Marambot opened the letter which his servant Denis gave him and smiled.
For twenty years Denis has been a servant in this house. He was a short, stout, jovial man, who was known throughout the countryside as a model servant. He asked:
"Is monsieur pleased? Has monsieur received good news?"
M. Marambot was not rich. He was an old village druggist, a bachelor, who lived on an income acquired with difficulty by selling drugs to the farmers. He answered:
"Yes, my boy. Old man Malois is afraid of the law-suit with which I am threatening him. I shall get my money to-morrow. Five thousand francs are not liable to harm the account of an old bachelor."
M. Marambot rubbed his hands with satisfaction. He was a man of quiet temperament, more sad than gay, incapable of any prolonged effort, careless in business.
He could undoubtedly have amassed a greater income had he taken advantage of the deaths of colleagues established in more important centers, by taking their places and carrying on their business. But the trouble of moving and the thought of all the preparations had always stopped him. After thinking the matter over for a few days, he would be satisfied to say:
"Bah! I'll wait until the next time. I'll not lose anything by the delay. I may even find something better."
Denis, on the contrary, was always urging his master to new enterprises. Of an energetic temperament, he would continually repeat:
"Oh! If I had only had the capital to start out with, I could have made a fortune! One thousand francs would do me."
M. Marambot would smile without answering and would go out in his little garden, where, his hands behind his back, he would walk about dreaming.
All day long, Denis sang the joyful refrains of the folk-songs of the district. He even showed an unusual activity, for he cleaned all the windows of the house, energetically rubbing the glass, and singing at the top of his voice.
M. Marambot, surprised at his zeal, said to him several times, smiling:
"My boy, if you work like that there will be nothing left for you to do to-morrow."
The following day, at about nine o'clock in the morning, the postman gave Denis four letters for his master, one of them very heavy. M. Marambot immediately shut himself up in his room until late in the afternoon. He then handed his servant four letters for the mail. One of them was addressed to M. Malois; it was undoubtedly a receipt for the money.
Denis asked his master no questions; he appeared to be as sad and gloomy that day as he had seemed joyful the day before.
Night came. M. Marambot went to bed as usual and slept.
He was awakened by a strange noise. He sat up in his bed and listened. Suddenly the door opened, and Denis appeared, holding in one hand a candle and in the other a carving knife, his eyes staring, his face contracted as though moved by some deep emotion; he was as pale as a ghost.
M. Marambot, astonished, thought that he was sleep-walking, and he was going to get out of bed and assist him when the servant blew out the light and rushed for the bed. His master stretched out his hands to receive the shock which knocked him over on his back; he was trying to seize the hands of his servant, whom he now thought to be crazy, in order to avoid the blows which the latter was aiming at him.
He was struck by the knife; once in the shoulder, once in the forehead and the third time in the chest. He fought wildly, waving his arms around in the darkness, kicking and crying:
"Denis! Denis! Are you mad? Listen, Denis!"
But the latter, gasping for breath, kept up his furious attack always striking, always repulsed, sometimes with a kick, sometimes with a punch, and rushing forward again furiously.
M. Marambot was wounded twice more, once in the leg and once in the stomach. But, suddenly, a thought flashed across his mind, and he began to shriek:
"Stop, stop, Denis, I have not yet received my money!"
The man immediately ceased, and his master could hear his labored breathing in the darkness.
M. Marambot then went on:
"I have received nothing. M. Malois takes back what he said, the law- suit will take place; that is why you carried the letters to the mail. Just read those on my desk."
With a final effort, he reached for his matches and lit the candle.
He was covered with blood. His sheets, his curtains, and even the walls, were spattered with red. Denis, standing in the middle of the room, was also bloody from head to foot.
When he saw the blood, M. Marambot thought himself dead, and fell unconscious.
At break of day he revived. It was some time, however, before he regained his senses, and was able to understand or remember. But, suddenly, the memory of the attack and of his wounds returned to him, and he was filled with such terror that he closed his eyes in order not to see anything. After a few minutes he grew calmer and began to think. He had not died' immediately, therefore he might still recover. He felt weak, very weak; but he had no real pain, although he noticed an uncomfortable smarting sensation in several parts of his body. He also felt icy cold, and all wet, and as though wrapped up in bandages. He thought that this dampness came from the blood which he had lost; and he shivered at the dreadful thought of this red liquid which had come from his veins and covered his bed. The idea of seeing this terrible spectacle again so upset him that he kept his eyes closed with all his strength, as though they might open in spite of himself.
What had become of Denis? He had probably escaped.
But what could he, Marambot, do now? Get up? Call for help? But if he should make the slightest motions, his wounds would undoubtedly open up again and he would die from loss of blood.
Suddenly he heard the door of his room open. His heart almost stopped. It was certainly Denis who was coming to finish him up. He held his breath in order to make the murderer think that he had been successful.
He felt his sheet being lifted up, and then someone feeling his stomach. A sharp pain near his hip made him start. He was being very gently washed with cold water. Therefore, someone must have discovered the misdeed and he was being cared for. A wild joy seized him; but prudently, he did not wish to show that he was conscious. He opened one eye, just one, with the greatest precaution.
