The Man With The Pale Eyes





Monsieur Pierre Agenor de Vargnes, the Examining Magistrate, was the

exact opposite of a practical joker. He was dignity, staidness,

correctness personified. As a sedate man, he was quite incapable of

being guilty, even in his dreams, of anything resembling a practical

joke, however remotely. I know nobody to whom he could be compared,

unless it be the present president of the French Republic. I think it

is useless to carry the analogy any further, and having said thus much,

it will be easily understood that a cold shiver passed through me when

Monsieur Pierre Agenor de Vargnes did me the honour of sending a lady

to await on me.



At about eight o'clock, one morning last winter, as he was leaving the

house to go to the Palais de Justice, his footman handed him a card,

on which was printed:



DOCTOR JAMES FERDINAND,

Member of the Academy of Medicine,

Port-au-Prince,

Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.



At the bottom of the card there was written in pencil: From Lady

Frogere.



Monsieur de Vargnes knew the lady very well, who was a very agreeable

Creole from Hayti, and whom he had met in many drawing-rooms, and, on

the other hand, though the doctor's name did not awaken any

recollections in him, his quality and titles alone required that he

should grant him an interview, however short it might be. Therefore,

although he was in a hurry to get out, Monsieur de Vargnes told the

footman to show in his early visitor, but to tell him beforehand that

his master was much pressed for time, as he had to go to the Law

Courts.



When the doctor came in, in spite of his usual imperturbability, he

could not restrain a movement of surprise, for the doctor presented

that strange anomaly of being a negro of the purest, blackest type,

with the eyes of a white man, of a man from the North, pale, cold,

clear blue eyes, and his surprise increased, when, after a few words of

excuse for his untimely visit, he added, with an enigmatical smile:



"My eyes surprise you, do they not? I was sure that they would, and, to

tell you the truth, I came here in order that you might look at them

well, and never forget them."



His smile, and his words, even more than his smile, seemed to be those

of a madman. He spoke very softly, with that childish, lisping voice,

which is peculiar to negroes, and his mysterious, almost menacing

words, consequently, sounded all the more as if they were uttered at

random by a man bereft of his reason. But his looks, the looks of those

pale, cold, clear blue eyes, were certainly not those of a madman. They

clearly expressed menace, yes, menace, as well as irony, and, above

all, implacable ferocity, and their glance was like a flash of

lightning, which one could never forget.



"I have seen," Monsieur de Vargnes used to say, when speaking about it,

"the looks of many murderers, but in none of them have I ever observed

such a depth of crime, and of impudent security in crime."



And this impression was so strong, that Monsieur de Vargnes thought

that he was the sport of some hallucination, especially as when he

spoke about his eyes, the doctor continued with a smile, and in his

most childish accents: "Of course, Monsieur, you cannot understand what

I am saying to you, and I must beg your pardon for it. To-morrow you

will receive a letter which will explain it all to you, but, first of

all, it was necessary that I should let you have a good, a careful look

at my eyes, my eyes, which are myself, my only and true self, as you

will see."



With these words, and with a polite bow, the doctor went out, leaving

Monsieur de Vargnes extremely surprised, and a prey to this doubt, as

he said to himself:



"Is he merely a madman? The fierce expression, and the criminal depths

of his looks are perhaps caused merely by the extraordinary contrast

between his fierce looks and his pale eyes."



And absorbed by these thoughts, Monsieur de Vargnes unfortunately

allowed several minutes to elapse, and then he thought to himself

suddenly:



"No, I am not the sport of any hallucination, and this is no case of an

optical phenomenon. This man is evidently some terrible criminal, and I

have altogether failed in my duty in not arresting him myself at once,

illegally, even at the risk of my life."



The judge ran downstairs in pursuit of the doctor but it was too late;

he had disappeared. In the afternoon, he called on Madame Frogere, to

ask her whether she could tell him anything about the matter. She,

however, did not know the negro doctor in the least, and was even able

to assure him that he was a fictitious personage, for, as she was well

acquainted with the upper classes in Hayti, she knew that the Academy

of Medicine at Port-au-Prince had no doctor of that name among its

members. As Monsieur de Vargnes persisted, and gave descriptions of the

doctor, especially mentioning his extraordinary eyes, Madame Frogere

began to laugh and said:



"You have certainly had to do with a hoaxer, my dear monsieur. The eyes

which you have described are certainly those of a white man, and the

individual must have been painted."



