IX

The Tarpeian Rock

“Does Monsieur Beaumagnan live here?”

The shutter of the peephole in the door had been drawn back; and the face of an old servant was pressed against the bars across it.

“He lives here. But he is not seeing anyone,” that servant said grumpily.

“Go and tell him that a gentleman has come from Mademoiselle Bridget Rousselin,” said Ralph imperiously.

The rooms of Beaumagnan were on the ground floor of a two-storied house. There was no janitor, no bell. There was an iron knocker to knock at the massive door, which was pierced by this peephole like a prison cell.

The servant went. Ralph waited more than five minutes. That a man should call, when they expected the young actress in person, was puzzling the three confederates.

The servant came back and said, still grumpily: “My master would be obliged if you would send in your card, sir.”

Ralph gave him his card.

There was another wait, then the noise of bolts being drawn back and the unhooking of a chain, and Ralph was led across a hall with a polished floor, like a convent parlor, the walls of which looked uncommonly damp.

They passed two or three doors and came to a room with double doors. The outer of these was padded with leather so that no sound could come through it. The old servant opened it, ushered Ralph into the room and shut the two doors, leaving him face to face with his three enemies. He could hardly regard them as anything else, for two of the three watched him enter with the air of boxers on guard and ready to lead.

“It is him! It is indeed!” cried Godfrey d’Etigues flushing with anger. “It’s our man of the Château de Gueures! The young fellow who stole the branch of the candlestick! Of all the infernal impudence! What have you come for today? If it’s the hand of my daughter⁠—”

Ralph laughed softly and said: “Upon my soul you don’t seem able to think of anything else, sir. My feelings for Mademoiselle Clarice are the same as ever; and in my heart I still cherish the same respectful hope. But the object of my visit today is no more matrimonial than it was at Gueures.”

“Then what the devil is your object?” stormed the Baron.

“That day at Gueures it was to lock you up in a cellar. Today⁠—”

Beaumagnan had to step forward hastily to prevent the Baron from throwing himself on this intruder.

“Stay where you are, Godfrey! Sit down!” he cried. “Let the young gentleman tell us what he has come for.”

He himself sat down at his desk. Ralph dropped on to a chair.

Before speaking he studied leisurely the faces of his opponents. He perceived that they had changed since their meeting at La Haie d’Etigues. The Baron in particular had aged. His cheeks had grown hollow and at moments his eyes had a hunted expression which impressed Ralph painfully. The fixed idea, the pangs of remorse can alone produce that feverish, restless air which he observed both in the Baron and in Beaumagnan. They could not keep their hands still.

Beaumagnan however kept control of himself. If he was haunted by the memory of Josephine’s death, it was at rarer intervals than the Baron. It had worn him less, had less thrown him off his balance. It was only by fits and starts and at critical moments that it unmanned him.

Ralph thought to himself: “If I’m going to bring this off, I must produce such a critical moment. One or other of us has got to give ground.”

“What is it you want, young man?” said Beaumagnan. “The name of Mademoiselle Rousselin has procured you admittance into my flat. With what intention⁠—”

“With the intention of continuing the conversation you had with her at the theater last night,” Ralph replied boldly.

The attack was indeed direct; but Beaumagnan did not flinch.

“I’m of the opinion that that conversation can only be continued with her, and I was expecting no one but her,” he said drily.

“Mademoiselle Rousselin has a good reason for not coming,” said Ralph.

“A very good reason?” asked Beaumagnan in a politely sceptical tone.

“Yes. She has been the victim of a murderous assault.”

“Eh, what? Someone has tried to murder her? What for?” cried Beaumagnan.

“To take the seven stones from her as you gentlemen took the seven rings,” said Ralph coldly. The Baron and Oscar de Bennetot jumped from their chairs. Beaumagnan showed better control of himself; but he stared with astonished eyes at this quiet young man whose inexplicable intervention assumed an air of arrogant defiance. But after all this adversary looked to be of no great importance; and he let that thought appear in the careless tone in which he countered.

“This is the second time you have interfered in matters which are no business of yours, young man. And you have interfered in a manner which will undoubtedly compel us to give you a well-merited lesson. The first time, at Gueures, after leading my friends into a trap, you took possession of an object which belonged to us; and that in ordinary language is known as larceny. Today your aggression is even more impudent, since you come and insult us to our faces, without the least excuse, knowing perfectly well that we did not steal those rings, but that they were handed over to us. Do you mind telling us what you mean by it?”

