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The Count de Tremorel, having reached the street, ascended the boulevard. All of a sudden he bethought him of his friends. The story of the execution must have already spread.
"No; not that way," he muttered.
This was because, on the boulevard, he would certainly meet some of his very dear cronies, and he desired to escape their condolence and offers of service. He pictured to himself their sorry visages, concealing a hidden and delicious satisfaction. He had wounded so many vanities that he must look for terrible revenges. The friends of an insolently prosperous man are rejoiced in his downfall.
Hector crossed the street, went along the Rue Duphot, and reached the quays. Where was he going? He did not know, and did not even ask himself. He walked at random, enjoying the physical content which follows a good meal, happy to find himself still in the land of the living, in the soft April sunlight.
The weather was superb, and all Paris was out of doors. There was a holiday air about the town. The flower-women at the corners of the bridges had their baskets full of odorous violets. The count bought, a bouquet near the Pont Neuf and stuck it in his button-hole, and without waiting for his change, passed on. He reached the large square at the end of the Bourdon boulevard, which is always full of jugglers and curiosity shows; here the noise, the music, drew him from his torpor, and brought his thoughts back to his present situation.
"I must leave Paris," thought he.
He crossed toward the Orleans station at a quicker pace. He entered the waiting-room, and asked what time the train left for Etampes. Why did he choose Etampes? A train had just gone, and there would not be another one for two hours. He was much annoyed at this, and as he could not wait there two hours, he wended his way, to kill time, toward the Jardin des Plantes. He had not been there for ten or twelve years - not since, when at school, his teachers had brought him there to look at the animals. Nothing had changed. There were the groves and parterres, the lawns and lanes, the beasts and birds, as before. The principal avenue was nearly deserted. He took a seat opposite the mineralogical museum. He reflected on his position. He glanced back through the departed years, and did not find one day among those many days which had left him one of those gracious memories which delight and console. Millions had slipped through his prodigal hands, and he could not recall a single useful expenditure, a really generous one, amounting to twenty francs. He, who had had so many friends, searched his memory in vain for the name of a single friend whom he regretted to part from. The past seemed to him like a faithful mirror; he was surprised, startled at the folly of the pleasures, the inane delights, which had been the end and aim of his existence. For what had he lived? For others.
"Ab, what a fool I was!" he muttered, "what a fool!"
After living for others, he was going to kill himself for others. His heart became softened. Who would think of him, eight days hence? Not one living being. Yes - Jenny, perhaps. Yet, no. She would be consoled with a new lover in less than a week.
The bell for closing the garden rang. Night had come, and a thick and damp mist had covered the city. The count, chilled to the bones, left his seat.
"To the station again," muttered he.
It was a horrible idea to him now - this of shooting himself in the silence and obscurity of the forest. He pictured to himself his disfigured body, bleeding, lying on the edge of some ditch. Beggars or robbers would despoil him. And then? The police would come and take up this unknown body, and doubtless would carry it, to be identified, to the Morgue. "Never!" cried he, at this thought, "no, never!"
How die, then? He reflected, and it struck him that he would kill himself in some second-class hotel on the left bank of the Seine.
"Yes, that's it," said he to himself.
Leaving the garden with the last of the visitors, he wended his way toward the Latin Quarter. The carelessness which he had assumed in the morning gave way to a sad resignation. He was suffering; his head was heavy, and he was cold.
"If I shouldn't die to-night," he thought, "I shall have a terrible cold in the morning."
This mental sally did not make him smile, but it gave him the consciousness of being firm and determined. He went into the Rue Dauphine and looked about for a hotel. Then it occurred to him that it was not yet seven o'clock, and it might arouse suspicions if he asked for a room at that early hour. He reflected that he still had over one hundred francs, and resolved to dine. It should be his last meal. He went into a restaurant and ordered it. But he in vain tried to throw off the anxious sadness which filled him. He drank, and consumed three bottles of wine without changing the current of his thoughts.
The waiters were surprised to see him scarcely touch the dishes set before him, and growing more gloomy after each potation. His dinner cost ninety francs; he threw his last hundred-franc note on the table, and went out. As it was not yet late, he went into another restaurant where some students were drinking, and sat down at a table in the farther corner of the room. He ordered coffee and rapidly drank three or four cups. He wished to excite himself, to screw up his courage to do what he had resolved upon; but he could not; the drink seemed only to make him more and more irresolute.
