THE HOUR OF DEATH.
Several days passed, and Master Zacharius,
though almost dead, rose from his bed and returned
to active life under a supernatural excitement.
He lived by pride. But Gerande did not deceive
herself; her father’s body and soul were for
The old man got together his last
remaining resources, without thought of those who
were dependent upon him. He betrayed an incredible
energy, walking, ferreting about, and mumbling strange,
One morning Gerande went down to his
shop. Master Zacharius was not there. She
waited for him all day. Master Zacharius did not
Gerande wept bitterly, but her father
did not reappear.
Aubert searched everywhere through
the town, and soon came to the sad conviction that
the old man had left it.
“Let us find my father!”
cried Gerande, when the young apprentice told her
this sad news.
“Where can he be?” Aubert asked himself.
An inspiration suddenly came to his
mind. He remembered the last words which Master
Zacharius had spoken. The old man only lived
now in the old iron clock that had not been returned!
Master Zacharius must have gone in search of it.
Aubert spoke of this to Gerande.
“Let us look at my father’s book,”
They descended to the shop. The
book was open on the bench. All the watches or
clocks made by the old man, and which had been returned
to him because they were out of order, were stricken
out excepting one:
“Sold to M. Pittonaccio, an
iron clock, with bell and moving figures; sent to
his chateau at Andernatt.”
It was this “moral” clock
of which Scholastique had spoken with so much enthusiasm.
“My father is there!” cried Gerande.
“Let us hasten thither,” replied Aubert.
“We may still save him!”
“Not for this life,” murmured
Gerande, “but at least for the other.”
“By the mercy of God, Gerande!
The chateau of Andernatt stands in the gorge of the
‘Dents-du-Midi’ twenty hours from Geneva.
Let us go!”
That very evening Aubert and Gerande,
followed by the old servant, set out on foot by the
road which skirts Lake Leman. They accomplished
five leagues during the night, stopping neither at
Bessinge nor at Ermance, where rises the famous chateau
of the Mayors. They with difficulty forded the
torrent of the Dranse, and everywhere they went they
inquired for Master Zacharius, and were soon convinced
that they were on his track.
The next morning, at daybreak, having
passed Thonon, they reached Evian, whence the Swiss
territory may be seen extended over twelve leagues.
But the two betrothed did not even perceive the enchanting
prospect. They went straight forward, urged on
by a supernatural force. Aubert, leaning on a
knotty stick, offered his arm alternately to Gerande
and to Scholastique, and he made the greatest efforts
to sustain his companions. All three talked of
their sorrow, of their hopes, and thus passed along
the beautiful road by the water-side, and across the
narrow plateau which unites the borders of the lake
with the heights of the Chalais. They soon reached
Bouveret, where the Rhone enters the Lake of Geneva.
On leaving this town they diverged
from the lake, and their weariness increased amid
these mountain districts. Vionnaz, Chesset, Collombay,
half lost villages, were soon left behind. Meanwhile
their knees shook, their feet were lacerated by the
sharp points which covered the ground like a brushwood
of granite; but no trace of Master Zacharius!
He must be found, however, and the
two young people did not seek repose either in the
isolated hamlets or at the chateau of Monthay, which,
with its dependencies, formed the appanage of Margaret
of Savoy. At last, late in the day, and half dead
with fatigue, they reached the hermitage of Notre-Dame-du-Sex,
which is situated at the base of the Dents-du-Midi,
six hundred feet above the Rhone.
The hermit received the three wanderers
as night was falling. They could not have gone
another step, and here they must needs rest.
The hermit could give them no news
of Master Zacharius. They could scarcely hope
to find him still living amid these sad solitudes.
The night was dark, the wind howled amid the mountains,
and the avalanches roared down from the summits of
the broken crags.
Aubert and Gerande, crouching before
the hermit’s hearth, told him their melancholy
tale. Their mantles, covered with snow, were
drying in a corner; and without, the hermit’s
dog barked lugubriously, and mingled his voice with
that of the tempest.
