrible arm against Tremorel, all ready
to crush him. If he revolted, she always had this instrument of
torture at hand. Ah, the man was a miserable wretch, and she must
have made him suffer terribly."
"Yes," said Dr. Gendron, "up to the very day he killed her."
The detective had resumed his promenade up and down the library.
"The question as to the poison," said he, " remains. It is a simple
one to resolve, because we've got the man who sold it to her in
Besides," returned the doctor," I can tell something about the
poison. This rascal of a Robelot stole it from my laboratory, and
I know only too well what it is, even if the symptoms, so well
described by our friend Plantat, had not indicated its name to me.
I was at work upon aconite when Sauvresy died; and he was poisoned
"Ah, with aconitine," said M. Lecoq, surprised. "It's the first
time that I ever met with that poison. Is it a new thing?"
"Not exactly. Medea is said to have extracted her deadliest poisons
from aconite, and it was employed in Rome and Greece in criminal
"And I did not know of it! But I have very little time to study.
Besides, this poison of Medea's was perhaps lost, as was that of
the Borgias; so many of these things are!"
"No, it was not lost, be assured. But we only know of it nowadays
by Mathiole's experiments on felons sentenced to death, in the
sixteenth century; by Hers, who isolated the active principle, the
alkaloid, in 1833 and lastly by certain experiments made by
Bouchardat, who pretends - "
Unfortunately, when Dr. Gendron was set agoing on poisons, it was
difficult to stop him; but M. Lecoq, on the other hand, never lost
sight of the end he had in view.
"Pardon me for interrupting you, Doctor," said he. "But would
traces of aconitine be found in a body which had been two years
buried? For Monsieur Domini is going to order the exhumation of
"The tests of aconitine are not sufficiently well known to permit
of the isolation of it in a body. Bouchardat tried ioduret of
potassium, but his experiment was not successful."
"The deuce!" said M. Lecoq. "That's annoying."
The doctor smiled benignly.
"Reassure yourself," said he. "No such process was in existence
- so I invented one."
"Ah," cried Plantat. "Your sensitive paper!"
"And could you find aconitine in Sauvresy's body?"
M. Lecoq was radiant, as if he were now certain of fulfilling what
had seemed to him a very difficult task.
"Very well," said he. "Our inquest seems to be complete. The
history of the victims imparted to us by Monsieur Plantat gives us
the key to all the events which have followed the unhappy Sauvresy's
death. Thus, the hatred of this pair, who were in appearance so
united, is explained; and it is also clear why Hector has ruined a
charming young girl with a splendid dowry, instead of making her his
wife. There is nothing surprising in Tremorel's casting aside his
name and personality to reappear under another guise; he killed his
wife because he was constrained to do so by the logic of events. He
could not fly while she was alive, and yet he could not continue to
live at Valfeuillu. And above all, the paper for which he searched
with such desperation, when every moment was an affair of life and
death to him, was none other than Sauvresy's manuscript, his
condemnation and the proof of his first crime.
M. Lecoq talked eagerly, as if he had a personal animosity against
the Count de Tremorel; such was his nature; and he always avowed
laughingly that he could not help having a grudge against the
criminals whom he purstied. There was an account to settle between
him and them; hence the ardor of his pursuit. Perhaps it was a
simple matter of instinct with him, like that which impels the
hunting hound on the track of his game.
"It is clear enough now," he went on, "that it was Mademoiselle
Courtois who put an end to his hesitation and eternal delay. His
passion for her, irritated by obstacles, goaded him to delirium.
On learning her condition, he lost his head and forgot all prudence
and reason. He was wearied, too, of a punishment which began anew
each morning; he saw himself lost, and his wife sacrificing herself
for the malignant pleasure of sacrificing him. Terrified, he took
the resolution to commit this murder."
Many of the circumstances which had established M. Lecoq's
conviction had escaped Dr. Gendron.
"What!" cried he, stupefied. "Do you believe in Mademoiselle
The'detective earnestly protested by a gesture.
"No, Doctor, certainly not; heaven forbid that I should have such
an idea. Mademoiselle Courtois was and is still ignorant of this
crime. But she knew that Tremorel would abandon his wife for her.
This flight had been discussed, planned, and agreed upon between
them; they made an appointment to meet at a certain place, on a
"But this letter," said the doctor.
M. Plantat could scarcely conceal his emotion whet Laurence was
being talked about.
"This letter," cried he, "which has plunged her family into the
deepest grief, and which will perhaps kill poor Courtois, is only
one more scene of the infamous drama which the count has planned."
"Oh," said the doctor, " is it possible?
"I am firmly of Monsieur Plantat's opinion," said the detective.
"Last evening we had the same suspicion at the same moment at the
mayor's. I read and re-read her letter, and could have sworn that
it did not emanate from herself. The count gave her a rough draft
from which she copied it. We mustn't deceive ourselves ; this letter
was meditated, pondered on, and composed at leisure. Those were not
the expressions of an unhappy young girl of twenty who was going to
kill herself to escape dishonor."
