“How much was he worth?” my brother asked me.
“I don’t know, but I know that he was very wealthy.”
“Really, he’s proved that he was a very true friend to you.”
“He certainly was—he was.”
Thus, by a strange irony of fate, all the colonel’s wealth came into my hands. At first I thought of refusing the legacy. It seemed odious to take a sou of that inheritance; it seemed worse than the reward of a hired assassin. For three days this thought obsessed me; but more and more I was thrust against this consideration: that my refusal would not fail to awake suspicion. Finally I settled upon a compromise; I would accept the inheritance and would distribute it in small sums, secretly.
This was not merely scruple on my part, it was also the desire to redeem my crime by virtuous deeds; and it seemed the only way to recover my peace of mind and feel that accounts were straight.
Suggested tragic deeds
I made hurried preparations and left. As I neared the little village (he sad event returned obstinately to my memory. Everything about l he place, as I looked at it once again, suggested tragic deeds. At every (urn in the road I seemed to see the ghost of the colonel loom. And despite myself, I evoked in my imagination his cries, his struggles, his looks on that horrible night of the crime.
Crime or struggle? Really, it was rather a struggle; I had been attacked, I had defended myself; and in self-defense. It had been an unfortunate struggle, a genuine tragedy. This idea gripped me. And I reviewed all the abuse he had heaped upon me; I counted the blows, the names. … It was not the colonel’s fault, that I knew well; it was his affliction that made him so peevish and even wicked. But I pardoned all, everything! … The worst of it was the end of that fatal night. … I also considered that in any case the colonel had not long to live. His days were numbered; did not he himself feel that? Didn’t he say every now and then, “How much longer have I to live? Two weeks, or one, perhaps less?”
Careful weighing of the matter
This was not life; it was slow agony, if one may so name the eternal martyrdom of that poor man. … And who knows, who can say that the struggle and his death were not simply a coincidence? That was after all quite possible, it was even most probable; careful weighing of the matter showed that it couldn’t have been otherwise. At length this idea, too, engraved itself upon my mind.
Something tugged at my heart as I entered the village; I wanted to run bjjfck; but I dominated my emotions and I pressed forward. I was received with a shower of congratulations. The vicar communicated to me the particulars of the will, enumerated the pious gifts, and, as he spoke, praised the Christian forbearance and the faithfulness which I had shown in my care of the deceased, who, despite his temper and brutality, had so well demonstrated his gratitude.
“Certainly,” I said, looking nervously around.
I was astounded. Everybody praised my conduct. Such patience, such devotion. The first formalities of the inventory detained me for a while; I chose a solicitor; things followed their course in regular fashion.