“You know quite well that there has been no larceny, nor aggression on my part,” said Ralph firmly. “I have only acted in a manner entirely natural in one who is aiming at the same goal as you yourselves.”

“Indeed, you are aiming at the same goal as we are, are you?” said Beaumagnan in a slightly sneering tone. “And what may that goal be?”

“The discovery of the ten thousand precious stones hidden in the block of granite.”

Beaumagnan was indeed taken aback; and clumsily enough he showed it plainly by his air of astonished consternation and his gaping silence.

Thereupon Ralph drove his attack home, saying: “Doesn’t it follow that since the four of us are seeking the incalculable treasure of the old monasteries, when our paths cross we come into collision? That’s what must happen.”

The treasure of the monasteries! The block of granite! The ten thousand precious stones! To Beaumagnan each phrase was the stroke of a hammer. Here was another rival to be dealt with! The Countess of Cagliostro out of the way, at once another competitor enters the race for the millions!

Godfrey d’Etigues and de Bennetot exchanged ferocious glances and expanded their chests in the manner of athletes about to plunge into a contest. Beaumagnan stiffened in his chair in his effort to recover his coolness. He felt that he would need it all.

“Legends!” he cried scornfully, striving to keep his voice steady and pick up the dropped thread of his ideas. “Old women’s gossip! Nursery tales! Is that what you waste your time on?”

“No more than you,” said Ralph in a pleasant tone, not wishing Beaumagnan to recover his balance but rather to upset him get more thoroughly. “Everything you do has some connection or other with this treasure. And not more than the Cardinal de Bonnechose did. I suppose his memorandum was old women’s gossip. Not more than the dozen friends, of whom you are the leader and inspirer, do.”

“Goodness, how well informed you are!” said Beaumagnan ironically.

“Better informed a great deal than you imagine,” said Ralph quietly.

“And from whom did you get this precious information?” said Beaumagnan with a sneer.

“From a woman.”

“A woman?” Beaumagnan repeated: and there was a sudden note of anxiety in his voice.

“From Josephine Balsamo, Countess of Cagliostro.”

There came a groan from the Baron, a muttered oath from de Bennetot; and Beaumagnan cried in a tone of amazed dismay:

“Josephine Balsamo! Then you knew her!”

Ralph saw his way clearly. Just to drop the name of Josephine in the discussion had been enough to throw his enemies into the worst confusion, and in that confusion he was resolved to keep them. Indeed, so great was that confusion that Beaumagnan had committed the irremediable error of speaking of her as if she were no longer alive. Ralph smiled at him, a disquieting smile.

“D-D-Did you know her? When did you know her? Where? What did she tell you?” stammered Beaumagnan.

“I knew her at the beginning of last winter, as you did, monsieur,” said Ralph, pressing his offensive. “And I enjoyed her acquaintance all through the winter till the very moment that I had the pleasure of meeting the daughter of the Baron d’Etigues. I saw her nearly every day.”

“You lie, sir!” cried Beaumagnan. “She couldn’t have seen you every day! She would have mentioned your name. I was a sufficiently close friend of hers for her not to have kept a secret of that kind from me.”

“She kept that one,” said Ralph drily.

“It’s a slander!” Beaumagnan almost shouted. “You are trying to make us believe that an impossible intimacy existed between you and her. One may bring many accusations against Josephine Balsamo perhaps: accusations of coquetry, trickery but not this one⁠—not of an act of debauchery.”

“Love is not an act of debauchery,” said Ralph calmly.

“What do you mean? Love! Josephine Balsamo loved you?”

“Yes,” said Ralph.

Beaumagnan was beside himself. He sprang up and shook his fist in Ralph’s face. In their turn his friends had to calm him; but he was still trembling with rage; beads of sweat stood out on his forehead.

“I hold him in the hollow of my hand all right,” Ralph thought to himself. “In the matter of the crime and remorse he’s as firm as a rock. But he is still being tortured by his passion for Josephine, and through that I shall do what I like with him.”

For a good minute no one said anything. Beaumagnan mopped his brow. Then, making up his mind that this enemy, for all his delicate appearance, was not one to be rid of easily, he went on: “We’re getting away from the point. Your personal feelings for the Countess of Cagliostro have nothing whatever to do with the matter in hand. I return therefore to my original question: what is it you want from us?”

