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Title: A Mummer's Tale
Author: France, Anatole, 1844-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Mummer's Tale" ***

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(This file was produced from images generously made


THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE
IN AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
EDITED BY J. LEWIS MAY AND
BERNARD MIALL

A MUMMER'S TALE

(HISTOIRE COMIQUE)



A MUMMER'S TALE

BY ANATOLE FRANCE

A TRANSLATION BY
CHARLES E. ROCHE

LONDON, JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY: MCMXXI

WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES, ENGLAND



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                   PAGE

    I.                                       1

   II.                                      21

  III.                                      26

   IV.                                      41

    V.                                      63

   VI.                                      71

  VII.                                      82

 VIII.                                      97

   IX.                                     108

    X.                                     137

   XI.                                     166

  XII.                                     176

 XIII.                                     181

  XIV.                                     186

   XV.                                     194

  XVI.                                     197

 XVII.                                     205

XVIII.                                     212

  XIX.                                     220

   XX.                                     230



A MUMMER'S TALE



A MUMMER'S TALE



CHAPTER I


The scene was an actress's dressing-room at the Odéon.

Félicie Nanteuil, her hair powdered, with blue on her eyelids, rouge on
her cheeks and ears, and white on her neck and shoulders, was holding
out her foot to Madame Michon, the dresser, who was fitting on a pair of
little black slippers with red heels. Dr. Trublet, the physician
attached to the theatre, and a friend of the actress's, was resting his
bald cranium on a cushion of the divan, his hands folded upon his
stomach and his short legs crossed.

"What else, my dear?" he inquired of her.

"Oh, I don't know! Fits of suffocation; giddiness; and, all of a sudden,
an agonizing pain, as if I were going to die. That's the worst of all."

"Do you sometimes feel as though you must laugh or cry for no apparent
reason, about nothing at all?"

"That I cannot tell you, for in this life one has so many reasons for
laughing or crying!"

"Are you subject to attacks of dizziness?"

"No. But, just think, doctor, at night, I see an imaginary cat, under
the chairs or the table, gazing at me with fiery eyes!"

"Try not to dream of cats any more," said Madame Michon, "because that's
a bad omen. To see a cat is a sign that you'll be betrayed by friends,
or deceived by a woman."

"But it is not in my dreams that I see a cat! It's when I'm wide awake!"

Trublet, who was in attendance at the Odéon once a month only, was given
to looking in as a friend almost every evening. He was fond of the
actresses, delighted in chatting with them, gave them good advice, and
listened with delicacy to their confidences. He promised Félicie that he
would write her a prescription at once.

"We'll attend to the stomach, my dear child, and you'll see no more cats
under the chairs and tables."

Madame Michon was adjusting the actress's stays. The doctor, suddenly
gloomy, watched her tugging at the laces.

"Don't scowl," said Félicie. "I am never tight-laced. With my waist I
should surely be a fool if I were." And she added, thinking of her best
friend in the theatre, "It's all very well for Fagette, who has no
shoulders and no hips; she's simply straight up and down. Michon, you
can pull a little tighter still. I know you are no lover of waists,
doctor. Nevertheless, I cannot wear swaddling bands like those æsthetic
creatures. Just slip your hand into my stays, and you'll see that I
don't squeeze myself too tight."

He denied that he was inimical to stays; he only condemned them when too
tightly laced. He deplored the fact that women should have no sense of
the harmony of line; that they should associate with smallness of the
waist an idea of grace and beauty, not realizing that their beauty
resided wholly in those modulations through which the body, having
displayed the superb expansion of chest and bosom, tapers off gradually
below the thorax, to glorify itself in the calm and generous width of
the flanks.

"The waist," he said, "the waist, since one has to make use of that
hideous word, should be a gradual, imperceptible, gentle transition from
one to another of woman's two glories, her bosom and her womb, and you
stupidly strangle it, you stave in the thorax, which involves the
breasts in its ruin, you flatten your lower ribs, and you plough a
horrible furrow above the navel. The negresses, who file their teeth
down to a point, and split their lips, in order to insert a wooden disc,
disfigure themselves in a less barbarous fashion. For, after all, some
feminine splendour still remains to a creature who wears rings in the
cartilage of her nose, and whose lip is distended by a circular disc of
mahogany as big as this pomade pot. But the devastation is complete when
woman carries her ravages into the sacred centre of her empire."

Dwelling upon a favourite subject, he enumerated one by one the
deformities of the bones and muscles caused by the wearing of stays, in
terms now fanciful, now precise, now droll, now lugubrious.

Nanteuil laughed as she listened. She laughed because, being a woman,
she felt an inclination to laugh at physical uncomeliness or poverty;
because, referring everything to her own little world of actors and
actresses, each and every deformity described by the doctor reminded her
of some comrade of the boards, stamping itself on her mind like a
caricature. Knowing that she herself had a good figure, she delighted in
her own young body as she pictured to herself all these indignities of
the flesh. With a ringing laugh she crossed the dressing-room towards
the doctor, dragging with her Madame Michon, who was holding on to her
stay-laces as though they were reins, with the look of a sorceress being
whisked away to a witches' sabbath.

"Don't be afraid!" she said.

And she objected that peasant women, who never wore stays, had far
worse figures than town-bred women.

The doctor bitterly inveighed against the Western civilizations because
of their contempt for and ignorance of natural beauty.

Trublet, born within the shadow of Saint-Sulpice, had gone as a young
man to practise in Cairo. He brought back from that city a little money,
a liver complaint, and a knowledge of the various customs of humanity.
When at a ripe age, he returned to his own country, he rarely strayed
from his ancient Rue de Seine, thoroughly enjoying his life, save that
it depressed him a trifle to see how little able his contemporaries were
to realize the deplorable misunderstandings which for eighteen centuries
had kept humanity at cross-purposes with nature.

There was a tap at the door.

"It's only me!" exclaimed a woman's voice in the passage.

Félicie, slipping on her pink petticoat, begged the doctor to open the
door.

Enter Madame Doulce, a lady who was allowing her massive person to run
to seed, although she had long contrived to hold it together on the
boards, compelling it to assume the dignity proper to aristocratic
mothers.

"Well, my dear! How-d'ye-do, doctor! Félicie, you know I am not one to
pay compliments. Nevertheless, I saw you the day before yesterday, and I
assure you that in the second of _La Mère confidente_ you put in some
excellent touches, which are far from easy to bring off."

Nanteuil, with smiling eyes, waited--as is always the case when one has
received a compliment--for another.

Madame Doulce, thus invited by Nanteuil's silence, murmured some
additional words of praise:

"...excellent touches, genuinely individual business!"

"You really think so, Madame Doulce? Glad to hear it, for I don't feel
the part. And then that great Perrin woman upsets me altogether. It is a
fact. When I sit on the creature's knees, it makes me feel as if----You
don't know all the horrors that she whispers into my ear while we are on
the stage! She's crazy! I understand everything, but there are some
things which disgust me. Michon, don't my stays crease at the back, on
the right?"

"My dear child," cried Trublet with enthusiasm, "you have just said
something that is really admirable."

"What?" inquired Nanteuil simply.

"You said: 'I understand everything, but there are some things which
disgust me.' You understand everything; the thoughts and actions of men
appear to you as particular instances of the universal mechanics, but in
respect of them you cherish neither hatred nor anger. But there are
things which disgust you; you have a fastidious taste, and it is
profoundly true that morals are a matter of taste. My child, I could
wish that the Academy of Moral Science thought as sanely as you. Yes.
You are quite right. As regards the instincts which you attribute to
your fellow-actress, it is as futile to blame her for them as to blame
lactic acid for being an acid possessing mixed properties."

"What are you talking about?"

"I am saying that we can no longer assign praise or blame to any human
thought or action, once the inevitable nature of such thoughts and
actions has been proved for us."

"So you approve of the morals of that gawk of a Perrin, do you? You, a
member of the Legion of Honour! A nice thing, to be sure!"

The doctor heaved himself up.

"My child," he said, "give me a moment's attention; I am going to tell
you an instructive story:

"In times gone by, human nature was other than it is to-day. There were
then not men and women only, but also hermaphrodites; in other words,
beings in whom the two sexes were combined. These three kinds of human
beings possessed four arms, four legs, and two faces. They were robust
and rotated rapidly on their own axes, just like wheels. Their strength
inspired them with audacity to war with the gods, therein following the
example of the Giants, Jupiter, unable to brook such insolence----"

"Michon, doesn't my petticoat hang too low on the left?" asked Nanteuil.

"Resolved," continued the doctor, "to render them less strong and less
daring. He divided each into two, so that they had now but two arms, two
legs, and one head apiece, and thenceforward the human race became what
it is to-day. Consequently, each of us is only the half of a human
being, divided from the other half, just as one divides a sole into two
portions. These halves are ever seeking their other halves. The love
which we experience for one another is nothing but an invisible force
impelling us to reunite our two halves in order to re-establish
ourselves in our pristine perfection. Those men who result from the
divisions of hermaphrodites love women; those women who have a similar
origin love men. But the women who proceed from the division of
primitive women do not bestow much attention upon men, but are drawn
toward their own sex. So do not be astonished when you see----"

"Did you invent that precious story, doctor?" inquired Nanteuil, pinning
a rose in her bodice.

The doctor protested that he had not invented a word of it. On the
contrary, he had, he said, left out part of the story.

"So much the better?" exclaimed Nanteuil. "For I must tell you that the
person who did invent it is not particularly brilliant."

"He is dead," remarked Trublet.

Nanteuil once more expressed her disgust of her fellow-actress, but
Madame Doulce, who was prudent and occasionally took _déjeuner_ with
Jeanne Perrin, changed the subject.

"Well, my darling, so you've got the part of Angélique. Only remember
what I told you: your gestures should be somewhat restrained, and you
yourself a little stiff. That is the secret of the _ingénue_. Beware of
your charming natural suppleness. Young girls in a 'stock' piece ought
to be just a trifle doll-like. It's good form. The costume requires it.
You see, Félicie, what you must do above all, when you are playing in
_La Mère confidente_, which is a delightful play----"

"Oh," interrupted Félicie, "so long as I have a good part, I don't care
a fig for the play. Besides, I am not particularly in love with
Marivaux----What are you laughing at, doctor? Have I put my foot in it?
Isn't _La Mère confidente_ by Marivaux?"

"To be sure it is!"

"Well, then? You are always trying to muddle me. I was saying that
Angélique gets on my nerves. I should prefer a part with more meat in
it, something out of the ordinary. This evenings especially, the part
gives me the creeps."

"All the more likely that you'll do well in it, my pet," said Madame
Doulce. "We never enter more thoroughly into our parts than when we do
so by main force, and in spite of ourselves. I could give you many
examples. I myself, in _La Vivandière d'Austerlitz_, staggered the house
by my gaiety of tone, when I had just been informed that my Doulce, so
great an artist and so good a husband, had had an epileptic fit in the
orchestra at the Odéon, just as he was picking up his cornet."

"Why do they insist on my being nothing but an _ingénue_?" inquired
Nanteuil, who wanted to play the woman in love, the brilliant coquette,
and every part a woman could play.

"That is quite natural," persisted Madame Doulce. "Comedy is an
imitative art; and you imitate an art all the better for not feeling it
yourself."

"Do not delude yourself, my child," said the doctor to Félicie. "Once an
_ingénue_, always an _ingénue_. You are born an Angélique or a Dorine, a
Célimène or a Madame Pernelle. On the stage, some women are always
twenty, others are always thirty, others again are always sixty. As for
you, Mademoiselle Nanteuil, you will always be eighteen, and you will
always be an _ingénue_."

"I am quite content with my work," replied Nanteuil, "but you cannot
expect me to play all _ingénues_ with the same pleasure. There is one
part, for example, which I long to play, and that is Agnès in _L'École
des femmes_."

At the mere mention of the name of Agnès, the doctor murmured
delightedly from among his cushions:

  "Mes yeux ont-ils du mal pour en donner au monde?"

"Agnès, that's a part if you like!" exclaimed Nanteuil. "I have asked
Pradel to give it me."

Pradel, the manager of the theatre, was an ex-comedian, a wideawake,
genial fellow, who had got rid of his illusions and nourished no
exaggerated hopes. He loved peace, books and women. Nanteuil had every
reason to speak well of Pradel, and she referred to him without any
feeling of ill will, and with frank directness.

"It was shameful, disgusting, rotten of him," she said. "He wouldn't let
me play Agnès and gave the part to Falempin. I must say, though, that
when I asked him I didn't go the right way about it. While she knows how
to tackle him, if you like! But what do I care! If Pradel doesn't let
me play Agnès, he can go to the deuce, and his dirty Punch and Judy show
too!"

Madame Doulce continued to lavish her unheeded precepts. She was an
actress of merits but she was old and worn out, and no longer obtained
any engagements. She gave advice to beginners, wrote their letters for
them, and thus, in the morning or evenings earned what was almost every
day her only meal.

"Doctor," asked Félicie, while Madame Michon was fastening a black
velvet ribbon round her neck: "You say that my fits of dizziness are due
to my stomach. Are you sure of that?"

Before Trublet could answer, Madame Doulce exclaimed that fits of
dizziness always proceeded from the stomach, and that two or three hours
after meals she experienced a feeling of distension in hers, and she
thereupon asked the doctor for a remedy.

Félicie, however, was thinking, for she was capable of thought.

"Doctor," she said suddenly, "I want to ask you a question, which you
may possibly think a droll one; but I do really want to know whether,
considering that you know just what there is in the human body, and that
you have seen all the things we have inside us, it doesn't embarrass
you, at certain moments, in your dealings with women?  It seems to me
that the idea of all that must disgust you."

From the depths of his cushions Trublet, wafting a kiss to Félicie,
replied:

"My dear child, there is no more exquisitely delicate, rich, and
beautiful tissue than the skin of a pretty woman. That is what I was
telling myself just now, while contemplating the back of your neck, and
you will readily understand that, under such an impression----"

She made a grimace at him like that of a disdainful monkey.

"You think it witty, I suppose, to talk nonsense when anyone asks you a
serious question?"

"Well, then, since you wish it, mademoiselle, you shall have an
instructive answer. Some twenty years ago we had, in the post-mortem
room at the Hôpital Saint-Joseph, a drunken old watchman, named Daddy
Rousseau, who every day at eleven o'clock used to lunch at the end of
the table on which the corpse was lying. He ate his lunch because he was
hungry. Nothing prevents people who are hungry from eating as soon as
they have got something to eat. Only Daddy Rousseau used to say: 'I
don't know whether it is because of the atmosphere of the room, but I
must have something fresh and appetizing.'"

"I understand," said Félicie. "Little flower-girls are what you want.
But you mustn't, you know. And there you are seated like a Turk and you
haven't written out my prescription yet." She cast an inquiring glance
at him. "Where is the stomach exactly?"

The door had remained ajar. A young man, a very pretty fellow and
extremely fashionable, pushed it open, and, having taken a couple of
steps into the dressing-room, inquired politely whether he might come
in.

"Oh, it's you!" said Nanteuil. And she stretched out her hand, which he
kissed with pleasure, ceremony and fatuity.

"How are you, Doctor Socrates?" he inquired, without wasting any
particular courtesies on Madame Doulce.

Trublet was often accosted in this manner, because of his snub-nose and
his subtle speech. Pointing to Nanteuil, he said:

"Monsieur de Ligny, you see before you a young lady who is not quite
sure whether she has a stomach. It is a serious question. We advise her
to refer, for the answer, to the little girl who ate too much jam. Her
mother said to her: 'You will injure your stomach.' The child replied:
'It's only ladies who have stomachs; little girls haven't any.'"

"Heavens, how silly you are, doctor!" cried Nanteuil.

"I would you spoke the truth, mademoiselle. Silliness is the capacity
for happiness. It is the sovereign content. It is the prime asset in a
civilized society."

"You are paradoxical, my dear doctor," remarked Monsieur de Ligny. "But
I grant you that it is better to be silly as everybody is silly than to
be clever as no one else is clever."

"It's true, what Robert says!" exclaimed Nanteuil, sincerely impressed.
And she added thoughtfully: "At any rate, doctor, one thing is certain.
It is that stupidity often prevents one from doing stupid things. I have
noticed that many a time. Whether you take men or women, those are not
the most stupid who act the most stupidly. For example, there are
intelligent women who are stupid about men."

"You mean those who cannot do without them."

"There's no hiding anything from you, my little Socrates."

"Ah," sighed the big Doulce, "what a terrible slavery it is! Every woman
who cannot control her senses is lost to art."

Nanteuil shrugged her pretty shoulders, which still retained something
of the angularity of youth.

"Oh, my great-grandmother! Don't try to kid the youngsters! What an
idea! In your days, did actresses control their--how did you put it?
Fiddlesticks! They didn't control them a scrap!"

Noticing that Nanteuil's temper was rising, the bulky Doulce retired
with dignity and prudence. Once in the passage, she vouchsafed a further
word of advice:

"Remember, my darling, to play Angélique as a 'bud.' The part requires
it."

But Nanteuil, her nerves on edge, took no notice.

"Really," she said, sitting down before her dressing-table, "she makes
me boil, that old Doulce, with her morality. Does she think people have
forgotten her adventures? If so, she is mistaken. Madame Ravaud tells
one of them six days out of seven. Everybody knows that she reduced her
husband, the musician, to such a state of exhaustion that one night he
tumbled into his cornet. As for her lovers, magnificent men, just ask
Madame Michon. Why, in less than two years she made mere shadows of
them, mere puffs of breath. That's the way she controlled them! And
supposing anyone had told her that she was lost to art!"

Dr. Trublet extended his two hands, palms outward, towards Nanteuil, as
though to stop her.

"Do not excite yourself, my child. Madame Doulce is sincere. She used
to love men, now she loves God. One loves what one can, as one can, and
with what one has. She has become chaste and pious at the fitting age.
She is diligent in the practices of her religion: she goes to Mass on
Sundays and feast days, she----"

"Well, she is right to go to Mass," asserted Nanteuil "Michon, light a
candle for me, to heat my rouge. I must do my lips again. Certainly, she
is quite right to go to Mass, but religion does not forbid one to have a
lover."

"You think not?" asked the doctor.

"I know my religion better than you, that's certain!"

A lugubrious bell sounded, and the mournful voice of the call-boy was
heard in the corridors:

"The curtain-raiser is over!"

Nanteuil rose, and slipped over her wrist a velvet ribbon ornamented
with a steel medallion. Madame Michon was on her knees arranging the
three Watteau pleats of the pink dress, and, with her mouth full of
pins, delivered herself from one corner of her lips of the following
maxim:

"There is one good thing in being old, men cannot make you suffer any
more."

Robert de Ligny took a cigarette from his case.

"May I?" And he moved toward the lighted candle on the dressing-table.

Nanteuil, who never took her eyes off him, saw beneath his moustache,
red and light as flame, his lips, ruddy in the candlelight, drawing in
and puffing out the smoke. She felt a slight warmth in her ears.
Pretending to look among her trinkets, she grazed Ligny's neck with her
lips, and whispered to him:

"Wait for me after the show, in a cab, at the corner of the Rue de
Tournon."

At this moment the sound of voices and footsteps was heard in the
corridor. The actors in the curtain-raiser were returning to their
dressing-rooms.

"Doctor, pass me your newspaper."

"It is highly uninteresting, mademoiselle."

"Never mind, pass it over."

She took it and held it like a screen above her head.

"The light makes my eyes ache," she observed.

It was true that a too brilliant light would sometimes give her a
headache. But she had just seen herself in the glass. With her
blue-tinted eyelids, her eyelashes smeared with a black paste, her
grease-painted cheeks, her lips tinted red in the shape of a tiny heart,
it seemed to her she looked like a painted corpse with glass eyes, and
she did not wish Ligny to see her thus.

While she was keeping her face in the shadow of the newspaper a tall,
lean young man entered the dressing-room with a swaggering gait. His
melancholy eyes were deeply sunken above a nose like a crow's beak; his
mouth was set in a petrified grin. The Adam's apple of his long throat
made a deep shadow on his stock. He was dressed as a stage bailiff.

"That you, Chevalier? How are you, my friend?" gaily inquired Dr.
Trublet, who was fond of actors, preferred the bad ones, and had a
special liking for Chevalier.

"Come in, everybody!" cried Nanteuil "This isn't a dressing-room; it's a
mill."

"My respects, none the less, Mme. Miller!" replied Chevalier, "I warn
you, there's a pack of idiots out in front. Would you believe it--they
shut me up!"

"That's no reason for walking in without knocking," replied Nanteuil
snappishly.

The doctor pointed out that Monsieur de Ligny had left the door open;
whereupon Nanteuil, turning to Ligny, said in a tone of tender reproach:

"Did you really leave the door open? But, when one comes into a room,
one closes the door on other people: it is one of the first things one
is taught."

She wrapped herself in a white blanket-cloak.

The call-boy summoned the players to the stage.

She grasped the hand which Ligny offered her, and, exploring his wrist
with her fingers, dug her nail into the spot, close to the veins, where
the skin is tender. Then she disappeared into the dark corridor.



CHAPTER II


Chevalier, having resumed his ordinary clothes, sat in a corner box,
beside Madame Doulce, gazing at Félicie, a small remote figure on the
stage. And remembering the days when he had held her in his arms, in his
attic in the Rue des Martyrs, he wept with grief and rage.

They had met last year at a fête given under the patronage of Lecureuil,
the deputy; a benefit performance given in aid of poor actors of the
ninth _arrondissement_. He had prowled around her, dumb, famishing, and
with blazing eyes. For a whole fortnight he had pursued her incessantly.
Cold and unmoved, she had appeared to ignore him. Then, suddenly, she
surrendered; so suddenly that when he left her that day, still radiant
and amazed, he had said a stupid thing. He had told her: "And I took you
for a little bit of china!" For three whole months he had tasted joys
acute as pain. Then Félicie had grown elusive, remote, and estranged.
She loved him no longer. He sought the reason, but could not discover
it. It tortured him to know that he was no longer loved; jealousy
tortured him still more. It was true that in the first beautiful hours
of his love he had known that Félicie had a lover, one Girmandel, a
court bailiff, who lived in the Rue de Provence, and he had felt it
deeply. But as he never saw him he had formed so confused and
ill-defined an idea of him that his jealousy lost itself in uncertainty.
Félicie assured him that she had never been more than passive in her
intercourse with Girmandel, that she had not even pretended to care for
him. He believed her, and this belief gave him the keenest satisfaction.
She also told him that for a long time past, for months, Girmandel had
been nothing more than a friend, and he believed her. In short, he was
deceiving the bailiff, and it was agreeable to him to feel that he
enjoyed this advantage. He had learned also that Félicie, who was just
finishing her second year at the Conservatoire, had not denied herself
to her professor. But the grief which he had felt because of this was
softened by a time-honoured and venerable custom. Now Robert de Ligny
was causing him intolerable suffering. For some time past he had found
him incessantly dangling about her. He could not doubt that she loved
Robert; and although he sometimes told himself that she had not yet
given herself to this man, it was not that he believed it, but merely
that he was fain sometimes to mitigate the bitterness of his
sufferings.

Mechanical applause broke out at the back of the theatre, and a few
members of the orchestra, murmuring inaudibly, clapped their hands
slowly and noiselessly. Nanteuil had just given her last reply to Jeanne
Perrin.

"_Brava! Brava!_ She is delightful, dear little woman!" sighed Madame
Doulce.

In his jealous anger, Chevalier was disloyal. Lifting a finger to his
forehead, he remarked:

"She plays with _that_." Then, placing his hand upon his heart, he
added: "It is with this that one should act."

"Thanks, dear friend, thanks!" murmured Madame Doulce, who read into
these maxims an obvious eulogy of herself.

She was, indeed, in the habit of asserting that all good acting comes
from the heart; she maintained that, to give full expression to a
passion, it was necessary to experience it, and to feel in one's own
person the expressions that one wished to represent. She was fond of
referring to herself as an example of this. When appearing as a tragedy
queen, after draining a goblet of poison on the stage, her bowels had
been on fire all night. Nevertheless she was given to saying: "The
dramatic art is an imitative art, and one imitates an emotion all the
better for not having experienced it." And to illustrate this maxim she
drew yet further examples from her triumphant career.

She gave a deep sigh.

"The child is admirably gifted. But she is to be pitied; she has been
born into a bad period. There is no longer a public nowadays; no
critics, no plays, no theatres, no artists. It is a decadence of art."

Chevalier shook his head.

"No need to pity her," he said. "She will have all that she can wish;
she will succeed; she will be wealthy. She is a selfish little jade, and
a woman who is selfish can get anything she likes. But for people with
hearts there's nothing left but to hang a stone round one's neck and
throw oneself into the river. But, I too, I shall go far. I, too, shall
climb high. I, too, will be a selfish hound."

He got up and went out without waiting for the end of the play. He did
not return to Félicie's dressing-room for fear of meeting Ligny there,
the sight of whom was insupportable, and because by avoiding it he could
pretend to himself that Ligny had not returned thither.

Conscious of physical distress on going away from her, he took five or
six turns under the dark, deserted arcades of the Odéon, went down the
steps into the night, and turned up the Rue de Médicis. Coachmen were
dozing on their boxes, while waiting for the end of the performance, and
high over the tops of the plane-trees the moon was racing through the
clouds. Treasuring in his heart an absurd yet soothing remnant of hope,
he went, this night, as on other nights, to wait for Félicie at her
mother's flat.



CHAPTER III


Madame Nanteuil lived with her daughter in a little flat on the fifth
story of a house in the Boulevard Saint-Michel, whose windows opened
upon the garden of the Luxembourg. She gave Chevalier a friendly
welcome, for she thought kindly of him because he loved Félicie, and
because the latter did not love him in return, and ignored on principle
the fact that he had been her daughter's lover.

She made him sit beside her in the dining-room, where a coke fire was
burning in the stove. In the lamplight army revolvers and sabres with
golden tassels on the sword-knots gleamed upon the wall. They were hung
about a woman's cuirass, which was provided with round breast-shields of
tin-plate; a piece of armour which Félicie had worn last winter, while
still a pupil at the Conservatoire, when taking the part of Joan of Arc
at the house of a spiritualistic duchess. An officer's widow and the
mother of an actress, Madame Nanteuil, whose real name was Nantean,
treasured these trophies.

"Félicie is not back yet, Monsieur Chevalier. I don't expect her before
midnight. She is on the stage till the end of the play."

"I know; I was in the first piece. I left the theatre after the first
act of _La Mère confidente_.

"Oh, Monsieur Chevalier, why didn't you stay till the end? My daughter
would have been so pleased if you had waited. When one is acting one
likes to have friends in the house."

Chevalier replied ambiguously:

"Oh, as to friends, there are plenty of those about."

"You are mistaken, Monsieur Chevalier; good friends are scarce. Madame
Doulce was there, of course? Was she pleased with Félicie?" And she
added, with great humility: "I should indeed be happy if she could
really make a hit. It is so difficult to come to the fore in her
profession, for a girl who is alone, without support, without influence!
And it is so necessary for her to succeed, poor child!"

Chevalier did not feel disposed to lavish any pity upon Félicie. With a
shrug of the shoulders he replied bluntly:

"No need to worry about that. She'll get on. She is an actress heart and
soul. She has it in her bones, down to her very legs."

Madame Nanteuil indulged in a quiet smile.

"Poor child! They are not very plump, her legs. Félicie's health is not
bad, but she must not overdo it. She often has fits of giddiness, and
sick headaches."

The servant came in to place on the table a dish of fried sausage, a
bottle of wine, and a few plates.

Meanwhile, Chevalier was searching in his mind for some appropriate
fashion of asking a question which had been on the tip of his tongue
ever since he had set foot on the stairs. He wanted to know whether
Félicie was still meeting Girmandel, whose name he never heard mentioned
nowadays. We are given to conceiving desires which suit themselves to
our condition. Now, in the misery of his existence, in the distress of
his heart, he was full of an eager desire that Félicie, who loved him no
longer, should love Girmandel, whom she loved but little, and he hoped
with all his heart that Girmandel would keep her for him, would possess
her wholly, and leave nothing of her for Robert de Ligny. The idea that
the girl might be with Girmandel appeased his jealousy, and he dreaded
to learn that she had broken with him.

Of course he would never have allowed himself to question a mother as to
her daughter's lovers. But it was permissible to speak of Girmandel to
Madame Nanteuil, who saw nothing that was other than respectable in the
relations of her household with the Government official, who was
well-to-do, married, and the father of two charming daughters. To bring
Girmandel's name into the conversation he had only to resort to a
stratagem. Chevalier hit upon one which he thought was ingenious.

"By the way," he remarked, "I saw Girmandel just now in a carriage."

Madame Nanteuil made no comment.

"He was driving down the Boulevard Saint-Michel in a cab. I certainly
thought I recognized him. I should be greatly surprised if it wasn't
he."

Madame Nanteuil made no comment.

"His fair beard, his high colour--he's an easy man to recognize,
Girmandel."

Madame Nanteuil made no comment.

"You were very friendly with him at one time, you and Félicie. Do you
still see him?"

"Monsieur Girmandel? Oh yes, we still see him," replied Madame Nanteuil
softly.

These words made Chevalier feel almost happy. But she had deceived him;
she had not spoken the truth. She had lied out of self-respect, and in
order not to reveal a domestic secret which she regarded as derogatory
to the honour of her family. The truth was that, being carried away by
her passion for Ligny, Félicie had given Girmandel the go-by, and he,
being a man of the world, had promptly cut off supplies. Madame
Nanteuil, despite her years, had resumed an old lover, out of her love
for her child, that she might not want for anything. She had renewed her
former liaison with Tony Meyer, the picture-dealer in the Rue de Clichy.
Tony Meyer was a poor substitute for Girmandel; he was none too free
with his money. Madame Nanteuil, who was wise and knew the value of
things, did not complain on that account, and she was rewarded for her
devotion, for, in the six weeks during which she had been loved anew,
she had grown young again.

