The Infernal Creature

“Let go the anchor and lower a boat,” said Josephine.

A thick mist rested on the sea, which, along with the darkness of the night, prevented them from seeing the lights of Etretat. Even the lamp of Cape Antifer lighthouse could not pierce the impenetrable fog through which the yacht of Prince Lavosneff was groping its way.

“Why are you sure that we are in sight of land?” Leonard asked.

“Because I desire it so keenly,” said Josephine.

He lost his temper: “This expedition is foolishness⁠—pure foolishness,” he said. “What? It’s a fortnight since we succeeded and that, thanks to you, we gained the most extraordinary victory. The whole mass of those precious stones is safe in the strongroom of a bank in London. All danger is over. The Countess of Cagliostro, Madam Pellegrini, Madam Balsamo, the Marquise de Belmonte, are all at the bottom of the sea, as a result of the shipwreck of the Glowworm which you had the admirable idea of organizing and which you directed with such vigor. Twenty witnesses heard the explosion from the coast. To all the world you are dead, a hundred times dead, and I as well, and all your confederates. If anyone succeeded in bringing to light the story of the treasure of the monks, they would come to the conclusion that it had been scattered about with the fragments of the Glowworm at a place impossible to fix exactly, and that the jewels are strewn about in the bottom of the sea. And we may well believe that Justice is delighted with this shipwreck and our deaths, and that it is not going to look too closely into the matter, such efforts have been made in high places to hush up the Beaumagnan-Cagliostro affair. Everything then is going well. You are the mistress of circumstances and victorious over all your enemies. And it is the moment at which the most elementary prudence bids us leave France and to get as far as possible away from Europe. And that’s the very moment you choose to return to the very place in which you have suffered your worst defeats, and to confront the only enemy who remains. And what an enemy! A genius of a kind so exceptional, that, without him you would never have discovered the treasure. You must admit that it’s madness.”

She murmured: “Love is a madness.”

“Then give it up.”

“I can’t give it up. I love him.”

She rested her elbows on the bulwarks, her head between her hands, and murmured in despairing accents: “I love him. It’s the first time I have ever loved. The other men⁠—they don’t count. But as for Ralph but I don’t want to talk about him. Thanks to him I have known the only joy I ever had⁠—but also the greatest suffering. Before I met him I did not know what happiness was; but I did not know sorrow either. And then⁠—and then the happiness came to an end; and only the suffering is left. It’s horrible, Leonard! The idea that he is going to marry⁠—that another is going to share his life, is more than I can bear. Anything rather than that! I would rather risk anything⁠—I would rather die!”

He said in a low voice: “My poor Josine.”

They were silent for some time. She leaned on the rail huddled together and despairing. Then when the boat was lowered, she drew herself upright, imperious and implacable.

“But I risk nothing, Leonard⁠—neither death nor failure,” she said.

“What are you going to do?” he said in a tone of patient resignation.

“I’m going to carry him off.”

“You hope to do that?”

“Yes. Everything is ready. The smallest details have been worked out.”

“How?” he said in an incredulous tone.

“By the agency of Dominique.”

“Ah! I was wondering what had become of Dominique,” he said.

“Yes; directly after the coup, even before Ralph went to La Haie d’Etigues, Dominique got employed there as a groom.”

“But Ralph knows him.”

“Ralph has seen him once or twice at the most; and you know how clever Dominique is at disguising his face. It’s impossible that he should recognize him among all the staff of the château and the stables. Dominique then, following my instructions, has kept me informed of what is going on day by day. I know the hours at which Ralph goes to bed and gets up, how he spends his time, and everything he does. I know that he has not yet seen Clarice again, but that he has sent for the papers necessary for the marriage.”

“Does he suspect anything?”

“As far as I’m concerned, he does not. Dominique heard scraps of a conversation which he had with Godfrey d’Etigues the day he came to the château. Neither of them had the slightest doubt about my death. But none the less Ralph wished them to take all possible precautions against me, though I was dead. Therefore he is on guard over the château. He is keeping watch, continually on guard, and always questioning the peasants.”

“And Dominique has let you come?”

“Yes; but only for an hour. One bold swift stroke, at night, and immediate flight.”

“And it’s tonight, is it?” he said anxiously.

“Yes, tonight between ten and eleven. Ralph is living at an isolated keeper’s lodge, not far from the old tower to which Beaumagnan had me taken. That lodge is let into the big wall of the park. And on the other side of it, which looks on the country, there is only one window, on the ground floor, and no door. If the shutters are closed, to get into it you have to go round through the park gates and along the inside of the wall. The two keys will be under a stone close to the park gates tonight. When Ralph is asleep we shall roll him up in his mattress and blankets and bring him here. The moment we’ve got him, we set sail.”

“Is that all?” said Leonard.

Josephine hesitated before she replied: “That’s all.”

“And what about Dominique?”

“He will go with us.”