A waiter, seeing him alone at the table, offered him a newspaper. He took it mechanically, opened it, and read:
"Just as we are going to press, we learn that a well-known person has disappeared, after announcing his intention to commit suicide. The statements made to us are so strange, that we defer details till to-morrow, not having time to send for fuller information now."
These lines startled Hector. They were his death sentence, not to be recalled, signed by the tyrant whose obsequious courtier he had always been - public opinion.
"They will never cease talking about me," he muttered angrily. Then he added, firmly, "Come, I must make an end of this."
He soon reached the H6tel Luxembourg. He rapped at the door, and was speedily conducted to the best room in the house. He ordered a fire to be lighted. He also asked for sugar and water, and writing materials. At this moment he was as firm as in the morning.
"I must not hesitate," he muttered, " nor recoil from my fate."
He sat down at the table near the fireplace, and wrote in a firm hand a declaration which he destined for the police.
"No one must be accused of my death," he commenced; and he went on by asking that the hotel-keeper should be indemnified.
The hour by the clock was five minutes before eleven; he placed his pistols on the mantel.
"I will shoot myself at midnight," thought he. "I have yet an hour to live."
The count threw himself in an arm-chair and buried his face in his hands. Why did he not kill himself at once? Why impose on himself this hour of waiting, of anguish and torture? He could not have told. He began again to think over the events of his life, reflecting on the headlong rapidity of the occurrences which had brought him to that wretched room. How time had passed! It seemed but yesterday that he first began to borrow. It does little good, however, to a man who has fallen to the bottom of the abyss, to know the causes why he fell.
The large hand of the clock had passed the half hour after eleven.
He thought of the newspaper item which he had just read. Who furnished the information? Doubtless it was Jenny. She had come to her senses, tearfully hastened after him. When she failed to find him on the boulevard, she had probably gone to his house, then to his club, then to some of his friends. So that to-night, at this very moment, the world was discussing him.
"Have you heard the news?"
"Ah, yes, poor Tremorel! What a romance! A good fellow, only - "
He thought he heard this "only" greeted with laughter and innuendoes. Time passed on. The ringing vibration of the clock was at hand; the hour had come.
The count got up, seized his pistols, and placed himself near the bed, so as not to fall on the floor.
The first stroke of twelve ; he did not fire.
Hector was a man of courage; his reputation for bravery was high. He had fought at least ten duels; and his cool bearing on the ground had always been admiringly remarked. One day he had killed a man, and that night he slept very soundly.
But he did not fire.
There are two kinds of courage. One, false courage, is that meant for the public eye, which needs the excitement of the struggle, the stimulus of rage, and the applause of lookers-on. The other, true courage, despises public opinion, obeys conscience, not passion; success does not sway it, it does its work noiselessly.
Two minutes after twelve - Hector still held the pistol against his forehead.
"Am I going to be afraid?" he asked himself.
He was afraid, but would not confess it to himself. He put his pistols back on the table and returned to his seat near the fire. All his limbs were trembling.
It's nervousness," he muttered. "It'll pass off."
He gave himself till one o'clock. He tried to convince himself of the necessity of committing suicide. If he did not, what would become of him? How would he live? Must he make up his mind to work? Besides, could he appear in the world, when all Paris knew of his intention? This thought goaded him to fury; he had a sudden courage, and grasped his pistols. But the sensation which the touch of the cold steel gave him, caused him to drop his arm and draw away shuddering.
"I cannot," repeated he, in his anguish. "I cannot!"
The idea of the physical pain of shooting himself filled him with horror. Why had he not a gentler death? Poison, or perhaps charcoal - like the little cook? He did not fear the ludicrousness of this now; all that he feared was, that the courage to kill himself would fail him.
He went on extending his time of grace from half-hour to half-hour. It was a horrible night, full of the agony of the last night of the criminal condemned to the scaffold. He wept with grief and rage and wrung his hands and prayed. Toward daylight he fell exhausted into an uneasy slumber, in his arm-chair. He was awakened by three or four heavy raps on the door, which he hastily opened. It was the waiter, who had come to take his order for breakfast, and who started back with amazement on seeing Hector, so disordered was his clothing and so livid the pallor of his features.
"I want nothing," said the count. "I'm going down."