He recognized Denis standing beside him, Denis himself! Mercy! He hastily closed his eye again.
Denis! What could he be doing? What did he want? What awful scheme could he now be carrying out?
What was he doing? Well, he was washing him in order to hide the traces of his crime! And he would now bury him in the garden, under ten feet of earth, so that no one could discover him! Or perhaps under the wine cellar! And M. Marambot began to tremble like a leaf. He kept saying to himself: "I am lost, lost!" He closed his eyes so as not to see the knife as it descended for the final stroke. It did not come. Denis was now lifting him up and bandaging him. Then he began carefully to dress the wound on his leg, as his master had taught him to do.
There was no longer any doubt. His servant, after wishing to kill him, was trying to save him.
Then M. Marambot, in a dying voice, gave him the practical piece of advice:
"Wash the wounds in a dilute solution of carbolic acid!"
"This is what I am doing, monsieur."
M. Marambot opened both his eyes. There was no sign of blood either on the bed, on the walls, or on the murderer. The wounded man was stretched out on clean white sheets.
The two men looked at each other.
Finally M. Marambot said calmly:
"You have been guilty of a great crime."
"I am trying to make up for it, monsieur. If you will not tell on me, I will serve you as faithfully as in the past."
This was no time to anger his servant. M. Marambot murmured as he closed his eyes:
"I swear not to tell on you."
Denis saved his master. He spent days and nights without sleep, never leaving the sick room, preparing drugs, broths, potions, feeling his pulse, anxiously counting the beats, attending him with the skill of a trained nurse and the devotion of a son.
He continually asked:
"Well, monsieur, how do you feel?"
M. Marambot would answer in a weak voice:
"A little better, my boy, thank you."
And when the sick man would wake up at night, he would often see his servant seated in an armchair, weeping silently.
Never had the old druggist been so cared for, so fondled, so spoiled. At first he had said to himself:
"As soon as I am well I shall get rid of this rascal."
He was now convalescing, and from day to day he would put off dismissing his murderer. He thought that no one would ever show him such care and attention, for he held this man through fear; and he warned him that he had left a document with a lawyer denouncing him to the law if any new accident should occur.
This precaution seemed to guarantee him against any future attack; and he then asked himself if it would not be wiser to keep this man near him, in order to watch him closely.
Just as formerly, when he would hesitate about taking some larger place of business, he could not make up his mind to any decision.
"There is always time," he would say to himself.
Denis continued to show himself an admirable servant. M. Marambot was well. He kept him.
One morning, just as he was finishing breakfast, he suddenly heard a great noise in the kitchen. He hastened in there. Denis was struggling with two gendarmes. An officer was taking notes on his pad.
As soon as he saw his master, the servant began to sob, exclaiming:
"You told on me, monsieur, that's not right, after what you had promised me. You have broken your word of honor, Monsieur Marambot; that is not right, that's not right!"
M. Marambot, bewildered and distressed at being suspected, lifted his hand:
"I swear to you before the Lord, my boy that I did not tell on you. I haven't the slightest idea how the police could have found out about your attack on me."
The officer started:
"You say that he attacked you, M. Marambot?"
The bewildered druggist answered:
"Yes--but I did not tell on him--I haven't said a word--I swear it--he has served me excellently from that time on--"
The officer pronounced severely:
"I will take down your testimony. The law will take notice of this new action, of which it was ignorant, Monsieur Marambot. I was commissioned to arrest your servant for the theft of two ducks surreptitiously taken by him from M. Duhamel of which act there are witnesses. I shall make a note of your information."
Then, turning toward his men, he ordered:
"Come on, bring him along!"
The two gendarmes dragged Denis out.
The lawyer used a plea of insanity, contrasting the two misdeeds in order to strengthen his argument. He had clearly proved that the theft of the two ducks came from the same mental condition as the eight knife-wounds in the body of Maramlot. He had cunningly analyzed all the phases of this transitory condition of mental aberration, which could, doubtless, be cured by a few months' treatment in a reputable sanatorium. He had spoken in enthusiastic terms of the continued devotion of this faithful servant, of the care with which he had surrounded his master, wounded by him in a moment of alienation.
Touched by this memory, M. Marambot felt the tears rising to his eyes.
The lawyer noticed it, opened his arms with a broad gesture, spreading out the long black sleeves of his robe like the wings of a bat, and exclaimed:
"Look, look, gentleman of the jury, look at those tears. What more can I say for my client? What speech, what argument, what reasoning would be worth these tears of his master? They, speak louder than I do, louder than the law; they cry: 'Mercy, for the poor wandering mind of a while ago! They implore, they pardon, they bless!"
He was silent and sat down.
Then the judge, turning to Marambot, whose testimony had been excellent for his servant, asked him:
"But, monsieur, even admitting that you consider this man insane, that does not explain why you should have kept him. He was none the less dangerous."
Marambot, wiping his eyes, answered:
"Well, your honor, what can you expect? Nowadays it's so hard to find good servants--I could never have found a better one."
Denis was acquitted and put in a sanatorium at his master's expense.