Chevalier, following up his idea, inquired:

"You would hardly say that Girmandel was still a young man, would you?"

"He is not old," said Madame Nanteuil. "A man is not old at forty."

"A bit used up, isn't he?"

"Oh, dear no," replied Madame Nanteuil, quite calmly.

Chevalier became thoughtful and was silent. Madame Nanteuil began to
nod. Then, being aroused from her somnolence by the servant, who brought
in the salt-cellar and the water-bottle, she inquired:

"And you, Monsieur Chevalier, is all well with you?"

No, all was not well with him. The critics were out to "down" him. And
the proof that they had combined against him was that they all said the
same thing; they said his face lacked expression.

"My face lacking in expression!" he cried indignantly. "They should have
called it a predestined face. Madame Nanteuil, I aim high, and it is
that which does me harm. For example, in _La Nuit du 23 octobre_, which
is being rehearsed now, I am Florentin: I have only six lines; it's a
washout. But I have increased the importance of the character
enormously. Durville is furious. He deliberately crabs all my effects."

Madame Nanteuil, placid and kindly, found words to comfort him.
Obstacles there were, no doubt, but in the end one overcame them. Her
own daughter had fallen foul of the ill-will of certain critics.

"Half-past twelve!" said Chevalier gloomily. "Félicie is late."

Madame Nanteuil supposed that she had been detained by Madame Doulce.

"Madame Doulce as a rule undertakes to see her home, and you know she
never hurries herself."

Chevalier rose, as if to take his leave, to show that he remembered his
manners. Madame Nanteuil begged him to stay.

"Don't go; Félicie won't be long now. She will be pleased to find you
here. You will have supper with her."

Madame Nanteuil dozed off again in her chair. Chevalier sat gazing in
silence at the clock hanging on the wall, and as the hand travelled
across the dial he felt a burning wound in his heart, which grew bigger
and bigger, and each little stroke of the pendulum touched him to the
quick, lending a keener eye to his jealousy, by recording the moments
which Félicie was passing with Ligny. For he was now convinced that they
were together. The stillness of the night, interrupted only by the
muffled sound of the cabs bowling along the boulevard, gave reality to
the thoughts and images which tortured him. He could see them.

Awakened with a start by the sound of singing on the pavement below,
Madame Nanteuil returned to the thought with which she had fallen
asleep.

"That's what I am always telling Félicie; one mustn't be discouraged.
One should not lose heart. We all have our ups and downs in life."

Chevalier nodded acquiescence.

"But those who suffer," he said, "only get what they deserve. It needs
but a moment to free oneself from all one's troubles. Isn't it so?"

She admitted the fact; certainly there were such things as sudden
opportunities, especially on the stage.

"Heaven knows," he continued in a deep, brooding voice, "it's not the
stage I am worrying about. I know I shall make a name for myself one
day, and a big one. But what's the good of being a great artist if one
isn't happy? There are stupid worries which are terrible! Pains that
throb in your temples with strokes as even and as regular as the ticking
of that clock, till they drive you mad!"

He ceased speaking; the gloomy gaze of his deep-set eyes fell upon the
trophy hanging on the wall. Then he continued:

"These stupid worries, these ridiculous sufferings, if one endures them
too long, it simply means that one is a coward."

And he felt the butt of the revolver which he always carried in his
pocket.

Madame Nanteuil listened to him serenely, with that gentle determination
not to know anything, which had been her one talent in life.

"Another dreadful thing," she observed, "is to decide what to have to
eat. Félicie is sick of everything. There's no knowing what to get for
her."

After that, the flagging conversation languished, drawn out into
detached phrases, which had no particular meaning. Madame Nanteuil, the
servant, the coke fire, the lamp, the plate of sausage, awaited Félicie
in depressing silence. The clock struck one. Chevalier's suffering had
by this time attained the serenity of a flood tide. He was now certain.
The cabs were not so frequent and their wheels echoed more loudly along
the street. The rumbling of one of these cabs suddenly ceased outside the
house. A few seconds later he heard the slight grating of a key in the
lock, the slamming of the door, and light footsteps in the outer room.

The clock marked twenty-three minutes past one. He was suddenly full of
agitation, yet hopeful. She had come! Who could tell what she would say?
She might offer the most natural explanation of her late arrival.

Félicie entered the room, her hair in disorder, her eyes shining, her
cheeks white, her bruised lips a vivid red; she was tired, indifferent,
mute, happy and lovely, seeming to guard beneath her cloak, which she
held wrapped about her with both hands, some remnant of warmth and
voluptuous pleasure.

"I was beginning to be worried," said her mother. "Aren't you going to
unfasten your cloak?"

"I'm hungry," she replied. She dropped into a chair before the little
round table. Throwing her cloak over the back of the chair, she revealed
her slender figure in its little black schoolgirl's dress, and, resting
her left elbow on the oil-cloth table-cover, she proceeded to stick her
fork into the sliced sausage.

"Did everything go off well to-night?" asked Madame Nanteuil.

"Quite well."

"You see Chevalier has come to keep you company. It is kind of him,
isn't it?"

"Oh, Chevalier! Well, let him come to the table."

And, without replying further to her mother's questions, she began to
eat, greedy and charming, like Ceres in the old woman's house. Then she
pushed aside her plate, and leaning back in her chair, with half-closed
eyes, and parted lips, she smiled a smile that was akin to a kiss.

Madame Nanteuil, having drunk her glass of mulled wine, rose to her feet.

"You will excuse me, Monsieur Chevalier, I have my accounts to bring up
to date."

This was the formula which she usually employed to announce that she was
going to bed.

Left alone with Félicie, Chevalier said to her angrily:

"I know I'm a fool and a groveller; but I'm going mad for love of you.
Do you hear, Félicie?"

"I should think I do hear. You needn't shout like that!"

"It's ridiculous, isn't it?"

"No, it's not ridiculous, it's----"

She did not complete the sentence.

He drew nearer to her, dragging his chair with him.

"You came in at twenty-five minutes past one. It was Ligny who saw you
home, I know it. He brought you back in a cab, I heard it stop outside
the house."

As she did not reply, he continued:

"Deny it, if you can!"

She remained silent, and he repeated, in an urgent, almost appealing
tone:

"Tell me he didn't!"

Had she been so inclined, she might, with a phrase, with a single word,
with a tiny movement of head or shoulders, have rendered him perfectly
submissive, and almost happy. But she maintained a malicious silence.
With compressed lips and a far-off look in her eyes, she seemed as
though lost in a dream.

He sighed hoarsely.

"Fool that I was, I didn't think of that! I told myself you would come
home, as on other nights, with Madame Doulce, or else alone. If I had
only known that you were going to let that fellow see you home!"

"Well, what would you have done, had you known it?"

"I should have followed you, by God!"

She stared at him with hard, unnaturally bright eyes.

"That I forbid you to do! Understand me! If I learn that you have
followed me, even once, I'll never see you again. To begin with, you
haven't the right to follow me. I suppose I am free to do as I like."

Choking with astonishment and anger, he stammered:

"Haven't the right to? Haven't the right to? You tell me I haven't the
right?"

"No, you haven't the right! Moreover, I won't have it." Her face assumed
an expression of disgust. "It's a mean trick to spy on a woman, if you
once try to find out where I'm going, I'll send you about your business,
and quickly at that."

"Then," he murmured, thunderstruck, "we are nothing to each other, I am
nothing to you. We have never belonged to each other. But see, Félicie,
remember----"

But she was losing patience:

"Well, what do you want me to remember?"

"Félicie, remember that you gave yourself to me!"

"My dear boy, you really can't expect me to think of that all day. It
wouldn't be proper."

He looked at her for a while, more in curiosity than in anger, and said
to her, half bitterly, half gently:

"They may well call you a selfish little jade! Be one, Félicie, be one,
as much as you like! What does it matter, since I love you? You are
mine; I am going to take you back; I am going to take you back, and keep
you. Think! I can't go on suffering for ever, like a poor dumb beast.
Listen. I'll start with a clean slate. Let us begin to love one another
over again. And this time it will be all right. And you'll be mine for
good, mine only. I am an honest man; you know that. You can depend on
me. I'll marry you as soon as I've got a position."

She gazed at him with disdainful surprise. He believed that she had
doubts as to his dramatic future, and, in order to banish them, he said,
erect on his long legs:

"Don't you believe in my star, Félicie? You are wrong. I can feel that I
am capable of creating great parts. Let them only give me a part, and
they'll see. And I have in me not only comedy, but drama, tragedy--yes,
tragedy. I can deliver verse properly. And that is a talent which is
becoming rare in these days. So don't imagine, Félicie, that I am
insulting you when I offer you marriage. Far from it! We will marry
later on, as soon as it is possible and suitable. Of course, there is
no need for hurry. Meanwhile, we will resume our pleasant habits of the
Rue des Martyrs. You remember, Félicie; we were so happy there! The bed
wasn't wide, but we used to say: "That doesn't matter." I have now two
fine rooms in the Rue de la Montagne-Saint-Geneviève, behind
Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. Your portrait hangs on every wall. You will find
there the little bed of the Rue des Martyrs. Listen to me, I beg of you:
I have suffered too much; I will not suffer any longer. I demand that
you shall be mine, mine only."

While he was speaking, Félicie had taken from the mantelpiece the pack
of cards with which her mother played every night, and was spreading
them out on the table.

"Mine only. You hear me, Félicie."

"Don't disturb me, I am busy with a game of patience."

"Listen to me, Félicie. I won't have you receiving that fool in your
dressing-room."

Looking at her cards she murmured:

"All the blacks are at the bottom of the pack."

"I say that fool. He is a diplomatist, and nowadays the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs is the refuge of incompetents." Raising his voice, he
continued: "Félicie, for your own sake, as well as for mine, listen to
me!"

"Well, don't shout, then. Mama is asleep."

He continued in muffled tones:

"Just get it into your head that I don't intend that Ligny shall be your
lover."

She raised her spiteful little face, and replied:

"And if he is my lover?"

He moved a step closer to her, raising his chair, gazing at her with the
eye of a madman, and laughing a cracked laugh.

"If he is your lover, he won't be so for long."

And he dropped the chair.

Now she was alarmed. She forced herself to smile.

"You know very well I'm joking!"

She succeeded without much difficulty in making him believe that she had
spoken thus merely to punish him, because he was getting unbearable. He
became calmer. She then informed him that she was tired out, that she
was dropping with sleep. At last he decided to go home. On the landing
he turned, and said:

"Félicie, I advise you, if you wish to avoid a tragedy, not to see Ligny
again."

She cried through the half-open door:

"Knock on the window of the porter's lodge, so that he can let you
out!"



CHAPTER IV


In the dark auditorium large linen sheets protected the balcony and the
boxes. The orchestra was covered with a huge dust-cloth, which, being
turned back at the edges, left room for a few human figures,
indistinctly seen in the gloom: actors, scene-shifters, costumiers,
friends of the manager, mothers and lovers and actresses. Here and there
shone a pair of eyes from the black recesses of the boxes.

They were rehearsing, for the fifty-sixth time, _La Nuit du 23 octobre
1812_, a celebrated drama, dating twenty years back, which had not as
yet been performed in this theatre. The actors knew their parts, and the
following day had been chosen for that last private rehearsal which on
stages less austere than that of the Odéon is known as "the dressmakers'
rehearsal."

Nanteuil had no part in the play. But she had had business at the
theatre that day, and, as she had been informed that Marie-Claire was
execrable in the part of General Malet's wife, she had come to have a
peep at her, concealed in the depths of a box.

The great scene of the second act was about to begin. The stage setting
represented an attic in the private asylum where the conspirator was
confined in 1812. Durville, who filled the part of General Malet, had
just made his entrance. He was rehearsing in costume: a long blue
frock-coat, with a collar reaching above his ears, and riding-breeches
of chamois leather. He had even gone so far as to make up his face for
the part, the clean-shaven soldierly face of the general of the Empire,
ornamented with the "hare's-foot" whiskers which were handed down by the
victors of Austerlitz to their sons, the bourgeois of July. Standing
erect, his right elbow resting in his left hand, his brow supported by
his right hand, his deep voice and his tight-fitting breeches expressed
his pride.

"Alone, and without funds, from the depths of a prison, to attack this
colossus, who commands a million soldiers, and who causes all the
peoples and kings of Europe to tremble. Well, this colossus shall fall
crashing to the ground."

From the back of the stage old Maury, who was playing the conspirator
Jacquemont, delivered his reply:

"He may crush us in his downfall."

Suddenly cries at once plaintive and angry arose from the orchestra.

The author was exploding. He was a man of seventy, brimming over with
youth.

"What do I see there at the back of the stage? It's not an actor, it's a
fire-place. We shall have to send for the bricklayers, the
marble-workers, to move it. Maury, do get a move on, confound you!"

Maury shifted his position.

"He may crush us in his downfall. I realize that it will not be your
fault, General. Your proclamation is excellent. You promise them a
constitution, liberty, equality. It is Machiavellian."

Durville replied:

"And in the best sense. An incorrigible breed, they are making ready to
violate the oaths that they have not yet taken, and, because they lie,
they believe themselves Machiavellis. What will you do with absolute
power, you simpletons?"

The strident voice of the author ground out:

"You are right off the track, Dauville."

"I?" asked the astonished Durville.

"Yes, you, Dauville, you do not understand a word of what you are
saying."

In order to humiliate them, "to take them down a peg," this man who, in
the whole course of his life, had never forgotten the name of a
dairy-woman or a hall-porter, disdained to remember the names of the
most illustrious actors.

"Dauville, my friend, just do that over again for me."

He could play every part well. Jovial, funereal, violent, tender,
impetuous, affectionate, he assumed at will a deep or a piping voice; he
sighed, he roared, he laughed, he wept. He could transform himself, like
the man in the fairy-tale, into a flame, a river, a woman, a tiger.

In the wings the actors exchanged only short and meaningless phrases.
Their freedom of speech, their easy morals, the familiarity of their
manners did not prevent their retaining so much of hypocrisy as is
needful, in any assemblage of men, if people are to look upon one
another without feelings of horror and disgust. There even prevailed, in
this workshop in full activity, a seemly appearance of harmony and
union, a oneness of feeling created by the thought, lofty or
commonplace, of the author, a spirit of order which compelled all
rivalries and all illwill to transform themselves into goodwill and
harmonious co-operation.

Nanteuil, sitting in her box, felt uneasy at the thought that Chevalier
was close at hand. For the last two days, since the night on which he
had uttered his obscure threats, she had not seen him again and the fear
with which he had inspired her still possessed her. "Félicie, if you
wish to prevent a tragedy, I advise you not to see Ligny again." What
did those words portend? She pondered deeply over Chevalier. This young
fellow, who, only two days earlier, had seemed to her commonplace and
insignificant, of whom she had seen a good deal too much, whom she knew
by heart--how mysterious and full of secrets he now appeared to her! How
suddenly it had dawned upon her that she did not know him! Of what was
he capable? She tried to guess. What was he going to do? Probably
nothing. All men who are thrown over by a woman utter threats and do
nothing. But was Chevalier a man quite like all the rest? People did say
that he was crazy. That was mere talk. But she herself did not feel sure
that there might not be a spark of insanity in him. She was studying him
now with genuine interest. Highly intelligent herself, she had never
discovered any great signs of intelligence in him; but he had on several
occasions astonished her by the obstinacy of his will. She could
remember his performing acts of the fiercest energy. Jealous by nature,
there were yet certain matters which he understood. He knew what a woman
is compelled to do in order to win a place on the stage, or to dress
herself properly; but he could not endure to be deceived for the sake of
love. Was he the sort of man to commit a crime, to do something
dreadful? That was what she could not decide. She recalled his mania for
handling firearms. When she used to visit him in the Rue des Martyrs,
she always found him in his room, taking an old shot-gun to pieces and
cleaning it. And yet he never went shooting. He boasted of being a dead
shot, and carried a revolver on his person. But what did that prove?
Never before had she thought so much about him.

Nanteuil was tormenting herself in this fashion in her box, when Jenny
Fagette came to join her there; Jenny Fagette, slender and fragile, the
incarnation of Alfred de Musset's Muse, who at night wore out her eyes
of periwinkle-blue by scribbling society notes and fashion articles. A
mediocre actress, but a clever and wonderfully energetic woman, she was
Nanteuil's most intimate friend. They recognized in each other
remarkable qualities, qualities which differed from those which each
discovered in herself, and they acted in concert as the two great Powers
of the Odéon. Nevertheless, Fagette was doing her best to take Ligny
away from her friend; not from inclination, for she was insensible as a
stick and held men in contempt, but with the idea that a liaison with a
diplomatist would procure her certain advantages, and above all, in
order not to miss the opportunity of doing something scandalous.
Nanteuil was aware of this. She knew that all her sister-actresses,
Ellen Midi, Duvernet, Herschell, Falempin, Stella, Marie-Claire, were
trying to take Ligny from her. She had seen Louise Dalle, who dressed
like a music-mistress, and always had the air of being about to storm an
omnibus, and retained, even in her provocations and accidental contacts,
the appearance of incurable respectability, pursue Ligny with her lanky
legs, and beset him with the glances of a poverty-stricken Pasiphae. She
had also surprised the oldest actress of the theatre, their excellent
mother Ravaud, in a corridor, baring, at Ligny's approach, all that was
left to her, her magnificent arms, which had been famous for forty
years.

Fagette, with disgust, and the tip of a gloved finger, called Nanteuil's
attention to the scene through which Durville, old Maury and
Marie-Claire were struggling.

"Just look at those people. They look as if they were playing at the
bottom of thirty fathoms of water."

"It's because the top lights are not lit."

"Not a bit of it. This theatre always looks as if it were at the bottom
of the sea. And to think that I, too, in a moment, have to enter that
aquarium. Nanteuil, you must not stop longer than one season in this
theatre. One is drowned in it. But look at them, look at them!"

Durville was becoming almost ventriloqual in order to seem more solemn
and more virile:

"Peace, the abolition of the combined martial and civil law, and of
conscription, higher pay for the troops; in the absence of funds, a few
drafts on the bank, a few commissions suitably distributed, these are
infallible means."

Madame Doulce entered the box. Unfastening her cloak with its pathetic
lining of old rabbit-skin, she produced a small dog's-eared book.

"They are Madame de Sévigné's letters," she said. "You know that next
Sunday I am going to give a reading of the best of Madame de Sévigné's
letters."

"Where?" asked Fagette.

"Salle Renard."

It must have been some remote and little known hall, for Nanteuil and
Fagette had not heard of it.

"I am giving this reading for the benefit of the three poor orphans left
by Lacour, the actor, who died so sadly of consumption this winter. I am
counting on you, my darlings, to dispose of some tickets for me."

"All the same, she really is ridiculous, Marie-Claire!" said Nanteuil.

Some one scratched at the door of the box. It was Constantin Marc, the
youthful author of a play, _La Grille_, which the Odéon was going to
rehearse immediately; and Constantin Marc, although a countryman living
in the forest, could henceforth breathe only in the theatre. Nanteuil
was to take the principal part in the play. He gazed upon her with
emotion, as the precious amphora destined to be the receptacle of his
thought.

Meanwhile Durville continued hoarsely:

"If our France can be saved only at the price of our life and honour, I
shall say, with the man of '93: 'Perish our memory!'"

Fagette pointed her finger at a bloated youth, who was sitting in the
orchestra, resting his chin on his walking-stick.

"Isn't that Baron Deutz?"

"Need you ask!" replied Nanteuil. "Ellen Midi is in the cast. She plays
in the fourth act. Baron Deutz has come to display himself."

"Just wait a minute, my children; I have a word to say to that
ill-mannered cub. He met me yesterday in the Place de la Concorde, and
he didn't bow to me."

"What, Baron Deutz? He couldn't have seen you!"

"He saw me perfectly well. But he was with his people. I am going to
have him on toast. Just you watch, my dears."

She called him very softly:

"Deutz! Deutz!"

The Baron came towards her, smiling and well-pleased with himself, and
leaned his elbows on the edge of the box.

"Tell me, Monsieur Deutz, when you met me yesterday, were you in very
bad company that you did not raise your hat to me?"

He looked at her in astonishment.

"I? I was with my sister."

"Oh!"

On the stage, Marie-Claire, hanging upon Durville's neck, was
exclaiming:

"Go! Victorious or defeated, in good or evil fortune, your glory will be
equally great. Come what may, I shall know how to show myself the wife
of a hero."

"That will do, Madame Marie-Claire!" said Pradel.

Just at that moment Chevalier made his entry, and immediately the
author, tearing his hair, let loose a flood of imprecations:

"Do you call that an entry? It's a tumble, a catastrophe, a cataclysm!
Ye gods! A meteor, an aerolith, a bit of the moon falling on to the
stage would be less horribly disastrous! I will take off my play!
Chevalier, come in again, my good fellow!"

The artist who had designed the costumes, Michel, a fair young man with
a mystic's beard, was seated in the first row, on the arm of a stall. He
leaned over and whispered into the ear of Roger, the scene-painter:

"And to think it's the fifty-sixth time that he's dropped on Chevalier
with the same fury!"

"Well, you know, Chevalier is rottenly bad," replied Roger, without
hesitation.

"It isn't that he is bad," returned Michel indulgently. "But he always
seems to be laughing, and nothing could be worse for a comedy actor. I
knew him when he was quite a kid, at Montmartre. At school his masters
used to ask him: 'Why are you laughing?' He was not laughing; he had no
desire to laugh; he used to get his ears boxed from morning to night.
His parents wanted to put him in a chemical factory. But he had dreams
of the stage, and spent his days on the Butte Montmartre, in the studio
of the painter Montalent. Montalent at that time was working day and
night on his _Death of Saint Louis_, a huge picture which was
commissioned for the cathedral of Carthage. One day, Montalent said to
him----"

"A little less noise!" shouted Pradel.

"Said to him: 'Chevalier, since you have nothing to do, just sit for
Philippe the Bold.' 'With pleasure,' said Chevalier. Montalent told him
to assume the attitude of a man bowed down with grief. More, he stuck
two tears as big as spectacle lenses on his cheeks. He finished his
picture, forwarded it to Carthage, and had half a dozen bottles of
champagne sent up. Three months later he received from Father Cornemuse,
the head of the French Missions in Tunis, a letter informing him that
his painting of the _Death of Saint Louis_, having been submitted to the
Cardinal-Archbishop, had been refused by His Eminence, because of the
unseemly expression on the face of Philippe the Bold who was laughing as
he watched the saintly King, his father, dying on a bed of straw.
Montalent could not make head or tail of it; he was furious, and wanted
to take proceedings against the Cardinal-Archbishop. His painting was
returned to him; he unpacked it, gazed at it in gloomy silence, and
suddenly shouted: 'It's true--Philippe the Bold appears to be splitting
his sides with laughter. What a fool I have been! I gave him the head of
Chevalier, who always seems to be laughing, the brute!'"

"Will you be quiet there!" yelled Pradel.

And the author exclaimed:

"Pradel, my dear boy, just pitch all those people into the street."

Indefatigable, he was arranging the scene:

"A little farther, Trouville, there. Chevalier, you walk up to the
table, you pick up the documents one by one, and you say:
'Senatus-Consultum. Order of the day. Despatches to the departments.
Proclamation,' Do you understand?"

"Yes, Master. 'Senatus-Consultum. Order of the day. Despatches to the
departments. Proclamation.'"

"Now, Marie-Claire, my child, a little more life, confound it! Cross
over! That's it! Very good. Back again! Good! Very good! Buck up! Ah,
the wretched woman! She's spoiling it all!"

He called the stage manager.

"Romilly, give us a little more light, one can't see an inch. Dauville,
my dear friend, what are you doing there in front of the prompter's box!
You seem glued to it! Just get into your head, once for all, that you
are not the statue of General Malet, that you are General Malet in
person, that my play is not a catalogue of wax-work figures, but a
living moving tragedy, one which brings the tears into your eyes, and----"

Words failed him, and he sobbed for a long while into his handkerchief.
Then he roared:

"Holy thunder! Pradel! Romilly! Where is Romilly? Ah, there he is, the
villain! Romilly, I told you to put the stove nearer the dormer-window.
You have not done so. What are you thinking of, my friend?"

The rehearsal was suddenly brought to a standstill by a serious
difficulty. Chevalier, the bearer of documents on which hung the fate of
the Empire, was to escape from his prison by the dormer-window. The
stage "business" had not yet been settled; it had been impossible to do
so before the setting of the stage was completed. It was now discovered
that the measurements had been wrongly taken, and the dormer-window was
not accessible.

The author leapt on to the stage.

"Romilly, my friend, the stove is not in the place fixed on. How can you
expect Chevalier to get out through the dormer-window? Push the stove to
the right at once."

"I'm willing enough," said Romilly, "but we shall be blocking up the
door."

"What's that? We shall be blocking up the door?"

"Precisely."

The manager of the theatre, the stage-manager, the scene-shifters stood
examining the stage-setting with gloomy attention, while the author held
his peace.

"Don't worry, Master," said Chevalier. "There's no need to change
anything. I shall be able to jump out all right."

Climbing on to the stove, he did indeed succeed in grasping the sill of
the window, and in hoisting himself up until his elbows rested on it, a
feat that had seemed impossible.

A murmur of admiration rose from the stage, the wings, and the house.
Chevalier had produced an astonishing impression by his strength and
agility.

"Splendid!" exclaimed the author. "Chevalier, my friend, that is
perfect. The fellow is as nimble as a monkey. I'll be hanged if any of
you could do as much. If all the parts were in such good hands as that
of Florentin, the play would be lauded to the skies."

Nanteuil, in her box, almost admired him. For one brief second he had
seemed to her more than man, both man and gorilla, and the fear with
which he had inspired her was immeasurably increased. She did not love
him; she had never loved him; she did not desire him; it was a long time
since she had really wanted him; and, for some days past, she had been
unable to imagine herself taking pleasure in any other than Ligny; but
had she at that moment found herself alone with Chevalier she would have
felt powerless, and she would have sought to appease him by her
submission as one appeases a supernatural power.

On the stage, while an Empire _salon_ was being lowered from the flies,
through all the noise of the running gear and the grounding of the
supports, the author held the whole of the company, as well as all the
supers, in the hollow of his hand, and at the same time gave them all
advice, or illustrated what he wanted of them.

"You, the big woman, the cake-seller, Madame Ravaud, haven't you ever
heard the women calling in the Champs-Élysées: 'Eat your fill, ladies!
This way for a treat!' It is _sung_. Just learn the tune by to-morrow.
And you, drummer-boy, just give me your drum; I'm going to teach you how
to beat the roll, confound it! Fagette, my child, what the mischief are
you doing at a ball given by the Minister of Police, if you haven't any
stockings with golden clocks? Take off those knitted woollen stockings
immediately. This is the very last play that I shall produce in this
theatre. Where is the colonel of the 10th cohort? So it's you? Well
then, my friend, your soldiers march past like so many pigs. Madame
Marie-Claire, come forward a little, so that I may teach you how to
curtsy."

He had a hundred eyes, a hundred mouths, and arms and legs everywhere.

In the house, Romilly was shaking hands with Monsieur Gombaut, of the
Academy of Moral Sciences, who had dropped in as a neighbour.

"You may say what you will, Monsieur Gombaut, it is perhaps not accurate
as far as facts are concerned, but it's drama."

"Malet's conspiracy," replied Monsieur Gombaut, "remains, and will
doubtless remain for a long time to come, an historical enigma. The
author of this drama has taken advantage of those points which are
obscure in order to introduce dramatic elements. But what, to my
thinking, is beyond a doubt, is that General Malet, although associated
with Royalists, was himself a Republican, and was working for the
re-establishment of popular Government. In the course of his examination
during the trial, he pronounced a sublime and profound utterance. When
the presiding judge of the court-martial asked him: 'Who were your
accomplices?' Malet replied: 'All France, and you yourself, had I
succeeded.'"

Leaning on the edge of Nanteuil's box, an aged sculptor, as venerable
and as handsome as an ancient satyr, was gazing with glistening eye and
smiling lips at the stage, which at that moment was in a state of
commotion and confusion.

"Are you pleased with the play, Master?" Nanteuil asked him.

And the Master, who had no eyes for anything but bones, tendons and
muscles, replied:

"Yes, indeed, mademoiselle; yes, indeed! I see over there a little
creature, little Midi, whose shoulder attachment is a jewel."

He outlined it with his thumb. Tears welled up into his eyes.

Chevalier asked if he might enter the box. He was happy, less on account
of his prodigious success than at seeing Félicie. He dreamed, in his
infatuation, that she had come for his sake, that she loved him, that
she was returning to him.

She feared him, and, as she was timid, she flattered him.

"I congratulate you, Chevalier. You were simply astounding. Your exit is
a marvel. You can take my word for it. I am not the only one to say so.
Fagette thought you were wonderful."

"Really?" asked Chevalier.

It was one of the happiest moments of his life.

A shrieking voice issued from the deserted heights of the third
galleries, sounding through the house like the whistle of a locomotive.

"One can't hear a word you say, my children; speak louder and pronounce
your words distinctly!"

The author appeared, infinitely small, in the shadow of the dome.

Thereupon the utterance of the players who were collected at the front
of the stage, around a naphtha flare, rose more distinctly:

"The Emperor will allow the troops to rest for some weeks at Moscow;
then with the rapidity of an eagle he will swoop down upon St.
Petersburg."

"Spades, clubs, trump, two points to me."

"There we shall spend the winter, and next spring we shall penetrate
into India, crossing Persia, and the British power will be a thing of
the past."

"Thirty-six in diamonds."

"And I the four aces."

