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There was a great silence, a vast silence which Veronique felt weighing upon her like a burden that grows heavier second after second.
"You must escape from this island," a voice repeated. "Go, quickly. Your father bade you, Madame Veronique."
Honorine was beside her, livid in the face, with her two hands clasping a napkin, rolled into a plug and red with blood, which she held to her chest.
"But I must look after you first!" cried Veronique. "Wait a moment . . . . Let me see . . . ."
"Later on . . . they'll attend to me presently," spluttered Honorine.
"Oh, the monster! . . . If I had only come in time! But the door below was barricaded . . . ."
"Do let me see to your wound," Veronique implored. "Lie down."
"Presently . . . . First Marie Le Goff, the cook, at the top of the staircase . . . . She's wounded too . . . mortally perhaps . . . . Go and see."
Veronique went out by the door at the back, the one through which her son had made his escape. There was a large landing here. On the top steps, curled into a heap, lay Marie Le Goff, with the death-rattle in her throat.
She died almost at once, without recovering consciousness, the third victim of the incomprehensible tragedy. As foretold by old Maguennoc, M.
d'Hergemont had been the second victim.
THE POOR PEOPLE OF SAREK
Honorine's wound was deep but did not seem likely to prove fatal. When Veronique had dressed it and moved Marie Le Goff's body to the room filled with books and furnished like a study in which her father was lying, she closed M. d'Hergemont's eyes, covered him with a sheet and knelt down to pray. But the words of prayer would not come to her lips and her mind was incapable of dwelling on a single thought. She felt stunned by the repeated blows of misfortune. She sat down in a chair, holding her head in her hands. Thus she remained for nearly an hour, while Honorine slept a feverish sleep.
With all her strength she rejected her son's image, even as she had always rejected Vorski's. But the two images became mingled together, whirling around her and dancing before her eyes like those lights which, when we close our eyelids tightly, pa.s.s and pa.s.s again and multiply and blend into one. And it was always one and the same face, cruel, sardonic, hideously grinning.
She did not suffer, as a mother suffers when mourning the loss of a son.
Her son had been dead these fourteen years; and the one who had come to life again, the one for whom all the wells of her maternal affection were ready to gush forth, had suddenly become a stranger and even worse: Vorski's son! How indeed could she have suffered?
But ah, what a wound inflicted in the depths of her being! What an upheaval, like those cataclysms which shake the whole of a peaceful country-side! What a h.e.l.lish spectacle! What a vision of madness and horror! What an ironical jest, a jest of the most hideous destiny! Her son killing her father at the moment when, after all these years of separation and sorrow, she was on the point of embracing them both and living with them in sweet and homely intimacy! Her son a murderer! Her son dispensing death and terror broadcast! Her son levelling that ruthless weapon, slaying with all his heart and soul and taking a perverse delight in it!
The motives which might explain these actions interested her not at all.
Why had her son done these things? Why had his tutor, Stephane Maroux, doubtless an accomplice, possibly an instigator, fled before the tragedy? These were questions which she did not seek to solve. She thought only of the frightful scene of carnage and death. And she asked herself if death was not for her the only refuge and the only ending.
"Madame Veronique," whispered Honorine.
"What is it?" asked Veronique, roused from her stupor.
"Don't you hear?"
"A ring at the bell below. They must be bringing your luggage."
She sprang to her feet.
"But what am I to say? How can I explain? . . . If I accuse that boy . . ."
"Not a word, please. Let me speak to them."
"You're very weak, my poor Honorine."
"No, no, I'm feeling better."
Veronique went downstairs, crossed a broad entrance-hall paved with black and white flags and drew the bolts of a great door.
It was, as they expected, one of the sailors:
"I knocked at the kitchen-door first," said the man. "Isn't Marie Le Goff there? And Madame Honorine?"
"Honorine is upstairs and would like to speak to you."
The sailor looked at her, seemed impressed by this young woman, who looked so pale and serious, and followed her without a word.
Honorine was waiting on the first floor, standing in front of the open door:
"Ah, it's you, Correjou? . . . Now listen to me . . . and no silly talk, please."
"What's the matter, M'ame Honorine? Why, you're wounded! What is it?"
She stepped aside from the doorway and, pointing to the two bodies under their winding-sheets, said simply:
"Monsieur Antoine and Marie Le Goff . . . both of them murdered."
The man's face became distorted. He stammered:
"Murdered . . . you don't say so . . . . Why?"
"I don't know; we arrived after it happened."
"But . . . young Francois? . . . Monsieur Stephane? . . ."
"Gone . . . . They must have been killed too."
"But . . . but . . . Maguennoc?"
"Maguennoc? Why do you speak of Maguennoc?"
"I speak of Maguennoc, I speak of Maguennoc . . . because, if he's alive . . . this is a very different business. Maguennoc always said that he would be the first. Maguennoc only says things of which he's certain.
Maguennoc understands these things thoroughly."
Honorine reflected and then said: