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Title: Led Astray and The Sphinx - Two Novellas In One Volume
Author: Feuillet, Octave, 1821-1890
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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LED ASTRAY

_By_ OCTAVE FEUILLET, _author of "Romance of a
Poor Young Man," etc._


[Illustration]


NEW YORK AND LONDON

STREET & SMITH, PUBLISHERS

Copyright, 1891

By STREET & SMITH



LED ASTRAY.



CHAPTER I.

A GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION.

GEORGE L---- to PAUL B., PARIS.

ROZEL, _15th September_.


It's nine o'clock in the evening, my dear friend, and you have just
arrived from Germany. They hand you my letter, the post-mark of which
informs you at once that I am absent from Paris. You indulge in a gesture
of annoyance, and call me a vagabond. Nevertheless, you settle down in
your best arm-chair, you open my letter, and you hear that I have been for
the past five days domesticated in a flour-mill in Lower Normandy. In a
flour-mill! What the duse can he be doing in a mill? A wrinkle appears on
your forehead, your eyebrows are drawn together; you lay down my letter
for a moment; you attempt to penetrate this mystery by the unaided power
of your imagination. Suddenly a playful expression beams upon your
countenance; your mouth expresses the irony of a wise man tempered by the
indulgence of a friend; you have caught a glimpse, through an
opera-comique cloud, of a miller's pretty wife with powdered hair, a waist
all trimmed with gay ribbons, a light and short skirt, and stockings with
gilded clocks; in short, one of those fair young millers' wives whose
heart goes pit-a-pat with hautboy accompaniment. But the graces who are
ever sporting in your mind sometimes lead it astray; my fair miller is as
much like the creature of your imagination as I am like a youthful Colin;
her head is adorned with a towering cotton night-cap to which the thickest
possible coating of flour fails to restore its primitive color; she wears
a coarse woolen petticoat which would abrade the hide of an elephant; in
short, it frequently happens to me to confound the miller's wife with the
miller himself, after which it is sufficient to add that I am not the
least curious to know whether or not her heart goes pit-a-pat. The truth
is, that, not knowing how to kill time in your absence, and having no
reason to expect you to return before another month; (it's your own
fault!), I solicited a mission. The council-general of the department of
---- had lately, and quite opportunely, expressed officially the wish that
a certain ruined abbey, called Rozel Abbey, should be classed among
historical monuments. I have been commissioned to investigate closely the
candidate's titles. I hastened with all possible speed to the chief town
of this artistic department, where I effected my entrance with the
important gravity of a man who holds within his hands the life or the
death of a monument dear to the country. I made some inquiries at the
hotel; great was my mortification when I discovered that no one seemed to
suspect that such a thing as Rozel Abbey existed within a circuit of a
hundred leagues. I called at the prefecture while still laboring under the
effect of this disappointment; the prefect, Valton, whom you know very
well, received me with his usual affability; but to the questions I
addressed him on the subject of the condition of the ruins which the
council seemed so desirous of preserving for the admiration of its
constituents, he replied with an absent smile, that his wife, who had
visited these ruins on the occasion of an excursion into the country,
while she was sojourning on the sea shore, could tell me a great deal more
about the ruins than he possibly could himself.

He invited me to dinner, and in the evening, Madame Valton, after the
usual struggles of expiring modesty, showed me, in her album, some
views of the famous ruins sketched with considerable taste. She became
mildly excited while speaking to me of these venerable remains, situated,
if she is to be believed, in the midst of an enchanting site, and, above
all, particularly well suited for picnics and country excursions. A
beseeching and corrupting look terminated her harangue. It seems
evident to me that this worthy lady is the only person in the department
who takes any real interest in that poor old abbey, and that the
conscript fathers of the general council have passed their resolution
authorizing an investigation out of pure gallantry. It is impossible for
me, however, not to concur in their opinion; the abbey has beautiful
eyes; she deserves to be classed--she shall be classed.

My decision was therefore settled, from that moment, but it was still
necessary to write it down and back it with some documentary evidence.
Unfortunately, the local archives and libraries do not abound in
traditions relative to my subject; after two days of conscientious
rummaging, I had collected but a few rare and insignificant documents,
which may be summed up in these two lines; "Rozel Abbey, in Rozel
township, was inhabited from time immemorial by monks, who left it when it
fell in ruins."

That is why I resolved to go, without further delay, and ask their secret
of these mysterious ruins, and to multiply, if need be, the artifices of
my pencil, to make up for the compulsory conciseness of my pen. I left
on Wednesday morning for the town of Vitry, which is only two or three
leagues distant from the abbey. A Norman coach, complemented with
a Norman coachman, jogged me about all day, like an indolent monarch,
along the Norman hedges. When night came, I had traveled twelve miles
and my coachman had taken twelve meals.

The country is fine, though of a character somewhat uniformly rustic.
Under everlasting groves is displayed an opulent and monotonous verdure,
in the thickness of which contented-looking oxen ruminate. I can
understand my coachman's twelve meals; the idea of eating must occur
frequently and almost exclusively to the imagination of any man who spends
his life in the midst of this rich nature, the very grass of which gives
an appetite.

Toward evening, however, the aspect of the landscape changed; we entered a
rolling prairie, quite low, marshy, bare as a Russian steppe, and
extending on both sides of the road; the sound of the wheels on the
causeway assumed a hollow and vibrating sonority; dark-colored reeds and
tall, unhealthy-looking grass covered, as far as the eye could reach, the
blackish surface of the marsh. I noticed in the distance, through the
deepening twilight, and behind a cloud of rain, two or three horsemen
running at full speed, and as if demented, through these boundless spaces;
they disappeared at intervals in the depressions of the meadows, and
suddenly came to sight again, still galloping with the same frenzy. I
could not imagine toward what imaginary goal these equestrian phantoms
were thus madly rushing. I took good care not to inquire; mystery is a
sweet and sacred thing.

The next morning, I started for the abbey, taking with me in my cabriolet
a tall young peasant who had yellow hair, like Ceres. He was a farm-boy
who had lived since his birth within a rod of my monument; he had heard me
in the morning asking for information in the court-yard of the inn, and
had obligingly volunteered to show me the way to the ruins, which were the
first thing he had seen on coming into the world. I had no need whatever
of a guide; I accepted, nevertheless, the fellow's offer, his officious
chattering seeming to promise a well-sustained conversation, in the course
of which I hoped to detect some interesting legend; but as soon as he had
taken his seat by my side, the rascal became dumb; my questions seemed
even, I know not why, to inspire him with a deep mistrust, almost akin to
anger. I had to deal with the genius of the ruins, the faithful guardian
of their treasures. On the other hand, I had the gratification of taking
him home in my carriage; it was apparently all he wished, and he had every
reason to be satisfied with my accommodating spirit.

After landing this agreeable companion at his own door, it became
necessary for me to alight also; a rocky path, or rather a rude flight of
stone steps, winding down the side of a steep declivity, led me to the
bottom of a narrow valley which spreads and stretches between a double
chain of high wooded hills. A small river flows lazily through it under
the shade of alder-bushes, dividing two strips of meadows as fine and
velvety as the lawns of a park; it is crossed over by an old bridge with a
single arch, which reflects in the placid water the outlines of its
graceful ogive. On the right, the hills stand close together in the form
of a circus, and seemed to join their verdure-clad curves; on the left,
they spread out until they become merged in the deep and somber masses of
a vast forest. The valley is thus closed on all sides, and offers a
picture of which the calm, the freshness, and the isolation penetrate the
soul.

The ruins of the abbey stand with their back against the forest. What
remains of the abbey proper is not a great deal. At the entrance of the
court-yard, a monumental gateway; a wing of the building, dating from the
twelfth century, in which dwell the family of the miller of whom I am the
guest; the chapter-hall, remarkable for some elegant arches and a few
remnants of mural painting; finally, two or three cells, one of which
seems to have been used for the purposes of correction, if I may judge
from the solidity of the door and the strength of the bolts. The rest has
been torn down, and may be found in fragments among the cottages of the
neighborhood. The church, which has almost the proportions of a cathedral,
is finely preserved, and produces a marvelous effect. The portal and the
apse have alone disappeared; the whole interior architecture, the copings,
the tall columns, are intact and as if built yesterday. There, it seems,
that an artist must have presided over the work of destruction; a masterly
stroke of the pick-ax has opened at the two extremities of the church,
where stood the portal and where stood the altar, two gigantic bays, so
that, from the threshold of the edifice, the eye plunges into the forest
beyond as through a deep triumphal arch. In this solitary spot the effect
is unexpected and solemn. I was delighted with it. "Monsieur," I said to
the miller, who, since my arrival, had been watching my every step from a
distance with that fierce mistrust which is a peculiarity of this part of
the country, "I have been requested to examine and to sketch these ruins.
That work will require several days; could you not spare me a daily trip
from the town to the abbey and back, by furnishing me with such
accommodations as you can, for a week or two?"

The miller, a thorough Norman, examined me from head to foot without
answering, like a man who knows that silence is of gold; he measured me,
he gauged me, he weighed me, and finally, opening his flour-coated lips,
he called his wife. The latter appeared at once upon the threshold of the
chapter-hall, converted into a cow-pen, and I had to repeat my request to
her. She examined me in her turn, but not at such great length as her
husband, and, with the superior scent of her sex, her conclusion was, as I
had the right to expect, that of the _præses_ in the _Malade Imaginaire_:
"_Dignus es intrare_." The miller, who saw what turn things were taking,
lifted his cap and treated me to a smile. I must add that these excellent
people, once the ice was broken, tried in every way to compensate me, by a
thousand eager attentions, for the excessive caution of their reception.
They wished to give up to me their own room, adorned with the Adventures
of Telemachus, but I preferred--as Mentor would have done--a cell of
austere nudity, of which the window, with small, lozenge-shaped panes,
opens on the ruined portal of the church and the horizon of the forest.

Had I been a few years younger, I would have enjoyed keenly this poetic
installation; but I am turning gray, friend Paul, or at least I fear so,
though I try still to attribute to a mere effect of light the doubtful
shades that dot my beard under the rays of the noon-day sun. Nevertheless,
if my reverie has changed its object, it still lasts, and still has its
charms for me. My poetic feeling has become modified and, I think, more
elevated. The image of a woman is no longer the indispensable element of
my dreams; my heart, peaceful now, and striving to become still more so,
is gradually withdrawing from the field of my mind's labors. I cannot, I
confess, find enough pleasure in the pure and dry meditations of the
intellect; my imagination must speak first and set my brain in motion, for
I was born romantic, and romantic I shall die; and all that can be asked
of me, all I can obtain of myself, at an age when propriety already
commands gravity, is to build romances without love.

Up to this time, ennui has spared me in my solitude. Shall I confess to
you that I even experience in it a singular feeling of contentment? It
seems as though I were a thousand leagues away from the things of the
world, and that there is a sort of truce and respite in the miserable
routine of my existence, at once so agitated and so commonplace. I relish
my complete independence with the naïve joy of a twelve-year-old Robinson
Crusoe. I sketch when I feel like it; the rest of the time, I walk here
and there at random, being careful only never to go beyond the bounds of
the sacred valley. I sit down upon the parapet of the bridge, and I watch
the running water; I go on voyages of discovery among the ruins; I dive
into the underground vaults; I scale the shattered steps of the belfry,
and being unable to come down again the same way, I remain astride a
gargoyle, cutting a rather sorry figure, until the miller brings me a
ladder. I wander at night through the forest, and I see deer running by in
the moonlight. All these things have a soothing effect on my mind, and
produce the effect of child's dream in middle age.

Your letter dated from Cologne, and which was forwarded to me here
according to my instructions, has alone disturbed my beatitude. I console
myself with some difficulty for having left Paris almost on the eve of
your return. May Heaven confound your whims and your want of decision! All
I can do now, is to hurry my work; but where shall I find the historical
documents I still need? I am seriously anxious to save these ruins. There
is here a rare landscape, a valuable picture, which it would be sheer
vandalism to allow to perish.

And then, I admire the old monks! I wish to offer up to their departed
shades this homage of my sympathy. Yes, had I lived some thousand years
ago, I would certainly have sought among them the repose of the cloister
while waiting for the peace of heaven. What existence could have suited me
better? Free from the cares of this world, and assured of the other, free
from any agitations of the heart or the mind, I would have placidly
written simple legends which I would have been credulous enough to
believe; I would have unraveled with intense curiosity some unknown
manuscripts, and discovered with tears of joy the Iliad or the Æneid; I
would have sketched imaginary cathedrals; I would have heated
alembics--and perhaps have invented gunpowder; which is by no means the
best thing I might have done.

Come! 'tis midnight; brother, we must sleep!

_Postscriptum._--There are ghosts! I was closing this letter, my dear
friend, in the midst of a solemn silence, when suddenly my ears were
filled with mysterious and confused sounds that seemed to come from
the outside, and among which I thought I could distinguish the buzzing
murmur of a large crowd. I approached, quite surprised, the window of my
cell, and I could not exactly tell you the nature of the emotion I felt on
discovering the ruins of the church illuminated with a resplendent blaze;
the vast portal and the yawning ogives cast floods of light far as the
distant woods. It was not, it could not be, an accidental conflagration.
Besides, I could see, through the stone trefoils, shadows of superhuman
size flitting through the nave, apparently performing, with a sort of
rhythm, some mysterious ceremony. I threw my window abruptly open;
at the same instant, a loud blast broke forth in the ruins, and rang again
through all the echoes of the valley; after which, I saw issuing from the
church a double file of horsemen bearing torches and blowing horns, some
dressed in red, others draped in black, with plumes waving over their
heads. This strange procession followed, still in the same order, amid the
same dazzling light and the same clangor of trumpets, the shaded path that
skirts the edge of the meadows. Having reached the little bridge, it
stopped; I saw the torches rise, wave, and cast showers of sparks; the
horns sounded a weird and prolonged blast; then suddenly every light
disappeared, every noise ceased, and the valley was again wrapped in the
darkness and the deep silence of the night. That is what I saw and heard.
You who have just arrived from Germany, did you meet the Black Huntsman?
No? Hang yourself, then!



CHAPTER II.

HUNTING A WILD MAN.

_16th September._


The forest which once formed part of the demesnes of the abbey, now
belongs to a wealthy landed proprietor of the district, the Marquis de
Malouet, a lineal descendant of Nimrod, whose chateau seems to be the
social center of the district. There are almost daily at this season grand
hunts in the forest; yesterday, the party ended with a supper on the
grass, and afterward a ride home by torch-light. I felt very much disposed
to strangle the honest miller, who gave me this morning, in vulgar
language, this explanation of my midnight ballad.

There is the world, then, invading with all its pomp my beloved solitude.
I curse it, Paul, with all the bitterness of my heart. I became indebted
to it, last night, it is true, for a fantastic apparition that both
charmed and delighted me; but I am also indebted to it to-day for a
ridiculous adventure which I am the only one not to laugh at, for I was
its unlucky hero.

I was but little disposed to work this morning; I went on sketching,
however, until noon, but had to give it up then; my head was heavy, I felt
dull and disagreeable, I had a vague presentiment of something fatal in
the air. I returned for a moment to the mill to get rid of my traps; I
quarreled, to her surprise and grief, with the miller's wife, on the
subject of I know not what cruelly indigenous mess she had served me for
breakfast; I scolded the good woman's two children because they were
touching my pencils; finally, I administered a vigorous kick to the
house-dog, accompanied with the celebrated formula: "Judge whether you had
done anything to me!"

Rather dissatisfied with myself, as you may imagine, after these three
mean little tricks, I directed my steps toward the forest, in order to
hide as much as possible from the light of the day. I walked about for
nearly an hour without being able to shake off the prophetic melancholy
that oppressed me. Perceiving at last, on the edge of one of the avenues
that traverse the forest, and under the dense shade of some beech-trees, a
thick bed of moss, I stretched myself upon it, together with my remorse,
and it was not long before I fell into a sound sleep. Mon Dieu! why was it
not the sleep of death?

I have no idea how long I had been asleep, when I was suddenly awakened by
a certain concussion of the soil in my immediate vicinity; I jumped
abruptly to my feet, and I saw, within five steps of me, on the road, a
young lady on horseback. My unexpected apparition had somewhat frightened
the horse, who had shied with some violence. The fair equestrian, who had
not yet noticed me, was talking to him and trying to quiet him. She
appeared to be pretty, slender, elegant. I caught a rapid glimpse of blond
hair, eyebrows of a darker shade, keen eyes, a bold expression of
countenance, and a felt hat with blue feathers, set over one ear in rather
too rakish a style. For the better understanding of what is about to
follow, you should know that I was attired in a tourist's blouse stained
with red ochre; besides, I must have had that haggard look and startled
expression which impart to one rudely snatched from sleep a countenance at
once comical and alarming. Add to all this, my hair in utter disorder, my
beard strewn with dead leaves, and you will have no difficulty in
understanding the terror that suddenly overpowered the young huntress at
the first glance she cast upon me; she uttered a feeble cry, and wheeling
her horse around, she fled at full gallop.

It was impossible for me to mistake the nature of the impression I had
just produced; there was nothing flattering about it. However, I am
thirty-five years of age, and the more or less kindly glance of a woman is
no longer sufficient to disturb the serenity of my soul. I followed with a
smiling look the flying Amazon. At the extremity of the avenue in which I
had just failed to make her conquest, she turned abruptly to the left, to
go and take a parallel road. I only had to cross the adjoining thicket to
see her overtake a cavalcade composed of ten or twelve persons, who seemed
to be waiting for her, and to whom she shouted from a distance, in a
broken voice:

"Gentlemen! gentlemen! a wild man! there is a wild man in the forest!"

My interest being highly excited by this beginning, I settle myself
comfortably behind a thick bush, with eye and ear equally attentive. They
crowd around the lady; it is supposed at first that she is jesting, but
her emotion is too serious to have been causeless. She saw, distinctly
saw, not exactly a savage, perhaps, but a man in rags, whose tattered
blouse seemed covered with blood, whose face, hands, and whole person were
repulsively filthy, whose beard was frightful, and whose eyes half
protruded from their sockets; in short, an individual, by the side of whom
the most atrocious of Salvator Rosa's brigands would be as one of
Watteau's shepherds. Never did a man's vanity enjoy such a treat! This
charming person added that I had threatened her, and that I had jumped at
her horse's bridle like the specter of the forest of Mans.[A]

The response to this marvelous story is a general and enthusiastic shout:

"Let us chase him! let us surround him! let us track him! hip, hip,
hurrah!"--whereupon the whole cavalry force starts off at a gallop in the
direction given by the amiable story teller.

I had, to all appearances, but to remain quietly ensconced in my
hiding-place in order to completely foil the hunters who were going in
search of me in the avenue where I had met the beautiful Amazon.
Unfortunately, I had the unlucky idea, for greater safety, of making my
way into the opposite thicket. As I was cautiously crossing the open
space, a wild shout of joy informs me that I have been discovered; at the
same time, I see the whole squadron wheeling about and coming down upon me
like a torrent. There remained but one reasonable course for me to pursue;
it was to stop, to affect the surprise of a quiet stroller disturbed in
his walk, and to disconcert my assailants by an attitude at once simple
and dignified; but, seized with a foolish shame which it is easier to
conceive than to explain--convinced, moreover, that a vigorous effort
would be sufficient to rid me of this importunate pursuit and to spare me
the annoyance of an explanation--I commit the error--the ever deplorable
error--of hurrying on faster, or rather, to be frank with you, of running
away as fast as my legs would carry me. I cross the road like a hare, I
penetrate into the thicket, greeted on my passage with a volley of joyous
clamors. From that moment my fate was sealed; all honorable explanation
became impossible for me; I had ostensibly accepted the struggle with its
most extreme chances.

However, I still possessed a certain presence of mind, and while tearing
furiously through the brambles, I soothed myself with comforting
reflections. Once separated from my persecutors by the whole depth of a
thicket inaccessible to cavalry, it would be an easy matter to gain a
sufficient advance upon them to be able to laugh at their fruitless
search. This last illusion vanished when, on reaching the limit of the
covered space, I discovered that the cursed troop had divided into two
squads, who were both waiting for me at the outlet. At the sight of me, a
fresh storm of shouts and laughter broke forth, and the hunting-horns
sounded in all directions. I became dizzy; I felt the forest whirling
around me; I rushed into the first path that offered itself to me, and my
flight assumed the character of a hopeless rout.

The implacable legion of hunters and huntresses did not fail to start on
my heels with renewed ardor and stupid mirth. I still recognized at their
head the lady with the waving blue plume, who distinguished herself by her
peculiar animosity, and upon whom I invoked with all my heart the most
serious accidents to which equestrianism may be subject. It was she who
encouraged her odious accomplices, when I had succeeded for a moment in
eluding the pursuit; she discovered me with infernal keen-sightedness,
pointed me out with the tip of her whip, and broke into a barbarous laugh
whenever she saw me resume my race through the bushes, blowing, panting,
desperate, absurd. I ran thus during a space of time of which I am unable
to form any estimate, accomplishing unprecedented feats of gymnastics,
tearing through the thorny brambles, sinking into the miry spots, leaping
over the ditches, bounding upon my feet with the elasticity of a panther,
galloping to the devil, without reason, without object, and without any
other hope but that of seeing the earth open beneath my feet.

At last, and surely by chance--for I had long since lost all topographical
notions--I discovered the ruins just ahead of me; with a last effort, I
cleared the open space that separates them from the forest; I ran through
the church as if I had been excommunicated, and I arrived panting before
the door of the mill. The miller and his wife were standing on the
threshold, attracted, doubtless, by the noise of the cavalcade that was
following close on my heels; they looked at me with an expression of
stupor; I tried in vain to find a few words of explanation to cast to them
as I ran by, and after incredible efforts of intelligence, I was only able
to murmur in a silly tone: "If any one asks for me, say I am not in!" Then
I cleared in three jumps the stairs leading to my cell, and I sank upon my
bed in a state of complete prostration.

In the meantime, Paul, the hunting-party were crowding tumultuously into
the court-yard of the abbey; I could hear the stamping of the horses'
feet, the voices of the riders, and even the sound of their boots on the
flagging, which proved that some of them had alighted and were threatening
me with a last assault. I started up with a gesture of rage, and I glanced
at my pistols. Fortunately, after a few minutes' conversation with the
miller, the hunters withdrew, not without giving me to understand that, if
they had formed a better opinion of my character, they went away with a
most amusing idea of the eccentricity of my disposition.

Such is, my dear friend, a faithful historical account of that unlucky
day, during which I covered myself frankly, and from head to foot, with a
species of humiliation to which any Frenchman would prefer that of crime.
I have, at this moment, the satisfaction of knowing that I am in a
neighboring chateau, in the midst of a gathering of brilliant men and
lovely young women, an inexhaustible subject for jokes. I feel, moreover,
since my flank movement (as it is customary in war to call precipitate
retreats), that I have lost something of my dignity in my own eyes, and I
cannot conceal to myself, besides, that I am far from enjoying the same
consideration on the part of my rustic hosts.

In presence of a situation so seriously compromised, it became necessary
to hold council; after a brief deliberation, I rejected far, far from me,
as puerile and pusillanimous, the project suggested to me by my vanity at
bay, that of giving up my lodgings, and even of leaving the district
entirely. I made up my mind to pursue philosophically the course of my
labors and my pleasures, to show a soul superior to circumstances, and in
short, to give to the Amazons, the centaurs, and the millers the fine
spectacle of the wise man in adversity.


[A] Charles VI., King of France, became demented in consequence
of his horse being stopped, during a hunt in the forest of Mans, by what
seemed to him a supernatural being.--(TRANS.)



CHAPTER III.

THE MARQUIS DE MALOUET.

MALOUET, _20th September_.


I have just received your letter. You belong to the true breed of
Monomotapa friends, Paul. But what puerility! And such is the case of your
sudden return! A trifle, a silly nightmare which for two successive nights
caused you to hear the sound of my voice calling on you for help! Ah!
bitter fruits of the wretched German cuisine! Really, Paul, you are
foolish! And yet, you tell me things that move me to tears. I cannot
answer you as I would like to. My heart is tender, but my speech is dry.
I have never been able to tell any one, "I love you!" There is a jealous
fiend who checks on my lips every word of affection, and imparts to it a
tone of irony. But, thank God, you know me!

It seems that I make you laugh while you make me weep! Well, I am glad of
it. Yes, my noble adventure in the forest has had a sequel, and a sequel
with which I might very well have dispensed. All the misfortunes which
you felt were threatening me have actually happened to me; rest easy,
therefore.

The day following this fatal day, I began by re-conquering the esteem
of my hosts at the mill, by relating to them good-naturedly the most
piquant episodes of my famous race. I saw them beaming as they heard the
narrative; the woman in particular was writhing in atrocious convulsions,
and with formidable stretches of her jaws. I have never seen anything so
hideous, in all my life, as this coarse, cowherd's joy!

As a testimonial of the complete restoration of his sympathy, the miller
asked me if I was fond of hunting, took down from a hook over his
mantelpiece a long, rusty tube, that made me think of Leather Stocking's
rifle, and laid it into my hands, while boasting of the murderous
qualities of that instrument. I acknowledged his kindness with an outward
appearance of lively satisfaction, never having had the heart to undeceive
people who think they are doing something to please me, and I started for
the woods that cover the hill-sides, carrying like a lance that venerable
weapon, which seemed indeed to me of the most dangerous kind. I went to
take a seat on the heather, and I carefully laid down the long gun by me;
then I amused myself driving away, by throwing stones at them, the young
rabbits that ventured imprudently in the vicinity of an engine of war for
the effects of which I could not be responsible. Thanks to these
precautions, for over an hour that this hunt lasted, no accident happened
either to the game or to myself.

To speak candidly, I was rather glad to allow the hour to pass when the
hunting-party from the chateau are in the habit of taking the field, not
caring very much, through a remnant of vain glory, to find myself on their
passage that day. Toward two o'clock in the afternoon, I left my seat of
mint and wild thyme, satisfied that I had henceforth no unpleasant
encounter to apprehend. I handed the blunderbuss to the miller, who seemed
somewhat surprised to see me empty-handed, and more so, probably, to see
me alive still. I went to take a stand opposite the portal, and I
undertook to finish a general view of the ruin, a water-color, which, I
feel, is certain to secure the approbation of the minister.

I was deeply absorbed in my work, when I suddenly fancied I could hear
more distinctly than usual that sound of running horses which, since my
misadventure, was forever haunting my ears. I turned around sharply, and I
discovered the enemy within two hundred paces of me. This time, he was
attired in plain clothes, being apparently equipped for an ordinary ride;
he had obtained, since the previous day, several recruits of both sexes,
and now really formed an imposing body. Though long prepared for such an
occurrence, I could not help feeling a certain discomfort, and I secretly
cursed those indefatigable idlers. Nevertheless, the thought of retreating
never occurred to me; I had lost all taste for flight for the rest of my
days.

As the cavalcade drew nearer, I could hear smothered laughter and
whisperings, the subject of which was but too evident to me. I must
confess that a spark of anger was beginning to burn in my heart, and while
going on with my work with an appearance of unabated interest, and
indulging in admiring motions of the head before my water-color, I was
lending to the scene going on behind me a somber and vigilant attention.
However, the first intention of the party seemed to be to spare my
misfortune; instead of following the path by the side of which I was
established, and which was the shortest way to the ruins, they turned
aside toward the right, and filed by in silence. One alone among them,
falling out of the main group, came rapidly in my direction, and stopped
within ten steps of my studio; though my face was bent over my drawing, I
felt, by that strange intuition which every one knows, a human look fixed
upon me. I raised my eyes with an air of indifference, dropping them again
almost immediately; that rapid gesture had been sufficient to enable me to
recognize in that indiscreet observer the young lady with the blue
feathers, the original cause of all my mishaps. She was there, boldly
seated on her horse, her chin raised, her eyes half closed, examining me
from head to foot with admirable insolence. I had thought it best at
first, out of respect for her sex, to abandon myself without resistance to
her impertinent curiosity; but after a few seconds, as she manifested no
intention of putting an end to her proceedings, I lost patience, and
raising my head more openly, I fixed my eyes upon her with polite gravity,
but persistent steadiness. She blushed; seeing which, I bowed. She
returned me a slight inclination of the head, and moving off at a canter,
she disappeared under the vault of the old church. I thus remained master
of the field, keenly relishing the triumph of fascination I had just
obtained over that little person, whom there certainly was considerable
merit in putting out of countenance.

The ride through the forest lasted some twenty minutes, and I soon beheld
the brilliant fantasia debouching pell-mell from the portal. I feigned
again a profound abstraction; but this time again, one of the riders left
the company and advanced toward me; he was a man of tall stature, who wore
a blue frock-coat, buttoned up to his chin, in military style. He was
marching so straight upon my little establishment, that I could not help
supposing he intended passing right over it for the amusement of the
ladies. I was therefore watching him with a furtive but wide-awake glance,
when I had the satisfaction of seeing him stop within three steps of my
camp-stool, and removing his hat.

"Monsieur," he said, in a full and frank tone of voice, "will you permit
me to look at your drawing?"

I returned his salutation, nodded in token of acquiescence, and went on
with my work. After a moment of silent contemplation, the unknown
equestrian, apparently yielding to the violence of his impressions,
allowed a few laudatory epithets to escape him; then, resuming his direct
allocution:

"Monsieur," he said, "allow me to return thanks to your talent; we shall
be indebted to it, I feel quite sure, for the preservation of these ruins,
which are the ornament of our district."

I abandoned at once my reserve, which could no longer be anything but
childish sulkiness, and I replied, as I thought I should, that he was
appreciating with too much indulgence a mere amateur's sketch; that I
certainly had the greatest desire of saving these beautiful ruins, but
that the most important part of my work threatened to remain quite
insignificant, for want of historical information which I had vainly tried
to find in the archives of the county-seat.

"Parbleu, monsieur," rejoined the horseman, "you please me greatly. I have
in my library a large proportion of the archives of the abbey. Come and
consult them at your leisure. I shall feel grateful to you for doing so."

I thanked him with some embarrassment. I regretted not to have known it
sooner. I feared being recalled to Paris by a letter which I was expecting
this very day. Nevertheless, I had risen to make this answer, the ill
grace of which I strove to attenuate by the courteousness of my attitude.
At the same time, I formed a clearer idea of my interlocutor; he was a
handsome old man, with broad shoulders, who seemed to carry with ease the
weight of some sixty winters, and whose bright blue eyes expressed the
kindliest good feeling.

"Come! come!" he exclaimed, "let us speak frankly. You feel some
repugnance at mingling with that band of hare-brained scamps you see
yonder, and whom I tried in vain yesterday to keep out of a silly affair,
for which I now beg to tender you my sincere apologies. My name is the
Marquis de Malouet, sir. After all, you went off with the honors of the
day. They wished to see you; you did not wish to be seen. You carried your
point. What else can you ask?"

I could not help laughing on hearing such a favorable interpretation of my
unlucky scrape.