Leonard bent forward, tried to see her face clearly in the darkness, and said: “You haven’t given him any special orders?”

“What about?”

“About Clarice. You hate that girl. Therefore I’m afraid that you may have entrusted Dominique with some job.”

She hesitated again before replying: “That’s no business of yours.”

“Nevertheless⁠—” he said doubtfully.

The ladder was let down for them to get into the boat. Josephine said in a mocking tone: “Listen, Leonard. Since I created you Prince Lavosneff and provided you with a yacht splendidly fitted out, you have become extraordinarily discreet. But we’ll stick to our agreement, if you don’t mind. I command: you obey. You have the right to an explanation. I have given it to you. Act as if it was sufficient.”

“It is sufficient,” said Leonard glumly. “And I recognize that you have laid your plans admirably.”

“All the better. Let’s be starting.”

She led the way down the ladder and settled herself in the stern of the boat.

Leonard and four of their confederates followed him. Two of them took the oars, another the rudder-strings, she directed their course in a low voice.

A quarter of an hour later, though her followers had the impression that they were moving forward blindly, she said: “We’re passing Amont harbor.”

From time to time she warned the steersman of rocks that rose above the surface of the sea and directed his course by landmarks invisible to the rest of them. The crunching of the keel upon the pebbles was the first thing to inform them that they had reached the beach. They carried her ashore, then beached the boat.

“You’re quite certain that we shan’t meet any coast guards?” whispered Leonard.

“Quite certain. Dominique’s last telegram was quite definite.”

“Isn’t he coming to meet us?” asked Leonard.

“No. I wrote to him to remain at the château among the other servants. He will meet us at eleven.”


“Near Ralph’s lodge. Don’t talk any more.”

All of them were lost to sight in the priest’s staircase. Once in it, Josephine lit a bull’s-eye lantern she had brought with her. They mounted the staircase, in silence.

On the top of the cliff the mist was much thinner. At intervals there were gaps in it through which they could see the stars. Therefore Josephine was at once able to point out to them La Haie d’Etigues, many of the front windows of which were lit up. The clock of Benouville church struck ten. Josephine shivered.

“Oh, the striking of that clock! How well I recognize it! Ten strokes like the last time I heard it⁠—ten strokes⁠—one after the other! I counted them as I was going to my death.”

“Well, you avenged yourself all right,” said Leonard.

“On Beaumagnan, yes. But the others⁠—”

“On the others too. The two cousins are half mad.”

“It’s true,” she said. “But I shall not feel myself fully avenged for an hour. Then I shall be able to rest.”

They waited for the mist to drift over again in order that their figures might not stand out against the bare plain they had to traverse. Then Josephine led the way along the path, along which Godfrey and his friends had carried her to the priest’s staircase. The others followed in single file without saying a word. The grass had been cut; here and there stood large haycocks.

As they drew near to La Haie d’Etigues the path ran between high banks covered with bushes between which they marched with growing carefulness.

The wall rose in front of them. A few more steps, and the lodge, in which Ralph had taken up his abode, came into view. Josephine halted them with a gesture.

“Wait for me,” she said.

“Shall I come with you?” Leonard asked.

“No. I will come back for you and we will go into the park together through the gate which is on the other side of it, on our left.”

She went forward alone, therefore, setting down her feet so carefully that no stone rolled under her sole and no leaf rustled at the contact of her skirt. She came to the window of the keeper’s lodge.

She took hold of the shutters very gently. The fastenings, with which Dominique had tampered, did not hold them together. She opened them till a little light came through the opening. Then she glued her eye to it and looked into a room, on the further side of which was a recess with a bed in it.

Ralph was in the bed. A lamp, with a crystal globe and a cardboard shade on the top of it, showed clearly in the circle of its light his face, his shoulders, the book he was reading, and his clothes heaped up on the chair beside the bed. He looked young indeed, with something of the air of a boy who is giving all his attention to a task, but at the same time struggling against sleep. Several times his head dropped forward. He awoke, forced himself to read, and again dozed off.

At length he shut his book and put out the lamp.

Having seen what she wanted to see, Josephine left her post and returned to her confederates. She had already given her instructions, but she took the precaution of repeating them.

“Above all, no unnecessary roughness,” she insisted. “You understand, Leonard? Since he has no weapon within reach with which to defend himself, there will be no need for you to use your weapons. There are five of you; and that’s enough.”

“But suppose he does resist?” said Leonard.

“It’s for you to act in such a manner that he can’t resist,” she said coldly with a touch of menace in her tone.

She had learned her way about so thoroughly, from the maps with which Dominique had supplied her, that she led them without hesitating a moment to the principal entry into the park. They found the keys, of the park gate and the door of Ralph’s lodge, at the place agreed upon. They opened the park gate and took their way along the wall to the lodge.

The key turned in the well-oiled lock of its door without a sound; noiselessly the door opened on well-oiled hinges. Followed by her confederates, she entered. On the other side of the tiled hall was the door of the bedroom. She pushed it open with infinite slowness.

It was the decisive moment. If Ralph had not been awakened but was sleeping still, Josephine’s plot would be successful. She listened. Nothing stirred. Then she stepped aside to make way for the five men and by letting the ray from the bull’s-eye fall on the bed, gave the signal to her pack.

The assault was so swift that the sleeper could not have awakened before all resistance was useless. The gang had rolled him up in his blankets and pulled the mattress round him, and wound a rope round it in less than ten seconds. In less than twenty seconds the rope was securely tied. There had not been a cry; not a piece of furniture had been knocked out of its place.

Once more Josephine was victorious.

“Splendid!” she said in a tone of excitement which revealed the importance she attached to this victory. “Splendid! We’ve got him. And this time every precaution shall be taken to prevent him from getting away.”

“What are we to do now?” Leonard asked.

“Carry him to the boat.”

“Suppose he shouts for help?”

“Gag him. But he can’t shout. Off you go!”

The four men stood up, bearing on their shoulders a burden which looked like a great bundle of linen. Leonard came to Josephine.

“Aren’t you coming with us?” he asked.


“Why not?”

“I told you: I’m waiting for Dominique.”

She lit the lamp and raised the shade of it.

“How pale you’re looking,” he said in a low voice.

“Perhaps I am,” she said defiantly.

“I suppose it’s about that girl.”


“Dominique’s at work, is he?”

She nodded.

“Who knows? There may still be time to stop him!”

“Even if there were, I should not change my mind. It’s made up. What will be, will be. Besides, the thing is done. Off you go!”

“But why shouldn’t we wait for you?”

“The only danger comes from Ralph. Once he’s safe on the boat, we’ve nothing more to fear. Be off and leave me.”

She opened the window. They passed through it with their burden and disappeared in the darkness.

She closed the shutters and shut the window.

A few minutes passed and the church clock struck. She counted the strokes⁠—eleven. At the eleventh stroke she went to the door of the lodge, opened it, and listened. There came a low whistle. She answered it by stamping on the tiles of the hall.

Dominique came hurrying to her. They went into the bedroom.

On the instant, without waiting for her to ask the question, he said: “I’ve done it.”

“Oh,” she said in a shaky voice; and she was so upset that she tottered and sank into a chair.

They stared at one another in silence.

Then Dominique uttered: “She felt nothing.”

“She felt nothing?” she repeated.

“No. She was asleep.”

“Are you quite sure that⁠—that⁠—”

“That she’s dead? You may take your oath to it I am! I drove the knife into her heart⁠—three times. Besides I had the nerve to wait to make sure. There was no need. She had stopped breathing and her hands were cold.”

“Suppose they were to discover it?”

“It’s impossible. No one goes into her bedroom except in the morning. Till then⁠—they won’t see.”

They did not dare to look one another in the face. Dominique held out his hand. She drew from her bosom ten thousand-franc notes and held them out to him.

He almost snatched them from her and said: “Thanks. If it were to be done again, I should refuse. What am I to do now?”

“Get away. If you run, you’ll catch the others up before they get back to the boat.”

“They’ve got Ralph d’Andresy?”


“That’s a good thing. He’s been giving me a lot of trouble during the last fortnight. He was very suspicious. By the way⁠—those jewels of the monks.”

“We have them,” said Josephine.

“Are they safe?”

“In the strongroom of a bank in London.”

“Are there many of them?” he said greedily.

“A trunk full.”

“Good! More than a hundred thousand francs for me, what?”

“Much more. But hurry up⁠—unless you prefer to wait for me,” she said.

“No, no. I want to get away from here as soon as possible and as far as possible. But what about you?”

“I’m just going to make sure that there are no papers here which would be dangerous for us, and I’ll catch up with you.”

Dominique followed the others out through the window. At once Josephine ransacked all the drawers in the room, and finding nothing, hunted through the pockets of Ralph’s clothes.

She emptied his pocketbook out on to the table. It contained bank notes, visiting cards and a photograph⁠—the photograph of Clarice d’Etigues.

Josephine looked at it earnestly with an expression no longer of hate, but cold and unforgiving. Then she stood still wearing the air of one who gazed upon some painful spectacle, while her lips retained their sweet smile.

The mirror on the toilet table was in front of her and she caught sight of her image in it. She sat down with her head resting on her hands and gazed at herself. Her eyes grew brighter and her smile sweeter, as if she was enjoying to the full her consciousness of her beauty. She drew forward on to her forehead the thin veil which always covered her hair and arranged it to bring out her resemblance to the Virgin of Bernardino Luini.

She looked at herself for a minute or two, then seemed to relapse into her painful reverie. The village clock chimed the quarter past the hour; but still she did not stir. You would almost have said that she was asleep, asleep with her eyes open, unwinking. Presently, however, her eyes grew less vague, as they gazed fixedly at something in the mirror over her shoulder. Just as it sometimes happens in a dream that one’s ideas, thronging and incoherent, crystallize into one idea more and more precise, into an image more and more clear, so it happened to her now. What was that disconcerting image that she seemed to perceive, to which she tried vainly to grow used? It was in the alcove in which the bed was set, the walls of which were hung all round with curtains. Between those curtains and the wall there must have been a space, for one would have said that a hand was moving them.

