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CHAPTER VI. ANXIETIESEdit

“YOU seem very happy, uncle!” said I to Noel Dorgeroux, who walked briskly on the way to the station, whistling one gay tune after another.

“Yes,” he replied, “lam happy as a man is who has come to a decision.”

“You've come to a decision, uncle?”

“And a very serious one at that. It has cost me a sleepless night; but it's worth it.”

“May I ask...?”

“Certainly. In two words, it's this: Fm going to pull down the sheds in the Yard and build an amphitheatre there.”

“What for?”

“To exploit the thing... the thing you know of.”

“Now do you mean, to exploit it?”

“Why, it's a tremendously important discovery; and, if properly worked, it will give me the money which I have always been trying for, not for its own sake, but because of the resources which it will bring me, money with the aid of which I shall be able to continue my labours without being checked by secondary considerations. There are millions to be made, Victorien, millions! And what shall I not accomplish with millions! This brain of mine,” he went on, tapping his forehead, “is simply crammed with ideas, with theories which need verifying. And it all takes money.... Money! Money! You know how little I care about money! But I want millions, if I am to carry through my work. And those millions I shall have!”

Mastering his enthusiasm, he took my arm and explained:

“First of all, the Yard cleared of its rubbish and levelled. After that, the amphitheatre, with five stages of benches facing the wall. For of course the wall remains: it is the essential point, the reason for the whole thing. But I shall heighten and widen it; and, when it is quite unobstructed, there will be a clear view of it from every seat. You follow me, don't you?”

“I follow you, uncle. But do you think people will come?”

“Will they come? What! You, who know, ask me that question! Why, they will pay gold for the worst seat, they'll give a king's ransom to get in! I'm so sure of it that I shall put all I have left, the last remnant of my savings, into the business. And within a year I shall have amassed incalculable wealth.”

“The place is quite small, uncle, and you will have only a limited number of seats.”

“A thousand, a thousand seats, comfortably! At two hundred francs a seat to begin with, at a thousand francs!...”

“I say, uncle! Seats in the open air, exposed to the rain, to the cold, to all sorts of weather!”

“I've foreseen that objection. The Yard will be closed on rainy days. I want bright daylight, sunshine, the action of the light and other conditions besides, which will still further decrease the number of demonstrations. But that doesn't matter: each seat will cost two thousand francs, five thousand francs, if necessary! I tell you, there's no limit! No one will be content to die without having been to Noel Dorgeroux's Yard! Why, Victorien, you know it as well as I do! When all is said, the reality is more extraordinary than anything that you can imagine, even after what you have seen with your own eyes.”

I could not help asking him:

“Then there are fresh manifestations?”

He replied by nodding his head:

“It's not so much that they're new,” he said, “as that, above all, they have enabled me, with the factors which I already possess, to probe the truth to the bottom.”

“Uncle! Uncle!” I cried. “You mean to say that you know the truth?”

“I know the whole truth, my boy,” he declared. “I know how much is my work and how much has nothing to do with me. What was once darkness is now dazzling light.”

And he added, in a very serious tone:

“It is beyond all imagination, my boy. It is beyond the most extravagant dreams; and yet it remains within the province of facts and certainties. Once humanity knows of it, the earth will pass through a thrill of religious awe; and the people who come here as pilgrims will fall upon their knees — as I did — fall upon their knees like children who pray and fold their hands and weep!”

His words, which were obviously exaggerated, seemed to come from an ill-balanced mind. Yet I felt the force of their exciting and feverish influence:

“Explain yourself, uncle, I beg you.”

“Later on, my boy, when all the points have been cleared up.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“Nothing from you.”

“From whom then?”

“Nobody. But I have my misgivings... quite wrongly, perhaps. Still, certain facts lead me to think that I am being spied upon and that some one is trying to discover my secret. It's just a few clues... things that have been moved from their place... and, above all, a vague intuition.”

“This is all very indefinite, uncle.”

“Very, I admit,” he said, drawing himself up. “And so forgive me if my precautions are excessive... and let's talk of something else: of yourself, Victorien, of your plans...”

