Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 42
HATE IS AS STRONG AS LOVE.
QUEEN ANNE had several of these ignoble advisers around her. Barkilphedro was one. He also secretly worked, influenced, and plotted upon Lady Josiana and Lord David. As we have said, he whispered in three ears,—one more than Dangeau. Dangeau whispered in but two, in the days when, thrusting himself between Louis XIV., who was in love with Henrietta his sister-in-law, and Henrietta, who was in love with Louis XIV. her brother-in-law, he as Louis's secretary, without the knowledge of Henrietta, and as Henrietta's without the knowledge of Louis, wrote the questions and answers of both the love-making marionettes.
Barkilphedro was so cheerful, so compliant, so incapable of espousing the cause of any one, so ugly, so mischievous, that it was quite natural that a regal personage should soon be unable to do without him. Once Anne had tried Barkilphedro, she would have no other flatterer. He flattered her as they flattered Louis the Great, by disparaging her neighbours. "The king being ignorant," says Madame de Montchevreuil, "one is obliged to sneer at the savants." To poison the sting, from time to time, is the acme of art. Nero loves to see Locusta at work.
Royal palaces are very easily entered; a pretext suffices. Barkilphedro, having found this pretext, his position with the queen soon became the same as that with the Duchess Josiana,—that of an indispensable domestic animal. A witticism ventured one day immediately led to a perfect understanding of the queen's character, and a correct estimate of her kindness of heart. The queen was greatly attached to her Lord Steward, William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, who was very stupid. This lord, who had obtained every Oxford degree and yet did not know how to spell, one fine morning committed the folly of dying. To die is a very imprudent thing at court, for then there is no further restraint in speaking of you. The queen, in the presence of Barkilphedro, lamented the event, finally exclaiming, with a sigh:
"It is a pity that so many virtues should have been borne and served by so poor an intellect."
"Dieu veuille avoir son âne!" whispered Barkilphedro, in a low voice, and in French.
The queen smiled. Barkilphedro noted the smile, and concluded that biting pleased her. Free license had been given to his spite. From that day he thrust his curiosity everywhere, and his malignity with it. No one ventured to oppose him, so greatly was he feared. He who can make the king laugh makes all the others tremble. He was a cunning rascal. Every day he worked his way forward—underground. Barkilphedro became a necessity; and many great persons honoured him with their confidence, to the extent of intrusting him with their disgraceful commissions. There are wheels within wheels at court. Barkilphedro became the motive power. Have you ever noticed, in certain mechanisms, the smallness of the motive wheel?
Josiana, in particular, who, as we have explained, made use of Barkilphedro's talents as a spy, trusted him so implicitly that she had not hesitated to intrust him with a pass-key, by means of which he was able to enter her apartments at any hour. This excessive license of insight into private life was in fashion in the seventeenth century; it was called "giving the key." Josiana had given two of these confidential keys; Lord David had one, Barkilphedro the other. However, to enter straight into a bedchamber was in the old code of manners a thing not in the least out of the way. Thence resulted startling incidents. La Ferté, suddenly drawing back the bed-curtains of Mademoiselle Lafont, found inside Sainson of the Black Musketeers.
Barkilphedro excelled in making those cunning discoveries which place the great in the power of the humble. Like every perfect spy, the cruelty of the executioner and the patience of a micograph entered largely into his composition. He was a born courtier. Every courtier is a noctambulist. The courtier prowls about in the night with a dark-lantern in his hand. He lights up the spot he wishes, and remains in darkness himself. What he is seeking with his lantern is not a man, it is a fool. What he finds is the king. Kings do not like to see those about them aspire. Irony aimed at any one except themselves has a charm for them. The talent of Barkilphedro consisted in a perpetual dwarfing of the peers and princes to the advantage of her Majesty's stature, thereby increased proportionately.
The pass-key held by Barkilphedro was made with a different set of wards at each end, so as to open the private apartments in both Josiana's favourite residences,—Hunkerville House in London, and Corleone Lodge at Windsor. These two houses were part of the Clancharlie inheritance. Hunkerville House was close to Oldgate. Oldgate was a gate of London, which was entered by the Harwich road, and on which was displayed a statue of Charles II., with a painted angel above his head, and a carved lion and unicorn beneath his feet. From Hunkerville House, in an easterly wind, you could hear the bells of St. Marylebone. Corleone Lodge was a Florentine palace of brick and stone, with a marble colonnade, built on pilework, at Windsor, near the head of the wooden bridge, and having one of the finest courts in England. In this last palace, near Windsor Castle, Josiana was within the queen's reach. Nevertheless, Josiana liked it.
Barkilphedro's influence over the queen, though apparently so insignificant, was deeply rooted. To exterminate these noxious weeds from a court is extremely difficult, for though they have taken a deep root, they offer no hold above the surface. To root out a Roquelaure, a Triboulet, or a Brummel, is almost impossible.
From day to day, and more and more, did the queen take Barkilphedro into her good graces. Sarah Jennings is famous; Barkilphedro is unknown,—his existence remains ignored; the name of Barkilphedro has not reached as far as history. All the moles are not caught by the mole-trapper. Barkilphedro, having once been a candidate for orders, had studied a little of everything. Skimming all things results in naught. One may be a victim of the omnis res scibilis. Having the vessel of the Danaïdes in one's head is the misfortune of a legion of learned men, who may be termed the sterile. What Barkilphedro had put into his brain had left it empty.