He had just enough money left to pay his bill, and six sous for the waiter. He quitted the hotel where he had suffered so much, without end or aim in view. He was more resolved than ever to die, only he yearned for several days of respite to nerve himself for the deed. But how could he live during these days? He had not so much as a centime left. An idea struck him - the pawnbrokers!
He knew that at the Monte-de-Piete* a certain amount would be advanced to him on his jewelry. But where find a branch office? He dared not ask, but hunted for one at hazard. He now held his head up, walked with a firmer step; he was seeking something, and had a purpose to accomplish. He at last saw the sign of the Monte-de-Piete on a house in the Rue Conde, and entered. The hall was small, damp, filthy, and full of people. But if the place was gloomy, the borrowers seemed to take their misfortunes good-humoredly. They were mostly students and women, talking gayly as they waited for their turns. The Count de Tremorel advanced with his watch, chain, and a brilliant diamond that he had taken from his finger. He was seized with the timidity of misery, and did not know how to open his business. A young woman pitied his embarrassment.
[* The public pawnbroker establishment of Paris, which has branch bureaus through the city.]
"See," said she, "put your articles on this counter, before that window with green curtains."
A moment after he heard a voice which seemed to proceed from the next room:
"Twelve hundred francs for the watch and ring."
This large amount produced such a sensation as to arrest all the conversation. All eyes were turned toward the millionnaire who was going to pocket such a fortune. The millionnaire made no response.
The same woman who had spoken before nudged his arm.
"That's for you," said she. "Answer whether you will take it or not."
I'll take it," cried Hector.
He was filled with a joy which made him forget the night's torture. Twelve hundred francs! How many days it would last! Had he not heard there were clerks who hardly got that in a year?
Hector waited a long time, when one of the clerks, who was writing at a desk, called out:
"Whose are the twelve hundred francs?"
The count stepped forward.
"Mine," said he.
Hector hesitated. He would never give his name aloud in such a place as this. He gave the first name that occurred to him.
"Where are your papers?"
"A passport, a receipt for lodgings, a license to hunt - "
"I haven't any."
"Go for them, or bring two well-known witnesses."
"But - "
"There is no but. The next - "
Hector was provoked by the clerk's abrupt manner.
"Well, then," said he, "give me back the jewelry."
The clerk looked at him jeeringly.
"Can't be done. No goods that are registered, can be returned without proof of rightful possession." So saying, he went on with his work. "One French shawl, thirty-five francs, whose is it?"
Hector meanwhile went out of the establishment. He had never suffered so much, had never imagined that one could suffer so much. After this ray of hope, so abruptly put out, the clouds lowered over him thicker and more hopelessly. He was worse off than the shipwrecked sailor; the pawnbroker had taken his last resources. All the romance with which he had invested the idea of his suicide now vanished, leaving bare the stern and ignoble reality. He must kill himself, not like the gay gamester who voluntarily leaves upon the roulette table the remains of his fortune, but like the Greek, who surprised and hunted, knows that every door will be shut upon him. His death would not be voluntary; he could neither hesitate nor choose the fatal hour; he must kill himself because he had not the means of living one day longer.
And life never before seemed to him so sweet a thing as now. He never felt so keenly the exuberance of his youth and strength. He suddenly discovered all about him a crowd of pleasures each more enviable than the others, which he had never tasted. He who flattered himself that he had squeezed life to press out its pleasures, had not really lived. He had had all that is to be bought or sold, nothing of what is given or achieved. He already not only regretted giving the ten thousand francs to Jenny, but the two hundred francs to the servants - nay the six sous given to the waiter at the restaurant, even the money he had spent on the bunch of violets. The bouquet still hung in his buttonhole, faded and shrivelled. What good did it do him? While the sous which he had paid for it - ! He did not think of his wasted millions, but could not drive away the thought of that wasted franc!
True, he might, if he chose, find plenty of money still, and easily. He had only to return quietly to his house, to discharge the bailiffs, and to resume the possession of his remaining effects. But he would thus confront the world, and confess his terrors to have overcome him at the last moment; he would have to suffer glances more cruel than the pistol-ball. The world must not be deceived; when a man announces that he is going to kill himself - he must kill himself.
So Hector was going to die because he had said he would, because the newspapers had announced the fact. He confessed this to himself as he went along, and bitterly reproached himself.