"You laugh!" rejoined the old marquis; "bravo! we'll soon come to an
understanding, then. Now, what's to prevent your coming to spend a few
days at my house? My wife has requested me to invite you; she has heard in
detail all your annoyances of yesterday. She has an angel's disposition,
my wife. She is no longer young, always ill; a mere breath; but she is an
angel. I'll locate you in the library--you'll live like a hermit, if you
like. Mon Dieu! I see it all, I tell you; these madcaps of mine frighten
you; you are a serious man; I know all about that sort of disposition!
Well! you'll find congenial company--my wife is full of sense; I am no
fool myself. I am fond of exercise; in fact, it is indispensable to my
health--but you must not take me for a brute! The devil! not at all! I'll
astonish you. You must be fond of whist; we'll have a game together; you
must like to live well--delicately, I mean, as it is proper and suitable
for a man of taste and intelligence. Well! since you appreciate good
living, I am your man; I have an excellent cook. I may even say that I
have two for the present; one coming in and the other going out; it is a
conjunction; the result is, a contest of skill, an academic tourney, of
which you will assist me in adjudging the prize! Come! sir," he added,
laughing ingenuously at his own chattering, "it's settled, isn't it? I'm
going to carry you off."

Happy Paul, thrice happy is the man who can say No! Alone, he is really
master of his time, of his fortune, and of his honor. One should be able
to say No! even to a beggar, even to a woman, even to an amiable old man,
under penalty of surrendering at hazard his charity, his dignity, and his
independence. For want of a manly No, how much misery, how many downfalls,
how many crimes since Adam!

While I was considering in my own mind the invitation which had just been
extended to me, these thoughts crowded in my brain; I recognized their
profound wisdom, and I said Yes! Fatal word, through which I lost my
paradise, exchanging a retreat wholly to my taste--peaceful, laborious,
romantic, and free--for the stiffness of a residence where society
displays all the fury of its insipid dissipations.

I demanded the necessary time for effecting my removal, and Monsieur de
Malouet left me, after grasping my hand cordially, declaring that he was
extremely pleased with me, and that he was going to stimulate his two
cooks to give me a triumphant reception. "I am going," he said in
conclusion, "to announce to them an artist, a poet: that'll work up their
imagination."

Toward five o'clock, two valets from the chateau came to take charge of my
light baggage, and to advise me that a carriage was waiting for me on top
of the hills. I bade farewell to my cell; I thanked my hosts; and I kissed
their little urchins, all besmeared and ill-kempt as they were. These kind
people seemed to see me going with regret. I felt, myself, an
extraordinary and unaccountable sadness. I know not what strange sentiment
attached me to that valley, but I left it with an aching heart, as one
leaves his native country.

More to-morrow, Paul, for I am exhausted.



CHAPTER IV.

THE LITTLE COUNTESS.

_26th September._


The chateau of Malouet is a massive and rather vulgar construction, which
dates some one hundred years back. Fine avenues, a court of honor of a
handsome style, and an ancient park impart to it, however, an aspect truly
seigneurial.

The old marquis came to receive me at the foot of the stoop, passed his
arm under mine, and after leading me through a long maze of corridors,
introduced me into a vast drawing-room, where almost complete obscurity
prevailed; I could only vaguely distinguish, by the intermittent blaze of
the hearth, some twenty persons of both sexes, scattered here and there in
small groups. Thanks to this blessed twilight, I effected safely my
entrance, which had at a distance offered itself to my imagination, under
a solemn and somewhat alarming light. I had barely time to receive the
compliment of welcome which Madame de Malouet addressed me in a feeble but
penetrating voice. She took my arm almost at once to pass into the
dining-room, having resolved, it appears, to refuse no mark of
consideration to a pedestrian of such surprising agility.

Once at the table and in the bright light, I was not long in discovering
that my feats of the previous day had by no means been forgotten, and that
I was the center of general attention; but I stood bravely this cross-fire
of curious and ironical glances, intrenched on the one hand behind a
mountain of flowers that ornamented the center of the table, and on the
other assisted in my defensive position by the ingenious kindness of my
neighbor. Madame de Malouet is one of those rare old women whom superior
strength of mind or great purity of soul has preserved against despair at
the fatal hour of the fortieth year, and who have saved from the wreck of
their youth a single waif, itself a supreme charm, grace. Small, frail,
her face pale and withered from the effects of habitual suffering, she
justifies exactly her husband's expression: "She is a breath, a breath
that exhales intelligence and good-nature!" Not a shadow of any pretension
unbecoming her age, an exquisite care of her person without the faintest
trace of coquetry, a complete oblivion of her departed youth, a sort of
bashfulness at being old, and a touching desire, not to please, but to be
forgiven; such is my adorable marquise. She has traveled much, read much,
and knows Paris well. I roamed with her through one of those rapid
conversations in which two minds whirl and for the first time seek to
become acquainted, rambling from one pole to the other, touching lightly
upon all things, disputing gayly, and happy to agree.

Monsieur de Malouet seized the opportunity of the removal of the colossal
dish that separated us, to ascertain the condition of my relations with
his wife. He seemed satisfied at our evident good intelligence, and
raising his sonorous and cordial voice:

"Monsieur," he said to me, "I have spoken to you of my two rival cooks;
now is the time to justify the reputation of high discernment which I have
attributed to you in the minds of these artists.

"Alas! I am about to lose the oldest, and without doubt the most skillful,
of these masters--the illustrious Jean Rostain. It was he, sir, who, on
his arrival from Paris, two years ago, made this remarkable speech to me:
'A man of taste, Monsieur le Marquis, can no longer live in Paris; they
practice there now, a certain romantic style of cooking which will lead us
Heaven knows where!' In short, sir, Rostain is a classic; this singular
man has an opinion of his own! Well! you have just tasted in succession
two _entremets_ dishes of which cream forms the essential foundation;
according to my idea, these dishes are both a success; but Rostain's work
has struck me as greatly superior. Ah, ah! sir, I am curious to know if
you can of your own accord and upon that simple indication, assign to each
tree its fruit, and render unto Cæsar what belongs to Cæsar. Ah, ah, let
us see if you can!"

I cast a furtive glance at the remnants of the two dishes to which the
marquis had just called my attention, and I had no hesitation in
designating as "classic" the one that was surmounted with a temple of
cupid, and a figure of that god in polychromatic pastry.

"A hit!" exclaimed the marquis. "Bravo! Rostain shall hear of it, and his
heart will rejoice. Ah! monsieur, why has it not been my good fortune to
receive you in my house a few days sooner? I might perhaps have kept
Rostain, or, to speak more truly, Rostain might perhaps have kept me; for
I cannot conceal the fact, gentlemen hunters, that you are not in the good
graces of the old _chef_, and I am not far from attributing his departure
with whatever pretexts he may choose to color it, to the annoyance he
feels at your complete indifference. Thinking it might be agreeable to
him, I informed him, a few weeks ago, that our hunting-meetings were about
to secure him a concourse of connoisseurs worthy of his talents."

"Monsiuer le Marquis will excuse me," replied Rostain with a melancholy
smile, "if I do not share his illusions; in the first place, the hunter
devours and does not eat; he brings to the table the stomach of a man just
saved from shipwreck, _iratum ventrem_, as Horace says, and swallows up
without choice and without reflection, _gulæ parens_, the most serious
productions of an artist; in the second place, the violent exercise of the
chase has developed in such guests an inordinate thirst, which they
generally slake without moderation. Now, Monsieur le Marquis is not
ignorant of the opinion of the ancients on the excessive use of wine
during meals; it blunts the taste--_ersurdant vina palatum_! Nevertheless,
Monsieur le Marquis may rest assured that I shall labor to please his
guests with my usual conscientiousness, though with the painful certainty
of not being understood."

After uttering these words, Rostain draped himself in his toga, cast to
heaven the look of an unappreciated genius, and left my study.

"I would have thought," I said to the marquis, "that you would have spared
no sacrifice to retain that great man."

"You judge me correctly, sir," replied Monsieur de Malouet; "but you'll
see that he carried me to the very limits of impossibility. Precisely a
week ago, Monsieur Rostain, having solicited a private audience, announced
to me that he found himself under the painful necessity of leaving my
service. 'Heavens! Monsieur Rostain to leave my service! And where do you
expect to go?' 'To Paris.' 'What! to Paris! But you had shaken upon the
great Babylon the dust of your sandals! The decadence of taste, the
increasing development of the romantic cuisine! Such are your own words,
Rostain!' He replied: 'Doubtless, Monsieur le Marquis; but provincial life
has bitter trials which I had not foreseen!' I offered him fabulous wages;
he refused. 'Come, my good fellow, what is the matter? Ah! I see, you
don't like the scullery-maid; she disturbs your meditations by her vulgar
songs; very well, consider her dismissed! That is not enough? Is it
Antoine, then, who is objectionable? I'll discharge him! Is it the
coachman? I'll send him away!' In short, I offered him, gentlemen, the
whole household as a holocaust. But, at all these prodigious concessions,
the old _chef_ shook his head with indifference. But finally, I exclaimed,
'in the name of Heaven, Monsieur Rostain, do explain!' 'Mon Dieu! Monsieur
le Marquis,' then said Jean Rostain, 'I must confess to you that it is
impossible for me to live in a place where I find no one to play a game of
billiards with me!' _Ma foi!_ it was a little too much!" added the
marquis, with a cheerful good-nature.

"I could not really offer to play billiards with him myself! I had to
submit. I wrote at once to Paris, and last evening a young cook arrived,
who wears a mustache and gave his name as Jacquemart (of Bordeaux). The
classic Rostain, in a sublime impulse of artistic pride, volunteered to
assist Monsieur Jacquemart (of Bordeaux) in his first effort, and that's
how, gentlemen, I was able to-day to serve this great eclectic dinner, of
which, I fear, we will alone, monsieur and myself, have appreciated the
mysterious beauties."

Monsieur de Malouet rose from the table as he was concluding the story of
Rostain's epic. After coffee, I followed the smokers into the garden. The
evening was magnificent. The marquis led me away along the main avenue,
the fine sand of which sparkled in the moonlight between the dense shadows
of the tall chestnuts. While talking with apparent carelessness, he
submitted me to a sort of examination upon a variety of subjects, as if to
make sure that I was worthy of the interest he had so gratuitously
manifested toward me up to this time. We were far from agreeing on all
points; but, gifted both with sincerity and good-nature, we found almost
as much pleasure in arguing as we did in agreeing. That epicurean is a
thinker; his thought, always generously inclined, has assumed, in the
solitude where it has developed itself, a peculiar and paradoxical turn. I
wish I could give you an idea of it.

As we were returning to the chateau, we heard a great noise of voices and
laughter, and we saw at the foot of the stoop some ten or twelve young men
who were jumping and bounding, as if trying to reach, without the help of
the steps, the platform that crowns the double staircase. We were enabled
to understand the explanation of these passionate gymnastics as soon as
the light of the moon enabled us to distinguish a white dress on the
platform. It was evidently a tournament of which the white dress was to
crown the victor. The young lady (had she not been young, they would not
have jumped so high) was leaning over the balustrade, exposing boldly to
the dew of an autumn night, and to the kisses of Diana, her
flower-wreathed head and her bare shoulders; she was slightly stooping
down, and held out to the competitors an object somewhat difficult to
discern at a distance; it was a slender cigarette, the delicate handiwork
of her white fingers and her rosy nails. Although there was nothing in the
sight that was not charming, Monsieur de Malouet probably found in it
something he did not like, for his tone of cheerful good-humor became
suddenly shaded with a perceptible tint of annoyance, when he murmured:

"There it is again! I was sure of it! It is the Little Countess!"

It is hardly necessary for me to add that I had recognized, in the Little
Countess, my Amazon with the blue plume, who, with or without plume, seems
to have always the same disposition. She recognized me perfectly also, on
her side, as you'll see directly. At the moment when we were reaching,
Monsieur Malouet and myself, the top of the stoop, leaving the rival
pretenders to vie and struggle with increasing ardor, the little countess,
intimidated perhaps by the presence of the marquis, resolved to put an end
to the scene, and thrust abruptly her cigarette into my hand, saying:

"Here! it's for you! After all, you jump better than any of them."

And she disappeared after this parting shaft, which possessed the double
advantage of hitting at once both the victor and the vanquished.

This was, so far as I am concerned, the last noticeable episode of the
evening. After a game or two of whist, I pretended a little fatigue, and
Monsieur de Malouet had the kindness to escort me in person to a pretty
little room, hung with chintz and contiguous to the library. I was
disturbed during part of the night by the monotonous sound of the piano
and the rumbling noise of the carriages, indications of civilization which
made me regret more bitterly than ever my poor Thebais.



CHAPTER V.

A DENUNCIATION OVERHEARD.

_28th September._


I had the satisfaction of discovering in the library of the marquis the
historical documents I needed. They form, indeed, a part of the ancient
archives of the abbey, and have a special interest for the family of
Malouet. It was one William Malouet, a very noble man and a knight, who,
about the middle of the twelfth century, with the consent of messieurs his
sons, Hughes, Foulgues, John, and Thomas, restored the church and founded
the abbey in favor of the order of the Benedictine monks, and for the
salvation of his soul and of the souls of his ancestors, granting unto the
congregation, among other dues and privileges, the fee-simple of the
lands of the abbey, the tithe of all its revenues, half the wool of its
flocks, three loads of wax to be received every year at Mount
Saint-Michel-on-the-sea; then the river, the moors, the woods, and the
mill, _et molendinum in eodem situ_. I took pleasure in following through
the wretched latin of the time the description of this familiar landscape.
It has not changed.

The foundation charter bears date 1145. Subsequent charters show that the
abbey of Rozel was in possession, in the thirteenth century, of a sort of
patriarchate over all the institutions of the order of Saint Benedict that
were then in existence in the province of Normandy. A general chapter of
the order was held there every year, presided over by the Abbot of Rozel,
and at which some ten or a dozen other convents were represented by
their highest dignitaries. The discipline, the labors, the temporal and
spiritual management of all the Benedictines of the province were here
controlled and reformed with a severity which the minutes of these little
councils attest in the noblest terms. These scenes replete with dignity,
took place in that Capitulary Hall now so shamefully defiled.

Aside from the archives, this library is very rich, and this is apt to
divert attention. Moreover, the vortex of worldly dissipation that rages
in the chateau is not without occasionally doing some prejudice to my
independence. Finally, my worthy hosts frequently take away with one hand
the liberty they have granted me with the other; like many persons of the
world, they have not a very clear idea of the degree of connected
occupation which deserves the name of work, and an hour or two of
reading appears to them the utmost extent of labor that a man can bear
in a day.

"Consider yourself wholly free," Monsieur le Malouet tells me every
morning; "go up to your hermitage; work at your ease."

An hour later he is knocking at my door:

"Well! are we hard at work?"

"Why, yes, I am beginning to get into it."

"What! the duse! You have been at it more than two hours! You are killing
yourself, my friend. However, you are free. By the way, my wife is in the
parlor; when you have done you'll go and keep her company, won't you?"

"Most undoubtdedly I will."

"But only when you have entirely done, of course."

And, he goes off for a hunt or a ride by the seaside. As to myself,
preoccupied with the idea than I am expected, and satisfied that I shall
be unable to do any further work of value, I soon resolve to go and join
Madame de Malouet, whom I find deeply engaged in conversation with the
parish priest, or with Jacquemart (of Bordeaux). She has disturbed me, I
am in her way, and we smile pleasantly to each other.

Such is the manner in which the middle of the day usually passes off.

In the morning, I ride on horseback with the marquis, who is kind enough
to spare me the crowd and tumult of the general riding-parties. In the
evening, I take a hand at whist, then I chat a while with the ladies, and
I try my best to cast off at their feet my bear's skin and reputation; for
I dislike to display any eccentricity of my own, this one rather more so
than any other. There is in a grave disposition, when carried to the point
of stiffness and ill-grace toward women, something coarsely pedantic, that
is unbecoming in great talents and ridiculous in lesser ones. I retire
afterward, and I work rather late in the library. That's the best of my
day.

The society at the chateau is usually made up of the marquis' guests, who
are always numerous at this season, and of a few persons of the
neighborhood. The object of these entertainments on a grand scale is,
above all, to celebrate the visit of Monsieur de Malouet's only daughter,
who comes every year to spend the autumn with her family. She is a person
of statuesque beauty, who amuses herself with queenly dignity, and who
communicates with ordinary mortals by means of contemptuous mono-syllables
uttered in a deep bass voice. She married, some twelve years ago, an
Englishman, a member of the diplomatic corps, Lord A----, a personage
equally handsome and impassive as herself. He addresses at intervals to
his wife an English monosyllable, to which the latter replies
imperturbably with a French monosyllable. Nevertheless, three little
lords, worthy the pencil of Lawrence, who strut majestically around this
Olympian couple, attest between the two nations a secret intelligence
which escapes the vulgar observer.

A scarcely less remarkable couple comes over to us daily from a
neighboring chateau. The husband is one Monsiuer de Breuilly, formerly an
officer in King Charles X's body-guards, and a bosom friend of the
marquis. He is a very lively old man, still quite fine-looking, and
wearing over close-cropped gray hair a hat too small for his head. He has
an odd, though perhaps natural, way of scanning his words, and of speaking
with a degree of deliberation that seems affected. He would be quite
pleasant, however, were it not that his mind is constantly tortured by an
ardent jealousy, and by a no less ardent apprehension of betraying his
weakness, which, nevertheless, is a glaring and obvious fact to every one.
It is difficult to understand how, with such a disposition and a great
deal of common sense, he has committed the signal error of marrying, at
the age of fifty-five, a young and pretty woman, and a creole, I believe,
in the bargain.

"Monsieur de Breuilly!" said the marquis, as he presented me to the
punctilious gentleman, "my best friend, who will infallibly become yours
also, and who, quite as infallibly, will cut your throat if you attempt to
show any attention to his wife."

"Mon Dieu! my dear friend," replied Monsieur de Breuilly, with a laugh
that was anything but joyful, and accentuating each word in his peculiar
style, "why represent me to this gentleman as a Norman Othello? Monsieur
may surely--monsieur is perfectly free to--besides, he knows and can
observe the proper limits of things. At any rate, sir, here is Madame de
Breuilly; suffer me to recommend her myself to your kind attentions."

Somewhat surprised at this language, I had the simplicity, or perhaps the
innocent malice, of interpreting it literally. I sat down squarely by the
side of Madame de Breuilly, and I began paying her marked attention,
while, however, "observing the proper limits of things." In the meantime,
Monsieur de Breuilly was watching us from a distance, with an
extraordinary countenance. I could see his little gray eyes sparkling like
glowing ashes; he was laughing loud, grinning, stamping, and fairly
disjointing his fingers with sinister cracks. Monsieur de Malouet came
suddenly to me, handed me a whist card, and taking me aside:

"What the duse has got into you?" he said.

"Into me? why, nothing!"

"Have I not warned you? It's quite a serious matter. Look at Breuilly! It
is the only weakness of that gallant man; every one respects it here. Do
likewise, I beg of you."

From the weakness of that gallant man, it results that his wife is
condemned in society to perpetual quarantine. The fighting propensities of
a husband are often but an additional attraction for the lightning; but
men hesitate to risk their lives without any prospect of possible
compensation, and we have here a man who threatens you at least with a
public scandal, not only before harvest, as they say, but even before the
seed has been fairly sown. Such a state of affairs manifestly discourages
the most enterprising, and it is quite rare that Madame de Breuilly has
not two vacant seats on her right and on her left, despite her nonchalant
grace, despite her great creole eyes, and despite her plaintive and
beseeching looks, that seem to be ever saying: "Mon Dieu! will no one lead
me into temptation?"

You would doubtless think that the evident neglect in which the poor wife
lives ought to be, for her husband, a motive of security. Not at all! His
ingenious mania manages to discover in that fact a fresh motive of
perplexity.

"My friend," he was saying yesterday to Monsieur de Malouet, "you know
that I am no more jealous than any one else; but without being Orosmane, I
do not pretend to be George Dandin. Well! one thing troubles me, my
friend; have you noticed that apparently no one pays any attention to my
wife?"

"Parbleu! if that's what troubles you--"

"Of course it is; you must admit that it is not natural. My wife is
pretty; why don't they pay attention to her as well as to other ladies?
There is something suspicious there!"

Fortunately, and to the great advantage of the social question, all the
young women who reside in turn at the chateau are not guarded by dragons
of that caliber. A few even, and among them two or three Parisians out for
a holiday, display a freedom of manner, a love of pleasure, and an
exaggerated elegance that certainly pass the bounds of discretion. You are
aware that I have not the highest opinion of that sort of behavior, which
does not answer my idea of the duties of a woman, and even of a woman of
the world; nevertheless, I take side without hesitation with these giddy
ones; and their conduct even appears to me the very ideal of truth and
sincerity, when I hear nightly certain pious matrons distilling against
them, amid low and vulgar gossip, the venom of the basest envy that can
swell a rural heart. Moreover, it is not always necessary to leave Paris
in order to have the ugly spectacle of these provincials let loose against
what they call vice, namely, youth, elegance, distinction, charm--in a
word, all the qualities which the worthy ladies possess no more, or have
perhaps never possessed.

Nevertheless, with whatever disgust, these chaste vixens inspire me for
the virtue they pretend to uphold (Oh, virtue! how many crimes are
committed in thy name!), I am compelled, to my great regret to agree with
them on one point, and to admit that one of their victims at least gives
an appearance of justice to their reprobation and to their calumnies. The
angel of kindness himself would hide his face in presence of this complete
specimen of dissipation, of turbulence, of futility, and finally of
worldly extravagance that bears the name of Countess de Palme, and the
nickname of the Little Countess; a rather ill-fitting nickname, by the
way, for the lady is not small, but simply slender and lithe. Madame de
Palme is twenty-five years of age; she is a widow; she spends the winter
in Paris with her sister, and the summer in an old Norman manor-house,
with her aunt, Madame de Pontbrian. Let me get rid of the aunt first.

This aunt, who is of very ancient nobility, is particularly noted for the
fervor of her hereditary opinions, and for her strict devotion. Those are
both claims to consideration which I admit fully, so far as I am
concerned. Every solid principle and every sincere sentiment command in
these days a peculiar respect. Unfortunately Madame de Pontbrian seems to
be one of those intensely devout persons who are but very indifferent
Christians. She is one of those who, reducing to a few minor observances,
of which they are ridiculously proud, all the duties of their religious or
political faith, impart to both a harsh and hateful appearance, the effect
of which is not exactly to attract proselytes. The outer forms, in all
things, are sufficient for her conscience; otherwise, no trace of charity
or kindness; above all, no trace of humility. Her genealogy, her assiduity
to church, and her annual pilgrimages to the shrine of an illustrious
exile (who would probably be glad to dispense with the sight of her
countenance), inspire in this fairy such a lofty idea of herself and such
a profound contempt for her neighbor, that they make her positively
unsociable. She remains forever absorbed in the latrian worship which she
believes due to herself. She deigns to speak but to God, and He must
indeed be a kind and merciful God if He listens to her.

Under the nominal patronage of this mystic duenna, the Little Countess
enjoys an absolute independence, which she uses to excess. After spending
the winter in Paris, where she kills off regularly two horses and a
coachman every month for the sole gratification of waltzing ten minutes
every night in half a dozen different balls, Madame de Palme feels the
necessity of seeking rest in the peace of rural life. She arrives at her
aunt's, she jumps upon a horse, and she starts at full gallop. It matters
not which way she goes, provided she keeps going. Most generally she comes
to the Chateau de Malouet, where the kind-hearted mistress of the house
manifests for her an amount of predilection which I can hardly understand.
Familiar with men, impertinent with women, the Little Countess offers a
broad mark to the most indiscreet homage of the former, and to the jealous
hostility of the latter. Indifferent to the outrages of public opinion,
she seems ready to aspire to the coarsest incense of gallantry; but what
she requires above all things is noise, movement, a whirl, worldly
pleasure carried to its most extreme and most extravagant fury; what she
requires every morning, every evening, and every night, is a break-neck
chase, which she conducts with frenzy; a reckless game, in which she may
break the bank; an uninterrupted German, which she leads until dawn. A
stoppage of a single minute, a moment of rest, of meditation and
reflection, would kill her. Never was an existence at once so busy and so
idle; never a more unceasing and more sterile activity.

Thus she goes through life hurriedly and without a halt, graceful,
careless, busy, and ignorant as the horse she rides. When she reaches the
fatal goal, that woman will fall from the nothingness of her agitation
into the nothingness of eternal rest, without the shadow of a serious
idea, the faintest notion of duty, the lightest cloud of a thought worthy
a human being, having ever grazed, even in a dream, the narrow brain that
is sheltered behind her pure, smiling, and stupid brow. It might be said
that death, at whatever age it may overtake her, will find the Little
Countess just as she left the cradle, if it were possible to suppose that
she has preserved its innocence as well as she has retained its profound
puerility. Has that madcap a soul? The word nothingness has escaped me. It
is indeed difficult for me to conceive what might survive that body when
it has once lost the vain fever and the frivolous breath that seem alone
to animate it.

I know too well the miserable ways of the world, to take to the letter the
accusations of immorality of which Madame de Palme is here the object on
the part of the witches, as also on the part of some of her rivals who are
silly enough to envy her social success. It is not in that respect, as you
may understand, that I treat her with so much severity. Men, when they
show themselves unmerciful for certain errors, are too apt to forget that
they have all, more or less, spent part of their lives seeking to bring
them about for their own benefit. But there is in the feminine type which
I have just sketched something more shocking than immorality itself,
which, however, it is rather difficult to separate from it. And so,
notwithstanding my desire of not making myself conspicuous in anything, I
have been unable to take upon myself to join the throng of admirers whom
Madame de Palme drags after her triumphal car. I know not whether

"Le tyran dans sa cour remarqua mon absence:"

I am sometimes tempted to believe it, from the glances of astonishment and
scorn with which I am overwhelmed when we meet; but it is more simple to
attribute these hostile symptoms to the natural antipathy that separates
two creatures as dissimilar as we are. I look at her at times, myself,
with the gaping surprise which must be excited in the mind of any thinking
being by the monstrosity of such a psychological phenomenon. In that way
we are even. I ought rather to say we were even, for we are really no
longer so, since a rather cruel little adventure that happened to me last
night, and which constitutes in my account-current with Madame de Palme a
considerable advance, which she will find it difficult to make up. I have
told you that Madame de Malouet, through I know not what refinement of
Christian charity, manifested a genuine predilection for the Little
Countess. I was talking with the marquise last evening in a corner of the
drawing-room. I took the liberty of telling her that this predilection,
coming from a woman like her, was a bad example; that I had never very
well understood, for my part, that passage of the Holy Scriptures in which
the return of a single sinner is celebrated above the constant merit of a
thousand just, and that this had always appeared to me very discouraging
for the just.

"In the first place," answered Madame de Malouet, "the just do not get
discouraged; and in the next place, there are none. Do you fancy yourself
one, by chance?"

"Certainly not; I am perfectly well aware of the contrary."

"Well, then, where do you get the right of judging your neighbor so
severely?"

"I do not acknowledge Madame de Palme as my neighbor."

"That's convenient! Madame de Palme, sir, has been badly brought up, badly
married, and always spoilt; but, believe me, she is a genuine rough
diamond."

"I only see the roughness."

"And rest assured that it only requires a skillful workman--I mean a good
husband--to cut and polish it."

"Allow me to pity that future lapidary."

Madame de Malouet tapped the carpet with her foot, and manifested other
signs of impatience, which I knew not at first how to interpret, for she
is never out of humor; but suddenly a thought, which I took for a luminous
one, occurred in my mind; I had no doubt that I had at last discovered the
weak side and the only failing in that charming old woman. She was
possessed with the mania of match making, and, in her Christian anxiety to
snatch the Little Countess from the abyss of perdition, she was secretly
meditating to hurl me into it with her, unworthy though I be. Penetrated
with this modest conviction, I kept upon a defensive that seems to me, at
the present moment, perfectly ridiculous.

"Mon Dieu!" said Madame de Malouet, "because you doubt her learning!"

"I do not doubt her learning," I said; "I doubt whether she knows how to
read."

"But, in short, what fault do you find with her?" rejoined Madame de
Malouet in a singularly agitated tone of voice.

I determined to demolish, at a single stroke, the matrimonial dream with
which I supposed the marchioness to be deluding herself.

"I find fault with her," I replied, "for giving to the world the
spectacle, supremely irritating even for a profane being like me, of
triumphant nullity and haughty vice. I am not worth much, it's true, and I
have no right to judge, but there is in me, as well as in any theatrical
audience, a certain sentiment of reason and morality that rises in
indignation in presence of personages wholly devoid of common-sense or
virtue, and that protests against their triumph."

The old lady's indignation seemed to increase.

"Do you think I would receive her, if she deserved all the stones which
slander casts at her?"

"I think it is impossible for you to believe any evil."

"Bah! I assure you that you do not show in this case any evidence of
penetration. These love-stories which are attributed to her are so little
like her! She is a child who does not even know what it is to love!"

"I am convinced of that, madame. Her commonplace coquetry is sufficient
evidence of that. I am even ready to swear that the allurements of the
imagination or the impulses of passion are wholly foreign to her errors,
which thus remain without excuse."

"Oh! mon Dieu!" exclaimed Madame de Malouet, clasping her hands, "do hush!
she is a poor, forsaken child! I know her better than you do. I assure you
that beneath her appearance--much too frivolous, I admit--she possesses in
fact as much heart as she does sense."

"That is precisely what I think, madam; as much one of as of the other."

"Ah! that is really intolerable," murmured Madame de Malouet, dropping her
arms in a disconsolate manner.

At the same moment, I saw the curtain that half covered the door by the
side of which we sat shake violently, and the Little Countess, leaving the
hiding-place where she had been confined by the exigencies of I know not
what game, showed herself to us for a moment in the aperture of the door,
and returned to join the group of players that stood in the adjoining
parlor. I looked at Madame de Malouet:

"What! she was there!"

"Of course she was. She heard us, and, what's more, she could see us. I
made all the signs I could, but you were off!"

I remained somewhat embarrassed. I regretted the harshness of my words;
for, in attacking so violently this young person, I had yielded to the
excitement of controversy much more than to a sentiment of serious
animadversion. In point of fact, she is indifferent to me, but it's a
little too much to hear her praised.

"And now what am I to do?" I said to Madame de Malouet.

She reflected for a moment, and replied with a slight shrug of her
shoulders:

"_Ma foi!_ nothing; that's the best thing you can do."

The least breath causes a full cup to overflow; thus the little
unpleasantness of this scene seems to have intensified this feeling of
ennui which has scarce left me since my advent into this abode of joy.
This continuous gayety, this restless agitation, this racing and dancing
and dining, this ceaseless merry-making, and this eternal round of
festivity importune me to the point of disgust. I regret bitterly the time
I have wasted in reading and investigations which in no wise concern my
official mission and have but little advanced its termination; I regret
the engagements which the kind entreaties of my hosts have extorted from
my weakness; I regret my vale of Tempe; above all, Paul, I regret you.
There are certainly in this little social center a sufficient number of
superior and kindly disposed minds to form the elements of the pleasantest
and even the most elevated relations; but these elements are fairly
submerged in the worldly and vulgar throng, and can only be eliminated
from it with much trouble and difficulty, and never without admixture.
Monsieur and Madame de Malouet, Monsieur de Breuilly even, when his insane
jealously does not deprive him of the use of his faculties, certainly
possess choice minds and hearts; but the mere difference of age opens an
abyss between us. As to the young men and the men of my own age whom I
meet here, they all march with more or less eager step in Madame de
Palme's wake. It is enough that I should decline to follow them in that
path, to cause them to manifest toward me a coolness akin to antipathy. My
pride does not attempt to break that ice, though two or three among them
appear well gifted, and reveal instincts superior to the life they have
adopted.

There is one question I sometimes ask of myself on that subject; are we
any better, you and I, youthful Paul, than this crowd of joyous companions
and pleasant _viveurs_, or are we simply different from them? Like
ourselves, they possess honesty and honor; like ourselves, they have
neither virtue nor religion properly so-called. So far, we are equal. Our
tastes alone and our pleasures differ; all their preoccupations turn to
the lighter ways of the world, to the cares of gallantry and material
activity; ours are almost exclusively given up to the exercise of thought,
to the talents of the mind, to the works, good or evil, of the intellect.
In the light of human truth, and according to common estimation, it is
doubtful whether the difference in this particular is wholly in our favor;
but in a more elevated order, in the moral order, and, so to speak, in the
presence of God, does that superiority hold good? Are we merely yielding,
as they do, to an inclination that leads us rather more to one side than
to another, or are we obeying an imperative duty? What is in the eyes of
God the merit of intellectual life? It seems to me sometimes that we
possess for thought a species of pagan worship to which He attaches no
value, and which perhaps even offends Him. More frequently, however, I
think that He wishes us to make use of thought, were it even to be turned
against Him, and that He accepts as a homage all the quiverings of that
noble instrument of joy and torture which He has placed within us.

Is not sadness, in periods of doubt and anxiety, a species of religion? I
trust so. We are, you and I, somewhat like those poor dreaming sphinxes
who have been asking in vain for so many centuries, from the solitudes of
the desert, the solution of the eternal riddle. Would it be a greater and
more guilty folly than the happy carelessness of the Little Countess? We
shall see. In the meantime, retain, for my sake, that ground-work of
melancholy upon which you weave your own gentle mirth; for, thank God! you
are not a pedant; you can live, you can laugh, and even laugh aloud; but
thy soul is sad unto death, and that is only why I love unto death thy
fraternal soul.



CHAPTER VI.

THE MARQUISE INTERCEDES.

_1st October._


Paul, there is something going on here that does not please me. I would
like to have your advice; send it as soon as possible.

On Thursday morning, after finishing my letter, I went down to give it to
the messenger, who leaves quite early; then, as it only wanted a few
minutes of the breakfast-hour, I walked into the drawing-room, which was
still empty. I was quietly looking over a review by the fireside, when the
door was suddenly flung open; I heard the crushing and rustling of a silk
dress too broad to get easily through an aperture three feet wide, and I
saw the Little Countess appear: she had spent the night at the chateau.

If you remember the unfortunate conversation in which I had become
entangled, the previous evening, and which Madame de Palme had overheard
from beginning to end, you will readily understand that this lady was the
last person in the world with whom it might prove pleasant to find myself
alone that morning.

I rose and I addressed to her a deep courtsey; she replied with a nod,
which, though slight, was still more than I deserved from her. The first
steps she took in the parlor after she had seen me were stamped with
hesitation and a sort of wavering; it was like the action of a partridge
lightly hit on the wing and somewhat stunned by the shot. Would she go to
the piano, to the window, to the right or to the left, or opposite? It was
clear that she did not know herself; but indecision is not the weak point
of her disposition; she soon made up her mind, and crossing the immense
drawing room with very firm step, she came in the direction of the
chimney, that is, toward my immediate domain.

Standing in front of my arm-chair with my review in my hand, I was
awaiting the event with an apparent gravity that concealed but
imperfectly, I fear, a rather powerful inward anxiety. I had indeed every
reason to apprehend an explanation and a scene. In every circumstance of
this kind, the natural feelings of our heart and the refinement which
education and the habits of society add to them, the absolute freedom of
the attack and the narrow limits allowed to the defense, give to women an
overwhelming superiority over any man who is not a boor or a lover. In the
particular crisis that was threatening me, the stinging consciousness of
my wrongs, the recollection of the almost insulting form under which my
offense had manifested itself, united to deprive me of all thought of
resistance; I found myself delivered over, bound hand and foot, to the
frightful wrath of a young and imperious woman thirsting for vengeance. My
attitude was, therefore, not very brilliant.

Madame de Palme stopped within two steps of me, spread her right hand on
the marble of the mantel, and extended toward the blazing hearth the
bronzed slipper within which her left foot was held captive. Having
accomplished these preliminary dispositions, she turned toward me, and
without addressing me a single word, she seemed to enjoy my countenance,
which, I repeat, was not worth much. I resolved to sit down again and
resume my reading; but previously, and by way of transition, I thought
best to say politely:

"Wouldn't you like to have this review, madam?"

"Thank you, sir, I cannot read."

Such was the answer that was promptly shot off at me in a brief tone of
voice. I made with my head and my hand a courteous gesture, by which I
seemed to sympathize gently with the infirmity that was thus revealed to
me, after which I sat down, feeling more easy. I had drawn my adversary's
fire. Honor seemed to me satisfied.

Nevertheless, after a few moments of silence, I began again to feel the
awkwardness of my situation; I strove in vain to become absorbed in my
reading; I kept seeing a multitude of little bronzed slippers dancing all
over the paper. An open scene would have appeared to me decidedly
preferable to this unpleasant and persistent proximity, to the mute
hostility betrayed to my furtive glance by Madame de Palme's restless
foot, the jingle of her rings on the marble mantel, and the quivering
mobility of her nostrils. I therefore unconsciously uttered a sigh of
relief when the door, opening suddenly, introduced upon the stage a new
personage, whom I felt justified in considering as an ally.

It was a lady--a school-friend of Lady A----, whose name is Madame
Durmaitre. She is a widow, and extremely handsome; she is noted for a
lesser degree of folly amid the wild and worldly ladies of the chateau.
For this reason, and somewhat also on account of her superior charms, she
has long since conquered the ill-will of Madame de Palme, who, in allusion
to her rival's somber style of dress, to the languid character of her
beauty, and to the somewhat elegiac turn of her conversation, is pleased
to designate her, among the young people, as the Malabar Widow. Madame
Durmaitre is positively lacking in wit; but she is intelligent, tolerably
well read, and much inclined to reverie. She prides herself upon a certain
talent for conversation. Seeing that I am myself destitute of any other
social accomplishment, she has got it into her head that I must possess
that particular one, and she has undertaken to make sure of it. The result
has been, between us, a rather assiduous and almost cordial intercourse;
for, if I have been unable to fully respond to all her hopes, I listen, at
least with religious attention, to the little melancholy pathos which is
habitual with her. I appear to understand her, and she seems grateful for
it. The truth is that I never tire hearing her voice, which is musical,
gazing at her features, which are exquisitely regular, and admiring her
large black eyes, over which a fringe of heavy eyelashes casts a mystic
shadow. However, do not feel uneasy; I have decided that the time for
being loved, and consequently for loving, is over for me; now, love is a
malady which no one need fear, if he sincerely strive to repress its first
symptoms.

Madame de Palme had turned around at the sound of the opening door; when
she recognized Madame Durmaitre, a fierce light gleamed in her blue eyes;
chance had sent her a victim. She allowed the beautiful widow to advance a
few paces toward us, with the slow and mournful step which is
characteristic of her manner, and bursting out laughing:

"Bravo!" she exclaimed, with emphasis, "the march to the scaffold! the
victim dragged to the altar! Iphigenia; or, rather, Hermione:

"'Pleurante apres son char vous voulez qu'on me voie!'

"Who is it that has written this verse? I am so ignorant! Ah! it's your
friend, M. de Lamartine, I believe. He was thinking of you, my dear!"

"Ah! you quote poetry now, dear madam," said Madame Durmaitre, who is not
very skilled at retort.

"Why not, dear madam? Have you a monopoly of it?--'Pleurante apres son
char?' I have heard Rachel say that. By the way, it is not by Lamartine,
it's by Boileau. I must tell you, dear Nathalie, that I intend to ask you
to give me lessons in serious and virtuous conversation. It's so amusing!
And to begin at once, come! tell me whom you prefer, Lamartine or
Boileau?"

"But, Bathilde, there is no connection," replied Madame Durmaitre, rather
sensibly and much too candidly.

"Ah!" rejoined Madame de Palme. And suddenly pointing me out with her
finger: "You perhaps prefer this gentleman, who also writes poetry?"

"No, madam," I said, "it is a mistake; I write none."

"Ah! I thought you did. I beg your pardon."

Madame Durmaitre, who doubtless owes the unalterable serenity of her soul
to the consciousness of her supreme beauty, had been content with smiling
with disdainful nonchalance. She dropped into the arm-chair, which I had
given up to her.

"What gloomy weather!" she said to me; "really, this autumnal sky weighs
upon the soul. I was looking out of the window; all the trees look like
cypress-trees, and the whole country looks like a graveyard. It would
really seem that----"

"No, ah! no. I beg of you, Nathalie," interrupted Madame de Palme, "say no
more. That's enough fun before breakfast. You'll make yourself sick."

"Well, now! my dear Bathilde, you must really have slept very badly last
night," said the beautiful widow.

"I, my dear? ah! do not say that. I had celestial, ecstatic dreams;
ecstasies, you know. My soul held converse with other souls--like your own
soul. Angels smiled at me through the foliage of the cypress-trees--and so
forth, and so forth!"

Madame Durmaitre blushed slightly, shrugged her shoulders, and took up the
review I had laid upon the mantel-piece.

"By the bye, Nathalie," resumed Madame de Palme, "do you know who we are
going to have at dinner to-day, in the way of men?" The good-natured
Nathalie mentioned Monsieur de Breuilly, two or three other married
gentlemen, and the parish priest.

"Then I am going away after breakfast," said the Little Countess, looking
at me.

"That's very polite to us," murmured Madame Durmaitre.

"You know," replied the other with imperturbable assurance, "that I only
like men's society, and there are three classes of individuals whom I do
not consider as belonging to that sex, or to any other; those are married
men, priests, and savants."

As she concluded this sentence, Madame de Palme cast another glance at me,
by which however, I had no need to understand that she included me in her
classification of neutral species; it could only be among the individuals
of the third category, though I have no claim to it whatever; but it does
not require much to be considered a savant by the ladies.

Almost at this very moment, the breakfast-bell rang in the court-yard of
the chateau, and she added:

"Ah! there's breakfast, thank Heaven! for I am develish hungry, with all
respect for pure spirits and troubled souls."

She then ran and skipped to the other end of the parlor to greet Monsieur
de Malouet, who was coming in followed by his guests. As to myself, I
promptly offered my arm to Madame Durmaitre, and I endeavored by earnest
attentions, to make her forget the storm which the mere shade of sympathy
she manifests toward me had just attracted upon her.

As you may have remarked, the Little Countess had exhibited in the course
of this scene, as always, an unmeasured and unseemly freedom of language;
but she displayed greater resources of mind than I supposed her capable of
doing, and though they had been directed against me, I could not help
feeling thankful to her--to such an extent do I hate fools, whom I have
ever found in this world more pernicious than wicked people. The result
was, that with the feeling of repulsion and contempt with which the
extravagantly worldly woman inspired me, there was henceforth mingled a
shade of gentle pity for the badly brought-up child and the misdirected
woman.

Women are prompt in catching delicate shades of feeling, and the latter
did not escape Madame de Palme. She became vaguely conscious of a slightly
favorable change in my opinion of her, and it was not long before she even
began to exaggerate its extent and to attempt abusing it. For two days she
pursued me with her keenest shafts, which I bore good-naturedly, and to
which I even responded with some little attentions, for I had still at
heart the rude expressions of my dialogue with Madame de Malouet, and I
did not think I had sufficiently expiated them by the feeble martyrdom I
had undergone the following day in common with the beautiful Malabar
Widow.

This was enough to cause Madame Bathilde de Palme to imagine that she
could treat me as a conquered province, and add Ulysses to his companions.
Day before yesterday she had tested several times during the day the
extent of her growing power over my heart and my will, by asking two or
three little services of me; services to the honor of which every one here
eagerly aspires, and which for my part, I discharged politely but with
evident coolness.

In spite of the extreme reserve with which I had lent myself to these
trials during the day, Madame de Palme believed in her complete success;
she hastily judged that she now had but to rivet my chains and bind me to
her triumph, a feeble addition of glory assuredly, but which had, after
all, the merit, in her eyes, of having been contested. During the evening,
as I was leaving the whist-table, she advanced toward me deliberately, and
requested me to do her the honor of figuring with her in the character
dance called the cotillon.[B] I excused myself laughingly on my complete
inexperience; she insisted, declaring that I had evident dispositions for
dancing, and reminding me of the agility I had displayed in the forest.
Finally, and to close the debate, she led me away familiarly by the arm,
adding that she was not in the habit of being refused.

"Nor I, madam," I said, "in that of making a show of myself."

"What! not even to gratify me?"

"Not even for that, madam, and were it the only means of succeeding in
doing so."

I bowed to her smilingly after these words, which I had emphasized in such
a positive manner that she insisted no more. She dropped my arm abruptly
and returned to join a group of dancers who were observing us at a
distance with manifest interest. She was received by them with whispers
and smiles, to which she replied with a few rapid sentences, among which I
only caught the word _revanche_. I paid no further attention to the matter
for the time being, and my soul went to converse amid the clouds with the
soul of Madame Durmaitre.

The next day a grand hunt was to take place in the forest. I had arranged
to take no share in it, wishing to make the best of a whole day of
solitude to push forward my hopeless undertaking. Toward noon, the hunters
met in the court-yard of the chateau, which rang again for some fifteen
minutes with the loud blast of the trumpets, the stamping of horses, and
the yelping of the pack. Then the tumultuous crowd disappeared down the
avenue, the noise gradually died away, and I remained master of myself and
of my mind, in the midst of a silence the more grateful that it is the
more rare on this meridian.

I had been enjoying my solitude for a few minutes, and I was turning over
the folio pages of the _Neustra pia_, while smiling at my own happiness,
when I fancied I heard the gallop of a horse in the avenue, and soon after
on the pavement of the court. Some hunter behind time, I thought, and,
taking up my pen, I began extracting from the enormous volume the passage
relating to the General Chapters of the Benedictines; but a new and more
serious interruption came to afflict me; some one was knocking at the
library-door. I shook my head with ill-humor, and I said "Come in!" in the
same tone in which I might have said "Go away!" Some one did come in. I
had seen, a few moments before, Madame de Palme taking her flight,
feathers and all, at the head of the cavalcade, and I was not a little
surprised to find her again within two steps of me as soon as the door was
open. Her head was bare, and her hair was tucked up behind in an odd
manner; she held her whip in one hand, and with the other lifted up the
long train of her riding-habit. The excitement of the rapid ride she had
just had seemed further to intensify the expression of audacity which is
habitual to her look and to her features. And yet her voice was less
assured than usual when she exclaimed as she came in:

"Ah! I beg your pardon! I thought Madame de Malouet was here?"

I had risen at once to my full height.

"No, madam, she is not here."

"Ah! excuse me. Do you know where she is?"

"I do not, madam; but I can go and ascertain, if you wish."

"Thanks, thanks! I'll find her easily enough. The fact is, I met with a
little accident."

"Indeed!"

"Oh, not much! a trailing limb tore the band off my hat, and my feathers
dropped off."

"Your blue feathers, madam?"

"Yes, my blue feathers. In short, I have returned to the chateau to have
my hat-band sewed on again. You are comfortable there to work?"

"Perfectly so, madam, I could not be better."

"Are you very busy just now?"

"Well, yes, madam, rather busy."

"Ah! I am sorry."

"Why so?"

"Because, I had an idea. I thought of asking you to accompany me to the
forest. The gentlemen will be nearly there when I am ready to start
again--and I cannot very well go on alone so far."

While lisping this somewhat confused explanation, the Little Countess had
an expression at once sly and embarrassed, which greatly fortified the
sentiment of distrust which the awkwardness of her entrance had excited in
my mind.

"Madam," I said, "you really distress me. I shall regret all my life to
have missed the delightful occasion you are kind enough to offer me; but
it is indispensable that to-morrow's mail shall carry off this report,
which the minister is expecting with extreme impatience."

"You are afraid to lose your situation?"

"I have none to lose, madam."

"Well, then, let the minister wait, for my sake; it will flatter me."

"That is impossible, madam."

She assumed a very dry tone:

"But, that is really strange! What! you are not more anxious to be
agreeable to me?"

"Madam," I replied rather dryly in my turn, "I should be extremely anxious
to be agreeable to you, but I am not at all anxious to help you win your
wager."

I threw out that insinuation somewhat at random, resting it upon some
recollections and some slight indications which you may have been able to
collect here and there in the course of my narrative. Nevertheless, I had
hit it exactly. Madame de Palme blushed up to her ear, stammered out two
or three words which I failed to catch, and left the room, having lost all
countenance.

This precipitate retreat left me quite confused myself. I cannot admit
that we should carry out our respect for the weaker sex so far as to lend
ourselves to every caprice and every enterprise it may please a woman to
direct against our peace or our dignity; but our right of legitimate
self-defense in such encounters is circumscribed within narrow and
delicate limits, which I feared I had over-stepped. It was enough that
Madame de Palme should be alone in the world, and without any other
protection than her sex, to make it seem extremely painful to me to have
thoughtlessly yielded to the irritation, just though it might be, which
her impertinent insistence had aroused. As I was endeavoring to establish
between our respective wrongs a balance that might serve to quiet my
scruples, there was another knock at the library-door. This time, it was
Madame de Malouet who came in. She was much moved.

"Do tell me what has taken place," she said.

I gave her full and minute particulars of my interview with Madame de
Palme, and, while expressing much regret at my vivacity, I added that the
lady's conduct toward me was inexplicable; that she had taken me twice
within twenty-four hours for the subject of her wagers, and that it was a
great deal too much attention, on her part, for a man who asked her, as a
sole favor, not to trouble herself about him any more than he troubled
himself about her.

"Mon Dieu!" said the kind marquise, "I have no fault to find with you. I
have been able to appreciate with my own eyes, during the past few days,
your conduct and her own. But all this is very disagreeable. That child
has just thrown herself in my arms weeping terribly. She says you have
treated her like a creature--"

I protested: "I have repeated to you, word for word, madam, what passed
between us."

"It was not your words, it was your expression, your tone. Monsieur
George, let me speak frankly with you: are you afraid of falling in love
with Madame de Palme?"

"Not in the least, madam."

"Are you anxious that she should fall in love with you?"

"Neither, I assure you."

"Well, then, do me a favor; lay aside your pride for one day, and escort
Madame de Palme to the hunt."

"Madam!"

"The advice may seem singular to you. But rest assured that I do not offer
it without mature reflection. The repulsion which you manifest for Madame
de Palme is precisely what attracts toward you that imperious and spoilt
child. She becomes irritated and obstinate in presence of a resistance to
which she has not been accustomed. Be meek enough to yield to her fancy.
Do that for me."

"Seriously madam, you think?--"

"I think," interrupted the old lady laughingly, "with due respect to you,
that you will lose your principal merit in her eyes as soon as she sees
you submit to her yoke like all the rest."

"Really, madam, you present things to me under an entirely novel aspect.
It never occurred to me to attribute Madame de Palme's mischievous pranks
to a sentiment of which I might have reason to be proud."

"And you have been quite right," she resumed sharply; "there is, thank
heaven! nothing of the kind as yet; but it might have come and you are too
fair a man to desire it, with the views which I know you to entertain."

"I trust myself wholly to your direction, madam; I am going too fetch my
hat and gloves. The question is now, how Madame de Palme will receive my
somewhat tardy civility."

"She will receive it very well, if you offer it with good grace."

"As to that, madam, I shall offer it with all the good grace I can
command."

On this assurance, Madame de Malouet held out her hand, which I kissed
with profound respect but rather slim gratitude.

When I entered the parlor, booted and spurred, Madame de Palme was alone
there; deeply seated in an arm-chair, buried under her skirts, she was
putting the finishing touches to her hat. She raised and dropped rapidly
again her eyes, which were fiery red.

"Madam," I said, "I am sincerely so sorry to have offended you, that I
venture to ask your pardon for an unpardonable piece of rudeness. I have
come to hold myself at your disposition; if you decline my escort, you
will not only be inflicting upon me an amply deserved mortification, but
you will leave me still more unhappy than I have been guilty, and that is
saying a great deal." Madame de Palme, taking into consideration the
emotion of my voice rather more than my diplomatic pathos, lifted her eyes
upon me again, opened her lips slightly, said nothing, and finally
advanced a somewhat tremulous hand, which I hastened to receive within my
own. She availed herself at once of this _point d'appui_ to get on her
feet, and bounded lightly to the floor. A few minutes later, we were both
on horseback and leaving the court-yard of the chateau.

We reached the extremity of the avenue without having exchanged a single
word. I felt deeply, as you may believe, how much this silence, on my part
at least, was awkward, stiff, and ridiculous; but, as it often happens in
circumstances which demand most imperatively the resources of eloquence, I
was stricken with an invincible sterility of mind. I tried in vain to find
some plausible subject of conversation, and the more annoyed I felt at
finding none, the less capable I became of doing so.

"Suppose we have a run?" said Madame de Palme suddenly.

"Let us have a run!" I said; and we started at a gallop, to my infinite
relief.

Nevertheless, it became absolutely necessary to check our speed at the
entrance of the tortuous path that leads down into the valley of the
ruins. The care required to guide our horses during that difficult descent
served for a few minutes longer as a pretext for my silence; but, on
reaching the level ground of the valley, I saw that I must speak at any
cost, and I was about to begin with some commonplace remark, when Madame
de Palme was kind enough to anticipate me:

"They say, sir, that you are very witty?"

"You may judge for yourself, madam," I replied laughingly.

"Rather difficult so far, even if I were able, which you are very far from
conceding. Oh! you need not deny it! Its perfectly useless, after the
conversation which chance made me overhear the other night."

"I have made so many mistakes concerning you, madam, you must realize the
pitiful confusion I feel toward you."

"And in what respect have you been mistaken?"

"In all respects, I believe."

"You are not quite sure? Admit at least that I am a good-natured woman."

"Oh! with all my heart, madam!"

"You said that well. I believe you think it. You are not bad either, I
believe, and yet you have been cruelly so to me."

"That is true."

"What sort of man are you, then, pray?" resumed the Little Countess in her
brief and abrupt tone; "I cannot understand it very well. By what right,
on what ground, do you despise me? Suppose I am really guilty of all the
intrigues which are attributed to me; what is that to you? Are you a saint
yourself? a reformer? Have you never gone astray? Are you any more
virtuous than other men of your age and condition? What right have you to
despise me? Explain!"

"Were I guilty of the sentiments which you attribute to me, madam, I
should answer, that never has any one, either in your sex or mine, taken
his own morality as the rule of his opinion and his judgment upon others;
we live as we can, and we judge as we should; it is more particularly a
very frequent inconsistency among men, to frown down unmercifully the very
weaknesses which they encourage and of which they derive the benefit. For
my part, I hold severely aloof from a degree of austerity as ridiculous in
a man as uncharitable in a Christian. And as to that unfortunate
conversation which a deplorable chance caused you to hear, and in which my
expressions, as it always happens, went far beyond the measure of my
thought, it is an offense which I can never obliterate, I know; but I
shall at least explain frankly. Every one has his own tastes and his own
way of understanding life in this world; we differ so much, you and I, and
you conceived for me, at first sight, an extreme antipathy. This
disposition, which, on one side at least, madam, was to be singularly
modified on better acquaintance, prompted me to some thoughtless
manifestations of ill-humor and vivacity of controversy. You have
doubtless suffered, madam, from the violence of my language, but much
less, I beg you to believe, than I was to suffer from it myself, after I
had recognized its profound and irreparable injustice."

This apology, more sincere than lucid, drew forth no answer. We were at
this moment just coming out of the old abbey church, and we found
ourselves unexpectedly mingled in the last ranks of the cavalcade. Our
appearance caused a suppressed murmur to run through the dense crowd of
hunters. Madame de Palme was at once surrounded by a merry throng that
seemed to address congratulations to her on the winning of her wager. She
received them with an indifferent and pouting look, whipped up her horse,
and made her way to the front before entering the forest.

In the meantime, Monsieur de Malouet had received me with still more
cordial affability than usual, and without making any direct allusion to
the accident which had brought me against my will to this cynegetic feast,
he omitted no attention that could make me forget its trifling annoyance.
Soon after the hounds started a deer, and I followed them with keen
relish, being by no means indifferent to that manly pastime, though it is
not sufficient for my happiness in this world.

The pack was thrown off the scent two or three times, and the deer had the
best of the day. At about four o'clock we started on our way back to the
chateau. When we crossed the valley on our return, the twilight was
already marking out more clearly upon the sky the outline of the trees and
the crest of the hills; a melancholy shade was falling upon the woods, and
a whitish fog chilled the grass on the meadows, while a thicker mist
indicated the sinuous course of the little river. As I remained absorbed
in the contemplation of the scene which reminded me of better days, I
discovered suddenly Madame de Palme at my side.

"I believe, after due reflection," she said with her usual brusqueness,
"that you scorn my ignorance and my lack of wit much more than my supposed
want of morality. You think less of virtue than you do of intelligence. Is
that it?"

"Certainly not," I said, laughingly; "that isn't it; that isn't it at all.
In the first place, the word scorn must be suppressed, having nothing to
do here; then, I don't much believe in your ignorance, and not at all in
your lack of wit. Finally, I see nothing above virtue, when I see it at
all, which is not often. Furthermore, madam, I feel confused at the
importance you attach to my opinion. The secret of my likes and dislikes
is quite simple; I have, as I was telling you, the most religious respect
for virtue, but all mine is limited to a deep-seated sentiment of a few
essential duties which I practice as best I can; I could not therefore ask
any more of others. As to the intellect, I confess that I value it
greatly, and life seems too serious a matter to me to be treated on the
footing of a perpetual ball, from the cradle to the grave. Moreover, the
productions of the mind, works of art in particular, are the object of my
most passionate preoccupations, and it is natural that I should like being
able to speak of what interests me. That's all."

"Is it absolutely necessary to be forever talking of the ecstasies of the
soul, of cemeteries, and the Venus of Milo, in order to obtain in your
opinion the rank of a serious woman and a woman of taste? But, after all,
you are right; I never think; if I did for one single minute, it seems to
me that I should go mad, that my head would split. And what were you
thinking about yourself, in that old convent cell?"

"I thought a great deal about you," I replied gayly, "on the evening of
that day when you hunted me down so unmercifully, and I abused you most
heartily."

"I can understand that." She began laughing, looking all around her, and
added: "What a lovely valley! what a delightful evening! And now, are you
still disposed to abuse me?"

"Now, I wish from the bottom of my soul I were able to do something for
your happiness."

"And I for yours," she said, quietly.

I bowed for all answer, and a brief pause followed:

"If I were a man," suddenly said Madame de Palme, "I believe I would like
to be a hermit."

"Oh! what a pity!"

"That idea does not surprise you?"

"No, madam."

"Nothing from me would surprise you, I suppose. You believe me capable of
anything--of anything, perhaps even of being fond of you?"

"Why not? Greater wonders have been seen! Am I not fond of you myself at
the present moment? That's a fine example to follow!"

"You must give me time to think about it?"

"Not long!"

"As long as it may be necessary. We are friends in the meantime?"

"If we are friends, there is nothing further to expect," I said, holding
out my hand frankly to the Little Countess. I felt that she was pressing
it lightly, and the conversation ended there. We had reached the top of
the hills; it was now quite dark, and we galloped all the rest of the way
to the chateau.

As I was coming down from my room for dinner, I met Madame de Malouet in
the vestibule.

"Well!" she said, laughingly, "did you conform to the prescription?"

"Rigidly, madam."

"You showed yourself subjugated?

"I did, madam."

"Excellent! She is satisfied now, and so are you."

"Amen!" I said.

The evening passed off without further incident.

I took pleasure in doing for Madame de Palme some trifling services which
she was no longer asking. She left the dance two or three times to come
and address me some good-natured jests that passed through her brain, and
when I withdrew, she followed me to the door with a smiling and cordial
look.

I ask you now, friend Paul, to sift the precise meaning and the moral of
this tale. You may perhaps judge, and I hope you will, that a chimerical
imagination can alone magnify into an event this vulgar episode of society
life; but if you see in the facts I have just told you the least germ of
danger, the slightest element of a serious complication, tell me so; I'll
break the engagements that were to detain me here some ten or twelve days
longer, and I'll leave at once.

I do not love Madame de Palme; I cannot and will not love her. My opinion
of her has evidently changed greatly; I look upon her henceforth as a good
little woman. Her head is light and will always be so; her behavior is
better than she gets credit for, though perhaps not as good as she
represents it herself; finally, her heart has both weight and value. I
feel some friendship for her, an affection that has something fraternal in
it; but between her and me, nothing further is at all likely; the expanse
of the heavens divides us. The idea of being her husband makes me burst
out laughing, and though a sentiment which you will readily appreciate,
the thought of being her lover inspires me with horror. As to her, I
believe she may feel the shadow of a caprice, but not even the dawn of a
passion. Here I am now upon her etagere with the rest of the figure-heads,
and I think, as does Madame de Malouet, that may be enough to satisfy her.
However, what do you think of it yourself?


[B] The German.



CHAPTER VII.

A MISDIRECTED PASSION.

_7th October._


Dear Paul, I take part in your grief from the bottom of my heart. Allow
me, however, to assure you, from the very details of your own letter that
your dear mother's illness offers no alarming symptoms whatever. It is
one of those painful but harmless crises which the approach of winter
brings back upon her almost invariably every year, as you know. Patience
therefore, and courage, I beseech you.

It requires, my friend, the formal expression of your wishes to induce me
to venture upon mingling my petty troubles with your grave solicitude. As
you anticipated in your wisdom and in your kind friendship, it was
consolation and not advice that I stood in need of when I received your
letter. My heart is not at peace, and, what is worse for me, neither is my
conscience; and yet, I think I have done my duty. Have I understood it
right or not? Judge for yourself.

I take up my situation toward Madame de Palme where I had left it in my
last letter. The day after our mutual explanation, I took every care to
maintain our relations upon the footing of good-fellowship on which they
seemed established, and which constituted, in my idea, the only sort of
intelligence desirable and even possible between us. It seemed to me, on
that day, that she manifested the same vivacity and the same spirit as
usual; yet I fancied that her voice and her look, when she addressed me,
assumed a meek gravity which is not part of her usual disposition; but on
the following days, though I had not deviated from the line of conduct I
had marked out for myself, it became impossible for me not to notice that
Madame de Palme had lost something of her gayety, and that a vague
preoccupation clouded the serenity of her brow. I could see her
dancing-partners surprised at her frequent absence of mind; she still
followed the whirl, but she no longer led it. Under pretext of fatigue,
she would leave suddenly and abruptly her partner's arm, in the midst of a
waltz, to go and sit in some corner with a pensive and even a pouting
look. If there happened to be a vacant seat next to mine, she threw
herself into it, and began from behind her fan some whimsical and
disjointed conversation like the following:

"If I cannot be a hermit, I am going to become a nun. What would you say,
if you saw me enter a convent to-morrow?"