“I have no plans, uncle.”

“Yes, you have. There's one at least that you're keeping from me.”

“How so?”

He stopped in his walk and said:

“You're in love with Berangere.”

I did not think of protesting, knowing that Noel Dorgeroux had been in the Yard the day before, in front of the screen:

“I am, uncle, I'm in love with Berangere, but she doesn't care for me.”

“Yes, she does, Victorien.”

I displayed some slight impatience:

“Uncle, I must ask you not to insist. Berangere is a mere child; she does not know what she wants; she is incapable of any serious feeling; and I do not intend to think about her any more. On my part, it was just a fancy of which I shall soon be cured.”

Noel Dorgeroux shrugged his shoulders:

“Lovers' quarrels! Now this is what I have to say to you, Victorien. The work at the Yard will take up all the winter. The amphitheatre will be open to the public on the fourteenth of May, to the day. The Easter holidays will fall a month earlier; and you shall marry my goddaughter during the holidays. Not a word; leave it to me. And leave both your settlements and your prospects to me as well. You can understand, my boy, that, when money is pouring in like water — as it will without a doubt — Victorien Beaugrand will throw up a profession which does not give him sufficient leisure for his private studies and that he will live with me, he and his wife. Yes, I said his wife; and I stick to it. Good-bye, my dear chap, not another word.”

I walked on. He called me back:

“Say good-bye to me, Victorien.”

He put his arms round me with greater fervour than usual; and I heard him murmur:

“Who can tell if we shall ever meet again? At my age! And threatened as I am, too!”

I protested. He embraced me yet again:

“You're right. I am really talking nonsense. You think of your marriage. Berangere is a dear, sweet girl. And she loves you. Good-bye and bless you! I'll write to you. Good-bye.”

  • * * * *

I confess that Noel Dorgeroux's ambitions, at least in so far as they related to the turning of his discovery to practical account, did not strike me as absurd; and what I have said of the things seen at the Yard will exempt me, I imagine, from stating the reasons for my confidence. For the moment, therefore, I will leave the question aside and say no more of those three haunting eyes or the phantasmal scenes upon the magic screen. But how could I indulge the dreams of the future which Noel Dorgeroux suggested? How could I forget Berangere's hostile attitude, her ambiguous conduct?

True, during the months that followed, I often sought to cling to the delightful memory of the vision which I had surprised and the charming picture of Berangere bending over me with that soft look in her eyes. But I very soon pulled myself up and cried:

“I saw the thing all wrong! What I took for affection and, God forgive me, for love was only the expression of a woman triumphing over a man's abasement! Berangere does not care for me. The movement that threw her against my shoulder was due to a sort of nervous crisis; and she felt so much ashamed of it that she at once pushed me away and ran indoors. Besides, she had an appointment with that man the very next day and, in order to keep it, let me go without saying good-bye to me.”

My months of exile therefore were painful months. I wrote to Berangere in vain. I received no reply.

My uncle in his letters spoke of nothing but the Yard. The works were making quick progress. The amphitheatre was growing taller and taller. The wall was quite transformed. The last news, about the middle of March, told me that nothing remained to be done but to fix the thousand seats, which had long been on order, and to hang the iron curtain which was to protect the screen.

It was at this period that Noel Dorgeroux's misgivings revived, or at least it was then that he mentioned them when writing to me. Two books which he bought in Paris and which he used to read in private, lest his choice of a subject should enable anyone to learn the secret of his discovery, had been removed, taken away and then restored to their place. A sheet of paper, covered with notes and chemical formulae, disappeared. There were footprints in the garden. The writing-desk had been broken open, in the room where he worked at the Lodge since the demolition of the sheds.

This last incident, I confess, caused me a certain alarm. My uncle's fears were shown to be based upon a serious fact. There was evidently some one prowling around the Lodge and forcing an entrance in pursuance of a scheme whose nature was easy to guess. Involuntarily I thought of the man with the glasses and his relations with Berangere. There was no knowing....