The mind, like Nature, abhors a vacuum. Into emptiness, where Nature puts love, the mind often puts hate. There is such a thing as hating merely for the sake of hating. A man hates because he must do something. Gratuitous hatred,—what a strange expression! It means hate which is in itself its own reward. The bear lives by licking his claws,—not indefinitely, of course; the claws must be revictualled,—something must be put into them. A hatred of mankind in general is sweet, and suffices for a time; but one must eventually have a definite object. An animosity diffused over all creation is exhausting, like every solitary pleasure. Hate without an object is like a shooting-match without a target; what lends interest to the game is a heart to be pierced. One cannot hate solely for the honour of it; some seasoning is necessary,—a man, a woman, somebody, to destroy.
This service of making the game interesting, of offering an aim, of adding a zest to hatred by fixing it on an object, of amusing the hunter by the sight of his living prey, of giving the watcher the hope of the smoking and boiling blood about to flow, of amusing the bird-catcher by the credulity of the uselessly winged lark, of being a victim unwittingly reared for murder by a master-mind,—all this exquisite and horrible service, of which the person rendering it is unconscious, Josiana rendered Barkilphedro. Thought is a projectile. Barkilphedro had, from the very first, aimed at Josiana the evil intentions which were in his mind. An intention and a carbine are alike. Barkilphedro aimed at Josiana, directing all his secret malice against the duchess. That astonishes you! What has the bird done at which you fire? You want to eat it, you say; and so it was with Barkilphedro.
Josiana could not be wounded in the heart; the spot where that enigma lies is hard to wound. But she could be wounded in the head; that is, in her pride. It was there that she deemed herself strong, and that she was really very weak. Barkilphedro had found this out. If Josiana had been able to read his mind clearly, if she had been able to distinguish what lay in ambush behind his smile, that proud woman would have trembled. Fortunately for the tranquillity of her sleep, she was in complete ignorance of the man's real character.
The unforeseen lurks one knows not where. There is no such thing as petty hatred; hatred is always dangerous, even in the smallest creature. An elephant hated by even an ant is in danger.
Barkilphedro did not know as yet what he was going to do to Josiana; but he had made up his mind to do something. To have come to this decision was a great step taken. To crush Josiana utterly would have been too great a triumph. He could not hope for that; but to humiliate her, wound her, bring her to grief, redden her proud eyes with tears of rage,—what happiness! He counted on it. Tenacious, diligent, faithful to the torment of his neighbour, not to be moved from his purpose,—Nature had not formed him for nothing. He understood how to find the flaw in Josiana's golden armour, and how to make the blood of this goddess flow.
What benefit, we ask again, would accrue to him in so doing? An immense benefit,—doing evil to one who had done good to him. What is an envious man? An ungrateful one. He hates the sun that lights and warms him. Zoilus hated that benefactor of mankind, Homer. To inflict on Josiana what would nowadays be called vivisection; to have her, all convulsed, on his anatomical table; to dissect her alive, at his leisure, in some surgery; to cut her up, bit by bit, while she shrieked with agony,—this dream delighted Barkilphedro! To arrive at this result it was necessary to suffer some himself; he did so willingly. We may pinch ourselves with our own pincers; the knife as it shuts cuts our fingers,—what does that matter? That he should partake of Josiana's torture was a matter of little moment. The executioner handling the red-hot iron, when about to brand a prisoner, does not mind a little burn. As another suffers so much, he suffers nothing. To see the victim's writhings makes the inflicter forget his own pain. Destroy, by all means, come what may!
To plot evil against others is mingled with an acceptance of some responsibility. We risk ourselves in the danger which we are bringing upon another, because the chain of events sometimes, of course, brings unexpected accidents. This does not stop the really malicious man. His enjoyment is proportionate to the victim's agony. The malicious man delights only in the sufferings of others; pain reflects itself on him in a sense of welfare. The Duke of Alva used to warm his hands at the stake. The pile was torture, the reflection of it pleasure. That such feelings should be possible makes one shudder. Our dark side is unfathomable. Supplice exquis,—"exquisite torture" (the expression is in Bodin),—has perhaps this terrible triple sense: search for the torture, suffering of the tortured, delight of the torturer. Ambition, appetite,—all such words signify some one sacrificed for some one's gratification. Can it he that the outpourings of our wishes flow naturally in the direction to which we most incline, that of evil? One of the hardest labours of the just man is to expunge malevolence from his soul. Almost all our desires, when closely examined, contain what we dare not avow. In the thoroughly wicked man this malevolence exists in hideous perfection. So much the worse for others signifies so much the better for himself. Oh, the deep depravity of the human heart!
Josiana, with that sense of security which results from ignorant pride, had a supreme contempt for all danger. The feminine power of disdain is extraordinary. Josiana's was unreasoning, involuntary, and confident. Barkilphedro was in her eyes so contemptible that she would have been astonished had any one hinted at such a thing as danger from that source. So she went and came and laughed before this man who was watching her with evil eyes, biding his time.
In proportion as he waited, his determination to imbitter this woman's life augmented. In the mean time he gave himself excellent reasons for his determination. It must not be supposed that scoundrels are deficient in self-esteem; they enter into details with themselves in their lofty monologues, and they carry matters with a high hand. True, this Josiana had bestowed charity on him! She had thrown some crumbs of her enormous wealth to him, as to a beggar; she had nailed and riveted him to an office which was unworthy him. Yes; that he, Barkilphedro, almost a clergyman, of varied and profound talents, a learned man, with the material in him for a bishop, should have to spend his time registering nasty, patience-trying shards; that he should have to pass his life in the garret of a register-office, gravely uncorking stupid bottles incrusted with all the nastiness of the sea, deciphering musty parchments, dirty wills, and other illegible stuff of the kind,—was all the fault of this Josiana. Worst of all, this creature "thee'd" and "thou'd" him! And should he not revenge himself? Should he not punish such conduct? In that case, there would be no such thing as justice here below!
- Book IV. p. 196.