He remembered a pretty spot in Viroflay forest, where he had once fought a duel; he would commit the deed there. He hastened toward it. The weather was fine and he met many groups of young people going into the country for a good time. Workmen were drinking and clinking their glasses under the trees along the river-bank. All seemed happy and contented, and their gayety seemed to insult Hector's wretchedness. He left the main road at the Sevres bridge, and descending the embankment reached the borders of the Seine. Kneeling down, he took up some water in the palm of his hand, and drank - an invincible lassitude crept over him. He sat, or rather fell, upon the sward. The fever of despair came, and death now seemed to him a refuge, which he could almost welcome with joy. Some feet above him the windows of a Sevres restaurant opened toward the river. He could be seen from them, as well as from the bridge; but he did not mind this, nor anything else.
"As well here, as elsewhere," he said to himself.
He had just drawn his pistol out, when he heard someone call:
He jumped up at a bound, concealed the pistol, and looked about. A man was running down the embankment toward him with outstretched arms. This was a man of his own age, rather stout, but well shaped, with a fine open face and, large black eyes in which one read frankness and good-nature; one of those men who are sympathetic at first sight, whom one loves on a week's acquaintance.
Hector recognized him. It was his oldest friend, a college mate; they had once been very intimate, but the count not finding the other fast enough for him, had little by little dropped his intimacy, and had now lost sight of him for two years.
"Sauvresy!" he exclaimed, stupefied.
"Yes," said the young man, hot, and out of breath, "I've been watching you the last two minutes; what were you doing here?"
"Why - nothing."
"How! What they told me at your house this morning was true, then! I went there."
"What did they say?"
"That nobody knew what had become of you, and that you declated to Jenny when you left her the night before that you were going to blow your brains out. The papers have already announced your death, with details."
This news seemed to have a great effect on the count.
"You see, then," he answered tragically, "that I must kill myself!"
"Why? In order to save the papers from the inconvenience of correcting their error."
"People will say that I shrunk - "
"Oh, 'pon my word now! According to you, a man must make a fool of himself because it has been reported that he would do it. Absurd, old fellow. What do you want to kill yourself for?"
Hector reflected; he almost saw the possibility of living.
"I am ruined," answered he, sadly.
"And it's for this that - stop, my friend, let me tell you, you are an ass! Ruined! It's a misfortune, but when a man is of your age he rebuilds his fortune. Besides, you aren't as ruined as you say, because I've got an income of a hundred thousand francs."
"A hundred thousand francs - "
"Well, my fortune is in land, which brings in about four per cent."
Tremorel knew that his friend was rich, but not that he was as rich as this. He answered with a tinge of envy in his tone:
"Well, I had more than that; but I had no breakfast this morning."
"And you did not tell me! But true, you are in a pitiable state; come along, quick!"
And he led him toward the restaurant.
Tremorel reluctantly followed this friend, who had just saved his life. He was conscious of having been surprised in a distressingly ridiculous situation. If a man who is resolved to blow his brains out is accosted, he presses the trigger, he doesn't conceal his pistol. There was one alone, among all his friends, who loved him enough not to see the ludicrousness of his position; one alone generous enough not to torture him with raillery; it was Sauvresy.
But once seated before a well-filled table, Hector could not preserve his rigidity. He felt the joyous expansion of spirit which follows assured safety after terrible peril. He was himself, young again, once more strong. He told Sauvresy everything; his vain boasting, his terror at the last moment, his agony at the hotel, his fury, remorse, and anguish at the pawnbroker's.
"Ah!" said he. "You have saved me! You are my friend, my only friend, my brother."
They talked for more than two hours.
"Come," said Sauvresy at last, "let us arrange our plans. You want to disappear awhile'; I see that. But to-night you must write four lines to the papers. To-morrow I propose to take your affairs in hand, that's a thing I know how to do. I don't know exactly how you stand; but I will agree to save something from the wreck. We've got money, you see; your creditors will be easy with us."
"But where shall I go?" asked Hector, whom the mere idea of isolation terrified.
"What? You'll come home with me, parbleu, to Valfeuillu. Don't you know that I am married? Ah, my friend, a happier man than I does not exist! I've married - for love - the loveliest and best of women. You will be a brother to us. But come, my carriage is right here near the door."
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