"By the way, gentlemen, what say you to the Imperial decree concerning
the actors of Paris, dated from the Kremlin? There's an end of the
squabbles between Mademoiselle Mars and Mademoiselle Leverd."

"Do look at Fagette," said Nanteuil. "She is charming in that blue
Marie-Louise dress trimmed with chinchilla."

Madame Doulce brought out from under her furs a stack of tickets already
soiled through having been too frequently offered.

"Master," she said, addressing Constantin Marc, "you know that next
Sunday I am to give a reading, with appropriate remarks, of the best
letters of Madame de Sévigné, for the benefit of the three poor orphans
left by Lacour, the actors who died this winter in so deplorable a
fashion."

"Had he any talent?" asked Constantin Marc.

"None whatever," said Nanteuil.

"Well, then, in what way is his death deplorable?"

"Oh, Master," sighed Madame Doulce, "do not pretend to be unfeeling."

"I am not pretending to be unfeeling. But here is something that
surprises me: the value which we set upon the lives of those who are not
of the slightest interest to us. We seem as though we believe that life
is in itself something precious. Yet nature teaches us plainly enough
that nothing is more worthless and contemptible. In former days people
were less besmeared with sentimentalism. Each of us held his own life to
be infinitely precious, but he did not profess any respect whatever for
the life of others. We were nearer to nature in those days. We were
created to devour one another. But our debilitated, enervated,
hypocritical race wallows in a sly cannibalism. While we are gulping one
another down we declare that life is sacred, and we no longer dare to
confess that life is murder."

"That life is murder," echoed Chevalier dreamily, without grasping the
meaning of the words.

Then he poured forth a string of nebulous ideas:

"Murder and bloodshed, that may be! But amusing bloodshed, and comical
murder. Life is a burlesque catastrophe, a terrible comedy, the mask of
carnival over blood-stained cheeks. That is what life means to the
artist; the artist on the stage, and the artist in action."

Nanteuil uneasily sought a meaning in these confused phrases.

The actor continued excitedly:

"Life is yet another thing: it is the flower and the knife, it is to see
red one day and blue the next, it is hatred and love, ravishing,
delightful hatred, cruel love."

"Monsieur Chevalier," asked Constantin Marc in the quietest of tones,
"does it not seem to you natural to be a murderer, and do you not think
that it is merely the fear of being killed that prevents us from
killing?"

Chevalier replied in deep, pensive tones:

"Most certainly not! It would not be the fear of being killed that would
prevent me from killing. I have no fear of death. But I feel a respect
for the life of others. I am humane in spite of myself. I have for some
time past been seriously considering the question which you have just
asked me, Monsieur Constantin Marc. I have pondered over it day and
night, and I know now that I could not kill any one.'"

At this, Nanteuil, filled with joy, cast upon him a look of contempt.
She feared him no longer, and she could not forgive him for having
alarmed her.

She rose.

"Good evening; I have a headache. Good-bye till to-morrow, Monsieur
Constantin Marc." And she went out briskly.

Chevalier ran after her down the corridor, descended the stage staircase
behind her, and rejoined her by the stage doorkeeper's box.

"Félicie, come and dine with me to-night at our cabaret. I should be so
glad if you would! Will you?"

"Good gracious, no!"

"Why won't you?"

"Leave me alone; you are bothering me!"

She tried to escape. He detained her.

"I love you so! Don't be too cruel to me!"

Taking a step towards him, her lips curling back from her clenched
teeth, she hissed into his ear:

"It's all over, over, over! You hear me? I am fed up with you."

Then, very gently and solemnly, he said:

"It is the last time that we two shall speak together. Listen, Félicie,
before there is a tragedy I ought to warn you. I cannot compel you to
love me. But I do not intend that you shall love another. For the last
time I advise you not to see Monsieur de Ligny again, I shall prevent
your belonging to him."

"You will prevent me? You? My poor dear fellow!"

In a still more gentle tone he replied:

"I mean it; I shall do it. A man can get what he wants; only he must pay
the price."



CHAPTER V


Returning home, Félicie succumbed to a fit of tears. She saw Chevalier
once more imploring her in a despairing voice with the look of a poor
man. She had heard that voice and seen that expression when passing
tramps, worn out with fatigue, on the high road, when her mother fearing
that her lungs were affected, had taken her to spend the winter at
Antibes with a wealthy aunt. She despised Chevalier for his gentleness
and tranquil manner. But the recollection of that face and that voice
disturbed her. She could not eat, she felt as if she were suffocating.
In the evening she was attacked by such an excruciating internal pain
that she thought she must be dying. She thought this feeling of
prostration was due to the fact that it was two days since she had seen
Robert. It was only nine o'clock. She hoped that she might find him
still at home, and put on her hat.

"Mamma, I have to go to the theatre this evening. I am off."

Out of consideration for her mother, she was in the habit of making such
veiled explanations.

"Go, my child, but don't come home too late."

Ligny lived with his parents. He had, on the top floor of the charming
house in the Rue Vernet, a small bachelor flat, lit by round windows,
which he called his "oeil-de-boeuf." Félicie sent word by the
hall-porter that a lady was waiting for him in a carriage. Ligny did not
care for women to look him up too often in the bosom of his family. His
father, who was in the diplomatic service, and deeply engrossed in the
foreign interests of the country, remained in an incredible state of
ignorance as to what went on in his own house. But Madame de Ligny was
determined that the decencies of life should be observed in her home,
and her son was careful to satisfy her requirements in the matter of
outward appearances, since they never probed to the bottom of things.
She left him perfectly free to love where he would, and only rarely, in
serious and expansive moments, did she hint that it was to the advantage
of young men to cultivate the acquaintance of women of their own class.
Hence it was that Robert had always dissuaded Félicie from coming to him
in the Rue Vernet. He had rented, in the Boulevard de Villiers, a small
house, where they could meet in absolute freedom. But on the present
occasion, after two days without seeing her, he was greatly pleased by
her unexpected visit, and he came down immediately.

Leaning back in the cab, they drove through the darkness and the snow,
at the quiet pace of their aged hack, through the streets and
boulevards, while the darkness of the night cloaked their love-making.

At her door, having seen her home, he said:

"Good-bye till to-morrow."

"Yes, to-morrow, Boulevard de Villiers. Come early."

She was leaning on him preparatory to stepping down from the cab.
Suddenly she started back.

"There! There! Among the trees. He has seen us. He was watching us."

"Who, then?"

"A man--some one I don't know."

She had just recognized Chevalier. She stepped out, rang the bell, and,
nestling in Robert's fur coat, waited, trembling, for the door to open.
When it was opened, she detained him.

"Robert, see me upstairs, I am frightened."

Not without some impatience, he followed her up the stairs.

Chevalier had waited for Félicie, in the little dining-room, before the
armour which she had worn as Jeanne d'Arc, together with Madame
Nanteuil, until one o'clock in the morning. He had left at that hour,
and had watched for her on the pavement, and on seeing the cab stop in
front of the door he had concealed himself behind a tree. He knew very
well that she would return with Ligny; but when he saw them together it
was as if the earth had yawned beneath him, and, so that he should not
fall to the ground, he had clutched the trunk of the tree. He remained
until Ligny had emerged from the house; he watched him as, wrapped in
his fur coat, he got into the cab, took a couple of steps as if to
spring on him, stopped short, and then with long strides went down the
boulevard.

He went his way, driven by the rain and wind. Feeling too hot, he doffed
his felt hat, and derived a certain pleasure from the sense of the icy
drops of water on his forehead. He was vaguely conscious that houses,
trees, walls, and lights went past him indefinitely; he wandered on,
dreaming.

He found himself, without knowing how he had got there, on a bridge
which he hardly knew. Half-way across it stood the colossal statue of a
woman. His mind was now at rest; he had formed a resolution. It was an
old idea, which he had now driven into his brain like a nail, which
pierced it through and through. He no longer examined it. He calculated
coldly the means of carrying out the thing he had determined to do. He
walked straight ahead at random, absorbed in thought, and as calm as a
mathematician.

On the Pont des Arts he became aware that a dog was following him. He
was a big, long-haired farm dog, with eyes of different colours, which
were full of gentleness, and an expression of infinite distress.
Chevalier spoke to him:

"You've no collar. You are not happy. Poor fellow, I can't do anything
for you."

By four o'clock in the morning he found himself in the Avenue de
l'Observatoire. On seeing the houses of the Boulevard Saint-Michel he
experienced a painful impression and abruptly turned back toward the
Observatory. The dog had vanished. Near the monument of the Lion of
Belfort, Chevalier stopped in front of a deep trench which cut the road
in two. Against the bank of excavated earth, under a tarpaulin supported
by four stakes, an old man was keeping vigil before a brazier. The
lappets of his rabbit-skin cap were down over his ears; his huge nose
was a flaming red. He raised his head; his eyes, which were watering,
seemed wholly white, without pupils, each set in a ring of fire and
tears. He was stuffing into the bowl of his cutty a few scraps of
canteen tobacco, mixed with bread-crumbs, which did not fill half the
bowl of his little pipe.

"Will you have some tobacco, old fellow?" asked Chevalier, offering him
his pouch.

The man's answer was slow in coming. His understanding was not quick,
and courtesies astonished him. Finally, he opened a mouth which was
quite black, and said:

"I won't say no to that."

He half rose from his seat. One of his feet was shod in an old slipper;
the other was swathed in rags. Slowly, with hands numb with the cold, he
stuffed his pipe. It was snowing, a snow that melted as it fell.

"You will excuse me?" said Chevalier, and he slipped under the tarpaulin
and seated himself beside the old man.

From time to time they exchanged a remark.

"Rotten weather!"

"It's what we expect at this season. Winter's hard; summer's better."

"So you look after the job at night, old fellow?"

The old man answered readily when questioned. Before he spoke his throat
emitted a long, very gentle murmur.

"I do one thing one day; another thing another. Odd jobs. See?"

"You are not a Parisian?"

"No, I was born in La Creuse. I used to work as a navvy in the Vosges.
I left there the year the Prussians and other foreigners came. There
were thousands of them. Can't understand where they all came from. Maybe
you've heard of the war of the Prussians, young man?"

He remained silent for a long spell and then resumed:

"So you are out on a spree, my lad. You don't feel like going back to
the works yet?"

"I am an actor," replied Chevalier.

The old man who did not understand, inquired:

"Where is it, your works?"

Chevalier was anxious to rouse the old man's admiration.

"I play comedy parts in a big theatre," he said. "I am one of the
principal actors at the Odéon. You know the Odéon?"

The watchman shook his head. No, he did not know the Odéon. After a
prolonged silence, he once more opened the black cavern of his mouth:

"And so, young man, you are on the loose. You don't want to go back to
the works, eh?"

Chevalier replied:

"Read the paper the day after to-morrow, you will see my name in it."

The old man tried to discover a meaning in these words, but it was too
difficult; he gave it up, and reverted to his familiar train of thought.

"When once one's off on the loose, it is sometimes for weeks and
months."

At daybreak, Chevalier resumed his wanderings. The sky was milky. Heavy
wheels were breaking the silence of the paved roads. Voices, here and
there, rang through the keen air. The snow was no longer falling. He
walked on at haphazard. The spectacle of the city's reviving life made
him feel almost cheerful. On the Pont des Arts he stood for a long time
watching the Seine flow by, after which he continued on his way. On the
Place du Havre he saw an open café. A faint streak of dawn was reddening
the front windows. The waiters were sanding the brick pavement and
setting out the tables. He flung himself into a chair.

"Waiter, an absinthe."



CHAPTER VI


In the cab, beyond the fortifications, which were skirted by the
deserted boulevard, Félicie and Robert held one another in a close
embrace.

"Don't you love your own Félicie? Tell me! Doesn't it flatter your
vanity to possess a little woman who makes people cheer and clap her,
who is written about in the newspapers? Mamma pastes all my notices in
her album. The album is full already."

He replied that he had not waited for her to succeed before discovering
how charming she was; and, in fact, their liaison had begun when she was
making an obscure first appearance at the Odéon in a revival which had
fallen flat.

"When you told me that you wanted me, I didn't keep you waiting, did I?
We didn't take long about that! Wasn't I right? You are too sensible to
think badly of me because I didn't keep things dragging along. When I
saw you for the first time I felt that I was to be yours, so it wasn't
worth while delaying. I don't regret it. Do you?"

The cab stopped at a short distance from the fortifications, in front
of a garden railing.

This railing, which had not been painted for a long time, stood on a
wall faced with pebbles, low and broad enough to permit of children
perching themselves on it. It was screened half-way up by a sheet of
iron with a toothed edge, and its rusty spikes did not rise more than
ten feet above the ground. In the centre, between two pillars of masonry
surmounted by cast-iron vases, the railing formed a gate opening in the
middle, filled in across its lower part, and furnished, on the inside,
with worm-eaten slatted shutters.

They alighted from the cab. The trees of the boulevard, in four straight
lines, lifted their frail skeletons in the fog. They heard, through the
wide silence, the diminishing rattle of their cab, on its way back to
the barrier, and the trotting of a horse coming from Paris.

"How dismal the country is!" she said, with a shiver.

"But, my darling, the Boulevard de Villiers is not the country."

He could not open the gate, and the lock creaked. Irritated by the
sound, she said:

"Open it, do: the noise is getting on my nerves."

She noticed that the cab which had come from Paris had stopped near
their house, at about the tenth tree from where she stood; she looked at
the thin, steaming horse and the shabby driver, and asked:

"What is that carriage?"

"It's a cab, my pet."

"Why does it stop here?"

"It has not stopped here? It's stopping in front of the next house."

"There is no next house; there's only a vacant lot."

"Well, then, it has stopped in front of a vacant lot. What more can I
tell you?"

"I don't see anyone getting out of it."

"The driver is perhaps waiting for a fare."

"What, in front of a vacant lot!"

"Probably, my dear. This lock has got rusty."

She crept along, hiding herself behind the trees, toward the spot where
the cab had stopped, and then returned to Ligny, who had succeeded in
unlocking the gate.

"Robert, the blinds of the cab are down."

"Well, then, there's a loving couple inside."

"Don't you think there's something queer about that cab?"

"It is not a thing of beauty, but all cabs are ugly. Come in."

"Isn't somebody following us?"

"Whom do you expect to follow us?"

"I don't know. One of your women friends."

But she was not saying what was in her thoughts.

"Do come in, my darling."

When she had entered the garden she said:

"Be sure to close the gate properly, Robert."

Before them stretched a small oval grass-plot.

Behind it stood the house, with its flight of three steps, sheltered by
a zinc portico, its six windows, and its slate roof.

Ligny had rented it for a year from an old merchant's clerk, who had
wearied of it because nocturnal prowlers used to steal his fowls and
rabbits. On either side of the grass-plot a gravel path led to the
steps. They took the path on the right. The gravel creaked beneath their
feet.

"Madame Simonneau has forgotten to close the shutters again," said
Ligny.

Madame Simonneau was a woman from Neuilly, who came every morning to
clean up.

A large Judas-tree, leaning to one side, and to all appearance dead,
stretched one of its round black branches as far as the portico.

"I don't quite like that tree," said Félicie; "its branches are like
great snakes. One of them goes almost into our room."

They went up the three front steps; and, while he was looking through
his bunch of keys for the key of the front door, she rested her head on
his shoulder.

       *       *       *       *       *

Félicie, when unveiling her beauty, displayed a serene pride which made
her adorable. She revealed such a quiet satisfaction in her nudity that
her chemise, when it fell to her feet, made the onlooker think of a
white peacock.

And when Robert saw her in her nakedness, bright as the streams or
stars, he said:

"At least you don't make one badger you! Its curious: there are women,
who, even if you don't ask them for anything, surrender themselves
completely, go just as far as it's possible to go, yet all the time they
won't let you see so much as a finger-breadth of skin."

"Why?" asked Félicie, playing with the airy threads of her hair.

Robert de Ligny had experience of women. Yet he did not realize what an
insidious question this was. He had received some training in moral
science, and in replying he derived inspiration from the professors
whose classes he had attended.

"It is doubtless a matter of training, religious principles, and an
innate feeling which survives even when----"

This was not at all what he ought to have replied, for Félicie,
shrugging her shoulders, and placing her hands upon her smoothly
polished hips, interrupted him sharply:

"Well, you are simple! It's because they've got bad figures! Training!
Religion! It makes me boil to hear such rubbish! Have I been brought up
any worse than other women? Have I less religion than they have? Tell
me, Robert, how many really well-made women have you ever seen? Just
reckon them up on your fingers. Yes, there are heaps of women who won't
show their shoulders or anything. Take Fagette; she won't let even women
see her undress; when she puts a clean chemise on she holds the old one
between her teeth. Sure enough, I should do the same if I were built as
she is!"

She relapsed into silence, and, with quiet arrogance, slowly ran the
palms of her hands over her sides and her loins, observing proudly:

"And the best of it is that there's not too much of me anywhere."

She was conscious of the charm imparted to her beauty by the graceful
slenderness of her outlines.

Now her head, thrown back on the pillow, was bathed in the masses of her
golden tresses, which lay streaming in all directions; her slender body,
slightly raised by a pillow slipped beneath her loins, lay motionless at
full length; one gleaming leg was extended along the edge of the bed,
ending in a sharply chiselled foot like the point of a sword. The light
from the great fire which had been lit in the fireplace gilded her
flesh, casting palpitating lights and shadows over her motionless body,
clothing it in mystery and splendour, while her outer clothing and her
underlinen, lying on the chairs and the carpet, waited, like a docile
flock.

She raised herself on her elbow, resting her cheek in her hand.

"You are the first, really you are, I am not lying: the others don't
exist."

He felt no jealousy in respect of the past; he had no fear of
comparisons. He questioned her:

"Then the others?"

"To begin with, there were only two: my professor, and he of course
doesn't count, and there was the man I told you about, a solid sort of a
person, whom my mother saddled me with."

"No more?"

"I swear it."

"And Chevalier?"

"Chevalier? He? Good gracious, no! You wouldn't have had me look at
him!"

"And the solid sort of person found by your mother, he, too, does not
count any more?"

"I assure you that, with you, I am another woman. It's the solemn truth
that you are the first to possess me. It's queer, all the same.
Directly I set eyes on you I wanted you. Quite suddenly I felt I must
have you. I felt it somehow. What? I should find it very hard to say.
Oh, I didn't stop to think. With your conventional, stiff, frigid
manners, and your appearance, like a curly-haired little wolf, you
pleased me, that was all! And now I could not do without you. No,
indeed, I couldn't."

He assured her that on her surrender he had been deliciously surprised;
he said all sorts of pretty, caressing things, all of which had been
said before.

Taking his head in her hands, she said:

"You have really the teeth of a wolf. I think it was your teeth that
made me want you the first day. Bite me!"

He pressed her to his bosom, and felt her firm supple body respond to
his embrace. Suddenly she released herself:

"Don't you hear the gravel creaking?"

"No."

"Listen: I can hear a sound of footsteps on the path."

Sitting upright, her body bent forward, she strained her ears.

He was disappointed, excited, irritated, and perhaps his self-esteem was
slightly hurt.

"What has come over you? It's absurd."

She cried very sharply:

"Do hold your tongue!"

She was listening intently to a slight sound, near at hand, as of
breaking branches.

Suddenly she leapt from the bed with such instinctive agility, with a
movement so like the rapid spring of a young animal, that Ligny,
although by no means of a literary turn of mind, thought of the cat
metamorphosed into a woman.

"Are you crazy? Where are you going?"

Raising a corner of the curtain, she wiped the moisture from the corner
of a pane, and peered out through the window. She saw nothing but the
night. The noise had ceased altogether.

During this time, Ligny, lying moodily against the wall, was grumbling:

"As you will, but, if you catch a cold, so much the worse for you!"

She glided back into bed. At first he remained somewhat resentful; but
she wrapped him about with the delicious freshness of her body.

When they came to themselves they were surprised to see by one of their
watches that it was seven o'clock.

Ligny lit the lamp, a paraffin lamp, supported on a column, with a
cut-glass container inside which the wick was curled up like a
tape-worm. Félicie was very quick in dressing herself. They had to
descend one floor by a wooden staircase, dark and narrow. He went ahead,
carrying the lamp, and halted in the passage.

"You go out, darling, before I put the lamp out."

She opened the door, and immediately recoiled with a loud shriek. She
had seen Chevalier standing on the outer steps, with arms extended,
tall, black, erect as a crucifix. His hand grasped a revolver. The glint
of the weapon was not perceptible; nevertheless she saw it quite
distinctly.

"What's the matter?" demanded Ligny, who was turning down the wick of
the lamp.

"Listen, but don't come near me!" cried Chevalier in a loud voice. "I
forbid you to belong to one another. This is my dying wish. Good-bye,
Félicie."

And he slipped the barrel of the revolver into his mouth.

Crouching against the passage wall, she closed her eyes. When she
reopened them, Chevalier was lying on his side, across the doorway. His
eyes were wide open, and he seemed to be gazing at them with a smile. A
thread of blood was trickling from his mouth over the flagstones of the
porch. A convulsive tremor shook his arm. Then he ceased to move. As he
lay there, huddled up; he seemed smaller than usual.

On hearing the report of the revolver, Ligny had hurriedly come forward.
In the darkness of the night he raised the body, and immediately
lowering it gently to the ground he attempted to strike matches, which
the wind promptly extinguished. At last, by the flare of one of the
matches, he saw that the bullet had carried away part of the skull, that
the meninges were laid bare over an area as large as the palm of the
hand; this area was grey, oozing blood, and very irregular in shape, its
outlines reminding Ligny of the map of Africa. He was conscious of a
sudden feeling of respect in the presence of this dead man. Placing his
hands under the armpits, he dragged Chevalier with the minutest
precautions into the room at the side. Leaving him there, he hurried
through the house in quest of Félicie, calling to her.

He found her in the bedroom, with her head buried under the bed-clothes
of the unmade bed, crying: "Mamma! Mamma!" and repeating prayers.

"Don't stay here, Félicie."

She went downstairs with him. But, on reaching the hall, she said:

"You know very well that we can't go out that way."

He showed her out by the kitchen door.



CHAPTER VII


Left alone in the silent house, Robert de Ligny relit the lamp. Serious
and even somewhat solemn voices were beginning to speak within him.
Moulded from childhood by the rules of moral responsibility, he now
experienced a sensation of painful regret, akin to remorse. Reflecting
that he had caused the death of this man, albeit without intending it or
knowing it, he did not feel wholly innocent. Shreds of his philosophic
and religious training came back to him, disturbing his conscience. The
phrases of moralists and preachers, learned at school, which had sunk to
the very depths of his memory, suddenly rose in his mind. Its inward
voices repeated them to him. They said, quoting some old religious
orator: "When we abandon ourselves to irregularities of conduct, even to
those regarded as least culpable in the opinion of the world, we render
ourselves liable to commit the most reprehensible actions. We perceive,
from the most frightful examples, that voluptuousness leads to crime."

These maxims, upon which he had never reflected, suddenly assumed for
him a precise and austere meaning. He thought the matter over seriously.
But since his mind was not deeply religious, and since he was incapable
of cherishing exaggerated scruples, he was conscious of only a passable
degree of edification, which was steadily diminishing. Before long he
decided that such scruples were out of place and that they could not
possibly apply to the situation. "When we abandon ourselves to
irregularities of conduct, even to those regarded as least culpable in
the opinion of the world.... We perceive, from the most frightful
examples...." These phrases, which only a little while ago had
reverberated through his soul like a peal of thunder, he now heard in
the snuffling and throaty voices of the professors and priests who had
taught them to him, and he found them somewhat ridiculous. By a natural
association of ideas he recalled a passage from an ancient Roman
history--which he had read, when in the second form, during a certain
course of study, and which had impressed itself on his mind--a few lines
concerning a lady who was convicted of adultery and accused of having
set fire to Rome. "So true it is," ran the historian's comment, "that a
person who violates the laws of chastity is capable of any crime." He
smiled inwardly at this recollection, reflecting that the moralists,
after all, had queer ideas about life.

The wick, which was charring, gave an insufficient light. He could not
manage to snuff it, and it was giving out a horrible stench of paraffin.
Thinking of the author of the passage relating to the Roman lady, he
said to himself: "Sure enough, it was a queer idea that he got hold of
there!"

He felt reassured as to his innocence. His slight feeling of remorse had
entirely evaporated, and he was unable to conceive how he could for a
moment have believed himself responsible for Chevalier's death. Yet the
affair troubled him.

Suddenly he thought: "Supposing he were still alive!"

A while ago, for the space of a second, by the light of a match blown
out as soon as it was struck, he had seen the hole in the actor's skull.
But what if he had seen incorrectly? What if he had taken a mere graze
of the skin for a serious lesion of the brain and skull? Does a man
retain his powers of judgment in the first moments of surprise and
horror? A wound may be hideous without being mortal, or even
particularly serious. It had certainly seemed to him that the man was
dead. But was he a medical man, able to judge with certainty?

He lost all patience with the wick, which was still charring, and
muttered:

"This lamp is enough to poison one."

Then recalling a trick of speech habitual to Dr. Socrates, as to the
origin of which he was ignorant, he repeated mentally:

"This lamp stinks like thirty-six cart-loads of devils."

Instances occurred to him of several abortive attempts at suicide. He
remembered having read in a newspaper that a married man, after killing
his wife, had, like Chevalier, fired his revolver into his mouth, but
had only succeeded in shattering his jaw; he remembered that at his club
a well known sportsman, after a card scandal, tried to blow out his
brains but merely shot off an ear. These instances applied to Chevalier
with striking exactitude.

"Supposing he were not dead."

He wished and hoped against all evidence that the unfortunate man might
still be breathing, that he might be saved. He thought of fetching
bandages, of giving first aid. Intending to re-examine the man lying in
the front room, he raised the lamp, which was still emitting an
insufficient light, too suddenly, and so extinguished it. Whereupon,
surprised by the sudden darkness, he lost patience and exclaimed:

"Confound the blasted thing!"

While lighting it again, he flattered himself with the idea that
Chevalier, once taken to hospital, would regain consciousness, and would
live, and seeing him already on his feet, perched on his long legs,
bawling, clearing his throat, sneering, his desire for his recovery
became less eager; he was even beginning to cease to desire it, to
regard it as annoying and inconsiderate. He asked himself anxiously,
with a feeling of real uneasiness:

"What in the world would he do if he came back, that dismal actor
fellow? Would he return to the Odéon? Would he stroll through its
corridors displaying his great scar? Would he once more have to see him
prowling round Félicie?"

He held the lighted lamp close to the body and recognized the livid
bleeding wound, the irregular outline of which reminded him of the
Africa of his schoolboy maps.

Plainly death had been instantaneous, and he failed to understand how he
could for a moment have doubted it.

He left the house and proceeded to stride up and down in the garden. The
image of the wound was flashing before his eyes like the impression
caused by too bright a light. It moved away from him, increasing in size
against the black sky; it took the shape of a pale continent whence he
saw swarms of distracted little blacks pouring forth, armed with bows
and arrows.

He decided that the first thing to do was to fetch Madame Simonneau, who
lived close at hand, in the Boulevard Bineau, in the residential part of
the café. He closed the gate carefully, and went in search of the
housekeeper. Once on the boulevard, he recovered his equanimity. He felt
most uncomfortable about the accident; he accepted the accomplished
fact, but he cavilled at fate in respect of the circumstances. Since
there had to be a death, he gave his consent that there should be one,
but he would have preferred another. Toward this one he was conscious of
a feeling of disgust and repugnance. He said to himself vaguely:

"I concede a suicide. But what is the good of a ridiculous and
declamatory suicide? Couldn't the fellow have killed himself at home?
Couldn't he, if his determination was irrevocable, have carried it out
discreetly, with proper pride? That is what a gentleman would have done
in his position. Then one might have pitied him, and respected his
memory."

He recalled word for word his conversation with Félicie in the bedroom
an hour before the tragedy. He asked her if she had not for a time been
Chevalier's mistress. He had asked her this, not because he wanted to
know, for he had very little doubt of it, but in order to show that he
knew it. And she had replied indignantly: "Chevalier? He? Good gracious
no! You wouldn't have had me look at him!"

He did not blame her for having lied. All women lie. He rather enjoyed
the graceful and easy manner with which she had cast the fellow out of
her past. But he was vexed with her for having given herself to a
low-down actor. Chevalier spoilt Félicie for him. Why did she take
lovers of that type? Was she wanting in taste? Did she not exercise a
certain selection? Did she behave like a woman of the town? Did she lack
a certain sense of niceness which warns women as to what they may or may
not do? Didn't she know how to behave? Well, this was the sort of thing
that happened if women had no breeding. He blamed Félicie for the
accident that had occurred and was relieved of a heavy incubus.

Madame Simonneau was not at home. He inquired her whereabouts of the
waiters in the café, the grocer's assistants, the girls at the laundry,
the police, and the postman. At last, following the direction of a
neighbour, he found her poulticing an old lady, for she was a nurse. Her
face was purple and she reeked of brandy. He sent her to watch the
corpse. He instructed her to cover it with a sheet, and to hold herself
at the disposal of the commissary and the doctor, who would come for the
particulars. She replied, somewhat nettled, that she knew please God,
what she had to do. She did indeed know. Madame Simonneau was born in a
social circle which is obsequious to the constituted authorities and
respects the dead. But when, having questioned Monsieur de Ligny, she
learnt that he had dragged the body into the front room, she could not
conceal from him that such behaviour was imprudent and might expose him
to unpleasantness.

"You ought not to have done it," she told him. "When anyone has killed
himself, you must never touch him before the police come."

Ligny thereupon went off to notify the commissary. The first excitement
having passed off, he no longer felt any surprise, doubtless because
events which, considered from a distance, would seem strange, when they
take place before us appear quite natural, as indeed they are. They
unfold themselves in an ordinary fashion, falling into place as a
succession of petty facts, and eventually losing themselves in the
everyday commonplace of life. His mind was distracted from the violent
death of an unfortunate fellow-creature by the very circumstances of
that death, by the part which he had played in the affair and the
occupation which it had imposed upon him. On his way to the commissary's
he felt as calm and as free from mental care as though he had been on
his way to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to decipher despatches.