Then a hand actually appeared, then an arm, then, above the arm, a head.

Josephine, accustomed to spiritist séances in which phantoms were materialized, gave a name to this spirit which her terrified imagination had summoned from the shadows. It was clothed in white; she could not be sure whether its lips were wreathed with an affectionate smile, or drawn back in an angry snarl.

She stammered: “Ralph⁠—Ralph⁠—what do you want of me?”

The phantom parted the curtains and came round the bed. Josephine shut her eyes with a groan, then opened them again. The hallucination was still there; and the phantom drew nearer with movements which moved a chair and made a noise. She wished to fly, but could not. Then she felt on her shoulder the grip of a hand which was certainly not that of a spirit; and a cheerful voice said:

“My dear Josephine, I should really advise you to get Prince Lavosneff to take you for a short, restful cruise. You need one, my dear Josephine. What? You take me for a ghost, me, Ralph d’Andresy! I may be in pants and a nightshirt, nevertheless you ought to know me.”

He began to put on his clothes quickly. She stared at him and muttered: “You? You?”

“Goodness, yes: me.”

He laughed gently at her frowning face and went on in a jeering tone. “Now, don’t go pitching into Prince Lavosneff under the impression that he has let me escape again. He has not. What he and his friends carried away was simply a dummy stuffed with bran, rolled up in my blankets and mattress. As for me, I did not stir from the shelter in which I took refuge as soon as you left your post on the other side of the shutters.”

Josephine remained inert and as incapable of taking action as if she had been beaten to a jelly.

“Hang it! You don’t seem to be quite yourself,” he went on, in the same jeering tone. “Would you like a little glass of liquor to buck you up? I quite understand that you’re very much upset and I admit that I should not like to be in your place⁠—all your little play fellows gone⁠—no help possible for quite a while⁠—securely shut up in this room with a gentleman named Ralph. It certainly is not a time to see the world in rose-color. Unlucky Josephine. What a mess you have made of it!”

He stooped down and picked up the photograph of Clarice: “How pretty my fiancée is, isn’t she? It gave me the greatest pleasure to see how you were admiring her just now. You know that we’re going to get married in a few days?”

“She’s dead,” said Josephine.

“As a matter of fact, I heard about that,” he said calmly. “Your little friend who was here just now stabbed her in her bed, didn’t he?”


“With a dagger, wasn’t it?”

“Three times⁠—through the heart,” she said.

“Once ought to have been enough, you know,” he suggested.

She said slowly, as if striving to assure herself of the fact: “She’s dead. She’s dead.”

He chuckled: “What can you expect? It happens everyday. But you can’t expect me to change all my plans for a little thing like that. Dead or alive, I’m going to marry her. And we must manage as best we can. You managed splendidly.”

“What do you mean?” said Josephine sharply, beginning to grow yet more uneasy at his careless bantering tone.

“What do I mean? Why look at you. First of all the Baron drowned you, next you were blown up and then drowned in the wreck of your vessel the Glowworm. But all that drowning doesn’t prevent you from being here. Therefore the fact that Clarice has been stabbed through the heart three times is no reason for my not marrying her. Besides are you quite sure that your statement is accurate?”

“One of my own men stabbed her,” she said.

“Or at any rate he told you that he’d stabbed her.”

“Why should he have lied?”

“Why, to get hold of the ten banknotes you handed over to him.”

“Dominique is incapable of betraying me! He would not betray me for a hundred thousand francs! Besides he knows quite well that I can lay hands on him. He’s waiting for me with the others,” she said fiercely.

“Are you quite sure that he’s waiting for you, Josine?” said Ralph; and the jeering note in his voice was louder.

She shivered. She had a feeling that she was struggling in a narrowing circle.

He shook his head and said thoughtfully: “It’s odd, the blunders we’ve made, you and I, with regard to one another. You must be uncommonly simple to think that the blowing up of the Glowworm, the Pellegrini-Cagliostro shipwreck, and the rubbish related by Prince Lavosneff took me in for an instant. How on earth did you fail to guess that a fellow who is not an imbecile to begin with, and has had the advantage of a course at your school⁠—and what a school!⁠—would read your game as easily as he would an open Bible? That shipwreck was really much too convenient. One is accused of dozens of crimes, one’s hands are red with blood, the police are hunting one hard. Then one blows up an old vessel; and all the past, the crimes, the stolen treasure, the wealth of the monks, all sink in a lump along with it. One passes for dead. One grows a new skin. And then one begins again, a little further off, under another name, to murder, to torture, and to bathe one’s hands in blood. That may take in other people, old girl, but not me. When I read about your shipwreck, I said ‘It’s time to keep one’s eyes open wide,’ and I came here.”