“Pride,” said the hermit
to his guests, “has destroyed an angel created
for good. It is the stumbling-block against which
the destinies of man strike. You cannot reason
with pride, the principal of all the vices, since,
by its very nature, the proud man refuses to listen
to it. It only remains, then, to pray for your
All four knelt down, when the barking
of the dog redoubled, and some one knocked at the
door of the hermitage.
“Open, in the devil’s name!”
The door yielded under the blows,
and a dishevelled, haggard, ill-clothed man appeared.
“My father!” cried Gerande.
It was Master Zacharius.
“Where am I?” said he.
“In eternity! Time is ended the
hours no longer strike the hands have stopped!”
“Father!” returned Gerande,
with so piteous an emotion that the old man seemed
to return to the world of the living.
“Thou here, Gerande?”
he cried; “and thou, Aubert? Ah, my dear
betrothed ones, you are going to be married in our
“Father,” said Gerande,
seizing him by the arm, “come home to Geneva, come
The old man tore away from his daughter’s
embrace and hurried towards the door, on the threshold
of which the snow was falling in large flakes.
“Do not abandon your children!” cried
“Why return,” replied
the old man sadly, “to those places which my
life has already quitted, and where a part of myself
is for ever buried?”
“Your soul is not dead,” said the hermit
“My soul? O no, its
wheels are good! I perceive it beating regularly ”
“Your soul is immaterial, your
soul is immortal!” replied the hermit sternly.
“Yes like my glory!
But it is shut up in the chateau of Andernatt, and
I wish to see it again!”
The hermit crossed himself; Scholastique
became almost inanimate. Aubert held Gerande
in his arms.
“The chateau of Andernatt is
inhabited by one who is lost,” said the hermit,
“one who does not salute the cross of my hermitage.”
“My father, go not thither!”
“I want my soul! My soul is mine ”
“Hold him! Hold my father!” cried
But the old man had leaped across
the threshold, and plunged into the night, crying,
“Mine, mine, my soul!”
Gerande, Aubert, and Scholastique
hastened after him. They went by difficult paths,
across which Master Zacharius sped like a tempest,
urged by an irresistible force. The snow raged
around them, and mingled its white flakes with the
froth of the swollen torrents.
As they passed the chapel erected
in memory of the massacre of the Theban legion, they
hurriedly crossed themselves. Master Zacharius
was not to be seen.
At last the village of Evionnaz appeared
in the midst of this sterile region. The hardest
heart would have been moved to see this hamlet, lost
among these horrible solitudes. The old man sped
on, and plunged into the deepest gorge of the Dents-du-Midi,
which pierce the sky with their sharp peaks.
Soon a ruin, old and gloomy as the
rocks at its base, rose before him.
“It is there there!”
he cried, hastening his pace still more frantically.
The chateau of Andernatt was a ruin
even then. A thick, crumbling tower rose above
it, and seemed to menace with its downfall the old
gables which reared themselves below. The vast
piles of jagged stones were gloomy to look on.
Several dark halls appeared amid the debris, with
caved-in ceilings, now become the abode of vipers.
A low and narrow postern, opening
upon a ditch choked with rubbish, gave access to the
chateau. Who had dwelt there none knew.
No doubt some margrave, half lord, half brigand, had
sojourned in it; to the margrave had succeeded bandits
or counterfeit coiners, who had been hanged on the
scene of their crime. The legend went that, on
winter nights, Satan came to lead his diabolical dances
on the slope of the deep gorges in which the shadow
of these ruins was engulfed.
But Master Zacharius was not dismayed
by their sinister aspect. He reached the postern.
No one forbade him to pass. A spacious and gloomy
court presented itself to his eyes; no one forbade
him to cross it. He passed along the kind of
inclined plane which conducted to one of the long
corridors, whose arches seemed to banish daylight
from beneath their heavy springings. His advance
was unresisted. Gerande, Aubert, and Scholastique
closely followed him.
Master Zacharius, as if guided by
an irresistible hand, seemed sure of his way, and
strode along with rapid step. He reached an old
worm-eaten door, which fell before his blows, whilst
the bats described oblique circles around his head.
An immense hall, better preserved
than the rest, was soon reached. High sculptured
panels, on which serpents, ghouls, and other strange
figures seemed to disport themselves confusedly, covered
its walls. Several long and narrow windows, like
loopholes, shivered beneath the bursts of the tempest.