At nine o'clock in the evening, the police commissary entered the garden
with his secretary and a policeman. The municipal physician, Monsieur
Hibry, arrived simultaneously. Already, thanks to the industry of Madame
Simonneau, who was always interested in matters of supply, the house
exhaled a violent smell of carbolic and was blazing with the candles
which she had lit. Madame Simonneau was bustling to and fro, actuated by
an urgent desire to procure a crucifix and a bough of consecrated
box-wood for the dead. The doctor examined the corpse by the light of a
candle.

He was a bulky man with a ruddy complexion. He breathed noisily. He had
just dined.

"The bullet, a large calibre bullet," he said, "penetrated by way of the
palatal vault, traversed the brain and finally fractured the left
parietal bone, carrying away a portion of the cerebral substance, and
blowing out a piece of the skull. Death was instantaneous."

He returned the candle to Madame Simonneau and continued:

"Splinters of the skull were projected to a certain distance. They will
probably be found in the garden. I should conjecture that the bullet was
round-nosed. A conical bullet would have caused less destruction."

However, the commissary. Monsieur Josse-Arbrissel, a tall, thin man with
a long grey moustache, seemed neither to see nor to hear. A dog was
howling outside the garden gate.

"The direction of the wound," said the doctor, "as well as the fingers
of the right hand, which are still contracted, are more than ample proof
of suicide."

He lit a cigar.

"We are sufficiently informed," remarked the commissary.

"I regret, gentlemen, to have disturbed you," said Robert de Ligny, "and
I thank you for the courteous manner in which you have carried out your
official duties."

The secretary and the police agent, Madame Simonneau showing the way,
carried the body up to the first floor.

Monsieur Josse-Arbrissel was biting his nails and looking into space.

"A tragedy of jealousy," he remarked, "nothing is more common. We have
here in Neuilly a steady average of self-inflicted deaths. Out of a
hundred suicides thirty are caused by gambling. The others are due to
disappointment in love, poverty, or incurable disease."

"Chevalier?" inquired Dr. Hibry, who was a lover of the theatre,
"Chevalier? Wait a minute! I have seen him; I saw him at a benefit
performance, at the Variétés. Of course! He recited a monologue."

The dog howled outside the garden gate.

"You cannot imagine," resumed the commissary, "the disasters caused in
this municipality by the _pari mutuel_. I am not exaggerating when I
assert that at least thirty per cent of the suicides which I have to
look into are caused by gambling. Everybody gambles here. Every
hairdresser's shop is a clandestine betting agency. No later than last
week a concierge in the Avenue du Roule was found hanging from a tree in
the Bois de Boulogne. Now, working men, servants, and junior clerks who
gamble do not need to take their own lives. They move to another
quarter, they disappear. But a man of position, an official whom
gambling has ruined, who is overwhelmed by clamorous creditors,
threatened with distraint, and on the point of being dragged before a
court of justice, cannot disappear. What is to become of him?"

"I have it!" exclaimed the physician. "He recited _The Duel in the
Prairie_. People are rather tired of monologues, but that is very funny.
You remember! 'Will you fight with the sword?' 'No, sir.' 'The pistol?'
'No, sir.' 'The sabre, the knife?' 'No, sir.' 'Ah, then, I see what you
want. You are not fastidious. What you want is a duel in the prairie. I
agree. We will replace the prairie by a five-storied house. You are
permitted to conceal yourself in the vegetation.' Chevalier used to
recite _The Duel in the Prairie_ in a very humorous manner. He amused me
greatly that night. It is true that I am not an ungrateful audience; I
worship the theatre."

The commissary was not listening. He was following up his own train of
thought.

"It will never be known, how many fortunes and lives are devoured each
year by the _pari mutuel_. Gambling never releases its victims; when it
has despoiled them of everything, it still remains their only hope. What
else, indeed, will permit them to hope?"

He ceased, straining his ear to catch the distant cry of a newsvendor,
and rushed out into the avenue in pursuit of the fugitive yelping
shadow, hailed him, and snatched from him a sporting paper, which he
spread out under the light of a gas-lamp, scanning its pages for certain
names of horses: _Fleur-des-pois_, _La Châtelaine_, _Lucrèce_. With
haggard eyes, trembling hands, dumbfounded, crushed, he dropped the
sheet: his horse had not won.

And Dr. Hibry, observing him from a distance, reflected that some day,
in his capacity of physician to the dead, he might well be called upon
to certify the suicide of his commissary of police, and he made up his
mind in advance to conclude, as far as possible, that his death was due
to accidental causes.

Suddenly he seized his umbrella.

"I must be off," he said. "I have been given a seat for the
Opéra-Comique to-night. It would be a pity to waste it."

Before leaving the house, Ligny asked Madame Simonneau:

"Where have you put him?"

"In the bed," replied Madame Simonneau. "It was more decent."

He made no objection, and raising his eyes to the front of the house, he
saw at the windows of the bedroom, through the muslin curtains, the
light of the two candles which the housekeeper had placed on the bedside
table.

"Perhaps," he said, "one might get a nun to watch by him."

"It's not necessary," replied Madame Simonneau, who had invited some
neighbours of her own sex, and had ordered her wine and meat. "It's not
necessary, I will watch by him myself."

Ligny did not press the point.

The dog was still howling outside the gate.

Returning on foot to the barrier, he noticed, over Paris, a reddish glow
which filled the whole sky. Above the chimney-pots the factory chimneys
rose grotesque and black, against this fiery mist, seeming to look down
with a ridiculous familiarity upon the mysterious conflagration of a
world. The few passers-by whom he met on the boulevard strolled along
quietly, without raising their heads. Although he knew that when cities
are wrapped in night the moist atmosphere often reflects the lights,
becoming tinged with this uniform glow, which shines without a flicker,
he fancied that he was looking at the reflection of a vast fire. He
accepted, without reflection, the idea that Paris was sinking into the
abyss of a prodigious conflagration; he found it natural that the
private catastrophe in which he had become involved should be merged
into a public disaster and that this same night should be for a whole
population, as for him! a night of sinister happenings.

Being extremely hungry, he took a cab at the barrier, and had himself
driven to a restaurant in the Rue Royale. In the bright, warm room he
was conscious of a sense of well-being. After ordering his meal, he
opened an evening newspaper and saw, in the Parliamentary report, that
his Minister had delivered a speech. On reading it, he smothered a
slight laugh; he remembered certain stories told at the Quai d'Orsay.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs was enamoured of Madame de Neuilles, an
elderly lady with a lurid past, whom public rumour had raised to the
status of adventuress and spy. He was wont, it was whispered, to try on
her the speeches which he was to deliver in the Chamber. Ligny, who had
formerly been to a certain small extent the lover of Madame de Neuilles,
pictured to himself the statesman in his shirt reciting to his lady-love
the following statement of principles: "Far be it from me to disregard
the legitimate susceptibilities of the national sentiment. Resolutely
pacific, but jealous of France's honour, the Government will, etc." This
vision put him in a merry mood. He turned the page, and read: To-morrow
at the Odéon, first performance (in this theatre) of _La Nuit du 23
octobre 1812_ with Messieurs Durville, Maury, Romilly, Destrée, Vicar,
Léon Clim, Valroche, Aman, Chevalier....



CHAPTER VIII


At one o'clock on the following day _La Grille_ was in rehearsal, for
the first time, in the green-room of the theatre. A dismal light spread
like a pall over the grey stones of the roof, the galleries, and the
columns. In the depressing majesty of this pallid architecture, beneath
the statue of Racine, the leading actors were reading before Pradel, the
manager of the house, their parts, which they did not yet know. Romilly,
the stage manager, and Constantine Marc, the author of the piece, were
all three seated on a red velvet sofa, while, from a bench set back
between two columns, was exhaled the vigilant hatred and whispered
jealousy of the actresses left out of the cast.

The lover, Paul Delage, was with difficulty deciphering a speech:

"'I recognize the château with its brick walls, its slated roof; the
park, where I have so often entwined her initials and mine on the bark
of the trees; the pond whose slumbering waters....'"

Fagette rebuked him:

"'Beware, Aimeri, lest the château know you not again, lest the park
forget your name, lest the pond murmur: "Who is this stranger?"'"

But she had a cold, and was reading from a manuscript copy full of
mistakes.

"Don't stand there, Fagette: it's the summer-house," said Romilly.

"How do you expect me to know that?"

"There's a chair put there."

"'Lest the pond murmur: "Who is this stranger?"'"

"Mademoiselle Nanteuil, it's your cue----Where has Nanteuil got to?
Nanteuil!"

Nanteuil came forward muffled up in her furs, her little bag and her
part in her hand, white as a sheet, her eyes sunken, her legs nerveless.
When fully awake she had seen the dead man enter her bedroom.

She inquired:

"Where do I make my entrance from?"

"From the right."

"All right."

And she read:

"'Cousin, I was so happy when I awoke this morning, I do not know why it
was. Can you perhaps tell me?'"

Delage read his reply:

"'It may be, Cécile, that it was due to a special dispensation of
Providence or of fate. The God who loves you suffers you to smile, in
the hour of weeping and the gnashing of teeth.'"

"Nanteuil, my darling, you cross the stage," said Romilly. "Delage,
stand aside a bit to let her pass."

Nanteuil crossed over.

"'Terrible days, do you say, Aimeri? Our days are what we make them.
They are terrible for evil-doers only.'"

Romilly interrupted:

"Delage, efface yourself a trifle; be careful not to hide her from the
audience. Once more, Nanteuil."

Nanteuil repeated:

"'Terrible days, do you say, Aimeri? Our days are what we make them.
They are terrible for evil-doers only.'"

Constantin Marc no longer recognized his handiwork, he could no longer
even hear the sound of his beloved phrases, which he had so often
repeated to himself in the Vivarais woods. Dumbfounded and dazed, he
held his peace.

Nanteuil tripped daintily across the stage, and resumed reading her
part:

"'You will perhaps think me very foolish, Aimeri; in the convent where I
was brought up, I often used to envy the fate of the victims.'"

Delage took up his cue, but he had overlooked a page of the manuscript:

"'The weather is magnificent. Already the guests are strolling about the
garden.'"

It became necessary to start all over again.

"'Terrible days, do you say, Aimeri....'"

And so they proceeded, without troubling to understand, but careful to
regulate their movements, as if studying the figures of a dance.

"In the interests of the play, we shall have to make some cuts," said
Pradel to the dismayed author.

And Delage continued:

"'Do not blame me, Cécile: I felt for you a friendship dating from
childhood, one of those fraternal friendships which impart to the love
which springs from them a disquieting appearance of incest.'"

"Incest," shouted Pradel. "You cannot let the word 'incest' remain,
Monsieur Constantin Marc. The public has susceptibilities of which you
have no idea. Moreover, the order of the two speeches which follow must
be transposed. The optics of the stage require it."

The rehearsal was interrupted. Romilly caught sight of Durville who, in
a recess, was telling racy stories.

"Durville, you can go. The second act will not be rehearsed to-day."

Before leaving, the old actor went up to Nanteuil, to press her hand.
Judging that this was the moment to assure her of his sympathy, he
summoned up the tears to his eyes, as anyone condoling with her would
have done in his place. But he did it admirably. The pupils of his eyes
swam in their orbits, like the moon amid clouds. The corners of his lips
were turned down in two deep furrows which prolonged them to the bottom
of his chin. He appeared to be genuinely afflicted.

"My poor darling," he sighed, "I pity you, I do indeed! To see one for
whom one has experienced a--feeling--with whom one has--lived in
intimacy--to see him carried off at a blow--a tragic blow--is hard, is
terrible!"

And he extended his compassionate hands. Nanteuil, completely unnerved,
and crushing her tiny handkerchief and her part in her hands, turned her
back upon him, and hissed between her teeth:

"Old idiot!"

Fagette passed her arm round her waist, and led her gently aside to the
foot of Racine's statue, where she whispered into her ear:

"Listen to me, my dear. This affair must be completely hushed up.
Everybody is talking about it. If you let people talk, they will brand
you for life as Chevalier's widow."

Then, being something of a talker, she added:

"I know you, I am your best friend. I know your value. But beware,
Félicie: women are held at their own valuation."

Every one of Fagette's shafts told. Nanteuil, with fiery cheeks, held
back her tears. Too young to possess or even to desire the prudence
which comes to celebrated actresses when of an age to graduate as women
of the world of fashion, she was full of self-esteem, and since she had
known what it was to love another she was eager to efface everything
unfashionable from her past; she felt that Chevalier, in killing himself
for her sake, had behaved towards her publicly with a familiarity which
made her ridiculous. Still unaware that all things fall into oblivion,
and are lost in the swift current of our days, that all our actions flow
like the waters of a river, between banks that have no memory, she
pondered, irritated and dejected, at the feet of Jean Racine, who
understood her grief.

"Just look at her," said Madame Marie-Claire to young Delage. "She wants
to cry. I understand her. A man killed himself for me. I was greatly
upset by it. He was a count."

"Well, begin again!" shouted Pradel. "Come now, Mademoiselle Nanteuil,
your cue!"

Whereupon Nanteuil:

"'Cousin, I was so happy when I awoke this morning....'"

Suddenly, Madame Doulce appeared. Ponderous and mournful, she let fall
the following words:

"I have very sad news. The parish priest will not allow him to enter his
church."

As Chevalier had no relations left other than a sister, a working-woman
at Pantin, Madame Doulce had undertaken to make arrangements for the
funeral at the expense of the members of the company.

They gathered round her. She continued:

"The Church rejects him as though he were accurst! That's dreadful!"

"Why?" asked Romilly.

Madame Doulce replied in a very low tone and as if reluctantly:

"Because he committed suicide."

"We must see to this," said Pradel.

Romilly displayed an eager desire to be of service.

"The curé knows me," he said. "He is a very decent fellow. I'll just run
over to Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, and I'd be greatly surprised if----"

Madame Doulce shook her head sadly:

"All is useless."

"All the same, we must have a religious service," said Romilly, with all
the authority of a stage-manager.

"Quite so," said Madame Doulce.

Madame Marie-Claire, deeply exercised in her mind, was of opinion that
the priests could be compelled to say a Mass.

"Let us keep cool," said Pradel, caressing his venerable beard. "Under
Louis VIII the people broke in the doors of Saint-Roch, which had been
closed to the coffin of Mademoiselle Raucourt. We live in other times,
and under different circumstances. We must have recourse to gentler
methods."

Constantin Marc, seeing to his great regret that his play was abandoned,
had likewise approached Madame Doulce; he inquired of her:

"Why should you want Chevalier to be blessed by the Church? Personally,
I am a Catholic. With me, it is not a faith, it is a system, and I look
upon it as a duty to participate in all the external practices of
worship. I am on the side of all authorities. I am for the judge, the
soldier, the priest. I cannot therefore be suspected of favouring civil
burials. But I hardly understand why you persist in offering the curé of
Saint-Étienne-du-Mont a dead body which he repudiates. Now why do you
want this unfortunate Chevalier to go to church?"

"Why?" replied Madame Doulce. "For the salvation of his soul and because
it is more seemly."

"What would be seemly," replied Constantin Marc, "would be to obey the
laws of the Church, which excommunicates suicides."

"Monsieur Constantin Marc, have you read _Les Soirées de Neuilly_?"
inquired Pradel, who was an ardent collector of old books and a great
reader. "What, you have not read _Les Soirées de Neuilly_, by Monsieur
de Fongeray? You have missed something. It is a curious book, which can
still be met with sometimes on the quays. It is adorned by a lithograph
of Henry Monnier's, which is, I don't know why, a caricature of
Stendhal. Fongeray is the pseudonym of two Liberals of the Restoration,
Dittmer and Cavé. The work consists of comedies and dramas which cannot
be acted; but which contain some most interesting scenes representing
manners and customs. You will read in it how, in the reign of Charles X,
a vicar of one of the Paris churches, the Abbé Mouchaud, would refuse
burial to a pious lady, and would, at all costs, grant it to an atheist.
Madame d'Hautefeuille was religious, but she held some national
property. At her death, she received the ministrations of a Jansenist
priest. For this reason, after her death, the Abbé Mouchaud refused to
receive her into the church in which she had passed her life. At the
same time, in the same parish, Monsieur Dubourg, a big banker, was good
enough to die. In his will he stipulated that he should be borne
straight to the cemetery. 'He is a Catholic,' reflected the Abbé
Mouchaud, 'he belongs to us.' Quickly making a parcel of his stole and
surplice, he rushed off to the dead man's house, administered extreme
unction, and brought him into his church."

"Well," replied Constantin Marc, "that vicar was an excellent
politician. Atheists are not formidable enemies of the Church. They do
not count as adversaries. They cannot raise a Church against her, and
they do not dream of doing so. Atheists have existed at all times among
the heads and princes of the Church, and many of them have rendered
signal services to the Papacy. On the other hand, whoever does not
submit strictly to ecclesiastical discipline and breaks away from
tradition upon a single point, whoever sets up a faith against the
faith, an opinion, a practices against the accepted opinion and the
common practice, is a factor of disorder, a menace of peril, and must be
extirpated. This the vicar, Mouchaud, understood. He should have been
made a Cardinal."

Madame Doulce, who had been clever enough not to tell everything in a
breath, went on to say:

"I did not allow myself to be discomfited by the opposition of Monsieur
le Curé. I begged, I entreated. And his answer was: 'We owe respectful
obedience to the Ordinary. Go to the Archbishop's Palace. I will do as
Monseigneur bids me.' There is nothing left for me but to follow this
advice. I'm hurrying off to the Archbishop's Palace."

"Let us get to work," said Pradel.

Romilly called to Nanteuil:

"Nanteuil! Come, Nanteuil, begin your whole scene over again."

And Nanteuil said once more:

"'Cousin, I was so happy when I awoke this morning....'"



CHAPTER IX


The prominence given by the Press to the suicide of the Boulevard de
Villiers rendered the negotiations between the Stage and the Church all
the more difficult. The reporters had given the fullest details of the
event, and it was pointed out by the Abbé Mirabelle, the Archbishop's
second vicar, that to open the doors of the parish church to Chevalier,
as matters then stood, was to proclaim that excommunicated persons were
entitled to the prayers of the Church.

But for that matter, Monsieur Mirabelle himself, who in this affair
displayed great wisdom and circumspection, paved the way to a solution.

"You must fully understand," he observed to Madame Doulce, "that the
opinion of the newspapers cannot affect our decision. We are absolutely
indifferent to it, and we do not disturb ourselves in the slightest
degree, no matter what fifty public sheets may say about the unfortunate
young fellow. Whether the journalists have told the truth or distorted
it is their affair, not mine. I do not know and I do not wish to know
what they have written. But the fact of the suicide is notorious. You
cannot dispute it. It would now be advisable to investigate closely, and
by the light of science, the circumstances in which the deed was
committed. Do not be surprised by my thus invoking the aid of science.
Science has no better friend than religion. Now medical science may in
the present case be of great assistance to us. You will understand in a
moment. Mother Church ejects the suicide from her bosom only when his
act is an act of despair. The madmen who attempt their own lives are not
those who have lost all hope, and the Church does not deny them her
prayers; she prays for all who are unfortunate. Now, if it could be
proved that this poor boy had acted under the influence of a high fever
or of a mental disorder, if a medical man were in a position to certify
that the poor fellow was not in possession of his faculties when he slew
himself with his own hand, there would be no obstacle to the celebration
of a religious service."

Having hearkened to the words of Monsieur l'Abbé Mirabelle, Madame
Doulce hastened back to the theatre. The rehearsal of _La Grille_ was
over. She found Pradel in his office with a couple of young actresses,
one of whom was soliciting an engagement, the other, leave of absence.
He refused, in conformity with his principle never to grant a request
until he had first refused it. In this way he bestowed a value upon his
most trifling concessions. His glistening eyes and his patriarchal
beard, his manner, at once amorous and paternal, gave him a resemblance
to Lot, as we see him between his two daughters in the prints of the Old
Masters. Standing on the table was an amphora of gilt pasteboard which
fostered this illusion.

"It can't be done," he was telling each of them. "It really can't be
done, my child----Well, after all, look in to-morrow."

Having dismissed them, he inquired, as he signed some letters:

"Well, Madame Doulce, what news do you bring?"

Constantin Marc, appearing with Nanteuil, hastily exclaimed:

"What about my scenery, Monsieur Pradel?"

Thereupon he described for the twentieth time the landscape, upon which
the curtain ought to rise.

"In the foreground, an old park. The trunks of the great trees, on the
north side, are green with moss. The dampness of the soil must be felt."

And the manager replied:

"You may rest assured that everything that can be done will be done, and
that it will be most appropriate. Well, Madame Doulce, what news?"

"There is a glimmer of hope," she replied.

"At the back, in a slight mist," said the author, "the grey stones and
the slate roofs of the Abbaye-aux-Dames."

"Quite so. Pray be seated, Madame Doulce; you have my attention."

"I was most courteously received at the Archbishop's Palace," said
Madame Doulce.

"Monsieur Pradel, it is imperative that the walls of the Abbaye should
appear inscrutable, of great thickness, and yet subtilized by the mists
of coming night. A pale-gold sky----"

"Monsieur l'Abbé Mirabelle," resumed Madame Doulce, "is a priest of the
highest distinction----"

"Monsieur Marc, are you particularly keen on your pale-gold sky?"
inquired the stage manager. "Go on, Madame Doulce, go on, I am listening
to you."

"And exquisitely polite. He made a delicate allusion to the
indiscretions of the newspapers----"

At this moment Monsieur Marchegeay, the stage manager, burst into the
room. His green eyes were glittering, and his red moustache was dancing
like a flame. The words rolled off his tongue:

"They are at it again! Lydie, the little super, is screaming like a
stoat on the stairs. She says Delage tried to violate her. It's at least
the tenth time in a month that she has come out with that story. This
is an infernal nuisance!"

"Such conduct cannot be tolerated in a house like this," said Pradel.
"You'll have to fine Delage. Pray continue, Madame Doulce."

"Monsieur l'Abbé Mirabelle explained to me in the clearest manner that
suicide is an act of despair."

But Constantin Marc was inquiring of Pradel with interest, whether
Lydie, the little super, was pretty.

"You have seen her in _La Nuit du 23 octobre_; she plays the woman of
the people who, in the Plaine de Grenelle, is buying wafers of Madame
Ravaud."

"A very pretty girl, to my thinking," said Constantin Marc.

"Undoubtedly," responded Pradel. "But she would be still prettier if her
ankles weren't like stakes."

And Constantin Marc musingly replied.

"And Delage has outraged her. That fellow possesses the sense of love.
Love is a simple and primitive act. It's a struggle, it's hatred.
Violence is necessary to it. Love by mutual consent is merely a tedious
obligation."

And he cried, greatly excited.

"Delage is prodigious!"

"Don't get yourself into a fix," said Pradel.

"This same little Lydie entices my actors into her dressing-room, and
then all of a sudden she screams out that she is being outraged in order
to get hush-money out of them. It's her lover who has taught her the
trick, and takes the coin. You were saying, Madame Doulce----"

"After a long and interesting conversation," resumed Madame Doulce,
"Monsieur l'Abbé Mirabelle suggested a favourable solution. He gave me
to understand that, in order to remove all difficulties, it would be
sufficient for a physician to certify that Chevalier was not in full
possession of his faculties, and that he was not responsible for his
acts."

"But," observed Pradel, "Chevalier wasn't insane. He was in full
possession of his faculties."

"It's not for us to say," replied Madame Doulce. "What do we know about
it?"

"No," said Nanteuil, "he was not in full possession of his faculties."

Pradel shrugged his shoulders.

"After all, it's possible. Insanity and reason, it's a matter of
appreciation. To whom could we apply for a certificate?"

Madame Doulce and Pradel called to mind three physicians in succession;
but they were unable to find the address of the first; the second was
bad-tempered, and it was decided that the third was dead.

Nanteuil suggested that they should approach Dr. Trublet.

"That's an idea!" exclaimed Pradel. "Let us ask a certificate of Dr.
Socrates. What's to-day? Friday. It's his day for consultations. We
shall find him at home."

Dr. Trublet lived in an old house at the top of the Rue de Seine. Pradel
took Nanteuil with him, with the idea that Socrates would refuse nothing
to a pretty woman. Constantin Marc, who could not live, when in Paris,
save in the company of theatrical folk, accompanied them. The Chevalier
affair was beginning to amuse him. He found it theatrical, that is,
appropriate to theatrical performers. Although the hour for
consultations was over, the doctor's sitting-room was still full of
people in search of healing. Trublet dismissed them, and received his
theatrical friends in his private room. He was standing in front of a
table encumbered with books and papers. An adjustable arm-chair, infirm
and cynical, displayed itself by the window. The director of the Odéon
set forth the object of his call, and ended by saying:

"Chevalier's funeral service cannot be celebrated in the church unless
you certify that the unfortunate young man was not altogether sane."

Dr. Trublet declared that Chevalier might very well do without a
religious service.

"Adrienne Lecouvreur, who was of more account than Chevalier, did
without one. Mademoiselle Monime had no Mass said for her after her
death, and, as you are aware, she was denied 'the honour of rotting in a
nasty cemetery in the company of all the beggars of the quarter.' She
was none the worse off for that."

"You are not ignorant of the fact, Dr. Socrates," replied Pradel, "that
actors and actresses are the most religious of people. My company would
be deeply grieved if they could not be present at the celebration of a
Mass for their colleague. They have already secured the co-operation of
several lyric artists, and the music will be very fine."

"Now that's a reason," said Trublet "I do not gainsay it. Charles
Monselet, who was a witty fellow, was reflecting, only a few hours
before his death, on his musical Mass, 'I know a great many singers at
the Opéra,' he said, 'I shall have a _Pie Jésu aux truffes_.' But, as on
this occasion the Archbishop does not authorize a spiritual concert, it
would be more convenient to postpone it to some other occasion."

"As far as I am concerned," replied the director, "I have no religious
belief. But I consider that the Church and the Stage are two great
social powers, and that it is beneficial that they should be friends and
allies. For my own part, I never lose an opportunity of sealing the
alliance. This coming Lent, I shall have Durville read one of
Bourdaloue's sermons. I receive a State subsidy. I must observe the
Concordat. Moreover, whatever people may say, Catholicism is the most
acceptable form of religious indifference."

"Well then," objected Constantin Marc, "since you wish to show deference
to the Church, why do you foist upon her, by force or by subterfuge, a
coffin which she doesn't want?"

The doctor spoke in a similar strain, and ended by saying.

"My dear Pradel, don't you have anything more to do with the matter."

"Whereupon Nanteuil, her eyes blazing, her voice sibilant, cried:

"He must go to church, doctor; sign what is asked of you, write that he
was not in possession of his faculties, I entreat you."

There was not religion alone at the back of this desire. Blended with it
was an intimate feeling, an obscure background of old beliefs, of which
she herself was unaware. She hoped that if he were carried into the
church, and sprinkled with holy water, Chevalier would be appeased,
would become one of the peaceful dead, and would no longer torment her.
She feared, on the other hand, that if he were deprived of benediction
and prayers he would perpetually hover about her, accursed and
maleficent. And, more simply still, in her dread of seeing him again,
she was anxious that the priests should take good care to bury him, and
that everybody should attend the funeral, so that he should be all the
more thoroughly buried; as thoroughly buried, in short, as it was
possible to be. Her lips trembled and she wrung her hands.

Trublet, who had long graduated in human nature, watched her with
interest. He understood and took a special interest in the female of the
human machine. This particular specimen filled him with joy. His
snub-nosed face beamed with delight as he watched her.

"Don't be uneasy, child. There is always a way of coming to an
understanding with the Church. What you are asking me is not within my
powers; I am a lay doctor. But we have to-day, thank God, religious
physicians who send their patients to the ecclesiastical waters, and
whose special function is to attest miraculous cures. I know one who
lives in this part of the town; I'll give you his address. Go and see
him; the Bishop will refuse him nothing. He will arrange the matter for
you."

"Not at all," said Pradel. "You always attended poor Chevalier. It is
for you to give a certificate."

Romilly agreed:

"Of course, doctor. You are the physician to the theatre. We must wash
our dirty linen at home."

At the same time, Nanteuil turned upon Socrates a gaze of entreaty.

"But," objected Trublet, "what do you want me to say?"

"It's very simple," Pradel replied. "Say that he was to a certain extent
irresponsible."

"You are simply asking me to speak like a police surgeon. It's expecting
too much of me."

"You believe then, doctor, that Chevalier was fully and entirely morally
responsible?"

"Quite the contrary. I am of opinion that he was not in the least
responsible for his actions."

"Well, then?"

"But I also consider that, in this respect, he differed in nowise from
you, myself, and all other men. My judicial colleagues distinguish
between individual responsibilities. They have procedures by which they
recognize full responsibilities, and those which lack one or more
fractional parts. It is a remarkable fact, moreover, that in order to
get a poor wretch condemned they always find him fully responsible. May
we not therefore consider that their own responsibility is full--like
the moon?"

And Dr. Socrates proceeded to unfold before the astonished stage folk a
comprehensive theory of universal determinism. He went back to the
origins of life, and, like the Silenus of Virgil, who, smeared with the
juice of mulberries, sang to the shepherds of Sicily and the naiad
Aglaia of the origin of the world, he broke out into a flood of words:

"To call upon a poor wretch to answer for his actions! Why, even when
the solar system was still no more than a pale nebula, forming, in the
ether, a fragile halo, whose circumference was a thousand times greater
than the orbit of Neptune, we had all of us, for ages past, been fully
conditioned, determined and irrevocably destined, and your
responsibility, my dear child, my responsibility, Chevalier's, and that
of all men, had been, not mitigated, but abolished beforehand. All our
movements, the result of previous movements of matter, are subject to
the laws which govern the cosmic forces, and the human mechanism is
merely a particular instance of the universal mechanism."

