Fatal Zero. A Diary Kept at Homburg. by Percy Hetherington Fitzgerald
Chapter XVIII

Chapter XVIII.

The shower of rain, indeed, on every spot, save my dry, dusty heart. It was a pile of gold, and the paying out took long. I could look on. I saw it all done, then walked out into the open air. Not to think of what was to be done. Ah! There was nothing to be done, but to get away, to go through the first necessary process of shutting out all sympathies, affection. Dora,—I have finished with all that, now and for evermore. Oh, is there pity in heaven, or indulgence or mercy? No, no—that was no chance that made me stop exactly at that moment. It was design, punishment. I was handed over to those vile torturers. My God in Heaven, what have I done to deserve all this? What wretch, the vilest of sinners, could be punished, crushed, destroyed for ever, with such refined tortures.

. . . . I heard steps behind me. It was Grainger tramping up to me. His eyes were full of fury and impatience.

"A nice business you have made of it," he said. "What have you lost of the money that was entrusted to you?" I did not answer. "I say, what have you lost of the stolen money—half?"

"Say nearly all," I replied. "The world will know pretty soon."

"I daresay. And to think that you might have it all in your pocket now. Does that add to your reflections?"

"Don't weary me now, Grainger," I said; "let me go home."

"Don't weary you! And all the fine preaching, the prayers! This is the end of it! Lecturing me! Infernal effrontery, by God!"

"You are right, Grainger. It was effrontery, and hypocrisy also."

"And so clever, too, with your directions and advice, and superior knowledge of the game. Clever, indeed," he added, with growing fury. "So you thought yourself all your life, and when you beat me about her. By God I have beaten you this time, and beaten you well! Time brings round everything if we only wait."

Nothing could astonish me, or disturb me now; but I looked at him steadily.

"Oh, you may look as you will, but I planned it well. Planned it, every step of it, from the first day to the present. Were you fool enough to think I could forgive you, or forget you, or forget her? By Heaven, though, I never thought it would end in this way, I never dreamed it would end so satisfactorily. Go home now and sleep, my friend; Zero did it for me."

So I am fool as well as villain, and am a little surprised. But the close of all which must come— And here I find a square envelope, large and with "Services Télégraphiques" written on it. Not ill! Not dead! Oh that would be the real terror and misfortune. No. . . . . It shall go in here, and take its place in this odd record.

"I have just heard that Mr. Bernard leaves to-morrow morning suddenly, and they tell me is going to Germany, about some money transaction. I think it right to tell you this. What can it mean? O, do be careful. I shall write to-night.

"Your Dora."

This is better—things are improving. I am glad he suspects, and is coming. Grainger, I suppose, wrote to tell him. I shall give myself up to him, to do as he likes with, or—who knows what may happen before he comes. . . . . It is not cruelty to abandon her. If I stayed she must be abandoned all the same. The jail—the dock before that was reached, it would all kill her. Better for me to glide away quietly, and save her this—that might kill her too; but there would be no disgrace, Mr. Bernard would be indulgent—as regards his tongue at least.

O, I long to be going. I want rest—rest—rest—for in this mind here, about this heart, are caldrons boiling, fires raging, and engines working: I could not go on with that. A day or two more would be the utmost.

. . . . I have just counted out these notes, about seven hundred pounds gone—embezzled. O, demons, furies, be proud of your work! You with the rakes and cards are hell's own precious emissaries; but no, this is not the time—I have done with all that. I must look forward a day or two, and plan a little carefully before I go down to those who have bought my wretched soul. O, why did I not die at my desk and leave an innocent name to my sweet, my lost Dora! Here is her little picture again, her smooth hair and snowy dress, and her shy smile, and look of surprise. Shall I tear it, as I could tear out my own vile heart? When you read these frantic words, these ravings of your guilty husband, whose vanity and folly have brought him to this, O, I would give all the chances of my vile soul to be released from the fiery furnace, and standing by looking down on you. And that prayer, which I did say— But what use are prayers now?

. . . . Morning—I never slept last night . . . . and I think sat in that place until the grey of the morning. Then I went out to walk; such a lovely calm sunrise, so still and solemn and hushed, like the morning of an execution. The honest creatures in their blouses, who till the soil here and bring in marketing, are asleep or just rousing themselves. The gaudy looking hotels are bathed in slumber. Then the sloping Kiesleffstrasse and the balcony in which I so often see the young and pretty girl, decoying the doves and sparrows with crumbs. There is the Victoria Hotel and the Russie and the Quatre Saisons, all shut and solemn as jails. There is the money-lender's, "a Bank," he calls himself, and the post which brings and carries misery, and agonised confessions home. And there is the great red sandstone temple of play, every stone of which has cost hearts and lives, and worlds of ruin and agonies. As I pass by I leave them my last hearty Curse; on them, their administrations, their familiars, and their blood-won money, their works, and their pomps. God, in his justice who has dealt so rigorously with me, may he deal with them, and not delay the reckoning too late!

. . . . As the place wakes up, I have come in again; but I cannot sit down or stop. I must be in motion. If I am not, my heart and soul begin their work again, and I shall die in agony. But I have my own plan for dying. The poor wretch that blew his brains out over their numbers, must have discomposed them sorely. It was not so bad a way to spite them. That blood should surely call to Heaven for vengeance.

