Read CHAPTER XV of The Cross of Berny, free online book, by Emile de Girardin, on ReadCentral.com.

ROGER DE MONBERT to MONSIEUR DE MEILHAN,
Pont-de-l’Arche (Eure).

PARIS, June 19th 18.

It is useless to slander the police; we are obliged to resort to them in our dilemmas; the police are everywhere, know everything, and are infallible. Without the police Paris would go to ruin; they are the hidden fortification, the invisible rampart of the capital; its numerous agents are the detached forts. Fouche was the Vauban of this wonderful system, and since Fouche’s time, the art has been steadily approaching perfection. There is to-day, in every dark corner of the city an eye that watches over our fifty-four gates, and an ear that hears the pulsations of all the streets, those great arteries of Paris.

The incapacity of my own agents making me despair of discovering anything; I went to the Polyphemus of Jerusalem street, a giant whose ever open eye watches every Ulysses. They told me in the office­Return in three days.

Three centuries that I had to struggle through! How many centuries I have lived during the last month!

The police! Why did not this luminous idea enter my mind before?

At this office of public secrets they said to me: Mlle. de Chateaudun left Paris five days ago. On the 12th she passed the night at Sens; she then took the route to Burgundy; changed horses at Villevallier, and on the 14th stopped at the chateau of Madame de Lorgeville, seven miles from Avallon.

The particularity of this information startled me. What wonderful clock-work! What secret wheels! What intelligent mechanism! It is the machine of Marly applied to a human river. At Rome a special niche would have been devoted to the goddess of Police.

What a lesson to us! How circumspect it should make us! Our walls are diaphanous, our words are overheard; our steps are watched ... everything said and done reaches by secret informers and invisible threads the central office of Jerusalem street. It is enough to make one tremble!!!

At the chateau of Mad. de Lorgeville!

I walked along repeating this sentence to myself, with a thousand variations: At the chateau of Mad. de Lorgeville.

After a decennial absence, I know nobody in Paris­I am just as much of a stranger as the ambassador of Siam.... Who knows Mad. de Lorgeville? M. de Balaincourt is the only person in Paris who can give me the desired information­he is a living court calendar. I fly to see M. de Balaincourt.

This oracle answers me thus: Mad. de Lorgeville is a very beautiful woman, between twenty-four and twenty-six years of age. She possesses a magnificent mezzo-soprano voice, and twenty thousand dollars income. She learnt miniature painting from Mad. Mirbel, and took singing lessons from Mad. Damoyeau. Last winter she sang that beautiful duo from Norma, with the Countess Merlin, at a charity concert.

I requested further details.

Madame de Lorgeville is the sister of the handsome Leon de Varezes.

Oh! ray of light! glimmer of sun through a dark cloud!

The handsome Leon de Varezes! The ugly idea of troubadour beauty! A fop fashioned by his tailor, and who passes his life looking at his figure reflected in four mirrors as shiny and cold as himself!

I pressed M. de Balaincourt’s hand and once again plunged into the vortex of Paris.

If the handsome Leon were only hideous I would feel nothing but indifference towards him, but he has more sacred rights to my hatred, as you will see.

Three months ago this handsome Leon made a proposal of marriage to Mlle. de Chateaudun­she refused him. This is evidently a preconcerted plan; or it is a ruse. The handsome Leon had a lady friend well known by everybody but himself, and he has deferred this marriage in order to gild, after the manner of Ruolz, his last days of bachelorhood; meanwhile Mlle. de Chateaudun received her liberty, and during this truce I have played the rôle of suitor. Either of these conjectures is probable­both may be true­one is sufficient to bring about a catastrophe!

This fact is certain, the handsome Leon is at the waters of Ems enjoying his expiring hours of single-blessedness in the society of his painted friend, and his family are keeping Mile. de Chateaudun at the Chateau de Lorgeville till the season at Ems is over. In a few days the handsome Leon, on pretence of important business, will leave his Dulcinea, and, considering himself freed from an unlawful yoke, will come to the Chateau de Lorgeville to offer his innocent hand and pure homage to Mile. de Chateaudun. In whatever light the matter is viewed, I am a dupe­a butt! I know well that people say: “Prince Roger is a good fellow” With this reputation a man is exposed to all the feline wickedness of human nature, but when once aroused “the good fellow” is transformed, and all turn pale in his presence.