Pointing to a locked cupboard, he proceeded.

"I have there, contained in bottles, that which would transform,
destroy, or excite to frenzy the will of fifty thousand men."

"Wouldn't be playing the game," objected Pradel.

"I agree, it wouldn't be playing the game. But these substances are not
essentially laboratory products. The laboratory combines, it does not
create anything. These substances are scattered throughout nature. In
their free state, they surround and enter into us, they determine our
will, they circumscribe our freedom of device, which is merely the
illusion engendered within us by the ignorance of our determinations."

"What on earth do you mean?" asked Pradel, taken aback.

"I mean that our will is an illusion caused by our ignorance of the
causes which compel us to exert our will. That which wills within us is
not ourselves, but myriads of cells of prodigious activity, of which we
know nothing, which are unaware of us, which are ignorant of one
another, but which nevertheless constitute us. By means of their
restlessness they produce innumerable currents which we call our
passions, our thoughts, our joys, our sufferings, our desires, our
fears, and our will. We believe that we are our own masters, while a
mere drop of alcohol stimulates, and then benumbs the very elements by
which we feel and will."

Constantin Marc interrupted the physician:

"Excuse me! Since you are speaking of the action of alcohol, I should
like your advice on the subject. I am in the habit of drinking a small
glass of Armagnac brandy after each meal. That's not too much, is it?"

"It's a great deal too much. Alcohol is a poison. If you have a bottle
of brandy at home, fling it out of the window."

Pradel was pondering. He considered that in suppressing will and
responsibility in all human things Dr. Socrates was doing him a personal
injury.

"You may say what you like. Will and responsibility are not illusions.
They are tangible and powerful realities. I know how the terms of my
contract bind me, and I impose my will on others."

And he added with some bitterness:

"I believe in the will, in moral responsibility, in the distinction
between good and evil. Doubtless these are, according to you, stupid
ideas."

"They are indeed stupid ideas," replied the physician, "but they are
very suitable to us, since we are mere animals. We are for ever
forgetting this. They are stupid, venerable, wholesome ideas. Men have
felt that, without these ideas, they would all go mad. They had only the
choice between stupidity and madness. Very reasonably they chose
stupidity. Such is the foundation of moral ideas."

"What a paradox!" exclaimed Romilly.

The physician calmly proceeded:

"The distinction between good and evil in human societies has never
emerged from the grossest empiricism. It was constituted in a wholly
practical spirit and as a simple convenience. We do not trouble
ourselves about it where cut-glass or a tree is concerned. We practise
moral indifference with regard to animals. We practise it in the case of
savage races. This enables us to exterminate them without remorse.
That's what is known as the colonial policy. Nor do we find that
believers exact a high degree of morality from their god. In the present
state of society, they would not willingly admit that he was lecherous
or compromised himself with women; but they do think it fitting that he
should be vindictive and cruel. Morality is a mutual agreement to keep
what we possess: land, houses, furniture, women, and our lives. It does
not imply, in the case of those who bow to it, any particular
intelligence or character. It is instinctive and ferocious. Written law
follows it closely, and is in more or less harmonious agreement with it.
Hence we see that great-hearted men, or men of brilliant genius, have
almost all been accused of impiety, and, like Socrates, the son of
Phenaretes, and Benoît Malon, have been smitten by the tribunals of
their country. And it may be stated that a man who has not, at the very
least, been sentenced to imprisonment does little credit to the land of
his fathers."

"There are exceptions," remarked Pradel.

"Few," replied Dr. Trublet.

But Nanteuil, pursuing her idea, remarked.

"My little Socrates, you can very well certify that he was insane. It is
the truth. He was not sane, I know it only too well."

"No doubt he was mad, my dear child. But it is a question of determining
whether he was madder than other men. The entire history of humanity,
replete with tortures, ecstasies, and massacres, is the history of
raving, demented creatures."

"Doctor," inquired Constantin Marc, "are you by chance one of those who
do not admire War? It is nevertheless a magnificent thing, when you come
to think of it. The animals merely eat one another. Men have conceived
the idea of beautiful massacres. They have learnt to kill one another in
glittering cuirasses, in helmets topped with plumes, or maned with
scarlet. By the use of artillery, and the art of fortification, they
have introduced chemistry and mathematics among the necessary means of
destruction. War is a sublime invention. And, since the extermination of
human beings appears to us the only object of life, the wisdom of man
resides in this, that he has made this extermination a delight and a
splendour. After all, doctor, you cannot deny that murder is a law of
nature, and that it is consequently divine."

To which Dr. Socrates replied:

"We are only miserable animals, and yet we are our own providence and
our own gods. The lower animals, whose immemorial reign preceded our own
upon this planet, have transformed it by their genius and their courage.
The insects have traced roads, excavated the soil, hollowed the trunks
of trees and rocks, built dwellings, founded cities, metamorphosed the
soil, the air, and the waters. The labour of the humblest of these, that
of the madrepores, has created islands and continents. Every material
change produces a moral change, since morals depend upon environment.
The transformation to which man in his turn has subjected the earth is
undoubtedly more profound and more harmonious than the transformation
wrought by other animals. Why should not humanity succeed in changing
nature to the extent of making it pacific? Why should not humanity,
miserably puny though it is and will be, succeed, some day, in
suppressing, or at least in controlling the struggle for life? Why
indeed should not humanity abolish the law of murder? We may expect a
great deal from chemistry. Yet I do not guarantee anything. It is
possible that our race will persist in melancholy, delirium, mania,
dementia, and stupor until its lamentable end amid ice and darkness.
This world is perhaps irremediably wicked. At all events, I shall have
got plenty of amusement out of it. It affords those who are in it an
interesting spectacle, and I am beginning to think that Chevalier was
madder than the rest in that he voluntarily left his seat."

Nanteuil took a pen from the desk, and held it out, dipped in ink, to
the doctor.

He began to write:

"Having been called on several occasions to attend----"

He interrupted himself to ask Chevalier's Christian name.

"Aimé," replied Nanteuil.

"Aimé Chevalier, I have noticed in his system certain disorders of
sensibility, vision and motor control, ordinary indications of----"

He went to fetch a book from a shelf of his library.

"It's a thousand chances that I shall find something to confirm my
diagnosis in the lectures of Professor Ball on mental diseases."

He turned over the leaves of the book.

"Just see, my dear Romilly, this is what I find to begin with; in the
eighteenth lecture, page 389: 'Many madmen are to be met with among
actors.' This remark of Professor Ball's reminds me that the celebrated
Cabanis one day asked Dr. Esprit Blanche whether the stage was not a
cause of madness."

"Really?" asked Romilly uneasily.

"Not a doubt of it," replied Trublet. "But listen to what Professor Ball
says on the same page. 'It is an incontestable fact that medical men are
excessively predisposed to mental aberration.' Nothing is truer. Among
medical men, those who are more especially predestined to insanity are
the alienists. It is often difficult to determine which of the two is
the crazier, the madman or his doctor. People say too that men of genius
are prone to insanity. That is certainly the case. Still, a man is not a
reasoning being merely because he is an idiot."

After glancing a little further through the pages of Professor Ball's
lectures, he resumed his writing:

"Ordinary indications of maniacal excitement, and, if it be taken into
consideration that the subject was of a neuropathic temperament, there
is reason to believe that his constitution predisposed him to insanity,
which, according to the highest authorities, is merely an exaggeration
of the habitual temperament of the individual, and hence it is not
possible to credit him with full moral responsibility."

He signed the sheet and handed it to Pradel, saying:

"Here's something that is innocuous and too devoid of meaning to contain
the slightest falsehood."

Pradel rose and said:

"Believe me, my dear doctors we should not have asked you to tell a
lie."

"Why not? I am a medical man. I keep a lie-shop. I relieve, I console.
How is it possible to relieve and console without lying?"

Then, with a sympathetic glance at Nanteuil; he added:

"Only women and physicians know how necessary untruthfulness is, and how
beneficial to man."

And, as Pradel, Constantin Mate, and Romilly were taking their leave, he
said:

"Pray go out by the dining-room. I've just received a small cask of old
Armagnac. You'll tell me what you think of it!"

Nanteuil had remained behind in the doctor's consulting room.

"My little Socrates, I have spent an awful night. I saw him."

"During your sleep?"

"No, when wide awake."

"You are sure you were not sleeping?"

"Quite sure."

He was on the point of asking her if the apparition had spoken to her.
But he left the question unspoken, fearing lest he might suggest to so
sensitive a subject those hallucinations of the sense of hearing, which,
by reason of their imperious nature, he dreaded far more than visual
hallucinations. He was familiar with the docility of the sick in obeying
orders given them by voices. Abandoning the idea of questioning Félicie,
he resolved, at all hazards, to remove any scruples of conscience which
might be troubling her. At the same time, having observed that,
generally speaking, the sense of moral responsibility is weak in women,
he made no great effort in that direction, and contented himself with
remarking lightly:

"My dear child, you must not consider yourself responsible for the death
of that poor fellow. A suicide inspired by passion is the inevitable
termination of a pathological condition. Every individual who commits
suicide had to commit suicide. You are merely the incidental cause of an
accident, which is, of course, deplorable, but the importance of which
should not be exaggerated."

Thinking that he had said enough on this score, he applied himself
immediately to dispersing the terrors which surrounded her. He sought to
convince her by simple arguments that she was beholding images which had
no reality, mere reflections of her own thoughts. In order to
illustrate his demonstration, he told her a story of a reassuring
nature.

"An English physician," he told her, "was attending a lady, like
yourself, highly intelligent, who, like yourself, was in the habit of
seeing cats under her furniture, and was visited by phantoms. He
convinced her that these apparitions corresponded to nothing in reality.
She believed him, and worried herself no longer. One fine day, after a
long period of retirement, she reappeared in society, and on entering a
drawing-room she saw the lady of the house who, pointing to an
arm-chair, begged her to be seated. She also saw, seated in this chair,
a crafty-looking old gentleman. She argued to herself that one of the
two persons was necessarily a creature of the imagination, and, deciding
that the gentleman had no real existence, she sat down on the arm-chair.
On touching the bottom, she drew a long breath. From that day onward,
she never again set eyes on any further phantoms, either of man or of
beast. When smothering the crafty-looking old gentleman, she had
smothered them all--fundamentally."

Félicie shook her head, saying:

"That does not apply to this case."

She meant to say that her own phantom was not a grotesque old man, on
whom one could sit, but a jealous dead man who did not pay her visits
without some object. But she feared to speak of these things; and,
letting her hands fall upon her knees, she held her peace.

Seeing her thus, dejected and crushed, he pointed out that these
disorders of the vision were neither rare nor very serious, and that
they soon vanished without leaving any traces.

"I myself," he said, "once had a vision."

"You?"

"Yes, I had a vision, some twenty years ago. It was in Egypt."

He noticed that she was looking at him inquiringly, so he began the
story of his hallucination, having switched on all the electric lights,
in order to disperse the phantoms of darkness.

"In the days when I was practising in Cairo, I was accustomed, in the
February of each year, to go up the Nile as far as Luxor, and thence I
proceeded, in company with some friends, to visit the tombs and temples
in the desert. These trips across the sands are made on donkey-back. The
last time I went to Luxor I hired a young donkey-boy, whose white donkey
Rameses was stronger than the others. This donkey-boy, whose name was
Selim, was also stronger, slenderer, and better looking than the other
donkey-boys. He was fifteen years old. His shy, gentle eyes shone from
behind a magnificent veil of long black lashes; his brown face was a
pure clear-cut oval. He tramped barefoot through the desert with a step
which made one think of those dances of warriors of which the Bible
speaks. His every movement was graceful; his young animal-like gaiety
was charming. As he prodded Rameses' back with the point of his stick,
he would chatter to me in a limited vocabulary in which English, French
and Arabic were intermingled; he enjoyed telling me of the travellers
whom he had escorted and who, he believed, were all princes or
princesses; but if I asked him about his relations or his companions he
remained silent, and assumed an air of indifference and boredom. When
cadging for a promise of substantial baksheesh, the nasal twang of his
voice assumed caressing inflexions. He thought out subtle stratagems and
expended whole treasuries of prayers in order to obtain a cigarette.
Noticing that I liked to see the donkey-boys treat their beasts with
kindness, he used, in my presence, to kiss Rameses on the nostrils, and
when we halted he would waltz with him. He often displayed real
ingenuity in getting what he wanted. But he was far too short-sighted
ever to show the slightest gratitude for what he had obtained. Greedy of
piastres, he coveted still more eagerly such small glittering articles
as one cannot keep covered--gold scarf-pins, rings, sleeve-links, or
nickel cigar-lighters; and when he saw a gold chain his face would
light up with a gleam of pleasure.

"The following summer was the hardest time of my life. An epidemic of
cholera had broken out in Lower Egypt. I was running about the town all
day long in a scorching atmosphere. Cairo summers are overpowering to
Europeans. We were going through the hottest weeks I had ever known. I
heard one day that Selim, brought before the native court of Cairo, had
been sentenced to death. He had murdered the daughter of some fellaheen,
a little girl nine years old, in order to rob her of her ear-rings, and
had thrown her into a cistern. The rings, stained with blood, had been
found under a big stone in the Valley of the Kings. They were the crude
jewels which the Nubian nomads hammer out of shillings or two-franc
pieces, I was told that Selim would certainly be hanged, because the
little girl's mother refused the tendered blood-money. Now, the Khedive
does not enjoy the prerogative of mercy, and the murderer, according to
Moslem law, can redeem his life only if the parents of the victim
consent to receive from him a sum of money as compensation. I was too
busy to give thought to the matter. I could readily imagine that Selim,
cunning but thoughtless, caressing yet unfeeling, had played with the
little girl, torn off her ear-rings, killed her, and hidden her body.
The affair soon passed out of my mind. The epidemic was spreading from
Old Cairo to the European quarters. I was visiting from thirty to forty
sick persons daily, practising venous injections in every case. I was
suffering from liver trouble, anæmia was playing havoc with me, and I
was dropping with fatigue. In order to husband my strength, I took a
little rest at noon. I was accustomed, after luncheon, to lie down in
the inner courtyard of my house, and there for an hour I bathed myself
in the African shade, as dense and cool as water. One day, as I was
lying there on a divan in my courtyard, just as I was lighting a
cigarette, I saw Selim approaching. With his beautiful bronze arm he
lifted the door-curtain, and came towards me in his blue robe. He did
not speak, but smiled with his shy and innocent smile, and the deep red
of his lips disclosed his dazzling teeth. His eyes, beneath the blue
shadow of his eyelashes, shone with covetousness while gazing at my
watch which lay on the table.

"I thought he had escaped. And this surprised me, not because captives
are strictly watched in Oriental prisons, where men, women, horses and
dogs are herded in imperfectly closed courtyards, and guarded by a
soldier armed with a stick. But Moslems are never tempted to flee from
their fate. Selim knelt down with an appealing grace, and approached
his lips to my hand, to kiss it according to ancient custom. I was not
asleep, and I had proof of it. I also had proof that the apparition had
been before me only for a short time. When Selim had vanished I noticed
that my cigarette, which was alight, was not yet tipped with ash."

"Was he dead when you saw him?" asked Nanteuil.

"Not a bit of it," replied the doctor, "I heard a few days later that
Selim, in his jail, wove little baskets, or played for hours at a time
with a chaplet of glass balls, and that he would smilingly beg a piastre
of European visitors, who were surprised by the caressing softness of
his eyes. Moslem justice is slow. He was hanged six months later. No
one, not even he himself, was greatly concerned about it. I was in
Europe at the time."

"And since then he has never reappeared?"

"Never."

Nanteuil looked at him, disappointed.

"I thought he had come when he was dead. But since he was in prison you
certainly could not have seen him in your house. You only thought you
saw him."

The physician, understanding what was in Félicie's mind, quickly replied:

"My dear little Nanteuil, believe what I tell you. The phantoms of the
dead have no more reality than the phantoms of the living."

Without attending to what he was saying, she asked him if it was really
because he suffered from his liver that he had a vision. He replied that
he believed that the bad state of his digestive organs, general fatigue,
and a tendency to congestion, had all predisposed him to behold an
apparition.

"There was; I believe," he added, "a more immediate cause. Stretched
out on my divan, my head was very low. I raised it to light a cigarette,
and let it fall back immediately. This attitude is particularly
favourable to hallucinations. It is sometimes enough to lie down with
one's head thrown back to see and to hear imaginary shapes and sounds.
That is why I advise you, my child, to sleep with a bolster and a fat
pillow."

She began to laugh.

"As mamma does--majestically!"

Then, flitting off to another idea:

"Tell me; Socrates, how comes it that you saw this sordid individual
rather than another? You had hired a donkey from him, and you were no
longer thinking of him. And yet he came. Say what you like, it's queer."

"You ask me why it was he rather than another? It would be very hard for
me to tell you. Our visions, bound up with our innermost thoughts,
often present their images to us; sometimes there is no connection
between them, and they show us an unexpected figure."

He once more exhorted her not to allow herself to be frightened by
phantoms.

"The dead do not return. When one of them appears to you, rest assured
that what you see is a thing imagined by your brain."

"Can you," she inquired; "guarantee that there is nothing after death?"

"My child, there is nothing after death that could frighten you."

She rose, picked up her little bag and her part, and held out her hand
to the doctor, saying:

"As for you, you don't believe in anything, do you, old Socrates?"

He detained her for a moment in the waiting-room, warned her to take
good care of herself, to lead a quiet, restful life, and to take
sufficient rest.

"Do you suppose that is easy in our profession? To-morrow I have a
rehearsal in the green-room, and one on the stage, and I have to try on
a gown, while to-night I am acting. For more than a year now I've been
leading that sort of life."



CHAPTER X


Under the great void reserved by the height of the roof for the upward
flight of prayers the motley crowd of human beings was huddled together
like a flock of sheep.

They were all there, at the foot of the catafalque surrounded by lights
and covered with flowers, Durville, old Maury, Delage, Vicar, Destrée,
Léon Clim, Valrosche, Aman, Regnard, Pradel, Romilly, and Marchegeay,
the manager. They were all there, Madame Ravaud, Madame Doulce, Ellen
Midi, Duvernet, Herschell, Falempin, Stella, Marie-Claire, Louise Dalle,
Fagette, Nanteuil, kneeling, robed in black, like elegiac figures. Some
of the women were reading their missals. Some were weeping. All of them
brought to the coffin of their comrade at least the tribute of their
heavy eyes and their faces pallid from the cold of the morning.
Journalists, actors, playwrights, whole families of those artisans who
gain their living by the theatre, and a crowd of curious onlookers
filled the nave.

The choristers were uttering the mournful cries of the _Kyrie eleison_;
the priest kissed the altar; turned towards the people and said:

_"Dominus vobiscum."_

Romilly; taking in the crowd at a glance, remarked

"Chevalier has a full house."

"Just look at that Louise Dalle," said Fagette. "To look as though she's
in mourning, she has put on a black mackintosh!"

A little to the back of the church, with Pradel and Constantin Marc, Dr.
Trublet was, in subdued tones, according to his habit, delivering his
moral homilies.

"Observe," he said, "that they are lighting, on the altar and about the
coffin, in the guise of wax candles, diminutive night-lights mounted on
billiard cues, and are thereby making an offering of lamp oil instead of
virgin wax to the Lord. The pious men who dwell in the sanctuary have at
all times been proved to defraud their God by these little deceptions.
This observation is not my own; it is, I believe, Renan's."

The celebrant, standing on the epistle side of the altar, was reciting
in a low voice:

_"Nolumus autem vos ignorare fratres de dormientibus, ut non
contrisemimi, sicut et cæteri qui spem non habent."_

"Who is taking the part of Florentin?" inquired Durville of Romilly.

"Regnard: he'll be no worse in it than Chevalier."

Pradel plucked Trublet by the sleeve, and said:

"Dr. Socrates, I beg you to tell me whether as a scientific man, as a
physiologist, you see any serious objections to the immortality of the
soul?"

He asked the question as a busy and practical man in need of personal
information.

"You are doubtless aware, my dear friend," replied Trublet, "what
Cyrano's bird said on this very subject. One day Cyrano de Bergerac
heard two birds conversing in a tree. One of them said, 'The souls of
birds are immortal,' 'There can be no doubt of it,' replied the other.
'But it is inconceivable that beings who possess neither bill nor
feathers, who have no wings and walk on two legs, should believe that
they, like the birds, have an immortal soul.'"

"All the same," said Pradel, "when I hear the organ, I am chock-full of
religious ideas."

_"Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine."_

The celebrated author of _La Nuit du 23 octobre 1812_ appeared in the
church, and no sooner had he done so than he was everywhere at one and
the same moment--in the nave, under the porch, and in the choir. Like
the _Diable boiteux_ he must, bestriding his crutch, have soared above
the heads of the congregation, to pass as he did in the twinkling of an
eye from Morlot, the deputy, who, being a freethinker, had remained in
the parvis, to Marie-Claire kneeling at the foot of the catafalque.

At one and at the same moment he whispered into the ears of all a few
nimble phrases:

"Pradel, can you imagine this fellow going and chucking his part, an
excellent part, and running off to kill himself? A pumpkin-headed fool!
Blows out his brains just two days before the first night. Compels us to
replace him and sets us back a week. What an imbecile! A rotten bad egg.
But we must do him justice; he could jump, and jump well, the animal.
Well, my dear Romilly, we rehearse the new man to-day at two o'clock.
See to it that Regnard has the script of his part, and that he knows how
to climb on to the roof. Let us hope he won't kick the bucket on our
hands like Chevalier. What if he, too, were to commit suicide! You
needn't laugh. There's an evil spell on certain parts. Thus, in my
_Marino Falieri_, the gondolier Sandro breaks his arm at the dress
rehearsal. I am given another Sandro. He sprains his ankle on the first
night. I am given a third, he contracts typhoid fever. My little
Nanteuil, I'll entrust you with a magnificent rôle to create when you get
to the Français. But I have sworn by the great gods that I'll never
again have a single play performed in this theatre."

And immediately, under the little door which shuts off the choir on the
right hand side of the altar, showing his friends Racine's epitaph,
which is let into the wall, like a Parisian thoroughly conversant with
the antiquities of his city, he recalled the history of this stone, he
told them how the poet had been buried in accordance with his desire at
Port-Royal-des-Champs, at the foot of Monsieur Hamon's grave, and that,
after the destruction of the abbey and the violation of the tombs, the
body of Messire Jean Racine, the King's secretary, Groom of the Chamber,
had been transferred, all unhonoured; to Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. And he
told how the tombstone, bearing the inscription composed for Boileau,
beneath the knight's crest and the shield with its swan argent, and done
into Latin by Monsieur Dodart, had served as a flagstone in the choir of
the little church of Magny-Lessart; where it had been discovered in
1808.

"There it is," he added. "It was broken in six pieces and the name of
Racine was effaced by the shoes of the peasants. The fragments were
pieced together and the missing letters carved anew."

On this subject he expatiated with his customary vivacity and
diffusiveness, drawing from his prodigious memory a multitude of curious
facts and amusing anecdotes, breathing life into history and endowing
archæology with a living interest. His admiration and his wrath burst
forth in swift and violent alternation in the solemnity of the church,
and amid the pomp of the ceremony.

"I would give something to know, for instance, who were the stupid
bunglers who set this stone in the wall. _Hic jacet nobilis vir Johannes
Racine._ It is not true! They make honest Boileau's epitaph lie. The
body of Racine is not in this spot. It was laid to rest in the third
chapel on the left, as you enter. What idiots!" Then, suddenly calm, he
pointed to Pascal's tombstone.

"That came here from the museum of the Petits-Augustins. No praise can
be too great for Lenoir, who, in the days of the Revolution, collected
and preserved."

Thereupon, he improvised a second lecture on lapidary archæology, even
more brilliant than the first, transformed the history of Pascal's life
into a terrible yet amusing drama, and vanished. In all, he had remained
in the church for the space of ten minutes.

Over those heads full of worldly cares and profane desires the _Dies
iræ_ rumbled like a storm:

  _"Mors stupebit et natura,
  Quum resurget creatura
  Judicanti responsura."_

"Tell me, Dutil, how could that little Nanteuil, who is pretty and
intelligent, get herself mixed up with a dirty mummer like Chevalier?"

"Your ignorance of the feminine heart surprises me."

"Herschell was prettier when she was a brunette."

  _"Qui Mariam absolvisti
  Et latronem exaudisti
  Mihi quoque spem dedisti."_

"I must be off to lunch."

"Do you know anyone who knows the Minister?"

"Durville is a has-been. He blows like a grampus."

"Put me in a little paragraph about Marie Falempin. I can tell you she
was simply delicious in _Les Trois Magots_."

  _"Inter oves locum presta
  Et ab hædis me sequestra,
  Statuens in parte dextra."_

"So then, it is for Nanteuil's sake that he blew out his brains? A
little ninny who isn't worth spanking!"

The celebrant poured the wine and the water into the chance, saying:

_"Deus qui humanæ substantiæ dignitatem mirabiliter condidisu...."_

"Is it really true, doctor, that he killed himself because Nanteuil
wouldn't have any more to do with him?"

"He killed himself," replied Trublet, "because she loved another. The
obsession of genetic images frequently determines mania and
melancholia."

"You don't understand second-rate actors, Dr. Socrates," said Pradel. "He
killed himself to cause a sensation, and for no other reason."

"It's not only second-rate actors," said Constantin Marc, "who suffer
from an uncontrollable desire to attract attention to themselves at
whatever cost. Last year, in the place where I live, Saint-Bartholomé,
while a threshing-machine was at work, a thirteen-year-old boy shoved
his arm into the gear; it was crushed up to the shoulder. The surgeon
who amputated it asked him, as he was dressing the stump, why he
mutilated himself like that. The boy confessed that it was to draw
attention to himself."

Meanwhile, Nanteuil, with dry eyes and pursed lips, had fixed her eyes
upon the black cloth with which the catafalque was covered, and was
impatiently waiting until enough holy water, candles and Latin prayers
should be bestowed upon the dead man for him to depart in peace. She
had seen him again the night before, and she thought he had returned
because the priests had not yet bidden him to rest in peace. Then,
reflecting that one day she, too, would die, and would, like him, be
laid in a coffin, beneath a black pall, she shuddered with horror and
closed her eyes. The idea of life was so strong within her that she
pictured death as a hideous life. Afraid of death, she prayed for a long
life. Kneeling, with bowed head, the voluptuous ashen cloud of her
buoyant hair falling over her forehead, she, a profane penitent, was
reading in her prayer-book words which reassured her, although she did
not understand them.

"Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful
dead from the pains of hell and from the depths of the bottomless pit.
Deliver them from the lion's jaws. Let them not be plunged into hell,
and let them not fall into the outer darkness, but suffer that St.
Michael, the Prince of Angels, lead them to the holy light promised by
Thee to Abraham and to his posterity."

At the Elevation of the Host the congregation, permeated by a vague
impression that the mystery was becoming more sacred, ceased its private
conversations, and assumed a certain appearance of reverent devotion.
And as the organ fell silent all heads were bowed at the tinkling of a
little bell which was shaken by a child. Then, after the last Gospel,
when, the service being over, the priest, attended by his acolytes,
approached the catafalque to the chanting of the _Libera_, a sense of
relief was experienced by the crowd, and they began to jostle one
another a little in order to file past the coffin. The women, whose
piety, grief and contrition were contingent upon their immobility and
their kneeling posture, were at once recalled to their customary frame
of mind by the movement and the encounters of the procession. They
exchanged amongst themselves and with the men remarks relating to their
profession.

"Do you know," said Ellen Midi to Falempin, "that Nanteuil is going to
join the Comédie-Française?"

"It's not possible!"

"The contract is signed."

"How did she manage it?"

"Not by her acting, you may be sure," replied Ellen, who proceeded to
relate a highly scandalous story.

"Take care," said Falempin, "she is just behind you."

"Yes, I see her! She's got a cheek of her own to show herself here,
don't you think?"

Marie-Claire whispered an extraordinary piece of news into Durville's
ear:

"They say he committed suicide. Well, there's not a word of truth in it
He didn't commit suicide at all. And the proof of it is that he is being
buried with the rites of the Church."

"What then?" inquired Durville.

"Monsieur de Ligny surprised him with Nanteuil and killed him."

"Come, come!"

"I can assure you that I am accurately informed."

The conversations were becoming animated and familiar.

"So you are here, you wicked old sinner!"

"The box-office receipts are falling off already."

"Stella has succeeded in getting herself proposed by seventeen Deputies,
nine of whom are members of the Budget Commission."

"Yet I told Herschell, 'That little Bocquet fellow isn't the man for you.
What you need is a man of standing.'"

When the bier, borne by the undertaker's men, passed through the west
door, the delicious rays of a winter sun fell on the faces of the women
and the roses lying on the coffin. Grouped on either side of the parvis,
a few young men from the great colleges sought the faces of celebrities;
the little factory girls from the neighbouring workshops, standing in
couples with arms round each other's waists, contemplated the
actresses' dresses. And standing against the porch on their aching feet,
a couple of tramps, accustomed to living under the open sky, whether
mild or sullen, slowly shifted their dejected gaze, while a college lad
gazed with rapture at the fiery tresses which coiled like flames on the
nape of Fagette's neck.