He paused, smiling at her, a chilling smile; then went on: “But hang it all, Josephine, your visit was inevitable! And it was inevitable that you must clear the way for it by the help of some confederate. It was inevitable that the yacht of Prince Lavosneff should come cruising off this coast one night. It was inevitable that you must climb the staircase in the cliff which you had once descended on a stretcher. Well, I took my precautions; and my first care was to look about to see if there wasn’t somebody I knew in the neighborhood. A confederate, it’s the very first step in the art. And at once I recognized our young friend Dominique, since I had happened to see him, a detail of which you were ignorant, on the box of your carriage waiting at the door of Bridget Rousselin. Dominique is a faithful servant; but the fear of the police and a sound thrashing softened him to such a degree that he transferred all his faithfulness to me; and he gave proof of it by sending you false reports and by digging for your feet, in concert with me, the pitfall into which you have stumbled. As for his reward: why, there are the ten banknotes, out of your pocket, which you will never see again, for your faithful servant has gone back to the château and is under my protection. That’s how we stand, my dear Josephine. I might indeed have spared you this little comedy and welcomed you here openly, for the mere pleasure of shaking you by the hand. But I wished to see how you would direct the operation, remaining myself in the background, and above all I wished to see how you would receive the news of the supposed murder of Clarice d’Etigues.”

Josephine shrank away from him. He was no longer joking; bending over her he said quietly: “Just a trace of feeling⁠—just a slightest trace⁠—that was all you showed. You believed that the child was dead, dead by your order; and it did not move you at all. With you the death of others does not count. One is twenty, with all one’s life before one⁠ ⁠… with charm and beauty.⁠ ⁠… You crush all that, as if you were cracking a nut. Your conscience does not make one protest. It is true that you do not laugh; but none the more do you weep. In reality you do not give it a thought. I remember that Beaumagnan called you a daughter of Hell⁠—a designation that revolted me. Now I see that he was right. Hell is in you. You are a kind of monster about whom I can never think again without horror. But what about you, Josephine? Aren’t there times when you feel that horror yourself?”

Still sitting at the toilet table, her head resting on her hands, in the attitude of which she was so fond, she did not stir. Ralph’s pitiless words did not provoke that access of indignation and fury for which he was looking. He felt that she was at one of those moments in life at which one sees into the deepest depths of one’s soul and cannot turn one’s eyes from the sight.

He was not greatly surprised. Without being frequent, such moments could not be very uncommon in the life of this unbalanced creature, whose nature, impassible on the surface, was now and again ravaged by nervous convulsions in its depths. Matters were turning out so different from what she had expected, and the apparition of Ralph was so disconcerting that she was unable to rise to struggle with the enemy who was so cruelly outraging her.

He took advantage of her weakness, and went on in a voice that demanded an answer: “Isn’t it a fact, Josine, that at times you terrify yourself? Aren’t there times when you are full of horror at yourself?”

The distress of Josephine was so profound that she murmured: “Yes⁠—yes sometimes. But you’re not to speak to me about it. I don’t want to know. Be quiet⁠—be quiet!”

“But on the contrary, it is necessary that you should know,” said Ralph. “If such acts fill you with horror, why do you commit them?”

“I can’t help it,” she said faintly in an extreme lassitude.

“You do try then?”

“Yes. I try⁠—I struggle⁠—but it is never any use. I was taught evil. I do evil as other people do good. I do evil just as I breathe. That was what they willed.”


“My mother,” she muttered in a low voice.

“Your mother? The spy? The woman who made up all this Cagliostro story?”

“Yes. But you’re not to blame her. She was very fond of me. Only she had not succeeded.⁠ ⁠… She had become poor and wretched and she wished me to succeed⁠ ⁠… and grow rich.”

“Yet you were beautiful. And for a woman beauty is riches. Beauty is enough.”

“My mother was beautiful too; and yet her beauty was of no use to her,” she retorted.

“You were like her?”

“You could not tell one from the other. And that was my ruin. She wished to carry out through me her great idea⁠—Cagliostro’s legacy.”

“And had she documents?”

“A scrap of paper⁠ ⁠… the list of the four enigmas. One of her friends had found it in an old book; and it really seemed to be in Cagliostro’s handwriting. She was intoxicated by it and by her success with the Empress Eugenie, from whom she got most of her information. So I had to carry on the work. She put that into my head when I was quite a child. My brain was trained to hold only that idea. That was to be my livelihood⁠—my destiny. I was the daughter of Cagliostro. I was to take up the life she had led, the life he had led a life as brilliant as he leads in the romances in which he figures⁠—the life of an adventuress, adored by everyone and dominating the world. No scruples⁠—no conscience. I was to take vengeance for all that she had suffered. On her deathbed her last words to me were ‘Avenge me.’ ”

Ralph reflected. Then he said: “But your crimes⁠—this lust to kill?”