“It’s perfectly simple,” said Ralph. “I can tell you in a few words. With regard to this religious treasure of the middle ages, which you personally want to recover for the treasury of the Society of Jesus, this is how we stand. These offerings flowed through channels in all the provinces into the seven principal abbeys of the Caux country, and constituted a common fund, managed by seven chosen administrators, of whom one only knew the hiding-place of the treasure. Each abbey possessed an episcopal or pastoral ring, which it handed down from generation to generation to its own delegate. As a symbol of its mission, the Council of Seven was represented by a candlestick with seven branches, each branch of which was set, a relic of the Hebraic liturgy and the temple of Moses, with a stone of the same kind and color as the stone in the ring to which it corresponded. For example, the branch I found at Gueures is set with a red stone, an imitation garnet, which was the representative stone of one of the abbeys; and we also know that Brother Nicolas, last administrator in chief of the abbeys of the Caus country, was a monk of Fécamp abbey. Are we in agreement so far?”

“Yes.”

“Then it is enough to know the names of the seven abbeys to know the seven places in which a search has a prospect of success. Now seven names are inscribed on the inside of the rings which Bridget Rousselin handed over to you at the theater last night, and it is those seven rings I ask to examine.”

“What?” cried Beaumagnan. “After we’ve been searching all these years, you come along and claim to reach at the first shot the same stage as we have?”

“Exactly,” said Ralph with a cheerful grin.

“And if I refuse?”

“Excuse me, but do you refuse? I shall only tell you, in the event of your definite refusal.”

“Of course I refuse!” cried Beaumagnan. “Your demand is absolutely senseless! I refuse categorically!”

“Then I shall denounce you.”

Beaumagnan was astounded. He looked at Ralph as if he were dealing with a madman.

“You’ll denounce me? What’s this new game?”

“I shall denounce all three of you.”

“All three of us?” said Beaumagnan with a chuckle. “And what are you going to accuse us of, my young friend?”

“The murder of Josephine Balsamo, Countess of Cagliostro!”


There was no word of protest, no gesture of revolt. Godfrey d’Etigues and Oscar de Bennetot seemed to sink into paralyzed heaps on their chairs. Beaumagnan turned livid and his chuckle ended in a horrible grimace.

He rose, dashed to the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket. It had the effect of putting a little life into his associates. They sat upright again.

Ralph had the audacity to make a joke of it: “My dear sir,” he said, “when a conscript joins his regiment they put him on a horse without stirrups till he learns to stick on.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I have sworn never to carry a revolver till I find myself confronted by a situation which I can not handle just with the help of my brain,” said Ralph. “So you are warned. I haven’t any stirrups; that is to say I haven’t any revolver. You are three, all armed; and I am alone. Therefore⁠—”

“Therefore, we’ve had enough of talk,” said Beaumagnan in a threatening tone. “It’s time for facts. You accuse us of having murdered the Countess of Cagliostro?”

“I do.”

“And you have proofs to support this monstrous accusation?”

“I have.”

“What are they?”

“A few weeks ago I was wandering about the estate of La Haie d’Etigues, hoping to have the good fortune of meeting Mademoiselle d’Etigues, when I saw a carriage driven by one of your friends. This carriage went into the park. I slipped in after it. A woman, Josephine Balsamo, was carried into the chamber in the old tower, in which you were all gathered together; and you formed yourselves into a tribunal of sorts. Her trial was conducted as dishonorably and unfairly as it could be. You acted as public prosecutor, monsieur, and you carried your treachery and vanity to the point of letting it be believed that this woman had been your mistress. As for these two gentlemen, they played the part of executioners.”

“The proof! The proof!” snarled Beaumagnan, whose face had become unrecognizable.

“I was present, lying in the embrasure of the window, just above your head.”

“It’s impossible!” stammered Beaumagnan. “If it was true, you would have made some attempt to intervene and save her!”

“Save her from what?” asked Ralph who naturally did not wish to reveal anything about the rescue of Josephine. “I believed, as did the rest of your confederates, that you had condemned her to confinement in an English madhouse. So I went away when they did. I hurried to Etretat. I hired a boat and rowed about waiting for the English yacht of which you had spoken, intending to frighten the captain into releasing the unfortunate woman. It was a vain attempt and cost her her life. The English yacht never came. It was only later that I understood the dastardly trick you had played and was able to reconstitute the actual crime, in all its horror, the descent of the priest’s staircase, the scuttled boat, and the drowning.”

Listening in obvious terror, the three men had drawn their chairs closer together. De Bennetot quietly pushed aside the table which was between him and Ralph. Ralph observed the distorted features of Godfrey d’Etigues and the snarl that bared his teeth. Beaumagnan had but to give the signal, and he would have drawn his revolver and blown the imprudent young man’s brains out.

But it was this very imprudence, quite inexplicable, that stayed Beaumagnan.

With a terrible air he said: “I repeat, monsieur, that you had no right to act as you have done and meddle with things that don’t concern you. But I refuse to lie and deny the facts. Only⁠ ⁠… only I ask myself, since you have surprised such a secret, how you dare come here and provoke us. It’s madness!”

“Why so, monsieur?” said Ralph simply.

“Because your life is in our hands.”

Ralph shrugged his shoulders and said: “My life isn’t in the slightest danger.”

“Nevertheless there are three of us and not at all in the mood to disregard a matter which so closely touches our security.”

“I run no more risk among you three than if it was your interest to act as my defenders,” said Ralph calmly.

“Are you absolutely certain of that?”

“Absolutely, since you didn’t kill me the moment you heard my story.”

“And if I did decide to kill you?”

“An hour later you would all three be arrested.”

“Nonsense!”

“It is as I have the honor of telling you. It’s a quarter past four. One of my friends is walking up and down in front of the Prefecture of Police. It’s a quarter past four. If I haven’t rejoined him by a quarter to five, he informs the chief commissioner of your crime.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” cried Beaumagnan, who appeared to recover confidence. “I am a well-known man. As soon as he mentions my name, they’ll laugh at him!”

“They’ll listen to him.”

“In the meanwhile,” said Beaumagnan, turning to Godfrey d’Etigues.

The order for the execution was on the point of being given. Ralph experienced the joy of genuine peril. In a few seconds the act, the execution of which he had retarded by his extraordinary coolness, would be committed.

“There’s one more thing I should like to say,” he said quietly.

“Speak!” growled Beaumagnan. “But on condition that it is a definite proof against us. We’ve had enough of accusations. With regard to the matter of the Countess and the view that justice may take of it, I’ll attend to that. But I want a proof which proves to me that I’m not wasting my time discussing the matter with you. A proof at once⁠—if not⁠—”

He rose from his chair. Ralph rose too and faced him with imperious gripping eyes.

“Proof or death⁠—that’s what you mean, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yes.”

“Well, my answer is: the seven rings! At once! If not⁠—”

“If not?”

“My friend hands over to the chief commissioner the letter which you wrote to the Baron d’Etigues, instructing him how to capture Josephine Balsamo and ordering him to murder her.”

Beaumagnan pretended to be surprised: “A letter? Instructions to murder?” he said.

Ralph went into details; he said: “Yes, a letter in a kind of code, in which you get at the real meaning by ignoring a number of interposed sentences.”

“Oh, that scrawl⁠—I remember⁠—yes,” said Beaumagnan carelessly.

“A scrawl which constitutes the irrefutable proof you asked for,” said Ralph coldly.

“Of course⁠—of course⁠—I admit it,” said Beaumagnan ironically. “Only I’m not a schoolboy; and I take precautions. That letter was given back to me by the Baron at the beginning of the meeting. I burned it.”

“You burned the copy that was given to you. I took the precaution of keeping the original myself. I found it in the secret drawer of the Baron’s rolltop desk. It is the original that my friend will hand over to the police.”

The ring that had formed round Ralph broke. The savage faces of the Baron and his cousins no longer expressed anything but fear and anguish. Ralph gathered that the duel was at an end, and that without any real struggle⁠—just a few feints and thrusts and parries. He had handled the affair with such skill and by his adroitness manoeuvred Beaumagnan into such a tragic situation, that, in the condition of mind in which he found himself, he could no longer get a clear view of the facts or discern his adversary’s weak points. For after all, with regard to this letter of which Ralph declared he had the original: on what did that assertion rest? On nothing whatever. So that it had finally come about that Beaumagnan, after having demanded of Ralph an irrefutable proof before giving way, had by a singular anomaly, under the young man’s adroit pressure, remained quite content with his bare assertion.