I made a fresh attempt to persuade the girl to communicate with me:


“You know what's happening at the Lodge, don't you?” I wrote. “How do you explain those facts, which to me seem pretty significant? Be sure to send me word if you feel the least uneasiness. And keep a close watch in the meantime.”

I followed up this letter with two telegrams dispatched in quick succession. But Berangere's stubborn silence, instead of distressing me, served rather to allay my apprehensions. She would not have failed to send for me had there been any danger. No, my uncle was mistaken. He was a victim to the feverish condition into which his discovery was throwing him. As the date approached on which he had decided to make it public, he felt anxious. But there was nothing to justify his apprehensions.

I allowed a few more days to elapse. Then I wrote Berangere a letter of twenty pages, filled with reproaches, which I did not post. Her behaviour exasperated me. I suffered from a bitter fit of jealousy.

At last, on Saturday, the twenty-ninth of March, I received from my uncle a registered bundle of papers and a very explicit letter, which I kept and which I am copying verbatim:


“MY DEAR VICTORIEN,

“Recent events, combined with certain very serious circumstances of which I will tell you, prove that I am the object of a cunningly devised plot against which I have perhaps delayed defending myself longer than I ought. At any rate, it is my duty, in the midst of the dangers which threaten my very life, to protect the magnificent discovery which mankind will owe to my efforts and to take precautionary measures which you will certainly not think unwarranted.

“I have, therefore, drawn up — as I always refused to do before — a detailed report of my discovery, the investigations that led up to it and the conclusions to which my experiments have led me. However improbable it may seem, however contrary to all the accepted laws, the truth is as I state and not otherwise.

“I have added to my report a very exact definition of the technical processes which should be employed in the installation and exploitation of my discovery, as also of my special views upon the financial management of the amphitheatre, the advertising, the floating of the business and the manner in which it might subsequently be extended by building in the garden and where the Lodge now stands a second amphitheatre to face the other side of the wall.

“I am sending you this report by the same post, sealed and registered, and I will ask you not to open it unless I come by some harm. As an additional precaution, I have not included in it the chemical formula which has resulted from my labours and which is the actual basis of my discovery. You will find it engraved on a small and very thin steel plate which I always carry inside the lining of my waistcoat. In this way you and you alone will have in your hands all the necessary factors for exploiting the invention. This will need no special qualifications or scientific preparation. The report and the formula are ample. Holding these two, you are master of the situation; and no one can ever rob you of the material profits of the wonderful secret which I am bequeathing to you.

“And now, my dear boy, let us hope that all my presentiments are unfounded and that we shall soon be celebrating together the happy events which I foresee, including first and foremost your marriage with Berangere. I have not yet been able to obtain a favourable reply from her and she has for some time appeared to me to be, as you put it, in a rather fanciful mood; but I have no doubt that your return will make her reconsider a refusal which she does not even attempt to justify.

“Ever affectionately yours,

“NOEL DORGEROUX.”


This letter reached me too late to allow me to catch the evening express. Besides, was there any urgency for my departure? Ought I not to wait for further news?

A casual observation made short work of my hesitation. As I sat reflecting, mechanically turning the envelope in my hands, I perceived that it had been opened and then fastened down again; what is more, this had been done rather clumsily, probably by some one who had only a few seconds at his disposal.

The full gravity of the situation at once flashed across my mind. The man who had opened the letter before it was dispatched and who beyond a doubt was the man whom Noel Dorgeroux accused of plotting, this man now knew that Noel Dorgeroux carried on his person, in the lining of his waistcoat, a steel plate bearing an inscription containing the essential formula.

I examined the registered packet and observed that it had not been opened. Nevertheless, at all costs, though I was firmly resolved not to read my uncle's report, I undid the string and discovered a pasteboard tube. Inside this tube was a roll of paper which I eagerly examined. It consisted of blank pages and nothing else. The report had been stolen.

Three hours later, I was seated in a night train which did not reach Paris until the afternoon of the next day, Sunday. It was four o'clock when I walked out of the station at Meudon. The enemy had for at least two days known the contents of my uncle's letter, his report and the dreadful means of procuring the formula.