She had stopped on the topmost step in front of the doors, and was
chatting with Constantin Marc and a few journalists:

"...Monsieur de Ligny? He danced attendance upon me long before he knew
Nanteuil. He used to gaze upon me by the hour, with eager eyes, without
daring to speak a word to me. I received him willingly enough, for his
behaviour was perfect. It is only fair to say that his manners are
excellent. He was as reserved as a man could be. At last, one day, he
declared that he was madly in love with me. I told him that as he was
speaking to me seriously I would do the same; that I was truly sorry to
see him in such a state; that every time such a thing happened I was
greatly upset by it; that I was a woman of standing, I had settled my
life, and could do nothing for him. He was desperate. He informed me
that he was leaving for Constantinople, that he would never return. He
couldn't make up his mind either to remain or to go away. He fell ill.
Nanteuil, who thought I loved him and wanted to keep him, did all in
her power to get him away from me. She flung herself at his head in the
craziest fashion, I found her sometimes a trifle ridiculous, but, as you
may imagine, I did not place any obstacle in her path. For his part,
Monsieur de Ligny, with the object of inspiring me with regret, with
vexation, or what not, perhaps in the hope of making me jealous,
responded very visibly to Nanteuil's advances. And that is how they came
to be together. I was delighted. Nanteuil and I are the best of
friends."

Madame Doulce, hedged in on either side by the onlookers, came slowly
down the steps, indulging herself in the illusion that the crowd was
whispering, "That's Doulce!"

She seized Nanteuil as she was passing, pressed her to her bosom, and
with a beautiful gesture of Christian charity enveloped her in her
mantle, saying through her sobs:

"Try to pray, my child, and accept this medal. It has been blessed by
the Pope. A Dominican Father gave it to me."

Madame Nanteuil, who was a little out of breath, but was growing young
again since she had renewed her experience of love, was the last to come
out. Durville pressed her hand.

"Poor Chevalier!" he murmured.

"His was not a bad character," answered Madame Nanteuil, "but he showed
a lack of tact. A man of the world does not commit suicide in such a
manner. Poor boy, he had no breeding."

The hearse began its journey in the colossal shadow of the Panthéon, and
proceeded down the Rue Soufflet, which is lined on both sides with
booksellers' shops. Chevalier's fellow-players, the employés of the
theatre, the director, Dr. Socrates, Constantin Marc, a few journalists
and a few inquisitive onlookers followed. The clergy and the actresses
took their seats in the mourning coaches. Nanteuil, disregarding Madame
Doulce's advice, followed with Fagette, in a hired coupé.

The weather was fine. Behind the hearse the mourners were conversing in
familiar fashion.

"The cemetery is the devil of a way!"

"Montparnasse? Half an hour at the outside."

"Do you know Nanteuil is engaged at the Comédie-Française?"

"Do we rehearse to-day?" Constantin Marc inquired of Romilly.

"To be sure we do, at three o'clock, in the green-room. We shall
rehearse till five. I am playing to-night; I am playing to-morrow; on
Sunday I play both afternoon and evening. Work is never over for us
actors; one is always beginning over again, always putting one's
shoulder to the wheel."

Adolphe Meunier, the poet, laying his hand on his shoulder said:

"Everything going well, Romilly?"

"How are you getting on yourself, Meunier? Always rolling the rock of
Sisyphus. That would be nothing, but success does not depend on us
alone. If the play is bad and falls flat, all that we have put into it,
our work, our talent, a bit of our own life, collapses with it. And the
number of 'frosts' I've seen! How often the play has fallen under me
like an old hack, and has chucked me into the gutter! Ah, if one were
punished only for one's own sins!"

"My dear Romilly," replied Meunier sharply, "do you imagine that the
fate of dramatic authors like myself does not depend as much upon the
actors as upon ourselves? Do you think it never happens that actors, by
their carelessness or clumsiness, ruin a work which was meant to reach
the heights? And do not we also, like Cæsar's legionary, become seized
with dismay and anguish at the thought that our fate is not assured by
our own valour, but that it depends on those who fight beside us?"

"Such is life," observed Constantin Marc. "In every undertaking,
everywhere and always, we pay for the faults of others."

"That is only too true," resumed Meunier, who had just seen his lyric
drama, _Pandolphe et Clarimonde_, come hopelessly to grief. "But the
iniquity of it disgusts us."

"It should not disgust us in the least," replied Constantin Marc. "There
is a sacred law which governs the world, which we are forced to obey,
which we are proud to worship. It is injustice, holy injustice, august
injustice. It is everywhere blessed under the name of happiness,
fortune, genius and grace. It is a weakness not to acknowledge it and to
venerate it under its true name."

"That's rather weird, what you have just said!" remarked the gentle
Meunier.

"Think it over," resumed Constantin Marc. "You, too, belong yourself to
the party of injustice, for you are striving for distinction, and you
very reasonably want to throttle your competitors, a natural, unjust and
legitimate desire. Do you know of anything more stupid or more odious
than the sort of people we have seen demanding justice? Public opinion,
which is not, however, remarkable for its intelligence, and common
sense, which nevertheless is not a superior sense, have felt that they
constituted the precise contrary of nature, society and life."

"Quite so," said Meunier, "but justice----"

"Justice is nothing but the dream of a few simpletons. Injustice is the
thought of God Himself. The doctrine of original sin would alone
suffice to make me a Christian, while the doctrine of grace embodies all
truths divine and human."

"Then are you a believer?" asked Romilly respectfully.

"No, but I should like to be. I regard faith as the most precious
possession which a man can enjoy in this world. At Saint-Bartholomé, I
go to Mass every Sunday and feast day, and I have never once listened to
the exposition of the Gospel by the _curé_ without saying to myself: 'I
would give all I possess, my house, my acres, my woods, to be as stupid
as that animal there.'"

Michel, the young painter with the mystic's beard, was saying to Roget,
the scene painter:

"That poor Chevalier was a man with ideas. But they were not all good
ones. One evening, he walked into the _brasserie_ radiant and
transfigured, sat himself beside us, and twirling his old felt hat
between his long red fingers, he cried: 'I have discovered the true
manner of acting tragedy. Hitherto no one has realized how to act
tragedy, no one, you understand!' And he told us what his discovery was.
'I've just come from the Chamber. They made me climb up to the
amphitheatre. I could see the Deputies swarming like black insects at
the bottom of a pit. Suddenly a stumpy little man mounted the tribune.
He looked as if he were carrying a sack of coals on his back. He threw
out his arms and clenched his fists. By Jove, he was comical! He had a
Southern accent, and his delivery was full of defects. He spoke of the
workers, of the proletariat, of social justice. It was magnificent; his
voice, his gestures gripped one's very bowels; the applause nearly
brought the house down. I said to myself "What he is doing, I'll do on
the stage, and I'll do it better. I, a comic actor, will play tragedy.
Great tragedy parts, if they are to produce their true effect, ought to
be played by a comedian, but he must have a soul."' The poor fellow
actually thought that he had imagined a new form of art. 'You'll see,'
he said."

At the corner of the Boulevard Saint-Michel, a journalist came up to
Meunier, and asked him:

"Is it true that Robert de Ligny was at one time madly in love with
Fagette?"

"If he's in love with her, he hasn't been so long. Only a fortnight ago
he asked me, in the theatre, 'Who is that little fair-haired woman?' and
he pointed to Fagette."

"I cannot understand," said the chronicler of an evening paper to a
chronicler of a morning paper, "what can be the origin of our mania for
calumniating humanity. I am amazed, on the other hand, by the number of
decent people I come across. It is enough to make one incline to the
belief that men are ashamed of the good they do, and that they conceal
themselves when performing acts of devotion and generosity. Don't you
think that is so?"

"As far as I am concerned," replied the chronicler of the morning paper,
"every time I have opened a door by mistake--I mean this both literally
and metaphorically--I have always come across some unsuspected baseness.
Were society suddenly turned inside out like a glove, so that one could
see the inside, we should all faint away with horror and disgust."

"Some time ago," said Roger to the painter Michel, "I used to know
Chevalier's uncle on the Butte de Montmartre. He was a photographer who
dressed like an astrologer. A crazy old fellow, always sending one
customer the portrait of another. The customers used to complain. But
not all of them. There were even some who thought the portraits were a
good likeness."

"What has become of him?"

"He went bankrupt and hanged himself."

In the Boulevard Saint-Michel Pradel, who was walking beside Trublet,
was still profiting by the opportunity of obtaining information as to
the immortality of the soul and the fate of man after death. He obtained
nothing that seemed to him sufficiently positive and repeated:

"I should like to know."

To which Dr. Socrates replied:

"Men were not made to know; men were not made to understand. They do not
possess the necessary faculties. A man's brain is larger and richer in
convolutions than that of a gorilla, but there is no essential
difference between the two. Our highest thoughts and our most
comprehensive systems will never be anything more than the magnificent
extension of the ideas contained in the head of a monkey. We know more
about the world than the dog does, and this flatters and entertains us;
but it is very little in itself, and our illusions increase with our
knowledge."

But Pradel was not listening. He was mentally rehearsing the speech
which he had to deliver at Chevalier's grave.

When the funeral procession turned towards the shabby grass-plots which
overflow the Avenue de l'Observatoire, the tram-cars, out of respect for
the dead, made way for it.

Trublet remarked upon this.

"Men," he said, "respect death, since they rightly believe that, if it
is respectable to die, every one is assured of being respectable in
that, at least."

The actors were excitedly discussing Chevalier's death. Durville,
mysteriously, and in a deep voice, disclosed the tragedy:

"It is not a case of suicide. It is a crime of passion. Monsieur de
Ligny surprised Chevalier with Nanteuil. He fired seven revolver shots
at him. Two bullets struck our unfortunate comrade in the head and the
chest, four went wide, and the fifth grazed Nanteuil below the left
breast."

"Is Nanteuil wounded?"

"Only slightly."

"Will Monsieur de Ligny be arrested?"

"The affair is to be hushed up, and rightly so. I have, however, the best
authority for what I say."

In the carriages, too, the actresses were engaged in spreading various
reports. Some felt sure it was a case of murder; others, one of suicide.

"He shot himself in the chest with a revolver," asserted Falempin. "But
he only succeeded in wounding himself. The doctor said that if he had
been attended to in time he might have been saved. But they left him
lying on the floor, bathed in blood."

And Madame Doulce said to Ellen Midi:

"It has often been my fate to stand beside a deathbed. I always go down
on my knees and pray. I at once feel myself invaded by a heavenly
serenity."

"You are indeed fortunate!" replied Ellen Midi.

At the end of the Rue Campagne-Première, on the wide grey boulevards,
they became conscious of the length of the road which they had covered,
and the melancholy nature of the journey. They felt that while following
the coffin they had crossed the confines of life, and were already in
the country of the dead. On their right stretched the yards of the
marble-workers, the florists' shops which supplied wreaths for funerals,
displays of potted flowers, and the economical furniture of tombs, zinc
flower-stands, wreaths of immortelles in cement, and guardian angels in
plaster. On their left, they could see behind the low wall of the
cemetery the white crosses rising among the bare tops of the lime-trees,
and everywhere, in the wan dust, they breathed death, commonplace,
uniform deaths under the administration of City and State, and poorly
embellished by the pious hands of relations.

They passed between two massive pillars of stone surmounted by winged
hour-glasses. The hearse advanced slowly on the gravel which creaked in
the silence. It seemed, amid the homes of the dead, to be twice as tall
as before. The mourners read the famous names on some of the tombs, or
gazed at the statue of a young girl, seated, book in hand. Old Maury
deciphered, in the inscriptions, the age of the deceased. Short lives,
and even more lives of average duration, distressed him as being of ill
omen. But, when he encountered those of the dead who were notable for
the length of their years, he joyfully drew from them the hope and
probability of a long lease of life.

The hearse stopped in the middle of a side alley. The clergy and the
women stepped out of the coaches. Delage received in his arms, from the
top of the carriage steps, the worthy Madame Ravaud, who was getting a
little ponderous, and of a sudden, half in jest, half in earnest, he
made certain proposals to her. She was no longer young, having been on
the stage for half a century. Delage, with his twenty-five years, looked
upon her as prodigiously old. Yet, as he whispered into her ear, he felt
excited, infatuated, he became sincere, he really desired her, out of
perverse curiosity, because he wanted to do something extraordinary, and
was certain that he would be able to do it, perhaps because of his
professional instinct as a handsome youth, and, lastly, because, in the
first place having asked for what he did not want, he began to want what
he had asked for. Madame Ravaud, indignant but flattered, made good her
escape.

The coffin was carried along a narrow path bordered with dwarf
cypresses, amid a murmuring of prayers:

_"In paradisum deducant te Angeli, in tuo adventu susciptant te Martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem, Chorus Angelorum te
suscipiat et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere, æternam habeas requiem."_

Soon there was no longer any visible path. It was necessary, in
following the quickly vanishing coffin, the priests and the choristers,
to scatter, striding over the recumbent tombstones, and slipping between
the broken columns and upright slabs. They lost the coffin and found it
again. Nanteuil evinced a certain eagerness in her pursuit of it,
anxious and abrupt, her prayer-book in her hand, freeing her skirt as it
caught on the railings, and brushing past the withered wreaths which
left the heads of immortelles adhering to her gown. Finally, the first
to reach the graveside smelt the acrid odour of the freshly turned soil,
and from the heights of the neighbouring flagstones saw the grave into
which the coffin was being lowered.

The actors had contributed liberally to the expenses of the funeral;
they had clubbed together to buy for their comrade as much earth as he
needed, two metres granted for five years. Romilly, on behalf of the
actors of the Odéon, had paid the cemetery board 300 francs--to be
exact, 301 fr. 80 centimes. He had even made plans for a monument, a
broken stele with comedy masks suspended upon it. But no decision had
been come to on this point.

The celebrant blessed the open grave. And the priest and the boy
choristers murmured the responses:

"Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine."

_"Et lux perpetua luceat ei."_

_"Requiescat in pace."_

_"Amen."_

_"Anima ejus et animæ omnium fidelium defunctorum, per misericordiam
Dei, requiescant in pace."_

_"Amen."_

_"De profundis...."_

Each one of those present came forward to sprinkle holy water on the
coffin. Nanteuil stood watching it all, the prayers, the spadefuls of
earth, the sprinkling; then, kneeling apart on the corner of a tomb, she
fervently recited "Our Father who art in heaven...."

Pradel spoke at the graveside. He refrained from making a speech. But
the Théâtre de l'Odéon could not allow a young artist beloved of all to
depart without a word of farewell.

"I shall speak therefore, in the name of the great and true-hearted
dramatic family, the words that are in every bosom."

Grouped about the speaker in studied attitudes, the actors listened with
profound knowledge. They listened actively, with their ears, lips, eyes,
arms, and legs. Each listened in his own manner, with nobility,
simplicity, grief or rebelliousness, according to the parts which the
actor was accustomed to play.

No, the director of the theatre would not suffer the valiant actor, who,
in the course of his only too brief career, had shown more than
promise, to depart without a word of farewell.

"Chevalier, impetuous, uneven, restless, imparted to his creations an
individual character, a distinctive physiognomy. We saw him a very few
days ago--a few hours ago, I might say--bring an episodical character
into powerful relief. The author of the play was struck by the
performance. Chevalier was on the verge of success. The sacred flame was
his. There are those who have asked, what was the cause of so cruel an
end? Let us not seek for that cause. Chevalier died of his art; he died
of dramatic fever. He died consumed by the flame which is slowly
consuming all of us. Alas, the stage, of which the public sees only the
smiles, and the tears, as sweet as the smiles, is a jealous master which
demands of its servants an absolute devotion and the most painful
sacrifices, and, at times, claims its victims. In the name of all your
comrades, farewell, Chevalier, farewell!"

The handkerchiefs were at work, wiping away the mourners' tears. The
actors were weeping with all sincerity; they were weeping for
themselves.

After they had slipped away, Dr. Trublet, left alone in the cemetery
with Constantin Marc, took in the multitude of graves with a glance.

"Do you remember," he said, "one of Auguste Comte's reflections:
'Humanity is composed of the dead and the living. The dead are by far
the more numerous.' Assuredly, the dead are by far the more numerous. By
the multitudinous numbers and the magnitude of their work, they are more
powerful. It's they who rule; we obey them. Our masters lie beneath
these stones. Here is the lawgiver who made the law to which I submit
to-day; the architect who built my house, the poet who created the
illusions which still disturb us; the orator who swayed us before our
birth. Here are all the artisans of our knowledge, true or false, of our
wisdom and of our follies. There they lie, the inexorable leaders, whom
we dare not disobey. In them dwells strength, continuity, and duration.
What does a generation of living folk amount to, in comparison with the
numberless generations of the dead? What is our will of a day before the
will of a thousand centuries? Can we rebel against them? Why, we have
not even time to disobey them!"

"At last you are coming to the point, Dr. Socrates!" said Constantin
Marc. "You renounce progress, the new justice, the peace of the world,
freedom of thought; you submit to tradition. You consent to the ancient
error, the good old-fashioned ignorance, the venerable iniquity of our
forbears. You withdraw into the French tradition, you submit to ancient
custom, to the authority of our ancestors."

"Whence do you obtain custom and tradition?" asked Trablet. "Whence do
you receive authority? There are irreconcilable traditions, diverse
customs; and opposed authorities. The dead do not impose any one will
upon us. They subject us to contradictory wills. The opinions of the
past which weigh upon us are uncertain and confused. In crushing us they
destroy one another. All these dead have lived, like ourselves, in the
midst of disorder and contradiction. Each in his time, in his own
fashion, in hatred or in love, has dreamed the dream of life. Let us in
our turn dream this dream with kindness and joy, if it be possible, and
let us go to lunch. I am taking you to a little tavern in the Rue Vavin,
kept by Clémence, who cooks only one dish, but a marvellous one at that,
the Castelnaudary _cassoulet_, not to be confused with the _cassoulet_
prepared in the Carcassonne fashion, which is merely a leg of mutton
with haricot beans. The _cassoulet_ of Castelnaudary comprises pickled
goose legs, haricot beans that have been previously bleached, bacon, and
a small sausage. To be good, it must be cooked for a long time over a
slow fire. Clémence's _cassoulet_ has been cooking for twenty years.
From time to time she puts in the saucepan, now a little bit of goose or
bacon, now a sausage or some haricots, but it is always the same
_cassoulet_. The stock remains, and this ancient and precious stock
gives it the flavour which, in the pictures of the old Venetian masters,
one finds in the amber-coloured flesh of the women. Come, I want you to
taste Clémence's _cassoulet_."



CHAPTER XI


Having said her prayer, Nanteuil, without waiting to hear Pradel's
speech, jumped into a carriage in order to join Robert de Ligny, who was
waiting for her in front of the Montparnasse railway station. Amid the
throng of passers-by they shook hands, gazing at one another without a
word. More than ever did they feel that they were bound together. Robert
loved her.

He loved her without knowing it. She was for him, or so he believed,
merely one delight in the infinite series of possible delights. But
delight had assumed for him the form of Félicie, and, had he reflected
more deeply upon the innumerable women whom he promised himself in the
vast remainder of his newly begun life, he would have recognized that
now they were all Félicies. He might at least have realized that,
without having any intention of being faithful to her, he did not dream
of being unfaithful, and that since she had given herself to him he had
not desired any other woman. But he did not realize it.

On this occasion, however, standing in the bustling commonplace square,
on seeing her no longer in the voluptuous shadow of night, nor under the
caressing glimmer of the alcove which gave her naked form the delicious
vagueness of a Milky Way, but in a harsh, diffused daylight, by the
circumstantial illumination of a sunlight devoid of splendour and
without shadows, which revealed beneath her veil her eyelids that were
seared with tears, her pearly cheeks and roughened lips, he realized
that he felt for this woman's flesh a profound and mysterious
inclination.

He did not question her. They exchanged only tender trivial phrases.
And, as she was very hungry, he took her to lunch at a well-known
_cabaret_ whose name shone in letters of gold on one of the old houses
in the square. They had their meal served in the winter-garden, whose
rockery, fountain, and solitary tree were multiplied by mirrors framed
in a green trellis. When seated at the table, consulting the bill of
fare, they conversed with less restraint than heretofore. He told her
that the emotions and worries of the past three days had unstrung his
nerves, but he no longer thought about it, and it would be absurd to
worry about the matter any further. She spoke to him of her health,
complaining that she could not sleep, save for a restless slumber full
of dreams. But she did not tell him what she saw in those dreams, and
she avoided speaking of the dead man. He asked her if she had not spent
a tiring morning, and why she had gone to the cemetery, a useless
proceeding.

Incapable of explaining to him the depths of her soul, submissive to
rites and propitiatory ceremonies and incantations, she shook her head
as if to say:

"Had to."

While those lunching at the adjoining tables were finishing their meal,
they talked for a long time, both in subdued tones, while waiting to be
served.

Robert had promised himself, had sworn indeed never to reproach Félicie
for having had Chevalier for her lover, or even to ask her a single
question in this connection. And yet, moved by some obscure resentment,
by an ebullition of ill-temper or natural curiosity, and also because he
loved her too deeply to control himself, he said to her, with bitterness
in his voice:

"You were on intimate terms with him, formerly."

She was silent, and did not deny the fact. Not that she felt that it was
henceforth useless to lie. On the contrary, she was in the habit of
denying the obvious truth, and she had, of course, too much knowledge of
men to be ignorant of the fact that, when in love, there is no lie,
however clumsy, which they cannot believe if they wish to do so. But on
this occasion, contrary to her nature and habit, she refrained from
lying. She was afraid of offending the dead. She imagined that in
denying him she would be doing him a wrong, depriving him of his share,
angering him. She held her peace, fearing to see him come and rest his
elbows on the table, with his fixed smile and the hole in his head, and
to hear him say in his plaintive voice. "Félicie, you surely cannot have
forgotten our little room, in the Rue des Martyrs?"

What he had become, for her, since his death, she could not have said,
so alien was it to her beliefs, so contrary to her reason, and so
antiquated, ridiculous and obsolete did the words which would have
expressed her feeling seem to her. But from some remote inherited
instinct, or more likely from certain tales which she had heard in her
childhood, she derived a confused idea that he was of the number of
those dead who in the days of old were wont to torment the living, and
were exorcised by the priests; for upon thinking of him she
instinctively began to make the sign of the cross, and she checked
herself only that she might not seem ridiculous.

Ligny, seeing her melancholy and distracted, blamed himself for his
harsh and useless words, while at the very moment of reproaching
himself for them he followed them by others equally harsh and equally
useless.

"And yet you told me it was not true!"

She replied, fervently:

"Because, don't you see, I wanted it not to be true."

She added:

"Oh, my darling, since I've been yours, I swear to you that I've not
belonged to anyone else. I don't claim any merit for this; I should have
found it impossible."

Like the young of animals, she had need of gaiety. The wine, which shone
in her glass like liquid amber, was a joy to her eyes, and she moistened
her tongue with it with luxurious pleasure. She took an interest in the
dishes set before her, and especially in the _pommes de terre
soufflées_, like golden blisters. Next she watched the people lunching
at the tables in the dining-room, attributing to them, according to
their appearance, ridiculous opinions or grotesque passions. She noticed
the ill-natured glances which the women directed toward her, and the
efforts of the men to appear handsome and important. And she gave
utterance to a general reflection:

"Robert, have you noticed that people are never natural? They do not say
a thing because they think it. They say it because they think it is
what they ought to say. This habit makes them very wearisome. And it is
extremely rare to find anyone who is natural. You, you are natural."

"Well, I don't think I'm guilty of posing."

"You pose like the rest. But you pose in your own character. I can see
perfectly well when you are trying to surprise and impress me."

She spoke to him of himself and, led back by an involuntary train of
thought to the tragedy enacted at Neuilly, she inquired:

"Did your mother say anything to you?"

"No."

"Yet she must have known."

"It is probable."

"Are you on good terms with her?"

"Why, yes!"

"They say she is still very beautiful, your mother, is it so?"

He did not answer her and sought to change the conversation. He did not
like Félicie to speak to him of his mother, or to turn her attention to
his family. Monsieur and Madame de Ligny enjoyed the highest
consideration in Parisian society. Monsieur de Ligny, a diplomatist by
birth and by profession, was in himself a person worthy of the greatest
consideration. He was so even before his birth, by virtue of the
diplomatic services which his ancestors had rendered to France. His
great-grandfather had signed the surrender of Pondicherry to England.
Madame de Ligny lived with her husband on the most correct terms. But,
although she had no money of her own, she lived in great style, and her
gowns were one of the greatest glories of France. She received intimate
visits from an ex-Ambassador. His age, his position, his opinions, his
titles, and his great fortune made the connection respectable. Madame de
Ligny kept the ladies of the Republic at arm's length, and, when the
spirit moved her, gave them lessons in decorum. She had nothing to fear
from the opinion of the fashionable world. Robert knew that she was
looked upon with respect by people in society. But he was continually
dreading that, in speaking of her, Félicie might fail to do so with all
the needful reserve. He feared lest, not being in society, she might say
that which had better have been left unsaid. He was wrong; Félicie knew
nothing of the private life of Madame de Ligny; moreover, had she known
of it, she would not have blamed her. The lady inspired her with a naive
curiosity and an admiration mingled with fear. Since her lover was
unwilling to speak to her of his mother, she attributed his reserve to a
certain aristocratic arrogance, even to a lack of consideration, for
her, at which the pride of the freewoman and the plebeian was up in
arms. She was wont to say to him tartly:

"I'm perfectly free to speak of your mother." The first time she had
added: "Mine is just as good as yours." But she had realized that the
remark was vulgar, and she had not repeated it.

The dining-room was now empty. She looked at her watch, and saw that it
was three o'clock.

"I must be off," she said. "_La Grille_ is being rehearsed this
afternoon. Constantin Marc ought to be at the theatre already. There's
another queer fellow for you! He boasts that when he's in the Vivarais
he ruins all the women. And yet he is so shy that he daren't even talk
to Fagette and Falempin. I frighten him. It amuses me."

She was so tired that she had not the courage to rise.

"Isn't it queer? They are saying everywhere that I'm engaged for the
Français, it's not true. There's not even a question of it. Of course, I
can't remain indefinitely where I am. In the long run one would get
besotted there. But there is no hurry. I have a great part to create in
_La Grille_. We shall see after that. What I want is to play comedy. I
don't want to join the Français and then to do nothing."

Suddenly, gazing in front of her with eyes full of terror, she flung
herself backwards, turned pale, and uttered a shrill scream. Then her
eyelids fluttered, and she murmured that she could not breathe.

Robert loosened her jacket, and moistened her temples with a little
water.

She spoke.

"A priest! I saw a priest. He was in his surplice. His lips were moving,
but no sound came from them. He looked at me."

He tried to comfort her.

"Come now, my darling, how can you suppose that a priest, a priest in
his surplice, would show himself in a restaurant?"

She listened obediently, and allowed herself to be persuaded.

"You are right, you are right, I know it well enough."

In that little head of hers illusions were soon dispelled. She was born
two hundred and thirty years after the death of Descartes, of whom she
had never heard; yet, as Dr. Socrates would have said, he had taught her
the use of reason.

Robert met her at six o'clock after the rehearsal, under the arcades of
the Odéon, and drove away with her in a cab.

"Where are we going?" she inquired.

He hesitated a little.

"You would not care to go back to our house out there?"

She cried out at the suggestion.

"Oh no! I couldn't! Oh, heavens, never!"

He replied that he had thought as much; that he would try to find
something else: a little ground-floor flat in Paris; that in the
meantime, just for to-day, they would content themselves with a chance
abode.

She gazed at him with fixed, heavy eyes, drew him violently towards her,
scorching his neck and ear with the breath of her desire. Then her arms
fell away from him, and she sank back beside him, dejected and relaxed.

When the cab stopped, she said:

"You will not be vexed with me, will you, my own Robert, at what I am
going to say? Not to-day--to-morrow."

She had considered it necessary to make this sacrifice to the jealous
dead.



CHAPTER XII


On the following day, he took her to a furnished room, commonplace but
cheerful, which he had selected on the first floor of a house facing the
square, near the Bibliothèque Nationale. In the centre of the square
stood the basin of a fountain, supported by lusty nymphs. The paths,
bordered with laurel and spindlewood, were deserted, and from this
little-frequented spot one heard the vast and reassuring hum of the
city. The rehearsal had finished very late. When they entered the room
the night, already slower to arrive in this season of melting snow, was
beginning to cast its gloom over the hangings. The large mirrors of the
wardrobe and overmantel were filling with vague lights and shadows. She
took off her fur coat, went to look out of the window between the
curtains and said:

"Robert, the steps are wet."

He answered that there was no flight of steps, only the pavement and the
road, and then another pavement and the railings of the square.

"You are a Parisian, you know this square well. In the centre, among the
trees, there is a monumental fountain, with enormous women whose breasts
are not as pretty as yours."

In his impatience he helped her to undo her cloth frock; but he could
not find the hooks, and scratched himself with the pins.

"I am clumsy," he said.

She retorted laughingly:

"You are certainly not so clever as Madame Michon! It's not so much
clumsiness, but you are afraid of getting pricked. Men are a cowardly
race. As for women, they have to accustom themselves to suffer. It's
true: to be a woman is to be nearly always ailing."

He did not notice that she was pale, with dark rings round her eyes. He
desired her so ardently; he no longer saw her.

"They are very sensitive to pain," he said, "but they are also very
sensitive to pleasure. Do you know Claude Bernard?"

"No."

"He was a great scientist. He said that he didn't hesitate to recognize
woman's supremacy in the domain of physical and moral sensibility."

Nantueil; unhooking her stays, replied:

"If he meant by that that all women are sensitive, he was indeed an old
greenhorn. He ought to have seen Fagette; he would soon have discovered
whether it was easy to get anything out of her in the domain--how did he
express it?--of physical and moral sensibility."

And she added with gentle pride:

"Don't you make any mistake, Robert, there's not such a heap of women
like myself."

As he was drawing her into his arms, she released herself.

"You are hindering me."

Sitting down and doubling herself up in order to undo her boots, she
continued.