He gave ground quite suddenly without any effort to make terms. He opened a drawer, took out the seven rings, and said simply: “What assurance have I that you will not use that letter against us?”

“You have my word, monsieur,” said Ralph. “Besides, where we are concerned circumstances never repeat themselves exactly⁠—next time you will find a way of getting the upper hand.”

“You may be sure of that, young man,” said Beaumagnan; and he ground his teeth.

Ralph seized the rings with a trembling hand. Each of them had indeed a name engraved on its inside. On a scrap of paper he wrote quickly down the names of the seven abbeys:

Fécamp, Saint-Wandrille, Jumièges, Valmont, Gruchet le Valasse, Montvilliers, Saint-Georges de Boscherville.

Beaumagnan rang the bell. But when the servant came he bade him wait in the hall, and turning to Ralph, he said:

“Just one thing more: I’ll make you an offer. You know the task we have set ourselves. You know exactly the point to which our efforts have brought us, and that the end is not so very far off?”

“That is my opinion,” said Ralph.

“Well, do you feel disposed⁠—I’m not going to beat about the bush⁠—to cast in your lot with us?”

“On the same terms as your friends?”

“No. On same terms as myself.”

The offer was bona fide; Ralph felt that it was; he was flattered by the tribute. Perhaps he would have accepted it, if it had not been for Josephine. But any alliance between her and Beaumagnan was out of the question.

“Thank you,” he said gravely. “But for reasons into which I cannot enter, I must refuse.”

“You are an enemy then?”

“No, monsieur, a competitor.”

“No: an enemy,” Beaumagnan insisted. “And as such liable⁠—”

“Liable to be treated as was the Countess of Cagliostro,” Ralph interjected.

“You’ve said it, monsieur. You know that the greatness of our end excuses the means which we are sometimes compelled to employ. If we employ them in your case, you will have yourself to thank for it.”

“I shall,” said Ralph.

Beaumagnan opened the door and said to the servant: “Show this gentleman out.”

Ralph bowed to his three enemies and went across the hall. The servant opened the door with the peephole in it.

“Half a minute, my man,” said Ralph.

He went lightly back to the door of the study, opened it to find the three confederates conferring, and with his hand on the handle of the door, and the path of escape clear, said in the most amiable accents:

“With regard to that famous compromising letter, I think I ought to tell you that I did not really take a copy of it, and that consequently my friend does not hold the original. And do you really think that that story about his walking up and down in front of the Prefecture, ready to dash in, if I don’t turn up at a quarter to five, sounds probable? Goodbye, gentlemen. Sleep well. I’m looking forward to our next meeting.”

He slammed the door in Beaumagnan’s face and gained the street before he got it open.

He had won the second battle.


At the end of the street Josephine was waiting for him in a cab.

“Drive to Saint Lazare station, main line departure platform,” he said to the cabman.

He jumped into the cab, quivering with delight, and said in the accents of a conqueror: “Here you are, darling⁠—the seven indispensable names. Here’s the list of them. Take it.”

“And now?” she said.

“Well, there they are⁠—the second victory in one day and what a victory! Goodness how easy it is to get the better of people! A little audacity, a clear head, careful reasoning, and a firm resolve to go as straight as an arrow to your goal, and obstacles clear out of your way of themselves. Beaumagnan is a smart chap, isn’t he? Well, he crumpled up just as you did, my pretty Josine. Your pupil does you honor, doesn’t he? Two first-class masters, Beaumagnan and Cagliostro’s daughter smashed and pulverized in one day by a collegian! What do you think of that, Josine?”

He paused in his paean to say: “You’re not angry with me for rubbing it in like this?”

“No, no,” she said, smiling at him.

“And you’re not angry about that little business at Bridget Rousselin’s?”

“Don’t you ask too much of me,” she warned him. “It’s better not to wound my pride. I’ve plenty of it and I’m vindictive. But after all one can’t go on being angry with you for long. There’s something peculiar about you which disarms one.”

“Beaumagnan isn’t disarmed, I’ll be hanged if he is,” he said thoughtfully.

“Beaumagnan is a man,” she said.

“Well, I will make war on men; and I really believe that that’s what I’m cut out for, for conquest, for the extraordinary and the fabulous. I feel that there is no situation from which I cannot emerge with honor. And it is tempting to fight when one is sure of victory, isn’t it, Josine?”