"I should say that you would leave it the day after to-morrow."

"You have no confidence in my resolutions?"

"When they are unwise, no."

"I can only form unwise ones, according to you?"

"According to me, you waltz admirably. When a person waltzes as you do,
it's an art, almost a virtue."

"Is it customary to flatter one's friends?"

"I am not flattering you. I never speak a single word to you that I have
not carefully weighed, and that is not the most earnest expression of my
thought. I am a serious man, madam."

"It does not seem so when you are with me. I verily believe, however, you
have undertaken to make me hate laughter as much as I used to like it."

"I do not understand you."

"How do you think I look to-night?"

"Dazzling!"

"That's too much! I know that I am not handsome."

"I don't say you are handsome, but you are extremely graceful."

"That's better; and it must be true, for I feel it. The Malabar Widow is
really handsome."

"Yes, I should like to see her at the funeral pile."

"To jump into it with her?"

"Exactly."

"Do you expect to leave soon?"

"Next week, I believe."

"Will you come and see me in Paris?"

"If you will allow me."

"No, I don't allow you."

"And why not? great heavens!"

"In the first place, I don't think I am going back to Paris myself."

"That's a good reason. And where do you expect to go, madam?"

"I don't know. Let us make a pedestrian tour somewhere, you and I
together; will you?"

"I should like nothing better. When shall we start?"

_Et cetera_. I shall not tire you, my friend, with the particulars of some
dozen similar conversations, every occasion of which for four days Madame
de Palme evidently sought. There was on her part a constantly growing
effort to leave aside all commonplace topics, and impart to our interviews
a character of greater intimacy; there was on mine an equal amount of
obstinacy in confining them within the strictest limits of social jargon,
and remaining resolutely on the ground of worldly futility.

I now come to the scene that was to bring this painful struggle to a
close, and unfortunately prove all its vanity to me.

Monsieur and Madame de Malouet were giving last night a grand farewell
ball to their daughter, whose husband has been recalled to his post of
duty, and the whole neighborhood within a circuit of ten leagues had been
summoned to the feast. Toward ten o'clock an immense crowd was overflowing
the vast ground floor of the chateau, in which the elegant dresses, the
lights, and the flowers were mingled in dazzling confusion. As I was
trying to make my way into the main drawing-room, I found myself face to
face with Madame de Malouet, who drew me slightly aside.

"Well! my dear sir," she said, "I do not like the looks of things."

"Mon Dieu! what is there new?"

"I don't know exactly, but be on your guard. Ah! mon Dieu! I have
remarkable confidence in you, sir; you will not take advantage of her,
will you?"

Her voice was tender and her eyes moist.

"You may rely upon me, madam; but I sincerely wish I had gone a week ago."

"Eh! mon Dieu! who could have foreseen such a thing? Hush! there she
comes!"

I turned round and saw Madame de Palme coming out of the parlor; before
her the throng opened with that timorous eagerness and that species of
terror which the supreme elegance of one of society's queens generally
inspires in our sex. For the first time, Madame de Palme appeared handsome
to me; the expression of her countenance was wholly novel to me, and a
weird animation gleamed in her eyes and transfigured her features.

"Am I to your taste?" she said.

I manifested by I know not what movement an assent, which was moreover but
too evident to the keen eye of a woman.

"I was looking for you," she added, "to show you the conservatory; it's
fairy-like. Come!"

She took my arm, and we started in the direction of the conservatory door
which opened at the other end of the parlor, extending as far as the park,
through the vines and the perfumes of hundreds of exotic plants, all the
splendors of the feast. While we were admiring the effect of the
girandoles that sparkled amid the luxuriant tropical flora like the bright
constellations of another hemisphere, several gentlemen came to claim
Madame de Palme's hand for a waltz; she refused them all, though I was
sufficiently disinterested to join my entreaties to theirs.

"Our respective roles seem to me somewhat inverted," she said: "it is I
who am detaining you, and you wish to get rid of me!"

"Heaven preserve me from such an idea! but I am afraid lest you may
deprive yourself, out of kindness to me, of a pleasure you are so fond
of."

"No! I know very well that I seek you and you avoid me. It is rather
absurd in the eyes of the world, but I care nothing for that. For this one
evening at least, I mean to amuse myself as I like. I forbid you to
disturb my happiness. I am really very happy. I have everything I
require--beautiful flowers, excellent music around me, and a friend at my
side. Only--and that's a dark spot on my blue sky--I am much more certain
of the music and the flowers than I am of the friend."

"You are entirely wrong."

"Explain your conduct, then, once for all. Why will you never talk
seriously with me? Why do you obstinately refuse to tell me one single
word that savors of confidence, of intimacy--of friendship, in a word?"

"Please reflect for a minute, madam; where would that lead us to?"

"What is that to you? That would lead us where it would. It is singular
that you should be more anxious about it than I am."

"Come, what would you think of me if I ventured to speak of love to you?"

"I don't ask you to make love to me!" she said, sharply.

"I know it, madam; and yet it is the inevitable turn my language would
take if it ceased for a moment to be frivolous and commonplace. Now, admit
that there is one man in the world who could not speak of love to you
without incurring your contempt, and that I am that very man. I cannot say
that I am very much pleased with having placed myself in such a position;
but, after all, it is so, and I cannot forget it."

"That is showing a great deal of judgment."

"That is showing a great deal of courage."

She shook her head with an air of doubt, and resumed after a moment of
silence:

"Do you know that you have just spoken to me as if I were what is called a
'fast' woman?"

"Oh! madam!"

"Of course, you think that I can never attribute to a man who pays his
addresses to me any but improper intentions. If it were so, I would
deserve being called a 'fast' woman, and I do not. I know you don't
believe it, but it is the pure truth, as there is a God--yes, as there is
a God! God knows me, and I pray to Him much oftener than is thought. He
has kept me from doing harm thus far, and I hope He will keep me from it
forever; but it is a thing of which He has not the sole control--" She
stopped for a moment, and then added in a firm tone:

"You can do much toward it."

"I, madam?"

"I have allowed you to take, I know not how--I really do not know how!--a
great influence over my destiny. Will you be willing to use it? That is
the question."

"And in what capacity could I do so, pray, madam?" I said slowly and in a
tone of cold reserve.

"Ah!" she exclaimed, in a hoarse and energetic accent, "how can you ask me
that? It is too hard! you humiliate me too much!"

She left my arm and returned abruptly into the parlor. I remained for some
time uncertain as to what course to pursue. I thought first of following
Madame de Palme and explaining to her that she was mistaken--which was
true--as to the interrogative answer which had offended her. She had
applied that answer to some thought that pervaded her mind, which I did
not understand, or at least which her words had revealed to me much less
clearly than she had imagined; but after thinking over it, I shrank from
the new and formidable explanation which such a course must inevitably
bring about.

I left the conservatory, and walked into the garden to escape the hum of
the ball-room, which importuned my ears. The night was cold but beautiful.
With my heart still filled with the bitterness of this scene, I wandered
instinctively beyond the luminous zone projected around the chateau
through the apertures of the resplendent windows. I walked rapidly toward
a double row of spruce trees, crossed by a rustic bridge thrown over a
small brook which divided the garden from the park, and where the shade
was more dense. I had just reached this somber spot, when a hand was laid
on my arm and stopped me; at the same time a short and troubled voice,
which I could not mistake, said:

"I must speak to you!"

"Madam! for mercy's sake! in the name of Heaven! what are you doing? you
will ruin your reputation! Do return to the house! Come, come, let me
escort you back!"

I attempted to seize her arm, but she eluded my grasp.

"I want to speak to you--I have decided to do so. Oh, mon Dieu! how
awkwardly I do go about it, don't I? You must believe me more than ever a
miserable creature! and yet there is nothing in it, not a thing; it's the
truth, the pure truth, mon ami! You are the first man for whose sake I
have forgotten--all that I am now forgetting! Yes, the first! Never has
any other man heard from my lips a single word of tenderness, never! And
you do not believe!"

I took both her hands in mine:

"I believe you, I swear it--I swear that I esteem you--that I respect you
as a beloved daughter--but listen to me; pray, listen! do not brave openly
this pitiless world--return to the ball-room--I'll join you there soon, I
promise you--but in the name of Heaven, do not compromise your fair fame!"

The poor child melted into tears, and I felt that she was staggering; I
supported her and helped her to a seat on a bench close by. I remained
standing before her, holding one of her hands. The darkness was intense
around us; I gazed into space, and I listened, in a state of vague stupor,
to the clear and regular murmur of the brook flowing under the spruce
trees, to the convulsive sobs that swelled the unhappy woman's bosom, and
to the odious sounds of revelry which the orchestra sent us at intervals
from afar. It was one of those moments that can never be forgotten.

She succeeded in mastering her grief at last, and seemed, after this
explosion, to recover all her firmness.

"Monsieur," she said, rising and withdrawing her hand, "have no fears
about my reputation. The world is accustomed to my follies. However, I
have taken care that the present one shall not be noticed. Besides, I
would not care if it was. You are the only man whose esteem I have ever
desired, and, unfortunately the only one also whose contempt I have
incurred--that is most cruel!--and yet something must tell you that I do
not deserve it."

"Madam!"

"Listen to me! and may God convince you. This is a solemn hour in my
existence. Since the first glance you ever cast upon me, sir--on that day
when I went up to you while you were sketching the old church--since that
first glance, I belonged to you. I have never loved, I shall never love
any man but you. Will you take me for your wife? I am worthy of it--I
swear it to you in the presence of that Heaven which is looking down upon
us!"

"Dear madam--dear child--your kindness, your affection move me to the
depths of my soul; in mercy, be more calm; let me retain a gleam of
reason!"

"Ah! if your heart speaks, listen to it, sir! It is not with reason that I
can be judged! Alas! I feel it! you still doubt me, you still doubt my
past life. Oh, Heavens! that opinion of the world which I have always
scorned, how it is killing me now!"

"No, madam, you are mistaken; but what could I offer you in exchange for
all you wish to sacrifice for my sake--for the habits, the tastes, the
pleasures of your whole life?"

"But that life inspires me with horror! You think that I would regret it?
You think that some day I may again become the woman I have been, the
madcap you have known?--you think so! And how can I help your believing
it? And yet I know very well that I would never cause you that sorrow, nor
any other--never! I have discovered in your eyes a new world I did not
know--a more dignified, more lofty world, of which I had never conceived
the idea--and outside of which I can no longer live. Ah! you must
certainly feel that I am telling you the truth!"

"Yes, madam, you are telling me the truth--the truth of the hour--of a
moment of fever and excitement; but this new world, which appears dimly to
you now--this ideal world in which you desire to seek an eternal refuge
against mere transient evils--would never keep all it seems to promise.
Disappointment, regret, misery await you within it--and do not await you
alone. I know not if there be a man gifted with a sufficiently noble mind,
with a sufficiently lofty soul to make you love the new existence of which
you are dreaming to preserve in the reality the almost divine character
which your imagination imparts to it; but I do know that such a task,
sweet as it might be, is beyond my strength; I would be insane, I would be
a wretch, if I were to accept it."

"Is that your final decision? Cannot reflection alter it in any way?"

"In no way."

"Farewell then, sir--ah! unhappy woman that I am!--farewell!"

She grasped my hand, which she wrung convulsively, and then left me.

After she had disappeared, I sat down on the bench, upon which she had
been seated. There, my dear Paul, my whole strength gave way. I hid my
head in my hands and I wept like a child. Thank God, she did not return!

I had at last to gather all my courage in order to appear once more and
for a moment in the ball-room. There was nothing to indicate that my
absence had been noticed, or unfavorably commented upon. Madame de Palme
was dancing and displaying a degree of gayety amounting almost to
delirium. Soon after, supper was announced, and I availed myself of the
general commotion attending that incident, to retire to my room.

Early this morning, I requested a private interview with Madame de
Malouet. It appeared to me that my entire confidence was due to her. She
heard me with profound sadness, but without manifesting any surprise.

"I had guessed," she told me, "something of the kind--I did not sleep all
night. I believe that you have done your duty as a wise man and as an
honest man. Yes, you have. Still, it seems very hard. Society life is
detestable in this, that it creates fictitious characters and passions,
unexpected situations, subtle shades, which complicate strangely the
practice of duty, and obscure the straight path which ought to be always
simple and easy to discover. And now you wish to leave, I suppose?"

"Certainly, madam."

"Very well; but you had better stay two or three days longer. You will
thus remove from your departure the semblance of flight which, after what
may have been observed, might prove somewhat ridiculous and perhaps
damaging. It is a sacrifice I ask of you. To-day, we are all to dine at
Madame de Breuilly's; I'll undertake to excuse you. In this manner, this
day at least will rest lightly upon you. To-morrow, we'll act for the
best. Day after to-morrow, you can leave."

I accepted these terms. I shall soon see you again, then, Paul. But in the
meantime, how lonely and forsaken I feel! How I long to grasp your firm
and loyal hand; to hear your voice tell me: "You have done right!"



CHAPTER VIII.

"I AM A DISGRACED WOMAN."

ROZEL, _October 10_.


Here I am back in my cell, my friend. Why did I ever leave it? Never has
a man felt a more troubled heart beat between these cold walls, than
my own wretched heart! Ah! I will not curse our poor human reason, our
philosophy; are they not, after all, the noblest and best conquests of our
nature? But, great Heaven! how little they amount to! What unreliable
guides, and what feeble supports! Listen to a sad story: Yesterday,
thanks to Madame de Malouet, I remained alone at the chateau the
whole day and the whole evening. I was therefore as much at peace as
it was possible for me to be. Toward midnight I heard the carriages
returning, and soon after all noise ceased. It was, I think, about three
o'clock in the morning when I was aroused from the species of torpor that
has stood me in lieu of sleep for the past few nights, by the sound quite
close to me, of a door cautiously opened or closed in the yard. I know
not by what strange and sudden connection of ideas so simple an
incident attracted my attention and disturbed my mind. I left abruptly
the arm-chair in which I had been slumbering, and I went up to a
window. I distinctly saw a man moving off with discreet steps in the
direction of the avenue. I had no difficulty in satisfying myself that the
door through which he had just passed, was that which gives access to
the wing of the chateau contiguous to the library. This part of the house
contains several rooms devoted to transient guests; I knew that all were
vacant at this moment, unless Madame de Palme, as it often happened,
had occupied for the night the lodging that was always set apart for her
in that wing.

You may guess what strange thought floated across my brain. I repelled it
at first as sheer madness; but remembering, within the field of my
somewhat extended experience, certain facts that lent probability to that
thought, I entertained it with a sort of cynical irony, and I was almost
ready to admit it, as an odious but decisive denouement. The early dawn
found me struggling still in this mental anguish, calling up my
recollections, examining in a childish way the most minute circumstances
that might tend to confirm or to banish my suspicions. Excess of fatigue,
brought on at last two hours of prostration, from which I emerged with a
better command of my reason. It was impossible for me to doubt the reality
of the apparition that had struck my eyes during the night; but it
appeared to me that I had put upon it a hasty and senseless construction,
and that my ailing spirit had attributed to it the least likely
explanation.

I went down at half past ten o'clock as usual. Madame de Palme was in the
parlor; she must therefore have spent the night at the chateau.
Nevertheless, a mere glance at her was enough to remove from my mind the
very shadow of suspicion. She was talking quietly in the center of a
group. She greeted me with her usual gentle smile. I felt relieved of an
immense weight. I was escaping a torment of such a painful and bitter
nature, that the positive impression of my previous grief, freed from the
disgraceful complications with which I had for a moment thought it
aggravated, appeared almost pleasant. Never had my heart rendered to this
woman a more tender and more sincere homage. I was grateful to her from
the bottom of my soul, for having restored purity to my wound and to my
memory.

The afternoon was to be devoted to a horseback ride along the sea-shore.
In the effusion of heart that succeeded the anxieties of the night, I
yielded quite readily to the entreaties of Monsieur de Malouet, who,
arguing on my approaching departure, was urging me to accompany him on
this excursion. It was about two o'clock when our cavalcade, recruited as
usual by a few young men of the neighborhood, marched out of the chateau's
gate. We had been traveling merrily for a few minutes, and I was not the
least merry of the band, when Madame de Palme suddenly came to take her
place by my side.

"I am about to be guilty of a base deed," she said; "and yet, I had so
strongly resolved--but I am choking!"

I looked at her; the haggard expression of her eyes and of her features
suddenly struck me with terror.

"Well!" she went on, in a voice of which I shall never forget the tone,
"you have willed it so! I am a disgraced woman!"

She urged at once her horse forward, leaving me crushed by this blow, the
more terrible that I had wholly ceased to fear it, and that it struck me
with a keen cruelty I had not even foreseen. There had indeed been in the
unhappy woman's voice no trace whatever of insolent swaggering; it was the
very voice of despair, a cry of heart-rending grief and timid reproach;
everything that might add in my soul to the torture of a stained and
shattered love, the disorder of a profound pity and an uneasy conscience.

When I had found strength enough to look around me I was surprised at my
own blindness. Among Madame de Palme's most assiduous courtiers, figures
one Monsieur de Mauterne, whose antipathy for me, though confined within
the limits of good-breeding, often seemed to me to assume an almost
hostile tinge. Monsieur de Mauterne is a man of my age, tall, blonde, with
a figure more robust than elegant, and features regularly handsome, but
stiff and without expression. He possesses social accomplishments, much
audacity, and no wit. His bearing and his conduct during the course of
that fatal ride would have informed me from the start, if I had only
thought of observing them, that he believed he had the right of fearing
henceforth no rivalry near Madame de Palme. He assumed frankly the leading
part in all the scenes in which she participated; he overwhelmed her with
attentions, affected to speak to her in a whisper, and neglected nothing,
in a word, to initiate the public into the secret of his success. In that
respect, he lost his trouble; the world, after exhausting its wickedness
upon imaginary errors, seems thus far to refuse the evidence which vainly
stares it in the face.

As to myself, my friend, it would be difficult to depict the chaos of
emotions and thoughts that tossed and tumbled in my brain. The feeling
that swayed me perhaps with the greatest violence, was that of hatred
against that man--a feeling of implacable hatred, of eternal hatred. I
was, however, more shocked and more distressed than surprised at the
choice that had been made of him; he had happened in the way, and he had
been taken up with a sort of indifference and of scorn, as one picks up
any weapon to commit suicide with, when once the suicide has been resolved
upon. As to my feelings toward her, you may guess them; not a shadow of
anger, frightful sadness, tender compassion, vague remorse, and above all,
passionate, furious regret. I realized at last how much I had loved her! I
could scarcely understand the motives which, two days before, had appeared
to me so powerful, so imperative, and which had seemed to raise between
her and me an insurmountable barrier. All these obstacles of the past
disappeared before the abyss of the present which seemed the only real
one, the only one that was impossible to overcome, the only one that ever
existed. Strange fact! I could see clearly, as clearly as I saw the sun,
that the impossible, the irreparable was there, and I could not accept it,
I could not submit to it. I could see that woman lost to me as irrevocably
as if the grave had closed over her coffin, and I could not give her up!
My mind wandered through insane projects and resolutions; I thought of
picking a quarrel with Monsieur de Mauterne, and compelling him to fight
on the spot. I felt that I would have crushed him! Then I thought of
fleeing with her, of marrying her, of taking her with her shame, after
having refused her pure! Yes, this madness tempted me! To remove it from
my thoughts, I had to repeat a hundred times to myself that mutual disgust
and dispair were the only fruits that could ever be expected of that union
of a dishonored hand with a bloody hand. Ah; Paul, how much I did suffer!

Madame de Palme manifested during the entire course of our ride a feverish
excitement which betrayed itself more particularly in reckless feats of
horsemanship. I heard at intervals her loud bursts of merriment, that
sounded to my ears like heart-rending wails. Once again she spoke to me as
she was going by.

"I inspire you with horror, don't I?" she said.

I shook my head and dropped my eyes without replying.

We returned to the chateau at about four o'clock. I was making my way to
my room when a confused tumult of voices, shrieks, and hurried steps in
the vestibule chilled my heart. I went down again in all haste, and I was
informed that Madame de Palme had just been taken with a nervous fit. She
had been carried into the parlor. I recognized through the door the grave
and gentle voice of Madame de Malouet, to which was mingled I know not
what moan, like that of a sick child. I ran away. I was resolved to leave
this fatal spot without further delay. Nothing could have induced me to
remain a moment longer. Your letter, which had been handed to me on our
return, served me as a likely pretext for my sudden departure. The
friendship that binds us is well-known here. I said you needed me within
twenty-four hours. I had taken care, at all hazards, to send three days
before to the nearest town for a carriage and horses. In a few minutes my
preparations were made; I gave orders to the driver to start ahead and
wait for me at the extremity of the avenue while I was taking my leave.
Monsieur de Malouet seemed to have no suspicion of the truth; the worthy
old gentleman appeared quite moved as he received my thanks, and really
manifested for me a singular affection out of all proportion to the brief
duration of our acquaintance. I had to be scarcely less thankful to M. de
Breuilly. I regret now the caricature I once gave you as the portrait of
that noble heart.

Madame de Malouet insisted upon accompanying me down the avenue a few
steps farther than her husband. I felt her arm trembling under mine while
she was intrusting me with a few trifling errands for Paris. At the moment
of parting, and as I was pressing her hand with effusion, she detained me
gently:

"Well! sir," she said in a feeble voice, "God did not bless our wisdom."

"Our hearts are open to Him, madam; He must have read our sincerity; He
sees how much I am suffering, and I humbly hope He may forgive me!"

"Do not doubt it--do not doubt it," she replied in a broken voice; "but
she? she!--ah! poor child!"

"Have pity on her, madam. Do not forsake her. Farewell!"

I left her hastily, and I started, but instead of going direct to the
town, I had myself driven along the abbey road as far as the top of the
hills; I requested the coachman to go alone to the town, and to return for
me to-morrow morning early at the same place. I cannot explain to you, my
dear friend, the singular and irresistible fancy that I took to spend one
last night in that solitude where I spent such quick and happy days, and
so recently, mon Dieu!

Here I am, then, back in my cell. How cold, dark, and gloomy it seems! The
sky also has gone into mourning. Since my arrival in this neighborhood,
and in spite of the season, I had seen none but summer days and nights.
To-night a cold autumnal storm has burst over the valley; the wind howls
among the ruins, blowing off fragments that fall heavily upon the ground.
A driving rain is pattering against my window-panes. It seems to me as if
it were raining tears!

Tears! my heart is overflowing with them--and not a single one will rise
to my eyes. And yet, I have prayed, I have long prayed to God--not, my
friend to that untangible God whom we pursue in vain beyond the stars and
the worlds, but the only true God, truly kind and helpful to suffering
humanity, the God of my childhood, the God of that poor woman!

Ah! I wish to think now only of my approaching meeting with you, the day
after to-morrow, dear friend, and perhaps before this letter--

       *       *       *       *       *

Come, Paul! If you can leave your mother, come, I beseech you, come to
uphold me. God's hand is upon me!

I was writing that interrupted line when, in the midst of the confused
noises of the tempest, I fancied I heard the sound of a voice, of a human
groan. I rushed to my window; I leaned outside to pierce the darkness,
and I discovered lying upon the drenched soil a vague form, something like
a white bundle. At the same time, a more distinct moan rose up to me. A
gleam of the terrible truth flashed through my brain like a keen blade. I
groped through the darkness as far as the door of the mill; near the
threshold, stood a horse bearing a side-saddle. I ran madly around to the
other side of the ruins, and within the inclosure situated beneath the
window of my cell, and which still retains some traces of the former
cemetery of the monks, I found the unhappy creature. She was there,
sitting on an old tomb-stone, as if overwhelmed, shivering in all her
limbs under the chilling torrent of rain which a pitiless sky was pouring
without interruption over her light party-dress. I seized her two hands,
trying to raise her up.

"Ah! unhappy child! what have you done!"

"Yes, most unhappy!" she murmured, in a voice as faint as a breath.

"But you are killing yourself."

"So much the better--so much the better!"

"You cannot remain there! Come!--"

I saw that she was unable to stand up alone.

"Ah! _Dieu bon! Dieu puissant!_ what shall I do? What's to become of you
now? What do you wish with me?"

She made no reply. She was trembling, and her teeth were chattering. I
lifted her up in my arms and I carried her in. The mind works fast in such
moments. No conceivable means of removing her from this valley where
carriages cannot penetrate; nothing was henceforth possible to save her
honor; I must only think of her life. I scaled rapidly the steps leading
to my cell, and I seated her on a chair in front of the chimney in which I
hastily kindled a fire; then I woke up my hosts. I gave to the miller's
wife a vague and confused explanation. I know not how much of it she
understood; but she is a woman, she took pity and went on bestowing upon
Madame de Palme such care as was in her power. Her husband started at once
on horseback, carrying to Madame de Malouet the following note from me:

"MADAM:--She is here, dying. In the name of the God of mercy, I beseech
you, I implore you--come to console, come to bless her who can no
longer expect words of kindness and forgiveness from any one but you
in this world.

"Pray tell Madame de Pontbrian whatever you think proper."

She was calling me. I returned to her side. I found her still seated
before the fire. She had refused to be put into the bed that had been
prepared for her. When she saw me--singular womanly preoccupation!--her
first thought was for the coarse peasant's dress she had just exchanged
for her own water-soaked and mud-stained garments. She laughed as she
called my attention to it; but her laughter soon turned into convulsions
which I had much difficulty in quieting.

I had placed myself close to her; she had a consuming fever, her eyes
glistened. I begged her to consent to take the absolute rest which was
alone suitable to her condition.

"What is the use?" she replied. "I am not ill. It is not the fever that is
killing me, nor the cold, it is the thought that is burning me
there;"--she touched her forehead--"it is shame--it is your scorn and your
hatred; now, alas! but too well deserved!"

My heart overflowed then, Paul; I told her everything; my passion, my
regrets, my remorse! I covered with kisses her trembling hands, her cold
forehead, her damp hair. I poured into her poor shattered soul all the
tenderness, all the pity, all the adoration a man's soul can contain! She
knew now that I loved her; she could not doubt it!

She listened to me with rapture. "Now," she said, "now, I am no longer to
be pitied. I have never been so happy in all my life. I did not deserve
it--I have nothing further to wish--nothing further to hope--I shall not
regret anything."

She fell into a slumber. Her parted lips are smiling a pure and placid
smile; but she is taken at intervals with terrible spasms, and her
features are becoming terribly altered. I am watching her while writing
these lines.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madame de Malouet has just arrived with her husband. I had judged her
rightly! Her voice and her words were those of a mother. She had taken
care to bring her physician. The patient is lying in a comfortable bed,
surrounded by loving and attentive friends. I feel more easy, although she
has just awakened with a fearful delirium.

Madame de Pontbrian has positively refused to come to her niece. I had
judged her rightly too, the excellent Christian!

I have deemed it my duty not to set foot again in the cell which Madame
de Malouet no longer leaves. The expression of M. de Malouet's countenance
terrifies me, and yet he assures me that the physician has not yet
pronounced.

       *       *       *       *       *

The doctor has just come out; I have spoken to him.

"It is pneumonia," he told me, "complicated with brain fever."

"It is very serious, is it not?"

"Very serious."

"But is there any immediate danger?"

"I'll tell you that to-night. Her condition is so acute that it cannot
last long. Either the crisis must abate or nature must yield."

He looked up to heaven and went off.

I know not what is going on within me, my friend--all these blows are
striking me in such rapid succession. It is the lightning!

FIVE O'CLOCK P.M.

The old priest whom I have often met at the chateau has been sent for in
haste. He is a friend of Madame de Malouet, a simple old man, full of
charity; I dared not question him. I know not what is going on. I fear to
hear, and yet my ear catches eagerly the least noises, the most
insignificant sounds; a closing door, a rapid step on the stairs strikes
me dumb with terror. And yet--so quick! it seems impossible!

       *       *       *       *       *

Paul, my friend--my brother! where are you?--all is over!

An hour ago I saw the doctor and the priest coming down. Monsieur de
Malouet was following them.

"Go up," he told me. "Come, courage, sir. Be a man!" I walked into the
cell; Madame de Malouet had remained alone there; she was kneeling by the
bedside and beckoned me to approach. I gazed upon her who was about to
cease suffering. A few hours had been enough to stamp upon that lovely
face all the ravages of death; but life and thought still lingered in her
eyes; she recognized me at once.

"Monsieur," she began; then, after a pause: "George, I have loved you
much. Forgive my having embittered your life with the memory of this
sad incident!"

I fell on my knees; I tried to speak, I could not; my tears flowed hot and
fast upon her hand already cold and inert as a piece of marble.

"And you, too, madam," she added; "forgive me the trouble I have given
you--the grief I am causing you now."

"My child!" said the old lady, "I bless you from the bottom of my heart."

Then there was a pause, in the midst of which I suddenly heard a deep and
broken breath--ah! that supreme breath, that last sob of a deadly sorrow;
God also has heard it, has received it!

He has heard it--He hears also my ardent, my weeping prayer. I must
believe that He does, my friend. Yes, that I may not yield at this moment
to some temptation of despair, I must firmly believe in a God who loves
us, who looks with compassionate eyes upon the anguish of our feeble
hearts--who will deign some day to tie again with His paternal hand the
knots broken by cruel death!--ah! in presence of the lifeless remains of a
beloved being, what heart so withered, what brain so blighted by doubt, as
not to repel forever the odious thought that these sacred words: God,
Justice, Love, Immortality--are but vain syllables devoid of meaning!

Farewell, Paul. You know what there still remains for me to do. If you can
come, I expect you; if not, my friend, expect me. Farewell!



CHAPTER IX.

A CHALLENGE AND DUEL.

THE MARQUIS DE MALOUET TO PAUL B----, PARIS.

CHATEAU DE MALOUET. _October 20_.


Monsieur:--It has become my imperative though painful duty to relate to
you the facts which have brought about the crowning disaster of which you
have already been advised, by more rapid means and with such precautions
as we were able to take; a disaster that completely overwhelms our souls
already so cruelly tried. As you are aware, sir, a few weeks, a few days
had been sufficient to enable Madame de Malouet and myself to know and
appreciate your friend, to conceive for him an eternal affection soon,
alas! to be changed into eternal regret. You are also aware, I know, of
all the sad circumstances that preceded and led to this sad catastrophe.

Monsieur George's conduct during the melancholy days that followed the
death of Madame de Palme, the depth of feeling as well as the elevation of
soul which he constantly manifested had completely won our hearts over to
him. I desired to send him back to you at once, sir; I wished to get him
away from this sorrowful spot, I wished to take him to you myself, since a
painful preoccupation detained you in Paris; but he had imposed upon
himself the duty of not forsaking so soon what was left of the unhappy
woman.

We had removed him to our house; we were surrounding him with attentions.
He never left the chateau, except to go each day on a pious pilgrimage
within a few steps. Still, his health was perceptibly failing. Day before
yesterday morning, Madame de Malouet pressed him to join Monsieur de
Breuilly and myself in a horseback ride. He consented, though somewhat
reluctantly. We started. On the way, he strove manfully to respond to the
efforts we were making to draw him into conversation and rouse him from
his prostration. I saw him smile for the first time in many hours, and I
began to hope that time, the strength of his soul, the attentions of
friendship, might restore some calm to his memory, when, at a turn in the
road, a deplorable chance brought us face to face with Monsieur de
Mauterne.