"Do you know, Dr. Socrates told me the other day that he had seen an
apparition. He saw a donkey-boy who had murdered a little girl. I dreamt
of the story last night, only in my dream I could not make out whether
the donkey-boy was a man or a woman. What a mix-up the dream was!
Talking of Dr. Socrates, just guess whose lover he is--why, the lady who
keeps the circulating library in the Rue Mazarine. She is no longer very
young, but she is very intelligent. Do you think he is faithful to her?
I'll take off my stockings, it's more becoming."

And she went on to tell him a story of the theatre:

"I really don't think I shall remain at the Odéon much longer."

"Why?"

"You'll see. Pradel said to me to-day, before rehearsal 'My dear little
Nanteuil, there has never been anything between us. It is ridiculous.'
He was extremely decorous, but he gave me to understand that we were in
a false position with regard to one another, which could not go on
indefinitely. You must know that Pradel has established a rule. Formerly
he used to pick and choose among his _pensionnaires_. He had favourites,
and that caused an outcry. Nowadays, for the better administration of
the theatre, he takes them all, even those he has no liking for, even
those who are distasteful to him. There are no more favourites.
Everything goes splendidly. Ah, he's a director all through, is Pradel!"

As Robert, in the bed, listened in silence, she went up to him and shook
him:

"Then it's all the same to you if I carry on with Pradel?"

"No, my dear, it would not be all the same to me. But nothing I might
say would prevent it."

Bending over him, she caressed him ardently, pretending to threaten and
to punish him; and she cried:

"Then you don't really love me, that you are not jealous. I insist that
you shall be jealous."

Then, suddenly, she moved away from him, and hitching over her left
shoulder her chemise, which had slipped down under her right breast, she
loitered in front of the dressing-table and inquired uneasily:

"Robert, you have not brought anything here from the other room?"

"Nothing."

Thereupon, softly, timidly, she slipped into the bed. But hardly had she
lain down when she raised herself from the pillow on her elbow, and,
craning her neck, listened with parted lips. It seemed to her that she
could hear slight sounds of footsteps along the gravel path which she
had heard in the house in the Boulevard de Villiers. She ran to the
window; she saw the Judas tree, the lawn, the garden gate. Knowing what
she was yet to see, she sought to hide her face in her hands, but she
could not raise her arms, and Chevalier's face rose up before her.



CHAPTER XIII


She had returned home in a burning fever. Robert, after dining _en
famille_, had retired to his attic. His nerves were on edge, and he was
badly out of temper as a result of the manner in which Nanteuil had left
him.

His shirt and his clothes, laid out on the bed by his valet, seemed to
be waiting for him in a domestic and obsequious attitude. He began to
dress himself with a somewhat ill-tempered alacrity. He was impatient to
leave the house. He opened his round window, listened to the murmur of
the city, and saw above the roofs the glow which rose into the sky from
the city of Paris. He scented from afar all the amorous flesh gathered,
on this winter's night, in the theatres and the great _cabarets_, the
café-concerts and the bars.

Irritated by Félicie's denial of his desires, he had decided to satisfy
them elsewhere, and as he was not conscious of any preference he
believed that his only difficulty would be to make a choice; but he
presently realized that he had no desire for any of the women of his
acquaintance, nor did he even feel any desire for an unknown woman. He
closed his window, and seated himself before the fire.

It was a coke fire; Madame de Ligny, who wore cloaks costing a thousand
pounds, was wont to economize in the matter of her table and her fires.
She would not allow wood to be burned in her house.

He reflected upon his own affairs, to which he had so far given little
or no thought; upon the career he had embraced, and which he beheld
obscurely before him. The Minister was a great friend of his family. A
mountaineer of the Cévennes, brought up on chestnuts, his dazzled eyes
blinked at the flower-bedecked tables of Paris. He was too shrewd and
too wily not to retain his advantage over the old aristocracy, which
welcomed him to its bosom: the advantage of harsh caprices and arrogant
refusals. Ligny knew him, and expected no favours at his hands. In this
respect he was more perspicacious than his mother, who credited herself
with a certain power over the dark, hairy little man, whom every
Thursday she engulfed in her majestic skirts on the way from the
drawing-room to the dinner-table. He judged him to be disobliging. And
then something had gone wrong between them. Robert, as ill luck would
have it, had forestalled his Minister in his intimacy with a lady whom
the latter loved to the verge of absurdity: Madame de Neuilles, a woman
of easy virtue. And it seemed to him that the hairy little man suspected
it, and regarded him with an unfriendly eye. And, lastly, the idea had
grown upon him at the Quai d'Orsay that Ministers are neither able nor
willing to do very much. But he did not exaggerate matters, and thought
it quite possible that he might obtain a minor secretaryship. Such had
been his wish hitherto. He was most anxious not to leave Paris. His
mother, on the contrary, would have preferred that he should be sent to
The Hague, where a post as third secretary was vacant. Now, of a sudden,
he decided in favour of The Hague. "I'll go," he said. "The sooner the
better." Having made up his mind, he reviewed his reasons. In the first
place, it would be an excellent thing for his future career. Again, The
Hague post was a pleasant one. A friend of his, who had held it, had
enlarged upon the delightful hypocrisy of the sleepy little capital,
where everything was engineered and "wangled" for the comfort of the
Diplomatic Corps. He reflected, also, that The Hague was the august
cradle of a new international law, and finally went so far as to invoke
the argument that he would be giving pleasure to his mother. After which
he realized that he wanted to leave home solely on account of Félicie.

His thoughts of her were not benevolent. He knew her to be mendacious,
timorous, and a malicious friend. He had proof that she was given to
falling in love with actors of the lowest type, or, at all events, that
she made shift with them. He was not certain that she did not deceive
him, not that he had discovered anything suspect in the life which she
was leading, but because he was properly distrustful of all women. He
conjured up in his mind all the evil that he knew of her, and persuaded
himself that she was a little jade, and, being conscious that he loved
her, he believed that he loved her merely because of her extreme
prettiness. This reason seemed to him a sound one; but on analysing it
he perceived that it explained nothing; that he loved the girl not
because she was exceedingly pretty, but because she was pretty in a
certain uncommon fashion of her own; that he loved her for that which
was incomparable and rare in her; because, in a word, she was a
wonderful thing of art and voluptuousness, a living gem of priceless
value. Thereupon, realizing how weak he was, he wept, mourning over his
lost freedom, his captive mind, his disordered soul, the devotion of his
very flesh and blood to a weak, perfidious little creature.

He had scorched his eyes by gazing at the coke fire behind the bars of
the grate. He closed them in pain and, under his closed eyes, he saw
negroes leaping before him in an obscene and bloody riot. While he
sought to remember from what book of travel, read in boyhood, these
blacks emerged, he saw them diminish, resolve themselves into
imperceptible specks, and disappear into a red Africa, which little by
little came to represent the wound seen by the light of a match on the
night of the suicide. He reflected.

"That fool of a Chevalier! Why, I was scarcely thinking of the fellow!"

Suddenly, against this background of blood and flame; appeared the
slender form of Félicie, and he felt lurking within him a hot, cruel
desire.



CHAPTER XIV


He went to see her the following day, in the little flat in the
Boulevard Saint-Michel. He was not in the habit of going thither. He did
not particularly care to meet Madame Nanteuil; she bored him and
embarrassed him, although she was extremely polite to him, even to
obsequiousness.

It was she who received him in the little drawing-room. She thanked him
for his interest in Félicie's health, and informed him that she had been
restless and unwell the night before, but was now feeling better.

"She is in her bedroom, working at her part. I will tell her that you
are here. She will be very glad to see you, Monsieur de Ligny. She knows
that you are very fond of her. And true friends are rare, especially in
the theatrical world."

Robert observed Madame Nanteuil with an attention which he had not
hitherto bestowed upon her. He was trying to see in her face the face
that would be her daughter's in years to come. When walking in the
street he was fond of reading, in the faces of the mothers, the
love-affairs of the daughters. And on this occasion he assiduously
deciphered the features and the figure of this woman as an interesting
prophecy. He discovered nothing either of bad or good augury. Madame
Nanteuil, plump, fresh-complexioned, cool-skinned, was not unattractive
with the sensuous fullness of her contours. But her daughter did not in
the least resemble her.

Seeing her so collected and serene, he said to her:

"You yourself are not of a nervous temperament?"

"I have never been nervous. My daughter does not take after me. She is
the living image of her father. He was delicate, although his health was
not bad. He died of a fall from his horse. You'll take a cup of tea,
won't you, Monsieur de Ligny?"

Félicie entered the room. Her hair was outspread upon her shoulders; she
was wrapped in a white woollen dressing-gown, held very loosely at the
waist by a heavy embroidered girdle, and she shuffled along in red
slippers; she looked a mere child. The friend of the house, Tony Meyer,
the picture dealer, was wont when he saw her in this garment, which was
a trifle monkish in appearance, to call her Brother Ange de Charolais,
because he had discovered in her a resemblance to a portrait by Nattier
which represented Mademoiselle de Charolais in the Franciscan habit.
Before this little girl, Robert was surprised and silent.

"It's kind of you," she said, "to have come to inquire after me. I am
better, thank you."

"She works very hard; she works too hard," said Madame Nanteuil. "Her
part in _La Grille_ is tiring her."

"Oh no, mother."

They spoke of the theatre, and the conversation languished.

During a moment's silence, Madame Nanteuil asked Monsieur de Ligny if he
were still collecting old fashion-prints.

Félicie and Robert looked at her without understanding. They had told
her not long before some fiction about engraved fashion-plates, to
explain the meetings which they had not been able to conceal. But they
had quite forgotten the fact. Since then, a piece of the moon, as an old
author has said, had fallen into their love; Madame Nanteuil alone, in
her profound respect for fiction, remembered it.

"My daughter told me you had a great number of those old engravings and
that she used to find ideas for her costumes in them."

"Quite so, madame, quite so."

"Come here, Monsieur de Ligny," said Félicie. "I want to show you a
design for a costume for the part of Cécile de Rochemaure."

And she carried him off to her room.

It was a small room hung with flowered paper; the furniture consisted of
a wardrobe with a mirror, a couple of chairs upholstered in horsehairs
and an iron bedstead; with a white counterpane; above it was a bowl for
holy water, and a sprig of boxwood.

She gave him a long kiss on the mouth.

"I do love you, do you know!"

"Quite sure?"

"Oh yes! And you?"

"I too, I love you. I wouldn't have believed that I could love you so!"

"Then it came afterwards."

"It always comes afterwards."

"That's true, what you've just said, Robert. Before--one doesn't know."

She shook her head.

"I was very ill yesterday."

"Have you seen Trublet? What did he say?"

"He told me that I needed rest, and quiet. My darling, we must be
sensible for another fortnight. Do you mind?"

"I do."

"So do I. But what would you have?"

He strolled round the room two or three times, looking into every
corner. She watched him with some little uneasiness, dreading lest he
should ask her questions about her poor jewels and her cheap trinkets,
which were modest enough as presents, but she could not in every case
explain how she came to receive them. One may say anything one pleases,
of course, but one may contradict oneself, and get into trouble, and
that assuredly is not worth while. She diverted his attention.

"Robert, open my glove-box."

"What have you got in your glove-box?"

"The violets you gave me the first time. Darling, don't leave me! Don't
go away. When I think that from one day to the next you may go to some
foreign country, to London, to Constantinople, I feel crazy."

He comforted her, telling her that there had been some thought of
sending him to The Hague. But he was determined not to go; he would get
himself attached to the Minister's staff.

"You promise?"

He gave the promise in all sincerity. And she became quite cheerful.

Pointing to the little wardrobe with its looking-glass, she said:

"Look, darling, it's there that I study my part. When you came, I was
working over my scene in the fourth. I take advantage of being alone to
try for the exact tone. I seek a broad, mellow effect. If I were to
listen to Romilly I should mince my words, and the result would be
wretched. I have to say. 'I do not fear you.' It's the great moment of
the part. Do you know how Romilly would have me say: 'I do not fear
you'? I'll show you, I am to raise my hand to my nose, open my fingers
and speak one word to each finger separately, in a particular tone, with
a special expression 'I, do, not, fear, you,' as if I were exhibiting
marionettes! It's a wonder he does not ask me to put a little paper hat
on every finger. Subtle, intellectual, isn't it?"

Then, lifting her hair and uncovering her animated features, she said:

"I'll show you how I do it."

Suddenly transfigured, seeming of greater stature, she spoke the words
with an air of ingenuous dignity and serene innocence:

"No, sir, I do not fear you. Why should I fear you? You thought to
ensnare me, and you have placed yourself at my mercy. You are a man of
honour. Now that I am under the shelter of your roof, you shall tell me
what you told Chevalier d'Amberre, your enemy, when he entered that
gate. You shall tell me: 'You are in your own house; I am yours to
command.'"

She had the mysterious gift of changing her soul and her very face.
Ligny was under the spell of this beautiful illusion.

"You are marvellous!"

"Listen, pussy-cat. I shall wear a big lawn bonnet with lappets, one
above the other, on either side of my face. You see, in the play I am a
young girl of the Revolution. And it is imperative that I should make
people feel it. I must have the Revolution _in_ me, do you understand?"

"Are you well up in the Revolution?"

"Of course I am! I don't know the dates, to be sure. But I have the
feeling of the period. For me, the Revolution means a bosom swelling
with pride under a crossed neckerchief, knees enjoying full freedom in a
striped petticoat, and a tiny blaze of colour on the cheek-bones. There
you have it!"

He asked her questions about the play, and he realized that she knew
nothing about it. She, did not need to know anything about it. She
divined, she found by instinct all that she needed from it.

"At rehearsals, I never give them a hint as to any of my effects, I keep
them all for the public. It will make Romilly tear his hair. How stupid
they'll all look! Fagette, my dear, will make herself ill over it."

She sat down on a little rickety chair. Her forehead, but a moment
before as white as marble, was rosy; she had once more assumed her
cheeky flapper's expression.

He drew near to her, gazed into the fascinating grey of her eyes, and,
as on the evening before, when he sat in front of his coke-fire, he
reflected that she was untruthful and cowardly, and ill-natured toward
her friends; but now the thought was tempered with indulgence. He
reflected that she had love-affairs with actors of the lowest type, or
that she at least made shift with them; but the thought was tempered
with a gentle pity. He recalled all the evil that he knew of her, but
without bitterness. He felt that he loved her, less because she was
pretty than because she was pretty in her own fashion; in a word, that
he loved her because she was a gem endowed with life, and an
incomparable thing of art and voluptuousness. He looked into the
fascinating grey of her eyes, into their pupils, where tiny astrological
symbols seemed to float in a luminous tide. He gazed at her with a gaze
so searching that she felt it pierce right through her. And, assured
that he had seen right into her, she said to him, with her eyes on his,
clasping his head between her two hands:

"Oh yes! I'm a rotten little actress; but I love you, and I don't care a
rap for money. And there aren't many as good as me. And you know it well
enough."



CHAPTER XV


They met daily at the theatre, and they went for walks together.

Nanteuil was playing almost every night, and was eagerly working at her
part of Cécile. She was gradually recovering her peace of mind; her
nights were less disturbed; she no longer made her mother hold her hand
while she fell asleep and no longer found herself suffocating in
nightmares. A fortnight went by in this fashion. Then, one morning,
while sitting at her dressing-table, combing her hairs she bent her head
toward the glass, as the weather was overcast, and she saw in it, not
her own face, but the face of the dead man. A thread of blood was
trickling from one corner of his mouth; he was smiling and gazing at
her.

Thereupon she decided to do what she thought would be the proper and
efficacious thing. She took a cab and drove off to see him. Going down
the Boulevard Saint-Michel she bought a bunch of roses at her florist's.
She took them to him. She went down on her knees before the tiny black
cross which marked the spot where they had laid him. She spoke to him,
she begged him to be reasonable, to leave her in peace. She asked his
forgiveness for having treated him formerly with harshness. People did
not always understand one another in life. But now he ought to
understand and forgive her. What good did it do to him to torment her?
She asked no better than to retain a kindly memory of him. She would
come and see him from time to time. But he must cease to persecute and
frighten her.

She sought to flatter and soothe him with gentle phrases.

"I can understand that you wanted to revenge yourself. It was natural.
But you are not wicked at heart. Don't be angry any more. Don't frighten
me any more. Don't come to see me any more. I'll come to you; I'll come
often. I'll bring you flowers."

She longed to deceive him, to soothe him with lying promises, to say to
him "Stay where you are; do not be restless any longer; stay where you
are, and I swear to you that I will never again do anything to offend
you; I promise to submit to your will." But she dared not lie over a
grave, and she was sure that it would be useless, that the dead know
everything.

A little wearied, she continued awhile, more indolently, her prayers
and supplications, and she realized that she no longer felt the horror
with which the tombs had formerly inspired her; that she had no fear of
the dead man. She sought the reason for this, and discovered that he did
not frighten her because he was not there.

And she mused:

"He is not there; he is never there; he is everywhere except where they
laid him. He is in the streets, in the houses, in the rooms."

And she rose to her feet in despair, feeling sure that henceforth she
would meet him everywhere except in the cemetery.



CHAPTER XVI


After a fortnight's patience Ligny urged her to resume their former
intercourse. The period which she herself had fixed had elapsed. He
would not wait any longer. She suffered as much as he did in refusing
herself to him. But she dreaded to see the dead man return. She found
lame excuses for postponing appointments; at last she confessed that she
was afraid. He despised her for displaying so little common sense and
courage. He no longer felt that she loved him, and he spoke harshly to
her, but he pursued her incessantly with his desire.

Bitter days and barren hours followed. As she no longer dared to seek
the shelter of a roof in his company, they used to take a cab, and after
driving for hours about the outskirts of the city they would alight in
some gloomy avenue, wandering far down it under the bitter east wind,
walking swiftly, as though chastised by the breath of an unseen wrath.

Once, however, the weather was so mild that it filled them with its soft
languor. Side by side they trod the deserted paths of the Bois de
Boulogne. The buds, which were beginning to swell on the tips of the
slender black branches, dyed the tree-tops violet under the rosy sky. To
their left stretched the fields, dotted with clumps of leafless trees,
and the houses of Auteuil were visible. Slowly driven coupés, with their
elderly passengers, crawled along the road, and the wet-nurses pushed
their perambulators. A motor-car broke the silence of the Bois with its
humming.

"Do you like those machines?" asked Félicie.

"I find them convenient, that's all."

It was true that he was no chauffeur. He had no taste for any kind of
sport; he concerned himself only with women.

Pointing to a cab which had just passed them, she exclaimed:

"Robert, did you see?"

"No."

"Jeanne Perrin was in it with a woman."

And, as he displayed a calm indifference, she added in a reproachful
tone:

"You are like Dr. Socrates. Do you think that sort of thing natural?"

The lake slept, bright and serene, within its sombre walls of pines.
They took the path to their right, which skirted the bank where the
white geese and swans were preening their feathers. At their approach a
flotilla of ducks, like living hulls, their necks curving like prows,
set sail toward them.

Félicie told them, in a regretful tone, that she had nothing to give
them.

"When I was little," she went on to say, "Papa used to take me out on
Sundays to feed the animals. It was my reward for having learned my
lessons well all the week. Papa used to delight in the country. He was
fond of dog, horses, all animals in fact. He was very gentle and very
clever. He used to work very hard. But life is difficult for an officer
who has no money of his own. It grieved him sorely not to be able to do
as the wealthy officers did, and then he didn't hit it off with Mamma.
Papa's life was not a happy one. He was often wretched. He didn't talk
much; but we two understood one another without speaking. He was very
fond of me. Robert, dearest, later on, in the distant future, the very
distant future, I shall have a tiny house in the country. And when you
come there, my beloved, you will find me in a short skirt, throwing corn
to my fowls."

He asked her what gave her the idea of going on the stage.

"I knew very well that I'd never find a husband, since I had no dowry.
And from what I saw of my older girl friends, working at dress-making or
in a telegraph office, I was not encouraged to follow in their steps.
When I was quite a little girl I thought it would be nice to be an
actress. I had once acted, at my boarding-school, in a little play, on
St. Nicholas' Day. I thought it no end of a lark. The schoolmistress
said I didn't act well, but that was because Mamma owed her for a whole
term. From the time I was fifteen I began to think seriously about going
on the stage. I entered the Conservatoire, I worked, I worked very hard.
It's a back-breaking trade. But success brings rest."

Opposite the chalet on the island they found the ferry-boat moored to
the landing. Ligny jumped into it, pulling Félicie after him.

"Those tall trees are lovely, even without leaves," she said. "But I
thought the chalet was closed at this time of the year."

The ferryman told them that, on fine winter days, people out for a walk
liked to visit the island, because they could enjoy quiet there, and
that he had only just ferried a couple of ladies across.

A waiter, who was living amid the solitude of the island, brought them
tea, in a rustic sitting-room, furnished with a couple of chairs, a
table, a piano, and a sofa. The panelling was mildewed, the planks of
the flooring had started. Félicie looked out of the window at the lawn
and the tall trees.

"What is that," she asked, "that big dark ball on the poplar?"

"That's mistletoe, my pet."

"One would think it was an animal rolled round the branch, gnawing at
it. It isn't nice to look at."

She rested her head on her lover's shoulder, saying in a languid tone:

"I love you."

He drew her down upon the sofa. She felt him, kneeling at her feet, his
hands, clumsy with impatience, gliding over her, and she suffered his
attempts, inert, discouraged, foreseeing that it was useless. Her ears
were ringing like a little bell. The ringing ceased, and she heard; on
her right, a strange, clear, glacial voice say. "I forbid you to belong
to one another." It seemed to her that the voice spoke from above, in
the glow of light, but she did not dare to turn her head. It was an
unfamiliar voice. Involuntarily and despite herself she tried to
remember his voice, and she realized that she had forgotten its sound,
and that she could never again remember it. The thought came to her
"Perhaps this is the voice he has now." Terrified, she swiftly pushed
her skirt over her knees. But she refrained from crying out, and she did
not speak of what she had just heard, lest she should be taken for a
madwoman, and because she realized somehow that it was not real.

Ligny drew away from her.

"If you don't want anything more to do with me, say so honestly. I am
not going to take you by force."

Sitting upright, with her knees pressed together, she told him:

"Whenever we are in a crowd, as long as there are people about us, I
want you, I long for you, but as soon as we are by ourselves I am
afraid."

He replied by a cheap, spiteful sneer:

"Ah, if you must have a public to stimulate you!"

She rose, and returned to the window. A tear was running down her cheek.
She wept for some time in silence. Suddenly she called to him:

"Look there!"

She pointed to Jeanne Perrin, who was strolling on the lawn with a young
woman. Each had an arm about the other's waist; they were giving one
another violets to smell, and were smiling.

"See! That woman is happy; her mind at peace."

And Jeanne Perrin, tasting the peace of long-established habits,
strolled along satisfied and serene, without even betraying any pride in
her strange preference.

Félicie watched her with, an interest which she did not confess to
herself, and envied her her serenity.

"She's not afraid, that woman."

"Let her be! What harm is she doing us?"

And he caught her violently by the waist. She freed herself with a
shudder. In the end, disappointed, frustrated, humiliated, he lost his
temper, called her a silly fool, and swore that he would not stand her
ridiculous way of treating him any longer.

She made no reply, and once more she began to weep.

Angered by her tears, he told her harshly:

"Since you can no longer give me what I ask you, it is useless for us to
meet any more. There is nothing more to be said between us. Besides, I
see that you have ceased to love me. And you would admit, if for once
you could speak the truth, that you have never loved anyone except that
wretched second-rate actor."

Then her anger exploded, and she moaned in despair:

"Liar! Liar! That's an abominable thing to say. You see I'm crying, and
you want to make me suffer more. You take advantage of the fact that I
love you to make me miserable. It's cowardly. Well, no then, I don't
love you any longer. Go away! I don't want to see you again. Go! But
it's true--what are we doing like this? Are we going to spend our lives
staring at each other like this, wild with each other, full of despair
and rage? It is not my fault--I can't, I can't. Forgive me, darling, I
love you, I worship you, I want you. Only drive him away. You are a man,
you know what there is to do. Drive him away. You killed him, not I. It
was you. Kill him altogether then--Oh God, I am going mad. I am going
mad!"

       *       *       *       *       *

On the following day, Ligny applied to be sent as Third Secretary to The
Hague. He was appointed a week later, and left at once, without having
seen Félicie again.



CHAPTER XVII


Madam Nanteuil thought of nothing but her daughter's welfare. Her
liaison with Tony Meyers the picture-dealer in the Rue de Clichy, left
her with plenty of leisure and an unoccupied heart. She met at the
theatre a Monsieur Bondois, a manufacturer of electrical apparatus; he
was still young, superior to his trade, and extremely well-mannered. He
was blessed with an amorous temperament and a bashful nature, and, as
young and beautiful women frightened him, he had accustomed himself to
desiring only women who were not young and beautiful. Madame Nanteuil
was still a very pleasing woman. But one night when she was badly
dressed, and did not look her best; he made her the offer of his
affections. She accepted him as something of a help toward housekeeping,
and so that her daughter should want for nothing. Her devotion brought
her happiness. Monsieur Bondois loved her, and courted her most
ardently. At the outset this surprised her; then it brought her
happiness and peace of mind; it seemed to her natural and good to be
loved, and she could not believe that her time for love was past when
she was in receipt of proof to the contrary.

She had always displayed a kindly disposition, an easy-going character,
and an even temper. But never yet had she revealed in her home so happy
a spirit and such gracious thoughtfulness. Kind to others, and to
herself, always preserving, in the lapse of changeful hours, the smile
that disclosed her beautiful teeth and brought the dimples into her
plump cheeks, grateful to life for what it was giving her, blooming,
expanding, overflowing, she was the joy and the youth of the house.

While Madame Nanteuil conceived and gave expression to bright and
cheerful ideas, Félicie was fast becoming gloomy, fretful, and sullen.
Lines began to show in her pretty face; her voice assumed a grating
quality. She had at once realized the position which Monsieur Bondois
occupied in the household, and, whether she would have preferred her
mother to live and breathe for her alone, whether her filial piety
suffered because she was forced to respect her less, whether she envied
her happiness, or whether she merely felt the distress which love
affairs cause us when we are brought into too close contact with them,
Félicie, more especially at meal-times, and every day, bitterly
reproached Madame Nanteuil, in very pointed allusions, and in terms
which were not precisely veiled, in respect of this new "friend of the
family"; and for Monsieur Bondois himself, whenever she met him, she
exhibited an expressive disgust and an unconcealed aversion. Madame
Nanteuil was only moderately distressed by this, and she excused her
daughter by reflecting that the young girl had as yet no experience of
life. And Monsieur Bondois, whom Félicie inspired with a superhuman
terror, strove to placate her by signs of respect and inconsiderable
presents.

She was violent because she was suffering. The letters which she
received from The Hague inflamed her love, so that it was a pain to her.
A prey to consuming visions, she was pining away. When she saw her
absent friend too clearly her temples throbbed, her heart beat
violently, and a dense increasing shadow would darken her mind. All the
sensibility of her nerves, all the warmth of her blood, all the forces
of her being flowed through her, sinking downwards, merging themselves
in desire in the very depths of her flesh. At such times she had no
other thought than to recover Ligny. It was Ligny that she wanted, only
Ligny, and she herself was surprised at the disgust which she felt for
all other men. For her instincts had not always been so exclusive. She
told herself that she would go at once to Bondois, ask him for money,
and take the train for The Hague. And she did not do it. What deterred
her was not so much the idea of displeasing her lover, who would have
looked upon such a journey as bad form, as the vague fear of awakening
the slumbering shadow.

That she had not seen since Ligny's departure. But perturbing things
were happening, within her and around her. In the street she was
followed by a water-spaniel, which appealed and vanished suddenly. One
morning when she was in bed her mother told her "I am going to the
dressmaker's," and went out. Two or three minutes later Félicie saw her
come back into the room as if she had forgotten something. But the
apparition advanced without a look at her, without a word, without a
sounds and disappeared as it touched the bed.

She had even more disturbing illusions. One Sunday, she was acting, in a
matinée of _Athalie_, the part of young Zacharias. As she had very
pretty legs she found the disguise not displeasing; she was glad also to
show that she knew how verse should be spoken. But she noticed that in
the orchestra stalls there was a priest wearing his cassock. It was not
the first time that an ecclesiastic had been present at an afternoon
performance of this tragedy drawn from the Scriptures. Nevertheless, it
impressed her disagreeably. When she went on the stage she distinctly
saw Louise Dalle, wearing the turban of Jehoshabeath; loading a revolver
in front of the prompter's box. She had enough common sense and presence
of mind to reject this absurd vision, which disappeared. But she spoke
her first lines in an inaudible voice.

She had burning pains in the stomach. She suffered from fits of
suffocation, sometimes, without apparent cause, an unspeakable agony
gripped her bowels, her heart beat madly and she feared that she must be
dying.

Dr Trublet attended her with watchful prudence. She often saw him at the
theatre, and occasionally went to consult him at his old house in the
Rue de Seine. She did not go through the waiting-room; the servant would
show her at once into the little dining-room, where Arab potteries
glinted in the shadows, and she was always the first to be shown in. One
day Socrates succeeded in making her understand the manner in which
images are formed in the brain, and how these images do not always
correspond with external objects, or, at my rate, do not always
correspond exactly.

"Hallucinations," he added, "are more often than not merely false
perceptions. One sees a thing, but one sees it badly, so that a
feather-broom becomes a head of bristling locks, a red carnation is a
beast's open mouth, and a chemise is a ghost in its winding-sheet.
Insignificant errors."

From these arguments she derived sufficient strength to despise and
dispel her visions of cats and dogs, or of persons who were living, and
well known to her. Yet she dreaded seeing the dead man again; and the
mystic terrors nestling in the obscure crannies of her brain were more
powerful than the demonstrations of science. It was useless to tell her
that the dead never returned; she knew very well that they did.