On thinking it over, Monsieur de Vargnes remembered that the doctor had

nothing of the negro about him, but his black skin, his woolly hair and

beard, and his way of speaking, which was easily imitated, but nothing

of the negro, not even the characteristic, undulating walk. Perhaps,

after all, he was only a practical joker, and during the whole day,

Monsieur de Vargnes took refuge in that view, which rather wounded his

dignity as a man of consequence, but which appeased his scruples as a

magistrate.



The next day, he received the promised letter, which was written, as

well as addressed, in letters cut out of the newspapers. It was as

follows:



* * * * *



"MONSIEUR: Doctor James Ferdinand does not exist, but the man whose

eyes you saw does, and you will certainly recognize his eyes. This

man has committed two crimes, for which he does not feel any

remorse, but, as he is a psychologist, he is afraid of some day

yielding to the irresistible temptation of confessing his crimes.

You know better than anyone (and that is your most powerful aid),

with what imperious force criminals, especially intellectual ones,

feel this temptation. That great poet, Edgar Poe, has written

masterpieces on this subject, which express the truth exactly, but

he has omitted to mention the last phenomenon, which I will tell

you. Yes, I, a criminal, feel a terrible wish for somebody to know

of my crimes, and when this requirement is satisfied, my secret has

been revealed to a confidant, I shall be tranquil for the future,

and be freed from this demon of perversity, which only tempts us

once. Well! Now that is accomplished. You shall have my secret;

from the day that you recognize me by my eyes, you will try and

find out what I am guilty of, and how I was guilty, and you will

discover it, being a master of your profession, which, by the by,

has procured you the honour of having been chosen by me to bear the

weight of this secret, which now is shared by us, and by us two

alone. I say, advisedly, by us two alone. You could not, as a

matter of fact, prove the reality of this secret to anyone, unless

I were to confess it, and I defy you to obtain my public

confession, as I have confessed it to you, and without danger to

myself."



* * * * *



Three months later, Monsieur de Vargnes met Monsieur X---- at an

evening party, and at first sight, and without the slightest

hesitation, he recognized in him those very pale, very cold, and very

clear blue eyes, eyes which it was impossible to forget.



The man himself remained perfectly impassive, so that Monsieur de

Vargnes was forced to say to himself:



"Probably I am the sport of an hallucination at this moment, or else

there are two pairs of eyes that are perfectly similar in the world.

And what eyes! Can it be possible?"



The magistrate instituted inquiries into his life, and he discovered

this, which removed all his doubts.



Five years previously, Monsieur X---- had been a very poor, but very

brilliant medical student, who, although he never took his doctor's

degree, had already made himself remarkable by his microbiological

researches.



A young and very rich widow had fallen in love with him and married

him. She had one child by her first marriage, and in the space of six

months, first the child and then the mother died of typhoid fever, and

thus Monsieur X---- had inherited a large fortune, in due form, and

without any possible dispute. Everybody said that he had attended to

the two patients with the utmost devotion. Now, were these two deaths

the two crimes mentioned in his letter?



But then, Monsieur X---- must have poisoned his two victims with the

microbes of typhoid fever, which he had skilfully cultivated in them,

so as to make the disease incurable, even by the most devoted care and

attention. Why not?



"Do you believe it?" I asked Monsieur de Vargnes.



"Absolutely," he replied. "And the most terrible thing about it is,

that the villain is right when he defies me to force him to confess his

crime publicly, for I see no means of obtaining a confession, none

whatever. For a moment, I thought of magnetism, but who could magnetize

that man with those pale, cold, bright eyes? With such eyes, he would

force the magnetizer to denounce himself as the culprit."



And then he said, with a deep sigh:



"Ah! Formerly there was something good about justice!"



And when he saw my inquiring looks, he added in a firm and perfectly

convinced voice:



"Formerly, justice had torture at its command."



"Upon my word," I replied, with all an author's unconscious and simple

egotism, "it is quite certain that without the torture, this strange

tale will have no conclusion, and that is very unfortunate, as far as

regards the story I intended to make out of it."





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