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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Patoff - Chapter 23
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Paul Patoff - Chapter 23 Post by :homebizfanatic Category :Long Stories Author :F. Marion Crawford Date :May 2011 Read :3351

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Paul Patoff - Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

Madame Patoff had not received the news of Alexander's accident with indifference, and it had been necessary that he should assure her himself that he was not seriously hurt before she could be quieted. He had been badly stunned, however, and his head gave him much pain during several days, as was natural enough. He spent most of his time on the sofa in his mother's sitting-room, and she would sit for hours talking to him and trying to soothe his pain. The sympathy between the two seemed strengthened, and it was strange to see how, when together, their manner changed. The relation between the mother and the spoiled child is a very peculiar one, and occupies an entirely separate division in the scale of human affections; for while the mother's love in such a case is sincere, though generally founded on a mere capricious preference, the over-indulged affection of the child breeds nothing but caprice and a ruthless desire to see that caprice satisfied. Madame Patoff loved Alexander so much that the belief in his death had driven her mad; he on his side loved his mother because he knew that in all cases, just and unjust, she would defend him, take his part, and help him to get what he wanted. But he never missed her when they were separated, and he never took any pains to see her unless in so doing he could satisfy some other wish at the same time. He was selfish, willful, and obstinate at two-and-thirty as he had been at ten years of age. His mother was willful, obstinate, and capricious, but as far as he was concerned she was incapable of selfishness.

What was most remarkable in her manner was her ease in talking with Professor Cutter, and her indifference in referring to her past insanity. She did not appear to realize it; she hardly seemed to care whether any one knew it or not, and regarded it as an unfortunate accident, but one which there was little object in concealing. As the scientist talked with her and observed her, he opened his eyes wider and wider behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, and grew more and more silent when any one spoke to him of her. I knew later that he detected in her conduct certain symptoms which alarmed him, but felt obliged to hold his peace on account of the extreme difficulty of his position. He felt that to watch her again, or to put her under any kind of restraint, might now lead to far more serious results than before, and he determined to bide his time. An incident occurred very soon, however, which helped him to make up his mind.

One afternoon we arranged an excursion to the ruined castle of Anadoli Kavak, on the Asian shore, near the mouth of the Black Sea. Mrs. Carvel, who was not a good sailor, stayed at home, but Miss Dabstreak, Madame Patoff, and Hermione were of the party, with Paul, Macaulay Carvel, Professor Cutter, and myself. Macaulay had borrowed a good-sized cutter from one of his many colleagues who kept yachts on the Bosphorus, and at three o'clock in the afternoon we started from the Buyukdere quay. There was a smart northerly breeze as we hoisted the jib, and it was evident that we should have to make several tacks before we could beat up to our destination. The boat was of about ten tons burden, with a full deck, broken only by a well leading to the cabin; a low rail ran round the bulwarks, for the yacht was intended for pleasure excursions and the accommodation of ladies. The members of the party sat in a group on the edge of the well, and I took the helm. Chrysophrasia was in a particularly Oriental frame of mind. The deep blue sky, the emerald green of the hills, and the cool clear water rippling under the breeze, no doubt acted soothingly upon her nerves.

"I feel quite like Sindbad the Sailor," she said. "Mr. Griggs, you ought really to tell us a tale from the Arabian Nights. I am sure it would seem so very real, you know."

"If I were to spin yarns while steering, Miss Dabstreak," I said, "your fate would probably resemble Sindbad's. You would be wrecked six or seven times between here and Kavak."

"So delightfully exciting," murmured Chrysophrasia. "Annie," she continued, addressing her sister, "shall we not ask Mr. Griggs to wreck us? I have always longed to be on a wreck."

"No," said Madame Patoff, glancing at her foolish sister with her great dark eyes. "I should not like to be drowned."

"Of course not; how very dreadful!" exclaimed Miss Dabstreak. "But Sindbad was never drowned, you remember. It was always somebody else."

"Oh--somebody else," repeated Madame Patoff, looking down at the deep water. "Yes, to drown somebody else,--that would be very different."

I think we were all a little startled, and Hermione looked at Paul and turned pale. As for Cutter, he very slowly and solemnly drew a cigar from his case, lit it carefully, crossed one knee over the other, and gazed fixedly at Madame Patoff during several minutes, before he spoke.

"Would you really like to see anybody drowned?" he asked at last.