On this occasion Socrates once more advised her to find some
distraction, to visit her friends, and by preference the more pleasant
of her friends, and to avoid darkness and solitude, as her two most
treacherous enemies.

And he added this prescription:

"Especially must you avoid persons and things which may be connected
with the object of your visions."

He did not see that this was impossible. Nor did Nanteuil.

"Then you will cure me, dear old Socrates," she said, turning upon him
her pretty grey eyes, full of entreaty.

"You will cure yourself my child. You will cure yourself, because you
are hard-working, sensible, and courageous. Yes, yes, you are timid and
brave at the same time. You dread danger, but you have the courage to
live. You will be cured, because you are not in sympathy with evil and
suffering. You will be cured because you want to be cured."

"You think then that one can be cured if one wills it?"

"When one wills it in a certain profound, intimate fashion, when it is
our cells that will it within us, when it is our unconscious self that
wills it; when one wills it with the secret, abounding, absolute will of
the sturdy tree that wills itself to grow green again in the spring."



CHAPTER XVIII


That same night, being unable to sleep, she turned over in her bed, and
threw back the bed-clothes. She felt that sleep was still far off, that
it would come with the first rays, full of dancing atoms of dust, with
which morning pierces the chinks between the curtains. The night-light,
with its tiny burning heart shining through its porcelain shade, gave
her a mystic and familiar companionship. Félicie opened her eyes and at
a glance drank in the white milky glimmer which brought her peace of
mind. Then, closing them once more, she relapsed into the tumultuous
weariness of insomnia. Now and again a few words of her part recurred to
her memory, words to which she attached no meaning, yet which obsessed
her: "Our days are what we make them." And her mind wearied itself by
turning over and over some four or five ideas.

"I must go to Madame Royaumont to-morrow, to try on my gown. Yesterday I
went with Fagette to Jeanne Perrin's dressing-room; she was dressing,
and she showed her hairy legs, as if she was proud of them. She's not
ugly, Jeanne Perrin; indeed, she has a fine head; but it is her
expression that I dislike. How does Madame Colbert make out that I owe
her thirty-two francs? Fourteen and three are seventeen, and nine,
twenty-six. I owe her only twenty-six francs. 'Our days are what we make
them.' How hot I feel!"

With one swift movement of her supple loins she turned over, and her
bare arms opened to embrace the air as though it had been a cool, subtle
body.

"It seems a hundred years since Robert went away. It was cruel of him to
leave me alone. I am sick with longing for him." And curled up in her
bed, she recollected intently the hours when they held each other in a
close embrace. She called him:

"My pussy-cat! Little wolf!"

And immediately the same train of thoughts began once more their
fatiguing procession through her mind.

"Our days are what we make them. Our days are what we make them. Our
days....' Fourteen and three, seventeen, and nine, twenty-six. I could
see quite plainly that Jeanne Perrin showed her long man's legs, dark
with hair, on purpose. Is it true what they say, that Jeanne Perrin
gives money to women? I must try my gown on at four o'clock to-morrow.
There's one dreadful thing, Madame Royaumont never can put in the
sleeves properly. How hot I am! Socrates is a good doctor. But he does
sometimes amuse himself by making you feel a stupid fool."

Suddenly she thought of Chevalier, and she seemed to feel an influence
emanating from him which was gliding along the walls of her bedroom. It
seemed to her that the glimmer of the night-light was dimmed by it. It
was less than a shadow, and it filled her with alarm. The idea suddenly
flashed through her mind that this subtle thing had its origin in the
portraits of the dead man. She had not kept any of them in her bedroom.
But there were still some in the flat, some that she had not torn up.
She carefully reckoned them up, and discovered that there must still be
three left: the first, when he was quite young, showed him against a
cloudy background; another, laughing and at his ease, sitting astride of
a chair; a third as Don Cæsar de Bazan. In her hurry to destroy every
vestige of them she sprang out of bed, lit a candle, and in her
nightgown shuffled along in her slippers into the drawing-room, until
she came to the rosewood table, surmounted by a phoenix palm. She pulled
up the tablecloth and searched through the drawer. It contained
card-counters, sockets for candles, a few scraps of wood detached from
the furniture, two or three lustres belonging to the chandelier and a
few photographs, among which she found only one of Chevalier, the
earliest, showing him standing against a cloudy background.

She searched for the other two in a little piece of Boule furniture
which adorned the space between the windows, and on which were some
Chinese lamps. Here slumbered lamp-globes of ground glass, lamp-shades,
cut-glass goblets ornamented with gilt bronze, a match-stand in painted
porcelain flanked by a child sleeping against a drum beside a dog, books
whose bindings were detached, tattered musical scores, a couple of
broken fans, a flute, and a small heap of carte-de-visite portraits.
There she discovered a second Chevalier, the Don Cæsar de Bazan. The
third was not there. She asked herself in vain where it could have been
hidden away. Fruitlessly she hunted through boxes, bowls, flowerpot
holders, and the music davenport. And while she was eagerly searching
for the portrait, it was growing in size and distinctness in her
imagination, attaining to a man's stature, was assuming a mocking air
and defying her. Her head was on fire, her feet were like ice, and she
could feel terror creeping into the pit of her stomach. Just as she was
about to give up the search, about to go and bury her face in her
pillow, she remembered that her mother kept some photographs in her
mirror-panelled wardrobe. She again took courage. Softly she entered the
room of the sleeping Madame Nanteuil. With silent steps she crept over
to the wardrobe, opened it slowly and noiselessly, and, standing on a
chair, explored the top shelf, which was loaded with old cardboard
boxes. She came upon an album which dated from the Second Empire, and
which had not been opened for twenty years. She rummaged among a mass of
letters, of bundles of receipts and Mont-de-Piété vouchers. Awakened by
the light of the candle and by the mouse-like noise made by the seeker,
Madame Nanteuil demanded:

"Who is there?"

Immediately, perceiving the familiar little phantom in her long
nightgown, with a heavy plait of hair down her back, perched on a chair,
she exclaimed:

"It's you, Félicie? You are not ill, are you? What are you doing there?"

"I am looking for something."

"In my wardrobe?"

"Yes, mamma."

"Will you kindly go back to your bed! You will catch cold. Tell me at
least what you are looking for. If it's the chocolate, it is on the
middle shelf next to the silver sugar-basin."

But Félicie had seized upon a packet of photographs, which she was
rapidly turning over. Her impatient fingers rejected Madame Doulce,
bedecked with lace, Fagette, radiant, her hair dissolving in its own
brilliance; Tony Meyer, with close-set eyes and a nose drooping over his
lips; Pradel, with his flourishing beard; Trublet, bald and snub-nosed;
Monsieur Bondois, with timorous eye and straight nose set above a heavy
moustache. Although not in a mood to bestow any attention upon Monsieur
Bondois, she gave him a passing glance of hostility, and by chance let a
drop of candle-grease disfigure his nose.

Madame Nanteuil, who was now wide awake, could make nothing of her
proceedings.

"Félicie, why on earth are you poking about in my wardrobe like that?"

Félicie, who at last held the photograph for which she had sought so
assiduously, responded only by a cry of fierce delight and flew from the
chair, taking with her her dead friend, and, inadvertently, Monsieur
Bondois as well.

Returning to the drawing-room she crouched down by the fireplace, and
made a fire of paper, into which she cast Chevalier's three photographs.
She watched them blazing, and when the three bits of cardboard, twisted
and blackened, had flown up the chimney, and neither shape nor substance
was left, she breathed freely. She really believed, this time, that she
had deprived the jealous dead man of the material of his apparitions,
and had freed herself from the dreaded obsession.

On picking up her candlestick she saw Monsieur Bondois, whose nose had
disappeared beneath a round blob of white wax. Not knowing what to do
with him she threw him with a laugh into the still flaming grate.

Returning to her room she stood before the looking-glass and drew her
nightgown closely about her, in order to emphasize the lines of her
body. A thought which occasionally flitted through her mind tarried
there this time a little longer than usual.

She was wont to ask herself:

"Why is one made like that, with a head, arms, legs, hands, feet, chest,
and abdomen? Why is one made like that and not otherwise? It's funny."

And at the moment the human form seemed to her arbitrary, fantastic,
alien. But her astonishment was soon over. And, as she looked at
herself, she felt pleased with herself. She was conscious of a keen
deep-seated delight in herself. She bared her breasts, held them
delicately in the hollow of her hands, looked at them tenderly in the
glass, as if they were not a part of herself, but something belonging
to her, like two living creatures, like a pair of doves.

After smiling upon them, she went back to bed. Waking late in the
morning she felt surprised for a moment at being alone in her bed.
Sometimes, in a dream, she would divide herself into two beings, and,
feeling her own flesh, she would dream that she was being caressed by a
woman.



CHAPTER XIX


The dress rehearsal of _La Grille_ was called for two o'clock. As early
as one o'clock Dr. Trublet had taken his accustomed place in Nanteuil's
dressing-room.

Félicie, who was being dressed by Madame Michon, reproached her doctor
with having nothing to say to her. Yet it was she who, preoccupied, her
mind concentrated upon the part which she was about to play, was not
listening to him. She gave orders that nobody should be allowed to come
into her dressing-room. For all that, she received Constantin Marc's
visit with pleasure, for she found him sympathetic.

He was getting excited. In order to conceal his agitation he made a
pretence of talking about his woods in the Vivarais, and began to tell
shooting stories and peasants' tales, which he did not finish.

"I am in a funk," said Nanteuil. "And you, Monsieur Marc, don't you feel
qualms in the stomach?"

He denied feeling any anxiety. She insisted:

"Now confess that you wish it were all over."

"Well, since you insist, perhaps I would rather it were over."

Whereupon Dr. Socrates, with a simple expression and in a quiet voice,
asked him the following question:

"Do you not believe that what must be accomplished has already been
accomplished, and has been accomplished from all time?"

And without waiting for a reply he added:

"If the world's phenomena reach our consciousness in succession, we must
not conclude from that that they are really successive, and we have
still fewer reasons to believe that they are produced at the moment when
we perceive them."

"That's obvious," said Constantin Marc, who had not listened.

"The universe," continued the doctor, "appears to us perpetually
imperfect, and we are all under the illusion that it is perpetually
completing itself. Since we perceive phenomena successively, we actually
believe that they follow one another. We imagine that those which we no
longer see are in the past, and those which we do not yet see are in the
future. But it is possible to conceive beings built in such fashion that
they perceive simultaneously what we regard as the past and the future.
We may conceive beings who perceive phenomena in a retrograde order,
and see them unroll themselves from our future to our past. Animals
disposing of space otherwise than ourselves, and able, for instance, to
move at a speed greater than that of light, would conceive an idea of
the succession of phenomena which would differ greatly from our own."

"If only Durville is not going to rag me on the stage!" exclaimed
Félicie, while Madame Michon was putting on her stockings under her
skirt.

Constantin Marc assured her that Durville did not even dream of any such
thing, and begged her not to be uneasy.

And Dr. Socrates resumed his discourse.

"We ourselves, of a clear night, when we gaze at Spica Virginis, which
is throbbing above the top of a poplar, can see at one and the same time
that which was and that which is. And it may be said with equal truth
that we see that which is and that which will be. For if the star, such
as it appears to us, represents the past as compared with the tree, the
tree constitutes the future as compared with the star. Yet the star,
which, from afar, shows us its tiny, fiery countenance, not as it is
to-day, but as it was in the time of our youth, perhaps even before our
birth, and the poplar-tree, whose young leaves are trembling in the
fresh night air, come together within us in the same moment of time, and
to us are present simultaneously. We say of a thing that it is in the
present when we have a precise perception of it. We say that it is in
the past when we preserve but an indistinct image of it. A thing may
have been accomplished millions of years ago, yet if it makes the
strongest possible impression upon us it will not be for us a thing of
the past; it will be present. The order in which things revolve in the
depths of the universe is unknown to us. We know only the order of our
perceptions. To believe that the future does not exist, because we do
not know it, is like believing that a book is not finished because we
have not finished reading it."

The doctor paused for a moment. And Nanteuil, in the silence which
followed, heard the sound of her heart beating. She exclaimed:

"Continue, my dear Socrates, continue, I beg you. If you only knew how
much good you do me by talking! You think that I am not listening to a
word you say. But it distracts me to hear you talking of far-away
things; it makes me feel that there is something else besides my
entrance; it prevents me from giving way to the blues. Talk about
anything you like, but do not stop."

The wise Socrates, who had doubtless anticipated the benign influence
which his speech was exerting over the actress, resumed his lecture:

"The universe is constructed inevitably as a triangle of which two
angles and one side are given. Future things are determined. They are
from that moment finished. They are as if they existed. Indeed, they
exist already. They exist to such a degree that we know them in part.
And, if that part is infinitesimal in proportion to their immensity, it
is none the less very appreciable in proportion to the part of
accomplished things of which we can have any knowledge. It is
permissible to say that, for us, the future is not much more obscure
than the past. We know that generations will follow generations in
labour, joy and suffering. I look beyond the duration of the human race.
I see the constellations slowly changing in the heavens those forms of
theirs which seem immutable; I see the Wain unharnessed from its ancient
team, the shield of Orion broken in twain, Sirius extinguished. We know
that the sun will rise to-morrow and that for a long time to come it
will rise every morning amid the dense clouds or in light mists."

Adolphe Meunier entered discreetly on tiptoe.

The doctor grasped his hand warmly.

"Good day, Monsieur Meunier. We can see next month's new moon. We do not
see her as distinctly as to-night's new moon, because we do not know in
what grey or ruddy sky she will reveal her old saucepan-lid over my
roof, amid the stove-flues capped with pointed hats and romantic hoods,
to the gaze of the amorous cats. But this coming rising of the moon--if
we were expert enough to know it in advance, in its most minute
particulars, every one of which is essential, we should conceive as
clear an idea of the night whereof I speak as of the night now with us;
both would be equally present to us.

"The knowledge that we have of the facts is the sole reason which leads
us to believe in their reality. We know that certain facts are bound to
occur. We must therefore believe them to be real. And, if they are real,
they are realized. It is therefore credible, my dear Constantin Marc,
that your play has been played a thousand years ago, or half an hour
ago, which comes absolutely to the same thing. It is credible that we
have all been dead for some time past. Think it, and your mind will be
at rest."

Constantin Marc, who had paid scant attention to his remarks and who did
not perceive their relevance or their propriety, answered, in a somewhat
irritable tone, that all that was to be found in Bossuet.

"In Bossuet!" exclaimed the indignant physician. "I challenge you to
show me anything resembling it in his works. Bossuet knew nothing of
philosophy."

Nanteuil turned to the doctor. She was wearing a big lawn bonnet with a
tall round coif; it was bound tightly upon her head with a wide blue
ribbon, and its lappets, one above another, fell on either side of her
face, shading her forehead and cheeks. She had transformed herself into
a fiery blonde. Reddish-brown hair fell in curls about her shoulders. An
organdie neckerchief was crossed over her bosom and held at the waist by
a broad purple girdle. Her white and pink striped petticoat, which
flowed as though wet and clinging from the somewhat high waist, made her
appear very tall. She looked like a figure in a dream.

"Delage, too," she said, "rags one in the most rotten way. Have you
heard what he did to Marie-Claire? They were playing together in _Les
Femmes savantes_. He put an egg into her hand, on the stage. She
couldn't get rid of it until the end of the act."

On hearing the call boy's summons she went downstairs, followed by
Constantin Marc. They heard the roar of the house, the mutterings of the
monster, and it seemed to them that they were entering into the flaming
mouth of the apocalyptic beast.

_La Grille_ was favourably received. Coming at the end of the season,
with little hope of a long run, it found favour with all. By the middle
of the first act the public were conscious of the style, the poetry,
and, here and there, the obscurities of the play. Thenceforward they
respected it, pretended to enjoy it, and wished they could understand
it. They forgave the play its slight dramatic value. It was literary, and
for once the style found acceptance.

Constantin Marc as yet knew no one in Paris. He had invited to the
theatre three or four landed proprietors from the Vivarais, who sat
blushing in the stalls in their white ties, rolled their round eyes, and
did not dare to applaud. As he had no friends nobody dreamt of spoiling
his success. And even in the corridors there were those who set his
talent above that of other dramatists. Greatly excited, nevertheless, he
wandered from dressing-room to dressing-room or collapsed into a chair
at the back of the director's stage-box. He was worrying about the
critics.

"Set your mind at rest," Romilly told him. "They will say of your play
the good or bad things they think of Pradel. And for the time being they
think more ill than good of him."

Adolphe Meunier informed him, with a pale smile, that the house was a
good one, and that the critics thought the play showed very careful
writing. He expected, in return, a few complimentary words concerning
his _Pandolphe et Clarimonde_. But it did not enter Constantin Marc's
head to vouchsafe them.

Romilly shook his head.

"We must look forward to slatings. Monsieur Meunier knows it well. The
press has shown itself ferociously unjust to him."

"Alas," sighed Meunier, "they will never say as many hard things about
us as were said of Shakespeare and Molière."

Nanteuil had a great success which was marked less by vociferous calls
before the curtain than by the deeper and more discreet approval of
discriminating playgoers. She had revealed qualities with which she had
not hitherto been credited; purity of diction, nobility of pose, and a
proud, modest grace.

On the stage, during the last interval, the Minister congratulated her
in person. This was a sign that the public was favourably disposed, for
Ministers never express individual opinions. Behind the Grand Master of
the University pressed a flattering crowd of public officials, society
folk, and dramatic authors. With arms extended toward her like
pump-handles they all simultaneously assured her of their admiration.
And Madame Doulce, stifled by their numbers, left on the buttons of the
men's garments shreds of her countless adornments of cotton lace.

The last act was Nanteuil's triumph. She obtained better things from the
public than tears and shouts. She won from all eyes that moist yet
tearless gaze, from every breast that deep yet almost silent murmur,
which beauty alone has power to compel.

She felt that she had grown immeasurably in a single instant, and when
the curtain fell she whispered:

"This time I've done it!"

She was unrobing herself in her dressing-room, which was filled with
baskets of orchids, bouquets of roses, and bunches of lilac, when a
telegram was brought to her. She tore it open. It was a message from The
Hague containing these words:

"My heartfelt congratulations on your undoubted success--Robert."

Just as she finished reading it Dr. Trublet entered the dressing-room.

She flung her arms, burning with joy and fatigue, round his neck; she
drew him to her warm moist bosom, and planted on his meditative
Silenus-like face a smacking kiss from her intoxicated lips.

Socrates, who was a wise man, took the kiss as a gift from the gods,
knowing full well that it was not intended for him, but was dedicated to
glory and to love.

Nanteuil realized herself that in her intoxication she had perhaps
charged her lips with too ardent a breath, for, throwing her arms apart,
she exclaimed:

"It can't be helped! I am so happy!"



CHAPTER XX


At Easter an event of great importance increased her joy. She was
engaged at the Comédie-Française. For some time past, without mentioning
the subject, she had been trying for this engagement. Her mother had
helped her in the steps she had taken. Madame Nanteuil was lovable now
that she was loved. She now wore straight corsets and petticoats that
she could display anywhere. She frequented the offices of the Ministry,
and it is said that, being solicited by the deputy-chief of a department
in the Beaux-Arts, she had yielded with very good grace. At least, so
Pradel said.

He would exclaim joyfully:

"You wouldn't recognize her now, Mother Nanteuil! She has become most
desirable, and I like her better than her little vixen of a daughter.
She has a better disposition."

Like the rest of them, Félicie had disdained, despised, disparaged the
Comédie-Française. She had said, as all the others did: "I should
hardly care to get into that house." And no sooner did she belong to it
than she was filled with proud and joyful exultation. What increased her
pleasure twofold was that she was to make her debut in _L'École des
Femmes_. She already studying the part of Agnès with an obscure old
professor, Monsieur Maxime, of whom she thought highly because he was
acquainted with all the traditions of the stage. At night she was
playing Cécile in _La Grille_, and she was living in a feverish turmoil
of work she received a letter in which Robert de Ligny informed her that
he was returning to Paris.

During his stay at The Hague he had made certain experiments which had
proved to him the strength of his love for Félicie. He had had women who
were reported to be pretty and pleasing. But neither Madame Bourmdernoot
of Brussels, tall and fresh looking, nor the sisters Van Cruysen,
milliners on the Vijver, nor Suzette Berger of the Folies-Marigny, then
on tour through Northern Europe, had given him a sense of pleasure in
its completeness. When in their company he had regretted Félicie, and
had discovered that of all women, he desired her alone. Had it not been
for Madame Bourmdernoot, the sisters Van Cruysen, and Suzette
Berger, he would never have known how priceless Félicie Nanteuil was to
him. If one must be literal it may be argued that he was unfaithful to
her. That is the correct expression. There are others which come to the
same thing and which are not such good form. But if one looks into the
matter more closely he had not deceived her. He had sought her, he had
sought her out of herself and had learned that he would find her in
herself alone. In his futile wisdom he was almost angered and alarmed;
he was uneasy at having to stake the multitude of his desires upon so
slender a substance, in so unique and fragile a vessel. And he loved
Félicie all the more because he loved her with a certain depth of rage
and hatred.

On the very day of his arrival in Paris, he made an appointment with her
in a bachelor's flat, which a rich colleague in the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs had placed at his disposal. It was situated in the Avenue de
l'Alma, on the ground-floor of an attractive-looking house, and
consisted of a couple of small rooms hung with a design of suns with
brown hearts and golden rays, which rose, uniform, peaceful, and
shadowless on the cheerful wall. The rooms were modern in style; the
furniture was of a pale green, decorated with flowering branches; its
outlines followed the gentle curves of the liliaceous plants, and
assumed something of the tender feeling of moist vegetation. The
cheval-glass leant slightly forward in its frame of bulbous plants of
supple form, terminating in closed corollas, and in this frame the
mirror had the coolness of water. A white bearskin lay stretched at the
foot of the bed.

"You! You! It's you!" was all she could say.

She saw the pupils of his eyes shining and heavy with desire, and while
she gazed at him a cloud gathered before her eyes. The subtle fire of
her blood, the burning of her loins, the warm breath of her lungs, the
fiery colour of her face, were all blended in her mouth, and she pressed
on her lover's lips a long, long kiss, a kiss pregnant with all these
fires and as fresh as a flower in the dew.

They asked one another twenty things at a time, and their questions
intermingled.

"Were you wretched, Robert, when you were away from me?"

"So you are making your début at the Comédie?

"Is The Hague a pretty place?"

"Yes, a quiet little town. Red, grey, yellow houses, with stepped
gables, green shutters, and geraniums at the windows."

"What did you do there?"

"Not much. I walked round the Vijver."

"You did not go with women, I should hope?"

"No, upon my word. How pretty you are, my darling! Are you well again
now?"

"Yes, I am cured."

And in sudden entreaty she said:

"Robert, I love you. Do not leave me. If you were to leave me I know for
certain I could never take another lover. And what would become of me?
You know that I can't do without love."

He replied brusquely, in a harsh voice, that he loved her only too well,
that he thought of nothing but of her.

"I'm going crazy with it."

His harshness delighted and reassured her better than the nerveless
tenderness of oaths and promises could have done. She smiled and began
to undress herself generously.

"When do you make your début at the Comédie?"

"This very month."

She opened her little bag, and took from it, together with her
face-powder, her call for the rehearsal, which she held out to Robert.
It was a source of unending delight to her to gaze admiringly at this
document, because it bore the heading of the Comédie, with the remote
and awe-inspiring date of its foundation.

"You see, I make my début as Agnès in _L'École des Femmes_."

"It's a fine part."

"I believe you."

And, while she was undressing, the lines surged to her lips, and she
whispered them:

  "Moi, j'ai blessé quelqu'un? fis-je tout étonnée
   Oui, dit-elle, blessé; mais blessé tout de bon;
   Et c'est l'homme qu'hier vous vîtes au balcon
   Las! qui pourrait, lui dis-je, en avoir été cause?
   Sur lui, sans y penser, fis-je choir quelque chose?"

"You see, I have not grown thin."

  "Non, dit-elle, vos yeux ont fait ce coup fatal,
   Et c'est de leurs regards qu'est venu tout son mal."

"If anything, I am a little plumper, but not too much."

  "Hé, mon Dieu! ma surprise est, fis-je, sans seconde;
   Mes yeux ont-ils du mal pour en donner au monde?"

He listened to the lines with pleasure. If on the one hand he did not
know much more of the literature of bygone days or of French tradition
than his youthful contemporaries, he had more taste and more lively
interests. And, like all Frenchmen, he loved Molière, understood him,
and felt him profoundly.

"It's delightful," he said. "Now, come to me."

She let her chemise slip downwards with a calm and beneficent grace.
But, because she wished to make herself desired, and because she loved
comedy, she began Agnès' narrative:

  "J'étais sur le balcon à travailler au frais,
  Lorsque je vis passer sous les arbres d'auprès
  Un jeune homme bien fait qui, rencontrant ma vue...."

He called her, and drew her to him. She glided from his arms, and,
advancing toward the mirror, she continued to recite and act before the
glass.

  "D'une humble révérence aussitôt me salue."

Bending her knee, at first slightly, then lower, then, with her left leg
brought forward, and her right thrown, back, she curtsied deeply.

  "Moi, pour ne point manquer à la civilité,
  Je fis la révérence aussi de mon côté."

He called her more urgently. But she dropped a second curtsy, the pauses
of which she accentuated with amusing precision. And she went on
reciting and dropping curtsies at the places indicated by the text and
by the traditions of the stage.

  "Soudain il me refait une autre révérence;
  Moi, j'en refais de même une autre en diligence;
  Et lui, d'une troisième aussitôt repartant,
  D'une troisième aussi j'y repars à l'instant."

She executed every detail of stage business, seriously and
conscientiously, taking pains to give a perfect rendering. Her poses,
some of which were disconcerting, requiring as they did a skirt to
explain them, were almost all pretty, while all were interesting,
inasmuch as they brought into relief the firm muscles under the soft
envelope of a young body, and revealed at every movement correspondences
and harmonies which are not commonly observed.

When clothing her nudity with the propriety of her attitudes and the
ingenuousness of her expressions she was the incarnation, through mere
chance and caprice, of a gem of art, an allegory of Innocence in the
style of Allegrain or Clodion. And the great lines of the comedy rang
out with delicious purity from this animated figurine. Robert,
enthralled in spite of himself, suffered her to go on to the very end.
What entertained him above all was that the most public of all things, a
stage scene, should be presented to him in so private and secret a
fashion. And, while watching the ceremonious actions of this girl in all
her nudity, he was at the same time revelling in the philosophical
pleasure of discovering how dignity is produced in the best social
circles.

  "Il passe, vient, repasse et toujours de plus belle
   Me fait à chaque fois une révérence nouvelle,
   Et moi qui tous ses tours fixement regardais,
   Nouvelle révérence aussi je lui rendais...."

In the meantime she admired in the mirror her freshly-budded breasts,
her supple waist, her arms, a trifle slender, round and tapering, and
her smooth, beautiful knees; and, seeing all this subservient to the
fine art of comedy, she became animated and exalted; a slight flush,
like rouge, tinted her cheeks.

  "Tant que si sur ce point la nuit ne fût venue,
  Toujours comme cela je me serais tenue,
  Ne voulaut point céder, ni recevoir l'ennui
  Qu'il me pût estimer moins civile que lui...."

He called to her from the bed, where he was lying on his elbow.

"Now come!"

Whereupon, full of animation and with heightened colour, she exclaimed:

"Don't you think that I, too, love you!"

She flung herself beside her lover. Supple and wholly surrendered, she
threw back her head, offering to his kisses her eyes veiled with shadowy
lashes and her half-parted lips, from which gleamed a moist flash of
white.

Of a sudden she started to her knees. Her staring eyes were filled with
unspeakable terror. A hoarse scream escaped from her throat, followed by
a wail as long drawn out and gentle as an organ note. Turning her head,
she pointed to the white fur spread out at the foot of the bed.

"There! There! He is lying there like a crouching dog, with a hole in
his head. He is looking at me, with the blood trickling from the corner
of his mouth."

Her eyes, wide open, rolled up, showing the whites. Her body stretched
backward like a bow, and, when it had recovered its suppleness, she fell
as if dead.

He bathed her temples with cold water, and brought her back to
consciousness. In a childlike voice she whimpered that every joint in
her body was broken. Feeling a burning sensation in the hollow of her
hand, she looked, and saw that the palm was cut and bleeding.

She said:

"It's my nails, they've gone into my hand. See, my nails are full of
blood!"

She thanked him tenderly for his ministrations, and apologized sweetly
for causing him so much trouble.

"It was not for that you came, was it?"

She tried to smile, and looked around her.

"It's nice, here."

Her gaze met the call to rehearsal lying open on the bedside table, and
she sighed:

"What is the use of my being a great actress if I am not happy?"

Without realizing it, she was repeating word for word what Chevalier
had said when she rejected his advances.

Then, raising her still stupefied head from the pillow in which it had
lain buried, she turned her mournful eyes toward her lover, and said to
him resignedly:

"We did indeed love each other, we two. It is over. We shall never again
belong to each other; no, never. He forbids it!"


THE END



[Transcriber's Note:

The following typographical errors in the source text were corrected:

Page  92:  disease.               ->  disease."
Page 103:  Saint-Etienne-du-Mont  ->  Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
Page 104:  Saint-Êtienne-du-Mont  ->  Saint-Étienne-du-Mont
Page 138:  dimunitive             ->  diminutive
Page 141:  magificent             ->  magnificent
Page 141:  Saint-Êtienne-du-Mont  ->  Saint-Étienne-du-Mont

The following inconsistent hyphenations in the source text were left
unchanged:

ill-will/illwill
fire-place/fireplace
box-wood/boxwood]





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