Master Zacharius, on reaching the
middle of this hall, uttered a cry of joy.
On an iron support, fastened to the
wall, stood the clock in which now resided his entire
life. This unequalled masterpiece represented
an ancient Roman church, with buttresses of wrought
iron, with its heavy bell-tower, where there was a
complete chime for the anthem of the day, the “Angelus,”
the mass, vespers, compline, and the benediction.
Above the church door, which opened at the hour of
the services, was placed a “rose,” in the
centre of which two hands moved, and the archivault
of which reproduced the twelve hours of the face sculptured
in relief. Between the door and the rose, just
as Scholastique had said, a maxim, relative to the
employment of every moment of the day, appeared on
a copper plate. Master Zacharius had once regulated
this succession of devices with a really Christian
solicitude; the hours of prayer, of work, of repast,
of recreation, and of repose, followed each other
according to the religious discipline, and were to
infallibly insure salvation to him who scrupulously
observed their commands.
Master Zacharius, intoxicated with
joy, went forward to take possession of the clock,
when a frightful roar of laughter resounded behind
He turned, and by the light of a smoky
lamp recognized the little old man of Geneva.
“You here?” cried he.
Gerande was afraid. She drew closer to Aubert.
“Good-day, Master Zacharius,” said the
“Who are you?”
“Signor Pittonaccio, at your
service! You have come to give me your daughter!
You have remembered my words, ’Gerande will not
The young apprentice rushed upon Pittonaccio,
who escaped from him like a shadow.
“Stop, Aubert!” cried Master Zacharius.
“Good-night,” said Pittonaccio, and he
“My father, let us fly from
this hateful place!” cried Gerande. “My
Master Zacharius was no longer there.
He was pursuing the phantom of Pittonaccio across
the rickety corridors. Scholastique, Gerande,
and Aubert remained, speechless and fainting, in the
large gloomy hall. The young girl had fallen upon
a stone seat; the old servant knelt beside her, and
prayed; Aubert remained erect, watching his betrothed.
Pale lights wandered in the darkness, and the silence
was only broken by the movements of the little animals
which live in old wood, and the noise of which marks
the hours of “death watch.”
When daylight came, they ventured
upon the endless staircase which wound beneath these
ruined masses; for two hours they wandered thus without
meeting a living soul, and hearing only a far-off
echo responding to their cries. Sometimes they
found themselves buried a hundred feet below the ground,
and sometimes they reached places whence they could
overlook the wild mountains.
Chance brought them at last back again
to the vast hall, which had sheltered them during
this night of anguish. It was no longer empty.
Master Zacharius and Pittonaccio were talking there
together, the one upright and rigid as a corpse, the
other crouching over a marble table.
Master Zacharius, when he perceived
Gerande, went forward and took her by the hand, and
led her towards Pittonaccio, saying, “Behold
your lord and master, my daughter. Gerande, behold
Gerande shuddered from head to foot.
“Never!” cried Aubert, “for she
is my betrothed.”
“Never!” responded Gerande, like a plaintive
Pittonaccio began to laugh.
“You wish me to die, then!”
exclaimed the old man. “There, in that
clock, the last which goes of all which have gone from
my hands, my life is shut up; and this man tells me,
’When I have thy daughter, this clock shall
belong to thee.’ And this man will not
rewind it. He can break it, and plunge me into
chaos. Ah, my daughter, you no longer love me!”
“My father!” murmured Gerande, recovering
“If you knew what I have suffered,
far away from this principle of my existence!”
resumed the old man. “Perhaps no one looked
after this timepiece. Perhaps its springs were
left to wear out, its wheels to get clogged.
But now, in my own hands, I can nourish this health
so dear, for I must not die, I, the great
watchmaker of Geneva. Look, my daughter, how these
hands advance with certain step. See, five o’clock
is about to strike. Listen well, and look at
the maxim which is about to be revealed.”
Five o’clock struck with a noise
which resounded sadly in Gerande’s soul, and
these words appeared in red letters:
“YOU MUST EAT OF THE FRUITS OF THE TREE OF SCIENCE.”