This gentleman was on horseback; two friends and two ladies made up his
party. We were following the same direction, but his gait was much more
rapid than ours; he passed us, saluting as he did so, and I noticed, so
far as I am concerned, nothing in his manner that could attract attention.
I was therefore much surprised to hear M. de Breuilly the next moment
murmur between his teeth: "That is an infamous trick!" Monsieur George,
who, at the moment of meeting, had become pale and turned his head
slightly away, looked sharply at Monsieur de Breuilly:

"What do you mean, sir? What do you refer to?"

"I refer to the impertinence of that brainless fool!"

I appealed energetically to Monsieur de Breuilly, reproaching him with his
quarrelsome disposition, and affirming that there had been no trace of
defiance either in the attitude or the features of Monsieur de Mauterne
when he had passed by us.

"Come, my friend," said Monsieur de Breuilly, "your eyes must have been
closed--or else you must have seen, as I saw myself, that the wretch
giggled as he looked at our friend. I don't know why you should wish the
gentleman to suffer an insult which neither you nor I would suffer!"

These unlucky words had been scarcely uttered, when Monsieur George
started his horse at a gallop.

"Are you mad?" I said to De Breuilly, who was trying to detain me; "and
what means such an invention?"

"My friend," he replied, "it was necessary to divert that boy's mind at
any cost."

I shrugged my shoulders. I freed myself from him and dashed after Monsieur
George; but, being better mounted than myself, he had already gained
considerable advance. I was still a hundred paces behind him when he
overtook Monsieur de Mauterne, who had stopped on hearing him coming. It
seemed to me that they were exchanging a few words, and almost at once I
saw Monsieur George's whip lashing several times, and with a sort of fury,
Monsieur de Mauterne's face. We barely arrived in time, Monsieur de
Breuilly and myself, to prevent that scene from assuming an odious
character of brutality.

A meeting having unfortunately become inevitable between the parties, we
took with us the two friends who accompanied Mauterne, Messieurs de
Quiroy and Astley, the latter an Englishman. Monsieur George had preceded
us to the chateau. The choice of weapons belonged without any possible
doubt to our adversary. Nevertheless, having noticed that his seconds
seemed to hesitate with a sort of indifference, or perhaps of
circumspection between swords and pistols, I thought that we might, with a
little good management, influence their decisions in the direction least
unfavorable to us. We went, therefore, Monsieur de Breuilly and I, to
consult Monsieur George on the subject. He pronounced at once in favor of
swords.

"But," remarked Monsieur de Breuilly, "you are a very good pistol-shot. I
have seen you at work. Are you certain to be a better swordsman? Do not
deceive yourself; this will be a mortal combat."

"I am satisfied of that," he replied, with a smile; "but I am particularly
anxious for swords, if at all possible."

After the expression of so formal a wish, we could but esteem ourselves
fortunate in obtaining the choice of arms, and the meeting was settled for
the next morning at nine o'clock.

During the remainder of the day, Monsieur George manifested an ease of
mind, and even at intervals a certain gayety, at which we were quite
surprised, and which Madame de Malouet, in particular, was at a loss to
understand. My poor wife of course had been left in ignorance of these
recent events.

At ten o'clock he retired, and I could still see a light through his
window two hours later. Impelled by my earnest affection and I know not
what vague anxiety was haunting me, I entered his room at about midnight;
I found him very calm; he had been writing and was just sealing up a few
envelopes.

"There!" he said, handing me the papers. "Now the worst is over, and I am
going to sleep the sleep of the just."

I thought it best to offer him a few more technical suggestions on the
handling of the weapon he was soon to use. He listened to me without much
attention, and suddenly extending his arm:

"Feel my pulse," he said.

I did so, and ascertained that his calm and his cheerfulness were neither
affected nor feverish.

"In such a condition," he added, "if a man is killed it is because he is
willing to be. Good-night, my dear sir!" Whereupon I left him.

Yesterday morning, at half-past eight, we repaired, Monsieur George,
Monsieur de Breuilly, and myself, to an unfrequented path situated about
half way between Mauterne and Malouet, and which had been selected for the
dueling-ground. Our adversary arrived almost immediately after,
accompanied by Messieurs de Quiroy and Astley. The nature of the insult
admitted of no attempt at conciliation. We had therefore to proceed at
once to the fight.

Scarcely had Monsieur George placed himself in position, when we became
convinced of his complete inexperience in the use of the sword. Monsieur
de Breuilly cast upon me a look of stupor. However, after the blades had
been crossed, there was a semblance of fight and of defense; but at the
third pass, Monsieur George fell pierced through the chest.

I threw myself upon him; he was already in the grasp of death.
Nevertheless he pressed my hand feebly, smiled once more, then gave vent,
with his last breath, to his last thought, which was for you, sir:

"Tell Paul that I love him, that I forbid him seeking to avenge me, and
that I die--happy." He expired.

I shall not attempt, sir, to add anything to this narrative. It has
already been too long and too painful to me; but I deemed this faithful
and minute account due to you. I had reason to believe, besides, that your
friendship would like to follow to the last instant that existence which
was so justly dear to you. Now you know all, you have understood all, even
what I have left unsaid.

He lies in peace by her side. You will doubtless come, dear sir. We expect
you. We shall mingle our tears over those two beloved beings, both kind
and charming, both crushed by passion and seized by death with relentless
rapidity in the midst of the pleasantest scenes of life.


[THE END.]



THE SPHINX;

OR,

"JULIA DE TRECOEUR."



CHAPTER I.

"A BALEFUL AFFECTION."


All those who, like ourselves, knew Raoul de Trecoeur during his early
youth, believed that he was destined to great fame. He had received quite
remarkable gifts from nature; there are left from him two or three
sketches and a few hundred verses that promised a master; but he was very
rich, and had been very badly brought up; he soon gave himself up to
dilettanteism. A perfect stranger, like most men of his generation, to the
sentiment of duty, he permitted himself to be recklessly carried away by
his instincts, which, fortunately for others, were more ardent than
hurtful. Therefore was he generally pitied when he died, in the flower of
his age, for having loved and enjoyed immoderately everything that he
thought pleasant.

The poor fellow, they said, never did any harm but to himself; which, in
point of fact, was not the exact truth. Trecoeur had married, at the age
of twenty-five, his cousin, Clotilde Andree de Pers, a modest and graceful
person who had of the world nothing but its elegance. Madame de Trecoeur
had lived with her husband in an atmosphere of unhealthy storms, where she
felt out of place, and, as it were, degraded. He tormented her with his
remorse almost as much as he did with his faults. He looked upon her, and
justly, as an angel, and wept at her feet when he had betrayed her,
lamenting that he was unworthy of her; that he was the victim of his
temperament, and that he had been born in a faithless age. He threatened
once to kill himself in his wife's boudoir if she did not forgive him; she
forgave him, of course. All this dramatic action disturbed Clotilde in her
resigned existence. She would have preferred that her misery should have
been more quiet and less declamatory.

All the friends of her husband had been in love with her, and had built
great hopes upon her forlorn condition, but unfaithful husbands do not
always make guilty wives. The reverse is rather more frequently the case,
so little is this poor world submitted to the rules of logic. In short,
Madame de Trecoeur, after her husband's death was left forlorn, exhausted,
and broken down, but spotless.

From this melancholy union, a daughter had been born, named Julia, and
whom her father, notwithstanding all Clotilde's efforts of resistance, had
spoilt to excess. Monsieur de Trecoeur's idolatry for his daughter was
well-known, and the world, with its habitual weakness of judgment, forgave
him readily his scandalous existence in consideration of that merit, which
is not always a great one. It is not, indeed, a very difficult matter to
love one's children; it is sufficient for that not to be a monster. The
love that one has for them is not in itself a virtue; it is a passion
which, like all others, may be good or bad, as one is its master or its
slave. It may even be thought that there is no passion which may be more
than this one, pregnant with good or with evil.

Julia seemed splendidly gifted; but her ardent and precocious disposition
had been developed, thanks to the paternal education, as in the primeval
forest, wholly at random. She was small in person, dark and pale, lithe
and slender, with large blue eyes full of fire, unruly black hair, and
superbly arched eyebrows. Her habitual air was reserved and haughty;
nevertheless she laid aside, at home, these majestic appearances to frolic
on the carpet. She played games of her own invention. She translated her
history lessons into little dramas interspersed with speeches to the
people, dialogues, music, and particularly chariot-races. In spite of her
serious countenance, she could be very funny at times, and made cruel fun
of those she did not like.

She manifested for her father a passionate predilection, singularly
mitigated by the sentiments of tender pity which her mother's unhappiness
inspired in her youthful heart. She saw her weep often; she would then
throw herself upon the floor, curled up at her feet, and there remain for
hours, motionless and dumb, looking at her with moist eyes, and drinking
from time to time a tear from her cheek.

She had apparently caught, as many children do, some echoes of the
domestic woes. Doubtless her quick intellect appreciated her father's
wrong-doings; but her father--that handsome gentleman, so witty, generous,
and wild--she worshiped him; she was proud to be his daughter; she
palpitated with joy when he clasped her to his heart. She could neither
judge him nor blame him; he was a superior being. She contented herself
with pitying and consoling, as best she could, that gentle and charming
creature who was her mother, and who suffered.

Within the circle of Madame de Trecoeur's acquaintances, Julia simply
passed for a little plague. The dear madames, as she called them, who
formed the ornament of her mother's Thursdays, related with bitterness to
each other the scenes of comical imitation with which the child followed
their entrance and their departure. The men considered themselves
fortunate when they did not carry off a bit of paper or silk on the back
of their coats. All this amused Monsieur de Trecoeur extremely. When his
daughter performed with half a dozen chairs some of those Olympian races
that knocked every piano in the neighborhood out of tune--

"Julia!" he would exclaim, "you don't make noise enough. Smash a vase."

And a vase she did smash; whereupon her father kissed her with enthusiasm.

This method of education assumed a graver character as the child grew
older. Her father's affection became shaded with a species of gallantry.
He took her with him to the Bois, to the races, to the theater. She had
not a fancy that he did not anticipate and gratify. At thirteen years of
age, she had her horse, her groom, and a carriage bearing her monogram.
Already ill, and having perhaps a presentiment of his death, the
unfortunate man overwhelmed that beloved daughter with the tokens of his
baleful affection. He was thus blunting all her tastes by too precocious
satiety, as if he had intended to leave her no taste save for the
forbidden fruit.

Julia wept over him with furious transports, and preserved for his memory
a fervid worship. She had a private room which she filled with the
portraits of her father and with a thousand personal souvenirs, around
which she kept up flowers.

Madame de Trecoeur, like the greater number of young girls who marry their
cousins, had married very young. She was left a widow at twenty-eight, and
her mother, the Baroness de Pers, who was still living, and who was even
of the liveliest, was not long in suggesting discreetly to her the
propriety of a second marriage. After having exhausted the practical and,
in fact, quite sensible reasons that seemed to urge that course, the
baroness then came down to the sentimental reasons:

"In good faith, my poor child," she said, "you have not had, up too this
time, your just share of happiness in this world. I would not speak ill of
your husband, since he is dead; but, _entre nous_, he was a horrid brute.
Mon Dieu! charming at times, I grant you,--since I have been caught
myself--like all worthless scamps! but in fact, beastly, beastly! Well,
certainly, I shall not undertake to say that marriage is ever a state of
perfect bliss; nevertheless it is the best thing that has been imagined up
to this time, to enjoy life decently among respectable people. You are in
the flower of your age--you are quite good-looking, quite--and, by the
way, it will do you no harm to wear your skirts a little higher up behind,
with a proper sort of bustle; for you don't even know what they wear now,
my poor pet. Here, look! It's horrible, I know; but what can we do? we
must not attract attention. In short, what I meant to tell you is that you
still have all that is necessary, and even more than is necessary, to fix
a husband--if indeed there are any that can be fixed, which I hope is the
case--otherwise, we should have to despair wholly of Providence, if it did
not have some compensation in store for us after all our trials. It is
already a manifest sign of its kindness that you should have recovered
your _embonpoint_, my darling! Kiss your mother. Come, now, when is our
pretty little woman going to be married?"

There was no maternal exaggeration whatever in the compliments which the
baroness was addressing to Clotilde. All Paris looked upon her with the
same eyes as her mother. She had never been so attractive as now, and she
had always been infinitely so. Her person, reposed in the peace of her
mourning, had then the bright lustre of a fine fruit, ripe and fresh. Her
black eyes full of timid tenderness, her pure brow crowned with splendid
and life-like braids, her shoulders of rosy marble, her particular grace
of a young matron, at once handsome, loving, and chaste--all that, joined
to a spotless reputation and to sixty thousand francs a year, could not
fail to bring forward more than one pretender. And indeed they sprang up
in legions. Reason, and public opinion itself, which had done full justice
to her husband and to herself, were both urging her to a second wedding.
Her own private feelings, whatever might be their natural delicacy, did
not seem likely to prove an obstacle, for there was nothing in her heart
that was not true. She had been faithful to her husband, she had shed
sincere and bitter tears over that wretched companion of her youth; but he
had exhausted and worn out her affection, and without ever joining her
mother in her posthumous recriminations against Monsieur de Trecoeur, she
felt that she had no further duty to fulfill toward him but that of
prayer.

She had, however, been for many months a widow, and she still continued to
oppose to the solicitations of the baroness, a resistance of which the
latter sought in vain to ascertain the mysterious cause. One day she
fancied she had discovered it.

"Confess the truth," she said to her; "you are afraid to cause some
annoyance to Julia. Now, if that is so, my dear daughter, it is pure
folly. You cannot have any serious scruple on that score. Julia will be
very rich in her own right, and will have no need of your fortune. She
will herself marry in three or four years (much pleasure do I wish her
husband, by the way!); and see a little in what a nice situation you will
find yourself then! But, mon Dieu! are we never going to be done with
them? After the father, here is the daughter now! Eh! mon Dieu! let her
erect chapels with her father's portraits and spurs as much as she
likes--that's her business; I am certainly not the one to enter into
competition with her. But she must at least allow us to live in peace!
What! You could not dispose of your person without her leave! Then if you
are her slave, my dear child, show me the door at once! You could not do
anything more agreeable to her for she cannot bear the sight of me, your
daughter! And then, after all, in all candor, what possible objection can
she have to your getting married again? A step-father is not a
step-mother; it's quite another thing. Eh! mon Dieu! her step-father will
be charming to her--all men will be charming to her; I predict her that;
she may feel easy about it! Now, will you admit that it is the true cause
of your hesitation?"

"I assure you that it is not, mother," said Clotilde.

"I assure you that it is, my daughter. Well, come; would you like me to
speak to Julia, to try and reason with her? I would prefer giving her a
good whipping; however--!"

"Poor, dear mother," rejoined Clotilde, "must I then tell you everything?"

She came to kneel down in front of the baroness.

"By all means, daughter; tell me everything, but don't make me cry, I beg
of you! Is what you have to tell very sad?"

"Not very gay."

"Mon Dieu! But no matter; go on."

"In the first place, mother, I must confess that I would personally feel
no scruple in marrying again--"

"I should think not! That would be carrying it just a little too far!"

"As to Julia--whom I adore, who loves me sincerely, and who loves you very
much too, whatever you may say--"

"Satisfied of the contrary," said the baroness. "But no matter; proceed."

"As to Julia, I have more confidence than you have in her good sense and
in her good heart; notwithstanding the exalted affection she has preserved
for her father, I am sure that she would understand, that she would
respect my determination, and that she would not love me one whit the
less, especially if her step-father did not happen to be personally
objectionable to her; for you are aware of the extreme violence of her
sympathies and of her antipathies--"

"I am aware of it!" said the baroness, bitterly. "Well, you must give her
a list of your gentlemen friends, the dear little thing, and she will pick
out her own choice for you."

"There is no need of that, good mother," said Clotilde. "The choice has
already been made by the mainly interested party, and I am certain that it
would not be disagreeable to Julia."

"Well, then, my darling, everything is for the best."

"Alas! no. I am going to tell you something that covers me with confusion.
Among all the men we know, the only one who--the only one I like, in fact,
is also the only one who has never been in love with me."

"He must be a savage, then! he cannot but be a savage. But who is he?"

"I have told you, dear mother, the only one of our friends who is not in
love with me--"

"Bah! who is that? Your cousin Pierre?"

"No, but you are not--"

"Monsieur de Lucan!" exclaimed the baroness. "It could not fail to be so!
The very flower of the flock! Mon Dieu, my darling, how very similar our
tastes are, both of us! He is charming, your Lucan, he is charming. Kiss
me, dear--don't look any farther, don't look any farther; he is positively
just the man for us."

"But, mother, since he does not want me!"

"Good! he does not want you now! What nonsense! what do you know about it?
Did you ask him? Besides, it is impossible, my darling; you were made for
each other in all eternity. He is charming, _distingue_, well-bred, rich,
intelligent, everything, in a word--everything."

"Everything, mother, except in love with me."

The baroness exclaiming anew against such a very unlikely thing, Clotilde
exposed to her eyes a series of facts and particulars which left no room
for illusions. The dismayed mother was compelled to resign herself to the
painful conviction that there really was in the world a man of
sufficiently bad taste not to be in love with her daughter, and that this
man unfortunately was Monsieur de Lucan.

She returned slowly to her residence, meditating on the way upon that
strange mystery the explanation of which, however, she was not long to
wait.



CHAPTER II.

TWO FAST FRIENDS.


George-Rene de Lucan was an intimate friend of the Count Pierre de
Moras, Clotilde's cousin. They had been companions in boyhood, in youth,
in travels, and even in battle; for, chance having led them to the United
States at the outbreak of the war of the rebellion, they had deemed it a
favorable opportunity to receive the baptism of fire. Their friendship had
become still more sternly tempered in the midst of these dangers of
warfare sustained fraternally far from their own country. That friendship
had had, moreover, for a long time, a character of rare confidence,
delicacy, and strength. They entertained the highest esteem for each
other, and their mutual confidence was not misplaced. They, however, bore
no resemblance whatever to each other. Pierre de Moras was of tall
stature, blonde as a Scandinavian, handsome and strong as a lion, but as a
good-natured lion. Lucan was dark, slender, elegant and grave. There was
in his cold and gentle accent, in his very bearing, a certain grace
mingled with authority, that was both imposing and charming.

They were not less dissimilar in a moral point of view; the former a jolly
companion, an absolute and settled skeptic, the careless possessor of a
danseuse; the latter always agitated despite his outer calm, romantic,
passionate, tormented with love and theology. Pierre de Moras, on their
return from America, had presented Lucan to his cousin Clotilde, and from
that moment there were at least two points upon which they agreed
perfectly; profound esteem for Clotilde, and deep-seated antipathy for her
husband.

They appreciated, however, each in his own way, Monsieur de Trecoeur's
character and conduct. For the Count Pierre, Trecoeur was simply a
mischievous being; in Monsieur de Lucan's eyes, he was a criminal.

"Why criminal?" Pierre said. "Is it his fault if he was born with the
eternal flames on the marrow of his bones? I admit that I feel quite
disposed to break his head when I see Clotilde's eyes red; but I would
not feel any more angry about it, than if I were crushing a serpent under
my heel. Since it is his nature, the poor man can't help it."

"That little system of yours would simply suppress all merit, all will,
all liberty; in a word, the whole moral world. If we are not the masters
of our own passions, at least to a great extent, and if, on the contrary,
it is our passions that fatally control us; if a man is necessarily good
or bad, honest or a knave, loyal or a traitor, at the mercy of his
instincts, tell me, if you please, why you honor me with your esteem and
your friendship? I have no right to them any more than any one else, any
more than Trecoeur himself."

"I beg your pardon, my friend," said Pierre gravely; "in the vegetable
world I prefer a rose to a thistle; in the moral world, I prefer you to
Trecoeur. You were born a gallant fellow; I rejoice at it, and I make the
best of it."

"Well, _mon cher_, you are laboring under a complete mistake," rejoined
Lucan. "I was born, on the contrary, with the most detestable instincts,
with the germ of all vices."

"Like Socrates?"

"Like Socrates, exactly. And if my father had not chastised me in time, if
my mother had not been a saint, finally, if I had not myself placed, with
the utmost energy, my will at the service of my conscience, I would be
to-day, a faithless and lawless scoundrel."

"But nothing proves that you will not turn out a scoundrel one of these
days, my dear friend. There is no one but may become a scoundrel at the
proper time. Everything depends upon the extent and strength of the
temptation. Whatever may be your instinct of honor and dignity, are you
yourself quite sure never to meet with a temptation sufficiently powerful
to overcome your principles? Can you not conceive, for instance, some
circumstance in which you might love a woman enough to commit a crime?"

"No," said Lucan; "do you?"

"I!--I deserve no credit. I have no passions. It is extremely mortifying,
but I have none. I was born to be an exemplary man. You remember my
childhood; I was a little model. Now I am a big model, that's all the
difference--and it does not cost me any effort whatever. Shall we go and
see Clotilde?"

"Let us go!"

And they went to Clotilde's, very worthy herself of the friendship of
these two excellent fellows.

There they were received with marked consideration, even by Mademoiselle
Julia, who seemed to feel, to a certain degree, the prestige of these
superior natures. Both had, moreover, in their manners and language an
elegant correctness that apparently satisfied the child's delicate taste
and her artistic instincts.

During the early period of her mourning, Julia's disposition had assumed a
somewhat shy and somber cast; when her mother received visitors, she left
the parlor abruptly, and went to lock herself up in her own room, not,
however, without manifesting toward the indiscreet guests a haughty
displeasure. Cousin Pierre and his friend had alone the privilege of a
kindly greeting; she even deigned to leave her apartment and come and join
them at her mother's side when she knew that they were there.

Clotilde had therefore good reasons to believe that her preference for
Monsieur de Lucan would obtain her daughter's approbation; she
unfortunately had better ones still to doubt that Monsieur de Lucan's
disposition corresponded with her own. Not only, indeed, had he always
maintained toward her the terms of the most reserved friendship, but,
since she had been a widow, that reserve had become perceptibly
aggravated. Lucan's visits became fewer and briefer; he even seemed to
take particular care in avoiding all occasions of finding himself alone
with Clotilde, as if he had penetrated her secret feelings, and had
affected to discourage them. Such were the sadly significant symptoms
which Clotilde had communicated in confidence to her mother.

On the very day when the baroness was receiving this unpleasant
information at the residence of her daughter, a conversation was taking
place upon the same subject between the Count de Moras and George de
Lucan, in the latter's apartment. They had taken together, during the
forenoon a ride through the Bois, and Lucan had shown himself even more
silent than usual. At the moment of parting:

"_Apropos_, Pierre," he said, "I am tired of Paris; I am going to travel."

"Going to travel! Where on earth?"

"I am going to Sweden. I have always wished to see Sweden."

"What a singular thing! Will you be gone long?"

"Two or three months."

"When do you expect to leave?"

"To-morrow."

"Alone?"

"Entirely so. I'll see you again at the club, to-night, won't I?"

The strange reserve of this dialogue left upon the mind of Monsieur de
Moras an impression of surprise and uneasiness. He was unable to withstand
the feeling, and two hours later he returned to Lucan's. As he went in,
preparations for traveling greeted his eyes on all sides. Lucan was
engaged writing in his study.

"Now, my dear fellow!" said the count to him, "if I am impertinent, say so
frankly and at once; but this sudden and hurried voyage doesn't look like
anything. Seriously, what is the matter? Are you going to fight a duel
outside the frontier?":

"Bah! In that case I should take you with me; you know that very well."

"A woman, then?"

"Yes," said Lucan dryly.

"Excuse my importunity, and good-by."

"I have wounded your feelings, dear friend?" said Lucan, detaining him.

"Yes," said the count, "I certainly do not pretend to enter into your
secrets; but I do not absolutely understand the tone of restraint, and
almost of hostility, in which you are answering me on the subject of this
journey. It is not, moreover, the first symptoms of that nature that
strike and grieve me; for some time past, I find you visibly embarrassed
in your intercourse with me; it seems as though I were in your way and my
friendship were a burden to you, and the cruel idea has occurred to my
mind that this journey is merely a way of putting an end to it."

"Mon Dieu!" murmured Lucan. "Well, then," he went on with evident
agitation in his voice, "I must tell you the whole truth; I hoped that you
would have guessed it--it is so simple. Your cousin, Clotilde, has now
been a widow for nearly two years; that, I believe, is the term
consecrated by custom to the mourning of a husband. I am aware of your
feelings toward her; you may now marry her, and you will be perfectly
right in doing so. Nothing seems to me more just, more natural, more
worthy of her and of yourself. I beg to assure you that my friendship for
you shall remain faithful and entire, but I trust you will not object to
my keeping away for a short time. That's all."

Monsieur de Moras seemed to have infinite difficulty in comprehending the
meaning of this speech; he remained for several seconds after Lucan had
ceased to speak, with wondering countenance and fixed gaze, as if trying
to find the solution of a riddle; then rising abruptly and grasping both
Lucan's hands:

"Ah! that's kind of you, that is!" he said with grave emotion.

And after another cordial grasp, he added gayly:

"But if you expect to stay in Sweden until I have married Clotilde, you
may begin building and even planting there, for I swear to you that you
shall stay long enough for either purpose."

"Is it possible that you do not love her?" said Lucan in a half whisper.

"I love her very much, on the contrary; I appreciate her, I admire her;
but she is a sister to me, purely a sister. The most delightful thing
about it, _mon cher_, is that it has always been my dream to have you and
Clotilde marry; only you seemed to be so cold, so little attentive, so
rebellious, particularly lately. Mon Dieu! how pale you are, George!"

The final result of this conversation was that Monsieur de Lucan, instead
of starting for Sweden, called a little later to see the Baroness de Pers,
to whom he exposed his aspirations, and who thought herself, as she
listened to him, in the midst of an enchanting dream. She had, however,
beneath her frivolous manners too profound a sentiment of her own dignity
and that of her daughter, to manifest in the presence of Monsieur de Lucan
the joy that overwhelmed her. Whatever desire she might have felt of
clasping immediately upon her heart this ideal son-in-law, she deferred
that satisfaction and contented herself with expressing to him her
personal sympathy. Appreciating, however, Monsieur de Lucan's just
impatience, she advised him to call that very evening upon Madame de
Trecoeur, of whose personal sentiments she was herself ignorant, but who
could not fail to meet his advances with the esteem and the consideration
due to a man of his merit and standing. Being left alone, the baroness
gave way to her feelings in a soliloquy mingled with tears; she, however,
purposely omitted to notify Clotilde, preferring with her maternal taste
to leave her the whole enjoyment of that surprise.

The heart of woman is an organ infinitely more delicate than ours. The
constant exercise which they give it develops within it finer and subtler
faculties than the dry masculine intellect can ever hope to possess; that
accounts for their presentiments, less rare and more certain than ours. It
seems as though their sensibility, always strained and vibrating, might be
warned by mysterious currents of divine instinct, and that it guesses even
before it can understand. Clotilde, when Monsieur de Lucan was announced,
was, as it were, struck by one of these secret electric thrills, and in
spite of all the objections to the contrary that beset her mind, she felt
that she was loved, and that she was on the point of being told so. She
sat down in her great arm-chair, drawing up with both hands the silk of
her dress, with the gesture of a bird that flaps its wings. Lucan's
visible agitation further enlightened and delighted her. In such men,
armed with powerful but sternly restrained passions, accustomed to control
their own feelings, intrepid and calm, agitation is either frightful or
charming.

After informing her--which was entirely useless--that his visit to her was
one of unusual importance:

"Madam," he added, "the request I am about to address you demands, I know,
a well-matured answer. I will therefore beg of you not to give that answer
to-day, the more so that it would indeed be painful to me to hear it from
your own lips if it where not a favorable one."

"Mon Dieu! monsieur!" said Clotilde faintly.

"The baroness, your mother, madam, whom I had the pleasure of seeing
during the day, was kind enough to hold out some encouragement to me--in a
measure--and to permit me to hope that you might entertain some esteem for
me, or at least that you had no prejudice against me. As to myself madam,
I--mon Dieu! I love you, in a word, and I cannot imagine a greater
happiness in the world than that which I would hold at your hands. You
have known me for a long time; I have nothing to tell you concerning
myself. And now, I shall wait."

She detained him with a sign of her hand, and tried to speak; but her eyes
filled with tears. She hid her face in her hands, and she murmured:

"Excuse me! I have been so rarely happy! I don't know what it is!"

Lucan got gently down upon his knees before her, and when their eyes met,
their two hearts suddenly filled like two cups.

"Speak, my friend!" she resumed. "Tell me again that you love me. I was so
far from thinking it! And why is it? And since when?"

He explained to her his mistake, his painful struggle between his love for
her and his friendship for Pierre.

"Poor Pierre!" said Clotilde, "what an excellent fellow. But no, really!"

Then he made her smile by telling her what mortal terror and apprehension
had taken possession of his soul at the moment when he was asking her to
decide upon his fate; she had seemed too him, more than ever, at that
moment, a lovely and sainted creature, and so much above him, that his
pretension of being loved by her, of becoming her husband, had suddenly
appeared to him as a pretension almost sacrilegious.

"Oh, mon Dieu!" she said, "what an opinion have you formed of me, then?
It's frightful! On the contrary, I thought myself too simple, too
commonplace for you; I thought that you must be fond of romantic passions,
of great adventures; you have somewhat the appearance of it, and even the
reputation; and I am so far from being a woman of that kind!"

Upon that slight invitation, he told her two events of his past life which
had been full of trite excitement, and had afforded him nothing but
disappointment and disgust. Never, however, before having met her, had the
thought of marrying occurred to him; in the matter of love as in the
matter of friendship, he had always had the imagination taken up with a
certain ideal, somewhat romantic indeed, and he had feared never to find
it in marriage. He might have looked for it elsewhere, in great
adventures, as she said; but he loved order and dignity in life, and he
had the misfortune of being unable to live at war with his own conscience.
Such had been his agitated youth.

"You ask me," he went on with effusion, "why I love you. I love you
because you alone have succeeded in harmonizing within my heart two
sentiments which had hitherto struggled for its mastery at the cost of
fearful anguish; honor and passion. Never before knowing you had I yielded
to one of these sentiments without being made wretched by the other. They
always seemed, irreconcilable to me. Never had I yielded to passion
without remorse; never had I resisted it without regret. Whether weak or
strong, I have always been unhappy and tortured. You alone made me
understand that I could love at once with all the ardor and all the
dignity of my soul; and I selected you because you are affectionate and
you are sincere; because you are handsome and you are pure; because there
are embodied in you both duty and rapture, love and respect, intoxication
and peace. Such is the woman, such is the angel you are to me, Clotilde."

She listened to him half reclining, drinking in his words and manifesting
in her eyes a sort of celestial surprise.

But it seems--who has not experienced it?--that human happiness cannot
touch certain heights without drawing the lightning upon itself. Clotilde
in the midst of her ecstasy shuddered suddenly and started to her feet.
She had just heard a smothered cry, followed by the dull sound of a
falling body. She ran, opened the door, and in the center of the adjoining
room saw Julia stretched upon the floor.