No, I can never forgive a woman who holds before me a picture of bliss, and then dashes it to the ground­she owes me this promised happiness, and if she tries to fly from me I have a right to cry “stop thief.”

Ah! Mlle. de Chateaudun, you thought you could break my heart, and leave me nothing to cherish but the phantom of memory! Well! I promise you another ending to your play than you looked for! We will meet again!

Stupid idiot that I was, to think of writing her an apology to vindicate my innocent share of the scene at the Odéon! Vindication well spared! How she would have laughed at my honest candor!... She shall not have an opportunity of laughing! Dear Edgar, in writing these disconsolate lines I have lost the calmness that I had imposed upon myself when I began my letter. I feel that I am devoured by that internal demon that bears a woman’s name in the language of love­jealousy! Yes, jealousy fills my soul with bitterness, encircles my brow with a band of iron, and makes me feel a frenzied desire to murder some fellow-being! During my travels I lost the tolerant manners of civilization. I have imbibed the rude cruelty of savages­my jealousy is filled with the storms and fire of the equator.

What do you pale effeminate young men know of jealousy? Is not your professor of jealousy the actor who dashes about on the stage with a paste-board sword?

I have studied the monster under other masters; tigers have taught me how to manage this passion.

Dear Edgar, once night overtook us amidst the ruins of the fort that formerly defended the mouth of the river Caveri in Bengal. It was a dark night illumined by a single star like the lamp of the subterranean temple of Elephanta. But this lone star was sufficient to throw light upon the formidable duel that took place before us upon the sloping bank of the ruined fort.

It was the season of love ... how sweet is the sound of these words!

A tawny monster with black spots, belonging to the fair sex of her noble race, was calmly quenching her thirst in the river Caveri­after she had finished drinking she squatted on her hind feet and stretched her forepaws in front of her breast­sphinx-like­and luxuriously rubbed her head in and out among the soft leaves scattered on the riverside.

At a little distance the two lovers watched­not with their eyes but with their nostrils and ears, and their sharp growl was like the breath of the khamsin passing through the branches of the euphorbium and the nopal. The two monsters gradually reached the paroxysm of amorous rage; they flattened their ears, sharpened their claws, twisted their tails like flexible steel, and emitted sparks of fire from eyes and skin.

During this prelude the tigress stretched herself out with stoical indifference, pretending to take no interest in the scene­as if she were the only animal of her race in the desert. At intervals she would gaze with delight at the reflected image of her grace and beauty in the river Caveri.

A roar that seemed to burst from the breast of a giant crushed beneath a rock, echoed through the solitude. One of the tigers described an immense circle in the air and then fell upon the neck of his rival. The two tawny enemies stood up on their hind legs, clenching each other like two wrestlers, body to body, muzzle to muzzle, teeth to teeth, and uttering shrill, rattling cries that cut through the air like the clashing of steel blades. Ordinary huntsmen would have fired upon this monstrous group. We judged it more noble to respect the powerful hate of this magnificent love. As usual the aggressor was the strongest; he threw his rival to the ground, crushed him with his whole weight, tore him with his claws, and then fastening his long teeth in his victim’s throat, laid him dead upon the grass­uttering, as he did so, a cry of triumph that rang through the forest like the clarion of a conqueror.

The tigress remained in the same spot, quietly licking her paw, and when it was quite wet rubbed it over her muzzle and ears with imperturbable serenity and charming coquetry.

This scene contained a lesson for both sexes, my dear Edgar. When nature chooses our masters she chooses wisely.

Heaven preserve you from jealousy! I do not mean to honor by this name that fickle, unjust, common-place sentiment that we feel when our vanity assumes the form of love. The jealousy that gnaws my heart is a noble and legitimate passion. Not to avenge one’s self is to give a premium of encouragement to wicked deeds. The forgiveness of wrongs and injuries puts certain men and women too much at their ease. Vengeance is necessary for the protection of society.

Dear Edgar, tell me of your love; fear not to wound me by a picture of your happiness; my heart is too sympathetic for that. Tell me the traits that please you most in the object of your tenderness. Let your soul expand in her sweet smiles­revel in the intoxicating bliss of those long happy talks filled with the enchanting grace and music of a first love.

After reading my letter, remove my gloomy picture from your mind­forget me quietly; let not a thought of my misery mar your present happiness.

I intend to honor the handsome Leon by devoting my personal attention to his future fate.

ROGER DE MONBERT.