Along the narrow streets on the left bank of the Seine the cab made its way at a good pace. They crossed the river.

“And from today I shall be victorious, Josine! I have all the trumps in my hand. In a few hours I reach Lillebonne. I unearth the Widow Rousselin, and, whether she like it or not, I examine the sandalwood casket on which the keyword is carved; and there we are. With that word and with the names of the seven abbeys, it will indeed be odd if I don’t carry off the cup!”

Josephine laughed at his enthusiasm. He was exultant. He told her about his duel with Beaumagnan, kissed her, cocked snooks at the people they passed, opened the window and jeered at the cabman because his horse trotted like a snail.

“Make him gallop, old idiot! What? You have the honor of driving in your chariot the god of Fortune and the queen of beauty and your steed doesn’t gallop!”

The cab went along the Avenue de l’Opera. It took the shortcut through the Rue des Petit-Champs and the Rue des Capucines. In the Rue Caumartin the horse did break into a gallop.

“Splendid!” cried Ralph. “Twelve to five; and we’re nearly there. Of course it’s understood that you come with me to Lillebonne?”

“Whatever for? There’s no point in it. It’s sufficient for one of us to go,” she replied.

“As you like,” said Ralph. “You trust me and you know that I shall not betray that trust and that we are allies⁠—the victory of the one is the victory of the other.”

But just as they came to the corner of the Rue Auber, the door of a courtyard on their left was thrown open, and without slowing up the cab ran through it.

Three men appeared at either door, Ralph was gripped and roughly dragged away before he could even make a show of resistance.

He heard Josephine, who had remained in the cab, say: “Saint Lazare Station! And be quick about it!”

The six men rushed him into the house, shoved him into a badly lighted room, and locked its massive door on him.


The exaltation which Ralph had been enjoying did not immediately abate. He went on laughing and joking, but in a growing fury and in tones that changed as it grew.

“Bravo, Josephine!⁠ ⁠… But what a masterstroke!⁠ ⁠… What a shot! Right in the middle of the bull’s-eye and when I was least expecting it.⁠ ⁠… How funny she must have found my songs of triumph! ‘I am cut out for conquest, for the extraordinary and the fabulous!’ Idiot that I was! When one is capable of such blunders, one should keep one’s mouth shut. What a smash!”

He flung himself on the door. What was the use? It was the door of a cell. He tried to jump up to the little window which let in that dim light. There was no way of reaching it.

Then a noise caught his ear; and he perceived that a loophole had been cut in the corner of the wall, just under the ceiling, and that the barrel of a rifle was pointing at him, and that it followed his every movement.

All his anger turned on the invisible marksman; and he abused him freely.

“Hog! Guttersnipe! Come out of that hole, and I’ll show you! A nice job yours is! Go and tell your mistress that she’s hardly on the way to heaven yet, and that before long⁠—”

He stopped short. It was a stupid waste of words. Then, passing suddenly from the height of fury to a quiet resignation, he lay down on a bed in an alcove which was fitted up as a dressing-room.

“You can kill me if you like,” he said. “But don’t stop me going to sleep.”

Really he never dreamed of going to sleep. The first thing was to consider his situation quietly and draw from it conclusions which promised to be uncommonly disagreeable. In fact, they could be summed up in a few words. Josephine Balsamo had substituted herself for him, with the intention of reaping the fruits of his victory.

But what an organization she must have to be able to act so successfully in so little time! Ralph had no doubt that Leonard, accompanied by a confederate, had followed them to Beaumagnan’s house and while he was in it had arranged with her the trap into which he had so simply fallen. This house must have been specially fitted up for such a purpose.

What could he do at his age against such enemies? On the one hand, Beaumagnan, with a whole world of correspondents and associates behind him; on the other hand, Josephine Balsamo, with so powerful and so well organized a gang.

He made a resolution. He said to himself: “Whether later I enter upon the straight path, as I hope to do, or whether, as is more probable, I keep on the path of adventure, I will equip myself with this indispensable organization! Woe to those who work by themselves! It is only leader of gangs who attain their ends. I mastered Josephine. Nevertheless, it is she who tonight will lay hands on the precious casket, while Ralph is groaning in his prison cell.”