"Why do you ask?" inquired Madame Patoff, rather sharply.

"Because I thought you said so, and I wanted to know if you were in earnest."

"I suppose we should all like to see our enemies die," said the old lady. "Not painfully, of course, but so that we should be quite sure of it." She laid a strong emphasis on the last words, and as she looked up I thought she glanced at Paul.

"If you had seen many people die, you would not care for the sight," said the professor quietly. "Besides, you have no enemies."

"What is death?" asked Madame Patoff, looking at him with a curiously calm smile as she asked the question.

"The only thing we know about it, is that it appears to be in every way the opposite of life," was the scientist's answer. "Life separates us for a time from the state of what we call inanimate matter. When life ceases, we return to that state."

"Why do you say 'what we call inanimate matter'?" inquired Paul.

"Because it has been very well said that names are labels, not definitions. As a definition, inanimate matter means generally the earth, the water, the air; but the name would be a very poor definition,--as poor as the word 'man' used to define the human animal."

"You do not think that inanimate matter is really lifeless?" I asked.

"Unless it is so hot that it melts," laughed the professor. "Even then it may not be true,--indeed, it may be quite false. We call the moon dead, because we have reason to believe that she has cooled to the centre. We call Jupiter and Saturn live planets, though we believe them still too hot to support life."

"All that does not explain death," objected Madame Patoff.

"If I could explain death, I could explain life," answered Cutter. "And if I could explain life, I should have made a great step towards producing it artificially."

"If one could only produce artificial death!" exclaimed Madame Patoff.

"It would be very amusing," answered Cutter, with a smile, folding his huge white hands upon his knee. "We could try it on ourselves, and then we should know what to expect. I have often thought about it, I assure you. I once had the curiosity to put myself into a trance by the Munich method of shining disks,--they use it in the hospitals instead of ether, you know,--and I remained in the state half an hour."

"And then, what happened when you woke up?"

"I had a bad headache and my eyes hurt me," replied the professor dryly. "I dare say that if a dead man came to life he would feel much the same thing."

"I dare say," assented Madame Patoff; but there was a vague look in her eyes, which showed that her thoughts were somewhere else. We were close upon the Asian shore, and I put the helm down to go about. The ladies changed their places, and there was a little confusion, in which Cutter found himself close to me.

"Keep an eye on her," he said quickly, in a low voice. "She is very queer."

I thought so, too, and I watched Madame Patoff to see whether she would return to the subject which seemed to attract her. Cutter kept up the conversation, however, and did not again show any apprehension about his former patient's state of mind, though I could see that he watched her as closely as I did. The fresh breeze filled the sails, and the next tack took us clear up to Yeni Mahalle on the European side; for the little yacht was quick in stays, and, moreover, had a good hold on the water, enabling her to beat quickly up against wind and current. Once again I went about, and, running briskly across, made the little pier below Anadoli Kavak, little more than three quarters of an hour after we had started. We landed, and went up the green slope to the place where the little coffee-shop stands under the trees. We intended to climb the hill to the ruined castle. To my surprise, Professor Cutter suggested to Madame Patoff that they should stay below, while the rest made the ascent. He said he feared she would tire herself too much. But she would not listen to him.

"I insist upon going," she said. "I am as strong as any of you. It is quite absurd."

Cutter temporized by suggesting that we should have coffee before the walk, and Chrysophrasia sank languidly down upon a straw chair.

"If the man has any loukoum, I could bear a cup of coffee," she murmured. The man had loukoum, it appeared, and Chrysophrasia was satisfied. We all sat down in a circle under the huge oak-tree, and enjoyed the freshness and greenness of the place. The kaffeji, in loose white garments and a fez, presently brought out a polished brass tray, bearing the requisite number of tiny cups and two little white saucers filled with pieces of loukoum-rahat, the Turkish national sweetmeat, commonly called by schoolboys fig-paste.

"Why was I not born a Turk!" exclaimed Chrysophrasia. "This joyous life in the open air is so intensely real, so profoundly true!"

"Life is real anywhere," remarked Cutter, with a smile. "The important question is whether it is agreeable to the liver."

"Death is real, too," said Madame Patoff, in such a curious tone that we all started slightly, as we had done in the boat. My nerves are good, but I felt a weird horror of the woman stealing over me. The imperturbable scientist only glanced at me, as though to remind me of what he had said before. Then he took up the question.