He could not catch her answer, and again he did not catch it when he said: “Your mother was not the only person to bring you up and equip you for evil. Who was your father?”

He fancied he caught the name of Leonard. But did she mean that Leonard was her father, the man who had been expelled from France in the days of the second empire⁠—it was likely enough⁠—or that Leonard had trained her in crime?

He learned no more. He had loved her; and he had not the heart to force his way into those obscure regions in which evil instincts come to birth and are fostered, in which ferments everything that unbalances, ruins, and disintegrates, all the vices, the vanities, and bloodthirsty appetites, all the cruel and inexorable passions which escape from our control. He asked no more.

Weeping silently, she caught his hands; and he was weak enough to abandon them to her. He felt her kisses and her tears rain on them. Insensibly pity filled his heart. The evil creature became a human being, a woman delivered over to a diseased instinct, the victim of the law of irresistible forces, one whom he ought perhaps to regard with at least a little indulgence.

“Do not drive me from you,” she said. “You are the only being in the world who might have saved me from evil. I felt it at once. There is something so sane and healthy about you. Love is the only thing that has ever appeased me; and I have never loved anyone but you. So if you cast me off⁠—”

Her lips filled Ralph with an infinite languor. Pleasure and desire embellished that dangerous compassion which weakens the wills of men. And perhaps if Josephine had contented herself with that humble caress, he might have succumbed of himself to the temptation to bend down and once again taste the savor of those lips which offered themselves to him. But she raised her head, slipped her arms round his neck, and gazed into his eyes. And that gaze sufficed to enable him to see in her no longer the woman who implored, but the woman who desired to seduce and was employing the tenderness of her eyes and the enchantment of her lips to that end.

Looks link lovers. But Ralph knew so well what lay behind that charming, ingenuous, and dolorous expression. The clearness of the mirror did not redeem all the ugliness and ignominy which he saw so plainly in it. Little by little he recovered. He withdrew from temptation and releasing himself from the siren who enlaced him he said:

“Do you remember, one day on the barge, that we feared one another, as if we were trying to strangle one another? It is the same today. If I fall again into your arms, I am lost. Tomorrow⁠—the day after, it would be death.”

She drew herself up of a sudden hostile and dangerous. Once more pride took possession of her and the storm once more rose suddenly, causing them to pass without any transition from the kind of torpor in which the memory of their love lulled them, to a bitter constraint of enmity and hatred.

“Yes,” Ralph went on. “At the bottom of our hearts, from the very first day, we have been ferocious enemies. Neither of us thought of anything but the defeat of the other. Especially you! I was the rival and intruder. In your brain my image was mixed with the idea of death. Voluntarily or not, you condemned me.”

She shook her head and said in an aggressive tone: “Not till now.”

“But now you have, haven’t you? Only a new fact presents itself; and that is that now I can laugh at you, Josephine! The pupil has become the master; and that was what I wished to demonstrate to you by letting you come here and accepting the battle. I offered myself, alone, to your attack and to the attack of your gang. And now that we are face to face with one another, you can do nothing to me. Defeat all along the line. What? Clarice alive. Myself free. Come, my dear: clear out of my life. You are hopelessly beaten; and I have a contempt for you.”

He flung these insults at her like the blows of a scourge which scarred her. She was deathly pale; her face was distorted; and for the first time her unchangeable beauty showed signs of withering and decay.

“I shall avenge myself,” she said between her clenched teeth.

“Impossible!” said Ralph with a careless laugh. “I have cut your claws. You’re afraid of me. That is the real miracle I have worked today: you are afraid of me.”

“I’ll devote my whole life to avenging myself,” she muttered, scowling at him.

“Nothing doing,” he said confidently. “I know all your tricks. You have failed. It’s all over.”

She shook her head and said fiercely: “I have other means.”

“What are they?” he asked contemptuously.

“That incalculable fortune⁠—those riches I have won.”

“Thanks to whom?” he said lightly. “If ever there was a spark of real intelligence in that strange adventure, didn’t I supply it?”

“Perhaps. But it was I who knew how to act and to take. And that’s everything. As far as words went, you were never at a loss for them. But what was wanted was deeds; and those deeds I did. Because Clarice is alive and you are free, you shout: ‘Victory!’ But Clarice’s life and your liberty are but little things beside the great thing which was the stake for which we fought. That is to say the thousands and thousands of precious stones. The real battle was there; and I won it, for the treasure is mine.”

“Can one ever be quite sure?” said Ralph in a mocking tone.

“Yes: the treasure is mine. With my own hands I heaped the countless stones into a portmanteau, which was fastened and sealed before my eyes, which I carried to Havre, which I hid in the bottom of the hold of the Glowworm, and took away before I blew the vessel up. It is now in London in the strongroom of a bank, tied up and sealed as it was at the beginning.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed Ralph readily. “The rope is unbroken, still tight in its place. There are five seals, the sealing-wax is violet, with the initials J. B.⁠—Josephine Balsamo⁠—on them. As for the trunk it’s of plaited wickerwork, with leather straps and handles⁠—one of those simple things which attract no one’s attention⁠—”

Josephine stared at him with frightened eyes and said: “You know?⁠ ⁠… How do you know?”

