“Elise, embrace our mother and thank her. She has come to live with her children.”
There she is, caught in all these caressing arms, pressed against four little feminine hearts which have missed the shelter of a mother’s love for so long; there she is introduced, and so gently, into the luminous circle of the family lamp, widened to allow her to take her place there, to dry her eyes, to warm and brighten her spirit at this steady flame, even in this little studio near the roof, where just now the terrible storm blew so wildly.
He who breathes his last over there, lying in his blood-stained bath, has never known this sacred flame. Egoistical and hard, he has lived up to the last for show, throwing out his chest in a bubble of vanity. And this vanity was what was best in him. It alone had held him firm and upright so long; it alone clinched his teeth on the groans of his last agony. In the damp garden the water drips sadly. The bugle of the firemen sounds the curfew. “Go and look at No. 7,” says the mistress, “he will never have done with his bath.” The attendant goes, and utters a cry of fright, of horror: “Oh, madame, he is dead! But it is not the same man.” They go, but nobody can recognise the fine gentleman who entered a short time ago, in this death’s-head puppet, the head leaning on the edge of the bath, a face where the blood mingles with paint and powder, all the limbs lying in the supreme lassitude of a part played to the end—to the death of the actor. Two cuts of the razor across the magnificent chest, and all the factitious majesty has burst and resolved itself into this nameless horror, this heap of mud, of blood, of spoiled and dead flesh, where, unrecognisable, lies the man of appearances, the Marquis Louis-Marie-Agenor de Monpavon.
I put down in haste and with an agitated pen the terrible events of which I have been the plaything for the last few days. This time it is all up with the Territorial and with my ambitious dreams. Disputed bills, men in possession, visits of the police, all our books in the hands of the courts, the governor fled, Bois l’Hery, the director, in prison, another—Monpavon—disappeared. My brain reels in the midst of these catastrophes. And if I had obeyed the warnings of reason, I should have been quietly six months ago at Montbars cultivating my vineyard, with no other care than that of seeing the clusters grow round and golden in the good Burgundian sun, and to gather from the leaves, after the dew, the little gray snails, so excellent when they are fried. I should have built for myself with my savings, at the end of the vineyard, on the height—I can see the place at this moment—a tower in rough stone, like M. Chalmette’s, so convenient for an afternoon nap, while the quails are chirping round the place. But always misled by deceiving illusions, I wished to enrich myself, speculate, meddle