"No, madam," he said, coldly. "Death is a negation, almost a universal negation. It is not real; it only devours reality, and then denies it. You can see that life is to breathe, to think, to eat, to drink, to love, to fear,--any of these. Death is only the negation of all these things, because we can only say that in death we do none of them. Reality is motion, in the broad sense, as far as man is concerned; death is only the cessation of the ability to move. You cannot predicate anything else of it."

"Oh, your dry, dry science!" exclaimed Chrysophrasia, casting up her green eyes. "You would turn our fair fields and limpid--ahem--skies--into the joyless waste of a London pavement, or one of your horrid dissecting-rooms!"

"I don't see the point of your simile, Miss Dabstreak," answered Cutter, with pardonable bluntness. "Besides, that is philosophy, and not science."

"What is the difference. Mr. Griggs?" asked Hermione, turning to me.

"My dear young lady," said I, "science, I think, means the state of being wise, and hence, the thing known, which gives a man the title of wise. Philosophy means the love of wisdom."

"Rather involved definition," observed the professor, with a laugh. "There is not much difference between the state of being wise and the state of loving wisdom."

"The one asserts the possession of that which the other aspires to possess, but considers to be very difficult of attainment," I tried to explain. "The scientist says to the world, 'I have found the origin of life: it is protoplasm, it is your God, and all your religious beliefs are merely the result of your ignorance of protoplasm.' The philosopher answers, 'I allow that this protoplasm is the origin of life, but how did this origin itself originate? And if you can show how it originated from inanimate matter, how did the inanimate matter begin to exist? And how was space found in which it could exist? And why does anything exist, animate or inanimate? And is the existence of matter a proof of a supreme design, or is it not?' Thereupon science gets very red in the face, and says that these questions are absurd, after previously stating that everything ought to be questioned."

"Science," answered the professor, "says that man has enough to do in questioning his immediate surroundings, without going into the matter of transcendental inquiry."

"Then she ought to keep to her own proper sphere," said I, waxing hot. "The fact is that science, armed with miserably imperfect tools, but unbounded assumption, has discovered a jelly-fish in a basin of water, and has deduced from that premise the tremendous conclusion that there is no God."

"That is strong language, Mr. Griggs,--very strong language," repeated the professor. "You exaggerate the position too much, I think. But it is useless to argue with transcendentalists. You always fall back upon the question of faith, and you refuse to listen to reason."

"When you can disprove our position, we will listen to your proof. But since the whole human race, as far as we can ascertain, without any exception whatsoever, has believed always in the survival of the soul after death, allow me to say that when you deny the existence of the soul the _onus probandi lies with you, and not with us."

Therewith I drank my coffee in silence, and looked at the half-naked Turkish children playing upon the little pier over the bright water. It struck me that if the learned scientist had told them that they had no souls, they would have laughed at him very heartily. I think that in the opinion of the company I had the best of the argument, and Cutter knew it, for he did not answer.

"I have always believed that I have a soul," said Macaulay Carvel, in his smooth, monotonous tone. But there was as much conviction in his tone as though he had expressed his belief in the fact that he had a nose.

"Of course you have," said Hermione. "Let us go up to the castle and see the view before it is too late. Aunt Annie, do wait for us here; it is very tiring, really."

"You seem to think I am a decrepit old woman," answered Madame Patoff, impatiently, as she rose from her chair.

Paul felt that it was his duty to offer his mother his arm for the ascent, though the professor came forward at the same moment.

"Dear Paul, you are so good," said she, accepting his assistance as we began to climb the hill.

I saw her face in that moment. It was as calm and beautiful as ever, but I thought she glanced sideways to see whether every one had heard her speech and appreciated it. Little was said as we breasted the steep ascent, for the path was rough, and there was barely room for two people to walk side by side. At last we emerged upon a broad slope of grass outside the walls of the old fortress. A goatherd lives inside it, and has turned the old half-open vaults into a stable for his flocks. We paused under the high walls, which on one side are built above the precipitous cliff, with a sheer fall of a hundred feet or more. Towards the land they are not more than forty feet high, where the grass grows up to their base. There is a curious gate on that side, with the carved arms of the Genoese republic imbedded in the brick masonry.