She supposed that the child at the moment of entering the parlor had
overheard some of their words, and then the thought of seeing her father's
place occupied by another, striking her thus without warning, had stirred
to its very depths that passionate young soul. Clotilde followed her into
her room, where she had her carried, and expressed the wish of remaining
alone with her. While lavishing upon her cares, caresses, and kisses, it
was not without fearful anguish that she awaited her daughter's first
glance. That glance fell upon her at first with vague uncertainty, then
with a sort of wild stupor. The child pushed her away, gently; she was
trying to collect her ideas, and as the expression of her thought grew
firmer in her eyes, her mother could plainly read in them a violent strife
of opposing feelings.

"I beg of you, I beseech you, my darling daughter," murmured Clotilde,
whose tears fell drop by drop upon the pale visage of the child.

Suddenly Julia seized her by the neck, drew her down upon herself, and
kissing her passionately:

"You have hurt me much," she said, "oh! very much more than you can
imagine; but I love you. I love you a great deal; I shall, I must always,
I assure you."

She burst into sobs, and both wept long, closely clasped to each other.

In the meantime Monsieur de Lucan had deemed it advisable to send for the
Baroness de Pers, whom he was entertaining in the parlor. The baroness on
hearing what was going on had manifested more agitation than surprise.

"Mon Dieu!" she exclaimed, "I expected it fully, my dear sir. I did not
tell you anything about it, because we hadn't got so far yet; but I
expected it fully. That child will kill my daughter. She will finish what
her father has so well begun; for it is purely a miracle if my daughter,
after all she has suffered, has been able to recover as far as you see. I
must leave them together. I am not going in there. Oh, mon Dieu! I am not
going in there! In the first place, I would be afraid of annoying my
daughter, and besides, that would be entirely out of my character."

"How old is Mademoiselle Julia?" inquired Lucan, who retained under these
painful circumstances his quiet courtesy.

"Why, she is almost fifteen, and I'm not sorry for it, by the way, for,
_entre nous_, we may reasonably hope to get honestly rid of her within a
year or two. Oh! she will have no trouble in getting married, no trouble
whatever, you may be sure. In the first place she is rich, and then, after
all, she is a pretty monster, there is no gainsaying that, and there is no
lack of men who admire that style."

Clotilde joined them at last. Whatever might have been her inward emotion,
she appeared calm, having nothing theatrical in her ways. She replied
simply, in a low and gentle voice, to her mother's feverish questions; she
remained convinced that this misfortune would not have happened, if she
could have herself informed Julia, with some precautions, of the event
which chance had abruptly revealed to her. Addressing then a sad smile to
Monsieur de Lucan:

"These family difficulties, sir," she said to him, "could not have formed
a part of your anticipations, and I should deem it quite natural were they
to lead to some modification of your plans.":

An expressive anxiety became depicted upon Lucan's features. "If you ask
me to restore to you your freedom," he said, "I cannot but comply; if it
is your delicacy alone that has spoken, I beg to assure you that you are
still dearer to me since I have seen you suffer on my account, and suffer
with so much dignity."

She held out her hand, which he seized, bowing low at the same time.

"I shall love your daughter so much," he said, "that she will forgive me."

"Yes, I hope so," said Clotilde; "nevertheless, she wishes to enter a
convent for a few months, and I have consented."

Her voice trembled and her eyes became moist.

"Excuse me, sir," she added; "I have no right as yet to make you
participate to such an extent in my sorrows. May I beg of you to leave me
alone with my mother?"

Lucan murmured a few words of respect, and withdrew. It was quite true, as
he had said, that Clotilde was dearer to him than ever. Nothing had
inspired him with such a lofty idea of the moral worth of that woman as
her attitude during that trying evening. Stricken in the midst of her
flight of happiness, she had fallen without a cry, without a groan,
striving to hide her wound; she had manifested in his presence that
exquisite modesty in suffering so rare among her sex. He was the more
grateful to her for it, that he was deeply averse to those pathetic and
turbulent demonstrations which most women never fail to eagerly exhibit on
every occasion, when they are indeed kind enough not to bring them about.



CHAPTER III.

JULIA'S CHAMPION.


Monsieur de Lucan had been Clotilde's husband for several months when the
rumor spread among society that Mademoiselle de Trecoeur, formerly known
as such an incarnate little devil, was about taking the vail in the
convent of the Faubourg Saint Germain, to which she had withdrawn before
her mother's marriage. That rumor was well founded. Julia had endured at
first with some difficulty the discipline and the observances to which the
simple boarders of the establishment were themselves bound to submit; then
she had been gradually taken with a pious fervor, the excesses of which
they had been compelled to moderate. She had begged her mother not to put
an obstacle to the irresistible inclination which she felt for a religious
life, and Clotilde had with difficulty obtained permission that she should
adjourn her resolution until the accomplishment of her sixteenth year.

Madame de Lucan's relations with her daughter since her marriage had been
of a singular character. She came almost daily to visit her, and always
received the liveliest manifestations of affection at her hands; but on
two points, and those the most sensitive, the young girl had remained
inflexible; she had never consented either to return to the maternal roof,
nor to see her mother's husband.

She had even remained for a long time without making the slightest
allusion to Clotilde's altered situation, which she affected to ignore.
One day, at last, feeling the intolerable torture of such a reserve, she
made up her mind, and fixing her flashing eyes upon her mother:

"Well, are you happy at last?" she said.

"How can I be," said Clotilde, "since you hate the man I love?"

"I hate no one," replied Julia, dryly. "How is your husband?"

From that moment she inquired regularly after Monsieur de Lucan in a tone
of polite indifference; but she never uttered without hesitation and
evident discomfort the name of the man who had taken her father's place.

In the meantime she had reached her sixteenth year. Her mother's promise
had been formal. Julia was henceforth free to follow her vocation, and she
was preparing for it with an impatient ardor that edified the good ladies
of the convent. Madame de Lucan expressing, one morning, in the presence
of her mother and her husband the anxiety that oppressed her heart during
these last days of respite:

"As to me, my daughter," said the baroness, "I must confess that I am
urging with all my wishes and prayers the moment which you seem to dread.
The life you have been leading since your marriage has nothing human about
it; but what forms its principal torment, is the constant struggle which
you have to sustain against that child's obstinacy. Well, when she has
become a nun, there will no longer be any struggle; the situation will be
clearer; and note that you will not be in reality any more separated than
you are now, since the house is not a cloister; I would just as lief it
were, myself; but it is not. And then, why oppose a vocation which I
really look upon as providential? In the interest of the child herself,
you should congratulate yourself upon the resolution she has taken; I
appeal to your husband to say if that is not so. Come, let me ask you, my
dear sir, what could be expected of such an organization, if she were once
let loose upon the world? Why! she would be a dangerous character for
society! You know what a head she has! a volcano! And pray observe, my
friend, that at this present moment she is a perfect odalisk. You have not
seen her for some time; you cannot imagine how she has developed. I, who
enjoy the treat of seeing her twice a week, can positively assure you that
she is a perfect odalisk, and besides, divinely dressed. In fact, she is
so well made! you might throw a window-curtain over her with a pitch-fork,
and she would look as if she were just coming out of Worth's! There, ask
Pierre what he thinks about it, he who has the honor of being admitted to
her good graces!"

Monsieur de Moras, who was coming in at that very moment, shared, indeed,
with a very limited number of friends of the family, the privilege of
accompanying Clotilde occasionally on her visits to Julia's convent.

"Well, my good Pierre," resumed the baroness, "we were speaking of Julia,
and I was telling my son-in-law that it was really quite fortunate that
she was willing to become a saint, because otherwise she would certainly
set Paris on fire!"

"Because?" asked the count.

"Because she is beautiful as Sin!"

"Undoubtedly she is quite good-looking," said the count somewhat coldly.

The baroness having gone out on some errands with Clotilde, Monsieur de
Moras remained alone with Lucan.

"It really seems to me," he said to the latter, "that our poor Julia is
being very harshly treated."

"In what way?"

"Her grandmother speaks of her as of a perverse creature! And what fault
do they find with her after all? Her worship of her father's memory! It is
excessive, I grant; but filial piety, even when exaggerated, is not a
vice, that I know of. Her sentiments are exalted; what does it matter if
they are generous? Is that a reason why she should be devoted to the
infernal divinities and thrust out of the way to be forgotten?"

"But you are very strange, my friend, I assure you," said Lucan. "What is
the matter with you? whom do you mean to blame? You are certainly aware
that Julia proposes taking the vail wholly of her own accord; that her
mother is distressed about it, and that she has spared no effort to
dissuade her from that step. As to myself, I have no reason whatever to be
fond of her; she has caused and is still causing me much grief; but you
know well enough that I have ever been ready to greet her as my daughter,
if she had deigned to return to us."

"Oh! I accuse neither her mother nor yourself, of course; it is the
baroness who irritates me; she is unnatural! Julia is her grandchild after
all, and she rejoices--she positively rejoices--at the prospect of seeing
her a nun!"

"_Ma foi_, I declare to you that I am not far from rejoicing too. The
situation is too painful for Clotilde; it must be brought to an end; and
as I see no other possible solution--"

"But I beg your pardon; there might be another."

"And which?"

"She might marry."

"How likely! and marry--whom, pray?"

The count approached nearer to Lucan, looked him straight in the face, and
smiling with some embarrassment:

"Me!" he said.

"Repeat that!" said Lucan.

"_Mon cher_," rejoined the count, "you see that I am as red as a peony;
spare me. I have wished for a long time to broach that delicate question
to you, but my courage has failed me; since I have found it, at last,
don't deprive me of it."

"My dear friend," said Lucan, "allow me to recover a little first, for I
am falling from the clouds. What! you are in love with Julia?"

"To an extraordinary degree, my friend."

"No! there is something under that; you have discovered this means of
drawing us together, and you wish to sacrifice yourself for the peace of
the family."

"I swear to you that I am not thinking in the least of the peace of the
family; I am thinking wholly of my own, which is very much disturbed, for
I love that child with an energy of feeling that I never knew before. If I
don't marry her, I shall never console myself for the rest of my life."

"To that extent?" said Lucan, dumfounded.

"It is a terrible thing, _mon cher_," rejoined Monsieur de Moras. "I am
absolutely in love; when she looks at me, when I touch her hand, when her
dress rustles against me, I feel, as it were, a philter running through my
veins. I had heard of emotions of that kind, but I had never felt them. I
must confess that they delight me; but at the same time they distress me,
for I cannot conceal the fact to myself that there are a thousand chances
against one that my passion will not be reciprocated, and it really seems
as though my heart should wear mourning for it as long as it shall beat."

"What an adventure!" said Lucan, who had recovered all his gravity. "That
is a very serious matter; very annoying."

He walked a few steps about the parlor, absorbed in thoughts that seemed
of a rather somber character.

"Is Julia aware of your sentiments?" he said, suddenly.

"Most certainly not; I would not have taken the liberty of informing her
of them without first speaking to you. Will you be kind enough to act as
my ambassador to her mother?"

"Why, yes, with pleasure," said Lucan, with a shade of hesitation that did
not escape his friend.

"You think that is useless, don't you?" said the count with a forced
smile.

"Useless--why so?"

"In the first place, it is very late."

"It is somewhat late, no doubt. Things have gone very far; but I have
never had much confidence in the stability of Julia's ideas of her
vocation. Besides, in these restless imaginations, the sincerest
resolutions of to-day become readily the dislikes of the morrow."

"But you doubt that--that I should succeed in pleasing her?"

"Why should you not please her? You are more than good-looking. You are
thirty-two years old; she is sixteen. You are a little richer than she is.
All that does very well."

"Well, then, why do you hesitate to serve me?"

"I do not hesitate to serve you; only I see you very much in love; you are
not accustomed to it, and I fear that a condition of things so novel for
you might be urging you somewhat hastily to such a grave determination as
marriage. A wife is not a mistress. In short, before taking an irrevocable
step I would beg of you to think well and further over it."

"My good friend," said the count, "I do not wish, and I believe quite
sincerely that I cannot, do so. You know my ideas. Genuine passions always
have the best of it, and I am not quite sure that honor itself is a very
effective argument against them. As to setting up reason against them, it
is worse than folly. Besides, come, Lucan, what is there so unreasonable
in the simple fact of marrying a person I love? I don't see that it is
absolutely necessary for a man not to love his wife--Well! can I rely upon
you?"

"Completely so," said Lucan, taking his hand. "I raised my objections; now
I am wholly at your service. I shall speak to Clotilde in a moment. She is
going to see her daughter this afternoon. Come and dine with us to-night;
but summon up all your courage, for, after all, success is very
uncertain."

Monsieur de Lucan found it no difficult task to gain the cause of Monsieur
de Moras with Clotilde. After hearing him, not, however, without
interrupting him more than once with exclamations of surprise:

"Mon Dieu!" she replied, "that would be an ideal! Not only would that
marriage put an end to projects that break my heart, but it offers all the
conditions of happiness that I can possibly think of for my daughter; and
furthermore, the friendship that binds you to Pierre would naturally, some
day, bring about a _rapprochement_ between his wife and yourself. All that
would be too fortunate; but how could we hope for such a complete and
sudden revolution in Julia's ideas? She will not even allow me to deliver
my message to the end."

She left, palpitating with anxiety. She found Julia alone in her room,
trying on before a mirror her novice's dress; the vail that was to conceal
her luxuriant hair was laid upon the bed; she was simply dressed in a
long, white woolen tunic, whose folds she was engaged in adjusting.

She blushed when she saw her mother come in; then with an insipient laugh:

"Cymodocea in the circus, isn't it, mother?"

Clotilde made no answer; she had joined her hands in a supplicating
attitude, and wept as she looked at her. Julia was moved by that mute
sorrow; two tears rolled from her eyes, and she threw her arms around her
mother's neck; then, taking a seat by her side:

"What can I do?" she said; "I, too, feel some regret at heart, for, after
all, I was fond of life; but aside from my vocation, which I believe quite
real, I am yielding to a positive necessity. There is no other existence
possible for me but that one. I know very well--it's my own fault; I have
been somewhat foolish--I should not have left you in the first place, or
at least, I should have returned to your house immediately after your
marriage. Now, after months, and even years, is it possible, I ask you? In
the first place, I would die with shame. Can you imagine me in the
presence of your husband? What sort of countenance could I put on? And
then, he must fairly detest me, the bent must be firmly taken in his mind.
Finally, I should be in all respects terribly in your way!"

"But, my dear child, no one hates you; you would be received with
transports of joy, like the prodigal child. If you deem it too painful to
return to my home--if you fear to find or to bring trouble there with
you--God knows how mistaken you are on this point! but still, if you do
fear it, is that a reason why you should bury yourself alive and break my
heart? Could you not return into the world without returning to my own
house, and without having to face all those difficulties that frighten
you? There would be a very simple way of doing that, you know!"

"What is it?" said Julia quietly; "to marry?"

"Undoubtedly," said Clotilde, shaking her head gently and lowering her
voice.

"But, mon Dieu! mother, what possible chance is there of such a thing?
Suppose I were willing--and I am far from it--I know no one, no one knows
me."

"There is some one," rejoined Clotilde, with increasing timidity; "some
one whom you know perfectly well, and who--who adores you."

Julia opened her eyes wide with a pensive and surprised expression, and
after a brief pause of reflection:

"Pierre?" she said.

"Yes," murmured Clotilde, pale with anxiety.

Julia's eyebrows became slightly contracted; she raised her head and
remained for a few seconds with her eyes fixed upon the ceiling; then,
with a slight shrug of her shoulders:

"Why not?" she said gravely. "I would as soon have him as any one else!"

Clotilde uttered a feeble cry, and grasping both her daughter's hands:

"You consent?" she said; "you really consent? And may I take your answer
to him?"

"Yes, but you had better change the text of it," said Julia, laughing.

"Oh! my darling, darling dear!" exclaimed Clotilde, covering Julia's hands
with kisses; "but repeat again that it is all true--that by to-morrow you
will not have changed your mind."

"I will not change my mind," said Julia, firmly, in her grave and musical
voice.

She meditated for a moment and then resumed:

"Really, he loves me, that big fellow!"

"Like a madman."

"Poor man! And he is waiting for an answer?"

"With the utmost anxiety."

"Well, go and quiet his fears. We will take up the subject again
to-morrow. I require to put a little order in my thoughts after all this
confusion and excitement, you understand; but you may rest easy. I have
decided."

When Madame de Lucan returned home, Pierre de Moras was waiting for her in
the parlor. He turned very pale when he saw her.

"Pierre!" she said, all panting still, "come and kiss me, you are my son!
Respectfully, if you please, respectfully!" she added laughingly as he
lifted her up and clasped her to his heart.

A little later, he had the gratification of treating in the same manner
the Baroness de Pers, who had been sent for in haste.

"My dear friend," said the baroness, "I am delighted, really delighted,
but you are choking me--yes, yes, it is all for the best, my dear
fellow--but you are literally choking me, I tell you! Reserve yourself, my
friend, reserve yourself!--The dear child! that's quite nice of her, quite
nice! In point of fact, she has a heart of gold! And then she has good
taste, too, for you are very handsome yourself, very handsome, _mon cher_,
very handsome! To be perfectly candid, I always had an idea that, at the
moment of cutting off her hair, she would think the matter over. And she
has such beautiful hair, the poor child!"

And the baroness melted into tears; then addressing the count in the midst
of her sobs:

"You'll not be very unhappy either, by the way; she is a goddess!"

Monsieur de Lucan, though deeply moved by this family tableau, and above
all, by Clotilde's joy, took more coolly that unexpected event. Besides
that he did not generally show himself very demonstrative in public, he
was sad and anxious at heart. The future prospects of this marriage seemed
extremely uncertain to him, and in his profound friendship for the count
he felt alarmed. He had not ventured, through a sentiment of delicate
reserve toward Julia, upon telling him all he thought of her character and
disposition. He strove to banish from his mind as partial and unjust the
opinion he had formed of her; but still he could not help remembering the
terrible child he had known once, at times wild as a hurricane, at others
pensive and wrapped in gloomy reserve; he tried to imagine her such as she
had been described to him since; tall, handsome, ascetic; then he fancied
her suddenly casting her vail to the winds, like one of the fantastic nuns
in "Robert le Diable," and returning swift-footed into the world; of all
these various impressions he composed, in spite of himself, a figure of
Chimera and Sphinx, which he found very difficult to connect with the idea
of domestic happiness.

They discussed in the family circle, during the whole evening, the
complications which might arise from that marriage project, and the means
of avoiding them. Monsieur de Lucan entered into all these details with
the utmost good grace, and declared that he would lend himself heartily,
for his own part, to all the arrangements which his daughter-in-law might
wish. That precaution was not destined to be useless.

Early the next morning, Clotilde returned to the convent. Julia, after
listening with slightly ironical nonchalance to the account which her
mother gave her of the transports and the joy of her intended, assumed a
more serious air.

"And your husband," she said, "what does he think of it?"

"He is delighted, as we all are."

"I am going to ask you a single question: does he expect to be present at
our wedding?"

"That will be just as you like."

"Listen, good little mother, and don't grieve in advance. I know very well
that sooner or later, this marriage must be the means of bringing us all
together; but let me have a little time to become accustomed to the idea.
Grant me a few months so that the old Julia may be forgotten, and I may
forget her myself--you will; say, won't you?"

"Anything you please," said Clotilde, with a sigh.

"I beg of you. Tell him that I beg of him, too."

"I'll tell him; but do you know that Pierre is here?"

"Ah! _mon Dieu!_ and where did you leave him?"

"I left him in the garden."

"In the garden! how imprudent, mother! why, the ladies are going to tear
him to pieces--like Orpheus, for you may well believe that he is not in
the odor of sanctity here."

Monsieur de Moras was sent for at once, and he came up in all haste. Julia
began laughing as he appeared at the door, which facilitated his entree.
She had several times, during their interview, fits of that nervous
laughter which is so useful to women in trying circumstances. Deprived of
that resource, Monsieur de Moras contented himself with kissing the
beautiful hands of his cousin, and was otherwise generally wanting in
eloquence; but his handsome and manly features were resplendent, and his
large blue eyes were moist with gratified affection. He appeared to leave
a favorable impression.

"I had never considered him in that light," said Julia to her mother; "he
is very handsome--he will make a splendid-looking husband."

The marriage took place three months later, privately and without any
display. The Count de Moras and his youthful bride left for Italy the same
evening.

Monsieur de Lucan had left Paris two or three weeks before, and had taken
up his quarters in an old family residence at the very extremity of
Normandy, where Clotilde hastened to join him immediately after Julia's
departure.



CHAPTER IV.

A GREWSOME ABODE.


Vastville, the patrimonial domain of the Lucan family, is situated a short
distance from the sea, on the west coast of the Norman Finisterre. It is a
manor with high roof and wrought-iron balconies, which dates from the time
of Louis XIII., and which has taken the place of the old castle, a few
ruins of which still serve to ornament the park. It is concealed in a
thickly shaded depression of the soil, and a long avenue of antique elms
precedes it. The aspect of it is singularly retired and melancholy, owing
to the dense woods that surround it on all sides. This wooded thicket
marks, on this point of the peninsula, the last effort of the vigorous
vegetation of Normandy. As soon as its edge has been crossed, the view
extends suddenly and without obstacle over the vast moors which form the
triangular plateau of the Cape La Hague; fields of furze and heather,
stone fences without cement, here and there a cross of granite, on the
right and on the left the distant undulations of the ocean--such is the
severe but grand landscape that is suddenly unfolded to the eyes beneath
the unobstructed light of the heavens.

Monsieur de Lucan was born in Vastville. The poetic reminiscences of
childhood mingled in his imagination with the natural poetry of that site,
and made it dear to him. Under pretext of hunting, he came on a pilgrimage
to it every year. Since his marriage only, he had given up that habit of
the heart, in order not to leave Clotilde, who was detained in Paris by
her daughter; but it had been agreed upon that they would go and bury
themselves in that retreat for a season as soon as they had recovered
their liberty. Clotilde only knew Vastville from her husband's
enthusiastic descriptions; she loved it on his representations, and it was
for her, in advance, an enchanted spot. Nevertheless, when the carriage
that brought her from the station entered, at nightfall, among the wooded
hills, in the gloomy avenue that led up to the chateau, she felt an
impression as of cold.

"Mon Dieu! my dear," she said, laughingly, "your chateau is a perfect
castle of Udolpho!"

Lucan excused his chateau as best he could, and protested, moreover, that
he was ready to leave it the very next day, if she were not better pleased
with its appearance after sunrise.

It was not long before she became passionately fond of it. Her happiness,
hitherto so constrained, blossomed freely for the first time in that
solitude, and shed upon it a charming light. She even expressed the wish
of spending the winter and waiting there for Julia, who was to return to
France in the course of the following year. Lucan offered some slight
opposition to that project, which appeared to him rather over-heroic for a
Parisian, but ended by adopting it, too happy himself to harbor the
romance of his love in that romantic spot. He began, however, taxing his
ingenuity to attenuate what there might be too austere in that abode, by
opening relations with some of the neighbors for Clotilde's benefit, and
by procuring her, at intervals, her mother's society. Madame de Pers was
kind enough to lend herself to that combination, although the country was
generally repulsive to her, and Vastville in particular had in her eyes a
sinister character. She pretended that she heard at night noises in the
walls and moans in the woods. She slept with one eye open and two candles
burning. The magnificent cliffs that bordered the coast a short distance
off, and which they tried to make her admire, caused her a painful
sensation.

"Very fine!" she said, "very wild! quite wild! But it makes me sick; I
feel as though I were on top of the towers of Notre Dame! Besides, my
children, love beautifies everything, and I understand your transports
perfectly. As to myself, you must excuse me if I do not share them. I can
never go into ecstasies over such a country as this. I am as fond of the
country as any one, but this is not the country--it is the desert, Arabia
Petroea, I know not what. And as to your chateau, my dear friend--I am
sorry to tell you so: it has a savor of crime. Look well, and you'll see
that a murder has been committed in it."

"Why, no, my dear madam," replied Lucan laughingly, "I know perfectly the
history of my family, and I can guarantee you--"

"Rest assured, my friend, that some one has been killed in it--in old
times. You know how little they troubled themselves about those things
formerly!"

Julia's letters to her mother were frequent. It was a regular journal of
travels written helter-skelter, with a striking originality of style, in
which the vivacity of the impressions was corrected by that shade of
haughty irony which was a peculiarity of the writer. Julia spoke rather
briefly of her husband, but always in pleasant terms. There was generally
a rapid and kindly postscript addressed to Monsieur de Lucan.

Monsieur de Moras was more chary of descriptions. He seemed to see no one
but his wife in Italy. He extolled her beauty, still further enhanced, he
said, by the contact of all those marvels of art with which she was
becoming impregnated; he praised her extraordinary taste, her
intelligence, and even her good disposition. In this latter respect, she
was extremely matured, and he found her almost too staid and too grave for
her age. These particulars delighted Clotilde, and finished instilling
into her heart a peace she had never yet enjoyed.

The count's letters were not less reassuring for the future than the
present. He did not think it necessary, he said, to urge Julia on the
subject of her reconciliation with her step-father; but he felt that she
was quite ready for it. He was, besides, preparing her more and more for
it by conversing habitually with her of the old friendship that united him
to Monsieur de Lucan, of their past life, of their travels, of the perils
they had braved together. Not only did Julia hear these narratives without
revolt, but she often solicited them, as if she had regretted her
prejudices, and had sought good reasons to forget them.

"Come, Pylades, speak to me of Orestes!" she would say.

After having spent the whole winter season and part of the spring in
Italy, Monsieur and Madame de Moras visited Switzerland, announcing their
intention of sojourning there until the middle of summer. The thought
occurred to Monsieur and Madame de Lucan to go and join them there, and
thus abruptly bring about a reconciliation that seemed henceforth to be
but a mere matter of form. Clotilde was preparing to submit that project
to her daughter when she received, one beautiful May morning, the
following letter dated from Paris:

"BELOVED MOTHER:--'No more Switzerland!' too much Switzerland! Here I am;
don't disturb yourself. I know how much you are enjoying yourself at
Vastville. We'll go and join you there one of these fine mornings, and
we'll all come home together in the autumn. I only ask of you a few days
to look after our future establishment here.

"We are at the Grand Hotel. I did not choose to stop at your house, for
all sorts of reasons, nor at my grandmother's, who, however, insisted very
kindly upon our doing so:

"'Oh! mon Dieu! my dear children--that must not be--in a hotel! why, that
is not proper. You cannot remain in a hotel! come and stay with me. mon
Dieu! you'll be very uncomfortable. You'll be camping out, as it were. I
don't even know how I'll manage to give you anything to eat, for my cook
is sick abed, and that stupid coachman of mine, by the way, has a stye on
his eye! But why not let people know you were coming? You fall upon me
like two flower-pots from a window! It's incredible! You are in good
health, my friend? I need not ask you. It shows plainly enough. And you,
my beautiful pet? Why! it is the sun; the sun itself. Hide yourself--you
are dazzling my eyes! Have you any luggage? Well, we'll just put it in the
parlor; it can't be helped. And as to yourselves, I'll give you my own
room. I'll engage a housekeeper and hire a driver from some livery stable.
You'll not be in my way at all, not at all, not at all!'

"In short, we did not accept.

"But the explanation of this sudden return! Here it is:

"'Are you not tired of Switzerland, my dear?' I asked of my husband.

"'I am tired of Switzerland,' replied that faithful echo.

"'Suppose we go away, then?'

"And away we went.

"Glad and moved to the bottom of my soul at the thought of soon kissing
you,

JULIA.

"P.S.--I beg Monsieur de Lucan not to intimidate me."

The days that followed were delightfully busy for Clotilde. She herself
unpacked the parcels that constantly kept coming, and put the contents
away with her own maternal hands. She unfolded and folded again, she
caressed those skirts, those waists of fine and perfumed linen, which were
already to her like a part of her daughter's person. Lucan, a little
jealous, surprised her meditating lovingly over these pretty things. She
went to the stables to see Julia's horse, which had followed soon after
the boxes; she gave him lumps of sugar and chatted with him. She filled
with flowers and verdant foliage the apartments set apart for the young
couple.

This fever of happiness soon came to its happy termination. About a week
after her arrival in Paris, Julia wrote to her mother that they expected,
her husband and herself, to leave that evening, and that they would be in
Cherbourg the next morning. Clotilde prepared, of course, to go and meet
them with her carriage. Monsieur de Lucan, after duly conferring with her
on the subject, thought best not to accompany her. He feared that he might
interfere with the first emotions of the return, and yet, not wishing that
Julia should attribute his absence to a lack of attention, he resolved to
go and meet the travelers on horseback.



CHAPTER V.

FATHER AND STEP-DAUGHTER.


It was on one of the first days of June. Clotilde had left early in the
morning, fresh and radiant as the dawn. Two hours later, Lucan mounted his
horse and started at a walk. The roads are lovely in Normandy at this
season. The hawthorn hedges perfume the country, and sprinkle here and
there the edges of the road with their rosy snow. A profusion of fresh
verdure, dotted with wild flowers, covers the face of the ditches. All
that, under the gay morning sun, is a feast for the eyes. M. de Lucan,
however, greatly contrary to his custom, bestowed but very slight
attention upon the spectacle of that smiling nature. He was preoccupied,
to a degree that surprised himself, with his coming meeting with his
step-daughter. Julia had been such a besetting thought in his mind that he
had retained of her an exaggerated impression. He strove in vain to
restore her to her natural proportions, which were, after all, only those
of a child, formerly a naughty child, now a prodigal child. He had become
accustomed to invest her, in his imagination, with a mysterious importance
and a sort of fatal power, of which he found it difficult to strip her. He
laughed and felt irritated at his own weakness; but he experienced an
agitation mingled with curiosity and vague uneasiness, at the moment of
beholding face to face that sphinx whose shadow had so long disturbed his
life, and who now came in person to sit at his fireside.

An open barouche, decked with parasols, appeared at the summit of a hill;
Lucan saw a head leaning and a handkerchief waving outside the carriage;
he urged at once his horse to a gallop. Almost at the same instant the
carriage stopped, and a young woman jumped lightly upon the road; she
turned around to address a few words to her traveling-companions, and
advanced alone toward Lucan. Not wishing to be outdone in politeness, he
alighted also, handed his horse to the groom who followed him, and started
with cheerful alacrity in the direction of the young woman, whom he did
not recognize, but who was evidently Julia. She was coming toward him
without haste, with a sliding walk, rocking gently her flexible figure. As
she drew near, she threw off her vail with a rapid motion of her hand, and
Lucan was enabled to find again upon that youthful face, in those large
and slightly clouded eyes, and the pure and stretching arch of the
eyebrows, some features of the child he had known.

When Julia's glance met that of Lucan, her pale complexion became suffused
with a purple blush.

He bowed very low to her, and with a smile full of affectionate grace:

"Welcome!" he said.

"Thank you, sir," said Julia, in a voice whose grave and melodious suavity
struck Lucan; "friends, are we not?" And she held out both her hands to
him with charming resolution.

He drew her gently to himself to kiss her; but thinking that he felt a
slight resistance in the suddenly stiffening arms of his step-daughter, he
contented himself with kissing her wrist just above her glove. Then
affecting to look at her with a polite admiration, which, however, was
perfectly sincere:

"I really feel," he said, laughingly, "like asking you to whom I have the
honor of speaking."