Aubert and Gerande looked at each
other stupefied. These were no longer the pious
sayings of the Catholic watchmaker. The breath
of Satan must have passed over it. But Zacharius
paid no attention to this, and resumed
“Dost thou hear, my Gerande?
I live, I still live! Listen to my breathing, see
the blood circulating in my veins! No, thou wouldst
not kill thy father, and thou wilt accept this man
for thy husband, so that I may become immortal, and
at last attain the power of God!”
At these blasphemous words old Scholastique
crossed herself, and Pittonaccio laughed aloud with
“And then, Gerande, thou wilt
be happy with him. See this man, he
is Time! Thy existence will be regulated with
absolute precision. Gerande, since I gave thee
life, give life to thy father!”
“Gerande,” murmured Aubert, “I am
“He is my father!” replied Gerande, fainting.
“She is thine!” said Master
Zacharius. “Pittonaccio, them wilt keep
“Here is the key of the clock,” replied
the horrible man.
Master Zacharius seized the long key,
which resembled an uncoiled snake, and ran to the
clock, which he hastened to wind up with fantastic
rapidity. The creaking of the spring jarred upon
the nerves. The old watchmaker wound and wound
the key, without stopping a moment, and it seemed
as if the movement were beyond his control. He
wound more and more quickly, with strange contortions,
until he fell from sheer weariness.
“There, it is wound up for a century!”
Aubert rushed from the hall as if
he were mad. After long wandering, he found the
outlet of the hateful chateau, and hastened into the
open air. He returned to the hermitage of Notre-Dame-du-Sex,
and talked so despairingly to the holy recluse, that
the latter consented to return with him to the chateau
If, during these hours of anguish,
Gerande had not wept, it was because her tears were
Master Zacharius had not left the
hall. He ran every moment to listen to the regular
beating of the old clock.
Meanwhile the clock had struck, and
to Scholastique’s great terror, these words
had appeared on the silver face: “MAN
OUGHT TO BECOME THE EQUAL OF GOD.”
The old man had not only not been
shocked by these impious maxims, but read them deliriously,
and flattered himself with thoughts of pride, whilst
Pittonaccio kept close by him.
The marriage-contract was to be signed
at midnight. Gerande, almost unconscious, saw
or heard nothing. The silence was only broken
by the old man’s words, and the chuckling of
Eleven o’clock struck.
Master Zacharius shuddered, and read in a loud voice:
“MAN SHOULD BE THE SLAVE OF SCIENCE, AND
SACRIFICE TO IT RELATIVES AND FAMILY.”
“Yes!” he cried, “there is nothing
but science in this world!”
The hands slipped over the face of
the clock with the hiss of a serpent, and the pendulum
beat with accelerated strokes.
Master Zacharius no longer spoke.
He had fallen to the floor, his throat rattled, and
from his oppressed bosom came only these half-broken
words: “Life science!”
The scene had now two new witnesses,
the hermit and Aubert. Master Zacharius lay upon
the floor; Gerande was praying beside him, more dead
Of a sudden a dry, hard noise was
heard, which preceded the strike.
Master Zacharius sprang up.
“Midnight!” he cried.
The hermit stretched out his hand
towards the old clock, and midnight did
Master Zacharius uttered a terrible
cry, which must have been heard in hell, when these
“WHO EVER SHALL ATTEMPT TO MAKE
HIMSELF THE EQUAL OF GOD, SHALL BE FOR EVER DAMNED!”
The old clock burst with a noise like
thunder, and the spring, escaping, leaped across the
hall with a thousand fantastic contortions; the old
man rose, ran after it, trying in vain to seize it,
and exclaiming, “My soul, my soul!”
The spring bounded before him, first
on one side, then on the other, and he could not reach
At last Pittonaccio seized it, and,
uttering a horrible blasphemy, ingulfed himself in
Master Zacharius fell backwards. He was dead.
The old watchmaker was buried in the midst of the
Then Aubert and Gerande returned to
Geneva, and during the long life which God accorded
to them, they made it a duty to redeem by prayer the
soul of the castaway of science.