Some one suggested that we should go inside, and after a short interview with the goatherd he consented to chain up his enormous dog, and let us pass the small wooden gate which leads to the interior. Inside the fortress the falling in of the roof and walls has filled the old court so that it is nearly on a level with the walls. It is easy to scramble up to the top, and the thickness is so great that it is safe to walk along for a little distance, provided one does not go too near the edge. We wandered about below, and some of us climbed up to see the beautiful view, which extends far down the Bosphorus on the one side, and looks over the broad Black Sea on the other. Madame Patoff still leaned on Paul's arm, while the professor gallantly helped the languid Chrysophrasia to reach the most accessible places. Macaulay was engaged in an attempt to measure the circumference of the castle, and rambled about in quest of facts, as usual, noting down the figures in his pocket-book very conscientiously. I was left alone with Hermione for a few minutes. We sat down on a heap of broken masonry to rest, talking of the place and its history. Hermione was so placed that she could not see the top of the wall which overhung the precipice on the outer side, but from where I sat I could watch Paul slowly helping his mother to reach the top.

"It belonged to the Genoese, and was built by them," I said. "The arms over the gate are theirs. Perhaps you noticed them." Paul and his mother had reached the summit of the wall, and were standing there, looking out at the view.

"How did the Genoese come to be here?" asked Hermione, digging her parasol into the loose earth.

"They were once very powerful in Constantinople," I answered. "They held Pera for many years, and"----

I broke off with an exclamation of horror, starting to my feet at the same instant. I had idly watched the mother and son as they stood together, and I could hear their voices as they spoke. Suddenly, and without a moment's warning, Madame Patoff put out her hand, and seemed to push Paul with all her might. He stumbled, and fell upon the edge, but from my position I could not tell whether he had saved himself or had fallen into the abyss.

I suppose Hermione followed my look, and saw that Madame Patoff was standing alone upon the top, but I did not stop to speak or explain. I sprang upon the wall, and in a second more I saw that Paul had fallen his full length along the brink, but had saved himself, and was scrambling to his feet. Madame Patoff stood quite still, her face rigid and drawn, and an expression of horror in her eyes that was bad to see. But I was not alone in coming to Paul's assistance. As I put out my arm to help him to his feet, I saw Hermione's small hands lay hold of him with desperate strength, dragging him from the fatal brink. But Paul was unhurt, and was on his legs in another moment. He was ghastly white, and his lips worked curiously as his eyes settled on his mother's face.

"How did it happen?" asked Hermione, as soon as she could speak, but still clinging to his arm, while she glanced inquiringly at her aunt.

"I do not know," said Paul, in a thick voice, between his teeth.

"I was dizzy," gasped Madame Patoff. "I put out my hand to save myself"----

"Do me the favor to come down from this place at once," I said, grasping her firmly by the arm, and leading her away.

"Paul, Paul, how did it happen?" I heard Hermione saying, as we descended.

But Paul's lips were resolutely shut, and he would say nothing more about it. Indeed, he was badly startled, but I knew his paleness was not caused by fear. In my own mind the conviction was strong that his mother had deliberately attempted to murder him by pushing him over the edge. I remembered Cutter's warning, and I wondered that he should have allowed her to go out of his sight since he recognized the condition of her brain, but a moment's reflection made me recollect that I had understood him differently. He had meant that she might try to kill herself, not her son; and that had been my own impression, for it was not till later that I learned how she had spoken of Paul to herself, that night in Pera, after the ball. At that time the professor knew more about the matter than I did, for Hermione had confided in him when they were alone in Santa Sophia.

I think Madame Patoff tried to explain the accident to me as I got her down into the ruined court, but I do not remember what she said. My only wish was to get the party back to Buyukdere, and to be alone with Cutter for five minutes.

"Patoff has met with an accident," I said, as the others came up. "He stumbled near the edge of the wall, and is badly shaken. We had better go home."

There was very little explanation needed, and Paul protested that he had incurred no danger, though he acquiesced readily enough to the suggestion. I did not let Madame Patoff leave my arm until we were once more on board the little yacht, for I was convinced that the woman was dangerously mad. The drawn expression of her pale face did not change, and she soon ceased speaking altogether. I noted the fact that in all the excitement of the moment she expressed no satisfaction at Paul's escape. It was not until we reached the water that she said something about "dear Paul," in a tone that made me shudder. We were a silent party as we ran down the wind to Buyukdere. Cutter sat beside Madame Patoff, and watched her curiously; for the expression of her face had not escaped him, though he had no idea of what had happened. Sitting on the deck, at the edge of the wall, she looked down at the water as we rushed along.