. . . . I have been up the hills, out among the woods, walking, rushing about, flying from myself. Mr. Bernard ought to be here by the midday train. I will tell the other to come back at the same time; and to them both I will make confession of the whole. And then, after that—— However, all in good time. Here is the packet of these fatal notes—what remains, at least—so neatly tied up, with a short letter. No tears and ridiculous theatrical repentance. I am going to pay a price sufficient for all that—a heavy reckoning; so I may leave out all that. Surely I am to enter on a long eternal period of penal servitude, and with no commutation. Everything is in order. A letter to Dora? No, no. Better separate all that finally from yesterday. I am not worthy to address a line to her. She is lost to me for ever, and ever, and evermore! They, they—those demons—have torn me from her!

The day is sultry hot, but not so sultry as the furnaces inside here at my heart. The engine is working furiously, and will not let me rest a moment in one spot. I must go out, and out again, into the sun, into the raging sun. This morning is like a dull long night, and I seem to be tossing on a pillow. Go on, go on, move on! But there is stolid oppressive monotony about it. It is an hour yet from noon, when this gambling begins.

. . . . I have come back to my room again, where the woman of the house comes to persecute me. I suppose fearful about her rent. What does she want, then? For God's sake, then, let her go, and leave me in peace!

This ridiculous diary, as I turn it over; what folly, what complacency, and, O, what happiness! And yet I meant well—at least, I think I did. How am I to tell now? . . . . O, hours, go by, and end this. . . . I shall not stay pent within these four white walls. They seem crushing me in—stifling. . . . I must walk, move, walk about. That is the only thing to save me for an hour or so.

Here I have been out, and am back again; but the hot monotony goes on.

. . . . How slowly the hours are going by! The train must be in; and they must have arrived. I shall carry this straight into my bedroom now, and beside it I place this little bottle, so convenient and so handy. Lucky I bought it. Sweet little executioner, too decent and genteel almost for a felon like me. Was there ever such impunity—to escape that richly-deserved prison cropping, penal servitude, the number, and the mask, and the twenty years! Richly deserved! And yet have I not been something of a poor victim, weak in his own folly? Mercy, O, mercy for me! O my sweet Dora! I must, I must break through that resolution, and write something—a word. Lost love. . . . But what can I say? The wretched Othello, he gave a sort of message—once—just before he was about to——die.

I pray you in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
. . . . . .
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme.

Yes, "being wrought," I say piteously, let that be considered! Not that I dare want mercy; why should it be given to me? But who was ever so cruelly wrought, tortured, wrung, hunted on to ruin and death? Othello, poor soul!

I remember the night we were at the theatre, and heard the unhappy wretch. It seemed to be real life. O, sultry hours, advance, advance, and end all! They must have begun their play by this. Is it sinful to wish them one last curse, that may whelm them all together? But what have I to do with sinners or sinful? Then let the Judgment follow them, as it has followed me—sharp, swift, eternal!

What! a cab clattering to the door! Heavens! They are upon me at last! Light is breaking in the cloud. All in good time.

Now to get ready, and play my part with some little dignity. Dignity! Fine dignity indeed!. . . . No, it is only the banker. . . . . There, I have stolen in here again. I cannot sit and talk with him. Neither could I tell him. Much better wait until both are present together, and to both I can then tell all. They will go to the window, I suppose, and call in some one, or Mr. Bernard will send himself for a policeman in a spiked helmet. How little he knows. I don't want to baffle him, or what they call the ends of justice. I shall atone for all, never fear, but in my, own way. . . . . O, some one send money! let there be some miracle wrought, to save my name from the felony! It may be merged, though, in the wretched end. . . . . There! another cab. . . . . It must be Bernard. He has arrived, and is coming up the stairs. Now, now. Heaven compose me, just for two minutes! Give me strength, God of Heaven, whose laws I am about to outrage! But there is, there may be, mercy, and the world has dealt with me, O! so hardly. Tell him all calmly; nothing extenuate, like the wretched Othello; and then, when he pours out his furious reproaches, and turns to send for his police, take this out; have it down in a second. Tell him "I have deceived the senate." No, no, indeed no; but choose that precious moment to beg, beg for her. O Dora, sweet one; come in here, loved picture, in here, next to this vile heart. Let them find it there. . . . . How strange he does not come up! Hark! There is his step at last. Put this in my pocket—now, now for the last scene . . . . or wait—better take it at once—who knows what may interfere? There. How strange—how horrible! Judgment is signed, and signed for ever. Yet I wouldn't go back. Yes, tap away at the door. Come in, Mr. Bernard. What is this? I cannot go to you—now—come in, or it will be too late. The waiter—the waiter with a note. But I have done with notes. But whose hand is this—it seems so dim. Why, not Dora's?

"Our cousin is dead, suddenly, from a fall from his horse. You know what a change that makes to us. Money, lands, everything is ours and my darling's. O! can you bear a surprise? But don't be alarmed, or agitated. Think of what would please you most! I started from Datchley yesterday with Mr. Bernard. We travelled all night. We are here. I am below, waiting, waiting to fling myself into your arms. May I come up to you?"

What is this? I hear her voice outside! . . . . O God Almighty . . . forgive . . . forgive!

The end of Fatal Zero.