"Perhaps you are right," remarked the doctor visibly moved. "But
how can you imagine that Tremorel succeeded in persuading her to
do this wretched act?"
"How? See here, Doctor, I am not much experienced in such things,
having seldom had occasion to study the characters of well-brought-up
young girls; yet it seems to me very simple. Mademoiselle Courtois
saw the time coming when her disgrace would be public, and so
prepared for it, and was even ready to die if necessary."
M. Plantat shuddered; a conversation which he had had with Laurence
occurred to him. She had asked him, he remembered, about certain
poisonous plants which he was cultivating, and had been anxious to
know how the poisonous juices could be extracted from them.
"Yes," said he, "she has thought of dying."
"Well," resumed the detective, "the count took her in one of the
moods when these sad thoughts haunted the poor girl, and was easily
able to complete his work of ruin. She undoubtedly told him that
she preferred death to shame, and he proved to her that, being in
the condition in which she was, she had no right to kill herself.
He said that he was very unhappy; and that not being free, he could
not repair his fault; but he offered to sacrifice his life for her.
What should she do to save both of them? Abandon her parents, make
them believe that she had committed suicide, while he, on his side,
would desert his house and his wife. Doubtless she resisted for
awhile; but she finally consented to everything; she fled, and
copied and posted the infamous letter dictated by her lover."
The doctor was convinced.
"Yes," he muttered, "those are doubtless the means he employed."
"But what an idiot he was," resumed M. Lecoq, "not to perceive that
the strange coincidence between his disappearance and Laurence's
suicide would be remarked! He said to himself, 'Probably people
will think that I, as well as my wife, have been murdered; and the
law, having its victim in Guespin, will not look for any other.'"
M. Plantat made a gesture of impotent rage.
"Ah," cried he, "and we know not where the wretch has hid himself
The detective took him by the arm and pressed it.
"Reassure yourself," said he, coolly. "We'll find him, or my name's
not Lecoq ; and to be honest, I must say that our task does not seem
to me a difficult one."
Several timid knocks at the door interrupted the speaker. It was
late, and the household was already awake and about. Mme. Petit
in her anxiety and curiosity had put her ear to the key-hole at
least ten times, but in vain.
"What can they be up to in there?" said she to Louis. "Here they've
been shut up these twelve hours without eating or drinking. At all
events I'll get breakfast."
It was not Mme. Petit, however, who dared to knock on the door; but
Louis, the gardener, who came to tell his master of the ravages
which had been made in his flower-pots and shrubs. At the same time
he brought in certain singular articles which he had picked up on
the sward, and which M. Lecoq recognized at once.
"Heavens! " cried he, "I forgot myself. Here I go on quietly
talking with my face exposed, as if it was not broad daylight; and
people might come in at any moment!" And turning to Louis, who was
very much surprised to see this dark young man whom he had certainly
not admitted the night before, he added:
"Give me those little toilet articles, my good fellow; they belong
Then, by a turn of his hand, he readjusted his physiognomy of last
night, while the master of the house went out to give some orders,
which M. Lecoq did so deftly, that when M. Plantat returned, he
could scarcely believe his eyes.
They sat down to breakfast and ate their meal as silently as they
had done the dinner of the evening before, losing no time about it.
They appreciated the value of the passing moments; M. Domini was
waiting for them at Corbeil, and was doubtless getting impatient at
Louis had just placed a sumptuous dish of fruit upon the table,
when it occurred to M. Lecoq that Robelot was still shut up in the
"Probably the rascal needs something," said he.
M. Plantat wished to send his servant to him; but M. Lecoq objected.
"He's a dangerous rogue," said he. "I'll go myself."
He went out, but almost instantly his voice was heard:
"Messieurs! Messieurs, see here!"
The doctor and M. Plantat hastened into the library.
Across the threshold of the closet was stretched the body of the
bone-setter. He had killed himself.
Robelot must have had rare presence of mind and courage to kill
himself in that obscure closet, without making enough noise to
arouse the attention of those in the library. He had wound a
string tightly around his neck, and had used a piece of pencil as
a twister, and so had strangled himself. He did not, however,
betray the hideous look which the popular belief attributes to
those who have died by strangulation. His face was pale, his eyes
and mouth half open, and he had the appearance of one who has
gradually and without much pain lost his consciousness by congestion
of the brain.
"Perhaps he is not quite dead yet," said the doctor. He quickly
pulled out his case of instruments and knelt beside the motionless
This incident seemed to annoy M. Lecoq very much; just as everything
was, as he said, "running on wheels," his principal witness, whom he
had caught at the peril of his life, had escaped him. M. Plantat,
on the contrary, seemed tolerably well satisfied, as if the death
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