"What do you see in the water?" asked the professor, quietly. The answer came in a very low voice, but I heard it as I stood by the helm:--

"I see a man's face under the water, looking up at me."

"And whose face is it?" inquired Cutter, in the same matter-of-fact tone.

"I will not tell you, nor any one," she answered. Cutter looked up at me to see whether I had heard, and I nodded to him. In a few minutes we were alongside of the pier. I refused Chrysophrasia's not very pressing invitation to tea, and, bidding good-by to the rest, I put my arm through the professor's. He seemed ready enough to go with me, so we walked along the smooth quay in the sunset, arm in arm.

"I wanted to speak to you," I said. "You ought to know what happened up there this afternoon. Madame Patoff tried to push Paul over the edge. It was a deliberate attempt to murder him." Cutter stopped in his walk and looked earnestly into my face.

"Did you see it yourself? Did you positively see it, or is that only your impression?"

"I saw it," I answered, shortly.

"She is quite mad still, then. No one but a mad woman would attempt such a thing. What is worse, it is a fixed idea that she has." He told me what Hermione had confided to him.

"Then Paul's life is not safe for a moment," I said, after a moment's pause.

"Unless his brother marries Miss Carvel, I would advise him to be on his guard when he is alone with his mother. He is safe enough when other people are present. I know those cases. They are sly, cautious, timid. She will try and push him over the edge of a precipice when nobody is looking. Before you she will call him 'dear Paul,' and all the rest of it."

"That looks to me more like the cunning of a murderess than the slyness of a maniac," I said.

"Most murderers are only maniacs, mad people," answered the professor. "Men and women are born with a certain tendency of mind which makes them easily brood over an idea. Their life and circumstances foster one particular notion, till it gets a predominant weight in their weak reasoning. The occasion presents itself, and they carry out the plan they have been forming for years in secret, or even unconsciously. If in carrying out their ideas they kill anybody, it is called murder. It makes very little difference what you call it. The law distinguishes between crimes premeditated and crimes unpremeditated. Murder, willful and premeditated, involves in my opinion a process of mind so similar to that found in lunatics that it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other, and I am quite ready to believe that all premeditated murders are brought about by mental aberration in the murderer. On the other hand, manslaughter, quick, sudden, and unplanned, is the result of more or less inhuman instincts, and those who commit the crime are people who approach more or less nearly to wild beasts. For the advancement of science, murderers should not be hanged, but should be kept as interesting cases of insanity. Much might be learned by carefully observing the action of their minds upon ordinary occasions. As for homicides, or manslaughterers,--I wish we could use the English word,--they are less attractive as a study, and I do not care what becomes of them. The brain of a freshly killed tiger would be far more interesting."

"What do you propose to do with Madame Patoff?" I asked. "You do not suppose that Miss Carvel will marry Alexander Patoff in order to prevent his mother from murdering Paul?"

"She ought to," answered Cutter, quietly. "It would be most curious to see whether there would be any change in her fixed dislike of the younger son."

"And do you mean that that young girl should sacrifice her life to your experiments?" I asked, rather hotly. I hated the coldness of the man, and his ruthless determination to make scientific capital out of other people's troubles.

"I can neither propose nor dispose," he answered. "I only wish that it might be so. After all, she could be quite as happy with Alexander as with Paul. I doubt whether she has a strong preference for either."

"You are mistaken," said I. "She loves Paul much more than she herself imagines. I saw her face to-day when Paul was lying on the edge of the precipice. You did not. I have watched them ever since they have been together in Constantinople, and I am convinced that she loves Paul, and not Alexander. What do you intend to do with Madame Patoff? You know I have a little party at my cottage on Saturday,--you promised to come. Is it safe to let her come, too?"

"Perfectly," answered my companion. "The only thing to be done at present is to prevent her remaining alone with Paul."

"Suppose that Paul tells what happened this afternoon. What then?"

"He will not tell it. I have a great admiration for the fellow, he is so manly. If she had done worse than that, he would not tell any one, because she is his mother. But he will be on his guard, never fear. She will not get such a chance again. Good-night."

The professor left me at the door of the garden through which I had to pass to reach the little kiosk. I walked slowly up through the roses and the flowers, meditating as I went. Paul had a new enemy in the professor, who would certainly try and help Alexander, in order to continue his experiments upon Madame Patoff's mind. Poor Paul! He seemed to be persecuted by an evil fate, and I pitied him sincerely.

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