"You find me grown?" she said, showing her dazzling teeth.

"Surprisingly so," said Lucan; "most surprisingly. I understand Pierre
perfectly now."

"Poor Pierre!" said Julia; "he is so fond of you. Don't let us keep him
waiting any longer, if you please."

They started in the direction of the carriage, in front of which Monsieur
de Moras was awaiting them, and while walking side by side:

"What a lovely country!" resumed Julia. "And the sea quite near?"

"Quite near."

"We'll take a ride on horseback after breakfast, will we not?"

"Quite willingly; but you must be horribly fatigued, my dear child. Excuse
me! my dear--? By the way, how do you wish me to call you?"

"Call me madam. I was such a bad child!"

And she broke forth into a roll of that sudden, graceful, but somewhat
equivocal laughter that was habitual with her. Then raising her voice:

"You may come, Pierre; your friend is my friend now!"

She left the two men shaking hands cordially, and exchanging the usual
greetings, jumped into the carriage, and resuming her seat at her mother's
side:

"Mother," she said, kissing her at the same time, "the meeting came off
very well--didn't it, Monsieur de Lucan?"

"Very well, indeed," said Lucan, laughingly, "except some minor details."

"Oh! you are too hard to please, sir!" said Julia, drawing her wrappings
around her.

The next moment Monsieur de Lucan was cantering by the carriage door,
while the three travelers inside were indulging in one of those expansive
talks that usually follow the happy solution of a dreaded crisis.
Clotilde, henceforth in the full possession of all her affections, was
fairly soaring in the ethereal blue.

"You are too handsome, mother," said Julia. "With such a big girl as I am,
it is a positive crime!"

And she kissed her again.

Lucan, while participating in the conversation and doing to Julia the
honors of the landscape, was trying to sum up within himself his
impressions of the ceremony which had just taken place. Upon the whole he
thought, as did his step-daughter, that it had come off very well,
although it was not quite perfection. Perfection would have been to find
in Julia a plain and unaffected woman, who would have simply thrown
herself in her step-father's arms and laughed with him at her spoilt
child's escapade; but he had never expected Julia's manners to be quite as
frank and open as that. She had done in the present circumstances all that
could be expected of a nature like hers; she had shown herself graciously
friendly; she had, it is true, imparted to this first interview a certain
solemn and dramatic turn. She was romantic, and as Lucan was tolerably so
himself, this whim of hers had not proved unpleasant to him.

He had been, moreover, agreeably surprised at the beauty of Madame de
Moras, which was indeed striking. The severe regularity of her features,
the deep luster of her blue eyes fringed with long black lashes, the
exquisite harmony of her form were not her only, nor indeed her principal
attractions; she owed her rare and personal charm to a sort of strange
grace mingled with flexibility and strength, that lent enchantment to her
every motion. She had in the play of her countenance, in her step, in her
gestures, the sovereign ease of a woman who does not feel a single weak
point in her beauty, and who moves, grows, and blossoms with all the
freedom of a child in his cradle or a fallow deer in the forest. Made as
she was, she had no difficulty in dressing well; the simplest costumes
fitted her person with an elegant precision that caused the Baroness de
Pers to say in her inaccurate though expressive language:

"A pair of kid gloves would be enough to dress her with."

During that same day and those that followed, Julia conquered new titles
to Monsieur de Lucan's good graces, by manifesting a strong liking for the
chateau of Vastville and the surrounding sites. The chateau pleased her
for its romantic style, its old-fashioned garden ornamented with yews and
evergreens, the lonely avenues of the park, and its melancholy woods
scattered with ruins. She went into ecstasies at the sight of the vast
heather plains lashed by the ocean winds, the trees with twisted and
convulsive tops, the tall granite cliffs worn by the everlasting waves.

"All that," she said, laughingly, "has a great deal of character;" and as
she had a great deal of it herself, she felt in her element. She had found
the home of her dreams, she was happy.

Her mother, to whom she paid up in passionate effusions all arrearages of
tenderness, was still more so.

The greater part of the day was spent riding about on horseback. After
dinner, Julia, with that joyous and somewhat feverish spirit that animated
her, related her travels, parodying in a good-natured manner her own
enthusiasm and her husband's relative indifference in presence of the
masterpieces of antique art. She illustrated these recollections with
scenes of mimicry in which she displayed the skill of a fairy, the
imagination of an artist, and sometimes the broad humor of a low comedian.
In a turn of the hand, with a flower, a bit of silk, a sheet of paper, she
composed a Neapolitan, Roman, or Sicilian head-dress. She performed scenes
from ballets or operas, pushing back the train of her dress with a tragic
sweep of her foot, and accentuating strongly the commonplace exclamations
of Italian lyricism:

"Oh, Ciel! Crudel! Perfido! Oh, dio! Perdona!"

Or else, kneeling on an arm-chair, she imitated the voice and manner of a
preacher she had heard in Rome, and who did not seem to have sufficiently
edified her.

Through all these various performances she never lost a particle of her
grace, and her most comical attitudes retained a certain elegance.

After all these frolics she would resume her expression of a listless
queen. Beneath the charm of the life and prestige of this brilliant
nature, Monsieur de Lucan readily forgave Julia the caprices and
peculiarities of which she was lavishly prodigal, especially toward her
step-father. She showed herself generally with him what she had been at
the start; friendly and polite, with a shade of haughty irony; but she had
strong inequalities of temper. Lucan surprised sometimes her gaze riveted
upon him with a painful and almost fierce expression. One day she repelled
with sullen rudeness the hand he offered to assist her in alighting from
her horse or in climbing over a fence. She seemed to avoid every occasion
of finding herself alone with him, and when she could not escape a
tete-a-tete of a few moments, she manifested either restless irritation or
mocking impertinence. Lucan fancied she reproached herself sometimes with
belying too much her former sentiments, and that she thought she owed it
to herself to give them from time to time a token of fidelity. He was
grateful to her, however, for reserving for himself alone these equivocal
manifestations, and for not troubling her mother with them. Upon the whole
he attached but a slight importance to these symptoms. If there still was
in the affectionate manifestations of his step-daughter something of a
struggle and an effort, it was on the part of that haughty nature an
excusable feature, a last resistance, which he flattered himself soon to
remove by multiplying his delicate attentions toward her.

Some two weeks after Julia's arrival, there was a ball given by the
Marchioness de Boisfresnay, in her chateau of Boisfresnay, which is
situated two or three miles from Vastville. Monsieur and Madame de Lucan
were on pleasant visiting-terms with the marchioness. They went to that
ball with Julia and her husband, the gentlemen in the coupe, the ladies,
on account of their dresses, occupying the carriage alone. Toward
midnight, Clotilde took her husband aside, and pointing to her daughter,
who was waltzing in the adjoining parlor with a naval officer:

"Hush! my dear," she said; "I have a frightful headache, and Pierre is
fairly bored to death; but we have not the courage to take Julia away so
early. Do you wish to make yourself very agreeable? You'll bring her home,
and we will start now, Pierre and myself; we'll leave you the carriage."

"Very well, dear," said Lucan, "run off, then."

Clotilde and Monsieur de Moras slipped away at once.

A moment later Julia, cleaving her way scornfully through the throng that
parted before her as before an angel of light, raised her superb brow and
made a sign to Lucan.

"I don't see mother," she said.

Lucan informed her in a few words of the arrangement which had just been
settled upon. A sudden flash darted across Julia's eyes; her brows became
contracted; she shrugged her shoulders slightly without replying, and
returned into the ball-room, waltzing through the crowd with the same
tranquil insolence. She betook herself again to the arm of a naval
officer, and seemed to enjoy whirling in all her splendor. And indeed her
ball-dress added a strange luster to her beauty. Her shoulders and throat,
emerging from her dress with a sort of chaste indifference, retained even
in the animation of the dance the cold and lustrous purity of marble.

Lucan asked her to waltz with him; she hesitated, but having consulted her
memory, she discovered that she had not yet exhausted the list of naval
officers who had swooped down in squadrons upon that rich prey. At the end
of an hour she got tired of being admired and called for the carriage. As
she was draping herself in her wrappings in the vestibule, her step-father
volunteered his services.

"No! I beg of you," she said, impatiently; "men don't know--don't know at
all!"

Then she threw herself in the carriage with a wearied look. However, as
the horses were starting:

"Smoke, sir," she said with a better grace.

Lucan thanked her for the permission, but without availing himself of it;
then, while making all his little arrangements of neighborly comfort:

"You were remarkably handsome to-night, my dear child!" he said.

"Monsieur," said Julia, in a nonchalant but affirmative tone, "I forbid
you to think me handsome, and I forbid you to call me 'my dear child!'"

"As you please," said Lucan. "Well, then, you are not handsome, you are
not dear to me, and you are not a child."

"As for being a child, no!" she said, energetically.

She wound her vail around her head, crossed her arms over her bosom, and
settled herself in her corner, where a stray moonbeam came occasionally to
play over her whiteness.

"May I sleep?" she asked.

"Why, most certainly! Shall I close the window?"

"If you please. My flowers will not incommode you?"

"Not in the least."

After a pause:

"Monsieur de Lucan?" resumed Julia.

"Dear madam?"

"Do explain to me in what consist the usages of society; for there are
things which I do not understand. Is it admissible--is it proper to allow
a woman of my age and a gentleman of yours to return from a ball,
tete-a-tete, at two o'clock in the morning?"

"But," said Lucan, not without a certain gravity, "I am not a gentleman; I
am your mother's husband."

"Ah! that is true; of course, you are my mother's husband!" she said,
emphasizing these words in a ringing voice, which caused Lucan to fear
some explosion.

But, appearing to overcome a violent emotion, she went on in an almost
cheerful tone:

"Yes, you are my mother's husband; and what is more, you are, according to
my notion, a very bad husband for my mother."

"According to your notion!" said Lucan, quietly. "And why so?"

"Because you are not at all suited to her."

"Have you consulted your mother on that subject, my dear madam? It seems
to me that she must be a better judge of it than yourself."

"I need not consult her. It is enough to see you both together. My mother
is an angelic creature, whereas you;--no!"

"What am I, then?"

"A romantic, restless man--the very reverse, in fact. Sooner or later,
you'll betray her."

"Never!" said Lucan, somewhat sternly.

"Are you quite sure of that, sir?" said Julia, riveting her gaze upon him
from the depths of her hood.

"Dear madam," replied Monsieur de Lucan, "you were asking me, a moment
since, to explain to you what was proper and what was improper; well, it
is improper that we should take, you your mother, and I my wife, as the
text for a jest of that kind, and consequently, it is proper that we
should drop the subject."

She hushed, remained motionless and closed her eyes. In the course of a
minute or two, Lucan saw a tear fall down her long eyelashes and roll over
her cheek.

"Mon Dieu! my child," he said, "I have wounded your feelings! Allow me to
tender you my sincere apologies."

"Keep your apologies to yourself!" she said, in a hoarse voice, opening
her eyes wide at the same time. "I have no need of your apologies any
more than of your lessons! Your lessons! What have I done to deserve such
a humiliation? I cannot understand. What is there more innocent than my
words, and what do you expect me to tell you? Is it my fault if I am here
alone with you! if I am compelled to speak to you?--if I know not what to
say? Why am I exposed to such things? Why ask me more than I can do? It
is presuming too much on my strength! It is enough--it is a thousand
times too much already--to be compelled to act such a comedy as I am
compelled to act every day. God knows I am tired of it!"

Lucan found it difficult to overcome the painful surprise that had seized
him.

"Julia," he said at last, "you were kind enough to tell me that we were
friends; I believed you. Is it not true, then?"

"No!"

After launching that word with somber energy, she wrapped up her head
and face in her hood and vail, and remained during the rest of the way
plunged into a silence which Monsieur de Lucan did not attempt to disturb.



CHAPTER VI.

A DISILLUSION.


After a few hours of painful sleep, Monsieur de Lucan rose the next day,
his brain laden with cares.

The resumption of hostilities, which had been clearly signified to him
foreboded surely fresh troubles for his peace and fresh anguish for
Clotilde's happiness. Was he, then, about returning to those odious
agitations which had so long harassed his existence, and this time without
any hopes of escape? How, indeed, was it possible not to despair of that
untamable nature which age and reason, which so much attention and
affection had left unmoved in her prejudices and her hatred? How was it
possible to understand, and, above all, ever to overcome the quixotic
sentiment, or rather the mania which had taken possession of that
concentrated soul, and which was smoldering in it, ever ready to break
forth in furious outbursts?

Clotilde and Julia had not yet made their appearance. Lucan went to take
a walk in the garden, to breathe once more the peace of his beloved
solitude, pending the anticipated storms. At the extremity of an alley of
evergreens, he discovered the Count de Moras, his arm resting on the
pedestal of an old statue, and his eyes fixed on the ground.

Monsieur de Moras had never been a dreamer, but since his arrival at the
chateau, he had, on more than one occasion, manifested to Lucan a
melancholy state of mind quite foreign to his natural disposition. Lucan
had felt alarmed; nevertheless, as he did not himself like any one to
intrude upon his confidence, he had abstained from questioning him.

They shook hands as they met.

"You came home late last night?" inquired the count.

"At about three o'clock."

"Oh! _povero! Apropos_, thanks for your kindness to Julia. How did she
behave to you?"

"Why--well enough," said Lucan--"a little peculiar, as usual."

"Oh! peculiar of course!"

He smiled rather sadly, took Monsieur de Lucan's arm, and leading him
through the meandering paths of the garden:

"_Voyons, mon cher_," he said in a suppressed voice, "between you and me,
what is Julia?"

"How, my friend?"

"Yes, what sort of a woman is my wife? If you know, do tell me, I beg of
you."

"Excuse me, but it is the very question I would like to ask of you
myself."

"Of me?" said the count. "But I have not the slightest idea. She is a
Sphinx, a riddle, the solution of which escapes me completely. She both
charms and frightens me. She is peculiar, you said? She is more than that;
she is fantastic. She is not of this world. I know not whom or what I have
married. You remember that cold and beautiful creature in the Arabian
tales who rose at night to go and feast in the graveyard. It's absurd, but
she reminds me of that."

The count's troubled look, the constrained laugh with which he accompanied
his words, moved Lucan deeply.

"So, then," said the latter, "you are unhappy?"

"It is impossible to be more so," replied the count, pressing his hand
hard. "I adore her, and I am jealous--without knowing of whom and of what!
She does not love me--and yet she loves some one--she must love some one!
How can I doubt it? Look at her; she is the very embodiment of passion;
the fire of passion overflows in her words, in her looks, in the blood of
her veins! And near me, she is as cold as the statue upon a tomb!"

"Frankly, _mon cher_," said Lucan, "you seem to exaggerate your disasters
greatly. In reality they seem to amount to very little. In the first
place, you are seriously in love for the first time in your life, I think;
you had heard a great deal said about love, about passion, and perhaps you
were expecting of them excessive wonders. In the second place, I must beg
you to observe that very young women are rarely very passionate. The sort
of coolness of which you complain is therefore quite easy to explain
without the intervention of anything supernatural. Young women, I repeat,
are generally idealists; their love has no substance. You ask of whom or
of what you should be jealous? Be jealous, then, of all those vague and
romantic aspirations that torment youthful imaginations; be jealous of the
wind, of the tempest, of the barren moors, of the rugged cliffs, of my old
manor, of my words and of my ruins--for Julia adores all that. Be jealous,
above all, of that ardent worship she has avowed to her father's memory,
and which still absorbs her--I have lately had a proof of the fact--the
keenest of her passion."

"You do me good," rejoined Pierre de Moras, breathing more freely, "and
yet I had already thought of all these things. But if she does not love
now, she will some day--and suppose it should not be me! Were she to
bestow upon another all that she refuses me! my friend," added the count,
whose handsome features turned pale, "I would kill her with my own hand!"

"So much for being in love," said Lucan; "and I, am I nothing more to you,
then?"

"You, my friend," said Moras with emotion, "you see my confidence in you!
I have revealed to you weaknesses of which I am ashamed. Ah! why have I
ever known any other feeling than that of friendship! Friendship alone
returns as much as it receives; it fortifies instead of enervating; it is
the only passion worthy of a man. Never forsake me, my friend; you will
console me, whatever may happen."

The bell that was ringing for breakfast called them back to the chateau.
Julia pretended being tired and ailing. Under shelter of this pretext, her
silent humor, her more than dry answers to Lucan's polite questions,
passed at first without awakening either her mother's or her husband's
attention; but during the remainder of the day, and amid the various
incidents of family life, Julia's aggressive tone and disagreeable manners
toward Lucan became too strongly marked not to be noticed. However, as
Lucan had the patience and good taste not to seem to notice them, each one
kept his own impressions to himself. The dinner was, that day, more quiet
than usual. The conversation fell, toward the end of the meal, upon
extremely delicate ground, and it was Julia who brought it there, though,
however, without the least thought of evil. She was exhausting her mocking
_verve_ upon a little boy of eight or ten--the son of the Marchioness de
Boisfresnay--who had annoyed her extremely the night before, by parading
through the ball his own pretentious little person, and by throwing
himself pleasantly like a top between the legs of the gentlemen and
through the dresses of the ladies. The marchioness went into ecstasies at
these charming pranks. Clotilde defended her mildly, alleging that this
child was her only son.

"That is no reason for bestowing upon society one scoundrel the more,"
said Lucan.

"However," rejoined Julia, who hastened to be no longer of her own opinion
as soon as her step-father seemed to have rallied to it, "it is a well
acknowledged fact that spoiled children are those who turn out the best."

"There are at least some exceptions," said Lucan, coldly.

"I know of none," said Julia.

"Mon Dieu!" said the Count de Moras in a tone of conciliation, "right or
wrong, it is quite the fashion, nowadays, to spoil children."

"It is a criminal fashion," said Lucan. "Formerly their parents whipped
them, and thus made men of them."

"When a man has such a disposition as that," said Julia, "he does not
deserve to have any children--and he has none!" she added with a direct
look that further aggravated the unkind and even cruel intention of her
words.

Monsieur de Lucan turned very pale. Clotilde's eyes filled with tears.
Julia, embarrassed at her triumph, left the room. Her mother, after
remaining for a few moments, her face covered with her hands, rose from
the table and went to join her.

"Now, _mon cher_," said Monsieur de Moras as soon as he found himself
alone with Lucan, "what the mischief took place between you two last
night? You did tell me something about it this morning, but I was so much
absorbed in my own selfish preoccupations, that I paid no attention to it.
But tell me, what did take place between you?"

"Nothing serious. Only I was able to satisfy myself that she had not yet
forgiven my occupying a place which, according to her ideas, should never
have been filled."

"What would you advise me to do, George?" rejoined Monsieur de Moras. "I
am ready to do whatever you say.

"My dear friend," said Lucan, laying gently his hands upon Pierre's
shoulders, "don't be offended, but life in common, under such conditions,
becomes a very difficult matter. It is best not to wait until some
irreparable scene. In Paris we will be able to see each other without
difficulty. I advise you to take her away."

"Suppose she is not willing."

"I should speak firmly," said Lucan, looking him straight in the eyes; "I
have some work to do this evening; it happens well and will give you a
good opportunity. In the meantime, _au revoir_."

Monsieur de Lucan locked himself up in his library. An hour later,
Clotilde came to join him.

He could see that she had wept a great deal; but she held out her forehead
to him with her sweetest smile. While he was kissing her, she murmured
simply and in a whisper:

"Forgive her for my sake!"

And the charming creature withdrew in haste to hide her emotions.

The next morning, Monsieur de Lucan, who, as usual, had risen quite early,
had been writing for some time near the library window, which opened at
quite a moderate height on the garden. He was not a little surprised to
see his step-daughter's face appear among the honeysuckle vines that crept
over the iron trellis of the balcony:

"Monsieur," she said in her most melodious tone, "are you very busy?"

"Oh, not at all!" he replied, rising at the same time.

"It's because, you see, the weather is perfectly delightful," she said.
"Will you come and take a walk with me?"

"Of course I will."

"Well, come then. Good Heavens! how sweet this honeysuckle does smell!"

And she snatched off a few flowers, which she threw to Lucan through the
window, with a burst of laughter. He fastened them in his button-hole,
making the gesture of a man who understands nothing of what is going on,
but who has no reason to be angry.

He found her in fresh morning costume, stamping upon the sand with her
light and impatient foot.

"Monsieur de Lucan," she cries, gayly, "my mother wishes me to be amiable
with you, my husband wishes it, Heaven wills it, too, I suppose; that's
why I am willing also, and I assure you that I can be very amiable when I
try. You'll see!"

"Is it possible?" said Lucan.

"You'll see, sir!" she replied, dropping him with all possible grace, a
regular stage curtsey.

"And where are we going, pray, madam?"

"Wherever you like--through the woods, at random, if you please."

The wooded hills came so close to the chateau, that they bordered with a
fringe of shade one side of the yard. Monsieur de Lucan and Julia took the
first path that came in their way; but it was not long before Julia left
the beaten road-way, to walk at hazard from tree to tree, wandering at
random, beating the thickets with her cane, picking flowers or leaves,
stopping in ecstasy before the luminous bands that striped here and there
the mossy carpets, frankly intoxicated with movement, open air, sunshine,
and youth. While walking, she cast to her companion words of pleasant
fellowship, playful interpellation, childish jests, and caused the woods
to ring again with the melody of her laughter.

In her admiration for the wild flowers, she had gradually collected a
regular bundle, of which Monsieur de Lucan accepted the burden with
cheerful resignation. Noticing that he was almost bending under the
weight, she sat down upon the gnarled roots of an old oak, in order, she
said, to make a selection among all this pell-mell. She then took upon her
lap the bundles of grass and flowers, and began throwing out everything
that appeared to her of inferior quality. She handed over to Lucan, seated
a step or two from her, whatever she thought fit to retain for the final
bouquet, justifying gravely her decision upon each plant that she
examined:

"You, my dear, you are too thin! you're pretty, but too short! you, you
smell bad! you, you look stupid."

Then, turning abruptly into another train of thought, which was not at
first without causing some uneasiness to Monsieur de Lucan:

"It was you, wasn't it, who advised Pierre to speak to me with firmness?"

"I?" said Lucan, "what an idea!"

"It must have been you. You," she went on again, speaking to her flowers,
"you look sickly, good-night! Yes, it must have been you. One might think
you quite meek, to look at you, whereas, on the contrary, you are very
harsh, very tyrannical."

"Ferocious!" said Lucan.

"At any rate, I have no fault to find with you for that. You were right;
poor Pierre is too weak with me. I like a man to be a man. And yet he is
very brave, is he not?"

"Extremely so," said Lucan; "he is capable of the most energetic actions."

"He looks like it, and yet with me--he is an angel."

"It is because he loves you."

"Quite probable!--some of those flowers are so curious. Look at this one;
it looks like a little lady!"

"I hope that you love him too, my good Pierre?"

"Quite probable, too!"

After a pause, she shook her head:

"And why should I love him?"

"What a question!" said Lucan. "Why, because he is perfectly worthy of
being loved; because he has every quality; intelligence, heart, and even
beauty--finally, because you have married him."

"Monsieur de Lucan, will you allow me to tell you something
confidentially?"

"I beg you to do so."

"That trip to Italy has been very injurious to me."

"In what way?"

"Before my marriage, I did not think myself positively ugly, but I fancied
myself at least quite plain."

"Yes! Well?"

"Well! while traveling about Italy, among all those souvenirs and those
marbles, so much admired, I made strange reflections. I said to myself
that, after all, these princesses and goddesses of the ancient world, who
drove shepherds and kings mad, for whose sake wars broke out and
sacrileges were committed, were persons pretty much after my own style.
Then occurred to me the fatal idea of my own beauty! I felt that I
disposed of an exceptional power; that I was a sacred object that could
not be given away for a vulgar trifle, and which could only be the
reward--how can I say?--of a great deed or of a crime!"

Lucan remained for a moment astonished at the audacious naivete of that
language. He thought best, however, to laugh at it.

"But, my dear Julia," he said, "take care; you mistake the age. We are no
longer in the days when nations went to war for the sake of a woman's
pretty eyes. However, speak about it to Pierre; he has everything required
to furnish the great action you want. As to the crime, I think you had
better give it up."

"Do you think so?" said Julia. "What a pity!" she added, bursting out into
a hearty laugh. "You see, I tell you all the nonsense that comes in my
head. That's amiable enough, I hope, is it not?"

"It is certainly extremely amiable," said Lucan. "Keep on."

"With such precious encouragement, sir!" she said, rising and finishing
her sentence with a courtesy; "but for the present, let us go to
breakfast. I recommend my bouquet to your attention. Hold the head down.
Walk ahead, sir, and by the shortest road, if you please, for I have an
appetite that is bringing tears to my eyes."

Lucan took the path that led most directly to the chateau. She followed
him with nimble step, at times humming a cavatina, at others addressing
him fresh instructions as to the manner of holding her bouquet, or
touching him lightly with the end of her cane, to make him admire some
birds perched upon a branch.

Clotilde and Monsieur de Moras were waiting for them, seated upon a bench
outside the gate of the chateau. The anxiety depicted upon their
countenances vanished at the sound of Julia's laughing voice.

As soon as she saw them, she snatched the bouquet from Lucan's hands, ran
toward Clotilde, and throwing on her lap her fragrant harvest:

"Mother," she said, "we have had a delightful walk--I had a great deal of
fun; Monsieur de Lucan also, and what's more, he has improved very much by
my conversation, I opened up new horizons to him!"

She described with her hand a great curve in the air, to indicate the
immensity of the horizons she had opened up to Monsieur de Lucan. Then,
drawing her mother toward the dining-room, and snuffing the air with
apparent relish:

"Oh! that kitchen of my mother's!" she said. "What an aroma!"

This charming humor, which was a source of great rejoicing to all the
guests of the chateau, never flagged during that entire day, and, most
unexpected of all, it continued during the next and the following days
without perceptible change. If Julia did still nurture any remnants of her
moody cares, she had at least the kindness of keeping them to herself, and
to suffer alone. More than once, still, she was seen returning from her
solitary excursions with gloomy eye and clouded brow; but she shook off
these equivocal dispositions as soon as she found herself again in the
family circle, and was all amiability.

Toward Monsieur de Lucan particularly she showed herself most agreeable;
feeling, probably, that she had many amends to make in that direction. She
went so far as to take up a great deal of his time without much
discretion, and to call him a little too often in requisition for walks or
rides, for tapestry drawings, for playing duets with her, sometimes for
nothing, simply to disturb him, standing in front of his windows, and
asking him, in the midst of his reading, all sorts of burlesque questions.
All this was charming; Monsieur de Lucan lent himself to it with the
utmost good nature, and did not surely deserve great credit for doing so.

About this time, the Baroness de Pers came to spend three days with her
daughter. She was at once advised, with full particulars, of the
miraculous change that had taken place in Julia's character, and of her
behavior toward her step-father. On witnessing the gracious attentions
which she lavished upon Monsieur de Lucan, Madame de Pers manifested the
liveliest satisfaction, in the midst of which, however, could be seen at
times some slight traces of her former prejudices against her
grand-daughter.

The day before the expected departure of the baroness, some of the
neighbors were invited to dinner for her gratification, for she had but
very little taste for the intimacy of family life, and was passionately
fond of strangers. For want of time to do any better, they gave her for
company, the cure of Vastville, the local physician, the receiver of
taxes, and recorder of deeds, all of whom were tolerably frequent guests
at the chateau, and great admirers of Julia. It was doubtless not a great
deal; it was enough, however, to furnish to the baroness an occasion for
wearing one of her handsome dinner-dresses.

Julia, during the dinner, seemed to make it a point to effect the conquest
of the cure, a simple old man, who yielded to his fair neighbor's
fascinations with a sort of joyous stupor. She made him eat, she made him
drink, she made him laugh.

"What a little serpent she is, isn't she, Monsieur le Cure?" said the
baroness.

"She is very lovely," said the cure.

"Enough to make one shudder," rejoined the baroness.

In the evening, after waltzing for a little while around the room, Julia,
accompanied by her husband, sang in her beautiful, grave voice, some
unpublished melodies and national songs she had brought back from Italy.
One of these tunes having reminded her of a sort of tarentella she had
seen danced by some women at Procida, she requested her husband to play
it. She was explaining at the same time, with much animation, how this
tarentella was danced, giving a rapid outline of the steps, the gestures
and the attitudes; then, suddenly carried away by the ardor of her
narrative:

"Wait a moment, Pierre," she said, "I am going to dance it. That will be
much more simple."

She lifted the long train of her dress, which impeded her movements, and
requested her mother to loop it up with pins. In the meantime she was
right busy herself; there were on the mantel-piece, and on the consoles,
vases filled with flowers and verdure; she drew freely from them with her
nimble fingers, and, standing before a mirror, she fastened and twined
pell-mell, in her magnificent hair, flowers, leaves, bunches, ears,
anything that happened to fall under her hands. With her head loaded with
that heavy and quivering wreath, she came to place herself in the center
of the parlor.

"Go on now, dear!" she said to Monsieur de Moras. He played the
tarentella, that began with a sort of slow and measured ballet-step, which
Julia performed in her own masterly style, folding and unfolding in turn,
like two garlands, her peri's arms; then the rhythm becoming more and more
animated, she struck the floor with her rapid and repeated steps, with the
wild suppleness and the wanton smile of a young bacchante. Suddenly she
brought the performance to a close with a long slide that carried her, all
panting, before Monsieur de Lucan, seated opposite to her. There, she bent
one knee, lay with rapid gesture both her hands upon her hair, and tossing
about at the same time her inclined head, she shook off her crown in a
shower of flowers at the feet of Lucan, saying in her sweetest voice, and
in a tone of gracious homage:

"There! sir!"

After which, she rose, and, still sliding, made her way to an arm-chair,
into which she threw herself, and taking up the cure's three-cornered hat,
she began to fan herself vigorously with it.

In the midst of the applause and the laughter that filled the parlor, the
Baroness de Pers drew gently nearer to Lucan on the sofa which they were
jointly occupying, and said to him in a whisper:

"Tell me, my dear sir, what in the world is the meaning of this new
system? Do you know that I still preferred the old style myself?"

"How, dear madam? And why so?" said Lucan simply.

But before the baroness had time to explain, admitting that such was her
intention, Julia was taken with another fancy.

"Really," she said, "I am smothering here. Monsieur de Lucan, do offer me
your arm."

She went out, and Lucan followed her. She stopped in the vestibule to
cover her head with her great white vail, seemed to hesitate between the
door that led into the garden and that which led into the yard, and then
deciding:

"To the Ladies' Walk," she said; "it's coolest there."

"The Ladies' Walk," which was Julia's favorite strolling resort, opened
opposite the avenue, on the other side of the court-yard. It was a gently
sloping path contrived between the rocky base of the wooded hill and the
banks of a ravine that seemed to have been one of the moats of the old
castle. A brook flowed at the bottom of this ravine with a melancholy
murmur; it became merged, a little farther off, into a small lake shaded
by willows, and guarded by two old marble nymphs, to which the Ladies'
Walk was indebted for its name, consecrated by the local tradition.
Half-way between the yard and the pond, fragments of wall and broken
arches, the evident remnants of some outer fortification, rose against the
hill-side; for the space of a few paces, these ruins bordered the path
with their heavy buttresses, and projected into it, together with festoons
of ivy and briar, a mass of shade which night changed into densest
darkness. It looked then as if the passage was broken by an abyss. The
gloomy character of this site was not, however, without some mitigating
features; the path was strewn with fine, dry sand; rustic benches stood
against the bluff; finally, the grassy banks that sloped down into the
ravine were dotted with hyacinths, violets, and dwarf roses whose perfume
rose and lingered in that shaded alley like the odor of incense in a
church.