He had reached this point in his meditations when he found that an inexplicable torpor was invading him. It was accompanied by a feeling of general discomfort. He struggled against this unusual drowsiness, but his brain became clouded very quickly. At the same time he felt sick, and his stomach began to ache.

By a strong effort he shook off his drowsiness and walked across the room. But the heaviness increased. Of a sudden he threw himself down on the bed, a prey to a horrible thought. He remembered that in the cab Josephine had taken from her pocket a little gold sweetmeat box which she always carried, and as she ate two or three chocolates had, with an apparently mechanical gesture, offered him one.

“She has poisoned me!” he murmured, breaking into a cold sweat. “That sweet she gave me was poisoned!” He had no time to consider the truth of this suggestion. In an access of giddiness he seemed to topple into a great hole, and sank into oblivion.

Such a strong belief that he was dying had taken possession of him that, when he opened his eyes, he was not sure that he was alive. He took several deep and rather painful breaths, pinched himself, and spoke out loud. He was alive. The distant noises of the street confirmed him in his belief.

“Certainly I’m not dead,” he said to himself. “But what a high opinion I’ve got of the woman I love! On account of a wretched narcotic she administered to me, as she had every right to do, I accuse her of poisoning me.”

He could not tell how long he had been asleep⁠—one day, or two, or more? His head was heavy; his mind was wandering; and his limbs were aching with a violent cramp. At the bottom of the wall he saw a basket of food which must have been let down through the loophole. No rifle was visible.

He was hungry and thirsty. He ate and drank. Such was his lassitude that he did not take the trouble to consider what might be the consequences of that meal. A narcotic? Poison? What did it matter? A passing sleep, or the sleep eternal, it made no difference to him. He went back to bed and fell asleep again for hours, for nights, for days.

In the end he came out of this deep slumber to become aware of certain sensations, much in the fashion in which one perceives gleams of light at the end of a tunnel. They were rather agreeable sensations. They were doubtless dreams, dreams of a pleasant rocking, accompanied by a continuous, rhythmical sound. At last he opened his eyes; then he perceived a framed picture, the canvas of which was covered with perpetually changing landscapes, shining or dark, full of sunlight or bathed in a golden mist.

Now he had only to stretch out his hand to find food. He began to enjoy the flavor of it more and more. He washed it down with a wine of a very delicate aroma. It seemed to him that, as he drank it, energy flowed into him. His eyes grew clear; the picture frame became an open window through which he saw a procession of hills and spires of village churches.

He found himself in quite another room, a small room, in which he had lived before, with his clothes and his books about him.

A stepladder rose at one side of it. Why did he not go up it since he had the strength? It merely needed an effort of will. He made the effort and mounted it. His head rose into the open air. A river flowed on his left and right. He murmured:

“The deck of the Nonchalante.⁠ ⁠… The Seine⁠ ⁠… the Deux-Amants country.”

He walked aft. Josine was there, sitting in a wicker work chair. There was really no transition between the combative rancor and revolt he had felt and the access of passion and desire which shook him at the sight of her. Had he, indeed, really felt any rancor and revulsion? Everything was drowned in an immense need to clasp her in his arms.

Enemy? Thief? Criminal if you like. But, after all, only a woman⁠—above all, woman. And what a woman!

Dressed, as usual, in a simple frock, she was wearing that delicate veil which softened the luster of her hair and gave her so close a resemblance to the Virgin of Bernardino Luini. Her neck, of a warm creaminess, was bare. Her slender hands lay clasped in her lap. She was gazing at the abrupt slope of the Deux-Amants. And nothing could appear sweeter and more innocent than that face on which rested that perpetual, profound, and mysterious, smile.

Ralph was almost touching her at the moment at which she perceived him. She flushed slightly and lowered her eyelids, and she seemed not to dare to let her eyes rest on him through her long brown eyelashes. Never did a young girl display greater shyness and ingenuous timidity, less affectation and coquetry.

He was deeply touched by it. She feared this first meeting with him. Was he not going to abuse her, to throw himself on her, strike her, and heap abominable epithets on her? Or was he going to leave her with that scorn which is the worst of all things?

Ralph was trembling like a child. At the actual moment nothing counted with him but that which counts eternally with lovers⁠—the kiss, the hands that clasp, the frenzy of glances that fail and of lips that faint with pleasure.

He fell on his knees before her.