“We spent a few hours together, I and that trunk,” he said, laughing.

“Lies!” she cried. “You’re talking at random. The portmanteau did not leave me for a second between the meadow of Mesnil-sous-Jumièges and the strongroom in London.”

“Yes it did, since you let it down into the hold of the Glowworm.”

“I sat on the iron hatch which closed the hold and one of my men kept watch over the port through which you might have entered it, all the time we were in the roadstead at Havre,” she declared.

“I know that.”

“How can you know it?”

“I was in the hold.”

It was an alarming sentence! He repeated it and then, thoroughly enjoying his narrative he said to the stupefied Josephine: “In the face of the shattered block this was my reasoning: ‘If I hunt for my good Josephine, I shall not find her. What I’ve got to do is to guess the place where she will be at the end of the day, to get there before her, to be there when she arrives, and to avail myself of the first opportunity of scooping up the precious stones. For, with the police on your trail, hunted by me, eager to get the treasure into a safe place, it was inevitable that you must take to flight, that is to say, get away abroad. How? Why, by means of your vessel, the Glowworm.

“At noon I was at Havre; at one o’clock the three members of the crew who were on board went off, to drink their coffee at a bar. I slipped across the gang way into the hold and hid myself behind a heap of cases, barrels, and sacks of provisions. At six o’clock you arrived and let the portmanteau down by a rope, so putting it under my protection.”

“You lie! You lie!” stuttered Josephine in a furious voice.

He went quietly on: “At ten o’clock Leonard joined you. He had read the evening papers and learned about Beaumagnan’s suicide. At eleven o’clock you weighed anchor. At midnight, out at sea, a yacht met you. Leonard, who became Prince Lavosneff, presided over the disembarkation. The crew and the packages containing everything of value were transferred from the deck of one vessel to the deck of the other, in especial the portmanteau which you hauled up from the bottom of the hold. And then to hell with the Glowworm!

“I must admit that I spent some devilishly unpleasant minutes. I was alone. There was no longer any crew or helmsmen. The Glowworm seemed to be steered by a drunken man, holding himself up by her wheel. One would have said that she was a child’s toy which has been wound up and which goes round and round. And then I guessed your plan⁠—the bomb in one of the cabins, the mechanism exploded it, the explosion.

“I was perspiring freely, I can tell you. Was I to throw myself into the sea? I had just made up my mind to do so, when, as I was untying my shoelaces, I nearly fainted with joy at the sight of a dinghy in the wake of the Glowworm fastened to her by a rope. It was my salvation. Ten minutes later sitting quietly in it, I saw a flame leap up in the darkness about three hundred yards away, and heard a roar roll across the sea like a peal of thunder. The Glowworm had blown up.

“The next night, after having been tossed about a bit, I came in sight of shore not far from Cape Antifer. I slipped into the water and swam to it, and that very day I came here⁠—to get everything ready for your visit, my dear Josephine.”

She had listened to him without interrupting with an air of serenity. She had the air of saying: “Words again⁠—nothing but words.” The essential thing was the portmanteau. Supposing that he had hidden himself on the vessel and afterwards escaped shipwreck. It was of no importance.

She hesitated however to ask a definite question. She knew very well that Ralph was not the kind of man to risk everything to obtain no other result than to save himself. She was very pale.

“Well, haven’t you any questions to ask me?” he said.

“What questions? You said yourself that I had taken the portmanteau. And afterwards I put it in a safe place.”

“And you didn’t make sure that it was all right?”

“Gracious, no. What was the point in opening it? The ropes and seals were intact.”

“You didn’t notice the mark of a hole in the side⁠—an opening made between the strands of wickerwork?”

“An opening?” she said faintly.

“Goodness, you don’t suppose that I spent two hours with a portmanteau full of jewels without doing anything? Come: I’m not such a fool as that.”

“Then⁠—then⁠—” she said in a yet fainter voice.

“Then, my poor friend, little by little, patiently, I extracted all the contents of the portmanteau with the result that⁠—”

“With the result that?”

“⁠—when you open it you will find nothing inside but a roughly equivalent weight of trifles of no great value⁠—just what I had to hand, finding them in the sacks of provisions⁠—a good many pounds of lentils and haricot beans⁠—merchandise for which it is hardly worth your while perhaps, to pay the rent of a strongroom in a London bank.”

She struggled not to believe him and protested: “It isn’t true! You can’t have been able⁠—” Her voice died away before this paralyzing revelation.

He reached up to a shelf and took down a little wooden bowl, from which he poured into the palm of his hand two or three dozen diamonds and rubies and sapphires and carelessly made them dance and sparkle and clink.