It was then about the end of July, and the heat had been overpowering
during the day. After leaving the atmosphere of the court-yard, still
aglow with the fires of the setting sun, Julia breathed eagerly the cool
air of the woods and of the brook.

"Dieu! how delightful this is!" she said.

"But I am afraid this may be a little too delightful," said Lucan; "allow
me."

And he wound up in a double fold round her neck the floating ends of her
vail.

"What! do you value my life, then?" she said.

"Most undoubtedly."

"That's magnanimous!"

She walked a few steps in silence, resting lightly upon the arm of her
companion, and rocking, in her peculiar way, her graceful figure.

"Your good cure must take me for a species of demon," she added.

"He is not the only one," said Lucan, with ironical coldness.

She laughed a short and constrained laugh; then, after another pause, and
while continuing to walk with downcast eyes:

"You must certainly hate me a little less now; say, don't you?"

"A little less."

"Be serious, will you? I know that I have made you suffer a great deal.
Are you beginning to forgive me now?"

Her voice had assumed an accent of tenderness quite unusual to it, and
which touched Monsieur de Lucan.

"I forgive you with all my heart, my child," he replied.

She stopped, and grasping his two hands:

"True? We will not hate each other any more?" she said, in a low and
apparently timid tone. "You love me a little?"

"Thank you," said Lucan, with grave emotion; "thank you; I love you very
much."

As she was drawing him gently toward her he clasped her in a frank and
affectionate embrace, and pressed his lips upon the forehead she was
holding up to him; but at the same instant he felt her supple figure
stiffen; her head rolled back; then she sank bodily, and slipped in his
arms like a flower whose stem has suddenly been mowed down.

There was a bench within two steps; he carried her there, but after laying
her upon it, instead of affording her the required assistance, he remained
in an attitude of strange immobility before that lovely and helpless form.
A long silence followed, broken only by the gentle and monotonous ripple
of the brook. Shaking off his stupor at last, Monsieur de Lucan called out
several times in a loud and almost harsh voice:

"Julia! Julia!"

As she remained motionless still, he ran down into the ravine, took some
water in the hollow of his hand, and bathed her temples with it. In the
course of a minute or two, he saw her eyes opening in the darkness, and he
helped her raise her head.

"What is it?" she said, looking at him with a wild expression; "what has
happened, sir?"

"Why, you fainted," said Lucan, laughing.

"Fainted?" repeated Julia.

"Of course; that's just what I feared; you must have been benumbed by the
cold. Can you walk? Come, try."

"Perfectly well," she said, rising and taking his arm.

Like all those who experience sudden prostration, Julia remembered, but in
a very indistinct manner, the circumstance that had brought about her
fainting.

In the meantime they had resumed their walk slowly in the direction of the
chateau.

"Fainted!" she repeated, gayly; "mon Dieu! how perfectly ridiculous!"

Then, with sudden animation:

"But what did I say? Did I speak at all?"

"You said, 'I am cold!' and away you went!"

"Just like that?"

"Just like that."

"Did you think I was dead?"

"I did hope for a moment that you were," said Lucan, coldly.

"How horrid of you! But we were talking before that. What were we saying?"

"We were making a pact of amity and friendship."

"Well! it doesn't look much like it now, Monsieur de Lucan!"

"Madam?"

"You seem positively angry with me because I fainted."

"Of course I am. In the first place, I don't like that sort of adventures,
and then, it is wholly your own fault; you are so imprudent, so
unreasonable!"

"Oh! mon Dieu! Don't you want a switch?"

And as the lights of the chateau were coming into sight:

"_Apropos_, don't trouble mother with any of that nonsense, will you?"

"Certainly not; you may rest easy on that score."

"You are just as cross as you can be, you know?"

"Probably I am; but I have just spent there a few minutes so very
painful."

"I pity you with all my heart," said Julia, dryly.

She threw off her vail in the vestibule, and returned to the parlor.

The Baroness de Pers, who was to leave early the next day, had already
retired. Julia performed some four-handed pieces on the piano with her
mother. Monsieur de Lucan took the place of the "dummy" at the whist
table, and the evening ended quietly.



CHAPTER VII.

VICTORY AND DEFEAT.


The next morning, Clotilde was preparing to accompany her mother to the
station in the carriage; Monsieur de Lucan, detained at the chateau by a
business appointment, was present to take leave of his mother-in-law. He
remarked the thoughtful countenance of the baroness; she was silent, much
against her habit, and she cast embarrassed looks upon him; she approached
him several times with a constrained smile and confidential manner, but
confined herself to addressing to him a few commonplace words. Availing
herself at last of a moment when Clotilde was giving some orders, she
leaned out of the carriage-window, and, pressing significantly Monsieur de
Lucan's hand:

"Be true and faithful to her, sir!" she said.

The carriage started almost immediately, but not before he had had time to
notice that her eyes were filled with tears.

The matter that was engrossing Monsieur de Lucan's attention at the time,
and on the subject of which he had had a long conversation that very
morning with his lawyer and his advocate, who had come over from Caen
during the night, was an old family law-suit which the mayor of Vastville,
an ambitious personage and restless busy-body, had taken pride in bringing
to light again. The question at issue was a claim for some public property
the effect of which would have been to strip Monsieur de Lucan of a
portion of his timbered lands and to curtail materially his patrimonial
estate. He had gained his suit in the lower court, but an appeal was soon
to be heard, and he was not without fears as to the final result. He had
no difficulty in using that pretext, to account during the next few days,
to the eyes of the inhabitants of the chateau, for a severity of
physiognomy, a briefness of language, and a fondness for solitude, which
concealed perhaps graver cares. That pretext, however, soon failed him. A
telegram informed him, early the following week, that the suit had been
finally decided in his favor, and he was compelled to manifest on this
occasion an apparent joy that was far indeed from his heart.

He resumed from that moment the usual routine of family life to which
Julia continued to impart the movement of her active imagination. However,
he ceased to lend himself with the same affectionate familiarity to the
caprices of his step-daughter. She noticed it; but she was not the only
one who did. Lucan detected surprise in the eyes of Monsieur de Moras,
reproaches in those of Clotilde. A new danger appeared before him; he was
acting in a manner which it was equally impossible, equally perilous to
explain or to allow being interpreted.

With time, however, the frightful light that had flashed across his brain
in a recent circumstance was growing gradually fainter; it had ceased to
fill his mind with the same convincing force. He conceived doubts; he
accused himself at times on a veritable aberration; he charged the
baroness with cruel and guilty prejudices; he thought, in a word, that, at
all events, the wisest course was to avoid believing in the drama, and
giving it life by taking a serious part in it. Unfortunately Julia's
disposition, full of surprises and unforeseen whims, scarcely admitted of
any regular plan of conduct toward her.

One beautiful afternoon, the guests of the chateau accompanied by a few of
the neighbors, had gone on a horseback excursion to the extremity of Cape
La Hague. On the return home, and when they had come about half-way,
Julia, who had been remarkably quiet all day, left the principal group of
riders, and, casting aside to Monsieur de Lucan an expressive glance, she
urged her horse slightly forward. He overtook her almost immediately. She
cast upon him again an oblique glance, and abruptly, with her bitterest
and most incisive accent:

"Is my presence dangerous to you, sir?"

"How, dangerous?" he said, laughingly. "I do not understand you, my dear
madam."

"Why do you avoid me? What have I done to you? What means this new and
disagreeable manner which you affect toward me? It is really a very
strange thing that you should become less polite to me, as I am more so to
you. They persecute one for years to induce me to show you a pleasant
countenance, and when I try my best to do so, you pout. What does it mean?
What has got into your head? I should be infinitely curious to know."

"It is quite simple, and I am going to enlighten you in two words. It has
got into my head that after being not very amiable to me, you are now
almost too much so. I am sincerely touched and charmed at it; but I really
fear, sometimes, to turn too much to my own profit attentions to which I
am far from having the sole right. You know how fond I am of your husband.
There can be no question of jealousy in this case, of course; but a man's
love is proud and prompt to take umbrage. Without stooping to low and
otherwise impossible sentiments, Pierre, seeing himself somewhat
neglected, might feel offended and afflicted, at which we would both be
greatly grieved, would we not?"

"I do not know how to do anything half-way," she said with a gesture of
impatience. "How can I change my nature? It is with my own heart, and not
with that of another, that I love and that I hate; and then, why should it
not enter into my plans to excite Pierre's jealousy? My old traditional
hatred for you has perhaps made this deep calculation; he would kill
either you or me, and that would be as good a denouement as any other."

"You must allow me to prefer another," said Lucan, still trying, but
without much success, to give a cheerful turn to this wildly passionate
conversation.

"However," she went on, "you may rest easy, my dear sir. Pierre is not
jealous. He suspects nothing, as they say in plays!"

She laughed one of her wicked laughs, and added at once in a graver tone:

"And what could he suspect? In being amiable toward you, I am merely
acting under order, and no one can tell how much of it is genuine and how
much put on."

"I feel quite certain that you don't know yourself," he said, laughingly.
"You are a person of naturally restless disposition; you require
agitation, and when there is none you try to imitate it as best as you
can. Whether you like, or whether you don't like your step-father, is not
a very dramatic affair. There is no room here for any but very simple and
very ordinary sentiments. It is well enough to complicate them a
little--is it not, my dear?"

"Yes, my dear!" she said, emphasizing ironically the last word.

Whereupon she started her horse at a gallop.

They were then just reaching the edge of the woods. He soon saw her leave
the direct road that led across them, and take a path over the heath as if
intending to dash through the thickest of the timber. At the same instant
Clotilde ran up to him, and touching his shoulder with the tip of her
whip:

"Where in the world is Julia going?" she said.

Lucan replied with a vague gesture and a smile.

"I am sure," rejoined Clotilde, "that she is going to drink at that
fountain, yonder. She was complaining a little while since of being
thirsty. Do follow her, dear, will you, and prevent her doing so. She is
so warm! It might be fatal to her. Run, I beg of you."

Monsieur de Lucan gave the reins to his horse, and he started like the
wind. Julia had already disappeared under cover of the woods. He followed
her track; but among the timber, the roots and the roughness of the ground
somewhat checked his speed. At a short distance, in the center of a narrow
clearing, the labor of ages and the filtrations of the soil had hollowed
out one of those mysterious fountains whose limpid water, moss-grown
banks, and aspect of deep solitude delight the imagination, and give rise
to so many poetic legends. When Monsieur de Lucan was able once more to
see Julia, she had alighted from her horse. The admirably trained animal
stood quietly two or three steps away, browsing the young foliage, while
his mistress, down on her knees and stooping over the edge of the spring,
was drinking from her hands.

"Julia, I beg of you!" exclaimed Monsieur de Lucan in an imploring tone.

She started to her feet with a sort of elastic spring, and greeted him
gayly.

"Too late, sir!" she said; "but I only drank a few drops, just a few
little wee drops, I assure you!"

"You must really be out of your mind!" said Lucan who was by this time
quite close to her.

"Do you think so?"

She was shaking her beautiful white hands, which had served her for a
drinking-cup, and which seemed to throw off a shower of diamonds.

"Give me your handkerchief!"

Lucan handed her his handkerchief. She wiped her hands gravely; then, as
she returned the handkerchief with her right hand, she raised herself on
tiptoe and held her left hand up to the level of his face:

"There! now; don't scold any more!"

Lucan kissed the hand.

"The other now," she said again. "Please don't turn so pale, sir!"

Monsieur Lucan affected not to have heard these last words, and came down
abruptly from his horse.

"I must help you to mount," he said, in a dry and harsh voice.

She was putting on her gloves with downcast look. Suddenly raising her
head and looking at him with fixed gaze:

"What a miserable wretch I am, am I not?" she said.

"No," said Lucan; "but what an unhappy being!"

She leaned against one of the trees that shaded the spring, her head
partially thrown back and one hand over her eyes.

"Come!" said Lucan.

She obeyed, and he assisted her to get on her horse. They rode out of the
wood without uttering another word, made their way to the road, and soon
overtook the cavalcade.

As soon as he had recovered from the anguish of that scene, Monsieur de
Lucan did not hesitate to think that the departure of Julia and of her
husband must be the immediate and inevitable consequence of it; but when
he came to seek some means of bringing about their sudden departure, his
mind became lost in difficulties that he could not solve. What motive
could he indeed offer to justify, in the eyes of Clotilde and of Monsieur
de Moras, a determination so novel and so unexpected? It was now the
middle of August, and it had been agreed for a long time that the entire
family should return to Paris on the first of September. The very
proximity of the time fixed upon for the general departure would only
serve to make the pretext invoked to explain this sudden separation appear
more unlikely. It was almost impossible that it should not awaken in the
mind of Clotilde, and in that of the count, irreparable suspicions and a
light fatal to the happiness of both. The remedy seemed indeed more to be
dreaded than the evil itself; for, if the evil was great, it was at least
unknown to those whose lives and whose hearts it would have shattered, and
it could still be hoped that it might remain so forever. Monsieur de Lucan
thought for a moment of going away himself; but it was still more
impossible to justify his departure than it was that of Julia's.

All these reflections being made, he resolved to arm himself with patience
and courage. Once in Paris, separate dwellings, less frequent intercourse,
the obligations of the world, and the activity of life, would doubtless
afford relief and then a peaceful solution to a painful and formidable
situation which it was henceforth impossible for him not to view in its
true light. He relied upon himself, and also upon Julia's natural
generosity, for reaching without outburst and without rupture the
approaching term that was to put an end to their life in common and to its
incessant perils. It ought not to be impossible to endure, for the short
period of two weeks more, the threatenings of a storm that had been
brewing for months without revealing its lightning. He was forgetting with
what frightful rapidity the maladies of the soul, as well as those of the
body, after reaching slowly and gradually certain stages, suddenly
precipitate their progress and their ravages.

Monsieur de Lucan asked himself whether he should not inform Julia of the
conduct he had resolved to follow, and of the reasons that had dictated
it; but every shadow of an explanation between them appeared to him
eminently improper and dangerous. Their confidential understanding upon
such a subject would have assumed an air of complicity which was repugnant
to all his sentiments of honor. Despite the terrible light that had
flashed forth, there still remained between them something obscure,
undecided, and unconfessed that he thought best to preserve at any cost.
Far, therefore, from seeking opportunities for some private interview, he
avoided them all from that moment with scrupulous care. Julia seemed
penetrated with the same feeling of reserve, and anxious to the same
degree as himself to avoid any tete-a-tete, while striving to save
appearances; but in that respect she did not dispose of that power of
dissimulation which Lucan owed to his natural and acquired firmness. He
was able, without visible effort, to hide under his habitual air of
gravity the anxieties that consumed him. Julia did not succeed, without an
almost convulsive restraint, in carrying with bold and smiling countenance
the burden of her thought. To the only witness who knew the secret of her
struggles, it was a poignant spectacle to behold the gracious and feverish
animation of which the unhappy child sustained the appearance with so much
difficulty. He saw her sometimes at a distance, like an exhausted
comedienne, retiring to some isolated bench in the garden, and fairly
panting with her hand pressing upon her bosom, as if to keep down her
rebellious heart. He felt then, in spite of all, overcome with immense
pity in presence of so much beauty and so much misery.

Was it only pity?

The attitude, the words, the looks of Clotilde and of Julia's husband were
at the same time, for Monsieur de Lucan, the objects of constant and
uneasy observation. Clotilde had evidently not conceived the slightest
alarm. The gentle serenity of her features remained unaltered. A few
oddities, more or less, in Julia's ways did not constitute a sufficient
novelty to attract her particular attention. Her mind, moreover, was too
far away from the monstrous abysses yawning at her side; she might have
stepped into them and been swallowed up, before she had suspected their
existence.

The blonde, placid, and handsome countenance of the Count de Moras
retained at all times, like Lucan's dark face, a sort of sculptural
firmness. It was, therefore, rather difficult to read upon it the
impressions of a soul which was naturally strong and self-controlling. On
one point, however, that soul had become weak. Monsieur de Lucan was not
ignorant of the fact; he was aware of the count's ardent love for Julia,
and of the sickly susceptibility of his passion.

It seemed unlikely that such a sentiment, if it were seriously set at
defiance, should not betray itself in some violent or at least perceptible
exterior sign. Monsieur de Lucan, in reality, was unable to observe any of
these dreaded symptoms. If he did occasionally surprise a fugitive wrinkle
on his brow, a doubtful intonation, a fugitive or absent glance, he might
believe at most in some return of that vague and chimerical jealousy with
which he knew the count to have been long tormented. Besides, he saw him
carrying into their family circle the same impassive and smiling face, and
he continued to receive from him the same tokens of cordiality. Oppressed,
nevertheless by his legitimate scruples of loyalty and friendship, he had
for one moment the mad temptation of revealing to the count the trial that
was imposed upon them; but while revealing his own heart, would not such a
delicate and cruel confession break the heart of his friend? And,
moreover, would not such a pretended act of loyalty, involving the
betrayal of a woman's secret, be tainted with cowardice and treason?

It was necessary, therefore, amid so many dangers and so much anxiety, to
sustain alone, and to the end, the weight of that trial, more complicated
and more perilous still, perhaps, than Monsieur de Lucan was willing to
admit to himself.

It was to come to an end much sooner than he could possibly have
anticipated.

Clotilde and her husband, accompanied by Monsieur and Madame de Moras,
went one day, in the carriage, to visit the ruins of a covered gallery
which is one of the rarest of druidical antiquities in the country. These
ruins lay at the back of a picturesque little bay, scooped out in the
rocky wall that borders the eastern shore of the peninsula. Their
shapeless masses are strewn over one of those grass-clad spurs that extend
here and there to the foot of the cliff like giant buttresses. They are
reached, despite the steepness of the hill, by an easy winding road that
leads, with long, meandering turns, down to the yellow, sandy beach of the
little bay. Clotilde and Julia made a sketch of the old Celtic temple
while the gentlemen were smoking; then they amused themselves for some
time watching the rising waves spreading upon the sand its fringes of
foam. It was agreed to return to the top of the hill on foot in order to
relieve the horses.

The carriage, on a sign from Lucan, started ahead. Clotilde took the arm
of Monsieur de Moras, and they began ascending slowly the sinuous road.
Lucan was waiting Julia's good pleasure before following them; she had
remained a few steps aside, engaged in animated conversation with an old
fisherman who was busy setting his bait in the hollow of the rocks. She
turned toward Lucan, and slightly raising her voice:

"He says there is another path, much shorter and quite easy, close by
here, along the face of the cliff. I am strongly inclined to take it and
avoid that tiresome road."

"Believe me, do nothing of the kind," said Lucan; "what is a very easy
path for the country people may prove a very arduous one for you and even
for me."

After further conference with the fisherman:

"He says," rejoined Julia, "that there is really no danger, and that
children go up and down that way every day. He is going to guide me to the
foot of the path, and then I'll only have to go straight up. Tell mother
I'll be up there as soon as you all are."

"Your mother will be dreadfully anxious."

"Tell her there is no danger."

Lucan, giving up the attempt to resist any longer a fancy that was growing
impatient, went up to the footman who carried Julia's album and shawl; he
requested him to reassure Clotilde and Monsieur de Moras, who had already
disappeared behind one of the angles of the road; then returned to Julia.

"Whenever you are ready," he said.

"You are coming with me?"

"As a matter of course."

The old fisherman preceded them, following close to the foot of the
cliffs. After leaving the sandy beach of the bay, the shore was covered
with angular rocks and gigantic fragments of granite that made walking
extremely painful. Although the distance was very short, they were already
breaking down with fatigue when they reached the entrance to the path,
which appeared to Lucan, and perhaps to Julia herself, much less safe and
commodious than the fisherman had pretended. Neither one nor the other,
however, attempted to make any objection. After a few last recommendations
and directions, their old guide withdrew, quite pleased with Lucan's
generosity. Both began then resolutely to scale the cliff which, at this
point of the coast, is known as the cliff of Jobourg, and rises some three
hundred feet above the level of the ocean.

At the beginning of this ascension, they broke the silence they had
hitherto maintained, in order to exchange some jesting remarks upon the
charms and comforts of this goat's-path; but the real and even alarming
difficulties of the road soon proved sufficient to absorb their entire
attention. The faintly beaten path disappeared at times on the barren
rock, or under some recent land-slide. They had much trouble finding the
broken thread again. Their feet hesitated upon the polished surface of the
stone, or the short and slippery grass. There were moments when they felt
as if they stood upon an almost vertical slope, and if they attempted to
stop and take breath, the vast spaces stretching before them, the
boundless extent, the dazzling and metallic brilliancy of the sea, caused
them a sensation of dizziness and as of a floating motion. Though the sky
was low and cloudy, a heavy and storm-laden heat weighed upon them and
stimulated the action of their blood. Lucan walked first, with a sort of
feverish excitement, turning around from time to time to cast a glance at
Julia, who followed him closely, then looking up to see some
resting-point, some platform upon which they might breathe for a moment in
safety. But above him, as below, there was naught save the perpendicular
and sometimes overhanging cliff. Suddenly Julia called out to him in a
tone of anguish:

"Monsieur! monsieur! please, oh! please--my head is whirling!"

He walked rapidly back a few steps at the risk of tumbling down, and,
grasping her hand energetically:

"Come! come!" he said, with a smile, "what is the matter?--a brave person
like you!"

"It would require wings!" she said, faintly.

Lucan began at once to climb the path again, supporting and almost
dragging Julia, who had nearly fainted.

He had at last the gratification of setting his foot upon a projection of
the ground, a sort of narrow esplanade jutting from the rock. He succeeded
in drawing Julia upon it. But she sank at once in his arms, and her head
rested upon his chest. He could hear her arteries and her heart throbbing
with frightful force. Then, gradually, her agitation subsided. She lifted
her head gently, opened her long eyelashes, and looking at him with
rapturous eyes:

"I am so happy!" she murmured; "I wish I could die so!"

Lucan pushed her off from him the length of his arm, then, suddenly
seizing her again and clasping her tightly to his heart, he cast upon her
a troubled glance, and then another upon the abyss. She certainly thought
they were about to die. A slight tremor passed across her lips; she
smiled; her head half rolled back:

"With you?" she said--"what happiness!"

At the same moment, the sound of voices was heard a short distance above
them. Lucan recognized Clotilde's and the count's voices. His arm suddenly
relaxed and dropped from Julia's waist. He pointed out to her, without
speaking, but with an imperious gesture, the path that wound around the
rock.

"Without you, then!" she said, in a gentle and proud tone. And she began
ascending.

Two minutes later, they reached the plateau above the cliff, and related
to Clotilde the perils of their ascension, which explained sufficiently
their evident agitation. At least they thought so.

During the evening of this same day, Julia, Monsieur de Moras, and
Clotilde were walking after dinner under the evergreens of the garden.
Monsieur de Lucan, after keeping them company for a short time, had just
retired, under pretense of writing some letters. He remained, however, but
a few minutes in the library, where the sound of the others' voices
reached his ears and disturbed his attention. A desire for absolute
solitude, for meditation, perhaps also some whimsical and unaccountable
feeling, led him to that very ladies' walk stamped for him with such an
indelible recollection.

He walked slowly through it for some time, in the deepening shades with
which the falling night was rapidly filling it. He wished to consult his
soul, as it were, face to face, to probe like a man his mind to its utmost
depths. What he discovered there terrified him. It was a mad intoxication,
which the savor of crime further heightened. Duty, loyalty, honor, all
that rose before his passion to oppose it only exasperated its fury. The
pagan Venus was gnawing at his heart, and instilling her most subtle
poisons into it. The image of the fatal beauty was there without truce,
present in his burning brain, before his dazzled eyes; he inhaled with
avidity and in spite of himself, its languor, its perfume, its breath.

The sound of light footsteps upon the sand caused him to suspend his
march. He caught through the darkness a glimpse of a white form
approaching him.

It was she!

Without giving scarce a thought to the act, he threw himself behind the
obscure angle formed by one of those massive pillars that supported the
ruins against the side of the hill. A mass of verdure made the darkness
there more dense still. She went by, her eyes fixed upon the ground, with
her supple and rhythmical step. She walked as far as the little pond that
received the waters of the brook, stood dreaming for a few moments upon
its edge, and then returned. A second tune she went by the ruins, without
raising her eyes, and as if deeply absorbed. Lucan remained convinced that
she had not suspected his presence, when suddenly she turned her head
slightly around, without interrupting her march, and she cast behind her
that single word, "Farewell," in a tone so gentle, so musical, so
sorrowful, that it was somewhat like the sound of a tear falling upon a
sonorous crystal.

That minute was a supreme one. It was one of those moments during which a
man's life is decided for eternal good or for eternal evil. Monsieur de
Lucan felt it so. Had he yielded to the attraction of passion, of
intoxication, of pity, that was urging him with almost irresistible force
on the footsteps of that beautiful and unhappy woman--that was on the
point of casting him at her feet, upon her heart--he felt that he became
at once and forever a lost and desperate soul. Such a crime, were it even
to remain wholly ignored, separated him forever from all he had ever
respected, all he had ever held sacred and inviolate; there was nothing
left for him either upon earth or in heaven; there was no longer any
faith, probity, honor, friend, or God! The whole moral world vanished for
him in that single instant.

He accepted her farewell, and made no reply. The white form moved away and
soon disappeared in the darkness.

The evening was spent in the home circle as usual. Julia, pale, moody, and
haughty, worked silently at her tapestry. Lucan observed that on taking
leave of her mother she was kissing her with unusual effusion.

He soon retired also. Assailed by the most formidable apprehensions, he
did not undress. Toward morning only, he threw himself all dressed upon
the bed. It was about five o'clock, and scarcely daylight as yet, when he
fancied he heard muffled steps on the carpet, in the hall and on the
stairs. He rose again at once. The windows of his room opened upon the
court. He saw Julia cross it, dressed in riding costume. She went into the
stable and came out again after a few moments. A groom brought her her
horse, and assisted her in mounting. The man, accustomed to Julia's
somewhat eccentric manners, saw apparently nothing alarming in that fancy
for an early ride. Monsieur de Lucan, after a few minutes of excited
thought, took his resolution. He directed his steps toward the room of the
Count de Moras. To his extreme surprise, he found him up and dressed. The
count, seeing Lucan coming in, seemed struck with astonishment. He
fastened upon him a penetrating and visibly agitated look.

"What is the matter?" he said, at last, in a low and tremulous voice.

"Nothing serious, I hope," replied Lucan. "Nevertheless, I am uneasy.
Julia has just gone out on horseback. You have, doubtless, seen and heard
her as I have myself, since you are up."

"Yes," said Moras, who had continued to gaze upon Lucan with an expression
of indescribable stupor; "yes," he repeated, recovering himself, not
without difficulty, "and I am glad, really very glad to see you, my dear
friend."

While uttering these simple words, the voice of Moras became hesitating; a
damp cloud obscured his eyes.

"Where can she be going at this hour?" he resumed with his usual firmness
of speech.

"I do not know; merely some new fancy, I suppose. At any rate, she has
seemed to me lately more strange, more moody, and I feel uneasy. Let us
try and follow her, if you like."

"Let us go, my friend," said the count after a pause of singular
hesitation.

They both left the chateau together, taking their fowling-pieces with
them, in order to induce the belief that they were going, according to a
quite frequent habit, to shoot sea-birds. At the moment of selecting a
direction, Monsieur de Moras turned to Lucan with an inquiring glance.

"I see no danger," said Lucan, "save in the direction of the cliffs. A few
words that escaped her yesterday lead me to fear that the peril may be
there; but with her horse, she is compelled to make a long detour. By
cutting across the woods, we'll be there ahead of her."

They entered the timber to the west of the chateau, and walked in silence
and with rapid steps.

The path they had taken led them directly to the plateau overlooking the
cliffs they had visited the previous day. The woods extended in that
direction in an irregular triangle, the last trees of which almost touched
the very brink of the cliff.

As they were approaching with feverish steps that extreme point, Lucan
suddenly stopped.

"Listen!" he said.

The sound of a horse's gallop upon the hard soil could be distinctly
heard. They ran.

A sloping bank of moderate elevation divided the wood from the plateau.
This they climbed half way with the help of trailing branches; screened
then by the bushes and the foliage, they beheld before them a most
impressive spectacle. At a short distance to the left, Julia was coming on
at break-neck speed; she was following the oblique line of the woods,
apparently shaping her course straight toward the edge of the cliff. They
thought at first that her horse had run away, but they saw that she was
lashing him with her whip to further accelerate his speed.

She was still some hundred paces from the two men, and she was about
passing before them. Lucan was preparing to leap to the other side of the
bank, when the hand of Monsieur de Moras fell violently upon his arm and
held him back--firmly.

They looked at each other. Lucan was amazed at the profound alteration
that had suddenly contracted the count's features and sunken his eyes; he
read at the same time in his fixed gaze an immense sorrow, but also an
immovable resolve. He understood that there was no longer any secret
between them. He yielded to that glance, which, so far as he was
concerned--he felt sure of that--conveyed nothing but an expression of
confidence and friendly supplication. He grasped his friend's hand within
his own and remained motionless. The horse shot by within a few steps of
them, his flanks white with foam, while Julia, beautiful, graceful, and
charming still in that terrible moment, sat lightly upon the saddle.

Within a few feet of the edge of the cliff, the horse, scenting the
danger, shied violently and wheeled around in a semi-circle. She led him
back upon the plateau, and, urging him both with whip and voice, she
started him again toward the yawning chasm.

Lucan felt Monsieur de Moras' nails cutting into his flesh. At last the
horse was conquered; the ground gave way under his hind feet, which only
met the vacant space. He fell backward; his fore legs pawed the air
convulsively.

The next moment the plateau was empty. No sound had been heard. In that
deep chasm the fall had been noiseless and death instantaneous.


[THE END.]



THE STORY OF A FIGHT FOR A THRONE

D'Artagnan, the King Maker

By ALEXANDRE DUMAS.


Written originally by Dumas as a play, and now for the
first time novelized and translated into English.

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A HERO OF THE SWORD.

The King's Gallant

By ALEXANDRE DUMAS.


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THE STORY OF A HOPELESS LOVE.

Tons of Treasure

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A BOOK FULL OF 'HUMAN' INTEREST

QUEER PEOPLE

By WILLIAM HENRY BISHOP.

_Author of_ "DETMOLD."


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Among the Freaks

By W.L. ALDEN.


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A BOOK OF HEARTY LAUGHTER.

Things Generally

By MAX ADELER.


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Toothsome Tales Told in Slang

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EERIE TALES OF "CHINATOWN."

Bits of Broken China

By WILLIAM E.S. FALES


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THE GAME OF THE HOUR.

ABC OF BRIDGE

By ELEANOR A. TENNANT.


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In cloth.

Gold top.

Illustrated with diagrams.

Price, 75 Cents.

STREET AND SMITH, _New York and London_



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STREET AND SMITH, _New York and London_.





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