“And there are others,” he said with an air of satisfaction. “Undoubtedly the imminence of the explosion prevented me from bringing the lot of them away; and the bulk of the treasure of the monks is scattered about the bottom of the sea. But all the same there’s something to amuse a young man and help him to bear up. What do you think, Josine? You don’t answer.⁠ ⁠… But hang it all! What’s the matter now, confound it? You’re never going to faint! Oh, these infernal women! They can’t even lose a thousand millions without going off. What milksops they are!”

Josephine did not “go off,” as Ralph had phrased it. She drew herself up, livid with raised arms. She wished to insult him. She wished to strike him. But she was suffocating. Her hands beat the air like the hands of a drowning man waving above the surface of the sea; and she fell upon the bed, moaning hoarsely.

Unmoved, he waited for the end of the attack. But he had still something to say to her.

“Well, have I beaten you? Have madam’s shoulders touched the mat? Are you knocked out? Defeat all along the line. What? That’s what I wanted to bring home to you, Josephine. You will go away from here completely convinced that you can do nothing against me and that it is best to give up all idea of plotting against me. I shall be happy in spite of you, and so will Clarice, and we shall have lots and lots of children. So you will have to make up your mind to face these facts.”

He began to walk up and down and went on in accents that grew more and more cheerful: “Moreover what would you? You struck a streak of bad luck when you went to war with a stout young fellow who is ten times as strong and smart as you, my poor girl. I’m often astonished myself at my strength and smartness. Heavens! What a marvel of cleverness, cunning, intuition, energy, and clearsightedness! A veritable genius! Nothing escapes me. I read the minds of my enemies like an open book. Their slightest thoughts are known to me. So, at this very moment you’ve got your back to me, haven’t you? You’re spread out on the bed and I cannot see your charming face. All the same I’m perfectly well aware that you’re slipping your hand into your bodice and pulling out a revolver and that you’re going⁠—”

The sentence was not finished. Suddenly Josephine twisted round, revolver in hand.

The report rang out. But Ralph, who was ready had time to grasp her wrist and twist it back⁠—towards herself. She fell back wounded in the bosom.

The scene had been so brutal and the dénouement so unexpected that he stood speechless before this suddenly inert form which lay before him, the face colorless.

However he felt no anxiety. He did not believe that she was dead; and as a matter of fact, when he bent down and looked into it, he found that her heart was beating steadily. He cut away the top of her bodice with his nail-scissors. The bullet, striking aslant, had glanced off after ploughing through the flesh, a little above the black mark on top of her breast.

“It isn’t a serious wound,” he said to himself, thinking that the death of such a creature would have been only right and desirable.

He stood over her, still holding the scissors in his hand, and asking himself if it was not his duty to destroy this too perfect beauty, to mangle that charming face and so to rob the siren of her power to injure. A scar in the shape of a deep cross across her face, which raised ridges of skin would render indelible, what a just punishment and what a valuable precaution! What evil deeds avoided and what crimes prevented!

He had not the courage to do so; he did not wish to arrogate to himself the right to do so. Besides he had loved her too well.

He stood for a long time motionless, gazing down at her with infinite sadness. The struggle had exhausted him. He found himself full of bitterness and disgust. She was his first love, his first real love, and that passion to which the innocent heart brings so much freshness and of which it retains so sweet a memory, had brought him in the end nothing but rancor and hate. All his life his lips would retain a slight curl of disenchantment and his soul the impression of a scar.

She breathed more easily and opened her eyes.

At once he felt an irresistible urge never to see her again, never even to think of her.

Opening the window, he listened. He fancied that he heard hurrying steps from the direction of the shore. Leonard must have discovered, on reaching the beach, that all the fruits of the expedition had been the capture of a dummy, and doubtless, anxious about Josephine, he was returning to help her.

“Let him find her here; let him carry her away!” he said to himself. “Let her die or let her live! Let her be happy or unhappy! I don’t care a rap. I don’t want to hear anything more about her. Enough of this hell!”

And without a word, without a glance at the woman who held out her hands and implored him not to leave her, he went away.

Next morning he paid a visit to Clarice. In order not to reopen wounds which he knew must be so very painful, he had not yet seen her again. But she had known that he was there; and at once he perceived that time had already done its work. A warmer color mantled her cheeks; her eyes were shining with hope.

“Clarice,” he said to her, “from the very first day you promised to forgive me everything.”

“I have nothing to forgive you, Ralph,” she said, with the remembrance of her father’s crimes in her mind.

“Yes you have, Clarice. I have hurt you cruelly,” he protested. “I have hurt myself very little less; and it is not only your love that I ask but also your care and your protection. I need you to help me to forget horrible memories, to restore my confidence in life, and to combat many ugly qualities in me which urge me to a path I do not wish to tread. With your help I am sure I can be honest; I am certainly going to try hard. And I promise you that you shall be happy. Will you be my wife?”

She held out her hand.